Gary told us at the morning rider briefing that this was to be the longest ride of the trip. Today was to be 316 miles taking us through Missouri, Kansas and into Oklahoma. We had already observed differences between the quoted mileage in the information pack and what Gary told us so we called these ‘Gary miles’. Françoise was suffering from her boots. They were comfy in the UK but the hot weather and humidity had made them less comfortable. Gary loaned her his size 10 boots the day before but these were too big to walk around in. Fortunately, I had packed my size 8 BMW Sneaker 2 boots and Françoise found these to be much more comfortable. She wore them for much of the remainder of the trip. Moral of the story is to get a size larger than what you would normally take in the UK to allow for swollen feet in higher temperatures. Today hit 96°F and I was starting to suffer a little from the heat.
The first stint of the day after leaving Rolla took us down some older country roads and over a couple of steel bridges. The countryside here is very lush and we see a number of smart properties as we go along. I had already wetted my cool vest and was feeling the benefit but, at the fuelling and rest stop, Gary said that I should dunk it in one of the large ice chests he had in the back of the support truck. Those ice chests were used to cool water for drinking and to top up the water bottles that Gary had distributed on the first day. Well, the vest was dunked and Gary took great delight when slapping my back with the vest on still dripping wet with ice water. Ye gods – that was chilly! Future uses of the vest would see me wringing out the surplus water first.
Much of the day was spent riding with only a couple of stops. I didn’t feel particularly inspired to take many photographs. We made it to Kansas and on to Baxter Springs where we had an excellent and cheap buffet lunch in the Café on the Route. It is located in the old Crowell Bank, a two-story brick building built in 1870 and reputedly robbed by Jesse James in 1876. Gary had phoned ahead and asked them to stay open for us which they did. It turned out that Gary does an awful lot of organising in the background to make sure we get food, see the best sights, meet the right people and, above all, stay safe on our journey. It was interesting to note that much of Baxter Springs was quite run down and really emphasises the fact that many such towns lost significant business from the lack of passing traffic when the Interstates opened. We fuelled the bikes in Baxter Springs and one of the locals warned us about tornadoes in the area. This was close to Tornado Alley and central America was experiencing some severe weather systems at the time. So far, we had been lucky to avoid much of the storms. Would our luck hold?
We passed through a number of places after leaving Rolla – Doolittle, Lebanon, Springfield (the Oklahoma one – not the Illinois one), Joplin, Baxter Springs, Miami and Venita. The last place we passed through, and stopped at, before arriving in Tulsa, was Catoosa which is famous for its Blue Whale attraction just outside the town. Originally, the Blue Whale was built in the early 1970s as a present for the wife of the then owner, Hugh Davis. His wife, Zelta, was into collecting whale figurines. It soon became an attraction to both locals and Route 66 travellers and Davis developed the site with picnic tables, diving boards, sand and other attractions. It closed in 1988 and fell into disrepair. The present owner has restored the Blue Whale and other elements of the park but health and safety regulations mean that it would be difficult to operate it once more as a swimming venue without signifcant cost. Though the Blue Whale has been seen by many Route 66 travellers (except our EagleRider rivals who rode straight past it while we were there), I didn’t feel the urge to take the camera out.