Considering how much I’ve traveled in my life, it’s a wonder that I’d never really been to Kansas City. I’d passed through it on freeways and trains, but that was about it. If my luck held up, that was about to change. It was three and a half hours from Story City, a straight shot on the 35 south.
On the way I stopped at a rest stop with a marker that recognized the Mormon Trail, a 1,300-mile route that stretched from Illinois to Utah. Between 1848 to 1867, over 70,000 Mormons traveled on it to the Salt Lake Valley, hoping to find their own promised land. Like most acts of manifest destiny, it didn’t take into consideration that there might be people already living on it, which there were.
I was mostly avoiding cities on this trip but wanted to at least drive through Kansas City. I got out on a downtown exit and then parked briefly beside Washington Square Park, where a homeless man was sleeping beneath a statue of George Washington at Valley Forge. I stood there and watched another guy going down the middle of the street in a scooter, holding up all the traffic. From there, I tracked down Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs, which ended up being right next to the stadium where the Royals play baseball.
The idea for the day was to make it as far as Lake of the Ozarks and look for a place to camp. I’d never been there either, or to Branson, which I figured I’d hit up the next day. I took the 70 east to the 65 south. It had been a long driving day already. I reached the Lake Ozark Dam in the late afternoon, only to find that the road was closed for construction. Along the way I must have passed ten thousand billboards, half of them for realtors. It was almost like watching page-flip animation.
Lake of the Ozarks was a tourist hot-spot, with lake cruises, live music, a big pirate, a big Indian, old-time photo shops, restaurants, gift-shops. I did a search for a campground and Karen from Google Maps ended up taking me halfway across the lake, on a little road, as steep and winding as a rollercoaster. The cars behind me looking to pass were going just as fast. The real estate billboards were paced every hundred feet. Life on the Lake. Living the Lake Life. The sun was glaring through the windshield. It nearly caused me to melt down.
At last, I arrived at the Iroquois Campground. It was only for RVs. There was no one there to talk to. Google found another site for me, the Little Niangua. I blindly followed where Karen led, like a man in the desert stumbling towards a mirage. Somehow, I still missed a turn. Karen began to harangue me, insisting that I do a U turn. I did and regrouped at a gas station. The campground was only a mile away. Finally, I found the long-ass driveway and pulled into it.
There was no one at the office. It looked like another place just for RVs. A few of them were parked about fifty yards from where I pulled in. By now it was so dark, I had no option but to throw up my tent on a patch of grass. If anyone came around asking, I’d just pay them whatever they wanted. I was no longer fit to be driving.
One of the battery lamps I’d invested in had gone missing. The other was without a charge. I had no groceries. There was no way to start a fire. Ducks were quacking on a nearby river. A cow was mooing. Then a dog started barking. Four deer came out of the trees and just stood there observing me. Then I saw the flicker of fireflies. Once again, things had turned out all right. Even when a horde of mosquitoes arrived on the scene a half hour later, things had still turned out better than they could’ve. It was important to keep that mind.