pages fly away 44

Around four in the morning, I went out to use the bathroom, with my only source of light, a small flashlight, and came across a small possum stumbling along the edge of the tree line.  Littered across the grass were small glowworms, lighting the land like the fireflies had been lighting the air only a few hours later.  I looked up and there were stars, like glowworms in the sky.  The world was alive, both above and below my feet. 

The moon was an open portal that shined through the wall of my tent once I returned to it.  I sat up, cross-legged and listened to the chirping of the crickets and cicadas.  Then I counted my breaths and listened.  Dew drops were falling from the branches.  All got quiet, and then one single insect returned, rattling alone with all its might.

It was still dark by the time I began breaking down the camp.  By now I had it down to an art, a five-minute operation at most.  I threw the blankets and pillows in the back seat.  Then folded the tent in half, quartered it, and laid it in the trunk, on top of everything else.  The bag the tent had come in?  Forget about that.  The tent pegs?  I hadn’t tried using those since the first night of the trip.  This was guerilla camping, the only thing more primitive being the trips to San Onofre we used to take in high school, where we’d drink two cases of beer and then sleep facedown around a smoldering fire.

Although I was at Lake of the Ozarks, I still hadn’t seen much of the lake.  I did a search for the National Park and was directed to the McCubbin’s Point Entrance.  I reached the shoreline just as the sun was beginning to rise.  The surface of the water was absolutely calm, with touches of pink, purple, and blue, framed by the silhouette of branches.  It could’ve been a lake of magma, the very evolution of the earth taking place.  The chirping of the bird was nearly deafening.

It was two hours to Branson, a place I was curious about, knowing it has a reputation for live music and shows.   I took the 5 to the 44 south, passing but not stopping in Springfield.  When I arrived at Branson Landing, I wasn’t sure where to go.  I parked beside a Giant Bass Pro Shop and walked down to the White River.  From there, I made it over to Downtown Branson, a place of restaurants, gift shops, and small theaters, but felt like I wasn’t at the center of the action.  That turned out to be W 76 Country Boulevard, a five-mile strip, something of a cross between Las Vegas and the Grand Ole Opry. 

It was a grand slice of Americana that awaited me there, starting with go-karts and batting cages, a toy museum, the Bigfoot Fun Park, a Ferris Wheel, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Hollywood Wax Museum, with King Kong and Jack Nicholson, a Mount Rushmore replica with the heads of John Wayne, Elvis, Marilyn Munroe, and Charlie Chaplin.  There was the Titanic Museum, Outlaw’s Old Time Photos, Presley’s Country Jubilee, the Wonderworks Amusement Park, an aquarium with a giant octopus, the King’s Castle Theater, the Andy William’s Moon River Theater, more go-karts, a giant Rooster in a star-spangled vest, McDonald’s, Crispy Crème, and near the end of the strip, the Dolly Parton Stampede.

By the time I reached the end of it, I was wiped out and dispirited.  Up until now, I had no idea if I’d even go much further east than the Mississippi River, but I still had the Mountain Bluebird for three more weeks, and instead of being satisfied, wanted to see even more, to drive all the way across the country.  I’d gotten away with it so far and felt I could keep it up.  How far could I go?  Memphis was five hours away.  I could be there by early afternoon.  After that maybe Nashville?  Kentucky?  Ohio?  Virgina?  I wasn’t sure, but as long as there was still road ahead of me and a bit of money left in the bank, I was bound to find out.

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