With access to the hotel wifi, it’s now possible to do things like post to the blog and, oh right, check the weather, which reveals a new front moving up from the South in a big arc, carrying sleet and freezing rain. The forecast puts it shy of the due west highway by morning, like a wave approaching the shore, but just. If we leave early enough we can scoot past before it arrives. However, it effectively eliminates the optional Southern Route kept open as an escape hatch if the weather out west looks bad. Westward ho it is.
It starts snowing again at 2am (3am by my Virginia body clock). I know it is snowing because I’m still awake with road jitters. The forecast is apparently wrong. It snows all night. Day 2 begins after only three hours of sleep.
At 6am, the morning news is on in the breakfast bar of the hotel. News-casters are broadcasting live from overpasses, wearing parkas. Not a good sign. Over pathetically weak coffee it becomes clear the decision to stop this side of St. Louis was not a good one. The front has slipped farther north, and all roads leading into and around St. Louis are snow-snarled with rush hour traffic. Maps on our phones with real time traffic info show all the roads ahead flashing angry red for traffic at a standstill. Beyond St. Louis everything is fine, but we’re on the wrong side of beyond.
The least red route leads directly into the city. Nothing to do but clean the windshield, gas up, and head out into it. The weather will only get worse if we wait.
A slow hour later the Mississippi River slides into view, ice-choked and cloaked in freezing fog. One benefit of the crawling pace is we get a good view of The Gateway Arch, which is perched on the Missouri side of the river like a giant croquet wicket. Not until you get close do you realize how big it is: the tallest manmade monument in the US. It is three football fields wide and three tall. Atmospheric perspective makes it look strangely alien, like a matte painting in a sci-fi movie – an enormous space ring fallen from the sky and half embedded in the earth.
Harmonics with history resonate again. This mathematically idealized hoop marks the official launch of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Hence, “Gateway to the West.” Lewis had a 50 foot keelboat built in Pittsburg and floated it down the Ohio to St. Louis, where he met up with Clark and the rest of the Corps. From here they took the boat up the Mississippi to the Missouri, where they turned left onto longest river in North America. The Missouri first wends up through the northern border states, where it finally bends and arches west toward the Rockies. We take a more direct overland route, but will rendezvous with the Corps again later.
Winter is not flattering to the state of Missouri. I’m sure it’s beautiful in the summer, with green farm fields as far as you can see. Not so much now. The only prominent feature in the landscape is an unbroken procession of billboards lining the highway as far as you can see. Show me? Everything else looks grey, vacant, lifeless.
The roads are mostly empty, save for trucks, many for hauling cattle. Nothing much changes until we’ve crossed most of the state, when some variety finally reappears in the landscape.
We discover an unfortunate feature of Emily’s car. At temperatures below 28 degrees, and speeds over 70mph, a gap opens in the vent somewhere behind the dashboard. This lets a fierce frigid wind blow directly onto the legs of whoever is sitting in the passenger seat. We’ve kept a space blanket in every car for years, since Terri once got stranded in the snow. This will be the first time it’s used. It becomes a permanent fixture and perpetual necessity for the next 2000 miles.
At the western edge of Missouri is Kansas City, which with St. Louis bookends the state, leaving little of note in between. The second largest city in Missouri, it’s also the only major city in the US named for a state in which it is not.
Oddly, KC is also second in having more fountains than any city in the world, except Rome. But is first in having more BBQ restaurants per capita. And the largest boxed chocolate maker, Russell Stover, whose factory we pass later in the day.
Kansas City refused to enforce prohibition in the ’20s, and this made it the Sin City of the mid-west, famous for saloons, brothels and gambling. (The city is still full of casinos.) This did, however, have the fortunate side effect of making it a nexus of American jazz. None of this is for us, however. We stop for gas, window cleaning, lunch, change drivers, and push on to Kansas City, Kansas.