Steep learning curve
Roadtripping is never great when you’ve got too many miles to cover, so I had not expected much from our day on the road from Jackson Center OH to New Florence MO. Usually I arrived bleary-eyed and cramped, fatigued from too many hours of staring at striped concrete, and wondering how the long-haul truckers do it day after day.
But this road trip was a little different. Even though we started late (9:10 a.m.), and despite intermittent rain for the first two hundred miles along I-70, things proceeded smoothly and eventually I was pleased to find that we were in St Louis right on schedule. Sixty miles further west was our goal: an offer of courtesy parking with our friends Stevyn and Troy.
Like a lot of courtesy parking offers, this one was over a year in the making. It takes a while to swing by any particular spot in the USA, and even though Stevyn had tempted us with colorful descriptions of a bucolic country paradise, I wasn’t sure when we’d next by driving through Missouri to take advantage of the stay. But it was well worth the wait, because we found pleasant hosts at a peaceful little homestead atop a hill surrounded by forests and fields, and a grassy spot to park the Airstream (with 30-amp power nearby).
There was only one problem: getting up the driveway. Stevyn had advised that there were two hills along their gravel driveway, and I thought it rather odd that she suggested All-Wheel Drive or 4WD might be helpful. How bad could they be? We soon found out.
The photo really doesn’t do it justice. You have to look closely to see that there’s a point at which the road disappears from view because of the first drop-off (I can’t call it a hill, since it seems closer to a cliff). It was so sudden and shocking that I tried to brake the Airstream to a stop, but it slid over the loose gravel surface and continued down the hill anyway. There was nothing to do but release the brakes and keep steering as we plummeted down what I later estimated at a 20% grade.
It was a mistake to lose the momentum, because at the bottom we faced another hill of equal steepness. The AWD system in the Mercedes was flashing yellow warning lights on the dash to let us know that the highway-oriented performance tires were slipping in the gravel, but fortunately the diesel engine produces great torque and with four wheels pulling we still climbed steadily to the top.
(A side note here: Anyone who still thinks our car’s 3.0 liter V6 turbodiesel is “underpowered” is invited to pull a 7,500 pound trailer up this hill from a stop with your tow vehicle.)
At the top of the hill we found Troy waiting by the side of the road with words of wisdom: “You have to drive it like you own it.” Sage advice indeed, since ahead of us was yet another nearly identical slope, and I immediately knew what he meant. Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes.
We climbed the second hill as well, and found ourselves in a tiny paradise. Again, the photo doesn’t do justice the scene. Imagine being parked on an 80-acre hobby farm, on grass and beneath a large shady tree. Nearby is a vegetable garden overflowing with produce.
Chickens and peacocks are roaming around. To the east is a pasture with a dozen or so head of furry cows. A lovely house is across the driveway, with an outdoor patio that has a view to the ponds, and a firepit. Trails head off across the meadow and into the woods, and the sun is shining on a perfect late summer day.
It has been quite a while since we had weather so perfect that every window and vent in the trailer could be opened. The vent fans blew out the hot air that had been trapped in the Airstream during our low tow, and filled the interior with clean country air. We slept with the windows open, and I even opened the one by my head just so I could hear the crickets all night long.
It didn’t take much to convince us to stay two nights instead of just one. This morning we had breakfast with the entire family (nine in total counting us, which consumed quite a bit of the egg-laying output of the hens). I got some desk work done in the morning, and then while Eleanor and Emma were working on school I got a tour around the property from Troy in their 4WD utility vehicle. I also popped into the car to store this location into the “Favorites” of the GPS. The rest of the day we just spent talking, petting the farm cat, playing with the dog, and chilling out in the shade of an oak tree. Eleanor used the opportunity of the afternoon to make up a huge and complicated salad for everyone to share at dinnertime.
We could stay here very comfortably for a while, but we know we need to get moving west. The big rain system that has flooded parts of Colorado will be here in a couple of days. After considering the options we’ve decided to drive through it (via Kansas) and arrive in Colorado hopefully around the time the storm system is exiting. So in the morning we will hit the road just to cover some miles, and leave this lovely stop behind, at least for now.