Monday morning I rolled out of Lebanon on Highway 5 toward the town of Ava, where I stopped for a quick breakfast at McDonald's. From Ava, I jumped Highway 14 west to Ozark. I highly recommend this highway, in that it is in great shape and winds through some very beautiful country. South of Ozark, Highway 65 is a straight shot to Branson, but the ride is is far from boring. There are beautiful mountain bluffs and enough steep grade stretches with enough bends to keep things interesting. Just before reaching Branson, there is an exit for Ozark Mountain High Road. This is another stretch that should not be overlooked on a ride through the Ozarks, although it is a much larger road.
I pulled into River Run Outfitters near the dam at Table Rock to purchase a trout permit that I had not intended on needing for this trip. After a short explanation as to why I was in Missouri without a trout permit and a fish lacking fishing report, they proceeded to key me in on another river near Noel that I should try if and when I get the chance. According to them, this is one of the best rivers for Smallmouth Bass fishing, and having know the owners for some time, I'll take their word for it and maybe explore this river next year. For the time being however, it was time to fish for trout.
I pulled up to the boat ramp and saw that Kent already had the boat launched and was rigging up for the day. As I walked down to get his keys so that I could lock my luggage in the back of his SUV, I ran into Dwan, his wife and son-in-law, from Wichita! They were down to fish on Tuesday with a guide, and after a brief conversation, they were on their way. I grabbed one of my rods and headed back down the boat ramp to get this day off to a start.
Kent had a Sage 9-9 rigged with a small indicator and a #16 Harvester Midge for me to fish. I was quickly convinced that he knew exactly how to catch clients fish in a hurry and in great numbers, however, I found the 9-9 to be a bit stiff and ended up yanking the fly away from most of the fish that ate the fly. We saw a number of huge trout, though none of them were willing to come into the boat for a photo. Overall, it turned out to be a wonderful day on the river, with beautiful weather, and time very well spent with a good friend. Thanks for a great time Kent!
I decided to head out around five in the evening, and with a rookie frame of mind, thought I could make the run home that night. I was disappointingly wrong. Heading out on a northwest planned route, I thought I would run up to Joplin and catch US 400 home. It wasn't long before I found myself stopping, time after time, second guessing my route. After a few compromising changes to the plan, I had made my way to I-44 at Mt. Vernon, east of Joplin, where I'd stop for a bite to eat. Assessing the situation and location while I ate, I decided that this would not be an ideal place to spend the night with the bike parked venerably outside. With Joplin a mere 35 miles down the interstate, I chose to ride on and find a place to crash for the night (no pun intended)- the Riviera Roadsite Motel.
The desk clerk, Kathy, was very nice and had more jokes to tell than I had the energy to listen to, but she was more than friendly in sharing information about their accommodations. She offered me a room near the front, with adequate lighting and a place to chain the bike up. Stepping into my room was a bit similar to walking onto the set of a 1970s horror film, with wood-panels on the walls, though the place was clean and well kept, with a pair of soft beds, all at a wonderful rate to keep with the low budget theme of the trip.
Tuesday morning, instead of heading straight home, I rode south and west of Joplin to check out a couple of should be access points on Shoal Creek. While the creek in this area is very attractive, I did not fish, as I was a little leery of leaving my bike with over half of soft luggage unattended for an extensive period of time. After riding around the area for a while, I went back to Joplin for lunch, then hit the road to head for home around noon. The trip from Joplin was rather uneventful, with the exception of one particular instance that I'll spare the details of, but say that I made it out alive by the grace of God and some quick thinking and maneuvering.
As I crossed US 400 into Kansas, I noticed a BMW Motorcycle parked on the shoulder. Thinking maybe there might have been a problem, I drifted to the side of the road and stopped. It turned out all was well, and Jim from Spokane, WA was just having a phone conversation. Jim asked about my adventure and proceeded to tell me about his trip through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Iowa and Missouri. He was on his way to Phoenix, AZ to park his bike in storage and fly home to Spokane. When I gave him the wandering eyeball, he said that this way he could fly back to Phoenix in the winter to ride wherever his travels would take him on his motorcycle. The topic of fishing came up of course, and he told tales of catching huge salmon back home and that he had property on Clear Creek in Idaho. We exchanged contact information and he extended an open invitation to his place in Idaho if I ever made it up that way.
A few hours later, I rolled into the driveway at home and recalled the events of my four day trip. I couldn't help but think of the beauty of the perfect little Smallmouth that I had caught, in the perfect stretch of an Ozark stream. After all, that was the foundation of this trip to begin with, though it evolved to be much more. I remembered how before I left home on Saturday, I almost changed my mind to taking the boat and a tent to camp on a lake here in the Sunflower. I'm glad I pressed on with the original plan.