Sunday, September 30, 2012

Running 6.5 miles in Missouri:
A trip back in time, sort of...

Poke around Nevada, Missouri, and you might think it's 1962. The largest employer in town is a big industrial plant where things are actually manufactured. The freight cars have no graffiti. And a big new Interstate highway is on the way!

All this reminded me of "Hilltown," the imaginary and somewhat idealized town that served as the setting of an elementary school textbook on personal hygiene, community service, and good citizenship.

Hilltown was made up, but Nevada was real. And that's what I thought about as I ran 6.5 miles, mostly in farmland beyond the city limits, early on Saturday, Sept. 29. Thus did Missouri become State #6 in my quest to run at least 10K in all 50. (By the way, it's pronounced "Ne-VAY-dah.")

Time? 1 hour, 23 minutes, starting at 7:15 a.m. Distance: yes, 6.5 miles, according to Google maps. Weather: temperatures in the 50s with a high broken overcast. The sun rose enough during the run to push me into a good sweat by the end.

We were staying in town to attend this year's annual Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, Kansas, a town across the nearby border. Our hotel was run by an Indian family that did all its cooking on the premises, giving the place the unmistakeable ambiance of New Delhi.

My running route first took me east, underneath Route 71, which is about to be upgraded into something rare in this day and age: a brand-spanking-new Interstate highway! (In this case, Interstate 49.) Really -- the work in upgrading Route 71 to Interstate standards from Kansas City south to the Arkansas border is almost done, with even the signs in place and only lacking the actual numbers, which I read are supposed to go up this fall.

This whole "here comes the new Interstate" thing is something that must have been much more common a half-century ago, when the system was being built out at a rapid pace and significant new stretches were opening every construction season. Not so anymore -- except in Nevada, Missouri, which also happens to be devoid of any enclosed shopping malls or significant suburban shopping plazas. Coincidence?

I was taking a chance going out into the open countryside, but surprisingly, the roads and intersections were well marked. Once I hit Route 1800, I turned north and followed it to Nevada's Airport, where things were no busier than the open cropland I was otherwise surrounded by.

I then reached Route 54 (visible above, in the distance), which I took east back into town alongside the tracks of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, or so a map told me. I was surprised to see long lines of freight cars with absolutely no graffiti on them! You could even read all the reporting marks, which seem to be usually obscured by vandals. The oldest covered hopper car, for example, had been on the rails since February 1974.

When Route 54 turned west, I turned east, heading back to the hotel, but not before passing the massive 3M plant on the city's eastern side. This enormous facility, the largest area employer (610 are currently on the payroll) is refreshing in that things are actually made there, just like the factories on the edge of Hilltown.

Imagine that! But I didn't have to, as I saw it right before my eyes.

Next up: 10K or better in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I'm madly typing this out now.

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