Today, I experienced my first real sense of pride for something that we've accomplished in the past 26 days: we crossed the Mississippi River.  I hadn't expected it to be a big milestone for me, but I haven't expected a lot of memorable things that have occurred on this trip (biking 35 miles in the wrong direction and paying a stranger to drive me to the correct town comes to mind).  Like most boys, one of my favorite lessons in social studies was exploration- particularly the western front of America.  With the Mississppi being an integral part of western expansion, my mind always automatically thinks back to my social studies lessons when I hear the river referenced.  The river always seemed so distant when reading about it in old textbooks.  Pedaling myself from the Atlantic to the river that had always been my favorite symbol of exploration and perseverance made me feel like I had accomplished a goal that 10 year old me would be very pumped about.

After crossing the Mississippi into Missouri, we had a nice mix of hills and flats to keep us from getting bored.  The only complaint during the riding would be about the heat, but that's what we get for riding bikes through the Midwest at the end of July.  We had two stops on our way to Farmington: a tiger sanctuary and a brewery. 

While sitting in the shade in the parking lot of the tiger sanctuary, Chris looked at me and said, "You know, if you asked me at the bottom of that hill what would be up around the bend, a tiger sanctuary is not what I would say."  We only pulled in to fill up our waters and cool off in the shade, but we were able to walk by the sanctuary and see a few of the tigers.  I was a bit surprised by how muscular and large the animals were.  I'm usually (over)confident when it comes to me thinking about what I would do in a situation.  When I would hear about people getting mauled by tigers, I used to think I'd be able to outwit the cat or something if I had to.  After seeing one about 10 feet away, yeah- I can be an idiot.

Our second stop was at the Crown Valley Brewery for lunch.  I can admittedly be a bit of a beer snob, so I try to stop at every microbrewery that I come across.  Craft beer can be funny- it takes drinking and makes it sound like a hobby.   I had a local bison Reuben and easily the best shandy I've ever had.  As we were getting ready to leave, a man named Brian and his wife Janine came over to talk with us.  Brian had done the Trans America trail back in '09 (I always think all years post 2001 were recent, but then realize I had just graduated high school and the Yankees were about to win their most recent World Series in '09).  They explained that the Trans America route changes slightly over the years, so an old route used to pass by within a block of their house.  Brian bumped into a girl doing the trail and was hooked on the idea.  He eventually quit his job (sound familiar?) and flew out to Oregon to do the trip West-East.  One thing I regretted not asking was if Brian stayed at home when he passed nearby on the trail.  I couldn't imagine stopping by for a pit stop at home for one night and having to go back out for another 3-4 weeks; that would be so brutal.  Although our conversation was brief, it was definitely one of the best encounters we've had.  Seeing the excitement and passion in someone that accomplished the whole trail is encouraging.

When we got to Farmington, we unloaded our gear and walked inside.  Brian had mentioned that this was the nicest hostel on the trail; I thought maybe he was biased, but he was correct.  The hostel is called Al's Place and it's a renovated jail that is cleaner and newer looking than any place we've stayed over the last 26 days.  There are leather couches, bunks with fresh sheets, and central air.  It looks more like a hotel suite than a cyclist hostel. 

After showering, we biked over to a place that we had our minds set on since Yum mentioned it on day 10: White Castle.  Back in New York, White Castles aren't always found in the nicest areas.  We had one across the street from our high school on Fordham Road and the counter had bullet proof glass.  When we got there, we agreed to split a crave case.  We were feeling cocky, so we also got chicken rings.  I got to 10.5 before I felt like I was going to throw up.  I always say that my pride will be my downfall, but I was ok with admitting defeat here.  I was fine with not finishing the case, but Chris refused to back down.  He finished my last 4 on top of his 15, which brought his total to 19.  I don't think either of us will be craving White Castle for a while.

Tomorrow is my 24th birthday and the only thing I want to do is nothing, so we are going to take a rest day.  I'll be updating the photography on the site, so keep an eye out.