Higbee, Population 623

Yesterday was my off week for being on general assignment, so naturally, I had it jam-packed with more reporting projects. I’ve learned (with some difficultly) that free time apparently doesn’t exist in my vocabulary until December, but I’ve managed to adjust to it (for now).

I started off the morning getting directions to interview my next story subject, Rob Alongi, about his historic Murphy Lakes property in Higbee, Mo. I originally contacted him as a source for the artist story about James Hopfenblatt that I’ll be finishing up this week. Rob also owns property in North Central Columbia and the garage sheds where I first met James spray-painting murals. After speaking with Rob, he started talking about his 1200-acre property an hour northwest of Columbia, and I decided to look into it further.

The story pitch was approved, a couple phone calls were made, the gas tank was filled and Google maps was synced before I started out on US-63 northbound.

The early afternoon drive was absolutely gorgeous. I’ve traveled out of Columbia from all directions, but I’d have to say that going northbound on Highway 63 is by far my favorite way to exit the city limits. There are no billboards, just open road and fields as far as you can see. The portion of the drive on Route B westward was just as enjoyable, and I mentally prepared some additional questions I would have for Rob upon arrival.

Just as I was getting the hang of the route and feeling confident about making good time, I  hit the inevitable when traveling along county roads: gravel. Lots and lots of gravel. Rob had told me that there would be a gravel trail up to the property, but he didn’t exactly mention that the “trail” included eight miles of gravel. Even now, I’m thankful that absolutely no one was on the road with me because I ended up inching my 2010 Corolla at a meager 20 mph the rest of the way.

Despite three different sets of directions (an online source, a Missouri Atlas and Gazette that my mother insisted I bring with me and Rob’s own directions given to me over the phone) I managed to make it without any major turnarounds. Victory!

Once I got to the main barn, I was given a tour that ended up taking me across the majority of the property. Rob talked a lot about the history of the place and the fishing and hunting aspects of his lodging. As a conservationist and lifetime hunter, he had a lot to say about the state of the wildlife in the area. Even though he is landlord with property in the city of Columbia, I could tell that he was definitely in his natural element out there in the woods. As I clutched for dear life riding around in his electric dune buggy, he called out to his dog, Belle, and talked about the grounds with a certain sense of pride after spending so much time and effort as he has with those properties.

Three hours later, the sun was beginning to go down and Rob had to prepare for dance lessons. A part of me wanted to stay, especially after he invited me for a free lesson with the crew (“We’re short on females tonight!” he coaxed) but I knew I needed to get back to the main roads before it was completely dark and this reporting experience turned into an unforgettable one for not-so-great reasons.

I have a lot of follow-up questions for him and need to get a couple more source contacts, but I’m pretty excited to see how my afternoon spent in Higbee will end up in the grand scheme of the story.

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