I ‘ve had a heck of a time forgetting things places. I left my wallet in Virginia City, I left my favorite and irreplaceable hat in a field outside of Pierre, I left my phone in Aberdeen, I left my favorite sunglasses somewhere in New Prague, my oatmeal bowl in the sink at the Rochester People’s Co-op, and I left the new chain I bought at the counter at Honest Bikes. Fortunately I was able to walk back and reclaim the chain I purchased while Lizzy worked on last week’s blog update at the Rochester Public Library.
Traveling on a bicycle is strange–that’s not to say that I don’t like it. It is also strange to spend 24 hours a day with your friend when I am used to spending at least a quarter of my day in relative solitude (thankfully Lizzy is bearing with me in grace). And it is also strange to be in a city after spending the better part of two months in either wilderness, or towns no larger than 800 people. So while in Rochester I decided to take a walk. For someone like me who is a homebody and an outskirter, it is exhausting to be a constant spectacle so it was kind of nice to be anonymous for a while. I found a fabulous little food co-op that reminded me so much of home I had to run back to the library and get Liz. Literally, when I went through the front doors I was assaulted by the smell of curry, B.O., pine oil, and whole grains. In other words, it smelled like we were back in Oregon!
In our haste and excitement Lizzy’s rear wheel slipped. I will skip the technical and boring explanation of the problem because it’s annoying to listen to, and even more annoying for me to remember–but long story short, the rear quick release snapped into a million pieces right in the middle of an intersection. Everyone was OK, even little Beefy.
At that point the bike shop was closed and we were completely out of commission with no place to stay. And I was hungry. We were going to lock the bikes up and get something to eat and contemplate our next course of action when we were approached by a very clean and professional looking man. He went out of his way to try to call a friend and find housing for us that night. It didn’t work out, but in my book his efforts have earned him trail angel status.
About that time, we remembered that the bike mechanic who had helped us out earlier that day had given us a business card with his personal phone number on it. We called him and explained the situation, he just so happened to have a replacement quick release and agreed to meet us at the co-op within a couple of hours. And so, what could have been a frustrating problem was quickly averted. We walked down to the co-op and abused their community appliances to create a bundle of hearty and delicious vegan hamburgers to eat while we waited for out mechanic in shining armor.
His name, as fate would have it, is Michael Jackson. A four-star mechanic, gunsmith and fellow cyclotourist; he was quite a character. Mr Jackson allowed us to set up camp behind the shop, and gave me a hatchet for both protection and the chopping if combustibles. He also took us for a night ride around the city, bought me two cokes (!), and entertained us with stories about life in the Midwest and his friends/fellow craftsmen and boomerang master craftsman/gunsmith/bike mechanic coworker. Around midnight our uncontrollable yawning called the night ramble to a close, and we meandered back to the tent.
The bike shop is right across the street from the Police station, and the place our tent was in was very well lit, and Michael Jackson left his car parked next to our tent and unlocked it so we could use it as a safe refuge if needed. Fortunately we didn’t. While we felt safe, sleep was fleeting.
At about three o’clock we were awakened by a friendly voice asking us about our travels and insisting we accept couch pillows. The voice came from a tenant who lived above the bike shop and who worked as a bar tender and was just getting off work. It was a nice gesture, but neither of us was quite awake, and the mix of the disorienting hum of city traffic, the glare of the streetlight, the confusion of such a bright and cheery voice at 3 am brought upon me a inability to sleep and a short bout of paranoia. After we refused offers to watch Netflix, he assured us that we would be safe and that he wouldn’t let anyone bother us (hmmmmm) and bid us “beautiful women” sweet dreams and safe travels.
My dreams were not sweet because they didn’t exist. I forced myself to stay in the tent until 4:45, and then I went for a walk. The sun was coming up and I found a nice little spot to journal and do my daily devotion, and watch a healthy flock of ducks prepare for the coming morning. I eventually packed up what I could and left Lizzy (who was snoozing deep) to get coffee at the co-op. What an improbable night. This is where I deeply want to make some Michael Jackson puns like: I’m glad the bike shop didn’t make us ‘beat it’, or, that night sure was a ‘thriller’.
So, with 4 cups of coffee and 2 hours of sleep in me, we rode out of Rochester toward the hills of the Driftless region. The running theory is that this part of the Midwest was never glaciated, and is thus very hilly. Whatever the case, there are hills here, and ‘Driftless’ sounds cool. We made 60 miles out to Canton. We, or at least I, really wanted to make it to Decorah, IA that night because I am a ridiculously goal oriented person, and I knew that momma had granola waiting for us at the Post Office there, but I was literally falling asleep on my bike–something that is not impossible. I was startled back to reality by the yells of some Amish children, and knew it was time to pull over for the night. We went to bed before the sun went down.
The next morning we made it out to Decorah, IA, and received our package, did laundry, showered at the pool, did an interview, loitered at a second People’s Co-op and did some sight seeing. I bought a new cassette for my bike and the mechanic told us that we should take a different route to Wisconsin than I had planned. Since everyone seems to want to tell us route information, I generally smile and ignore route advise, but this time I didn’t. The mechanic, Deek, was a genuinely decent fellow though I can tell he tries to hide it. He was extremely respectful of us and our mechanical abilities (and inabilities) and offered to let us stay at his house. We declined lodging, but accepted his geographical expertise and rode off into the hills.
I’ve been in Iowa before, but never in the northeast. It is fantastic. The route Deek showed us, though longer, was my favorite stretch of road ridden thus far. It started out with a legendary dumpster dive: 2 cantaloupes, 4 bags of lettuce, 2 bunches of bananas each, 1 handful of cherry tomatoes, 2 pears, 1 sack of onions, and best for last: 4 bags of cherries! There was more in the dumpster, but we couldn’t carry it. I was ecstatic about the cherries, we picked the mushy ones out and feasted on nature’s candy as we peddled the gentle slope out of town and into the Iowan jungle.
And jungle it is out here. There are long patches of sandstone formations, overgrown with lush flora, housing small, trickling waterfalls. Frogs were serenading the coming night in chorus by the thousands. Curious deer watched us timidly in the slowly rising mist. Some leaped away, albeit lazily; some decided we weren’t worth the effort. Bats flurried above us, darting about in search of invisible prey. Crickets harmonized the amphibious melody until the song of night reached out beyond our ears and called the finale: fireflies. As the moon rose, the stars brightened, and the twilight deepened, fireflies rose from blackening silluhettes of the hills until the entire landscape shimmered like the skin of a middle school girl after a visit to Claire’s Accessories at the mall. We rode in this manor, awed by the beauty, moved by the sheer inability to explain exactly what we were feeling or experiencing. Before we knew it, we were in a town and the shimmering form of a baseball dugout called us home.
I carried those cantaloupes about 100 miles. Just a side note.
The next morning we awoke ready to cross the Mississippi River and get a goofy picture in front of the Welcome to Wisconsin sign. Such are our goals these days. Life is good. The Wisconsin visitor’s center had free, ice cold, chocolate milk on tap. Needless to say, I abused that privilege. We also abused the free coffee refills at the Prarie du Chein McDonald’s, but in due time were on the road again.
Also, this is for you Tessa, we saw our first Piggily Wiggily. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t impressed.
We passed through some neat old towns. I’ve been taking note of township foundation dates, and we have officially crossed into some pre 1865 towns, which I think is pretty neat. One town, the name I can’t remember, as founded in 1863, which is interesting. I like to think about the fact that those people, whoever they were, founded a town in the midst of a terrible Civil War. Grandma took Heather and me out to Washington DC one year and we spent a good deal of time walking old town cemeteries and Civil War cemeteries. We had a game where we would try to find the oldest tombstone, I hope to be engaging in that activity fairly soon.
Platteville is a fairly large town, or at least there is a Walmart there, so we got another good wifi break. Google tried its darnedest to get Lizzy and me to take the Cheesemaker Trail through Wisconsin, but we found out that it is a bonified ATV trail. We rode through some older county roads and popped up at a gas station town/Cheesemaker Trailhead/campground and got ourselves some high class, free (!!) showers. There were hundreds of ATVs zipping around. I’ve never seen anything like it. We left our rest spot there, and made it as far as Monroe where I made the executive decision to take a zero day–and not a 10 mile day, but a real zero.
We found a great grocery store that had wonderful samples everywhere (again, we abused the privilege), and then rode to a McDonald’s so we could Skype home. At about 11 yesterday night, we rode out to the park and created a delicious meal and waited to the cops to show up. This seemed like too nice of a town to let two grimy kids with a rat bed down in a high class pavilion. Sure enough, we drew the attention of the law. Two officers–who were extremely respectful, considerate, and more than understandably concerned about our presence in the city park–kicked us out and directed us to a way, way better camp spot at the town fairgrounds (complete with showers, though we haven’t found them yet).
We slept in, attended church this morning and kind of celebrated an anniversary party, and then for the past however many hours have been lounging around town doing absolutely as little as possible. I maybe even watched the 1976 Robin Hood cartoon at the McDonald’s. And maybe maybe I got more free samples from that grocery store. We have justified our 12 hour presence by the fact that we have been out loitered at this McDonald’s by a World of Warcrafter, who was also here last night and out loitered us then. . .
Much love to you all, and Beef says hi.