Sunday, July 31, 2016
Hard to believe tomorrow is August 1st. I actually saw Fall decoration items in Family Dollar this morning while I was getting some extra water bottles. It's been just under 2 months since I've left home and I've traveled a little over 2,000 miles in that time. I keep wondering what it will be like when I settle again, whenever that will be. It will be nice to have some cotton clothes and put more veggies in my diet. I wasn't eating much cheese or eggs before I left home but, there's not much to eat in a lot of these small towns that fit in with the vegan lifestyle. Beyond that, I've just been eating a lot of junk; mostly because that's what's available at gas stations and convenient stores and I'm also not trying to eat out at restaurants for every single meal. Yes, travelling is giving me some strong appreciation for being able to cook and eat right but, I'm also very thankful for learning how to live comfortably with what I can carry on my back and on my bike.
I've been meaning to wash my sleeping bag and I found a laundry mat in Wagner when I got here. I started talking to the woman in charge (who was nice enough to stay a little late so I could finish drying my sleeping bag) and she had the same thing to say about the area as a lot of people I've talked to in Iowa and South Dakota: be careful of the Indian Reservations. Call me ignorant or naïve but, I don't understand what these reservations are or why they're dangerous.
I've been told there's some gang activity within the reservation areas and some of them have been responsible for vandalism in the public parks of Wagner. The woman at the laundry mat also mentioned the issues within Wagner's public schools. She said 80% of students are of Native American descent and unfortunately, these are the students that drop out first, around 8th or 9th grade. She said she's not prejudiced but after seeing all the facilities and opportunities given to the natives on these reservations over 40 years of being in Wagner, she doesn't know how else to feel.
No need to stealth camp tonight because there are no cops in this town. I learned about the city park from the bartender, Linda at the only bar in Irene. She used to work for the city council, specifically for the parks and she said there's no one that will bother me here. I'm sitting under the pavilion, I have outlets to charge my electronics and there is a fully functioning bathroom with running water and toilet paper right next to me.
I am in paradise. It's great to meet new people and stay with them but, sometimes a night to myself is exactly what I need. Well, today I got the best of both worlds. Riding down the steep hill into town, I came upon the Irene Bar and Grill. The place was completely empty except for Linda who was taking care of Belinda and David. They're an incredibly nice couple just passing through Irene to go to their camper for the weekend.
The 3 of them had so many questions about my trip and for anyone wondering if I get tired of answering the same questions all the time, I do not. If I can inspire one person to go out and do something out of the ordinary, all my efforts on this trip will have been worth it. Anyway, David and Belinda decided to pay for my lunch before they headed out – yet another act of kindness I hope to pay forwars one of these days. Shortly after they left, the bar started to fill up with locals.
Boy, they could practically smell that I wasn't from the area, they could just tell something was different. All really warm, friendly people just trying to pass the time on a Friday afternoon. I knew if I didn't leave soon, I would've speent all night there or I would've gotten in the van with Big Earl and Matt, a couple other outsiders (not as outside as me) headed a couple towns over to play some music at another bar. So, here I am at the park around the corner, my wet clothes hanging on my makeshift clothesline and the rest of my stuff spread out on the picnic tablea in the pavilion, just trying to get caught up with documenting this ridiculous trip.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
100 miles in a day, I never thought I'd be interested in trying somethinf like that but, here I am, 100 miles from where I woke up today. It was a perfect day for it: overcast and cool til around 2:00pm, then the last 25 miles were a bit hot and sweaty but, it's all part of the fun and challenge of this trip.
When I finally got to Spencer, I met up with another Dan at his house. Him and his wife are Warm Showers hosts but Susanne was out of town so it was just us two Dans. We drove up to Okoboji, Iowa, another town with a couple lakes as the centerpiece for all the bustling restaurants and shops that accomodate the summer tourists.
More gravel roads today. Nothing quite like yesterday since I only rode 30 miles. I wanted a short ride the day before I attempt a century ride. Yikes. I think I can do it as long as there's no gravel! I stopped at the Surf Ballroom and Museum when I first got to Clear Lake. Past hosts from Freeport, Tim and Dianne told me it was worth checking out.
That's pretty much the main reason I made Clear Lake part of my route. The ballroom is the site where Buddy Holly and a few other famous musicians at the time (that I can't remember now) played their final show before dying in a plane crash. But, beyond that so many famous musicians took the stage there since 1948. A huge name for me was Roy Orbison, that guy was something special.
With all the corn, soy and nothingness in Iowa, I never would've guessed there would be a lake that people flock to from hundreds of miles away. On the edge of Clear Lake, I couldn't hell but think of my time in Skaneateles, New York. There was a great park right by the water, restaurants, bars and shops and fancy homes and boats lining the lake.
Where I sat down to rest there was even a large boat that looked like it gave tours on the water, very reminisce of my day with Hattie and Pete on Lake Skaneateles. As I'm sitting there admiring the view the captain of the ship, John, came over and started talking to me about my trip and ended up inviting me on the next tour. As I learned in Skaneateles, never pass up a free boat ride.
We cruised around the lake for an hour and a half with a playlist consisting of The Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffet which, if you don't already know, have been playing in my headphones non-stop on this trip. I was planning on camping at a campground on the other side of the lake but, after the boat ride, a man named Chad asked if I needed a place to stay. I like saving money where I can so I took him up on his offer to camp in his backyard.
Him and his wife live just up the road from where the boat was docked so it was an easy ride in the late afternoon. How many traveling strangers have you invited into your home? I can't say I've done that for anyone either. Chad said they don't usually look for strangers to invite back home but, one time he traded donuts to a homeless man for some magic tricks and a few songs on his guitar. Good people are out there, it all just starts with a conversation, you don't need to invest anything other than a simple hello or a question, maybe you decide to help them after that or maybe they can even help you. Humans can't read minds so we should try to talk to each other more.
Thank God for Jeff McIntyre. If I knew exactly what I was doing, I probably wouldn't be using Google Maps to navigate from point A to Point B. But I don't, so I am. So far it's been a good way to plan my routes, I've made it this far anyway. However, aside from directing me to take a bike path that mysteriously ended at the edge of a field overgrown with weeds, I also had the pleasure of riding on 15 miles of gravel roads.
I've been on gravel roads and bike paths before but, these were just too funny. I had to do my best to ride within the tire track from the last car that drove down these roads to get the smoothest surface. Even the smoothest part of the road was like riding on rumble strips. I had about 10 miles left on my ride before a couple quick turns to the campground and of course it was 10 miles of gravel in the hot afternoon sun. It had been hours since I last saw a town. I was getting to the end of my water and I didn't know what else to do besides knock on the door of the next house I saw.
So I did. Rolling into the driveway, I scared a dozen ducks, sent a couple peacocks running, startled a massive turkey and made a few chickens attempt to fly away. There were birds everywhere. Knocking on the front door summoned a thin, older man with no shirt and jeans cut off at a mid-thigh length. This is Jeff McIntyre. He quickly showed me to the spigot that pumped fresh, cold water out of the ground. I chugged a liter as fast as I could and then filled up my bottle again. Jeff asked if I wanted a beer, I said of course. He lead me around the corner of his house to some sort of garage/man-cave, parting the sea of chickens, ducks, and peacocks. As far as I knew, Jeff might've been leading me to his murder shack to chop me up and feed me to the birds but, the AC was on and all I cared about was getting out of the heat and getting a beer in my hand. Lucky for me, I got a beer instead of getting killed. In Jeff's.... I'll call it a clubhouse, was a pool table, foosball table, and air hockey table with at least a dozen TVs, probably even more speakers ranging in size from bookshelf to full-size floor speakers, a naked white mannequin and all sorts of posters on the wall. He walked over to one of the TVs and said, "Do you wanna see my cat?" He was standing over a blackened, almost mummified cat corpse. He said he found it in his barn when we was cleaning. The skeleton seemed to be completey in tact and the flesh, I guess you would call it, hardened to a nice shell. He told me all his speakers are connected to his computer where he has over 80,000 songs and every TV set will play visuals to go along with the music. Jeff told me he could make it so loud the walls and ceiling shake. I didn't get a demonstration though, maybe next time. I just stayed for one beer but, before I left he asked if I liked kohlrabi. I had no idea what that was. He went into his garden and pulled out a thick, green bulb, pulled off all the leaves and handed it to me, just peel it and put salt on it he said. Before I rode away he said I should take a peacock feather too. With full water bottles, kohlrabi, and a feather, I was ready to ride slowly over the gravel to the campground. There might be a few morals to this completely true story despite my lack of photo-evidence: talk to strangers if you need help, kohlrabi is delicious with salt, and always take a peacock feather if it's offered. Oh, and riding a bike on gravel sucks.
It never bothers me one bit when I don't have a place to sleep lined up before I get to the town I'm aiming for. Something will always work out whether I resort to stealth camping in a field or spending some cash to get a motel room. There is one pinned location in Sioux Center, Iowa which belongs to Nate and Kirbee. Nate already said him and his wife were going out for the night and wouldn't be able to host me. When I got to Sioux Center I was surprised to see Nate working at the bike shop.
He sold me a seat and a couple other parts I needed for my bike. Although I couldn't stay at Nate and Kirbee's tonight, he found me a place to stay by asking some of his customers if they would host a traveling cyclist for the night. Sioux Center just has that small town sense of community where housing a strange, smelly traveler for the night isn't such a strange thing. I stayed with a great guy named, Iver, his wife, Emily and their daughter, Jovi. Not only did they put a roof over my head, they also cooked me a lovely meal and they had all sorts of questions about my trip. I know I've mentioned over and over the overwhelming generosity I've received from people I barely know but, I could just feel it all through this town. When while I was looking for Iver's house, I got lost and came across this very friendly guy named David sitting on his front steps husking corn, drinking a PBR and hanging out with his 2 boys in the yard. He gave me some helpful instructions but we ended up talking for a while after that. We talked about his time hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was my age, my bike trip, and the beauty of living in a real small town. The way we live back East is not the same as the folks from the Midwest and I wish I knew why. There's probably a million factors that affect the way people see and interact with the world. I feel very fortunate see these differences firsthand.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
I was on the same road for over 40 miles today and it looked a lot like the road I was on yesterday but, the fields of green were just as beautiful as they were yesterday. I'm staying with Mary on her family's farm tonight. It may be her family's land but, they've been renting it out for other farmers to grow crops on their 360 acres.
It was nice to sit around and hear Mary, her brother, Rex and his wife, Valorie talk about crops and farming and gardening – conversation you just never even think about growing up outside of Boston. What a wonderfully different way of life, having to care for a patch of land this big.
After riding through miles and miles of fields, seeing the little barns and homes rising above the corn, it's really great to be able to spend the night in a place where the backyard is completely walled-off by 7 foot tall corn stalks. No immediate neighbors, just plants stretching out into the horizon and massive pastel clouds filling the Midwest sky.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Anticipating more heat, humidity and possible thunderstorms, I left as early as I could. I stopped at the first gas station I saw for some snacks and saw I had I missed call from my friend, Vinny. It's hard to pass up a conversation with this dude so I called him back. He was waking up next to a river in Humboldt County, California, the place where they grow lots of green medicine.
He just left one farm and was headed to another. Damn hippies, am I right? They know how to have all the fun and make a living from it too. From the gas station I rode up and down some serious hills where I caught some beautiful views of Iowa. I hear this state doesn't have much to offer (please correct me if I'm wrong) but I'm drinking in the bucolic beauty like it's ice water.
The path wove through tunnels of green, occasionally opening up to vistas showing grazing cattle among ancient oak trees and trickling rivers.
At times, power lines bisected the trail, winding into the hills and cornfields, giving no hint of who's home they were powering. Shooting out of the path back onto the main road, the hills found me again.
Not nearly as demanding, I felt like a speedboat riding the currents up and down as I parted the sea of green. On the crests of the waves, I could see no end to this ocean, only occasional patches of trees and farms veiled in silver-blue layers of humidity and atmosphere like they were painted into the scenery by a true artist.
Another state has passed beneath my feet as I roll West on Ginger's saddle. The states on this side of the country are a bit wider so I certainky won't be breezing through any of them, especially since the wind is typically coming at me, slowing my roll. Today was a short ride, just what I needed after 8 hours of roasting in the sun yesterday. I was aiming for Dubuque but wasn't sure where I would stay until late last night.
I better get out to California soon to make it up to her before she does anything else for me! Dubuque is a cool little town. Maybe it's considered a city, sorry if I offens any DBQ natives. I heard it was quite the happening place back when Chicago was still being built up. Just another example of how being located along a major water source sets up a place for success.
At one point today it was 91 degrees with 75% humidity. From the moment I started pedaling I was dripping sweat. I knew it was going to be hot before I set out for Galena, I even knew about the hills along the way but, I thought I'd be okay. I'm here now, still alive, a little sunburnt so I was right!
But damn, it was a tough day. I was on the road for 8 and a half hours. I took a couple long breaks to cool down in the shade and I tried to pedal as little as possible but I was still melting every minute of the ride. I felt like I was full of leaks, every guzzle of water seemed to come right back out of my skin. The hills I rode over were no joke, they reminded me of riding from Massachusetts into New York; I definitely haven't climbed anything like that since. But man, were they beautiful.
I saw some Grant Wood paintings during my recent visit to the Art Institute of Chicago and I felt like I was riding through his beautiful works of art. The roads curved through the green hills and the rows of corn and soy followed. Coming to the top I could see how perfectly rowed out the crops were planted, they almost looked like soldiers waiting for war in the golden sunlight. Despite the beautiful scenery, it was hard to keep moving.
Any patch of shade was an inviting oasis in the middle of the desert. The need for water to quench my thirst was ever-present but, the need to dump some on my head was just as vital. Silly me for buying a dark gray helmet. I might as well put a bag over my head, the thing just heats up like an oven. Enough complaining, I made it.
There's no trip to the local brewery tonight or an excursion to get some ice cream like in Freeport last night with Tim and Dianne but, at least I could stand in the cold shower for as long as I wanted when I finally made it to the Palace Campground. This will not be the last of the hills and the heat so I will have to plan accordingly and enjoy being soaked with sweat all stinkin' day.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Last night was great, first time in the tent since Indiana and first time stealth camping since New York! I wasn't expecting to stealth camp but, the campground I had on my radar turned out to be closed for some reason. What else was I supposed to do besides pitch my tent and make myself at home?
The solitude and fresh air is a nice change from the citt. Everything is good in moderation. I got up early so I could beat the heat and the potential thubderstorms looming overhead. It's also just really pleasant riding in the morning light, knowing I have the whole day to get where I'm going. I may have escaped the heat for the most part but, I rode right into the rain. The plus side to the rain, or at least the time leading up to it, was the clouds that added so much drama to the otherwise redundant scenery.
To the North, the sky was streaked with pink and purple like it was 7:00pm what it was only 12 in the afternoon. And straight ahead, nothing but blue-ish gray covering every inch of clear blue sky. I would've had more photos if I didn't pack my phone away for fear of getting soaked.
I'm glad I put all the proper rain covers over my bags before it rained because when it finally did with 10 miles left in my ride, I was so tired, I might've just said screw it. There were a few moments when I was so hungry and tired and cold that I was hoping for a pick up truck to offer me a ride. Looking back, I'm so glad I didn't even have that opportunity. I found some trees in someone's yard that looked like a good umbrella.
I stopped for a minute, gave myself a mental pep talk, put on my poncho, ate a snack and felt good as new! Thus is no great accomplishment, toughing out 10 miles in the rain but, I was almost ready to throw in the towel if the opportunity came along. From this point, I went slow, a comfortable pace, and tried not to look at how many miles I had to go on the odometer. I just had to pedal, and that's all I did.
It's my first day back on my bike in almost 5 days, it feels good to spend the day with Ginger again. We rode just under 70 miles which was a nice way to jump right back into it! I spent last night with Neil and Rett and their dog, Pip again. They're just too good for letting me store my bike at their place for the weekend and then letting me crash for another night since I was too dead from spending all weekend having too much fun with my friends.
I feel beyond ready to tackle the rest of this cross-country ride. I want to have some long days on the road while it's still flat farmland. Neil helped me plan out my route a little bit last night. Nothing too specific because plans change quite often but, he gave me a rough idea of the routes I should stick to and what towns might be beneficial or completely barren along the way.
The next 1/3rd of the country is going to be much more sparse than what I've seen which should motivate me to move quickly to get to the good stuff further West. Although it will be much more scenic, it will only be that way because of the inevitable mountains... I know I'll be ready for them when I get there, until then, all I can do is enjoy the ride.
(photos of me courtesy of Neil Gregie)