You Are Here

As relieved as I was to be out of the plane already, Petunia was more than ready to relieve herself outdoors. Even so, she patiently waited in her carrier with her head sticking out of the top opening and posed for photos snapped by amused strangers. Then, the first of many travel kindnesses: a woman in line handed me a water bottle and pointed to Petunia, saying something softly in another language. I thanked her as best as I could with a big smile and an appreciative, humbled little bow, and gave Tunes a much needed gulp of water.

After stamping my passport with an official Republic of Korea seal of approval, an immigration agent warmly corrected my belabored and awkward thank you (“…kaaam…..saaaa, uh,…haaameee…da?”), and we proceeded through to the baggage claim area. The realization that I’d surrendered my linguistic privileges came swiftly– the young Canadian woman who’d been my row mate on the plane gawked at the primarily-Hangeul luggage carousel directory and asked me where to go, as if I knew how to decipher “Vancouver” from the tessellations of unfamiliar circles and lines.  

After hovering around conveyor belt 10 for a while, I noticed her red plaid shirt in the exit line, along with her bags, and all of the other passengers from my plane, and understood that there weren’t any more bags or boxes left to pick off the belt. Uh oh. I found the Air Canada help desk and tried to start with a pleasant, albeit painfully pronounced, hello: “onnnnyong ha say yo!” After a bit of pantomime, redirecting, and a few more laps around the baggage department, I realized my bike was indeed MIA. No problem– it had probably just been held up one one of my several transfers. The claim attendant was patient as I tried to fill out the necessary forms, providing the world’s longest address in Seoul where I was staying, and rapidly messaging the Magnificent Seven crew of riders who would be going on the bike trip together to get help in providing the necessary contact information. Finally, I was able to provide a phone number where one of us could be reached, and then I headed to customs to declare the party animal I’d brought along. The agents spoke a few words of English, but I got nervous when they took the originals of the very important dog import paperwork that I brought with me, and I couldn’t explain my uncertainty about the process. Sleep-deprived, bikeless, certainly late for the taxi that David and Emily had kindly prearranged for me, and desperately unable to make myself understood or understand, now I worried that I was handing over paperwork I’d need to eventually exit the country. I felt my face flushing hot and probably looked like I was going to cry, which was terribly embarrassing. One of the customs agents brought me a tissue and made a photocopy of the forms for me, and I thanked her over and over as best as I could, and held it together. Dog had to go out and there was no need for any other waterworks. 

Mr. Shin held a sign with my name and called to me, as he must have recognized me as the passenger with the pup. He cooed to her sweetly and unburdened me of my large hiking backpack so I could let her out for a walk. Even though he’d waited well over an hour for me, he was very kind and welcoming, helping me into the taxi and deftly navigating us away from the airport towards Seoul in what seemed like rush hour traffic. Wide and bleary eyed in the back seat, I was struck by the towering urbanity surrounding the highway, which seemed much larger on the ground than in the pictures. “It’s huge! Like a forest of skyscrapers!” I said, trying not to squeal. “Too many people love here,” Mr. Shin said with an accidental vowel, his many dashboard devices beeping and chattering away as we sped down the highway, “and it’s a small land, so they build up, up up! That’s just one neighborhood,” he said, gesticulating to an area that looked several times the size of Manhattan.


We arrived in the apartment complex which housed my hosts and many of their International School teacher colleagues, and friends and fellow cyclists Jim and Mindy came to the rescue to pay my fare, as I hadn’t yet converted my USDs into Won. And then I was escorted up to meet David, Emily, and Kodi in their awesome home! What a happy welcoming party it was! Kodi and Tunes hit it off immediately, being of similar size, disposition, and bike touring abilities. I set my bags down and we all decided to go for a much-needed walk around the dong (yes, giggle giggle), or the neighborhood. 


As I took in this new place on foot for the first time, David set out his points of information for the hood:
1) There are coffee shops next to their coffee shops next to the coffee shops. Seriously. There must be 50 in the 15-20 blocks we walked. One of them just said “Coffee & Spaghetti,” a gastronomical pairing rivaled only by David’s comment that pizza here is sometimes topped with corn and mayonnaise. 



2) There aren’t trash cans anywhere. So when Tunes did her business on the street, I bagged it, and was instructed to toss it on a street corner where there was other trash. I recoiled in horror– isn’t that straight up littering? Can I just wait until we get to a real trash bin? But no– they insisted that that’s just the way it is, and overnight, the trash magically disappears. He explained the phenomenon as such: married, older and rather unfashionable women, often dressed in crazy mismatched colorful prints and wide visors, resembling chain-smoking Los Vegas slot squatters, go around every night like garbage gnomes and sweep up the litter from the streets. It was unclear whether these called aujimma were paid to do this street cleaning or whether it was some sort of social/civic duty. Still, it felt really weird to contribute to that by tossing dog waste on the ground.


3) The order of pedestrian operations is the opposite of the US– smaller things yield the right of way to bigger things that can kill them. So as the aggressive drivers barreled down the narrow streets packed full of monochromatic vehicles (only black, white, and gray Hyundai’s and Kia’s seem to exist here), we hopped of of the way. Bicycles, he said, follow suit– cars will get extremely close to you, and if a cyclist is hit, it’s usually seen as their fault for getting in the way of a car. I gulped hard and shortened Tunes’s leash.

They explained more about this place they’d called home for three years, and I was dazzled taking in all the new sights and information. Tunes was merrily bouncing along until we returned to the apartment, where she made herself right at home on our cute guest bedroom. For my first meal in Korea, we dined at an exquisite local restaurant… Serving only Italian fare. Daddy’s Kitchen is this awesome, tiny place with about 4 tables inside, and the titular Daddy is sole proprietor, chef, host, waiter, and busboy. A Korean citizen who trained in Italy, he pronounced “risotto and mozzarella” with a finesse that belied the modest set up, and I had one of the most beautifully presented and delicious Italian meals ever. In Seoul. Very unexpected. 
A glass of wine and a hearty meal and a long and sleepless two days put me over the edge of fatigue, and it was all I could do to bathe myself and myself to my cozy guest chimsil to curl up with Tunes and dream of kimchi, sandy Korean beaches, and being reunited with my touring machine. We had arrived.

Song of the Day: You are Here, by John Lennon.

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She’s Got a Ticket to Ride 

It’s hard to say whether I would have felt more serene today if I’d had longer to prepare for this moment, or if it would’ve just prolonged my state of being a welping, excitable basket case. The impulse to ride my old Craigslist bicycle across South Korea with my dog and some strangers I met online was not something I would have organically dreamed up by my onesies. But when I accepted David and Emily’s invitation about 6 weeks ago, my instant reaction was to think, well, yes, don’t mind if I do!, and, why would I NOT do that right now? Petunia and I had two cross-country tours behind us, and and plenty of spunk left to accept a challenge that took us far away from our domestic comforts. On relatively short notice, the game was to figure out the logistics involved in transporting a touring rig, a dog, and a nervous flyer over 9,000 km around the world to cycle in a country where I did not even know how to say hello or thank you in the native tongue. But I do enjoy a good puzzle, and so I bought a plane ticket, and naïvely asked my future hosts whether or not I’d need to pack my water filter.


The dark winter I’d spent in Connecticut was softened one day by an email I received from someone who came across my TouringTunes blog. The polite missive indicated the author was an American teaching English in South Korea with his wife, and that they were considering embarking on a tour of their own with an adorable 10 pound dog. They’d found me through a Google search, and sent their message across the universe to me, with self-described uncertainty as to whether I’d reply and answer some of their questions about touring with a dog. And shortly thereafter, we met by Skype, and had a lovely and giddy chat, being three dog-and-bike-and-travel-and-adventure nerds. So that’s how I first came to be in contact with David, Emily, and Kodi the pup.

We had a few more conversations, as my relocation adventures first took me on a temporary stint in Florida, where I sent them photos and videos of my bike and dog carrier as it hung outside with the lizards and sandy boardwalks. As I drove across the USA to gaily relocate in spectacular Missoula, Montana, we continued to stay in touch. Meanwhile, David, Emily and Kodi were on travels of their own, and I eagerly followed them on Facebook as their dog-touring dreams materialized in their flight from Korea to Maine, where they then rode all together up to Toronto. It was so exciting seeing them make it, and I thought it might feel a bit like what some of my friends following along with my travels must have felt as they cheered me on along the way. It was a vicarious thrill, plus I felt a bit proud and tickled to have contributed in some very small way, even if just by being a friendly resource or an example of someone who’d done it successfully. And most of all,they seemed like very lovely, down to earth, kind, compassionate human beings. Plus their dog was ridiculously cute. 

(Montana loveliness following:)

So when I got the Facebook message on July 30th, “Riding the Four Rivers Path again (Seoul to Busan) over Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) September 10 – 18… Interested?,” I got that old familiar gut feeling, like it was something I knew I was going to do even before I knew how I was ever going to do it. In my messenger inbox sat an incredible opportunity to ride with like-minded folks in a place that was very unlike anything I’d experienced before. I was so in. 
And it’s been a dizzyingly exciting few weeks, trying to get all of the moving parts together… literally…. Learning how to disassemble my bicycle and box it up myself, with a little (okay, a lot) of help (and bubble paper, cardboard, and packing tape) from my friends; and learning what’s involved in international dog transportation (answer is: money and paperwork and an awesome vet and patience with airline call center reps). 

But as challenging as the technical details were, I did as much work in my head and heart– did I think I was up for this, after being somewhat physically broken by a bad car accident and a back injury during the fall and winter, and an embarrassing lack of exercise over the summer? Was Tunes up for three back to back plane flights, the longest of which was 11 hours straight? Could I afford this? Did I have enough time to get all of this stuff ready, while working as a consultant and ersatz housekeeper and stoking a busy social calendar with all of my new friends in my new home town, and being a tour guide when my wonderful mama came to visit just a week before departure? And for exactly how long would I kick myself if I let this chance pass me by because I was buried in self-doubt and forgetting what a beastly badass I am?

So here I am, 40,000 feet up in Russian airspace, having these thoughts interrupted to listen in on the impressive verbal gymnastics executed by a couple of flight attendants. One of each must be from our country of departure and country of arrival; they speak about 5 languages a piece, and are steadying themselves using the overhead compartments as they imperturbably serve tin foil cafeteria meals during a bit of mild turbulence:

“William do you have any more butter?”

“Water?”

“But-ter.”

“Budder?”

“Yes, BUDder.”

“Du buerre! Yea hold on.”


I’m envious of their polyglot status. Happily, I have found a pretty worthwhile interactive language-learning game on my built-in headrest backer video screen. So I try to educate myself with the basics in Korean. Depending on which YouTube tutorials I watched the night before, the Gs were pronounced either c’s or G’s, and ohs are ous, sometimes, and the vowels tumble clumsily from my dumb mouth. But I like languages, and I’ve got nothing but time to learn now, and I plod on, listening to the phrases and words in the mysterious Korean alphabet and transcribed in my accessible abcedary style. I chant “gamsahamnida” quietly to myself like a prayer, trying to make sure I can remember how to at least say thank you and be a polite, even if grossly ignorant, tourist. The helpful conversational phrases are very hard for me to remember, without my Latin roots to anchor the sounds to, and I decide to learn some words instead. 

A little vocabulary video game comes on, and right off the bat, they’re teaching the important words: maek ju is beer! Kae is dog! Po keu is fork! (I remember this one because it sounds a bit like poke you, which is totally what you do to the so go gee (beef) when you ’bout to get your microwaved airplane eats on. I take an animated quiz and feel pretty good about learning some new words like a little kid, and I want to hug all of these worldly flight attendants. Then I realize I do know the word hello after all, because Arrested Development has corrupted me. Pro tip: annyeong is actually the informal way to say it, but one should really say annyeonghaseyo, which it turns out is a very beautiful greeting. Sort of like mahalo or asalaamaleikum, it’s got heart, because it literally means, “are you at peace?” The more you know. 

(Sometimes the best seat mate is no seatmate?) 


They’ve just stopped serving the pork japchae and noodles meals, which I definitely covered in that tiny packet of hot red chili sauce that came with the tray. Even considering how I’m 324% more likely to eat anything when I’m airborne and strapped in a tiny seat for some reason, it tastes quite good. I am ready for some land food though. It is strangely nocturnal once again in here now that the service lights are off and everyone’s got their blackout windows totally darkened, despite the fact that it’s the middle of the day in exactly all of the time zones we’re chasing the sun through. I quietly slip my sleepy Petunia out of her under-seat-stowed carrier and onto my lap. She was completely undetectable under the thin blanket provided by the airlines where she snoozed peacefully, and we kept each other sane and cozy for a couple of hours. I’ll be sure to pop her back in her carrier before Carol comes around again, the very sweet lead flight attendant who came over to talk to me before we took off. Originally, the airline’s phone rep told me Tunes would have to remain in her carrier under the seat for the entire flight, even though she’s an ESA and sits placidly on my lap on all domestic flights. But Carol came over and told me I could at least put the carrier on my lap if I wanted, as long as I didn’t open the zippers. “We had a pet escape just last week and it was total chaos.” I know I’m totally biased, but the only way I can conceive of Tunes causing chaos on a plane is if everyone gets up and comes and takes her picture and lines up in the aisles to tell me what an awesomely well-behaved dog she is (several people have come up to do this before we even boarded).

It has been a pleasantly untroubled trip so far, fourteen+ hours into our journey. Our peregrination began blisteringly early at 3:30 AM, although, considering I didn’t really sleep last night, I suppose it started at some point yesterday when I was still packing well past 10 PM. After all… It was the night before Cheusok, and all though the house… Well, kinda. (It’s still a few days away.) 

About five hours into ths flight, I’d already seen a movie in which I actually disliked Kate Winslet’s performance (what was up with that inconsistent American-Polish accent in Jobs?), had listened to a bizarrely sanitized Kidz Bop cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling (“you used to call me on my cell phone/when you wanted to talk” ….uhhhh, okay), and ate half a bag of Golfisheses (blerg). I think it’s time to catch up on sleep and see if I can manage an upright nap now. We’ve got a long day (night? day? Yuhdi uhdi aeyo?/Where am I?) ahead of us.

Song of the day: The Beatles – Ticket to Ride

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The Northern Tier: A Puppydog Epilogue… and Our Next Journey Begins

Petunia is stretched out on the foot of the cozy bed in a little hotel in Savannah, Georgia tonight. She’s breathing peacefully, tipped belly-up, after another long day of playing with her soft little lamb squeaker, eating snacks and kibbles, snoozing, and travelling many miles across two state lines. But this time, she hasn’t been riding in the dog pod on the bicycle. Instead, our faithful two-wheeler is strapped to the back of our fully-loaded car. We’re on a tour of another variety this year. Just about all of our earthly possessions (including all of Tunes’s beloved outfits and toys) have been packed into my car, and we headed south out of Connecticut about a week ago, stopping to visit friends and couch surfing with strangers in states and cities previously unseen, seeking adventure, planning shorter-term bike tours and excursions and, ultimately, making our way across the country yet again to settle somewhere new. For now, anyway.


Before I begin recounting some of our new tales, I suppose I should comment on the end of the 2015 Northern Tier tour. I stopped writing for no particular reason about after having a wonderful stay at the unforgettable Bicycle Bunkhouse in Minnesota. The TL;DR version of the end of that summer-long tour: I rode to North Dakota, and then did some hitchhiking to bypass the incredibly hot, flat, treeless Badlands. Cycled off and on through Montana, fell in love with the singing cowboys and cowgirls in Great Falls, was wooed by the boundless natural beauty of Glacier National Park, scored some beautiful campsites, met some amazing WarmShowers hosts and friends, and eventually reached the coast of Oregon at Seaside. From there, I caught a lift into Portland, where I stayed and became enamored with the city. My days were spent in a summery bliss: I day-cycled to redolent rose gardens, pedaled to bustling dog parks, hit the zany food trucks, volunteered for the WAVE Foundation (Women Against Violence Everywhere), pitched in at a local organic brewing festival, and explored scenic campgrounds and stunning mountain views with previous-bike-tour friends.


  
  
  
  

  
 I forged deeper connections that held me happily in Portland for almost a month, but my Rose City relocation dreams were deferred after I ended my tour and returned to New Jersey briefly. Happily, and with thanks to all of the generous supporters of the 2015 fundraiser part of the cross-country trip, we sent a check for $1,277 to GearingUp, and they sent us a very sweet thank-you letter. We’d hoped to get down to Philly to ride with the women in the program and some of the staff, but we were sadly unable to make our schedules match. By late fall, life’s tortuous path led me back to my home state of Connecticut in the fall, where I stayed for a couple of months. The winter there was not brutal, but quite cold, and I spent too much time alternately shut inside or getting windbeaten and weathered on the sub-zero nights I spent stargazing. But during those months, I heard my heart dreaming again and decided it was time to find roots and roads elsewhere. I gave away most of what I owned, fit the essentials (and then some) into a new-to-me ’04 station wagon that I hoped would withstand my plans for it, kissed ma and pa goodbye, and headed south with my best buddy.

  
First, we spent a couple of days visiting a dear friend in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Dawn and her effusively excitable and heartily muscled dog Olive welcomed us to the home city of James Madison University. Tunes and I got back on the bike to gleefully spin around the campus, feeling fresh and new as giddy freshmen. We took our time in the freshly blooming arboretum, decadently dined alfresco for the first time in 2016, and I experienced the deliciousness of local beer and made acquaintances with some nice folks who wanted to meet the little dog in the bike basket. Aside from cycling, I spent time working on some consulting projects, which my incredibly cool boss had allowed me to continue to do remotely to support myself during my new phase of wanderlust. Dawn’s envious collection of books and movies also occupied my time, and I even reveled in a couple of academic experiences on campus. I got attend a talk by a distinguished English department professor after another prof’s reading of an excerpt from his new novel, and caught a documentary on misogyny in the media in a lecture hall with fussy computer technology. Tunes got to do some trail running with me at the local park, and plenty of dodging of Olive’s ebullient jump-stomping that served as her socially awkward entreaty to play play play! Play now, please play, play with me!.


  
  
  

After a few happy days out of the car, we buckled up and continued south to Asheville, North Carolina, a hipped out town that I’ve always wanted to see firsthand. We certainly have some stories from that trip… so the blog and the travels shall continue as Touring Tunes sojourns on!

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Drifting in from other towns…/ I love, I love this life

With a sense of deja vu, I headed toward the Mississippi River again, and this time heading due east after leaving my new friends in Minneapolis. To get back on the ACA route meant braking down and crawling up the severe parabola of the river valley and getting back on the Wisconsin side of things. Before hauling over the bridge and up north and skyward again, I met a family of three enjoying a sunny stroll in Stillwater. The woman in the group knew the area I was from back East and compared the quaintness of this artsy, touristy, small-shop center to my own little funky town on the Delaware River. I felt a few ripples of nostalgia for the familiarity of family, friends, my neighbor and the sweet little New Jersey farm cottage I rent next to her home. I missed the summers there, surrounded by tall deciduous trees and a manicured lawn adorned by hostas, lilacs and lilies, visited by cheerful hummingbirds, butterflies, and deer.  

  
Just 20-30 miles on to Osceola, I stopped to make lunch and catch up on a few things like laundry and writing and work after days of visiting and riding and fantastic experiences non-stop. So I hit the laundromat, popped into the small grocery store to replenish dog and human food, and stopped by the library, where I quietly sat with Tunes on my lap without incident. I thought I had a lead on camping behind the volunteer emergency services building, but was told that some board member or vetoed the idea, citing liability concerns. Still, one of the very kind volunteers, Luke, a young and tall sunflower of a midwesterner, helped steer me to a campground, where I ended up meeting a nice group of Eagle Scouts who were cycling across country as a fundraiser for an organization that supports American Veterans, a man who was riding along as a chaperone, and a woman driving their hefty support vehicle. 

 Falls in Osceola: 
The next day, I planned my own route from St. Croix Falls, WI to get back to the Northern Tier ridemp in MN. Along the way, a charming couple in Taylors Falls made a donation to Gearing Up. A few miles later, the driver of an SUV slowed down to call to me, “I’m so jealous of you right now!” and I yelled back, “I’m pretty jealous of myself!” The morning fog had lifted and the sun was shining brightly, the hills invited a pleasantly muscular engagement, and I merrily rolled along in a wide shoulder on a very lightly traveled road. I’d started listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray and was giggling at some of Oscar Wilde’s fancilful language along the way, and after a few hours, I was at mid-day and in a very small town. I thought it was time for a PBJ, but instead I pulled up to the little café in town. Two women identified themselves as locals and recommended that this was a good place to get some “home style cookin,” and not just because it was essentially the only place for quite a few miles. So I went in to order take out for me and Tunes, and when the server handed it to me, she said another customer had already paid for my lunch. I couldn’t help myself- some happy tears were shed for all the help I’ve been given and the kindness I’ve been shown in the last two months. Then I got a group hug from the waitresses. Thank you, humanity, thank you, universe!
But the real kick was around 3-4 PM, when I was approaching a place on my map that was listed as a special “cyclists only lodging” site, which has usually meant a free cyclists hostel or church that has opened its doors to cross-country riders, or some other setup which has usually resulted in a memorable meeting and stay. I was on the fence about quitting so early in the day with only 50-something miles down, when alongside a blazingly bright and eerily empty country road a short line of trees in front of a remote farm house, and from behind them stepped out a young man in a familiar cycling jersey…. Bike and Build again! I was laughing hard as I cornered into the driveway at the lodge’s address, and came upon what looked like a pile of melting college kids, and they greeted me with laughter and reciprocal exclamations. They usually have partnered with churches so they sleep indoors, but on this occasion we were all together in this beautiful converted barn which bore the sign “Bicycle Bunkhouse.”

   
 And a glorious bunkhouse it was. Donn Olson tells the story of his haven for Northern Tier riders coming through Dalbo, MN: http://youtu.be/ezcyY6BGlik

   
   
The bustling effervescence of the B&B crew plus the beautiful farm and meticulously landscaped surroundings made for a festive evening. Under the cover of darkness, I wrote the gang a silly chalk note in the margins of the street for their early departure the next day. We wondered if we’d see each other again, but I suspected it might be our last chance encounter. But who knows? Stranger things have happened. The day they left, Don invited me to take a day off there, so I took him up on the offer and did some maintenance, writing, reflecting and relaxing. Don even helped me clean my chain. “Minnesota Nice is real!” I exclaimed to him, and he laughed jovially.  I found an old guitar in the attic of the barn and sang my heart out in the hay and then in the empty silo, where the reverb and acoustics were so fabulous, I sounded halfway decent. 

   

   
    
  
I got back on the road the next day and encountered my first sand hill cranes, huge winged creatures that I saw briefly but heard lots of and was amused by their call and response cackling. 

  
By sweaty day’s end, I arrived in Bowlus, MN. Camping in the park would’ve cost $10 or $20, but the nice folks at the very bike friendly restaurant called  

 Jor 

 
 
 
Song of the day: The Blue Nile – I Love This Life

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We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

Song of the day: Benny Goodman and his Orchestra with Peggy Lee- We’ll Meet Again. 

I rode off from La Cresent with a set of hand-written cue sheets that host Knute had drawn up as an alternate route that would get me back on the less-hilly road beyond the construction. Other notes suggested a scenic ride Judy suggested on the Wisconsin side of the river, which they both thought had much better views, plus it had a great place to get ice cream. At my first intersection, I was considering the directions to go down a steep looking hill, when from behind, a lightly tattooed young man in an stylish black kit on an ultra-light racing bike, pulled up and asked if I needed help. Justin saw me considering turning down the road to the right, but counseled that it was a twisty category 3 climb (I looked it up after he rode off) that might be dangerous with my heavy load, and that there was more traffic at the bottom. He suggested I go left, where a freshly paved road and a Kwik Trip were ahead. He  said he’d already busted out 80 miles on his carbon bike by 11am and lived just around the corner, so I took his advice, which kept me on the ACA route anyway. I’d already been spared one hill, so what were a few more?

   

 After a while, I swung over off the route in MN to WI, which ended up being a theme for the next couple of days, my trail zigzagging between the two states based on scenic ratings and free camping availability.  Knute and Judy had confirmed that the bridges I’d be on weren’t treacherous steel grate ones, although there were some of those around as an attempt to deal with the mayfly problem. My hosts informed me that when the mayflies emerge from the river to mate, they die shortly thereafter, their carcasses littering the roadways so densely that sometimes they pile up inches high, and snowplows have been employed to clear the roads of the dead bugs. So steel grate bridges mean the bugs fall through intead of heaping up and causing car accidents. They were totally not making that up.

Anyway, I had been waiting for so many states to use the That 70s Show theme song clip coz I’m dorky like that:

   
 The Wisconsin side was certainly beautiful, and I zipped along the flat road, pulling an easy but hot 70 miles, spotting some huge rock faces in the bluffs and even stopping to take time to call my mom and check some emails. Before we crossed the bridge back into the MN side for the night, we stopped for ice cream and cheese at the sweet local place suggested by my hosts. Tunes got vanilla, and I got mint chocolate chip. 
   

   Across the bridge in Wabasha, MN, the map had suggested we could free camp in the city park, but Adventure Cycling had mislabled it Beaver Park instead of Beach Park, so we finally called the local PD who told us what the deal was. It was such a great site! With a cute little sandy beach alongside the riverbank, a clean, grassy park with a couple of covered pavilions next to a busy boat marina was home for the night. The city had  also provided a public bathroom adjacent to the park that had a shower! And it was clean and the water was warm! Nicest of all, Tunes and I sat and watched the sunset downriver before curling up for the night.

   
    I took some time to write in the morning and talked to a few people who were curious about my trip, enjoying a languid start before crossing the bridge back into WI for more sightseeing. About mid-afternoon, I saw a cyclist with a familiar jersey….. and lo and behold, it was the Bike and Build crew again! I’d first met them on our way to Bowling Green, Ohio, and though we weren’t following the exact same route, It was serendipitous to run into them again. It seemed I’d left somewhat of an impression on some these 24 cyclists, and part of the group encouraged me to come over and get some free snacks and treats from their van (thanks again, y’all). They were crashing at a church in Pepin, WI, but I was still hoping to move it another 20-30 miles up some 400′ climbs to a tree nursery that permitted free camping. I ate and ran, having enjoyed their company for a little while, with still more work ahead and less daylight. 

   
     

Along the way, I met a group of three self-supported touring cyclists in their 50s on some sort of recumbent-like bikes at a gas station rest stop. They were going the opposite way, riding the Mississippi River Trail, and we swapped road stories for a little while. One of the women in the group was fully covered, head-to-toe, in sun-protective bike wear, including a loose neck and face cover. “I want to keep doing this forever,” she said, “and not get all sunburned and wrinkled and look old.” I considered my own seriously over-tanned legs, mid-thigh to ankle, and the deepening smile lines around my mouth, abundance of freckles and moles, and even the hint of a sunspot. I greased on another layer of sunscreen and pressed on. 

   
   The last climb before the nursery was actually fun. I’d been listening to another audio book about the late Peace Pilgrim, a woman from New Jersey who I’d heard about on NPR a while back, and had been reminded of her by my recent host Mike. She was a non-denominational activist who walked for 28 years, and was also the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail in one season. I’d thought of her when I met a peppy tween in Colesburg, IA who told me, “It’s probably really crazy, probably impossible, but I want to hike the Appalachian Trail someday.”  I countered immediately, “Oh no, that’s not impossible at all, and if youreally want to do it, I believe youcould find a way. Impossible is nothing,” I said as encouragingly as possible, throwing in a Muhammad Ali quote my dad has on a poster at his place in CT.

 She walked more than 25,000 miles, carrying in her blue tunic her only possessions. She crossed America for nearly three decades, bearing the simplest of messages: This is the way of peace–Overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

Peace Pilgrim talked about peace among nations, between people, and the most important Inner Peace.

Penniless, walking with no organizational backing, Peace Pilgrim touched the lives and hearts of countless thousands of Americans. Some were charmed by her simple but cheerful presence; many others were profoundly inspired by her message and her lifestyle.

While it was deeply inspirational to listen to her story, I was ready to change gears and listen to some motivational music for the last climbs and to drown out the throngs of weekend motorcyclists who were roaring by me, two-wide and many long. Just as I started ascending, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody came on, a goofy favorite I liked to sing with my boss and her family when we felt silly. Keeping my breathing going, I belted it out in impressively bad falsetto while still getting enough air to keep going. The length of the song was just a little shy of the length of my climb, with its sprawling musical denouement timed just about perfectly with my own summit sighting. Perfection, Freddie Mercury! 

At the nursery, the owner told me I could pitch the tent anywhere but recommended the spruce tree maze, which sounded like fun. I ate the bagel Bike n Build had given me, with peanut butter and jelly and bananas and a packet of honey that dripped off and stuck to everything, and charged my phone and devices. For her part, Tunes ran around in happy circles, zooming around their cute wooden playground, weaving around fences, and chasing the squeaker toy. We’d lost another tennis ball along the way, but I was sure we’d come by another one before too long. After dusk, I put my headlamp on and Tunes followed me as I ventured into the maze, but the sign said it would take about 30 minutes to complete, and I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the spine to go all the way through. It had been decorated for Halloween still, and the big fake cobwebs kind of gave me the creeps. I listened to some fun local radio for a little bit, had a garden hose shower, and fell fast asleep under a clear, starry sky.

    

   

  

  

   

  

The owner of Nesbitt’s Nursery came by in the morning, and he shared that he was a cyclist, and so we shot the breeze for a while as I packed up my gear and let my dewy tent dry in the sharp morning sun. I’d just gotten an exciting confirmation that I had the green light to make a special diversion off route and into Minneapolis. Last year at the very end of my TransAm/West Coast ride, I happened to run into a festively-costumed couple headed to a superhero party in The Bay Area. We chatted, hit it off, I tagged along with them on the tails of their capes, and after a colorful and late night out, they welcomed me to stay at their place in Oakland. We’d stayed in touch on Facebook, and Sean had just texted me that indeed, we’d be around Minneapolis at the same time, as he and Michelle were on vacation and visiting his family. I asked the owner of the nursery for some advice on routing into the city, and he cautioned me about one stretch that was a four-lane divided state route. It was going to be a good haul with some slow climbing, but I was pretty sure I could make it. 

Nesbitt’s parents were cyclists and he showed me this super sweet throwback photo:

   
As I went up and over the first climb of the day, my roll was slowing down when I saw some sidewalk chalk revealing a message that appeared like the Star Wars opening crawl, cautioning cyclists to be careful of the gravel ahead, inviting them to lunch, and then suddenly, it addressed me by name! I was laughing so hard when I pulled into the dusty parking lot when I again saw the Bike and Build van and trailer, and route leader Allison was there to offer me breakfast (she was waiting for the riders to get there for lunch, but it was still only 9 or 10 AM). I raided their stash for some watermelon, an orange, and a brownie. Breakfast of champions! I thanked them for including me. “Back in Ohio, you said you’d probably see us again, but I didn’t believe you. Guess I do now!” she laughed with me. I told her the story of how I met 2014’s Bike and Build group in Lander, Wyoming, and then a couple of days later they’d let us camp on the lawn of the church where they were staying. Then, a month or two later, I was riding down the coast of California when a car pulled up ahead of me and flagged me to stop. In the passenger seat was Meghan, one of the B&B riders! She’d finished her trip and happened to be in CA visiting some friends, said she’d recognized Petunia from the rear. We were happy for the surprise reunion. “Well, maybe I’ll see you guys again. Stranger things have happened!” I said to Allison as I pedaled off.   

  
  

Some of the route was indeed a little sketchy, riding alongside fast-moving cars, but there was plenty of shoulder, and not much makes me really stressed out when I’m riding anymore. People mostly give me room, and if there’s a good shoulder, I feel better than riding in their lane, and I have my high-visibility clothes and stickers and reflective yellow slow-moving-vehichle triangle, and rearview mirror to keep an eye out behind me to anticipate cars and make sure drivers are giving me room. That said, by mid-day I pulled over to a fast-food restaurant and fed Petunia a bacon and burger patty in case it was our last meal. She didn’t seem stressed by any of it, and was somehow even napping during some of the busy stretches. But it turned out to be a good stop– two members of a nice family made a donation to my Gearing Up fundraiser

   

  

  

  
 The rest of the ride into the city was interesting, because there were so many dedicated bike paths, paved and separate from the road, which felt weirdly like riding on a sidewalk, which is generally a no-no for bicycles. But it felt a lot safer in the city than trying to get from the farms into the city’s periphery. Petunia and I stopped frequently and played in some of the many parks and lakes (Minnesota is not kidding about the 10,000 lakes thing). Around 6 PM, I arrived just as Sean and Michelle, along with their three kids, Evan, Lelah, and Jane, pulled up to Sean’s folks’ house in a cute neighborhood in Shoreview. Sean’s parents, Jeanette and Pat, welcomed me so openly, and I got big hugs from Michelle and Sean. What a crazy reunion! We were joined by a few other family members, Amy, her husband and son, and the festivities began. We ate pizza and a delicious salad, the kids had fun with Petunia playing fetch and chase, we all got to play with sparklers as it started to get dark (a pyrotechnic first for me), and I was regaled with adventure stories from Sean and Pat, including a few tales of grizzly bear encounters, which unsettled but excited me as I was planning on heading west into brown bear territory once again. To cap the fantastic night off, we relaxed in the hot tub for a while and I let some sore muscles get massaged by the jets, the group talking and catching up late into the night. What a lovely family. I was so grateful to have met them. They fed me in the morning and gave me some mapping advice, a neighbor came by to offer me a brownie, and in the interest in getting me safely out of the city, Jeanette and Pat loaded my bike on their bike rack and drove me a few miles out to the bike path that would reconnect with my route. Really amazing people. I’m so excited I got to meet them and catch up with Sean and Michelle! “It’s not a bike tour without partying with you guys,” I said before Tunes and I hit the road again, already thinking of future tours somehow.  

  

  

  

  

    
Pictures from Jeanette:

   

  

  

  

  

  

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