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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Take a chance and let your body move / (I’m in love with my life)

Another day, another chance to get rained on. Over breakfast, my host Mike and I discussed the day’s route and he warned me of the ridiculously steep climb out of Guttenburg, plus the rest of the day’s hills to come. The drizzle would continue on through the day, but the morning’s rain was forecasted to taper off by noon. I lingered for a while, debating whether I should take him up on his offer of driving my panniers to the top of the first mountain. I was slightly surprised by the hilliness of this part of the country, although the ACA map had mentioned the steep, rugged bluffs rising alongside the Mississippi River in the Driftless Area. From Wikipedia:

The Driftless Area or Paleozoic Plateau is a region in the American Midwest noted mainly for its deeply carved river valleys. While primarily in southwestern Wisconsin, it includes areas of southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and extreme northwestern Illinois. The region includes elevations ranging from 603 to 1,719 feet (184 to 524 m) and covers an area of 16,203 square miles. The region’s peculiar terrain is the result of its having escaped glaciation in the last glacial period.

“After the rest of the hills you’re going to climb today, I think you’ll thank me, and you’ll think, ‘That Mike, what a good guy.'” Well, after sweating it out unencumbered to the top of the first hill, I thanked him for the gear transpo and told him that he was indeed a good guy. It was a pretty beastly mountain and I was happy for simply a challenging ride and not a knee-splitter.

And back downhill, the roof of a car can just be made out as it dips down past the summit:
 

I rode through the small towns in the misty fog, rolling slowly past an assortment of restaurants whose alluring smells nearly made me park and grub, but I pressed on and ate another peanut butter granola bar. During one stretch without any shoulder and two lanes of busy tourist traffic, I felt Petunia’s paw giving me a little poke on my butt, giving her signal for potty time. But there was nowhere to pull off and it would be unsafe to stop right there. I couldn’t see the next turn off ahead, either. “Hold on one minute, little cow,” I soothed her reassuringly, but I heard a low hnnngggg grunt in reply. “I know, but we can’t stop here, sorry.” I quickened my pace to a sprint so I could help her get some relief faster. Hnggg hnnnnnng, she moaned uncomfortably. Then I felt her shift her body to the side of the carrier, then the other, back and forth, swaying the bike a little bit. “I understand, but please don’t throw us into traffic, okay?” A mile or so down the road, there was finally a parking lot with a patch of grass, and she took just three steps and had quite a wee and water break. “Sorry, Tunes. You are such a good dog.” I told her, and threw her squeaky toy around for a short game of fetch.

   
  
   

By early evening, I got to the small river town of Harper’s Ferry, MN, and happened to see a couple of guys talking on their front lawn. I asked if they knew who I could talk to in town who might permit me to tent camp in their small park on the edge of town, and one man said he was on the town council and didn’t have any problem with that. I went to the local library, which was miraculously open until 7 PM, and washed up in their bathroom, sent a couple of emails and charged devices, since I hadn’t had cell phone service in a few days. When I returned to the city park and began to set up the tent, a dark haired man pulled up with a golden dog and a lawn mower both riding in the bed of his pickup truck. He came over to find out about my travels, and said he felt like he had deja-vu because he’d spoken to a cyclist last year who was also riding across country from Maine to Washington and had a similarly loaded up bike. 

  
I explained the Northern Tier route to him, and he seemed incredibly impressed and happy to talk. Brian said he was just headed to his cabin to mow the grass, and he offered the place to me if I wanted to come shower and post up for the night. I got a good vibe and decided it would be fun to talk to him more, so I pushed on a few more miles down the road to the address he gave me, where he was out riding around on the lawn mower, golden haired dog following him around.

Brian told me about his family and three adult children, his contractor work and the restaurant he owned with his son, and the neat little second house he dubbed the Lock 9 Lodge after the river dam just down a walking path from his house. A handy and eco-sensitive guy, he’d built up the place with his own talents, re-purposing chicken coop windows, tin walls, a bay window that a client hadn’t been happy with, sinewy smooth tree branches as curtain rods, and amusingly, a bathroom door lock made out of an old screwdriver that slid into a drilled hole in the door frame.  He invited me to take a walk with the dogs just before the sun was setting, and I thought a good stretch would be enjoyable, so we went out with a couple of cold IPAs and a bag of locally made cheese curds. I’d never had them before, but they were so fresh and soft, and they sort of squeaked on your teeth when you bit into them. Tunes seemed to enjoy them as well, but not nearly as much as the freedom of walking with another dog, bouncing through some grass and accumulating a terrible number of tiny, prickly cockaburs in her soft and curly hair. 

   
       The beauty of this riverside walk mesmerized us, and our talk turned to spiritual matters and the reverence for the peace in natural, quiet places like this. It looked a little like New Zealand or Hawaii or Jackson Hole, and he commented, “You’d never know this was Iowa just looking at it. People are too busy watching TV and don’t even know that this gorgeous place is out here.” We headed back before it got too dark, and he made a crackling campfire that we sat around and talked beside for a while until it was time to sleep, and I rested comfortably, feeling lucky to have been open to this experience and been able to end my day with such a spectacular sight. Before I left the next day, we walked the length of the lock, a 4 mile hike, and Brian pointed out a lot of interesting wildlife– a few bald eagles, ducks, sparrows, a snake that made us jump in surprise, a blue-patched fish caught by a man with an impressive assortment of fishing gear. The morning fog had burned off and it wasgetting quite hot again, so before the day escaped me, I set out again to do some more climbing. 

   
           
Singing loudly as I cranked up hills, I was in a fantastic mood, amplified by some catchy songs on the radio, including today’s song of the day that I boogied to, weaving waves on the empty streets like a big muppet musical number. Yeah, I’m in love with my life, I agreed with the music, nodding in time. This hasn’t always been the case for me, as darker days in the past made it hard to see all of the joyful possibilities that now seem to stretch out all around me.  I made it into Minnesota and took the usual state border pictures, and MN wins the prize for in terms of the nicest sign, all carved and landscaped as a decorative welcome post. I saw some kids having a carwash and was tempted to roll through to have them hose down my rig and myself, and puppy was starting to need a bath again, too. Instead, we just filled up water bottles in a convenience store. An elderly man saw my knee brace and asked how I hurt myself. “Ah, it’s an old skiing injury that gets a little cranky now and again,” and he nodded with a knowing smile. “I used to play baseball, a lot, probably until I was too old, in my 40s, when I just couldn’t go on any longer. Two torn rotator cuffs, both knees shot, yup,” he laughed. “But we make the best of it and still keep going, don’t we?”  “Absolutely,” he said with a grandfatherly jolliness. “Good luck to you. Maybe I’ll see you on World of Sports!” “Better there than on the six o’clock news!” I said and we shook hands and parted ways.

   
     

In the early afternoon, I’d done 50 miles and reached the bustling city of La Crescent, MN, where I stopped for water at a convnience store called Kwik Trip, where the staff was very friendly and let me fill my bottles with ice and water for free. A man standing outside with shoulder-length white hair chatted with me about my trip for a little while, and I asked him for clarification on the directions for thenext  part of my route. My map said I could avoid some steep hills if I followed state route 61, but on my GPS, it seemed like that was an interstate, and I didn’t want to accidentally ride on a highway again like that one scary time in Denver when I mistakenly rode on the freeway for one exit during rush hour. Not fun.  There was a cylist-friendly campground ahead on that route, though, so I thought if I could confirm its safety, that might be the best way to go. I went back in the store to see if there was anything I wanted to snack on, but left empty handed. When I left the store, he was on the phone, and approached me again to say that he had his wife on the phone and if I was interested, I could come stay the night with them. I voice-verified with his wife and decided that even though it was still sort of early, it was a hot day and I was sure Petunia would appreciate the rest. My coincidental host led the way on his heavy, blue and chrome motorcycle, just a couple of miles down the road. There was one rollercoaster-looking climb, but it wasn’t that long, and at the top, he said he was quite impressed, as he’d tried to ride it before without any gear and was zigzagging back and forth all over the road, pushing hard to get up it. 

Knute and Judy’s welcomed me to the beautiful, eco-conscious and thoughtfully constructed house they had designed themselves. We talked story for a little while on the porch as Tunes lounged in the grass, and I showed them my little TransAm tour video. They were delightfullly easy to talk to and had a fabulous sense of humor. Judy seemed to be especially pleased to have the company of a little dog again, as their dogs Barf and Stuupy (how great are those names?) had passed some years ago. “It’s funny how you still have dreams about them, even though they’ve been gone for years,” Judy said, and I gave Tunes an extra hug. 

 Photo by Knute: 
My gracious hosts prepared a healthy meal with mushrooms, chicken, veggies, bananas, grapes, rice, nuts, and all sorts of goodies. They seemed amused by how much food I could put away. “The best things about bike touring,” I squeed, “are the people you meet, the beauty of the country I get to see, and the way I can eat practically anything and everything and not gain any weight!” When they heard about my route and my indecision about traveling the state road, they seemed concerned about the condition of the road as a massive construction project was going on and that it might be unsafe, but also pointed out that the other way involved a big, steep climb onto the bluffs and then back down into the coulees, as Knute pointed out how the hills and valleys were termed here. With great care for my safe travels, they offered to take me for a drive along both routes to help me make a decision. We soon realized that route 61 was definitely a no-go: a tiny, busy lane without shoulders and hemmed in by orange traffic cones  on both sides, it would’ve been truly dangerous to attempt riding a slow, wide bicycle alongside all of those cars and barriers. But had I not met Knute and took him up on the offer to stay with him and Judy, I wouldn’t have known of the potential perils ahead of me. Saved by good fortune yet again. We drove up the other road, which was quiet and scenic, but with a twisty, steep climb and limited visibility. Judy had the idea to call their cyclist neighbor and see if they could use his bike-rack-enhanced car to cart me to the top. I didn’t think the hill was that outrageous, but they told me to think about it as we made our way to a sweet local food co-op so I could get some road goodies. It was such a nice market, and I got some great trail mix, some more energy/granola bars that were not the same crumbly gas-station mart brand that are found everywhere and have started to become somewhat repulsive to me, and a pluot, because yaaaay fresh food! 

Back at their place, my dear hosts invited me to do laundry and get comfy on their pull-out sofa bed for sleep, and I did both. Somewhere around midnight, the bright flashes of lightning, the heavy thud of rain on the roof and windows, and loud slaps of thunder woke me up. Petunia was shaking nervously, but I watched the storm with a smile on my face, having lucked into happy, dry, hospitalble accomodations with wonderfully kind  people. It felt like the storm lasted a long time, but I finally fell back to sleep, and had dreams of riding around with Petunia.

The next morning, my new friends fed me breakfast, and I got a taste for raw milk (yum!), and Judy had fun trying to find ot if there was anything I wouldn’t eat (after a big bowl of a 3-cereal mix, a big fresh berry and yogurt smoothie she made for me, and a bowl of lima beans, the answer was clearly no). I permitted myself to be somewhat easily talked into accepting a ride up the first hill. I’m not a purist, and it was maybe 1-2 miles, and I have learned enough to be okay with accepting help if it’s offered and useful. We got some fun pictures at the pretty vista, and Judy reluctantly parted with Petunia after surprising me with a couple of giant cookies from the hip co-op. They were so good, they didn’t last the whole day. With blue skies and a comfortable breeze on the air, we started off on top, yet again.   
      

 Knute’s photos:       
 Song of the day: I’m in Love with My Life by Phases.  

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