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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Miles from nowhere, I guess I’ll take my time /Oh yeah, to reach there

Muscatine was a fairly large city to arrive in after days of corn and soy fields. My host there, Jeanne, was an animal nutritionist and cyclist, and best of all, she was a lot of fun to talk with and a great friend of Petunia’s. She even had a refrigerator for cyclists that was stocked with beer, clearly knowing her touring fanbase. She told me stories about her awesome grandma, about lessons learned from cycling, and we indulged in some Italian food with the pasta needed to fuel me for the next day.

I didn’t get a pic of Jeanne– such a bummer, but some of the best times I’ve had have been the ones where I live in the moment and not behind the camera– but I got a pic of her sweet cycling clock in the travelers’ den!



And the day after that was a hot misery indeed, made more difficult by the stifling humidity. My morning was spent jetting to the bike shop in town to have a squeak diagnosed, where I learned I was over-lubricating my chain a bit, but of course, the noise didn’t happen while I was there, so the mechanic shrugged and said it was not terminal. Then I headed to the library to get some work done for my job with Evaluation Services. This all took a few hours, and I didn’t leave the town until mid-day with the heat beaming down on us viciously. The road was flat, but the sweltering 90-something degrees heat plus the high humidity proved to be too much, and when we reached the small town of Wilton, just about 20 miles away through miles of fields, my brain was already scanning the area for a shady shelter. At an intersection of two country roads, I saw a plain-sided and functionally roofed manufacuring building, and I stopped over when I saw a guy headed towards his truck in the parking lot. There was a modicum of shade between the two main buildings, and trying to stay distant enough to avoid sharing my workout stank, I asked the employee if I could throw down my small tent and camp out for the night, even though it was still kind of early. He said it wouldn’t be a problem, so I posted up the tent in the crevice and laid out for a little bit with Tunes, drinking water and making a few phone calls. My dad told me I’d missed a tornado in Illinois and that flooding in southern Iowa was happening, but luckily I’d remained one step ahead of any natural disasters.

 

     

After a light supper of granola bars and trail mix for me and Petunia having her usual dog food stew, I went to the side of the building where the worker had informed me there was a spigot, and I had an ersatz shower beside the cornfield at sunset. The water was almost hot, and it ran warm during my entire cleanse. Having washed up, I played with Tunes and we tucked into the tent early. Suddenly, I heard the high speed of heavy metal train cars and a loud WHOOOOOO WHOOOOOOO that shook the ground. Just across the street was an active train track, it turned out. In both of my tours, I’ve somehow had a knack for accidentally finding camping next to these noisy monstrosities. That night was no exception, with long, loud trains bellowing nearby at midnight and three AM. But between their late-night wake up calls, something interrupted my slumber that made me sit up at full alert. I thought I’d heard a man’s voice say the words “the truck,” and I held my breath, listening in the dark for voices or footsteps. Maybe it was just a dream, I thought, releasing my grip on the can of mace a bit. But when I permitted myself to breathe again, the acrid smell of cigarette smoke scorched my nose and lungs. It was so strong, it was like someone had just lit up in the tent. The workers had set up a metal do-not-enter bar barricade when they left, and so I didn’t think anyone would’ve just driven in, and I imagined I would’ve heard it if they had come through. It was about 1 o’clock in the morning, and the sense that I’d heard a voice and smelled this smoke, the latter certainly evidence of some other human presence, made me a little creeped out. I opened the tent door, quietly stepping out and walking to the front of the building. No one, and just the pickup truck that had been there all night anyway. I cleared my throat and said sternly, “Hello? Who’s there?” but only silence echoed up toward a star-covered sky. I left the tent door open, airing it out a bit, and convinced myself that either someone had just passed by and was now gone or the alien smoke had somehow come from a passing car. I fell asleep with my finger on the safety cap of the mace, and caught an hour of shut-eye before the next train roared through and rattled me out of REM sleep.


I was all too happy to get out of there when the sun and the birds woke me up, although Petunia looked pretty sleepy. The company guys were early birds too, and they were showing up for the job just as I was rolling out, and I thanked them for letting me crash, not mentioning the midnight mystery.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Iowa got hilly, and I felt grateful for this after three flat states that left me wondering whether I’d lost the muscles needed to take on the big climbs once I got out west. It was definitely getting hot again, but not quite as oppressively humid. My little radio picked up a classical music station, and so I pedaled with a feeling of elegance through glittering green fields of corn and past quaint farm houses. A road sign said “bridge out, 6 miles,” but offered no detour information, so I cruised onward.


When I got to the bottom of the hill 6 miles on, though, I saw that this was really the case. I walked around the orange barricade and assessed my options. A huge, muddy trench stood between me and the 2 mile distance to my next town. I didn’t want to risk dragging the bike and gear through the muck, so I went back up the hill and pulled out my phone’s GPS. Another road bent around out of the way but into town and back on route, but I could see it was all gravel. The only other route was a significant distance backtracking plus some busier state road riding. The gravel was bumpy and I had to let the bike twist and sway over rocks, dodging the ones that looked more tire-damaging, and although it seemed perilous in a few places, we made it into the next tiny town. They had a small market, so I bought some yogurt and berries and we had lunch in the town park. Petunia got to play fetch with her tennis ball, running herself to exhaustion, and drinking a lot of water. Sadly, the tennis ball got left behind, making it the second one we’ve gone through ono this trip, but she still had her squeaky racoon toy.


   After some big rolling hills and a long sweaty day, we had a few stretches of retch-worthy hog-stink to pass as we raced past the pig farms and into Cascade, Iowa.


 The map said city park camping was permitted, so I touched base with the local PD to confirm I was there, got a shower at the town swimming pool that brought back happy memories of my younger days as a lifeguard or on the swimteam at my own hometown pool, and made my way to the park. A huge crowd was there, though, and a few locals told me that a popular local baseball team was playing. “It’s a double-header, too, so it’ll be noisy until about 10:30 tonight,” one sportsfan told me. I felt weary after not getting much sleep the night before and riding over 70 miles in the heat, and a little lightheaded. A few people told me about their local supper club that had affordable dinner specials, so I went in to grab a sandwich to go that didn’t involve peanut butter. A few locals eating and drinking around the bar talked to me as I waited and kept an eye on Tunes through the window. One kind older couple heard of my plan to tent camp in the park and they too mentioned the late night noise that was likely. Kay and Joe then offered to let me stay at their place. “Can the dog stay in the garage?” she asked, and I hesitated, instead offering to just camp out in their yard if that was a nice quiet place, and she reconsidered. “Well, if she’s housebroken and well behaved, I guess it won’t be a problem. You should both sleep indoors in our guest bedroom.” What a kind offer! Kay and Joe, a retired couple native to the area, were sweet as can be, and Kay even volunteered to massage a sore muscle spot on my neck, saying that she missed her calling and should have been a massage therapist healer (and I concurred with this after the tension in my shoulder disappeared). We talked for a while about my travels and Petunia demonstrated some of her party tricks and that she was well-mannered, and then we passed out by 9 PM. I couldn’t have had better luck, and I really needed the sleep.

And oh boy, did I sleep. Around 6 the next morning, I was up and packing, but not before my hosts generously shared their breakfast with me: a granola cereal and toast with jam treat. I bid them goodbye, as Joe was off to church and Kay to an aquatic exercise class, and on the road again I went, well-rested and making good time. In a small town of Colesburg, I refilled water bottles in a tavern and took the barkeep’s advice to reroute toward the river instead of cutting inland as the map described, saving a lot of miles. He warned there would be a steep hill to climb, but he said there was a bike path involved, which sounded good to me, and I was feeling up for some adventure.


 After some big hills and one scary, screaming descent that ended with lane-wide rumble strips that threatened to shake me off my rig, I made it to Guttenburg, and decided to be more wary of route advice dispensed by non-cyclists. I followed a road right on the Mississippi River, and was having a hard time locating this supposed bike path. I stopped to ask directions at an RV park, but no one was sure about the route. As I was about to keep looking around, a man in a truck pulled up and asked if he could talk for a minute. “Sure, what’s up?” I asked casually, as if I wasn’t a strange sight.

Mike was a recent bicycle tourist himself, having recently done a group trip in Washington state, where I was headed. He fondly recalled some touring memories, complimented my setup, and asked to take a photo of Tunes for his bicycle buddies. Not an unusual request, I obliged and gave him my card, and asked him about the bike route. Handily, he knew exactly where to send me and described the directions (it wasn’t a designated bike path afterall, just a road ride cyclists use). “I know it’s kind of early and you might be wanting to push on,” he said, “but you’re welcome to stay at my vacation rental property tonight if you want. I don’t have people coming in until tomorrow, and my housekeeper Julie is there just finishing up. I’ve gotta work on my plane in the hangar so  I won’t be in your way.” I looked at my bike clock and saw that it was still fairly early in the afternoon, and though I’d already done about 50 miles, I felt I still had some fight left in me. “Hmmm,” I said, looking around the bend in the road towards my unknown destination for the night. “You might change your mind when you see the place,” he laughed, adding that I could just stop by for water if I wanted and to show Tunes to dog-lover Julie. I followed his truck to a large river-facing home with a cozy-looking porch and many windows. A neighbor was outside and I introduced myself before we headed in. Mike was right– the house was luxurious and beautiful, and Julie was a very sweet woman and asked about my travels, plus warned me about a pugnacious pitbull who lived nextdoor.  “I’m not at all against pitbulls, most of them are good, but this one is mean and I don’t trust it. Just letting you know,” she said softly as she scratched Petunia gently behind her ear. I got a good vibe from the place and the people, and decided to do some bike cleanup and have an easy day. Mike had quite a collection of road bikes and tandems in the garage for his guests, and he offered to let me take them for a spin. “Not that you want to ride a bike on your day off, but you’re welcome to.” I’d never ridden a road bike, I said sort of sheepishly, and took a Lightspeed out for a joyride while Tunes made herself at home on a couch. That thing was FAST– I zoomed down the river road, effortlessly flying down sidestreets and enjoying the flight of freedom.


        
I’d pulled over to take some photos of some local bike art when a young woman approached and asked if I needed help finding anything in town. I told her I was just out exploring, and she told me about a free self-defense class for women that was happening that evening at the local karate studio. What luck! I told her to count me in. I brought the bike back, fed Tunes dinner, and went to check this class out. Although some of it was a refresher for me, I did pick up a few new skills and tips and got to practice them with a karate student, so it was a fun little diversion.  

Back at the vacation house, the retired pilot Mike offered to take me to dinner, so out we went again and shared touring tales, photos, and a couple of beers in a little restaurant, where I again saw the young woman I ran into earlier. Guttenburg must be really tiny. Our conversation somehow led to my psychology and women’s studies degree, and he was interested so we got academic for a little bit and I dropped some gender and sexual orientation concepts (thinking beyond the binaries!) on him, hopefully making my UConn professors proud.


We capped off the night with a listening party, picking through his record collection. It got late and so I made my way to sleep in a modern monochromatic guest room, careful not to disturb the immaculate condition of the room Julie had cleaned earlier. Of all the twists and turns and different paths on this journey, those few days had certainly been an unusual pleasure. By leaving myself open to possibilities and taking my time, enjoying the ride, I felt I’d helped create the opportunity for many of these fortunate happenings, but I’d also been so randomly lucky that it was almost surreal.


Song of the day: Cat Stevens – Miles From Nowhere

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Two drifters off to see the world / There’s such a lot of world to see

My dog goes by a lot of names. Petunia is her original moniker, dubbed after our initial meeting in a pet store about three years ago. I’d wanted to adopt a rescue dog, despite the myth that rescues have too many psycho-emotional problems to be trainable, loving pets. So one day, I went to the local pet store to try to get some ideas about breeds and types of dogs, since I’d only ever had feline companions. I’d started out hoping for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel like Virginia Woof, the sweet dog my dearly loved colleague, Carole McKenzie, had owned and brought with her to the psychology course she taught at University of Hartford.  Virginia was travel-sized, loveable, friendly, and obviously well-trained and flexible. But in the pet store, a spunky little Jack Russell/Poodle mix dog caught my eye, and after a few minutes in a separate pen with a few toys, it was clear that I couldn’t leave this special little puppy behind. As I signed the paperwork to take her home, an employee said to me, “This dog is going to be YouTube famous someday. Make sure you bring her back to say hi to me.” (For the record, I tried to bring her by a few months later, but found the shop had closed.) Some have said I rescued her from the pet shop– she had a rough start from the get-go, as I discovered the day after I brought her home, she had a somewhat drug-resistant ear infection, a long case of the giardia parasite, and required multiple vet visits at just six months old. But she was the wonder of my world, and she rescued me in ways I’m still learning about. 

Her first day home, Februrary, 2012:  
Petunia became Tunes, and Tunie, and Tunia, and Tunisia, followed by its capital, Tunis. She was also a cow, a little cow, a Bolivian Miniature Running Cow, a birdhouse, a monkey, and a marmoset. Tunes became Spoon, and Spoon-Cow, and Spoonie, and Balloon, Baboon, and she was P-Tunes when she was dancing with me to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” When we were in the relevant section of Illinois, she was Spoon River, Wider Than A Mile, as I crooned to her through farmland where I would not be heard nor judged. 

 

On a rainy Saturday morning, we crossed the swollen Illinois River, passing some construction workers who were maintaining the bridge. “Where ya goin in this weather?” the guys laughed, and I replied, “The Pacific Northwest. Might as well get used to the rain now!” And it was a lot of rain. It was’t so bad for me, but Tunes was looking glum and had hunkered down in her carrier. A group of motorcyclists passed me and gave me the nod and the biker’s “low-five” hand signal, a respectful gesture from the big burly dudes on their hogs, and I felt my status elevated a bit. After a few hours of zigzagging through corn and soy fields, it was 2 pm, and I stopped, soaking wet, under a Lions Club hut in Henry, IL. We were soaked, cold, and hungry. The wind blew the rain sideways so that the shelter barely kept us dry. The small town had a bar and a convenience store at a gas station, so I opted for the latter, hoping to eat and maybe warm up a bit. I was surprised upon entering that their air conditioner had been blasting, and sopping wet, I became much colder as I shivered in the bathroom, which, of couse, had a big fan blowing from the ceiling directly on to me. I bought the lone slice of terrible pizza spinning on a tray under a heat lamp, and gave Tunes the warmed meat toppings. My fingers were pruney and somewhat blue, and I considered ending my day right there and then. A church nearby had an awning that was sort of out of the rain, and I could dry off, pitch tent, and warm up in my sleeping bag and rest for the remainder of the day. But it’s only 2 o’clock and we would be stuck HERE, I thought petulantly, wringing my gloves out and drying Petunia’s head with a little towel. I thought of all the times I’d been asked what I did on tour when it rained, and my response was simply, “Well, it gets wet.” I’d be uncomfortable stopping or going, so I might as well keep going, I nudged myself, with only my fortitude to depend on. 

   

    

During the day, NPR was accessible on my little radio, and I was lucky enough to mostly-hear a story about Max Leonard’s new book Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France. Although I hadn’t kept up with the tour this summer and have never really had much interest in following bicycle racing, except for the crazy TransAm Race tourists I’d met last year, I heard a fascinating account of the rascals who came in last, somestimes deliberately seeking popular “last place” titles, endorsements, and invitations that could double their salaries and financial opportunities. When the local news report came on, however, I was sobered by yet another report of a local cyclist killed after a motorist ran them over, fleeing from the scene. Not long ago, I’d just read an article about the safety of cycling, however, and given the number of people who command me to “be safe” as I venture off, the infographic seemed worth reproducing here:

 

Later in the day, after I’d resolved to continue on despite the crummy circumstances, I was ecstatic when out came the sun and it dried up all the rain, and the itsy bitsy cyclist could crank in joy again.  I busted it at a nearly-frenzied pace of 16-17 mph over the flats and rollies, as I neared my WS destination. A couple named John and Stephanie, with their two young children, had agreed to take me in for the evening after they’d returned from a wedding in Chicago. I didn’t get a photo of them during my brief stay, but they were the consummate hosts– offering me safe, dry lodging and a shower, and an incredible amount of trust, as they had two children under 3 years of age.  Stephanie commented on the latter, citing critics who questioned her for housing relative strangers on CouchSurfing and WarmShowers, and she echoed my sentiments that most people are good,  your instincts are your best ally in screening guests and hosts, and bicycle tourists especially do not have good getaway vehichles. I watched their little ones crawling around in a minefield of Lego bricks. “You’re both braver than I am,” I told them as they described the perils of having a home with a staircase and two young crawlers. John said it was kind of scary, but smiled broadly, and they both shone with an abundant promise of glowing parenthood that I could just imagine understanding. 

  
In the morning, I had breakfast in the gas station/restaurant where all of the local people gathered, perhaps before church. This older farmer dude asked how far I’d come, and I told him– 2,200 miles. He lost his mind. “Are you on DRUGS?!” he exclaimed. I checked my imaginary watch and said, “No, it’s not even 9 AM yet.” That really griddled his toast.

People in the midwest, like many other places, have been so nice to me. On the rare occasions when I see houses and people, they shout “good luck!” and “I hope you make it!.” A good dad with daughter came over to say hello at a 7-11 and ask about my trip. “I just wanted her to talk to you to learn about what you were doing,” he said as I cleaned and greased my chain. I was so happy for that moment, that maybe in some small way, I was the impetus for another life-changing adventure, or at least for the thought of one. 

As the fog lifted and the heat came on  hard, I emboldened myself with a promise: today’s ride is for you, I thought, for the woman who smiled and shouted at me from her swimming pool. I was blowing by at a good clip, but I turned around to ask her what she’d said, as I couldn’t quite make it out as her calls were lost into the wind. Beverly said she was 65 and had always wanted to travel the world by bicycle, but she’d just had open heart surgery, and wouldn’t be doing anything fast anymore. She invited me to take a dip, but Tunes didn’t like to swim and I wanted to keep my chafe-prone bum dry, so I thanked her and pushed on in the heat.  This is for you, I silently reiterated, for those who said they’d wanted to do this all their lives, but never got the chance. For the man in the retail store in Ohio who was in awe of my journey but said he could never get the time off to live his dreams. For the busy mom woth a few young kids who couldn’t make it work. For the elderly journalist who said she’d join me if only her body would let her cycle that long. Today’s ride is for you, I promised, and rushed on through the fire that radiated up off of the pavement, my skin cooking in the summer sun and heat. 

   

  

  

  

 

We crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, as the last bit of Tunes’s ice pack cooling device melted. The heat going over the bridge was almost unbearable, but I knew we’d be indoors soon at a WS host’s house, since there were storms predicted overnight and few places to stealth camp in the busy and relatively populous city of Muscatine, Iowa. Luckily, we were headed for a wonderful evening with a bright and funny woman named Jeanne, where we both had a wonderful respite from all that ailed us. 

Song of the day: Moon River, a la Breakfast at Tiffanys. 

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Gearing Up, Reaching Goals.

I’m so excited to share that we’re nearing our target for our fundraiser to help support Gearing Up, a small non-profit in Philadelphia with an important mission:

Gearing Up provides women in transition from abuse, addiction, and/or incarceration with the skills, equipment, and guidance to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, and personal growth. The term “women in transition” refers to women who have been formerly incarcerated, have histories of abuse and trauma as kids and/or as adults, have used drugs and/or alcohol as a way to cope with painful experiences and are learning how to live a crime-free sober life with purpose and meaning.  While in transition, bicycling offers a mode of transportation, opportunities for social connectedness and employment, as well as countless psychological and physical health benefits. A primary goal of Gearing Up is to provide women with regular coaching, mentoring, and support to make healthy lifestyle changes, promote personal growth, and use biking for transportation.

For folks who are interested, here’s a great video they’ve put together that highlights some of the stories of the women they have supported and why this work is so important. I’m really honored to support them and so grateful for the generosity of so many of my friends and family members, and total strangers who have been kind enough to donate to help give this gift to Gearing Up and its clients.

Help us help others. Donate here: http://www.gofundme.com/TouringTunes2015

My heartfelt thanks to you!

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Get Your Kicks on Route 66

After a quick breakfast sandwich I inhaled while talking to some locals in Ashkum, we had a dry and temperate start with good cloud cover. There were miles, and miles, and miles of corn and soy everywhere. I’d anticipated the lack of services, so five water bottles were filled and ready. Tunes did some free-range running on the totally silent roads. This was quite safe, as the pavement wasn’t too hot, there was plenty of visibility up ahead and back. Though Tunes only ran a few miles at a time, we didn’t see a car for well over 25 miles in the farmlands of Illinois. 

Petunia thinks, “Sweet dreams are made of cheese, who am I to disa-brie.”

  
Our residence in Ashkum. 

  The catdog of cars was spotted in Ashkum.   

  
  
I started listening to the audiobook Merle’s Door, a great dog and human tale, which entertained me as I sped across the flat land to Ordell, where the route intersected with historic Route 66. Just before the heart of town, I stopped in a little park to make a PBJ lunch in the shade with some cheese and crackers, and a little girl who was there with her mother came to say hi to Petunia. She very gently patted my pup on the head, and even threw the tennis ball around for Tunes and her silly game of chase. The little girl asked if I would swing with her on the playground, which was totally adorable, so I gave her a push to get her going and then we enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze together for a minute as her mom and Tunes looked on. They were on a road trip of their own and we waved after their car pulled off. In town, I stopped for a cool drink and since it was now sunny and in the upper 70s, and put some ice in the small water bottle and set it in the Petunia carrier as a little cooling unit.  

    

 
A few miles after leaving Ordell, I saw a touring cyclist in the distance who seemed to be loaded up with even more stuff than I. We both slowed to a stop and I met him on his side of the street to say hello. Max was riding from Iowa to DC, and when he shook his handlebars, his whole bike wobbled from the substantial weight. I’d just bought some little boxes of raisins so I offered him some and we exchanged travel stories. He asked where I was planning on staying and I told him I was considering making a big push to Henry, IL, where the city permitted camping in the park. He told me he’d just come from there, and the town was having a big fair over the weekend, and that there was a lot of noise late into the night. “Thanks for the heads up. I guess I’ll just do a 75 mile day and end in Wenona, then,” I told him, grateful for the advice. He opened his handlebar bag and fussed with a little jar, then handed me a little inspirational card, and two tiny objects, one wooden and one metal. “I carry so much stuff on here, I’m handing out washers and dryers!” 

  

Ohhhh, Max. I see what you did there.  Thanking him for the good cheer, I resumed riding to make the last 20+ miles to Wenona, through yet more fields, but with tall walls of corn. I’d recently learned the old farmers’ saying, “by the 4th of July, corn should be knee high,” but because of the rain, much of what I’d passed was yellowed and short, or just plain underwater. But where it had thrived, it seemed to be far taller than I, and I had to be extra careful at rural route intersections to stop and check for crossing traffic (even though there was never any. I didn’t want to find the exception the hard way.).      

 
Once in Wenona, I was greeted by a thriving metropolis in comparison to the silence of the soyfields. It just so happened that I landed in town on the night of their big car show, and there were a couple of food vendors and local businesses tabling, and everyone in town was out and about on their Main Street that had been closed for pedestrians (and the parked show cars) only. We cruised in and were treated like celebrities, with people coming to talk and take pictures and shake my and (and Petunia’s paw). The city park was on the other side of town, about 5 blocks away, where a youth baseball game was taking place. The staff person at the concession stand unlocked a “biker bathroom” that the town had set up for cyclists’ use, and I had a nice warm shower and a place under and overhang to set up camp. I could hear the revving motors of the retro cars and peeling out of sporty tires into the night as we tried to fall asleep, getting ready to take on another hot day tomorrow, 

   
 
Song of the day: Chuck Berry’s version of Route 66. Fun fact: The lyrics mention Winona, but it’s Winona, AZ that’s on the Route, and not this Wenona, IL, according to Wikipedia. 

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