Yes, I know I've fallen off my rigorous weekly schedule of superlative Mootis Moments, so I have decided to give up the original promise and switch to "volumes"instead. I'm writing to you from my Kindle in a coffee shop blasting C,hristian radio here in Rapid City, SD (or "Rapid," as the locals say). Mootis is either at the library using the computer or back in our motel room tuning up his bike. This might be the first significant amount of time we have spent apart during the trip - and here I am writing about him. It's all for you, dear readers. Truth is, much of our time on the bikes is spent apart, usually from anywhere between ten and a few hundred feet apart. "Double solitude" is the term the writer Donald Hall used for the way he and his wife worked separately but in the same house on their writing all day. That's kind of how we tend to ride. For me, a loner/introvert/recluse at heart, this is necessary.
Anyway, let us do this thing:
BEST MOOTIS MOMENT #3: We were riding into Rapid City yesterday in the early evening. It had been a pretty rigorous 80ish mile day with the climbs of the Badlands in the morning and a rollercoaster of hills for the rest of the day. Once again, to my chagrin, we did not eat lunch. The wind coming into the city was perhaps the worst we had seen, requiring us to get off the bikes and walk for a bit out of concern for tipping over. Given all this, I just wanted to be done for the day. We were on a fairly quiet road when we passed a small turtle in the turning lane. A moment passed, then Mootis slowed and swung his bike around, declaring that he was going to get the turtle out of the road. I pulled my bikeover and waited, then heard a shriek or two as Mootis declared,"he's faster than I thought!" The turtle was running in every direction but the one our well-meaning friend wanted wantedhim to run in. Mootis was clumsily walking while still straddling his bike as he attempte to bend over toward the fated turtle. A line of traffic was patiently waiting by now, proably having no idea what the brightly colored spandex clad gentleman was doing,other than having some sort of seizure in the street. Eventually, Mootis got ahold of the turtle's shell and tossed it into the grass. I had forgotten my end of the day blues, for a few minutes anyway. And I'm sure the turtle was safe for at least as long. Cheers to you, Mootis, from reptiles eveywhere.
WORST MOOTIS MOMENT #3: I will begin by saying I am quite grateful for Mootis's bike fixing abilities, especially given that I have none of my own. That said, we both knew this going int the trip. I'd be somewhat helpless this whole time. Therefore, if something went wrong with my bike, as it did on the day 3 of my spokes broke, I would need to trust Mootis's skills and advice. I understood that he didn't have the tools necessary to fix the wheel on the side of the road. Fine. His suggestion was for us to ride slowly toward the closest bike shop ten miles away. He assured me that this would be fine. We were fortunate to find a kind woman with a pick up truck to drive us the last 8 miles or so. It was not until Mootis was describing this scene to someone more bike savvy than me later (ither the bike shop owner or the other bike tourist we met) that I heard him voice concern about having me ride the bike 3 spokes short. To be exact, "catastrophic failure" was the term he used for what could have happened in those last few miles. Yes, if too much stress was put on the wheel from a bump or from going up or town a hill too large, it all could have come crashing down, as they say. "Catastrophic failure." Shame on you, Mootis. You'll be hearing from my attorney.
I broke another spoke yesterday. We're here at Cranky Jeff's Bicycle Shop getting me a knew rear wheel. We've got a dinner date tonight with a family who rides one bicycle - a tandem with a 2-kid add-on attached to the rear. We were admiring their rig outside the local food co-op (naturally) when the dad came out and introduced himself. Ah, bicycle culture.
You might be wondering what Aaron and I did with the hour we gained from crossing into ye Mountain time zone this morning. It was an easy decision: we took a break mid-ride to stop at the attraction we'd seen advertised for miles (and had heard about from Maddy when we stayed in Minneapolis). 1880 Town is pretty much what you would think it'd be: a constructed town with buildings from the era - livery stable, saloon, barber shop, and so on. It also featured an extensive exhibit of props, photographs and other memorabilia from the 1991 film "Dances With Wolves," starring and directed by none other than Kevin Costner. I believe the production had used some of 1880 Town's old timey goods or scenery, hence the pride by affiliation. The animals pictured above were all featured in 1880 Town. Yes, donkeys, kittens and a camel. I'm no historian, so I'll just assume the good folks at 1880 Town know exactly what they're talking about. As we left 1880 Town, Aaron (who spent much of our visit there fretting about getting too much mud in the cleats of his bike shoes) remarked that we'd pretty much paid $9 each for me to get to coo at kittens. I have no problem with this.
I've been thinking about how good South Dakota seems to be at this whole tourism thing. A state known for its wide open spaces, many of their attractions have literally come into existence by making something out of nothing, then convincing people it's worth seeing. This goes for 1880 Town, the Corn Palace, even for Mount Rushmore (which we won't be seeing, alas). And it certainly goes for the town of Wall, which we'll be passing through tomorrow morning. More on that then. In a way, I guess any tourist attraction has this element of marketing wrapped up in it. But so many of the attractions around where I've spent my years were there before they were attractions. That's the difference. But this isn't to speak ill of how things are here. I'm happy to buy into it, at least while I'm passing through. The prairie dogs I fawned over today, for instance, were actually an "attraction" that was part of a gas station and convenience store. "Come see real prairie dogs for FREE" billboards had declared for miles in the kitschy style so much here has. I wonder about the degree of irony, if any, involved in all this. It probably doesn't matter - those operating these places want the people who find the "Dances With Wolves" exhibit hilarious as much as they want those who find it impressive. $9 is $9, after all.
"All this said, South Dakota certainly doesn't forget its open spaces. More on that in my next post.
Okay, so forget what I mentioned about being on the raggedy frontier. Turns out the campground here in Murdo, SD has cabins (pictured above) - with air conditioning ( air conditioning!) - for $8 more than the regular campsites. The best $8 I've spent recently, I must say, as I'm writing now while an intense thunderstorm is maybe staritng to wind down. Few things on this trip have been as vindicating for me as knowing I paid for a motel (or cabin) when it's raining.
We've ended up splitting this cabin with Nick and Anna, the couple we met yesterday who began in Provincetown, MA. Funny thing about their trip: they spent their third night from the start at Nick's aunt's house in where else but Whitman, Massachusetts, the small town where my parents (and their parents) grew up and where I lived for the first year of my life. I write this now in the dark, as the others have gone off to sleep and the rain has finally quieted. Ten minutes ago, the wind sent a street sign rolling by the cabin. Maybe I should follow everyone's lead.
Pretty quiet day on the road today. My phone is once again unable to find any data signal, so I'm here at some weird gift shop and auto museum using their very, very slow Gateway VX920 for free internet.
I mainly want to tell you all about the critters we've encountered of late. Most notably today were the grasshoppers pretty literally covering the road, jumping up at us, hitting our legs, torsos, necks and faces as we rode along. One hung out on my shoe for awhile. The gentle ring of my spokes would let me know one had gotten caught there. I have the feeling we haven't seen the end of these guys tonight. They'll probably be sharing our campsite as well. The guy who works here told us he never needs to mow his lawn since the 'hoppers take care of grass maintenance for him. It should be known by all that Aaron shrieks like a little girl when being attacked by these little buggers. I make more of an "Ack!" noise, usually staccato, as I remind myself to keep my mouth closed, just in case.
We've also started a few cattle stampedes these last few days as we ride down quiet roads past herds behind the seemingly flimsy barbed wire fences. As the group starts running along side you, it's impossible to not wonder how easy it'd be for them to charge right through the wire and onto the road. Speaking of herds, we were herded ourselves today, by Princess the shephard doggie, who chased us for probably about a mile until her owner was able to reel her in. She seemed pretty plesed with herself - Princess, that is. As she should have been - she kept up with us!
Finally in critter-related news, we saw an antlered animal we didn't initially recognize during our last 10 miles or so today. I think it was an antelope. I told you - the frontier. According to Aaron and his collection of maps, we increased elevation by about 1000 feet today, pretty gradually except for that monster of a climb out of the Missouri River Valley this morning. When you spend most of the day at an incline, flat road feels like downhill, I've realized.
We had a relatively straightforward 75 mile ride to Chamberlain, South Dakota today and got into town by about 2 P.M. Not long after arriving, we learned that both campgrounds in town are underwater. Flooding. We're on the banks of the Missouri, down in a river valley where I don't get much data signal for my phone. I'm typing to you from the public library, in a carrel right next to the very extensive "Western" section. The act of typing on a keyboard is making me realize that my hands are beginning to have a rough, calloused feel to them. Not sure I like that.
As it turns out, Aaron was the one to suggest we just spring for a motel here, rather than find a park picnic table or some such to camp next to. I was all for it, of course. There's a huge difference morale-wise when a motel is involved. The flip side of it is that I think I have an easier time getting up and ready in the morning when we're at a camp site, mainly because I have no desire to remain there. While riding down the long hill into the valley earlier, we could feel the temperature rise as we descended. I'm happy not to share a tent tonight. It's not that I don't want to sleep next to Aaron in the tight, muggy space. It's that I don't want to sleep next to his sleeping bag. It's gotten quite ripe in the last few weeks.
In the last 24 hours, we've come across two other pairs of cross-country cyclists. The first we met at the Corn Palace last night, a brother and sister from the UK who are actually doing much more than a cross-country trip: they began in Florida in late April, worked their way up the east coast, are now crossing to the west, then will proceed down the coast and (I think) back across, for a total of six months on the road. Better them than me. The brother will then continue biking around the world, I guess taking on one continent at a time. I asked him how long he thought it'd take and he just shrugged and said, "Until it's done." Attaway, sir. The other couple we met today at the Chamberlain McDonald's, where our UK pals said they'd be when they got into town (free wi-fi, no one cares if you smell or if you order anything, air conditioning). They began in Provincetown, MA, the tippity end of Cape Cod, and are working their way out to Burning Man (of course they are) and then to San Francisco - like us! But due to the stop at the fest, they'll be behind us, I believe.
While of course there's something cool about meeting other long-distance cyclists on the road, and the people we met are all very nice and seem to be good company, I'm the first to admit that Aaron and I have very different reactions to meeting them. It goes something like this:
Aaron: Awesome! Let's go hang out and talk to them about bikes!
Jamie-Lee: Ugh. Do we have to go hang out and talk to them about bikes?
This gets at several general differences between Aaron and me. First, he's way more into bikes and biking than I am. Even now when we talk to people in restaurants and convenience stores about our trip, I say, "Well, I'm not really much of a cyclist." Second, while I suppose both Aaron and I can be sociable people, he's much more inclined to be interested in talking to people he doesn't know. I can do it just fine, but for me, it's work. (Not coincidentally, part of my job at the Writers House involves talking to people I don't know and making them feel welcome.) Aaron's mom once told me about how when Aaron was a boy, he'd chatter away to any stranger who was listening. I remember my mom lamenting about how when I was young and she'd introduce me to a friend, I'd immediately look the other way, in attempt at some sort of if-I-don't-see-you-you-can't-see-me move. I think I've made a lot of progress. Some progress, at least.
The world's only Corn Palace, might I add. It was constructed back in the day in attempt to gain Mitchell, SD the title of state capital. (Awkward pause.) But, hey, the palace has brought joy to many!
What is a Corn Palace? A building decorated with murals made of kernals, husks and other parts of corn we'd never heard of.
Tonight we're staying in a campground nestled between chain restaurants, department stores, and motels. It's gotten hot again. There's probably a 20% chance that my credit card and I will go across the way to the Super 8 at some point.
For the first two and a half weeks of this trip, Minneapolis was sort of billed as the promised land. This was Aaron's doing, mostly, since he was pretty sure we'd spend two days there, we'd be staying with his good pal Maddy and seeing other friends of his, and he knew the city well having lived there for three years. There was much talk about getting to Minneapolis (and yes, some griping from me about how it was too far north and why were we wasting our time and energy dealing with biking into not just one city, but *twin* cities), but not a ton of specific discussion about what would happen after we left.
And now, here we are, about 160 miles southwest of the city, in Marshall, Minnesota, expecting to cross into South Dakota tomorrow morning sometime. We're within one or two hundred miles of our estimated halfway point, but I'm very weary to think about being half done. The nature of our trip will be changing greatly in the next bunch of days. In marathon running, there's a popular philosophy that 13.1 miles is not the halfway mark of the race: 20 miles is. This is because those last 6.2 miles are so mentally and physically grueling, you'll need 50% of your energy left to slog through them. I imagine something similar with this trip. Sure, west of the Sierras should be fine, but the desolate nature of these next bunch of states, along with this little thing called the Rocky Mountains will take will require a different kind of outlook, at least from me. There won't be restaurants to choose from, motels when we want them, cold Gatorade at a gas station a few miles up. We'll be carrying more food and water (and stashing the food away from our tent, you can be sure) and doing little to no camping wherever we choose. Campgrounds, town parks, people's yards. I also figure that at some point, my nightly blogging might not be possible (so don't freak out, readerfriends!) and we won't have the ease of my phone's GPS (flawed as it can be), restaurant locator, and weather app. Also, I personally feel like I need a better or different focus for the rest of the trip. My mood and attitude have been somewhat mercurial thus far. It doesn't take much sometimes - botched directions, humidity, the need to start an argument that arises from boredom (is that just me?) - for things to go downhill for me, as it were.
All that said, I hope to keep my head a bit more in the game as we proceed. In some ways, it feels like these first three weeks have just been training for what's soon to come.
When you are biking across the country, it is almost inevitable that at some point, you will bike by a meat processing plant. The chicken plants you pass in Indiana are hard to handle, but you recognize the smell from the time you drove by the Tyson and Purdue plants on the DelMarVa penninsula last summer. Today is different. Unlike Tyson and Purdue, there is no sign in front of this plant. You've been noticing it in the distance on Route 19 for awhile. The smell - no, the stench - has gotten increasingly worse over the last half mile. You're riding right into it, thanks to an unforgiving wind. Last you knew, it was around 90 degrees. The strength and quality of the smell make it clear that this is not a chicken plant. You continue to look for a sign as you pass the sprawling nondescript warehouse like buildings. By now, even though you're trying to breathe through your mouth and pedal faster, you are gagging. Not the half-cough water-down-the-wrong-pipe gagging, but the kind that makes you think you might see your red Gatorade and Fig Newtons again. Your thought about this is that vomiting will only slow you down. You remember how in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, he was unable to gain access or gather much information at all about beef slaughter and processing. But what you see next suggests anything but secrecy. A truck passes you and as it pulls ahead an odor far worse than the one that's been lingering trails behind. You hold your breath, look up, and immediately convince yourself it's not what you think. But Aaron confirms it at the next stop light: hooves protruding from the top, suggesting a pile. At a bar later, a farmer tells you he's lost eighteen sows because of this heat. You think back to the truck.
When you get on the other side of the plant, the smell begins to fade, but not entirely. You try to convince yourself it has to be gone given how the wind is blowing. For awhile, you fear the plant you can see miles away in the next town will also be this bad, but as you get closer, the strong yeasty aroma it marked by signs for a corn ethanol company. Still, as you walk your bike from dinner to the park where you'll camp just as it's getting dark, the beef plant smell remains in the air, even seven miles away.
I apologize it's taken me so long to get this second part of the Best/Worst of Mootis series up. Our biking days were so long this week with the heat that I was often literally falling asleep while blogging on my little phone from our various locations. There was at least one instance in which I opened my eyes to a entry draft that had trailed off with "mmmmmzergw342qadf..." etc. But here I am, on our second day off in Minneapolis, where the heat has subsided to a balmy 86 degrees, ready to spin a few Mootis yarns for y'all. Here goes:
WORST MOOTIS MOMENT, WEEK TWO: Early in the second week of our trip, as we were biking to breakfast on a long country road, a few deer leaped from the woods into the street in front of us. Sure, it was startling, but in that awe-inducing way. At least, that's what I thought. We both slowed our bikes and the younger deer pranced off into the field across the way. The other, presumably the Mama, remained there, not moving. You know, doe-in-headlights. Typical. If we continued on, we'd be within a few feet of her. We slowed more. She didn't budge. Then, our friend Mootis started yelling: "GIT! EY! EY!" This went on for a few more seconds, until his bike was within a tire's length of her and with one jump, she was in the field. I had taken on a similar disposition to the doe by now, still with shock as my bike continued down the road. Then, I let out a guffaw and asked Mootis why he yelled at the deer. "She was real close to me and she wouldn't move. It freaked me out!" I reminded him that a) it's common knowledge that deer freeze up in such situations and b) a doe is pretty much the most defenseless animal that exists. He stood by his freaked-out-ness. I wonder how this will translate to the buffalo and other large animals we almost certainly see as we head further west.
(I should also note that Mootis had a very similar reaction a few days later when he was being chased by a very serious-looking doberman who was unsecured while in the front lawn with his owner in northern Illinois. This was a reasonable reaction, given the circumstances and mine was similar when the dog headed my way. I also added a, "CONTROL YOUR DOG, LADY!" to the owner, who was meekly calling the dog's name from her front porch. Sheesh.)
BEST MOOTIS MOMENT, WEEK TWO: As we were packing up our campsite somewhere in Illinois one morning, during the hour when I usually respond to everything Mootis says or does with, "Why are you talking? Stop talking so much. You're being too loud," Mootis began to sing a little song. It went like this:
"We're the members of the All-American League,
We come from cities near and far,
We've got Canadians, [somethingsomething] and Swedes,
We're all for one, we're one for all, we're all American."
He may have continued. I was too busy trying to remember where I'd heard the song. Five points if you know. Got it? I didn't. When he was done singing, and I admitted knowing of the song but not remembering its origin, he told me: A League of Their Own. Yes, the 1992 hit film about the all-female baseball league that existed during World War II, which featured Geena Davis, Rosie O'Donnell, Madonna and Mr. "There's no crying in baseball" himself, Tom Hanks. As soon as Mootis reminded me, I remembered the girls singing in the locker room. We then chatted about the movie and it became clear to me that I am dating a man who knows that film extremely well. He remembered several of the characters' first and last names and other details about the plot that I'd long forgotten. It was impressive, to say the least. And I mean that in the truest sense of the word: it left an impression. While it makes perfect sense to me that I remember A League of Their Own with fondness - I was 10 when it came out and I believe it was the first movie (maybe aside from Dumbo) that made me cry (that scene when Tom Hanks' character delivers the news to one of the ballplayers about her husband's death ... the slow walk down the line in the locker room ... ugh), it was shocking that Mootis, a 13 year-old boy at the time, would have been so engaged with the film. So cheers to you, Mootis. Go Rockford Peaches!
A bicycle accessory vending machine! Contents include spare tubes, replacement lights, cyclist snacks, "single serving" Chamois Butter, and more! (www.bikefixstation.com) There's also a whole bunch of communal tools attached by cable to a post next to the vending machine. Pretty neato.
This was what a dude said to us as we were rolling into St. Paul earlier this evening. He had asked where we had biked from, and this was his response when we told him both our starting point and our eventual deatination. We told this guy Philly and San Francisco, which we don't always do. When we're hoping for a short conversation, we just tell people where we began that morning and where we're ending that eveninv. Today, that would have been Pepin, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota, an 82 mile ride during which I sweat more than I think I ever have. (No exaggeration.) But we gave the guy on the street of St. Paul the real info, maybe because we were at an intersection and we knew the chat would be kept short, maybe because he told us he also had a bike made by Surly, a company based here.
Today was hard, as was yesterday. This heat. I've been humbled to get a few responses to this blog in which people have told me they've reminded themselves about us when griping about their own heat wave related issues. I was even more humbled today when I read that the runner Amy Palmiero Winters was the first single-leg amputee to complete the Badwater ultramarathon this weekend. Some of you have heard me talk about Badwater: 135 miles, uphill, in Death Valley, in July. The ultimate.
I hope to keep Amy in mind over the next bunch of weeks. For now, we're here in Minneapolis staying at the home of Aaron's old pal Maddy. The debate at hand is whether to stay here for one or two full days off. This will be discussed in more detail tomorrow. Feel free to weigh in.
Waiting out what appears to be a nasty storm about 10 miles south of Prescott, WI, at a spot called The Oasis (appropriately). I am currently explaining to Aaron that he talks too much early in the morning.
Meant to add in that last post that I can't help but compare Aaron's underwhelmed reaction to the heat and my overwhelmed response to the way our cats handled having fleas last summer. Alfie, my guy, was extremely allergic to the bites and groomed himself nonstop, to the point of raw skin on his belly to ensure he was as flea-free as he could be. Bones, Aaron's cat, made no acknowledgement of any problem even though he was completely infested. So, was Alfie a wimp? Or perhaps just more evolved?
We continued our slog up the river today, leaving Stoddard, where we had such a relaxing evening dipping biscotti in red wine and hot tubbing, at 6:41 a.m. and not arriving at our motel (yes, it's still too dang hot to camp) until 8:03 p.m. Sure, there were breaks, but that's a long biking day. We got 86 miles out of it, which is good overall, but was a terrible average mileagewise. And why was that? Well, the highest "feels like" temperature I saw on my phone was 113, but who knows if it crept up another few degrees when I wasn't looking.
We slogged it out because we're due in Minneapolis tomorrow evening. Aaron was far more gung ho about riding today than I was. He tends to do better in the heat than I do, or at least initially. He'll behave as normal, then say something like, "Is it weird that I have chills on a day like this?" or, "Whoa, my heart is racing!" I, on the other hand, am slowed down from the get go by crazy heat and am pretty much a textbook case of how too much heat and sun can lead to irritability. I was also just plain worried about us today, since they were warning people not to go outside, nevermind bike a big bunch of miles.
As I peddled along, careful not to push too hard as a way to compensate for all the work my body was doing to cool itself, I had the following image in mind: a cartoon version of myself, biking away, sweat dripping, then a close up and cross section of my brain, each lobe lit up a different color. First, they start to flicker, then one by one, they blow out. Only the hippocampus would remain.
All this talk of brain failure makes me realize how desperate I am for some sleep. Now's the time.
When you are biking acrosd the country, this is not the color you wsnt the sky to be. While you are grateful the nice man warned you about quarter-sized hail, you wish he didn't have to. You wait it out in town so you have good shelter options, if necessary.
I don't have much time right now, friends, because biking across the country can be really hard. Above you can see the sunsetbwe were forced to witness here tonight in Stoddard, Wisconsin, at the home of Fritz and Judy, Aaron's pal and coworker Richard's dad and stepmom. They made us a lovely dinner, gave us beer, wine, *and* whiskey, and now it's time for us to use their hot tub. They sure know how to make these 100+ degree days bearable, that's for sure. Although I might feel differently when the alarm goes off at 5:30 tomorrow.
Soon, I will provide you with more best and worst of Mootis moments. Promise.
"That woman looks defeated." That was David's first impression of me as he looked out his second floor window in Galena, Illinois at about 5:15 p.m. yesterday. Below, Aaron and I were having a discussion (sure, let's call it that) that was exasperated, to say the least. Once again, our day was turning out to be much longer and harder than anticipated, this time thanks to intense heat and humidity, hilly gravel roads, a few 15% grades, and man-eating gnats. We had come through the quaint river town of Galena with the intention of moving on to Dubuque, Iowa for the night, another 20 or so miles away. We were trying to decide if we should call it a day and find a place to land in Galena.
As we went back and forth, with tired silences punctuating the conversation, David continued his tasks around he house, wondering if he should intervene. He went back to the window a few times to see if we were still there. We were. Later, he said my body language - straddling my bike, slumped over the handlebars, staring away from Aaron, glazed over with fatigue and annoyance - was what made him certain that we could use an option. A cyclist himself, David had been there. He came down to the street, approached us, and asked where we were headed. "Great, more small talk," I thought. "Just what we need right now." (We get a lot of attention in towns, at restaurants and outside convenience stores because of our loaded up bikes.) But David wasn't making small talk. Within moments, he had offered us his spare room and we were bringing our bikes in. After our all-important end-of-day showers, we were out walking around Galena, then having at Otto's place, then having ice cream, then beer, and eventually ending the night listening to some live bluegrass, our moods and spirits having taken a complete turn from those first moments in Galena.
I'm not a person who believes that everthing happens for a reason. I believe that everything happens and it's up to us to decide what to do in response. But David's showing up when he did does give me pause, make me think about what the universe had in store for us. After such a low and difficult afternoon, I was more than willing to be removed from my own mind due to the generosity of a complete stranger.
While David's generosity was perhaps the least expected so far on our trip, there have been many other occurrences of people going out of their way for us. When we rolled into Indiana Dunes State Park the other evening and learned that a) the campground was booked and b) no, they wouldn't just let us pitch our tent somewhere, Adam and Mary happened to be biking by. Moments passed, then they were offering to let us pitch our tent on their site. Fast forward a few hours and Mary was making us amazing campfire fruit pies as we all sat around chatting. And of course there was the Gautsches in Goshen, who knew me simply as a co-worker pal of their daughter's and who cooked us meals and toured us around town. And there was Steve and his parents in Massillon, cooking us an amazing dinner, plus sending us off with fruit, crackers and (no joke) homebaked bread. And there was the man at the convenience store in East Canton, who insisted on giving us money for lunch as an affirmation of our efforts. And the woman today who took our picture and told us she'd send it to the local paper for publication. And all the other well wishes we get when we stop for breakfast or Gatorade. For me, the generosity is most valuable because of what it does for me emotionally, not physically. Though eating homecooked meals and sleeping in real beds have their place as well.
Tonight's dinner, to be consumed at Captain's Cove Motel on the outskirts of Prairie du Chien, WI, was purchased at the gas station down the road. This New Glarus beer (recommended to me by my pal Jon Altbergs - once a teacher, always a teacher) is great!
Do gummy peaches count as a fruit serving for the day?
By the way, you might be wondering why we're motel-bound tonight. Well, the humidity here in Wisconsin not far from the Mississippi is extreme and will only be worse tomorrow. Also, the gnat population here is astounding. We figured sleeping in our teeny 2 person tent in such conditions wasn't the best for team morale. Plus: cable TV!
Just a short update tonight, friends. A fortuitous moment of frustration late in the afternoon led us to meeting our new pal Dave, who is hosting us tonight here in Galena, IL. Above is a photo from the Galena Brewery, where we sampled just about everything earlier. Sorry, Dubuque, Galena distracted us - and we hear it's better anyway.
Guys, I hate to keep bragging about all the marvelous sites we're seeing across the great US of A, but this had to be shared. We rolled past this sign entering Paw Paw, IL at about noon today and immediately pulled a U-turn for a photo op. It was hard not to spend the rest of the day riding around town in search of AC and his collection. So much to wonder about - mostly, what makes them so *unique*?
It was another frustrating day on the roads of Illinois, far and away the least bike-friendly state we've seen thus far. We've spent this evening planning what will hopefully be a successful break for Iowa tomorrow. Goal is Dubuque, where we'll splurge for a motel. If you know of any must-see attractions there, let us know as soon as you can!
I said this on the Twitter earlier, but its sheer bizarreness is worth repeating, I think. On three separate occasions today - breakfast, lunch, and while checking into the campground - I asked to pay with my debit card (easier than carrying and using lots of cash), and I was politely told each time that no cards were accepted. Then, I was immediately encouraged to pay with a personal check. "Have we biked to 1976?" I asked Aaron.
I should note that I'm writing this while sitting atop the washing machine at the Ruffit Park Campground outside of Rock Falls. I found an outlet where I could charge the phone in here, plus we just finished some laundry. I feel like a hobo.
Not much to report today. We had a long slog of a time getting around Chicago and its environs. What we learned: those environs stretch a long way. Also, in addition to not having the good graces to put up a welcome sign, Illinois also thinks it's reasonable to leave the shoulder off many of its roads. What Aaron had estimated to be a 78 mile trip turned into a 95 miler due to a few road switched and extra turns. Fuzzy math, you might say. Demoralizing, yes, but the good news is the weather has cooled down and the roads were flat - and we even had a tailwind for a portion of the day. I hold the belief that a tailwind when you're biking east should be treated as pitching a perfect game: it can't be discussed as it's happening, lest it will be jinxed. Aaron doesn't share this belief: "Can you believe this tailwind!? We're going 18 miles an houe and I'm barely peddling!"
Tomorrow, we continue westward toward the mighty Mississippi. Now, sleep.
It's about an hour and a half into the morning ride when you notice the air has lost the chill it had when you first started out. It's not quite the feeling of being caught in a hairdryer. That will come later in the afternoon. Right now, the wind is a dull warmth pressing against you more firmly with each pedal.stroke as you make your way along State Road 4. The tall, reedy grass seems to bend toward you, suggesting an easy, tired stretch and a shrug: "Bit of a breeze today." You can hear yourself breathing now. The cornstalks don't budge except for a flutter of the topmost leaves. You consider standing for 25 revolutions to try to catch Aaron and tuck in for a draft, but you're too stubborn for that. You say you don't want it to be easier. You ponder this for awhile - why is a little help such a bad thing? - then you realize you've drifted further behind. You stand for 15 just to make up a little ground. By now, the wind has blurred out all other sounds, so it's hard to hear Aaron when he turns back and says, "How's the wind?" You pause a moment, then say, "Windy," because you are a smartass. He either says nothing in response, or gives you a measured, "Uh huh," then he's slingshotted forward again, or maybe you're just being blown back. You consider clicking down a gear so you can spin faster, but you know that won't give you any more speed. You could also gear down and grind, grasping the low drop bars for maximum power. That always seems more trouble than it's worth too. Ahead, the road tilts up in a way that it's not supposed to in Indiana. You decide to save the lower gear for now.
In a way, we could just give up the whole biking across the country thing here, send our jobs "I'm sorry but" letters, buy the cats a couple of bus tickets, and set up shop here in Goshen. Sure, it's possible this town has us riding so high because we've been hosted by a family that has truly made making it what it is their personal and professional mission. (Erin's father is president of a housing organization that refurbishes old houses for various forms of community use and her mom is a midwife and city council representative.) It might also be that we were ecstatic to have a day where we weren't worried about mileage and weather and campgrounds. Regardless, we've loved Goshen. First, there is simplicity here in the midwest, a straightforward sensibility and a plainness in how things look that appeals to me. Second, Goshen is not a town without complications in terms of political and cultural differences and overall community access and stability, yet there seems to be a real, collective energy to work toward betterment. Again, I haven't spoken to any other city or town council members along the way yet on our trip, but this place very much seems the exception, not the rule.
We'll roll out of here in the morning, past the chain stores and restaurants that hover on Goshen's fringes (they can only fight off so much) , but when we think of this place, it won't be Walmart and Applebee's that come to mind, but The Olympia and The Constant Spring.
Okay, so it was 98.9 miles today, not 100. And we started in Ohio, not Indiana. And "Indy" stands for "Indianapolis" anyway. But here we are, in Goshen, Indiana, at the home of my pal and co-worker Erin's parents. We've ridden 225 miles in the last two days, in part because we initially misjudged how far Goshen was from Massillon, and in part because we encourage each other with our "sure we can do it!" overachieving attitudes. Not always a good thing, but fine so far.
In ten days of riding, we've traveled about 815 miles and we were hoping to average 75 miles per day for 750 at this point. Aaron's calculations estimate that 75 miles per day has us getting to San Francisco in 48 days. We have 62 total for the trip, so days off can be tossed in as needed/wanted.
In fact, we'll be taking our first day off tomorrow! When I first followed up with Erin about her offer to find us a place to stay, she told me about the many friends and relatives who'd likely be willing and even promised that her favorite bartender pals would find us a place if everything else fell through. She also followed with a list of must see's (or, mostly must eat's and drink's) here in Goshen. Couldn't turn it down! We're both looking forward to a day off the bikes. Our knees and butts are too.
There are no typos above. Indeed, we rode 125 miles today and indeed, we're in the town called Defiance, Ohio. Fitting, as it defied our expectations of having a state park with a campground. Instead, we rolled into the Independence Dam State park just in time for sunset to find that there only *used* to be a campground. After zipping through the eight stages of grief and throwing a small temper tantrum, I cleaned up as best I could with my arsenal of Wegmans brand wipes and we convinced a local pizza shop it was okay to deliver here. Now, we're getting ready for sleep and hoping we don't get caught bring vagrants in the park. As we dashed behind a tree to avoid being in the stream of passing headlights a minute ago, Aaron said, "I'm too old and responsible to be hiding from the man."
"Are you?" I responded. A moment later (and a moment ago), I slumped under the picnic table to avoid more lights. Maybe it's best to put the phone away for the night. 125 miles makes me sleepy anyway.
Many of you, dear readers, know that my cycling companion is a man of many nicknames. Perhaps the most popular nickname these days is "Mootis." So, now we're all on the same page reference-wise. At the request and suggestion of our friend Brad, I am here tonight with the first of what I hope will be an eight part weekly series: The Best and Worst of Mootis. (And heck, who says I should stop this once we get home?)
After receiving Brad's request via the Twitter, I spent the good part of the rest of today's ride thinking about what Mootis Moments from the last week really stood out. (Aside: for the record, we had a pretty decent day of riding despite waiting out the rain til after 11 a.m. - 68.1 miles total, landing us in the freight train section of a campground in New London, OH.)
So, without further ado:
BEST MOOTIS MOMENT, WEEK ONE: Two nights ago, we rolled into the Terrace Lakes Campground as the sun was setting and no staff people were to be found. What looked like what was once the bathhouse was a pile of cinders by the front gate. Mootis proceedex to walk us around the completely deserted campground, past the campers that sit empty til the weekends, until we came upon a few guys drinking Busch Lights by an end site trailer. I saw them eyeing Mootis up as soon as they saw him. Let's just say these didn't look like the type of guys who like being approached by a hairy man clad completely in spandex. Mootis staggered through a few moments of awkward explanation while I hung back semi-hating myself for being part of this sporty duo, and suddenly Terry, the sunburnred, ponytailed gentleman in the muscle shirt was giving us a ride in his golf cart back to our bikes, then we loaded our bags in the back of the cart, pushing the empty Busch cans aside, and we pushed our suddenly lighter bikes up the big hill behind Terry and his cart to a site right near the second bath house, which we'd have been lucky to find on our own, let alone while hauling our massive loaded bikes up the hill. So, cheers to you, Mootis, for breaking the spandex barrier, making a pal, and allowing me not to work so hard.
WORST MOOTIS MOMENT, WEEK ONE: This will be a less detailed description, but trust me when I tell you it's for the best. I'll just say that in our hotel room in Pittsburgh, I walked out of yhe bathroom and found our friend Mootis in a very compromising position with the Chamois Butter (or, "Chammy Butter," as we say). This substance is what we use to prevent terrible rawness in our nether regionz, by the way. My sense is that it is more essential for dudes than for girls. "Oh c'mon," you might say, "You've lived with this guy for more than two years and have been with him for more than three. How bad could it have been?" I'll just tell you that an image has been burned in my mind's eye and everything is different now.
As it turns out, both of these moments can be filed under the category of "shameless." I wonder if that will become a running theme.
While I can't say I'll miss the terrain we faced in Pennsylvania, I'll miss the ease with which we navigated through the state. From Day 1 when we left the Valley Forge trail until Day 6 when we headed into Pittsburgh, the little BicyclePA Route S West signs pictured above were our guiding light. Now, we're doing things the old fashioned way with the maps Aaron has of Ohio and Indiana, plus the new fashioned way with my smartphone and Google Maps. It's worked out fine so far, but of course we miss not having to think too hard about where to go.
There were a few moments when we certainly questioned Bike Route S - it led us up (and eventually down) three official mountains and we were occasionally on roads that were seemingly unsafe for bicycles. But we had many miles of the Great Allegheny Passage, the old rail trail that was nice and flat, as well as some great views from atop the aforementioned mountains. But what I seem to notice most while pedaling along isn't the views, but the road itself, and the things most closely surrounding it. When you've chosen to travel the way we have, you spend a lot of time looking at the ground in front of you, either to make sure you're not about to roll over a pothole or off the road's tiny-to-nonexistent shoulder, or because you're huffing uphill at 3.7 miles per hour and all you can do is put your head down and deal with it. I've distracted myself with wildflowers, I've seen (and smelled) roadkill in varying states of decomposition, I've noticed that Pennsylvania takes better care of its roads than Ohio does. I've wondered if patched up spots along the side of the road are in fact safer than their jagged-edged counterparts. Riding on roads with rumble strips is terrifying not just because of the jolt they give you if you happen to coast over them, but because they suggest that drivers might do the same.
I imagine that as things flatten out as we continue through Ohio and into Indiana and Illinois, I'll probably look up more than I did through central and western Pennsylvania. In a way, I hope that's the case, at least for my neck's sake. Plus, wouldn't want to miss a second of those cornfields, right? But I also imagine that no matter what, I'll still be scanning the edge of the pavement for the next few thousands of miles, looking for whatever's there to be noticed and avoided.
We're rained in at Steve's in Massillon, OH this morning. Hoping things will clear a bit by 11. Right now, the task at hand is to see what Chester (pictured above) has done with one of my cycling gloves.
It's way past my biking bedtime, but we've splurged on a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh tonight (real bed! real shower!) so we're getting our money's worth and sleeping in tomorrow. (This means sleeping til 8 rather than 5:30 or 6:00 - not sure when I signed up for this aspect of the craziness). Anyway, here are some impressions I've had in my first few hours in this town :
- Pittsburgh, an unfinished trail and an assortment of arrowed signs, some leading to dead ends, others leading to treacherously shoulderless roadways, do not make a reasonable "recreation path." I put my life in your hands, for gosh sakes, and almost lost out.
- Pittsburgh, why do so many restaurants here close before 9? Even the really popular ones near the baseball park on a night when there's a game?
- Speaking of, Pittsburgh, nice baseball park! And good call shutting that bridge down during the game for fans and vagrant cyclists.
- Pittsburgh, after affiliating myself with two places that claim to be losers sportswise but really aren't in recent years, it was awesome to see your fans so happy about a single win and an above .500 record.
- But seriously, Pittsburgh, what's the deal with the roads you claim can be walked or biked on, but can really only be driven on at speeds of at least 75 miles per hour?
- Pittsburgh, you have a funicular!? That is so badass. Can I take it across the country?