Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22--Day 10--On the 10th Day, I Stayed With 11

Today ended up being one of the reasons I love bike touring so much. It's the people--it's always about the people I meet.

I left the hotel at 7:00. The weather was good, but it was shaping up to be a pretty warm one. I started by getting to ride a bike path through the rest of Muscatine. I rode through a pretty little park called, of all things, Weed Park. It didn't look weedy at all to me!
Weed Park

The bike path took me almost all the way to the bridge. Yep, I was back to the Mississippi for one last crossing, this time into Illinois. 
Mississippi and the bridge to Illinois

Welcome to Illinois

Illinois started out pretty flat, at least flatter than Iowa had started. I did encounter a few rollers, but nothing too difficult. As it was getting rather warm, I did my best to stay hydrated by stopping at convenience stores in the small towns and refilling my water bottle with ice and cold water as well as getting a Gatorade.

As I was nearing the town of Orion (pronounced Oreeon), a guy rode up beside me on an e-bike. We chatted for a bit. His name was Don and he was out for a ride. He asked where I was going today, and I said I was going to Cambridge. Turns out his son and daughter-in-law live in Cambridge. He told me they have 8 kids, but for the summer they have 3 cousins staying with them, bringing the total to 11. Well, I thought that was totally awesome! I asked if he thought maybe I could set up my tent in their backyard.
 He seemed to think that would be no problem.

As we rode into Orion, he said he would show me the backroad way to Cambridge, but first we stopped at his house so I could meet his wife, except she wasn't there, so we continued on. We took farm roads to a point where Don could easily tell me how to get to Cambridge.
Farm road
I followed his directions, and got to Ben and Jennifer's house at 2:30. Jennifer was working in the yard with a number of the kids. Don had already called and told Jennifer to expect me. I asked if I could camp in their backyard. She said that was fine, or I could sleep in their guest bedroom (yes, 11 kids here, plus Ben and Jennifer, and they have a guest room!). Well, the guest room sounded wonderful to me!!!

I met all the kids. The oldest is 14, down to the youngest who is a year. All really wonderful kids. Four of the boys went to a cousin's house for a sleepover leaving just three 
year old Declan as the only boy here with the girls (Mackenzie, Markelle (I'm sure that's not right), Micah, Hope, cousin Ellen, and baby Delancy). Hope is 5, and she is a social sweetheart. Her and I had a great time reading her books and talking about her unicorn dream. She is a delight! 

While one might think a household of 11 kids is chaos, one would be right, but it is organized chaos for sure! There is a definite routine, and the kids know what they need to do, and do it. Jennifer started dinner of tacos, then had to go to her sister's birthday party. Ben was in charge, but the older girls finished the dinner, set the table, and we all enjoyed a delicious meal. Even Don had come by and we got to continue our conversation. 

I've had so much fun here tonight! This really is a wonderful family, and I'm so glad I got to meet them and spend the night here. This is what touring is all about! I just made a whole bunch of new friends!!! I didn't take any photos, but I will tomorrow before I leave. And to think, today's post was just going to be all about the corn fields--miles and miles of corn fields.
Selfie with corn

Total miles for today: 61

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21--Day 9--I'll Get No Bites Tonight!

Here's a shot from last night's sunset at Bennett County Park.

Sunset over the soybean field



Today is the longest day, but was the shortest ride. Something seems not quite right about that--a bit of a waste of a day, but that's just the way it goes! 

Bennett school buses



I'm at a Best Western in Muscatine, Iowa. It was just 26.6 miles today. The ride to Muscatine was basically just two long straight roads. Even though I was on the road for less than three hours, I met another touring couple, Bob and Sherry. They are from Reno, Nevada and started in San Antonio, TX. They rode part of the Southern Tier, then the Great Rivers South. Now they are riding Northern Tier to Minneapolis where they will finish. They had the cutest little Yorkie with them. She rode in a small basket on the front of Sherry's bike. Such a happy little pup! They had stayed with a Warmshowers host in Muscatine. I didn't even think about that. Of course, I didn't decide to stay here until last night. I like to give hosts more than just one day notice. Oh well, I'll keep it in mind as I continue on.


I arrived at the hotel at 10:45. The only room they had is the accessible king. Actually, that's not bad as there is more room for Tilmann. It also started to rain, so another good reason to hotel it tonight.

Power lines for miles



I've showered, FaceTimed with My Sweet Baboo (and Little Miss--who is three weeks old today!), and started a load of laundry. Next up will be some lunch, then relaxing for the rest of the day. Good thing is there are no flies or mosquitos--I'll get no bug bites tonight!



Total miles today: 26.6

June 20--Day 8--It's Always Like This When I'm Tired

Boy, I sure could have slept longer this morning! Unfortunately, not really being in a campsite (although I did notice that my tent blended in quite nicely with the concrete bleachers), I wanted to get packed up quickly. I was on the road by 6:45. 


The wind was pretty calm for awhile. There was not a cloud in the sky. Before too long, though, the wind returned as strong as yesterday. It was starting to get to me a little, but the hills were bothering me more today. It seemed in the morning there was not a single stretch of flat road. Ordinarily, I deal with it just fine, but today I was struggling. I knew I had at least 51 miles planned to get to Bennett. I started looking at the map for closer options. I kept telling myself, this is Day 8, and I did a big day yesterday, and I didn't get enough sleep...yada, yada, yada. There was camping in Oxford Junction. There was also camping in Massillon. I decided I'd see how I felt when I got to Oxford Junction. 


In Wyoming (just like the state, it should also be called "windoming"). I stopped at the library for wifi, but the library was closed, and no network was coming up. In Oxford Junction the library was open, and the wifi was great. I had 45 minutes before Francine was closing the library, but I could have also used it outside. I finished uploading yesterday's post, and chatted with Francine for awhile. The library was nice and cool, and the chance to chat rejuvenated me so much that when I left, I felt good enough to go all the way to Bennett. Plus, as Francine and another gal in the library said, the roads were a little flatter. The wind was still awful though.

These lilies line much of the roads



I stopped for some groceries in Lowdon. After I left Lowdon, I noticed some clouds had swept in. They looked quite similar to yesterday's. Again, I was heading toward the blue sky. Also again, a few raindrops ended up falling on me. 

Behind me

Ahead of me



I rolled into Bennett County Park just as it started to rain more. I pulled up under a tree, then went to check out the restrooms. It's a nice new building. So new, in fact, that it's not open yet. Instead there is just an itty bitty vault toilet. I also checked out the picnic shelter since it appeared like it was going to rain for awhile. Since there are power outlets, I moved Tilmann over. It was just in time because the rain really started to come down, along with some thunder and lightning. I've decided I'm staying in the picnic area. Of course, the sun is out now, but it's nice to have the shelter anyway.

Safely under cover

Sun back out and the little pond at the park



I'm glad I went all the way to Bennett today. I know my doubt had everything to do with being tired. However, I am due for a really short day, so I think I'm going to go just to Muscatine tomorrow (about 30 miles). I'll probably get a hotel as there isn't really much camping...and a shower would be nice.



Total miles today: 53.2

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June 19--Day 7--If You Build It, They Will Come

Last night I met Brian Wilson. No, not THAT Brian Wilson. Him and his buddies were staying at Elkader to go trout fishing. This morning as I was packing up, he came back to talk to me. After a bit, his fishing buddies came over too (I think they were wanting to go eat so they could go fishing). I had a great time talking to all of them (mostly Ron and Brian, but a little with Mel and Larry). I gave them all blog cards, and told Brian I'd send him a postcard when I got to Bar Harbor.

Elkader and the Turkey River



I was on the road a little later than usual, but still by 8:00. My goal was Cascade, some 63+ miles away. The weather was perfect, but the wind was coming up again. I resumed riding the rolling hills of Iowa on backroads. I went through S mall towns such as Elkport, Colesburg, and Petersburg. Petersburg had the first consecrated church in Iowa. It was quite the showpiece.

Petersburg church



I rolled into Dyersville around noonish. Brian and Ron (and my map, it turns out) told me that the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" with James Earl Jones, and Kevin Costner was filmed in Dyersville. The actual ball field was still there. I had a choice in Dyersville. I could stay on the route, and go right by the Field of Dreams movie site, or I could take a rail trail called the Heritage Trail. The Heritage Trail would save me about 1 1/2 miles over the route. I was going to do it, but then I thought, how often does one get the chance to see a movie set about baseball in, of all places, Iowa? Well, pretty much never was the answer I came up with. So, I stayed on the route. 


At Lansing Rd (the farm used in the movie is owned by the Lansing family), I turned to go to the movie site. It was about 1/2 mile off the route. The field, the house, and everything is still there. You were allowed to run around the bases if you so desired. They also did tours of the house (for a fee, of course). Having seen the movie, but not being a die hard fan, I didn't feel it was necessary to do the house tour. And, since I'd already ridden over 40 miles, I didn't run around the bases either. But, I took some photos, and bought a postcard for Grayson.

Field of Dreams

The ball field

The house

The memorabilia



The next town was Farley. I stopped and picked up a few groceries, and wrote and mailed Grayson's postcard (the grocery store and Post Office being right next to each other--handy!). From Farley I had about 12 miles to go. The wind was still whipping like mad--mostly a crosswind, but on lucky occasions an awesome tailwind. There had been lots of fluffy white clouds all day, but some not so fluffy and white started to move in. They even dropped a bit of rain. I just kept turning the pedals. Then the clouds decided, in addition to the rain drops, they would let loose with some thunder and lightening. I just kept turning the pedals, but a little faster now. It seemed the direction I was heading looked better, but I did keep my eye out for a farmhouse should I need to take shelter.


I managed to make it to Cascade without being struck. My map says there is camping at Cascade Legion Park, but I'd need to call the city police to check in. I arrived at the park, but didn't have service. I borrowed a guy's phone and called the number. They told me they had no idea about staying at the park, but gave me the number of the Cascade office (the number on my map was a dispatch number not located in Cascade). I called the city police office, and got a recording. Okay, well, I tried. I'm staying here anyway. To round out my baseball themed day, there is a high school baseball game here. So far, the home team is far better than the other guys. They scored 4 runs in the first inning alone. Now it's 12 to 0. I'm not sure what inning it is. An advantage of having this game going is there are concessions. What's a ballgame without a hotdog? They're only $3.00! Sounds like a cheap dinner to me!





Once everyone clears out, I'll set up my tent (maybe on the pitcher's mound--just kidding--besides, it wouldn't be very flat). It's my first night of free camping!

Tilmann watching the game from under the bleachers



Update: There was a second game last night. This was the older high school age boys. I thought the game would never end! They went 11 innings before the opposing team finally scored a run. I wasn't able to set up my tent until about 10:30. So, a short night of sleep.

Sun is going down, and still no end in sight.




Total miles for today: 67

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 18--Day 6--A Conversation With My Dad

Even though my dad has been gone a couple of years now, it was as if I was talking to him today. I'll get to why in a moment.


The weather was finally cooler this morning, like upper 60s cooler. It was delightful. I backtracked a bit to get back on the route. The map info said the route from Marquette to Elkader was hilly and shoulderless. It also said the road was rough and very curvy. The hilly part was certainly true, especially the first couple of miles back on the route. In fact, the entire first couple of miles was uphill. But, it was quiet and not too bad. Once I got to the end of that climb, and to the more open rolling farmland, the issue was not the hills, but the strong headwind. It was a long 13 miles to Momona.

Rolling Iowa farm land



I arrived in Momona at 10:00. I dropped a postcard in the mailbox at the post office for My Sweet Baboo, then headed to the library to see if the wifi was on so I could post yesterday's blog. Of course the library was closed, but the wifi was on...except it required a password. Oh well, at least I had phone service so I could use my phone as a hotspot. More importantly, there was an outlet. I have a dynamo hub, but for some reason it's not doing a good job charging my Ankar battery pack. The first two days it was great. Now when I get up to speed, even though I have turned off the headlight so all the generated power goes to the battery pack, the headlight comes on. For awhile yesterday it was working like it's supposed to--battery pack charging, headlight staying off. I thought, maybe the battery pack has to have enough of a charge already, and when it had reached that, the headlight stayed off. I don't know...


Anyway, I pulled out my chair and sat down in front of the library to charge my iPad, and finish up the blog post. As I'm writing, a gentleman pulls up in his car, and starts talking to me. At first he asked the usual questions--where am I going, where am I from, etc. I couldn't really type and talk at the same time, so I put my iPad down. I thought, at least it will get a good time to charge. Craig used to be the funeral director in town until he sold the business. In our conversation, he covered everything from Trump (doesn't think he'll make it four years) to stories about escaped prisoners in South Dakota that tried to highjack his car (he just floored it and tried to run them over--didn't care if he hit them--he didn't). He told me how he thought foreigners coming to this country should learn to speak English in a hurry. He said he had spent some time in Seattle taking care of his aunt so she wouldn't have to go to a "home" where she might be put with a "colored" person, plus all her money would go to the "home", and she'd have nothing left when she died. Then he started up his car saying he needed to get home. But, then he shut it off again because he had to tell me how he heard that some town in Kentucky (couldn't quite remember the town) has a bunch of loot stolen from Iowan Union soldiers from the Civil War in a bank vault. He was going to figure out who he needed to talk to get it back (certainly not someone from the Confederates, they'd just say they didn't know, had to be someone from Iowa). Basically, talking to Craig was like talking to my dad--a bit of a bigot, but an okay guy. I thought it was appropriate, as this is Father's Day.




Craig did finally go, but not before giving me the wifi password. There was a kid that came up to the library, and was playing some sort of game on his phone/device. It didn't occur to me that he would be using the wifi (duh, why else would he be there?). Craig asked the kid what the password was. The kid said, "Oh, it's easy, it's the phone number." I could have looked at my map, but I didn't need to as Craig knew it by heart. So, in the end, I did use the wifi.


Everything packed back up, and I was heading out of town. What should I happen to come across? A Subway! It was 11:00, a little early for lunch, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to check of an Iowa Subway. So, I had an early lunch, then FINALLY left Momona.

Iowa Subway--Check!



The road from Momona to Elkader was supposed to be curvy with no shoulder, and rough. Turns out they have since redone the road and even taken out some of the curves (this was according to Craig). While it was true that there wasn't any shoulder for the first few miles, there was a nice wide shoulder the rest of the way. 

No shoulder part



I thought I had to go into Elkader to get to the park I'm staying at. It was a nice ride through town, but it turns out I could have stayed on the highway straight to the park. At least tomorrow I don't have to go back uphill to get out of town.


I'm staying at Elkader City Park. I asked a gentleman if all the sites were electric, or if there was some non-electric/water sites. He said I could camp wherever I wanted. So I set up in an electric site to charge everything in case I can't get the battery pack to charge fully. 


There's a pool too. Even though the temp is not that warm (it's a least over 70 because the pool doesn't open unless it is), and it's very windy, I went swimming. The pool is not heated, so it was...refreshing. The showers were also not heated, but it felt good to be clean.

The pool

The museum



There's a museum. I walked over. The gal, Jane, who was volunteering today was getting ready to close up. I saw it was $5.00 to go in, so I told her not to worry about it. I asked her if she had lived in Elkader for very long. She said she had lived here all her life. I asked her what she liked about it. She said she just loves it. It's a very nice town with friendly people. Later Chris came in. I think he might have been her husband, but they didn't have the same last name, so not sure. We talked some more. Chris told me, if tomorrow a green truck hauling corn honked at me, it was him. I told him he would know it was me by the Da Brim on my helmet.


It wasn't really a long day's ride today, but I have enjoyed meeting more Iowans (especially ones who remind me of my dad). Day two in Iowa, and I'm still finding everyone to be very friendly. I like this state!

Another building that is part of the park.




Total miles today: 33

June 17--Day t--Birds and Bears and Mounds, Oh My!

That's Effigy Mounds National Monument, not far from Marquette, Iowa. Yes, I made it to state number three! Also, since I've never been to Iowa, I can check another state off my list (now, to find a Subway...). 




The first town I came to in Iowa was Lansing. What a nice town! As I pulled in, a guy from a business across the street says, "Are you a traveler? We can help you with whatever you need! Need to charge anything? We have a nice grassy space to camp if you'd like. Anything we can do to assist you, you just let us know!" I thought that was a pretty nice welcome! If it hadn't been only 10:30, I certainly would have considered his offer. 


I took care of a few tasks, then took myself to the Nutmeg Cafe and Bakery for second breakfast/early lunch. The waitress was also quite nice. She asked where I was from, and gave me a pushpin to put on a big world map (Olympia was even on it!). There were no other pins on Olympia. I saw a request for volunteers for RAGBRAI. Turns out, RAGBRAI finishes in Lansing this year. It's gonna be crazy for that small town!

Colorful bikes



I somewhat reluctantly left Lansing. I probably would have really considered staying if I had known what was coming. Let me tell you, this part of Iowa is NOT flat! I had three long climbs. Fortunately, each was followed by a nice descent. The climbs weren't really too bad, it's just that the heat and humidity add a lot to the misery. Sweat was dripping off my arms and face.


A couple of miles from Marquette I came to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. They are prehistoric Indian burial and ceremonial grounds. There are quite a few of them, and some are shaped like bears and birds. There are several hikes, some quite long, that go to these mounds. I did the shortest hike which was 2 miles round trip. It took me by a few of the mounds, as well as Little Bear Mound. In person, you can make out the bear shape. However, it's hard to tell in a photo. I think it would be cool if they built some raised platforms where you could get a better view. The trail also went to Firepoint, a good view of the Mississippi, Prairie du Chein (in Wisconsin), and the bridge over the river in Marquette. The only not so much fun part was the bugs--in this case, the blood sucking mosquito. I really should have Deeted up again. Even though it was a bug slapper of a hike, it was good to get off the bike for an hour or so.

Effigy Mounds NM

Compound Mounds (several strung together)

Supposed to be a bear mound

Mounds up the hill


The view from Firepoint of Prairie du Chein, Wisconsin


I rode the remaining miles into Marquette. I had to ask Google how to get to this County Park. It has the really uplifting name of Bloody Run County Park. I think it is so called because you have to constantly run from the bloody mosquitos (actually, it sits along a creek called Bloody Run). There are no showers, but the price is finally right--$10. So far, I'm really liking Iowa!!!



Total miles today: 55.8

Saturday, June 17, 2017

June 16--Day 4--Surprise, Back to Wisconsin!

Here's a couple of photos from last night.
Mississippi River in the evening
Attempt at sunset
I also met two other cyclists, Dylan and Sam. They are going to Port Townsend, WA from Maine. They said they started a little too early as it was pretty cold still in Maine. Nice guys, both in their 20s.

I woke up really early this morning, but forced myself to stay in my sleeping bag until 5:45. Still, I was on the road by 7:10. I had looked at the map and saw that I had the option of going back across the river to Wisconsin to ride the Great River State Trail. It is an off-road trail that goes 23 miles to La Crosse. 

All I had to do was cross the river in Winona which turned out to be quite easy as there is a wide pedestrian/bike path on the bridge similar to the bridge over the Narrows in Tacoma. On the other side, the path looped around and under the bridge to put me on the correct side of the highway. 
Bridge to Wisconsin
Tilmann on the bridge
Back to Wisconsin

Finding the trail seemed like it would be pretty straight forward. I mean, this is a well known trail in these parts. Surely there would be a sign...not so much. The only sign I saw (and rode by) was one that said Marshland Access. When I wasn't seeing anything, yet I knew I must have missed it, I turned on my phone and realized I had passed it, and it was indeed the Marshland Access. 

The trail is a dirt/gravel doubletrack. Easy peasy until I saw a sign for the trail, and the trail became a freshly graded soft dirt. Curiously, the gravel road went right beside it. I said to myself, forget this, I'm getting back on the gravel! Then it was fine. After awhile, I came out to a trailhead area. It was a little confusing, but I finally found where the trail picked up again. I went through this puddle three times! As I got back on the trail, I saw a sign saying there was a $6.00 charge for a day pass. I assumed that was to park a car, so I didn't pay anything.
Tiny trail sign
Nice trail
The soft dirt trail in the right
At least the wheels got clean

The trail is a rail trail, so pretty flat, and mostly riding through a tunnel of green marsh land. The flies were incredibly annoying biting bastards. I reapplied my friend Ben. That helped, but every time I stopped, they would swarm around me. 

Dylan told me there are a few trails that sort of connect across Wisconsin for a total of something like 180 miles. There are even tunnels on one of them. Unfortunately, I could only do the Great River one.
Creek in the marsh
One of the longer bridges

At Perrot State Park, I rode around to check it out. Looked like a nice park, and mostly full. I don't know Wisconsin's policy about cyclists and full campgrounds. I didn't need to find out. I got back on the trail and continued e were a few towns along the way. Onalaska was a major trailhead. Again, the signage was a bit confusing. There was a sign pointing to continue down a street, but there was never another sign. I had to look it up on Google maps. Turns out I looked just in time as I needed to turn right there. 

I knew I had to come into La Crosse to go across the river and return to Minnesota. Once I was off the trail, I just let Google direct me to the bridge.

I was back on the route in La Crescent. I stopped at a Kwik Mart and got some lunch and a few groceries and filled up on water. From there it was 10 miles to Wildcat Landing Campground where I am, once again, camped on the Mississippi. I've been invited to dinner with my neighbors. Ben, his fiancé, dad Jeff, and a few siblings and kids are here for Father's Day weekend. They come every year from La Crosse.

There's a storm coming. I hope my clothes get dry before it gets here...

Update: The storm was pretty intense, lots of lightening and a healthy dose of rain. It was actually nice as it cooled off. Everything held up just fine. My clothes got mostly dry, but not quite before the rain started. No worries, they'll dry on the bike. Dinner was good. Corn on the cob, roasted over the fire, then Brats also cooked over the fire in beer. Also baked beans. A regular BBQ dinner!