And we are done

Today Debby agreed to try to bicycle on gravel and found out she loved it. Sure, we didn’t pedal as fast, but riding around the country is not about going fast. She found when off the beaten path, there was much to see. For example:

Old house in need of a fresh coat of paint

Huron Lake

Old farmstead

About seven miles from Spencer I was surprised when Robin Carpenter pulled over to welcome me back ‘home’; so nice!

Robin & Dave east of Spencer

Deb and I took a circuitous route to our mom’s, checking on our old high school, various neighborhoods, and haunts but not arriving before being pulled over by an acquaintance of Debby’s, Gene Lovitt. We really are in small town America. 

The ride is finished but we will always have our memories, some photos, and your comments on our blogs. I always enjoy pedaling through Iowa; not just because I grew up here, but because the Midwest had a unique character.
Sharing the past ten days with my sister was important for me; introducing her to a pastime I enjoy made it a lot of fun. 

So it is time to say good-bye for now. I have enjoyed you being with us as we traveled through Wisconsin and Iowa. 

What’s next? Who wants to go?


Nearing the Finish

Toward the end of the day, we passed through a town which was having “trash day” where residents set out large items for pick-up. I passed a mattress and box spring by the curb and suggested we stay there. Deb vetoed my great idea. Miss negativity!

Jason at Quick-Mart (our go-to place to eat) shared with us he has just gotten married to a lady whom he had not even proposed. His wife of three days seemed to be the one running the show (nothing wrong with that). We left him with a big sappy grin on his face, sitting on the hard plastic chair eating his microwaved pizza in his marital state of bliss. 

We are in the middle of harvesting beans; picking corn appears to be scheduled within a couple of weeks. I am always amazed at the machinery the farmer has at his disposal. 

Random shot. No explaination.

I am sensing the end of the ride. The destination tonight is now important as it puts us within reach of Spencer tomorrow. This “target fixation” is a new phase. Until now, our day’s destination was always ‘soft’: stopping now or maybe later, camping here or finding a place in the next town. Plans have become more concrete in the past twelve hours: pedal, camp, up early, ride, arrive tomorrow. Sheesh, just like a job – yet probably an inevitable part of finishing the ride. But right now, it is time to sleep under the stars (no rain fly tonight) and dream of the last week and a half. 

Rockford and points west

Beautiful ride this morning, country roads, gentle winds, and almost no traffic. The Iowa landscape – the landscape of the farms that grow the corn and beans – is just as unique as the mountains or the oceans. Each is different; each talks to a different part of my soul. The mountains take my breath away, the expansive fields give me breath. 

Larry pontificating

I met Larry while walking along the shore of Clear Lake. Small world: he was born in Spencer in ’39. Didn’t know him then, but know him now. He spent his working years designing tractors for John Deere. I suppose driving by those giant green machines working the fields puts a smile on his face knowing that he played a role in their being. 

We met Gene, an 83 years old native of Rockford. He lamented about the death of the small rural town as we walked with him along Main Street; a street consisting of many boarded up buildings. He says people are moving back to Rockford, but the businesses have not returned. Many people work in nearby Mason City (pop: 30,000).

Old railroad depot, Rockford, IA

Pedaling out of town there is this old railroad station. I like the railroads and am drawn to these things. There was some local effort toward restoring the old building but it met a similar fate as many of the downtown businesses. It would have been interesting to take a look around inside, but alas the padlocks on the doors were too strong. 

Remnants of renovation effort

Ahh, Flat Land

First of all the good news: the wind has “calmed” to a mere 17 mph. Still not great, but only about half the force we dealt with the past two days. 

We stopped for coffee in Sumner, IA and crashed the local Coffee Clash. We shared coffee and stories with the ladies then said au revoir and headed west. 
In Plainfield, IA the school band was practicing playing and marching in the street (very few cars in Plainfield…now that I think about it, there were not any people either). It was a scene from The Music Man except Prof. Hill looked more like Maria. 

Stewart Deet farms 960 acres. Today he was harvesting soy beans. “Beans look good this year, should run ’bout 42.” I take that to mean it rained when it was needed his yield was 42 bushels per acre; he wasn’t a real talkative fellow. He thought it peculiar anyone would stop and talk about these things. I explained harvesting beans may be passé in Bremer County, but I had readers in San Francisco who will be interested. 
We were pedaling along Hwy 218 – a four lane divided highway – and Victoria pulls along side me and starts asking questions about our bike ride. It was too difficult to hear with the wind so I stopped – and she stopped – in the middle of the right lane! We talked for about 15 seconds before I suggested she might want to pull to the shoulder. We continued with the Q&A for a couple of minutes before we parted ways. Sheesh! I was sure a car was going to plow into the back of her car stopped in the middle of the highway; she was oblivious to the whole ‘shouldn’t stop in the middle of a highway to chat’ thing.

Good-bye Wisconsin, Hello Iowa

An evening’s accommodations can be almost anything from the Ritz (camping at a KOA) to the more modest (state park) to stealth camping (behind some abandoned barn). Tonight we happened upon a baseball field complete with a gazebo and covered picnic tables. Deb was not quite on board with this camping alternative since we were in the middle of a town, but with hot water, lights, and power to charge the phone, what’s not to like? As it turned out the town’s folk didn’t seem to care and “those two people on bikes” moved on in the morning.

In Prairie du Chien we found WiFi and good coffee so enjoyed a little of both before crossing the Mississippi River leaving Wisconsin behind and entering Iowa. One place which was recommended to us was Stark’s Sporting Goods. This place is a replica of the old Sportsman’s of Spencer (circa 1960s) with the exception that the proprietor has added alcohol to his inventory. So now we have a place offering whiskey and guns; what a great idea! While people aren’t being gunned down by drunk people, directly across the street is Pete’s (no, not Pete’s Coffee, just Pete’s). We were literally stopped in our tracks by the smell of fried onions as we were pedaling by. They serve hamburgers. No, not cheeseburgers, just hamburgers. Options are ketchup, mustard, and horseradish (think Soup Nazi from Seinfeld). Done. Next!

McGregor, Iowa sits across the river from Prairie du Chien but they are not sister cities. While the former boasts of 6,000 people, the later has fewer than 900. Both are river towns, but McGregor has retained it Old West flavor; many of its Main Street buildings date to the late 19th century.

Main Street McGregor, IA

While in the town square (actually it was a town triangle) we were talking with Peter who hailed from downriver some place and wanted to share with us every place we should visit and eat in town. He was a nice guy

Deb & Peter, McGregor, IA

Old Barns and Limestone Cliffs

Pedaling through Lone Rock, WI we came upon the Lone Rock Elementary School built in 1908. I found it interesting that the building was surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens taking up the entire square block. Obviously someone on staff was pushing this effort and I felt we should talk with them. Turns out the building’s name remained long after the function of the building changed. The sentinel of education is now an apartment building. The gardens are the idea of the current owner; still a nice touch. We got the low-down – and a bit of dirt about the landlord – from Michelle, a loquacious tenant. 

“No, Michelle, tell us how you really feel!”

Last night we were hosted by Warmshowers members. With the threat of heavy rains, their offer was greatly appreciated. Actually, Eric and Melinda had plans so they just emailed me that the back door was open and to make ourselves at home. Nice folks. 

The riding has been enjoyable. With mostly level terrain, a slight tailwind, and smooth roads what more can a couple of vagabonds ask for?

I stopped and asked Mr Williamson for water which resulted in a lengthy discussion with him and his wife. They were the epitome of the retired Midwest farmer: open, accommodating, and genuinely caring people. 

There has been a lot of rain just north of here over the past two weeks. All the rivers are above flood stage. This presents a challenge as many campsites are located near the river. Hmm, not so good. 
The sign read “Scenic Highway”. To tell you the truth, it looked pretty much like any other highway to me.