Today was (i hope) an average day – I made 80 miles into the prevailing westerly wind, which was blowing at a typical 10-15 miles per hour. 80 miles a day is the average I am counting on to stick to my schedule.
I woke up at dawn, and started packing up before the motel breakfast opened at 6 am. This was the least inspired breakfast spread I had seen so far – cold cereal, plastic wrapped pastries, plastic wrapped toaster waffles, no actual cream. But I loaded up anyway and hit the road around 715.
Having learned not to trust Google maps for bike routing in Iowa, I spent some time last night planning a route the old fashioned way – by looking up the Iowa highway department road map online and checking the legend for paved roads. I also found an Iowa cyclist map of all the Iowa gravel roads (some cyclists actually seek them out). So I laboriously plotted a route to a county park that offered “primitive” camping about 80 miles west and loaded the route into my Runtastic app step by step.
So today had me pedaling mostly west, mostly into the wind, and mostly on paved state highways that went through real towns. In Vinton, I crossed the Cedar River again for the last time, and I stopped at the Dollar General to get more alcohol for my stove (it runs on isopropyl first aid alcohol, among other things). I picked up some cheese and crackers for a picnic lunch.
Pedaling into the average wind turns out to be a real chore. That ten mile per hour breeze feels gentle when you are standing still, but once you start pedaling into it it turns into a stiff 20 miles per hour headwind. I struggled to make nine miles per hour at a comfortable pace. I went through Traer but skipped it’s enticing shaded park for a lunch spot since I hadn’t made my forty miles yet. A few miles later, I found a tree on the side of the road with a natural seat branch and a view of the Iowa hillsides and sky.
Memorial Day weekend traffic had blissfully few trucks, but plenty of pickups, and a fair number of bikers out on this sunny Saturday. When a biker passes me in the opposite direction, I give them the secret biker wave they taught us in motorcycle school. Most of them return the salute. We two wheelers need to stick together.
As I rolled west, the agriculture seemed to become more industrialized again. On close inspection, a classic farmhouse next to a huge new barn turned out to the abandoned, its paint peeling and siding drooping – but the untrodden grass around it was manicured. There were a few wind farms on the way, too.
Most of the day was spent head down, grinding against the wind, ticking away at the mikes at a frustratingly slow pace. This part of Iowa has actual hills, not very steep, but very long.. I finally left the state highway for county highway D65. I stopped in Conrad to buy dinner, since I knew it would be my last chance. Since they had no beer singles, I bought a can of Pinot Noir.
D65 wound it’s way down to the Iowa River at Union, where I was able to fill my water bottles in the city park. Then, as the breeze dropped in the later afternoon sun, I cranked my way to Reece Memorial park, a conservation area in Hardin County. The park was deserted. A sign read “No Camping in Sheltre”, which seemed to imply that it was ok to camp outside the shelter, so I set up my tent under a huge spreading oak tree and cooked my dinner.
A word about my cookstove – I am going super light. The challenge is to find a light stove that uses light fuel that is universally available. I have a little MSR butane stove that fits on top of the fuel cans, but I left that home, since the butane fuel cans are relatively heavy, and are only available at outdoor stores. It’s had enough to find a grocery store or a hardware store out here. So I have a little Trangia alcohol stove from a nesting camp cook set Robin says the British Antarctic Survey swears by. I just took the alcohol burner – it’s tiny, and empty it weights just two ounces. And it will burn any kind of alcohol – including first aid alcohol available at pharmacies, large supermarkets, and Dollar General, or solvent alcohol sold at most hardware stores, or even Vodka or Rum, in a pinch. It is a sooty stove, and not great it cold weather, but it has served me well.
I man waking a dog stopped by. His name was Owen, and he taught high school English in Des Moines, but his parents lived down the road. He was also an avid cyclist, and wanted to know about my trip. He gave me some routing advice and warned me there would be real hills is western Iowa, but that tomorrow would be a flat ride.
I am turning in early, exhausted from another long day on the road