24th Leg – Roll, Roll on the Range

5/29
I made about 90 miles today, to Bassett, Nebraska, and the wonderful Bassett Lodge hotel.
Last night, my right index finger was infected and swelling. It looked like a splinter, but I have not been near much wood on this trip. I suspect something got lodged in my finger when I used my gloved hand to scrape road gravel that got stuck in my tire treads. I have not seen many medical clinics, and an uncontrolled infection would be an awful way to end the trip. On Robin’s telephonic advice, I soaked the finger in hot water for a while and squeezed it out, then covered the splinter hole with a band aid and antibiotic ointment. That seemed to relieve the swelling.
There was a light rain falling this morning and it was not expected to end until eleven, so I went ahead and repacked all my stuff spread out in the motel room to get a start in the rain. The wind was supposed to be from the northwest at 10-20 mph, so average headwinds. Based on the Cowboy Trail guide website, it looked like I could make it to Newport, where you can camp in the public park, about 78 mikes away. I stopped at the Conoco gas stop for a sit down cofffee and donut before heading out in the cold rain. 
Because the Cowboy Trail was indicated as closed north of Neligh, I just went ahead and rode on Route 275 with its hard pavement and wide shoulders. A few miles up the road, I gave the trail a try, since it runs right parallel to the road, but the wet fine gravel was very hard pedaling, and I quickly resumed the pavement.
With the rain and the headwinds, the first part of the day was slow going. The landscape opened up to attractive open rangeland, with contented looking cattle grazing, O’Neil, NE at 40 miles seemed like a good lunch stop, but I did not get there until just before two. O’Neil is a good sized town, with a b7nc( of national chain restaurants on the road into town – I passed up the Pizza Hut, the McDonalds, and even the Subway because I saw a billboard before town advertising a lunch buffet at the Chinese restaurant. But I arrived at the China Dragon just too late for the buffet. 
As I headed west out of town, hungry, I remembered seeing a billboard for a “family” restaurant a mile west of town, and the Westside Restaurant t did not disappoint. When I finally got the chatty waitresses attention and told her I would start with the soup and salad bar, she looked at my bike clothes and said “wait, let me get you an extra large bowl and plate.” So I loaded up on ham and bean soup and.salads, and the two piece broasted chicken, and thought I would never be hungry again.
During lunch, I was frantically researching places to stay tomorrow night, in the Valentine area. I know there was a historic western hotel somewhere on the Cowboy Trail, but it did not seem to be in Valentine. When the waitress asked me where I was planning to stay tonight, I told her I planned to camp in Newport. She said I shouldn’t count on it – many of the parks around here are under water right now. She suggested I go to the Bassett Lodge, 45 miles on. But that seemed a bit too far on a day of difficult progress.

  
 But as I pedaled up the road through the Nebraska rangeland, I realized that the Bassett Lodge was the classic hotel I had been looking for. I convinced myself that 45 more miles were doable in the diminished afternoon winds and partly sunny skies, and the long daylight hours at the western edge of another time zone. So, at mile 50 for the day, I called ahead and reserved a room, and told them I would probably arrive at 730 or 8. I stuck to the paved road, since traffic was light, travel was quicker, and the scenery was the same.
The waitress was right- Spring Valley park in Newport was under water. This year, this part of Nebraska is one big wetland. The songs of marsh birds filled the air as a rode, and ducks took wing in the drainage by the road.

  
 By six I was starving, and had eaten the last of the trail mix in the feed bucket on my handlebars. But I was able to pick up the pace for the last ten miles, and arrived right at eight.

  
Bassett looks like an old west town, but the streets were deserted, as was the hotel. I worried about getting something to eat, but the desk clerk assured me that the bar down the street would be open. So at eight forty, i landed at Corral’s Bar, which was empty except for two men at the bar. I told the guy at the bar that I had an important question: Was Nebraska the Midwest, or West? He said it was sort of a transition state – the east end was Midwest, but the west end was West. When he left, he warned me to watch ou5 for the ghosts at Bassett Lodge. 

  
The menu consisted basically of many different kinds of hamburger. I asked what the biggest dish was, the barmaid said that the cheeseburger was. I thought of the contented looking cattle staring at me all day, and decided to indulge in a rare beef meal. And a side of fries. And six wings. And when I got back to the hotel I bought a package of chocolate donuts from the vending machine.
The road seemed to rise gently all day, and by the end of the ride, it looks like I gained about 500 feet of elevation, to about 2300 feet – so I am finally close to the elevation of the great eastern divide of several weeks ago.

  

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Leg 23 – Across the Missouri and Another Century to the Cowboy Trail

ED8AF7D0-6119-43A4-AD50-FFF0DBF22BE7.jpegAnother easterly wind, another century ride – 112 miles including some backtracking. I wound up in Neligh, Nebraska, for the night.

The forecast for last night just called for showers,  not thunderstorms. But at 2 am it poured, thundered and lightninged, and then the wind picked up and shook my little tent like it would go airborne. I put my wallet in the pocket of the shirt I wore to bed, so that if I had to make a run for the restroom in a tornado, i would at least have my ID and credit cards. But my little tent stayed put in the storm, and I stayed dry. The wind seemed to squash it down.

When I woke up, it was still raining. When it let up a little, I checked the radar. It looked like it would be clear for an hour before another heavy line of rain came through. So I decided to strike camp right away without cooking breakfast, so I could wait out the next line of rain under the roof of the camp office shelter. So I ate two bananas and a grapefruit for breakfast.

After waiting for the rain to clear, I finally hit the road at around 920 am. With an east wind blowing, but possible severe thunderstorms in the afternoon, my goal was to make the seventy miles to Norfolk, Nebraska before 2 pm when the severe risk started. I figured I could visit the bike shop there and have lunch and assess the prospects of pushing on up the Cowboy Trail before dark.

058E45FB-B98D-4A02-9178-9F3ACBB82ABB.jpegI soon reached the Missouri River, and took a mile detour to get a good picture of the bridge to Decatur, Nebraska. As it turned out, I could get coffee and a donut in Decatur (Google made it look like no shot at coffee until Norfolk itself). I sat down with my coffee and donut next to a slim, white haired woman with blank eyes, who was staring out at the cloudy sky. “We just can’t get a break from this weather,” she said. “There were tornadoes this morning south of here.” I asked if people were ok, but all she said was they tried their best  people to safety, but it was so hard with the morning storms. She wished me luck on my ride.

Breaking news: Nebraska has hills. Real hills.  So my downwind pace was limited a little by having to crawl up the hills every mile for the first fifteen miles or so. After that, the hills lengthened out, so that the uphill crawls were faster and the downwind downhill freewheeling went on for miles. I was soon making a good fifteen mph pace, on track to make Norfolk just before two.

The Nebraska landscape is somehow distinct from the Iowa landscape across the river. It feels more open, despite there being more trees, maybe because the hills give a commanding view. There seems to be more green, fallow fields, or just grass or hay growing. And more cattle in pasture, just as Iowa had more cattle in pasture than Illinois. At one point, a semi trailer laden with huge rolls of hay passed by me. A few miles later, I saw what looked like smoke,  it it turned out to be dust from some kind of grinding machine that looked like a wood chipper turning out compost. The. I realized that the giant rolls of hay were feeding the grinder.  And a few miles later I saw cattle in a feedlot devoid of grass, with a pile of that compost-like ground hay next to them. Do you think that counts as grass fed beef?

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The rising and falling ride to Norfolk was otherwise uneventful, and just before 2 pm, I arrived at the Cleveland Bike Shop in Norfolk, which just happens to be the first bike shop I have seen since Cleveland. I asked Nick, the owner, to check my tires for wear, and he thought they had plenty of life in them.  Nick pulled up the weather radar for me, and there were no thunderstorms headed for Norfolk. He also recommended the Rodeo Mexican restaurant as a good, cheap place to eat – and gave me directions, since there was no sign on the door. I went to Rodeo for a great burrito, and confirmed that there was no longer any threat of severe weather.

 

2CA3EABF-4BF2-4450-86EB-9572258C5D31.jpegWith the east wind blowing, I resolved to start up the Cowboy Trail – a 187 mile rail trail that runs west from Norfolk to Valentine. I wanted to make a century of this precious downwind day, so with five hours daylight left, I set on Neligh, 35 miles up the trail and a place with camping available in the public park, as my destination.

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Portions of the Cowboy Trail are closed due to flooding damage, and I carefully took screen shots of the State map showing which portions were closed. The first ten miles were beautiful rolling alongside the Elkhorn River. Then I reached the first closed section at Battle Creek, and returned to Route 275 – a busy highway that at least has wide, smooth shoulders to ride on. It was smooth rolling downwind, so I did not return to the Cowboy Trail (which was softer gravel here) right away. But in Oakdale, it looked like the trail cut a straighter line to Neligh than the road, and I was ready for a break from the traffic. I stopped to check my screenshot of the state map, and confirmed that this section was open. Signs on the trail said otherwise, but the state website had to be right, right? 

 

A mile down the trail there was tape across a trestle, and I ducked under it. The next trestle was more problematic: the approach was completely washed out by flood waters still roiling the bank. 

E3AD0ED3-6118-4F5C-BA56-18DBF935E737.jpegSo I had to backtrack and cut across a dirt farm road to get back to 275. It started to rain again, and I decided to treat myself to a night indoors at the Neligh Deluxe Motel – an old fashioned travel motel with tiny rooms but more personality than the various “Inns and Suites” I had been staying at.

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22nd Leg – A Cross Wind Blows Me Off the Road But I Make the Missouri River Anyway

5/27
I made 73 miles today, to Lewis and Clark State Park in Onawa, Iowa, despite the wickedest winds I have encountered so far on this trip.
As promised, the morning brought heavy rains, so I slept in. But by 830, the rain let up and the weather looked clear, so I got up, struck the tent, and hung the tent up to dry in the breezes. There was even some sun poking through. Winds were forecast to be south south west at 20-30 mph.
A long line of RVs were lined up at the sewage dump station across from my site, as they headed home on this showery and windy Memorial Day. I hit the road at about 920. The first part of the ride was a breeze, as I headed North to resume I-175 in Lake View. The coffee shop there was packed, they seemed surprised I wanted coffee to go in this weather. I dropped the cup in the handlebar cup holder, stuck my metal straw in, the meandered through Lake View until I found my way back to 175.
Down the hill out of town I immediately started having trouble keeping the road in the strong crosswinds. I could barely stay up on the bike, and sometimes a gust would just spin my front wheel off to the right and point me straight down the grassy roadbank. I heard a sound familiar from offshore sailing – the sound of a gale shrieking in wire rigging – only the wires were the telephone wires. I struggled on, terrified of catching my wheel on the drop off from the pavement and falling left into traffic, like I fell yesterday. I put on my flashing taillight for visibility in the spitting rain and tried to take the lane, but I still could not steer straight and kept getting blown off the pavement.

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I stopped about three miles out of town, to take a picture of the Boyer River bridge to add to my collection of every river crossing across the country. I realized that part of the problem was the tent on my front rack, which would catch the wind and turn my wheel. So I moved the tent to the rear rack. But now I had to get rolling again going up the hill from the river. I wanted to wait for a clear road to get my wobbly start, but every time I looked behind me there were headlights coming at me from behind. For the first time in the trip, i thought I might have to stop for the day. I thought I could ride a bike in any weather, but I simply could not ride my bike in this crosswind. But maybe, I could at least make it to Ida Grove, at about 30 miles. I could stop at the next town and sit somewhere out of the wind until conditions got better. Maybe I could bike into the evening when the winds calmed down and still make a motel in Onawa.
After trying, unsuccessfully, to get rolling straight a couple more times, I looked wistfully at the grain tanks and tree line at the top of the rise in the road. And I started to walk my bike. After all, I could still walk. And 2 mph is what I considered an acceptable pace on a steep hill (which this was not). And even if the tree line was not a town, there would be some shelter from the crosswinds there. So I walked a half mile up the hill. There was no town, and the grain tanks provided little relief from the wind – but the trees – beautiful merciful wonderful trees, did. All of a sudden I was biking in the calm again, rolling along at my ten mph pace. The trees came and went and the crosswind gusts came back, but never as fiercely as by the Boyer River. It turned into a normally adverse day instead of a impassable one.
When I got to the town of Odebolt, I did not stop after all, or in Arthur, either. I was looking forward to Ida Grove, where things surely would get better. After all, a grove is trees, and trees are shelter. And I knew 175 would start to follow the Maple River in Ida Grove, a major river which would surely have a valley with trees and lees.
I made Ida Grove at around one – a hard fought 25 miles at barely a seven mph pace. Ida Grove has castle turrets all over it for some reason. And a lighthouse. And I crossed the Maple River, but there was no wooded river valley. But as the road wound southwest out of Ida Grove and the wind veered to the northwest, the crosswind# became a quartering breeze and I started ticking off miles again.
In Danbury, at 45 miles, I stopped for a sandwich and a donut at the deserted BP QuickStop ($3.50). I checked the price of the Super 8 in Onawa and the mileage to the State Park, and decided it was worth a shot. When I planned this trip, I thought I would camp four nights out of five west of Pittsburgh. Hotels are expensive – even cheap hotels add up on a 45 day trip. And hotel stays have carbon impacts (can’t research this right now). And motel rooms are isolating and lonely. And I can get started earlier from a campsite for some reason.But so far I have actually been about 50-50 motels and camping. Camping just hasn’t worked out because of rainy and cold weather, lack of available camping near my daily mileage goal, or my leaking sleeping pad (replaced in Cedar Rapids). So I was hoping for another night in a state park.

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As 175 ran south into the Loess Hills of western Iowa (the first actual hills I have seen since Pennsylvania), the breeze became even more favorable and the sky cleared to a blue background studded with cumulous clouds. I started spinning down the road at fifteen mph. Around one bend, I saw a field full of brilliant purple flowers – bluebells, I think. By 615 I was shopping for dinner at a real grocery store in Onawa with actual fresh vegetables, and by seven I pulled into Lewis and Clark State Park. The park is on an ancient oxbow of the Missouri River, and has a replica of the Lewis and Clark expedition keelboat. I picked out a waterfront site in the near empty campground.

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So I think it is fair to say I have reached the Missouri River! Tomorrow I will cross it to Nebraska

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21st Leg – A Rough Start to an Easy Century

5/26

The wind blew from the east, so I made another 100 miles today. Plus about five miles for detours to towns that were closed anyway and the Runtastic gps mileage tax.

img_5144I had a peaceful night, though I woke occasionally to the sound of owls, cattle lowing, and some coyotes howling very close by. A couple of times I thought the dawn twilight had arrived, but it was just the lone light bulb illuminating the desolate public park in the woods. The birds were not fooled, and when the dawn birds began to sing I knew it was really dawn.

My left hand is still weak, but it has been getting a little stronger – I like to think it is because of all the exercises I have come up with. I can work the left gear shift with my fingertips again. Every evening I go through the routine of unwrapping the guitar (it’s wrapped in my sleeping pad) and trying to fret a few chords, then giving up in frustration. I almost put the guitar in a box and sent it home when I passed the FedEx place in Cedar Rapids. But that seemed like an expensive option for a worn guitar. This morning, after a night’s rest, I could fret a C chord, so maybe there is still hope.

But I could not waste this morning’s easterly breeze on guitar playing, so I packed up and headed west. I did not have a clear plan for the day, given that I had no internet access to figure out camping or lodging options. So I just set out to make some westerly miles, assuming I would find a cell connection or WiFi on the way somewhere. My goal is to make a Century whenever the wind blows from the east, to make up for the inevitable westerly headwind days to come.

The locals had warned me that the first part of the ride would be rough. First, I had two miles of rutted dried mud roads to deal with. Then, the “paved” route 65 was being repaved, so it was in the grooved, roughened state the scrape it into. This was supposed to last another 5 miles or so. The mud road was hard enough to be smooth riding, but the ruts could be a problem. At one point, as my front wheel tried to climb out of a rut, it skidded sideways, dumping me on my left side in the gravel, stuck to my toe clip. My left knee, thigh and arm all got muddy scrapes. I picked myself up, and road the remaining 100 yards to the paved road, then cleaned the scrapes with a napkin soaked in my alcohol stove fuel.

I had little idea of where the towns would be or whether they would have services. I just knew that 65 was paved, it went west, and eventually reached Iowa 175, which was even more paved, and I could follow to the Nebraska border eventually. After pedaling twenty miles without my morning coffee, I saw relief ahead – trees and a water tower meant town. There was even a couple jogging on this Sunday morning – surely a town with joggers would have coffee, right? I greeted them, and asked if coffee could be had in town; the answer was “no, not in Randall” but apparently there was coffee in a town 5 miles south. But I wasn’t going south. I asked if there was any coffee if I kept going west. They said no. They wished me luck, and I pedaled west.

There was no privy at the county park I stayed at, and, besides lacking a shovel I didn’t want to dig a cat hole in a community park, so this morning I figured I could relieve myself when I found coffee. As the miles rolled by with no relief in sight, I remembered a bit of doggerel that my elementary school friend David Lynn was fond of – it went something like this: “When days were old, and knights were bold/And toilets were not yet invented/ They dropped their load beside the road / And went off quite contented.” The logic of this school rhyme eventually won out, and I added my nutrient leadings to the fertilizer runoff of central Iowa.

Eventually, D65 ended and teed at Route 17, not 175. I had no idea whether to go north or south, and still no internet connection. So I stopped and pulled out my ipad, since I had at least take some screen shots of the Iowa highway map at the hotel the night before last. It took a while to find the screenshot of the right place, and I went north two miles to find Route 175 west. I also looked at end of the day options, and Black Hawk Lake State Park looked promising, if I could get a site on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. With no cell phone connection, I couldn’t call ahead, though.

I img_5151Stratford, at mile 40, finally had coffee at the gas stop. I spent a long time in the rest room cleaning up from my mishaps, then headed west with my sipping cup of coffee, thinking that with 40 miles under my belt I could soon start looking for a lunch place with WiFi. Surely a town called Dayton, home of the Dayton Rodeo, would have a lunch place. But they were all closed on this Sunday, and I did not want to succumb to lunch at the Casey’s General Store chain. I detoured a mile to Gowrie, same story. Also in Farnhamville, where a sign invited the traveler to turn right and visits the Lucky Pig pub and grill, quite closed. The American Legion members, in full dress for a memorial ceremony, told me that the only thing that would be open today anywhere was a Casey’s the next one in 8 miles. So I stopped to pick up a picnic lunch at Casey’s General in Lohrville. When I asked the clerk about camping at Black Hawk, he said he didn’t know, but that there was public wifi at Casey’s. So I switched my order to a sit down lunch, and got caught up with the internet. Black Hawk reserves some sites for “walk ups”, so there was some chance, at least. With no phone signal I still could not phone ahead.

As promised by Owen yesterday, today’s ride was mostly quite flat, except where the road dropped into deep river valleys like the Des Moines river. So it was easy riding, mostly. I saw a few large hog CAFOs – some quite unlucky pigs. You really can hear their squeals of anguish all the way from the road.

584552E2-E9B2-4698-AD2E-76F94FC952A4.jpegAt mile 95, I went shopping at the last chance before the state park – the “Sparky’s Market” at the Sinclair station in Auburn. The healthiest dinner I could put together was Kraft mac and cheese plus a can of green peas. But at least they had 24 oz Bid singles. 

The traveler at the mart was really dubious about me finding a campsite at the State Park – he was coming from there and it looked really full. But when I got there, there were plenty of empty sites to choose from – not lakefront, perhaps, but perfectly adequate. And four bars of AT&T service, which I have not seen before in Iowa. A hot shower and a change of clothes is a nice treat for the end of a good day.

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Thunderstorms forecast overnight and tomorrow morning, and headwinds, so I may get a late start.

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Leg 20 – An Average Day in the Middle of America

5/25
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

Leg 19 – An Easy Century of Iowa’s Rolling Hills and Thunder

5/24
I made 105 downwind miles today, to Urbana, Iowa, plus a few extra miles for detours. About 40 miles were on paved bike trails.
Robin was worried that I was not eating enough. Since the cheap hotel I had last night did not have a breakfast buffet, I went out last night to make my own. Breakfast was three bananas, a yogurt, an orange, four chocolate frosted donuts, and the free hotel coffee. I think I am eating enough.
I checked the weather and the forecast first thing. Light rain was falling, but the winds were forecast to be out of the southeast. Today was the first leg of a new stage of the trip – from Cleveland to the Mississippi I was following the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier Route, but that route now cuts too far north for me so I am on my own. The next landmark is Norfolk, Nebraska, the start of the Cowboy Trail rain trail. I am on my own for route finding now, so I asked Google Maps for a route. It gave three choices, and the more northerly route via Cedar Rapids was allegedly the quickest. Since the wind was out of the southeast, it looked like a good day to roll some miles downwind. Though thunderstorms were in the forecast, there was no severe thunderstorm forecast, just possible heavy rain.


So I followed the google route out of Davenport, and was soon rolling pleasantly downwind on Route 130. I found the Iowa scenery quit charming after the austerity of southern Illinois. There were actual rolling hills, and trees that looked like they grew naturally. Farms fit more into the pastoral ideal, with cows grazing in pastures instead of in barns, and older farmhouses and silos dotting the landscape. Cedar county Iowa actual smelled like cedar, though o didn’t see any cedar trees.


In Bennett, Google tried to gravel road me, but a turned back to Route 130, since I knew it went to Tilton, which was on the way. But miles before Tolton the skies darkened, and the radar indicated the squall line already in Tilton. I began to assess roadside structures for possible shelter. Barns were all to close to houses, the grain tanks wouldn’t give any shelter. Lightning bolted straight down on my left and I counted the seconds to five – less than a mile away. I saw a metal building with a big bay door just as the heavy rain hit, and there was a light on in the office. I went in an shouted but no one answered, so I went in the bay door where a truck was parked and shouted again. Two men eventually appeared and graciously let me shelter in their warehouse, while they went back to a project on the truck that involved torque wrenches and swearing.


In twenty minutes or so the lightning had moved on and the rain was light enough to ride again, so I rode to Tilton. Route 130 ended there, and I couldn’t get a signal for a new route, so I set out on a westbound county road, figuring that west was the general direction I wanted to go.Eventually, Google confirmed I was on the right track, but it still tried to take me down gravel roads, so I started ignoring google and sticking to road W27. Eventually, I realized I was headed southwest instead of northwest, and had nearly reached Iowa City by mistake. But Iowa Route 1 took me to Solon, where there was a pharmacy for more foot cushioning and a Subway for a caloric and electric charge up.
Urbana Iowa looked like it was in reach – at about 105 miles for the day. On downwind days I want to do centuries to make up for tough progress on upwind days. Camping options were uncertain since it is the holiday weekend, so I reserved a room at the Urbana Inn and Suites. Google seemed to promise a route on bike trails rather than gravel roads.


But soon after Solon, Google told me to turn right onto a road that started as gravel. Not wanting to get lost again, I followed it. The road soon turned to deep soft mud that was impossible to drive through, much less bike through. After caking my shoes and my bike in mud, I climbed up the grassy embankment and walked and rode the bike through the tire tracks in the grass, but I had to cross the mud again to get to a paved road.
Google soon led me astray again, telling me to turn right onto the “Hoover Nature Trail”, which had “No Trespassing” signs on both sides of it. Ignoring the signs (they must mean no trespassing off the nature trail, of course), I found the trail soon ended at another impassable mud slough, but with a paved trail visible just beyond the 100 yard quagmire. So I muddled through.


I soon found myself delighted to be on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail – a 50 mile mostly paved bike route to Cedar Rapids and beyond, to Waterloo. So the rest of the day was spent on a pleasant downwind pedal through woods and fields, with many other cyclists. I had to stop at a drinking fountain the clean the mud off my bike and shoes, though.
I detoured on Cedar Rapids to the Dicks Sporting Goods store to get a functional taillight, spare inner tubes, and a new sleeping pad. The last five miles of the bike trail into Urbana got quite soft, and I was very happy to arrive at the hotel for a hot shower.

Leg 18 – 50 Miles on the Hennepin Canal to Cross the Wide Mississippi

5/23
  
Today I made a major milestone – across the Mississippi at Davenport, Iowa, after an 83 mile ride. Making the Mississippi by May 23 was one of my landmark goals.
I set my alarm for 530 this morning, afraid that I would miss the dawn in the dark barn. But the birds singing at 515 roused me before the alarm went off, and I boiled water for oatmeal, packed up, and rolled north to my new route on the Hennepin Canal at about 6 am.

Google wanted to send me to the Hennepin’s confluence with the Ohio, but I already knew from the Illinois DNR website that the trail was closed there due to a levee breach and flooding, so I turned Google Maps off and headed for Tiskilwa, a pretty and very real town where I thought I could pick up the trail. Tiskilwa also had coffee at the service station convenience mart, where the manager was very solicitous. A large coffee and a donut were just $2.30.

A found the road out of Tiskilwa that crosses the canal, but there was no sign for the towpath, and the access drive led to a knee high, damp grass trail. I was about to give up, but crossed back over the bridge to find the bike trail on the other side of the canal, unsigned, and unpaved, but quite rideable.

  
What a pleasure it was to ride the towpath after days in the agricultural desert! Trees lined the bank, providing shade and shelter from the headwinds. Great blue herons flushed from the banks and swooped before me, and flashes of indigo buntings thrilled the path before me. I ran into an old man fishing from the bank, he had already caught one catfish at 8 am. I asked him what he did with them; he said he put them in his freezer, and when he had a whole bunch of them he had a catfish party for his friends. There were walkers and dogs and even a few cyclists. Some of the aqueducts were actually ducting Aqua, so that boaters could cross a bridge over a creek below. Riding surface varied from dirt to crushed stone to paved to paved once with grass poking through, but pedaling at nine mph on the towpath was a pleasant day of bicycling, while pedaling at nine mph on a bleak road in a crosswind was an ordeal.

  
Fifty miles passed by in a pleasant blur. I tried to do some physical therapy on my left hand while riding, forcing my fingers to shift the gears, and fretting a C-chord on the handlebar from time to time. As the miles and locks rolled by I began to worry I would pass the last exit before the flooded north end of the path. But I got some local advice, and was able to exit near Green River after negotiating just one washout.
I had to make a 3 pm Waterkeeper Alliance executive committee call. I had picture making it to the Mississippi River in time to find a riverview restaurant for a late lunch and celebratory beer. That seemed likely when I started at 6 am with just 65 miles to the river. But slow going on the soft trail meant that b6 230, there was still no river in sight. Google sent me up the employee parking road at the John Deere plant in East Moline, but it lead to the bike path on the levee. But there were no restaurants in sight, just an industrial floodplain. 
At 255, I saw a huge windowed building with the sign Milltown Coffee on the side, and I gave it a try – they had sandwiches and beer and a river view, and I placed my order at 257.

  
After the call, I headed across the Mississippi on the Rock Island Arsenal bridge. I had hoped to find a bike shop for a new taillight in Davenport and I asked google for directions to the very intriguing Ruby’s Beer, Brats, and Bikes establishment. But I couldn’t find it. When I asked a passerby, she told me that the bike and beer shop was closed because of the flooding.
So I headed up the hill from the river to my hotel. I naturally reserved the cheapest motel listed on google – the Relax Inn for just $35. A motel is a motel, and is likely to be at least as comfortable as a mattress on a cement floor. When I called the Relax Inn this morning to make a reservation, they asked if I had a CDL, and when I said no, they quote a $50 rate. I asked about the difference, and the clerk told me I should just go ahead and reserve online through Priceline to get a cheaper rate. Which I did. The actual motel had a sign saying “Knights Inn”, but the faded paint over the entrance suggested it was a Travelodge once. I expected a parking lot full of tractor trailers, but instead the place is practically empty and perfectly adequate. The room is smallish, but I have paid much more for smaller rooms.

  
I celebrated my Mississippi crossing by eating a banana and a pint of chocolate ice cream, and downing a 20oz can of Bud, the least and beer they were selling singles of.

  

Leg 17 – Cross Winds to the Illinois River

5/22

(

posted late)
Ended up making 90 mostly crosswind miles, from Kempton Illinois to the Illinois River in Henry.

  
The Greenhouse B&B hostess made breakfast for me at 630, as I requested for an early start. Gia and her husband run an organic farm, apiary, and conference center. The omelette included fresh asparagus from her garden.

  
I was on the road a little after seven. It was a long day of pedaling crosswind across endless, treeless farm fields, as imposing as the open sea. This land was desolate – the fields were mostly stubble from last year, a few fields plowed and bare, even fewer planted and sprouting neat rows of corn seedlings. There were no people and few dwellings, few birds, and little animal life. Towns named on the map were little more than a few houses and trees, and an extra large collection of fertilizer tanks, and a church, but no food or retail business of any kind, no parks, not even a shaded bench where a traveler might rest his weary legs.

  
I flew when the route jogged north, and I struggled when it jogged south, but mostly I pedaled crosswind toward the distant horizon that ever moved further away. It was sunny all day for the first time this whole trip, so there was enough solar power to my phone to listen to tunes as a pedaled down the road. Towards the end of the ride, I knew the route would jog north (downwind) and drop into the Illinois River valley, so I began hoping that each rise in the road was the height of land before the valley, but each time the road just stretched on straight across the agricultural desert.
I would have liked to get half way to the Mississippi River today. It was 192 miles to Muscatine, Iowa. But there were no lodging options around the half way point at Bradford, so I settled on Henry, at the Illinois River, where you could reputedly camp at the city riverfront park. I stopped briefly for a picnic lunch where the road crossed the Vermillion River, but it was not an attractive spot, and I had no cell signal to call ahead to confirm I could camp in Henry. So I plugged away for another ten miles to Wenona, where there was a surprising pondfront park next to the interstate – and a bathroom. The Henry police department told me that the riverfront park was flooded, but I could camp in the Stoner Veterans Park if I wanted it to. The desk clerk said that the park would look real nice with all the flags up for Memorial Day.
I reached Henry at about 4, and shopped for dinner at the first real grocery store I had seen since Ohio – with fresh vegetables. I went to the park, phoned the police to let them know I was there and asked if I could get the key to the men’s room. Apparently not.
So I sat around resting for a little amid the families enjoying the first warm sunny day in weeks. I started researching tomorrow’s route to Muscatine, since I was worried that I was planning too many miles tomorrow against the forecast wind- 120 miles to a hotel in Muscatine. I saw that Google would send me on a completely different route than Adventure Cycling – via the Hennepin Canal Towpath. This seemed intriguing. Then I realized that I could shave twenty miles off my trip by crossing the Mississippi at Davenport, rather than Muscatine, and that there was a campground eight miles north – and downwind – along the way to the Hennepin Canal. There was no particular reason to cross at Muscatine, it was just the end of one stretch of the Adventure Cycling Route.

  
So I hopped on my bike and made an easy extra eight miles for the day. Condits Ranch campground made me feel welcome – Amanda the owner insisted that I camp in the barn because severe thunderstorms were in the forecast, and Sue the caretaker brought me over an extra mattress for the concrete floor. Not only that, but Amanda conjured up a cold beer from one of the RV tenants (no singles were sold at the Henry market). All for $10.
Sue liked to talk, wanted to hear about my trip, and told me she had been to New York State once to visit her son’s girlfriend, but not New York City,. I have not gone out of m6 way to start climate conversations (I am not very confrontational), but when I told Sue my wife was traveling to the Far East in her role as president of the American Geophysical Union, Sue immediately brought up climate. She said climate was changing, but there have been ice ages in the past, and that it was not Trump’s fault. I said that the scary thing is that the climate is changing faster than it ever has before, and that scientists have known that carbon dioxide retains heat since the middle of the 19th century. And that it may not be Trump’s fault, but that Trump is stopping us from doing anything about it. I told her I was really happy to see the wind turbines, Sue said that she and her friends would drive to the wind farm to listen to the whooshing sound.

  
Sue told me that there was a tornado watch for the night, and if the tornado warning went off, I should either go to the concrete block bathroom building, the ravine behind the barn, or knock on her door to stay in the cellar.
My legs and feet feel fine at the end of another long day of pedaling but my left hand is really weak from leaning on it all day – I can barely type, and I can’t play guitar. It is like trying to learn chords all over again, I have to look at my hand and will my fingers to the right place, but the fingers still won’t curl right, and I can’t fret the chords naturally. Back on the C&O Canal, when my fingers went numb on a rainy 40 degree day, I stopped being able to work the “fingertip” brake lever gear shift with my left hand. I attributed it to the cold, then, but today the temperature was in the 80s and I still couldn’t work the shift.

  

16th Leg – A Century and a Half Time Warp Into the Second Millenium

5/21
My goal today was simple ride as many miles west as I could while the east wind, daylight, and my legs held up and there was some prospect of lodging on the road ahead. That ended up being 157 miles, at least according to the Runtastic cycling app. I had the benefit of a 25 hour day to work with. That’s a personal record I am unlikely to break – I haven’t even ridden a century in over 40 years. But it’s not a family record – my younger brother David ride 500 miles in two days a couple of decades ago. Today’s ride also makes me 1000 miles from home, no matter how you measure it.
Woke up at 630 (late dawn at this western edge of Eastern Time). It wasn’t raining yet, so I struck camp quickly as the drops began to fall. My phone battery was near dead, so I downloaded the days route and put the phone on airplane mode to save power. I put some screenshots of the general route on my iPad, which still had plenty of battery. But I didn’t check the map closely enough, so I rode 1 1/2 miles in the wrong direction before realizing my mistake. This extra three miles put me in a bad mood to start the day, but it ended up being a rounding error on the days run.


I rolled 25 blissful downwind mikes before finding a combination coffee shop and tanning salon where I could plug in, in Denver, IN. The waitresses were very helpful and a breakfast burrito plus unlimited coffee only cost $3.50. But they had no WiFi and I had no signal, so I was still limited in my ability to research lodging options for the night. Rensellaer, at around 90 miles was too close. Ashkum claimed to allow bike camping in the city park, but you had to call the mayor first, and when I tried to call with my one bar of signal, the call dropped before I could leave a full message. It looked like there were some options ten miles beyond Ashkum, also.


So I set out to take advantage of the howling easterly, wind singing in the telephone wires, miles rolling by like a perpetual downhill, except in places where the route jogged north or south and the crosswind nearly blew me off the road. Indiana spun by in a blur, and I did not want to stop to leave any of this fair wind unused. I fed myself trail mix from my handlebar cup-holder, stopping only when I really needed to pee. Since I used the bathroom at a shop in Buffalo, IN, I bought a Snickers bar and added it to my caloric intake. At one point, I missed a turn and ended up on a gravel road, much to my regret but the regular grid of roads soon brought me back to the smooth designated route. Gravel roads are the very definition of a royal PITA.
Without stopping to refer to the maps, my sense of geography and distance got a bit confused. I had convinced myself that I should reach Ashkum at around mile 125, and that there was a town with several motel chains (with unlimited breakfast buffets) just ten miles beyond, a reasonable goal for a day of fast runnings. As I approach mile 125, I saw a huge radio tower that I assumed was the state police barracks by the village park in Ashkum. But after three miles of strenuous crosswind pedaling, the radio tower was next to nothing more interesting than yet another farmhouse. I turned west and downwind, certain to find Ashkum around the bend. But past the rare railroad trestle, Adventure Cycling tried to take me across the adjacent railroad crossing to a gravel road. No way! I stopped to check the map and my options. The Adventure Travel app calculated that Ashkum was still 22 miles away, and there was no lodging for 30 miles beyond Ashkum, except for a lone BNB 33 miles from where I was.  I had already pedaled 125 miles today, and the prospect of another 22 miles for a cold, wet, and phone charge-less night in a tent was discouraging.
I tried calling the BNB, but my call kept dropping before I got an answer, and the howling wind made it impossible to hear even whether the phone was ringing. My battery was getting low, and there was no sun to charge it. So I ate a sandwich made from the leftovers from yesterday’s Dollar General shopping spree, and found a paved route around the gravel road.


In my geographical confusion, I did not realize that Ashkum was in Illinois (and in the central time zone). There were no “Welcome to the Land of Lincoln” signs. So I was surprised when the road signs started advertising “Illinois Rte 1” – why were roads in Indiana given Illinois road numbers? But I flew downwind, and soon reached the real Ashkum, Illinois – and the time change on my phone announced the new state. I was able to get through to the Green House BNB, which had rooms available, with breakfast. And the Ashkum mayor had returned my call, offering free camping. I opted for the BNB – it was only 7:20 Central Time, and I could charge my phone enough at the Subway in Ashkum (while munching on a sub) to be sure to locate the BNB.


I flew the last 12 miles, averaging about 20 miles an hour in the brisk wind, while hardly working at all. And the Greenhouse BNB is charming, a true little house on the prairie sitting on a wooded knoll in the middle of a vast expanse of farm Fields.

15th Leg – Upwind Into Indie

5/20 (Posted late)
Today I made 75 miles, to Salamonie State Forest, Indiana. This leaves me about 45 miles short of where I wanted to be by today, fourteen riding days into my trip.
When I woke up at the Bittersweet Inn I could hear that the wind was blowing. I already had diminished expectations for the day, given that I was running through my hotel and meals budget too fast, and campgrounds were either 75, 102, or 120 miles upwind. I fixed on the 75 mile run to Salamonie State Forest.
The wind was WNW at 10-20 mph. Riding into the wind is like pedaling up a constant gentle hill – it’s not that hard on the legs, but you just can’t maintain any speed. The only way I can ride all day is to take it very easy on my legs and knees, so I had to be satisfied with nine miles per hour.

  
Wind turbines were spinning in western Ohio. To me, they look like a graceful addition to the landscape, and no more of an industrial intrusion into the pastoral landscape than the dairy barns, grain silos, and agricultural tanks dotting the landscape. This part of the country is devoted to production – there is precious little wild land, just the occasional wetland or wildlife preserve. Food production is just another form of energy production, like wind turbines. Back in Erie County, OH, yesterday, yellow signs sprouted in the farmscape reading “No Wind Turbines in Erie County.” I understand the instinctual fear and opposition to whatever is big, imposing, and new. But wind power is not a matter of “progress” – it’s a matter of salvation.

  
Is this less industrial than a wind turbine?

I ran down state line road on the Indiana border. On my left side, signs welcomed the traveler to Ohio, but to my right, no signs hinted that you just entered Indiana. But I felt welcome in Munroeville, where a man came running down his driveway to greet me. Neil wanted to know if I was staying at the community center (Munroeville welcomes bike trekkers with free indoor camping). But Munroeville was too far for yesterday’s ride, and way too close for today’s. I did go food shopping in the Munroeville Dollar General, since it seemed that would be the last food store I would see in the 55 miles to Salamonie.

The terrain changed in Indiana, slowly but surely. Copses of blessed trees to break the wind became more frequent west of Hoagland, and the road began to rise and fall gently in undulations that would eventually be worth calling hills. The rest of the ride was a matter of grinding slowly into the wind, head down and on the dropped handlebars in the open areas, relaxing with my head up in the shelter of trees, and rejoicing when the route dropped south and the breeze turned briefly into a tailwind. There was some rain, and mostly overcast skies. With temperatures in the 50s, my fingers were cold again. Too cold to play this guitar I have been lugging around – I couldn’t fret anything but a G chord. But my knees, feet, and legs felt fine. My butt, not so much.

  
 I made the campground by 530 pm, where I ran into the first long distance cyclist I have seen since Pittsburgh – a young woman from Michigan who is cycling to North Carolina to see her grandmother. Salamonie State Forest is a gem of woods and wildlife in this agricultural landscape.
Tomorrow should be interesting. The winds will blow from the east, so I was counting on making a big day, but it will be in the 40s and raining. My phone battery is almost dead, so I won’t be able to post this until tomorrow