Northern Tier 2010

August 14, 2010

Goodbye Mississippi

Filed under: Illinois, Iowa, Section 08 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

What a difference a good night’s sleep can make! I slept incredibly well at the Muscatine Super 8, and my mindset was completely different this morning. I was eager to get back on the bike, and after taking full advantage of the continental breakfast, I was on the road by 6:00 a.m. I crossed the Mississippi for the last time and entered Illinois.

In addition to the benefit of good rest, the terrain today was very gentle, and more importantly, the winds were light — even a tailwind in the morning. I covered 78 miles before stopping for lunch in Kewanee. Along the way I was caught by two recreational cyclists from Muscatine heading out for a breakfast ride. I really enjoyed talking with them for a few miles, and I was tempted to join them for breakfast when it was time for them to turn off, but I decided keep going with the tailwind.

I ultimately made it to Henry, IL — about the midpoint of Illinois on this route, for a total of 122 miles. Due to the early start I had plenty of time to get a shower and go out for dinner. I was tempted to go another ten miles for the day, but I felt obliged to stay in a city with which I share a name.

Henry is right on the Illinois river, and the free public-park camping (for cyclists only) is near a popular boat launch, complete with a restaurant / bar. I ate alone but eventually got into a long, and very fun, conversation with Jason and Scott from Peroria. They entered a hard-fought rock-paper-scissors battle for the “honor” of who could buy the cross-country cyclist a beer. Jason was happy to be in the picture, but for reasons he can’t explain will never look directly at the camera.

It was awfully tempting to stay later with them, and the free beers were clearly going to keep coming, but I’m shooting for another long ride tomorrow and want to get an early start. I’d like to get near the IL / IN border because that would get me within a long day’s ride of South Bend. It is another sweaty night in the tent, but I hear that tomorrow will finally bring relief from the incredible humidity we’ve been experiencing. For the love of God, please let that be true!


August 13, 2010

Taking the Night Off

Filed under: Iowa, Section 07 — Henry Scott @ 10:29 am

I awoke at 4:30 this morning to the sound of thunder. I stayed in bed for about fifteen minutes trying to decide what to do. I could stay put, and sleep in enjoying the sound of the surely soon to arrive rain, but that would mean dealing with wet gear later in the morning. Alternatively, I could quickly pack up and make a break for Lowden: a town four miles away with a population of almost 800 — potentially big enough to support a good breakfast spot.

I made the right call, and I’m currently dry, with my bike safely under a large overhang, and enjoying breakfast at Lowden’s Corner Cafe while watching it pour outside. I’ve been remarkably fortunate with storms on this trip. I’ve only been caught in a downpour once, ridden in light rain twice, and I have yet to make or break camp in the rain.

But, there have been many storms during the 35 days I’ve been out; they just come at night, when I’m safely tucked away in my tent. Further, the evening storms have just about all come during nights for which I was able to pitch my tent under a pavilion. Certainly this luck can’t last forever, but my fingers are crossed.

It is now late afternoon and, for the first time, I’ve checked into a hotel. I’m writing this portion of today’s post from an Applebee’s and enjoying my meal more than I expected. The 37 mile ride from Lowden to Muscatine, the last town in Section 7, was very hard for me due to a strong southeast wind. I noticed numerous blackbirds, but instead of giving chase today, they just chirped from the telephone wires. I think they were laughing at me.

I felt mentally and physically exhausted upon entering Muscatine and hit a low point for the trip. From there I proceeded to make some sloppy mistakes, the most notable of which was dropping the map for Section 8 on the outskirts of town. I didn’t realize the map was missing until I was all the way downtown, five miles later.

Initially I decided to just leave it, thinking I could create my own route across Illinois and up to South Bend, but in hindsight, I just couldn’t bear the thought of backtracking on not-very-pleasant roads. After eating lunch I reconsidered, and made the return trip.

As expected, the ride back was miserable due to the humidity and very busy roads, but I found the map not too far from where I figured I must’ve dropped it. I honestly didn’t expect to find it; it was like I was making myself go back as punishment.

The victory of finding the map rejuvenated me until I realized the next camping opportunity I would have was not for another 50 miles, straight into the wind. Plus, everywhere I went I heard reports of impending severe weather.

So, I punted for the day and checked into a Super 8. I agonized about the decision because I take pride in saying that I’ve camped every night, but the sting wore off immediately. The employees were wonderful to me, going so far as to open doors for me and the bike, instead of casting disapproving expressions as I feared. I have never appreciated air conditioning so much, and the mere sight of the bed made me feel more well-rested.

After dinner I look forward to a bit of T.V. (I already watched the last two sets of the 1982 U.S. Open final between Connors and Lendl thanks to Classic ESPN), and then I plan to get lost in slumber in the hotel’s ridiculously big bed… at least compared to the my tent.

As an afterward, I’m back in the room from dinner. After the steak dinner plus sundae at Applebee’s, I walked straight across the street to Taco Bell to top up. Now, I’m ready for bed.

August 12, 2010


Filed under: Iowa, Section 07 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Today I encountered all three H’s: hills, headwinds and humidity. The hills became more rolling throughout the day, and although the wind is still from the south, it wasn’t terribly strong. But, it was well into the 90’s and oppressively humid. The riding wasn’t particularly difficult, however, because I took my time and didn’t push very hard. That said, I got off to a late start due to a fun breakfast with Jim, and I covered 105 miles to Massillon, so it was a long day, and I got to camp late. The sun fell a bit faster than I hoped, so I had to pick it up for the last ten miles to arrive before dark.

Despite the unfavorable conditions, today’s ride was quite enjoyable. The sky was very pretty, and I took long breaks in Colesburg and Dyersville. In between I visited the Petersburg cathedral, which is amazingly large and ornate for such a small town.

From Dyersville I rode on the Heritage Trail for the ten miles to Farley, and enjoyed the gentle grade, shade and break from the wind in the tree-lined sections.

I’m camped at the Massillon Count Park, which appears deserted. I’m sure this is partly because it is a weeknight, but there has also been recent flooding on the Wapsipinicon River, on which the park is located. This is good for me, however, because I have no desire to be by the river and √¨was able to tuck my tent in behind a building way up above the water.

August 11, 2010

It’s True! Iowa Isn’t Flat (at least not entirely)

Filed under: Geology, Iowa, Section 07 — Henry Scott @ 1:00 pm

Might I be getting used to the heat and humidity? I was a sweaty mess all day, but I felt very good riding — certainly better than yesterday and way better than two days ago. Feeling good today was a bit of a surprise because I haven’t slept well the past few nights, so I decided to stop relatively early today at 74 miles in Elkader, IA to give myself more time to relax, and hopefully cool down, before going to bed.

As mentioned in the title, I found truth in the claims of my Iowan friends: not all of Iowa is flat. Rather, the riding today was quite hilly — it was either up or down all day, and the hills rivaled anything I’ve encountered so far other than the named passes of the West. They were long enough that I could get into a good climbing rhythm, steep enough to get me out of the saddle, but short enough that my legs could recover from one to the next. With the high humidity, my fluid intake easily matched that of Loup Loup pass.

Eastern Iowa truly is gorgeous, with ubiquitous outcroppings of sedimentary rocks and extremely steep and high blocks of crust creating an incredibly rugged landscape. Again I questioned the wisdom of the Northern Tier route as it repeatedly had me jog west up significant hills only to then drift south and east back towards the river, but I loved the scenery. As an added bonus, the route brought me by Effigy Mounds National Monument. I only stopped for an hour, but that provided a much-needed break from the sun and time to watch a video about the mound-building cultures.

I stopped for a late lunch in Monona at the newly opened Jodi’s Americana Grille. As Erika mentioned in the comments yesterday, my friend Bruce must be calling ahead on my behalf because the hospitality I received was extraordinary. Surely I looked like hell: I had just come up a long hill from Marquette during the hottest part of the day, but they welcomed me in, got me plenty of water and fed me extremely well. Plus, the owner, Jodi (at left in the photo), gave me a T-shirt and spent quite a while chatting with the waitress and me. I asked if I could take a snapshot, and Jodi insisted we all pose together behind the bar — I believe it was her daughter who took the photo. Definitely a great experience!

From there I had an easy, but still quite sweaty, ride to Elkader where I’m camped for the night. I met Jim, a westbound cyclist from Nashville, in town, and we’re sharing a campsite in the city park and exchanging notes about where to camp for the remainder of our respective tours.

August 10, 2010

Onward to Iowa!

Filed under: Iowa, Minnesota, Section 07 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Today’s early start worked out well, opening with a nice view of the sun rising over the Mississippi from my campsite, up on the bluffs, in Hok-Si-La park. The moisture blown up from the Gulf quickly formed a heavy fog, and Mother Nature let it be known that storms were coming. There was, yet again, a south wind from early on, but it wasn’t too bad in the morning. In the afternoon, however, I saw a northbound butterfly go by at Mach 2.

I had a good breakfast in a Wabasha coffee shop where several locals, clearly regulars and community builders, invited me to join them. It turns out some of them were involved in the fundraising for an eagle museum in town, and had I not been so focused on eating I wouldn’t have blown what in hindsight was an offer to get a private, pre-opening tour. Initially I didn’t even understand what the museum was, and I thought they were suggesting that I wait a couple of hours for it to open.

It was painful to bike away without seeing the museum once they had left, and I realized what they were offering, but on the other hand the riding was still good and storms were clearly coming. It started to rain before long, but at just the right rate to provide some cooling without getting very wet.

I was able to easily cover the 50 miles to Winona by noon, at which point it cleared and I did some laundry and enjoyed an amazing all-you-can-eat salad bar at a nearby grocery store. It was well stocked with fresh fruits, including kiwis and strawberries, in addition to surprising extras like grilled chicken. This was six dollars very well spent from my perspective, but certainly a loss for them.

The Northern Tier then took me west, away from the river and way up onto the bluffs. I almost modified the route to make it more direct, but I’m glad I didn’t: the south wind became much stronger, and the climbing was a welcome change of effort, plus the views from the bluffs were excellent. It was hard to imagine that just a few days ago I was at the headwaters, but now the river commands an entire valley.

When I descended back down to the river I met three eastbound Brits, clearly having the time of their lives. They were set on staying in La Crosse for the night (on the other side of the river), but my legs felt like continuing, so after chatting for a bit we parted ways.

From there I continued further than originally planned, but the campsite I had in mind was packed with RVs, and the fee for me to pitch my tent for the night was $20 — more than I was willing to pay.

So I decided to test my friend Bruce’s claims regarding the hospitality I’d receive in Iowa, and even though it was getting late decided to head for the border. The winds had diminished to almost nothing, so adding another 15 miles wouldn’t be too bad. Reaching New Albin, IA brought me to my longest day yet at 113 miles (by only a few tenths of a mile), but Bruce was right! Even though it isn’t designated as a camping city on my maps (nor are there any signs explicitly allowing camping), the park is clearly set up for campers, and it is very clean. I spoke with some residents across the street and they told me I’d be fine. Assuming I don’t get kicked out in the middle of the night, Iowa is okay by me!

The humidity is unbearable and, again, I can’t stop sweating in my tent. But, the sky keeps lighting up with flashes of distant lightning, and I’m safely under the park’s pavilion. Here’s hoping a big storm will bring some relief.

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