Tuesday May 27, 2014, 58 miles (94 km) – Total so far: 371 miles (597 km)
Ah, if only more days could be like this one. Never too uncomfortable, good roads, courteous traffic, an easy but decent distance covered, a pleasant afternoon in a scenic location, and strong storms that provide a good show of cloud formations and lightning but never threaten me. Cue up more days like that described below, please.
Up at 5 am, on the road at 5.40 am. Nearly all of the traffic is going the other way toward Iowa City and Muscatine. Oh, you poor, working folks, I will be sad to return to your ranks later this year.
Eventually, the traffic dies off and a shoulder appears on Hwy 22. We ride through high, flat-ish, plains of Kermit-sized corn interspersed with rolling hills. Patches of remnant, second-growth forest line the steeper hills and creek drainages.
Wherever the map shows short right angle jaunts, the road stays high, weaving along the ridge line from hill crest to crest. Whenever the map shows straight lines, we climb and descend, climb and descend. Through these straight sections, the hills seem to have no decipherable pattern from ground-level. From a plane, we might see a flat glacial plain eroded from a plateau into a series of hills and drainages like very long ripples or mounds of debris in a watercourse. But from down here on the ground, the long straight lines on the map just equal a rollercoaster of calf and quad muscle development with no presumable end.
Hwy 21 is busier with no road shoulder. I bail a couple times when trucks converge on my road position from ahead and behind. Hwy 85 is hilly and twisty to start but mostly flat toward the end. Oh, yeah, life is good on the bike today. The only detraction is the biting gnats which inhabit “K-territory”. They absolutely annihilate me any time I stop between Kalona and Keswick, but mysteriously disappear after that.
I like Montezuma. It is situated on a square with a courthouse in the middle, like so many small towns I’ve visited in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. But Montezuma is alive and kicking, for the most part. It has a good vibe. There are plenty of small businesses in the square. There are several cafes, a post office, grocery store, Caseys… and more, if I’d explored further. The workers at Subway are incredibly nice and friendly. They give me a free cookie, just because. The library is fairly new, and the staff is quite helpful and curious about my trip. There is no wifi, but the computers are fast. I’m just here to look at the weather forecast and to read a paper.
An older man enters the library and asks the front desk women, “where’s the cyclist”? Never mind that I’m the only patron in the library and sitting directly in front of him. They point to me. The man asks, “so, where have you come from and where are you heading”? I always love it when people can manage to ask the first two questions of the ‘standard six’ in one long breath.
I give him the run-down, and then he says, “I’m a cyclist, too, well, I used to be, like when I was young and I’d ride centuries, but now, I’m just a RECREATIONAL cyclist, you know, the kind that gets about town and sometimes on the bike path and sometimes slows you real cyclists down”, all in one more very extended breath.
He continues, “So are you camping out at the park tonight? I can tell you how to get there”.
He then proceeds to give me directions to the park and nearly every other amenity in town. He is so helpful and enthusiastic. I wish all my friends who ask me, “Aren’t you afraid?”, could see this man, and every other person just like him that I meet on an almost daily basis. No, I’m not afraid, because pretty much everyone is intent on helping me, even when I don’t need it.
The man continues with his directions – turning to face the correct direction, and pointing that way from the middle of the library, for every single attraction. When he’s finished, he then asks, “But aren’t you afraid to be alone”?
I laugh inside (I was just thinking about this!) and reply, “No, not at all. Every day I meet people just like you. And in over 10,000 miles of touring I have only met two men who totally creeped me out. And even then I wasn’t afraid, I just politely removed myself from the conversation. The world is a good place”.
He smiles and shakes his head, “Well, then, just don’t read the newspapers”.
He wishes me well and gives me his home phone number, just in case I get lost later and need more directions. He will be home by 2 pm, he promises.
The counter attendant at the post office is just as friendly as everyone else. After I post a small package home to Australia, she is curious about where I’m from and where I’m riding on such a nice day. When I tell her I’m going to camp at the park west of town tonight, she tells me what a beautiful and relaxing place it is, and how she wishes she could get out there more often. She says, “I know it’s ridiculous that it’s like 5 miles away and I only get out there once every few months. But you know how time slips away. I’ll have to go out there this weekend. Thanks for the reminder”!
Wow, did someone slip this town happy pills? And can the women from the Kalona library come visit?
I head out to the lake. Primitive camping is $10. By riding ¾ of the way around the lake and up and down two big hills, I find a pleasant, shady, grassy spot away from the RVs and electrical hook-ups on the other side. I can still cross the dam on a little path and get to the showerhouse in about 5 minutes. Ideal – and there are no biting gnats.
I spend the late afternoon watching huge cumulonimbus clouds building incredibly high into the atmosphere in mushrooming puffs of bright white and in wind-sheared, angry anvils. As they build, they slide off to the south and east, coalescing into a deep midnight blue. I watch the lightning sputter and spark, a strobe-light of partying ions bumping into one another on the dance floor of the sky. Rumbles of thunder provide a long, rolling beat. What a joy it is to be out here amongst it all.