August 21, Day 48: 60 miles down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to just south of Red Wing, Minnesota.
Yes Red Wing is where Red Wing shoes come from. It is also where frozen piecrust was invented. It is gloriously beautiful and there are also about fifty million hills between it and Minneapolis; the Midwest, it turns out, is not as flat as people say it is. Let me rephrase. The Midwest is not as flat as I had foolishly assumed it to be. And they have Weather: by four o'clock I found myself cycling into a thunder storm. A bit lost, I stopped at a house to ask for directions. A nice woman answered and set me on the right path before looking skyward and then down at me and said: ride fast.
It had been a very hot day and I rather like thunder so I wasn't too worried; I understand of course that lightning and steel bicycles are a zingy combo and though I love Theo dearly I am prepared to abandon her should Electricity become an issue. I rode on enjoying the fat water drops as they bounced off my helmet and caught clumsily in my eyelashes. Thunder rumbled and then roared in the near distance. I was having fun.
A few hundred yards ahead I spied a red pick-up parked on the shoulder and a young woman, about my age, peering up the road toward me, hand over her face to block the rain. She was getting wet and didn't seem to like that very much. But she was more concerned about me at the moment, it turned out.
"Are you OK???" she asked, looking at me as though I were a Snow Crane flying in the Bahamas.
"Um. Well. Yes?"
"Where are you from?"
The woman looked utterly abused.
"WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOOOOING HERE????"
"I well I'm, I'm riding a bicycle you see..."
"You wanna RIDE!? I'm going to Red Wing I can give you a ride I hate thunder I saw this comin and I said shit I'm getting outta here you want a RIDE???"
At this point I was only about a mile from the city of Red Wing and had plenty of daylight left...and I badly needed a bath and the raindrops were doing a swell job. Plus, I really was enjoying myself.
"Thank you so much but it's not far and--"
"You SURE I can give you a RIDE, it would be easy WHERE ARE YOU GOING???"
"Not far, just up the ro--"
"YOU'LL BE OK???"
"I'll be OK."
"Are you sure YOU'LL BE OK???"
"I am so sure, thank y--"
"Because I can give you a ride, are you SURE??"
Now I was beginning to doubt whether I really was OK; this kind woman was so afraid of storms that she was starting to make me afraid of them, too. A hint of old fear winked at me: monsters under beds, shadows in corners. After a moment's hesitation wherein I reminded myself that there is no boogey man and that there is absolutely no way a monster would fit underneath my sleeping bag without my noticing, I assured her, again.
"I am SURE. Thank you!!!"
She drove off, turning back to wave at me like a war-bound soldier's honey on a train platform. I did not know whether to be gladdened and grateful to the Universe for sending me a road angel when I did not need one...or concerned that the rain would turn into the boogey man and eat me.
I w as fine. The rain made me cleaner. And it did not eat anybody, as far as I know.
August 22, Day 49: 62 miles from Red Wing, MN, to Winona, MN
I've never had much faith in miracles--not really. Serendipity, Providence: cute little ideas that give comfort to some silly people but really don't have much to do with Reality. Now I'm not so sure.
This was another hot and humid day, and gorgeous as the ride was (have you any idea how many LAKES there are in Minnesota? The answer is a LOT) I was a bit pooped and not so bright-eyed. I trudged along, and somehow my sad and soggy will power got me to Winona, just as it was getting dark.
I spent my last day in Minneapolis setting up Warm-showers hosts (couch surfing for cyclists) for my ride through Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was a large logistical victory. I had made one error however, and I was about to discover it.
I had gotten email responses back from all my hosts, saying yes! Come stay! (Thanks be to all divine things for warmshowers.org). I'd thought that I had Winona lodging all squared away, but then, just as my cell phone was about to run out of battery, the sky out of light, my legs out of go-power and my spirit out of oomph, I realized that although I'd emailed two Winona families, the one whose address I'd hastily scribbled down was not the one who had replied affirmative to my request for shelter and pleasegodashower.
So I was at the bottom of a massive hill at twilight, clutching a soggy address that might or might not be the address of someone actually at home and not on vacation on some amazing Minnesota Lake (note to those who might want to embark on a similar endeavor in future: avoid seeking shelter in places with words like 'summit' or 'heights' at the ends of their names. Bad. News.)
Of course there were many possible solutions. There are almost always many possible solutions. The first one I was going to try, however, was to push onward up this ruddy mound of earth called something bloody Summit Heights Staircase of Bicyclist Chaos and Doom, and see if these folks I'd emailed and not heard back from might actually be home. The climb was steep. Very steep. My load was heavy and it was getting dark and I was hungry very hungry and this was really not fun anymore. But I trudged on, pedaling up and moving forward really only a little bit. Finally: fuck this I want to go home, thought I, and gave up, dismounted, and began to push my two-wheeled pack-horse up the hill. I missed my mom. I missed my house. I missed Oakland and Berkeley and
Cutting Ball and Shotgun and my friends and all the things I know and love. I cried some and continued trudging. This. Ruddy. Sucks.
I thought to myself: if the Universe wanted to send me an angel sometime, this would be the time. Because if things didn't change pretty fast I was goin home to California where the sun always shines and my bed stays in one place and my toothbrush does, too.
A moment later, a car approached and a friendly face said:
"Hey! Are you the biker from Oakland!?"
I positively wept.
"YES!" And then: "How did you know that??"
It was Jim and Ladybug (mutt extraordinaire: she once killed a full-sized buck) the host who had indeed replied affirmative, but whose address I'd not written down before the cell phone died. They just happened to be out on an evening walk--unusual for them--they normally go in the morning--and Jim recognized me from photos on my website. Ohthankgod I said, and ohmygod I meant it.
Jim and his wife Rosemary are remarkable. They've just finished walking the Camino de Santiago, and also frequent Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California (as do I.) They eat Vegetables and they Meditate and they are deeply Kind and Patient and their house is a haven of peace and equilibrium. I felt as though I'd come home to kindred spirits--my long lost Minnesota Zen family. I so desperately needed a respite and safe haven--it felt like a miracle. Because...it was.
August 23, Day 50: Sailing with Jim and Stephen on Lake Onalaska.
My spirits were not quite ready to face the wide world the next day, so I stayed on and Jim took me sailing with his vivacious friend Stephen, who, when asked if sailing without all the fancy equipment (as we were doing) was more pure, replied, "yes and purity is highly overrated."
August 24, Day 51: 70 miles from Winona, Minnesota, to Norwalk, Wisconsin.
Tunnels and friends galore! I rode on the Sparta-Elroy Rail Trail for much of the day, the First Ever Rail Trail in the U.S.! It was a railway until the turn of the century, and was converted into a bicycle trail in the 1970s. It. Is. Magnificent. There are three tunnels on the trail, one of which is three quarters of a mile long and pitch dark in the middle. No light visible from either end...and bats...and water trickling down mossy limestone walls...yes...
I met an awesome posse of touring bicyclists in Sparta (the bicycling capital of the U.S., at least according to Spartans) and they very kindly welcomed me into their troop. We camped together in Norwalk at the foot of an old abandoned dairy. Can I just say: people are wonderful: Maggie and Todd and Maxim and Victor and Kristin and Aaron and Jill and Alex and little baby Lennon in the bob trailer: road friends are the best. They always find you when you most need them. God, it seems, is Other People. Not what Sartre said.
August 25, Day 52: 62 miles from Norwalk, WI, to Baraboo, WI.
In Baraboo I found more kindred: THEATRE PEOPLE!
My host Rob is amazing. A techie of many talents, he often works down at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. I'd never heard of this place, a fact which now amazes me: Ken Albers and John Pribyl of Oregon Shakespeare Festival fame currently work there. And the work is extraordinary: simple, true to the word, patient, and alive.
August 26, Day 52: Waiting out the heat in air-conditioned cafes.
August 27, Day 53: The Circus in the morning with Lady Tilda, and APT in the evening. Life you are so good to me.
Rob's girlfriend's rockin nine-year-old daughter Matilda had the brilliant idea of going to the circus on this morning. Baraboo is where Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey got started, and is where the Circus World Museum currently stands. 'Tis mind blowing, kids.
And after the circus...some Tom Stoppard. APT just knocked the shit out of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I've never seen the play so well done. En fucking core.
August 28, Day 54: 45ish miles from Baraboo to Madison.
August 29, Day 55: 80 miles from Madison to Milwaukee; only 50 of them actually happened on a bicycle.
Riding happily along toward mile 50 of the day, I was feeling oddly sluggish. I realized that I was phenomenally Hungry, so I plopped down in the middle of the trail and proceeded to eat Food while the Mosquitoes ate me.
I glanced down at my rear tire. Flat. Another cause for sluggishness. A front flat is puzzle enough but fixing a rear flat involves chains and gears and greasy mucky fingers and complicated feats of physics. Although I have ridden 1,300ish miles on this journey, I am no great hand at repair (largely because Theo is a badass and does not let rough roads get her down.)
I unloaded and upended Theo and proceeded to try to like...fix the issue. This being my first rear flat of the journey, this fix was bound to involve a commitment of time and patience. I fumbled with wheels and greasy parts for a long while, and was finally making some sloppy headway when lo: another angel appeared.
Rich is a retired critical care flight paramedic and spends his free time rescuing cyclists in distress. At least that's what happened to his free Thursday afternoon last week.
He pedaled up just as I was thinking oh jeez I'm not sure I quite have the mechanical chops to deal with this. He helped me to solve the rear-wheel-with-disc-brakes flat puzzle, and after riding with me to a bike shop for a better pump, said hey it's getting late and you've still got thirty miles to go, I've got my car here and can drive you to Milwaukee. Thanks. Be.
August 30, Day 56: 30 miles from Milwaukee to Fredonia, WI.
Another rear flat and hey guys: I'm starting to get good at fixing them now.
I was going to stay and work and write on a farm in Fredonia for a spell; suffice it to say that the farm was not what I was expecting so I quickly changed plans! There were silverfish and cockroaches involved, but no actual danger.
August 31, Day 57: 24 miles from Fredonia to Sheboygan Falls, WI.
Wisonsin towns have the coolest names.
September 1, Day 58: 30 miles to Manitowoc, WI, and a ferry ride on the SS Badger to Ludington, Michigan.
My hosts here--Ruth Ann and Gene--ran an Indiana bed and breakfast for five years; I went upstairs to find a neat pile of clean towels laid out on a beautiful bed, and yes, a little piece of dark chocolate on the wash cloth. Angels. Abound.
September 2, Day 59: A rest day in Ludington. Oh, yes, for Rest.