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Monday, July 7, 2008

Wandering out on the hills of Iowa

If there are parts of Iowa that aren't hilly, and I'm sure there are, we didn't see them. On our first morning there we began the day with a climb up Pleasant Ridge Road. The ridge was very pleasant once we got to the top, but of course it was a steep climb to get there. Up along the ridges it was so pretty with all the little farms (they probably just looked little from far away) and hills and trees. Being up there offered a pretty far view of the surrounding area. Mostly planted with corn, there were farms with cows every so often. I guess it was just typical farmland, but I thought it was quite lovely, though the climbs were somewhat grueling.

The route seemed to weave back and forth from ridges to valleys. We passed through towns, mostly small at regular intervals. One of the more intriguing towns we went through was Elkader. Some other travelers recommended that we check it out and at first it didn't seem like much but then we got down the hill into the center of town. To get to what might have been called Main Street we crossed and old stone bridge -- I can't remember the exact reason that it was so remarkable (besides being very pretty) but I believe it was the largest keystone arch bridge in some region. This bridge along we 3 or 4 other sites in town are on the national register of historic places (the courthouse, a big limestone church, a mirror house with both sides built exactly the same for two brothers...). The downtown seemed like a classic midwestern town, built mostly in the late eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century. But the nice thing was that it still seemed to be occupied by businesses and shoppers.

Another unusual thing about Elkader is that it was named after the George Washington of Algeria -- the man who led them to freedom. Apparently the founders of the town appreciated his morals and character and decided to commemorate that in the town's name. The Algerian owner of Schera's restaurant told us this. Schera's was a nice place that served Algerian and American food. On July 5 the town was going to host the Algerian ambassador who was visiting for Algerian independence day. You never know what you will find when you visit a small town.

In Elkader we also began to see more evidence of flood damage. We sat by the river while eating lunch. It was shallow and muddy but just weeks before it had been up to where we sat, probably twenty feet above. A lot of the fields in lower areas were partially flooded and we crossed one small bridge that was closed to cars because it was broken when the water covered it. I guess most of the really bad flooding was farther south and west but people living in the areas we went through also experienced the ill effects of too much rain.

These days we usually keep up a nice pace -- we can cover 70 miles or more in a day and have enough time to stop and look around or stop and get ice cream which we probably do equally often. After a couple more stops we ended July in Dyersville, Iowa where we headed for the city park to find camping. It turns out that Dyersvile has its independence day festivities on July 3 in the city park. So we paid a $3 admission fee and found a place to camp past the gathering crowds. Dyersville has about 4,000 people but apparently almost 10,000 people came to hang out, play games, eat, drink and watch the fire works. Once it got dark we settled in among the crowd to watch the display. There were fireworks going off high up in the air that people outside the park could see but in the outfield of the baseball diamond they had another display timed to cheesy music. This included "great balls of fire" which were like fireballs that burst quickly into mini mushroom clouds. It was fun and entertaining.

We were tired so after the fireworks we quickly went back to our tent to sleep. I didn't think that the revelers would continue celebrating and playing music in the park for a couple more hours. The next morning the clean up crew arrived early, interrupting our plans to sleep in. We had decided to take the 4th off since we hadn't had a day without riding in weeks. We explored the town a bit and met some people who were having their Fourth of July picnic in the pavilion where we were camped. They told us that Dyersville is the home of the baseball field in the corn field where they filmed Field of Dreams. Its a big tourist attraction, but we didn't go see it. Instead we spent the afternoon at the city pool, right next to the park. It was a wonderful city pool with two water slides and some fountains. It was packed on this hot afternoon, but for ten minutes of every hour it was "adult swim" so the kids all sat somewhat quietly on the edge of the pool waiting until they could jump back in. It was a really nice afternoon and a great day off.

The next day we rode 85 miles to Muscatine through hills and headwinds to complete another section of our trip. We stayed at the Super 8 motel which was a really nice break from our tent. It was extremely tempting to not leave the motel the next day, but we had to check out by 11. We crossed the Mississippi for the last time (good, because I'm tired of spelling it) into Illinois. Last night we stayed in Orion, which we thought was like the constellation, but they pronounce it OR-ee-un. Today was another windy day riding through corn, corn, corn, soy beans, corn, corn. So far, Illinois kind of reminds me of North Dakota. We are in a pretty rural part and sometimes all you see is corn and a few farms. We went through an area with lots of wind turbines and now we are in Henry, next to the Illinois river. I'm sure I would enjoy the scenery (corn) a bit more if I wasn't struggling to push my bicycle in all the wind. Hopefully we'll have some tailwinds again soon. While we were in Iowa it was hot but not too humid -- yesterday and today have been really humid with storms hovering here and there. I guess that's all the news for now. Probably forgetting lots of things, but I hope you all are well. Lots of love!


Peter said...

My mom, who is from West Branch, Iowa, would be thrilled to hear your description of her state, She has always argued, somewhat unsuccessfully, that IA is hilly. I've been to the town where you all camped, near the field of dreams. Trust me, the baseball field is pretty boring, its just a field in the middle of cornfields.

Orion is also mispronounced here in Michigan. They pronounce it the same way the folk in IL do. I guess its a midwestern thing.

Steve said...

You guys have done great! Did you think you’d be this far by July? I like the story about the pronunciation of Orion, Illinois. Have you run into other such shibboleths? Like Newark (New-ERK, New Jersey and New-ARK, Delaware). I know I keep saying this, but what a grand adventure to visit all these different small towns.