I was glancing through pictures I took three months ago of myself in Montreal, the night before I started pedaling on this adventure. It was weird. I felt like that person was me, but from a long, long time ago. Much more than three months. I can’t really explain why, but the difference seemed mostly in my eyes. When I look in the mirror now, I feel like my eyes are showing the wear of my three months on the road. Maybe it’s because I stopped wearing my sunglasses a couple of months ago. They kept getting covered with my sweat and I’d have to clean them every time I stopped moving. Maybe the UV light is burning my retinas. Or maybe the change is from squinting too much without the shades. Or maybe it’s from three months of sweat getting in them and stinging them for hours a day. Maybe I’m losing more weight than I realize, and my scruffly beard is camouflaging its signs on the rest of my face. It’s a little more than just physical though. I feel like those old photos show a naive excitement and some apprehension that’s pretty much gone now. I’m no less excited now. It’s just that now I’m in the swing of things. I’m used to life on the road. There’s no apprehension anymore. I wake up each morning knowing it’s going to be an adventure, that I’m going to meet new people and see something new. I like my new, weathered eyes. They still burn when the sweat gets in them, they still squint when the sun shines, and they still turn upward at the outside edges when I smile while shaking the hand of a new friend.
When I was in Buffalo two months ago I went out with some friends, including my 10th grade English teacher Jeff. I can call him Jeff now because I’m all grown up now. Or at least as much as I’d ever like to be. Anyways, Jeff told me that the three-month mark on any major “commitment” was a big one. That things such as my trip would be made or broken almost exactly three months into it. If I was going to get sick of this trip and decide I didn’t want to do it anymore, it would be before three months was up. If I could last three months, than I could probably last forever. Well, tomorrow, August 10, marks exactly three months since I left Montreal. This thought has been on my mind a lot in the last week. For some inexplicable reason, things have been different since I left Iowa City. It’s mostly that my legs are tired and don’t show the limitless reserves of strength and energy that they did before. I’ve been unmotivated to spend much time on the bike, and most of the time when I am on it, I’m just counting down the miles until I can call it quits. The thought that I’m three months in and maybe I’m subconsciously ready to be doing something else has crept in a lot. But maybe it’s just that I need to change my diet. Maybe I haven’t been drinking enough coffee. Or beer. Or maybe its just that I’ve been dealing with a constant headwind, and I’m always slogging up and over hills. Or maybe its just my body’s way of recovering from the social overload that was RAGBRAI. It’s tough to say, because I’m still just as excited as I was to see Colorado and the Grand Canyon and Baja and Guatemala and Peru and Argentina and everywhere in between as I was before. Honestly I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, but remember I’ve got the option to change course, literally and figuratively, at every moment of every day. I’m doing what I’m doing because I deem it to be more fun than anything else I could be doing. If that changes one of these days, then I’m out. And I won’t feel the least bit of remorse about it. Remember, it’s not about Argentina, and its not about biking. It’s about enjoying every day to the absolute fullest. I’m going to continue to do that while I hang out here in Omaha, Nebraska for a few days, and then recharge my batteries by flying into New York this weekend and visiting some friends, and watching two of them get married. We’ll see what happens after that, but I do still have a strong feeling you’ll be hearing from me down the road, and I’ll have arrived at whatever location that is on two wheels under my own power.
I’ve already spent a lot of time talking about my feelings, and that’s not my usual style. I’m a man, after all. I’m not supposed to talk about my feelings. Part of it is that I’ve had a lot on my mind, and part of it is just that the riding has been fairly uneventful. Except for the night I spent just southwest of Rippey, Iowa. After grabbing a burrito with my RAGBRAI friends James and Melanie in Ames, I hit the road. It was a weird day on the bike, and one which involved a lot of thinking about the preceding subjects. I was counting down the miles between every town, and had no energy or motivation, despite the burrito. But for some reason, I had this strange urge to keep riding until my body just quit on me. Pedal through sunset, through the night, and quite possibly into morning. I could just fall asleep in a ditch or a cornfield wherever I was when my legs stopped moving. I think this urge was motivated by my belief that there was very little excitement between Ames and Omaha, Nebraska. But when I hit Rippey, I stopped for a Gatorade, some pop-tarts, and peanuts. When I got back on the bike I was slightly more motivated and had a bit of strength. Most of all, I was thinking a lot more clearly, and looked forward to cranking out my last eighteen miles to the area on the map I had picked out to camp so I could end my day. The sun was getting low, and I knew my burst of energy wouldn’t last. When I was about ten miles from my day’s destination, I came up to a road closed sign. I wasn’t too worried, because every time a road has been closed in the past there was still a way for bikes to get around, even if it meant going through a bit of grass. It was the “Bridge Out” signs that I had to worry about. Pedaling a quarter mile down the road revealed the fact that the sign should have read “Bridge Out.” There was no way across the Raccoon River here without fording. And I was sure to lose some oxen on this one if I tried. I checked the map and saw that I needed to add another fifteen miles on top of the ten I already had left to the day in order to get where I was going. I was quickly running out of energy and motivation, so I turned some music on, turned around, and started pedaling. This could be an adventure if I could only get in the right mindset, and music helps with that. As I was cranking to the Foo Fighters up an arduous gravel/sand/dirt road, I saw what looked like a lemonade stand to my left. Lemonade sounded pretty good, but the stand was unoccupied. Not surprising considering it was around sunset, and the road I was on probably gets less than one car each hour driving along it. Much less. I put the lemonade out of my mind, but then I thought I heard someone yell to me. It was tough to say with the music on, but then I heard it again. I was a bit down the road at this point and had my momentum going, but I turned around in the off-chance I wasn’t hearing things. I soon saw three women running down the yard and waving after me.
They were even more excited to see me than I was to see them, which is to say quite excited. I introduced myself to Chris, Colleen, and Carol, and explained that if I hadn’t seen the lemonade stand on the front porch, I probably would have kept riding. They explained to me that it wasn’t a lemonade stand, but a Walnut Smelling stand. Was this a common Iowa thing? I asked. They assured me it was one of a kind, the product of two children keeping themselves occupied on a farm in the summer. They invited me into the back yard, where there was a beach-themed party going on for Allan, who just turned 65. They offered me ice water and whiskey, and I took them up on both, downing the former at once and sipping the latter as I met Allan, Kevin, Roger, and Zach. Jake, the proprietor of said Walnut Smelling stand, was riding around the yard on his bicycle. I was feeling quite fortunate for having come across this party in what to me is considered truly the middle of nowhere, especially after they offered to let me camp in the yard. My motivation to pedal any further that day immediately vanished. I still had no idea just how lucky I was to come across these people at this very moment in this place. It was soon revealed that Allan and Kevin were on the board for the local bike paths, and that I was not only on a farm but also a campground catering to bicyclists that had just opened. They even had a bike repair shop! The fact that the three women happened to be walking across the yard into the house at the same time I was pedaling down their completely-out-of-the-way-for-anything-unless-you-live-on-it road and saw me is astounding, and the fact that Chris and Kevin ran a camp catering to bikes and I came across them just as I was truly in need of a place to stay seems too good to be mere coincidence. I spent the evening getting to know my friendly hosts, still in awe of the whole situation. Another spot of coincidence, too- Jake, the Walnut Aroma Dealer, had built a small lego figure he called “Bob 3000,” in honor of Allan for his birthday, whom he called Bob. Don’t ask. Why he chose “Bob 3000” and not “Bob 2000” or “Bob 6491” is anybody’s guess. But before arriving the highlight of my day since Ames was my passing the 3,000-mile mark. I posed for a picture with Jake and Bob 3000, the coincidences now getting too thick to walk through. Then, naturally, I had to see what this Walnut Smelling business was all about. As it turns out, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Jake and his cousin built this stand to entice the dozen people who drive by every day to smell (not eat) one of many unripened walnuts they had picked. It was my lucky day, because the price had been lowered from $2 per sniff to 25 cents. Always ready to jump on a good deal, I tossed a pair of quarters in the jar and helped myself to two lungfuls of now-slightly-rancid walnutty goodness. Certainly an experience you have to have for yourself to understand.
I should explain that the camp, Farmhouse Life, caters to bikes because the Raccoon River Trail is just a few miles away. And rather than a camp, it’s a bit more like an outdoor bed and breakfast. There is a bunkhouse that sleeps 6, an outdoor shower, some covered wooden platforms with tents already pitched, and a few fire rings. Also, one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while- a grain bin (a circular structure probably unfamiliar to anyone who hasn’t spent much time on a farm, myself included) which was converted into a pool house! It even had a solar heater! Rather than try to convey everything that they are about, I’ll point you to their website, www.farmhouselife.com. I’ll just say that if you are ever in western Iowa for any reason, you should stop by, and tell Chris and Kevin I sent you! I stayed in the bunkhouse the night I was there, which was very comfortable and bug free- something of a rarity for me on this trip. I signed the bunkhouse wall amongst dozens of other quotes and names, leaving something I thought up while on RAGBRAI that seemed fitting for the situation- “The long way isn’t always the wrong way!” since if I had taken the direct route from Rippey to my intended camp, avoiding the bridge, I would have spent the night getting eaten alive by bugs while I ate spaghettios from the can. And while I thought there was nothing of interest between Ames and Omaha, here I was with half a dozen new friends who were as excited to see me as I was to see them! The next morning I was treated to a quick cereal breakfast, since I was trying to get on the road early and cover a lot of miles, and hit the road again.
I stopped in Panora to help them celebrate “Panorama Days,” named after the nearby lake, and then ended up at a small county park with a campground. I ate the spaghettios and noodles I would have eaten the day before and fell into a restful sleep. I got up early the next morning and cooked some oatmeal before pedaling again. This was actually the first place I’ve used my camp stove on this trip. My fuel bottle has been empty until now, but I thought I needed it for western Iowa, since towns are becoming smaller and further apart so I grabbed some fuel in Ames before I left, along with some pepper spray to fend off angry canines. That day’s pedaling was rough, partly because of the 90+ degree heat, partly because of the endless hills, partly because of the strong headwind, partly because it was one of the furthest days yet, but mostly because I was feeling weak and unmotivated again. I took a lot of stops for food and drink, but eventually made it to Omaha, where I grabbed a cup of coffee before stopping into one of many local Irish pubs for a well-earned Guinness. Just outside I met Vic and Sam, my companions for the evening. When the night was done I headed to the top floor of the parking garage across the street and spread out my sleeping bag. I was looking for some sort of roof over my head, because there were strong storms in the forecast. I was sound asleep for about 20 minutes before I was roused by a security guard politely telling me I couldn’t sleep there. Still in my half-asleep stupor I packed my things and coasted down and out of the garage. I pedaled around for a few minutes looking for an out-of-the-way place to sleep and eventually came to a police cruiser near the river. I explained my situation and asked for advice, and he told my my best bet was actually right next to where the cruiser was parked, since it was technically a public area that was open all night, but was pretty secluded. I thanked him for the help and rolled out my sleeping bag, which I slept on top of until the sun came up five hours later. I’m now in the same coffee shop I was in last night, and needing a nap. I’m feeling particularly homeless these days, but it doesn’t really bother me. There’s something liberating about the whole thing.
For now I’m going to get out and enjoy Omaha- do some laundry, get a haircut, take a nap, and talk to some strangers. I’ll catch up with you down the road, perhaps after the wedding this weekend.