2004 Bike Trip: Iowa

Leif Johnson — 24 Jun 2004, 18:06

wow, it's been a long time since the last update-ness. i seem to get slack about it during rest days ... must have something to do with the excessive passing-out that happens then. :)

the riding so far

pete and i headed out from saint louis on schedule, more or less, inadvertently riding a century (100 miles, 160 km) our first day out on newly-tuned bikes, ending up at farmersville, illinois. since the hotel in town had closed, we lucked out and got permission to sleep in the town pavilion, heading out the next day and riding another 140 km (on lovely flat windless blacktops) before petering out in atlanta, illinois, just outside bloomington-normal.

we spent a couple days in normal with my friend grace, trying our best to dampen her culture shock of returning from the peace corps in africa to central illinois—a landscape more or less dominated by endless soybeans and corn and decorated with wal-mart, borders, and bars. in these bars (we partook of several while visiting) the music of choice hovers in the metallica-ac/dc-poison area, a stark contrast with those sweet bluegrass tunes of the carolina mountains. such changes.

so, after leaving normal, we headed west on illinois route 9, putting in another 220 km or so in two days to cross the mississippi into fort madison, iowa. many thanks to brynn, my tent and some cookies and letters were waiting there at the post office for us (yay !), in addition to some homemade granola bars from mama (yay !). we headed out once more the next day through some really beautiful country, gently rolling hills dotted with hay fields, corn, and pastures. the past couple days we've just been pushing across southern iowa, battling the winds more each day and wondering when these great plains will ever end ...

paths we've followed

i started noticing in indiana that i had been following the lincoln heritage trail from central kentucky up north into indiana, then west into illinois and north to springfield. it's interesting to think while we're out riding how many people have come and gone before us ... the road we use was laid by someone, probably on top of an old prairie trail, which in turn was probably used for centuries by people and even animals before turning into a real path.

lots of places i've ridden so far have satisfied this condition : the roads around cumberland gap were started in the early 1800s after daniel boone walked along an indian and buffalo trail in the area ; the lincoln heritage trail extends 500 miles from kentucky to illinois, tracing the path of one american family ; the route we currently follow—more or less by accident—is the same one that brigham young led the mormons down on their trek to utah.

it's also interesting to think, somewhat along these lines, that most of the area we've seen so far was once a vast forest, perhaps dotted with pasture here and there. the white settlers in the early 1800s did a bang-up job out in illinois and iowa, clearing thousands and thousands of acres of land to make way for permanent agriculture. often the only remnants of these forests are small state parks and wind breaks of trees between pastures.

the wind blows from the north

today pete and i set out from our campsite knowing that we faced a brutal wind, having battled it for 110 km yesterday across the rolling hills of southeast iowa. riding north from the honey creek state park, we were buffeted this time with a northeasterly gale, bringing down the morale and the leg power often to the 16 km/h range ... ugh ! but finally we chanced on an east-west road and profited from the slight tailwind, rejoicing in the ease of our 32 km/h ride with the transfer trucks. all hail the tailwind !

hopefully we'll continue to ride this wind west another 80 km today, aiming for a state park somewhere on us route 34 ... and also hopefully, the front that looms on the northern horizon will blow south of us tonight, leaving a few gloriously sunny and cool days for the ride to sioux falls, iowa. the plains remain an unexpected challenge, but we're plugging on as well as we can.