Small, sweet moments

Wednesday Shawn accompanied me on a hurried bike/MAX train trip to Vancouver, Washington. I was meeting up with my friend Coral, who was going to drive us to Seattle to see Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman perform. My “job” was to keep her awake on the drive home, and then after a few hours’ sleep I would leave early in the morning as she and her husband left for work.

I don’t know how many of my readers are familiar with Amanda (a singer/songwriter who does amusing/odd music) and/or Neil (a wonderful, Newbury award-winning author of novels, short stories, and poetry), but oh, the night was amazing and they were excellent. Lots of music and readings, lots of silliness, the two of them are just adorable together.

It did feel strange to be in a car and go to Seattle and back in less than twelve hours. I think it took Shawn and I, what, three days to get there?

In any case, I left Coral’s house in Vancouver just before dawn, and at first all I could think about was how cold I was!

But then I got on the I-5 bridge, and what a gorgeous sight–the sun was rising just to the south of Mt. Hood. The mountain itself was in silhouette above the Columbia River, and surrounded by oranges and pinks and yellows. I didn’t have a camera with me, but I stopped for a minute to enjoy the view anyway, before getting back on the bike.

I could see the view for a bit even after getting off the bridge, and I was not the only one to be stopped in wonder. I saw two people who’d made the trek out in the early morning with nice cameras, and I saw another cyclist who was leaning on a barrier, chin in hand, still in the saddle, soaking in the view.

And none of us said a word to each other, but I made eye contact as I went by, and smiles were exchanged. And I wondered about the people who drive over the I-5 bridge every morning…do they look over for split seconds to see as much of it as they can? Or do they see this so often that they ignore it?

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Comedy of errors

Last night I had plans to meet up with a friend to see a “ninja” performance by Amanda Palmer. But first I wanted to replace the tube in my rear tire.

I get down to the garage, take my bike off the hook, flip it over, get the wheel out, and remember that my spare tubes are upstairs.

I bring down a spare tube and remember that my levers and patch kit are still upstairs.

I am missing one of my steel tire levers. What the hell?! I kept them in the same place for the entire trip. When did one go missing? How? (As a side note, I love my steel tire levers. Plastic ones make me nervous because I’ve had them break on me, and I often can’t get them to work. Not sure if I have weak hands or what. Metal levers run the risk of scratching/bending your rim, and I’ve had them damage a tire bead on an already-old tire, but knowing I can get the damn tire off fairly easily is very nice.)

The spare tube is leftover from The Big Trip and needs patching. The hole is easy to find, and while the glue sets I wipe down one of my rims. I put the patch on and–wait. WTF. Somehow it’s on upside-down! The orange side is up.

I check a couple more patches in that kit: sure enough, the plastic is coming off easy but not the foil. Good thing I didn’t try to actually patch my tube on Saturday. *sigh* I run back upstairs to grab a different patch kit.

And then back upstairs again to get a different tube, figuring I might as well start over.

And then back upstairs because the hole in this one is really tiny, so I have to fill a sink with water and find the hole that way. Now where is that marker?!

While the glue dries again, I wipe down my other wheel’s rim. Holy crap, they get filthy.

Tube goes in without event, and I happily note that the duct tape boot is holding up fine, but the floor pump is giving me weird numbers on the pressure gauge. Tires do not go from zero to 60psi in one pump. The gauge says 100psi, but this does not feel like 100 psi. I worry that the tube is kinked somewhere, but I feel around and the pressure is even.

I try my frame pump, and it’s still being weird. Maybe it’s just the valve? But it feels okay…so I cross my fingers, put the wheel back in, scrub my hands (I always forget to wear gloves!) and leave the house. And I’m not even really running late! I get to the meetup spot just in time.

I’m definitely going to make sure I carry my pump/working patches/levers, because this tire is on its last miles. The tread is just about gone. And you know? This is the tire I bought just before The Big Trip. Four thousand miles is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering it was the rear tire. Schwalbe Marathons for the win!

Also, as the title character in the newspaper comic Rose is Rose once put it: “All things being equal, the absent-minded just get more exercise.”

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My first randonee!

I finished my first randonee today!

First, what the hell is a randonee? A randonee is a long-distance ride (usually measured in hundreds of kilometers: 100, 200, 800) that is not a race, but you are given a time limit. You have to check in at “controls” where they stamp your card or you answer a question about the surroundings, in order to make sure people ride the whole thing. Some controls have food or beverages, but you are expected to otherwise be totally self-sufficient.

The one Shawn and I did today was 100km (okay, 102, whatever), about 65 miles, which means it’s a populaire. (The wikipedia article on the subject insists that it isn’t a proper randonee/brevet unless it’s over 200km, but I’m not sure how strict that really is.) The start time was 9am and you had to finish by 3:48. In addition, you had to check in at one of the controls within a two-hour window.

Shawn and I had a ride to the start location in Forest Grove, a far-flung west-side suburb. But even then, we had to drag ourselves out of bed at 5:30am. We are not early risers and I am not a morning person (on tour we usually got up around 8am, sometimes later), but I was excited and nervous, which helped me wake up and get ready. We got to the start location just as the sign-in opened up. It was so much fun to see other people arrive, including a handful of people we know. And thankfully, we weren’t the only ones who didn’t ride racing bikes. Plenty of touring bicycles in the crowd, and plenty of older bikes too. And of course, a handful of Surly Long Haul Truckers! Between that and all the Showers Pass gear in the crowd, it was very Portland.

There were sixty people total, and when 9am hit everyone left at once. I had just come back from a last restroom stop and was fumbling with my bag and ended up leaving a minute or two after most of the crowd. On the downside, I generally was in the back of the ride. On the plus side, not that many people had to pass me…

Shawn and I had previously agreed that it was okay to ride separately. Shawn is faster than I am, and while we try to stay together while touring, I didn’t want to hold him back or feel like I was constantly trying to keep up. So I was mostly alone for the first half of the ride. I did ride for short periods with a few other folks, or chatted them up as they passed me, and that was fine. The ride itself went through a lot of beautiful rural Washington County, much of it farmland. There were some lovely views of hills, with some of the trees changing color, everything enveloped in fog and clouds. It was doing that kind of rain that it does for most of the winter here–not a downpour, just a steady constant drip. I was layered enough that I usually didn’t feel cold except for my feet once I was riding, so except for the rain on my glasses (and the constant drip from my nose) I didn’t mind.

Our second control was the one with a time window, and I was a bit alarmed when I realized I’d arrived with only about ten minutes to spare. I ate a little hot food (yay Ed for working the stove!) and had some coffee, and while I was there, my friend Elly (also here) showed up, and we decided to ride together for a while. Turns out we liked riding together, so we kept it up for the rest of the ride, talking about all kinds of things, or just enjoying a companionable silence. (But we mostly talked.)

Near the end of the ride, we were coming up a steepish hill when I realized that my back tire felt squishy and was going “thump, thump, thump.” Gaaaah! I had a flat. I thought it might be a slow leak, but I tried just pumping it back up, and twice it started thumping in less than a mile. Dammit! By then David Parsons (one of the organizers of the ride) had caught up to us. I had a patch kit but not an extra tube, so David kindly lent me a fresh tube. The rear tire still had the thorn-resistant tube I’d put in during the trip, which made it really effing hard to get the bead over the rim. But I prevailed, and found the small shards of glass that were the culprit. David also gave me a small piece of duct tape to cover the hole in the tire, and even pumped it up since my pump is set up for Schraeder valves and the tube was Presta. I do know how to patch my own flats, I swear, and could have booted it with a dollar bill, but letting him help me was faster. Soon enough, the wheel was re-installed and my hands were completely gross from the road grime on my wheel and tire, badly enough that I refused to put my gloves back on lest I make them dirty on the inside, too.

At that point, Elly and I were convinced that we were too late to finish the ride on time, so we took it fairly easy, chatting with David the last few miles. Lo and behold: when we arrived in Verboort, we were informed that we made it with three minutes to spare! Many high-fives were exchanged. There’s a picture of the three of us arriving here.

Shawn and I decided to just start heading home after that, so we rode to Hillsboro, ate a little fast food at Taco Time, then got on the MAX light rail at the end of the west-side line. And now we’re home, and when I’m done writing this, it’s my turn to take a nice hot shower and then I get to be lazy all night and probably go to bed early.

The big thing I noticed was how very different randonneuring is from touring. Sure, the distance we did today would have been a perfectly good day of touring. And we even took similar roads–mostly back roads, a few busier multi-lane roads with bike lanes. However: first of all, we weren’t loaded up–Shawn had a handlebar bag and a saddle bag, like most of the folks there, and I had a single pannier that wasn’t carrying much. Secondly, when we’re touring we take our time. We ride a comfortable speed without pushing too much, we stop a lot and tend to take extended breaks. On this ride, I felt like I was constantly pushing myself to go a little faster. Breaks were a hurried affair, just long enough to eat a small snack and/or pee. And even then, I barely finished in time, although obviously the flat didn’t help.

A true brevet is 200km (about 124 miles), which I think I could do. With some training I think I might be able to do a 300km. I have no plans to pull the longer ones, since they’re sheer endurance–you have to keep up that fast pace over multiple days with very little rest. (People who ride the Paris-Brest-Paris–1200km in ninety hours!!–fall asleep on the side of the road for half an hour naps and sometimes end up hallucinating near the end, or crashing because they fell asleep while riding.)

All in all, it was a fun ride and I’m really glad I went. Plus I got a pin that has the RUSA logo and proudly announces that I finished a populaire!

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A taste of awesome-sauce

Yesterday evening, like many folks, I went to a Halloween party.

My costume was a dust bunny. I wore a floofy petticoat skirt and mismatched gray and white socks and put cornstarch on my face and hair and wore bunny ears.

When I was on my way to the party, I was wearing the navy blue wool coat I wear pretty much all winter. (In this picture I’m wearing it with the same petticoat, plus a skirt.) As I biked past the food carts on SE 12th and Hawthorne, a woman saw me and started singing the theme song for the Wicked Witch of the West.

I laughed and yelled back, “Wrong costume!” but honestly? That lady made my night.

It was also a lot of fun to see all the people going to other parties, even if I couldn’t make out what their costume was. And the weather was warmer than I was expecting, yay!

In other news, I plan to start doing posts about various items I used/took with me on the trip, among other things. If there’s something specific you are curious about, please let me know!

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Chicago, and coming home

The day we’d planned to get to Chicago turned out to be a rather windy one, so Brad and Kim drove us to Joliet, where we caught the METRA train. We have light rail in Portland, only recently did we get a true commuter rail line, which I haven’t been on. The Metra is older, and shares a stop with Amtrak in Joliet. I think it took about an hour to get into Chicago, and it was fascinating to watch the scenery change. Joliet is an hour away by train and is still a suburb of Chicago! We went through a lot of older neighborhoods. Some looked well taken care of, and some, to be honest, looked like what I would expect in Detroit, with lots of boarded-up and falling apart buildings. I’ve never really seen much of that kind of thing in person.

The train station in Chicago was busy busy busy and a bit overwhelming, and it drops you right into the Loop, the busiest part of downtown. And while some of the stuff coming into Chicago looked like my idea of Detroit, downtown Chicago looks like my idea of New York City, which is appropriate considering Chicago is the third largest metro area in the United States. After grabbing a bit of food we decided to hang out near downtown until Critical Mass, since we wouldn’t have time to bike to our hosts’ house to drop off our stuff.

So we rode over to Buckingham Fountain, where I immediately got the theme song to “Married, With Children” stuck in my head. I have not seen that show in probably twenty years, and yet I recognize the fountain from the opening credits. I also observed some of the local squirrels, who were very fat and not afraid of anything.

On our way back to the starting point for Critical Mass, it started pouring rain, harder than I’ve seen on this trip! We hid under some trees and still got wet, and in ten minutes the downpour was over and the sky was mostly clear. We wondered if it would dampen (haha) the enthusiasm of people going to Critical Mass, but I really don’t think it did. We got there fairly earlyish and I’d guess there were at least 500 people on the ride! Holy moly! There were folks on all different kinds of bikes, including a bike gang (I think of folks from Puerto Rico?) with the most amazing blinged-out Schwinn cruisers. The bikes were all perfectly polished, and many had flashing white lights in various places.

Speaking of Schwinns: It seemed like half the bicycles there were Schwinns. Which makes sense when you know that Schwinn was based in Chicago for many decades.

Chicago’s Critical Mass was easily as big as any of the group rides I’ve done in Portland outside of the World Naked Bike Ride, and they take over all the lanes out of necessity, which led to at least one unpleasant confrontation with a driver that I witnessed. But mostly it was fun, just like any group ride. I did have reason to regret riding it fully loaded, as it seemed like every single person wanted to ask us where we were going, and when we said, “Here!” they thought we lived in Chicago ourselves! But I can’t blame people for wanting to talk to us, I know I’d ask the same questions of someone on a group ride loaded up for touring.

About forty minutes into the ride, Shawn realized he had a flat tire, so we ditched Critical Mass and tried to find an L train station. Problem is, the L system was built before people gave a rat’s ass about handicapped accessibility, so when we did find a station, we had to get our bicycles down two flights of stairs: a complicated and unpleasant procedure, considering neither of us are capable of getting the loaded bicycles down stairs without taking almost everything off. We also got confused by the pay kiosks. Thankfully, the trains come frequently, and soon enough we were on our way to our hosts’ home in the neighborhood of Rogers Park.

Paul and Ellen have the kind of apartment that I really wish I could find and afford in Portland: a gorgeous flat in an older building with mostly hardwood floors and tiled bathrooms. Paul and Ellen were excellent hosts and fun people. We spent most nights talking over glasses of wine. Our first night and most of the first whole day we mostly relaxed, although we ventured out that night to REI (our last REI on the trip, yaaay) and got beer and food at a great pub.

On Sunday we went to a monthly bicyclist brunch put on by Dottie of Let’s Go Ride a Bike, where Shawn was the only male. Everyone there was really fun to talk to, and the food was good, and afterward we went outside and everyone got to admire each others’ bicycles. Two of the women there rode Workcycles Azor Omas, and two more rode Linus Dutchis. They both have loop frames and are meant for city riding, with internal gear hubs, upright handlebars, and fenders, but they’re very different bicycles. The Omas are much heavier, but they are also equipped with more stuff–front racks (they both have rear racks), drum brakes, a skirt guard, a double kickstand, a full chain guard (the Dutchi has a partial) and generator lighting.

I really like both bicycles, but I’ve thought about buying a Dutchi, and one woman let me ride hers around a bit before giving it back. What I’d really like is something that weighs less than an Oma, has all the stuff on the Oma, but costs the same as the Dutchi. A girl can dream.

When Shawn and I got home from the brunch, Ellen and I attempted to visit the Frances Willard House a few miles away in Evanston. Frances Willard was a fascinating woman in many ways–she was a suffragette, as well as the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (aka the people who pushed the hardest for Prohibition). She also wrote A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle in 1895, which I read a couple of years ago. The book has a very preachy tone, with over-wrought language, but it’s still a fun book to read! She learned to ride a bike when she was older than most cyclists during the bicycle boom, and she named her bicycle Gladys, for its “gladdening effect.”

In any case, I wanted to visit her house because they have said bicycle on display, but Ellen and I were thwarted–they weren’t open! Even though it was during their open hours! Hmph.

On Tuesday Shawn and did a bunch of tourist things:

First we biked the Lakefront. It was a gorgeous weekday, and oh man, it was beautiful and miraculously uncrowded. Such great views of the city and the lake! There were beaches!

Then we went to Grant Park and looked all around, checking out all the cool stuff. It’s filled with all kinds of public art, including a giant reflective kidney-bean-shaped sculpture called Cloud Gate, where a security guy on a Segway told us we couldn’t walk our bicycles underneath. There’s also a fountain called Crown Fountain that shows fifty-feet-tall rotating pictures of people’s faces via LED’s. The expressions of their faces change, and occasionally water comes out where the person’s mouth is, in such a way as to make it look like they’re spitting a long stream. The reaction of some Asian tourists to this, was almost as much fun as the fountain itself.

After that we visited the Art Institute of Chicago, and oh my god. I’m so glad I did. Our host Ellen has a friend who works there who got us in for free, and we had a couple of hours to explore, but I could have spent all day there (or, even better, many days).

OH MY GOD. The medieval stuff! (I love medieval art like you wouldn’t believe.) The Renaissance stuff! And you could get right up close to it, and stare at brushstrokes. And they had a bunch of paintings I had seen in photos my whole life–Van Gogh, Picasso, a whole damn room, almost, of Monet. I could have stared at any given painting for an hour, and yet I know there was more to look at. I was just about hyperventilating.

What might be the best part, though, was Chagall’s America Windows. I think because I wasn’t anticipating it? I don’t know. But I could have sat there all day, soaking up all that blue light. The more I looked at it, the more I saw. It just took my breath away. It’s so beautiful.

After meeting up with Shawn (who had checked out different exhibits) and doing a quick peek at the gift shop, we sat outside on the steps, and I just felt kinda overwhelmed. It was an odd sensation, as though all the stuff I’d looked at hadn’t quite settled into my brain. I hadn’t processed it yet. Yeah, I have to go back someday.

Once we got our bicycles, we went to the John Hancock Center, the sixth-tallest building in the United States. Now, the building has an observation deck on the 100th floor, but it’s almost $20 a person. So instead we went to a lounge on the 96th floor and spent about half that total on one beer and a tiny soda, and watched the sun setting over Chicago. From there we could see for miles and miles and miles, city as far as the eye could see…we also saw that three of the buildings in downtown Chicago have swimming pools on top!

From there we went out to a late dinner and a couple of beers with Shawn’s friend Nate, at a bicycle-themed, vegan-friendly placed called the Handlebar. I finally got to try a deep-fried pickle with vegan ranch, and it was amazing.

Chicago is a very bike-y city, which I find impressive under the circumstances. Yeah, there were lots of bike lanes and sharrows and “share the road” signs. But everyone on the road is really aggressive! Both drivers and cyclists. Everyone, it seems, is always honking. The traffic is bad enough that cyclists tend to stop for red lights (because otherwise they’ll just get run over), but on one stretch of road, I had a dozen cyclists pass me, sometimes within inches, and none of them rang a bell or said “on your left.” On one downtown block, Shawn and I were taking the lane, and at the next intersection a driver argued with us about it and said we were in her way. While Shawn and I were walking, someone stopped at a red light, and then went, even though Shawn and I were still in the crosswalk with the light in our favor, and we had to run to avoid them.

Also, like many cities that get snowy winters, the roads were utter shit. Pothole-central. If I lived there, I would ride a bicycle with really fat tires. (Studded, in the winter.)

On the upside, it’s very flat. On the downsides, distances were more than I was expecting. Chicago isn’t wide, but it’s loooooong. From Rogers Park (where we were staying) to downtown was something like ten miles. Between that and traffic, it felt like it took forever to get anywhere!

Chicago is a city in a way that Portland just isn’t. Chicago makes Portland look tiny. I felt like a country bumpkin sometimes. It’s also far more racially integrated. Portland isn’t as white as its reputation would lead you to believe, but it’s still whiter than Chicago, and there’s a lot of de facto segregation. Chicago also felt older and much more industrial.

I feel drawn to visit Chicago again sometime, perhaps for longer. I think because it was just so different from any place I’d ever been.

On Wednesday Shawn and I packed up our things and put them on the bike one more time, and after a stop at Trader Joe’s to buy as much food as we could cram into the bags we planned to carry on, biked down to the Amtrak Station. It took longer than we expected, so we were almost frantic to get our bikes boxed up. And I’d never put my touring bike in a box…turns out my nice wide-swept handlebars with their bar-end shifters, even sideways, weren’t going to fit without a good fight. Part of the box tore until we bent the sides out a little. We were so stressed out about getting everything done fast enough, so of course we get upstairs, breathless, only to find that the train was forty-five minutes behind schedule.

Shawn and Paul and Caroline had planned it so that all four of us (plus Paul’s dad in Red Wing) would be on the train home together! We passed Paul and Caroline waiting to get into their car as we went towards our car.

The Empire Builder takes two days to get from Chicago to Portland, a distance it took me and Shawn four months to ride (although we did take a much more circuitous route). Paul and Caroline, because they’d taken the Northern Tier ACA route, had followed much of the train’s route eastward. So we both had the strange experience of covering weeks of distance in hours. Matter of fact, we realized that every hour on the train covered about a day’s worth of riding. It was sorta surreal.

I wish we’d been able to afford a sleeper car, but other than that, it was a very pleasant ride. We spent lots of time hanging out in the lounge car, or reading in our seats, watching the scenery go by. We snacked whenever we felt like it. We drank a few beers that Paul’s father Jerry sneaked onto the train. We were amused by drunk people late at night in the lounge car, especially the first night. We got off the train in Minneapolis to stretch our legs. When we went through Glacier it was dark, but I was able to just barely see part of the road Shawn and I took to Marias Pass. Occasionally we’d pass people’s backyards and they’d wave to us, which was fun. Our last morning on the train we came up the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, which was beautiful even in the misty rain.

As the train pulled into Portland, and the sights got familiar (Look! It’s the Fremont Bridge!), and we packed up all our things, I found myself growing really nervous. I don’t know why!

As we stepped into the train station, we got a pleasant surprise: a group of our friends were there with a “Welcome Home” sign! I couldn’t believe it! It was as good as getting a surprise birthday party! Everyone hugged and talked and after a bit, the four of us put our bicycles back together, a few people went back to their jobs, and the rest of us went to Los Gorditos. And then Shawn and I biked to the apartment I’d lived in before we moved in together, where we’re staying for now with my old roommates, and we were officially home.

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Catching up

So, um, it’s been a month since I’ve posted. I’m a terrible blogger.

Here’s the thing: We’ve been home (as in, in Portland) for over two weeks.

I meant to post about it in Chicago, and never did. And then I figured I’d post on the train home, but the Empire Builder route doesn’t yet have wi-fi. Which makes sense when you think about it–that route goes through places where there’s not even cell service, for pete’s sake.

And then I was home, and distracted, and just putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off. And it just got more and more ridiculous. There are a number of things I’ve wanted to post about, but I couldn’t, ’cause I hadn’t posted about the end of the trip yet!

But I’m posting now! (Yaaay!)

The rest of THE BIG TRIP! Well, the highlights thereof, in any case.

After La Crosse, we spent a day biking along the Mississippi River, which was beautiful. There were also a bunch of historical markers on the side of the road noting a battle between the local Native tribe and white settlers from back in the day. I suppose you can guess how that one ended. Many of the markers were old and used rather racist (or just old-fashioned) language, and next to them sometimes were newer signs basically saying, we kept these here because the signs themselves are a part of history, please excuse their language.

In Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, we stayed in our third motel room of the trip, which we could (sorta) afford because we’d mostly been staying with folks or in their backyards as opposed to campgrounds. The next day we met the guy at the local bike shop, who was fun to chat with.

Our host in Anamosa, Iowa, gave us a ride part of the way in. The biking was pretty enough (in a really hilly and lots of cornfields kinda way) but the headwind was brutal! We got to meet some local folks in the nearby bar. Shawn made jokes about wanting to have samosas and mimosas in Anamosa.

From there we went to Iowa City, where we stayed with Cody and Steve of 30th Century Bikes. Iowa City is a cute town (with an excellent book store and a grocery co-op), but the university is definitely the biggest thing around, and riding through downtown on a football game night was entertaining.

Shawn and I gave a presentation on our tour that was a lot of fun, and Cody and Steve were nice enough to give our bicycles a quick tune-up. They also let us stay in their super-sweet loft bedroom. (Part of me wants a similar set-up, but the rest of me knows I am a klutz, and that sooner or later I’d just fall off the ladder or miss it entirely or something.) And we got to go to a party run by artsy folks who were making pizza!

I also feel that I must note that while I was there, I bought the new issue of Bitch Magazine, an awesome feminist magazine. Several months ago they published a short critique of “bicycle chic” that really pissed me off, and I’d written an email to them saying why it bothered me–the article made it sound like dressing fashionably on a bicycle was OMG Dangerous! and that bicycle chic blogs were irresponsible for posting images of helmet-less women in heels and skirts on bikes. Um…it’s not that hard to bike in heels (it’s certainly easier than walking in them) and people are not dying left and right from errant scarves or skirt hems. But whatever.

I can remember sending them the email, too, in the house of a warmshowers host in Missoula, drinking Moose Drool (that would be a beer). How time flies!In any case: in Iowa City I bought the most recent issue of Bitch, and they’d published my letter! A shortened version of it, but that’s okay. Woohoo!

After we left Iowa City, there was a really cool night where we were biking in the dark to a warmshowers host after we crossed into Illinois. We were biking past lots of cornfields, and there wasn’t a lot of car traffic and it wasn’t cold, and I wasn’t too tired, and we kept hitting patches of mist, and it was just amazingly peaceful somehow. It would have been totally creepy if I’d been alone, though.

The next day we woke up to pouring rain and wind. We tried waiting it out, but it was no use! So we ventured out anyway and hoped for the best. Hahahahaha. I have nice long fenders, and yet, they dumped water into my shoes. I don’t have rain pants, so my legs were wet. My rain jacket is worn out, so that leaked. It wasn’t long before we were cold and soaked.

We were on our way to visit our friends Brad and Kim in Ottawa, Illinois; who we knew would be happy to give us a ride in. So we stopped at a grocery store with a deli seating area and called them up. But alas, they were hosting our friend Matt and were already a few drinks into the day. And then Kim generously offered to get us a hotel room nearby. Excellent! We braved those last few miles to a soulless hotel room near the airport just outside the “Quad Cities,” and enjoyed their hot showers, huge bed, cable TV, and wi-fi, with our stuff spread out all over the room, drying.

The next day Brad came to pick us up, with Matt in tow, only to realize he’d left the bike rack for the car at home! He picked up a used one at a local bike shop (yay smartphones) that was exactly like the one he had at home, put our bikes on it, and off we went to Brad and Kim’s house.

Brad is someone we knew from Portland, but like most of our friends he didn’t grow up there, and on one of his visits back home he fell in love with a girl he’d known in high school, Kim. Kim has a daughter who herself is now in high school, and Brad’s job is moveable, so he’s living in Ottawa with Kim and her daughter until she graduates. They had already hosted Paul and Caroline, but our visit overlapped with Matt’s. So there were five of us total, and it felt like a small reunion of Portland folks!

Brad and Kim are fun people, and many beers and margaritas were consumed over the course of several days. I also got to see people sky-dive, as there’s a sky-diving school behind their house! It was fun to see tiny dots come out of the plane, and then they’d open their parachutes (which made a cool sound), and drift down to the ground, only to get back in the plane and do it again. And I got to meet their sweet chihuahua, Julio! I could not get over how cute that dog was.

From Brad and Kim’s we went straight to Chicago, but that deserves another post. Which I promise to write right now. But I’ll post it tomorrow.

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Minneapolis, plus some news

So this post is probably going to be shorter than it would have been if I’d written it, oh, a week ago!

From Duluth we took the Munger rail-trail for a couple of days, and really enjoyed the ride. Our second night out we stayed with Mary in Harris. She did organized rides with her husband for years and sewed fabulous quilts out of the t-shirts commemorating the rides. She also had a recumbent trike that she let me ride around the driveway, man, those things are fun!

Minneapolis treated us very well, we stayed with John, someone Shawn knew through zines. We did a presentation at Freewheel on bicycle touring. Shawn’s done the presentation plenty of times, but never with me. I was really nervous at first but I think we did okay. Later that night we went out for beers and food with some of the fun cyclists of Minneapolis and just had a really good time.

I do not think I could hack the winters there. Or rather, I don’t think I could manage to continue riding a bicycle in that kind of weather. Yikes! Mad props to Twin Cities folks who brave the kind of cold that freezes your eyeballs.

Our first night out of Minneapolis we stayed in our friend Paul’s father’s condo in Red Wing. We had it to ourselves, and took the opportunity to watch TV–something Shawn and I pretty much never do. When we visited the small natural foods store in town, an employee there said, “Oh, another cycle touring couple came through just a couple weeks ago!” I replied, “Paul and Caroline?” “Yeah!” Paul and Caroline are friends of ours from Portland, doing the Northern Tier ACA route for their honeymoon, and of course they stopped in Red Wing, since it’s where Paul is from and where his dad lives. The shop employee knew Paul’s dad too.

The next night was in Wabasha, in another home with an absent resident. The next day we visited the National Eagle Center, as well as the small local bike shop, where we talked about the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour.

A couple days later we were in La Crosse, which I already posted about.

So! Some big news! As Shawn mentions in his blog, we’ve decided to cut the trip shorter than planned. We won’t make the east coast after all.

And yeah, part of me is sad about it. But honestly, I’d rather go less distance and really enjoy our travels then make our goals but feel hurried the whole time. We plan to “finish” the trip in the next couple of years, too.

I admire people who can travel indefinitely, but Shawn and I have realized that we are not those people. We both miss having a place to call home (I especially miss having a kitchen and really cooking), we miss our friends, and we don’t relish the idea of camping as it gets colder. Thankfully, we both realized we were tired of traveling at about the same time.

We’re not totally done yet, there’s still a few places we’re going to visit, like Chicago. And I plan to keep posting!

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