As of three days ago, I’m back on the bike. Hawaii was fun, but I’ll save the photos from there for another time. Now I’ve gone from sleep deprivation due to too many activities with the wedding party to sleep deprivation due to needing more sleep than there’s time for thanks to how much more rest my body wants while cycling.
I sped across Illinois against headwinds in two days, worried that this weather pattern was a sign of things to come (not to mention the 90 degree temperatures, a new development since the first stage of the ride). Bike tourists hotly debate whether or not riding west across the country is a guaranteed way to have headwinds the majority of the time. Certainly in the Great Plains, you’re at the mercy of winds that have no landscape features to change their direction or give them pause. However, since I crossed into Iowa, the winds have reversed direction and propelled me westward – when I’m riding westward – at a comfortable pace.
On the other hand, my longest day of the trip to date was from Chicago to a Warmshowers host in rural Illinois, outside the belt of suburban sprawl that surrounded the city for the better part of the day. This day’s ride was extended by 10.6 miles thanks to my forgetting my camera on Monica and Steve’s counter when I left, due to not sleeping enough. The forced backtracking did some serious damage to morale, and that along with the new heat and the mild sleep-deprivation headache made day 1 back on the bike into quite a 98.7 mile trial – so much so that I didn’t even have the energy, arriving after sunset, to ride the extra 1.3 miles to make it a full century.
Fortunes have improved. I reached Iowa, for one; rolling over the Mississippi after a tough day brought the excitement of a new state (#7) and a new geographic milestone. Also, what I’ve heard about Iowa has been good – the riding is great and the people are friendly, is the talk. Even when not on an established bike route, you’ll likely be able to roll into most small towns and camp in the town park or a similar spot after asking around a bit. I plan on trying this for the first time tomorrow.
I was greeted by the new state by the chatty staff and patrons of the diner where I went for dinner (I have to remember not to eat burgers any time there is the option not to. Often there is no such option). A couple grandparently folks asked about my trip and shared stories of going down the Grand Canyon on mules in their day. When I finished the meal I was informed they had already paid for it. Iowa quickly shot up in the rankings of the “best state” contest for this trip.
It maintained that progress when the next day featured a brisk northeast wind, making my west-southwest-direction the best one I could have chosen. I camped at the bottom of a dam near Iowa City with Warmshowers hosts who’d invited me to join them – great conversation and more of the scoop on Iowa cycling. They were RAGBRAI veterans – that’s the annual madhouse in which no fewer than 20,000 people on bikes descend on Iowa town after Iowa town in 45-75 mile increments, exploding the towns’ population for a night and somehow finding space to sleep, then moving on from the Missouri to the Mississippi.
I did a short day today, to Cedar Rapids where I had contacted another Warmshowers host but hadn’t heard back in time. I wanted a rest day to make sure my right ACL was not going to wear out, but it felt fine all through today’s ride. Which ride was hilly – at first I was thinking of describing this part of Iowa as Pennsylvania Lite, but at times the Lite began seeming unnecessary. I actually had to walk up a hill. The middle of the state should be flat, followed by more hills near the Missouri, followed by very flat Nebraska (an obscure state you might know as North Kansas). I’m actually aiming for a long rail trail there which should take me through the mind numbing flat farm country and into some vestiges of prairie and then part of the Sand Hills. But more on Nebraska’s scenic secrets later, when I actually get there.
I should mention my experience in Cedar Rapids. I got a flat tire just before the Warmshowers host and walked the last mile and a half, and googled the nearest shop. I lucked out with the brand new Goldfinch Cyclery downtown. I spotted a model bike in the window with Revelate bikepacking gear, and guys inside working on Surly and Trek touring bikes. Good sign. They turned out to be hardened tourists and gravel-road riders as well, and we spent a while talking about bike and bike touring stuff. What better topic? Especially as they gave me lots of tips on the way to and through South Dakota. Then, they didn’t charge me for the tube and patch I had come for (thanks and a shout out to Andy, Logan and Thad), and directed me to a very nice bike trail that took me right along the river back to my digs for the night. Here I am trying to get this post wrapped up in a reasonable amount of time so I can get more mich-needed sleep.