Day Five: Iowa City to Muscatine

This was a short day for us in which we made our way out of Iowa City to get back on course. We’d gotten advice from bikers on the best routes to Muscatine and, as we left, we noticed the bank sign reading 88 degrees at 9:00. (Everyplace we stopped, the temperature was the main topic of conversation.) We didn’t feel rushed (with only 45 miles to go) but the roads didn’t really have good shoulders and from time to time, big trucks blew by us, so it still had a kind of intensity.  It was a beautiful Iowa day that reminded us of Grant Wood paintings. But it was hot, and the gnats are really amazingly annoying if you stop the bike. We made our way into Muscatine and straight to a bike shop we’d heard about from friends. Not because we needed work done, necessarily, but I wanted my brakes looked at and some cleaning and lubing done. I don’t think we’ll see another bike shop for a long time, and our experiences yesterday just made me want to have someone else look them over.  The shop is Harper’s Bicycling and Fitness, and the elder Mr. Harper is a legend in Iowa biking. His son Greg looked over our bikes while we walked across the street for fish tacos and Coronas. The Harpers have a great collection of antique velocipedes among the shiny new Treks. I picked up a couple more tools and tire patches (and something called Bug Soothe which is supposed to keep the gnats away) and then Mr. Harper hopped on a bike and led us to the trail that runs along the river and up to our hotel.

It was fun to be met by our friends Lynne and Nancy for dinner downtown, and they were probably the last familiar faces we’ll see for some time.

Tomorrow, it gets real. We cross the bridge into Illinois and will begin biking into completely new (to us) country. Our plan is to cycle south on the Illinois side of the river and camp down near a town called Dallas City, Illinois. It’s about a seventy mile day. Then next day, we ride to Hannibal, MO, and take our first day off. As we move farther south, the whole thing seems like it is gaining momentum, and when we tell people we are from Minnesota, it seems to make more of an impression.

Day Four: Marquette to … Iowa City

So we started today with breakfast and coffee in the lovely river town of Marquette and climbed on our bikes and pedaled hard up yet another hill. Our route was to take us from there to Dyersville, IA, with a stop for lunch in Elkader.

There was a little rain, and a constant wind, and we were more tired than expected…but we pushed through Monona and Farmersburg and ended up in Elkader for lunch. It’s a thriving, picturesque small town, a county seat, and we picked up some sandwiches and ate outside while listening to both church bells and sirens ring at noon.

When we packed up our bikes, Dan noticed that my back tire was flat. Pancake flat. So we unloaded everything and he did the whole take-tire-off-and-take-the-tube-out thing, put a new tube on, and inflated it partway, and then headed over to the Sinclair station that was a couple blocks away to fill the tire fully. We had the delightful company of Eddie, the gas station owner, asking questions and telling stories as Dan worked on my bike and I hauled our gear over from the park on the Turkey River.

We said goodbye to Eddie and headed out of town (on another steep hill, natch) and when we got to our turn about two miles out, I realized my tire was flat AGAIN. And now after three flats in four days, we were out of replacement tubes. We made calls to AAA to see if we could get picked up (they have a bike service) and we were in the wrong zone for that, though they would drive us 100 miles to the bike shop in Muscatine at $6/mile if we wanted. So Dan rode back into town to see if he could find someone to drive us to a bike shop at a better rate.

Enter the lovely Tanya, whose husband Cletus owns the small engine shop in Elkader, who had a truck and needed to get over to Central City for her daughter’s softball game and who was willing to drive us to Muscatine, our destination for Thursday, where there is a bike shop. She and Dan picked me up just in time to keep me from going crazy from the swarms of gnats at the side of the road, getting our gear in the truck, and starting to drive east.

We quickly realized that we might have better luck going to Iowa City, which was closer, and so she took us there, dropping us off at The Broken Spoke bike repair shop after a two hour drive. She was AMAZING, a retired nurse and mom and exchange student host and the time went very quickly.

So we said goodbye to Tanya at the bike shop and now we were at the mercy of Michael, the bike repair guy, and he had a steady stream of customers he knew by name. When he got to us he asked to look at the wrecked tubes and figured out that the tubes were rubbing against tape inside of the tire rim. He replaced the tape with cloth on both rims, got the tires on bead, and sent us on our way through the University of Iowa campus after a spirited discussion about biking in Minneapolis vs. Iowa City..

This turned out to be the worst and the best day of this trip so far. Worst because we knew we had a mechanical problem that needed to be fixed and had limited capacity to do so, with technicians many miles away…plus we were weary, and hot, and the bugs were unrelenting. Best because so so many people were kind to us and helped us to get on our way again, and tonight in Iowa City (where we did not plan to be) we walked across campus and had a lovely meal and afterward chatted with the manager at the Prairie Lights Bookstore, Robert, who is a cyclist, and who helped us to map out a route to get to Muscatine tomorrow, and then we stopped for a drink on our way back to the hotel at a candlelit table at the Clinton Street Social Club, and our server Kailee comped us the beignet dessert and wished us well on our journey to New Orleans.

Finding someone to drive you two hours in a truck with two bikes and a bunch of gear is no easy task, and my thanks goes to the Elkader “why dontcha try” network for that. Finding someone who had time in his busy shop to quickly and expertly diagnose and fix a quirky design problem, also not easy, and I thank Michael for that. And finding that at the end of this stressful day, my beloved and I are laughing and grateful and planning for what’s next, I thank Dan many times over for that.

For of our planning, we know the unexpected will happen, and we will figure it out. Onward to Muscatine tomorrow.