Day Two and Three Bike Around Missouri – Macon and Moberly

We rode from Perry to Macon on Tuesday and from Macon to the lovely town of Moberly in the rain Wednesday. We woke Tuesday in the Perry town park and had a large breakfast from the local food truck (which has been traveling with us and feeding us well.)

We rode west, through Mark Twain State Park and by the large, meandering and beautiful Mark Twain Lake and near his birthplace in Florida, now part of the park. I would like to have stopped in, and maybe we’ll swing by when we get back in the car. That, or go to Hannibal for a growler of his namesake beer.

We wound up day two in Macon and camped by a small pond in the fairgrounds. A shuttle was taking people into town for dinner and after showers, we rode in. Macon is bigger and also less charming than Perry, the downtown full of abandoned buildings and a little sad. We couldn’t find a place to eat and ended up shuttling to the edge of town, and got fried chicken, potato salad and a bottle of wine for a picnic by our pond. We later heard that there was a good restaurant out there on the strip, but it was too late for us.

Every night, the BAM organizers have a regional band for us and they have been great. We’ve noticed that the evening shows bring out the neighbors and townspeople, which is fun to see.

At our lunch stop on Tuesday, we struck up a conversation with a guy and mentioned that we were from St. Paul. He asked if we knew of a venue in Minneapolis called the Hook and Ladder. We do, and have been there often. He (Dennis) said he was in a band called the Haymakers out of Wichita, Kansas that did a show there in December. I remembered the show immediately – and when I asked him what he played – baritone mandolin, a huge, guitar sized mando – it came back to me even more clearly. His band is awesome and did a bill with our friends Dusty Heart, and Molly Maher and Erik Koskinen. Because I can be/am corny, I remembered going to their merch table just to tell them that my favorite album title was “As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls” (an old Pat Metheny record) and the guys in the band at least pretended to be amused. Anyway, if you get a chance to hear the Haymakers out of Wichita, do – they are great and they have a long distance cyclist and a real nice guy playing a very large mandolin.

It is the nature of a ride like this that you meet interesting and nice people. We also rode for a while with a fine man named Steve who had recently been treated surgically for thyroid cancer – I couldn’t believe he was already out doing such a physical event so soon. He and I talked for a long time and I learned that his wife was the masseuse traveling along with the crew. Lisa and I will be seeing her at the end of Thursday’s ride for massages.

We began this week not knowing a soul and now feel like we have made great friends.

The next day (Wednesday) was predicted to be rainy and it didn’t disappoint. Fortunately, we were mostly packed up before it got bad, but it did rain pretty much the entire way to Moberly, which is the biggest town on our trip. Riding in the rain isn’t terrible once you accept that you’re going to be wet. We dressed warmly and wore our bright orange Showers Pass jackets, the closest we’ll probably ever get to matching his and hers apparel.

Lisa and I rode closer together than is typical for us and had long conversations. We stopped ten miles in for breakfast at the 3 36 cafe, and sat with the local farmers who gawked at us briefly and then went back to their morning chat while Fox News played on the tv in the corner. Several guys greeted us as they left.

It turned out to be a very nice, very wet day, our favorite of the week so far. The rain ended midafternoon and after a hot shower, we shuttled into town for dinner at Lula’s, a tiny diner with amazing food. We ate at the bar served by the charming Dana and shared a grilled tuna steak and the biggest baked potato I’ve ever seen.

After dinner, waiting for the shuttle to come around, we chatted with a young family from Centralia who’d come to Moberly for their eight year old son’s baseball game (rained out.) The dad ended up offering to drive us back to the park where we are camping and we accepted, rather than wait for the single, very busy shuttle.

We returned to hear a three piece bluesy band playing “Big River” just as we walked in, and we cheered as the singer sang “St. Paul Minnesota”

What an awesome day, the last one of this sixty seventh year of my lovely and blessed life.

Day one Bike Around Missouri (BAM)

I slept so well last night. It must have been the discordant frog chorus that lulled me all night long. We had to have our bags (one bag of camping gear and one of clothes) loaded on the truck by 7:30. We are not exactly morning people, as some of you know, but everyone gets up early on these rides and so did we. We were on the road at 7:20.

The day was nearly perfect: cloudless and not too hot – I don’t think it hit 80 – the only downside was a persistent and robust wind from the north. Columbia is about halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, so I guess this is central MO. Which might explain the name of Centralia, which we rode near. (Footnote: not a dis on Missouri, but not very original with the town names. Last year we rode through Louisiana, Missouri. On this trip, we’ll be in or near Mexico, Paris, Santa Fe, and Florida as of today.)

From Mexico, at the halfway point, to the end at Perry, we rode pretty much constantly into the aforementioned wind. The landscape was like MN/IA farm country – pretty, rolling hills, a few that were steep – my favorite had a cemetery at the top, appropriately. “Uphill and into the wind” as they say.

Lisa kind of buried her lede in yesterday’s post. Folks, she is two weeks out from a total hip replacement and riding 300 miles through this country. She is amazing.

We pulled into the little town of Perry (pop 693) around 2:00 and set up the tent, got my bike tweaked, took showers and recharged the many electronics we now carry – watch, bike computer, phones, lights, and a big battery pack for when we are away from power.

After showers, we rode the BAM Tram back uptown with Jack and his dog – and he gifted us with Bud Lights (which are a perfect way to rehydrate after a day on the bike) and listened to music and walked around downtown (uptown) Perry before retiring to the campsite for jambalaya and more local music.

Lisa just said “everyone should come to rural America” and maybe she is right.

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Happy New Year!

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Since actual New Year’s Day, we’ve been to South Africa, got snowed in in Red Wing, Minnesota at the Big Turn Music Fest, and did a LOT of snow shoveling.

Now that it is March, we are looking at the coming season of biking and nice weather adventures. Dan got out this weekend for two 30 mile rides around town, dodging potholes, icy patches and dirty piles of melting snow.  It was wonderful to be back on the bike even under those conditions.

We are making some plans for the summer which you will hear more about in coming posts.  The first will be the Bike Around Missouri – a 300 mile, five day ride around central Missouri.  We’ll actually come pretty close to Hannibal, so that will be fun.  Also, this ride will be fully supported by our friends at Pork Belly Ventures (our outfitter when we rode RAGBRAI in 2017.)  Pork Belly provides some amazing amenities, including hot showers in a customized semi trailer, and a beer truck at the end of every day…and great music every night. So, as Lisa said, “It will be a training ride” since we don’t really have any worries and the individual days are not that long (daily average of about 60 miles.)  That will be in the second week of June (Dan will celebrate a birthday while on that trip.)

The second trip of the summer may be a bit more challenging:  we are planning on riding from our house in St. Paul to Chicago on the last days of July, arriving in time for the Lalapalooza music festival which starts on August 1.  We’ve booked our hotel in Chicago, and will be buying tickets for the festival soon.  We do, however, still need to do some work on the route.  I think we’ll follow the river down to LaCrosse, and then take advantage of Wisconsin’s extensive series of bike trails to get us over to the Milwaukee area and then follow the lakeshore into the city.  We’ll enjoy the big city for a couple days, and then take the Amtrak Empire Builder back to St. Paul.

More to follow on those ideas, but for now, let us wish you all a happy new fair weather biking season, safety and most of all, adventures!

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Ending summer

When I was about fifteen, a surfer movie came out called Endless Summer, and I loved it. It made me wish I’d been born in Southern California instead of Northern Iowa. But I eventually came to accept that my roots are deep in this place where summer ends rather dramatically and the green things dry up and the temperature drops and the leaves fall and need to be raked.  At the end of summer in my part of this country, the harvest comes, and it is a time of celebration.  September is my favorite month, beginning with the State Fair, bringing cool nights and some healing rains after the heat of July and August.

Summer officially ended last Saturday evening with the autumnal equinox.  At that moment, Lisa and I were sitting by a fire on the shore of Lake Pepin, a large, wide section of the Mississippi River at Lake City, Minnesota.  Lake Pepin is a popular spot for sailing and is said to be the birthplace of water skiing.  Our 80 mile bike trip down there capped off a remarkable three weeks during which we closed down a remarkable summer.  We were experiencing the last of a series of events which truly were a confluence of the river, music, biking and friendship.

On the second Saturday in September, we hosted our ninth nearly annual backyard concert – during which our sloped yard becomes an amphitheater and a musician or band we admire performs for our friends and neighbors.  The show is a benefit for our favorite environmental organization, Friends of the Mississippi River.  FMR advocates for the protection of the Mississippi within the Twin Cities metropolitan area.  We book the performer, invite our friends, family and neighbors, fill a canoe with beverages, and provide a table to hold the many gifts of food that everyone contributes.  It has become a highlight of the summer for us, and we’ve been able to introduce our guests to musicians and to the work of FMR, and as a recognition of this too-often-taken-for-granted resource from which most of us get our water (and, remember, your body is 80% water). Lisa and I walk, run, bike, and drive across the Mississippi River every day, most often on the high Lake Street bridge from which we can see the gleaming buildings of downtown Minneapolis, the rowers down on the water and the gorge itself, lined with forest and cliffs.  It is beautiful, and many times we’ve been there as the bright moon shone down on us, or as an eagle or two circled over the river looking for fish.

Our show this year featured the music of the delightful Lucy Wainwright Roche, who was on tour in the region (with her dog Maeby) and who responded quickly to our invitation to play for the fundraiser.  The evening was perfect, and we had more people sitting on the hillside than ever before, and they contributed more generously than ever before, raising over $4,000 for FMR.  We couldn’t have been happier with the evening that felt as though it was the celebration of the end of this adventurous summer.

And then last week we attended the FMR annual gala at a beautiful event space in downtown Minneapolis, celebrating their 25th anniversary as an organization with a variety of artists speaking to the theme “The River Inspires.”  It was a stormy night and we drove through a downpour to the party.  We’d invited our great friends Tom, Joe and Jill to join us, making it an even better evening as we were audience to poetry, art,  storytelling, and music inspired by the Mississippi.

Our friends at FMR had asked us to compile a playlist of river songs to close out the evening.  Making a playlist of our favorite river songs wasn’t easy – not because it is hard to find music about the river, but because there is so much – after all, the Mississippi has been a musical highway and an inspiration forever.  Lisa and I worked on it together and over a few weeks came up with a list that we called “River Stories.”  Some of the stories are happy (Greg Brown’s “Mississippi Serenade”) and some are pretty melancholy (Lissie’s “Oh Mississippi.”)  It contains Delta blues and songs about the floods and storms that have destroyed so many places and lives over time as well as songs about the spiritual river – “I’m going to lay down my heavy load, down by the riverside.” Through all the songs, the Mississippi keeps flowing, and we give thanks for the opportunity to sit on the banks and watch and meditate.  As Bob Dylan writes,

But this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow

The list began to acquire a kind of logic – we started at the north, with local musicians, and worked our way south – from Peter Ostroushko to Greg Brown to Pokey LaFarge to Bessie Smith and James Cotton and down to Aaron Neville.  It turned out to be a fun and creative experience.  Here it is if you’d like to listen (if it doesn’t play, or only samples from here,  open with Spotify to hear the whole song.)

And then last Saturday morning, we woke up to get on our bikes, packed with the tent, sleeping bags and a few clothes for one last overnight biking adventure along the river.  In this part of the country, the nights (and days) start getting pretty cool in September, and there were not many more weekends that we could attempt this trip.  We rode south on exactly the same route as we did last May 20, replicating the first day of our long ride.  It was very different, and so much the same – the hills had not gotten smaller!

In May, the corn was just getting started – it wasn’t more than a few inches high.  Now it is nine feet tall and golden brown and dry, the leaves rustling and crackling in the wind.  A few farmers had started to harvest.  Pumpkins are big and orange and we saw a large truck full of them on its way to a store somewhere.  In May, the lilacs were blooming and now the leaves were falling.  In May, we had no idea what lay ahead.  Now, we were full of memories from the summer.

We rode along this beautiful stretch of the river in the sun and wind and thought of Lucy Wainwright Roche’s song, “Last Time” –

Between forever and one day there is the finest line

And we knew this was maybe the last long ride in a remarkable year, and that we are ready to move into a quieter season, with more time inside, perhaps by a fire in the fireplace, trying to stay warm, day dreaming of next summer’s adventures.

Would you do it again?

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Almost as soon as we arrived in New Orleans, people started asking us if we would be doing a trip like this again.  In the first few days, my answer was quick and certain – NO.  Then it became more conditional – “well, not self supported” or “well, not that far.”  Then it became even more open – “Sure, we might go out for a week or so…” We even started a list of places we want to ride, and now are hoping to get out for an overnight trip before the summer is over.

How did that happen – evolving from NO to maybe to YES?  We’ve been home for a month and in that time, we’ve talked about the trip a lot, and we’ve realized that, in the last week or so, as we finally approached New Orleans, we were figuring this bike touring thing out.  Of course we could have ridden back home (if we had the time, that is) and of course we want to do it again.  Because we really miss touring, that is, actually going somewhere, making progress out on the open road.  Our minds wander during meetings and we recall riding down the Natchez Trace in the sun, the blue sky overhead, the sounds of the forest loud beside us, calculating how many miles lay ahead and what we wanted to eat when we achieved our goal.  We miss the simplicity of travelling from one place to another, encountering hills and crossing rivers, even those aspects of the trip which caused us (me) stress.  We miss the physicality of the trip, burning thousands of calories every day, the great feeling of relaxation when the day was done, the soundness of sleep when you are so physically tired.

I really, really miss the time with Lisa – days and nights spent together, with time to talk,  solve problems, recount the day and chat about tomorrow.  Too often now, we rush out of the house in the morning and don’t connect until 7:00 or 8:00 at night after the day at work.  We are tired in a different way, and it is not our muscles which are weary as much as it is our brains.  Our problems are complicated, involve many other people and are more difficult to resolve.

Lisa was out of town this weekend, and I woke Saturday morning just wanting to get on my bike and ride.  I made some coffee, looked at the paper, then filled my water bottles and took off.  I rode south on Mississippi River Boulevard to downtown St. Paul.  I rode fast, positioned between the river on one side and the railroad on the other, as we had been so often on our trip.  I rode by the busy St. Paul Farmers Market, and by the St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, then north on the Bruce Vento Trail through St. Paul’s east side.  I rode by the abandoned buildings where Hamm’s beer was once brewed – the brew that grew with the great Northwest.  I rode around Lake Phalen and saw sailboats and kayaks. The day was perfect.

The Vento Trail intersects with the Gateway Trail, which heads east out of St. Paul, by the snow man of North St. Paul, as cool in late July as he is in midwinter.  I rode into Washington County, between fields and wetlands, and eventually down the lovely Brown’s Creek Trail into Stillwater.  The town was busy on a beautiful Saturday morning, crowded, and out on the St. Croix River, an incongruous gondola giving a couple a ride as big speedboats slowly motored nearby.  I had a quick cup of coffee, a Clif Bar and a banana, refilled my water bottles and turned around to ride up the hill away from the river and back home on the same route.

In the end, it was 64 miles.  At our touring pace, on fully loaded bikes, Lisa and I would have spent seven hours doing that.  On my lightweight carbon fiber bike, I finished in exactly four.  So, faster, but way less satisfying.  Because I didn’t really go anywhere!  I didn’t have the feeling of actually travelling.  I ended up back where I started, in my garage.  Worse, I parked my bike by the lawn mower, which just reminded me that there were mundane chores to be done in the afternoon. One of my favorite poems of all time is Mark Strand’s “The Continuous Life” –

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don’t really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

Our sense of adventure is still present, but it is currently somewhat suppressed by the routines of daily life.  We miss that experience of leaning down close enough to hear the careless breath of the earth.  We have to work, of course, and want to work, and we like our work…and we want to care for kids and the dog, and mow the lawn and weed the garden and clean the house.  But the romance and appeal and excitement of adventure is kind of missing at the moment.  We trust it will come back.

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Day Twenty Seven: LaPlace, LA to New Orleans, LA

We woke yesterday, as we have so many mornings in the last month, to the sounds of highway workers who were staying next door at the days comfort super six eight rodeway motel inn getting up at the crack of dawn to get back out to work.

Our typical first thoughts when we woke were on how far we had to ride, what the weather looked like and how soon we had to leave. Then, we’d rise, try to find clean biking clothes, pack our panniers and grab a bite at the free continental breakfast and mount up.

This last morning, though, we knew we only had about 45 miles to ride and that they were largely on the bike path on top of the river levee on the east bank of the Mississippi so we didn’t feel too rushed. We had to return the truck and then find our way to the levee, but got good advice from a lovely former school administrator who was working at the hotel about how to get there easily. It was sunny and hot, even at a little after 9:00 AM.

The lady at the rental place said “you’re riding into New Orleans? That’s a long way!” Then she advised us to go easy on the Hurricanes and sent us on our way.

We found our trail and began a leisurely and thoughtful final day’s ride, except for when it was pouring rain. The levee is about 30 feet high so we had a good view to our right and left.

The Mississippi is really wide here, and deep enough for ocean going vessels to sail twenty miles upstream. The ships are visiting the many chemical and refining and agriprocessing plants that lined the river in our early miles. We rode by Norco, Destrehan, St. Rose, Kenner, and through a variety of environments, from industrial to residential.

On our right was the river, close by and lined by trees and wetlands. On our left, the river road and development. Mixed in with the industry were plantations, strip malls, and around Kenner, really nice residential neighborhoods. We saw lots of birds, including egrets and red-billed ducks and one bright green parrot (or parakeet, but big), and over and between the trees to the right, the smokestacks of huge ships.

We entered the city through the beautiful Audubon Park and then followed St. Charles (we were now sharing the street with traffic) and rode along the streetcar tracks past fabulous homes, block after block. Lisa, who has visited NOLA a few times, started to recognize the neighborhood and soon we were pulling into Jackson Square with its artists and tourists.

It is hard to express what we were feeling as we looked at each other and realized we were done; we are sappy people, and we both got a little teary. We’d ridden 1,427 miles since May 20, through 9 states, on busy highways and county roads, chased by dogs and one goat; we’d crossed and ridden beside countless rivers, the greatest rivers of the heartland, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee; we’d had breakdowns and resolved them with the help and kindness of complete strangers.

And now we were standing at our destination, trying to absorb the moment. We walked around grinning, wanting to tell everyone what we’d done. We grabbed a couple and asked them to take our picture by the Bourbon Street sign and they turned out to be from Wisconsin and had many questions for us.

We walked over to a restaurant where we could hook our bikes up and keep an eye on them and ordered a popcorn shrimp po boy and beer. Of course we told our waiter we’d just arrived on our bikes and he took our picture, and then the manager said to Lisa “I commend you on your travels!”

We walked down Bourbon Street to our hotel, the Royal Sonesta, and rolled our bikes into the fancy lobby. Lisa said “this is the nicest hotel our bikes have ever been in!” The staff knew we’d biked in, and had received the bag that Lisa’s sister had shipped down with regular clothes. I’d also spoken the night before with one of the desk managers, Rita, who recognized that my name was Norwegian (she came from Norway) and she actually recognized us right away. (There weren’t too many others in the lobby who looked like us.) We sat out in the courtyard and waited a while for the room to get ready, and then Rita and Brian, the hotel’s Director of Rooms, came out and told us that they’d upgraded us to a two story room opening on to a small private patio. We were gobsmacked as the bellman took us to the beautiful room. He said that in 45 years working at the hotel, he’d only seen people arrive by bike three times.

After we showered (and got into clothes that weren’t Lycra) we walked down to the Spotted Cat for music and to meet our friend Carlos, who’d bused to NOLA from Natchez. As many possibilities as there were for fun last night, Lisa and I started to flag at 9:30 and we ended up walking home and climbing into a huge comfortable bed for a long night’s sleep. We are in New Orleans till Tuesday and have a long list of music, food and museums to experience. We might even ride those bikes one more time before we ship them home.

Day Twenty Five: day off in Natchez, MS

We took today off, partly because it was my birthday and also because we’ve ridden 12 days straight. We reached the end of the Natchez Trace yesterday and celebrated with Carlos last night. It was so great to sleep in a terrific bed in the “Dairy Barn” (rather than the main house.) We are waking earlier than we used to, but we dawdled for a while before heading over to a delicious breakfast in the restaurant.

Then we toured the house with a retired judge who was from a tenth generation Natchez family. He knew the people who used to own the house (he roomed at Ole Miss with one of the sons of the family and said they used to get as “drunk as goats” in the place while in college.)

He said no one around here calls these houses “mansions” – “they are just houses…big houses, for sure, but just houses.” (Between you and me, this is most definitely a mansion.)

We rode our bikes a few miles to the laundromat and took care of our few clothes. Then we cycled through downtown again, and stopped in at a museum dedicated to William Johnson, a freed slave who became wealthy as a barber and left a record of his life in diaries.

Then back to the pool.

The topic of conversation this afternoon was our next steps. We have a hotel in New Orleans for Saturday night. New Orleans is roughly 230 miles away so those would be three long days.

I knew that when planning this leg last winter, but now that it is here, it seems really daunting. We are off the Trace, so are back to more complicated navigation, dealing with Louisiana dogs (who have a reputation) and the daily predicted thunderstorms. I’m ready for New Orleans, honestly. Lisa feels pretty strongly about riding into the city. So we are looking at the logistics of various scenarios which might satisfy us both.

We walked back to the river to dine at the Magnolia Grill on Silver Street (also known as Natchez-Under-the-Hill) and Lisa surprised me with gifts. After some local music, we rode home again with Natchez’ Rock and Roll taxi. We got out of the car to the very loud sounds of tree frogs, or insects. I’ll include a ten second day clip of the night sounds.

It was an unusual birthday, for sure, and a very good one.