Last day on the Big BAM

The last day of our 315 mile ride could be summed up as headwind/sidewind/headwind/sidewind/headwind/sidewind/break for breakfast/headwind on a busy road with a terrible shoulder/sidewind/headwind/sidewind/drizzle/headwind/sidewind/headwind/long ride on Mexico Gravel Road/headwind/drizzle/done. Or at least that is the way it seemed to me.

The original route for this ride was supposed to take us from Moberly to Arrow Rock — a historic site near the Missouri River that was the start of the Santa Fe Trail as well as a stopping point for Lewis and Clark — where we were supposed to camp for a night, and then from there we were to follow the Missouri River back to Columbia on the Katy Trail, touted as one of the most beautiful biking trails in the Midwest. Flooding along the river has closed roads in that area and parts of the trail, so the route was changed a few days ago and we basically turned around and retraced our second and first day rides through farm country and Mark Twain State Park and camped in the Perry town park again, before riding back to Columbia on Friday afternoon.

I stopped to get some lemonade when we returned to Perry on Thursday night (mmm, lemonade), and the cashier said “it’s just so weird to look at the park and see all of those tents.” And it must be, and it’s also a crazy cool aspect of these rides like RAGBRAI and BAM and BRAN and all of the other multi-day organized rides. You essentially have a caravan of travelers descend on a town and they are all dressed in fluorescent tops and tight shorts and shoes that make a clicky sound when they walk around and they set up this little tent village in a field and crowd the cafes and bars and stores in town, and then the next morning they are gone by 7 am.

Several of the people we met this week were either going on to another multi-day ride or had just come from one in another state. Dennis and Melanie, friends who rode a tandem bike and live in Kansas, also do the ride across Kansas every year. They finished well ahead of us on Friday and when I commented that they were awfully fast, given the wind, Dennis said “you know, if we didn’t ride when it’s windy, we would never ride in Kansas because there is always wind.” A couple of gym teachers from Rolling Meadows, IL with whom I chatted quite a bit were heading to a ride in Nebraska next week, and will be doing another in Wisconsin later this summer. There is the spirit of adventure together with a spirit of community on these rides and it is a lovely way to experience this country.

One of the pleasures of this particular ride is that there is live music every night in camp, and we heard some great performers this week. The Thursday night band drew a big crowd of locals who brought folding chairs and blankets and got up and danced or huddled together as the sun set and it grew kind of chilly in the park. The Kay Brothers joined up with the Burney Sisters, all self -taught musicians from central Missouri, and the 11 year old fiddler drew crazy applause. Kids in baseball and softball uniforms ran around and played on the playground equipment while their parents listened to the music and the chamber of commerce sold “crumbly burgers” which are the Missouri version of Iowa’s loose meat sandwiches and the music ended at about ten, when the residents packed up their chairs and blankets, and the cyclists climbed into their tents and then we all woke up at 4:15 am when a herd of cows started making a racket. Our early start Friday got us into Columbia early, exhilarated and tired, just as it started to rain.

The ride on Thursday — Dan’s birthday — was beautiful, perfect, really. We left the big park at Moberly and rode through city streets while kids with backpacks were waiting for school busses – summer vacation hadn’t started there yet – and waved shyly as we passed by. We had stops at the Union Covered Bridge and at Mark Twain’s birthplace, where we saw the cabin in which he was born as well as the handwritten conclusion of Tom Sawyer, and at Mark Twin Lake which wasn’t even there when he was alive; a dam was built on the Salt River and created the 30 mile lake. Some young girls were selling snacks and drinks at the top of a long hill on our route, hoping to raise money for a trip to Disneyworld, and we were glad to support them and cool off for a bit.

So at the end of this Big BAM, my legs are sore and my spirits are high and it will be a while before I am able to bike again … but it was very satisfying to ride for five days and travel 315 miles and meet people who came from all over the U.S. for this ride as well as the people living in the Missouri towns and cities we visited.

Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”

– Mark Twain

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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The Big BAM

In the summer of 2017 we did our first RAGBRAI, a ride that spans the state of Iowa, starting at the Missouri River and ending at the Mississippi. It was quite a thrill to ride with 10,000 other people through cornfields and small towns and to have people wave and cheer us on, and feed us pancakes and pie, and it was sort of like a week of summer camp on bikes.

We heard about some other long distance, supported rides on that trip; it turns out that many other states have rides across their states. And this morning we are starting on the Big BAM, which is typically a ride across Missouri and now is sort of a ride around Missouri.

Our drive to Columbia MO yesterday took us through many of the places we biked last summer on our way to New Orleans. We had a very pleasant and too-short stop at the home of my college roommate, Lynne, where we ate a delicious brunch that she cooked for us while we caught up on her upcoming gigs (next one: a tribute to Bette Midler), and then drove south where we could see lots of flooded farm fields and arrived here just before 6 on a perfect summer night.

Our campsite is on the lawn of the Bass Pro Shop on the edge of town where we had a chorus of frogs outside of our tent all night. The group spent the evening at the Broadway Brewery listening to live music and chatting with other cyclists about the trip. Columbia seems like a very nice college town and we will spend another night here at the end of the ride.

It is 5:56 am as I am writing this, and I am cozy and warm in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of others starting to take down their tents as Dan is slowly waking up. Today we will ride 62 miles to Perry and it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Tour de Pepin

Last weekend we drove to Lake City, MN to do the Tour de Pepin, an annual organized ride that follows Lake Pepin, a beautiful glacial lake that is part of the Mississippi River. We opted for the 72 mile route, though were envious of the riders on the 35 and 50 mile routes as they had a ferry ride waiting to take them and their bikes back across the lake on this beautiful old ferry.

It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday. And this ride was sort of a test, although it was intended to be just a training ride when we registered. I have been having some trouble with my hip and unable to run or walk or sit or stand or sleep easily for some months, and I am not going to get into the boring details … but it was a relief to get in my bike and have it feel wonderfully normal to pedal all day on a bike and travel a long distance.

We had stops for rhubarb pie and beautiful views of the lake, and rode through fields of blackbirds as well as next to a field where there was a machine gun shoot happening (!!), and we decided that it went well enough that we could do our next planned biking adventure as a last hurrah for my hip, which is going to be replaced with a shiny new one later this month.

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.