Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Oh, geez...

Here's two apologies, just to kick things off:

Golly, I'm really sorry about those two audio posts. Listening to ten solid minutes of directionless blabber from exhausted bikers is too much to ask of our friends and family, and it won't happen again.

Also, I'm really sorry that our updates have been ...well, nonexistent. It's sometimes hard on the bike to find cellphone reception, or computer access, but we'll work harder at keeping this blog up to date. Also, as Sarah points out, we're often having too much fun, and forget about things.

Please forgive us.

Since we left Minneapolis, over a month ago, we've covered a lot of ground, met a lot of great people, and even had a few adventures. Here's a brief synopsis, with highlights:

Minnesota was, on average, pretty flat. We had mostly sunny weather, except for one night when we camped next to the Rum River in the town of Milaca. Right in the floodplain. We were woken in the wee hours by the strongest thunderstorm either of us have ever tried to tent through. My first thought was "let's try to sleep through this." My second thought was "flashflood!" The dark fantasies of being swept away, with our bloated corpses found weeks later, miles and miles downstream, quickly won out, and we spent a frantic, soaking-wet twenty minutes moving our tent, luggage and bikes to higher ground. By the time we got all re-established, the rain had stopped and dawn was breaking. Was there, in fact, a flash flood? No. We took our soaking wet, exhausted selves to breakfast at Embers, all the same.

Does nose-picking make one a friend or an enemy of Booger?

The day before, we passed a sign that said "Used Books, next right", and then another that said "Log Cabin Books". Forgive me for stereotyping, but the part of Minnesota we were biking through didn't seem like a hotbed of used bookstore enthusiasts. We were intrigued, and pulled off the tiny two-lane county highway to check it out.

Coolest bookstore ever. Both floors of a real nineteenth century log cabin, a cheerful, knowledgeable, and well-read proprietress named Judith, a cast-iron stove in the corner, an excellent variety of high-quality reads, and, perhaps best of all, free fresh-ground coffee. We bought postcards and took pictures, and Judith gave us a Sierra Club Wilderness Reader for our travels. Coolest bookstore, ever.

Later that day, a few miles before we reached our day's destination, we met a fellow cyclist, Wally, who was training for a tour to Vermont in the fall. We talked, and he asked us a lot of questions, and invited us to stay the night in a cabin on his property! He called it his Hermitage, and had set it up for private retreats and meditation. We helped him put a dock into the river, and retreated to the hermitage when the mosquitoes got too thick. The next morning we had instant coffee with him and talked bikes and didn't get on the road until almost noon. Such good company is much much more important than early starts.


Fixing a flat tire in Long Prairie, MN

Other Minnesota Adventures: the Yellow Lab who raced with us, and ran alongside our bikes for more than three miles (we decided to call him Jack, and we couldn't get him to stop following us and go home); seeing flocks of White Pelicans soaring on thermals (Pelicans in Minnesota? For real! They have a nine foot wingspan, almost as big as the California Condor); shredding my real tire on a solo mission to buy a wine-bottle opener in Long Prairie, MN, and having to hitchhike back; and the awesome hospitality (and horrible shower) at Swanie's Resort, in Cormorant, MN (they bought us beer, cooked us salmon and catfish, took us on a boatride...we had to hitch a ride into Fargo the next morning. Ooof.).

We made the executive decision in Fargo to take Amtrak across North Dakota and Eastern Montana. The train station was open from midnight to 8 am, and the train rolled in at 5 am, so we had plenty of time to box up our bikes and monkey around with our luggage. We met an older gentleman there named Solomon Harris, who had just gotten out of the hospital in Fargo. He had been attending the funeral of an army buddy, and his heart had failed on him. While he was in the hospital, his wife had died. He was uninsured, and his Veteran's Benefits didn't cover his bills, so he was wiped out. He had been on Omaha Beach with the D-Day invasion, had lost four brothers in the war, and his only son in Vietnam. He was trying to get home to Decatur, IL, but only had money for a ticket to La Crosse thanks to his hospitalization, and was going to try to hitchhike once he got to La Crosse, and would we like to buy a fruit basket and some bungee cords? He was on oxygen, and real nice and interesting to talk to.

I didn't totally buy his story about being hired by Steven Spielberg as a consultant on Saving Private Ryan , but I was offended that a veteran should be so forgotten by the system that he would have to hitchhike. We bought the fruit and bungees for $10, and slipped him another $20 on top. We tried to buy his ticket through to Decatur, but the man behind the counter (after making a cryptic remark, chuckling under his breath "Yeah, he gets that a lot") said it was sold out. We helped him onto his train, and that was that.

A few days ago, here in Portland, we were telling Frunch and Gwyn that story, and a suspicious little voice in my ear told me to run a quick google search on "Solomon Harris". This is what I found. I can't say I'm as mad as the guy who wrote that article, but it's truly no fun getting conned.

The scenery out the train window convinced us we had chosen wisely, and we hopped off in Whitefish, Montana, feeling all messed up , but excited for new scenery and new challenges. My eyes are falling out of my head, so I'm turning it over to Sarah to tell about Montana. Take it away, Sarah!

No comments: