Sunday, October 20, 2013

Following in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark (but really, I love McDonald's. There. I said it.)

For driving through a lot of corn fields and cattle pastures, it’s been an eventful few days since Chicago.
Our first night camping went well. Just as night was falling, we found a park with lovely cement pathways that led nicely around the closed gates. Closed for cars? Yes. Closed for walkers, bicyclists and motorcycles? It seems not : )
But just in case we would not be welcome there, we got up at the chilly crack of dawn and headed back to town to do a little blogging and photo uploading at McDonald's. It seems many people in the US do not know this, but McD’s, in addition to consistently selling delicious fries, consistently offers complimentary wi-fi… a travelers best friend.
Well, at this McDonalds in Island Lake, Illinois, I met Leroy and his friends who regularly get together for coffee. Upon hearing our story, Leroy very generously made a donation to our trip and “sponsored” my next few McDonald's coffee/wifi sessions. So, this blog entry is dedicated to Leroy.

We got back on the road and immediately it started raining. Brilliant. But on we rode, stopping to warm up occasionally. After some map studying, we found a recreation area near Manchester, IL. When I read recreation area, I think lake. And when I think lake, I think covered shelter. Bingo! Sure enough, we showed up and there was a perfect shelter, complete with picnic tables, enough room for the tent and bikes, AND an outlet, so I could blog while Roel boiled our rice and curry dinner. Now, this is not exactly “roughing it,” but we have to ease ourselves back into that after staying with friends and family for the last month.

The temperature took a tumble overnight and by the time we dragged ourselves out of the tent at 7am, it was apparent that it would not be a pleasant day of riding. We wanted to get a few miles out of the way, but almost as soon as we got back on the highway, we began looking for an exit with… you guessed it… a McDonald's. We passed one because it was too far off of the highway, assuming that surely there would be another one right away. Or, 100 miles later, as our luck would have it.

By the time we pulled into the lot at the Iowa Falls, Iowa McDonald's, it had just started to rain and I couldn’t really feel my toes anymore. We pulled ourselves off of the bikes, grunting as our stiff legs hit the pavement and turned to walk into McD’s, only to see windows full of faces gawking at us and the bikes. Sometimes we forget what a sight we must be.  I guess it’s a bit of mid-West culture to “coffee” at McD’s, as there were several groups occupying various sections of the joint.
Post Times Citizen Interview
A few asked questions about what we were doing, a few asked if we were cold (duh!!) and apparently one guy ran over to the local newspaper office and told them we would be a good story… because 2 hours later we were in front of The Times Citizen having our pictures snapped. Good times.

We continued on in a pretty dedicated manner, only stopping for a quick lunch and to get a bit warm, until we made it to Sioux City, Iowa. We took a quick ride around town, but it was getting late and we only had about an hour of light left to find a camp spot, so on we rode to Ponca State Park in Ponca, Nebraska. Well, this was a pretty swanky State Park, complete with a golf course and lovely condos. There was a gatehouse with an open gate and a sign stating that a park permit was necessary for entry, which could be purchased at the Visitors Center. Well. It was 7pm. The visitors center had long since closed, and there was a lovely stone hewn shelter with picnic tables, a hidden parking spot for the bikes and power outlets, that was too good to ride away from. So, we made dinner (pasta), set up the tent and got to sleep. I was a little uneasy sleeping in that shelter as there seemed to be a lot of traffic and work vehicles driving around the park, but given how cold it was, being in the shelter was MUCH better than freezing out in the open.

But sure enough, at 5:30am, the work trucks started arriving. And out of the whole damned park, they happened to be working right next to the shelter we were sleeping in. The way the shelter was constructed, it wouldn’t be easy for anyone from the road 10ft away to see us, and we didn’t think the workers would mind too much that we were there, but not wanting to take any chances, we took particular care with packing up quickly. In the dark. Noiselessly. Moving stealthily.

We waited until they started up one of the paving machines, and started our bikes at the same time. Well, we tried to. My bike was a little grumpy and needed a bit of choke/throttle coaxing in order to wake up.

I followed Roel up the nice cement pathway that led to the road where we had to ride by the 15+ workers with their shovels and paving machines. They obviously hadn’t detected us at all, and I would have loved to have picked up their jaws up off of the ground for them as they watched us ride by, but I was too busy chuckling. Roel was calling out “Morning” in his deep voice as he rode past, and being social, I giggled out a “Good morning” as well… but only one… with all of my gear on, I must look like a small boy, so the poor guys shock turned to full stupor when they realized I was in fact female.
Ponca, Nebraska

We chucked all the way to town, and only laughed more when we saw the bank clock flashing the temperature… 31 deg F.

Really brilliant.

We made coffee at a park in town and Roel whipped up really nice egg/cheese sandwiches. I ran around like a lunatic trying to get the blood to flow into my extremities, (it’s amazing what a 5 minute ride in 31deg weather can do to your body temperature) and we finally got on the bikes at 9am. The rest of the ride through Nebraska took us through beautiful farmlands. Lots of corn and lots of cattle.

South Dakota did not give us a warm or friendly welcome. I had met a woman a few months ago who described driving through Kansas and said it was so windy that she had to keep her bike at a 45 deg angle to the road. I couldn’t imagine this. Until South Dakota.

2 miles over the border, I got hit with a gust of wind seemingly out of nowhere. As soon as I would think that I got the (literal and figurative) hang of it, I would drive through a patch of trees, everything would go back to normal and then after the trees, another never-ending gust would hit, knocking my bike about on the road. Now, this wouldn’t be so terrifying if there weren’t tractor trailers coming down the highway in the opposite lane every couple of miles. Or, if the wind consistently blew in a manner that allowed me to anticipate the degree of my lean. But no. It whipped around, changed angles, disappeared all of the sudden causing me to feel like I was about to lean right down onto the pavement or swerve into oncoming traffic. Poor Roel got an earful about how much I despised South Dakota for the first 30 minutes. But still, I was only probably at a 65-70 degree angle to the road.

And then we hit a stretch of highway where I was convinced Mother Nature was a motorcycle hater and was trying to force me to meet my maker. At that point, the belligerent curses turned to sobs and  prayers. I was at a 45 degree angle to the pavement.

We slowed down and Roel, with the patience of a saint let me determine the speed. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to Rapid City, South Dakota today.

But, we made it to a McDonald's in Winner, South Dakota. And a lovely lady named Coleen, who owns the True Value here in town with her husband, Dan, asked us where we were staying tonight. When we responded that we were really hoping to happen upon a farmer so we could ask to pitch our tent in his barn, she very kindly invited us to return home with her.

So, I am typing this blog entry from within 4 walls. Outside the wind is howling and the temperature will likely drop to 35 degrees again, tonight. 

I love McDonald's (and the people who frequent them).

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