Sunday, May 12, 2013

Saturday May 11th - Merrick State Park

I sleep relatively well which was nice.  Despite being within a quarter mile of the tracks, the trains didn’t blast their horns as they passed the campground, and I must have been tired enough from the lack of sleep the previous night to sleep through their passing.

I woke up around 7 a.m., put some warm clothes on and decided to go for a walk to try and warm up some more.  Found a bench in the sunshine and just sat for a while in front of the Nature Center that had a sign in it indicated that due to lack of funding, it would no longer be staffed by a naturalist.  After this warm up exercise I headed back to camp, ate some breakfast, and spent some time catching up on my writing.   The day seemed to get colder as it went on, and I gradually had to keep adding clothes to try and fight of the cold.  At one point ice pellets began falling from the sky, combined with some rain, which drove me to the tent, where I wrapped up in my sleeping – and the warmth felt good.     
Coming out of the bathroom, I almost stepped on a quarter sized painted turtle hatchling on his way to the river.  In an attempt to ease what would be an extremely difficult journey for such a small creature, I picked him or her up (seems like a read somewhere that depending on the temperature of the nest site after the mother lays the eggs, the hatchlings all come out the same sex) and after a brief detour back to my campsite for photographing my short-term companion, carried it down to the edge of the river.  He seemed to smell the water, and quickly withdrew from the shell, and tumbled down into the windswept water.  I started to worry that maybe my interference would be the end of my friend as the waves and current were battling the little fellow this way and that, and he spun several summersualts revealing his bright orange bottom shell.  I debated wading back into bring him to shore, but he seemed intent on continuing the struggle to find a place in his new world of endless water.  

As the son came back out and dried things off and warmed the air, I went back outside.  Byron stopped by to chat while I was sitting out on the picnic table.  Byron hails downriver in Fountain City where he spent his life.  He is 78 years old, a bachelor, and retired from working at the sawmill just outside the park entrance.  The sawmill turns the oaks and other hardwood from the nearby bluffs into primarily railroad ties.  He spent 12 years after retirement working in a nearby cemetery, but had to give the job up this year.  He didn’t dig the graves in that job, but took care of the grounds.  He missed that job.  He is also a dual cancer survivor – having had first prostate and later colon cancer – for which he indicated they snipped out a section of his colon.  He also liked to fish, and has a boat that he likes to row into the back waters where he can get away from it all.  He was on his way for a stroll through the park which he has been coming to for many years. 

He said he has seen many changes in the park, and pointed out that the field behind me used to be a nine-hole golf course.  He is a sports fan, as his Greenbay Packer stocking cap gave way.  He likes watching the Cubs and baseball in general.  I asked him about the race track noises I heard last night and he confirmed that it was a race track, but admitted he was not a race car fan, and fortunately they only race on Friday nights.  He is troubled by all the money in sports – like the Packer’s Arron Roger’s recent 25-30 million dollar contract.  He mentioned the weather and the recent snow that took down many of the tree branches in the park, and joked about global warming.  He said he sometimes wonders if he should have gotten married, but mentioned that rather than raising kids, he raised gardens.   He also lives in a simple apartment in town, but often wondered if he should have got a house.  And seeing as he liked to stay active, he walked on with his rubber tipped drift wood cane, backpack, and portable radio for company.    

Byron also mentioned that besides the three bars located in Fountain City that served coffee in addition to harder fare, there was also a coffee shop in town that he thought had Internet connection.  So taking the advice of my wife who in a phone conversation earlier in the day suggested I go find a warm coffee shop to spend the day, I decided to battle the cold and winds and bike the couple of miles into Fountain City to warm up and update my posts on my ramblings online.  On the way into town, noticed the vineyard that had been planted on the bluff side that looked quite quant.  Also passed the Corp of Engineers dredging maintenance facilities which was a reminder of all the taxpayer subsidizes needed to keep the river navigable for the barging companies.  Across the street from the Corp’s facilities was the infamous tourist attraction The Rock In The House – which was a
house located below the limestone outcropping of the overhead bluffs that had a rock crash into the back of it – a reminder that it is not a good idea to build houses below rock outcroppings that tend to send rocks back down to earth from time to time.    

The highway narrowed as it came into town, and cars were parked along the curb, forcing me further out into the traffic lane.  Suddenly I heard tires sliding on gravel behind me, followed by a horn blast, and then an angry looking man in a red truck pulled up alongside of me mouthing what could be assumed to be some profanities about people riding bikes where they don’t belong.  I was tempted to mouth some profanities back at him, but somehow managed to bite my tongue, and just shook my head and biked on.  Shortly after that I saw a Fountain City policeman wearing his dress blue shirtsleeve shirt (I wondered how he stayed warm in only short sleeves), picking up a street sign that was knocked over by the wind.  He said hello, and I asked him where I might find the coffee shop in town.  He told me it was closed, but said I could head up another seven miles to get to the bridge to take me to Winona where I could find a coffee shop still open.  I thanked him and decided to continue through town to see if I could find somewhere to eat supper.  Finding only the three bars Byron had mentioned, I hit the end of town and decided to stop at the Kwik Trip gas station I passed and just get something to eat there instead of dealing with the Saturday night bar crowds – that probably included the angry man in the red truck. 

So I picked up an egg salad sandwich, Greek pasta salad; fresh carrots, broccoli, and dip; along with four bananas from Guatemala; a quart of OJ; some cheese sticks, and a couple of chocolate chip bagels to fuel me through the night and then some.   In a way it felt good to respond no, when the sales lady asked me if I bought any gas.  Resupplied, I headed back into the cold north wind to the campground.  As I approached the bridge to the Park, I was greeted by a number of deer standing guard over the bridge (or eating grass along the embankment).  One was located on the entrance side of the bridge and three more on the exit side.  I stopped to watch them for a while, and then proceeded to cross the bridge – fortunately they let me pass without any conflict. 

I decided to take a detour to the south campground loop to see what was happening on the side of the park.  Found out that the south campsites were mostly under water, and so un-campable.  I tried biking around the access road to the sites, that was mostly above water, and decided to try biking across one section of water that I hoped wasn’t too deep.  But as the water got deeper, I decided to abort my mission, but had to put my foot down to keep from falling over.  Panic set in once again as I got my right foot and only wool sock wet (but fortunately didn’t tip over getting my whole body wet).  I envisioned frost bite setting into the foot with the cold temperatures, but then remembered the electric hand dryer back at the fancy north campsite bathroom and headed back for the campground with renewed spirit – and a greater appreciation for coal fired power plants that provided the luxurious electricity needed to power that hand dryer that would soon be drying my sock and shoe.    

Having dried my sock and shoe, I sat back polishing off my fine Kwik Trip meal, cleaned up and crawled into the warm sleeping sack to enjoy the warmth.  I woke up around 2:30 and forced myself to crawl out from the warm bag to get some relief outside.  The star filled sky made the venture into the cold worthwhile – it is always awe inspiring to be able to see the stars without the light pollution that fills the sky in City where I live.  I took a few moments to try and identify the one or two constellations I knew and the Big and Little Dipper – with its North Star – jumped out of the sky at me.  But the cold air drove me back to bed.     

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