Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saturday May 25th – Lake City almost to Hastings

I woke up a bit late and disappointed that it was already 8 am, but the extra sleep felt good.  I performed my morning ritual of quick eating, packing, and then I was out the door of the Sunset Motel.  It was cloudy and looked like rain and there was a strong wind out of the south, which would mean a nice tail wind.  This could be a day of miles I thought as I passed the guy cleaning the pool.  I talked briefly with the pool guy and the two folks watching him about my trip and asked if the pool was heated.  Found out it was, but he mentioned that he had just fired up the heater that morning – probably in hopes of attracting some Memorial Day weekend travelers.  I also said so long to the guy who lived in the apartment above the motel lobby as he looked down on me from his second story deck.  

Lake Pepin was choppy as I headed north along its shores, and with the wind to my back I picked up speed easily and knew what it must feel like to be sailing one of the sailboats tied up the docks I passed.  The paddle boat the Pearl of the  Lake, was not yet out giving excursion rides, the early morning and gray skies must have put a damper on tourists desires to get out on a morning boat ride around the lake.  A bill board on the way out of town reminded me, per 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In Everything give Thanks…”, so I did – particularly for the tail wind.   

Further down the road as I neared the boundary of Frontenac State Park, there was another sign stuck by the side of the road exclaiming “Save the Bluffs.  Stop Silica Sand Mining”.  Sand mining was definitely perceived as a threat by many folks who lived along the shores of the Mississippi River as it passed through Minnesota and Wisconsin based on the number of signs I saw on my adventure. 

There was also a large pile of trees that been cut down and stacked up along the road side as the road passed through the Park.  I wasn’t sure why the trees had been cut down, perhaps for logging purposes, or maybe to manage the area where it looked like they were trying to create an oak savanna type setting.  Then I wondered if the tree cutting would be covered by another sign posted near the historical marker in the park that said “WARNING.  DEFACING – MOVING OR DESTROYING STATE PROPERTY - $500 FINE”, and if it did, I wondered if the fine would apply to each tree cut down, or only the one act of cutting down all the trees.   The total fine would be significantly different depending on how the fines were tallied.  But then I figured that defacement, moving, or destroying is likely acceptable as long as some money can be made, or it’s done in the name of development, or management.   

The historical marker pointed out that Fort Beauharnois was located “on the shore of Lake Pepin just north of here a French expedition commanded by LaPerriere and accompanied by two Jesuits in September 1727 built a substantial log fort and the mission of St. Michael the Archangel.  The Post was occupied periodically until about 1756.”  So it appeared that cutting down trees and taking away other people’s property also was acceptable as long as there was no recognized “state” in place, and it was done in the name of God, or one of his favored Archangels. 

Passing through the town of Frontenac I stopped to admire the old town hall and small post office painted in matching cream color with green trim.  The post office was busy on that Saturday morning.   

Then as I approached Red Wing, there were the collocated industrial facilities of the Chemstone concrete Plant and the USG interiors ceiling tile plant.  The USG water tower was painted sky blue and the color matched the sky blue exhaust stack as well, which both stood in contrast to the gray sky.   

Across the street from the industries was an old red barn constructed on a limestone foundation that matched the rock outcropping on the bluffs above.  While admiring the sites, a white pickup truck with flashing yellow hazard lights stopped across from me, and I wondered if I was going to get in trouble again for taking pictures of industrial complexes from public property.  But the driver wearing his florescent yellow vest got out of the truck and appeared to throw some grass seed in the ditch and then drove off. 

And with the strong winds to push me along, I soon entered Red Wing, where the population sign pointed out some things folks should be aware of as they entered the City namely that Red Wing was (in blue letters) a “Tax-Free Development! JOBZ MINNESOTA”, (in red letters) that a “SOLID WASTE LICENCE REQUIRED”, and (in black letters) that “VEHICAL NOISE LAWS ENFORCED”.  I wasn’t quite sure what all those reminders meant to me, but figure that perhaps the people that knew what they meant would want to know about them if they came to town.   

Passing by the “Red Wing Correctional Facility”, which looked like a prison to me, but with fancy in-curving fences instead of razor wire to keep the inmates confined, I wondered if those being corrected behind the fence had failed to get a solid waste license or violated the vehicle noise laws, or if that is where folks doing tax-free development got jobz – Red Wing seemed like a tough City.  Then came the old NSP power plant, which was now Excell Energy, but the large yellow “NSP” letters still stood out between the twin smoke stacks of the plant. 

Then there was Barn Bluff on the right side of the road, where as I crossed an overhead bridge, I noticed a group of people had gathered to take part in some type of tour of the bluff as indicated by the hiking sticks and binoculars adorning the folks who had gathered.    

And another ADM – Archer Daniels Midland – processing plant.  This one had a sign located inside the property lines that indicated it was an oil seed processing plant.   The facility had a US flag topping the grain storage silos that matched the flag further in the background on top of Barn Bluff.  Despite the signs warning me that the facility was private property and that the area was under video surveillance, no one stopped me while I took pictures of this ADM site.   

The Red Wing train depot was located upstream of the ADM plant and I watched several people get on-board and de-train from the passing passenger train.  As it was 11 am already, I figured I better get moving if I wanted to make it home tonight, for even with the strong tail wind, I still had a long ways to go.   But I stopped below the old grain bins located past the Depot and walked down to give some thanks to the river for what had been an interesting trip, as this might be the last place I could get easy access to it.  The water looked relatively clean here, and there was not debris floating on top of the water, which was a first for the few times I had touched the river on the trip.  

Heading back up to the main road that runs away from the river, I came across an interesting fellow on a bike pulling a trailer.  I tried catching up to him and then when he stopped, I stopped alongside of him  to find out more about his setup.  He was riding and old blue Schwinn 10 speed, with the ram handle bars turned upright.  He was pulling a homemade trailer with the top covered with several pieces of cardboard bent over the top.  Mounted on the handlebars of the bike was a stuffed version of “Fluffy” the thee headed beast from the Harry Potter story, and in front of fluffy was a small wooden crucifix.  On the back of the trailer was a cardboard sign that said “TRAVELING J WILL WORK GOD BLESS”. 

I learned the man’s name was Tim and he had a brother named Tom, and he seemed to be a homeless biker.  He told me he was 51 years old, and had put over 3000 miles on his rig traveling around the country.  He mentioned he had invested about $7 into the construction of his bike trailer and I compared that to the over $300 I had into panniers and racks I had on my bike, let alone the over $1000 for my bike.  He was wearing blue jeans, a red and blue checkered flannel shirt, with a tee shirt underneath that had images of ferries, wizards, and other imaginary creatures emblazoned over a tie-died pattern.  He had a camouflage patterned hat on his head, and black tennis shoes on his feet.  He wore large sunglasses over his eyes and had a scruffy beard, and braided pony tail hanging from his head.  He also had headphones in his ears, one of which he removed while we talked. 

He was in the area collecting morel mushrooms.  I told him about the mushrooms I saw back in the La Crosse and he confirmed they were morels.  He said he can get good money from the mushrooms from stores that sell them to customers.  He also had a daughter who lives north of the twin cities along with 5 grandchildren who he visits when he is in the area.  He was on his way to see a friend in Lake City that day.  He spent the night before in the park under one of the shelters as it was raining, and mentioned that is typical of his camping spots.  He figures the worst that can happen is some cop can just tell him to leave.  He carries a tent with him, but often just sleeps in the military style waterproof bag he has.  He also has his pots and pans for cooking tucked away somewhere on the trailer.  His income is supported by money folks give him when he is on the road.  He said most folks will give him a dollar or two, but on occasion someone will give him $50 or more.

I gave him a $5, which he said was not necessary, but I gave it to him anyway, probably to relieve my guilt.  I also figured it was worth at least $5 to hear his story, in some ways I envied his simple lifestyle and felt awkward with all my fancy and expensive gear and clothing as I listened to him.  I felt guilty again and considered giving him more money, but justified not doing so by telling myself he would probably go out and just buy pot with it.   He explained to me the liberalization of the marijuana laws and that getting caught with small amounts of it was no longer considered a serious crime in most states.  So it sounded like pot use was one of his pleasures in life.  He also talked some about how he avoided people he meets that are on meth, which he could spot from a distance.  He advised that they would steel anything you had just to sell it to get more money to buy more drugs.

He talked some about his early life, when he used to use pills.  He said his grandmother worked at a pharmacy, and she would take certain pills that had been discontinued and that he would get them from her.  He was in the army for a while, but it didn’t work out for him so he got out.  At one point in his life he was living with a girlfriend who he caught cheating on him.  He walked out on her into the cold winter night and then got a ride from a truck driver to California.  It was there that he was introduced to this guy who had set up some kind of coupon clipping scheme where Tim was able to make good money.  Later he worked for some time in a fabricating shop where he made good money, had a house, bought a new car, and enjoyed his work designing and fabricating equipment.  But when the owner of the shop’s wife died, the owner became difficult to work for and Tim eventually left that job and life. 

We must have talked for over an hour, and when he mentioned that he was a talker I believed him.  I told him that if I was to make it home, I had to get going, so I thanked him for talking with me and he headed to cross the parking lot and road to head back down river to Lake City, and I the opposite way.  As he was leaving the Taco Bell parking lot, a woman in a SUV had stopped to wait for him to go in front of her, and waived at him annoyingly to go ahead.  Tim responded to her to “go ahead, I’m in no hurry” which seemed to be a good attitude to have.  And I headed back up river and out of
Red Wing, through the Cannon River valley, past the sign to the Treasure Island Casino, and back up the hill through the limestone cuts that were blasted away to make way for the Great River Road I was traveling. 

Once on top of the ridge again, I noticed a sign that indicated the MN National Guard 44 Chemical Company had been cleaning up trash along this stretch of the highway since 2001.  I had seen quite a few “adopt a highway” type signs of various types in the States I had passed through with a lot of different groups lending a hand to pick up the trash.  I suppose it was a good and honorable thing to pick up trash after people – just as it is a good and honorable thing to be willing to step in and clean up the nuclear waste and chemical weapons that might be used in a war.  But I often wondered that in the long term if picking up after people, just makes it easier for people to just keep throwing trash out their car windows – or in the case of war, that as long as we have troops trained to decontaminate equipment and people it makes it more likely to dump chemical, biological and nuclear weapons on other people to kill or maim them.  For as long as someone comes along to clean it up – what harm is done?  It just goes away.  Perhaps if we allowed it to pile up along the roadside, we might wake up and realize what slobs we really are, and then we might change our ways and stop trashing the planet – and maybe we would stop training troops for war as well if we had to face the full horror of what our weapons did to people and the planet. 

Then it was passed more small farmsteads with bent vanned windmills no longer in use, and behind them the huge hundreds of acres of rolling fields denuded of all life in preparation for the corn that had been planted to thrive in the chemically enhanced sterile looking soil.  The large corn storage bins in the background likely sat empty, waiting for next fall’s harvest to refill the bins so the farmer could wait until crop prices were at the highest before he would dump the commodity on the market.   

Then past another barn that looked vacant of any cattle, but had three tractors parked out front, and then another white church with a crucifix topped steeple nearly touching the gray clouds above.   And a series of galvanized gray steel center point pivot irrigation rigs parked amongst last year’s corn stubble, waiting to water the circular patches of corn that would dot the land.   Then a cell phone tower parked next to a pile of crushed limestone from a quarry located below the 
And one more cemetery parked next to the farm fields, where our ancestors where planted for we hoped an eternity.  I wondered why the need to preserve our bodies for so long, and why the fear of decay and contact with the rest of the world?  We had no problem with leaving the dead deer lie on the shoulder or ditch next to the road where after a year the bodies decayed and were consumed by the scavengers who fed on them, and all that was left where their dried and scattered bones.  But when it came to our own bodies we feared the natural process and tried to fight it off by injecting our perished bodies with chemical preservative, and then packing our preserved selves in padded and embroidered painted steel boxes, that would be placed inside a concrete vault, where our pickled bodies would remain under the cold earth, for perhaps centuries.   

Our fear of death, and desire for the appearance of eternal life through chemistry and proper storage practices seemed pretty fatalistic in the end – an ultimate form of denial of the reality of what we are and who we are not – simple creatures of impermanent flesh and bones just like the others we share the planet with, not the supreme infinite beings we liked to think of ourselves as.       


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