Friday, May 17, 2013

Thursday May 17th - Nelson Dewey State Park to Galena

Had somewhat of a restless sleep that night – sometime during the night a motor or engine of somesort started up.  At first I thought it was the large fan on the campground bathrooms that was left running constantly, even though there was only myself and the campground host use the bathrooms on a very limited basis.  But after packing up and heading down the hill back down the river valley below the campground, I noticed the noise was coming from a train that had stopped below the campground and the multiple engines were left idling during the night.  

I also stopped across the street from the campground to admire the large complex of bat houses that had been constructed.  I was treated to a morning flight of a little brown bat that dropped out of one of the boxes to give me a morning display of her flying abilities. If the two sets of apartment complexes where inhabited to capacity, there must have been thousands of the furry flappers roosting in them.       

The river town of Caseville was only a mile or so south of the park, and it was another multi-power plant town. Alliant Energy ran a coal fired plant on the North end of town, and the was a second smaller station that appeared to be using wood for fuel, as stacks of logs could be scene piled up to the south of the plant, along with another large pile of woodchips. There was also a visible plume of exhaust coming out of its shorter smoke stack.   

Coming into the town, the main street was lined with matching maple trees with dark red leaves lining both sides of the street that created quite a welcome as one entered the town.  I stopped at the grocery store to refuel myself and decided to try some new provisions including a small container of fresh blueberries, some yogurt, sunflower seeds, a couple of grapefruit, and some carrots; along with the old standards of apples and granola bars.  The warming temperatures where making it harder to keep foods in eatable condition for long, so I would need to make sure I ate the yogurt before it curdled and the blueberries and bananas before they turned to mush.  

Leaving Caseville, the road began one of the many climbs out of the river Valley I would face that day, making me wish I had a couple of lower gears (or about half as much gear) to make climbing the hills easier.  Along the valley out of the hill, passed an ideal looking old farmstead nestled along the road – its farming days were over.   As I reached the ridgetops, the farms expanded exponentially in size from that smaller farm.  In many of the farms you could see how the smaller original barns were added on to or replaced by larger or different types of barns and old buildings as the farms changed what they grew or increased in size.  The small concrete silos were replaced with the blue steel glass coated Harvesters, which were in some cases now replaced with disposable plastic silage bags laying on the ground, or with large grain bins on the farms that no longer grew crops to feed their animals, but now dealt in the bigger money venue of cash crop grains to trade on the open global market.  I wondered how much of the infrastructure now sat idled, like some many of the old concrete silos that lie scattered across the landscape like tombstones honoring a long forgotten way of life. 

Technology changes in the farm utilities also became obvious – where the windmills once used to pump water for the farm, where then converted to places to mount TV antennae’s and yard lights when electricity came to the rural areas.  Satellite dishes mounted to the side of the house, than made the old steel towers obsolete, and on several farms you could see where they had been partially dismantled.  As I rode the through the seemingly infinite rolling farmland, I wondered why farms had to become so much larger and more complex these days to support a family – or was it no longer the family that they supported but the corporations who likely drove the expansions. 

Dropping back down into the river valley before Petosi, I noticed a plume of dust being generated by some type of maintenance activity going on to the Burlington Northern railroad tracks.  As I got closer to the operation, I noticed two young men wearing orange vests walking slowly in front of what looked to be some kind of mobile rail gravels processing plant.  What the two walker’s jobs were I wasn’t sure, but they did not look too excited about the miles of rail they must have to walk each day in front of the noisy dirty operation.  As the mobile plant passed I was enveloped in a cloud of dust, and noticed there was an engine, a couple a cars that must have held screens and crushers and conveyers with one dumping what might have been waste rock off to the side of the track, some type of fuel tanker, and then a operations control car.  On the final car, two more workers wearing orange vests sat on the rear deck of the car in the relatively clean air provided by the relief of the side breeze.  They two did not look too thrilled – or perhaps that was my projection – about their duties for the day either.

The entrance to Potosi was flanked by a brewery and winery operations.  I decided to stop in and find something to eat and found out the winery only served cheese and crackers so headed across the street to the breweries bar and restaurant.  I noticed other patrons using computers so inquired about internet access and took the opportunity to update my blog posts while eating a chicken wrap and salad, then headed up the hill that let back out of the river valley.  As I was wheeling my bike to the road, two men who had been eating lunch at another bar across the street walked by.  One of them encouraged me with the comment “it’s a nice day for biking” and the other added “unless your going that way” as he pointed up the hill out of town, and I replied “I am going that way, which is the way it usually goes”. 

About half way up the hill, a large man on a riding lawn mower had stopped next to the road to quench his thirst from a large plastic thermos of liquid and as I passed he asked me where I was going.  I asked him if he would mind pulling me up the hill out of town with his tractor, but he only smiled. With what appeared to be the top of the hill in site, a gentleman older than myself on a fancy looking road bicycle passed me on my left and slowed to talk for a while.  He asked me where I was going.  I asked him if it was easier getting up the hill without all the gear attached to the bike.  He too smiled and told me that there was a nice campground a few miles out of town.  I replied that with all the hills I was climbing that might be a good destination for the day.  But then he told me it was all back down the hill – so I told him I think I would stay on the top of the hill and peddle some more as long as I had come this far. 

At the top of the hill, there was more rolling farmland.  I hardly saw much of the river from the Great River Road on this day, and the only sign it was near was when I peddled for brief periods along the flat railroad tracks.  Approaching Dickeyville, I came across the Dugout Bar and Restaurant.  Dickeyville was about 5 or 10 miles from Platteville where I went to UW Platteville during he early 1980’s.  The dugout was a place I had gone to at least once to escape from the bars of Platteville.   I am not sure what drew us to Dugout, and apparently the past clientele must have wondered the same things as the club now looked abandoned.  A farmer hauling a load of manure to apply to a field across the highway from the dugout waved to me as he passed, and I watched him spread his load of shit for a while, remembering the time I drove through a more liquid version of the material many years ago while going to school in Platteville.  At that time, a farmer must have spilt the liquid manure from his honey wagon, leaving a slick smelly slime across the country road I was driving down.  It left a foul odor on my old 1972 VW Beetle for some time after that, despite several attempts at running the car through a car wash. 

Peddling on toward Dickyville proper, I noticed the large white “M” that had been emblazoned on the large hill outside the distant City of Platteville.  The “M” was supposed to signify mining, which is what the University of Platteville used to be known for.  Because of the lack in mining interests in Wisconsin back in the 80’s, the school had discontinued the Mining Engineering degree it was famous for, but continued the annual practice of canceling classes once a year to allow ambitious students to participate in the whitewashing of the “M” onto the hillside.  Not being too ambitious back in my college days, I took the day off from classes as an opportunity to sleep in, and left the whitewashing to those who likely went on to more illustrious careers.   So I guess my lack of ambition in those days might in part be why I was forcing myself to climb all the hills I did on this day.   

On the way through Dickeyville, I stopped for a short moment to take a closer look at the famous Dickeyville Grotto.  On the way to the shrine, I waved to some passing preschoolers who were parading their big wheel plastic trikes along the sidewalk that led to the Grotto.  I believe the rock bejeweled shrine had been built by a priest how had served at the adjacent Holy Ghost Church some time the first part of the 1900’s.  The shrine kind of looks like a large head of a monster from the front, and I decided to keep moving to avoid being swallowed up by the monstrosity.  I stopped the second gas station in town on my way out to try and pick up and map of Illinois which I hoped to enter into before the day was over.  Unfortunately they had maps for all the other States in the area – which I already had – but no Illinois.  I also learned that before entering the men’s bathroom at that place, it would be advised to knock on the door first.  For when I failed to do so and simply turned the door knob and started to walk in, I was greeted by a loud “hey” and the vision of a man seated on the toilet with has pants down to his ankles in the mist of what looked to be some serious concentration. 

I fled that station and jumped on my bike and ventured onto Highway 151, which was essentially a four lane freeway.  Fortunately there was a large paved shoulder adjacent to the freeway lane, and I plugged the Ipod in and turned up the volume to drown out the traffic whizzing by and put my energy into cranking through and on to East Dubuque, the gateway to Illinois.  I was cruising along pretty good myself, until I came across a large buck that had been hit by a car, and whose badly bloating body was blocking the entire shoulder.  I had to stop and wait for traffic to pass before I could work my way out into the traffic lane to avoid the pour unfortunate creature.  And then before I knew it I came to the East Dubuque exist, and was soon peddling in Illinois.  I recalled some other attempts to find excitement out of Platteville while going to college and tried to reflect on a trip or two we made to the bars of East Dubuque.  As I passed by the town, I was again not sure what drew us to that town, but I guess when you’re young and foolish, you do foolish things. 

The Great River Road follows highway 20 between East Dubuque and Galena, which is essentially another 4 lane freeway.  And although the road followed the railroad tracks for a few miles, there was no visible sign of the Mississippi River.  And then more hills – which where the State of Illinois invested in 6’  wide paved concrete shoulders the going was good.  But unfortunately, in what must be attempts to save some of the State fortunes, the paved shoulders would suddenly narrow to maybe a 2’ strip with half of that being a rumble strip, or even worse, be eliminated completely.  So during the rumble strip portion the choose was to try and negotiate the 1’ foot of pavenment between the bone jarring rumble strip and the tire stopping gravel or moving out into the traffic lane and hope to avoid being hit by the passing semi’s and speeding cars who wouldn’t move into the left lane as they passed.  And then things got even worse when as the road approached Galena, the freeway ended and narrowed down to just two traffic lanes and there was no paved shoulder at all.  I had a couple of fearful moments going around curves, hoping that I wouldn’t be passed by a semi, around a corner while another car was coming in the other direcition.  Fortunately I made it through and entered Galena.  I debated were I should stay if I made it to town and opted to pass by the chain motels that were located on the high ground as you entered the City, and instead decided to find something more interesting in the lower downtown portion of the City.  I decided to stop at the Greenbriar Country Inn & Suites, which is a division of the Briargate Hotel Corporation, which is probably a chain of some sort, but the room I stayed in certainly appeared to be an authentically old and charming place.  The nicest of the places I have stayed so far, and even at the midweek discounted rate of $85 the most expensive night of the trip so far, but the $85 is definitely worth the price.

Unfortunately the Greenbrier did not have laundry facilities, but the caretaker of the complex, whose cooking of spaghetti I interrupted, directed me to the only laundry mat in town, located back up into the high part of town.  I debated if I was up for climbing more hills, but after showering and eating my warm yogurt and still non-mushy blueberries for supper I loaded up my dirty cloths and walked my bike up the steep City street, that led to the laundry mat and spent the evening washing clothes, reading a chapter from the book 1984 that I had brought with me, and then going for a brief walk around the charming neighborhood where the Laundromat was located.  I took a dusk stroll through an old cemetery a couple of blocks from the Laundromat that based on the dates that could be read on some of the tombstones appeared to have been inhabited in the early 1800’s.  It was interesting that the spacing between graves was quite far apart, compared to most cemeteries I have been too, unless not all the graves markers remain.  Maybe at the time they didn’t realize how many more graves would be needed and they took advantage of the available real-estate to spread the dead out as far as possible.  With the tourism industry boom that has come to Galena, and the demand for bed and breakfast properties, the vacant graves could probably fetch a pretty penny on today’s market, if they would have packed the dead closer together.    

With my laundry cleaned, I packed up my backs and headed down darkened streets on my bike to return to my room, large soft bed with about 10 pillows, to call it a day.  I gave my daughter Ali a call first to find out how her move out of the dorms went.  I felt a bit guilty for taking off and not being around to participate in the semiannual or more frequent ritual of moving daughters out of dorm rooms, and instead left the duty up to my oldest daughter Paige.  Ali said it went relatively well, but I think I will have to wait and hold out judgment until I talk with Paige.  
So as I approach what will soon be the half-way point of the trip, I need to decide where to go next and when to cross the river to Iowa and start heading back home.

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