Sunday, May 26, 2013

Thursday May 23rd McGregor to La Crescent

Woke up, got out of bed, and didn’t drag a comb across my head, because that is one of the few things I did not bring with – as with a short haircut one is not needed.  But I did as usual eat a typical breakfast and catch up on some writing.  Then I cleaned up the bike chain and derailleurs, packed my bags, and checked out.  

 I learned from the gentlemen cleaning up the restaurant for the 10 am breakfast shift that the owner of the Hotel and Restaurant’s name was Luis.  Then I walked to the bank across the street to find out if they had an ATM to restock my coffers.  Walking into the bank was like walking back into an old movie – the teller lady was standing behind an enclosure – and when I commented on it she said “yes, this is a real old fashioned bank” and she referred me to the Kwik Star (Kwik Trip in Iowa) gas station down the road for the new-fangled ATM. 

Off to the Kwik Star I went, for some cash, a banana, some OJ, and chocolate covered rice crispy bar to feed my latest addiction craving.  While eating my brunch, I watched the Kwik Trip tanker unload probably 6 thousand gallons or so of $3.99 gasoline.  And then I headed out of McGregor, passed the old grain elevator that had been replaced with the new and larger concrete ones up river, and entered its twin City Marquette – home of another river boat casino and headed back up the river squeezed between Highway 76 and the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks. 

The first stop was the Effigy Mounds National Monument for a quick rest stop and a tour of the museum.  The college age students from AmeriCorps, whose tents I saw at the Pikes Peak Campground and later that night saw them eating at the Mexican Restaurant below the Alexandria house where I stayed, were climbing on and gathering round the entrance sign to the Monument for photos from the Monument staff.  While walking in the gentleman behind the counter at the entrance asked if he could help me, and wondered if I was a worker because I had my florescent yellow bike vest on.  I told him that I was not a worker, and suggested he not mistake me for one again and explained the bike vest, and my escape from work via bike.  He gave me a run down on all the place had to offer and asked what I would like to do.  I asked if it was ok if I used the restroom and took a quick walk through the museum – and he said that would be ok.   

While walking through the museum, I found the following quotes worth noting.

Ayuxwa(Iowa) … was such beautiful country.  I loved my villages, my cornfields, the home of my people, and that’s why I fought so hard for it.  It is yours now.  Please keep it as we did … I have looked upon the Mississippi since I was a child. I love the great river.”  Black Hawk – Sauk/Fox

“Every man should have his own Holy Place where he keeps lonely vigil, harkens for the Voices, and offers prayer and praise.”  Chief Wabasha (Le Feuille) – Dakota

“This is the route of my forefathers.  The lands that we have always claimed from old times … We have the history.  It is what bears our name.”  No Heart of Fear – Ioway

“We occupy the same piece of earth as those who went before us.  Time is what separates us – that and vastly different worlds.”  From a sign in the museum.  

On my way out, he told me to “enjoy your bike ride”, and I replied “enjoy your day working”, to which he replied “we always do, but I’m actually a volunteer”, to which I replied “volunteering can be work”.  And then a woman who had brought her young daughter into the museum asked where I was going and I told her and then asked her where she was from.  She said Oklahoma City to visit her mother how lived in town, and she was just visiting friends up the road.  

And then it was back to the bike and up the first of several large climbs to the ridge top I would make on that day.  The climbs up the hills were actually quite awe inspiring along the section of the road.  There was little if any visible development – except for the road – so the trees and grass and plants which were coming into full leaf were powerfully green.  And bird songs filled the air, which at the slow pace I went up hill I was able to listen to in completion.  At the top of the hills would be the typical nicer homes build along the ridge top to take advantage of the grand views of the countryside from the high places with names that reflected the great views – in this case “Fairview Heights”, which didn’t give the view a fair description.   From the ridge top, you
could look down in the valley pasture where the grass was thick and green and a few black cows could been seen eating grass in the meadow, while their calves frolicked around with each other.     

And then it was down the hills and into the next valley, passed the limestone, and then sandstone formations, that represented a descent in time that likely encompassed millions of years, in a few minutes.  On those descents I would wonder what this placed looked like the hundreds of millions of years ago that the sedimentary rock formations were laid down, under an ocean of water.   And then I would need to pay attention to the road, or my distractions could result in me hitting one of these old rocks that had fallen from the face and came to rest on the pavement, which is where I would end up if I didn’t focus.   

And after this descent I ended up back adjacent to the Mississippi River – where the trailers, campers, and other shacks on stilts began to flank the shore line.  Iowa doesn’t seem to believe much in shoreline zoning and allows folks to keep the trailers and other trash in the flood plain.  Through the years the rigs would be raised again and then again as the height of the floods increased.  Unfortunately much of the other stuff that is kept at ground level isn’t necessarily removed before the floods come, and ends up washing away with the rising water.   

Then it was time for a lunch break and rest at a boat landing and park.  I walked down and touched the river while resting – something I hadn’t done for several days, but something I tried to do when I remembered and the river was accessible.  During those times I tried to be thankful for what the river had given to me on this trip and in the past to me, and I hoped that we would not keep trashing it the way we seemed to be doing often.  

Getting back on the road, I began to notice spots along the ditch next to the bluff where the trees and brush had been cleared and large burns had occurred to get rid of the unwanted growth.  As I continued down the road, I came to spots where charred remains were still smoking, and then I came upon some large logs that had been reduced to simmering coals.  The heat from the fire felt good as it was a cool day, I wore my long sleeve shirt and rain coat most of the day to keep warm.  

Eventually I caught up with the crew doing the work.  The road was blocked off by trees that had been cut down.  I talked briefly while I waited with the young flag man who was stopping traffic until the trees could be pushed with an end loader into the pile in the ditch that would be the next batch of trees to be burned.  He said they were going to be building a bike trail in the ditch, the ditch would be filled, and then a trail paved from Waukon Junction to Harpers Ferry.  I asked him who was doing the work and he said the County, and that they had been doing the clearing for about a month now.  I said if they had gotten the work done sooner, I could have tried it out.  After the road was cleared, I passed by the chain saw operators and they yelled out at me that I should have come through in a couple of month and then I could have went down the bike trail.  I yelled back that if they would have worked faster, I could have used the trail on that day.  They replied that I should pay more taxes then.  I didn’t have the heart (or courage) to tell them I was from Minnesota.  

Passing through Harpers Junction, I watched someone mowing a large patch of lawn next to the road that didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose, except to look nice for folks coming in to town.  He was riding a John Deer mower.   I passed by “Bullshit Avenue”, per the sign in front of another trailer park for vacationers, and some large farm fields in the old river flood plain. 
Then I stopped at a fish market that was advertising smoked, pickled, fresh, and even live fish for sale.  A snack or supper of smoked fish sounded pretty tempting so I went into the shop where I could hear a power shop being used to cut up some of the dead fish for processing, and a lady walked out to show me my choices for smoked fish which were buffalo, carp, or cat fish.  I picked the cat which went for $3 something a pound, and my piece came to the bargain price of $1.25.  I packed the treat away in my food bag, and peddled on.  

Heading along the road I passed another interesting old abandoned farmstead, and then headed up the hill and noticed a series of animal tracks – perhaps coyotes – that had walked along the old concrete road, before the concrete had set.  The tracks become fossilized and would likely be around a million years from now when some future folks would ponder what kind of animal had made them and how the strange flat rock laid down in ribbons up and down the hills and valleys were formed and by whom.   

Up another hill, and passed an interesting church with a domed steeple adorned with the typical cross on the top, and graveyard in the back.  And then on through more awe-inspiring valleys, filled with green filled trees – and then the black and white Holsteins on the ridge top looking down at me as I climbed below them.  It seemed like whenever I stopped near the top of one of these climbs to rest and put my coat back on for the cooling descent, a lawn mower could be heard somewhere in a yard above as well. Mowing grass seemed to be the most frequent outside activity of the people I had passed on this trip – besides of course driving cars.  

Then I descended once more into the Mississippi River Valley and approached Lansing, with the coal fired power plant south of town a sign I had reached it.  I was beginning to enter the other side of the river from what I was familiar with so I began to get a good sense of how much farther I needed to go to get to the various towns and I started to set my sights on making it to Brownsville, or perhaps even to La Crescent across the river from my old hometown of La Crosse.  

Lansing was also not too far from the Minnesota border, so if I could pick up the pace I would soon be back in my home state, and for incentive I began racing a tug pushing a work barge upriver.  Then I passed the Corp of Engineers working station on the river, with a couple of artesian wells spilling water into a side bay to the river.  I pulled into Lansing around 3 or 4 where I stopped at the town park for a quick rest stop and water break – watched the local school baseball team jog around the field before practice – with one large youngster breaking out in a walk as he trailed the rest of the pack.   

Then back on the bike, past the local VFW building in the old rail depot with a hand painted red blue and black text on a white background sign noting the “Cost of Freedom” tabulated for all the formal wars that American Soldiers have fought and died in listing number of participating US Soldiers in each war, Deaths of US Soldiers, and then the Years the war was fought.  Next to the sign was an old postal mail drop box also hand painted red white and blue with a picture of the Flag, stuck between the words “Worn Flag Drop Box”.  Based on the number of flags I have seen flying on the trip, I wondered how many actually worn flags ended up in the drop box, and then what was done with the worn flags – was there a cemetery somewhere where worn flags are buried – since I
don’t think it would be appropriate to cremate them, or intern them in a landfill, and recycling would probably be out as well.  I had actually taken to paying special attention on the trip to the flag when I saw one as a warning flag that something of interested was nearby.  

Then it was under the old blue painted unique to Lansing steel truss bridge over the main channel of the river and into the countryside through the river valley.  Then I heard and passed another man out mowing his large lawn on his large John Deer riding lawn tracker, with matching John Dear Tractor mail box located beside the road in front of his lawn.   Then across the Upper Iowa River and through the large flood plain farm fields where farmers had abandoned the practice of raising cows and instead the cash crop of corn and in the process they also
abandoned their old blue Harvester Slurry Store manure storage tanks still half full of old dried manure to the trees that now grew within them.  And then it was to the border City of New Albin, and past the lumber mill located outside of town that turned the trees that grew on the bluff overlooking the river valley into boards.  And then back to the home state of Minnesota.  

I stopped for a moment to look over the marshland that spread out next to the border crossing and watched a green heron hunting next to the water.  The flat road, bluffs lining the river valley, lack of traffic, and blue skies made this a pleasant valley to pass through.  So far, this was probably one of the prettiest sections of the trip, or perhaps I was in a good state of mind.  There was little if any development along this section, due to the steep bluffs and floodplains; so much of the area was structure free – except for the dike for the Genoa Lock and Dam.  Passing next to the dike, I recalled portaging over the dike at an overflow below the road on another paddling trip I had done with some friends a number of years back to get into the backwater channels that flowed through the area below the dike. 

As it approached 6:30 pm, I stopped at an overlook across from the City of Stoddard that was highlighting the construction of some islands that were being built to provide habitat refuge for fish and wildlife.  With the damming and channelizing of the river for navigation purposes, it now became necessary to build places were wildlife could still survive in the now mostly man-made river system.   

There was a quote from Rachel Carson printed on a sign at the overlook that said:

Wild creatures, like men, must have a place to live.  As civilization creates cities, builds highways, and drains marshes, it takes away, little by little, the land that is suitable for wildlife.  And as their space for living dwindles, the wildlife populations themselves decline.  Refuges resist this trend by saving some areas for encroachment, and by preserving in them, or restoring where necessary, the conditions that wild things need in order to live.”

While eating the smoked catfish I had purchased downstream earlier in the day, I felt grateful for the little bit of habitat that still existed along the Great River Road, but I worried that as the planet continued to fill with people, and we continued to consume more and more resources, that the few refuges we built, would not be enough to sustain the natural world or ourselves if we kept up the pace of our “civilization” process.  And unfortunately in our insane quest to consume more and more resources to produce more and more stuff to create larger and larger profits, we too would in the end suffer the consequences of our mad way of life – as if we weren’t already.  The moment of quiet and reflection and feeding restored me for the miles I had left if I was to make it to La Crescent before dark.  

So I headed down the road once again, passing through the town of Brownsville and the campground I thought about staying at if I ran out of energy, and then on through the beautiful Root River valley.  The river was still up some in the farm fields built in the river’s flood plains, and was moving at a good pace when it passed under the bridge I crossed.  The lowering sun was beginning to paint alternating patterns of shadows and soft rounded green tree covered bluffs.  The steep rock cliff faces too were highlighted by the setting sun, as were the old steel beam railroad bridge that carried many a train car over the root in the multitude of decades it had been in service.  And the swallows swooped across the water in search of some insects to feed on.  And then I noticed the full moon rising in the eastern sky, over the distant Mississippi River Valley.

Moving closer to La Crescent, the road passed a group of about 20 Alpaca’s, confined in a small vegetation free pen.  The creatures had all been laying down when I passed, but when I stopped to watch them for a moment, they all stood up to watch me.  All their fur had been sheared off – I presume to make some yarn for their own to sell and pay for their keep.  The animals had a sad look in their eyes – one that seemed to be pleading with me to do something to free them so they could roam the land unconfined, not forced to spend their days watching cars speed by, staring at the grass outside the fence, living an existence of having feed being brought to them and served in a trough, so they could grow more hair to be sheared off when it reached harvest time.  But then again, maybe these were just soulless creatures put on this earth to serve our human wants and needs, like the rest of the critters who stood and stared at me as I passed them on the Great River Road.  How we treated them mattered little in our world where making another dollar was what really mattered.   
And then as the land rose above the river valley onto dryer ground, large farms began to occur again.  The earth had been cleared for hundreds of acres, as it had for the hundreds of miles of fields I had passed on this trip, denuded of all forms of life that would compete with the one, two, or on the most diverse farms three crops that were desirable.  Corn however seemed to be king, as the cut up stalks from last year’s crop revealed. 

As the sun descended behind the bluffs, I entered La Crescent, looking for a hotel or motel.  Nearing the end of town, I stopped at another Kwik Trip to ask if there were any in town, or if I would need to cross back over the river to La Crosse to find a place to stay.  And crossing it would be as apparently there were no rooms for weary travelers on this side of the river, so I headed across and decided to stop at the Pettibone Park RV Park and Campground to find out about a campsite for the night.  I had become quite accustomed to the life of leisure provide by staying under a roof with my own private bathroom, no bugs (I hoped) to harass me, and a queen or even king sized mattress in lieu of my inflatable 24” by 6’ long sleeping pad that typically road behind me in a stuff sack strapped to my pannier.  But crossing one of the twin span blue bridges over the main channel back to the East bank was not something I wanted to do.    

The young lady at the bar of the campground who registered me for the night did not seem to interested in conversing to me beyond the business at hand and seemed offended when I asked if I would have to pay to use the shower when she replied I might need a few quarters to get the water running as I stood waiting in the bar to complete the computerized registration process.  I listened briefly to two women in their 50’s, conversing at the bar about the pains in their necks and how they were not ready yet to go through the surgery being recommended to them to eliminate the pain.  So I am not sure if their solution was to sit at bars and drink away the pain, until they felt they were old enough to undergo the more permanent neck fusing surgery, but it seemed that way to me.       

So I headed off into the darkening campground to try and find my $23 campsite 633 amongst the hundreds of mostly empty sites that lined the un-flooded sections of the campground.  It appeared that the prime sites located on the river channel and near the showers were reserved for the regulars who kept their RV and Campers at the site year round – except when they had to be removed during flood stages.  I found the sites designated for “walk-ins” and “tents” next to the highway embankment leading up to the blue bridge.  I passed one site that had multiple tents set up, but no campers around, and one other site with a young couple and old truck camper, but could not find site 633.  I made a couple of more passes up and the vagrant camper sites and finally decided to take the unoccupied site 630 with no other campers nearby – as I hoped to not be disturbed – and hoped I would not cause a dilemma by not going to my computer designated site.     
I quick set up my tent, unpacked my gear, and headed to the shower at around 10 p.m..  I finally figured out how to turn the shower on, and was grateful that the shower would not add to my already pricey bill for the nights camping.  Then I headed back to the tent hoping to crash for the night as I was really tired after traveling a rather long 67 miles over about 11 hours.  I was almost asleep, somehow tuning out the sound of the cars climbing the bridge abutment behind me, when I heard several male voices at the pack of tents I saw earlier.  The group seemed to be taking turns telling stories and then the group would if on cue laugh in the way only young male voices can at appropriate times during the story.  At one point one rather loud voice could be heard reading from a book.  I was trying to figure out what the story was about, and why this particular group of young men would find this particular what seemed to me a boring section of the book of interest or worthy of laughter, but from the distance, and in my growing frustrated state, I must have been missing something.   

It was finally about 1 am, when I heard the story telling come to a close and heard smaller groups walk by my campsite talking loudly on their way to the bathroom, which I hoped would be the last I heard from them for the night and it was, as the full moon reached the height of it trip around the planet I finally feel a sleep with the moon light streaming into to my screen door. 

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