Here, why my country roads are the best place ever:
- The beauty of nature – Sometimes it’s no wonder it takes me so damn long to get anywhere on my bike. Because I look over and see two blue herons in a cornfield, and stop to observe how graceful they are. Then I hear the piercing cry of a hawk - yep, stop there too. I also go in little circles so that I can get closer to hawks as they fly around. The baby cows all look up at me in unison as I go past them. It’s all so serene, peaceful, gorgeous……I’m not a particularly religious person, but sometimes I swear God is in them there cornfields. Plus there are the occasional oddities, like….
- Camels. I’m biking along on yet another hot morning, and see a tractor coming towards me, slowly, with horse clopping along behind it. The girl driving it and I wave to each other as they pass, and I look over at the horses…..wait, not horses. Camels?? Yes, camels. And no, I haven’t been drinking while riding.
- Crystal Lake Ski & Bike. I recommend to all of you that you get the clips on your shoes changed before they get to the point where they’re little nubbins and to clip in at all requires contortions of epic proportions. Because then one day in desperation you’ll try to put new clips on yourself, and will wind up cursing and screaming at said shoes when the screws won’t come out, and so you jury-rig the shoe in such a way that you hope it holds. Which it doesn’t, as the clip comes off and remains wedged in your pedal as you’re grinding up a hill, and the jury-rigged screw you used is digging into your foot. All while you’re out in the boondocks. Oops. So I head into CLS&B with my sad little shoes, plunk them down on the counter, and with the most pathetic face I can muster, say “help me!” The people at this fine store spring into action! Whereupon they discover that the one screw is stripped, so we all duck as they’re trying to pry that one out, and the other ones need special screws, but somehow in a joint effort they manage to get the old clips off and the new ones on (that I came in with) and victory is declared! I’m so happy that I pronounce them all my favorite people in the entire world – and this is even before they tell me they’re not charging me for any of this, which took quite a while. I love this place.
- Apple. As with the bike shoes, I go into the Apple store, iPod in hand, and when they ask what’s wrong, I inform them that “we have a national tragedy on our hands.” Please note how I used the term “we,” to make sure they feel as invested in this as I am and to ensure that they work with me to come up with a resolution. Yes, it seems my trusty iPod, which has been with me everywhere for years, is no longer holding a charge. They go to check it out, and I set about my usual task, that of calling up my blog on all the computers. Hey, they wouldn’t have computers sitting out if they didn’t want me to do this, right? Anyway, it turns out my iPod’s battery is kaput, so we mourn together, and then I buy an iPod Nano, notably in a different color from the one I got my mom. Because hers now has 95% Ukrainian music and 5% Celtic Woman on it, and should our iPods get switched, I’m not sure whose head would explode first.
- The kindness of strangers. Did I mention that I decided to start Ramping Up during a week of record heat and humidity? I think I did. Which is why I kept finding myself in the countryside with no water, because it was just that damn hot. One day I stopped at a garden center, where the nice woman gave me a diet Pepsi for free, as that was all they had. Another day I stopped at a farmhouse, where the nice man apologized profusely for water that’s “not very good, it’s well water” etc. – to which I told him it was the best water I’d ever had. Because it was.
Then there was the day I was riding past a farm and looking intently at the berry bushes in front, trying to figure out what they were. At the same time I see the sign about the organic raspberry farm, I also see a man waving his arms frantically, much as someone who’s shipwrecked on an island would do. Could Timmy be in the well and the barn on fire? I pull into the driveway and stop.
Him: Are you okay? Do you need some water? It’s hot!
Turns out his name is Mike, and he and his wife Ann own this adorable farm, Grace Farm, which not only has pick your own raspberries, but quilting classes, gorgeous quilting materials for sale, and all sorts of other neat things. After piling raspberries and water on me, Mike sends me off, telling me if it gets too hot and I get stuck, to call him and he’ll come get me. Salt of the earth, these people.
- The gas station in Harvard, IL. On my rides at least I get to the point of no return – where I’ve gone far enough such that I need water to get back, even though it’s really too hot to ride further, but if I turn around now I’ll expire in a cornfield. So that was me, knowing that the town of Harvard was somewhere up ahead, many turns later, but not sure exactly how many miles later. When I finally got here, 28 miles in and my turnaround point on a 98 degree day, it was like arriving at Mecca.
- The drivers. Yes, there’s the occasional Garbage Truck From Hell, but overall? I’d say 95% of the cars, trucks, etc. give me a very wide berth, plenty of space. And while I confess that I get a wee bit annoyed by signs telling drivers to “start seeing motorcycles,” because when I’m driving the vast majority of motorcyclists are weaving in and out of traffic, speeding at 100+mph, and how the hell am I supposed to see a speeding weaving fool? This is not true though for the guys on Harleys. I see a lot of them while riding, and to a one, they are always riding responsibly, at the speed limit, being good driving citizens. They totally rock.
- My awesome friends. I love how no matter what kind of bullshit I come up with – true though it always is – they have an amazing ability to humor me. For example, after I had gone on a long ride on an insanely hot day, I found myself driving past the Sun City golf course, where people were actually golfing! WTH? My first thought – “What kind of idiots would be golfing on a day like today? It’s insanely hot!” I post this on Facebook, and my Alert Friends respond appropriately:
Jennifer: You would be pot or kettle?
Shannon, after I tell her that the golfers are more crazy than the cyclists, right?: "Oh...Of COURSE not as nutty as the golfers *mumbling-who walk at a snail's pace or ride around in a golf cart*."
And when I seethe with rage about the ZUCCHINI THIEVES who are plundering my garden, and issue a call to arms, the support is immediate:
Bridget: Here's what we need: about 75 feet of concertina wire, stakes, two or three claymores, maybe a bouncing Betty or two, noisemakers, fishing line, and a large burlap sack. Or just the sack and we can capture the thief alive to teach others.
Cori: Are you riding across Iowa to find somewhere to bury the body of the zucchini thief?
Kim: Definitely capture alive, punishment should be flogging through the streets of Skokie then and cut off his hand and put that on a stake in the garden to show others what their destiny would be if they too are a thief. Let the perpetrator live so that he can tell others to avoid the patty pan lot.
You can see why I have the friends I do.
- My mom. My poor mom. She’s not too happy that Kona and I basically camp out at her place so I can go riding – as we leave her place a shambles, I putter around in the kitchen making my coffee at 5AM, Kona goes to wake her up also at 5AM in the belief that if he’s up, everyone should be up, etc. She likes her peace and quiet, and the orderliness of her house. The Kone and I, we ain’t all that orderly. Yet she puts up with us, worrying, picking me up when I have a bike malfunction that I can’t fix because I was a dumbass that one day and didn’t bring my tire changing stuff. So, thanks mom. And it was very cute how today she pressed some money upon me, telling me “here’s some spending money for your trip!” Love it.
All in all, I’d definitely say the positives outweigh the negatives – I can only hope the same will be true for this RAGBRAI madness, though I’m sure it will. And rest assured, I will be sure to adhere to my guiding principle, of “doing the stupid things, so you don’t have to.”