Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why the Wounded Warrior Project Matters

While I sit at home resting and preparing for the second and more difficult portion of the cross country journey, you'll have noticed I haven't written much. In the near future as I print my maps and do my research there will be a preview of the five states I still have to transport my unwilling legs across. For now, though, I'll give you all a little research to do, but don't worry its as on point as can be expected of one as flighty as I am wont to be. More specifically I have three Wounded Warrior Project related bits of news.
First off, check out this recent NPR series of articles relating to a group of Marines fighting in Afghanistan. The regular news may have limited coverage of the action overseas, but guess what, Americans are still dying and being severely injured in our name. The need for the services of the WWP is only going to continue to grow.
For those of you more into visual stimulation, "Who Will Stand" is a recent documentary on those returning from war and their difficulty dealing with their physical injuries and just as importantly, the need for psychological care. Interviews with those who have served underline the stigma and damage to careers which can result when a member of the military seeks help for PTSD or other combat-related disorders.
Finally, please check out my friend Swagman John's site on Facebook. He is organizing an Appalachian trail hike to support the WWP. I met John on the C&O Trail coming out of Washington DC and he gave me assistance and advice which left me better prepared to complete the first leg. He and other thru hikers will be carrying a bear bell shaped like a chicken along the entire route from Georgia to Maine to raise funds for the charity.
Even more finally, check out "Doonesbury" from time to time. The cartoon features two characters who are wounded warriors and their difficulties reintegrating into society after their terrible injuries. B.D., an reservist who lost his leg in Fallujah and Toggle, a young man who sustained a traumatic brain injury, regularly appear in the comic's world.

Thanks to recent donations from:
Rebecca Hartness

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Hiker's Mixtape

Until the death of the I-pod somewhere in Central Iowa, music was a major factor in the maintenance of my sanity over the last few months. Even afterward there were certain songs I would sing to myself for motivation or merely to see what sort of animals would be driven to suicide.
Since I had some time on my hands, I spent many of the hours composing a list of tunes which seemed to fit the traveling theme. Journey somehow does not make the list. I must subconsciously have too much respect for Steven Perry's legacy to attempt to equal his greatness with my own mortal vocal cords. Feel free to chip in with your own suggestions - there is still a mile or two thousand to go yet.

1. "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake - Believe me, as much as I appreciate the eternal greatness of Europe and Great White, I'm not a huge fan of this era of music. That being said, there simply is not a more fitting way to start a day on the trail than with "Here I Go Again," which became my official theme song by the middle of the trek. Coverdale tells a tale of surviving in the face of adversity over and over again each day. I've also been described as a drifter in certain publications, so I can definitely feel where he's coming from here.

2. "Country Roads" by John Denver - Again, John Denver is not an artist whose collection I would regularly raid for inspiration. Geographically though, this song just made sense - I couldn't go more than an hour in West Virginia, especially the rural mountainous areas, without starting to belt out this ballad. Take me home John.

3. "Within a Mile of Home" by Flogging Molly - The Irish rock band Flogging Molly is a more predictable piece of the puzzle. I've seen these fellows perform on several different occasions and have always been impressed by their stage presence and their ability to play as if the current show was their last. Never have I been in the midst of a more amped up crowd than during a Flogging Molly concert. Obviously, the title pretty much explains why "Within.." is relevant, but why don't you give yourself the pleasure of a listen anyway.

4. "The Road Behind" by GWAR - A power ballad from a bunch of men used to playing heavy metal dressed up like human genitalia comes as a bit of a surprise to those who don't properly appreciate the musical versatility GWAR consistently displays every ten years or so. Most artists lack the vision to integrate roadkill into their works, but not GWAR. The complex stanzas also speak of wheels rolling, not a luxury I am allowed, but listen carefully - their's is a metaphorical journey on a bus to rock, do drugs, destroy planets, and vomit. The connection may be fleeting when compared to my trip using a semblance of logic, but if you've followed closely you'll notice a similarity in the weirdness factor that is truly irresistible.

5. "Powerwalking" by Archers of Loaf - A lot of people who think they are funny suggested a comparison between myself and Forest Gump. Besides the fact that they seem to be implying I am semi-retarded, they also displayed a complete ignorance of the fact that a hiking pack weighs forty pounds. If you carefully view the film, you'll notice Mr. Hanks is carrying nothing of the sort, thus his ability to run. On the other hand, I would have considered advice relating to power-walking, which is indeed faster than regular walking. The Archers of Loaf succinctly explain here why such an approach is flawed and I owe them many thanks.

6. "Long Way Home" by Enter the Haggis - You'll be glad to know the lyrics for this track have nothing to do with the insides of a sheep's intestines or the cooking preparation thereof. Instead, these Canadians deliver a softer version of the Celtic thunder pumped out by the Mollies. The theme is the same, a long trip with the end not yet in sight, a feeling I had often and imagine I will have again in the near future.

7. "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson - I haven't spent enough days in my life smoking the copious amounts of marijuana necessary to properly comprehend the greatness of Willie or else "On the Road Again" would probably have beat out Whitesnake as my official theme song. In addition, on some days saying I just can't wait to get on the road again would have been a bald faced lie. Nevertheless, this testament to the joy found in America's wide open spaces could not be left off the honor roll.

8. "Way Down the Old Plank Road" by Old Crow Medicine Show - I spent a couple days on this very road while traipsing through Illinois, so I would have been remiss if this oft-covered folk song was omitted here. There are, however, elements of the chorus I have to take umbrage with since, in all honesty, I probably will not be participating in the sober future the singer proclaims.

9. "Sec Walkin" by My Morning Jacket - "Left leg, right leg..." I won't ruin the beauty of the band's efforts here by using the kinds of words a writer would splatter on the screen to inspire in the reader a sort of Godlike awe before a chance is given to examine the material. Do your homework and you'll understand why.

10. "Amazing Journey" by the Who - Granted, I'm not deaf, dumb, blind, or even any good at pinball. Regardless, the album "Tommy" has always spoken to me. What about a journey filled with mysterious figures and endless adventures could appeal to me? Um, pretty much everything.

11. "Walk, Don't Run" by the Ventures - See number five.

12. "Adventures in Solitude" by the New Pornographers - This song earned a spot on this list thanks to a magical moment during a hike several years ago, long before I came up with the not completely sensible idea of walking across the country. I had been having a hard time in my personal life and decided to take a trip up to the top of Table Rock to clear my head. Just as I reached the apex, "Adventures..", which I had just downloaded and theretofore never heard, came on my I-pod. The whole of the piece is somber and beautiful in a way the written word can't justify, but there is one line which stood out in my mind. "We thought we'd lost you, welcome back." My mind immediately went to Ken and a couple other friends of mine who had survived near-death experiences. Suddenly all the comparatively minor problems I was going through faded into obscurity. I sat atop Table Rock and wept tears of joy.

Honorable mentions: "Hit the Road, Not Your Woman, Jack" by Ray Charles, "I Would Walk Some Indeterminate Amount of Miles" by the Proclaimers, " Christopher Walken is Really Funny in that Fatboy Slim Video" by Wilco (or "Walken" if you're not into the whole brevity thing).

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Day After

September 23: As always, there is a day after, unless y0u die, then yours is canceled. My flight home wasn't scheduled until five a.m. Saturday morning, so since I was not yet hanging with Kenny (those bastards!) there was the matter of twenty four hours left to kill before departure.
The baking and alcohol dispensing industries both required Dan's services, meaning Meggan was left alone to administer the one day grand tour of Council Bluffs and Omaha. She first took us to Hot Shops, where Dan's brother Chris plies his trade as a metal-worker with serious artistic chops. He is the man responsible for the iron work outside O'Leaver's.
Housed in an old warehouse, Hot Shops is basically a gallery exhibiting an ever-shifting and varied series of pieces from local painters, photographers, sculptors, and other artistic types. There are also work spaces where creators like Chris craft their handiwork.
Following an hour of awestruck wandering amidst the genius of creative minds we picked up Sherman (Dan and Meggan's canine) and headed over to the Hitchcock Nature Center. On the way I saw my first black squirrel. Council Bluffs is famous for the rare coloration. The city protects the squirrel vigorously. It is illegal here to "taunt, maim, kill, annoy or otherwise disturb a black squirrel." You should also not taunt super happy fun ball.
After a short drive we arrived at Hitchcock Nature Center. The preserve houses some of Iowa's largest remaining tracts of prairie and also happens to lie square in the center of the loess hills. We went for a stroll (no rest for the wicked) and I took a long deep breath, grabbing one last glimpse of the Iowa outdoors while Meggan chided Sherman for running off for the seven thousandth time. Towards the end we came upon a sorry sight - a beautiful yellow and turquoise snake trapped alive in the mesh net which coated the ground.
I don't know what the purpose of the mesh was, but I found it bitterly ironic that in a place meant to preserve nature mankind had managed to trap and possibly destroy the very thing we had meant to protect. Without my knife I felt powerless to free the poor beast. We instead traveled back to the park office and informed the woman on duty of the serpent's predicament. I'd like to say there was a happy ending, but the animal's fate is unknown, I can only hope the ranger was able to free him in time.
Our next destination was the Grenville Dodge house. Council Bluffs has a fascinating history dating back to a visit from the Lewis and Clark expedition, who conducted a palaver here in 1804 with the Otoe and Missouria Indians on the site where the town would one day be built. The council part of the city's name derives from this historic meeting between the explorers and the doomed aborigines.
Dodge was one of the earliest settlers to move into the area, making his home here in the 1850s. A previous attempt to settle farther west in Nebraska was rebuffed by hostile Comanche tribesmen who signaled their displeasure with flying arrows and spears. Taking the hint, the young man and his wife moved to the healthier environment of newly formed Council Bluffs.
In his twenties G.D. was already a serious mover and shaker. He set up a banking business with his family and became a player in the railroad game as well. The young man had been involved in surveying since the age of fourteen and had recently received a degree in civil engineering before leaving his birthplace in Massachusetts and heading out to the frontier.
The Civil War presented Dodge with the opportunity of quick advancement. He started the conflict as a colonel. During the next few years he accomplished the rare feat of living while also earning respect and friendship from luminaries in the military establishment such as Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. As a result Dodge became one of the Union's youngest major generals, helping Sherman to burn and loot all the way to Atlanta before a shot to the head convinced Dodge a job commanding the Department of Missouri might be more his style.
Once the rebels were defeated the general moved back into civilian life, becoming the chief engineer of the Union Pacific. 1866 was an incredibly exciting era to be involved in the company. Union Pacific was in the process of building the Trans-Continental Railroad, which would be the first to connect the Pacific coast with the rest of the country.
After the golden spike was driven to celebrate the completion of the project, Dodge became a globe trotting surveyor for other amazing engineering achievements such as the Trans-Siberian Railroad and a railroad in France which he built despite the participation of the French. He also spent many years as a representative of Iowa in the United States Congress.
When Grenville Dodge died in 1916 he was the last Civil War general to begin the below ground decomposition process. How do we summarize such an amazing career? Some say the general was a bit off his rocker thanks to the head wound he earned in 1864. Others point to his involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal as a mark against the man. There are even those who speak of his lobbying for the railroads in Washington while he was a lawmaker as a questionable conflict of interest. Although I admit others are entitled to opinions that are wrong, I feel Dodge was a really swell guy.
After signing our non-disclosure agreement, promising not to bash General Dodge in any written form, Meggan and I were allowed into the Dodge residence, which had been turned into a museum. The mansion was purchased in 1869 thanks to proceeds from insider trading which we refer to here as sound investing.
There were many interesting baubles and trinkets inside, including some original wallpaper, which would really have blown your mind if "Better Homes and Garden" is your idea of a magazine. During our tour my interest in home furnishings waned, as my stomach was gnawing upon my lower intestines, bringing the normal attention span of zero to an even lower rating if you believe in those sort of imaginary numbers.
Meggan had said something earlier about dim sum and the reckoning had finally come, steamed Chinese delicacies were our due. The meal did require a trip west into Omaha, however, all the way to Gold Mountain on 730,000th street, which I believe is only twenty miles east of the Colorado border.
The drive proved worth the effort. Squid, roasted duck, spare ribs, and a fantastic turnip cake, the revelation of the meal, all danced on my palate like Sugar Plum fairies enjoying one last prance before the inevitable agonizing drowned doom within my acidic insides. We picked up some to-go items for the poor imprisoned Dan and went to visit him at O'Leaver's.
Soon after the day disappeared into hazy night a last celebration in the far west commenced. Dan escaped his shackles behind the bar and joined us, along with his parents, for a last cocktail or two before saying goodbye.
The moment slipped by all too quickly and before I knew early morning had come. I was whisked away to the Omaha airport and back into the waiting arms of my friends in Greenville. Suddenly the last few months felt like a great long dream. If so, I can't wait until April when I can go back to sleep.

o miles/1796 total miles

Thanks to recent donors:
Peggy Byrd and Harlan Newton
Colin Stewart
Greenville Area Blue Star Mothers
John and Dot Bishop
Ed Kemp
Dan Kemp and Meggan Gibson
Monty and Teresa Hoyle
Mark and Melissa Normington
Paul and Sally Hoover
Josh and Katie Gillespie
Cindy Walsh

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Last Walk (For Now)

September 22: I woke with the finish line for 2011's hike nearly in sight. Given my late April kickoff stopping in Omaha makes too much sense. Winter is approaching with increased vigor and I would need to send for my cold weather gear to continue onward. In truth I wouldn't have minded some warmer clothes the last two weeks. My sleeping bag only gives enough protective heat to ward off temperatures of forty degrees or more and the nights have fallen below that plateau on occasion.
Even if I were to press on despite the elements, my current pace would mean reaching the Rockies around November. Many of the passes are 12,000 feet or more in height and would still be closed for months. Better to restart in April and arrive in the same area at a more reasonable season of the year.
Amazingly I had reasoned all of this out months ago and wasn't deciding via the typical whimsy to stop here. Therefore my demeanor was even gayer than usual as I stepped from Dan's car. I heartily sang the trip's theme songs as I skipped along (see "The Hiker's Mixtape") and the short distance flew by as I mangled the lyrics and eviscerated the concepts of harmony and rhythm.
The last few hundred yards of the Lake Manawa Trail quickly disappeared behind and another path led me back to Veterans Memorial Highway, where yet another pedestrian friendly walkway carried me the final couple of miles to the promised land. I was overwhelmed by too many thoughts and feelings as the bloated Missouri River passed underneath. A couple of the larger structures of Omaha appeared to the north and I followed their beacon into the city.
I had arranged to meet Meggan downtown at two. With the current hour only noon why not knock out of few extra miles? The ADT headed north through some of Omaha's better known landmarks, Rosenblatt Stadium and the Henry Doorly Zoo.
Rosenblatt played host to the College World Series from 1950 to 2010 when the Armageddon of a South Carolina Gamecocks national championship caused the opening of a new facility, which the Gamecocks subsequently attempted to destroy in 2011 by winning again (the second stadium seems to have survived this unthinkable event).
Rosenblatt's neighbor is the Omaha Zoo, where thousands of animals are kept imprisoned. The inmates do get plenty of visitors, over a million attendees pay for the privilege of gawking at the caged wildlife. In 1963 the zoo was renamed in honor of Henry Doorly, a former engineer used to not caring about people, much less animals. His particular Horatio Alger story is worth telling.
After marrying into a rich family of newspaper publishers Doorly was given a job on the Omaha World-Herald, where he failed miserably but kept his job thanks to his connections. Eventually he inherited the publication, living the American dream, continually rising because of who he knew rather than by his own merits.
Howard Street Market, which I reached less than a half an hour later was more to my liking. A string of restaurants and quaint shops housed in old brick buildings line either side of the street. The Old Market sprung up here only a decade after the Civil War thanks to the city's location as a major central hub on the ever-expanding American railway network. The entire area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I had traveled only ten blocks more when Meggan's class ended and we arranged a rendezvous at the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center, on the corner of 20th Street and Farnum. 2012's journey will begin in that very spot, my feet, back, and shoulders having all successfully reached this year's resting place.
Dan joined us for a celebratory lunch on a break from work. Since we were in Omaha I eschewed the offer of another terrible tenderloin in order to pay homage to a local original. According to sandwich lore, the Reuben was created at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha by Reuben Kulakofsky sometime during the 1920s. One succulent bite of corned beef and sauerkraut is enough to affirm the juicy genius of his invention.
We spent the rest of the day at O'Leaver's, keeping Dan company during his shift at the Irish pub. With the names of the cast of "Friends" etched in ironwork on the patio fence outside and LPs covering the inside like wallpaper, O'Leaver's is not your ordinary bar. Besides hosting a variety of musical acts they also create their own events, such as the Man Pageant, where the events of a Miss America's contest are opened up to the male gender. Creativity is highly valued and the Speedo is finally fully appreciated during the swim suit competition.
As I sat with Dan, Meggan, and their friends I felt a sense of satisfaction at reaching my first year's hiking goal. Even though the trek is done, there is yet more work to do. With only a little more than a month remaining in this year's fund-raiser I am only two-thirds of the way to my 2011 goal of $10,000. I've had some great experiences over the last five months, but all is for naught if I don't fulfill my promise to Ken and to the Wounded Warrior Project. There are still some more hills to climb.

10 miles/1796 total miles

Thanks to all my new friends in Iowa:
Trevor and Teeni Schellhorn
Matt Butler and Heidi Mannetter
Daniel Kemp and Meggan
Claudia Wallick
Ken and Lois Irwin
Monty and Terry
Craig and Connie Klinefelter
Sherry Prindle
Doug Berlin
Brad Gary
Ada McEwan
The Marshall family
Mel and Barbara in Henderson
Claudia and Herb in Henderson

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Halfway House

September 21: Tonight was the last I will spend in a tent and with cold weather already beginning to strike the plains like a less racist John Rocker fastball my timing is just right. I was wrapped inside my sleeping bag for much of the frigid evening with the haunting pleas of the coyote and the similarly noisy approach of airplanes into Omaha jolting me out of anything resembling slumber.
The coyotes' yelps seemed to come from only a short distance away. My fear has shrunk demonstrably after spending so many nights amongst the creatures. I only peed myself a little on this occasion.
With only twenty miles left to the Nebraska border I moved slowly. Not because I wanted to, all I can think about is finishing, but I had promised my hosts in Council Bluffs, Dan and Meggan that I would show up on Thursday. Already having changed my arrival date once I was loathe to do so again.
My dilemma was solved when Dan texted to check on my progress. I told him of my plan to sleep on the trail or just grab a hotel in Council Bluffs for tonight. He threatened to stab me repeatedly with sharp knives if I didn't stay at his house so I calmly acceded to his reasonable demand.
Most of the early walking was spent on the Wabash Trace Trail, another retired railroad. This particular line had followed the migratory path of the buffalo. The animals choose the path of least resistance, avoiding hills and rivers whenever possible and we humans have often "traced" trails after these long established highways, thus the term trace.
There were indeed hills here, a rare geological feature called loess. Wind blown soil went on the traveling road of the gypsy after the last Ice Age. Freed from an ancient prison under the glaciers, the sediments gathered in hills between sixty and two hundred feet in height, mainly on the Iowa side of the Missouri River. These unusual formations are found in only one other place on earth: near the Huang He River in China.
The trail terminated slightly south of Council Bluffs and I decided to make another one of my famously rash decisions, attempting to read the minds of the ADT planners. Instead of joining 275 and taking the busy highway straight west I tried to cut the corner, heading onto another bike trail towards Lake Manawa State Park. This way I could enjoy the scenery of the Missouri River flood plain.
Little did I know, (since I'm not exactly watching the news much lately) the river is experiencing what is known as a 500 year flood, which although rare (bet you can guess how often they occur) are sort of bad. Part of the path through Manawa had been swamped by the overflow, forcing me to take off my shoes and wade through a few inches of icky water. Truly an unendurable hardship I know.
Of more concern was the fact that I was now operating off of my maps, blindly shooting west in the assumption I could somehow stumble into a river crossing. Planning is so over-rated. Did I mention I will be walking through the mountains and the desert next year? How can anything go wrong?
Dan again bailed me out with a phone call mentioning he was now off of work and could pick me up anytime. Now seemed like a good answer and luckily he was quite familiar with the park, scooping me up a few minutes later.
We were quite excited to see one another, especially me since he had a computer whose technological wizardry I could use to extrapolate my location. After doing some figuring at their home the three of us thought some celebrating of my impending finish was in order.
First let's speak some of Dan and Meggan. I had met them on a fateful day in Reinbeck, Iowa although some details of our meeting were fuzzy thanks to a strange blow to the head I must have suffered during our palaver. Dan is a baker, chef, bartender, musician, and not a candlestick maker who formerly served in the Marines. His father was also in the corps. Meggan also practices the service industry arts, working part time as a sous chef while she earns her accounting degree.
The considerate couple took me out to a place known as the German bar, because no one knows its actual name. We were very concerned not to overdo things, so we consumed only one beer, which was served in a glass boot. Someone must have slipped a mickey into the container for the rest of the night is kind of a blur, except for some vague memories of a succulent steak and tangy risotto which Dan prepared later in the evening.

16 miles/1786 total miles

Friday, September 23, 2011

Biker Bar

September 20: The sound of thunder woke me just as the sky began to show signs of morning light. I hopped to work and broke down my REI Half Dome and retreated into the city park's shelter moments before the rains came. Mel's wife Barbara showed up only minutes later and took me to their home. Blueberry pancakes were on the breakfast menu there and I drowned them in a homemade peach butter Mel described unironically as dee-diddly-delicious. I must say, Flanders would certainly have been quite pleased with the concoction.
I thanked Mel and Barbara and we said our goodbyes. More dull road greeted me as I marched out of Henderson towards Silver City. There is very little to report as far as scenery -although I did see a recently deceased falcon. Not the normal brand of roadkill - raccoons have been the most common lately as I seem to have drifted out of possum land. These morbid markers on my passage are a constant reminder of my own mortality and the need to be vigilant even on these rarely traveled country roads.
I reached Silver City by three, only to discover City Hall was closed for the week. Mayor Quimby must be attending a strippers convention in Vegas.
Unsure what to do I procrastinated while filling my gullet with some flavorful chicken wings at Austin's on the Trail. The pub seemed out of place in the otherwise decrepit village. The Iowa bike culture is responsible for such an incongruous existence. Silver City sits on the Wabash Trace Trail, a rail trail I will be taking tomorrow to the Council Bluffs/Omaha area. Riders flock to the bar's Thursday taco special in such droves that the business is supported almost wholly by their take on that single day of the week. Austin's is also a participant in a state wide biking bar hop. The drunken gaggle of two-wheeled self-propulsionists visit an arranged set of establishments and order a particular cocktail at each. How many days this pilgrimage consumes is no doubt dependent on the tolerance of the individual bicyclist.
None of this information resulted in a bed for the night, so I decided to travel down the Wabash Trace a while, maybe to see if Mineola had anything to offer. On the way I spotted a nice patch of ground which spoke to me, a foul temptress I could not resist. I heeded the call and set up, sat down, and passed out.

15 miles/1770 total miles

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


September 19: Two days with little momentum in the right direction and I was ready to put that trend to bed. The sun wasn't on my side early, but neither had the rain continued in opposition. Instead thoughts of San Francisco popped into my mind amidst a heavy fog. The irrepressible mist clung thickly for most of the morning, limiting visibility to thirty feet or less. Cars drifted out of the soup with little warning. I picked up the pace but sheer motion had no effect on the weather. Griswold was a cloudy blur, if not for the fog lights at Casey's I probably wouldn't have noticed the town's existence. Casey's, if you're wondering, is the leading convenience store in these parts, beating out Kum and Go. I can not begin to imagine why.
Finally Ra's rays defeated the pesky moisture and the sky was clear by eleven when I trod into Elliott. I drew three aces at the library. Even though the building was closed until one, two women and one man were working inside and allowed me to check my e-mail. After some conversation about my quest with Ada and her two colleagues (Laura and Ada's husband Red) they were keen to help me any way they could. A phone call to Mel, the local pastor who happened to live in Henderson, my destination for the day, allowed me to relax in the knowledge I had a safe place to stay.
A juicy hamburger at J&W's followed and I made my way quickly out of Elliott. Seven hours of daylight remained and so too did fifteen miles of road. They were a mostly uneventful grind, although I am happy to report I met a state patrolman who was very polite and looking to assist me. Two points to the good for the boys in blue here in Iowa (I had forgotten to mention another nice lad near West Liberty).
By six I was growing extremely weary and sending prayers out for some sign of Henderson. An answer came quickly with the screech of brakes. Mel, returning from the church, was glad to take my bag and inform me I had only a little over a mile left to go. The news was music to my ears, not to mention shins and back.
In Henderson I was greeted by the preacher as well as the mayor, Claudia, and her husband Herb, who is on the town council. The latter two invited me to dine with them over in Donia (Macedonia) at the Back Forty.
Claudia and Herb had both worked at Union Carbide for over twenty years before being dragged into politics by the unexpected resignation of the previous mayor. They had just become great grandparents and the little one, Madison, joined us for a tremendous meal. The restaurant did not skimp on the portions - Claudia's was especially generous, I could have sworn there was a Mexican or two hiding underneath her massive pile of nachos.
Once supper was concluded I was taken back to Mel and Barbara's (his wife), who allowed me use of their shower. Afterward we headed to the city park where Mel helped me to set up my tent in the dark. Sleep came almost immediately after such a long hard slog. I knew I'd be safe there, after all I'm friends with the mayor. I know people, what can I say?

22 miles/1755 total miles

Helter Shelter

September 18: I believe Iowa's drought is over. There was yet more craptacular weather all night and through the morning. I sat in the tent luxuriating in a listless malaise as drops of rain splattered on all sides like an endless Neal Pert drum solo. Finally at ten the onslaught lessened enough for me to move my gear underneath a shelter to dry.
As I was packing and preparing to leave a group of cars drove up and parked. Turns out I was occupying the spot where their family reunion was to be held. The Marshalls were good sports and invited me to join them for lunch. Relatives had come from all over Iowa and even Kansas City. Everyone brought a dish and many were outstanding, but my favorite was a taco salad with beef seasoned so perfectly I drooled uncontrollable between bites.
I commented positively on the smorgasboard to one of the female attendees, who responded, "Its not bad, but it sure isn't Red Lobster." Touche, madam.
By noon I could delay no longer if I was to make Griswold (named after Clark?). I dashed through a three hour break in the weather, reaching a campsite north of town just as intermission came to a close and the skies opened up once more.
While I sat beneath my new shelter drying my besotted gear, another human rode up on his motorcycle in an effort to escape the storm. Brad Gary is a forty eight year old dude whose long white bear makes him look ten years older and guarantees him the role of Santa every Christmas (a role he has indeed fulfilled).
A decade driving truck came to an end when he was in an accident which wrenched his back. He had been working at the automotive department at Walmart since but was let go in firing spree around the same time my cousin David inexplicably was downsized by his Wallyworld in Illinois. Not that Walmart is a soul-sucking evil entity whose main purpose is to rot the American spirit from the inside out.
Walmart will no doubt want to sponsor next year's walk. Indulge my fantasy please. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but I spend a lot of time alone.

6 miles/1733 total miles


September 17: Slow ride, take it easy. I overshot the mark somewhat yesterday so the musical genius of Foghat seemed apropos. I lingered in Atlantic, doing laundry, eating, purchasing supplies, visiting the library, and conducting an interview with Laura, a reporter from the city's newspaper.
Farmer's Kitchen, where I breakfasted on Doug's advice, was a fantastic diner delivering hearty plates and friendly smiles. I only wish I could have shoved one of their homemade pies into my bag.
The journey to Omaha didn't resume until shortly after noon. Once begun, an endless sea of corn faced me on either side. I walked between like Moses, confident a tidal wave composed of the vegetable was not forthcoming.
The short stroll terminated at Cold Springs State Park just south of Lewis. The Mormon exodus to Utah, known as the Pioneer Trail, went through this area beginning in 1846. The non-Mormon residents of Illinois, the state where the sect had resided, clearly became jealous when word of all the tail these polygamists were banging spread. They evicted the Mormons before all that remained for them were onanistic pleasures.
Or Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, was a power-mad cheap con artist and people were fed up with him and his minions. I guess these things depend on whose history you believe.

10 miles/1727 total miles

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pole Cat

September 17: Things were looking bleak as I woke to gray skies. Dark clouds blocked the sun, dropping their wet burden in a steady drizzle. To make matters worse I yanked out the drawstring from my backpack's main pouch. Being the anti-MacGyver I was unable to repair the damage. That being said this (multiple expletives deleted) bag will survive one more week if I have to drag the pieces the remaining hundred miles.
Once I was packed and ready to travel things took a turn for the better. The rain ceased and G-30 (almost to Bingo!) out of Adair revealed itself to be an interesting thoroughfare.
Known under several numerical aliases, the highway from Dexter to Atlantic is commonly referred to as the White Pole Road. The telephone poles which line the route are painted in white, at least the few feet closest to the ground are. Why cover just a part? Did they lack ladders? Was there a budgetary shortfall? Did someone screw up and buy off-white for the rest instead?
The road owes its existence to a grassroots coalition of local farmers responding to the building of the first trans-Iowa highway. That route was too far to the north and the people of the region feared they would be passed by commercially. They banded together and, along with the help of the White Pole Auto Club, built their own highway, hoping to lure traffic towards them.
Just west of Adair I passed by a great moment in an earlier mode of transportation, the railroad. The first train robbery in the west was perpetrated here by Jesse James and his gang in 1873. The haul from the heist came to a disappointing $2,000. The thieves had believed the safe would possess a more robust amount, $75,000 in gold. The railway still runs here; trains from the Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific lines have begun to replace the CSX engines I saw back east.
Lunch in Anita was also a unique experience. The Weathervane Cafe, where I stopped, reminded me of my mother's best friend's kitchen. The look made me feel right at home and the day's special filled me up just like mom would have. After a series of dirty bars where cardboard pizza was the most delectable item on the menu I was glad for the change of pace.
I had wondered all day why the White Pole Road was not included in the ADT and after Anita I understood. The shoulder between Anita and Wiota is virtually non-existent and traffic quite heavy, with numerous trucks carrying their over-sized loads of windmill parts west to fill more fields with their energy-producing might.
I had originally thought to stop in Wiota for the evening, but I reached town before four and chose instead to continue on to Atlantic. The extra haul was worth the effort. Craig (see the Marshalltown and Reinbeck episodes) had hooked me up with a friend of his, Doug Berlin, who promised to put me up for the night in Atlantic. Doug generously purchased a hotel room for me, giving me an opportunity to elude another cold night in Iowa.

21 miles/1717 total miles

A Flittering Fickle Fellow

September 15: I had gone to sleep the previous evening thinking I would head towards Exira. By this morning my mind had changed like a TV channel, pondering the twenty five miles and deciding four less to Hamlin would be the better way to go. Nine miles upon Highway 44 towards Guthrie Center and I came upon the turn for N-56 and Adair, only twelve miles away. Consulting my map, I realized I was so close to Iowa road bingo I obviously couldn't turn down a chance to travel N-56 and G-30. Therefore I headed south instead of spending a mundane day on just one road.
The longer I spend out here on my own the more prone I've become to making these sorts of split second decisions concerning my fate. There is something appealing about giving the wheel of destiny a spin and seeing where you end up and what is there. Adair was tabula rasa and I was prepared to be a piece of chalk.
The trek was definitely not a feast for the senses, unless you like the odor of poultry carcasses. The death trucks passed by with frequency and dull farmland mixed in with the fetid stench brought little joy to my heart. Rolling hills meant the going was by no means easy. I want to reiterate that whoever said Iowa is flat is a dirty, dirty liar.
I did make some sort of headway through it all, crossing the Mississippi and Missouri Divide. Now when I pee on the side of the highway the urine will drain to the Missouri River instead of the Mississippi. Information I am sure you were dying to know.
As I crested another rise late in the afternoon I got a glimpse of Adair. A yellow water tower with a smiley face painted on stood surrounded by huge windmills, their giant arms like a rotating Mercedes-Benz insignia. Were they beckoning me home? As I reached I-80 and saw the sign for Omaha, 86 miles, I thought, maybe so.

2o miles/1696 total miles

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Winter Quarters

September 14: I vacated Linden in a light drizzle and headed six miles up to the next town. Panora was the current name of the place, which was formally known as Panorama before a desire not to be used in a poem about Bananarama caused the mayor to remove the ma. I competed in the usual town biathalon here, grabbing some food and paying a visit to the library. I also met Sheryl, the mother of veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan. She introduced me to her husband Gordon, who runs the Vedette (a newspaper, not a French booty cleanser). Gordon interviewed me about the tomfoolery I have been participating in the last few months.
The ADT heads north towards Yale here, but I figure my schooling at Oxford and Cambridge to be sufficient. Therefore I headed west instead to Guthrie Center. The decision means I will miss Audubon and I apologize to Dad, Uncle David, Colin, and other nature lovers for ignoring the home of one of our greatest birders.
Tonight is scheduled to be extremely cold, perhaps a record low. Frost warnings are in effect and I had several messages from friends and family suggesting I bundle up with all the clothes I have.
My lack of winter preparedness was never put to the test. In Guthrie Center I discovered the second cheapest motel I have seen on my tour of the United States. With conditions as they were I spent little brainpower pondering whether to pony up for a room. You get what you pay for when thirty dollars is the price, but all I wanted was a warm bed, in which case the accommodations suited me just fine.

14 miles/1676 total miles

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dazed, But No Longer Confused

September 13: I had a chance to see some of Adel on the way out, most notably the splendid County Courthouse. The building is based on the design of a 16th century French chateau located in Touraine, Azay-le-Rideau. Many counties have tried to make their courthouse the signature edifice, but few have succeeded like Dallas County has with this elegant structure.
I continued along the Raccoon River Valley Trail. Having moved away from the urban madness of Des Moines, I am now surrounded by a thin strip of prairie. How thin? Despite the presence of myriad rail trails which have been used as an opportunity to revive the decimated tall prairie habitat only a few thousand acres exist within Iowa. Before the mass arrival of American farmers in the 19th century acreage numbered in the millions, 28.6 according to one estimate.
My destination was Linden on this particular trek and I reached the small community of under three hundred around five. I paid a visit to city hall, which doubles as the town library. Therein I found Gayle, who works at the library and is a member of town council. She assured me that I could camp in the park without any worries.
I also learned of the town's preparations for this coming weekend's Linden Daze, a yearly festival featuring clowns, musical entertainment, and a tractor pull.
Several kind residents visited me in the park, including Dave, who brought me soup, let me use his shower, and helped move me over to the baseball field where I could have water and restroom facilities. I met his wife and grandchildren while Dave showed off his rebuilt Ford Falcon, which he would be driving in the festival's parade.
Amanda, Vincent, and Diaz showed up around sundown and brought me a blanket and a pillow the size of a large dog, both of which helped me to enjoy a comfortable night's sleep. We spoke for about an hour, trading stories of towns big and small. As those of you who have been reading my Iowa saga from the beginning now, I was angry at first about the suspiciousness shown to me in some of the smaller places here. Now I have learned the proper customs I find people are quick to embrace my mission and as generous as the people of any other state I have been through thus far.

15 miles/1662 total miles

Willing, But Un-Adel

September 12: I overcame my own inertia in an attempt to leave Des Moines, although unseen forces seem to be allied against me.
The biggest hitch came when I left the Clive Greenbelt Trail and started on what I thought, correctly it turned out, was the Raccoon River Valley Trail. I then came across a sign, which in retrospect must have been placed there by the village idiot. It read, "to Raccoon River Valley Trail and Timberlake Park." Thinking, hey I want to be on that trail, I fell for the trick. An hour of meandering behind several Clive neighborhoods on an unmarked path was my reward.
Eventually I came to another sign, which read exactly as the first. On the other side, greeting those hiking the other way, was the exact same message. What the hell? How can you come to the same place by moving in opposite directions? I'm trying to avoid spinning in circles, so I decided to dispatch with the current arrangement and navigate myself back to the real Raccoon River Valley Trail.
I managed to return to the proper track with ease, but the time I had lost with the road to nowhere put me behind the pace. Making Adel by sundown would now be difficult. I pushed on at mach ten, or the backpacker's equivalent, three miles an hour. The scorching orb above was not on the same wavelength and the urban trail was unshaded. A fierce wind did prevent the heat from taking full effect, but had its own drawback - the powerful breeze blew right into me, making forward progress difficult to attain.
More disconcerting was a possible physical problem. On three separate occasions I was convulsed by spasms in my lower back. To be struck down so near this year's goal would be a cruel blow.
Now back to Kurt Loder and your Hollywood news. I had drifted near fame on a couple of occasions coming out of Des Moines, passing only a few miles to the north of Van Meter and Desoto. The first is home to Cleveland Indians Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller and the latter is the birthplace of the Duke, John Wayne, most famous in my family for playing Jake McCandless.
In Adel, which I finally reached just before seven, they claimed a more obscure celebrity.
If he'd lived Nile Kinnick's star might have eclipsed even Feller and Wayne. Considered the greatest football player in Iowa's history, Kinnock won the Heisman trophy in 1939. As the Hawkeyes quarterback he took a team from the bottom of the Big Ten standings when he arrived and brought them to a top ten national ranking as a senior. He scored or threw all but three of the team's touchdowns that year. Kinnick was student body president that year and unbelievably, also excelled academically, earning entry into the Phi Beta Kappa society.
Alas, NFL greatness or a career in politics was not in Kinnick's future. Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II and the quarterback, seemingly prescient, had been inducted into the Navy only three days earlier. In 1943, on a routine training mission, his plane went down and the life of Nile Kinnick came to an end all too soon. So too ends today's Hollywood minute.
As for me, the delays of wind and whimsy left little daylight left with which to explore Adel. I had a quick meal at Godfather's Pizza (this is in no way meant as an endorsement of owner and presidential candidate Herman Cain) and retired to Adel Island Park on the Raccoon River to bed down for the night.

20 miles/1647 total miles

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day of Rest

September 11: Thanks to Matt and Heidi who allowed me to stay an extra day and rest for the first time in two weeks. I'm sure you all have had your fill of discussion about the events of ten years ago today so I won't beat that dead horse. I have only one thing to say and perhaps its obvious to you already (I hope so): practice love and forgiveness and erase your feelings of hate and revenge.

Thanks to recent contributors:
Matt and Heidi Butler
Mike Kalbaugh
Susan Morrison
Trevor and Teeni Schellhorn
Jeanette and Curt
Tedo Simeonov

0 miles/1627 total miles

Dead Moines

September 10: The early morning jaunt down the Neal Smith Trail toward Des Moines was a mammal extravaganza from the start. Eight deer and two rabbits crossed my path during the first hour. The arrival of a local high school's girls cross country team spelled an end to wild kingdom, however, their loud footfalls and screeching gossip sending the frightened animals fleeing from the scene.
I crossed the Des Moines River around noon and was only a couple of miles on the Inter Urban Trail, my first trolley trail, to Matt and Heidi Butler's home, where I had been invited to crash that evening. The couple were currently enmeshed in a domestic disagreement relating to their respective love of Iowa and Iowa State, who were doing battle in the annual rubber match to determine state dominance.
Trips to Pad Thai, Hyvee, and Snookie's Malt Shop could only slow me so long. I finally rang their doorbell just as the contest was going into a second overtime. Heidi's Iowa State emerged victorious in the third extra frame and she in no way gloated for the rest of the day.
Matt is another brewing disciple of Trevor's, so we celebrated the victory of the underdog Cyclones (or tried to forget it depending on your point of view) with some of his creations as well as some delicious prosciutto, salami, and a variety of fruits and cheeses. I believe the French term is charcuterie, which roughly translates as "conceited meats and cheeses."
In the evening Matt and Heidi took me out to see Des Moines. A white party had been planned for one of the city squares, the one with the statue constructed out of alphabet soup. The idea was people would spontaneously descend on the park all dressed in white and have a picnic. I wondered if anyone had got permission or if I would soon have another opportunity to have my driver's license run for warrants by an Iowa policeman.
Heidi did have a theory relating to my run-ins with the man. In 1982 a young boy named Johnny Gosch was kidnapped in West Des Moines. His case, which has never been solved (and no body has been found) gained nationwide attention. Apparently this occurrence has caused small town Iowans to freak out for about thirty years. The main stream media was not responsible for fanning these flames I'm certain. I want to be the first to thank those ratings-seeking whores for the opportunity to be the walking version of a van with tinted windows.
On the plus side, I learned I am not the only target of law enforcement. Iowa is suffering from a methamphetamine epidemic. The drug is easy to make here because anhydrous ammonia, one of the main components in the narcotic's production, is a commonly used fertilizer. (The next day I watched an episode of "Breaking Bad" in order to further research the subject, but all I learned was that there are no "good guys" on a show about a meth lab.)
Matt and Heidi also taught me more about Ragbrai. Mainly they informed me the event is a drunkfest. That could explain why Ragbrai, which has been celebrated for thirty three years and included 258,000 riders, has a fatality nearly ever year. Don't drink and bike kids!
Following the get together in the park I was shown the restaurant and bar scene in Des Moines. El Bait Shop was first on the list. We sampled some of the two hundred beers they have on tap, watched a cat fight brawl turn into some very weak male head-butting before disintegrating, and listened to some great tunes from Mars Volta, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Queens of the Stone Age.
The Bait Shop is known as the original host of Bacon Fest, held every year in Des Moines. They can also boast the honor of being the first bar I've ever seen to utilize what appeared to be a working bath shower as part of their decor.
If you want some grub at El Bait Shop, just head back to the bar's other room, where shag carpeting introduces the 1970s motif inside. Only beers produced during the wonderful decade of platform shoes and bell-bottoms are served there, meaning you probably ought to be in a mood for Miller High Life or Pabst before entering.
Our final stop of the night was Zombie burger. A creation of Des Moines' most celebrated chef, George Formaro, the undead come to life within the eatery's walls. Posters and artwork set the mood in the interior, while a creepy hologram invites you to enter if you dare or if you are really hungry.
The food is well worth the fear with menu items inspired by some of filmdom's greatest zombie flicks. The Double Tap ("Zombieland"), the Boomstick ("Evil Dead"), and the Trailer Trash Zombie (video game) are amongst the choices. I consumed the latter, which consisted of fried pickles, fried bacon, cheese curds, and mayo. Can one eat these things and still lose weight? I was glad on this night to be the guinea pig in that particular experiment.
Sadly the night came to an end before we were able to visit Fong's, an Asian pizza joint, or the Hessian House, which serves Das Boot, made famous by the movie "Beerfest." I didn't even have enough time to dance at Blazing Saddles, the local cowboy gay bar. It certainly appears as if I'm going to have to find some way to make another visit.

14 miles/1627 total miles

Sunday, September 11, 2011


September 9: Iowa has had more miles of bike trails than any state I have visited so far. I don't even have to look at the numbers. Almost every day is spent at least partially on their asphalt or limestone surfaces.
Today I utilized the Neal Smith Trail, which I found after a few miles travel south from Slater and Sheldahl, where I experienced three counties in mere minutes (Boone, Story, and Polk). There are a whopping ninety nine in the state.
Neal Smith follows the eastern edge of the Des Moines River into the city of the same name. The river is trapped here by the Big Creek Dam, and the obstruction resulted in the creation of Saylorville Lake (pictured above). The water provided excellent scenery as did the prairie and woodland I also passed through. Sunflowers, lavender, and prairie clover growing in bunches for hundreds of yards in every direction. Neal Smith is on park land run by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Unlike the rail trails, where the property runs in a thin line providing an anorexic habitat corridor, the forest is thicker and the habitat available for wildlife to roam is much vaster.
I had something of a scare at the end of the day when I reached Cherry Glen, where I had planned to camp. There were no sites available. I've learned over the summer that pride can be a hindrance to finding a place to sleep. So I begged, pleaded, and told them my story. Softened by my pleas the site manager located a strip of grass for me, provided gratis.
I'll be heading through Des Moines tomorrow, which means the final stretch to Council Bluffs and Omaha is drawing close. I'm thinking more about wrapping up the first half of the hike in only a couple of more weeks now. The experiences out here have been terrific, but the clock is staring midnight in the face, the time to head home is growing nigh.

16 miles/1613 total miles

Whine and Roses

September 8: I woke with the sky still full of stars. Restless and homesick, I sat up until dawn, with much to ponder. The amount of miles and days to Omaha are shrinking. My I-pod has dropped dead despite all my attempts to administer CPR. Entertainment options are few when I stay alone, which is the case most evenings.
I complain too much I know. I had talked at the beginning of the trek about how I would not bitch. How could I when what I suffer is so little when compared with what injured veterans like Ken have gone through or what my friends Robert and Al have overcome? Sadly I haven't been able to keep my pledge, I just have to cleanse the bile once in a while to keep my sanity. I hope you understand.
Thinking more positively the walking is easy here, flat rail trails, like the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail I now travel. The weather is perfect, seventy degrees with a constant cool breeze. Most of the small towns have libraries so I can stay in touch with the world easily.
Cambridge and Huxley are two of the places which passed in the rear view mirror before I ended up in Slater. I've now visited Oxford and Cambridge this summer, but have not become appreciably smarter as a result.
Cambridge was the site for many of the scenes in the film "Twister." In Huxley I found an even greater disaster when I stopped at My Dairy and Burger Bar for lunch. I'm hoping their remodeling job is not quite through yet. The Dairy Queen logo was still in plain sight in front of the counter and the restaurant's signs were haphazardly painted on the window, most likely by someone below the age of five. The burger was a ball of much needed juicy charbroiled goodness, however, and quality of food always trumps quality of decor in my book.
I finished in Slater early enough to catch City Hall before closing. The original plan to use city parks in Iowa has had flaws, as Urbana and Melbourne showed. In truth I am well known for flights of fancy which crash shortly after takeoff. I feel, though, with better execution future problems can be avoided. A mere talk with local officials spared me difficulties in Maxwell and I have reason to believe the same will be true here in Slater.

Delightfully, I had an unexpected visitor tonight, my good friend Tedo, who lives in Kansas City. Those of you who have met the Bulgarian whirlwind won't be surprised to hear he showed up in the most nonsensical place possible to meet me. He broke up his four hundred mile drive to Moline in order to stop by, take me out to dinner, and then dropped me back at Grimm Park. How could you not love a friend like that?

16 miles/1597 miles

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Fractured Fairy Tail or A Tale From a Fractured Fairy

September 7: I'm in Story County now, so here goes:

Once upon a time a good little hiker named Alastair was walking across the great land of Iowa. He was being chased by the evil policeman who didn't want the little hiker to get any sleep.
One fair day it was not too hot and it was not too cold, it was juuuuust right! Alastair left his new friend Sidney, who was still asleep, and trekked to the ancient village of Rhodes. Twas a colossal place and passing through took nearly five minutes. Wow!
In the next village of Collins Alastair met the lovely witch Kesha, who was the librarian and worked in an apple orchard where they made amazing apples, not too green like a Granny Smith and not too yellow like a Golden Delicious - they were juuuuust right!
Alastair knows all about the apples because the lovely witch went home and got one along with a sandwich and potato chips. She made the good little hiker's stomach all full and happy. Kesha also told Alastair about Maxwell, the village where he was to lay his head that night. If Alastair went to the City Hall and talked to the powerful clerk there, he could get a permit, a magical piece of paper that would make the bad policeman go away. And so the good little hiker did!

The End 17 miles/1581 total miles

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Around the World in Fifty States

September 6: I learn something new every single day out here on the road and Tuesday was no exception. Iowa cops are really, really bored.
The morning started just fine in Marshalltown, where Connie cooked me eggs and toast for the protein boost I needed to fire my rockets out of Albion. I burned through the miles thanks to the good night's rest in an actual bed and the aforementioned breakfast. I fell into a zone, my mind turned off and my feet just went of their own accord. All of a sudden I awoke, the time was four and the Melbourne water tower was staring me straight in the face.
One of the great thrills over the last five months has been the opportunity to see so many cosmopolitan places: Cairo, Marseilles, and now Melbourne. All without even having to get on a plane. What a country!
I visited the library, updated the blog, and went over to Meier Park next door in hopes of spending the night there. Best laid plans as they say and after only an hour the popo came a knocking. People of Iowa: please come to speak to me before calling Officer Barbrady, I am not a pedophile, a murderer, or even, horror of all horrors, an Avon sales lady.
I found I could not stay at the shelter there, but following a brainstorming session the officer was able to think of a place in town where I could put up the tent. He described the location and left me to search it out alone.
I migrated to the area he had suggested, but wasn't sure exactly which spot he had marked out as kosher. As I wandered and pondered I was approached by a lone walker. Her name was Sidney and she claimed to have recognized me from a TV report on my walk. I haven't done any TV interviews that I am aware of, but she is the third person to make such a statement so perhaps I've grown senile. We might be on our way to explaining why I forget really important things like my phone charger.
Sidney showed me where the policeman had probably meant, then told me if I preferred I could just stay behind her house. I preferred and was led to her property where a couch swing in the back transformed into a bed.
My first night outside in a bed would come later. Before sleep I had a lengthy talk with Sidney, who is a youth counselor currently finishing up her doctorate degree in psychology. Like many of those who have taken pity on me she has traveled extensively, living in exotic locales such as South Korea, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Mount Airy, North Carolina. Her return to Melbourne was brought about by the death of her father and the need to care for her infirm mother. I have a feeling one day Sidney will return to her globe-trotting ways. Who knows, maybe we will meet again in Paris (Texas).

17 miles/1564 total miles

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

No Cars, I Prefer Bars

September 5: For those of you down in my home of South Carolina, the following statement might be hard to believe right now. Last night was frigid. Temperatures fell down into the forties and a heavy dew combined with an unused tent fly meant water reached the inside of my shelter, making me crawl even deeper into the recesses of my sleeping bag as I impatiently awaited the return of the sun. As soon as a smidgen of orange indicated the star's coming I rose and got moving.
Passing through Conrad less than an hour later I encountered a phenomenon I have seen on many occasions now. I ran into a man named Steve and told him about my walk. He then offered me a ride. I've had this happen so many times now paranoia has started to creep into my mind. Are people trying to test me? Am I being followed by someone who doesn't feel I am sincere? Does anyone understand the words that are coming out of my mouth when I say I am walking?
I was sluggish for most of the day's journey. Two straight nights with little sleep and some long hikes had caught up with me. Somehow I maintained enough forward momentum to log eighteen miles and reach Albion. I did have a motivating factor: Craig and Connie, who I had met at the Reinbeck Brewery (Trevor's stepfather and mother) lived in nearby Marshalltown and had promised to host me for the evening.
They picked me up in Albion at four and took me back to their home, where Craig has set up a bar focused on highlighting his brewing skills. He allowed me to sample his latest creations: a lager, a black lager, and a wheat beer. The black lager, reminiscent of Samuel Adams, was my favorite. Craig has been at the art for a mere ten years, but his batches could easily be switched out with some of the finest microbrews in America and no one would be the wiser.
Connie helped cook a scruptious meal of chicken, potatoes, and sweet corn while also cleaning my dirty clothes. She entertained me with stories of Trevor and her other children too raw to be retold in this kid-friendly format. You're just not ready yet, trust me. Or I don't remember them, whatever.
I'm not exactly Bob Vila, so I'll keep this short, but I was very impressed by their beautiful custom-designed home, especially the bathroom. I couldn't figure out how to turn off the light. Finally I realized there was a high skylight. I gave up, realizing that if I had the power to turn off the sun I probably would have done so sometime during the middle of July.

18 miles/1547 total miles

Plaguing Central Iowa

September 4: I woke to the greasy aroma of bacon, always a great way to revive in the morning, preferable to smelling salts for certain. Trevor and Teeni cooked me and their four children a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, and cheese. During the meal we discussed some hot button topics in Iowa farming: subsidies, free-range vs. confinement, and the end of small farming amid the domination of massive agro-businesses like ADM and Monsanto. The couple wants their family to be able to eat natural and healthy local grown foods, but their goal is becoming harder to attain, even in an agricultural state like Iowa.
Our meal was not without some physical comedy, with the four kids showing off their ability to repeatedly injure themselves. Buster Keaton may be deceased, but his legacy lives still.
With my brain and stomach full I said goodbye. I left Highway 175, the first paved highway in the Iowa Territory, joining the Pioneer Trail thru Morrison and on to Grundy Center. I chose not to go to Dike, knowing we just aren't compatible.
As I went locusts hopped around me like numbers in a Powerball drawing. I reveled in their company for a bit, but was glad to see them finally go as I approached Grundy. Carrying a biblical plague in your wake is hardly the way to make a great first impression on the locals.
Either way Solomon Grundy is mad, so is Mike Gundy. Who is angrier? Watch the videos and decide in our interactive poll. Grundy Center itself was perfectly nice, I ate at the Pizza Hut there, visited the Dollar General, and left town.
Eleven more miles took me to Beaman, whose motto, "You're not dreamin' you're in Beaman," sounds as if it was stolen from one of the later "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies. I would have preferred "another Beaman Coke please."
Unfortunately, Beaman, which had been my intended target for the day, did not seem to have a good park to stay in or any actual residents to speak with about lodging. The only restaurant was closed, the owners on vacation.
Still having some energy, I kept the wheels turning towards Conrad, just three miles westward. A walking path called the Comet Trail connects the two villages and I had traversed half the distance before fatigue slapped me down like a Rick James palm to the face. I could go no further - a conveniently placed strip of grass along the trail became my home for the evening. I planted the tent and my butt down there and shortly was asleep.

23 miles/1529 total miles

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Mirage

September 3: My sudden decision to halt early at the HoJo turned out to be fortuitous. Thunder, rain, and wind struck ferociously in the early morning hours. Instead of being kept awake as I would have in the tent I fell right back into slumber.
I would not, however, avoid getting wet on the day's walk. I was beset throughout the eighteen miles by a steady sprinkle and sometimes more. I was miserable, but on the upside a desire not to stop in those conditions drove me to Reinbeck early in the afternoon.
I went into town merely to grab grub and escape the weather. As I turned onto Broad Street my eyes found a sight my brain would not believe. Sure I had seen a mirage I wandered in a befuddled state around the business district, which took all of about three minutes. Suddenly I stood in front of the mirage once more. There staring back at me with a come-hither look was the Broad Street Brewery. I went inside.
What I found there was equally amazing. The owner, Trevor, a young father of four was trying his hand at the micro-brewing game. He had just opened the place on Independence Day of this year. Did he hear the voices? If you brew it they will come....
Craig, Trevor's stepfather, had helped manufacture the rye and sorghum beers on tap (the sorghum is for Coeliacs) and was working on an ale for Oktoberfest. Teeni, Trevor's wife, is a substance abuse counselor who helps out on weekends in order to build up her clientele. Connie, Trevor's mother, showed up later to lend a hand. Connie and Craig promised to put me up in Marshalltown where they live.
I felt at home immediately and the delicious rye beer certainly didn't hurt. A brigade of interesting people trooped in and out the door while I sat and enjoyed their company. I exchanged toasts with a pastor, the mother of a NHL prospect, a baker/musician (Dan, who along with his wife Meggan we may see in a later episode), and a descendant of Quanah Parker, the famous Comanche leader, just to name a few. All had great stories to tell, which, along with the great music provided by DJ Trevor, made for an unforgettable evening.
Everyone was gung ho about my journey - a music festival the next day, Jackfest, had in fact been organized to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. Most, therefore, were already familiar with the charity. Not since I stumbled into Wildcat Hollow in June had I met such an eclectic group.
I am so thankful to Trevor and Teeni, who offered me a place to sleep for the evening, allowing me the luxury of staying at the brewery. This oasis is real and if you're ever in the area I suggest you go out of your way to find it.

Check out the Broad Street Brewery's site at
18 miles/1506 total miles

Friday, September 2, 2011

Skip Through Waterloo

September 2: I'm not really a color inside the lines sort of person. Confining myself to the rigid structure of the American Discovery Trail turn-by-turn (the godlike manual which determines my route) has been hard in the past.
Those of you following the journey via atlas may have noticed that lately I seem to be heading on a line more consistent with the North Pole than San Francisco. I enjoyed the Cedar Valley Nature Trail the last few days, but now we have parted and the moment has come to head towards the Pacific once more. Therefore I am skipping the scheduled jaunt into Cedar Falls, the far northern reach of the ADT, and cutting across Waterloo before turning back to the southwest.
From my morning base in Evansdale I had only three miles to Waterloo. A thunderstorm shortly before dawn got me going extra early. By eight thirty I was in the center of the city named after the battle which ended the Napoleonic nightmare in Europe. Never again would a short man curse his inadequacy and slash out angrily at the rest of the world in compensation.
Waterloo has a population of 68,000, many of whom work for John Deere. Their corporate offices may be located in Moline, but the tractor the company is known for is made here. So is Wonder Bread and other Hostess delicacies. Hogs are sent to their delicious fate within the city's boundaries. Waterloo is missing an opportunity here - there should be a chapel where you can come give thanks to the pigs for their gift of crispy bacon and sausages.
The United States Wrestling Hall-of-Fame is also located in the heart of downtown. Iowa is a natural spot for the museum as the two main state colleges have won 57 of the last 56 national championships. Those numbers may seem to be statistically misleading, but they just go to show how dominating the Iowa boys have been.
My favorite part of the day as an amateur history dork was seeing the monuments to the Sullivan brothers. For those of you who don't know there were five (seen above) and they all joined the Navy together during the second great war, insisting when they signed on that they be able to serve together. For such a haul of recruits the rules were waived and the boys ended up on the USS Juneau.
In 1942 at the battle of Guadalcanal the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine. None of the lads survived, one of the great Shakespearian tragedies of the World War II. Whether their girlfriends back home threw themselves off balconies after delivering a long soliloquy is unknown.
I left Waterloo's main streets and headed southwest towards my intended goal of Hudson. A Howard Johnson's intervened along the way. I heard the siren song of fresh laundry and a shower, neither of which I have had for some days. The feet were exhausted and in need of a break, rain was scheduled for much of the rest of the afternoon. I gave into temptation.

8 miles/1488 total miles

Iowa Uncovered

September 1: Many of my friends I have talked to lately think they know Iowa. Flat, boring, full of nothing but corn are descriptions I have heard thus far. Cousin Al even told me Iowas stands for "idiots out wandering around." As a self-proclaimed wandering idiot his statement hit close to home. I feel honor-bound to defend the state against such filth.
First off, Iowa is not flat. There a quite a few rolling hills particularly near the rivers. Compared to Indiana these might as well be the Himalayas. Hoosier roads allowed me to see for an eternity into the distance. Here there is an occasional sense of anticipation for what might be around the bend.
I have rarely been bored by the scenery here either. Sure there is a lot of corn, but the picture of a treeless plain I have been painted is inaccurate. There are forests, prairies, and rivers to spice up the surroundings. The Cedar Valley Nature Trail follows the eponymous waterway on occasion and the views have been outstanding.
Wild life is also common. I've been told foxes, coyotes, deer, and raccoons are everywhere. Some even claim to have seen panthers, but they may have just spotted the Northern Iowa mascot after a few too many pints.
There are otters too as I discovered when I came upon a family of the critters frolicking playfully in a creek. Of course, they just may have been swimming frantically to escape the encroaching human. Animal behaviors can befuddle the inexperienced naturalist.
There is, however, still much to see of Iowa. I served the last of my time on the CVNT today, reaching Evansdale. I would hate to pass judgment on a state too soon. You're doing well so far Iowa, try not to (expletive deleted) it up.

21 kilometers/2382 total kilometers

Foiled Again

August 31: The free place in Urbana sort of worked out. If you don't mind being rousted in the middle of the night by the police. A local cop, the second to run my license for warrants in Iowa thus far, had been called out by a concerned citizen who thought a drunk was sleeping at the pavilion. In their defense, my stumbling end of the day gait could easily be confused with intoxication.
On a positive note, I ended up befriending the officer and he called ahead to my next two counties so I will not be bothered again for a few days at least.
I fell back into a fitful sleep then rose early with another twenty mile day ahead. The trail kept me entertained with some interesting signs. Tractor crossings, for example seemed a bit out of place on a hiking/biking path. One would have to be both blind and deaf to not hear or see them coming. The loud growl of a John Deere will hardly be confused with the soft purr of a Porsche 911 and the former has rarely been used as a drag racer outside of county fairs.
Cow crossings caused me to daydream about being stuck at one. I'd feel like a driver waiting for a train to pass as Molly and the girls were lazily herded onto new pasture.
Neither earth-shaking event materialized and in ten miles I hit Brandon. That's the name of a town so don't worry about an assault and battery charge. There were two restaurants to choose from and sadly Phat Albert's wasn't open yet so I visited the Homestyle Cafe. Inside I dined on braut and kraut and chatted with the locals, learning about celebrities such as President HW Bush, Loretta Lynn, and Roz from "Night Court" who had once stopped by the cafe. I also discovered the Nature Trail's bridge over the Cedar River was currently functioning more as a jetty.
As a result, I was forced to take back roads to reach another span. Yet again I will fail to complete every step of one of the major trails within the ADT. Here is the tragic history to date:
1) C&O Canal: left at mile 168 of 184 to head into West Virginia.
2) North Bend: exited with one mile to go. Seriously.
3) Buckeye Trail: got off that disaster ASAP.
4) Cardinal Greenway: hopped on in the middle.
5) I&M Canal: gun shots forced a detour to Starved Rock.
6) Hennepin Canal: started just a mile and a half into trail.
The second half of the day was oppressively hot out on the open road. I never saw a sign for McFarlane Park, my original intended destination, so I continued on to LaPorte. In town I found a small park which looked to be a good place to crash. I interrogated the natives at the Getaway Bar and Grill to see if I would be okay there. They said yes. I'm not holding my breath.

21 miles/1467 total miles

Ragbrai and I Survive

August 30: Thursday is named after the Norwegian deity Thor, the God of kicking ass. Tuesday must have been named for the Iowa rain God because the clouds seem to darken that day of the week consistently of late. Having seen the doom and gloom forecast in the morning I was well-prepared. I rigged my poncho to cover the pack in addition to myself, preventing another soaking of my gear.
Despite the precipitation a good deal of forward progress was made today. I had gone thirteen miles already before the weather soured. Once the rain started I sheltered at the Center Point museum until there was a break.
Only thirty minutes later another band of showers struck and I was forced into seclusion under the Highway 380 underpass. A fellow hobo had been there recently and had marked his territory. The stench combined with the rain water slowly entering the culvert convinced me not to dally further. Less than a mile on I found a less noxious shelter on a roofed bench where I delayed another hour until only a drizzle still fell.
I finished the last bit of trail to Urbana late in the afternoon. I've noticed a penchant in this part of the Midwest for naming towns by taking a word and adding an "a" to the end. Tonica, Colona, Urbana, and Vagina are just some recent examples I have come across of late.
Moving on...I've noticed Iowans have a great love for bicycling. The many trails, including the Cedar Valley Nature Trail I'm currently frolicking about upon prove their ardor.
The greatest expression of their love, however, is a yearly ride around the state known as Ragbrai, which traverses Hawkeyeland, visiting different hamlets and villages along the way each year. I learned from one source how the event always takes place during the hottest week of the year, meaning the ride was going on while I was broiling on Indiana pavement around July 20th.
I also discovered that some Ragbrai bikers train year-round, often sleeping at town pavilions. Therefore, I could do so as well without being bothered. A free place to stay is as good as gold right now. Well, maybe not gold, I could probably use that to pay for a motel room.

19 miles/1446 total miles

Monday, August 29, 2011

Smell No Evil

August 29: Nick drove me out of Ottawa for good at 7:30 in the morning. The young man was considerate enough to only try to kill me on a single occasion, when he decided that a one way sign was not worth paying attention to and turned into three oncoming lanes of traffic. There was a Hardees immediately to the right, so we thought it might be a good time to grab a biscuit, which we did. We parted in Ely and I was back on the road in Iowa once more.
Odors good and bad were the theme of today's trek. With the polls closing on my survey of smell this evening no other sense would be more appropriate to discuss.
My nostrils were nearly presented with a daunting challenge when I approached the southern end of Cedar Rapids. There on the horizon stood International Paper, belching out its singular stench and causing my nose hairs to stand on end. Luckily for my sniffer I was downwind. Like Frodo and Samwise avoiding the great eye of Sauron I slipped beneath the building, hoping not to wake the sleeping dragon and incur the wrath of its smoke.
Safely out of range I headed into the city on the Cedar Rapids River Trail, which I was glad to see has now been extended farther south than my ADT information suggested. I was therefore able to stay off-road for the rest of the day's travels.
While heading through the industrial section of Cedar Rapids I my nose received a happy scent. The aroma of fresh oatmeal wafted through the air, alerting me to the presence of the Quaker Oats factory to my right. The cereal maker was founded in 1850 in Akron, Ohio and began selling their most well known product in 1877. Like many of my neighbors in South Carolina, the company tired of Ohio and fled to Cedar Rapids in 1890.
I couldn't stay since my sudden lust for Quaker Oatmeal was unrequited, so I continued on, settling for a couple of their granola bars. Several zig-zagging, swirling crazy straw miles through various factories led me finally to Hiawatha shortly after five. Hiawatha is named after the famous Iroquois chieftain who may have lived during the 12th, 15th, or 16th centuries. Either he is the Native American version of Methusulah or his actual existence is in some doubt. Nevertheless, his legend lives on thanks to William Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha." I prefer Pearl Jam's 1998 remake, but as we all know art is a subjective beast.

15 miles/1427 total miles

Sunday, August 28, 2011

One More Time

August 27: I crept out from my cave around dawn Saturday and made my way out of Solon. I had a short day scheduled as Sue and her son Kyle were coming to pick me up for Uncle David and Aunt Jo's fiftieth anniversary party. This trip should be my last back to Ottawa/Peru as I am now almost three hours away by car. I don't know a soul in the states of Iowa and Nebraska, so many miles in unknown territory will be difficult without any guaranteed hope of succor.
The seven mile walk to our rendezvous point in Ely (pronounce eely) was fairly uneventful, although traffic was unexpectedly heavy. I wish these people could contact me about my walking schedule and arrange a detour. I don't think I'm asking to much for such a simple courtesy.
I reached Ely shortly before nine and found the library. Iowa has more libraries per capita than any other state according to a random fact I decided to take as truth without properly researching. You can now look forward to more regular updates of my bacon consumption.
Sue and Kyle met me at the Casey's convenience store about eleven and removed me from the trail for the remainder of the weekend. Like MacArthur, I shall return on Monday. For now I'll be spending a last few hours with my Illinois family. They are a little more forgiving with the deep ruts of welcome I tend to wear out.

7 miles/1412 total miles

Thank you to recent donors:
Ken and Lois Irwin
Claudia Wallick
Paul and Sally Hoover
Mark and Melissa Normington
Robert Mera and Sara Yanosy
Jim Fisher
Corey Smith

Saturday, August 27, 2011


August 26: Claudia and I parted early in the morning after a breakfast of cereal and fresh-baked bread. Leaving so soon has never gotten any easier, but its preferable to over-staying your welcome and being chased out with a broom.
Naturally, I took the Herbert Hoover Nature Trail out of West Branch. I was in Oasis in just a few miles. This town may be on maps, but don't be fooled by the mirage. A couple of grain silos does not add up to a community.
I had misread the garbled ADT directions to say that the HHNT continued here, however, I saw nothing. I used my lifeline to call Mom, who found me a route through a number of dusty roads to Morse, which has about one more building than Oasis.
More dry and dirty work following the occasional smoky plume of a passing car led me to an actual town. Solon, named after the famed Athenian law-giver, also happens to rhyme with colon, so you can finally finish your poem.
I headed over to D and D pizza (dungeons and dragons?) and had a reuben. Joensy's next door was unable to tempt me with promises of the largest pork tenderloin in Iowa. I am done with those massive meat monstrosities.
Everyone in Solon seemed to be either playing golf or watching the high school football game, so finding a place to stay proved to be difficult. In fact, resolution of this issue involved an invasive procedure I am unwilling to discuss at this time. The suffering is just too fresh.

16 miles/1405 total miles