Exiled

About two days before October 21, the day I picked to set out from Minneapolis on this journey I started to feel the fear. The fear of the unknown. I had been kind of sleep walking through life, entirely too comfortable even though I was financially poor. There was nothing to keep me on edge, keep me fully alert, no way to use all of my senses and abilities. I was merely going through the motions of living, not really living.

As the scheduled departure date grew near, and the fear set in, I felt myself starting to wake up from that half conscious state. It felt good.

I understand fear. It’s a familiar feeling. Something was whispering to me, “No, don’t go, think of how hard it will be and all the things that could go wrong. Where will you sleep at night? What if you get robbed? Wouldn’t sinking into an easy chair be nice?”

But feeling the fear gave me energy. I had committed myself to this, I knew the fear would come, knew the fear was exactly what I needed. That feeling of fear has preceded all of the most important things I’ve done. I knew I had to step into it, live in it, feel it, let it have it’s way with me, and finally step through it and see what’s on the other side. Like Tom Waits sang, life is sweet at the edge of a razor.

I finally got out of Springfield Thursday morning. I had to stop by Ricks Alternator and Generator, because I’d left my gloves there the day before. My rear hub lock nut had come loose and the cone had tightened up a bit. I didn’t have any cone wrenches, or any wrenches at all, so I stopped in to Ricks to see if he would let me use some tools.

He did, he even ground down a 15 millimeter wrench so it was thin enough to use as a cone wrench. I still needed to pull the cassette off and pull the axle to fix the problem, but thanks to Rick, I was able to get it ok enough to ride the 80-90 miles to the bike shop in Okoboji, Iowa.

Gloves in hand (haha) I set out. It was cold, and still pretty windy (20-30 mph) but now the wind was from the northwest, which was mostly favorable.

Never underestimate the power of the wind on the plains. I’m rediscovering that out here, it’s always windy, it’s just a matter of whether it’s favorable, or if you have to fight it. Fighting it is mostly a psychological battle.

About 30 miles south of Springfield I stopped at an intersection to check my map, and chow down on some trail mix. I’d been hungry for a while, and I’d been looking for someplace sheltered from the wind so I would be able to light my stove and cook some lunch, but I couldn’t find such place.

I was just putting away my trail mix when a white pickup rolled up to the opposite stop sign. It sat there for a minute or so even though there was no traffic. Then he rolled across the road and opened his door.

“Where are you going?” He asked me.

I probably said something like, “Well, my maps suck, and I’m not quite sure but I’m headed to Sprit Lake, Iowa.”

This began a conversation during which really detailed county maps were produced from under the seat of the truck, and he suggested a short cut through his farm, that would connect me to the southbound county road I wanted to be on. I probably divulged more about what kind of journey I was on too. I don’t always say where I’m really going, or disclose just how big a trip this is. In most of the small farm towns I’ve been in I can tell people I’m biking to the next town over. They understand that. But if I tell them I’m biking to Mexico, they get a certain look in their eyes. I might as well have told them I just flew in on a space ship from Jupiter. It does not compute. Why a person would ride a bicycle to Mexico is just beyond them.

After a bit more discussion concerning route, the farmer said, “You know, we’re just running into town real quick, but we’re about to have some pork chops if you’d like to join us.” I’m presuming it was his father in law with him in the truck.

Twist my arm. Hells yeah I’ll join you. He gave me directions to the house, about a half mile from where we were, and said, “I’ll call Sonja and let her know, she’s preparing the meal now.”

The house was amazing. Timber framed. Huge fireplace in which you could burn 4 foot long logs. They were doing just that. It was pretty nice to get in out of the wind and feel that heat radiating from the fire.

Sonja made me some hot tea and I sat down in front of the fire admiring the incredible space I was in.

I’m so bad with names, I am never with it enough to catch them the first time. And I can’t remember the mans name, I think it’s Tony, or Tommy. I apologize if you’re reading this, send me a note so I can get your name right. I’m going to use Tony now, for brevity.

As I looked around that space, how comfortable it was, and the obvious history the house had, it made me feel like I might be missing out on something. The fantastic great room with the two story ceiling and those exposed timbers. All the books surrounding the giant fire place on each side. The rack full of guns in the entry way. The aged wood floor.

I believe Tony’s grandfather built that house. Either his father or grandfather. He grew up on that land, and in that house. He lives a life I’ll never know, but I wish I could know what it’s like to have that kind of intimate connection with a specific place. A connection that goes back generations, and runs deep because he works this land, and knows it by heart. That kind of connection to a place, and surrounding community used to be a lot more common, but it seems pretty rare nowadays, and I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost something very rich and meaningful along with it. I guess I’ll never know.

Tony cooked the pork chops over the fire. The pig came from his father in law. Best damn pork chop I ever had. Along with it, we had fire roasted peppers, wild rice, and sweet corn. Everything but the wild rice they either grew, or got from neighbors. I noticed they had one of Michael Pollens books by the fireplace. It always feels better to me when I know just where my food came from. In this case it came from the people who sat at the table with me.

After the meal my route south was clarified. Tony made a call to a friend down near spirit lake to inquire about camping. Gull point was suggested, and I set out.

It was an awesome ride with a mostly favorable wind, and the sun finally made an appearance.

I rode 82 miles that day and camped at Gull point. I had to run into the bike shop in Okoboji the next day. I’ll pick up the story there, the next time. I’ll also add more photos when I have wifi access.

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