Once again I’ve let fun get in the way of the real point of this adventure: writing blogs. This entry should have been written 3 weeks ago, but here it is now.
The two of us were excited to get into Des Moines, not only because we knew we would have an actual place to sleep that night, but also because we wanted to see if Jack’s granddad (and Bill Bryson) was right about it being the most boring place on earth.
Through warm showers we had got in contact with Ben and his wife Kim, and they had agreed to put us up for the evening then show us the city the next day. Kim was taking her two young children on a tour of the state’s capital building, and she welcomed us along with them. We met Kim’s friend Sherry outside of the building, then headed inside to meet LJ, our tour guide (for now).
This stop in Des Moines was a chance for two unfit young men to rest their legs after cycling 300 miles in 8 days, having not ridden bikes in the last decade. So what better way to rest than to climb hundreds and hundreds of stairs? All i can say is, it was worth it. the pictures of the building really don’t do the climb, or the beauty of the building justice.
LJ has been working in the state capitol building for nearly 30 years, and so he was able to take us on a tour that nobody else goes on. we got to go through doors that don’t often get opened, and up stairways that don’t often get climbed, but at the top is the dome – giving a 360 degree view of Iowa.
Ben and Kim were heading out of town that evening, but had kindly arranged for us to go and stay with LJ and his wife Nancy; at the end of the tour we made arrangements to meet that evening, but first, we were going to go to the Iowa state fair; supposedly the greatest fair in the world.
So the six of us joined the hoards of people queuing to get tickets. Honestly, every stereotypical American cliche you’ve heard was there: the two ton woman in a bra and tie-dye shorts? queuing in front of us; the family who look like they’ve never shopped anywhere other than Ralph Lauren? behind us; the 6 foot, 8 stone man with a mullet and no teeth, wearing a t-shirt that said “In my store I’d rather serve 1000 Al Qaeda than 1 American soldier. I SELL CASKETS”, well we found him in the beer tent. What I’m getting at here is: everyone was at this fair. Kim and Sherry told us people drive for up to 5 hours to get here, some people even drive from different states if they’re ashamed of their own fair.
Nobody was going hungry at the fair either. That day Jack and I each ate: deep fried Oreos, deep fried Twinkies, Iowa corn on the cob, Pork on a stick, Turkey legs, and some salt water taffy. Apparently (from the looks we got from Kim, Sherry, and the kids) thats a lot. This fair seemed to mainly be about agriculture, food, and selling hot tubs. I don’t know who takes the family for a day at the fair, pays $12 for each of them to go in, probably spends $100 on food and drinks, looks at some cattle then decides, “I cant go home without a new hot tub”. There was a choice of about 100!
For what was supposed to be a day off, we spent almost every minute of it walking or climbing narrow stair cases. It was getting late and Kim had to get the kids ready to go away that weekend; we were headed over to LJ and Infancies’ house but were running a little bit late, so Sherry agreed to run ahead and stall them. We needn’t have worried, LJ and Sherry were chilling on the deck, having a cocktail; the more punctual Nancy had gone ahead to watch a band downtown.
We said our goodbyes to Sherry, who we’d both really enjoyed spending the day with, since she had such a dry, British sense of humor. Jack and I cycled with LJ downtown to a bar called the GasLamp. Supposedly it used to be THE jazz club in Iowa, but was taken over by new management a few years ago (plus the smoking ban had taken away some of the FastShow JazzClub atmosphere… Niiiiice). ,LJ, Nancy and their friends were watching the band as they had booked them for a fundraiser; we were all more than impressed. the whole band rotated on vocals/guitar, bass, sax, and drums. at one point the lead LEAD singer ran out into the middle of the intersection for a guitar solo. that warrants a standing ovation in my book, and the rest of the bar agreed.
Right across the street from the bar was the Pappajohn sculpture garden. John Pappajohn is a local business man and philanthropist, with an impeccable taste in art. Its a beautiful (and free) park for people to come and enjoy the art, which would otherwise cost them to go and see in a gallery. We wandered around taking in the art and taking photos for about half an hour before we remembered we were on our way somewhere.
Kim had told us that Owl City were playing at an open air venue by the river, but that most locals just watch for free from the bridges. As we stood around outside, a couple of girls heard our accents and asked us if we wanted tickets. Just like the last time this happened we said we did but that we didn’t have the money. And once again they said they didn’t want money, we just had to take a photo with them. deal. four tickets for a photograph was a great deal, but when we got in we were told that because we had cycled to the venue, we were each entitled to a free beer.
For those of you unfamiliar with Owl City (as we all were, until we heard and recognized their ‘big single’) they are an American, electronica band, whose only successful song has been a very cheap rip off of the Postal Service; the entire audience was made up of families with children already dressed in pajamas, or young couples (with the males sitting bored on the ground, while the girl stood screaming) . We managed to sit through 4 or 5 songs before we all looked at each other and decided it was time to go home.
In our drunken state we had all agreed to get up early and head back downtown to a mass yoga session. In our sober state we all agreed to sit on the sofa and eat a huge breakfast. Nancy and LJ kitted us out with lights, and bells for the bikes, and helmets for us. We cycled in convoy as they guided us out of the city, onto the raccoon river valley trail.
The trail was the perfect cycling route for us. It was straight, it was paved, but most importantly, it was FLAT. Don’t ever believe someone who tells you Iowa is flat. In fact, if you’re going to be cycling across it and someone tells you Iowa is flat, slap them. After doing 20 miles, and stopping for a lengthy lunch (nursing our hangovers) we got an unexpected visitor. Sherry had cycled out to meet us, and to say goodbye one last time.
We’ve given up on sleeping in our tent. Its small, its cramped, if it rains its not water tight, its hot to sleep in, and it stinks.,As an alternative, we’ve taken to sleeping on park benches, or just under the stars. For the family members i would usually reference by name at this, don’t worry. its no different to sleeping in a tent. its two pieces of canvas. Throughout the first half of the trip we became a little too accustomed to sleeping in houses, so doing this brings a bit more authenticity to the trip.
Between Des Moines and Omaha we stuck to the trail, stopping in a town each evening, sleeping in the local park, packing up and starting up again each day. Each of the towns were pretty uninteresting with the exception of Audubon. Audubon is home to Albert. Who’s Albert? you know who Albert is. No, seriously?! Fine. Albert is the worlds largest statue of a bull. Yes, that Albert.
Through Warm Showers we got ourselves a place to stay with Steve and his family. They had a small holding just north of the town, with the whole surrounded by cornfields, so it makes the prettiest temporary, natural fence. When Steve had listed himself on Warm Showers he had mentioned that there was a bike shop close by, what he didn’t mention was that the bike shop was in his garden (and since it was his sons first day of school the next day, we slept in there to keep ourselves out of the way). So, not only did we get a shower, dinner and a place to sleep – Steve had a hot-tub. While Steve and Jack were tinkering around with the bikes, I soaked in the Jacuzzi for almost two hours.
The next day, after being on the road for a little while, a truck pulled up alongside us, it was Steve apologizing for leaving without saying goodbye, and wishing us luck on our journey. Later in the day, after getting over the hills and far away (thats for my mum) Steve gave us a call to say he had found us a place to stay with his co-worker Courtney that evening.
Just before reaching Courtney’s house, we both experienced our first flat tires, right at the same time. I’m sure they wont be our last. Courtney wouldn’t be home until later that evening, but she told us her front door was open, so we should let ourselves in and treat it like home. When Courtney got home she insisted on taking us out to dinner, and it was there that we ate our first testicles. Bull testicles. Rocky Mountain Oysters. Breaded and deep fried they didn’t look a thing like we thought and they actually tasted ok, but Jack said he wished they had looked more like actual testicles.
Waking up the next morning it was raining like we had never seen. We made excuses for as long as we could, sat and watched half of SpaceJam, but finally agreed if we didn’t get on the road there and then, we wouldn’t make it to Omaha that day.
I completely forgot to mention, as well as the butter cow, there was also a butter Abraham Lincoln. Everything he’d ever wanted. Until next time,