Tuesday, July 26, 2011

7/25/11 Gone to look for America

Farmingon to Chester

There is no plan. And that is the plan. We are lucky this it true. Today meandered and turned and stopped and started again. And in the end, it was pretty much perfect.

Started the morning with magically free lattes at the Bauhaus Coffee shop. Someone had made them by mistake. Chatted with a deaf guy who worked there. First deaf person I have met on the entire trip. He was equally geeked. He said he hadn't met someone who knows sign language since he left Gallaudet. We exploded akwardly at one another. Asking in unison, "What's your name? Where are you from? Where did you go to school?" It was a nice moment. I felt us wanting to hug at our parting, but we both knew it was inappropriate.

We rode about twenty miles through wine and beer country. We desperately wanted to tour one of the wineries. They were all closed. It is Monday. Grumblesticks.

On the way up a nasty little hill, we saw a sign that read, "Cave Winery. Open Today." What the heck. A farm-cozy little place completely devoid of pretentiousness. In keeping with the theme, we had some free wine. We bought some cheap ass Ritz crackers, some cheese "spread" and walked down to the cave to have a truly unique lunch. We were followed by a fat old labrador mutt. The sign at the front of the cave read, NO PETS. The dog remained so close to Chris' leg, you would think they had been Mutt and Master for ages. Inside the cave, people sitting at round tables stared at us as if to ask, 'Did you read the sign?' Too bad. The dog comes with us.

I love the surreal moments that are born from the serendipity of bike travel. I am in a cave, drinking free red wine, dog at my feet, water is dripping from stalactites and people are laughing. Just outside the cave, a fecund wonderland of fern, waterfalls, butterflies, dragonflies and so much more.

We rode a golf cart back to the top of the vineyard. (Some atheletes we are.) Sat in the pavillion and chatted with the owner. He talked about his background in business and the interest in chemistry that led to the investment, all while his dog, Norton laid on the cement, pawing his calves for attention.

We stayed so long chatting, drinking, being prayed over by strangers, we nearly forgot we had to continue on. Remounted and headed for the Mississippi. Landed in Chester, which is the home of Popeye. This is indicated, street by street, with different statues and oversized cans of spinach.

Stayed at the Eagles Lodge in a minicabin provided by the club. A creepy little shelter filled with attached wooden bunks and all the clothes other cyclists had deemed unworthy of schleping. After I gave the whole thing a good scrubbin', it was not so bad. We had deep fried wonders for supper in the lodge. All the while, multiple volleyball tournaments were conducted outside.

I have been privy to the manner in which so many Americans celebrate summer. As someone who previously had a hard time considering herself a patriot, I don't know if I ever set out looking for America or that I even cared to investigate the American experience. Rather, more selfishly, I set out on an athletic endeavor or journey of self discovery, as many young people do. And I definitely never knew that there was something genuine and folksy happeneing out there in the Heartland. I guess I always assumed it was tainted with consumerism, or drinking, or politics. I envisioned a garish caricature of Joe the Plumber, chugging PBR, American flags on his truck and Keith Urban blasting out its doors. Don't get me wrong, he's out there. But I have seen so many glorious vignettes of the American experience, I cannot deny its beauty, nor it's diversity.

I have seen a flute concert on the side of a mountain at sunset, a rodeo in the light of a full moon, fireworks cascading over a waterfall on the fourth of July, family reunions, family picnics, aramadas of canoes loaded with squealing children, old fashioned ice cream socials, county fairs, town hall meetings and handshakes between neighbors.

Someone said to me the other day, referring to the danger of bike travel in this day and age, "There are good people and bad people. There were good people in 1950 and there are good people now." I have to say, I agree. Good people are still around. And it's these people who have managed to shape some kind of patriot out of me.


  1. That was a seriously beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. Dear Lauren.
    Extreme G emailed me that this one made her cry. It was beautiful. I miss you a lot but am happy to see you looking so well. What a fantastic experience. Love Mom

  3. And may I add that on this trip you discovered your voice. And a beautiful one it is. And you, who always hated structure. You keep putting bows on this thing and it's going to look like a Tony Orlando and Dawn reunion.

    Ride on, kid.

    Love, Pa