Friday, 2 August 2013

Iowa to Illinois

Well, it has officially been six days since I last blogged. For that I'm sorry, but sadly one cannot predict how internet will work or if the weather will cooperate. Our Sunday in Coralville was a gorgeous day - cool temperatures and sunny skies. I slept under the park pavilion and stayed cozy warm with three sweaters, two pairs of pants, socks and my sleeping bag. What started out as an innocent desire to save time in the mornings by not having to set up or take down my tent has become somewhat of a challenge these last few weeks. For the last weeks I have been quite successful and have spent nights under bathroom overhangs, pavilions, even in the back of a trailer! Oh, the adventures I have! All weekend I enjoyed the hospitality of ST Morrison Park complete with a pool, hot tub, showers and trees. With the cool temperatures and the sore muscles I found the hot tub to be a godsend! And I can never overestimate trees, or grass for that matter, after the desert! What a beautiful place!

Sunday morning Bonita and I went on an excursion to find New Life Church- the family that had been so excited and generous to organize a church service for us and was also providing a delicious supper for our group. We worshiped with them in the morning and we felt so welcome! The church family was a fascinating mixture of races and economic classes. Such a wonderful time!

After some time in the hot tub and pool and a second shower just because I could, we again hiked the 1.5 miles to the church for our evening service. There we were treated to beautiful worship, a wonderful sermon, and then back again to the park for our donated meal of spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad. Delicious! After a cool and fantastic nights sleep it was back on the road again for yet another long day- nearly 160 km.

Riding into Fulton, Illinois on Monday was an absolute blast! After the somewhat challenging and cool winds of Saturday, Monday was pure joy. Although it was a long day, and long days always come with challenges, for a long day it was fantastic! Finally, after two long weeks of biking non-stop hills, up and down, up and down, we left them hills IN THE DUST!! For once we were able to ride and not see hills on the horizon. For this southern-Ontario gal, that was a glorious experience! Sunny skies, relatively nice roads and rested legs ... what fun! Near the end of our trek we rode along the Mississippi River. We were close enough to sense its presence but not close enough to see it. In fact, some of us began to wonder if, in fact, the Mississippi existed. Finally we hit the bridge over the Mississippi. Crossing it was such fun! And immediately on the other side we entered Illinois! Two important picture stops in a row. Five kilometres after entering Illinois we camped at a Christian School in Fulton. They rolled out the red carpet, prepared snacks for us when we arrived and served us supper. There was even entertainment while we ate our hamburgers, corn, and oh, the pie! That delicious pie! It seems all we do is eat!

We were invited to sleep in their gym Monday night. As I was sweep, I was given a break from helping out with supper as the school was providing it, but we did have to help set up breakfast and roll up the mats protecting the gym floors. That was especially interesting! You had to roll it up just right or you end up with one side way off the end of the roll and you have to backtrack to re-roll it. After a few false tries our sweep team had the four massive rolls up and off the gym's nice wood floor. Breakfast was all put away, the gear truck all loaded up and shortly after 8am we were on the road. Last but certainly not least.

The skies were threatening rain. The sunrise had been blood-red so those riders who are tuned to the weather knew that the day had the potential to be quite rainy. Just as we were finishing up breakfast, the skies opened and the drizzle started. The rest of our packing up was done in the rain. Our sweep team- with a group of 6 riders- Rachel, Larry, Nate, Andrew, Matt and I started out just after 8 all geared up to be wet... for the most part. Some were unprepared. We hoped the storm would simply blow over, so some of us didn't wear a rain coat. After about 30 kilometres Rachel and I somehow got ahead of the group and, since the rain hadn't stopped and the wind had picked up to create a decent headwind, we began pacelining between the two of us. Now, Rachel is an amazing person and a fantastic athlete and it was a pure joy to ride with her. When passing other cyclists we would sing, “I'm singing in the rain...” When I developed a puddle in my shoe, Rachel composed a nice little ditty on the spot about my puddle. It was proving to be a long and difficult day and we did our best to keep our spirits up and not let the cold and wind get to us. Those cyclists, like myself, who were banking on the rain stopping found themselves getting cold as their bare arms couldn't keep the body heat in. By SAG #3 we were sopping wet, mostly miserable, and just wanting to get into camp. It was at this point that Rachel and I were informed of a gas station across the street who was donating hot chocolate and coffee to all riders! What a treat! We filled up on sugary drinks to the point that I almost floated out to my bike and off we were again. We pace lined, each taking two minutes out front pulling the other and breaking the wind. Then the rolling hills came back and, being experienced, Rachel suggested that we switch every 180 pedal strokes instead. A good cadence for a cyclist is 90 pedal strokes per minute- uphill and down. This way we would switch just about every two minutes, regardless of the terrain and our turns at the front would be fair.

Rachel Kiers and I after a long day in the rain.
Rachel and I being rebels...
As we approached where camp should have been we found ourselves winding through cornfields... again. They are neverending! Just when we thought we were about there we came upon yet another turn, and then another! Where was this camp?? We were wet, damp, and my knees were just about at their end. Finally, rounding the corner, we saw the sign “Entrance to Shabbonna Lake Park.” We couldn't help but chuckle when we realized it was yet another three miles to where we were camping deep inside that park! Tired as we were we could just hear the grumbling of certain cyclists as they came upon the realization that they had arrived at camp for the night... but not quite yet. We turned sympathetic then as we realized how very exhausted everyone would be after such a difficult day. It turns out we were right, many of our fellow riders emotionally broke down at that point. After such a long, cold and wet day, those extra few miles just broke them down.

It remained wet all night with a constant sort of mist or drizzle. Matt, one of our drivers had driven into the town and bought fire wood so that we could have a nice warm fire to cuddle up to. I did my best to dry out my wet clothes around the fire. Now they're dry, but they stink like smoke ... and another odour that I can't quite place...

Our camp spent the night in the rain and the drizzle to wake up to a cold, foggy, and wet morning. We forced our achy and tired bodies to pack up the wet tents, sleeping bags, pillows, and clothing, and to get on the road. Since I was not on sweep this morning (Wednesday) I did my best to get on the road early just to finish a third long day. I took the long way around to our route and met Jake who had taken the short-cut, gravel road out of the camp. Our route had somehow not been marked so we wandered around for a while trying to figure out which way to turn. Joined by Chad, Eric, and Rick, we asked a local who got us started in the right direction. Chad led the group in a fast clip and we motored along, doing our best to not get lost with all the turns we were to do. The rain and drizzle died soon after starting and the cool morning became our friend instead of enemy. The skies remained overcast until well into the ride and a stronger wind came up and pushed us along on our merry way. What a gorgeous day it turned out to be! The route today had some minor mishaps with certain persons getting very lost, many others only becoming slightly lost, nine flats, one serious fall, and two other minor falls. Overall however, it was a fantastic day.

I arrived in camp early and set to cleaning my bike as soon as I had laid out my wet clothes to dry. A nice shower and a long nap capped off my fantastic day. Illiana Christian School fed us a delicious supper with ice cream, brought in a bike shop to do repairs, and here I sit ready to sleep and rest my sorry bones.

I thank God for such an opportunity as this, for safety, and all the many small blessings given us throughout the day. The joy of riding fast. The fun of meeting strangers along the way, particularly the really unique ones, the excitement bubbling out of those cheering us on along the sidelines, and just the camaraderie of cycling with friends. I was told today that cycling is the “good speed.” It's faster than walking but slow enough that you still get to enjoy the scenery. And I can attest to this whole-heartedly.

Please continue to pray for safety, for calm nerves, and for joy in the journey. Blessings to you my friends! 

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