When i left you dangling at a Mexican restaurant in Independence, Iowa, i wasn't sure exactly where i would end up that night. In the end i did a big zig-zag across interstate 380 and arrived at Pleasant Creek, which is a state park by a reservoir close-ish to the city of Cedar Rapids.
For the third night in a row, i was putting my tent up just after sunset. The days are getting shorter and shorter, and i am fighting headwinds all the way south. The sun is rising late and the humidity leaves all my gear wet, which means i need to spend longer in the mornings drying it out, which means i have even less daylight to get where i want to go. It really feels like a race against the clock, now.
For the third night in a row, the mosquitoes and other aggressive beasties were out in force. I got bitten on every exposed piece of skin. Water is life, but sometimes life sucks.
The best part of the campsite was that i actually had 4G reception in my tent, so i could at least look up potential campsites for the next day.
I needed to go to Riverside.
If Minnesota is primarily known as the home of spam for me, Iowa is known as the home of Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701. Or, to non-Trekkies, William Shatner hamming it up in that Star Trek show from the 1960s.
I consider myself a Trekkie, but not the fannish kind. I have watched all the episodes at some point or another, but i've never rewatched them. I don't hold the shows up as must-see television, i just find that it is a comforting world to spend a bit of time in. I love the spirit of Star Trek. I love the idea that humans will one day be united and free, working together to peacefully explore new places and learn new things and meet new peoples. I love the optimistic notion that scientific curiosity and diplomacy and a strong sense of ethics will always triumph over fear and violence and hatred and greed.
Captain Kirk is not the superior Star Trek captain - that honor goes to Picard, obviously - but i'm not cycling around France, so it's Kirk's hometown that made my itinerary.
Riverside is a very small town fairly close to Iowa City, which is a city separated from the larger Cedar Rapids only by a greenbelt along the Iowa River. That meant yesterday was mostly a day of suburban cycling. It felt like the whole time i was on multi-lane roads, dealing with a lot of turning vehicles, strip malls everywhere, traffic lights, stop signs, and so on.
But there were some brief sections that were great, like the fantastic ride down old highway 965 parallel to 380 - almost no cars at all were on that road since the interstate is presumably faster, which was fine by me. Then near Iowa City i stumbled upon a relaxing greenway that took me halfway round the city with only a handful of joggers and other cyclists to wave hello to.
I stopped in Coralville for tacos. There were a bunch of Chinese grocery stores in the suburb, oddly owned (or run) by African migrants. I picked up some snacks, and was intending to head for an empanada place that popped up on Google when i spied another mercado slash taqueria, and decided to eat there to try balance out the utilitarian American Mexican bean- and cheese-fest of the day before. The carnitas was excellent. Forget about that joint i went to in Richfield. This was Real Fucking Tacos.
Then on to Riverside, which by bicycle meant a whole ton of very hilly gravel roads. I was exhausted by the time i got into town, and of course the Star Trek museum wasn't open anyway, nor were any bars or restaurants. I took the obligatory photos, then cycled one town west to Kalona. They're one of the first towns in the US that i have found that has an urban campsite, but it was $20 (no cheaper rate for tent camping) and smelled like animal dung, so i just threw my hands in the air and got a motel.
I haven't had a shower or woken up in a place with a flush toilet since leaving the airport hotel, so it's luxury.
I hit up the local watering hole and got a very plain (but delicious) meal of catfish and "cottage fries", which is just fried potato slices. For once, i appreciated the blandness. It felt authentic and homey, not lazy and mass-produced. I was very tired, very sunburnt, and i just wanted something simple and pleasing that filled my belly. It didn't really do enough to fill my physical belly because i have been burning so many calories on the bike, but it filled my spiritual belly.
This motel is actually doing breakfast, so i might go hard on the buffet. Perhaps there will be some special baked goods from Dutch country, eh?
Success! I got the standard bagel and peanut butter, but augmented it with an incredibly sweet and fatty homemade cinnamon roll, which is just what the doctor ordered.
I wonder if cinnamon rolls are a North American invention? I feel like the dish is deeply entwined with the rural (and perhaps church) culture over here. They definitely have them in Europe too - northern Europeans love pastries with cinnamon - but Americans and Canadians have taken it to a whole nother level of ridiculous calorific overload, because of course they/we have.
Anyway, yeah, so i am now showered and fed and ready to hit the road with charged-up electronics. Most of the states of the US have something i want to see there, and in Missouri it's Kansas City, aka KCMO. Why that city in particular? Because it is the railroad hub of America. Union Pacific and BNSF both run multiple lines through there. It's on the direct Amtrak route from Chicago to LA. Just north of the city is St Joseph, where the Pony Express was set up. Also in Missouri is Springfield, where Route 66 originally started. I don't know anything else about the state other than that it was the jumping-off point for travel to the west. That seems to be a good enough reason to visit.
That also means i will be backtracking, instead of heading southeast like you'd expect, but that's fine. Especially with the weather report forecasting yet another day of sou'easterly winds. As long as i get to the coast before the snow comes, it's all good.
Today is Orange Shirt Day in Canada, now also known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day to remember and confront the cultural genocide that the Canadian government and Christian churches perpetrated on indigenous peoples through the Indian residential school system. This year, for the first time, it has been elevated to a statutory holiday after the location of what appear to be hundreds of unmarked graves near residential schools in Kamloops and other parts of the country. I am in the US right now, but this is still Turtle Island, and the US government did pretty much the exact same thing here. Somehow i feel close to this because i was living in Kamloops when the story broke, and it had a real emotional impact on the community, so i wanted to mention it.
CBC is doing coverage all day: https://www.cbc.ca/news
Here's a longer article on Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc specifically: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/taking-back-tkemlups
Back on the travel topic... Not sure where i will end up today (again). I just hope i can set up before sunset for a change, and perhaps find some good food or interesting sights along the way. Iowa is generally pretty nice. That's good, because i got at least another day of it to go.