Wednesday, April 29

Stamp hunting...Score one for the weather!

Okay, so last weekend was the launching of my first outing for collecting stamps as part of the Iron Butt National Parks Tour. I need 50 stamps from 25 parks, historical sites, monuments, etc., and I need them in one year. I figured I’d pick up three easy stamps over the weekend. My plan was to get to Prairie du Chien, WI Saturday in enough time to take a trip to Winona, MN, where I’d collect the Mississippi NRRA stamp. I’d rest and head out early Sunday morning to head across the river to IA to visit the Effigy Mounds National Monument, McGregor, IA. I had planned to spend some time here as I’ve had Effigy Mounds on my radar for a few years. Not far from there, I’d run to Herbert Hoover NHS in West Branch, IA. The trip home from there is easy and familiar.

With the exception of getting to Prairie du Chien, NOTHING in the above paragraph happened. I had signs I ignored from the start. First, I didn’t sleep well the night before. At 4:00a.m. I was awake from tossing and turning for hours. Three hours later, I was tired. I like to head out early but I didn’t actually get on the road until 9:30 (late for me) due to various misplaced items and a last minute urge to repack. It had already been raining much of the night and it was drizzling when I left with a gray, threatening looking sky.

Also, it was windy and a bit on the cool side--but I had hopes of it warming up. Then traffic was backed up on the tiny part of the Interstate I was planning to take. A turn around and detour led me away from that. Then, only 15 minutes into the trip, it started raining rather heavily. And it rained. And it never stopped raining more than 10 minutes or so all the way to Prairie du Chien, WI! I took the back way, that is, the long way—the very long way to Prairie du Chien. In hindsight, it probably would have been wiser to stay home. But since I didn’t, it would have been smarter to stick to the Interstate. The back way to WI, while scenic, with enough rolling hills to keep you interested and many long sweeping curves, it is also rather desolate in parts. It is down right spooky in the dark. On a bright clear and sunny day, these roads feel heavenly. I know. I’ve done them.

On a cold, dark, cloudy, windy, rainy and foggy day the roads bring to mind a question I asked myself a couple of times: Why am I doing this? I could be home reading a new novel. These vast open spaces allowed the wind to really kick up and by the time I reached Beloit, I was feeling it. I hadn’t yet put on my rain gear (my Fieldsheer Adventure Touring jacket kept me dry). But I was getting chilled. When I tried to fired up the electric jacket (Tourmaster)—Nothing! Nada! I pushed the buttons and plugged and re-plugged. Nothing. I rode on in steady, sometimes very heavy rain made it difficult to see clearly and it was all reminding me of my ride back from Virginia. Unfortunately, the back way doesn’t allow for many places to pull over. There are widely spaced small towns, farms, and homes here and there. The map showed that I would need to ride a long way to an Interstate. I rode on. To give myself a break, I pulled over at a historical marker or stopped to peer at some cows and to give my visor a good, futile wipe off. At one point, I plugged in the new XM satellite radio as I was feeling the need for some company. Nothing. What?! Nothing. I later learned that it was my error. The radio is fine. Perhaps that was a good thing as I needed all my attention focused on the road that were, with every passing hour, becoming lined with huge pools of water along the road’s edge. I imagined that one hid five feet of water, waiting to swallow me and the bike.

When I reached the Mt Horeb area, the weather seemed to worsen. I was too far into the trip to do anything but continue. I rode in the middle of a long line of cars and trucks heading west on US 18. I received some strange looks from both people and cows. The trucks that passed me heading east seemed spooky, mammoth and menacing. Still, I felt totally comfortable on the bike. It felt steady, solid and the tires performed superbly. I never felt shaky in the curves and I leaned into them with confidence. The wind, however, did make me say a couple of prayers and call out to the ancestors to watch over me. I discovered on this trip that I don’t mind any of these separate, challenging weather situations. I do mind when they exist simultaneously.
I know I’m not supposed to but I like riding in the rain. I don’t really like the fog, but I’ve been caught in it a few times to know how to handle it. I don’t even mind a nice wind now and again. All of this together and I’m on high alert. It is draining to say the least.

It took me a little more than 8 hours to get to Prairie du Chien. It was not dark, but the sky was replete with robust dark gray clouds. I checked in a Super 8 and unpacked the bike in a heavy downpour. The clerk took one look at me and seemed puzzled. She told me that they had a dryer if I needed one. I must have looked like a wet rat.

I've not stayed in Super 8s. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The room was massive with a little living room area and a couple of comfortable chairs, a nice TV and in-room wireless. They also had a frig, microwave and kitchen sink! What I valued the most, was the heating system, which I cranked up to 82 degrees F. I was freezing. My butt was also very cold, literally. I peeled off my wet stuff and hung them near the heater. My feet too were cold. I had dressed for working electrics. In years past, when I didn’t have electrics, I dressed differently and never experienced the kind of cold I felt Saturday. I was starving but didn’t want to go out for a meal. So, I munched on GORP and a Root Beer from the vending machine. I felt asleep too early and was awake at 1am.Sunday Morning. It is raining. I talked with Dave a couple of times, got a weather report on happenings in IL. I was a bit worried because the weather in Prairie du Chien was predicted to only get worse. He had been receiving the SPOT signals and knew that I was fine. I thought of Effigy Mounds across the river and wondered how a quick trip there would work. But the local weather report said heavy thunderstorms much of the day. The same for Winona, MN. I toyed with the idea of going anyway. I went back and forth. Then I heard on the Weather Channel that a motorcyclist had been struck and killed by lightning in Kansas.My jacket was dry but my boots were still damp on the outside and the memory of being cold made me pause and come to my senses. Taking Dave’s suggestion, I decided to head north along the Wisconsin side of the river along WI-35 aka, “The Great River Road.” La Crosse is about 60 miles away and even with the steady rain, this was a gorgeous ride. Before leaving the hotel, a woman told me to do the speed limit in Ferryville (popl. 174) and Stoddard (popl. 802). She stressed being careful in Ferryville because the “cop” there lives for speeders and will “get you.” I do not ever speed in small towns that appear to be caught in a time warp. I don’t care how many impatient drivers are kissing my bumper or trying to go around me. If I’m ever stopped it won’t be for speeding in a small town!

Breath-taking views with only a slight look to the left at the river. It almost made me forget about the rain and cold. I wanted to pull over and take photos but it wouldn’t have been safe given the conditions. The sky was grey, purple, and steamy. Off into the distance, the scene was wintry and mountainous. It reminded me of a drive I once made through Washington state during a dark, foggy rain. My return trip mimicked the trip out. The rain did not let up for more than a few minutes. WI-35 led me to the Interstate and I was happy to see it. Riding the Interstate gave me an instance sense of comfort. Having ample rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and other cars on the road, put me at total ease. Even with the steady rain, I enjoyed the entire Interstate journey. I stopped mainly for gas. I zipped by the rest stops because I felt fine.

I had planned my big stops in Madison or Rockford. I missed Madison but stopped somewhere briefly near Lake Delton, WI. I had a real meal in Rockford, IL. Finally, I was close enough to home that I felt I could relax. I ate at Culver’s (never been there before) and enjoyed fries, fish, and a strawberry shake that really hit the spot. I usually avoid fast food but this was a treat and each morsel helped soothe my jangled nerves from hours of riding in the most challenging rains I’ve ever experienced. About 20 or so minutes after leaving Rockford, the rain stopped. It held off for the rest of the trip. The bonus of getting to IL was the considerably warmer weather. I finally removed the rain gear and that too increased my level of comfort. My Fieldsheer jacket and my MotoGP pants really make rain gear optional. Seriously.So, how many stamps did I collect on this trip. Well, if you have read this far, you know that the answer is a big whopping ZERO! I shall repeat this trip soon. Still, I got in a tough ride with Jesse. No complaints. Learned a few things about myself. For me, that’s a lot of what it is all about.

Weekend ride total: 616.7 miles