Seattle to Chicago – Iowa
Denis Kertz, ©1994
I woke up at 6:15, took care of most of my packing, and walked downtown to the recommended bowling alley/cafe for breakfast. They didn’t have a newspaper so I checked out both grocery stores but they didn’t have anything either. Someone left a Mitchell paper at the cafe so I read it. I had the 2 eggs and 2 pancakes for $2. Then I ordered another order of the same thing. The paper said a tornado watch was issued yesterday for 35 counties including the Mitchell area. The prediction for today was possible showers, 50s, and NW wind 20-30 mph.
After breakfast I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a couple of bran muffins. Then I completed packing and checked out. As I turned on to the I-90 entrance I began picking up speed from the wind. I was quickly in the big chainring and effortlessly doing 20+ mph. This was FUN and I felt I had more than earned it over the last two days. It was eerie how riding with the wind created a stillness that belied the wind’s fury. It was like I was in a dreamland where wind wasn’t allowed. Since I was moving so easily, I did some quick mental calculations and concluded that 150 miles would not be impossible if the wind continued or even picked up as the day wore on. Unfortunately, the wind would taper off as the day went on and 150 miles would remain a dream.
After a little over an hour, I had covered the 24 miles to Mitchell. By comparison, yesterday it had taken me almost 4 hours to travel this same distance. I took the first exit to Mitchell and immediately felt the force of the wind as soon as I turned North. I followed the signs to the Corn Palace, parked, and entered. The Palace was not what I had expected. I had thought it was some kind of agricultural exposition but it was an auditorium that was currently set up for basketball and concerts were common events. The decoration was constructed from native corn, grains, and grasses using their natural colors. These decorations were above the stage and covered the front of the Palace outside. Each summer the decorations were torn down and new ones put up with a different theme.
After taking a picture, I headed back to I-90 and stopped at a Kmart to have the band on my watch repaired since a pin had broken. Back on I-90 the wind was still strong but seemed to have shifted a bit to be partly a crosswind. I now cruised at about 18 mph.
When I started riding in the morning, the shoulder was great for about 9 miles then it reverted to its old self and my speed dropped a couple of mph. In a few more miles the interstate was under construction with the right lane fenced off. However, the right lane was rideable and I used it as a bicycle lane. This seemed like a reasonable compromise. If the shoulder was too rough, fence off the right lane as a bike lane. This would be the case several more times as construction was under way in several places.
After 50 miles, I stopped at a foodmart for a reuben sandwich heated in a microwave, chips, Gatorade, and one of my bran muffins. When I continued, the wind seemed to have abated a little more although it was still strong. However, it seemed unfair for it to abate when yesterday it just got stronger as the day progressed.
The land was now all farmland and a lot of cornfields. There were also more trees than I could count on both hands in contrast to the western half of the state where a single hand was sufficient to count the trees (and a single hand often wasn’t needed). As I neared Sioux Falls the land became rolling again and I had to do some moderate climbing.
As the wind continued to diminish, it was clear that I wouldn’t threaten much more than a century. However, Sioux Falls was closer than I thought and I hadn’t decided exactly how to attack Iowa. I decided to take I-29 South towards Sioux Falls and see if I could enlist suggestions from a bike shop. I found the Bike Barn at 9th and Cliff. One guy suggested that 9, 18, and 3 (all east-west roads) were all probably OK Iowa roads. Later I decided to start on 9 and swing down to 18 if 9 didn’t look good. One way or the other I would pick up 18 eventually and then 3 in order to “step” my way down from northern Iowa to Dubuque.
My next agenda was a place to stay. At the suggestion of the Bike Barn, I checked out the Rushmore Motel nearby whose price was right but they had no first floor rooms. So I headed across town to the west side and stopped at the Tower Campground. Their price of $14 was a rip off even though I got an AAA discount but I wasn’t inclined to search out other motels at this point so I reluctantly paid the price.
After camp, I walked to the nearby Hardees for a chicken sandwich, fries, and a couple of vanilla shakes that were really good. While eating, I checked my Iowa map and reflected on the week. This day was one of the easiest century rides I had done due to the strong tailwind. However, it was disappointing to have the wind taper off as it did after the agony the wind had caused the two previous days. On the other hand, when I saw the weather forecast for South Dakota while in Custer, I was sure I was going to get wet but the only real rain I had was while riding to Custer. The newspaper showed that Pierre, which was about 30 miles north of the interstate in the center of the state, had received 1.5” for the week and I was glad I missed that. Looking ahead to Iowa, it appeared to be roughly the same width as South Dakota but I hoped the weather would be better.
It was another restless night trying to sleep. I dozed off some while listening to my Sony radio but when I tried to really sleep my ribcage hurt whether on my back or side just enough to make sleep difficult. After some trial and error, I found placing a pad under my right backside while on my back worked and I slept most of the night that way. Later in the morning, I found I could lay on my right side without pain and sleep.
I woke up at 6:30, packed and headed East through town. I stopped at the Frying Pan and had 3 pancakes and bacon. Continuing East, I stopped at a donut shop for a couple of pecan rolls and ate one on the spot. As I was preparing to leave, I met a father and son who welcomed me to Sioux Falls and we talked about the trip.
I headed out of town on 38 that changed to 9 in Iowa. In 15 miles I reached the Iowa border and suddenly there were farms dotting the landscape that seemed to be covered with cornfields. For the rest of the day the terrain would be rolling hills with a fair tailwind out of the NW. Highway 9 did not have a shoulder of which to speak but traffic was light enough that this wasn’t much of a problem except when a semi came when there was traffic from the other direction. On the other hand, when a semi came along from the other direction I got a pretty good wind lashing.
At noon I stopped at a Pizza Ranch in Rock Rapids and had their real deal special - 2 pizza slices and Coke for $2. There was a variety of pizza available and one slice I had was a taco pizza that was so good I anted up for another real deal and two more taco slices. Checking my map it looked like either Spirit Lake at 92 miles or Estherville at 108 were logical destinations.
Continuing on 9, the terrain didn’t change until I neared Spirit Lake that was near several lakes and appeared to be a tourist area. I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a Blizzard but continued on since the area seemed too touristy. Meanwhile the tailwind had gradually picked up and I was pushing 20 mph. The final 16 miles flew by as I put it in the big chainring.
Pulling into Estherville, I spotted a camping sign by the river so I pulled into a park and set up camp. I washed up in the river and rode downtown to find a bar to watch the Miami-FSU football game. I found a bar with the game on TV and had a pepperoni pizza. I asked the bartender about breakfast and she said Bud’s Cafe was the place. When she found out about my trip, she was impressed and thought it was really neat.
I woke at 2:30 and couldn’t find any position to get comfortable. Eventually I ended up on my back and fell asleep. Later in the morning I again found I could lay on my right side and sleep.
At 6:20 I woke up and packed in the dark and cold. I headed to Bud’s Cafe downtown and had 3 large pancakes and oatmeal. The oatmeal was so-so but the cakes were good. I grabbed and read an idle Des Moines Register, the sponsor of RAGBRAI - the famous annual bicycle ride across Iowa. An interesting story was that this year a guy was in a portable john when someone pushed it over on its door. Needless to say, the guy was a mess and had to be hosed off. He also feared that he could have picked something up from the waste matter but later blood tests were OK. After hearing about this episode, the Register invited him back next year as their guest.
As I left town, it was chilly, probably about 40, and I was decked out in pullover, hat, gloves, rain pants/jacket and was comfortable. The paper predicted N winds but they were more like NW and modest but a helping wind nevertheless. When I pulled into Armstrong in 18 miles, the thermometer display read 45.
I made good time partly due to the tailwind but my left shin started bothering me. It started getting a little sore yesterday evening and it was getting sore again. Just after noon and 48 miles, I stopped at Buffalo Center for lunch. There wasn’t much in town so I ended up at a Casey’s foodmart and had a sandwich, chips, 7UP, and 3 donuts. The donuts were so good I bought 3 more for the road. While eating my lunch, 3 guys who had been duck hunting pulled in. They were hauling a boat decked out as a duck blind that had TV, coolers, etc. I also met a guy who had been on RAGBRAI and he asked about my bike and trip. He was hoping that he could ride across the country someday.
Today’s terrain was virtually flat. There were still a lot of cornfields and soybeans. I noticed a preponderance of grain bins too. As expected for a Sunday, the traffic was light and there were only a few trucks.
My goal for today was Mason City that looked to be about 100 miles and required me to swing down from Highway 9 to 18. As I neared Fertile, I stopped for a lemonade and ate the last of my donuts. Then I took S18 to angle towards Mason City a little better. However I ended up taking S18 all the way South to 18 so I could ride through Clear Lake and see what it was like. Clear Lake was smaller than Mason City (30,000) and I thought it might be a more interesting place to stay.
Shortly after I pulled into Clear Lake, I saw a sign for the Molly McGowan Park and decided to check it out. It was a nice park set in the midst of a bunch of oak trees. There wasn’t any No Camping sign and it had a lighted restroom so I decided to stay for the night, particularly since my shin was getting pretty painful at the 95 mile point.
Before setting up camp, I headed to the nearby Subway for a foot long wheat tuna sandwich and chips. While eating I checked my maps. It looked like two full days at 100 miles/day to Savanna at the Iowa/Illinois border and then maybe 120 miles from the border to Naperville. That meant that Wednesday looked like the best I could do with Thursday more realistic, especially with my shin condition. For dessert I had an ice cream cone at the next door Baskin Robbins.
Then I headed back to the park and set up camp and took a sponge shower. I also oiled my chain that I had installed a week ago. Then I headed to the Other Place for a beer and to write my notes.
For the first time since the cow incident, I could lie fairly comfortably on my side or back and sleep. However, there was a railroad track close by as I learned when a train pulled through during the night. At 6:25 I woke, packed, and headed towards the north-south interstate between Clear Lake and Mason City for breakfast. I stopped at a Perkins and had pancakes and bacon. The cakes were OK but the bacon was 4 paltry strips. I quickly pronounced the bacon the worst of the trip and seriously considered sending Perkins a letter notifying them of their award. I had thought about buying a muffin but decided not to spend any more money at Perkins.
Back on the road I headed East on 18 through Mason City. There was a fair amount of traffic but 18 was four lanes. On the east outskirts of town, I stopped at a grocery store for a couple of oat bran muffins and donuts. There I met a fellow cyclist who had planned to cycle from Rhode Island to Houston to southern California and back to Iowa this summer. Unfortunately, he had some epilepsy problems and had to cancel his trip.
Continuing on, the road narrowed to two lanes and the truck traffic became a problem when there was oncoming traffic. However, the gravel shoulder was fairly well packed and not a problem so I moved off the road when traffic suggested it was prudent.
My left shin continued to be a problem and I wondered if it was going to get worse. Also a problem was the SE wind which though modest (5-10 mph) was a headwind. The combination of sore shin and headwind would make this a slow day.
Highway 18 headed southeast to Charles City where I stopped for lunch at a Subway. I had their BBQ special that was OK but I decided BBQ was not really their forte. I stayed for about 45 minutes to rest my shin. On my way out of town I called the Chicago Tribune to have them resume my newspaper delivery on Thursday.
I stayed on 218 southeast to Nashua where I picked up 346 heading East. 346 rejoined 18 in a while and took me into Fredericksburg. In town there was somewhat of a traffic jam as at least 6 grain wagons were lined up waiting to unload at a grainery. This year was a record harvest for both corn and soybeans and I got to see a substantial part of the record in my travel across Iowa. I stopped at another Casey’s for a Gatorade and ice cream sandwich for the final push to West Union, 20 miles away.
I pulled into West Union shortly after 6:00 and stopped at the city park for the night. It was interesting that the Iowa towns I rode through often had signs to direct you to the city park and I was happy to see that. This park was not as nice as the one in Clear Lake but the price was right. After camp, I walked gingerly, due to my sore shin, back to the intersection of 18 and 150 for dinner at Hardees. The waitress there told me where the downtown was. My shin was painful for walking though it had gotten better while cycling the last couple of hours. Downtown, I scouted a couple of bars before I found the Cellar Saloon that had the Vikings-Giants game on TV. And its $1.25 price for Ice Light was on the mark.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 1994. All rights reserved.