Thursday, June 14, 2007

the end of my sag career

yesterday at 4:30 p.m., i completed my professional sag driver career. that day would have made anyone quit.

it all started out in a little town in minnesota. i couldn't make hide nor hair out of the directions on the cue sheet. luckily, i saw a few bikers across the street talking to a local guy, so i turned around and he told me how to get out of town.

on the way out of town, we were to turn on county road 9, but when i arrived there, it was closed under construction. my phone rang about then and it was jan. she was up ahead and told me to tell everyone to go on to county road 11. nine riders were at the construction sign, so i told them i would go ahead and find road 11, then come back and tell them.

i sped ahead three miles and surely enough, if you turned left off of 160 north, there it was. i raced back, found a turn-around, and told them it was straight ahead. then i decided to go back to the construction block and leave a message for the other riders.

i found a black marker in my purse and a rumpled paper on the clipboard, then wrote the directions on it, taped it to the road closed sign, and hoped for the best. i then raced ahead of the front-runners to give them a sag stop. i then waited for the rest of the group.

right in the middle of groups, i received a call from janet saying that vickie had been knocked to the ground by a big dog about a half-mile from where i was. i waited for the other riders, then drove quickly to the rum shack to await the front-runners, of which vickie was a part.

vickie was still riding, but her mouth was badly swollen and she had road scrapes on one arm. she didn't want me to call 911, so i went into the rum shack, got her some ice, and kathryn fashioned a neck-piece with ice inside it so they could continue on the ride. talk about tough!!

next, it was time to go see how the ones in the back of the pack were doing. i had picked up georgia along the road because her cracked ribs were giving her fits. thank heaven for her. she was navigating and answering the phone on this terror ride.

we found everyone else at the pub and grub. the best thing about that place was the proprietor, whose t-shirt read: i'm in the business of pussy and business is great. i guessed this was a red-neck place. he was talking about the three funerals in the community that week. we couldn't see a community, but surmised it was the farmers who lived nearby.

getting ready to leave after a huge blt sandwich, the phone rang. it was a voice saying, "we're six miles from town and need a ride." we didn't know who it was, but there was a note of desperation in her voice.

georgia and i sped off, trying to keep our promise of being there in 15 minutes. suddenly, we saw a sign pointing to the left: little falls - 11. we took a left, then ran into highway 10.

"none of this is on our cue sheet," georgia said.

"maybe we need to turn around," i said.

re-tracing our path, we finally found county road 35, which we had completely missed the first time round. about four miles down this road, we found patty sitting on the side of the road, with ann administering help to her, having waited more than an hour while we wild-goose-chased around the county.

it seems that patty started to pass out on her bike, then couldn't breathe. she used her inhaler to help that problem, then her blood pressure started tanking out. thank heavens she was with ann, the only medical doctor in the group, who started giving her liquids and other bike-rider concoctions. georgia and i helped patty into the car, and about this time, ann's hip started acting up. so there we were, the wounded helping the infirm. between the three of us, we finally got all the bikes on the car and started toward town.

"do you want to go to the emergency room?" i asked patty.

"no, i think i'm starting to feel better," she said.

after delivering georgia, ann, and patty to the hotel, i still needed to find the last three sheep--linda, barb, and lorrie. going backwards on the cue sheet, i found them seven miles from town.

i went on ahead of them, then waited at the turn that wasn't on the cue sheet. in the meantime, barb had a flat and lorrie gave her the front tire from her bike so she could continue on. i went back to lorrie, who had just completed the tire change and was installing barb's front tire on her bike.

"wanna ride?" i asked.

"no, i think i can make it," said lorrie, just as exhausted as everyone else had been.

"i'm calling it a day, then," i said.

"see you in town," lorrie replied.

about at the end of my rope, i drove to town, gassed up the car, and vowed that this was the end of my short sag driver career. janet bee did an intervention hug with me in the lobby of the hotel and offered to do the dishes after supper. that's the part of driving a sag wagon i will miss the least.

minding my own business

there i was, in loretta's driveway, getting ready to get in my pick-up and head back to new liberty after planting loretta's spring garden for her, when a tall, dark-headed gal dressed in bike clothes walked across the street fron the service station and approached me.

"would you help us?" she asked. "we're a group of women on a bike trip and need some transportation. our support van had to go to the hospital to take one of our riders who has a medical emergency, and some of us can't go on right now because of the wind."

"sure," i said. "where do you want to go?"

"if you take two women to the arrow cafe in the next town, then we can re-group from there," she answered. "by the way, i'm stephany hughes from kansas."

"pleased to meet you. i'm jack grage. i was getting ready to leave. i came over to help my friend, loretta, who lost one of her arms this year. she always has a large garden, but couldn't plant it herself."

"thanks so much," she said. "i'll go over and tell the women you'll take them."

so, not knowing what i was getting myself into, but also not having anything else to do today, i drove over to the gas station to help the women get their bikes loaded into the back of my pick-up. they got in the cab with me, and off we went to the cafe.

"we want to reimburse you for your gas," said judy, one of the bikers, as she handed me $20.00.

i didn't want to take money from them, but i just installed a new transmission in this old pick-up i bought last week. that $20 will come in handy to pay those expenses.

arriving at the cafe, i saw a sea of bicycles parked outside. about six women came out of the cafe and wanted to take my picture, then they wanted their friends to take pictures of them with me in it. on top of that, they wanted my address.

what was all the fuss about? i was just doing what any neighborly iowa guy would do. that's the way we do things around here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

unexpected surprise on a sunday morning

sunday's ride was perfect, only 32 miles, so i had most of the day to mess around. thirteen miles into the ride, we rode into lake city, minnesota, a town located on the shores of lake petin. the lake was somehow formed by the mississippi river, but i couldn't really understand why the lake was sapphire and the river was so brown.

right in the center of the village was moz' coffeehouse. we put on the brakes for it, because it was only 9:30 a.m. and we had all day to get to our short destination.

dave, owner of the shop, was working his fanny off to get all of us served our various latte's, fruit smoothies, green teas, and the other various iterations of things to drink. he and his wife had transformed an old gas station into a multi-level charming area where we could spend some real down time.

as our fellow riders drifted out, i told jenna i would wait for her, as she had been the last person served. "i'm looking for a church today," i said, "and i don't want to go looking for it. i want it to be right on our route."

"i hope you find it," she replied.

she finished her second breakfast and we walked out into the glorious sunshiny morning together. suddenly, i heard refrains of a praise song we sing at the church of the resurrection. i looked across the street and it appeared that a group was conducting church services at the waterfront park in between the coffeehouse and the marina full of gorgeous sailboats.

jenna needed to get on the road, and i walked across the street to join the services. an usher handed me a bulletin and a song-sheet. i was surprised to read i was at the united methodist church of lake city. i sat down on one side of a picnic bench and the service began promptly at 11:00 a.m.

as i sat there, i couldn't imagine a more heavenly place to spend sunday morning than where i was. we sang several songs, the organist gave her personal testimony, they passed the offering plates, we sang several more songs, and it was over. i didn't want it to end. it was just too perfect.

i mounted my bike and continued down the road twenty miles to our motel for the evening, knowing that my peak experience of the day had happened before noon.

wedding at waterfront park

i went to a wedding last saturday, a wedding to which i wasn't invited. i was walking leisurely along the waterfront park in lacrosse, wisconsin, when a flutter of electric blue chiffon caught my eye. investigating further, i saw six bridesmaids standing on a concrete stage, then six tuxedoed groomsmen, and finally, the bride and groom.

what drew my attention the most, tho, was the minister. she was a young woman, dressed in a white gown with a colorful vestment stole. her voice was entrancing. i decided to become a member of the wedding audience, so i found a place on one of the empty concrete benches on the back row.

the minister was totally in charge and capable. she announced that the next number would be a vocal solo by the groom's 12-year-old daughter. this daughter stole the show.

there she stood in her billowy bridesmaid's dress, belting out "at last" by aretha franklin, complete with arm motions. she finished, the audience cheered, and she walked over and hugged her father, whom i am sure felt he had gotten his money's worth out of his daughter's voice lessons.

soon, the wedding formalities were completed. the couple kissed, the audience cheered, and the processional began, complete with the red wagonful of requisite babies of family members dressed in their wedding best.

wailful sounds of bagpipes were heard and the bagpiper, dressed in his finest blue plaid kilts and navy blue cap, preceeded the wedding party to the reception area.

the only thing missing for me was the wedding cake and dancing the macarena on the banks of the mississippi.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

self-imposed adversity

these words kept creeping into my mind yesterday as i rode along. i began to wonder what kind of a person would: wake up at 6 a.m., put on tight cold-weather clothing, eat breakfast standing up in a motel parking lot, start riding with a 15-20-mile-an-hour headwind, ride up hills that force slobber out of my mouth, ride down hills that would kill me if i lost control of my bike, use a cue sheet that has errors on it, not know where those errors are, take the wrong turn, go to a farmhouse asking for directions, get on the right road, play dodge-em with 18-wheelers, eat lunch in a cute cafe, continue in the wind until my mind is shot, stop in a tavern for a coke to get some quick energy for the rest of the trip, ride into the wind for 10 more miles, see a turn-off to the "field of dreams", discover a spoke broke on my left rear tire so i can't see the field, decide to limp on into town, see the sag wagon, pack my bike onto it because it is unrideable, get to the motel, eat pizza for dinner in the parking lot of the motel, get into a van to go see the basilica of dyersville, iowa, enter into the basilica to the refrain of the "lord's prayer", sit in the pew and thank god for life, health, and safety, go back to the motel, walk next door for an after-dinner rhubarb crust a la mode, go to my motel room and find my room-mate asleep, take a shower, and drop exhausted into bed at 9:15 p.m., so i'd be ready to ride sixty more miles today.

now that's self-imposed adversity.

historic district of elsah, illinois

jose' meta stood in his side-yard examining his new table saw. i saw him examining his table saw as i rode leisurely through the village of elsah, illinois. he seemed to be the only living thing in the town. i needed water, so i parked my bike across the street and approached him.

"hi", i said. "you live in paradise. this town is charming."

"thank you," he replied. "what are you doing here? most people who live in this town are associated with the principia college up on the hill."

"i'm on a bike trip from new orleans to northern minnesota. i saw this town from the highway and wanted to turn in and explore it."

i continued, "what are you doing? you have this brand-new table saw and i see another huge box with a picture of a saw on it."

"i've been working on my house for a couple of years without these tools. now i'm going to build a garage and i'm will have the proper tools."

"your home is beautiful. you built it all by yourself?" i asked, noticing the intricate stone work and the old-world look about it. i also noted his european accent and his brown, expressive eyes.

"in this town, all homes must be built in the style of 1837. it's a national historic district and they're very particular about architectural structures here. my wife and i came over here when our daughter enrolled in the local college. we saw this lot and imagined what we could build on it. this house is my dream."

"your dream is fantastic," i concluded. "i don't want to interrupt your work. would you be able to give me some water so i can continue on my way?"

"of course. i will even give you some lemonade. would you like that?" he inquired.

he came back out of the house with the drink. i thanked him and went on. i felt like i had taken a short trip to spain, his home country. he was gentle, professionally competent, and endearing....just like all of elsah, illinois.

i turned my bike toward the small downtown area, where i joined my fellow bikers for a piece of home-made pie in a cafe called "just desserts"...another adventure along the meandering mississippi.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

mud spa

out there in missouri, right along the mississippi river, is highway 61north. leaving hannibal, there is a super highway lane-wide shoulder (we are always on the prowl for good shoulders). made of asphalt, the shoulder makes even a bike klutz like me look like a candidate for the tour de france.

there i was, buzzing along, in a zone, feeling pretty cocky. eleven miles later, the shoulder ended, leaving me with a bumpy, weather-beaten shoulder unfit for human use. i slugged along on it for 12 miles, cussing every mile.

soon, i spied a sign that told me about new construction. the only bad thing about the construction was that now four lanes had turned into two--two lanes full of eighteen-wheelers, behemoth campers, huge trucks pulling trailers with equipment, and other assorted vehicles which could prove certain annahilation for me.

what could i do? it was sure death to follow the highway. i didn't want to live there, or i would have quit riding. suddenly, i saw the new highway ahead of me--the missing two lanes i was looking for. it was, for sure, unfinished, but what did i care--there were no vehicles of destruction on it, either.

how to get to it? a clay-looking road that looked a little wet from last evening's shower. "oh, i won't let a little mud stop me," i said to myself, starting trudging through the terra cotta-colored mud.

soon, i discovered the error of my ways. i was bogged down to my ankles in mud. my tires wouldn't turn because they were caked in red mud. my gears were covered in gunk. i was in a mess. then the phone rang.

"stephany, do you see that roadside park about a half-mile down the road on the other side?" ann asked. ann was our sag driver du jour.

"i see it," i replied.

"i'll meet you there. you can't ride on 61 north. it's too dangerous," she warned. "i'll pick you up and take you past the construction."

"i'm IN the construction," i said, "but i'll slug through the mud to the roadside park."

i picked up my bike, which had gone from weighing five pounds to weighing twenty-five pounds. i used my nails to remove about ten pounds of clay from various parts. i walked through red mud puddles, trying to remove some of the mud from my bike shoes.

finally, i made it to the roadside park, which had brown mud puddles. i sloshed around until ann arrived, knowing she wouldn't want me in the car with five pounds of mud on each foot.

three other riders were awaiting ann. we put the bikes on the car-top and ann drove us to the flying j truck stop. i found a water pump on the gas island, borrowed a gallon jug from the car, and proceeded to spend 30 minutes washing both my bike and myself--kind of like taking a public shower.

finally, i finished; the three of us mounted our bikes, with nine more miles to go, NOT on 61 north, as forbidden by the highway patrol. we arrived in keokuk unscathed, although i don't know how.

that evening, i had lots of laundry to do. the water had a red tinge to it. i had experienced a mud spa on route 61 north.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

corn, corn, and more corn

if anyone wonders about what our country is doing about the ethanol crisis, just bike through the states of louisiana, mississippi, tennessee, missouri, illinois, and iowa. you will see corn until you are sick of seeing corn.

one afternoon in tennessee, clark invited me to stop by lucille and peter's farm. they are her cousins. lucille was standing at the end of her road when i pulled up and jumped out of the van.

"where's clark?" she asked. "peter's out in the truck looking for her."

"if we stand here a few minutes, i'm sure they'll be here," i answered.

surely enough, in less than five minutes, up pulled the maroon pick-up with clark and peter in front and clark's bike in back.

they invited us into their ranch-style farmhouse and asked us if we wanted a drink.
"i do," i answered. "that wind today is enough to drive anyone to drink."

we settled into their spacious and well-appointed living room with our merlot. clark proceeded to catch up on the family news with lucille; peter and i started talking farming.

"i was just in my hometown of liberal, kansas, last week, and everyone is growing corn now," i volunteered. "there is even a new ethanol plant on the outskirts of town."

"yes, corn is making millionnaires out of the farmers around here," he replied.

"good. they deserve it," i said.

"we're sticking to our regular crops of cotton, soy beans, and catfish farms," peter said.

"tell me about how you grow and harvest catfish," i inquired.

peter went into a long and detailed description of catfish farming, which was highly interesting.

"are you both ready to go to dinner?" asked lucille.

"let's go," said peter.

we all climbed into the club cab and headed for the nearest town of inverness, where we had an outstanding meal. peter and lucille knew everyone in the place.

after dinner, peter and lucille dropped us off at our motel. they've already become millionaires over other crops. they also are gracious and know how to show southern hospitality. i'm glad to have met them. they enriched my day.

thanks, peter and lucille.

Friday, June 1, 2007

murphy's law day

some days you're the bird; some days you're the statue--that day i was the statue. that was the day i was the sag driver, we had 98 miles to ride, we had two ferry crossings, and 25 miles of long hills to conquer. this was a recipe for disaster.

to start out with, by the time we had crossed the illinois river, then the mississippi river on the ferries, six people wanted to sag. i had a carful, so asked three of them to get out and wait for the van, which we could see getting on the ferry.

at mile 30, nine more people wanted a ride. by this time, the 15-passanger van was full and the top of it looked like a riding bike shop. in a few more miles, we found a cute town with a quaint cafe for lunch. after lunch, three more people wanted to sag, so i put all their bikes on top of the subaru and started to get in the car.

somehow, i know not how or why, i slammed my left fore-finger in the car door. i winced and felt queasy as i looked down at the blood. linda, in the front seat with me, yelled, "i'm going to get help!"

soon, three fellow bikers surrounded me, one with ice in a styrofoam cup, one with paper towels and ice, and another with the first-aid kit. luckily, the one medical doctor in the group was with us, so i felt well-cared-for.

after our queasiness subsided, we continued down the road. it was decided i would take my car-load to the motel in hannibal, then come back and see if anyone else wanted a ride. there were only six riders hanging in there.

at the motel, i switched vehicles. i was now driving the van, in case all six wanted a ride. on the way out of town, linda and i heard what sounded like a shot. we soon discovered, however, that it was a rock hitting the windshield and shattering it.

by this time, we were in hysterics, wondering what else could happen. finally, we got all 28 riders into the motel. i was ready to call it a day, when vicki came out the door and said, "we're taking your bike to quincy, illinois."

i climbed into the vehicle to go because i wanted to be there for my bike's surgery. i broke a spoke a few days before, and the day before, i broke another one.
an hour and a half later, i had all new spokes on the right side of my back tire. i felt confident the spoke surgery had been a success.

we were now back in hannibal, and i was looking forward to my motel room. i needed a shower badly. my clothes were a shambles. like a true genius, i had chosen to wear white capris on the day i knew i would be handling lots of greasy bikes. the pants were covered with grease and blood.

i walked out to the van to get my luggage, only to discover it had rained in hannibal while we were in quincy. my luggage was soaked. about this time, i felt like bawling, but i didn't.

at long last, i went to my room, took a shower, happy that my day as a statue was almost finished. a good dinner, complete with homemade chocolate chip cookies, turned me into a bird.