Iowa, the elephant, and reflections in Clear Lake

Greetings friends, from a misty, crisp morning; from an extended absence of words; from damp slacks, jackets, and backs; from the Great Plains of Iowa. Much has happened since the stories of Madison, WI, much more than my capacity for words can channel effectively. We have since crossed the Mississippi River, took money and ice cream from the Lady Luck Riverboat Casino, discovered the small town haven of Decorah with a menacing storm on our heels, were graciously invited to sleep in the “Garaj-Mahal” (see pictures at end of post), gained and departed with a canine companion we named Ninjak, have received myriad Midwestern hospitality through generous gestures, often food, including organic baked goods, honorable home brews, homemade pizzas from scratch, grilled asparagus and shrimp kabobs, waffles, Tony’s famous Sunday morning pancakes, anonymous restaurant offerings, and many more. We’ve reached the Great Plains beginning our journey through America’s agricultural aorta. We’ve fallen down, fixed flats, altered racks, reorganized packs, retraced our ‘tired’ tracks, and camped in a yurt. It has been a journey marked by the people we meet, a fascinatingly fruitful stroll across the region’s cultural and social landscape. Culinary offerings and the fellowship surrounding them are a joyous table atop which amicability and vulnerability weave a fabric of friendship. We swap stories, sharing intrigue and gaining great insight. This fabric of brotherhood creates a patchwork quilt backdrop of colorful kindness behind my minds picture of our journey. Truly, the people we’ve met have incredibly and indelibly marked our travels and stimulated our tales.

And with that introduction, we can no longer ignore and must therefore acknowledge the elephant in the room: inauspicious weather has stymied our projected pace and our initial goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean in eight weeks is unlikely. Ten days ago we entered Iowa, and nine of those days have witnessed rain splattering the earth around us. We ride the dry gaps between green on the radar when we can, but often it’s just enough time to make short jaunts between towns. Yes, travel is slow right now. No, our spirits are not dampened by the circumstance.

In fact, we learned a great lesson in Decorah while staying three nights with a couple, Bill and Jo, who offer warm showers to touring cyclists and a roof to sleep beneath in their guest house. Riding a hasty 50 miles with a storm pressing on our heels the entire way, we entered Decorah after dark through the wind and rain. Upon reaching Bill and Jo’s, we showered, found dry clothes, and sat down for a calming round of beers that Bill brewed. As he remarked on the surprisingly conducive biking atmosphere of Iowa (see RAGBRAI) and shared stories of his own tours, we caught a lesson though I don’t believe he was speaking didactically. It was a lesson I’d vicariously learned a year ago through a close friend hiking the Appalachian Trail, and there in Decorah Bill brought it to life again: Say Yes!

He reflected on how his travels had been positively and often serendipitously altered by opening up to situations and offered scenarios. With an open and positive demeanor, we’ve shed the defensive skin of taught distrust and fear toward the stranger. Saying “yes” has unfolded a contiguous blessing of connections and accommodations during the incessant storms and rainfall. It’s been a lesson that we’ve taken to heart, not only in practice. Thus, the redirections and delays have indeed slowed our mileage, but it hasn’t delayed the journey. This expedition cannot be measured by miles traveled, it’s a journey counted one day at a time, colored by the exchanging rotation of sun and moon. So we probably won’t reach the Pacific Ocean in our estimated eight week window. That’s no problem, she’ll keep waving at us in anticipation of our arrival. Our goal is to keep pedaling west with the daily freedom to discern forks in the road and doorways that present themselves. A journey may be framed by its starting point and destination, but everything that happens between these points is the texture, color, movement, brightness, and varying mediums illustrating it’s splendor.

Presently, I’m riding the grand rapids of my stream of conscious within a capacious yurt on Clear Lake in Iowa. It’s been telling for me to see how much of a conduit for cogitation and composition the combination of tabletop, chair, and repose can be. It instills a generic though genuine good feeling to sit at this table, pressing pen on paper writing letters with the windows of my yurt rolled open to a quiet Clear Lake. It’s been more difficult to harness this in constant flux with constant threat of rain.

In the reflections of Clear Lake today though, the water looks blue. For only the second day since entering Iowa, we’re enjoying blue skies and no chance of rain (until tomorrow). Until then though, we relax in our yurt, playing games, reading, writing, tinkering, and laughing.

Finally, It’s not too late to send a letter to any of us at the Rock Rapids address below, I’d guess we’ll be there in 6-9 days.

Campsite between Decorah and Osage

Ninjak running beside Evan

Ninjak cuddling with Evan

The “Garaj-Mahal” we stayed in

Our yurt on Clear Lake

Day / Day Mileage / Total Mileage
13/62.5/256 (top mph 37.9)
14/16/272 (Evan’s b-day)
27/0/472 (yurts during storms)


About Ben Stark

My name is Ben Stark, no relation to Tony or the House Stark. B.A. in Sociology from Calvin College Preferred mode of transportation: Bicycle, Ice Skates, Feet Currently pursuing Adventure as Vocation Let's cross paths!
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2 Responses to Iowa, the elephant, and reflections in Clear Lake

  1. cameron says:

    Glad a got an honorable mention. Sweet journey guys seeyou near the end of the road.

    Also Evan’s beard is out of line.

  2. Jeff Bouman says:

    Letter on its way to Rock Rapids. Peace out.

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