Who Said Iowa is Flat?!

Muscatine to Lowden: (61kms)

We got cracking early and followed Park Road up and out of Muscatine and onto the busy 38. We passed a family of dead racoons on the road, a mother and 3 babies. Racoons don’t seem to be as street savvy as a lot of other animals we see ran over during our days on the road. They outnumber the other flattened critters by 3-1 I  reckon.

Even though there was a reasonable shoulder, we were grateful to reach the G14, a much quieter road. I got there first and took a deep breath. A virtual roller coaster of a road stretched out in front of me. These were some of the biggest hills we’ve encountered so far. We both stood on the side of the road staring in silence, oh well, if we can’t do these, we’d never get over the Rockies.

The G14 only went a few miles, then we turned north once more up the Y14, Taylor Avenue. The road was long and straight and any thoughts that we might have finally left the cornbelt behind were quickly dashed as mile after mile of corn stretched out beyond the road’s edge.

We bypassed the town of Wilton as the road continued to roll, although not as steeply as before. Not long after we passed the Interstate 80, I blew another tyre. I had just come down a long hill quite quickly, so I guess I was lucky it didn’t go flat then. It was a crappy place to change a tyre though. Today was over 38 degrees C (well over 100F) and there was no shade.

Lowden, Iowa
The hills and the heat really took their toll today

Once I had the tyre off, sweat dripping into my eyes and all over my hands, I could see the extra Teflon insert had crumbled and pierced the new tube, puncturing it. The new tyre was perfectly OK. So, another spare tube later and we were on our way again.

By the time we reached the town of Bennett, we were pretty dehydrated and looking for a store to buy a cold drink. We had to ask around as there didn’t appear to be anywhere to buy one. Finally, I went into a hairdresser’s and asked. We were pointed to the north end of town where there was a Cenex gas station. We parked the bike in what little shade there was (absolutely nowhere in the States so far has verandahs) and went and sat in the air conditioning inside.

People came and went, mentioning how hot it was to us – we knew, believe us! The owner let us have some ice for our bottles again (no one has ever charged us to do this) and we rolled back out onto the road.

Lowden, Iowa
Just out of Lowden, Iowa, we reach our 2000th mile!

The ACA maps said that there were no services in Lowden, our destination for the day, so we were winging it and hoping that they had a community park. Most cyclists must just keep going up to Oxford Junction.

Finally in town, we pulled into the first gas station we found and bought a drink and a couple of ice blocks. We checked out accommodation options too. There was a B&B in the main street, just up the road. Although, when Shazz rang them, they weren’t answering. So we headed up the street to see if we could find anyone there. There wasn’t. We sat on their front porch in the shade for an hour trying to get someone to answer their phone, although the place looked deserted. Finally, someone answered. They were in California and said they could get someone to open up for us for about $130. We said thanks very much and hung up.

So, we went down to the local general store and bought some lunch and went over to a seat in the shade next to the Lowden City Hall. I figured we’d have to find a place to stealth camp tonight, but we’d need to wait till later when it got a bit darker so people wouldn’t see us set up.

Just then a big guy on Harley pulled up and introduced himself. Dale worked for the town Fire and Ambulance and was the First Response for any emergency situations. He told us he’d let us camp in the small community park a few blocks away and he’d open up the usually locked toilets for us. So, we invited him to come and have a beer with us at the local pub just down the road to thank him. First, he had to go home and change though. He introduced us to Lanna, his wife, and we all walked around to the pub for an early dinner.

Lowden, Iowa
The very kind Dale is a handy bloke to know in Lowden

The pub was something else. One of those ones which never sees visitors. All eyes were on us, but Dale knew everyone, so we were welcomed. No “fancy” beers here though. Just good ol’ Bud Light or Coors and a wall full of Trump memorabilia. We’d have to watch what we said around here, they obviously loved him.

After a something to eat and a couple of beers (which Dale insisted on paying for), we headed back to Dale’s place to get our bikes and head down to the community park with a few more beers from the general store. It was way too hot to set up the tent, so Shazz put her sleeping bag on the picnic table and I spread out on the grass.

Dale said there shouldn’t be anyone else coming down to the park that night, but if we had any problems, just to ring him. He did mention however, that the town, like so many others, had an “Ice” problem within the younger folk. This wasn’t the best thought to leave us with as he rode off, especially since we got a visit by a carload of teenagers at 3 am who nearly ran over us and were clearly spaced out on something. We hadn’t had much sleep anyway as the trains kept going by every half an hour or so, blowing their whistles at full pitch. The car and its occupants eventually left, it was a bit of a tense time, but we were better off not engaging them and hoping they’d just get bored and go.

So, with a shitty night’s sleep, we’d be right behind the eight ball tomorrow.

Lowden to Cascade: (63kms)

We got an early start because of the heat, a few dogs barked at us, but none bothered leaving their yards thankfully. We passed Massillon on the Hoover Highway, it’s a tiny little place with no shops. We’d considered camping by the Wapsipinicon River just out of town if we couldn’t stay in Lowden last night, but we were glad we didn’t, the campsite looked pretty rough and would have been prime for mosquitos.

Turning west off the Hoover Highway we came to the town of Oxford Junction. By now it was really hot again. We looked around but could only find the Cenex gas station on the main street. So we called in and got ourselves and a cold drink and filled our water bottles with ice again. A couple of the local gents came up and talked with us, curious to find out about us and where we were going. It’s great to chat with these guys as you learn a lot about the place and its people and you can get good, current information about the road ahead.

Refreshed, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed north out of town towards the town of Wyoming. With little reason to stop, we passed through and turned north once more, having only 18 more miles to Cascade, our destination today.

Lowden, Iowa
We came across a parade of dozens of old tractors that had been restored

We didn’t bother stopping at Onslow either, just a drink at the side of the road in the only shade we could find. We had been on big, rolling hills again today, and in this heat Shazz had been really struggling. To her credit, she never complains and just keeps going, but I knew she was doing it tough, lagging further and further behind. I was stopping more often now, keeping her in sight. There was no hurry, we just needed to get out of the sun though, and the sooner the better.

The road continued to challenge us, the big hills taken one at a time. It seemed like we’d been on the road for days instead of hours when we finally rolled into Cascade. We stopped at a gas station in the middle of town and sat around rehydrating and eating ice blocks trying to bring our body temperatures down. It was only about 2 pm, so we rode up the street a block and found The Two Gingers Tavern open. There were several fancy Harley Davidsons parked out front, but I knew this wasn’t a biker bar. We figured we still had a lot of daylight left, so we might as well sit in the air conditioning and enjoy a well-earned beer.

Cascade, Iowa
Hamming it up with the owner of Two Gingers Tavern in Cascade

Bemused by our bikes (just outside leaning against the window), some of the locals started talking with us. We soon met a few of the local businessmen and soon enough, the owner came in and over to us and our new friends (we’d made a few today!). “Are you having another beer?”, he said. “The next ones on me!”. So, while we enjoyed that one, the owner came back with 2 T-Shirts for us! Then we were posing for pictures with him and passing our cards around, it had become quite an event for the sleepy little bar.

We felt we’d better pay for one more beer before we left, to show our gratitude, then we headed out to the community park for the rest of the day. When we arrived there was a junior baseball game on and the park was filled with parents and friends watching the local team beat the visitors. We bought some soft drinks and hamburgers from the canteen and went and sat in the shade. The pavilion was full of families having a picnic whilst watching the game and young kids were running happily around the shady, grassed area. We’d have to wait till the game finished before we could commandeer the pavilion for ourselves.

It only took about an hour and everyone was gone. We picked up some rubbish around the pavilion the locals had left and started unloading the bikes. All we really wanted to do then was to  lay down on the grass and have an afternoon nap in the shade. I took out the large tarpaulin, spread it out and we both crashed in the shade next to our bikes for an hour or so.

Cascade, Iowa
After the overnight storm, some morning coffees, at the Community Park in Cascade

Later, I walked up to the nearby Casey’s and bought some beers and something to eat for dinner. Our appetites satiated, we unpacked our sleeping gear just as another storm came through. We had been watching it carefully as the southern sky got progressively blacker and lightning strikes increased as it got closer to town. It wasn’t till we’d gotten ourselves into our sleeping bags on top of the picnic tables that the wind and rain came through in earnest. As the rain hammered the pavilion roof, the wind blew it in and over us as we lay there. Fortunately, we were high enough off the ground to avoid our sleeping bags getting too wet before it passed over, the night cooling down so much we’d forgotten about the heat of the day.

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