We'd run low on water on the run into Wahoo so we rolled up to the Family Dollar grocery store to grab a gallon of cold water and some snacks for the evening. The lady running the check out had seen us roll up on our bikes and so said the water and snacks was on the house. Amazing! We asked if she could change a $5 bill into quarters for us so we could use the shower over at the campground we were off to. She gave us the quarters but refused to take the note. The generosity we were experiencing in the underrated Mid West states was very humbling and it was only set to get better that evening. The campground just north of Wahoo was fairly new but very popular since it sat right on the lake. After our 'fancy' camp stove dinner of gnocchi and tinned vegetables (we'd overdosed on pasta by this point) we spent the rest of the evening with Scott and his family chatting and playing cornhole.
We were nearly in Omaha and therefore had access to possible fixes for the tent. We first tried Scheels, an outdoors store on the outskirts of the city, but without luck. Mike's plan was to apply a coat of watered down seam seal to the bottom of the tent and double check for any holes we'd missed last time. The type of sealant you need to use on your tent depends on the type of fabric it's made of; we used the only option we had back in that huge downpour in Colorado but it was the wrong type and had started to flake off. Scheels had the wrong type again and so we took time to investigate stock in other stores in the city before we rode off again. In the mean time, we were chatting to a lot of people since we were sitting outside the entrance to a very popular shop on Memorial Day weekend when a huge sale was on. At one point Guy and Naomi rock up to chat to us and we get talking about the tent. We'd found stock of what we needed on the far side of the city over the river into Council Bluffs, which actually sits in Iowa. By this time it was early afternoon on a Sunday and we were looking at how we were going to make it across the city in time before it closed. But Naomi and Guy came to our rescue and offered to drive us over there to make sure we made it in time. We jumped at the opportunity since the temperature was hitting 100 degrees and cycling in cities is stressful enough without having to make a deadline! So thank you guys!
We checked into a motel nearby since there'd been a problem with the warmshowers website and we hadn't received a response from a warmshowers host nearby. They had sent a 'yes' response but we couldn't cancel the hotel so we checked in anyway and would head to our hosts the following day for a rest day. We then got a message from Ron and Bev (our hosts) who offered to pick us up and go back to theirs for a home cooked meal. Who would turn that down!? We then went out to a classical music concert with an eclectic mix of American patriotic songs, the 1812 concerto and a West Side Story mash up were all played! Such an expected and fun evening! The next couple of days were less fun for Mike when he came down with a stomach bug whilst we stayed with Ron and Bev, but they were extremely gracious with letting us stay while Mike got better. The morning we were supposed to be leaving I was dizzy with tiredness so went back to bed for a few hours. When I woke up feeling much better and ready to get going, Mike was running to the bathroom and did so for the next two days. So it's lucky I felt bad in the morning or we'd have been having an... interesting time... on the side of the road in Iowa!
By the time we actually got going we had planned a route across Iowa which took us through Des Moines. The only thing I knew about Des Moines was that Bill Bryson grew up there and that was enough to be excited about visiting. It turns out Des Moines had a pretty extensive network of bike paths which we started on way out west of the city.
We stayed with Andy and Amy just out the west side of Des Moines who own an awesome Irish Pub where we had dinner and a few drinks before heading back to theirs for bed. This evening was the day we cemented our return to Iowa to take part in RAGBRAI. We'd been hearing all about RAGBRAI since way out west and it's the oldest, largest, and longest recreational ride in the world. It lasts 7 days and takes about 10,000 people across Iowa on a route which changes every year. The more we hear about it, the more we find it absolutely enthralling and can't wait to get involved. Every town it passes through gets involved and brings so much money to the small communities I do wonder how much it's helped these small places survive. For example, a fire station can get an alcohol license for the week, buy a heap of beer to sell and gain enough profit to improve the fire station. Same goes for a church, small shops, community groups etc etc. For the riders it's basically one massive piss up whilst cycling 60-70 miles a day with your friends on closed roads. This needs to be done in Europe!!!
The rest of Iowa went extremely hilly but we had the most phenomenal tail wind, we soared across some big days really feeling like we'd earnt it with what we went through in Australia! At the end of the first day out of Des Moines we rolled into a Casey's general store/gas station in Sully and were discussing where would be best to camp. We were going to try and camp in a town park but then over came Dale to ask us what we were doing. We said we were trying to figure out where to camp and he told us that there was a town park with free showers in the next town over, Lynnville. It was fairly new and so hadn't really been on our map but was exactly what we'd been hoping for! On top of that, he told us where he lived (a block away from the park) and invited us over for pizza. Awesome end to a great day riding and making new friends on the bike paths through Des Moines (including the lovely lot at Mullets where we stopped for lunch!)
At some point someone had mentioned to us about the Amish population who lived near Kalona in eastern Iowa. We were due to be passing by the next day and had hoped to see some of them on the road. Thankfully, because of their presence in the area, we found our first hard shoulder in the whole state. Iowa does gravel soft shoulders along roads, rather than hard shoulders. Not an ideal surface for cycling, but OK in an emergency. But due to the use of the Amish buggies in the area, the shoulder had been paved and was an absolute joy for us! We also saw three buggies along the way into Kalona and they're extremely ghostly especially when being overtaken by the oversized SUVs you get in America. Intrigued by our bikes, we even got a friendly wave from an old Amish couple going the other way along the highway.
The campground at Kalona wanted to charge us $20 so we finished the day by pushing through to Riverside which unbeknownst to us is sort of the home of Star Trek.
According to Wikipedia, that ever reliable source, "Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, asserts in his book The Making of Star Trek that the character of James Tiberius Kirk was born in the state of Iowa. In March 1985, when the city was looking for a theme for its annual town festival, Steve Miller, a member of the Riverside City Council who had read Roddenberry's book, suggested to the council that Riverside should proclaim itself to be the future birthplace of Kirk. Miller's motion passed unanimously." So there we are. There's even a museum but we were passing through too late in the day to go inside, sad times!
A couple of days later we crossed the Mississippi river into Illinois and began a super easy route across this state mostly on bike trails. Firstly we joined the Hennepin Canal Bike Trail which took us most of the way to LaSalle where we were due to stay with a friend of mine. Now, people in their late 20s, early 30s are children of the early days of the internet and I'm proud to say that, yes, I still have friends from internet forums. However, I've never met Ali or her husband Josh, so this was a meeting which had been 14 years in the making and it was awesome! YAY!!!
We joined the I&M Canal bike trail straight from LaSalle and this took us all the way to Joliet in the urban sprawl of Chicago. It was about 100km on fine gravel but with the way the woods and weeds encroached on the path, sometimes it was closer to mountain bike single track which was actually a lot of fun. Mike has more confidence along these sections than I but I managed to not fall off. Mike, on the other hand, fell off a few days earlier on some really large stoned-gravel sections through Iowa back roads so I feel like I still win.
Thankfully the next trail we joined the other side of Joliet was paved but as it intersected roads every kilometre or so, it was still slow going. Somehow, by the end of the 10 hour riding day, we'd covered 140km and I definitely had a really sore bum. Because of the urban sprawl, we'd booked into the cheapest motel we could find.
Yep, it was a seedy adult motel with mirrors on the ceiling. We only found the one stray pubic hair on the bed so it wasn't so bad and had an OK sleep before setting off again towards the Indiana border...