11.07.2010

Minnesota Shower, pt. 2

Wisconsin By-ways

   I felt little motivation to dig into my bags for dry clothes, especially if I was going to get re-soaked straight away. I figured that the air was warm enough to rule out pneumonia and optimistically hoped that the weather would clear. I opened my jacket a bit to help air dry my shirt and got ready to leave. I was staying at Bozer's parent's place for the night. Two hundred and sixty more miles. A breeze if it stayed dry, a slow torture if not.

   My luck held. I was still a sopping wet mess when I reached LaCrosse, Wisconsin, but at least the clouds had held, and none of it was new. I felt good again and dove from the interstate onto Wisconsin State Route 33. Heading from interstate to country road feels like sprouting wings. After a full day and a half on I-90, this was a fresh breath. On the interstates, you travel quickly, but the monotony and flatness make the time drag on at half-pace. You ride straight and fast, watching each tick of the odometer like a school kid in last period.

   I rode through Amish Country, over wooden bridges and around fishhook turns. I stopped at a gas station and stretched my sore back over a pile of sandbags. Three kids in Amish uniform drank orange sodas, eyeing up the bike. The tallest of them spoke out, asking me how far I'd been, and where I'd planned to go. These are the kinds of encounters the traveling motorcyclist lives for. Theirs was a strict existence that denied such motorized luxuries, and I entertained several rounds of questions. We weren't much different really: me, all helmet and coffee; they, all straw hat and soda.

   I never touched the interstate again, sailing into Sun Prairie on the beautiful patchwork pavement of Wisconsin 19. I was finally dry when I arrived, and just in time for dinner.


Storm comin'
Small Town, U.S.A.

11.01.2010

Minnesota Shower, pt. 1

   Rain. An all day rain. It started before I even left the motel in Jackson, Minnesota. Gray skies can be trouble on a bike. I put on my mountaineering pants and wrapped my saddlebags and backpack in thick black trash bags. I'd brought a handful of them when I left home last winter, and I'd found more than one occasion to be thankful of this. They were big enough to stand in, and tough as leather. The kind that will forever remind me of November days bagging leaves with my dad and brother in the backyard.

   A mix of stubbornness and haste kept me from pulling on my boot covers or zipping in my jacket's liner. The small voice in the back of my mind reminded me that neither of these were really waterproof  without their counterparts. I ignored it, in favor of the louder voice that shouted "All's Well!", and I took to the road.

   I was completely soaked by mile ten. The rain crept insidiously into all my dry parts. It soaked first through the vent chambers in my liner-free jacket before continuing on down my back. Here it lingered, teasingly, before crawling down my pants and into my longjohns. This accommodating reservoir filled quickly and the flood escaped down my pant-leg, thwarting the Gore-tex marvel of my rainpants. In my boots it sat, the end of a twisting and evil waterfall. It pooled under my soles and slip-slopped back and forth each time I'd shift or brake.

   I went on like this for 80 miles, each exit becoming more alluring as I went. Finally, I pulled off to warm and dry as best I could. The rain had finally quit and the sky ahead had a slight tinge of clarity in it. I warmed up with hot tea and consulted the faded map that was pinned on the gas station wall. A wizard-bearded man pulled up in a red Jeep, nearly falling out of the side as it came to a stop. He shuffled in and began arguing softly with the register girl. He was trying to find his way back to Arizona without the help of a map (or much sense of direction).

   I helped him orient as best he could ("well, it's certainly southwest of us") and gave him directions to I-35. He muttered a thanks, but nothing in his sunken black eyes conveyed much comprehension. He scratched his white-gray husky behind the ears before climbing back into his jeep and clattering back down the road.

   I waved and said out loud, "Arizona's a long way, old man." I still had half a day myself before I'd be in Madison. I pulled on my wet gloves and kicked up the engine, keeping my legs close to the fins in hope of a little warmth. Back to the rain.