Monday, August 19, 2013

The Great Midwest

This (last) week started in Pierre, South Dakota. By the way, since entering South Dakota, I've only once heard the disyllabic ("pe-AIR") pronunciation of the capital, and that was from the newspaper reporter, providing an example of something unexpected I could have learned (that no one says it that way out here..)

Speaking of newspaper... the lady who took me on the tour of the capital building, and got me up to the governors mansion in Pierre set up an interview with an editor of the Capital Journal. Click This Link if you want to see the article (and haven't already).

Just as I was about to head out from the home of my hosts for the weekend, Dr. Johnson heard that my last name was Hendrickson, so he asked if I was related to Earl Hendrickson. I said that he is my grandpa's brother, and learned that they went to dentist school together.
I'd never seen this many cows before in a single pasture, that also was not over grazed.
As it turned out, at the same time I was in Pierre, another young man was taking a stand up paddle board down the Missouri river, and got into the same newspaper. We tried to meet up, but he was already where the road and river parted ways.. It's nice being able to talk to someone who's doing something so different from what you are, yet facing the same sort of physical, mental, and environmental factors you are (exhaustion, being alone, wind..). You can read his article  Here.
Round bales are the trademark of the midwest it seems.. The hill on the far left side of the image is a mile of steep riding from bottom to top.
Everyone seems amazed at how little rain I've encountered. Well, on Monday I finally got rained on. I'd stopped for lunch, and a farmer bailing the grass alongside the road let me climb up into the cab of his tractor. When it let up, I headed on down the road 'till he caught up in his pickup and gave me a ride into the next town, as there was more rain on the horizon. (And around here they might get a couple inches in a day when it decides to rain).
Often cows ignore me, sometimes they run along side the fence, occasionally they stare.
That night I cooked up a big meal, but hadn't eaten everything when I felt I could not fit another bite. I calculated that I had attempted to eat close to 3500 calories in a single evening! (Besides the two bowls of cereal for breakfast, and 3 sandwiches for lunch that day.) I'd eaten most of it, but saved the rest for morning.

I stopped by the store in Fort Thompson, a town of 1300 people on the Crow Creek Reservation, and a couple young boys came up to me and asked if I'd ridden my bike around the world. On telling them that I had been traveling over a month, had covered close to 1500 miles, and was from Oregon, they asked, "is that far?"
Obviously this puppy belonged to someone, as he was covered in flea spray, but he seemed hungry and forlorn, so I shared some of my food - inspiring a couple other people to do the same.
On Wednesday, the hills finally flattened out, and corn fields, pastures, and a constant 1 mile grid became the new norm. Houses this way become more frequent, and while there's definitely more people closer together than on the western side of South Dakota, or Wyoming, or really most any rural place I've been, towns are still small, with a "large" town being anything over a couple thousand, and small going all the way to 21 people. On the roads, people are very polite when passing. Honestly, the Midwest is my favorite place in the US so far.. in spite of the fact that there's nothing to see..
One of the last major hills.
As I've been cooking more lately, I finally had to get a refuel for my stove. It's amazing how little fuel I actually use. It cost $0.44 to fill up my bottle with premium unleaded, and this will probably last me a couple weeks at least.

More so than other places I've been, it seems, people out here seem to have difficulty understanding why a person would want to travel across the country.. and by bike no less.. Yet I've not had the slightest indication of anyone disapproving of my doing so. (Something I can't say for other regions I've been through...).
Lots of corn fields out here.. and like this picture, lots of ag test lots. 

On Thursday evening I stopped in at Pizza Ranch, a midwestern Pizza/buffet chain restaurant. It was getting late, as is typical, and I got in just before the buffet bar closed. Because I only had time for one pass, I loaded up a plate high with pizza and bread sticks, and another with salad, and sat in a corner where I could plug in my laptop - as every battery I had, phone included, were dead.
Outside they advertised 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream, inside they had 48 flavors listed. I had blackberry.
By the time I was done eating, it had become dark outside, and I didn't have somewhere to sleep. Looking at the map I found a likely spot about a mile from where I was, so I set off for the cemetery.
How many people do you need to have a sign? Roswell, South Dakota - 21 people.
The moon was out, not full, but between the fog and the trees, it wasn't very bright. As I laid in bed, cold and damp, I heard an owl screeching, in the trees, and footsteps coming up behind me, but I saw no one.. I had a fitful night, afraid that any moment I would be attacked by who knows wha...

..actually.. I slept quite soundly in the cemetery, much better than I had in other places. It was foggy, but the only noise was from the light traffic on the road, and from all the crickets that don't care where they are, they still make the same noise. And my sleeping bag is still too warm for this weather..

Friday morning it was particularly cold. At noon the temperature was 58 degrees, humidity was close to 100%, and I had a 10 mile head wind. Just a little on the cold side.. a few locals commented on the fact..
Cold and foggy
Having failed to make contact with anyone in Pipestone (the pastor, as it turns out, is with his family in Venezuela at the moment), I ended up camping on the church lawn that night, after eating raspberry pancakes.

I was surprised at church, by the fact that, here in the Midwest, a majority of the church members are Filipino. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that, for almost the first time since my trip started, there were guys almost my age! Well, I think they were all in high school. The kids, all cousins apparently, invited me to eat at their table, and included me well in their conversation. They were surprised at how light skinned I am in the areas that have not gotten tanned yet.

Well, the Midwest, particularly Minnesota, is not actually known to have a high South Pacific ethnic population, but rather a lot of Scandinavians. My grandfather, of Norwegian decent, was born a ways north of where I am now. At any rate, when it came time for everyone to leave church, I was invited to the home of the head elder and his wife, who's grandfather was a Henrickson. Also Norwegian, but from a different area of Norway. She showed me a block of very dry cheese over 100 years old that some immigrants brought from Norway, as well as a wooden cup and bowl over 300 years old, and other memorabilia.

Sunday was taken up by lack of motivation, and also a seam repair and patching job, which lead to everything I have being unpacked, and my panniers being partially disassembled, and then washed, for probably the last time before they are honorably discharged from service, and put into permanent retirement. I doubt they could survive many more cycles in the wash..
Everything except my repair project, spread out on the bedroom floor..
Well, my habit of leaving places slowly is definitely evident this weekend. I saved up everything to do till "just before" leaving.. Pipestone has been nice to me. I'll have to try to come back again some time, to visit all the nice church members here. While we all (me and them) joke about how we'll be glad to get rid of each other, I honestly don't think anyone is tired of anyone..

Everywhere I go, every group of people I interact with seems to think they are the craziest people I'll ever meet, and that I must just be waiting to leave and return to normalcy. What, do they think I'm traveling across the US, voluntarily going places where people congregate, so I can meet the most boring people in the world?