Sunday, September 1, 2013

Four States, Distinct Cultures

Some days I just don't feel like updating my blog, and today is one of those. It's Sunday, but this next week will be one of the longest of my trip so far. Preoccupation and anticipation deprive me of verbosity.

This last week has been interesting for a variety of reasons. I started out in Rochester, one of the largest cities in Minnesota. With a population of 100,000, (200,000 in the metro), I was informed that around 32,000 people work at the main campus of the Mayo Clinic - a hospital apparently all Minnesotans are proud of.
Didn't get a story on the tower. I guess bikes are common in this part of the country.
Riding through southern Minnesota, into Iowa, I had my first real exposure to Amish culture. I must say, the paved extra wide shoulders where quite nice. I followed one buggy for maybe a mile, with a quarter mile or so between us. I didn't catch up, however, as we were traveling at almost the same speed (around 11 miles per hour). As self segregated as they are, Amish are fairly friendly folk, and I exchanged waves with a few..
I followed a buggy for about a mile, from probably a quarter mile away. He was going as fast as I was, about 11 miles per hour, so I didn't get any closer.
Dropping into Iowa, as it seems happens at most state boarders, the roads dropped in quality, and paved shoulders went to gravel. Fortunately traffic wasn't too bad, as I was now riding on the road..
Showing the wheel marks from lots of horse and buggy traffic. The section between the wheels was in many areas worn down more, by horse hooves. 
One thing new in this part of the country is fireflies. Some places they are more common than others. All you see is a little tiny green light, on for a fraction of a minute. I tried taking a picture, but they weren't bright enough, and it wasn't dark enough..


Wednesday morning I went through Decorah, Iowa, the town with the largest Norwegian-American (and for that matter, any emigrant group) museum in the United States. I didn't stop at the museum as I had a ways to go yet that day, and wasn't sure if I wanted to spend the money. But I did stop at Subway for breakfast. I'd already eaten and was about to leave when one of the staff, seeing my bike started asking about my trip, then got excited and told everyone else, which ultimately resulted in an interview with the newspaper, and a free sandwich for lunch.

Here's the link with pictures, if you want to check it out:
http://decorahnewspapers.com/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=13&ArticleID=31826

Half way between Decorah and Prairie du Chien, I stopped in the town of Postville, Iowa, which, as it turns out, has a sizable population of Hasidic Jews, who had a school right next to the park I ate my lunch in. Amish and Orthodox Jews are similar in that they both have a different culture, manners of dress, life styles, etc., and both take a highly traditional approach to every aspect of life - with exceptions as seen necessary.  However, it would seem that the Jews in this case tend to be less friendly, having greater fears of assimilation (after all, Amish never had the world out to kill them), which, amongst other things, has lead to some clashes between the local midwestern traditional folk, and the Jewish newcomers.
One of many Lutheran churches
The weather this last week has been quite warm and humid - something new, considering how cold it was a couple weeks ago. One night it was still 80 degrees a couple hours after dark, and humidity was so high, I could barely sleep.

As soon as one crosses the Mississippi, it seems everything changes - culture is different (a little, not massively), there are more people, who give less room on the road, geography is different (more hilly in Wisconsin), agriculture is different (all cows and pigs), architecture is different.. as soon as I crossed the Mississippi I saw my first seafood restaurant.. So much changes, I have difficulty still calling it the Midwest.
Iowa side of the Mississippi.
The first of two (sequential) bridges across the Mississippi.
So far I've gone through the mountainous areas of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, "the West", being Montana, Wyoming, and half of South Dakota, the Midwest, starting at the middle of South Dakota and going to the Mississippi, and now I'm in the Mideast. I'm learning that out here people have no clue about things like crop circles, irrigation ditches, or dry summers. Super 1 Foods, Safeway, such are replaced by Hy-Vee and Piggly Wiggly. Shucks.. I should have written more of this stuff down. PB is the most common gas station chain (I've not seen Shell or Exxon for a while). City park restrooms are locked at dark. Churches, it seems, are on every corner. Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Presbyterian, Methodist... Non-denominational churches appear from time to time, but are notably less common than in the Northwest (while churches generally are less common).
A common sight in Wisconsin. For the record, these silos were common all the way to South Dakota, I just never got a decent picture of them. And they certainly are more common in Wisconsin...

After a few days of heat, I made contact with a host through WarmShowers, Esther Pleva, who gave me a dark room to sleep in, air conditioning, food, etc., and set me up with a contact in my next town. This friend of hers did not have a place for me to stay, in Gratiot, but, with a friend of hers, did buy me a meal, and got me where I could camp for the night.
A flower garden made up of milk cans, wheel borrows, hand pumps, metal tubs, bird baths, etc.
On the way from Gratiot to Freeport, I stopped to help a lady change her tire. Apparently she was rather close to work, but didn't know how to change it herself. I was literally dripping sweat as I worked, even though it wasn't strenuous by any means. The jack had a weird handle that I don't think I quite figured out, but I made it work.. She invited me to the VFW that evening for supper on her, but I didn't make it.
ATV's now..
According to this sign I'm 1/4th of the way from the Prime Meridian.
In Freeport I was hoping to pick up a package, sent by UPS, to the post office. Or... Well, somehow it all got messed up. Amazon ended up refunding the money, and I'll see if I can get it to my next stop.
More windmills.
I'm getting tired of writing right now, so you're just going to have to not know of everything that happened this week. I had one person hand me $2, another gave me $20.
Freeport architecture. 
And I'm going to end it there.

This next week I'll be going around Chi-town, (around, not through), so I'm hoping that all works out.

Till next time.