Monday, June 30, 2003

Day Three - Indiana, Illinois, Iowa


It was raining in the morning. I was grateful again for Kathy's bags and the ability to quickly load and go. For rain gear, I got by with a Joe Rocket jacket and REI rain pants that fit over my jeans. Jeans are not proper riding pants for such a trip, but there was a limit on how much of my savings was going to be invested in motorcycling and I had yet to get good Summer riding pants. Neither was I going to wear my chaps in such warm weather. They were still hanging in my closet at home.

Getting the rain pants on was the part of getting ready to ride that took the longest. Soon I was off for a morning ride in the rain, but I no sooner found the street than I realized there was a good place for breakfast that shared the hotel parking lot. While I normally like to put on a few miles before breakfast, the thought that came to mind was that the rain might blow over while I ate. It did.

As I ate breakfast, several men at the next table held an intense conversation. They did not seem entirely comfortable with an unknown set of ears being at the very next table. Two middle-aged white guys seemed to be the bosses. One looked like he was the general manager who had worked his way into the position. Another looked like he hadn't done manual labor in his whole life and he didn't say much. I figured he was the book keeper and the source of funds. A younger white guy must have been the working foreman. You can tell who is paying attention to who. Two Hispanic guys tried to pay attention, but their minds were elsewhere. Eventually some agreement as to what needed to be done was reached. They parted. My eyes followed the foreman as he walked out to his truck. He had a boat on a trailer behind it. His manner in checking the trailer and the hitch struck me as very professional. He reminded me that in motorcycling, one should also check out the bike before each ride.

I took my time eating. The rain began to let up. I paid, chatted with the cashier, then made a last visit to the restroom before heading out. Outside, I saw that the rain was nearly stopped. It also occurred to me that I was getting the message that early-morning departures are not always the best plan. A delay had served me well. Also, it occurred to me that had I gone to the nightclub the night before I would have probably seen the restaurant and might have then saved the time of putting on the rain pants before breakfast, as I now would soon be taking them off.

I might also have met the people who stayed in the room next door.

Leaving Ft. Wayne, there's not a lot to say. Highway 30 goes for a long, long way. From Ft. Wayne, through Jolliet, and across Illinois to Fulton, then over the bridge into Clinton, Iowa. Fulton was a nice town, but Clinton felt better. It felt good to be out of Illinois. I was beginning to think Highway 30 would never end.

"Iowa," I told many people who I later met, "is the reward for driving through Illinois."

Driving through Jolliet, I kept my eyes open for a Kinko's or another suitable place where I could take care of some business. The appearance of a Starbucks with wireless Internet access gave me a break and a chance to catch up on e-mail. A local hustler struck up a conversation wanting to sell a tablet computer to me for a thousand dollars.

The single point of interest in the long flat drive beyond Jolliet was a sky diving business that was advertising and operating out of a private airfield next to the highway. An afternoon or a day of sky diving to get back onto free-fall status was tempting. It was a bit of an annoyance the way highways just came together at stop signs in the middle of nowhere, but this probably helps keep people from falling asleep.

In Clinton, I pulled off in the shade on a back street to read what the next few turns were off of the GPS. I wasn't stopped long before a car came by, slowed, and stopped. A woman driver wanted to know if I was okay. It was nice to be in the part of the country where people cared.

The mount I had purchased for the GPS mounted it on the handlebar next to my right hand. Unfortunately, it did not swivel and the only open parts of my handlebars left its face at a 45-degree angle to my face. To read it, I would have to lean forward then look down and to the right. This really limited its ability to advise me on upcoming turns, which it did very well, because I could not quickly see what it said when it beeped with new information. This is why I was so interested in the radio mount I saw on the Harley the day before.

Vibrations and bumps from the road may have also had something to do with the GPS locking up, but it was locking up more often. I would be going down the road, expecting a turn, and it would be stuck five miles back, or at precisely the place where it should have been telling about the upcoming turn. When this happened, none of the buttons would work. I would have to disconnect it from the bike's DC power source, open up its battery compartment to de-energize it, and then after I put it all back together it would work for a while.

Weeks earlier I had run into problems with my cell phone while it was connected to the bikes 12v power. I ended up getting a new cell phone and was very relieved when Verizon's John Watkins, at the Gaithersburg store, replaced the pricey Kyocera 6035 under its warranty. The good service netted him another sale when a friend recently decided to buy one of the latest Pocket PC/cell phone/digital camera units. Anyway, part of me was wondering if the 12v DC had surge or spike problems that was damaging the electronic devices connected to it. Focused on that as a possible problem, and not having an easy way to check, the simpler possibility that the unit was just a bit defective did not occur to me.

I decided to disconnect it from the bike's 12 volt power and just run on batteries. A short time later, it froze up again, telling me that I had a problem with the unit itself. I decided that I would have to come up with a way of mounting it on my tank bag so that it would be easier to read (and to see when it froze up) and where vibrations and jarring from the road my by padded a bit. How to do this would take some thought.

I headed up Highway 52 from Clinton. The scenery was beautiful. The road wound around rolling hills, and creeks, past farms and farmland. One farmhouse was so well trimmed and decorated with red-white-and-blue bunting that I had to stop to admire it. It had been some time since I had been anywhere where individual people got that excited about the Fourth-of-July being anything but a holiday. A few miles later I came to the K & L Hilltop Cafe atop a hill. A dirt road took off toward the river, and the sign said it was the Green Island Road. A restaurant in the country seemed like a good place for a bite to eat dinner.

Getting off the bike, I looked at my watch. It was 7:30. It had been a long day. It was time to look again at my camping plans for the evening. My goal, all day, had been The Rustic Barn Campground just North of Dubuque. It was still a reasonable choice.

Indeed, the cafe turned out to be a winner. Sitting at the bar, I met a couple local veterans and discussed veterans benefits with the cafe owner. Her husband had passed away years ago, and she had received only a death benefit. We encouraged her to get in touch with the VA and/or her state congressional representatives to see if she had some back-pay coming. They in turn asked where I was planning to stay for the night then told me about a nearby campground that another biker, earlier in the day, had been headed for: The Spruce Creek Campground just above Bellevue.

One of them suggested following Green Island Road for some extra scenery. Had it been earlier in the day I probably would have taken his advice. When I saw the road rejoining Highway 52 a short distance North, I did wish that I could have taken the time.

Their directions took me right to the campground. It was a county park with a $12.00 fee and a sign-up system. There were a couple of camp spaces left, and I saw the motorcycle that must belong to the rider the folks at K&L had mentioned. I parked in the empty campground next to it and before I had a chance to unload, it's rider, Pete showed up with an offer to use a spot that was already paid for, nearby. I agreed, with the stipulation that I needed to make a beer run so I wouldn't be a complete freeloader.

"Great," he said, "they're drinking Miller Light."

It was a short hop back to the nearby gas station and mini-mart. They sold me their last 12-pack. I asked about what time they started serving breakfast, and they said five A.M.. They probably get a lot of business from people headed out early for a day of fishing. On the way back, I noticed a Rolls Royce in the driveway of a very typical tract home and a 60's vintage Mk2 Jaguar with a for sale sign on it sitting on the street, in front of it. Neither were covered from the elements. This time, I did miss a turn and soon found myself riding next to a small golf course before I turned around and found the correct route.

The beer was appreciated even if it was a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle. I shook hands with CJ, Mike, and Linda Lu from Waterloo. Linda was cooking steaks. She said that they had been there drinking for days and nobody had been eating. She did not want to take the steaks back with her so she was cooking them all up. Pete and I were treated to a wonderful steak dinner as well as free camp spots. The main subject of the evening was Mike's RV that he had built himself out of a bus, adding a diesel engine from a combine and real RV windows. It was so well done that it seemed only a parody of a school bus: a school bus on steroids.

As night fell on the river, we sat by the fire trading stories. Tugs pushed their freight and lit up the night with their huge search lights when they needed to find channel markers. It happened that I did not need to set up the tent--just roll out my sleeping bag in one of theirs.

The next morning, Pete and I were up and gone by six o'clock. Pete also liked the idea of "riding at least 40 miles before breakfast," so we headed for Dubuque.

All Material Copyrighted by © J B. Fields 2004 unless credited otherwise

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