Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back in Wisconsin...

MONROE, Wisconsin - Aging red-wood barns, fields of corn, and grocery stores named Piggly Wiggly... I must be back in Wisconsin.

Cycled across the Illinois/ Wisconsin state line this week; a little behind schedule but that's what happens when you have a plan - Mother Nature always wins.

Rain delays have forced me to seek shelter; in those times of urgency anything will do. Normally I prefer being indoors, but crossing through Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri I cooled my heels for about two nervous hours under an open-sided pole building across from Hillbilly Park.

It was a junkyard of sorts that sold itself as antiques.

It's these kinds of places and the people that make the tour unique.

Hospitality & History

Riding a bicycle cross country makes it easy to stop or veer slightly off course and look at the sights. We're the people that actually read the historical markers along the side of the highway.

I also find bicyclists are approachable by the locals. The bike is a common denominator, it helps break down barriers, and everybody wants to share the high points of their community.

In Freeport, IL a man with a bicycling background insisted I stop at Union Dairy. "It's a Freeport tradition since 1914," said Tim. The Union Dairy on E. Douglas St. was a worthy break. The two-sided diner, with an extra seating in the back, was a throwback to the 1950s with a front counter full of silver fountain-drink mixers surrounded by individual mushroom-size, stools. In the middle of the seating area, waitresses scooped sundaes, ladled hot fudge and squirted a tower of whipped cream on just about everything.

The menu at Union Dairy played off the neighboring historical site that marked the location of the second Lincoln/Douglas debate; a debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas that occurred in 1858 and focused primarily on the issue of slavery.

From the grill there was the Heated Debate - a burger topped with Pepperjack cheese and homemade hot and spicy sauce.

There was also the All Feta Up burger which was made with Feta cheese, black olives, and mustard.

And, of course, the Lincoln/Douglas burger topped with fresh prepared horseradish, Havarti cheese, ketchup and a pickle.

The ice cream portion of the menu featured treats like Dirt Sundae, Mint Melt Away and Razz-A-Mack which was two scoops of Mackinac Island Fudge, red raspberries, whipped cream, pecans and a cherry.

Those gut-busters ran about $5, not counting the Original Holy Cow which featured 12 scoops of ice cream and all toppings for $24.

I think the best recommendation I received was the peppercorn sweet potato fries. Orange and crispy and seasoned with a mix of salt and shavings of sharp peppercorn.

Ties to Lincoln

Every community across Illinois has a link to Lincoln.

I spent the night in Pittsfield, Ill after crossing from Hannibal, MO and traveling east on Highway 106. One historical marker in front of the Shastid family home on E. Jefferson St. said Lincoln was a frequent guest. A plaque outside the home noted Lincoln once ate all the families' pigeons for dinner, leaving seven of the Shastid children hungry. One boy was so mad, he called Lincoln a 'big ole hog.'

Up the block on E. Washington St. is the William Watson Hotel. (see picture HERE) Built in 1838, the hotel was a frequent Lincoln hangout; he was noted to kill time in the hotel lobby between court sessions or while waiting for a verdict from the courthouse across the street. The lobby at the Watson Hotel featured an original decorative tin ceiling, a large red-framed portrait of Lincoln on the west wall, and dark hardwood floors. "There are 14 rooms in the hotel," said owner Jonas Perry. We chatted a bit about the hotel and the tour. He said another man on a bike passed through recently, traveling from Florida to Alaska. "You should stay here," said Jonas. I backed away from the generous offer, explaining my limited travel finances. Jonas then moved out from behind the counter, slapped a key in my hand and said it would be a complimentary stay. "I'm the owner and you're in room 207," he said. "Enjoy the experience."

Note to self, Illinois has fabulous hospitality .

I was wide-eyed as I totally snooped around the place. All of that was made easy because the hotel left the doors open to unoccupied rooms and suites. Perry, who had invested in three downtown buildings, did an amazing rehab. There were exposed red brick walls in every room. Antique furniture completed the amenities with distressed wood dressers and cabinets and old two-and-three-panel doors as bed headboards. Walls in the hallway were painted a light olive, offset by clean, white trim. Tin signs for Royal Crown Cola, King Edward Cigars and Clown Cigarettes hung in the hallway. And by the kitchen a couple of framed newspaper articles detailing Perry's accomplishments and his selection as one of the 40-under-40 leaders in the community.

Freeport-Standard Picks Me Up

Another shout out - this time to Illinois, and reporter Jane Lethlean -

Read entire article HERE.

Crossing the big steel bridge over the Illinois River, Judy Steffes of West Bend, Wis. said she wondered what it would be like to be a Green Bay Packer fan in Chicago Bear country.

She did not need to worry. The rural people of this state were just as nice and accommodating to her as the Texans were on May 18, when she embarked on a cross-country bicycle ride to create awareness of the exercise that comes with riding a bicycle.

Steffes made a stop in Freeport on Monday. Her first stop was at Cub Foods. She was looking for places to see in the “City of Lincoln.” Someone suggested she visit the Stephenson County Historical Society Museum. She was disappointed to find it closed.

The next stop was Freeport Public Library to use a computer to upload her blog to the newspaper she works at in West Bend, Wis. Her readers depend on her weekly journal of her travels.

With just a couple of hundred miles left in her trip, Steffes said her journey has been one of continued discovery of the niceties of people. Her bicycle is her common denominator to conversation. Strangers approach her to listen to her stories. The bicycle breaks down the barrier.

My New Best Friend

Bicycling from Home Springs, MO to St. Charles, MO was the most challenging day on tour.

The Readers Digest version has me trying to outrun an approaching storm at 5 a.m. Within 20 minutes I lose badly to Mother Nature, hitch a ride 16 miles to the next city and with rain forecast the entire day I check into a hotel at 6 a.m. Within 20 minutes the rain stops and skies clear and I vow never to stay at Motel 6 again as the night clerk refuses a refund.

Can't waste the day so I bicycle 37 miles to St. Charles, spend a little time on the Katy Trail before it's back under a church overhang, waiting out a storm.

That's where I met Lynne.

She was walking into the church office. "Are you looking for a place, I'll take you home," said Lynne eagerly. She was 66-years-old, married for the third time, and a whirl-wind of energy. A former event planner, Lynne was retired and spent the day running errands. Her dog, a Terrier, rode shotgun. "By the time I'm 70 I'll have made the exact same bike tour as you," said Lynne. She was confident and a bit wacky. Lynne flitted from flower to flower. "I'm going back to school you know. I never finished the first time because I got married at 18," she said.

Divorced and married again in her 30s, Lynne said of husband number two, "I fell in love with his British accent." Years later, Lynne tried her luck again with Rob. "He's my rock," she said, taking me home to meet husband number three. "Hon-nee," she sang as we entered the back door. "Look what I brought home for youuuuuuu... Imagine Rob's surprise when instead of a little, loose skinned, lop-eared puppy - in walks a big sweaty adult female in bright yellow spandex.


Rob and I had a brief, get-to-know-you moment and then Lynne grabbed my hand and whisked me to their lower level apartment. "My mother used to live with us," said Lynne. "She died about a year ago, but we can get you settled down here." We made the bed together and Lynne threw my smelly clothes in the laundry while I cleaned up. "Oh, I so envy your trip," said Lynne, jumping topics. "I'm writing and illustrating a children's book you know," she said, crediting her mother for her artistic flare. "It's just that I have so much to do with my new business I never get around to it."

Aside from continuing her education and writing and illustrating a children's book, Lynne was working on a company called Buttons & Bows. I gathered it had something to do with sewing. "I mean eyelets - those are as common as cotton," said Lynne, lamenting the downturn in knowledge of mending, material, and being a good homemaker. "If my employees do well, I'll give them jewelry as an incentive and a cut of the action," she said. It seemed a Soprano-esque approach to business. We ran a couple errands and conversation came easy.

We were all over the board and when I say "we", I mean "Lynne".

She liked jewelry, admitted she was very poor at managing money, and talked extensively about her new-found love of bicycling. "If this company makes it, I'd like to travel," she said. "Would you go with me - I mean, we're like best friends." Lynne had a very relaxed demeanor; a little madcap and somewhat insane - but in a nice way.

Returning home we ate dinner on the back porch - talked about my recent mission trip to Haiti, and Lynne said she wanted to pursue ministering to prisoners. Around 8 p.m. I referenced I would be retiring shortly. That's when Lynne pulled her chair close to mine, took my hands in hers and looked at me with intent. Everything had been going so well, but I felt the bomb was about to drop. I predicted Lynne was going to tell me about another career path or I was going to have a partner on the rest of my ride.

"Honey, I have to tell you something," she said with seriousness.

Here came the Hallmark moment.

"We're putting you up in a hotel tonight," said Lynne. "Rob just thinks you're a terrorist and I'm worried about my mother's jewelry downstairs. You understand," she said. I felt as welcome as beans on a bus. "You'll still be my best friend though, right," said Lynne. The news made my head loll over to the side. We regrouped; Lynne jumped in her vehicle and I followed on my bike, two miles to downtown St. Charles. Rolling into the lobby of the Country Inn, the clerk said they were full for the night. I felt like laying my head on the front counter, only I'd have to shove Lynne over to make space. Loading my bike in her vehicle, we crossed town in 15 minutes, found another hotel and checked me in. I mustered a fatigued thanks, grabbed my room key and turned to head upstairs.

"Oh Judy....." It was Lynne; she was whispering from across the room and talking through cupped hands. "I'll be back at 5 a.m. and we'll go out to breakfast together," she said with a little wave.... to the thief terrorist. I felt I should get a medal, just for shear effort that day. As promised, Lynne arrived bright and early. "I only need about three hours sleep a night," she said. Lynne was chipper and carrying on a conversation with me and a group of men at the next table. I was half paying attention and half watching the weather update on TV when Lynne grabbed my hands.

"Let's pray," she said, bowing her head.

It was a sermon-length prayer; Lynne thanked God for me, my bike, a safe tour for me, a safe upcoming tour for herself, and she closed by asking Jesus to be her best friend.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Price Chopper

A fond memory-

So far my favorite store is the Price Chopper in Pocahontas, Arkansas. The girl running the register at the checkout is Brooke.

"My day is going just awful, how's yours," said Brooke. Her greeting seemed more out of habit than genuine concern. She looked 17, round face, and an all-about-me attitude.

"Is this community named Pocahontas after the Indian Pocahontas," I asked.

"No," said Brooke confidently, then.... "Who's Pocahontas?"

It kind of cracked me up.

"Where are you from," questioned Brooke.

I told her the Milwaukee area, and was met with a blank stare. "Wisconsin," I said.

More meaningless wide-eyed, gum chewing.

"I biked here from Dallas and I'm headed home to Milwaukee," I said.

"On a bike? No, you're not," said Brooke with a very matter-of-fact tone.

I bit my lower lip so I wouldn't laugh.

Brooke tipped up on her toes and glanced over the checkout counter to look at my legs. Like I'd have 'On Wisconsin' stamped on my knees. I left Brooke and went to consult another clerk about the park by the river.

"Hey, what's the name of that park by the river," said the clerk who turned the question back on Brooke. "Blackfoot River Overlook," said Brooke. Who followed quickly with, "I just made that up, I have no idea," she said.

Brooke was fast on her feet, but probably not the best resource for increasing tourism in Pocahontas, Ark.

This and that

A few more bits and pieces from the trek through Arkansas....

- Had an awful dog chase the other day midway through Arkansas.. The two dogs were big and I thought they'd give up quickly. Sadly, the chase was a pretty good one and the experience, unnerving. I relayed the story to friends who asked why I didn't just give them a shot of pepper spray. I explained that the spray is in a pocket in the back of my jersey. It's not like you're making out on the couch and you can just reach over and pick up your watermelon Lipsmacker. The situation is a bit more tense involving speed, balance and protecting meaty leg flesh.

- There are some classic small-towns in Arkansas; Bald Knob and Possum Grape - that was back when they spelled it with a 'P.'

- Rescued a 15-pound snapping turtle the other day as I was on a back road leaving Fredericktown. First of all, let me say I didn't know turtles could jump. Second, a very bad tactic is to put your hand on the turtle's back - even that is too close to its mouth. Since Missouri is the 'show me' state, I had to show the turtle how to get off the road. That meant pushing a stick in its face, and then he locked on it, it took a couple elephant heaves, but I managed to lift him to safety.

Clinton Library Museum

Flashback - Arkansas:

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library, 1200 President Clinton Ave. in Little Rock, Arkansas is - in one word - impressive. The library is a raised building overlooking the Arkansas River and its bridges. Locals refer to it as the 'double-wide on stilts.' The trailer reference has little to do with Clinton and more to do with former Governor Mike Huckabee, who lived out of a trailer, parked on the front lawn while the governor's mansion was being remodeled. The Clinton Library is far from a trailer. The entire building is environmentally friendly with solar panels, recycled materials and energy efficient everything.

The three-story facility opened in 2006 and was financed completely through donations and contributions. Filled with a mix of black-and-white and color photos, the library details Clinton's eight-year administration timeline from 1993 through 2000. There are interactive touch-screen stations, a full-scale replica of the Oval Office, biographical material of Clinton's early years growing up in Hope, Arkansas and monthly binders to access the President's daily schedule.

Most impressive were a series of hand-written letters from people like Fred Rogers (Mr. Roger's Neighborhood) who praised Clinton for encouraging children to read, and there was a letter from Paul Newman. The Hollywood actor turned race car driver received a note from Clinton about a racing accident March 7, 1996. Newman responded, "Dear Mr. President. Thank you kindly for your note. It was a humiliating experience. I'm the only race car driver in modern history to crash off the circuit at 25 m.p.h."

The other impressive section paid tribute to the Little Rock 9; a group of black students from Little Rock Central High School who tried to integrate the school in 1957. The story about the students was fascinating, especially since Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus defied federal orders when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial integration was unconstitutional. The Governor used the Arkansas National Guard to block entry to the school, but he was trumped when President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened and sent the 101st Airborne Division to escort the students to school.

Aside from the Clinton Library paying tribute to the Little Rock 9, there was also a life-size bronze statue of the nine students outside the State Capitol.

The Word on the Traveling Elvis Exhibit

First, the promised note on the Elvis exhibit, then I'll update you on the Clinton library visit -- (See previous post picture HERE.)

ELVIS AT 21...

A traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute is on display at the Clinton Library through September.

"Elvis at 21" features black-and-white photographs by Alfred Wertheimer. Hired in 1956 at age 26, Wertheimer was instructed to exclusively shoot promotional images of the rising star.

"First of all, he made the girls cry, and second he permitted closeness," said Wertheimer.

The photos captured an intimate Elvis, sitting in a train car with a phonograph on his lap, or in a rare instance, standing alone in a train station - unrecognized. There were photos of Elvis lying on a couch using a pile of fan mail as a pillow; a bunch of letters torn to bits, lying on a table in the foreground. "I'm not going to carry them with me," said Elvis. "I've read them and seen what's in them and it's nobody else’s business."

While in the Elvis exhibit, a woman said her husband busted her out for crying as she looked at the photos. "I mean he's been dead since 1977," said the husband

Guys just don't get the impact of Elvis.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A note from Germany...

Past travels yield long-time friendships. This is a note from European (Germany) friend, Christiane.

Dear Judy,

When are you coming back to good old Bavaria????? The Lederhosenboys miss you a lot and I am sure you miss their gorgeous behinds!!

There is always a room for you in my house. We have had crazy weather, hot thunderstorms, hail and rain. It changes all the time, but I am still swimming every day. There are a lot of beer festivals going on, so think about it may be for next year.

Be careful on the road,

your German friend from Bavaria Christiane

Award-Winning Helen

Many churches across the south have provided safe haven for me as I bicycle home from Austin, Texas.

Wheeling into Newport, Ark. last Tuesday I stopped at First United Methodist Church. A handful of administrators in the office spent about five minutes debating my request for a corner in the church hall where I could throw my sleeping bag.

They mulled what room I'd stay in, who would turn on the air conditioning, and how I would get a shower?

It was five minutes too much for Helen Bullard who was sitting across the room trying to send an attachment with an email. Helen swung her head back and said, "She's coming home with me tonight. Problem solved."

Helen was a get-it-done kinda gal.

"Well you've just been adopted by the 2010 Jackson County Woman of the Year," said the pastor. "Pfft," said Helen, waiving off the recognition and returning to her typing. A small woman, Helen wore wire-rim glasses, had collar-length blond hair and endless energy. She also had a direct demeanor and a common-sense opinion about everything.

"I'd like to know who made the rules about women and makeup," she said.

We had been talking about her woman-of-the-year award and her invitation to President Clinton's inauguration. "I mean men have it easy and Kenneth (her husband) can fit into that same tux for years," she said. There was quite a bit of lamenting about women and fashion until Helen finally ended with "high heels should be outlawed."

And we were onto other things.

Helen lived on a farm on the outskirts of town. Retired and a grandmother of twin teenage girls, she donated a lot of her time and was adept at volunteering friends as well.

"Hi, it's me. You're making beans for this summer cinema we're doing," she said, multitasking phone calls while we ran last-minute errands. "Two of my least favorite, beans and potato salad and we're having both at this thing." After solidifying a few more details, Helen hung up. "I'm not sure how they like it, but these people need to get involved," she said. Volunteering came easy to Helen.

Aside from her work at the church, she was vice president of Keep Newport Beautiful, secretary of the local garden club, and head of the Newport Newcomers Club. Helen also started a free clinic in Jackson County and she and Kenneth often took home top prize in an annual catfish cooking contest.

The couple spoiled me with wonderful conversation, a fantastic homemade dinner of ham, coleslaw, cornbread, and a squash and bacon salad.

Kenneth was dressed in his designer of choice; Carhart.

He kept half an eye on the St. Louis Cardinals game as we talked about farming, how I planned to cross into Missouri, and what Helen was going to do tomorrow.

"Well, I don't want you to fall over when I say I'm going to attempt to clean the house," she said.

Helen was so dry.

"And I'm not a morning person so don't expect me to be seeing you off," she said, speaking in my direction. As I prepared to leave around 6 a.m. Helen was already in the kitchen, offering to whip up bacon and eggs.

After another two hours of conversation about Helen's attempt to incubate eggs, a fox killing her first round of chicks, and Arkansas's attempt at generating tourism with the Rock n' Roll Highway 67.... I was on the road again, knowing if I was ever in Newport I had a place to stay.

Pittsfield, IL - Watson Hotel

One of the lovely rooms in the historic William Watson Hotel in Pittsfield, Ill.
This pictures SO does not do the hotel justice.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ride, ride, ride.....Hitchin' a Ride

Bowling Green, MO-
What are the chances?

Tom & Dick from Fond du Lac Express,
a moving company based in Fond du Lac, Wis.
Met them outside Crystal's Restaurant in the
small community of Bowling Green, MO.
They were going back home this morning and had room
in their truck for one bike and one passenger.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For the record ---

FARMINGTON, Missouri - Crossed into Missouri last week Thursday, June 16.

Since beginning the tour May 18 I've collected about 1,600 miles, crossed Texas and Arkansas, experienced one flat tire, one broken spoke, one really-bad dog chase, saved one snapping turtle, suffered zero saddle sores, and cobbled together some totally awesome adventures.


I can tell I'm not in the smooth south anymore as roads in Texas and Arkansas were pretty flatulent.

That means the road is really flat, right?

Exiting Poplar Bluff, MO and heading north there's a lot more up-down, primarily because I'm at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

Crossing through the beautiful Mark Twain National Forest on Highway 67 I pull into the small town of Farmington, MO. It is much like the Farmington in Washington County (Wisconsin) as both are bisected by a Highway H and both have that small, country feel as several homes had red, white, and blue bunting decorating the front porch. There's the Farmington Press Daily Journal, the County Mart grocery and the Farmington city pool is across the road from a pasture full of cows.

One of the impressive things about Farmington, MO is the old St. Francois County Jail. It's not like the famed Fillmore Turner Hall, but carries just as much history. Built in 1870, the jail is on the national historic register. On the north side of the building a plaque details The Jailbreak of 1932 when 31 prisoners huddled in the back of their cell as nine sticks of dynamite were used to blow a hole in the north wall. Five prisoners fled and were later recaptured, one was shot and another was shot and killed while climbing a fence that surrounded the jail. In the aftermath, the steel window that weighed 14 pounds was found two blocks away on top of the high school. In 1996 the jail was closed and years later the upstairs converted into a hostel for bicyclists. It's called Al's Place, in honor of Al Dziewa - an avid, local bicyclist who lost his battle with cancer in 2005. (See photo in prior post.)

The upstairs of the old jail was formerly the sheriff's residence; the hostel retains much of the original architecture with thick wood beams running the length of the ceiling, exposed red brick and round windows. The city remodeled and upgraded the interior adding three bedrooms with seven bunk beds, two full bathrooms, air conditioning, a complete kitchen and a couple areas to relax on leather couches and watch TV or check the Internet. There's also a laundry room and enclosed space on the lower level to safely store bicycles.

Many cyclists on the TransAmerican Trail, traveling east-west stop at the $20-a-night hostel. I just happened upon it via word of mouth and ended up spending the day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Katy Trail

A portion of the famed Katy Trail,
a bicycle trail that caters to TransAmerican tourists riding east/ west across the U.S.

The Katy Trail even crossed this bridge which got me over the Missouri River.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

St. Francois County Jail - Farmington, MO

The exterior of the county jail turned hostel. (See blog post and picture below.) That's also a view of the north side of the building that former inmates blew up with dynamite.

West Bend on the Map in Missouri

Representing West Bend at Al's Place - a bicycle hostel in Farmington, MO.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Adventure of a Lifetime ---

From the Panola Watchman - Texas - Read the entire article HERE:

Carthage was home for the night to a woman who tours the country, and the world, on her bike as she enjoys the adventure of exploring the world and writing about it along the way.
Judy Steffes, 47 of West Bend, Wis, has been traveling the back roads of countries around the world for several years. She says she has a bike riding habit that's constantly in need of a fix.
She grew up riding bicycles. Her dad fixed a bike that carried her and her three small sisters in seats while he drove them around. When she got out of high school, she got the bike she continues to ride today and eventually began touring with organized groups. Once her independence asserted itself, she decided she knew how to map, and she struck out on her own. On her first trip on her own, she took a month’s leave from her job and from West Bend to visit her sister in Colorado Springs. The trip took her 18 days. From there, she decided she wanted to continue to tour, although her boss back in Wis. told her “I hope you got it out of your system.” But, she never has.

Farmington, Missouri

Entering Farmington, MO. Came into town on Hwy OO. Saved a HUGE snapping turtle; I didn't know those things could jump. A lady stopped and we used her window scraper. The turtle latched on and it took me two elephant heaves to get it to the side of the road. Phew! If you need anything else rescued, just give me a call.