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Weeks 8 + 9: I.I.I. (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana -- the American Corn Belt)
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Weeks 8 + 9

I. I. I. (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana -- the American Corn Belt)

We finally entered the Eastern Time Zone!! That means we’ve pedaled almost 3,000 miles, and have less than 600 to go. We’ve been averaging 75ish miles a day (not counting days getting held up by thunderstorms, which are still following our every bike-step). We also celebrated our two-monthiversary last week!

Ok, before we do the flashback-in-time, some exciting updates:

1. We made an interactive map of where we’ve been so far! It’s a work in progress, I (Rachel writing) still need to add many more pictures and descriptions and brewery reviews. I’m going to keep this map up to date for the rest of the trip. Let us know if you have any comments!
Cycle for Science route ... click for interactive-ness!
2. Liz has been crankin' out some fantastic blog posts, and is posting a new one every day. Check out her daily stories and reflections HERE and HERE and HERE! (sorry, I’ll write something someday, maybe). They're linked to each day in the map above too.
 
3. We’re planning a welcome picnic-y thing in New York for when we arrive, probably on the weekend of July 18 or 19. More info soon. As our lovely funders you are obviously all invited. If you’re on the west coast, well, we already scoped out a bike path from SF so just hop on the road and meet us there ;)
 

Iowandering!

After South Dakota, we skirted around the Nebraska state border and smack into Iowa! We were so blown away by Iowa friendliness (generally, and bike-wise). After greeting us with pizza and beer, our bike-savvy hosts in Sioux City first informed us about RAGBRAI, the annual event where 20,000 people (!!!) ride their bikes across the entire state of Iowa. It started in 1973, sort of like a supersized week-long Bay to Breakers on wheels. We were smitten. What a cool state.

And then, east of the Missouri River, the corn fields began, along with the hills! Contrary to our completely uninformed assumptions, and our “it’s all downhill from here” mentality after crossing the Great Divide, Iowa is NOT flat. This was basically our ride every day through this state — corn fields and rolling hills. And rolling tractors sharing the rolling hills with us.

It’s a weird mix of humbling, overwhelming and terrifying to see corn rows extend for miles, day after day, and to become aware of just how much corn we grow (though we only saw a smidgen). Elizabeth worked this past year as an agricultural journalist and had a lot of firsthand experience under her (corn)belt, but to be honest before this trip I was pretty ignorant about the monoculture of F1 commodity corn and it’s reign over the industrial food chain (I’ve been attempting to educate myself by talking to farmers and listening to Michael Pollin’s Omnivore’s Dilemma on tape…any other reading recommendations?). Our first night in corn-and-soybean-land we stayed with a farmer named Jim in the teeny town of Nemaha, population 83. His family used to raise milk cows and chickens, and grow about a dozen other crops, but now he lives alone on the land and grows just corn and soybeans and some hogs piggin' out in a tiny steel barn, and struggles to “turn a pretty penny,” especially after horrible freezes like this winter. Of course this is just one farmer's story, but we got a very personal insight into the toils that many farmers face in this region of the country.
Jim's soybean field, Nemaha IA

The next morning, this crazy thing happened. A TAILWIND!? Right, that thing we were supposed to be getting every day since we’re going west to east but only met a few times. So we rode the winds (weeee!) out of Nemaha to do our first century! 100 miles later, we ended up in Iowa Falls, and Liz and I went for a celebratory sunset dunk in the Iowa River. We were going to call it a night and camp in the public park, but in the river we we met Mark, who introduced us to Sherrie, a RAGBRAI veteran, who basically introduced us to the entire town, including both "Ricky T's". And basically the entire town of Iowa Falls does a weekly bike-n-bar-hop night on Tuesday, and it was Tuesday (we didn't bike out though.. Sherrie drove us.. 100 miles was enough). Then Mark took us out on his boat on the river until 2 a.m., where we actually saw a clear night sky sprinkled with stars (for the first time on this whole trip…thanks thunderstorms). What a warm, welcoming community, and a serendipitous night. Here's an article about us from the town's paper:

But alas! We had to get back on the road, so we sped off to Cedar Falls to stay with my dad’s cousin, Naomi, and her husband John, who spoiled us for days with tasty dinners and comfy beds and conversation about science and education (they were both professors) and, naturally, some juicy family gossip. We taught our sixth lesson at the YWCA in Waterloo, right next to Cedar Falls. Most of the kids there had never heard of a 3D printer, and they had so many questions. "You mean you can make anything??" "So can I make a flying pig?" It was raining and cloudy of course (like nearly every teaching day we've had so far, thanks again sky!), so the Sol Cycles were a little sluggish, but we left one there for the kids to play with for the rest of the summer. Stay posted for a 3D-printed flying pig bursting out of a YWCA near you.

Waterloo YWCA meets the Sol Cycle

And then the time had come to finally leave Iowa (and it's about time for me to stop talking about Iowa). Out of Cedar Falls we were greeted by our first FULL DAY BIKE PATH since the Tetons. What a concept, no semis trying to squish us! We took it all the way to Cedar Rapids, where we stayed with a lady who once made a quilt for Bill Gates, and then camped our last night near the Mississippi (and got rained on).

One last Iowa thought. Basically every time someone stopped to talk to us in Iowa, no matter what town, we got: “Are you training for RAGBRAI?” “Are those rocks in your bags so you can train for RAGBRAI?” “RAGBRAI?” "RAGBRAI!?" One of these days we’ll actually have to come back ride it. Maybe this cross country trip is just training for RAGBRAI?

Come feel the Illinois

Illinois was a quicky. We crossed the Mississippi on a rickidy ammunition bridge, but were immediately held up in Rock Island due to torrential downpours (surprise!). But these showers didn't matter — Steve, the owner of the bike shop in town, showered us with generosity in the form of, well, warm showers, a dry bed to sleep in, free bike tune-ups and a ridiculous amount of free gear from his shop (we even had to send some home!). The storm cleared and we left Rock Island with new goodies and a renewed reminder of the powerful kindness of strangers. And the power of … the storm we’d waited out. We were supposed to hop on the Grand Illinois Trail across the entire state, but we soon found it looked like this:

So we took county roads instead, and rode 75ish miles with a plan to set up camp in a nature preserve. We realized we’d taken a wrong turn though, and the nature preserve was a thick forest with nowhere to camp, and since the sky was fading, a farmer let us crash in his lawn for the night. The view was, ya know, ok:

Our camping spot in the middle of Illinowhere
It rained all night, and into the morning, and I got a flat after going a whoppin one mile on a wet gravel road. Oh but wait, it wasn't just a flat. A thick metal rod was wedged into my back tire. It was pretty worn, so it was time to say bye-bye ti-ti. After a delay at the bike shop in Peru, IL, we weren't going to make it to where we planned to camp, but we realized it was our two-month anniversary of being on the road so we splurged -- a motel room with a jacuzzi! And a streetlamp (?). All inside the room. And Chinese food, which we hadn't had in months.
It rained all night, and into the morning, and I got a flat after going a whoppin one mile on a wet gravel road. Oh but wait, it wasn't just a flat. A thick metal rod was wedged into my back tire. It was pretty worn, so it was time to say bye-bye ti-ti. After a delay at the bike shop in Peru, IL, we weren't going to make it to where we planned to camp, but we realized it was our two-month anniversary of being on the road so we splurged -- a motel room with a jacuzzi! And a streetlamp (?). All inside the room. And Chinese food, which we hadn't had in months.
And the next morning, we took off to cross into Indiana, with a 20 mile real bike path! Oh, the anniversary luxury continues.

Back home in Indiana

We crossed the border into Indiana in the late afternoon, and got a ride to La Porte, since storms and tires had held us up and we were teaching there the next morning. Still corn and soybeans galore, but they are mostly sprinkled in small lots around towns and forests, and the population is visibly much more dense than back in Iowa. It's remarkable to watch the landscapes and demographics change so dramatically over the course of a just few days, or sometimes hours. We stayed with Faith and her husband Kevin, avid bicyclists, and felt right back at home with apple pie, bread-bakin, jazz on the stereo, and Jazz the dog (their goats were named Rumba and Cha Cha).
In La Porte we taught at the Middle School Teen Tech Camp, a week-long hands-on summer science camp put on by the library. The library has their very own 3D printer (one thing that we've learned on this trip is so many facilities have them now!), and will be working this week to crank out some more Sol Cycles for the kids to play with. We had so much fun teaching, and the students had some brilliant ideas that they'll be trying out about how to design a Sol Cycle 2.0. And bonus points -- it was NOT raining during the lesson for the first time since California! And, extra bonus points -- they gave us 3d printed DINOSAUR NECKLACES for us to wear triumphantly as we approach New York. Thanks La Porte!
Sol Cycle silliness at the La Porte County Library
Our last day in Indiana we took mostly paved county roads and camped ... in an RV park 50 feet from the highway. Ah, nature, the sweet sound of crickets and semitrucks! But it was still beautiful. The fireflies came out to say hello; there were so many that it looked like the trees were sparkling!! And after yet another rain storm that night, and yet another dripping wet tent, we decided it was time to leave the I states in the dust (more like mud) and hope for better luck in Ohio. Where we are now. But, yet again, I have written a jumbo essay so it's time to say oh-bye-oh until next update.

Rachel and Elizabeth
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