Eureka to Newton - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 5, 2014

Eureka to Newton

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WELL, I THOUGHT, Adventure Cycling suggests a winding route to Newton. But everybody else's map shows a direct road, albeit with turns. Now, Adventure Cycling has spent more than 30 years perfecting routes. It is unlikely a foreigner, leaving town for the first time, will improve on them.

But sometimes foreigners... well, they just don't understand, do they?

And so this foreigner set his GPS and followed it through pleasant but flimsy housing on a road that had all the attraction of going the wrong way. If everyone else used the principal road, I and the GPS were going to show them how it ought to be done.

And so my quiet housing road turned into a country lane, and the country lane turned into an unsurfaced trail, and

Suddenly, far from any surfaced road, this little Lutheran church founded by Norwegians
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all the time the GPS said to press on. I should point out that the GPS is set to find cycling roads but to avoid anything unsurfaced. Therefore, my faith in computers, it followed that this unmade road wouldn't last long.

I was still on it more than 50km later.

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Time for Plan B
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And the further I went, the deeper I got into truly rural America and the more I had either to go back and start again or hope and carry on riding. An avuncular man of around 80, dressed in blue and sitting in the middle of his pick-up and driving with his left foot and left arm, slowed at the improbable sight of anything but another pick-up on the road.

"Where ya hairdin'?" he as much laughed as asked.

"Cassoday," I said. "When do I get to a hard-topped road?"

"Oh, pretty much in Cassoday," he said drily.

Let us take pleasure in small triumphs...
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Now, there's something else you ought to know. Mark, a Canadian with a new tent, told me last night that there was 100 per cent chance of a storm before morning. When it hadn't rained by dawn, and after he'd said he'd stay put in the park at a few raindrops because he never rode in the rain, I felt smug. Then he showed me his pocket computer and the vomit-coloured map on its screen.

"That's the rain, heading right for us," he said. "And it's going to blow pretty hard. Best get your stuff in the tent before it blows away."

So I went back into my tent like a tortoise withdrawing its head, reinflated my air bed and waited for nature to stop bothering me. Only for the sheriff to turn up in his silver and black pick-up. It had begun raining by then, so he refused to get out to talk. It turned out he'd only stopped because I'd looked out, whereas he hadn't halted at Mark's tent at all.

"Git yasself over t'the school down there f'shelter," he shouted. "Gonna be hail the size o' golf balls."

I don't know if you've noticed but it's a law of the condition humaine that any time someone says there'll be hail, it's always the size of golf balls - and that it never falls where you are. Nevertheless, I didn't want the tent jet-blasted to shreds and so I dismantled it, put it under a bench, weighed it down with a pannier, and sat in a porch to which a neighbour had invited me.

And that's how I discovered Brad. He was a round-faced, smiling man engrossed in other people's miseries, watching the local TV news predicting the end of mankind in the wake of the approaching storm. He called me from the kitchen to the sitting room to see what I was missing. By then it had grown dark and a good wind was blowing and rain was falling like a car wash. But there was no hail.

Now, I have been in many people's houses but I have never had to step over a collection of woodwork planes. But Brad was passionate about them. And not only that but interesting.

"My father died, he had a wooden box full of woodworking tools," he said, despairing that the weather would ever be as bad as forecast and turning off the TV. "And I found these old planes and I could see the craftsmanship in them, a beauty in the way they were made.

Brad, the plane man of the plains
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"Nowadays, there ain't so many of them about because o' power tools and because these old tools, they were cast, so they broke if you dropped 'em. And the 90s, the start of the internet, we were one of the first to have that and I discovered a wealth of information."

But, equally, the same source had killed some of the fun. Because, once, you had to find your old plane, maybe at house clearances and flea markets, and you had to recognise it, and maybe you'd know some other fanatic and you could trade with him.

"But now, what with the internet and everyone being connected, the prices have gone up into the thousands. A rare plane, and it's these little ones that are worth the most..." - he handed me a white cloth bag holding a plane no longer than my hand - "...that can set you back a fortune."

I never thought I could be interested in planes. But life is fascinating and other people's interests, well explained, open a new world. And so it was with Brad. Many of his planes were made by Stanley, "an American company that's now over in England." He pointed to a second name beneath that of the maker. I recognised it from planes my father and grandfather had used and which a hopelessly optimistic school had tried to teach me at 12.

"That there, that's the man who invented the design. When Stanley started making planes, he went to court and said they had stolen his design. Well, of course, he was just a little man up against a big company with money and I expect he lost his claim. But ever after, until the design changed completely, Stanley used to emboss his name on their planes, in homage."

Brad and I chatted for an hour, every minute fascinating. And I was just leaving when Mark came over and said that, yes, his tent had leaked.

The countryside was wet, too. The lower it went, the muddier, the more flooded and the more rock-strewn the road became. It got so hard that I'd have paid to be rescued. But the darkest hour being just before dawn, the road moved out of where the storm had struck and wandered boldly in a trail of white dust across the open land of the Flint hills and between wandering cows and past small but prosperous ranches set back in their own grounds. What had been a trial had turned out a triumph. I didn't always think so at the time but, by the time I got to Cassoday and the hard road, I was delighted I'd done it.

I rolled into Newton late, because of the cross-country hike, and cleaned up at a motel. It hadn't been an easy day but not a moment lacked interest.

Cattle run free on the unfenced hills
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...however small they may seem
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Today's ride: 121 km (75 miles)
Total: 2,806 km (1,743 miles)

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