June 16: Osceola to Dalbo, Minnesota - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 16: Osceola to Dalbo, Minnesota

Donn and his magnificent digs...Donn Olson saw two cyclists struggling past his farm and found them somewhere to camp. It was the first step towards building a cyclists' bunkhouse with three bedrooms, a common room, coffee-maker, microwave and refrigerator. A lovely man.
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THERE HAS NEVER BEEN an American saint. I nominate Donn Olson. (That's not a typing mistake: his mother gave him an extra N in the curious hope that he would never be called Donald.)

Donn, for no reason than that he felt sorry for passing cyclists, has built them a bunkhouse with three bedrooms, toilet, shower, tables, chairs, a microwave and a coffee machine. He has provided cutlery and cups and apologised that he hadn't got round to providing pizzas. And he wasn't joking.

"You know how it started?" he asks, a tall, well-built man with a round, smiling face, sandy hair and the powerful hands you'd expect of a farmer. "They relaid the road a while back and these guys came by, pushing their bikes because of the gravel. They were all in and they asked if there was anywhere on the farm they could camp. Well, they told me all about bike touring - I mean, I ride a bike, but just a mile and a half down to the shops, not like you guys - and they told me about Adventure Cycling and I was impressed with what they were doing."

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Donn, who is 62, retired from farming and looked for things to do. He rented his workable land to another farmer and turned the rest into a cross between a park and a nature reserve. He sits, the only unelected member, on the town council and keeps saying he's happy to make room for someone elected except that nobody wants to dislodge him. And as if that weren't enough, he is head of deployment of military Chinook helicopters in the US.

"I was in the military for decades, on Chinooks," he says. "Now I'm a contractor and I keep a record of where all the Chinooks are and I send them off to Boeing when they need to go. Course, they curse and grumble when I do it, because that leaves them short when I take them from somewhere insists they need them. But I send them to Boeing and they strip out all the equipment and instruments and the airframes get scrapped. The Chinook is an old design, rivets everywhere. The new airframes are all in one place, not a rivet anywhere.

Posters of Chinooks decorate his office in a white farmhouse a mile north of Dalbo. There, too, framed, is a dollar.

"The price of a house I sold," he explains. "There was this young couple and they didn't have much money and they asked if I'd sell an old house I had over the way. I said, well, yes, I could be interested in selling but they'd have to get the house off the land in a few weeks. If they could do that, they could have the house for a dollar. And so they made it happen and there you see the house being driven off down the road on a truck."

American houses are typically wood-framed and less substantial than European houses, which couldn't be winched or carted anywhere. But I do wish I'd asked how it was done, all in one piece.

Donn then turned his attention to a cow byre unused since his parents got out of dairy farming because arable paid better. I should add now that Donn corrected me on my earlier observation that the black-and-white cows I'd seen were Friesians, which they always are at home. He had never heard of Friesians. The cows I'd seen were Holsteins, he said.

"I keep my hay up in the loft - no one more particular than someone with ponies - but the ground floor was free, so I put in

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beams to keep the whole lot from collapsing, and the whole lot just balances, one timber on another, without a nail to hold it." The beams came from a single oak on his ground. Donn knows about trees. "I'm a tree guy," he says.

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The bunkhouse hasn't long been open and I sense Donn would stand by the road to waylay cyclists who dare to pass without spending the night. Donn remembers everyone who's been. There's no need to book, nor even to clock in at the house. "Just turn up and make yourself at home, that's the rule."

WE AGAIN HAD a steady and helpful wind today, not strong but a blessing. It's uncanny how many tailwinds we have had, especially when legend says the prevailing drift is from the west. Today was also the first on which we have met riders coming the other way. The first, shortly before Sunrise, "birthplace of Hollywood legend Richard Widmark", were Marlyn Krieger and Bea Briggs, travelling on recumbents.

"We're riding home from Fargo," Marlyn explained in a powerful voice, her expressions more animated than the quieter Bea, who stayed in the saddle and joined in the conversation strategically. "We've been riding the Northern Tier in sections over the past three summers. This time we'll get to Napoleon, in Ohio, where I live, and later this year we'll do the rest to Bar Harbor."

There they will stay with a cyclist they met three years ago as they set out from the Pacific. Against odds, he was not only riding the Northern Tier but lived in Bar Harbor, where the eastbound route ends.

They had passed through Donn's bunkhouse to have a look - "I didn't meet them but I knew they'd been because I saw their footprints," Donn told us - and they urged us to spend the night there. At about the same time, Paul Matte was getting the same encouragement from another Don, with one N, the surviving half of the couple who had split back in Monroeville. Paul and we came together in the bar in Dalbo where Steph demanded to be bought beer.

Paul: we met in a bar and slept in a barn.
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Paul moved to Canada from Germany half a century ago. He lived in Calgary and then moved south of the border and acquired a third nationality. He too is riding in stages, this time from Fargo to beyond Lake Superior.

"I could have stayed in Canada from Winnipeg onwards," he said, "but that would have meant the Trans-Canadian Highway, which is really busy, doesn't have a shoulder, has loads or trucks, and grooves on the road which run in the direction you're riding. So I saw Fargo was due south of Winnipeg and I'm following Adventure Cycling routes from there."

He faced bad news. The wind was going to blow from the east and it would blow ever harder. Right into Paul's front wheel. He faced a complicated day.


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DRAGIT NOTE: I am a patient man but I have lost interest in dragits. I have transferred my interest to Nite Crawlers, which have been advertised everywhere since upstate New York. They sound just sordid enough to occupy me until the Pacific. I may even find out by then what they are.

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