June 18: Aitkin to Grand Rapids, Minnesota - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 18: Aitkin to Grand Rapids, Minnesota

Judy Garland - see below.
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LOOKING BACK, there doesn't seem much worth telling about today. The remains of the tornado last night gave us a stonking tailwind and we stuck to the smooth and acceptable main road to Grand Rapids rather than take the mapped rural route, which one blog said was dull and so badly surfaced that "the pavement joints beat my butt to death."

But in fact we were interviewed on radio. The background is that I saw a T-shirt some years ago with the legend "Hike faster: I hear banjo music." It was in the Appalachians, the mountains of the eastern USA that Europeans always forget and where hikers go to spend endless days in the woods and give themselves trail names like Bed Bug and Snot Guy.

There is only one town all the way from Aitkin to Grand Rapids on the main highway and that is Hill City, in which the road rises a dizzying 10 metres before settling down to its former quiet existence. And it was there that we heard a banjo. It was part of a three-man jazz band playing outside a bank on the edge of town. The musicians waved us over. A small crowd was around them and a table drawn up behind and the place had the air of a party.

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"Best jazz trio for miles around," an admirer said. "From the Twin Cities." They stopped playing, asked about our trip, showed a lot of authentic enthusiasm, shook our hands, then took their time from the banjo player and began another tune. It was then that someone took Steph by the elbow and said, "We'd love to have you on the radio."

Behind the table behind the jazzers was a woman with a microphone who explained that she worked for a station in Grand Rapids, that the distance was too far to use the radio car parked alongside and that therefore she was having to broadcast four interviews an hour for four hours at phone quality. Which, I can tell you as a former BBC broadcaster, is a shameful position that could only suggest that the bank had paid a lot for the station to cover the opening of a new branch.

Our bank - but no free samples
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Our radio connections - Steph was an electronics engineer and we met when she arrived to commission a new studio where I worked - was an instant in. But nobody could have guessed that we shared our name with the new bank; the Woodland Bank.

It was all good fun and we chatted with those all around and then set off back up the hill. Just how transient is fame, however, became clear when we stopped for eggs on toast. We told the waitress what had happened. She said she had that station playing in the cafe.

"Can't say I listen to it, though," she said. "Not much chance if I got meals to serve..."

We are camping beside a road, a river, a dam and the Tin City of an RV park on the edge of Grand Rapids, "birthplace of Judy Garland." In fact we stopped off at her childhood home on the way into town. It wasn't there originally but nothing in America is permanent and so at some time the house was shipped off from wherever it had been and dumped beside the busy entrance to town across the road from the supermarkets and tyre depots. Worth a visit, I'd say, but it means more to fans.

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Inside Judy Garland's childhood home.
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Anyway, we are on this camp site beside the Mississippi and it's run by the engineering section of the army. When I asked why that should be a round-faced, red-haired, belt-straining soldier told me the

The dam at Grand Rapids: protected from terrorists until the army knocks off at six.
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Camping beside the Mississippi.
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army looked after all the dams down the Mississippi. When I asked why that, too, should be so, he shrugged as if to say "It's always been that way" before adding "and it's a good deal better than being sent off to war."

As if catching what he had said and wondering if the army PR people might object, he added importantly: "Course, we protect the dams against terrorists as well." But not after 6pm, because that's when the soldiers go home.

So tame that they sat on our feet.
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