June 22: Tamarac to Hitterdal, Minnesota - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 22: Tamarac to Hitterdal, Minnesota

THIS WAS THE DAY something truly extraordinary happened. The village of Hitterdal, or a lot of it, held a street party, an open-air meal, to celebrate our arrival.

I shall begin at the beginning...

Right opposite the pavilion in Hitterdal's park is a white building which houses a company which renovates micro-pumps. The sort of pumps, especially,

The House of Fizz, Hitterdal
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used to mix carbonated water and syrup in fizz machines. There are, it seems, only two such companies in the USA. They are both small but Hitterdal's is the larger. It employs four people: Craig and Wanda and their son and his wife.

Craig and Wanda, bosses of the JC Beverage Company - two of the world's friendliest people
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Our ride to Hitterdal was deliberately short, a question of where camp sites fell in the next few days. It turned out a happy choice because the wind howled at us, the aftermath of thunderstorms nearby, and on the rise to the centre of the village a soft plop announced that a spoke had broken in Steph's back wheel.

We stopped in the park at noon and sat under the pavilion which the Lions Club has made a big point of confirming that it provided, Craig was across the way, climbing a ladder to an upstairs window like a man conducting an elopement but unromantically with a paint brush in his hand. Like any man eager to be distracted, curiosity got the better and the painting was abandoned and he wandered across to see who we were.

The younger half of the firm. They'll take over when Craig and Wanda retire.
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He watched me struggling to free the cassette and the broken spoke, clearly despaired of a level of ineptitude he would never tolerate in his own workshop, and said helpfully "Got tools and air if you need 'em. And coffee. Be glad to give you a tour of the premises, too."

Craig's business is in a two-storey house, cream with green door and window frames, a central door between two windows, and a third window above the whole lot from which the elopement didn't happen. The front room has been extended into a workshop where pumps begin a new life for people like McDonald's.

Bobby: we spent most of the afternoon putting the world to rights.
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We were joined for coffee by an intelligent, inquiring man called Bobby whose life had also proved sufficiently undemanding that we couldn't be resisted as a counter-attraction. We had already discussed history, Indians, the war and the state of the world and we were nowhere near through. It was some time during coffee that Wanda and Bobby - a former chef- decided they were going to prepare dinner for us on the barbecue stands beneath the pavilion.

CRAIG IS 58. He plays bass in a bluegrass band with an immigrant from the Isle of Wight, just off southern England, who Craig says is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's fastest banjo player. The two get on well but they don't get much chance to fall out because the banjo star's English accent often proves impenetrable and Craig has no idea what he's on about. But with talent like that...

"I thought I could play banjo until I heard this guy," Craig said. He is a stocky, practical man, Craig, modest, quietly spoken, working

Richwood post office... a museum in action.
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Richwood post office: old fittings, an ancient calendar - and leeches in the tank.
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towards retirement. He and Wanda live a few miles out of the village, along the Northern Tier route, in a farmhouse by the lake. "I collect musical instruments," Craig says. "Wife says I got far too many of them." He shrugs nonchalantly but in a way that suggests the instruments will stay for as long as he remains boss in the house.

Wanda's family are from North Dakota. She and Craig lived in California until they could stand the crowds, the laws and the cost no longer. Twenty years ago a customer - Craig was a salesman then - offered to sell him his pump-cleaning business. It was the perfect deal between friends, much of the cost to be paid out of the profits over three years and with no interest.

"He even taught me the job," Craig says in appreciation. "We did it all just on a handshake with no hassle." Then the desire to leave California became

No call for window-cleaners at Riceville town hall.
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irresistible and Craig and Wanda moved to western Minnesota, as close to North Dakota as available business space would permit.

"We see a lot of cyclists through here," Craig said, "but I'd never realised why." Under the canopy and then over coffee we looked over the Northern Tier maps and we explained the philosophy behind them. Craig's son, John, looked interested. Like the rest of the family, he is a Harley-Davidson fan. "Be more interesting than riding the interstates."

"Don't you dare!" I said. "You think we want a load of noisy hooligans like you spoiling the peace of the countryside." I smiled and he smiled and he handed back the maps.

Craig admits his motorbike is noisy. He said a pack of Harley riders doesn't pass unnoticed - "people often stand and wave as we ride by" - and that "there's a certain fun in setting off someone's car alarm by blipping the motor right next to it." Noise, he agreed, was part of the Harley culture.

That evening we ate outdoors, Craig and Wanda, Bobby and his wife Jess, Nick who is Craig and Wanda's lodger, Steph and I, a couple of adult passers-by and several half-identified children who all insisted their mothers knew where they were. It was a wonderful evening, one of those events that makes a ride, makes a life. We parted friends and I'm sure that's just how we'll stay.

Lovely people.

AMERICAN FLAGS SEEN: 13

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