June 4: Henry to Cambridge, Illinois - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 4: Henry to Cambridge, Illinois

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ANDY THE OTTER is 19. He looks lively enough but there's no telling how much longer's left. His pal, Oscar, died a couple of years ago when he was 20.

Otters are delightful but not in themselves all that exciting. What makes Andy and the late Oscar unusual is that they slop about in the foyer of a bank.

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There is a big hole in the middle of the banking floor, it is full of water and ottery toys, and Andy flaps about and enjoys himself. A tunnel from the hole leads down to the bank's window at street level but the staff close a gate to stop his using it because, said Thomas Martineau, vice-president of the Union Federal Bank, "he sometimes decides

Thomas Martineau in his secret world of otters
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to stop halfway down the tunnel and when people come in here to see him and he's not here, we say he must be down by the pavement and they go down there and he's not there either and he's stopped in the pipe."

We hadn't asked for anything but be pointed to where the otter might be. What we got was the help of three of the bank's staff and then a long guided tour of the underneath of the bank where once otters and now a single otter spend the night in wire cages and eat "the same meat they feed to lions and tigers in circuses, plus smelts".

"We got the otters from Louisiana back in 1991," Thomas explained. "A former president was fascinated by otters and when the bank was extended and we decided to have a central feature, he said he would acquire a couple of otters. People come from all over to see them, which is strange because we do nothing to promote that they're here, but you're the first people we've seen from France."

Oscar died just before Christmas Day. There was a big piece in the local paper but no town funeral. The bank decided not to replace him and nobody's decided what to do when Andy dies. Meanwhile, "he's getting old and he sleeps a lot," Thomas said, although he looked pretty nimble to us.

Kewanee is the one big town on our route today. "Big" by the standards of other towns we've been in, anyway. It describes itself as hog capital of the world and it used to have half a pig sticking out of a wall to prove it. "Then someone hitched it to the back of his car and drove off down the road with it," a cafe owner told us during a Sticky Bun Opportunity. "Ain't so many haaagz as there was either. Most are over on the other side of town, the way you're going, but they ain't so many these days."

It rained today. The wind has been blowing determinedly from our left but still refuses to turn against us. The countryside is changing at last, too. There have still been stretches of open fields but we have climbed more hills today than since back in Titusville, when we were still in Pennsylvania. Hard to explain to a non-cyclist what joy a hill and a winding road could bring, but it's obvious to us!

Food ... as important as sleep.
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We are camping in a quiet wooded campsite on the edge of town. Extravagant charge: $7

AMERICAN FLAGS SEEN: 196

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