June 5: Cambridge to Muscatine, Iowa - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 5: Cambridge to Muscatine, Iowa

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WE HAVE REACHED the Mississippi. We have until now seen it just once, on a short visit to New Orleans. Two things happened that day. The first was that we noticed that the Mississippi near its mouth is wider than the Seine through Paris. The other is that Steph, overwhelmed by the unfailing enthusiasm of Americans, covered her face with her hands and moaned: "Oh, stop being so fucking cheerful!"

Things I have found out about the Mississippi:

[] It is 2,552 miles long

[] It descends 1,475 feet

[] Only the Nile, Amazon and Yangtze are longer than the Mississippi-Missouri system

[] Four million people drink water drawn from the river

Mark Twain used to work for the local paper in Muscatine. He called the area "the true sunset land" and the town has made the most of it ever since, adopting a sunset as its emblem. Twain said: "I am sure no other country can show so good a right to the name. The sunrises are also said to be exceedingly fine. I do not know."

Over the Mississippi and into Muscatine
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The town engraved his words and placed them overlooking the river at the sadly named Mark Twain Overlook. They have been taken down because of vandalism, the unappealing triangle of grass and a single flagpole overlooking the river, bridge and a shedlike factory that obscures most of the finer parts of town, is less than a cultural treat. Everything is chained to the ground.

It began raining at dawn today and it continued raining all morning. Attracted by coffee, or the thought of it, we asked directions in the small town of Orion, pronounced Or-Ree-On. "Waahl," said a man we marooned in the rain between his car and his house, "let me see now. I reckon the only place you could walk in would be Subway. And that's down on the hard road."

There are two points there. The first is that drive-in this, that and everything else is so common in America that this man was pushed to think where anyone might get a coffee without a car. The second is that use of "hard road". He meant the principle road that ran beside the village. How far did that go back? To the days, certainly, when that would have been the only surfaced road in the area. And surfaced, probably, not as now but with heaped and pounded stone that jolted the backsides off people driving carriages.

A view Steph is getting used to (and appreciating!) (Leo adds: Steph wrote that caption. I think the appreciation is of shelter from the wind, not of my bum...)
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This wasn't a day to celebrate. The coffee, in a gas station rather than Subway, was of homeopathic strength and drunk standing up. Then I broke a spoke. Rear wheel, of course, drive side. On the porch of an obliging woman's home - "Do I mind? Certainly not. I think it's rather exciting!" - I struggled with the cassette tool and chain whip I have carried for years without ever needing. And would the wretched thing shift? No, it wouldn't.

Fast forward a lot of despair and struggle here until we get to the point where I have indeed replaced a spoke but not managed to get all the wobble out of the wheel. There is a bike shop in Muscatine. The job will be entrusted to them. On Monday. This is Saturday and we can't get to them before closing time at 4. On Sunday we are all having a rest. Then the working week will restart for them and our ride north towards the Canadian border and along the Mississippi valley will start for us.

Downtown Muscatine
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CURIOSITY OF THE DAY: An old guy in blue overalls and with a whiskery chin struck up a conversation in the cafe in Sherrard. When I mentioned the question of dragits, he said: "Well I'll be darned if you're not the second person to ask me today. But, like I sayd, tha's maybe too early. Or not the season, anyhows."


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