I stayed last night in Lennon Mill Recreation Area on the edge of Panora, IA, and opted to steer clear of the very loud RVers and find a couple good trees in the woods for the hammock. I guess that since I was away from the main camping area it meant I was close to where the deer call home. I didn’t see any signs of it until a bit later in the evening when I made a new friend…
…or so I thought. The deer made its presence known at first visually, but soon it started hissing at me. Since I don’t know the first thing about wildlife antics I did a search on the phone and I guess it was just a signal to others that danger was near. I’m guessing it was a message unreceived, though, because the deer kept coming back and hissing all night long. I didn’t sleep much.
In the morning I headed back into Panora to get some water to start the day, and a small breakfast. Since there was only one restaurant in town that wasn’t open for breakfast it happened at Casey’s General Store, seemingly Iowa’s favorite glorified gas station.
A constant preoccupation as I cross the country is how each region seems to have a catch-all gas station/convenience store chain that dominates. Wawa around Philadelphia and Maryland will always be the queen bee to me, but Sheetz is pretty great too. I’ve seen a couple Kum&Gos since Iowa City, but Casey’s is omnipresent. They make pizzas and freeze dried burgers. Some even deliver. Their prices are high though and I’m looking forward to seeing what chain takes over further west.
If I was a bit groggy at 6am, this guy woke me up a bit as I saw it out of the corner of my eye propping up my bike against the wall:
And then it was southwest towards Harlan, where I anticipated sleeping in Prairie Rose State Park. I would be on US-44 essentially the whole day.
The next town was Guthrie Center, where I took a breather while scratching my head at this giant painted rock and the bench for people to stare at it.
I started early to beat the heat, but it didn’t do me much good. It was in the upper 80s by 8am. Shade is essentially nonexistent for me anymore it seems so when I see a chance to catch a few minutes in it I take it, even if I don’t need to take a break. Today that meant hiding behind a somewhat isolated collection of grain silos…
…With a reminder on the ground of what’s in them. This is Iowa, after all.
The hills were just as unforgiving as they were coming into Des Moines. I handled them slightly better, perhaps because I knew what to expect. But it felt like I kept climbing and hitting mini plateaus before short, fast descents and then doing it all over again. I thought I had my answer when I saw this sign:
But not really. It just indicates that rivers west of the divide flowed into the Missouri and rivers east of it flowed into the Mississippi. After passing it there was still just more of this:
Small towns are starting to get further and further spaced apart, and they’re starting to get more barren. There is almost no commercial activity in them, just a gaggle of beat down houses and junk yards. And occasionally something like this:
Midwest Hard Parts… What’s a “hard part”? But a bit more pressing to me was the “Midwest” misnomer. I definitely don’t feel like I’m in the Midwest anymore. I feel higher up in elevation, people (the few that I see) don’t feel “Midwestern”, and the sky is getting bigger above me:
I continued to sweat and suffer through the hills till I saw Kimbalton, ten miles or so from my intended stopping place.
I had done a quick search and it didn’t seem Prairie Rose had any sort of resources other than a well for water, so I was looking forward to stopping in a place with AC as a respite. But what I got was much more curious and far less comforting:
The post office with a Danish sign?
Clearly I was in some sort of Town the Danes took over way back when, and for the first time in a while I was very curious about a place I was riding through. It was early enough in the afternoon that I decided to stop at the local museum to learn about it:
But like pretty much everything else on Main Street the building was gutted and falling apart. No luck.
I rolled a bit on and found something even weirder:
An elaborate fountain of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Kimbalton really was pushing the Denmark card.
I asked a mother playing with her kids about the nearest convenience store and she told me it was in Elk Horn a few miles down the road. My curiosity had the best of me so I started the detour:
And then stopped and turned back to Route 44. To be blunt I’ve had enough of gravel roads with saw blade-like elevation changes and was far more interested in finishing the day than checking out the town. I moved on toward Harlan.
But I had company. All day, and for a little bit coming into Des Moines two days ago, there have been these black birds with orange tufts on their wings circling above my head, squawking, and making dives down toward me. One actually attacked me and tried to claw at my helmet. I don’t know what kind of bird it is… An oriole? Red winged blackbird? But I’m not a fan. The best picture I could get is here:
That little black speck is one of the little bastards. Yes, it is laughably inadequate, but when they started circling, I started pedaling faster and photos were not the priority.
But 44 moved on, and some locals did some repurposing in the name of signage:
I passed Prairie Rose and opted for Nishna Bend Recreation Area south of Harlan for the night’s stopping place, allowing me to get some AC in the biggest town I’ve been to since Des Moines and also to shave a few miles off the ride into Omaha tomorrow.
There weren’t any camping spots with trees, so I opted for the picnic table shelter to hang my hammock. The wind has been fierce all day, but tonight it turned my hammock into a wind sail:
Tomorrow I ride into Omaha, leaving Iowa behind me once I pass through Council Bluffs. I’m happy such is the case. My week in the state hasn’t been great (with the very notable exceptions of my hosts in Iowa City and Des Moines), and the more I move west, the closer I get to the Rockies, Boulder, and two nights of sublime music and joy. But before that happens, Nebraska, Kansas, and sleep, with the moon as the ultimate nightlight: