I had already decided before going to bed that I would finish my ride to Dubuque, road rash or not, but didn’t really know how I would feel when I woke up on Saturday morning with the effects of Friday’s collision and crash. But it was business as usual on the RV as our assembled team went through the now familiar routine of restarting the generator so we could turn on the coffee pot and try to get our eyes open at our standing wake-up hour of 6 a.m. Some of the group had gone into town to listen to a Midwestern band called Nada that lived up to its reputation as one of the hottest bands on the college circuit. Others of us turned in earlier and hoped we had enough gas in our tanks to complete the ride, a mere 47 miles to Dubuque.
People who have never been to Iowa assume that Iowa is just flat, and for the most part it is. But the ride we had in front of us was “hilly” according to my friend Mike and it certainly was all of that. We ate our breakfast in Dyersville at 9 a.m. (roast corn, beef taco and water) and then pushed off to the little town of Graf, which describes itself as a winery town, and could pass for a mountainous town out west with its sheared limestone walls that greeted us as we pulled into town.
Up ahead was the daunting Potter Hill Road that everyone was talking about. It was the reason today’s route was the shortest but no less fearsome that the longest ride. The road above seems to go straight up – it literally runs a mile uphill at a 19 degree elevation and finishes off two-thirds of the riders – including me – who are left to dismount and finish the hill on foot.
Most of the Iowan towns we visited or over-nighted in would not look familiar to those of us from the East Coast because they appear to be frozen in time when there were Five & Dimes and true cooperative banks where the community really owned the banks with their deposits and those deposits financed homes and college educations and local farmers. Our overnight town of Manchester was just such a town where the wide open main street included shoulder-to-shoulder buildings and businesses that were the roots of the community’s life. When the local movie theater announced that it would soon close under the pressure of an aging circa 1935 structure and pressure from cable television and the Internet, the community did not stand back and watch one more institution disappear from their past. Instead, they formed a community group, raised enough money to take over the theater and in 2009 reopened the Castle Theatre to first run movies for a community that wasn’t willing to become the next town to lose one of the jewels in their hometown. These are the same towns that shut down on Friday nights when everyone in town turns out for high school football because there is no better place to be, including the Castle.
After the back-breaking Potter Hill climb, it is a relatively straight shot to Dubuque, though more hills await before we finally dismount. We are now travelling as a pack, having added Jeff, a career Army officer, and John, a Navy submariner, to our daily fold. Dr. Dave, keeping a close eye on his two sons, Sean and Matt, rides easily as his exuberant sons close in on our final destination: the mighty Mississippi River.
At one glorious moment, we are all riding astride: Steve, with sneakers and a low-tech bike proving that it is sometimes not the machine but the man who makes the difference; Dan, the high school auto shop teacher who can fix anything finally donning a Hawaiian shirt along with Mike to demonstrate that style at the finish is as important as the finish itself; and finally Bill, who would break out on his own into Dubuque to meet his brother Jerry, a PhD who joined in for the last two days as our driver because he wanted to be part of something that was rooted in his Midwest experience.
As we arrived in Dubuque and ceremoniously dipped our front tires in the Mississippi, we had finished a journey that began eight days before as an assembled group of people from different backgrounds who became lifelong friends for having shared 440 miles of Iowan roads and the details of our own lives, which became far richer from this experience.