To the edge of town we ride along this winding river, through gnat-filled forests, over bridges that dodge the morning commutes. Breakfast at a familiar diner busy with ribbon-wearing war vets and regulars, then farewells to a buddy who navigates me each year to the start of this tale. Past cows, horses, pigs and more cows, fields of corn, by mailboxes with clever designs. Silos of corn. Roadkill large and small plastered to the asphalt in various stages of morbid decay. American flags abound tell me the wind.
Nighttime thunderstorms cool the air as hungry mosquitoes buzz outside my simple tent. The morning is clear as I pedal over the Chippewa and streams too many to name. By the evening I arrive at the timeless Trempealeau Hotel on the Mississippi as locals with guitars gather for songs, laughs and beers.
I rise with the sun to venture over wetlands forgotten save for the cranes, robins, yellow finches, redwing blackbirds and blue herons. A hundred miles of trail to ride with tunnels, old bridges and rail stations from long ago. Nervous rabbits endlessly scamper across the trail. Through quiet small towns where even the bars seem asleep I pedal.
Camping in Elroy with my sis and her pooches as we eat, drink and marvel at our rain-free luck. One more day on farm roads, climbing then flying down these rolling hills and glens dodging more rain to then but roll into my brother’s crib, not far from where I was born.
I hear trombones and french horns.
Parallel motion like a moose crossing the road.
Earth tilted so that streams can sing and dance.
Strings on a unison line with leaps unknown.
A solo trumpet hands off to a flute.
Octaves call out a forgotten
Blackfoot melody to an open unending sky.
I see Meriwether Lewis in the rear view mirror driving a big rig, horn a blastin’ down Interstate 84. His sidekick Clark riding shotgun. Eyes bloodshot, he pulls a long draw on the flask. Back to the scene, two hundred years in the future as a bird of prey unknown soars high above.
The Columbia Gorge once sang a fine tune. Now it is the never-ending hum of the Interstate and the trains that clamber up and down this geological miracle, shaped by glaciers, volcanos and spastic floods building bridges to the gods.
Fires now burn the hairs that grow like fur on the ranges leaving only gray pointy sticks from once verdant pine. Hike up the canyons, the blackberries now just ripe while the timeless waterfalls wash the modern madness away like cymbals crashing persistent.
July I spent traveling around three regions of the United States primarily by bicycle. The Midwest and the 300 mile ride from Minneapolis to Madison, much on rail-to-trail paths. Glacier Mountain Park and East Glacier to West Glacier. Portland to the Columbia River Gorge. I traveled between regions with an Amtrak Rail Pass ($499) which worked great. You can get your bike on the train ride for $20. Just remember when you get off the train, you get your bike directly from the baggage car not at the baggage terminal!
The writing above is my summary of these travels. I saw some amazing country and met some truly remarkable people.