"Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there". "Where we going man?" "I don't know but we gotta go" - Jack Kerouac, On the Road -

Saturday, August 17, 2013

DAY 11: In the land of the Sioux

Webster City, Ia - Sioux City, Ia: 144 miles. Total: 1339

I saddle up and I am on my way, very glad to leave this sordid motel behind. The temperature of 55F begins to cast some serious doubt as to the appropriateness of my clothing. The rush of cool air wakes me up in an instant and my skin wrinkles up in goose bumps from the low temperature. Brrrr! I set a fast pace hoping the sun will warm me up soon. The first 40 miles today are a total bliss, the road is perfectly smooth and traffic very light. I ride through Fort Dodge and I don't even stop. I pass through a number of tiny villages that hide among a group of trees, I remember Knoke, population: 14. A few houses, most of them abandoned and an old man who is scrutinizing his lawn from his porch hardly turns his head when I pass. I hit 60 miles by noon having stopped only once to sip water and eat two bananas, this is going well. The road in front of me looks flat, but it actually rises very subtly and steadily. Green grass runs on both sides of the road, and then beyond it as far as the eye can see a stretch thousands and thousands of acres of fields and absolutely nothing else. Further west, groups of trees rise periodically from the sea of green marking the location of small farm houses. The hugeness and the vastness of the country that surrounds me are incredibly beautiful, overwhelming, humbling. As the miles fly past I feel stronger and stronger and I can't get enough of this scenery. The world around me turns still and peaceful when I stop—I hear only the sounds of crickets, a few birds, and a couple of deers that run off in the distance the moment I stop to stare back at them. Life is pretty good and I feel relatively well, considering the miles I have in my body. When I reach the town of Nemaha I count maybe fifteen houses still being lived in. Off to the side of the road, at what used to be the center of the town, in the shade of a group of trees and near a couple of wooden benches without the back planks, I come across a little slice of Americana, an old wooden gas station, which if it wasn't for the gasoline standings could be mistaken for a shack or an old coffee house. The white paint has totally peeled off and grass is growing among the cracks on its floor. This is the world I was expecting to see. Middle Americana at its purest.
But part two of this day 11 begins in a different fashion. As I take highway 20 the wind picks up in an instant and my life is made miserable. The shoulder is a 10 ft wide space of gravel with huge stones in it, this is useless, they don't build roads for cyclists around here I am thinking. I have no choice but to share the lane with cars and trucks who seem to be in quite a hurry. I check out the gps on my phone and I find an alternative route which runs parallel to the highway, more or less that is. It will add miles to my day but my life is worth more than a few extra miles. Tricky surface again though, the road is covered with three-inch-wide black lines that snake in all directions and patch the cracks in the road that come from the blazing hot summers and terribly cold winters. Every 50 feet I pass over one of the patches and it shakes the bike and quietly rattles the front bag. I am expecting my tires to blow up any minute. At times it is a total mess and my body bobs up and down on the saddle and God knows what the bike would say if it could talk. I know what I am saying and I say it loud and clear as my mouth emits obscenities that I didn't know I had in me. Lots of wind, lots' of swearing and lots of empty fields fill my afternoon ride. This detour does not hit any town so for at least fifty miles I ride though rural Iowa away from civilization. The wind must be at least 10-15mph blowing straight from the west and the farther I travel the hillier the terrain gets. What else? My body is by now accustomed to the pain radiating from my knees, my ass, my back, my toes, my fingers, it is not sharp pain but more a general discomfort the moment the road top is messy. By the time I pass 100 miles the ride turns into a grind and while in the morning I powered through the miles now my eyes are glued to my odometer and every 100 yard is a struggle. and a conquest My lips go totally dry because of the wind and copious amounts of balm won't do a thing against it. The solitary road runs through a couple of nowhere towns that don't have absolutely anything to offer. Abandoned houses and an empty disused diner are the main attractions. I'm not hungry but I'm thirsty and by now I only have a half water bottle, the wind makes my throat burn. And I burn for water. Oh water, what would I be without it?! The irony is that my cause supports the availability and access to it and now I know what it feels to go without. The one thing that really gives me joy is the scenery, the hills are green and covered with trees and surge and drop abruptly into lush valleys where I see narrow streams running quietly. If it wasn't for the gusty wind, the crappy road condition and the constant thirst I would love this ride. The route that I have found is certainly a war zone as far as road quality goes but there are no cars in sight so I can ride in the middle of it. I dodge the cracks and fillings that stick out from the road top dodging these deadly traps like a skier on a slope but regardless of my effort the bike takes serious punishment, some of the roads I travel on today are the worst I have seen. I'm surprised the tires look as good as they do, I'm surprised my bike is holding up so well, over 1300 miles and no mechanical issue thus far. Let's keep quiet about that, I don't want to jinx it. My ass takes some punishment as well, the constant bouncing up and down gets the best of my padded shorts. However, I'm going through the phase when the blisters have dried up and my skin is ready for another twenty days of this. My legs are also sliding into the "zone", in other words, I feel so freaking strong that I wonder what the hell is going on with my body, can it only be adrenaline? Can it be that I'm knocking at the West's gates and I am so excited for that? Is it the fund raising, the cause that has me all fired up that I will continue raising awareness after my adventure? Whatever it is that keeps me going it is working and I hope it will continue. Despite my disagreement with the wind, which I express vocally in uncompromising terms, I manage to focus on the positives and I can't wait to finish the day. As the day draws to its last hours of sunlight, I try to focus all my energies on my destination for the night, an important one: Sioux City. Important for its place in American history and important because it is the last relatively large urban centre before hundreds of miles of lots of prairies and open spaces. This land used to be owned by the Natives Sioux, 'owned' not in the legal sense but in the most natural and human meaning of the word. I reach the town limits past 6 PM after 11 hours of fighting. Today was a mammoth effort, possibly the toughest day of the ride but I made it safely.

I am far away from DC. I am proud of the amount of mileage I am grinding out and when I enter the town my face is a picture of tiredness and happiness, my clothes an image of unashamed dirt but I still pump my fist because today was a big one and I know it. With 140 miles in my legs I am not picky and any place would do. I scour the town for a motel and after a quick ride through the downtown area I decide to go to the Interstate exits; that’s where all the hotels and restaurants are located. Always, like anywhere else in America. I jump in the shower with my clothes on and as I take them off I wash them with a small bar of soap. The next decent size town is Rapid City, at the foothills of the Rockies. The going gets tough now. I am ready.


  1. "Quando il gioco si fa duro" con quel che segue.
    What about una bella seratona davanti alla tivvù in compagnia di due, tre, quattro hamburgers? Oggi è domenica... Tu che puoi...

  2. Excellent progress. The photos bring us all along with you on the journey. The photo of the sign for the level B service road and the following shot of the road show exactly what you are dealing with. Eat well to keep the strength up and be safe.

  3. Spectacular progress and thanks for sharing this epic journey with us! Your passion and physical stamina, plus the eloquent voice with which you blog, continue to awe and inspire the rest of us who might whine about being tired after a mere ten-mile run. Your cheerleaders are here and will carry you to the finish line, Luigi!

  4. I had to peak on the map just to get a sense of how far you rode and I am even more amazed now. You know that once you cross mid-America, it is like stepping into the Twilight Zone, that is, for someone used to metropolitan ways. Friendly bike paths, I think you are asking for too much! While reading today’s journal it sounded as if you were the perfect spokesperson for bike tires (durability), biking gear (wash and go), water (got to have it).

    All kidding aside, it’s good to hear you are having good days, and I mean that in not only the weather aspect, but also your health. Great job Luigi, keep on moving forward…love the photos! mcl