The Road to Autumn
Day 79: August 20, 2002
I am traveling north to Grand Rapids, Minnesota. One of the first towns I cycle through is Scandia, the first Swedish settlement in Minnesota founded in 1850.
The roads are flatter now, though I am not in the "high plains" as I had imagined I would be coming into as I crossed the Mississippi. I'm cycling through flatter terrain with rolling hills. The forest here seems less tame as it gets lighter and lighter. I pass through primarily rural land of soybean, corn, and sun flower, as well as horse farms.
I have taken shelter in a park in the City of Isle, population 500. A kind lady on the outskirts of town refilled my water bottles. She warned me of major thunderstorms that were about to strike the area as we watched them roll in from the west. I asked her if it was true that mosquitoes were the unofficial state bird of Minnesota. She laughed and said yes. I ask also if my eyes are deceiving me, for I have seen red and yellow leaves on occasion. Yes, it is already beginning to change color she tells me.
Already, signs of autumn are here, and not just because of red and yellow leaves rustling in the wind. Town billboards proclaim "Hooray! School Starts Soon!" and many a football field is a flurry with players drilling, hitting, tackling, catching, and getting ready for the new season. Even as I pulled into Isle and the sky was dark with thunderclouds, I could hear in the windy distance a football coach's whistle.
Where the Yellow Brick Road Begins
Day 81: Aug. 22, 2002
It has been a very long time since I've had a haircut. The last was in May before my bike trip. So as I pass through Grand Rapids, Minnesota and I see the red, white and blue barber pole out of the corner of my eye I hang a sharp right and park my bike.
Frank Gambill tells me that he has room for me on his barber chair. They see my bike and uniform and want to know about my bike trip. After sitting down and telling them my tale, one of the other barbers makes a phone call. He gets off and says, "I hope you don't mind, but I just called the Herald-Review." Whoa! I'm going to get interviewed.
The barbers tell me Grand Rapids's claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Judy Garland who played Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz. Every year the town has a parade in which surviving Munchkins march down main street Grand Rapids.
As Frank finishes my direly needed haircut, Beth Rily walks in and interviews me. It is my first interview and I'm totally flattered. After a brief Q and A session and some pictures she takes off. I have mixed feelings. I didn't get a chance to interview the interviewer.
At night I camp on the shores of Lake Winnibigoshish, which means "Muddy Waters" in Ojibwa. The lake is on Leech Lake Indian Reservation just past a town called Ball Club. As I ride the final miles to my campsite, teenage Indians fly by in ragged automobiles blasting busta-cap ghetto rap.
Mosquito raiders pillage my flesh as I set up my tent as fast as I can. The words, "West Nile Virus" creep through my mind as I flutter my eyes to keep the mosquitoes away. I try to kick them off my legs as I use both my hands to slide the tent poles through their flaps and hooks. I feel their injecting needle-mouths one, two, and then three upon my leg, and then my arms, and then my neck. The all-natural lemon grass mosquito repellant isn't quite up to the job. I fall asleep to the sound of mosquitoes laying siege upon my nylon tent.