This becomes more of an adventure every day.  I don't know if the people are more friendly and trusting out here in corn and soybean land, if they're simply more impressed with how far we've biked and therefore feel obligated to accommodate us or if we're just getting super lucky.  As I've mentioned before, it's significantly more difficult to find camping outside of the mountains and therefore we've become very good at and comfortable with asking random strangers for places to camp.  Knock on wood, but we have yet to be turned down by the first person we ask.  Here's our last 3 nights accommodations which have left us absolutely astonished and speechless.

Tuesday - Kendallville, IN.  I was in the grocery store buying dinner for the night while Mike stayed outside with our bikes.  As I checked out, a man in front of me in line said, "Are you Cheryl?"  No, I replied thinking I must look like someone he knows; this happens to me regularly.  "Well I'm Phil and you're staying at my place tonight."  What???  Confused, I stuttered and wondered what he was talking about but he quickly followed up by telling me he had just talked to Mike outside and he already had directions to the house.  Well, great!  So much for having to search for a campground.

When we arrived, we found ourselves at an old, historic mansion taking hot showers, being waited on for dinner, with a place to sleep on their living room floor and hanging out with Phil's entire family.  I've never seen someone so proud to meet us, telling us over and over that we made his day.  Phil had never seen people touring on bikes before, was enthralled with our story and immediately called his local newspaper to schedule an interview for the next morning saying we were, "the story of the year!"  I don't know about that.  We're just doing what makes us happy, but we let him go with it.

The next morning Phil proudly marched us down to the newspaper for our interview, hugged us good-bye and sent us out to breakfast at his favorite restaurant, compliments of him, on our way out of town. 
Mike, Phil & Cari outside the newspaper office in Kendallville, IN.

Wednesday - Napoleon, OH.  As we pulled into town Mike stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom while I stayed in the parking lot and chatted with a family.  I discovered they were locals and asked if they knew of a place to camp.  After a moment's thought, the guy, Rick, replied that he couldn't think of any campgrounds but his parents own a cottage down by the river and we could camp there.  We followed their truck through town to the river having to full-out sprint to keep up.  We used to race bikes and were used to riding at that intensity but on this trip it's a leisurely pace and it was a lot of work to keep up for those 3 miles!

Upon arrival, Rick called his parents to okay our camping there while we talked to his 2 kids and wife, Chris, who made sure to point out there was a camera on the property.  In other words, that was her way of letting us know that even though we claimed we could be trusted, they'd catch us if we weren't.  I could tell by the tone of the phone conversation that Rick's parents weren't too keen on the idea of letting a couple of strangers stay on their property so Rick invited them down to meet us.  Within minutes, not only were his parents, Art and Cathy, there but also his brother and nephew.  It felt like we were in the middle of the Smith family reunion.

It didn't take long for Art and Cathy to realize we were harmless so they invited us to stay inside the cottage, use the shower, drink the soda in the fridge and use their fishing poles to go fishing that night instead of sleeping in the lawn.  What a score, especially since we knew it was supposed to storm that night.  

We all hung out by the river and chatted for a while and less than 10 minutes after they all left, Art returned with a 6-pack of beer for us saying he felt bad for not having any cold ones in the fridge, some money to go out for breakfast the next morning and an invitation to stay for as long as we wanted because no one hardly uses that cottage anyway.  Mike was delighted to have an hour of daylight to fish that night, caught a fish and again we fell asleep feeling thankful for the generosity of strangers.
Art & Cathy's cottage along the Maumee River.  Napoleon, OH.
Our home for a night.

Thursday - Sandusky, OH.  As it got late in the day we found ourselves between 2 fairly large cities which generally means no campgrounds, other than hotels, and a lot lower concentration of people who are willing to trust and take in a couple of vagabonds for a night.  We eventually spotted a hide-out to pitch our tent along the highway and although it wasn't very nice, it would suffice for the night.

It had been a hot day of riding so Mike went across the road where there was a little market to buy us cold drinks before we set up camp.  He got there and found it was closed but noticed a man sitting on his front porch a couple of houses down.  Figuring he should go say hello so as not to look so suspicious, Mike found himself asking about camping and the man, Harold, offering his back yard.  He came and got me and by the time we were to the front door, it was open and we had a bed, shower, laundry and permission to eat anything in their fridge our little hearts desired.  He showed us his workshop and the wagon he built a few years back - his pride and joy.  We were genuinely impressed and became fast friends.

The house was ours for the night; he and his wife actually lived next door.  After our quick tour Harold said we better go meet his wife and that he'd, "surely catch hell for this!"  Seconds after we stepped out of the door his wife, Shirley, appeared from across the lawn.  Names were exchanged but before any questions were asked Shirley made sure to let us know she was not yet completely trusting of us by pulling out a palm-sized miniature pistol from her pocket.  "I came prepared.  Harold was over here by himself and I wasn't sure what was going on" she said with a wink.  I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry.  We look so innocent and the thought that someone would think we'd do any harm was amusing to me. They proceeded to show us their 2 huge dogs - as if the presence of guns wasn't enough to ensure we'd remain true to our word that we were trustworthy!

They left us to ourselves for the night and we enjoyed a night of comfort, luxury and sleeping in a bed for the first time in 2 weeks.  While we were packing up this morning Harold knocked on our door saying he'd pick us up in 20 minutes to take us to a local restaurant they frequent so we could have a good, big breakfast before we took off.  Our morning was spent talking of guns, gambling and traveling and we were once again invited to stay an extra day to relax and rest.  As much as we thoroughly enjoyed their company and would have loved to stay, we had already scheduled a rest day for tomorrow and had to catch a ferry this evening, so unfortunately it didn't work out.

They sent us on our way making sure we were wearing our brightest clothing so we'd be safe, making us promise to keep in touch so they know we're okay and asking if we'd meet them in Las Vegas (their favorite place) once we're back in California.  I think we just found ourselves another set of grandparents!
Mike, Shirley, Harold & Cari in front of the house we stayed in.  Sandusky, OH.

All in all I'm baffled at how easy it's been for us to be accepted into the lives of people we encounter.  I love it, embrace their stories, lives, generosity and hope we continue to have such luck - it's things like this that make this adventure so much more than just a bike ride.  And one thing is for sure - we're going to have an awful lot of good karma to pay back once we finish this trip!



I'm sure I've said this a million times and I'm sure I'll say it a million more times before the end of this trip, but I absolutely love the people we've met along the way, the way we've been treated and the pure randomness of it all.  Illinois was full of wonderful people, some well-known friends and others perfect strangers.  Our night in Lexington was one of those times when we crossed paths with some people who brought smiles to our faces and reminded us of the pure goodness and generosity that can be found in the hearts of so many.  That night we decided to step out of our routine of cooking at camp and stopped at The Filling Station Restaurant instead.  We rolled up at the same time as John and JoAnn who were out celebrating a birthday with some relatives, Willie and Edna Marie.  Pulling up anywhere on a bike loaded with bags is an immediate conversation-starter and I laugh at how we can go from being bombarded with questions when we stop at one place, but then change out of our cycling clothes, lock up our bikes somewhere and walk into another place and be nothing more than a couple living down the street with whom people wouldn't even consider striking up a random conversation because there's no longer anything unique about us.

Anyway, we had several short conversations from across the restaurant over dinner and when it was time to pay our bill, we found ourselves receiving hugs from our new acquaintances who had already taken care of it.  In addition, Willie and Edna Marie offered us a shower and a place to camp behind their truck stop.  It doesn't sound that glamorous, (which it wasn't), but it was unique and interesting and they were the cutest, kindest 80-something-year olds ever.  Edna Marie fretted about trying to clean up the bathroom and shower to make it acceptable for us while I tried to convince her we don't mind dirty (heck, we live outside).  At the same time, Willie, who had been a trucker on Route 66 for about a million years, eagerly and proudly wanted to show us around his shop and all of his collections and memorabilia in a 5-minute time span before he had to get back to work and haul a few more loads that night.  They bickered at each other continuously, each fighting to win our attention so they could tell their stories - it was adorable how we could see their love for each other amongst their petty quarrellings - they were adorable!
Inside Willie's truck stop.

Willie's Hall of Fame Trucking plaque.

Our whirlwind tour of their life ended as quickly as it started when Willie energetically hopped up into his rig with a monstrous smile on his face saying, "Gotta get back to work!  I'm 86 years old kids - can't stop now!"  I've never seen anyone love their job as much as Willie.

After they left the shop we spent hours looking at their displays of not only trucking stuff but also mementos hung on the walls marking their long life together.  We were reminded of Mike's Grandpa who has a garage full of random things he's been collecting forever.  To most anyone, it's a bunch of junk that's nothing more than interesting to look at, but to him, it's his treasures, his life.  Willie was the same way and we loved it!

Our other fond memory from Illinois was the few days we spent at Stephanie and Ethan's house - some friends who used to live near us in California.  Our days were occupied playing with their adorable 1-year old, Addie, going for walks, attending a U of I football game, chatting and laughing just like the good ole days.  It is so special to see familiar faces while we're traveling because it allows us to talk to people who really know us instead of only strangers with whom we never get beyond the small talk.  It was, once again, hard to say good-bye, especially because this was our last "for sure" stop in the US.  We both know people on the east coast, but our route is not yet set in stone due to uncertainties in the weather.  We hope to get to see some of those folks, but if the weather doesn't remain nice we might make a mad dash for Florida and fly to a warmer climate.
Addie in her swing.

Mike, Cari, Steph, Ethan & Addie at the Illinois football game.

Mike, Addie, Steph, Ethan & Cari.



We had excellent luck with Mike's broken bike.  Monday morning we were waiting on the doorstep of Momentum Bikes in Platteville, WI a half hour before they opened, just as the owner, Tim, was pulling up.  He let us in early and immediately went to work on the bike, luckily having everything we needed for a fast repair.  We were back on the road in no time and got to enjoy a full day of riding in southwestern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois - a spectacularly forested and "mountainous" area of the Mississippi River valley.
View of the Mississippi just outside of Savanna, IL.

Over the course of this trip  we have met hundreds of people who have given us their contact info saying that if we're ever in their area to call and we'll have a place to stay for a night.  Last night was the first time one of those offers actually matched up with our route, which was fun.  I called Keith and Anne when we realized we'd be coming through and I think they were more than a little surprised when they got my call saying, "Hey...remember us?  We met a month ago and you gave us your number a..."  We met way back when we were waiting out a storm in Scenic, SD during the Sturgis Bike Rally and it was great seeing them again and meeting their family....just another awesome aspect of traveling the country on bikes.

We are now in the heart of Illinois enjoying cornfields and more cornfields.  That's pretty much all that's out here so there's not much to stop and look at which means we're putting in big miles every day.  It makes us feel like we're really making some progress and it looks like we should be arriving on the east coast within the next month...definitely before the snow!
Mike riding through corn fields.



Once we left my family's house in Minnesota we made our way down to Decorah, IA so I could take Mike on a quick tour of my Alma Mater, Luther College.  It is in a beautiful area with rolling hills and lots of trees, 2 things I had been missing since we got out of the mountains.  But boy did I feel old rolling through campus - it has only been 8 years but it feels like an eternity since I lived there.  The tour was short and uneventful as the 2 people I know on campus were not around, so we had a picnic and kept on cruising through the Amish Country of northeastern Iowa.  Here we encountered many horse-drawn buggies carrying people who refused to wave at us and got chased by dogs.  There was one dog who took off after me, barking like mad.  I saw him as I approached so sped up and sprinted past before he could catch me.  However, Mike was coming behind me, saw it all playing out and still had to get past.  He, too, picked up speed, but as he got to the dog he found him still barking after me as I went down the road, totally unaware that Mike was coming.  As Mike went by he let out his loudest and meanest dog bark he could, totally caught the dog off guard and frightened him out of his skin.  He jumped in terror and Mike made it by unscathed, laughing all the while.

We had originally planned to ride for several days through Iowa as we made our way down to some friends' house in Illinois, but all I have to say about bike touring in Iowa is, to put it nicely, it sucks!  We took several detours and altered our desired route in search of good roads, but all we ever found were busy roads with absolutely no paved shoulders that were super bumpy, which was really painful on our already bruised bums.  After a mere 100 miles or so we decided to give Wisconsin roads a try (and Mike had been saying he wanted to go Wisconsin ever since we got to Minnesota), so we crossed the mighty Mississippi on our now rickety bikes and were adequately pleased with what we found on the other side of the river.
Crossing the Mississippi.

Smooth roads, big shoulders, lots of hills...and cheese curds!  Cheese is one of our staples so we're loving that we're riding through the cheese capital of the world.  All was going well and we were enjoying our short detour through Wisconsin until today.  Disaster struck 30 miles into our ride, near the town of Platteville.  I had made it up the monster hill into town, but when I turned and looked back, there was no sign of Mike.  I waited 10 minutes thinking maybe he had stopped to go to the bathroom, fill water bottles or fix a flat, hoping that he'd soon pop around a turn in the road where I could see him and not have to ride back down (and ultimately back up) that big hill again.  Just as I began to get really worried and was getting back on my bike, a car pulled up alongside me telling me Mike was totally broken down a few miles back.  I stashed my bike behind some buildings and the woman in the car, Melissa, kindly drove me back to where Mike was stranded on the side of the road.  There he was with a mangled rear derailleur, several broken spokes and a bike that was unrideable and unfixable without some new parts.  We proceeded to stash Mike's bike in some bushes along the highway and Melissa transported us to her friend's house who had a van and was willing to pick up both bikes and drop us off at a campground where we could stay tonight and wait for a bike shop to open Monday morning.
Mike and cheese curds.

One broken bike :(

We learned another valuable lesson today - when something on our bikes is acting funny or making noises, fix it immediately.  It's not worth trying to wait until we get to the next town because then stuff like this happens.  We're not positive the sole bike shop in town will have what we need to fix the bike - or if it's even repairable at all (the rear derailleur bracket got severely bent which could be a huge problem), but we were lucky to have it happen near a good-sized town with a bike shop, so at least there's hope.

In the mean time I guess we'll be hanging out around our campfire in the campground in the center of town, drinking beer and hoping things go well tomorrow so we can get back on the road.  Otherwise, we might be staying in Wisconsin for a while longer than expected.
Camping out in Platteville.



Three and-a-half weeks is a long time to stay in one location when living a vagabonding lifestyle, but as we've learned, shit happens, causing plans to change, and we simply have to adjust and deal with it.  Long breaks from riding are bad for many reasons and although we're ecstatic to be back on the move it was difficult to get going again.

Part of the reason was that we quickly and easily fell into the bad habits of sleeping in late, skimping on bike rides, indulging in too much food and all around being lazy.  When it came time to leave we found it difficult to get up and going in the mornings and we're pretty much back to square one when it comes to physically adjusting to 6-10 hours on a bike every day.  Needless to say, our backs, necks and rear ends are not very happy right now!  But the thing that made it hardest to leave was saying good-bye to my family, just as it was when we had to leave family and friends when we originally left home in California 3 months ago.  I don't get to see them often, especially all together, and it seems as though the longer I'm home the harder it is to leave.  As my Dad hugged me good-bye, he thought it might be a good idea to hug me so hard he's break one of my ribs so we'd have to stay longer.  Obviously he didn't, but when we see people we know and love it reminds us of how much we miss our friends and family while we're out here.  Just so you all know, we have many, many hours to sit and think every day and thoughts of you all fill up much of that time.

Anyway we're back on the move and are quickly cruising across southern Minnesota.  It seems as though while we were occupied at my family's house, summer moved out and autumn began to creep around the corner.  I'm still hoping for a few more hot days with balmy mornings where it's comfortable to ride all day in shorts and a tank top, but I have a feeling I might not get my wish.  Suddenly there's a crispness in the air which makes for beautiful and comfortable riding in the afternoons, but mornings and nights are cold and damp.  Gone, too, are the brilliant green fields of corn and soybeans that were so visually pleasing when we arrived in Minnesota.  They have since turned to dull shades of greens, yellows and browns and are nearly ready for harvesting.  The landscape is not nearly as stunning as it was before, but sill beautiful in a different way.
Signs of Fall.

In the corn field.
So I guess the race is on to get to the East Coast before snow flies.  This morning we awoke to a cold and rainy day and we're sitting in our tent wishing it would stop and the sun would come out.  We know it won't happen, but it's not easy to motivate ourselves to get out of our warm, dry shelter and venture into the crumminess.  Summer...please come back!