The day after Memorial Day, Caroline rode with us for the first leg of the day – less than 20 miles north, over the border into Minnesota. The sun shone bright & warm when we left Okoboji, but clouds crept up on us. The skies cooled and the winds simmered. We didn’t push ourselves hard, so Caroline could ride comfortably. It wasn’t all too hilly, but it wasn’t long before she started breathing heavy and probably started thinking about when to turn around. Shortly after she took our picture at the Minnesota border, the winds started pushing us, but not from behind. She bid her farewell, visibly tired, and hopefully not too regretful that she rode with us at all. She still thinks we’re an inspiration, but probably thinks we’re a little bit out of our minds, too. That’s ok. We get that a lot. It was fun to have someone else to ride with for a little bit. We hope you got home ok, Caroline!

If it was any difficulty for her getting to where she got, she at least had the benefit of the winds on her way back. It didn’t work so much in our favor. Giant windmills pointed the same direction we were headed, spinning quickly for the same reason we were spinning so slow. These days seemed to take forever, battling the invisible, unforgivable wind. Thousands of acres on either side of the road grew sprouts of corn stalks like enormous double-chocolate brownies lighly dusted with green mint sprinkles. Maybe I’m just hungry. We had aimed for Redwood falls, but fell twenty miles short, in the town of Springfield. Checking the weather and the route, we realized it was reasonable to spend the night there. The public library’s computers wouldn’t let us (or anyone for that matter) update our blog, otherwise we would’ve updated from there. (Also, you couldn’t check facebook or any online dating sites or anything.)

In Springfield, I had the Simpson’s theme song stuck in my head all day and we finally had Broasted Chicken (delicious!), plus “Jimmy’s Stuffed French Toast” for breakfast. When I asked what exactly “Jimmy’s Stuffed French Toast” was, the waitress’s eyes glittered and behind a broad smile, she described two pieces of french toast with two sausage patties crammed between them, smothered in melting american cheese. Watching her wander off into an epicurian delight, I pointed out the obvious – “You love it, don’t you?” “Ooh, I doo. I doo.” Andy & I both ordered plates, his with hash browns. “I’ve only seen one person finish the whole plate WITH hash-browns.” Andy, of course, would have no problem with this. “Do you want regular or sugar-free syrup with that?” “Sugar Free?” “We’ve got a lot of old people here”. It was true, just by looking at the table of men next to us playing some morning blackjack. Also, the waitress at The Outlaw Bar & Grill the previous night had told us that there were 22 funerals a few weeks ago. (She writes obituaries for the local newspaper). On the other hand, there were 17 weddings in the same week. Life goes on.

Through this whole state so far, we’d taken county roads that skirted towns from far enough of a distance that we thought we weren’t passing them, keeping us under the impression that we were still in the middle of nowhere. After leaving Arone’s Mom’s place in Spicer, on the edge of Green Lake, we couldn’t avoid the fact that we were leaving nowhere behind us. There was a time when it was 30 or 40 miles before we’d pass towns of a few dozen, with not even a dirt road turning off into the horizon. Gradually, since we turned north out of Iowa, we’ve started passing towns of several hundred (and those are the small ones) every five or six miles. It used to be five or six miles to the next *ranch*. Now, water towers grew on the horizon at every turn. The turns are still minimal (lots of long, straight roads), but the gas stations are much more frequent.

Sue, Ken, Andy, Quinn. Arone Dyer's Mom! Arone put Ken & Quinn's bikes together.

Sue, Ken, Andy, Quinn. Arone Dyer's Mom! Arone put Ken & Quinn's bikes together.

Our first stop out of the middle of nowhere was Litchfield. After five days of fighting headwinds over great distances, we anticipated two moderate days with hopefully decent weather, but had greatly overestimated the distance to Minneapolis – only 93 miles instead of the 150 we thought it was. That was a long one day trip, but it put us too far ahead of schedule. Again. We had bright skies and light winds at our backs. Splitting up those two days was going to be so easy it was almost boring.

We stopped in Litchfield for the lunch of sandwiches Ms. Dyer packed for us. Very nicely manicured lawns around here. I spotted the mailman across the street and dropped off a handful of postcards with him instead of trying to find a mailbox somewhere. The two of us probably gave a little yappy dog the moment of a lifetime – it didn’t know which one of us to chase.

Up until now, it was usually another few dozen miles until we found anything remotely interesting. And sometimes those things just turned out to be intersections – which were pretty damn disappointing – like the time in Wyoming we hoped there was a gas station for us to wait out the Witch of Jeffrey City’s thunderstorm that was chasing us. Today though, there was a gigantic ball of twine only 6 miles from Litchfield! And this was a whole new TOWN!

Ball of Twine. Big.

Ball of Twine. Big.

The biggest ball of twine in the world MADE BY *ONE* MAN.

The biggest ball of twine in the world MADE BY *ONE* MAN.

I’ve wanted to see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota since my childhood, when the cult hit “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” by Weird Al Yankovic topped some sort of chart somewhere. Most people had told us not to bother, it wasn’t worth it. I was prepared not to be impressed. I mean, it is just a giant ball of string, afterall. How impressive can that be? Frankly, I like preparing myself for disappointment. For example, most slackjaw-inducing movies I see, I expect to suck. That way, I tend to like them more when I see them. The biggest ball of twine in Minnesota? It was impressive. Totally worth the stop. Also, we could afford the stop. Today’s 50 mile ride was like a ride around Central Park. We hit up some bars. One of the two in Darwin, MN had no one in it but the bartender, and he wasn’t very chatty. The few words he did utter came from a gruff, minimalist voice that only speaks to you if it has to. It would’ve been an gutteral experience talking to this hard-boiled guy except that he didn’t say a single word to us. It was pretty weird.

6 miles of not-so-much-desolation later, we hit the town of Dassel, population 1,000 or so. The guy working the museum at the Biggest Ball of Twine way back in Darwin recommended we stay near the lake there. We might’ve found a different lake. There are 10,000 in this state, apparently. It didn’t look like there was much room for camping, but we asked a guy clearing the brush from his lawn where we might set up a tent. “Well, you can go right back there on my property, if you want. There are bathrooms in the park across the street.” Ralph Anderson was his name. He’d lived there for 40 years, on Long Lake, a tanned & ripped 62 year old man. After we set up in the bright afternoon sun and started working off our farmer’s tans under the hot sun, reading our books and relaxing by the rippling water, he came up & offered us some ice cream, popcorn & drinks, and showed us where the bathrooms in his house were.

It rained during the night, cooling the air off enough so that I got back into my sleeping bag, the mosquitos driven away by the less-than-favorable temperature. In the morning, we rode to the “Latte Da” coffeeshop back in town. We’re consistently reminded of what “Minnesota Nice” really means. When the lady working the counter at Latte Da spilled a whole bag of coffee grounds on the tiled floor, she let out a huge “Oh, SHOOT!”. The table of ladies next to us all rose in chorus “oohhhh, shoot! Ah, darn.” Even though Minnesota punished us with winds & weather for two days, we’re starting to forgive it now.