Look out, Iowa, Mom and I have been set loose! We turn our eyes to the Hawkeye state as Chapter 4 officially begins. We have wonderful time with family, a less wonderful time with weather and reach our next song place, Oskaloosa.
Saturday, May 18th, 2019
It was finally here.
So much had happened since my trip went on pause. I had done a frunk-ful of things which were difficult and unfamiliar. Now it was time to get back to things that I know how to do: Riding and Writing. Cruising and Connecting. Leaning and Learning. Shifting and Sharing.
This day would mark the beginning of the final chapter. That alone would be enough to get me thoroughly excited, but adding to my anticipation was the fact that I wouldn’t be setting out on my own.
This photo was hijab well done.
(Yes, niqab or burka is probably more accurate, but the wordplay just wasn’t there….I’m a little rusty on my jokes.)
Mom did really well getting herself packed and almost all of her things fit in one of the side cases. She was ready and rarin’ to go in the morning.
She’s a really good traveler which made preparation a lot easier for me. I didn’t have to explain to her why a hair dryer was not an absolute necessity, nor why 16 pairs of shoes may be a bit on the high side. It did cause her some noticeable distress to leave behind her calendar though:
I was very ill prepared for our departure. Despite staying up late the night before, I still had lots to do. I was trying to finish up what will hopefully be the final version of my sign. It is a tedious process, as it is merely comprised of six sheets of paper and a copious amount of packing tape. I have very little margin for error where the pages overlap.
I also had to finish a few cosmetic additions, which included the mounting of my very own “Unsportsmanlike Conduct Jesus” which I picked up in Rio.
It was after lunch, but I was finally ready to head out. Throw up the 4s, Mom, this is where the final chapter begins.
I just love this video:
Our start was a bit inauspicious. My right hand guard fell off in the driveway and the nut securing Sonic’s hips came loose and almost sent his left leg flying. We found our stride though, and soon began enjoying the ride through the rolling hills of eastern Nebraska.
Our goal for the day was to reach the home of my cousin who lives just outside of Des Moines. I felt that this was a safe distance for Mom’s first day on the road. Long distance riding is something completely new to her. I didn’t want her to start hating it quite yet. 🙂
With our crossing of the Missouri River at Decatur, Mom officially became an inter-state motorcyclist.
Mom really seemed to be embracing the rebel biker mentality…maybe a bit too enthusiastically. When we stopped for a snack at McDonald’s, she audaciously parked herself in a handicap seating spot. Aint nobody gonna tell her what to do!
(There’s no hint of remorse in that smile.)
We had a wonderful ride through the Loess Hills, a unique geological area just east of the Missouri River. There is some nice scenery through here.
Shortly after this, it was time to pull over and suit up. The rains were coming. “Well, at least Mom is going to get the full experience of what my trip is like.” In order to pack as lightly as possible, I decided to leave my rain suit at home. All through Latin America, I’d seen riders brave torrential conditions with just a thin plastic poncho. For our brief loop through Iowa, I thought ponchos would suffice.
The rain hit hard soon after. In addition, we were dealing with a strong south wind, relentlessly pushing us towards oncoming traffic. I can only imagine what Mom was thinking at this point.
Our poncho plan turned out to be a bit too optimistic. By the time we sought refuge under a picnic shelter at the Guthrie County Freedom Rock, our plastic ponchos were in tatters.
The photo above is a bit silly, but it was an important moment. It was at this moment when I knew that Mom was going to hold up just fine. Even after a couple of miserable hours, she could still smile.
As we were recovering here, I had a bit of a scare: The tornado sirens started sounding. Mom seemed unfazed and just asked what time it was. Having grown up in a small town, she was familiar with the conventional siren blasts at 8am, noon and 6pm. I’m not sure whether this is just a regular thing in the small towns of the Central Plains, or if it is more widespread.
There was no real joy in the rest of our ride, but some days on two wheels are like that. These sorts of days serve to magnify the enjoyment of favorable weather days. Thankfully our hosts live outside of Des Moines, so we didn’t have to fight any traffic. Soon we were safely in their garage.
It was a real treat to see my cousin Allison, her husband Brett, and their boys, Carsten, Miles and Jackson. Mom made a new best friend right away.
We had a great evening catching up as they baked us a consistent procession of homemade pizzas.
Sunday, May 19th
We had an easygoing day together. The weather was cold and wet again, so we were mostly inside. When not out traveling around the world, Annie and Sonic moonlight as a playground:
Having a nice easy day was just what we needed after the tough ride the day before. Mom was pleasantly surprised that she wasn’t sore at all. In the afternoon I gave a performance of my theme song. Jackson kindly agreed to help me out.
His interlude after Verse 2 was especially tasteful. 🙂
It was so great to get to know everyone in this family better. Our rip-roarin’ family reunions are always a lot of fun, but it’s hard to get quality time with everyone. Connecting more deeply with my extended family has been a real bonus of this trip.
Brett is an Aerospace Engineer and I’ve always enjoyed hearing about his work. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have time to give Annie the jet engine upgrade that I have been planning. Next trip.
Monday, May 20th
Mom and I lingered for awhile, getting some more preparation done.
I showed Mom one of my most advanced travel strategies: If you linger long enough at your hosts home, they will eventually feed you lunch too. I’ve learned a few things during my time on the road. 🙂
Thank you, Brett, Alli and family!
I was super excited about this day. 287 days prior I had gotten up early, feigned misunderstanding of some Portuguese road signs, and taken Annie into the Pelorinho neighborhood of Salvador, Brazil. (THIS POST)
That day was the last time I had visited one of the places in the song.
But today, that drought was coming to an end as we set sights for Oskaloosa, Iowa, place 65 of 92.
We would stay dry on the day, but the wind whipped once again and the high was just 54 degrees (12 C). Sorry, Mom!
We made one stop along the way, in the classic Dutch town of Pella. As soon as we parked, a couple of ladies, Marilyn and Deb, were magnetically attracted to us. We started telling them our story and had a great time chatting.
Pella has a large tulip festival in early May, importing the flowers directly from the Netherlands. Once the tulips are passed their prime, anyone can come to the center square and dig up bulbs to take home.
I was hoping this fact would remain concealed from my green-thumbed Mother. I had visions of my frunk lid bulging with bulbs for the rest of our trip together. Deb and Marilyn offered some that they had already exhumed, so we couldn’t say no.
We got some Dutch letters from the Jaarsma Bakery and meandered around town for a bit.
Back on the road, it was an amazing feeling to see the signs for Oskaloosa. I realized that I had really missed that sense of accomplishment that comes from visiting a place on my list. Expect more of these sorts of pictures soon!
I grinned from ear to ear as I made my way down main street en route to our hosts’ abode. We would be lodging with family members Del and Marilyn. My Mom’s Father and Del were first cousins. I’m not sure how exactly that relates us, but apparently it was enough for them to show us amazing hospitality over the coming days. Picture from later:
It was another rainy evening, but our hosts took us on a nice drive around town. It was a good way to get my bearings and to plan for the things I wanted to see. They also took us out to the Wood Iron Grill, where we had the burger that was voted best in Iowa.
Tuesday, May 21st
Another gray, rainy day, but that was not going to hinder us. Mom and I are basically the human embodiment of rays of sunshine. 🙂 I knew pictures would be hard to get this day (I’ll add in some from the following day), but we would still be able to explore the city and learn more about it.
Del and Marilyn let us borrow their van for the day, which was a big help. We started with a nice breakfast downtown, then made our way to the Oskaloosa Chamber and Development Group.
I had sent them an email a few days prior and received a wonderful response from Ann, their Executive Director. She invited me to come in for a chat which was equal parts enjoyable and informative. Her passion for the community was obvious and she did everything she could to help us have a great visit. I’ll intersperse the things I learned during this chat throughout the rest of this post.
Oskaloosa has a population of around 11,000 residents. Over the course of my visit, there would be two main themes about the people of Oskaloosa which would emerge: First, their respect for and commitment to maintain their traditions. Second, their unique ability to innovate and create. This day was more focused more on the traditional side.
Aesthetically speaking, the highlight of Oskaloosa is definitely the town square. Whenever I asked a resident about finding of the most “iconic” picture of the city, the unanimous response was the historic bandstand which stands at the center of the square.
But this landmark is not just for show, it is still very much in use. First organized in 1864, Oskaloosa’s Municipal Band has been a source of community pride ever since. During the summer, there is a concert with free popcorn and lemonade each Thursday night. This is definitely an event for which I will need to return.
Also on the square is a fascinating shop called the Book Vault.
This book store is housed in a former bank and has retained many of the elements from its former function.
We were still dealing with a rainy day, so we decided to see if we could get a tour of the McNeil Stone Mansion (website HERE).
Mahaska County was the most coal rich of all the counties in Iowa. Wilbur McNeil was the owner of the majority of mines in the Oskaloosa area. He built this impressive structure in 1909. It is now a very well kept bed and breakfast.
They don’t normally do tours, but the owner, Virginia, was nice enough to take us on one anyway. It was fascinating.
Del and Marilyn made us a wonderful supper and we visited their son, Nathan, and his family who also live in the area. They were really welcoming and asked lots of good questions about my trip. When we returned, it was time for a signing ceremony. Gosh I miss these!
With a few strokes of a Sharpie, Del and Marilyn officially recommenced the progress towards my goal. They took such good care of us and it was a great opportunity to get to know them better.
Wednesday, May 22nd
Up to this point, I’ve focused more on the traditional and historical side of Oskaloosa. Our final hours in town would reveal Oskaloosa’s more innovative side. Del and Marilyn’s son, Nathan, works for the largest employer in town, Musco Lighting. He was kind enough to give us a tour of their office.
You might not be familiar with this company’s name, but you’ve most likely been illuminated by one of their products at some point in your life. Founded in 1976, this home grown company is the world leader in sports lighting.
They have provided the lighting system for the majority of professional sports stadiums and arenas in North America and have expanded their reach into Europe and Asia. They have also taken care of some sporting stages which are near and dear to my heart, namely Memorial Stadium and Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. They light up Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.
…all from humble little Oskaloosa.
They have been on the leading edge of LED technology (on the left in the picture above), which are much more efficient and versatile than traditional metal halide lights.
But beyond all of their technical innovation, my favorite story about this company is how they responded to help out after the 9/11 attacks.
(picture credit in following paragraph)
Musco trucks were on site by September 12th and spent 20,000 hours illuminating the clean up efforts. There is a great article (LINK HERE) which summarizes this story. It’s a great read, one of the most American stories I’ve ever heard.
Thank you for the tour, Nathan!
Mom and I dropped by the Chamber again so Annie could get Ann’s autograph. She was such a big help to us and gave me a warm invitation to visit Oskaloosa again. From there, it was time to take some pictures. We finally had our first sunshine in Iowa, so we tried to make good use of it.
With the Chief Mahaska statue:
Another must-visit in Oskaloosa is the Smokey Row coffee shop.
This shop is where prospective Presidential candidates come to try to convince Oskaloosans that they know what a harrow is used for.
There is no way I can tell everything I learned about Oskaloosa, nor recount each interesting interaction I had with one of its residents. (I’ve left out Clow Valve company, Buxton, Fredrick Knight Logan, Major Cecil William Stoughton and C.L. Barnhouse; just to name a few) Still, there is one more story that begs to be told: The story of George Daily. Mom and I made our way to the auditorium that bears his name to find out more.
George Daily was a reclusive, mysterious resident of Oskaloosa. He lived in a run-down house and wore tattered clothing. From the outside it appeared that he had very little, but George was actually a millionaire.
George’s estranged father had purchased some land that ended up being oil-rich. After he died, checks began to show up in George’s mail box. He harbored resentment towards his father for abandoning him, so he never cashed any of them.
When George passed away in 1993, his will left all of the money to the city of Oskaloosa. This money has been used for over 300 different civic projects ranging from historical society funding, to safety equipment for Little League baseball to the 700-seat auditorium which pays him homage.
George’s life is not necessarily a happy story, but the community has done a respectable job in honoring him. They even wrote an original musical about his life. One of George’s passions was sitting in the town square and playing checkers. This statue seems to capture him well.
What a way to recommence our journey! Oskaloosa was so friendly and so fascinating. I almost forgot how much fun it is to learn about a community like this one. Our story seems to have picked up where it left off, with friends, family and complete strangers caring for us so well. My deepest thanks to everyone who made these days so special for us.
….and kudos to Mom for keeping an awesome attitude. 🙂
Stay illuminated, everybody.
Realtime update: I would like to begin by offering my apologies for what will surely be remembered as the Great Advertisement Calamity of 2019. I made a mistake with updating the registration on my site so my plan expired. This resulted in a ton of advertisements on each page. Thanks, Natalie, for being the first one to alert me to this and thanks for doing your part in letting advertisements know that they are not welcome in this quality publication.
We should be ad-free henceforth.
Boy, this post was a real struggle. I think it took about 11 hours of work to get it published. I must be rusty. Still, it feels good to be back in the swing of things. Mom and I are currently staying in Marion, Iowa. As well as Oskaloosa, we’ve now crossed Davenport off of our list. There, we had our first TV interview, which was quite the experience.
Only Waterloo remains in Iowa. We are planning to hit the motorcycle museum in Anamosa tomorrow, then Waterloo early in the week. Mom has adjusted well to riding and seems to be enjoying herself. As always, thanks for following along!
27 to go.