Next stop: online friends in Janesville, Wisconsin, a few miles above the border with Illinois close to Madison. We rolled south-southwest through verdant farmland, crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, rolled through a few small farming towns before our very presence seemed to bother a shirtless, toothless, skinny man driving a huge Cadillac. He paced us for miles, glaring at us from one lane over in a sort of stupefied fury I would learn was typically driven by meth. We crossed the mighty river again. He turned left so I turned right and accelerated sharply to put him behind us.
The Great River Route is fun for about twenty minutes. The scenery doesn’t quite change often enough, the pavement doesn’t have a lot of curves to it, and the majority of businesses have either Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn in the name. I turned west again to run through rolling hills covered in crops. We pulled up at Susan and Stephen’s home on the outskirts of Janesville late in the afternoon to a chorus of barking from home and kennel.
Dog people: this was going to be good.
For a busy woman, Susan has vast reserves of energy. She raises dogs, kennels dogs, trains with dogs, hunts with dogs, manhandles cattle, manages to care for two very young and curious granddaughters. Inside the house was a young bitch named Shine. Shine liked me so much she peed every time I looked at her, puddled every time I touched her. Susan spent much of her time yelling, “Don’t touch the…ah, let me get a paper towel!”
Shine had way too much energy for Barley. He wanted to hunt. She wanted him to love her. She’d flounce in coquettishly and “accidentally” bump into him. He’d give a low warning growl. Mice were more interesting. But she finally overdid it and found herself Alpha rolled in a flash! Barley had had enough. At least he didn’t draw any blood, I told myself, so Shine must have still had a bit of puppy license left in her.
We packed up in the minivan for a trip to an area treasure, the New Glarus Brewery. I love beer and I love clever marketing; this place had both. We took the tour and drank the samples: Cow Tipper Ale, Flying Squirrel, Two Naked Ladies. I bought a case, plus a few bottles of red ale made from cherries for the wife, shipped some clothing home to make room for it, and stowed it securely in the sidecar for transport back home.
With thank you hugs for Susan and Stephen we were back on the road the next day, the Fourth of July. We hooked around a big city below us, taking backroads all the way to El Paso, Illinois, then turned east on US 24 across Illinois and Indiana. It became US 224 somewhere before Ohio, and it was a hotel in Ohio where we stopped for the night. We had seen a lot of corn that day. Acres of corn. Miles of corn. Lots.
We also saw something beautiful and unexpected…
Barley sat up in the sidecar, facing forward, his nose busily working a scent I was completely unaware of. I scanned my surroundings – fields of corn stretched to the horizon in every direction, US 24 a straight line endlessly in front of me. There was a small rise coming up, just high enough that I couldn’t see over it even when standing on the pegs. I rolled off the throttle, having learned to trust my dog. The BMW quivered slightly beneath me as it bled off speed. We topped the rise.
There were four beautiful horses cavorting on the highway, their manes and tails rippling in a breeze of their own making. I slowed to a crawl and hit the flashers, pulled the Nikon out of my tank bag and snapped a quick photo. The horses eventually wandered to the side of the highway and began grazing. We passed slowly, then accelerated back to our plains-crossing pace.
“Good dog! Clever dog!” Barley smiled behind his Doggles, then settled back under the shade of his cockpit cover.
We pressed on.