The next day was OMG hot and humid! We felt the humidity even before dawn, and knew it would be a scorcher. Abandoning plans to check out Lake Michigan to our south, we pointed the nose toward Eau Claire, Wisconsin and stuck to highways. By late morning we were both uncomfortable. At a gas stop in Rhinelander a couple of old men in a beat up Chevy truck gave us thumbs up and friendly grins. I asked if there was a park nearby with some shade trees where we could stretch. The driver started giving directions, but stopped after the sixth change of directions. “Just follow us,” he hollered, and led the way to a tidy little park we would never have found on our own. “Ride safe!” he shouted with a wave, then drove away.
It was a perfect place for a pitstop: restrooms, picnic tables, cold water fountains, mature shade trees overhanging large boulders for Barley to climb on. We rested in the shade, soaking up the relative coolness as we rehydrated. Two adults leading a large group of children on bicycles rode past, then spotted us and turned around. It was a fourth grade class from the local elementary school; their interest in Barley and his rig outweighed their interest in the playground. And so we found ourselves surrounded by little kids, fussing over my dog and his story, the teachers pointing out the protective gear I was wearing and how the bright colors were so much easier to see than dark colors. ATGATT: All The Gear, All The Time. Not a concept you expect to hear from a grade school teacher!
Barley and Trey cooling off in the river
We reached the rally site by mid-afternoon. The temperature was pushing one hundred, and the humidity so high it looked like thin fog. We lingered in the air conditioned registration building, then reluctantly went back outside and rode to the fairgrounds, hoping for a spot of shade. No luck – all the trees were surrounded by tents. So we found a grassy spot and set up camp, but Barley was having a lot of trouble with the conditions. There was a cool river a few hundred yards from our tent, so we walked to it and soaked in the coolness for several hours till the sun was low enough to cast shade. Afterwards we returned to the grounds and sought refuge in the Beer Tent. Barley was carded, but being over 21 in human years was allowed to pass. We reconnected with old friends and met some new pals over cold beer, but it was a tough night. I fanned Barley with my hat, and he fanned me with his tail. Not much sleep was had.
We had a great time the next day despite the heat, though much of our time was spent alternating between the river and the big fans in the vendor buildings. We managed to locate some riders we knew only from online forums, checked out some nifty new accessories, studied what other riders had installed on their bikes, and ate a lot of ice cream. But as the sun began to retreat with no relief from the miserable conditions I knew I could not ask my dog to spend another sleepless night with me. I fired up the laptop, found a hotel about twenty miles away, broke camp and retreated to air conditioned comfort.
That night, in the safety of our room, the world erupted in loud sirens. We went outside and looked to the north, north where the rally grounds were. Huge bolts of dazzling lightning streaked across the sky! The sirens added a sinister flair to the display, and I was glad we had not stayed behind. Within a few minute the high winds and torrential rains reached us, and the entire hotel was buffeted by the storm. (I learned later that the campers had been moved into the solid buildings for protection with instructions to bring only what they needed. Parties broke out spontaneously as a large portion of those critically needed items turned out to be alcohol.)
Barley generally takes the bed closest to the AC