Susan and Steve are nice people who raise very sweet golden retrievers. Having just moved to a smaller home with a sunroom still under construction, their golden girls were confined to wire crates except for regular exercise periods. As Barley and I walked in the house was filled with the sound of excited tails banging against those crates! BANG, BANG, BANG! When last we visited I fell in love with an adorable female pup named Shine. I would have taken her home if there had been a way to smuggle her out from under Susan’s watchful eye. And there she was, all grown up with her first litter on the ground. Sweet as ever, she pushed herself into my lap and leaned into my chest, absorbing all the tenderness I had to offer.
Once again I thought of ways to smuggle her home…
Evansville, Wisconsin is a lovely town with a concentration of blondes far exceeding anything Vermont has to offer. The town was having its annual Fourth of July Celebration, so we all piled into a car and headed to the town park. Have you ever had one of those moments where you found yourself in a place where everybody seemed to know and like each other? That was Evansville! Elderly women introducing me to middle aged men: “This is Joe. He was one of my best students back in second grade. His father sold me my first car. His mother married my cousin, Sven.”
Back at the house it was time for me to meet Shine’s pups. Few things are as fun as sitting in a room surrounded by golden retriever puppies. Some attacked my cuffs and laces. One climbed up and covered my nose with kisses. Another tried to suck on my beard. Two curled up in my lap and went to sleep. I held one up thinking it would fit nicely into my tankbag…
Throughout the night whenever I reached out to caress Barley, his tail would thump softly on the floor. It was a happy sound, immediately echoed by the wagging tails of Susan’s girls banging on their wire crates. BANG, BANG, BANG! We were awake at five o’clock Saturday morning. Good thing my hosts were earlybirds as well! Breakfast, more puppy time, a goodbye to Susan, Steve and Shine, and we were on our way.
While gassing up in town another sidecar pulled in. It was my buddy, Bert, whom I had met two years ago at a rally in Chippewa Falls! We caught each other up, then he offered to lead us on a more scenic route than the one I had planned. So we followed him down the brick-paved streets of Evansville, through dairy country and past the New Glarus Brewery, past vast fields of mostly corn till he pulled over next to a park on Highway 18. “Stay on 18 into Iowa,” he shouted. “Then if you need to make better time you can angle up to I-90.” With a bear hug and hearty slaps on the back we parted. I hope someday to return the favor if Bert ever rides east.
We crossed the Mississippi River, not so massive this far north but still pretty impressive. Recent rains had left everything green. We stayed on Hwy 18 for nearly two hundred miles, entering what I called The Great Flatness. But the Flatness was populated by some truly nice people. Barley and I were taking a break in one small town’s park when a man in a pickup spotted us. He backed up and rolled down his window explaining that his son had been following us on Facebook. With a wave he wished us a safe journey and welcomed us to Iowa. Pretty cool!
By early afternoon it was hot and humid. Damned hot and humid! Oh, and flat. Did I mention The Flatness? We crossed into South Dakota feeling the effects and pulled into a rest area for a break. Inside was a small tourism kiosk with a remarkably knowledgeable attendant behind the counter. She helped us find a hotel for the night in nearby Sioux Falls. Another short ride to the Super 8 where Barley camped out next to the air conditioning unit while I uploaded the day’s photos. A brief trip outside for Barley to pee, and me to groom him, then back to the room and bed.
In the morning, still dark at 4am, I placed Barley’s vest on top of the luggage and forgot to stow it before we got underway. As I drove slowly through a construction zone I saw something fly up behind me, but paid little attention thinking it was a bit of roadside debris. One hundred and fifty miles to the west, as I pulled over to feed and exercise my dog, I realized it had been his vest containing my medical and his veterinary information. Out came the iPhone. A quick search came up with a phone number for the Sioux Falls Police Department. I called, not really sure what I was asking for, but after listening to my situation Officer Claussen dispatched a patrol car to the road I had taken from the hotel. He called back several minutes later to inform me the vest had been found exactly where I thought it might have been, took down my address, and mailed it to me at his own expense, refusing to even consider reimbursement. “Pay it forward,” he told me. It was a touch of kindness that was completely unexpected, but typified the warmth of the people we met on the road.