We left St Paul early on a Sunday morning, following the Mighty Mississippi River south through a wispy fog that brought a chill to the air. In some places heavily eroded limestone bluffs rose high above us, their faces pocked with caves. I’m not sure how far back they went, but I’m sure any boy living in the area had explored each one within reach. Though a fraction of its width further south, the Mississippi was still a massive river by East Coast standards. We caught up with, and slowly passed, a long freight train to our right, while on the left dozens of fishermen dotted the glare-streaked water.
Bridges took us back and forth across the river, Minnesota to Wisconsin. We passed through Red Wing, then headed southeast at La Crosse through rolling hills where voracious mosquitos waited at every rest stop.
On to Mt Horeb and its carved trolls lining the streets; Barley was singularly unimpressed. We stopped at the surprisingly small Duluth Trading Company flagship store in that town and could have spent hours looking at the old tools on display, but settled for a toy to replace one Barley had lost, then pressed on to visit our friends in a small town near Madison.
The first time we visited Steven and Susan they had an adorable young golden female named Shine. Shine was extremely affectionate and craved my attention. She also wanted Barley to play. Barley had no interest, and had given her plenty of warning growls, which she had chosen to disregard. One afternoon, while Barley was busily hunting mice in their yard, Shine had barreled into him with her puppy exuberance. The result, predictably, was she was immediately put on the ground by Barley with a god-awful roar.
By our second visit Shine had matured into a beautiful girl who kept her distance from Barley but jumped immediately onto my lap, pressed herself into my embrace, and sighed deeply in utter contentment. On this visit, however, she had a litter of pups to defend. One look at Barley and the lips peeled back, the fangs came out, and the look on her face seemed to hint that she was about to beat Barley to death with his own limbs! He wisely retreated to a far corner of the house and avoided her the entire visit.
He did, however, carefully watch Steven and Susan hoping that they would have dining habits as messy as Dave and Liz at the recent rally. Sure enough, a few bits of breakfast fell to the floor and were quickly gobbled up.
We were on the road early, taking I-39 south to reach US 24 quickly. 24 is a route we’ve taken often. It allows us to make decent time while avoiding big cities, and at the same time offers enough small town hospitality to give us a chance to meet new people or take breaks as needed.
At Huntington IN we switched to US 224 and continued east, avoiding the traffic of Ft Wayne. We kept pace with a couple of BMW R1200RTs till they veered off with a friendly wave to a more southerly course. We also passed a few bicyclists doggedly battling a breeze that always seemed to come from dead ahead. By the middle of Ohio the horizon was looking wet and gloomy, so we made a marathon run for I-80 hoping to reach western Pennsylvania before the showers began.
We holed up in an older chain hotel on the bank of the Susquehanna River in Oil City, PA. With a name like Oil City I was expecting a bleak landscape dotted with oil derricks, but the terrain was quite hilly and heavily forested. Directly behind the hotel was a delightful city park dotted with small bronze sculptures. One was of a small girl holding out one hand preparing to throw something. Barley walked up and sniffed her outstretched hand to see if she was holding any treats.
We shared a dinner of potato skins, then retired to our room just as the rain started. Barley claimed the bed furthest from the window.
We were up early again, not because of the weather but rather because we sensed the closeness of home. There comes a point on every trip when you feel the tug of home, and today the suckage factor was high! We crossed several waterways, skipping the swampy areas but often stopping to play in the clear rivers. Farmers at work in their fields waved to us as we scooted past. In one small town a sheriff pulled us over; I hadn’t broken any laws, he was simply interested in sidecar travel with a canine companion.
We continued in a generally northeast direction, enjoying the sort of scenery you just don’t see on the Interstate. On this trip we were surprised at how few construction delays we encountered. On those few occasions when we were stopped by a flagger the delay was generally less than a minute.
At some point we crossed into New York state, dashed north, and entered the Adirondacks with their distinctive style of guardrail. At gas stops I let Barley out to stretch or socialize. Between gas stops we took breaks at the numerous lakes that dot the park.
And finally we crossed the Champlain Bridge into Vermont. A quintet of Holsteins welcomed us home. Ahead I could see the familiar shape of the Appalachian Gap. Beyond that was home and a reunion with Tamara, Kazoo, and Tulliver.