Day 22 – The Privilege of Independence

Tuesday, July 4th, 8:35 a.m. – Departed from Microtel Hotel in Onalaska, Wisconsin.

The Atmosphere’s Mood

Morning Conditions – Temp – 69 / Wind – SE at 5 mph / Skies – Clear with high cirrus clouds distant SW.

Afternoon/Evening Conditions – Temp – Reached a high of 86* with moderate humidity / Wind – Light and Variable / Skies – Clear with high clouds on the western horizon.

9:15 p.m. – Arrived at the Sparta DNR Campground in Sparta, Wisconsin, 23.7 miles, 58,650 steps, 154 miles remaining.

Highs Points Today – 

  • Soaring Birds – As I was leaving Onalaska and moving out of the city limits, I noticed what could best be described as a swarm of large soaring birds circling for altitude just south of where I was walking. There was no real way to count them, but my estimate was between 50 and 75. I believe they were turkey vultures, but some seemed to fly differently. There’s no way I’ll ever know for sure, but it was a truly spectacular display. I wished I could have spread my arms wide and flown with them. 🙂
  • Skies and Flowers – The skies today were particularly beautiful. High cirrus clouds passed overhead throughout the day in ripples and waves, looking as if they were only visiting in our atmosphere for Independence Day. On the earth’s surface, the flowers along the trail were in full bloom. Bright oranges, reds and yellow stood out against the vibrant greens of midsummer farm fields. The contrasts were amazing, causing me to stop and take it all in on several occasions.
  • Break at Augies – In the early afternoon, I really needed to get out of the heat. I made a plan to get as far as the small town of Bangor, Wisconsin and find a bar or restaurant that was open on the holiday. In the downtown area of Bangor, I found Augies Bar and Grill. Toni – the bartender there – was super interested in the walk I’m doing, and her questions were the beginning of great conversation. She told me a little about herself and her husband, and about her own experience with a 10 mile cancer walk on the LaCrosse River Trail (way to go, Toni!). I had a delicious pizza, stayed in the air conditioning an wrote for a while, and finally picked up and moved on around 3:30 p.m. A note to Toni:  Thank you for your interest and conversation, and for the warning about the trail ahead. You were right. Parts of it were Sahara-like, and I found myself scurrying from shady spot to shady spot until the day cooled down some. You affected my day in a most positive way, and I wanted to make sure that you knew that. 🙂
  • The LaCrosse River Trail – This trail passes through some really beautiful country. The stretch I was on today also passes through several small towns that are really bike friendly. In the cool of the morning, there were a lot of people moving on the trail, making for a friendly, social environment. By late afternoon/evening though, it got really quiet. I walked the last 7 miles to Sparta without seeing a single person. Talk about peace and quiet! Just me and the occasional, fast-moving train…
  • Alex from Durham, North Carolina – At a water fountain near the trail in Rockland, Wisconsin, I crossed paths with a young man named Alex on a bicycle. His journey originated in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina, and was planned to end in Portland, Oregon. We stood in the shade, drank cool water and had a really good conversation about the challenges of being on the trail, about what was working, and about what was not. He also told me about an ap called Warm Showers. Much like an AirBnB, it’s people in their homes who wish to put up bicycle travelers for the night. Even though I’m not on a bicycle, I feel confident that it’s a service I could use. I wish I’d have known about this earlier! Thanks Alex. It was a pleasure to meet you. Safe travels on the rest of your journey!

Lows Points Today – 

  • Mosquitos in the Tunnel – Below is a series of three pictures that shows how close the canopy of trees is on one part of the LaCrosse River Trail. It actually looked like there was a light at the end of a tunnel. Unfortunately, the shade and dense foliage made for a perfect mosquito habitat. Each time I stopped to take one of these pictures, I was immediately immersed in a swarm of hungry mosquitos. I actually started “running toward the light” to get away from them. Even out in the bright sunshine, they hovered around me and my pack for several hundred yards. Nasty!
  • A Long, Hot Day – Today’s temperature got up to nearly 90 degrees by late afternoon. At that time of the day, I was on a part of the trail that offered almost no shade and little breeze, making for a pretty steamy stroll. Also, for some reason unknown to me, a route that showed to be just under 22 miles in the morning turned into nearly 24 miles by evening. Perhaps a rip in the space time continuum? Not sure. But 2 extra miles at the end of hot day is definitely not a situation that makes me upbeat and positive.

Keen Observations – It’s Independence Day today! That means something different to each and every one of us. To me, it means having the freedom to walk 600 miles if I want to, and to be able to do so in an environment of relative safety. The more I thought about that today, the more I realized that our freedom should be quite high on the list of things to celebrate, if not right at the very top. So on a more serious note, I want to thank all of the women and men who earned our freedom for us, and also those who continue to protect it. This is not something to be taken for granted…

Lessons Learned – Motivation and the drive to continue can come from a lot of different places and take many forms. There are days when it is quite difficult to continue putting one foot in front of another. People like Alex and Toni make all the difference. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for having had the chance to meet them.

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