Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chasing Down Friends Old And New

We're just back from a 4-day trip, looping through 4 states to visit friends and family.  After our friend Michael left on Tuesday, we hit the road towards Minneapolis, the shortest route taking us through stretches of Wisconsin we've never seen.  Melinda had never been to Minnesota, so that section was all new to her, and we returned through Iowa via Cedar Rapids to greet our RAGBRAI buddies as they hit the road for the cross-state bike ride.  And Saturday morning we met family for lunch on the way back to "Ketelsen East".   It was a busy but fun couple of days to catch up with everyone.

The first leg of the trip got us to Minneapolis where one of my oldest friends (let's say longest, not oldest) Beth and her husband Phillip live.  We met nearly 40 years ago, and have drifted in and out of each others lives, but we try to stay connected.  They had a horrific car accident 12 years ago while on a camping trip where she suffered a spinal injury.  She requires massive amounts of care and continued therapy, and works hard to maintain her abilities and stay on top of her health.  Phillip does an amazing job of support and fills in caregiver gaps and juggles the schedules of at least three of them...  New on the scene is her new service dog Mika, a beautiful golden retriever.  They've only had her a few months, but it was amazing to see the two of them working together.  One of her stunning skills was opening and closing the sliding glass door to the back yard for Beth's wheelchair using a looped rope.  Mika also understands a large vocabulary for fetching various items and following orders.  We spent a couple days with them in their beautiful home and yard and got out a couple times to see some of the local highlights.

Friday we headed south for east-central Iowa for Toddville, home of the Toads, a bike group I've ridden with for a couple decades.  As we approached the little town, we passed the house of John Hill - I was hoping we might catch him in the yard and we did!  We pulled into the driveway as he crossed between his barn and house in his wheelchair.  Another astounding medical story, John was an active biker on our cross-state rides, when he had a massive stroke about 6 years ago.  He was given up for dead until he "woke up" 2 days later.  He has trouble speaking and gets around in a motorized wheelchair, but his spirit is unabated and he was overjoyed to see me and meet Melinda.  He was extremely proud to show off his new restored '85 pickup he had just bought.  Last year he regained his driver's license, and is awaiting modifications on the new wheels.  He is shown here with wife Nancy and his new-to-him truck.

This is the first time in recent years I've not been driving support for our RAGBRAI group.  For those of you for which that is a new term, it stands for the Des Moines Register Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.  This is the 42nd edition of the week-long bike ride (NOT a race!) across the state.  I did the ride 8 or 9 times before my medical issues 10 years ago, and have driven support about the last 6 or so.  It is an amazing week, a real showcase for the hospitality and friendliness of the State.  Our little group, about 12 riders in total, arrange to camp in people's yards in the overnight towns, use their bathrooms and showers before the next day's ride.  This is repeated for 7 days as they take a new route every year, covering from 430 to 530 miles to traverse the state.  This year's is a shorter version near 430 miles.  I came by for the traditional bus loading to meet up with team mates.  Shown here is Maggie and Dean, who helped arrange the overnight hosts most every year.  At right is Carl at center with Donna at left and Chris at right.  You'll have to supply your own caption for the photo, there has to be a good one out there...

Also joining the Toads this year is Bryan and Carol from Tucson!  Bryan is an optical type like me, working in the shop in the basement at the Optical Sciences Center a couple blocks from the Mirror Lab.  He is a very active cyclist and bike builder, and first joined us on RAGBRAI 2 years ago, and couldn't stand missing it last year, so they are back, shown at left.  Their tandem, a Hase from Germany has a recumbent position for Carol up front, and a normal upright position for Bryan.  Also seen in the background is the 12 passenger bus that Carl got for free (a good story), that provides travel to the start and support for the week.  Finally at right is a "Melinda Sandwich" between Carl and his son "little Billy".  Billy rode with the support van about 20 years ago when he was to small to cycle, about 5 or 6 years old.  A year or two later he started biking with us, Carl providing a hand to help push him up hills.  Eventually he had to work thru the summer to make money for college, so stopped joining us.  He was a football player through college and is now a elementary school teacher in Missouri.  Little Billy is getting married this December down in Phoenix during his school break, so he is now officially all grown up.

After an hour or more of catching up with buddies, we took off for Iowa City to spend the evening, departing for parts east the next morning, stopping in Davenport at The Machine Shed for some "down home" cooking with a pair of sisters.  Well, it turns out that 8 showed up, including a brother, nephew, 2 nieces, and 2 great-nieces!  Shown here are the great nieces Mya and Alivia (left-to-right)with their Great-Uncle Dean and Great-Aunt Melinda.  We'll see everyone a few more times this trip - it is Alivia's 8th birthday this week, which we'll help celebrate Thursday.  We finally got home midafternoon Saturday, almost exactly 4 days after we left, tired, but glad we connected with everyone we reached out to...

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