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Road Notes: Off the Grid in Western Kentucky/Tennessee

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Enter Here

Last week I went to Tennessee. I was disappointed when I started passing a bunch of cornfields and the region started to look like Nebraska.

Seriously though it was a great break from my usual criss-crossing through Midwest power lines and family restaurants to go through quaint southern junk yards and vine overgrowth. Okay, seriously, the region of the Missouri bootheel/western Tennessee and Kentucky has a lot of nice homes, logging mills (never seen one of those before) and stretches of road that mostly go straight. And even though they don’t get snow and have six Pentecostal churches per town of 1,500, it feels just as familiar as any other part of the country I go to.

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Get that number

This time, Cairo, Illinois seemed even more rundown than the other two times I’ve been through there. It’s the only town under 5,000 I’ve ever been to that I’ve feared for my safety. My grower told me virtually the entire town is on welfare, words that rang through my head as I drove through town, expecting someone to jump out of an abandoned building with a gun. Of the five people I saw on the street, I wouldn’t have been surprised if any of them used drugs. As many hurting towns as I’ve seen, this is one is as sad as I’ve ever seen.

Trees along the Ohio River

Trees along the Ohio River

It’s been a good year in the fields. Some of my fields have been average, but I haven’t had a field that flopped or massively underachieved. I was overjoyed to be counting the pods on the plants and sending yield estimates to my father. Harvest may still be six weeks away, but the majority of my miles are behind me. Get your 2015 orders in.

Ready!

Ready!

 

Road Notes: Nebraska Hinterlands

The Undefined Country The Undefined Country

The first bad decision was made the night before. Around 9:20, I was in the kitchen slicing cucumbers to pickle. In the morning, I was supposed to get up and go to take a promo picture with our grower who lives in Page, Nebraska. I looked up at the clock, and feeling energetic, I thought, I can probably can these pickles in half an hour, right? Why wait until Thursday to do it?

Long story short, I fell asleep after midnight and woke up at 5:40, knowing it was going to be a long day, even if it was a trip I’d been looking forward to.

I have a two ideas about where I’d move if I’d ever left Seward. One, hit a large city and assimilate and try everything. The other, head west into the great beyond of western Nebraska, Wyoming, or other somewhere else on the high plains. Last Wednesday, I ventured out into the that Western sky that has been calling my name all summer. My eastward travel this year has made me apathetic toward taking a short trip westward, until a real reason came about.

Sign/Times Sign/Times

I got up and grabbed my energy drink of choice (Starbucks Refresh-it doesn’t dehydrate a person) and pressed west through all the communities whose names I heard growing up on Sports Overtime. York. Stromsburg. Albion. All out on these high plains. Corn and soybean country gradually turning into ranching country, a town of 3,000 being a mid-sized city instead of a small town.

Rural Iowa and rural Nebraska are very different. The further you get away from population centers of over 100,000, the more the area changes. For one, you see a lot more signs for high school teams than anywhere else in the country. At most, these people make to a couple of Husker games a year, if that. The high school team is your major college or NFL team. It’s surprising how many new homes and new medical buildings line the streets of small towns. More money is making its way out of the city.

Celebration Celebration

You look out over these plains, and there is so much independence. Or at the least, the illusion of independence in the bright summer sun shimmering down on the faded grass. There are no more lands left to pioneer, but these lands are not bad for the occasional adventure.

Catch your eye? Catch your eye?

Booking Road Notes: Back to Kansas

Watertower of Du Bois, Nebraska

Watertower of Du Bois, Nebraska

This past Monday, I took another delivery for my warehouse landlord, again sneaking into Kansas long enough to say I was there, this time to Seneca. I went off-the most beaten path, taking Nebraska Highways 41 and 50 respectively to get around Beatrice. Just north of Du Bois,the highway service had a sign up saying the road was closed, but since I’m no stranger to the dirt road, I decided to follow the highway as long as I could. Good thing-I would have gone forty miles out of my way just to avoid a single bridge that was out. Come on, Nebraska and Kansas-you can still just divert the traffic on paved roads.

This time, I told myself I wasn’t just going to make my time on the road matter, so I downloaded an audiobook to my Kindle to feed my cuturediness. Culturediness is my bad habit that I feed by buying stuff to feel high-minded. Books. A white end table. A rain barrel. A park bench. My 20-year old Chevy. Even my house to a point. And yes, listening to a biography of Charles Lindbergh and early aviation makes me feel better than if I were listening to KFRX.

Issues, Etc and other podcasts are great for filing the time when I’m entering numbers into the computer, scrambling eggs for lunch, or hanging a shelf. They work in the truck, but books give breadth and depth of knowledge podcasts can’t. Plus turn on some nice stories or history in the truck, and you get the a breadth to the rolling Wisconsin hills or twisting Illinois highway that you just can’t get with the Best of Mike and Mike. Okay, that was snobbish. But also true.

The Lindbergh biography took up two and a half hours of my drive time, with another eight left. I’ll need at least one trip to Illinois/Wisconsin to finish that puppy, and then I’ll have a free book to choose from the audiobooks iPhone ap. Won’t last the summer, but should go a long ways.

 

 

Road Notes: Full of Surprises and Joy

Back to the Future

Back to the Future. I was there.

I spent three days last week trucking around the four awkward fitting corners of Nebraska-Missouri-Iowa-Kansas delivering and picking up seed. Couple of long days and short nights, but it was a lot of fun to be back in the truck, getting caught up on podcasts while watching the entire world wake up to spring.

It all started Tuesday, when the owner of the lab space I rent asked me to run some seed to his dealer in Graham, Missouri, a 200-size town roughly 20 miles east of I-29 off the Mound City exit. It’s the fourth time since December that I’ve driven down or across the I-29/Missouri River Valley, and the hills still roll like an endless wave. At least I-29 is better than I-35 between Des Moines and KC. On my way home, I grabbed dinner at Crave in Lincoln, thinking I’d spend Wednesday dutifully catching up.

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

On actual Wednesday, those tidy plans were disrupted when I was asked to go to Belle Plaine, Iowa and pick up a bulk load of seed. I gratefully threw my plans for the day out the window and left promptly because, as sudden as it was, too many ordinary days lead to too many ordinary thoughts. Besides I got to eat at the Corn Crib. 

Thankfully, I pressed hard to get to Belle Plaine and arrived at the processing plant just before the secretary I had to bother was about to leave for the day. I was loaded quickly and peacefully traversed to my parents’ apartment in Ames, along the tight hills-corridor of US Highway 30, until it opens up to four lanes around Marshalltown.

Thankfully, I slept poorly and woke up at 3:18 A.M. After 45 minutes of kidding myself, I got up, showered, and was out the door by 5 A.M., eager to beat rush hour traffic around Des Moines. So giddy, I celebrated with Starbucks breakfast: oatmeal with a vanilla latte, things I always want to get at Starbucks, but never do because I’m never there that early.

I glided cheerily through lighter traffic and the world waking up, even as my energy inconveniently burned off around 7:45, forcing me to crush a Starbucks Refresher. I still dragged, but clung to the thought that I would be back to Seward before noon and who knows what the afternoon would hold.

And upon my return to office, I was asked to take one more delivery to Kansas that afternoon! I eagerly said yes. After all, I could go home for lunch and crash for ten minutes and be back to normal. If I didn’t have another delivery, I would be on pins and needles from the Refresher all afternoon. Imagine the waste.

I went home, ate, started a load of laundry, and repeated the delivery cycle. This particular delivery was just across the Nebraska-Kansas border, south of Odell, Nebraska. The familiar turns on I-80 east to Lincoln, them south to Beatrice whizzed by me, almost as if it were happening to someone else. I crossed the border on an obscure country road (miss the welcome-to-Nebraska signs!), and after a bit of searching, found the farm. Then it was back up the highway, and another special dinner (Culver’s this time around), rushing back to Seward in time for church. A delightful day indeed.

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Border Signs

Road Notes: Brush with the South and Dragging On

It started out "promising" (field in northern Missouri)...

It started out “promising” (field in northern Missouri)…

Last Sunday morning, I rolled out of bed at 10 A.M. and took three hours to pack and square things around the house before I left. The previous day, I had come up with a flawless plan of how I would leave around nine and get to Columbia, Missouri by four at the latest for an evening of enjoying Mizzou’s campustown. Instead, I ended up rolling into Moberly, Missouri at 8 P.M. and eating a Subway sub on my bed while watching Sunday Night Baseball.

On the hour drive from Moberly to Thompson in the morning, I realized it might have been just as efficient to have spent the night in Mexico, Missouri, from which Thompson was a much shorter drive. But I pressed on to the farm, where I met our dealer-grower. He was not able to plant until June 30, but his soybeans looked promising as they battled the weeds, coming up among the straw that was grown in the field over winter. In central Missouri, the earliest frost is usually late enough so that he will be fine.

From there, I drove down US Highway 54 toward I-70, only to pull over at a Wal-Mart in order to get an oil change that I had been putting off. I got out of my truck at the drop-off spot just outside the mechanic’s bay, but none of the three guys in the garage to came up of to help me I had to wander into the office to find someone, and if I hadn’t had to take the time to get lunch there, the stop would have been an utter waste. Do I even remember my own time-saving principals?

My extra time gone, I made haste down the interstate. The next guy I had to met lived all the way down in Braggadoccio, Missouri, fourteen miles from the Arkansas border in the Missouri Bootheel. He had an appointment the next morning, but agreed to met me that afternoon, so I bolted through the St. Louis suburbs, by the bluffs of the Mississippi, until they rolled themselves into flatter country south of Cape Girardeau. I actually did see some corn, but I didn’t notice the crop I expected, cotton. I arrived in Braggadoccio just before 5, and met our grower by the tiny post office, and an old building that turned out to be his storefront.

Flooded Rice Field

Flooded Rice Field

Much of Braggadoccio was destroyed by a tornado several years ago, but our grower rebuilt his home and farming enterprise, and now is doing very well. He farms rice as a rotation crop, as it setups up the field with the nutrients that corn and soybeans need. Rice farming involves flooding the fields, a method that wouldn’t be possible without the abundance of water the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers provide. I asked our grower to point out a cotton field to me, and it turns out, a cotton field looks just like a soybean field.

To get a jump start on the next day, I drove back north, stopping first in New Madrid, Missouri to take some pictures of the Mississippi from the town’s long river access amidst the industrial villages lining. After soaking in humid river air, I drove to Sikeston, where I spent the night.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

There were four signs of the south I noted on this trip. First, the accents. Two, the abundance of mobile homes. Three, the rice and cotton fields. Four, how horrendously friendly everyone was. And fifth, when the hostess at Ruby Tuesday’s sat me for dinner, she said “Ms. Amber will be with you in a moment.” #outofmycomfortzone

Typical?

Typical?

Tuesday morning, I got up late and drove up through a small slip of the delta and crossed the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, right by the mouth of the Ohio River near some of the flattest ground I’ve ever seen. (BTW, the mouth of the Ohio is so much grander than the mouth of the Missouri for some reason.) Cairo, like many of the mid-sized towns in Illinois, is bleak and run-down, with one too many civic buildings downtown. Mass construction (undoubtedly to spend Obama stimulus dollars) slowed the traffic on I-57 as I passed turnoffs for Louisville and Nashville, and continued toward my destination of Pana, Illinois.

After my third meal at Subway in three days (coupon) at the Salem, Illinois exit, I drove up a gritty US Highway 51 to my field north of Pana. It had some weed issues, but the stand was good. Not wanting to drive too late into the night, I headed up towards Springfield. I had to share a couple of my posts on social media, but instead of doing the easy thing and stopping at a Starbucks I knew from last year, I bypassed Springfield and decided that I would happen upon WiFi connection elsewhere. Surprisingly, my brazen spirit was rewarded at a gas station west of Jacksonville, Illinois.

I spent the night at the Super 8 in Hannibal, Missouri. Dinner was my official trip splurge-pizza and wine at an Italian brick-oven bistro. The chicken alfredo pizza satiated my craving for fine food, but the wine made me really sleepy. Nevertheless, I went for dessert at Java Jive and hung around downtown until dusk.

Wednesday, my final day passed like a dream, as I whisked across a near anonymous section of the Iowa-Missouri border, then criss-crossed across southeast Iowa until I got to our grower in Pella. This guy had actually planted his beans May in spite, and they looked healthy. I made one fatal mistake-the best time to met the grower was at 12:30, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to put off lunch. By the time I finished going over the fields at two o’clock, I was in such a fowl mood it didn’t matter. (At least I got Culver’s.)

Even though I barely stopped, the drive back to Seward seemed to get so much longer when I reached Des Moines and began driving on the section of I-80 that I drive when I go to Ames. My mind has cataloged every stop and what’s at every stop, so now it always seems tedious and unnew. But I kept pressing on, and was never more relieved to arrive at home when I rolled in just before nine.

Looks promising...

Looks promising…

 

Michigan and The Long Road to Fairgrove

It is an eight-hour roundtrip drive from my sister’s apartment in La Porte, Indiana to the Mantey’s Family Farm in Fairgrove, Michigan. My dad made this drive many times over the years, which is a nine-hour round trip from my aunt’s in Tinley Park, Illinois. I’ve split the trip into two days sometimes to see more along the way. Michigan in the summer is the lushest shade of green, and their interstates are peaceful compared to the rest of the country. Trucks are kept to a speed limit below other vehicles, tranquilizing them, and the traffic is mostly local and generally less than other parts of the counrty. I think about living here, but then again, I never see winter here. Other than the first two hours of the drive, I’m never more than an hour away from a major city.

Warren Dunes on a Sunny Day

Warren Dunes on a Sunny Day

I stopped at Warren Dunes State Park one morning to read, and we’ve spend Labor Day Weekends near there too. It’s spacious and adventuresome, and the bluffs are majestic.

There’s a nice urban stretch on I-94 between Kalmazoo and Battle Creek home to the only coffeehouse that is (as far as I know) within a short driving distance from my route. It feels odd rolling through all those suburbs along the interstate because I’m not by a major city but I’m passing a major stretch of strip malls.

Michigan State Capitol in Lansing

Michigan State Capitol in Lansing

The halfway points comes a little after the break off of I-94, where I turn north to go to Lansing/East Lansing on I-69. I’ve taken the detour by the Michigan State Capitol and Spartan Stadium. Downtown Lansing is a blend of east coast corporate built into Midwestern stones; it’s Madison without the extreme hippies. MSU is a beautiful campus, laden with bushy green trees when I go, and alive with the young people who stay on campus during the summer. The campus seems close together, but not cramped. The loop around Lansing takes twenty minutes, and then I’m headed towards Flint.

Open Road West of Flint

Open Road West of Flint

My first time driving by Flint, I turned off I-69 a few miles before I got to I-75 and took Michigan Highway 13 north, dodging the interstate land of Flint. By coincidence, I found a fruit stand at an apple orchard, and acquired some of the best apples I’ve ever tasted.

That little highway without a shoulder turns me on to I-75 a few miles south of Frankenmuth, AKA Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Our family spent a long weekend there in 2008, and it’s a great place to stop and buy gifts, and a couple of the unique food items I like. For sure, it’s corny, and it doesn’t get a lot of business from outside of Michigan, but I credit to the locals who worked to make their community what it is.

From Frankenmuth, it’s all up on county highways. Sometimes, I have had to make way stops in Bay City to use the Internet, and I’ve found this great coffee shop downtown called Brewopia. It’s one of the best coffee environments I’ve ever been to, with high ceilings, brick walls, and great music, and a great old store front. Other times when I’ve there I go wander by the river downtown.

Brewtopia in Bay City

Brewtopia in Bay City

Store in Bay City

Store in Bay City

The Mantey’s farm is live straight west of Fairgrove. The entire family went to Michigan State, and their barns are painting Green and White, with the Spartan log. In addition to the corn we get from them, there are a lot of wheat and grain fields in the area, many with the signs of cereal companies. It usually takes me several hours to get through all their fields, but the time spent there is worth it. The is land off the grid, with no major interstates cutting through it. I enjoy that, even when I’m pressed for time. Given how short the growing season is in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, time is indeed precious when frost comes earlier.

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Wheat Field, or possibly a bowl of cereal.

There are always lots of empty buildings that I pass along the way. Some are large factories in Saginaw, some are store fronts in little towns like Unionville or Caro, some are barns that are falling apart. It always makes me sad to see them, but I keep going past the four neglected walls through my mythical land of green. I’m only supposed to be there during the growing season, but I treasure my Michigan memories all year.

Return to the Road

I first tasted daylight yesterday around 5:10. I had to run out to Hastings and pick up some seed, and then take it to Ames in the afternoon. I debated about getting up and trying to leave by 6, getting to Starr’s at first light. Instead, I rolled over, slept some more, and got up at 6:15. Still left a bit at 7:10.

This is the time of year were I start wearing thin of driving. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing fields, and I love hitting up certain restaurants. But after this much time in the road, I need to spend a month at home to recoop mentally and put the ideas I’ve come up with to the page. I love the photograph, but I need time away  from it Labor Day weekend at the lake can’t get here soon enough.

I make the jaunt to Hastings at least four times a year, the last time being when the ears have filled out and I take measurements and pictures for our buyers. I can usually make it in an hour and twenty minutes, but Saturday I took my time. I stopped for a flash rain and got Starbucks in York. The barista was way to friendly for 8AM Saturday morning, but I got a receipt for a $2 drink after 2 PM.

I get to Hastings at 9, right when our grower was supposed to have a meeting. We load seed and talk about the drought. They had to shut off one of their pivots for a week during detasseling, but their starting to come back around. There’s a reason my dad tries not to call the growers between August 1 and August 18. It is the fear range when they’re worried about the size of the ear, and understandably so.

The Platte is dead dry, and I don’t just mean shallow as usual. I mean there’s no water in it and farmers have been disking it. I have to drive 65 back because of my load, making the road more tedious than ever. Funny thing is, driving five miles below the speed limit on the interstate is so relaxing. You rarely have to pass anyone and can just relax in one lane. I get home and take another nap before eating a carefully planned last meal, packing, and leaving.

The packing for this trip was easier: since I will just be going to fields, I only need grubby shirts and shorts. I take fewer books than on previous trips. I do the dishes, hang up the last load of laundry, and bolt.

On the way to redeeming my receipt for a $2 drink, I find out it was easier to get to a Starbucks in Omaha off the interstate than I’d originally conceived: just take the I-680 and get off at Pacific, there’s one right by Westside High at 87th. It’s one of the best Starbucks I’ve ever been to, sitting at the corner of a strip mall so half of the walls have huge windows on them. I get my drink, write a little, and head out.

I listen to Issues, Etc. as I drive, programs on the Old Testament prophets mostly. This the time of year where I have seemingly unlimited time to catch up on all the stuff I like to listen to, especially Issues. That’s a lot of what makes this worthwhile.

Issues are black and white

Roads Notes from my First Production Trip: Wisconsin

Tuesday-Left home ten until nine. Dropped off recyclables in north Lincoln. Get off at 84th street to go to Crane Coffee, but stop at Husker Hounds first; score a mesh shirt on sale. Then get a green tea smoothie and write on my IPod at Crane.

Lunch at the Corn Crib. Usually, I order off the menu, but to save time, I get a pre-made pork tenderloin out of the warmer. The flavor is authentic as it always is. Watch the weather channel and read Body Surfing by Anita Shreve. (Why am I even starting that book? I’m reading another five already.)

The Corn Crib in the Shelby, Iowa (I-80 exit 34)

Took a detour from I-80 MM 60 through 67 to shot some barns. Found several, and only had one mile of road to drive on. Took 1/2 an hour somehow, & when I got back on the road, found a text that said my meeting was at 3 instead of 3:30 Arrived 15 minutes late.

Wednesday-Got up at 5:38 and left at 6:55. It’s partly cloudy with scattered rains off and on, threatening to blind me with the rising if a sudden hard rain comes. But after I-35 MM 165, the clouds burn off.

At 8:39, stop & use restroom at MN welcome center. Grab hotel coupons. While most of the work is done, Owatonna is still working on their construction project from last summer.

As I dart through the MSP suburbs, stop in Woodbury for gas and a Quizno’s breakfast sub in a strip mall built for wealthy wives with stated parking time limits on parking individual spaces. There’s a non-chain coffee shop I’m intrigued by but don’t stop in. Cross into Wisconsin to be greeted by rain showers and sunshine. Not blinded, but a few never-racking miles.

Get off where I’m supposed to, but take a wrong turn and end up in the middle of Hoffman Hills State Park. Arrived at our growers, field tour lasts an hour. Plants hand high. Forget my camera and have to take photos on my way out.

Hopefully, this will be a field of gold in September.

Take a wrong turn and end up taking WI-HWY 29 into Eau Claire instead of I-94. Minus a Wisconsin map, I have to rely on my GPS, and find my way down to the interstate. Detour leads past Starbucks and I grab an iced caramel macchiato and a blueberry muffin while I check e-mail and social media Eat ravenously as my lunch was inadequate.

Around I-94 MM 111, there’s grafatti on a rock quarry. See a lot of roadside signs supporting Governor Walker, only two calling for him to be recalled.

Stop at rest stop about MM 137 to see if they have a Wisconsin road map. They don’t, but after observing the framed map in the lobby, I decide to get off at Warrens and see if there’s a cool cranberry-themed shop. There is, but it’s closed when I get there. I take backroads to Tomah, where I stop by a Humrid Cheese, a store I’ve observed several times. But fudge and summer sausage and cheese pack.

Photograph both the Wisconsin River and Ship Rocks on my way to the field. I really like the Ship Rocks photos and might frame one for myself. The field takes me too long to find, due to it being 5 o’clock and curved Wisconsin roads. Afterward, I get on I-39 and head down to Portage. I check the Super 8 first, but it’s full. The woman behind the counter tells me to check the Best Western behind Wall-Mart. It looks like a midlevel conference center, and I worry it’ll be over $100, but the corporate rate is $80 with tax.

Ship Rocks

I check the steak and seafood house across the street, but it’s got nothing I want. I go to Culver’s and order cheese curds, fries, and chili: three sides that cost as much as a value meal. I go back to my room and eat in front of baseball and the Western Conference Finals, but I got to sleep at 9:30.

Thursday-Zip Down to Madison on I-39. Some construction, but the sun is shining. Get off on US 151 to head downtown, find that it offers a few of the Camp Randall press box in the distance, like the one you get of Memorial Stadium’s when you’re driving west on Vine Street. Madison has college town feel akin to Eat Lansing and Berkeley: dingy houses with obvious snow wear, lots of trees, people wear odd clothing combinations. Before I get to downtown, I get stuck waiting for a train, so I check my GPS and write this.

Walk around the Lake Mendota and the river flowing into it. Pass a group of kids who must be in some summer day camp, three older African American guys fishing, and two girls who look be going kayaking. Admire the Lilly pads, then get in the truck and continue heading downtown. Like Milwaukee, the houses in Madison suddenly get nicer the closer you get to the lake.

Summer Lake

When I approach the Capitol, I realize what I thought must be the Camp Randall press box is really a building with a lot of glass windows. I circle the Capitol, and park on street, only to find my thirty-five cents net me 14 minutes of parking time. I make a quick run inside the Capitol, observe a protest against governor Walker, see where I want to eat on State Street, and move my truck into a parking facility I passed up on my way to park on the street.

Madtown

I have lunch at Michalengo’s Coffee on State Street: turkey and asparagus on focaccia, with baklava for dessert. Unfortunately, they don’t take my company credit card. I lunch while staring at their bright, homey abstracts which seem strangely accessible.

Post lunch, I stroll down State to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which I technically don’t have time to go to. It requests donation, but I don’t have the right bills. (Actually, I do, but they’re stuffed down in my wallet.) I check out one of the floors sheepishly as the docent watches everyone like a hawk. The show is of abstract animals; I bail after a quick glance through, wishing I had the time.

Drive in circles looking for Camp Randall Stadium, and then drive around Camp Randall once before deciding to park there. Sneak and get a view of the field through a supply hall were some chair backs are stored. Field turf shimmers like a lake in the Wisconsin summer sun.

My Secret View of the Badgers’ Home Turf

After threading my way through Madison’s quaint, 1950’s box home neighborhoods, I get on Highway 14 to go to Dakota, Illinois where our next grower is. Most of the highways I have to use are county roads, and I am forced to use my GPS often. Lots of little towns and dairy farms, but I finally get there after another wrong turn. The farms here are closely clustered together, more so than in Nebraska and Iowa.

While I’m at the field, my Dad calls me to say he’s received the locations of our test plots in Wisconsin. Previously, I understood there would just be one or two, but now he tells me that there’s eight, some of which are east of Madison. He suggests that I go back up to Madison to start in the morning, but I decide to go to Freeport (which is only six miles away) and check the e-mail. This is the first time it would have been helpful for me to have 3G.

Freeport, Illinois is so much more run down than it’s neighbor to the west, Dubuque, Iowa. What a difference a state government can make. While Dubuque is defined by its shipping yards on the Mississippi and its agrarian fields to the west, Freeport is a run down factory town. Initially, I target McDonald’s for WiFi, but then I find the public library, which happens to be in a municipal building. I sit in the building’s main hall and check the e-mail: the first field is by Fennimore, Wisconsin, which is directly north of Dubuque, so I go there as I planned and spend the night with my friend Tom.

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