In Search of the Real America • Summer 2017 • Day 3

- by Fred Schlomka - 

The America I knew is collapsing - folding in on itself and apparently reinventing the very basis of its existence. The man in the White House is rocking the world. Regardless of what anyone says, Donald Trump’s stunning victory will forever reshape the political landscape in the USA. I resolve to examine the underlying social fabric that led to this situation.  A cycling tour is my preferred tool.

Day 3
Redwing to Prescott • Minnesota - 22 miles (43km)
Total biked 90 miles (144km)
The first shriek startles me out of my sleeping bag. I can usually sleep through anything but this sounded like a banshee was inside the tent ready to carry off my dead body. I am camped on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, just 30 feet (10 meters) from the water. The train tracks on the other side run along the banks and the trains’ horns must be Minnesota’s response to some long standing and forgotten feud between the states. It went on like this about every 45 minutes - all night.

I sleep fitfully and when I am finally fully awake it is because of the torrential rain hammering on the tent roof, which, together with the periodic train keening, serve to alert me to the coming day. I stay in the tent awhile, get a little work done on the computer and have some breakfast. A wood burning camp stove is not exactly conducive to indoor use so I forego coffee.

Finally I am up. The rain has relaxed a bit so I fold up the wet tent and get everything on the bike. The ‘Harbor Bar’ is closed but the cleaning man is working so I am allowed to use the toilet and freshen up for the day. Jeb the cleaner kindly makes me coffee and refuses payment. A real gentleman. We sit at the bar and chat about cycling and the condition of the world. He used to bike and is quite knowledgeable about the art. Whipping out an enormous late model smartphone he proceeds to show me my trail options for the day, on a cycling App I was not familiar with. The fellow is over 70 years old so this is quite impressive. Finally I’m off.

The first stretch is lightly rolling hills, following the river. I notice a change in housing style and the size of the lots. People seem less affluent on this side of the river. Houses are smaller and more run down. The lawns are still there but not quite so well kept. The vehicles in the driveways are older. Some homes have several cars and trucks to the side or behind the house, some of them with grass growing up around the wheels, obviously not been used for a while. Perhaps never will again. Interspersed between the small bungalows are trailer homes with their wheels hidden by skirting, some with extensions added. They obviously are permanent installations despite the wheels.

It drizzles off and on for a few hours. I don’t mind. I am tightly wrapped in my waterproof gear.

I pass through ‘Diamond Bluff - Unincorporated’, a small hamlet of a few dozens souls that has not grown large enough for the government to grant them the legal status of a town - yet it is distinct enough to have a name. This reminds me our our ‘unrecognized’ Bedouin villages back home in Israel. However this place obviously has access to utilities and the homes are places where people can live decently - unlike in Israel where the government refuses to allow utilities or even paved roads to be built in the Bedouin communities it regards as superfluous to its grand plans for the ‘Judaisation’ of the country.

Imagine in Wisconsin if the government decided that in communities where the residents were not members of the state religion, that they should be denied the same rights to housing and private property that others enjoy. Imagine if ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ were to be granted only to the white Christian residents? Wait a minute. Wasn’t that the situation here when the Europeans first arrived and the native population and the African slaves were considered barbarians, not to be treated as fully human? And now with this fellow in the White House, these sentiments are once again gaining respectability among otherwise fine upstanding Americans. Some things don’t really change . . . . .

As I mull over these things, the hills start to get steeper as the road turns eastward and the Great River Road climbs over 1,000 feet (330 meters) within a few miles. I push a little at the steepest parts. There’s a plateau at the top with lush farms, wooded areas, and fine views back over the river. I pause to admire a raised bed veggie garden similar to mine back in Jaffa. Then a downhill sweep that gets the heart pumping and the wind racing past my face. Since the rain is off and the road has dried a bit, I release the brakes to see how fast my new bike will go, and to test the stability at high speed. It’s the smoothest ride of any bike I’ve ridden, thanks to Surly and the Hub cycling coop in Minneapolis. It’s hard to believe, but my cycling App registered over 50 MPH (about 80kph) at the steepest parts. A bit scary. I usually go downhill at a more sedate pace.

Finally I arrive in Prescott, a classic riverside town with a broad Main Street and buildings no more than two stories in height. I cycle slowly past the shops, which always give out clues about the particularities of the local culture. For instance the ‘No Name Saloon’ sports a large sign “No guns, knives, or weapons allowed on premises” - and across the street the pawn shop declares “Loans Made on Guns”. Quite a contrast from Israel where private sales of weapons are illegal, yet a person with a licensed gun is usually quite welcome in all pubs or restaurants since it gives the Jewish citizenry a sense of security. Unlike the USA, guns are actually quite hard to get in Israel, all weapons are licensed, and everyone must go through a rigorous training program before a weapons permit is issued. Pistols are rarely hidden and people who have a pistol permit wear their guns openly. Our civil murder rate is minuscule compared to the USA. Little to do with the availability of weapons, but more a matter of national mindset and the character of the people.

I meet Brad at the Twisted Oak Cafe, a comfortable retreat with a fireplace and armchairs. Brad is a sculptor and sheep farmer, a refugee from the city who has found solace in raising a family far from the temptations of urban areas. He seems well integrated into the local culture, chatting easily with more indigenous locals who stop by to say hello.

I settle into the cafe for a work session with hot tea and snacks. Sunita arrives later and I ride back to Saint Paul in the air conditioned comfort of our rental car. It’s been a good day.

- Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective. He spends months adventuring on the road with his bicycle each year, while managing the organisation via phone and laptop. - 


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