Just for the sake of honesty: After going north instead of south on Hway 18 after the town called Henry, I was a bit frustrated because of a detour but I was too stubborn to turn back and figured out a way to keep the "damage" small - after all, it was only 6 miles or about 10 km more ...
Michelle spotted me first. I was walking around the washrooms at the City Park a bit undecided because nobody had answered my phone call to the town hall and I wasn't sure whether to camp in the sheltered park. But she came up to me full of smiles and said:"You don't know about our showers, do you? You're walking the wrong way!" It turned out that her boyfriend, a retired teacher, had installed a bathroom with a shower just for cyclists in the building at the ball park/City Park in Wenona some years ago. She gave me the number code for the doorlock and I got to use a fantastic "cyclists only" bathroom!! What a service.
Michelle mentioned that she had thought that noone would be coming to stay here anymore for the year (yes, I am late in the season ....) and she told me stories about some of the more memorable "guests" they had met over the years. We had a laugh about the unhappy teenagers who were travelling with their parents on tandems all summer. What a "treat" for teens to see the back of their parents' heads for weeks during their summer vacation!
However, it turned out that all was not quite in order with Michelle. She is an active member of the HOPE organisation for a very sad reason: About twenty years ago, her seven-year-old son was abducted in front of their home on his way to church and then killed. She is wearing a steel ring engraved "For Ever Seven". She loves all her children but, she says, "had I known I would lose one in such a way I would not have wanted a single one!"
Michelle has raised four more children and at the age of 48 is a proud and happy grandmother of two. But that is not all. Her boyfriend - the one who built the cyclists' bathroom - just last Sunday lost his 26-year-old son in a car accident! This family has definitely had more than a fair part of suffering!
Setting up my tent, four teenagers came by and wanted to know about me. My answers to the obvious questions they didn't quite believe at first. "So you went through the glaciers in Canada - but you're only wearing a t-shirt ...!" So I showed them some of my equipment and they started to give me credit. After telling them a bit about my story and showing them how I cooked my meals they asked if I was famous. "Well, not really, but who knows," was my answer. They jumped at this and asked me if I would include them if I became famous. "Are you the first one to do this?", they asked. "Don't you see the many cyclists passing through here every summer?, " I asked back. "Well, in the summer we usually go away to see family". They were incredible.
I asked them to write down their names, age and one wish for their own lives or a comment and Kaily, 12, the youngest one in the group, asked me if I knew what a "Smore" was. When I said I didn't, she didn't believe me. "You travel in the US, you're what? Old? and you don't know what a "Smore" is???? So she wrote down the recipe: "Wish: For you to eat a smore. Ingrediants (sic) Grahm crackers, Marshmellows over a camp fire, Hershey chocolate." Okay, so I'll try that one in the near future! I was bold enough to ask them, "So, do you guys know what a "banana boat" is?" remembering the wonderful experience in Canada. They just laughed and yelled, "Of course! Who doesn't!!"
"But if you don't know a "Smore", what do you guys in Germany know? Do you know "Nike", "Converse", "Mac Donalds" ... Well, what was I to say? "Hey guys, of course! They're all international brands. It's just your food brands I don't know. And, by the way, don't tell me "Smore" is a brand. That's just a word you made up." "Noooooo!, everybody knows Smore.....". And so on ...
Kelsey, 14, is new at her school and is trying hard to get to know new friends. Nick, 15, tells her that everyone else is fake, they aren't really willing to become friends and she should stick with him, that's enough. And then he tells her the story of why he was suspended last year:
"All teachers are crap! Last year I was so fed up with Mrs. Smith, you know what I did? I caught a fly and squashed it just so much that I could stuff it into Mrs. Smith's Coke straw. And when she inhaled the fly it started to move and she spat the coke all over the place! That was great!"
Ethan, 15, dreams of becoming a Pro Car Driver or a mechanic (whatever comes first ....) and has his own set of problems. He has had several heart surgeries and has a pacemaker. His left ventricle is not completely developed. I asked him how he got along with it and it seems that he has found a good way to live with his disease. The pacemaker reduces his heart rate and he knows that when he gets his heart rate too high (over 86 - 90) he will suffer from exhaustion. He is open and very clear about his situation. A great boy. Although he is 15, too, he looks younger, surely due to a retarded physical development. I wish him all the best!
I saw this sign of protest in Wenona. In the northwestern states this attitude would be inconceivable!