RAGBRAI XXXIX

A bicyclists poses in front of a Welcome to Wilton sign.
You're on the right track

RAGBRAI passed right through Iowa City this year. I joined in early this morning from home. Today’s tour followed my commuting route to West Branch. It was fun to make that ride today without cars or stress about getting to work on time, though with so many bicyclists you must pay attention to your lateral movements. A lot of people bicycle the way they drive: thoughtlessly, as if putting on a spandex shorts and a mushroom-shaped helmet suddenly makes you the god of the road. But the people in a hurry passed early and by the time I approached Wilton most of the remaining riders were the leisurely sort.

I didn’t go any farther than Wilton, which was the halfway point to Davenport. Today was a bit hot for my tastes, so Lore picked me up there. While I waited I had a chance to mill around town. Wilton has some nice old downtown buildings and a partially restored old train station. A small exhibit in the train station describes it as an “attractive nuisance” that local preservationists saved from demolition. The attractive nuisance provided the best shade, with a view from the railroad grade of the crowded downtown. A long train of multimodal containers, grain bins, and gas tanks passed by around noon, carrying the stuff that feeds our habits.

Speaking of attractive nuisances: RAGBRAI riders sometimes wear costumes. I saw a fifty year old man in a dress and a couple of women wearing fake plastic butts with red “sore spots” over their shorts. I can’t decide which was more gruesome.

Lore arrived after the main surge of riders had left Wilton, but she was still impressed with the size of the crowds. She noted that many of the bicyclists are not in very good shape. I always thought of this as the paradox of cycling. Bicycles are labor-saving devices as well as exercise machines: as the technology improves and bikes become lighter and easier to operate, you have to ride more and more derive the same fitness benefits. On top of that, a lot of the riders head straight to the beer tents in the meeting towns. Lore said that’s like smoking cigarettes in between playing sets of tennis.

I think my little Nikon digital camera might finally be shot. All of my photos were overexposed.

Our fair fairgrounds

You might say that the county fair is a place to see, smell, and step in different kinds of shit. And I would agree with you but if you watch where you walk it’s a lot of fun.

A big brown cow in a stable.
The farmer showed us this large but friendly cow.

I’ve always found agricultural fairs to be educational because suburbanites like me can see what food looks like before it goes to the hot dog factory. This was the last night of the Johnson County Fair but there were still some animals in the exhibition buildings. The sheep were well-trimmed, the pigs stinky, and the cows huge. And I ate a chili dog so I had a real farm-to-table experience.

Two teenagers sprinkle penned pigs with water.
Two future farmers sprinkled the pigs with water.

While Iowa City sometimes seems far removed from Iowa’s rural base, the county fair, which is just on edge of town, is pretty rustic. Country music lives there in exile. In the swine building, some thoughtful farm kids sprinkled hot pigs with water. Later, a fast-talking auctioneer on a wagon sold off chainsaw-carved sculptures. Lore was afraid if I lifted my camera to take pictures I’d accidentally buy a giant wooden raccoon. I got my pictures though.

Spectators watch an auctioneer sell wood carvings from a wagon.
There is a lot of Iowa in this picture.
Colorful rides in a county fair midway.
Colorful carnival rides

To Lore the colorful fair midways are typically American (she says they are in a lot of movies and music videos; I’ll have to pay closer attention to that). So we got on the paratrooper ride (before the chili dog, wisely) and then played some skee-ball. Our low scores won us a couple of inflatable animals. I chose a shark, Lore chose a dolphin. I think mine would win in a battle, though thematically both animals were out of place there.

So here’s to some good old-fashioned wholesome fun: the county fair.

Johnson County Fair

Three little towns

Our little Saturday afternoon jaunt took us through three little towns: River Junction, Riverside, and Kalona. One, River Junction, is basically defunct. The other two are alive and enterprising, but with very different degrees of success.

A woman admires the impressive red and white grave marker of a Civil War veteran.
Lore admired a Civil War veteran's grave in River Junction.

What’s left of River Junction appears to be farms and exurban homes. There’s a little cemetery in a county park there and reconstructed log cabin. I don’t usually think of Iowa as log cabin country but I guess down by the wooded river logs were easier to come by. There some very old gravestones in the cemetery, including one of a man who died before Iowa became a state.

Street lamp banner next to a yellow house pointing to the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk.
Sign marking Captain Kirk's Riverside birthplace

Riverside has a casino resort and a dried-up downtown. The town makes the cheeky claim to being “the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk”. There is a marker behind a little yellow house on 1st Street but it’s not clear is this house is supposed to be the future birthplace. And I guess it doesn’t matter. Neither this nor the casino seem to have rejuvenated the old downtown much. The streets were dead quiet. The town itself is cute, though.

Kalona was pretty bustling with weekend visitors. An old lady in one of the shops mentioned that the middle school is hosting a regional Babe Ruth League softball tournament for the central states. Kalona trades on its rustic setting amid the nearby Amish country. It’s downtown businesses specialize in home decoration and furnishings and the town promotes itself as a quilting hub.

The intersection of two downtown streets is paved in a quilt pattern.
One of Kalona's quilt-patterned intersections

It seems the perpetual road construction I’ve encountered in my several visits to Kalona over the last five years was part of a major downtown beautification project. The sidewalks, street corners, and the intersections have all been redesigned and decorated with quilt patterns an motifs. Kalona has not only vision but an ability to follow through on it.

I have more photos, though the quality is terrible. Turns out my camera lens is absolutely filthy. I’m amazed any light got through at all.

River Junction, Riverside, and Kalona

As seen through a dirty camera lens

The fast runner

Cool stuff in “The Fast Runner”, an Inuktitut-language Canadian film about an Eskimo legend, includes igloos, sealskin clothing, dog sleds, and the complete absence of anything green. The actors are mostly amateurs but they’re not a talkative bunch anyway, like the beleaguered grandmother who looks askance at every ominous turn of events and only speaks when she has something important to say.

It’s refreshing to see a movie that is very basic and good. The story of Atanarjuat is more of a subplot to the illustration of ancient Inuit life. It is set in blinding white snow, steely blue waters, gravely gray beaches, and brown bogs. The characters live on the edge of the livable world making campfires out of lichen and burning seal blubber for light. They don’t keep a lot of stuff around, making things like drums and party igloos when they need them. They eat seals, fish, birds, and caribou, but I don’t think a vegetable appears on-screen, unless seaweed counts.

Upgrade to WordPress 3.2

Screen capture of a minimalist black and white themed website.
Aah Iteration 9 Theme

Adam’s artificial habitat has upgraded to WordPress 3.2, which comes with a new default theme, Twenty Eleven. I especially like the variety of post formats and the showcase template for the home page.

I have made a few changes to Twenty Eleven but, despite its minimalist appearance, it is sophisticated enough that it’s very difficult to modify. It took some gnashing of teeth before I could get the roll of short form posts to look the way I wanted. I am having a lot of trouble getting the modifying the display of recent posts.

Overall I think I’m finally going to give up control over all the little functional details. The theme template files are getting too complicated and I can’t untangle what controls what. As far as the appearance goes, I like the sparseness of it (Lore says it’s “very contemporary”). I’ll probably recolor it at some point and maybe add an illustration to the masthead but I think I’m going to leave the giant banner photo out. I always felt it took up too much space.

I renamed some of the categories. The opinion category Adam Says (I always hated that title) is now Fallible Reasoning, inspired by a quote from James Madison. Travel is now National Me-O-Graphic. A while back I renamed the category about work Paid in Sunsets, after an old ranger saying and even whiler back I renamed the everyday stuff Quotidiana. I hope I’ve finally recaptured some of the cleverness of the old sections titles (like Right Brain) I had on this site before I converted it to a blogging platform.

I’m also using a new plugin to add links to Facebook. It’s actually called Add Link to Facebook. It works better than the last one, which I could never figure out. I’m futzing around with the settings.

Enjoy.