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North to Decorah

June 29, 2013

It had rained a bit during the night, which sounds pretty when we’re camping, but I was glad it had stopped long enough so I could get packed up. And the clouds were heavy and gray, so I wanted to get some walking in as soon as possible to beat the rain. We had camped close to the town of Bellevue, so that’s where I got out to walk – along the Mississippi River. Tula and I walked almost 2 miles before it started raining, and I was happy to get that in. One of the main streets through town had railroad tracks running right down the middle of the street – I was wishing a train would go by! The road is wide enough for a full lane of traffic on each side of the tracks, but that’s awfully close to be driving next to a moving train.

I continued north along the river, and was going to stop in Dubuque, but there was so much thunder and lightning along with the rain that I knew it wasn’t a safe place to get out. I drove around town a little bit and saw the old opera house and an old jail and a bit of the waterfront. Then I pushed on along the scenic road to Guttenburg, where we were able to get out and walk some more. There’s actually a copy of the Guttenburg Bible in the library here, but I didn’t go in and see it – I figured I better walk while the rain had temporarily stopped. There was another pretty walkway along the river, and it turned out this was one of the places where eagles thrived as they made their way up out of the endangered species list. There are a lot of small islands in the river here, and it’s good habitat for eagles, and they count at least 200 nests in the area. Even though I walked nearly 3 1/2 miles from one end of the river walk to the other and back again, I didn’t see any eagles. They might have still been hunkered down after the big storms. There were also more locks for the barges to go through, both here and back in Bellevue, but I didn’t see many boats out on the river today.

I really enjoyed driving along the river these last couple days, but it was time to start making my way inland. My destination for today was Decorah – a town settled by Norwegian pioneers. There was a food pantry that operated out of a Lutheran church, and I called to see if there were any particular items they were in need of. They said they could really use canned pineapple, canned tuna and canned chicken, and some produce. So I stopped and shopped for potatoes, carrots and a lot of the canned goods that they asked for. I had to finish the drive to Decorah, and was running a little late, so I called and they said they would still be there. The groceries had been packed in a couple boxes since it was kind of a heavy load, so we got that carried in and chatted for a while. They told me this was the biggest food pantry in Decorah, and they’re open every weekday. They help about 500 families a month.

After I made the donation, I went downtown to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. The entry fee was reasonable, and it was a wonderful little museum. Wikipedia says it’s the oldest and most comprehensive museum in the US devoted to a single immigrant ethnic group. There was a lot of the painted Norwegian furniture and traditional clothing, and a nice Sami display (the Sami people used to be called Lapps, but they consider that to be derogatory). The museum also had the actual 25′ boat that was the smallest boat ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean unassisted. I’m not sure I’d want to go out on a big lake in that little boat, much less cross the Atlantic, but a couple brothers did that in 1933. There were example of traditional Norwegian folk art like rosemaling, chip carving and weaving, and old skis and skates, and other household items. Vesterheim means “western home” and it chronicled the Norwegian lifestyle as they began to adapt to life in America. I only had an hour in the museum, but it was enough time to get a good look at most of the things, and was a really interesting stop.

Tula and I still had a little over 2 1/2 miles of walking, so we did a couple miles of walking in one of the neighborhoods, a park and downtown. This is such a hilly town that they need steps in the sidewalk by a lot of the intersections – anyone who thinks Iowa is just a flat cornfield hasn’t visited the northeast part of the state! I had worked up a good appetite by then, and I had asked the lady at the museum if there were any Norwegian restaurants in town, and she said no, which I thought was kind of strange. She did mention a cafe that sometimes has a couple Norwegian things, but they were closed. So I stopped in at the local BBQ place instead, then called it a day.

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