Out of My Typical Civilization, Into Amish Country: Two Whole Days in Iowa

Written this morning.

What has four legs, a couple of wheels, and very modest values?  A horse-drawn buggy pulling some Amish folk, duh!  I have arrived in Iowa after riding less than 200 miles on Saturday, and have discovered that the Amish flourish in southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa.  I giggle every time I see a sign that says “Amish Byway,” which is really just a wide paved shoulder on the side of the regular highway.  There are also signs that show a silhouette of a horse and buggy (think of a deer crossing sign) to serve as a warning that they are around, so be cautious.


Sassy (left) and Cairo. What a rambunctious pair! Brynne’s cats were definitely good cuddle buddies, and intense wake up calls!

Saturday morning began with Brynne’s kitties running around the apartment and across my head, soon followed by a cheerful Brynne bringing in an enormous sticky bun and a fresh coffee.


Giant sticky bun!

What a friend!  A breakfast for kings to start my day!  She had to leave for work just before 9am, but I took my time trying to get my books on mp3 updated and figure out my ride for the day.  I had decided that I wanted to venture into Wisconsin and down to Iowa, just so I could hit another state on this trip.  I’ve been to Wisconsin a couple times before, so it wasn’t a huge deal if I saw much or not.

I started out for Wisconsin around 10:30am, made it four miles into the state, then decided I just wanted to get to Iowa as soon as I could, so I turned back toward the Twin Cities, then South on highway 52 and took that until I needed gas.  The highway eventually turned into a two-lane back road with small towns scattered near it.  I stopped for gas and a stretch break about 20 miles north of Iowa.  At this point, I had already been flipped off because a guy in a pickup truck disapproved of my passing him.  I have begun to wonder whether Midwesterners think this hand gesture means what it really means, or if they just wave like that.  Don’t get me wrong, that is only the second “finger” I’ve encountered, the first of which was on Friday when I was riding with the two other motorcyclists, and I didn’t even see it.

When I got going again, I was a little stressed because the battery on my GPS was dying, I was getting into smaller back road towns, and I still hadn’t crossed into Iowa.  I was, however, instantly cheered up when I started to see the signs for Amish.  After about another 30 minutes, I arrived at my destination, my longtime friend Jay’s house, just outside of Waukon, Iowa.  I have known Jay since I was in fourth grade, or so.  I spent the whole summer between 8th grade and 9th grade with my dad in Eastern Washington, and Jay was my closest friend at that time, though my dad very much disapproved and was not afraid to say so.  Jay and I still get a good laugh at how my dad thought Jay was probably the biggest trouble maker in the town, which he was quite the opposite, and still is.

After twelve years, seeing Jay was like no time had passed.  We have talked pretty frequently over the years, given the distance between where we live, so we didn’t need to catch up much.  I unloaded most of my gear, met his dog, Snuggles, and we set out to do some leisurely property walking.


Miss Snuggles is so gorgeous. However, she’s the only pet that hasn’t cuddled with me on this trip, making her name ironic.


Walking through an Iowa soy bean farm, with bordering trees.

Jay has been looking to buy some land out here, and he thought it’d be a good way to talk and pass the time.  It was, even if it included walking over soy bean plants and between rows of corn stalks taller than me.  I have always enjoyed agriculture, and this was even more fun, trying to find when property lines began or ended and scoping out the scenery.

There is one particular road that runs by his house that sits on almost a ridge so that anyone driving on it has a vantage point to see for miles.  It is from here that you can tell Iowa isn’t all corn fields and crops.  There is a national park not far off and large clusters of trees in every direction.


Looking East at the nearly full moon during last night’s sunset.

After walking the fields, we headed back to his place, which is not located in town, but there are several houses grouped close to his.  One of those buildings is a restaurant, which has more of a gathering hall feeling to it, and on this particular Saturday night it was pretty busy.  Saturday is prime rib night for dinner and there happened to also be a class reunion and a wedding going on, but service was still fast and the food was still good.  I’m sure the cows for the prime rib are raised very close by because the flavor of the meat, even though I accidentally ordered it medium rare, was really good – unlike the store bought stuff I pick up at home.

That night, we wound down by putting on a big fire; well, Jay did while I called my parents back home and caught them up on things.  Jay is getting ready to move, so he had a few things to burn, so it made for a purposeful fire.  At his house, there is no light pollution; you can see the stars in all their glory, even with the nearly full moon hanging brightly in the sky.  I was excited when I thought I saw a shooting star, and even more excited when I realized it was a firefly.  Why do fireflies live everywhere but the West Coast?  They are so captivating to see, even though I’ve seen them dozens of times before.  Snuggles thought so, too; I caught her trying to catch the bugs with her mouth and was super agitated when one landed on her butt.

After calling it a night, I retired to the upstairs guest room to work on more homework.

Sunday was an adventure all in itself.  Jay had planned a river float trip with a few of his friends, but he and I were going into town for breakfast beforehand.  All the restaurants locally are mom and pop.  Everyone knows everyone, and people are courteous and friendly.  After breakfast we met up with some of his buddies, drove to the river, and met up with a couple more.  We started floating around 1pm and were done around 5pm.


A shot from where we ended our tubing trip on the North Iowa River.

The float was similar to those back home, but also new in a few ways.  Flood lines were apparent from flooding that had brought the river up at least six feet a couple weeks ago, but had since recessed.  Debris hung in some trees and some trees hung in the river.


A view of the gorgeous greenery and beautiful sky as we floated down the river.

At one point, I thought I saw a trashcan lid on the bank of the river, but it was actually a huge snapper turtle!  I found a few river clams that were the size of my hand and contemplated taking them to cook up for dinner, but decided against it.

Hanging out with the group was entertaining to say the least.  Most had been given nicknames by each other that stuck around indefinitely.  There was Toby, Cheeto, Joe, Bill, Spanky, and Cheyenne.


Drinking the last of my free beers that I was given in Missoula. (Way better than the coveted Coors enjoyed by the Iowans, in my opinion).


From the left, Joe, Jay, Cheeto (isn’t he polite), Bill, and Toby. Cheyenne and Spanky managed to hide.

All were a comic relief to my trip and made my visit to Iowa very enjoyable.  They all got a good laugh out of me when I mentioned that we were caught in an ‘eddy.’  They said there was no need to use a fancy word for what they called a ‘slow spot.’  In case you’re wondering, none were wearing wife beaters, or cutoff jeans, though Cheeto insisted he should have and he had the mutton chops facial hair to go with it; they weren’t missing teeth or sporting mullets.  I may see that kind of stuff in the deep south, but these Iowa kids were normal,  except for the silly Midwestern accents.

We ended last night with dinner at Jay’s mom’s house.  His mom, Roxanne, and her boyfriend, Chip, only live about ten minutes down the road from Jay and they have a 1990 Harley Davidson motorcycle that they take out on the weekends.  Homemade lasagna was for dinner and it was amazing.  Roxanne and Chip had many questions for me about my trip and a few suggestions for places I should visit.  I welcomed their advice, as they’ve done their fair share of riding.  After dinner, Chip showed off the several jeeps and four wheelers him and Roxanne get to play with.  We all watched the sun set across the wide open spaces of Iowa cropland and forested areas.


Beautiful Iowa sunset.

Before we headed back to Jay’s, Chip presented me with a crystal necklace he had received while traveling a while ago.  He told me the story of how he acquired it and what it meant.  The main point he made was that crystals intensify one’s desires or wishes and help the wearer in whatever way possible.  When the wearer no longer needs the extra push, the crystal will make its way to a person that needs it more.  I was very thankful for this kind gesture, and have added it to the current necklace collection I’m wearing.  I’m sure I look like I’m trying to pull off some punk rock, inner-city kid, look, but I’m not.

We called the night quits around 9pm, since Jay had to leave for work this morning at 3:30am.  I was able to wake up then to say goodbye and couldn’t get back to bed until after 6am.  The good thing about this was that I was able to catch the sunrise and snap a good picture of it!


Iowa sunrise. I’ve been wanting to get up in time for sunrise for a while. Today was perfect.

Today, I am heading through Des Moines and quite possibly on to Kansas City.  I’m not sure how far I’ll get, but I’m praying for better cell phone service along the way!


2 thoughts on “Out of My Typical Civilization, Into Amish Country: Two Whole Days in Iowa

  1. Roxanne Hawkins

    I am so sorry that u had some bad experiences in our area yesterday. If u are able to get back this way we will make sure it is better. Snuggles may not have cuddled up with ya but she sure as heck wanted to go back with you guys and she has never done that, so be assured she loved ya. Have a safe journey and we truly enjoyed having you come visit and hope to see you soon. Roxanne and Chip

    1. wendthr Post author

      I blame the bad stuff on my GPS, is all! Thanks Roxanne 🙂 it was a great day for riding, though. And I found a free camp spot, so I’m happy!


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