I spent the night under a tree by some railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere. It rained through the night and I woke up the next day to a leaky tent and a wet sleeping bag. But the sun was peaking through the clouds by late-morning, so I hung out my items to dry while resting in the unincorporated town of Avalon (population: 387). I plopped down onto the sidewalk and feasted upon one of my soggy ham sandwich I had stowed away, while watching my tent and ground sheet flap in the wind from a pair of sign posts.
Nine miles later, I reached the heart of Janesville, a city of around 60,000 people and home to Bessie -- a 16-foot-tall, 20-foot-long, one-ton fiberglass cow. Apparently, she's been moved around a bit over the last couple years and her fate was uncertain, but when I came through, she was standing tall and looked just fine. After dancing in front of the gigantic heifer for a few minutes, I adjourned to the Motel 6 for a good night's rest. It was fabulous to be able to sleep indoors for a change! (God bless a/c.)
The next morning, I veered off the main highway again and took some back roads through the Rock River Valley. While cutting through some farmlands, I spotted a large orange mass hovering above the distant treeline. As far as I could make out, it appeared to be a huge pumpkin head, floating in the sky. The sight was both magnificent and frightening, as I feared that black magic might be involved in creating this apparition. However, as I got closer, I realized it wasn't some magical entity, but rather a farmer's grain silo, with the top painted orange to make it look like a big jack-o-lantern.
Relieved that the evil Saints of Hallow weren't trying exact revenge on me for some past inadvertent infraction, I did a quick dance in front of the farm and walked off to the next town of Edgerton, some 7-8 miles away.
In Edgerton, I revisited the A&W Restaurant that I went to on my 2001 walk, and it was just as delightful as I remembered. I got a juicy bacon cheeseburger, crispy onion rings and an ice-cold root beer that actually came in a frosted glass mug. The chilled mug and the scantily-dressed waitresses made the meal one of my favorites so far on this trip.
After a quick stop at a local C-store, I headed north towards the next town of Stoughton (which I've been foolishly mispronouncing for the last two days). Once again, I veered off the main highway and hopped on County Road A (all the county roads in Wisconsin are lettered instead of numbered) and started walking west as the sun slowly drifted below the horizon.
Just as things started getting really dark, a big burly guy came rolling by on a bike that looked a bit too small for him. His name was Ty, and he offered me an evening's greetings. He asked me why I happened to be walking in the middle of Wisconsin farmland in the dark and I ended up telling him the whole elaborate story of past walks, stolen bikes and my goal of reaching Madison, WI. It seemed as if my stories of ongoing travels moved him in a personal way... bringing back memories of when he was younger and free to roam the earth. Knowing that I'd be setting up camp fairly soon, Ty offered his property to sleep on. He told me that he had a large boat in his yard that I could sleep on if I wanted, and if not, I was more than welcome to pitch my tent on his lawn. Sensing my hesitation, Ty casually dropped the info that he had a wife and three kids, letting me know he wasn't some lone farmer who invites strangers to his home, only to eventually ask them to "put the lotion in the basket or it gets the hose again."
Still not fully committing to his offer, I walked along with Ty to his backyard to check out the accouterments. Sure enough, there was a big white schooner parked in the back of his house... but the thing seemed a bit confining and was a little stale smelling, so I decided to simply set up camp on the grass next to it. Even though it was quite dark by this point, I could tell Ty was beaming with joy with the fact that I decided to stay the night, and he quickly gave me the tour of all the amenities he had to offer. "I can set up some lights and give you electricity, if ya like," he announced, pointing to some extension cords he had in the barn. "And we got an outside faucet there. It's nice and cool and tastes good. Plus, we got the outside shitter, so you'll be all set."
It was nice being able to camp outdoors on a nice piece of flat, grassy land without worrying about being on private property or waking up to realize I was snoozing in a garden made-up of poison ivy and sumac. I slept a good, solid sleep that night.
The next morning I was awoken at 7 o'clock (a bit early for a fool like me) by Ty baring gifts: toast, a hard-boiled egg, and hot chocolate. Even though I wished I was able to get a couple more hours of sleep, his generosity helped perk me up. Then, for the next hour or so, Ty kept returning with more items to donate to my walk, including: berries, Q-tips, twist-ties, a tiny book-light, cherries, and a chart of the evening stars. He regretted that he recently sold a bunch of his old bikes, or he would have given me one, but I told him I was actually enjoying being on foot again; you don't have to worry about mechanical failures, it getting stolen, and you can walk in places you can't bike. But I thanked him profusely for all his charity and finally managed to get packed and on my way.
Meeting a guy like Ty gives me hope that the world isn't such a crappy place after all, and I walked with a little more spring in my step. (However, let me be clear... those bike thieves in Chicago can still eat me!)