Day 7 - Who Said a Cloud in the Sky Was a Bad Thing?
Portsmouth Travel Blog› entry 7 of 16 › view all entries
TUESDAY 27 JULY 2010
Departure from Guthrie Center: 7:15 am
Arrival in Portsmouth: 3:00 pm
Saddle/Total Time: 5:28:01/7:45
Average Speed: 10.5 mph
Wrong Turns: 0
Money Spent: $23.82
Very glad the start was early today; the tree-less Highway 44 offered only the occasional farmhouse that might have a driveway with a tree and a sliver of shade. By noon, it was a sweltering 106*F in the sun. I stopped to rest four times in the last two hours of my ride. Passed through Greeley Township, Kimballton and Harlan on the way to Portsmouth.
This area of Iowa is very friendly and sparsely populated. Even on the highway, I was passed by cars only once every minute or two. Many people waved from their vehicles. A teenager on my way out of Harlan leaned out his window and pointed east, back the way I came from: "Dude. I saw you, like, three hours ago. That way. It's hotter than hell."
Portsmouth is self-described as "The Biggest Little Town in Iowa" on its welcome sign. I stopped two miles east of it and asked a farmer what was in the town before heading in. "I haven't been there in awhile. There's a church and a bar." I stopped outside a barbershop for a breather, waiting for someone to pass by to ask for directions, so I know there is a church, a bar, and a barbershop, at least. I was soon directed to St. Mary's Our Lady of Fatima on top of a steep hill. One final push.
I sat outside it for another breather in the shade. I tried the doors and they were locked. Bummed. Went to a little building next-door that appeared related and knocked. No answer. Rang the doorbell. No answer. But wait. After a minute, a man opens the door and introduces himself: Father John. I explain my situation, that I need a place to rest. I can't go any further today. He invites me in, has me put the bike in the garage, and shows me the guest- and bathroom. Bringing my bags up the stairs, a man comes in from across the street. He has recently won $10,000. Father John jokes with him: "You know, we've been friends a long time." And, "When are you going to invite me for dinner?"
I nap on top of the guest bed's comforter for 90 minutes. I wake up feeling cool. A framed poster on the wall displays a collage of fields, trees, and a smiling, moustachiod man. Several pictures are inset featuring the peoples of Iowa: Native Americans, African Americans, German, Italian, and British immigrants, Latino Americans. All of them are posing or doing their jobs in the old photographs. The poster is titled "Iowa Roots."
After Father John treated me to dinner (chimichongas at a place back in the edge of Harlan), he gave me a tour of Harlan, showing me what makes it the county seat. In Iowa, one town is chosen as the seat, which attracts business and population. A council building is built on a square lot, toward the center of town. John serves at two other parishes, one being in Harlan, the other is north in a township.
John's dog, Chevy, is a 128 pound golden lab. We took him for a walk around the cemetary, admiring the rolling hills from the hill the church sits on. We fed the neighbor's horses sliced apples. A man in a truck stopped by to say hello to us. Turns out he had just return from Spain with friends, one of whom was running with the bulls. "When I found out how much our balcony cost, I decided I would do little else but stand on it," he said.
As the sun was just about set, we entered a hall near the church, a separate building. Inside was a full basket ball court, a theatre, and a large kitchen. John got two basketballs - one torn to shreds, the other fine - and rolled one around for Chevy. I walked about for five minutes on the half-lit court, watching the dog walk after the ball, nosing it. He was panting heavily and getting tired. John picked up the ball, bouncing it on a short, wooden locker, creating a loud booming sound that filled the court. He was also hollering, and Chevy started barking and getting excited. Then John threw the ball and Chevy accelerated into a running chase. "He can dribble the ball and even pass it. I haven't gotten him to shoot it yet, though." John picks up the ball at the three-point line for the first time himself and shoots it. It's a perfect swish.