After setting records in at least 25 states, the week-long heatwave finally broke here in Iowa. From a high heat index of 112°, we are comfortably back into the mid-80’s for a few days. Managing to walk over 100 miles in that blistering heat was no easy task, but thanks to Support Driver Slater and our talented sweat glands, we pushed through.
Walking during the stifling heat requires some planning. On the worst of days the temp was approaching 90° before 9AM, so we started getting up before sunrise to break down camp and get walking while it was still relatively cool. Max and Grace join us every morning, walking their miles well before the asphalt starts to bubble. On the really good days, we can make 10-15 miles before the heat creeps up and shuts us down for the afternoon.
When the time comes, Slater picks up the dogs and drives ahead in the car. Max and Grace’s safety is of utmost importance, so having the option to put them in the dog limousine to get out of the heat is a no-brainer. Before he joined us on he road, Slater was working as a professional Dog Handler in California at Smilin Dogs. He is all too happy to babysit the pups, and usually finds a nice shady spot to spread out with his guitar while the dogs nap the heat away.
As for us walking people, we have little choice but to sweat it out on the road. Simply put, we have to keep making miles or we risk getting stuck trying to cross the mountains later in the trip. So we wear our sunhats and drink epic amounts of water and Gatorade. It’s got what plants crave! I think I managed to drink at least 10 liters of hydration on a single day, and probably should have had more. Kait and I watch each other closely for early signs of heat exhaustion, and as it heats up we take more and more frequent breaks. We pay very close attention to the color of our urine. It’s important.
The benefit to waking up at 4AM and walking 15 miles before lunch is that we don’t feel guilty taking breaks from noon to 4 or 5, waiting out the heat in parks and city squares and roadside oases. Siesta time is a crucial component to managing the heat. The less we move, the cooler we stay. The less we think, the cooler our brains stay. I think.
After the heat peaked on Saturday and we walked 17 miles through the celestial slow-roaster, we felt a little cooked and took a day off. Having made it to Bloomfield, we piled into the car and drove north to Ottumwa to run some city-type errands. Suddenly, we found ourselves in an alley, eating at probably the coolest diner ever conceived.
The Canteen Lunch building is tucked under an overpass (shade for dogs!) Inside, stools surround the U-shaped counter, and the friendly staff cranks out a minuscule menu like a well-oiled machine. The have hot dogs, canteen burgers, egg sandwiches, and pie. That’s it.
The canteen burger is a loose meat burger assembled right before your eyes, expertly wrapped for efficient devouring. It is far from fancy and completely amazing to behold.
The Canteen Lunch is steeped in industrial blue collar culture – if I worked at a factory in Ottumwa and only had a half hour to eat lunch, I know where I would be eating every diggity day.
We camped that night at Fisher Lake Park, just outside of Bloomfield. We were very lucky with the southern path we chose across Iowa. There are state and national parks at every turn, and they offer comfortable and wondrous camping opportunities for very little money. For $10, we got to have a picnic, fish in our underwear, and sleep under the stars.
I read recently that when Yellowstone National Park was established, it was the first park of its kind in the world. Our national and state parks are unique to this country. They exist to protect the raw beauty of this land, and to make it possible for every American to experience the awe and wonder of nature. The diversity of environments and ecosystems on continent is astounding, and should be preserved and appreciated. If we pave it all over, we won’t have very much to be proud of.
We gladly pay our money in support of the greatest idea that America ever had. As soon as it cools down, go take a walk in your nearest park. Maybe take your dog.