Polly catches up on all the local scuttleboat along the Mississippi River | VailDaily.com
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Polly catches up on all the local scuttleboat along the Mississippi River

Polly Letofsky/Special to the Daily
The trail, as in this file photo from Canada, changes everyday as Vail's Polly Letofsky complete her around the world walk to raise breast cancer awareness. Polly, who has been making her way through the American Midwest, is due back in the Valley in August.
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From Vail she first walked to the West Coast, then crossed to the two islands of New Zealand, up the eastern coast of Australia and on to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, India, Turkey, Greece, Great Britain and Ireland. She’s now back in the United States, having arrived in New York City and crossed New York State to the Canadian Border at Niagara Falls and made her way to her home state of Minnesota. She’s expected to reach Vail in August. This is a recent installment from her journal, written earlier this winter. You can follow along with Polly’s journey on her Web site, http://www.globalwalk.org.

GUTTENBERG, Iowa – People often ask me about my daily routine. The short answer is that there isn’t one.

Like snowflakes, no two days are the same. Some days I prepare for a 10-mile day, sometimes 25. One day the terrain might be a pleasant stroll on a recreation trail that follows a historic river, other days my only option might be a narrow busy road where I can’t enjoy the view for one second for fear of taking my eyes off the traffic.

In India I had to start walking at 5:30 in the morning to avoid the heat – or try to avoid the heat. In Iowa I have to wait until 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. so it’s warm enough to breath without my nose hairs freezing.

Having said that, there are similarities. I always get a subtle giddiness around 3 o’clock-ish when I first spot the next town’s water tower in the distance. That’s my cue that one of the best parts of the day is right down the block – the stroll down a new Main Street to check out the best cafe in town.

Pie atmosphere

I peek in Main Street windows to spot the cafe with the booths and the lunch counter where pies are displayed” blueberry, boysenberry, raspberry. They’re always homemade by the town matriarch, who name is probably something like Martha.

I never order the pie, but I like pie atmosphere, sort of like how you have to have an oven in the kitchen but that doesn’t mean you’re going to take up cooking.

Sometimes there’s not much of a choice in cafes and I have to drag Bob into a place called Joe’s Happy Tavern.

Getting Bob into cafes is not as easy as you might think. In the Midwest, in order to save energy, they’ve got the two-door system. That’s where you enter one door; walk through a small five-foot atrium, then open another door into the main room. That way the diners don’t get a brisk shot of cold air every time a new guest pops in.

All very accommodating — except for women pushing baby buggies. Picture a woman dressed in orange holding open two doors equal to her arm span while kicking a fully loaded buggy past her contorted body and through door number two into an unsuspecting room of diners.

Once inside I smile and nod to all the patrons who eye me with curiosity and ask me if there’s a baby in there? I laugh and say, no, there’s no baby ha ha.-

That’s part of the daily routine.

Then I take off layer after layer of winter clothing, order a hot water with lemon to thaw out my hands and peruse the menu for the least offensive items, usually a cup of chili and a side of cottage cheese. Then I can settle in for my favorite part of the day, reading the local newspaper.

Town talk

Reading small town newspapers should be on everyone’s tourist to-do list. For only a few scattered coins you’re whisked into a utopia unrelated entirely to the angry world of bigger city newspapers.

The “Guttenberg Times” is a five-page, bi-weekly newspaper with no hint whatsoever of mad cows or weapons of mass destruction. By all accounts the worst thing that’s happened in Guttenberg in the last two weeks is when the mailman was late to the Colesburg farm due to road repairs on the upper bridge.

On Page 2 there’s a photo of Eileen Keuper’s face lit up over her first place finish in the bridge game at the Guttenberg Library Monday night.

Underneath Eileen’s photo is the update on Jim and Janice Scherbring’s vacation. They returned home on Monday after spending several days in Branson, Mo., where their highlight was front row seats at Jimmy Osmond’s American Juke Box Show.

I also love flipping through the real estate section. With only a few months left in my walk, I’ve been starting to think about where I might like to live when I finish. When I walk down these small town Main Streets I picture what it might be like to live in one of these hamlets. Maybe I could buy one of these grand palaces for 40-grand and live the life of Riley as owner of Polly’s Happy Tavern.

Dam straight

Guttenberg is a cozy historic river town. Old limestone buildings are renovated into bed-and-breakfasts and line the river at Lock and Dam #10. That’s how locals answer when they travel around Iowa, “We’re from Guttenberg, that’s Lock and Dam #10.” Then everyone nods and I wonder if that’s just part of being an Iowan – knowing where all the locks and damns are along the Mississippi.

Guttenberg, like many of these river towns, was settled by Germans. Immigration began in 1845 and by 1850 the town was quite sizable and nearly all German. They named their town for Johannes Guttenberg, the German inventor of movable type.

There’s an ad here in the Guttenberg Times about “The Grand Excursion.” It’s all the talk along the Mississippi. The river towns from Davenport up to Minneapolis are preparing for next summer’s celebration of the 150-year renaissance of the upper Mississippi region. They’re re-creating the 1854 steamboat expedition that brought worldwide attention to what was then America’s Wild West frontier.

Parties will stretch across four states from the Iowa’s Quad Cities to Minnesota’s Twin Cities – a 400-mile stretch full of host cruises as well as recreational and rural events. The centerpiece of The Grand Excursion will be the steamboat flotilla that will retrace the original journey up the river. The ad says it’s only $5,000 if you want to join the steamboat for the full 11 days.

The word “only” left me thinking maybe I can’t afford to live in these quaint little river towns. It’s cheaper to keep walking, especially in November when nothing is open and there’s nothing to do except get up the next day and walk to the next water tower.


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