THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
The first section of the Great River Road
Dubuque to Hannibal, via the Field of Dreams and our first speeding ticket

Onwards to Iowa

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So far still to go...
At one of the historical marker sites en route
The place I *didn't* have lunch
Black Hawk down
"Scarlett" in all her glory
The view other cars would get if the speed limits were not so low
There was a lot of Minnesota to drive through before reaching Iowa; my first new state for a couple of days. I have tried to plan the trip to avoid retracing my tyre tracks more than strictly necessary, but going so far up-country to stand at the source of the Mississippi meant travelling, if not on the same roads, through similar country.

Not that it was boring. There is so much to notice as I begin to settle into my life on the road. The incredible extent of community involvement in everything in America, for example. For instance, stretches of highway are "adopted" by individuals, families and organisations  - the signs posted at intervals revealed adoptions in loving memory of deceased relatives, or to promote the business of the local gun dealer. Another stretch had a sign thanking the local scout troop for keeping it free of litter.

The same is true of the museums I have visited; not one of which had state funding. All were proudly sponsored by local businesses and families. It has taken a trip like this to bring home just how much the charitable impulse in Europe has been killed by the Welfare State. I was sad to read that one of Margaret Thatcher's disappointments was that philanthropy had not increased in Britain as taxes fell. I think it was surprisingly naieve of her to expect that to be immediate. People need to see a lack before they feel the need to fill it. Those brought up on the myth that government can provide from cradle to grave will not relearn personal kindness quickly.

Apparently this was the best section of the Great River Road in terms of driving in sight of the river. The scenery was beautiful and gradually the temperature rose until it was not absurd to drive with the roof down. Of course, I had been doing it anyway while it was still absurd. With a suitable woolly hat, there's really no reason not to. I encountered rain however on the final section today and had to close the car to avoid damage to the interior.

I was disappointed that my chosen lunch spot, the historical Trempeleau Hotel, Restaurant and Saloon, was not yet open for the season. True to form for this trip, it will open a couple of days after I stopped by. I had a more prosaic lunch break at La Crosse, a pleasant little university town recently voted one of the best places to live in the States. I wasn't able to find the historic centre mentioned in my guide book in the time available and ended up eating chain food on the strip, where the wi-fi (oh the constant quest for wi-fi) is anyway more reliable.

There were historical markers every few miles featuring potted accounts of notable local events. Some of the markers have become historical themselves and feature accounts of events in the Indian Wars that jar on modern sensibilities. These are now accompanied by their own historical markers, explaining the modern view - a little more sympathetic to the Native American cause than the old ones. History is always seen through the lens of modernity. I wonder how future markers will gloss those in their turn?

The Quartermaster and I had agreed on a preliminary rendezvous at Guttenburg in Iowa, but made a last minute change to Dubuque (pronounced der-buke, apparently - rather than do-book - just as Prairie du Chien is pronounced "Prayer der Sheen").

This allowed us to meet in time for dinner (even after I wasted an hour by following a misleading sign to an alternative - and far less attractive - GRR on the wrong side of the river and had to backtrack). He made it safely and in time and our two cars are now together. I have already started thinking of his as "Scarlett", but he feels - reasonably enough - that the friend who owns her should have naming rights. He will be putting in a call to Georgia on that subject. She is, in the amazonian way of the American muscle car, very cool indeed and I suspect quite a handful to drive.

On a recommendation from Dave in reception, a native der-bookian, we had an excellent meal at L May's downtown, washed down by a couple of OK margaritas and an excellent dirty "Mississippi Water" martini. Quick studies that we are, we rapidly concluded that our waitress was "not from around here" when she pronounced the town's name in just the way we had only an hour or so before!