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  • Whitney Olson

Wave When You Fly Over

At the crossroad of I-80 and 35, sits the heartland of our country and the hotbed of political debate - Iowa. Sick and tired of political ads, my friends and family in Iowa would be quite happy if all and sundry politicos would just resume flying over their fair state.

I've had a long-term relationship with Iowa. Marrying an Iowan who was happy to live in California, my connection to the heartland has mostly been through family visits. In 2005, my oldest daughter decided to attend school there and in 2010 her sister followed suit. As I began to spend more time in Iowa, Iowa began to reveal more of herself to me. These past thirty years, Iowa and I have conducted a flirtatious affair. Each encounter has Iowa allowing sneak peaks at her hidden treasures. Each goodbye has me wondering when I'll finally admit that I've been bitten by the midwestern bug.

Whether it is coincidence or fate, Iowa is also the crossroad of two of my hobbies, cycling and women's suffrage. As I cycled across Iowa in 2011, she showed me her temperamental side. Sweltering heat and humidity dogged me for most of the 500 miles I pedaled. As I dragged my butt alongside corn and soybean fields and over the ubiquitous rolling hills, I wondered what was the melting point of middle aged, over weight moms from California? Was slow death by excessive sweat a fit punishment for daring to walk around in spandex? How many times would I swallow my pride and use a Kybo (Iowan for port-a-potty) only to miserably fail at reassembling my sweat drenched clothing before exiting the cesspool of a suana posing as a portable toilet? Mostly, I wondered how the natives managed to march into the cornfields, do their business and emerge with nary a tug on their cycling shorts.

In retrospect, performing the potty dance across the state of Iowa was small payment for a peek into the charm and warmth of small town Iowa. Later, I realized that the coquettish Iowa had already revealed her heart to me with my mother-in-law, Joan. Without a doubt, Joan was the warmest, most patient, and giving woman I've ever known. And she was there on that journey with me as I drank the clear, cold water from a farmer's hose, as I sat on a stoop and shared a candy bar with a veteran while waiting for my flat tire to be fixed, and as I willed myself to get back on that saddle each morning, swallowing my pride and accepting that I was almost the slowest cyclist out there. As I chased (perhaps chased is too spry a word) her son up and over each hill, I had plenty of time to contemplate how lucky I was to have loved this incredible woman and to witness her best character traits live on in my husband's words and deeds. I wondered what greater honor could there be than to be that role model to someone in my future.

It wasn't until three years after my epic bike ride across Iowa (RAGBRAI - Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa), that I realized Iowa had been holding out on me again. Strong women and Iowa go much deeper than my mother-in-law. While my daughter worked at Hoyt Sherman Place, a historic theater in Des Moines, I learned the Des Moines Women's Club had 1400 members in the early 1900s. Curious as to what all those women were up to, I began to research women's history in Iowa. Oh, Iowa, you are a sly one! Standing tall on my RAGBRAI finish of not quite the slowest person to complete the ride, I was cut down to size when I learned about the rich history of suffrage in this midwestern state. I imagine suffragettes cycling those same hills, wearing bloomers and sashes with much more grace than I afforded my effort.

Bicycles, bloomers, and Iowa . . . for this historian it doesn't get much better than this. Iowa, I raise my remaining sheet of toilet paper in surrender to your awesomeness and declare to all who read here that I have fallen completely in like with you.


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