Friday, May 20, 2016

In Which I Shine Like a Vampire

Corner of F and Collins. Where I wait, and wait, and wait for camera to see me.

If they don’t cast reflections, can vampires be photographed? And if a traffic camera does not see CR Biker, does that mean that very large man, wearing a bright vest, is really a vampire?

Maybe. There once were magnetic traffic controls at the corner of F Avenue NE and Collins Road, and back in the day, after the city deliberately boosted their sensitivity to serve the needs of bikers, I could put my bike crankshaft on the corner of the detector to trigger the traffic light.

Hey camera. I  am directly in front of you! Hellooooo!
These days, navigating the light has become trickier—it reminds me of the bad old day several years ago, when I had to “steal” the light from cars headed the opposite direction, or wait for a car going my way to activate the light.

A relatively new video traffic control system seems a bit dysfunctional. After all, if CR biker can’t activate it, one would think a person on a motorcycle might face similar problems. The light seems inconsistent—headed south to campus, I’ve been stuck several times. I had to wait through two light cycles this morning until a car going my way made the light change. The south-facing camera that sees me when I am going north, on the other hand, seems to work a bit more consistently.

Hello, camera looking north. I’m right here, right in front of you. And I promise I never suck blood. I faint at the sight of it. I’m about as far from a vampire as you can get …

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In Which H is for Harrowing

Looking south from north bridge on Cedar Lake. Very pretty day--peaceful, once I finally made my way to the trail.
Linn County Trail Association map.
Part of my route along H Avenue.

It was such a sunny, nice afternoon, and I have a mountain of work to do, but I really, really wanted to get a few extra bicycle miles in today, which meant I really, really wanted to ride the Cedar River Trail home rather than taking my shorter street route.

But, J Avenue, the usual route from Mount Mercy University to the trail, is closed by a street project. I noticed, in the UK, by the way, that when they tear up a street and sidewalk, they actually provide a sidewalk detour—something to consider, CR, rather than just blaring “sidewalk closed.” Back to my story. What the H, I figured—they probably wouldn’t close a busy street with an interstate exchange like H Avenue. I’ll just ride along the east edge of Daniels Park, turn right at H and end up at Cedar Lake. It will be a piece of cake.

And, honestly, although as is my right I will whine some soon, it wasn’t bad. I am amused by the “CEMAR Trail” signs that seem arbitrary in the Daniel’s Park neighborhood, marking random streets in a confusing manner, leading anybody who would follow them down strange, bike unfriendly paths.

Take Maplewood Drive NE, for instance, the street I used to get from J to H. It’s quiet enough that biking isn’t too dicey, but so strewn with bumps and potholes that it sort of makes up for the lack of traffic by including other fun obstacles. And, as far as I can tell (the signs are confusing so I’m not sure), it might even be designated as part of the “lost CEMAR Trail,” the trail that is theoretical and aspirational near Daniels Park, not the tiny actual trail leading from nowhere to nowhere near MMU.

And then there is H. H is for harrowing. H Avenue NE is a rather busy street at about 5 p.m. The first two blocks I rode were marked “share the road” with friendly street signs nobody seems to pay attention to. Once I got past Oakland Road, things did improve due to a bike lane, but it’s a kind of dicey bike lane, full of refuse, broken glass, and even, at one point, killer street drains—you bikers may know the ones I mean, large metal grates with slots parallel to the direction of travel on the bike lane. I’m glad I didn’t come up upon them after dark—and I wondered why I came up upon them at all, in a bike lane.

So I was a bit unraveled by the time I passed under I 380. Then I was at Cedar Lake.

A comely lass was rolling north along Shaver Road NE, riding a skateboard in the street. I was startled, a bit, for some reason—riding a skateboard in the street, even along relatively quiet Shaver Road, seems like a gutsy or clueless move when it’s shortly after 5 p.m., and CR Biker, who uses trails in CR fairly often, is used to gangly Sk8er Bois, not comely Sk8er Girls (or would it be Gurls? Some hip misspelling).

She was, if anything, a portent of calmness to come. The beauty of the afternoon meant a few people were on the trail, but I think I was there early enough that commuters weren’t home yet and the trail was still relatively quiet. And the lake was still and pretty. Even the parent geese , walking along the path with their goslings, seemed to have a placid attitude. A few honked at CR Biker in an unenthusiastic way, but I heard no hissing, saw no neck weaving and encountered no wing displays—clearly the placid afternoon had the geese by the lake in a somnolent state.

They must not have heard the city’s plans to feed them to homeless people. Shhhhh.

On bridge at end of Cedar Lake, looking north at creek that feeds into Lake. Ahh.

The rest of the ride home was mostly uneventful, except that I decided to use the bike lanes at 42nd Street to head towards Noelridge Park—I was getting into a “get home” mood. To ride on 42nd Street is no bicycle picnic, although, on the other wheel, 42nd Street NE has nothing on H Avenue NE.

On the way home, I added about 2 more miles to my route by taking the Lindale Trail loop just so I could climb Brentwood Drive hill. I did it this morning, too, in the other direction. I don’t know that I can do it on every ride—Thursday morning is jam packed with urgent grading—but it does feel good to be getting in a few extra miles a few hill climbs. RAGBRAI will be here soon enough.

Anyway, this is Bike to Work week, which means some local media attention for bikers. The Gazette just posted this interesting story about some biking plans the city is making. So CR wants more than a bronze? Well, even if today’s ride on H was a bit harrowing, I would agree that the city has noticeably improved in recent years for cyclists. Bravo, CR.

Now, about those bike killer street drains … couldn’t the slots be perpendicular to the street? That would make H a bit less Harrowing Avenue and a bit more Harmony Avenue.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

In Which I Enjoy Short, Cool Morning Rides

It was a bit windy and cool Saturday morning when I shot this, but the Lindale Trail looks very pretty.
Despite the gorgeous weather this weekend—sunny, breezy and cool—I could only ride a few miles in the morning. Too buried in school work.

Still, it rained Friday, and even if it was chilly Saturday morning, there is something special and nice about the cool air after a spring rain. I rode the Lindale Trail on The Beast so I could get on the other wide of the Brentwood Drive hill for a little RAGBRAI practice on a low-mileage weekend.

And on the Boyson Trail, I saw another sign. The trail is to be closed this week as a bridge project begins.

Sign on trail Saturday morning, Construction season on bike trails, too.

Well, I don’t often ride that trail anyway. It’s mostly appropriate for The Beast, and Sunday I was riding Argent to the gym.

And, like the street projects I whined a little about in an earlier post, the delays and alternative routes we face now will be worth it if we get a better trail in the long run.

Friday, May 13, 2016

In Which Every Road Is Under Repair

They are not kidding. It doesn't matter where you are or where you are trying to go ... sign on my morning ride.

Getting around CR by bicycle (or by car or bus or rickshaw) is getting more interesting these days.

For no particular reason—other than it was a pretty morning, I was leaving home a bit earlier than usual today and I felt the need to de-stress—I decided to take the longer, trail route to work.

I should have known better. Earlier this week, I drove to a reception at the Mount Mercy CRST Graduate Center on Wenig Road, and found J Avenue was closed. I had forgotten that point, which turned out to be more than a minor mental lapse.

Anyway, I was biking the down the Cedar River Trail, making good time. When I’m a little stressed, I tend to push it a bit, and I was frequently going faster than 20 mph—very fast for an old biker, even if I was indeed riding the fast road bike Argent and not the slow mountain bike The Beast.

Anyway, I had a rare experience. There was a man headed the same direction I was, riding a road bike, and I passed him. Trust me, that’s very rare. Mark this date down. Friday the 13th, full moon, slow bikers zooming—it’s that kind of day.

But when I flew across the wooden bridge at the big curve where the trail crosses the creek and itself (you CR bikers know exactly where I mean), something like a light bulb went off in my head. Or maybe it was an aging neuron demonically coming to life to send an urgent flash message of almost forgotten recent memory.

Oh fudge, I sort of thought. I may even have said something a little like that out loud. J Avenue is closed. As soon as I thought it, though, I figured it would be a minor annoyance. After leaving the trail on J, I’d simply head south a couple of blocks and end up going around to the other side of Daniels Park—nothing but an extra quarter mile or so on my ride.

Nope. Every cross street I tried was closed. I ended up heading back to the trail at H Avenue and heading downtown, with a plan to turn north at Third Street and take College through The Evil Empire (Coe College) before reaching MMU.

But wait, there’s more. My alternate route was no dice. Not only was every route towards MMU from the Cedar River Trail closed by construction, but a giant road project on First Avenue closed College and meant I was cycling north for blocks on a seedy alley, looking for a way to head back northwest to MMU.

I finally found an open cross street by the First Avenue HyVee. And I indeed did end up eventually going on the other side of Daniels Park—I just didn’t anticipate the multi-mile detour to get there.

OK, I wont’ complain much more. Streets in CR have been in horrible shape for years, and the city recently passed a special sales tax (which, by the way, car drivers, bicycle riders pay, too) to fix them.

I suppose a few adventures now are a small price to pay for better roads in the future.

Still, the 6-mile ride to reduce stress became a 12-mile trek that meant, instead of arriving on campus an hour before my first appointment with plenty of prep time for a final class, I arrived on campus 15 minutes before said appointment.

So much for stress reduction!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

In Which Future Plans Involves Screams

MMU Bike Club pre-ride selife Friday.

You scream, I scream, we all scream…

For ice cream! When she speaks about the Mount Mercy University Bike Club, MMU President Laurie Hamen is likely to note the club’s “candy ride,” in which we ride our bikes along the trail to downtown Cedar Rapids, and then visit a candy store there that is next to TCR.

Oh, but wait. There’s more.

I am sure it must be my sleep-deprived brain that hatches these schemes. But it occurred to me, before Friday’s Bike Club Ride, that we want “destination” rides and what president Mark calls “incentive” rides. And right along the Cedar River Trail, there are destinations that can provide incentives, at least for those who are lactose tolerant.

Ride the trail north from MMU. When you get to Hiawatha, it’s a short diversion to Culver’s. Eat ice cream. Continue north a ways, maybe about 3 ½ miles where the trail comes to a parking lot that is a convenient mark for a turn-around point (not sure the club ready to go 7 miles to Lafayette, but that’s another option if we want a slightly longer ride).

Ride back. Stop at Dairy Queen. Eat ice cream. Ride south, loop once around Cedar Lake and head north to 42nd Street.

Where Parlor City—another ice cream eatery—is located. You get the picture.

I suppose there are lots of names we could give this ride: Scream Cycle. The Lactose Loop

But the original name, the one I told Mark that he’s starting using, too, is “Tour de Scoop.” Watch out, candy ride. A longer, more decadent journey is in the planning. Maybe we should make it even fancier by calling it “Le Tour de Scoop.” Mark, what do you think?

My original idea was that LTdS would take place in the fall. It might , but it may be sooner, because the scouting ride yesterday went well, and bike club members seemed to like the idea of the tour sooner rather than later.

Friday was a perfect day for a ride—the first time our warm spring sun gave us a taste of upcoming summer. The temperature was in the mid 80s, with little wind. I did a fair amount of cycling Friday—I had a concert at a nursing home across town, and them cycled back to campus to quickly change into biking togs.

Then, just before 4, I pedaled Argent up the hill to Lundy. There, three women were removing bikes from the racks. “Is this a private ride, or are you going with the bike club?” I asked.

“Private ride,” one of them answered. “I have to get back.” Technically, that’s always been the attitude of the bike club, too—so far, we have always come back. But I understood, three friends were going to go on a short ride together as one needed to return soon.

One of the riders, a nursing student named Rachel, had to tease me a little about my blogs. So there, Rachel, you made the blog. You are a blog star.

After the three women rolled down the hill, the merry band of the Bike Club showed up—four students, our president, VP, secretary and a new rider.

Near turn-around point in Hiawatha.

We chatted about the Le Tour de Scoop idea, and Mark seemed keen on DQ as a place to stop at to check on our plans—a Le Tour de Scoop scouting ride.

We snapped the traditional club pre-ride selfie and headed off to the trail. The students were in high spirits, as befitted the day. As we headed north, we passed under one street, and some tunnel war whoops were heard.

We passed DQ, but decided to keep going. At the Hiawatha trail head, one member who hadn’t brought a water bottle stopped for a drink. Another member had to be back on campus by 5:30, so we turned around. And then we stopped, of course, at Dairy Queen, where omens for the future Tour turned surprisingly positive.

The women asserted they did not need ice cream, and turned down the VP’s gallant offer to buy some for them. The men all ordered something; I got a small turtle blizzard. As we headed outside, it turned out the women were not quite so self-denying—somehow, they had acquired spoons inside DQ, and were planning to “taste.”

We were enjoying our treats on the sunny outdoor eating area of DQ, when an employee passed by with a large chocolate and vanilla cone. He circled around the area, asking at each cluster if the cone was one of ours. After his circuit, he noted that nobody inside claimed the cone either.

“Can we have it?” Mark asked.

“If you want it,” the employee answered. And handed it over. There were ice cream screams as the women realized their spoons were no longer merely for mooching off the men. If DQ ice cream tastes good, the thing that apparently tastes even better is free DQ ice cream.

The DQ Cone of Fortune shows up. Club reacts, top, and Sarah, the club secretary, has carved a temporary self portrait in it.

I think the club ride was about 10 miles or so. I forget to zero my computer before we were well underway, so I’m estimating from the 8 miles that were recorded. That means, with my commute and the side trip to my concert, Friday was about a 30-mile day.

I am getting reading for summer, indeed. And, I hope to see you on the MMU Le Tour de Scoop!

Bike Club crosses bridge on trail on way back to MMU campus. We, too, have to be back.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

In Which Argent Zips to the Goose Pond

Water bottle and frame pump added to The Beast before Monday commute.

My week in biking so far:

Monday—I get The Beast out. I don’t have time, but I continue to refine it by moving the water bottle holder and frame pump from Francis.

And then I get on it and I ride.

Compared to Argent (or Francis), this is a lumbering, clumsy bicycle, not built for my size. But, it works. It definitely takes longer to get to MMU, but it will get you there. Still have not tried moving the toddler seat bar, but it’s nice that the tyres kept air overnight so that The Beast can ride again.

The Beast late Monday, about 7:15, as I prepared to head for home from MMU.

Every day not starting with M—I’ve been otherwise riding Argent. Today, I stayed on campus for a retirement reception, and it was getting late as I left. But I could not resist the siren call of the bike trail, and instead of taking the quicker way home, I opted for the longer trail route. At Cedar Lake, I photographed the pretty sky and some cute geese.

Don’t know if I’ll be singing this tune tomorrow, but today the longer ride seems totally worth it.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings, although the forecast is beautiful. Whether on a slow, beastly bike or zipping on a quick road bike, it’s been the ideal spring week for biking.

Cedar Lake. I photograph the geese swimming--and catch the same birds as they exit the water.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In Which I Bling My Beastly Bike

The Beast, removed from garage (but in dry overhang of house), ready for reassembly to commence. Theresa, I put the nut back on your bike, so it's ready to ride, too.
I may have gone a little overboard. After all, The Beast has been in a coma since last year when a spoke broke on the back wheel, so I’m not sure all will be well when I attempt to commute using this heavy, old mountain bike.

But I was on a quest today, for nuts. Northowne had replaced a spoke on the 26-inch wheel of the The Beast, but somehow in the process, the nuts that hold the wheel on the bike went missing.

I can’t figure out how I would have lost them. Usually, I do the logical thing with nuts—if you take a wheel off of a bike, what do you do with them? You screw them back on the wheel, that’s what you do. Still, it has been some time since the broken wheel was removed from the bike, so who knows who lost the nuts and when? To be honest, despite my surety of following rational habits, I have to admit I would still be high among the list of suspects.

Anyway, so I needed two nuts and washers. I took a nut off of Theresa’s bike—a women’s mountain bike, but by the same maker the same wheel size as The Beast, and noted the wrench that fit that nut. It was 5/8ths.

And I went shopping with the wife and grandson—who we were amusing while mom wrote final papers for law school. At Wal-Mart, I ended up buying a plethora of bling for The Beast—chain lube (I was not out but was low), new lights, a rear view mirror, a spoke light. Even new brake shoes. It was lots of cool stuff, but I did not find my nuts.

Bling for The Beast. Upper left, clockwise, chain lube, rear view mirror, headlight and taillight, brake shoes and spoke light.
I went to Lowe’s, but the 5/8ths nuts I found looked way too huge. So I dropped Audrey and Baby Bump at Target and went home to actually remove Theresa’s nut again and take it with me.

Target? No nuts.

Where to next? We thought of Home Depot. And we thought of Theisen’s. Theisen’s was closer, so I drove there and asked Audrey if she wanted to wait in the van with the baby.

“Are you nuts?” she asked with no trace of irony. “They have popcorn in there!”

At Theisen’s, not only was the teen who aided me more helpful and friendlier than the Lowe’s boy, but the store also had handy nut gauges. While the wrench that removes Theresa’s nut was indeed clearly labeled 5/8ths, the nut turned out to be a much more modest size—3/8, I think. Anyway, I was able, for about a dollar, to get two washers and two nuts.

I had a lot of grading to do yet this Sunday, and time was running out, but as soon as I got home I quickly reassembled The Beast. The brake shoes, not surprisingly, were the trickiest part, and I spent a fair amount of time adjusting the brakes. I hope they work well Monday! It was raining, so there was not much of a test drive—so we’ll see if the bike seems ride-able in the morning.

I hope so. That’s a lot of bling if The Beast won’t run.

And if The Beast will run, I still have to try to shift over the toddler seat from Francis. Meanwhile, new bling on The Beast:

Above, new mirror with CR Biker reflection. Below, lights on The Beast.