Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In Which The Road Is Surprisingly Nice

Hill heading west behind Kenwood School--usually an icy thrill ride. Totally clear this morning--that's bare pavement, what I like to see and so rarely do during winter on this street.
I’ve learned a painful lesson in past winters: The condition of Brentwood Drive NE is not necessarily a good indicator of whether one can bicycle to Mount Mercy.

The problem is the Kenwood neighborhood that I ride through—or, as I sometimes call it, “The Land That Snowplows Forgot.” While the street in front of my humble above may be bare pavement, there is often a dangerous frosting of compressed snow on the unplowed streets surrounding Kenwood School.

So I thought I was gambling today, with my biking plans. Turns out, the gamble paid off, big time. The road may be long, with many a winding turn, but it didn’t have much snow on it.

Of course, it may be that, despite 7 inches of wet snow Saturday, the ground was simply too warm and the street frosting merely melted. But I would like to think it has something to do with the Cedar Rapids Street Department. I don’t know it for a fact, but I thought I detected a bit of “plow” evidence on the usually treacherous back streets of CR—snow “drifts” left on Lennox Avenue that could have been caused by a plow working around parked cars, chunks left at the edge of 34th Street pushed by something, probably not a glacier.

Early evening ride home on Cedar River Trail--like the streets, well cleared of snow.

Well, kudos for a job well done, CR, if indeed you did it. May this be a good omen for the possibility of winter biking. It’s not usually the cold that stops me, but snow and ice on the streets.

I had to take care in some spots today, where melting had taken place and then freezing after the melting, but by and large, both streets and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail were well cleared. Hooray!

A few sky views. Moon rising over Noelridge Park--north part of Cedar River Trail closed, so I was on the old summer detour. Even quiet streets behind Wright Brothers School were nicely clean. Moon (below) rising over pond at Rockwell-Collins, and (bottom) view of sunset on C Avenue as I near home.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

In Which I Dream of Biking Spring

Burning bush in my yard today. It was a bit winterish outside.

For many bikers, weather like today would be the end of the season. Overnight we had more than 7 inches of snow, and in this suddenly cold Saturday (after a long and warm fall) it feels like the “winter” switch was thrown rather abruptly.

Well, I shoveled my sidewalk and took some winter photos today, but did not ride a bike. Then again, it’s not the end of the bicycle season for me—depending on the weather and my assessment of street conditions, there is a decent chance I will bicycle to work Monday, although I may regret that neither of my mountain bikes is ride-able at the moment.

Today would have been the last hurrah Mount Mercy University Bicycle Club ride. More than a week ago, in our sunny, warm fall, the MMU club officers and I decided one last longish ride on a Saturday, before the bikes were all stored, would be nice. Weather permitting.

Weather did not permit.
KCRG posted map of snow totals. It SNOWED.

Still, we had a bike club meeting Friday, which I was able to attend just the tail end of. I had a bunch of newspaper contest entries that had to be submitted by a Friday deadline, and I had been tied up earlier in the week by the impending end of a faculty series that I coordinate—so I got to the 4 p.m. meeting about 4:20 or so.

Anyway, even if we’re done riding (we, the club, not me, the crazy CR biker) for the year, the students are making some exciting plans. There will be bike club shirts available soon, and you all need to buy one. The club wants to look into the cost of arranging a day-trip “away” ride, possibly to the High Trestle Trail.

And butterflies came up. The club is still working on service ideas. One that they definitely plan is some sort of bicycle safety program to present to some school group in town.
US Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

The other is my idea. I want the club to join ongoing efforts to promote the Monarch Butterfly by planting milkweed. We could either find space on the MMU campus, or aid some local conservation group that is already planning Milkweed planting.

Well, time for some spring bicycle dreams.

May many more students—and staff and faculty—be motivated to join us as the weather warms and we resume bike tours of the Cedar Rapids area.

May we figure out the details and some Saturday actually visit a cool trail elsewhere in Iowa.

May we find new leadership, as Mark, the main moving force behind the bike club will graduate.

And may we plant some pretty native flowers that feed an increasingly scarce, majestic butterfly.
Another USFWS photo, both on the agency's flckr stream Butterfly image by Michelle Woods, flower image by Francie Stotz. Both images show Monarchs of varied ages on Milkweed plants.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

In Which I Sum Up Many Rides

A photo of a young ginkgo tree at Mount Mercy BS--before storm. Trees are pretty bare, now.

I’ve been too busy to write on my bike blog lately, so here is a quick update.

We had a rather shocking thunderstorm blow through Wednesday in Iowa. Luckily, it struck Cedar Rapids around 5 p.m., since I had a Vietnam event scheduled for 7 p.m. that night at Mount Mercy. Because of the rain, I got a ride home Wednesday night, leaving my bike in my office. So I missed riding Wednesday night and Thursday morning, but otherwise it was a pretty good week for biking.

The bike club even had an officers’ meeting Tuesday, and the full club meets at the end of this week.

I’ve been using the trail route when I can to get in a few extra miles, and noticed this tree in Noelridge Park, apparently felled by the odd, late seasons thunderstorm that rumbled through. Those were some strong winds!

I think I was on my way home Thursday when I saw this--tree down at Noelridge park. Pretty good size to be blown over like that--you tend to see trees uprooted before you see a trunk snapped like this.

The photo of the ginkgo tree is a new one planted last year at Mount Mercy. It’s a nice looking tree this fall, but I bet most of those leaves blew off mid-week. We’re in the empty tree, brownish part of fall now.

Finally, on my way to MMU late morning today, one brave old grasshopper left crawling slowly on the trail. A few Asian beetles are still around, but even in this odd, warm fall, the frosty mornings are finally catching up to the bugs.

I do miss the green leaves and flowers of spring and fall during my winter biking. But no bugs is a nice bonus!
Slow grasshopper trying to warm up in the weak November sun along the Cedar River Trail at Cedar Lake.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

In Which I Ride 14 Miles To Go 5

Oak Tree in Thomas Park along Boyson Trail.

What kind of a day was Sunday?

I had urgent work to get done—a whole fall break’s worth of tasks which I had successfully avoided for most of break, which, I think, is what breaks are for. But it’s back in the saddle, pilgrim, time to ride on in the office and get some work done.

So I put some stuff in a bag and had to pick a bike to ride. Francis or Argent? Argent is more fun, and Francis needs a brake tightening—but I looked, and I did have the right wrench, and when you need to tighten a brake it’s a quick job best done when the tool is in your hand. So I fiddled with Francis a bit—cleaning some grease off the rear cogs, lubing the chain, inflating the tires. And tightening the brake. After all that, there was no choice—Francis left for work.

Hill in Frisbee Gold Course area along Boyson Trail.

But went the wrong way. I headed up the Bowman Woods hill for no particular reason and ended up on the Boyson Trail, which I rode all the way to Menards before turning back and then riding the side trail behind Walgreens to get to the Cedar River Trail.

By the time I got to Warde Hall, it was 14 miles later, but it felt good. It was a cool mid fall day, ideal for bike riding, even on my old pickup of a bike.

Along trail coming back from Menards. Trees in flood plain are bare, but hill still has color.
Crab apple tree near Dairy Queen along Cedar River Trail in Hiawatha.

So now I will finish this blog post. I’m not sure how many homework assignments I’ll get graded—but some. The mountain of work that awaits will be eroded at least a bit.

And, honestly, I’m not consumed with guilt over the extra nine miles. Just look what I saw.

Sumac along Cedar River Trail.

It's less buggy--lots fewer gnats--but bugs are not yet done this fall. Hopper on the Cedar River Trail.

Got to MMU and climbed hill by library from back side just because I could. Geraniums are still in bloom near decorative fall pumpkin.

Decorations near library area  bit disturbed, but not by human vandals. Tree rodent was climbing corn stalks to get at corn.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In Which I Dodge Rain and Rescue Critters

Sky at Cedar Late around 4:30 p.m. today.

I made three attempts to get Francis home from Mount Mercy.

On Tuesday morning, with a slight change of late rain in the forecast for late in the day, I rode Francis. I’m more willing to expose my older bit to possible damp. I had a strategic planning retreat for much of the afternoon, so it was a few minutes before 5 when I started riding Francis across campus to head to bell practice.

But it was sprinkling. And I saw lightning. And, since my wife was just heading to the van to drive home, I quickly changed my mind and parked my bike in my office. (Sorry, Carolyn, but the way it was raining by 6 that night—well, I think skipping that one practice probably was a good move).

Wednesday morning, the first day of fall break, my wife and I were watching two granddaughters. We thought we would drive with them to campus, I would put the tot seat on Francis, and then one of the granddaughters would ride with me to a park while the other rode in the van with her grandmother.

But once again, as I wheeled my bike out of Warde Hall, rain started to pelt down. Plans changed, and we ended up driving to a store and shopping instead.

Anyway, the rain was over by afternoon when the grandkids returned home, and Audrey teaches a Wednesday night class that meets despite fall break, so I rode back to campus with her late in the afternoon, and took a little trail ride on Francis on the way home.

I headed down to Cedar Lake, and noticed something small moving on the trail—a little mouse at the edge of the pavement. “Weird,” I though as I biked on.

The lake was pretty, reflecting the half cloudy, half sunny sky, and circled it and then I turned north.

And north of the lake, there it was again, the mouse on the trail. I know I could have just left it—if it had been in my house, I probably would have killed it. But it was very young and just sitting there, waiting for a jogger’s foot, a biker’s tyre or an owl’s talons to come along.

Little mouse, not the best place to rest, I'm thinking.
So I did a mouse rescue. I grabbed a leaf and used it to shoo the mouse into the grass.

I don’t have much hope for its long-term survival—somehow I don’t think these are mouse genes that will be passing to the next generation—but there you have it, I was a redeemer of an immature rodent.

It was not my only good deed of the day. I also rescued a spider, although that was after I was home and cooking supper for my daughter and myself. The spider was on the wall in the dining room, and I assumed it had hitched a ride on plants we recently brought indoors. So I put a cup over it, slipped an envelope under the cup and did an outdoor arachnid release on the deck.

Good things come in three, so tonight I also e-mailed the city of Cedar Rapids about a crosswalk light on C Avenue that is dangling due to apparent wind damage.

Crosswalk light on C Avenue at Rockwell-Collins. I sent this photo to the city.

So there you have it. I may not have directed a robber with a gun in a “Popeye’s organization” to point said weapon at a more appropriate robbery target (although, to be fair, if I were robbing people in a Popeye’s, I would think I potentially could get more from a neurosurgeon than the cash register …), but I was civic minded in my own way today. You’re welcome.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

In Which a Few Hardy Bugs Still Sing

Corn field bathed in lat afternoon golden light along the Cedar River Trail, north of Robins, Oct. 18, 2015.

We had a hard freeze Saturday morning, and frost Sunday morning—so today, on a quick, later afternoon bicycle ride north to the five-mile marker on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, I was slightly startled to hear them—crickets.

Hope for more butterflies next year--milkweed seeds, the only plant that hosts Monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Not that many. The grassy and woodsy edges of the trail are much quieter than they have been. But the bugs of summer have not totally given up the ghost—a few hardy crickets still mournfully sing, seeking love before the world freezes over on them.


A few lonely gnats fly in the shade, a sad remnant of the hordes that bedeviled summer bikers.Not that I'm complaining!

The mid-October late afternoon sky turns a pretty gold as the sun nears the horizon, and the tan and brown seed pods of summer plants looks starkly pretty in the fading light. I rode fast as I headed north, and decided I would not make it to Lafayette today—too much homework waiting at home—but, since I was being good and turning around at the 5-mile mark, I would indulge myself a bit and snap some fall photos.

Fluffs on tall grass in setting sun.

Sure, I prefer the greens of summer. After our freeze, color will rapidly fade out of the countryside. The brown fall world has its charms too, but I will be ready when the flowers of spring return. Here are a few more of my ride photos.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

In Which Bike Lanes Are Spreading

Workers paint a bike lane on 42nd Street.

I’ve noticed, on Boyson Road, bike lanes that seem to go from nowhere to nowhere. And given how narrow Boyson Road is in parts where there is a bike lane, even if those lanes had a destination, I might, as a biker, hesitate to use them.

Bike lane marker painted on 42nd Street.
Still, it’s a good thing, from a biker’s point of view, how bikes lanes are slowly spreading in the city of Cedar Rapids.

The city just recently opened up the Cedar River Trail at 42nd Street, and I noticed this week, as I rode my bike there, there a city crew is painting new green bike lanes on the street.

On a Friday MMU Bike Club ride, for a time we were on bike lanes downtown. That was not my plan—I had been leading the ride and had used the bike trail, my preferred route through downtown—but I fell back to ride with the last rider, and the head of the pack took the lane instead of the trail for a few blocks.

Bike lanes in Cedar Rapids aren’t usually ideal. For one thing, they are right at the end of traffic lanes. Some cities are designing bike lanes so there is a barrier between cars and bikes—some even have the bike lane between parked cars and the sidewalk, rather than on the traffic side of parked cars.

Still, more bike lanes means, I hope, more bikers. That means a healthier city, less congested streets and more chances for more of us to be outside enjoying the weather and the sunshine, rather than merely transiting it in our metal cocoons.

MMU bike club on downtown bike lane.