Saturday, August 29, 2015

In Which I See Nature on a Misty Morning Ride

They may be obnoxious in your yard--giant spiked plants--but thistles are nice to see in bloom beside a bike trail.

I won’t have much time for biking adventures today—a cloudy, misty sort of day. But it was not too wet for me to ride Francis to the gym this morning.

And on the way home, I briefly rode on the paved portion of the Lindale Trail.

There were two deer, but I only caught image of one.

Mist, it seems, is good for critters. Besides hearing and seeing many birds, I had a pair of young deer amble across the trail in front of me, watched a bumblebee on a thistle for a while, and encountered an unconcerned bunny by the trail.

To bee or not to bee? Buzzer on a thistle.

I think, given how foggy it was, the photos turned out OK. Now, back to work!

The morning bunny in the grass beside the end of the Lindale Trail. Maybe bunnies are colorblind and don't realize how well they stand out against a green background. Or maybe it's a TV bunny and it assume we'll replace the green with something more interesting ...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

In Which Argent Symbolizes a Club

MMU Bike Club Prez gives trail map to student who is leaning over the seat of my bike.

I would like to think it that it’s all due to Argent, my cool new bike, but clearly Mark’s granola bars feature in the story, too.

Anyway, Tuesday, Mount Mercy University held an “Involvement Fair” to attract new students to the many clubs and organizations that exist on campus. I was there, for two reasons. As I wrote on one of my other blogs, I am the faculty adviser to the student newspaper, the MMU Times.

I’m also the faculty adviser to the relatively new bike club. To make it convenient to promote both, and so that my delicate skin would be unharmed by the spectacular radiation spewed out by the nearest star, I arrived at the Rohde Family Plaza about 30 minutes before the fair. I noticed that some tables were already staked out, but I managed to secure two adjacent ones in the shade for the newspaper and the bike club.

I had posters that I had printed for the paper, but Mark, the bike club’s president, was taking care of the bike club display. I taped my newspaper posters to one table—but, how could I reserve the other?

For a few minutes, while I hightailed it back to Warde Hall, I parked a newspaper staff member, Anna, at a table. Then, I locked a bike to it (the table, not Anna). Nobody else would take the table then!

My evil plan worked well. The writers and the bikers co-existed at adjacent tables. And I left the bike locked there during the fair. Although students had to lean across it to sign up for bike club information, they didn't seem to mind—and the MMU mascot, Mustang Sally, even posed with Argent, as you can see.

Mustang Sally has a fast bike. You better slow that mustang down ...

Mark whipped up a nice quick display on a poster board, which he had to tape flat on the table (lots of wind). It featured some photos I posted to Facebook of some early club rides last spring, one of them a grinning “ussie” of me and some students who are going on one of the rides.

“Look,” said Mark. “Joe is smiling! It’s a miracle!”

Mark is not a communication student. Clearly he has no fear of CR Biker.

Anyway, the MMU Bike Club seems off to a great start this year, all due to Mark’s enthusiasm and energy. The club will host a Club Friday at MMU soon (the MMU web site says Sept. 4, but that’s really, really soon and Mark hadn’t heard anything about it, so I’m not 100 percent sure how soon). The club members are already planning to host weekly bike rides, and I hope they start soon and that I can join them most of the time on either Argent or Francis.

But, it was good that I had ridden Argent yesterday. Francis is a bigger bike with bulging back bags and a big metal Wicked Witch basket in front—students would have had a much harder time leaning over Francis to sign up for the club!

How many signed up? I don’t’ know for sure, but more than the 20 who signed up for the newspaper—and the newspaper had a pretty good haul.

So what is next for the Mount Mercy Bike Club? I still haven’t spoken much with Mark about my idea for a club service project. My idea is to plant weeds.

Adult Monarch--female, I believe. Males have extra black dots on wings.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo by Tina Shaw. From

Monarch butterflies have been in the news a lot lately—a local group gave out Milkweed seeds during RAGBRAI to help save the butterfly, since Milkweed is the only plant Monarch caterpillars will eat. There have been other Monarch-related efforts recently, as you can read here and here.

Anyway, I would propose that the club adopt the Monarch as its unofficial mascot, and that we promote planting Milkweed at MMU and along local bike trails. That would lead to an easy-to-organize multi-year service effort. We could start, for example, by planning and planting a butterfly garden at MMU and in later years partner with Trees Forever or some other group to spread Milkweed along the Cedar River Trial or even the new CEMAR Trail. We could also give out Milkweed seeds or plants at future Club Fridays.

Monarch baby on Milkweed. Another FWS image,
this one by Courtney Celley.
The Monarch Butterfly needs our help because habitat loss in Mexico and the eradication of Milkweed in Midwest farm fields are cutting out its ecological niche—and biking seems to me to be an activity people engage in partly because they like being outside and like to enjoy the natural world. Monarch butterflies certainly make that natural world a more attractive place. In fact, Milkweed also makes the outdoors more pleasant, as long as you don’t play with the volatile sap. Milkweed should be renamed “Butterfly Flower” because it’s a hardy, attractive, flowering native plant.

In any case, it’s up to the students if they want to promote Milkweed for the sake of Monarchs or want to do something else as a club service project. Certainly there are lots of other bike-related service ideas, such as promoting bike safety or fund-raising for trails, which could be taken on.

Well, CR Biker does have a smile on his face. It was a good fair—for the Bike Club and the newspaper. As I tried to point out to Mark at the Involvement Fair, I do sometime smile at the newspaper, too.

It will be interesting to see what the MMU Bike Club (my suggestion for a slogan on a t-shirt? “It’s just a hill, bike over it”) will do this year.

And we’ll see if Argent gets to be a prop at any more public events.

Monday, August 24, 2015

In Which We Take An Unplanned Sunny Journey

Blue heron on Cedar Lake, Aug. 23, 2015.

One of my daughters stopped by Sunday, and we decided to ride our bikes, for no particular reason other than it was a nice sunny day. The day was a bit windy, as it turns out, but still a gorgeous Sunday afternoon to be biking on the Cedar River Trail.

We started off heading south to Mount Mercy, since the trail is closed at 42nd Street. We joined the trail at J Avenue and headed downtown.

On Cedar Lake, there was an odd looking lump on a log—but then the lump put its head up. It was a heron, and later we spotted another bird of the same type on a sand bar in the Cedar River.

The nice afternoon attracted a number of joggers and bikers to the trail, and I was pleased to see some family groups out. Still, it felt like the trail should have been more crowded. Attention, CR bikers, just because RAGBRAI is over doesn’t mean that biking on our trails is a bad idea …

Anyway, we ended up at a city park on the south end of town, having an amusing, brief dialogue with some other bikers who also stopped there. “What town is this?” one of them asked. Ummm, that would be Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second largest city—kind of hard to miss. If you go south a bit, you’re in Ely. “Oh,” she said. “We started in Ely.” So, you headed north from Ely and encountered residential development and a city park and wondered what town you were in?

The bikers were a bit older than my daughter and I. I hope none was a navigator in a B52 during Vietnam, or they probably bombed India.

Well, at least these senior citizens were out enjoying the almost perfect (the wind dial could have been turned down a notch) biking afternoon. In the end, my daughter and I rode more than 25 miles.

Not too bad for a spontaneous afternoon ride.

Friday, August 21, 2015

In Which I See Mostly Sunny Skies

Butterfly on MMU campus Thursday.

Cloudy, sunny, windy, cool, warm—even a few sprinkles. Biking this week has been every kind of weather except cold and snow.

But it has been good. My only regret is that I’m back at work now, which cuts into my biking time.

Argent on campus Wednesday, I think. All alone for now--hope more bikes show up this semester.

The butterfly is from walking on campus, but the rest are legit biking pictures. I’ve used both Francis and Argent, depending on if I have to haul books and things.

It has been a good biking week!

Earlier this week, Tuesday. Cloudy cool morning.

Late afternoon Wednesday, Cedar Lake.

Mostly sunny Friday morning.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

In Which I Wonder at Three Street Bikes

Irish Drive, a new street in Marion, where most of the houses have yet to be constructed, but bikes are welcome. It's a route to the Lowe Park Trail.

I was on Geode and 3 Street (I Know it’s Third Street, but the street signs amuse me because they say “3 St”) in Marion, and I noticed some new markings.

It appears I was riding on a new Bike BLVD. Bike Lane, but Vehicle Dangerous? Bikers Live as Vile Demons?

Of course, instead of Electric Avenue that you could rock down to, maybe Marion has a Boulevard for bikes?

As it turns out, thank you, Google, that turns out to be the truth. Geode and 3 have been designated a “Bike Boulevard” by the fair city of Marion. It seems a bit of an odd Boulevard, a bit obscurely in the city’s west side. It provides access from Boyson to Tower Terrace, and for me, it is part of my route should I be (and I was) biking from my home to the trail that goes by Lowe Park.

I was actually biking, Wednesday, with a granddaughter in the tot seat of Francis. We were headed to Echo Hill School, where the plan was to meet with Audrey and play with more grandchildren, but one became ill on the way to the park, and plans changed—so when I biked to a parking lot behind Oak Ridge Middle School, I merely ended up trading a 4-year-old granddaughter for a 2-year-old granddaughter, and then retracing my route.

And along the way, we passed three ways Marion has marked streets for lanes for bicycles, and I was a bit amused by the differences.

First, heading south on Irish Drive, we have the most complete bike, but one that apparently has no rider. The sign resembled Francis, sans basket or toddler seat, so that’s OK.

The Irish Drive bike looks like Francis.

Then, after we turn onto the bike lane of Tower Terrace Road, we have the badly eroded depiction of the punk kid (baseball cap, no helmet) who is beaming up the Enterprise as he bikes. By the way, note the rocks in the bike lane—it’s a minor beef I have with both Cedar Rapids and Marion. Run a street sweeper once a month to clear rocks that passing cars deposit on bike lanes, please.

The fading punk biker on a rocky bike lane, Tower Terrace Road.

Finally, the new BLVD bike signs, featuring Fred Flinstone’s bicycle with no pedals.

Down on the boulevard. Nobody knows it. Second embedded ear worm in this blog post. You are welcome.

Well, I’m glad my route to a nice short trail for a few pleasant bike rides is marked. The spreading of bike routes seems like a good thing to me, even if I’m not sure why “Bike Boulevard” appears to be in a slightly obscure place.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In Which Summer Turns Me to the Bike Side

August 2015--pelicans on Cedar Lake viewed from bike path.
Post RAGBRAI-biking—shorter rides, often to and from campus. I’d like to take at least one more epic bike journey, but I’m not sure it’s in the cards.

Still, from a biking point of view, the summer of 2015 is about as satisfying as it can be. I took a 3-year-old granddaughter for a bike ride (or she might be 4). Anyway, we saw a family of turkeys running across the trail in front of us, which was pretty cool to see. The next day, there was a bird hopping around the back yard, and she declared: “Look at the baby turkey!”

Black-Eyed-Susan in bloom next to bridge on side trail just west of main Boyson trail in Marion, photographed recently while I was on a morning bike ride to or from the gym.

Well, not all small birds are baby turkeys, but pretty much all bike rides are fun.

Late summer flowers are in bloom, cicada and crickets provide a nearly ceaseless chorus, and I’m enjoying the bits of time I can steal for riding my bike.

In other biking news—for Father’s Day this June, my kids, led by Katy, presented me with a set of photos of the grandchildren in biking poses, with a sign that says “Team Joe Trainees.” My office is still a mess, I still have not finished by syllabi or course handouts and I have a mountain of work to do for a fall speaker series—but the most important prep work for fall is done. I’ve hung the pictures. The Team Joe corner of my office much more lively and inviting now!

Biking corner of my office, now with Team Joe Trainee photos.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

In Which CR Biker Rolls 400 Miles

My sister Cate and I doing an ussie near big flag at edge of Wilton on final day of RAGBRAI 2015.

An average RAGBRAI is about 460 miles. My RAGBRAI team, Team Joe, has 4 members and one support vehicle that we take turns driving. So I usually ride about two-thirds of RAGBRAI.

So I’m pretty pleased to be able to say that I rode 400 miles last week, traveling most of the way across Iowa from Sioux City to Davenport, which means I rode most of a RAGBRAI.

It was quite a week. A highlight was Friday, when Team Joe swelled in numbers as two daughters, two sons and a girlfriend of one of those sons all wore team colors. I also rode much of that day with my sister Cate. Somewhere up there in the last third of the route, Brigid and Eldon were also on the ride—nine Team Joe members in the pretty yellow shirts, printing coordinated by Eldon, art by Amanda.

The core of Team Joe on the first morning of RAGBRAI outside homeless shelter in Sioux City--Brgid, Cate, Eldon and I.

Friday ridng crew included Cate, Katy, Kate, Theresa, CR Biker, Ben and Jon.

The parts of RAGBRAI I rode were unremarkable in terms of scenery—I don’t know if I’m just getting too used to Iowa’s rolling landscape, or if the route this year just happened to avoid the best-looking vistas—but Friday included the Coralville Dam, and that was something to see.

I guess Friday was the week in microcosm, in a way. It had the best and worst parts of RAGBRAI. So for CR Biker, what were the highs and lows of RAGBRAI?

Lows (there are more highs, and I want to finish with the highs):

Rain on Friday. We had rain Monday, too, when riding from Storm Lake to Fort Dodge. Friday’s rain was different—colder, harder, driven by a 40 mph or so wind that made raindrops sting like hail. My teammates said they were rain bullets or rain shrapnel. Riding in the rain is tough at best, and this was a tough rain.

The one good attribute was that it was mostly a headwind. Bikers don’t usually like headwinds—but in this case, they at least slowed the descent down hills. A steep drop that normally might cause Argent to top 30 mph led to speeds like 15 mph in the stiff headwind.

A tailwind would have been terrifying. A side wind might have been fatal. Hooray for that headwind.

Well, the day turned sunny and hot later, and the miles piled up and the hills got steep and headwinds were no longer our friend, but any wind is less of a factor if it’s not raining.

Coralville on Friday. I’ve never seen an overnight town that took bikers through a vendor scrum before they finished their nightly ride—and that gesture by Coralville was definitely not appreciated. You arrive in town hot and tired, looking for your end point and a shower before you consider the evening plans. The last thing you want is a scrum to walk through and vendors trying to sell their wares. No, Coralville, that was not cool.

The arch and carpet? Cute, that was a good idea. The vendor hell riders had to endure? Very poor form.

That’s it. I could complain about chafing, heat rash, bugs, etc., but not only are those not such a big deal, they are just normal RAGBRAI conditions and probably not as bad this year as in past year.


Heroes named “Joe.” No, I do not mean CR Biker, but rather Sioux City Joe. Marco, our support vehicle, arrived in Sioux City with a serious problem that developed on the way from Des Moines to the ride start—the driver side window would not close. This was taking place late on a Saturday afternoon—after most garages were closed.

I hope Brigid or Eldon will write their story and share it at some point, but in the end, a friendly car salesman got them in contact with his mother’s husband (the salesman’s father had died a few years ago, so it was not his dad, but clearly in generosity the two are kindred spirits). Sioux City Joe restores cars as a hobby, and although he was not able to fix the window, he was able to hotwire the motor and get the window to roll up and then remove the switch so nobody would put the window down. Way to go, Sioux City Car Seller and Sioux City Joe, you two rescued Team Joe.

Bicycle on display in museum at La Porte City on Thursday.

Our generous hosts. Jean, Amy, Amy’s husband, Big Dog, curse-like-a-soldier Ryan, the fine folks at the Sioux City homeless shelter—thank you. Thank you, too, to Eldora, the tiniest overnight town and the one where Team Joe could not find a home—but it turned out the tiny town had its act together and did just about everything right. Coralville, if you ever need to host RAGBRAI again, shut up and listen to whoever planned the Eldora stop. And, again, a huge Team Joe thanks to Jean, Amy (and her husband), Big Dog, curse-like-a-soldier Ryan, homeless shelter guys—your hospitality was appreciated.

The Microsoft banditos: Chris, Brian, Nigel and Jon on Sunday. Chris was new to RAGBRAI, but the rest rode with me on my first RAGBRAI, was it 2011?

The reunion of the Microsoft banditos. It was a blast to run into Jon now and then, share a meal and a brew, and it was fun to host the former Microsoft boys for their stay near the city of five smells. RAGBRAI 2015 was a reunion of sorts of the group from my first RAGBRAI years ago.

Again, I don´t know the details first hand, but the epic tale of Brian and the tinfoil will live on among RAGBRAI legends. Ask my eldest son or one of the other Microsoft banditos for details.

View from a RAGBRAI bathroom.

Mother Nature’s cooperation. True, there was that quick Friday storm with its bullets of rain. True, Monday morning was soggy. True, the temperature topped 100 on Saturday. But, for most of the week, the sun smiled, the temperature was mild, the nights were cool and good for sleeping—the weather left little to be desired. For late July in Iowa, it was gorgeous.

The new bike. Long-time readers may recall that I had some scary health issues during RAGBRAI last year—general exhaustion and ominous chest pains. I trained harder this year, and it paid off, I think. I got a bit worn at times, but nothing like last year. Besides better training, the difference was having a road bike. Argent proved to be perfect for its purpose. I was able to power up hills. On Francis, I never tried to slingshot from hill to hill, but it was almost not avoidable on Argent.

On Tuedsay, I faced a decision. Go for 100 miles or not? In my four previous RAGBRAIs, I was clearly not ready to ride the Karras Loop and go 100 miles in a day. This year, I decided not to decide in advance, because I knew it would require a day of near perfect weather, plus keeping on time in early communities. Well, the weather was gorgeous. Brigid rode with me in the morning, and kept a brisk pace. Cate rode with me in the afternoon, and for a while we rode with Jon. Although Jon slowed way down to ride with us, for Cate and I, it was very fast moving at the pace of Jon.

And my body held together. No serious aches. No cramps. And when I got to Buckeye by 3 and the choice was either 15 more miles or go for about 40 miles—well, when would there be a better day? With Cate as my companion, I went for it.

Late afternoon Tuesday. Cate and I have finished the Karras Loop and are riding the final 15 miles.

The upshot was I finished that evening rather late and pulled into Eldora quite tired. But I did it, I earned my Karras Loop patch, I rode Argent more than 100 miles in a day (I think my bike computer recorded about 103 miles for the day).

Last, and not least, the newly expanded Team Joe. I enjoyed the whole RAGBRAI week, especially with Jon able to ride, too. But as I already wrote, the Friday ride with extended Team Joe was—despite a broken spoke on Katy’s bike ,a morning flat tire for Cate, the rain, and the fact that Ben and Kate flew so fast that I did not see them after the start until after the end—wonderful.

Taking photos and joking at lunch spot Friday--a Mount Vernon store that is a combination of diner, ice cream shop, video store, tanning salon and antique shop. And it's all one store. Motto: For all your sandwhich, desert, tan, video and antique needs.

Way to go, Team Joe. I hope many of you in the extended team are inspired to ride more RAGBRAIs. As for the core four, despite our ups and downs, we have already begun talking about next year.

RAGBRAI is like nicotine—it is very addictive. But, at least it’s an addiction that is good for you. See more of my RAGBRAI photos here. And see you all on the ride next year!

My bike computer as I pull into the final town I rode to, Wilton. The ride Saturday ended in Davenport, but I was on driving duty that afternoon. I had gone 400 miles in seven days, 100 on just one day.