Sunday, February 18, 2018

In Which an Eagle Circles Over the Lake

Three views of pretty sunshine from Friday morning ride--Rockwell Collins pond on C Avenue (top), hillside approaching MMU (middle) and Catherine McAuley's halo gets a little bright on Rohde Plaza (bottom). Blue sky day.
Winter is slowly losing its grip on my corner of the hemisphere. While part of this week will be too wet for riding and there was fresh snow Saturday, Sunday was quite warm. I didn’t have time for a long ride, which was probably OK, given how slushy the world was.

And there was Friday, which was a cool day but nice by winter standards.

I rode to work in the morning by the direct route, admiring the sunshine. I left work about 4 in the afternoon, and decided to take the longer Cedar River Trail route home—swinging by Cedar Lake before heading north.

I had not been to the lake for a while, and enjoyed seeing the crowded patch of open water at the lake’s north end. It was crowded with geese and a few ducks, and sounded like a busy cocktail party. I shot some images and moved one.

But a particular bird caught my eye, flying high above the others in a straight line headed southeast. It was a bit distant, but unmistakable—white tail feathers and white head gleaming in the afternoon sun.

Your eyes may be playing tricks on you--in the above picture, three geese are near the middle of the lake. Higher and farther away, that is no goose. The bird in front with the straight wings is a soaring eagle. Below, the eagle has wheeled away from the lake and is heading west, probably for the dam area of the Cedar River. In profile, I think you can see it's an eagle more easily, with the naked eye it was much more obvious.

I instantly wished I had my good camera with a long lens. Fortunately, the bald eagle interrupted its straight flight and circled for a while near the south end of the lake before turning and heading west.

As you can see, it was a pretty winter day. And in this part of Iowa, in 2018, eagles are not incredibly rare. Still, I think this was the clearest sighting I’ve had in recent months, and there’s still something awe inspiring about the sight of an eagle.

It should rain tomorrow—and I don’t do cold rain, even on my winter beater bike. We’ll see when I can get back in the saddle, but it shouldn’t be long. I did a short ride to and from the gym today, just one day after fresh snow fell, and it felt good.

Not as good as Friday—no eagles—but it seems biking weather is coming back!

Other Friday views--sunshine through park trees on J Avenue in the afternoon on my way to the trail.

Just a small selection of the large bird party going on in the patch of open water at the north end of Cedar Lake.

Low sun looking west on trail by lake.

End of trail loop, I've circled the lake counterclockwise and am nearing the T intersection to turn north.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

In Which Warm Wet Days Lead to Rides

Sun shining on a driveway at MMU on the afternoon of Feb. 14 (above), My winter bike parked in a rack on campus on a grey, cloudy but warm Thursday (below).

On Wednesday and Thursday, it was cool and wet in the mornings, and the pavement seemed a bit iffy.

But, after a week of not riding, I was ready to take a chance. And I am glad I did. I did slip a bit on ice about 100 yards from home, but other than that, the mountain bike proved sure footed. And although both mornings were wet and cold, afternoon rides were nice.

Friday is supposed to be cold, but that just means I will have to dress a bit warmer. Let the rides begin.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

In Which Winter Will Cause a Delay

On the way to campus, about 2 in the afternoon. Some snow at the corner of Collins and F, but not much.

CR Biker won’t get much biking time this week, I’m afraid. There’s snow bearing down on Iowa, with accumulating snow during the day Monday virtually a certainty.

On Saturday, a rainy wintery mix briefly turned to light snow overnight, and today there was a white glaze on the world. It turned cold—it was warm enough yesterday to briefly rain, but the temperature was 30 degrees colder today, in the teens, with a stiff wind.

Still, the sun was shining this afternoon when I needed to go to campus, so I did it—I rode. There was snow here and there, but much of the pavement was bare, and I gambled I would be OK on the Fancy Beast, my winter bike.

And I was. It was cold, but I was well dressed, and in fact felt rather a bit too warm on the ride to campus. I arrived in the afternoon and worked for several hours, and it was just starting to get dark as I headed home.

My bike all alone in bike rack at Regina Hall, MMU, above. A closer look at my snowy back tyre. Despite the snow, the trusty mountain bike didn't have a slip at all on the ride.

The temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up—I was riding into the face of it on the way home. I was still well dressed enough to be OK, but was definitely chilled when I reached my destination!

Well, we’ll see how many days it takes before the pavement seems ride worthy. At least I did sneak one chilly commute in before the big snow arrives.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

In Which We See the Party and Skip the Party

Saturday at corner of C Avenue and Blair's Ferry, sunset on the bike ride down to the Sag Wagon. Pretty end of a pretty day, warm for January.

And they finally announced the RAGBRAI route—already being called the ISU vs Iowa ride. The 2018 RAGBRAI route starts in Onawa. On the way to its end in Davenport, overnight towns are Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney and Iowa City.

According to, it’s a relatively easy and relatively flat ride, compared to other RAGBRAIs. That’s OK with me, I always ride RAGBRAI as a tour anyway, and, while I don’t mind a difficult day now and then, I’m not in this for the torture.

Image posted by of route announcement.

And while RAGBRAI was not wise enough to follow my idea of a city-themed route, I still guessed three of the towns on the ride, which is a pretty high average for me.

I’m not entirely going to new places on this year's ride—I’ve been in, I think, almost all of the towns, but I do say I’m a fan of having both Ames and Iowa City on the ride. Iowa’s two college towns have a lot to offer. And while we’ve rolled through Iowa City a lot in recent years, we’ve never camped there. In the years I’ve ridden the ride, we’ve been near Ames, but never went through it.

One of my suggestions was that Des Moines would be a great lunch stop. The ride this year has to get from Ames to Newton, and the golden dome city is between the two. I’m guessing they’ll either just edge the metro area or avoid it completely by going north and east of it, but we’ll see.

The announcement party was a bit of a bust for your biking correspondent. The Sag Wagon had announced a live streaming of the party, and a daughter and I decided to go. Saturday was an unusually warm day, and we have lights on our bikes, so we decided to ride.

The party was to start at 6, and we got there a bit after 5. While there were a number of people in the bar/deli, there didn’t seem to be any particular RAGBARI stuff going on. The lone bartender-waiter on duty took our order. We got taco pizza and Angry Orchard, which seemed like a biker kind of meal.

Six rolled around, and we noted on What’s Ap what we were doing. My daughter-in-law, who lives in San Francisco, posted that it was still several hours before the announcement, and sent us a link to the RAGBRAI page that had the announcement countdown. We hung around until after 7, but the daughter who was with me had a bit of a drive to get home, and we didn’t want to push it too late.

We were also a bit surprised that very little RAGBRAI party was actually happening. No biking trivia game, no slide shows from the last time RAGBRAI rolled through town—honestly, nothing at all. If we were just going to watch the announcement, we figured we could do that at home. So, after enjoying our taco pizza (for the record, I do recommend taco pizza at the Sag Wagon—it’s not the most fantastic in the world, but they are generous with their toppings and it certainly is a meal you can pedal for miles on—we wolfed the whole thing down, but I think 3 adults could share one and be pretty happy), we donned helmets and reflective vests and pedaled home.

The RAGBRAI livestream began around 8, but it was music, a RAGBRAI Jeopardy game and images of past rides. It wasn’t until shortly after 9—minutes after my daughter gave up and hit the road, that the route was actually announced.

Oh well. Riding 8 miles to a bar for taco pizza and then riding back still felt like a very RAGBRAI thing to do. We definitely enjoyed the pleasant evening ride, and I do like this year’s route.

The busted RAGBRAI party culminated several days of good riding. I put the toddler seat on Clarence earlier in the day Saturday and took a 2-year-old grandson for a quick ride. He and I both enjoyed the sunshine. It was breezy and felt cool—but still great for January.

On Friday, after working in my office on spring semester stuff, I rode downtown to Brewed Awakenings to have coffee with two alumni. Celine and Mariah, thanks for the invite—I had not been to BA before, and enjoyed my time there, too.

Some images from Friday. Above, I sit on bench outside coffee shop--I was the first to arrive. A biker doesn't always know how long it will take to get somewhere, as it turns out, if the question is "how long from MMU to Brewed Awakenings," the answer is "not very long." Below, my coffee and scone. Biker snack. Bottom, Cedar Lake in dim light and clouds as I head back home along the Cedar River Trail.

Winter is coming back—it will cool down dramatically as January shifts into February. But February has only 28 days, so more biking weather is likely soon. And RAGBRAI is also coming!

A frosty morning earlier in the week, Wednesday or so, I think. It's the same photograph, I just thought it looked even better in black and white.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

In Which I Don’t See the Armed Snowman

Sun illuminates the clouds and shines through holes in them this morning, view from C Avenue.
J Term 2018 is over and also not over. I’m still grading, which makes me green with envy over some other professors’ Twitter happy dances. But, I’m getting there.

I taught a speech course this winter term—at Mount Mercy University, where I teach, there is a 3-week January term when students usually take just one class, and professors teach just one. For four hours a day, four days a week. It’s not exactly a mid-winter vacation.

Anyway, classes ended Monday, and I entered final exam grades today. And with the January term classes now done, it was nice to have a little foreshadowing of spring today. We’ve had lots of weather extremes this winter, with a relatively warm December followed by snowy, icebox January, with some breaks now and then.

Today was now and then. While it was cloudy and cool, it was also dry, with dry enough pavement that I greased the chain and pumped up the tyres on Clarence, my workhorse hybrid bike, for the commute to campus this morning and the continuation of gradefest 2018.

I like a nice sunny sky, but I appreciate clouds, at least if they aren’t completely unbroken. And this morning, the sun was playing a game with this bike commuter, peeking out now and then through interstices in the cloud layer. As you can see, the view on my morning ride, while winter stark, still featured a bit of interest from the sky. It also just felt good to be on the "regular" bike, which allows me to extend my legs more. And while The Fancy Beast is a decent mountain bike, a hybrid is just a much livelier ride.

I teach a core education verbal communication class, with a long unit on public speaking. During the final exam, I usually have students view a speech and apply course concepts to it—and I often use a TED talk as the exam speech, honestly because they have readily available transcripts.

For this January term, I used a speech by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society. You have to watch his talk for the headline to make sense—when the sun just peeks through a few holes in the water vapor ceiling, there aren’t that many shapes in the clouds. But a biker still has plenty of time outside to look up and appreciate the variety of textures in even a mostly cloudy sky.

When I’m scrambling to catch up on grading and worried about the mountain of work awaiting me for the spring term that starts too soon, and which I don’t have time to prep for, perhaps it’s selfish to take the time to ride a bicycle to campus.

I could get there 15 minutes faster via car. But I would not see the clouds as well nor appreciate them as much. And I agree with Gavin. That would be a shame.

Friday, January 19, 2018

In Which We See Snowy Trails

A lone bike parked at Lundy on the Mount Mercy University campus. I had distributed papers in the afternoon Jan. 17 and saw this bike, unused in the winter. At least my winter bike was nice and dry in my garage--until today, when I finally rode it again.

January has not exactly been a biker’s paradise in Iowa. I did commute for a few days near the start of the month, but then Arctic air and snow moved in and stayed for the long haul.

Cold, I can typically dress for, but I draw the line somewhere around zero degrees—and there have been plenty of mornings below the line. And even if it is warmer than zero, I’m wary of riding on ice and snow.

But yesterday was such a pretty day that I felt bad having driven to work. I didn’t honestly have time to bike in the morning—I was giving an exam and needed to polish and print it before class—but it was sunny and pretty and even a bit above freezing.

Jan. 19, 2018, Lindale Trail about 9 a.m. It's cool, but not super cold. Despite ice and snow on trail, I was fine riding slowly on my mountain bike.
So today, I rode my mountain bike to the gym in the morning. I decided to add a little distance and take the Lindale Trail. That trail is largely snow covered, but I just rode very slowly, and on the wide-tyred mountain bike, I didn’t slip at all. Later, I rode to campus and took the longer trail route. Most streets were OK, but several were snowy in parts. However, but the winter beater bike served me well. It was nice to get down to Cedar Lake after a long biking hiatus.

All in all, I estimate I rode around 15 miles today. I could have used “Map My Ride” and been more accurate, but I didn’t bother. Distance wasn’t really the point. The real bonus was simply getting back on the bike again.

Approaching Cedar Lake on the Cedar River Trail about 11:30 in the morning. I will like it in a few months when green returns, but there is a quiet beauty to winter, too. And there were several fat-tire bikes on the trail this morning, besides crazy old me on my mountain bike.

Monday, January 8, 2018

In Which The Fancy Beast Acquires Lasers

Sunset at Kenwood School, seen as I ride my bike home on a warm Monday.
January thaw: The morning ride was a bit dicey, with lots of icy spots, but I was riding the winter bike and never felt I was slipping. I took it slow and arrived safe and sound.

It got up into the upper 30s today, and January sunshine created a bit of a melt. I avoided my usual route in the morning so I would not have to travel down some snowy hills, but by afternoon the streets were OK, as long as you watched it. Still some slushy or icy spots, but the afternoon ride was far easier than the morning ride.

Looking west at Sunset on C Avenue across Rockwell-Collins parking lot.
As you see, the sky was quite pretty tonight. On a whim, I decided to cut over to C Avenue and head home using the bike lane there. The sun had melted all snow off of the street, so that was OK, but the lane ends south of Collins Road, and I had to ride the sidewalk for a block—which would be OK, except not everyone along that stretch has started to shovel the new sidewalk. In particular, there is an office complex at the corner of C and Collins which is ignoring the sidewalk. Not cool.

New sidewalk on C Avenue--business complex at the corner is not shoveling yet.

Anyway, the ride featured the world premiere of new lights on The Fancy Beast. My wife got me a new rear light that features lasers to create a virtual bike lane.

A January thaw—and lasers! Despite some slush, it was a good biking day—and it’s nice to be back on two wheels again.

In hallway near my office, ready to leave for home. Lasers!