Saturday, May 2, 2015

In Which I Become a Hobo Near Coe

Who suggested the pre-ride selfie? Actually, it was not me, it was one of the women. Come to think of it, they were the ones who wanted to ride bikes to the baseball game. Clearly I have been misled by the dos equis chromosome once again.

I broke the law on the final day of April in 2015.

Well, I think that “broke the law” is a pretty minor technicality, and what I did, I hope, won’t cause anybody to bat an eyelash more than once. But I did transgress from the straight and narrow while acting as an adult in a group of college students.

I may need some work on my “adult” skills.

Anyway, on Thursday the MMU Bike Club took its second ride. On the first ride, there were just three of us. Numbers swelled for the second ride, with two women, anxious to see an MMU baseball game that was being played that night, joining two men of the club and an old professor, primarily because they (the women) wanted to pedal to that ball game.

Another pre-ride picture. I actually took this one first, before someone said, "We could take a selfie."

Beware: I had my camera and some time to kill while they checked out bikes. There will be flower photos.

Anyway, a few minutes after 5, we—me and four university students, the aforementioned two men and two women—took off. I didn’t know where the MMU-Coe game was played, and neither, it became obvious, did the students. Because they knew the ball field was “near Coe,” but not at Coe.

Here, there be gears. Lundy Commons where students can check out bikes.

So our only idea was to go to Coe and to get there via the Cedar River Trail.

The flaw (and minor infraction of the law) comes from the fact that, while the Cedar River Trail, Cedar Lake and Coe College all exist in close proximity, there is no obvious direct connection between Coe and the other two places.

We rode down to the lake, and at my suggestion (I admit it) turned left to head counterclockwise around the lake, hoping to find a street that leads to Coe. We came to a stop sign at a dead end road that seemed to lead where we were going. And the students and I took off down that road.

Red-bud tree near Lundy before our ride. Beautiful afternoon for a crime or a bike ride.

It occurred to me after the turn that we weren't on the trail, nor even on a street, anymore. We were on a dirt path worn beside multiple rail tracks. We were hobos trespassing on railroad property, a group of wandering vagabonds no longer held by the rules of civilization. Well, before we had to craft shelters out of cardboard or roast chipmunks for our dinner, we came to a place where we could see Coe close by, just under the interstate across a grassy open lot.

The thing about a bike is that you can ride it or walk it. If you want to cross some rail tracks to get under the interstate to go to a nearby college campus, sometimes you briefly walk it. “Watch out if one of those rails starts to vibrate,” quipped the president of the MMU bike club, showing the kind of leadership only a student can. I’ll try to protect you by not mentioning your name, OK Mark?

Well, we luckily did not play “train dodge,” as they did in “Stand By Me.” Without much further incident we arrived at Coe, where, for the second time, I felt oddly out of place with the rules of life I normally follow. There I was, in a post-adolescent pack, riding our ragtag bikes across the central campus of Coe College. If we scared anybody, I apologize. I was half expecting to be Tasered (I know my line—“don’t Tase me, bro”) when we passed a Coe Security vehicle. And I’m sure that would have led to an interesting phone call.

Luckily, it didn't happen. No baby ducks nor Coe coeds nor MMU professors were injured in the making of this bike blog post. Phew.

Tree in bloom on patio of Lundy Commons.

While at Coe, our bike club VP broke down and did a very un-guy thing. He asked a Coe student for directions. I didn't hear what the directions were, but we took off, following our vice leader.

And we ended up on a familiar street, one that I have driven often when coming from downtown, passing by Coe and heading to MMU. And I started to have a sneaking suspicious. What if the ball game were played at ….

And a few blocks later, we arrived. I was the one who found the turn-in to the ball diamond. The students remained at the park to watch the game, while I had to head back to campus for a newspaper meeting.

The ball game? It was played at Daniels Park. If you know the geography of MMU and the Cedar River Trail, you may already be chuckling. The way to get to the trail from MMU is to take J Avenue, and J Avenue goes right along the north edge of—Daniels Park. The ball diamond was just out of view over a small hill at the south end of the same park.

We rode 4 miles or so and trekked across a rail wasteland and frightened some Coe coeds to arrive at a game that we had unknowing already ridden by when we were about 4 blocks from Mount Mercy.

Well, I guess the point of a bike club is to ride bikes. So the fact that we got a lot more riding than we needed to could count as a win. After all, the Israelites managed to wander the desert for 40 years before God carefully settled them in the only corner of the Middle East totally lacking in oil, so I guess our wayward journey was not as bad as it could have been.

Bike Club: Next ride, let’s head north on the trail. We may, with luck (knock on wood) have a few fewer chances to get lost that way—and there is a Dairy Queen and a Parlor City Ice Cream Shop along that route. We could do the “lactose ride towards Lafayette” if we wanted to.

It sounds a bit better than the hobo ride to Coe!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

In Which an Indifferent Deer Roams

These MMU students presented a research report on Monarch butterflies. It made me want to plan some milkweed on campus.
Hyacinth at Noelridge Park.
Today turned into a bike adventure day.

First of all, I attended a poster presentation event as part of Mount Mercy University’s “Scholarship Day.” One of the posters was about Monarch butterflies, and it got me thinking again about my “bikers for butterflies” concept.

I am taking part, I hope, in an MMU Bike Club ride tomorrow—I am still hoping to get the club to consider planting milkweed in a butterfly garden on campus as a service project, and maybe to get involved in an effort to plant milkweed along bike trails around Cedar Rapids and beyond.

Butterfly women, are you interested, too?

Crab apple at Cedar Lake.

I was on campus a bit later than usual because my wife began teaching a men’s health class, and I was her opening day guest speaker. My topic was the image of men in the media. I managed to use a Tom Petty music video to make a point. Or get to the point. Or roll another joint. You don’t know how it feels to be me.
Crab apple at Noelridge Park.

Anyway, it was getting on towards 7, with the sun low in the sky, as I straddled Francis and headed out. It was such a pretty, sunny late afternoon that I headed to the trail and went south, first, to ride around Cedar Lake. And there, just for your viewing pleasure, I snapped some photos.
Cedar Lake and moon.

Then I headed north, but before going directly home, I diverted to go down the Lindale Trail to the Boyson Trail—my aim was to get to the other side of the Bowman Woods hill so that I could ride up it for RAGBRAI training.

And I snapped a few more photos—sunset along the trail and a deer that, despite popping out of the woods as the sun slipped over the horizon, was still in enough light to be captured. It did not seem concerned by me or Francis—it was an indifferent deer, out for an early evening snack, which it enjoyed maybe 20 yards from me.

If it had a bike, I’m sure it would have ridden it. Because it was that nice of an early evening, a good time to spend on a bicycle.
Deer along Boyson Trai.

Sunset along Boyson Trail.
Noelridge Park crab apple.

Monday, April 27, 2015

In Which We Celebrate the Apple Phase of Spring

White crab apple tree in my front yard, I took its photo right at the end of my evening commute--so it's right at sunset just past 7:30 p.m. I have 7 crab apple trees and this is the first to actively bloom and is just starting--more sweet smells on the way!
The air was sweet on the slightly cool Monday afternoon bike ride home.

It was easy to see why. While some lilacs are starting to perfume the air, the dominant odor on the ride came from some big, old, perfume-spilling crab apple trees. It’s the apple season, when apples and crab apples make Iowa a sweet smelling place.

It’s a welcome change, Pear blossoms are finally fading, and we won’t miss their rotting fish odor.

Photo from Sunday--yes another Sunday flower photo. Pear tree in back. It does look pretty but does not smell as nice as the crab apples that are just coming on.

Anyway, the morning ride was so cool I didn't notice the apple smell—but this afternoon, with temperatures in the 60s, it was sweet to breath. When I got home—about 7:30, just as the light was fading—a young grandson was waiting, hoping for a quick ride. Well, I already had lights on, and putting the toddler seat on the bike is the work of a few seconds.

So up the Brentwood Drive hill we went, and there were some blooming trees along the way—and as we headed uphill, we certainly had time to enjoy their sweet scent.

Apple blossom time! Sweet days for bike riders.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In Which I Hunt Bluebells and Plant Clematis

The object of this morning's bike quest.

Saturday was rain, and rain meant little biking.

Not none—late in the afternoon I was able to take a small grandchild for a spin around the neighborhood—but only a little biking.

Today was different. It was a sunny, gorgeous day, one of those almost unbearably green days in mid spring when the grass is succulent and the flowers and in bloom, even if the trees are still stretching and yawning.

It was a bit chilly—jacket weather—when I went to the gym. But it was so pretty when I got done watching an episode of “Law and Order” (that’s the main purpose of the gym on a weekend) that I decided to go on a minor quest on my way home—I need to ride the Bowman Woods hill more often anyway to get ready for RAGBRAI, and a little quest for bluebells on the Krumboltz Trail would put me on the other side of the hill.

In my own gardens, a satisfying number of bluebells are popping up, but only one is yet in bloom. I had only two plants last spring, but added some clusters, and they are coming up!

I had two questions in mind as I mounted Francis post-L&O—would the trail be too mushy because it rained yesterday? And would the bells be blooming? The answers were: No—it’s been dry enough that the rain soaked in pretty quickly; and Yes!


Well, that was that. A satisfying ride. But, I had much work to do, so I started by reading a chapter for Monday. Then, my daughter called my wife—did we want to meet the grandchildren at an elementary school park?

They were going to bike there. Not to be outdone, but we decided we would, too. So it was off to Indian Creek, a school about equal distances from our houses.

It took a while for us to get underway—I had to put on the toddler seat, and we just dithered a bit. But we still arrived first—not too surprisingly as we didn’t have four young children to prepare, nor did we have to bike at the speed of said kids.

While we were playing, I offered the youngest grandchild a ride. She’s a bit bike crazy, and immediately agree, so off we pedaled, or I pedaled as she enjoyed the view. We headed past the Linn-Mar high school and up 10th Street—I was aiming for the trail at Lowe Park. We rode a bit of it, but it was closed for maintenance. I got a text while on my way back—we were to meet the others at an ice cream shop.

This is how she looks when I ask if she wants a bike ride.

Well, that went well. And the next oldest grandchild, who had retained her bike helmet the whole time we were at the playground, wanted a ride home. So I consented, and our caravan was off. It was an interesting ride. Small children on bike with training wheels are a bit slower—slow enough that it challenges an adults sense of balance. And I appreciate that the kids were careful at streets, but they have not yet mastered the concept that if you the street is clear now, you cross it quickly. Being nervous makes them slower.

Still, there was no real problem one the way back to their home (other than the youngest grandchild, who had to ride in the trailer behind mom’s bike, berating use because she wasn’t on my bike).

After that, my wife and I pedaled over to the HyVee Drug Store in our neighborhood, to pick up some clematis. I planned to mow for the first time, just in front, and then to plant those climbing vines around an arbor that saw most of its clematis die off in last year’s rough winter.

The front basket of my bike was just right for three of those plans. The mission was accomplished.

Climbing flowers in a bike basket.

I probably will regret the extensive biking done today when I’m super busy this week. But I’m glad I put the Beast’s wheel back on my wife’s bike—and that we’re again doing some joint rides, some at the rather fast pace of my wife, some at the rather slower pace of our grandchildren. Biking with family is just grand.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

In Which A Cool Week Is Great For Riding

Francis parked at Gazette Tuesday morning.

Not sure what Mother Nature has in store for tomorrow. Rain is moving in sometime Friday, and I’ll have to check the weather to see if I’m on two wheels.

But, so far, this busy cool spring week has been just right for biking.

It started off with a fairly warm Sunday. We had a breakfast event at Mount Mercy University, and afterwards the Iowa grandchildren and their moms were hanging out. The day had started wet and cool, but was nice by afternoon, so we blocked off the driveway with a car and opened the garage door so the kids could get out ride-on toys.

Child read for ride. Francis is Overlord approved.

One of those toys was Francis. Four of the kids are small enough to fit in the toddler seat, and although one eligible rider didn’t want a ride, the other three did. So I went up the Bowman Woods hill three times as I made a short loop in the neighborhood, giving those rides.

I know, I didn’t have to ride up the hill, but I did it anyway. As the weather turns warmer, I start to think “RAGBRAI,” and I need the hill miles.

She does not look happy, does she? This one is bike crazy this year--loves, loves, loves to ride with me on Francis.

Anyway, some mornings this week have been cool enough to wear a jacket while riding. And wind has indeed been an issue.

On Tuesday, I biked to the Gazette because one of my classes had a tour there. I locked Francis to a light pole, and the bike had been blown over by the time we were done.

Despite having to fight the “wind hills,” I still found the rides this week to be OK. And today, Thursday, was just gorgeous—again frosty in the morning, but little winds and lots of sun.

Monday, April 13, 2015

In Which New Things Arrive In Spring

Mark, the president of the MMU bike club, asked me if I rode at night. I replied that I do sometimes due to commuting. I rode with lights tonight--these are photos I got at sunset, around 7:45 p.m., as I made my way back to Warde Hall to pack up Francis for the ride home.

I have lived most of my life fairly north in the northern hemisphere, so I have some of the cultural prejudices of those parts, such as thinking of the year as having four seasons—winter, spring, summer, fall. If I had lived in many tropical locations, the seasons would be rain and not rain. Or one season of hot and humid.

But even in Iowa, spring, to me, is really four seasons:

1) Brown, early spring. In the early spring, the ground is dominantly tan and dull. The soil starts to melt, which makes it slick and treacherous to walk on at times—in early spring, sometime a layer of mud will form over buried frost, and dramatic, traumatic dirty slips are possible. When something falls from the sky in early spring, it can just as often be white as wet. Nights are below freezing—but despite the chill, there are subtle signs of change. Tiny daffodils start to knife through the soil. A few box elder bugs wander aimlessly on the slightly less cold afternoons. The first day it tops 50, college students stride about determinedly in shorts, their flesh goose pimpled as their bodies aren’t fooled at all. But spring is still in the air, and maples flower.

2) Ante-mid spring. In the ante-mid spring, suddenly crocus burst forth. Color! Snow drops hang from their impossibly green stems. More tinges of green can be seen in the mowed grass, although most of the woods and areas with taller vegetation remain brown. Then, suddenly, you get a cool rain followed by a sunny day—and it all changes—the lawns switch from winter dull to emerald bright. There are no leaves on the trees, but green is slowly creeping up from the ground—buds on low bushes swell, tentative tiny leaves peek out on crab apple trees. There are a few early daffodils.

3) Post-mid spring. Flowers! Daffodil are suddenly everywhere. Peony don’t bloom yet, but are shooting up from the ground. Crab apples burst forth in glorious, perfumed splendor, and then—most memorable of all—the air is sweet with the heady aroma of lilac. Some trees can’t take it anymore and poke out leaves—late frost be damned. Oaks are amused at the rush expressed by maples—oaks know better and wait a few more week. Until …

4) Late spring. Fecund spring. All is green spring. Flowers everywhere, crocus are all faded and most daffodils are done, but lilies are coming on and Hosta are growing vigorously. Even oak and walnut are chiming in to the green spring song, and the whole countryside is suddenly green, and just as suddenly buggy.

We’ll, we’re not quite in post-mid spring yet, but ante-mid spring is nice. And in this spring stage, there was something new that came up at Mount Mercy. The MMU Bike Club held its first ride.

It was just three of us. The ride was on a day that threatened rain (it did rain, but fortunately after our ride and after I got home), and it was right after a dance marathon at MMU. It was cool, cloudy and windy, so it took some brave or foolish souls for that first ride.

Bike Club President Mark Mettler looked a little worn, but he was there, as was club member Joseph Mulangalivo (I hope I got Joe’s name correct).
Mark and Joe (not me) get ready for ride
by getting MMU bikes.

The ride was a bit spontaneous. I had assumed, for reasons known only to a forgetful middle-aged brain, that the ride was starting at 2 p.m. So, I sat down to grade some papers late Sunday morning, and I checked my campus e-mail first. It was 10:35 a.m., and there was Mark’s reminder of the ride, starting at 11.

Well, shoot. It usually takes me 30 minutes to ride to MMU, so I thought of skipping it. But I wanted to ride with the club, to show support for a student group I’m excited to see get going. So I got The Beast out (due to threatening rain, I didn’t want to use Francis) and peddled like a mad man to campus.

I made the 30 minute ride in record time. It was perhaps 11:05 when I met Mark waiting at a table in Lundy. He said Joe (not me, the other Joe) was coming, and he wanted to wait to see if there would be any more students.

So it was perhaps 11:15 when we left. I had forgotten my camera at home, so the cell phone picture of Mark and Joe unlocking their MMU steeds is the only documentation of the trip.

We started off. And didn’t get anywhere. Mark had a flat, so there was a delay while he swapped bikes.

The original plan was to head to the Cedar River Trail and ride north to Lafayette, or at least as far north as riders were willing to go (Lafayette is probably 12 miles north of MMU—it would have been a close to 25-mile ride). I suspect Dairy Queen in Hiawatha might have proven distracting.

Anyway, Mark suggested that we head south instead, so we did. I suggested the Prairie Park Fishery as a goal, but when we got downtown, with the skies looking more and more rainy, the students wanted to stick to the trail. We continued over the bridge of lions, past Mt. Trashmore, and finally turned around on the bridge over the railroad tracks just past Tait Cummins Park.

All in all, we rode about two hours, and probably went 15 miles or so. It was, I think, a good start.

May there be more students to enjoy future trail journeys. May my service idea for the club (I’m still pushing for it to plant Milkweed flowers at MMU and along bike trails to aid monarch butterflies) take off. May we soon see the grand splendor that is the village of Lafayette. And may this new club, sprouting this spring, provide memorable good times for MMU students.

Two views of the world Friday. Following rain Thursday, suddenly grass was all green Friday. And these windy spring skies can be dramatic and pretty, too--something that bikers get to see more of! MMU campus above, Cedar Lake below.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In Which I Ride 3 Bikes in 3 Days

As you know, I fixed Francis, and used my main bike for some rides Saturday with grandchildren. That was nice.

Day 1: Friday--Francis before the first ride in several months.

Sunday, after church, turned into a fairly busy work day, but I did take time to take out the Fancy Bike. Jon left it here while he is in Portugal—I assume he’s planning to ride it this summer when he comes back for RAGBRAI.

Anyway, just as last time it was here for an extended period, I didn’t want it to just sit in the garage for months with no use—that’s just inviting rust—and it was a nice day Sunday, so why not? I swapped out Jon’s pedals for a pair I saved from a bike we took to the dump, pumped up the tires, lubed the chain and away I went.

Day 2: Sunday--Fancy Bike. No kickstand, don't you know.

I only rode for 2 hours, but I went for more than 20 miles. And I didn’t push it hard—I want to be pretty careful with this bike, which isn’t used to this much weight—but that road bike is fast.

Monday there was a chance for rain, which completely ruled out Fancy Bike. I don’t really think I’ll use that one for any commutes anyway—I don’t want to store it on campus, and if the weather is nice enough to ride Fancy Bike, Francis may be more tempting for the commute just due to basket capacity.

So Monday I rode the beast. And due to a newspaper cycle, didn’t come home until 3 a.m. Tuesday. There had been some rain in the air, but I was lucky and stayed dry. I drove Tuesday and today due to projected rain (and extreme exhaustion on Tuesday), but I might as well have ridden.

Day 3: Monday--The Beast is ready to roll (and has some new lights, too, which came in handy at 3 a.m.).

Anyway, sometime this week, maybe Thursday, maybe Friday, I should ride Francis to work for the first time. And if the weather looks good, I’ll use Francis for the first MMU bike club ride on Sunday.

For most of my biking life, I’ve only had one cycle available. It’s just interesting to me that when I have three, I find reasons to ride all three on three consecutive days.