Saturday, July 23, 2016

In Which I Smell The Scent of RAGBRAI

My sister and I and our bikes, ready to head out to RAGBRAI.

RAGBRAI is an event which is mostly outdoors, and today was a good demonstration of why that is a good idea.

On the 5-hour drive over from Cedar, we watched the thermometer hover in the upper 80s. We may have thought that wasn’t so bad—but wait. When we got to Glenwood, about 2 p.m., the sun was shining. It was brutal. The temperature soared into the 90s, and the humidity made it feel well over 100.

We practically melted. Luckily, the campground is near Glenwood High School, and air conditioned building.

Cate just said it is 77 in Cedar Rapids. Sigh.

Well, the smell in the long line for the spaghetti dinner was a bit on the ripe side, but the dinner was nice. We ate early, long before they ran out of food.

Street painted in downtown Glendwood.

And now I am typing a blog post, mostly to waste time inside the high school. Fortunately, it is not supposed to be so hot tomorrow. I only bike a half day Sunday, and hope to

We shall see!

If you ride RAGBRAI this year, hope you are staying cool tonight. I am hoping for an early start to the adventure tomorrow. I will let you know how it goes.

Here is my Facebook photo gallery.

In Which We Face RAGBRAI

Boyson Road, Cedar Rapids. Morning skies have been a bit dramatic this week, what with overnight thunderstorms.

How do I feel going into RAGBRAI 2016?

A little tired—I woke up at 5 a.m. for no particular reason, on this, the day before the biking starts. I looked at my pile of luggage and realized the goal of “packing light” was a bit elusive (a twin-sized air mattress and pump take a lot of space).

Excited—I woke up at 5 a.m. for no particular reason, on the morning of a car ride across Iowa. It’s a state that is pretty exciting to bicycle across in a week, but not so fun to ride across in a day. Still, I woke up early today, as I think I do every Christmas. I could use a stocking full of candy right about now …

Ready—I think. My weight this morning was 252.3 pounds—my goal was to be in the 240s by RAGBRAI, but since I have in the past flirted with the 260s, I guess I’ll say 252 is OK. We’ll see what a week of pie does. I’ve not put in as many training miles as I wanted—no training century ride, for example—but I have trained. We’ll see if it was enough. But I’m physically feeling fairly ready.

This ride starts in Glenwood, where my first RAGBRAI began, and ends in Muscatine, where 40 years ago I graduated from high school. I didn’t make it to the reunion—honestly, I didn’t really try. High school was not a highlight of my life. Still, it will feel a little like coming home when I cycle into Muscatine.

The images are from Wednesday morning, my final practice rides up the Brentwood Hill. It took a bike bag exchange for me to get the “stuff” for the ride—and I found spare bike gloves just the day before RAGBRAI. So it feels as if my final prep was a bit haphazard, but I guess “a bit haphazard” is a description of my life’s journey so far.

We’ll see how RAGBRAI goes. I am taking a computer (packing light-ha!) so I will try to blog during the ride, although WIFI access isn’t always the best in tiny towns swelled to 10 times normal size by an invading horde of cell-phone toting party animals. Still, stay tuned, America! Or at least the handful of you that are readers of CR biker …

Two more sky views on my next circuit over the Brentwood Drive hill. On Brentwood near Boyson, looking to the east.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

In Which We Seek The Scream

Sunday--overnight storms included two tornados in the area, but not in CR. Some limbs and trees down. Tree at the top of Bowman Woods Hill.

Sunday’s ride was interesting primarily because there were places where trees were tossed about by a violent overnight thunderstorm. Luckily, unlike some nearby communities, I don’t think there was much property damage in Cedar Rapids.

Monday, one of my daughters stopped by with her bicycle and wanted to ride this afternoon. So she, my wife and I headed off.

Monday--Cedar Lake is looking very pretty as we cycle by.

I suggested we go to The American Popcorn Company in New Bo for some ice cream. The ladies did not resist.

I had not been there before, but Maddie, my newspaper editor at Mount Mercy last year, insisted I take Audrey there, so now I have. It was a worthwhile place, and I’m sure we’ll be there again.

Enjoying a warm summer afternoon--not hot in CR  yet,this is the start of the week before the heat wave.

The afternoon was perfect for an ice cream ride—warm without being too hot, sunny with a light wind.

I worked this morning to install some bling on the new bike, including the back rack and toddler seat holder from Francis. And I rode that bike today on our ride, which I think was about 14 miles in total.

New blue bike with toddler seat and back bags. Now I am ready for work rides to campus.


The day after I wrote this post, and before I posted it, there was sad news in Cedar Rapids. Daniel Lehn, a Coe College professor, died near North Liberty after being struck by a pickup truck while riding a recumbent bicycle.

He was only a year older than me. Here is The Gazette’s story.

I had not met him, but probably saw him sometimes on the trails around town. I feel lucky that I don’t have to ride any country roads to get to a bike trail—but I commute by bicycle and frequently use city streets.

The accident hits close to home, in many ways. I don’t know any details of the accident other than what the paper reported, but it’s a reminder that life is a gift that can be taken at any point, and all of us who ride bicycles get to have a special joy in that gift. But, the saying is that you only live once—so let’s all be careful out there, bikers and walkers and drivers. My condolences to his family, friends and the Coe College community.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

In Which Gender ID Proves Difficult at 12 mph

Beautiful blue sky and perfect weather made this a day to ride. My sister and I did a bit over 55 miles today, a decent RAGBRAI practice day. Here and below, images on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail north of Hiawatha and and Robins. Lot of traffic on the trail today.

Up until today, this summer’s bike rides have been missing one of the common, pretty sights of this season in Iowa.

There have been no Monarch Butterflies. I thought I was sort of imagining it, and then I read a story Friday in The Gazette. For some reason, they have not posted a link to it, although it was in the paper, but the story reported that, after a rough winter, the diminished Monarch population is spreading north much more slowly than normal this year—and have just started being seen in our area of the state.

So, on the Cedar River Trail just beyond Cedar Lake near the Quaker Oats plant, when I saw a Monarch flit by this afternoon, I did a quick stop. “Monarch break!” I shouted at my sister who was biking with me.

But she (the butterfly, not the sister) was too quick and my point-and-shoot digital camera too slow. Ms. Monarch got away, no picture taken. Monarchs are easy to spot, with their distinct size and orange color, and if you see one well enough to glimpse the back wings well, you can sex them quickly. If the back wings each has a visible, sizeable black irregular dot that would send you to the dermatologist if you saw it on your arm (the spot, not the butterfly, which would simply be a thrill to see on your arm), you are dealing with a male. No extra back blotches means female.

Milkweed near Cedar River Trail between Quaker Oats and Cedar Lake--actually, on the shores of the south finger of the lake. It was in this area that I saw a Monarch, but failed to catch its picture.
Ms. Cedar Lake was sans dots, hence a girl. My elation at finally seeing a Monarch was only slightly diminished by not having caught its image—mostly, I was just glad to see you, madam. Now, go find a boy butterfly and make some fertile eggs, please. We have plenty of Milkweed just waiting for your babies to munch.

Anyway, back to the biking. This was the second of two rides, today. The morning started with a breakfast date, in which my wife and I met my sister and her wife at Riley’s. Then, my wife, sister and I want on a ride of about 12 miles or so out to the trail at Lowe Park in Marion. I rode my new hybrid bike for this ride, and about 11 a.m., stopped at home to swap the new, as yet nameless bike, for Argent. I wanted to ride the longer ride today on my RAGBRAI bike.

My wife bid us a fond adieu, and we, my sister and I, were off. We went south as far as Tait Cummins Park on the Cedar River Trail, and then turned north. Lunch was a bit off trail—we cycled over to Burgerfeen. The first butterfly incident was before lunch.

Trained for RAGBRAI lunches by eating burgers here for lunch.

It wasn’t going to be the last. When we got to the north part of Hiawatha, just a little south of the Boyson Road trailhead, another Monarch crossed our path. My sister noticed it first (I don’t think she saw the Cedar Lake one) and pointed it out, but it was gone before I got my camera unzipped.

I could see it was a Monarch, but it also flitted by too quickly for me to identify the gender.

“I was going to say something about how difficult it is to sex Monarchs at 25 mph, but I decided it wasn’t appropriate,” my sister said.

True. It would have been totally inappropriate, because we were only going 12 mph.

We rode up to Lafayette, and while we rested there before the return journey—the gorgeous afternoon was getting warm enough to feel a bit toasty to bikers—the next incident took place. Another Monarch flitted by, again too quickly for gender identification and too quickly for me to unlimber my camera. I had to be content with a blurry image of a Cardinal that was yelling at some other Cardinal in the distance.

Cardinal in an Oak at Lafayette, yelling at some other distant Cardinal, heard but not seen. Cool, true, but not a Monarch Butterfly.

And so our ride was coming to an end. It was a gorgeous ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning outing with my wife, and also the second, longer RAGBRAI training ride with my sister.

No picture of a butterfly? No matter—I saw them, there are a few that have finally made it to Iowa, and I hope everyone is planting Milkweed this summer.

And then we got to the woodsy area just south of the Boyson Road trail head. And in the same spot as before, a butterfly decided to put in an appearance. I yelled, stopped, and got out my camera.

Monarchs are not particularly shy creatures. They have distinct coloring because they are meant to be seen—their youth, spent gorging themselves on the mildly toxic Milkweed plant, gives them a taste that birds hate, so being seen by birds who should know that this particular bright patch of protein is not worth the eating, is part of their identity. They don’t try to hide. But they are also quick, strong flyers. Trust me—I’ve been paced by a Monarch while I’m riding down the trail at 15 mph. They can move.

But there was some Milkweed by the trail that our Ms. Butterfly was apparently interested in, just long enough for me to get a few quick images before she flitted off. That butterfly can sure flutter by.

She wasn’t drinking, which would have distracted her more and kept her in one place longer and allowed me to get better images, but at least you can see her.

Welcome, Monarchs. May we see you and your kin next week on RAGBRAI. I’ll watch for the stands giving away Milkweed seed bombs and heave a few for you, if I can. Photos:

Look in the lower part of the image, center. And below, a blow up of that area of this photo.

Lady monarch on Milkweed leaf.

And again.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

In Which I Ride the Boyson Trail Thrice … And Another Thing

I didn’t have a lot of time this morning—my daughter was going to fly to Baltimore, and I and my wife were dropping her off at the airport—so my morning bike ride was a simple trail loop on the nearby Boyson Trail.

Which, as fate would have it, I rode three times today. The two later rides were a bit different.

“After we drop (our daughter) off at the airport, why don’t we visit the bike shop?” asked my wife yesterday. Why not indeed?

I’ve been down to one bike in riding condition. The Beast broke a spoke shortly after I had the rear wheel repaired. The Fancy Beast has been lame for months with an untrue back wheel. Francis “went to the farm” in the euphemism of adults talking about where old dogs go.

And I have been lobbying for a second bike. Fortunately, some in my family—I am especially looking at you, Jon, although you’re not alone—supported the cause. My rationale was, basically, my road bike is for fun and RAGBRAI, but not really for commuting. I need a bike to put a back rack and some bags on, a comfortable bike to bolt a toddler seat to, an everyday, pickup truck bike to ride when I don’t want to have the sports car out.

And today was the day. We visited Cranky’s Uptown Bicycle in Marion, and I tested a bike I liked a lot—a blue hybrid with a very light aluminum frame. Then, we went to Northtowne, where I had purchased previous bikes. The Northtowne experience was less than satisfactory. The salesperson I dealt with seemed distracted and disinterested. The bike I test drove was OK, but not as comfortable as the blue hybrid I had ridden at a previous shop.

We, my wife and I, talked it over during lunch, and both concluded that we liked the Cranky Uptown bicycle better. That shop had agreed to put on a kickstand for free if I purchased the hybrid, so I called at the end of lunch to ask if they would install it so I could pick up the bike later that afternoon.

“It’s already installed,” the man at the shop said.

And so, about 2:30, my wife flashed a card and a new blue bike was added to the family. I had my helmet with me, and rode the new bicycle home from downtown Marion, which involved going over to Seventh Avenue and heading west to the Boyson Trail. As a test, I also rode it over the Brentwood Drive Hill.

The new bicycle, light aluminum frame, medium width hybrid tires, fun to ride.

The new bike is not quite as light or fast as Argent, but is significantly lighter than Francis was. It has wider hybrid tyres, and straight handlebars, rather than the drop handlebars of a road bike.

Selfie with bike after I rode it home. Wearing MMU Bike Club shirt, which matches bike pretty well.

The first ride went well, and after a swimming outing with some grandkids, my wife and I went on an early evening ride together—on the Boyson Trail.

So I rode it thrice today, twice on a new blue bike that I like very much.

My shadow at Hanna Park during evening ride on Boyson Trail.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

In Which I Check Out The West Side

Bridge of Lions is closed to auto traffic, but the east walkway is open so the Cedar River Trail is not blocked at this bridge.

Well, actually, I ride the west side of the Cedar River fairly often, whenever I cross the river on the Cedar River Trail. But today, just on a lark, I headed way out west, to the wild, wild west—Ellis Park.

I started the day’s ride, as most do, with climbing the Brentwood Drive Hill. Then, I rode to the trail and went south. It was fairly late, about 4, when I started, so I knew I wasn’t going for a long distance today.

I paused to eat some Cheez-Its at Tait Cummins Park. I didn’t plan to push on to Ely, but wanted a bit more of a ride, and that’s when it occurred to me that I hadn’t been out to Ellis Park.

Time to head north, again. The 16th Avenue Bridge, the Bridge of Lions, is indeed closed to car traffic, as feared, but they left a walkway open so that Cedar River Trail riders can still travel through, which is nice. When I got to the federal courthouse, rather than continue on the trail, I stayed on the walkway beside the river until I got to Third Avenue, which has some nice bike lanes on its bridge (although it also has some drain covers in those bike lanes that seem designed as bike traps).

Bike Lane on Third Avenue Bridge. Yes, thank you city, for a bike lane--but this does not look like a bike friendly street drain. Can the holes run the other direction--perpendicular rather than parallel to road?

I liked the ride on the west side out to Ellis, some of it along a well-placed bike path atop a flood control levee. I do wish that they improved and marked more of the walkways on this side of the river, so that the bike route went all the way from downtown out to Ellis Park, especially since it mostly does now, anyway, except for some gaps.

Anyway, along the way I was amused by the city-sponsored American Gothic statute, and also photographed the new CRST building downtown.

New CRST building on east side of river has taken shape.

City's Grant Wood American Gothic statue on west side of the river.

I liked my bike's shadow, so I took a photo of it. I've dismounted to take statue photo.

It was a warm afternoon for a ride, but very pleasant. There were many bikers on the trails, although fewer on the route to Ellis Park, which seems a bit of a shame.

In the end, I rode 39 miles and was home about 8:15.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

In Which I View The July Sky

Clouds and young tree behind Oak Ridge Middle School. Wednesday afternoon, I rode out to the trail that leads behind the school and over to Lowe Park.

Not that many miles in the past two days—Wednesday I spent most of the day with a grandson, but did get a short late afternoon ride.

Heading home on Boyson Road, looking west near Bowman Meadows development.

Thursday was more family time and some work tasks, so the biking was basically just the commute to campus.

Thursday afternoon clouds, MMU campus, as I bike to my office.

Still, on both days, it was interesting to be out, partly due to the changing July sky. Our weather has been humid and warm, and storms have bubbled up and rumbled through. It rained early Wednesday and early Thursday—with the Wednesday rain being an intense storm during the night.

Warde Hall Thursday afternoon, seen from near the bike rack where I just parked Argent.

In the day, the unsettled atmosphere produced a continuing kaleidoscope of cloudscapes. While I’ll take a pretty blue sky any day, I have enjoyed the ongoing show.

Looking west at corner of C Avenue and Blairs Ferry Road, Thursday around 6:15 p.m.

And, I hope, I will ride more miles this weekend!