Friday, November 9, 2018

In Which the Bridge is White

Ready to ride--winter bike in driveway this morning. Note snow on car and on pavement.

Snow! Late in the evening Nov. 8, a dusting of powder descended from the sky. Overnight, less than an inch of snow was sprinkled on the landscape.

The pavement was, for the most part, too warm and the snow melted and dissipated. A bit of snow collected on grassy areas and leaves, enough to give this cold November day a decidedly wintery feel.

C Avenue Bridge this morning. Those are not my tyre tracks--I have not crossed the bridge yet, so someone else was out biking, too.
But, with nothing more falling, I felt OK getting the mountain bike out this morning.

The ride to work was fine, although when I got to the Rockwell-Collins entrance, a pedestrian on the driveway to my right did a little disco dance as his feet tried to slide out from under him, and he tossed up his hands to grain balance.

It worked, he didn’t fall, but it was a reminder that not all of the melted snow on pavement disappeared. There were some icy spots.

Well, I went more slowly than usual, and reached campus.

The MMU Bike Club was to have a ride this afternoon, but I’m thinking it’s not terribly likely to happen. The clouds have rolled away into a milky sky, but the wind has picked up and it’s still cold out there.

Despite the chill, I was comfortable this morning—I know from long experience how to dress for cold biking.

So I don’t mind the snow. At least not in November. Don’t ask in March.

Parked in bike rack behind Warde Hall--very Christmasy looking bike picture.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

In Which We Ride The Frosty Mornings

Tuesday (above) and Monday (below) views of the pond at Rockwell-Colllins on C Avenue. I was leaving a bit earlier on Tuesday--the sun was not up yet and I had to ride with lights. In the pre-sun cool morning, the water was like a mirror. I like both images, but I guess pre-dawn pond wins.

October is getting beyond its third week, and fall in this part of Iowa is probably at its peak or just beyond it. Some trees still have plenty of leaves, but many have changed colors and dropped leaves, and we’ve had a few freezes, so the lush, green look of summer is only a memory.

More and more trees are bare. After my bike ride home today, I was walking with a 2-year-old grandson to the park, and he remarked repeatedly how leaves were “everywhere.”

Still, this time of year, when I have wear a jacket and gloves for the morning rides and have to run with lights on if I get out of the house on time is probably my favorite biking time of year. There are just a lot fewer insects—no annoying cloud of gnats, no reason to apply the lemon-pie perfume of summer insect repellant.

And the still, frosty mornings are very pretty to see from the seat of a bicycle.

On Monday, I arrived at work to find the bike rack buried under 3 feet of leaves. With hands and feet, I briefly became a human rake and cleared one side of the rack.

Clarence in the bike rack Monday at Warde Hall. Raking of pile of leaves so I can get bike to rack done by CR Biker.

I didn’t really mind it. Fall! As long as there is no cold rain falling, it’s a great time of year to be a bicycle commuter.

Another view of Dr. Cross' cool electric-human tricycle. I walked by it Monday and could not resist taking it's picture again.

Friday, October 19, 2018

In Which We Love a Missouri Trail

MKT Trail near Columbia on a pretty fall evening.

Iowa bikers—if you have not tried the Katy Trail in Missouri, you should.

This fall break, my wife and I went down to central Missouri for a quick two-day visit. We brought our bicycles with us, planning some short rides along the long trail.

We stayed in Columbia, where we both went to graduate school. We arrived late in the afternoon on a Tuesday, and after checking in to our motel, we drove down by the MMU campus to catch the MKT Trail.

Bikes on Katy Trail as we rest before returning to town.
Our first trail ride in Missouri was on a pleasant fall evening, cool but not cold. The MKT moves through the city and quickly gets out into rocky, forested countryside. It was a gorgeous ride. If we had gone far enough, we would have made it to the Katy Trail, but it was getting late, light was fading, and we headed back to Columbia and Shakespeare’s Pizza for a Mizzou-style dinner.

On Wednesday, we drove over to Boonville, where we had lived for eight years in the 1980s. We parked and walked around for a while, starting at the house we had owned. Then, we unpacked our bikes and headed west and south on the Katy Trail.

An elderly man walking on the trail gave us a friendly warning that we were headed uphill, and he was right. For miles out of Boonville, the trail has a fairly steady upgrade, although it’s a rail grade, which means you can go uphill for miles but it never gets steep. Despite the climb, we were enjoying ourselves.

We crossed Interstate 70, and were starting to feel hunger pangs. After a while, we decided it was time to head back for lunch at the Palace in downtown Boonville. Along the way, we passed a yard where the resident had decorated the yard with skeletons riding bikes, and it was fun to see.

Decoration on Katy Trail.
If you ride the Katy Trail, making a lunch stop at the Palace in Boonville would be a good move. It was great. I had a french dip sandwich and Greek salad, and would like to try more food there except the sandwich and salad were so good I would also like to have them again.

In the afternoon, we were heading back to Columbia to meet my old friends and colleagues from my Missouri newspaper days. Along the way, we decided to stop in Rocheport and ride on the Katy Trail there. We only had an hour or so, so the ride was not long. But, wow. It was a fantastic ride. Trees along the Missouri River, bluffs on the other side, a tunnel through a hill—the afternoon was sunny, the weather perfect and the trail beautiful.

View of bluffs and Missouri River from Katy Trail near Rocheport, Missouri.

In all, we only rode a few miles along two stretches of the Katy Trail and the MKT Trail. I can’t vouch for it all. The trail is limestone and has some hazards—holes, branches, rock and such—along the way. You probably want a hybrid or mountain bike for this ride. But it’s a very pretty ride. I’d like to go back sometime and ride more of the Katy Trail.

And eat a good biking lunch at the Palace again, too.

My wife's shadow as we ride the Katy Trail near Boonville. Hope to cast our shadow there again before too long.

Monday, October 15, 2018

In Which Cool Fall Rides Are the Norm

Mount Mercy bikes in the bike rack as students put away bicycles from a recent Friday ride.

I did not see the snow Sunday—relatives living in central Iowa posted images on social media, so the fact that flakes were in the air later in the day here is not a surprise, but I was hunkered down, feverishly grading papers.

So I missed it, not that I miss it much. Cool fall rides are the norm here now. Today, the temperature is in the mid 30s, and in addition to the jacket I have already started wearing, I have to dig out some cold-weather gloves.

A very big creature (woodchuck? muscrat?) watches me Sunday as I circle Cedar Lake on my ride home. View of  Cedar Lake on a cold, grey day (below).

But the hybrid bike is back from the shop, and the monsoon season is temporarily suspended.

On Friday, the Mount Mercy University Bike Club held a ride. Five students showed up, not a bad size for a ride on a very cool afternoon. One first-year student is a woman from California, who I am proud of because she is not used to this Iowa weather, but came on the ride nonetheless.

At the end, she was “dancing” a bit, moving her legs to loosen them because biking 10 miles had left her sore—but what she said was “that was fun.”
Club selfie (above) before ride. Crossing grass at Noelridge Park on the way back to campus (below). Crossing a bridge on the Cedar River Trail (bottom).

It was. We headed north to Noelridge Park and circled the park on its limestone trail. Recent rains had washed some ruts in the trail, and I was a little worried we might have a spill, but luckily we did not.

So that ride was quite pleasant. On Saturday, I did a bit of yard work—raking, picking up fallen branches, planting some fall bulbs. And my wife and I headed out on a late afternoon bike ride, down the Lindale Trail to the Boyson Trail, heading to a big box store to get some more bulbs.

There were more slips on that ride, especially on the low-traffic stub of a trail before the sidewalk to the store. Despite that, again it was a pleasant ride.

Sunday, I went to campus to print more papers that had been turned in recently. That ride was less pleasant—rawer, windier, grey with a chilling dampness in the air.

And yet, it was still a bike ride, and that’s nice.

This week, we have a biking adventure planned. More to come later!

Some pretty sky views from Saturday ride to store.

Friday, October 5, 2018

In Which Light Sometimes Shines

Oct. 3--Wednesday morning sun. A bit startling to see.

The commuting bike is ready in the shop, which is good news. I hope to pick it up either tonight or tomorrow morning.

Thursday I drove, which was sad because despite being cool, it was a day of sunshine. But Wednesday was the one summer day we had in early October, and it was a day of rare glimpses of the sun—a sometimes milky or partly cloudy sky, but patches of blue and sun shining through.

It was humid, muggy and warm. Then, of course, a front rolled through, thunder crashed and so did the temperatures. There was rain that night, and rain again overnight between Thursday and Friday. But, Friday I did manage to ride, as I had ridden Wednesday, on my mountain “winter beater” bike.

Another Wednesday morning sun picture, with bonus ducks, above. And while there are clouds, there is also still sun (below) as I head home about 6:30 or so.

I was glad of the sun. And glad that the bike shop called to let me know Clarence has a new derailleur.

Finally, I am trying a new bike shop to service Clarence, which I purchased at Cranky’s. I took the bike to Goldfinch Cyclery in New Bo. Parking was an issue, but I encountered two former MMU faculty members while I was down there, which was nice.

And the atmosphere of the shop was nice—I rolled the bike in, the man who looked at it was clearly the same one who would work on it, and he gave me a stern Eldon-like lecture about cleaning my chain.

Which I kind of appreciate. Advice from bike mechanics is good to get—and it just reinforced what I already knew. Where the machinery of a bike is concerned, it’s usually a good idea to listen to Eldon.

And on the C Avenue Bridge Wednesday evening, I spy a buck spying me.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In Which We Ride Dowtown

Group image before the ride.
When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go … downtown. So I am starting with an homage to Petula Clark. If you’re old like me, you’re welcome for the earworm.

On Friday, Bike Club went for a ride, the first regular ride of the fall semester. There were five students on the ride, and although they all resisted my excellent advice that helmets are a good idea, it was a warm, pleasant afternoon for a quick, refreshing ride.

I suggested heading down to Greene Square in downtown Cedar Rapids for our ride, and the students like the idea. However, a passing gentleman who was looking for the music department snapped our pre-ride group picture and suggested the CEMAR trail.

Hmmm. But that newish trail doesn’t really go anywhere besides the Plaster Complex, so we stuck with our original Greene Square plan.

I was riding my hybrid bike, and was in the lead. We headed down the Hill.

I have a several advantages on downhills—my bicycle rolls with less resistance than the heavier bikes MMU owns, so the lightness of my bike is one advantage. Then there is the overall weight of the rider. Gravitational acceleration is a constant no matter the weight, but increased mass of a biker does help with more force that does more to overcome air resistance, or something like that. I don’t know, I’m a writer. But anyway, I have often observed, with many, many field trials that fat old men can zoom down a hill more efficiently than most other bikers.

And I presume the advantage comes more from “fat” than from “old,” although maybe old men can afford better bicycles, but that’s an untested assumption.

Anyway, I ended up well ahead of the students and found myself waiting now and then. Perhaps my helmet just made me more aerodynamic, too.

Riding along Cedar Lake. I got ahead and stop to make image of club riders as they approach. And no, the student on the left did not ride on the grass, I think she is coming over to check on me, as a young person who protects old people.
We rode along the west edge of Cedar Lake and then headed downtown. It was humid and warm, and I think I was the only rider with a water bottle, so when we got to Green Square, the agenda item was drinks at the water fountain by the trail. We then rode slowly through the park (I went through the splash pad, but I think most students went around. Well, they weren’t wearing helmets.)

Chatting after getting drinks and before heading back t campus.
On the way back to campus, two of the students were chatting. We had seen a woman who was not in our group take a minor tumble—nothing serious, and she had friends to aid her, although what went through my mind was “students, did you notice she has a helmet on?”

Anyway, one of the students was telling another something about what happens when she is with “old people.” I was right behind them, and did caution the student, jokingly, about what would be said next. It turns out the speaking student works with elderly people in a nursing home and feels obligated to protectively look after them.

Well, that seems nice. Says the old man.

Long shadows by Cedar Lake on our way back to campus.
Overall, it was a very agreeable ride. My Bike Club leader rejected the idea, for now, of riding up Mt. Trashmore, but we’ll see.

Finally, before the ride, we noted that a seat and seat post had been removed from one bicycle. Another bike is completely gone—bike seven may have been stolen, we presume. Blah. Earlier this semester, we lost a bike that had been left locked along the Cedar River Trail and was damaged beyond repair. Now, sadly, bad things are starting to happen to bikes right on campus.

That’s not an uplifting note to end on, I’m sure. But despite the unpleasant reminders of the darker side of human nature, the first club ride was very nice, and more MMU Bike Club rides are to come. Watch the MMU app for times, as the club will probably vary its rides so that students who were at athletic practices late on a Friday afternoon can participate.

And we may ride downtown again:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

In Which I Climb a New Mountain

Bikes parked near start of trail up Mount Trashmore, in the background.

I wasn’t sure whether I would go—I’m very busy this fall—but the opening ceremony for biking and hiking trails on Mount Trashmore was rescheduled for today, after being delayed by high water on the Cedar River.

In the end, I did go. I’m glad I did. I wondered if the views from the top of a closed landfill would live up to the hype. I would say yes. And it was just too nice of a day—a warm fall day—to not bike downtown for the ceremony on the south side of the river.

In case I went, this morning I decided to take my good camera and ride my mountain bicycle to work.

I got done with morning meetings with students, and packed up to leave campus around 11:15. I wasn’t sure if I was leaving myself enough time. But I arrived at the site by maybe 11:50, so I had plenty of time. I chatted with Claire, a former student who is a radio personality in Cedar Rapids, and had time to take some pictures before the brief ribbon cutting took place.

The road up Mt. Trashmore.
Then it was time to get on the bike and ride up the hill. The road up is one of three trails on Mount Trashmore—there is the access road, open to walkers and bikers, a walkers-only path, and a single lane dirt track that is only for bicycles headed downhill. The Gazette called it a “roller coaster for bicycles,” which I think was pretty true.

Anyway, the climb does go on for a while, and is on sometimes loose gravel. I was very glad to be on the mountain bike.

After a climb and a bend, you arrive at the lookout, but you can continue up a bit to a dead end at the top of the hill. The view from both the top and the lookout were quite fine this pretty fall day.

Pavilion to look out on the city.

View from the top.

I parked The Fancy Beast bicycle and walked around some, enjoying the sights, taking pictures and recovering from the ride up the hill. I also had a decision to make: Take the road back down, or try a narrow dirt path with some bumps and switchbacks—a path designed for and only appropriate for mountain bikes.

 I’m not much of a daredevil, and the trail, which switched back and forth in view of the lookout, looked a little dicey. But I decided, what the heck. So I hopped on my bicycle and began the descent.

Watching bikers headed down single-lane dirt downhill mountain bike trail. And, below, the start of the trail, which I did ride down. Wheee!

My free shirt.
Well. It was a good test of my balance and brakes. I did skid on some of those treacherous turns, and rode on air briefly on some of the bumps. I think that my body had a lot less work to do, but nonetheless the downhill ride was probably as much of a workout for my heart as the uphill had been.

At the bottom, I enjoyed a nice cold water bottle and banana, and even picked up a free T-shirt the solid waste agency was giving away. It had been a very fun trip up the mountain, and I was glad I had been there and had climbed it. And glad I had decided to zoom down it.

As I rode back to campus, I was on the trail at Cedar Lake. As if the lake were a bit jealous of a riverside trash heap stealing the day, a group of Monarch butterflies suddenly appeared and began frolicking and drinking in flowers on the banks. Well, the biking day had already been full, but became just a little bit cooler.

Mt. Trashmore trails are only open when the landfill site is, and signs say you have to check in. I would encourage you to go try it on a nice day. And ride a mountain bike, even if you decide to stick to the road. Neither the gravel road up the hill nor the dirt path down it are road or hybrid bike places. But Mount Trashmore is still a nice ride—and one I’m sure I’ll do several times next summer for hill practice as I get ready for RAGBRAI.

Seen on the ride back--Monarchs at Cedar Lake.