Thursday, July 2, 2015

In Which I Ride The Seven Hills of CR

Me, ready to ride. Wearing water on my back, and RAGBRAI-ready monkey paws on my hands. Turns out wearing water on your back is not that big of a deal..

Well, technically there are more than seven hills in Cedar Rapids. I didn’t even ride the Brentwood Drive hill right next to my house—not only was I tired after a 40-mile or so ride, but it looked like rain, so I thought better of it.

But Wednesday, I rode a substantial number of miles for the third day in a row, and that bodes well for RAGBRAI. I deliberately wanted to pick the hilliest ride possible. I am not sure of my miles today—maybe Cate can comment on that—and “seven” hills counts only what I consider to be really substantial hills, not any minor up grades.

For some reason, as you’ll see in my photos, it was also critter day Wednesday.

Anyway, the hills I climbed:

First was the “back drive” entrance to Mount Mercy University. This is the service drive that goes by Andreas House, the Villa and garage, and ends up in front of the library. In my opinion, it’s the most challenging of the five rides up the MMU hill.

This large tree at Mount Mercy lost a limb some weeks ago, and I recall an MMU janitor telling me the whole tree would have to come down because it was rotten inside. Much as I love trees, I think he was right. They were cutting down this tree today as I rode on campus.

Second was the long driveway that loops by Sacred Heart Convent. This ends up by the library from the other direction.

Third was the sidewalk by Warde Hall, leading to the Warde Hall parking lot, and fourth was the sidewalk between Warde Hall and Basile Hall.

I heard a familiar scream as I climbed the Basile Hall sidewalk towards Warde Hall. Falcons. Three are in this photo, on chimney, on cupola and sliding down roof. Groundskeeper told me they had quieted down in recent weeks but are getting noisy again--I wonder if it's because junior is flying around more.

Those are the four “substantial” hill climbs at Mount Mercy. You can also get on to the MMU campus by taking the drive between Lower Campus and Warde Hall, but that’s the least hilly of the routes, and thus not the most useful for today’s hill-themed ride. That fifth way, the drive by Warde Hall, is, however, my chosen hill exit route—it’s the safest way to get off the MMU hill via bicycle. For each of my MMU rides, I rode to Rohde Family Plaza before exiting campus, and there I posed for a photo after the four climbs.

Victory pose at MMU. I have climbed the hill four times riding Argent.

After riding to MMU and climbing it’s hills four times, I rode to the Cedar River Trail. I’m not counting J Avenue as substantial enough, so I basically rode all of the way around Cedar Lake and through downtown to the Prairie Park Fishery without doing any substantial hill climb.

Skunk! In field near Cedar Lake. Fortunately, I had to zoom in to get this image--skunk is maybe 40 yards away. That is close enough for me--hope later trail users didn't have closer skunk encounters.

Pelican joins usual goose and duck crowd at Cedar Lake.

But I was several hours into my ride and getting a bit weary, so I stopped and had my snacks. Then, I returned to Otis Road and rode up the next hill: Memorial Drive.

My hill ride snacks, all eaten at Prairie Park Fishery.
As it turned out, Memorial Drive was memorable for broken pavement on downhill stretches. I rolled along several inclines and “declines.” I was expecting the road to end at Cottage Grove, and hill six was going to be the Cottage Grove Hill, but Memorial Drive actually leads to Bever Park. So I rode through the park, all the way—and I would count the park itself, which unexpectedly had a nice hill at its west end, as the next hill.

When I finished my park ride, I was pretty much lost. I was in a winding neighborhood of stately homes along streets that aren’t familiar to me. Eventually, however, I ended up on the street that leads to Washington High School—and Washington abuts Cottage Grove.

So, that provided the seventh hill. First, I rode rode east down Cottage Grove hill, then I turned around and rode back up the hill.

One time I wish I had my nice Nikon rather than my Canon point-and-shoot. There were lots of nice butterflies at Prairie Park Fishery, but I could not get a decent butterfly image with my little camera--the big one with the big lens would have come in handy! Still, a trio of butterflies on clover at the lake.

It was quite a hill to serve as the final climb, and I wasn’t even planning for it to be the final climb (if it hadn’t clouded up so much, I was toying with the idea of climbing the Bowman Woods hill from three sides, just so I could justify claiming I had climbed 10 hills).

The ride was “short” only because I got a later than expected start. My plan was to be on the bike by 11, and to take and eat lunch on the way. But I also wanted to use a Camelback—partly to see if I have all of the water backpack pieces for RAGBRAI, partly just to get used to wearing the darn thing. I really shouldn’t call it a “Camelback,” which is a trade name, when I have a generic water-holding backpack, but that’s the name most people would know.

Anyway, I was able to assemble, from two different bladders, a complete set. And then I greased my chain and inflated my tires—just because I’ve been putting in a number of miles lately and thought Argent was due for those minor bits of bicycle maintenance.

Well, it was about noon. So instead of packing lunch, I just ate a quick PBJ and some chips. Then I got ready for my ride.

It was probably pushing 1 by the time I left, and it was about 5:30 when I got home.

So the miles today would not count as a RAGBRAI day, and I’m not sure how much climb there was. But there were seven hills—some of them quite impressive (try riding a bicycle up the Cottage Gove hill). So I’m going to say it’s a day in the “win” column for RAGBRAI prep.

From Tuesday, not Wednesday. My wife and I rode to Center Point. It was like the ride I did Monday with my daughters, only faster with fewer stops. If you need a training coach, my wife would be much tougher than my daughters.

Monday, June 29, 2015

In Which We Ride Hills and Go 35 Miles

My daughters and I. Ussie before starting ride at 2 p.m. We finished around 6--35 miles in 4 hours.

Two of my daughters plan to ride a day of RAGBRAI this year, from Hiawatha to Coralville. We met this afternoon for a practice ride.

They are both pretty new at this biking game, so to start the ride, we rode the neighborhood hill loop, going up the Brentwood Hill heading east, then going around and doing it again headed west. It was my second time, since I had already done the loop this morning.

Then, we rode to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, me leading the way since I knew how to get there, and headed north. It was, I think, the first visit to the village of Lafayette, and to the train station at Center Point, for my kids.

Center Point, where we turned back and headed for home.

The day was perfect—a mild headwind headed north, which worked to our advantage on the way home. One daughter rode a nice road bike, the other a heavier mountain bike, but both gamely kept up.

I think the day shows that they can handle a RAGBRAI-like ride. Granted, there is more climb in a RAGBRAI day, but the hill loop at the start showed them that they can handle hills. And 35 miles is not a RAGBRAI day, but it is over half of such a day.

So the group had a good day today. And I had a slightly better day. Together, we rode more than 35 miles. Add to that the 5 miles I rode this morning, and I topped 40 miles.

I get the feeling that theses two are also plotting. “You go ahead, we’ll catch up,” they’d say, and then there would be the murmur of conversation. I can’t wait to see what happens later this summer.

Daughters finish ride, above and below.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Which We Ride Our Bikes in the Sky

Group selfie on the High Trestle Trail bridge. Ben and Audrey squint into the sun. I grin like a madman because that's what the combination of pleasure, beauty and great fear will do to your face.

If there is a better bike trail in Iowa, I have not found it yet. Then again, I would like to ride many more bike trails—maybe a long one along the Mississippi could rival it, I don’t know.

But the ultimate trail, to me right now, is the High Trestle Trail. Honestly, it does have a few rivals. The trail around Grey’s Lake in Des Moines is also extremely nice. The Cedar River Trail in Cedar Rapids is interesting too, mostly due to its quick contrasts of urban and rural in just a few yards.

Last Friday, I was in Ankney for the annual summer meeting of the Iowa College Media Association at the DMACC campus there.

I told my wife the meeting would be over by 1. She said I would be lucky if it ended by 2. It ended about 1:35, and she informs me that’s a “win” for her.

Anyway, while I met and talked about media matters with other Iowa media teachers, my wife went shopping in Ames and then picked up our son, a PhD math student at ISU.

She picked him up around 1, and they decided to head back down to Ankney before eating lunch. It was raining off and on during the day, and cloudy and wet when we first met around 2. We drove around for a while looking for a likely lunch spot in Ankney, and finally, out of desperation and starvation, settled on a Subway by the interstate.

I had coffee (lunch had been courtesy of ICMA) and they ate their subs. The day was still cloudy, but it was getting less wet and the sky was slowly morphing from dark grey to lighter shades with small patches of blue here and there.

So it was mid-afternoon by the time we sought the High Trestle Trail. I know, we could have stayed in Ankney, but the trial is more than 25 miles long and the bridge itself way the heck over at the other end, and we were going to do an easy ride and see the cool bridge, not a 50-mile ride, so we were seeking the northwest end of the trail.

We didn’t quite get there. I couldn’t tell from my map exactly where the trail ended, but knew Slater and Madrid were near the end that we wanted. So we took the interstate north to State Highway 17 and headed west. Going through Slater, we didn’t see a sign for the trail. In Madrid, we encountered the trail several times by accident, and drove past a trailhead at the west end of town.

We turned around and parked, and then rode. It was just a few miles—less than three, I think—to get to the bridge.

If you’ve never ridden the trail, you should. I loved the approve from the east, headed from Madrid towards the bridge. It’s clearly an old rail line you are following—in Iowa, rail lines run on ridges and in deep little vales—cutting through our rolling landscape on as straight a path as possible.

So the woods grow close and your vision grows limited, but you start to realize that you’re close to something dramatic. Rather than going through clefts in the land, the land started to fall away in steep, wooded hillsides. The signs that reported the approaching bridge started to have impossibly small distances. And yet, because the old rail line goes around a slight curve so the bridge could be aligned with its route from one river bluff to the other, you don’t see the bridge until suddenly the entrance pillars are right there and you pass them and then you’re not on a hill or in the woods—you’re riding on a slim ribbon of pavement in the sky, surrounded only by birds with a pretty river valley far below.

Turkey vulture hawks circle overhead. They don’t exactly add comfort to the experience.

To be clear, I’m afraid of heights. I don’t like leaning out over the 8-foot hallway in my house to turn on or off the light on the ceiling fan. Changing a lightbulb that requires the use of a chair takes a moment of screwing my courage to the sticking point before I’ll do it—I will do it, because I’m that heroic, but it takes a moment.

And here I was, riding on my new bike Argent, zooming along on in the sky. Jesus. No disrespect or blasphemy intended, it’s just about the only thought in my mind. Jesus.

You have to slow down on the bridge, as the foot traffic does not allow fast biking. Frankly, that’s OK with me. We stopped to admire the view and take a selfie.  The grey skies had cleared into a pretty, partly cloudy blue, and the afternoon was turning super nice.

I rode my bicycle across that, and lived to tell about it. My heart must be OK.

That’s the way it has been this summer. It’s either raining or almost unbearably pretty, and you forget what an Iowa summer is usually like, the 90 degree heat and the 90 percent humidity, and you almost wonder why half the world’s population doesn’t live in this gentle Shire of a place. We don’t have mountains or ocean or anything dramatic, but what we have that is pretty is so plainly, honestly pretty that you quickly fall in love this summer.

Not every summer, I’ll admit. And not usually in February, which is when the other ICMA meeting is.

But here we were in late afternoon in the most dramatic and prettiest place in a not beautiful, but pretty state.

On the way back, looking over new bridge from remains of the old one. Son and wife.

My son and wife had not been here before. It was my second trip. We’ll be back, I’m sure. Ben speculates he can probably get there from Ames via bike trail, because he thinks that there is a trail from Ames to Slater.

We rode on from the bridge to the west end of the trail and then turned around, and lingered for a while at the lookout that is the stub of the old bridge and then we crossed the bridge again.

I put camera lens up to the binoculars on trail overlook.

So I rode the sky twice in one day and survived both times and that’s a miracle enough. But wait, there’s more.

We rode back to our van, but it was a bit past 5, too early for supper and we had only ridden our bikes about 10 miles. We didn’t want a 50-mile fide, but 10 felt inadequate. So we headed east.

Ben goes all monkey at Slater park.

It was 7.5 miles until the next town, Slater. By then, the coffee and water had caused rather urgent needs, but we found a city park adjacent to the trail with decent restrooms. And by then we decided that the journey was long enough—by the time we got back to the van, it would be a 25-mile ride.

And we were off. It had taken 40 minutes or so to ride into a headwind and reach Slater. Without consulting me, my wife decided she wanted to make the return journey in 20 minutes or so.

Sometimes, I think we should buy a better bike for my wife. She’s starting to ride more. Other times, I sometimes think her bike is too good for her—that old Target-purchased Schwinn mountain bike seems to fly along, powered by will and leg muscles of a very strong human.

I was on Argent, a decent road bike. And I had to pump it pretty hard and work to keep up with that zooming lady on the mountain bike. We didn’t make it in 20 minutes, but we were back at the van in 25 minutes.

I thought surviving the bridge ride was something. Little did I anticipate the tour de Iowa race from Slater to Madrid.

For supper, my wife offered us two options: Des Moines or Ames. The kicker was that my son and I could have beer if we chose Ames (my wife was unwilling to drive the interstates near Des Moines).

So we closed the day with a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Ames. We’ve been there several times, and the waiter knows my son well enough to chat with him in Spanish, and to try to persuade him to pay the bill, which has not worked yet.

Anyway, that Corona and that spicy food somehow were the perfect capstone to the nearly perfect bike ride.

The next day I cycled maybe 15 miles total, going to and from the Freedom Festival Parade in Cedar Rapids. It was a nice day, warm and sunny, and I enjoyed getting there by bike.

In the afternoon, I rode the old bike to give a grandchildren a ride, too. And so the summer of biking continues.

RAGBRAI? May it be full of the perfect days and not the rainy ones!

Bike at west end of trail. Bikers, proceed no father.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Which a Dozen Photos Come From Two Short Rides

Argent and outdoor art at Lowe Park.

Two things you can bet on from my photos on this bike blog: Many will show flowers. And there will be a bunny.

I had too much to do today for a long bicycle ride. The morning included assembling some bookshelves (assembling kit furniture is always a trial for me—a reminder of why, when I chose a career, I wanted to work with my hands on a keyboard and not in a tool box). The afternoon included going to a nearby town to watch two cute grandsons.

But there was riding, and the riding that there was turned out to be very pleasant riding.

First, the morning ride. I was going to the gym to exercise, and though it looked cloudy, I decided to try biking. Since I was carrying my gym bag, Francis, my commuting bike, was the logical choice. I went, I exercised, and I headed home. Before going home, I decided to cycle on the paved portion of the Lindale Trail. That and doing the figure 8 on the neighborhood hill would make even just a few miles count as decent biking.

The first unusual animal I saw was a bit unpleasant—a tiny dead mole. Driven from its hole in the recent storm by water and killed by exposure in the chilly night air, I assume. Well, that didn’t exactly make my day, and I was thinking slightly dour thoughts about mortality and wondered if I should do the neighborhood hill, when, just before the end of my trail loop, a doe sauntered out of the woods some 20 yards from me and wandered a bit nonchalantly away from me before unhurriedly stepping into the brush on the other side of the trail.

What, we worry? Doe wanders across Lindale Trail.

I’m not one for omens or signs, but somehow the sight of the doe just switched my mood, and I then charged up the Brentwood hill before breakfast and felt pretty good doing it.

After working on the shelves, I had about an hour to kill before leaving town. Paging Argent, it was time for a quick ride, and Argent is my new quick bike.

I took 5 minutes to raise the seat yet again—I was tired last time I rode Argent, and conjectured I was not extending my legs enough. That seemed to have done the trick—this was a more comfortable fast ride on this fast bike.

I decided to head out to Lowe Park in Marion. My wife had told me that she had found a bike-friendly route there. There’s a trail from Lowe Park to Excelsior Middle School, and it always seemed odd to me in past years that this nice little trail was so isolated, unreachable by bike. Maybe things have changed.

Audrey said she had ridden past Novak School, so I turned north from Boyson Road to Geode Street. Crossing 29th Avenue, Geode became 3 St (that’s what the signs say, not Third Street nor 3rd Street—3 St. Marion, what the heck kind of street name is “3 St?”)

The street of odd number name terminates in Tower Terrace Road, at a stretch with very nice bike lanes. I wasn’t sure where to go next, but turned left, which turned out to be the right choice. When I came to Irish Drive, I turned right. A dire warning at the end of the street said “sidewalk closed,” but the “sidewalk” was neither closed nor really a sidewalk. It was the trail I had been seeking, the bike route between Lowe Park and Excelsior Middle School.

And what a fine enhanced trail it turned out to be. Both it and Lowe Park have changed since I last rode there. I headed first to Excelsior and got slightly sprinkled on by the dark grey sky, but then I turned back towards Lowe Park.

Here comes the train again, falling on my head like a tragedy, falling on my head like a new emotion. Fortunately, not much rain, and it was over quickly. Wet sky when I reached the Excelsior end of the trail.

Lowe Park! Egad, what happened to you? You were such a nothing baby park the last time I saw you, an isolated arty reception building in the midst of nowhere. Now the building is all surrounded by display gardens and outdoor sculptures, and it was like I’d gone through the wardrobe into springtime in Art Narnia.

I’m sure I’ll be back. Riding the whole trail and the route to and from it was just a bit over an hour—and only because I paused to take many photos. It would be a comfortable one-hour ride otherwise. Maybe a bit more on Francis with a toddler in the seat, but we’ll have to try that experiment sometime soon to see.

Well. So there will be art as well as flower photos to see, of course:

Bunny where Irish Drive "closed" sidewalk, which was not closed at all, meets bike trail. All photos below are details of arty end of trail near Lowe Park building. Very nice, worth a second look when I'm not in a hurry.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In Which a Long Ride is Followed by a Ride

Near the end of the day--getting close to 9 p.m. Audrey rides off into the sunset east along Boyson Road.

I had a modest goal Tuesday. Since it wasn't going to rain, I was going to ride.

But first I had several other things to do. Primarily, I had to go to the bike shop, purchase some supplies and do some bike repair. My new bike had a flat back tyre, and the brake shoes on Francis were losing their grip.

I thought of driving to the bike shop, but my mind was changed when I stepped outside late in the morning. It was just too pretty a day. So I hopped on Francis and cycled over.

I purchased two new inner tubes for Argent—if I decide on that name for the new bike. (What do you think? Some have suggested “Silver” as the name, and I’m playing with that theme.) And brake shoes for Francis.

What I bought today. Don't mix left and right shoes, but which is which? Below: yeah, the old shoes were worn.

It was getting to be past 11 a.m. by the time I got home, so I naturally had lunch. Then, it was bike maintenance time.

I figured changing brake shoes, even though I had never done it before, would be the easy job, so I did it first. I hope I did it right—the brake shoe package had a dire warning that “shoes are left and right, do not mix,” but the shoes themselves not only seemed identical, they were not marked with a handy “L” or “R” or any other directional marking. Still, once I had the new shoes on and the brake tightened, the efficiency of braking was vastly improved. So far, so good.

Next, the tubes. I had not changed road tyre tubes before, and asked the guy at the bike shop if there was a trick to it. “Not if you've changed tubes on other bikes,” he said. Well, he was mostly right—it might have been good to note how the valves work differently, but I have put air in Presca valves before. I was expecting it to be much more difficult than hybrid or mountain tyres, and it was a bit more of an ordeal, but not as bad as I expected.

The biggest hitch, which is true of any bike tyre, was getting the tyre back on the wheel rim after changing tubes. There may have been some speaking of tongues involved, if there is a language of only 4-letter words. Still, I got the bike put back together.

I wanted to do it myself primarily because I figured if I’m going to own a road bike, I need to know how to fix a flat.

Argent parked north of Lafayette as I check Milkweed in the ditch. No caterpillars, but no flat tyre, either.

It was getting close to 2 p.m. by the time I was ready to leave home, but off I went. Given the complexity of going south, I decided to head north on the Cedar River Trail. It was a great afternoon for biking—warm but not hot, a mix of sun and a few high clouds. All went well. I rode to Center Point and back, a ride of about 30 miles. I also did the hill route, so call it at least 33 miles.

I might be underestimating the miles for Tuesday. I had to backtrack a bit--route under Council Street closed by high waters of Dry Creek.

I got home at about 6 p.m. And the front door was locked. My wife, I figured, was out on a walk. So I opened the house and put my bike away—but her bike was missing. “Someone broke into the house, locked the door and stole your bike,” I texted her. She explained she was meeting the grandkids at Indian Creek School playground, and invited me to cycle over.

Really. I was already up to about 35 miles on the day (morning ride to bike shop, long afternoon ride) and I was tired. I’m not used to the new bike yet. I discovered that the different position and angle means my legs get much more tired quickly on the new bike. It’s ironic—Argent is a very, very light bike compared to Francis, and clearly built more for speed and distance, so it’s the right choice for RAGBRAI, but I’m a way better biker on Francis right now. Not faster—however. I think one reason I was extraordinarily tired was that on Argent I’m invited by the design to zoom along. Other bikers still pass me, but I can tell, even sans computer, that I’m travelling faster on the new bike.

Anyway, I decided to tough it out. I got Francis out and put the toddler seat in the front basket, just in case, and cycled off to meet my wife. She’s been doing a lot of biking herself this summer—she was off finding a new bike route to Lowe Park that doesn't involve 10th Street or Alburnett Road. Anyway, we met at the corner of 10th Street and 29th Avenue in Marion, and headed east to meet Katy and her kids. We encountered them a few blocks east of the school, and turned around to ride with them to the playground.

Audrey crosses 10th Street in Marion to meet me. Below, we've met Katy and the kids and are on our way to the playground.

It was a nice, low-key visit. Afterwards, we biked over to a nearby ice cream shop, and Katy bought a round of cones.

And I did need the toddler seat. Amelia claimed it.

We then rode over to Katy’s house with her and the kids. It was 8:30 and getting a bit dim by the time we headed home.

With all of that, I’m pretty sure I topped 50 miles. It wasn't exactly a RAGBRAI day, but close. I was tired a bit sore. Still, it was a good RAGBRAI training day.

OK, maybe bike maintenance would have been quicker if rose and lilies in my front garden didn't distract me ...

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Which Flowers Help Ease the Pain of Emptyness

Bike. Anonymous other biker passes by my bike, which has a rare flat tyre.

A flat tyre! On only the third ride!

The unnamed new bike cannot be ridden at the moment. On Father’s Day, my youngest son, wife and I went out at about 10:30 for a bicycle ride. A muggy, but nice and sunny, ride.

I could do whatever I wanted to do that day. What I wanted to do was ride my new bicycle.

We again used the Cedar River Trail, and again went south, because I stubbornly wanted to find the detour. If you read the previous post, you know that I wondered were the trail detour went after it took you east to Council Street, where it appears it wanted you to go back west.

The apparent answer was oddly comical. The detour leads back to Center Point Road. So it goes all the way a half mile east to Council and then doubles back so that it can have you cross 42nd Street at a corner with a “walk” light, which is commendable, I suppose. Except that there is also a walk light at Center Point Road. Why not just cross there—why the pointless ride east to Council Street to get a walk sign that was available way back there? Bikers wonder.

Anyway, I don’t know how far the detour goes along Center Point Road, because when we got to the New Pioneer Coop, we knew we could cross the street and head up a little side street to the trail. So we did. And right as we started to ride on that little side street, that’s when I noticed my back tyre was flat.

And the tyre was not a little flat. Not a “pump it up every few miles and keep going” flat, although we didn't have a frame pump with us anyway. I’m talking an empty void, totally hollow, flabby and useless, like a Donald Trump campaign speech.

So the son and the spouse headed back north to go get our van and rescue me, while I locked the crippled What Are We Going To Call It to a bench.

To pass the time, I photographed flowers. It doesn't seem like a particularly flowery time of year, but in a short stroll near the bench were the crippled bike was locked, I found quite a variety to photograph.

Milkweed in bloom, and vertical, too.
Why Blogger, why?
I was on a mission, of sorts. I wanted to find Milkweed, which is in bloom now, and I also wanted to take a cute photo of a baby Monarch Butterfly.

There is Milkweed along the Cedar River trail, but none near the bench were my bike rested. (MMU bike club, what should be done about that?) However, I spied a patch growing adjacent to a nearby parking lot, so part of my mission was fulfilled. Sadly, there were no caterpillar sightings, nor did I see a chrysalis, although I don’t know for sure if I would recognize one. (Then again, given the size of Monarch Caterpillars, the chrysalis should be pretty big).

Oh well. Better luck next time. And I don’t aspire to collect flat tyres (in case you’re wondering, I just like and use the British spelling on this blog because they invented the bike tyre and ought to be allowed to name it), but I guess practice changing tyres on my RAGBRAI bike may prove of value.

We were planning to go kayaking later anyway, and we did. And here are the other flowers or berries: