Thursday, October 8, 2015

In Which the Light Fades in Morning

Wednesday morning, sky starting to turn light as I cross the bridge over the railroad tracks on the Cedar River Trail.

We’re getting on to the “dark” biking months. When I leave campus late, as I did tonight, I usually get random horror stories from people about who Uncle Bob was nearly killed by a bus in the dark while biking.

I appreciate the sentiment, and I don’t plan to be much of an adventuresome biker in low light conditions. But both Argent and Francis have lights, and my helmet is also lit. Whether in the dim morning 7 a.m. dark, or later at night (I came home around 9 tonight), I’m also riding a very familiar route on mostly very quiet streets.

As long-time readers of blog know, I once had an odd run-in with a driver at night that caused me to call the police, but besides that, my dark-months commutes have been pretty uneventful. I suppose as I age and my night vision fades (I do already have a cataract in one eye) there will come a point where night riding is no longer practical, but I’m OK with it for now.

And it’s a bit soothing. I needed some soothing this week—it has just been very busy and the semester is starting to grind me down. I think biking is one key to maintaining my sanity.

Catherine McAuley as I arrive on campus. Sun halo.
Take Wednesday morning, for example. I had been working late both Monday and Tuesday, and knew I wanted to stay on campus for a writer’s visit Wednesday, and I had a concert Thursday night. So I was feeling a little blue that morning, but just for a change of scenery and because the 42nd Street detour is so much less of a time waster, I decided to take the trail ride in.

It’s pretty hard to stay blue when you’re riding a bike on a crisp fall morning as the sun climbs in the sky and the world slowly glows golden before the yellow light of day. I even took a bit of a break midday on Wednesday and strolled through the grotto at MMU.

I am not sure I understand why it seems important to me to be outside. Maybe the sunlight just make me feel more alive. Maybe the fresh air, or the sounds of birds and the rustle of leaves. Of course, we’re getting to the time of year when soon the leaves will be gone and many birds will migrate away, but I’ll still try to be outdoors when I can, riding a bike if I can.

From my walk in the grotto. A late rose.
Anyway, I discovered Wednesday that the trail ride actually doubles the distance—my 4-mile commute becomes an 8-mile commute. It does not, however, double the time. What is a 30-minute commute become a 45- to 50-minute ride. Despite 42nd Street, Blairs Ferry and other intersections, I think my average speed on the trail is higher than my average speed on a city street—both due to not competing with cars for space, and simply riding on a smoother, better surface.

It was the second time I had been on the trail since I found last week that it’s pretty much open. Last Saturday, one of my daughters and I rode 16 miles, including a jaunt down to campus, then around Cedar Lake.

It’s been a busy week for CR biker, but thank goodness for bicycles.

Hawk seen on trail during Saturday ride. Another reason to go outside.
Saturday on the trail with my daughter.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In Which Barriers Are Falling Away

Thursday afternoon--creature along the trail. Traffic in this section would have been pretty light due to trail closure at 42nd Street, maybe she or he is surprised to see bikes again. The critter just sat there and watched me. As I sat there and watched it.

Thursday afternoon, I was ready to leave campus before 5—a pretty rare thing for me. So I decided to ride around Cedar Lake and take the trail route home.

Now, I know that the trail is closed at 42nd Street, and knew that crossing Center Point road would be a bit of a challenge at rush hour, but that was all OK.

So I rode around the lake and then headed north.

When I got to the bridge where the trail crosses itself (you Cedar River Trail users know exactly what I mean, but it’s also a bridge over McCloud Run), I had a minor surprise. All summer long, since they closed the trail at 42nd Street, there was a sign on the bridge warning of the trail being closed ahead. But it was not there.

And, a bit farther on, I got to the little side street, opposite the food coop, and again, the warning sign that I was expecting was AWOL. The trail is open?

Wow—well, when I got to 42nd Street, it turns out the project is not yet done, but it has advanced to the point that the detour is much smaller. The official detour means going one block east and then coming back west on the other side. The unofficial detour is to wait until the workers are gone and just go around the signs.

Thursday afternoon at 42nd Street.

They aren’t done with the street crossing yet, so I don’t know if 42nd Street will still be the second-most interesting street crossing (First Avenue is still the most interesting) on the trail. But the project has totally eliminated a sharp turn and short trip down a very narrow sidewalk—the trail is nice and wide and has its own rail crossing, now.

Well, hooray. So I snapped a few photos and continued north. I turned to take the Noelridge Park route home.

And again, an expected detour was no longer there. An obstacle has evaporated. The sidewalk that crosses Noelridge to the middle school area had been closed while they did something to a stream. Turns out they were, among other things, putting in a prairie.

Well, that’s cool. I hope there are lots of milkweed seeds in that prairie area. And it’s nice that the main CR trail is gain pretty much open, and that I can go both north and south on it once more.

Prairie in the park.

Bridge in park. I am amused. They put in lots of new paving but carefully preserved the nice bump at the end of the bridge.

Sign in park.

Friday morning. No sneaking through today--workers on 42nd Street. And below, approaching trail again on the other side--detour is only a block now.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

In Which We See the Moon In A Pond

Lights in a pond on C Avenue.

Riding home in the dark at night on one of the first cool fall evenings felt pretty nice.

We have not had the first frost yet, and honestly I am looking forward to that. Not because I’ll love biking in cold weather (although biking in cool weather is actually quite pleasant as long as it’s dry), but because I won’t miss the biting insects.

I was pleased this morning to dig Argent out of the garage—so far this week, I had been riding Francis. That’s been due to carrying capacity—Francis has the baskets but Argent has the speed.

I didn't have too much to carry today, so I opted for speed over capacity. It does not make a big difference in the commute, but I was getting a slightly late start this morning, and I was able to recover about 5 minutes due to riding the faster bike.

Anyway, so it was Francis on the ride home last night. I was late at the office because I stayed for an event in our fall Vietnam series, and was riding home around 9 p.m. The moon, which had been full Sunday, was still large and was just rising in the sky.

I stopped by the pond at Rockwell-Collins. I liked the way the fountains, parking lot lights and moon were all reflected, so I rested my little camera on the handlebars of my pickup truck bike and tried to snap a few.

The shutter was very slow, but I think the results are decent. Like the bike ride—a little slow and decent.

Friday, September 25, 2015

In Which We Bike Over 7 Miles for Sweets

Monarch I watched and shot as students got ready for ride.

Oh, you sweet thing, you.

Today, at a fancy candy shop next to the Paramount, I purchased a piece of chocolate-covered bacon. It tasted of salt and chocolate—it was a pleasant combination of sweet and salty, like chocolate covered peanuts. (If any of you want to bribe CR Biker, by the way, I hear he loves chocolate covered peanuts).

My wife and I packed up our bikes this morning not long after 7. It was only the second time we’ve ridden bikes to work together, but today was a special occasion.

The Mount Mercy Bicycle club was having its candy ride. The club offered $5 worth of candy to the first nine students who signed up to ride, and since pretty much all of the MMU bikes ended up being used, the bribe proved effective. As for Audrey and I, we didn’t have the bike club pay for our bacon, but went along for the ride.

The traditional club seflie became just a group shot, as there were too many bikers for me to merely hold out my arm. But no matter. While students organized themselves and unlocked bikes, I shot some photos of a butterfly visiting some nearby flowers.

Bike club before ride.Francis in front.

And then we were off. It was a hazy, sunny, warm afternoon. Riding with 10 others was a little challenging—we got a bit spread out and the group had to stop now and then, but we did better once we reached the Cedar River Trail.

Then it was downtown, where the bike lanes were briefly crowded. The students were pretty excited by the candy shop, which was a cool place to visit.

Shopping for candy.

Lloyd tries chocolate-covered bacon.
One young lady from Germany said she didn’t like to have her photo taken. Then, she made a Halloween-appropriate face just to get her photo taken.

Do not take my picture, she said. Then, this.

Between Catherine McAuley’s birthday cake and this bike ride, it was a sweet afternoon. Between this ride and commutes to work and a couple of errands at a store, I got close to 20 miles today. The club rode about 7.5.


Stopped on way back to campus, nearly there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In Which We See a Fall Sunrise

The early morning of the fall equinox, C Avenue, looking over pond at Rockwell-Collins.
I hope you are up early some of these fall mornings. We’re having a late summer here in the last half of September in Iowa—warm afternoons followed by pleasantly cool, but not cold, nights.

Today was the equinox when the sun, from our point of view, crosses the equator. Of course, from the sun’s point of view it’s just that silly tilted spinning ball swinging around again—but equinox it is.

And about 7:30 this morning, I was on Francis, headed towards campus. The sky, as it often is on a fall morning, was colorful and interesting, with just enough clouds to give the rising sun something to work with.

We’re at the time of year where a biker starts hankering for the frost, just a bit. The bugs are starting to get desperate and aggressive—the changing pattern of light is clearly sending signals, particularly to tiny biting insects. “Light is fading,” Mother Nature says in their tiny bug brains. “Find a walking sack of flesh with a thin, easily pierced covering, and suck, suck, suck! Time to gather protein for the winter eggs of next year’s biting hordes.”

Mother Nature tells it like is.

Pretty fall sunrise seen at Rohde Plaza, Mount Mercy University. Happy equinox day, but watch out. Winter is coming.

Anyway, despite the sudden appearance of bites from tiny blood suckers that, at the time, I didn't even notice, this is a great time to be outside riding a bicycle. Just don’t stop too long to take too many pictures.

Something is waiting, unseen, to pounce and bite. I’ll miss the green, but frost? You can come out now.

Monday, September 21, 2015

In Which We Travel Miles Together

Friday selfie or ussie before the ride to MMU.

Friday, we did it. My wife and I bicycle to work together.

This summer, she has been riding a lot more and many longer miles. It has not been unheard of for her to ride 20 miles in a day. The only asterisk is that she refused to change gears, so any significant hill is out.

Friday, due to the Moving Wall being at Mount Mercy, we thought it might be better to bike than drive. We were half right—the morning commute was OK, but there was one scary moment when my wife misjudged traffic on a busy cross street and ended up causing some cars to brake.

But, she made it.

However, we weren’t able t ride home Friday afternoon due to rain, and had to leave our bikes on campus when our daughter came to rescue us.

We drove down on Saturday to work at The Wall, and I rode my bike home after that. My wife’s bike was placed in the van.

Shadow of my wife on her bike on the Cedar River Trail.

Today, Sunday, we went on a 14-mile bike ride—going to see Grandma Shirley and then heading down to MMU to check on the wall.

14 miles in one gear—my wife is one tough biker.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In Which I Wonder About Chemicals and My Brain

Francis, Wednesday morning, parked between Regina Hall and the library.

I've got something I’ll call ’Nam brain.

I thought it was because I’m approaching the biggest public event in the Mount Mercy University Fall Faculty Series “The Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.” I coordinate that series, and this will be The Week, when The Wall (a traveling replica of the National Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial) arrives on campus.

So maybe being sleep-deprived (the first newspaper was this week, too) is just normal. But I’m on edge, like a kid before Christmas. I want tomorrow to come. But the anticipation is part of the pleasure, so I don’t want tomorrow to come.

What has all this got to do with biking? Well, for the first time ever, it’s possible my wife and I might bike to work together this week on Friday. We’ll see, but that would be Earth-shattering biking news. Parking will be messed up for a few days, but on Friday the campus bike racks will still be open.

Or maybe I’ve been exposed to dangerous plant-killing chemicals. It was nothing serious like Agent Orange, but I was delivering the newspaper bundles on campus this morning and I drove my old pickup truck of a bike and locked it up at the bike rack nearest the library. (Media grammar students—count the clauses in that sentence.)

That bike rack came complete with a dire warning:

Not the most comforting sign when you have parked your bike and you're wearing sandals.

Well, I don’t always wear closed shoes for biking. If bad things have been sprayed in the grass, I may be vulnerable. On the other hand, crabgrass was looking a bit brown, to me, in this sprayed area, and lawn chemicals don’t work instantly. Chances are the flags have been up for a while and the chemicals are all dry, and I’m OK. Which means the forgetfulness, anxiety and lack of sleep are all normal. It’s just another case of ’Nam brain.

Anyway, y’all come down to Mount Mercy. Bike if you can—it will be a heck of a lot easier than driving. The Wall will be here Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday—it opens officially on Thursday (tomorrow! yikes!) at 4:30 p.m. in the lawn of Warde Hall. A veteran’s panel shares stories that night at 7 in Flaherty Community Room, and information about the Wall will be presented at an open house Saturday.

And the wife and I are volunteering to staff the Wall early Saturday and Sunday at 6 a.m. Will we bike to campus then? Probably not, it’s dark that early—but we’ll see about Thursday. There may be some epic biking saga yet to come.