Saturday, January 24, 2015

In Which The Route Goes Right Next Door!

RAGBRAI posted this image on Facebook showing the route announcement.

RAGBRAI just announced its 2015 route. The overnight towns are:

  • Sioux City.
  • Storm Lake.
  • Fort Dodge.
  • Eldora.
  • Cedar Falls.
  • Hiawatha.
  • Coralville.
  • Davenport.

Hiawatha! I bike through that town on my way to the Cedar River Trail. A night a home? Sounds ideal. It’s a more northern route than I would have thought, given last year’s route. But that’s OK

The RAGBRAI site says that, at 462 miles with 16,000 feet of climb, it’s a “middle of the road” RAGBRAI. Last year was a fairly short one.

It’s also the first time since FAGBRAI (the First Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa in 1973, and it wasn't called RAGBRAI until several years later) that the ride has started in Sioux City and ended in Davenport.

The first RAGBRAI I rode with Jon ended in Davenport, and it was a good spot to end. With the Bix going on that weekend, there was plenty of traffic, but since Davenport is fairly large, it was still relatively easy for us to get together and coordinate things, unlike last year in Gutenberg.

Well, I don’t know exactly how many miles I’ll actually ride. In recent RAGBRAI’s, I've done about 75 percent of the miles. I would like to ride all the miles again sometime, but the team deal I’m in may not allow it, plus my stamina last year was not outstanding, so some breaks are probably not a terrible idea.

Still, if I can pull off riding into Davenport, and have the street is not be melting like it was in my first RAGBRAI, that will be good. I’m pretty excited for RAGBRAI 2015, and I’ll have to see if Team Joe is getting back together again!

In Which a Warm Sun Tempts The Beast

Boyson Trail near the intersection with the Lindale Trail. Very rutted, looks wet, but it's not as mushy as it seems. I did kick up some limestone mud onto my water bottle, but I didn't make new tracks in the mud. I bet anybody who was out this afternoon did!
I wrote not too long ago on this blog about attempting to ride The Lindale Trail to the Boyson Trail, and how I turned back quickly due to sloppy conditions.

Well, this morning I went the gym just in time to catch the 9 am. episode of “Law & Order.” I wrode The Beast there, because I have not made it to the bike shop to get a new tube for Francis.

I was done by 10—a new episode was starting, but I forced myself to leave because I knew that if I watched the first 5 minutes, I would be there for more than two hours, and I also had the crazy idea to try riding the trail.

It was going to get warm today, but it was still cool this morning. And maybe the trail wouldn't be too sloppy if I rode it in the morning hours before it thawed.

Well, I think it might have been in better shape even earlier. By 10 .a.m., the warm sun was already turning the trail to mush in parts. But the mush wasn’t very deep yet. I noted that the trail was very rutted with tyre tracks and footprints, but I made little impression as I rode along—and I’m sure I’m much heavier than most of the people who made those previous footprints and tyre tracks.

There were a surprising number of people on the trail, several pairs of walkers (always in pairs, for some reason) and a few random joggers. And, as I was going east along the Lindale Trail, off to my left in the woods, I could see a whole string of bikers headed west—not on the trail, mind you, but going through the woods.

Fat Tire bikers (I use tyre on this blog, but I guess the brand is Fat Tire) on the trail.

Well, I continued on my way, going to the end of the trail by Menards and then doubling back. I didn’t cross the bridge that leads to the park at the south end of the Boyson Trail, because time was getting on and I knew I had some speech proposals I had to read today.

Anyway, as I was heading back towards the Boyson trail on the trail to Menards, a group of fat tire bikers approached going the other way down the trail. I think they were probably the same bikers who had been in the woods adjacent to the Lindale Trail. I guess those fat tires can go almost anywhere.

View from a birdge on the trail. Even in winter, it is good to be out.
I headed home, taking my final leg of the journey over the Bowman Woods hill on Brentwood Drive. On the side street I turn off on to get to the hill’s summit, I noticed some trees missing, including the old “summit ash,” the tree that always marked the top of the hill to me. Yup. The city has been at it, removing ash trees.

That was one minor sad note on an otherwise nice biking morning. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow, so it might be a while before I am on two wheels again. But it was good to be out today—and good to be on The Beast. The trail wasn't too mushy, but it was best on a mountain bike!

The creek bridge on the trail that leads to Menards. I like the shadows, and you can see some walkers, too.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Which the Beast Rescues Some Winter Rides

Later Sunday afternoon--the 20-minute tube change turned into a 90-minute saga, but at the end, I did have a winter beater bike to ride. New lights were easy to swap to new bike, too.
Well, darn. The flat tyre on Frances is still flat. I had a spare tube, but when I installed it on Sunday, it turned out the valve was defective.

So on the warmest, sunniest day so far in our little warm spell, I had no bike. I was also busy so I didn't have a lot of time, either. But I had planned to go to the gym and planned to bike there.

Then, I had a bright idea. I can’t ride The Beast because it has some broken spokes. What if I put the pedals from The Beast on Jon’s bike? A little voice said the pavement might be damp—I do not want to expose Fancy Bike to any rust—but I tried.

Perhaps fortunately, The Beast refused to relinquish its pedals.

Then I had bright idea number two:My wife’s bike is the same brand and same size as The Beast. It’s a lady bike, but the back wheel doesn't seem gender specific. Would her wheel fit The Beast?

Yes. Don’t tell her, but The Beast is now a Frankenbike and can again be ridden. I rode it Sunday both to the gym and to and from campus, and also commuted with it on Monday.

It was always my plan for The Beast to be my “winter beater” bike. It was cold Monday night when I was going home, and the pavement was a bit damp--scary sparkly in places in the way damp pavement gets when it gets dangerous to bike on.

So I was pretty happy to be on a ridiculous old Schwinn mountain bike rather than my regular commuting bike, let alone my son’s fancy bike.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I drove—weather is too misty for biking, with possible snow. But I am happy that I now have a winter beater!

By the way, I drafted this post during a workshop on shared Google Docs documents in Busse Library at Mount Mercy. One of the other classmates commented: You need to get a windshield for your bike! :)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

In Which Mercy Needs a Hand Pump

My shirt, post paint event. I like the duct tape name tags that Habitat for Humanity used.

Well, universe, what message were you trying to send me?

It was nice today—cloudy, but warmer. I rode Francis down to a Habitat for Humanity build in Cedar Rapids, part of a “Habitat Saturdays” program that President Laurie Hamen has started at Mount Mercy University.

Getting there was a bit of a challenge because Google Maps apparently thinks bikes can go the wrong way on a one way (well, technically they can, and I did, because after fruitlessly riding west to try to find another bridge, I ended up using the Third Avenue sidewalk).

And I’m not a morning person on Saturday, so I arrived around noon.

Painting the house was fun. It’s one chore that is great to do in a house under construction, and it’s easy for a person of few tool skills like me. Plus, one minor advantage I have is being able to use a brush in the corner between ceiling and wall without a ladder. Height has its privileges. (I am not extraordinarily tall—just slightly above average. I’m 6-feet even. I think the ceilings were maybe 7 ½ or 8 feet, so a 6-foot tall person can touch a paintbrush to that ceiling without standing on tiptoe).

Anyway, I expected to work at the house until about 4, but by 2, with the help of many of MMU’s volleyball players, we were done. So I thought maybe an adventure, a ride on the Cedar River Trail south towards Ely, was in order. Maybe I would finally see my eagles?

No. What would happen instead is I would cross the lion’s bridge and then notice my front tyre looked “wrong.” As in, practically out of air. (I prefer the British spelling of tyre on this blog, by the way.)

Well, son of a gun. I've been carrying a frame pump for years, but have not used it before. I also have a spare tube, although I’m not sure where I put the little plastic tools to pry off a tyre. Now, on Francis, I can actually take a tyre off with bare hands, but I didn't really want to take the 20 minutes to actually change the tube when I was not sure how well my pump would work. So instead, I just decided to inflate the tyre and hope, using the frame pump.

OK, universe, maybe I thought you were being all perverse about my karma—sending me a flat tyre was not nice—but, like a happy motorist who discovers a decade later that there inexplicably is air in the spare, I found out the frame pump bling on my bike works better than I expected.

Not great, mind you, but OK. It took about 50 pumps to make the tyre comfortably ready to ride. And after three or four miles, by Cedar Lake this time (I wisely decided I had to immediately head home and not continue my journey), I had to pump up again. And again a third time at bit further north on the trail.

So, I had to pump my tyre three times—150 vigorous pumps with the frame pump. But I made it home on bike.

I’ll have to change that tube before riding again, but at home I’ll be able to inflate it with a nice pump. Still, thank you frame pump for proving that you’re actually functional. And universe? In the words of Ricky Ricardo, you've got some splaining to do …

In Which The Geese Gather for Their Party, Too

Thursday--Francis parked near library at MMU. Only bike rack on campus that is not buried in snow.

Well, I don’t know if I win any prizes for schmoozing, but I did have a good time at a bar Friday night, which is pretty unlikely for me.

I’d received an e-mail invitation from The Gazette to attend a “Pints and Politics” event at the New Bo Alehouse. My wife is in England right now, and there was free food—a biker goes where there are snacks.

It turned out Friday was a warm (upper 30s) and sunny day. It was also slightly breezy, which made it feel colder than it looked, but still …

I had considered driving, since I knew I was going to be out well after dark, but then again I was going to a bar and there would be alcohol. I do not recommend drunk biking any more than drunk driving, but I also knew I was not going to get drunk. In fact, I had just one beer that I nursed through three rounds of appetizers, which was my evil plan all along—but even if I have only one beer in my system, I still prefer the slower pace of biking to trying to drive a car. Call it “mellow biking.”

I’m an introvert, so I was not quite sure if the event would be fun. The ride there was nice, though—other than the Thursday parked bike photo, that’s when I shot the other images on this post. Still no eagle sightings, but I did see a whole big party of geese clustered on a small open patch of water on Cedar Lake.

Geese cluster around a small patch of open water on Cedar Lake. I left a bit early for the Gazette party and had time to circle the lake. Someone walking by thought I had a GoPro on my helmet, but it's just a light. The light came in handy later on during the dark ride home!

I got to the bar, circled it a couple of times. The bike racks are plentiful there, but also buried in snow. I ended up chaining Francis to a couple of chairs in an unused patio area.

The party was easy to find. I signed in, got my nametag, chatted briefly with some MMU colleagues who were there, and then sat at an empty table. Yes, I know, the introvert's usual mistake. But a few minutes later, a woman who was at the party alone joined me. It turned out she is the finance person at the University of Iowa nursing program, so we spent a pleasant time chatting about the nature of academia—speculating about how changes in state funding will impact colleges, talking about the resignation of the UI president, etc.

A man who was much more of a social butterfly than I am—which, by the way, is very easy to be since I’m more like a social caterpillar—also stopped by several times and rather noisily joined in the conversation. I think he actually livened things up. The Gazette had provided some political conversation prompts in the form of policy questions that were on each table—for example, should the minimum wage be raised and, if so, to what?

Those provided some lively conversation.

The appetizers were good, the conversation nice, the bar an interesting old bank building. It turned out to be a pleasant outing.

The Gazette's logo for the event.
I guess I was expecting a bit more in terms of actual Gazette experts weighing in—maybe a panel discussion and some Q and A. The setting, however, wasn't really conducive to that. Some Gazette journalists were circulating, but didn't make it around to my table. After a while, they tried asking some of the prompt questions, but I couldn't join in raising my hand because I could not near well enough to know what question was being asked.

That’s OK. It was the first time The Gazette tried this event, and I’m sure they’ll tweak it for next time.

The ride home was an adventure. I thought of taking a street route back, knowing that Cedar River Trail would be very dark in sections and the streets better lit. But, I also knew that the trail was, on average, much more clear of snow and ice than the streets are, so I opted for the road more plowed. It did occur to me, as I was riding slowly north of J Avenue in full black darkness, that if I hit some ice and were knocked unconscious, I would be there for some time. I was passed by one crazy biker going in the opposite direction, but otherwise the trail was mine alone.

I decided to leave it at 42nd Street and take the Wendy’s-Noeldridge Park route home. I had two concerns—did they plow the sidewalk at the park? Happily, yes. Did they plow the sidewalk behind the middle school? Sort of—probably before the latest batch of wind, because some sections had drifted shut and not been cleared since. Still, I only had to walk the bike a few yards through snow on that walk—otherwise that route home proved to be OK.

I got home by a bit after 7. It felt later, one of those days in which not much happened, but it seems like a long day anyway.

Today? I have a painting party at a Habitat for Humanity House south of the Cedar River. Google says it will take 45 minutes to bike there. I think they underestimate the time for two reasons: I’m slower than Google expects any biker to be at the best of times, and winter, when you have to watch it and deliberately ride slower anyway, is not the best of times.

But given how well the biking went Friday, you know how I’ll arrive at today’s MMU workday. On two wheels.
I had a little time to kill before going to the bar, so I rode to the lion's bridge. This is the view from the bridge looking back  at the downtown--it looks pretty stark, but this was a nice afternoon for a bike ride. I like the patterns of ice, too.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

In Which a Commute Turns Into 25 Miles

I left campus and headed south--crossed the river and went as far as the beaver pond that is just beyond the Mt. Trashmore area. Francis after I've turned around--note how dry the pavement is.
When I rode my bike to campus just before noon today, 37th Street was pretty bad. In contrast, much of the route was OK—I was pleasantly surprised at how much the sidewalk on C Avenue had improved.

But the streets around Kenwood School seem still to come from the Land That Snowplows Forgot.

Bottom of 37th Street hill. I just rode down this hill. Did not want to ride up it later in the day.
So on the way home, I decided to try the trail instead. I figured if it had been cleared (and it usually is) then it would be in better shape than the streets I rode on.

I also decided, partly because I had my nice camera with me, to head down to Cedar Lake. I’m anxious to catch some eagles this winter. As it turned out, the lake is too iced over right now to have an eagle-friendly spot.

I was enjoying the quiet and solitude of the trail in winter—passing by a few hardy dog walkers, one or two joggers and nobody else—that I kept going. I wondered if I would see eagles down by the river. I didn't, but it was a quiet, pretty ride despite the grey, cool day.

Birds on Cedar River near Federal Courthouse.
I did startle a hawk of some sort, which flew up in front of me about 10 yards away and tore off through the trees. I saw it roosting and looking broodingly at me, but it was gone by the time I got my camera out.

Still, even if I did not capture the hawk’s image or see my eagle, I did catch a murder.

It seemed like all the crows in Cedar Rapids were gathered by the lion’s bridge, most in the trees, some out on the ice of the river. I don’t know why they were gathered, just that they were.

One of the crows takes flight.
I rode about three hours, and I guess I probably did about 25 miles today. Not sure I will ride tomorrow—I have a dentist appointment, I need to do some grocery shopping and I’m planning on visiting my daughter and her children, so the speed of car commuting may be too good to pass up.

Still, a few good sunny days in the 30s, and the streets will be in good shape and there won’t be any impediment to my biking and a few more trips to try to catch the elusive eagle.

Sun seen through the clouds near Mt. Trashmore. It was a grey day, but not so uniformly grey to be dull. My feet got cold, but I liked being out on the trail.


In Which My Attempt at Bike Maintenance Fails

Is it true? Truly not, and beyond my powers to fix.

I took Matt’s mountain bike inside the other day to try to fix the wobbly back wheel.

First, I checked to ensure none of the spokes were broken. None are, the good news. Then I watched a YouTube video on how to true a wheel.

Using a piece of cardboard for reference and the bike frame as my wheel holder, I took off the tire and tube and proceeded to try to use a screwdriver to tighten spokes.

Yeah, 90 minutes of work for naught. Total true failure. The video showed working with a spoke wrench, not a screwdriver, and I suppose I will try to get one of those tools.

But I will probably have to take the bike into the shop for someone whose better with tools (which I think probably includes the majority of species from age 3 to 80) fix the bike.

Oh well. Streets are still a bit dicey, but since my schedule is more open today, I may attempt a ride on Francis. We’ll see.