Saturday, September 13, 2014

In Which I Have Two Fun Animal Rides

The deer family Relena and I watched on my first bike ride today.

Animals were the theme of the rides today. My daughter planned to donate blood, and we watched her children for a while this morning—they left after lunch.

Anyway, as I had hoped, I managed two short bike rides, totaling 10 miles together, with two granddaughters.

Relena, who is 1 ½ years old, went first. She was pretty excited by almost everything, but deer were the theme of her ride. We rode down the Lindale Trail and turned north when we got to the Boyson Road trail. Several deer crossed the trail in front of us in the open meadow area. When we got to Boyson Road, we turned back on the branch trail that leads across the narrow bridge over Dry Creek.

After crossing that bridge, we came again to an open area, and a whole deer family—mom and her two offspring—were munching grass. Relena squawked excitedly, and the two fawns bounced over nearer to mom. Mom herself was pretty indifferent. We paused to peer at the deer briefly, and then went on.

After I got home, I took Amelia for a slightly longer ride. Relena got 4 of the 10 miles, Amelia got 6. This time we turned south and simply looped back to the Lindale Trail when we were done.

We saw lots of birds, including a goldfinch that paralleled us for 30 yards to so, pausing as if to wait for use to catch up and then going ahead. There were lots of dogs, too, but no deer this time.

Still, it was a very nice ride on a gorgeous day. A sunny day after a cold night in early autumn—that, I think, is when Iowa is at its best and ought to be biked in.

Maybe they should have a special RAGBRAI in mid-September just for retired people? They can wait nine years or so to set it up, but then let me know and I’ll be there.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In Which The Fading Light Is Exhilarating, Melancholy

Fading light at Cedar Lake.

It was raining this morning and my wife and I were both headed to an afternoon dinner on campus, so it was not a day for bicycle commuting. But by the evening, as we drove home, the rain seemed to be over, and there was a nice fall chill in the air (perfect for biking).

We had been to Target to pick up a few groceries, and I was whining about us not having enough lights for the bikes we own, so we did our part for America’s and China’s battery-operated light industries. It was around 6 by the time I got home, light fading, but not yet dark.

My wife was planning to watch one of her favorite TV shows, “Big Bang Theory,” while she exercised. So I decided to make a night of it on Francis. My plan was to put some of the new shiny toys on the bike, and take them for a spin.

It was almost the perfect night. Although a breeze was blowing, it was only a breeze—just enough to make it pleasantly cool without giving an old biker the sensation of climbing a wind hill. There something special about riding a bicycle during a cool night in early fall, one of the first really cool nights. It’s not cold enough to frost yet, but the chill in the air is a sign of things to come. As the sun faded behind the clouds, a quiet descended. It was not a winter night, not dead silent—there are still some die-hard crickets lazily chirping—but it’s still more tranquil than a warm summer night.

Unfortunately, the clouds started to roll back in as I neared Cedar Lake. I had vague hopes of maybe seeing northern lights due to a solar flair this week—but even with the sky blocked, the lake itself was quite nice—my photos don’t do it justice. To the human eye, there are way more nuances of light and dark, more shades of pink and green and gold in the sky reflected in the lake then the camera seems to pick up.

Despite the wonderful night for biking, I also felt a little sad as I rode. A dear friend of one of my sisters, who was also a friend of a second sister, died unexpectedly this week. She had been my sister’s close pal since high school—and had even expressed a desire to maybe join us sometime on at least part of a RAGBRAI.

And then, quite suddenly, at way too early an age, death. A natural death, but out of the blue. I didn't know her as well as my sisters, but I felt some faint echo of their grief. I’m sure her family is in severe pain. I’m sure a hole has opened in many hearts that won’t ever fill in completely.

So it goes. I didn’t feel guilty enjoying the perfect fall evening bike ride, but I did feel sad to think a deserving soul won’t be around to see the light play off a lake or to notice geese, ducks and pelicans or to breath the suddenly fresh fall air.

Somewhere above the clouds, perhaps the northern lights were dancing for the one who was lost. I hope so. And it began to rain on me as I made my way home as the light failed. Not a scary, stormy rain like earlier this week, just a light mist. Just a reminder of water and gentle tears.

I had 16 miles on the odometer when I began the ride. I have 32 now. Given that I rode the Fancy Beast once this week, that makes it a 40-mile week, which isn't too bad for a rainy week when I could not ride each day.

I may still get a few more miles in tomorrow, I hope with a grandchild in the toddler seat.

Something about this week stirs the desire in me to be with the ones I love. Life is too short.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Which I Feel Lucky To Be Alive

Radar image after I got home. It looked better when I left work, really, it did.

The first cycle of the newspaper this year. I’m alone in the Times office at 9 p.m., wondering where the student editors are.

And it rumbles. There is a window in the Times office, which might not have done much for my peace of mind. Well, if it’s going to storm, I thought, I’m not going to get in any hurry. No point in rushing out into it—thunderstorms usually roll through quickly.

So I worked until past 10:30 p.m., then headed over to my office to grab some files to take home.

I met the night janitor, who wondered if I had ever worked on a movie. Apparently, there is a “Joe Sheller” who has. Not me. I grabbed my files and checked the radar. I looked to me like most of the storm had headed off east. It was damp, but not raining as I paused outside of the loading dock of Warde Hall to turn on all my lights.

I didn’t think it was necessary, but I had my rain poncho on.

What the sky looked like during the second half of my ride home.. Except there was no US Capitol in view.
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, from Wikicommons.
Photo from the Chicago Acting Studio. Molly Glynn.
It was necessary. About 10 minutes after I left campus, I started to see lightning light up the sky in the north—the direction I was heading. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. There aren’t many near midnight when lightning starts to arch across the sky, either.

As I go near Kenwood School, the lightning crept ominously closer and the rain started to come down hard. Yes, the rain poncho helped, although my pants and legs were quickly soaked. My shoes go very wet.

I took home a quiz to grade for a morning class. I got it done, but sorry students, it’s a bit damp, too.

Anyway, I don’t usually ride my bike in the rain. Tonight it caught me. I guess I’m lucky—this weekend, Chicago actress Molly Glynn was killed by a falling tree while she was out on a bike ride.

OK, so maybe having a damp quiz isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

Friday, September 5, 2014

In Which The Wipers On The Car Go Swish, Swish, Swish

Rain on a Lincoln sounds like a drum. We're marking for freedom today, hey. Turn on your headlights and sound your horn if people get in the way.  Corner of  C and Blair's Ferry, and I would have experienced far less rush hour traffic on my bike route. But they frown on a Lincoln using the sidewalk...

A colleague at MMU told me she and her daughter had seen me Wednesday night, biking home around 6:30 p.m.

“I hope you weren't just headed home then,” she said. “My daughter said, ‘at least he has his yellow vest on.’”

Well, I was just heading home, it has been a week of late nights. It’s been a very busy semester already and it seems to be just getting launched.

Thursday, the day was even later. I had a newspaper meeting at 7 and didn't leave campus, with lights on, until around 8.

Still, I would rather bicycle with lights than not bike at all. It was a “not bike at all” day today. A cool front, the first real taste of fall, is moving through Iowa today and wringing all the moisture from the air.

So I drove a modest green Lincoln sedan, and felt like a gangster. I know it’s not really a fancy car, and it wouldn't work well as a getaway car anyway—when you click the clicker to unlock it, the lights flash on in a very “here, cops, the bank robber is trying to drive away in this car” sort of way.

Anyway, it really is a pleasant enough car to drive, and even has an old-school dash clock, which gives it a bit of retro charm. I even figured out how to open my son’s jammed CD case (should have shown it to me, Jon), and so I can rock out to Cake as much as I want to while riding along. He even has Beatle’s One in there, so I’m sure future rainy days may at least feature some entertaining tunes.

But, I forgot the CDs today. And it was raining. And driving this boxy modest sedan in the rain is such a reminder of what it’s like to drive.

Driving sucks. Biking rocks. Trust me.

On a bike, you feel the wind and hear the birds. In a car, you feel the fan and hear the radio. On a bike, you clear your head by using your body. In a car, you work on your clogged arteries by extending the sedentary time of your day. On a bike, you can stop when you want to and take a photograph or a cell phone call and not be blocking a lane of traffic. In the car I was driving, I sort of got distracted by the radio and then it occurred to me that I was being an evil character in a bad story—a distracted driver. “I’m sorry, officer, I didn't see the cute professor on the bicycle because it was very important for me to set a button for The Fox.”

Fortunately, nothing bad happened other than me reminding myself to watch the road, not the radio, as the wipers kept time and me and Bobby sang every song we knew. Sorry, riding in a vehicle sounds a lot cooler when Janice sings about it than when you have to do it and would rather not.

Me? I want to ride my bicycle. That’s, for me, when feeling good is easy.

End of August biking report: Just under 2,400 miles for the year (I am a tad over 2,400 now). I am thinking the 5,000 mile goal for 2014 is slipping out of reach—just not enough days when I don’t work late and can take longer rides home. I’ll be able to top 3,000 miles this year, though, and that’s something. Maybe I can reach 5,000 miles in 2015?

Biking monthly totals so far in 2014. I bet I'll have a few fewer in September. Maybe fall break will help in October.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In Which I Have A Most Excellent Birthday Ride

End of the ride, the happy bikers. The older one on the right just turned 56 today.

I turned 56 today, and my wife said I could do pretty much what I wanted.

So I completely ignored the backlog of work for a whole day. The morning started with a gym workout, followed by a drive downtown to Kathy’s Pies to buy a birthday desert—apple pie. And then it was off to breakfast at Perkins. When we got home, we skyped with a daughter who lives in the UK.

The plan then was to ride our bikes and take a nap, but both of us decided that naps could come first. So it was a bit later that I got out Francis and my wife’s bike. I thought of riding The Beast so we would be on similar bikes, but we wanted to carry snacks and that’s just a lot easier with Francis. I pumped up tires and lubed chains and then we were on our way.

I had planned to take the trail south, but forgot my turn on F Avenue and we ended up down by Mount Mercy before we finally took J Avenue to the trail.

Art outside the museum.
We haven’t been on a lot of joint rides this year, but this was a very nice day—just a little warm, but with a nice breeze, and just enough clouds to keep the sun from feeling hot. We rode down to Cedar Lake and decided to keep going. We paused for selfies at the Museum of Art, and when we got to Sokol Park, we enjoyed nuts, raisins and animal crackers—a pretty good biking snack. We decided we weren’t done in yet, so we continued on the trail until we got to about 11 miles or so from the start—right at the bridge that crosses railroad tracks. There we took more pictures and headed back.

On the way back, we paused at Parlor City for some ice cream. I had not tried a Boston Shake before, but it (a sundae on top of a shake) seems like an excellent idea. I had hot fudge on chocolate. Maybe I will try caramel on strawberry next time.

We all scream. Well, not really. But we eat ice cream.

Before that, we had paused at the park at Cedar Lake to use the restrooms, where I rescued a damsel in distress. Her chain had slipped off, and she and her daughter were unable to get it back on. She was struggling with her bike chain with one hand and talking with some guy on her cell phone with the other.

I walked up. I’m no bike mechanic, but I’ve put chains back on enough times to be of some aid. It helps if you at least know how to make the chain slack by holding the rear derailleur.

So I sort of just dived in there.

“Some guy is helping me,” the woman exclaimed on the cell phone. I hadn't verbally communicated with her before that point, because she was yakking on her cell phone.

“Is he weird?” a male voice from the phone queried.

“You’re on speaker phone,” she said.

Then I added: “Yes. He’s very weird.”

Maybe it’s a good thing it didn't take me long to get the chain on again. I never met the man who belonged to that voice.

North shore of Cedar Lake, the wife pedals along. It was a very nice day.

Anyway, we decided chivalry deserves a reward, so we stopped for the ice cream later. Don’t worry blog pals—if I had not rescued Miss My-Chain-Came-Off, I’m sure my wife and I would have decided that not running over caterpillars on the trail would have also qualified as chivalry, so ice cream would have been in order anyway. Or if we had hit a caterpillar, and my wife thinks I hit at least one, we would have been drowning our sorrows. In any event, there was ice cream.

“This sort of negates the ride,” she said as she enjoyed her turtle sundae.

No, I don’t think it did. I think it completed a very nice birthday ride. We went home, I did some yard work as she prepared a spaghetti feast for me, then we watched “Tea With Mussolini” and enjoyed our Kathy’s pie.

It was definitely a nice biker’s birthday.

On the bridge before turning back. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

In Which Trails Are Popping Up All Over

End of my morning ride--sidewalk beyond the end of a trail that will eventually lead to downtown Cedar Rapids.

This morning, the Gazette, besides featuring a column by me that I wrote about on my other blog, also had a front-page story that explains how more regional transportation dollars are making long-term bike trail plans a reality in the coming years.

I was riding on the Boyson Trail and related trails this morning, and I took a new sidewalk that leads up into the shopping area where Menards in Marion is located. It felt odd to be able to get out of the trail via that end, but useful, too.

And eventually, maybe before I’m 60, I may be able to ride trails all the way to Mount Mercy, with a route that goes under Highway 151 and under First Avenue. I wonder a bit at the “under First Avenue” part, but that is what the story says.

Can’t wait.

End of the line for now--part of the interface of sidewalk and trail (can't see the paving which is "below" the photo). This trail ends at Highway 151, for now, but eventually will head south and west to Mount Mercy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

In Which I Practice Taking Selfies By A Tank

Two bikers blocking your view of a tank down by the baseball diamond. Darn bikers get in the way all the time.

I took a morning ride with my son Jon. He’s just back in the states after a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. He’s visiting us for a few days before relocating to Pittsburgh, where his lovely wife is entering graduate school.

Anyway, he arrived late Tuesday and spent Wednesday visiting with his mom and one of his sisters and her children.

Thursday was reserved for his first long bike ride. Yes, folks, the owner of Fancy Bike is back in town and ready to roll. But, like a mouse’s plans, his Thursday ride didn't quite take place. Luckily his bike wasn't done in by a plow (bonus reference to Scottish poetry), but rain pelted down midday right after he got his bike ready to ride.

He did manage a short ride before going on a walk with his mother, but it wasn't exactly what he had planned.

Today, I had an internship meeting at a baseball stadium located across town. I offered to let Jon tag along so that I can refresh his memory on how to get to the Cedar River Trail.

It was very warm and muggy and grey when we started. I was worried we were headed into a rainstorm, since rain had popped up quickly yesterday. But, we were lucky and stayed dry. Well, as dry as you stay on a warm, super humid Iowa morning when you’re riding a bike—which isn’t really all that dry at all, and I wished I had on a biking shirt, but I had a polo shirt on so that I could look business casual and all sweaty. It worked.

Anyway, we had a bit of an adventure on the way there. I had ridden by the stadium on my wait to an interview at KZIA earlier this week, but clearly did not have perfect recall of the route, since we ended up lost for a time. It took an hour to get there—not much longer than it should have, but a bit.

Jon had popped out of bed and hopped on his bike, so he sat outside and ate a granola bar and banana while I met with an internship supervisor.

The meeting went well, and we found the street I had intended to use in the first place. But, surprise, surprise, I turned off too early and got lost again. This time, when I oriented myself to place, I knew we were six blocks or so from Czech Village, so that’s where we went.

I felt I should reward Jon for his patience, and reward me with second breakfast because of my patience, and reward my wife with some treats that she doesn't know about and which will be a surprise to her because it’s extremely unlikely she will read this blog post, so we stopped at a Czech bakery, Sykora Bakery, for some coffee and kolaches. You get a price break if you buy half a dozen, so Audrey, some apple and cherry rolls are headed your way.

Jon is eating his kolaches. I've finished mine. No wonder I look so serious.
After the break, we headed down the Cedar River trail through downtown Cedar Rapids. I am in my office, avoiding urgent work by writing this (although I have worked and it is noon, so I can justify this as part of my lunch break). Jon is out there, somewhere, riding, and not getting sunburned, I hope.

Anyway, it was a good ride. Oh, and in case you wondered, the heart test I had this week went well. I do have a heart and it apparently is working. The pain? “You might have some skeletal, muscle issues,” the doctor said.

Here’s hoping kolahces can cure that.

My coffee and some Czech roles. Not mine--I had rhubarb and strawberry. This is apple and cherry, treats for my sweetie.