Thursday, July 18, 2019

In Which Final Rides Feature Heat

Rental bikes downtown July 18. Getting across downtown was a challenge today--the trail is diverted by construction and the Third Street bike lane was also closed. Almost all east-west routes were closed.
Hot, hot, hot! A bubble of hot air has settled on Iowa, a with high humidity and highs in the 90s, it has felt like triple digits.

Of course, long bike rides are over before RAGBRAI. I did ride Tuesday and Thursday, but shorter rides. I did some hills Thursday—going up the MMU hill three times, but not doing lots of miles.

And today I was home by early afternoon.

Am I ready for RAGBRAI? I feel ready. The packing is going OK, and it remains to be seen what I leave behind. I’m not sure how much I will blog during the ride—I had thought of bringing a laptop, but my wife is persuasively arguing against it, because in the past I have not had much time or opportunity to use the computer, and it’s bulky and inconvenient to carry.

So I think I may try a few, short phone posts—we’ll see. Anyway, my back is half packed, I have a spare tube on the bike, a new bottle of chain lube and a readiness to go. RAGBRAI, here I come!

Hot rides this week featured some pretty sights along the trails:

Duck on Cedar Lake July 16.

July 18--Pond on C Avenue in the morning.

Lowe Park flower July 16.

Milkweed at Lowe Park July 16.

July 18 at Lowe Park, dragonfly.

July 16, young bunny by Cedar River Trail.

Monarch on trail July 16.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

In Which Buggy Iowa Looks Beautiful

The mystery goose from my Thursday ride. What honker is this? It was with Canada geese (below). (After I posted an image to Facebook, Dr. Bryan Cross from MMU commented, and I think he found the goose.

How has your summer been? I managed to miss three soggy weeks with a well-timed trip to the UK, and since I’ve been back in Iowa this July, it’s sometimes been hot and muggy but often been gorgeous.

Buggy, because it’s Iowa in the summer, so I’ve dipped myself in Bug Soother and had that familiar summer smell, a combination of sweat, old man, sunscreen and lemon pie.

My most recent bicycle rides, especially Wednesday’s, featured some pretty sights. On that day, because I was going to campus and using my good camera bag as a man purse, I decided my secondary goal was to find a Monarch Butterfly and take its picture.

Along Cedar Lake, the quest ends well.

As you see, the quest ended well.

Thursday’s ride, on the hybrid due to where I was going, was a slightly more ill-fated trip down the Sac and Fox Trail. I rode to the Prairie Park Fishery and entered the south end of the trail. As I rode on the Sac and Fox, it was unusually sandy in spots, which was treacherous because the sand was the same color as the harder surface and not easy to see. I was thinking that where the trail bends at the junction of the creek and the river, it might be muddy and impassible.

It wasn’t. But it did get very muddy later one. Overall, the trail was often either sandy and treacherous, or rocky and treacherous. It occurred to me to turn back and not ride it, but by then I was far enough in it felt like I should just finish.

Sac and Fox Trail, more treacherous than a muddy UK trail.
At the north end of the trail, there was a barrier, pushed aside, that said “trail closed for repairs.” I believe it, but if there had been such a sign at the south end, someone removed it before I got there.

Still, I found the rides this week to be pleasant, as Iowa is showing its pretty side. The weather will warm up and it will show its hot side, in time for RAGBRAI. Stay hydrated, biking friends!

Here are lots and lots of pretty pictures from the rides:

New park at Lowe Park looks almost done.

On Boyson Trail near Hanna Park.

Cedar Lake looking pretty.

Egret at Cedar Lake.

On the way to Otis Road, on stub of trail near future Sleeping Giant bridge.

Otis Road.

Bunny at Prairie Park Fishery.

Wildflower meadow near start of Sac and Fox.

North end of Sac and Fox. Now you tell me.

Bee near Milkweed, Cedar Lake.

Blackbird claims Cedar River Trail.

Bee on flower in meadow north of 42nd Street on trial.

More from the meadow.

Milkweed in bloom.

I guess I spent a few minutes there.


Had not seen a Monarch before I got to Cedar Lake, but I saw this pretty butterfly.

Taking off.

Looking at Cedar Lake from trail bridge at north end, duck makes wake.

Milkweed in bloom a long Cedar Lake.

I find my Monarch at the lake. And below.

Bee approaches Milkweed.

Geese near Cedar Lake act like they own the place.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

In Which We Top 75 Miles

The morning sun shines over Argent, locked to the bike rack at Brewhemia.
Well, that was a nice ride.

My first significant bicycle ride in the U.S. after my UK adventures was very pleasant. The weather was perfect—sunny skies, high in the 80s, not too humid.

The ride was Sunday. On Saturday, My wife, daughter, grandson and I went to the CR Pride Fest, and walked to lunch at Lucky’s in Czech Village.

We had briefly seen my sister Cate at the event, and as we were walking back to the car from Czech Village, she met us again. She was cycling south on the Cedar River Trail.

“I’m thinking about a long ride tomorrow. You want to join me?” she asked.

We didn’t have plans, so I said “yes,” so on Sunday, I got my bicycle out and rode to Brewhemia, a coffee shop in the New Bo neighborhood. We set 8 a.m. as a meet time there, and I arrived just a few minutes before my sister.

I had not done breakfast at that coffee shop before, and it was nice. I had the Aesop Bowl, which is scrambled eggs mixed with feta cheese, hummus and some sprouts. And, of course, I drank coffee.

We didn’t really have a specific route in mind for the ride, it was just that we wanted to ride enough to accumulate miles, so we headed to the south end of the trail, which is beyond Ely, just short of Solon.

On the Hoover Trail south of Ely. Sunshine--the kind of open, mostly blue sky seen in Iowa in the summer. Unless the sky is all dark with storm clouds.
We turned around and took a break at the city park in Ely. There were some geese at the pond there, and we heard an odd, low rumbling sound. At first, we thought it might be the geese, but I noticed none seemed to be vocalizing during the sound, and, in fact, a group of them turned towards the sound. Geese don’t have expressive faces, but to me they seemed to be thinking, like Cate and I: “What was that?”

I didn’t see it, but I think it was a frog, croaking its heart out very loudly.

Heading back towards Ely, bikers passing by Cate on trike.
When we got back to town, we took the stub of a trail to the future site of the Sleeping Giant bridge, and then went up the street to got to Otis Road and head for the Prairie Park Fishery. Cate noted that she doesn’t often do that because she avoids street riding as much as possible on her trike. It’s mostly a matter of her being seen—she says bikers and drivers don’t seem to look down much and often overlook her even with the tall flag on the trike. But on Sunday, I rode behind her, and I think I’m pretty easy for drivers to notice.

Riding along Otis Road, being passed by a car.
After that side trip, we returned to the Cedar River Trail and continued north. The city paving project at the bathrooms along Cedar Lake has been completed, and it was nice to be able to water up in mid Cedar Rapids again.

Cate said I could pick the lunch spot, and I decided I was hungry when we got past the railroad overpass, so we stopped at a spaghetti eatery and carbed up. We both ordered dinner, and I think we both felt a bit over stuffed. The ride after that was a bit hazy for me—I had not slept all that well the night before and am still adjusting to Iowa time.

When we got to Center Point, Cate went into the little museum there, while I dozed on a picnic table for 15 minutes or so. I think that accounts for her nickname for me on the ride. She posted this note on Facebook: “I asked Joe if he wanted to go for a long ride today. He said sure. One of my devices says we rode 75 miles, the other says 79.5. I'd say we had a good long ride. Thanks, jet lag Joe!”

Map My Ride map.
My mileage would vary from hers a little, since I started and ended at my house, not hers, and rode streets down to the breakfast meet rather than taking the trail. Map My Ride recorded 79.24 miles for me.

The total miles aren’t even what impressed me most. There was 2,185 feet of climb, which was way more than I would have estimated—rail grades on the trail are deceptive, I guess. Mostly what surprised me was our speed. We averaged 11.4 mph and had one mile where we averaged 15.6 mph. Those are probably not very impressive numbers to fast bikers, but I’m a slow, old biker. It was much faster than the rides I took in the UK, although the main difference was the bicycle. My road bike is clearly meant for a faster pace, and that I’m sure wearing the bike shoes have power throughout the whole leg movement helps, too.

Even if the ride include any Iowa river valley for a hill climb, it was a good RAGBRAI training ride. It seems proof of concept that we can both handle the distance for a RAGBRAI day. Of course, RAGBRAI is a week.

I did have a bit of trike envy on the ride—I’m sure my sister finished the ride without the pains in the back or bottom that I suffered. An almost 80-mile ride translates into a long time to sit on a bicycle seat.

Still, I’m quite pleased. RAGBRAI, we’ll see what the weather brings, but I’m feeling ready for you.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

In Which We Journey Well Beyond Norwich

The kind of day it was in eastern England. Quite gorgeous.
Like me, my son-in-law is a bicycle commuter. He works at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich as a plant scientist, and use a bicycle year-round as his mode of transportation.

He is younger than me (not exactly a shock), in better physical shape and has a nicer bicycle than the one I rented for use this week during a visit with the family, but today I learned that the bicycle ride that we went on together to Beccles, a small town of a bit more than 9,000 people some 18 miles southeast of Norwich, was his longest in the UK so far.

Our route took us a bit more than 20 miles to get there. By the time we returned to the house in Norwich, we had ridden 46.74 miles at an average speech of a bit under 10 mph. My son-in-law often had to wait for me or return for me—I was using a heavier, slower bike, but also brought a heavier, slower rider.

It was a beautiful sunny day in England. A bit cooler than Saturday—while yesterday got into the low 80s and the locals were convinced that the world was melting (this is, apparently, considered hot in Norfolk), today the high was around 70. There was a refreshing breeze and bright sunshine, a few clouds in the sky but nonetheless about the bluest skies I’ve seen in England.

We began the ride just after 9 a.m. We rode through central town, where some large local bicycling event was starting. It was amazing, however, how quickly we left Norwich behind and were in pretty countryside, punctuated by a few villages, farms and churches. Some places looked almost like Iowa, with a rolling landscape fading into sunny distance.

We ride by start of big bike race as we pass through Chapelfield Gardens early in our bike ride.
Those farm fields weren’t exact matches—Iowa grows corn and soybeans, and that’s about it. It seems like English agriculture is more diverse. I did see a few corn fields, but also many crops that I could not identify. There were plenty of fields of what or barley, too.

At one point, a barley field by the road was waving fetchingly in the breeze, and Matt, a scientist whose main research area is barley genetics, stopped to shoot some video.

Matt makes barley movie history, shooting opening scene of "Grow the Right Thing."
Beccles, when we got there, turned out to be a pretty town. Matt had checked reviews online and selected the pub that we were to eat, but it was not yet open, so we walked for a while and paused to rest on a bench.

It was not a long wait. We went to the pub and sat inside—they have an outdoor seating area, which would have been nice on this pretty day, but I suggested we sit inside because it would be good to get a break from the sunshine.

Business street in Beccles. My great lunch, below. Unsure of pub, I think it was called "Graze." It used a zebra as its logo, but there is no pub of that name Google could find.

The lunch was very good. Matt said his surf and turf burger was filling and tasty. I ordered the pork Sunday roast, which came with veggies, potatoes roasted in goose fat and pork gravy. I added a Yorkshire pudding as an extra, and I don’t regret it in the least. The food was filling and delicious.

The ride home was a little more taxing—we were in a food coma, and maybe the pint with lunch was not as helpful as it could have been, but then again, we did need hydration.

The kind of narrow road we road most of the time (above). Fortunately, most drivers are polite. A British water tower (below) seen on the way. These are not as common to see as towers in America, I think they are sort of bigger and more scattered--and guarded more, too, apparently.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t all that late when we got to Norwich. By some magic of local knowledge, Matt plotted a route that did not take us through downtown, and suddenly we arrived.

It was a very nice bicycle ride. It was not as many miles as the 60 I rode Thursday, but I think almost as intense a ride—there was more climb today, plus the pace was faster than when I rode alone.

The ride today followed 15.6 mile solo journey I did on Saturday, the “hot” day. I plotted a route out west towards the edge of town, intending to ride there and return via the same route. However, I managed to not recognize all the turns on the way back, and got a bit lost.

I did have my cycle map with me and was able to figure out where I was—but the streets in England are a spaghetti mess and knowing where you are is not at all the same as being able to figure how to get to there from here. But I did my best, which, with my poor navigational skills, is honestly not all that well.

On my Saturday solo ride, a trail for pedestrians and bikers. This is well before I got lost.
Anyway, as I was trying to find one of the bike routes, I saw a sign pointing to Marriott’s Way, the bike trail I’ve used most often. The ride there took some time, and there were many signs and turns on the way, but I got there, rode for a while, and then returned home. When I left the house shortly before 4, I expected to return by 5, but got back around 6.

No harm done. Matt was barbecuing that night, and I texted about a mile out that I was on the way, so he could light the fire.

I missed riding Friday, which was the first sunny day in a while, but it turned out to be followed by more sunny days. All in all, with the long ride today and the 60-mile ride Thursday, I feel a bit better about RAGBRAI. I can survive two RAGBRAI-like days, and I logged well over 150 miles this week.

The rental bike gets returned tomorrow, but I do feel like I got good use out of it. It was a decent, serviceable bike, good for the riding that I used it for. I may do a quick morning ride tomorrow before returning the bike, but my biking adventures in the UK are coming to a close.

At the start of Sunday ride--the rental bike. The Bike Shop in downtown Norwich is a good place if you ever need to lease a bicycle here.
Despite navigational difficulties, it’s an activity I do recommend. Seeing the land around you from the seat of a cycle gives you a more intimate view than if you toured in a car or bus—and you can cover so much more ground than if you hike. It’s a nice way to tour a little patch of another country, as long as that country is biker friendly, which England mostly is.