Saturday, September 15, 2018

In Which We Ride Dowtown

Group image before the ride.
When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go … downtown. So I am starting with an homage to Petula Clark. If you’re old like me, you’re welcome for the earworm.

On Friday, Bike Club went for a ride, the first regular ride of the fall semester. There were five students on the ride, and although they all resisted my excellent advice that helmets are a good idea, it was a warm, pleasant afternoon for a quick, refreshing ride.

I suggested heading down to Greene Square in downtown Cedar Rapids for our ride, and the students like the idea. However, a passing gentleman who was looking for the music department snapped our pre-ride group picture and suggested the CEMAR trail.

Hmmm. But that newish trail doesn’t really go anywhere besides the Plaster Complex, so we stuck with our original Greene Square plan.

I was riding my hybrid bike, and was in the lead. We headed down the Hill.

I have a several advantages on downhills—my bicycle rolls with less resistance than the heavier bikes MMU owns, so the lightness of my bike is one advantage. Then there is the overall weight of the rider. Gravitational acceleration is a constant no matter the weight, but increased mass of a biker does help with more force that does more to overcome air resistance, or something like that. I don’t know, I’m a writer. But anyway, I have often observed, with many, many field trials that fat old men can zoom down a hill more efficiently than most other bikers.

And I presume the advantage comes more from “fat” than from “old,” although maybe old men can afford better bicycles, but that’s an untested assumption.

Anyway, I ended up well ahead of the students and found myself waiting now and then. Perhaps my helmet just made me more aerodynamic, too.

Riding along Cedar Lake. I got ahead and stop to make image of club riders as they approach. And no, the student on the left did not ride on the grass, I think she is coming over to check on me, as a young person who protects old people.
We rode along the west edge of Cedar Lake and then headed downtown. It was humid and warm, and I think I was the only rider with a water bottle, so when we got to Green Square, the agenda item was drinks at the water fountain by the trail. We then rode slowly through the park (I went through the splash pad, but I think most students went around. Well, they weren’t wearing helmets.)

Chatting after getting drinks and before heading back t campus.
On the way back to campus, two of the students were chatting. We had seen a woman who was not in our group take a minor tumble—nothing serious, and she had friends to aid her, although what went through my mind was “students, did you notice she has a helmet on?”

Anyway, one of the students was telling another something about what happens when she is with “old people.” I was right behind them, and did caution the student, jokingly, about what would be said next. It turns out the speaking student works with elderly people in a nursing home and feels obligated to protectively look after them.

Well, that seems nice. Says the old man.

Long shadows by Cedar Lake on our way back to campus.
Overall, it was a very agreeable ride. My Bike Club leader rejected the idea, for now, of riding up Mt. Trashmore, but we’ll see.

Finally, before the ride, we noted that a seat and seat post had been removed from one bicycle. Another bike is completely gone—bike seven may have been stolen, we presume. Blah. Earlier this semester, we lost a bike that had been left locked along the Cedar River Trail and was damaged beyond repair. Now, sadly, bad things are starting to happen to bikes right on campus.

That’s not an uplifting note to end on, I’m sure. But despite the unpleasant reminders of the darker side of human nature, the first club ride was very nice, and more MMU Bike Club rides are to come. Watch the MMU app for times, as the club will probably vary its rides so that students who were at athletic practices late on a Friday afternoon can participate.

And we may ride downtown again:




Thursday, September 13, 2018

In Which I Climb a New Mountain

Bikes parked near start of trail up Mount Trashmore, in the background.

I wasn’t sure whether I would go—I’m very busy this fall—but the opening ceremony for biking and hiking trails on Mount Trashmore was rescheduled for today, after being delayed by high water on the Cedar River.

In the end, I did go. I’m glad I did. I wondered if the views from the top of a closed landfill would live up to the hype. I would say yes. And it was just too nice of a day—a warm fall day—to not bike downtown for the ceremony on the south side of the river.

In case I went, this morning I decided to take my good camera and ride my mountain bicycle to work.

I got done with morning meetings with students, and packed up to leave campus around 11:15. I wasn’t sure if I was leaving myself enough time. But I arrived at the site by maybe 11:50, so I had plenty of time. I chatted with Claire, a former student who is a radio personality in Cedar Rapids, and had time to take some pictures before the brief ribbon cutting took place.

The road up Mt. Trashmore.
Then it was time to get on the bike and ride up the hill. The road up is one of three trails on Mount Trashmore—there is the access road, open to walkers and bikers, a walkers-only path, and a single lane dirt track that is only for bicycles headed downhill. The Gazette called it a “roller coaster for bicycles,” which I think was pretty true.

Anyway, the climb does go on for a while, and is on sometimes loose gravel. I was very glad to be on the mountain bike.

After a climb and a bend, you arrive at the lookout, but you can continue up a bit to a dead end at the top of the hill. The view from both the top and the lookout were quite fine this pretty fall day.


Pavilion to look out on the city.

View from the top.

I parked The Fancy Beast bicycle and walked around some, enjoying the sights, taking pictures and recovering from the ride up the hill. I also had a decision to make: Take the road back down, or try a narrow dirt path with some bumps and switchbacks—a path designed for and only appropriate for mountain bikes.

 I’m not much of a daredevil, and the trail, which switched back and forth in view of the lookout, looked a little dicey. But I decided, what the heck. So I hopped on my bicycle and began the descent.


Watching bikers headed down single-lane dirt downhill mountain bike trail. And, below, the start of the trail, which I did ride down. Wheee!


My free shirt.
Well. It was a good test of my balance and brakes. I did skid on some of those treacherous turns, and rode on air briefly on some of the bumps. I think that my body had a lot less work to do, but nonetheless the downhill ride was probably as much of a workout for my heart as the uphill had been.

At the bottom, I enjoyed a nice cold water bottle and banana, and even picked up a free T-shirt the solid waste agency was giving away. It had been a very fun trip up the mountain, and I was glad I had been there and had climbed it. And glad I had decided to zoom down it.

As I rode back to campus, I was on the trail at Cedar Lake. As if the lake were a bit jealous of a riverside trash heap stealing the day, a group of Monarch butterflies suddenly appeared and began frolicking and drinking in flowers on the banks. Well, the biking day had already been full, but became just a little bit cooler.

Mt. Trashmore trails are only open when the landfill site is, and signs say you have to check in. I would encourage you to go try it on a nice day. And ride a mountain bike, even if you decide to stick to the road. Neither the gravel road up the hill nor the dirt path down it are road or hybrid bike places. But Mount Trashmore is still a nice ride—and one I’m sure I’ll do several times next summer for hill practice as I get ready for RAGBRAI.

Seen on the ride back--Monarchs at Cedar Lake.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

In Which Tuesday Brings Some Wet Scenery

Dry Creek Tuesday morning--more like wet river.

It was a nice day for biking Tuesday, although very warm and humid during the afternoon ride home.

But it was also just a bit eerie. Days of rain have swollen the creek behind my house to modest river size. While I am grateful for the ride today, I am a bit apprehensive—the Cedar River is on the rise, as it every other waterway in this part of Iowa. While the pavement was nice and dry, the world looked like a slightly sad, damp place today.

Afternoon clouds at MMU.


And the rain is supposed to return tonight—I may have to drive in the morning.

The Linn County Mayor’s Bike Ride, which was to also be an MMU Bike Club ride, didn’t happen Monday due to a morning storm. But on Saturday, I replaced a worn tyre on my hybrid bike Clarence, and on Sunday I used it for a family ride to an apple orchard in Marion. It was in full “bus” mode, with a 2-year-old in the toddler seat and an older grandson on the Tag-A-Long.

And there was pie after that, so even in the wet season, there is some summer fun.

Here’s hoping that the open path to the Gulf of Mexico won’t stay so far ajar too much longer. This has been an odd year, with dry patches and extensive wet stretches—a year that you can believe in climate change because it’s too obvious to ignore.

Well, at least I did get to ride both Sunday and Tuesday. We’ll see what the rest of the week brings. Mt. Trashmore trails are set to open later this week—we’ll see if I can sample them, or if that even happens as most routes down there via bike may be closed by flooding.

Bike on campus Tuesday morning.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

In Which We Say Goodbye and Hello to Bike 3

Bike 3, locked to the fence, missing a broken rear wheel. To what use is a broken wheel?

Sunday: We, the MMU Bike Club, had a fun ride to Dairy Queen in Hiawatha. But along the Cedar River Trail, the back axle of one bike snapped, ending the ride for one student. Another student used Snapchat to share her location, and the Bike Club president and an orientation leader showed up in a car for a rescue.

So that part of the story had a happy ending.

We locked the bike to a fence, planning to get it later—and, in retrospect, I should have gone back that night. Because when the Bike Club president and I loaded up some Mount Mercy University bicycles to take to the bike shop for repairs Friday, and we went to the trail to rescue Bicycle Number 3, a sad sight awaited us.

Bike 3 had been attacked. The rear wheel (which, if you’re following along at home, had a broken axle) had been ripped off, with the bike's chain broken in the process. The bike lock itself appeared to have saw marks on it, but was not broken.

A new wheel, control cables for the rear, a new rear derailleur, tire, tube, etc.: it would have cost $275 to repair Bike 3. A new bicycle of the same make and style is about $350. At that price differential, I didn’t think it fiscally wise to repair Bike 3, and the student Bike Club president, who was with me, agreed.

It’s not clear for sure that we will buy a new Bike 3. In fact, because I took in an old bicycle that I own to be serviced and donated to MMU, the Bike Club may already have a new Bike 3.

But, goodbye, old Bike 3. Your fate was a bit sad. It’s hard to imagine the mind of a determined thief who would expend the time and effort to break a chain to steal the broken rear wheel of a rather marginal old bicycle—but there you have it. If it’s not nailed down, it can be stolen—and if it is nailed down, some people would pull nails or break chains even if the prize seems of little value.

And welcome, new Bike 3. It’s a mountain bike that is sturdy, was my youngest son’s when he was in high school, and served me as my winter beater bicycle until I switched to another, higher quality used mountain bike. The Beast, may you enjoy second life as MMU Bike 3. And old MMU Bike 3, a sad farewell to thee.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

In Which School Starts with Several Rides

MMU students on first ride of the year.

Rain is in the forecast for Friday, so today’s rides probably were the final ones of the work week—the first week of school.

The week began with a bit of an adventure—an MMU Bike Club ride Sunday. Two bikes were checked out and two others were unfit to ride, so we ended up short on bicycles. The plan was to ride to Dairy Queen in Hiawatha, but on the way there, the back axel of another bike snapped. Fortunately, the club president was with another student in a car. The lame bike was locked to a fence, and the student rider got to DQ in an auto.

It was still a fun ride, if way more eventful than such rides usually are.

On Monday, I rode my regular work bike, but noticed the rear tire is so worn that the color layer under the rubber is showing—so that bike is now awaiting a new tire before I ride it again.

The rest of the week, I rode either my road bike or mountain bike. And there were many nice rides. My wife and I started taking evening rides post supper, which has been fun—we rode 7 miles Wednesday and 6 miles Thursday.

C Avenue pond as I ride home Wednesday evening.
 And on Thursday, I was taking care of a 5-year-old grandson who starts kindergarten this week. The rest of the school began today, but his first day is tomorrow. He was game for a bike ride to a park, so we used an attached half-bike, rode to several parks and to campus today.

It was an almost cool, fall-like week. My biking miles are inevitably going down, as RAGBRAI training is over and school takes more of my times. So it was nice to have some good biking during this first week of school.

I've removed attached seat, as grandson will ride home with his grandmother in van. But I  has some fun rides with a grandson, and an evening ride, on the mountain bike, here tied up at the Warde Hall bike rack.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In Which Baby J Rides a Bicycle

Trying on the helmet. Baby doesn't seem to mind it.
Baby J is just past 6 months of age—a bit young for the toddler seat I use on my commuting bicycle.

But he is visiting from England and won’t be around all that long—and we, his family, wondered if he would enjoy a bicycle ride.

The Wee Ride seat that my wife and I purchased at Wal-Mart some 5 or 6 years ago has seen a lot of use. Each grandchild, from about the age of 11 months to about 2 or 2 ½, has been able to use the seat to go on bicycle rides with grandpa. The only exception has been the ones who life across the ocean—J has two older sisters who have started to bicycle in England, which seems a rather bike-friendly place to get started on this adventure.

8-year-old granddaughter ready for a ride on Monday. It's a different attachment on a different bike--she is ready to ride a Schwinn attached bike borrowed from another daughter. She rode the blue one shown below on Tuesday, too.
Anyway, with other grandchildren, results have varied. All of the children have enjoyed rides now and then, but some have been more addicted to biking than others. My next youngest grandson, for instance, often wants a bicycle ride—sadly, this is probably his final season using this system, as he is approaching the size where the toddler seat won’t fit him anymore, but in another year he will have graduated to the Tag-A-Long attachment.

Tuesday, late in the afternoon, for some reason, the curiosity bug bit all of us. I had inquired about taking the older visiting granddaughters for bicycle rides—the idea was approved, but I can’t remember who asked—my wife or my daughter—is it time for J to try a ride?

Well, we don’t know if we have a helmet for such a tiny head. I found one of our smallest, adjusted it down, and we fit it on his head. Turns out he has a large head for a baby, and it seemed big, but snug enough.

6-year-old grandchild rides on Lindale Trail. She seems to be liking the ride.
What about the toddler seat? There are two in the garage, one that I have used for years on my bike and a second one that another daughter used with her sons. My daughter’s Wee Ride seat is newer, so we chose to try that seat (the newer model seems to have a bit more padding than the older one). I adjusted the feet rests up for shorter legs, and my wife and I spent some time shortening the torso and shoulder straps.

And then J was placed in his throne. He seemed to fit well, and we strapped him in. The concern had been, at age 6 months he can sit, but would he be stable enough to not flop over too much during a bike ride?

I rolled up the street a short way and returned so his mother and grandmother could check on him. He was sitting in front of me, and I could hear that he was not making any unhappy sounds, but I could not see his face.

According to mom and grandma, he looked happy, so we left on another short ride, just a few houses up the street and back. I don’t think J is ready for long rides yet, but little excursions seemed to please him.

It’s a pleasure to play a small part in introducing another generation to the joys of biking. After J’s short rides, I took his two sisters on pre-supper rides, too. The younger one rode the Lindale Trail, just the paved part near C Avenue since it had rained earlier in the day. The older one doesn’t like to cross the C Avenue bridge, so we looped through some neighborhood streets.

The sky was growing grey as I finished riding with the third grandchild. We put the bike and Tag-A-Long attachment away, and headed in for supper before the raindrops fell.

There weren’t a lot of miles on Tuesday, but it was still a great biking day!

J and I return, smiles on both of our faces.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

In Which Team Joe Does RAGBRAI 2018

Team Joe in Boone on Tuesday. We stopped for lunch at a house of a college friend of Cate and Brigid. We stayed in Ames that night with another member of the Cate and Brigid ISU mafia. And our Newton host was a friend of Brigid and Eldon. We were aided this year by both the kindness of strangers and the kindness of old friends.

What will we recall about RAGBRAI 2018? A lot, I am sure. It was the year of the tyre trouble, as three of four team members, including your correspondent, suffered flats. It was the year of the guardian angels, as two of three team members with flats were quickly aided by helpful members of the United States Air Force. It was the year when we thought anybody out of state who did RAGBRAI for the first time might not get the right idea about Iowa—lows in the 50s and highs in the 80s are not all that typical in the last full week of July.

Overall, it was a grand ride.

I rode five days of RAGBRAI this year, about par for my recent rides. The ride in total was a bit over 400 miles, but for me it was about 370 miles. We had a few passing sprinkles on the road, but the weather was so cooperative that when we did have rain, it was while we were in town. Everything got a bit wet in the campground in Jefferson—it was sunny when we left for supper, and we had not really battened down the hatches before we toddled off to eat. Despite that bit of dampness, it was a gorgeous week.

Morning view from a ridge top on Monday.
It was not without some problems. The first day I rode, I felt sometimes awful—faint and dizzy and I wondered if all the practice rides had been enough. That, however, was a long day—more than 70 miles—and a hilly day with over 2,500 feet of climb. And while no day in RAGBRAI was truly hot, it was 90ish warm, one of the warmer days this year.

My wife says I probably got dehydrated, and I think she is right. As fate and H2O would have it, I felt pretty much fine the rest of the week—pretty much, although my old back and my old knees did let me know that they didn’t always appreciate everything.

Team Joe is aging, and when my sisters and I were going through the extended rituals required to get out of a camp chair or arise from the ground, there were grunts and groans that we began to consider the old person arising soundtrack of RAGBRAI.

Tall bike casts shadow Tuesday. No, non-Iowans, this was not a typical summer week.

 We learned to persevere this year. My front derailleur was a bit touchy, and once or twice a day would over shift when I was trying to go from the small to the large cog. Fortunately, the chain never got stuck, it just meant I had to immediately stop and get my fingers greasy putting the chain back on. I thought it was my mechanical glitch of the ride, but actually it was the minor annoyance in the year of the flat tyre.

It began in Baxter on Wednesday. We were just nearing the edge of town, we were beyond the walking scrum and again riding, when there was a dramatic pop. I think I was actually in the lead—not where I usually am (slow Joe), but I heard the pop and my sister yell something.

Cate’s back tyre had blown. As we started to look at it, a random stranger, a nice older gentleman who appeared to be in our age group, stopped to lend a hand and chat. And a few seconds later, the woman who took command popped over.

Major Caroline had a force of personality and instantly was in charge. She took the wheel, helped random helpful man take off the tyre, and found the problem right away. It wasn’t a rock or other sharp object—the tube had ruptured on its side because the side bead of the tyre had failed.

USAF Major Caroline informed Cate that she needed to walk back through town to the bike shop and get a new tyre there. We four (Cate, Brigid, random helpful man and I) nodded in agreement. We were prepared to storm Normandy if Major Caroline told us to.

Major Caroline (and random, kindly helpful man--it's not just the Air Force, RAGBRAI riders in general are often ready to help).

Entering Nevada on Wednesday.

Well, as blowouts go, it was well timed because it was in a RAGBRAI town where one of the roving bike shops did have a repair kiosk. We bid goodbye to Major Caroline and all hoped in our hearts we would meet again, and Brigid and I idly chatted as Cate walked back, wheel in hand, to the bike repair tent.

Bike shop guy told her that she probably had over inflated her tyre slightly, the day had warmed up and “poof.” We vowed to watch it a bit with the air from that point on.

As it turned out, tyre mayhem wasn’t done with us yet. On Thursday morning, my penultimate ride of RAGBRAI, Eldon and I were riding together. We were still in Newton, riding along in the stream of morning bicycle traffic, when Eldon hailed me and we pulled over into a small campground parking area.

You know the Allstate ads featuring actor Dean Winters as Mayhem? I could imagine his voice. “I’m a pothole in Newton, Iowa. You have self-sealing tubeless tyres on your fancy British tricycle, but I’m going to cut a half-inch gash in one that will have it bubbling out sealant like a toddler with a cold bubbles out snot.”

Another flat tyre. The good news is that there was a spare tyre in Marco, our support vehicle. The bad news is that the spare tyre was in Marco, our support vehicle, so there were several phone calls, an interlude of waiting, and then the rest of Team Joe (and our kind host Duane) showed up.

Cate put the spare tyre on a pump and walked over with it hanging there, and the resulting “tyre cross” became a new unofficial symbol of Team Joe and the year of the tyre.

Camp view in Sigourney on Thursday.

The pump cross in Newton.

Chain came off--It's back on now, almost.

Rolling on hills on Thursday.

I ended up leaving Newton alone, as changing a tubeless tyre turns out to be a more involved and lengthier process than a regular tyre—you trade the smaller likelihood of a flat with that system for the greater investment in time should a flat occur—although Eldon caught up with me well before we stopped for lunch that day.

But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more. Fast forward to Saturday, the final ride. Brigid was laid low in the morning. The plan was that all four of us would ride that final day—family from CR would handle the logistics of getting Marco—but on Friday night, my delayed twin sister ate some tasty Indian dish that contained cauliflower.

Which, it seems, is something Brigid ought not do. On the way to Iowa City, she became very nauseated, and unable to ride. Eldon stayed with her to tend to her, and Cate and I rode alone that day. The sickness was short lived, and Brigid and Eldon were fortunately able to join us for an Ethiopian feast at a Coralville restaurant that night, but on Saturday’s ride, it was just Cate and I.

We were nearing Atalissa after a pleasant, not hilly roll through Johnson County. The road suddenly seemed very rough to me—way too rough. I pulled over, and felt my back tyre. This time where was no dramatic poof, no blowout noise, but the tyre was completely deflated.

So Cate and I upended the bike and began the process of changing the tube. There was an obvious hole in my tyre, but the tyre appeared sound enough for continued use. I had a spare tube with me and Cate had a pump. As we worked, another rider had trouble and pulled over on the same bridge, and then three Air Force guys showed up.

We were mildly amused because we had been there longer, but the USAF helped second rider first—but it didn’t matter and I don’t want to sound like I am complaining at all. In fact, the USAF was nothing but helpful, and even if they aided the other guy first, they didn’t hesitate to come over and lend us a hand, too. We were having a little trouble putting the tyre back on, and a strong young gentleman from the Air Force provided the needed hand strength. And Cate’s frame pump was being a little finicky, so the Air Force whipped out one of theirs, and two of them inflated my tyre.

The Air Force is indeed the guardian angels of RAGBRAI, and even if we were both secretly missing Major Caroline, we also very much appreciated the aid of the Air Force dudes.

Air Force team rolls out of camp in Onawa on first day of RAGBRAI. As it turned out, these guardian angles often aided Team Joe (among, I am sure, many others).

In Atalissa, I stopped at the bike repair tent, but just for air. It’s hard to fully inflate a road bike tyre with a frame pump. We had second breakfast at the fire station there and then were then on our way.

There is an adaptive bicycle group that rides RAGBRAI—tandem bicycles where the stoker has limited or no eye sight, for example, or people who don’t have the use of their legs riding specialized trikes with hand pedals. As it turned out, that group was staying inside the school in Onawa and began RAGBRAI accidentally riding with Team Joe.

At the end of RAGBRAI, Cate and I had arranged to meet our ride at a rendezvous point—the QC Expo Center—located in Rock Island, Illinois. As we crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River, we had a delay as this low bridge swings open for barge traffic, and we noted we were surrounded by the same adaptive bicycle group who were using the same meeting point.

West Liberty, Saturday. Stopping to fill my "bomb bay," a small bag on my bike, with seed balls to toss in ditches. One of the Monarch butterfly support group members.

RAGBRAI 2018 is now in our rearview mirrors. As we look back, it wasn’t one of the RAGBRAIs with the most dramatic scenery—no Lansing or Guttenberg mountains. But it was full of the rolling hills and country vistas that make Iowa so pleasant on those few, rare, beautiful summer days that for some reason this week was full of.

Despite mayhem, blowouts and sharp objects on the road, it was a very satisfying ride. May the blessings of the pump and tyre cross be upon you.

Cate borrows my camera for a dam selfie. The dam is behind us. We are delayed in crossing the Mississippi by barge traffic, but really don't mind much. We have finished RAGBRAI!