Friday, March 13, 2015

In Which Spring Is Busting Out All Over

I showed the British Sea Power video “Machineries of Joy” in class this morning—we are talking about music and what songs mean to someone. I’ve used the video on this blog before, so I won’t repeat it, but this morning’s ride marked several firsts, which show that the joyful spring biking season is underway.

For one thing, because we’ve switched to Daylight Savings Time, I’m more likely to see the early morning sun. and it was very pretty coming up this morning. Not exactly a first, but the sun looked so nice and the air felt so good, that today, March 13, marks the first time I left my biking jacket at home on the morning ride.

Early morning sun shines through the trees growing near Dry Creek, seen from the C Avenue Bridge around 8:25 this morning.

It was in the 40s, and I’m not sure it was an excellent decision—I missed the jacket a bit, and the gloves even more, but still, somehow, it felt good to be riding a bit lighter.

As I crossed Blair’s Ferry Road at C Avenue, I noticed the first tracks in the mud. Some bicycle riders have been by, and I don’t like it that they left their mark. I’m usually pretty careful about staying on pavement anyway, but this is a bad time of year to stray—not only might you fall in the mud, but because the mud rests on a layer of still frozen soil, you can scrape a layer of grass off of a lawn during these March days. Please, bikers, stay on the pavement. I’m happy to report that none of the track are mine, even if I do bike this route.

Tracks in the mud. My bicycle did not make these, and I wish others wouldn't.

Spring arrived very suddenly, and although there is none in the forecast, it would not be a shock if we saw some more cold weather or snow. There’s a tradition in Iowa of having a blizzard during high school basketball state tournaments, and even if that hasn’t happened this year, it’s still March. Snow in early May is not pushing the averages too much.

Still, I always figure it’s really, really spring when the snow hills at Rockwell-Collins have melted. They haven’t yet. The snow mountain is still taller than I am, although I’m joyous at its daily shrinking size.

Snow hill in Rockwell-Collins parking lot. It probably has lost half its mass, but is still taller than me. It takes some time to melt this big blob of frozen water!
 A bit later in my ride, I paused to let traffic go by some utility worker. From a distance, I assumed that they were trimming a tree because I could hear the chainsaw. They weren’t—they were trimming a utility pole. I didn’t know you had to trim them with chainsaws—do they really grow?

Spring--more outdoor work going on. So watch out, bikers! Eastern Avenue this morning. (Why do they trim a telephone pole?)
And when I got to campus, the final pleasant spring first. I could have ridden Francis today, but have not stopped at the bike shop yet to get a new tube—so I’m still on the winter beater bike despite the warm weather.

Well, The Beast has been kind to me this winter. I’ve put in more miles than I had at this point last year, although, of course, that’s because, despite our extraordinary early March chill, last year’s winter was harsher and longer. But kudos to The Beast, too.

Anyway, the final spring first? The snow has melted from the bike rack. The first time it’s nice enough for me to park my bike outside Warde Hall.

Still waiting for those snow hills to melt, and I’m still betting we’ll see snowflakes again, but hooray for spring!

Sure sign of spring--I park The Beast in a bike rack, which recently was cleared of snow by Mother Nature. Below, as you can see, closer to Warde Hall there is still some snow to melt.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In Which RAGBRAI Sets the Full Route

All route maps from See them at:
Well, it’s time for Team Joe to get organized. Susan is getting married, so won’t be with us this year. Jon is probably going to be doing RAGBRAI, but has arragted to ride as part of his group of tech friends from the Seattle area. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jon, even if he’s going to skip the pleasure of camping with the Big Snore (aka, CR Biker).

Anyway, Cate, Brigid, Eldon, I hope you’re all in. For the day into and out of Hiawatha, we’ll probably have some added members—I think Theresa may ride at least one of those days.

The route this year looks very interesting. RAGBRAI announced the full route Sunday, and if you follow the link on the first map above, you can watch their video discussion of the route and read what they say about it. Hilly the first day, which is no surprise, but kind of hilly the day we pull into Hiawatha, too.

The first few days will take me through the old neighborhood—it used to be that Sioux City was “the big town,” and when we needed to go somewhere with books story and toy stores for Christmas shopping, it means the drive west an hour to Sioux City. Audrey taught there at both Briar Cliff and Morningside.

The first overnight town is Storm Lake, where I worked for 10 years when we lived in Early. The next day will feel like a reenactment of many Friday or Saturday drives—we go through towns like Newell, Fonda, Pomeroy (if the weather is good and I feel like some gravel riding). I was in many of those places when I had middle school or high school kids attending St. Mary’s in Storm Lake. Glad I won’t have to be in a cold bleacher at a track meet this time!

Of course, later in the week, we pull into Hiawatha. Honestly, that will put us closer to my house than the year we rode into Cedar Rapids. I had to get a ride home that year—this year we’ll be so close that we’ll probably just peddle over.

Finishing in Davenport will be nice, too. The victory dinner will, I hope, include some Quad City family members.

Well, the details of the route make RAGBRAI 43 look pretty good. April 1 is the full week registration deadline.

Team Joe: Assemble!

And maybe I'll go to the Sioux City party, because, you know: 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In Which The Lights Are On And Off

View from a loading dock. I've arrived at MMU on Monday, March 8, the day after the clock change. This is around 8 a.m., but the sun is just coming up over campus. I had my lights on for the morning ride.

The time change this week has my biking upside-down. Just last week, I rode with sunglasses on in the morning and lights at night.

But on Monday, I rode with lights in the morning. I still needed lights (it was a late night) at night, too, but it was much lighter later than it has been.

I miss the sun in the morning, but I hope on Wednesday I will have a little time for a bit of a longer ride in the afternoon on my way home. The warmer weather cries out for it.

Tonight, I had a bell choir rehearsal until 6 p.m.—and rode halfway home before I flipped my lights on. It’s that light that late now.

I suddenly wish that I was retired. I don’t want to be that old, but I wouldn’t mind the time for longer bike rides during this first warm week of spring after that bitter Februrary!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

In Which The Switch To Spring Is Thrown

Me, after morning ride Thursday.
Note beard ice.

Lets hope it stays thrown. I’m ready for spring biking.

I biked four days this week—Monday, Thursday and Friday commutes to work, and Saturday a longer ride, partly to go to a Mount Mercy-Habitat for Humanity house build.

The coldest day was Thursday, when the air temperature was well below zero, but I rode anyway. And despite the frozen beard by the time I got to campus, my full winter regalia worked decently, and I did not regret the ride.

It was much more pleasant by Friday, and pretty warm on Saturday. Many more people were out on the Cedar River Trail Saturday, which felt like the first really spring-like day in Iowa.

Well, another winter, knock on wood, over. For biking, it was not as bad at the Great Long Winter of 2014. February was indeed cold this year, but March, although it started frigid, is warming up much earlier.

And I have to note that, in my experience, the streets of Cedar Rapids have been cleared much more efficiently than I am used to. I have had to change to my commuting route a bit, as some of the quieter streets I would normally bike on are too ice and snow covered—but F and E avenues, and most other streets, have been reasonably cleared.

I've complained about Cedar Rapids snow removal before, but not this year. So, thanks CR. Keep up the snow plowing.
Lennox Avenue NE on Monday. I have not tried to ride on it since. But, overall, streets have been better than par this winter.

Same day, drive leading to central campus at MMU. Facilities department has done excellent snow removal this season. And more CR streets look like this than look like the one above, and that has not bee in the case in the past. Not sure what the city is doing differently, but I hope they keep it up.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

In Which Spring Riding Begins with Ice on the Lake

Someone is out on the lake being towed by a parachute. Some man, I assume.

March 1—start of spring. Well, true, it’s a few weeks until the equinox, but this is the month when we usually see the first flowers.

Not that there were any flowers, or signs of them, today. We had snow last night, but luckily it was very light. In fact, with temperatures in the 20s and bright March sunshine for much of the day—the pavement was pretty clean.

So I rode my winter beater bike to campus. First, however, I indulged in a little detour by taking the Cedar River Trail. There were a few snowy and icy parts, but the trail was fairly clear. There were a small number of joggers and bikers out. I don’t know what it says about my gender, but the tiny number of trail users on this cold late winter day were mostly men—I think I saw one woman in a group of mostly male bikers, and otherwise it was just guys.

I wasn't close enough to confirm his gender, but one man, I assume, was even using a parachute to tow himself across the ice of Cedar Lake. He was at the south end, far from the tiny patch of open water at the north end, and the ice pushed out of the lake on the short seems quite thick, but I still don’t think I’ll take The Beast across the lake.

At the north end of Cedar Lake, many ducks congregated in a tiny area of open water. As I approached, many of them flew up and then walked along the top of a nearby train. Where is Samuel Jackson? Wherever he is, perhaps he's very tired of all these ducks on a train.

Anyway, it was still refreshing to be out. The later dark ride home at night was a bit more harrowing—on the quiet streets there are more icy or snowy stretches then on the trail—and the temperature was dramatically dropping.

Still, all in all, I got at least one day of biking in. I hope I manage more biking than in the cold February that is mercifully over.

After all, it is time for spring!

Creek that runs into Cedar Lake--some open water. I just thought it looked nice.

Monday, February 23, 2015

In Which a New Bike Gang Forms

Mark, Joe, Jacob, Gabe and Tanner--new MMU bike club. Gabe made a pretty cool looking logo,
which you can't see on the screen of his tablet.

Beware the biker gang, they look fierce. You can’t see it, but one of them is holding a fierce new logo, too.

The preliminary logo.
What happens in bike club
stays in bike club.
I went to the first meeting of the MMU bike club Monday night. It was a small gathering at this first meeting, but I hope the group grows and thrives.

They are making plans and hope to organize some rides in the coming weeks—probably not before late March or April, though. Still, it’s good to see MMU students getting interested in pedal power!

Friday, February 20, 2015

In Which The Eagle Quest Has a Tiny Success

The Beast parked in my office hallway today. Because, below, the rack is blocked by snow.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, it was just too darn cold to ride a bicycle. Wind chills of 30 below will cure me of the biking habit.

But today, the morning temperature was in the positive zone. A stiff, cold wind was blowing, but the chill was just not as bitter as it has been. So, I decided to take the chance. It worked out OK—I got a bit cool on the way in, but it wasn't too bad. In the middle of the day, the sun came out, and I was looking forward to a sunny bike ride home this afternoon.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the trail. Before I left campus, clouds rolled back in.

However, the temperature did not drop, and even if it was chilly as I started my afternoon ride, I was well dressed for it. I swung down to Cedar Lake, hoping that maybe the recent cold snap had reduced available open water, and perhaps some eagles might be found by that body of water.

Nope. But since the day was, well not really nice but not totally crappy, I decided to keep going and check out the river. I've recently ridden east to cross at the lion bridge, and I thought that possibly I saw an eagle in the distance when I rode that way, but I’m not sure. So I decided to head west today instead, biking towards the Ellis Trail.

That’s a slightly dicey choice. Because of construction, finding a bicycle route to cross the river downtown isn't easy right now—and I ended up riding on a sidewalk so I could cross going the wrong way on a one-way street. But I made it to the west side, and turned west on the riverfront walk, heading towards the five-in-one dam.

That’s where I was hoping to find a few eagles. The churning water keeps a large area of river open, and probably makes life a bit easier for a carnivorous bird that has a taste for fish.

5-in-1 dam and river. Looks like good fishing area to me. Where are the eagles?

Lots of birds, some of them large. But not our nation's symbolic bird.

Pigeons roost on the I-380 bridge, the top level of the 5-in-1 dam. Looks like another snack bar for eagles, to me.

I suppose one issue might be that a lot of the river is open water despite recent cold. There are lots of spots for eagles to fish in.
But, no. There were lots of birds in and near the open water—geese, some sort of gull, pigeons—many of which would probably not be hanging around if an eagle were nearby in the sky. If an eagle can’t grab a fish, it will gladly snack on a pigeon.

After I crossed the dam, the river closed into a solid sheet of ice. It didn't look like eagle country to me, and I headed west just to finish the loop of the trail by the river, planning to try some other day to find the big dinosaurs.

And I decided to stop, briefly, and photograph the river.

This is what the river looks like all frozen over. Amanda Moscou,  I should caption this picture "spring in Iowa."

That’s when I noticed something. There was a nest in a large tree across the river—a large nest high up in a very large tree. And sitting in the tree next to the nest (the bird was in the next tree, not the tree with the nest) was a bird. At that distance, I wasn't at first 100 percent sure—but it looked pretty big. I think in this area only a turkey or an eagle would be that size—as the dark bird looked way too large to be a hawk. Still, at this distance I was partly guessing at size.

The bird just sat there, but then it turned its head. And when the angle on its head changed, even at a distance where I could barely see it, I was suddenly sure.

That head: white. A big dark bird with a white head that sits high in a tree by a river? Here in Iowa, there’s only one option: eagle.

I put my compact point-and-shoot  camera at max and tried to snap a photo. It was not easy—when the little camera is at maximum range setting, it’s easy to “lose” an object because the field of vision is so small. And camera shake might make the photo blurry, anyway.

So I knelt down behind a park bench that was beside the trail, resting the camera on the back of the bench. I must have looked odd to passing motorists—who is that strange man who prays alone at a bench by an icy river? As I shot, I could not tell if the pictures were clear, and as you can see, they are not super sharp. But, they are sharp enough. The photos confirm it. That dot on the horizon, maybe more than a mile away from me across a wide stretch of the Cedar River, was for sure a bald eagle.

Two views. You can see the head, the body shape and, if you look close, the white tail. Even, barely, the pointy curved-down beak. Definitely an eagle.

The nest is in the tree to the left, just a bit beyond the field of view for this photo. This bird is a mile or so west of the dam,but then again, as big as eagles are and as powerfully as they fly, it's a pretty easy short flight for this bird. Maybe it does go their for lunch, fish or pigeon.

Well, I can’t whine anymore about not seeing any eagles. Granted, in the past I've been much closer to them—maybe 20 yards away when a group of them roosted in trees by Cedar Lake. Once, on a March bike ride we (Matt, one of my sons but I am not sure which one, and I) passed very close by an eagle in a tree.

So, this is only a tiny success, a distant look at an eagle. Still, it beats not seeing an eagle.

TV reporter from KWWL was by the river, too. Not for eagles--she said she was shooting a story at the site where a car eluding police recently hit a school bus. The suspect faces more charges and police are seeking him.