Saturday, September 9, 2017

In Which We Take a Trail Less Ridden

Heading west on Grant Wood Trail to tunnel under Highway 13. We can't see it yet, but there is not a trail beyond the tunnel.
Have you ever been on the Grant Wood hiking/bike trial east of Marion?

I tried it today for the first time. After doing some schoolwork in the morning (and other unfortunate events that Amanda knows about, but the rest of you are in ignorance of although a yummy breakfast that must be atoned for was involved), my wife and I decided it was time for a bike ride.

We had talked about the Grant Wood Trail before—we’ve noticed signs for it east of Marion on Highway 13. We parked one day earlier this summer at the east trail end, and noted the surface was not paved, so today, when we decided to finally ride it, we thought it best to bring mountain bikes.

Sometimes the trail was sort of a grass-rock mix, and sometimes, below, was more just a grassy track.

That proved to be wise. If you ride the Grant Wood Trail, do it on a bike with wide tyres—the ground is grass at some points, and was, despite the drought we are now in, a bit soft and muddy in one low, shady spot. You don’t want a road bike on this trail, and even a hybrid would be dicey. It is quite nice, however, on a mountain bike, and you’ll be grateful for the shock absorbers such bikes typically have.

After parking in a small gravel lot just off of Highway 13 near Highway 151, we started off heading west because it looked like there was a tunnel under Highway 13, and we wondered where the trail went into Marion. It turns out that it doesn’t. There is a tunnel under the highway, but it’s the far west end of the trail. So after the quick tunnel passage, we turned around and did our best 1970s rock band imitation. We headed east.

If you’re old enough, that may have launched a frat party soundtrack in your head. If not, see below. You’re welcome.

The Grant Wood Trail is fairly straight and not hilly. It does make up for it, however, with hidden bumps. It is, at points, like riding across a rather rough lawn, with little dips, sticks and unexpected tree roots. Still, despite being a bit on the bumpy side, if you ride it slowly (we were going about 7 mph) on a mountain bike, it’s also a very pleasant trail to be riding on during a late summer/early fall sunny afternoon.

And there are some bonus sights. We early passed a new park just south of the trail—so new, it appears that it’s not open yet. We could glimpse a big hole in the ground that we assume will be a pond when the weather turns wet. In future rides, this may be a nice picnic stop.

A little farther along the trail, an interesting sign marked a boggy area that, a few thousand years ago, was a small lake where a bison drowned. His bones were found in the 1960s. The animal was not a fossil—it died recently enough that the uncovered bones were still just bones. And yet, it belonged to a species of bison that is now extinct, the almost immediate ancestor of the buffalo of today.

Well, hello there, bison great, great, great grandpa. You were an unexpected bonus to encounter on this fine day.

Seen along the way--a future park (below) and past bison (below).

It was a day of pleasant sunshine, comfortable shade and a multitude of grasshoppers. There were a few screams and yelps from my wife when a jumper would hitch a short ride on her body. I’m happy to report that, for whatever reason, I was not a locust bus myself.

The yelps were few and far between, like the hidden roots. They did not spoil what was a pleasant ride. In fact, despite the jolts of the uneven trail, we were not ready to stop when the trail came to an interruption at a gravel road after a bit more than 3 miles. A sign said it continued somewhere, but we didn’t know how to get there and weren’t willing to try on unknown roads.

So our whole ride was 7 miles (we rode back to the Highway 13 tunnel just to ensure we reached the 7 target) and a bit more than an hour. That time included stopping to read the buffalo sign and peer at its spot of earthly departure, and a pause at the east end for a granola bar break.

The trail (above) continues somewhere. Our bikes parked a bit more than 3 miles from where we started (below).

All in all, I would say the Grant Wood Trail is worth your time, if you have not yet tried it. Do bring a mountain bike, keep a careful watch on the changing trail conditions and pick a very dry day. I hesitate to think what the boggy part of the trail would have been like if we weren’t in a drought. My wife noted she would like to bring grandchildren to hike part of it—I’m sure it works well as a walking trail.

I don’t think we’ll be riding this trail a lot, mostly because we have to drive through Marion to get to it—but I’m sure we’ll be back. We’ll someday try to find the other two-mile stretch of the trail that’s cut off on the east.


Not from Saturday ride--these images are from my Friday ride on the Cedar River Trail.

The Grant Wood exploration ride came a day after a very pleasant evening ride home for me. I happened to have my nice camera on campus for other reasons, so on the way home Friday, I used my good camera to shoot butterflies, egrets, flowers and bees on the way. See more of my pictures.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

In Which We Ride A New Old Bike

Our bikes, ready to go. Big red tandem on the end. My wife and I (below) ready to ride.

Tandem time! The birthday gift my wife bought for me is a late 1970s vintage Schwinn tandem bicycle.

I have been strictly forbidden to name the new, old bike.

Today was the first official ride on the big red tandem. My youngest son Ben arrived from Ames about 5, and we—my wife, daughter, grandson and I—were ready to go on a ride, five of us on three bikes.

I wheeled the big tandem out of the garage, aired up the tyres and lubed the chain.

My grandson loves to bike on my commuting bike on a toddler seat, and Ben is tall enough to ride that bicycle, so we decided that if the grandson were willing, Audrey and I would ride the tandem and Ben would ride the commuting bike.

As it turned out, the grandson was infatuated with his uncle, and had no trouble with the idea of riding with him.

We took off north along Devonshire. The tandem is a heavy bicycle, and I was a bit concerned about how it would ride. It turns out that the “two motors” definitely compensates for the extra large, heavy frame—Audrey and I seemed to make good time. We headed over to the Boyson Trail.

Riding a tandem is a bit of a new experience. It requires some communication and coordination between riders—when you’re riding a solo bike, you don’t have to let anybody else know to stop pedaling when you want to slow, for example. My wife and I also have “gear incompatibility,” in that I know what gears are for and I shift them, while her philosophy is to keep a bike always in one setting.

Tandem shadow. I suppose she has a point, but my wife didn't like it when I took the camera out.

Cornering is different, too. Our tandem is lower and longer than our individual bikes, and requires a bit more planning and swinging wide at tight corners.

Still, it was great fun. It’s nice to ride. And two motors, even if we have to coordinate our cadence, are good to have.

A tandem! I’ve been down the trail on a bike with no name, and I like it.

My wife's picture of her view. But she seemed to like the ride, anyway.

Audrey shoots a sky picture.

A view I seldom see--someone else using the toddler seat. Audrey shoots picture of son and grandson on Clarence.

In Which We Get Lost Finding Butterflies

Marlon (above) reacts to having his picture taken. Three students and I (below) in official CR Biker Bike Club Ussie before ride.

Ride 2 of the MMU Bike Club: Marlon expresses his displeasure at having his photo taken, and then organizes our small crew for the photo.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“We are going wherever you lead us,” Marlon answers.

So, instead of going south along Cedar Lake, I take the three students north on the Cedar River Trail. We are supposed to return to campus by close to 5, so it can’t be a long ride. Along the way, at a construction zone, I accidently turned into a street rather than the trail, so for about 10 seconds, they proved the folly of following my leadership as we were briefly lost. Still, the trail was never out of sight, and the point was to ride, right? There were perhaps a few sarcastic remarks as we made pointless parking lot loop, but I consider that all fair comment.

Then, at 42nd Street, I ask if we turn around or push on to go to Noelridge Park.

“We push on,” Marlon answered. “We’ve only been riding for 15 minutes.”

He is a man of few words, but they do work.

We rode on. I was on Clarence, my commuting hybrid bicycle, while they were on the heavier, older hybrids or mountain bikes owned by MMU. I was pushing it a bit, and asked if they liked the speed. They were fine. Those youngsters on their heavy, slow, old bikes have no trouble keeping up with an oldster on a much lighter, faster bike.

Well, there must be a reason CR Biker rides bike tours but never a bike race.

Anyway, we continued north until the side street that leads to the back end of St. Pius X. We went to the next short street just south of the church that cuts over to the north end of Noelridge—I was taking them, as a destination, to the city flower gardens.

The young woman on the ride, a local, had been there before, but not the two men. They did enjoy the flower beds. However, I wasn’t aware of the Monarch breeding area, and the woman with us was, so when she pointed them out we rolled across the grass to go see them.

On Cedar River Trail heading north. Besides mocking me for getting them lots, students noted I was often not pointing camera at them--it's not easy to shoot over your shoulder while riding a bike. This one worked.

At Noelridge Park. If you look at upper part of picture, you can see butterflies undergoing metamorphosis.Student (below) takes unofficial Bike Club Ussie.

And, they were very cool. They are mesh shelters protecting clumps of Milkweed plants used to breed butterflies. At first, I didn’t notice any butterflies—and it was the woman with us who again had to point out the sight—she noted the multitude of chrysalises hanging from the tops of the shelters.

Hmmm. It puts the bug back in my ear. Milkweed planting time is later in the fall just before the ground freezes, in this climate—I think it is time to revive the MMU pollinator garden project. Maybe we can get seeds in the ground this year…

Anyway, we headed back to campus. This second  club ride was shorter—about 8 miles, compared to the 15-mile ride the club took last week, but we needed to get back earlier, too.

Ride 2, I think, was very nice, butterfly nice. And now I have a cool idea for a project to try to sell to the club …

Sun streaming down on our way back to campus. Nice afternoon for a ride!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In Which the Cool Sun Shines on my Birthday

Early sunshine on Boyson Trail on my birthday.

This morning, I had volunteered to watch a set of grandchildren to cover a gap between their mom leaving for training in Iowa City and their dad getting home from a night shift at work.

Which meant an early morning bike ride through the north end of Cedar Rapids, as well as Marion. I was a little worried, because some of the streets I would be on can get busy with commuting traffic—but it turns out all is pretty quiet at 6 a.m. It was semi dark when I went, and it was about 7:30 when I headed out to go to work.

Along the way, I rode on part of the Boyson Trail shortly after sunrise. It was my 59th birthday, and it was honestly not a bad way to spend it—getting to see grandkids in the morning, followed by a pretty, early bicycle ride.

This evening, my wife took me out to dinner. And I thought of a post-dinner bike ride, but it was getting a bit dark. And the bike I wanted us to ride is best used in the daylight, especially until we get used to it.

A tandem! And not just any tandem, a genuine, 40 something late 1970s panzer of a Schwinn tandem—heavy and tough and red and impractical and wonderful at the same time.

No photos yet, but sometime this weekend when we take it out for our first real team ride, I’ll try to post something.

It was, in short, a great biker birthday.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

In Which Bike Club Tours the Lake District

First Bike Club Ussie before first ride of the year Friday, Aug. 25.

Cedar Rapids has a thing about “districts.” It has a medical district, it plans a college district—and Friday, Bike Club checked out the water district.

For its first ride of the school year, the Mount Mercy University Bike Club ended up riding to Cedar Lake, along the Cedar River and around Prairie Park Fishery.

The ride got off to a bit of a late start. A young woman was pumping up tires when I got to Lundy, the building where the bikes are stored. Cali—the aforementioned woman—didn’t know where Marlon, club president, was. We checked bikes and used the one air pump to recharge a few tires, and about 4:20, Marlon showed up.

He had not been planning to attend this ride due to leg injury, but he changed his mind and brought along a new student.

We hit the road about 4:30. There was no clear destination in mind, but we sort of headed out to Cedar Lake by habit .The three students chatted, and I suggested we aim for the Prairie Park Fishery, which none of them had been to before.

Sure, they said, so we were off. The afternoon was partly cloudy, warm but not hot, and the biking weather was about ideal. They were going at old man pace, since they had me lead, but nobody complained. We rode to the turnoff to go by the Kick Stand and headed up towards St. Ludmilla, when we hit a snag in the form of street construction.

Two shots along Otis Road headed to Fishery. Cedar River looks very pretty on this fine late summer late afternoon.

We sneaked across. Don’t tell anybody.

The students seemed to be doing fine. We were actually flying along pretty well. I don’t have a computer on my commuting bike, but Map My Ride was recording speeds of around 11 or 12 miles an hour for most miles.

We circled Prairie Park Fishery, chatting about nothing as you do on a pleasant bike ride, and then headed back. We returned by a slightly different route—not cutting across the construction zone this time—and arrived back at MMU just a few minutes before 6. I checked my phone. We had pedaled just over 15 miles in 90 minutes, a distance that seemed to surprise our club president.

Prairie Park Fishery (above) and we have just passed Cedar Lake as we near campus (below).

Three students on ride one—not bad, and I hope that more advance notice and more word-of-mouth will bring out more next time.

The pleasant ride Friday was bookended by slightly different rides. It was sprinkling Thursday morning, but not raining hard, and rather than delay my wife’s departure, I assured here I was OK biking. That morning, I rode the “new” mountain bike (technically it’s by far the oldest bike I have, but it’s “new” because it was just newly repaired). I also wore my RAGBRAI rain poncho—thank you, Paulette, for getting that back to me. I got a bit damp, but not really wet. And then the day slowly turned pleasant, with sunshine peaking out in the afternoon.

But, by early evening, as I was ready to go home, it began to sprinkle again. I felt it was too warm to wear the poncho, so I rode without it, but again the rain was honestly not even a drizzle—just a few drops, and I arrived home only slightly damp.

Saturday was a similar day. The radar and forecast looked good, so after my wife and daughter and female grandkids left on shopping excursions, my grandsons and I took off on a ride. However, it was already sprinkling as I attached the Tag-A-Long to Clarence, so I was worried we would only ride a little and then have to take shelter at home.

But we were lucky. We got cool and were hit by a few drops, but it never really rained, and we were able to ride the Boyson Trail all the way to Hanna Park, ride back to Thomas Park for more play, and then meet the others—including two more grandsons—at Hanna Park. After lunch, my oldest granddaughter got to ride back to my house with me.

All in all, the past three days have been very nice for biking despite some cool, clouds and sprinkles.

Thursday, due to light rain, road the mountain bike to work.

Friday, August 18, 2017

In Which Three is Not Too Many

Got sprinkled on Wednesday night riding the "new" bike home. That's OK--the mountain bike is going to be, among other things, my "it could rain" bicycle ...
 Do you own one pair of shoes? Maybe, but most of us have more than one because we do more than one kind of locomotion. I have dress shoes, gardening shoes, flip flops and several pairs of sandals.

Biking is like that, to me. It’s not just going from one place to another, it’s going there for different reasons under different conditions. So I do not feel too guilty that I own and ride more than one bicycle.

Front and back wheels wobbly, dusty and dirty--the Fancy Beast was reborn this week. I'll have to tighten the seat, but that's not a big deal.

Me and my three bikes. Fancy Beast for unpaved trails and winter riding, Argent for RAGBRAI and weekend fun, Clarence for commuting and transporting grandchildren. Of course, I need them all. And maybe one more ...
Although for many years I did. When I started riding RAGBRAI, the only bike I had was a big heavy hybrid. Three years ago, after a difficult year on the road, my wife kindly allowed me to get a road bike, which is a much better transport for RAGBRAI.

Meanwhile, the hybrid bike wore out—and was replaced by a newer, and much nicer, hybrid.

The road bike is the summer, fast, fun, RAGBRAI bicycle. The hybrid has the back rack and bags for commuting, and the attachments for the toddler seat and Tag-a-long, so it’s the grandchild bus, too.

And this week, I got bicycle number three. It’s not a new bike at all, in fact it’s close to a decade old.

I’ve ridden it before and written about it in the past—calling it the “Fancy Beast” because I had a heavier mountain bicycle that I called “The Beast.”

The Beast is probably headed to “the farm” (that mythical place we tell our kids that animals go when they check out) soon, as it no longer make sense to keep it in running condition. But the black Raleigh mountain bike—The Fancy Beast—is another story. It was obtained originally as the Microsoft bicycle—my oldest son did an internship at the tech company, and they offered interns either a free bus pass or a bicycle, and he chose the bike.

The bike was passed on to a son-in-law who used it to commute in Ames for a while, before it came to me when the son-in-law moved to England.

But about a year ago, the back wheel got severely out of true. It seemed like it had a broken spoke, but I could never find it. And so it gathered dust in the garage. But despite it's age, it doesn't have tons of miles and seemed too good of a bike to toss aside, so I held on to it.

Until I broke a spoke on my commuting bicycle last week, which I took to Uptown Cranky Bike Shop in Marion for repair this week. I suggested to my wife that we could also take the black Raleigh in. She agreed, because occasionally we are short on loaner bicycles when we have visitors.

Thursday night. Happy to have Clarence back, too! Four grandchildren got rides.
I had no idea what the repair on the Fancy Beast would entail. I was worried I maybe would have to replace the wheel, and wasn’t sure what a mountain bike wheel for a 9-year-old or so Raleigh would cost. At a minimum, I figured the cost to have the wheel trued and bike tuned would be around $70 to $80, and I fully expected the bike to need a new drive train or other extensive, expensive repair.

When I rolled the bikes into the shop late Tuesday, the owner of the bike shop said the broken spoke would be repaired quickly and I could pick up that bike Wednesday morning. He wasn’t sure about the black bike, since he didn’t know what it needed.

Well, I called Wednesday morning. “Your Fuji (the commuting bike) is done, and the black Raleigh should be ready in about five minutes,” Mr. Cranky said.

I was a bit taken aback—I’m not used to such quick service. My wife and I drove to the bike shop.

“Your front wheel was also out of true, so I showed my daughter how to true a wheel,” the bike man said. “And everything was a bit sticky, so we lubricated all the cables, trued the back and front wheels and adjusted the brakes.”

And his son rang up the purchase. The bill was around $15. I was stunned. I expected fixing a spoke on the one bike alone would cost more than that in labor—let alone repairing both bicycles. I paid my bill in a bit of a haze.

I was going to ride a bike to campus after that, and I decided as a test to use the “new” mountain bike. It rides just fine, for a mountain bike, although I’ll have to tighten the seat, which slips slowly down as I ride.

But for $15, I’ll take it.

So now I have bike three—my "new" Sac and Fox trail bicycle, which is also now my winter beater bike. It’s comparatively slow and noisy—it’s not a fat tire bike, but has fatter tires than the hybrid or road bikes, and it makes a lot of tire noise on the road. It partly compensates for the lack of speed and noise by being incredibly comfortable—it’s the only bike I ride that has shock absorbers, and I did enjoy rolling over bumps in the pavement without feeling them in my rear.

So, welcome The Fancy Beast to my now trio of bikes. I don’t think you’ll get a bunch of miles—now that school is here, most of my riding will be on Clarence, the hybrid bike. But my wife and I plan to check out the Grant Wood Trail soon, and since it’s not paved, a mountain bike will come in handy.

Well, it would. What biker doesn’t need at least three bicycles? Or, as my oldest son once observed: How many bikes does a bicycle rider think they need? It’s always N plus one.

For now, however, I’m happy with three. And here, for your entertainment, are a few of the outtakes as I tried to use a camera timer to take the three-bike portrait:

Friday, August 11, 2017

In Which I Spoke Too Soon

Cedar Lake on Friday morning. Nice time for a bike ride.

I knew I had to be in the office for a while today, but thought it would be a good day to get some miles in.

Well, it was a good day, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. I packed a lunch, and because I was carrying a lunch box, decided to ride my commuting bike Clarence rather than riding the road bike Argent.

I turned on Map My Ride, and headed up the Brentwood Hill. It wasn’t on my way, but I figure doing the hill now and then even when I don’t have to is good exercise.

At the peak on Brentwood Drive (not the peak of the hill, just the highest point on that street), I turned right to head down into a cul de sac neighborhood, just so I could ride up the hill again. And when I was about 2/3 of the way up, just as I finally shifted into granny gear, there was a horrible grinding sounds.

Well, I thought I must had destroyed my derailleur. But, no, the shift was OK. I rode on, but the bike didn’t quite feel right. A mile down the road, I paid more attention to my rear wheel.

Which had a slight wobble. And I knew what that meant—sometimes, when a spoke snaps it doesn’t make much noise—but sometimes, apparently it does it more dramatically, with a loud grinding sound even this old hard-of-hearing biker can sense.

Well, I was still close to home, so I went there and swapped bikes. Riding Argent meant I had to put a backpack on to carry the lunch, but oh well. It was still a gorgeous day for a bike ride.

The only sad part of the story, really, is that a grandson who is coming home won’t be able to ride the toddler seat on my commuting bike. I didn’t get the bike in to the shop today, and am busy all day tomorrow, so it will be Tuesday afternoon before I can take it in. And being busy tomorrow means I'll miss the hoopla for opening the Cedar Valley Nature Trail new paved section to Center Point. Well, I've ridden it already and like it, so congratulations Linn County Trail Association, and I hope many others do show up. I'll be thinking of you.

Oh well. Guess on Monday and Tuesday, I’ll be wearing my backpack and riding the faster bike.