Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Which A Christmas Star Shines In The Sky

Dec. 17, what is that bright object so low in the sky? We haven't seen it for a while. Rising sun peeks through artwork behind Warde Hall on MMU campus, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The talking voices on 93.1 FM were arguing about the weather forecast this morning. For those of you who wonder, 93.1 in Cedar Rapids is the oldies station, listened to by old people on their way to and from the gym early in the morning.

Anyway, one of them deliberately choked on the word “sunny” in the forecast, and the other berated him because most local forecasts said the day today would be cloudy. Voice A noted that the National Weather Service was calling for sun.

Well, it was cloudy this morning as I hopped on my bike, and I wore my non-biking glasses. I have one pair of glasses that the clip-on sunglasses I stow in Francis’ saddle bags fit, and the other pair that I usually wear on non-biking days—but I figured clouds count as sunglasses, so I didn’t need the biking specs.

I’m happy to report I was wrong, and person A on radio, at least as of noon, was right. The grey skies were broken by some patches of blue, and as I rode (slowly, my bike is stuck in a hill-climbing gear at the moment), the sky became clearer and clearer.

The photo is what it looked like by the bike rack behind Warde Hall—a clear sun rising, something we haven’t seen in these parts for some days and honestly don’t necessarily expect to see a lot of—there are many clouds in our weather picture.

Still, it’s nice for the nearest star to so brightly shine and light our days. Despite a cold commute, it feels better to be biking with old Sol lighting up the route.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In Which It’s Too Early For Eagles

Dec. 10--grey, cool late afternoon at Cedar Lake, but a nice afternoon to bike around the lake anyway.

Birds—lots of them—were gathered at Cedar Lake this afternoon. I finished teaching for the semester with a class that ended at 11:30 a.m. It was a little frustrating—students had done speeches on Monday and I had finished grade reports for them that I could not print before class.

And, what with one thing and other, I didn't leave campus until around 4:30. It has been a long week, the hill to hump day was pretty steep. Computer problems at the campus newspaper, end-of-semester stress, getting stuff done for terms that start right after Christmas—well, it’s been a long week.

And although it was cool and light was fading, I decided that 4:30 wasn't too late for a quick trail ride around Cedar Lake.

There were lots of birds there. No eagles, yet—in late winter, when open water is precious, those majestic big birds are often clustered near open water at one end of the lake, but right now there must be way too much open water available all over North America—despite a cold November, lakes and rivers and streams are not totally frozen over.

Cedar Lake was maybe 33 percent open—enough ice making places where ducks and geese clustered. They seem to like the edges between ice and water, and must be well insulated—swimming in a giant bowl of ice water doesn't seem to bother them.

Crows were also clustered in trees near the lake and called in their cacophonous voices as I rolled by.

Warmer weather is forecast for this weekend, which is nice. If I’m lucky, I may get down to the Cedar River on Francis to see how the season is going there. It did feel good today to ride a few extra cool, dusky miles at the end of a stressful semester.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

In Which The Computer Computes For No Reason

Wednesday at about 4:45 p.m., I'm walking across campus to begin my bike ride home on a cool, but no longer bone-chilling cold, day. Very pretty. But can it fight? (Sorry, I don't know why 'The Dirty Dozen' suddenly came by for a visit.)

I got out my bike Wednesday morning, pumped up the tyres (trying to go back to the British spelling as I stated I would in an earlier blog post) and oiled the chain.

Was there something about tire pressure or chain lube that my bike computer craved? It’s been somnolent since RAGBRAI, a ridiculous expensive bike watch that now is an hour off, since I don’t know how to change it for daylight savings time.

And yet, when I began to pedal south towards work, suddenly numbers flashed up on the little screen. It was, for unknown reasons, registering my speed and miles.

Well, the computer has sometimes woken up for just a few seconds, so I didn't think much of it. But as I passed the halfway mark on my journey, it was still registering numbers, as you can see.

I am headed up a slight incline and turning a corner—that speed is slow even for me, but I chose to take the photograph when I was going slowly so the danger to life and limb was reduced. My earlier post said biking is relatively safe—but not when you do crazy stuff like this, so if I crazy stuff, at least I can do it when Francis is rolling slowly. I topped 19 mph just minutes before headed down a hill before this slow stretch and rode about 11 to 12 mph on straight stretches of the commute.

Well, it’s warming up in Iowa and staying dry. Today I didn't even bother with the long underwear—it was well over 20 and not very windy in the morning, I would have been sweating if I hadn't cut a layer. The commute Wednesday night and this morning were both in dim light, although the light was failing at night but growing in the morning. I barely noticed that the computer, which has sprung to life so inexplicably, is back to wrong-time watch mode once again.

It worked for the whole 4.5-mile ride to work. And then died once again. Do I have to air and lube before every ride?

Because the sky, in both afternoon and morning, was spectacular—just enough high thin clouds to give the yellow and pink low sun something to work with.

It has turned gorgeous in Iowa—at least as gorgeous as it can be before the crocus bloom again—and it’s been a good mid week to be a biker once again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Which a Magazine Documents That Cycling is Safe

Well, not totally safe. Slightly riskier than driving or walking, but in that range--and safer than riding a motorcycle. And, like walking, the risk is offset by health gains. Click to see:

Cycling is Safe

Monday, December 1, 2014

In Which I Dream Of Warm Summer Rides

Bike suspended from ceiling at Iowa History Museum. Interesting RAGBRAI display is up there.

My son Jon is off for a while. He and his lovely wife Nalena were home for Thanksgiving, but now have gone back to Pittsburgh and then are going to Portugal in the new year.

But he is already planning to come back next summer to ride RAGBRAI. He is unsure of officially joining Team Joe, because he’s willing to stay in the campground in order to avoid having to drive any shift—he wants to ride every RAGBRAI mile.

More museum transit photos.
Grandson loved stairs.
I don’t blame him. I’m not sure I could have physically ridden all of the miles in 2014—I had a few issues this year with my health—but I did ride all of the miles in my first 2 RAGBRAIs, and there’s something to be said for doing that. Maybe if I can get into slightly better shape … well, we’ll see. The Team Joe strategy—riding most of RAGBRAI but also driving a few shifts—does provide some helpful breaks, too.

So I am not sure of my plans yet. Except that they seem to include RAGBRAI. Just how much remains to be seen—then again everything about RAGBRAI, besides the logo, remains to be seen.

Anyway, the warmer weather this weekend gave way to an Arctic blast today, but the wife had bought me new long johns, so I braved the cold today and rode. My rear derailleur is out of whack, but luckily got stuck in a hill-appropriate gear. The bike still works for a cold, quick commute, but clearly being able to shift will come in handy at some point. And while it was cold, I hasten to add that it wasn't in the “can’t ride” cold category, it was just in the “wear layers when you bike” cold category.

Museum had old plane that look like they have bicycle tires.

And today, the incredible lightness of being has improved for my bike. My wife bought me two spelunking style head lamps that I’ve strapped to my bike helmet. Not only do these improve safety through high illumination, the lights are incredibly cool because they use AAA batteries—which means these lights will last a long, long time.

Long enough, probably, to be of use in next year’s RAGBRAI.

New lights on helmet. Note sophisticated technology (rubber bands) used.

Monday, November 24, 2014

In Which A Hero Rides A Trike

From USA Today, an
Associated Press photo by Mike Christy.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on her Rocca bike.

Well, some good news came out of Arizona this weekend that made me think of my sister and brother-in-law.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, terribly wounded by a crazed shooter in 2011, completed a 12-mile bike ride Saturday, “El Tour De Tuscon.”

And she rode something that looks very familiar—a trike of the style that some in my family like to ride on RAGBRAI.

It’s a bit too cold and icy for bikes or trikes in Iowa today—no bike commuting for a while, I’m afraid. But I’m glad to see Giffords on what appears to be a Rocca-mobile. She’s one of my heroes, and it’s a thrill to think that she’s also a fellow biker.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

In Which I Praise The Drab Late Fall Beauty

Seeds near the Cedar River Trail. And a bike, too.

We've had more than a week of winter here in Iowa, even though it’s only fall.

Fall decided to show its face again today. It warmed up, and after an icy morning, it became a damp day. But at midday, it cleared off a bit, and around 2, my wife returned from Target with all her Thanksgiving groceries and said, “why don’t you go for a bike ride?”

One might assume that putting away the holiday feast was just easier without a husband in attendance. I decided to take the hint and I went.

First, I lubed my chain—it was, after all, a damp day. Then I headed over to the Cedar River Trail and went south through downtown.

Cedar Lake has lots of ice and gulls, but no eagles yet. Not that I was expecting any—I’m sure there is too much open water still north of us, and it will be some weeks before the eagles arrive.

Down by the river, however, there were plenty of geese standing on ice or sandbars or in the shallow water. Despite almost all of the snow melting in the past 24 hours, the river and streams are low—not that much water content in a bit of snow, I suppose.

And on C Avenue, a red-tail hawk was guarding a sign by Rockwell Collins.

It remained a grey day, and I’ll enjoy the spring sunshine and green when it returns in a few months. But the drab, brown November world still has beauty. I like being able to see the river more, for instance—down on the south short, where there are woods between the trail and the river, it’s not easy to spot it well when the trees have their full foliage. They stand naked now, and one can see the land and the river much more clearly.

And even if we don’t have the vibrant greens or pretty flowers of spring and summer, seeds and berries and dried grass have a more subdued attractiveness about them.

So I paused now and then to snap a few photos. I didn't go much more than a mile past Sokol Park after I crossed the river—it was starting to mist and I decided to turn back. Still, I got in a 2-hour ride. Given the weather forecast for this week—rain and then snow—it may be a while before I ride again.

But I am glad that I rode today. I wasn't totally alone, as a few hardy bikers and joggers were out on the mostly empty trail.

And when I got home, my son had arrived from Ames, and my wife had returned from a walk. We went out to eat at a Mexican Restaurant that opened recently in our neighborhood—so I’m sure it was a good thing I got some exercise before that feast!

Final images near Cedar Lake--the lake at top, and some milkweed pods bottom two images. Hope these sprout and support some Monarch  Butterfly caterpillars next year!