Friday, July 30, 2010

The Journey--Words & Pictures

What is my morning commute like on a nice sunny warm summer day? Very pleasant. I'll take you on it. Normally, it's about 30 minutes, start to finish, but today will take just a bit longer, due to stopping to snap photos.

First photo: Crossing the C Avenue Bridge, near my house. I start out on Brentwood Drive and turn onto C Avenue. Unlike crazy Rockwell engineers, however, I do NOT ride on C Avenue itself, since I lack the requisite death wish, but illegally stick to the sidewalk. Life before rules, I always say. Anyway, I do try to give all pedestrians right of way. This is the view looking towards Dry Creek, which, since development continues to add paving to our area, is inaptly named, as you can see. Pleasant view, deer, woodchucks wild turkeys, sometimes an owl in the evening or (much more freaky) a possum--wildlife can often be viewed here.

Second photo, same spot, looking south along the route I will ride. Yes, you can see why I stick to the sidewalk ...

Next, the corner of C and Blairs Ferry. Two busy 4-lane streets join in a busy 6-lane (or 12 lane if you're counting both streets) intersection. Handy walk buttons, but right-turners don't always watch out. I don't cross in this direction--traffic going west on on Blair's Ferry and turning right onto C would be behind me. I cross the other way, so right-turners are either on my left or ahead of me. It's still a dicey intersection.

Photo number 4. I've crossed C and BF (twice, going south and turning west) and ridden a short distance west on a sidewalk of Blairs Ferry. Sidewalk ends, as you can see, so I sneak through Rockwell Collins parking lots. Don't tell anybody.

The fifth photo shows Collins and F, one of the most problematic corners. The lights are on "triggers" that somehow detect cars. Don't know if it's by weight or magnetism, all I do know is that a bike with a 240-pound payload typically won't trigger the light. There is often a pause in the commute at this point, waiting for a car to show up--if it's going the opposite direction as me, I have to "steal" the light by running a red when the opposing car's light turns green.

The sixth and seventh images are both the "corner of doom," where I fell on ice in January. Sump pumps empty onto a very uneven street, which is always wet, pretty much year round. Dodging potholes is one way a biker is reminded to stay in the here and now--but it's not too difficult.

Image 8, Old Marion Road and F. The Buick is not about to kill me, I happened to hit the light green and had to pass through before shooting this over my shoulder. Although this is another "triggered" intersection, it's not as bad as Collins and F, because there is more consistent traffic and the light turns green in both directions when a car approaches.

I head south on F until I come to 42nd Street, then go east to E Avenue. At the corner of E and 42nd, there sits a modest house with a glorious garden, filled with an enticing variety of perennials that look good all spring and summer. These Black-Eyed Susans are in that garden--kudos to the unknown gardener. Being able to see gardens like these up close is one of the many joys of bike commuting.

Besides a closer look at gardens, bushes and trees, I think biking promotes tuning in to all kinds of details of life--such as this architectural detail of Kenwood School on E Avenue. Don't know if it's true, but looks like a 1940 school had a 1955 edition plopped on top of it--not exactly consistent, but still kinda cute in a weird way.

I take E to 32nd Street and turn right. I turn left either at E (E does not meet E at 32nd, the extension is west) or Lindale, depending on traffic. 32nd is a fairly busy street, but not too busy to bike on for a short distance. It does require care. Anyway, today I turned on E, and I like the shady look of this street. Hope the city encourages more tree planting next to streets, particularly since Ashes will need replacing.

I took E to the first cross street and turned onto Lindale, then continued south to 27th Street. Image of care, potholes and mom towing child is at the corner of 27th and Lindale. Requires patience to cross, but isn't really too dangerous, but watch out for the potholes. And don't let cute moms towing babies distract you.

I take Lindale past 27th to 29th, and turn right, riding on 29th until Mount Mercy is in sight. Next image is Mount Mercy. I'm down here and Warde Hall is up there. Near the summit of a substantial hill.

How substantial? Next photo iss the drive on Prairie that I will turn and peddle (in granny gear) uphill.

Partway there, turning from parking lot to side walk. Yes, I do feel pretty macho that I bicycle up this sidewalk every morning that I bike to work.

Photo 16 and 17--bike in rack.

Photos 18, 19, 20 and 21--a redbud, hosta, "art" with coneflowers and lilies framed by the art. Yeah, walkers up the hill get to enjoy the view, too, but still, I do like this little courtyard area.

That's the journey. Sometime, I'll post information on my longer route when I use the bike trail.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Noisey Summer Days

My cheap bungee chord that can hold a water bottle in my front basket is one of the most important changes to my commuting bike this summer.

It's been hot, and wet when it's not hot. For a man of my years and size, that makes bike commuting a bit of a challenge. I'm sure, for the obvious reason, it's a challenge for all those near me, too.

Anyway, that doesn't keep me from riding. Heat is better than really several cold, particulary if the cold is combined with snow and ice (I took a nasty fall in January).

The other odd thing this summer has been the "music" of the cicadas. They are not seen and often heard. The buzz is so loud, if Cedar Rapids were a factory, ear plugs might be required.

The sound is not really too loud or unpleasant, but just very constant in any tree-lined area.

I guess it's an exageration to say the cicadas are heard but not seen, because yesterday while pruning a storm-damaged tuplip tree, I indeed did see a living one up close. Freaky looking thing, a more improbably flyer than a bumblee--but for all its primitive ugly looks, who has ever been hurt by a cicada? The leftover skins are a common and happy find for generations of Iowa kids.

Anyway, I love the outdoors, seeing the black-eyed susan and purple and yellow coneflowers in bloom, the songs of the birds, the croak of the frog ...

But, I look forward to the cooler days of fall, too. After the first hard frost. The buzz of the cicada will die down. A bike ride will become silent. Yes, I will miss the life (latelely, as you can see on my other blog, I've been getting into bug photos), but I won't miss the incesant buzz.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hope for the old ride?

Over a year ago, I stopped riding my 1974 Schwinn Continental, my "recreation" bike, and stirctly ride my Trek, my "commuting, work" bike.

Not that I don't still enjoy biking or do it for pleasure. It's just that the back brake fell completely off the old Schwinn. I don't ride a bike with no brakes (I was glad the break happened on the flat part of my ride home and now while I was going down the Mount Mercy hill).

Anyway, I bid goodbye to old faithful. Two welds had failed where a cross piece held the brake to the frame, so I figured it was beyond repair.

But, enter my sister Cate, who off-handedly noted she has a son-in-law who welds.

Could the Continental come back to life? I know it's silly, who wants to ride a 36-year-old bike?

I do. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why are Bikers Hard to See?

Had a near death experience Tuesday. I was riding home on F Avenue in Cedar Rapids, when a white Buick almost ran me other.

The driver was coming from a side street on my right as I rode north. He started to pull through the intersection just as I was halfway through it, so I had no time to brake or swerve.

Lucky for me, he startled, saw me, and waved me on (as if I had a choice).

Normally, when this this kind of thing happens, I would expect the driver to have a cell phone to his ear. Not in this case, although there was a child in the car with the driver, and perhaps he was speaking with her and not paying enough attention.

Then again, I think of my own habits as a driver. When you plan to pull a right turn on a not-very-busy street, how often do you sort of coast to a stop sign, glance down the street to your left and roll on through if you don't see a car, pickup truck or city bus barreling down on you?

Besides possibly being distracted, I think that the Buick pilot was simply looking for larger objects, moving faster, farther down the street. The biker practically on his bumper didn't register until he nearly ran him over.

I am betting Mr. Buick bears me no ill will. He didn't yell, gesture or honk--as some rude drivers tend to. He just didn't see me, and I bet he's embarrassed about it.

It's a reminder to me as a biker to always pay attention. I sometimes daydream as I ride along--trying to come with the next earworm for my sister's Facebook wall, or whatever. (Lady Gaga didn't work, she says she paid no attention to recorded music since the '80s, which probably rules out Kei$ha, too.) And, when I drive a car, another reminder. Glance to your right before you turn, watching for foot (or bike) traffic--and, most important to me Tuesday, don't only look off into the distance seeking another internal combustion engine. There might be a sweaty old guy much closer.

Please don't run him over.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Flowers on the Trail

Went to the office Thursday, and on the way home, I decided to head along the Cedar Valley Nature Trial.

Went north and ended up riding for about 5 miles before turning around. It was a bad idea--I didn't get home until 7:30 p.m. and Audrey had wanted to go to a 7:15 movie.

But, I really like that trail, and enjoyed all of the natural Iowa flowers--black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, yellow coneflowers--in bloom along the route.

By the way, the movie, "Date Night," was OK. Tina Fey is definitely the dominant star. That woman has more comedic talent that just about any other performer I know.

Anyway, shown is a coneflower from my garden, but similar ones are readily viewable on the trail.

Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Breaking in a New Seat

We're cleaning house this week--well, mostly, Audrey is. We already got a bunch of junk out from under our back deck, and next are tackling the worst of the worst, the warehouse of madness, the site to which all useless, but hard to throw away, items migrate.

The garage.

Not all the news is tedious or bad. In clearing out from under the deck, we got rid of several bicycles of more than a decade's vintage and poor working conditions (several years in a damp outdoor location do nothing for fine machinery). Anyway, among the bikes was one with a nearly new seat.

My seat had been pretty worn, and that was one reason for my discomfort when riding home from Kirkwood last week. So, we reserved the seat from the cast off bike, intending to install it on my bike.

Well, problem one--the "stem," the part that the seat attaches to, does not fit the bike frame I'm using. It's too small, and I briefly attempted (because it's not a lot too small) to shim it with duck tape.

Total failure.

Then I got the bright idea to check how the seat sprint itself is attached to the thingie that attaches to the post. The thingie and the post were a total mismatch with my bike, but the seat spring setup looked very similar.

Eureka. And, although I had some anxiety about whether I would be able to reassemble the parts once I disassembled them, the plan worked in under half an hour (a record repair time for a clumsy non-mechanic like me).

So now I have a new seat. I rode for about an hour this morning before going to the gym. Could not ride any later today--it is HOT HOT HOT--but the morning ride, on the trail in Marion that starts at Boyson Road and goes past the Frisbee golf course--was pleasant.

Not used to the new seat, yet, and I'm not sure I have it perfectly adjusted, but it's definitely a step up.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And With Luck, You May Spot a Buck

Well, the long anticipated joint ride to Kirkwood with my sister Cate happened on Friday. We both live in northern Cedar Rapids, so it involves basically taking a bike trail all the way through town.

I rode over to her house, leaving mine around 9:20. 74th Street is still closed at Council Street--the eternal Council Street recreation is in year 2 or 3 now, can't recall which but I'm not sure I or any in my generation will live to see the end--but the sidewalk was open, so I got to her house fairly directly. After a short restroom, chat break, we were off.

The day was just about perfect. The sun was out, it was a little cool for July and there was not too much wind.

Cate's route to Kirkwood is a bit different than what I would use--she knows a shortcut that goes east of the Cedar Lake loop of the trail, but it took us about 90 minutes to get there. Cate had previously calculated that the route is circa 15 miles.

It's a bit odd riding with another person--a lone cyclist is used to one rhythm and slows and speeds as he or she feels. With two riders, gaps would open up between us now and then and at other times, I (in the rear) would feel like I was riding Cate's back wheel.

Conversation was a times difficult. The trail parallels I-380 for part of the route, and my other side of the hill 50+ ears don't hear that well--Cate was in front with her mouth facing the wrong way, and I struggled to pick up what she was saying.

Still, a joint ride is a pleasurable thing. We did get some chatting done on quiet stretches and saw the nice contrast that the bike trail through Cedar Rapids provides--went by a train by Quaker Oats, through downtown traffic, but also along the trout stream and through woods near Mount Trashmore.

A bit east of the old city dump where Mount Trashmore dominates the landscape, about 20 to 30 yards in front of us, a buck stepped out of the trees on the left side of the trail, and sauntered, in no hurry, into the trees on the right. He did not seem perturbed by us at all, if anything, he seemed to have a slightly irritating indifference, as if he were thinking "I got antlers, what have you got?"

That was cool.

One part of the trail had been freshly blacktopped, and Cate noted that she had accidentally rode through when they were applying the surface. It's an isolated stretch, so when she came on the city crew, she had nowhere to go, so she simply rode on the grass and promised the irritated workers she would avoid their new paving.

Friday, when we rode that stretch, a soft and iffy looking application of limestone had been made on the right side the trail. I told my sister that in the city work order, the limestone is referred to as a "Cate barrier," as it would have prevented her grassy ride.

Anyway, the trail had been closed by the 2008 flooding. It's good to see it back. We had a pretty good view of the Sinclair smokestack, and I must say, it being torn down is not really a tragedy. The old train depot, that was a crime to tear down. The old mansion at Mount Mercy, it's a shame it's no longer standing. But the giant stack of crumbling brick? It's a hazard. Knock it down before it falls.

Anyway, I stopped at Kirkwood with Cate for a few minutes, she and I said hi to Paulette, and then I headed home.

The ride home seemed much longer. Even if it takes some effort to ride with someone, sometimes riding alone can be a greater chore. My legs, butt and, especially, my hands got very tired. I stopped at the park on J street for about a 7 minute break.

Made it home. Would I go again? You bet. And I know it's crazy and will leave me beat, but I'm in for the ride to Waterloo, if it happens.

If we're lucky, we'll see a buck.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy Trail in Omaha

Don't know how far they go or how convenient they are to use, but over the Fourth of July my wife and I went to Omaha to visit our youngest daughter. While there, I walked on and jogged on several Omaha trails.

Very nice--both went by drainage streams and power lines, so I assume they were taking advantage of utility rights of way. My only complaint is that both had space where trees could be planted adjacent to the trail, without being anywhere near power lines, and in a hot Nebraska climate, you think shade would be appreciated.

Pictured is from the "Big Papio" trail that we walked July 5. Daughter Nina and wife Audrey on the trail. I hope efforts to extend trails in Cedar Rapids bring similar results!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How to Ring in New Bike Bling

Finally got a rear view mirror, courtesy of Katy, on Father's Day. It's now installed, and has been nice to have.

Katy also got me a bell for my bike, so if you hear a cheery ring, it might be me coming up behind you. Not as fast as many bikers, but not as slow as some, and given my size and resulting momentum, we both would be better off avoiding a collision.

Anyway, a small bit of bike etiquette--how is the bell properly used? When I didn't have one, I tried to make it a habit to always sound a verbal warning when approaching a pedestrian or jogger from behind.

I typially name my vehicle and it's passing position--I'll say "bike on the left" or, less commonly, "bike on the right." Most people understand and sometime even thank me for the warning. A few are startled and sometimes move in the direction I stated, which is not a good idea--if I say "bike on the left," a step to the left is the wrong direction.

No accidents, so far, however. The strategy is to wait to sound the warning until you're close enough for the person to clearly hear you, but be far enough away that if they do step in the wrong direction, you can weave around them.

Since I also walk on trails, I can tell you that I also apprciate bikers who sound a warning rather than just zoom on by.

But what of the bell? If I ding my bell do I also tell? In my opinion, yes. The bell is an attention getter, and immediately after ringing it, I will state my verbal warning. Again, person experience makes me appreciate the ding-verbal combination more than a ding, which makes me turn around to see to the number and direction of the approaching bike or bikes (if I'm with someone while I'm biking, yes, I'll say "two bikes on your left.")

Joggers and walkers have certain rights--not be be startled or run over by bikers. As moving vehicles, we must defer to pedestrians just as we expect some deference from motor vehicles.

So if you hear a ding, it may be me with my bling. But if nothing is said, it's someone else instead.