Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earworms on a Tuesday Morning

When biking into work yesterday, Tuesday, for some reason I wasn’t as tuned into the world around me as usual.

Not that the world wasn’t nice. A substantial rain had fallen overnight, and by the time I was riding in to work at midday, the world was a newer, greener place.

But ZZ Top didn’t care. I think I was randomly remembering the visit by my granddaughter Elizabeth, a cute 21-month-old who pronounces her own name “ZZ.” She’s certainly the best, or top, ZZ I know—the ZZ top.

So that’s why a short snatch of “Sharp Dressed Man,” which to me sounds like every ZZ Top song of the early 1980s, was running through my mind. Have you ever noticed with earworms how your internal brain radio can play a tape of 15 seconds of an obscure pop song for, I don’t know, 4 hours? I don’t know the lyrics to “Sharp Dressed Man,” but then again, who does? “Da, da, da, dah dah da, da, … every girl’s crazy for a sharp dressed man.”

It went on for the first 15 minutes of my commute, but I must have subconsciously been noting the greener conditions due to the recent rain, because after I crossed Collins Road on F Avenue, I started to hear a rain-related earworm.

It made me wonder, ala CCR, who’ll stop the rain?

Not that I know those lyrics either. But it was a more pleasant earworm. Still, at the corner of Zach Johnson Drive and 35th Street, I almost didn’t see that truck.

Beware, bikers. A CCR earworm will absorb too much of your attention, if you’re not wary.

Anyway, what earworms form the soundtrack of your biking commutes?

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Feathered Flock Blocks F Avenue

I was working at MMU for a while Sunday afternoon—the “school” life is starting to take hold. Note to those who envy Professor’s schedules—sure, June, July and August are three good reasons to be a teacher, but for most of us 60-hour weeks aren’t unusual the rest of the year—anyway, on the way home a bunch of turkeys were crossing F Avenue just a little south of Old Marion Road.

A young lady in a sedan headed the other way stopped and asked if the birds were turkeys. Indeed they were.

“Are they all hens?” she asked.

I’m no turkey expert, but I think so. In fact, one bird was bigger than the others, while the rest, while they appeared to be adult sized, looked younger and smaller. I speculate that mom may have been walking with her now grown chicks, though that it speculation.

Snapped a few photos. They all show birds after they crossed, all in the front yard of a home on the west side of F, while I'm shooting from the east side--I was headed north. One is a bird at the top of stairs, the other is a squirrel and turkey.

It’s very normal to see turkeys in Cedar Rapids, but I usually see them near C Avenue or along Brentwood Drive—along streets that are adjacent to woods and a stream bed. These F Avenue birds were not terribly near any such “wild” area.

But, they’re big birds and I assume they can move some distance.

The rest of the ride was not so eventful. It was just a bit of fun to see these birds.

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Commute of the Season

Well, I went in to the office to meet with a student at 8:30 a.m.

That, my blog friends, was enough to make summer seem over. 8:30 a.m.—and the day was off and running. The meeting went well, the student’s questions were answered, the day was semi productive. Had an impromptu meeting with the student newspaper editor, toured campus with reps from a committee who are placing racks for the paper around, copied old syllabi to update. I’ll be working pretty much full time from now on, and when the semester gets going, that means 60 plus hours a week.

But today, I also measured my futon. It’s still six feet long. Please ignore the deep rumbling sounds from the foundations of Warde Hall, they are signs that a biker is snoozing, not that ghosts of nuns are restless nor that there is a 6.0 quake event.

On the way home, I diverted to use the longer trail route. It looked warm and dry out there, a shiny late summer sun making the plants practically pant. Well, here’s hoping the scattered showers that are possible tonight will scatter on the city of dry seasons.

It did feel good to commute again on my now tuned bike. On the way home, I had several books in my bag, which made it a bit heavy. The basket was damaged during RAGBRAI and repaired with a bit of wire, and the repair job seemed to pass a pretty hefty textbook test.

Well, central Mount Mercy is looking greener with new turf down. I was itching to plant some trees, but I don’t mind some open area, too. The route to and from felt good to ride today.

Let the annual commute begin!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Rides As the Sumac Changes

Just in time for the rush before school, my bike is out of the shop.

When I took it out for a short ride after picking it up, it was obvious that “high summer,” the dry pre-fall season of big grasshoppers, browning grass, high corn and early turning leaves is underway along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. I only went north a few miles along the paved stretch of the trail, but saw several stands of sumac red with the first turning leaves of the season.

Those early sumac are responding more to dry conditions, but the lush green of the Iowa summers are giving way slowly to more muted yellowish and brownish greens, and many roadside weeds are drying out to go to seed and get ready for the next year. I wrote about the change on my garden blog.

It was good to be back on the bike, sad to think I have little time for any rides before the school year is underway—but at least I will have the bike to commute on.

After my short ride, I borrowed my wife’s bike to take grandkids Nikayla and Tristan on a short neighborhood tour. I had removed the trailer hitch from my bike prior to RAGBRAI and put it on hers. I am not sure if I will move it—it’s a Schwinn trailer, she has a Schwinn bike, and it seems to fit on her rear axle better than mine. But I do feel very silly riding a bike that is way too small for me, so we’ll see.

Anyway, CR Biker is back on the roads of Iowa’s second city, so drivers beware!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Baby in Borrowed Bike Trailer

Old blackie is still in the shop and the biking weather is beautiful—much better then when I was on RAGBRAI. Sigh.

Still, I got a brief bike ride in today. We purchased a kiddie trailer, which I had attached to my bike, but removed for RAGBRAI. I hooked it up to my wife’s mountain-style 10 speed, and peddled off, granddaughter Lizzie in tow.

It was a short ride. I felt a bit like a clown—I’m way too big for my wife’s bike—but Lizzie balked at being away from her mom and we turned back home. Ironically, when she got there, Lizzie just wanted to play with grandpa in the back yard. I guess a sudden desire for maternal love must be a reflection on my “wild” biking style, or maybe Lizzie, who has a kid seat on her dad’s bike, can’t stand to move that slowly.

Whatever. At least for a few minutes and few blocks, I got to bike a bit today.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Aug 6 2011_Monarch in my yard


While I'm off my wheels, some random other posts. Saw lots of Monarchs on RAGBRAI, and today one was visiting the butterfly bush in our front yard. Made me think of all the ones I had seen while crossing Iowa--and being able to notice something like the butterflies is one reason to ride a bike!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

RAGBRAI 2011-The full set

RAG20RAG21RAG22RAG23RAGBRAI laundryAltoona air force
Air Force 2Holey moleySpoken wordCamp reflectionBike flowersPhone chat

RAGBRAI 2011, a set on Flickr.

Many of these were posted earlier from Des Moines, but here is the final update from Flickr of my RAGBRAI set of photos.

RAGBRAI Notes 3: Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

A friend of mine, who is a staff member at Mount Mercy University, described her one-day (day 6) RAGBRAI ride as a “pilgrimage” in her excellent 2-part post about her ride.

Well, it was that, for me, too.

Before I rode my first RAGBRAI, I didn’t really ever intend to go on the bike ride. I was aware of RAGBRAI from the start—the early years when the name changed, and it was “FAGBRAI” and SAGBRAI” before it became RAGBRAI. As a kid, I was a regular reader of “Over the Coffee,” Donald Kaul’s Des Moines Register column.

But, by the time I bought my own 10-speed, RAGBRAI had grown into a giant, over 10,000-biker cross-state circus.

I’m not into noise and crowds, so, despite being an Iowa biker, I didn’t really ever plan to do a RAGBRAI.

Plans have a way of changing. In March, Audrey and I were visiting our son Jon, who lives in Seattle. He noted that he and some of his Microsoft pals were going to ride RAGBRAI this year, and he asked if I wanted to come along.

Now, the invitation came at a slightly painful time for me. My right knee was acting up horribly, and it hurt to walk about Seattle during our trip there. But walking is harder on the knees than biking is, and Audrey encouraged me to say yes. How could I pass up the invitation to be almost a college-age boy again, even if only for a week?

Well, I could not.

I’m not sure what I expected RAGBRAI to be. It was a giant, 20,000-biker traveling circus, but despite a strong “party” element—the riders who stop at every beer garden and dance to loud music every night—it was much more Joe friendly than I expected.

For one thing, I was more in the RAGBRAI demographic. A lot of retired people ride RAGBRAI, and the average age of riders is 52. Exactly CR Biker’s age.

Not that most bikers are like CR Biker—I was passed by all the young, lean bikers. I was passed by the young, pudgy bikers. I was passed by plenty of old lady bikers. Small children passed me.

I had to remind myself often that it’s a tour, not a race. You can’t lose, even if you go slowly. The goal is simply to finish.

And I accomplished that goal. I had lots of time to myself during RAGBRAI—I was alone among 20,000 bikers. For a person with a bit of a loner personality, that was pretty pleasant. But while I was alone, in the sense that I was riding only at my own pace, I was never lonely. I was always surrounded by other bikers, and 99 percent of them were caring, supportive and encouraging.

If any motorized vehicle approached RAGBRAI, the shouts of “car up” or “car back” would serve as a communal warning. Any person stopped by the side of the road was asked often if he or she was OK. You often saw groups helping someone with a flat or stuck chain, and I am sure not all of those groups were RAGBRAI teams. You had an odd sense of intimacy on RAGBRAI—sort of like airplane intimacy. You were having an intense shared experience with strangers, and it made it easy to strike up conversations.

I met a mom from Ida Grove who was doing RAGBRAI because here kids were getting old enough to fend for themselves for a while. I met a man from Oregon who rode his bike from Oregon to participate in RAGBRAI. I met a team from South Africa and saw some riders from Australia.

I wore a Mount Mercy shirt every day. The “Mount Mercy Football, Undefeated Since 1928” was a good one to wear, as it prompted questions—“really?” To which I could honestly reply “really,” since Mount Mercy University has never had a football team since its 1928 founding.

The best shirt I wore twice—on day 1 and (after it was in a load of laundry in Des Moines—thanks, Brigid and Eldon) and on day 6, college-pride day. It has a big MMU logo on the back, and on RAGBRAI, more people see your back. Several riders identified themselves as alums because I had on that particular shirt.

Well, I felt a bit renewed by the experience. It’s good to go on a spiritual journey now and then, and you feel in touch with yourself, your limits, your physical and mental reality when you bicycle more than 60 miles on a day when the hot sun beating down on the expanse of pavement means that you’re riding through triple-digit heat.

I did suffer some at the end of most days. The final hills were the hardest. I was not tempted to attempt the optional extra look that would turn one day into a 100-mile ride.

My personal goal was simply to do it—to ride all of RAGBRAI. My other goal was to enjoy some companionship with my son, who I see only two or three times a year.

A spiritual journey of self discovery? That was not my goal, but it was a bonus.

Jon already says he’s ready to do RAGBRAI again. So am I. It wasn’t so much a circus as a deeply satisfying long ride into Iowa and into myself.

It was very Zen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

RAGBRAI notes 2: Bike Chow

The ham-ball sundae doesn’t sound as good as it tasted.

By the afternoon of day 6 of RAGBRAI, CR Biker was getting very hungry. I had failed to hook up with MMU riders for lunch, mostly because it had been so long since I was “on the grid” that I forgot what lunch plans were.

Anyway, for miles before the town of Oxford, there were signs for the “ham-ball sundae” at the fire station. When I got to town, the station was large, well ventilated, and the serving line was so well planned that there was zero wait, so I just had to ask.

It turns out a ham-ball sundae is “party potatoes” with baked beans ladled on top, with a ham ball and a cherry tomato.

It was, as Jon commented on the Facebook copy of the image with this blog, “pure biking energy.” And, served warm, it tasted darn good, too.

It’ wasn’t the only thing that tasted good on RAGBRAI. The vendor selling home-made ice cream was a bit pricey, but the ice cream still cooled you off on a hot Iowa afternoon. During the ride, I sampled pie, sweet corn, a pork chop sandwich—and most of it was good.

Here is what I liked the most, besides the ham ball:

Aebleskiver, Danish pancakes during day 2 in Elk Horn. Easily the best breakfast I had during RAGBRAI. They are fried balls of dough, very soft, and they were plentiful. I had both syrup and strawberry preserves on mine, and enjoyed them very much.

Raisin pie and ice cream in Dedham, also on day 2. The pie was sweet without being too sweet, and the ice cream was a free add-on that complimented the pie perfectly. I also sampled peach, rhubarb and strawberry rhubarb pie this year—all were good, but the raisin pie was the best.

Breakfast in Lidderdale, day 3. It was a breakfast sandwich of egg, sausage and cheese, which was OK, but I also got a bar—a huge bar whose name I don’t know, but that I recalled from my time working bingo at Sacred Heart in Early, Iowa. It’s yellow cake, topped by marshmallow, topped by some kind of peanut- peanut butter- corn syrup concoction. In Lidderdale they gave me a piece that looked as big as a roof shingle and left me feeling pleasantly bloated and with dilated pupils. I burned it off, as I did most food (as Jon notes, eating often was not only allowed on RAGBRAI, it was practically obligatory since your burn through so many calories), but the sugar high was appreciated.

Second breakfast in Victor, day 6. I had yogurt and a banana in Brooklyn, and enjoyed them, but needed more. In Victor, I stopped at a local stall where some high school boys were dishing up the scrambled eggs and sausage. They looked at me, and added an extra scoop of eggs. Usually, they put 2 sausages in a breakfast bowl, but they asked if I wanted three. Yes, I did. There was a self-service table where you could squirt on nacho-style cheese and pour on salsa—I chose “medium.” Let me tell you, mediocre eggs and sausage drowned in salsa and nacho cheese is heavenly for second breakfast on RAGBRAI.

I enjoyed many other foods, too, but not all culinary experiences were grand. What was not so good on RAGBRAI?

Granola bars. I brought along a box of trail mix flavor bars. It was a good idea—I ate several a day as a booster. But, let me tell you, about three days in, the taste of trail mix granola was pretty lame. By day 5, I was taking them like dreaded medicine. No, they were not bad, but next RABRAI, I’ll pack more variety. Ditto for the electrolyte drink. Brigid and Eldon offered me some new flavors in Des Moines before day 5, and I foolishly turned them down. Again, I continued to drink my electrolyte drink, I just didn’t enjoy it much.

Finally, there was the world’s worst Mexican restaurant in downtown Grinnell. I can’t say the food is bad there, in fact I can’t say anything about the food, because we didn’t’ get any during a three-hour wait. The margaritas were from a mix, the Dos Equis was warm and there was no food. That was bad.

Overall, though, RAGBRAI chow was good. A few places had run out of food before I got there, but I was never far from the next meal—or the next odd culinary discovery. Bring on the ham balls!

Monday, August 1, 2011

RAGBRAI Notes 1—the SPOKEn word

Well, blog fans, I’ll have to recycle RAGBRAI for a while on this blog.

Old blackie is in the shop for a tune up, and may be gone for up to 3 weeks. Kind of wish bike shops worked a bit more like car shops—can’t imagine taking the Venture in to a Chevy dealership and having them tell me that have to store the van for a few weeks before they touch it.

Oh well. Anyway, what did I learn on RAGBRAI? The bikers who cross Iowa each summer have their own culture and language. Here is a guide to some of the words spoken by spoke folk, and well as other RAGBRAI customs:

Music is a big part of RAGBRAI. A few riders tow giant boomboxes, some solar powered. What is the favored music of RAGBRAI? In 2011, I heard lots of Blackeyed Peas, Lady Gaga, the Beatles and some God-fearing, beer-drinking country songs. One person played opera on her bike speakers, which was an interesting change of pace. There were a few Katy Perry fans, but not enough, in my opinion. Anyway, when I do RAGBRAI again, no, I don’t plan to have speakers to blast out “Bicycle” by Queen (which, by the way, I don’t think I heard along the way, although some bikers were into oldies). To me, being able to hear the birds is one reason to ride a bike. Still, the music was a change of pace, although I think some of the bikers were probably deaf after towing those over-done speakers.

Bikers, for the most part, are a courteous lot. They come in all types. You have some lean tattooed daredevil young people. I think, however, someone noted that the average age of RAGBRAI rider is around 52, just my style. I had read on the RAGBRAI site that many more men when women ride RAGBRAI, but there were a lot of females. Or maybe I just tuned into and noticed them more.

The oddest custom I observed was a team that marked roadkill with beads. Given the crowded nature of RAGBRAI, they must have “bombed” the strings of Mardi Gras type beads onto the bodies as they rode. As Jon noted, the beads probably made the roadkill more hazardous to bikes than the flattened animal bodies were to begin with. I suspect someone must have done a little cleaning of the RAGBRI route-I saw no dead deer, which seems a little weird for a 444-mile journey across Iowa.

Anyway, what was the language of RAGBRAI? What words were spoken or signals used to communicate?

Here is my glossary of RAGBRAI language:

  • “Bike on” or “biker on” is what you say when you’re leaving the side of the road to enter the stream of bike traffic. Some would say "rider on." When exiting, it was common to say "bike off," sometimes combined with pointing at the side with the right hand, sometimes the pointing was the signal.
  • “Slowing” and “stopping” are fairly self-evident, but important to state. Traffic is heavy. Nobody used the hands down stopping signal that I noted.
  • “Car up” means a car coming at us in the opposite lane.
  • “Car back” means a care coming at us in our lane, going in the same direction as bike traffic.
  • “Car up and car back” means trouble, and was heard several times in Eastern Iowa, where Johnson County residents and tourists near the Amanas seemed indifferent to RAGBRAI. “Car,” by the way, refers to any vehicle with a motor—including motorcycles, trucks, ambulances, police cruisers and cars. Some people would specific “ambulance up” or “truck up,” but most of the time, the universal vehicle warning was “car.”
  • “Rumbles” refers to rumble strips in the pavement, and is often accompanied by holding a hand, fingers down, and wiggling them as you pass the rumble strips to show where they are.
  • “On your left” means you will pass a biker on his or her left side. “On your right” is on their right side. “Up the middle” means between two bikers. There is little consistency, however, on when to use these warnings. I was passed fairly close by silent bikers, which I did not appreciate, but also sometimes hear the “on your left” when I was at the far right of a road, the passer was at the far left of the lane, there was ample room for several bikers between us. My advice, dear readers, is that it is better to warn than not warn. I also wish some flow triples and duets would not ride so much abreast, blocking the road.

Well, that’s my guide to the customs of RAGBRAI. Later this week, I’ll dive into the food. But for now, may you pass slowly over your rumbles and may you not face the “car up and car back” problem.