Saturday, November 26, 2011

When All Roads Lead To Nowhere

Tree being felled in Marion, blocking my way. Had to ride on a narrow two-lane street where the speed limit was 35 mph. Sorry, drivers, was not my first choice. Second image is my bike on a weedy railroad right of way. You might have trouble spotting it, but beyond the back wheel is a narrow trail through a small stand of trees, which I traversed on foot to get to the right of way.

OK, a slightly whiney post. After giving thanks, maybe I feel a little entitled.

There are bikers who insist they have the same “rights” as cars, and who bike mostly or totally in the street. I see Rockwell-Collins employees, highly educated engineers probably, who bike along C Avenue, a busy four-lane road where the speed limit is 40 mph.

Not me. Those bikers may be de jure correct, but the several ton difference in mass between a biker and the smallest car makes that de facto beside the point.

When I’m along C Avenue, I’m on a sidewalk. Maybe being a scofflaw, but I think the laws of physics beat such traffic regulations, at least when my butt is on the line. As a biker on the sidewalk, I think it’s my obligation to always yield to and be wary of pedestrians—I create a hazard for them more than they create risk for me. It’s the same relationship I hope I have with most rational drivers—recognizing that the minor dent and blood stains on their fenders won’t be as much of an inconvenience for them as my mangled corpse intertwined with bent spokes would be for me, I hope that they (the car drivers) attempt to be wary of me. And I try to bike in a way that nothing I do will put me in their path—such as avoiding the street completely on C Avenue and riding as far right as I can on the quiet residential streets where I am in the street.

Anyway, the day after Thanksgiving, Theresa, her son, Ben and I went over to Katy’s where we were to meet Theresa’s husband and enjoy a traditional turkey day feast with Katy’s family.

I left first, and on my bike. I thought of going to the trail on Boyson Road, but they’ve been doing a “project” to put in a sidewalk at the north end of the trail, and as far as I knew, it was still blocked. So instead, I went up to Blair’s Ferry, intending to ride along it (on a sidewalk) to Lindale, where I would turn left and enter Marion via a fairly busy, but sidewalk-passable, street.

Except there was a sidewalk project going on that blocked me heading east on Blair’s Ferry.

There really is only one other way to get where I was going—to go down an overgrown old railroad right of way until it becomes, in Marion, a limestone trail. To get there, I walked my bike through some woods behind Northland Gym.

And when I got to my usual street route in Marion, well, Houston, we had a familiar problem. They, whoever they are, were cutting down a tree. And they had blocked the sidewalk. Of course.

So, of three possible routes to go east from my house to my daughter’s house just a few miles away, three were blocked by closed sidewalks. I rode, against my will, on the busy Marion street, feeling the ire of passing motorist slowed by that #%@!# biker—but really, I had no choice.

Here is the rant part. If the city does a street project, it always does it in a way that, if possible, there is still passage for cars. Lanes are repainted, traffic redirected—maybe it takes longer, but your SUV can still get to Wal-Mart somehow. However, sidewalks apparently are “extra” optional things, to be blocked at whim, unannounced, for however long it takes to do whatever is going on. No need for any walkway or bikeway alternative.

On the way home, I used the Boyson trail. It was indeed closed at the north end, but I just hopped off and walked around the barrier. What else could I do?

Well, bah, humbug. Yeah, in a practical sense, I can concede that car traffic is far more important to commerce and life as we know it. But life as we know it is spewing greenhouse gasses into the air, making us obese and divorcing us from the rhythms of nature. Those of use on bikes are, besides creating minor traffic hazards that enrage a few ignorant SUV drivers, keeping the air clean, making healthcare more affordable by avoiding more excess weight and rewarding all those gardeners who care by admiring their work.

So please, try to keep the sidewalks open. We should maintain the important fiction, which may become reality in our lifetime, that it ought to be possible to walk or bike to get there from here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Biker’s Thanksgiving

Photos: The end of pavement and my turn-around point. Christmas lights in Robins the day before Thanksgiving .Early in the trail, fresh asphalt and painting makes me wonder if the paving project has taken place, but it has not yet. Ah well, next year, I bet.

Had to drive the Beetle Tuesday due to misty rain that made it too wet for me to bicycle on the final day of classes this week. Today, I took the Beetle in for repairs and learned I’ll be more than $1,000 poorer as a result.

If ever there was a reminder how nice it is to get around by bike instead of car …

Anyway, enough of any gloom. This afternoon, prior to a visit to my mother-in-law that I wrote about in my other blog, I rode my bike just to get some fresh air and take a break from school work and Beetle woes.

I was going to ride around 3, but was late leaving due to finishing up some school work. It was around 3:40 when I left home, getting to be 4 and getting close to a dusky feeling in the sky when I reached the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.

I headed north. I wanted to see if they had started to pave the trail north of Robins, a project that has been announced all summer long. As it turned out, the answer was “no,” but when I got to the end of the pavement it was time to turn on my lights and turn around, anyway, so it was all good.

Along the way, I thought of what a biker in Cedar Rapids ought to be thankful for. On the day before Thanksgiving, thankfully, it was easy to count some blessings. I’m thankful for:

  • The Cedar Valley Trail and others. The Cedar Rapids area has a network of trails that is still more aspiration than reality, but the real trails are nice. I like the differing character of the trails—the paved Cedar Valley and Cedar River trails that wind along I 380 but through woods, then downtown (cutting through a factory on the way), then along the Cedar River, and finally exiting town to join the Hoover Trail. I don’t get there as often as I like, but this year I discovered the “south route” to the Sac and Fox, a much wilder, but great for a tree lover, trail. The Marion trail through Legion Park is a quick, pleasant ride. Cenmar doesn’t amount to much yet, but has future promise.
  • Cedar Rapids drivers. There are a few who festively rev their engines in an unfriendly manner when they see a biker, and some bumpkin GOP politicians make stupid anti-biker statements because they slow SUV traffic on county roads (moving at the same speed as the tractors on those same roads that the GOP bumpkins never complain about)—but, for the most part, Iowa and Cedar Rapids drivers are what you expect of Iowans. We are a reasonable, level-headed, polite people. You (on the bike) follow the expected rules, and, in general, you’ll be briefly acknowledged and ignored like the rest of humanity.
  • The fall weather. We are for sure in the brown time of year now, but it’s been a gorgeous fall, full of excellent biking days. It was breezy, cloudy and in the 30s today. Perfect biking weather—a large middle-aged body generates excess heat, and I like the cool. Yes, biking in the summer, despite the heat, is nicer due to all the plants and birds and people and stuff—but brown day biking has charms, too.
  • The quiet beauty of Iowa. True, a few mountains and an ocean or two would spice up the joint, but the rolling countryside of Iowa, even on a bike, even in the state’s second largest city, is refreshing to the soul. I like the gentle curves of the hills seen through the trees now that the leaves are gone. I like the reddish fruit of sumac in clusters on tall stalks along the trail. I like that water has returned to Dry Creek due to some fall rains, and I get to see it every day I ride somewhere as I cross the C Avenue bridge. A church song sums it up: “For the beauty of the Earth … Lord of all to you we raise, this our grateful hymn of praise.”

Indeed—for a biker in Iowa on the eve of Thanksgiving, it’s easy to say thanks.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Cool Ride on a Frosty Morning

I was a bit rushed this morning—Monday—and had to buy gas for our minivan, which my son is using for a trip.

Got it done, he’s on his way, and I made it to campus at a reasonable time on my two wheels. It was one of the more gorgeous rides. The temperature was in the 20s, and a heavy frost lay on windows, roofs and grass.

Had to scrape the van before my gas trip, but it’s nice to ride a vehicle that has nothing to scrape!

When it’s in the 20s, it’s cold enough for almost full winter clothing—two pairs of socks, long underwear. I wore a shirt and sweater, as well as my usual nylon biking jacket—a thin jacket that says “Canon” on it—it came from a camera store in town—but which has a hood I can wear under my helmet. And though thin, the coat cuts the wind very well.

And wind matters. If it had been breezy, it could have been a very cold morning. Since it was not, it was very pleasant.

I was thinking about how much I’m saving in gas. I “drive” 10 miles a day on my bike. If I drove our Beetle, it might burn ½ a gallon a day (that’s in-town miles). That would be 2.5 gallons a week—maybe $8 worth of gas. If I ride to campus 30 weeks a year, that would be $240. The bike costs $50 a year or so to maintain, but it’s payback would be around two years.

Of course, there are other values at stake. For one thing, I don’t always bike—rain or snow will stop me. And, even if there were no savings or payback, I would still bike.

It’s my quiet alone time. My think about the day time. My get a little exercise time. My I don’t seem to suffer seasonal depression because I see the low morning sun even in the dead of winter time.

Totally worth it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Did not have the heart for this earworm ....

Image from:
KATY PERRY // Official Website // Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)

It must have been fate. I didn't bike today, simply because in the afternoon, I had to drive across the state to pick up my son Ben at Iowa State.

And this song was played several times on several radios stations as I crossed the state.

Now, some Katy Perry songs are fairly bearable. Not so much this one. So just the silent image, and the the hope that "Last Friday Night" won't get stuck in your head. And may my return to two wheels Monday make for better earworms.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kinda Looks A Lot Like Christmas

Giving tree at MMU. Time to think of Christmas gifts.

In these cold November days, I’ve noted some holiday signs on my daily ride.

Several houses along my route are starting to display Christmas lights. “The Giving Tree” is out at the MMU campus. We’ve had our first snow, which is long since gone, but mornings have been cold—so cold this morning that I wore my skiing underwear and two pairs of socks for the morning ride.

It wasn’t overkill.

The Christmas lights may not be the most environmentally friendly tradition, but many of the streets I bike on are rather dark, and even the dim ambient light of a few twinkly Christmas strands can help.

Mid November. Too soon for Christmas? Maybe, but as the weather gets cold I can understand people who don’t want to wait. And I appreciate the light.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

When Does It Get Too Cold?

I was chatting with a student at school today, and she asked me when it gets too cold to bicycle.

Clearly, not today. It was chilly and windy this morning, raw and damp, temperature in the 30s. But, I rode.

In fact, it was not even close to being too cold. I wore two pairs of socks, but no long underwear—and long underwear is my final line of defense.

I will ride when it’s 20. Even 15. With no wind, I will consider zero—zero is cold, but, if you’re dressed well, not THAT cold. Unless there is a breeze.

So, it’s not the cold that will limit me, but snow and ice. I do need bare pavement. But today was actually a fairly pleasant biking day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thunder Snow in the Morning, Cold PM Sun

My deck this morning, blanked in a little wet white snow. Petunias and planters aren't happy!

No, I did not ride today. Too wet. It was odd to look out, see morning snow spitting down from the sky, and then see lightning and thunder—thunder snow. Not unheard of in Iowa, particularly when a storm starts as rain and straddles the rain-snow line, but a bit odd anyway.

Not too cold—I plan to ride tomorrow. And the first snow of the season, which fell this morning in Cedar Rapids, should be off the pavement by then.

I try not to ride in any ice to snow, but cold alone won’t stop me. Had to drive today, but I will ride tomorrow!