Saturday, March 31, 2012

In Which I Fail to Go on Beyond Drayton

Bike on bridge near end of ride (the end of riding, too). Bike (not Matt's) in water near end of walk, and pretty English countryside view from final bridge.

What lies on the number 1 British rail trail beyond the village of Drayton, if one is inclined to go for a ride of more than 5 miles?

Sadly, blog fans, your temporary UK correspondent cannot report that information. We have done lots of walking in Norwich (Amanda and Matt don't have British driver's licenses and don't have a car). On Friday, we walked over to see Matt at work, and got back to the house mid-afternoon.

Despite no helmet, since Matt had worn his to commute that morning, I decided to go for a final ride using Matt's second bike. I took out the pump and wrestled with the narrow valve, and managed to get it more inflated.

I rationalized that, since 90 percent of the ride would be on a trail, I could get by with just my baseball cap.

The day had started cloudy, but cleared off. It was windy and cooler than it had been, but nice.

The trail, on a late Friday afternoon, seemed more crowded. And for some reason, I saw more “characters.” There was a man parked on a bridge, gazing sadly off into the distance. I wondered if his wife Genevieve had just received bad news about the biopsy of her lump, or maybe some favored player had been traded to a rival rugby team. I approached a jogger from behind ,and several things were odd. He was athletic, quick and purposeful, and kept glancing as his watch, the way a serious runner would time himself. But he also wore a pith helmet with a plastic tassel on top, and had a very large toy stuffed sheep strapped to his chest.

That must have been a heck of a bet he lost in the pub. Or he is merely deranged. Or prepping for April 1, which in the UK is just a day for jokes, not practical jokes.

Anyway, my plan to was to enjoy this unexpected last ride by going on beyond Drayton, farther into the English countryside than I had before.

But, when I got to Drayton, there was the UK “people working” sign, a picture of a man pushing a weird triangular shovel, and a closed gate. I suppose I could have opened the gate, but I decided against it, thinking I could always try again to find the trail in City Centre.

So I stopped, photographed the panoramic view from the bridge near Drayton, and my bike, posing with my hat. I felt it was reminiscent of Jenion's photo with her blog post about biking.

Then I climbed on my bike, and headed on my way back. Except it started to feel wobbly. I checked the front tire, which was fine, and figured maybe my imagination was acting up, but as I rode I became convinced it was definitely unstable. Then I checked the back dire.

Well, sticky toffee pudding and other quaint cartoon swear words. The “tyre” was soft. Not flat, but way softer than it had been. I decided to put as much distance on the tire before it became impossible to ride.

It didn't take long.

I felt as if I were less than halfway back, which meant a 3 to 4 mile hike, pushing a bike. Blog fans, CR Biker does not like to walk a bike – so much so that even on the most daunting hills of RAGBRAI, I always rode. Bikes are to ride, they are not walking companions.

I had a cell phone, and tried to call Amanda's home. It took a while for me to figure out how to unlock the keypad, but I had plenty of time. I called, and assured Amanda I was OK, but would be back a bit late.

As it turned out, I don't think I was as far as I thought. It was an hour walk back. I was sore from a week of walking, but still I was OK.

So, the final ride turned out to be a ride-walk.

Still worth it, but I'm glad I was not on beyond Drayton when the wobbly part started!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Quicker Ride on the Mended Bike

Today's biking fashion tip -- if you don't have trouser holders, you can create faux capris. But they would look like this. And second images proves Tolkien wasn't totally right -- sometimes the road ends rather than going ever on. Bike trail ends in a confusion of lorries.

I had my second UK ride this afternoon. It was cooler, and I almost was under-dressed in a short-sleeved shirt, but it was still a beautiful day.

I decided that this time, I would take an urban ride, so rather than turn west at the trail, I headed east. For about 10 minutes. There was a narrow little street with a building under construction, and some trucks had it mostly blocked. I went around the block, but couldn't find the trail again on the other side, so I went back and headed west out of town again.

I didn't get as far as the village, this time. I didn't fully trust this bike . The handlebar was nicer—Matt's main bike has a slightly wobbly handlebar, and his secondary bike has side rails coming up at the end of the handles, giving the rider more grip options.

But I don't think I got the back wheel as fully inflated as I would like, so it was my own work that made the bicycle slightly more fickle. Or I fickle to it. Anyway, I rode for about an hour total and then came back to Amanda's house.

Still, it was nice to get out on a fine, if cool, afternoon. Thank you Matt, for allowing me to use your wheels while here. The Raleigh bikes that Matt owns are good machines, lighter, I think, then my bike. Still, it will be nice to get back in the USA and ride my own bike, but it was also good to get some RAGBRAI training miles done while on holiday in the UK.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Changing a Tube and Speaking French

Matt's spare bike. I fixed rear flat.

OK, I am not a mechanic. And life has a way of sending me frequent reminders.

Matt is coming home today from a conference in Wales. He owns two bikes, but one had a flat. I bought a tube for it, intending to ride it, his spare bike, but noted the rim tape hanging out. On his last day home, Matt went out to get the tape, but didn't have time to change the flat.

Since I borrowed his main bike while he was gone, I thought it would be nice for me to mend the spare bike before his return.

Well, it really wasn't all that bad. The tube has one of those irritating new slender valves that requires an adapter on the pump, and it took some fussing before I got it all figured out. And Lizzie came out to “help” for a while, but luckily Audrey took her to the park so I could finish.

In the end, the mend worked.

And I didn't have to “speak French,” in the “Blast from the Past” sense, for long.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

British Bikes As Art Ojbects

Two views of bikes at Norwich Library.

OK, so maybe I'm reaching a little, since I did not bike today. We played tourist in Norwich today and were out walking from castle to cathedral to river all day long.

I would have to say that, although I got zero miles biking, it was probably good RAGBRAI training. There was enough walking today to exhaust every member of our party.

Here are two images of bikes parked at the central library in Norwich. Several things to note. British bikes are serious transportation, not just fun, so most have fenders to fend off the damp. Not that they needed them today. And the bike rack was chockablock full. On a random Tuesday, bikers filled their space at the Norwich library.

Meanwhile, I've never had to contend with a non-RAGBRAI full bike rack in the States. Come on Americans! Climb off the couch, get out of your Suburbans and mount your self-powered two wheels! It's embarrassing that a tiny island country with national health insurance can improve its national well being through biking, while we, with poor employer-based insurance waste our time away as our waists expand. Waist not! Bike more! Make some more American bike art like these British scenes. We have nothing to lose but a few extra pounds, and not Pound Sterling.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Half Expected to See Hobbits

Grafitti on trail. "Rural" UK scene ... note houses on horizon. Trail was old rail line .... some of the rails were recycled on the trail. Bike I rode.

Or perhaps some Black Riders. Yes, blog fans, CR Biker has had his first British biking adventure. It was a fine, warm March afternoon, and while the ladies attempted to nap--succeeding in Audrey's case, failing in Lizzie's and therefore Amanda's case--I headed out.

I borrowed Matt Moscou's bike and his helmet, which I had to adjust to a bigger head size. It was a bit odd riding an unfamiliar bike and even odder trying to ride it in a land where they ride on the left. I didn't have any close calls to speak of, but did have to constantly remind myself, and messed up at least once on a mercifully quiet stretch of road.

Anyway, fortunately, there was little road riding. I left Amanda's home around 1:30 and headed just a few blocks north and west. I had to snake through some back alleyways, which, he noted in an overt bit of foreshadowing, proved consequential, but found my way to the bike trail.

We had been on the trail briefly this morning as part of a long stroll to several parks and Amanda's old neighborhood.

I wanted to ride the opposite direction from where we walked, but failed at first and had to turn around. After the change in directions, I quickly left urban Norwich behind. The trail follows a narrow river valley and quickly takes the rider into a quaint land of woods and farm fields. It reminds one of a ride on the Cedar Valley trail near Cedar Rapids, but not quite as rural—the fields are smaller, they are more often grass than anything else, and there are often closely packed houses on the horizon rather than Iowa's more open rural vistas.

Still, it was a very pleasant ride. With the quaint little fields, and small country houses, I have expected to meet Frodo and company dodging some Ring Wraiths. The trail was paved in town, but quickly became compacted dirt in the countryside. I went a bit past the village of Drayton, and I estimate my round trip was probably a bit over 10 miles.

Hard to say, for sure. I was not familiar with the bike nor the countryside.

Still, all in all, a substantial ride. I like the signage in England, several notices urged me to call the police if I observed “antisocial behavior.” Or something like that, because the Brits throw in some extra vowels in “behavior.” No parking signs begin with the dire warning: “polite notice.”

Anyway, although I had to stay on my alert for tree roots, sticks, soft dirt and piles of what seemed to be horse or pony poo, I enjoyed the ride.

Until the end.

When I got lost.

Yes, I know, given the length and complexity of the route, I do take a certain pride in managing to get lost, but I did it. Not for long. The route between Amanda's 'hood and the main bike trail contains a spaghetti network of side trails through a park, and the 4-minute transit of the park ended up being 20 minutes or so.

But, I'm back. I wanted to be back before 3, but made it by 3:15 or so. Not sure how many more times I'll go riding, but I may again yet this week. It was fun.

Sadly, however, no Hobbits.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thinking of Biking in Britain

Bikes in downtown Norwich.

CR biker might ride soon in the UK.

I'm visiting my daughter and her family in Norwich, England. Despite narrow, crowded streets, this city in eastern England seems pretty bike friendly. There are lots of bikes everywhere, accessible bike racks and some bike lanes.

My son in law Matt owns two bikes, and is also traveling--he says I can use his or the spare.

I won't do a lot of riding. I don't have a helmet, so would have to go slow and careful. And I won't go far, because I need to find my way back.

Still, I may soon put foot to peddle on a new continent. If so, I will let you know ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rainbows and a Rescue by Dr. Neil

The morning rainbow over Blairs Ferry.

The weather certainly turned interesting this week.

I rode my bike on Monday, because it was not raining when I left home. Halfway to campus, however, there was a freakishly bright flash way too close for comfort, a rumble of thunder and then the rain hit.

Fortunately, not a downpour, but definitely raining. I decided my strategy would be to stop at the nearest park and stay under a picnic shelter until the storm passed—hoping my chances of being electrocuted by lightening were lower if I were under a roof.

As it happens, it turns out that the little park by Zach Johnson Drive has no picnic shelter. I was debating about throwing myself on the mercy of any person who would let me shelter in their garage (and my chances of finding anybody home) when an SUV pulled up beside me, and Dr. Neil Bernstein’s voice said, “do you want a ride, Joe?”

Well, heavens, yes I did. Thank you Neil. The irony is that by the time I finished wrestling with my front brake to remove the wheel, the rain was slacking off. Neil didn’t have to use his windshield wipers much at all while he drove to Mount Mercy University.

That night, I had bell practice. Thunderstorms were threatening again, and I asked Carolyn, our bell choir director, if we could have a shorter practice. She let me go at 6:45—about 15 minutes early. By 7:30, it was raining cats and dogs, but I was watching the rain out of my living room window. Thanks, Carolyn, and in case you wondered, yes, I made it home well before the storm.

Tuesday, for various reasons, including an evening program and morning damp, I did not ride.

Today, it was sprinkling in the morning, but there was little wind and no lightning, so I decided I must have installed fenders for a reason, and I rode. When I got to the corner of C Avenue and Blairs Ferry Road, the low angle of the rising sun was shining through the raindrops at that magical angle that refracts light into its spectrum.

A rainbow. Not one of those bright, complete, perfect summer rainbows—nor one of those times when the angle is just so and you get a double bow—but a rainbow. Somehow, I took it as a good omen, and despite some dark gray skies, the ride in wasn’t really all that wet—it was a pleasant spring morning.

I didn’t need a rescue from Dr. Neil today. It remains to be seen what the ride home tonight will bring. After that, CR biker is storing his peddles for a while due to an overseas trip, so it may be some time before you read his further adventures.

In the meantime, thank you Neil, and thank you Carolyn. May the wind be ever at your back, may your chain be always well lubed, may your butt be comfortable, your tires fully inflated and the road be free of sand and angry pickup truck drivers. At least that’s the best Irish-style wishes this biker than think of right now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

And On A Lazy Sunday, I Am Registered!

Things from my biking day. Blooming bushes at MMU and the end of my RAGBRAI form.

I took 15 minutes to change the flat on my back tire, then I was ready to ride to the office for weekend work.

I got lost on the way there. The sun was shining, the trail called, and 1 ½ hours later, I finally arrived at MMU, where in 15 minutes I grabbed some files and headed home.

When I got home, Tristan was there and wanted a ride. We were supposed to get some soda for supper, but I had some trouble with his seat and didn’t ride until afterwards—then we rode on the trail for about an hour at dusk (with lights on).

Well, then I konked out on the livingroom floor. I woke up around 9, registered for RAGBRAI online, and now it’s time to go to bed. I have much work tomorrow, but oh well, somehow it feels like an eventful day anyway. I am registered for RAGBRAI!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What We Talked About At Kent Park

Nicole and Ben, off on a new adventure. Adventure is in the air ...

It was a day of adventure. As my son Ben and his girlfriend paddled around the lake at Kent Park in our first kayaking day of 2012, Audrey and I strolled around the lake on a trail.

I told her I had pretty much resigned myself to just doing 3 days of RAGBRAI this year.

“Why?” she asked.

Well, because I didn’t have anybody to cart my stuff.

“You can put your bags on the baggage truck” she noted.

I got the general idea that she didn’t mind me being gone for seven days rather than three.

“We can spend a day visiting Nina, and then I can drop you off,” she said. We agreed that I could camp the night before the first day’s ride, just as I would camp every other night.


Today was a day of firsts. We had taken Nikayla and Tristan to “Pinkalicious” at Mount Mercy the night before, the first time we had taken those two to a play. That went well. Today was the first kayak day of 2012, and Nicole’s first time ever in a kayak. Despite choppy, cold water, it was a pleasant experience.

The first tulips were in bloom today. It was hot, for March. It reminded me of the RAGBRAI days of 2011, except those were much hotter.

Still, something about the day, the walk, the wellness of the first adventures we had been on recently, maybe my heat-addled brain. I felt my mind shifting.

Last year, I did my first RAGBRAI as part of a group.

This year, am I ready to solo for about half a RAGBRAI? To Audrey’s “why,” the only answer that seems adequate is: “Why not?”

There you have it, blog friends. It will depend on luck in the Register’s lottery—I’m not riding that far “alone” without official support—but, in case you’ve awaited the decision from CR Biker, it is:

I’m doing it. Wish this half-Irish guy some luck on this fateful St. Patty's Day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ready To Fend Off Those Splashes

Black like my bike, black like my brothers, black like my new fenders!

Yup, put them on this morning—the fenders. Now, I’m not much of a mechanic, and I was stumped for a while where the front one would be attached—I did not see a convenient hole on my bike where the installation diagram showed one.

But the diagram is from the folks at the after-market company that make the fenders, and they’re not familiar with my bike. Luckily, in another nearby location, I found the hole I was looking for, through which I could install a bolt.

Then, when I put the bolt in, it ran into my front brake, which doesn’t seem like a good idea. The one clear point in the installation instructions is to ensure that your cheap plastic new mud guards DO NOT INTERFERE WITH YOUR BRAKES (or don’t sue us because we tried, you nincompoops.) Yeah, I always wanted to pen product warning labels. Anyway, if I reverse the bolt, so it sticks out away from the brake, would that work?

So far, it seems to.

The back fender was a bit more complex to install since it involves a brace that embraces my bike seat shaft, or whatever they call the metal pole that holds the bike seat. The fender folks anticipated some complexity here, because there were several rectangular shaped pieces of flexible plastic included with the fenders—shims, I assumed, and the smaller shim worked.

Still, all in all, installing both fenders turned out to be a not very time-consuming ordeal. And now I should be slightly more protected from splashes when I ride in slight damp or through a puddle.

Given the dry, unusually warm weather we’re having, it may be some time before I can test this technology’s effectiveness.

I’ll gladly wait. I don’t mind unusually great biking weather so early in March! And when the damp returns, I’m ready with my fenders on.