Monday, April 30, 2012

Maybe I Need a Fog Horn?

The ride this morning was a big foggy, damp and cool—that special cool that seems to seep in when it’s wet.

Fortunately, it wasn’t really all that cool, and my old “Mount Mercy College” sweatshirt that I like to wear to Mount Mercy University is warm enough that I briefly debated whether I needed it in this weather.

I did.

Did not run with lights, though.  My bright vest, I thought, was bright enough, and cars no had trouble seeing me.

I’m not sure how much bike commuting I’ll do this week.  There are thunderstorms in the forecast pretty much every day but today.

On the other hand, it’s the nature of summer storms to blow through.  Despite being on the cusp of May, we're having early summer weather here in Iowa.  I’m not sure it’s supposed to settle in and rain all day on any day this week--just afternoon storms fueled by summer-like humidity, sunshine and temperatures.

Maybe I’ll just have to keep the chain lube handy and time my commute.  We’ll see.

I love this fog picture, from Mundoo on flickr.  It was taken this month in Australia.  Our Iowa fog isn’t quite that pretty, and visibility was a bit better in Iowa this morning ….

Friday, April 27, 2012

When the radar starts to look all colorful

KGAN radar image at around 7 p.m. Friday.  No, it was not really raining yet in Cedar Rapids, but it looks out west like something wicked this way comes.

When you see colors on the radar image, then it’s time to be careful.  One of the changes of modern life that has crept up slowly on us is how much better local radar is.  I can still recall TV radar of the 1960s, looking very much like old images form WWII, with a line sweeping in a circle and white dots appearing on a black background, which could be clouds or birds or invading Russian bombers …

Today, when a storm is coming, we have several choices of sites to watch and see colorful, accurate and easy to interpret radar.  When there’s that dangerous little hook in a thunderstorm where a twister is twitching, we can watch and know when it’s a mile, ½ mile, next door, or will pass us by.

Today’s radar was a bit colorful, for a biker.  I often check the radar on KGAN, channel 2, because I’m used to it.  KCRG has good radar, too, but I tend to check KGAN out of habit.

Today, the sky was alternatively partly sunny, then grey and white and colorful in a way that doesn’t look that good for a biker.

I had no trouble biking in this morning, but when I checked the radar at 3, there was way too much green.

Green may mean rain.  But the radar picks up rain that doesn’t reach the ground, too, so sometimes it’s just “ghost rain,” water changing levels in the sky up high.

That seemed to be the case today.  I had too much to do and couldn’t lead campus until 4—my usual leaving time on Friday, although today I had hoped to leave much earlier to avoid forecast thunderstorms.

Despite the menacing radar, I lucked out.  The sky kept looking worse and worse, but despite darkeining hues of grey, raindrops never fell on my head.

Lucky me.  I’m sure it will rain, but despite the interesting colors of radar, I didn’t get dampened (or electrocuted) today—and I’m all in favor of that trend.  So the song is just an ear worm:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CR Plans More Bike Trails…Muted Applause

I read this story recently in the Gazette:

Cedar Rapids officials push more funding for trails, bike lanes
As a biker, you can imagine that I’m pleased the city is committed to more bike trails.  Trails are more useful if they connect, and bikers are safer when they’re using the trails rather than riding in the streets.

As you can also imagine, the article has drawn a lot of comments, many to be expected of the “oh sure, don’t fix our streets” or “bikers, not taxpayers, should pay for trails.”  The typical tripe that any article about biking or trails will inevitably draw.

But, I have to admit, to some extent I’m torn on this news.  Why?

While I like trails, streets in Cedar Rapids need more attention.  I cycle through the Kenwood neighborhood on my daily commute, and the streets are like the Chinese food in the small Alabama town in “My Cousin Vinny.”  They are terrible.  It's cool to put money into trails.  But, the streets badly need attention.

And, while I ride the trails when I can, I use streets to get there.  Having more trails won’t remove bikers from the streets—indeed, if trails are more readily available, more people may be motivated to bicycle, and the way from home to the trail, for most, will be via street.

Those crowded streets aren’t always a bad thing—having more people motivated to bicycle has all kinds of ancillary benefits, so even if it means more bikes on the street, the trend can also mean a healthier and happier and less flabby body politic.

I also don’t buy the “bikers should pay for trails” arguments, because that road leads to “park users should pay for parks” scenario.  In some cases—such as swimming pools—it makes sense for users to chip in for public facilities, but in other cases—parks in general—having them free to everyone and paid for by taxes is the point—and hiking/biking trails are just a subcategory of “park.”  Not everyone chooses to use them, but their existence and openness to all is important.

Well, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the more extensive trail system if or when it arrives.  I’ll be glad to see the trails expanded.  Although I’ll bike on sidewalks or streets to get there.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Biking To Bells On A Sunday

Headed home (above).  Tripod strapped to bike basket.
Above, Tristan before ride, below, Nikaya during ride.  Both got bike rides on my bike today.

Today, which started cool and cloudy, ended up cool and sunny.  It was good biking weather.

I had an MMU Handbell Choir performance at Hallmar Care Center, which is located in Mercy Medical Center downtown.  I purchased bungee cords Saturday, because I wanted to record the performance with a digital video camera, and needed to use (and transport) a tripod.

Well, it worked like a charm.  I arrived in time, the recording went well, and the ride there was pleasant.  I took the Cedar River Trail on the way home, which seemed to take about the same amount of time.

When I got home, Katy and Wyatt, who had been gone from town on a weekend trip, where there.  Both Nikayla and Tristan wanted rides.  I took Nikayla first, then Tristan.  Nikayla went on the Boyson Trail for a while, but Tristan’s shorter ride was just in our neighborhood, although I did go over the Bowman Woods hill with Tristan, and I think he and I both liked the downhill ride.

All in all, a decent biking Sunday.  A bit short on miles—it will be after the semester ends before I can really do some decent RAGBRAI practices, but it was nice to get some miles in today, and the bungee cords worked!  Here is one of the songs the MMU Handbell Choir played:

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Butterfly Visitor and Passenger

The “Red Admiral” is supposed to be a sign of June, so maybe April just had it all distracted.

When I bicycled to Mount Mercy this morning, I parked at the library building because I had to pick up a PDF copy of the paper at the newspaper office, and I knew I would end up at the library building this afternoon.

Busse Library has a covered atrium at its entrance.  When I got ready to leave around 4:30 this afternoon for the bike ride home, a butterfly was frantically flitting about my bicycle.  I unslung my camera to try and capture its image.

It wasn’t cooperative.  With my Nikon on action setting, maybe I could have caught it, but the Kodak needs a little time think, far more than this frantic flying insect would give it.

The irony is that it was around 50 degrees, cloudy and cool—it was amazing that the butterfly could move at all, let alone dash about like a mad thing.  My theory is that the atrium itself both warmed it and confused it—it kept flying at the glass as if it would fly through.

At one point, it flitted next to my face and landed on my helmet by my left eye.  I tried to point the camera at myself, while it was perched there, but, flit, it was off again.

Oh well.  The butterfly had apparently disappeared, so I put camera away and got ready to put my briefcase into my basket.  Well, surprise, surprise, surprise.  Apparently cooled and comatose now, there was my butterfly stalker, sitting in my basket on one of my bike lights.

Where I would crush it if I put my bag in its usual space.  I took camera out again and snapped its photo. Now it was still and easy to shoot.  So still that when I stuck my finger in to gently nudge it out of the way, it languidly crawled, refusing to take wing.

Well.  I moved it under the light, placed my bag in my basket, and took off across campus.  Near Warde Hall, curious about how my passenger was enjoying its ride, I briefly stopped.

And flit.  Like a passing dream, it shot off, crookedly but rapidly and silently going on its way.

Fly on, cool Red Admiral.  And I like to think I had a small part in rescuing you from the entrapment of an atrium.  Hope you find somewhere to shelter in the frosty night so you can herald June.  In June.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Grey Skies And A Windy Ride

What the sky looked like after I crossed the Cedar River on my way back home.  Heading north was much faster than heading south on this windy day, and it never did rain, at least not this afternoon.

I set out on an afternoon ride this Sunday, despite not really having time for it.

It was too windy and I was too stressed, but still.  Nothing like a brisk ride.

I headed south, into the teeth of a fierce wind.  I need some wind practice for RAGBRAI and today was perfect for that.

The sky was undecided. It would be blue, then grey.  I think they were having storms east of us that were sliding north, and we just stayed on the edge of the storm area.

I had planned to go south past Mt. Trashmore, but made slow progress, and shortly after I crossed the Cedar River, I decided the sky was getting too interesting.

So I caved and went home and got some work done after all.  Not as much as I should have, but somehow it didn’t feel wrong on a Sunday to spend some time enjoying the outdoors.  Just for the practice, I climbed Bowman Woods hill for no reason at the end of the ride—I’ll start doing that several times a week.

RAGBRAI hill training, you know.

Friday, April 13, 2012

How To Put A Smile On His Face

Top photo is Mr. T after our ride.  Pretty happy.  Bottom photo is my parking spot today--hall outside my office.

Tristan apparently wasn’t having the greatest day.  When he came over this afternoon, he was slightly on edge and out of sorts.  Nikayla said “no” when he asked for Easter candy—although, technically, the candy was not under Nikayla’s control.

Mom ate a jelly bean that he wanted.  The Easter bowl is full of jelly beans, but nonetheless, it was a crying crisis.

It rained today, but I had commuted by bike.  It was only slightly misty in the morning, and rained mid-morning (luckily, I parked my bike inside).  When I walked across campus this afternoon, it was misting, but it had stopped by the time I biked home.

When Tristan came over, his main goal was to have a bike ride.  Well, I checked outside—cloudy, cool, but dry.  So, we decided to chance it.

And I’m glad I did.  We put a zippered sweatshirt on him and found a light jacket whose hood would fit under his helmet.

His hands got a bit cold, but I found his pockets for him and he kept his hands in them for the rest of the ride.

The wind from the south was cold, and he commented several times that it was windy, but when we reached the end of our ride (we went down the Cedar Valley trail south from Hiawatha into Cedar Rapids, turned around before we got to the “bridge” street where the trail crosses itself and loops down) and turned north, he repeatedly told me “it is warmer,” I think to assure me that he was enjoying the ride.
It misted a bit, but mostly it was dry.  And it was clear that he was enjoying the ride.  Mr. T was a new kid by the time we got back home, about an hour and half after we left.  He was full of energy, bouncy and happy the entire evening.

That’s the power of biking.  It’s good for both the young and the old.  It can certainly put a smile on Mr. T’s face, and mine, too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Every Time You Break A Spoke, An Angel Gets Her Wings

Cover of report on economic impact of biking in Iowa.
Last Saturday, I noticed a compelling story in the Gazette on the “money” page called “Biking ROI.”

The article covered a study on the economic impact of biking in Iowa.  The numbers are pretty staggering.  Around 150,000 recreational bikers inject more than $360 million into the state’s economy each year, and save around $74 million in healthcare costs.  Here is a link to the full text of the study.

Every time you break a spoke, an angel gets her wings.  Or at least, that’s what it feels like, a little.  I recently got into a minor tiff on the KCRG web site, when I commented on a news story and stated something about bike commuting, which drew the usual oaf-behind-the-wheel whining about me “cheating” by not paying taxes by biking.

Ha.  I’m keeping the air cleaner, causing less wear and tear on the streets, saving healthcare costs and boosting the state’s economy as part of an important and lucrative activity.

This year, I’ve already replaced my chain, a spoke, a tire, a tube—and purchased an MMU biking jersey, as well as signing up, and paying an entry fee for, RAGBRAI.  This summer, I’ll eat (and pay) my way across the state as part of a roving hoard of bikers who give the state valuable PR and millions of dollars.

Clearly, my decision to peddle my way to work and enjoy weekend riding is based on selfish motives.  I bike because I like to bike.

But, also clearly, I’m benefiting all of Iowa.  Not by hundreds of millions myself personally, but biking is an important activity for economic, ecologic and health benefits.

So it’s true.

Every time you break a spoke, an angel gets her wings.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Easter Ride

Photo is probably the point of this blog post, I thought it was a cool image if a bit dicey to shoot.  I was riding the trail with my son-in-law Brandon when I snapped this, that's him in my rear-view mirror.

My son-in-law Brandon came down for Easter, and, along with his family, he brought along his bike.

He’s planning to do RAGBRAI this year, too, and it seemed like the kind of day to get some miles in.  So around 11, we headed out to the Cedar River Trail.  We joined the trail in Hiawatha and headed south, riding until we got to the new federal courthouse, where the road was blocked.

It was time to go home and have Easter dinner, so we headed back and I showed him my commuting route from Mount Mercy.

The day was cool and so was the ride.  I’m hoping he brings his cool orange bike to CR more often.  The ride was a nice change of pace for both of us.  Like last year, most of my RAGBRAI training will have to take place after the spring semester ends, but it was a good day to get 15 miles or so in.

Friday, April 6, 2012

It’s A Good Friday Ride With Mr. T

Mr. T on a walk this afternoon down to Dry Creek behind our house, not long before our ride. He loves the creek, and we saw it several times on the ride. "Look at water?" he often asks.

It was cold overnight with a low of 32, but despite a frosty start to the day, this turned out to be a gorgeous spring Good Friday in Iowa.

On Thursday evening, Katy’s three kids came to stay overnight with us. We went up to the Bowman Woods School play area—the ladies (Amelia, Nikayla and Audrey) walked, while I took Mr. T in the trailer attached to Audrey’s bike. I didn’t use my bike because Audrey assumed it might be a good idea to have “carrying capacity” in case Nikayla wanted a ride home, but when we left the play area, she said she wanted to again walk.

Well, Audrey, Amelia and Nikayla left first while I loaded Mr. T. They headed north to walk up to Boyson Road and then to turn south on Kent. Tristan and I took the south way out of the park. When Audrey came to Kent, she turned left. When I came to Kent I turned right. Both of us were headed to Sussex.

And we met. And Nikayla, by then, two blocks in to the walk, wanted to ride, so she got loaded into the trailer, too.

Today, for one reason and another, Nikayla didn’t nap when Tristan and Amelia slept, and Audrey was trying to get her to lay down later, so she suggested Mr. T and I take a later afternoon bike ride.

Well, you don’t have to push us very hard. I’m such a biking fan that I write a biker blog. Mr. T pretends to be me with his toy bikes, announcing, for example, that he’s “going to work” when he gets on a bike, which he will then ride between kitchen and living room before returning and noting that he has “come home” and has to “put bike away.”

Did I also mention he tilts his toy bikes at a sharp angle when he gets on and off? And grunts audibly during the mounts and dismounts? He’s imitating the noises an old man with a tall bike makes when getting on or off—noises he has heard many times. His impression is hilarious partly because it’s pretty good.

Anyway, off we rode using my bike with the front child seat. We headed to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and went north to Tower Terrace Road. It was about a 90 minute round trip—a bit longer than it would take me riding alone, but I go more slowly when I have Tristan, and not just due to extra weight, but extra care, too.

It was a fun ride. Mr. T is a great bike companion, partly because he just obviously enjoys it so much, and partly due to his almost constant narration of the biking experience.

Finally, as a bonus, an early Easter bouquet of flowers shot this Good Friday as Tristan played outside this afternoon. I shot these with the "regular" lens of my Nikon, at about 50 mm, so I was right on top of the subjects and pretty happy with the focus at this short distance: