Thursday, May 31, 2012

Creatures Observed On A Borrowed Bike

The borrowed bike.

I must have been quite a sight Wednesday.  On a ride last week with Jon, I broke a spoke, so my bike is in the shop.  Jon said it was OK for me to borrow his bike—but his bike has shoe clips, not peddles, and I don’t own bike shoes.

Ben and Audrey rescued a bike from a dumpster in Ames, but right now it needs a front flat fixed and a new pin the chain’s master link (Jon shortened the chain, which was grossly too long).

So the bike that was ready to ride and available was my wife’s lady’s mountain bike.

Well, practice for RAGBRAI is more important than pride, and the weather was nice today, so I rode.  I had a meeting with a prospective student this afternoon, and once that had ended, I headed out on the trail.  First, I went south to Mount Trashmore, then turned north and went out to County Home Road.

Asian lily bloomed for first time Wednesday in my garden.
I am not sure how far I rode.  Because F Avenue was closed, I took the trail both to and from MMU, which adds a bit of distance. I rode from 5 to 7:30.  On my own bike, I would average about 12 mph.  I felt like I was going fairly fast on Audrey’s bike, but it’s not built nor geared for speed, so let’s say maybe 25 miles in two and a half hours?

Anyway, it was a good ride.  There were lilies in bloom, it was a cool, slightly breezy day. 

Native Iowa lily along fence near small Baptist church where the fixed the loudspeaker, thank goodness, so that odd male voice can hector me as I ride.

This and next images are flowers at the end of the trail at County Home Road, where it is closed for paving.  Some catalpa still in bloom though most are done, and cone flowers just getting started.

I saw a number of animals, ducks and geese, of course.  Most odd was a deer, a doe, at Quaker Oats.  What was she doing there?  She was in some trees, sure, but also at the edge of a factory parking lot.  An odd place for Bambi's sister, mom or wife to loiter.

And there were plenty of people on the trail.

That was a mixed blessing.  What a sight I must have been.
Deer me! Wyatt and Katy's car.  Wyatt hit a deer while trying to enter I 380.  The deer must have gone up the ramp.  What is with CR deer?  Quaker Oats parking lot?  Interstate 380? Bambi, stay in the woods!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Not Quite A Century Week, But Some Good Rides

Jon with our bikes at frog statue at south end of Sac and Fox Trail.
Jon and I did our second RAGBRAI training ride of the week today—a three-hour ride that added almost 30 miles to my week's total—which gives me, with commutes, about 90 miles.

That’s probably a bit low—I want to start topping over 100 training miles a week next week—but still, a good week.

And today’s ride was pleasant enough.  Despite some threatening looking clouds early on, we stayed dry, and it got sunny as we went . And although the day turned very hot, we rode early enough that we weren't out in the worst of the heat.

A big, old turtle was blocking the trail at Cedar Lake--well, he wasn't quite big enough to block the whole trail, but I had to stop and snap his photos.  Did not get close enough for him to snap me.

We hopped on our bikes around 10 a.m. and headed for the Cedar River Trail.  When we got downtown, we left the trail and headed east along the Cedar River past the Cargill plant,along Otis Road until we came to the Prairie Park Fishery, a small lake with a bike-hike trail around it.  We did that trail, and then headed further east to the south end of the Sac and Fox.

There were two surprises on the Sac and Fox.  The trail is partly closed by a giant sewer project right now, so I was not expecting to reach the north end—but they have a bike detour marked, and, voila, before we knew it, we had reached the frog statue that marks the north end of the trail.

The detour included a very short stretch of Mount Vernon Road, and then this gravel road.  Jon didn't need me to lead along a road I'd never been on before, so got to bike at his own pace for a while.

The other surprise is that the trail was in slightly better shape than I expected.  We did find a few nasty soft spots, but not as many as I recall from last year.  I guess rain leads to water washing over the trail, leads to soft sandy spots, so no rain equals a firmer trail.

Jon couldn’t take my old-man pace and had to pass me going up the Cottage Grove Hill.  Which I rode up all the way—it is excellent RAGBRAI hill training, possibly the best training hill in Cedar Rapids.

Then, the ride home, which we reached by 1 p.m.

Our distance and speed were a bit lower today, partly due to the challenging Sac and Fox terrain, although I think a headwind kept our speed down a bit while we were headed to the trail anyway, but it was still a vigorous ride.

The only off note is that at some point—on the Sac and Fox, I think, but am not sure—I popped a spoke, which means my bike is in the ship for the first half of this week.  That will make reaching my training goal a bit more challenging.  I might borrow Jon’s bike, or, with luck, might get an old junk bike that Ben and Audrey harvested from an Ames dumpster in good enough shape to ride.

We’ll see.  At least we had quite a ride today!

Below, Jon and I (reverse that) and the Sac and Fox frog.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

32 Miles On a Warm Iowa Afternoon

Jon and I (reverse the order) on the lion bridge in downtown CR.

I have some work to do to get ready for RAGBRAI.  Commuting 10 miles a day isn’t enough, as Jon helped me prove on a slightly longer ride we took Tuesday.

Jon and his wife Nalena are visiting for a week before a 2-year stint in the Peace Corps takes them to Paraguay.  He brought his bike out, and we took a 3-hour ride together.

He has a functioning bike  computer, and in that time we rode a bit over 32 miles.  Given that we stopped several times, that’s not too bad.

One of our stops was not planned.  A family of geese briefly blocked the trail near the Cedar River.  Geese are not happy birds--they are angry birds.

On the way back, aided a bit by wind, I supposed, I really pumped it—and really regretted it later when my sleep was interrupted by cramps in what seemed like every single muscle of both legs.

The spell of intense pain was brief, and I did get back to sleep, and am not too sore today.  But if 32 miles can do that to me, I do have to put in lots and lots of practice miles before the Big Ride.

Still, that’s been my plan all along.

Jon had not been on the trail through Cedar Rapids before, and he was pleasantly surprised.  It’s an interesting route, with stretches of wooded country, a short jaunt through a giant grain processing plant, the transit of downtown Cedar Rapids—a weird and entertaining mix of Iowa city and countryside.  We didn’t extend the ride to Ely because road construction blocks the trail at the south end of town, but that’s OK—it was time for us to turn back anyway to attend a family gathering.

Just as I sat down to eat, my cell rang.  My sister Cate had been in a bike accident.  Nothing serious—she banged up one knee and bent her front wheel but was otherwise unharmed.  Memo to Cate, if you tested your helmet, toss it and buy a new one.  Anyway, Cate’s scrape was a reminder of how quickly an accident can happen on a bike.

Well, I was happy to rescue her—double bonus because she ended up having to be picked up at our house by Paulette, so both got to say hello to Jon and Nalena.

All in all, it was an interesting and lesson-filled biking Tuesday.  What were the takeaway lessons?  I need to practice more.  Always with my helmet on.

Below, on the ride back, Jon in my mirror.  He could easily out distance me but was following since I was the native guide.  Given the street, it was a dicey photo to take, but luckily I didn't do a "Cate."

Friday, May 18, 2012

I’m An Award-Winning Biker!

They are some sort of dog contest ribbons from wikkicommons.  Whatever, I still won.

Hey Blog fans, I’ll have to change my blog banner from “CR Biker” to “Award-Winning CR Biker.”

Mount Mercy University, the place where I nap and sometimes work, had a “bike to work” promotion this week, which was national bike-to-work week.

As part of the promotion, you could register each day for a drawing for a $25 gift card to a local bike shop.

And I won!  Hooray!  I’ll have to go there and scope out some bike bling for RAGBRAI.  I am looking for a rear rack of some sort, and maybe a frame pump.  Doubt that $25 will pay for both, but heck, it’s a start.

The MMU group was to meet today and bike to a restaurant.  Sadly, I could not be there, due to a department luncheon meeting.

But, thanks anyway, I gladly accept my award.  Bike on!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This One Goes Out To The Ones Who’re Gone

Well, I missed the “Ride of Silence.”  Too much grading in silence and other chores, such as delivering a candidate for a teaching job to a motel and then rehearsing bell ringing for graduation, for me to participate.

The ride was an event held in downtown Cedar Rapids this evening to remember and honor those who have been hurt or who died while bicycling, and to remind motorists to share the road.

Now, if someone on a bike dies, it may be a health problem.  Biking is prime time for heart attacks (even though, of course, it also prevents heart disease).  And when a biker is hit by a motorized vehicle, it’s not a given that the motorist is at fault, although, it is a given that, because of physics, it behooves the motorist to take care.  I’m no threat to the angry yahoos in pickups who shoot me dirty looks, but they can be a threat to me.

Anyway, I just wanted to note that I was there in spirit.  I hope the ride went well.  I hope any motorists in the area were at least respectful.

And then, to lighten the mood, here is a picture of the biking angel, a cheerful cherub who is always ready for a bike ride: my grandson Tristan seen recently at play in my living room.  By the way, we have a large tub of play clothes, from which these items were selected by Mr. T himself.  I think he does look like the biker guardian angel, does he not?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Biking To Work In A Bronze-Star City

My bike in a bike rack at work.
My bike looks a little lonely, doesn’t it?  It’s in a bike rack at Mount Mercy University behind Warde Hall, the main administrative building of campus.—all alone on a sunny summerlike morning during “bike to work” week.

I wish there were more bikers here.  It would be nice if I had some competition for the prime parking spot in the Warde Hall rack.  Then again, I know many people live too far away and don’t have the option of riding.

This week, Cedar Rapids earned a “bronze” designation as a bike-friendly city.  The city has targeted steps it can take to extend trails, mark lanes and otherwise make Cedar Rapids a better biking environment.

Bravo.  The more bike-friendly a place is, the more livable, and usually pedestrian friendly it is.  Audrey and I walked on the CENMAR trail near MMU recently—it will be much more useful to bikers when it ties into other trails in the future, but for now it’s already a pleasant place to stroll.

In a time of increasing waistlines and healthcare costs skyrocketing, partly due to preventable, obesity-related conditions, public policies that promote literal people power are all for the best.

I think Cedar Rapids deserves recognition.  I think pedestrian-bike friendliness needs to be more embedded in street designs, but recent project have definitely helped this bike commuter.  Last week, I had to meet other faculty members at a Northeast restaurant located in the Lindale Mall area.  I was worried about getting there, but didn’t realize that sidewalks and walk signs had been extended in the area, and crossing Collins Road and First Avenue turned out to be a non-event.  Well, cool.

Now, for those of you who might want to point out that I should not have been riding on the sidewalk, some of you also complain that bikes block or delay traffic on streets.  You can’t have it both ways—if you don’t want bikes on busy streets, they are relegated to the sidewalk.  And on certain streets—where there are more than two lanes of traffic, where the speed limit is 35 mph or higher—I refuse to ride on the street, but I don’t refuse to ride.  If I’m on the sidewalk, I must also remember that I have to signal to and yield to pedestrians—the sidewalk belongs to them, just as I expect cars to watch out for me on quite streets, where it makes more sense for me to ride on the main thoroughfare.

Anyway, back on track, such as it is.  It’s nice the Cedar Rapids earned the bronze rating.  Now, get our there and ride and fill up those MMU bike racks!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Slowing Down or Speeding Up to 3-3 Gear

My bike, parked at MMU.  Yes, that big rear gear is, these days, my start-up gear.  I'm using a slower gear, but I hope I'm riding faster.

I’m slowing down and, I hope, speeding up.

I’m never going to be one of the faster bikers on the road.  Too many young gazelles with good road bikes are out there—I’m a big, pokey, slow, old man on a hybrid bike not built or meant for speed (and I’m talking about both the bike and I).

I’m looking forward, a bit over a week from now, when this frantic spring semester has finally ended and I can get into to some serious RAGBRAI training, to more riding.  I feel that I was riding more last year, but I was more in fear of RAGBRAI then, too.  Still, last year’s ride definitely convinced me that that I can’t over-prepare, and I’ll be serious soon about getting in lots and lots of miles.

But my gearing has changed.  A year or so after I bought my current bike, when leaving the bike shop where I had some service done, the mechanic mentioned that he had seem me ride off in the wrong gear.  I usually used the fastest gear as my default one—old, bad habit from my youth, and he said to me that starting in that gear was harder on both me and my bike.

I think of that gear as 1-7—largest cog (1) in front, smallest cog (7) in back.  After thinking about it, I decided he knew bikes better than I did, and so I dedicated myself to using 2-5 as my start-up gear.

And I am sure he was right.  It was much more relaxing to begin in that gear.

This year, I got a new chain, and once that was installed, my rear derailleur didn’t want to start in 5—it “chunked” in that gear, so I began to start in 3-4 rather than 2-5.  Lately, I’ve switched to 3-3.

I noticed last year on RAGBRAI that many bikers who passed me were using gear 3 or 4 in the rear—they were rarely in “fast” gear.  Their leg speed was simply faster than mine.

Now, again, I can’t and don’t want to treat RAGBRAI as a race.  At my age and condition, that would just be setting me up for stress and depression.  Still, I’m lowering my gear.

Am I upping my speed?  Don’t know for sure—my on-again, off-again computer is “off,” for now.  I feel a bit faster, but then again, old ladies still frequently pass me on trail.

Well, we’ll see.  Life in 3-3 seems to suit me just fine.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Well, Blog Fans, Peonies Are Here!

I had a little time to kill before leaving home this morning, due to riding to the KGAN studio rather than MMU campus for my first class.  This isn't really from the morning ride-it's a clematis from my back yard--but it looks pretty in the morning light and is from this flowery day.  It will have to stand in for the missing peonies!

On the morning ride today, I saw more evidence of the Apocalypse or signs that global warming might be a socialist fantasy.
Peonies are in bloom in Cedar Rapids.  Not in my yard, which due to its shady nature, is always a bit behind, and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t snap any photos along my commute to prove it, but there was a nice line of traditional pink peonies blooming away between KGAN, where I stopped for a morning tour, and campus.

Yeah, it’s nice to see the peonies. More signs that The World Is Coming To An End?  The colorful, later irises are in full bloom along my commute route, too.  Both seem more like late May, early June flowers.(By the way, while none of the iris that I planted last fall seems to have come up--typical--the "Iris Witch" who cursed my gardens didn't curse my sister Cate's gardens.  Three clumps of iris that I transplanted from her yard last year have flower buds.)

Course, if we can stay a month ahead, RAGBRAI won’t be too bad, because we’ll be having end-of-August weather rather than end of July weather.

Somehow, I don’t think it works that way.  If we’re a month ahead now, we’ll be a month behind in October, and July might be more than I’m used to.

Oh well, it was hot last year and I didn’t melt.

It’s clouding up and rain is possible.  I hope it holds off.  But the morning ride was cool and pleasant.
And full of flowers.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dodging Rain During A Very Wet Week

Bike on damp driveway before wet Wednesday ride.  Rhododendron from the same morning, encouraged to bloom by our wet, warm Iowa weather.

The photo of my bike is from Wednesday morning.  It rained through the night, and was raining early, but had ended by the time I rode.

It was the kind of week when it rained practically every night, and yet I was still able to bike each day.  The wet Wednesday morning even featured damp, but pretty, flowers in my yard.

It looks like June.  In a Flickr photo gallery of images I took today, there are blooming bachelor buttons, even a cone flowers, not in bloom yet, but looking close.  This summer flower is likely to be blooming in May.  It looks more like summer than spring today in Iowa.

Well, I hope the wet weather eases soon.  Despite the rainy week, our creek isn’t overfull, so the ground must have been pretty dry when this mini-monsoon started.  May it end before the ground is soaked.

One of my biker friends noted on her Facebook page that she had taken a Thursday night ride, and discovered that lightning made her blow out all of her old MPH records.

Well, I’ve been luckier than that.  It was cloudy this morning, but the wet smelled of lilac and honeysuckle.  This evening, I biked to a Thai restaurant to meet some other professors for supper.  The sky was mottled and ugly coming home—but dry.

And that’s about as good as it gets this week.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How I Feel About Winning the Lottery

Well, the RAGBRAI lottery anyway.  It’s not quite as lucrative as Power Ball, but still …

Well, blog fans, drum roll please. Today was the day the Register announced the results of its lottery for week-long riders in RAGBRAI, and I’m (tarum tum pitty-pat tarum) in.


So, again, your correspondent will be riding more than 400 miles across the state of Iowa in the hottest part of a Midwest summer in a time of global warming. It’s the 18th shortest and 11th flattest, with a tad over 16,000 feet of climb and just a smidge over 471 miles. I don’t know what that will translate to in terms of volume of sweat or gallons of electrolyte drink consumed, but it’ll be a lot.

It must a good idea, or why would more than 8,000 lottery winners do it?

Sure, you can comment and answer, but it’s too late now, I’m in.

There’s still time for day riders to register for RAGBRAI, by the way. You don’t HAVE to register, but I think it’s a good practice for several reasons.  Registering gives you a wristband that gets you places where others have to pay to go. You are eligible for sag wagon services. And, you’re paying a fee to support the overall event that you’re participating in, which feels better to me than just showing up.

Anyway, I won’t really focus much on RAGBRAI for several weeks. I have to finish the spring semester at MMU, first.  I hope the MMU riders will do some regular practice riding this summer, but I certainly will be trying to pile on the training miles to get my aging body ready for this ordeal.

But, I honestly don’t have much anxiety about it.  Last year, it was an unknown. This year is my second time around.

I’m not ready, yet. But by late July, I can cycle those 1,000 practice miles. I can be ready.

RAGBRAI, here I come!