Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dry, Warm Birthday Rides


Bike tires near Warde Hall rack, with mine in foreground.
Don't know why it's so, but I'm glad to see more bikes at MMU.
On Wednesday, just because I wanted to, I took the trail home.  I ended up going through Harding Middle School, because it’s the fastest route from the trail to my home, but I felt a bit odd since there were still some activities going on.

I don’t want to be the creepy old man biking through practice.

New this school year:  All the cool kids have lunch boxes that were on clearance at Target.
Not only is it so cool, but note how the strap makes it snap on the back rack perfect.  Nice.
So, today, when I turned 54, what did I do?  Yup.  The trail, because I like the trail, but Harding Middle School because I had left MMU after 5 and wanted to get home.  And, there were several groups or teams out doing whatever while that creepy old biker passed through.

Oh well.

Anyway, the first 54 years on the planet have been good.  The most recent one featured many fun biking moments:

  • Pulling into Clinton on RAGBRAI, seeing the old home, eating at Rastrelli’s, noting how much the maple my dad planted has grown.
  • Riding north on new pavement of the Cedar Valley trail.  I have not had time to really go the “end” of it, maybe this Labor Day weekend.
  •  The Raccoon River ride.  I’ll have to try to fit it in again next year.
  • Riding some mornings on the new parts of the Boyson Road trail, where there’s a nice woodsy area leading to a new bridge and I often see deer and other critters.

Anyway, even if it’s warm and dry again, and it’s sad to see some trees that could not make it through this tough year, “hot” in late August is not the baking heat of July.  It’s getting dark earlier and there are signs of a chill in the air.

Flowers along the trail.  How nice.
Fall is coming, and with it cools temperatures and even better biking weather.  May the next year of my life include plenty of two-wheeled fun!
Butterfly flower in front when I got home. The later afternoon light was too tempting.

Tree eater shows up outside my window, munching on rogue mulberry.  He did not appreciate the paparazzi, and left right after I took the photo.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Books In Back Upon A Rack


Top photo is bag of books in place.  I have, however, removed
a bungee cord, so no, the bag doesn't just sit there.
Second image is the bike rack on back as the bike
is also parked in a rack at Warde Hall, MMU.
I won a $25 gift card last spring by biking to work. It was to a bike shop I rarely visit, but I was happy to go there and spend the card on something.

I bought a back rack. I've long had a front basket on my bike, but find it's unsatisfactory for my briefcase when I'm carrying books—the extra weight in front makes the bike seem unsteady.

I put the rack on before RAGBRAI, figuring to use it to carry my tent, which I did for one day before deciding that was ridiculous. I did use it again on the final days to carry a small bag with a spare outfit so I could shower at the end of each day, so the rack was still useful on RAGBRAI.

Today, it rained, and I planned to go to the office. By the afternoon, when I was leaving, it was damp but no longer raining, so I decided to ride. Since I was working on syllabuses for fall classes, however, I had books to carry.

So I used a canvas bag and bungee cord.

I'm happy to report that the scheme, while not aesthetically pleasing, worked quite well. The extra weight over the rear wheel is lower down and doesn't seem to change the center of gravity of the bike to make it wobbly. I suppose it does block one rear light, but I have two others, one on the very rear of the rack and the other on my helmet, so I think I would still be OK lightwise.

All in all, it was a successful experiment. No longer will I have to try to catch Audrey to place bag of books in her car. If need be, I can carry them myself on my new back rack.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The First Rides of the New Year

We had our faculty retreat Thursday, so summer has come to a screeching halt and the work and commuting year has begun.

The first few bike rides were a bit more pleasant in the morning than in the afternoons. The main reason is that was nicely cool in the mornings both Thursday and Friday—but it got up to 90 in the afternoons.

Still, in the context of this summer—I won't complain much about riding in 90-degree heat.

The long bike rides of summer are gone. I'm sure there will be a few afternoons where I take the extra time to trek the trail route home, and some Saturdays where I ride for pleasure, but for the most part my biking is more businesslike and briefer now—a way to get from home to work and back again.

The bike and helmet lights were already handy, as there was a reception for new faculty in my department at the chair's house, followed by an evening newspaper staff meeting—and it was 9 p.m. by the time I headed for home Thursday night.

Well, the commuting year has started. They say that June, July and August are the three main reason to be a teacher, and I won't dispute it—but then again, when the school year kicks in, I'm the guy who's riding with lights at 9 p.m. because my day began at 8 and didn't end until 13 hours later. Not all days are like that, but still, it's much more than 40 hours a week.

Which is one reason I bike. A bit of quiet, a little exercise, 25 minutes twice a day of “me” time—I could drive in 10 to 15 minutes what I bike in 25, but I wouldn't enjoy it as much and it wouldn't relax me as much.

Let the bike commuting begin.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lost in the Tangle of Faux Pastoral


Where Boxwood and Mosswood and Boxwood meet.  It's not the only such confused place in Cedar Rapids.  The street I live on is Brentwood Drive east of C Avenue and Ashton Court west of C Avenue.  Why? HIIK.  (Heck if i know).
I met my wife and a grandson at C Avenue Park in Cedar Rapids today, and, to get to campus, bicycled down 74th Street heading west to meet the Cedar River Trail.
74th Street NE is one of those streets in Cedar Rapids, like Council Street, that seems to be under construction for a decade or so.  Nearby cities such as Marion don’t get into the true spirit of road construction—they just bulldoze an area, spread some asphalt, and voila, a done street in just a matter of weeks.  In CR, we understand that streets are organic and need time to grow and evolve.  Or at least it seems that way.

Anyway, 74th Street was blocked off for some sort of project sometime in the Nixon Administration, and it’s expected to open by the time Y3K rolls around.  In the meantime, there are detours.  To give credit to the city, at least there is a “sidewalk detour” marked that doesn’t involve avoiding the whole quadrant of the city, as the “car detour” seems to, and it was said sidewalk detour that I took today on my bike.

I don’t even remember the street names on the resulting convoluted route.  They were weird and English sounding and faux pastoral, like “Pine Mountain” or “Mermaid Sky” or “Chesterfield Barracks.”  Whatever, it got me thinking of the odd way we name things at the edges of our small North American towns.

The sidewalk detour takes you by Oak Mont, where there are few oaks and no monts.  By the way, what an odd word "detour" is.  Because you tour more when you take one.
Why did I pass a little subdivision or condo development named “Oak Mont?”  WTF?  (Why the fa├žade?).  There are plenty of oaks in CR, but not a lot in this development, that I could see.  And “Mont?”  I work at a university whose name, “Mount Mercy,” is unintentionally a little funny, because we’re in Iowa.  There is Mercy to be had here, but no “Mount.”  Despite the groaning of tired students (and bicycling professors) who have to climb it every morning, it’s a Paha, a glacial hill, a bit of rubbish piled up by a sheet of ice, it’s not the stuff of which the name “Mount” is made.

And as I passed along the 74th Street detour, I got to thinking of all those weird names.  The street sign, by the way, is real, yes, for no discernable reason at a T intersection, one wood-named street does not run into the other, rather one street itself makes a 90-degree turn and the other “leg” has another name.

Does it make sense?  Clearly, no.  But then again, I live in a neighborhood quaintly and totally inaccurately named “Bowman Woods.”  Sure we have a creek that has trees, but calling it a “woods” is to insult any real substantial stand of forest.  And “bowman?”  Katniss Everdeen isn’t hunting game here, as far as I know (and I guess if she were, it would be Bowwoman Woods anyway).

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  Still, one would expect a bit of swell in the landscape and a bit of forested greenery in a place called Oak Mont.  One would be sorely disappointed.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lafayette, I Am Here

End of the road for me, I turned around in the little bike parking area just on the other side of this new bridge were a road crosses the newly-paved Cedar Valley Nature Trail north of Cedar Rapids.
Lafayette is the name of a germ of a town that never really sprouted, a cluster of a few houses and now-closed tiny stores north of Cedar Rapids along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.

That trail has a newly paved portion north of Robins, and I had ridden on it last weekend. However, this week, the trail was closed again. A rumor among bikers is that there were several accidents involving bikers who didn't make way quickly enough for construction trucks and ended up falling when they hit the loose rocks adjacent to the trail.

Can't say I blame the powers that be, if the rumors be true, for deciding they had better finish construction completely before letting bikers back on the track.

But, despite the “trail closed” sign still being in place, the barriers were down today, and I went a bit farther north than I had in my first ride on this new pavement. I did not have time to go to the end of the new surface, but I made it to Lafayette, and back.

It was a pleasant ride. Although we are in a dry week during a drought, recent rains and cool weather leave everything still seeming lush, particularly compared to this dry summer. There were enough clouds to keep me from having to wear shades, but enough light to make it a cheerful day.

New shoes, which I biked in Thursday, I think.  Very comfortable. 
I was wearing sandals today, new, comfortable ones that I will probably use for work on warm days. When it cools a bit, I'll be wearing my new shoes, which I wore on some bike rides earlier this week.

New shoes on a new trail on a fresh, fall-like day...biking is only better when I have more time, but conditions were just about ideal today. And old tunnel-like culverts near Lafayette have been replaced, as you can see by the new “Lafayette” road underpass, shown at the top of this post.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Good Omen For New Trail Section

Monarch (and bonus beetle) on a thistle near newly opened trail section.  Good luck, I think.
The Queen came to visit today on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.

The Linn County Trails Association,linncountytrails.org, announced it on their web site Friday, but I found it by accident this afternoon. Some, though not all, of the newly paved Cedar Valley Nature Trail is open north of Robins.

I recorded my entrance onto the new trail in video, and shot some photos


The trail is obviously “new,” with ditches yet uncovered by vegetation. I imagine the ride will be even more pleasant next summer, but bravo—more paved trail north is a good thing.

While out riding and shooting, I encountered a young woman out jogging with her dog. She stopped and chatted with me for a few minutes, wanting to know if I had passed the 4-mile marker.
Jogger on trail, she stopped to ask me about mile markers.
Maybe my vest was confuing.

I had not, but I think the reason is that the mile markers were probably removed in the trail project, a point I suggested to her. “Oh, we'll call it four miles then,” she said, and jogged off.

I went as far north as the bridges over Otter Creek. I'm not sure how far exactly that is, but I estimate I went a bit more than 6 miles north of Boyson Road (the estimate based on the fact that it took me 35 minutes to get back to Boyson Road, and I cruise along somewhere around 12 miles an hour on a trail).

There were some workers installing part of the railing on the north bridge at Otter Creek, and I decided it was a logical turn-around point.

As I was heading back, I spotted her—no, not the jogger lady, the Queen. She was flitting along the left side of the trail, and I stopped and unslung my camera, only to have her dart off. Not far, fortunately, as she stopped to drink at a thistle on the right side of the trail.

She was a Monarch. I've seen Monarch Butterflies this summer, but not has many as usual. I don't know if changes in their Mexican winter homes or the drought here this year accounts for that, but still, there she was (definitely she, no scent patches on rear wings which would make her a he). I was glad to see her. Seems like a minor good omen for the first ride on a nice new stretch of trail on an unusual cool summer day.
My point of turning around, bridge at Otter Creek.

It was a very unusual day, in this hot, dry summer. It rained overnight, and there was a greenish tint and wetness to this ride which I have not experienced much this year.

The drought has not completely lost it's grip, but at least we're enjoying a break now. May more cool weather and rains be headed our way!

Final, unrelated note—on my way from the trail to MMU, I passed the yield sign at the corner of Maplewood Drive and Wildwood Drive. It's one of the most inexplicable street signs in CR. Headed south on Maplewood, one does not stop or yield. Wildwood Drive, which comes in from the west but ends at the intersection, has a stop sign. So, why, headed north on Maplewood, does one encounter this yield sign? To whom does one yield? Traffic on the cross street coming from the west stops completely. If one were turning left from Maplewood to Wildwood, one would yield to oncoming traffic anyway.

There is a story behind this yield sign. It must mean something. But what?
Yield?  To whom?  Based on where this sign is, it seems to mean nothing.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Watching All the Bunnies and Deer

If at first you don't succeed ....  The first brood of robins in my back bushes was eaten by something, cat or raccoon, I suppose.  But the robins are trying again, and I wish them luck.  Note that just right and below daddy, you can see one of the babies--there seem to be 3 in the nest.
OK, the bird is just in my back yard, and although I saw lots of birds on my bike rides today, I suppose that's cheating, a little.

The doe, however, is legitimately from my morning ride. After I went to the gym, I rode on part of the Boyson Trail, and saw this doe.

Doe on trail between Lindale Drive and main Boyson Road trail, this morning around 8.
Later today, late morning, the grandchildren were over playing, and I offered Tristan a pre-lunch ride. He accepted and we headed down the Boyson Road trail.

Although I didn't photograph them, we actually saw four more deer. He also informed me that any patch of trees we passed through was the “deep dark woods” where the Gruffalo lives.

His older sister is obsessed with the Gruffalo, and apparently Tristan is getting into the act, too.

It's been cool, naturally, since RAGBRAI is over and it's safe for nice weather to return to Iowa. We've had a few rains, which have greened up some of the plant life, although much still looks tired in this dry year.

Today's ride was all about the critters, and we saw many birds and bunnies as well as deer. It was a good Thursday for a mid-day ride.
I asked Tristan after I hopped on the bike--"should I take our picture before we go for our ride?"  "Yes," he said.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Looks Like Bones in the Shape of a Beetle

Bike rack at Linn County building where Treasurer's Office is located.  Looks like the shape of the Beetle or maybe an old rib cage.
Don't you like the shape of this bike rack? It looks like some giant fish or whale died long ago in this spot, and after it fossilized (into metal through some odd chemical reaction), they left the rib cage exposed as a bike rack.

This is at the new “Jean Oxley Public Services Building,” a county government structure. I went with Audrey and Ben and Nicole to the building this morning so Audrey could turn in the license plates of the VW Beetle, which she sold Monday.

Part of mural inside lobby of
Jean Oxley building in Cedar Rapids.
Bye, bye Beetle. You were fun while you lasted, but an expensive toy, as any maintenance required costly German parts. We'll miss you, but were pleased to get any money at all out of you, in the end.

Oddly, on this bike blog, one of the posts of long ago that still gets traffic is one where I wrote about driving a Beetle when I wasn't biking.

Well, we have Jon's borrowed car for now, and it will be a while before we buy anything to replace the Beetle. And when we do, no, it probably won't be a Beetle again, although it's likely to be a small car with manual transmission, if we can find one.

Anyway, the end of the Beetle comes as the junk bike has also broken down—a little piece of the back axle broke. I don't know how easy or hard it will be to replace—if it's not cheap, it's not likely to be done at all. We'll see.

And, in other Cedar Rapids bicycling news …

Tristan was over yesterday evening, and a bit out of sorts. A 2-year-old who misses his nap can get that way, and Mr. T was definitely “that way.” Still, the promise of a ride home on a bicycle calmed him a bit, and I quickly installed the bar that holds the toddler seat, and away we rode.

It was around 8, just getting a little dusky, so we ran with lights and vests on. As soon we were moving, he was calmed down. Nothing like a glide on Old Blackie to bring out the good mood in that boy, whether that boy is Mr. T or CR Biker. We headed south along C Avenue to the trail behind Walgreen’s and then east to the Boyson Road trail in Marion.

It was too late to ride the whole trail, so when we got there we turned north to Boyson Road. Fortunately, this summer the sidewalk along Boyson has been completed all the way to 10th Street, so we had an easy, traffic-free ride.

Tristan noted every bridge, every puppy and every biker that we passed.

When we got to his house and I took him off the bike, he insisted that mom had to take his helmet and vest off—the 2-year-old monster was returning. He ran off into the house, and I left quickly, to let Katy track him down and try to put him to bed.

Still, it was a fun ride, as it always seems to be with Tristan. I retraced the route on the way home, and it was a bit of a mistake. The sky was growing blacker and the light was fading. We had met numerous walkers and bikers on the trail on the way to Tristan's house, but the trail was dark and quiet when I was returning home. By the time I got to the side trail that leads behind Walgreen’s, it was honestly too dark to ride there, although I did anyway.

Slowly. Even with my lights, it wasn't easy to see, especially when you get to Cedar Rapids and the trail becomes an undeveloped rut in an old railroad right of way.

I won't do that route in the dark again, although I made it home fine.

And now the Beetle is history, Mr. T is, I hope, in a better mood, and soon, I'm also hoping, the junk bike might be ready to ride again. It might even return to Ames with Ben, plans are a bit up in the air, but only if it can be ridden. While the Beetle is gone, the junk bike might have a few more miles in it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Happy Trails To You, MMU


Picture from PDF file.  Cleck on it to enlarge before you answer survey.
The local powers that be seem to be getting serious about bike trails.

For those, like me, who commute by bike, this is good news.  For those of you, testosterone-infested males driving big ugly SUVs, who hate bikers, this is also good news.  More trails equals fewer bikes on the streets, something that both bikers and bike haters would agree is a good thing.

But, of course, there is the whole taxation and how you spend public monies wisely issue that muddies it up.  I will freely admit that, even as a biker, I’m not sure that bike trails are always number-one (or two, or three) on the priority list, and just because something is “good,” it doesn’t make it better than something else (flood control?) that might compete for public dollars.

Tax dollars are not an unlimited resource.

Still, the Linn County Trails organization, linncountytrails.org, is doing a survey on trail connections to help local powers that be decide what trail developments should be a priority.

I’ll admit that the three I listed highest, shown with orange boxes of importance on my picture of the city’s PDF file listing the trail connections in question, are personal and based on where I live and where I ride.  I would be interested in just about any of these trails, including the idea of connecting the Sac and Fox and Prairie Parks Fishery trails to an Otis Road trail (the SE loop).

If and when the CENMAR trail is complete, I will have a totally non-street route to work at Mount Mercy.  That will be nice.

Anyway, CR bikers, if you want your input to be heard, check out the list (click on image above to enlarge) and then go to this link to find and take the survey.

May the best trail win!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hot Ride on a Trail that Does Not Go North


The end of the road, for now, with some tantalizing new pavement further north.  When will the trail open?

I had not gone north on the Cedar Valley Trail since RABGRAI, and I knew that they had finished paving the trial because I saw the paving work before the big cross-state ride.

So today, when I left Mount Mercy around 1:30, I decided to take the trail route home, and to head north just to see if they had opened the trail.  As I reached Boyson Road, I saw the “trail closed north of County Home Road” sign.  Well, darn.  Maybe they opened the trail but forgot to take down the signs?

It was hot, in the upper 90s, and heat waves were radiating off of the asphalt of the trail as I peddled gingerly north.  I brought my MMU water bottle, and was glad I did.  By the time I went north about 3 ¼ miles to confirm that the trail was indeed still closed, I was almost glad it was.

If it had been opened, I might have felt duty bound to ride on it, but I was running low on water and had not eaten lunch yet.  So about 2:30, I reached trail’s end and headed back south.

It looks done, from the south end, and I hope it does open soon.  The hot afternoon reminded me a bit of RAGBRAI, but upper 90s is still not 105, I’m happy to report.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Post RAGBRAI Rides on the Trail


My bikes, which Ben and I rode today.  Me on Old Blackie, at left, Ben on the junk bike on right.

Well, I’ve ridden my bike 3 times since RAGBRAI—twice I’ve commuted to MMU, and this afternoon I introduced my son Ben to the newer parts of the Boyson Trail.

Actually, I’ve ridden a bit more, because I’m not counting short morning hops to the gym.

The point is that I’m back on the bike fairly quickly.  And it’s going well.

Ben enjoyed the Boyson Trail, I think.  I’m hoping soon to do some Cedar Valley Trail rides, get some extra exercise and miles in before the school rush is in full throttle.

Ben was instrumental in saving the junk bike from a dumpster, so it was fitting that he used it on our ride.  It worked just find, since we didn’t have any challenging hills.  Hopefully, we’ll go on a few more father-son journeys.

And Jon may get some rides in Paraguay.  Apparently, the Peace Corp may provide a bicycle, nothing fancy, but he will have two-wheeled transport.  He will be in Villarrica, a state capital city of around 46,000 in central Paraguay.  Nalena says they have a nice supermarket.  It sounds like a good place, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

May his bike riding there be fun!