Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Sweet Gum Tree Gets the Memo

Sweet Gum tree along Eastern Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids, leaves lit by the late afternoon Halloween sun.
I left work a bit early this afternoon—Halloween, don’t you know.  Wanted to be home before dark.  I’m sure a 250-pound biker and 25-pound children wearing masks and dark clothing would be an unfortunate and volatile mix—and Audrey had purchased a good supply of candy that I needed to give away since she teaches on Wednesday nights.

The rides this week have been very cool in the morning, but dry and pleasant.  The afternoons are also cool, but the difference between upper 20s and upper 40s is the difference between needing the hood and not needing the hood—40, to a biker of my size, is just about perfect.

For the most part, fall is fading fast.  A few bushes cling to their leaves, the pear trees beside Busse Library still have some tired green leaves, but even these late trees are giving up the ghost.

Along the commute, one of the trees I like to watch is a Sweet Gum.  It usually turns vibrant colors of scarlet and yellow, but this year stubbornly remained green.  Until this week.  The repeated morning frosts have finally gotten to it.  It’s already dropped some of it’s many gum ball seed pods, but the ones that have fallen are green—many more dried brown ones will fall later, I’m sure.

It’s leaves still cling to the tree’s branches, but are definitely turning fall colors.  The odd thing is that this tree, normally one of the most colorful on my route, is rather muted and drab this year.

So it goes in this unusual fall.  The early trees, especially ashes, but also maples, put on a spectacular color show earlier.  But this late tree, most often one of the most colorful in our relatively drab Midwestern autumns, is holding back.

Well, maybe the best is yet to come.  Maybe before dropping, this tree's leaves will suddenly snap into their usual bright seasonal hues.  We'll see.

In the meantime, the barren brown half of the year is upon us.  I really prefer the green months, but there are advantages to biking now.

A big biker like me likes the cool.  Although, chances are, in a few weeks I’ll get much more of that than even I want.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A New View of Skeleton Trees

I'm riding on J Avenue, on my way from MMU to the Cedar River Trail.  This oak in Daniels Park is without leaves, now, but a raven and other birds are it's fall fruits.

Now that Halloween is almost here, the trees are starting to look skeletal.  A few have leaves still clinging, but mostly, fall is done falling.  Hills that were splashed in color a week ago are drab and grey and brown.

I think one reason I bike is that I just enjoy being outside—the fresh air, the sun, the breeze, the trees and flowers and other plants.  So I do enjoy biking more when the world is green and birds are plentiful and things slither and buzz and hop in the woods.

We’re arriving at the brown time of year.  On the one hand, I don’t really mind.  I do like seeing the outline of hillsides that are normally hidden in the woods, the shape of the trees is interesting and I don’t mind the slightly odd experience of actually seeing the interstate traffic through the trees, rather than merely hearing it as you do on many stretches of the Cedar River Trail when the leaves provide more screening.

Still, it will be nice when the green returns.

The ride was a bit windy and raw today—cool and frosty in the morning, and it did not feel a whole lot warmer in the afternoon.  But, I had my biking jacket and warm socks on.  I was comfortable.

Yet, I do feel compelled to ask.  Is it spring yet?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wednesday Lunch Ride With The Sleepy Passenger

Rain, accompanied by a plunge in temperature, was in the forecast, so I drove today.  I should have biked.  I arrived before the rain, and it’s over and I’m still at work.

Well, I had 11 activity bags to take to campus this morning for my and my wife’s combined freshman intro class, so I suppose driving was not a crazy thing to do.

Anyway, Wednesday was the final day of our warm faux late summer.  I had been out late Tuesday night—attending a city council meeting with a writing class—and worked for 4 hours Wednesday morning, so I felt justified in meeting the grandkids for a long lunch at Noelridge Park.

After fueling my body with crackers and cheese, I put the toddler seat on the bike, and Tristan and I took off on a ride.  It was warm and humid, so warm that I wished I had taken a water supply with me.

But, I survived.  We headed south to Cedar Lake on the Cedar River Trail.  The first half of the trip was narrated in Tristan’s cute 2-year-old voice, pointing out the birds, but mostly the train tracks, which had to be pointed out because that’s were Thomas would be going chucka-chucka-choo-choo.

Trust me, the narration was even cuter in person.  He was super excited when we neared the lake, as the train tracks multiplied and several strings of cars, each a “Thomas,” came into view.

Anyway, halfway around Cedar Lake, the pleasant patter died out.  And a weight grew heavy on my right arm—a little boy’s helmet was nestling there.  As we rode along the trail, Mr. T fell asleep.

He stayed asleep as I headed north, returned to Noeldridge Park, then headed through the Rockwell Collins parking lots towards C Avenue.  He awoke 35 minutes later as we crossed Blair’s Ferry.

Missing half the ride didn’t seem to bother him a bit.  The narration took off where it had left off, his only concern was that he wasn’t sure where Thomas could go chucka-chucka-choo-choo anymore.

Well, I envied him.  I worked on some assignments later Wednesday, a lecture for class and a newspaper critique after he went home.  I also had to return to campus to get my files—and didn’t get a text from Audrey in time to learn I had to bring the minivan to load up a wheelchair for a program she was doing today.

So, I had one extra bike ride to campus on the last warm day before late fall.  I guess that makes up for today.  Now, if only I could figure out how to nap on the bike …

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Night Rider Rides Spooky Trails

You can't see it well, but I've just taken my bike off of a bike rack at City Hall in Cedar Rapids.  It's night, which explains the odd yellow light.  The dark ride home turned out to be pleasant.

Just in time for Halloween season:  The night rider.

I have a reporting class that visits a Cedar Rapids City Council meeting for a writing exercise.  So, at about 3:40, I left MMU to ride to the new City Hall.

I was worried about being late, and I barely made it, but I did.  And my whole class was there.  The meeting, which started at 4, stretched out until about 7:30 or so.

The meeting concluded, rather dramatically, with a presentation by a roller derby team seeking a home.  Me, I’d give one to them.

But, I digress.  Although, perhaps the sight of those strong-looking, tattooed women put me in a slightly edgy mood.  When it was time to leave, I wondered—go through Wellington Heights or ride along a dark trail?

The night rider chose the trail.

It was a bit spooky, zooming along at night.  It wasn’t that late, but was fully dark.  The ride made me appreciate electricity, as much of the way was accidentally illuminated via streetlights shining off of a cloud canopy.  A half moon helped, too.

I passed several joggers and bikers, all in the dark, none but me using lights.  Me, I was lit up like a Christmas tree.  It’s the only way I’ll ride in the dark.

What I anticipated to be the darkest stretches of the trail—the part north of J Avenue, for instance—were dark, but not as dark as I expected.  I slowed down a bit.  There were occasional shuffling sounds in the undergrowth, which was a bit unnerving.  And at one point, I passed a group of seven deer, fairly close, with most running off, but a big one stopping and staring at me as if issuing a dare.

A buck, maybe?  Couldn’t see points in the dark, but this was definitely the biggest deer of the group, and he, if it was a he, was more defiant than all the rest.  Testosterone during mating season?  Luckily, I passed by quickly and Mr. Buck let me be.

As I headed further north, somehow, my mood changed.  It stopped being eerie.  There was the sound of Interstate traffic, the vague city night noises—snatches of conversation too far away for the words to be discerned, the occasional distant siren, and, always, traffic.  I didn’t feel too alone, and I knew the trail well enough to be pretty comfortable with the ride.

The darkest part of my ride was Noelridge Park, which I crossed via a sidewalk that leads to the Harding Middle School area.  It was quieter here, away from 380, and darker, with no lights from nearby buildings or streets.  And, somehow, in that isolation, it was very pleasant.  I don’t know if riding alone at night in a park is a great idea, but it was a peaceful break tonight for me.

Monday--no ride today.  But the rain was gone by afternoon.  Leaves and the afternoon light on the hood of the car I drove that day.  Yes, Jon, your Mazda.
Well, the ride that had started with roller girls and a train that delayed me for a few minutes ended in quite reverie.  Despite the dampness of this day, it was a good one for bike riding.  I had ridden Sunday, but not Monday, due to the rain.

Back in the saddle—a nice place to be, even at night.  Especially when the eerie pre-Halloween ride ends up merely pleasant.
Oct. 21--in the warm afternoon, as I ride home on the Cedar River Trail, some late season bugs are out.  A number of grasshoppers, and this guy, even bigger, a praying mantis about 4 inches long that the grasshoppers best avoid.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grey Sky in Morning, Biker Take Warning

Sunrise at Collins Road and C Avenue NE.
Rain was in the weather forecast today, but I could not help myself.  I rode.

The clouds to the west looked eerie, but the east was patchy, which made for a pretty sunrise.  I had to give a mid-term exam this morning, and worked for a few hours until noon, but then I decided to head home before any rain had a chance to arrive.

It was a good move.  I was safely napping in my bed when the rain fell—it was a startling surprise to look out around 6 p.m. and see the wet.  Audrey and I had gone out for a quick lunch around 1, but it was only light sprinkles when I put head to pillow.

Well, I’m glad for the rain, even if there was not much.  I hope we get something of a break—I’m on fall break now, and while I have a mountain of grading to do, I would not mind a bike ride or two.

We’ll see.  For now, I guess I’m just grateful I both managed to ride and managed to avoid the wet hours.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blazing A New Trail Near Our Home

My shadow as I pull up late in the afternoon..what is that beside the sign?  A new trail!
I’ve been seeing a “Road Work Ahead” sign on the Cedar Rapids end of the trail that runs behind Walgreens on C Avenue NE in my neighborhood, and cynically assumed it would take years for the city to actually do anything with this trail.

Well, CR Public Works, I take back my cynicism.  Suddenly, in the course of maybe a week, a sleek new limestone trail has magically appeared.

I noticed, as I zoomed by on C Avenue Monday night on my commute home, something looked a bit different, so I turned around to investigate.  Sure enough, a new access to the old rail line had been created at the end of a dead-end street.

The start of the trail looked a bit mushy—we had two inches of rain over the weekend.  And Audrey was due to come home soon—we had planned to go for a walk.  So I rode home, texted her that there was a new trail, and we decided to walk it.

Well, it was slightly mushy in parts, but in surprisingly good shape.  As far s I can tell, the city is done putting most of the limestone down, and just has a bit of shoulder fill to move in before Miller time (or should it be Fat Tire time?).
The shaow of the walkers--Audrey and I head away from the sunset along the new trail.  Clearly, we are not cowboys or we would be going the other way.

We walked a loop, first going to Lindale Avenue in Marion, then back north through a quiet residential neighborhood to the short west trail that runs beside the longer Boyson Road trail.  We headed back home, passing by Bowman Woods School on Boyson Road.  The loop we walked was about an hour long—which makes it just about the perfect length for the occasional evening constitutional, and along this walk we crossed no busy streets at all.

Well, cool for you, CR.  Thanks for putting in this trail.  My late fall bike riding has just gotten better.

Eventually, years from now when the CENMAR trail is finished, this new trail will be my commuting route, and I’ll be able to ride all the way to MMU with only the short sidewalk jaunt to Walgreens being pre (or post) trail.

Yeah, it was a nice way to end a very nice ride.  Although the ash trees are spent, there were still lots of pretty maples to enjoy on my ride.  Happy trails!

This photo and below are in the neighborhood east of Harding Middle School and Noelridge Park.  I had taken the Cedar River Trail north through town, not knowing that there were more trail adventures in store.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Quick Commute Along the Third Avenue Lane

View near the end of my quick ride downtown--the river seen near the new federal courthouse.  It was that kind of day.

I had an internship conference today at the Catherine McAuley Center,  so I biked downtown.

The trip there as uneventful, but the center is up near 10th Street—too far away from the trail for me to take my preferred route downtown, so instead I was biking on streets.  After the meeting, I had time before noon, so instead of heading directly back to MMU, I rode downtown and took a short jaunt on the trail, stopping by the new Federal Courthouse to adjust a strap on my new helmet.

On the way back, I tested out the new bike lane on Third Avenue.  It feels a bit odd to ride on it—car lanes are on both sides of you, and indeed, I saw many four-wheeled vehicles trespassing on my two-wheeled turf.  Still, it’s very nice to have a bike lane.  More, please.
The bike lane on Third Avenue.

Anyway, as I passed the Gazette, it said the temperature was 47 degrees.  It was sunny, a bit breezy, brisk in the shade—in short, an ideal day for biking.

I had an odd feeling of elation—maybe because it felt a bit like I was playing hooky.  The new library is taking shape, the new Federal Courthouse has started to grow on me a bit—it’s not just a big brick with windows—and I had a bike lane to ride on during a gorgeous morning.

I got back my noon.  I’m reviewing the Biden-Ryan show via the CBS web site.  I might have some thoughts to share on my other blog, but we’ll see.

For now, back to work—but this afternoon is just prelude to the ride home.  Which, given the cool temperatures during this beautiful fall, will be gorgeous.  On Wednesday, even a train that stopped me for a while looked nice:

Wednesday--I have to wait on J Street.  Blame Canada.

Train hurry up, bring my trail back.

Sunset as train goes by.  A cool, pretty ride home, and truly, I did not have to wait very long.