Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In Which The Bike Must Wait for a Thaw

No biking in Iowa until further notice:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Which The Week So Far Is A Washout

Yeah, I wish I had taken this photo--clearly not today's Iowa  rain, which would not reflect many daisies. Photo from wikicommons, originally from audreyjm529 on Flickr or "Audrey from central Pennsylvania" as wikicommons describes her.
Rain, rain—well, don’t go away. We need you, although I would prefer you in March when the ground has no frost and you can actually do us more good. Today, it’s very odd to wake up to air in the 50s and thunderstorms in the sky. Not a good day for climate change deniers.

Anyway, so far it looks as if this week could be a total loss, from a biking point of view. I considered riding yesterday, but took the garbage out in the morning and discovered that Sunday’s ice had not totally melted and that sometimes what looks merely wet is very slick—not conditions I want to encounter on a bike.

Today is Tuesday, and thunderstorms are rumbling through. The eerie early spring is set to end is snow overnight tonight, and then the temperature will tumble. The tumbling temperatures alone are not that big of a problem—I have pretty good winter biking gear to wear—but they mean that any sloppy snow that is not quickly cleared will freeze and hang around.

Winter temperatures won’t keep me off a bike. Icy roads certainly will.

It remains to be seen how the interface between rain and snow works itself out, and how much snow we get and how long it takes to clear. But if we tally the days:  Monday, no go due to ice; Tuesday, no go due to thunderstorms; Wednesday likely no go due to 2 inches of snow—Thursday is probably a driving day, too, and Friday looks iffy (and I think snow comes back into the weather picture around then anyway).

Wah. Oh well, it’s Iowa, stuff falls from the sky. There will be good biking days ahead—just, probably, not this week.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

In Which CR Biker Came Close

From, the 2013 RAGBRAI route, which was announced tonight in Des Moines. I came pretty close, actually.
I only named two of the overnight towns, but I had the starting point very near Council Bluffs, and my end town was the one just south of Fort Madison. All in all, I think I did OK in predicting the 2013 RAGBRAI route, and I'm pretty excited that it does go through Fairfield.

Read the WHO story, from which I got the map. And see my earlier post for my, very similar, route.

In Which Mechanical Mishaps Prolong the Journey

Adventure number one: swapping pedals. The left one would not go on until I used an unnamed lubricant to clear the way. To be more cliche, I should have fixed the old ones with duct tape.
And now, 73rd Street is a bike route ...
I wonder to whom the sign is directed--me? The cars?  Anyway, this near the western, or "new" end of 73rd.

As usual with the first weekend of any semester, I have a lot of prep to do. So, I planned to ride to MMU this afternoon, spend a few hours working, and be home around 4 to meet the grandkids who were coming over, potentially to spend the night.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and bikers.

Adventure number one was sort of planned. I broke my right pedal several weeks back, and have been planning to swap it out, but never have time in the morning before I ride to work. I decided to take time today. I had purchased a spare pair of pedals to use on Jon’s bike, but, since I can’t inflate his tires, decided I might as well use them on mine.

As I noted, the right pedal was broken. Since the new ones are not a perfect match, I planned to change both pedals. It turns out that the left one was the difficult one. After a few minutes struggle (and constantly reminding myself that left pedals are threaded backwards), I managed to get the old one to budge, and if it moves ¼ turn, you’re gold.

But, the old one apparently was so stuck that it damaged the final threads on the way out. And the new one refused to get started.

Well, I decided to try WD-40, and, in fact, it did the trick. Once squirted, the new pedal’s threads could get started.

A good mechanic would have changed the pedals in a few minutes. I am not a good mechanic. A half hour later than I had planned, I was finally able to hit the road.

My sister claimed she had driven over 73rd Street Northeast, the mythological road that is supposed to run between her neighborhood and mine, just last week. That road has been closed for repairs since the Bush administration, possibly even Bush the Elder. I had to return some videos (see my other blog) so I was almost to 73rd Street anyway, and I decided to try it and then take the Cedar River Trail to MMU.

The street was, as advertised, open. A bit of a surprise to me is that even the old section, which is really a rather narrow, primitive country road, is now labeled a “bike route,” so good on me for biking it.

The day was windy and cool, a bit cloudy and brisk, but the ride was pleasant until I approached the hill near HyVee Drug store, where the trail has crossed from Hiawatha into Cedar Rapids. As I approach a hill that is the approach to a bridge that goes over a rail line, I shifted into bigger gears in back and my rear derailleur started seriously “chunking,” like it was about to fall apart.

I stopped, checked it, and found the end of a bungee cord entangled in the gears and snagging some spokes. Well, hell’s bells. The cord was so taut that the hook at the end slightly misshapen, and if I had pedaled much more, either the hook would have given or the spokes would have snapped. And the spokes are a lot thinner than the hook, although I have to give them credit—they were unbent while the hook was misshapen.

Anyway, a slow, frustrating 25 minutes or so ensued where I was using various parts of my pocket knife. I sliced off the hook and then used the blade to slowly dig out the cord. It took some time and some tugging, but finally the cord, which was deeply embedded between gear cogs, popped out. Or, at least 2 inches of it that were still with the bike did. The rest, I suppose, is somewhere in Hiawatha or Cedar Rapids—the bungee cord had long been severed.

What with one thing and another, my journey to campus took close to two hours. I did get a little work done, but not much, and was slightly late getting back home. Still, the grandkids had just been dropped off, and no harm was done.

And I’m glad I carry a pocket knife along with all my other biking stuff.
My knife and the severed end of the bungee that became entangled in my back gears. I use bungees to secure my book bag to the back rack of my bike, and one slipped off and into the volcano whence Sauron had forged it to gather all bungees into the darkness.  Something like that.

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Which CR Biker Seeks A Moniker For A Bike

My bike, in need of a name, in a rack at MMU. I assume that like ships, the bike is "she" and should have a feminine name, but if you think she's a "Ralph," let me know. Anyway, help CR Biker name his bike.

I rode yesterday, and it was a bit of a challenge in the morning. As in, it was freakishly cold, and bundled up as I was, I am not sure it was a great idea.

Today was very different—flurries overnight had left no snow on the street, the clouds were clearing, there was very little breeze. I had to leave home early due to an 8 a.m. class, and I had to run with lights on, but the morning ride was pleasant.

I suspect the afternoon ride will be even more pleasant, and yes, I’m looking forward to it.

And here is my bike, Old Blackie, parked at Warde Hall today. I think “Old Blackie” is a terrible name, by the way—a lazy, thoughtless name based only on the mere color of the bike.

OB is all alone in the rack. Last night, there was a fairly sexy looking Schwinn (10 speed with the drop handlebars) to keep my bike company, but today? Nothing but passing pedestrians, who surely must be wondering: Who is that bright, intelligent, intrepid soul who would cycle up this hill on this fine winter morning? Or they were thinking something like that.

Last night when I was leaving work, one of the administrators of the U was passing by, and she made some friendly remark about how I must be a “hardy soul.” Somehow, seeing me on a cold winter night with my lights on, I doubt that “hardy” is the first adjective that most onlookers would choose, but yes, I like to think I’m a hardy soul.

I would also like to think I’m a better bike namer. Early on in my life, the family car was a 1959 chartreuse VW microbus that my mother dubbed, for no reason I can discern, “Clarissa.” The name stuck. When we went somewhere, we didn’t go in a van, we rode Clarissa.

I don’t carry on the tradition. The Kia Sedona and the Mazda G3 that are parked in my driveway are nameless hunks of steel and plastic, practical machines that serve only utilitarian purposes.

Old Blackie is different. She and I have a relationship. I ride my bike as a hobby or pastime, not strictly as practical transportation. And it is the nature of machines that my relationship with Old Blackie will probably be longer-term than the relationship I have with the Kia of no name.

Yet, I am not satisfied with “Old Blackie” as a name. It’s too lame. Help me out, blog fans.

I could, as an homage to tradition, name her “Clarissa,” but I won’t because that would be too confusing. Clarissa will always be green. I could name her, as a nod to both my spouse and to “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Audrey II.” But no, the bike is not a man-eating monster.

See her sitting there all alone in the rack, friends. What should her name be, and why?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Which It’s Just Cold Enough For A Morning Ride

Trail scenes this morning.  A cold, but pretty ride.

Last day of freedom before spring semester hits like a hefty linebacker.

Mark it down, friends. Possibly the only sports metaphor ever to be seen on this blog. Except, do linebacker’s tackle or catch? Whatever.

Anyway, I stayed up a little late last night to finish J.K Rowling’s novel “The Casual Vacancy,” and got up around 8 to go to the gym. Since it was 11, which is relatively warm around these parts these days, I biked there. After 50 minutes of workout, I decided to ride the Lindale Trail.

It was cold, but not too cold for a short ride. The trail was a bit rough—very rutted from the passage of bikes and walkers when the trail was warm and wet and squishy. But, it still felt good to be out there, and in the morning when the temperature was under 20, it was rock hard, which beats squishy any day.

I took a fairly short ride. It was cold, after all, and I have a ton to due for the dawning spring semester.

Still, Cedar Rapids has removed the fallen tree from the trail. Dry Creek looks kind of pretty, with brown plants, white ice and running water.

It felt good to ride. Of course, on this cold day, it also felt good to finish riding. We’ll see what the morning brings!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For Once, It Was Just Too Cold

Worn looking bench where I took a short break before heading home.
Quoth the Raven: Get off my trail!
Well, on Monday, I did it for the first time this January.

I drove a car to work because it was too cold to ride. We’ve had a dry January, and even on fairly chilly days, I’ve been riding my bike. But not Monday, when the morning wind chills in Cedar Rapids were two digits below zero and the actual temperature struggled to get much above a goose egg all day.

I will bike when it’s zero and not windy. But this was around zero and very windy. No thanks.

Today, Tuesday, is between semesters, and I almost rode my bike to campus on this chilly afternoon—but I decided to drive at the last minute to save time (which I’m now wasting writing a blog post), and I drove because I may take a stack of spring books home to work on syllabi.

So, it’s nice to think back on Saturday, a slightly cool, windy day that was the final unseasonably warm day for a while.  It flirted with 50 that day, and despite cooling off a lot during my afternoon ride, it was still a good use of the day to get out on the trail.

I was not the only one to think that way. While much quieter than it would be during summer, the Cedar River Trail in Cedar Rapids nonetheless had quite a few bundled up bikers on Saturday.

I started out at 2 p.m. and headed south. I rode on the Cedar River Trail until almost 3:30, and made it just south of 73 Avenue Drive Southeast. It was pushing 3:30, and I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that Audrey might want to go to Mass that night so we could Skype with Amanda on her 28th birthday.

I was looking for a turnaround spot—and a place to eat the granola bar I had brought along—when I spotted an old bench beside the trail. I wonder about its worn appearance, since the trail itself is not very old—but there it was and I was happy to sit on not-my-bike for a few minutes before heading home.

I had seen birds in abundance on the ride.  There was an odd moment on the trip home that happened just south of  the river in the Mount Trashmore area. A crowd of ravens were chattering and squawking in the brown, winter sleeping trees. I don’t know why.  They didn’t seem happy with either each other or a passing biker.

Then, a minutes later, after I had crossed the river, I met a group of geese ambling across the street by the new federal courthouse. Geese are not friendly, but I weaved my way through the crowd with barely a halfhearted hiss. You understand, I hope, that it was the geese hissing. I don’t hiss when I ride, although a tire of mine might when punctured—anyway, the geese didn’t bother to hiss much or threaten as they might have if goslings were around.

All in all, it was a pleasant ride despite the Hitchcock moments. Spring semester gets underway Thursday, but snow is possible, too. We’ll see if the new term brings as much biking as the old one did.

I like to bike, but I hope not. Rain will keep me from two wheels, and this spring, we desperately need rain.

Still, three hours of Saturday were well spent in a windy ride. And I did make it home, just in time to join Audrey at church.
Why did the goose cross the road? To get his picture in my blog, of course!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Two Sunshine Rides During Weird Warm Weather

Jan. 17--goose on rail track near Cedar Lake.

Sun sinks and reflects on ice and water of Cedar Lake, Jan. 17, 2013.

Image of bird who objected to my presence on the Cedar River Trail.

Setting sun at Cedar Lake, with geese clustered around some open water.

To be honest, I would not mind a bigger, more persistent, snow pack. We’re still in a drought in Iowa, and need water however we can get it.

But, on the other hand, Thursday and today were grand biking days. I managed to get away a bit after 4 Thursday—and the late afternoon was just starting to end. I rode over to the Cedar River Trail and headed south, circling Cedar Lake before turning north to go home. At the lake, geese were abundant and flying and honking, and it was pleasant to hear and see them.

The later afternoon was brisk—probably just shy of 30—but for January, it was warm. The sound of rush hour traffic whirred beside me as I finally turned north, but I was in for at least one more encounter of the bird kind. As I approached the point where the trail goes under Collins Road, a large bird squealed at me , flow low over head, and the landed about 50 yards away on a street light. I caught one blurry image of what I think was a hawk before he or she sped off again.

Well, I have seen several hawks on rides at various times, but they’ve never vocalized at me before. Perhaps I was scaring the field mice, and this hawk did not appreciate it.

I had lights on for the later half of my ride, and I used the Harding Middle School-Noelridge Park route home, but it was a nice ride.

Today was even nicer. I didn’t go south, despite being out earlier with more sunshine, because I wanted to get home sooner—the Iowa grandkids were visiting today. As it turned out, they were all napping when I got home, but that’s OK. I took the trail north to the “Go Daddy” bypass, and headed through Hiawatha, under the bridge on Council Street and home via the behind Super Target route.

Two days, and two glorious afternoon rides—today in full sunshine with the temperature around 40. I wore neither hood nor gloves this afternoon, and after a while had to unzip my jacket to avoid being too warm.

It felt like an early March ride. Next week winter should be back in full force—I might even have to drive Monday due to extreme cold.

We’ll see. But as you can see, this has been a January of extraordinarily good biking weather.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

In Which It Has Been A Quiet Week

I noticed that I have not posted any biking adventures since Saturday, which could lead you to the conclusion that I have not been biking since Saturday, but only if you don’t know me.

It’s been a quiet, and satisfying, week. I’ve gone from having to wear long johns to stay warm to debating whether 2 pairs of socks were necessary—and today, one pair, granted, a warm winter pair, was enough. I am in a bit of a hurry in the morning when I bike in, so I have not photographed anything. I can dawdle and take more time and consider the Cedar River Trail in the afternoon, but we’re still in the “dark” months when there isn’t much light by the time I’m headed home.

Still, I’ve enjoyed good biking this week. Mount Mercy’s J-term is just about over, and I’ve biked for most of it. Spring, in semester terms, begins late next week. May the new semester be as full of biking as the old one—although, to be honest, a few rain-day commutes would be welcomed in this dry land, too.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

In Which The Trail Has Ruts But Can Be Ridden

Tree that blocks Lindale Trail in Cedar Rapids.

Trail was OK to ride, but a bit rough.  It will be better on a colder day.

End of the road.  Barrier is not actually on trail and I suppose I could have gotten through, but I decided to take the hint.

Temperature was in the 20s this afternoon--and a cold wind was blowing. But recent warm weather and melting snow has put some water in the creek.

CR Biker went on a bit of an unplanned expedition today. I was going to ride my bike to the gym, when the siren song of the Lindale Trail, which leads to the Boyson Road trail, sounded in my brain.

After all, yesterday, the Cedar River trail was clear. What if the Great Melt had cleared this unplowed limestone path? On the other hand, a limestone trail is best ridden only when dry—it’s otherwise mushy and messy. But a cold front is sweeping across Iowa today and the temperature was chilly by noon—when I was starting my ride.

Would the trail be both clear of snow and cold enough to not be mushy?

Well, yes and no.  The west end of the trail, the part in Cedar Rapids, was dry enough. Patches of rough ice remain and, with the imprint of shoes, made passage rough, but beyond the one downed tree that has blocked the trail for several weeks, it was OK.

I was concerned as I entered Marion and crossed Lindale. Where the Lindale Trail runs into the Boyson Trail, it goes down a hill that is usually the mushiest, worst part of the trail in wet weather.

And the hill partly lived up to its bad rep.  It was very rutted—but surprisingly dry. I decided to ride the full “trail loop” through Marion, figuring that if the worst part o f the trail was OK, the rest would be, too.

That was a flawed assumption.  As I drew near the Frisbee Golf course area, the small woodsy hill that the trail has turned out to be more covered in ice than the rest.  The hill was passable—but only a narrow part. Following the trail, the area farther south proved damp and soft, which was an unpleasant surprise.

It was very wet. I had been glad that the trail was so frozen that I was not adding to its unevenness, but I think I left some tracks here. I veered right, and the new trial that leads to the Menards area of town improved, a bit—until I went around a bend and say a sawhorse with a sign stating “trail closed,” and a lot of dirt and equipment. The wettest looking part of the trail was between me and the dirt, so I took the hint.

I went to gym and then headed home. I am not sure when I’ll be on the trail again, but probably when it is colder.  Colder weather will make this trail firm. As it was, I still had an unexpectedly nice, although slow and bumpy, ride.

Friday, January 11, 2013

In Which CR Biker Considers Swiss Cows on Bikes

Almost 5 o'clock, waiting for light to change so I can cross 42nd Street NE on the Cedar River Trail. It is indeed wet, but also warm for January. It's dark enough that I am running with lights on.

It was a warm and wet end to the biking week, my blog pals. Indeed, we’ve had so many days above freezing, and rain on Thursday, that I did it—I decided to ride the Cedar River Trail route home.

It was a bit of a gamble. I don’t know which, if any, trails Cedar Rapids plows in winter, but I figured even if it had not been cleared of snow, most of it might have been melted.

Was it cleared? It was clear, but that’s not the same thing. Anyway, something with tires had driven the trail, and in a line of slowly melting snow on the side, I thought I could detect evidence that at least once this trail had indeed been cleared. Well, good for the city if it’s so—I can’t be sure, because the trail could have been simply cleared by the warmth and rain.

My sister just returned from a European trip, chiefly to Italy, and apparently brought warm Italian weather with her. She even posted a picture of a rose blooming in a garden in Rome.

Yes, CR Biker was indeed envious. Anyway, I rode in Thursday morning and left my bike in my office. Audrey and I had planned to ride home together Thursday night, and Friday morning was “grandparent’s day” at my oldest grandchild’s preschool. It was still rather foggy and wet this morning, so driving in with Audrey was not a bad thing.

I rode home, as I’ve already stated, this afternoon. It was cloudy and very damp, but nonetheless, I really enjoyed being on the trail again.

And I was thinking about Swiss cows riding bicycle. As part of her trip, my sister’s group visited Switzerland, where she shot this photo. What does it mean? Cows may be sacred in India but they’re far more dangerous in Switzerland? I do take some risk being CR Biker, but running into a cow on the trail is, I hope, not high on that list.

And I do envy the cow. Cool bike, cool helmet, cool scarf. Oh. Wait. I have all those, too—I only lack the horns on my helmet. Would horns give me a jaunty Viking vibe, or would I merely be a novelty, like a cow on a bike?
Borrowed with permission from my sister Cate Sheller's Facebook gallery of her recent trip.  The bike may not be happy, but the cow is having a mooooving experience!

Friday, January 4, 2013

In Which CR Biker Is Calvin’s Nerdy Dad

Comic is from

My niece wrote in a Facebook post that this cartoon reminds her of somebody—me.

I can’t say I blame her.  The dad in Calvin in Hobbs is younger and in better shape than I am, and apparently willing to ride on snow, although I’ll also admit CR Biker is stretching that envelop a bit more than he did in the past.

So, how do you ride on snow?

First of all, don’t.  I’m serious.  The pavement has to be mostly bare before I will there.  When you cross a substantial patch of ice, always do so with one or both feet on the slippery surface.  From a previous fall, I know how instantly a bike on ice can tip beyond control—the human nervous system and muscular structure has no hope of coping with such an instant event or preventing such a fall.  So, to paraphrase my own words of wisdom:  If the pavement isn’t bare, then just don’t ride there.  I don’t ever walk up hills in summer—hill-climbing gear is for hills—but there is no “snow climbing” gear.  I’ve been riding this J term, and it’s been a bit of surprise to me, but I am trying to be careful to ride only on pavement.  I do walk my bike in spots on my route.

Second, dress for the part.
  One of my sisters posted on Facebook that her feet get too cold for biking when the temperature gets under 30.  I wear very thick warm fuzzy grey winter socks, which I have on over fairly heavy gym white socks.  Couple that with at least two shirts, including a warm sweater or sweat shirt, skiing gloves, long underwear, a light jacket that none-the-less totally cuts the wind and that features a thin hood I can wear under a bike helmet—well, I’m ready for the weather.  My ears, nose and toes are the extremes of my body and the parts that are likely to suffer most—but honestly, even on these mornings when the lows have been in single digits, the temperature has not been much of a problem.  I do think I’ve been more uncomfortable when the temperature is in the 20s and I decide it is too warm to wear the long underwear—then my toes are sore by the time I get to work.   Zero while wearing long underwear and my full winter regalia?  Not a problem.

Third, slow down.  Especially at night.  In sunshine, you can gauge the quality of the pavement more easily—you can see ice and you can see powdery snow and you can see bare pavement.  It’s tougher at dusk.  So go slow.  Audrey got me an extra light for Christmas—an actual headlight, as in a light meant to be worn on your heard.  Like the hood, it fits beneath my helmet.  It is a bit cold on the forehead, but the extra illumination has been much appreciated on dark winter evenings.  I am riding the same route as I do in the light, but going the other way, and trust me, the streets change.  Stuff melts and freezes in new places, and you’ve got to go slow and pay attention.

Anyway, just the thought of my commute may be enough to make my pulse race.  But that’s what biking is supposed to do, so for now, tallyho!  I will be on two wheels.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In Which CR Biker Admits He Is A Liar

Corner of Collins Road and F Avenue NE this morning.  A fine, sunny, cold winter morning--with mostly bare pavement.

Well, sort, of.  Not actually, because lying involves intent to deceive, I and was merely unintentionally misleading, which is not the same thing.

I wrote in late December that snow had ended the biking season, until further notice.  Further notice is hereby given.

It was cold this morning, what one of my daughter’s friends used to call “psycho cold.”  The temperature was in single digits Fahrenheit, which puts it way into the negatives Celsius, and a nice breeze made the outdoors feel like below zero in the Fahrenheit scale too.

But, I was bundled up.  I have new gloves, which proved very warm indeed. I wore my long johns, I had my two pairs of socks, two shirts including a fluffy warm MMU sweatshirt and my wind-cutting light biking jacket.  I even had on my jaunty green Nepalese scarf.

All in all, cold really wasn’t that much of a problem for me.  Ice was, in spots.  There are plenty of quiet residential streets in Cedar Rapids where black ice has been smoothed by the passage of traffic.  Even many cleared streets were edged with ice, making the traffic way narrow for your two-wheeled correspondent.

Still, the pavement is mostly bare.  I felt a bit silly starting off, but decided when I got there that it had not really been that bad of a ride.  I should be able to leave campus early enough tonight that I won’t be going home in full dark.

All in all, the first real commute on the new, stronger rear wheel was a success.  The most treacherous part was the Rockwell-Collins parking lots—I think they’ve been so closed down recently that there has not been enough traffic to wear away the ice—but even those were passable, with caution.

I am ringing bells as part of the MMU bell choir Thursday night.  Given the state of the streets, I may drive that evening, just to avoid a ride in full darkness—that black ice may be a bit too hard to spot, sans the help of our sun.

Still, I’m glad that 2013 sees, at least at its start, some biking commuting weather.  Take my word for it, if you want to.  But then again, maybe you should not.  I’m a known liar.
Not sure why, but at MMU I had the bike rack all to my self.  Guy in the background sure has a cold job!