Friday, March 29, 2013

In Which The Good Friday Weather Is Fine

We are stopped on the little bridge by the restroom building at the Boyson Road trail access. We're on the way home. Although she's a bit cool, I think Lizzie still looks like she's enjoying the ride.

I took two pleasant rides today, which seemed like a good way to celebrate the first truly warm day of the year.

I had received a marketing call from the YMCA Thursday night, asking if I would like a two-week free membership in exchange for a tour. Why, sure. Frankly, I might have neglected to go, but an hour before the appointed time the YMCA telemarketers were calling to remind me. That made me slightly paranoid, so I went early this morning, a half hour cycle there (to the Marion YMCA) and back again.

Later, Lizzie awoke from her nap before Juliet, and I decided to see if she wanted a ride. Indeed, she did, so I put her in a borrowed helmet, strapped here in and away we went.

It was a gorgeous day for a ride. We headed west and then went north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, not venturing far since the trail is closed just a bit over a mile north of Hiawatha. On the way back south, I asked Lizzie if she wanted to continue south, but she was getting cool and wanted to go home.

We had some nice chats along the way. She told me repeatedly that daddy has a different bike, and she rides behind it. She also narrated the ride, pointing out birds and bridges, for instance. I can’t say that I didn’t do this too.

She’s a bit tall for this toddler seat—like her cousin Tristan, she basically is just barely able to fit. She’s a bit smaller in the torso than he is, though, so although she had to fold up her knees, she fit fairly well.

Juliet has yet to have her first ride. That’s probably coming up. But Lizzy and I enjoyed our Good Friday ride together.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In Which A New Biker Takes Her First Spin

Amelia's mom Katy borrowed my camera to snap these two images of Amelia just before her first ride on my bike's toddler seat. Did she like it? In her words: "Yeaaaaaah!"

Wednesday late afternoon, around 6:30 p.m. I find a helmet that might fit, and try it on Amelia’s head. The trick is to get her to look up. I say “look up” and she looks down. She’s like that. Eventually, about six requests later, she decides it’s time, and she looks up. There is no rushing Amelia.

The helmet fits.

With Amelia’s mom’s help, I get her strapped into the bike seat for the first time. I had tightened the straps a bit, and, like the helmet, they actually worked well. Amelia is small for her age, her mom calls her “Peanut,” but the 22-month-old sits comfortably in the seat.

I tell her she can put her hands on the little dashboard that rests on the front of the toddler bike seat. She keeps her hands at her sides, as if to have them ready for action. She does what she wants. She’s Amelia.

A quick photo session, then a watch for a break in traffic on Brentwood Drive, and we head east. The hill looms ahead, and I decide to turn around and turn north on Devonshire.

Amelia is being quiet. I hope she’s doing OK. But then, a few minutes after we turned north, a dog on a porch barks. Amelia is not only not afraid of dogs, she loves just about any animal—once, when visiting a farm where horses were, she became distraught because she could not go pet and play with those animals. I firmly believe that if she lived in the African savannah, some old matriarch elephant cow would be her friend. Anyway, Peanut pointed at the puppy and said, “puppy” in a rather happy, dreamy voice.

A few seconds later, we heard ducks honking and I noted that sound. “Ducks,” she said, again in her bike dream voice. I asked her if she had noticed a small bird that flew overhead singing, and she said “yeaaaaaaah!” Then, “yeaaaaaaah!” became her answer to every question: Do you want to turn here? Did you see the woman walking the dog? Did you notice those two kids riding their bikes?

I think it’s fair to say that Miss Amelia quickly made her peace with biking. She was being quiet, but she was taking it all in, and from the tone of her “yeaaaaaaah!” she was having a grand time.

I reached the end of my intended route, and asked her if it was time to go home. “Nooooo!” she said.

I went home anyway. She can be bossy, and it’s not her bike. Anyway, the first ride went very well. I’m sure Miss Amelia will be ready to ride again when the opportunity arises. And I bet the day when the peanut pedals herself is not that far off.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring! In Which CR Biker Sees Better Weather

Bike parked at Warde Hall, MMU, today. Not mine, which is inside Warde Hall.

It was cool—about 25 degrees—when I donned my riding jacket and rode off into the sunrise this morning. But was not very windy, and it was a fine morning ride.

Today the sky has turned partly cloudy and interesting, with patches of blue among pretty grays and whites. It’s not exactly a foreshadow of summer, but the snow covering the ground has greatly receded, the pavement is mostly dry and there is a definite feel of something “else” in the air.

The sky today. Dramatic and pretty.
As I walked across campus at MMU today, I was drawn by the cupola on Warde Hall. It’s a pretty little bauble up there, but with its aged coppery blue-green color, it looks especially nice against a background of clouds and sky, don’t you think? So I wasted a few minutes I didn’t have shooting these photos, and wasted even more by writing this blog post.

Well, back to grading. But, on my way into Warde Hall, I noticed another bike in the rack outside—yet another sign of spring, I think. Mine was parked inside because I was worried melting snow would make it too damp, and damp is the enemy of iron-based bike technologies, but I’m glad to see the rack in use.

Spring! Even at 25 degrees, with the week warming up I think it’s probably here. Knock on wood. Maybe a blooming maple tree?

Friday, March 22, 2013

In Which A Commute To Nowhere Finds Spring

As I tried to enter the building, I noted that the afternoon sun has awoken the season's early insects--box elder bugs.

End of the line--tall new poles are going up beside the trail north of Hiawatha.

Spring flowers poking up near Warde Hall, MMU campus.

Well, I forgot the e-mail about power being off on campus for much of the day. I left home to commute to MMU, and decided to take the trail route, since it was such a nice afternoon. I went north, figuring I could not go far—not enough time—but I had not been that way yet this season.

The trip ended sooner than I thought, as utility work closed the trail beyond Robbins Road.

Well, that’s OK, I thought, I want to get several hours of work in anyway. Except 30 minutes later—after a close to 90-minute commute, I found that the card reader would not admit me to Warde Hall and campus was clearly shut down.

Oh well. There were box elder bugs creeping out of hiding on the warm west wall of Warde Hall, and some daffodils in the back garden are peeking above the cold soil. We are to get yet another round of March snow this weekend, but despite that, the sun is shining more brightly, the soil is warming up and spring is inexorably working its way into our corner of the worlds. It’s just doing it very, very slowly.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

In Which Three Bikers Have Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

Learning to use the timer in three steps. Step 1--is it on? (yes). Step 2--can you see a red light blinking? (yes, but it's been blinking a while). Step 3--success, the three bikers, Me, Matt and Ben.

Thanks, Amanda, for the title. Well, the winds weren’t too bad and the sun was shining, so I invited Matt and Ben for a Thursday afternoon ride.

I rode my bike, Ben rode his and Matt borrowed Audrey’s bike. Which I don’t think was his favorite, but he was still willing to ride. We set out shortly after 2.

It was cool, but very nice compared with yesterday.

I took them south on the Cedar River Trail, hoping that when we got to the river, we would find eagles. We succeeded way beyond my expectations.

Shortly after we passed the new Federal Courthouse, there in a tree between us and the river sat a very large, very majestic bird. She or he wasn’t in the mood for visitors, and the eagle leapt in to the air, spreading its 5-foot wingspan and launching into the sky over the river. It was probably just five feet from us. It was very much a close encounter of the bird kind.

As Ben said, when you see an eagle up close, you can easily believe that birds are closely related to dinosaurs. Matt noted that he’s glad he’s not a small creature, like a little dog. That bird looked big enough to abscond with such a critter.

Well, talk about good omens. The sun continued to shine brightly as we, jazzed by our first eagle encounter, crossed the river and headed east towards Mt. Trashmore.

And there, circling above us, being followed by a white gull, was another eagle. I attempted to shoot it’s picture, which was not easy with my point and shoot, but as you can see, I got at least one in-focus shot.

No doubt about it. What was circlng overhead was indeed a bald eagle.

We continued. In a woodsy areas, at the top of a cottonwood near the river, there was a third eagle. I stopped to grab my camera, indicated it to Ben and Matt, but the eagle was having none of it and, as these birds can, made a very quick exit.

Well, I think I might have seen more eagles the other week when I was on this stretch of trail alone—but most were distant. This was three clear and close eagle sightings. We were getting a bit chilled, especially Matt, who had not worn warm socks. California kid. We turned and headed home.

All in all, 2 ½ hours well spent. Despite the early spring cool, a nice ride.

In Which Some Early Spring Rides Are Freakishly Cold

Dry Creek, early this morning, from the C Avenue bridge. For this time of year, it's very unusual for it to be iced over. A pretty, but very cold, morning ride to the gym--the air temperature around 7, I think.

The sun was shining Wednesday, and I had an errand to run at Mount Mercy, so late in the morning I set out.

Man, it was very cold. Luckily, I had checked the temperature, so I was not surprised and I had long johns and a scarf on—the full winter biking outfit (other things, too, I just mean the long johns and the scarf are things I would not normally have also been wearing).

The morning ride was cold, but I assumed as I worked that it was warming up a bit—so by 12:30 p.m., when I got ready to head out, I texted my wife to suggest we meet downtown for lunch. Fortunately, she did not respond and I headed for home, because, even though the temperature had gone up, the wind speed had gone up even more, and it was a psycho cold ride home. I took the trail, wanting a bit more of a ride, and frankly, I don’t know that I enjoyed the extra ride all that much.

Today, March 21, it’s still January weather in spring. I rode my bike to the gym this morning, and briefly toyed with the idea of a trail ride on the way home. However, the Lindale Trail is closed right now (I assume maybe flood damage on the Boyson Trail?), and the very cold air persuaded me to head directly home.

I may yet ride this afternoon. The wind is much milder than yesterday, and the temperature warmer. I know I’ll need two pairs of socks, but I’m not totally sure about the long johns.

Well see, but this morning was quite cold.

I found, via the Northtowne Bike Shop web site, a “map my route” application, that I sort of regret using. I mapped my morning commute, and it came to 3.6 miles. Now, the actual route I ride is slightly longer—the mapped route does not include climbing the hill at MMU and crossing campus, and there is a detour west of the Rockwell Collins building that doesn’t show up on the mapped ride—but that 3.6 number deflated my ego, a bit. I always claimed I was biking about 5 miles. Just short of 4 isn’t exactly the same—and the fact that it takes me 30 minutes is a bit sobering.

On the other hand, it’s an in-town commuting route. There are lots of stops, waiting for traffic or the light to change, and few long stretches of flat-out biking .And 4 (I’ll claim 4 due to the extra distances not mapped) is still 4.

It makes me more determined to ride for a little while this afternoon. I definitely need the RAGBRAI training miles!
Ice on Dry Creek.

Monday, March 18, 2013

In Which Snow Delays Any Spring Break Biking

Sharp contrast to today--the Saturday before RAGBRAI last year, and it was one very hot summer week.
Ice on a crab apple tree, March 18, 2013.

Well, so far spring break 2013 hasn’t been that good for RAGBRAI-prep biking, but even if it’s cold, there are clear days ahead, so here’s hoping.

Anyway, I downloaded my wife’s camera today, and one image was from the start of RAGBRAI last year, showing me and my son-in-law being left off in Sioux Center on July 21. I have a team that I’m planning to do RAGBRAI with this year, as long as we get organized and get registered.

Well, while today wasn’t full of much biking fun, the sun was still out at 7 when I took some ice and deer photos to mark the day. Spring must be coming soon!
This was the kind of day it was--to shoot a photo of a deer next door in the snow. Not a biking day.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In Which The New Gloves Are On For Spring

I've got my spring gloves on, baby. Note no coat: It was winter in the morning, spring in the afternoon.
My life as a hand model. Reaching for spring.

Today’s fashion biking news: It was winter when I left home this morning, the sky grey with a hint of potential snow. I was lucky and no flakes flew on the way to work, but when I got there I parked inside in the hallway. Snow still blocks the bike rack. Things were about to change.

By mid-day, it had cleared off, gotten sunny and some serious early spring thawing was in the air. My wife and I participated in a “pi day” walk at Mount Mercy, and trekked outdoors sans coats. It was a bit cool, but turning nice.

I had to stay on campus until about 6, getting a mid-term exam ready for Friday morning—however, with daylight savings time, the sun was low but still shining when I was ready to go. It was warm enough to bike without my coat, and I thus decided to wear new bike gloves that my sweetie got me for Christmas.

Well, I didn’t have time to take an extra long ride home on the trail. Still, it was still a very nice biking day. I think I made it home in 25 minutes, which is pretty quick for me.

The long slow winter, which was so mild back in January but has been so snow packed since, is finally beginning to yield to a new time of year. It’s not greening up yet, and I’ve yet to see a flower on my rides, but the turn today was symbolic of a larger turn coming. Or so I hope.

Anyway, I missed biking Wednesday, which was a nice weather day, due to an 8 a.m. class. I’m hoping to bike tomorrow, but will have to get an early start. Not sure it will happen—I’m picking up my daughter and her family at the airport late tonight, so we’ll see.

For today, I was happy to be biking home with no coat, wearing new bike gloves. Welcome, spring, please stick around for a while.

Tuesday, ride home. You can't see it well, but it's snowing as I near home. But, at least the flooding in Dry Creek has gone down. No spring gloves that day!

What I saw Wednesday and again today. Is it the urban eagle? It's hard to see, it's far away, but some majestic bird of prey is circling CR. During the pi day walk today, there were two, and I"m pretty sure they were eagles.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In which CR Biker doesn’t mind the cold morning air

Two photos from morning ride--icicle on my house catches the morning sun, and the pavement was clear, but not the bike rack at MMU, so my bike is inside today.

Was it cold this morning? Sure it was. The temperature was, in Fahrenheit, in single digits, but at least positive.

And it was not windy, which makes all the difference. It was so cold that I wore the winter underwear—which feels a bit odd when the calendar says “March,” but the sun is bright today. I had to alter my morning route just a bit—I scouted my bike route when driving a car home yesterday, and some of the quieter back streets had quite a bit of ice and snow on them last night.

But, my “old” community route, which does not go behind Kenwood School, uses slightly busier streets, which I assumed would be clear. They were.

It was a brisk, cool, comfortable morning ride. The late morning sun felt warm as I walked across campus to my office—so I don’t think I’ll need the long johns on the way home tonight.

And it does feel good to be back on the bike, especially since the 3-week tour of Paraguay has been booked so I need to put on the bike miles more seriously this spring .RAGBRAI is coming!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In Which CR Biker has a humble plea for Mother Nature

March 5--a fun day to be outside badly building a snowman with a granddaughter, but not so great as biking weather.

Well, surprise, surprise. It’s Wednesday and I have not commuted as God intends—on two wheels—yet this week. I might, on Thursday, fingers crossed.

I posted some snow photos on Facebook yesterday, and my oldest daughter, who lives in Norwich, England, commented on one photo: “So. Much. Snow.” According to her, just a bit northeast of London it’s already looking and feeling like spring.

Not so much in Iowa. Frankly, it’s not deep winter—we don’t have highs (or lows) in negative Fahrenheit temperatures, for example. When the sun shines (which it does every other day or so) our big, bright day star is high enough in the sky to have some impact—to make you feel warmer and to warm and to melt some of our snow, at least a little bit.

But it will be a number of days (weeks?) before the deep snowpack recedes. Amanda and family are visiting our continent for a few weeks beginning next week. Let’s hope those from England don’t have too much of a shock when they enter the land of ice and snow.

I still have not yet done anything to get a second bike in riding condition, although I hope spring break allows me some jaunts on two wheels with my son-in-law, maybe even with a grandchild on a bike seat.. Audrey pointed out that we do have my youngest son’s bike at home—which can quickly be oiled and up to use—but, on the other hand, we will also soon have my youngest son, whose spring break at ISU coincides with MMU’s spring break. I hope he wants his bike again for his own use.

Anyway, if the snow continues it won’t be much of an issue. But, I don’t think it will. I promise you, Amanda, it will be more like spring when you’re here than it is now. (Such an extravagant promise for me to make—don’t’ listen Mother Nature, it’s not hubris, I know I don’t control the weather, just trying to play the odds.) March in Iowa is like that—it’s every season of the year rolled into one, days of cold and snow, slightly warm days when the crocus blooms, and a few actual warm days that make you remember summer is coming.

Or, so I hope. We don’t want our visitors from England to dislike Iowa now, do we, powers that be?

We want them to welcome an opportunity down the road to move back to this continent. We want to go biking with them when they are here—to show them all of our pretty flowers that will be in bloom, and the majestic eagles we’ve found down by the river.

Right, Mother Nature? Right? Knocks on wood.
Grandchildren with their new snow shovels, which they have used enough already this March, thank you very much.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Which CR Biker Thinks He Heard and Saw Eagles

I only saw the bird nearer me. Look at the other one--white head. I thought I was near an eagle on the Cedar River Trail today, but now I think I was near two. Saw more (hard to say how many) circling over the river.
Like an eager hobbit awaiting rescue, I was pretty thrilled by the sound—a high-pitched sort of a sound, a staccato keening, a bit effete for the deadly hunter that is making it, if you ask me.

I don’t know for sure that it was the eagle’s cry, but I am pretty sure I saw lots of eagles today, which was about the biggest thrill one can ask for a cool March 2 bike ride.

The snowpack is pretty deep in the grass, but it’s been days since the storm, and the city has done a decent street cleaning job. I decided to find out if that job extended to the Cedar River Trail, and indeed it has. Kudos CR.

I started out a bit after 2, and it was getting close to 4 by the time I had crossed the Cedar River. I was not biking fast (not that I ever do), and I had some business at Mount Mercy that I had to do today, so I didn’t have time to see how far out the city had plowed the trail, although I wanted to.

So I was near Mt. Trashmore when I heard the cry. I was used to listening to birds along the ride today—ravens, geese, ducks—the snow may say “winter” but the sun says “spring” and the dinosaurs are out in force. But this cry was not a raven nor a goose nor a duck. I glanced at the river, and what I saw made me stop.

I'm at maximum zoom, saw some birds at some distance
over the river. Looks like an eagle to me.
There, maybe just 30 yards from me, at the very tip top of a slumbering cottonwood, sat a bird that looked huge, like Bilbo in the top branch trying to stain to see the end of Mirkwood. She looked 3-feet tall to me, and I thought, “Jesus, that’s way too huge for a hawk. Could it be?”

I unlimbered my camera, raised it, snapped one picture and then saw the back side of a big bird  silently but swiftly slipping away over the river. I thought there was only one, but when I looked later at my photo, I think there was a boy eagle closer to the river than the girl eagle that drew my attention. (Correction:  As Dr. Joy Ochs commented on my photos on Facebook, in bald eagles the plumage is not sexually differentiated--both adult males and females have white heads. What I saw was a younger and older eagle, and the one I noticed nearer me was the brown-headed juvenile).

I’ve only had a few glimpses of eagles. They impress me two ways—they are unbelievably huge compared to birds I am used to seeing, and for such large animals, they are really stealthy. To say “I heard the eagle’s cry” is to say you heard a bird sound much more subtle than a raven’s raucous caw or the honk of an angry goose. And an animal that huge should sound like a helicopter when it takes off, but it doesn’t. It’s just suddenly in the air and it doesn’t even seem to flap much as it’s just as quickly gone—fast, stealthy, strong and nearly silent. I bet that bird can hunt. I guess it doesn’t want to startle the fish.

Anyway, I saw many, many birds today. Hawks are common in this area, so I can’t be certain what all of the large birds of prey I saw circling over the river were. But when I looked at my photos from the ride, I became more convinced. Let me know, blog fans, if you know more about birds than I do. But these seem like eagles to me.
Cedar Lake, near the Cedar River. Only a little of the lake is open water, so the birds all party in that area. Did not see eagles at the lake, but there were plenty of other feathered creatures.