Friday, June 14, 2013

In Which The RAGBRAI Shirt Is Totally Awesome

Most awesome bking T-shirt ever. And that's exactly what I will look like for RAGBRAI.

It's raining in Paraguay today, so no biking (or hiking, which had been the plan) but that doesn't have to mean no blogging ....

Check out “All Sorts of Awesome” on Facebook sometime. It’s a page my talented oldest daughter maintains, showing some of her art.

And here you see a sample. I don’t know how they got me to model a design she did in England, but that totally looks like my torso, in that it has two arms and in that I plan to cover my torso in that design.

Which is awesome. Contact me at if you want such an awesome shirt. If I sell any, I’ll dedicate the profits to my daughter in Norwich, England. Because she’s awesome.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In Which A Cap Is Not A Helmet

Jon and I ready for our ride. Note the funky bike frames.

No, no, blog fans, nothing bad happened during my maiden bike ride in winter in Paraguay. I just thought about it a lot during the ride—how I wished I had a helmet. I didn’t, and I rode anyway, but I am fine.

In fact, if you’re going to ride a bike in winter, I definitely suggest a Paraguayan winter might be more relaxing than an Iowa one. Jon had been to a meeting in Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción on Tuesday (usually called just Asunción, it’s the capital of Paraguay) and we stayed up late waiting for him to return. Consequently we got to bed late, and Wednesday started kind of late.

But, we had planned that today would be our bike ride day, and after lunch ended around 2, we decided we better get going because the winter sun sets by 5 p.m.

It was warm, probably around 80 or so, as most winter afternoons here are. I tried on Nalena’s helmet, which is too small for Nalena, and it didn’t fit me either, so I decided to wear my sun cap. I filled my water bottle, we got out the two cheap Brazilian bikes that the Peace Corps provided, and we were ready to be on our way.

The bikes were a bit of an adventure. The frame size is too small for a tall American, and the frame design seems to have the goal to add as much extraneous metal as possible, so the frame can be lots heavier with no discernable gain in comfort or strength. The derailleurs on my bike were a bit iffy, with the both the front and the rear tending to overshift when you aimed at the largest cog, and the rear one was frequently “chunking” in intermediate gears.

There was one other difficulty right away—Jon lives on a cobblestone street. In Paraguay, cobblestones are very irregular rocks imbedded in a clay path. It made for several continuous blocks of “rumble strip” riding.

The start of the ride. Note the cobblestone street. It was a bit rough riding at first, but it only lasted a few blocks.

But it was a fine sunny day, and even if I felt a bit like my knees were in danger of banging into my chin, it did feel good to be out on a bike. Jon said we would aim for the main campus of the Catholic University (Universidad Católico) that is south of town here, although he was not sure that we would have time to reach it.

The ride was a bit hair-raising. Paraguayan paved roads are asphalted cobblestone, and not as smooth as North American roads—although the paved surface was way better than the bare cobblestones. The streets are a bit narrow, and there is all sorts of traffic, including many “motos,” small motorcycles that keep way over to the right in the lane where bicycles are trying to ride.

Paraguayan drivers pass very, very close, blog fans, and they do not slow down for bikes.

We made our way through Villarrica to a country road that went down a hill. After a couple of miles, the pavement swung left through a gate, and there we were, at the campus.

The ride had taken us about 30 minutes or so, so reaching the campus was no big deal. We parked our bikes (the only non-motorized bikes there, and we had to lock them to a sign since there are no bike racks in Paraguay) and walked around the campus.

Jon in the central student lounge at the university. He found a poster on a bulletin board advertising a class he and Nalena started back in March.

There were no dormitories, because in Paraguay college students live at home or in apartments and don’t usually go very far to go to a university, and the campus is easily reach by moto or bus from Villarrica.
The Catholic University has "Holy Spirit Hospital," which has this rather cool symbol.

In one building we passed an office where a lady called out to Jon and invited us in. She was a “secretary” who chatted with Jon and me for a while. I was able to speak a little Spanish, but much of the conversation eluded me. “Secretary,” by the way, is a title for a high-ranking official, the head of the whole university (whom we did by chance briefly meet) is the secretary general, and the lady whose office we visited would probably be the equivalent of an academic dean or provost in the U.S.

Anyway, after a nice chat, we had a pleasant walk through several buildings and in a central quad area. The campus was a bit threadbare, as all things in Paraguay seem to be, but the atmosphere was not all that different from a U.S. college campus. There are classroom buildings, a student lounge, a medical school with a hospital, even an “experimental” high school where Jon and Nalena have done some programs.

Central area of campus at the university.
After a nice walk, it was time to head back.

The ride back proved a bit more challenging than the ride there, since the long hill we had come down we now had to climb. But we left the campus around 3:20 and were home by 4. Jon estimates the distance is not that different from my daily commute from my home to Mount Mercy, but I must say I feel like I can’t complain too much about the condition of Cedar Rapids streets anymore. Yes, I know, our CR streets do need a lot of fixing, but trust me, there are lots of places that would envy our wide, smooth streets.
A pause at a bend in the road on the ride back. the road is a bit narrow, but luckily, once we left the city, traffic was light. There is lots of trash. Sadly, Paraguayans are terrible litterbugs.

It was a fun ride. We’re going to do some bus traveling to see a bit of Paraguay outside of Villarrica in the coming days, so I’m not sure if I’ll get many more chances to ride a bike in South American. Without a helmet, I suppose I should not overdo it. But I’m glad I did go on this ride, although 9 miles in three weeks is not a very intense RAGBRAI training schedule!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

In Which Wires Shadow The Ride

What with one thing and another—including office cleaning and moving office plants home due to an upcoming extended trip—I didn't get on my bike Friday until a bit after 5 p.m.

I wasn't sure where to ride. Rains lately have led to high water that has closed trails—in fact, here is a look at the low bridge of the Boyson Trail from a Friday afternoon walk Audrey and I took:
Water on the trail.
I decided that my evening ride would be north, since there aren't any water barriers to the trail headed north, so off I went. One thing about bike trails, they often use old rail lines, which mean they are also utility routes, and new, tall transmission lines have been installed just this spring along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail headed north:
Heading north, the trail paralleled by power.
I noticed that these new tall metal towers are identified by a number near the top of each pole, but the number is not unique to each pole, nor are they sequential. What does “24” mean, and why is “20” or “18” also common numbers?
What do the numbers mean?
Whatever. I continued on north until the 10-mile marker, then checked my time. I did not want to be miles north of Cedar Rapids when darkness came—I’m willing to ride in town with bike lights, but don’t really want to try the dark countryside. At 10 miles north, I decided it was time to turn back. I was aided in my decision by the interesting looking sky, which had a smear of clouds on the horizon that suggested possibilities … fortunately, the foreshadowing was false and the weather stayed dry.
A late afternoon Iowa cloudscape. Note the dead tree to the left. Still evidence of last year's drought amid the plethora of green this wet spring.
I met a retired MMU professor unexpectedly in Lafayette, and we chatted a bit about the recent leadership changes on campus. Then, I continued south and was once again distracted by wires. Why, at this road, do the new tall metal towers suddenly end? Are more in our future?
Where the high wire ends, looking south.
As the twilight set in, I was headed south in Robins. I paused to turn on my lights and also snap this photo of how new and old power poles mingled in this tiny town.
It's getting dark and the power poles are co-mingled, old and new.
I’m happy to report that I was home before it was full dark, although it was darkening. The sunset was pretty, as you can see. I didn’t ride off into it, as a hero of the Old West would, because I was headed east and I had to look back at Council Street by the Northeast Post Office in order to see the sunset. It was a pretty sunset, bisected by wires. Well, it would be. A testament to man’s ability to generate electricity, I suppose.
The sunset I did not ride off into. Because I'm not a cowboy. But I'm nearly as macho as one because I ride a  mighty steed. Then again, the steed is named "Francis," which might cut the macho factor a bit ...
Y’all enjoy yourself now. I’m not sure I’ll be doing much biking for a bit, with the trip and all, so ride some RAGBRAI prep miles for me, and don’t let the wires get too distracting.