Sunday, July 28, 2013

In Which Four Or Five Heads Are Better Than One

The mighty awesome Team Joe at the end of RAGBRAI 2013. Brandon Kent, Cate Sheller, Brigid Rocca, Eldon Rocca and your correspondent.

My son-in-law could have borrowed my sweatshirt—I would have been warm enough in my sleeping bag. As it was, he got very cold in his thin sleeping bag liner and airy summer tent that night in Fairfield. I was fine.

Then again, while he mostly rode and camped alone, I was with a group. And again, as in last year, my RAGBRAI 2013 experience reinforces the idea of a group experience being the better way to go.

Not that groups are always better. The first year I did RAGBRAI, the young men from Seattle who I was with would sleep until almost 8, whereas I awoke at 5. I would hit the road by 6. They would always finish before me anyway, being young and strong on nimble road bikes, whereas I am old—still strong, but in biking terms “old” is almost synonymous with “slow”—and ride Francis.

My bike, Francis, is very reliable: a solid, sturdy bike that is ideal for commuting. Maybe Francis is not quite as ideal for RAGBRAI, although, on the other hand, Francis is of a style that promotes both front baskets and back racks, which are handy to have on a long bike trek.

Anyway, since I was on my own during the day during that first RAGBRAI, I could move at my own pace and always make my own decisions. But since I was with a group, there was a support vehicle and friends to pal around with each night.

This year, things were a bit different. We were trading drivers at the meet towns each day, so meeting was more important. And our style of riding was different—we tended to ride in mini packs. Again, this is not bad—there were many advantages—but group dynamics, the need to discuss decisions and come to agreement, slows things down.

On the other hand, being with other riders during the day means both many bad shared jokes and mutual support. One of our riders, not me, became ill one day, and it was good that someone (me) could stay with that rider until the SAG wagon came. I stopped twice to help strangers along the way, and once had my sister with me—she provided me with a glove that kept me from getting all greasy. I got all greasy the other time. I did better with my sister there.

Overall, I would say 2013 ranks second in my RAGBRAI experiences. The first year was number one, the second year was number three. I enjoyed the second year, but doing it alone proved not as good as doing it in a group. And the biggest reason 2013 doesn’t rank number one has zero to do with the company I kept, which was excellent in both 2011 and 2013, but more with the fact that almost any good experience is just better when it is most novel.

Will I do RAGBRAI again? With siblings? I can’t speak for them, but I suspect so. I am 100 percent sure that I will do at least parts of RAGBRAI again, and, while I’m not prepared at this point to commit to the full week in 2014, on the other hand, when winter rolls around and the Des Moines Register announces the route for the year—well, 2013 was such a positive experience that I’m sure RAGBRAI fever will be high.

We—my sisters, brother-in-law and I—talked of many things, including possible blog posts. I may yet write the one we discussed about advice for vendors, host towns and RAGBRAI itself—including, RAGBRAI, marking the darn route for support vehicles much more effectively. Another possible blog post, that I sadly suspect will not be done because I did not take notes, was RAGBRAI quotes.

One I recall is “Eldon gives the best Hickeys.” A hickey is a naughty mark on the skin. A Hickey is a rubber device that replaces shoelaces, and my bike shoes now have Hickeys courtesy of Eldon.

Maybe next year I will remember to have a notebook handy so I can recall all of the cool quotes from the journey. There, see, I haven’t even committed to doing RAGBRAI again, but I’m already writing “next year.”

Some final thoughts on RAGBRAI 2013:

What went well:
Picture perfect final day--Des Moines River at Bonaparte.

  • Eating at churches. Even the hapless one in Perry where the system broke down and the food was an hour late still fed us well, and the time in line worked in our favor because we avoided the worst of a thunderstorm. Methodists still make great pie, but Catholic pasta proved filling in two overnight towns.
  • Having a support vehicle. I owe many debts to both of my riding pal sisters—Brigid and Cate—and to Eldon, my brother-in-law. Among the greatest is to Brigid and Eldon for supplying the SUV. We didn’t have to worry about RAGBARI baggage limits (which meant a real pillow, hooray!) and had coolers so we could buy our own beer at $6 a six pack instead of $6 a drink
  • Taking turns driving. It meant I missed some cool things, such as the drive over the mile-long bridge on Red Rock Lake, but having a few driving shifts meant some half days off, which were good for my aging body. I suppose I technically did only 5 ½ days of RAGBRAI on a bike, but still. When one member of our team was faded for any reason, he or she could pick up an extra diving shift and get a break. CR Biker did not need any extra breaks this year—and having a few more team members so there are fewer driving shifts would be OK, too—but the whole trading driving thing turned out to be a great idea.
  • The weather. We had rain twice this year, but both times at night. Since my little tent continues to be the watertight shelter that could, night rains didn’t bother me much. Dry, warm, sunny days make the week overall very beautiful. If it had been one week earlier, we would have sweltered under high heat and astronomical humidity—but as it turned out, Mother Nature smiled this year, and the weather was gorgeous.
  • The shirts. My daughter's grand design for Team Joe was a hit. I wore "I am Joe" and "Joe I am" shirts on four days of the ride, and met lots of other Joes. Many riders made a sport of yelling "hi Joe," or, in the case of the Christmas team (yes, there was one), "Merry Christmas, Joe!" I felt like Lance Armstrong without the biking ability.
    Awesome shirt front,
    it said "Team Joe" above picture.

What did not go well:

  • Fairfield. The little town that is slightly cray cray. From the gate guard who turned us away from the main campground because I could not name our team’s official RAGBRAI name on the spot to the shortage of portable toilets (and total lack of water) in the main campground, the little town that is schizophrenic, divided between old-school Iowans and Vedic spirituality, seemed a bit, well, incompetent. Don’t get me wrong—overall the town was very friendly and most individuals we encountered were delightful, it’s just that the powers that be running this RAGBRAI stop managed to get many key details wrong.
  • Getting late starts. We did better at the end, and usually were on the road by close to 6:30 if not 7—but as I’ve written before, a good RAGBRAI ride starts promptly at 6. In the future, maybe we pack breakfy rather than seeking it in town. Coffee is important, but then again, it’s also readily available on the road.
  • Eating vendor food one night. Yeah, not so much. Stick with churches. Our search for food became late in Oskaloosa, and we didn’t find either Methodists or Catholics, but instead ate in the downtown vendor area. Never again. The food was OK, but it was not plentiful enough and the lines were huge. Churches feed you much better. You pay more, but sitting down to a hearty meal is totally worth it.

Anyway, RAGBRAI 2013 is now history. See more of my photos here.

The giant bike at the Fairfield  Middle School was cool.
Was it good? When it was good, it was very, very good. When it was bad, it frankly wasn’t all that bad. Even Fairfield was enjoyable. Overall, I would say it was great.

Some thank you notes: Thank you again, Brigid and Eldon, for supplying the support vehicle. Thank you Eldon for fixing my front derailleur. Thank you, Cate and Brigid, for your quirky sense of humor and knowledge of 1970s and 80s song lyrics. Eldon, thanks for putting up with three Shellers for a week. Thank you Cate for the many training rides and the cool guest blog post. Brandon, thanks for hanging out with the old folks for a few nights. Thank you Iowa and Des Moines Register for going along with this whole RAGBRAI idea. Amanda, the shirts were totally awesome, thanks a ton, and again thanks to Eldon for arranging the printing. Most of all, Audrey, a thousand thanks. You encouraged me to do RAGBRAI again, you left me off and picked me up despite the coordination problems that inevitably cropped up, and you reminded me often to go out and ride my bike to practice for RAGBRAI. I’m sure sometimes it just got me out of your hair, but still.

It’s good to be home. Of all the RAGBRAIs so far, I think I finished this one in the best physical shape—Audrey had the idea to take several pairs of gloves, which proved a very wise move since I had no hand rashes as I have in the past, and trading time cycling with driving time means my body is just not that beat up. The weather was beautiful today and it was tempting to pop the wheel back on Francis and head for a spin on the trails near my home.

My butt said “no.” OK, butt. But I’m sure I’ll be back in the saddle again soon, and probably again in future RAGBRAIs, too.

Final look at Team Joe. So long, RAGBRAI 2013.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Traveling at the Speed of Joe

Cate takes a photo of the "grumpy tents" in Knoxville.

Note: Today CR Biker presents a guest post.

This is Joe's sister Cate.  Or Sister Joe, as one of my team shirts says.  My other shirt says “Joe is back there somewhere ...”  Well. That's what this blog post is (mostly) about.

Today I'm the camptown lady (doo-dah, doo-dah), in charge of tearing down the tents and setting them up again.  After 5 days on the road, I think I'm finally getting to understand my tent.  Oh tent, I long to know you better.  That one night we spent together on the back porch was not enough!

Ahem.  I am not a regular camper.  My sleeping bag I've had since high school (almost 40 years) but all of my other equipment was bought on a trip to Denver in March, when I knew for sure we were going to do RAGBRAI.  I just barely learned how to assemble my tent before we were off.

Despite its unfamiliarity, my tent is not the most difficult one to set up: that dubious honor falls to Brigid and Eldon, whose tent is the land of a thousand stakes.  Mine is a bit tricky, but gets easier after getting used to it.  Joe's tent is easy.  Easy like Council Bluffs.

But I digress.  Back to the main topic.

I rode a lot of training miles with Joe.  Hundreds of them.  And I was able to observe a consistent phenomenon: although I am a rather large middle-aged woman and I ride a rather heavy bike, I am faster than Joe.  Joe ambles.  He trudges.  He plods.  Like the low rider, Joe goes slow.

When I was training for RAGBRAI, I challenged myself. I rode in unnecessarily high gears and rode faster than I needed to.  The RAGBRAI web site recommends that a rider get in 1,000 training miles before the event, but between a wet spring and early summer, plus two weeks of work-related travel, I knew I would barely get in 700.  I was worried, so I pushed myself.  I think it's paid off; after 4 days of riding I am happy to be taking a rest day, but it's not because I couldn't have ridden.  Somebody has to drive the support vehicle, and today it's my turn.

Cate feeds a horse. But it didn't pull her bike for her.
But here's the thing: challenging yourself is fine when you're training for RAGBRAI, but the event itself is no time for an extra challenge.  I learned that the hard way on the first day of the ride; I charged my way up several hills in the hot sun, after too little sleep, in a middle-aged woman's fog of hormonal soup, and by early afternoon I had created the perfect storm: a migraine headache.  I told Joe I needed to stop and rest for a minute.  That minute turned into over an hour of intermittent dozing, vomiting, and being bitten by flies.  Joe stuck with me until the sag wagon came and helped me load my bike on the trailer.  I had a short ride into the overnight town, while Joe had a long slog on his bike that got him into camp a couple of hours later.  He's a good brother, that Joe.

And I am on a really good team.  There is steadfast Joe, always good to ride (or hide) behind.  There is irrepressible Brigid, who makes me laugh so hard.  And there is ingenious Eldon, our gadget guy, who always comes up with new and clever ways to do things.  We take care of each other.  When I talked to my wife at the end of that first day, she expressed concern for my well-being.  I told her not to worry, as I have three mommies on this ride.  At the campground, it was Eldon who found me and managed to guide me and my bike to my tent so I could rest and recuperate.  It was Brigid who fetched me cold water and checked on me to make sure I was still breathing.  I was, and am, in good hands.

So I have learned my lesson.  On RAGBRAI, anyway, I'm traveling at the speed of Joe.  Whenever there's a steep hill, or a long hill, or a long, steep hill (there are plenty of all of the above!) I shift into granny gear and make my slow, ambling, plodding, trudging way up.  It ain't fast, but it gets me to the top, and I arrive in camp on my bike instead of the sag wagon.  It's the only way to ride.

Random RAGBRAI thoughts:

  • My bicycle's name is Miss Grenadine, for reasons only Brigid can truly understand.
  • I am not safe around sharp objects.  I think this is going to be a three-scar summer.
  • Brigid and I invented a new drinking game.  If you see a hill, you take a drink.  Our drink of choice is water.
  • Eldon gives the best Hickeys.  Maybe Joe will show you the ones on his feet.
  • One of the great pleasures in life is riding down the middle of the street in Des Moines beside my sister, as we harmonize to the Beatles tune playing on my iPod.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Which The F***ing Pigs Have A Great Day

Pie, such as one finds on RAGBRAI. I have found a lot. I am a pie piggie.

To be honest, he had a point. I don't like seeing piles of garbage left by RAGBRAI riders by the side of the road.

Earlier today, a dairy gave away chocolate milk. It was a welcome treat—and later in the day, the conservationists were giving out free bananas. Both were nice to get.

And I indulged in each. But I also property disposed of the remains. Many riders did not—especially in the case of the milk, where cartons were left scattered on the side of the highway within the mile after the milk giveaway.

At least the milk tossers pretty much tried to pile the milk cartons in groups, which would make cleanup a bit easier. But it would be nicer if cleanup were not necessary—if all RAGBRAI riders kept their trash until they could dispose of it correctly.

However, to be fair, if you run a marathon and pass a water station, you're expected to just drop your cup. Others will come later and pick them up. The many riders who assume that someone else will pick up their trash are often athletes—a number of them runners. They are following their running habits.

And, again to defend the litterbugs a little, many bikers don't have a big Wicked Witch of the West basket like mine on the front of their bikes. So they can't easily cart their own garbage, as CR Biker can.

So, while I wish cleanup would not be necessary, or at least less necessary, than it is, nonetheless it's a reality that, if given a free beverage, many RAGBRAI riders will chug and then chuck.

Little mermaid Kimbalton.
Which leads me to an odd “welcome” I received in Des Moines, today. After passing through a nice balloon arch, I headed down a hill. I got a text from team members who I had inadvertently evaded in Valley Junction in West Des Moines, so I pulled over. Bikers were tossing plastic bottles from free drinks they had been given up the hill. Several ended up on the street. When it was clear, I quickly kicked some to the side.

When the owner or manager of the business I was in front of came out and yelled “quick kicking bottles into my yard!” He then said: “Those people (RAGBRAI riders) are f***ing pigs!” And then he directed a harried looking minion (any minion of his would probably be harried) to toss the bottles back into the street.

Well, I understand his frustration. I would not like bottles in my yard either. But I kicked them out of the street because a biker coming down the hill at 20 mph could be killed if she or he hit that bottle. And this idiot wanted to toss them back into the street. True, he was probably steaming all day—it was not a retail business that would benefit from RAGBRAI, it was a concrete company and doubtless RAGBRAI was just a huge pain. But, come on.

I think I was doing OK by trying to clear the street. I wish the RAGBRAI riders had not tossed bottles into his yard. But 20 bottles in his yard does not make 10,000 riders pigs, either. I had snacked at the edge of his grass and had the wrappers in my pockets. I felt like emptying them. Instead, I just moved down the street to meet my teammates.

Welcome to Des Moines. OK, the greeters at the arch were friendly and one bad man doesn't spoil a town any more than a few bottle tossers should tarnish all RAGBRAI.

And, it was just one incident in an otherwise great day. The ride was fairly short, even if I made it longer by going past the point Brigid had planned to leave the trail. We had some headwinds, but the cool temps were a pleasure.

I've done, I guess, 2 days of RAGBRAI now. The ride has gone on for 3 days, but I had some driving duties. Today was the first full day, and it was a great day despite Mr. Grumpy Business Manager.

Last night, we had indoor plumbing, courtesy of the head librarian in Perry. Tonight is the stop at Brigid and Eldon's house. Tomorrow, I ride in the morning and drive in the afternoon.

It will be slightly challenging for me to assemble all the tents, but I think I'm ready. We will see!

In the meantime, points to ponder:
Bones and a sister. Be afraid.

  • I'm hoping to get team members to guest post. If you know any, lobby them.
  • Today, I photographed a pile of deer bones suspiciously close to my tardy twin sister. Should we be worried?
  • Methodists still hold the edge in the pie baking, but despite delays, Catholics do well at noodle dishes.
  • My tent stayed dry in the Perry storm. Here's hoping it does not get tested again.
  • All team members had had to resort to corn field Kybos now and then. Once, two my team members and I were in the same field (not together). I am developing a corn field rating system--points for ease of access and height, deductions for mud or tall weeds or a ditch to wade through.
  • The "Team Joe" shirts have made saying "hi Joe" a sport among RAGBRAI riders. Not sure why, but it's fun.
That's all for now. I will again try to update several times this week, and I hope to talk some others into some posts, too.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In Which We Attend Two Expos

Eldon, Brigid, Cate, Audrey and I just before the start of RAGBRAI 2013. The Team Joe shirts turn out to be biking wear, so watch for us on RAGBRAI 2013. Audrey is heading home--too sane for the road--and I am the first support driver, so my bike ride starts mid-day Sunday.

The night before RABRAI began, we were at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs for the bike expo. Lots to see, although we missed our driver safety meeting. We'll try to be safe.

At the expo, I picked up laminated day maps, courtesy of the state's hospital association. And we just gawked and walked around. It turns out, despite his massive size, CR Biker can disappear in a RAGBRAI crowd in an instant. I don't know how to use this superpower, but I will try to use it for good.

After that, we held a “tent” expo at the back yard of Paula and Dave Chicoine's home in Elkhorn, Nebraska. I'm proud to say mine is the easiest tent to assemble, hands down.

Audrey's shirt.
Then we broke out the famous “Team Joe” biking shirts and painted away. Emma Chicoine decorated Audrey's with an “I (heart)” before “Joe.” I wrote “I am” before Joe on one, and “am I” after Joe on the other.

After a filling pizza dinner, we got to bed a bit late—around 11. Wakeup was at 5 a.m. Then, we had a hearty breakfast at a Village Inn and headed over to Council Bluffs.

The bikers—Brigid, Eldon and Cate are the first bikers while I'm the first support driver—got on the road shortly after 8. At bit late by RAGBRAI standards, but the first day has only a bit over 50 miles, and despite the hills, should be OK. The weather is giving our bikers a break, with cooler temps and no overnight storm—let's hope that pattern continues.

I'm writing this using Cate's laptop at a rest stop along I 80 before the first meeting town. I've posted some images on Facebook. I'll try to update you regularly during the week.

But for now, time to get on the road. I have some bikers to meet in a town up ahead, and then Francis and I will go for the first of our cruises in the RAGBRAI crowd!
We're putting the band back together. Banded for the ride. Pretty in Pink. During the "tent expo," we put on our official RAGBRAI rider wrist bands. Me, Eldon Rocca, Brigid Rocca and Cate Sheller.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Which CR Biker Is Ready and Not Ready

Sister Brigid in cool Team Joe RAGBRAI shirt.
I feel like I could use another week to prepare for RAGBRAI.

I haven’t changed batteries in my helmet. I haven’t located the “lunchbox” box I usually store daily supplies in. I have not yet packed. I looked into installing Linux on an old laptop to blog from the road, and ran out of time. It would probably work, but I won’t be able to do it. I may still take the old clunker and still do some blogging during the week, though.

So what is ready?

  • Well, obviously the shirt. Thank you talented daughter Amanda for an awesomely cool shirt design, and Eldon Rocca for getting them printed and Brigid, the postponed twin, for modeling the look.
  • The tent.  I had a little anxiety looking for it, but it turned up. I had not unpacked it since RAGBRAI 2012, and was a little concerned about its state. It’s fine. Easy to put up and easy to part.

  • My bike and body. I still have to get more chain lube, but Francis is being very good. Recent rides have gone well, and I hope I’m not fooling myself, but I seem to be ready.

The tent, found and taken to the backyard, then laid out and then assembled. The package says it takes 2 minutes. I think it lies, but not by a lot--on a very hot, humid morning it took 10 minutes to put up. Not bad.

Well, blog pals, this may be it—the final post before the big ride. I’m sure I’ll update midweek from Des Moines, but will more often if I can and the clumsy old laptop functional enough.

Wish me luck on my third full week of RAGBRAI!

I've been on the Boyson, Lindale and Krumholz trails in Cedar Rapids and Marion a bit this week, but mostly have taken it easy. Anyway, this is the trail near Menards in Marion Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Which An Army Captain Plans To Run RAGBRAI

An Army captain named Richard Kresser has signed up for RAGBRAI, and isn’t planning to ride a bike, according to this report from KCRG.

He is running RAGBRAI to raise money for medical equipment for a veteran’s home in Marshalltown.

Well, I wish him luck. If I see him on RAGBRAI, I’ll donate some of my spare cash. I’m sure he’ll be a minor celebrity on the ride, but then again, anybody crazy enough to run RAGBRAI for such a cause certainly deserves attention more than many others who get it.

It apparently is a “thing” to leverage RAGBRAI for such causes. Zach Liddle, a UNI student, is running the route, although doing it mostly in advance of RAGBRAI. He is raising funds for cancer research, accordign to, the web site of the Mason City Globe Gazette.

Well, I wish them well. It’s a slightly goofy, but nonetheless positive way to show devotion to a cause, I suppose.

Me, I’ll be content just to complete my third RAGBRAI. The weather is super hot this week, but looks to be somewhat improved next week, although some storms are also possible.

Anyway, good luck to Mr. Kressler and Mr. Liddle.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Which a Fan Rescues a Music Star

Knock on wood, the only times CR biker has needed rescuing, he has had a functioning cell phone with him.

That wasn’t always true, of course. My dad bought my first bike, a 1966 Schwinn one-speed with balloon tires, well before cell phones were popular. I had many adventures and misadventures on a 1974 Schwinn 10-speed Continental, which was so sturdy it lasted for 30 years. And that was three decades sans cell.

But Francis has always been ridden by a rider who usually remembers his phone.

Still, my sister Brigid Rocca posted this story on Facebook, and it’s loaded with good karma. Granted, a “stranded” biker could be a setup, but I’m glad this story had a happy ending, and if I’m ever broken down without a cell, I hope some CR Biker fan happens by.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

In Which The Ride Is Grand But The Video Gone

Team Joe--Cate Sheller, Eldon Rocca, Brigid Rocca and me. I went along with it when they suggested the name. We are on the observation deck, the old bridge approach, next to the High Trestle Trail bridge.

Trust me blog friends—the 48-mile ride Saturday was a blast. Not an unmixed blessing, mind you, but a very satisfying time nonetheless.

The 2013 RAGBRAI group I’m part of, “Team Joe,” met for a pre-RAGBRAI conference and training ride Saturday. My brother-in-law and sister Brigid live in DesMoines, and another of my sisters, Cate, drove as she and I made the journey Friday to our fine capital city.

But first, a word about navigating: Never trust a Sheller. Our route to Brigid’s involved a tour of West Des Moines searching for 60th Street (which, if we had found it, would have been useless since our hosts live in Des Moines, not one of its metastasizing western suburbs). And when we called Brigid, we kept getting unhelpful “this phone is being answered by an annoyingly calm robot voice and you are doomed” messages.

Well, the problems were eventually resolved. It turned out I was right (of course) in that the route to Brigid’s involved state Highway 28, which I opined while looking at a Des Moines map. It also turned out I was wrong (of course) in that Highway 28 is not identified on any of the exit signs along I-235, which means my navigational wisdom was of totally nonexistent application.

As I said, never trust a Sheller, at least where directions are concerned.

Anyway, the pointless adventure concluded, we had a fine Friday supper of steak, corn on the cob, tomatoes and apple pie—all good RAGBRAI-style fare, and we laid our plans for the ride.

Our team is splitting the driving of the support vehicle, so technically I will ride 5 ½ days of RAGBRAI this year. Still counts as a week, I think, and I’m looking forward to doing RAGBRAI with a family group again. My first RAGBRAI was with Jon and some Microsoft pals of his from Seattle, my second was solo and this year is my third. Groups are better.

Anyway, after making our driving schedule Friday night, we went to bed fairly early and awoke for Saturday’s ride along the High Trestle Trail, starting in Ankeny.

We had a great breakfast, again thanks to Brigid and Eldon, then headed towards Ankeny in two vehicles. When we got there, we had a surprise since it appears July 13 was “parade day” in Ankeny for some reason, and the parade route included the street right by the trail head, which meant a very full parking lot. The first vehicle was lucky enough to snag a spot, and a few minutes later someone else left, enabling us to grab a second spot.

From Polk County's web site, the trail.
Then it was off on the trail. It’s a very pleasant trail, going through several small towns, with nice rest stops on the way, including several bars and businesses that cater to trail traffic. It was cloudy, and around the low 80s—a temperature that feels very warm when it’s still and sunny, but when it’s breezy and cloudy can actually be a bit cool, at times.

Cool is OK for a bike ride. The wind was from the south (or east? Honestly, I don’t really know what direction we were riding in—that Sheller gene again). We zoomed along for much of the first 12 miles, and even when we had some minor uphill grades in the second half, we did well.

The High Trestle Trail ends in a high bridge over the Des Moines River. It’s a very impressive ride. I was a bit dubious about the concept of crossing the bridge—I don’t like getting on a chair or ladder, and honestly the worst part of the whole trip to Paraguay, for me, was having to cross a high bridge near Tampa, Florida, once on the way to Miami and once on the way back.

Looking from the observation deck to the bridge, and yes, I rode across it. Are you impressed? I am.
I’m not a bridge person. But on this bridge, the side rails are so substantial and the bridge so sturdy, that even though I did have to focus my attention on the bridge deck now and then to calm my nerves, for the most part I was able to enjoy the views and the ride.

The company was superb. Brigid and Eldon—a couple who have their share of biking adventures on their trikes, such as this close encounter with tornadoes—even have developed hand-signals that stand in for many of the standard RAGBRAI verbal signals.

A three-fingered wag back and forth, windshield wiper style, means we are approaching a road. A twirling finger in the air, which could be a disco move, means “all clear” at said road. Rather than yell “biker up” at a rider coming from the other direction, a sort of Vanna White waive indicates approaching bikers.

On the trail. Brigid is passing on the Vanna waive, which means that a biker is approaching from the other direction. It if were me, my hand would be palms down, which means something else.
The signals were OK, except they confused me a little when I was in the lead and had to use them, and I didn’t do all of them well. Mostly, I proved incapable of a Vanna waive, and instead inverted my hand, which, my cohorts tell me, meant that I was apparently signaling “walk like an Egyptian” whenever a biker approached. Maybe the fact that I elaborated the signal by moving my hand back and forth the same number of times as the number of bikers approaching didn’t help that image.

Anyway, we had a great time. Lunch was at the Whistling Donkey, a sports bar in Woodward that actually had decent sandwiches, and then it was time to head back.

The 24 miles back were a bit harder than the 24 miles there. The wind, which had been our morning friend, was our afternoon enemy. What had been downhill was, in the other direction, decidedly not downhill.

Still, the day was fine, our tummies full of good food, and we finished the ride in high spirits, even if there were some sore bottoms.

So what was unmixed about this blessing?

  • I killed my water supply. I carry a backpack water holder in my front bike basket, and when I hopped in Eldon’s SUV to accompany him for the ride to Ankeny, my door didn’t shut all the way. “I think you’ve caught your seatbelt,” he said. Seemed likely, so I opened the door, checked the belt and then slammed the door again. Only then did I notice water pooling at my feet. It was not the seatbelt, it was the end of my drinking tube that was stuck in the door. The nipple structure popped off, and Eldon and I thought he had fixed it by forcing it back on. Sadly, there was also a little crack in the plastic holding the structure. Sorry for the pond in your SUV.
  • I shot and then lost a video of the bridge crossing. I downloaded my SD card to the laptop computer. If I download to my desktop computer, the same utility program, which says on either computer that it is copying “all media files,” copies both photos and videos. The laptop only copies photos. When using the laptop, I have to remember to manually move videos before I clean the card. Or, if I don’t, they are gone. This was “gone.” Sad, but oh well, it did not spoil the ride.
Anyway, I’m pretty jazzed about RAGBRAI starting in only a week. I am hoping to reconfigure an old laptop to blog from the journey—we’ll see how that goes. I’m not sure my sense of technology is much more advanced than my sense of direction.

In the meantime, my wife kindly bought me a new bike computer, which I installed today (yes, there were long technical glitches, I will spare you the details, it works now). I tested it on a brief Lindale and Boyson trails ride with my granddaughter bike pal, Amelia.

And I have seen the High Trestle Trail. It’s a nice ride. More photos here. I hope to come back some full moon for the night experience—I understand the bridge has pretty lights.

Then again, it was one thing to face the void during the day when I could see there was still a world there. A high bridge at night? We’ll see.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In Which Neither Beer Nor Mud Stand in the Way

Cate and I at the end of the ride. Photo by Paulette.

Granted, one of those things, in a moderate amount, is more help than hindrance. Beer has some carbs and alcohol thins the blood and helps prevent heart attacks. The mud? Totally not helpful, but it was also our own fault.
Cate posted this on Facebook. Our route makes a squiggle guy.

Today, my sister Cate and I did a RAGBRAI analogy ride. It was a decent analogy in that we rode 65 miles and survived to tell the tale. It was also a decent analogy in the foods we found and consumed along the way. It was a slightly poorer analogy in that most of the miles were trail miles, and RAGBRAI road riding involves many more rolling hills—but, as fate would have it, we climbed more hills than we expected to (the one hill on the trail we climbed four times), so that helps.

And, in case you’re tempted, don’t try to ride the Sac and Fox Trail. It does not exist in parts, but can leave you stranded in sticky, stinky mud flats where the trail used to be. Please trust me on this.

Despite mud on my spokes and having to carry my bike while in danger of falling in said mud, it was a great day for a ride—not humid, high around 80, sunny and beautiful. That certainly is no analogy at all for RAGBRAI as it was in 2012, but, knock on wood, let’s hope it works better for 2013.

Anyway, here is how the RAGBRAI ride went:

I had suggested to Cate that she meet me at my house at 8. That’s poetic, but a very late start for RAGBRAI, when most rides begin by 6 a.m. Still, since I knew the weather would be beautiful—no 100 or even 90-degree afternoon temps to avoid—the late start was OK.

We started out heading east to the Cedar River Trail, then turned south. An hour later, at our first break at the “baseball park,” Cate said her GPS showed an average speed of over 12 mph. Pretty good.

We proceeded south to Ely, and had a nice break at the Retreat, a coffee shop there. I enjoyed a frappe and a blueberry muffin, Cate had an orange and carrot smoothie and a cookie.
Early in the ride, Cate in my mirror, gorgeous day. "Looks like distracted biking." That's what she said.

Then we turned north. For the first few miles, it was a regrettable direction, as we headed directly into the breeze that had sped us south. However, the wind was not overly strong, and when we turned a little to the west a few miles into the trek, the side wind was not too bad. Shortly after we got back to the residential area of Cedar Rapids, we briefly stopped to aid a biker whose chain had slipped off the front cog and become stuck.

We didn’t know it, but clearly we would need the good karma while committing crimes later on.

Lunch at Parlor City in the New Bo area was a pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries for me, chicken “wings” for Cate.
Looking out Parlor City window at our bikes.

When we discussed plans for this ride, Cate was interested in trying the Prairie Park Fishery, where she had ridden but once last year (with me), and maybe trying the Sac and Fox. I had cautioned her that the Sac and Fox might not be open, but I had neglected to check online before the ride. I should have checked.

We had a pleasant, if rather truck-filled, trip down Otis Road to the Prairie Park Fishery, and then rode around the lake. Then, we took the new connecting trail to the Sac and Fox.

In defense of the trespass on a closed trail that ensued, let me note that we did not see any notice at the Cole Street south and west end of the trail stating it was closed. I suspect that there had been one, which was moved by someone (not us), because there was, inexplicably, a carpenter’s horse perpendicular to us as we entered the trail.

At first, the trail seemed fine. In fact, it was freshly scraped. There were some soft and wet spots, but this is a trail that is normally pretty “primitive,” and it did not seem to be anything beyond normal Sac and Fox conditions.
The Sac and Fox blocked by a felled tree. Did that stop us? No. Should it have? Yes.

We heard it before we saw it. About 2 miles into our S and F trail ride, we saw the grader, slowly working its way east. “Maybe,” I said, “we should turn around.”

But the grader pulled over and the operator gestured for us to pass by. If it was an evil plot to get rid of us, it almost succeeded.

We continued east along the leg of the trail beside the Cedar River. We crossed the first bridge with no problem, but soon the trail started to get a bit soft and damp. Then, really soft and damp. We passed through several muddy areas that left our tires caked, but didn’t stop us. Which is too bad.

Because when we came close to where Indian Creek flows into the Cedar River, the trail simply and totally disappeared into a mud flat—a sucky, slick, threatens-to-remove-your-shoes remains of a recent flood that has scarcely dried at all.
Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be bikers in the mud.
Mud on my front brake.

I recall the first RAGBRAI I rode, when, on the last day, we entered Davenport heading down a black asphalt street. It was literally so hot that the street had started to melt, and it was a very odd feeling to worry about your bike sinking into hot tar as you rode along.

This was worse. My pedals began to bang on mud as my bike struggled to make headway. Finally, mud built up between the front wheel and fender to the point where the front wheel refused to turn.

Post crisis break, Cate shows off RAGBRAI fashion.
That was potential fall number one. Luckily I was going so slowly that it did not turn into a very messy, muddy spill, but merely ended up as an unexpected stop. Ahead of me, Cate also became mired and had to hop off her bike, but also managed to do so without tipping over.

Then it was trudge, squish, trudge, squish. I almost slipped and fell several times, but only “almost.” An “almost” fall is not a fall. Thank you, good karma.

Well, we made it through the mud flats to where the trail became recognizable again under a railroad bridge. We found sticks and partially de-mucked our poor bikes, hoping that they would at least be in a condition to ride. They were, although I had an odd new squeak in my pedals.

After a few yards, we came to a fork. The left went up a hill, the right was the trail route. I’ve been on the trail before, but never the left fork because it always looked like a simple utility access (there is a fenced transformer visible up on the hill). Today, we decided uphill looked like a better choice than heading downhill along the trail, hoping no bridges were out or more points washed out by mud flats.

As it turned out, the left fork led us to a marshy area with a very interesting hiking path that I have never been on before. I haven’t been on it yet, either, since there was also a road there, and we opted for the road. Pavement never felt so good.

We turned west, roughly in the direction of Cedar Rapids, but did not know where we were. We encountered a comely lass out for a jog, and inquired of her about our location. She didn’t know the name of the road we were on, but said that if we kept going the way we were headed we would come, eventually, to “that fishery place.”

That sounded promising, and in fact was accurate, as the mystery road turned out to be Otis Road, which is the street where “that fishery place,” Prairie Parks Fishery, is located. Our ride back was a bit longer in miles, but we very much appreciated being able to ride our muddy steeds rather than worm them trough muck. And we got a few hills in on that road, which improves the overall RAGBRAI analogy thing.

When we got there, we went back into the fishery for a break. We ate biking snacks we had brought with us (a granola bar and a banana, in my case), and I had some yucky electrolyte potion.

We scrapped our bikes a bit more, and then headed back west along Otis Road. Eventually, we rejoined the Cedar River Trail.

When we circled Cedar Lake, Cate noted that we had finished about 50 miles. It seemed like time for a break and a celebration, so we had Fat Tires at the new Sag Wagon bar and deli that is next to the lake. Seldom has cold Flat Tire tasted so good. I am sure I will visit the Sag Wagon again—we saw little evidence of the “deli” part, but at that point we were more beer thirsty than hungry anyway.

 Then it was off again. We rode to the Boyson Road Cedar Valley Nature Trail trailhead, then back south to Spring House restaurant. The idea was twofold--to reach our mileage target and also to return to an important caloric source.

RAGBRAI, right? So far, we had not yet eaten pie. They sell slices of Kathy's Pies at Spring House. For any of you blog readers not familiar with Cedar Rapids, "Kathy's Pies" is a local pie bakery that has a well-deserved reputation for yummy.

The Pecan was very good. I had mine warmed up with ice cream. Yum.

We both purchased slices for our respective spouses—Cate getting cherry for Paulette, me choosing apple for Audrey. Then we headed north on the trail to Cate’s house.

When we got there, her GPS said we had gone 65.33 miles. That was actually 65.33 for her, since she started recording miles before riding to my house, but since I was then going to then ride to my house myself, I am sure that I eventually topped 65 miles.

It was about 5:45 when I got home. The RAGBRAI ride took almost 10 hours. Our speed was not that bad, we were doing much faster than 6.5 miles per hour, but all those stops (and mud walks) add up. I’m sure we could have cut 30 minutes from our time by not doing the mud walk—but all in all, it was a decent analogy for RAGBRAI. One reason RAGBRAI rides start before 6 a.m. is so that they can finish by around 3, and we were not that far off of that pace.

And I’m alive. I’m sure my legs will feel even more sore, but they aren’t too bad right now. I’m glad I’m not hoping on the bike and riding 65 miles in the morning, but the ride did what it was meant to do.

It showed that we can handle a RAGBRAI amount of distance in a day. And that is good news indeed, mud notwithstanding. More photos here.

Last food stop--pie. Cate sat where President Bush had, of course.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

In Which The Trail Goes Ever On

The connector trail between Prairie Parks Fishery and the Sac and Fox. This is the end near Sac and Fox--about to head back to Prairie Park Fishery.

Well, not forever. Longer than it used to.

We had a good day today—lunch with Katy and her kids, swimming and then a bike ride. I also got the lawn mowed, but have not put the lawn furniture back. Don’t tell my wife.

My sister summoned me to help her fix her bike, but she apparently fixed it before I was able to get other there, which is OK. Hope it’s working well.

Anyway, after the mid-day visit with daughter and grandchildren, and finishing the mowing, it was close to 5, but since this is Ben’s final day before heading back to Ames, we decided to go for one more bike ride. Since he had not been there before, I suggested we go down the Cedar River trail through downtown, and then head off to the Prairie Parks Fishery, a city park that is along Otis Road.

Otis Road is a nice ride because the street is right there next to the Cedar River. The river flooded earlier this summer, and some damage is evident—most notably, a closed boat launch before you get to the fishery park. But the road was fine, as was the park and its cute little lake trail.

And, surprise, surprise, the connection between that trail and the Sac and Fox trail has been completed. We didn’t try the Sac and Fox—no time and I don’t know what shape it’s in after the river floods plus Jon's road bike would not be the best choice for that trail—but it’s nice to see how easy it is now is to get from the fishery trail to the longer trail.

On the ride back home, we went on the east side of Cedar Lake, which took up past the “Sag Wagon,” a new restaurant. We didn’t stop, but their bike rack looked pretty full. I’ll have to try it some time.

All in all, the ride was a shade over 22 miles. I had a new light on my bike, but didn’t need it because it was still light when we got home. I’ll have to ride the hills tomorrow, and maybe check on the Sac and Fox sometime before RAGBRAI.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Which Ben Has The Longest Ride of his Life

I had not planned to stop on the morning ride, which was meant to be fairly brief, but when we went past the playground, Amelia started excitedly yelling "Grandpa! Park!" So we stopped so she could play at the park.

50 miles, blog pals, that’s how far CR Biker rode Friday. Four miles were in the morning, when I took my granddaughter Amelia to a playground near the splash pad at Noelridge Park, and then tooddled around the park before heading home.

The other 46? That was the epic ride. I suggested to Ben that we go on a bike adventure, since he was home and, with Jon’s bike now working, we had two men’s bikes at our disposal. He agreed, and ventured up Devonshire to learn how the controls on Jon’s bike work.

Why did I chose to let him ride Jon’s bike? I could have ridden it, and he could have ridden my bike—from a speed point of view, putting the younger, stronger person on the bigger, slower hybrid bike would make sense. But, while I don’t mind using Jon’s bike, I want to use it gently. So I offered Ben the bike because his lesser mass would not be as hard on the bike. Plus, I need practice miles on Francis anyway.

I texted my sister Cate, who is also in prep for RAGBRAI, and she was available, so off we went, meeting her about noon at the Boyson Road trail head. Our original goal was to go to the rail station in Center Point, a place further north than Ben had ever been on the trail.

Cate, Ben and I at the Boyson Trail head after the ride.

Once there, we stopped to water up and eat some snacks. I am even more in debt to Cate, as she shared a chocolate caffeine shot and some nuts, which I’m sure made my granola bar and fun fruits more effective. We decided to continue north, at least to Urbana, with the thought that once there, we might head to Brandon.

Well, the trail north of Center Point proved very tricky. Recent rains have been very hard on its limestone surface, with at least one awesome trench at a road crossing, and many soft, sandy spots. By the time we got to Urbana, we were just glad Ben had no mishaps with the narrow tires of Jon’s road bike, and decided it was good enough, we would head back.

The round trip to Urbana was over 40 miles. That, plus the round trip to my house and the round trip Amelia and I had done earlier added up to the 50 miles.

It was a fun ride, through the heat of the afternoon, which made it good RAGBRAI training. However, it was a bit rough on me—my legs were definitely worn. It was Ben’s longest ride so far. When we got back to the rail depot in Center Point, I did offer to trade him bikes, but he just laughed and got back on Jon’s. Imagine.

The ride, while by far my longest yet, was far sort of even the shortest RAGBRAI day—although at 50 miles, it’s at least in the range of a RAGBRAI day. So why am I even able to do RAGBRAI? Well, for one thing, the rhythm of RAGBRAI is: Ride 15 miles, stop and eat pie and walk for a mile; then ride 15 miles, stop and eat a pork chop; repeat until 60 miles are done.  If they had served pie in the rail depot, it would have been a different sort of ride.

I’ll eat more on RAGBRAI, and also consume electrolyte drink along with water. On my future long practice rides this week, I plan to do the same thing—take more food and take some drink mix.

Despite being sore, this morning on the way to the gym I did a figure 8 in the neighborhood, climbing the Brentwood Drive hill twice, once headed north, once south. So, despite the soreness yesterday, and losing the rear light on my bike north of Center Point, I think I'm doing OK in RAGBRAI prep.

And Ben, next time, remember. I’m not kidding. I am totally willing to trade bikes.
This photo and one below--samples of trail conditions north of Center Point.

Quaint bridge over trail north of Center Point.

The trail goes under I-380 in a narrow, dark tunnel. The north entrance is above, as we head south. The photo below does not do it justice--to the human eye it is much, much darker in there.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In Which 110 Miles End on a Mighty Steed

The new pump.
I think I’ll call her “Jackie,” after Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Because she seems pretty fast: Jon’s bike that is—but more about her later.

The biking has been good recently, blog friends. In the six days since I have returned from Paraguay, I’ve ridden about 115 miles on three different bikes.

On some short rides to the Bowman Wood’s School playground, I have towed grandchildren behind Audrey’s bike, which has a trailer that can be attached to it. The bulk of the biking has been on Francis. I’ve put in a lot of miles on my bike with my sister Cate, who is also preparing for RAGBRAI.

It has been a fun few days. I owe Cate yet another meal, since she paid for our break at a new coffee shop in Ely Tuesday.

During our return ride, we were stopped by a train in downtown Cedar Rapids. I shot some pictures of graffiti on the boxcars, and a young man who had pulled up beside us on his bike asked “do you like graffiti?” Sure, I said. “I do too,” he said. Then, as the train slowed, he tossed his bike on a flatbed rail car, jumped on and then clambered to the other side. Well, I may like graffiti, but Cate and I are not quite ready to hop the trails. We just waited until the train was gone.

Which bring me back to today, and Jackie.

In May of last year, Jon and Nalena joined the Peace Corps. While they took off for Paraguay, Jon left his bike with me. The idea is that I would use it, just a bit now and then because it would not do a bike good to sit still for two years—a bike is a machine that should move a bit to keep everything functioning.

But, there was a problem. Jon’s swanky bike has Presta valves—narrower valves built for higher-pressure tires and smaller valve stems than the Schrader valves I am used to. My bike pump has a Presta adaptor, and Jon has been able to use it to pump up his tires.

But, I have not been able to do that. Every now and then, I would drag Jon’s bike out of the garage and attempt to pump up its tires, only to give up in disgust, hating the idea of Presta valves—effete French things that pretentious little bikes wear on their silly, narrow rims.

Today, we had some shopping to do, and while at the store, Audrey asked if there was anything I needed to pick up for RAGBRAI. We bought me a new bladder for my water carrier, and Audrey asked if we should pick up a bike pump that would work with Jon’s bike.

Well, we could try. I selected a pump that has two holes, instead of an adapter, and brought it home.
The pump holes even have pictures of the valves they are for.

And when I went to use it on the Presta valves that I love to hate, it was easy. Just unscrew the right part of the valve, stick on the pump and pump. The tires said to inflate to at least 100 psi, which seemed like a really high number to me, but there was a pressure gauge on the new pump so I complied, in maybe 20 pumps or so.

And there were no pedals on Jon’s bike, so I put on the ones saved from the junk bike. (Jon owns pedals that require special shoes—I still have his pedals, I just can’t use them.)

Anyway, I rode up and down Devonshire for a few minutes to acquaint myself with his brakes and shift levers. I know that in the past I had trouble figuring those controls out, but there was odd karma in the air. Once I fed her air, Jackie was happy to let me learn to shift.

I had planned to ask Ben, who came home this afternoon for a weekend visit, to go for a bike ride since I now had two functioning men’s bikes—but he had fallen asleep, so I was on my own with Jackie.

After a chain lube, tire inflation and new pedals, the mighty steed is ready to go for a ride.
Off I went to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. The computer on Jon’s bike was displaying numbers that I had trouble believing. On the way up a little rise, I was tooling along at 14 mph—faster than I usually go down a small slope on Francis.  When I got to the trail, on straight stretches I was easily going 18 to 20 mph. If feels fast to go 15 on Francis.

The bike felt airy. When I had to change directions at C Avenue and Blair’s Ferry Road, like when I turned from going south to heading west, Jackie felt like a little baby bike, insubstantial.

But she was fast. And I was using old pedals from a junk bike—I don’t know what it would be like to ride with actual bike shoes that would allow a full range of power from both up and down leg strokes.

Don’t worry, Francis. You’re the bike that will be going on RAGBRAI. But, I won’t feel bad at all on that long ride when all the gazelles sprint by me. I’ve ridden a gazelle, too.

Of course, there were still some road bikes passing me on the trail. I can’t say I was running Jackie at anything near her maximum speed—or as fast as Jon would ride her.

But, Jon, good news. Your bike is capable of motion again. Oh boooooy!

Monday, July 1, 2013

In Which Half A Day Pushes The Limit

Hawk along the trail has its eyes on me.
The turn-around point, old rail depot in Center Point.

Three weeks in Paraguay didn’t do a lot for my RAGBRAI legs.

Saturday, I rode Francis for the first time since the trip. But that was just a short jaunt to the Bowman Woods School playground—with one granddaughter as a passenger on the way there, and a grandson on the way home. A fun ride, but hardly RAGBRAI practice.

Sunday, I took advantage of the nice weather to do some yard work—clearing away three week’s worth of accumulated sticks (quite a bit, by all reports it has been stormy here in Iowa) and then mowing. The front yard went quickly, but my daughter had mowed in during my trip—the back yard was a hay field.

Anyway, it was getting close to 4 by the time I finished. “Go for a long bike ride,” my wife said, and I took her advice.

I rode north to the rail station museum in Center Point, then back again. Before ending the ride, I climbed the Brentwood Drive hill, too.

Now, I’m a bit sore. The ride was about 30 miles total—26 miles up and back to the museum, 4 more miles to and from my home. I finished about 8:15—which implies I was riding about 8 mph or so. In my defense, I made myself stop at least once an hour to drink and to eat some trail mix, and I had other stops to take photos. I timed some trail miles and it took me about 4 minutes to ride one, which is about 15 mph. I suspect I timed miles on downgrade when I felt I was going quickly, but I bet I probably rode faster than 10 mph most of the time.

It was about half a RAGBRAI day. And my legs felt very sore when I was done. Three weeks left now to get ready for the ride—my plan is to ride as much as possible in the next two and then take it a little easy on the week before RAGBRAI.

The trail was nice, although north of the pavement, the impact of rains and storms is more obvious, with some of the limestone surface showing ephemeral waterways. At one point, the top of a tree has tumbled across the trail—I hope that dicey looking arch is removed before long.

It was still a very pleasant ride. I saw two former students and chatted with them, the sun was shining and it was great to have light until after 8, although I did run with lights on for the final half hour.

Despite the slightly sore legs, I would say the first ride was very nice! Now, if we can just arrange for exactly this weather for the whole week of RAGBRAI …

A few hazards--washed out trail (above) and a tree that fell (below). The arch formed by the tree was high enough to easily ride under, although it felt a bit weird to do so.