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.

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