Saturday, August 31, 2013

In Which The Friday Heat Makes For A Slow Ride

On C Avenue, headed north, my 55th birthday, Aug. 30, 2013. Note how grass is losing it's green, and some young trees are brown. It's still pretty, although you might not think so if you were out on a bicycle in the relentless sun on this broiling hot day.

I hoped to head home a bit early Friday—it was my birthday, and there was a family party planned, complete with grandkids, and CR Biker loves partying with the grandkids.

Anyway, what with printing a set of papers from a freshman class, it was after 4 when I left campus. I got a text from a daughter, and the message stated “Mom wonders where you are.” Well, I was on my way, more than halfway there by the time I got the message.

It was a slow afternoon ride. Not terribly slow—I’m sure I made it in around 30 minutes, which is about par. But I sure was not pushing. I slipped into higher gears and peddled easily.

It was hot. Not a little warm. It was full-on, Iowa summer max, egg frying on pavement, hot. We’ve been dry for weeks, and the plants look pale, and now the dry is punctuated and accentuated by heat. Grass is turning brown and many trees are shedding leaves.

In the afternoon, bikers move slowly. I was thinking of a line from "To Kill A Mockingbird"--"it seemed hotter then," and retorting, "no it didn't. It's hotter NOW."  I don’t need it—it is less than a 5 mile ride, for goodness sake—but I do take and sip some water along the afternoon journey.

When I got to the corner of C Avenue and Blair’s Ferry Road, the battling temperature signs (one on a drug store and one on a bank) displayed their random readings. The bank, which seems to at least be in the neighborhood, said 93. It felt much hotter—I suspect the bank was under-stating by 5 degrees or so, and the heat index was well over 100. The drug store? I don’t even remember, but I know from experience that, for temperature, it just displays random digits. In heat like this, it would typically claim something ridiculous, like “85.”

Well, I made it home, safe and sound and feeling very hot. That CR Biker, he’s so hot right now. Next week will be cooler and there is a slight chance for rain over the weekend.

May we get some. We need some. And the cooler temperatures will definitely make the bicycle journeys much more pleasant!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

In Which A New Camera Helps Record The Screaming Bird

Help me out, blog readers. Is this a kestrel atop Warde Hall? Anyway, it's the bird that was yelling at me.

It was warm this evening. This afternoon, I had met some of first-year students in my portal class, been out to eat with my wife and was back at campus getting ready to bike home.

It was around 6:30, the late August light was just starting to fade, but I was thinking it might be time for a bit more of a ride than my regular commute. I was just in the mood, plus I wanted to try out the new GE X500 camera that my wife got me for my upcoming 55th birthday.

And, as I decided to take the longer trial ride home, it was then that I heard it.

Professor Joy Ochs has often described to me the screeching cry that this bird makes, and I’m sure it has sounded often when I've been near and I’ve not noticed it before. Maybe it was the still of a late Saturday afternoon at a campus that, even with the arrival of first-year students, remains a bit somnolent from summer, which made me tune in this time.

My head jerked northwest in the direction of the noise. At the base of the MMU hill, on the crown of a half dead maple, perched a very large bird. I wanted to try out my new camera, so I unlimbered it from my bike basket, leaned against a handy ash tree, turned it on and zoomed. The bird screeched once more, but stayed up in the tree just until I pressed my finger to focus the camera. That’s when it jumped into the air and instantly flapped out of my frame.

Well. Darn. So I hopped on Francis and headed down the drive by Warde Hall. But then there was another screech. I glanced up at the copula of Warde Hall and nearly drove off the drive.

When it shot out of the tree, the bird apparently was heading to its perch atop Warde Hall. Both Dr. Ochs and Dr. Neil Bernstein, who chairs our science and math department, have told me for years that there is a kestrel that rests often atop Warde Hall. I don’t know for sure that this bird I saw and photogrpahed is the Warde Hall bird, but then again, what else makes so much noise and likes this particular perch? I’m thinking it’s the MMU bird, and I was able to stop in the street and shoot up and capture its image, maybe because it had its back to me and didn’t care about me anymore.

Anyway, within the first 20 yards, it was already a nice ride. It was still warm—we’re in for some scorching weather, now that school is getting underway, and this evening felt like the start of our delayed summer heat—but pleasant. I headed over to the Cedar River Trail and rode north.

Sun is heading down as I head north. View just outside of Hiawatha along Cedar Valley Nature Trail.
I reached the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Hiawatha, despite having to thread through a construction zone, but only went north three miles before I decided the setting sun meant time to go home. So I switched on my lights and headed back south.

It was a ride that felt like mid-summer but that looked like early fall. Sumac is turning scarlet and berries look heavy and ripening on many bushes. Flowers are in bloom, but the coneflowers are starting to fade and turn to seed. Everything is drying up, although I bet that after a hot week they’ll look much dryer.

Flowers (and a cow) at my turnaround point three miles north of Hiawatha.
Birds and insects were out in full chorus. There was a smoky scent in the air which brought to mind bonfires and barbecues.

Despite the fading light, there were a fair number of bikers on the trail, enjoying this fine summer night.

I enjoyed this small sojourn at the end of summer. I am not totally comfortable, yet, with the new camera—I have to learn how to focus and hold it steady at the edge of its telephoto range—but I liked some of the photos I captured on this bike ride. I hope you do, too.
Francis ready to head home at the parking lot where I turned around. Note lights on.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Which A Daughter Draws Some Bikers

My oldest daughter Amanda is, among other things, an artist who resides in Norwich, England.

As you may recall, she created the “Team Joe” RAGBRAI shirt design.

She also did some drawing for fliers that promote a charity biking event in Norwich. I’m posting some samples of her bike drawings here, just so you can enjoy more samples of her biking drawing style.

If you like her art, you can see more of it here.

Bike on!

Monday, August 19, 2013

In Which Balloons Appear to Make The Ride Cooler

We three bikers. My wife on the phone with my older son, while my younger one threads the needle between her bike and Francis. "Pretty big needle," he said. I picked up the hawk feather in our backyard and decorated the son's headgear. You're welcome.
Balloons over a Marion cul-de-sac. It was that kind of evening.

We had a cool bike ride early Sunday evening—cool in the sense of “nice,” but, in the end, “cool” in the sense of “feels like September, eh?”

We had quite a day on Sunday—we celebrated a daughter’s birthday and hosted a party that included two families of grandchildren. The family gathering lasted until late in the afternoon, when we (my wife, son and I) decided that we could doctor up a pizza and watch a movie for supper, but first maybe go for a walk. I don’t recall if it was my son or my wife, although I think it was the wife, but someone said, “Well, how about a bike ride, instead?”

Well, why not? We three bikers headed north on Devonshire, aiming for the north end of the Boyson Road Trail. We took the connecting trail out to Menards and turned down a cul-de-sac to turn around. Then my wife’s phone, which I was carrying, rang. It was our son from Paraguay calling, so my wife stopped to chat for a few minutes.

Balloon passes overhead.
My younger son continued circling the cul-de-sac. I joined him. We both had a contest of sorts—not exactly a race, but we were both watching our speedometers to see how fast we were orbiting planet suburbia.

He was riding his older brother’s swanky road bike. If he were on the same type of bike as I, he would have been faster anyway, but the road bike just exaggerated things. He topped 20 mph while adding 3 miles to his ride circling in a small area. I reached, at most, 16 mph. That’s OK with me, I consider 16 mph pretty darn fast, especially in a tight circle.

The night was partly cloudy and cool. The light was starting to fail, but the sky still beautiful. Then, just to make it all even more magical, two hot air balloons passed directly overhead. On the way home, I ran with the lights on, and think I should get my wife some lights.

All that—a cool bike ride, and I got to chat with my oldest son who lives in Paraguay. A short evening bike ride can’t get a whole lot better. Oh, wait, it can. Then pizza washed down with Fat Tire while watching "The Man Who Knew Too Little." Sunday was a good night.
A closer view of son in orbit.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

In Which There Are Some Historic Bike Rides

Detail of art in lobby of Marion Public Library looks a little bike like.

Me with signed copy of Mary Vermilion's "Seminal Murder."

On the trail on the way to the library.

The biking week was filled with some journeys of note—a first ride and a final one.

First, the first ride. One week ago today, we were planning to go to the Marion Public Library. A colleague and mystery novelist, Dr. Mary Vermillion, was on an author panel there, and I, my wife and youngest son were going to attend.

It was such a nice day that we decided to bike. We rode the Boyson trail in a small three-bike caravan, me on Francis, my wife on her mountain bike Schwinn and my youngest son on a snazzy road bike owned by my oldest son. It must have been a bit of a pain for him to ride with us, as that road bike struggles to travel as slowly as Francis.

The ride was fine, the route worked out (we left the trail at the bridge to the Marion High School football field and then took streets behing McDonald’s east) and the program interesting. I purchased a copy of Mary’s novel “Seminal Murder” and have enjoyed the first 6 chapters.

After the program, we met two daughters and their families for a walk through the Marion Farmers’ Market, and then bicycled through Marion east to a daughter’s home.

That, and the bike ride home afterwards, represented fairly long journeys for our little group, the first ride of such length my wife and I have been on this year. I hope I can encourage my wife to continue this new trend of occasionally biking. I like biking alone, but the only thing that beats that is biking with someone.

The final ride was Wednesday. We had decided to do a “boy’s” and “girl’s” day out with grandchildren that day, so Audrey went with granddaughters Nikayla and Amelia, and I had a biking adventure with grandson Tristan.

Playing at Tucker Park after final bike ride.
This was Mr. T’s symbolic final ride in the toddler seat. He’s not too heavy, but is getting too tall to fit in the seat. Anyway, I think he enjoyed the journey through part of the Boyson Trail and then west to the Hiawatha Library, but by the time we got there, he was over it. We joined the girls there for a music program, and when we left to go to a park, he was ready to ride in the van rather than on the bike.

So it goes. He has his own bike now, and over time will learn to ride it. I hope sometime soon to meet them—Tristan and Nikayla—at the Boyson Trail so we can do some rides together, each on our own bike. Maybe Amelia will go along on the toddler seat.

And next year, several new grandchildren will be big enough for the toddler seat. Time marches on.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Which Coffee Is In the Drive With Books

Aug. 9 view of the front of the new Cedar Rapids Library--the entrance faces the art museum and park.

The new Cedar Rapids Library is nearing completion, and I can’t help but feel a bit of library fever. Back in the day—before June of 2008—I had sometimes biked to the old library, although not often.

I didn’t bike quite as much back then, and the library, down on the river, was not quite as easy to reach on two wheels.

Now, it’s right on the downtown Cedar River Trail. As you can see, it’s nearing completion. There are tantalizing stacks of books to be seen. Workers were scurrying around inside, apparently arranging doilies, when I stopped by on a Friday afternoon ride to check out the scene.

Bike rack with books in background.
I had not gone south on the trail much since pre-RAGBRAI rides. There is a big detour around the federal courthouse that isn’t well marked when you’re coming from the north—but I don’t really mind the detour, since it represents a project that will finally reconnect the trail where a new post-flood rail bridge was built.

2008—was the flood really in 2008? And have we waited t his long for Iowa’s second city to have a cool central library? I’m sure that there are lots of people who are still putting the pieces together after that flood. Sadly, the city has not put the pieces together for flood protection, although voters haven’t exactly helped in that.

Never mind. I’m getting detoured on this blog. Yeah, back to the library.

I am not always fond of modern architecture. The library has a “green” roof with a garden on it, which may be cool, but I’m leery of anybody with a drafting pencil who draws a flat roof in this climate. Architects—this is Iowa. Rain, snow, sleet, hail, heat—make roofs that can stand all that and won’t hold any standing water. Flat is fine for a California desert, but this is the Midwest, baby.

Anyway, roof rant aside, I’m getting pretty excited. I want to be able to park Francis and browse for books, and not just window shop. The front of the library is pretty cool, as you can see.

There is a bike rack on the trail side, my only objection is that it’s right by a drive, too, which could cause some issues.

But the drive is marked “books” and “coffee.” Really? What does that mean? I need the book and coffee lane, please.

Anyway, the ride was not too long. I turned around right after crossing the river. I don’t know how much time I’ll have for rides south, as the days grow shorter and summer comes to a close.

And it is great to see the new library be so tantalizingly close.
Coffee and books. Is this Heaven or Iowa? Except it's "book drop." They will have books in liquid form, too?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

In Which A Rail Takes a Sail for Reasons Not Known

Something is missing on the C Avenue Bridge ...

I feel a little naked biking now. My trusty Canon PowerShot camera, with which I documented RAGBRAI for two years, is on the fritz—it has a “lens error,” which means the lens does not open.

Looking down at Dry Creek, there's the missing railing.
How much does that much steel weigh?
I like that Canon a lot, but have only owned it a year. A digital camera, even one that gets a lot of use, should last longer, don't you think? Francis is more than three years old and going strong (of course, one bike I owned I rode for 30 years—probably a bit beyond a digital camera's life span).

Anyway, I do own an old Fuji digital that has 3x (yes, 3!) optical zoom and 3.2 megapixels (more than 3!) for image size. Hardly a “cool” camera by today's standards, but it deploys its lens and takes photos, as you can see.

Today, I rode to the gym in the morning and did the Lindale-Boyson Trail route on the way home. On the way there, I totally overlooked the big news of my biking route, which my wife, who walked, noticed right away.

A big chunk is missing from the rail of the C Avenue Bridge. A huge piece of steel was knocked or tossed into Dry Creek. This happened sometime Monday night. Was it a car? A truck? A sledgehammer? Onlookers want to know.

I took the derailed railing photos (with my trusty old Fuji) on the way home from MMU this afternoon.

So, blog fans, what do you think? What would have severed such a huge chunk of metal on one of the mean streets of Cedar Rapids?

Monday, August 5, 2013

In Which I Answer the RAGBRAI Surveys

One of the early screens in the survey.

Not really—because I answered the surveys last week, but here is a version that is consistent with my answers.

Every year RAGBRAI sends out post-event surveys, and this year I got two because I was registered both as a biker and a driver. Drivers don’t get asked as many questions, but since RAGBRAI is primarily a bicycle festival, that doesn’t feel out of place.

Anyway, some questions RAGBRAI posed, and how I answered:

The demographic stuff: I’m an old male who rode my third RAGBRAI, or at least most of it since I took some time off for driving shifts. I did not ride all 406 miles—but probably did more than 300. I hope that counts.

I am not a vegetarian. Bacon tastes too good. But I do eat veggies and had a veggie bowl at the Carbo Hut twice during the week, so I guess I sometimes choose the vegetarian option. Don’t hold it against me. Besides, most pies these days have Crisco rather than lard in the crust, so they are vegetarian options, too.

The most serious rider safety issue I had is not one listed, so I had to write it in: Rough roads on steep downhill stretches. That day passing through Bonaparte and environs almost pulled my bones apart. Heading down a steep grade as each crack in the road goes ca-chunka, ca-chunka; only, as the speed increases so does the volume of the ca-chunkas: CA-CHUNKA, CA-CHUNKA and you pray “our Lady of Spoke Strength, please preserve my wheel integrity and don’t fail me now!” Yeah, that is a bit scary. Really, it wasn’t the regular cracks that were the worst—it was the scooped out holes that were the same color as all of the other pavement—they’d fly up to you at 34 mph or so and you would not feel like: A) Taking any evasive maneuvers, which would seem crazy at this speed or B) Going over a 6-inch hole which would not be a CA-CHUNKA but more of a BAM!

It’s interesting what gets marked and does not get marked on a RAGBRAI ride. Clearly there were so many hazards on day 7 that RAGBRAI just threw up its hands and said: “We hope y’all survive.”

I found out about RAGBRAI because I grew up in Iowa and my parents subscribed to the Register and I read “Over The Coffee” over my Cheerios and followed the first bike ride with interest. I had a Schwinn one-speed at the time and was in junior high, so it was a few years—like 40 or so—before I got around to actually riding RAGBRAI. Donald Kaul, we miss you.

I have purchased merchandise for RAGBRAI, but no RAGBRAI merchandise, unless you count paying the registration fee to get that orange license plate.

OK, you asked if I had purchased any bike stuff before RAGBRAI. I said “no.” But, my wife gave me a new back light and bought some batteries for the headlight on my helmet. Sorry for misleading you. And I bought some chain lube. It was a good investment.

I honestly don’t know which overnight campground was my fav, so I just answered “Knoxville” because it’s the name of a town in Tennessee not too far from where I was born (Oak Ridge). But the stuff about Fairfield being my least fav campground is on the straight and level.

And yes, please don’t cut off RAGBRAI so quickly on the final day. I know y’all are in a hurry to get home, but a slow biker on day 6 is a slow biker on day 7, and if I ride fast enough to keep up with RAGBRAI six of the seven days, I should not have to use rocket fuel on day 7. Because I finished after RAGBRAI was officially “over,” I had to manage many dangerous intersections with no support, and I missed those fine troopers, deputies and police.

Don’t end RAGBRAI before 4:30 on day 7 if you don’t end the other days before 4:30.

Finally, from the “other” survey, the driver survey: Mark the darn route. I know you technically did, but very sparsely, and getting into and out of towns was dicey, especially for a team that switched drivers in the meeting town. The first meeting town—don’t recall the name and I’m feeling too lazy to ask Mr. Google—was so tiny that they had the local Fire Department directing parking for support vehicles. That was support vehicle Heaven, because getting into and out of that town was so easy. Not so many other towns along the way. It was virtually impossible to find the main campground in Fairfield, because on signs they insisted on calling it something that no other town did ('Permit campground?' What?), and they turned away our clearly marked and legitimate support vehicle at the campground after we finally found it anyway.

My wife came from Fairfield. Clearly the place must have fallen apart in her absence.

Anyway, after many years the RAGBRAI powers that be do most things well. Overall I would rate RAGBRAI as a 9 out of 10, or 80 PSI on an 85 PSI scale (and don’t tell me that would be more than 9 of 10, I am a journalist but I can do math a little). It was a blast.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

In Which The Bar is Back and Babes Go For Rides

Amelia watches a large dog that is half sitting in the stream as it chews grass. This is not her "worried" face--dogs don't really scare her (no animal does), she's just really concentrating. She has lipstick on her arm because her Aunt Nina kissed her there.

My youngest daughter came home this weekend to buy a new car, and while she was here, the clan gathered Saturday night for a little party.

In anticipation of this, I put the toddler seat bar back on Francis and also hitched up the trailer to Audrey’s bike. Amelia was very willing to go for a pre-supper ride. We headed up Devonshire and went to the Boyson Trail. She was pretty excited to see everything—water, as usual; other bikers; and puppies.

At the low bridge, we paused because a lady had her dog enjoying a dip there, and Amelia always wants to stop to look at streams, but a stream with a dog in it—two of her favorite things, animals and water—was irresistible, so we stopped and watched a while.

We made a fairly quick loop of it, heading home on the Lindale Trail. When I got home, Amelia at first refused to get out of the bike seat. Luckily, Katy was getting ready to take Tristan for a ride in a trailer, and Amelia agreed to go with him.

Clearly, she didn’t think 30 minutes was enough of a ride.

Anyway, Audrey has been doing a bit more biking lately—she rode her Schwinn mountain bike over to Katy’s one day, and today we were planning an afternoon walk, but she suggested it could be a bike ride. So it was.

Crossing the bumpy bride on the "K" trail that leads to Menards.

We took basically the same route, except we did the full trail to Mendards and then to Hannah Park before returning the way we came.

It was a very fine afternoon to be out on a bike, and a special treat to be out with my sweetie. Two babes on bikes in two days—it was quite a good biking weekend!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

In Which 85 PSI and RAGBRAI Legs Speed The Journey

The Sky this morning as I rode my bike to the gym. Sumbeans shining down on my faster, slow bike.

I’ve commuted to campus a few days this week, and weather willing will again tomorrow. It feels like I’ve been flying on Francis when I go—my RAGBRAI legs have not worn off yet, and I’m worried I might pop a spoke or break a chain.

I’m sure by most bikers’ standards, I’m still slow, but for me I am traveling fast.

RAGBRAI legs—the strong muscles leftover from the ride across Iowa last week—aren’t the only factor. Cate noted one day during RAGBRAI that my back tire looked a bit low. It felt fine to me, but feeling isn’t enough. I didn’t know what the recommended inflation was—mud on the tire—but Eldon found it—85 PSI.

And his pump pressure gauge said I was at 50. “Getting close to snakebite territory,” Eldon said, and he is probably right.

Snakebite is jargon for the double puncture you get if your under-inflated tube allows the tire to pop out of the wheel frame—you get two small punctures were the wheel rim presses on the tube, hence, snakebite.

Well, I pumped up to 85 PSI and flew that day, and on the last day pumped up again (the tires had lost about 5 PSI in two days).

If you have properly inflated tires, the ride is a bit rougher, but it is also much more efficient—soft tires cost a lot of extra mushy friction, and on hard ones you fly. Or so it seems.

The mighty Francis has been riding again. Grandkids are over tonight, and maybe I’ll put the toddler bar and seat back on and give Amelia a morning ride before they have to go home. We’ll see. But I’ve been enjoying riding at the speed of RAGBRAI legs on my newly inflated tires.

The mighty Francis in my driveway after the ride home from the gym--it has gotten sunnier.