Monday, September 30, 2013

In Which I Envy the Fender and More

I’m following with some interest the blog written by two young bikers who are pedaling from Paraguay through Argentina to the tip of South America.

I hope they write a book about the trip and call it “The Bicycle Diaries.”

Anyway, Paraguayan TV included them in a report, which I find interesting on several levels:
  • I have trouble following the Spanish, even when a gringo is speaking slowly. My Spanish skills are clearly very rusty, like a chain left in the rain with no lube. I may have to take an MMU Spanish class soon. I’ll come back later with a dictionary and see what I can make of this.
  •  I envy the home-made fender. Francis had a back fender, which I had to remove due to installing a back rack. Fenders on bikes, for some reason, are a bit rare in the U.S.A., mostly, I think, because for Gringos, bikes are toys. Where they are transport, such as in the U.K., they have fenders. In Paraguay, I suppose fenders are necessary just to keep from being caked with red road dust. Anyway, I like how the pretty fender (there, I was able to translate something) features in the TV report.
  • I don’t envy the bikers riding on Paraguayan roads. Check out the nature of a Paraguayan “highway” in the TV report. Granted, there are many paved roads—on my own trip to Paraguay this summer, practically everywhere I went was on cobbles or blacktop—but this kind of road is not unusual and many towns cannot be reached by anything other than dirt paths that are impassible in rain.
Carry on, brave bikers. I wish I could ride to the tip with you—it seems like the adventure of a lifetime. And I definitely felt a kinship with biker number two, who spoke “un poco” Spanish.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In Which We View Fish And Rescue An Asian Lady

On a trail bridge over Dry Creek. I think Amelia is enjoying the morning ride.

My son-in-law was headed to the Des Moines area for a race today, so my wife asked my daughter this morning if she and the kids wanted to come over. We were to go to the gym first, and then pick up two of the kids at dance class—my daughter and her oldest daughter and youngest daughter would then join us after dance class.

Audrey suggested that I put the toddler seat on my bike and ride it to the gym in case Amelia was willing to go for a ride. Then, after we exercised, my wife would drive to the nearby dance academy, while I biked.

When we got there, we asked Amelia if she wanted a bike ride. She grinned, but didn’t answer. So, I took her out of her car seat and put her by the bike, and began to put her helmet on. She’s not a shy little girl—if she didn’t want a ride, she surely would have let me know at that point.

Apparently, she was willing to ride. I finished getting her ready, strapped her in the toddler bike seat, and off we rode.

On the way back to my house, we came to Walgreens. We could either go left and head down C Avenue directly home, or go right and go down the Lindale Trail to the Boyson Trail. I asked Amelia what she wanted to do. I figured if we went on the trail, it would only be for a short ride, because it was cool and she didn’t have a sweater on.

By now, she had rediscovered language. “Trail,” she said. So we went right.

Along the way, we passed a girl jogging, a couple walking a dog and heard several birds. Then, when we reached the Boyson trail, traffic picked up a bit, and we saw a few more walkers, joggers and bikers.

I headed north right away, figuring I would take take the short leg of the trail to Boyson, rather than riding the whole trail, which would have taken an hour or so. When we got about 2/3 of the way to Boyson Road, we noticed a middle aged woman with a mountain bike stopped, looking at her chain.

We stopped. “Is your bike OK?” I asked.

The lady smiled at me, and mumbled something about her husband, gesturing north along the trial. English was clearly not her primary language, but from my bike, I could see that her chain had jumped off the front cogs. When that happens, a chain can get pretty tightly caught, but it didn’t look like hers was. I thought of taking Amelia out of the bike seat, but that would take a while, or of asking the lady to hold my bike for a minute, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get her to understand that I was intending to fix her bike. So, I just hopped off my bike, and with my right hand I grabbed the central bar of my bike, holding it and Amelia steady.

With my left hand, I first pushed her rear derailleur forward, taking tension off the chain. Then, I ran my first finger along the chain, until I looped it around the front cog. With a quick flick of my finger, her chain was pulled out of the area between the cog and her bike frame, and now rested on her cog.

She looked a little startled, but knew enough English to say “thank you.” Amelia had no comment.

Then, I hopped back on my bike and continued north. When we got to the bridge over Dry Creek, we turned to stop at the bridge for a few minutes, because I knew Amelia loved watching water. Luckily, there were lots of fish visible in the still pool of water under the bridge. It’s been dry lately, and there Is not much flow in Dry Creek, but that probably concentrates the small creek fish in the remaining pools of water, which made watching them easy and entertaining this morning.

After a few minutes, I crossed the bridge, turned around and headed for home. I was on Sussex when my wife texted to let me know we were going to Skype with my daughter who lives in England. We made it home just in the nick of time.

So, we had time to both rescue an Asian lady and watch some fish. That makes for a pretty good ride, which I think Amelia enjoyed almost as much as I did.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In Which The Lights Are On and I’m Not Home

Looking east along Blair's Ferry Road at C Avenue Northeast, Cedar Rapids. Sunrise this morning, around 7:10 a.m. Note that most drivers are using their lights. Good for them.

I have been running with the lights most mornings, these days. At shortly after 7, when I hit the road, it’s too dark. No really “dark,” but dark enough I feel I need lights to ensure drivers can see me.

I don’t mind riding with lights, but I am often amazed at how many car drivers don’t use them when they should. Memo to drivers—you don’t only use lights so that you can see. Even if a milky sun has just crested the horizon and the lights no longer illuminate your path—they are as or perhaps more important to make you visible to others. It’s only in the strong light of full day that you don’t need to shine them beams. In clouds or twilight or early morning, be a beacon. Turn on those lights!

Anyway, not only have I been running with lights, but I installed lights on Audrey’s bike, too. She purchases a back light and a front light for herself, plus a spoke light for her back wheel. Tuesday, as I was heading home from bell practice, she texted me that she was over at Katy’s house for supper—and she had biked over there. (Indeed, this was the famous night of pie I already blogged about, now I'm using the same experience in a totally different context. Writing is like that.)

So I turned at the Lindale Trail and headed east to Marion. It turns out that a second daughter and her kids were there too, so it was a pleasant, impromptu family reunion, although by the time I got there, the daylight was already fading.

It was very dark by the time Audrey and I left to cycle home. It was her first ride using her new lights. She followed me about half of the way, and led for the other half.

The ride was fine. There are a few dark stretches on the streets between Katy’s house and ours, but luckily no surprise branches or cracks to bump or grab a wheel. I had spoke light envy when I followed Audrey—that whimsical rainbow light is actually a good idea.

It makes her hard to miss. Or rather, easy to miss, because you can see her, which is the point of lights on a bike.

All in all, I prefer biking in the light, but as a bike commuter, I’m entering a time of year when that’s not always an option. However, as long as I have lights and I’m on familiar roads, it’ll work.

And now Audrey has passed another biking milestone. She, too, can be a light night rider.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In Which I Rescue A Fierce Dog and Earn Pie

There I was, headed to work pedaling south along Eastern Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids, when I encountered the fierce dog.

There is a bulldog that lives along that street, and I see him or her fairly often. Usually, when the dog is out, its owner is too. I’ve been chased and barked at a few times by this animal.

I’m not a dog person at the best of times, and I’m less so when I’m on my bicycle. Dogs can be more than an annoyance to a biker—they can be a real hazard.

But, to be fair, I’ve never been in fear of this particular dog. Despite it’s tendency to bark, it’s not really ever been aggressive. And while it has pursued
me, it’s always kept a bit of distance, too. The pursuit has always felt more pro forma than serious.

Anyway, back to this morning. I was flying along, trying to get to campus quickly—I’m usually in a hurry on Tuesday or Thursday mornings, due to an 8 a.m. class. I crossed 32th Street and was headed up the hill, when I saw the dog running in a church yard near the top of the hill. Someone had tossed out the remains of a microwave noddle dish, and the dog headed into the street to investigate. It was too interested in Ramen to notice me, so I flew by, but as I passed, I thought, “that dog could get hit by a car.”

And I knew where it lived. It had barked at me many times. So, a bit reluctantly, I turned back. As I neared the dog, it looked up at me and barked. I spoke to it, in what I hoped was a calm, I’m not scared of you but also no threat, voice. I slowed, and the dog followed me. I took it to the house on the corner where it lives, and could see its owner through the kitchen window. I yelled, he looked up, and I pointed down at the dog. He came out, yelled a name, and the dog took off towards him.

I don’t know what the owner thought. He had a yelling biker in his driveway pointing at his dog—also, then, in his driveway. Maybe he thought I was being a sensitive ass, complaining when a dog barks at me.

Well, no. Again, I’m not a dog person, but as long as a dog doesn’t actually attack me, I will tolerate it. And I don’t mind that dogs bark—it’s just what they do.

So anyway, despite my hurry, I rescued fierce dog. Later today, when I was on my way home, my wife texted me that she was eating dinner at my daughter’s house. I called, and my daughter invited me too. There was very nice spicy soup with homemade bread, followed by apple pie.

Did I deserve the pie? You bet. I rescued a dog.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

In Which A Fine Fall Day Takes Us To Lafayette

My wife's shadow on the trail as we head back south after our stop in Lafayette.

The weekend was too good to pass up. Despite a mountain of work waiting for me, my wife and I took 2 ½ hours Sunday for an afternoon bike ride to Lafayette.

I’ve been there numerous times—often just passing through on longer rides, especially summer rides that preceded RAGBRAI. The wife had never been this far north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail before, however, so it was kind of exciting to make it to Lafayette, a tiny village 7 miles north of the Boyson Road start of the trail. The weather was crisp and perfect, and there were many bikers and hikers using the trail.

When we got to Lafayette, we rested. We were yelled at by an aggressive squirrel (for whom I left three sunflower seeds from my snack although the noisy rodent didn’t deserve them). My wife recognized a former student as one of a pair of bikers who happened to stop at Lafayette at the same time and had a pleasant chat with her.
Angry tree rodent in Lafayette.
It must have been his picnic table.

It was a fine ride on a fine first day of fall .

We won’t have much time for such rides during the semester, but maybe, if the weather cooperates, I can persuade her to ride with me to Center Point sometime next summer or during fall break. We’ll see.

And we have not gone south through Cedar Rapids, yet.

More spouse-spoke adventures to come!

Francis and my wife's bike (Rhonda?) at the rack in Lafayette.

Friday, September 20, 2013

In Which I Ride In A Poetry Fog

Moon over water tower, seen on Blair's Ferry this morning. Now, isn't that cool?
Water in Dry Creek, a new sight this morning.

Your bicycle correspondent was in an odd mood last night and this morning. Not a bad mood, just an odd one.

In fact, the rides have been very pleasant—this morning, in particular. It was the day after overnight thunderstorms, and if you know Iowa, you know the day after a storm can be beautiful. Despite clouds, that’s what this day promises to be.

No, the oddness comes from metaphors dancing in my mind. On the way home yesterday, I passed by Elmcrest Country Club—as I do every day that I don’t take the trail ride home. The club has tennis courts that are hidden from view, but near enough to the street that you can hear that distinctive “thonk (pause) thonk” sound a tennis ball makes as it is struck by a racquet or thumps off a court surface.

I don’t mind that sound, but I found myself wondering how a writer could describe it. What metaphor or other comparison would capture something as distinct as that particular sound that seems to be made by nothing else?

It was worse this morning. For one thing, the weather has cooled and the morning was just breathtakingly fine. Before my commute, I spent a few minutes doing routine service to Francis—greasing the chain, checking the tire pressure and then pumping both tires up when it turned out I should check the tire pressure more often. I wasn’t rushing the task, and somehow the simplicity of it had me tuned into the world around me.

I had an empty bottle of bike lube. I walked around the house to the backyard to toss it into a garbage can there, and walked about 20 yards too far, carefully stepping on the walkway stones to avoid the damp earth, breathing in the morning air, admiring the sudden lushness of a parched land that has been blessed with its first deep drink of …

There, you see? Hang on. Events will conspire to make it worse.

After gazing at leaves for a while as if I were a stoner on a high (is that a simile or metaphor?), I retraced my steps, and when I got to the side garden by the wall in front of the house, a silent little shape flitted into my field of view, hovered briefly maybe 10 yards in front of me, and then zigzagged off into the setting full moon. I wrote on my other blog how, after a rare recent rain, I mistook moths on some hostas for a crowd of hummingbirds, but this was not a mistake. The iridescent shininess of his body, the upright posture of his flying—I could, only briefly, see his curved, sharp beak, but I saw it. This was no insect. This was a bird—probably, by the brightness, a macho bird, although with some species you can’t tell, and I haven’t used Google to research hummingbirds to see if the females are also bright.

Because I was just too busy enjoying this one.

And that moon! The sky was mostly cloudy grey, with just a few milky blue breaks in the west. An almost full moon was setting at 7 a.m. this morning, and it looked like a golf ball resting on a bed of cotton as it slipped through a blue patch towards a cloudy horizon.

Darn you, Carol Tyx! Again, pushing my other blog (y’all click now, you hear?), I attended a program of hers yesterday in which she described her poetry writing style.

I’m no poet, but I do write. One thing she said is that she tells her students that she sometimes suffers from a literary hangover, where she stayed up too late the night before reading a book she could not put down.

I didn’t stay up late last night reading. Instead, I wrote the post about her program and was in bed by 10:30. But, my brain must have been slightly fried by the exposure to poetry. After the hummingbird, I was entranced by the sight of water in Dry Creek (it has been dry for weeks), by the moon several times, by geese and squirrels and crows that scampered and squawked and otherwise provided unintentional distraction to the mind suddenly aware of its love for the simple, natural world around. The smell of wet soil perfumed the air, a smell I have not encountered a lot recently in this dry patch of the world.

It was cool this morning in every sense of the word. The ride was nice. And I think I was also suffering from a slight poetry hangover. That was OK, too.

Feather on the steps of Warde Hall when I got there this morning. Why did I photograph it? Because I can, man. I promise no illegal (or, for that matter, any fun legal)  substances were consumed in the writing of this blog. I'm just stoned on poetry.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Which I Get A Totally Awesome Idea

Hey, Carolyn, what do you think? The MMU bell ringers could learn to ring their bells and control bicycles at the same time, right?

Those Dutch. Aren’t their bikes cute? And I do toally wish I had that kick-butt kickstand.

Who needs to borrow the Shriners Band Float for a parade when it would be totally awesome to ring bells as you ride your bike? Dangerous, sure, but totally awesome. Kudos for Iowa Bicycle Festival for posting the video on Facebook that alerted me to this idea.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Which The Clouds Send Forth Some Rain

7 a.m. traffic at the corner of F Avenue and Collins Road Northeast in Cedar Rapids. A pretty sunrise on a day that was blessed with some rain.

I timed it right, and I was lucky today.

The weatherman on Channel 9 said this morning that there might be rain midday, but I figured I could park Francis inside Warde Hall and be OK. And I was.

The morning ride in was a bit cool, although I like cool. It was also a bit dark, due to the early hour (around 7 a.m. when I started) but also to the clouds that eventually would produce a little rain today. I totally missed the rain—I was meeting with students, and I didn't look out my window—but I heard that it came down fairly well for a while this afternoon. Lucky both Francis and I were inside then.

I did get slightly sprinkled on during my commute home, but that’s OK. I didn't really get wet, and I just can’t think any bad feelings about rain right now. In fact, at the risk of spoiling a few bicycle commutes, all that I want to say about rain right now is: “More, please.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Which CR Biker Avoids Striking Nicole Kidman

If I had been the celebrity photographer, I would like to think that Nicole Kidman would not have been knocked down. In case you missed the top biking story of the week, late last week a paparazzi photographer on a bike plowed Ms. Kidman down as she attempted to enter her hotel in New York. Sad to say in the same week, I almost plowed down a pedestrian on C Avenue, and I’m deeply sorry.

So, according to him, was the photographer, but I think my “sorry” is a bit more sincere. I was only on the sidewalk on C Avenue because the street, with 4 lanes of busy traffic and a 35 mph speed limit, isn’t very bike friendly. I was not stalking Nicole Kidman.

And my near brush with bike notoriety came as I turned the corner from Brentwood Drive onto C Avenue, heading towards the gym on Saturday morning. There was a couple headed north on foot. I was going very slowly since I had just turned, and thought I was stable enough to simply squeeze by, leaving the bulk of the sidewalk for them. Sadly, I wobbled and made an unexpected (by both the couple and me) left turn.

I nearly knocked into the man. Surely, I would have rather run into Nicole Kidman. But actually, I would rather run in to no one. And in this case, luckily, no collision occurred, and other than a mumbled “sorry,” there weren't any consequences, video on ABC TV or potential charges. Sir, I will be more prepared to stop and let walkers pass every time I go around that sidewalk corner, cross my heart and hope to live.

The photographer who hit Nicole may face reckless driving charges. That sounds OK to me. A biker should always yield to pedestrians, and I honestly always try.

I just don’t always succeed.

Biker, not me, on C Avenue Saturday.
I rode that day, but later, to church and then to my office.
In other CR Biker news headlines:

  • It’s colder out there, but still dry. The biking weather has definitely improved, which is nice, but days are getting shorter and my lights have been much more in use.

  • I failed to get educated on how to use bike lanes. I had every intention of attending a Thursday night ride in downtown CR, but when I got down to the New Bo market at 5 p.m., I found that the first ride was not until 5:45. I just didn’t feel like waiting, so I guess I’m on my own with the new bike lanes.

Perhaps I needed the safety education. There’s at least one guy who was walking on C Avenue who might say so.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

In Which The Rain Comes Down And Leaves Me Dry

Grey clouds over Mount Mercy University as I ride in on Wednesday morning. No, the wet on the walk is from lawn sprinklers, not Mother Nature. But, an hour later, it did sprinkle.

There was a 20 percent chance of rain Wednesday morning, and I decided I would encourage the Rain Gods and give them a target. So, although I don’t when it’s really wet, I biked.

As it happens, despite the slate grey color of the sky, nothing fell on me while I was commuting, although around 9 a.m., when I was walking across the Mount Mercy University campus, a brief sprinkle did show up.

Rain! Not much and not for long, but actual rain! In the grotto pond at Mount Mercy University.
It’s been a pretty warm, dry stretch here in Iowa—which isn’t terrible news for biking. Some at Mount Mercy have expressed surprise to me that I continue to bike as the temperature has flirted with 100.

Well, it’s less than five miles. At a lazy pace, it’s 30 to 35 minutes. That’s long enough to sweat a little—and some warm mornings I have worn a different shirt for the ride than what I later wear to work in—but the ride is not long enough to be a health issue, as long as I didn’t push myself.

I’m good at not pushing myself, by the way.

We didn’t get much moisture, but the Wednesday sprinkle did single a change. It was a little cool on the morning ride today, and by the forecast (lows in the 40s) I probably will need a sweater Friday morning.

Which, I will like very much, thank you. I do prefer cool biking to hot biking.

Hot biking, on the other hand, beats heck out of no biking!

Monday, September 2, 2013

In Which Fine Weather Aids Weekend Rides

Mayors' Bike Ride 2013Mayors' Bike Ride 2013Mayors' Bike Ride 2013Mayors' Bike Ride 2013Mayors' Bike Ride 2013Mayors' Bike Ride 2013
Mayors' Bike Ride 2013Mayors' Bike Ride 2013Mayors' Bike Ride 2013

Amelia inspects water in Dry Creek during our trail bike ride Saturday morning. My hand is not waiting to grab her, I was shooting right handed, and it makes my left (dominant) hand nervous.
This Labor Day weekend featured some excellent biking weather, and I’m glad to say I took advantage of it.

Some of my riding was solo—I went to the gym early Sunday, for instance, and rode a bit on the Boyson Trail afterwards. But much of my weekend riding was with company, and in each case, company made the ride much more pleasant.

On Saturday morning, my granddaughter Amelia joined me for a bike ride on the Boyson Trail. We planned a brief sojourn before meeting her siblings at the Bowman Woods School playground in our area.

Let me tell you, Saturday at 9 a.m. is prime time for dog walking on the Boyson Trail. That didn’t bother us at all—in fact, Amelia loves all animals, and exclaimed “puppy” every time one came into view. At the end of our ride, Miss Amelia said “more puppies” just before we were to exit the trail into the neighborhood. I wanted to tell her that we had already seen all the dogs we would, but luckily I kept silent, because when we rounded the final bend by the parking lot, there were indeed more people out walking their dogs. Queen Amelia wanted more puppies and she got them.

It was a nice morning, not exactly cool, but it was a bit cloudy and nowhere near as hot as the weather has been. Sadly, the clouds produced no rain, but it was still a very good time to be on a bike. And the other trail users are 10 times more friendly when you have a cute 2-year-old girl perched on a toddler seat in the front of your bike. We passed the last of the puppies, and I asked Amelia if she was ready to play at the park. “Not yet!” she cried, her one decree that came to naught. I guess it’s a good sign when the crowd wants more.

Deer I saw during Sunday morning solo ride on Lindale Trail.

Wife rides into a beautiful early evening on Cedar Valley Nature Trail.
Me, reflected near new amphitheater.

Sunday afternoon, the wife and I decided to take a spin. We’ve been doing the Boyson Trail a lot lately, so I suggested we head over to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. She agreed, as long as I could pick a route with “no hills.”

The route I chose, a slightly longer northern way that took us very close to my sister’s home, is not totally hill free, but it is mostly flat. We had to gingerly negotiate a bit of soft gravel at the Center Point Road project in Hiawatha, but once we were on the trail, is was a breezy, pleasant evening. It was warm, but there was a hint of cool in the air, a sign that the heat wave we’ve experienced is a thing of the past. We made decent time, and rode 5 miles north before turning back. I could not persuade my wife to go all the way to Lafayette, but she went further than she ever has on the trail, and it is a grand experience for use to be occasionally riding together.

Finally, today marked the Linn County Trail Association’s “mayors’ ride,” an 8-mile loop that starts and ends in Ellis Park. I headed down there this morning, and met my sister and her spouse. The morning was just about perfect for a bike ride, with cool wind and sunshine. I didn’t even mind a headwind now and then, since we weren’t pushing for speed and we weren’t going any great distance.

It was the second time I’ve done this ride, and 2 for 2 have been gorgeous. If this keeps up, it will be a habit.

Well, I’m sure Francis will have to go into the shop soon, so there might be a gap in my biking experience. I may borrow my son’s road bike, but will be judicious about putting miles on it. Still, even if Francis is laid up for a bit, it was nice to have such pleasant weekend rides.