Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Which The Cold Sun Rises Over The Warde Hall Loading Dock

Sunrise over the MMU Warde Hall loading dock. I had to take my mittens off to mess with my id card, so I snapped this picture. The mittens kept the hands warm. Despite the warm boots, my feet are not happy with me, and my face is pretty darn cold. But I am here, and grateful to be here, after crossing the tundra.

A few degrees below zero, like minus 4. A bit of a breeze, with a wind chill in double digits below zero.

The C Avenue sidewalk: Plowed, but crusted with snow. It was better than most of the streets. One of my fellow MMU profs had been to Wisconsin over the weekend and unfavorably compared Iowa snow removal to Wisconsin snow removal—and, without hard data, but with plenty of experience with hard ice on pavement, I bet she’s right. In my own lifetime, slowly tightening state and local government budgets  have led to bare bones basic services, and in Iowa (and in Cedar Rapids) we seem to be forgetting how to do the hard work of clearing snow.

Rockwell-Collins: There’s a place that know how to plow a parking lot. Almost the least stressful part of the ride.

F and E avenues: F is marginal, but OK. E is a skating rink—and a mushy, sandy skating rink near Kenwood School.

It probably goes without saying that I had feet on the ground, sliding down the hill behind Kewoond School, but there, I said it anyway.

Eastern: Not too bad, as CR streets go. But lots of snow, lots of ice. I wanted to watch out to see if my bald eagle friend was hanging around, but really couldn’t watch the trees as I watched the street. Anyway, the crows weren’t cussing, so I’m pretty sure baldy must have been down by the river. Probably not in a van.

I arrived at MMU and took the Prairie Drive lot route up the hill because I figured (correctly, I think) that a sidewalk would be the uphill route most cleared of snow. Where cars do not drive, it’s easier for custodians to shovel.

Safe and sound, and grateful, I completed my morning commute. The loading dock door of Warde was locked at 7:45 a.m., so I had to take off my mittens and get out my id card, and took the opportunity to shoot a photo I call “sunrise at the loading dock.” Despite the chill morning, it was still a very pretty morning, and one advantage of being a bike commuter is the excuse to experience that beauty more deeply than car drivers, even on a cold winter morning.

According to KCRG at noon, it’s already above 20. The afternoon is sunny, and although I’m sure I’ll have to watch the street carefully, the ride home should be a bit less tense than the ride here was.

This will probably be the one bike ride of the week. It will be warm tomorrow (in the 20s—this winter, that counts as downright balmy), but snow is coming.

The psychology professor next door said this morning that he’s getting really tired of the cold. Psych profs, in my experience, are usually bubbly, happy people, at least on the outside, no matter what inner demons they’re wrestling with. When a psyche prof gets down about anything—well, it’s something.

On the other hand, January is drawing to a close. The northern world will be more filled with light, if not with warmth, in the coming, short month. And we’re well past the mid-point of this very, very cold winter.

CR Biker is happy for that!
Why we need a student newspaper reason number 16: So last week's paper can act as carpet-protecting doilies for bike commuters.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

In Which RAGBRAI Plans RAGBRAI 2014

From, detail of a screen shot showing their map of this year's RAGBRAI. It includes at least one stop--Independence--that might be close enough for a night at home, although it's before the last day and the last day demands an early start.

There is one 36-mile day, and one 41-mile day, but plenty of days over 60 miles—one over 70 and several close to 70.

The 2014 RAGBRAI route, announced Jan. 25 in Des Moines, is not designed to be the most challenging route. Here is how the blog describes it:
“This year’s route is remarkable for its ease, length and pitch. At 418 miles and with 11,316 feet of climb, it is the third-shortest and second-flattest route in history. There has only been one route since RAGBRAI began in 1973 that was less difficult by those criteria.”
A few comments on the blog indicate some disappointment from some hardy bikers, some desire for more miles. I’ll admit that if I’m a driver on a half day of one those short days, it would feel decidedly odd to ride 16 miles or so and be done for the day.

Still, it’s RAGBRAI. There are over 400 miles and some 11,315 feet of climb. Even the flat northern lands of Iowa are not all flat, as we bikers will find this summer.

Well, Team Joe seems to be on the rebound. We touched base New Year’s Day, and it seems all of the 2013 members are thinking RAGBRAI. We even have some potential new members, too.

We’ll see who comes along.

Despite being mostly wrong on the cities (although I did choose a northern route, and had Mason City and Waverly in mind), I am not unhappy with RAGBRAI 2014. I hope the weather is fine and the winds benign. I hope there are few flats and spills.

And, yes, as the winter wind howls outside, as the university I work with is starting late tomorrow, as I've just ordered some flowers for spring planting—yes, it’s pleasant to look ahead and dream of summer, partly spent in the saddle.

RAGBRAI! Time to start training. As soon as the blizzard is over.

Friday, January 24, 2014

In Which I Try Some New Biking Fashion

What all the cool kids wear to bike in winter. Actually, it's the warm kids. They look silly and feel ridiculous, but on a truly cold day, this is what you want on your feet.

Pretty cool, huh?

My winter boots are falling apart—where the rubber lower meets the leather upper, the right boot is split all the way along the left side and the insulation is sticking out like milkweed fluff about to fly away. So my wife suggested I borrow my son’s boots, since he’s a student at ISU, has cleared walkways to transit on and does not use his boots. Plus, we both have the same size ginormous feet.

At the same time, my regular biking shoes are suffering from snapped hickeys—the nice rubber closers that Eldon Rocca so kindly got me on RAGBRAI are wearing out. I need to find some new ones.

So this morning, when I was headed out on my icy slide to work, I donned Ben’s snow boots. I felt ridiculous mounting the bike with those huge clumpy Frankenstein monster things on my feet.

And I also felt divine. I wear more than one pear of socks, including an insulated one, when I bike in cold, but usually my feet are the least comfortable part of my body.

Not today. Despite bitter morning winds that chilled my face and made me wish I had chosen warmer mittens than my thin biking gloves, my feet were fine, happy, toasty and warm.

Indeed, both the ride in the morning and in the afternoon were, from a did Joe freeze or not point of view, pretty successful. I stuck my paws in my pockets when stopped, and my fingers got a bit chilly, but not painfully so. And even if the chill breeze froze my cheeks a bit—well, the rest of me was so covered that it did not seem to matter much.

The boots were good for riding downhill. In the summer, when you go down a little incline, you shift into 7 and pump and see if you can get up to 20 mph. In winter, you stop pedaling, deploy your landing gear, and hope that you don’t slip on the way down. Today was a landing gear day.

I’m happy to report I’m home safe and sound. And despite my morning qualms, I biked home while it was still light out, and the streets were probably slightly better than they had been. Still slick, still icy, but what melting there had been turned some formerly dangerous stretched a bit mushy.

So, I’m proud to say I made it. And that I biked this very cold winter week. I probably won’t get a lot of miles in next week either, but I’ve got 54 for the year so far. Given the weather we’ve been having, that’s not too shabby.

And now I have warm feet on cold biking days.

In Which I Wonder What 20s Will Mean

27th Street near Eastern this morning. The darker color is not pavement, it's ice. And this was actually one of more cleared streets on my route. It was a slow ride.
Bike tire shortly after I arrived. Sorry janitors, my hall parking will make a mess, I'm afraid, when the ice holding this sand in place melts. No outside parking available right now--all bike racks snowed in.
The garage door was frozen shut and I had to chip ice to get Francis free. Then, I had to lube my chain and the lube was very thick. The one thing I wasn't on the ride was uncomfortably cold--despite a bitter wind, I was well dressed before the trip. Here is my bike in my driveway before I put the bag in the basket and begin my ride.

Well, darn. I actually watched my odometer on my bike during my ride this morning, perhaps I should not have done so. It informed me that the ride from my house to my office at MMU is pretty much 4 miles.

I used to claim it was 5. I realized that was too much, and thought it was 4.5. Nope. Just the big 4.0.

Well, shoot. I may take the trail route home today, just so I can see what the longer ride is, since I’ve finally discovered the odometer.

The ride this morning was the first of this week. Winter has settled in deep in this corner of the north central US. Winds, snow, below zero temperatures—not ideal biking weather, but it has been 48 hours since the last storm, and my sidewalk wasn’t too bad, and I was itching to ride, so I did.

As it turned out, I did very slowly. Almost all of the streets were snow and ice packed, especially everything in the Kenwood area where it appears they plow the one block around Kenwood School and call it a job well done. I wonder how the plow even gets there. Is it dropped by helicopter and retrieved the same way? Because it seems to reach that one isolated block of clearing without much discernable impact on any road that approaches the school.

Well, I my heart isn’t really in my occasional rant about city snow clearing or lack of it. Given the weather this week, the fact that there was ice and snow on the roads can’t be called a surprise. We didn’t get a lot of snow, but it’s been so windy that snow is just going to be packed into just about any paving.

Still, I managed to get to school safely. I was so not used to riding that I forget my vest—which means I’ll have to leave early enough to ensure it’s full light out. Given that there is snow forecast for later, that’s probably a good idea on many levels. Still, it should warm into the 20s today. It’s hazy cloudy, but that’s warm enough that some melting can take place where the sun hits pavement.

Not sure that’s a good idea. I wonder if that will simply make these snow packed roads more icy? Hmm.

This was actually last week, Jan. 13, but I didn't post it on my bike blog yet. I saw an eagle in the morning during my ride along Eastern Avenue, and I think that was pretty cool.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

In Which I Hope The Punctured Poet Does Well

It was too mushy to ride today and I was too busy anyway. But the wife and I took a short walk and saw these deer near the Dry Creek bridge on C Avenue NE, Cedar Rapids. When we were coming back, a bit later, one young deer was tearing back and forth on the north bank of the stream, for not particular reason, just racing and racing and racing around. Reaction to a January thaw?

We had a thaw today, but it was still too mushy to ride. Too many streets slick with snow from yesterday’s storm.

And the rest of this week is looking dicey. There a chance of snow both Monday and Tuesday, and the Arctic chill is expected to make yet another visit.

Still, it could be worse. A former U.S. Poet laureate suffered some serious injuries in a car-bike accident.

She’s 68, and she was the biker.

The comments on the story are instructive. Among many themes, one is the “I got hurt on a bike once and never rode one again.” That makes me a little sad. Biking is full of  joy. Sure, I can understand a serious injury or scare making someone shy about an optional activity, but riding a bicycle means getting there (if there is in town) and not having to encase yourself in an unpleasant metal box to do it. It’s to feel the breeze and hear the birds and make your own speed with your own body.

Well, it’s like poetry.

I hope poet Kay Ryan recovers soon. And may she bike again. After all, at 68, she’s way too young to stop now.

Friday, January 17, 2014

In Which Some Tracks Are Left In The Snow

Cedar River Trail near Collins Road underpass--my bike tracks in snow. Below--just had to walk the bike over a short distance on Council Street sidewalk due to drifts--bub those were rare.

Add caption

The irony is, I forgot to check. My mileage estimates for my trips so far this year are pretty rough guesses, but I should be able to do better because my bike’s computer has an odometer. I figured out before my ride home to how access it, and noted that the mileage ended in “76.”

So, since I was going to take the trail home, I could simply note the mileage when I got home and do a bit of math, and voila.

I recall figuring out that I had gone 6 miles note long after I left the trail. But when I got home, I did not check the final miles.

Oh well. For now, we’ll just go with the rough guess. I rode 12 miles today, I think, and have ridden 46 miles so far this week.

Streets were largely OK, and the trail was mostly clear, but there were a few spots where I had to get off and walk the bike through minor drifts.

And yes, it was windy and freakishly cold.

Monday, January 13, 2014

In Which I Contemplate The Power of 40

Quite street during my afternoon ride Jan. 12. I think this is H Avenue. Note that despite the wet, which promises some ice issues that plagued my commute home Monday night, it's still refreshing to see pavement.
Sunday’s bike ride was an illustration of what a January thaw can do.

Just last week, most of the roads in the Kenwood neighborhood were covered in ice and snow. But by Sunday, when the sun peeked out now and then on a partly cloudy day, and when the temperature flirted with 40, all busy streets on my route were mostly bare pavement, while side streets has a mix of wet, slush and some ice--but were no longer covered completely in snow.

Riding conditions have vastly improved over last week. During my Sunday ride, on the way down to Mount Mercy University, right after crossing Collins Road on F Avenue, I saw two women jogging towards me. I idly wondered about whether it was worse to try to run on sometimes iffy streets than to bike on them—and, I have no idea what the answer is—when I noticed that I knew these two. They’re both MMU students. And they were at least 4 miles from campus.
H and maybe 37th Street? 38th? Not the busy one by Rockwell Collins, one street north. Some very cold looking water and ice--but most of the ride was better than this.
It was a fine afternoon for a longish run. I think both of these young women are on the track team, so maybe a 10-mile ride was just par, for them. I was glad that others were taking advantage of this spring-light break from our long, cold winter.

After I got to campus, I met a student at the campus newspaper office, and then spent some time working in a computer lab, printing papers to grade. By around 4:45 or so, I was ready to head home.
This is last week, Jan. 8,  just for contrast. Not sure of the street, but it is a quiet one in the Kenwood area, and yes, I rode my bike on this.
What a difference January makes. It’s the dead of winter, but there is change in the air. At 4:45, it’s no longer the dark night it as in late December—there is a bit of light until well after 5.

The sun is coming back. We even have a 40 degree day. Well, hooray for the change!

Miles today, Jan. 13: 12. Year-to-date total: 33. I won’t get many, or probably even any, more this week with snow forecast for Tuesday, but at least it’s nice to know that the white stuff can become wet stuff.

Here are some images from my ride home around 5 Sunday evening:

One of two new lights my wife got me for Christmas. The other, a red one, is on the rear of my helmet.

I'll use some sunset pictures from Jan. 13 on my other blog. This is Jan. 12 as I head out. In late December, it's full dark by 5. Nice to see you coming back to play in our sky, Mr. Sun!

The evening was so fair, I took the longer trail route home Sunday. Saw some joggers. These are not the two MMU students I wrote about, since I saw them on F avenue. This is the Cedar River Trail, and I did see several walkers, bikers and runners on the way home.

I don't think I'll be using the Harding Middle School bypass until there is a more sustained thaw. I briefly had to walk Francis around this ephemeral lake.

On the sidewalk at Noelridge Park, Sunday around 5:30. Still barely light enough to take a shaky photo with a long expsure. I think I caught all of the lights on Francis flashing--the smear of brighter white on the corner of the basket is the new light shown earlier.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

In Which I Wonder: Can I Ride Downhill Both Ways?

Jan. 7, around 7:50 a.m., Francis parked by my office. Another faculty member saw me wheeling Francis in and said "you must be among the healthiest people on the planet." Sadly, it's not true, but I'm sure I'm healthier, if not saner,  from having biked in on this winter morning.

It was a little breezy this morning, but not bad. The temperature was sub-zero, but only barely, something like minus 2. I had driven the streets of my bike route yesterday to answer the question: Where they clear enough for biking?

I’m not sure a sane man would say the answer was “yes.” But, I don’t know that anybody says CR Biker is too long in the “sane” department. Mostly, I thought they were OK, so, yes, I rode my bike to work on this cloudy, cold morning.

I was fine. Zero sounds very cold, but, after minus teens and wind chills of 40 below, it’s almost balmy. Wear good long underwear, three pairs of socks including a thick winter pair, put on two long-sleeved shirts, one a warm sweatshirt, wear a jacket that cuts the winds and has a hood that fits under a helmet, don mittens instead of gloves and jack your wife’s scarf—it can work.

The streets were a mixed bag. Both Rockwell-Collins and Mount Mercy University have done decent jobs of snow and ice removal on their own drives and parking lots, thank you very much. Most of the streets I ride are busy enough that traffic brushed off the layer of snow.

Me, after the ride. Despite my cold appearance, it was OK.
But, in the neighborhood south and west of Kenwood School, the Cedar Rapids special winter street white ice glaze completely covers 37th Street and other adjacent roads on which I ride. Heading west on 37th  behind the school, I was going down a little hill.

Remember my trail ride? I decided it would be foolish to repeat my spill (on a hard street) by trying to control my speed with my brakes. On this little stretch of road, when the pavement is dry, I try to get up to 20 mph on my way to work—I don’t usually quite make it, but 18 or 19 mph is common. That’s on dry pavement.

No, I don’t want to do that on the CR slick white snow ice. So, both to slow down a bit and prepare myself in case of a wheel slip, I simply deployed my landing gear. I rolled down the hill with both feet skating over the street.

I probably didn’t go over 9 p.m., but it did feel a bit scary as I slowly gathered momentum and speed, and was unwilling, with good reason, to use my brakes.

Anyway, out of the 4.5 mile ride, six blocks, call it half a mile, were very slick and challenging, but I made it with no mishap. The rest of the ride was pretty good—the streets, such as F Avenue, were sometimes made narrow by ice or snow, but dry pavement nonetheless was available for an intrepid or insane biker.

Now, the only question is how to get home. In the morning, I can deploy the landing gear and coast/slide down that Kenwood neighborhood hill. I’m thinking that same strategy might not be quite as effective on the way up …

Monday, January 6, 2014

In Which I Plan RAGBRAI 2014

Will Team Joe ride again? Signs are good. I met my sisters at Cate’s annual New Year’s brunch, and both she and Brigid and Eldon seem to think doing RAGBRAI again would be a good idea. I even have a sister-in-law in Florida who might join the team this year.

I think we’re waiting to be sure to see what the route will be. And is having it’s annual “guess the route” contest. Well, last year was a southern route The year before was kind of mid-state.

So I’m guessing north. What the heck, here is my projected route:

  • Day 1: Sioux City to Primghar.
  • Day 2: Primghar to Algona.
  • Day 3: Algona to Mason City.
  • Day 4: Mason City to Waverly.
  • Day 5: Waverly to Strawberry Point.
  • Day 6: Strawberry Point to Monticello.
  • Day 7: Monticello to Dubuque.

There are some pretty small overnight towns in this route, but none too tiny, I think for RAGBRAI.

It’s probably not the best route for Team Joe. Until it gets to Monticello, I’m not sure I have many connections in any of those towns. But it would be many new places to me. We’ll see!

In Which An Omaha Man Continues To Ride Like They Do In Vegas

From, the web site of the Omaha World-Herald. Mark Crown, year-round bike commuter. Photo by Alyssa Schukar of The World-Herald.
The temperature may be in the teens below zero, but “The World-Herald” in Omaha, Neb., had a story today about a man who commutes year-round to a job at Offutt Air Force Base—in rain, snow, cold, etc.

Intrepid biker Mark Crown is around my age. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe it just takes years to acquire the wisdom to appreciate how much fun biking is compared to driving. Or to go slowly crazy.

Anyway, in other biking news: the "Las Vegas Journal-Review" reports that a local developer there is using bike-theme advertising to promote his “planned” community.
From the Las Vegas Journal-Review.
Photo by Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal

The bikers are well dressed, but not as well dressed as Mark Crown--I guess it's a bit warmer in Las Vegas.

Well, why not promote real estate through biking or ride year round in Omaha?

True, I’m not quite as hardy, or whatever, as Mark Crown is—if MMU is open in the morning, I’m not planning to bicycle there when the temperature is still double digit below zero. But Wednesday? We’ll see.

It might be zero. Clearly, that will be warm enough to bike.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

In Which The Bitter Cold Freezes Biking For Now

Snow scenes MMU, afternoon of Jan. 2. Top: Salt slowly melts snow between Basile Hall and Warde Hall. Middle--2 p.m. and this is how high the sun is in the sky--not very high at all. Bottom--winter salt makes the "floor" wet near the empty bike rack. Soon, Francis, soon.

There may be some hardy souls out there on two wheels, with the air temperature at 7 and the wind chill at minus 15, but I’m not one of them.

Honestly, I might be if it were only for the cold. It’s on the edge—if I dressed warm enough, zero is not too daunting for a bike ride. But a minus 15 wind chill? That would be give me pause.

No, what has CR Biker temporarily not working on that 5,000-mile goal is the snow. Snow is in the forecast, too—naturally. Theme one for this winter has been “cold.” Theme two has been “snow.” If snow fell only once a week or less often, it would be pretty and pretty much appreciated, at least by me. If it gets sunny at all, and the temperature flirts with 20, two days will usually be about the right amount of time for streets to start to get bike worthy, for me.

We’re nowhere near that. It seems we can’t go more than 24 hours without flurries turning into a dusting turning into arctic temperatures turning into a semi-permanent white ice glaze on streets.

Well, even if there is little hope in the forecast for next week, we know that the days are lengthening and the mid-day sun won’t stay forever near the horizon. Light is returning the world.

May it bring warm. Soon, please.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

In Which I Set My 2014 Biking Goal

I've read that bicycle commuting is on the rise in the U.S., booming in the first decade of the 21st century, and we are not alone.

Consider this report from a newspaper in Argentina. Bicycles are booming everywhere.

Why? Because, I suppose, people are seeking ways to be more healthy, save money, consume less carbon and because bicycle technology continues to improve.

So what will I do on my bike in 2014?

5,000 miles. That’s my goal. I figure close to 2,000 of those miles would be commuting anyway, and if I train for and do RAGBRAI in 2014, that’s close to another 1,500. That would leave me just 1,500 short, so I think I can reach 5,000.

I hope Francis does not mind.