Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Which They Call The Wind Darn Cold

I parked by Regina Hall this morning, not my usual spot. But recent winds and some sun means the bike rack there was clear, so that's where my poor bike spent a very cold day.

They would not call her “Maria” unless Maria is Spanish for “Arctic.”

I didn't ride Monday because it was supposed to snow. It snowed. I didn't ride Tuesday because there was a dusting of snow over everything. Meantime, although the calendar advances towards spring, Mother Nature does not, and the temperature has fallen like a fat man on ice.

Still, I wondered if I could ride this morning. If you recall, on Sunday I nearly froze my fingers off. But this time, I would have more on—warmer long underwear, three parts of socks, three shirts—and mittens.

So, early this morning in the cold bitter breeze I wheeled my bicycle out of the garage.

And you know what? There was a west wind blowing. Only lightly, but since the air was around 7 below zero (that’s in Fahrenheit, my international friends, far colder than 7 below in your scale), a little breeze made for a wind chill pushing 20 below.

There’s something to note about wind chills when you ride a bike. The wind bites when it blows from the side, gnaws actively when you face into it, and is tame like a kitten when it blows on your back. Since my morning ride was mostly south, the wind bit, a little. A few brief stretches were westerly, and those sucked. The brief sojourns east, in contrast, were nice breaks.

All in all, given how monstrously cold it was, the morning ride wasn't so bad. But as I worked the day away, I could hear the wind picking up. My office is on the ground floor of the oldest building on campus, and when the wind blows, very large pine trees that grow near the building make it howl. Today was a howler day.

Even though the temperature had gone up 20 degrees or so, I was concerned that the increased wind would make the ride home very unpleasant.

What I did not realize is that the increased wind also had slightly changed directions. It was mostly west but a bit from the north this morning. It was a bit westerly, but mostly from the south this afternoon. Despite having increased in speed, the change in direction meant the wind was mostly at my back.

Well, even on a cold winter’s day, I’ll take a wind at my back. I made it home, safe. A bit chilled, to be sure, although in neither the afternoon nor morning ride did I suffer any pain like the near frostbite experience I had Sunday.

It pays to wear mittens, winter riders. And now, why am I thinking of pie?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In Which Car Keys Are Found On A Bridge

I found these keys on the creek bridge that leads form the Boyson Road Trail to the track-football complex in Marion Iowa. You can have them, if you lost them.

Well, blog pals, I got one set of speech papers graded, and decided it was enough to reward myself with a bike ride.

The ride was slightly delayed while I did some minor work on Francis. The front basket was missing a bolt, and my wife found a nut and bolt that could act as a replacement. The chain had some rust spots from icy-salty winter rides, so it was a lube time. I also pumped up the tires.

What with one thing and another, it was after 5 when I began my ride. Knowing that it wouldn’t be a long one, I decided to take the nearby Boyson Trail in Marion. Also, knowing that there was both a trail hill at the end of the Lindale Trail and that I wasn’t too thrilled at the idea of tackling the C Avenue sidewalk, I went over the Brentwood Drive hill, one that I’m sure I’ll often do in RAGBRAI training rides. I went over it again on the way home, so this was a good training ride—rode the hill twice.

I survived the hill transit, both ways. The street had a few icy patches, but was largely clear. Next, at the start of my ride, I rode to the Boyson Road sidewalk that leads to the trail.

And found ice. Ice, ice, baby, plenty of it. The little descent from the bridge over a creek that feeds into Dry Creek was a bit dicey.

Sidewalk on Boyson Road leading to Boyson Trail. This is a little hill leading to the creek bridge.

Although, to give the city of Marion its due, most of the trail was clear, and where there was ice, it wasn’t because snow had not been cleared. It was clearly due to melting snow that froze.

So I proceeded slowly. I rode all the way from one end of the Boyson Trail to the other. The worst spot was the hill by the Frisbee Golf Course, which was a sheet of ice. There were also icy patches at the start of the trail, where the Lindale Trail enters the Boyson trail (and from the look of the hill on the Lindale Trail, my route choice appeared wise).
Hill by Frisbee Golf Course on Boyson Trail--solid ice. I'm sure melting snow just runs out of the woods and freezes on the trail--not much the city could do about it except wait for spring or maybe posting a sign saying, "hey, crazy CR bikers, this stuff that looks like ice? It's very slick because it is ice. Good luck going up or down this hill."
I saw some walkers, and a jogger. I also saw, at a distance, one biker who wiped out on the icy hill by the golf course. I am pleased to report, blog pals, said biker was not I. I would have rendered aid, but said biker got up and was gone long before I got there.

On the way south, I paused at the bridge that leads from the park parking lot to the Marion High School track complex, when some bling caught my eye. Shiny. Someone had lost a set of keys. The only people in sight were a child and adult at the ice rink, and I checked, the keys were not theirs. So I put them in my basket and brought them home. I e-mailed the Marion PD, in case someone is missing them, but the picture is here, too. If you lost your keys and these look familiar, call the Marion PD and they will contact your biking correspondent, I hope. They have my number, anyway.

All in all, it was a bit unnerving to be on the trail in fading light with so many ruts and icy places. But I am glad I got out and stretched those biking muscles a bit. If I had a bit more time, I would have headed to the Cedar River Trail. Its paved surface is in slightly better winter riding shape—again, no knock against Marion which has done what it can, but at this time of year, a limestone trail is a bit rough.
I pause at the end of the trail. Note how rough it looks--it's been a hard winter on this limestone surface. After snapping this photo, I turned on my lights and headed home. Slowly.
I made one serious error. I wore my light winter biking gloves. They insulate my hands down to about 25 degrees, and it was around 11 degrees when I rode. I did have warm boots, double socks, two layers on my legs—I was dressed well for winter biking, with the important exception of my hands, which got painfully cold. My right thumb is still sore—I got pretty close to frostbite, I am afraid.

But, I would do it again, just in warm mittens.

Sun sets over Indian Creek near north end of Boyson Trail. Why I would do it again--you'all don't see this if your stuck inside in winter.

In Which There Is Some Biking Hope

If I get a set of speech papers graded early enough this afternoon, I may get Francis out for a brief Sunday excursion.

And if the weather forecast is right, this might be a cold but decent week, for biking. Sure it will be cold--lows below zero, which are extraordinarily low for this time of year, but not exactly unheard of.

Still, they will be barely below zero. And the only snow in the forecast this week is a light dusting Monday. If I'm cautious, and since I have to say late Monday on campus, I'll probably err on the side of caution, that might rule out Monday for biking. Whether I ride Tuesday depends on how light the “dusting” Monday turns out to be.

But, if it’s not too windy (a bit of an “if,” I will concede) I may be commuting by bike by Wednesday, which will feel good.

Speaking of feeling good, here’s a nice biking story from “Florida Today.” The Melbourne, Fla., newspaper reports that a 13-year-old boy who was riding his bicycle to school ended up being struck by an SUV. The boy was only slightly hurt, thank goodness, but his bicycle was destroyed.

He had been dragged 8 feet and briefly trapped under the SUV, but was able to free himself before firefighters arrived. But the firefighters who came to his rescue once came to his rescue again—they raised $200 and with that were able to purchase a replacement bike for the one destroyed in the accident.

Well, that warms the heart. It’s already spring in Florida, and I hope Semaj Lynch continues to ride in it and stays safe.

And even as we dip once more into Arctic temperatures in Iowa, the sun will shine more and more each day. Cold as it is, it may not be too cold for biking. Slowly, the bicycle season here is getting underway!
Cutline from Flroida Today, which posted this image: A week after Semaj Lynch, 13, was struck by a car, some of the same firefighters who rescued him gave him a new bike to replace the one destroyed in the accident. / for FLORIDA TODAY

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In Which The Eagles Appear

The morning ride. Went up the hill at MMU. I slipped on ice near the top, but did not spill.

On Tuesday, it got up into the 40s, but it had snowed Monday, and I assumed the streets might not be in shape for a bike commute. I didn’t leave campus until around 7:30 p.m. (I have a late class on Tuesdays), and, frankly, the drive home said “you were right.” The streets were terrible.

But, Wednesday was the second warm day in a row. I knew there would be too much ice in the morning, but my wife suggested I could take my bike to work in the van and ride it home in the afternoon, I said, “sure.”

I was thinking of the Cedar River Trail. They usually clear it, and I hadn’t been by the river lately. I’ve heard there are lots of eagles in that direction, but had not seen them.

Well, when I turned south to head towards downtown, I encountered some rather slushy, icy parts of the trail that slowed me down a lot. I wanted to get home before it was too late, so I was worried I would not have t time to see any eagles.
Eagle in a tree by Cedar Lake.

But, what a pleasant surprise! Where a creek enters Cedar Lake on the north end, there is a small patch of open water. There were hundreds of gulls and crows and ducks crowded in and around that open water.

Eagle leaves a tree near Cedar Lake

And eagles. Young, brown headed eagles. Adult, majestic, white-headed bald eagles. I’m not even sure exactly how many, but quite a few.

I had some trouble photographing them, since the little point-and-shoot Nikon I always have with me doesn’t relate well to autofocus when zoomed in at maximum telephoto. It would have been nice, at that point, to have my full-sized SLR Nikon with me, although, then again, everything I had with me got rather splattered by the slushy mess I sometimes had to go through.

I guess it’s good that I just had the smaller camera. And I got to steal some precious minutes just watching those improbable birds. Real bald eagles are so big and so powerful that they look fake, like some comic strip artist’s idea of a dangerous bird. I know they don’t always get along with people—those who have to live in proximity with eagles don’t appreciate a raptor that wouldn’t turn down a small dog as a snack—but for me, a city boy who never saw eagles until recently, they still seem like magic works of art. Birds of such a size, silence and steely gaze that the close relationship between birds and dinosaurs (as in, some biologists say birds are basically dinosaurs who survived) isn’t hard to believe.

A trio of eagles among the crows on the ice. An adult eagle at left eats. A juvenile and another adult nearby.

Well. Splashing through the slush and worrying about rusting my bike were totally worth it. A winter storm strikes tomorrow and more cold weather after that, so maybe it will be a while before I pass this way again.

I’m glad I rode 8 miles on the way home. I’m glad I took the time to detour south for a while. The lake is fun to see in summer, too—but late winter, with the eagles, well that was just super cool. A few more photos.
View from the trail bridge that crosses McLoud Run. Most of the trail is in good shape. Saw two other bikers but many more walkers and runners on the trail.

Monday, February 17, 2014

In Which I’m Missing My Bike

A Boo Bicycle frame made with bamboo.
I set a goal this year to ride 5,000 miles on my bike.

That means I have to average a bit mover 400 miles per month. In January, I rode 70 miles. Having a mileage deficit in January doesn’t bother me—in this climate, it’s to be expected.

But, so far in February, I have a goose egg. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing. Zed.

To be fair, while I don’t have as good an excuse as my delayed twin, who was a bit occupied having organs removed from her abdomen (she always was an over-achiever and her appendix was, too) in February, this month, I think most Iowans would recognize, has not been biking friendly. We more than halfway through it, but 6 inches of snow are falling today on top of a layer of ice that preceded the snow, so this week is starting to look a bit iffy, too.

Oh, well. The first year I did RAGBRAI, I was unaware I would do RAGBRAI until my son invited me in March. Starting training in April or May is, to be honest, not all that impractical as long as you can commit to building up a decent mileage count.

It’s a bit early to throw in the towel on 5,000 miles in 2014. Most of those miles would have to be in the summer anyway. So, I'm not giving up yet. Instead, I’ll dream of spring. And bamboo.

I have a Google news alert about biking, and bamboo has been making the biking news recently.

For one thing, there is a company in Colorado, called Boo Bikes, that makes bikes out of bamboo. They are pricey, high-end bikes, and I don’t know what the pluses or minuses are, but the frames sure look cool, don’t they?

And there is a British rock band called “Bombay Bicycle Club” that often shows up on my Google alert. In January, they released this video, which has totally nothing to do with biking, but which seems something to warm the spirits a bit as we wait for spring and more biking weather:

Update: I lied. and I wrote about the lie on this blog. I rode 8 miles on Feb. 3. So February is not a total loss, but I didn't feel like re-writing the post. It feels like I haven't been on the bike this month, even if it's not literally true.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

In Which I Pass The Heart of RAGBRAI

Des Moines Register Publisher Rick Green gives a bunch of college kids and a biker a tour of the Register, a spot holy to Iowans because it once was the newspaper Iowa depended upon and is still the newspaper that puts on RAGBRAI.

I was too flustered to take a photo, and I regret that a little. And I didn’t catch the gentleman’s name, and I should have. I wasn’t being much of a journalist at that second, just a gawky, awed tourist.

During the annual Iowa College Media Association Convention, Thursday and Friday in Des Moines, specifically late Thursday afternoon, I attended a tour of the new Des Moines Register headquarters.

I had been ready to be disappointed. The Register had moved out of its historic building, and it felt like it’s part of the retraction of the world of journalism. Enough of that here, though—I’ll write my overall impressions of the tour for my other blog.

Anyway, to make it short, I was actually very impressed. I would like to work at the new Register HQ. So, Register, for the record I’m not allergic to photo or video or blogging or social media. I’m one of the hip new kids, so I could fit right in, right?

Well, along the way, as we were shuttling from one part of the newsroom to another, we passed RAGBRAI. The actual seat, home, heart, planning area, of RAGBRAI. And Mr. RAGBRAI himself, whoever he is (flustered tourist, remember?) shook my hand and accepted my babbled, positive comments and thanks for putting on the ride. Hey, Mr. RAGBRAI, I can sometimes make more sense then when you saw me Thursday, just so you know.

I was at the tail end and worried about losing the tour, so I shook hands, chatted briefly and moved on. Wish I had snapped a photo and gotten a name, but it was cool just to be there.

And I met two members of Team Joe as they sipped hot chocolate during a session break Friday afternoon. The moment was not quite as awe-filled, but was even more pleasant anyway. Nice to see you again, Brigid and Eldon, and it feels like we’re already getting excited for the long summer ride.


Monday, February 3, 2014

In Which A 4-Mile Journey Begins With A Quarter-Mile Hike

Near the top of the C Avenue hill, looking north back along the route that I have just walked. Good thing I was wearing Ben's snow boots!
Today is probably the only biking day of the week. There is snow in the forecast Tuesday, which rules out Tuesday and probably Wednesday. I’m driving to Des Moines Thursday, so that day and Friday are out, too.

So, if I was to get any miles in this week, it was going to be today. But it was a pretty poor start.

You see, we had snow Saturday morning, not a lot of snow, but snow. And I use a busy sidewalk on C Avenue on the first leg of my commuting route to Mount Mercy Univeristy—but it turns out that whatever crew, from the city, I assume, that clears this sidewalk must not work on Saturday afternoons or Sundays.

See the photo. I started off trying to ride up the hill. At the C Avenue bridge, I gave up and just trudged along, marching slowly up the hill, pushing my bike. For the record, CR Biker is not a hill walker. No matter how daunting the climb out of a river valley is on RAGBRAI, my philosophy is always riding is much faster and easier than walking. So, if I could have maintained balance and speed, I would have ridden up the C Avenue hill this morning, but I could not. Then, after the hill climb, I began my actual bike ride.

It was 10 degrees below zero, in good old American Fahrenheit. But very little wind. 10 below zero with still air actually feels much warmer than a windy zero, or even a windy 10 above. I didn’t feel particularly brave or foolish for biking in that temperature this morning--I was dressed in layers and pretty comfortable. I only wished for more (or any) snow plowing.

Well, the C Avenue sidewalk was the worst. Going behind Kenwood School, as usual, involved gliding down the hill, both feet on the ground as I boot-skated by. Eastern Avenue was made narrow by snow, but the traffic lane was fairly clear.

And then I go to MMU. See photo. Just for future reference, city of Cedar Rapids, this is what a sidewalk should look like 48 hours after a snowfall.

The end of the ride, the MMU hill near Warde Hall. Kudos, MMU maintenance. And I rode up this one.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

In Which There Is Some Local Biking News

Iowa City Press-Citizen web site,, featured this image of a local officer on a fat tire bike. Me, my only Fat Tires have been cold, in bottles, but this kind looks fun, too.

Two items from local media concerning bicycles:

First, the Iowa City Press Citizen reported Jan. 30 that the Iowa City Police have purchased a “fat tire” bike, one of those bikes with low-pressure, wide tires that should be able to ride anywhere. Some use them as snow bikes, although you encounter them on trails in the summer, too, and they founds like a freight train is coming. Or maybe a semi. Iowa City Police wont’ be sneaking up on anybody on this bike.

Second, The Gazette noted Jan. 17 that a man in North Liberty was struck by a car while riding his bike. In investigating the accident, police found marijuana and various drug paraphernalia on the bike. This not being Colorado, the biker was arrested.

Well, for the record, CR Biker is always clean. I don’t inhale combusted plant materials of any sort, if I can help it. Fermented ones, well, sure, but I drink them, not inhale them, and I also don’t believe in biking while impaired.

And do I want a bike with fat tires? Not as my main bike, but if I were to own a fleet of bikes, yeah, I could see that. And if I did, I’m sure you could hear it coming.