Saturday, March 29, 2014

In Which A 25-Mile Ride Features Snuggling Snakes

The world is winter brown, but there are a few tiny signs of fresh spring green. One of the photos I snapped during my mid-ride break. Yes, it's a plant, it is growing, it is green.

Ice on shady embankment of Cedar River. It's several feet thick.
Spring on Cedar Lake. There is ice halfway across, but much of the lake is open water now, reflecting a warm spring sky.

Spring! When a young man’s fancy turns to what apparently snakes may be thinking of, too.

But, let’s save the love, if love it was (maybe it was totally platonic and I’m misreading reptile behavior, or maybe the little snake though it could eat the big one?) for later.

Today, I graded all morning, and felt pretty brain dead by noon. At lunch, my wife discussed taking an afternoon walk. “I know you’ll want to go on a bike ride,” she said.

She is wise and she was right. I got Francis out and lubed and inflated (him, not me), and headed out by about 1:30 p.m. I could only ride until about 4—we planned to go to church at 4:30 tonight—so I wanted to get some quick miles in.

Looking out over railroad bridge that crosses the Cedar River from a fenced trail bridge.

I headed over to the Cedar River Trail via the Noelridge Park route, and turned south. And peddled and peddled. In about an hour and 15 minutes (the time I had allotted until I had to turn around) I rode 12 ½ miles. I thought 25 miles would be a nice number, so I stopped just after Highway 30 at the T intersection where the trail to Kirkwood diverges, intending that to be the turn-around point. I hopped off the bike to take a short break and walked over to an abandoned rail line which runs right next to the trail at this point, and snapped some photos.

A middle-aged mixed gender couple who had been riding from the other way had also stopped. “What are you seeing?” the man asked.

“Just a little green,” I said. “Signs of spring.”

“It’s about time!” the woman exclaimed.
Old rail line near trail.

Well, who can argue with that? The world is still largely in its winter brown, but I don’t think I was imagining a tinge of green on some grass, a swelling of pregnant maple bulbs, a shift in “things.” There was a caterpillar crawling across the trail. A bit of ice can still be seen beside the river, the but the river runs free and the eagles have departed the patches of open water that sustained them in winter—there is lots of water to fish in, now. Today still looked like winter, but felt like spring, and there were signs of the coming season.

I agreed with the woman, it’s about time. On my return ride, I snapped a few more photos, which are what illustrate this post.

But, time was running short and, after I passed by Cedar Lake, I decided I had no more time to snap photos. I must hurry home.

But then I spied something that stopped me.

It was a snake. The first snake of the season, which was somnolently sunning itself on the warm asphalt of the trail, was just off to my left.

Snakes alive! Who put these mother-loving snakes on a trail?
Well, whether I was short on time or not, I wasn’t going to pass up snapping an image of spring’s first serpent! I was a little worried about said snake, which was so still I was thinking maybe it had been run over (fortunately, not by me because I would have felt terrible at crushing the first reptile of the seasons). Anyway, as I paused to snap said snake's photo, it slowly lifted its head and slow-mo flicked its tongue at me in a totally ineffective threatening manner.

Just then, ,as if on cue, another, smaller snake burst from the cover of the grass across the trail, and rushed to the first snake. I thought there was either going to be a quick attack on the paparazzi, or snake-on-snake violence.

Hey pinkie! Why you taking his picture? I want my picture taken, too!

No. There ensued some rather unseemly snake snuggling. I’m not a studier of snakes, so I don’t know what it means, but I felt as if I should gently suggest that these two find a hole.

Well, there you have it. A 25-mile bike ride complete with, maybe, snake foreplay. I saw other bikers, dog walkers, runners and others out enjoying the trail, but I only saw two snuggling snakes. While I would have rather seen eagles, I have to admit it was a very nice ride.
OK you two. I know it's spring, but really.

Friday, March 28, 2014

In Which I Ride The Hill and Install New Technology

Bottom of Bowman Woods hill. This is looking west from the east  side of the hlll--it's a much bigger hill. The steep part is around the bend. This is on the afternoon ride, in the morning I climbed the west side of the hill. After taking the picture, I rode up the hill.
The computer, the lights and Francis.

I rode the neighborhood hill this morning as the start of more serious RAGBRAI training. I ride up the MMU hill each morning when I commute, so I get some hill practice—but getting ready for RAGBRAI is not just putting in the time and miles (even if it is mainly putting in the time and miles), but also getting comfortable with a lot of uphill riding.

Which is a minor problem in Cedar Rapids. We’re not exactly a flat part of Iowa, but we’re sure not Dubuque (or Muscatine). There are a fair number of modest rolls in the land, but not many monster hills. And even if this is a relatively short, relatively flat RAGBRAI, don’t let that “relatively” fool you. On certain days there will be plenty of hills.

So there needs to be hills in my practice. Luckily, I live near one of the big hills—the Bowman Woods hill. You head up Brentwood Drive and then Crandall Drive to reach the summit, and it’s pretty good RAGBRAI practice.

I rode up the hill twice today—once in the morning during my ride to the gym, and once in the afternoon. More on that ride soon.

The ride up the hill actually felt pretty good. My RAGBRAI legs from last year aren’t totally gone. And it has me thinking—is this the year? Once in my RAGBRAI career, I want to do it.

The 100-mile loop. Maybe in 2014? I’m not sure, but I’m thinking about it.

Anyway, we had to take our van in for service today, and while we were waiting for the work be be done, we did a little shopping. I picked up a new bike computer and some spoke lights.

At around 5, I decided to install the new computer. It took about 30 minutes, and when I got all done, I decided to go for a ride. And the computer didn’t register anything—would not detect the motion of the bike.

Well, I’m sure 100 percent of you bikers know what the problem was. I needed to move the magnet and detector closer together. I fiddled with it several times in the first half-mile of my ride, and by the time I got to the corner of C Avenue and Blairs Ferry, the computer was working.

It’s not has fancy as one I lost—it has no thermometer, for example. But it’s bigger, and my old eyes will appreciate that.

And I never used the old one for the thermometer anyway. What do you think, blog fans? Should the new computer record a 100-mile ride this summer?
Installation done, ready for ride, or so I thought. It took some playing before the new computer would register the motion of the bike, but eventually I got it working.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In Which I Ride X Miles and Lose the Computer

My tracks in the morning snow Tuesday. And bonus shadow theater going on with my bike and my hands. Looks like a chicken milking a cow on the right side there.

Tuesday morning was white and chilly. Another dusting of snow overnight, just as the snow had fallen the day before.

I decided, nonetheless, to ride my bicycle to the gym in the morning. It was not a really great decision—the slightly warm pavement meant the that a layer of the snow that had fallen overnight had melted and then frozen—what looked like a light dusting was a light dusting on an icy layer.

Still, I was on sidewalks almost the whole way to the gym and made it, slowly, with no mishap.

That afternoon, I had a bell rehearsal at Mount Mercy and a sister in the hospital to visit, so I hit the road again. The day was windy and cold—the high was in the 20s—much colder than it has been lately or has any business being this late in March. We’ll have some warm days coming—in fact, today is much nicer—but the lamb is taking its time showing up.

Anyway, due to the chilly air, I had on two pairs of socks and my long winter underwear. It felt like some crime against nature to wear long johns in the final week of March, but the windy cold made it a good idea. So despite the cold, the ride was fine. By the afternoon, even in the cold, the sun had cleared almost all of the pavement. I rode to campus, had a pretty good rehearsal, and then rode downtown to Mercy Medical Center.

At about 7:15, I decided I would leave to beat the full dark—better to ride when it’s slightly light out, still. I turned on every blinking light I had and hit the road. On my way up Third Avenue, about 7 or 8 blocks into my ride, I glanced down to find out my speed—and there was no computer on my bike. I had knocked it off somehow during the day’s ride.

Well, shoot. I am going to give myself credit for 16 miles—2 miles for the ride to and from the gym, 7 mile round trip to the hospital and home. At least I think it’s 7 miles. My mileage for a while will be the vaguest of guesses. Not having a computer won’t keep me from riding, but it will keep me from having some information about the ride that I like to have. My guess, by the way, puts me up to 222 miles this year. One third of a beastly number, about half a RAGBRAI.

And no, I can’t use a map app on my phone to track my treks. My phone is too primitive for that—it’s just a phone that can text, not a minicomputer with apps.

Oh well. At least the sun is shining now, and although I have lots of work that I will tackle in the next few days, after Thursday’s rain I should get some biking miles in. None today due to visiting with grandchildren—but there’s always Friday for the next ride to take place and mileage to be guessed at.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

In Which I Ride, Pray, Pay and Pass 200 Miles

Sun sinks low over Cedar Lake March 23 during my ride home. No eagles today--must be more open water so they don't have to hang around the lake any more.

It will snow Monday. As expected, spring break is a bit more like winter break, as the long, cold winter season of 2014 is still hanging on. The calendar says spring, but Mother Natures turns a cold shoulder to that idea.

We had four grandchildren as house guests this weekend. And we watched a movie my wife had just purchased. It was “Frozen.” Not sure it was the best choice. It is a cute movie, by the way, although I think the resolution makes no sense. And why cut all trade with another nation because one skinny old guy is a jerk?

Anyway, today we met the kids’ mom at a fast-food restaurant for the handoff. Then, after an afternoon nap, I decided it was time to hit the trail and get some weekend miles. It was mildly cool, temperature in the 30s, when I headed out.

I wasn’t sure how far I would go. I left about 4:15, and intended to stop at Immaculate Conception Church to attend the “sinners’ Mass,” the 5:30 p.m. Sunday service. As it turned out, I only got to downtown Cedar Rapids before turning north along Third Avenue to make it to the church.

By the time Mass ended, it was cooling a lot. I headed off again along the same trail route. My water bottle was starting to ice up as I peddled home. Still, even if it was cold enough to freeze water—the temperature had dropped to the 20s—the lack of wind meant it wasn’t an unpleasant ride.

And I do like riding at sunset. Yes, I need lights, it’s probably not the safest time, but there is something especially pretty about the golden light of late day just before the sun dips below the horizon, and the early blue and pink light of twilight as we slip into the shadow of our planet.

When I got home, I had a cup of hot chocolate and a bunch of pizza to warm up. And decided it was time. I “closed” the RAGBRAI group so that I could pay and be officially registered. So now Team Joe is officially me, my sisters Brigid and Cate, Brigid’s husband Eldon, and Susan who is my sister-in-law on my wife’s side. Five of us, ready for a summer ride! And ready for summer, too.

I also updated my mileage numbers on my Google Drive bike log. With the 17 miles today, I have topped 200 miles of bicycle riding in 2014. Only 4,800 to go to my year’s goal—about 10 RAGBRAIs, I guess.

Happy biking!

Friday, March 21, 2014

In Which A Mirror Cracks During A Good Bike Week

Me this morning reflected in a cracked mirror. Well, the sky is blue and the sun is shining and it was a fine biking day anyway. (And yes, I put on my helmet before I started biking).

One day this week, Wednesday, I think, I drove a car to work, due to a wet morning.

The other days I was on Francis, and the weather has been pretty kind to a biker. Of course, we’re in a dry pattern that is a bit worrisome, what with last year’s drought and all—but I guess if you’re going to have a dry month of no consequence, March is not a poor choice.

There is snow in the forecast and colder temperatures next week. So I may not get a lot of extra miles in during spring break, but I do plan to ride some tomorrow, even if it’s cold.

And I’m going to “close” the RAGBRAI group and officially finish the registration process, probably tomorrow.

Anyway, I did have one minor mishap. Thursday night, I parked the bike too close to the garage door, without realizing it, and when I closed the door, it smacked and cracked the bike mirror.

It’s been a good mirror, but I probably will have to replace it.

Still, all in all, it’s been a good week to be a bike commuter, and despite some early spring winter-like weather next week, I think we’re getting to that part of year where the nice biking weather will become more and more common.

May your peddles spin, your tyres hum and the trail be fine and clear for you! Bike on!

Monday, March 17, 2014

In Which I Ride Well to Ring Some Bells

My bells, not solo bells, the usual bass G and A, reflect the skylight of the dining hall at Hallmar on March 16.

Sunday dawned cold and white. A dusting of snow, looking like the layer of powdered sugar on a doughnut, spread across the lawn.

But not the streets or sidewalks. Although it was cold, well below freezing, the strong mid-March sun has been beating down on the pavement for the past few days, and apparently warmed it enough so that a dusting of snow would not stick. It was too cold for it to simply melt, to the snow did what a thin layer of water sometimes does in the winter cold—it dissipated into the desiccated air.

I had a hand bell concert at a nursing home Sunday afternoon. The sun shone all morning, and although the temperature remained in the 20s, the magic of that March sun slowly nibbled away at the powdered sugar layer.

By the time it was time for me to decide to drive or ride, I was clearly going to ride. And I rode with only my light gloves and no long johns—it was about 6 miles to the nursing home, located in Mercy Medical Center near downtown. When I got there, I felt cool, but not uncomfortably cold.

Winter rides are slowly giving way to spring rides.

I must have been a bit nervous about the concert. I was to play a solo that has not gone that well in practice. Anyway, I averaged about 12 mph and got to the hospital in about 30 minutes.

That is the same times as my usual in-town commute to the MMU campus from my home, a distance that I charitably call 5 miles on my blog banner, but which is closer to 4. A speed of 12 mph doesn’t sound like much, but recall that is my average, including time at stop signs and lights and up hills—I am sure my cruising speed had to be over 15 mph. For me, that’s flying.

The concert went well. Maybe it was the extra blood pumping to my brain after that zippy bike commute. Maybe I had just messed up the solo enough in practice that there wasn’t any new way to do it wrong.

Anyway, the ride there and back was a bit chilly, but March had returned to its normal brown state, the spring snow mostly in small shady patches while the world had again turned brown where the sun was shining.

It was around 18 this Monday morning as I again rode. Again, cool—in fact, there was a brisker wind so it felt much colder. But I think that March sun still had power to warm me just enough.

Here’s to the arrival of the spring sun. Now, it if could just bring some spring warmth and spring flowers …

Friday, March 14, 2014

In Which "Bikeyface" Puts it Well

Another good post today from Boston’s leading biker-illustrator, Bikeyface.

She writes about how our structure of roads is very car centric, and, while it’s generally a good idea to obey rules of the road when you’re on a bicycle, self-preservation trumps the rules. A bicycle rider, on a small metal thing, has to avoid the Big Metal Things.

For example, I ride on the sidewalk on C Avenue for the first 4-blocks or so of my ride. I shouldn’t—the sidewalk is for pedestrians, the street for vehicles, including bikes—but the volume of traffic and the 35 mph speed limit on C Avenue prompts me to stick to the sidewalk.

I am aware that I’m encroaching on foot traffic turf, and try to respect that pedestrians are the ones who have the right of way here. But I’m not going to do much riding on C Avenue itself because I love life too much.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

In Which The Moon Shines At Dusk

Dry Creek at dusk. The light is pretty low, so I had to rest the camera on the rail of the C Avenue bridge. It looked darker to the eye than this photo captures.

When I was young, dusk, especially in summer, was my favorite time of day. The world turning slowly cooler and mysterious, the sky in darkening shades of blue until finally fading to black. It somehow was the time when play was most random and fun, when my sisters and I would have a “caucus race” around the VW micro-bus.

And so the time change has enhanced my rides. I teach until 6:50 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Because I have an exam tonight, I got out just a few minutes early and rode the trail route home, just as dusk was descending.
Moon in the darkening sky--another image on the C Avenue bridge.

It was the first official “spring” ride—no winter jacket required, no gloves, just a sweater. The morning ride was still winter cold, the afternoon ride was spring warm.

At the magic hour of dusk. I rode with lights on, but it was still fairly light out. The sun was just touching the horizon as I left campus, and the sky steadily became darker. The moon is not yet full, but was large enough to lend some light as the sun faded.

I can’t describe how it feels. A ride in twilight is somehow more peaceful, even with other bikers and walkers and traffic around. The worlds just seems fresher and quieter and cool. The day closes down, and whatever stress it brought is ebbing.

I rode fairly quickly, I think, and didn’t take the full trail route, but instead cut through the middle school near Noelridge Park. And I arrived home with a twilight smile.
Looking west at sky just past sunset.

Monday, March 10, 2014

In Which The Big Melt Begins

Bike rack at Warde Hall, Mount Mercy University. This is a shady spot on warm afternoons and the snow is several feet deep. When it's gone, we will know spring is really taking hold!

It was a  wet, messy ride this morning—a wonderful, wet, messy, sunny, warm ride. I got an e-mail from a student saying she had run out of gas and could not make it to class. I replied that I had eaten Corn Chex, and so was having no fuel shortage for my ride.

There is so much snow piled on the world here that one night when the low doesn’t dip below freezing doesn’t get rid of it all. It was nice yesterday, and it is downright gorgeous today, which makes a day of school that much more tragic.

If we can have snow days, how about an emergency spring day? It’s the first warm day of the new season, so it’s too nice to have class? Please? Nope, sorry, I can’t get there because I must ride bike, ride far, splash and roll and enjoy the day.

Sigh. Not so much. Still, even if it was dark following the implementation of Daylight Savings Time, and even if it will be darkening by the time I head home, I take this day as a token, a sign of many more nice days to come.

Knock on wood.

It will snow tomorrow, but not stay so cold this week that the snow that falls will stick around long. Spring is in the air here in frozen Iowa. I took a walk with my wife yesterday, and a man who lives in our neighborhood and who commutes by bike in warmer months was just getting his steed out of the garage, chain oiled, tires pumped, ready for a new riding year.

Me, I have already put 120 miles on Francis this year before this morning. But there will be more 50-degree days and sunshine and warmer and biking and lots more miles than 120!

Bikeyface had a cute blog post about how bike racks aren’t usually available in winter. I solve that at MMU by parking inside, and it will be some time before the snow melts away from the bike rack at my building. Still, I don’t really expect bike racks to be a priority for snow removal. It’s just nice that we’re finally at that point where Mother Nature may lend a snow removal hand.

That’s when spring will officially be here—when the bike rack is free of snow. May it be soon.

Friday, March 7, 2014

In Which Spring Comes As Team Joe Grows

Ice on my driveway is divided by streamlet of melting.
Friday afternoon on the way home--crossing Dry Creek on C Avenue. It's been iced over, a walkway for deer, and now the deer will have either dip their hooves or find a new route. Water! Spring!

Well, our merry band is up to five. A sister-in-law on my wife’s side from Florida will be riding the whole week of RAGBRAI on Team Joe.

And, the weather is finally taking a turn for the seasonal. There is still a snow pack over most of the ground, it’s below freezing at night—but the March sun has been aided by slightly warmer afternoon temperatures, and we are seeing some melt.

March 6, squirrel on Mount Mercy University campus. Receding snow.
That made biking on Thursday and Friday a bit dicey. The ride Thursday night was a bit tense because I have a late afternoon class and can’t leave until 7 or so. By then, it had been dark for an hour and what had been wet on the streets was starting to freeze.

Still, although I definitely rode over lots of ice, no spills.

This morning, it felt like spring. There was a warm sun shining, even if the air was still in the 20s. I didn’t even put my hood up at first, but when I went around the first corner and faced into a stiff southern wind, that changed pretty quickly. Still, I wore my light gloves and only one pair of socks.

The afternoon ride, in which I took the longer trail route, was wet. Today was a cloudy day of thawing, with more melting weather coming this weekend.

It will cool off again next week, but there aren't the bitter cold temperatures in the forecast that we had to start March. And this weekend we turn our clocks forward—it won’t be full dark at 7 anymore when I have to bike home.

That will be nice. In fact, I’m pretty confident that overall, things are getting nicer for biking weather in this cold corner of the globe. It’s not over yet—we sure could still see some early spring snows—but winter is waning, and aren't we grateful.
Coneflower seed head in side garden. I'll have to cut it off and toss it behind the fence in hopes of starting some coneflowers there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In Which 100 Miles Must Be Enough Because I Did It

What did I do? Registered for the Des Moines Register’s RAGBRAI, that is. Team “CR Joe” rides again! I’m the last of the cohort from last year to register, which seems fitting, somehow. As a biker, and a team leader, I like to lead from behind.

I’m not all done—I have not paid RAGBRAI yet, and am waiting to see if anybody joins our merry band before I “close” the group and submit my credit card number. But, the Rubicon has been crossed and the Missouri and Mississippi will be touch by tires, at least in spirit (I usually do the end dip but haven't ever bothered with the start dip).

And this registration date comes as, so far this year, I have ridden 100 miles. There must be some symbolism there—ride 100 miles in an Iowa winter and it’s clear you’re crazy enough for RAGBRAI. Something like that.
We are in! The group numbered 42220, which means it starts with the answer to life, the universe and everything if only we knew the question, exists again in 2014. If you want to join, we would consider you. Contact me, y'all. I'm planning to pay by the start of spring break, which is the last week of March, so about two weeks left to join my team, and RAGBRAI week-long riders have to be "in" on the RAGBRAI site by April 1 even if they aren't in enough to be in team CR Joe.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

In Which We Focus On Bicycles and Spring and Love

It’s March 1, and snow is falling. Subzero temperatures are forecast in Iowa this week. The biking omens are not what one could call entirely positive, but then again it is March 1.

It may be delayed by freaky ocean currents and the polar vortex, but spring is waiting out there. To tide us over, a few random bicycle love stories.

First of all the trailer to a movie I have not seen. But I like the opening credits.

Secondly, just because it mentions both love and bicycles, a song that counts the bicycle in Beijing:

Finally, maybe a woman who exaggerates love of bike just a bit. I like Francis, but even in Iowa I wouldn't go that far:

Good luck, kid, but don't expect any money from me. As for the rest of you, stay warm, love your bicycle, but don’t marry it. And soon we’ll all by cycling in the sun again.