Saturday, June 28, 2014

In Which I See The Green Square & Get A New Rider

Touring control room at Kirkwood Community College.

Spoiler alert: If you stick with this blog post until the end, you’ll be rewarded by picture of a cute biker. Just saying.

I had a meeting of the Iowa College Media Association Friday at Kirkwood Community College. The sky was cloudy and the forecast was for scattered rain, but I decided to gamble on the word “scattered,” and as luck would have it, the gamble paid off.

The morning ride, first to MMU and then to Kirkwood, was fine. The Cedar River Trail is closed just north of Cedar Lake, but the street that goes by the Sag Wagon is an easy detour. There were an unusual number of young women joggers out on that street, and I wondered if they always run there or were also trail refugees.

Anyway, besides that one stretch of joggers, trail traffic seemed pretty light. And when I go to the Federal Courthouse, a crew was at work cleaning the trail, so I backtracked a block and ended up heading over to the lion’s bridge through parking lots and streets. A “trail closed” barrier was located at the park on the south end of the bridge, so I continued through Czech Village to C Street, which I took to Tait Cummins Park before rejoining the trail and using it and sidewalks all the way to Kirkwood.

Bar in Czech Village. I'm working on a 100-year anniversary of World War I series at MMU, and it struck me as odd that "Red Baron" has become a bar-pizza brand name in our culture. He was a real man in a real, horrible war. Would be have a Tojo or Yamamoto sushi bar? Maybe we would. Sigh.

C Street seemed to have a fair number of bikers on it—like the street of youthful joggers, I suppose that’s a sign of displaced trail users. Once I rejoined the trail, I was passed by two men who were wearing RAGBRAI jerseys and riding road bikes. They shouted a cheery “good morning,” and I mumbled a reply—for some reason, I’d been enjoying the solitude of most of the ride and my social-communication skills were on ebb.

Anyway, I made it to Kirkwood. The meeting there ended around 2:30 in the afternoon, and it was time for the 14-mile journey home. The sky was noticeably darker now, and early in the ride, I paused to turn on my lights. It was breezier too, but still very warm and muggy.

One the way back, I decided not to exit the trail at Tate Cummins because there was no sign that it was closed. The river, while still high, is falling—and I wondered if the city crew cleaning the trail had made its way to the low part of the trail north of the river. Much of the trail is actually pretty high and would not have flooded—there is just one stretch near the old rail bridge that I assume was covered by high water.

On I rode. If the morning ride had been somewhat solitary, this was total isolation: not a jogger nor a biker in sight. That should have been a clue, I suppose—because it wasn’t until I got very close to the low area of the trail that I encountered the “trail closed” barrier, squeezed between a “notice no trespassing” fence on one side (I am always amused by that sign, there is no colon, it’s not telling you not to trespass, it’s telling you not to pay attention if anybody else trespasses) and the woody, sodden, marshy river bottom on the other.

Ha ha, sucker! Now turn around and ride back a mile to get off this trail.

Well, darn. I suppose the point of riding is to get miles in for RAGBRAI, but still—city of Cedar Rapids, I would have appreciated a “trail closed ahead” sign somewhere where it’s possible to get off the trail.

Oh well. I backtracked to TC Park and C Street, where bike traffic, which wasn’t on the trail, was pretty heavy.

I was a bit later getting home than I wanted to be, arriving around 4. It poured rain, but luckily, after I had gotten home.

By the way, on the way home Friday I saw the new green pavement on bike lanes in Cedar Rapids. Meh. I suppose if the whole lane were painted that way, it might stand out more. On the other hand, to me, anyway, the bike marks and width of a bike lane is pretty obvious anyway.

The test box of green paint on the 3rd Avenue bike lane.

Saturday, I had a shorter ride—but an important one. A set of grandchildren had come over for a slumber party, and we were meeting their mom at J.W. Gill Park in Marion. Because our oldest daughter had borrowed a car seat, we didn’t have a seat handy for the youngest granddaughter, Relena.

Relena is between 1 and 2—old enough to sit well, and big enough (probably just barely, she’s petite) to ride in my front toddler seat. As far as I know, this was her first bike ride. We suggested it to her—she’s not talking a lot, but seems to understand a lot of what is stated around her. She was a bit nervous when I and my youngest daughter loaded her on the bike, but she was OK.

And she seemed to enjoy the ride.

Finally, to wrap-up this two-day biking report with a bit of self-disclosure—when we left the park, I rode (by myself, this time) to Lowe Park. The trial there was nice, but there’s no easy way to get there. I was trying to find a different route back to town by turning off Albernett Road to Robins Road.

Those are not bike-friendly roads, so at the first opportunity, I turned left into a new subdivision, hoping to work my way south on quieter streets. But that subdivision apparently has no other exit, so I texted my wife to let her know that I was going to be a little late because I got lost on the way home.

She was more amused than I was. And frankly, “lost” is a strong term since I was temporarily unable to go where I wanted to go—but never had any doubts that I could get there.

And I did.

OK, you hung in there to the end. No, I'm not the cute biker. Relena before her first ride on Francis. I think she liked it. Pretty certain. If she hadn't, she would have let me know.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Which High Water Covers The Trails

Tuesday morning, Boyson Trail closed at low bridge over Dry Creek. Not aptly named, this year.

Summer biking in Iowa: It’s lily season, and they've been blooming for a while along the trails, and are just starting in my yard. The big Iowa tiger lilies (not the Asian ones of the same name) are just coming on. Yellow stella de oro are everywhere, it seems.

Iowa Tiger Lily in bloom, first flower in my yard. Shown with a little granddaughter who is visiting from England. Perspective is tricky--the flower is big, but not really bigger than her head. Below, a stella de oro Lily near the Iowa lily. 

And water, this summer, a lot of water. Last year, a wet spring was followed by a semi-serious drought in the latter half of summer—one reason it was dicey to plant trees last year. And that arid summer was followed by an extreme winter. Now, this year, we’re having monsoon season, with rains almost nightly. Today was the second of two consecutive dry days, and that’s been unusual.

Heavy rains Sunday soaked the soil and filled area creeks. Dry Creek and Indian Creek were up so much that, on my morning ride Tuesday, I noted that the Dry Creek low bridge on the Boyson Road trail was closed as water flowed over it.

The Cedar River was to crest that day at “major” flood stage. To those of us who recall 20 percent of the city swept away in 2008, the “major” needs quotes—knock on wood, but the flooding this year so far has not been all that serious. Still, on a longer afternoon ride, I could go no further than the new Federal Courthouse downtown.

Bollards! And a wayward river, too.

It wasn't a case, really, of Mother Nature changing my plans, because I figured the trail by the river would be closed, I just wondered where.

I was hoping to top 30 miles Tuesday, maybe even approach 40. But, it wasn’t Mother Nature that interrupted my plans. It was the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

I’ve been meaning to check out some books on the history of World War I—it’s the 100th anniversary of the war’s start and the university where I teach is having a series of commemorative events—and the new library just looked so darn inviting. So I had a 25 minute or so break in mid-ride to find the history area and lose myself in the world of 1914.

I was lucky I was riding Francis. The front basket came in handy. I hadn't checked out books at the new downtown library before, and it was a pretty slick system. I think I have a new summer home, located conveniently on one of my main biking routes.

Front basket post library visit. I'm 60 pages into "The War That Ended Peace." It's interesting,and discouraging at the same time. 

Anyway, at the end of the ride I again headed over the Boyson trail. I had climbed Mt. Brentwood Drive twice in the morning, and was not going to do a third ascent—I was just collecting a few miles and checking out the trail.

By the afternoon, the water at the low bridge was noticeably lower, under an inch washing over the trail. As I photographed it, other bikers simply went around barriers and across. Well, shoot, I can do that. And after I did it, I had a sudden pang of guilt.

Water was down in afternoon. Barrier still up, but other bikers ignored it. 

Dang. I forgot my front basket was full of books. And they are all library books. How much water had I splashed on the memory of World War I?

As it turned out, since I was just getting started and crossing the ford slowly, apparently none at all. Which I’m glad of. Next time I stop at the library, however, I think I’ll bring a bag for the books.

Don’t want to take any more chances with water. Not this summer. I rode 29 miles Tuesday, and with 9 today have passed 1,300 for the year.

Asian lily, planted in garden in back just this spring by two grandchildren and me.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

In Which Mother Nature Changes My Biking Plans

Flooding arrived earlier on Sac and Fox than was convenient.

The theme of a 51-mile ride Friday and today’s 13-mile sojourn is that you have to respect Mother Nature. She will sometimes change your plans.

Friday, I worked in the morning and then went to a local grocery store to pick up a daughter’s and son-in-law’s weekend race packets of information. The line for the race packets stretched more than an hour long, so it was a bit of a wait. I had planned to ride with my sister that afternoon, but what with one thing and another, it was a bit after 4 before I hopped on Francis and pedaled west.

Cate and I decided to head south to the Sac and Fox trail—our rationale being that flooding is due with a crest early this week, and the trail probably would be flooded out and might be out of commission for some time. As it turned out, we only rode 3 miles or so down the trail—when we got close to the intersection of Indian Creek and the Cedar River, there was significant water on the trail.

We opted for the better part of valor and did what we should have done last year—we turned back. So the day would have totaled more than 51 miles if all had gone according to plan—I had ridden more than 20 miles in the morning—but it was still a decent ride.

Saturday I rode a few morning miles, but much of the day was spent playing with grandchildren, including having a nice barbecue at a daughter’s house. She uses tortilla wraps as bratwurst or hot dog buns—and, although I do kind of miss the bready bun, it’s a pretty slick scheme. If I vended hot dogs on RAGBRAI, I’d think about it.

Anyway, so Sunday, today, my plan was to get some serious miles in. After church and a visit with my mother in law, I started north on the Cedar River Trail.

Heading north June 22 on Cedar Valley Nature Trail. Not as far north as I wanted, dark sky in west was a sign of what was to come.

It was a bit after 11 a.m. when I began my ride. By noon, the sky was getting really dark and the wind from the west picking up. A bit more than three miles north of Hiawatha, I thought it best to turn back.

It was a good idea, but would have been an even better idea 1 mile north of Hiawatha. I didn’t exactly beat our afternoon summer storm—got a bit damp, in fact—but I was home before the worst of it struck.

Maybe I’ll get some more miles in later on in the afternoon. Mother Nature, pretty please?

Coneflowers have just started. One in bloom at my turn-around point, just a bit over 3 miles north of Hiawatha.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In Which Francis Is Ready to be Ridden

Francis is back  and ready for me to ride.
The cost to repair Francis was a bit daunting—over $200, more than half the price of a new Francis. I don’t know the relevant math rules,so it is hard for me to rationally conclude if it was worth it, but Francis is back now.

New seat and new seat post. It's comfy.
The bike was tuned, got a new seat and seat post, new chain and new rear gears. A tune costs $75 and a chain is an almost annual $50 or so expense, so I guess over half the bill would be the annual cost of owning any bike, including a new Francis. So, despite my qualms, it probably was OK to get done.

It certainly would not make sense to ride a bike that is not roadworthy.

I’m a bit under the weather today—had a tummy ache and headache
—so I only rode the bike the mile from the shop to home. How was it?

It was Iowa, or maybe Heaven. Someplace nice—the bike was a dream to ride. I shifted silently and smoothly and the new seat felt like I was riding on a recliner. Francis is pretty nice. Of course, maybe it’s the contrast to The Beast, a bike that has no springs on its narrow, hard seat—but I’m looking forward to some longer rides on my familiar Francis.

The Beast will still be around. It will be a handy winter beater bike, and I’m glad to have it. But even more, I’m glad to have Francis back.

New gears and new chain. 1,000 miles wore out the old, I guess.

Monday, June 16, 2014

In Which The Beast Is Not RAGBRAI Ready

Our group, Sunday morning, with Eldon's custom-made back storage trunk. The design greatly improves both his carrying capacity and aerodynamics, although he did note the weight was a drag on uphill climbs.

The 2014 Tour the Raccoon Ride, sponsored by the Des Moines Cycle Club, proves several things.

For one, the Des Moines club’s annual event is one you should attend, if you’re an Iowa bicycle rider. It’s not exactly the same as two days of RAGBRAI, although in mileage it’s comparable, but it’s a good shakedown cruise for that event. And, someone in Des Moines knows how to make fantastic pasta salad, how to bake cookies and how to smoke pork. If you missed it, you missed it. Don’t miss it next year. See some images here.

For another, I’m ready for RAGBRAI. And I’m not ready for RAGBRAI.

Monarch caterpillar. Not ready to be butterfly.
I’m in decent physical shape. Because Francis is in the shop (although the bike is ready to be sprung, got the call, of course, today, now that the Raccoon ride is over), I rode The Beast. And I rode 101 miles in two days. That’s Beast miles, mind you. I’m sure it’s like riding 150 or more on Francis.

It was, despite an overnight storm and some threatening clouds, a grand ride. I’m very glad I went. It was fun to tease Eldon about his alien seed pod—he built a back storage box for his trike that, of course, we made much fun of—but give the man credit. He conceived of and built that thing, and I completely believe him that it vastly improved the aerodynamics of his trike, along with giving him a ridiculous amount of storage.

Kudos, Eldon. I’m sure the finished product will look even cooler than the prototype you were sporting on this ride, and the concept is brilliant.
Eldon explains his back storage bin.
Anyway, as noted, I’m ready for RAGBRAI in the sense that riding a day of it would not kill me. I’m not ready because I need many more training miles, even though I’m well above 1,000 for the year—especially if I want to do the Karras Loop. I rode 101 miles in two days on The Beast. If I do the loop this year, it would mean something like 105 miles in one day. That would be on Francis, which would help, but I’m not really ready for that one-day marathon yet. My heart isn’t set on doing the loop—it depends partly on nearly ideal weather or I’ll just say “forget it,” but I do want to be ready in case the weather is ideal.

In the category of “we’re not ready for RAGBRAI,” there are lessons that I personally, and my RAGBRAI group in general, learned from the Raccoon ride. Those include:

  • Don’t ride the wrong bike. OK, I won’t trash The Beast. It carried me 101 miles, and Cate reports that, from data on her bike computer, we were not traveling particularly slowly. “I didn’t have to hold back,” she reports. Which is nice of her to say, but it nonetheless is a lesson from the Raccoon ride—The Beast is not built for distance. If you’re doing RAGBRAI, use either a road bike or a hybrid bike or a cool trike—leave The Beast at home. Still, thank you, The Beast. You performed well.
  • Don’t leave important stuff behind. Take a helmet with you. I left mine at Brigid’s and Eldon’s house, and we had a subsequent wait as a result. It was lucky that they had seen it and brought it with them. Another team member, who is a brilliant designer, by the way, abandoned a water bottle. I and other team members will need to be more careful with our stuff on RAGBRAI.
  • Don’t forget stuff you need. Like snacks, for instance. This is not the same as “don’t leave stuff behind,” because I did bring my helmet even if I left it somewhere. I have snacks in my house, such as nut packets, that would have been great to have on the Raccoon ride, if I had them on the ride. Which I did not, because I forgot them. Memory is a theme of this list, right? Middle aged problems.
  • Don’t try to pack in two hours. OK, this is a related point. I may have been overconfident because I’ve done this stuff before. Getting all of the things together that you need to ride across Iowa in seven days needs a bit more preparation, organization and staging. Those are not strong personality traits of mine anyway, but I have to overcome my spontaneous nature and be more prepared.
  • Don’t leave a Boy Scout breakfast behind. This was not only a lesson learned, thankfully it was a lesson applied. There was a rumor circulating in the campsite that Boy Scouts would be serving pancakes in Panora, which was just short of halfway through the longest of the two days of the ride. All the way to Panora, I was mentally savoring those pancakes. Then we rode through Panora and didn’t see any signs. We were so desperate, however, that at the end of town we turned off the trail and doubled back, asking random strangers at the town square where the Scout breakfast was. Of course they knew: small Iowa town. It turns out the “pancakes in Panora” rumor was false. Instead, it was biscuits and gravy, sausage, and scrambled eggs. I don’t mind me a platter of pancakes, but I hasten to add that seldom has disappointment been so rewarding. It turned out to be the perfect biking fuel Second Breakfast—and I guess that’s really the overall rule for RAGBRAI. Eat like a Hobbit, you’ll need to. Don’t act like you’ve never heard of Second Breakfast.
  • Don’t neglect to pay attention to traffic and the road. OK, we were on a trail with light traffic, but when I was in the lead (only briefly and only late on day 2), I blew through several intersections where I should have paused more. In my defense, both streets and random, totally ignorable tractor field crossings were both marked with the same “yield” signs, and sometimes you could not tell the difference until you were right there—but that would be a poor reason to end up as a hood ornament. Be a watchful biker, especially on RAGBRAI. You’ll have much more room to move on RAGBRAI, but you’ll also be surrounded by 10,000 other bikes.
Crossing Raccoon River near end of Saturday ride.
 Well, those are the immediate lessons that come to mind. I guess it’s important to have a good time, which is just not hard to do on a bicycle. Cate wore a shirt in camp Saturday night that I think accurately sums up the message: “Riding a bike is like …. Riding a bike.” Indeed.

Finally, how ‘bout those 17-year cicadas? We don’t have many in Linn County, but there were places that some bikers called “the evil cicada forest.” Honestly, those freaky red-eyed monsters didn’t really bother us that much, but man can they wail. See video below. The sound was actually louder and higher pitched than my camera microphone recorded, but you get the idea:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

In Which The Evening Sky Steals The Show

Tuesday sky, view one. Seen from bridge in Otter Creek area. It was, see sign below, apparently a troll bridge but I crossed with ease. making me Big Billy Goat Gruff. By the way, why didn't Big BBG save everyone the hassle and just cross the bridge first in the first place?

I didn't bike on Monday of this week, because I was out of town helping a daughter prepare to move to England. I’m sure what she’s doing is pretty scary for her right now, but I’m proud of her.

Anyway, I got back to town around noon Tuesday and spent part of the afternoon unloading the truck. After that my wife had some shopping to attend to, and said to me, “why don’t you take a bike ride?”

Well, why not? The late afternoon was mostly cloudy but clearing, the weather fine, and I was anxious to get some miles in. So I hopped on The Beast and was off.

I was trucking along pretty fast on the Beast and paused at a parking lot before the 4-mile trail mark to drink water and take this photo of a a Fancy Bike style tube someone has decorated the bench with.

I looped around the neighborhood so I could do the Brentwood Drive hill climb (good RAGBRAI practice), and then headed off to the Cedar River Trail, turning north this time to see how far I could go in a limited period of time.

Pretty far, I think. I went on beyond Lafayette to the end of the paved surface. I was on The Beast, so I didn’t have to turn back at that point, but it was getting late, and the sky wasn't sure whether it wanted to rain on me or not, so I headed back towards town.

I made pretty good time. Between the extra couple of miles to climb the hill, the ride to and from the trail and the ride to just past the 10-mile marker north, I think in a few hours I did 30 miles.

Sun nears horizon and just starts to clear cloud cover as I head south on trail back towards city.

On the way home, I stopped over at Cate’s. She kindly agreed to give me a ride to the Tour the Raccoon Ride that we’re doing this weekend, and we wanted to see how well The Beast will fit on her car’s bike rack. Very well, as it turns out, and I’m hoping that creates some odd karma that causes the bike shop to call me Friday and say Francis is fixed, since I now know I’m ready to ride The Beast if need be.

We’ll see. The way home from Cate’s was a dusky ride, but I have put lights on The Beast and proceeded home.

Just about a mile left on the trail, sun sinking low, sky looking very pretty.

Wednesday was a day of more limited miles—a regular commuting day, for the most part, and Thursday was a gardening day and a day to prepare for a daughter and her family who are staying with us on vacation (they live in England but are here for a while).

Anyway, even if I wish I could have taken more advantage of good biking weather this week, it was good to get those 30 miles Tuesday. And the sky, as often happens on a mostly but not fully cloudy evening, was pretty nice to view.

Now if we can just get rid of those gnats …

OK, probably not the safest thing to do--photograph a gnat on your arm as you bike. The ground is moving pretty quickly there, big guy. Put the camera away and watch the trail.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

In Which I Open the RAGBRAI Box

On Friday, I got an e-mail from RAGBRAI stating that they had mailed me a package. Today, that package arrived, and it was a bit of a surprise:

So this arrived in the mail today. I was busy this morning and it rained later, so no biking today--but an exciting looking biking package in the mail.
I had only gotten the e-mail yesterday. And here was the box today!
Surprise! Everything for everybody. Not just one wrist band, five. Five bike bands and bike licenses and participant guides. One vehicle decal, two water bottles and two shirts (one other team member and I paid extra for these).
Front of the shirt. Bad luck to wear before RAGBRAI?
Back o shirt. And in both shirt photos, the official RAGBRAI water bottle.
The surprise was that in the past, RAGBRAI mailed stuff to each team member. But now, I have it all, which makes me a little nervous. Still, it feels like RAGBRAI is now official and Team Joe 2.0 is getting ready to ride!

Friday, June 6, 2014

In Which A Long Ride on The Beast Tops 1,000 Miles

The far south end of the ride, the pond at the Ely City Park. Reflections of the way life used to be. You're welcome for the ear worm.

No, not the one ride—that would, indeed, be an epic ride—I mean that I rode about 35 miles today, and that puts me at 1,020 miles and some change for the year so far.

At one point, when I was about an hour into a three-hour afternoon ride down to Ely, I passed a gentleman stopped by the side of the trail. He was doing an odd sort of prance, which I assume, based, on our conversation, was probably due to a foot cramp.

Me: Is everything OK?
He: I’m fine, I just need some new feet.
Me: While we’re at it, I’d like a new butt.

Indeed, the main weak spot, the biggest concern I have going into the Tour the Raccoon Ride next weekend—especially if I ride The Beast—is the soreness of my butt. It was very sore indeed following today’s ride, which was done wearing proper bike shorts. On the other hand, I did do more than half of the length of one day’s ride (the tour is two consecutive days of about 60 miles), and I’m typing this without any serious lingering ill effects.

A train passes under the trail and over a bridge on the Cedar River. It was moving so fast that it made its own wind on the bike trail bridge.

Weakness number two is my back. It gets very stiff and sore on The Beast, and 60 miles will be a trial.

Still, I rode 35 today. I was going to credit myself with 30, figuring I had ridden 4 miles in the morning to get to campus, and then ridden to Ely and back to home in three hours in the afternoon. That would have meant I was going about 8 mph on The Beast.

But, here’s the thing. I was surprised, today, at how fast I was biking. I rode most of the route in 3-7, the fastest gears, because I’m so used to The Beast now that it doesn't feel like I’m “pumping” too hard in that gear. And, while The Beast can’t compete with Fancy Bike for speed, it didn't feel a lot slower than cruising on Francis. And on Francis, on a long trail ride, I go faster than 8 mph.

So I tried plotting my route on “Map My Ride.” And that’s where I came up with the 35 figure. I’ll go with it.

The gnats were out in force, and that was unpleasant, but otherwise it was a beautiful day for a ride. The sky was full of pretty puffy white clouds, the sun shone warmly (but not hot), there wasn't much wind—it was a day for flying on a bike.

I was tempted to do the Sac and Fox again, but decided to go to Ely just because I have not in a while. And so I did.

My butt would like to put in for a transfer. My back is threatening to spasm. Yet, I completed 35 miles at a fairly fast pace (over 10 mph) on The Beast. I think that makes for a good biking day, and it’s a decent omen for the Raccoon ride.

I do hope Francis is back for the ride. Still, if it must be The Beast, I’m starting to be more at peace with that. If the conditions are right, even The Beast can move.

Catalpa near Cedar Lake in bloom. Naturally, I stopped to take a drink and a picture (the drink was from water I carried, I do not subsist, like a bee, off of flower nectar).

Monday, June 2, 2014

In Which The Beast Rides The Trail It Was Made For

30 miles on The Beast, more or less—that’s what I guess I rode today. I’m reasonably sure about the first three, which was 1 mile to the gym, and 2 miles back via the longer route that puts me on the other side of Brentwood Drive hill.

I rode the hill this morning, figuring that my planned “long” ride of the day was pretty flat. In that, I made one very significant error. But I guess more hill practice is a good thing.

Anyway, it rained overnight and was raining when I woke up this morning. But I checked the radar online and watched a weather spot on the morning news and generally just wasted a bit of time. My wife had woken up earlier and was at the gym, I was waiting for her to come home so I could drive there rather than get rained on.

Well, anyway, in fact by the time she got home, the rain was gone. I decided to get The Beast out and ride to the gym. The pavement was a bit damp, but that’s what chain lube is for, right? Anyway, after an hour of exercise, the sun was even trying to sneak a peek, and the pavement was drying.

That tall morning weather guy said the sun would shine. And that make me think “Sac and Fox.” And then, I reconsidered. We had a good amount of rain over night, probably ¾ of an inch or so—would that trail be too mushy, even for The Beast?

There was only one way to find out. I fixed myself what I considered to be a luxurious biker breakfast—one scrambled egg, a bagel topped with vegetable cream cheese and a serving of oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, peanut butter and honey mixed in.

A biker-style breakfast. Fuel for the ride.
Before I headed out, I was slightly delayed because a bush at the side of our house had fallen, and the landlady next door came over to ask if I would get rid of it. I would, and did. So it was after 11 by the time I started. Still, breakfast had been a bit late, 9 or so, and I packed a granola bar and apple in my pockets.

And I was off. The morning was fine for riding, if surprisingly cloudy. I headed towards the Cedar River Trail, taking the route that leads to a sign company parking lot in Hiawatha. But I was intimidated by the road construction on my chosen route, and ended up riding a half mile or so on Boyson Road to the trail head there. I do not recommend biking on Boyson, and will endeavor to better avoid it in the future.

Anyway, I was finally at the trial. The day was getting a bit warmer and very humid, so I sipped a lot of H20. In fact, I emptied and then filled my bottle at the J Avenue park. Although mild and warm, it stayed breezy and cloudy until I got to downtown Cedar Rapids, when the sun started shining more and more.

Good, I thought. The more likely the trail will be dry. My plan was to try the south end of the Sac and Fox Trail by accessing it from the Prairie Parks Fishery. If it proved mushy, well, I would just turn around and return to the Cedar River Trail and ride it.

The lake at Prairie Parks Fishery. It's getting sunny--and a bit hot. I am very glad I sprayed insect repellent on--what's with these gnats this year? Anyway, a hawk swooped low over me and I hoped to get it's picture, but it was gone too soon, so I shot this photo instead.
I wasn't sure what to expect. Last year, Cate and I made the serious error of trying the Sac and Fox before it was fully repaired after some flooding, and, as detailed in my hilarious post, we got very mired in the mud.

Well, they’ve had a year to repair it. And surely the giant utility project the city had been doing should be complete by now, right?

In fact, right. In fact, pleasant surprise, the Sac and Fox was wet and mushy in parts, forcing me sometime to ride The Beast at the edge of the grass rather than chancing getting mired. But, between the giant utility project requiring trail reconstruction and the flood taking out the south part of the trail which has since been replaced, the Sac and Fox is practically a new trail.

The Sac and Fox. Maybe I did it a day too soon--there were several spots like this. But The Beast easily navigated the edge, and I never was close to a spill or a nasty splash--and much of  the trail was dry.
Not quite as tame as the limestone trails of the Boyson Road Trail complex, but then again, far less heavily traveled and nowhere near as rutted, either.

I made good time. And I actually appreciated The Beast. This was the trail this bike was made for. I’ve ridden Francis on it in the past, and gotten a flat tire at least half the times I did that. With The Beast and it’s beastly fat tires, I could move at a decent speed.

Here there be horses. You don't encounter them on other bike trails, but they are allowed on the Sac and Fox. Two horses passed me going the other way, and the riders requested I stop so as not to spook the horses. I did. I like the gnat bonnet that the horse has. Do they make models for bikers?
And, while there were some soft wet spots, they were easy to see. In the past, the biggest danger on the Sac and Fox has been soft sand. I didn't have that problem at all—where the trail looked dry, it was pretty much substantial crushed limestone. It was practically civilized compared to what it has been in the past.

There was one off note. Due to the giant utility project, some of the natural tree stands along the trail have been destroyed. They have been replanted, but the new trees are still tiny and the ground cover hasn't really taken over the barren landscape yet. The middle part of the trail felt like biking (on a fairly nice trail) through the worst kind of suburban construction zone.

And maybe half the new trees planted last year either died in the drought at the end of the summer last year or were claimed by this year’s harsh winter. I hope the city is requiring some replanting.

About 3 miles into the trail, not quite halfway--nearly where Indian Creek Runs into the Cedar River. This is where Cate and I totally bogged down. No problems now, it's not a mud bottom anymore.
Still, I bet in a few weeks the ground cover, at least, will start to look green and that will improve that part of the trail. It will be years before the trees grow into much, but at least there are trees.

All in all, the trail is in the best bike riding condition I have ever seen. It’s still a trail for mountain bikes like The Beast, or maybe a hybrid for a good biker who is alert. I personally would avoid a road bike—this is surely not a road. And—bonus—if I could ride 30 miles today and take on two substantial hills riding The Beast, well, I guess I would say the Raccoon River Ride wouldn't be quite as crazy as I thought.

Views of Indian Creek, above, are quite nice along the trail. but in the area of the utility project, below, the scenery has been more damaged and will take some years to recover.

I will be back on the Sac and Fox. Sometime soon, I hope to take Audrey and her bike to the trail—it would be a longish ride for her, but on a dry day it would be very pleasant. Maybe, with Francis back, Matt and I will do this trail when Amanda and family visit soon. The Beast has a trailer hitch, so even some grandkids might ride along. I’m sure Cate and I will get on the Sac and Fox before RAGBRAI sometime.

Granola bar break for me, and just a break for The Beast, at the end of the Sac and Fox. Seven miles of nice trail. I had planned to turn around and do the same route again back, but that would have been a more than 40 mile ride, and while I'm getting used to The Beast and rode at least 30 today, I wasn't ready for that. So I headed the shorter route directly home.
And you out there, if you live in Cedar Rapids or the CR area, spread the word. The Sac and Fox is back, baby. Now get out there—on a dry day—and ride!

The final pleasant surprise of a surprisingly good biking day--they have repaved Cottage Grove Road. It's still too busy with speed limits too high for comfortable biking, which is why I originally planned to take the trail route back, but with the new paving, there is a  paved edge to the road to ride now, which there was not in the past. Bonus! Sadly, the paving project did not include smoothing out Cottage Grove hill, a treacherous climb, partly because it gets steeper as you ascend. But, yes, your CR Biker biked all the way to the top. And stopped and drank and rested before moving on. But I did it--I climbed not only Mt. Brentwood today, but the even more daunting Cottage Grove hill, too.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

In Which I Am Just 67 Miles from 1,000

I had hoped to go on a longish bike ride June 1, but it did not work out that way. Between some shopping and planting, and a very pleasant visit with two grandsons, followed by a Skype conversation with my oldest son in Paraguay (or anywhere else, for that matter), the day passed by quite quickly.

Then it rained and all hope of biking was done.

Still, biking is going well, if slightly behind schedule. I have ridden 926.4 miles in 2014, according to my estimates. Those estimates will be slightly less accurate for a while, until I get Francis back from the shop. The Beast has no computer, and Fancy Bike’s computer is reduced to a low battery warning, so recent miles have been guesses. But I’ve been riding relatively familiar routes, so I don’t think the accounting is wildly off the mark.

Anyway, I had hoped to be past 1,000 miles by June 1. I’m close, but not quite there. I’ll have to push for many more miles in June and July. I honestly want to be closing in on 4,000 by summer’s end, because I doubt I can do more than 1,000 miles once the school year begins.

Here is my monthly tally so far:

  • January, 62
  • February, 38
  • March, 194
  • April, 301.5
  • May, 330.9

The miles are going up. And, I’m only a quarter century from my goal—one long day’s ride on RAGBRAI. I’ll get at least 120 miles in June in just two days—I just registered for the Tour the Raccoon Ride, which I’ll be completing with four other of the six members of RAGBRAI’s Team Joe.
From the web site of the Des Moine Bike Club,, the Tour the Raccoon logo.

Tomorrow? Some rain. Some sun. Some biking, I hope, when the clouds are gone.

Let the three most mile-filed months of the biking year begin!

Note: I know there is a math error in the headline. I'm 73.6 miles from 1,000. The figures are just estimates anyway, so spot me a few miles. I posted this and tweeted it and the headline is out there in cyberspace for all to see.