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.

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