Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Which My Achy-Breaky Heart Rides 22 Miles

Late afternoon sun on Cedar Lake, it was a gorgeous day to ride around the lake and a gorgeous day to be alive.

As you know, blog pals, I had some disturbing symptoms on RAGBRAI. Mostly, they were on Tuesday’s long, warm ride.

A spasm in my chest. Fatigue. Dizziness. A burning sensation in my upper left arm. Pins and needles in my left foot.

Whoa, you might say. Did you stop? Did you catch a ride in the cherry-topped sag wagon, aka an ambulance?

Well, no. And I’m not totally cray cray, either. Each of the symptoms is something I've experienced before, and each has an innocent explanation. Fatigue and dizziness can be dehydration. Arm pain can be, well, arm pain. I fought a headwind in the first 20 miles of the ride, and my body was crouched in an unnatural position. Even today, my left shoulder and left upper arm are sore, and it’s muscle and joint soreness from that headwind 10 days ago, not cardiac arrest.

Spasm of pain? Well, I've been treated before for acid reflux, and although I don’t commonly have digestive problems, heartburn is an experience I've had before. So, I could rationalize, drink some water, rest a few minutes and solider on.

But, as the week wore on, the fatigue did not quit. My RAGBRAI team members envied my ability to quickly fall asleep, which is not unusual for me, but it is unusual for me to get 7 hours of sleep and still feel so totally lethargic.

I had little energy for the rest of RAGBRAI, and it worried me, so I went to my doc’s office.

My doctor, by the way, is a very nice lady, but I've rarely seen her. I’m almost always seen by a PA, but that’s OK. Anyway, the PA took my blood pressure (a little too high), listened to my heart (it must have been ca-thumping pretty normally because he said nothing and had no reaction) and took note of my symptoms.

Not classic heart symptoms, he noted. But, on the other hand: “I don’t think you’re here because your left shoulder is sore. I think you’re here because you’re concerned about your heart. And while the symptoms aren't classic, it’s hard for me to ignore a spasm and left side pain. Go to the hospital and get an EKG.”

So off to said hospital I went. The technician didn't shave me before she put the sticky sensors on—she explained that most patients don’t want to be shaved—but lady, I would have gladly been shaved because I knew that what goes on must come off. A few minutes later, I was done. And, OUCH!

Later that day, an aide form the doc called to say preliminary EKG results were just fine. But the office would call the next day with final results.

As fate would have it, the next day’s call was a bit different. I don’t recall all of the details—for some reason, when important medical information is given to me about me I start to quickly fade out into some odd mental limbo—but I clearly recall: "We've made an appointment for you with a cardiologist."

The problem isn't major or imminently life threatening. Or so I suppose, since the lady on the phone didn't seem to be in a hurry and she didn't give me any advice about living like an invalid. The EKG showed a “left anterior fascicular block,” whatever the heck that is. Google gave me lots of confusing disinformation, but the impression I get is that it’s a common problem and is either no big deal or indicates YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

Then again, my favorite Onion headline of all time is: “Death Rate Continues At 100 Percent.”

I’m not fatalistic about it. I intend to be very serious about getting and following medical advice. I want to live decades more and ride many more RAGBRAIs. And I’ll be calling the PA back, because right now we’re dealing with this one problem—I haven’t really had a full physical checkup.

And “left anterior fascicular block” or not, the real take away for me, the thing that in the long run is probably more personally dangerous given my family history, is the blood pressure.

Anyway, doc talk was Tuesday. I rode my bike 12 miles Wednesday. I rode it again 22 miles today. So far, no spasms of pain and no sudden fatal heart attacks, I’m happy to report.

I’m healthy as a horse. If the horse has an asterisk on its chart and has an appointment with a heart doc. And you knew, didn't you, that I couldn't resist:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Which I Share My RAGBRAI Wisdom

The ride is almost over and Eldon and I check out the Father of Waters.

Each year, RAGBRAI asks for feedback. Well, I will share some. And each year, other riders don’t ask for feedback, but they’ll get it anyway.

I didn't know about the two deaths on RAGBRAI this year right away—when you don’t camp in the campgrounds, you don’t get the free Registers handed out there, and I was cut off from news. Sad tidings.

Anyway, advice to myself, my team, my fellow bikers and RAGBRAI:

RAGBRAI, mark the darn route more clearly. I don’t mean the bike route—the support vehicle route. It’s marked as it if were being used by bicycles—tiny signs right at the exit you are supposed to use on a 4-lane highway, for instance. If you were riding a bike at 15 mph, you could see and react to that sign. In an SUV at 65? If you’re not watching the map like a hawk (and who wants drivers to do that?) it’s often a case of, “damn, I missed that exit.” And the code is confusing—Pink? Green?

Team Joe, go to the driver’s meeting, or send a representative. Maybe it’s partly our fault the vehicle signs did not make sense. On the other hand, we did scout the destination town and anticipated that traffic would be terrible. The scouting trip was a good idea.

RAGBRAI, add more information to the web site. Easy to find links to planning committee web sites in overnight and meeting towns, for instance. Detailed maps of said towns that show the bike and vehicle routes. I went to the Iowa DOT web site and downloaded maps for our team, which Eldon had printed. Those maps were very useful--but not as easy to get as RAGBRAI could make them.

Our meeting spot after the ride.
RAGBRAI, fill those rumbles. I don’t mean all of them—rumble strips on a flat are amusing, not consequential. But on the final day, in the infamous “W,” which I named that because there is a distinct W shape on the elevation profile due to two consecutive valleys with steep ascents and descents, one rapid downhill run ended in rumble strips. And several RAGBRAI riders ended their rides with broken bones there. I remember whizzing along at something close to 40 mph and seeing the little sign that said “rumbles ahead” and thinking, “really?” Most riders missed that sign because they were moving at car speed. And, as noted, some shattered bones resulted—I didn't see the fall, but I saw one aftermath, and during our break in Garber, several ambulances sped by, from, I’m assuming, deathtrap rumble strips hill.

Riders, "car back” means move over, jerk. Fast bikers often cross the center line. Well, if they have a clear view, OK. But when someone yells “car back,” quickly find a gap and move right, fast peddlers. The “car” is often an ambulance, and it could be a friend or, someday, you in there. For safety’s sake and as a courtesy, make a hole.

RAGBRAI, clone those Edgewood farmers. In the final meet town, the tiny village of Edgewood, farmers on ATVs actually escorted vehicles to specific parking places. It was a slick, nice system. Getting to the town was not so easy—the route markings were confusing and led Eldon and I to drive too far towards Guttenberg (I’m looking at you, RAGBRAI!)—but once you got there, you were briefly detained at city limits until a tan farm man on an ATV took you to a parking place. Our escort said there had been some complaints. We could not figure out why. There was no other town so easy on support vehicles along this year’s route as Edgewood was. Kudos, Edgewood. RAGBRAI, can you find out who planned that stop and hire her or him as “meeting town czar?”

My "Hello Kitty" system worked well--vital supplies, such as this, my bathroom bag, were easy to find. In my bike bag, I had the "on the road" kit in case Mother Nature called, and she did. As I was walking to a kybo holding a small lunch box with vital supplies inside, one lady I passed noted "I love your purse." It was very functional.
CR Joe, train more. I promise on a stack of Participant Guides that I will call my doctor tomorrow (Monday) and make an appointment. I had some symptoms that I described after the ride. My sister said, “I didn't know about the left arm pain.” Her spouse, a nurse, said: “If you feel those symptoms again, go to the ER.”

I’m happy to say I didn't end up the third fatality on this year’s ride. My vital organs are still functioning, although I don’t guarantee at what capacity. No Joe bones were broken, either. Here is my Facebook album of this year's ride. And RAGBRAI was so much fun that I will surely participate again.

After a medical checkup.

Friday morning in Waverly. It was wet. This is Brigid's trike, and she and I drove that morning. I don't think we regret it.

In Which I Hear The Sounds of RAGBRAI

Photo taken July 26 on hill on final day. Bikes make slight noises as they whiz by, the final day was sometimes characterized by lots of panting.

Some sounds are very familiar because I hear them every year,  some are more unusual, related to this year's bike ride.

But there is a unique set of sounds that I associate with RAGBRAI:

  • The jets: That jet-engine like “whoosh” that you hear as a large pace line of fast road bikes zooms by going 30 mph on a flat. That's an annual sound.
  • The low rumble: This year, there were many more of those “fat tire” bikes—those ones with tires that are three times as wide as the usual mountain bike. The bikers who are riding those bikes must be in fantastic shape, because they usually zoom by in the fast lane. They don't “whoosh.” They rumble like an approaching panzer.

We hear the sound of windmills.

  • The wump-wump-wump: One new sound is the sound of a windmill. If you see an electric generating windmill at a distance, you might assume it's silent. But if one is close enough to a windmill, there is a low, dull “wump-wump” sound as air is compressed between the blades and support posts. Some of those windmills are massive and so, close up, is there distinct sound.
  • The human-bike sounds: Bicycles and bikers make their own noises. The chains clank in their mechanisms; tires, when there are thousands of them, hum. You hear vocal signals, such as “bike on” or “rider off,” and, of course, the boom boxes.
  • The human horses: In a town, there is a clipity-clop noise that bike shoes, with their metal clips to hook pedals, make on pavement.

You overhear things, too. An interesting bike passed me today (I wrote this Thursday), which caused me to violate my “don't shoot while biking” RAGBRAI rule—it was a 5-seater, with a family, mother, father, and three rather young kids, with the youngest on one of those pedal-bike attachments at the end looking maybe 6 or 7. They seemed a happy bunch as they zoomed by, but, kids will be kids.

Because mom was saying: “No bickering on the bus” as they passed.

Note bike at left--5 on one. The bus.

Well, I don’t know how many days the bus was on the road, but I hoped they enjoyed their ride.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In Which RAGBRAI Teaches About Limits

Can I get a discount? Sign at community college campus in Emmetsburg, where I had a dorm room and a shower, thank you Cate.

Well, it was an odd day Tuesday on RAGBRAI. There was a north wind, which made for a headwind on maybe 25 percent of the ride—a very strong headwind, too. But, it was a side or back wind on the rest of the ride—so, overall, I would say the wind helped.

And it was humid and warm. But not hot—just warm.

Still, in biking parlance, I was bonking, or I bonked (not sure how to conjugate “to bonk.”). When afternoon came, it wasn't freezing rain, but was just slow Joe, running out of gas.

Which was a bit of a surprise to me. I've biked around 1,700 miles this year—far more training miles then I have ever done before RAGBRAI. And Francis was recently tuned, has a new chain, and I've finally learned the importance of keeping my tires well inflated. So the body and the bike should be working better then ever.

They are not.

The bike is fine. The bicycle is willing, but the flesh is weak. In my defense, I had a minor issue Tuesday, in that my cute monster lunch box, which I'm using for my daily supply of snacks, got accidentally left in the support vehicle.

RAGBRAI lesson from Tuesday: All we are is dust in the wind. But at least we can make electricity.

Starvation was not a danger—Cate was with me when I rode and shared snacks and there is food galore along the RAGBRAI route—but I did not have my usual snacks nor my electrolyte drinks. The lack of the drink, I think, may have helped run me down more than expected.

So near the end of Tuesday's approximately 80-some miles, I was beat, whipped, worn out. I did not sag, but did have to rest for some time in the shade before the final town, and take it very easy for the last 15 or so miles—as the afternoon wore into evening, I had to take care not to hurry. I did not finish the ride until close to 7 p.m., way too late.

And to think that before RAGBRAI I toyed with the idea of riding 100 miles in a day this year.

I don't think I would do that, now. At the moment, it's beyond my capacity, and while working myself and getting good exercise are all good things, I also think paying attention to limits makes some sense.

So I drove Wednesday instead of riding. I gave myself an extra day of rest, and the driving schedule has been reconfigured so I only have one full day of RAGBRAI to conquer.

Corn. Heck, yes.

It's not exactly the way I wanted to do RAGBRAI, but I think doing RAGBRAI requires an ability to reshape plans to fit reality. For the first two years, I rode every mile and was proud of it. But now RAGBRAI is teaching me about limits.

And when I get back home, I plan to schedule a medical checkup. I'm a 55-year-old biker. I've had medical exams before, but never on a regular basis and never when not prompted by some external requirement or event.

RAGBRAI is teaching me to pay a bit more attention to my corporal shell. A willing spirit requires some strength in the body.

Sister and mermaid. Which is which?

Monday, July 21, 2014

In Which RAGBRAI Tries To Try My Patience

Team Joe, ready to ride July 20 in Rock Valley.
Riding RAGBRAI is a fun way to see some small towns up close.

It's also, let's be honest, a bit of an ordeal. There might be a reason why a bicycle is not the chosen vehicle for most people wanting to travel trans Iowa. Aspects of a bike ride, like unexpected distances, traffic, bugs and the heat, can be problematic.

Eldon Rocca has a RABRAI fashion sense.
So the first day of RAGBRAI proved. We started off from Rock Valley, and getting out of town proved a bit less efficient then expected. Don't get me wrong, Rock Valley, in general, you rocked. The RAGBRAI stop was 99 percent perfect. What wasn't perfect was finding the way out in the morning. In most RAGBRAI day or week start towns, local constables will direct traffic at busy street corners, so it's easy to get information on where you are going. I'm not sure if Rock Valley has any local constables, if so, I did not see them nor see anybody else directing traffic at a corner. Of course, Rock Valley may lack any corner busy enough to require human traffic control, I will concede.

But RAGBRAI bike traffic was huge. Intense. Tight. Two-wheeled rush hour, like nothing I've ever seen before on day one of RAGBRAI. I don't know what karma you had, Rock Valley, but you drew us bikers in by the thousands.

Heavy traffic for day 1. A hill climb early in the ride.

Well, that just delayed our departure a bit. That did not try my patience very much. The day was delightful—the wind from the south perhaps a bit strong, but a cross breeze beats a headwind any day. The small towns greeted us in typical RAGBRAI fashion, and we enjoyed pie and other RAGBRAI fare. Breakfast at a Reformed Dutch Christian Church, or something like that, in Hull was wonderful.

When we got to Sheldon, we had to walk through a gauntlet of slapping flags to get to food, but it was worth it. The meet up was super easy.

The afternoon wore on a bit. The meet up was less than halfway through the route, and the miles seemed to pile up.  Finally, around 7, we pulled into Milford and thought “80 miles, job well done!”

Then Cate checked her GPS. “Ha, ha,” it said (it's programmed to say that, or it should be), “you suckers have 13 more miles to go on top of the 80 or so you've already ridden. And it will be getting dark and I'll, just for fun, direct you down some gravel roads just to show what we GPS computers think of your silly bikes and trikes!”

Really, GPS? Gravel? And hill? At sunset? Riding hilly gravel at sunset is your idea of fun?

OK, those final miles did indeed try my patience a bit. Besides the gravel and the scary highways, parts of those miles were excellent—under different conditions, I'd like to come back to the Okiboji area and ride its trails. And spray better with bug repellent first.

Well, we finally found our host. And it was a nice couple who have part of a triplex on the lake. The bugs were hungry (and well sated by the time they got done with us), but the scenery and hospitality were excellent.

Sun rises at Spirit Lake. Beautiful start to Monday.

Today, Monday, was my driving (and blogging) day.

Tuesday is the century loop. I'm honestly leaning against it. I always said it would depend on conditions, and it has gotten very hot and humid—the 80 plus miles of the regular ride may be challenge enough. The loop may have to wait for a cooler year.

Besides, I don't have as much to prove. I rode almost 100 miles on the first day, even though I had not planned on it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In Which We Get Ready To Ride

Sign that welcomed our team to its camp site.

We all gathered in Rock Valley today. Susan put some devices on her bike, I lubed my chain and we all painted the shirts that Eldon brought. Amanda, thank you, the shirts are awsome.

Before Eldon and Brigid arrived, Cate, Susan and I dined nicely in a Mexican restaurant downtown. It was a pretty authentic place. Later, all of us visted the bike expo and got our route maps. Susan picked up passed for the two guest riders who will be with us for part of the week.

Our hosts, Tammy and Mark,  have been very  nice, provided us with drinks and snacks. So far, camping in someone's yard seems to beat the main campground by far.

The town of Rock Valley is recovering from a devastating flood that almost canceled their RAGBRAI plans. I'm glad that it didn't. It's a small town, and seems to have gone all out to welcome RAGBRAI. They are doing this stop very well.

I'm official. And I have a flood recovery bracelet, too.
And our camp yard is being shared by a cool team from Muscatine that is raising funds for a homeless shelter there—shout out to Team MCSA.

Let the biking begin!

Painted shirts.

Friday, July 18, 2014

In Which We Bring Bike Beauty To Storm Lake

Back of our van. Virtual bike art, don't you think?

We made it to Storm Lake, Iowa on our RAGBRAI journey. My wife, my sister Cate and I first stopped in Ankeny to picked up Susan.

She had brought a bike from her home in Florida, but discovered some damage when she got it to Iowa, something to do with a broken crank and an old screw in the handlebars that would be hard to replace. Luckily, her sister's husband works at a bike shop, and she picked up a pretty swanky new road bike for RAGBRAI.

We had some trouble fitting the bikes on the new bike rack on our minivan—but Cate recalled a trick Eldon used last year, and put her bike sideways.

As you can see, that solved the issue. And the back of the van now looks like one of those bike sculptures such as decorated Guttenberg. We're bringing the art with us as we head west and north.

Tomorrow: Rock Valley, the RAGBRAI bike expo and camping the night before, but comfortable motel beds tonight. Watch this space for more RAGBRAI updates!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In Which Final RAGBRAI Prep Is Underway

I am ready to give a granddaughter a ride. Later, I took her cousin, a boy of the same age as her,on a ride. Final kid rides before the seat will come off the bike for RAGBRAI.

Well, I will try to update this blog during RAGBRAI, but you understand I’ll be borrowing the technology, and internet connections and networks in tiny towns across Iowa are often strained by the army of bikers that will start riding across the state Sunday.

I’m in the packing stage. Today, I took two grandchildren on bike rides on the toddler seat on Francis, which will be removed in the morning to lighten the load. Besides the new back bag, which I think will come in really handy, there are some other new technologies I’ll be using this year:

1) I replaced the hickeys. Eldon, one of the Team Joe members, gave us all rubber shoe ties last year, called “hickeys.” They are a great idea because the shoes fit snugly and there are no laces to get caught in a bike—but several of them also broke. So this year, I’m trying “no tie” elastic bands for shoe laces.

New elastic, no-tie laces on RAGBRAI shoes--shabby, but comfortable, sneakers.

2) I replaced my bike computer. There was nothing wrong with the old one, until the bike fell over during a training ride (Cate and I were lifting it over a tree, I wasn’t riding it when it fell). The fall seemed to knock a wire loose that killed the computer. Well a bike computer is not essential, but when we were shopping for item number 3, my wife pointed out several computer models, and I bought one when I picked up number 3. It is nice to be able to see the miles go by on an odometer and trip meter, and to know your speed as the other RAGBRAI riders zoom by.

New computer after 10 miles of use.

3) I, along with my wife, installed a bike rack on the van. It’s not quite as nice as Cate’s, it’s a rack the bikes do hang from, but it is a 4-bike rack, which we hope will make it handy.

Anyway, I seem to have all the stuff I need. I’ll put it all in bags in the morning, and then it’s off to an overnight stay in Storm Lake, followed by Rock Valley and RAGBRAI!

Flowers I saw this week--hibiscus or Rose of Sharon in bloom at MMU (above) and new hollyhock in my back garden at home. I had biked to MMU, and I was hanging out my RAGBRAI sleeping bag when I saw the hollyhock, so these are biking pictures, right?

As I hung out and when I took down my sleeping bag off of the clothesline, two tiny but very loud birds quite violently protested by presence. I suspect they nest in the lilac bushes or the trumpet vine near the clothesline. I tried to tell them I had no interest in their nest, but they were having none of it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In Which I Meet A Town of Sellers and Ride 80+ Miles

Curb sign in Guttenberg. Just wait a week and a half!

Well, blog pals, the pace of my biking-RAGBRAI prep, plus getting stuff done before I’m gone from home for a week, has put me behind in blogging.

It’s been an eventful few days—including an epic final practice ride that hints the century loop may be possible, and a scouting expedition to the Land Where Everyone Sells.

First, the scouting expedition: My wife, my sister, my sister-in-law and I all went to the pretty Mississippi River village of Guttenberg Saturday. Our main point was to make ourselves a bit more familiar with the village where RAGBRAI ends this year.

It was an interesting trip. For RAGBRAI, Guttenberg is one of many tiny towns on this year’s route—it is an especially small place for the bike ride to end. Like many Mississippi River towns, the village is both a bit aged and shabby, and also very pretty. Even if the glory days of the 19th century are long gone, the buildings and beautiful river front, and, especially, the river, are still there.

Where we didn't eat lunch, but saw the "lunch" sign. A week at the River Park Place doesn't sound like a bad idea.

We walked around and admired the old bikes used as decorative flourishes, obviously in prep for RAGBRAI. It was getting close to 1 p.m., and one storefront was labeled “lunch.” We were just thinking about that, when the lady of the house snagged us and almost forced us inside. They weren't serving lunch anymore, she just wanted to visit and show off her business and give us advice on what to do in tiny G. She runs a restaurant, bed-and-breakfast, party place spread through three gorgeous old buildings. An apartment can be rented there for $500 a week—and I think it would be a tempting get away.

Not sure it’s a great town for biking, however—I didn't see any trails and, like most Mississippi River towns, it’s located in the hilliest area of Iowa. Note to any East Coast or West Coast readers—Iowa is not Kansas, it’s generally not flat, but it’s topography is like a slightly wrinkly bed sheet—no mountains, but lots of rolling hills and river valleys that you slide down into and then have to climb out of if by chance you cross the state on two wheels. And the hilliest of those hills are associated with the mightiest of those rivers on Iowa’s East Coast (granted, there are hills in the west, too, but western Iowa is a bit flatter than eastern Iowa).

Anyway, we really enjoyed our somewhat commercial tour. She and her partner were friendly folk. We had a pleasant tour, but wanted to find a place were “lunch” was available after 1 p.m.

So, we strolled down the main drag, across the street from the main river of the United States, and ended up at Joe’s Pizza. One member of our party ordered a small pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza, while the other three of us split a larger “Joe” pizza. Joe approved. And a fellow diner was full of suggestions for Guttenberg attractions. It felt a little like we were trapped in a town of car sales people, except they were more pleasant, less pushy and more supportive of each other than your typical car lot steel pusher.

An Amish baker at a farmer's market along the river gave us a sample doughnut to share. He was nice, but a bit pushy in trying to sell his wares--just like the rest of Guttenberg. The place clearly lives on tourists. The doughnut was very good.

The town of Guttenberg is a bit isolated by high hills and the river. I didn’t see any bridge, so there is, as far as I can tell, no way in from Illinois. One U.S. highway enters town, and on the final day of RAGBRAI, when 12,000 cars try to enter town, the traffic jam will be a bit more intense than the mall during the best Christmas shopping season ever.

The lady at “lunch” noted that more than 400 vehicles had registered to park in town. If I had been eating, I might have sputtered at that point. Trust me, Little G, 400 is a tiny, tiny minority of the vehicles you will see—although I bet you already know that.

During our walking and scouting, we picked a church with tall twin spires located south of the bike route (which cleaves the town mostly in two and eliminates most potential parking) to try to meet up at.

A picture of the "other" pizza joint, that we din't eat at. It wasn't Joe's. But it did have a beer bike.
It was a good trip. And we did indulge in ice cream after the pizza, and it was good, too.

The next day, to work off the pizza and ice cream, Cate and I went on our last big training ride. I’m still riding bikes this week, but only short hops—resting the body for the many miles ahead next week.

Kayak boater with dog on Cedar Lake. The clouds that are gathering will lead to a quick downpour, but most of the ride was dry.

Anyway, we went south to Ely and then headed north. We paused for lunch at Parlor City, a trendy restaurant in the New Bo neighborhood. As we headed north post lunch, the sky grew cloudy and rain began to fall.

We were right by a Dairy Queen. The sane course of action was obvious. 15 minutes and a Mocha MooLatté later, the rain ended and we continued our transit north.

We were fading a bit by the time we got to Center Point, but we had always planned to go to Urbana and it just wasn’t that much farther, so after a break, on we went. I had saved a peanut butter sandwich to eat in Urbana, and we shared it. In return, Cate gave me one of her Salted Nut Rolls. Not sure who came out ahead—maybe it was win-win.

Getting ready to head back, at the north end of the long ride. Cate and bikes at park in Urbana.

Then we headed south again. I don’t know if it’s just the psychology of the trail, but the ride home felt much faster than the ride away from home. We noticed we were going uphill as we headed south to Lafayette, and we know from experience that it’s more uphill then downhill going north from Hiawatha to Lafayette, so we decided Lafayette must be on some sort of mountain top or plateau. Of course, “uphill” meant a 2 percent grade—this is an old rail line—and “mountain” is totally sarcasm. If the swell of land is too subtle so see with the naked eye and you must be riding a bicycle to even detect it, it’s probably not a mountain.

Anyway, the downhill run to Hiawatha passed quickly. The joint ride totaled 77 miles. Taking into account the riding I did before and after, that gives me at least 82 miles for the day. Cate and I agreed that the test ride proves that, under ideal conditions, we could survive the Karras Loop. (And we also agree that conditions have to be ideal, so we’re not promising, just saying it’s possible).

Today, I purchased a 4-bike carrier for the van, as well as a new bike computer. More planning and packing, but RAGBRAI feels very close! So far, almost 1,700 miles for the year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Which I See Goosestock In CR

Cate. And Geese.
I didn’t go to Woodstock. It happened in 1969, and I turned 11 that year.

But I’ve been to Goosestock.

My sister Cate and I went on a 14-mile bike ride today. Since there wasn’t really any other option—due to closed trails caused by flood damage—we rode on the Cedar River Trail down to Cedar Lake. At the southwest end of the lake, around a bend heading towards Quaker Oats, we ran into a huge crowd of geese.

Now, geese at Cedar Lake are not an unusual sight. What was odd was there were no geese anywhere except this one spot—and it was packed with geese.

We weren’t sure what was going on, but it looked suspicious. I snapped some photos as we passed through. And, after we discovered the trail is still closed at the federal courthouse and turned back, I videotaped the transit through Goosestock.

At least I hope it was Goosestock. I hope they were hanging around, making the water fowl equivalent of hippie music. Or, was it something more sinister? Are they planning something?

Monday, July 7, 2014

In Which I Have A Brilliant Plan

Sunday sunset on Cedar Lake.
Well, blog pals, I’ve had a busy Weekend. On Sunday, I did a lot of yard work and went to a daughter’s house for a fun family barbecue—and then, around 7, left for a late ride along the Cedar River Trail.

I rode The Beast because Francis suffered a flat tire Saturday night when I rode north to Schultz Road along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.

Anyway, Sunday’s sunset on Cedar Lake was grand, but I caught a flash of light as I circled the lake. It was dim by then, and I was running with lights on—so I thought maybe the flash was simply an optical illusion, a trick caused by my own front flashing white light. It couldn't be lightening.

It was lightening. There was more as I returned north. The good news is that the Cedar River Trial has been resurfaced around Cedar Lake and is open again. The bad news is that rain started to pelt down before I make it home, which made me glad I was on The Beast. I don’t worry as much at getting the winter beater bike wet, and The Beast has nice wide tires to grip damp asphalt. Luckily, I made it home before the rain really got heavy, so I was only damp, not drenched. Even luckier, the lightening had been off in the distance and didn't kill me. I prefer it that way.

Anyway, my plans today were more ambitious. You may recall I've toyed with the idea of doing the Karras Loop for the first time during RAGBRAI this year. That would make for a 105-mile day. I wanted to put in some serious miles today to see if I could possibly ride that far.

But, what with one thing and another—a failed attempt to get my bike computer working (I think it’s permanently dead) and a successful, but time consuming, attempt to change the front flat and install a new water bottle holder—it was about 11 a.m. before I finally headed out.

I took the new traffic light route Cate showed me to cross Center Point and hit the trail, then turned north and rode. It was warm and muggy, but gorgeous. I had several snacks and some sports drink tablets with me, so I thought maybe I would make it to Urbana.

I wouldn't. I snacked first in Lafayette, then headed north to Center Point. My plan was to eat lunch there, and then head farther north. But when I go there, my lunch wasn't with me. In a middle-aged memory moment, I had left my lunch box on a picnic table in Lafayette.

Well, plans changed. As I headed back south, I was really hoping the lunch box was there—I wanted that honking huge peanut butter and Nutella sandwich that I had packed.

When I got close to Lafayette, my heart sank a bit—I could see there was no lunch box on the picnic table I had used. But then, I noticed the fence. Someone had seen that a lunch box had been left at Lafayette, and had placed it on the fence. All my stuff was there—my snacks were intact.

Happy days, Dawson. My munchies are on a fence.

So I munched my PB&N as I contemplated the brilliant plan that I had also been thinking of on the hungry trek south from Center Point.

It has to do with butterflies. According to a recent article in The Gazette, there are efforts afoot to aid the ailing Monarch Butterfly by planting more milkweed—but one of those efforts is to put milkweed in natural flower plantings along roads.

Which sounds OK, but Monarchs, which are avoided by birds because they taste terrible, apparently, are often killed by cars.

A butterfly I saw today.
My brilliant plan was prompted by the fact I had just seen a Monarch beside the trail. It also may be related to the caterpillar on a milkweed plant I had seen during the recent Tour the Raccoon ride near Des Moines.

Instead of planting more milkweed plants along roads, put milkweed along bicycle trials. Bikers would love to see the butterflies, and bicycles are a low mortality risk for Monarchs. Trust me on this—in 45 years of bike riding, I think I have yet to run down my first butterfly. They can’t move fast enough to avoid an SUV barreling down an interstate at 70 mph, but can easily flit away from a 15- to 20-mph bicycle.

Maybe bike groups could join the cause. Maybe I could talk the Green Club at MMU into sponsoring a mile of milkweed plantings. Maybe I could form a new group: “Bikers for Butterflies” or “Pedals for Flowers” or “Gears Aiding Monarchs” or something like that. Are you in?

Milkweed along trail north of Lafayette.
Of course, it’s possible that the few milkweed I saw on the trail represent deliberate planting that is already underway. If so, great. If not—well, let’s get those milkweed in the ground. We need to encourage more Monarch sex—and not among English nobility.

It was a hot day. I don’t know how efficient the organ between my ears was being. But the idea seemed hopelessly appealing to me—and still seems like a good one although, to be fair, I’m sitting at my laptop after consuming two beers, so maybe that has something to do with the brilliance of the plan.

Anyway, after recovering my snack pack, I continued south. I stopped at a bike shop in downtown Cedar Rapids, and used two gift cards I’d received at MMU to buy a back bag for my back rack. The list price of the bag was $50, but after the gift cards, I only owed the tax, which was $3.50. A pretty good deal, if you ask me.

I’m just over 1,500 miles for the year. I credited myself with 45 for today, but may have ridden more or less (dead computer, my mileage figures now are rough estimates). The rear bag will be helpful on RAGBRAI and useful during the school year, I think.

Still, the main thing I’m thinking about from recent rides is butterflies. And bike trails. A good mix?

Installed new water bottle holder before ride, and purchased back bag late in the afternoon. I may need more training, but Francis is pretty much RAGBRAI ready.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

In Which Linn County Storm Cleanup Is Very Impressive

What the trail looked like this evening a bit over 3 miles north of Boyson Road. Contrast that with my last blog post.

My front tire got a bit mushy on an 18-mile ride I took this evening, and I’m worried that it might go flat—but beyond that, the twilight ride was very nice—cool and not windy.

And, most impressive, I rode north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. I rode the same trail Tuesday afternoon. Following Monday’s storm, it was littered with leaves and branches, and sometimes fallen trees. My sister and I went maybe 3 miles or so, and gave up.

Well, you could still tell today that there had been a heck of a storm. Some trees still lean threateningly over the trail. Beside the trail is lots of cut wood. But the trail itself has been well cleaned all the way to Lafayette—miles of debris have been swept away. That’s a lot of work, Linn County, and you did it very quickly. Kudos.

Lots of piles of wood by the trail. Someone was very busy with a chain saw.

Along the way, I saw a 10-point buck, a raccoon that ran along the trail in front of me for some time, and oddles and oddles of rabbits. Clearly, lots of wildlife made it through the storm. I was expecting to see clouds of mosquitoes—and I expect I will soon, but didn’t tonight.

I may not have much time to ride for a few days, and today’s ride had to be quick. But I’m hoping to pick up the pace of training this next week, and maybe slack off a bit the week after. RAGBRAI is coming!

Big tree uprooted in Lafayette.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

In Which I’m Not Impressed By Bowling Street Trail

Saw MMU billboard near Kirkwood Community College while riding Bowling Street bike trail.

Well, that was an interesting ride. In the morning, I rode my bike to the gym, and then did a figure 8 loop in the neighborhood to climb the Brentwood Drive hill from both east and west.

And I snapped some photos of the storm devastation. Trees down. Streets blocked. Trail flooded. The June 30 storm in Cedar Rapids will long be recalled-sadly, it made the U.S. national news due to a teenager being swept away and drowned in the downpour.

I called my sister Cate, and she had much the same experience that I did—although many tree limbs were down in her neighborhood, she hadn't really suffered any damage. So I suggested a mid-day bike ride, and she agreed.

I puttered around a bit first. I removed the top third of a medium-sized tree that had snapped off in our back yard, and got rid of a few of the larger other branches. I also fussed with my bike, oiling the chain and tightening the rear brake. And I dug out my fake Camelback water source.

I had told my sister I would arrive around 11, but got to her house around 11:30. No worries, she’s used to “Joe time.” We headed over to the trail and headed north, figuring that the trails in town would be a mess.

Well, that was some storm. It hit in Johnson County, south of us, where I was at a mall with family. It smashed much of Cedar Rapids. And as we went north, the trail got more forested and messier. Only a few miles into the ride, we gave up and turned around—too many downed trees.

North on trail mid-day Tuesday. A bit messy, and it got worse.

Worse. Francis near where we turned around.

As expected, high water left many Cedar Rapids trails closed, but what was open in town was in better shape--not as many woodsy areas to be swamped in branches. So we headed south, avoiding the closed stretches of trail by the river, and crossing the bridge of the lions. Cate took me through Czech Village to a trail that I had not ridden before—the Bowling Street trail that leads to Kirkwood.

I was a bit underwhelmed. One of the original bike trails in Cedar Rapids, the Bowling Street Trail is old, bumpy and poorly marked. Cate says it’s a 3-mile shorter ride to Kirkwood then going along C east of campus, but I don’t know. I might ride 3 extra miles just to avoid that trail.

Well, it was there. Unlike the Cedar River Trail, which passes under Highway 30, the Bowling Street trail goes over the 4-lane highway, which makes for a nice view.

View of Highway 30 from Bowling Street trail.

After that, we headed to Ely and then back to Cedar Rapids. We used C Street to avoid the closed areas of the Cedar River Trail south of the river.

It was a nice ride. My bike fell over while we were carrying our bikes over downed trees, and it seems to have killed my computer, which is unfortunate. But, otherwise it was a good practice ride.

I've ridden more than 1,400 miles this year. And 47 of those were today. (By the way, if you look at the chart carefully, the totals don’t add up because today’s July miles are not included). I’m a bit behind in reaching my annual goal, but July should be the month with the most miles. I hope for many more 47-mile and more practice days ahead, weather willing!