Friday, September 26, 2014

In Which I Enjoy The First Rides of Fall

Me, first day of astronomical fall, temperature in the 40s, bike jacket on. As the week warmed up the jacked got stowed again. I won't mind wearing it, though. I like a cool bike ride.

Monday morning, the equinox: In climate terms, September is the first month of fall, but in astronomical terms, fall awaits the Earth’s balancing act that happens in the final half of the month.

It had been a cool month before this week, and the first morning of fall was the first one where 40-something temperatures drove me to find my winter bike jacket. It has been located, but was used just that day—because as the dry week stretched on, the post-equinox sun was still powerful enough to give us warm days.

And Thursday, on one of those warm days, I had the pleasure of riding the Boyson Trail area with my wife. It was a slightly buggy, but still extremely nice, ride. She would argue it was nicer for me because she went first and acted as my bug screen, which may have some truth in it.

Anyway, a gallery of what the Boyson Trail and associated side trails looks like a fine fall evening when we just have time (before I have to rush back to campus for a bell rehearsal) for a fantastic fall ride:

Cheating a bit with this one. MMU campus in the afternoon, my wife and I are enjoying scones, and we've just made the decision to go home and take a bike ride. It's too gorgeous outside to do otherwise. Rest of the images are all from the ride.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

In Which A Wobbly Two Tour Is Made

Me and Frances--but not my bike. A bronze of Frances Warde who brought the Sisters of Mercy to America. I've biked to MMU and repaired my ride, and then checked out the two new statues.

Two seemed to be the theme of the biking day today.

I tried to repair two bikes, but only fixed one. I went on a ride to a lake I had not seen in a while, and rode by another one, too. I wobbled to Mount Mercy because my handle bars were slipping, and saw two new statues.

First, the repair that did not work. The Beast has a broken foot. Actually, a spoke. I took apart the back wheel, planning to go to a bike shop to replace the spoke, but found that the only way to insert a spoke in this particular hole is to take the gears off. I don’t have a cassette adapter, so there isn't any way for me to accomplish that goal. If you have one (the adapter) and you don’t mind me borrowing it, let me know. Otherwise I’ll just take the wheel to a bike shop and hope they don’t sneer too much when they have to touch a department store rim.

My oldest son and his wife were visiting because they have a wedding this weekend to attend in Davenport, and I was half hoping we (my son and I) might get a ride in, but he had too many errands to run this morning—and also, around noon, it rained.

So it was wet this afternoon, but sunny, and I still wanted a bike ride. Around 2 (of course) I saddled up the Fancy Beast, which I think I made 10 times more useful this week by adding a water bottle holder, and off I went.

I rode towards the trail east of here and had my choice of (of course) two directions—north or south. I decided to head south because I haven’t been near the Prairie Parks Fishery for a while, and why not? I even toyed with the idea of the Sac and Fox, although I also wondered about its condition.

Anyway, as I was cycling south, I noticed a bit of a disturbing wobble. Luckily, it was not the type of wobble The Beast suffers from—it was not a broken spoke. But the handlebars were becoming loose. Oddly enough, the thing that I did that made them jerk the most was shifting gears.

I decided that the Sac and Fox would be out of the questions, and was debating whether to go as far as the Prairie Parks Fishery. But I also recalled that I keep a small toolbox in my office, so I thought maybe I could make repairs before I came home. So I passed by Cedar Lake and headed through downtown and went to the fishery.

Lake at Prairie Parks Fishery. It was a bit windy, but still a very warm, nice fall day for a bike ride. Lots of grasshoppers!

The fishery lake was nice, and sometime in the past few months (I think the last time I was here was in a June pre-RABRAI training ride) they’ve put up some public art, a giant picture frame at a point where you can view the Cedar River. I shot a photo there and also ate a snack.

Art by the river near a lake. And someone is on the Cedar in a canoe.

As I headed back west, the handlebar was getting looser and looser. I don’t think I was ever in danger of anything catastrophic happening—I could tell that two of the screws were still snug so there was no way for it to fall completely off, but since both top ones had shaken loose and were getting looser, the bar could move, both up and down and side to side.

A handlebar is not something that you want a lot of play in, I decided.

Anyway, I finally made it to campus and checked in my office. I not only quickly found the tools, but was lucky in another way. The screws that hold the handlebar on Fancy Beast have an odd star-shaped head, but my little tool kit has a fairly good collection of interchangeable screwdriver heads—including several sizes of star-shaped ones.

And we are all ready to ride again

One fit snugly, and a few turns of the screws later, the handlebars were snug.

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon by now—around 4:30—and I had recalled that two new statues were to be installed on campus today. I went and viewed and photographed them, and then headed towards home.

I thought the rain was all done mid day, but by 5 one dark cloud overhead just kept getting darker, and although the sky never clouded up all the way, indeed the spigot was opened before I made it home. It started with a sprinkle and moved on to a shower.

Catherine keeps her eye on the Fancy Beast at MMU's central plaza.

Still, at least this wasn’t the scary late-thunderstorm ride that I had earlier this week. There were neither booms of thunder nor electric flashes of lightning, and frankly I did not miss them. I was wet by the time I got home, but otherwise fine.

And even if the final 10 minutes were not the highlight of the ride, I have to say that twos-day was still a good Saturday for a bike ride.

I am wet, Bob. But I am apparently not a wicked witch and I did not melt.

Maple at MMU shows signs of fall.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

In Which I Have Two Fun Animal Rides

The deer family Relena and I watched on my first bike ride today.

Animals were the theme of the rides today. My daughter planned to donate blood, and we watched her children for a while this morning—they left after lunch.

Anyway, as I had hoped, I managed two short bike rides, totaling 10 miles together, with two granddaughters.

Relena, who is 1 ½ years old, went first. She was pretty excited by almost everything, but deer were the theme of her ride. We rode down the Lindale Trail and turned north when we got to the Boyson Road trail. Several deer crossed the trail in front of us in the open meadow area. When we got to Boyson Road, we turned back on the branch trail that leads across the narrow bridge over Dry Creek.

After crossing that bridge, we came again to an open area, and a whole deer family—mom and her two offspring—were munching grass. Relena squawked excitedly, and the two fawns bounced over nearer to mom. Mom herself was pretty indifferent. We paused to peer at the deer briefly, and then went on.

After I got home, I took Amelia for a slightly longer ride. Relena got 4 of the 10 miles, Amelia got 6. This time we turned south and simply looped back to the Lindale Trail when we were done.

We saw lots of birds, including a goldfinch that paralleled us for 30 yards to so, pausing as if to wait for use to catch up and then going ahead. There were lots of dogs, too, but no deer this time.

Still, it was a very nice ride on a gorgeous day. A sunny day after a cold night in early autumn—that, I think, is when Iowa is at its best and ought to be biked in.

Maybe they should have a special RAGBRAI in mid-September just for retired people? They can wait nine years or so to set it up, but then let me know and I’ll be there.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In Which The Fading Light Is Exhilarating, Melancholy

Fading light at Cedar Lake.

It was raining this morning and my wife and I were both headed to an afternoon dinner on campus, so it was not a day for bicycle commuting. But by the evening, as we drove home, the rain seemed to be over, and there was a nice fall chill in the air (perfect for biking).

We had been to Target to pick up a few groceries, and I was whining about us not having enough lights for the bikes we own, so we did our part for America’s and China’s battery-operated light industries. It was around 6 by the time I got home, light fading, but not yet dark.

My wife was planning to watch one of her favorite TV shows, “Big Bang Theory,” while she exercised. So I decided to make a night of it on Francis. My plan was to put some of the new shiny toys on the bike, and take them for a spin.

It was almost the perfect night. Although a breeze was blowing, it was only a breeze—just enough to make it pleasantly cool without giving an old biker the sensation of climbing a wind hill. There something special about riding a bicycle during a cool night in early fall, one of the first really cool nights. It’s not cold enough to frost yet, but the chill in the air is a sign of things to come. As the sun faded behind the clouds, a quiet descended. It was not a winter night, not dead silent—there are still some die-hard crickets lazily chirping—but it’s still more tranquil than a warm summer night.

Unfortunately, the clouds started to roll back in as I neared Cedar Lake. I had vague hopes of maybe seeing northern lights due to a solar flair this week—but even with the sky blocked, the lake itself was quite nice—my photos don’t do it justice. To the human eye, there are way more nuances of light and dark, more shades of pink and green and gold in the sky reflected in the lake then the camera seems to pick up.

Despite the wonderful night for biking, I also felt a little sad as I rode. A dear friend of one of my sisters, who was also a friend of a second sister, died unexpectedly this week. She had been my sister’s close pal since high school—and had even expressed a desire to maybe join us sometime on at least part of a RAGBRAI.

And then, quite suddenly, at way too early an age, death. A natural death, but out of the blue. I didn't know her as well as my sisters, but I felt some faint echo of their grief. I’m sure her family is in severe pain. I’m sure a hole has opened in many hearts that won’t ever fill in completely.

So it goes. I didn’t feel guilty enjoying the perfect fall evening bike ride, but I did feel sad to think a deserving soul won’t be around to see the light play off a lake or to notice geese, ducks and pelicans or to breath the suddenly fresh fall air.

Somewhere above the clouds, perhaps the northern lights were dancing for the one who was lost. I hope so. And it began to rain on me as I made my way home as the light failed. Not a scary, stormy rain like earlier this week, just a light mist. Just a reminder of water and gentle tears.

I had 16 miles on the odometer when I began the ride. I have 32 now. Given that I rode the Fancy Beast once this week, that makes it a 40-mile week, which isn't too bad for a rainy week when I could not ride each day.

I may still get a few more miles in tomorrow, I hope with a grandchild in the toddler seat.

Something about this week stirs the desire in me to be with the ones I love. Life is too short.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Which I Feel Lucky To Be Alive

Radar image after I got home. It looked better when I left work, really, it did.

The first cycle of the newspaper this year. I’m alone in the Times office at 9 p.m., wondering where the student editors are.

And it rumbles. There is a window in the Times office, which might not have done much for my peace of mind. Well, if it’s going to storm, I thought, I’m not going to get in any hurry. No point in rushing out into it—thunderstorms usually roll through quickly.

So I worked until past 10:30 p.m., then headed over to my office to grab some files to take home.

I met the night janitor, who wondered if I had ever worked on a movie. Apparently, there is a “Joe Sheller” who has. Not me. I grabbed my files and checked the radar. I looked to me like most of the storm had headed off east. It was damp, but not raining as I paused outside of the loading dock of Warde Hall to turn on all my lights.

I didn’t think it was necessary, but I had my rain poncho on.

What the sky looked like during the second half of my ride home.. Except there was no US Capitol in view.
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, from Wikicommons.
Photo from the Chicago Acting Studio. Molly Glynn.
It was necessary. About 10 minutes after I left campus, I started to see lightning light up the sky in the north—the direction I was heading. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. There aren’t many near midnight when lightning starts to arch across the sky, either.

As I go near Kenwood School, the lightning crept ominously closer and the rain started to come down hard. Yes, the rain poncho helped, although my pants and legs were quickly soaked. My shoes go very wet.

I took home a quiz to grade for a morning class. I got it done, but sorry students, it’s a bit damp, too.

Anyway, I don’t usually ride my bike in the rain. Tonight it caught me. I guess I’m lucky—this weekend, Chicago actress Molly Glynn was killed by a falling tree while she was out on a bike ride.

OK, so maybe having a damp quiz isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

Friday, September 5, 2014

In Which The Wipers On The Car Go Swish, Swish, Swish

Rain on a Lincoln sounds like a drum. We're marking for freedom today, hey. Turn on your headlights and sound your horn if people get in the way.  Corner of  C and Blair's Ferry, and I would have experienced far less rush hour traffic on my bike route. But they frown on a Lincoln using the sidewalk...

A colleague at MMU told me she and her daughter had seen me Wednesday night, biking home around 6:30 p.m.

“I hope you weren't just headed home then,” she said. “My daughter said, ‘at least he has his yellow vest on.’”

Well, I was just heading home, it has been a week of late nights. It’s been a very busy semester already and it seems to be just getting launched.

Thursday, the day was even later. I had a newspaper meeting at 7 and didn't leave campus, with lights on, until around 8.

Still, I would rather bicycle with lights than not bike at all. It was a “not bike at all” day today. A cool front, the first real taste of fall, is moving through Iowa today and wringing all the moisture from the air.

So I drove a modest green Lincoln sedan, and felt like a gangster. I know it’s not really a fancy car, and it wouldn't work well as a getaway car anyway—when you click the clicker to unlock it, the lights flash on in a very “here, cops, the bank robber is trying to drive away in this car” sort of way.

Anyway, it really is a pleasant enough car to drive, and even has an old-school dash clock, which gives it a bit of retro charm. I even figured out how to open my son’s jammed CD case (should have shown it to me, Jon), and so I can rock out to Cake as much as I want to while riding along. He even has Beatle’s One in there, so I’m sure future rainy days may at least feature some entertaining tunes.

But, I forgot the CDs today. And it was raining. And driving this boxy modest sedan in the rain is such a reminder of what it’s like to drive.

Driving sucks. Biking rocks. Trust me.

On a bike, you feel the wind and hear the birds. In a car, you feel the fan and hear the radio. On a bike, you clear your head by using your body. In a car, you work on your clogged arteries by extending the sedentary time of your day. On a bike, you can stop when you want to and take a photograph or a cell phone call and not be blocking a lane of traffic. In the car I was driving, I sort of got distracted by the radio and then it occurred to me that I was being an evil character in a bad story—a distracted driver. “I’m sorry, officer, I didn't see the cute professor on the bicycle because it was very important for me to set a button for The Fox.”

Fortunately, nothing bad happened other than me reminding myself to watch the road, not the radio, as the wipers kept time and me and Bobby sang every song we knew. Sorry, riding in a vehicle sounds a lot cooler when Janice sings about it than when you have to do it and would rather not.

Me? I want to ride my bicycle. That’s, for me, when feeling good is easy.

End of August biking report: Just under 2,400 miles for the year (I am a tad over 2,400 now). I am thinking the 5,000 mile goal for 2014 is slipping out of reach—just not enough days when I don’t work late and can take longer rides home. I’ll be able to top 3,000 miles this year, though, and that’s something. Maybe I can reach 5,000 miles in 2015?

Biking monthly totals so far in 2014. I bet I'll have a few fewer in September. Maybe fall break will help in October.