Sunday, December 28, 2014

In Which I See Water Smooth and Roads Rough

The rough surface of the Lindale Trail. So I turned back and rode on pavement.

The longest ride of the Christmas break so far, and it came on the same day I spent two hours at the gym and the weather also cooled off so the day was below freezing. Strange how that worked out.

I woke up early, for no particularly good reason, and went to the gym a bit after 4 a.m. “Law and Order” did not start until 5, and my wife and I (she had showed up just before 5) enjoyed first one, and then a second episode. We decided by 7 we had to leave, so she want to pick up doughnuts for breakfast as I went home.

Well, after that sugary breakfast, I went back to bed and slept most of the morning away. I woke up after 11 a.m., had some leftover pizza for second breakfast/lunch, and spent a little time putting out birdseed and putting used bottles in the van.

By around 2, I decided the day was too nice to stay inside, and I dressed for another bike ride. It was cool, but I wasn't sure long underwear was called for. I decided warmth was better then coolth, and opted to risk over heating rather than hypothermia.

I set out, planning first to do the Lindale-Boyson Road trails and then maybe head over to the Cedar River Trail. But, once I got past the half-mile or so of paved trail to the limestone surface, it was both uneven and mushy in places. Although it was only 30 degrees, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the low winter sun was still warm enough to make water on rock liquid rather than solid.

I decided that once I get one of the mountain bikes fixed, it would be OK to ride this rutted trail, but I probably won’t do it on Francis and definitely not Fancy Bike.

So then I had the bright idea to stick to paving—and to go down to the Prairie Parks Fishery via the Cedar River Trail.

Birds on Cedar Lake.

I think it was a good idea. Cedar Lake, when I got there, has started to ice over again (early next week we’ll have lows near zero and it will probably mostly close). There were some walkers and riders on the trail, and plenty of birds were on the lake where water and ice met.

Closer look at some ducks. I like how the blue sky turns both ice and water blue.

Traffic was light as I traveled through downtown. When I go to Otis Road, the approach road to the fishery, Cedar River looked quiet and peaceful—even Mt. Trashmore was pretty reflected in the river.

It was such a pretty day even Mt. Trashmore, viewed from Otis Road, looked nice.

When I got to Prairie Parks Fishery, I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few people strolling or fishing—it’s good to see a park in use. The other surprise is that, unlike Cedar Lake, almost no water birds were crowding the lake. Then again, the river is nearby and birds seem to like it a lot—maybe the moving water stirs up more food.

On north end of Prairie Parks Fishery Trail, look south (top) and you see the lake, turn around (bottom photo) and you're looking north across the Cedar River.

Anyway, I ate the snack I had brought and then headed back home. The last half hour, I was riding with lights on, but by 5, when I go home, it was dim, but no longer fully dark.

While the coldest six weeks of mid-winter lie ahead, it’s nice to realize that the star which warms us by day is slowly rising higher in the sky and giving use more light each day.

Part of the route between the Cedar River Trail and the Prairie Parks Fishery--two blocks of brick street near downtown.

With my computer on the fritz, I’ll be guessing wildly at mileage. But I know this ride felt longer than the trip out to Lafayette yesterday, and that’s about a 20-mile ride. Did I go close to 30 in a bit over three hours?

It’s possible. And whether it was 30 miles or not, it was still a pleasant ride. As the sun slowly sank and the air turned colder, it turned out the long underwear was a good idea, too.

Traditional view of low sun over Cedar Lake, but it does look nice, no? Turned on lights after taking this photo.

Friday, December 26, 2014

In Which I’m Bathed in the Pink Glow of Fusion

Bike at Lafayette.

Boxing Day was another biking day in Iowa.

I had gone on a nostalgic trip to Middle Earth with my youngest son around noon, but The Battle That Ate Two Hours was over by about 2:30. When I got home, I suggested a bike ride to my wife and son, but he opted to stay at home, and she said “go away.” In her defense, she was trying to take a nap at the time.

So away I went. I briefly toyed with the idea of taking Fancy Bike out, but it had been ridden just yesterday, and my shoes aren’t as sturdy as my young son’s—I’ll probably swap out pedals before I take Fancy Bike out.

It was about 3 when I left home. I took the northern route through my sister’s neighborhood—I had texted her to see if she was interested—but it turned out she was busy.

So I was alone on the trail. Honestly, if the ride is not a long one, “alone” is not a terrible thing to be on a bicycle. This time, instead of heading south to Cedar Lake, I struck out north.

My goal was to make it to Lafayette by 4. I made it by 3:55.

It was cool and grey, but there were some breaks in the clouds, and I was hoping for a nice sunset after a quick snack break in Lafayette. The sky did not disappoint. There were a few breaks in the clouds, and they were strategically located in the southwest sky, so as the sun sank to the horizon, it bathed me and the trail in a pretty pink glow.

Picture one. Sky a little while after I left Lafayette, heading south on trail around 4:15 or so.

I don’t know yet how the photos turned out, but I took some of the pretty sky as I headed south. If they turned out well, I will post several.

A few minute later.

By the time I got to Hiawatha, she’ll be rising. Sorry, ghost of Glen Campbell making a pointless guest appearance. By the time I got to Hiawatha, the light was definitely fading, but I had turned the lights on before I left Lafayette.

Getting close to Hiawatha, near Tower Terrace Road.

Final sunset picture on final leg of trail before Boyson Road.

Well, I rode around 35 to 40 miles on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Biking in Iowa in late December doesn't get much better than that. And the rear derailleur is still working, too. It was a nice late afternoon ride.

Lights of Hiawatha as day fades to night.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

In Which The Sun Shines At Christmas

Me and my son, ready to ride. I have new Christmas vest on, son is borrowing the old one.

It’s been a bit of a dull, grey December in Iowa—not terribly cold, in fact warmer than November, but we have seen a lot of rain, drizzle, sleet—dull, grey weather.

So it may be a bit unromantic that this year we didn't have a full white Christmas, even if there was a light dusting of snow early in the day that the sun quickly burned away. But we did have sun, and warmth. It was a Christmas fit for bicycling and I had a new bike vest to wear anyway.

Around noon, my wife, youngest son and I set out of a walk after our morning brunch and gift opening. The stroll was terminated a bit early for the best of reasons—a daughter from England called and wanted to Skype, so home we went.

It's not often in Iowa on Christmas Day to encounter a caterpillar while you are out on a walk, but we did. Air temp is only in the 30s, but even the weak winter sun must warm the pavement up a bit more.

We had a nice time seeing her and another daughter who is visiting across the pond and the grandkids and son-in-law. By the time the Skyping was done, it was getting well into the afternoon—and the question was, what to do?

I suggested I might, instead of napping, go for a bike ride. My wife wisely suggested I invite my youngest son. It all worked out. My oldest son’s bike is being stored here for a few months while he is again out of the country, and needs to be ridden now and then, so I greased its chain (and mine) and pumped up the Fancy Bike’s tyres. I did not bother to swap pedals—the bike has those pedals meant for shoes with bike clips, but the youngest son has sturdy shoes and I figured he would be OK without “normal” pedals.

He was.

We headed over to the Cedar River Trail in Hiawatha, then turned south, going down the trail to Cedar Lake. By the time we rounded the lake, it was getting well past 3, and we didn't want to be out in the dark, so we cut through Noelridge Park, a slightly shorter route than the one we originally took to the trail.

What Cedar Lake looked like this afternoon. Sun sort of looks like Christmas star, no?

I used some WD-40 on my rear derailleur, and it seems to be functioning now, so I had fast gears on Francis.

Not that Francis can compete with Fancy Bike. For a time, on the way south, I let the young son go ahead, knowing that it was hard to ride at my pace on that fast bike. Still, even I was moving OK on the slow bike today—it was a gorgeous winter day, a sunny Christmas in the 40s. Cedar Lake, which had almost frozen shut in November, is open again. We don’t have trees blooming as they do in England now, and much colder weather is expected next week—the lake will probably be frozen by New Year’s.

Francis casts a long shadow at Cedar Lake. We paused for a quick snack of nuts and then headed home. I'm using new Canon camera we got as a sort of mutual Christmas present--my wife will take it to England this January..

Days like this are precious to us. No white Christmas? Brown was OK and better for biking and it was good to see some sunshine. The ride was around 15 miles, and the time was well spent.

And finally: A Christmas song first posted for me by my sister Cate on Facebook. It seems like a good way to wish all you bikers out there a Merry Christmas:

Monday, December 22, 2014

In Which I Want Bicycle Repairman

It's been some days since your biking correspondent checked in, but those of you in Iowa know that it's been too wet--a cold, miserable December wet--for biking lately.

And, of course, I need my winter beater fixed still. Have not been brave enough yet to face the bike shop with my cheap discount store mountain bike with the broken spoke.

Francis is fine-well, the rear gears would be handier if they shifted, but fine enough to ride. Just not in this rain.

So, for now, a classic bit of bicycle-related comedy:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Which A Christmas Star Shines In The Sky

Dec. 17, what is that bright object so low in the sky? We haven't seen it for a while. Rising sun peeks through artwork behind Warde Hall on MMU campus, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The talking voices on 93.1 FM were arguing about the weather forecast this morning. For those of you who wonder, 93.1 in Cedar Rapids is the oldies station, listened to by old people on their way to and from the gym early in the morning.

Anyway, one of them deliberately choked on the word “sunny” in the forecast, and the other berated him because most local forecasts said the day today would be cloudy. Voice A noted that the National Weather Service was calling for sun.

Well, it was cloudy this morning as I hopped on my bike, and I wore my non-biking glasses. I have one pair of glasses that the clip-on sunglasses I stow in Francis’ saddle bags fit, and the other pair that I usually wear on non-biking days—but I figured clouds count as sunglasses, so I didn’t need the biking specs.

I’m happy to report I was wrong, and person A on radio, at least as of noon, was right. The grey skies were broken by some patches of blue, and as I rode (slowly, my bike is stuck in a hill-climbing gear at the moment), the sky became clearer and clearer.

The photo is what it looked like by the bike rack behind Warde Hall—a clear sun rising, something we haven’t seen in these parts for some days and honestly don’t necessarily expect to see a lot of—there are many clouds in our weather picture.

Still, it’s nice for the nearest star to so brightly shine and light our days. Despite a cold commute, it feels better to be biking with old Sol lighting up the route.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In Which It’s Too Early For Eagles

Dec. 10--grey, cool late afternoon at Cedar Lake, but a nice afternoon to bike around the lake anyway.

Birds—lots of them—were gathered at Cedar Lake this afternoon. I finished teaching for the semester with a class that ended at 11:30 a.m. It was a little frustrating—students had done speeches on Monday and I had finished grade reports for them that I could not print before class.

And, what with one thing and other, I didn't leave campus until around 4:30. It has been a long week, the hill to hump day was pretty steep. Computer problems at the campus newspaper, end-of-semester stress, getting stuff done for terms that start right after Christmas—well, it’s been a long week.

And although it was cool and light was fading, I decided that 4:30 wasn't too late for a quick trail ride around Cedar Lake.

There were lots of birds there. No eagles, yet—in late winter, when open water is precious, those majestic big birds are often clustered near open water at one end of the lake, but right now there must be way too much open water available all over North America—despite a cold November, lakes and rivers and streams are not totally frozen over.

Cedar Lake was maybe 33 percent open—enough ice making places where ducks and geese clustered. They seem to like the edges between ice and water, and must be well insulated—swimming in a giant bowl of ice water doesn't seem to bother them.

Crows were also clustered in trees near the lake and called in their cacophonous voices as I rolled by.

Warmer weather is forecast for this weekend, which is nice. If I’m lucky, I may get down to the Cedar River on Francis to see how the season is going there. It did feel good today to ride a few extra cool, dusky miles at the end of a stressful semester.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

In Which The Computer Computes For No Reason

Wednesday at about 4:45 p.m., I'm walking across campus to begin my bike ride home on a cool, but no longer bone-chilling cold, day. Very pretty. But can it fight? (Sorry, I don't know why 'The Dirty Dozen' suddenly came by for a visit.)

I got out my bike Wednesday morning, pumped up the tyres (trying to go back to the British spelling as I stated I would in an earlier blog post) and oiled the chain.

Was there something about tire pressure or chain lube that my bike computer craved? It’s been somnolent since RAGBRAI, a ridiculous expensive bike watch that now is an hour off, since I don’t know how to change it for daylight savings time.

And yet, when I began to pedal south towards work, suddenly numbers flashed up on the little screen. It was, for unknown reasons, registering my speed and miles.

Well, the computer has sometimes woken up for just a few seconds, so I didn't think much of it. But as I passed the halfway mark on my journey, it was still registering numbers, as you can see.

I am headed up a slight incline and turning a corner—that speed is slow even for me, but I chose to take the photograph when I was going slowly so the danger to life and limb was reduced. My earlier post said biking is relatively safe—but not when you do crazy stuff like this, so if I crazy stuff, at least I can do it when Francis is rolling slowly. I topped 19 mph just minutes before headed down a hill before this slow stretch and rode about 11 to 12 mph on straight stretches of the commute.

Well, it’s warming up in Iowa and staying dry. Today I didn't even bother with the long underwear—it was well over 20 and not very windy in the morning, I would have been sweating if I hadn't cut a layer. The commute Wednesday night and this morning were both in dim light, although the light was failing at night but growing in the morning. I barely noticed that the computer, which has sprung to life so inexplicably, is back to wrong-time watch mode once again.

It worked for the whole 4.5-mile ride to work. And then died once again. Do I have to air and lube before every ride?

Because the sky, in both afternoon and morning, was spectacular—just enough high thin clouds to give the yellow and pink low sun something to work with.

It has turned gorgeous in Iowa—at least as gorgeous as it can be before the crocus bloom again—and it’s been a good mid week to be a biker once again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Which a Magazine Documents That Cycling is Safe

Well, not totally safe. Slightly riskier than driving or walking, but in that range--and safer than riding a motorcycle. And, like walking, the risk is offset by health gains. Click to see:

Cycling is Safe

Monday, December 1, 2014

In Which I Dream Of Warm Summer Rides

Bike suspended from ceiling at Iowa History Museum. Interesting RAGBRAI display is up there.

My son Jon is off for a while. He and his lovely wife Nalena were home for Thanksgiving, but now have gone back to Pittsburgh and then are going to Portugal in the new year.

But he is already planning to come back next summer to ride RAGBRAI. He is unsure of officially joining Team Joe, because he’s willing to stay in the campground in order to avoid having to drive any shift—he wants to ride every RAGBRAI mile.

More museum transit photos.
Grandson loved stairs.
I don’t blame him. I’m not sure I could have physically ridden all of the miles in 2014—I had a few issues this year with my health—but I did ride all of the miles in my first 2 RAGBRAIs, and there’s something to be said for doing that. Maybe if I can get into slightly better shape … well, we’ll see. The Team Joe strategy—riding most of RAGBRAI but also driving a few shifts—does provide some helpful breaks, too.

So I am not sure of my plans yet. Except that they seem to include RAGBRAI. Just how much remains to be seen—then again everything about RAGBRAI, besides the logo, remains to be seen.

Anyway, the warmer weather this weekend gave way to an Arctic blast today, but the wife had bought me new long johns, so I braved the cold today and rode. My rear derailleur is out of whack, but luckily got stuck in a hill-appropriate gear. The bike still works for a cold, quick commute, but clearly being able to shift will come in handy at some point. And while it was cold, I hasten to add that it wasn't in the “can’t ride” cold category, it was just in the “wear layers when you bike” cold category.

Museum had old plane that look like they have bicycle tires.

And today, the incredible lightness of being has improved for my bike. My wife bought me two spelunking style head lamps that I’ve strapped to my bike helmet. Not only do these improve safety through high illumination, the lights are incredibly cool because they use AAA batteries—which means these lights will last a long, long time.

Long enough, probably, to be of use in next year’s RAGBRAI.

New lights on helmet. Note sophisticated technology (rubber bands) used.