Sunday, December 27, 2015

In Which I Ride 10 Miles Before The Storm

Deer munch in a harvested field at Lowe Park, Marion.

Today, my sons who were visiting over Christmas left to go home—one flying to San Francisco, the other driving to Ames.

It was a cool, cloudy day, but I wanted to get a bike ride in today, if possible, because we are supposed to get socked by a nasty winter storm Monday. The only question is: How much will fall as ice and how much will fall as snow?

For a biker, a secondary question is: For how many days will streets and sidewalks remain slick?

Anyway, we had an exciting time dropping Jon off at the Waterloo Airport this afternoon because the ticket dispenser at the entrance to the airport parking lot would not dispense and the gate would not go up so that we could park. After a time, because the parking lot is not that big, Jon just elected to walk across to the terminal. I hope the rest of his journey on this busy travel day was less eventful!

Anyway, we got home about 3:15, and by 3:45 I was pulling Argent out of the garage. I had replaced my bike’s broken pedals with a spare pair we had from a long defunct bicycle. That job was done before Christmas, but this was my first ride on my pedlal-replaced bike.

Tennis court at the end of the trail. My turnaround point.

We had encountered some moisture falling from the sky on the way home from Waterloo, but that must have been a random passing cloud, because the nasty isn’t due until later tonight. I was lucky, the sky stayed cool and mostly cloudy, but also dry for my ride.

I decided not to use the Boyson Trail, because I figured that limestone surface would be mushy with recent rains, so I rode into Marion and headed up to the bicycle trail that goes to Lowe Park. There were a couple of people walking on the trail, but otherwise I had it to myself. The wind was biting, but the ride was nonetheless decent.

Two views of grassy-wildflower area near east end of trail. For a cloudy day, it was an interesting sky.

I stopped to take a few photos to show the stark beauty of the park in December, and also to flip on lights.

It wasn’t yet full dark when I got home around 5 from a 10-mile ride. That’s good. There may be a winter storm on the way, but light is also slowly returning to this dark corner of the globe—and that foreshadows better biking in the future, if not this week!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In Which We Brave the Darkest Day to Ride

Jon with both of our bikes at MMU 4 miles away from end of 18-mile ride.

Happy Winter Solstice day—shortest day of the year!

My son Jon, who recently moved to San Francisco and commutes there by bicycle and train, is visiting over Christmas. Today, I finally swapped pedals on Argent (Jon says I should have named my other bike, Francis, Tina so that together the bikes would be Argent-Tina—he inherited my sense of humor). So we had two bikes we could ride.

It was cold today—in the 30s, cloudy and breezy. It would be warm for biking in late December in most winters, but it felt like bitter Siberian weather in this odd, warm December. Anyway, it was about one in the afternoon when we were finally got ready to ride. (Swapping pedals involved a search for tools and then some language unfit for family consumption except at a Trump campaign stump speech.)

I was a gentleman and let Jon ride Argent. So I was on Tina—or rather, Francis. We headed over to the Cedar River Trail. As we rode south, we noticed Audrey and Nina at Dairy Queen in Hiawatha—Audrey tried to claim they were going to the library, but they don’t serve soft-serve at the library.

Anyway, we headed south. Along the way, we had to dodge some trucks on the trail—crews were out trimming brush for some utility project. But we made it to Cedar Lake and started circling counter clockwise. But at the south end, there was another truck blocking the trail, so we headed back the other way, and stopped at the Sag Wagon.

It appears Tuesday afternoons are old man day at the Sag Wagon. There were maybe half a dozen guys of about my vintage hanging out inside. They bartender brought us menus—I had a taco salad, Jon chose the beef sandwich. An older guy at a nearby table noticed my Mount Mercy shirt and said his daughter had graduated from there with a criminal justice degree. He was very friendly and chatted for a few minutes, and then said goodbye as he left.

“That never happens in California,” Jon noted.

There was some sort of local beer on sale for $1 draws, so we washed our lunch down with two each. It was some Turner Alley beer, and was good. Jon has a beer app, and rated it 3.75, which he said is a decent rating.

Then, we headed downtown to stop at a fancy candy shop before heading home. We took the non-trail route, which involves bike lanes and then streets, to head home. On the way, we rode by MMU and took a restroom break there, and then did the obligatory “we survived the ride up the steepest route on the Hill” ussie with the Catherine McAuley statue.

Ussie, two views. Me and Catherine and Jon.

It was around 4 by the time we shot the photo. On this, the shortest day of the year, it was time to turn on lights as we headed home. All in all, we rode about 18 miles, not a bad ride at all on the shortest afternoon of the year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

In Which I Check: Cedar Lake Is Still There

Sunset viewed from Rohde Family Plaza, Mount Mercy. Not sure what day this was, but it was last week--maybe last Wednesday? Or Tuesday after bells? Anyway, pretty sunset.

I have not had much time for bike blogging lately—too busy at the end of a busy semester.

For biking, December has been a mixed bag. I have been able to ride most days, although I have not taking time to change pedals on my fast new bike, so have been riding the pickup truck, Francis. That’s OK, since the rides have not been long and since I’ve often had loads of papers and/or books, which are easier to carry on the sturdy old commuting bike.

But it has been damp and cloudy. I don’t react well to rain as a biker, and cold December rain is especially not my thing, so several days in the past two weeks have been driving days.

Still, even windy, cool and cloudy days have been OK for biking, and I’ve biked more than I’ve driven. Sunsets in this odd, warm December that feels more like late October have been early, but sometimes, when the clouds are not solid, also very pretty.

Today, the sun was actually shining in the afternoon, and since I don’t have classes—just a mountain of grading—I left campus a bit earlier than usual and actually rode down to Cedar Lake, just because I haven’t in some time.

The lake is still here. Around 4 p.m., with the sun getting low and a cold wind blowing, it’s still a pretty place to be.

Two views of Cedar Lake around 4 p.m. today. Top one is southeast corner of lake, bottom is north end of lake, showing geese at geese party. It's been very cloudy recently, so a sunny day, even a cold windy one, was a treat.

Mornings rides have pretty much all been with lights on. Most days the ride home is in the full dark, although full dark arrives around 5. We’re in the dark weeks of the year, not normally the best for a bicycle rider, but I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve had to wear the coat and gloves, but neither long underwear nor mittens.

Snow? I don’t really miss you much. But rain? The creek behind my house spilling over its banks in December? That’s more than a bit odd.

Two views of Dry Creek out of its banks Tuesday morning as I biked to work. More often, at this time of year, you can go for long walks in its dry bed--but not this year.

Well, world leaders in Paris. I’m trying to do my bit. I’m sure I contribute some carbon to the atmosphere as I huff along the chilly, dark December streets of Cedar Rapids on my old back bike. But far less than if I drove them, I’m sure.

And I get to spend more time in the pretty sunsets.

Friday, December 4, 2015

In Which I Enjoy Cold Rides, But Not a Cold

I’ve had a cold, which is finally starting to break. Thursday was rough—I hadn’t slept all that well the night before, and was very tired.

But the weather was good, though chilly, so I rode my bike to work. Just a bit more slowly than usual—so I arrived barely in time for my 8 a.m. class, which luckily I co-teach with my wife, so she could teach both sections while I cheered her on by coughing on the sidelines.

The history lecture in my next class felt rather long, even though I love history.

I debated about whether to bike that morning, but am glad I did. Despite the cold, and my cold, it felt good to get some fresh air. Although the lack of sleep and the cold (the virus, not the air temperature) left me so tired that afternoon, that during the second half of an office hour, I gave up and “measured my futon.” (I have a futon in my office, and on the rare days when I take a nap on it,I call it “measuring the futon.”)

As luck would have it, as I was losing consciousness, I sensed a voice out in the hall. “I’ll just leave this in Joe’s bike basket, I’m sure he’ll find it there,” I thought I heard someone say.

Later, I found a note in my bike basket, with a very nice thank-you card and tickets to a Christmas concert.

The card was signed by the president of the university I teach at—and  it was probably her voice that I heard as I drifted off to dreamland.

My usual futon-measuring session is about 20 minutes. This time, I knocked off at 1:30 p.m. and didn’t glance at my watch again until after 3:30. A two hour nap is very unusual for me … but it was very refreshing. I think it marked the end of the “bad part” of the cold. I was feeling just a little better as I biked home Thursday night.

The cool days and evenings have actually been pretty nice for biking. I’m just using my old bike for now—I have not had time to swap pedals on Argent yet (I broke the right pedal, probably by cracking it on a curb, but I have a spare set of pedals to put on). Honestly, on the 4 miles to work, the slower, older bike is not much of a handicap. On the rides this week, I have had to watch a few icy spots where the streets were wet and frozen, but mostly the only issue with the rides is that I always have to use lights, morning and afternoon.

Anyway, it was very frosty this morning, about 28 when I rode in. Because I didn’t have an 8 a.m. class, the sun was already up, but it was early enough and cool enough that the frost still lay across the world, leaving a grey, sparkly blanket on everything. It was pretty.

8 a.m. sun this morning on frosty lawn at Kenwood School during my bike ride to work.

Tonight, I had an extra ride, I was meeting my wife and daughter at a restaurant for supper. It was in the 40s, but a bit windier, which meant it actually felt a chillier on the way home.

But, I could pretty much taste the food. I still have a lingering cough, and sniffle, but the cold is thankfully fading. So the riding is even more pleasant. And I hope I will be awake next time when the president stops by!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Which I Take a Nice Camera for a Ride

Bike parked in rack at Regina Hall. It took me a long time to try to get this shot, but here I am in the cracked mirror of Francis. About to start on my way, wearing the Nikon.

I had to meet a student on campus today so that he could use a newspaper camera to shoot a basketball game.

I brought my good Nikon camera, too, just to practice a little, and I wrote about that in another blog.

So when I got ready to head home, I decided to document my 4-mile commute in a bit more detail than usual, using the good camera. In short, the things I saw fit into four categories:

1) Creatures of the road. Before I left campus, I noticed a hawk sitting on the cupola of Warde Hall. I shot it from the campus side, but it seemed to be facing away. As I headed down the drive beside Warde Hall, I was almost accosted by another form of wildlife: There were some angry tree rodents. I’m not sure why they took issue with me. Maybe having a hawk up high makes them nervous, although how scampering around and making angry tree rodent noises at me helped solve that problem is a mystery—if anything, I would think they were making themselves more visible to the bird of prey. Anyway, after shooting the squirrels (with a camera), I also photographed the hawk from the street side of Warde Hall.

First squirrel, above, is in mulch-covered garden surrounding crab apple trees at Warde Hall. He or she merely eyed me balefully. The two below (they are two different squirrels) sprang up a tree beside the drive, and proceeded to heckle me as I photographed them. Hey, squirrels, I have a right to be here too. And I"m bigger, and I'll live decades longer than you, so neener-neener-neener to you.

Two views of the cupola hawk.

2) Signs of the season. There was a man putting up decorations on his garage on Eastern Avenue, but I was too shy to photograph him. But here are some other decorations I saw.

Santa on Elmhurst Drive across the street from MMU. Tree in lawn (below) near Kenwood School.

3) The stark, bare trees of late fall. It’s starting to look a lot like winter. The ground is not yet frozen, but leaves are history. I prefer trees with their foliage, but the bare branches have their own stark charm, too. Some of the trees along the ride.

I like green leaves, but the shape of bare trees, like roots reaching into the sky, is pretty cool, too. And you can see nests like the one below. The tree that held this nest had five large ones in it, made we wonder who the tenants in that bird apartment building had been, and if they had any amusing sitcoms made about themselves.

A few oak leaves cling to tree at Kenwood School.

A couple of tree reflections in pond at Rockwell-Collins.

4) Some transit signs. I took the shortcut through a weedy lot at the end of F Avenue just south of 42nd Street, and wondered at a bike leaning against the golf course fence. And I photograph new traffic control measures at the corner of Collins Road and F Avenue. I e-mailed the city about that corner, which has become more difficult to cross, and their e-mail indicated they are putting in these video controls. That might be good news for bikers—I know the ones at the corner of Prairie Drive and 29th Street seem to “read” bikes OK, so I’m hoping that this corner will again be easy to cross.

Why the bike, against a golf course fence? I don't know. But crossing the path beside said bike did bring some tyre leaves to my bike (below).

New traffic control on F Avenue at Collins. Set to see bikes, I hope. City informed me in an email that it probably will be set to see bicycles in a certain lane "zone" that may be marked later on.

Most snow is gone, melted in rain Thanksgiving Day--but a few mounds of dirty snow are left at the edge of parking lots, and I think they are morphing into interesting shapes as they slowly melt.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In Which The Road Is Surprisingly Nice

Hill heading west behind Kenwood School--usually an icy thrill ride. Totally clear this morning--that's bare pavement, what I like to see and so rarely do during winter on this street.
I’ve learned a painful lesson in past winters: The condition of Brentwood Drive NE is not necessarily a good indicator of whether one can bicycle to Mount Mercy.

The problem is the Kenwood neighborhood that I ride through—or, as I sometimes call it, “The Land That Snowplows Forgot.” While the street in front of my humble above may be bare pavement, there is often a dangerous frosting of compressed snow on the unplowed streets surrounding Kenwood School.

So I thought I was gambling today, with my biking plans. Turns out, the gamble paid off, big time. The road may be long, with many a winding turn, but it didn’t have much snow on it.

Of course, it may be that, despite 7 inches of wet snow Saturday, the ground was simply too warm and the street frosting merely melted. But I would like to think it has something to do with the Cedar Rapids Street Department. I don’t know it for a fact, but I thought I detected a bit of “plow” evidence on the usually treacherous back streets of CR—snow “drifts” left on Lennox Avenue that could have been caused by a plow working around parked cars, chunks left at the edge of 37th Street pushed by something, probably not a glacier.

Early evening ride home on Cedar River Trail--like the streets, well cleared of snow.

Well, kudos for a job well done, CR, if indeed you did it. May this be a good omen for the possibility of winter biking. It’s not usually the cold that stops me, but snow and ice on the streets.

I had to take care in some spots today, where melting had taken place and then freezing after the melting, but by and large, both streets and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail were well cleared. Hooray!

A few sky views. Moon rising over Noelridge Park--north part of Cedar River Trail closed, so I was on the old summer detour. Even quiet streets behind Wright Brothers School were nicely clean. Moon (below) rising over pond at Rockwell-Collins, and (bottom) view of sunset on C Avenue as I near home.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

In Which I Dream of Biking Spring

Burning bush in my yard today. It was a bit winterish outside.

For many bikers, weather like today would be the end of the season. Overnight we had more than 7 inches of snow, and in this suddenly cold Saturday (after a long and warm fall) it feels like the “winter” switch was thrown rather abruptly.

Well, I shoveled my sidewalk and took some winter photos today, but did not ride a bike. Then again, it’s not the end of the bicycle season for me—depending on the weather and my assessment of street conditions, there is a decent chance I will bicycle to work Monday, although I may regret that neither of my mountain bikes is ride-able at the moment.

Today would have been the last hurrah Mount Mercy University Bicycle Club ride. More than a week ago, in our sunny, warm fall, the MMU club officers and I decided one last longish ride on a Saturday, before the bikes were all stored, would be nice. Weather permitting.

Weather did not permit.
KCRG posted map of snow totals. It SNOWED.

Still, we had a bike club meeting Friday, which I was able to attend just the tail end of. I had a bunch of newspaper contest entries that had to be submitted by a Friday deadline, and I had been tied up earlier in the week by the impending end of a faculty series that I coordinate—so I got to the 4 p.m. meeting about 4:20 or so.

Anyway, even if we’re done riding (we, the club, not me, the crazy CR biker) for the year, the students are making some exciting plans. There will be bike club shirts available soon, and you all need to buy one. The club wants to look into the cost of arranging a day-trip “away” ride, possibly to the High Trestle Trail.

And butterflies came up. The club is still working on service ideas. One that they definitely plan is some sort of bicycle safety program to present to some school group in town.
US Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

The other is my idea. I want the club to join ongoing efforts to promote the Monarch Butterfly by planting milkweed. We could either find space on the MMU campus, or aid some local conservation group that is already planning Milkweed planting.

Well, time for some spring bicycle dreams.

May many more students—and staff and faculty—be motivated to join us as the weather warms and we resume bike tours of the Cedar Rapids area.

May we figure out the details and some Saturday actually visit a cool trail elsewhere in Iowa.

May we find new leadership, as Mark, the main moving force behind the bike club will graduate.

And may we plant some pretty native flowers that feed an increasingly scarce, majestic butterfly.
Another USFWS photo, both on the agency's flckr stream Butterfly image by Michelle Woods, flower image by Francie Stotz. Both images show Monarchs of varied ages on Milkweed plants.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

In Which I Sum Up Many Rides

A photo of a young ginkgo tree at Mount Mercy BS--before storm. Trees are pretty bare, now.

I’ve been too busy to write on my bike blog lately, so here is a quick update.

We had a rather shocking thunderstorm blow through Wednesday in Iowa. Luckily, it struck Cedar Rapids around 5 p.m., since I had a Vietnam event scheduled for 7 p.m. that night at Mount Mercy. Because of the rain, I got a ride home Wednesday night, leaving my bike in my office. So I missed riding Wednesday night and Thursday morning, but otherwise it was a pretty good week for biking.

The bike club even had an officers’ meeting Tuesday, and the full club meets at the end of this week.

I’ve been using the trail route when I can to get in a few extra miles, and noticed this tree in Noelridge Park, apparently felled by the odd, late seasons thunderstorm that rumbled through. Those were some strong winds!

I think I was on my way home Thursday when I saw this--tree down at Noelridge park. Pretty good size to be blown over like that--you tend to see trees uprooted before you see a trunk snapped like this.

The photo of the ginkgo tree is a new one planted last year at Mount Mercy. It’s a nice looking tree this fall, but I bet most of those leaves blew off mid-week. We’re in the empty tree, brownish part of fall now.

Finally, on my way to MMU late morning today, one brave old grasshopper left crawling slowly on the trail. A few Asian beetles are still around, but even in this odd, warm fall, the frosty mornings are finally catching up to the bugs.

I do miss the green leaves and flowers of spring and fall during my winter biking. But no bugs is a nice bonus!
Slow grasshopper trying to warm up in the weak November sun along the Cedar River Trail at Cedar Lake.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

In Which I Ride 14 Miles To Go 5

Oak Tree in Thomas Park along Boyson Trail.

What kind of a day was Sunday?

I had urgent work to get done—a whole fall break’s worth of tasks which I had successfully avoided for most of break, which, I think, is what breaks are for. But it’s back in the saddle, pilgrim, time to ride on in the office and get some work done.

So I put some stuff in a bag and had to pick a bike to ride. Francis or Argent? Argent is more fun, and Francis needs a brake tightening—but I looked, and I did have the right wrench, and when you need to tighten a brake it’s a quick job best done when the tool is in your hand. So I fiddled with Francis a bit—cleaning some grease off the rear cogs, lubing the chain, inflating the tires. And tightening the brake. After all that, there was no choice—Francis left for work.

Hill in Frisbee Gold Course area along Boyson Trail.

But went the wrong way. I headed up the Bowman Woods hill for no particular reason and ended up on the Boyson Trail, which I rode all the way to Menards before turning back and then riding the side trail behind Walgreens to get to the Cedar River Trail.

By the time I got to Warde Hall, it was 14 miles later, but it felt good. It was a cool mid fall day, ideal for bike riding, even on my old pickup of a bike.

Along trail coming back from Menards. Trees in flood plain are bare, but hill still has color.
Crab apple tree near Dairy Queen along Cedar River Trail in Hiawatha.

So now I will finish this blog post. I’m not sure how many homework assignments I’ll get graded—but some. The mountain of work that awaits will be eroded at least a bit.

And, honestly, I’m not consumed with guilt over the extra nine miles. Just look what I saw.

Sumac along Cedar River Trail.

It's less buggy--lots fewer gnats--but bugs are not yet done this fall. Hopper on the Cedar River Trail.

Got to MMU and climbed hill by library from back side just because I could. Geraniums are still in bloom near decorative fall pumpkin.

Decorations near library area  bit disturbed, but not by human vandals. Tree rodent was climbing corn stalks to get at corn.