Monday, February 23, 2015

In Which a New Bike Gang Forms

Mark, Joe, Jacob, Gabe and Tanner--new MMU bike club. Gabe made a pretty cool looking logo,
which you can't see on the screen of his tablet.

Beware the biker gang, they look fierce. You can’t see it, but one of them is holding a fierce new logo, too.

The preliminary logo.
What happens in bike club
stays in bike club.
I went to the first meeting of the MMU bike club Monday night. It was a small gathering at this first meeting, but I hope the group grows and thrives.

They are making plans and hope to organize some rides in the coming weeks—probably not before late March or April, though. Still, it’s good to see MMU students getting interested in pedal power!

Friday, February 20, 2015

In Which The Eagle Quest Has a Tiny Success

The Beast parked in my office hallway today. Because, below, the rack is blocked by snow.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, it was just too darn cold to ride a bicycle. Wind chills of 30 below will cure me of the biking habit.

But today, the morning temperature was in the positive zone. A stiff, cold wind was blowing, but the chill was just not as bitter as it has been. So, I decided to take the chance. It worked out OK—I got a bit cool on the way in, but it wasn't too bad. In the middle of the day, the sun came out, and I was looking forward to a sunny bike ride home this afternoon.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the trail. Before I left campus, clouds rolled back in.

However, the temperature did not drop, and even if it was chilly as I started my afternoon ride, I was well dressed for it. I swung down to Cedar Lake, hoping that maybe the recent cold snap had reduced available open water, and perhaps some eagles might be found by that body of water.

Nope. But since the day was, well not really nice but not totally crappy, I decided to keep going and check out the river. I've recently ridden east to cross at the lion bridge, and I thought that possibly I saw an eagle in the distance when I rode that way, but I’m not sure. So I decided to head west today instead, biking towards the Ellis Trail.

That’s a slightly dicey choice. Because of construction, finding a bicycle route to cross the river downtown isn't easy right now—and I ended up riding on a sidewalk so I could cross going the wrong way on a one-way street. But I made it to the west side, and turned west on the riverfront walk, heading towards the five-in-one dam.

That’s where I was hoping to find a few eagles. The churning water keeps a large area of river open, and probably makes life a bit easier for a carnivorous bird that has a taste for fish.

5-in-1 dam and river. Looks like good fishing area to me. Where are the eagles?

Lots of birds, some of them large. But not our nation's symbolic bird.

Pigeons roost on the I-380 bridge, the top level of the 5-in-1 dam. Looks like another snack bar for eagles, to me.

I suppose one issue might be that a lot of the river is open water despite recent cold. There are lots of spots for eagles to fish in.
But, no. There were lots of birds in and near the open water—geese, some sort of gull, pigeons—many of which would probably not be hanging around if an eagle were nearby in the sky. If an eagle can’t grab a fish, it will gladly snack on a pigeon.

After I crossed the dam, the river closed into a solid sheet of ice. It didn't look like eagle country to me, and I headed west just to finish the loop of the trail by the river, planning to try some other day to find the big dinosaurs.

And I decided to stop, briefly, and photograph the river.

This is what the river looks like all frozen over. Amanda Moscou,  I should caption this picture "spring in Iowa."

That’s when I noticed something. There was a nest in a large tree across the river—a large nest high up in a very large tree. And sitting in the tree next to the nest (the bird was in the next tree, not the tree with the nest) was a bird. At that distance, I wasn't at first 100 percent sure—but it looked pretty big. I think in this area only a turkey or an eagle would be that size—as the dark bird looked way too large to be a hawk. Still, at this distance I was partly guessing at size.

The bird just sat there, but then it turned its head. And when the angle on its head changed, even at a distance where I could barely see it, I was suddenly sure.

That head: white. A big dark bird with a white head that sits high in a tree by a river? Here in Iowa, there’s only one option: eagle.

I put my compact point-and-shoot  camera at max and tried to snap a photo. It was not easy—when the little camera is at maximum range setting, it’s easy to “lose” an object because the field of vision is so small. And camera shake might make the photo blurry, anyway.

So I knelt down behind a park bench that was beside the trail, resting the camera on the back of the bench. I must have looked odd to passing motorists—who is that strange man who prays alone at a bench by an icy river? As I shot, I could not tell if the pictures were clear, and as you can see, they are not super sharp. But, they are sharp enough. The photos confirm it. That dot on the horizon, maybe more than a mile away from me across a wide stretch of the Cedar River, was for sure a bald eagle.

Two views. You can see the head, the body shape and, if you look close, the white tail. Even, barely, the pointy curved-down beak. Definitely an eagle.

The nest is in the tree to the left, just a bit beyond the field of view for this photo. This bird is a mile or so west of the dam,but then again, as big as eagles are and as powerfully as they fly, it's a pretty easy short flight for this bird. Maybe it does go their for lunch, fish or pigeon.

Well, I can’t whine anymore about not seeing any eagles. Granted, in the past I've been much closer to them—maybe 20 yards away when a group of them roosted in trees by Cedar Lake. Once, on a March bike ride we (Matt, one of my sons but I am not sure which one, and I) passed very close by an eagle in a tree.

So, this is only a tiny success, a distant look at an eagle. Still, it beats not seeing an eagle.

TV reporter from KWWL was by the river, too. Not for eagles--she said she was shooting a story at the site where a car eluding police recently hit a school bus. The suspect faces more charges and police are seeking him.

Monday, February 16, 2015

In Which Biking is Busting Out All Over

I pause to record the event--a new traffic light on my morning commute, if I chose to go that way. A car pulled up and triggered the light, so I have not yet tested how genuinely bicycle friendly the light is, but I am glad it's here.

Despite the cold, which did not keep me from riding Sunday nor today, bicycling is becoming more of a cool thing—in not the temperature sense—in my area. Big changes are afoot in the world of bicycle riding in Cedar Rapids:

Item one: A student bicycle riding club is being formed at Mount Mercy University, the destination of my daily bike commute. A nice young man came and visited with me last week to discuss the club. They already have another sponsor, but he and I discussed lots of possible bike rides.

The club meets for the first time next Monday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. in the Clubs and Organization Room right next to the U Center commons area. I plan to be there, and I hope to see many of you MMU students there, and I hope to be able to tag along on your rides.

Item two: RAGBRAI 2015 is shaping up to be even more interesting. I spoke with Jon over the weekend via Skype, and he’s getting the band back together. His group of then Microsoft employees who rode RAGBRAI four years ago are planning to have another go—not all the same people, but the same circle of friends with some repeats.

Me, I’ll still be riding with the family Team Joe, but I’m sure I encounter and ride along with Team Seattle Jon at several points during the week. And he’ll probably spend a night at home when RAGBRAI stops in Hiawatha.

Item three: The new light is here! The city turned on the traffic light at Prairie Drive Northeast and 29th Street Northeast last week. Crossing 29th is a minor hassle, so on this cold morning I cut up a few blocks before 29th and ended up on Prairie, and I crossed at the light.

I don’t know if that will be my usual practice. Despite the wait to cross 29th at Eastern Avenue, the advantage of that route is that Eastern is wider and more bike friendly than Prairie, and there are fewer hills on Eastern—going on Prairie Drive gives me a bit of an up-and-down route. Nothing severe, but a bicycle commuter doesn't usually seek out more hills.

Well, epic changes, mostly positive, are coming to the world of CR Biker. Bike on!

Friday, February 13, 2015

In Which The Maybe Eagle Proves Elusive

One of may crows that were together south of the Cedar River during my bicycle ride today.

Was it an eagle? Was it Superman? Perhaps it was a duck.

The cloudy cool day turned sunny and cool this afternoon. I met with my wife before leaving campus, and she said, “I bet you go to the lake to look for eagles.”

And so I did. And even though a bit of a cold wind was blowing, it was so nice to be outside riding The Beast that I continued past the lake, through downtown Cedar Rapids. I was debating about going south to ride along the river, or maybe swinging over to the Prairie Parks Fishery. But as I neared the bridge of the lions, where I would either go left to Prairie Park or right to ride along the river in the Mount Trashmore area, I saw a shape in the sky near the horizon over the river.

Whatever was flying over the river was too far away to be sure. But as it circled, it had a straight-out wing shape to it. And as it wheeled away, its tail looked white.

Like an eagle’s tail.

So I decided to turn right and ride in the direction of the elusive eagle.

As I got into the woody area past the destroyed old rail bridge, a convention of crows was going on. They were all around me, flying back and forth, quothing rude things in their gravelly raven voices. Somehow, I didn’t mind. It felt like they were out enjoying a fine afternoon, even as they rudely yelled at the passing biker.

But as I went, I saw no signs of the eagle, if eagle it was.

It was getting close to 4, and it was cool enough I decided I did not want to be out in the cold dark—which meant, given that I was 8 or so miles from home, that it was time to turn around. By now, I was approaching Tait Cummins Park, when I spied a large bird sitting in a tree next to the trail.

It wasn't an eagle—it was a hawk. Comment if you know what kind, since, as you can see, I got some close pictures of this bird.

Hawk in tree right by trail near Tait Cummins Park.

Well, I did not get any eagle images. I turned back and headed to the bridge. There, I paused. A straight-at the shoulder pair of birds was again far off over the river, wheeling around, when one turned my way.

I got my camera out and waited to snap my eagle picture.

But, as it got close, it turned out to be a duck.

Well. The bird that I spied earlier? Was it a duck or eagle? It was so far away that I can’t be sure, but I still think it was an eagle.

Still, I have not yet officially fulfilled my eagle quest this year during these winter bike rides, because I can’t be sure about the bird I saw in the distance

But the hawk was pretty cool. And it was still a nice, if chilly, day for a ride. And the crows acted like I was entertaining to them.

Two more hawk images. I did not seem to care that I was taking its picture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In Which Our Biker Hero Rides Off Into the Sunset

Sun sinking to horizon seen at Cedar Lake. Appreciate it, I took my mittens off just so you could see this, too.
Well, not really, because: A) I am not a real hero, I just play one on my blog and B) I was riding north, and I think west is by definition where the sun spends her nights.

But, I was leaving campus around 5 p.m. It was cool, in the 20s, and it had been a bit of a grey, cool, dreary afternoon. While the morning ride was nice and bright and sunny, midday treks across campus were sad affairs.

As luck would have it, the cloud cover was breaking at sunset. Well it would, wouldn’t it? In Iowa, if you want it cold at night, it’s best for it to be clear.

But wait, there is more! Same sun and same lake, but a few minute later at a different spot.
Old Sol sure is purty, ain't she?

Anyway, despite the chill, I enjoyed the evening sky, so I did the extra miles to loop down by Cedar Lake, an asset that I hope this city can enhance and preserve.

A bit of open water at lake's north end, as there often is. In other years, eagles have crowded this open patch of water. Not so far this year--but geese and ducks sure like it.
Final look at the pretty evening as light fades. I'm heading north, having left the lake behind. This is a trail bridge--is it near J Avenue? Or is J where the park is? I forget, anyway a trail bridge near some street. And a sun. And some lights from traffic.
I still have had no eagle sightings, but as you can see, it was nonetheless a very pretty evening to be riding a bicycle on the Cedar River Trail.

Feb. 11 Update: A groovy member of the Joe Correction League (my sisters) points out that the bridge is at 29th Street, while the Park With A Name Nobody Remembers is at J Avenue. She's right, so shout out to Cate, today's winner of the JCL Badge of Honor. It made me think of this song, which of course, is about the 59th Street Bridge, but still explains how the Cedar River Trail and the 29th Street Bridge makes a biker feel:

Monday, February 9, 2015

In Which I Barely Survive a Short Commute

Friday afternoon, bike at MMU campus. Warm sunshine, but I  did not ride this bike (this is not The Beast). In fact, if you look close, you may notice the front brake on this bike has been disabled. I hope whoever rides it later notices!

OK, universe, I get the message. Friday was too soon. I’m hoping, after some sun and warmth this weekend, that Monday will prove better. Wish me luck.

February has been a pretty much total bust, for a bicycle commuters, because10 inches of snow blanketed Cedar Rapids streets and sidewalks Feb. 1. After a bit of warmth, and five days after the snowfall, I decided that Friday would be the day I would try to bike for the first time this month.

I got about a block from home. The sidewalk along C Avenue was full of fluffy tan stuff, a mix of kicked up snow and sand that was deep and soft like an unstable beach. But I was on the The Beast, a mountain bike, and was making decent progress on the first stretch up the hill. I figured once I passed the C Avenue Bridge, the sidewalk would improve.

But I didn’t find out what was beyond the bridge. The sandy snow “beach” went from several inches deep to what appeared to be about a foot deep right at the C Avenue Bridge over Dry Creek. If you’ve never experienced a fall from a bicycle, I hope you never do. They are not slow-mo events where your life flashes before your eyes. Instead, when a moving bike hits the tipping point, you instantly flip, going from riding way above the ground to a hard landing on the ground in a bone-jarring nanosecond.

Wear your helmets, kiddos.

And I fell towards the street, almost tumbling over the guard rail, catching myself while my body was still on the sidewalk with my head hanging into one of Cedar Rapids most busy traffic ways.

My life didn’t flash before my eyes in the second it took to collect myself and withdraw my cranium from probable crushing, but grim images of what could have been or horrific headlines (Crazy Biking Professor Decapitated By Garbage Truck) did quickly occur to me.

OK, universe, I got the memo. Friday was too soon. I stood up, assessed the status of my bones (nothing broken or even sore, I was traveling very slowly, and even if the fall itself felt instant, it wasn’t fast enough to injure me beyond a minor mark on one shin—and a snow beach is a soft spot to land in), and turned around. It felt odd getting back on The Beast (should I really ride at all?), but the snow in front of me on the way home wasn’t the deep stuff on the bridge, and I had no scary incident returning to home to put The Beast away and hop into Rodrigo the Montego.

Scene of the spill. I fell right at the edge of the bridge and almost went over the guard rail. This is Sunday, however, and note while some snow and ice is here, the deep stuff has melted.

Well, better luck today, I hope. In the cloudy but pleasantly warm afternoon Sunday, my wife and I strolled about the neighborhood, including walking across the C Avenue Bridge. I’ll have to be careful there today due to ice—and if it looks iffy, I’ll stop and walk my bike across it—but the deep sandy snow mix has melted away. Honestly, I’m hoping that the slickest part of the commute will be on my own sidewalk, which is north of the house and tends to be very icy when melting starts.

We’ll see. I’m taking a risk, I know. I hope it’s not a crazy one. But life is full of risk and even commuters end up dead if their Rodrigos get hit by garbage trucks. Let’s hope for safe drivers and riders in garbage trucks, other trucks, cars and bikes today!

9:30 a.m. update: As I rode towards the C Avenue Bridge, I noted a walker crossing it, coming in my direction. My habit is to stop and wait off to the side before crossing, when a walker is approaching--in my opinion, a sidewalk belongs to the walkers, and if conditions force me to use my bike on it, I still always give them the right of way, and the bridge is too narrow for both walker and biker to use in comfort, so the walker should win. Anyway, as he approach, the north-bound walker man said "watch out, there's some ice on the bridge." There was, and I had to dismount and walk part of it. It was not the only time I crossed ice on the way in, although at other times it was smooth enough that I just coasted over it without having to walk The Beast. I arrived at MMU, safe and sound, no scary incidents on the commute in to report. Whew!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

In Which Rodrigo Sees the Light

City worker doing something to traffic signal at corner of 29th and Prairie the morning of Feb. 4. No word on when the signal starts operating, the signs say "February," but have the date blocked out.
Am I biking? Nah. I know some on fat-tire bikes may be heartier souls than I am, but I’m not on two wheels—not since 10 inches of snow blanketed Cedar Rapids Feb. 1. I fell the year I first did RAGBRAI, and don’t want to mess up a knee again or suffer an even worse fate.

So, instead of Francis or The Beast, I’ve been making do with Rodrigo the Montego. It’s (under AP style, an animal with a name gets a gender-specific pronoun, but I can’t motivate myself to do that for a car) a Mercury that I inherited, sort of, from a daughter. She had been a social worker in Omaha, and now is attending law school in in Baltimore, and the life of a poor graduate student, apparently, is more practical without a Montego.

Say hello to Rodgrigo. and then ask yourself, why the heck am I talking to a car?
One should only talk to horses and bicycles. Parked this morning at MMU.

By the way, it was the daughter who named the car Rodrigo the Montego, and the name seems to work. Anyway, while I regret getting to work via car (sorry, Rodrigo), I do need more bare pavement before I try to cycle The Beast to work. I’m hoping maybe it might happen Friday, if the street scraping continues, but maybe not. Thursday is going to be freakishly cold, and we’re close to the point, days away from when the flakes fell, where the city will give up clearing streets and the sun and spring warmth will be required to clean pavement.

Drive in front of Warde Hall, MMU. Why I don't bike. And campus facilities does a better job then the city does at clearing snow from pavement.

Anyway, there is still some traffic news for MMU commuters, be they bikers or car users. A light! The city has installed a traffic light at 29th Street Northeast and Prairie Drive Northeast. This follows the addition some time ago of a four-way stop at 27th and Prairie.

Well, hooray. I don’t usually use Prairie Drive while cycling Francis (or The Beast), but with the light, it becomes plausible. I have gone that way just a few times, usually if I’m headed to the Noelridge Park area, and crossing 29th Street was always one of the challenges. At busy times, traffic often backs up on Prairie Drive, and there are near misses at this corner—so I think the light is a good thing. As would one at Old Marion Road and C Avenue, although that’s another ideas.

As this intersection, I hope they put in sensors that can “read” bikes, or that the walk lights are bike accessible, but we’ll see.

As a biker, by the way, I really like the four-way stop sign that they put right at the corner of the MMU campus. It means I have to pause while headed downhill on 27th Street on the way home, which is a minor pain, but that corner was always very scary to a biker becasue the Prairie Drive drivers weren’t always great at stopping at that corner for a bicycle. Now, since everyone stops, it’s safer to bike when I’m headed that way.

The all-way stop the city put in at 27th and Prairie.
And, while I would like my biking days to return, I have to give some praise to Rodrigo. The Montego does very well in snow. The car is a pretty sturdy, unsexy boxy green thing, but for winter driving all I can say is well done, Ford Motor Company. Your faux Taurus drives like a Taurus, which was always a fairly practical winter car.

Still, I do hope that winter biking days on The Beast return soon!