Friday, May 29, 2015

In Which The Best Bird Proves Elusive

Hey! Look here! I have feathers! Lots of feathers! Hey! Up Tom Funk You Up!

Thursday was a 20-mile day. I had a full agenda on campus, plus a daughter’s birthday party to attend, so I’m feeling pretty good about squeezing that many miles in.

The second-best bird spotting of the past 24 hours occurred on the morning hill ride. For some reason, the top of Mount Brentwood includes “Turkey Road,” a track between houses at hill summit that is favored by the large wild birds living in the woods along Dry Creek. It’s not all uncommon to see groups of these huge dinosaurs roaming across Brentwood Drive at the top of the hill, but Thursday morning there was a bit more entertainment to be had.

It must be “that” time. A tom was following hens around, gobbling like a lounge singer, strutting, poofing out his tail feathers. It almost seemed like the was saying, over and over, “how you doing?”

The girls did not seem impressed.

I took the slightly longer trail route home for the afternoon ride, and kept hearing a train approaching from the south. I was hoping to get across 42nd Street before said train arrived and blocked my way, and I was lucky or quick enough. No close call or train dodge involved (in fact, I will gladly wait for a train rather than take any chances), as I was well north of the street when the rail cars started passing me by.

It was a long train. I paused at the Collins Road underpass to shoot some images of it, primarily the graffiti that some train cars collect (in the location that I like to call the “art gallery” due to the graffiti it collects).

I thought the train was cool, although not as cool as the turkeys. And neither was as cool as an unrelated bird sighting this morning. As I was getting ready to write this blog post, a quick movement caught my eye. I glanced out my office window, which is screened by a tall lilac bush. A hummingbird passed between the bush and screen and paused, hovering not two feet from me. Of course, the quick little bird (a female, I think, because she was not very colorful) was gone before I could grab my camera.

No hummingbird images, but three train pictures. Rolling art.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

In Which We’ll Call It 47 Miles

Morning sky during my ride to work--waiting to cross Collins Road at F Avenue. A cool, pretty morning gave way to a warm, sunny afternoon--it was an ideal biking day.

I biked a few extra miles this morning before heading to work—on the way home from the gym, I did the “figure 8” to go up the neighborhood hill twice. I also deliberately took the “back way” in to campus when I got there—the hill is steeper on the back side.

So I had more than 10 miles for the day on my bike computer.

I left campus shortly after 4, and I knew I was going to ride for a while. I toyed with going down to the Prairie Park Fishery—I have not been there for a while—but decided to head north, mostly because the Hiawatha Library is on the way, and I knew from my stop at the Cedar Rapids Library yesterday that they had a book about Vietnam that I wanted to check out.

The library stop was OK, although the seat of my bike came completely off when I tried to lift the bike with it to fit it into the bike rack. Well, I was able to put it back together quickly, and north I went.

I saw my sister headed south on the trail and said hello as I headed north.

I didn’t really know how far I would go, but it seemed too early to turn around when I made it to Lafayette. I had the idea that I wanted to do maybe 40 miles—I am slowly trying to increase my daily distances as I get ready for RAGBRAI. So I went on to Center Point before I turned around.

It was a perfect biking day—warm, but not hot, a bit of a breeze, but just enough to cool you down without creating a “wind hill.” The ride to Center Point was a bit mushy beyond the 10-mile mark, where the pavement ends, but not too bad.

It was getting past 6 as I got ready to leave Center Point. I was well past 30 miles and wondered how many I would do for the day. I made a bet with myself that I could get home by 7:40.

Computer at home after ride. Well call it 47.
Well, I won. I’m pretty happy to have gone 47 miles, and I wasn’t even wearing bike shorts, just regular clothes. Since my computer went into coma mode now and then, I’m reasonably sure that calling the day “47” isn’t just rounding—it’s probably pretty accurate.

After I got home, I had to fix myself dinner. I boiled an egg and made a chef’s salad and toast (and then devoured a bag of potato chips, I’m not proud to confess). As the egg boiled, I sipped on a beer.

Lumberjack, it was. And it, and I, am OK.

It was cold and wet. Just what one wants of beer after a bike ride.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In Which a Ride To Vietnam Takes 18 Miles

Two views of Cedar Lake on the way to the downtown library. Goose family, above, walks by lake near park where I got more water. One gosling walked right up to Francis, but backed away quickly as I approached with my camera. I got hissed at a bit, but nothing more. Below, goose in flight over lake. Look how cool the sky looks. Later, the clouds would get organized and have a rain party.

I’m starting my summer reading, and the theme this year is “Vietnam” because I’m coordinating a fall series about the legacy of the Vietnam War at Mount Mercy University.

So, in the afternoon break between rains, I rode to the Cedar Rapids Public Library and checked out some books. One is a fat general history of the war. I also got a fiction book that we plan to have a discussion group about, a book about war protests and a memoir of a soldier. That all seemed like a nice balance to start my summer research about Vietnam.

The ride was windy, with interesting skies that mixed thick clouds and patches of blue sky. On the way home, it started first to sprinkle and then to rain more seriously—but luckily the books stayed dry in bags, and I didn’t get super wet. I was home before the heaviest rain hit.

I rode 10 miles there, but was in a hurry to get home and took a slightly different route, so the total ride was 18. I sped, to the best of my abilities, on the final 8 miles. No RAGBRAI hill practice today—I had planned to ride up the neighborhood hill after I got back into the area, but instead stopped at home due to the rain.

Well, I’m going to campus again tomorrow to do more end-of-year stuff and continue series work. The weather should be better for biking them—we’ll see if I can get more than 18 miles in and a few more hills, too!

Francis at the library. I'm thinking the bike might get parked there a lot this summer!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

In Which We Eat, Ride, Eat, Ride

Team Joe Plus More view one: Wyatt, Katy, me, Theresa, Cate, Brigid and Eldon.

Pre-gaming for RAGABRAI: It starts with breakfast, and not just any breakfast, but a hearty breakfast at Riley’s CafĂ©, an eatery known for its “Shipwrecks,” very large 3-egg scrambles with lots of fixings. I had a spicy Spanish one with a pancake on the side.

It was 9 a.m. and Team Joe plus more was assembling. Two of my daughters and a son-in-law met me at home, and dropped off their children. Then we headed to the restaurant to meet Brigid, Cate and Eldon. The later three and I are team Joe, the others are planning to ride one day of RAGBRAI with us this summer.

After the breakfast, it was home again to grease chains, pump tires, fill water bottles, put on sunscreen and spritz with bug spray. And then we were off. Me and my kids left my house and met the other three at the Hiawatha trailhead.

North or south? North goes quickly out into pretty May countryside, but there isn’t much else there. South offers a wider variety of views, and more food options, so, since this was RABRAI prep, south was the chosen direction.

The day was warm, sunny and pleasant. There were plenty of bikers out enjoying the trail.

I was in the lead sometimes, Cate was at other times. I felt bad when Cate was leading because she got so far ahead. Until I realized: She’s got a new bike! A pretty snazzy one that is sort of a hybrid between a road bike and a hybrid—it has the road bike handles but wider hybrid tires. If I get a new bike, it’s every much what I would want. Yes, it’s true, I did suffer bike envy.

Team Joe Plus More view two. Same cast of characters. Less waffle table.

We got to the south edge of Cedar Rapids, but decided to turn back rather than go all the way to Ely. It was getting to be 1 in the afternoon, and we had left my wife with six young children to look after.

For lunch, we stopped in a Parlor City in the New Bo area. Lunch was, like breakfast, very filling.

After that, we headed north again. Me and my kids (and kid-in-law) peeled off at 42nd Street to take the Noelridge Park route back to my house.

And when we got there, the grandkids seemed busy and happy. Their only complaint was having to go home.

Tonight, Audrey and I walked up to HyVee Drug Store and she let me buy beer. There is pie in the oven, but I don’t think I’ll carry the RAGBRAI analogy that far—that pie will have to be breakfast. One beer has topped me off, and served as the capstone on a very satisfying day and pre-RAGBRAI ride. Between yesterday and today, I have ridden 64 miles—not a bad two-day total, although it will be one day’s ride on RAGBRAI!

And the iris Cate let me take from her garden two years ago is in bloom.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

In Which I Wonder About Witchy Signs

Two views of the same sign on a street at the top of the Bowman Woods Hill. I've noticed these signs in several places, though. What do they mean?
Is it a cult? Is it a sign of Satanic practices?

No. It has “CR” markings on it, so the odd three-stick flag figure means something to the City of Cedar Rapids. These odd things have appeared in the grassy strip beside the street in my neighborhood, and I can’t figure out what they mean.

“Do not disturb,” the sign says. But it disturbs me. Something is afoot. What is it?

I took photos on my morning bike ride to the gym. Now that summer is here, the ride includes a short “figure 8” so that I can climb my neighborhood hill twice each morning. I plan to climb that hill a lot—it’s the best one around for RAGBRAI training.

And for pondering. What do the signs mean? I e-mailed the city to ask. I’ll update when I find out. In the meantime I am willing to attribute them to a group of local witches, something CR is well known for (recall the dust up with the state legislature over Wicca prayers?) I hope they're good witches, and potentially hot, like Charmed witches and not mean and green like half of the Oz witches.

Update later that day: The signs are to aid surveyors working on city projects, apparently. So says an e-mail the city sent me:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Which Phlox Flowers On A 20-Mile Ride

Phlox in bloom this afternoon along Cedar River Trial near Cedar Lake.

Well, I have not matched my Monday total yet. I only rode 8 miles on Tuesday—my regular commute to and from Mount Mercy University. I was hosting a dinner that night for students on the newspaper staff, so I didn’t have a chance to add many miles.

This afternoon, around 4, I loaded a final exam into my briefcase and put it on my bike. It is “bike to work week,” and another faculty member was locking up her bike as I was getting mine ready to go.

Two views of bikes in Warde Hall rack. Francis in the middle.

Rather than head directly home, I went down to Cedar Lake and then headed north on the trail. I also rode briefly on the Boyson Road trails, so that I could climb the Brentwood Drive hill and also reach my goal today.

The goal was 20 miles. And I made it. I probably won’t ride tomorrow, due to rain, but at least it looks like I’ll bike four of five days this week—not too shabby.

No more finals, just piles and piles of grading. And after graduation this weekend, I plan to work most of next week, partly to get caught up on organizing a fall series on the legacy of the Vietnam war.

So it was a pleasant break on this cool, slightly breezy spring day, to ride those 20 miles. Honeysuckle and phlox are in bloom along the bike trails, and many people were out enjoying the trails.

Indian Creek from bridge on Boyson Road Trail.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In Which a Windy Journey Adds Up to 25 Miles

Our meeting place. Bottle at far left is mine.

I had not been in the Hotel Kirkwood before, and it looked very nice. The Guinness was cold, the appetizers tasty and the conversation interesting—all that one could ask of the final department meeting of the year.

It’s been the tradition of the academic department that I am a member of to meet off campus for our final session of the year. This year’s session was at the Hotel Kirkwood, just south of the main Kirkwood Community College campus.

The meeting was to start around 3:45. I left Mount Mercy at about 2:50. I should have left a bit earlier---it was after 4 when I got there. I took the Bowling Street Trail—not my favorite route, but a bit shorter than going into the Kirkwood campus from the east.

The day was cloudy and cool. I have not worn my jacket in recent weeks, but did today. A strong west wind was biting at me, and the route to Kirkwood proved to be more uphill than I expected.

We had a storm roll through on Mother's Day. I was hoping to catch a rainbow as the sun went down, but the rain moved too quickly and I didn't see one. Oh well, sky was interesting (and before you point it out, yes I know, if there was a rainbow it would be opposite the sun, not towards it).

But, it’s bike to work week, and it would have damaged my pride to do anything but cycle to the department meeting.

Actually, it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t that windy. The biggest problem was that there was some sort of utility truck parked right on the trail—for some reason, utility workers don’t seem to worry much about blocking bike trails. A rider headed north as I was headed south mumbled something about “assholes” as I passed him—and I don’t think the reference was to me.

Well, bike to work week started with a few miles. I rode 25 today. Since eight of those are my regular ride, I supposed that meant the ride to the Hotel Kirkwood was about 8 ½ miles (17 plus eight being 25).

Two more damp Mother's Day photos from the fruitless hunt for a rainbow. Well, not fruitless--the wet world was still a pretty place.

The ride back was easier. Of course, some appetizers and Guinness probably just made me feel more like biking, anyway. I have some new lights, and they sparkled quite impressively in the cloudy late afternoon dim light, I think.

Day one of biking week: 25 miles. We’ll see what mileage totals I manage to reach the rest of this busy finals week.

Tree on central campus at MMU lost a substantial limb in the Mother's Day thunderstorm. Luckily no students nor biking professors was in the way when it came down.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

In Which I Gain a Club and Dodge Rain

MMU Bike Club Logo. We'll have to get it on  shirts in the fall.

I gambled a bit today, and was lucky.

It was fine this morning, and I decided to bike to work. It was supposed to rain today, but yesterday the evening rain came and went, and I decided to hope the same would happen today.

And then, late afternoon: pouring rain, lucky there were tunnels (and Francis was parked inside Warde Hall). Evening: starry sky, just as I had hoped. It was close to 9 when I left, and it was dry.

Anyway, I am now not just a lucky biker blogger, expressing my opinions in the obscurity of the blogosphere. No, dear blog fans. I am now a certified bike leader. Of a sort.

Thanks to the work of a group of MMU students, especially Mark Mettler, Mount Mercy has a new bike club this spring. I’ve written here about the club’s first two rides.

Well, the original adviser to the club has moved on, and few days ago, Mark asked if I would be willing to serve as club faculty adviser.

Well, as I’m sure all of my students could tell you, if there’s one thing I’m full of, it’s advice. So I sort of said, coyly, “Sure, if you don’t find anybody else.”

I’m official now. See the email:

Anyway, I hope all y’all MMU students get inspired by my advice: Join the Bike Club. All of the cool kids do. And, of course, the most coolest of all the faculty members.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

In Which I Become a Hobo Near Coe

Who suggested the pre-ride selfie? Actually, it was not me, it was one of the women. Come to think of it, they were the ones who wanted to ride bikes to the baseball game. Clearly I have been misled by the dos equis chromosome once again.

I broke the law on the final day of April in 2015.

Well, I think that “broke the law” is a pretty minor technicality, and what I did, I hope, won’t cause anybody to bat an eyelash more than once. But I did transgress from the straight and narrow while acting as an adult in a group of college students.

I may need some work on my “adult” skills.

Anyway, on Thursday the MMU Bike Club took its second ride. On the first ride, there were just three of us. Numbers swelled for the second ride, with two women, anxious to see an MMU baseball game that was being played that night, joining two men of the club and an old professor, primarily because they (the women) wanted to pedal to that ball game.

Another pre-ride picture. I actually took this one first, before someone said, "We could take a selfie."

Beware: I had my camera and some time to kill while they checked out bikes. There will be flower photos.

Anyway, a few minutes after 5, we—me and four university students, the aforementioned two men and two women—took off. I didn’t know where the MMU-Coe game was played, and neither, it became obvious, did the students. Because they knew the ball field was “near Coe,” but not at Coe.

Here, there be gears. Lundy Commons where students can check out bikes.

So our only idea was to go to Coe and to get there via the Cedar River Trail.

The flaw (and minor infraction of the law) comes from the fact that, while the Cedar River Trail, Cedar Lake and Coe College all exist in close proximity, there is no obvious direct connection between Coe and the other two places.

We rode down to the lake, and at my suggestion (I admit it) turned left to head counterclockwise around the lake, hoping to find a street that leads to Coe. We came to a stop sign at a dead end road that seemed to lead where we were going. And the students and I took off down that road.

Red-bud tree near Lundy before our ride. Beautiful afternoon for a crime or a bike ride.

It occurred to me after the turn that we weren't on the trail, nor even on a street, anymore. We were on a dirt path worn beside multiple rail tracks. We were hobos trespassing on railroad property, a group of wandering vagabonds no longer held by the rules of civilization. Well, before we had to craft shelters out of cardboard or roast chipmunks for our dinner, we came to a place where we could see Coe close by, just under the interstate across a grassy open lot.

The thing about a bike is that you can ride it or walk it. If you want to cross some rail tracks to get under the interstate to go to a nearby college campus, sometimes you briefly walk it. “Watch out if one of those rails starts to vibrate,” quipped the president of the MMU bike club, showing the kind of leadership only a student can. I’ll try to protect you by not mentioning your name, OK Mark?

Well, we luckily did not play “train dodge,” as they did in “Stand By Me.” Without much further incident we arrived at Coe, where, for the second time, I felt oddly out of place with the rules of life I normally follow. There I was, in a post-adolescent pack, riding our ragtag bikes across the central campus of Coe College. If we scared anybody, I apologize. I was half expecting to be Tasered (I know my line—“don’t Tase me, bro”) when we passed a Coe Security vehicle. And I’m sure that would have led to an interesting phone call.

Luckily, it didn't happen. No baby ducks nor Coe coeds nor MMU professors were injured in the making of this bike blog post. Phew.

Tree in bloom on patio of Lundy Commons.

While at Coe, our bike club VP broke down and did a very un-guy thing. He asked a Coe student for directions. I didn't hear what the directions were, but we took off, following our vice leader.

And we ended up on a familiar street, one that I have driven often when coming from downtown, passing by Coe and heading to MMU. And I started to have a sneaking suspicious. What if the ball game were played at ….

And a few blocks later, we arrived. I was the one who found the turn-in to the ball diamond. The students remained at the park to watch the game, while I had to head back to campus for a newspaper meeting.

The ball game? It was played at Daniels Park. If you know the geography of MMU and the Cedar River Trail, you may already be chuckling. The way to get to the trail from MMU is to take J Avenue, and J Avenue goes right along the north edge of—Daniels Park. The ball diamond was just out of view over a small hill at the south end of the same park.

We rode 4 miles or so and trekked across a rail wasteland and frightened some Coe coeds to arrive at a game that we had unknowing already ridden by when we were about 4 blocks from Mount Mercy.

Well, I guess the point of a bike club is to ride bikes. So the fact that we got a lot more riding than we needed to could count as a win. After all, the Israelites managed to wander the desert for 40 years before God carefully settled them in the only corner of the Middle East totally lacking in oil, so I guess our wayward journey was not as bad as it could have been.

Bike Club: Next ride, let’s head north on the trail. We may, with luck (knock on wood) have a few fewer chances to get lost that way—and there is a Dairy Queen and a Parlor City Ice Cream Shop along that route. We could do the “lactose ride towards Lafayette” if we wanted to.

It sounds a bit better than the hobo ride to Coe!