Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Which We Ride Our Bikes in the Sky

Group selfie on the High Trestle Trail bridge. Ben and Audrey squint into the sun. I grin like a madman because that's what the combination of pleasure, beauty and great fear will do to your face.

If there is a better bike trail in Iowa, I have not found it yet. Then again, I would like to ride many more bike trails—maybe a long one along the Mississippi could rival it, I don’t know.

But the ultimate trail, to me right now, is the High Trestle Trail. Honestly, it does have a few rivals. The trail around Grey’s Lake in Des Moines is also extremely nice. The Cedar River Trail in Cedar Rapids is interesting too, mostly due to its quick contrasts of urban and rural in just a few yards.

Last Friday, I was in Ankney for the annual summer meeting of the Iowa College Media Association at the DMACC campus there.

I told my wife the meeting would be over by 1. She said I would be lucky if it ended by 2. It ended about 1:35, and she informs me that’s a “win” for her.

Anyway, while I met and talked about media matters with other Iowa media teachers, my wife went shopping in Ames and then picked up our son, a PhD math student at ISU.

She picked him up around 1, and they decided to head back down to Ankney before eating lunch. It was raining off and on during the day, and cloudy and wet when we first met around 2. We drove around for a while looking for a likely lunch spot in Ankney, and finally, out of desperation and starvation, settled on a Subway by the interstate.

I had coffee (lunch had been courtesy of ICMA) and they ate their subs. The day was still cloudy, but it was getting less wet and the sky was slowly morphing from dark grey to lighter shades with small patches of blue here and there.

So it was mid-afternoon by the time we sought the High Trestle Trail. I know, we could have stayed in Ankney, but the trial is more than 25 miles long and the bridge itself way the heck over at the other end, and we were going to do an easy ride and see the cool bridge, not a 50-mile ride, so we were seeking the northwest end of the trail.

We didn’t quite get there. I couldn’t tell from my map exactly where the trail ended, but knew Slater and Madrid were near the end that we wanted. So we took the interstate north to State Highway 17 and headed west. Going through Slater, we didn’t see a sign for the trail. In Madrid, we encountered the trail several times by accident, and drove past a trailhead at the west end of town.

We turned around and parked, and then rode. It was just a few miles—less than three, I think—to get to the bridge.

If you’ve never ridden the trail, you should. I loved the approve from the east, headed from Madrid towards the bridge. It’s clearly an old rail line you are following—in Iowa, rail lines run on ridges and in deep little vales—cutting through our rolling landscape on as straight a path as possible.

So the woods grow close and your vision grows limited, but you start to realize that you’re close to something dramatic. Rather than going through clefts in the land, the land started to fall away in steep, wooded hillsides. The signs that reported the approaching bridge started to have impossibly small distances. And yet, because the old rail line goes around a slight curve so the bridge could be aligned with its route from one river bluff to the other, you don’t see the bridge until suddenly the entrance pillars are right there and you pass them and then you’re not on a hill or in the woods—you’re riding on a slim ribbon of pavement in the sky, surrounded only by birds with a pretty river valley far below.

Turkey vulture hawks circle overhead. They don’t exactly add comfort to the experience.

To be clear, I’m afraid of heights. I don’t like leaning out over the 8-foot hallway in my house to turn on or off the light on the ceiling fan. Changing a lightbulb that requires the use of a chair takes a moment of screwing my courage to the sticking point before I’ll do it—I will do it, because I’m that heroic, but it takes a moment.

And here I was, riding on my new bike Argent, zooming along on in the sky. Jesus. No disrespect or blasphemy intended, it’s just about the only thought in my mind. Jesus.

You have to slow down on the bridge, as the foot traffic does not allow fast biking. Frankly, that’s OK with me. We stopped to admire the view and take a selfie.  The grey skies had cleared into a pretty, partly cloudy blue, and the afternoon was turning super nice.

I rode my bicycle across that, and lived to tell about it. My heart must be OK.

That’s the way it has been this summer. It’s either raining or almost unbearably pretty, and you forget what an Iowa summer is usually like, the 90 degree heat and the 90 percent humidity, and you almost wonder why half the world’s population doesn’t live in this gentle Shire of a place. We don’t have mountains or ocean or anything dramatic, but what we have that is pretty is so plainly, honestly pretty that you quickly fall in love this summer.

Not every summer, I’ll admit. And not usually in February, which is when the other ICMA meeting is.

But here we were in late afternoon in the most dramatic and prettiest place in a not beautiful, but pretty state.

On the way back, looking over new bridge from remains of the old one. Son and wife.

My son and wife had not been here before. It was my second trip. We’ll be back, I’m sure. Ben speculates he can probably get there from Ames via bike trail, because he thinks that there is a trail from Ames to Slater.

We rode on from the bridge to the west end of the trail and then turned around, and lingered for a while at the lookout that is the stub of the old bridge and then we crossed the bridge again.

I put camera lens up to the binoculars on trail overlook.

So I rode the sky twice in one day and survived both times and that’s a miracle enough. But wait, there’s more.

We rode back to our van, but it was a bit past 5, too early for supper and we had only ridden our bikes about 10 miles. We didn’t want a 50-mile fide, but 10 felt inadequate. So we headed east.

Ben goes all monkey at Slater park.

It was 7.5 miles until the next town, Slater. By then, the coffee and water had caused rather urgent needs, but we found a city park adjacent to the trail with decent restrooms. And by then we decided that the journey was long enough—by the time we got back to the van, it would be a 25-mile ride.

And we were off. It had taken 40 minutes or so to ride into a headwind and reach Slater. Without consulting me, my wife decided she wanted to make the return journey in 20 minutes or so.

Sometimes, I think we should buy a better bike for my wife. She’s starting to ride more. Other times, I sometimes think her bike is too good for her—that old Target-purchased Schwinn mountain bike seems to fly along, powered by will and leg muscles of a very strong human.

I was on Argent, a decent road bike. And I had to pump it pretty hard and work to keep up with that zooming lady on the mountain bike. We didn’t make it in 20 minutes, but we were back at the van in 25 minutes.

I thought surviving the bridge ride was something. Little did I anticipate the tour de Iowa race from Slater to Madrid.

For supper, my wife offered us two options: Des Moines or Ames. The kicker was that my son and I could have beer if we chose Ames (my wife was unwilling to drive the interstates near Des Moines).

So we closed the day with a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Ames. We’ve been there several times, and the waiter knows my son well enough to chat with him in Spanish, and to try to persuade him to pay the bill, which has not worked yet.

Anyway, that Corona and that spicy food somehow were the perfect capstone to the nearly perfect bike ride.

The next day I cycled maybe 15 miles total, going to and from the Freedom Festival Parade in Cedar Rapids. It was a nice day, warm and sunny, and I enjoyed getting there by bike.

In the afternoon, I rode the old bike to give a grandchildren a ride, too. And so the summer of biking continues.

RAGBRAI? May it be full of the perfect days and not the rainy ones!

Bike at west end of trail. Bikers, proceed no father.

No comments:

Post a Comment