Friday, September 25, 2015

In Which We Bike Over 7 Miles for Sweets

Monarch I watched and shot as students got ready for ride.

Oh, you sweet thing, you.

Today, at a fancy candy shop next to the Paramount, I purchased a piece of chocolate-covered bacon. It tasted of salt and chocolate—it was a pleasant combination of sweet and salty, like chocolate covered peanuts. (If any of you want to bribe CR Biker, by the way, I hear he loves chocolate covered peanuts).

My wife and I packed up our bikes this morning not long after 7. It was only the second time we’ve ridden bikes to work together, but today was a special occasion.

The Mount Mercy Bicycle club was having its candy ride. The club offered $5 worth of candy to the first nine students who signed up to ride, and since pretty much all of the MMU bikes ended up being used, the bribe proved effective. As for Audrey and I, we didn’t have the bike club pay for our bacon, but went along for the ride.

The traditional club seflie became just a group shot, as there were too many bikers for me to merely hold out my arm. But no matter. While students organized themselves and unlocked bikes, I shot some photos of a butterfly visiting some nearby flowers.

Bike club before ride.Francis in front.

And then we were off. It was a hazy, sunny, warm afternoon. Riding with 10 others was a little challenging—we got a bit spread out and the group had to stop now and then, but we did better once we reached the Cedar River Trail.

Then it was downtown, where the bike lanes were briefly crowded. The students were pretty excited by the candy shop, which was a cool place to visit.

Shopping for candy.

Lloyd tries chocolate-covered bacon.
One young lady from Germany said she didn’t like to have her photo taken. Then, she made a Halloween-appropriate face just to get her photo taken.

Do not take my picture, she said. Then, this.

Between Catherine McAuley’s birthday cake and this bike ride, it was a sweet afternoon. Between this ride and commutes to work and a couple of errands at a store, I got close to 20 miles today. The club rode about 7.5.


Stopped on way back to campus, nearly there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In Which We See a Fall Sunrise

The early morning of the fall equinox, C Avenue, looking over pond at Rockwell-Collins.
I hope you are up early some of these fall mornings. We’re having a late summer here in the last half of September in Iowa—warm afternoons followed by pleasantly cool, but not cold, nights.

Today was the equinox when the sun, from our point of view, crosses the equator. Of course, from the sun’s point of view it’s just that silly tilted spinning ball swinging around again—but equinox it is.

And about 7:30 this morning, I was on Francis, headed towards campus. The sky, as it often is on a fall morning, was colorful and interesting, with just enough clouds to give the rising sun something to work with.

We’re at the time of year where a biker starts hankering for the frost, just a bit. The bugs are starting to get desperate and aggressive—the changing pattern of light is clearly sending signals, particularly to tiny biting insects. “Light is fading,” Mother Nature says in their tiny bug brains. “Find a walking sack of flesh with a thin, easily pierced covering, and suck, suck, suck! Time to gather protein for the winter eggs of next year’s biting hordes.”

Mother Nature tells it like is.

Pretty fall sunrise seen at Rohde Plaza, Mount Mercy University. Happy equinox day, but watch out. Winter is coming.

Anyway, despite the sudden appearance of bites from tiny blood suckers that, at the time, I didn't even notice, this is a great time to be outside riding a bicycle. Just don’t stop too long to take too many pictures.

Something is waiting, unseen, to pounce and bite. I’ll miss the green, but frost? You can come out now.

Monday, September 21, 2015

In Which We Travel Miles Together

Friday selfie or ussie before the ride to MMU.

Friday, we did it. My wife and I bicycle to work together.

This summer, she has been riding a lot more and many longer miles. It has not been unheard of for her to ride 20 miles in a day. The only asterisk is that she refused to change gears, so any significant hill is out.

Friday, due to the Moving Wall being at Mount Mercy, we thought it might be better to bike than drive. We were half right—the morning commute was OK, but there was one scary moment when my wife misjudged traffic on a busy cross street and ended up causing some cars to brake.

But, she made it.

However, we weren’t able t ride home Friday afternoon due to rain, and had to leave our bikes on campus when our daughter came to rescue us.

We drove down on Saturday to work at The Wall, and I rode my bike home after that. My wife’s bike was placed in the van.

Shadow of my wife on her bike on the Cedar River Trail.

Today, Sunday, we went on a 14-mile bike ride—going to see Grandma Shirley and then heading down to MMU to check on the wall.

14 miles in one gear—my wife is one tough biker.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In Which I Wonder About Chemicals and My Brain

Francis, Wednesday morning, parked between Regina Hall and the library.

I've got something I’ll call ’Nam brain.

I thought it was because I’m approaching the biggest public event in the Mount Mercy University Fall Faculty Series “The Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.” I coordinate that series, and this will be The Week, when The Wall (a traveling replica of the National Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial) arrives on campus.

So maybe being sleep-deprived (the first newspaper was this week, too) is just normal. But I’m on edge, like a kid before Christmas. I want tomorrow to come. But the anticipation is part of the pleasure, so I don’t want tomorrow to come.

What has all this got to do with biking? Well, for the first time ever, it’s possible my wife and I might bike to work together this week on Friday. We’ll see, but that would be Earth-shattering biking news. Parking will be messed up for a few days, but on Friday the campus bike racks will still be open.

Or maybe I’ve been exposed to dangerous plant-killing chemicals. It was nothing serious like Agent Orange, but I was delivering the newspaper bundles on campus this morning and I drove my old pickup truck of a bike and locked it up at the bike rack nearest the library. (Media grammar students—count the clauses in that sentence.)

That bike rack came complete with a dire warning:

Not the most comforting sign when you have parked your bike and you're wearing sandals.

Well, I don’t always wear closed shoes for biking. If bad things have been sprayed in the grass, I may be vulnerable. On the other hand, crabgrass was looking a bit brown, to me, in this sprayed area, and lawn chemicals don’t work instantly. Chances are the flags have been up for a while and the chemicals are all dry, and I’m OK. Which means the forgetfulness, anxiety and lack of sleep are all normal. It’s just another case of ’Nam brain.

Anyway, y’all come down to Mount Mercy. Bike if you can—it will be a heck of a lot easier than driving. The Wall will be here Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday—it opens officially on Thursday (tomorrow! yikes!) at 4:30 p.m. in the lawn of Warde Hall. A veteran’s panel shares stories that night at 7 in Flaherty Community Room, and information about the Wall will be presented at an open house Saturday.

And the wife and I are volunteering to staff the Wall early Saturday and Sunday at 6 a.m. Will we bike to campus then? Probably not, it’s dark that early—but we’ll see about Thursday. There may be some epic biking saga yet to come.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

In Which We Talk Trash and Death

Friday morning--lube and air ready for bikes.
On Friday, the morning began with a bit of bike maintenance on my personal fleet. I took 10 minutes to pump up tires, squirt WD40 on derailleurs and grease my chains. I hope to get a mountain bike in shape to ride soon—and then I’ll have three CR Biker bikes to maintain.

Then I had to choose which bike to ride. I have used Francis a lot this week, because my old bike is more convenient for hauling books and such to work. Argent is the faster, more fun bike to ride. Then I recalled my wife would be on campus late for a nursing ceremony, which meant I could put my heavy stuff in the van she was driving, so I opted for Argent.

I decided I might as well be on the fast, fun bike Friday, because it was the day of the first MMU Bike Club ride.

Courtesy of MMU Bike Club, three more bikes have been added this year to the fleet of bikes MMU students can check out at the Lundy exercise center. Check them out, students.

It had to be a short ride. Campus Ministry reserved all campus bikes for an event later, and I had volunteered to take some photos for the sophomore nursing “white coat” ceremony, and the club president had some other event at 5.

At 4 p.m., three students had showed up—Mark and Lloyd, two club officers, and a freshman nursing student with an unspellable name. Not that it was a hard name to spell—it was Sara or Sarah, I assume—but I did not ask.

Students getting ready for MMU bike club ride.

Bike club tradition--CR Biker takes a group picture of students before the ride.

The cool afternoon was a gorgeous for a ride. The students let me lead as we headed off towards the Cedar River Bike Trail.

The riders were in a lighthearted mood, which was good. Lloyd and Mark chatted about their journey up Mount Trashmore—a local “Meet Me at the Market” ride, held Thursday, had started at the New Bo Market. I had skipped the event, although I wish I could have gone, but there was a Vietnam Series speech that night, and I don’t regret attending that presentation.

Besides trash talk , or at least Mount Trashmore talk, the amiable chitchat was about death. The first-year student who joined us comes from a funeral home-owning family, and Mark, a business student, has had some internships in the mortuary business.

Circling Cedar Lake.

Anyway, when we got to Cedar Lake, I let the students take the lead. Lloyd, who is fast on a bike, zoomed ahead. On Argent, I was pretty confident I could keep up with most of the MMU bikes, at least those that didn’t zoom at Lloyd speed, and indeed I could. We probably never topped 14 mph, but it was a fun, comfortable ride. In total, in about 45 minutes, we went about 8 miles, circling the lake twice before heading back to campus.

Varied the route on the way back to MMU--used the bike lanes on H Avenue.

Once back on campus, I played event photographer. In my neon biking shirt and jeans, I’m sure I was the stereotypical picture of a scruffy photographer at the event in the chapel, but that’s what I was.

Afterwards, I shot a couple of pictures on the Rohde Plaza as I was heading home, riding Argent. The light was beautiful as the sun set on a perfect, cool, early fall biking day.

The bike club will ride again Monday, probably without me since I doubt the faculty meeting will be over by 4, but I hope more students show up—the rides are not too challenging, and it’s a way to meet others and learn about bike routes near MMU. Plus, you might learn about old garbage dumps or funeral rituals. So, MMU students, in the immortal words of the rock band Queen: “Get on your bikes and ride!”

Sunset at Rohde Plaza (above) on the MMU campus. Catherine McAuley with a golden glow (below).

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

In Which Fall Rides Begin With Less Pain

Sunrise on C Avenue at Rockwell-Collins pond. It's nice to be a bike commuter on a morning like this.

As expected, a cold front passed through and summer turned suddenly to late summer. Not quite early fall, in feel yet, but long pants aren't so strange to wear for a bike commuter.

I had to leave early this morning to get some grading done before a class, but that has its own rewards, as you can see. Beautiful sunrise in a partly cloudy sky.

The ride felt really great this morning—partly due to the beautiful light of a late summer sun, partly due to the break in humidity and the lower air temperature. And then there are my legs.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a nasty gash, courtesy of Francis, on the front of my right leg. The bike tipped as I was trying to remove a granddaughter from the toddler seat, and the pedal bit me.

I don’t know if it’s related, but the metal clips I wear when biking in dress pants have been really bothering me lately—feeling more painful on my ankles. Maybe my ankles are just tired of them.

Anyway, I have been wearing them with the gap facing to the front for months. This morning, for no particular reason other than the gash on the front of my leg is largely healed, so I can try it, I reversed direction.

The band, facing the other way, not hurting me.

What? Little to no discomfort—a biker with a more empirical mental bent would have discovered that months ago, darn it.

But would he enjoy the sunrise as much? Probably. His legs would feel fine.

Monday, September 7, 2015

In Which I Don’t Have to Eat Coach Ryan

Morning Glory on fence by Quaker Oats. I'm nearly done with ride, delirious with hunger, but fortunately did not eat any flowers or other bikers.

The wait for the train stretched on like a line of rail boxcars from here to Canada.

With the exception of the long wait, which was more than 30 minutes and counting when I gave up, it was a pleasant “Mayors Bike Ride” today, an annual free bike tour of Cedar Rapids sponsored by the Linn County Trails Association.

Ride is about to start, I'm near the front. The crowd. Cate, are you there somewhere?

The crowd seemed a bit smaller than last year, but maybe that was due to morning rain, even though it was warm and sunny by ride time. Or maybe because it was hot and humid today—storms tonight will break our heatwave. Or maybe there were concerns in the wild bicycling tribe that cannibalism would break out, and many riders chose not to take that risk.

I left home around 9 a.m., a bit late, I know, but I made it to Ellis Park by 9:50. I quickly registered, forgot to get a sticker (oh well) and had time for a quick restroom break before we began to line up. I looked around for familiar faces, but saw neither my sister nor Bob, the retired art professor, two people I often meet at this ride. Cate, where you there? I was going to text you, but discovered my cell was dying for lack of power.

Many Trail Association volunteers watched over us at busy corners--thank you! And I thought traffic lights would be the big delay. Little did I know ...
Anyway, Ryan Scheckel, Mount Mercy track coach, was there with his Mustang jersey on, too, so there were two of us in MMU colors. We said hello before the tour, but lined up at different spots.

The mayors, three of them, made brief speeches. Then, CR Ron got to ring the cow bell, and we were off.

The ride is an 8-mile loop, and despite many stop lights, I would normally finish in about an hour. It was more like an hour and 45 minutes today. Most of the ride was warm, sunny and pleasant, a pretty bike jaunt along an easy, flat route.

But, halfway through the ride, as we entered the leg of the ride that heads down to Cedar Lake, the route crosses railroad tracks. And a long train was there, heading south, blocking our way. And then stopping. And then heading south a few inches. And then stopping. And then heading south a few inches. And then stopping.

In my mind, a short guy's irritating voice shouted "the train! the train!" And then Ricardo Montalban said, "Welcome, to Fantasy Bike Ride."

As it happened, Ryan had stopped for the train nearby. I sheltered under the shade of a tree along an alley to wait out the train, and Ryan joined me and we chatted. And chatted. And chatted. Finally, he was ready to head north—either to go home or go around the train or avoid the inevitable when the crowd went all Donner Party to survive.

I was all alone when I stopped. And then this started to happen. Are they hungry?

Coach Ryan documents the train. For his bike blog?

Remember the crowd from before? 20 minutes later, this.

If I don't make it, tell Audrey I love her. And I was delicious. Coach and I in our final selfie. Until the next selfie.

As calmness sweeps the crowd, a drone overhead records the lack of mayhem. Despite the train delay, no bikers that I saw were eaten.

Well, we were only four blocks south of J Avenue, and eventually, a few minutes after Ryan avoided becoming lunch, I headed north on a nearby side street. As it turned out, the slow south-moving train had indeed cleared J Avenue, so my route back to the Cedar River Trail was clear. I was a bit concerned that when I got to downtown Cedar Rapids, the Slow Moving Train of Doom would have traffic blocked there too—but no, I was able to complete the ride before noon—only an hour or so later than expected.

They had signs along the trail by Cedar Lake, because it is narrow, there, warning of "heavy bike traffic." Thanks. I am trying to lose weight.

At the end, I paused at a picnic shelter in Ellis Park and ate a bag of nuts. I’m sure they probably tasted better than the desperate alternative back at the train, anyway.

View of Cedar River and bike trail as I eat my nuts at the end of the ride. Once again, thank you Linn County Trail Association for the ride, Mayor Ron for those mad cow bell skills, and Coach Ryan for not cooking any professors along the ride.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

In Which I Miss The Cheese

Francis parked as visual aid near information table for MMU Bike Club--I arrive 10 minutes before the party.

The MMU bike club held a “Club Friday” this week.

Club Friday is a Mount Mercy institution. Each week, some club or organization sponsors a Friday afternoon snack fest in the University Center. Typically, the club has some members there to draw prizes, answer questions about the event and to display something about the club.

Mark, the president, and two officers, Joe (student Joe, not this Joe) and Lloyd staffed the bike club table. CR Biker (this Joe) was there as club advisor.

Lloyd, Mark and Joe--MMU Bike Club officers. Mark noted that the club is good for diversity, although those are a lot of Y genes. I agreed--noting that we let both right- and left-handed people in.

The club has not had a ride yet, although weekly rides should start soon. The holdup is that all of the bikes available for MMU students to borrow are at Northtowne getting serviced.

But soon rides will resume. All in all, except for the fact that the cheese sticks were all eaten before I got into the food line, it was a good Club Friday.

My job at the event was to be the PA system for prizes, and the club’s photographer. The event went well, and I hope a few more MMU students will join the biking trend as a result.