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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In Which I Dodge Rain and Rescue Critters

Sky at Cedar Late around 4:30 p.m. today.

I made three attempts to get Francis home from Mount Mercy.

On Tuesday morning, with a slight change of late rain in the forecast for late in the day, I rode Francis. I’m more willing to expose my older bit to possible damp. I had a strategic planning retreat for much of the afternoon, so it was a few minutes before 5 when I started riding Francis across campus to head to bell practice.

But it was sprinkling. And I saw lightning. And, since my wife was just heading to the van to drive home, I quickly changed my mind and parked my bike in my office. (Sorry, Carolyn, but the way it was raining by 6 that night—well, I think skipping that one practice probably was a good move).

Wednesday morning, the first day of fall break, my wife and I were watching two granddaughters. We thought we would drive with them to campus, I would put the tot seat on Francis, and then one of the granddaughters would ride with me to a park while the other rode in the van with her grandmother.

But once again, as I wheeled my bike out of Warde Hall, rain started to pelt down. Plans changed, and we ended up driving to a store and shopping instead.

Anyway, the rain was over by afternoon when the grandkids returned home, and Audrey teaches a Wednesday night class that meets despite fall break, so I rode back to campus with her late in the afternoon, and took a little trail ride on Francis on the way home.

I headed down to Cedar Lake, and noticed something small moving on the trail—a little mouse at the edge of the pavement. “Weird,” I though as I biked on.

The lake was pretty, reflecting the half cloudy, half sunny sky, and circled it and then I turned north.

And north of the lake, there it was again, the mouse on the trail. I know I could have just left it—if it had been in my house, I probably would have killed it. But it was very young and just sitting there, waiting for a jogger’s foot, a biker’s tyre or an owl’s talons to come along.

Little mouse, not the best place to rest, I'm thinking.
So I did a mouse rescue. I grabbed a leaf and used it to shoo the mouse into the grass.

I don’t have much hope for its long-term survival—somehow I don’t think these are mouse genes that will be passing to the next generation—but there you have it, I was a redeemer of an immature rodent.

It was not my only good deed of the day. I also rescued a spider, although that was after I was home and cooking supper for my daughter and myself. The spider was on the wall in the dining room, and I assumed it had hitched a ride on plants we recently brought indoors. So I put a cup over it, slipped an envelope under the cup and did an outdoor arachnid release on the deck.

Good things come in three, so tonight I also e-mailed the city of Cedar Rapids about a crosswalk light on C Avenue that is dangling due to apparent wind damage.

Crosswalk light on C Avenue at Rockwell-Collins. I sent this photo to the city.

So there you have it. I may not have directed a robber with a gun in a “Popeye’s organization” to point said weapon at a more appropriate robbery target (although, to be fair, if I were robbing people in a Popeye’s, I would think I potentially could get more from a neurosurgeon than the cash register …), but I was civic minded in my own way today. You’re welcome.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

In Which a Few Hardy Bugs Still Sing

Corn field bathed in lat afternoon golden light along the Cedar River Trail, north of Robins, Oct. 18, 2015.

We had a hard freeze Saturday morning, and frost Sunday morning—so today, on a quick, later afternoon bicycle ride north to the five-mile marker on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, I was slightly startled to hear them—crickets.

Hope for more butterflies next year--milkweed seeds, the only plant that hosts Monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Not that many. The grassy and woodsy edges of the trail are much quieter than they have been. But the bugs of summer have not totally given up the ghost—a few hardy crickets still mournfully sing, seeking love before the world freezes over on them.


A few lonely gnats fly in the shade, a sad remnant of the hordes that bedeviled summer bikers.Not that I'm complaining!

The mid-October late afternoon sky turns a pretty gold as the sun nears the horizon, and the tan and brown seed pods of summer plants looks starkly pretty in the fading light. I rode fast as I headed north, and decided I would not make it to Lafayette today—too much homework waiting at home—but, since I was being good and turning around at the 5-mile mark, I would indulge myself a bit and snap some fall photos.

Fluffs on tall grass in setting sun.

Sure, I prefer the greens of summer. After our freeze, color will rapidly fade out of the countryside. The brown fall world has its charms too, but I will be ready when the flowers of spring return. Here are a few more of my ride photos.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

In Which Bike Lanes Are Spreading

Workers paint a bike lane on 42nd Street.

I’ve noticed, on Boyson Road, bike lanes that seem to go from nowhere to nowhere. And given how narrow Boyson Road is in parts where there is a bike lane, even if those lanes had a destination, I might, as a biker, hesitate to use them.

Bike lane marker painted on 42nd Street.
Still, it’s a good thing, from a biker’s point of view, how bikes lanes are slowly spreading in the city of Cedar Rapids.

The city just recently opened up the Cedar River Trail at 42nd Street, and I noticed this week, as I rode my bike there, there a city crew is painting new green bike lanes on the street.

On a Friday MMU Bike Club ride, for a time we were on bike lanes downtown. That was not my plan—I had been leading the ride and had used the bike trail, my preferred route through downtown—but I fell back to ride with the last rider, and the head of the pack took the lane instead of the trail for a few blocks.

Bike lanes in Cedar Rapids aren’t usually ideal. For one thing, they are right at the end of traffic lanes. Some cities are designing bike lanes so there is a barrier between cars and bikes—some even have the bike lane between parked cars and the sidewalk, rather than on the traffic side of parked cars.

Still, more bike lanes means, I hope, more bikers. That means a healthier city, less congested streets and more chances for more of us to be outside enjoying the weather and the sunshine, rather than merely transiting it in our metal cocoons.

MMU bike club on downtown bike lane.

Friday, October 16, 2015

In Which Grandpa Joe Sometimes Leads the Way

Bike Club tradition--pre-ride selfie.

There were some young’uns on today’s bike club ride who were faster than me some of the time, but most of the time I was zooming along pretty well. It was cool, and that helped a lot—in crisp fall weather, I tend to ride faster to keep warm. So today on the MMU Bike Club ride, I was going pretty fast.

Common saying on today’s bike ride?

“Grandpa Joe is passing us again!”

Arriving at city park at the end of the ride, 10 miles south of MMU.

We rode out to the Cedar River Trail and just kept going south. Once we had crossed the river, I think the college students in the bike club were seduced by the trail—it’s very woodsy and pretty south of the river. When we got to the bridge over the rails, I stopped to confer with Mark, the bike club president, about when we wanted to turn back, and the other members of the club just kept on going.

“I think the kids want to ride,” Mark said. “I guess we better let them.”

Some of the kids got a bit tired on the way back. Some bikers walked up the hill at MMU, and I heard, as I rode ahead of them: “He’s an alien!” I think that is a compliment.

It was the perfect fall day for a ride. Students thought it would be too cool before we started, but we bikers know better—50 is perfect biking weather.

Heading back to campus, riding into sunset along trail. Yes, my camera strap got in the photo, too.

It was a bit breezy, and I suppose I might have a leg cramp tonight after I rode so far so fast, but it was totally worth it.

Nice bike ride, MMU Bike Club. It was our first 20-mile ride. Do that three times and add a bunch of hills and you would have one day of RAGBRAI. More photos of the ride.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

In Which the Light Fades in Morning

Wednesday morning, sky starting to turn light as I cross the bridge over the railroad tracks on the Cedar River Trail.

We’re getting on to the “dark” biking months. When I leave campus late, as I did tonight, I usually get random horror stories from people about who Uncle Bob was nearly killed by a bus in the dark while biking.

I appreciate the sentiment, and I don’t plan to be much of an adventuresome biker in low light conditions. But both Argent and Francis have lights, and my helmet is also lit. Whether in the dim morning 7 a.m. dark, or later at night (I came home around 9 tonight), I’m also riding a very familiar route on mostly very quiet streets.

As long-time readers of blog know, I once had an odd run-in with a driver at night that caused me to call the police, but besides that, my dark-months commutes have been pretty uneventful. I suppose as I age and my night vision fades (I do already have a cataract in one eye) there will come a point where night riding is no longer practical, but I’m OK with it for now.

And it’s a bit soothing. I needed some soothing this week—it has just been very busy and the semester is starting to grind me down. I think biking is one key to maintaining my sanity.

Catherine McAuley as I arrive on campus. Sun halo.
Take Wednesday morning, for example. I had been working late both Monday and Tuesday, and knew I wanted to stay on campus for a writer’s visit Wednesday, and I had a concert Thursday night. So I was feeling a little blue that morning, but just for a change of scenery and because the 42nd Street detour is so much less of a time waster, I decided to take the trail ride in.

It’s pretty hard to stay blue when you’re riding a bike on a crisp fall morning as the sun climbs in the sky and the world slowly glows golden before the yellow light of day. I even took a bit of a break midday on Wednesday and strolled through the grotto at MMU.

I am not sure I understand why it seems important to me to be outside. Maybe the sunlight just make me feel more alive. Maybe the fresh air, or the sounds of birds and the rustle of leaves. Of course, we’re getting to the time of year when soon the leaves will be gone and many birds will migrate away, but I’ll still try to be outdoors when I can, riding a bike if I can.

From my walk in the grotto. A late rose.
Anyway, I discovered Wednesday that the trail ride actually doubles the distance—my 4-mile commute becomes an 8-mile commute. It does not, however, double the time. What is a 30-minute commute become a 45- to 50-minute ride. Despite 42nd Street, Blairs Ferry and other intersections, I think my average speed on the trail is higher than my average speed on a city street—both due to not competing with cars for space, and simply riding on a smoother, better surface.

It was the second time I had been on the trail since I found last week that it’s pretty much open. Last Saturday, one of my daughters and I rode 16 miles, including a jaunt down to campus, then around Cedar Lake.

It’s been a busy week for CR biker, but thank goodness for bicycles.

Hawk seen on trail during Saturday ride. Another reason to go outside.
Saturday on the trail with my daughter.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In Which Barriers Are Falling Away

Thursday afternoon--creature along the trail. Traffic in this section would have been pretty light due to trail closure at 42nd Street, maybe she or he is surprised to see bikes again. The critter just sat there and watched me. As I sat there and watched it.

Thursday afternoon, I was ready to leave campus before 5—a pretty rare thing for me. So I decided to ride around Cedar Lake and take the trail route home.

Now, I know that the trail is closed at 42nd Street, and knew that crossing Center Point road would be a bit of a challenge at rush hour, but that was all OK.

So I rode around the lake and then headed north.

When I got to the bridge where the trail crosses itself (you Cedar River Trail users know exactly what I mean, but it’s also a bridge over McCloud Run), I had a minor surprise. All summer long, since they closed the trail at 42nd Street, there was a sign on the bridge warning of the trail being closed ahead. But it was not there.

And, a bit farther on, I got to the little side street, opposite the food coop, and again, the warning sign that I was expecting was AWOL. The trail is open?

Wow—well, when I got to 42nd Street, it turns out the project is not yet done, but it has advanced to the point that the detour is much smaller. The official detour means going one block east and then coming back west on the other side. The unofficial detour is to wait until the workers are gone and just go around the signs.

Thursday afternoon at 42nd Street.

They aren’t done with the street crossing yet, so I don’t know if 42nd Street will still be the second-most interesting street crossing (First Avenue is still the most interesting) on the trail. But the project has totally eliminated a sharp turn and short trip down a very narrow sidewalk—the trail is nice and wide and has its own rail crossing, now.

Well, hooray. So I snapped a few photos and continued north. I turned to take the Noelridge Park route home.

And again, an expected detour was no longer there. An obstacle has evaporated. The sidewalk that crosses Noelridge to the middle school area had been closed while they did something to a stream. Turns out they were, among other things, putting in a prairie.

Well, that’s cool. I hope there are lots of milkweed seeds in that prairie area. And it’s nice that the main CR trail is gain pretty much open, and that I can go both north and south on it once more.

Prairie in the park.

Bridge in park. I am amused. They put in lots of new paving but carefully preserved the nice bump at the end of the bridge.

Sign in park.

Friday morning. No sneaking through today--workers on 42nd Street. And below, approaching trail again on the other side--detour is only a block now.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

In Which We See the Moon In A Pond

Lights in a pond on C Avenue.

Riding home in the dark at night on one of the first cool fall evenings felt pretty nice.

We have not had the first frost yet, and honestly I am looking forward to that. Not because I’ll love biking in cold weather (although biking in cool weather is actually quite pleasant as long as it’s dry), but because I won’t miss the biting insects.

I was pleased this morning to dig Argent out of the garage—so far this week, I had been riding Francis. That’s been due to carrying capacity—Francis has the baskets but Argent has the speed.

I didn't have too much to carry today, so I opted for speed over capacity. It does not make a big difference in the commute, but I was getting a slightly late start this morning, and I was able to recover about 5 minutes due to riding the faster bike.

Anyway, so it was Francis on the ride home last night. I was late at the office because I stayed for an event in our fall Vietnam series, and was riding home around 9 p.m. The moon, which had been full Sunday, was still large and was just rising in the sky.

I stopped by the pond at Rockwell-Collins. I liked the way the fountains, parking lot lights and moon were all reflected, so I rested my little camera on the handlebars of my pickup truck bike and tried to snap a few.

The shutter was very slow, but I think the results are decent. Like the bike ride—a little slow and decent.