Sunday, January 31, 2016

In Which I Chase Shadows Of Spring

First time out of the garage in 2016. A fast ride on the road bike today.

It felt warm today. Not spring warm, mind you—it maybe flirted with 40 on this final day of January in 2016, and we are bracing for a big Iowa snowstorm that is expected to arrive right after the caucuses Monday might.

I had not planned a ride, but could not find a couple of books I needed to write quizzes. Still, it looked so nice and sunny, that despite dampness left over from a cold morning drizzle, I got out the road bike. Today was Argent’s first ride of 2016.

And it was nice. After I got to the office, I answered some emails and got a text from home. My daughter had found my books.

Well, time to bike back. It was close to 5—but on this final day of January, 5 is no longer dark night, but rather just as the late afternoon light fades to sunset.

My shadow was long, and I was, for some reason, wanting to photograph it, so I tried a lot. Biking and making pictures are not exactly the most compatible activities, but it all worked out.

Street near MMU, my shadow is pretty big!

My shadow on brown winter grass at Rockwell-Collins. Snow cover is receding, but it will be freshened soon enough!

Shadow straight in front as I ride on parking lot.

And at the C Avenue bridge, I was taken with the comeliness of the soft and muddy looking creek valley. It’s not yet spring in Iowa, but today was at least a foretaste. As I pointed my camera to try to record the pretty, fading light in the valley, suddenly a small herd of deer shot out from under the bridge.

I wasn’t the only creature hurrying through the late afternoon, but still enjoying a minor foretaste of warmer weather to come.

Deer running across grassy area next to Dry Creek. I shot this jut after crossing C Avenue bridge.

In Which I See the Light

Just a short post, in praise of winter light. Biking is better in summer, with butterflies, green trees, flowers and such—but seeing more of the stark beauty of the winter outdoors is one reason to be a year-round bikers.

Friday morning--sunshine at Mount Mercy University hillside.

Saturday--pink sunrise on the way to the gym.

Saturday--ride home from gym via Lindale Trail.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

In Which I Glimpse a Nearby Star

Sunrise at Kenwood School during my morning ride.

It’s been cold and cloudy, lately, so a bit of sunshine yesterday—when it was still too slick to bicycle—and a morning break in the clouds today were welcome sight

The ride in this morning was a bit icy in places, and I had to take care. Other than making the ride take longer, however, the conditions caused no problem.

By the afternoon commute, the warmer day and some sun had gotten ride of some of street snow.

And, although I left after 5, it was just getting dark. In both the morning and the afternoon, I was able to catch glimpses of the sun. Glad to see it slowly moving back into our hemisphere.

Two views of sunset at Kenwood School, during th e ride home.

Friday, January 22, 2016

In Which Snow Contrasts With Summer Dreams

Ah, RAGBRAI. Where are you now?

I didn’t have time to enter this year’s “guess the route” contest. But I bet it will be west to east. I’m going to guess Missouri Valley to Muscatine, just because I can. And in the middle, we’ll stop in Des Moines, just because Zombie Burgers.

Note on Facebook. RAGBRAI!
We’ll see. In the meantime, a family friend from Florida, who rode with Team Joe two years ago, posted a message on Facebook that indicates she may be coming back up north again next July. Well, hooray! We need your sunny warmth, Susan.

We sure didn’t have it today. I know, I know, I’m not in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., and have no right to complain. But we were supposed to maybe have flurries this morning.

And I had to be on campus, so I decided, aw heck, I can ride in a flurry.

It was a flurry on steroids. A dusting, which is beyond what CR Biker likes to bike in. I fervently regretted not getting one of my mountain bikes fixed—I would have been far more comfortable riding The Beast of The Fancy Beast than plugging along on Francis. Due to the condition of the C Avenue sidewalk, I decided to take the far north route over to the Cedar River Trail.

Sidewalk on Council Street this morning. And I was riding a bike.

As it turns out, it wasn’t a horrible decision. No baby ducks or old man bikers were injured in the making of this blog post. But snow clearance on the dangerous C Avenue sidewalk is almost great compared to snow clearance on the section of Council Street sidewalk north of Boyson Road.

To be fair, the situation south of Boyson was much more pleasant. And although I rode in a bit of white-knuckle fear, it’s also true that the light dusting of snow never proved slick enough for CR Biker to even slip. I had the Cedar River Trail to myself, and the ride was far less stressful once I got to the trail due to both lack of car traffic and lack of snow compaction caused by car traffic.

Northbrook on the way west headed to the trail. Nasty cold headwind, too.

Now I am on trail. First traffic signal in Hiawatha

Biggest challenge on the trail-the rail bridge. As it turned out, not so bad. As you can see, without cars to compress it, the snow is not sticking all that much, nor is there much snow to begin with.

So on I went. It took a bit longer than usual—as you can imagine, I was going slowly, but I made it.

And, at 9 a.m., just as I got to campus, the sun came out. To mock me, I think.

RAGBRAI, where are you? Anyway, it’s pretty exciting to think Team Joe may be associated with an even larger group (Team Florida Susan?). We’ll see! And soon we will know the route. And soon the snow will be gone and I can take out the road bike.

But I do need to get The Beasts repaired sometime. I wish it had been yesterday.

I arrive at MMU. And the sun comes out, briefly. Afternoon ride home was cloudy and cool, but not snowy like the morning ride.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In Which I Visit Slick & Icy Places

Sun setting at Noelridge Park.

Ten degrees this morning—it was a bit warmer than Monday, when last I bicycled. Tuesday, there was a slight dusting of new snow on the ground, plus a wind chill of 20 degrees below. So I drove then, but rode today.

It was grey and cool in the morning, but not bad. I was ready to head home at about 4. The cloudy morning had turned into a warmer afternoon, still below freezing, but warm compared to recent days.

So, I decided to take the longer bike trail route home. The city has done a decent job clearing the trail of snow—unlike in past snowfalls, even the places where the trail crosses streets are clear. I had a fairly pleasant, scenic ride. There were a few joggers on the Cedar River Trail, but for the most part I was alone in the fading, pink light of day. On McLeon Run, a group of ducks (what is a group of ducks called?) was swimming in the still open water.

Dry Creek behind my house is mostly frozen over, but McLeon Run is still running, With ducks.

To get home from the trail, I took the route that leads to the St. Pius X neighborhood, in which I cross Noelridge Park via its northern sidewalk. While the sidewalk has been fairly well cleared, the park is where I ran into trouble.

I took some pictures of the park’s creek, where the city is installing some native vegetation—but just east of the creek, there had been some thawing and refreezing after the sidewalk had been cleared. A sort of shallow pond had formed, and but froze over the sidewalk, and I rode across it.

Francis on the bridge at the park--shot this before the near death experiences.

That was a mistake. There is an icy spot on the sidewalk of C Avenue that I walk each morning, and I should have done that here. As I rode on this icy sidewalk, my bike gave a sudden lurch—it lost traction and slipped.

Well, blog fans, I’ve hurt myself that way before, and I have vowed never to again ride a bicycle on ice. I guess the pond was so small, and I just wanted to get home.

The potential tale of broken tailbones has a happy ending, however. The slip did not lead to fall. I crossed the ice intact, if a bit shaken, and paused to make an image of the tracks made by my snowy transit.

See my tracks? They are  the set on the left leading directly cross that ice. Silly me.

Then, behind the middle school whose grounds I cross on this route, there is a sidewalk that has not been cleared at all in recent snows. I wasn’t foolish enough to even try biking there, I simply walked my bike. I walked it very slowly. Actually, I sort of slid my feet and kept a grip on Francis, who kept trying to slide away to the right and tumble. I honestly think I came closer to a banged up knee walking across that slick layer of snow topped by ice than I did when riding on the ice of Noelridge Park, and I was glad I was wearing rubber snow boots rather than my usual biking shoes—I had donned them for warmth, but I appreciated the extra traction. Again, despite potentially offending the Angry Demons of Winter Falling, I successfully negotiated the icy walk with only hypothetical, imaginary falls.

The imaginary falls terrified me, to be honest.

Creeks seem to be the theme of this post. This one is just east of the middle school. I'm pausing on a bridge, screwing my courage up for the slide across the rest of the tundra, because, below, you can see what my route looked like. I slid my booted feet across that landscape, hanging on to an unstable bike that just want to lie down. We both made it, but holey moley it was exciting.

Ninety-five percent of the ride was quite pleasant, on bare pavement through quiet, pretty winter scenery. The other 5 percent convinced me, however, that—until the spring thaw—I won’t be taking the middle school-Noelridge Park route to the Cedar River Trail.

There are other ways to get there that won’t involve crossing school grounds or parks on frozen ponds. It might be a few days before I try one of those routes—I probably won’t have time for a trail ride Thursday, although it’s pretty likely I will be riding my bike. Friday the weather gets dicey—and if I did have one lesson reinforced by today’s exciting frozen water adventures, it’s don’t mess with ice.

Message heard, Mother Nature, message heard.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In Which I Ride and Don’t Ride

Fogged glasses and icy beard.
Me after the ride home Monday night.
Monday: Cold, very cold. But I own long underwear and new warm winter boots, so what is a biker to do?

Get on the bike and ride. Monday, I commuted to work despite bone-chilling wind chills. It was colder in the morning, and even though it was full dark and snow was in the air as I rode home, the ride home was kind of pretty, if still a bit brisk.

But this morning, the temperature had fallen and was still on its way down, the wind was howling and a new dusting of white stuff was swirling through the air. I thought of how I had to dodge icy patches on the commute Monday—it was pretty easy, with most pavement being clear, but I did have to watch for ice—and how those bits of ice were now potentially concealed under a white camouflage, and I decided that 20 below is a bit too extreme for CR Biker.

I’ll ride in zero. I did Monday and it was fine. Not 20 below. Still, it looks like the weather will allow more biking on Wednesday and Thursday, so the week, overall, will be a pretty good one for winter.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

In Which I Ride Almost 4 Miles on Styrofoam

What the dusting looked like on my daughter's car. We recognize many kinds of snow in Iowa, but don't always have adequate words to describe them.

We Iowans do need to have a more expanded vocabulary for winter precipitation. We had rain Thursday and Friday, then, overnight, before this Saturday morning, it changed to a brief dusting of snow. Not just any snow—but that sort of Styrofoam, little snowballs snow that looks like tiny packing peanuts..

It’s getting cold. The temperature was in the low 20s as I contemplated going to the gym this morning, and the question was, how to get there?

Well, I know that the city finally got around to clearing the sidewalk on the C Avenue bridge. And pavement was wet with rain yesterday, but if pavement isn’t too wet, when bitter cold air moves in, water evaporates as it freezes, and you end up with mostly dry pavement.

Indeed, bitter cold weather is settling into the upper Midwest today, so I was hoping Artic would also mean “dry.” According to the iPad, it was 21 degrees (friends in Celsius countries are thinking that means it was pretty warm, but we’re talking good old American Fahrenheit degrees here—below zero to you Celsius readers) when I rolled Francis out of the garage. The ride to the gym was pretty much as I expected—a few patches of ice hidden by a dusting of snow, but fortunately not well hidden. Riding slow, in a lower gear than usual, I had no slips.

Francis, parked at the gym. Not exactly in the bike rack, but locked to it.

In a  few places, the snow that fell last week was never cleared well, and the combination of compressed snow and frozen rain made for rough ice. At those spots, I got off the bike and walked, glad I had decided to awkwardly bike in warm winter boots that grip much better than my usual biking shoes. In the journey to the gym, those walking zones probably accounted for less than 10 percent of the route.

And then I exercised and watched an episode of “Law and Order,” so it was a bit more than an hour later when I emerged from the gym. I had gone up around 8:30 a.m. and was leaving around 10 a.m.

Photo from the return journey. I had to walk a little bit because this is what the wine shop considers a cleared sidewalk.

Something wicked was going on. A strong west wind was blowing and the temperature was dropping. The bank, when I rode by it, said 15 degrees. I’m sure the wind chill was much lower.

I had toyed with the idea of taking the Lindale Trail all the way to the Boyson Trail and coming home over the Brentwood Drive hill—and, indeed, despite the chill I did start riding on the trail. The paved western segment was fine—covered in snow in Cedar Rapids, cleared in Marion, but OK in both places since “covered in snow” meant mostly bare pavement just lightly dusted with Syrofoam.

Two trail views. Above, on the paved surface, you can tell where Cedar Rapids ends and Marion begins. Below, icy surface that stopped my ride, with fat-tire rider in the distance.

When I got to the limestone surface, however, I quickly decided to turn back, not only because I was freezing in my thin gym pants, but also because the limestone surface had obviously retained the moisture of the recent rains, and instead of being bare like pavement, was quite icy. A man on a fat-tire bike zoomed by me, headed to the rest of the trail, but I decided to take the better part of valor and turn around.

My tyre tracks whwere I was turning around. Not sure you can see them as well, but fat-tire tracks are in photo too, but my narrower tires made a more definite mark on the snowy surface.

I ended up just shy of 4 miles for the ride, but also in a slightly optimistic mood for future commuting. I might try to ride a bike to work on Monday. After all, I can wear more layers and long underwear.

Two views from C Avenue Bridge. Dry Creek looking wet and all winter pretty in the snow (above) and a cleared bridge (below).

If I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Bonus image. Cute grandson in cute biking shirt. He turns one month tomorrow.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

In Which Bike Commuting Must Await a Thaw

My bike, parked at St. Pius X for Sunday afternoon concert.

Well, today I rode my bike 2 ½ miles to a concert I played bells in, for a 5-mile round trip.

How was it?

Either not a problem or terrifying, depending on which moment of the journey you visited me during. I rode up the sidewalk on C Avenue, which was not perfect, but mostly bare pavement. I walked Francis on half of the C Avenue Bridge because half of it has not been cleared (I think some neighborhood teen boys cleared that half that is clear on a voluntary basis—and bravo to them, because the half that is not clear is 10 inches of very densely packed, heavy snow, including not just what fell from the sky, but also what was plowed onto the bridge from C Avenue). And I had to walk my bike for a bit by Road Ranger because Road Ranger’s idea of clearing snow from their sidewalk is a pathetic joke—but, whatever, I rode most of that C Avenue stretch. I then crossed at the Blair’s Ferry Road light and rode to the C Avenue-Rockwell-Collins pedestrian crossing light.

Snow clearance at Rockwell-Collins parking lots wasn’t perfect, either, but not terrible. There were a few icy patches where I deployed my feet, but otherwise the route was adequate for slow, careful winter biking.

And then I got to F Avenue. City of Cedar Rapids, your idea of “snow removal” on residential streets is even more of a joke than Road Ranger’s idea of sidewalk snow removal. The terrible white icy glaze is back—it’s what happens when snow is compacted on a road for days rather than plowed off of it. The quiet residential streets I rode on were a nightmare of either slick ice, or powdery, sand-like loose snow on top of a white icy glaze.

St. Pius X did a decent job of snow removal, but had a few patches like this. On CR streets, patches like this are 3-4 inches thick and go on for block after block. Try driving on Regal behind the middle school, for example.

Not cool. I understand why, after a snowfall, the main drags are the priority to plow, but I fail to understand why it seems at about the 48 hour mark after any snowfall, the city just tosses up its hands or plows and says “meh” about all the back streets that have not been cleared. It’s very odd how every residential street in Marion or Hiawatha will be OK 48 hours after a snowfall, but residential streets in the neighborhood south of Collins Road and Rockwell-Collins, or in the Kenwood School area, will be a white icy messes with little to no evidence of city snow clearing.

Mayor Corbett, if we’re a city that’s open for business, it might be nice if our streets were also passable six days after a snowstorm.

Bah, humbug. Many of you are probably saying “you don’t have to ride a bicycle,” and you’re correct, but on the other hand, driving on those icy streets in a car (or walking, many of unplowed streets don’t have sidewalks) isn’t exactly a picnic, either.

Anyway, there is also a terrible inconsistency to all of this. The Parks and Recs Department does a good job clearing snow on the main sidewalk crossing Noelridge Park. Chance are, the Cedar River Trail is in decent shape—in past winters, P and R kept it pretty clear. But, with the Street Department giving up on quiet side streets, how is a biker or walker to get to park or trail?

Still, I was OK on today’s ride. I expected conditions to be terrible, and rode slowly and carefully, walking when I needed to. It’s a bit of a toss-up whether it’s more terrifying sliding down a bit of an incline on ice, or powering up a hill through powdery snow, but I guess I’m living proof it can be done without injury.

Still, the five-mile ride convinced me of one thing. If I rode a bike to work, it would be an 8-mile round trip, with half of it necessarily in the dark. Even if I had a mountain bike that was ridable (sadly, I have two mountain bikes and neither is ridable), I would not be ready for bike commuting right now, with the streets in the sad shape they are in. So, until warmer weather melts that horrible street glaze, I’m off of two wheels.

And it does bug me, I’ll admit. The sidewalk in front of my house is nice, clean, bare pavement, and was within 24 hours of the snowfall, due to my own labor. I’ll conceded that there are too many miles of streets for CR to get them all cleared in the first 24 hours after a snow, and again, I understand the main drags being the priority in that timeframe.

But six days later and so many streets are glazed over in thick ice? There has got to be a better system.

Sunset at Noelridge Park, on my ride home. Park sidewalk was well cleared.