Wednesday, October 18, 2017

In Which Fall Skies Bring Some Peace

Monday, Oct. 16--Hybrid Bike Clarence in the leafy bike rack behind Warde Hall.

I have the mid semester blues—just feeling a bit busy, sleep deprived and under the weather.

But biking sure helps. And biking lately has been gorgeous—cool weather has followed some recent rains that took the dry edge off of the outside here in Iowa. We’re still weirdly warm, but weirdly warm in the second half of October is still a bit cool.

No killer frost yet, and frankly, it will be welcome when it comes. I’ll miss the greenery but not the insects.

Tuesday, Oct. 17. I had to guest lecture in an 8 a.m. class, so this is the Rockwell-Collins pond around 7 a.m. Great morning for a an early ride!

Anyway, on the first day of fall break today, I intended to ride to the gym. Well, I did ride to the gym, but I managed to make the 1-mile journey a 12-mile trek by swinging over to the Lowe Park Trail in Marion, first.

As you can see below, it was very pretty. I was riding my road bike today. Monday and Tuesday I rode my hybrid bike, and it was nice to be back in that saddle again.

I hope all you Iowa bikers have found some time to enjoy this delicious fall weather!

Oct. 18--first three images are pond on Irish Drive, the street that leads from Tower Terrace Road to the trail. A multitude of geese had gathered, and one white bird, seen in flight above. Below that are pictures from Lowe Park or the trail near that park.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

In Which I Ride the New Wheel

Grandson ready for first ride using new rear wheel on my hybrid bike.

Yesterday, I went to the bike shop in Marion to retrieve Clarence, there because I had broken my second spoke in a few weeks. At no cost to me, the shop replaced the original rear wheel with a more heavy-duty wheel with truly impressive spokes. The front and back wheels now are superficially the same, although you may notice the back wheel has silver spokes while the front has black.

On closer look, the thickness of the silver spokes in back is very impressive.

Note sure the image does them justice. Very strong looking spokes on new heavy-duty rear wheel.

Anyway, it was raining yesterday, so we took the grandkids down to the Children’s Museum in Coralville. Today was the first chance I had to test the new wheel. After awakening from an afternoon nap, I asked a grandson if he wanted a bike ride (I don’t think he napped, but I felt like rewarding him because I had—he read quietly while I snoozed).

He did want a ride.

So I got Clarence out and hooked up the Tag-A-Long seat. It was cool, breezy and cloudy—temperature about 50, probably felt like mid 40s with wind chill. We headed out and after a block returned home. I had forgotten my cell phone, and we mutually agreed that if we were going to do this ride, we were going to wear gloves.

Still, cool as it was, the ride was pleasant. We headed up to Boyson Road and headed east to the Boyson Trail in Marion. After a quick loop via the Lindale Trail back to C Avenue, I came home. And other grandchildren were waiting, wanting rides, too.

With one granddaughter, I went up to the Rockwell-Collins pond, crossed C Avenue and rode around the company’s HQ, and then stopped at Walgreen’s to buy hot cocoa mix. By the time we got to the store, the sun was starting to show through holes in the cloud covers, and we both put on sunglasses.

As the afternoon ages, the clouds break up and move out. A grey 50 is a chilling experience, but a sunny 50 feels much nicer. Rockwell-Collins pond as sun is just about to clear clouds.

Four grandchildren were staying with me this weekend, but, unfortunately, one has a cold, and we didn’t think it was a good idea for her to ride in the windy cool. There was, however, the oldest granddaughter to give a ride to.

I again headed up C Avenue, circled the pond, then went down the Lindale Trail. We rode to Thomas Park, and then came back again via the Lindale Trail.

Seen on Boyson Trail on final of three bike rides, as day finally turns sunny at the end.

All in all, I biked a bit more than 10 miles with three kids. The bike felt good, and I didn’t mind the windy, chilly day. I make a lot of heat while biking.

And there was hot cocoa when I got home.
Final bike ride of the day--oldest granddaughter reacts as sun comes out.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

In Which a Tough New Wheel Arrives

Oct. 8--Sunday image of MMU campus seen from bike trail by Plaster Athletic Complex. Not many sunny days this week!

Fall rides on the Fancy Beast: For the past week or so, partly due to damp conditions for which I would normally use the bike anyway, but mostly due to a broken spoke, I’ve been riding the Raleigh mountain bike I named “Fancy Beast.”

It’s been a fine bike to ride, although on the most recent newspaper Sunday, I actually rode Argent, my road bike, and took the trail near MMU by Regis to see how far south it goes. It was a fine, sunny day, although damp from the previous day’s rain, but blue skies on the kind of warm fall day we’ve had many of this year.

It was pleasant to roll through the new MMU Plaster Complex, but then come to the sudden end of the trail. I’m looking forward to when this stub of a trail actually goes somewhere—I think the eventual plan is for it to end at the Cedar River Trail on the south, while on the east and north end, it should tie into the Boyson Trail complex in Marion.

That will be years away, and I’ll be lucky to still be commuting to MMU when that happens.

Although we still have plenty of bugs—no hard freeze, yet—fall is definitely in the air. Our mini-drought is finally being replaced with welcome rain, and my rides this week were a bit grey. Still, as you can see, even gray fall days have their beauty. I do wish I could send some of this rain west to California! May the winds and fires there die down soon.

Cloudy afternoon, two views of Cedar Lake (above and below). I'm riding the Fancy Beast and heading home, but taking the trail route. Despite the clouds, the lake has some fall beauty.

Closer to home, and later, after sunset. Rockwell-Collins pond on C Avenue.

Anyway, Clarence is back from the shop! Cranky in Marion got a heavy duty rear wheel for me from Fuji. That thing looks serious—thick, heavy gauge spokes that should bear even my weight for the long haul. And he didn’t charge me for the wheel, either, since the bike is only about a year old.

I can’t beat that deal! I have grandkids this weekend—with Francis back, maybe we can get some use out of the Tag-A-Long. It was wet today when I picked up the bike--but tomorrow should be a sunny, although cool, day.

We’ll see!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

In Which Golden Light Illuminates the Way

Cedar Lake, Oct. 4, 2017, between 5:30 and 6 in the evening.

The light of fall this afternoon was too tempting. I have to write a mid-term exam for Friday, grade a set of papers for Thursday and tackle another backlog of grading for a  speech class that has 50 students in two sections.

But this early evening held that special pretty light of a cool day after a storm. This morning, my wife and I went together to the gym early, and it rained pretty hard while we were there. But both the TV weather people and the online radar suggested we were at the end of this bout of welcome water from the sky.

So at 7:30, I took the Fancy Beast out of the garage. For some reason, last week I broke yet another spoke on my hybrid bike Clarence, so I’ve been riding like a Seattle techie for the past few days. My son received this mountain bike as a perk from Microsoft 8 or 9 years ago. The bike had been passed on to a son-in-law for a few years, and then when he moved to England, came to me.

The bike, a black Raleigh mountain bike, did not get heavy use after I got it because I also owned a Schwinn mountain bike, passed on by my youngest son. For almost a year, it collected dust in the garage because a severely wobbly back wheel made it impossible to ride. Anyway, a few weeks ago I took the Raleigh into the Marion bike shop to see if Cranky could fix the untrue back wheel.

He could, and did. “It’ll be a good little bike,” he said when I picked it up.

And indeed it has been. I already wrote about riding the Fancy Beast on the Grant Wood Trail a while back. Now, while I wait to have a day when I get home during business hours at the bike shop, and because it’s meant to be the cold or wet weather bike anyway, I’ve been riding the Fancy Beast.

And having a blast. It is, compared to my road and hybrid bikes, slower—but not as slow as its looks would suggest. It is relatively light, and rolls with little resistance, so it can get going at a good speed on a flat or downhill.

Anyway, this morning I would have ridden it even if the hybrid was ride worthy—it was cloudy and wet. The Fancy Beast is my winter beater bike, the one I choose on days when stuff from the sky may complicate my biking life. I aired it up and applied some wet lube t the chain, and I was off.

The air was damp, and I’m sure I splashed on myself as I rode over the wet sidewalks and streets. But the day turned fair and cool, the kind of weather we haven’t seen enough of yet this fall in which September was a summer month—sunshine and 60s. The kind of day a light sweater felt just right and biking is a true pleasure even in the damp morning—but especially in the cool, dry afternoon.

So, despite it all, on my ride home tonight I took the time to swing down to Cedar Lake on the Cedar River Trail. As I expected, the golden light of late day in October made this dirty little pond quite pretty, as you can see. Later, as I neared home, I circled the C Avenue pond at Rockwell-Collins, again enjoying the fall light.

Cedar Lake seen from the canopy of trees in the park on the east side.

Sunset at Rockwell-Collins pond on C Avenue.

Golden sun shines down and makes the world a place of transcendent beauty at this time of year. As you can imagine, for clearly obvious reasons, I’ve been in a delicate, poor mood for much of this week. The carnage in Las Vegas, the hurricanes, old fluff and puff’s odd lack of empathy when faced with suffering Americans in Puerto Rico—it has not been a good time for a man who professionally has to pay attention to the news of the day.

RIP Tom Petty. You picked a lousy week to die in, not that it’s your fault. Somehow, we all feel we are free falling.

So maybe it’s not such a surprise I took some time out for a gratuitous lake ride. I enjoyed it, as I also enjoyed the fall light during last Friday’s Mount Mercy Bike Club Ride north to Robins.

Bike club shadows Friday at Robins park. OK, it's not really October yet in this picture, but almost.
So thanks, October skies. It’s not as if you make it all better—the hurts and anxieties run too deep for that. But being reminded that there is still beauty in the world helps.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

In Which Summer Heat Lasts Till the Wobble Appears

Cloud shadows in the morning Sept. 21.

The light is fading away from the Northern Hemisphere. Time to check the lights.

Despite the fading morning and afternoon suns, summer heat and drought has been the theme of recent biking in Iowa. That finally changed this week. While it wasn’t by any means a gully washer, some rain fell Monday into Tuesday, and suddenly the humid 90s have been replaces by cool 70s.

I felt I was melting at the start of this week. Now I wear a sweater for morning rides.

This morning was a bit frustrating. I was all set to leave home early and get to work well before 8—but I noticed an odd wobble as I got close to the Rockwell-Collins crossing. I thought something was wrong with my front wheel due to the wobble, but it seemed true. Then I looked back at the rear wheel.

Wobble. Wobble. Wobble. If felt like it came from the front, but in fact it was the back wheel that was bippity bopping as I rode. “Looks like a broken spoke” I thought to myself, and when I stopped, hopped off the bike and checked, sure enough, myself was correct.

Well, I was much closer to home than work, so I turned back and swapped bikes.

It meant I didn’t get in early, as I had hoped to. But I did, at least, get to ride a bit more in a pleasantly cool morning, which is nice to experience after our long, hot September.

Here are a bunch of images of recent rides showing the beauty of the fall skies, whether hot or seasonal in temperature.

Early sun at Blairs Ferry Road (above) and Rockwell-Collins pond (below).

Ones above are last week-this is this morning, Sept. 27.

Cedar Lake.

Morning shadow.

Cedar Lake.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

In Which We Take a Trail Less Ridden

Heading west on Grant Wood Trail to tunnel under Highway 13. We can't see it yet, but there is not a trail beyond the tunnel.
Have you ever been on the Grant Wood hiking/bike trial east of Marion?

I tried it today for the first time. After doing some schoolwork in the morning (and other unfortunate events that Amanda knows about, but the rest of you are in ignorance of although a yummy breakfast that must be atoned for was involved), my wife and I decided it was time for a bike ride.

We had talked about the Grant Wood Trail before—we’ve noticed signs for it east of Marion on Highway 13. We parked one day earlier this summer at the east trail end, and noted the surface was not paved, so today, when we decided to finally ride it, we thought it best to bring mountain bikes.

Sometimes the trail was sort of a grass-rock mix, and sometimes, below, was more just a grassy track.

That proved to be wise. If you ride the Grant Wood Trail, do it on a bike with wide tyres—the ground is grass at some points, and was, despite the drought we are now in, a bit soft and muddy in one low, shady spot. You don’t want a road bike on this trail, and even a hybrid would be dicey. It is quite nice, however, on a mountain bike, and you’ll be grateful for the shock absorbers such bikes typically have.

After parking in a small gravel lot just off of Highway 13 near Highway 151, we started off heading west because it looked like there was a tunnel under Highway 13, and we wondered where the trail went into Marion. It turns out that it doesn’t. There is a tunnel under the highway, but it’s the far west end of the trail. So after the quick tunnel passage, we turned around and did our best 1970s rock band imitation. We headed east.

If you’re old enough, that may have launched a frat party soundtrack in your head. If not, see below. You’re welcome.

The Grant Wood Trail is fairly straight and not hilly. It does make up for it, however, with hidden bumps. It is, at points, like riding across a rather rough lawn, with little dips, sticks and unexpected tree roots. Still, despite being a bit on the bumpy side, if you ride it slowly (we were going about 7 mph) on a mountain bike, it’s also a very pleasant trail to be riding on during a late summer/early fall sunny afternoon.

And there are some bonus sights. We early passed a new park just south of the trail—so new, it appears that it’s not open yet. We could glimpse a big hole in the ground that we assume will be a pond when the weather turns wet. In future rides, this may be a nice picnic stop.

A little farther along the trail, an interesting sign marked a boggy area that, a few thousand years ago, was a small lake where a bison drowned. His bones were found in the 1960s. The animal was not a fossil—it died recently enough that the uncovered bones were still just bones. And yet, it belonged to a species of bison that is now extinct, the almost immediate ancestor of the buffalo of today.

Well, hello there, bison great, great, great grandpa. You were an unexpected bonus to encounter on this fine day.

Seen along the way--a future park (below) and past bison (below).

It was a day of pleasant sunshine, comfortable shade and a multitude of grasshoppers. There were a few screams and yelps from my wife when a jumper would hitch a short ride on her body. I’m happy to report that, for whatever reason, I was not a locust bus myself.

The yelps were few and far between, like the hidden roots. They did not spoil what was a pleasant ride. In fact, despite the jolts of the uneven trail, we were not ready to stop when the trail came to an interruption at a gravel road after a bit more than 3 miles. A sign said it continued somewhere, but we didn’t know how to get there and weren’t willing to try on unknown roads.

So our whole ride was 7 miles (we rode back to the Highway 13 tunnel just to ensure we reached the 7 target) and a bit more than an hour. That time included stopping to read the buffalo sign and peer at its spot of earthly departure, and a pause at the east end for a granola bar break.

The trail (above) continues somewhere. Our bikes parked a bit more than 3 miles from where we started (below).

All in all, I would say the Grant Wood Trail is worth your time, if you have not yet tried it. Do bring a mountain bike, keep a careful watch on the changing trail conditions and pick a very dry day. I hesitate to think what the boggy part of the trail would have been like if we weren’t in a drought. My wife noted she would like to bring grandchildren to hike part of it—I’m sure it works well as a walking trail.

I don’t think we’ll be riding this trail a lot, mostly because we have to drive through Marion to get to it—but I’m sure we’ll be back. We’ll someday try to find the other two-mile stretch of the trail that’s cut off on the east.


Not from Saturday ride--these images are from my Friday ride on the Cedar River Trail.

The Grant Wood exploration ride came a day after a very pleasant evening ride home for me. I happened to have my nice camera on campus for other reasons, so on the way home Friday, I used my good camera to shoot butterflies, egrets, flowers and bees on the way. See more of my pictures.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

In Which We Ride A New Old Bike

Our bikes, ready to go. Big red tandem on the end. My wife and I (below) ready to ride.

Tandem time! The birthday gift my wife bought for me is a late 1970s vintage Schwinn tandem bicycle.

I have been strictly forbidden to name the new, old bike.

Today was the first official ride on the big red tandem. My youngest son Ben arrived from Ames about 5, and we—my wife, daughter, grandson and I—were ready to go on a ride, five of us on three bikes.

I wheeled the big tandem out of the garage, aired up the tyres and lubed the chain.

My grandson loves to bike on my commuting bike on a toddler seat, and Ben is tall enough to ride that bicycle, so we decided that if the grandson were willing, Audrey and I would ride the tandem and Ben would ride the commuting bike.

As it turned out, the grandson was infatuated with his uncle, and had no trouble with the idea of riding with him.

We took off north along Devonshire. The tandem is a heavy bicycle, and I was a bit concerned about how it would ride. It turns out that the “two motors” definitely compensates for the extra large, heavy frame—Audrey and I seemed to make good time. We headed over to the Boyson Trail.

Riding a tandem is a bit of a new experience. It requires some communication and coordination between riders—when you’re riding a solo bike, you don’t have to let anybody else know to stop pedaling when you want to slow, for example. My wife and I also have “gear incompatibility,” in that I know what gears are for and I shift them, while her philosophy is to keep a bike always in one setting.

Tandem shadow. I suppose she has a point, but my wife didn't like it when I took the camera out.

Cornering is different, too. Our tandem is lower and longer than our individual bikes, and requires a bit more planning and swinging wide at tight corners.

Still, it was great fun. It’s nice to ride. And two motors, even if we have to coordinate our cadence, are good to have.

A tandem! I’ve been down the trail on a bike with no name, and I like it.

My wife's picture of her view. But she seemed to like the ride, anyway.

Audrey shoots a sky picture.

A view I seldom see--someone else using the toddler seat. Audrey shoots picture of son and grandson on Clarence.

In Which We Get Lost Finding Butterflies

Marlon (above) reacts to having his picture taken. Three students and I (below) in official CR Biker Bike Club Ussie before ride.

Ride 2 of the MMU Bike Club: Marlon expresses his displeasure at having his photo taken, and then organizes our small crew for the photo.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“We are going wherever you lead us,” Marlon answers.

So, instead of going south along Cedar Lake, I take the three students north on the Cedar River Trail. We are supposed to return to campus by close to 5, so it can’t be a long ride. Along the way, at a construction zone, I accidently turned into a street rather than the trail, so for about 10 seconds, they proved the folly of following my leadership as we were briefly lost. Still, the trail was never out of sight, and the point was to ride, right? There were perhaps a few sarcastic remarks as we made pointless parking lot loop, but I consider that all fair comment.

Then, at 42nd Street, I ask if we turn around or push on to go to Noelridge Park.

“We push on,” Marlon answered. “We’ve only been riding for 15 minutes.”

He is a man of few words, but they do work.

We rode on. I was on Clarence, my commuting hybrid bicycle, while they were on the heavier, older hybrids or mountain bikes owned by MMU. I was pushing it a bit, and asked if they liked the speed. They were fine. Those youngsters on their heavy, slow, old bikes have no trouble keeping up with an oldster on a much lighter, faster bike.

Well, there must be a reason CR Biker rides bike tours but never a bike race.

Anyway, we continued north until the side street that leads to the back end of St. Pius X. We went to the next short street just south of the church that cuts over to the north end of Noelridge—I was taking them, as a destination, to the city flower gardens.

The young woman on the ride, a local, had been there before, but not the two men. They did enjoy the flower beds. However, I wasn’t aware of the Monarch breeding area, and the woman with us was, so when she pointed them out we rolled across the grass to go see them.

On Cedar River Trail heading north. Besides mocking me for getting them lots, students noted I was often not pointing camera at them--it's not easy to shoot over your shoulder while riding a bike. This one worked.

At Noelridge Park. If you look at upper part of picture, you can see butterflies undergoing metamorphosis.Student (below) takes unofficial Bike Club Ussie.

And, they were very cool. They are mesh shelters protecting clumps of Milkweed plants used to breed butterflies. At first, I didn’t notice any butterflies—and it was the woman with us who again had to point out the sight—she noted the multitude of chrysalises hanging from the tops of the shelters.

Hmmm. It puts the bug back in my ear. Milkweed planting time is later in the fall just before the ground freezes, in this climate—I think it is time to revive the MMU pollinator garden project. Maybe we can get seeds in the ground this year…

Anyway, we headed back to campus. This second  club ride was shorter—about 8 miles, compared to the 15-mile ride the club took last week, but we needed to get back earlier, too.

Ride 2, I think, was very nice, butterfly nice. And now I have a cool idea for a project to try to sell to the club …

Sun streaming down on our way back to campus. Nice afternoon for a ride!