Sunday, June 25, 2017

In Which the Week Features Family Fun Rides

Me with grandson, ready for bike ride. Note he is not rudely gesturing, not only is it not that finger, he's pushing up his sunglasses.

What a week! Today was cool and partly cloudy, a rare day in summer in Iowa, a bit windy, but not too windy for some two-wheeled miles.

It was almost an ideal day for biking. In the morning, my wife, daughter and I rode to the Hiawatha Farmers Market. My toddler grandson rode on the Wee Ride seat on my bike. We shopped at the market, buying some cookies from the Sisters of Mercy and enjoying them at the park. I also found some peony roots for sale for $4, which is a pretty darn good price for a peony. The man said they are pink, and I’m hoping he’s right and that they bloom next spring.

After the morning ride, I met my sister for a long afternoon ride. We rode down to New Bo, where we had lunch at the NewBo City Market. It was Korean dumplings, and I could have skipped the soybeans in pods, but otherwise it was very nice.

Lunch in NewBo Market. If we take Jon and Nalena to lunch after RAGBRAI, this may be the place.

Even chickens have restrooms at NewBo.

My younger (not youngest) sister at NewBo, my biking compatriot on today's long ride.

NewBo Market, but it made me think of Jenny Lawson book.
After lunch, we did a loop around the Prairie Park Fishery and then headed down to Ely via the Cedar River and Hoover trails. Along the way, I noted that I hope to do at least one century ride (100 miles) in July before RAGBRAI. We plotted some possible routes, including a road trip to the Raccoon River Trail near Des Moines. We’ll see.

Circling Prairie Park Fishery on today's long ride.

Returning from Ely--have reached Cedar Rapids and Cedar River Trail. The kind of day it was.

Saw this large but young bird beside trail.

Nearing end of ride--view of Cedar Lake. What CR Biker post is complete without at least one image of Cedar Lake?
It was the end of a week of fantastic family bike rides. I made multiple rides with my youngest grandson in the Wee Ride seat—it’s a regular Wednesday thing with us to ride a trail for a while and then stop at a playground.

In addition, there was a “boys morning out” ride with that grandson and my oldest grandson—the older one on the Tag-A-Long while the 18-month-old rode in the seat. It’s nice to ride “the bus” with a couple of cute grandchildren—makes me more popular on the bike trails.

Besides the rides with the grandchildren, there was much other family fun this week. We took the kayaks out one day, and a daughter and her two sons rode down to Cedar Lake with me.

And on Father’s Day, three of my children, a son-in-law and my biking buddy sister all rode with me. That ride involved stops at both Lion Bridge Brewery and the Sag Wagon. It was pretty fantastic.

Ready to leave home on Father's Day adventure--two daughters, a son and son-in-law in photo. We rode over to my sister's house and the merry band was on it's way.

Two views of duck pond at Rockwell-Collins on C Avenue. Grandson loves to walk or ride there to check on duck family.

But, as they say on TV, wait, there’s more. That evening, a daughter, who has not been on a bike in more than a decade, decided to take the plunge and try an evening peddle with her mom, son and me (the son is the 18-month-old who rides on the Wee Ride). The ride went well, and we’ve been on a few more since, including the journey to the Hiawatha Farmers Market. Welcome to the world of biking, youngest daughter (and thank you, penultimate daughter for allowing your sister to borrow your bicycle).
June 25 rides, mapped. Fast and slow.

This week also marked my initiation in to the world of Map my Ride. I have a new cell phone with a plan that allows unlimited data usage, so it’s practical for me to download and use this ap. So far, my rides have fit into two categories—short, slow rides (usually means I am with a grandchild or two on the bus, Clarence), for longer, somewhat faster rides (Argent, the road bike, no passengers).

I wish I were getting more miles in—day times seem packed this summer. But I am getting rides in, and immensely enjoying the rides I am taking. It was a wonderful week for CR Biker—I hope your biking week was at least half as fantastic as mine was!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Which the Milkweed are Ready to Bloom

Morning ride to MMU campus--took longer trail route by Cedar Lake. Milkweed starting to bloom, above, and native tiger Lily, too, below.

I rode about 39 miles today—5 in the morning going to the gym and climbing the Bowman Woods Hill, 6 taking the longer trail route to MMU and then the rest in an early evening ride.

It was a humid, hot summer day—pretty good for RAGBRAI training, although I didn’t ride in the hottest part of the day.

Mostly, I was impressed at how summery the ride seemed here a week before actual summer begins. I looked, but didn’t see any Monarch butterflies, but Milkweed is getting ready to bloom. Along Cedar Lake, native Iowa tiger lilies are opening.

The Cedar River Trail south of the Lion Bridge was sort of open—mostly cleaned off, the temporary flood control removed. They may still close the trail during the day as they finish the project, but tonight you could ride the old trail. I headed from campus to the edge of town, turning back at the last city park in Cedar Rapids.

Crossing Bridge of Lions around 8:15 p.m., above, trial south of bridge was open, newly cleared of temporary flood control dike, below.

It was 9:30 by the time I got home. Fireflies were blinking on, frogs were singing in ponds along the way, and it was still warm, but not quite so hot anymore. Grass has dried out, young trees are looking thirsty and new peonies planted outside Basile Hall at MMU are dying in the dry heat.

Rain! I know you wouldn’t be good for RAGBRAI training, but I’ll make that sacrifice, if you’ll come around.

Anyway, due to other commitments I could not really do as many miles as I hoped, but 39 is respectable. Hoping I manage to get more, one of these warm, pre-summer June days.

Late day trail images. View looking northwest along trail at last city park in Cedar Rapids, my turnaround point, partly because it was getting dark. Turned on lights for return trip. Ball fields lit up along trail as time nears 9 p.m. and Final image is Cedar Lake just after 9--and after sun has gone down.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

In Which the Weekend Features RAGBRAI Prep and Scouting

Antique Shop across the street from the Skinny Dip ice cream shop.

Lansing Iowa—boy you are far away. You’re not near anything in Iowa—you’re about as far north and east as it is possible to be and still be in Iowa.

And you’re home to just under 1,000 souls, which means when the 2017 RAGBRAI ends there, the town will be swamped. I’m a bit worried that it will be the Guttenberg nightmare all over again—an end town so isolated and small that it degenerates quickly into a mind-numbing traffic snarl.

That was one impression I had today as I drove to the tiny town to scout the end of RAGBRAI. Still, the news is not all bad. The town is not as much of a tourist town as its neighbor to the south, but it has a quaint ice cream shop cleverly named “The Skinny Dip,” which features rather nicely done small-town hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop treats.

It also has a pretty and scary “singing bridge” over the Mississippi (one though we had was that the bikers might cross the river and be picked up in Wisconsin, but today’s trip over the bridge quickly disavowed us of that notion). In case you don’t know, a singing bridge is one with an open metal latticework as the bridge deck, hence vehicles make a distinct humming sound as they cross it.

While in Lansing, we visited a local antique shop, where the animated proprietor gave Nathan some Mardi Gras coins from New Orleans, which was nice.

For a tiny town, Lansing actually seemed to hum with activity on an oppressively hot Sunday—it still has a Main Street business district that actually has businesses, many of which were open today.

Well, the end of RAGBRAI will pose some challenges. Team Joe will have to figure out some plans.

Anyway, besides a Sunday road trip related to RAGBRAI’s end, I also engaged in some pre-RAGBRAI bomb making. Monarch Butterflies lay eggs on only one kind of plant—the Milkweed. There are several species of this common plant, but that plant is in decline as modern farming and herbicides have reduced the number of Milkweed plants available to serve as Monarch nurseries.

So a group that works to aid the Monarch each RAGBRAI provides riders with clay balls intended for bombing ditches across Iowa. The balls each have a few Milkweed seeds inside.

And Saturday, my wife and I met a daughter and her children at the Marion, Iowa, Farmers Market, where we spent some time at a booth making the clay Milkweed bombs. I only worked on one tray, and I’m sure there will be thousands of others, but it will be cool if by chance I end up dropping one of my own bombs this RAGBRAI.

The Milkweed bombs we created Saturday, Each clay ball has some Milkweed seeds embedded.
So, RAGBRAI riders, pay some heed to the nature of this year’s end town. It will be a challenge. And pick up some Milkweed bombs and toss them each day during RAGBRAI. Maybe you’ll drop one that CR Biker helped make.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I Which I am Rescued and Save my Rescuer

Catalpa tree in bloom on Boyson Trail, from morning ride.
What a nice day! I wish I could say I got some serious biking miles in today.

Oh wait. I can. Getting lost will do that for you.

I am not sure how many miles I biked, but I did probably 8 or 9 miles in the morning with my grandson, who I was watching for most of the day. We left home around 9:30 or so, biked to Hanna Park in Marion, played for a few minutes, and then biked the trail home.

We were home by 11. I had changed him at the park, so we ate lunch and were laying down for a nap by noon. He slept for around an hour and a half. After he got up, we had a snack, emptied the dehumidifiers (trust me, when you are alone with a bumbling boy of about a year and a half, that’s an extensive adventure). By 3, I asked him if he wanted to take another bike ride.

“Yeah,” he said. And he meant it—the grandson is almost as addicted to the bike as I am. So we put on more sunscreen and bug soother, and headed off with no particular destination in mind. I rode over to Noelridge Park, thinking maybe we would stop there, but it looked a bit busy, so I continued on to the Cedar River Trail.

We went south, and stopped when we got to the park at J Avenue. We played for a few minutes, but the grandson was not as excited about this park. It’s possible there wasn’t as much “cool stuff” there, but partly it was because he was really enjoying the bike ride, and didn’t really want to spend much time away from the bike.

Since we were close to Mount Mercy, I texted my wife and daughter who were working there. My wife texted back and suggested I bring the grandson to campus, so I did.

There, my wife proposed she take the grandson home and I continue on a bike ride. That sounded good to me. I started the ride by climbing the MMU Hill four times via four different routes—I wanted to ensure I got some hill practice in today.

As fate would have it, I need not have worried on that point.

Where to go on my ride? It occurred to me I hadn’t visited the Prairie Park Fishery nor the Sac and Fox Trail much this year. I decided to do the Sac and Fox from the north end, and then I could swing by the fishery.

Anyway, I am not sure why I went down Prairie Drive by Franklin Middle School. I had the vague notion that it would be easy to find Washington High School, and from there head down Cottage Grove to the Sac and Fox Trail area.

Except, I was wrong. I managed to get turned around in the unfamiliar neighborhood east of First Avenue. I ended up on 19th  Street, which I knew was way too far south, so I turned north on Grand Avenue, which I took to Bever Park. From there, I headed north on Bever Avenue.

As it turns out, Bever Avenue ends somewhere I have never been before. I had some heckish hills during that odd ride to nowhere. Yet, I wasn’t upset—I figured Cedar Rapids is not that big, and the point was to ride my bike anyway, so who cares if I rode for a while on new streets?

Except suddenly I was on East Post Road during rush hour. I don’t even know how I got there. I knew that East Post went by the Sac and Fox Trail, so at first I decided to stick with it, but after a hill climb in traffic there, I didn’t want to remain on East Post anymore, so I turned off at the first substantial looking side street.

And I almost immediately got lost again. Eventually I accidentally found Mt. Vernon Road. I headed up a sidewalk (I was not going to ride on Mt. Vernon Road, it would have been worse than East Post) until I came to a light across the street from a HyVee. I figured if I turned right, I would be heading into the area of Memorial Drive and could find that street and then reach Otis Road.

And, oops, I did it again. Only worse, this time. It was as if I had been dropped into a strange town. Nothing was familiar at all. My spirits were starting to sag a bit—partly because, for hill-climbing reasons, I was very reluctant to try to backtrack to Mt. Vernon Road.

I texted form this corner. I have no idea where it is except it's in Cedar Rapids.
I texted my wife to let her know I was hopelessly lost, but expected to be home some time. I just didn’t know exactly when. And, no, in cast you ask, although I do have a smartphone, I do not have a GPS app, partly because I don’t use any roaming data.

Anyway, about that time, another biker rode by me, with a passing “hello.” He was a serious looking biker, a tan spandex-clad skeleton on a thin, quick bicycle.

I hailed him and he stopped. “Where are you headed?” I asked.

“I’m going to ride the trail down by New Bo,” he said.

“How are you going to get there?” I asked. He started to give me directions, looked at me, and saw that I was confused. More than usual, I mean.

“Would you like to follow me?” he kindly offered. Kindly because he was a fast biker on a good road bike, and I’m a biker who is slow even when I’m in biking clothes on a road bike—and I was riding an even slower hybrid bike in plain civilian attire. Trust me, my butt was letting me know what it thought of all these miles without biking shorts. In effect, Mr. Biker Guy was selflessly offering to ride at an incredibly glacial pace for him, just to help me out.

I thanked him and followed him. Several twist and turns later (good thing he let me follow him), we were at Memorial Drive. I thanked him, and I assured him I could get where I was going from there. We waved goodbye and he took off.

But as I crested a rise, there he was again, this time stopped on the side of the road. “My chain came off,” he said. It wasn’t broken, it had just over shifted off of his front gears. He flipped his bike over, and I held the rear derailleur for him as he put the chain back on track. It wasn’t stuck, just off, so he got it on the gear again fairly quickly.

That’s biking karma for you. He had slowed down to aid me, which meant I was there to help him.

We again said so long and I took off. A few minutes later he zoomed past me with parting wishes for a good ride.

Which I had. It was longer than expected and a bit tiring, but I took Memorial over to Otis Road, and then circled the Prairie Park Fishery. Along the way, I chatted briefly with Dr. David Klope from Mount Mercy.

Prairie Park Fishery, above. And Catalpa bloom, below, along the loop around the lake there. Honestly, why doesn't everybody have a Catalpa tree?

Then, I rode over towards the Cedar River Trail. I took the St. Ludmilla shortcut to get there—but now I was in geography so familiar to me that a known shortcut was worth it.

How far did I go? I was on bike from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. or so, but it was in-town biking, so it’s hard to say. I think I topped 40 miles for the day and maybe even did 50, but without a computer on my bike, I do not really know. I could look at a map, but I’m not sure I could ever find the route that I actually rode.

And I rode lots of hills, which made today’s mystery ride good RAGBRAI practice! That’s even what I told myself when I was lost—it was good RAGBRAI practice since RAGBRAI is a hot summer ride where you’re lost most of the time. Except you know the way on RAGBRAI due to the stream of 10,000 bikers you’re in, so I guess today was a different kind of slightly edgier, solitary lost.

Still, it was a gorgeous day for a bike ride. And I got in two rides with the grandson, and that’s always a winning day.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

In Which a Fruit Angel Appears at a Library

Crossing Lake Macbride on way to North Liberty on Bookworms on Bikes ride.

I forgot to look at my computer for a final tally, but I believe the Bookworms on Bikes ride added up to the low 50s somewhere—52 to 54 miles, all told.

It was a fine day, hot in the afternoon, for a RAGBRAI-like bike ride, and this ride lived up to that experience. I woke up early, had a nice breakfast, and was a bit slow getting out the door, so I was worried that I would miss the start of the ride. As luck would have it, I arrived at the Marion Library just at 7 a.m.

And I was early. After a few minutes, Michael Miller and Laura Runkle showed up. Mike is the ride organizer. We were a small crew, but Mike took a group picture with the library as a background to post on his Facebook group page, and we were off. We rode to the Boyson Trail, Lindale Trail, then the behind-Target route to get to the Cedar River Trail.

After a second library-group photo at the Hiawatha Public Library, we continued along the trail to downtown Cedar Rapids.

The first city farmer’s market was underway, and the Linn County Trail Association ran a bike parking booth at Greene Square. We parked, visited a vendor fair at the Presbyterian Church, and headed over to the Cedar Rapids downtown library for bookworm photo op number 3.

It was getting warm. We were facing a bit of a headwind, although not enough to be a problem. If anything, as hot as the day turned out, having a bit of a breeze was a net plus—it wasn’t enough to make biking too difficult, and the breeze helped cool us a bit.

A co-worker of Mike’s joined us on the trail south of the river, so we were a band of four bookworms.

We watered up at the Ely City Park. Ely was the first open library on the ride, and we had a pleasant chat with the librarian before moving on.

The ride form Ely to Solon was as expected—the scary part of the ride, on a narrow and busy county road.

Well, we made it to Solon. Then headed out to North Liberty—still riding on county roads, but this time with a nice paved shoulder. It was around noon, and the day was sunny and hot.

And the ride started to get hilly. After the first crossing of Lake Macbride, the road headed up a hill that was longer than it looked—it snaked through some bends, so when you thought you were at the top, you were mistaken. It was hot by now, and humid, and I was definitely the tail end of the ride. I was feeling pretty spent by the time we rolled into North Liberty.

In Iowa towns, libraries are important civic institutions—not just information equalizers by providing books to all, but also centers of activity. The earlier libraries had been closed, but starting in Ely, on a fine, hot summer Saturday, community libraries were busy hives of activity.

With at least one angel.

North Liberty was ready for us. Mike had contacted the libraries on the route, and North Liberty had a “welcome riders” sign out, some chilled water bottles ready and a plate of cereal and granola bars. That was good enough, but after we had been there for a few minutes, one of the front desk librarians went to a back room and returned with fresh fruit kabobs and little banana sandwiches.

Clearly, she was the fruit angel. On a hot summer bike ride, her appearance was almost mystical.

Just like that, the fruit angel appears. And the fruit was good.
Actually, as she explained, the library had just finished a stuffed-animal sleepover program, and these were leftover snacks that children had not consumed at the end of the event.

Anyway, the greeting at North Liberty was much appreciated. After that was a trail ride to Coralville.

This little bookworm-library ride has started small—only four bikers on this first ride. But RAGBRAI started small, too, and I hope it continues and that many more bikers will have the pleasure of meeting a fruit angel in North Liberty.

Coralville Library lobby.
After the Coralville Library, with the worst of the hills behind us and only a few miles to Iowa City, plus blessings in our bellies from the fruit angel, the final leg of the ride, despite the heat, passed pleasantly. When we got to the university area in Iowa City, a big art festival was in full swing, so we had to walk our bikes the last block to the Iowa City Public Library.

All in all, it was an interesting ride. Besides angelic library hosts bearing fruit kabobs, the ride included iconic Iowa events—from the farmers market in Cedar Rapids to the art fest in Iowa City. Seeing so many public libraries was a nice reminder of how important they still are to their communities. Even in the internet age, libraries matter.

So, may the Bookworms bike ride continue and grow in popularity. I don’t know what Mike has planned for the future, but I hope today’s ride was the start of something. More photos of the ride on my Facebook gallery.

Crossing Iowa River, above. End of ride, below. And then I rode back to UI Law School where I met my wife, daughter and grandson.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

In With May Passes with 45 More Miles

Two views of my bike at Schultz Road heading north to Center Point--right on the edge of smooth new paving .

On June 1, we had a house full with seven grandchildren. It was a chaotic, wonderful day. And it featured a mostly satisfying set of bicycle rides, except for one unfortunate spill.

We planned a picnic in the park. With nine people in the house, our group exceeded the carrying capacity of our minivan (yes, a VW microbus would have come in handy), so we planned to use “the bike bus” (Clarence with toddler seat and Tag-Along) as a second vehicle.

On the way to the park, the oldest granddaughter rode the Tag-Along, with the youngest grandson in the toddler seat and the oldest grandson on his own bicycle. On the way home, a younger grandson rode the Tag-Along, but otherwise our band of bikers was the same crew. Our route from Willow Park to home involved riding a short way on a quiet street, turning down a sidewalk for a half block, going through a parking lot, and then turning right to head along the Boyson Trail to the Lindale Trail.

When we got to the right turn from the stub of a trail leading from the parking lot to the Boyson trail, my oldest grandson was going just a bit too fast and turned his bike just a bit too abruptly. BAM!

If you’ve never spilled on a bicycle, one of the odd things about the experience is how quick it seems. I’ve been in car accidents before, and in those, it feels like time slows down. Not so with a bike accident—maybe it has something to do with the odd physics of the balance required to keep a bicycle upright, but when something messes that physics up, you go from elegant balance to sudden smashing in less than the blink of an eye.

So, always wear your bicycle helmet.

Fortunately, no cranial damage was threatened by this spill, but my grandson did get some nasty lacerations on his knee. Fortunately, he was still able to continue riding, so we headed home, where my wife cleaned and bandaged the knee.

Anyway, that was the low point of what so far has been a very good biking week. As you know from my previous post, I rode 60 miles with my sister on Memorial Day. On Wednesday, the final day of May, I didn’t have the time to try to equal those miles, but I did climb the Bowman Woods Hill four times—twice in the morning on a ride to the gym, and twice in the afternoon in the start of another ride.

I had about 9 miles on the day from the morning, when, fairly late in the afternoon, I did my two hill climbs and then headed over to the Cedar River Trail ride it north to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. Before Wednesday, I had only been to Lafayette once this year, and I wanted to aim beyond it. I knew they recently paved the last three trail miles to Center Point—and I was curious to see the newly reconstructed trail section.

So off I rode. I was on my road bike (I rode Argent all day Wednesday, which was nice because that means I have a pretty good mileage count). I reached the Hiawatha trail head about 4 p.m., and didn’t want to be out late, so I tried to make good time.

Three views of the new stretch of paved trail to Center Point. Wednesday was a bit breezy, but still a gorgeous day for a bike ride.

There was a bit of wind, so I did hunker down now and then into the pushed-over position the road bike handlebars allow. I paused briefly in Lafayette—by the time I go there from my house, I had been on the bike for close to an hour—and then after my break, I pushed on to Center Point.

Well, the new trail sure is new—smooth and fine. The ride used to feel a bit woodsier, with underbrush encroaching more, but they cut it back a bit when they did this paving project. The three miles between Schultz Road, where paving used to end, and Center Point passed quickly. The blacktop became cement in Center Point itself.

After a rest there, I headed home. I made it by about 6:15, which means I rode 26 miles in just over two hours. That’s not exactly a land speed record, but for an old man like me who is, frankly, a very slow bike rider, that is a good pace.

My bike parked at the rail depot in Center Point. Note the cement trail. Also, below, two views of the improved road crossing at Alice Road, one of the busiest road crossing on the trail. The rest area in Lafayette is still an outhouse, but it's a much nicer, newer outhouse. There has been lots of work done north of Cedar Rapids on this trail!

My one regret is that I had not changed into biking shorts before the evening ride. I don’t usually wear them for shorter rides, but for this afternoon ride, which totaled more than 30 miles due to the trips to and from my house, extra padding would have saved me some discomfort.

Odometer at end of ride.

Still, part of RAGBRAI training isn’t about the legs or the lungs. It’s training your rear to simply bear your weight on a bike seat for an extended period of time. In that sense, I suppose the Wednesday ride was a success.

I’ll probably get another ride in tomorrow, but I won’t aim for so many miles. The Bookworm ride, from the Marion Public Library to the Iowa City Public Library, is set for Saturday. Watch the Facebook page for any adjustments to the starting time—there may be some weather related issues on Saturday that could have an effect on time—and I hope to see you on the trail Saturday!

And wear a helmet.