Monday, July 31, 2017

In Which Fate Decides to Lend a Hand

RAGBRAI Milkweed balls. My son found it too iffy to toss these on the final day and brought them home for me, which was nice of him. I'll distribute them to help spread Milkweed.

I hope you recognize the reference to “Casablanca.”

Anyway, I won’t hide the fact that I am a bit disappointed in RAGBRAI 2017. I remember seeing a colleague from Mount Mercy University early in the week during the ride. He was in his first RAGBRAI, and at the time was questioning his stamina and was unsure if he would finish.

Oh, I thought smugly to myself, recalling my first ride, you will finish and you will love it—it’s just that early week lull once the first-day euphoria is over. We all suffer from it and get over it and finish RAGBRAI.

Except when we do not.

My sisters noticed this year that I was lagging a bit, riding more slowly than usual. I was having some trouble keeping up with them. One of my sisters rides a trike that her husband had installed new tubeless tires on ,and both she and he were faster as a result—but I was having trouble keeping up with another sister who rode many training rides with me this summer on her bicycle.

We did not have the same problem on training rides.

Also, early in the week, my ears clogged up. I was riding practically deaf. The ears felt stuffy and uncomfortable, although not painful.

And late on Tuesday, my left eye started to itch. By Wednesday morning, it was sore. When we got to Cresco, other team members noticed. My brother-in-law kindly gave me some moisturizing eye drops he uses, and that helped relieve the discomfort. As I went to bed Thursday night, the plan was to use those drops and to soldier on. There were only two days left.

But I did not sleep well that night. When I woke up to use the facilities, my eye was matted shut. It was easy to force open, but I could not deny it was getting more gunk in it. And my ears were really bugging me—popping, squishy, just unpleasant.

To add one more injury to the list, I had suffered a minor cut on my left hand when assembling tents in Charles City, and an area around the small nick was getting red and sore. What had been a red area the size of a mosquito bite was becoming a pink, sensitive area the size of a half dollar.

Thursday morning, I called a Team Joe meeting. Option one was to soldier on. The team glanced at my eye and supported my decision to declare that option not viable.

Option two was to seek local medical help. I had been to the first aid tent at the RAGBRAI camp, and they had given me solution to wash out my eye in case I had gotten something in it (I had, but it was microbes, and they don’t just wash out). They (the first aid people) said my next option was an ER visit. I was in minor trouble, but didn’t feel ER ready. We talked about me going to the meet town with the driver that day to seed aid, but I was reluctant because I don’t know the medical system in Decorah.

And Cedar Rapids was down the Cedar River, just over two hours away. Option three was for me to quit riding and seek medical help at home.

That’s what I opted for. It was a painful decision, no pun intended, because I was really looking forward to the final two days of the ride this year, which would pass through the spectacular northeastern corner of Iowa, the one part of the state not leveled by a glacier in the last ice age.

Of course, that also meant killer hills. And I was flagging some.

So I called my wife and she came and got me, and I’m on both oral antibiotics and antibiotic eye drops. The hand recovered quickest, the eye feels better and the ears, even if not 100 percent, are far more comfortable than they were.

I think I made the right choice. And I had planned to ride six days (I was a driver one day), so getting four days in while slightly sick was something.

I did enjoy the “big sky” scenery of flat northern Iowa, which seems so different than much of the state. I ate some good pie, supported some local causes, and earned some biking karma. I am no Air Force rider (the Air Force team members are the angels of RAGBRAI), but I did lend a hand where I could.

At Clear Lake, when I was riding with my sister who uses a bicycle, we stopped to confer at town's edge when a lady fell off of her bike right in front of us. It looked like a clipping error—in that she didn’t get her foot unclipped from her pedals in time. The town volunteer extracted her from her bike. She was injured, but determined to ride on—and I stopped her because she didn’t realize that, in the fall, her chain had popped off the front gears.

My sister gave me gloves and I re-seated her chain.

I had a similar experience entering Cresco, although I was riding alone at the time (I had been delayed by Amish pie). A lady was riding with two of her children, and she and her daughter caught up to a son who was waiting near the top of a hill that led into town.

He looked to be about 12 or so, and was downcast. “My chain came off,” he said.

Because we were on a hill, I was moving very slowly and heard the conversation. I pulled over right in front of them. The lady looked a little startled, and was trying without success to correct the problem. I asked if they would please turn the bike over, which they did, and then I pushed in the rear derailleur to make the chain loose, and seated the chain on the front gears.

The fix took only a few seconds, but it felt good to be of assistance.

Team Joe, minus Joe, finished RAGBRAI 2017 in high spirits. My son, who persuaded me to go along with him on our first RAGBRAI, was back this year. His wife was riding her first RAGBRAI.

They report that the final day was indeed a challenge—the four killer hills lived up to their reputation. I am sorry I missed it, although I’m not sure how well I would have done.

My daughter-in-law finished, and she had ridden the full ride.

In RAGBRAI 2017, as in RAGBRAI 2016, Team Joe was down a member at the end. Last year it was more serious and more dramatic—a sister of mine had fallen in a shower and been knocked out. Once again, a head betrayed us, but a gooey eye and plugged ears, while they justified getting medical help, are a far cry from a sharp blow to the skull.

I did have four wonderful days of bike rides. I’m sorry if you tried to speak with me during the ride—I probably only heard 30 percent of whatever you said, so if my responses seemed a bit odd, I was clearly guessing wrong and doing bad lip reading.

And the MMU colleague? Based on his Facebook posts, he finished the ride! Maybe I’ll see him again on RAGBRAI 2018.

The 2017 riders, me, my son, my brother in law, two sisters and a daughter in law. Below--riders with drivers who picked us up or delivered us to the ride.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In Which I Visit The Civil War

I have ridden by this museum in Center Point many times, but this was the first time I saw the displays inside.
I am starting to ease off on the biking—not planning any long rides for the rest of this week. RAGBRAI is so close that being well rested is more important than training.

We’ll see how it goes. I feel pretty well prepared, and it’s not supposed to be too bad of a route this year, but weather and wind direction will make a huge difference. Thank goodness RAGBRAI is not taking place the second half of this week!

On Sunday afternoon, to get a few miles in, I rode up to Center Point in the afternoon. The weather was warm but nice, and lots of people were on the trail.

When I rolled up to the train depot, the little anteroom where the restrooms are located was packed. A crowd was there to listen to some program about railroad history (the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, like many bike trails, is built on the route of an old rail line).

The program meant one thing—I by chance had arrived in Center Point during the few hours each week when the museum inside the depot building is open. The nice lady running the museum was very apologetic about the crowded room, and urged me to simply squeeze by everyone and use the facilities and grab water, if I needed to.

“We would not exist without the trail, we don’t want to do anything to interfere with trail users,” she sort of said. I did not take notes, so that’s an approximate paraphrase.

Anyway, I sort of wanted to use a restroom, but my needs were not urgent. I was down to 1/3 of a water bottle on a hot summer day, so I kind of wanted water, too. But neither urge was imperative. Lafayette was only 6 miles away, and both the park at Robins and the restroom at the Hiawatha trail head have water. I didn’t think I would dehydrate in 13 miles, even on a warm, humid day, since I wasn’t really out of water yet.

So I declined the offer to squeeze by the crowd. Let them ruminate on old rail lines in peace. But I did take a few minutes to wander around the depot museum. It was a bit eclectic, but enchanting, too.

Railroad office in museum.

Looks like some keys jammed. I may struggle with this South American keyboard, but that never happens. Anybody else remember deliberately jamming as many keys as possible on one of these things? My misspent youth ...

Soldiers from Center Point all fought for the flag on the left.

Transcribed Civil War diary of a soldier from Center Point.

Player piano.
One room is set up like the old rail office, with some of the old furniture. A mannequin dressed in a uniform stands at the window, ready to sell train tickets for Cedar Falls or Cedar Rapids. The room includes some typewriters with papers in them, and a sign enjoined “before the computer, there was the typewriter, try it!”

Since a Remington portable typewriter had seen me through my undergraduate years, I declined the offer. It did make me feel a bit like a fossil that typewriters are an exotic, old technology. Sort of like bicycles, which date from the same era.

Sign they could put by the trail: “Before there was the Prius, there was the ‘safety bicycle.’ Try it!”

Anyway, there was a display of some Civil War items, including transcribed diaries of two soldiers who came from Center Point. A flag holder on the display held both the flag of the United States, and the Confederate flag. I glanced through one of the diaries, and want to go back just to see more of it, it was fascinating.

And I wondered how those two Center Point soldiers would feel about a rebel battle banner flying over their display. Iowa was union territory, and our boys from Center Point all wore blue.

There were items from the early 20th Century, and a section on World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War. I don’t recall seeing the Korean War, but perhaps I just overlooked that part.

The museum seems to house whatever old stuff people donated. One display, for instance, had shelves of old cameras. I enjoyed some of the artifacts from an old school building, too. All in all, I thought the museum was fun, and I’d like to stop by some time when my wife is with me.

The ride back from Center Point was pleasant. As expected, waiting until Lafayette to use a restroom caused no problems, and I did the loop to the city park in Robins but didn’t bother to water up until Hiawatha.

Monday I attached the Tag-Along to my hybrid bike, and two grandsons and I enjoyed what for me was a short ride and for them was a rather long one. We stopped first at Noelridge Park to play for a while, then went down and circled Cedar Lake so the older grandson could see some trains. After that, we rode to Mount Mercy where I had to sign a form for a student, and then took my work commute route home. The older grandson really enjoyed the first part of the ride, all the way to Cedar Lake, announcing several times that “this is fun.” The final third of the ride, I’m afraid, was not as fun, and he announced that his bottom was sore when we finally reached home.

It was a 15-mile journey with two young bikers, and overall I think it was a success.

Today my plan was to get in a few miles in a last “long” ride on my road bike, but my plans changed. When I got ready to leave, my youngest grandson became extremely upset. My wife was going to take him to a library reading program, but when he went out the front door of the house, he assumed that it was to get on my bike, and he was heartbroken.

It was 9:38. The program was a bit more than three miles from home, at the Marion Public Library at 10. “Can you make it,” my wife asked. (She asked it without a question mark because I’m typing this on a Paraguayan computer I may use to blog during RAGBRAI, and the question mark is hard for me to find on this South American keyboard). I ride my bike much more slowly with the toddler seat attached, but I decided to give it a shot. The little guy was happy to be on the bike again, although slightly saddened that we skipped our usual practice of pausing to look at each body of water we pass.

Two or three minutes before 10, just as my wife arrived in the van with another grandchild, we arrived.

I then rode to campus from the Marion Library, and did all of the climbs there for hill practice. So I never rode the road bike today, but still got in 15 miles or so, and some hills. I will probably get a few miles some of the mornings this week, but only a few. RAGBRAI, here I come!

Friday, July 14, 2017

In Which Mother Nature Gives and Takes

Two sky views from bike rides Thursday on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail (above) and Friday on a side trail next to the Boyson Trail (below).

A minor health issue this week—which, knock on wood, should be well in check by RAGBRAI—meant that I haven’t done as many miles as I hoped to do.

Still, with around 45 miles in three rides Thursday, and 15 miles today, I’m at about 160 miles for the week, which is respectable.

The weather has been an interesting mix—hot and humid earlier in the week, stormy late Wednesday and incredibly gorgeous Thursday and Friday. I was able to ride my road bike up to Center Point Thursday with one of my sisters, and have gone on several shorter rides with a young grandson on the Wee Ride seat on my hybrid bike.

That grandson and I were able to enjoy the incredibly cool, comfortable air late this afternoon, riding up to the pond at Rockwell Collins and going for a spin on the small side trail beside the Lindale Trail. While crossing a bridge there, we stopped to watch a deer that was walking down the creek, perhaps 20 yards from us.

Side road in the "new neighborhood" east of C Avenue, late afternoon sun makes even new suburbia pretty.

Grandson on bike seat watches a deer in Dry Creek Thursday.

Grandson with CR Biker, we do an "ussie" during late afternoon ride. The young kid likes biking almost as much as I do.

Late afternoon sky over pond at Rockwell-Collins, C Avenue, during Thursday late afternoon ride.

I shot lots of “sky” views Thursday and Friday, just because these unusual, almost September-like days were precious and worth recording.

Thursday on the trail, when my sister and I did the quick trip out to Center Point (well, quick after we got un-lost in Robbins), was particularly nice. We did fight a headwind when we headed north, but purple and yellow Cone Flowers; Bee Balm; and Queen Anne’s Lace, as well as a host of other wild flowers were in bloom. The post-rain world was lush and green.

It has been a great week to be a biker. The only sad note on Thursday’s long ride was the shiny bronze Japanese beetles that got in the way, sometimes smacking me in the face right next to an eye. Those I could do without.

Still, I wish I could bottle and save Thursday and open it on RAGBRAI! Dry, cool air in July—sadly, I doubt we’ll see much of that on RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI! It’s almost here. Zounds!

Sundown Thursday--had gone on late ride with grandson, wife and daughter. Wife and daughter are way ahead somewhere, luckily with newly installed bike lights shining. Grandson and I are on bike on sidewalk next to Boyson Road. I ride the bike lane myself, but with a grandson will sometimes opt for the sidewalk instead.

Center Point on ride with sister--new bike tools next to depot.

New bike rack near depot in Center Point.

The deer in Dry Creek grandson and I watched on Friday ride.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

In Which One of Two Epic Rides Is a Century

View of downtown Cedar Rapids from west of river on trail that leads the the Ellis Park area.

As I write this, I’m feeling a bit faded, a pale imitation of CR Biker.

Two scoops of strawberry ice cream, two beers (that’s a sequence, understand, not a recipe) and 100 miles on a bike can do that to me.

Yup—100 hundred miles. And it was only one of two epic rides this week—the other was only 35 miles or so, but it was, in its own way, epic, too.

Back to today. I met my sister around 8, but she had some prep to do on her bike, so it was probably 8:30 when we launched the ride. Our goal was to get many miles in—it was going to get hot today, so we decided it was better to ride easy, flat trail miles and not aim for climbs.

In the back of both of our minds was the same question: We both wondered whether “many miles” meant 100.

Anyway, we headed north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. We circled the little loop in Robins both coming and going, and rode all the way to Center Point. The morning was fine and fair, sunny and not windy.

But by the time we got back to CR, the heat was hot. The muggy day was warming up.

Lunch was New Bo, and I have it on my “list” to take Audrey there. If time allows, we may take Jon and Nalena there, too—the New Bo City Market has lots of great eateries. Last time, I had Asian dumplings. This time, I went to a Mediterranean cuisine booth, and had a gyro and falafel.

Lunch was a much needed break around noon. When we went out to continue our ride, that afternoon had become very warm and humid.

Luckily, it never got really super hot, but it was definitely a “warm weather” RAGBRAI practice day.

Next, we did a loop around Prairie Park Fishery, and then went back to the Cedar River Trail, headed south. We stopped at the city park at the edge of town, just to rest for 10 minutes or so in shade before the last leg to Ely. It was warm enough we were being careful not to overdo it.

At Ely, we found the legendary creamery, which neither of us had been to before, was open. I’ve been by the building several times and never seen it in use before. We stopped in, and I heartily recommend it. Great ice cream, nice funky atmosphere. I had Butter Pecan and Strawberry, one generous scoop of each, and it was just what Joe needed to take the edge off of a hot bike ride.

Ely ice cream stop, totally a good idea. My bowl, above, and interior and exterior views of the creamery, below.

Ely ice cream people—put signs on the trail side of your building. From Main Street, the creamery stands out, but a lot of your business will come from Cedar Rapids bikers, who may not even know you’re there as they cycle by.

Anyway, it was still warm when we left Ely to head back north, but the worst of the heat was over. Later in the afternoon, it was turning a bit more pleasant. My sister and I were in Cedar Rapids again when a passing biker called out, “hey, you guys.”

But the encounter was so fast, we both speculated that the person who hailed us had simply mistaken us for someone else.

Luckily, the young lady in question turned around and followed us, calling “Joe, Cate!” It was one of my daughters, out for a ride on the trail with a friend. They had ridden seven miles, and were suitably impressed that Cate and I had already ridden 60 miles.

Hmm. Maybe this 100 thing isn’t too crazy …

Onward. We were getting sore and tired, but the day was getting nicer, and we both discussed whether to go for a century. We decided we would go ahead and do the side trip to Ellis Park, which would put make a century possible, and then assess how we felt about going on.

Saw this odd looking grey goose among black-and-white Canada geese on  west side of Cedar River on the way to Ellis Park. Another species? A hybrid? A goose bitten by a radioactive snowman who has yet to discover his super powers?
I didn’t see any sign of the eagle pair who in the past nested on the east side of the Cedar River, and whose nest could be seen from the trail on the west. CR peeps, are the eagle couple still around?

Anyway, the ride to Ellis and back was fine, and we were in pretty good spirits as we neared Cedar Lake again. We chanced upon the second colleague from work that I met today, and we mentioned to him that we had ridden over 70 miles and were thinking of aiming for 100. It was late in the afternoon, but he put the case pretty clearly: “Well, why wouldn’t you?”

So we circled Cedar Lake, rode to the New Pioneer Coop so Cate could add air to her sagging rear tire, and then circled the lake twice more. That way, when we got to BurgerFiend for supper, we already had around 90 miles done.

The day was getting old and we were running with lights on. We rode behind Walgreens on the Lindale Trail, and did several loops in the Boyson Trail complex and in related neighborhoods in Marion. My sister at one point missed a turn, and we ended up riding on 11th Street to the Menards Area, but that was OK. By now, easy miles were our goal anyway.

At about 95 miles, I stopped to steal a leaf from a Milkweed plant. My wife and I adopted a caterpillar Saturday at the Indian Creek Nature Center, so I needed to do some grocery shopping for the baby.

Luckily, I turned over the first leaf before pocketing it—there was a tiny caterpillar on the underside. I gently laid that leaf back on the plant and picked another leaf, which seemed free to stowaways.

Then we rode to my house. And then we passed my house and rode a bit more and came back (I was a quarter mile short of the century, which would not do).

Bike computer at end of Sunday ride.
My bike computer showed a bit more than 101 miles, but the GPS in my phone recorded it as a century. 100 miles, done! That called for two beers.

The other epic ride? I picked up Clarence from the Marion bike shop Wednesday, and on Friday decided to celebrate its return with a longish ride on that bike.

I rode to the Prairie Park Fishery and then to the Sac and Fox Trail. It has been a long time since I rode the S and F, and it’s in decent shape. I still would like to get a mountain bike in riding shape just for this trail, which is a bit sandy in some spots, and more like a gravel road than a bike trial in others.

Still, I’ve been on this trail when it’s much worse than it was Friday. And I noted that they have replanted many of the young trees that died after a big city sewer project in that area. It was another hot summer day, and even if I did not ride 100 miles that day, the more than 30 miles I did ride included a hot trip up the Cottage Grove hill, and that counts for something.

RAGBRAI! You’re coming up too soon, but after these two epic rides, I do feel like I’m as ready as I can be.

74th Street. I don't like it when people park in bike lanes, and don't like it when those doing road work forget that lane has a purpose.
New brake shoes on Clarence.

CR Biker as mirror star. I have installed new mirrors like the one I already had on Clarence.

This and reaming images--views of the Sac and Fox Trail.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

In Which Argent is Ready for RAGBRAI

Bike maintenance time: I took Argent in to Cranky’s Uptown Bicycles in Marion last week. The handlebars needed to be re-wrapped, and the shifting was getting chunky—signs of a worn chain.

When I took it in, the owner/mechanic said he would not be able to look at it “today,” which meant there would be a 24-hour delay before the bike was serviced. I think it was Wednesday or so when I took it in, and that meant the bike was not ready until Friday. He also said it definitely needed a new chain, and possibly a new cassette. And the cassette would add to the cost—to the tune of $15 or so.

He delivered this as if it where “bad” news. To be honest, a bike shop that does work in under two days and charges only $15 for new gears sounds pretty good to me. In the end, the shop also replaced one of the front gears. The total bill to replace almost the full drive train, plus wrap the handle bars, was just over $100—and, given the work that was done, that’s pretty inexpensive.

Some photos of new handlebar wrapping and new drive train parts. RAGBRAI ready.

I rode Clarence over to the bike shop Friday to pick up Argent—I bought my hybrid bike a year ago, and was leaving it off for its year checkup and to replace the brake pads, which I had worn down to bare metal screech time.

I left off the hybrid and picked up the road bike. “I’m swamped right now, I probably won’t get that done tomorrow,” the owner said. Since tomorrow was the Saturday before July 4th, that meant my hybrid bike would be in the shop from Saturday through Wednesday.

The shop opens at 10 a.m. The call came in at 11 a.m. Wednesday. My bike was all done.

I’m liking the little bike shop in Marion more and more. Their service is quick, cheap and seems well done. The bill for the hybrid bike was $40, and that was only because I purchased two $16 mirrors (the cheap plastic one from Wal-Mart on Argent broke during a Saturday ride, and I also wanted to get one for my wife’s bike, since she is riding a lot more and often has to ask if traffic is coming from behind.)

Anyway, on Friday when I rode my road bike home, it was like riding a cloud. The bike has been reborn. So I contacted my sister, and Saturday morning we did “Le Tour de Marion.” We rode the Lowe Park Trail, the Boyson Trail and finished with lunch at Zoey’s, a place she had not been before.

It was a nice tour.

Milkweed in bloom at Lowe Park garden (above), lunch at Zoey's (below). Le Tour de Marion.

The July 4th weekend featured a few incredibly slow, incredibly short bike rides, because I borrowed a lady’s Schwinn mountain bike that is stored in our garage and has a Wee Ride seat on it.

But I also did a long solo ride on Monday, doing the Cedar River Trail from Center Point to Ely, plus the side trail in Robins, and circling Cedar Lake several times. The omens were good that day—I saw a very nice redheaded woodpecker near Center Point, several cardinals plays “bike dodge” on the trail, and I saw my first Monarch butterflies down by Cedar Lake. They were too shy to be photographed, but they were nice to see.

I had a goal Monday—to ride more than the longest RAGBRAI day. And I had a second goal—to ride 100 miles.

I achieved goal 1, but when I stopped at home for lunch around 3 p.m., the sky clouded over and it looked like rain, so I decided to call it a day. I still rode 77 miles—they were mostly flat, trail miles (although the day did start with a hilly loop in my neighborhood), but still.

I have just a few weeks to RAGBRAI. A 100-mile practice day? Still in the plans, I think ….

July 3 ride--heading north on Cedar Valley Nature Trail--sky opens up in treeless patch of trail. It's warm so I liked the shady parts, but I don't mind the view.

East end of Cedar Lake. Where I saw a Monarch, but did not capture its image.

Crossing Bridge of Lions on Cedar River Trail.

Rest stop at Cedar Lake, more than 60 miles into what turned into a 77-mile ride. Not a century yet, but close!