Monday, August 31, 2015

Cantril, Iowa, Overnighter (S24O)

Fox River, Highway V64
So far this summer, I've ridden on my bike overnighters no farther than 20 miles in one day. There are a half dozen state and county campgrounds within that distance from Fairfield, Iowa.

I wanted to explore more, so on my last trip to Mac Coon Campground I  made it a day trip, 14.5 miles each way for a total of 29. That ride let me know I could reach to the next ring of campgrounds, those in the 30-40 mile range from Fairfield. I knew I could ride this range because I had regularly hit 30 when riding day rides in California; however, an overnight camping trip meant riding a loaded but that distance two days in a row. There are probably another ten campgrounds within this distance from my home, so riding this extra distance really expanded possibilities and wanted to go for it.

I chose Woubonsie Trail Campground in Cantril, Iowa, for my next trip, a round-trip distance of 70 miles. The trip began taking Libertyville Road out of Fairfield. At the town of Libertyville, the route led south on Highway V64, which was probably 85-90% of the trip.

Libertyville Road is a mixture of farmland and residences near to Fairfield. It was an easy ride, one I've made before on day rides prior to the creation of the Jefferson County Loop Trail.

After Libertyville, the road passed through more intensively farmed land. Then the terrain became more hilly, more suitable as pasture, although much was converted to corn and beans or alfalfa if possible. This was beautiful riding country even with the hills, except that there were a lot of grain semis and dump trucks on the road. I pulled off about a half dozen times to give traffic space and myself a safety margin.

Arriving at Cantril, I found the campground suitable for a night's stay. The tent area was closest to the road, but the traffic died down after sunset. I'm sure the majority of the campground's business comes from RV's. At any rate, the restroom/shower area was clean and fresh, and a little extra food and sightseeing was just a short ride down the road to the Dutchman's Store, an old-style mercantile selling just about everything. There is a lot of flavor to the store because it caters to the Amish and Mennonite communities and also hires from those communities.

I left early the next morning because rain was expected. Because my legs were not 100%, I came home via highways 2 and 1, which was a flatter route, although the same distance. The volume of traffic on Highway 1 was high with quite a few trucks. I rode the verge more than I wanted, which was awkward because fresh gravel had been laid down, and it was still soft and loose. I'm riding Highway 1 on my next trip, but I'll take it on a Sunday, which should lessen the truck traffic.

The greater traffic lessened the joy of this trip, but there was a lot of beautiful country. I'm sure I'll be riding down V64 again. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Daytrip/Overnighter to Mac Coon Campground

Mac Coon Campground is on the Skunk River, about 15 miles east of my house in Fairfield, Iowa.

I wasn't sure of the campground facilities, so I made this a daytrip on my bicycle instead of an overnighter. I also wanted to put in some extra miles in one day to check my conditioning for overnighters farther afield in my area.

A little history from the county conservation site tells us this:
Mac Coon Access is located five and one-half miles north of Lockridge just east of Willow Blvd.
Skunk River
Photo and info from
This recreation area got its name from an old game Warden, Mac Coon, who worked in the area back in the 1930's and 40's. Purchased by the Department of Natural Resources in 1945, a renewable 25 year management-lease agreement allows the Jefferson County Conservation Board to develop and manage this area. Since 1973 numerous improvements have been made to Mac Coon Access which includes: construction of restrooms and a shelter house, installation of playground equipment, drilling a well for potable water, developing a campground equipped with electricity and providing a concrete boat ramp and fish cleaning station.

The trip was enjoyable. Naturally, I had a tailwind heading east and a headwind coming home! That made for high gears on the way out and me thinking, "What an easy ride," and low gears on the way back and me thinking, "Just hunker down and spin."

The campground is nicer than I expected. One person had billed it as a "fishing camp," and that is true, but there are some nice camping spots there. I wouldn't assume the camping is great if there has been a lot of rain: the campground floods sometimes. There is drinking water from a well, and the toilets are pit toilets, not flush. The site has no showers.

The ride was fun, though. The gravel was tricky, and I rode quite a bit on the verge, where the gravel was thin and the ground a little soft. I walked some hills just because it was easier than grinding and slipping on the rocks.

I did have one moment's scare near the Mac Coon campground road. Some resident must breed hunting dogs or something. As I rode by a house, I saw one dog, and then about 10 dogs started howling and barking. Luckily, they were all caged and chained. Otherwise, I would have been lunch.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Overnighter to Morris Memorial Park

It was 15 miles from Jefferson County's AJ's Bike Shop, Fairfield, Iowa, to Morris Memorial County Park in Van Buren County, Iowa, and a nice ride it was, comprising county roads and gravel. On both the out and back legs of the S24O (sub-24 hour overnighter), it wasn't too hot, there was little wind, and the traffic was acceptable to negligible. I made the jaunt (17 miles from the m my house) in about two hours, including photo and video stops.

The campground has fifteen sites, and with no other campers (a quiet Wednesday) I chose a site with afternoon shade and morning sun. The campground is also home to several historical collections of farming and frontier life, housed in a frontier cabin, a small circular barn, a one-room schoolhouse, and a large barn for the larger farm implements and wagons. The campground has showers and modern toilets. 

The country park is an oasis of trees and pond surrounded by farming operations. It was a safe and pleasant spot to spend the night. The 2+ miles of gravel put me deep in corn and beans with livestock thrown in. At one point coming home, I found myself scratching my head at an unmarked gravel "T" that I didn't remember. I tried GPS and was informed "no available route," but I expanded the map and identified the correct gravel to ride.

I saw a "century" farm, a hawk in flight, and a doe while on the gravel. The paved roads offered the rolling, rural roads of Iowa. 

About thirty state and county parks are within 50 miles of Fairfield, Iowa. So far this riding season, I've done S24O's to four of them. I believe I'll manage to visit a few more before the nights grow icy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Equipment Review: White Lightning Chain Johnny

The White Lightning Chain Johnny is a real pleasure to use when I travel with my Montague Navigator folding bike. On Amtrak, I use a soft bag to transport the Navigator, but I like to keep the inside of the bag as clean as possible, so the Chain Johnny really helps keep the bag grease-free.

I also will probably use the Chain Johnny instead of the travel bag on day trips when my wife and I will slip the folding bikes into the SUV to reach our departure point. It will be a lot faster than using the bag that completely covers the folding bike.

White Lightning as a multiple-paragraph description of the Chain Johnny, one of which states:
The Chain Johnny uses a rip-resistant, 2-ply rubber/nylon material which protects the inside of a car much better than old-school methods such as towels or rags. It is also water resistant to protect the drivetrain itself when transporting bicycles on vehicle-mounted bike racks or storing them in the garage during the winter. Apartment and college dorm dwellers are also using the Chain Johnny to shield their greasy chains when storing their bikes indoors.
Sometimes I toss in a small ditty bag or two into the bike bag, and I can feel comfortable that it won't come out greased up from the bike's drive train.

I'd keep the instructions handy for installation because there are some recommendations for easiest use as to what gears to be in and the steps of installation. The website also has online instructions. I plan to photo the instructions so I'll have them on my smartphone when I travel.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Round Trip 4: Amtrak Zephyr with a Montague Folding Bike

This has been the 4th Amtrak Zephyr round trip with my Montague Navigator folding bike, and I have to say that in terms of traveling with a folding bike, it has probably been the easiest.

The trip train destination points are Ottumwa, Iowa, and Sacramento, California, although I add an hour Amtrak Thru Bus shuttle ride up the Central Valley on the western end. It's always a bit awkward carrying the bike because it's somewhat cumbersome, but it's also just a tiny, tiny bit of that 4,000- mile, 4-day, round trip experience.

This time the trip began with the conductor at Ottumwa telling me, "If the luggage space is full, just put your bike in the lower coach area, all the way back behind the last seat." Sure enough, there was an 18-inch space behind the last seat, so I stored the bike upright the entire trip, guarded most of the way by a nice Amish mother while I traveled in the upper coach section. On my return trip, I was able to place the bike on the coach car's upper baggage shelf after tipping one passenger's bag on its side. The bike filled the space well enough so that no one placed a bag on top of the bike.

The Amtrak Thru Bus experience was quite easy, too. Evidently, the standing order for drivers is to have the bike owners place the bikes in the bus's lower storage area, so I was able to safely store it with the derailleur up.

I think the Amtrak system is getting used to folding bikes. All four round trips with my Montague Navigator folding bike have been easy for me. Once on one of the trips cross country, I found some bags on top of the bike but arranged the luggage so that my bike was on top. Once I was told there was no room in the baggage area for the bike, which was true. I just stood still with my bike and let the crew figure out a solution. They moved me one car up the train, which had more luggage capacity. Once I'm on the train, I don't think anyone's going to pick me up and carry me off. The crew just needs a little problem-solving space with no passenger freaking or getting belligerent.

I always carry along with my ticket a print-copy of Amtrak's folding bike policy, though. It doesn't hurt to be informed. Also, as a traveling precaution, I use the plastic safety devices that were used when the bike was shipped to me: fork divider and plastic protectors for the front quick release locking nut and derailleur. Finally, I use the White Lightning Chain Johnny to keep the travel bag more grease-free.

All in all, traveling with a full-size folding bike on Amtrak is pretty easy. I think it's easier than traveling with a boxed bike--and cheaper, of course. Any travel can (and probably does) have its hassles. I've found my folding bike and Amtrak to be a pretty good match, though. I get to travel to visit my mom and brother, and I get to get in some great day rides. I'm happy!

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bicycling the Americas, a book review

In 2008, the Sathre-Vogel family--mom, dad, and two ten-year-old sons--began their bicycle trek from Alaska and the Arctic Circle to Argentina's Tierra del Fuego. The trip lasted about three years, and mother Nancy Sathre-Vogel chronicles the family's adventure in her book Changing Gears: a Family Odyssey to the End of the World.

Quite a journey it was, with desperately difficult terrain, medical emergencies, and equipment failure. Nancy Sathre-Vogel honestly tells their story, including her doubts and weaknesses, the powerful strength of family bonds, and the innocent exuberance of the boys.
>>Read more>>

Friday, June 12, 2015

Overnighter Bike Camping (S240): Lake Darling

It never works out quite as expected, but that's part of the adventure!

Lake Darling is about 15 miles from Fairfield, most of it on the hilly Pleasant Plain Road. The traffic was light and respectful, but the headwind wasn't. I arrived at 5 o'clock to Lake Darling State Park that has just received a multi-year makeover. My tent campsite was nice with a view of the lake and not too far from the restrooms and showers.

I had fun cooking my noodles with my Emberlit wood-burning stove, adding the noodles to my stew that I had brought in a Thermos. It's a pretty great little stove that focuses the heat of twigs that I collect from nearby.

The unexpected was when Bob from Arkansas showed up on his Long-Haul Trucker. He's traveled over 50,000 miles on bike trips and had gone104 miles the day I met him. We had a good talk and I picked up a few tips.

The night was pleasant in the park, and the sound of owls put me to sleep.

The trip home began as an easy morning with no wind, but the wind picked up about halfway home so I dug in for another headwind. I am finding that on overnighters, I have less energy the second day. I guess that's because I haven't built up my conditioning yet since it's still early in the bike season. Bob heads out every day, and that builds up his stamina.
I got home, though, and have good memories of Lake Darling. I had remembered that the tent sites were out in the sun but were actually tucked in among trees. Very nice.

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved