Saturday, March 25, 2017

Will I Fulfill My "Somewhat" Goal?

If the road isn't too muddy, this is actually quite a smooth ride!
My "soft" goal is to see how many months of the year I can bike tour here in SE Iowa, the tour including at least one night of camping.

Last year I camped in March, missed April because of rain and a cold, missed May because my wife and I traveled, I don't remember June but know that I went to California to help family . . . and so forth. This year I've already camped in February, but this March has proven to be much colder and wetter--snow, temperatures in the teens, wet and dreary.

I still have a window, one or two days for an overnighter, if the forecast is accurate and I don't mind a little soggy. Hmmmm . . . We'll see--there's one camping site about ten miles away, primitive, but that's OK for an overnighter. I just bring my overnight gear and a Thermos of stew for dinner.

The trip does include about five miles of muddy gravel roads, so I'll just have to see how it goes. The temperatures promise to be around 40-60 degrees, which is manageable, since I'd mostly be either riding or in the sleeping bag.

Wish me lucky weather!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Round Prairie Park: First Bike Camping Trip of 2017

Once again, I was off on my bike for a camping trip, but this time in February in SE Iowa!

The fields were faded tans and browns and the trees were leafless skeletons, but the sky was blue and the temperatures in the high 60's. The next morning would be around 50, and the extended forecast predicted a return to more normal (lower) temperatures soon. One day for a quick overnighter.

This trip made the third year in a row that I started my bike camping season with an overnighter to Round Prairie Park in Jefferson County, Iowa. It's fourteen miles from my front door, and even the moderate headwind didn't faze me. The hills on Glasgow Road, the gravel on Tamarack Road, and the utter isolation of the empty campground in February were expected, almost old friends. The rookery of crows in the distant trees with their cacophony of raucous cries also brought back memories.

I remembered my first trip to Round Prairie Park, coming off a spring cold and still weak, struggling to get home the next day, having over-packed to "see how the bike handled with a load." Well, it handled like an over-packed bike! Lesson learned.

This year, my ultra-light tent set up quickly after my 3:30 P.M. arrival, and I even had time for some stretching asanas and meditation before dark and dinner. The sun sets early in February, but the fresh air and the glowing sky gave promise to an easy night's sleep. We'd see what the morning brought because a fifty percent possibility of rain and then later thunderstorms were forecast. I knew that when I was heading out, but the chance to enjoy an early trip balanced out the possibility of a few miles of riding in the rain. And I did bring my rain gear!

I woke at 2:30 A.M., having slept six hours. The soft glow of the campground's streetlight lit my camp spot, and I had the thought: "I'm awake, slept well and feel great. Why not pack up and head home now, before the rain?" Well, somehow I just didn't roll over and go back to sleep. Part of the surge of energy I experienced was the thought of my new bike's dynamo and lighting system. I'd get to use that!

So pack I did and took off, my light illuminating my way down the two miles of gravel road, the ten miles of Glasgow Road, and the two miles through town to my home. It was a pleasant temperature, the bike handled well, and one side perk of the early ride was having only three cars pass me on my twelve miles to town. I pretty much had the road to myself--and a tailwind. It was a much faster trip home than out, and I felt strong. I like to start my riding season with shorter rides, though, to give myself a chance to get in shape without excessive fatigue.

My one concern was that I was showing up home at around 5:15 A.M., and I didn't want to startle my wife with my unexpected arrival. I texted her when I got to the garage, but she didn't respond. I phoned our landline from the front door, left a message, and I could see her through the window coming to the door. She was sleepy but at least not scared awake by noises in the garage and house. In other words, she forgave me my perky, early morning sojourn.

It is now a week later--cooler, rain expected, but I've managed to spend a couple of days in the yard, working in the garden setting up some cold frames. Kale is sprouting, I've spent some good time outside with my wife and grandson, and in addition to that, I've headed off once again to start a new year of bicycle adventures. Bless our state, county, and local communities that maintain our local parks and campgrounds. They really add to the quality of life available for us to experience just outside our back door.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Riding the Rails on Amtrak Again

My latest trip to California from Iowa was a success and a learning lesson. It was my first experience with a roomette rather than a coach seat--three times more expensive but a definite easier experience with more privacy and a fold-down bed for the nights. My costs at senior rate for the round trip are this: $290, coach; $914, sleeper. At three times the cost, my frugal nature pegs the roomette an indulgence, but sometimes there's nothing wrong with indulging ourselves.

My bike once again had a safe trip, although I came home with a flat, so I’ll have to fix that and discover the reason why, pinch flat, puncture vine, or wire? As usual, the Montague Navigator is a cumbersome transport, but once I arrived in Oroville, it was fun to get some exercise, even though it was raining almost every day.

Everyone was glad to see me. My brother took a two-day vacation to the local resort casino to get some good meals and downtime. Good for him! I told Mom’s care-provider to take the day off for one of those days (she usually works some all week long), and Mom and I just had at least one nice, quiet day to ourselves.

My plan while staying with my mother and brother for eight days was to stay three nights on the sofa (about a year now of accumulated time with the piece of furniture!), four nights in a motel, and then one night on the sofa again before catching the bus out of town. Usually I just sleep on the sofa, but this time I was celebrating my 65th birthday with a little more privacy. Also, I’d get in about fifteen miles of commuting a day for those four nights in a motel.

I set it all up but didn’t figure on the rains. After two days of dodging rains and changing my visiting schedule (not good for my 92-year-old mother), I canceled my last two days and returned to the sofa. However, I did get in one hour’s ride a couple of days later in the area, which was great.

The trip home ended up being seven and a half hours late. That changed the daytime scenery of the usual ride back. I missed seeing the scenic canyons of the Rockies and got to enjoy much of Nebraska . Oh, joy! All the rain and snow really slowed the train down, but it was still a smooth trip home, just longer. I found out later that the mountains have also experienced road closings.

I left on a Tuesday morning, and the next Sunday early evening (around 5pm), the Oroville area and towns south were evacuated because of fear of spillway failure at the Oroville Dam. My mom and brother chose not to leave because of my mom’s frailty, her heart, and her occasional need for her oxygen machine. The evacuation announcement went something like this: “We are monitoring the spillways, and all is OK. . . . Oh, my god, the spillway may erode out within the hour. Flee!!!” Massive panic and traffic jams ensued, some people stuck on roads for over four hours. My mom and brother live on higher ground, and so they decided to avoid the traffic and living in a shelter for several days. They took a risk and survived, and I feel I have to respect their right to make a decision. I hope when I’m 92 that I am still lively enough to be allowed that freedom also.

Every trip I learn more about Amtrak bike travel. Amtrak is getting better and more experienced with bicycle travelers aboard, and for this I am grateful. It’s a great way to get to a new place to ride a bike!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Making Bicycle Commuting an Adventure

Edward Mallory justified his attempt to climb Mt. Everest by saying "because it's there."

So why do I ride my bicycle when our culture makes it so easy to drive a car? Health, sure. Ecologically sound, absolutely.

I want to add one more reason: because I can. Every bike ride is a celebration of my health, of my continuing ability to be physically active. I can't say "because it's there" because, hey, I'm just riding to the store for groceries. However, how many years did I spend pursuing my career, spending my days inside a building? Commuting by bicycle, as far as I'm concerned, is practical recreation, utilitarian vacationing.

Commuting during winter weather is one way to enjoy shorter rides, one that can come with its share of adventure. I've found that stretching my bicycling capabilities is quite a bit of fun. It's a no-brainer to head to town on the bike when it's shirt-sleeve weather and I'm returning a book to the library. The bicycle can pack much more, though, and in quite diverse weather. Challenging the limits of commuting is the spice to the everyday soup of to-town-and-back.

One day of commuting, I bought a trash can at the local farm store and then delivered it to my son's house. Then I loaded a big bag of leaves to take home for compost. Would this have been easier using my SUV? Yes, but not more fun! I got the job done and had some enjoyable riding. In fact, I felt a little bit like a parade, cruising down the road with my unusual bike cargo.

I regularly ride to meetings at my town's private university. I decided to ride in the snow, and that provided a chance to stretch my experience and to test my new bike's capabilities. It was a great ride. I've ridden in the snow before, but this was the first time this year--and a wonderful chance to really enjoy the first snow of the season.

This was the largest load of groceries I've ever transported by bicycle. I could have taken a little more, but the folks at the grocery store were certainly surprised. They loaded up the two canvas bags and then said, "What do ya want us to do with the rest?" pointing to the still-filled counter. I pointed to the bike trailer, which the cashier hadn't somehow figured to be a bike trailer. The store clerk helped me out to my "vehicle," carrying the two canvas bags while I rolled out the Burley Travoy trailer. The added weight really settled down the bike and trailer, even with the ride home including a half mile of rails-to-trails route and even a bit of single track, graveled path. The cashier told me that the store could provide car delivery of the groceries, but I said, "No, thanks, I've got it okay"--a satisfying moment.

OK, 14 degrees and a stiff north wind provided me with the opportunity to test my cold weather gear. I actually over-dressed and got a little hot on my one-mile ride (one way). Coming home, I packed some of the clothes in my bag and felt more comfortable. It's amazing how having the right bike and clothing can make the commuting experience so much fun. I think I'm ready for the single-digit weather coming next week. It's also interesting how a bit of all-weather commuting accustoms one to getting out in the wind and rain and snow--or a combination of all three! It's a bit of a stretch sometimes, but I've really cut down my car driving and increased my bicycle enjoyment with just a bit of a commitment to ride in more extreme weather.

It may take a little longer to commute by bike instead of car, although the trip to our local university can be actually shorter because of a rails-to-trails shortcut and because I can ride right up to buildings rather than parking in the parking lot and then walking in. I think how long it takes to dress for winter commuting is the biggest difference in commuting by bike. Once dressed, I'm no colder while commuting and take not much longer to get anywhere. The experience is certainly more memorable--and no scraping ice off the windshield. Commuting becomes an enjoyable part of the day, not just a few minutes written off and forgotten. I like that. I like getting outdoors and enjoying the day, even if the weather isn't especially comfortable.

One day I won't be able to do this, but today is not that day.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

From Waterloo to Coralville, Iowa

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail runs from Evansdale (a suburb or Waterloo) to Hiawatha (a suburb or Cedar Rapids) in Iowa. I rode this trail, and further south through Cedar Rapids and Ely, down to the Coralville (a suburb or Iowa City).

The entire ride included paved trail, lime chip trail, road, and even a little dirt that Google maps routed me onto. It was a good ride of three days: 40 miles, Evansdale to Urbana; 53 miles, Urbana to Sugar Bottom Campground, Lake McBride; and 10 miles, campground to New Pioneer Co-op, Coralville. I was going to continue the 60 miles on home with another day or two or travel, but the weather was threatening (and delivered!) rain . . . and I was familiar with the last leg of the trip home. Therefore, my four-day trip became a three-day trip, and I had my wife, who was shopping at Iowa City Cosco with her daughter, meet me for lunch at New Pi and give me a ride home.

Cedar Valley Nature Trail. Sometimes nice and shady.

CVNT. Sometimes not so shady.

Most of the ride was on the CVNT, a "corridor park" from an old rail line. It's an interesting experience, sometimes seeming deep in prairie trees and then seeing corn and beans to each side when a break in the trees occurs. Good riding time was also spent skirting the Cedar River, and, surprisingly, some of my most fun riding was on the Cedar River Trail the spun me through the Cedar Rapids urban area. It's one thing to see the Quaker Oats mill from the elevated freeway when roaring through the city--and quite another to pass by the mill by bicycle on a quiet bike path with the milling towering overhead.

Crossing the Cedar River. A paved trail runs through town.

Below are some photos of the trip, and you can also go to my Crazy Guy on a Bike (which I use with thousands of other bike tourists) and read my day-to-day journal entries.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Local Tour: Oakland Mills, Farmington, Bentonsport

89 miles over 4 days from June 28, 2016 to July 1, 2016 

Day 1:
Ten miles of today's ride was the familiar Glasgow Road, "Gateway to Adventure," because the road leads to so many campgrounds south and east of Fairfield. I got a late start because I was watering the greens in our garden--and also because we trapped a chipmunk and I had to take him to his new lakeside home. Leaving at 10:40, I arrived at the Oakland Mills county campgrounds at 1:20, which includes photo stops and about 8 miles of gravel.

Along the fields to Oakland Mills

Then I had to survey the campgrounds and wait for the camp host to return from somewhere. Since I had brought a Thermos of lentil stew, I ate that and a bagel for lunch. Of the 3 campgrounds, I finally chose the newest and cleanest with showers (pay) and flush toilets. I had to pay for an electrical site, but it was pretty, had afternoon shade and will have morning sun, and is on a bluff above the Skunk River, so I think it will have more breeze and fewer mosquitoes.

Tomorrow I'll start earlier. That's my plan, anyway. I had three moments with dogs: one chained, two who came to the road but were mostly just bored, and one black dog with yellow eyes that watched me pass with mellow curiosity. The two barkers were called back by the owner, which was nice. I gave a big smile and thank you.

Day 2
Today was a long day, mostly because most of the journey was on straight roads running through fields of corn and soybeans. Sometimes (oftentimes) the fields would extend beside the road out to where the horizon met the sky. Or a different perspective, that of the fields lowering to a line of trees that marked a creek.

The good news is that the roads were paved and smooth, much of it cement without the repetitious bump-bump of the sections. About half of the trip included a slight headwind. And of course the Iowa rolling hills. Cornfields and beanfields, some mature oats, hay and pasture, and some cattle were my companions. I found myself mooing at the beasts, and they'd look up with a "What the h---?" expression.

I stopped at Agency and Houghton at gas stations for water. Small bottles were all they had. The land grew more rolling as I neared Farmington, and then I passed through a two-mile corridor of trees, Shimek State Forest, Farmington Unit.

I couldn't help myself and turned onto a gravel road to Bitternut Lake, proceeding far enough to be enveloped by green silence. Then I noticed the route was all downhill and I was going to have to return, so I headed back to the highway, walking the quarter mile to rest a bit and to enjoy the forest even more slowly.

Indian Lake camp

At Farmington I met a former student clerking at the grocery store and met a former teaching colleague who ran the Crazy Girls Boutique (and cafe) during the summer. I ate a chef's salad and chose not to eat ice cream, only because I would have had to take a nap after the ice cream.

I'm at a nice, shaded site at Indian Lake. It might rain tonight, so I'm buttoning up camp to keep everything dry.

Indian Lake at sundown

Day 3
Today was the shortest leg of this trip and also the most interesting so far.

Leaving Indian Lake, I immediately crossed the Des Moines River and routed onto Eagle Drive, a gravel road that name-changes to River Road when nearing Bentonsport. This road follows the river, providing some nice water views in between the longer sections where the view is blocked by trees and brush.

Clouds while rolling into Bentonsport

Clouds rolled in as I advanced, so I finally saw a spot that had been developed into a private river camping/summer RV spot. No one was there, so I pulled in and put rain covers on the panniers and donned my rain gear. This included putting away my sneakers and wearing my summer rain footwear--flipflops. I draped my tarp over the rear of the bike, pinning the tarp with the pannier leaning against a picnic table. When it began to rain, I hunkered down under the front of the tarp.

After about a half an hour to forty-five minutes, the rain tapered off. Unsure when the rain would actually stop, I took off, finding the gravel a little soft but still okay. It was a nice ride in the rain, cool and quiet. About a mile before connecting with paved J40, a grader came from the opposite direction, “smoothing” the road and consequently churning it to a morass inches thick. Luckily, only the opposite side was being worked, so I boogied on to the asphalt.

When I arrived at Bonaparte, the sun came out, the asphalt glistened, and the air was fresh . . . followed by humidity. It was still a nice ride to Bentonsport, with some climbing and then a drop down to the Des Moines River. It was one o’clock, so I bought a nice hoagie at Forever Sweet Creations--and then a cup of ice cream.

I returned to Bentonsport County Campground, set up, “showered” from a faucet spout using a cooking pot to splash myself, and then tried to nap. Too muggy! I jumped onto my bike for an ice cream cone and air conditioning, then browsed the historic Grief General Store.

A few photos of the river, and back to camp I go.

Dark clouds and rolling thunder as I ride back to camp. Prepare for rain again! Humidity is 100%. My reading glasses fog when I put them on to write this. My Big Agnes Copper Spur tent is a good one, though, and I’m battened down for wind and rain.

For my four days of riding and three nights of camping, I’ve experienced a real variety of weather and riding surfaces. It's been a good test of my equipment--and my intent to tour, I suppose.

KABOOM! Okay, here we go!

Day 4
Since it had rained significantly the night before, I had planned taking blacktop all the way home, skipping the soft gravel of my original route. I punched in my GPS to find the quickest route to J40 and was surprised that I was given a path on Hawk Drive to Highway 1--and I was on Hawk, a gravel road. The surface was fine, even after the rain. Yesterday's trip along the river was wonderful, so I decided to go for it, a third possible route home! Little did I know the adventure I was taking!

The road continued out of town, straight and smoothly graded, with no dust because of the rain. Out of town was the river to one side and homes, then farms, to the right or north. Then Hawk Dr. turned to the north with the river, and the road narrowed. Farms fell away to more scrub forest along the river, and hills covered in scrub. The road narrowed more, becoming more rough with a greater mix of red earth and larger stones. The scrub crept in on both sides with no homes or cultivation or river visible. Grass grew in the center of the road. I was obviously off the beaten track.

The road forked, and I took the better track, one that climbed steeply up a wooded hill. Coming to a rough shanty (for lack of a better word) the GPS told me to flip a "U" and take the other fork. Down the hill, turn the corner, and I quickly realized I was on a section of the Hawk that used to be a road but was now no longer maintained. I could see the two tracks of the road, some gravel showing through the weeds. I'd say the trace was used now and then by 4WD enthusiasts and 4-wheelers--occasionally, and not recently.

I started wondering, but it got worse!

The GPS congratulated me by informing me that this section was one and a half miles long. What to do? I could backtrack a few miles and then take a route five miles longer, or I could push on. I chose the later.

The road deteriorated to faintly discernible traces of two tracks. The scrub thickened and formed--not a tunnel, too tight for that--a "culvert" through the vegetation. I pressed on, busting through the weeds, walking the bike around puddles, avoiding tire ruts dimly seen in the gloaming. I was thrilled, a little scared, and definitely too focused to stop and take some pics of the Hawk at its abandoned worst. Cattle gates cut the path, by-passed by 4WD tracks. I followed, figuring I'd end up somewhere--and did, eventually crossing a rusty, abandoned bridge, climbing, turning a corner, and pushing my bike up a verge to maintained gravel, a home, and a gentleman pruning his grape vines.

As I was exiting the bush, I said, "Google GPS shows Hawk Drive goes all the way through! It doesn't, though, does it?"

"Took you out into the wilderness, hey?"

We shared a laugh, and I continued on.

Riding Hawk Drive to Highway 1 included climbing the hills out from the Des Moines River, and a good stretch still of backroad country.

Highway 1 was a more business-like ride, keeping an eye on the mirror for cars. Highway 1 is a state-maintained road. From Keosauqua to Birmingham, there is a 16 to 24 inch space to the right of the sleep rumble strips for bike riding--and then also a strip of gravel. From Birmingham to Fairfield, the edge of the road only has gravel to ditch to if necessary, sometimes with a couple of inches drop off--not highly dangerous since this is rural Iowa, but a road to be vigilant on. I used my mirror a lot.

I bought a reflective safety triangle at AJ's Bike Shop in Fairfield on my way home. I mounted it on my dry bag above my rear panniers, letting it flap to increase my visibility.

This was a good day, a good tour, ending with my pulling into my good home!

(Coming up next: my ride from Evansdale to Iowa City down the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, the Cedar River Trail, the Hoover Trail, and the Iowa River Corridor Trail.)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Amtrak with a Bike Again

I had planned a three-day bike trip in southeast Iowa, and then my brother asked me to come out to California to visit--now. Mom needed some company, a change. 

That was on a Tuesday when I had planned to start my trip on a Wednesday. I unpacked my bike-camping duds and boarded the Zephyr on Thursday. And, of course, I brought along my Montague Navigator. I'm sitting curbside now, waiting for the Amtrak Thruways bus to arrive. What better time for a bicycling blog post?

I spent eight days with my mother and brother, and managed dayrides for three of them, usually a couple of hours long. My first ride was to town for food for my vegetarian self--about twelve miles, the length of all my rides, as a matter of fact. 

For my second ride I just rode to town again, and when I found out a high school friend I was going to drop in on was golfing, I rode over, using Google gps, to locate my uncle's new home. That included a little hill climbing, which was fun (because, I suppose, of the little and because it was still morning-cool.) 

My third early-morning ride took me to the Saturday Farmers' Market to buy a few veggies for my last couple days' visit. I added some ripe strawberries and blackberries to my bags! 

Having my bicycle made my trip more healthy and enjoyable. I'm glad that Amtrak, in conjunction with the Adventure Cycling Association, is creating a more open and accessible program for bicycle travel. It helps me keep on rollin'!

Posted from my iPhone 6+.