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+.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Glasgow Road: the Gateway South

Riding out of Fairfield, Glasgow Road slants off Burlington Avenue at the Little League baseball fields. Extending thirteen miles south and east, this country road is one of the bicycling gateways out of Fairfield and into adventure cycling. 

A short mile or so of rural, residential housing quickly transforms to farmhouses and then to bean and corn fields, pasturage, and some wooded areas, which are mostly bordering creeks. The two-lane black topped county road is maintained, and although there is not much verge, traffic is usually light and drivers courteous. I keep an eye to the mirror for safety, and to be aware when vehicles coming and going are going to meet near my line of travel, especially at the crests of hills. Speaking of those lovely hills, there are plenty of them for your enjoyment, although there are also sections of flat farmland.
Up and down the hills will get you to the first Glasgow “gateway,” Osage Avenue, a gravel road that leads to Jefferson County’s Turkey Run Wildlife Area, about nine miles from Fairfield. Enjoy almost four miles of Glasgow Road before grinding gravel for the rest of the ride.

Just past the Osage turn lies Zillman’s Hills Recreation Area, four and a half miles into the ride.

A touch over seven and a half miles is the intersection with Stockport Road, Route W30. This paved road leads south to turn-offs to Morris Memorial County Park (about 15 miles SE), Van Buren County, and, of course, the small town of Stockport (15 miles south).

Ten miles down Glasgow Road heralds the turn-off to Round Prairie Park on Tamarack Road, two miles of gravel getting you to the county park. If you wish, traveling further on Tamarack will also get you to Morris Park, the two parks being close together, Round Prairie in Jefferson County and Morris in Van Buren.

At mile thirteen Glasgow Road ends, but traveling east on gravel surfaced 250th St., destinations in Iowa’s Henry County await. Most notable (and closest) are Oakland Mills County Park (21 miles from Fairfield) and Geode State Park (38 miles).

There are, of course, alternative routes south and east from Fairfield, since gravel roads abound, but good old Glasgow provides easy egress from town to country for day rides, overnighters, weekend excursions, or longer treks east or south that just begin in SE Iowa. 

Glasgow Road, take me home . . .

--from my iPhone 6+

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bicycling Week in Traverse City, Michigan

My wife and I decided it was time to get away for a week this May, and we decided that the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan was our destination, based on articles we'd read in a couple of Adventure Cycling magazines (May 2015 and March 2016).

Traverse City is at the southernmost point of Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay. We chose to stay for a week in a condo on TC's "Magnificent Mile" of beach resorts. It was busier than we expected, with US Highway 31 right there along the beach, but it was quiet in our little apartment, and we had a great view of the beach. 

Even though the streets were busy with cars (and it wasn't even the busy tourist season yet), the town has a number of off-road bike trails and designated bike lanes on streets that made commuting easy. Our first bike trips were for food supplies, and we soon were familiarized with the routes. 

Branching out after that, we rode the Boardman Lake Trail, and later the bike trail out of town to the north. 

We wanted to explore more, though, so we took a day ride out of town to see the big lake. 

We also visited some of the little towns on the peninsula, Suttons Bay, Glen Arbor, and a couple of others on our car ride. We think maybe next year we'll stay in a smaller town like Glen Arbor, which is close to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. TC is only about a half an hour away for supplies. 

Our day in the car also included riding about 12 miles (6 miles out and back) on the 17-mile Leelanau Trail, a rails-to-trails paved bike route between TC and Suttons Bay. We started from Suttons Bay. 

It was a great day and a great week. We were comfortable in Traverse City and would stay there again, yet we also would like to try some time in a more rural village, if such is possible with the tourist development. 

It was great for Sandy and me to get away and spend some time together--on our bicycles! 

Composed on my iPhone 6+

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Overnighter to Round Prairie Park

A pleasant evening at Round Prairie Park
A twenty-five percent chance of .015 inches of rain in a thunderstorm seemed like pretty good odds of having a pleasant overnight bike experience in March.

The possibility of a thunderstorm meant warmer temperatures from the south, and the 25% chance was a reasonable risk, especially since just a trace of rain was predicted.

And there I was the next day, 5:30 AM, in my tent at Round Prairie Park, having just experienced an hour of lightning, thunder, and drenching rain. The good news? My new Big Agnes Copper Spur one-person tent didn't leak! The bad news? None, really, just some in-the-moment concern when the lightning flashes and concurrent ka-booms were close.

A damp morning but a dry night
Knowing the possibility of thunderstorms from the south, I had erected the tent on a north-south axis to align it with possible winds. I had also guyed out the tent to keep the rainfly away from the netting. Worked well! Instead of the tent blowing down or leaking, I was able to check for rain for an hour while flinching at the sudden bursts of sound and light.

Last year in March I had taken the same trip, but it had not been so successful. Packing too much weight, still being weak from the flu, and the bike needing a tune-up, the overnighter had been a “well, I survived that” experience.

This year the 12-mile ride had the wind with me both ways, the night was warmer (low fifties), and all my equipment worked well. My Trangia alcohol stove rather than the Emberlite wood stove was a good choice, considering the dampness.

12 miles of travel, 10 on Glasgow Road
The two miles of gravel was smooth and packed from the winter, so the 10 miles on Glasgow Road and the gravel went quickly.

This is becoming one of my favorite overnighters. The prairie campground has trees and is on a crown of hill. It is clean with lots of sky. Close to town, it's not a long ride.

The sleep at night is quiet (excluding lightning strikes). It's a peaceful little county park clos to town.

Any time I feel the need to get out of town and stargaze, this is the place to go. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Overnighter to Lake Darling

I wake up in my tent at Lake Darling, Iowa. It’s a dark night in early March, and I wonder what time is it, and what’s the temperature.

Somehow, knowing the time when I wake up always makes it easier for me to fall back to sleep. “Oh, it's 2:30. I’ve got another three or four hours to sleep.” Knowing where I’m at in my sleep cycle is reassuring. I set my internal alarm clock and drift off.

Early March in Iowa is certainly adequate motivation to wonder about the temperature. The forecast had predicted temperatures just under 50 degrees. I'm pretty much a fair weather camper, so I was pushing my envelope some--in a good way--but rather than verifying my mild-mannered “roughing it,” I discovered I had broken my cold weather camping record of 45 degrees from the March of last year. It was 38 degrees out but still cozy in my sleeping bag.

I cinched the mummy bag a little more tightly around my head, rolled onto my side, and drifted off, the sharp, clean morning filled a serenading owl backed up by a trio of Motown coyotes.

Morning found me comfortable with the temperature, there being no wind and my having brought a good lightweight down jacket. My muscles were quietly suggesting I wasn't in peak condition this early in the season, but my 17-mile ride to the Lake Darling State Park was an early-season success. The forecast for the ride back home predicted no wind, and I’m happy to say it was correct.

I was glad to stretch my experience boundaries a bit. I was glad to realize that the overnight bike-camping experiences of last year had paid off in an efficient and enjoyable March trip this year.

Riding home in the cool late-winter morning, I wasn't bothered by mosquitoes or the heat. The bare fields on Pleasant Plain Road and Highway 78 were not yet planted, and the bare branches of the trees had a stark beauty, as did the flat grey of the overcast sky. There seemed to be more silence, as if I were catching the world before it was awake, not the wee hours of the morning but the wee hours of the season.

I fell into a rhythm that sent me flying down the hills and grinding up the other side. I was listening to the silence that underlay the subtle mechanical sounds of the bicycle.

I had my kit together, my momentum and balance, and have an entire cycling season ahead. Down one hill, up the next, spin or stand on the pedals--I’m literally riding down Pleasant Plain Road, and it's a great day to be alive and riding. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Emberlit Titanium Wood-burning Camp Stove Review

Folded Stove + Dryer Fluff & Fire Starter
 I bought the Emberlit camp stove after reading a bicycle touring journal of a guy who used a similar stove while riding across Siberia. I was inspired.

Using it about ten times over the summer, I found it works well. There are always twigs at a campsite, so fuel is not a problem. If rain or winds were predicted, I might bring my Trangia alcohol stove instead, or maybe both since they are both so light. Since the stove is Titanium, it cools quickly for packing. It folds flat and is very light.

The firebox is small, so be prepared with your wood, and keep an eye on the fire. Several times I had to re-start the fire. I don't consider this a weakness of the stove but rather a matter of campcraft.

Having this along with my Trangia would give me two burners, which could be useful for heating a soup/stew and noodles, for instance. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

20-Mile Day Ride to Turkey Run

I'm riding down a gravel road that is even smoother than asphalt--gravel and good ol' Iowa mud packed to a porcelain-like riding surface. The day is near 60 degrees, little to no wind, and I'm out and about on my bike in December for a day ride to Turkey Run Wildlife Area in Jefferson County, southeast Iowa.

Besides being out on the bike on a warm and rare December opportunity, I'm checking out how my Raleigh Detour 2.5 with its 35c wide tires handles on gravel. I don't think this was a good test.

The trip, though, was a good chance to experience how hitting the "ripio" or gravel takes one far away from busyness, even in rural southeast Iowa. Yes, I did meet a few cars, maybe a half dozen while on the gravel, and I did pass some farms, including a couple of CAFOs hidden away, but the silence and the openness and the distant horizon did wonders for my psyche.

The next day was even warmer but also windy. Two days later, it rained and the road would have been mud, so I had chosen the perfect moment to plumb the gravel roads of Cedar Creek bottom and to check out Turkey Run for the first time. My route out of Fairfield, Iowa, was Glasgow Road to Osage Avenue, which leads to Turkey Run. On the way home I branched off west from Osage to 256th St., which took me to state Highway 1, which I took north back to Fairfield, ten miles out and ten miles back.

Turkey Run is not a camping area. It is set up for primitive camping for equestrians, and the park service said it would be okay to do an overnighter there with a bicycle. No water, no restrooms, and no electricity. Pack in and carry out.

I wandered around a bit, ate lunch, took some photos, checked out the trail, and then headed home. Turkey Run is a nice refuge for wildlife, and I have to say that I enjoyed my time there, a refuge from civilization, even if only a small patch in the gridwork of Iowa farms.