Monday, August 7, 2017

The Pillow That Giveth but Mostly Taketh Away

Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium

I have a love/hate relationship with the Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow. In brief, I love how it packs and travels; however, I have issues with actually using the pillow.

The pillow is a dream to pack. Having two air valves, one for intake that holds in the air, and one exhaust valve for quick release of air, it is a jiff to inflate and deflate. It packs to the approximate size of a baseball but is, of course, soft and “squishable” when packing, coming with a nice little sack for storage. On the road, it’s light and malleable.

Using the pillow has some positive aspects and quite a few negatives. The positives are that the pillow inflates easily, which is important since mine loses air slowly. It’s quick to re-inflate in the middle of the night. Too bad that I have to, though. I inflate the pillow fully, so that it’s as hard as I can make it. That’s pretty comfortable. If I partially inflate the pillow so that it’s softer, then it’s a night of nuzzling the pillow to get it comfy, and then having it pop up the back of my head by air displacement--you know, like a balloon. That gets old fast, and since the pillow slowly oozes air, that’s the nightly sleep reality. There are even times when I toss the pillow aside and wad up and use my long-sleeved linen shirt that I bike camp with for sun protection.

Some folks may not be concerned with the fact that the pillow slowly leaks. Actually, that’s not a big issue for me. It’s the “balloon effect” that really gets my panties in a wad. I can’t mold the pillow to the shape that I want (and need). The pillow giveth, and the pillow taketh away. Therefore, I can’t give my ultimate blessing to this product.

It packs so well and is so comfortable with its softly textured surface that I always begin my night’s sleep with the best of thoughts towards my Aeros. I fall asleep snuggled to my peachy pillow. Sometime during the night, though, we have our break-up. I wake up feeling I received a punch for every caress. I’m empty and without substance--or is that the pillow I’m talking about?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Trails, Gravel, and Highway--Oh, My!

No way was I bike camping in SE Iowa when the temperatures and humidity both were in the 90’s. I stayed home, watered the garden, and rode my bike for commutes around town. Then the weather was forecast to be highs in the low 80’s and lows around 60. Time to go because more moderate temperatures might not come again soon!

Nice spot on the Cedar River. Stopped here last year, too.
I chose to repeat a bicycle tour I did last year, north of Fairfield, Iowa, starting from Evansdale and following the Cedar Valley Nature Trail south towards home. I had a few variations in mind, though, mostly leaving the trail at some point and heading west and south to cover some new territory west of Cedar Rapids and the Iowa City/Coralville area in order to skip the more urban route after the CVNT ends (even though there are excellent bike paths through Cedar Rapids and the Iowa City area).

My wife took me up to the trailhead at Evansdale, and I was about 140 miles from home. She was shopping with our step-granddaughter, and I was pedaling.

CVNT, lime chips and shade
Day 1 was a diverse route that included Rails to Trails paved and lime chip surfaces, gravel roads, and asphalt and cement highways. Just jumping on the bike and traveling 48 miles on the first day was quite a shock to my system. It was still summer and humid, just not excessively so. I had brought and drank a lot of water, which was good. My legs tired by the end of the day, though, so I walked up some hills at the last part of the ride. I don’t mind some walking; it stretches different muscles and provides some respite for the ol’ rear end. In this case, though, I had to walk, due to my legs giving out.

I remember that old Bob Newhart joke:
“Where’s your get up and go?”
“It got up and left.”
There were two closures on the CVNT. One was a 30-yard washout in the first nine miles of the trail. Luckily, I was able to walk through the damage, using a single track path beat out by previous travelers. I thought that maybe I’d have to remove my panniers to finish the cross-over because the last bit was quite steep for about ten feet, but I power-pushed the bike up out of the washout’s drybed and was back on track.The second detour is at Gilbertville, routing around a bridge washout near La Porte City. Last year I had to take this same detour. 

A 30-yard adventure
After rerouting and then returning to the trail, I headed on toward Urbana and then cut west off the CVNT to try the Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area campground. This route change included about five miles of gravel and around twenty miles of asphalt and cement highway. I enjoyed the chance to acquaint myself with my (fairly) new bike and my new Jones Loop handlebars. Also, I played music from my phone, which helped me pace myself.

Beautiful resevoir but not close to the campsites
For both the first and second days of the ride, I was amazed at how my route wound through the rural populated countryside but not near places to eat. In Brandon, I went off route, following an arrow to a “homestyle” restaurant; however, the establishment was closed. Heading west of the trail, there was a lot of farmland along the highway but not much in terms of eating, unless I wanted junk food from a gas station.

Pretty typical view for Day 2
Day 2 was a ride of 45 miles. I was stronger this day, my legs not giving out. I did have to walk the bike up the hills entering Kent Park; however, these were very steep hills. That seems to be pretty common for county parks. The ride was on highways the whole day, so I played lots of music to help the miles pass. The highways--94, 151, and 6--for the most part had a paved shoulder--white stripe, a rumble strip, and then 14-18 inches to the right. This made for a safer day, although I had to pay attention in order to not get “rumbled.”

One new experience happened while riding Highway 6 east of Cedar Rapids. It was Saturday, and a motorcycle group passed going the opposite direction--about 200 bikes. I was able to keep an eye out behind me for impatient cars that wanted to pass me but couldn't because of the long line of motorcycles. All was well until one yahoo in a sedan pulling a utility trailer decided to pass me in the middle of the motorcycle convoy, crowding both me and the motorcycles. Because I use a mirror, I saw the situation coming and was able to make an informed response--in this case to just be aware of the car coming up beside me and to measure distance.
Iowa River: nice view on Day 2
I also discovered that bikers have way more cool signs for acknowledging other passing bikers. From the bars, I kind of wiggle my fingers and nod. They've got all these cool moves with their hands, low and lean--peace signs, subtle low waves. I have to say that by the time the 200 passed, there was some lust in my heart for a mechanism with a motor!

Kent Park features only electric camping spots, so the fee was $20. It was quiet and shady, though, and the park has clean showers and flush toilets. The camp host and rangers were friendly, although it was an unexpected moment to notice that the ranger was packing a pistol. Better he than a kook, though.

Kent Park has a lake, but it has been drained and procedures are active for dredging the lake of its silt and also providing buffer areas to maintain water purity, due to farming in the area. It’s such a tragedy that nowadays big farming equals big pollution.

On Day 3, I rode only eleven miles to Coralville to rendezvous with my wife and grandson at the mall, where he was visiting the Children’s Museum. The Sunday traffic was light, although upon entering the suburbs the riding lane was lost. This was a good ride, much like my ride last year except that I left the CVNT at about its halfway point in order to explore some new territory. Connecting with my wife also saved me about sixty miles of riding through familiar territory in order to get home; instead, I spent some quality time with my family.

The trip would have been much easier for me if I had stopped on the first day at a campsite near Urbana, thus putting in fewer miles and making the strain on my body less. I am glad that I saw some new country, though, and look forward to my next trek, which will probably be to the south of Fairfield.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Bike Mirror That Fits the Jones Loop Bar

After changing my touring handlebars from straight mountain bike to Jones Loop Bar, I found the mirror I’d been using didn’t work. The straight bars were perpendicular to the bicycle’s body, and the Jones Bar ends at a 45-degree angle.

Searching for an alternative mirror, I first tried a couple of mirrors I already had, one that attached with a clamp to the handlebar, and another that fit inside the bar end (as does the Hafny). The first vibrated too much, interfered with bar bags and such, and did not project enough to the side to provide good visibility. The second adjusted for a good angle but was too cheap and provided a distorted view and excessive vibration; in addition, it kept getting out of adjustment.

Researching mirrors online, I came across the Hafny Bar End Bike Mirror. Its reflective surface is somewhat smaller than my cheap-o bar end mirror, but the stability of the mirror and the quality of the stainless steel reflective surface provide a good image. Also, the Hafny is versatile and allows me to adjust to exactly the perspective I need.

I’m pleased to find a mirror that is the perfect fit for my Jones Bar handlebars. I can’t use a helmet mirror, and I don’t want a mirror that provides a distorted view and is difficult to keep adjusted. It should also be added here that the mirror comes with a one-year warranty, and after my online purchase, the company sent me an email affirming that. I ride mostly in Iowa, and last year eleven bicyclists died here. I do what I can to make my rides safe. The Hafny mirror looks like a winner!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Mysterious, Elusive Austin County Park

I'm gingerly riding on loose gravel, a few hundred yards from Kilbourn, Iowa. Down the steep hill to river level, I can see the road bend up ahead, probably rolling into Kilbourn and on to the bridge. A couple in a pick-up come from the wide-spot-in-the-road town and stop. They had just passed me earlier on their motorcycle.

"Like the gravel?" the man asks. 

He is, of course, being sarcastic. The gravel is a loosey-goosey concentration exercise, just to get down to river level on the newly applied gravel.

"I prefer it more hard packed," I reply.

"Where you headin'?"

"Austin County Park."

"Well, you can't get there from here. You'll have to go around, through Keosauqua."

"Why, the bridge out?"

"Been out since 2000."

"OK, so much for Google Maps."

"They've dug a deep trench cutting off the access to the bridge on each side. I guess you could throw your bike up on the bridge, go across, and then do the same on the other side."

"No, thanks. I'll just go back."

With a wave, my information source is gone, and I'm alone again, contemplating my next move. I wish I had traveled on around the bend in the gravel to see Kilbourn and the bridge, maybe take some photos. I didn't, though. I just disconsolately turned around and headed back up the hill, soon pushing my bike up the grade, feet slipping occasionally in the loosey-goosey gravel.

The Van Buren County Conservation website describes Austin County Park as follows:
Austin Park currently has gravel pads for primitive camping.  There is no electric or water available at this time. In 2008 this area was hit by large ice chunks.  These natural events plus several floods later has left it in a more primitive state. At this time the Conservation has no funding to rebuild it.  
I see it with my mind's eye--early spring on the Van Buren River and the splitting sound as huge chunks of ice crack, mass together, and move downriver, scouring the banks, wiping out the campground. I wonder if I heard the man in the pickup wrong. Maybe the bridge was damaged in 2008, not 2000.

My trip to Kilbourn had been made enjoyable because of a tailwind--riding with a push from the friendly north wind. However, my overnight trip took a change for the worse with my decision to camp at Morris Memorial County Park, fifteen miles away, most of the directly into the wind with one staight northern route on Stockport Road. I had my Rohloff gearing down to gear 2 or 3 out of 14 too much of the time, slowly slogging into the wind.

I had planned a short 16-mile overnighter as a start to getting in shape, but it ended up 30 miles, and my legs let me know it was a bit much. Adventure cycling!

The mysterious Austin County Park still eludes me, see only in my imagination as glaciated ruins and now-placid waters. I already have a new route planned, via the Douds bridge and along ten miles of Eagle Drive that skirts the Des Moines River, about twenty-five miles. It should be a great ride.

Of course, assuming those ten miles of gravel are still able to be ridden. But as I've found out before, sometimes my assumptions are presumptuous.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

We Aren't There Yet

Public transit and bicycles. This is a photo of bikes at the train station in Maastricht, Holland, in April of 2015, by two bicycle tourers, Patrick and Rachel Hugens. (

I strain to imagine a similar scene in my area. People would be so much more healthy!

Monday, April 3, 2017

I Fulfill a Greater Goal

What with the colder, wetter, windier temperatures, I didn't pop my tent for an overnighter this 2017 March. Now, I could have. There were some manageable days (and nights). There were a couple/few nights I could have been tucked into my mummy bag, wind buffeting the tent, waiting for sleep, satisfied and thinking, I did it!

Instead, I took a couple/three hours a dozen times over the month to spin some great rides with my wife on our local loop trail, some time to plant spring greens and work on my greenhouse, some great time with my wife and our grandson, playing in the neighborhood. 

Great memories. Good choice, Tom. 

The weather is slowly improving, the garden is slowly getting planted, and my bike is in the shop getting new brake hoses that fit a new Jones Loop Bar set of handlebars. 

Tulips and daffodils are blossoming. The trees in bud, and the grass is definitely greener on my side of the fence. 

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!