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.)