Monday, August 27, 2018

Day Ride, Commuting, and Infrequent Posts

Indian Lake, May 2018
Okay, I've been looking at my last three post dates: three to five months between each post. Wowie-zowie! The good news is that I have been riding my bicycle, one overnighter and lots of day rides (dawn rides) with my wife--and commuting.

Staying closer to home and interacting more with my family has been the modus operandi here at home . . . and that's a good thing. I think I'll start reading more journals at the Crazy Guy on a Bike community rather than the years-long world tours. Life is just as real close to home. In fact, maybe that's why people travel; life can be too real close to home!

I'm also see different possibilities of close-to-home day rides now that my wife and I have bought a little camping trailer. It's also a mobile office, and while she works, I can have a day ride. This allows her to work yet be out camping, it allow us to spend time together (and ride and hike some), and it also allows me to take a couple of hours for a ride. One example is for us to camp at Indian Lake, about forty miles away, and then I can ride in Shimek State Forest, which is a couple of miles from the campground.

Lake Darling, August 2018
At any rate, my posts will probably be for shorter rides and longer times with my family--not a bad combo, for sure!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Car Camping at Indian Lake

I am sitting now in my REI camp chair at Indian Lake, Farmington, Iowa, enjoying temperatures in the 70's, car camping with my wife. We are here for three days, arriving on Monday and leaving Thursday morning before the beginning of Memorial Day weekend (and thunderstorms, weather in the 90's, and the resulting humidity). My wife is set up in a nearby camp shelter and is working remotely with her consulting business.

This is our camping goal this summer, in addition to my individual bicycle camping romps. We want to get away from the house and office and enjoy more time outside in the fresh air and sunshine (although I also am out in the garden a lot). To that end, last year we bought a new six-person tent from the Big Agnes company, a Big House 6 Deluxe base camp tent. We also bought cots, REI camp chairs and an REI camp table. We went camping once with the tent before the season ended.

This year we added a vestibule to the tent, which really added to the experience. That is where I am sitting now as I write, in the shade, comfortable in my chair, my little ASUS Chromebook on my lap, writing offline using a <txt> app, which loads better onto my blog than Google Docs. Before me through the frame of the vestibule entrance, a grove of oaks are my silent companions. I hear geese at the lake, which is down a short hill to my right. I've doped up with bug spray because the spring gnats are active. It works well enough. (I've loaned my wife my hat-mounted bug net which I take bike camping.)

This last week has been a new experience for me. I traveled for three days on my bike in this area, visiting two new county parks, my trip ending here at Indian Lake where my wife picked me up. Before leaving, we reserved the tent site for three days, so I went home and immediately began packing for this car camping trip. I was unpacking and packing at the same time!

This year we also purchased better pads for the cots so that we could be ensured the most comfortable sleep. They are definitely only for car camping because they are Big Agnes's largest! Also, we picked up a Yeti ice cooler, which is much more insulated than the less expensive brands. Because of the additions to our camping inventory, we are having a comfortable yet productive time.

Car camping is certainly different than bicycle camping. First of all, with car camping there's that "super-sized" experience of all the equipment, including the vehicle, being larger . . . and heavier. Next, the ever-present concern of bicycle touring--what do I take and  what don't I need--is not really an issue. Throw it in if we think we might need it! Oh, I guess I should add that we also bought a van a year ago. We aren't RV glamping yet, but I do have to admit that we had some fun at home the other morning browsing the internet and looking at Airstream's new sixteen-foot camp trailer, the Basecamp. Pretty spiffy, but the idea of hauling such a beast around is daunting. I think we'll enjoy tent camping for the immediate future.

It is an interesting experience, though, to bicycle camp and to car camp at the same site. Our particular site is designated "primitive" because electricity and water at not available on-site. Water is available about fifty yards away at the shelter and lodge site, as is electricity for my wife's office work. Right now, I have moved to the shelter site, hoping the gnats are a little less concentrated than beneath our tent's vestibule.

Tomorrow our children and grandchildren will visit, and we will have a barbeque dinner at another shelter site that is near the playground. I'm having a good time. My only idea now is that I'll buy a second mosquito net so that I'll be able in the future to spend more time keyboarding and less time shooing bugs. I'm getting pretty good at doing both simultaneously, though!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Black Oaks of Loafer Creek

Lows around 40 degrees and highs around 60, even though it was mid-January, here in northern California, it was perfect weather for a bike camping adventure. Lake Oroville is in the Sierra Nevada foothills, just at the edge of the Central Valley. It’s a large man-made lake, the water contained by the largest earth-filled dam in the United States.

Loafer Creek Campground lies at the east side of the lake, and the campground reflects the best of the foothills in winter: the black, naked arms of the oaks, covered with moss; the shiny green leaves of the branching live oak trees; last year’s grasses now sun-bleached husks beaten down and returning to the earth; bright green winter grasses, short and thick, where the sun shines most; and finally the gray and black boulders scattered by long-ago volcanic eruptions, their scaled, sharp shoulders covered by gray lichen and green moss. Above was the gray of low cloud cover and fog, occasionally the sun burning through, beams of light and blue sky.

I began my 14-mile trek in the valley, which has an altitude of about 600 feet in the valley around the Oroville area. Highway 162 begins its climb quickly, and I enjoyed the challenge of the hills and mountains up until just past the Wagon Wheel Market, where I stopped and pushed for a while, resting my climbing muscles. I actually enjoy walking a bit if the way is not too steep or the bicycle not too heavily packed. It’s an even simpler version of bike touring except the even slower pace allows for even closer inspection and appreciation of the surroundings--a tiny dark blue flower with a yellow center is one treasure I spied while pushing my bike. The first steady ride was about two thirds of my journey; the last third was an alternation of riding and pushing.

Pushing and riding delivered me to the top of the steepest hill just down-valley of The Oaks, a mobile home and residential home development. The hill drops down a long straightaway to the bottom of a valley and then climbs again, steeply, into the  hills. I pushed and rode my way that last bit and then arrived at the Loafer Creek turn-off. The campground was about half a mile down the canyon, the trip taking approximately 2-2.5 hours. I’m not sure because I didn’t have a watch, my cellphone was being repaired, and my computer was packed away in a pannier. I had left Palermo, a town south of Oroville about six miles, at 8:30 AM, and after arriving, searching for a camping spot and checking in, eating a bit and setting up my tent, it was 11:45.

I set up camp, bought a bundle of firewood and borrowed a hatchet, cooked some lunch, and explored a bit. The day-use swimming area was about another quarter mile downhill. That’s the way it is with a lot of camping spots--down a hole to the creek, river, or lake. The lake at its closest was still about three hundred yards down the fingers of the ravines of the lake because the water was low. I followed a red dirt-and-gravel service road from one ridge past the day-use area, and where the ridge ended, the marina spread out below me, many house boats anchored in one ravine-edged finger of the lake, the red erosion lines of the earth parallel to the water and climbing the ridge up to the highest levels of the lake when full. Above the bare, red earth were soft-shouldered slopes of dry grasses, an occasional scrub oak, bare-leafed, and above that openness, the green pines of the mountain summits.

It was beautiful, silent and open. Even with Man’s hand upon the land, a primeval majesty still prevailed. I sat upon a pale yellow-red sedimentary rock and just soaked up the silence of the sky, the green mountain summits, and the blue water of the lake. My leg muscles were tired from the trip up the mountain, and I knew I’d feel my toil when I had to head back up the hill to the campground. It was worth it, though. Maybe twenty minutes by car would have brought me to the lake, but my interaction with the foothills, with the sugar pines and the scrub oaks and the manzanita would have been minimal. Some of the manzanita were flowering, their pink bulb-like flowers massed in a carpet beside the road. The green winter grasses were dew-speckled and gleamed like jewels when the sun broke through the fog.

As the sun was lowering in the sky--early, around 4:30--I began my evening camp routine: dinner, clean-up, securing the bicycle, and making sure that anything outside was not food for animals or at hazard of soaking from dew. By the time camp was ready for the night, it was indeed dark. I built a fire from the wood I had split earlier, and spent some evening time feeding and watching the fire burn, enjoying the quiet, and reading a novel, using the headlamp I had bought on the advice of an experienced bike tourist. Winter bike camping means less sunlight, and for me that meant around ten hours of light and fourteen of darkness. The headlamp made reading easy, although turning pages wearing gloves was tricky.

As the sun set, the temperature dropped. I was not uncomfortable because I had brought ample warm gear, but I was glad for some heat and light from the fire. I read and went to bed early, about 7:00. Although I knew I would be warm enough, I wondered about my mattress, which had proven to not have sufficient insulation in colder weather. The sleeping bag was up to the task, but the mattress did leave me a little cool where I contacted the ground. I had dressed warm for the night, though, and there were no temperature emergencies; however, I do plan to research more on cold-weather mattresses.

Twelve hours of darkness in a sleeping bag in a tent alone is quite a long time, at least it seemed so to me. I slept a sufficient time but woke with hours of darkness ahead. What was my plan? I finished a movie on my computer, which was pleasant, since I wisely chose a comedy, Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? With good music and a light plot, time passed easily. I slept a bit more after that, and then sat up in my sleeping bag for a long morning meditation, finishing in the gray, early dawn.
A fire, tea and breakfast, and breaking camp and packing took up the early morning. I had originally planned to stay two nights, but I realized there was a reason my early-season bike touring expeditions were one-nighters: in the cool weather, bicycling and bustling around camp were enjoyable; however, for just sitting around and relaxing, the weather was a bit too cold. And that’s not even considering the long hours of darkness. If I were “motel camping,” then there wouldn't be problem. Actually, there wasn’t really a problem even with the tent camping. The one-night trip was enjoyable. Staying for more than one day, though, wouldn’t have the hours-long warmth-generating experience of bicycling. Therefore, I chose to come home.

The trip home, of course, was much quicker since it was downhill. I still had to walk a couple of sections, most notably the hill up past The Oaks, a long stretch of road straight up the hill. Also on the second day of an overnighter, I always notice the lower level of my stamina from the first day. That’s my main beef with overnighters, not enough time and mileage to really get in shape. I was patient with myself, though, and coasted (mostly) off the mountain and down into the valley fog. With my tail- and headlights blinking, I cruised into my brother’s mobile home park.

He was outside and said, “I figured you’d be coming in today,” and he was right. I woke up that night to the sound of rain on the aluminum patio roof. Dry and feeling a bit smug, I went back to sleep, another bike camping trip (my first out of the state of Iowa) successfully completed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bourgeois Biker

I sat on my cot in our new Big Agnes Big House 6 Deluxe tent, surrounded by space, which was quite a difference from sitting in my Big Agnes Copper Canyon UL one-person tent, where I have to be careful that my head doesn't brush the tent ceiling when I sit on the ground at the tent's highest point. Yes, this car camping and bourgeois biking was going to be a different experience!

It was Wednesday, late afternoon, and my wife and I had driven to Farmington, Iowa, to Indian Lake Campground, owned by the city. Originally named Duck Pond State Park, in 1952 the state of Iowa sold the site to Farmington because, according to the park manager, the state didn't want to have two state parks in the same county.

Now, in 2017, the campground and lake possess a "rustic" flavor (using my wife's descriptive) that is missing in some of the state parks, and I use the word rustic while acknowledging the word's positive and negative connotations. Yes, the park is obviously maintained with a lower budget than the state parks, and yes, the park retains a more organic, unique character than many state parks. There is the feel that the park was built around the trees, rather than a campground tract bulldozed into existence--and then trees planted. The park is clean yet comfortable with a little dirt, and includes a lodge and pavilion built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

My wife helped me set up the Big House, then left to return to Fairfield to work some more and return the next day to stay. I spent the night alone after setting up camp and text messaging my wife a few items we'd forgotten.

Thursday morning I spent my bourgeois biking time riding ten miles--first 1.5 miles to the Shimek State Forest headquarters to gain more information about the location of White Oak Campground, which was referenced on state websites and maps, but the maps used no road names and the roads in the state forest were not to be found on Google Maps. I finally located them by using the satellite function of the maps. My day ride then was another 3.5 miles on gravel to the primitive campsite.

It was a real joy ride the route as it morphed from county road J56 to gravel Primrose Road to then a gravel road in the Donnellson Unit of the forest, a road obviously trafficked only by few. I was on my own. Reaching White Oak Campground, I found it much like Bitternut Lake Campground (where I spent the night on an earlier trip): lacking water, using pit toilets, and campsites consisting of fire rings and tables (with some RV gravel). Basic and beautiful, surround by trees, silent and still. These primitive sites in Shimek are the closest I've come in Iowa to feeling I'm surrounded by forest and not just camping in my backyard. It's what I experienced while growing up and camping in the national forests of California's Sierra Nevadas.

Returning back to camp and cooking lunch, which included fresh vegetables from the ice chest (luxury!), I welcomed my wife and awaited the next day's bicycling adventure, a two-mile ride on the trail that surrounds the campground's Indian Lake. The trip with my wife included some walking but included educational signage of vegetation, ecology, and history--specifically including Indian red grass, hickory and white oak trees, and Rattlesnake Jones Point (hopefully not the place Jones fatefully met his last rattlesnake!).

This trip included a small amount of bicycling but a great amount of joy because I was able to see some new places while abike with my wife. Exploring an area in greater depth, rather than just passing through, has its own special pleasure. I can see myself setting up base camp here at Indian Lake someday and then taking day rides on the forest's bike trails, and maybe even spending some overnighters in the forest's primitive campgrounds. However, my "golden dome away from home" will be hard to forsake!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Up and Down Tour of SE Iowa

Oakland Mills South Shore Campground, just arrived
“Slow down” said bicycle touring writer Willie Weir in an Adventure Cycling magazine article, because it’s not how many miles you travel; it’s how well you enjoy the miles you travel.

I decided to embrace that philosophy on a four-day trip, a loop through southeast Iowa, traveling 20-30 miles each day, making camp in time to rest and enjoy.

Day 1
Fairfield to Oakland Mills South Shore Campground, 23 miles

I had packed up during the eclipse of August 21, taking it easy in the living room with my gear, panniers, and bike, so I was all ready to ride the next morning after breakfast, watering the greenhouse, and heating some lentil soup for a Thermos. It had rained, easily but steadily, most of the night, so it was a cool and rain-washed morning when I took off. It took about six miles of riding until I got into a groove and just chugged along. During those first six miles, I usually ask myself at least once, “Now, why am I doing this? I could be home, sitting on the sofa.” This take-off was no different, but I enjoyed the morning, enjoyed being healthy, and thought positive thoughts until I got into the zone.

The ride was twenty-three miles--approximately sixteen asphalt and eight gravel. The asphalt was enjoyable. Through Fairfield and then out Glasgow Road is a familiar route, the best bike route south and east of Fairfield for a bicycle. (Earlier post on Glasgow here.) There is no designated lane, but grass verge allows one to ditch if necessary, and traffic is generally light and respectful. I even had one young man in a pickup slow down behind me, turning on his flashing hazards as I was grinding up a steep hill. I always make sure to give a friendly, appreciative wave when these kind souls finally pass.

I made pretty good time, which is great because once I hit the gravel, my speed slowed way down. This is always generally true for gravel, but it had rained last night. Good news: no dust; bad news: although not muddy, the gravel was soft underneath. The eight miles east was hilly, so progress was quite often on a gravelly, soft, hilly surface. I even walked a few hills just to get a break from the molasses dragging at each push of the pedals. Whereas Glasgow Road was agriculture viewed at a good clip, 250th Street was ag at a snail’s pace. Reaching 255th, though, the surface firmed up, and I was able to choose a line through the gravel that had been packed by traffic--although when, I’m not sure. I’m not totally sure, but I don’t remember having a single car pass me the entire gravel trek.

Reaching Oakland Mills South Shore Campground at 12:15 PM, I found a tent campground entirely in the sun--then set up my tent about thirty yards away beneath the shade of two cottonwood trees. First I laid down my tarp, put together my Thermarest camp chair with my mattress, and then cooked noodles to mix with my lentil stew. After lunch, I napped for a while in the shade on the tarp. Erecting my free-standing tent without the canopy, I just rested on the tarp a while longer, then showered, did asanas and meditation, and then wandered over to the camp host to register, since he had been gone all afternoon.

The sun was lowering, so I moved the tent to the sunny campsite which was now in shade. I’ll have sun tomorrow morning. Then dinner, some photos of the area, a general clean-up of the campsite to discourage critters, and some work on this blog. It’s pretty deep dusk now, so I’m putting the computer up and getting ready for bed.

This was an enjoyable day. The Skunk River is peaceful, the evening is cool with low humidity, and I am not excessively tired. What a wonderful day!
Day 2
Oakland Mills to Geode State Park, 24 miles

I’d never been to Geode on my bike before, only by car many years ago, so I didn’t know what to expect. Google set me a route that was so wiggly that I knew most of the route would be on gravel. Now, southeast Iowa is rural, so any route by car is still rural, so I asked Google for a car route, and traffic was no problem.

Looking back on a hill just climbed.
The big surprise was that as the trip extended, the terrain became more hilly. My bike has a 14-speed Rohloff hub, and the last half of the trip was hitting gear fourteen going down the hill, and then quickly hitting my granny gear going up the hill. The hills were steep and long, something Iowa is known for, and today I rode the roller coaster! Luckily, today was all hard surface, so although I chugged a lot, I didn’t have yesterday’s challenge of steep, soft, and gravelly roads.
As usual, heading into the state park included the steep roads. I suppose the state parks consist of land that can’t be farmed in corn and beans. The Geode campground is clean and well-maintained. I’m camped right now on a lawn that will have access to morning sun, having moved my tent from beneath a sycamore when the sun dipped behind the trees. That sycamore was my haven today!

Today’s trip was about the same as yesterday’s in terms of time. What I gained in speed with the hard surface I lost spending all that time climbing hills in first gear. I had plenty of time to rest and to explore a bit today, though.

Setting up beneath a shady sycamore
I was able to use my little Emberlit wood cooking stove today, which was fun. I wanted to save my alcohol fuel, since tomorrow I will be camping in a primitive campsite in Shimek State Forest, and I wanted to keep all my options open.

Cooking with wood.
All is tucked away now except my tarp and Thermarest chair as I type outside, sitting on my tarp and watching the sun set. I want to get an earlier start tomorrow than 10 AM, since I have farther to travel, about eleven more miles. We’ll see how easy the route is tomorrow. I plan to follow today’s plan and to keep to hard surfaces as much as possible. Heading into Shimek, though, will mean some gravel, but it’s okay to hit gravel when heading into the deep, dark forest!

Day 3
Geode to Bitternut Lake Campground, 40-45 miles

First of all, the trip to Bitternut should have been about 35 miles, but stuff happened--and I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures.

I wanted to get an earlier start this morning because I had a little farther to go. Having decided to travel to Bentonsport today instead of Farmington, I took off in high spirits, leaving about an hour and fifteen minutes earlier than my first two days. I wanted to arrive early so I could enjoy the afternoon at the campground, as I have been doing these last two days, so I started off, got in the groove, and found myself in Middleton, which I didn't remember being on the route. I was right! The turnoff was three miles back, and I'd missed it.

Skunk River . . . and another climb!
Adding six miles to my day right at the start wasn’t optimal, but I pedaled back and on. The early morning consisted of corn and bean fields--big surprise! I pedaled on and on, and found my car route contained a four-mile stretch south on Interstate 218, the Highway of the Saints freeway. Routing around it via the car route was mile-heavy, so I switched to the bike mode of Google, which included (you guessed it) a nice hunk of gravel, about six miles. The first four miles were terrible, “improved” gravel newly laid and very tough to negotiate. I’m glad I had my new bike with the two-inch tires. Finally I was routed to a less-used gravel road that was older gravel, hard-packed with tracks where traffic had brushed the gravel aside. That was fun riding!

Heading onto hard-surfaced roads, I endured long stretches of straight highway, some with lots of traffic, including trucks, but the traffic was respectful, slowing and waiting to pass only when the way was clear. I finally made it to West Point, a small town of probably a little over a thousand. The town had a great park in the center of town, so I charged my cellphone and cooked lunch with my alcohol stove on one of the picnic tables under a pavillion. I topped off my water and headed on. Still lots of traffic and long straight stretches, so I gave my rear-view mirror a heavy workout and listened to a lot of Bob Dylan. I think his song “Hurricane” was especially a great riding rhythm.

Then I reached a sign that said “Bonaparte 4 miles,” and another sign for a left turn that said “Farmington 6 miles.” Now, I knew that after Bonaparte, there was still a goodly stretch from there to Bentonsport. I also knew that Bitternut Lake Campground was before Farmington, so it would be closer to ride to Bitternut, and I hadn’t ever seen it, anyway. Unexpected left turn, change of plan!

I was getting tired by this time, not excessively tired, but I could feel that my stamina was fading. It was a good choice. Bitternut Campground was only a quarter of a mile down the turnoff from the pavement, and it’s a nice little primitive campground, having only tables, firepits, and pit toilets--not even water. It’s real woodsy, though, just what I wanted to experience after two days of camping on lawns and riding through miles and miles of corn and beans.

Bitternut Lake Campground
Bitternut camp. Wood smoke to keep away the bugs.
Used an insect net for a bit. Worked great!
Setting up camp was a hoot! These small flies must have liked my sunscreen scent because I was swarmed. I used some wet wipes to clean up, added bug spray, and then for added measure donned a mosquito net over my hat--I bought one and keep it in my first aid kit. It’s the first time I ever used it, and it worked great. Dinner, and then to bed at dusk because I still had to do a little dance to keep the insects away. Today was a longer trip, but I persevered, kept my spirits up, and ended up in a nice spot for the night.
Day 4
Bitternut Lake to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, 20 miles

It was a warm and dry night at Bitternut. Since I was in a state forest, I spent a little more time securing the camp against critters. The primitive campground was a “pack out your trash” arrangement, so I bagged my trash and placed it in a fire ring at a campsite about thirty yards away from my camp in order to discourage an animal invasion, such as those masked raccoon bandits. I also parked my bike (with panniers) at the far side of the campground table, so my tent was reclused from all food. I was pleased to find out in the morning that nothing had been disturbed.

Bitternut Lake
I started out early, since the tent didn’t need to be sun-dried. Riding three miles to Farmington, I stopped at a little country cafĂ©. Funnily enough, people were inside eating, and the entrance door was completely off its hinges, leaning against the wall. I thought, “People were really eager to have breakfast here!” I sat at the counter, had eggs and toast, and then started on my way again.

Farmington is on the Des Moines River, so I crossed the river on Highway 2 and immediately had a big hill climb to get out of the river basin. That was a common occurrance on this trek--cross a beautiful river or creek and then have a gut-busting climb immediately after. And the pattern of zooming down a hill and then grunting up the next continued on this leg of the journey. Ah, Iowa!

Two route choices to Keosauqua were available: Highway 2 and 1, or Highway 2 and county road J40. I chose the latter because it routed through Bonaparte and Bentonsport, a more rural course and closer to the Des Moines River. (Both towns are on the river.) I could have even chosen the gravel river road on the south side of the river out of Farmington; I rode it last year, and it’s a nice ride. However, I didn’t feel like gravel today, so I kept to hard surfaces.

Bonaparte is a pretty little town, coming off a hill and descending into town. J40 crosses the river and continues through town. It was still morning, so the light was softer and the colors more saturated, a pretty view. I stopped out of town to apply more sunscreen, then continued rolling on, both spinning the pedals and heading up and down hills. It wasn’t too hot, thank goodness, but it was still August--so I guess it was hot and humid, even if a little cooler than normal.

Bentonsport is even more rural than Bonaparte; its main street just off J40 is gravel. While in town I checked out the sandwich shop but discovered it is only open on weekends. I also saw a former student and her mom, who owns a pottery shop in town. I asked my former student if her children were in school, and she said, “Oh, no, my daugher’s thirty, and my son’s twenty-six. In fact, my daughter just told me I’m going to be a grandmother.” Time passes . . .

The Des Moines River after leaving Bentonsport
Down the road, J40 connected with Highway 1 for about a mile before the state park entrance. I passed on down the road, though, crossed the river, and stopped in Keosauqua for a sandwich since it was lunchtime. Fortified, I re-crossed the river and headed into the park. Finding I was too full to tackle even the first climb, I walked the bike for a while, then hopped back on the bike and rode until reaching “The Hill,” a hideously steep climb into the main part of the park. I pushed the bike up the hill, just slogging up the hill one effortful step at a time, finally making it.

Paying for my camping space, I called my wife to tell her I had arrived. Our plan had been for my wife and grandson to visit the next day (Saturday) and then we’d rack my bike on the car, play at the Keosauqua river park, and then go home. My wife said she thought she’d bring him this Friday afternoon to see my campsite and then to go and play at the park, maybe to have a campfire. I suggested that we just pack my bags and come home on Friday night--and that became our plan.
Image may contain: one or more people, shoes and outdoor

In Keosauqua, we bought ice cream cones, fed my grandson his dinner, and watched the boy swing and slide. Finally, we took him home, and I slept in my “there’s no place like home” bed. It was a good trip, an athletic workout and a few new sights to enjoy. I’d like to try something new, though, maybe to ride the Mississippi River Trail route some, say from Burlington to Keokuk. It might be fun to schedule more time in an area, too. Shimek State Forest has another primitive campground. I could set up camp there and spend a couple of days exploring instead of just riding through. We’ll see what happens.

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.