Friday, December 28, 2012

Bicycle Touring with the Baby

Friedel and Andrew Grant are my favorite "pros" of the biking world. 

Their eBook, Bike Touring Basics, was very readable and informative. I felt like I was receiving information from someone who had been there and who was willing to stop for a bit and share. By "a bit," I mean that; the Guide is a concise report and is not bloated with too many essentials to assimilate or too many non-essentials to tolerate.

You can get a free PDF copy of the book if you subscribe to their monthly free newsletter--information without an attitude.

Now they travel with their new baby, which really touched me because I am a new grandfather. I can't wait to see the look on our daughter's face when she drops the kid off for the weekend and we hit the road with the little tyke . . . or maybe I can wait for that look.

Here is a video below of the Grants traveling with their new baby at five months of age.

The bottom of their webpage, Travelling Two: Bike Touring Inspiration, has links to their journals and podcasts.

The Brrrrr! of Winter Bicycling

You see those bike riders wrapped up in parkas, scarves, wind pants, helmets...and (dare I say it?)...goggles?

This is another Iowa winter that I continue to commute a mile and a half to school every day and generally knock around on my bike. My wife and I've just bought a second car, so I could drive--and I do when the weather is really severe with cold and wind--but I've just gotten into the habit of jumping on the bike. A "green" habit, some might say. A more healthy habit, I say.

Before the school year began last year, I went to my doctor for a health check-up. One of his questions was, "Do you exercise?"

I said, "I ride my bike."

"How much?" he asked--I thought somewhat sarcastically.

"Usually about three to ten miles a day."

"Oh . . . okay . . ." was the reply.

I see those who cannot get around, those with disabilities due to age or accident or birth, and I want to enjoy my ability to be physical. Bicycle commuting suits me because I don't have the time to engage in exercise for its own sake--and let me state here that exercising for its own sake, for health, is not bad. I just prefer to bike ten or fifteen minutes to school rather than scrape my car's windshield for five minutes and then drive to work for five minutes in a freezing car. In all fairness, though, I should add another five minutes of bundling up with snow pants, parka, and all the other cold weather paraphernalia necessary to keep from getting frostbit.

I like the wind and the rain and the cold and the heat--the senses flush with all the variety of the seasons. I feel blessed to be healthy and engaged in the moment, to be using my body and lowering my carbon footprint.

I am careful, though. Whenever necessary, I carefully walked my bike a significant portion of the way to work and back. In our last snow storm (the first of the season, actually), I had to push my bike home. The combination of a small hill, the severe wind, and the snow on the ground made it impossible to ride. Also, I wear a helmet; about eighty percent of bicycle fatalities are due to head injuries. I may look like a Yellow Bubblehead from Mars, but I am happy, healthy, and enjoying God's gift of the day.

The varied weather over the course of the year is all part of life. And as long as the snow storms don't slap me too hard upside the head sideways, I'm ready to enjoy the beauty and power of the blowing snow. I even saw studded bicycle tires the other day at our local bike shop . . .

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cedar Valley Nature Trail: a bicycle day-trip photo journal

(Originally posted at Tom Kepler Writing, September 6, 2011)

Iowa's Cedar Valley Nature Trail is a 52-mile rails-to-trails bike and hiking path that links the urban areas of Cedar Rapids to Waterloo. On Labor Day weekend, 2011, my wife and I decided to explore the trail by car and bike.

Our exploration only extended as far north on the route as La Porte City.

The southern trailhead is in Hiawatha, a suburb of Cedar Rapids. Take Interstate 380 Exit 25 (Boyson Road).  We found it well-posted with signs and easy to locate from Interstate 380.

This trailhead is well-developed and well-used, obviously a popular route for bicyclists and joggers.

One brochure indicated that there was a campsite in Lafayette, a few miles northeast of Hiawatha and on the trail, so we returned to 380 to link with a connecting road; however, the roads overpassing the freeway did not have access to the freeway, so Lafayette is still a mystery.

Center Point was our next stop, being one of the larger towns on the bike path's route. We found the town typical of many other small Iowa towns--several lawnmowers and weed-wackers busy and an otherwise quiet atmosphere. The train station museum was well-maintained and clean.

The two photos above are left/right views from the trail. the CVNT runs a narrow corridor of quiet, car-free biking through the usual business of Iowa--homes and commercial farming.

Having eaten a good lunch on the picnic tables provided by the Center Point train station museum, we decided to travel on to La Porte City to see McFarlane Park campgrounds and to ride the trail there. We were tired of car exploration. Take Exit 49 from 380. That is Highway D48, which will take you to La Porte City after about 10 miles of country driving.

La Porte City is a well-maintained town, and riding the trail was easy because the surface was asphalt. We had a pleasant ride up and down the trail for 90 minutes, about 8-9 miles. Below are some photos of the ride.

As you can see from the shot of the slough, the trail runs a narrow corridor of beauty and habitat preservation: natural scenes to one side, and highway and railroad on the other. It was also clear from the green-scummed water in low areas that there is a high amount of farm-chemical run-off. However, keeping one's eyes on the narrow tunnel of the nature trail, there was a lot of beauty to see.

We finished by checking out McFarlane Park, just outside of La Porte City. Since it was Labor Day weekend and a few days of cool weather and low humidity, the campground was packed. It is a beautiful space, though, and we walked to the boat ramp to see the river.

The blue line across the "triangle" of the roof peak is how high the floodwaters reached in 2008. This building is part of the campground maintenance area.

Brochures are available through the local county conservation board.

Linn CountyConservation
Linn County Trails Association
Black Hawk County Conservation Board
Cedar Falls Tourism and Visitors Bureau

Final Thoughts:

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is well-maintained and used by many people. A bridge is out just south of McFarlane Park that will probably be replaced by the end of the construction season, 2013, as I was informed by the park commission that funding was in the future.

The lure of the trail for my wife and me was to one day ride its entire length, easily enjoying ourselves and experiencing traveling for a distance and a time while living from what we pack on our bikes.

For day trips, our town of Fairfield, Iowa, has a developed network of bike trails that we can ride all day and not have to travel a couple of hours prior hitting the pedals. We prefer that. Although we enjoyed the exploring and getting away, what we really discovered is that the environment of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail is not really different from what's around where we live.

Until the CVNT replaces its bridges so that the entire length of the trail can be easily explored on a multi-day trip, even though the grass is green on the trails between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, they are no greener than beside the trails around our town a couple of hours away.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved 
Originally posted 2011 at Tom Kepler Writing

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Would Fairfield, Iowa, Be Without A.J.'s Bike Shop?

AJ's Bike Shop, Bicycling and the Local Bike Shop, Fairfield, Iowa
(Originally posted at Tom Kepler Writing, June 19, 2012)

I'd say my son was about nine or ten when my wife and I decided to buy him a new bicycle.

Having out-grown his one-speed smaller bike, he was ready for a shifting bike. We went to A.J.'s Bike Shop in our town of Fairfield, Iowa. At that time, A.J.'s was on 4th Street in a small garage-like extension of an big house instead of his current location just off the town square.

"Just a minute," A.J. said, finishing up with another customer. After that, A.J. told us that he gave away a bicycle to every 100th customer who was buying a bike, and that we were number 100.

That was about fifteen years ago, but I still remember the moment: the small shop cluttered with shiny bikes, the smell of oils and mechanical things, and A.J. standing there in his blue denim mechanic's tool apron, a smile on his face while he enjoyed our happiness.

That's A.J. What would we do without such a man and such a shop in our town? I think over the years I've bought at least eight bicycles from A.J.'s Bike Shop. I've bought accessories. I've had my bikes tuned-up, modified, and fixed by A.J. I've learned about the greater world of bicycling, joined the national Adventure Cycling organization, and have even done a bit of bicycle touring. I've become a bicycle commuter, traveling to work regularly on my bike.

Now I commute regularly to my teaching job at Maharishi School, located on the Maharishi University of Management's campus. It's amazing how many places I go that are within two miles of my house--an easy bike ride. It takes as long to scrape my windshield and drive as it does to hop on my bike and get to work with pedal-power. I have a tee shirt that reads "The Bicycle: SUV of the 21st Century." Recreation includes bike rides with my wife. Bicycling has become a healthy part of my life.

At A.J.'s I ask about bicycle trailers (I recently bought a Burley Travoy there), a new commuter bike (such as the Raleigh Detour 2.5, a solid bike for a reasonable price), or the ever-popular biking conversation topic of gearing. It's one thing to surf the internet of information--a great thing!--but it's also wonderful to be able to talk face-to-face with a bicycle expert--and maybe even buy the desired item on the spot. Christmas on two wheels! My next evolution in bicycling is to learn more about bicycle maintenance, not to take away business from my local bike shop but rather to become more self-sufficient and able to do repair work on the road.

I wouldn't have experienced this growth and these joys without having a local bike shop in my town. Fairfield, Iowa, was designated as one of the Great Places in Iowa, and part of its greatness is in having such great businesses as A.J.'s Bike Shop. Here is a link to a video that includes information on Fairfield's Loop Trail bike path system as part of a general introduction to Fairfield.

With great joy and memories, I celebrate my long-term business relationship with A.J., his partner-wife, and with all those wonderful bikes. There's just something happy about all those spinning wheels--and every town needs as many happy places as possible.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
A version originally posted at Tom Kepler Writing