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.