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.

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