Monday, May 28, 2012

A Solid Century

From Baldy's Chill n Grill

Simply put, we ride because we love the ride.  The act of riding is at once as elegantly simply and tremendously complex sensation: It is the culmination of hundreds of thoughts and emotions--escape, love of nature, exercise--and at times, the complete absence of thought and emotion, a singular focus that allows for no distraction and spares no mental or physical faculty.--The Noblest Invention, Mark Riedy and Joe Lindsey

It had been some time.  For me it had been since March.  For Craig Lein since April.  Mary, Ragbrai maybe.  But two goals were colliding.  We heard them calling, yes heard them calling.  Craig's goal is to ride to the High Trestle once a month every month.  Mary and my goal is to get long rides, something to get us in shape for Tour de Kota and later Ragbrai.  Despite riding every day, Mary most likely the female with the most miles of the Des Moines tribe, we have a need for distance.  20 miles a day is good but knowing that 100+ is doable is better.  The two goals met and formed a plan at Handlebar Happy Hour, Goodsons two weeks prior.

Our, Mary and mine, stipulation was that we would be on road bikes or road tandem.  Gravel road excursions would be verboten unless absolutely necessary.  Craig loves to find new short cuts involving gravel roads. He found a way to shave off 10 miles to and fro the Trestle.  But our touring bikes are not rideable at the moment and the touring tandem will get new tires when the new wheelset arrives.  TdK is taking precedent on all bicycle spending for now until we return from South Dakota.  That means we live and sleep with our racing bikes until then.  Actually, those bikes stay in the computer room near the litter box.

With those demands he came up with a route we never attempted before.  "Could put us at 130 miles," he said.  "We have all day," I replied.

Quite a simple route.  Meet at the car wash on 63rd and Grand and take the trails to Yale.  Hang a right on F25 and then a left to Dawson when the pavement runs out.  Back on trail from Dawson to Perry.  then a bit of gravel to Bouton (acceptable).  Paved surface to Woodward and then the HTT to the Oasis.  Right turn to Polk City and Neal Smith Trail for the remaining 24 miles to home.  Final estimated mileage--114.

Craig posted the ride on FaceBook.  No takers.  Memorial Day weekend.  Plans for this weekend have been made long, long ago.  The distance probably scared most people off.  Not a mere ride to the Cumming Tap.  99% of the riders from Des Moines RARELY ride the extra 8.5 miles to Martinsdale and now we were asking them to commit for over 100 miles.  Three times the distance from Ankeny to Trestle and back.  Many unknowns as well--hills, wind and weather.  We have had 30 mph winds from the south all week long and Saturday would be no different.  Surprising since there has been much talk of training for century rides.  Kelly Barnet and Lori Edwards expressed interest but not in the long full gig.  We'd eventually see them. 

The worthy steeds:Craig's loaded 520, Mary's Trek 1600 and my LeMond Versailles.  I tried to convince Craig to take his road bike but he did not want to air up the tires and brush the dust off.  Toward the end of the ride and the next day he said he would be on it for Hot Wing Thursday at Cumming.

We met at 8 am on the Walnut Creek Trail near the car wash and went to the fast food joint across the street for food.  Craig had an orange juice, Mary two breakfast burritos and a Coke and I had 3.5 of the burritos and a Coke, corn syrup not diet as it was a day of riding not dieting.  Too lazy to wake up earlier to fix our own breakfast.  I rarely wake up and eat breakfast.  I prefer to shower and ride then eat.

Clive Greenbelt.  I appreciate this trail for the simple fact that it connects the DSM trails to the Raccoon River Trail.  And if I lived in the Western Ghetto and was a runner or jogger or pusher of baby stroller I'd like it for that.  I used to ride my bike with my children who rode on training wheels and some in the Burley to the playgrounds along here.  But now it is a means to an end.  If it was not so curvy and crowded.  I do dig the curves, reminds me of skiing and 10 pedal strokes and lean to the right, 10 more lean left.  But it is dangerous when the weeds are at full height and trail users are out in force.  Keith from Bike World was lamented that he'd tried to average 20 mph through this trail.  16 is dangerous, 20 insane.

Once through the jungle the trail straightens out for a bit and then it crosses underneath Hickman Rd and turns into a long dull incline to Waukee.  Here we witness suburban sprawl at its finest.  Coke a Cola used to be the only thing between the truckstop and Waukee.  Now it is a generic suburban hell and when one spots the Coke facility they say "damn, we just now got here?"  Craig stopped at Walgreens for sunblock, conveniently located on the trail side of Hickman Rd and Mary hit the ATM at the Wells Fargo on the wrong side of the road.

A very nice touch that I only noticed on Saturday.  All the sign posts have these even the ones in Dawson.  This one is in Redfield at the depot.

At last we reach the trailhead, the former beginning of one of Iowa's finest trails, the Raccoon River Valley Trail.  Paved and maintained with plenty of towns for resupply and rest.  Although the first 3.5 miles is in open country and often windy, the trail is a true pleasure to ride and I miss riding out here.  I used to be on it 3 times a week, now maybe twice a year.  I got a "Hello Chris" from Forrest Ridgeway along this stretch.  Have not seen him for a quite a while, nice that he could recognize me as we zoomed by each other in opposite direction with a combined collision speed of near 40 mph.

Purchasing trail passes and eating fig newtons.  Mary is wearing bike shorts from Barr with a denim skirt.  Craig is dressed as Craig.

The Brick Plant
We blew through Adel, noting the former brewery and restaurant now a law office and city building, stopping only at the western trailhead to purchase day passes.  Craig broke out fig newtons and beef jerkey, sugar and protein.  I noticed that the kybo was missing but it may have disappeared years ago.  Other riders used the trailhead to park their cars for the start/stop of their ride.

Next stop Redfield.  Nothing to report here except that the depot was open and we bought Gatorade and talked to a man on a recumbent.  we passed him with ease on the climb to Linden.  Nice to have this available since the Casey's has been moved and is no longer in view.  No beer at the depot but an actual restroom and a place to sit inside if it is raining.  The taverns in this town were avoided on this journey.  We had serious riding to do.

The possibility of rain was real.  The sky was grey which is fine with me because it kept the sun from frying us but the ever present threat of precipitation was on my mind.  The forecast said that the possibility of rain would decrease as the day wore on but I think they were a few hours off on this prediction.

Linden was a pass through town, nothing to stop for but it should be noted that there is water and kybos available.  A sheltered picnic area is on the north end of town just off the trail.  Thus, all the ingredients for a camping site.

We blew through Panora as well.  I noted to Craig that the grocery store has everything one needs and their is a subway next door.  From what I understand there are pubs available and a Pizza Ranch.  But they were not for us.  We had 6 miles to go to reach Yale.

For those who do not know, the trail has been repaved between Panora and Yale.  This used to be the worst section of the RRVT.  Now it has a smooth new concrete surface.  There is nothing between these towns except an old radio/telephone/microwave tower to stare at.  Craig suggested that it is also a ranger station, a look out for fires after lightning strikes.  Ancient but effect technology.

I like Yale.  It used to be the end of the line before the trail expanded to Jefferson.  Now it is the last chance to get provisions before the stretch to Jefferson.  Water is available in Cooper but unless you have a water filter/purifier I'd avoid it at all costs.  Yale has everything one needs for a destination.

The trail enters the southside of town.  There is a park with water and restrooms, tables and benches and shelter right off the trail.  Campsite!  Wander onto main Street and you cannot miss Just Ethel's, the solitary tavern in this community.  In the early 90's the city razed their business district with a fire to clear out for new buildings.  A long building is home to a restaurant, bar, post office, hair salon, city hall and a gazebo.  There once was a grocery store next to the tap but it closed.  The fire department is across the street.  I've been told there is a man that fixes bicycle flat tires if one is truly stranded without repair options.  Today we needed Just Ethel's.

Bikers behaving badly in Yale, Iowa.

JE adjoins the restaurant.  Walking in you see about 6 tables, each with a pitcher of iced tea and are greeted with the odor of fryer oil needing to be changed.  They serve awesome tenderloins despite not having clean grease on a Saturday.  Locals gathered at one table to play cards.  NCIS, Mark Harmon, was on the television.  We were here for Busch Light which was served in bottles, $2.75 a piece.  Card ordered potato chips.  It was a one beer stop, our first beer of the day.

Should have been a two beer stop but as I told the bartender "two beers lead to six.  The reason we should have had another was accentuated by the sound hammering the metal roof of the overhang.  It was raining.  Just a quick hitter gone as quickly as it came but leaving a slow drip system to mark our path afterwards.  When it seemed to have ended we rolled.

F25 was virgin road for all of us.  Well, F25 east out of Yale was new to Mary and I.  I merely glanced at the map on Friday to check out the way the route.  Go east then turn north for Dawson when the paved road ended.  How far I did not measure nor read the directions that Craig posted.  He did not know either.  Now the glorious tailwind we enjoyed became an evil and angry crosswind with light sprinkles and a wet road of undetermined miles.  I was guessing it would be a 12 to 14 mile stretch to the turn.  It was only a merciful 7 miles. 

The road was relatively flat and lightly traveled.  Craig counted 8 cars both directions.  The surface was mostly free of holes and cracks.  As we left town the house on the left had a barn quilt.  Northern Iowa begins, glacier flat and barn quilts.  Nothing but a sea of flat cropland.  Few buildings and no taxidermy.  The sign for Jamaica was a relief.  It indicated that we were only 4 miles south of the trail we were trying to reach. 

There was no sign for Dawson but when cresting the last rise I could see a diamond yellow warning sign and the change in appearance of F25.  The turn was near.  P26 was another lightly traveled road despite intersecting highway 141.  There is a wooden sign of chipping faded black paint of a life sized cow.  I should have taken a photo but now possessing a tailwind sails were deployed and we were enjoying it.

Speaking of tailwinds, they are funny.  We really could feel the cross and headwinds but as soon as are asses were windside it seemed like the wind had stopped.  The road was dry and the grass and weeds blew about but it did not feel like the 30 mph bastard that hit our right side with anger.  However, we were cruising at speed with only 141 to interfere.  We managed to cross without stopping or unclipping our feet from the pedals albeit we had to slow down and let a truck get out of the way first.

The train depot in Dawson, Iowa.  My maternal great grandparents were Dawsons, an English name that moved to Ireland long, long ago, so long ago that my uncle went in a rage when he discovered that Dawson was not truly Irish.

P26 leads straight to the trail and the train station now trailhead.  Much money was put into restoring this building.  It is nice.  I cannot confirm it but it felt like it was air conditioned.  There are chairs and a cooled water fountain.  The restrooms are spacious and there are plenty of outlets for those needing to recharge their electronics.  In a pinch, one would not bitch about having to camp there.

Why stand at the fountain like a sucker when one can pull up a chair.  Dawson depot.

The last time Mary and I were here we were with Richie and Melissa Berman and Jamie H on our way to Perry and the Trestle off route on Ragbrai.  Good memories, good people, good karma.  6 miles to Perry.

The trail between Perry and Dawson is part of the RRVT.  It will extend west from Dawson through Jamaica and reach the RRVT proper between Yale and Cooper.  South of Perry the new section will link up with Dallas Center and Waukee creating a new loop where Adel, Redfield, Linden and Panora can be skipped if one chooses.  The trail has the latest features including bilingual trail pass signs, the new mileage signs and paved road crossings like the ones on the HTT.  However, Perry to Dawson lacks the curvey sections to the road intersections which forces bikers to slow down and not blow through the stop sign thus preventing needless tragedies.  The Waukee to Dallas Center line has theses.

We did stop on the former rail bridge for a photo opportunity.  I noticed that Des Moines Steel Fence Inc got the contract for fencing.  Unfortunately, the best section to pull over on and rest is fenced off.  I suppose if there is a will there is a way but today we did not explore this.  Craig needed a new FB profile photo and I gave him one.  Someone years ago spray painted "New York" on the rail bridge.  Craig liked that suggestion.  Check it out.

Ceiling tile in the Rockin Horse, Perry, Iowa

There were a few riders on this trail, mostly family types and people who enjoy riding without having to spend thousands of dollars on their passion and dress like it is the Tour de France.  Which brings up another point.  This entire journey we did not encounter all the tri-types training on crowded trails such as the Walnut Creek, Bill Riley and GWT.  On the RRVT there were about two or three groups of 6 people coming the other way but they were friendly and did not try to run people off the road like what happens in the metro.  A very nice change of pace and scene.  Also, no dorks jogging on the wrong side of the trail.  This ain't the UK.  Ride Right, Walk/Run Right.

I think it was before we left Yale Craig was in communication with Lori Edwards and Neal Andersen.  They camped out at Swede Point and were headed our way.  He suggested that they meet us in Perry but replied that Bouton had it going on.  Later we heard from Kelly B that she was in Ankeny heading west.

2 of the 3 forms of Busch Light, our standard bicycling beer.

In Perry we stopped at the Rockin' Horse.  When we were here on 'Brai, draws were $1.  Dangerous.  Fortunately, we hit the bar before happy hour.  It was here that we completed the trilogy of Busch Light, having now consumed it in all three froms.  At Ethel's we had bottles but at the Rockin' Horse we had both can and draft.  Not very many places serve BL on tap so we felt honored to support it for our second and final round at the RH.  NCIS was on the tele here too.

Time to go.  We rolled east but none of us remembered the way to Bouton.  During 'Brai Craig sagged out, IIRC, and Mary, Jamie and I took 141 to avoid gravel.  Gym Carson had at least 3 flats on that stretch and I fixed his tire on the Trestle that night.  Craig consulted Google Maps and we found our way.  The gravel was not bad or long and it reminded me of what Ragbrai Officials would term "good gravel" and I had memories of hauling ass on my Trek 2200 through such roads passing many riders and never getting a flat.

When called upon, Bouton gave.

Bouton is a tiny community of 129 people according to the 2012 Iowa map.  But it possesses an establishment which Mary noted is for sale according to the sign on the north outside wall.  We thought that Lori and Neal had left because we did not see their bikes but instead we were pleasantly surprised to see them drinking UV lemonades inside.  Their bikes were parked across the street at the park to protect them from the rain.   we stayed for 3 drafts, $2 each, before moving on.  the barkeep gave us $5 for the jukebox which Neal loaded with mostly Nickleback and one REM tune, What's the Frequency, Kenneth. 

To get to Woodward we had to travel south from the bar and take a right.  Paved all the way.  Neal led all the way.  Once again there was a strong cross wind.  we eventually passed the country club where we stopped at during 'Brai.  Good memories of DSM's finest biking bastards entertaining local professional women in their late 50s (a judge, a real estate agent and a lawyer) and people crashing their bikes at the same shrub I crashed the tandem at that night.  But today we rolled until we hit Casey's General Store.  Craig was the slowest but found a short cut anyway.

Craig's short cut

Our only stop in Woodward was at the Casey's.  Craig suggested that we visit the walk in beer cooler.  I felt like paradise!  The photo of Mary and I looks funny because we were exhaling to have our breath visible in the shot.  FAIL.  Craig picked up some football pop for our next stop the Trestle.

The kid in the candy store!

The loneliness of the road and trail ended in Woodward.  Yes, the Trestle is still very popular and there were many people riding and walking to the bridge.  Something about that 13 story view over the wide Des Moines river valley attracts people as if they are on a pilgrimage.  For bicyclists it is a pilgrimage.  The view is spectacular and there is nothing else like it in the Midwest.  I think it is best at night but we did not have the time.  Mary and I plan to skip the overnight in Webster City so we can bask in the blue glow of the Trestle's lights.

I may be in the minority opinion on this but I really think that this "gate" looks evil.  I know the designers added the black stripes to signify coal and coal mining of this area in the past but it looks sinister.  Personally, I would have summoned the spirit of Albert Speer and had a  Romanesque or Egyptian column with a bicycle on it and another with a pedestrian ala Nuremberg styling.  But that is just me.  I suppose this entrance adds to the vertigo effect that one feels when they see the twisting steel beams.  At night it reminds me of a disco.
We stopped at the overlook.  Two bikes were there, a man and his son.  Turned out to be a small world.  this man was either related to or had a connection to Brad Buckley.  He grabbed his football pop when we busted ours out and we discussed this trail and the trail of his area, the Wabash Trace.

Self portrait
Time to eat.  Baldy's Chill n Grill was our destination. 

The connection from downtown to the trail was completed with the recent paving of the gravel path.  Nice touch.  If you build it they will come and we did.  Located on State St in Madrid we made our second visit to this establishment.  Our first visit was back in March.  We were a bit disappointed that the kitchen still was not completed but they did have a menu posted.  We opted for the turkey bacon wrap with chips since salt was needed to be replaced.  Mary and I had Mountain Dew for sugar and caffeine and a beer.  Lori and Neal split a wrap and she was able to get her UV and lemonade.  Craig had an ulterior motive, he needed a replacement for his Baldy's coozie that he gave to Chad Ulrich.  the owner tore the place upside down and then search vehicles and other locations to find us 3 coozies.  That's service!  I forget what the real menu will be when the kitchen is completed but Mary said it looks good.  Also, the restroom was clean and a little too nice for the rowdy crowds that this place should get.  We will check back over Labor Day weekend, Madrid's 4 day drunk.

The black coozie is the prototype.  Brown is the official color.

Slater was the next target, the Night Hawk would be our stop.  Here we expected to meet up with Kelly.  We skipped the Flat Tire Lounge which seemed busy and rolled eastward.  However, just a few meters from the Night Hawk and just around the bend Kelly rolled by.  We did not stop but exchanged pleasantries in the mere few seconds one possess when traveling in opposite directions.  Kelly ended up with 60 miles for the day.  A great ride.

Dr. Phil awaited us at this new establishment.  Drinking large beers like the ones served at the take down he had ridden up with his wife Stacy on a Cannondale tandem. For the life of me I do not remember his name but everyone else in our group knew them.  We did not stay long.  Daylight was running out and we had about 30 miles or two hours of riding (assuming ideal conditions) waiting for us.  This is where we parted with Lori and Neal since they were going the other direction.  Neal had been inside the bar the entire time so we did not say goodbye to him.

Dr. Phil and Stacy.  I hope I got her name right, I got his wrong but he gave me advice about morning wood.

Ideal conditions were not offered.  We turned into the wind and set course for Des Moines.  Our friendly 20+ mph headwind was ready for us.  I often say that the 5 miles from Slater/Sheldahl to the Polk City turn off (the Oasis) is among the worst 5 miles one can ride in a headwind.  Today was no exception.  Put head down, grab the drops and slice through the air the best one can do.  Just 5 miles, 5 long miles.  We passed a couple, one on a road bike with aerobars and her on a hybrid with front suspension, earlier bitching about her job, for the second time that day on this stretch and after reaching the Oasis and drinking a beer they rode by for the final time.  Ankeny must have been their destination.  8 miles an hour their speed.  I could not believe it.  maybe they stopped and rested.  But there is nowhere to stop.  5 miles of nothingness.

This is where we made the final split.  Craig wanted to stop at the marina and realized that we were faster and needed to get home.  Mary full of anxiety of being out for so long.  And myself, without lights and with a strong desire to remove my right contact lense.  7pm was my target to reach the Neal Smith Trail at Polk City and now it was after 8pm.  The Oasis to our home is about 24 miles or 2 hours under moderate conditions.  We lost an hour of daylight.  I hated parting with a friend but Craig is a strong rider and this has happened before.  He left the Oasis first but we caught up and rolled into Polk City together.  Then he was gone.  We were on our own.

I really dislike the bike route through PC.  Safe yes but confusing and hilly and indirect.  They want bikes to head north and then up a big steep hill and wander through residential areas and pass through a myriad of trails to get to the NST.  I prefer dealing with traffic by taking the main road through downtown and south to the Casey's and then a left after the wide shoulder gives out, highway 415.  Logical.  There appears to be a new sidewalk that one could take but I stick to the road.  And if I ain't a monkey's uncle but I swear I saw the same gallon milk container in the storm sewer that I'd seen before!  No one ever honks but it could be a tad bit uncomfortable to those that surrender their right to ride on streets.  It did feel good to reach the trail.  Mary rode in front since she had a light.  I rode behind since I had the red rear flasher.

Normally this would have been routine but since it was the opening holiday for summer the Saylorville Lake area and park was jammed with campers.  I really do not get camping in trailers stacked on top of each other.  Unless I had a boat there and did not desire driving home after playing on the water I'd say no.  I like camping.  But I like to camp in isolation from strangers and civilization or camp out of necessity.  Dragging a camper here is not my cup of tea.  Thus we had to deal with them.

Descending the lake shore at the marina we saw a Siamese cat.  It had a collar but it was where the entrance to the marina meets the trail near the road.  Kitty was lost.  Craig later reported seeing it.  Then moments later encounter two or three women walking with a 3 or 4 year old boy on the trail.  They merely turned around and stared when we called out and hailed our intentions and at almost the last second the bigger woman grabbed the kid and pulled him out of the way.  It was like he had never seen bicycles before, one bike with a blinking light.  I can still hear him cry as we rolled past and turned south to go up the east bank and encounter a group of young teenage girls wandering about the trail.  Maybe 7 of them but they cleared out of the way.  Worse than deer these white people are.

There is a campsite in which you can go the right way and loop all the way around or go the wrong way and save time.  We chose the latter but had to avoid 4 or 5 kids on bikes, 3 with training wheels riding down the hill.  recipe for disaster these unsupervised children were.  But not our problem.  Time and daylight were.

By the time we reached the prairie we were on moonlight.  Almost to the visitor center and then the great descent down the dam wall.  Here again humans.  Just as we were to unleash our speed (albeit cautiously because of inadequate lights) we spotted a blue-white light that on a trail normally means bicycle.  then the light was gone.  the it reappears as a man and his small son on a walk at night.  He greeted us with "nice night for a bike ride" as junior beamed us with the torch.  Too young to know that one does not shine lights into people eyes. 

Speaking of which, my right eye was very irritated.  I should have taken the contact lense out and tossed it (disposed of it in an environmentally friendly method).  But my fingers were dirty and we were almost home relatively.  I was also concerned about the lawn clippings on the trail.  riding blind on 700x23 tires over this yard waste could cause a tumble especial on this downhill.  Miraculously we made it.

The rest of the NST was a pleasant experience.  Fireflies were out in force.  Sometimes the best way to describe it was as if we were going through a tunnel or diamond mine, shiny tiny lights all over the canopy walls.  Beautiful.  Other times it was like when the Enterprise is traveling at warp speed and the stars drift by.  On the river bottom we would see campfires and hear people in boats having a good time.  That is the camping I'd could relate to.  far away from others and authority.

But this bliss was interrupted.  Two bubbas on bikes were ahead of us and unable to fully understand that we intended to pass since our speed was much greater than theirs.  We did slow down to their speed but the simple act of riding single file was not genetically evolved or introduced into their DNA.  finally, the bubba on the left, the one with the radio on his handlebars pulled over slowly and lost forward momentum as he brushed against the canopy wall (weeds and trees and other assorted plant life).  He looked a bit drunk but did not say anything as we passed.  Mary picked the pace up a bit in case they wanted to give chase.

Then the right eye again.  I wanted to close them but that only burned.  It was like passing out but being wide awake.  I had to concentrate on keeping my eyes open  Lesson: never keep a pair of contacts too long i.e. don't be cheap.  Carry eye lube.  Perhaps pack glasses as back up.  By the time we hit the city I was bothered by the lights.  The headlights of vehicles almost had me howling like a vampire exposed to daylight.

Hairball was going on so we had to take a left around Embassy Suites.  Some band played two Guns and Roses songs in a row.  Unfortunately, their Slash stand in did not possess his gift.

Now we had street lights and I could read the computer.  Damn!  We exceed 120 miles!  Mary and I had 123 miles for the trip.  Craig had 118.  This was our longest ride ever.  We felt good, a bit tired and in need of a shower.  Yes, a shower.  I think there is a point when one stops sweating and just oozes poison out.  I had reached that point.

Centuries, or 100-mile rides, legion to road riders.  There are hundreds of organized century rides, and they have been around as long as the sport itself; no one even has records of  who was the first to ride 100 miles at a single clip.  But it's the baseline for serious cyclists, a commencement ceremony marking the transition from a person who rides bikes to a cyclist.  A century makes sense to people who don't ride; lessor distances don't sound as impressive, and larger ones are a pure abstraction.  A century is a universal yardstick for all cyclists and noncyclists alike.--The Noblest Invention, Mark Riedy and Joe Lindsey

We did it on our own terms and did it well.  A solid century for our own pleasure and the charity of my bike log.  We have done it before and we will do it again.  TdK will have us putting up similar miles.  Our version of Ragbrai will cross this line in two months like last year.


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