Monday, May 21, 2012

Winterset there and Back From DSM

Needed a long ride, a Hail Mary ride.  Go deep and deeper still.  After all it is near the end of May and the summer's big rides are sooner than you think.  Next month we will be in South Dakota riding 470 miles in 6 days.  The month after our Ragbrai adventure, loaded touring.  Both rides contain centuries, the former having longer days.  The mild winter put our training ahead of schedule.  My philosophy is simple, if you are doing your Ragbrai training on trails in June, you are fooked.

By this time of year my ass is broken in as should any rider contemplating a week long ride across Iowa.  Actually, since we never stop riding sore but syndrome is never an issue.  3 issues face us now: hills, distance and bikes.  There are no hills on our trail system in Des Moines.  Mary and I have been up and down almost trail this year that we are bored.  Intersections on them every few miles disrupt our flow, get a good pace, decent cadence and it's time to slow down and cross a road, usually a gravel crossing.  Also, with the Spring thaw EVERYONE is out on the trail--bikers, hikers, joggers, strollers, inline skaters and dogs.  Sometimes I miss cold weather as it thins the herd.  So we looked for a destination that we have not visited for a long time.  Winterset.

Winterset holds a special place in my heart.  It was here that Mary dropped me and my Trek 7000 off for my first Ragbrai in 1991.  Really don't remember much about the town other than helping Rob Prunty and Paul Meyer at Europa finish up so we could drink.  And a park at 2 am full of back of the pack people drinking some sort of soma from a cooler.  EverClear.

In subsequent years I may have ridden to Winterset a handful of times.  Most recently in 2008 or so with the Hildreth brothers Sam, Joe and Donnie on the way to Osceola.  Back when Team Mystery Machine actually rode we'd ride about half way there on the Cumming Rd.  I think Mary and I rode there once.

My route begins on the Great Western Trail (good for warm up despite my bitching about trails).  Take a right turn at the trailhead in Cumming and cruise to highway 169.  2 or three miles on this road and Winterset greats like a mother.  South from the square to the St Charles Rd and take this all the way through until you hit St Mary's.  Turn north and fly into Martinsdale and take the trail all the way back.  Simple.

This destination would give us everything we needed, namely hills and uninterrupted distance.  The longest stretch is 17 miles from Cumming to the 169 turn on a decent paved county road.  The next big stretch is a 12 miler from Winterset to St Charles.  Now back then and to the untrained these hills may seem bad, they really are not.  Mostly rollers with a few longer climbs, nothing that would make you stop and cry "dear Lord, why have you forsaken me" or "you SOB, why could we have not taken the trail instead?"

As for bikes, we took our fastest road bikes.  Mary on her Trek 1600 and me on the LeMond Versailles.  These will be our steeds for Tour de Kota.  We took our fast tandem to Lacona a few weeks ago.  Mary averages about 3200 miles per year on the 1600 while I get maybe 1000+ on the Versailles.  We need to know if the 1600 needs new parts.  The bike is 4 years old.  I had to adjust her brakes right before we officially left.  Hills are great for determining if drivetrain issues exist--bad shifts, chain skips ect.  As for the LeMond I'd plan to get a new set of tires.

Shortly after 830 am we took off.  This would be the second ride of the day.  An early morning run to Hy Vee was in order to ensure that the children and pets had food.  Somehow we never made the grocery run on Friday.  Using my new Droid ap Endomondo we had 3 electronics recording our adventure.  I also brought my camcorder for photos and videos.  1 water bottle each and 1 Vitamin Water as well.

The ride to Cumming was smooth.  Our "late" start placed us nicely in between riders.  Early risers were trickling in from the opposite direction and there were not too many people to pass on the way down.  Instead of "ON YOUR LEFT" i issued warning and intent with the words "Funkytown" which put a smile on my face and others.  The trail seemed less crowded which was a good thing.  We stopped at the trailhead in Cumming.

The last of our Vitamin Water drained and last chance to use a kybo/restroom before Winterset.  I threw the empty bottles in Bob's trash container on his new slab.  At this point I check the readings on our two computers and on Endomondo.  My computer was .5 miles ahead of the others.  Checking the calibration it was discovered to be set for a 700x35 tire not the 700x23 that the Versailles possessed.  This was remedied and I made a mental not to subtract .5 miles when I logged the trip.  Time to hit the highway.

County Road G14 runs west out of Cumming.  Later, once rather deep into Madison County, it becomes G4R.  Signs along the road title it "Cumming Rd."  This stretch is accented with nice homes, tree farms, greenhouses and the occasional "Share The Road" sign.  Other than that there are hills, farmland, birds, people driving pickups and cars.  On the top of one of the first of the larger hills there used to be a sign pointing to Francesca's House from "Bridges of Madison County" fame.  The sign is gone and the house suffered some damage from a fire.  I have never visited the house mainly because I ride road bikes on pavement not gravel.

Hidden on the Cumming Rd

Leaving Cumming the road is poor and bumpy.  This road leads to the I-35 interchange and thus suffers from vehicular travel.  But as soon as we crossed the freeway the road smooths out and traffic reduces greatly.  A long stretch of downhill, not the steepest, greets bikers with a warm embrace.  This is at least a mile or two long and the bottom can be seen.  Flick that left wrist and get into big ring for it is time to fly.  Or so we thought.

I forgot to mention that it was a windy day.  A significant wind from the south was blowing in our part of Iowa.  Although we were heading west at the moment the cross wind hindered our speed.  Our turns would be to the south.  Average speed would suffer but we would be stronger riders for it.  And the promise of a tailwind on our return was very real.  Needless to say not speed records were obtained on that first downhill.  But the joy of speed without effort soon faded as we turned left at the bottom.  A half mile stretch of flat and a long climb all with the full force of the wind.

The following video is a little shakey and very loud.  I held the camcorder in my right hand while shooting this at speeds in excess of 30 mph.  This hill is about 9.5 miles from Cumming. 

So it was during the 17 miles to 169.  A series of hills, none bad, none requiring granny gear.  Constant wind held our speed in check.  We were graciously provided with an overcast sky to keep the sun from frying us early on.  The only issue, one we have not encountered all year, was water.

I was down to half and Mary was about the same too.  There was nowhere to refill although I bet the greenhouses and garden centers would oblige such requests.  Perhaps a knock on a house would be necessary if we were truly suffering.  Good lesson learned: on hot days with long rides bring two full water bottles.

The end of G4R as seen from a farm lot on 169.  The illegible sign is a "Share The Road" sign.  So if we are not to use 169 for bicycling why place this sign here at the beginning of the Cumming Rd if there is not a trailhead or parking for those that start right here??

At last we reached the 169.  Our stretch on this would be short, 2 miles or so.  But we hit it at the worst time.  The road was busy.  Farm equipment was using it too creating dust storms as a set of wheels rolled on the gravel shoulder.  I've done it before and I'll do it again but this seemed to be the worst.  maybe because it was lunch time.  We waited out a few pieces of machinery before  jumping on and heading south into a very, very strong wind.  I was actually grateful for the wind since it filled my ears and I did not have to listen for cars.  Just hug that white line and pray that it ends quickly.  The shoulder was wide enough but it was gravel.  The risk of flats and getting the bikes dirty kept us on the road.  The Winterset city limits sign was almost a welcomed sight but it was overshadowed by another climb.  Nobody honked or yelled or through litter on us.  Reaching the intersection of 169 and 92 we pulled over to let the traffic clear.  Where the F these people were coming from I did not know.  There has to be better things to do on a Saturday.  We gave them 5 minutes before rolling into town proper.

Once 92 is crossed a variety of options open up for bikers.  On the left side of the road is a gas station where once I purchased a gallon of water to fill my bottles and the bottles of the group I was with, the Hildreth's.  If one is in total starvation a Hardees is next door.  Mary and I, however, were in search of a small quaint cafe on the town square which is exactly where we headed.

Winterset's square is like so many in Iowa.  At the center is a court house.  Businesses surround it.  Honestly, it looked like Jefferson or Mount Pleasant or Adel any only of many small towns in Iowa.  The fact that a Kum&Go can be seen from the square is no help in stopping the feeling that one is in Anytown, Iowa.

But things were different here today.  Two busloads of Chinese tourists descended upon Winterset.  The bus driver, from Omaha, said he picked them up in New York City and was taking them to LA.  Many were walking about the square wearing cameras like the stereotypical Japanese tourists.  But many occupied the Mexican restaurant that Mary and I wanted to try.  We settled for the Italian deli/cafe on the south west corner.  Yep, Italians were here.  Although we eat our fill of that cuisine in Des Moines it was not overrun with customers and we could always report back to Little Italy of our findings.  The cafe used to be a bank and its vault doors were delivered via horse and wagon back in the day.  I had the "mob" sandwich and Mary had the "Donna".  I wonder if someone opened a African American deli and use such racist and ethic slurs for menu items.  However, a beef sandwich piled high on rye with a side of coleslaw and chips was delicious.  Our bill was $18 which included 2 cans of Mountain Dew with sugar.  When asked we received a pitcher of water.  The atmosphere was one of Italy and of Iowa small town and country crafts.  Gift shop in the vault.

The Mob sandwich served the way the Mob likes it with mustard!
 After lunch it was time to roll.  First stop was at the Kum&Go for water.  I asked a patron where G50, the road to St Charles was and he said to go south through some curves and over a bridge.  My map at home was useless for determining where it began.  And my Droid was losing battery life faster than expected.  I trusted him for some reason. 

Across the street was the memorial for John Wayne.  probably the reason the Chinese were here.  That and the covered bridges.  We were able to snap this photo before others arrived.  If left alone I am sure some some disrespectful yet humorous photos would be posted here.  I was not in the mood to be lynched.

Whatever you can say about John Wayne you can say that he was consistent in his work.  Always the same character whether as a cowboy or cop or marine.  Iowa loves its local kids when they do well and become famous.  I wonder if 80 years from now my great grandkids will see a statute for Ashton Kutcher in Cedar Rapids?  I doubt it.

Time to roll once again.  South into the wind following the advise from someone spending $100 on gasoline.  At first I thought he might have lied.  Leaving town one descends into the Middle River Valley.  A nice scenic ride that was marred by the wind.  A long curvy descent that I plan to do again for its own sake.  But the deeper we got the more I worried that we would have to ride up out of this hole.  But then we saw the sign for St Charles.  Amen, credit due!  Turn left and have the cross wind mess with us.  But it is always a good feeling to know that the right road is underneath the wheels.

The deep descent into the river valley changes the landscape.  Hills are much more pronounced and steeper.  Houses and structures are dug into the hill sides.  This is where southern Iowa meets the flat north, where the glaciers stopped and took a dump. 

Even human activity indicates southern culture.  Although we spotted one barn quilt, albeit quite faded and on a garage, taxidermists populate the region rather than barn quilts.  We even rolled past the College of Taxidermy!  I do admit that the Obama 2012 sign looked out of place.

Bob Morgan took this road in the opposite direction than we did.  What he described as a series of steps down to the creek now become a series of hills to climb to St. Charles.  The steepest one is just outside of town.  Just when I almost started to bitch I saw the water tower and knew the hills were over for a moment.  We rolled through town and stopped at a very large Casey's General Store.  Close to I-35 travelers must support this oasis to bikers.  A soft serve machine was included too!

Two rather dusty cyclocross bikes were out front and later two jersey clad individuals stepped out.  David and Loren.  They too rode from Des Moines although gravel roads were their choice.  They said they might fight the wind to Osceola and suggested that we turn north and go through Bevington.  But once David saw our road bikes he told us to stick with our plan.

After they rolled off a gentleman on a Surly LHT rolled in and purchased a ton of food and water.  mark I think is his name.  He was training for a long self contained adventure out west and needed hills to train on since mountains were in his future.

On the way out of town we stopped at the IMES bridge.  Having seen signs for this covered bridge for at least 10 miles we were curious about it.  Bonus was that this one was right off the pavement instead of a few miles down a dusty gravel road.  Photo opportunity.  Spoiler alert: every covered bridge in Madison county is polluted with graffiti.  Billy loves Doreen ect.  Looks like crap but I suppose some people think it immortalizes their love.

Put that F'ing camera down, please.

Versailles on at the IMES bridge.  Yes, we rode through it.
Back on the road and we crossed I-35 and left Madison County.  Warren County would be our location until we were within a few short miles from home.  This year it is easy to determine if one is in Warren County.  there are almost 8 people running for sheriff and a million signs asking for your vote.  I think the primary is in early June.  We discovered this a few weeks back on our Lacona excursion.

St Marys is about 4 or 5 miles from the freeway.  We were able to experience our first tailwind of the day on this leg.  it felt good, damn good.  And to make our smiles larger the road comes into town just south of the business district but north of the STEEP hill. 

R45 has some very steep hills including the one about midway between St. Marys and New Virginia.  we have hit 50+ twice on it on tandem.  40s on singles.  I wanted to turn south and conquer that hill again.  yeah, it's a climb but the reward is worth it.  With the wind from the south I'd set a new single bike speed record for myself.  The last time we attempted this the wind was from the north.  But Mary was right, we were close over 50 miles into the ride and still a long way from home.  Besides we just avoided one of the worst climbs in Iowa, R45 at Nixon Ave.  Try it sometime if you aint chickenshit.

The day was not without reward.  Now the wind was at our backs.  We flew through town, noting that the convenience store was still inconveniently out of business and that the bar was open.  Time to fly!  Just about 4 or 5 miles to 92 and then another half mile to Martinsdale.  A nice set of rollers that lead us down to 92.  Big ring engage!  This was about the only time I lead other than on 169.  Maybe dropped out of big ring twice on climbs but once atop SHIFT!!  I ran out of gear, too.  That's the trouble with stock racing triples, 50 teeth aint enough.  I missed the 53 on my 2200. 

Traffic was not bad, maybe 4 or 5 cars passed us.  Mary had to drop back a bit because she could not close the gap and cars wanted in.  We saw two bikers riding south but they did not wave.  Stuck ups.  And when we were on the flat I verbally reminded Mary and myself to downshift before the stop sign.  There are many worse things than crossing a highway in too tall of gear but novice mistakes suck.

Martinsdale at last.  Time to get on the trail and not worry about cars except at intersections.  We stopped at the park/trailhead and checked phone.  mine was dead from running Endomondo.  Last Endomondo reading was in St. Charles.  Mary had several missed call's from Dora's friend.  We rolled north passing two young mothers pushing jogging strollers at speed.

The ride to Cumming was ok.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Few of my friends ever get south of Cumming.  Too bad.  The trail is interesting down here.  But scenery was not on my mind.  I was beginning to bonk.  I considered eating the Powerbar in my pocket but Cumming and Charbuff Grill were just a few miles ahead.  Climb and not think about it.  Food and drink soon enough.  Chad grilled us his last two Italian sausage sandwiches.  Seemed fitting since we had Italian for lunch in Winterset.

Justin Jenkins was here too enjoying the hops and barley of Bob Moural's finest.  This was the first time we had talked in quite sometime.  i suggested that he organize 40 on the 4th again but family obligations have prevented him for repeating this wonder ride in FLAT north Polk County.

Soon we rolled again, destination home.  Nothing really to report except for once we rode the entire trail complete and half without ever hearing "ON YOUR LEFT" except for the time I barked it at Mary for a dangerous maneuver she made on my right.  Closing in on Mullets we saw a blue jersey and a red jersey.  I picked up my pace until I recognized Loren's water bottle underneath her saddle.

"What happened to Osceola?"

"Had to work" or "it did not work out."

I wonder where they were while we sat in the shade of the Cumming Tap?  They missed a good time.  Bernie was buying beers.  Mary and I had mountain Dew.  We drank the night before.  One beer is not enough and two are too many.

End Note

We showered and made dinner.  And to cap off the day and to reward Dora for our absence, I had her as my stoker for a ride to DQ in Windsor Heights.  Soft serve and chocolate is always good.  Besides, DQ is a tad over 8 miles from our home and we needed 16 miles to have 100 for the day.

101.2 miles for the day; Des Moines to Winterset and back 80 miles

1 comment:

  1. I love that route, but it's been a few years since I've ridden all of G14 to Winterset. My route down there now usually consists of taking Adams or some other road over to Old Portland Road which heads south to G14. I come into Winterset on a short section of gravel and pavement on the SE of Winterset. Right by a covered bridge.

    Saturday had me on the bike at 5:30 AM, and then I headed SW out of Winterset on the gravel through Pammel State Park and then eventually north to Stuart. That entire section from Winterset towards Stuart was scenic and hilly. Best attempted with cross bikes. The hill climbing practice will transfer easily to pavement. :)