The one hill that I was dreading the most turned out to be the among the better of the long slow climbs. I have vivid memories of looking at Donnie Hildreth on top of this monster appearing as if he was standing still but in reality he was riding extremely slow from the energy draining climb. I turned my head to the right at the sign that read "Nixon Street." It left an indelible mark on my brain. A gravel road on the last hill south of St, Mary, Iowa, that shares the name with the most infamous POTUS. And that hill sucked. But on this ride it was tamer. What the three of us had been through today literally flattened this bitch. And that was a good thing. We were out of water, tired and 80 miles into a century ride. We earned a break.
How and why we ended up on the top of the last big hill on R45 was my fault. My decision. Two others agreed to fancy my whim. It was the weekend of my birthday. Time for a big ride. Last year we attempted to visit the Trestle but never made it. Having visited the HTT almost every month this year including this month it was time to do something else.
During our Labor Day Trestle Ride Craig Lein and I briefly considered riding out and camping at Big Creek State Park. But the area we favored smelled of fish waste and probably was patrolled by the DNR or some other government agency and they'd frown upon our squatting and drinking in the non-campground place we had chosen.
Craig suggested that we should ride where he had never ridden before. I immediately thought of Warren County. Use my favorite route to head to southern Iowa. I do not think Mary and I had been this way for months. Time to show Craig where the real riding is. Forget the glacier flats of north Polk County and the overcrowded paved trails and the dusty washboard rutted gravel Bittersweet Rd and its cows. Ditch the loaded touring bikes and take fast road bikes. Carry only the essentials--ability to fix a flat, some Powerbars, cash, phone and camera. It is difficult to get Craig off his Trek 520, but he needs to see that one can ride with 40 lbs of extra shit.
|The map of the route. Apple Maps had me in the UK.|
Basically what we'd do is hit three of the four corners of Warren Co, ride some trails and ride many miles on paved county highways. There would be a town almost every 10 miles, albeit one 20 mile stretch, with a corner store and a tavern. No need to carry beer. Make an 8 mile side trip into Madison Co to enjoy a cool refreshing crisp beer inside a covered bridge. Why not? Seems that most of the bicycling subculture enjoys a beer on a bridge or underneath one. And the last 25 miles would be all trail, the Great Western and Water Works/Gray's Lake systems. The safety of familiar turf when we need it the most.
I placed the invite on FaceBook. This probably scared people off. I really had no clue just how long the ride would be. My first estimate was 120 miles. Best not publish that. Not very appealing to those that merely ride to Cumming and back, 17 miles from the trailhead.
Graham Johnston was the first to respond with an affirmative. Craig would later but decided to drop out since he had to work at 10 pm that night and did not want to be dead tired. Mary never expressed any apprehension to the ride.
I had my doubts. Friday morning after a sustained drinking session at Goodsons, Exile Brewery and the George Washington Carver Jr bridge, doubts risen within me. Response was almost nonexistent. This monster ride will take a long time. Graham and Craig will not show up. I texted Mary whether we should cancel this ride. She said no. we then decided upon the tandem.
We met at Mullets for breakfast. Need to fuel up before take off. Mary, Graham and I had the burrito. None of us could finish them. Craig joined up after we finished. He was there to send us off. Still refusing to ride with us under the pretence of employment and NOW a date at 10 am. With that we were off.
As promised in the Event we rolled first to virgin trail. The city is adding a new trail along the southbank of the Des Moines River from west of SE 14th to the Cownie Sports Complex on Hartford and SE 23rd. This will end the need to ride on Hartford Avenue and provide a nice trail of mostly canopy along the river. Part of this is paved but work has yet been completed underneath SE 14th/US 69. We had to "cyclocross" the bridge since orange snow fence had been placed to keep us out. I think we shedded layers here. In retrospect and at the time I think I should have been a bit tougher and left the Underarmor, gloves and had off.
After crossing Hartford and exiting the trail after the baseball field we took a left on Evergreen and rode past Easter Lake. At the stop sign we took another left and wound our way past the Great Ape trust/Hubbel Park and took a right on SE 45th and rode to Army Post Rd/highway 5. Another left on the highway and through the lake community of Avon Lake. Here i was very well pleased. The road had finally been resurfaced. Before it was among the roughest roads to ride on surfacewise. But now a smooth black top all the way to the turn to Carlisle.
|Dr. Crankenstein working on my busted spoke in Carlisle. This is my favorite spot to photograph the tandem.|
It was on the final road into Carlisle that a mechanical issue erupted. Graham noticed that our rear wheel was out of true and getting worse. We continued riding to the scheduled stop at Casey's General Store before assessing the situation. Spoke. The first broken spoke on this bike ever. 11 years to fail. The first mechanical issue the bike has suffered. Fortunately, a mechanic was with us. The choice was to turn back and swap bikes or hope that Graham's skills were up to par and sufficient. We headed forward on the Summerset trail. The wheel stayed true for the entire journey. Not the first time Mary and I busted a spoke on a tandem and completed a century. For that matter, we have done 3 days of Ragbrai with a broken spoke on at least two occasions. This wheel still had 39 spokes functioning. I was not worried. Lift ass off seat on big bumps.
This was Graham's first ride on the Summerset Trail. Mary and I having been riding it since it first opened. Today it was busy. There were more bicycles out today than I had ever seen on it before. A beautiful day, why not ride on this trail? 11 miles of paved autumn beauty all the way to Indianola where we'd take our second break.
|Mary relaxing in I-town.|
The trailhead in Indianola has a sheltered table area and a modern restroom and a Coke machine. The Coke machine refused to take our money. Oh well. Time to scare locals. A nice looking family pulled up during our discussion on whether or not Graham's mother should be considered a "milf." It was not until those people left that we regretted exposing their two daughters to the word "milf." We let them get a huge head start before Mary and the two mustached freaks rolled onward. We caught up with them at the end of the McVay Trail at the ballpark. They smiled at us. Time for riding east on Highway 92.
|posted at the Indianola trailhead. Is golfing on the trail really an issue here? Listed as #2.|
92 can be a very busy highway but we needed to use it for about 2.5 miles until our turn on county road S23. S23 would be our road for the next 18 miles all the way to Lacona, Iowa, the southeast corner of Warren Co.
Finally, out in the open country again we enjoyed the fall colors. I do not know when the peak is but what we were privileged to see was beautiful. These wonder trees giving up their green leaves for orange, reds and yellows as they go dormant for the winter put on an outstanding show. Just looking at them as we slowly climbed up the worst hills took the edge off the pain. What a shame I did not take the time to stop and photograph the colorful pageant.
Milo was our first stop on S23. We opted for the bar instead of the Casey's. Time for a cool refreshing beer on such a lovely autumn day that felt like summer. The Main Street Station was the tavern we found downtown Milo, Iowa. It is a very long bar with the pool table set up, balls racked up front. No beer on tap so we settled for 3 PBRs and proceeded to sit at the bar to view the televised college football game. This is when the trouble began.
|20 minutes later this place would be packed with motorbikes. Some of the riders stopped and studied out aluminum steeds. $ per pound ratio, WE had the most expensive bikes.|
The woman behind the bar asked us not to sit at the bar because she was expecting 75 motorcyclist to drop in for a poker run. We moved to the side of the bar. But the longer we stayed, and we only stayed for one beer, the bitchy she became. The man behind the bar stocking bottles was friendlier and actually engaged in conversation with us. But the more she spoke to us the closer the tip money returned to out pockets. We finished up and left.
|Motorbikes invading Milo and the main Street Station.|
Exiting to the outside we heard the panzers rolling in. Sure enough, a horde of Harleys, GoldWings, choppers and assorted motorbikes stormed in. The three of us immediately recalled the South Park episode that gave a new defintion of the word "faggot." What a laugh. Someone asked if we had seen Garcia and a second later Thomas showed up. "Yeah, Garcia is right here!" I immediately grabbed the tandem to make a beer run to Casey's. This would be too fun to miss. Pushing the bike to the street I made motorcycle sounds like they did on South Park. Only Graham and Mary got the joke.
Returning to the scene of the crime, I parked the bike against the wall of the bar and the three of us sat underneath the gazebo that shelters the water pump. The man that lives across the street from me was there, although on his GoldWing since his chopper is "too uncomfortable to ride such a distance." Several of these black leather clad, HD outfitted riders and their female companions were consuming adult beverages outside. Perhaps we were not the only ones to experience crap service from Main Street Station.
Milo turned into a 4 beer stop since 2 tallboys plus the 1 PBR nearly equals 4 beers. But what were we to do? I don't mind being passed by an occasional motorbike but 75 of them? They were load and failed to completely combust their fuel given the fumes wafting through Milo. Best wait for them to leave and have a head start so we do not have to deal with them on a steep hill somewhere. They aint gonna draft us and I sure as hell do not want to draft them.
10 miles to Lacona. Only 2 stops. First stop for urination and the consumption of the last tallboy. We stopped at the road where I took the photo of the "rock ends" sign and where Graham has made beer stops in the past. Coincidence?
|The second and last roadside repair.|
The second stop was just outside Lacona. Graham's seatpost had slipped for the last time. Mary held his bike, Graham did the work while I photographed the event. Time to roll into Lacona and have lunch at O'Neals Irish pub.
|The 'stache and the Captain and Coke in a Mason jar. Graham was happy.|
We grabbed a table and got immediate service. We all had the bacon cheeseburger, a 6oz patty. Mary Bud Light, Graham a rum and Coke and a Sam Adam's Octoberfest for me. Iowa was leading Minnesota 31 to 7, our food was delicious and we were happy. O'Neals is a rare place in which one can enjoy Busch Light in all three forms--draft, bottle and can. I had my second and final beer in the form of draft. Time to do the longest stretch of the day. 20 miles to New Virgina courtesy of county road G76. This was virgin road for us.
|He said virgin road.|
Like most Iowa towns the road out of town involves a hill. This looked very bad from O'Neals but by the time we exited city limits if was not so bad. Just a long grind. We took it easy. The map showed two creek crossings which would mean hills so I expected two major climbs. After a few miles of ridge riding we encountered the hills beginning with the dive into the Otter Creek valley. Always a nice descent then a long grind up. Individually they were not bad but after 10 miles of them we were wearing down. We agreed to take a break at Highway 69.
There was a church just pasted the 60 intersection. Unfortunately the rumble strips went to the shoulder. We rested in the shade of the church building. Water became an issue. Lots of bar time but no water intake except from our bottles. New Virgina was only 7 miles away. We will reload there.
Squaw Creek marked the last of the big hills. There were a few curvy descents and climbs going into New Virgina. Nothing terrible. Outstanding views. Time to reload the water, purchase a quart of Gatorade and rehydrate. But the town was dead!
Despite having last week's Sunday Des Moines Register in the machine, the corner store was inconveniently closed permanently. "Thank you for your patronage" the sign read. Inside was nothing. The bar was also closed with an auction sign out front. SHIT! I checked out the park. No water. 10 miles with extreme water conservation measures. I had about a fourth of a bottle left and an empty. Mary brought only one bottle. Graham was low as well. Nixon Street lay about 9.5 miles ahead. No easy way down or up. 30 miles of nothing.
This was our own fault. Did we get water in Milo? No. Could have bought some at the Casey's along with the Busch Light. Nope. Did we ask old man O'Neal? Nope. We committed to a 20 mile stretch without looking at our bottles. Not a smooth move.
|Great bar! It saved us!|
The only thing I looked forward to during the next 10 miles was the chance to set a speed record on Pfifer Hill or Fifer Hill, of Phifer Hill or how ever it is spelled. I have been obsessed with this hill ever since I climbed it on my very first Ragbrai in 1991 and down it on the Fisher tandem at 50+ mph in 1992 and one other time not long after that at 50+. I have made 70 mile round trip rides to New Virginia just to get a chance to beat the 50.2 mph record. One reason I purchased the Cannondale road tandem was to shatter that record. But time and time again the cards were not in my favor. Head winds usually. And finding time to do it. Today I felt like it would not happen. Too tired.
This hill is a few miles north of New Virgin. There is a series of minor hills to climb and descend before Fifer. One needs to have their "game on" if they plan to hit 50 mph. But dehydrated little old me was cannon fodder. I crested the final hill at 10 mph and thus lacked the acceleration needed for a record breaking run. Sure, we got the tandem up to speed quick enough but lacked the ability to push it to "11." 44 mph was our top speed today. Graham hit 37.
|Will somebody pass a hat and purchase this man a pack of smokes? Maybe he does not buy so he can bum one off a woman who road her motorcycle to the Northside.|
The rest of the ride to St Marys was uneventful. A few hills to climb and dive. When I noticed the Nixon Street sign I was amazed. Felt good. Not dieing on the tandem. The hills were over. Time to catch up with Graham and tell him of the discussion Mary and I were having.
|The dollar Graham left at the Northside.|
Forget the covered bridge. Save it for another ride. A shorter ride. But the 8 miles there and back would hurt us. Sure, it is flat but we need to stop at the Northside Bar in St. Marys first to rehydrate and fill bottles. It will be dark soon and we need to be on the Great Western Trail before sunset. Time to stop playing with cars and trucks and seek the refuge of our beloved trail. He agreed.
We got seats at the bar and PBR tallboys and water. I went back outside to retrieve our water bottles. Before leaving Graham borrowed a Sharpie from the barkeep and left our calling card on a dollar bill. "We rode our motherfucking bikes! Che, Mary and Graham." He then placed it on the ceiling tile among others that patrons of this establishment had left in memory of their experiences. Still daylight and 4 miles to Martensdale and the GWT.
We skipped the Roadside Inn in favor of the cornerstore gas station. Toilet and Gatorade quart was my need. GWT was next.
|Graham's "cheater" bike.|
Leaving Martensdale on the GWT I notice a slight climb or false flat. I always feel sluggish until the first intersection. And then game on. Divebomb that steep bastard while Mary scans for cars. Jam up the otherside and propel faster with the momentum. These intersections are speed zones if you can manage energy properly. Get the most out of the setting sun, now a red ball on the horizon. A full moon on our right rising above the farmland. I am glad we turned the red flashers on at St. Marys and had the headlamps ready at Martensdale. Darkness is arriving quickly.
Despite feeling renewed myself Graham was beginning to suffer. Too long in the saddle and now vision issues. My light strapped to my forehead plus my blinking handlebar light was messing with his good eye. The clear glasses he wore to protect said eye from insects and debris would soak up my lights and create a glare. And then the climb into Cumming, Iowa. He was sick of attitude changes.
Then the haze of farming. Dust from harvesting and the lack of rain enveloped us like a fog. Fog dust or dust fog or Harvest Dust we called it. Sometimes it was very thick. This impeded progress.
Finally he asked us to stop at an intersection. "I need a few minutes off the saddle," he stated. OK. Vision obscured and sore ass and general tiredness from 90+ miles of riding (Graham had an extra 4 miles or so on Mary and I). "How much further to the Tap?" "It is across the street. See those lights?" I replied. "You got to be joking. We been standing here for 2 minutes and the Tap is just across the street?" Yep.
Chad Ulrick had closed Charbuff Grill but was still loading his truck. He left us snag a few left over wings and joined us inside after he finished loading his truck. He said that the motorbikes stopped in here as well as Craig and his "date." Craig was in Martensdale 3 hours before we reached St Marys or so his FaceBook photo of Garcia implied.
I had a Diet Mnt Dew, a shot of UV vanilla vodka in a pint glass of ice with a can of Diet Coke. I think Mary only had a Diet Dew. Graham, a captain and Coke but not in a Mason jar. Consumed and time to roll.
I had to stop at the lean to to pee but Graham asked for permission to roll on. My lights were a bother. I understood. There were three people there among them a couple I see on bikes all the time. They rode 45 miles but were impressed with our nearly completed century. We did not stay long. We needed to get home. We promised Dora pizza.
We encountered and passed 3 bikers near Army Post bridge. It was like they were going 8 mph. Then a few minutes later I screamed "FUCK!!!!!!!!" Mary immediately asked what was up. Skunk. I was about to t-bone a skunk. He was crossing the trail perfectly perpendicular to us. Tail down but not even noticing us. Staring right at his midsection I gambled that he could not spray while on the move and went to the left to avoid collision. By the time it crossed the trail and raised its tail we were long gone. I've seen this before. They cross the road and turn around to look at their object of dissatisfaction and raise the tail. I could not turn my head around to check this out at our speed. And I hope Pepe LePew did not spray the people behind us.
After that everything was normal and good. felt quite natural riding a tandem at night through Water Works Park and Gray's Lake with my wife Mary. How many times have we done this? How many more times will we do this? We hit the century mark at the sign post for the new trail section heading to SW 14th just south of the lake. Two miles until home.
Rolling into the driveway I saw two sets of eyes underneath my son's car. Yep, even the cats were waiting on us. No time for a shower, just a change into civilian clothing and a date with Dora to Pizza Hut. Yep, still open for dine in. I consumed all the sodium I depleted during the ride.
Hit the store for dog and cat food and then a shower. And cream for my coffee. I will need it in the morning. It truly amazes me how after epic rides everything immediately returns to reality. Oh well. The price we pay. Got my 5th or 6th century in for the year. Perhaps I should paint a mark on the tandem with the date. And a note, "drink more water."
|Team Cannondale...Slayer of Hills!!!|