Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hello Old Friend, Been a Long Time

Much too long.  How long has it been?  Since August 2010.  Seems longer than that.  Got the word from Eric Crabb on FaceBook.  Something about the Skunk River taking a bridge out and big chunks of the trail.  "We could not cross the trail closure."  If Crabb and Sean "Sir Sags Alot" cannot cross a closed trail then something is seriously wrong.  Too far to walk through mud and such he said.

BikeIowa had this to say.  "In August 2011 floods washed out 12 different sections along the 20 mile trail. Some washouts were longer than a football field.
The repaired sections are approximately 5 miles in length and cost nearly 1 million to repair. The project has been a long drawn out process due to the difficulty of dealing with a federal disaster agency (FEMA), working in two counties, and the discovery of additional structural damage during the reconstruction."

 I do not know why BikeIowa states the year as 2011 because when I rode on it to get to Human Bike In 2010 in JUNE the trail was ruined. 

The Crater

The Chichaqua Valley Trail is a hidden gem in the Central Iowa Trail System.  Hidden because has yet to connected to the metro trailhub of Des Moines, Iowa.  Hidden because it lacks the glamour of the blue bedazzled lights of the High Trestle Trail.  As one biker told me Friday, "If I can't bike there or drive there in 5 minutes I aint gonna be there."  Oh well, such attitudes keep this trail free from overuse.

Mary and I have ridden this trail for two decades.  Established in 1987, we did not hit it until the early 90s.  I remember when the last 9 miles to Baxter was not paved.  Since then we have ridden it with friends and family.  Many fond memories have been created here.  In the last few years this trail has become the backbone for our adventures out east.  Anders Olson and  I used this trail to return from Ragbrai one year.  Mary and I plus several others, Graham, Eric, Janine Richards, Jamie Heldstedt, Spaulding and Renee used this trail to get to Grinnell and back for Human Bike In in 2011 DESPITE the damage.  Team Mystery Machine hit in many times as well.  Dave Hatcher, Anders and would haunt this trail.  Colin Lamb too.   Brad Daggett once hit a pole and bent the fork of his yellow Trek here.  I always tried to ride the entire trail a few time a year.  Hearing about its closure hurt.

Money.  Always money.  Polk County had a battle with FEMA to get the fundatation to repair the trail.  That is why it took over two years to complete the repairs.  A long two years.

So last week I was checking BikeIowa and stumbled upon an article stating that the trail was going to reopen.  Then Jamie Heldstedt posted on FaceBook that the gates were down.  Time to check it out.  I texted Mary at work and asked her if she would ride it with me.  She said yes.  Saturday morning.  Give the sun a chance to warm things up.

The decision on bicycles was easy.  Road bikes.  Been quite some time since we rode those together.  And judging by the lack of air pressure in the tires it had been a long, long time.  Clothing was more difficult.

30s in the morning with a high of 52F.  No bags on the bikes to carry what would be stripped.  I opted for a long sleeve jersey with a short sleeve one underneath.  Wicking and 6 pockets.  Jacket to start out in knowing full well that it would be ditched in about a half hour.  Tights to keep legs warm.  Thin tights over bike shorts.  Smart Wool socks.  A hat and a pair of those cheap brown gloves.  Mary more or less wore the same but with thicker gloves and hat.

The parking lot was empty.  Good thing too.  I would have hated to park the van in one of the numerous holes developing here.  Don't tell the county or else the trail will be closed for another two years.

3 miles of casual downhill before the bottom and the Skunk River valley.  The first thing we noticed was a large dead tree hanging over the trail held up by its living brethren.  Two years closed with trucks and construction equipment and machinery going up and down the trail and nobody spots this.  Not My Problem, the ultimate cloaking device.  Need rain to clean this up.  The trail is also scratched up from said repairs.

The second thing we noticed was that the trail was almost white in areas from limestone gravel trucked to the first of 5 or so bridges.  It appeared as if the trail reverted back to crushed rock.  But when we reached the first bridge it was clear that the rock was used to boost shoulders and strengthen the bridges.

We eventually reach the flatland and the scene of the crime.  Just east of Santiago the remnants of the crater remain.  The stream still flows by but there appears to be more culverts.  Large rocks filled the hole and form the shoulder of the trail.  Fresh blacktop emits its foul petroleum odor.  Ground Zero repaired.  

I always joked ever since I first rode on this trail that the shoulders were deadly.  One mistake and you would tumble to certain death.  These rocks will kill.
Hard to believe that a year ago we had to walk our bikes through a giant crater at this very spot.  Behind Mary are the first non-local bikers we encountered on our jaunt.

Crossing the Skunk we find all the bridges intact but large stretches of fresh asphalt trail.  Several chunks have been repaired.  Then we enter into Jasper County and it looks like nothing ever happened.

The last several miles to Mingo are in the middle of farm country.  All the fields have been harvested.  Several of them have tractors discing and applying anhydrous ammonia.  I stop to photograph this old barn.

Mingo looks as if time stood still.  Ozzy's appears to be packed with farmers.  I did not stop, merely checked out town while Mary used the kybo on the trail.  Time to roll to Ira.

Not doing this justice but the cracks are several inches deep.  There are many areas like this one between Mingo and Ira.
The only area with flags.

Truth in signage.

One thing the repair people missed was the surface between Mingo and a mile or so east of Ira, Iowa.  As far back as 2007 cracks were forming and filled with tar but still wide and deep enough to catch a 700x28 tire.  Now it is much worse.  Very uneven in places.  We had to concentrate on our lines to prevent crashing.  I would not recommend riding this at night UNLESS one had a very powerful light with a Godlike flood pattern or beam.  Dangerous.

House are large out here.  Nice too!
Soon the trail calms down and we can relax and enjoy the ride.  We notice that someone had painted markers for a cross country run.  Collins Baxter Maxwell schools.  Good to see someone using the trail.  It is at this point we see the first biker of the day.  Appears to be a local on a department store bike.

Entering Baxter, Iowa, we spy no evidence of shoulder repair or damage.  Last year the rain runoff had damaged the shoulders into Baxter pretty bad.  The repair work blended in well with the existing shoulder. 

The end of the trail or beginning.  The old red caboose.  Baxter, Iowa.
We rode through town noticing that the grocery store was open and there is a bar named after GM's flagship car brand.  But we rolled on to the Kountry Korner gas station.  They serve pizza!

After consuming the pizza it was time to roll homeward.  At Mingo we encountered two other bikers who turned around in that town.  Then another 4 bikers in two groups heading east.  Nice to see the bikes returning.

F17.  This is the road, the start of it all.  Nothing but hills, no lean to or bar.  20 miles of rollers between here and Grinnell or Gilman.  Got to have your game down pat and carry your own.  I remember the beer break 9 miles out.  Turned around and no one was there.  So distorted and dark.  There's no room for the weak.  How long did Graham, Mary and I wait for the others on that trip to Human?  Three beers I think.

Hate to say it but they really need to repave the stretch from Mingo to Ira+.  Yeah, probably take two more years.  But the surface is dangerous.

After the 3 mile climb I turned around.  "Good bye old friend.  I hope to return after the winter."  We loaded our bikes and took off.  Another bicyclist was ending his journey.  What did that make, 7 bikes?  There was one bike that was missing.  It was a Trek 520 belonging to Eric Crabb.  For the love of God, Eric, please start riding again.  The longer you are off the more it will hurt when you begin again.  I miss my old friends.  I really do.

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