Monday, July 21, 2014

Des Moines to Cedars Falls and Back

Marshalltown, Iowa.

Alternative Title: Instead of Ragbrai

When Joe and Donnie's mother took a turn for the worst and they decided to stay home instead of joining us for the ride to Ragbrai Mary and I felt like we should do something different and unique.  We wanted to ride somewhere new.  Time was a premium since Mary had to be back at work on Tuesday.  It was her idea to ride to Cedar Falls and then ride down the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  We could stay at Dave's place.

Before agreeing to this I checked my map.  The same map that had our 2014 Ragbrai plans.  It looked very reasonable.  A two day journey.  Although graduating from the University of Northern Iowa, we had only scratched the surface of the CVNT.  Our very first bicycle camping trip was from Cedar Falls to McFarland Park outside of La Porte City over 20 years ago,  We have done the Fools Ride before but that was only 12 miles of this 54 mile long trail.  Skipping Ragbrai gave us an opportunity to explore the rest of the trail.  Also, there were several other trails we could visit which was a bonus since most of these trails we would normally never ride since they are out of our range and not destination trails.  Some texting and phone calls to Dave secured arrangements for Friday night, our target for the second day of riding.

The Bike

1991 Fisher Gemini MTB tandem.  Now in touring mode.  We met Gary and showed him a photo of our bike and his eyes lit up.  He too replaced the flat bars with drop bars.

Both of our touring bikes are out of commission at the moment.  One needing new wheels and the other much more.  The Gary Fisher Gemini tandem was ready to go.  Add panniers and load up!  It has served us well over the years, a veteran of many Ragbrai and self contained rides.

The People we Encountered

I have to say that this was the most refreshing ride in along time terms of the people we met.  It was good to be out of the metro.  The response to the tandem brought back memories and feelings from the 90s when the bike was new and new to us and tandems we not as common as they are now.  "Nice bike!  Kewl bike!ect.  Children turned around and some stuck their heads out car windows to get a better look.  People asked how it worked.  Other people asked about the trails.  An older man in Baxter, looked like a farmer who would give a rat's behind about bikes asked us about the trail and complained about the failure to the State to give promised matching funds for repairs needed between Mingo and Ira.  Said he went to the meeting about it.  Others asked us where we were going, where we started.  But the main questions was, "you do the Ragbrai?"  That ride still holds magic for people.  People were helpful, mostly, when we asked for directions or locations.  Some have no clue.  "Have not been to that town for 20 years.  It was 15 miles away.  No one honked, shouted, threw stuff or tried to kill us when we were on the road.

 Day One Des Moines to Beaman, Iowa 100.3 Miles

Altoona Library

We left on Thursday morning and headed to the Chichaqua Nature Trail.  Another first, riding to that trail from home by ourselves.  The trail head is almost 20 miles from our house.  To get there we rode on the Gay Lea Wilson Trail from Scott Ave to Altoona.  We stopped at Hy Vee for breakfast.  Simple way to get to the CNT--"Take 1st St to 1st St and a left at the cemetery.  Follow this road over the freeway and do not cross the highway to the Wooden Nickle.  When you reach double affinity (88th St) look to the left and the trailhead you should see."   Then 20 miles of paved trail to the end in Baxter.  We refueled at the Country Corner.

Outside Clark's Bar, Melbourne, Iowa.  the night before 81 bicycles were here.  notice the slack in the idler chain.  I forgot to bring the spanner to adjust.

Melbourne was the next town.  we took F17 out of Baxter then the first left, S62.  Stopped at Clark's Bar and used the restrooms and drank a beer.  Melbourne is the west end of the Iowa 330 Trail which starts in Marshalltown.  Every Wednesday riders from that town ride to his bar.  The previous night he counted 81 bikes!  To show his appreciation for their business he grilled for them.

The 330 Trail is not a destination trail.  It is a means to an end.  It is a safe path along highway 330 and highway 30.  Nearly 20 miles in distance it is marked every half mile for your knowledge and 911 help.  The trail goes up and down a lot which helps break up the monotony of riding parallel a four lane highway.  The trail is dressed with wild flowers and birds.  Red Winged Blackbirds are plentiful and possess the ability to hover over moving bicycles and talk to the riders.  Even the females were out.

Apparently, the loaded bike weighed more than 25Kg.  Got $70 miles out of the kickstand.  A little better than $1 per mile.

This trail merges with Marshalltown trails, namely the Linn Creek Trail system which brings riders into the heart of town and can lead them to the north end of town on highway 14.  We had to stray off trail to Wal Mart to purchase tent poles (I left them at home) and to La Porta Mexican Restaurant.  This added to our mileage.

Beaman Tap, Beaman, Iowa.  nice and clean bar.  Told they served great food.

Taking 14 for a mile north out of town we turned at the first right and headed to Green Mountain, Iowa, on T29.  Rolling past this town we settled into Beaman, Iowa.  The Beaman Tap offers food and beer but we were still full so we rolled west to Conrad, 2 miles, and hit the Casey's.  Ice, pizza and a 6 pack of Rolling Rock tall boys.  It was cheaper than Busch Light 12oz cans.  It was in Conrad that we visited the Comet Trail and rode it past Beaman to where the final down tree stopped us.

Conrad, Iowa

The trail was victim to a bad storm on a Monday and many trees fell down.  The crushed limestone surface was littered with branches and sticks.  That was a shame because it was a nice trail with many benches and monuments.  Unfortunately, millions of mosquitos.  we worked our way back to Beaman and circled the town twice to officially complete the century before setting up camp in the Discovery Garden's gazebo.  We slept on lawn furniture and thus saved ourselves from deploying the tent and packing it up the next day.  That night we stopped at the tap and order two Broad Street Brewing Co 175 beers for $5.75,  Local  craft beer from Reinbeck, Iowa,  cheap!  I think Beaman will be the stopping point for future rides.  Beaman would make a great meeting place for those riding from Cedar Falls.

The gazebo in Beaman's Discover Gardens.  we had electricity, padded patio furniture and a roof over our heads.  Water was available across the street.
The statute was broken before we arrived.
A century for the first day.  Rolling Rock tall boys became our "official" bike beer as it was cheaper than Busch Light.

Day Two Beaman to La Porte City  81.8 Miles

Trailhead in Grundy Center.

In the morning we headed north to Grundy Center.  Mary remembered the western Dressing bull that stood outside the dressing plant so we detoured that way for the photo opportunity.  Unfortunately for us, Richelieu Foods bought out western many years ago and the bull was not sold in the divorce.  On the plus side, as the Casey's General Store cashier promised, the trailhead for the Pioneer Trail was near the Richelieu plant so not a complete time waste.  The Pioneer Trail is a non-paved trail that runs from Holland, Iowa, to Reinbeck.  Grundy Center was in the middle.  Seeing only one way to go we took to the trail.  we encountered 3 pedestrians and saw several bike tracks.  The end of the trail placed us in perfect position to travel north and east to Dike, Iowa, the last town before Cedar Falls.

Dike, Iowa

Outside of Dike a horrible crack in the road before a bridge caused a bracket for a front pannier to come loose and require a repair.  It also required me to drink a Rolling Rock.  This stopped caused us to miss dave by 5 minutes.  In addition, we stopped to use a restroom and to take a photo of the creamery.  We headed north out of Dike on T55 and then right on 130th until we hit Union Rd.  Cedar Falls had really grown since the 20+ years I had left and I did not recognize it.  But we found Leslie at Dave's apartment and she greeted us with open arms.

Cedar Falls--The Vortex

Cedar Falls trails had plenty of map kiosks.  Just one trail closure almost ruined the day.

8 hour stay.  Shower, pizza and nap.  I drank a lot of water.  We could have spent the night but we got there about 11:45 am.  by 6 we were ready to roll.  Out the door at 7 pm with the remains of the pizza and a 6 pack of Blue Moon.  Thank you Dave and Leslie.  Time for what I was looking forward to.  A nice northern sweep of the CedarLoo trail system with an easy connection to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. "the best laid plans.."   The growth of bicycle trails in the Cedar Falls has been phenomenal since we left in 1991.  We knew that the CVNT was connected to these trails.  At the start it went well.  We headed down town.  Reloaded on ice and hit ATMs.  Got to the trails with ease.  Then it fell apart.
Near a baseball park in Waterloo.  Only one animal.  Bummer.

Despite the many kiosks at the beginning of this portion of the ride and despite asking locals which was the best way to go, north or through downtown Waterloo, we lost a lot of time.  After George Wyth State Park the trails lead to the Cedar River.  Lots of stops, gates, dismounts, fishing people to avoid and then the TRAIL CLOSED sign.  the drunken man said we would not make it through on "that bike."  He was right.  Fencing from one end of the horizon to the other.  It was dark now anyway.  Signs warning us that we would be prosecuted for trespassing and that cameras were recording us.  We back tracked to the first road and took to the streets.  Then the streets were closed so we had to detour again.  Eventually we found Evansdale, Iowa, home of the beginning of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  I think it took us 3 hours to get here.

Gazebo #2, La porte City, Iowa, along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  We had electricity for our phones.  water and a restroom were available at the ballpark near by.

From the trailhead to La Porte City it was 10 miles.  10 miles of dodging sticks on the ground and low hanging branches.  The trailhead in Gilbertville was our only break on the trail.  Well deserved beer was consumed.  The off to la Porte City where we stopped at the gazebo, ate the last of the pizza and drank the last of the Blue Moon and pitched the tent.  We had electricity to charge the phones.  It was not until morning that we found the nearby restrooms and water source.

Day 3 La Porte City to Gladbrook, Iowa  81.4 Miles

The trails here have lots of memorials.
Between La Porte City and Brandon, Iowa, there is an old stone quarry.  Don't know if this was part of it.  Like to camp here sometime.

The plan was to take the trail all the way to Cedar Rapids and hang a right to work our way to Vinton and ride the Old Creamery Nature Trail to Dysart.  But after reaching Urbana and getting there too early for food it was decided to take highways to Vinton.  Not that the CVNT was bad, it was just slow going.  The tandem had tires meant for paved surfaces.  And we knew nothing about Center Point, the next town on the trail.  We covered over 30 miles of the trail, much of it new to us.  Save the rest for later.

A friendly couple on their way to the VA Hospital talked top us in Urbana, Iowa.  He was going to have a triple bypass.  I hope he does well.  He is an air force vet who served in Viet Nam.  She was kind enough to take our photo.

This was the start of it all, a trail filled with blood sport and pain., I remember it all.
my favorite part of the trail.  After this it got rough, real rough.  Our other tandem would not have made it.  Our single touring bikes would have failed.  Our $200-250 Mongoose fat bikes would have excelled here.  2 hours of hell.

The Old Creamery Nature Trail is a limestone surfaced trail.  14 miles in distance it goes through Garrison and ends in dysart.  Not having learned our lesson from the previous trails we took it anyway.  It must have taken us 2 hours.  Sometimes I think that the trail was not officially completed.  It appears as if massive amount of rain has nowhere to go and so it washes away the trail surface.  The county comes out to regrade it and dump rock and sand.  the bike struggled to get through it.  We never wrecked or wiped out but we had a helluva workout and were in full sweat.  Could never find a clean line.  Our cheap Mongoose fatbikes would have kicked ass here.  I tried telling Mary that we needed a fatbike tandem but she said wider tires would do the job.  The Fisher, after all, is a mountain bike and could hold 3" tires.  Somehow we made it and emerged worn out and exhausted in front of a Casey's.  Gatorade, ice for the cooler and restrooms.

Not shown are the cow, panther and bear.  Dysart, Iowa.

Highway 8 to Gladbrook was much faster.  We had to share a stretch of it with highway 63 but no one honked or yelled or tried to kill us.  No where to eat in Gladbrook so we settled for a large pepperoni pizza form, guess where, Casey's for $10.  Used the church across the street for our picnic.  Here someone ratted us out and we had a "visit" from the same lady we saw south of Beaman the day before when we stopped to consult the map.  Felt strange, like the same network of civilian watchers from the movie Hot Fuzz.  Could have been a coincidence.

The Lord provided this place for our dining pleasure.  Electricity available too! UMC, Gladbrook, Iowa.

Union Grove State Park is located 5 miles south of Gladbrook.  As usual, there is a steep hill before the turn to the campground.  We moaned and chugged up it.  81 miles today.  The $12 fee was worth it for a shower and access to water.  we were too tired to do anything else but to finish the pizza, drink a few beers, set up camp and shower.

On the way to Union Grove State Park.
Last campsite

Day 4 The Ride Home 85.4 Miles

Mary's new bike, Marshalltown, Iowa.

The park is located close to the same roads we took out of Marshalltown which made the 12 or so miles to town that much faster.  We needed food. Doo Dah's Diner on E Main St fit the bill.  I had the everything Omelet, coffee and a Mountain Dew and Mary had the Denver Omelet and a Pepsi.  $20.  Filling.  Kept us going for ours. Amen we did want another convenience store visit nor head south past the trails to the wal-Mart corporate business section of town for a big chain breakfast.   Finding the trail was easy, just head to the river and find the YMCA/YWCA.  Back on 330 trail again.

Breakfast at Doo Dah's Diner.  Open 6 to 12 on Sundays.  Best meal we had.

Now the south wind was hurting us.  17 to 20 mph.  And we were heading west and south.  But the crosswind did keep us cool.  We encountered about a dozen cyclists on our way to Melbourne.  There is a Phillips 66 station on the highway.  The easiest way to access it is to cut through the grass in front and cross the highway.  we were luck and did not have to wait in the middle at any time.

The sign said 12 miles and it felt like 50.  The hills seemed to have grown since Thursday and the wind never let up.  We had to pedal downhill.  Never could get any speed.  Crawled up the hills.  After 9 miles we were able to turn and the road leveled off and the cross breeze felt good.  the gas station in Baxter felt like home.  Quart of Gatorade, a hamburger and a liter of water for each water bottle.  Mary and I were drinking water like no others.  10 miles per bottle it seemed.  The tree coverage of the Chichaqua Trail was a relief from the wind.  To our dismay, the Greencastle Tavern in Mingo, formerly Ozzie's was closed.  it was Sunday afternoon.  we napped on the picnic tables and I actually dreamt.

Home trail.

That nap did us good.  Recharged we were able to reach the end of the trail in respectable time.  I am not sure which trail had more bikers, 330 or Chichaqua, but the latter had more pedestrians.  Always good to see people.  Our last major stop was in Altoona at a Kum & Go.  The front wheel was making a noise and was a bit out of true.  Oh, well, I have a new set at home waiting.

The Gay Lea Wilson Trail was our best trail of the day.  The best trail all ride IMHO.  We had speed.  We could relax as we were almost home.  just the industrial section of the SE Bottoms to deal with and all the street repair and detours.  Normally we'd take Scott Ave but Scott Ave is under major reconstruction is many places so we got on Maury and after crossing SE 14th and reaching Pete Crivaro Park we heard for the last time "NICE BIKE!!"  John Brooks, the butcher.  I grabbed my flask and told him to take the shot and shut the fuck up!  He was the first person we saw that we knew since Leslie on Friday.  And a friend too!  Home at last.  Hit the remains of the East River Trail and turn left to Little Italy.  85.4 miles.

Fritz was glad to see us!

348 miles in 4 days.  Pretty damn good.  1 century out of it.  Numerous trails that we visited for the first time.  Proving we could ride to Cedar Falls and back was an achievement we are proud of.  Next time faster!

The map.

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up and photos. I was worn out just reading it though :-) You covered a lot of territory. We rode the CVNT many years ago. I don't remember much about it though. Just went back and looked at photos. I have photo of the structure at the quarry. Grown over since we were there