Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Go North Young Man: Neal Smith at Both Ends

This is it.  Not the official beginning or end at Big Creek Beach but as far as one can ride.  Not shown to the right there is a picnic table and a bench.

Today I was alone.  Mary had to work.  Colin turned down my suggest of riding to Adel for $3 craft beers and 99 cent chili dogs.  I had to leave the house because I'd go nuts without water since DMWW would be working on the main again.  And after all, I took this day off to ride my bicycle.  Filled bottles, filled bottles to stick in the fridge, filled the dog and cat's bowls to the rim and suited up to ride the LeMond once again.

North.  Friday I rode south to Martensdale.  Monday we rode west to Redfield.  Thursday will be an eastern ride to Baxter along the Chichaqua Trail.  North was the only direction left.  The Neal Smith Trail.  All of it.  I may have done this once or twice in my life.  The entire trail that is.  I have been to the beginning of the trail maybe a handful of times.  Once about 1992 when we took Katie to the beach (car).  Later that year when the Midwest Tandem Rally visited it.  Then again I am not sure if that happened.  Once on my own and once with Craig when we were coming back from the High Trestle and just exploring.

There's nothing wrong with it or the trail itself, really.  It's just that the reason to ride the entire trail is the only reason to ride.  Well, maybe a picnic or party or if one really wants to swim there in Big Creek Lake.  Fishing and camping would be good there.   Other than Polk City there is not much there.  The beach is fine.  The playground looks fantastic for children.  Boating and fishing must be good given the presence of boats and people fishing.  I rode it because it was there!  I'm good for a decade.

The alpha and the omega.  This is the official start of the Neal Smith Trail.  No signs, no banners.  Nada.  No fanfare.  That being said there are kiosks nearby with all sorts of info on them.

The Neal Smith Trail is one of the metro's oldest trails.  Officially it clocks in at 28 miles because it includes the East River Trail or John Pat Dorrian trail.  Des Moines likes to confuse people by changing names of parks and trails.  The southern terminus is not far from my home in Des Moines, Pete Crivaro Park, formerly Hawthorne Park.  I very rarely ride to that park because it is not a place I use or on my travel path.  But Today I decided to ride there on my return trip so I could see both the north and south end of this trail system.

The thing the NST provides cyclists is a way to get to Ankeny without leaving a trail.  Perhaps today this is the largest reason people ride it.  We like to ride the NST to get to Polk City.  Papa's Pizzeria is a great destination.  We used to ride to that town to intercept the High Trestle Trail or ride from the HTT to get to Polk City and ride home.  But years of floods and construction have had us find roads that get us to the HTT which save time.  The NST is pretty curvy.  Speaking of construction, Sycamore Access is still blocked by road work but they paved a detour and installed a traffic light.

The trail was sparsely populated.  It was a workday so the retired demographic showed up.  The closer I got to Saylorville the more campers I saw riding bikes.  A few runners and walkers.  But one must be alert at all times.  There are many blind curves and yours truly nearly took out a fatbike.  My roadie is nimble but he seemed to struggle a bit.  My bad for cutting a poor line.  Visibility is an issue.

North of Polk City is the rare part of the trail we rarely ride.  Still curvy with 6 wood plank bridges that are very loud when you ride over it.  A few times I thought my bike was going to break I hit the bridges so hard.  On the bright side, that noise alerts you when someone is riding on the trail.  I've noticed an increase of housing developments close to the trail.  I wonder if the people that live there will complain about the noise?

The trail gets bumpier the closer it gets to the end.  Large cracks, often filled in, about every 10 feet. Not for weak wheels or wrists or butts.  Then again, there are many sections of this trail that need repaving.

The beginning or end of the trail is without fanfare.  A DNR mile marker is painted on the path and 10 feet later it ends.  No signs marking the beginning or end.  At least it is by the concession stand, restrooms and shelter.  No beer for sale but Gatorade and soda and some food.  I purchased a Gatorade and ate my PowerBar on a table in a reserved shelter.  Other than a few breakfast tacos at home I rode without eating.  Then I went back and found a path that ended at the lake near a bench and a table.  Once again, no signage.  Time to go home.

I stopped at the visitor center for Saylorville Lake for water.  This would be my only stop.  The host commented that he sees many people from out of state come here, come to Iowa to ride our paved trails.  We truly are blessed in that regard and perhaps I should not complain so much.  There was a time when the NST was almost the only game in town.  But something I just thought of.  Both ends of the trail are located where people have a good time and enjoy life.  At the north we have a beach.  At the south a popular park with a nice wading pool for the children.  I was the only cyclist at both ends.

The south end of the trail.

3 more days of riding.  I doubt I will be out on the bike much during the weekend due to the heat. Perhaps early morning fast rides.  Home by noon!

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