Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Visiting the Ghosts of Great Western Trail

It amazes me that The Powers That Be have not removed this table since it is the same location deemed "unacceptable" for the old roofed table.

Been about a month or so.  Last time I rode with friends but this time alone.  Took 6 days of PTO just to gobble up some miles.  So Why not ride on an old friendly trail and see what ghosts appear?  Been riding the Great Western Trail since almost its opening, at least two decades now.

Friday.  Ugly green, yellow and red patches on the radar.  Eat left over pizza and stare at radar.  Drink water and stare at radar.  Drink coffee and more water.  Finally the rain dissipates at I-35.  Safe to ride.

I take my LeMond Versailles, my century machine.  No need to carry anything.  Just a quick ride. Maybe grab a slice of pizza in Martensdale before I turn around.  Perhaps a 8 mile detour to Valley Junction to visit Way Back Records for some vinyl.  Pack a bag with handles into the Camelback along with a pump, tube, patch kit and two levers.  All I need.

It is a Friday morning.  The only people on the trail are retired folks and the occasional runner.  My new theory is that the main trails are good Monday through Friday 4 am to 4 pm.  After 4 pm they get crowded and on the weekends they are way to populated to be considered safe.  On the weekends we head out on county roads to non-Metro trails.  Much safer and peaceful.

I'm not gonna bore you with another travelogue on the GWT.  I've done that before.  I will just mention a few things possibly lost in our collective bicycle memory.

First, the trail was not always paved.  Yes, crushed limestone path it was.  I think I like it that way better in winter.  Decades before FatBikes we rode MTBs with 26" wheels with knobby tread.  Members of the Des Moines Cycle Club would meet on Friday evenings in December and either ride to Cumming or meet in Cumming and ride to Martensdale.  Never had ice or snow issues.  I think the non-paved surface handles snow better.

In the summer, however, the lack of paving led to weeds taking over the trail.  Possible the lack of people willing to ride on rocks caused this.  But there would be sections of ragweed 10 foot tall and it was like riding single track to get to Cumming.  No TdF training back in the 90s.

Once groomed and maintained, the Lean To was in this spot prior to the bypass.

Looking toward the current Lean To.

Crappy photo but you can see the Hildreth farmstead in the right side.

I wonder if they just through the old lean to here to rot.

The Lean To was in a different location.  I'm crap with distance estimation but it was maybe 100 to 200 yards east of its current location.  There were trees near it to provide shade.  When the bypass required the relocation of the trail for the tunnel the Lean To was moved to its current location.  Standing at the old locale one can see how the trail came through instead of the curve to the south it now takes.

"Everything's gone including the smell!"

The "clearing"

South of Cumming about 4 or so miles is the location of a place once called Lida.  Lida was the site of a stockyard where the railroad would pick up livestock.  When we started riding the trail in the early 1990s there used to be a kiosk in a clearing here.  The clearing would make a wonderful stop for a shelter and perhaps primitive camping.   There was a box there that contained handkerchiefs for goodwill donation.  Chuck Spain set this up.  Now a rock with a marker honors his memory.  But decades later it is overgrown and useless for bicyclists.

Martensdale is the end of the line.  Many good times were had at the Roadside Inn both before and after it burnt down and was rebuilt.  But the community could not support it and now the building is place for 4WD parts and offroad vehicles.  Need a Jeep with a blade?  Go there.  At least the gas station is still open and offers pizza, Gatorade and alcohol.

With all the changes coming thanks to West Des Moines Land Snatch and Microsoft I wonder what the trail will be like in two decades.  I plan to see it, perhaps on a comfy 16lb dual suspension road bike!

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