Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Most Important Trails in Des Moines

From the Inter-Urban Trail trestle

Green is good!

I felt really good riding back from Fareway with the 520 loaded with 13lb of meat, a bag of cat food, a 2lt of 7UP to mix with the moscato and vodka, a dozen eggs and various other goods needed for my family.  I have not frequented that store in a long time.  Traffic on Hartford Ave has increased throughout the years and it was 6 pm.  People were returning from work, hauling kids to places and purchasing drugs from the apartments.  If it was a Saturday or Sunday morning, soccer and baseball families (summer) would be congesting this road.  But I need Hartford Ave as it is the gateway to Carlisle, Indianola, Chariton, Lake Rathburn and Lake Wapello.  The path to Warren County and SouthEast Iowa via bicycle.

Mary on the Des Moines River Trail near Cownie Baseball Complex

Traffic was not on my mind tonight for I was poaching the not yet opened Des Moines River Trail.  Hidden from the road by trees and protected from the north by the river I felt safe.  Just need to watch out for deer and the people that live in the tepee.  This trail is one that I have waited on for a few years.  It provides safe passage to places I need to and enjoy riding to.  So as I stared at the Des Moines skyline illuminated in front of me across from the river I pondered this question: what are the most important trails in the metro?

Surely this will be one of them in a few years.  It will take time for bikers to discover the opportunities the DMRT provides.  But this one will not make the list for sometime.  If you are a Southsider like me it would be on the list.  But for others it will remain an obscure piece of asphalt until they desire to broaden their riding horizons.

View from the East River/Neal Smith Trail near the Botanical Center

# 3  The East River/John Pat Dorian/Neal Smith Trail.

The DSM metro powers that be have a horrid time naming trails.  Seems like each segment needs to have its own name.  This trail forms the north/south backbone of Des Moines Cycling.  This trail serves two purposes.  It allows bikers to escape the city and visit Saylorville Lake without the hazard and hassle of sharing the road with automobiles.  It also allows safe passage to the High Trestle Trail IF one is willing to ride 2 miles of low traffic county road out of Polk City.  Secondly, it provides a way to travel to important metro destinations without using a car.  From the southside  of Des Moines one can bike north to a connection that takes one within a few blocks of Merle Hay Mall, the VA hospital, Urbandale, Beaverdale, North HS, and to connection that takes one into Ankeny.  Pleasure and business.  Go camping, escape the city or grab groceries, this trail grants you that ability with using a car.

#2 Inter-Urban Trail

Part trail, part bike lane, this is my #2 pick because it is the west/east route in the DSM metro.  From the Neal Smith the IUT reaches out into the city and suburbia and connects with many neighborhood trails.  Urbandale is the western destination. 

At WalMart, Windsor Heights, Iowa

#1 Bill Riley/Walnut Creek Trail

This is the southern west/east connection trail.  The BR is the oldest, connection the Art Center to water Works Park.  But when the WCT linked up it became the most important trail in the metro IMHO.  1st, it completed the missing link between Jefferson, Iowa, and Des Moines.  Something like 60 miles of trail between these cities.  No need to get off the path.  Seems to be my route to the beginning of Ragbrai year after year.   Secondly, it connects Des Moines to West Des Moines.  Work downtown but live in WDM?  You can commute on bike and not have to deal with cars for most of the ride.  Need to visit the Apple Store?  There's a connection for that.  Thirsty, want some tacos on Tuesday or talk to Bob Moural about crossbikes?  One can get to the Great Western Trail on bike by using this trail. 

Serious bicycle for shopping, Windsor Heights Hy Vee

What Des Moines really needs is a good trail or lanes north and south on the southside.  True, SW14th is slated to be striped but as a southsider and one who has ridden that street for years I can honestly say that unless a bulldozer is used to widen the street this aint gonna be safe or an effective solution.  Also, the metro needs to connect to the east side of Des Moines.  There has been thing set in motion to restripe lanes on Scott to connect up with the Gay Lea Wilson/4 Mile Creek Trail.  But the there is major traffic just getting there.  Or riding thorough a rough industrial area.  Trust me, I've ridden it.  Takes balls and skills and ability.

I have seen our trail system grow throughout the 20 odd years I have lived here. It keeps getting better and better.  I call to question those that say that Boulder or Portland are the biking capitols of the US of A.  They are not.  True they may have better and more bicycle lanes but we have the ability to escape traffic and ignore the streets.  And it will only get better.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Last Warm Rides of 2012

Dora ready for another tandem ride!
My Trek 2200 and Brad's early 80s Trek model number in dispute.

October is perhaps my favorite month.  The oppressive heat from summer finally retreats, generally the weather is perfect for camping.  Usually there are no bad storms that we live through during the months of Spring.  Bicycling is a plenty since by now Ragbrai recovery is over and the Autumn colors are begging me to view them via two wheels.  Perfect.  A reward for all the sweat that poured off of me during the previous four months.  What a glorious month albeit it is always a bittersweet one.  Those pretty red and orange leaves harking the coming of winter.  Last chance to ride before the annual digging out the winter survival gear.  But I love it anyway.

November is the month of change.  One day nice and the next cold and snowy.  I really don't mind the snow so much, just need to switch bikes and dress properly.  But rainy 40F days are among the worst for me.  So far November has been good but the hammer is coming down right now and by the time you read this it will be cold.

So here are a few tales of my last few rides in perfect 2012 weather.
Despite climate change/global warming/global cooling, Iowa's record hot summer drifted quietly away like sand in an open hand.  Highs of 80F were becoming scarce.  I noticed that the weekend would be approaching that temperature.  I had to act, had to ride.

October 21, 2012, I threw a leg over the 2200 and rode to Indianola with Brad Overholser on his early 80's vintage Trek roadie.  We met at Mullets about 1130 am to take one of my favorite rides.  Our bikes were gonna roll southeast out of Des Moines to the Summerset Trail.  The route I have described in earlier posts such as Lacona Uber Alles and Octoberfest Hill Slaying.  Today we would not travel that far nor see more than a small handful of hills.

We did, however, attempt to poach the new Des Moines River Trail that begins across from Mullets and ends at Cownie Baseball Complex on the corner of Hartford and SE22nd.  But said poaching on uncompleted trail ended shortly due to wet trail surface.  Yep, no pavement yet just dirt and mud.  Brad and I took Hartford all the way to its intersection with the new trail at the ball field.  Be careful if you venture that way because this was the second time we encountered broken glass on the trail.

My intention for this ride was to crank out a quick 30+ miles and turn around at the observation platform near the middle of the Summerset Trail.  We did this and Brad suggested

Sans jacket, 13 miles into this and Brad warms up a bit.  At the Casey's in Carlisle.

The weather was gorgeous.  Sunny with a projected high near 80F.  It was 53F when I left.  I wore bike shorts and a T-shirt.  Brad dressed for winter--jeans, jacket and gloves.  He says that he is not used to Iowa's cold weather.  Too bad for the next 6 months are going to be winter here in the HeartLand.

The key to this ride is to get to SE 23rd.  The new trail along the river will help.  Traffic on Hartford Ave keeps increasing every year.  The addition of the soccer fields and the baseball diamonds makes things worse.  But these drivers are generally friendly or nonbelligerent.  I have only been yelled at or buzzed once in my 2 decades of riding on this road.  The trail will avoid this although we will have to cross the road once to get to the ballpark where the trail leads to SE23rd.  And use caution at that crossing since I have seen glass on both of my visits.  Brad rode right over the glass but was spared a flat!

Details of the rest of the ride to Indianola have been covered here before in Lacona Uber Alles and Octoberfest Hill Slaying.  Suffice to say that it was a beautiful ride.  Traffic behaved.  The road from Avon Lake to Carlisle is smooth as silk.  The trail was not crowded.

My intention was to purchase a beer or two and ride the 4 and a half miles to the viewing tower on the trail and drink them there.  But we made no such purchase.  We did stop there as Brad had never been on this trail or even on this Boy Scout Eagle Project.  But the view was the poorest I have ever see from here.  Because of the drought the wetland and the pond had evaporated.  The waterfowl had flown away.  Just a dry weedy area.  Memories of water underneath the observation deck and a canal like stream nearly touching the trail "flooded" my memory.  We need rain and snow.  A woman and her child joined us for the view.  Bring your children to the trails and show them a better lifestyle.  Grad we did not have those beers.

At the Brickhouse.

In Indianola Brad inquired about an establishment for an adult beverage.  Key word here was "clean restroom."  On the square I knew of a few.  But the Irish bar was out since it fails the "clean" standard.  We parked our Treks on the southwest corner at a place titled The Brickhouse.  I have never been there.  The pub was clean and looked like recent money had been invested in it.  Many televisions littered the joint with NFL games on.  After all it is Sunday and football season.  While Brad investigate the restroom I had a pint of Blue Moon sans fruit for $4.  Then I read the sign.  "$2 PBR Tallboys."  BINGO!  We had several and an order of Jamaican Jerk chicken wings.  The food menu was impressive for a bar.  We shall return.

A few days later the weather folks advertised that Wednesday October 24th was it for the 80s.  A storm was rolling in from the northwest bringing rain and cold air.  All day I checked radar.  Clear.  By the time I got home from work the very northwest corner of Iowa was getting wet.  Better do it now.

I grabbed the 2200 and rolled to Cumming.  The temperature was in the upper 70s and it was very humid.  There was a wind from the south, strong enough to stall the incoming front.  I looked forward to the tailwind on my return.  This would also serve as an experimental ride since I acquired a NiteRider light system. 

Seemed like no one was on the trail.  The lean to was empty.  I arrived in Cumming before dark.  Talked to Bob and Chad and then headed home.  Meagan was right behind me. 

I did not get very far when I hit the cracks in the trail.  The NiteRider became unlatched and I tried to reattach it while riding.  Taking too much time and then I saw the key piece fall.  It looked a lot bigger when it jettisoned from the bike.  It was the pin that has the screw hole that the other pin screws into.  About an inch long and half a millimeter wide I witnessed it fall.  STOP!!!

I laid the bike down and attached my headlamp and began the search.  Meagan finally caught up and asked if I was alright.  I said I was looking for a bolt.  It was getting dark now.  She wished me luck.  I needed it.  I really had no idea what I was looking for.  Just a piece of metal that should contrast nicely on this dark asphalt trail covered with leaves.  The description of which I recited in the paragraph above was made after I found the bastard.

Walked about 20 meters toward Cumming and back to my bike.  The headlamp did not have enough light.  I needed the NiteRider.  When picking up the bike I heard music.  A couple on bikes with a stereo came up from the north and asked if I was ok.  Yep, just do not disturb the environment!  He said that his eyes were shit and he would not be much help.  They rolled on.  So I walked the bike slowly down the trail, holding the loose light with my hand and making a sweep with my eyes. 

I appealed to St. Anthony, "Tony, Tony turn around.  A piece of my light is missing and must be found."  Should have said this prayer earlier.  Try it sometime, it cannot hurt.  After turning around and moving north a bit I found the missing pin.  Ready to rocket home!

The wind had died, stalled front.  I was covered with sweat.  Yes, feels like summer.  Possibly the last time.  Diminishing returns.  Less chance of this with each passing day.  Enjoy the gross feeling of stale air and sweat, the winter will be hell.  But when the bike moved I was graced by a cooling breeze.  Don't stop until home.

Bikes killing time at a park in Johnston.

November came.  Temps dropped in to the high 30s for the mornings.  High temps have barely broken 60F if at all.  Shorts and short sleeves are a distant memory.  Pants, tights, long sleeves, gloves and hats.  But today was different.  Projected high was 73F!  Time to ride.

We woke up early possibly 630 am.  But that is sleeping in for us.  Mary wanted a ride today.  Dora would need to go with us.  North I suggested.  We had yet to complete the Trestle to Trestle Trail.  Ride to Johnston and eat at the Mexican place.  A guaranteed 20 miles.  This would likely be the last tandem ride of the year unless the drought continues.

I pulled the Fisher Gemini out of its storage place.  Tires were down to 80 psi.  I added another 20.  The rear tire still showing the purple warning marks that appeared on Ragbrai 2011.  Its last outing was on October 20th when we rode to Anders and Laura Olson's home to watch the Iowa night game.  It was cold that night.  We bundled up.  The time before was in May, we rode it twice, Dora was the stoker then as well.  Mary took her road bike.

Mary got quite high but I was unable to capture that shot with camera phone.  I should had made a video then taken a still shot from that.

We had a nice tailwind on the way to Johnston.  Nice to be in shorts and a short sleeve shirt.  On way out took us to SE 6th and Livingston so we could view the progress on the De Moines River Trail.  Earlier in the week they were paving the trail across from Mullets.  The asphalters made it to SE 6th and were working on a Saturday.  Thus, we could not poach the trail before completion.  Bummer.

Whe we reached Robert Ray Drive we spotted another tandem, a Trek, operated by a couple with matching jerseys.  Yep, enjoy it now. 

The only thing that spoiled the trip was a grumpy old sod on a hybrid.  Mary made the turn on to the InterUrban Trestle bridge first.  Coming up from the south the trees obscured our view especially when we were underneath the bridge.  One second later it is time to make our 90 degree turn to the right.  The old sod said signal.  According to Mary, he signaled his turn all the way down from the bridge to the intersection.  Sorry, old fuck, but I am not going to signal my turn for a microsecond and turn this beast 90 degrees!  Tandem with child means both of us need all four hands on the bars especially during  turns.  I don't care if you saw me when I was 100 meters south of the turn, I will not signal back then.  As it was, you need to be the one riding cautiously because others crossing your path will either continue forward of turn.  I was not hogging the trail nor riding at excessive speed or taking a wide turn.  This became our joke.  We started signaling a mile or so before any turn.

Burrito California.  El Mariachi, Johnston, Iowa.

We got to El Mariachi 30 minutes before they opened so we killed time at a park and watched the Johnston PD operate a speed trap.  Yep, a big revenue day here.  But if you do the limit you do not have to worry.

Finally we were able to eat.  Dora had a taco salad, Mary fajitas and I the Burrito California.  This was so delicious that I wore some home so my washer machine could enjoy it! 

Riding home we fought the 23 mph south wind. Fun.  But I cannot think of a better way to spend the day.  When we reached Madison Ave we stopped at Denise Rea's house.  Rick and his son were moving stuff out and we watched reminding them to leave the shotgun in case the stork returned.  Rick's son, Tom is expecting his first child.  His wife is 2.5 months along.  I wish them luck.  Denise laughed because Rick will be a grandfather and she has yet to become a grandmother.  I said I want to wait a decade before adding that title.

Not the one but image this black with gold trim.  Hertz rented these Mustangs back in the 60s and now!  People would track them to the drag strip and return them thoroughly abused.  Rare and beautiful.

The sky seemed to darken so we said goodbye and continued south toward home.  A few sprinkles hit us as we approached Mullets.  Dora, having the need to answer Nature's Call had to stop here.  In the parking lot was a 1969 Shelby GT350H in pristine condition.  The best looking car I have seen in quite some time.  I joked that we should trade the tandem for it since the Shelby was a rental.  Hey, the Fisher has only one owner.  What a beautiful sight to end our adventure.  I bet that car is already stored for winter as I type this.  75F and the last chance to play with our valued toys!

Hopefully tomorrow will be nicer than the weather people have predicted it to be.  Rain begins tonight and continues throughout tomorrow then the temperature drops.  Monday's low in the 20s for my commute.  The Tweed Ride starts at 11 am and it is still supposed to be raining.  I do not care if our matching Raleighs have fenders Che don't ride in cold rain unless he has to which is more often than he likes.

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.