Saturday, February 23, 2013

Snowpocalypse Trail Cleaning

Des Moines did not get the 3 feet of snow that the weatherholes preached about for 2 weeks.  What did we get, 4"?  When I hit the road on the Red Phoenix at 450 am Friday morning I found the roads in great shape.  Ingersoll, for example, had clear bike lanes.  So I thought that by 3 pm, 10 hours later that all the trails would be cleared.  After all Federal Highway $$ is set aside for this purpose.

Friday 3 pm
Clive Greenbelt FAIL
West Des Moines side paths EXCELLENT
Missing Link/Bill Riley FAIL
Gray's Lake and connecting trails EXCELLENT

Saturday Snowpocalypse +1
Principal Riverwalk EXCELLENT
Neal Smith Trail EXCELLENT
InterUrban Trail EXCELLENT*
Trestle to Trestle EXCELLENT
Des Moines River Trail FAIL

I have not been on the Walnut Creek/Windsor Heights trails since Snowpocalypse.  If you have please comment.

Today, Saturday February 23, 2013, I was able to get deep into Johnston, Iowa, via trails, yet was unable to visit my local Fareway store, Park Ave, because the City of Des Moines did not clear their newest trail.

*InterUrban Trail starting at 34th St heading east, the actual trail part not the side path, was not clear but half way down the City truck was plowing westward.  He stopped and talked to me.  I thanked him for the city's efforts and told him that Des Moines does a better job than the suburbs.  He apologized saying that it WOULD HAVE BEEN DONE FRIDAY but that people bitched that the trails were plowed before the streets.  This is bullshit, two pickup trucks clearing trails DOES NOT impede the clearing of residential streets.

Friday, February 22, 2013

New Commute Challenges

Raccoon River bridge, Water Works Park, Des Moines, Iowa,  February 22, 2013.

Been an interesting two weeks.  I beginning to lament that my commute was shrinking from 12.5 miles per day to 2 miles.  The building I worked in for over 3 years is being leased away and everyone must be out by the end of March.  an opportunity jumped in front of me.  Swap accounts and take a promotion with more $$.  I do admit being hesitant about accepting it.  I did not want to sell my soul and purchase a car for the commute.  I checked it out first on bicycle to see if it was feasible.  After studying Google Maps and riding out there on a Sunday I agreed to give up my cozy 2 mile commute downtown to PFG and ride 12.5 miles one way to Farm Bureau in West Des Moines.

I did have my doubts.  No more messing around in the morning.   No more hitting snooze until road bike season begins.  Jokingly, I said that I accepted the job to end the drought.  This haunted me on first week.  Mother Nature tested my resolve in almost every way.

Monday was the best day of the week.  It was the warmest.  Not a bad February day.  On this, my first commute to FB, I took the trail all the way to Walmart and then rode on Buffalo rd until I reached 22nd.  Once crossed I continued westward on Westown Pkwy.  Closing in on 50th I got on the side path and crossed 80/35 and then I was at FB.  12.5 miles.  Simple route.  Too early to be a nuisance to cars.

Going home was different.  Too many cars to reverse my trek.  Instead I headed north out of FB and climbed the sidewalk on University to NW128th and then north again until I reached the Clive Greenbelt.  14.4 miles.  Simple.  Nobody was on the Greenbelt.  Nobody was on any trail for that matter.  Temperature was in the mid 20s.  I did see a fox near 7 Flags.

Tuesday morning greeted me with a strong 22 mph headwind.  I recall yelling at the sky as I rounded Walmart.  "Is that the best you can do?!!"  Not a happy camper but I made it on time to work.  Took the Greenbelt home after working 12 hours.  Once again, empty trail.  Even the fox avoided it.

Wednesday was the freezer test.  3F.  Never heard what the wind chill was.  Bundle up with my winter best and carry on.  Stiff upper lip albeit frozen stiff.  I concentrated on breathing through my nose.  Not only is this a good idea but helps keep the face mask dry.  The ride home was warmer despite working late again.  I did see one bike and one jogger on the greenbelt.

Only two bikes at PFG on Thursday,a fat bike and the Red Phoenix.  Notice the white on the  ground?  that is road salt that bicycles carry in from the streets.  For that reason I prefer aluminum bicycles in winter.  Cables and bearings and derailleurs can be replaced.  Frames cannot.

Thursday was my reprieve.  My old boss called me the day before and asked if I could work at PFG for the day.  Too many absences.  Sure, why not?  Thursday was Dooms Day according to the weather people.  Anywhere from 6 to 12" of snow predicted.  Would I be willing to give up a 26.9 mile commute for a 4 mile day and an opportunity to drive a large white high profile company truck in a blizzard?  After three years of driving this beast off and on with my perfect record why not roll the dice and help out my old friends.

It started snowing about 10 minutes before I loaded the truck from the call center for what I hope was the last time ever.  Traffic was slow and crowded.  I was nervous.  Once again no accidents but the bicycle felt comfortable and safe on the ride home despite the snow.  By the time I got home the snow slowed down.  Not quite the inch per hour they predicted.  I even rode an extra mile to B&B Supermarket for dinner supplies.

I have ridden on bad snowy days before.  Every year I do this a few times.  I have a safe alternative route to the call center on plowed streets.  But Friday I had to double that distance and ride in unfamiliar territory.  My sleep was not well but as usual on a day like this I get up and out quickly.  I pride myself in making it to work on time during bad weather.  Friday's ride was a new accomplishment.

I took Ingersoll, Grand, Ashworth, 50th and Westown Pkwy   No trails.  The snow on the trails would drop my speed to 6 mph.  I did not want to be out for 2 hours.  With the excepting of Ingersoll and Grand, I have never ridden on these roads.  Not during a snow storm either.

I was pleasantly surprised at the progress the city made clearing the streets when I rode through town.  Even the bike lanes on Ingersoll were clear.  West Des Moines streets were done very well.  I made it to work earlier than normal.  Parked the bike by the front door, unlocked, since FB will not put the bike rack out until snow season is over.  Mission accomplished!  11.2 miles!  I saved a mile.  Listening to Mary and Randy Kramer and spending time on Google Maps paid off.  Now I have a shorter route.

Getting to work on time is the most import thing.  Getting home the second most important.

Since the streets were clear by 5 AM it is a reasonable assumption to believe that the trails would all be cleared.  The trails connecting to Gray's Lake are often cleared early.  I gambled that Clive Greenbelt would also be plowed.  WRONG!!!!!!!!!  Not even passable.  Too many people walked on this trail.  Lacking a fat bike I struggled before turning back.

I took NW 128th south.  This side path was cleared, mostly.  I had to cut through several parking lots and businesses after reaching University before reaching the side path on Westown Pkwy.  Fortunately this trail was cleared even the section that crosses the freeway.  I salute West Des Moines for excellent work!

Having been burned by the Greenbelt, I turned south on 50th.  My plan was to reverse my morning trip.  Fuck the cars!  I am not a second class citizen because I choose not to drive a motorized vehicle.  And with this thought in my head I heard a voice cry out from a bar.  It was Wildman.  He knew I was going planning something stupid and strategically planted himself at a hidden hole in the wall tavern to talk some sense into me.  Bradley's is a small bar on 50th just south of the freeway.  Friday's Happy Hour special is $2 domestic bottles and $2.50 imports.  I drank 4 or 5 Stellas.

Wildman told me not to take Ashworth.  Too busy.  Instead take Woodland to Vine and cross 63rd at Muskogee.  The trail would be clear all the way to Mullets.  I followed this advice.  Traffic was good although crossing 50th was time consuming.

However the trail was not clear.  After reaching it and dealing with 5 phone calls and texts, I did the best I could to follow fat bike tracks.  It was slow going and I was angry that I did not get back on Ashworth after the majority of the traffic died out.  2 miles of hell.  I had to unzip my jacket and remove gloves and a hat.  Sweaty.  Never has the Raccoon River bridge looked so good.  It was plowed!   I flew to Mullets and crawled inside for a beer.  A well deserved and hard earned beer.  Another half mile I was home.  26.9 miles for the third time.  Strange.

Sunday night and Monday morning it is supposed to rain and then hit us with freezing rain.  I'll ride the blue bike with studded tires.  I really don't know what more Mother Nature can throw at me.  Too early for the fire test.  Snow, wind and extreme cold I conquered this week.  Bring it on, bitch.  You can't bring me down!

Monday, February 11, 2013


The Red Phoenix was chained to a tree.  There was no bike rack near the main entrance of the building I visited.  The securitrons said they'd keep an eye on it.  "I'm not worried about theft.  I worry that you may have the bike removed for parking violation."  420 pm.  I left the battery of the superlight because I think I can travel 12 miles home before dark.  I have a good hour to get home.

It was shorter to take the sidewalk rather than the loopy drive and parking lot.  Two women are exactly at the wrong spot when I need to exit the walk on to the drive.  I slow down.  They probably have not seen a bicycle since childhood.  After that a weave through the maze of parking to the street exit.

I need to cross.  Since this is an avenue, the medium is lined with trees that create blind spots for cars on the other side.  My Trek is not a bright yellow Hummer of a semi-truck so I assume that I am invisible.  I can barely see the cars on the other side so I slowly creep into the center before hammering to the safety of the side path across the road.

The side path leads me to the bridge that crosses the freeway.  A canopy effect is created by fencing both sides and above.  I wonder if it is to prevent suicides or assholes from dropping pumpkins on traffic below.  This thought is fleeting as I must make a decision.  Traffic is thick just off my left shoulder.  Judging by the volume, a bicyclist rare in these parts so I stay on the trail that soon ends.

Red light.  I stop and push the button and look at the vehicle on my left to establish eye contact as I straddle the bike to the edge of the street.  I am going forward when the light goes green but those on my left are turning right.  Need to let the first one know my intention and pray that I don't get smashed.  This is repeated about 4 more times.

I stay on the sidewalk after crossing.  traffic is getting thick.  People are on their way home after work and do not need to veer around me.  I feel out of place, unaccustomed to the native cagers of these parts.  Humor them.  Stay out of the way.  But then there are those trying to get on the street, sticking the nose of their vehicles into my line.  Some back up.  Others floor it and enter the traffic.  Soon I reach a main artery.

I push the button and look around.  Cars to my right are not moving but that does not stop the ancient Pontiac Transport and nondescript Mazda from entering the intersection in hopes that the congestion will end soon.  they are probably used to this.  What I consider an inconsiderate selfish asshole move is SOP here.  Fortunately, traffic moves before my light turns green.  No gridlock.  I inch out a bit and look at the car on my left to let it know I am going straight.

A bit of ice on the beginning of the sidewalk so I stay to the left and go over a grass hump and around the light  before returning to the sidewalk.  Crashing because of ice would be a major no no today.  A quick glance behind reveals that most of my tormentors have turned.  Thinning traffic allows me to ditch the walk and ride on the street proper.  I stay to the right as much as possible without riding on the filthy sand and debris that seems to accumulate during winter.  Keep an eye out for broken bottles.  Curve to the left and stop at the light.

Sometime ago in West Des Moines the Powers That Be decided to have all red lights set at maximum length.  I wait for an eternity before seeing green.  Boredom has me look around.  How many people own a black Lexis and why are they all here?  Finally their light goes yellow and I look at my competition.  Just a Prius and another generic car.  I stay on the road until the next intersection.

Another light.  This time people are driving new Fords.  I need to cross this street but the lanes are for right or left turns only.  Press the button for the walk signal and once again communicate my intentions with the cagers around me.  Yeah, you may knock me down but your pretty shiny box will suffer some scars.  Green at last!  Push off and pedal to the sidewalk across the street.

Downhill.  Traffic on my right.  Look for those turning left.  Look for those blocking the walk.  At the strip mall I turn left and cut through the parking lot.  KEEP EYES OPEN!  Swivel my head.  Nobody is expecting me.  More shiny black cars exiting the car wash.  Aim for the back parking lot.

The steak house has been closed for years.  No business seems to last in this spot.  But ignore that and look for an opening in the grass at the end of the lot.  I see a muddy and icy patch in one clearing but the next one is good.  Use caution, check for hidden traps. Check for other trail users.  Free at last!

A wave of relief hits me as my tires make contact with the trail.  No time for celebration.  there are icy stretches on this trail.  A walker is coming toward me.  He looks upset about something but we pass without incident.  Not my trail but a trail nonetheless.  The sound of traffic is still very loud  but fading like distant artillery as I continue homeward.

ALL STOP!!!  Here it is.  The 20' stretch of ice.  Thick and smooth.  I dismount and walk around it.  This hazard was created by the adjoining property.  That business pushes all their snow to the edge of their lot and it melts and covers the trail and refreezes.  It appears to be 4" thick in spots.  This will remain until Spring.  Luckily I saw it.  Lucky still, it is the last trap.  A mile later I emerge on "my trail."

Traffic noise diminishing with every pedal stroke.  I begin to relax.  Think about dinner.  think about vacation.  Think about fixing my brakes.  Only a few brave souls out today in this 32F weather.

The chirp of my phone takes me away from my thoughts.  Text or email, same noise.  text from Craig.  "Hope your ride was good."

My reply, "5 mo miles left.  All trail to Mullets."

Yes, it is good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


DMR February 5, 2013

Do to the ongoing economic issues, rising insurance costs, lack of Obamacare contributions, rider complaints and lawyer fees this years Ragbrai will be the last one that humans will be able to ride.  The 2014 edition of Ragbrai will be exclusive for drone bicycles only.

Cost benefit analysis reveals that drone bicycles are cheaper and safer and less likely to sue the Des Moines Register and Iowa counties for any issue that may arise with the annual bicycle ride across our fair state.  Also drone bicycles do not require kybos, State Patrol officers and sobriety testing.  Drones are programmed to obey all state and local traffic laws and to yield the right of way to automobiles.  Testing of drone bicycles demonstrated that alcohol consumption and abuse are 98% less than their human counter parts.  In a test with 1000 drones there were no reported incidents of indecent exposure of genitalia or bare female breasts.

Other benefits include the lack of future state legislatures from running on top of kybos, drug abuse, the transmission of STDs, pregnancies, rape, vandalism, unsanitary defecation in public, swine molestation, bad music and littering.

If you are interested in having your drone bicycle participate in the 2014 Ragbrai please send $500 to the DMR for a wristband.  Be sure to include the radio frequency and passwords used by your drone.  Drone bicycles found without wristbands on the Official Route will be destroyed by CIA Predator drones operating from the new drone facility at the Des Moines International Airport.  This goes for all humans found bicycling on the route from the hours of 6 am to 5 pm.

Monday, February 4, 2013

BLURRR Bus Ride To Perry

The Red Phoenix and Mary's bike.  Look at the back ground.  Nothingness.  this is what you see during BRR.  Desolate tundra, winter in Iowa.  Few trees, few buildings.  A desert.

Once again we made the annual pilgrimage to Perry for the Bicycle Ride to Rippey.  I think I did my first BRR in 1992.  The official SAG wagon hand out Budweiser in Rippey on that occasion.  Since then the ride grew and grew.  My rowdy friends began to show up in subsequent years.  Pretty soon it became a frozen Ragbrai day complete with cops in Rippey forcing us to dump our open containers before entering into the tundra that fills the void between there and Perry.  Back in the day BRR was a 12 hour drinking and biking endurance event.  Start at 9 am and quit at 9 pm when the Ballyhoo started charging cover for the band.  Perhaps the booze helped us deal with the 12 miles of nothingness.  Flat, windy, white and cold.  As far as rides go, dull.  One year I think Team Mystery Machine left for Rippey at 3 pm.  Lights became standard equipment.  But if it aint the ride and it aint the place we must return to see our friends.  Perhaps it is cabin fever, a signal to ride a bike.  Not that we always complete the ride or even bring bikes.  An opportunity to spend quality time with kindred spirits.  Let loose and run away.

The trailer that the bus pulled.  FULL!  No bikes lost!

Waiting to get on the bus.  Notice that Klob looks like a thin pretty Crabb.  

The plan this year was simple.  Take the Bar Fly bus to Perry and head east.  Target: Trestle.  The only thing that could stop us was beer and snow.  Mary and Craig were up for this.  We tried to recruit others but despite agreeing they were lured by the Sirens call to the bar or beer tent.  Trying to organize drinkers with biking problems is like herding cats.

3 troublemakers

M&M, Mary and Melanie
We were good.  Damn, we were near perfect.  Consumption on the bus was no more than two or three and a shot of FireBall and the new offering from Yukon Jack that tastes much better than FB.  Klob brought a bag of airline bottles of FireBall and threw them to the back of the bus as if he was in a parade throwing candy.  By the look in his eyes i could see that dangerous kid.  He said it was better than any parade.

Reaching Perry we prepped the bike and rolled to the bar.  The town looked deserted.  I was immediately overwhelmed by the lack of people at BRR.  Then again this had its advantages.  No crowds, no lines and we could get in the bar and beer tent.  One and done at the Rockin Horse.  One and done at the Iowa Craft Beer tent and bikes were rolling east.  But the Rockin Horse is notable.  When we walked in BV Heather was sitting behind a table loaded with stuffed animals from a game machine.  I never seen this before and immediately thought that some sort of shenanigans was occurring.  But T-Bone assured me that if learned anything at all during his career as a bartender was the ability win at that machine.  Heather said that he could not stop until she got the pink pig.

Craig finally reappeared and we hit the tent for beer #2.  Then time to hit the pave.  The road to Bouton is easy.  Head east from the Rockin' Horse, ride past the Casey's, turn left at Auen's Radiator, turn right after the school and take the first left.  When forced to make a turn take a right and follow this to the highway.  Turn left on the highway and take the first right which is very close.  This road takes one to Bouton, Iowa, home of Carmen's Bar & Grill.  Don't ask me the names of these roads.  Google Maps that shit.  Rumor has it if the bar is closed that some local will get someone to open it for you.

One and done at Carmen's.  They had a tent with a DJ is expectation of a large crowd.  We did encounter people leaving Bouton that told us that Carmen's was rocking.  There was a bus, Team Wrong.  We recognized no one.  The place wreaked of BO and hot dogs and sauerkraut. One and done was good.

Craig insisted on this photo session.  We took a photo here during our long ride last year.  Now we have a winter shot.  Got to admired Bouton's contribution to freedom.

Head south from Carmen's and take the first right.  Paved county highway!  5 miles or so to Woodward, Iowa.  Craig suggested that we stop at the country club but it was closed.  Our hearts dropped and anger rose  when we rounded the corner to the trail head of the High Trestle Trail.  It was not plowed.  A major tourist attraction was denied because we did not bring cross country skis.  Rumor has it that it is clear from the east end starting in Madrid.  In the future our winter $$ will be spent there.  Food and water at the Whistlin' Donkey pub helped to calm us down.  After dinner it was getting dark and snowing.  The best part of our ride was about to begin.

Mary and Craig got ahead of me.  Instead of cutting through the lawn like I did on the way in I opted for the trail just to see how difficult it would be to push though the snow.  Approaching the wooden bridge at the entrance of the the WD's campground found my rear wheel sliding out from underneath me.  I landed on my right side, got up and rode off.  The snow on the trail would have made our 2.5 mile trip to the trestle a 30 minute ordeal.  Once on Main Street I spied my partners waiting for me.  One final light check before hitting the highway.

The night was at full darkness.  The snow and wind were at our faces.  We had a super light on each bike and an assortment of  blinkers, flashers and headlamps.  To someone who saw us we must have appeared like UFOs.  The road was white.  I could not tell where the shoulder began.  Yet the snow was not deep enough to slow the bikes down.  No more than two cars passed us on that 5 mile stretch.  It felt epic.  UFOs or ghost emerging from the storm.  After the second rise in the road we could see the lights of Bouton, both of them.  Not long now.  In moments this journey will end.  we can brush the snow off our faces and drink soma like the warriors we are.

The Bar Fly bus was parked across the street from Carmen's.  95% of the bikes were loaded.  Since some of our companions opted to overnight in Perry we had room inside the bus for our bicycles.  the fat bikes were already loaded, their riders decided to stay with the bus instead of traveling to Des Moines in the snow and booze storm.  Our three bikes also got to be placed inside.  After shoving them in I grabbed a beer and went into the bar.

Carmen's was packed.  It was hot.  Took some elbow magic to work my way to the back.  I could tell that BRR had taken its toll on our riders.  Some were talking slow, others falling down.Tough to criticize them since some started drinking at The High Life at 6 am for Ground Hog's Day.  That was 11 hours ago.  Another one and done.  Mace walked through telling us to get on the bus, time to go home.

The snow was still falling and fleeting thoughts of an overturn bus were quashed by Coors.  No need for negative waves.  It was a great day.  We managed not to let the beer overtake us.  We had a hell of a night ride in that storm.  Craig, Mary and I were not hurt.  It was great to see everyone again.  In a few short months we will be riding without dressing like astronauts.  Until then we will overdress and ride with studded tires or knobbies and plan for future rides with green landscapes.  The snow will be a memory.