Friday, January 31, 2014

640 Reasons Why I Did Not Do BRR in 2014

The first bike I rode for the BRR

Always the same question.  "Are you going to Perry for the BRR ride?"  Usually a woman asks me this.  May be they live vicariously through my bicycling.  It is well known that I ride every day to work even in winter.  I drove once this year on a Monday when it was -10F or something totally devoid of God's love.  "Are you doing the BRR ride?"  In July it will be "Are you riding on The Ragbrai?"

Even people who ride bicycles ask me this.  Francis from Grazianos asked me this tonight when I pulled my dead carcass into the store 2 minutes before they locked the doors.  Fortunately, the man behind the meat counter answered the question properly.  "He rides BRR every day."

Perry, Iowa's annual bicycle ride to Rippey is probably one of the best bicycle rides in the state.  The first Saturday of February many bikers don their winter riding clothes and venture the 24 miles of BRR (Bicycle Ride to Rippey).  I do not not recall how many of these Mary and I have done.  That requires too much thinking and review of my bike log.  Suffice to say it is like one day of Ragbrai held in winter.  All our friends are there.  I regret not seeing them.  I know they had a great time.

I think I did my first one in 1992 or 1993.  Took our now stolen Cannondale R400 road bike.  The official SAG vehicle handed out beer to riders in Rippey.  We took the tandem a few times.  I remember riding that bike and passing the long haired dude on a recumbent who took his dog everywhere.  We used to ride BRR with our friends from the Des Moines Cycle Club.  Later with our college friends, Team Mystery Machine.

Get to Perry early.  Find a place to park the vehicle.  Packet pick up.  Do the ride.  Eat at the school.  Go to the Bally Hoo and drink until 9 pm when they start charging cover for the band.  Go home. That drive back to Des Moines on 141 is a killer.

If this dude would be on the BRR I would have gone.

Then we stopped riding it on a regular basis.  Kids, weather, boredom.  Took a special reason to go to Perry.  If an old friend specifically requested our presence we would go.  If a BRR virgin needed a veteran to ride with we would go.  If the Bar Fly bus took us there we would go.  But not this year.

BRR can be heaven or hell.  I remember a year that we had to purchase ice to keep our beer cold.  I remember a year that it was so windy that we stopped at the first ditch on the way out of town and hung out there until we called it quits.  I recall being in the bar til 1 pm before we decided to ride to Rippey.  Last year's Perry to Woodward was epic and I truly regret not repeating that.  One time I want to see the High Trestle during BRR.

The last bikes we rode for  the BRR.  But look beyond them.  See that flat nothingness?  That is The BRR.

But when I think of BRR I think of this:  the 12 miles between towns is a barren winter wasteland. Frozen tundra of nothingness.  Bleak, white and grey.  Flat and dull.  Lifeless hell.  Usually a strong wind no matter if you are headed to Rippey or returning to Perry.  And I usually end up in the parking lot of the gas station in Rippey drinking bike beers.  If it was not for my friends I'd never do this again.

But why did we not do the BRR this year?  Mary and I do it every day, Monday through Friday, 25+ miles every single working day.  And it has been a hard winter.  Winter riding takes a toll on body and soul.  By the time the weekend comes we are sick of biking.  We want to sleep in.  We want no responsibilities.  We want freedom.  We want an effortless day.  We need to catch up with things we are too physically exhausted to do Monday through Friday because commuting this winter has been a bitch.  Jim Davis said it best when we talked during Wildman's Life Celebration at Orlando's.  "When you commute to work every day you really do not ride on the weekends very much." How true.  My weekends are the biggest opportunity to increase my mileage.

One of these years I'd like to ride with Steve Fuller and his group to Perry.  But not in 2014.  I plan to be sleeping or drinking coffee in the comfort of my own home.  Warm and comfy.

640 reasons.  640 miles I have ridden since January 1st.  Mary must be the same or close.  She does not track her mileage as vigorously as I do.  Not all those miles have been bad.  Some have been quite enjoyable.  But lately it seems like it's always dark and -3F with a 20 mph Northwest wind.  Tonight when I left work it was 20F.  I still felt cold and exhausted.  I barely made it to the store before they closed.  Lately it has been my eyes.  They feel swollen from exposure to the cold.  It was so much easier last year when the commute was 2 miles each way.  But 12.5 in the morning and 15 home is wearing me thin this winter.  I need a break from the extreme cold.  I may have to start driving.

As the great capitalist philosopher Stephen Covey said is his dialectic on the 7 habits of effective people, one needs to sharpen their saw.  Do what need to do to recover.  Take a break.  Enjoy something.  That's what iIdid today instead of riding the BRR.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another Winter Trip on Clive's Greenbelt

It has been a week since I have ridden Clives premier trail, The Greenbelt.  Since noting the issues with that city's attempts to keep the trail free of snow and ice I have seen much improvement.  The past two snows have been removed completely to the surface of the trail  Unfortunately, the first few snow storms were not adequately removed and icy sections of trail resulted.  That previous ride was on the 13th of January, 2014, the second day of above freezing temperatures.  As a result much of the winter long ice build melted as well as the snow and ice on the side of the trail.  Low spots became large puddles.  I avoided the trail for a week because of these puddles which soon turned into ice.

Today I visited the greenbelt with a bicycle shod with Kenda Klondike studded tires, 700x35.  This day was a great day to compare and contrast the trail given that the weather conditions were almost identical to the previous week.  That is both times there were two days of above freezing temperatures.  The difference is that in between Mondays we received 3" of fresh snow.

First off I would note that the entrance to the trail from 128th St was clear of snow and ice.  This has not been cleared by anyone all winter long.  I thank the Sun and warm air for this.  Second, I will mention that the notoriously icy areas are almost nonexistent now.  The hard packed ice has melted.

Typical snow melt puddle on the greenbelt.  This one lacks a layer of ice underneath.  Give it 24 hours.

Unfortunately, there are many large puddles of water from snow melt and run off that collect in low spots.  These will freeze and create ice hazards for trail users soon.  Tonight as it is forecasted to be in single digits temperature wise.  The problem is one of drainage.  The water has nowhere to go and tends to collect in low spots.  Some of these puddles are up to 10 yards long.  Some of these puddles have ice underneath the water.  Use caution when crossing them.

The section of the greenbelt east of 86th St.

One are that is particularly bad is the east/west section in between the 1 mile marker and business park east of 86th St.  Specifically, the area south of the fuel and oil storage tanks, north of the BP station.  This open area has been constantly covered by drifting snow.  The snow gets packed down and melted and refreezed and creates a very bumpy and slick surface.  Today, however, that area was the best it has been since we have had snow this winter.  There are clean and clear lines to ride through.  Trail users would appreciate it if the city could plow the drifting snow away if it snows and blows again.  This area needs more attention than the one and done plowing.

This is the best this section of trail has been since snowfall stuck around in the winter of 2013/14.  Before the melt drfting snow made this area difficult for bicyclists and pedestrians.

From here the main issue is from the businesses that border the trail.  These property owners plow their parking lots and service roads and dump that snow on the border of the trail.  As these snow piles melt the water makes its way to Walnut Creek.  The journey requires the water to cross the trail and often it turns to ice on the trail.  Sometimes this is very disruptive.  Today it was not so bad, merely wet.  Tomorrow it will be icy again.

The Clive Greenbelt Trail is a very import part of the Des Moines Metro Trail System.  It serves the community are a source of recreation and exercise and for people who commute to and from work on bicycle.  I am a commuter and when this trail is incapacitated by snow I must ride on streets with automobile traffic.  I prefer the trail.  I think Clive has been doing a better job keeping the trail snow free in the winter of 2013/14 than in years past.  I hope they continue to do so.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Triumph of the Bicycle

Turning off the trail I re-entered city streets once again.  It was a sharp turn onto a crappy road in need of repaving.  But the pavement was not visible now.  It just snowed 2" in the hour since I left work.  The worst snow storm I have witnessed.  A city truck was parked at the dead end.  To my right was Grand Ave.  Traffic was jacked and back.  Usual.  Does not take cagers long to mess things up.  Now the climb.

Walnut Hill Drive is a steep but short climb.  Since my Trek 520 has half step gearing I have to take it in granny.  That did not bother me.  The fact that there was 2" of fresh snow and it was still snowing and the bike had the same tires that rolled me through Ragbrai is what bothered me.  No issues thus far.  Toward the peak was a Mercedes Benz estate (station wagon) stuck.  Nose out on the street, ass up on a snow bank.  Tires spinning.  The driver's window was rolled down.  She did not look too pleased.  "Good luck," I greeted her as I pedaled by.  In retrospect I should have stopped and offered to assist.  But I was on a mission.  Anyone that drives a nice estate most likely has a mobile phone.  Even if I did get her free she would have gotten only a block.  Traffic on 59th was backed up too.  It had taken me over an hour to get this far, 6 miles at that point IIRC.  I rolled on thinking that it was raining as well as snowing.  I was on a mission.

Craig texted me at 10:55 am, "Nice to get missed by the big snow..."  I agreed.  National forecast called for the snow to hit up north, Minneapolis, Detroit.  Local forecast said snow showers.  Radar merely showed thin finger like blue globs.  Quick hitters.  But the wind was already here.  We watched that front come in earlier.

I left work about 3:30 pm.  I had an hour an a half to get to Boulevard Sports for a set of studded tires for the Trek 7.5 FX, my main winter warrior.  Also planned to use this visit to purchase a 15 lb bag of puppy food for Fritz.  His supply was low, did not want to make another visit.  That was my mission.  Take Westown Pkwy to Buffalo Rd, cross over to Wal Mart and hit the trail.  Take the Walnut Creek Trail to Grand Ave and climb up the hill behind McDonalds and work my way to Ingersoll Ave.  Polk Blvd to Chamberlain and thus the bike shop.  Sure, some climbs but minimal traffic in the early rush hour.

Today I am on the 520.  Its tires are a set of Kenda Kwest 700x35.  Perfect for Ragbrai but not made for snow.  The last time I was caught unprepared in snow was with the same bike with the same tires.  My alternative winter bikes have issues.  The FX has a flat tire.  It was flat when I left work yesterday.  I pushed it to the Kum&Go on University and filled it with air.  It got me home.  Never had to refill it.  Flat in the morning.  I had no desire to fix that flat and then change tires 12 hours later.  My Trek 920 with studded tire is also at home.  Rear wheel is totally out of whack.  I fear replacement wheel is needed.  I plan to strip the tire of of it and put them on Mary's bike.  So the 520 was chosen.  I hoped that the "snow showers" would be light non-accumulating flurries.  Wishful.

The snow was a light flurry.  Nothing to get excited about.  I was a gentleman and took the sidepath along Westown Pkwy to cross the freeway.  At 50th St I also behaved and walked the bike across the intersection and remained on the sidewalk until traffic thinned a bit.  Once on the road it was not difficult to notice that the snow intensified.  It was sticking to the street and piling up.  Snow was sticking to my glasses as well.  It was dark out.  Was that thunder??  Thundersnow?!?  Doomed.   Perhaps a return to the sidewalk is in order?  Yes, it is.  As I approached 35th it was a full blown blizzard.  Visibility was rapidly disappearing..  Stop and turn on all lights.  Clean my glasses for the millionth time.  I put my headlamp on backwards to provide more rear visibility.  If I cannot see,  cagers cannot see me.

Sidewalk ends so a short cut through Valley West Mall occurs.    Back on Westown.  Conditions worse.  Cars spinning out.  Can't see anything.  Get off the road before I get hit.  Sidewalk is hard to find..  Cross 22nd and enter Buffalo Rd.  I take the sidewalk across from Dowling so I can get the pedestrian light at 73rd and be on the side of the street that the trail is on.  Despite no issues from the tires, my brakes are worthless I Flintstone it down the sidewalk.  It works.  Hit the button and cross the street and hang a left to the safety of the trail.  Thank you Sweet Baby Jesus.  4 miles of hell I just rode and walked through.  Now I am safe from the cars.  At this point traffic though busy does not seem bad.

I stop underneath the shelter of the bridge and call Chris Mace.  On my way, please wait.  He assures me that he will be there.  It is now 4:15.  4 miles in 45 minutes.  Bad.

The trail is a paradise.  Soft white powder snow.  No traction issues.  The snow provided enough traction over the ice that the ice was not noticeable.  Unfortunately, I enjoy this for 1.5 miles before exiting to the street.  Mission man I am.  I am going to need those tires tomorrow.  Must keep going and get there before close.

After the encounter with the Benz I reach 59th and traffic is backed up something fierce.  I squeeze between a Dart short bus and a red sedan.  The driver of the sedan gets out to clear his windshield.  "Grand is backed up," I tell him.  Another driver asks how far.
"Don't know, I came here from West Des Moines via bike trail."
Sedan driver asked about the road I just emerged from.  Won't get you anywhere but in a line to wait to get to Grand I tell him.  Wierd.  Traffic is going to hell quickly.  Never mind their problems, must get to Boulevard Sports.  I think it is raining now.  Great.

Ice coated I climb up Ingersoll to Polk Blvd then take a right on Chamberlain.  I did say hello to a woman who was picking up the trash that fell out of her bin when the wind hit it.  Yes, strong wind from the NW with gusts up to 50 mph.  Another day in paradise.  Garbage day on Polk Blvd.

At 4:53 pm I reached Boulevard Sports.  mace informed me that they close at 6 pm.  An hour and seven minutes to spare!  Now he tells me.  He thought I knew.  And I did since I was here last week on the same night waiting for him to close so we could go to Jon Cox's birthday bash at Lot 33.  Read Only Memory.

Transaction completed, bike loaded and I am off.  Take the pedestrian bridge across the freeway, cross Ingersoll and Grand and enter Greenwood Park, roll past the swimming pool and take the Bill Riley Trail hoe.  It will put me with in  1/2 mile from my house.  Minimal interference from cars.  Good Plan.

Ingersoll was easy enough to cross.  Grand Ave was different.  Not difficult but odd.  Westbound traffic was at a standstill.  I dismounted and nonchalantly walked the bike across the road to the entrance of the park and then hopped on in full view.  Yes cagers, I am moving, you are not.  Someone in a late model car of generic Asian type was spinning its wheels all the way up out of the park. Not getting anywhere quickly.  Spin out tracks everywhere.  Transmission catching hell.  Mid-January and people still cannot drive.  Still refuse to put the proper tires on their cars.  Fools.

At last, the safety of the trail.  As I rode down it I saw a bicycle below me heading west on the Walnut Creek Trail.  I shouted hello and to my surprise he waited for me.  It was that wonderful feeling that one gets when battling the world alone and finally sees another fellow traveler.  He was heading to Beaverdale, the long way.  I forget why he did not take the NST but he said Cottage Grove was just as jacked.  Citywide cager paralysis.  We parted and I followed the tracks his cross bike left as the snow was getting deep and it was getting dark and the trail edges were beginning to disappear.  I was 5 miles from home.  4.5 of those were all trail.

After a mile and a few i reached the Raccoon River bridge in Water Works park.  Some cars were driving in WW.  Get the fuck out!  No time to view nature from the comfort of your Climate Changer.  Then the reason the cars were there became apparent.  Traffic on George Flagg Dr was backed up and standing still for the west bound vehicles.  These people were hoping that there was an exit in Water Works.  Not for cars.  For cagers, there is a loop.  Nice try!  Escape from Des Moines was turning into a nightmare for those poor souls.  Once again, dismount and weave the bike between cars on foot.

Somewhere between Waldinger corp and Fleur Viaduct I saw a dim bicycle light.  When my lights illuminated the reflective chevrons on his trousers I knew who it was.  David Lanham, my recommendation for Commuter of the Year,  He rides 12 miles or so everyday from Urbandale to the Capital.  We cross paths almost every morning and sometimes on the return commute.  He has ridden through the worst of it like me and Mary.  Another comrade.  Another patriot hero.  Looking up at the viaduct I saw that traffic was jammed again.

"Don't you wish you were driving tonight?"

"And they think we are stupid!" he replied.

 Indeed.  Sure, we are cold and sweaty and our average speed is taking a hit tonight but we are moving.  We are not stressing out.  We are not in fear of our lives.  Time for a laugh.  Time to shout YES!!!  Stupid, yes we are.  We parted.  Never enough time to talk in the morning or at night.  I felt a bit sad for him having to fight that headwind.  But the trail will protect him.  I fought it and lived in the morning.  Almost every morning lately it seems.  Good luck, Dave, God be with you!

Wind, my mighty foe.  The drifts were getting bad as the trail enter the south side of Gray's Lake.  But that stretch is short and trees are around the curve and will protect me until I reach the river bank.  Conflicting theories of what side of the trail I should be on when fighting the drifts.  Nothing too bad.  Keep going.  1 mile until home.  Confluence was tempting but I rolled on. Then I had an idea.

Mullets was approaching.  Why not roll in?  Enter the bar in my bike warrior clothing and order a shot of Fireball in front of everyone?  People will be like "My God, you rode a bike here in this snow?"  Jaws will drop low when I tell them where I began.  And jaws will hit the floor when I tell them that the bike is holding a 15 lb bag of Solid Gold Wolf Cub Large Breed Puppy food.

I parked underneath the patio.  It was difficult to unzip the front pannier to retrieve my wallet.  I smacked the snow off like the Union cavalry officer in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly did before arresting Blonde and Tuco as Confederate soldiers.  As I walked through the inner door to the bar the speakers played a familar drum beat.  Boom boom boom boombaboombaboombaboomba boom boom boom.  Then a synthetic bass line hit.  Blue Monday by my favorite band, New Order.  Perfect timing!  Now as a hardcore New Order fan and Lost Viking, I would have rather heard Temptation or Sunrise, Or the Perfect Kiss or almost any other NO track except Rock the Shack or ShellShock.  But Blue Monday is their biggest hit and the #1 selling 12" single of all time, any artist..  This could be a long night.  But I behaved and after the shot drank only 2 beers, Blue Moon and a Shiner Holiday Cheer, before suiting up and riding the 1/2 mile home.  Dinner and tire change,


The front tire of the FX was flat in the morning.  Installation error I hope.  Grabbed the other tube and installed it before taking my shower.  Thus, I lost valuable time.  I took the trail to work.  Snow still dry and soft.  Drifts not bad.  Wind sucked as usual.  Studded tires worked well and paid for themselves on that journey.  A bit stiff and not as comfortable as the tires they replaced.  but that's what they need to be.  I remember stopping a the light on 35th and Westown Pkwy.  My boot told me that it was slick and icey.  My tires said shut up.  I could not wait to get to work and ask them how their drive home was.  Probably not as fun or as epic as mine.