Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2015 Best January Ever

A bitterly cold and snowy day a few years ago.  I made it to work on time!

"I spent the entire month of January locked up in my cell."--Electronic

January is the month that I dread.  I know the hammer will crash down and crush hope, kill dreams and freeze us within an inch of our lives.  Usually this occurs on New Year's Day.  The night before all is well.  Sure, most likely there is snow on the ground but bicycling is still easy.  Bundle up and pedal on.  Then the hangover hits.  It was no different this year.  However, the cold did not last long.

Final days of January, 2015, and tomorrow will be near 60F in Des Moines, Iowa.  It has been a wonderful month.  Many days in the 40s and 50s.  Despite two morning rides at - 3F this January will be considered the best ever.  Both of these bitterly cold mornings quickly warmed up and we forgot about the negative temps.  In fact, the cold spells barely lasted two days each before warming up.  And those two mornings the wind shifted to the south and brought in warmer air as I rode to work.

A glance through my bike log reveals that last year there were 2 days this month that the temperature reached or exceed 50F.  Yet there were at least 5 days of bitterly cold temps failing to reach the + side of Fahrenheit.   There was a lot of snow in 2014.  Hardly any in 2015.  It all has melted.

Saturday it is supposed to be 40F with rain and snow.  1 to 3" predicted.  So the month will end on a sad note.  The first week of February will be about 20 degrees colder than it it has been lately.  Still, no 20 below Zerex forecasted.

My winter bike, the one in the photo, the one with studded tires, has only carried me to work 8 times this month.  One time because I was afraid of refreeze.  It really was not needed that day.  The remainder of the month and the last three commutes scheduled, have all been on road bikes with skinny racing tires, refreeze be damned.  Quite unusual for this month.  Last year all but two commutes were done on the winter bike.  One of those was because it had a flat.  This is fine with me since the winter bike is slower.  All Saturday grocery trips have been with a different bike.  In fact the red bike has not moved in 11 days.  Less wear and tear.

We have made it through the worst month.  February can be brutally cold as well, too, but it is short and ends with the month of March.  Things start to warm up and turn green.  We may get a foot of snow in one day but it will melt quickly.  And every day we move further and further away from the possibility of -20F.

Enjoy it while you can.  If and when winter returns there will the devil to pay!

FYI  I had 640 miles in January of 2014.  700+ projected for 2015 barring injury or getting fired.  That will be a new January record for me.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

2015 The Ragbrai: 1st Thoughts

One of the rituals of winter came and passed yesterday: the announcement of the overnights for the Ragbrai.  In years past I'd go out and purchase the Sunday edition of the Des Moines Register, the organizer, owner, sponsor and protector of the brand.  Then when internet and mobile phones came along I'd stare at screens and patiently wait.  Better still I'd find a bar stool at Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewery and wait it out there with a friend or two, map and Sharpies at hand and we'd plot out our summer's adventure.  Not this year.  My phone took a dump and it will be 3 to 5 business days until my replacement arrives.  And my friends are all dead or rather ride with someone else or rather be with others.  Damn near felt friendless and abandoned.  Planning to do the entire ride this year instead of fooking around drunk for 20 miles a day on near by trails none of this mattered.

I stayed at home and waited until 830 pm and caught the live stream from the announcement party.  Convenient especially since I cannot receive text for another 3 to 5 business days.  But the live stream was very annoying and the sound quality had me keep the volume at a minimum since I feared my speakers would tear.

Sioux City
Storm Lake
Fort Dodge
Cedar Falls

The route is North again.  Must be the 3rd or 4th year in a row that it is north.  This really does not bother me since i have not done the ride for nearly a decade.  We have been going self contained and making our own route for the last 10 years or so.  Last year we headed in the opposite direction.  Funny, Cedar Falls was the main target of last year's trip.

I do like northern routes.  Why?  because there are towns.  No 40 mile stretches of empty farmland.  The further east it goes the better the scenery.  No more looking for water towers, now looking for church steeples.  Hills help break up the monotony of flat corn land.

We bagged it out to Storm Lake the last time the Ragbrai stayed there.  Had a good time although it was the first overnight that I had to buy water.

Cedar Falls, Coralville and Hiawatha kinda bother me a bit since large metropolitan areas water down the Ragbrai experience.  But since we will be with the Road Pirates i am sure we will be experienced.  I am contemplating putting wide tires on the touring tandem and taking the Cedar Valley Nature trail to Hiawatha.  Yeah, a little off route!

I have been doing The Ragbrai since 1991 and never have stayed in Iowa city or Coralville.  Somehow we always seem to quit whenever the route overnights there.  So this year mary and I will break our "boycott" of Hawkeyeland.

I imagine the hills and views going into Davenport will be spectacular!  I miss riding along the Mississippi.  Hate to confess this but we have not ridden east of Des Moines since we started bagging instead of doing the Ragbrai proper.  I cannot wait to return on bicycle to that part of the state.

I am excited.  We will be riding with a group we have not ridden with.  Mary in I will be in outstanding shape having completed all our training by June in preparation for RASDak.  And the fact we will be on fast bikes for a change has us smiling.  We definitely will do the Century Loop.  Returning in style!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

God Lord, it''s Icy!!!!

Yesterday it rained.  And by the time I left for work the temp had dropped to 33F.  I debated about what bike I'd ride.  Could play safe and take the studded tire winter bike or ride fast and take chance by choosing the a road bike with 700x25 Connies.  The latter won because the projected high was to be near 50F.

Now the frost on the deck as I stepped out was a bit disheartening.  And the frost on the street did worry me a bit.  And the frost on the trail looked scary.  But the bike stayed firmly planted on the surface I was riding on at any moment.  After a few miles I felt comfortable.  It was like riding above the stars as the ice crystals reflected back at me.  Pretty.  Fascinating.  Ultra-kewl.

I knew there would be ice and planned accordingly.  Always the usual places on the trail where draining is not up to par.  recent snow melt has not helped.  These spots showed up as black splotches on the trail.  Hold firm but not overly tight.  Make sure bike is not leaning.  No curving or leaning.  No turning.  Keep still as possible and float over these areas.  Not even a minor wiggle.  I was impressed with myself.

After getting to work without incident I began to talk to others.  "Oh it was terrible," they said.  "Slick," they cried.  "Slid through my intersection." Ect, ect, ect.  I was a bit shocked.  Are we on the same planet?  Did we not travel to the same location?

Here I was on the most dangerous bicycle I could have chosen for the morning commute and I did not encounter any issues.  NADA!  On racing tires!  4.5 miles on streets including a few down hills.  I will note that the west wind prevented me from exceeding 21.4 mph. on my final descent.  The day before I hit 27 mph.

And they think I am crazy for riding a bike to work.   Some people will never understand how much safer and easier and less expensive bicycling truly is.

Well That Sucked

Phone dies at work and then bike dies after work.

Cannot get my mobile to finish rebooting.  It is stuck on the brand screen.  Ripped the battery out of it a dozen time.  Left the battery out for over an hour.  No joy.  Oh well, the screen has been cracked since July.

Then leaving work and crossing the only busy street on my commute my chain falls apart.  SNAP!  And my chest hits the the bars.  Hop off and run across the street.  Weird, discoed.  No chain tool.  First time I busted a chain in something like 52,000 miles or more.  Worse yet, new chain.  SRAM 9 speed with on 617 miles on it.  Fortunately, I am across the street from work or about a 1/2 mile walk of shame.  No chain tool on fixtation so I call in a ride.

I supposed I could have walked the 12.5 mile direct route.  No cash for the bus.  And the one dude who works here and lives near me has fled.  So without a phone everyone would worry.  Not in the mood for a half marathon any way.  Call the boy.

I have all sort of quick links and spare chain at home.  More importantly, other bikes.  Weekend project.

Of course, my son has no clue how to get here.  And my place of business lacks signs.  "Just take Westown and cross the freeway, first business on the right.  After almost 2 hours I talk him into the convenience store.  but he found the driveway anyway.

Fun never ends!

But I'm not down!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Trail Report January 16, 2015

Little late on this.  Snow removal of the January 5th snow event.

The City of Des Moines had the trail(s) from Mullets to the Raccoon River Bridge in Water Works Park cleared of snow by the afternoon of the 6th.  However, the bridge itself would not be cleared for another 2 days, January 8.  Worse was that they left a 200 meter stretch of trail north of the bridge unplowed until the 7th.  Many bikers chose to ride on the snow covered grass.

The MLK Trail was cleared the 6th.

At some point the Principal Riverwalk/East River/Neal Smith/Trestle to Trestle Trail(s) were cleared.  I could not get a confirmation by of my friends when this was done and was unable to verify this myself until the 16th.  Suffice to say, I was able to ride from my southside home to Johnston, Iowa, on snow free trails last night.  Mary did notice the plowing of the T2T on Saturday the 10th when she drove to Johnston.

The Beaver Creek Trail has also been cleared.  Urbandale will plow their trails unless they are "neighborhood" trails going through residential areas.

The Des Moines River Trail has also been plowed.

Like many trails, refreeze will be a major issue on some stretches of these trails.  The stretch along Penn Ave on the east River/Neal Smith by the 3 large houses is always an issue because the trail/sidepath/sidewalk is too close to the street so when the street is plowed the trail is reburied and the residents, I believe, do their best to remove the snow but there are remnants.  Also in that section just south by the apartments there was a water main break last month and subsequent construction work leaving the trail/sidepath/sidewalk muddy and icy and wet.

The City of Johnston DID NOT PLOW their "InterUrban Trail." However, the section from Johnston Dr to 55th is clear thanks to the sun.  Be careful as this is curvy and steep and refreeze will be an issue.  I locked up my rear wheel a few times riding down this stretch (studded tire).  The trail north of 55th is awful and the shoulder is not an option do to soft ground and recent construction.  So take the streets.

The City of Clive gets my recommendation for Trail Keeper of the Year.  Not only was the Greenbelt plowed the day after the snow event, it was plowed well.  Great improvement over last year.  Thank you.  Clive also rehit areas that were spoiled by drifting snow.  Thank you again!  I think they understand how important the trail is for all users.

Windsor Heights also did a timely and good job clearing their section of the Walnut Creek Trail and redoing areas affected by drifting.

Des Moines recleared some of the drifts but has ignored the section along SE 30th to George Flagg south of Water Works Park.  I take the street in the morning but have been able to power through it on a road bike.  Judging by the tracks, most people opt to ride on the snow covered grass.

It has been too cold and we have not had a need to make the exploration up north to those trails until recently.  I will endeavor to make that trip next time.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Good Grocery Ride Almost Ruined

Saturday is the day I like to hitch the Burley to a bike and ride to Fareway and Hy Vee for serious shopping.  During winter I lack to strength to do this after work despite the fact that Fareway is just a jet over 3 miles from our home and mostly trail.  So I wait for the weekend.

I grabbed the Bianchi Boardwalk.  Bought this used at the Collective.  I like the step through frame and the Tiki handlebars.  Fun bike.  It came with 700x28 tires on it but last month I put an old set of studded tires on it.  Beefy and great for snow albeit the studs have been worn to the tread.  Still, big massive cleats for the tread pattern.  Also had to do some brake work on it since it came with crap brakes.

I was really grooving into the ride.  The Des Moines River Trail is just a few blocks from home.  Nice paved trail along the south bank of the river.  This time of year, winter, it is populated by Bald Eagles who winter here for the open water.  I counted at least 20 on my way to Fareway.  The bike felt great and I am considering re-instating it back into commuter service.

Bald Eagle in flight

Picked up a fair amount of groceries:  laundry detergent, 4 2 lts of soda, 6 1 lb bags of frozen veggies, cat food, 2 cans of Bush's Baked Beans, a side of salmon, eggs, potatoes, charcoal and a few other things.  had everything loaded in the reusable shopping bags in effort to reduce the number of plastic bags we have that are only good for picking up dogshit.

By the time I hit the street I could tell that something was wrong.  Ride quality was not as good as before.  I stopped and squeezed the rear tire.  Yep.  Flat.  There was almost absolutely nothing I could have done about it.  Well, I could have turned around and gone to the gitnGo and dropped $1.25 worth of quarters into the machine and inflated the tire and hope that it held for three miles.  Or I guess I could have called for help.  DAMN THE FLAT, BEST POSSIBLE SPEED TO THE TRAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!  yes, I did not pack repair kit.

3 miles on a flat.  The tires are beefy with strong sidewalls.  Zero issues except for that lump everytime the stem side was on the bottom of the rotation.  Made it home.

Date with a tire lever today!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

So This is Permanence, Winter Finally Hits

Wayfarers are great this time of year.  Kill the glare and provide more protection than my regular glasses.  plus I can wear them at night and still see.  This is important when faced with car lights and people who fail to dim their bicycle lights.

My last week of commuting to work has been a challenge.  The scary cold November faded away to a warm December.  And as if on a schedule, Winter's Ax slammed down hard on us about New Year's Day.  Well, three days late.

Our last warm ride was on January 3rd.  Had to ride to Johnston, Iowa, to make sure my mother was not in a diabetic coma, took her meds and ate dinner.  While there we stopped at Hy Vee and I purchased a 18 lb fresh turkey for $12.  Carried it home in a backpack.  It was 37F.  We were invited to meet people at Charlie's Filling Station afterwards but did not go.  When we left Mary Ellen's apartment we knew Winter was hitting.  The North Wind was howling.  Yep, the Front had arrived.  Thankfully it provided us with a tailwind all the way back to our home in Little Italy.  Must have been 8 or 9 pm.  We even saw snowflakes.  By the time we got home the wind had to be about 30 mph.  I texted Cynthia and wished her luck on her ride home.  It would be a bitch.

My usual winter parking spot.  the kickstand does not leave the bike in a good angle for the bike rack,  Usually they remove the rack this time of year so they can clear the snow.

Sunday was the next day.  I had to be the Lector at Church.  Rode the Beast. 4F.  Single digits.  One mile round trip.  Stayed inside and enjoyed a turkey dinner.  Made a second trip outside on a bike but turned around.  Too cold for non-important riding.  It was 11F.  Monday will be hell.

Monday's commute started at the appalling temperature of 2F.  I really don't remember much about it other than dressing in many, many layers.  I rode the Trek FX 7.5 because it had studded tires and flat pedals.  I would be wearing my warmest boots and snow was forecasted.  Many comments at work were as follows: "You rode your bike today?"  Yeah.

On the Greenbelt just after 86th St.

The snow began about 1130 am.  By 1 pm it was falling at an inch per hour.  I rolled out about 230 pm.  Took the usual route home crossing the north end of the pond and taking 123rd to the Clive's Campbell Rec Center.  By now 4" of snow.  I had trouble finding the trail but eventually found it and the Greenbelt.  The Greenbelt was fine.  The snow was fluffy making riding easy.  However there were two sets of human tracks and one set of dog tracks in the middle of the trail making the ride a bit bumpy.  Eventually I found two men walking their spaniel in the winter wonderland.

Mary called and said she was finished with work and we plotted an rendezvous point near Wal-Mart on the trail.  By the time we connected the snow was deep.  Mary's pedal strokes were hitting the snow and leaving tracks.  She was on her Windsor single speed mixte.  We exchanged bikes for a bit so I could get the feel of her ride.  Got along fine.  The issue was and continued to be staying on a trail buried in snow.

We made it.  Had to do sidewalk action when we reached our street since it had not been plowed.  Our bikes were no match for snow filled streets that millions of cars have crushed the snow into an unrideable surface.  Tires dig down and finally bite only to break through a layer and get hung up.  Sure we could have ridden our fat bikes but we needed panniers and speed.

Bike stuck on a snow drift near 7 Flags, Clive Greenbelt.

Tuesday morning forced me to avoid the trail since they were not plowed.  It would take too long riding them in the now deeper snow.  This is my Bad Winter Plan: ride through downtown and hook up with Ingersoll and take that to the Walnut Creek Trail.  Sometimes I cut up Polk Blvd to University and take that all the way to work.  Not today.  I thought I could easily handle 1.5 miles of snow covered trail until I reached Buffalo Rd.  Yes, slow, very slow.  I hit every fookin' red light.  Got to work late.  It did not help that I left 20 minutes late.  I had to finish prepping Mary's bike.  Back in November I put studded tires on a MTB for Mary.  Now in addition to getting myself ready I had to ensure the bike would be ready for her: lights, saddle height ect.  Yeah, should have done this a long time ago.  It was 2F.

Wednesday was supposed to be the worst day.  I think they said it would be -8F when I was to leave for work.  School was cancelled by 6pm on Tuesday so I did not have to worry about Mary or my children.  Dangerous wind chill would kill school children waiting outside for a bus.   But it was 2F and the wind was not as strong as predicted.  Just another cold day with a 30 mph NW wind to fight.  The trail offers a lot of protection from it.  So does my climb up Buffalo Rd.  This time I look forward to my two climbs as they burn more energy and produce more heat.  Westown Pkwy can be windy but by the time I reach 35th St I only have 2 miles left to ride.  The Day of Days did not kill me.

i am not the only one who rides to work.  I think he rode at least 3 maybe 4 days this week.  One day there were 3 bikes here this week!

When I left on Wednesday work it was 0F.  Fortunately, I had a tailwind all the way home so it did not feel that bad.  Also, thankfully, Clive, Windsor Heights and Des Moines had plowed their trails.  I almost had a clear ride all the way home.  Last year the City of Clive did a piss poor job clearing the Greenbelt.  They would leave about an inch on the surface to be fodder for foot prints and tire tracks that would turn into ice making the trail dangerous for all users.  I called them out on Twitter or maybe someone called them and they improved their snow removal.  Today it was perfect!  Windsor Heights did a decent job clearing their small section of the Walnut Creek Trail.  And Des Moines did a good job EXCEPT they stopped about 200 meters north of the bridge over the Raccoon River in Water Works Park.  The bridge was not done either.  I chose to ride on the snow covered grass to avoid where people already messed up the snow.

About 7 miles from home after raiding Hy Vee.  Dog food, meat and wine.  Someone commented that I had no vegetables or fruit.  Wine, dog food and meat were more important.

Thursday was colder in the morning but the wind overnight switched to the south and a warm up was expected.  -3F but a tailwind.  I made decent time to work and it was probably the best day of the week.  Lo and behold the wind changed directions during work and I had a 35 mph tailwind with gusts up to 52 mph for the return trip.  I stopped at Hy Vee in Windsor Heights and loaded up.  1 15 lb bag of dog food, 1 9 lb pork loin, 3 bottles of wine, 2 packages of bacon, 1 2 lb bag of tilapi, 1 2.5 lb bag of chicken breast and a quart of half and half.  Prepare for the weekend!  It was 25F, the warmest day of the week.  Des Moines finally finished plowing and I could ride across the bridge at Water Works without fighting the snow.

More about that tailwind.  Despite the pleasure it gave me I could not help but feel bad.  It sounded like the end of the world.  It sounded like all the love in the world had left and a vacuum of emptiness and despair was filling the void.  We could hear it all night long.  When will it end?  When will it end?

By 2 am it calmed down a bit.  I know this because that is when I let the dogs out.  Fritz was able to escape from my hands and ran out the small opening in the gate.  Jax followed and both crossed the street and ran full speed down the sidewalk.  My boots were untied, I did not have a hat on and I had to pee really, really bad.  They disappeared toward the school.  I gave up pursuit since they were now out of my sight and walked home.  Bathroom, better clothing, enlisted Mary's support and grabbed the Beast and a leash.  I could cover more ground quickly on the fatbike than on foot.  After about a mile cruising the neighborhood I spotted them and they ran toward me as happy as can be.  I leashed Fritz and he pulled my home on the bike while Mary carried Jax.  Bad dogs but I think they were on their way home.  I did think that the wind calmed down a bit and the temperature did not fall through the floor.  Good thing.

Friday was another cold morning.  Thursday's warm up was short lived.  4F for the morning commute with a 30 mph west wind in my face.  The overpass crossing I-35/80 was hell.  I did not break 17 mph on the down hill.  But I made it to work all five days. It was 11F when I left for home.  I stopped at The Rookie and visited Anders.  He too gave up on cars and now rides to work everyday.  I poisoned him with the idea that when it gets really cold we should take fatbikes on the frozen Walnut Creek.  He told me he has done this.  If he falls through and dies I will feel guilty.

Still managed to play Bicycle Ride & Seek.  Needed to take a photo of the bike near fake flowers in a pot or on the ground.  A vase is a pot in my book even if suspended on a fence.  This is the memorial for Zach Paulsen who was killed during a fight near this location,his family's business.  Very sad, he was only 21 years old.  Clive Greenbelt

I got home and let the dogs out.  Switched to a fatbike and rode to Mullets to meet Mary.  Beer and dinner and to celebrate our victory over the worst that Winter threw at us.  It has to improve.  There has to be a rainbow.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Drifting Snow

Drifting snow has to be about the second worst snow there is.  The worst is the snow on the street that hundreds of cars smash and drive over before the plow hits.  It's akin to riding over sticky loose shale or sand.  Anytime the wheel has traction it sinks a few layers and gets stuck.  Well, maybe the snow the plow dumps in your driveway is the worst.  For some reason it's thicker and heavier and a bitch to ride through.  My buddy on a Salsa fatbike was complaining about it too.   I was able to walk on top of it without sinking in.  However, the bike got caught on this batch on the Clive Greenbelt.

Been a bad week.  The jealous NW wind sustained anywhere between 20 and 35 mph with gusts as high as 52 mph.  The metro has done their best to keep the trails clear but I understand a 24 hour plow patrol ain't gonna happen.