Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dawson Cabin Campout

The journey begins.  Leaving work.

So we had one more fall ride in us.  One more time to load the baggers and ride to distant locales and enjoy ourselves.  Joe Hildreth invited me.  The plan had been in the works for months.  I believe he had been desiring this for a few years.  Simple plan.  Load up our bikes, cut out of work early and ride the Raccoon River Valley Trail to Sportsmans Park near Dawson and rent a cabin or two with a group of friends.  But as plans go somethings don't quite work out.  Nobody except for me could ride out there.  And that was ok because my loaded touring bicycle is slower than answered prayers.  The important thing is that this ride secured my goal of 1000 miles for October.  More importantly, such a ride would place me in Waukee on Saturday where my daughter, Dora, was competing in the Waukee Invitational marching Band Competition and later that evening the State competition.

I packed the bike the night before.  Tent, sleeping bag, blanket, all sorts of clothing since it was cold and I did not trust the forecast of warmer weather, chair, cooler and empty growler.  Joe was not quite sure about the sleeping arrangements.  Be prepared.

I was able to leave work about a half hour early.  First stop was in Waukee at the Hy Vee.  I needed provisions aka beer.  After sampling their wares I had a growler filled with Dead Irish Poets by Finnegans Inc from Minneapolis.  The barkeep said that they are a non-profit brewery and a certain percentage of their Iowa sales goes to the Food Bank of Iowa.  Extra justification for the purchase of this smokey dry Irish stout.  I noted that this was the first time I had a growler filled with a stout and the barkeep did not complain or warn me about such beer in a growler.  To complete the beer run I picked up a 6 of Beerito, labeled as a Mexican beer but actually a Vienna lager, by Oskar Blues and a 6 pack of Squatters Hop Rising Imperial IPA.  The lager was for mixing with the stout for a "arf n arf" and the double IPA was for something strong and hoppy.  Both were in cans whick are safer on bicycle rides.  Sure, that was a lot of beer but when I sleep in a place that is not my own away from the One I Love and the protection of my dog plus the possible uncomfort of sleeping in a tent, I need to be properly sedated.  That and I could always share or take home.  Nothing worse than running out of beer when camping.
Good place for a doughnut!

I took the short cut to Dawson by turning up the "new" connection from  Waukee to Perry.  Because of time I did not stop in Dallas Center or Minburn.  The funny thing about Minburn was that for the life of me I could not remember its name.  I remembered the name of the bar but not the town.  There are many "M-towns" on the trails and roads that I ride.  Milo, Mingo, Menlo ect.  Both Mudders and the establishment at the depot looked as if they were doing well on a Friday evening but I had to press on.  I did, however stop at the recumbent sculpture that serves as a memorial for a rider about was about my age when he passed away.  I had a food break, a doughnut that a co-worker gave me before I left work.  She gave me three.  Food for the journey.
Harvest time in Iowa.

As for the ride on this stretch, I enjoyed a tailwind, a full moon over my shoulder and nature.  Many deer running through the fields and along side the trail.  Also saw a skunk, startled it and saw the tail go up fortunately not in my direction.  It was also harvest time and farmers were a plenty collecting their crops.

In Perry I stopped for more food at the Kum & Go.  I also needed batteries for my headlamp and more ice.  I like my beer cold and it was dark.  5 more miles to go.  Text Mary to let her know I was safe and almost there.

Sportsman Park is about 5 miles from Perry or 1/2 mile east of Dawson.  There is a sign on the trail and access from the trail to the gravel road that leads to the park.  Another sign says that it is 1200 feet from the trail.  At night it looked like good gravel but it was a bit rough.  Having ridden my share of gravel this year on bikes of various tire sizes, 700x23, 700x25 (tandem) and this bike with 700x35 on Ragbrai I thought my new 700x37s would plow right through like a Tiger tank.  Wrongo boyo!  I had to find the line that everyone else's tracks indicated.  My camping partners rode to Tojo's in Jamaica for dinner while I was still on the trail.  Once I spotted the entrance I gently made a course correction and cut across the road.

WHAM!!!  I was laying on my left side!  Left hand a tad bit bitten by gravel.  My head actually hit the rocks as well and for once I was glad I had a helmet on because I'd be pulling rocks and dust out of my noggin.  There is an abrasion on my left arm despite having a tough and thick long sleeve shirt on.  My left thigh seemed to take the lion's share of the impact noted by a visible bruise and soreness even at this moment 36 hours later.  The bike was OK.  Nothing fell off.  Nothing broke.  the rear pannier got a bit messy from the cooler's condensation (actually a non-insulated beer chiller).  All the lights still on.  Brushed myself off and picked it up and walked the remaining 6' to the driveway before re-saddling and continue toward the campsite.  Deploy kickstand and grabbed a Squatter for the healing powers of hops.  Oh yes, sent a text to Mary to let her know I was safe at the destination.  45 miles from my start at home, 33 miles from my place of employment.  A good day of riding.

There were about 8 of us.  Joe and Nick were there and the only ones I really knew.  At 51 years of age I was the kid.  We sat around a fire pit and drank until it was time for bed.  Music and laughs.  I finished the other two doughnuts and the other half of the sandwich I purchased in Perry.  Nick brought two bottles of Captain Morgan's Cannon Blast and a 12 pack of Sprite, a drink I introduced to him during Ragbrai, but I abstained from that.  As for all the beer I brought, I think I drank half of the growler and 3 of the canned beer.  Yeah, too much beer hauled.
As close to a group shot I got.  Joe in red.  Nick in chair facing the camera.

We had both cabins.  They were nice!  2 or 3 bunk beds each, shower, sink, fridge and what I needed, many electrical sockets.  First order of business was to charge my light and then the phone.  Although I brought my battery charger I like to save that power for situations where I am off grid.  Saturday night I may need my lights.  I was able to get a bottom bunk which was really a couch with a sheet covering the mattress.  I used my sleeping bag as a pillow and needed only my blanket to keep me warm.  For more information on Sportsman Park click HERE

The strong south wind kept us warm and dry, no dew.  In the morning I merely packed the bike, finished my mug of stout and brushed my teeth.  Decided that a fresh coat of deodorant would suffice and did not change my clothing.  Seemed like a hassle to change threads.  We departed in separate ways.  Everyone but me headed east to Perry for breakfast.  I wanted to complete the loop and headed west.  I also had to be in Waukee by 1 pm to watch my daughter perform in the marching band competition.  My breakfast would be much later in Panora if all went well.

The trail.

At Dawson, one mile from the campsite, I stopped and dropped the long sleeve shirt I wore over my jersey.  Not necessary.  I also purchased a trail permit and the trailhead.  Next year I will obtain the annual permit.  despite the overcast it was a beautiful day.  I noted the now amber waves of grain to my right and the cleared field to the left.  I also thought about how the glaciers made this part of Iowa so flat and that one spots towns by the grain elevators that stand out the distance like castles.  Water towers and grain bins.  In the northeast part of the state it is hilly and has a lot more trees and church steeples betray the location of the villages.  There were two time trail bikes heading east and two women on road bikes that passed me heading toward Jefferson.  Really, an empty trail.

Amber waves of grain.  Corn before harvest.
Corn after harvest.

I turned south at Herndon instead of going north to Jefferson.  That's when I felt the full force of the wind.  My average speed dropped 5 mph and I knew I would not make it to Waukee in time.   Nevertheless I pushed on at best possible speed.  Yale and then Panora I kept rolling  looking for grain elevators.

Just before Linden I saw the white Dallas County truck on the trail running the leaf blower from its bed.  I wet of to the side in the intersection to let him through.  Sure enough, the park ranger stopped and rolled down the window and offered me a map and started talking.  "Yes sir I have a permit.  Got it at #9 in Dawson."  "Thank you for supporting the trail," he replied.  We talked for about 5 minutes about the trail and its amenities and improvements.  He also queried about my ride.  Of note is that he related his experience with a certain rider that has done the loop 41 times this year.  Damn, that's a lot!!

As for the trail, I have been riding on this trail since 1991.  I have seen it expand, first from Yale to Jefferson, the connection from the Clive Greenbelt which connects to to the Des Moines metro trail system that comes within a half mile of my home,  and more recently form Waukee to Perry and then Perry to Herndon.  Several of the gravel intersections have been paved by the generous donations of others.  Several sections of this trail have been repaired and resurfaced throughout the years.  It has always held a special place in my heart and often I consider it my favorite trail.

I finally stopped in Redfield.  I had to get something to eat I had gone 30 miles sustained on a beer and a coffee.  Casey's is where I finally used the chair I packed, sitting outside and consuming two slices of pizza a a 32oz Coke.  Folks here wanted to talk about the trail and bicycles.  I also purchased a bag of ice for the 9 remaining beers.  I may need them.  Mary and I exchanged text.  I would not make it in time.  Please ride west on the trail to join me afterwards and we'll ride back together.  The morning's micro mist was picking up.  It was time to ride east.  The crosswind was relief for the headwind.  My speed improved.  Mary and I met between Ortonville and Waukee.  I should have left an hour earlier.  The late performance would be the one that I would watch.

While taking a break at the trailhead in Waukee we decided to ride home and grab the car instead of loitering in Waukee for 5 hours.  I needed a shower and the mist was threatening to become a drizzle, not the shower I wanted.  Mary discovered that the work on Walnut Creek was rideable which eliminated the need for a dangerous and time consuming detour.  When I got home I checked the Cateye, 66 miles for the day.  111 for both days.  A great weekend of riding especially on a heavy bike.

When we returned hours later we found out that a serious downpour hit Waukee and soaked the people participating and watching the marching bands.  We arrived in time to see my high school perform and many performances of various schools including Dora's Lincoln HS.  The rain never returned but our butts we wet from the bleachers.  Yes, we need stadium seats.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What the Hell Happened on Ashworth Rd Last Night?

Brake part laying next to my ATM on Westown Pkwy.  A remindered that the streets are littered with parts.  I think it was smiling and laughing at me!

I'm beginning to think that THEY do not want me to ride a bicycle to work anymore.  First an irreplaceable and unsafe-to-detour section of trail is closed for a week or so forcing me to find alternative routes.  Now I find one of my alternatives a literal battleground for cars.  Ashworth Rd from 8th St to well past 16th.

I took this road to avoid the Dowling 5 am gang and the hill.  Ashworth to 28th is what I rode.  Done it many times at 5 am when traffic is nill.  But as soon as I made that left turn onto it I knew something had happened.  For 10+ blocks my lane was litter with bits and pieces of cars.  Plastic bumper parts, headlight assembly, chunks of tire with wire beads sticking out, glass ect.  Even where a lane was closed off for construction this dross was strewn all over the road.  There was a continue stain of some automotive fluid in the lane and upon closer inspection fresh grooves cut into the asphalt surface from something dragged or pushed.

I was glad I rode my touring bike with its beefy flat resistant tires.  Any lessor tire probably would be missing air.

I was glad to turn right onto 28th and make my way across I-235 to Westown Pkwy.  Away from the rolling battle.  But near my final stretch on Westown I discovered that road construction took out several lanes.  Damn, I should have taken the trail!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Mississippi Gold: Riding The Great River Trail

Some pieces of gold are hidden in plain sight.  I am blessed as a cyclist to live in Des Moines, Iowa.  I am a half a mile from a major trail system that leads in all four directions to destinations far away.  I am also within driving distance to many trails some in other states.  Here we hear of the Katy Trail in Missouri, the Root River Trail just north of Iowa and many others in Iowa itself.  But until this year I never heard of the Great River Trail which spans the 60 miles between the Quad Cities to Savanna, Illinois, along the Mississippi River.

The carlisle Group.  Front row left to right Dennis, Steve, Steve, John. Back row left to right Donnie, Nick, joe, Chris, Mary Mary, Lori

The idea to have an autumn ride emerged from Team Kum & Go.  Do something special, create a memory that will last forever.  Have everyone meet at Victor and Jody's home in Milan. IL.  It was a 15 minute drive to Sunset Park, the trailhead.  Most of us met at Steve and Lori's home in Carlisle, Iowa, where the bus was loaded.  Others drove in from the Chicago area to meet the bus in Milan.

The trail is essentially 60 miles long.  Detours and exploring towns adds a few more miles.  It is paved and flat 99% of the time.  Most of it is trail, sometimes in woodlands and praries and other times along a highway and a wee bit of streets.  The southern end starts out in Sunset Park and quickly turns into an urban riverfront trail.  On a nice Saturday or Sunday it could be very crowded in some sections that are along the river.  Then it turns into an industrial/post industrial trail as factories and water treatment and transportation warehouses ect.  Eventually it leaves the city and winds through several small and old river towns.  This is where the charm and magic of the trail lies.  Interactive map showing everything one needs

Towns are spaced out nicely.  Sometimes it is only 3 to 5 miles in between communities.  Other times it is closer to 8.  There are two 10 mile stretches including the final.  Between the towns are scenic vistas, parks, wildlife refuges, beautiful houses along the Mississippi, fishing shacks, campgrounds and woods.

Donnie and his and my bike on the bank of the Mississippi in the Quad City.


It was a glorified drizzle when we woke up Saturday morning in Milan (pronounced My Lawn). Most of our bicycles were attached to the roof of the bus,  I was glad that I took the time to lube the chains of my bike and the bicycle belonging to my wife.  Victor gladly gave me some shop towels to give to people for the purpose of drying our saddles.  Swamp Butt is now way to start two 60 mile days of bicycling.  By the time we unloaded and mounted up in Sunset Park it appeared that the precipitation was over.  Schwiebert Riverfront Park in Rock Island was our first stop.  Photo op.

The Ladies!

Milltown Coffee Shop was our second stop and I enjoyed a nice Americano.  The rain resumed once we started rolling again but I was warm and caffeinated!  Our next stop would be in Rapids City, not to be confused with Rapid City, SD, where we had breakfast at 1245 pm. Brothers family Restaurant was the place.  They held the private room for us, our number 17 including bus driver.  Most people opted for breakfast food.  Nick and I had the Rapids City Burger (a big cheeseburger with mushrooms and mayo).  It was here that I decided that I should always order the item named after the town.  They put their name on it, has to be good, right?  It was.  the bus was here so those that need to could swap stuff out or get what they needed ect.  This meal would last us until dinner in Savanna almost 8 hours later.  We did have snacks on the bus that we had an opportunity to enjoy in Albany and there were opportunities to stop at gas stations and other dining establishments if needed.  I did not need to refuel.  For that matter, I did not even finish my water bottle as it was a cool day of riding in the overcast.

Albany was the last place where we would see the bus before we reached our destination.  This town has a resturant with pie and also is located near Native American burial/ceremonial mounds.  Unfortunately, we left that unexplored as we rode past.  We met at the park for a rest.  Being too lazy to go inside the bus for anything other than a refreshment I decided to leave the group early to escape the mosquitoes.  I should have grabbed my DEET and waited for the others.  There's a special hybrid of those blood suckers here and they were vicious.  My second mistake.  The first was not to bring rain gear but Dennis loaned me his spare which I decided to leave behind in the bus at Sunset Park.  I'm in serious need for new rain gear anyway.  It's on my list.

The third mistake was not sticking with the people who call this trail their training ground.  Victor and Jody use this trail for their long distance training.  Living in Milan, it is their only trail of length.  But we soon discovered that their knowledge of the path was essential.  The biggest issue we had was how poorly marked it is.  True, we were given a map.  True, if one kept the river on their left they would make it to Savanna.  but the map was rather general and lacked the precision required to truly feel comfortable in unfamiliar territory.  There were signs and arrows but there were also detours and long stretches of trail or road between those signs.  Sometimes the signs were only available for people riding the other direction.  Because we relied on the expertise of those that ridden the trail before we were not accustomed to looking for the signs in the first place.

Mosquito Gazebo Albany, IL

Four of us broke away from the group.  No make that 7.  Steve, John and Dennis took off first then Mary, Donnie, Nick and myself left Albany.  Something about a hill then a short stretch of gravel sounding more menacing than it really was.  Then the Mississippi swallowed the trail but the detour pointed to the right.  We found the trail again but soon a decision had to be made.  Continue forward or turn right and cross the highway and ride the trail as marked.  But the sign said DO NOT ENTER.  it was going east and we wanted to go north.  Maybe it was oxygen deficit but we obeyed the DNE sign and continued north into Fulton.  Fulton was on the map.  The river was still on our left and we were heading north.  It felt right.

Fulton, IL

Once in town we stopped at the windmill.  Built out of African wood for its resistance to insects and rain it originally stood in the Netherlands until it was dismantled, every board numbered and reassembled in America.  We could have taken the guided tour.  Back on the bikes we discovered the mistake.  the north route was a tourist trap.  Had we been intelligent enough to realize that the DNE sign was for cars and trucks we would have cut off our two mile tour of the the city and saved a lot of time.  Everyone passed us.  We were the sweepers.  Later on we were told that the other trio of splitters made the same mistake.  But we got to see this huge wind mill.

The sky ahead of us was getting dark and we knew rain would fall on us soon.  One of us had a warning on their Fitbit that their heart rate was too high so we rested near the Thomson Sand Prairie for a bit.  I looked at the map and then fired up Google Maps on my mobile to get a better grasp on our ride.  Thomson would leave us with the final 10 miles.  The trail would give way to county roads.  we would roll by a federal prison and a potato farm and then a road lined with homes and views of the ever encroaching Mississippi.  It was ironic to see irrigation equipment while the river was flooding and that it was raining.  Eventually at forest park emerges and shortly we found ourselves in Savanna.  We called Joe to guide us in since we had no clue where the Savanna Inn was located.  true to almost every multi-day ride I've ridden, my shower and bed was at the other side of town on top of a hill!

At Poopy's Sunday morning.  Steve Murga photo credit.  Steve D, Joe, Dennis, Lori, Mary, Nick, Chris, Killian, Jody, Victor, Donnie, Joe, Mary Laura and Bob

After a shower and a change of clothes we took the shuttle to a biker (Harley Davidson and chopper bikers) establishment called Poopy's.  many of the guests at the Inn were on motorcycles.  Savanna is covered with "START SEEING MOTORCYCLES" signs.  Poopy's has a sign declaring itself "Illinois #1 biker destination."  When the shuttle pulled up and a woman fell out of the front and got up exclaiming that she was alright I thought we were in for a very memorable night.  The strong odor of booze lingering in the vehicle after the previous patrons exited it only reinforced my anticipation.  But it was a mellow off season Saturday night with a prime rib special.  Others had pizza, brgers and even chicken fingers.  Joe and I had the special.  It was good.  The place was decorated with custom choppers too uncomfortable for any serious riding and the usual orange and black uniform of the subculture.  Classic rock played overhead and beer was only available in cans.  Mary and I had PBR's.  For those so inclined, camping is available with showers and beers then would only be $1.  After dinner everyone headed straight to their rooms and collasped.  Mary and I rode 66 miles that day.  We were all tuckered out.

Earlier that evening I missed a step on the stairs and my left foot landed full force on the wrong step sending the blunt of the impact to my heel.  I forgotten about this until 430 am when it screamed at me and cancelled further sleep.  Mary went with me out the Inn and down the hill, there's always a hill isn't there, to the convenience store for Vitamin I--ibuprofen and something to swallow them with.  We grabbed some awful breakfast sandwiches at the Mc Donalds and ate them while watching Seinfeld while my heel rested on a bag of ice.  I had three hours to heal my heel or ride the bus in shame.


At the Savanna Inn before leaving Sunday morning. On bench left John, bench right Dennis, Bac row left to right Donnie, Nick, Chris, Mary, Joe, Mary, Killian, Lori, Steve, Jody, Victor, Laura, Bob and Ben (bus driver).  One of the Steve's is missing.

She even showed me her odometer.  6400 miles on that bike!!  What's that, 40 miles a day?

It was painful to clip in and each pedal stroke was a reminder that I failed to walk down stairs properly but eventually the pain subsided and pedaling was not an event and my limping stopped. Still hated clipping in and out but I had little choice.  I think we first stopped in a forest park and met a woman on a city bike with a basket in front.  No dog in the basket but she seemed glad to talk to someone and tell a few jokes.  Eventually she said she had over 6400 miles for the year, had a huge number of miles the year before and put up big numbers the year before that.  While everyone could barely comprehend what 6K+ of miles by October truly meant I handed my phone to Mary for a photo.  I regret that I did not give it to someone else for if I had then there would exist of photo of three people who have ridden over 6400 miles in the 9 months of 2016.  Tomorrow, good Lord willing, I will pass the 7000th mile mark.  Instead I thought only of myself and and Mary was excluded.  Enough regret.

Das Cake

In Albany we stopped at the park again.  This would be our last opportunity to see the bus.  We finally got to enjoy the cake decorated for this occasion since we were too tired Friday night and Saturday evening.  The last I checked there was only one piece left.

Fulton was our next stop.  We took the route proper and cooled off at a gas station.  I drank a Smirnoff Ice, Electric Blue, that in its plastic bottle looked not unlike a sports drink.  Resuming our southern journey we were serenaded by a small orchestra on the trail, probably taking a photo but they played while the 16 of us rolled right through them!

Donnie fixin' a flat!
All of us watching Donnie fixin' a flat!

The rest of us watching Donnie fixin' a flat!  I should have done one panoramic shot here.

The only mechanical issue of the weekend occurred next.  Donnie had a flat tire.  Piece of glass in his tire.  He had a new tube and pump and we all had an opportunity to rest while he fixed the flat.  This was on the Riverview Rd, a residential area with ZERO traffic.

Riley's in Cordova, IL

Unlike the previous day we stopped at an establishment in Cordova, IL, for rest and relaxation and a chance to look at NFL on tv.  Once rested we rolled to Port Byron for lunch at Harrington's.  We were given a private room with a view of the street and river.  Only craft beer was available on tap and the food was delicious and in huge portions.

Port Byron
The final 15 miles back to the bus were uneventful.  The trail was pretty empty on this sleepy overcast Sunday.  The closer we got to Sunset Park the more water we saw in the streets and trail.  Some cars were driving where they should not have been given the flooding from the rain not the Mississippi.  But we made it to the bus, loaded up and drove to an ice cream shop for a much deserved reward.


I cannot wait to return to this trail.  We barely scratched the surface.  There is so much to do on it.  there are boats that will take you and your bike across the river to Iowa.  Breweries are nearby as well  I'd really like to take a touring bike and spend 4 days on the river.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Girl That Kicked the Opossum's Nest

Thursday October 6, 2016.  Clive Greenbelt Nature Trail.  Less than a half mile from the 3 mile marker from the east.  Mary is riding her road bike.  I am about 1.5 meters behind her.  It is 545 am and still dark.

We cross the bridge that the gentleman from Great Britain failed to cross and plummeted to his death.  Now we are curving to the left as the trail makes a U shaped jaunt to remain creek side and not cut through a playground area.  And there she was.  A dark grey opossum cross the trail moving slowly.

Mary got over to the right the best she could but bicycle and marsupial collide.  No sound is made.  Mary's bike stays upright and does not even wiggle.  She lost no speed and successfully makes the next curve.

I watch her as all this unfolds, hoping that she does not crash.  But in the bottom of my eye I see the opossum appear to explode.  It stopped and turned 90 degrees but a black and white fireball erupts over the woodland creature, debris going two feet into the air.

My first thought was "what a dirty bastard!"  My brain was telling me that it was leaves and sticks flying off our forest friend. But then I realized it was her babies abandoning ship or getting knocked off.  No sound, no cries or shrieks.  No blood on the trail or opossum or Mary or the bike's tires.

If this was a horror movie all that debris would have turned into thousands ov evil bats and consumed us.    But it was not.

I hope Mama and her pups are ok.  I am sure that the jogger approaching us shortly afterwards and the walker behind us would have stopped to helped them.

BTW, Mary hit a raccoon on Monday.  It stopped and hissed at her.