Sunday, July 29, 2018

Alternative Ragbrai 2018: The Search for Brew Pubs

I set out for a quest

From the Great God Keiron
Who sits à la Bowie 
In South London, in Hammersmith
--Mark E Smith, The Fall, Get a Summer Song Goin'

Iowa Brewing Company.  Not open at 10 am on a Saturday during the Farmer's Market in Cedar Rapids.
A single bead of sweat is making its way across my face.  Started above my right eye and now is on my left cheek.  Had I not done away with bike gloves a decade or 2 ago I would have wiped it off.  But my hands are firmly planted around the brakehoods.  A set of 1990s pre-STI Shimano Ultegra brake levers before they got bulky.  I can feel my heart beat.  Another bead of sweat begins its journey but I merely note it.  Almost to the top of the hill and my legs are spinning a high cadence.  Need to keep leg speed up as I reach the summit.  When the hill flattens for a brief moment  I reach for the shifter on the right and move the chain one cog further right on the cassette and then glance down on the shift lever itself to see how many gears I have left.  Still in big ring.  With my current momentum these hills only demand shifting on the right.  Soon the descent begins and I quickly spin out.  Rest.  Lower and flatten my back.  Scoot a bit further back on the saddle and lower my head closer to the stem.  Sure the panniers are a huge aerodynamic drag but I needed to squeeze every ounce of speed from my body, the only thing I can control.  Scan the road ahead.  There's nothing there but the sun.  Funny how the day always starts out cloudy and looking like rain but during the late afternoon when we are tired and about 20 miles out the sun beats on us like we need more punishment.  My arms are red.  Get lower and shift more weight to the front.  Glance behind me to see Mary and Donnie.  Not close but only minutes behind.  Look at the computer for speed and distance.  30s and probably 20 miles left until I can put the kick stands down for the last time.  Look up again and see hill after hill.  The climb is beginning but I have to wait until the speed drops below 20 mph before I can resume pedaling due to a mechanical issue.  19 mph start the engine.  Extremely high cadence so back off until resistance is felt.  This takes a bit of time, a few seconds but it feels like an eternity.  Now!  Keep it up both speed and rpms.  Get to the top.  Shift down one and keep leg speed up.  Crest this bastard and upshift one and spin it out.  How long have I've been doing this?  I never counted.  I've been on this road before, it hurts.  Stared at the map many times.  Nothing here.  Corn to the right, corn to the left,  shade desert.  Need to cross any intersection to feel any sort of accomplishment.  Intersections are on the map, corn is not.  But for the love of all that is good do not lose speed!  Speed is life out here.  Starting over from 0 mph would hurt badly unless it was at the top.  The sweat falls off my face and we continue westward.  Next town food and then a downhill trail to our overnight resting spot.  At the top of the next hill we'll stop.  A few minutes off the bike will feel good.  Perhaps we will reduce weight by drinking a beer.  And then fight these hills again.  I wonder how it would feel on a fast bike but I doubt I'll ever bring one out here.

For this year's bicycling tour of Iowa we wanted something different.  That's a problem when you get older.  You've done it all.  Been everywhere we thought.  But since we have been "bagging" or riding loaded touring bikes instead of doing the official Ragbrai our adventures east of Des Moines have been lacking.  It was time to remedy that.  Head east.  But where?  Breweries.  There are breweries east of Des Moines.  Places we have never been.  Let's find them.

The best thing about living in Des Moines is how spoiled we are in terms of bicycle trails.  North, South, East and West we have them.  Pick a direction and go.  We have friends that spent 4 or 5 days on these trails doing their Ragbrai thing.  But rather than the destination we use trails to springboard ourselves to further destinations.  If we can use them to find other trails all the better.

The Plan: A Brewery Too Early

But what destinations?  What overnights?  Then I had a brainstorm.  Why not overnight in towns with brew pubs and breweries???  Combine bicycling with beer.  If a town has a brewery then it probably also has a decent place to sleep.  Showers.  I like to take a shower at the end of a long ride.  Getting the grit, sweat, sunblock, DEET and other assorted crap off my skin is important.  It's amazing how much more comfortable you are when you start a day clean.  And if there is a bicycle trail to use we would be in heaven.

Looking at maps and brewery locations I came up with a great route.  Marshalltown would be the first overnight.  Two trail systems to get there.  The Chichaqua Valley Trail would take us safely for 20 miles.  Pretty easy to get to from my house or Mullets.  Take the MLK sidepath to Scott Ave for 5 miles and connect up with the Gay Lea Wilson Trail for another 10 miles to the Chichaqua trailhead, minimum amount of street riding.  Add 11 miles of empty county road S62 from Baxter to Melbourne and then the Iowa 330 Trail to take us into Marshalltown for the Iowa River Brewing Co and sleeping accommodations.  There is a great campground on the north side of town.  Showers, too.

Cedar Falls would be the second overnight.  60 odd miles of sparsely traveled county roads.  Ride through UNI campus and work our way to SingleSpeed Brewery.  Stay at my son Quin's home.

Day Three find and follow the Cedar Valley Nature Trail all the way into Cedar Rapids Iowa and practically trip over all the breweries: Lion Bridge, Iowa Brewing Co, Clock Tower ect ect.  This night worried me the most.  Get a hotel.  We could get very drunk and the locals probably frown upon guerrilla camping.

Day Four ride through Iowa City.  Once again, more breweries here than one can shake a stick at.  Perhaps call the U of Iowa Hospital System and have them ready liver transplants.  This is also where my plan was questionable.  Would we be there too early to visit a brew pub?  Should we make a short day and spend the night?  Should we be ambitious and push on through Kalona and overnight in Washington and take the Kewash Trail the next day?  And how are the hills out in Hawkeye Land?

Day Five start working our way to Grinnell.  Peace Tree has a tap room there.  Grinnell is also withing reach of the Chichaqua Trail and our escape route home.  

Since we start earlier and earlier each year we would have time to bust a move up to the High Trestle trail and join the Off Route Sinners that would undoubtedly be in that area working their way eastward.  We had the time.  Perhaps we could penetrate The Ragbrai ourselves.

When I presented this to my friends some balked.  Some wanted to do the usual ride to Breda, Iowa, the often used Western Plan.  But he had to be back early to visit his mother for her birthday.  Others wanted to just hang out or near the metro trails for a few days and average a case of beer every 10 miles. Another wanted to go north to stay at a friend's cabin on an extended weekend ride.  But Joe busted two ribs in June and was out or so we thought.  Donnie and Nick were in.  They liked the idea.  Serious riding but no super long days.  Every overnight had a shower.  More tenting than the previous year.  Options for motels if desired.  Better yet, no crowds, no lines, no overcrowded ditch to ditch bicycles, elbows bumping Route to ride.  Seems our experiences on The Route get worse and worse every year.

Left to right: Donnie, Joe and Nick.  Notice how big the sky is?

The Ride Commences....

The day we took off was sunny.  It was Wednesday July 18, 2018.  Rain was predicted for that night.  But we had plenty of time and the campground had shelter.  Plenty of places to pull over for bike beers.  Trails.  3 major trails to ride on plus the Marshalltown trail system which lead to our campground if we wished.  Our stops were minimal.  Mingo for a bike beer and reload of water bottles.  Baxter for lunch at the grocery store.  Donnie and I had sandwiches.  Joe and Nick and the rib special.  The 11 miles of county road S62 were good.  About three decent hills.  Stop at Clark's Bar in Melbourne for several beers.   Then the Iowa 330 trail.  One beer break on the shade and a conversation with a local rider.  Wednesday night is the night that cyclists from Marshalltown ride to Clark's Bar.  We encountered a few, mostly shirtless men.  It is July.

The 330 trail gives way to the Marshalltown trail system but once downtown we got off and crossed the bridge, sidewalk, to the courthouse area.  This is where we found the Iowa River Brewing Co.  Heaven!  Funny how the person that knows the most about craft beer is the last one to order, so it was I.  Big leather chairs to sit in after getting a pint.  Then the angel behind the bar came out periodically and offered to get us more.  I had their Columbus Ale, a session IPA, and the Churchill Porter among others.  Joe and Donnie left for dinner and Nick and I finished our beers.  Nick was drinking some bottled German beer.  Both of us did not pay heed to the local that warned us that all the restaurants close at 9 pm.  Sure enough, when we left the brew pub and walked down Main St shutters were slamming fast as if the 9 pm Monster was about to invade!  We did find that Chef King on West Main had an "open" sign and they let us in.  I piled my plate high.  Nick went twice.  Then we were asked if we would go back through the line again.  No, our appetites were sated.  Eight people descended upon the two buffet lines and packed it away for the night with such efficiency and speed that my head spun.

Objective reached.  Iowa River Brewing Co

Donnie on the Throne in the Iowa river Brewing Co

Our campsite was at Riverside Park.  Donnie paid $20 for all of us.  We did not set up tents.  There was a shelter with 4 aluminum picnic tables under the roof.  Electrical plug ins for our phones.  Perfect.  Shower house nearby.  Time to clean up and sleep.  The tables are uncomfortbale despite our Thermarests.  Wood tables are better for sleeping.  Approximately at 250 am the Floodgates in the sky opened up.  We all woke up, and milled around a bit.  Packed the bikes somewhat but we were not about to leave.  Black sheets of rain.  Then gentle and then hard. We were dry and just nervous.  Make sure nothing was on the ground.  Check radar and go back to sleep.  Give this system a few hours and hope it goes away.  It was still raining at 7 am.  Pack and head to town.  It was almost over.  Or so we thought.

3 shot iced breve at The Tremont Grill

We rode back to the courthouse district.  Breakfast at the  Tremont Grille on Main.  I was very happy to be able to get an iced breve with 3 shots (triple espresso over ice fill the rest of the cup with half and half).  Nick and I ate their Mexican omelet special.  It was very good.  And then we rolled on to the Casey's and iced our beer and obtained other previsions. Little did we know what would happen a few hours later.  I nearly cried.

Green Mountain was the first town, and that is a loosely used term, but the ROAD CLOSED CULVERT REPLACEMENT sign was something we did not want to see.  No desire to back track to Highway 14 and seek alternative route.  Roll the dice and see if we can get around the obstacle.  And we did by about 18".  Literally.  The backhoe had dug up a line in the road leaving less than 2 feet undisturbed.  Something happened.  There was a guy in truck.  Apparently they were waiting for a locator.  Good for us.  Take it slow, show them that we are not aggressive and irresponsible.  No smiles or waves but we got through without exchanging words.  On to Beaman, Iowa.

T29 should be labeled Agricultural Industrial Highway.  Mary and I had no issues on this road in 2014.  Maybe it was the culvert detour.  This road is brown on the bicycle map, 700 to 1500 AADT, the second lowest.  But not at our moment.  We got passed by four semis in a row at one point and then everyone turned off.  Amen.  We lived, made a note.  Perhaps a different road next time.

Group photo for the owner of the Landmark.

Tenderloin.  Iowa cuisine at its finest!  This one was superb.

Lunch in Grundy Center at the Landmark-bistro.  Great place.  Great food.  The owner, I assume, came in holding a baby in one arm and talked to us.  She then asked us what size shirts we wear and disappeared returning with four t-shirts from their Bike For Bites event and gave them to us!  We did the obligatory photo op for her and promised to put them on social media.  It was a nice gift and came in handy throughout the week being able to grab a clean shirt packed on top.

View of the South

Nick preparing to roll.

Looking East....

Clear in the North!

Now the ride to Dike, Iowa.  I should mention that the sky was grey and rain was a promise that we expected at any moment.  The ride had been one of putting rain gear on, taking rain gear off, putting rain covers on the panniers and deciding to take them off.  But as the day rolled on so did the dark clouds.  Someone had a phone alert about the possibility of tornadoes but that seemed to be so remote given the cool temperatures.  Not sunny and not warm.  The wind was either a favorable cross or headwind.  No in between.  But the sky behind us was black.  Keep riding.  Dike then Cedar Falls and SingleSpeed Brewing Co.  Call my son to SAG us in since I was not sure how to get to his place from downtown CF.
Ruined sidewall

Nick hard at work!

Joe and Donnie got a jump and busted ass and Nick and I were alone for a bit.  I was maybe 10 feet behind him on a slight climb when his rear tire blew out.  BANG!!!!  A puff of air and Nick immediately got off his bike.  Time to stop.  Seems like I did this a while back with Mary.  Told him to walk it to the driveway and we'll commence the operation.  Ugly.  Sidewall blew just below the seam.  Ruined tire.  Nick already flatted once on this ride in Des Moines on the gravel path from Orlando's to SW 30th.  He had one tube left and it was a schrader not a presta.  I on the other hand, had a bunch of tubes and a spare tire.  I learned that lesson last year.  I was more than happy to removed it from my pannier and let him use it.  I also gave him a tube and he gave me the schrader since technically my rear tire should have been using one.  Took a bit of time but we got him back on the road.  The dark clouds were getting closer.  One was green underneath.  Time to bring it on in.  Text the others to tell them what was up.  We pulled into Dike 1 minute too late.  After crossing Highway 20 I looked for the bar and then it rained very hard for about a minute.  I found the other riders at Lynch's Pub.  They let us bring the bikes inside.  We had several beers.

Then reality struck...

Hell on Earth.  As safe as we who live in the US are from wars some of us are powerless against weather.  This is our reality, one in which not many of us have to face but when we do seek shelter ASAP.  The four of us could have been in this storm instead of safely in front of it.

We watched the news.  It was bad.  Marshalltown was hit by a twister.  Ground zero was the courthouse.  The copula of the clock tower was blown off.  The buildings along Main St were heavily damaged.  The same place we had dinner and breakfast at a mere hours earlier was destroyed.  The Casey's we stopped at blew up from a gas line eruption.  Our hearts sank.  Video footage showed the destruction.  A town we fell in love with was hurting very, very badly.  Quin called and asked if we were ok.  We were safe.  "Want a SAG?"  Everyone said no.  We would ride it in.  When we left the bar the sky was clear blue.  In the distance to the east giant thunder clouds looked like Imperial cruisers from a Star Wars movie ready to unleash hell on the innocent below. 

Cut through the campus of the University of Northern Iowa, my alma mater.  I may have been on this campus once or twice since 1991.  Everything the same yet different.  Ride down College Hill.  Right turn on the bottom.  Left on Walnut.  Climb to 18th and downhill to 2nd.  Straight ahead to SingleSpeed Brewing Co.  More beer we cried.  Quin met us there.  He was able to get all four bikes with bags on in the bed of his Ranger.  He locked them up and covered them up at his apartment and then returned with Kayla's car to pick the humans up.  We ate at Tony's for dinner.

SingleSpeed Brewing Co, Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Joe helping load bikes in back of my son Quin's truck.  Apparently the photographer must have been as drunk judging by the quality of this photo.
Four loaded touring bicycles in back of a Ford Ranger.
My son Quin.

Marilyn & Me

Gravy's Diner.

Time table adjustments.  Normally we would wake up around dawn and pack up and roll.  But we needed a bicycle shop.  Quin's apartment was in eyesight of Europa Cycles but they open at 9 am.  Showers, laundry and breakfast at Gravy's Diner on University.  Take your basic 1950s theme diner and fill it with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe movie stuff and there you go.  Just like the 5 and Diner or Arnold's from Happy Day's.  I asked if they had espresso and the answer was no specials.  Then Donnie asked if there were any specials and they answered that there were no specials.  Promptly at 9 am we entered the bike shop.  Nick bought tubes and a foldable spare tire.  One never knows.  Last year I needed a new tire to complete the mission.  Who would be next?  Insurance.  Europa also gave us the opportunity to quiz locals on just how to get to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  The Cedarloo trail system is quite large and to those unfamiliar with it a bit confusing.  Mary and I struggled at night to reach Evansdale, mainly due to road and trail construction.  Joe grabbed a paper map as well.

Penn & Teller
Pretty simple finding the trail off Rainbow Ave.  Follow signs that say "Waterloo Downtown."  It was at the John Deere plant that I passed a sign and then doubled back to read the sign.  The others waited.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a long haired man in a suit running toward me.  My first reaction was that somebody needed directions.  Ha ha!  I'm not from here.  This happens all the time.  Drivers believe that I know the directions to everywhere.  But then he called my name.  He left his car on the road, no traffic.  But it was Aaron Hawbaker, a college roommate and teammate from the UNI Debate team back in the 1980s.  "I thought that was you.  I recognized your face!" he said.  We hugged and then took photos showing our height difference.  Aaron is 8 feet tall BTW.  He now is a public defender in Waterloo.  Big murder case coming up and he took the moment to stop his car and say hello.  We had not seen each other since Jeff Logan's funeral two years ago.  

On Face Book Aaron had this to say.  "Over 30 years ago, Chris (Che) Guevera and I were roommates at UNI. We had a room on the 4th floor of Noehren Hall. The room was decorated with dead technology mobiles and an old tv that played only white noise. I once woke one morning to Che cranking Death Valley 69 by Sonic Youth. (you need to listen to it to get my meaning). I was 18, I’m 50 now. Che has been living in Des Moines for forever and is an avid biker along with his wife Mary. Driving to work today I see a group of bikers decked out with panniers and the like and I see who I believe to be Che. Sure enough it was. He was en route to Cedar Rapids. What a serendipitous meeting.'

Five seconds difference and we would never have met that day.

Somewhere on the Cedar Valley Nature trail.  I think this is near La Porte City where we rode past the "ROAD CLOSED" sign.  The trail was closed for maintenance, trimming of trees and weeds and later bridge work.  We took the road when we saw the bridge out sign.
I love the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  It is beautiful.  Mary and my first bicycle camping adventure was on this trail back in 1990 or so.  We often come up for the Fool's Ride in April and ride from La Porte City to Brandon and back.  In 2014 we got as far as Urbana before heading west to Vinton and the Old Creamery Trail to Dysart and then to Union Grove State Park.  Yet somehow I have never completed it.  This was about to change.  We rode all the way into Hiawatha and then Cedar Rapids proper that day.
The gazebo in La Porte City.  Good place to camp.  Roof, electricity and water.  The town itself has a convenience store and a grocery store and a pub.

The Cedar River

Ruins of a gravel pit.

Trail surface at the gravel pit ruins.  There is a shelter at the end of the photo.  This is a nice stop for the Fools Ride in April and the Sloof Ride in September.
The O-Zone in Urbana, Iowa.  The town also has a Casey's General Store (popular Iowa based convenience store).

Rubies in Centerpoint.  Failed to take a photo of the fenced off yard where the owner allows bicyclist to camp.

Now people have criticized this trail for not being paved.  But the crushed gravel is the charm.  Sure, wider tires may have helped, after all our bikes were possibly 100 lbs,  but we never slowed down or encountered anything that made us question our decision to ride this trail.  Pave it, sure, traffic will increase but it is nice to escape from it all on a gravel path.   No stick bikes but I'd love to scream through this on a cyclocross or gravel bike or MTB or a hybrid for that matter.  The towns were great.  La Porte City had all the services we needed.  Brandon has a great bar and a store.  Urbana has a great bar, the O-Zone that served an all you can eat fish and shrimp special.  We stopped at Rubies in Centerpoint and the owner of the bar bought us a round.  And then the trail was paved and downhill the rest of the way.  The locals did not lie.

Enter A New Rider and Exit A Rider

I may have been a bit stressed this day.  Today was the day that my lovely wife Mary was to join us in Cedar Rapids and Joe was to go home.  My son Joe was driving Mary down and taking Joe back.  Coordinating the pick up and drop off was top of mind.  It was clear that we would not make Lion Bridge Brewing Co as originally planned.  But we picked Hiawatha.  Mary found a motel and we all got rooms and ate at the Mexican joint next door.  Mary and I were apart for almost 72 hours!  We have not been apart like that since last year.

Mary was missing....actually that is her bicycle, phone, glasses (1 of 3 pairs), purse and helmet and yes, her arm.

Joe makes his exit.  He had to return to work.  He had been off for about a month with busted ribs.  My son, also named Joe, played the transporter for both Mary and Joe.
Mr Burns stayed with us at the Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Cedar Rapids.

Saturday was outstanding.  Maybe this is what Ragbrai tried to be before it got fat.  Woke up and rode into downtown Cedar Rapids.  Farmers' Market.  Park the bikes and walk in the square area of that.  I found espresso.  We found Lion Bridge's tent and free samples.  The tap room would not open this early.  Shame.  But we got nice plastic sample cups to take home.  Then back on the trail to Ely.

A Horse Theory.  Jam band and a good one.

Found the Coffee Emporium during Farmers' Market.  3 shot iced breve (espresso and half and half over ice).

Lion Bridge had a tent out.  Free samples.  Brewery was not open yet,

Some bastard stripped my bike!!!

The last thing I need, a fertility deity on a bicycle...

Mary and Donnie

My bike and Donnie's bike at Iowa Brewing Co.  Too early!!!  Not open!!!

We were a year too early for the trail between Ely and Solon.  We tried but it ended.  Highway 1 action and then a left.  I came across two women on horses and I asked them if this road leads to Solon.  They laughed and smiled and said take a right at the stop sign.  They were right.  A festive scene was here.  Beef Days.  More importantly, Big Grove Brewpub.  Beer and food.  And it was open.  Three beers at least.  Big Grove Brewery
Ely, Iowa

I never knew Bridgestone as involved with Kabuki.

On hot days of biking nothing beats a few minutes in the beer cooler.  Busch Light is the most popular beer in Iowa.  Light and watery but one can drink a gallon and be alright.

HOT FUDGE STAT!!  Nick has a brain freeze from ice cream.

My $4.99 gamble.  From Plank Road (Miller).  6 pack of tallboys for less than $5.  Not bad.  Tasty.

The end of the new trail south of Ely.  Next year, next year...

Big Grove Brew pub in Solon, Iowa.  Great beer.  Great food.  Great stop.

Boomtown Golden Ale.  IIRC the menu said 'I've been working hard, I deserve Premium."

Pepperoni with goat cheese.

McHaffey Bridge.  Nick's bike has red bags

Sugar Bottom Bikes.  I forget why we stopped.  They were busy and no one talked to us so we just rolled on.

Parking in the patio at Reunion Brewery.  Another 3 or 4 beer stop.  They gave us koozies!

Big Grove to Reunion Brewing Co was a different matter.  Once again, a year too soon.  The trail will be nice even if the hills remain.  Hills?  Yes, we went through Sugar Bottom and McHaffey  Bridge Rd into North Liberty and Coralville.  And another 3 or 4 beers of the strong craft variety.

Great gravel.  Better than some paved roads. South of Iowa City.

Three Trek 520s at 520th St.

Nick was tired.

Some farm between Iowa City and Kalona we pulled over for a break.

Water and beer at Kalona Brewing Co.  Sheer Madness was my first selection...seemed fitting for this adventure!~

1968 Pontiac Firebird 350 HO out in front of the brewery in Kalona.

I placed Google maps on voice directions to get out of Iowa City and onto Kalona.  It was 4 pm before we left Reunion.  A planned stop in Riverside, Iowa, future birthplace of Captain James T Kirk, was nixed.  Washington, Iowa, as an overnight was out.  But Kalona had a swimming pool hence showers IF we could get there on time.  We did not.  Once out of that college town we found a gravel road and fled south.  Good gravel.  We all enjoyed it.  If all gravel was like this I would be a gravel rider, too.  Then soft asphalt roads.  First there was the fossil.  Some poor hapless animal got ran over by a truck on the soft tar and then overtime embedded into the asphalt.  It looked like a 65 million year old fossil that turned into stone.  Some of us commented that they would have taken a photo but it was on a hill.  My thoughts as well.  Then it felt like I had a flat tire.  Donnie commented on it after I did.  The road was too hot for the soft asphalt and our tires sank into the surface.  Mary tried passing me on a hill and she hit a soft spot, lost a lot of speed and was unable to complete her pass.  Ha ha!  We missed the gravel.

The pool in Kalona closed at 7 pm.  We were late.  But Kalona Brewing Co was open until 10 pm and happy hour was still going on.  I had three or four beers and a burger.  Donnie drank ciders and had a turkey melt.  I think the others had ciders as well Jefferson County Orchard was on tap.  Always good.  We found a room at the Dutch Country Inn near by.  Shower and sleep and a continental breakfast in the morning.  I purchased a 6 pack of Rolling Rock at the BP next door for Sunday's ride.

Kid Rock Encounter....there was an individual of very loud opinions at the continental breakfast area of the motel making his presence known.  If you ever listened to Kinky Friedmann's They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore you would understand.  But he was not a redneck in a bowling shirt guzzling Lone Star Beer.  He looked like Kid Rock and was dressed in a white "wife beater" that had a US flag on it and the word "FREEDOM."  Everyone could hear him.  "They are all over here...history repeats itself...ect ect."  He had a wife or girlfriend who was probably 40 going on 65 due to the need for the fourth cigarette during breakfast but she only opened her mouth to either put a limited amount of food in it or a drag off her smoke.  He smoked at least three.  I thought it was ironic that he bitched about freedom and wore a shirt expressing his love for freedom yet surrendered his freedom to Big Tobacco.  The mouthy smart ass in me wanted so badly to point that out but I had the wrong jersey on.  I was wearing my Che Guevara jersey featuring dark skinned people hauling cigars and tobacco.  Perfect for yesterday when I rode through Johnson County but not right now.

Phone booth in Frytown, Iowa.  Che Guevara jersey.  I get 10 cents for every Che shirt sold!!.

Sunday Morning in Amishland and Hills

This is Amish country.  Sunday morning in Amish country.  They go to church.  I lost count of how many horse drawn buggies we saw on Highway 1.  Maybe 30 horse drawn carriages of all shapes and sizes, all black.  BTW, this highway has a shoulder wider than many bicycle trails.  We waved at them.  They waved back and stared at Mary who was not wearing a ankle length dress.  Incredible.  Even the horses stared at us!  One kid holding they reins looked like the kid from Home Alone.  We saw a family with barefoot children walking on gravel to their church.  Peaceful.  These people will be our overlords when civilization and society collapses and we find ourselves in the pre-industrial world.

Next stop was Frytown.  It is dead.  Just a few homes an some sort of garage.  The first of three phone booths was here.  It had a regular home phone in it and there was a dial tone.  No more horse and buggies.  Lexus SUVs, biplanes and short steep curvy hills.  Time to work.  Climb hills.  Watch the biplane and hope it got close enough for a photo.  The roads had great names.  Orval Yoder Tpk SW, Black Diamond Rd, Black Hawk Rd, Old Man Creek.  No sign to photograph for that natural body of water.   Eventually we got to the top and rode into Williamsburg.  Stop for food at the Sundown Bar and Grill.  Joe just pulled up in his truck to take Nick home.  I had a Reuben and a West-O Coco Stout.  It was time for Nick to leave.  His wife was scheduled for medical tests, possible cancer. [good news, no cancer!!!] This time no replacement.  Then there were three.  Donnie, Mary and I.
Target Acquired!

Nothing like a snap shirt from Ladyg Hoegarden to make one look fat.  But it is dry and I am fat.  Bucket of wine!

Sunset Peach wine.

Fireside Winery  was the next stop.  Unfortunately, we had to fight traffic between the Sundown and  I-80 and the outlet mall.  But it was worth it.  Nobody honked or yelled or ran us off the road.  I first encountered them at the downtown Hy Vee in Des Moines.  They are located in a blank spot on my map, an area without breweries although we could have gone about another 10 miles out of the way to Millstream.  The other choice was Wooden Wheel Vineyards & Winery just off the Kewash Trail near Keota but that option was no longer available since we overnighted in Kalona.  We did the obligatory samples, purchased a bottle and they placed in in a bucket of ice and we moved to the patio in back to watch the band.  Unfortunately, the band ran out of guitar strings and hence, no more live music.  Water and restroom were available and Donnie and I probably destroyed the men's room.  Sorry.  Bicycle touring plays havoc on one's digestive system.

Strange note on the trip from the outlet mall to Fireside.  An older red Ford pick up truck was stopped and men were outside of it on our side of the road.  Then they got in and drove a short distance and got out as if they were checking on something.  But it was creepy.  Are they trying to kidnap Mary?  This was a day before we were aware of the disappearance of Mollie Tibbets in nearby Brooklyn, Iowa.  Speaking of which, children and adults are disappearing from Iowa at an alarming rate.  They are missing....

Carried this beer since Ely.  Finished the 6 pack in Marengo.

Sunset in Marengo, Iowa.

Back on the road traffic was better.  We were aiming for Old Highway 6.  The closer we could get to Grinnell the better.  But we stopped in the first town, Marengo, Iowa.  One of those M-towns like Menlo, Minburn, Mingo, Martensdale and Milo that we encounter on trails and popular bicycling routes and we always confuse the names.  Donnie had this issue today.  The hills flattened and the sound of our cowbells brought a herd of cattle running to the fence.  I shouted "Hello boys err... I mean girls" then the one bull in the group put his legs around a female and mounted her properly!  Took all my strength to keep the bike upright I was laughing so hard.  Good Lord, where is this town, I need to call it a day!

Old Highway 6
 Highway 6 had a shoulder.  I could have rode it all evening and night.  Flat and tailwind.  It was hard to stop.  But a stop was needed.  Donnie was familiar with the motel/campground.  The Sudbury Motel and RV Park charges $15 for a tent site, showers and laundry available.  Borrow an empty site for electrical hook up i.e. charge the phones.  The BP station on the corner had food and beverages and ice.  We had to stay.  BTW on the way into town we passed Woody's Discount Food that was advertising a 10 lb bag of ice for $1.25.  Did not need it but it was tempting.  Most of the RV campers here were construction workers.  It was a quiet night.  Finally got to use the tents that we packed and carried along.

Breakfast at the BP and a wonderful ride on Old Highway 6 or Hwy 6 Trail or Historic Hwy 6.  East of Redfield it is the White Pole Road.  Before I-80 this was how one crossed the state.  Smooth and flat and with a shoulder.  Big trucks taking different roads.  Bicycling paradise!  A few towns.  Ladora home of a convenience store and the Ladora Bank Bistro which I wanted to visit but time was an issue.  We also encountered the Mollie Tibbets missing signs here since she is from nearby Brooklyn.  Soon we found ourselves turning onto a county road later named Old 6 Rd and rolled into Victor, the next town and it had a Casey's and a red phone booth that had a dial tone.   Brooklyn was next and we took more time off the bicycles.  On the way into town a man stopped a large truck for a tire business, ran across the highway and gave us each a can of Arizona tea and chatted a bit.  The usual "Ragbrai ain't here, man" joke came up.  But it was a great experience to be greeted by people for doing what we loved.  Mary and I drank our tea on church steps by the flags.  After John Wayne's boyhood home we rolled on to Grinnell.

At the Ladora Stora.  Not functioning.

This is where we saw the first Mollie Tibbets missing sign.

Ladora Bank Bistro, Ladora, Iowa.

Victor, Iowa.

Mary enjoying the Arizona Tea on the steps of St Patricks

Across the street from St Patrick's Rectory and next to the library in Brooklyn.  State and corporate flags.

John Wayne lived here.

Etched not photoshop.

The view from the middle of the hill.  Donnie down below.

Climbing out of Brooklyn.  Mary of course is featured here.
Des Moines IPA at Lonnsi's Grinnell, Iowa.

Another brew pub fail.  Peace Tree was closed when we rolled into Grinnell.

Get you helmet on, standing in front of a closed brew pub ain't gonna do you no good no how.

F17 Blues: Punish your Machine

Grinnell would be the last town before Baxter.  The road between these cities is hilly and offers no shade, no quarter.  We needed lunch and our tires needed air.  6 days on the bike took its toll on air pressure.  Although Bikes To You was closed they do have an air hose and there is a bike fix station there as well.  Bring a presta adapter for the air hose.  We ate at Lonkski's and hit the road north to get to F17.  
Inside the cornfield on F17.  Place the chairs in the corn itself because that is where the shade is.  2 beer stop.

We left our bikes outside the field.
The pineapple sister beer of the lime beer I purchased in Ely.  This 6 pack of tallboys was purchased at a Casey's in Victor.  Price was not indicted.  $9.99!  Bastards!!  The Casey's in Ely charged only $4.99 for a 6 of tallboys.  It was good, not overly sweet and went down quickly.  I consumed two in this cornfield. 

I've been on this road a few times and knew what to expect.  Hill after hill after hill.  We were headed into the sun.  About 20 miles of this hell.  On a light weight road bike this would not be a problem.  On loaded touring bikes, well a different story.  We would have to take breaks but Mary and Donnie seem to think we can only stop in shady areas.  There are none.  Mary lead at the beginning.  She did not stop.  We finally caught her and said we need to take a break.  Then I lead.  I would not stop.  I would not let them pass me.  I figured out the bike and the hills.  Leave it in big ring and get as much speed as possible and wait until the bike slowed down enough to resume pedaling and resume.  Not an easy feat given that my 7-speed cassette was messed up by a loose and stripped lock ring limiting the upper end of my gears.  Worse, delayed the resumption of pedaling.  But I played the aerodynamic and center of gravity game and was able to do the biggest belly whoppers of them all to keep a lead and get to the top of the hill without losing all my steam.  I eventually stopped and we placed chairs in the corn and drank beer before tackling the rest.  Bastards, we need to stop on occasion and I can keep going and going today.  A Game on!

It was all going well until on top of a hill I saw the ROAD CLOSED sign at the Highway 14 intersection.  This was the last major intersection to cross before we entered Baxter and the Chichaqua Trail.  I coasted down the hill.  Gravel road to the right.  Paved road to the left that the detour followed.  Bridge work over the North Skunk River.  Could we simply walk our bikes over the hole?  At least we were almost there but could we get there with ease?  Construction people were still working.  Not a good sign.  Donnie went in to talk while Mary and I waited.  Pull out the map and phone and fire up Google Maps.  Our reliance on this technology had greatly increased this year.  Turning left on the paved road leads to Newton.  No paved roads to turn west on to get around this obstacle.  We don't want to go to Newton. After a few minutes Donnie came back.  "Absolutely not," he said.  CRAP!!!  I looked at the gravel road to our right.  Then a farmer pulled up in a white truck.

"You looking for an easy way to get to Baxter?"


"Head left and take the first right.  It is gravel.  Take the first right and then it will take you back to the road about a mile west of here.  Easy.  There may be others who will take this so give em some room."

That was great advice.  The road we turned on was not visible from out stop at the sign.  Decent gravel.  No traffic.  Nobody in a hurry to drive to Baxter right now.  A man on a 4 wheeler appeared.  We talked.  Said that our timing was bad.  "Last night a group of bikes crossed after 830 pm.  You can do that when nobody is working."  Soon we were back on F17 and rolling into Baxter.

We stopped at the Kountry Korner aka Baxter Oil Company.  When Anders and I did the same route a few years back we ordered a pizza.  Mary and I love stopping here and will not go to the Casey's in Baxter just to eat here.  Today I had a burrito.  Donnie had ice cream and then like Mary a taco.  For dessert we had root beer floats.  Get ice for the beer, Gatorade and snacks.  No food in Mingo unless the Greencastle Tavern was open but that was not a gamble I wanted to take.  Once again we were rolling.  The last 10 miles.

Now Donnie wanted to call it a day here in Baxter.  The city park had toilets, electricity, a shelter house and wooden picnic tables.  We stopped.  He had his shirt off and was damn near unpacking his bike.  Mary was concerned that this would not be a good spot since the school was across the street.  It would be a career limiting move to be hassled by the cops for an open container or being with people that were consuming alcoholic beverages in a school zone.  He ignored Mary's concern but changed his mind when it was discovered that there was no water here.  No go.  Resume the plan to ride to Mingo.  Shirt back on and we were off.  Downhill on trail.  An easy ride at the end of a long day.  76 miles.

Mingo was quiet.  Motel Mingo was our final stop.  The city park.  Roof, picnic tables, electricity, water and a restroom albeit a kybo.  Tomorrow Donnie would ride home.  Breakfast in Bondurant a mere 13 miles away.  Kickstands deployed.  Plug phones in.  Shower via the water pump.  That purple bucket hanging off the back of my bicycle came in handy for that.  Should have taken the shower after dark so I could do it in the nude.  Fix drinks.  Whiskey and ginger ale and beer.  Our adventure was nearing completion.  It looked like the Greencastle Tavern was open but we did not venture that way.   Seems like it is never open when we ride through but then again we ride early.  In the morning we did check the sign and it did say it was to be open until 10 pm on Mondays.  That night we spotted a fox and in the morning we saw the trash pile he raided.  Bin dog indeed.

In the morning an older gentleman with a trike recumbent pulled up to the shelter and unloaded.  He was waiting for his son.  Was not sure what direction he was going to ride.  His son had the plan.  We headed west toward the end of the trail.  One stop on the bridge over the South Skunk River.  I noted how much the lower the water was when Mary and I rode through the last weekend of July.  The sandbar was visible and a huge mess of trees were stuck under the bridge.  We took our final group photo.  A bittersweet moment as we parted ways.  Donnie was going home and we were heading to the off route party area of the Ragbrai on the High Trestle Trail.

Donnie in red but more importantly the water level is down quite a bit and there are many trees up rooted by the rains and stuck under the bridge.

Big mess of trees under the bridge.

The sandbar.  Was not visible last month.

Mary and I on the bridge over the South Skunk River, Chichaqua Trail.

Last group photo.

Earlier in the ride I suggested that we ride to the high Trestle.  What a wonderful way to cap off our Ragbrai. I even posted this on Face Book when my teammates from Mystery Machine said they were out on the Brai.  We could meet up I suggested.  Tuesday on the Trestle.  Surely, people would be riding there instead of taking the route.  This would afford us the best opportunity to meet with Ragbrai, something we try to do every year.  But Joe needed to be home by the weekend to spend time with his wife before re-entering the workforce.  Nick's wife had an important medical appointment.  Donnie wanted to be home by then because he was to re-enter the workplace on Thursday.  Just Mary and I.  I thought I could do it.

Our route to the HTT had us go through the "new" section of the trail through Berwick and the Ankeny connection.  Normally, I am not fond of this.  Sure, Bondurant to Berwick is a nice trail but  taking it is a bit out of the way for Mary and I.  The right turn to Ankeny is a curvy trail that seems to go out of its way to take the most indirect path to Ankeny.  And then the sidepath on Oralabor Rd is not ideal or pretty.  Urban Hell is what I call it.  Too many intersections and cars.  Almost as bad as the RRVT in Waukee except I've never heard of anyone getting hit in Ankeny along this stretch.  As usual we rode to Irvindale Drive and then cut north to the HTT.  And the storm sewer work project was still in full force so a detour to Greenwood Rd was taken.  Eventually we got there and the then the 5 mile ride into the wind to get to the Oasis.

Fenders Brewery.  Not open when we arrived.  Such a bummer.  I like this place.

Now my attitude was getting the better of me.  What was this, day 6 or 7.  Mary thanked me for not riding home but I had no desire to go on.  Now a headwind.  How much money did we have left?  Where would we stay?  Showers?  What if I was wrong and no Off Route Sinners were taking the HTT to get to Ames or party on the trail.  I only wanted to see the Trestle at night and it would be another 8 or 10 hours or so til sunset.  Was it worth it?  The stench at the Oasis set my mind.  There is a serious need to clean that crapper out.  Years of defecation and urination have taken its toll.  The place stinks!  Mary could read my face.  She was on day 4.  We gave up.  But it was time to eat.  Mary suggested Fenders Brewery in Polk City.  Ah, that's a great idea.  So off to Polk City we went.  Fenders would not open until 4 pm.  It was around noon.  We rode to the relocated Subway and ate.  From here we'd take the Neal Smith Trail home.  But the trail was closed due to high water.  Still!  Turn around and head back to the Oasis.  But instead of heading there via R38/Sheldahl Rd we took NW 126th for the first time.  Nice road and it saved us a bit of time.  We considered taking 118th but there was a sign for the I-35, some cars and a cop.  Avoid traffic.  Back on the trail with a tailwind.  At the Git n Go on Oralabor we took a right and got to R56 or NW 6th Dr and took that all the way to Saylorville and continued south to NW 60th which crosses Highway 415/ 2nd St and then a right at the cemetery on NE 3rd/Cornell St which took us all the way to the NST in Des Moines or 3 miles from home.  This is our route to the Trestle.  Saves a lot of time over the Neal Smith Trail and does not flood. (instead of taking a left at Birdland Marina go straight to the road and cross at the stop sign.  That is Cornell.  Keep going north and remember to turn left at the cemetery.  There is a Casey's in Savorville.  Two hills max).

More nice to take a shower at home, sit in a/c, start laundry immediately, see my daughter and dog and smelly cat.  Home sweet home.  Perhaps take our road bikes out the next two days and do different rides.  And just when I thought I was out and done the phone made a noise.  Amy O text.

"In Woodward."  8 pm.

"I gave up at The Oasis."

"Bummer.  We ride to DSM tomorrow then go home."

"Do we have to go to Slater to get to DSM?"


Ragbrai Supplemental: How the Other Half Lives

Amy and Mark

Tammy and Joe

Idea!  Meet them in the morning.  Take road bikes.  Mystery Machine/Diehards, Amy, Mark, Joe and Tammy have been on the road err trails for about 4 or 5 days IIRC.  Amy and Mark live in KC and wanted to get home.  They had a hotel room near Jordan Creek.  Joe and Tammy live in Des Moines near Drake University.  Back in the 1990s and early 2000s we all took the team bus and rode the official Ragbrai route.  But life, and children, changed this and then the bus died and we decided that self contained bicycle touring was easier and had less drama.  We all did this.

 I'm not sure how the Neal Smith Trail was except it was flooded at the marina and other places.  When we rode to the Triangle Tap a few weeks back water was still really really high.  The lake was at or near record levels and parts of the trail were still very much under water.  Damage from the flooding had not been assessed yet.  The trail sits low along the river and river is still high.  That is why we opted for the road.  Our friends would be in for a major surprise.  Amy said they were finally going to bed about 2 am in Madrid.

The Oasis Party.  Most people had rolled on to Elkhart,  Tammy's bike is in the foreground, 90s vintage Trek 1220.  Joe's  Surly LHT has the orange bags.  Mary's road bike, Trek 1600 is next to his and my LeMond is next noted by the cork bar wrap.

Tammy, Mary, Joe, Amy with her back to the camera.

In the morning more questions conveyed via texting.  They were almost to Slater.   I said get beer in Slater and we'll meet at the Oasis.   So they were 5 miles away from the Oasis an we were 20 miles away.  But we had light weight road bikes and a good night's sleep, breakfast and espresso.  We were 2 miles way from the rendezvous when she text that they were there!  Damn, we were quick!  At one intersection we saw a group of bicycles pulled over and the sound of beers opening.  But they were not the baggers we were looking for.  But our friends were at the Oasis.  And the beer flowed and large group of others arrived.  What a gathering!  Many people we knew.  Some we saw off route last year on the Three Rivers Trail north of Ft Dodge.  I was quizzed since I would be considered a local.

"How do we get to Elkhart?"

"Take the next left and ride east for 9 miles.  Simple."

"How is that road?"

"Flat and since it is purple on the map light traffic."

"Anyone use Google maps? I asked"

No one.  So I whipped mine out.

We drank a lot of beer and I did the math.  Our four friends must have been averaging a case of beer every 10 miles.  They spent a night in Minburn on the Raccoon River Valley Trail at the  city park.  During the night their bikes were burgled.  Missing light, open bags, some small stuff missing.  They may have had 1 shower during their week and that was in Jefferson.  TrailBrai.  Eventually it was time to move on.  Repeat the ride home we took yesterday but several stops including a stop in the cemetery for a beer break.  Firetrucker Brewery was considered but voted against.  Mark and Amy needed to get to their hotel.  Mark had a headache.  Final stop was at Captain Roy's  Mark's headache was worse.  He wanted to get to his van at Tammy's house and go to the hotel.  I don't blame him.  That was me yesterday.  We got them to E Grand Ave and pointed west.  You go that way.  Good luck.  It was finally over.

The Agony in the Garden.  Fitting, asking for this cup to be passed.  Our road bikes hiding behind The Lord.

Last PowerBar and last beer.  Captain Roy's

One free day left until I re-entered the working world.  We had coffee at DSM Brew and breakfast at the Drake Diner.  Grilled steaks for dinner.  Glad I returned to work on Friday since it is a slow day.  Monday will be hell.  Life is good.

479 miles.  8 days.

My Bicycle

For this year's adventure I chose my trusty 1991 Trek 520.  American made and American steel, True Temper.  I bought it used at Barr Bicycle back in 1996 and have placed every scratch on it.  I used this bike as my main bike for quite a number of years until I put the front low-rider on it and reserve it for touring only.  Occasionally I will use it as a grocery-getter since its loading capacity is quite large.

Originally equipped with Shimano Deore groupo.  I've replaced the rear derailleur a couple of times over the years.  Currently I am using a Shimano Acera rear derailleur and amazed by the the speed of shifting.  Speaking of shifting, the original owner replaced the bar end shifters with downtube shifters.  This is fine with me since its new shifters make it easier to wrap the bars and replace cables with the added bonus of not hitting the shifters with my knees.

I use Vaude panniers (German).  Four rear panniers because they hold more but when I get Mary a proper touring bicycle I will order two sets of front panniers and place my current "front" bags on her rear rack and the new bags will go on front of both bikes.

I am using Schwalbe's Marathon Supreme foldable tires, 700x35.  These roll so well and I love them.  They remind me of Specialized Fatboys that I used to use on my mountain bikes back in the day.  They are fast tires.  Last year Sam Auen became aware of my desire to ditch the heavy slow rolling Continental Touring Plus 700x37 tires and gave me a set of the Schwalbes.  New, never used.  Price tag said they were $80 a piece.  I immediately fell in love with them.  But 161 miles into our adventure in July as I cut through the lawn of a park to seek refuge from the rain under a shelter I received a sidewall gash and before I could finish my beer the front tire blew up.  The hole indicated that the tire was dead.  Fortunately, Craig had a spare tire with him and I was able to complete the adventure, 4 more days.  When home I searched online to replace the Supreme but they were $61.  So I placed the old Connie back on for 11 months.  A few weeks ago I checked online again and the Schwalbe was now $34.  I bought one.  Should have bought 2, the second as a spare.  As insurance since the speed of the tire comes at the lack of sidewall strength, I carried the Connie as a spare.  That was the tire I gave to Nick that dark day on our way to Cedar Falls.  The Supremes did well on all surfaces, crushed limestone, gravel and paved.  I recommend them to anyone with the warning that the sidewalls are vulnerable.