Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Covid Files #8 US 330 Trail

Looking toward the east.  We just rolled from that direction.  A few minutes later we were safely in our car and then the rain began and escorted us all the way home.

Sunday May 17, 2020 Melbourne, Iowa.  We park in front of Clark's Bar.  It is closed because bars are closed due to the covid-19 pandemic.  Too bad, I like this place.  On bicycle we are 50 miles from home.  By Honda CR-V I have no clue.  We are here to ride to our son's, Quin, and his GF's new flat in Marshalltown.  Since this will be a ride of moderate distance and all we need to carry is tire repair, water bottles and energy bars we take our fastest road bikes.   Fast recce ride of isolation.  Melbourne is the western end of the US 330 Trail that parallels its namesake highway.

Not a long trail by any stretch of the imagination, 8 miles according to the official State DOT trail map or 11.1 miles according to Trail Link,  nor a destination trail by any means, the 330 trail is an important link between the metropolitan Des Moines, Iowa, area and Marshalltown.  Ames, IA, is included.  Central Iowa.  From our home there is an 11 mile gap in the trail system connecting this trail to the Chichaqua Valley Nature Trail.  But this distance is remedied by S62, a paved county road  that runs from Baxter, Iowa, the eastern end of the CVNT, to Melbourne.  This is also known as Hart Ave and it was spruced up when Ragbrai rolled on it a few years ago.  Hard surface, light traffic and only 3 hills.  Rumors of a connecting trail have floated.
Another connection from the unpaved  Heart of Iowa Nature Trail exists but it ends in Collins, IA, but is slated to resume in Rhodes, IA, 4 miles shy of Melbourne and requires the use of gravel roads and a muddy flooded tunnel.  From my home in Des Moines this is not only out of the way but limits what bikes I would use.  Interesting how close I was to this a few weeks back but now I know the way.

The sign on the door of Clark's Bar.

Clark's Bar.  They do serve food here.  We always stop here when the bicycle journey takes us through town.  The owner once told me that on Wednesdays people from Marshalltown ride to the bar for tacos or something.  I have yet to be here on that night.  Head north from the bar, take a left when you have to turn and a right when you have to turn again and the trail will appear.  Turn east, right onto the trail.  Simple.

A few minutes later a truckstop/convenience store appears on the other side of the highway just north of Melbourne.  Restrooms and everything but Gatorade.  Food is available, to go because of the covid.  Showers are available, too, if you feel the need.  $7 includes towel and soap.  Used to be $5 according to the sign.

That sky...
West of Melbourne at the end of the ride.

From the highway this trail looks boring.  For some people it would be.  Nothing but a glorified sidepath in the middle of nowhere Iowa.  But once on the trail one sees the beauty.  That highway on your side is the bottom frame of a HUGE Iowa sky.  Today's sky was painted in carious shades of grey from blue to black as the sky was unsettled with rain.  Lucky for us it did not rain while we were biking.  The other side is framed by farmland and birds and the painted sky.  Much better than the sidepaths or Waukee or Ankeny.

US 330 Trail has a hard surface.  Every mile is marked by a 9-1-1 stenciled painting with the distance beginning in Marshalltown itself.  For instance the last marker we saw was for mile 19 west of Melbourne.  Intersections are not paved and can be rough especially after rain.  Rocky, sandy and muddy.  Before long just when the enjoyment kicks in the trail takes an overpass and crosses the highway and a few minutes later it turns left and officially ends near Grimes Farm Nature Center outside Marshalltown.  Here the trail connects to the Marshalltown trail system starting with Linn Creek Recreational Trail.  This is a beautiful trail that goes through town.  Today we we not on the trail for very long.  This trail is used frequently by pedestrians, families and cyclists.  We encountered many people.  Should be noted that we encountered only two cyclists on the US 330 trail.

We did see some blue in the sky.  This was taken on our way to Quin and Kayla's place.  The following photos were taken on the way back.
My bike on the abandoned bridge looking west to the bridge over Linn Creek.  Fitting that I chose this bicycle as it was the first major ride with new wheels.  My first major ride on this bike was on the Marshalltown's Marshmallo Ride back in 2008.  It rained hard on us that day.  Today no rain until after we loaded up the vehicle for the trip home.

Perfect place for bridge beers.  Nobody uses it.  The road is closed.  The railing is good for leaning your bicycles.  Plenty of room for social distancing.

Mary practicing social distancing on this bridge.  Notice the sky.

 On the return we took the trail past Melbourne and discovered that it has a tunnel that goes underneath the highway and on the other side the trail is no longer paved but leads to a parking lot off of Gerhart Ave.  Had Joe and I headed north out of Rhodes then taken the first right we would have discovered this and had a century plus avoided that terrible gravel road.  Maybe next time.  The tunnel itself was a dangerous proposition.   Dark, muddy and flooded by recent rains it was a miracle that neither Mary and I crashed.  The worst bicycle tunnel I have ever ridden through.

A quick note about the weather.  My memories of these rides will be one of grey skies, rain or mist and cold temperatures.  Mary and have had maybe one ride during the pandemic that was sunny, warm and dry.

Verdict:  a mere means to an end or a nice ride into the country to visit a major community near the center of the state?  This trail, these trails, have been part of our adventures.  Mary and I rode on them on our trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa, and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail a few years ago.  Two years ago our team started in Cumming, Iowa, and overnighted at Riverview park at the eastern terminus of the Linn Creek Recreational Trail.  I know that we shall ride this again.

We covered over 30 miles this day.  It would have been a 130 mile round trip.  I am planning to do that some day when the weather is good.

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