Monday, August 24, 2020

The T-Wash Ride: Covid Files

So much bicycle themed art on this trail yet so few riders this day.  Malvern, Iowa.

We placed our time off requests in 6 or 7 months ago and never rescinded them.  Ragbrai or not we were going to ride.  Mary's Heroes always ride in late July.  And generally we do not ride on the Ragbrai route but ride the same week just start a few days earlier.  Then the Novel Covid-19 Pandemic hit and Ragbrai was cancelled.  But we were determined to ride.  For me it was going to be my last full week of my covid induced sabbatical, I was furloughed then laid off but I'd be working a new job before the month ended.

Head west, Heroes, head west!  Sunday we would meet on the T-Bone Trail just north of Atlantic, IA, and ride to Audubon, IA, before turning around.  Then we loaded up and drove to Shenandoah, IA, for two days on the Wabash Trace Trail.  We took lightly packed touring bicycles and stayed two nights at the Shenandoah Inn & Suites.

Day 1 The T-Bone Trail

Audubon, Iowa

Joe's bike on a favorite trestle bridge near the T-Bone Trail.

For whatever reason the trail does not cross here but a beautiful deck was built instead of a bridge.  Always a nice stop on the T-Bone Trail.  Note to self: get a kickstand!

Spotted here WEEKS before the story broke out. Iowa's favorite beer.

A Great Pyrenees in Audubon.  Our Pyr, Fritz, was born on a farm not to far away from here.  They could be related.

Because I had to do something right at 8 am that required stable internet, Mary and left an hour after Donnie ad Joe.  We parked our CR-V next to Joe's truck at the gas station right off the Atlantic exit on I-80.  The trail, despite stating that it begins in Atlantic, fizzles out somewhere on a gravel road near Atlantic. The gas station and motel are more convenient for parking and safer too.  There is a problem with gravel over a small part of the trail, drifting off the shoulder of Highway 71, just prior to crossing the highway. No big deal but something to watch out for.  

The Kitten  Not long after crossing 71 we encountered a very young kitten on the trail.  Very young.  White with grey spots.  Just weaned I suppose.  We would have loved to have taken it with us but that was not practical.  Crying out for help.  I offer it a meat stick that Mary broke into smaller pieces.  There was a house nearby and we hoped that it was from there.  Maybe that cat was an omen or warning.  Turn around and go home.

Rolling on it was not until Exira, IA, that the four of us caught up with each other in the shade of a park.  From there we rode together the rest of the day.  Getting hungry we remembered Daryl's Place in Hamlin, IA, but it was closed.  Sunday, covid or bad economy we did not know so we continued to Audubon taking the obligatory photo with Albert the Bull.  Across the highway from Albert was a farm with goats and an ever watchful Great Pyrenees guarding them.  I took a photo of this dog as my Pyrenees was born just outside of Audubon and I like seeing Pyrs doing what they were bred to do.  Bark at strangers and guard livestock.  I wondered if Fritz was related to this one.

After photos it was time to eat. Stopped at Cliff's but they only serve frozen pizzas.  El Adobe Mexican Restaurant just closed for the day.  One and done and head to Waspy's Truck Stop.  This family owned plaza has a nice motel, truck service area, carwash, restaurant and convenience store. We were hoping that The Feed Mill was open, closed on Sundays.  We just discovered that but the convenience store was serving food and had an airconditioned seating area.  Donnie's pork tenderloin was the winner despite the rest of us never seeing it.  He had to wait four minutes for it to cook while the rest of us selected grab and go food, bacon cheeseburgers and fried chicken, and found a table.  Donnie never found the table until he had finished eating. He said it was like a thick breaded pork loin in size.

The trip back was hot and the sun fried us.  Three beer stops, one on the trestle bridge on a gravel road that intersects the trail, mandatory stop, another at the gazebo at Exira.  Here we found a sign posted about a scavenger hunt on the trail that explained the strange objects we saw.  On the way up we saw toys and such on trail.  There was a an orange "fairy" on a bench and some plastic colorful tools hanging in a tree.  I thought that some kid in a Burley got bored and tossed the stuff out unbeknownst to the parent pulling the trailer.  This happens.  Our final stop was at the park in Brayton, IA,  Shade and restrooms with flush toilets and hand sinks.  A agricultural helicopter was either practicing or selling rides as it seemed to be looping the area from the Audubon airfield.  Also an olive drab aircraft similar to a WWII observation plane was flying around the area as well.   Sadly, the kitten was still in the same area although at first not moving.  Mary and Joe thought it was dead but when Donnie and I rolled by it got up and ran to the trees.

The a/c of our vehicles never felt better.  No where to change, just load up the bikes and purchase Gatorade from the gas station.  It seemed like a long drive to Shenandoah.  We took old highways and county roads.  On one occasion a modern helicopter popped up to our left.  I suppose it was a crop duster but we never saw it again.  Just driving along and sensing that something was out there and see an bright orange or red mast helicopter at our level parallel to us over a cornfield.  Strange.  The other strange event was the woman at the Casey's parking lot in Essex, IA.  Noting our bright bicycle regalia and the bikes hanging off the back of Joe's truck, Mary's bike and mine safely hidden inside our Honda, she felt compelled to let her excitement out.  I heard "Ragbrai!"  

"I was here when Ragbrai came to town!" 
"I don't know how you do it.  Drink all day and night and get back on that tiny seat."

Training.  Start out with a sawhorse and a 12 pack of Busch Light....But evil Chris shouted "cocaine" as she looked a bit methalated.  Donnie said she smelled bad and could not wait for Joe to put the truck into gear and step on the gas pedal.  Funny thing is that we probably were very stinky ourselves!  Still nice to know that not everyone hates cyclists or Ragbrai.

We got to our hotel an hour or half an hour later.  Check in.  Put on deodorant and clean clothes and head to the Mexican restaurant that was recommended and closed at 8 pm.  We got there before 8 but they stopped seating at 730.  So we went to Mondo's Restaurant despite receiving a negative recommendation.  We were able to sit and eat inside.  A large menu and inexpensive.  Mary and I ate for $23.  The only thing I did not care for was the need for this place to have its grill hoods cleaned and fryers cleaned and changed out with fresh oil.  Those issues were wafting in the air.  But service was excellent and the food was good.  And we were grateful.

And that was when it hit us, Covid + Sunday = issues.  Everything is either closed or limited hours and take out only.  And that is fine if you know this ahead of time or are a local.  But for 4 spoiled Metro people like us it is a shock.  Back to square 1 again.  We all brought masks.  We just had to have our act together and be cleaned up before 7 pm.

Day 2 The Wabash Trace Nature Trail

My gravel/touring/grocery getter/urban bike with slicks is my most ridden bike thus far in 2020 with over 1600 miles on the clock as of this writing.  Next closest bike has almost 900 miles for2020.

We gave them two chances.  Mondays are not business days here.  Sometimes it felt like we were the only people around for miles.

Deeply lined up.

Remains of a railcar...

The Great Trail Wreck.  I imagine that the railcars were drug to the river bank then emptied.  Not worth the effort to pull them out.

As predicted, it rained over night and we experienced a thunderstorm about the time we would have liked to been riding.  Looking at the weather on the local news it seemed like by 10 am we'd be safe for riding.  I think we finally started at 930 am after a trip to Wal Mart and take out breakfast from McDonalds.  It was 66*F when we rolled out.  But within 3 miles we stopped and removed our warmth layers.  Humidity.  A little later I stopped to let air out of my tires.  The trail surface is crushed limestone.  The rain made it very soft.  Our speed varied between 8 mph to 20 mph depending on the surface and if we were going up or downhill.  Rail grade but changes in grade affect speed greater on soft surfaces.  Prospects of a long ride.

We rode north toward Council Bluffs on our first day because we had all day to explore the towns and their offerings.  The second day we would head south and do the only thing that one can do on this section, ride across the State Line into Missouri.  There is nothing in the towns along this part.  So Silver City was the target of the day.

It was slow going as mentioned before.  A beautiful trail but a slow hard ride.  None of us had the proper tires.  Needed wide and low pressure.  I missed the touring tandem with its MTB tires.  Alas, you ride the bike you brought and not the one you left at home.  Then a light bulb went off: buy an extra set of wheels and have the wide mud tires on them.  Too late.  At least it never rained on us although at times it looked like it may have.  Imogene was the first town.  The bar, Emerald City, was closed. Roll on to Malvern, IA.

This trail has....lost my thought as those three words were written weeks ago and I have just returned to send this miserable write up on its way.

It is the day Ragbrai was supposed to have started.  We are on the western part of the state.  Thousands of cyclists in Iowa have no obligation this week because they were hoping Ragbrai was going to happen.  Yet we see 6 others on bikes on this trail.  4 were a family.  The remaining two were together on touring bikes.  We saw the latter two again on way back.  They commented that we were the only people they saw.  Maybe the rainy weather kept everyone at home.

Giant bicycle greeted us when we entered Malvern from the south.

The bicycle sculpture in Malvern.

I think this was a tenderloin.  Looks like the oil needed to be changed in the fryer.

Mary had the Rueben.

Bicycle/tractor art in Malvern.

"Hot Liner." Sting Ray impression.

We had lunch in Malvern at a cafĂ© on the main drag.  Had to eat outside due to the covid.  But the rain was done and it was not terribly humid or hot.  Despite the lack of cyclists the town is covered with bicycle art.  The trailhead has a huge bicycle and in an empty space on the main road there is a beautiful mural and sculpture made from bicycles. Later we find a tractor that is holding several kids bikes as some sort of art project.

We decide to turn around here and abandon any thoughts of going to Silver City.  Slow trail plus a beer stop every 5 miles and the need to secure dinner before 7 pm strikes and the restaurants lock up take priority.  One or two bridge stops and another go at the bar in Imogene.  We discover a shower stop in Imogene.  An old corn crib is on a concrete surface with two showers and toilets and electricity. Good for bicycle camping.  But again the bar was closed so we drank our own. Monday is a slow day in this part of Iowa.

Back in Shenandoah we discover that the Depot brewery is open until 9 pm and is serving dinner.  We have time to shower before we eat.  We are covered in mud from the trail and sweaty.  After dinner we walk to a nearby bar but it is closed.  Monday and covid.

The Covid Beer Tent at The Depot in Shenandoah. Good beer!

Mary and I.  Who shirt courtesy of Kammeier LLC.

There was an ice cream shop on our way back to the hotel.  This is called "Cookie Monster."

Studebaker President built when cars had style.  Shenandoah, Iowa.

Tuesday morning it was raining and the radar looked nasty.  We packed it in and headed home.  At least we had two days of riding together.  No flats or injuries although my chain was in bad need of Tri-Flow.  The Great Covid Rides of Isolation came to an end.  Once what was fun and exciting faded out to mud and disappointment.  Yet looking at the photos I smiled.  I had a great time.  We stopped at the T-Bone Trail to see if the kitten was still there.  We did not find it.  We would have taken it home.  Always next year.