Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cheater's RAGBRAI

Ok, I know RAGBRAI is the “great bike ride across Iowa” but many forces conspired to keep me from doing more than uno dia, so I did the cheater thing and rode the day it traveled closest to Des Moines.

Nick and I drove out to Monday’s overnight town, Greenfield, butt-early. We planned to ride the 77 mile course to Indianola and then ride back to Des Moines, making it a 100 mile total. The weather forecast predicted rain in the morning, followed by a little clearing and then “scattered thunderstorms” starting late afternoon. I have ridden and played golf enough to know “scattered” means raining right over your head the whole time, so I was a bit skeptical.

We drove into dark grey, ground to infinity, cloud cover that spit light rain on the windshield. Temps were soaring into the low 60’s with a steady 10-15 mph wind. I wished I had a rain poncho. Nick, who had a poncho (aka parachute), wished he had my arm warmers. We geared up about 7:30 and rolled around town a bit looking for another chum, Matt, who was doing the whole across Iowa thing. He was going to wait out the rain so Nick and I pressed ahead.

Greenfield was hoppin'.

Once on the route we were greeted with hill after rollercoaster hill. At least a nice downhill accompanied most every uphill. For quite awhile we were tracking directly behind the rain clouds, watching them lightly water the road ahead of us. The headwinds were steady, so the first 20 miles went slowish, which was fine since we still had 80 to go. Here's a nice DM Register photo, its actually from later in the day but it gives you a good idea of the general hillitude.

Orient was the first town. My wife tends to worry a bit, and if you've read my blog before you can probably see why. She was out of town on business so I told her I'd text her along the way. All these pictures were supposed to be picture/text messages, but she didn't get any of them. I didn't find out about the FAIL until two days later. What's that they say? It's the thought that counts.

We were welcomed into Macksberg by the sounds of a crowd hootin’ and hollerin’ accented with the clank of metal on metal. A closer inspection found a frying pan toss game set up with side by side cages containing crash test dummy style targets. A dollar got you two chances to knock the basketball head off the dummies. This Des Moines Register video sets the scene.

There was a tense moment when the thrower in alley #1 got his pan offline and sailed it into alley #2 and waaay too close to the cranium of a young lady who was retrieving pans. When good clean hillbilly fun nearly turns tragic its time to move on. Before we departed Matt caught up to us. He was none too happy about all the hills and rain from the previous day and the resulting dampness of his shorts, but he got over it.

On we went, mile after mile, hill after hill. Gradually the light rain stopped and it warmed up. Getting pretty hungry, we stopped to eat in Peru where I had the world’s smallest beef burger. I’m still irked about it. Someday Peru (shaking fist), I’ll be back for my other scoop of hamburger meat! You owe me, you know you do.

Peru, pre-sandwich incident.

Actually, I’m not so sure I want to mess with Peru. Their EMS vehicle may be circa 1971, but it says ATTACK on it. I assume they would use this to chase me outta town, should I ever return for the rest of my (where's the?) beefburger. We did have a few beerz there, which softened the blow of the bun-heavy sandwich.

The sun came out around 2:30 or so, when we just about to leave Truro (I think). Riders started shedding clothing. Almost immediately a guy dressed in only a speedo cruised past……I thought some more clouds might be nice.

Rolling on, we found the Rassy’s repair stand set up about 2/3rds of the way through the route, which is a good place to be if curing sick bicycles is your aim. We stopped to lightly heckle Squirrel who was doing his best to beat problem bikes into submission.

RAGBRAI bike rack

The last few miles into Indianola were hilly, only without the accompanying downhills to give you greatly needed MO for the climb. Nice touch. Coming into town the course cut across a very rough, but short, stretch of gravel/blacktop/something road. It seemed rougher than it actually was because it was mile 75 or so. Getting to smooth pavement was a relief but there were two short, but substantial, climbs left. The last one was a real doozy, definitely the steepest of the day. Col de la Indianola. Whew! Done.

Riding back to Des Moines.

A $3 steak sandwich served the dual purpose of bringing me back to life and making recompense for the sandwich wrong that had been perpetrated in Peru (shakes fist again).

We made our way back to DSM via the Summerset trail and back roads. The gradual downhill out of Indy and gentle grades back home were a pleasant change of pace. We looped Banner Lake twice before leaving Summerset just to make sure we’d have the 100 needed for my first century (Nick’s too). Woot.

As if that wasn’t enough biking…..

The Master Plan called for us to retrieve Nick’s car in Greenfield the next day, so we threw the mountain bikes on my car and picked up Corey for a ride out at The Stash, a little "sorta secret" mountain bike trail built and maintained by a friend I'll call "Natt". More on that and some rightous content on my new - PURPLE - singlespeed in another post.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Horseman # 5

Those of you familiar with Revelation and - you know - all that End of Days type stuff will surely recognize the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. When the seals are broken y'all better watch out for: Conquest, War, Famine and Death. They're a real fun bunch, these guys. I think I encountered the slightly more benevolent 5th Horseman, Haste, on the bike trail Saturday morning. As in, make Haste young cyclists or I will smite thee in a hail of thundering hoofs.

Nick and I sat out Saturday AM to get a little Ragbrai training in on the Chichaqua Valley Trail, which runs 20 miles from Bondurant to Baxter. Shortly after starting we encountered two old farmers that had managed to wedge their beater truck onto a small wooden bridge on the trail. When they saw us coming those ole boys started jimmyin' that truck back and forth in a highly ineffective effort to get out of our way. As we passed they informed us they were out looking for cattle on the loose. I thought they might have more trouble pulling their truck out of the creek after the bridge collapsed but, hey, whatev. You could certainly see and SMELL the evidence of the rogue cows all over the trail. Ugh.

As if that wasn't strange enough, when we began nearing Baxter we passed a horseman at one of the road crossings. Thinking nothing of it we kept cruising right along. A few minutes later we hear a faint, but distinctive, sound of hoofs clip clopping on the pavement behind us. It was hard to tell how far back it was, but it was certainly gaining on us, quickly. Nick and I, not being down with the whole trampled to death bit, pushed the pace. The CLIP CLOP only got louder...and louder and louder. Soon it was ringing in my ears with every peddle stroke. That's not clip...clop as in a trot, that's clipclopclipclopclipclop as in a gallop (and not the poll....Get it? Gallup Poll? Aw, nevermind, its not funny if you haveta explain it). Anyway, I was behind Nick and saw him occasionally sneak a peek back, but I didn't want to play Ichabod Crane to the Hessian (Headless Horseman), so I didn't look, I just kept on peddling.

After what seemed like the length of the Tour De France we arrived at the next road crossing. Thankfully Haste gave up the chase at this point. Nick said he was right behind me off to the side a bit. I know I have an ample draft, but COME ON.

Just plain weird.

Next time I go to Baxter I could do without the Armageddon (and cow) crap.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Man Card

I want an extra punch on my Man Card for last week, I really do. I mean, usually I’m not all-into that self congratulatory, attention seeking stuff but this time I think I’m gonna break my arm patting my own back.

Ok, it starts with our regular Wednesday night Taco Ride. Unfortunately for the locals Des Moines has been doing its best impersonation of the rainy pacific northwest lately. Since we don’t have a huge freeride park under a Interstate bridge system we’ve been kept off our mountain bikes for awhile.

Our hiatus meant this Taco Ride was pretty well attended with 19 riders eager for dirty frivolity. We rode through Denman’s and, after regrouping, headed off toward Squirrel’s Nest. Most guys are cautious and walk their bikes over the train tracks that separate the two areas, but…

I don’t have many skillz on the bike but I’ve always been pretty good at taming the tracks. “Ride the bucking bronco!” I always say (only probably not anymore). The last few times I’ve done them I’ve had trouble with coming unclipped from the lead peddle halfway through which kills your momentum and this, my friends, is vury, vury bad.

Letting none of the previous warnings dissuade me I hop over the first rail, come unclipped, get my other foot caught on the opposite rail and slowly tip over, taking all the weight on my knee, on the rock, on the railroad tie. Uhm yeah, if somebody woulda yelled “TIMBER!” it would have been appropriate.

Now, I’m not gonna lie to ya, it hurt.

It did.

It swelt up too, almost immediately.

As I was still trying to tap into some mental Chi, to rise above the pain in my knee, I hear Justin yapping as he rolls on by “C’mon man, you’re fine! Let’s go!” (or something to that affect). About a minute later I pass Justin by the side of the trail. Seems that right after heckling me…hisssssssssss (air leaving his tire). Ah, karma.

The Man Card part comes when I suck it up and ride Hillside, Rollercoaster, J-11 and Denman’s. For our reverse track of Denman’s I somehow got into the lead of our smaller group of 4-5 riders. Never wanting to slow anyone down I tried to keep the pace up. After we finished my compatriots commented on the nice, quick pace setting and I heard one guy say that was as fast as he had ever ridden it. That made the throbbing in my knee a little less potent, I guess.

If it ended there I could see how one punch on the card would do it, but….before the knee smashing I had made plans to hit my semi-regular noon hour pick up basketball game the next day. It’s the only chance I have to see some good old friends of mine so I was looking forward to it. It’s a great game with guys I’ve known for many years, but its a small court and it can get pretty physical sometimes. I knew going in the conditions were ripe for a knee resmashing incident. I clearly instructed everyone prior to the game to NOT TOUCH my knee. “Hey, you and you and YOU…nooooo touchy.” I even texted my ole’ buddy Joel before hand, knowing he would be the weak link in my knee-protection plan. I informed him of the restrictions, and what was his reply?

“Consider it touched.”

Luckily my knee made through the game(s) with only Joel’s obligatory poking at the start (he met me at the door) and one bounce pass that bumped off of it a bit. Whew!

So if it ended there, that’s maybe a punch and a half, but I’m not even to the good part yet. The next day we headed out of town to an extended family member’s wedding in Dubuque. Never to miss a chance at riding some place new, I made plans to hit the lightly publicized FDR park. I’d heard of it before, but nothing too exciting, so I was really debating on whether taking the bike was worth it. Then fellow local Rick said it was a blast on his recent visit and another local guy, Steve, said he grew up there and also recommended it.

Everyone said it was hard to find and boy was it. I had good directions, tips about it being next to the Children's Zoo and on a unmarked gravel road and I still drove by it twice. When I got to the trailhead I was surprised to find several cars at the end of this dead end road in front of a gate that said no entrance.

Here's a GPS track someone posted online. Its not helpful for navigating on the trail, but does demonstrate just how much twisty track is out there.

View Larger Map

You do a lot of "Did I do this before?" "Is the parking lot that way?" "Wait, I think there's more trail this way....noooo, maybe that way." at FDR.

The reports of it being a bit plagued by a confusing spiderweb of sidebar trails were dead on. You jump in at the first trailhead and immediately its choose spurs A, B or C. That's followed shortly by a D, E, F option and so on and so on. This wouldn't bother somebody familiar with the network, but I think it would take you a pretty long time to get familiar.

Despite this drawback FDR really has a lot to offer. The trail is well maintained. The tread is packed down and burned in about as good as anything I've seen. It looks like it been there for 10 years or more.

Although there's some rip-your-legs-off climbs, there's plenty of flowy goodness that all mountain bikers love. Mix in some long ripping descents along with a fair amount of rocks and roots and you've got yourself one heck of a trail.

Here's a creek crossing. That's an old decrepit HERS outhouse door they're using as a bridge. High marks for creativity, says I.

It was at this crossing where I met Adam. He is from Cedar Rapids and had never been to FDR either, so we rode together for awhile. Adam explained that he is fairly new to mountain biking but has been doing his best to beat the crap outta his bike. He grabbed his back wheel and shook it side to side, showing it had plenty of rattle. "It keeps coming loose." He said, as if it was a spontaneous occurance and he really had nothing to do with it. Later, when he launched off a rickety plywood jump I understood better why his rear hub keeps coming loose.

Adam also gets an extra Man Card punch for recovering from a nasty crash that dented and punctured his helmet in...oh, I don't know just...the TEMPLE area. He was a little groggy from the impact but rode on like a champ. Hopefully he didn't need his brain for anything later that day. We also discovered that Adam had actually read my blog before, having come across my write up of his hometown Beverly Park a year ago. That was kind of super D neat O to meet someone out on the trail who had read my drivel.

FDR is rockier, bluffier and more technical than I gave it credit for, truly it is among the best riding I've done in the state. Like I said, the only problem is the short stretches of confusing trail. If it had better signage and maps as well as closing off some of the less valuable spurs this would be a tree-men-dos improvement.

Its blurry because I was huffing and puffing. No worries, just the side effects of being fat and old.

So it is = my Man Card gets two punches. I think that brings me up to..........two punches (this tally is accurate by +/- 2 punches).

Surely I'll earn a few more punches these next 3 weeks as I will be solo fathering my 10 and 13 year daughters much of the time while the Lady of the Manor is out of town transitioning to, and training for, her new job. Tonight I found myself with Princess #2 in a little girly jewelry shop in the mall, wondering what the hell I was doing there. Maybe I lose a punch for that......damn, just when I was getting ahead.