Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Trains are too Quiet - Fairport, IA


Left the sad little campgrounds at Davenport. A few loaded cyclists where departing, but none headed in the same direction as me. I'd not have been able to keep up, but it would still have been nice to know I wasn't leaving alone. I think I'd have felt better if Ragbrai had ended as intended, but I kept thinking about the bitter-sounding volunteer lady. Seven months for nothing. It bothered me that something as grand as Ragbrai ended with disappointment.

The flooding along the edges of Davenport was much apparent. I had to shove my bike through mud and foot-high heaps of algea left behind from the retreating waters. Debris floating through the river-side woods. I left it behind quickly and got onto the Great River Road national route, which I'll be following until I veer off to catch the Katy trail through Missouri. Near the city, the shoulders where badly paved and full of debris, but after passing out of the riverside industrial sprawl, which was interesting in and of itself, I was surrounded by field, grass, and wildflowers on gentle hills.

By 3pm, I called it quits. I was worn out from ragbrai, sore, and it was(of course) sweltering out. In Fairport, a tiny speck along the Mississippi, I spotted a little shelter by the river. The facility belonged to a civic club I forget the name of, and I relaxed there, ate, and read until the sun went down and the people went home. After five days of washing myself and my clothing under Ragbrai's communal water-stations, immersing myself in the river felt amazing. The Mississippi flows south, and I'm going with it - there is a comforting thought. A tugboat bore its many barges past. Several trains passed through, 50 feet from my camp. Compared to the noise and activity I had become accustomed too, these where unobtrusive guests.

Swamped bike trail in Davenport.

A thistle of some description. I'll have to learn more about these new wildflowers.

Road sample #1"

Flooding on the Mississippi

The river at Fairport, just next to my home-of-the-night.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gruelling ride to Boone - RAGBRAI

78.56mi. 9.4avs.

Way too much happened today to actually remember much of it a week later. Rode hard, fell asleep in a few towns, met Tracy and her sisters and got along great, scored some beer, and limped into Boone exhausted at 9:30pm. Should have slept, then, but I ended up running around town till midnight.

Monday, July 25, 2011

RAGBRAI - Party in Carroll

I'm right now in tent city, Carroll, Iowa. Just back from the concert lot, and even with all the warning, I've got to say - I'm astounded by what a -party- this is.

The city of Carroll doesn't stick us in a park, no. They take all these cyclists pouring into the city and spread us out. Every park is a tent village, every street full of blinking lights and RVs. Folks are on their laptops in the churches, sleeping in the school hallways, crowding in the rec center. Every shop has bikes parked in front, team buses are parked in driveways all over town. Seen from the school bus shuttles, its clear that RAGBRAI has taken over the whole damn city.

Downtown, the open space is given to the concert stage, vendors, bikes bikes bikes, and hordes of party-goers, well supplied with alcohol. A pair of pretty blond girls flirt with the state troopers, who seem to be enjoying the attention. A young man bursts through the beer garden gate on his bike, blinking lights and panniers and all. There are people jumping, shouting, grinding and line dancing. Women in tank tops, tiny skirts and boots, old men in bib shorts, young men with mullets and tweed vests, a whole crowd of men strutting in kilts. Every once in a while, a monsterous coal train blasts its horn and thunders past the stage as the band plays.

All this excitement is nothing I'm used to, but I need to get to sleep and haul out early. Heres to tomorrow being so crazy....

Loaded bikes waiting for their people. Recognized a few of these from the folks in Breda.

Men in kilts on bikes(well, with bikes).

I've seen this bike before...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Convergence of Baggers - Breda, IA


All along, I've been wondering if, as I approached the RAGBRAI route, I'd run across a convergence of baggers and bandits making their way towards the nearest overnight town. Today, I finally did.

After a restful night on Faith and Robert's sofa, breakfast, and some lounging around in front of the Tv, I got moving sometime around 9:30am. The plan was head down the Sauk Trail Trail and camp where the trail crosses through Carnarvon. With a easy rolling trail and a tailwind, I got there a bit too early in the day to feel enthusiastic about stopping.

I was feeling pretty much awesome, so I decided to just head towards Carroll and see what would come of it. Passing by Breda, I spotted -bikes-. Lots of them, at least fifteen loaded touring bikes, some road bikes with trailers, a couple of big dummies. Someone had a bike-mounted stereo blaring. Everyone was drinking beer, eating, rummaging through panniers, setting up and tearing down camp, hanging up clothing... For someone who has never seen more than two touring cyclists together at a time, this was pretty nifty.

As it turns out, I had run across a loosely associated groups of riders, most from the Des Moines area. There where riding their own alternate RAGBRAI route, and partying in town parks every night. They'd been having a good time of it - this morning, they woke up to find a lady come down from church, cooking a pancake and bacon breakfast outside their park shelter. I got a beer, delicious chicken wings, and plenty of conversation out of the encounter.

The road this morning.

River! For reals!

The Sauk Rail Trail. It's nice, yes.... but whose big idea was it to use paving blocks? It's like miles and miles of sidewalk. With four wheels, that's a lot of bumping and jarring.

Bikes in Breda.

More bikes.

Dude in a kilt. The first of many.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pay it Forward - Lytton, IA


One of these days, I'm going to have to balance out my karma a touch. People have been awesome to me, and I would really like to pay it forward eventually. Around 5pm, while grinding up a hill into a headwind, I had my first flat. I brought tools I'll probably never need, but in the flurry of packing I managed to forget tire levers. The amount of futzing around it takes to get the tire off a loading bike has me fervently hoping that this doesn't happen often. Off comes the trailer, off goes the map holder, batten down the hatches, flip it over, scrape my shins and stab myself with the gears, then finally wrestle off the wheel.

I did manage, thankfully, to get the tire off using the back of a spoke wrench and a small carabiner. The next problem was getting it back on. My tires have always seated poorly, and even with a powerful air compressor, it takes a lot of mucking around to get them fitted on right. I've never had to do it on the side of the road, in blasting hot sun, while listening to pigs frantically squealing across the street. It didn't go well. As I was working on it, a couple stopped by to offer help - tire levers and an air compressor if I could make it to Lytton. I could, and squeaking and wobbling away, I did.

I ended up spending the night at Faith and Robert's house. They both have a history of all kinds of adventuring, but if I try to write it all down, I'll never get back to the campground. They fed me spaghetti, breadsticks, and sangria, washed my clothes, and let me bring my wheel into their tidy living room to work on. When the tire refused to seat, they gave me a new one! Faith was putting together a presentation of her own touring experiences, and showed me her pictures and scrapbooking. All in all, it was a great time with great people who had great stories. They're not on warmshowers, but after that experience I think I may look into it.

A comfy shelter on the intersection of nowhere and nothing. Wish Iowa had a few more of these.

Bet these guys agree.

Windmills. Miles and miles of windmills.

Skipping ahead a bit, Faith's tire boot.

Handmade cycling shorts for me!

Faith and Robert. Thank you!!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Frog legs in Rolfe, IA


Took my sweet time leaving West Bend. As per the recent norm, it was hot. I might have stayed another night, but this nice little campground had more than it's fair share of gnats, and a few more miles now would make the next two days easier.

Where West Bend had a surplus of gnats, the small park I stayed at in Rolfe was overrun by bullfrogs. I'd never actually heard a bullfrog before, and some confusion ensued until I spotted the massive frogs all around the pond. With so many, I can only hope the fine folks of Rolfe, Iowa, don't miss the one I ate. It was surprisingly easy to catch one in the dark with a bright light. I've never actually killed and eaten anything but fish before, so I'm a bit proud of myself. The legs where gigantic, and I cooked them in butter and salt. It took forever because I could only maintain a weak fire with damp wood in a grill, but it was pretty tasty when at done.

Storm clouds heading out of West Bend. With the heat, some rain would have been welcome, but they never reached me.

Sunrise Ridge Park in Rolfe, IA

Updates Pending

For those to whom I've given this address, expect some updates sooner or later. I've been taking notes and pictures, and only need some time and inclination to turn those into journal entries. Thus far I've not had an chance to comfortably do this. For a time it was the heat - sweltering heat and dripping sweat doesn't exactly bring out the writer in me. Today, I just have other things I'd rather be doing until I take off.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nightlight Photos - Grotto of the Redemption Detail

A few detail shots of the Grotto. Had quite a bit of fun taking these with an LED backlight. Someday I'd like to learn what all these rocks are.

Grotto of the Redemption - West Bend, IA


Hot as ever, today. Made it another short day, and camped at the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend. Nice little place with a stone shower house, free firewood, and some shade trees. Right across the street is the Grotto. It's the largest in the world and is absolutely spectacular. It's open all hours of the day and night, so after I set up camp I headed over with my camera and a bright LED light. During the day it's full of tourists, but at night it was just me, a few bats, and a toad.

Campground shower house.

A part of one of the 'walls' of the Grotto. It's full of twisting passages, tunnels in and out, gates, halls, chambers and stairs. Point being, this might be the 'front' of the structure, but it's hard to define!

The stations of the cross, I believe?

The Grotto by daylight.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wesley, IA


Another scorcher of a day, with high humidity and absolutely no shade or cloud cover. I made it to harlontown, and just about collapsed into the surprisingly pretty little town park there. A nice old man I talked to at the library brought me a plate of grapes, apples, snickers and cookies. Funny thing, I never much liked apples or grapes, but these where delicious.

I stayed in the park, eating and reading, until about 7pm. Even by the time the sun set, it was boiling out. I rode until 3am to reach Wesley, by which point I was wondering if I'd wake up on the roadside wondering how I managed to fall asleep pedaling. There was almost no traffic, just hundreds of red lights blinking in unison, atop windmills all across the horizon.

Flat Iowa highway.

Wonder where it went....

Neat slide in the Harlontown park.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Into Iowa - Halverson Park


Even hotter today. Woke up to the smell of urine. I think something peed out of a tree onto my bike - the saddle stinks, and it wasn't me.

A chance encounter, yesterday, with a very kind and insightful couple altered my route and helped me decided to ride into Iowa today instead of riding along in Minnesota for a few more days. As I crossed the Minnesota-Iowa state line, NOAA buzzed out 'Heat index 120. Stay indoors and avoid activity'. Not too likely. I reached St. Ansgar, battered stupid by the sun, and got directions to the nearest county park. It turned out to be down a very, very steep hill. This'll be nasty in the morning.

Lots of Chicory on the roadsides out here.

No flashy sign to welcome me into Iowa, so this will have to do.

Here I am, laying under my bike under a spare bit of shade on the roadside.

Home for the night in Halverson County Park.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Shooting Star Trail - Adams, MN


Slept in a trail shelter a few miles out from Harmony. The humidity persisted all night, and a nasty headwind kept up through most of the day. The heat index is up around 105-110 again, and should continue as such for at least a week. A lady who had seen me on the road was waiting for me in LeRoy with a cold water bottle, and after a rest in the park, I ran into a man training for Ragbrai, who showed me the way to the trailhead.

Over the past months I've been gathering a database of free campgrounds across the country. In the midwest, most of these come in the fom of small town parks where camping is allowed with few amenities. The first of these I plan to reach tonight in Adams.

Early morning ride into harmony.

Makeshift showering and clothes-washing at the Harmony RV Park.

Ya don't say....


Compass plants along the Shooting Star Trail.

A profusion of wildflowers.

The first sighting of a great many windmills.

Home for the night in Adams Community Park. The Campground was a bit further back, but I was too lazy to find it.