On the Road Again

Des Plaines River Trail

In January I switched jobs. I left a senior technical position with a defense contractor to return to training and consulting full time. I spent over a decade as a road warrior spending a bout 100 nights a year on the road. While there are a number of pros and cons to the road warrior lifestyle, one of the challenges is to find opportunities to ride my bike. The airline I fly charges $150 each way to transport a bike. In the past I have shipped my bike to a destination by FedEx Ground it’s cheaper but it is still $65 each way.

So when I had an opportunity to spend a week with a client in the Chicago suburbs, I chose to drive the 4 1/2 hours and take my bike. My client was in the North Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire. I was pretty busy all week but I did manage to get out one evening and ride on the Des Plaines River Trail. I stayed at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort and a portion of the trail ran right through the hotel property. I got off work a little early on evening and rushed back to my hotel to get on the bike and ride.

The late afternoon temperature was in the low 50’s and the wind about 17-20mph. Cool and brisk but I was itching to ride. My first surprise was the trail surface. For some reason I thought the trail was asphalt. I had driven by it each day on the way to and from work and it looked like asphalt with a light dirt covering perhaps left by heavy equipment. It turns out I was wrong the trail is packed dirt. Since it was dry it really wasn’t too bad to ride on even with my road bike. The majority of bikes I saw were mountain bikes but it really wasn’t necessary. My bike is outfitted with pretty wide tires anyway. (I ride Continetal Ultra Gatorskins in 700x28c, If I had the clearance I would ride 700x32c like my fixed gear) The surface did not present any real problems there were few ruts but I did have to watch closely in some high speed S-turns.

The only challenge was some loose gravel on a short steep climb to a bridge. When I saw it in the distance, I planned on simply getting out of the saddle for the short climb. As I got closer and saw the loose gravel I decided that I should probably stay seated and keep the rear wheel weighted. I slammed a shift onto my small chanring and spun to the top.

There was a warning sign about a trail closure under the Highway 60 bridge. A couple of years ago, I took a fall on a concrete trail in Kansas City that had been flooded and still had a thin layer of silt and mud so I decided to be cautious and walk. It turned out to be wet but no mud so on the return leg I rode right through.

Since I got a late start I only rode about 12 miles. The trail itself roughly follows the Des Plaines River. The section I rode was evenly divided between forest and prairie and while we were always close to a major road and shopping or housing development the trail managed to retain a wild feel. There were more runners than bikers and I did come across one horse and rider. The equestrienne was on her cell phone!

The trail has a number of strategically placed benches and passes though a park with restroom facilities and a small pond. There were a number of places to view the river or small pond. The trail was very scenic with many opportunities to view wildlife along the way. I will be visiting this client again in June when my kids are out of school. I hop we can all make the trip and enjoy the trail as a family.

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What a difference a day makes!

What a difference a day makes!

It’s January in Iowa. Not really bicycling season, but this year has been different. My wife and I went riding on Thanksgiving and this Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon we got on the trail and rode about 10 and 15 miles respectively. Both days the temperature was in the upper 50’s with sun and clear skies.

My wife is really beginning to enjoy cycling. A couple of years ago it would have been hard to get her on the bike at all. This year every time we have a nice day, she wants to go riding.

Tuesday, I called her and took off early from work to go out on the trail. When I pumped up the tires, I blew the rear tire on my wife’s bike so I did a quick inner tube change. We got kind of a late start so as we finished up our ride the sun started to set and it began to get cold. There were lots of cyclists, runners and walkers out enjoying a rare warm Iowa winter day. After riding I took the bike rack off and for about the third time, put it away for the season.

Wednesday, when I drove my kids to school it was cold and we were expecting snow later in the day so I really didn’t even consider biking again. But, when I went to pick up my daughter at noon, it felt even warmer than the day before. It was about 55 degrees with no wind and bright sunshine. I called my wife and told her that we should think about riding. I rushed home and re-attached the bike rack. We loaded up and drove down to Czech Village to park and set out on the trail. It was hard to believe that the weather was even better than the day before.

Now, I knew there was a storm coming and the weather was supposed to change not too long after we got on the trail. We had a great ride, it was absolutely beautiful and since the local school district had a half-day there were lots of people out walking by the river. As we got to the 7 mile mark we considered going on to the end of the trail. We both felt good and the weather was still nice, fortunately we choose to turn around.

Right at 7.5 miles we turned back and we were surprised. Somewhere along the way, the calm day had turned into a pretty strong tailwind and we had not noticed. As soon as we turned around it became a pretty strong headwind. Not only were we now riding into a headwind but there was a significant temperature drop. My wife was wearing my cycling windbreaker over a sweatshirt and fleece vest with biking tights. I had bib shorts on with a turtleneck and a cycling jersey on top. My core was warm enough because the bibs, turtleneck and jersey mad for three layers. My legs don’t typically bother me in the cold so they were fine too. Problem is that with my diabetes my extremities get cold pretty easily. I was wearing Pearl Izimi Cyclone full-fingered gloves. The gloves are perfect to take off the fall or spring chill but by the end of the ride I could barely feel my hands. I used every trick that I ha learned from years of cycling and I could not keep them warm. I tried making a fist on top of the bars, putting one hand behind my back to get it out of the wind or even alternating putting on hand under my thigh to warm it up. The other problem was that I was wearing summer weigh shoes with a mesh top, fortunately the shoes wave a wide toe box so I could wiggle my toes, but boy was it cold.

My wife didn’t do much better, she didn’t have any gloves and her shoes are not designed for winter either. This spring, we are going to take advantage of sales and get some better cold-weather cycling gear. On the way back to the van she even walked for a while because she is not used to riding in headwinds.

Weather or no it was still great to ride and we enjoy riding together more and more. This morning I woke to four inches of blowing snow. As you can see in the picture, what a difference a day makes.

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Shoes

SPD Shoes

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “the only constant in life is change”. I have been riding bikes in racing shoes since the summer of 1977. It was summer and I was preparing to ride RAGBRAI a week-long ride across Iowa. In 1977 it was 454 miles. I had been detassling and saved my money to buy a pair of Detto Pietro Italian cycling shoes. They were leather with a hard leather sole. I bought metal cleats for them and had a local cobbler install them. As I remember it the Dettos were cool looking, full of holes and uncomfortable. But they made me fell like a real racer. This was long before clipless pedals so I used them with MKS pedals, Christophe toe clips, and and genuine Christophe leather toe straps. Of course I put a twist in the toe straps where the slipped into the pedals just like all the racers. On the first day of that first RAGBRAI with my cool new Italian shoes I pulled up to a stop sign next to a group of riders and forgot to loosen my toe straps. Of course, I promptly fell over — boy did I look cool.

One day, when I was in high school I was riding (in my racing shoes) and I saw a friend riding his new skateboard. Of course I wanted to try it out. The combination of the metal skateboard deck and the slick bottom racing shoe with the e metal cleat did not go together well. I promptly fell and and had to endure months of reconstructive dental owrk.

Well, decades later I still ride in racing shoes. When clipless pedals first came out I bought one of the first pairs of Looks. A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of Shimano road shoes that are the most comfortable bike shoes I have ever ridden in. Other than my mountain bike, I have not ridden any of my bikes in anything but racing shoes and Look pedals for decades.

The racing shoes do have a disadvantage, they are hard to walk in. When I was young and fancied myself a racer it was no big deal. The shoes really are very efficient and I wanted to look cool on the bike. Even if it meant walking like a duck and looking foolish off the bike. Two years ago, I had a season-ending injury. I came to a quick stop at an intersection on my fixed gear bike (with Look pedals and racing shoes) and put my foot down, Unfortunately the slick sole and cleat slid on the asphalt. I saw my leg go one way as the bike fell the other … ouch.

I have also discovered that as I ride more with my wife, I am spending more time walking on riverbanks, visiting farmers markets and doing other activities off the bike. The waddling that I have to do in racing shoes is both impractical and because the shoes are like walking on ice, it’s dangerous.

So this year I am making a change. For Christmas I bought a pair of Shimano mountain bike shoes and white SPD pedals. The shoes use a recessed cleat and have a rubber outsole for walking. I put them on my bike and rode it on the mag trainer tonight. I probably have to tighten the release spring but so far I like them. It is much easier to engage sine the pedals are two-sided whereas the Looks were one-sided.

I am looking forward to this Spring.

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Recovery

With my wife at Gray's Lake

On October 20th, while at work, I was talking to a colleague and I realized I was having trouble forming some words. I was not having difficulty thing the words, just saying them. After work I went to the ER and they diagnosed me with a stroke. After three days of observation, I was released. The only damage done seems to have been to my speech and I feel that it has returned to nearly 100%. The challenge now is to take care of my diabetes. I am supposed to watch my diet, take my meds and exercise regularly. So the weekend I was released, I swam 1000 yds and went on two 15 mile bike rides.

Jaylee (in her RAGBRAI shirt) at Gray's Lake

We went to Des Moines with my two youngest daughters and rode the Walnut Creek Trail from new the Wal-Mart to Grays Lake. It was a a warm late October day and I rode in a short sleeved jersey. The trail follows Walnut Creek through some wooded residential areas and and crosses under Grand Avenue. South of Grand it becomes a little more remote passing through some heavy woods, by a stable and through Waterworks Park.

From Waterworks park, the scenery becomes more industrial leading over to Gray’s Lake. On this ride, my daughter Jaylee rode on ahead with instructions to stop at the lake. Unfortunately, she missed the spur trail to the lake and kept on riding. If I had not picked up my big chainring and chased her down, she probably would have ended up in Altoona.

Josie and Pop

Gray’s Lake was recently named one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2011 by the American Planning Association. I can still remember when Grays lake was an eyesore with the old Holiday Inn that was destroyed in the flood of ’93. The turn around was remarkable. The Lake has a handicapped accessible terrace and a paved trail. The trail includes a log curving bridge that is lit up at night. The trail and bridge are shared use and cyclist do need to be aware of strollers, wheel chairs, etc. You won’t get much of a workout riding at Gray’s Lake. Instead, get your workout riding to the lake and relax and enjoy the lake when you get there. We had a great time, the girls explored the dock and walked barefoot in the sand while Jan and I soaked up the October sun.

On the way back we nearly had a crisis. While crossing a bumpy wooden bridge over Walnut Creek, Pop fell off of Josie’s bike. (Pop is Josie’s stuffed hippo, they’ve been best friends for years 🙂 Pop was riding in a basket on Josies handlebars, unfortunately Pop does not have a seatbelt so she bounced out. I was afraid that Pop was going to fall into Walnut Creek, which at that point was wide and swift. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to swim after her. Fortunately, Pop managed to stay on the bridge. After getting Pop back into her basket we rode back to the Wal-Mart parking lot. On the way back the girls stopped to play at Colby Park and we picked them up in the van. It was a great ride and I am planning on taking care of myself so I can enjoy many more days like this one.

 

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Keep the Rubber Side Down

Down the trail, after the fall

Falling off your bike is no fun 😦 A couple of weeks ago I fell off mine. My wife and I had just dropped my son off for cross-country practice. The team was going to run along the Hoover trail so we decided to ride from the trailhead to Ely and back and then pick him up. I was riding my road bike that day and everything started out fine. It was a nice ride and since there was a big football game that day the trail seemed pretty empty.

As we passed through one of the prettiest sections of trail I was coming up on my wife quickly from behind. She moved a little bit to the left and I decided to slow down so I wouldn’t hit her back wheel. Unfortunately I decided to slow down by reducing the force on the pedals. On my fixed gear bike I usually modulate the speed by adjusting the pedal force rather than using the brakes. Since the fixed gear cannot glide it is easy to use the pedals to make minute speed adjustments. However on my road bike with its Phil Wood hubs, when you stop pedaling it keeps on rolling. I ran right into Jan’s back wheel and promptly went over the handlebars.

Fortunately, I was thrown into the grass not onto the asphalt. Unfortunately the one time we saw bikers and walkers on the trail was when I fell. Nothing hurt but my pride. The next day I realized my shoulder and neck were a bit sore. That’s what I get for not paying attention 😦

Biking is a low impact sport as long as you don’t have any impacts. Keep the rubber side down.

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Davenport Riverfront Trail

Across the Mississippi to Illinois

This morning my wife and I had to drive our oldest son to the Quad City Airport in Moline. He had a short leave from the Navy and had to return to base. After riding to Saylorville Dam yesterday, I thought maybe my wife would be too tired to ride this morning. But I looked on the Internet for some possible rides in the Quad Cities area. I found the Riverfront Trail on Google. There is plenty of parking along the trail and we parked our van just upstream of the marina.

The Riverfront trail runs along the Mississippi River starting at the Isle of Capri Casino in the North. It ends 9 miles later by circling the park road on Credit Island. The trail is flat all the way. It starts out with views of some beautiful river front homes and then goes down by the marina. As we rode by it looked like they were holding a regatta of some sort. The path next goes through the waterworks and by Lock and Dam no. 15. Along the way there is a two layer bridge with the top deck for trains and  the bottom deck for cars. The car deck has a bike/pedestrian lane and leads to the Great River Trail on the Illinois side. Next time we’ll have to cross over and give it a try.

As we continued south we passed another casino and a bit of downtown Davenport. There are plenty of places to stop along the ride including places to eat. We rode past the Saturday farmers market and followed the river through some more industrialized areas.

Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte

When we crossed the causeway to Credit Island, we followed the park road counter-clockwise. As we rode I thought I saw people taking wedding photos in the distance. As we rode closer we saw that it was a series of sculptures based on Suerat’s Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte. My wife figured it out first. We have seen the original at the Art Institute of Chicago and as we homeschooled our kids we often talked about art and especially Seurat and his method of pointillism. While we were checking out the sculptures a group of about 5 cyclists greeted us as they were riding by. The ride around the island was pretty cool. The water was low but we still saw several species of waterfowl including ducks, egrets and heron.

On the way back, we stopped at the Farmers Market and bought some raspberries. Next we had ribeye steak sandwiches for lunch. At $6 they were an excellent price and they were perfect. I asked the guy what seasoning he used and he told me it was McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning. It was so good that I bought some at the grocery store the same day. In fact, I take back everything I have said in the past about Canadian food 🙂

We are going to have to work on cycling clothing for my wife. It was colder today and she like the bike tights. Next she needs something to cover her ears, a helmet cover and full-fingered gloves for fall.

I have enjoyed cycling for over three decades and it has been an important part of my life. I am thankful that in these last couple of years I have been able to share it with my wife. Another great day on the bike.

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Saylorville

Our bikes on top of the Dam at Saylorville

This Friday, my wife had to run an errand to Des Moines. The weather was beautiful so I took the afternoon off at work. I was surprised when she suggested that we bring our bikes. I have been trying to get her to ride since we were in high school (A long time ago in a galaxy far away …) So I was pleased that bringing the bikes was her suggestion!

She wanted to ride the High Trestle Trail again but I suggested that we ride the Neal Smith Trail in Johnston up to Saylorville Lake. We used to live in the area and i had ridden the trail many times in the ’80s. I think I read that it is the lodes paved trail in central Iowa.

We started heading up the trail towards the dam. The trail is largely wooded and the leaves were just beginning to change. The day was windy but we were largely protected in the trees. Along the way we ran into two obstacles, one that I expected and one that I did not.

The first (expected) was the hill leading up to the top of the dam. Jan is still not comfortable climbing so she walked a portion of the hill. I am still to big to really climb so I rode up the hill, albeit slowly. I remember the last time I rode it (about 25 years ago) I took the hill standing up on my racing bike. This time I took it sitting down in my 24×24 bailout gear 🙂 When we got to the top we rode across the dam into the wind. It was a beautiful day and we watched the sailboats playing on the lake as the hawks and gulls road the strong winds over the dam. In the picture above, our bikes are actually about 100 feet above the water on the top of the dam.

The other obstacle we encountered was walnuts. If you have seen walnuts in their natural form you know that they are just about the size of a baseball. They also blend in with the fallen leaves along the trail. Hitting one on a bike is a rude awakening. My wife’s bike has skinny racing tires (23mm 120psi) next season I plan to put her on some 28mm tires for stability. As a novice cyclist it was difficult for her to navigate the leaf covered sections of trail, especially going downhill. I had to coach her and remind her to grip the bars loosely in case she hit a walnut with her front tire. While she found it a little scary, she surprised me, she is becoming a better bike handler each time we go out.

We rode until just about dusk and explored the cottonwood area south of the dam. The weather was in the upper 60’s and we had a great day on the bikes.

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