From Seattle to Portland to Prague (Nebraska)

A year ago this weekend I was in the Pacific Northwest for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic.  It was my first double century (204.8 miles) and also what will likely be my most productive day ever on the bike.   I was thinking about his yesterday as my friend Jason was completing the long grind south to the City of Roses.  It was Seattle-to-Portland #4 for him.  I saw this morning on Facebook that he made it.  There was never any doubt in my mind.  Congratulations, Amigo!   Next year he becomes an official member of the StP Hall of Fame.  How cool is that?

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4:45 AM – Seattle

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4:45 PM – Portland

As good as StP made me feel about my cycling ability, I have absolutely no interest in riding it again.  There’s a lot of traffic between these two mega-metros, even when you’re out in the back of beyond.  The last 50 miles or so along US 30 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River were particularly unnerving.  The road was narrow and twisty, posted at 55 mph with logging trucks cutting onto the shoulders at high speeds.  I knew it was going to be tough and it was.  I was never so happy to get to the St. John’s Bridge and into the city of Portland.

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Rush hour,  Loess Hills, Western Iowa

I’ve been living in Jefferson Iowa (pop 4,100) for the last two years now and small town cycling has become my new normal.   I rode 40 miles yesterday on a mix of pavement and gravel.  I think I might have been passed ten times in total. There’s just not a lot of traffic out here and that makes for great cycling.  On the rare occasion when I drive into the city these days, I’m constantly processing the lay of the land and looking at it from a cycling perspective.  Even though I’ve cycled through the heart of large cities from coast to coast,  I generally don’t like what I see.  The whole culture of driving is increasingly about one-upping everyone else on the road and you don’t have to look very hard to see it in play.

And so (for me, at least) a big part of the appeal of gravel is the lack of traffic.  All things being equal, less is more.  I’m happy to endure the bumps and give up a little speed if that’s the trade off.  I cycle both for fun and for transportation, and by choosing bicycles that interface well with gravel (any old mountain bike will do, really), I’ve found that I can have my cake and eat it, too.

I have been looking forward to next weekend all summer long.  I plan to go to Prague Nebraska to ride Bohemian Sto Mil.  It’s a gravel century through a remote and hilly region of the state affectionately known as the Bohemian Alps.  Even though BSM is only three years old, it has already developed some serious street cred in the gravel community.  I suspect it is probably a lot like Dirty Kanza was back before it became the “Super Bowl” of gravel.

The problem is that the long term forecast is calling for triple digit heat next weekend.  Extreme heat scares me unlike anything else.  After SWIGG, I really don’t want to deal with that again.  I learned a lesson earlier this year about riding in extreme cold, and although that story had a happy ending I am absolutely certain that I do not want to learn a similar lesson about riding in extreme heat. So we’ll have to wait and see.   Seven days out a lot can change.  If we’re two days out and still looking at triple digits, I’m going to have to bow out.  Better to live to ride another day.

So whether it’s on pavement or gravel, I hope you have the chance to get out and get some miles in today.  If you do, please be safe.  Have fun, too.  Enjoy the ride!

 

 

 

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The Dutch Difference

Mark Wagenbuur’s Bicycle Dutch blog is one of my favorite sources for information about bicycling.  I’ve learned a lot from reading it.  In addition to the blog, I follow Wagenbuur on social media and this morning I was directed by LinkedIn to an Irish Times post about his recent visit to Dublin Ireland.

As I read “Genuinely Fearing for my Life” I marveled at how much cycling in Dublin sounds like cycling in the best US cities…places like Portland or Minneapolis.  I’ve cycled through both and while I can’t say that I ever once feared for my life,  I did spend a lot of time focused on my rear view mirror and thinking about escape routes just in case.  It’s not new to me like it is to Wagenbuur, but I don’t live in Holland.

And Holland is pretty special, though maybe not for the reasons most people think.  As As I’ve talked to fellow cyclists, I’ve come to realize that many of us believe that our Dutch sisters and brothers simply move from cycle path to protected bike lane and back again with nary a care in the world.  They never have to share their space with cars, trucks, or SUVs.  It’s infrastructure, the thinking goes, that makes Holland special.

It’s not, though.   I’ve been to Holland four or five times now, and even though it has been a while, I remember it as if it was yesterday.  There were cycle paths, to be sure, but there were also plenty of bicycles on the streets.  I checked Google Streetview to see if this was still the case.  It is.  Check it out…

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Amsterdam

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Amsterdam

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Eindhoven

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Utrecht

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Groningen

Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Utrecht and Groningen are as good as it gets when it comes to bicycle friendly, but even here it isn’t hard to see that cyclists have to share their space with motorists.  So what’s different about Holland?

I think it’s the Dutch mindset about how to share a street.  In Holland, the person with the most horsepower doesn’t automatically get to impose his will on everyone else.  The Dutch don’t tolerate this kind of behavior.  They recognize that the most vulnerable road users have the most to lose and so they prioritize  protecting them in a way we don’t.

So what does this look like?  Well, where it makes sense they build cycle paths and protected bike lanes.  Not everywhere, though.  The Dutch drive cars and Holland is a small country.  Infrastructure often needs to be shared. When separation is not possible or practical, the default is that bicycles and pedestrians are more important than motorists.  We go.  They wait.  Speed limits are reduced.  Twenty kilometers per hour (12 mph) is common.  It works…remarkably well.  Even though I suspect that the Dutch are in as much of a hurry as the average American, they don’t run over cyclists and pedestrians like we do.  When they do, there’s hell to pay.

Having seen this with my own two eyes, I realize that it’s more about building a culture based on respect for other road users than it is about building infrastructure.   This is the real difference between us and the Dutch, and it’s both a challenge and a great opportunity for us here in the States.  If we can do what they’ve done, then we won’t need protected bike lanes except on the highest speed thoroughfares.  If we can’t, then all the infrastructure in the world won’t matter.

Thoughts On SWIGG 2019

“It is from the bystanders (who are in the vast majority) that we receive the propaganda that life is not worth living, that life is drudgery, that the ambitions of youth must he laid aside for a life which is but a painful wait for death.” – Hunter S. Thompson

I went to Villisca early Saturday morning to ride SWIGG.  It was my very first gravel grinder.  It was blowtorch hot.  Humid, too.  Conditions were, in a word, dangerous.  My plan was to ride the long course, 103 miles, but my plans changed pretty quickly.

Mile 49, looking west. The short course cutoff is at the top of the next rise.

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Yours truly, bombing the B roads at about mile 15 – photo by SWIGG

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Rolling into the water stop at Mile 41.  Heat index well over 100.  Just get home. Photo by SWIGG

If I was smarter, I might have sat this one out, but I’ve been waiting so long to race on gravel that wasn’t really an option in my mind.  Today was the day.  Villisca was the place.  SWIGG was the race.

So I rolled out of town to the east with about 40 other hearty souls at 8:00 AM.  The sun was already up.  It was already hot.  Two miles later we turned left and headed down the first B road.  Wow.  Gravel racing.  Me.

I don’t often participate in organized rides and so whenever I do it all feels pretty special.  This was no exception.  It took less than a mile of riding these B roads for me to know that this was going to be a lot of fun.  It was also going to be a lot of work.  When I got in, I looked at my Garmin and realized I climbed almost 5,000 feet over 55 miles.  That’s almost 100 feet per mile.  These weren’t gentle rollers.   They were work, compounded by the brutal unrelenting heat.

Eddy Merckx first gave voice to the idea that working on a bike is a good thing.   This is my ethos, too, one I developed way back in high school cross country and have never forgotten.  If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not trying hard enough.   That’s how I’m wired. It’s never going to change.

“Don’t buy upgrades.  Ride up grades.”  -Eddy Merckx

If they ever come up with an official T shirt for SWIGG, I hope they find a way to put Eddy on it.  I found myself thinking of him as I cycled, usually when I was going uphill at about 3 mph.  Bombing the downhills at well over 30 mph, not so much.

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Riding up grades…all morning long.  Photo by SWIGG

By the time I reached Corning (mile 30), I was hooked.  This was a completely different experience for me.  It was more like hiking through wilderness than riding a bike.  Many of the B roads were overgrown with grass.  It gave it a special feel, like I was in my own private national park.  Southwest Iowa is deceptively beautiful.  Most people never get off the interstate.  They have no idea.

Speaking of beautiful, I want to give a shout out to the people of Villisca.  I’ve lived just about everywhere and so I know how insular and closed off so many small towns can be.  Not here.  Not in Iowa.   It’s the people that make this state so special.   They’re so welcoming and genuinely glad you’ve decided to share a little of your time with them in their town. It took a lot of miles across a lot of America for me to figure this out, and now that I have I’m not letting go.  This is my home, and every time I come into a town like Villisca I can’t help but smile at who we are and how we treat each other.  I wouldn’t trade it for all the mountains and beaches in the world.

SWIGG was an exceptionally well organized event.  Kudos to race director Cory McAlpin, his family, Corey Phillips and all of the volunteers who had our backs out there.  The unrelenting heat was brutal and they made the right calls all day long, from providing water at mile 30, 41 and 51 to closing the long course and letting everyone finish the short course when it became clear that 100 miles on a day like this was a suicide mission.  Ironic that this mostly non-supported, you-are-responsible-for-you race had better support than most big entry fee events.

In the end, I wasn’t fast at SWIGG, but neither was anyone else and it didn’t really matter.  I finished on a day when a lot of other really good riders didn’t.  I was pleased with my effort and I won’t ever forget this experience.  I can’t think of another time I worked so hard.   I can’t think of another time when I was so mentally invested in just getting in.  This is all good.   Hard work is not the enemy.   Hard work is the validation in believing that life gives back in direct proportion to what we give.  I can’t remember another day when I gave so much.  I can’t remember another day when I got so much back.

Thanks Cory.  Thanks Villisca.

 

 

Climbing the Mountain

I used to climb mountains. Not the kind that required ropes or other specialized gear.   Just walk ups, like those found in Colorado’s Sawatch Range or Guadalupe Peak in Texas.

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On top.

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El Capitan from the summit of Guadalupe Peak.  The clouds put on quite a show.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because to me climbing a mountain was always a big deal.  It didn’t really matter how hard or easy the mountain was…it was going to be an adventure.   You had to plan and organize supplies.  The climb itself always took a considerable amount of effort.  What you got out of it in exchange for the effort was invariably much greater than what you put into it.  It was a chance to be totally free of the constrained world for a few hours.  It was heaven.

These days, I ride gravel instead of climbing mountains.  It’s pretty much the same thing even if it doesn’t at first seem to be.  It’s still just you and the mountain, though in this case the mountain is typically a series of rollers that go on one after the other all day long for 100 miles or so. You still come home dirty, gritty and dog tired.  You always feel like you’re accomplishing something pretty special.  In a sense, I think you are.

I’m riding my first gravel race on Saturday.  It’s the SWIGG Tour.  SWIGG stands for Southwest Iowa Gravel Grinder.  It 103-105 miles long and spans four counties.  There’s a little pavement and mostly gravel and B (ungraded dirt) roads.  It starts and ends in Villisca.  I’ve never been to Villisca.  It should be fun.

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I’m hoping for lots of hard pack and good lines.

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…and not so many rock gardens.

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SWIGG Route.  The elevation profile is impressive.

SWIGG is free to enter, but you still do need to enter and registration is now closed.  If you want to ride, you’ll have to wait until next year unless you’re already registered.  I guess that’s so they make sure that everybody makes it back.  It would be bad mojo if someone was left out on the course all night, although I’ve heard tell of gravel grinders where that happens.  Maybe this is one of them.  If so, I’m fine with that.

There are no aid stations, no law enforcement support, no sag wagons at SWIGG.  You-are-responsible-for-you (URresp4U)  I like that.  It makes me feel a little like a cowboy riding the range.  That said, you are allowed to stop at convenience stores and buy water and donuts.  Old time cowboys didn’t have C stores.

I’ve never ridden 100 miles on gravel and B roads before.  I’ve never climbed 6,000 plus feet over 100 miles.  Much like last year’s Seattle to Portland double century, I am going where I haven’t gone before.  I expect to finish.  I don’t know how long it will take.  I don’t really care.  I’ve been riding 40 miles or more a day for weeks now, and I’m not going to taper going into this weekend.  My legs won’t be fresh, but they’re not dead tired either.  We’ll see how it shakes out.  I have other events scheduled for later in the summer.  Maybe the goal in one of them will be to go fast.

I’ve really fallen in love with the whole gravel scene.  It wasn’t love at first sight.  It took awhile.   It’s a lot harder rolling on gravel (especially the kind we have around here) than it is on smooth macadam.  It’s a lot more work.  It will wear you out.  Sometimes it feels like the road is reaching up and grabbing your rear tire.  It really does.   It’s the weirdest feeling in the world.

On the other hand, URresp4U is as good as it gets in my opinion.  It’s just about the last vestige of freedom left in America and it’s not so different than way back when, up on the side of the mountain, dog tired and knowing that the only way back to the  trailhead is on your own two feet.  This isn’t TV-land. There’s no helicopter coming to save your backside.   You got out there.  You get home.

Pura vida is a Spanish phrase that translated literally means “pure life.”  Roughly speaking, it means “this is living” or “this is the life.”  To me, riding gravel is pura vida.  So that’s that.  SWIGG is 72 hours out.  I’m excited.  I’m climbing the mountain one more time.  I’ll post some pictures and my thoughts early next week.  Between now and then, here’s wishing you some great rides!

Another Day, Another Sunrise

Some of you know that I set my alarm for 4:30 AM every day so that I can get in 20-25 miles before work.  In my previous role, I could sneak out during lunch and since the company was on Eastern Standard Time, I could also knock off at 4:00 PM for a second ride.  These days, I ride early because if I don’t there’s a good chance I won’t ride at all.

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June 17, 2019.  155th Street just up the hill from the Raccoon River Valley Trail, Greene County IA.

It was tough at first.  I started with this firm in early October and the days were already getting shorter.  I ended up riding in the dark for almost four months.  It was bitter cold many mornings, but as I grew accustomed to my new schedule I discovered that I actually liked it.  For one thing, there’s less traffic on the road.  That’s good.  Wildlife is also very active early, even in the dead of winter, and so I really developed a sense of who my natural neighbors are.  These were blessings.

There were more.  As winter turned into spring and the days began to lengthen, I also started being entertained by the most dazzling sunrises imaginable.  We have pretty amazing sunrises here in Greene County.  They’re as good as any I’ve ever seen.   I suspect the long vistas have something to do with it.  Maybe all rural places have great sunrises.  I don’t really know, but I think I’d like to find out.  Just when you think you’ve seen the best one ever, Mother Nature raises her game and delivers a better one still.  I haven’t gotten tired of them  yet and I hope I never do.

Cycling at dawn has become a really special part of my day.  It gives me an opportunity to organize my thoughts before tackling work.  It allows me to wake up a little more naturally.  I still drink coffee, but I drink less than I used to.  After my morning ride, it’s herbal tea and fruit-infused water now.  Maybe someday soon I’ll stop drinking coffee completely.

But it’s the mind calming opportunity to put the day in order that is the biggest benefit of my morning ride.   I typically don’t really even think about it.  I just get on the bike and go and soon enough all the pieces of the puzzle just fall into place.   No apps are required.  No doctors.  No pills.  How do you put a value on something like this?

The sunrises are the icing on the cake.  That one above?  I didn’t have it all to myself.  There were two cows that had gotten loose along the road.  Cattle tend to be skittish when I approach, but these two were as calm as could be.  I think they were in the same place I was.

Here’s wishing you a great day.  Cycle on.

 

 

Finally Tubeless

Happy Weekend!  I’m riding the SWIGG Ride (Southwest Iowa Gravel Grinder) in two weeks.  SWIGG is a free to enter, you are responsible for you 105-miler through the wilds of (wait for it…) southwest Iowa.  In spite of what you may have heard about Iowa, this part of the state is very hilly.  Check out the elevation profile.  It’s nasty…almost 7,000 feet of climbing in total.

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All of which is to say SWIGG is my kind of bicycle race.  When I was first planning for it earlier this year, I was actually toying with the idea of riding my Salsa Fargo because it has these oversized knobby MTB tires (29 x 2.25″) that feel really good on gravel, but all those hills make it a less than ideal choice.  The Fargo is designed to tour under load.  It isn’t a go-fast climber.

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40 psi and holding steady!  🙂

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The SWIGG rig in all its tubeless glory

So I decided to ride my Raleigh Tamland instead.  The Tamland is a gravel bike.  This is what it was designed to do.  The problem, if you can call it that, is that the Tamland came with skinnier (700c x 32mm) tires and I’ve never felt nearly as comfortable on gravel with it as I do the Fargo.  I eventually figured out that the obvious solution was to upsize the tires and if I was going to go through the hassle of doing that, I might as well set it up tubeless.

So that’s what I did.  I bought a set of Panaracer Gravel King SKs in 700c x 38mm and I did a tubeless setup for the very first time earlier this week.  It was about as easy as could be because (a) I took my time and (b) when the back tire failed to stay inflated I worked my way back through the steps until I isolated the problem.   When I put it all back together, it worked like a charm.

I’ve ridden the tubeless setup four times now over one hundred miles and I am all in.  I absolutely love it on gravel.   The beauty of tubeless is that you can run your tires at much lower pressure than you might otherwise without worrying about getting pinch flats.  It might not sound like a big deal, but when you are responsible for you and you are sixty miles from the van in the Iowa Outback, flat tires are a very big deal.  I can fix them, but it’s better to not have to worry about them to begin with.  Lower pressure also translates into a better ride and more grip on the loose stuff.  The difference isn’t really noticeable to me on pavement, but get out on the rocks and it is night and day better.

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Park Tool’s VC-1 is a tiny little thing.  

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I prefer carrying a pump to cartridges.  Low pressure fills are easier to deal with and you’ll never run out of air.

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The Airshot is easy to use, easy to store and easy on your wallet…at least compared to a compressor.

If you think you might want to give tubeless a try, consider the following.  Your rims and tires have to be tubeless ready.  They’ll be labeled as such if they are.  If either the rims or the tires are not tubeless ready, it simply will not work.  You’ll also need special valves and sealant.    Multiple companies offer this stuff, so check with  your LBS and see what they recommend.  For what it’s worth, I used Stan’s No Tubes.  If you already have tubeless ready rims and tires, the sealant and valves will set you back less than $50.

On the tool front, you’ll need a valve stem removal tool like the Park Tool VC-1.  You can do the original setup without one, but you’ll have to remove the stem from time to time to add more sealant.  Get the tool upfront and it won’t be a hassle when you have to do it.  I also recommend getting a syringe specifically designed for tire sealant.  It will have the right size hose to fit a Presta valve and you won’t end up making a mess.

Last, but not least, you may need a little help seating the tire bead.  Some people can do it with a good floor pump, but most of us require an assist.  You can use an air compressor if you have one.  If you don’t, I recommend getting an Airshot.  It has all the right attachments.  Simply hook your floor pump up to it, pump it up to 120 psi, attach it to the Presta value (with the stem removed), open the valve on the bottle and the bead seats beautifully every time.

That’s really all there is to it.  If you decide that you want to tackle this, I highly recommend checking out the videos on Stan’s YouTube channel before giving it a go on your own.  They saved me a ton of time, particularly with regard to how to assure that the sealant coats the entire inside of the tire.   I’ll follow up with additional thoughts after SWIGG.  In the meantime, have a GREAT weekend and enjoy the ride!

 

Drifting Through the Driftless

I’ve wanted to visit the Driftless Region since I first heard of it shortly after moving to Iowa, but it’s so far away from our home in Jefferson that we’d put it off again and again.  This weekend it was finally time, so off we went to the north and east.  The idea was to ride bikes, of course, but also to see some new places.

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For those of you who don’t know, the Driftless is a large swath of NE Iowa, SE Minnesota, NW Illinois and SW Wisconsin that was bypassed by the great Ice Age glaciers.  I can’t tell you why this happened, just that it did. Those glaciers scrubbed the land and when they receded, they left behind a form of sediment called “drift.”   There’s no drift in the Driftless, thus the name.  Those who know this region well are pretty much universal in their praise of the place.  This is one of the most beautiful corners of America made even better by the fact that almost no one knows it’s here.  That means it’s unspoiled.   That makes it pretty close to paradise, at least to me.

But I’m not going to call it paradise.  The Eagles sang about this very thing on Hotel California.  Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.  Nope…not happening.  The last thing we need is another nice little corner of America to be “discovered.” There are enough fudge shops in Wisconsin Dells.  If you want candy and water parks, go there.  Ride the ducks.  The Driftless is not paradise. It’s just Iowa…at least this little corner of it.

It is, however, a fun place to explore by bike.  Take Decorah, for example.  I’ve heard it called Iowa’s mountain town and I think that’s as good of a description as any.  It reminded me a lot of Asheville North Carolina.  There’s Toppling Goliath, one of the best breweries on the planet.  There’s a real, honest to goodness main street full of real honest to goodness stores that real stuff.  They’ve taken out some motor vehicle parking spots and turned them into bike corrals.  They were mostly full.   There’s also a bookstore called Dragonfly with an extensive section of Scandinavian fiction.  There’s an incredibly clever store called Cardboard Robot.  I can’t begin to describe it.  We met someone there who worked for Surly Bikes for 17 years before coming here.  Yeah, it’s that kind of place.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.   Our first stop was Mason City, Iowa, the largest town on Interstate 35 between Ames and the Twin Cities at approximately 28,000 people.   Later, we stayed at the most delightful B&B in Calmar (around 1,000 people, more or less) and passed through Waverly (10,000) on the way back to Jefferson.  I wanted to share a little of what I liked about each of these unique places.

Mason City

We stopped in Mason City for two reasons.  One, we have driven past here many times between our time in Minnesota and Colorado but had never stopped and have always wondered what we were missing.  We heard that Mason City was the inspiration for “The Music Man.” Meredith Wilson, the play’s creator, was from here.  Frank Lloyd Wright built houses and the Historic Park Inn Hotel here.  If you’ve ever wanted to sleep in a building designed by Wright, this is your place.    Two, I also wanted to ride the Trolley Trail that runs seven miles west to Clear Lake.

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Along the Trolley Trail.  There’s electric, but I’m not sure there’s actually a trolley.

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These marked bike routes were everywhere in Mason City.  Connectivity was very good.

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Ahhh, coffee.  Sourced responsibly and roasted in the store.

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Mason City had its share of beautiful places, too.

I really liked downtown Mason City.  It felt very European to me.  We had coffee and treats at Beanzy’s and chatted up the owner who came here from Columbus Georgia a long time ago.  I asked her how long it took to get used to the winters.  Her response?  I’ll let you know if it ever happens.

Another thing that was somewhat European about Mason City was all the side paths and really nice signed bicycle routes.  They were everywhere, or so it seemed.   We ended up getting off of the Trolley Trail and just riding around the city.  Everywhere we went was connected.  You know how it is most place when you’re on a side path and it just suddenly ends with no warning?  That didn’t happen here.  Google Maps hasn’t caught on.   Perhaps it’s the unassuming nature of people in this part of the country.  They’ve never really learned the art of self promotion.  They don’t brag.  They just build.  Mason City is a lot more bicycle friendly than I would have expected.  I’d like to come back and explore some more in the future.

Decorah

Decorah is special, not only in Iowa but in all of the Midwest.   It just feels different here…in some ways night and day different.  It’s the kind of place where “play” is just as important as work to most folks and that leads to a healthy, happy vibe.  I could have spent days here.  I can see why people leave places like Chicago or the Twin Cities and settle into a life of relative anonymity here.  I find it very appealing.  I could do this.

Our first stop in Decorah was at Toppling Goliath, the large microbrewery on the east side of town.  Before coming here, I had avoided Toppling Goliath’s beers as they’re a bit more expensive than the average microbrew.  Then I started reading about how people come here from all over the world and how this little brewery is considered by beer advocates to be one of the best on the planet.   I won’t argue the point.  We had a flight that included two beers you’re not going to find on the shelf at your local market any time soon.  This is the good stuff.

As for the cycling, we rode the Trout Run Trail, which forms a loop around the town.  It’s mostly  flat even though Decorah is somewhat hilly.  It connects to a trout hatchery on the south side.  There’s no fence or anything around the pools.  You can walk right up and see the fish. I love trout.

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Downtown Decorah.  Note the bike parking on the street behind the white pickup.

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Oneota Community Food Cooperative, downtown

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We have eagles in Jefferson, too.  They’re not as rare out here as the sign would have you believe.

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Trout hatchery.  Lots of folks here looking at the fish.

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The local tourist attraction.  Seriously good beer.

Calmar

We came to Calmar to stay at the Lavender Fields Inn, a bed and breakfast in a fully restored Victorian farmhouse.  It was a good decision.  The proprietors, Barb and Jeff, were so much fun!  Our room was comfortable and Sunday morning breakfast was one of the best I’ve ever had!  If you come here, you might want to check out the Pivo Brewery, an easy one mile bike ride from Lavender Fields Inn along the trail and an adjacent side path.  There’s also delicious BBQ at Memphis Rae’s downtown…an easy walk.  Memphis will likely be there to greet you.  His pork ribs are incredible.  If you want some, it’s best to get there by 5:00 PM.  When they’re gone, they’re gone.

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Prairie Farmer Trail – Calmar Trailhead

Between all that good eating and hospitality,  I had a chance to ride the Prairie Farmer Trail from Calmar northwest to the town of Cresco.  It’s a 40 mile round trip through a sublime slice of rural Iowa.  The trail is paved asphalt, mostly flat and smooth.  I set forth at dawn on Sunday morning and had it all to myself, passing only a single solitary cyclist on what was a beautiful, mostly windless morning.  The surrounding countryside is just gorgeous, a mixture of forests and fields with some spectacular vistas of the somewhat hilly countryside.

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Straight and flat!

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Decisions, decisions…

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The delightful Lavender Fields Inn

Waverly

As it turns out, we saved the best for last, at least when it comes to cycling.  The Waverly Rail Trail is seriously good…much better than I expected.  It cuts right through the heart of downtown before heading south and east to Denver.  It’s wide, it’s smooth and with the exception of the main drag, it burrows under all the major streets.  If there’s anything at all to nitpick over, it’s the length…barely seven miles.  That will eventually change as the trail is connected to the Shell Rock and Rolling Prairie trails to the west.  When it all comes together,  it will be an 80 mile long trail spanning a good swath of Iowa from east to west.  For now,  it’s as good a local trail as I’ve found anywhere in Iowa.

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Trailhead in downtown Waverly

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This is a wide, beautiful trail.  There are even sections with a median!

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There are several major street crossings with wide culvert-like tunnels

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There are pretty views of the Cedar River as you leave town.

So that’s it…four towns, one very special corner of the state.  I’m glad we headed up here.  I’d like to explore this region more.  In many ways, these four communities were all unique and different.  That said, they had some things in common.  All were prosperous and well kept.  The people were kind and helpful and generally seemed glad we came to visit.  They love cycling, too.  Bikes were everywhere.  It was a good weekend…one of the best we’ve had in a long time.  I can’t wait to come back for a second helping.