Because of my work schedule, it’s difficult for me to find the time to do long rides during the week. My way around this is to try to get in 20 or so miles early in the morning, before work, and then another 15-20 in the evenings. It’s not always ideal, but I’ve learned to work with what I have.
My first two years in Jefferson were pretty easy. I’d just hop on the Raccoon River Valley Trail and head south and then turn around and come back. That hasn’t been an option this year. Ice floes took out the river bridge just south of town in March, and not much has been said about it since. I assume the county is working on it, but maybe not. I have no idea. It doesn’t seem to be much of a priority.
But in an ironic twist, it hasn’t really mattered to me. I’ve adapted, and in the process I’ve discovered some pretty cool places to ride. One of these places is the road out to Squirrel Hollow County Park.
Like county parks pretty much everywhere these days, Squirrel Hollow feels neglected to me. It sits on and above the Raccoon River about 8 miles southeast of Jefferson as the crow flies. There’s a boat launch on the river as well as a picnic area and campground on top of the bluffs. Locals know it’s here, but I’ve never seen more than one or two cars in the park or at the ramp. More often than not I’m the only one here when I visit. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m not complaining.
The ride out is delightful. From my house I can hop on the trail and take it to the bottom of the river valley. Then I zig zag southeast on a mixture of gravel and lightly traveled paved county roads. I seldom take the exact same route, as there are plenty of opportunities to extend the ride or take different roads that lead here. In this part of the world, roads that hug rivers offer a lot of variation, climbs and the opportunity to explore. It’s almost as if that’s what they were built for.
Squirrel Hollow isn’t that far from home. I can get out here just about any time I have a spare hour. I think a big part of what I like about this ride is that it feels like an actual destination to me. So many days I just ride around in circles with no particular place to go. Not when I come here. Coming here is coming home to a veritable Garden of Eden hidden in plain sight from a world too preoccupied to notice. It might as well have my name on the deed, because when I’m out here I feel like it’s mine and mine alone.
When the bridge collapsed last March, I didn’t know what it would mean in terms of my cycling. I knew it was going to be out a while. How would I work around it? Would cycling be as much fun? Would traffic rob me of my joy?
In reality, it has been a blessing. It has forced me out of my comfort zone and onto roads I might never have ridden otherwise. I’ve discovered that the things I worried about weren’t worth the worry. There are very few motorists out here and the ones I do pass are invariably kind and thoughtful. I’m a better cyclist as a result.
More importantly, I’ve visited places I never would have gone otherwise, places like Squirrel Hollow on the Raccoon River. If you ever find yourself out this way, check it out. If you want company, let me know and I’ll head out there with you.