Monday, October 24, 2016

The Four County Tour

The gravel was mostly pulverized by the recent harvest machine traffic.
Saturday I woke up kind of late, but I knew I wanted to ride. It was going to be a gorgeous Fall day, and missing out on something like a day like that was unacceptable. So, I decided I would do a modification on a route I did last year in the Fall which I enjoyed immensely. It covers ground in four different counties, and mapping it out is kind of a pain because of that. So then I thought, "Hey! Why not call it the "Four County Tour"?" So, I have.

I had ambitions for doing some big miles, but because I woke up late, that made me modify my plans even more. Still, it was a good long ride, and I will just have to work on a longer ride later. This day, I wasn't going to sweat that. It was just too good out to be negative. That said, not being negative for other reasons was tough. 

Sometimes we all have those days when we just are not feeling right on the bike. I was starting out having one of those days. I couldn't breathe the way I am accustomed to. I felt awkward pedaling. All these layers! They constrict you more than wearing next to nothing when it is warm. Well, since it was in the 40's when I started, I had to have on a jacket, a pair of knickers, and gloves. All little things, but taken in total, they were conspiring to bring my mind down. I just decided that I would take what the ride would give me and keep pedaling.Whatever happened would happen.

Harvesting is wrapping up in Iowa for the year.
A tiny rural cemetery on the border of Butler and Black Hawk Counties.
You know what? Things got better. I "warmed up", and so did the weather. I stripped off my gloves and coat about an hour after the start and I felt great. There was a light Southwest wind, which was not a factor, and not a cloud in the sky. This was about as perfect a day for cycling there can be. I was out there riding, and eventually, smiling.

I touched Grundy County after riding West through Black Hawk County. Then I turned North and West a bit to ride the border of Black Hawk County and Butler County, eventually turning into Butler County for a bit. The other interesting bit about this ride was that I crossed all the major tributaries of the Cedar River and the Cedar River itself on this loop. The first was Black Hawk Creek, then the next was Beaver Creek. In Butler County, I crossed the West Fork of the Cedar River on an old, iron bridge.

When you see a line of trees ahead in Iowa, you can bet a river runs through it!
I passed some virgin sand prairie at the Cedar Hills Sand Prairie reserve.
The old bridge over the West Fork of the Cedar River.
Riding up out of the West Fork's valley I kept climbing and climbing until I crossed county road C55 and then I topped out on a high stretch of ground with a view for miles. I decided to have a stop to eat a bite and take it all in. How could one not stop and enjoy this beauty, I have no idea.

Climbing up out of the West Fork's valley.

I could see the communities of Waverly and Janesville from this point, both of which were at least five miles from this spot. 
By this time I had reached Bremer County, and my fourth county on the ride. I also would be reaching the furthest North point of my loop. Soon I would stair step down Southeastward on gravel toward Janesville and on the way, I would cross the Shell Rock River. Before that, I would bag another rural cemetery. I have been stopping in front of various cemetery gates in rural areas to get my bike's image in front of those gates as a kind of way to celebrate these forgotten burial grounds.

I ran into some good sized hills up in Bremer County.
Formerly known as Waverly Junction Cemetery when Waverly Junction was a town.
I came down a big hill and rode by the former site of Waverly Junction down to cross the Shell Rock, and then on down past Barrick's Home. The Barrick name is synonymous with Janesville as it was a settler with that surname that founded the town. From there I rode across the Barrick Road pedestrian/bicycle bridge across the Cedar River on the site of the former Wagon Bridge.

The Fall colors are mostly muted this year. This outburst of orange was notable then.
Crossing the Cedar River at Janesville.
The dedication plaque for the bridge showing the former Wagon Bridge which used to be on this site.
I stopped in Janesville to resupply, having been out for three hours. With the "Orange Crush" rig only having three bottles on board, I needed that stop. I ran across an acquaintance at the convenience store who just about had to slap me to get my attention. Sorry! I was so used to being in my thoughts on the bike I was "spacing out" pretty badly!

I left Janesville and headed East and South to get back through Bremer County and in to Black Hawk again and finally to Waterloo.

I ran across this murder of crows sitting across the road and in both ditches. Weird!
A harvesting machine clearing up the last of the corn.
I made it over to St. Paul's Church on Gresham Road and Burton Avenue. The place looks different now that Fall is half done. Nothing like it did when things were still green during the last Geezer Ride, that's for sure. From there I went straight down Burton to Waterloo, finding out along the way that the small bridge before Dunkerton Road has been repaired/replaced.

St. Paul's Church from the West.
I haven't figured out how many miles I did on the Four County Tour, but it had to be around 50 or so. Whatever it turned out to be, I liked the route. I think I can tweak it out to go a bit into Grundy County and take in Zion Church as well. Maybe make a metric century route out of it.

I got home and took it easy the rest of the day. I then went on a family walk later on, which made me realize just how sore my legs were. I don't think I drank enough water. Oh well! At least I felt 100% better at the end of the ride, and day, than I had when I started out.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Minus Ten Review- 42

A 2007 Fisher Paragon with an example of the first Fox 29'er fork made
Ten years ago on the blog I made a very simple, honest request and posted the following title to kick it off: "Mid-West 29"er Get Together In '07?"

Ya know how sometimes you look back at how you did some things and wished that you had followed your original intuitions? Or have you ever felt like you didn't stick to your guns and the vision got swooped up by others that didn't "get it" and everything went swirling down the proverbial toilet?


That's what happened to that idea I proposed back in 2006. I let others twist my original ideas, take them, and eventually make it so that the goals were impossible and I didn't put my foot down and say "no". I should have.

In the end, what was supposed to just be a fun, casual get together became a failed marketing ploy and got me into some hot water with some folks. I am as much to blame as anyone, because I let go of the reins and trusted others that shouldn't have been let in. That ended up deep sixing what became known as "The Big Wheeled Ballyhoo". I tried to redeem the thing in '09, but an early Winter storm and a family emergency balled up things.

 I got it. It was not meant to be.

I learned a lot though, and those lessons helped me to keep something else I was involved in on track, and helped me to get out of some things that were not where I wanted to go with grace and my dignity intact. Still, that one blog post in '06 really set a ball of crap rolling down hill that ended up becoming kind of a train wreck. There were good things, for sure. Good times, adventures, and relationships that were made and some maintained right up until today. Some cool 29"er stuff was shown and shared, like the first commercially available Fox 29"er forks. It was fun, but it wasn't what I would have done had I stuck to my guns.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday News And Views

Crushing leaves with Elwood
Terrene Tires Elwood:

I just got a set of some new tires from another new tire brand named Terrene Tires. While you may not have have heard about this company you likely know one of the guys behind it. (Read about that HERE) These are tires being reviewed on, by the way.

Anyway, I have tested a ton of tires before going back to 2006. Add in all the tires I have mounted and dismounted in my 17 years plus of wrenching on bikes and you could say that I have a pretty good handle on what a good bicycle tire is. I bring this up becuase of all the tires I have personally handled, these Terrene Elwoods are the most luxurious feeling tires I have touched. They just feel awesome in the hand. Soft and smooth. Almost not like rubber at all.

I know that may sound weird, but I was just struck by this when  first touched them. Now I am finding out how they ride and so far..... Well, you'll have to wait for my first post on Riding Gravel for that take. I won't spoil it here. I will say that these are of the 650B X 47 size, which I find to be a nice compromise between weight, width, and diameter. Well, for a gravel road rig, I find that to be a good thing. You can also bomb some double and single track with such a set up, so it could make for some interesting route choices you wouldn't otherwise choose to ride.

That said, I sure hope Terrene comes out with a 700 X 2.0"-2,1" version of the Elwood. It would make a killer tire for a Fargo!

Rocky Mountain Suzy-Q: Ya know.....because Halloween is coming!
27.5 X 4" Fat: 4 Season Fatty?

A year or so ago Trek came out with their 27.5" sized fat bike wheels on some models of  Farleys. Were they daft, or were they on to something? I know a guy that has one of those bikes and he pretty much parked his normal mtb bike for the 27.5 X 4 wheeled Farley fat bike. He claimed it was far more fun and capable.

Well, Trek was the only game in town then and they were the only ones making tires under the Bontrager label. That's okay because they are good tires, but was this just a Trek thing? Now it seems that maybe it isn't, and more of this sort of rig will be showing up in the future.

Rocky Mountain is the next brand to utilize this fat bike wheel size and they got Maxxis to provide the tires. You can bet other factories are working on 27.5" fat bike models too. I bet we'll be seeing such beasts coming out in the future. It makes sense for those folks wanting to use these fatter tires all year long, and maybe even as a bike packing platform.

Trans Iowa v13 Registration Update;

The registration process continues as the Rookie class for T.I.v13 is sending in their cards to potentially have a lottery for the chance to ride in T.I.v13. So far, as of yesterday's mail, there were 26 entrants so far and with just over a week to go, it still will be touch and go on whether we'll see enough entries for a lottery. Today's haul and Saturday's deliveries will probably determine whether or not we'll get over the 55 rider limit on the Rookie Class field. Stay tuned on that front.....

I'm still doing some work on the course. I have a workaround for one section of pavement. As for the first 40-ish miles, I am still contemplating an exact route, but I do have an idea for what to do. Yes......there will be a B Level Maintenance road in the first section. Why not? It isn't a "real" Trans Iowa without some dirt and mud thrown in, right?

Okay, have a great weekend and get outside and enjoy yourselves on a bicycle!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Buzzard Restoration

Unflat tires, new crank set, different front derailleur = Ready!
Now for something completely different! I haven't been messing much with any of my mountain bikes for quite some time. I've just been way too busy getting ready for gravel road events or testing something for My mountain bikes have fallen into a state of disrepair over the last year or so.

The Singular Buzzard was particularly hard hit in that regard. I had it all set up, ready to go, last Fall, but I didn't really get the chance to ride it. Well, actually, the one time I wanted to ride it I didn't in deference to my friend who was on a single speed fat bike and I decided to suffer similarly on my Blackborow DS. Anyway, the end result was that the Buzzard lost all its air, the sealant dried up, and it was Winter. Then I got busy with the gravel stuff. Then I went one step further backward......

I dismantled the Buzzard to a degree! 

A different friend was having issues with a crank and front derailleur, so I helped him out by pilfering my lightly used SLX stuff which got him out of a pickle and back riding again. Good news for him. Bad news for me and the Buzzard. Usually once I start pilfering a build its dead meat. I'm like a vulture and I pick it apart till nothing is left but the skeleton. This time, I didn't let that happen, although the thought had crossed my mind a few times!

I picked up a brand new SLX crank set, used an old X-7 high direct mount derailleur, and recharged the tires with fresh sealant. Boom! Back in business again. I also took the opportunity to switch pedals. I took the Shimano trail SPD's off and put on some Fixation Mesa MP's, which are flat pedals that I happen to think are really good. Two reasons for this move- The first is that I don't have to use specific cycling shoes with this bike anymore and the other is that I feel flats suit the build better than clipless pedals do.

Now I just have to hit the dirt!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

So, This Popped Up Again

Greg Gleason is attempting an ITT of the TIMP this weekend.
The thing was dead. I ran it for one Summer, a mere three months, and then it was over. I figured I'd never have to say anything about it again. However; in one post on Facebook, the whole Trans Iowa Masters Program thing has come alive.

It was the only ITT finisher, Greg Gleason, who did the deed. He decided to resurrect the idea and try a run at the course during the Fall. Of course, it is his right to do that, I have zero say in the matter. I only bring this to the blog today to explain to the folks that are unaware of what the TIMP was and why it mattered.

So, a quickie explanation here- The Trans Iowa event, when it started, was conceived of as a cross state route. We, (Jeff Kerkove and myself), wanted to route bicyclists across Iowa all on gravel roads. Then things got....well, modified. Certain elements to the original plot were introduced which eventually led us to stop the first two routes I planned in Decorah. Note- Trans Iowa v2 never made it past Algona Iowa, so much of that route was untapped till this TIMP deal.

As the tenth Trans Iowa approached, several riders broached the subject of doing a one-off, cross state Trans Iowa as a way to celebrate the decade of T.I. events. I decided that would be waaayyyy too much of a headache for me and the volunteers to pull off, so I decided to approach the idea in a unique and different way. I devised the "TIMP", or "Trans Iowa Masters Program". As the name suggests, it was set up as a mock degree from "Trans Iowa" which required studying, (the rider had to plan a strategy, study the cues, and prepare their gear and nutrition needs), a class test was taken, (the actual ride itself), and a "masters thesis" was required, (ride report with pictures). Once the three parts were completed successfully, I would issue a certificate and post the story and images on the TIMP site.

Greg Gleason at the finish of his successful ITT attempt in Lansing Iowa in 2014.
So, with that background, the announcement yesterday of Greg's attempt on another try at the original route was something I knew was coming as Greg forewarned me of this. However; I did not expect that there would be comments to the effect of "Hey! I want to do this. What is it all about?"

Yeah, that was something I never expected. Well, there were a few folks saying this and probably several others who had wheels turning in their heads about how they might do such a deed. First of all, let me be perfectly clear- I have zero to do with this "route" anymore. I took the original cues down and only those with the foresight to grab them off the sight when it was live have them. Anyone doing this now or in the future is completely on their own and doing something I have no affiliation with anymore. The TIMP deal was one and done. So, that ship has sailed. The route may or may not be doable or even safe. I have no clue now.

That said, if you have a mind to follow along with Greg as he rides across Iowa on (mostly) gravel roads, check out his SPOT tracker link which will be live this weekend HERE. Greg;s personal page can be found HERE. The original route which Greg has laid out on his link is HERE. Go check that out if you are interested in this.

As for me, I know nothing about the route beyond what I learned two years ago. I have no intentions of ever promoting it again, or reviving this idea again. Don't ask me about the route cues, or the route. Bug someone that has actually ridden it if you have to know more. Thank you!

Greg- Good luck, my friend! Have a great time out there. I know you will.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Last Flowers

I've said it before, and I probably will say it again many times here. I like flowers. This year, 2016, has been an amazing year for wild flowers. The ditches exploded in Spring with various colors and were pretty good up until about a month ago. Then the flowers in the country started petering out. You have to really look hard to find them now, but there are still a few here and there.

I have a commute route that goes through an old industrial area and part of an ancient residential area where random flowers have been growing for years. Some are vestiges of people's old back yards while others have been brought in by the natural cycle of things. Over the last 13 plus years of commuting through the area, I have noted several different types of flowers come in and now the flower party lasts almost all year long. This is past mid-October, and I took the image here yesterday on my way home. Things get started in late March or early April, so we get about seven months of color. That's pretty awesome for this latitude.

That said, the end is nigh. We've had one "soft freeze" already, but the hard freezes are coming soon, and the flowers will cease to be a happy reminder of life. Dead brown and sullen rust colors will be all that is left behind until the first snow fall mercifully covers the deadness in a brilliant blanket of white.

Shorter days, brown, sullen landscapes, and cold Northwesterlies are coming soon. It will get harder to get motivated to don all the gear necessary to make a ride happen in sub-freezing temperatures. But with that said, I ain't staying inside. That's a death worse than not having flowers to grace the land for five months.

See ya on the trails..........

Monday, October 17, 2016

Trans Iowa v13: Registration Update

A previously unreleased image from the Trans Iowa v13 course! WooHoo!
I thought I should take this opportunity to do a long form update on the registration process so far. I cannot really do this with the limited space available to me on the Trans Iowa site.

I was not sure if we could get the 55 spots filled in the Vet class but since there are so many Vets out there now, I felt setting up the possibility of a lottery would preempt any issues had I not had a plan in place. To be honest, I felt as though it may have been a good idea to have a Vet's lottery drawing last year, but it all worked out fine. With 47 "new vets" from T.I.v12, I knew that filling out the vet class was a distinct possibility. The weeding out of possibilities by using the "inactive riders" idea helped, but there were still a lot of possibilities out there. Since the current winners and "frequent flyers" of Trans Iowa did not take all of their spots, I was able to kick down 10 spots more to the Vets raising their limit to 65 riders.

Then the Vets only sent in 50 cards. Well, that's ten over what I used to allow, so I am on the right track here. Granted, Finishers used to be its own category, which is not the case now. Anyway, now I have only 65 folks on the roster. That means that 55 slots remain for Rookies. Which means that maybe there will not be a Rookie lottery either. It will be touch and go, but it will be close, I'll bet.

So, that's the lay of the land right now. However; there is one more thing to discuss. Tandems.

In the years past, I have not made any special provisions to accommodate a tandem class. We've only had two tandems ever attempt Trans Iowa. Jay and Tracy Petervary in v6 and Dennis Grelk and Christina Anthony tried it in v10, I think it was. That said, I was contacted by Andrea Cohen, who has done Trans Iowa several times. She asked for a Tandem class and said if I allowed it that she was coming with another person as her team mate. I decided to allow this based upon who asked and to help promote the tandem idea, which has gained a lot of traction at Dirty Kanza and Gravel Worlds. I figured, hey! Why not? No one has ever done a full Trans Iowa as a tandem team, so this is kind of a "last frontier" for the event, in a manner of speaking. It could be a good thing. We will see.

More soon.....

Trans Iowa v13: Recon Report

A sleepy Grinnell Iowa under sullen skies.
Let's see now, just how many of these missions have I been on? Too many to count. In some ways, they all start to look the same. Get up at "O-dark-thirty", get organized, hop in the truck, and for the fifth time, pick up Jeremy who does my recon with me nowadays. During the last several years, recon doesn't start without a visit to the Frontier Cafe in Grinnell. Good eats right there, and I highly recommend the place if you are ever down that way.

With that great food in the belly, we started reconning the course for the thirteenth Trans Iowa. Thirteen! I never would have guessed.......

So anyway, we got rolling, and it was with some trepidation too. The weather was weird. It looked as though it could break into a full on rain at any given time. In fact, it kept misting almost all the time in varying degrees. Sometimes it was barely enough to turn on the intermittent wipers for, and then at other times it was full on regular wiper speed and almost not cutting it at that. I think I about wore out the wiper switch Saturday!

The point was that with Level B Roads to look at, rain was going to make the recon very difficult and maybe we would have to cut things short. I was ready to give in should it do the rain thing since the Truck With No Name isn't exactly "mudder friendly", being a two wheel drive vehicle with highway tires and all. No need to try and be a hero when I might get stuck miles away from any services.

Rain was potentially only minutes away many times during the day, but it never developed beyond a heavy mist.
Well, despite all the reasons for bailing out that might happen, we were game to head out and so we did. Our initial leaving from Grinnell was a bit awkward due to road construction and missing navigation cues from Jeremy, who mistakenly thought I knew where I was going. He should know by now that I've always been a lost puppy!

Once out in the country we were headed out on the proposed course to checkpoint #1. It didn't take long to have a reminder of why it is that you have to physically go out and look with your own two eyes at your course. Any event director that doesn't actually lay there eyes on every mile of their proposed course is making a big mistake. We were initially really excited that we could drive onto the first Level B on the course. That was until we saw the following.......

Yeah...... This is the reason why I drove 488 miles Saturday. When you rely on maps and GPS tracks, they don't show you stuff like this.
A small, probably 20 yard long bridge was blockaded off and there was no way around it. Poof! There goes your course idea, as this was the only through road in the direction I wanted to go for 5-6 miles in either direction. Dang it!

Jeremy and I improvised a quick re-route, but it won't be the way T.I.v13 runs. I am going to have to redo three quarters of that section just to get the mileage and destination to work out right. The Level B? Well, I hope to find a substitute for that. Stay tuned....... In the meantime, we were off to CP#1 and beyond. The next Level B was a completely new one to me, and should be perfectly fine for T.I.v13 no matter what the weather brings. That doesn't mean you wouldn't have to walk it, by the way. I wouldn't read too much into that.

You know that there will be big hills, but there will be "mind numbing flat sections" as well. 
Quick break on a Level B road........somewhere in Iowa.
Then it was on to the first section of the course to Checkpoint #2. This year, this will be the longest part of Trans Iowa. It's probably going to be about 155 miles or so. I was kind of worried how it would look, since, well......... I don't know, but flatter sections of the state might seem boring to some riders. I think that flatter sections serve the event by having their own set of difficulties both physical and mental. That said, I was mostly surprised and pleased with much of what we saw. This part will happen during the daytime, so seeing things will be a factor in this part of Trans Iowa. Trust me......there will be things to see! 

One of those times when we thought it was about to pour down rain, but it didn't.
Jeremy took a cemetery count, but I didn't get the final total we went by. 
We actually had a few nice surprises on the way to CP#2, and again, this shows you why you have to actually go out and do this recon stuff. We found Level B Roads that were not marked as such, even on the State DOT maps. (Department of Transportation maps, for anyone not familiar) In fact, we were kind of shocked, but in a good way. These fit the course well, not having potential flood concerns, that we can see, at any rate.

I also was pleased by a safer choice I made to cross a major highway, and another way to get folks across a separate one was deemed good enough. Then there were a couple of bummers as well. Places where pavement running out of towns went on a lot longer than I'd have liked to have seen it. I will be looking to make tweaks in these spots.

Tunnel vision
Yep .....that would be a Level B.
We looked at CP#2's location and I am stoked about how it sets and the possibilities for the event. Then it was on to the final leg of the course, which was heading back to Grinnell. Things were looking good and we had to stop to refuel the Truck With No Name. When I checked my watch I was dismayed. We had a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time. I decided I was going to have to push the pace a bit in the truck.

One thing we found coming out of a town on route where there is a 24hr convenience store stop was a gravel road where I expected a city street. Now that was a change for once! Less pavement, bonus gravel! We'll take that!

A "bonus" Level B road that wasn't marked as such on the State DOT maps.
So now I was driving like a dirt short track racer. Hitting the brakes hard into a corner, coasting the apex, and mashing the gas out of the corner. Jeremy wasn't too fazed, but he did make a few snide comments about me being "all NASCAR" or something to that effect. It's all good! In the end, we got things covered that we needed to get covered. In fact, we even found a couple more "bonus Level B Roads" out there. I think we had five sections discovered that we did not expect. That's pretty cool since they were all decent, usable Level B's without concerns for water or what not.

Another unexpected Level B find. 
And another!
With the light fading, I had to make a decision about when to quit. I have been rather familiar with the routes near to Grinnell, and I decided to not recon the final 25 miles so we could concentrate on getting in what we hadn't been on before. By the way, I have laid eyes on the final run in several times this year alone. Fortunately, we were able to sneak all the recon in we wanted to, despite having a bit of difficulty verifying signage on several of the last corners we checked.

The weather cooperated and we didn't have to cut recon short! We even saw some blue sky. 
Final Thoughts: First of all, there are going to be a lot of changes and tweaks to this course. That said, I am pleased by what I saw. I think in the end it will provide an excellent experience for the riders. It will showcase a bit of Iowa that should leave a lasting impression on riders. I think the scenery in many spots is spectacular, and in others is very representative of Iowa. I will say that I was a bit dismayed by the amount of traffic and the lack of outward shows of friendliness by the natives we came to pass by on the route. That may be an anomaly due to several circumstances, but I am concerned about that.

I feel the route will provide a great challenge to the riders this time. It will all be dependent upon whatever the weather brings, of course, but the Level B's should play a part in the outcome, unless it is totally dry. There are hills, but again, there are some mind numbing, flat, boring parts that will test both mind and body in unique ways.

Stay tuned for updates on the course, mileages, and checkpoint cut off times. I cannot comment on any of that just yet as there are some serious tweaks to this course on the menu, and when they are completed, I can then give you all the details.

I finished up the day with 488 miles of driving in 14 hours. I used a tank and a half of gas, we stopped about seven times, and we covered all but the last 25 miles of the proposed course. Those might be tweaked as well due to construction in Grinnell. We weren't stopped by rain. That was amazing!

Okay, more soon, but for now, thank you for reading!