High Trestle Trail

Today we checked one more item off my Des Moines area bucket list.  We drove up to Woodward to bike on the High Trestle Trail.

Since it would be an out-and-back ride, we couldn’t do the entire 26-mile length.  We chose to start at the Woodward end because the High Trestle Bridge is just 2.6 miles down the trail from there.

The bridge is quite impressive and it’s a thrill to be so high up over the Des Moines River and surrounding valley.  The remainder of the 10 miles that we rode into Slater were not that exciting.  There was a nice city park where we ate lunch in Slater before turning around.  But a rails-to-trails is flat and open to the sun beating down and not an ideal ride on a hot Iowa summer day.

Overlooking the High Trestle Trail bridge.
Sunday afternoon ride on Gay Lea Wilson Trail, just down the street from our hotel.
Garden in Altoona on Prairie Heritage Trail that adjoined the Gay Lea Wilson Trail.


Neal Smith Trail

Today’s bike ride was along the east side of Saylorville Lake on the Neal Smith Trail. When we left our apartment this morning it was not the trail that we had in mind. We were planning to ride the Chichaqua Valley Trail, a 20-mile scenic recreational trail between Bondurant and Baxter. We didn’t realize that the trail is currently closed for repairs due to flood damages from last summer. We tried unsuccessfully to find another bike trail in Bondurant that we thought we could see on a map. We followed some sidewalks for awhile but then realized that the line on the map was for a railroad, not a bike trail.

We knew there was a bike trail along Saylorville Lake so we reloaded the bikes on the car and headed northeast of Des Moines towards the lake. We didn’t know the name of the trail and missed one of the trailheads that crossed the road we were on. But then we saw a sign for the Visitors Center at Saylorville Lake, and, sure enough, they had maps of the trail. Since we had wasted half the day at that point, we didn’t have time or energy for the whole trail. We rode from the Visitors Center to the end of the trail and back, a total of about 25 miles.

As it turned out, we had picked the best section of the trail. There was a lot of shaded areas in that section, nice views of the lake, and many ups and downs and winding twists to keep things interesting. We learned from another biker at the end of the day, that the section we didn’t do from the Visitors Center to Des Moines, was all flat river bottomland through the suburbs and city.

Section of the Neal Smith Trail through Red Feather Prairie.
Nice sections of shade along the Neal Smith Trail.
View of the marina at Sandpiper Recreation Area on Saylorville Lake.
Channel where Big Creek Lake connects to Saylorville Lake.

Transition Point

After nearly 4 weeks enjoying our time in the Iowa City area, today marks a transition point in our preparations for the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).  We’ve made reservations for week-long accommodations at an extended stay hotel in Des Moines, Iowa.  This puts us closer to the western part of the state, where RAGBRAI begins on July 22.  Next week we will be able to explore biking opportunities in the Des Moines area, as well as giving ourselves some time to rest up for the big ride.

This summer’s extended drought in the Midwest is disastrous for farmers, but for us vacationers spending our days bike riding and our nights camping, it has meant not having to worry about getting cold and wet.  I’m not one to ever admit that the weather is too hot for comfort, but there was one week that the heat was particularily oppressive.

July 7, the day that the temperature was a record-breaking 102 degrees, happened to be the day that the bike club had scheduled a 76-mile RAGBRAI training ride.  The handful of us brave souls who showed up that morning didn’t know it was going to be THAT hot; otherwise, we might have had second thoughts.  Thankfully, the route was mostly flat and there wasn’t much wind that day.  If there would have been hills and/or headwinds I’m not sure I would have made it.  As it was, the last hour or so when there was no shade or water stops anywhere, I came close to what felt like heat stroke.  When it was over, though, a couple of hours in Mike’s air-conditioned house fixed me right up.  As the saying goes about facing adversity, “it won’t kill you, it will just make you stronger.”

I certainly do feel stronger after all the bike riding we’ve done the last few weeks.  Besides getting a foretaste of some of that Iowa summer heat, I’ve done a lot of rides that were hilly and that faced headwinds.  Those conditions are something that you usually always encounter on RAGBRAI.  I can also consider myself well trained for the camping part of RAGBRAI.

I lost count of how many bike rides we did, but I do remember that there were 4 different places that we camped.  Each one of the campgrounds seemed to be better than the one before.  After the stay at the county park, we moved to a state park at Lake Macbride.  Lake Macbride is connected to Coralville Lake, which has many campgrounds and recreation areas.  Both are reservoirs formed from dams on the Iowa River and are within biking distance of Iowa City.

Swimming with Grandpa at Coralville Lake.
Family picnic with the Malloys after swimming in Coralville Lake.
We finally purchased a bigger tent.
One morning a hot air balloon drifted over our campsite at Coralville Lake.
Mike’s finish of a ride to raise funds for diabetes research. He rode 100 miles over a very hilly route.
A trail at Coralville Lake led down to the shore and a view of Mehaffey Bridge.
An interesting stop on one of the bike rides. Enjoyed refreshments at the store as well as watching the cheese being made.
Sutliff, Iowa, Another fun place that we rode to on 2 different occasions.

After all of the camping that we have been doing, it seems very different now to be close to the big city of Des Moines and settled into our studio apartment for a whole week.  We did some grocery shopping and had to relearn again what it’s like to have a refrigerator to fill instead of planning one day at a time and having to make do with what can fit into a small ice chest and wondering if it’s time to buy ice again.  Fortunately, this extended stay hotel is in a quiet suburb and still has the feel of good old Iowa country living.  I’m looking forward to discovering where the bike trails are.

RAGBRAI Week, Every Week

Every week is like a RAGBRAI week since we have been here in Iowa.  In previous years, I would have to spend 51 weeks a year waiting for that one special week of RAGBRAI.  Camping, bike riding, fighting heat and headwinds, encountering friendly Iowans, seeing beautiful countryside, more bike riding–all of what I love about RAGBRAI has been part of our days here.

Training rides in Virginia would get tiresome after while because we would do the same routes and get the miles over as quickly as possible.  Here we get to explore routes that are new to us.  Some of the rides have been with the bike club and some were mapped out for us by Mike, who has ridden just about every route there is to ride around Iowa City.  And then if we don’t feel like doing a bike ride there is also the fun of spending time with the grandkids.  Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Bridge over Cedar River on ride to town of Sutliff.

Mike met us one day at our campsite and joined us for a ride to Cedar Rapids.

Lunch stop at Blue Toad on bike ride to Cedar Rapids.

Bridge over Iowa River in Cedar Rapids.

North Shore Bike Trail near campground at Lake Macbride.

Lee tried to converse with this Iowan but didn’t get much response.

First Day of Summer

Today is the first day of summer and there’s no doubt that it is summer here in Iowa.  Since we arrived Monday the temperatures have remained in the 90’s with the humidity almost as high.  Having a gusty wind blowing from the south has made it seem even hotter.  There’s a possibility of some thundershowers tonight in advance of a cooler weather front.  Except for the fact that we are camping out, it would be a relief to see some rain.

Our four days of bike riding last week on the Katy trail in Missouri were good preparation for the heat and headwinds here in Iowa.  Being on a rails-to-trails bike path meant that we didn’t get to experience any hill climbs but, in a way, that can make the riding more difficult.  It’s always a struggle when you have to stretch your legs and lungs to pedal up a steep hill, but then there’s the reward of zipping downhill.  On the flat stretches of the Katy trail it can get quite tiring to just keep pushing and pushing at the same steady pace as you slowly pass the miles of the same cornfields, wheat fields and river bluffs that were visible the hours before and the days before.

Somewhere along the Katy Trail in Missouri
Bluffs along Katy Trail
Missouri River visible from Katy Trail
Remains of old clay-tile grain elevator, all that’s left of the town of Pearsons along the Katy Trail
The only tunnel on the Katy Trail, just outside Rocheport

Monday evening we arrived in Iowa City, where we are camping at Kent Park. I was happy to see family and excited to get back on my road bike that had been here in Iowa City since the end of last summer’s RAGBRAI. Tuesday morning the local Bicyclists of Iowa City bike club had a 30-mile ride scheduled, a perfect opportunity to take the bike out for a spin. Close to 20 riders showed up and it was good riding, as well as good socializing. We fought some strong headwinds but the ride leader had done a good job of planning so that the way back on the loop we had the winds behind us. We got to practice pedaling up a few Iowa hills, as well. And then there was the beauty of the Iowa countryside and the opportunity to wave at some Amish children peering over the fence of their yard watching us ride by.  We also encountered an Amish buggy on one of the roadways.

Thrilled to be riding the road bike again
Time at the park with the grandkidsEnjoying a nature walk in an Iowa City park

RAGBRAI is several weeks away and we will continue our training rides here and our visits with family.  Traveling is fun but it’s also nice to know that we can stay in one place for a bit and not have to drive miles and miles in the car.

Vacation Is Over

Our vacation is over and now it’s time to get ourselves in shape for the Des Moines Register Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).  It’s true that there are still 37 days left before the ride starts but we do need some training rides that match the conditions on the real ride.  Our travels and adventures over the past 6 months often included bike riding, but we were mostly on rails-to-trails bike paths and we didn’t do rides that were very long.  Especially for me, I’m anxious to start using the road bike that I will have on RAGBRAI, instead of the hybrid bike that is the one I’ve been using on our travels.  It’s important to get riding time on the bike that you plan to use for the week of RAGBRAI.

Before we left the West on Monday to make our way back here to the Midwest, we had a wonderful weekend with friends in Boulder, Colorado.  They hosted us for the weekend at their cabin, which is on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.  The pictures and descriptions of our Rocky Mountain adventure are posted here.

There are a lot of miles of plains and prairie to cross on the trip from Boulder to Jefferson City, Missouri.  Most of what we did this week was just grind out those miles on the interstate, not spending a lot of sightseeing time along the way like we usually do.  Maybe we have gotten too spoiled by all of the beautiful country we have seen in the West and are blinded to what eastern Colorado and the state of Kansas have to offer.

We did spend one relaxing evening camping at Eisenhower State Park in Kansas.  It was a nice campground on a reservoir about 30 miles south of Topeka.  At the park visitor center we picked up a brochure on Kansas state parks and noticed that not too far away from where we were there is a state park, the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail State Park.  We made plans to break camp early enough Wednesday morning to allow ourselves some bike riding time on the Prairie Spirit Trail.

The weather forecast for Wednesday called for afternoon winds from the south.  The Prairie Spirit Trail has a northern terminus in the town of Ottawa, from where it passes through a number of small towns before ending to the south in the town of Iola.  Given the wind conditions, it made sense to start riding south from Ottawa, pedal for awhile and then when we were ready to turn around to go back to our car, we would have a tail wind.

We got a good workout and enjoyed our day of riding on the trail.  One of the most interesting incidents happened just before we reached the town of Richmond, which was our turnaround point.  On the trail in front of us we saw a parked pickup truck with 2 men taking a lunch break from their task of trimming brush and trees along the trail.  We struck up a conversation with one of the men, who was quite helpful in answering questions about the trail.  Before continuing our journey we learned that we had been talking to the manager of the Prairie Spirit Trail.  What a surprise that he should be out there trimming trees on the trail.  Also, we were surprised by some of the history we learned from him.  The first section of the trail was completed in 1996 and he was hired as trail manager the year before that.  It was the first rail trail in Kansas and those who were advocating for the project met with a lot of resistance.  97% of the land in Kansas is privately owned and its citizens were not ready to accept the idea of a public trail passing through their lands, with people potentially trespassing and/or causing property damage.  As it turned out, the trail has been quite a success and is featured in the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame.

Trailhead of Prairie Spirit Trail at Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas
Manager of Prairie Spirit Trail and assistant, hard at work along the trail.
Many cornfields along Prairie Spirit Trail
Many wheat fields along the Prairie Spirit Trail
Some of the Prairie Spirit Trail passes through wooded areas.

Wednesday evening we arrived at Jefferson City, Missouri, where we are spending 4 days at a motel.  We will be doing some day bike trips on the Katy trail.  It will then be time to drive to Iowa City where I will be able to get the road bike at my son’s house that we left there at the end of last year’s RAGBRAI.  Then RAGBRAI training will begin in earnest.  And, of course, the best reason for arriving in Iowa City will be to see the grandkids again!

Wyoming Ranch Life–A Tribute to My Sister, Sande

Words and pictures fail to describe all that we observed these past 5 days while visiting my sister, Sande, on her ranch in Torrington, Wyoming.  The amount of work that is necessary to make a living on a ranch is overwhelming.  We tried to come up with a list of categories for everything she is involved in that contributes to her daily workload.  That list (I’m sure we forgot some) includes: haying, beef cattle, dairy cows, housekeeping, cooking, cheese making, poultry, business management, calving, branding, fencing, irrigation, vehicle and machinery upkeep, gardening and rattlesnake killing.

Raising two bottle calves, that have to be fed 3 times a day.
Straining the milk sold as fresh milk or made into cheese.Heading out with 3-wheeler to check hay fields.
Boone, faithful dog, rides everywhere with her and helps with herding the cattle.

Eleven chickens, let out of their pen each afternoon, for “free range” time.

Candy, the dairy cow, needs to be milked twice daily and then given feed and water.

Didn’t get a photo, but 2 horses and several cows and calves stay in the barnyard area and have to be fed twice a day, also. This doesn’t count driving the tractor out into the fields to bring hay to the main herd (80 cows with their calves).  This task is necessary because the drought conditions have meant there is not enough grass for grazing.  

Feed and water for Candy.

The week that we were on the ranch the task of putting up the first cutting of hay had already started.  Sande hires local ranchers who have the proper equipment and then prays like crazy that the weather cooperates. This year the weather wasn’t too cooperative.
Raking the hay

The hay had been cut and was drying in the fields until Wednesday morning when the men with the rake and baler showed up to begin baling the hay. Sande assisted by using her forklift to pick up the bales and organize them into piles of three.  This made it less time consuming to get the bales off the field and put onto the storage stack near the farmyard.  The man who had been hired for that task showed up with his tractor, loader and wagon later in the afternoon.  He and Sande worked so efficiently that they were almost caught up with the raker and baler when the storms hit.  It was amazing how fast the storm clouds built up.  When the rain and hail began in earnest the haying had to be abandoned as everyone ran for shelter.

The hay crop was small because of the drought and some of what was cut will be ruined after everything has dried out and the haying resumes.  But most of what was cut down this week was brought in and stacked before the rain and Sande was thankful for the hay that she did get.  Hopefully, second and third cuttings later this summer will yield more.

Baling the hay

Heading out to begin stacking the hay.

Sande and Boone working on making stacks of three.

Loading the wagon.Bringing in a load of hay.Unloading the hay.Second milk cow, Eva, and two horses, Racer (a quarter horse) and Ten (a paint)

Are you wondering if Lee and I did anything useful while we were there?  Well, the day before the haying started Sande said that we could help with the task of getting one of her young bulls moved from its pen in the farmyard out into the field where it could be with a group of her cows who were ready for breeding.  We would get the bull corralled first and then she would load it into her horse trailer and drive it to the field.

Lee came prepared with his red shirt for the bull herding task.

Sande did most of the “herding” and we just yelled and waved our hands or closed gates after it went through.Giving the bull its tag before it gets loaded into the trailer.After the bull was unloaded in the field there was a water tank in an adjacent field that needed to be brought back to the farmyard.  Using the now empty horse trailer, Lee helped Sande drain the tank and roll it into the trailer.

We also helped with the cooking and housework whenever we could.  One of my favorite tasks was to let the chickens out of their pen each day and then go into the hen house and gather the eggs.  Lee’s favorite part of that task was to eat one of those farm fresh eggs every morning with his breakfast.
Although calving season on the ranch had ended over a month ago there was one late cow that had not yet had its calf.  After the rain and hail that made a muddy mess out of the barnyard, the late cow decided on Thursday morning that it was time for her to give birth.  Fortunately, the calf was able to get up on its shaky legs in spite of the mud and found the nourishing mother’s milk so necessary for its survival.  As quickly as she could, Sande made a pen in the shed for the cow and calf and brought them into shelter.
Newborn calf, that in a matter of 15 minutes, was up and nursing its mother.
It was hard to say goodbye today to Sande, but we are so thankful for the time that we were able to spend with her.  Please join us in praying for her health, strength and safety as she lives this ranching life she loves.  We are on our way now to Boulder, Colorado, where we will spend the weekend with some friends at their cabin near Rocky Mountain National Park.