Friday, July 8, 2011

Exploring Minnesota Gravel Roads, Part 2

On Thursday morning, I set off just before 7am with the hopes of biking further north into Minnesota, using as many gravel roads and I could.

Even through Google Street View hasn't visited a lot of the rural roads up here, I was able to virtually visit some intersections where highways crossed other roads to see if the intersecting roads were gravel or not.  That helped quite a bit.

Using that intelligence,  I was able to plan an 80+ mile ride, using almost all gravel roads, to Windom, MN for lunch and then back along the same route.  The next time I do this, I want to make it a century ride with a large sweeping loop, rather than an out-and-back.  I'm fairly conservative when I bike alone, so for the first time, an out-an-back made me feel more secure than a large loop.

Unlike my first ride, Exploring Minnesota Gravel Roads, Park 1, I tried not to stop for every photo opportunity (it's hard, since it's so pretty up here) so that I could make better time.  However, I couldn't resist snapping a few pics, particularly of the windmill construction that so strong in this area right now.

My day's supplies.  When I tweeted this picture, The Douglas said I needed more food.  He was right.  What's not represented here was my planned stop for lunch at the turn-around point.  I experimented with using halves of a PB&J instead of an extra Cliff Bar.  That worked out really well.

I didn't actually ride this MMR, but it looks fun.  Future routes might feature more MMRs.

Is this an old schoolhouse?  A church?  Notice the handicapped accessible ramp and parking sign.  I'm not sure if the outhouse affords the same accommodations.
Southern Minnesota is filled with these lovely landscape scenes.  This one is just north of Black Bridge Road.

I'm guessing these signs are necessary to alert the farming traffic that there are new power lines overhead after the windmills are installed.

Crop circles?  No, just a site being prepared for a new windmill.  Note the cement base in the center of the picture.

I saw about a dozen sites like this where windmill tower sections and blades were being prepared for erection.

A crewman told me they could erect five towers a day, using two cranes.  Here's one at work.  Notice all of the headless towers in the background.
These new windmills aren't yet spinning, but it's cool to see them up close.
I had lunch at this Subway restaurant in Windom, MN.  This restaurant took advantage of their proximity to the Des Moines river and incorporated a scenic overlook.

Finally back home after about seven hours on the saddle and 1.75 hours of stopping time.  My average speed on the way out was between 14 and 15 MPH, but a headwind and general fatigue slowed my overall average down to 13.4.  In all, it was some of the best 90 miles I've ridden.
This was my longest solo ride, and I learned a lot.  I found that I can keep myself company for hours on end, but that I have to keep myself at a reasonable pace (ie: not get lazy and go too slow).  When riding with other people, that's often something I don't have to worry about.  I also had to plan when to drink and eat.  Often when cycling with other more experienced folks, I just take cues from them on when to take a sip from the bottle or nibble a bite to eat.

I never ran out of liquids, but I don't think two bottles would be enough in the heat and on a longer ride.  I might research hydration packs, or alternative ways to carry more water.  I knew of only two places where I could stop for water: one at the 20 miles out point, and the other at the halfway turn-around point.  There were stretches of a dozen miles or so between townships, paved roads, and even a chance at food and water.  I learned some about planning my own self-sufficiency.

I really enjoyed my time on the bike over this vacation week in Spirit Lake.  I want to learn more roads and trails, and will share the routes online for others looking to do similar routes.  Please comment below if you have any routes, information, or suggestions on where I should ride the next time I return to the Iowa Great Lakes region.

Here's the approximate route that I took: MapMyRide link

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Exploring Minnesota Gravel Roads, Part 1

Vacationing over the Independence Day holiday and the following week, I decided to take the gravel bike out exploring the rural roads of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota near Spirit Lake / Okoboji.  Let me tell you, these roads up here do not disappoint.  While I didn't find much in the way of rollers like we have in Nebraska, I did find endless miles of road and beautiful scenery.  The grid system of roads here seems more consistent than in Nebraska, with a road just about every mile.  Another difference is that the roads seem to be on a 10 blocks per mile system, rather than the 12 block per mile that we have in Nebraska.

For my first ride, I intended to explore the roads between Spirit Lake, IA and Jackson, MN.  This wasn't a great fitness and training opportunity, since I kept stopping to take photos and to enjoy the scenery.  My 48 mile ride took about four hours and 20 minutes, including an hour of stopping time.  However, I had a great time and mapped out a good route that I want to try again. Maybe once the route isn't new any more, I can turn it into a workout the next time.

I ended up with more highway miles than I had intended (about 28 miles road and 20 miles gravel), but I think by choosing a different set of roads, I can turn this into mostly all gravel.

For the last five miles or so back along the east side of Spirit Lake, a cycling pastor pulled up beside me on his road bike. He slowed his pace to match mine and we chatted about about cycling in the area.  For future reference, he told me about a local cycling blog, and about some places to ride cyclocross bikes.  The links are included below:

I opted to use my old hiking and Geocaching GPS receiver, just in case I got really lost.  It was fun to ride with the GPS, even though its features are nearly as useful as a modern mapping GPS.  The GPS did give me some security in that I could see for sure that I was headed in the right direction and that I could track back along my route if I had to.

I hope to get a 75 or 100 mile day in before I leave the area, but since I'm vacationing with family, I'll need to just balance bike time with family time.

Please see below for some of the photos I took on my ride.

My riding partner.  He's just as slow as I am.
I like how these Iowa lake roads leave a little extra pavement to the right of the line.  De facto bike lane.
The pavement stops and the gravel begins just north of the Iowa/Minnesota state line.
These gravel roads are arrow straight, and not very hilly.
Rustic scenes abound.

This valley road into Jackson, MN has a sidepath.
This trail in Jackson, MN is flooded.  A familiar sight to us Omahans.
Hippy sculpture at the Peace Park in Jackson, MN. :)

Meditation garden at the Peace Park in Jackson, MN.

The Wishy Washy laundromat in Jackson, MN has a restroom, pop machine ($0.75) and free wifi.

Black Bridge Road is a must-ride for gravel enthusiasts in the area.

Black Bridge Road runs along the Des Moines River, a tributary of the Mississippi River.

Gravel roads and windmills, both an exercise in simplicity and beauty.

Clear Lake, Minnesota

Here's a simplified map of my ride.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bacon with a Side of Drizzle


Todd and Chris
While the radar and forecast didn't call for rain, there was a drizzle that hung in the air for a few hours.  This sucks for folks like me who wear glasses.  I had to wipe them off every now and again, and came close to just riding myopically with no specs.

Fresh Meat

The new guy, Todd, showed up on a brand new steel Allez with retro down tube shifters.  Despite not having gravel tires and clipless pedals, he hung in there pretty good.  I hope to see him out there on some other rides.

Oh No! A Flat!
Pinch flat!
Somewhere near Richfield, Todd got a pinch flat.  Chris, being a roadside flat tire expert (grin), took the lead in helping Todd unmount and remount the tire.  I was pleased to offer the services of my new Lezyne pump (see Amazon link below).  It took his replacement road tube up to full pressure in just a few minutes.  The pump has a dual headed hose, and mounts securely on my frame and doesn't rattle at all.  I'm pretty sold on this pump.

Lights and Loops: They Don't Mix

Somewhere along Mahoney Road, Todd's new Planet Bike Superflash (the new 1W version is plenty bright) bounced off his seat bag loop.  He stopped to look for it while Chris and I rode on a mile or so before turning back to see what was up (oops!).  Unfortunately, he couldn't find the light.

What's the Toll?

We had a funny incident with the kid running the gate at Plate River State Park.  This guy seemed like he was 14 years old, but it was amazing how he was running the show there.  We stopped and asked how much for bikes (it's $4 for a daily pass for autos).  He scratched his chin and said, "Hmm, I don't know.  Bikes usually just ride on through.  No one has ever stopped and asked."

Respecting his authority, I told him it was up to him to tell us, however, I offered $4 for the three of us, and reminded him that the bikes plus the riders was still way lighter on the roads on than a single auto.  He looked at us, half smiling, but with a bit of sternness, making me think he'd charge us $4 each if he thought more about it.  Again, I made my offer, handing over some cash, and thankfully, he accepted, giving me a sticker pass, which I put in my pocket (I'm not going to stick it on my bike).  Whew!  

The Reward

We rolled into PRSP just in time to see Leah, Mark, and another Todd just getting ready to leave.  Leah made the Bacon Ride after having won a race title just the day before.  Wow, Leah!

Fortunately, they didn't not eat all of the food, as they indicated to me as we were parking the bikes.

Todd's plan was to call his wife to come out with the kids and spend some time at the park. 

Unaware of each other's actions, both Todd and Chris paid for my breakfast (oops!). 

The Return

Chris and I rode back along the usual Fishery/Pflug route.  It was pretty awesome.  We seemed to take turns chasing each other, which might mean we were pretty well matched for the day's ride.

Around Walnut Creek, we decided to ride back through Papillion and La Vista to save some time, versus riding back on the creek trails.  This worked out pretty well, since the residential streets protected us from the wind that was picking up.

About this time I'm beginning to notice this weird cramp/numbness with the toes on my right foot.  Does anyone know what this is all about, and how to fix it?

I think after doing this ride several times, I'm finally able to remember all of the residential streets and turns to pass more swiftly through La Vista and Papillion, saving a few miles over riding the creek trails.  I hope to do it next time without a cue sheet. 

A B-Cycle station near the Keystone Trail
On the way back on the Keystone, we saw a woman riding a B-Cycle.  We stopped at Aksarben Village to check them out.  I think it might be fun if we all rode B-Cycles on the next Bacon Ride.  That would be one heck of a workout.

Ain't Gravel Fun?

Todd climbs the Mahoney Hill
I enjoyed seeing some new roads, choosing Turkey Road out of Walnut Creek, and Mahoney Road out of Louisville.  I just really enjoy riding gravel roads, and hope to be able to explore them all before they get paved over someday.

I like trains!

Chris likes trains, too. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Missouri River Flooding along Council Bluffs and Omaha Bike Trails

Pell and I rode out Sunday morning to check out how flooding has affected bike facilities between the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in the north and the Veterans Memorial Bridge to the south.  What we found wasn't surprising, giving the history of flooding in some of these areas, but it was nice to document them with photos.

Please see the photos and captions below for some notes on the flooding.

Flood Gate #8.  Normally this is open to allow cyclists to access the Lewis and Clark Landing.

Flood Gate #8

Flood Gate #8.  Note the Bob Kerrey Bridge towers in the background.

The water is only a couple of feet from the top of the walk.

The view of the Omaha skyline from Council Bluffs.  This section of levee appears to have been fortified.

Harrah's Casino parking lot is flooded.  You can see geese on the gravel island.

The Iowa Riverfront Trail is officially closed heading south at Harrah's.

The bike trail passes underneath the parking garage.

The south side of the Harrah's Casino parking garage.

This water level photo shows the bike path simply slipping underneath the water.

The north side of the Ameristar Casino is flooded, as well.

The Iowa Riverfront Trail heading north is officially closed between Ameristar and Harrah's.

Not only is the bike trail closed heading south on River Road from Ameristar Casino, the road itself is closed.  Note the private security protecting the pumps and hoses running across the street.

The levee road heading south from the Western Historic Trails Center is closed.

The trail heading west from the Western Historic Trails Center is closed.

And this is why it's closed.  The trail is under 5-10 feet of water.

From this point on, we rode east to 24th Street in Council Bluffs and picked up the sidepath on Highway 92/275 (Veterans Memorial Parkway) and headed east back toward the South Omaha Bridge.

The trail is almost complete.  There's a missing section between the bridge and a block or so to the east.  The cement sidepath on toward the Willow's Motel is done, but still has "Sidewalk Closed" signs posted.

This used to be a gravel parking lot and trail access for dirt bike and ATV operators.

This looks like the river, but it's actually the motocross park just east of the river.

The Missouri River as seen from the Veterans Memorial Bridge bike path.

This is the first time I've seen the Omaha Riverfront Trail gate open north of the Veterans Memorial Bridge.  Cyclists normally have to lift their bikes over the gate.

This ramp was constructed to allow vehicles to pass over the pump hoses.

This facility is protected by sandbags.

Water is pumped across the levee back into a spillway to the Missouri River.

The pumps here were humming, creating quite a noise.

These hoses were not protected.  To our surprise, a a guy out siteseeing in his pickup truck drive right over the hoses.

There are several cabins and trailers on the wet side of the levee.  I wonder if they will come back after the water recede.

This house is underwater.

I heard that these ramps will flat a bike tire instantly.  I didn't even risk it, preferring to walk my bike over it.

Those welded on grips look very sharp to a high pressure tire.

The gate on the trail at Hickory Street was closed.  There was an OPD cruiser waiting, presumably for the guy in the truck.  The officers didn't say anything to us, but followed us on out to Hickory Street, moving barricades back into the street.

And for fun, Pell and I rode up Hickory Street Hill.

I like this view from the top of the hill in the Dahlman neighborhood.
I'd like to do a similar trip showing the Omaha and Council Bluffs trails heading north from downtown.

If you know of any other interesting spots showing flooding, please discuss below.