Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Omaha to Ames Bike Tour

Yes, I did it. I biked with my old mountain bike from Bellevue (Omaha) Nebraska to Ames Iowa. That's 198 miles in two days. The first day I biked 75 miles to Atlantic Iowa where I tented behind a fire station. On the second day a shower, bed, and a full day of relaxation and recuperation was to tempting not to go for it so I rode the full 123 miles. Tail wind of parts of the way helped a little too. Though the thunderstorm cell later that day that traveled with me did not.

  Distance:  76.61 miles (123.29 km)
  Max Speed: 31.8 mph (51.2 km/h)
  Average Speed:  11.1 mph (17.9 km/h)

  Distance: 123.28 miles (198.40 km)
  Max Speed: 36.7 mph (59.1 km/h)
  Average Speed: 12.0 mph (19.3 km/h)

The Departure
Saturday morning was quite chilly even in the fifth-wheeler of my parents-in-law at which we stayed. So I was reluctant to get up and going.  At about quarter to nine I took off after having had a simple breakfast, loading the bicycle and saying goodbye to my family.
Grandparent's Camper

I took a new toy along for the first time.  REI had a sale on the Garmin Oregon 450 GPS unit.  Since this version doesn't came with maps I installed a freely available 4000MB Routable US map and created routes and tracks for my trip.  I started off in the routing mode which worked very well getting me out of Bellevue and into Iowa.  In route mode the GPS will announce turns with a single and later a double beep and show a nice large arrow on the map where you have to turn.
Bellevue Toll Bidge
Iowa Welcome Sign
However as soon as I crossed the Bellevue Toll Bidge the GPS wanted me to turn onto a gravel road.  After ignoring it's suggestion it recalculated a route that would take me onto the interstate.  Later that day when I tried the routing mode again it suggested a level B road.  Level B roads are no maintenance roads, they don't even have gravel and are pure mud.  So unless you are into the Trans-Iowa race these roads are not for cycling.

What worked better was the routing by tracks.  No calculations are done by the GPS, instead it just displays the track that you will follow.  While it does show the remaining mileage, it does not announce turns or show the turning directions.  The biggest drawbacks to tracks is that you have to create them beforehand on a computer, so on the fly route adjustments are not possible.

And of course use the Iowa Bicycle Map to plan your route.  Neither the GPS maps nor Google Maps knows the difference of paved and gravel roads.  The Iowa Bicycle Map even indicates the amount of traffic each road has.  My rule of thumb is to stay away from the red roads.  All others are fine.

The Bluffs, Rolling Hills and Country Side
Bellevue Toll Bridge that crosses the Mississippi river cost 50 cents per bike but it certainly beats having to travel north through Omaha to get to another bridge.  After riding through the river valley the hilly part of my tour starts with the area known as the bluffs.  Then the route continued on east with rolling hills though past fields and occasional farmsteads.  It wasn't until after about 50 miles where I could finally get an ice cream cone at a gas station. Even though it was quite deserted and has rolling hills I really enjoyed this part of the ride.  The bluffs are gorgeous and the rolling empty country side is quite nice as well.
County Highway 12 from the direction I came
County Highway 12 in the direction I went
My GPS map had a weird sense of humor by displaying grave yards on the map.  It apparently doesn't know that ice cream is my motivator and not death in the heat of a lonely county road.  Even the vultures didn't scare me.
Turkey Vulture
A neat tree house with rope bridge.
Griswold, the first town that had ice cream.
Griswold Fire Station
Griswold Hotel (at one time or another)

The Overnight
One of the biggest questions of touring newbie is "where am I going to sleep".  Yes, I had the though, too.  As you can see on my original route plan I had camping grounds selected.  I actually stopped at the Cold Springs State Park.  The campground is up a very steep drive.  Up there is one bath house. I'm not sure if it had running water.  It was still to early for me to break camp and I wanted to try to survive without an official camping ground.  So I went on toward Atlantic.  People that have been on bicycle tours for a while seem not to worry as much about their overnight place.  From forums and people I talked to they find a place through various ways.  A spot that looks nice for a tent, asking locals, police or fire stations.  The first thing I saw at Atlantic was the fire station, so I stopped there, introduced myself and my travel adventure, and asked if there was a place I could stay overnight with my small tent.  I got an invitation to set camp in their back yard.  They had a nice big backyard and I would setup my tend behind one of the evergreens and out of sight.
Downtown Atlantic

First though I continued into town to look around and cook dinner at the city park.  There a group of teenagers gathered and hanged out.  For small talk I asked them about the coolest part of Atlantic.  "Wal-Mart" was the exciting answer.  In the night at around ten something I was awoken by cooing racoon that was circling my tent.  After trying to scare it away and once it finally left I got the news that my brother-in-law's daughter was born.  In the morning I got woken by loud breathing noises or weird calls from a group of white tail deer at the lower end of the lawn.  At first I was worried that the raccoon was back.
War Memorial in Atlantic City Park

The Tripple A and C (skipping B)
The next day I rode from Atlantic through Anita and Adair to Casey.  Yes, that's the solution of the twitter riddle.  Between Anita and Adair I got to see the wind power farm up close and I stopped at the site where Jesse James robbed a train.
Wind Power Generator

The wind power generators are quite noisy.

Site of Jesse James' Train Robbery
Site of Jesse James' Train Robbery

In Adair I meet a boy on his bike that asked me if I was riding RAGBAI.  I told him I'd be a little late for that.  Last time RAGBRAI went through Adair was in 2001 and I actually rode the whole ride.  It's exactly the same route as this trip from Atlantic to Casey but I must say the towns are totally different.  On RAGBRAI with 10,000 cyclist going through these towns they are alive and flourishing but reality is that they are not that much of a gem usually.  The boy probably wasn't even born at the time RAGBRAI came through his town.  Maybe the legend stays around.  He though that I had some expensive bike to tour but I tried to explain that's just a regular mountain bike.  Of course I agreed that his bike, a single speed, wouldn't be suitable and suggested that more gears are in order to do touring.  "Beers?" he asked. No, I said gears!  Is my English that bad or is beer already on the minds or eight year old boys?
Adair Downtown
Adair Downtown
Adair Downtown
Casey isn't much of a happening place either.  The irony of the town is that the only flourishing business is the Kum & Go gas station.  Shouldn't it be a Casey's gas station?
Kum & Go Gas Station in Casey
The road I followed was called the White Pole Road which had the bottom of the electrical poles painted white.  I was wondering if it was just something cute or if it had a historical meaning behind it.  It indeed does and is somewhat interesting.  You can read about it on the White Pole Road website.
Menlo on the White Pole Road

The North Bearing
I stopped in Casey to eat my first and only purchased meal on this trip, a Subway sandwich (no mayo please they put way to much on it).  Then I finally could harvest the south wind.  Especially on the Racoon River Valley Trail which was build on an old railroad embankment I flew at speeds of 16/17 mph constantly.  The paved trail isn't as smooth as a road and the worst is that the gravel road crossings aren't paved at all.  One gravel road was even recently graded and so the crossing had small piles of loose gravel that one has to cross.  Not the safest thing and certainly not nice with a road bike.
Racoon River Valley Trail

The Lightening Rod
I already knew at the night before that I would try to go a bit further than Panora. Just somewhat before four in the afternoon and only having forty miles left didn't make it seem to impossible to make it home to a nice shower and bed.  I still had plenty of strength and endurance left to beat my furthest distance I've ever ridden on a bike and go for 123 miles in one day.  I already knew I would hit darkness before I arrive but I had three rear lights and two head lights and plenty of spare batteries with me.  Also I knew the last part fairly well and the road is straight, flat and with little traffic.  So that was not an issue.

What turned out to be an issue is a small thunderstorm cell that developed over me and traveled about the same speed and direction as I did.  Rain hasn't started, only an occasional drizzle but cloud-to-cloud lightning and cloud-to-ground lightning came closer.  There was no chance to out run it and I got worried.  Finally I pulled in by a car at a abandoned farmstead gate and asked if I could stand under the barn until the storm passed over.  She didn't had a key for the gate either so I covered the panniers with their rain cover, climbed over the gate and stood under the barn.  She and her daughter were there to take care of their old and sick horse.  She apparently tried to get the vet out there and had some other help arrive there.  I couldn't help so I just keep myself under the barn as pretty soon it came down poring along with thunder and lightning. After it passed I slowly got ready to ride again and rode really slow as not to catch up to the thunderstorm.  At times I was worried that more would develop over me again but I was lucky.
Rippley Elevator
The Dog
Sooner or later a dog encounter would have to happen. I was surprised that I only had one encounter. It was in Boone country on E57 right after crossing the Des Moines river and going up hill. To the right of the road (south side) there is a single house a bit higher up then the road itself. From there a huge brown dog came down full speed with a mean bark and locking horrible aggressive. There was no chance of outrunning the dog as I was working my way slowly up the hill. I removed the safety of my weapon and prepared for the confrontation. Yes, as a bicyclist you should always have a full water bottle in reach not only for regular hydration but also to spray dogs that love to chase bikes. This time there would not be a chase. With the hill and the size of dog it didn't make any sense to stay on the bike. So as soon as he started crossing the ditch I dismounted. As the bike stopped and I touched the ground the dog did a 180 degree turn and ran up the ditch to stand on the top and bark at me. It was funny to see the dog getting suddenly that afraid of me and retreat all the sudden from a full out charge. So I started walking up the hill a bit and then mounted the bike again and continued climbing the hill while the dog barked and watched me nicely from a distance. Yes the moral of this story is to stay calm, get off the bike, keep the bike between you and the dog, and have a full water bottle ready. BTW, some people think pepper sprays are useful to carry. I disagree. In the heat of the moment if I had used the pepper spray I would certainly have not thought about the south wind that would have blown everything straight into my face instead of the dog.

The Arrival
As mentioned earlier I ended up riding in the dark but it was quite nice to ride in the dark.  With the GPS I could easily check where I am, how much further I had and what's coming up thanks to it back light.  I made it back at about 9:30pm.  Of course I surprised my wife that I arrived a day early and had to reclaim my spot on the bed from my son.

Now what's the next crazy adventure that I'll be planning?

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