Thursday, April 13, 2017

Country Views '17: The B Road Tour

Lots of field preparation is happening right now out in the rural areas.
A Wednesday off again, so I figured that I should break out the brand new RidingGravel.com kit and test it out. I got the vest, jersey, and bib shorts. I needed all of it and arm warmers with gloves to start out with since the temperature was in the 50's. I headed out down the bike trail to Aker Road since the wind was supposedly coming out of the South. It wasn't supposed to be very strong either. Something in the single digits as I recall when I looked on Tuesday evening. However; it was definitely stronger than that!

The plan was to go down to Petrie Road, turn right and do the Level B Road there, and then head down Holmes Road till I reached 110th in Tama County where I planned to go right and catch three straight miles of Level B Road a mile West of HWY 63. Then I was going to turn North at a "T" intersection and go back till I reached Griffith Road, take a right,and then follow the mostly diagonal and flat Eldora Road back to Hudson and then back on flat bike path.

Well, that was the plan. I did not execute the plan well though. You shall see about that later. First, however, I had to get South, and I was riding right into the wind, which was a beast, actually. It was making my right knee hurt, I was pushing so hard. Finally I got some respite by turning West on Petrie Road. The level B was sandy, rutted,and loose from farm traffic which was busy this day. I had to stop briefly to allow some big truck to go out of the Level B and there were tractors fertilizing with anhydrous ammonia in the field adjacent to the road on the South side. I could hear the tractor, but I could not see it since the road is cut down into a hill right there. I passed that by and then hit a really soft section which I managed to clear without dabbing.

A small creek and a bit of prairie burn here.
As I rode along I noted another set of tracks from a bicycle. The tracks were disturbed enough that I could not pick out a tread pattern, but I could tell they were recently laid. I thought about my friends, Tony and Jeremy, who often go down this way. Maybe it was one of them? I fancied that maybe I might run across someone at some point, but I never did.

The gravel was fresh, of course, and the wind was strong. I ended up stopping for a break after 12 miles. I tightened my Lezyne GPS mount which had vibrated loose, then I ate a packet of almond butter and hit the road South again.

The Black Hawk-Tama County Line. Tama County is to the right here.
We use maps and see borders all the time, but when you are out in the country you realize how arbitrary those "lines" are. I passed the county border between Black Hawk County and Tama County and stopped to take a quick image of what a county line border really looks like. If there weren't street signs there, you'd never know you had crossed a border line.

There were anhydrous ammonia tanks sitting all over. That's Buckingham Iowa off on the horizon there.
The dust was awful yesterday. When cars or trucks went by, the wind, which had switched from slightly Southeast to coming straight from the South, made the dust hang in the air so you could not see, or breath, well at all. I finally reached 110th and turned Eastward to cross HWY 63.

This giant ag vehicle looks tiny and insignificant when seen against the backdrop of the vast plains.
The Spring and Fall are really the only times in Iowa when you can get a good feel for how the land must have been like back before the white man settled it. The crops have not taken over and broken up the horizon line. Crop farming has eliminated fences in many areas, and farms have disappeared in droves to leave us with giant, unbroken vistas. Now once again you can get a hint of the vast Great Plains and how daunting the open spaces are. Only the grid work of the gravel roads breaks the horizon lines in many places now.

Looking back East on 110th in Tama County.
I was aiming to run three miles straight of Level B Road in Northern Tama County, only a mile and a half from the Black Hawk County border. These dirt roads were actually dry, and they possibly may have been graded once, because there were zero ruts or trenching from rain washing down hills. They were fast and only bumpy due to tractor tire lugs.

Level B Road find: A perfectly coiled up strand of nylon rope. Of course, I took it home!
I interpret this sign to say "Adventure Road!"
Generally Iowa is truly a beautiful place. Occasionally man has found ways to muck it up.
On the last mile of the three consecutive Level B sections.
Barns For Jason
As I turned North, with the wind, I had to stop after a few miles to shed some of my gear. Arm warmers, gloves, and skull cap all had to come off and get stowed for the remainder of the ride. Then it was down the hatch with my last almond butter packet. I should have brought more, but I was figuring on an easy, flatter terrain for my return leg. The trouble was that I ended up not turning at Griffith because I thought it looked wrong and I went further North. This forced me, if I was to stick to gravel, to go all the way up North to Shaulis Road. That way is fine, but it is much more hilly. So, I pretty much was starting to bonk by the time I got to just South of Cedar Falls. I was working way harder than I thought I would be.

I made it though, eventually, and clocked in 45 miles in the process. My legs were destroyed and all I wanted to do most of the rest of the day was sleep, but I eventually bounced back. I'm looking forward to exploring some more Tama County dirt roads this year. Stay tuned.....

4 comments:

youcancallmeAl said...

I love following along on Google Earth

Robert Ellis said...

Do you think, way back, lets say pre 1700s, that there were a few trees that dotted that landscape, that were subsequently cut down for farming? Or perhaps were there even forests there? Nice ride!

Guitar Ted said...

@Robert Ellis: I cannot really speak to the 1700's in Iowa, but I do know that accounts written by early 19th Century settlers paint a very different picture of Iowa than we have today.

Settlers describe open prairies with deer, antelope, and elk. Wolves were prevalent and of course, bison roamed across the state. That said, there were tracts of wooded areas, mostly concentrated along lower river valleys where prairie fires would not reach them.

One outlier to this general theme is actually local to me. A vast tract of hardwoods called "The Big Woods" was a hunting ground for various Native American tribes in this area. The area covered by these woods was about the size of half a county, which was very unusual in Iowa in this part of the state. Obviously this attracted certain vegetation and animal life which differed from the habitat of the surrounding prairie.

A rather sizeable vestige of the Big Woods still exists to this day, and is where Ingawanis Woodlands is, which is where I mountain bike.

So, yes, there were tress, but the vast majority of Iowa was open grasslands.

Robert Ellis said...

Thanks for that. That is all very interesting to me! Always enjoy coming up and seeing the country side, riding some of the gravel roads and considering these things. I have a sister in Muscatine, who is a soil conservation who I visit some. Its a gorgeous state to be sure. All the best of wishes for you and the riders of your upcoming event!