Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cycling In The Lost Realm

Long, steady climbing off road in Iowa?
Long ago, there was a place that was a hot spot for off road cycling in Iowa. There were XC races, trips taken to go ride there, and it was challenging, fun, and there was a lot of potential. I used to go there with friends and it was a hoot. The loop was about 15 miles, which was probably the longest unbroken stretch of mountain biking one could enjoy back in the 90's.

Then mountain biking kind of lost its shine, folks did other things, and the horses discovered these trails. I cannot remember the last time I rode there. I thought it wasn't that long ago, but maybe it's been ten years or more. Don't know for sure. At any rate, I have a Borealis Echo here on test for Twenty Nine Inches and I decided that the 29+ wheels it had were going to find the terrain there pretty challenging. An old friend had told me years ago that there were sandy pits everywhere there and that it wasn't any fun to ride there anymore. The area was essentially lost to off-road cycling, even though it once had been a hot place to go. Horses and sand ruled there now, apparently. Sand? Maybe a 29+ could tame it. I aimed to find out.

Later- still going up!
I did a bit of research the evening before and then I took the next day off and decided to drive the hour plus to this area to see what was up. I arrived and old, foggy memories came into view and I was finding the area I wished to start from without any problems. At least that much hadn't changed over the years! There were some horse trailers, horses, and riders milling about, but they took no notice of me whatsoever as I prepared to ride the Echo for the first time.

The Area used to host a race, as I mentioned, and I thought I remembered how the course was started, so I took off in that general direction. I didn't get far when I felt a fine spray of water on my legs and I got off to investigate. Dang! I forgot to secure the lid to the Osprey Raptor 10 pack well enough. Funny it didn't leak on the way up in the truck! Well, I lost a bit of water, but I figured it out and then I was really on my way! I didn't get far when I was faced with a decision to ford a creek or turn right and go up. I chose to go up....and up.....and up!

Most places in Iowa don't have climbs that are steady and long. Climbing in Iowa is short, steep, and based on momentum, usually. This was rhythm climbing. Find a gear and grind up. Just keep turning over those pedals. It reminded me of the West, except there was copious amounts of oxygen! The trails were wide. Usually wide enough for a single vehicle to pass through, but they were well taken care of here and despite recent rains, the dirt looked to be holding up well under the pressure of horse riding. 

Between the last pic and this, it was ridiculously steep! But I finally came out on top.

Then it was down, down, down to this water crossing. Here looking back after crossing it.

The trails were really pretty fun, challenging with the very steep sections and horse hoof pock marks, and dotted with run-off crossings and a stream crossing here and there. Punching out of the woods you got to see really vast meadows and prairie, which is really odd in Iowa! It used to look like this, but obviously, most of our state is agrarian, so crops are generally the view here during the Summer. To be able to see fields of flowers and sumac taller than a house was really a treat. The Echo was doing well. I was a bit concerned the XX-1 gearing would not be low enough, but the 32 X 42, although used a lot, got the job done.

The last, deepest, and longest stream crossing.
A few highlights: I saw only two groups of horseback riders and I dismounted immediately so as not to spook the horses. I was thanked for that both times. I was also told that no one had seen a cyclist out there....... As in never. (Of course, way "back in the day" there were riders of bicycles, but obviously not for some time.) This came from a man that lived only a couple miles from the trails and rode there regularly. The second pair of riders were surprised to see me so far afield. I think they thought it would take me the rest of the afternoon to get back to where I had started!

The second half of the "big loop", (which is about 20-25 miles now), is pock marked with big sandy traps. The consistency of the sand is very fine, but the 29+ wheels went right through it with a heavy, measured effort. Again- glad for the 32 X 42 combo! There were also two big climbs out there that back in the 90's I could never get up. In fact, I only ever saw one person clean one of these climbs on one occasion. Well, I got both of them! I think partly because I am a better rider now and partly it was the 29+ wheels. By the way, these climbs are far rockier, technical, and more difficult as a result than they were back then. So......probably more the bike than me. 

I'm saving a lot back here for the review on, but here's one statement I will post here: These trails are not going to be much fun unless you are on a full fat bike or a 29+ rig. The amount of erosion, pock marks, sand, and loose, steep rocks will stymie just about any other rig I know of that is human powered. So, if you want to ride the "Lost Realm", bring the right tool for the job, and defer to all horseback riders. You will be in their playground if you go. (And yes- bicycles are allowed out there.)


Unknown said...

Do we get to know where "the area/lost realm" is or what it's really called?

Guitar Ted said...

Those who know- know about it. I hesitate to spread the name around because (a) it does suck for riding if you don't have a fat bike or 29+, (b) there is copious amounts of horse shit everywhere, and (c), there are those who won't give the proper courtesy to the equestrians and I don't need to be sending those folks up there.

Anonymous said...

i have heard nice things about the winter/snow riding in this lost realm as well - i look forward to making that trip, thanks for the pics.
very similar loop (14m) & riding conditions (tough) can be found at Rock Creek State Park just outside Grinnell - riders welcome, as far as i know...

Travel Gravel said...

Is there, maybe, a beach that might be described as vertical? Does this area have a vengeance? Hmmm?