Monday, November 30, 2020

Brown Season: Turkey Burn

Escape Route: Sergeant Road Bike Trail South.
It used to be that we cyclists around town would organize a post-Thanksgiving Day bicycle ride dubbed the "Turkey Burn". I realize a lot of other "turkey burn" rides happen, and we were not the originators of that idea, but I bring it up because it used to be a 'thing' and now it doesn't seem to be. I find that odd, but whatever. I don't have to wait to have someone else do a Turkey Burn ride, not when I can just do one myself. So, that is what I did.  

Now, normally the Turkey Burn ride was on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but I didn't have to accommodate anyone else, and I wasn't working, so why not just do this Friday? It was sunny, in the 40's, and Mrs. Guitar Ted had to work. So, I planned on the bagging of a little road coming out of Voorhies, a bit of Eagle Road that is gravel, and a stub of Quarry Road off the Western county line. 

While the day was bright and sunny, it is less than a month from the Winter Solstice, so our daylight is more of a constant twilight, and the low angle of the Sun makes everything weird. I have a harder time seeing now during this time of year than during others. Plus, the good light only lasts a few hours. You have to get going while the gettin' is good! Not to mention that the coolness of mornings makes riding out in the country a bit less appealing. Especially with the strong winds we've been having. 

And speaking of winds, they were up on Friday. 17-24mph out of the West-Northwest. I had a great push Southward on some old, familiar roads to get down to the Voorhies area to bag those roads and bits I had seen I'd missed while double checking the maps recently. Temperatures were in the upper 30's/low 40's and with that wind, it was pretty brisk out in the open. Fortunately I didn't have to battle headwinds too much on this ride and the return home route actually made things easier. I'll get around to that in a bit.....

The roads South of Waterloo were really fast Friday.

'Merica. Holmes Road looking South near Hudson, Iowa.
I hadn't been down this way since right when harvesting started. So I had no idea what to expect. The recent heavy mist/light rain event allowed traffic to push down the gravel and make the roads into a sort of 'cheap cement'. The dust/dirt and stones get wet, compacted, and when dry, form a smooth surface that can be really fun to ride on. The moisture content was still high enough that the roads were holding together, so I hit the jackpot in that regard. 

Future technology now on the farm.

Eagle Road looking East. That's Voorhies off to the right in the distance.  
 Going South was just too easy! I knew I'd have to pay the piper at some point. When I reached Griffith Road I had to go straight West for a spell and that was a primer on how much slower a speed I was going to have to adjust to. The wind made the going a slog, but I did not have any really long stretches into the teeth of the wind, fortunately. 

Then I realized when I passed the intersection of Quarry Road and Lincoln Road that I hadn't written in cues to account for the two miles of Quarry Road from Lincoln Road to Hicks Road. So, I had to modify my route on the fly, which wasn't hard to do, really, to get that in. This made it so I approached Voorhies from the West instead of from the East, but it all worked out so that I got the little bit of Voorhies Road that was gravel. 

The funny thing is that the DOT maps had this stub of gravel coming out of Voorhies marked on the map as "Front Street", but the signage in the field said otherwise. Another reason not to trust any online maps. Little things like that could really throw you a curve ball on a ride if you were expecting the maps to line up with reality.  Which, they don't a lot of the time. 

An old building in Voorhies with the town's name on the fascia. Looks like old railroad depot signage.

This harvester's job is finished until the next harvest season.
Voorhies was incorporated as a town in the very late 1800's when the Chicago and Northwestern railroad line came through here. The US Post office at Voorhies received its commission to operate in 1910, and the village was never much more than a small spot in a rural landscape. When the rail travel days waned in the 50's due to automobile use the village suffered decline. The post office was decommissioned in 1957 sealing the little town's fate. It is pretty much nothing more than a grain elevator and a few homes now. The railway was pulled up years ago. 

Lincoln Cemetery about three miles West of Voorhies near the Black Hawk County line with Grundy County. 

Grundy Road, the border road between Black Hawk and Grundy counties. Looking North here.

After leaving Voorhies I went West on Eagle Road and found Lincoln Cemetery on the South side of the road near the Western border of Black Hawk County. Named for the township it is located in, this cemetery was located at the top of a big hill which gave a commanding view of the area around it. From here I went North on Grundy Road to catch a half mile stub of Quarry Road off Grundy Road to the East. 

Another curious road ending. This time its Quarry Road in Western Black Hawk County.

The grain bin makes the trailers and tractor look like toys.
The case of Quarry Road's Western bit is another example of Black Hawk County's dead end road weirdness. I've seen plenty of short bits of gravel on this quest which were well maintained, but almost every time this was due to a residence or farm at the end, or near the end of the road. Quarry Road was well maintained, even showing recent grading and fresher gravel, but there was nothing on the road. No residences, no farms- nothing. 

My theory is that the well mown grassy area at the end to the North of the road is going to be a wind generator site. I had heard that a certain competitor to the main wind generator utility in Iowa was looking to put in some wind generator sites in Southern Black Hawk County. This could be one such proposed site. This competing company was being slowed in progress towards installing generators by some red tape/legal action, which would explain why nothing had happened yet. Just a hunch there.....

Then it was back due North to Griffith Road East and then slanting Northeastward on Eldora Road. This road traces, near as can be done now, the old Native American trail picked up by European settlers when they came here which roughly shadows Black Hawk Creek's run to Waterloo and the Cedar River.

I ended up with about four and a half hours out on the Fargo Gen I that day. A good hard ride with heavy wind to deal with. More importantly, I bagged a few more miles of unridden roads to bring the quest that much closer to its completion. 

Stay tuned......

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: The Wind, The Hills, The Lightning!! Part 3

The view from my truck at Sunset on the first day of T.I.v10.

 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

As the day was swallowed up by the oncoming storm, and eventually, nightfall, I was constantly checking in on my phone for weather updates and being required to stop periodically to record the ever mounting list of names on the DNF list. Being that I was driving, managing volunteers, and managing race communications as well as doing this rider accounting, I was rather busy. To keep track of DNF's I had a very crude system of record keeping. Essentially, how it worked was that I had a pen or pencil stuck under my hat, a blank sheet of paper, (usually the back of a roster sheet, actually), and I would simply jot down the names and the time when I got the rider's message or phone call letting me know that they were out. This may or may not have been the time that the rider actually quit, by the way. Sometimes these were text messages and I would learn that the rider was out for dinner with their support crew back in Grinnell, or in worst case scenarios, I'd get a text for a DNF on Monday after the event when the rider thought to remember to let me know that they were okay. That was always a great experience for me! 

Another aspect of this was that I had no information, many times, as to whether or not the individual in question was getting a ride, trying to ride back themselves, or if they were in any kind of a bind. So, I happened upon a very simple thing that always elicited a response and gave me a lot more peace of mind.  A typical text would go like the following:

"Riders 91 and 384 pulled out at mile 110"

Me: "Thanks. Hope you guys are okay."

"We are, thank you. ......."

A simple question was all it took. No "rule" or edict would have worked so well. That was an actual text I received, by the way, which I still have on my phone from 2016. The rider went on to tell me what caused their demise and thanked me for the event. I have several like that on my phone messages to this day. Anyway....

At any rate, you never really knew if the call or message came out on the course unless it was a voice-to-voice communication back in the day. As the years wore on, text messaging became the norm, and to no one's surprise, actual 'phone calls' were a rarity by T.I.v14. But during T.I.v10, a fair number of folks still actually used their smart phones like, you know, a phone. So, I was stopping a lot during the early evening hours. I'd get four or five names and times rounded up, then I would text Jeremy back at Checkpoint #2 with the names I had gathered. He would, in turn, give me names of people who were quitting at the checkpoint, of which there were more than a few that did that as well. In this way, we were able to keep tabs on the bodies still out there pedaling away into the night. 

Ralf  Stormer, a resident of Germany, who came over to ride in T.I.v10. Image by Wally Kilburg
Jeremy Kershaw captures the pathos and the beauty of a moment here in this shot of Andrea Cohen during T.I.v10

As this was going on into the early evening hours, I was reaching a point in the course which was traversing West, then North, across Tama County. The course then took a brief Eastward leg into what was supposed to be a big climb North up the same road featured in the film, "300 Miles of Gravel". I approached this climb from the South and I made the slight bend around the corner where a small bridge should have been crossing Wolf Creek. But to my surprise and dismay, the bridge was wrapped up in barricades and big "Road Closed" signs greeted me instead. Great! NOW what?!

The bridge out as it appeared during T.I.v10.
I immediately texted Jeremy that this bridge was out and to let any remaining riders coming through the Checkpoint know that they should be aware that there would be a reroute. Jeremy responded famously with a text, "Get to staking!" Typical smart-alack remark from him, by the way, and as I read it I could see his smirk a hundred plus miles away. The reference to staking was from how we rerouted the course which would allow for riders to self-navigate through a new section to avoid such a thing as a bridge-out situation. 

And 'get to staking' I did! I quickly identified a simple reroute and then executed the reroute plan, all by myself, running like mad to try to make sure I didn't have a rider miss the reroute and end up standing at the bridge which was impassable. My plan was to end the reroute back into the original course and then I was going to park at a place just where the reroute would take effect and warn any riders coming that this was happening. 

Well, as I have said already, I was very busy without the reroute, but with it I was absolutely slammed. I'd drive, literally only a couple hundred yards at a crack at times, before the phone would go nuts with riders dropping out. Then I'd race up the road as fast as I dared to my next stake position, hurry up and construct a flag out of ribbons, and then pound in a stake with a big rubber mallet I had. Hop back in the truck, race up the road, rinse and repeat. 

This reroute finally was accomplished but I desperately needed a flashlight now as it was dark and I couldn't find the one I thought I had brought. I was frantic. I had no time to look through the mounds of detritus in the truck or rummage through the plastic tubs in the back of the truck. I needed that light NOW! I knew that there was a convenience store in a small town called Gladbrook not far away, but they were going to close at 11:00pm and it was 10:15 when I decided I needed this light. I raced up the road, only to get stopped again and again by phone calls. One of which was Greg Gleason, the leader of the event, who wanted to know what to do since the bridge he was looking at was closed. Drat! I relayed the plan to him, asked him if anyone was there that he could relay the info to, and he said there was no one. Well.....big news! The three-up lead group was no more! But I had to get that flashlight!

I finally made it to Gladbrook where a young lady was in kind of an excited state to close up because she and her boyfriend had plans. She was nice enough, but she wanted to chat and well, I was in kind of a hurry at this point! She was a bit miffed by my rebuff of her conversation, but I was finally equipped with a light, albeit a cheesy cash register trap model, and off I went screaming Eastward on Highway 96 when wait.......what was THAT! I turned around and when my lights flashed back Westward up the road I clearly saw the blinking light and reflective bits of a cyclist. I ran back to the intersection to find it was a Trans Iowa rider! It turned out to be John Williams, waaaay off course! What?! 

Well, John had flatted and his Hutchinson tire would not come off the rim so he could repair the tire by inserting a tube. It was set up tubeless, but apparently the tire had too big a hole for the sealant to deal with it. John said he was in the lead and then the other two passed him, then more passed him, and by the time he had finally gotten the tire repaired, he was behind by quite a bit. He could have continued, but if he wasn't in the running for a win, he was done. I asked what his plans were. He said he was going to Gladbrook and getting picked up there. Once I knew he was going to be okay I bid him well and jumped back into the truck to go man my 'station' to warn riders about the reroute. 

The reroute worked out well. In fact, several others in the front of the event figured it out without my being at my 'station' and without calling me. I was really glad to have heard that. Meanwhile, the storm gathered and the wind blew and the lightning flashed. 

Next: The Wind, The Hills, The Lightning!! Part 4

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Bikes Of 2020: Surly Bikes Big Dummy

It's THAT time of year again when I have my year-end reviews. This series will cover my bikes I used during 2020, any changes made, and why I still like each one- or don't! Thanks for reading!

The existence of a Big Dummy in my evolving stable of bikes had been threatened here on the blog for years. I used to have an old Schwinn Sierra from the mid-80's with an XtraCycle attachment which served as a makeshift cargo rig for years, but I knew it was a substandard way of doing things. The Big Dummy would make all the things I was doing with the XtraCycle 100 times better. 

And then a friend, Mike J, had a Big Dummy for sale. I didn't even know he had one! The price was fair, so I purchased it from him, took it home, and it has been getting used regularly ever since. Mostly as a platform to recycle stuff we generate as refuse here at the G-Ted household. 

You can see an image here from a Fall recycle run showing our recycling bins in the 'cargo hold area'. While that has been the main thing I've done with this bike, I do use it for a few other things, most notably as a vehicle to gather things at our local Farmer's Market from time to time. I also have used it a couple of times to pick up food from a local food truck and have lunch with N.Y. Roll. 

There have been no changes to the bike since I added the Paul seat post and Brooks saddle, and added an aluminum tape rim strip to each wheel, which were the only modifications I made to the bike after I got it from Mike. The poofy white wall Bontrager XR1 tires are a long out of production model that I will not be able to replace whenever I wear them out. But so far, they have a lot of life left in them. 

So, I have been really happy with this bike and I just do not see ever getting rid of it in the near future. No real mods are planned either. This bike is good to go.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday News And Views

Riding Gravel Jersey Update:

Last week I posted that we at were thinking about rebooting the jersey idea and I posted two new designs courtesy of Bike Rags. I then asked you readers, if you cared to, to give me feedback on which one you'd like. I also posted these designs to the Riding Gravel Facebook page for consideration.

So, after all of that..... there was no clear winner! So, I'm not quite sure what to make of those results. Here's the kicker: We are not doing both. So the decision will likely fall on my shoulders to make. I'm going to allow this to carry on through the week next week, and if I do not get anymore feedback, the light blue one (with a slight mod) will be my choice. 

Now.......there is still time to swing things the other way, so let me know now or it will definitely be the lighter blue one. The changes I want to make would be to go with a shade darker orange and add a strip of orange to the top of the rear pockets like the dark blue design has on it.

The orange on the darker jersey is not how dark I would go on the lighter blue jersey, just for reference. The orange on the light blue one just looks a bit too 'creamsicle' for my tastes. And if the deal is left in my hands to make the call, that's what it'll be. 

So, one more week and we will then see how it goes. This isn't a super-high priority deal for We do have our eyes on doing two t-shirts, classic designs we have done in the past that we are bringing back, and maybe a hoodie design. Stay tuned......

There also will be sticker packs and maybe one other kind of goodie as well. I doubt that we will get any of this off the ground for gift giving this holiday season. It will likely be later into the Winter before anything becomes available, unless I get surprised by something. We will see. 

Oh! And just for the record, I don't hate the darker blue design, I just like it less than the lighter blue design. Plus, the lighter blue is more in keeping with our other jersey we put out a few years back. So, the continuity of that appeals to me a bit. Just thought I'd throw that out there. 

The new Japhy from Esker Cycles.

Esker Cycles Debuts The Japhy Hardtail:

I had heard via Esker Cycles' head honcho on Facebook that there would be a new hardtail capable of handling a 29+ tire. Well, it was released Tuesday and it is a steel frame called the Japhy

You may be familiar with the Esker Hayduke, which has been around now for a while. This seems to be Esker's 27.5 platform now that the Japhy is out which has been designated the 29"er in the range. The Japhy has all the up-to-date slack/long/low thing going on with its geometry. No real difference from many bikes like it in that regard. But what I see here is a great value in a steel hard tail.

The Japhy frame set, which has a 148 Boost rear through axle, the sliding Portage rear drop out, a seat collar, and a Wolf Tooth head set, is fairly priced at $750.00. Not just in one color either. No, you get to choose from four different colors. That's crazy value, but the frame isn't some gas pipe tube set either. Esker says it is a quad-butted, seamless ChroMoly tube set. It has a dropper route, and with those Portage drop outs, it can be set up to accept various hub widths and supports a rack as well. 

I think it is a fetching bike for the buck. Especially compared to many others in this category. I'd look strongly at getting one if I lived in a place where it would make sense. The thing is, I don't live in a place where this makes sense. 

Image courtesy of Twampa
Wood You? Ride A Wooden Bike, That Is.....

The idea for using wood as a structural element isn't anything newsworthy, but when it comes to something that is like a bicycle? Well, that's a bit more unusual, although not unprecedented. Wood has been used to make bicycles and parts of bicycles for the entirety of the history of bicycles. But you'd have to agree that it isn't something you see everyday now. 

I have seen wooden rims, handle bars, and a complete wooden bicycle before. The last one I recall being pretty noteworthy was the Renovo road bike. I actually worked on one at the shop I was at prior to my gig at Andy's Bike Shop. (Renovo went out of business in 2018) Wood is a very qualified material to use to make a bicycle frame. It has its challenges, but the unique characteristics of wood become immediately familiar when we associate its use in some everyday things we know well. Like tool handles. Many are made from hardwoods like ash because they are strong and absorb shock well. Think about Major League baseball bats. They are made from wood as well for similar reasons. 

So, it makes sense that a frame for a gravel bike made from ash might be a worthwhile thing to do, and that's exactly where the company Twampa, from the U.K., is coming from with its new 'GR 1.0' gravel bike. Their unique take on a bicycle uses some cool machine work which features puzzle-piece junctions at major frame member joints and looks like a regular frame with, you know......wood grain.

Image courtesy of Twampa
Now, I looked over the Twampa website and there was no overt reference to pricing, but using the old Renovo bikes as a historical touch point, I cannot imagine these bikes would be inexpensive. A story I saw about the company said a frame is about $3000,00 USD though. Then we in North America know that the Emerald Ash Borer beetle has decimated ash tree populations here and it is expected that ash will no longer be available as a material to work with very soon. You have to wonder if English ash trees are under any similar threat. 

Then you have the suitability for any given bit of timber to be used in a structure like a bicycle frame where a material's characteristics are pushed to their outer limits. Select trees may only produce a finite amount of suitable material. That's probably why you don't see a lot of wooden bicycle frames. Getting a consistency from 'nature' in quantities on demand at fair prices? Good luck with that. That's why prices for such objects generally are quite high. (Thinking about guitars here especially)

But it is an interesting thought- a wooden bike- and I would ride one, given the opportunity. It would have to be spectacularly awesome and loads more comfortable than say, carbon fiber, or steel, for me to even give thought to buying one. Why? because I don't see the value proposition being an advantage over what I can buy for, (likely) a lot less. I mean, if this frame alone, with no fork, mind you, is 3K? Yeah..... That's very difficult to justify unless it is so much better than titanium, carbon, or high end steel. But, you'd have an unusual bike, that's for sure! 

And that's a wrap. REJECT BLACK FRIDAY! Go for a bicycle ride.....or a walk even...instead! have an awesome weekend!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thoughts On Giving Thanks

 Today isn't like many late November Thursdays for many people in the United States. Typically there would be big gatherings, lots of food, and maybe a bike ride, or probably a football game on the T.V. We'd not give a second thought to our 'traditions' and we'd simply go through the motions. But maybe not this year, right? 

You know, I typically don't veer far off the cycling path here on the blog, but today calls out for something a little different, don't you agree? Well, I do, and this is my blog, so......

I have been giving a lot of thought to how 2020 has really radicalized our entire culture. Both in good and bad ways, things have been shaken up, mixed around, taken away, and added to. However you look at it, you would have to agree, there has never been a time quite like this for any of the current generations on Earth. I have been giving thought to the various ways all this has affected my world. 

I have noted a few things, and foremost of all is that most of my contacts with humans close to me in family, business, and in the cycling world, such as it is, have all been much richer, deeper, and heartfelt than I can recall at any time previously. People genuinely seem to care about my health, my safety, and I noticed that I seem to be that way in regard to others as well. To be sure, not everyone is like this, but to say that there has been a noticeable uptick in caring and concern? Yes, I believe that is correct. We also all seem to be yearning for decency, compassion, kindness, and you know......just to see some character in others. Maybe I'm the only one, but even if I am the only one seeing this, I know it is real.

There was a time similar to this, when I felt the lines were blurred between people and we felt like we were all on a similar, if not the same, page. That was the period during the months following September 11th, 2001. It was a really special time when Americans seemed to be focused in the same, general direction, and things seemed a lot less divisive. This time things are deeper than that, and there is a great divide which is perceptible, but the 'good stuff' I see is stronger now than it ever was. 

Yet, one has to wonder that as we see some sort of hope that we will be coming through this dark valley that is COVID-19 someday, that we also won't see a similar fading away of 'the good stuff' as we did in 2003 and years later when any semblance of unity became a rare commodity amongst the American people. 

But for now, I am giving thanks for those of you who have reached out to me, to those of you who are doing things in a more intentionally compassionate way, even if it is a small thing. It matters. 

My hope for all of you is that you see what I have seen, that you grab hold of that vision, and that you cultivate it despite any future 'return to normal', because a lot of what was our past "normal" isn't anything to be valued. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Playing The Numbers Game

Image of racers on gravel during T.I.v10 by Wally Kilburg.
The other day I had a request from a person writing up a story about a gravel event which included a question about the number of gravel events happening now. How many are there? Seems like a simple question. However; it is a question that has a lot more complexity to it than you might think. I have a bit of experience cataloging these events, so I get asked this question a fair amount. Most people don't like my answer though. 

First of all, in my opinion, one must define what a gravel event is. I had guidelines in 2009 when the calendar took off, to help weed out pretenders and events that weren't anything but an adventure race, a 'monster cross' event, (remember those?), or a glorified group ride. I made the stipulation that to be on my calendar, your event had to feature at least 50% of the course in crushed rock, with no more than 20% single track/dirt, and less than 10% pavement. Using those guidelines, how many events that you know about wouldn't be a 'gravel event' anymore? 

Do those guidelines seem too strict to you? I bet that they seem really restrictive. However; let's take a look at this from another vantage point. How about a mountain bike event? Let's say a certain event has a large percentage of its course on smooth dirt double track back roads, that a major part (over 10%) is paved, and that only 30% of the course is actually single track. Is that a mountain bike race you'd want to do? Listen, I used to pay to race off road on knobby tires, and if I showed up to ride a course like that, I'd want my money back. But maybe even that would do for you. Okay.... but do you see though how things can get vague real fast without some guidelines? So, my guidelines were there to make sure events that people attended were, you know, on gravel for the most part. 

Well, then gravel got big and people were telling me that these road races with sectors of gravel were 'gravel events' and that these fire road events in the Rockies were 'gravel events' and on and on. They were contested on skinny tired bikes with drop bars, maybe, but who knows? Then the Gran Fondo thing happened and if any of those had even a sniff of off-pavement action they were dubbed 'gravel events' and the calendars others were putting out were filled with all sorts of "not-so-much-gravel gravel events" because that was the thing to do. Gravel was big. It was popular, and event directors wanted full-fields, sell outs, and notoriety. They weren't getting that from putting on criteriums and road races anymore. Just ask USAC about that. Even mountain biking events dried up in some areas due to the turn to gravel events by promoters. 

Look, I get it. I understand, but let's get back to the question- How many gravel events are there? Well, I tried to keep a decent level of 'quality' to my gravel calendar, although even I had to relax my standards after many complaints. But even so, I figure that in North America in 2019, maybe there were around 500 gravel events. Many outlets were saying that there were (or are) 700-800 events. I have no idea what they are saying is a gravel event, but those numbers are really inflated in my opinion. Worldwide? Maybe. North America? No way. 

But whatever. This whole thing about 'gravel' has been blown up and now with the pandemic, we are on a 'pause' of sorts. It is hoped that in 2021 that events will once again get back to being the sorts of athletic and social gatherings that we once enjoyed pre-COVID-19. Once things do get there you can be sure that the marketing/hype machine will get cranked up again. All sorts of nonsense will be put out there about the number of gravel events being 700, 800, or heck, why not just go for a thousand while we're at it? 

Ah! Well, it won't really matter to me. I'll just go do those events that I like that are on actual crushed rock and put on with a welcoming, open atmosphere, a dearth of rules, and a sharp sense of adventure in the air. Whatever they decide to call them........

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

End Of Year Plans

The last month of 2020 is nigh, and that means a few different things for you- the reader- here at Guitar Ted Productions. So, assuming some of you may be new here, or that some of you may not have been hanging here in years past during December, I thought I might lay down what you can expect for the last month of 2020 blogging. 

So, no "Black Friday" specials, just to get THAT out of the way! Sheesh! I can't believe that's a thing this year. It seems so.....crass? Yes, crass is the word. Ill-informed would be another term I'd use. Anyway..... None of that nonsense here. 

No, but I will still be doing an end of year review series that I call "Rear View" which I have been doing for all 15 years of this deal. Included in the review will be a look at the bikes I used and that is called "Bikes Of 2020". So, besides the year in review series you will see those bicycle posts. 

I also have a special Thanksgiving post this year,( I know- that isn't in December, but I thought I'd throw that out there.), and I will have a special 2020 post concerning my thoughts and feelings as we continue working through this unusual season in all our lives. That should about wrap up my 'special added extras' coming up.

In the meantime, I will still be doing all the usual posts everyday. You will still get the "Friday News and Views" posts. I will still have the Sunday series called "Trans Iowa Stories" all through December. You'll get to read about how Trans Iowa v10 was supposed to be the last Trans Iowa and why it wasn't. Going into 2021 that series will continue, by the way, but I suspect that I will wrap that series up sometime next year. All this will mean that many times throughout December there will be two posts a day.

And as long as I am mentioning 2021, I will once again be doing my opinion piece on the gravel riding scene called "The State of the Gravel Scene". That will post during the first few days of 2021. 

So, this is just a kind of 'heads up' post to let you know what to expect and if you see some unusual posts in your feed, (is that still a thing?), or when you fire up your devices, you'll know why. Well......that is IF you read this!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Brown Season: George Was The Only One

Three short stubs to bag this time.
 As "The Quest" winds down I have found that the roads are getting odder and harder to get into a loop or get to from a spot that makes sense to head to with the truck. Fortunately most of the oddball stuff is out of the way now that this past Sunday's ride has been completed. 

This time I had three, really short bits to knock out and all three were in the same vicinity. One I passed by multiple times on other excursions out to bag roads. It is a half a mile stretch called Merle Road. Just about every time I went by it I thought to myself, "I probably should just knock that out, but...."I wasn't into doing out-and-backs just yet. Not when I had perfectly good loop rides I could do. 

But, of course, now that it is coming down to it, I have to do these bits. I decided to combine Merle Road with two other bits on the map that looked like two quarter mile strips right on top of each other coming off a county blacktop. There was no real way to link those two bits up to anything thing else, so I have left them hanging until now. Merle Road actually fit pretty well into this plan, so once again, a mostly paved ride to bag a mile of gravel. Well, I thought it would be a mile of new gravel. 

The day was partly cloudy with a 15mph wind out of the Northwest. So, that pretty much dictated a tailwind out ride, which isn't how I like to do it, but whatever. Sunday was the day. The temperatures were in the 40's, so I wore a suite of GORE Windstopper gear I am testing for Otherwise I was in my standard gear I usually have been in this Fall. The bike I chose was the Standard Rando v2 single speed. It's pretty flat out the way I was going, so I figured I'd be okay. 

The majority of this ride was done on the MLK bike path.

There is not much room on the pavement, but there is a wide gravel shoulder. You know which part I took.

The major out-and-back was on a bike path along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive which meanders Northeastward out of Waterloo out to the Tyson meatpacking plant and the very busy Elk Run Road. Fortunately for me, Elk Run Road has really wide and smooth gravel shoulders, which allows me easy access to an Eastbound gravel road called Newell Street. However; this time I had to go South and I did not know how far the good shoulder went in that direction. If I was lucky, it would take me right to those two short quarter mile sections of gravel. 

Little wider than a typical driveway, George Drive was the only bit of gravel out there off Elk Run Road.

Well, it isn't a DOT barrier, but that'll do! Found at the end of George Drive.

Fortunately I had a good gravel shoulder all the way out, but the first short bit of gravel that I was supposed to find had been chip-sealed. What!? Had I ridden out here for no reason? I was wondering at this point. And it also was a great reminder that DOT maps are not always correct. 

Fortunately, the next short bit, dubbed George Drive, was gravel, and it turned out to be the only one of the two stubs that was gravel out there. So I went and did the short out-and-back. That didn't last long! I found myself headed back North going to Newell Street and out to bag Merle Road. 

Newell Street looking East

Merle Road looking North

I'd been out along Merle Road before. A long, long time ago when I got the Snow Dog and everything was snow out there. There was a great snowmobile trail which was so packed in that I was able to ride the Mukluk I had on it without sinking. This ended up taking me out into a field, the very field on the East side of Merle Road I was riding on Sunday. So. I'd been near this gravel, but never on this gravel. 

So, I did the out-and-back. Funny thing about these dead end roads. It seems that the folks that live at the ends of these things are more paranoid about.......something, that many times I see things that make me shake my head. This time it was a security camera on a pole above the mail box. Weird.  Anyway......

The end of Merle Road

The low angle of the Sun at this time of year makes things look more dramatic. 
 The ride went well and while I thought I was getting a mile of new-to-me gravel, I only got 3/4's of a mile. Oh well! A little scrap off the list of gravel yet to do and now I have even less to knock out. 

I did identify another tiny bit of gravel I need to knock out near a little village called Voorhies.  A little bit of gravel that comes out of the town on the East side. So, I'll have to go get that bit done. Then there is another bit of roads down by LaPorte City and that's been a known bit all along. Once I get those two things down and off the list, then it's all over. I should be getting this done soon. 

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: The Wind, The Hills, The Lightning!! Part 2

(L-R) Williams, Shotz, Gleason. The T.I.v10 leaders at North English

 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

 As the morning of Trans Iowa v10's first day wore on, the wind was picking up. It started out as a mere breeze, but by 9:00am or so it was a full-on issue that caused a lot of duress for the many riders still left in the event. A record number- 99- made it through the first checkpoint. At this point into the event, I was afraid that there might be so many riders coming through to Checkpoint #2 that I might run out of cue sheets again, like I almost had the year prior at Checkpoint #1. Only the resourcefulness and leadership of Brent Irish and his volunteer crew saved that day the year before. 

But Checkpoint #2 for Trans Iowa v10 wasn't in a small village where even a small home printer could be found. No, it was in the same location as the checkpoint #2 for Trans Iowa v7 was. It was about two miles away from Norway, Iowa though, so maybe there might be a way? I was very concerned about this, and I got a hold of longtime Trans Iowa volunteer and former T.I. finisher, Jeremy Fry, who was going to do the Checkpoint #2 duties along with Omaha, Nebraska resident, Scott Redd. 

Jeremy hadn't left Waterloo yet to come down to man his station, so he made some plans to print up about 20 mores sets of cue sheets, just to cover my butt. See, I never in a million years thought I'd see the day when nearly 100 people would start a Trans Iowa, much less have that many go through the first checkpoint! With that concern well in hand, I was free to continue on and keep tabs on the fast, whittled down, lead group, which was now only three riders. 

My course checking duties led me far ahead of the pack of riders and I pulled into North English, Iowa, which had been the scene of several memorable Trans Iowa happenings previously. It was here that Tim Ek swallowed a banana in about two bites during Trans Iowa v5, and it was in this little hamlet that Trans Iowa v6 had its dramatic ending. This time things weren't quite so dramatic. This time it was an oasis. The first big convenience store on the route, about 100+ miles into the event. As the situation of this particular day unfolded, it also became the end of the line for several riders. 

This was due to that East wind, which was picking up in intensity and was decimating the rider's energy reserves. Stronger riders were falling by the wayside as Greg Gleason, Chris Shotz, and John Williams' blazing pace wore them out one by one. Smarter riders throttled back and tried to save something for later when, perhaps, the winds would die down somewhat. But that didn't happen......

The scene at CP#2 with Jeremy Fry, (L) and the race leaders.

 Of course, all that did was reduce numbers so that when the rider count was taken after Checkpoint #2 closed, it was revealed that 37 riders never even made it to that checkpoint and all my worrying about not having enough cue sheets ended up being a non-issue. But what was fascinating was what happened immediately after Checkpoint #2 was passed. 

As I have said, Norway, Iowa was not far from Checkpoint #2 that year. I had it placed about five to six miles away from there, as the course went, using lessons learned when I did this for Trans Iowa v9. However; instead of encouraging more folks to continue, it became a veritable triage center for riders who were exhausted and decided to pull out of the event. While 62 riders took cues for the last portion of the event, 43 called it quits before the end, and probably half of those 43 were sitting waiting for a ride from Norway Iowa's Casey's Convenience store. I heard tales of bodies and bikes strewn across the parking lot for a short while during the late afternoon hours. Of course, I knew many were pulling the plug, because from about 6:00pm to around 11:30pm my phone never quit ringing with reports of riders quitting T.I.v10. 

One of my all-time fave T.I. images. Matt Gersib leads three other riders up a steep hill. Image by Wally Kilburg

 The really ironic thing was that, while the wind never quit blowing out of the East, the course went due West for many miles immediately after leaving Norway. Riders may have had a chance to catch a break, and especially so since a lot of this part of T.I.v10 was pretty flat in comparison to what came before Checkpoint #2. But pushing into a heavy wind on a bicycle in hilly terrain on gravel for nearly 180 miles is no joke, so I do not fault any of those folks at all for what they decided to do. 

The clouds build in. Image by Wally Kilburg

Unfortunately I never saw, nor got any images of, the carnage at Norway's Casey's. Looking back, I kind of wished I had known more about how that played out for the convenience store, as having all that unforeseen business may have been seen as a negative, like it was back in the checkpoint town of Lynnville earlier in the day. However; I never did get any hard feedback on that, although hints of some issues were related to me via some of the folks that picked up riders there at Norway. 

Although I never really did get to see that scene, or many others, I guess I saw enough. But Trans Iowa was run on a shoe-string, it was run with empty pockets, and there weren't opportunities for me to be gallivanting here and there, observing the field front to back, and back to the front again.

No, I was busy crossing the very flat portion of the course just North of Belle Plain, Iowa. I recall that there was a very flat one mile stretch of dirt road there which went straight West. The winds were coming from the East and gusting so hard that my truck was being overtaken by dense clouds of dust kicked up and driven along by the gale. I remember trying to catch one of the waves of dirt just right so my miserable little point and shoot camera could grab an image. Even though I was stopped, it wasn't working. So, after several tries I felt the urge to get back to work and move on down the line, even though I was very far ahead of the leaders, and miles ahead of the nearest chasers. 

The course ended up coming into a ridge road which meandered, more or less, Westward and Northward. This would have been just east of Toledo and Tama Iowa. Here it was that I found myself seeing the Sun disappear behind a mess of gathering clouds and the skies were looking ever more ominous. By this time I was getting weather reports for the evening, and there was a chance of severe thunderstorms. My stomach was in knots looking at this scene before me as the Sun sank.

And of course, the most hellish part of the event was yet to come.......

Next: The Wind, The Hills, The Lightning!! Part 3

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Brown Season: Three River Ramble

Escape Route- Janesville, Iowa
 Well, that was a big ride in terms of "The Quest". The gravel roads I haven't ridden in Black Hawk County are now very few and far between. Especially now since I knocked out a big chunk in the Northwest corner of the county. This is the area that is broken up by the 'Turkey Foot' as the Native Americans called it. 

The 'turkey foot' is the confluence of the West Fork of the Cedar River, the Shell Rock River, and the Cedar River, (formerly known as the Red Cedar River at first). These three rivers form a shape where they come together which the Native Americans found looked like a turkey's foot. This area also was home to the "Big Wood", an area of hardwood trees which somehow escaped the ravages of prairie fires to form a huge tract of forest, (for Iowa), stretching from Eastern Butler County all the way across to where Denver Iowa is now and from just South of where Waverly Iowa is now to the very Northern tier of Black Hawk County, then down along the Cedar River to Waterloo, Ia, where there was a break in the trees and the prairie came right down to the river banks. This is why Waterloo, Iowa was first known as Prairie Rapids Crossing. 

Native Americans from the surrounding areas would Summer in the Big Wood, hunting, fishing, and gathering for their Winter stores. Once Fall came they all would head back to their tribes. I often think about that when I ride through this area, which still has a sizeable remnant of the Big Wood. Now days the Turkey Foot is called Turkey Foot Heights and is a gated community of well to do Iowans. The hills which feature remnants of the Big Wood West of Denver is called 'The Denver Hills' and features pretty fancy-pants homes as well. This stretches over almost all the way to Waverly. Ingawanis Woodland, the tract of hills and woods I ride mountain bikes in, is also a part of this area. 

I decided to make the village of Janesville, Iowa my embarking point. It is a curious little town which straddles the border of Black Hawk and Bremer Counties. In fact, it lays claim to being the oldest city in both counties. I parked the truck in a City Park along the Cedar River, and then headed across an old steel gabled bridge which used to carry traffic for Highway 218 across the Cedar, but now is a county blacktop. This I took West out of town and onward to knock out my first bits of gravel in this area. 

Marquise Road is truncated here at the Shell Rock River coming from the East.

Headed back East on Marquise Road. There isn't much gravel, but I had to get it ridden!

Marquise Road was up first. This road forms the border with Bremer County to the North. From Janesville it starts out as a black top, then the County road goes South, but Marquise continues on a a chip seal road until for the last half mile, which is gravel. Then it is cut off by the Shell Rock River. That meant this stretch was an out-and-back. The rivers would cause me all sorts of running around on this day! 

The Southern end of Taylor Road just turns right into someone's driveway!

Newell Road looking North.

There were a couple of out-and-backs up next interspersed with long stretches of county highway. First was Taylor Road, an offshoot to the South. In typical Black Hawk County fashion, it ends by just turning right into someone's driveway! I just think this county is so odd in how they minimally sign things like this. 

Then it was back, with the wind, to the North and back West on a county highway to get across the Shell Rock River. The wind, by the way, was blasting out of the Southwest at around 25mph. Fun times! Anyway, once I got across the Shell Rock and had ridden two miles or so of pavement, I found my next offshoot to the North called Newell Road. 

This was approximately a 3/4's mile out-and-back, so 1.5 miles total, and this road was truncated by the West Fork of the Cedar River. Back to pavement again! I found myself soon enough in the little hamlet of Finchford, Iowa. 

A church in Finchford, Iowa 

Marquise Road West of the Shell Rock and North of the West Fork of the Cedar River.

Leaving Finchford North on more pavement, I rode a mile to get to the Western bit of Marquise Road I had to bag. This would be 2.5 miles in and then back out again. This road has memories for me, actually. I had been on it before, but not on a bicycle. This was a road that almost was in Trans Iowa v3.

I was doing recon for the third Trans Iowa, by myself in those days, in my old Honda Civic hatchback. I had been planning on using Marquise Road as a way to take the riders from the Northwest area of Janesville into Janesville itself, because they had a convenience store  there, and still do. Every map I could find showed a bridge over the Shell Rock on Marquise Road, so I felt confident I could route the event over this road. 

And it is a cool stretch of road with curves and woods. But, as you know, that bridge has been gone a long, long time. Ironically, the 'up-to-date' DOT maps still show this road going through! Ha! Well, it caused me a five mile round trip just to bag this Western section of this road. And then I went onward....

The gate near the old ending of Marquise Road. You used to be able to go further by about 200 yards.

A big rig tilling the fields for next season.

Then I made a mistake! Up until this point I had been running off memory, since I had stared at the maps so much, I knew the route by heart up to a point. Well, my memory failed me as I came back West on Marquise Road. Where it turned to pavement for its final half mile in Black Hawk County, I turned back South and went back to the West Fork Road, which was just North of Finchford. I thought it was my next mission, but it wasn't. 

No harm- no foul though, I just had to make the West Fork Road and Butler Road an out-and-back instead of a single pass is all. Once I did this, I was back on track again. This bit took me to the very Northwestern corner of the county, which is sort of unusual. This and the southwest corners are the only two corners you can reach via gravel roads. 

This is the very Northwestern corner of Black Hawk County.
Butler Road looking South

After rectifying that miscue, I went back South through Finchford again on county highway to reach the corner with Cedar Wapsi Road, which is paved going East, but there is a short section going West that isn't paved. This then turns South and becomes Butler Road, which is the border road with Butler County. 

This took me to Mark Road and my last section to bag up here. From Mark Road East I took in Pashby Road and Van Wert Road, both going one Mile to the North off Mark Road to C-57/Cedar Wapsi Road, and then taking Mark road to its end at Union Road, which is paved. 

A sign seen off Pashby Road looking North.

Gerholdt Cemetery off Van Wert Road near the intersection with Mark Road.

From there I took Union to Cedar Wapsi Road and then I did a couple bits of short gravel and another section of Waverly Road pavement sandwiched in there to get back to the truck. It was a great ride, but I was out for three hours to bag about 11 miles of gravel. Such was the problem with getting all these disjointed sections of gravel in and with having to traverse across all these rivers. I ended up crossing all three branches of the 'turkey foot' at one point or another too. So, I was scrambling all over this corner of the county. But I got everything mopped up that I needed to, and that's the good news. 

So, this leaves me with just a tiny bit left now to go. I'm looking forward to getting this knocked out. Stay tuned.......