Monday, March 01, 2021

Winter Views: Checking Out The Gravel

Escape Route; Martin Luther King Jr. Road
Everyday last week I kept an eye on the muffin-top of snow on my porch roof. It faced the Southwest, and every day last week it got smaller and smaller. It went from well over one foot to nothing in five days. I thought this was a good sign that the gravel roads just might be good to go. The other 'sign' was a report from South Central Iowa that roads were looking good for the annual CIRREM event. But that is well over two hours South of where I am. Things might still not be very good here. That said, Saturday was going to top out at 40° and I was going to find out.

I chose to roll with the Noble Bikes GX5 as a steed to do the deed. It doesn't have the widest of tires on it currently and the pink BMC has fenders on it now. I just installed them late in the week. I should have taken the BMC, but I figured that if things were soupy, a clip-on fender would be okay and if it was that bad, I'd be more apt to abort. With fenders I might decide to push through and ruin more drive train bits than I would really want to.  There was a method to my madness! 

The day was beautiful! Hardly any wind, hardly any clouds, just a lot of snow and blue skies. As I went down Martin Luther King Jr. Road I was hoping to find the bike path open, and it was! Way to go, Waterloo! They appear to have cleared it off all the way out to Tyson's meat processing plant, which left a couple hundred yards of snow, ice, and road garbage to get to the corner. No big deal, I just hopped on the road for the last little bit. Then I turned left a ways to Newell Road and East to.....? 

The roads were open! This turned out to be the worst stretch too.
Glacial erratics are easier to spot now since they contrast with the snow so well.

I headed up Newell Road to the East and the roads kept getting better and better as I went. I was encouraged by this to head East to Pilot Grove Road, then I figured I would head three miles North to Big Rock Road, but something happened along the way which kind of changed my plans.

At the corner of Newell Road and Pilot Grove Road.

This back hoe/end loader was parked near the corner where I stopped. Random!

As I was going along up Pilot Grove Road, I approached the Catholic church out there on Airline Highway and saw a dog barking and bounding through a snowy field towards me. He had the cut-off angle so I just pulled up and started talking to it. That's what I do. It usually takes a few minutes, the dog calms down,gets disinterested in me, and I move along. Unless the owner appears. Then dogs think they need to protect the owner, and they get all aggravated again. Such was the case here as a white Chevy truck approached up a driveway I happened to be right in front of. 

The driver, a man of maybe middle age, just sits there as his dog, confused now because it realizes I am not a threat and the owner isn't giving it any direction, starts a back-and-forth to me and the truck, barking the entire time. The owner finally leans out and says, "Just start riding", and as soon as I try, the dog is right on me. I knew it would do this. The owner then pulls out on the road, sits there, and does nothing. For like five minutes. I figure, look- I have all day to play this game. How long would the guy just sit there and not call his dog off? Well, it took, like I say, about five minutes. Then, without a word, the guy backs up down the road. The dog follows. Then he finally says something to the dog and keeps backing up. I take this as my cue to leave, and I did, but at a casual pace. 

The abode on the right side of the road is where I had my little dog/owner showdown.

As if all that wasn't enough, I saw this raccoon on the roadway, in the light of day. Weird!

Since I was now distracted, I turned left on Airline Highway, so I could keep an eye on things back behind me, just in case. I had meant to go another mile North to Big Rock Road, but it was fine. About half a mile later, here comes the dog owner in his truck. I had visions of him saying something to me, but he chose a wiser path and just passed me by. Good! 

Then a little further up the road I come across a man in the farm yard on the South side of the gravel. I wave and he waves back, but he says, "Hey! Where ya headed?" I replied, "I'm headed back to Waterloo!", and I swung over to stop, because he had more questions. He was a big man, dressed in many coats and bib overalls, all beige in color. He had a beard, a round face, and a big stocking hat with a bobble on top, also all beige looking. Kind of the gravel road version of "Yukon Cornelius". He was friendly, and as we spoke together a small voice was heard, and the Man said, "Come on out!", at which command came a small boy, who couldn't have been more than 3-4 years old, all bundled up. As he approached he said hello to me, and then quickly went about his business of being a small boy. 

As all that happened I got around to telling the Man that I had this encounter not far away with a dog and its owner. The Man asked where this happened and I told him. The Man thought he knew the guy, and then after I told him he would not call off his dog, he exclaimed, "Really?! heheh! What a dick!"

Headed West back toward Waterloo.

The Big Rock of Big Rock Road is all covered in snow yet.

I laughed at the Man's answer for miles after I left him and the boy. That really lifted my spirits and having the conversation with the Man was very enjoyable. Just one of those unexpected gifts you get sometimes. 

Then I spotted what I thought at first was a small dog, but it turned out to be a big raccoon. What?!! They generally don't come out during the day. I gave the wild animal a wide berth and it hissed at me, I think, as I went by. Then I pulled up and took its picture as it ambled along the ditch. You don't see raccoons during daylight gravel rides all that often! 

Sage Road looking South

Airline Highway looking West

I eventually got back on Big Rock Road and headed West again. Then I stopped at the Big Rock and took an image or two. Finally, I headed the Noble Bikes GX5 back toward Waterloo and home. I not only found the gravel roads to be rideable again, I had an adventure too! What a great ride to kick off the 2021 season with.

And one other thing- I asked the Man about the roads, were they this good earlier. He told me no- I had "hit the jackpot". He said they were a mess the previous weekend yet. Boom! That was great news! I timed it just right. 

Of course, the frost will come out sometime, and that will mess things up real good. Mucky, soft roads will be coming, but at least I can get back out in the country again. I have been really missing this sort of riding the past two and a half months.


Phillip Cowan said...

I'm always suspicious of nocturnal animals like racoons or skunks seen during the day. I've been told such behaviour can be a symptom of rabies. I once followed a skunk for nearly a mile on doubletrack once. He was unwilling to jump off and I was unwilling to pass,haha.

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowan - Yes, that's always been my understanding as well. I do not know if that is just folklore or reality, but I wasn't willing to test the theory!

baric said...

Not folklore. I live on the outskirts of my town on a dirt/gravel street with drainage ditches out front, still in the city limits about a block from where the pavement begins or ends. Beings as we have bird feeders, we get every kind critter you can think of. Raccoons, turkeys, deer, squirrels, every kind of bird you can think of, cute little fuzzy bunnies and every year for several generations now their offsping, teaching them where to get a free meal. And occasionally a skunk, fox and one time a mountain lion sauntering thru. Massive owls and hawks looking for prey, hanging in the woods behind our property. Sometimes in the spring, it laughably looks like an old Disney movie if you get my drift.
Anyway long story long, one afternoon ,look out the window and see a raccoon lying on the lawn rolling around in distress making weird noises moving slowly across the yard. Called animal control. They wouldn't even come out. So a few days later found the dead raccoon over in the corner of our lot out by the street where he stayed until he was bones, no Rabies Series for this kid.
You were right to steer clear. Rabid raccoons just like rabid anything have been known to attack and like a Pit Bull not let go.

Guitar Ted said...

@baric - Thanks for that story. Your place sounds interesting! And as for that raccoon- I wasn't about to tangle with it, or give it the opportunity. I know how nasty-mean they can be without rabies! With rabies? Forget about it!

Skidmark said...

...often and fondly remember this young girl bouncing on her trampoline watching as I tried repeatedly to get uphill past this formidable dog. I finally barked at her to call her dog. She said “not my dog”, and kept on bouncing.

matt said...

I was out on the Iowa gravel Saturday as well. You're right it was a beautiful day for a ride. One westerly facing hill must have been warmed enough for the frost to thaw, it was a sloppy mess and there was a vehicle tire track with water running most of the way down the hill. Other than that the roads were great.