Thursday, August 17, 2023

Country Views: America

Escape Route; Dappled Sunlight makes it hard for me to see!
Wednesday I had no responsibilities.The truck repair stuff was accomplished, I had no extracurricular activities to take care of at work, so I was free to do a ride in the morning. I had to work later in the afternoon, of course, but not until after 4:00pm. 

Plus it was another glorious day. The winds were forecast to really pick up speed later in the morning, so I planned on being out of the door by 8:30am and I made it! Even though I had gone several blocks from the house before realizing air pressures were far too low to ride safely. I thought I could wing-it and be out even earlier, but no dice! Oh well! It was good that I caught that.

With the big winds predicted to come out of the Southwest, I went on Southward and headed out on the Sergeant Road bike path. It was cool-ish, nothing out of the ordinary. There were hints of Fall in the air, but that will be pushed aside if what the weather-people are saying comes true. It is supposed to be brutally hot, dry, and maybe even a bit smoky, later this week. Next week they are saying we might hit triple digit temperatures! 

A crew shoving poles in holes along the Sergeant Road bike path.
Lots of fresh gravel on Aker Road. That's a hybrid seed corn crop to the right.

The wind and the copious amounts of fresh gravel made going South a big chore. I decided to veer off Aker at the corner with Washburn Road and head West a mile to Holmes Road. I don't often go South on this road. 

A tractor with a back hoe scoots toward the corner of Aker and Orange Roads.

Looking down Washburn Road with the city of Hudson to the left on the horizon.

The gravel was giving no quarter on this ride and the 42mm Pirelli tires were getting knocked around quite a bit. It was dusty as well. We have had some rains, but this area is in a moderate drought and anything we get is sucked up into the soil so fast that the result is basically a very dusty situation on the roads no matter the rain. 

This reminds me a lot of the Summer of 1988 when we had a lot of hot, dry weather and hardly any rain. The Cedar River was so low that the river bed rocks were exposed. We're not quite that bad off here this year, but we're not far off that either. 

This field has corn that is exceptionally tall.

Freedom means sometimes that people do silly things. This road will likely get paved in the coming years, for instance.

I ride in the country, on gravel roads, because it represents the antithesis of "today's technological society". The rural landscape is the closest thing to Nature around me here in Iowa where over 85% of the land is farmed. It's certainly not the tall grass prairie, oak savannas, and groves of trees along the rivers that it once was, but it also isn't Waterloo, or Hudson, or any other town that thinks "progress" is eating up the surrounding farmland to build "developments" for new housing. 

Roads get paved, traffic increases, noise gets louder, and we lose. We lose big time. Meanwhile our inner cities decay and no one wants to fix that up or live there. Build a "McMansion" out a few miles from town where you can self-segregate yourself and be away from the "riff-raff". One man's "freedom" is another man's "free-dumb", and so it goes.....

Sorry for the rant, but I see this nonsense firsthand out here, and I get irritated. But that's not why I need to get out here and ride - to be irritated, that is. The opposite of that, and to avoid cars and trucks, yes! So let's move along, shall we?

Off in the distance on Holmes Road, a truck demonstrates the dusty and windy conditions of this day.

Thankfully Iowa has nearly, (some say more than), 70,000 miles of dirt and gravel roads to escape on. I like that, and I will continue to take advantage of that fact. Lately it seems that some folks can't get around the fact that a super-small percentage of those old roads are "off-limits" to cyclists and, well.....anyone. They are called Level C Roads. You'd think it would be no big deal. I mean, look at all these other roads that you can ride! But nope! Some folks get into a rabbit hole and decry the fact that a very, very few dirt roads are off-limits to them. 

I dunno.... Why get all wadded up about that? It isn't as though it really matters. Just go ride other roads. There are plenty to choose from and you likely will never get around to them all in your lifetime. Plus you won't rile up the natives by trespassing on a Level C Road. It is a good thing to maintain a civil relationship with the landowners, after all. 

A rest stop: I had a nice conversation here with a couple of young men.

As a for instance, I had an encounter on this ride with some local farmers. I like to stop at the bridges which are located on the corner of Aker Road and Quarry Road. Sometimes I sit there and just soak in the wildlife and listen to the creek burble under the bridge. On this particular occasion, I was watching the swallows gracefully fly about the wetland area that the creek created through the fields here. 

Along came a white Ford F250 with two guys in it. They passed by, I waved, they waved back. The truck turned South on Aker Road. I listened to the wheels as they crunched the gravel of the roadway. The sound indicated that the truck was going slow, then slower, and then I could hear the tell-tale sounds of a vehicle making a three-point turnaround. "Oh Boy!", I thought to myself, "I wonder what nonsense I'll have to deal with now?", as I waited for the truck to come around the corner toward me again. 

This time the truck, not surprisingly, came to a stop in front of me as I sat on the bridge railing. The window came down, "Hey! How's it going?!", the driver, a younger man, said to me. I replied back,"Pretty good. How are you guys doing?"

And then a conversation ensued where the older gentleman, in the passenger seat, still a younger man than I, asked if I was a certain person from Dysart. I replied in the negative. "Well, I wondered if you were one of them. The family used to live right over there in a house that's gone now.", as he waved toward the North in the direction I was gazing. 

Well, we had a few more pleasantries and then the fellows left to find a driveway or access to a section of a field they were tasked to mow around. The older man said he farmed on his grandfather's land "a mile down the road there', and so they were looking out for the land and its upkeep. And this is a great example of how those residents in the rural areas see their "ownership" and how they feel that they have a "need to know" when they come across strangers, because make no mistake, those two fellows were sizing me up, so to speak, to see what I was all about. And I get that. I am fine with that.

I'm a stranger in "their backyard", and as long as I am abiding by the "rules", these folks, for the most part, are going to be fine with me. An oddball cyclist, a weirdo, a townie, but yeah...."he's okay". I'm not saying that they have any "right" to stop me from riding gravel roads that I have a right to ride, or that "they" want to do that, because it's more nuanced than that. There is no "black" or "white", but you do have to be able to understand what these people are thinking out there. Well, if you want to get along with them, that is. 

Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, and think about how the tables are turned when the rural person visits a bigger town, like Waterloo. Grace is a rare commodity and is a valuable resource when dealing with Americans. Grace and understanding. 

Meanwhile, the ride turned out great. The tailwind back to Waterloo was fabulous. I was very thankful to be able to ride my bicycle in peace and relative safety. You can't do that just anywhere in the World these days.


Joe Partridge said...

Thanks for sharing your story of the rural truck encounter. I've certainly had my fair share of those over the years, and they mostly went like you described.

Something I think about these days is how cycling wants and needs to grow beyond old white guys like us. And I wonder, how would this encounter have gone for a woman? Or a person of color? Or a trans person? Particularly in light of certain county songs about living in a small town.

I hope you are well, and thanks for keeping the blog posts coming!

Guitar Ted said...

@Joe - Thanks for noticing that story and for your thoughts on it.

You mention that it is "something to think about...." regarding how I have a privilege while riding out in the country. I know this and I think about this quite often, actually. Here is where I am at with this....

Gravel, as a cycling style, is - at its very core - a political/socioeconomic movement. It has its roots in a bit of rebellion, in openness, in "coloring outside the lines". However; some of that edginess has been blunted by "big time" racing, money-making, and with policies that, on the surface of it, seem like they are progressive, when in fact they are quite divisive. In all of this, we have lost touch with individual humanity and decency to a degree.

Reality: We have a chance to begin a change. Begin, I say, because if I said "making a change" that would imply that the change desired would be coming soon. That's too impatient of an outlook. We need to play the long-game here.

In my viewpoint, I see riders like myself bringing along younger people from urban/more liberal type areas out into the rural areas to become exposed to rural people, and vice-versan those rural people get exposed to urban, more liberal folks. My hope is that we do not see "rednecks", conservatives, liberals, people of color, or sexual preferences in those interactions. My hope is that we see each others humanity. That we all come from a similar species - humans - and that decency and kindness does not care about your skin color, where you are from, or your sexuality.

That was how the gravel scene started. We didn't know, or really care, about the backgrounds from which each of us came from. We cared about each other, the experience, and our collective safety. If we wanted a further connection to each other, it was there to explore outside of riding the bicycle. That's something that has happened, and can be there, but it doesn't have to be front and center. It doesn't have to be in front of the basis of what made gravel riding a place where there was truly a melting pot of people, and is to this day.

We can be mentors/guides to the countryside and the enjoyment of it by bicycle and meet those residents of those areas on common ground as people, but if we decide to bring division out into the rural areas, it isn't going to work. It is a choice we all have to make at some point. Your results may vary depending on what your agenda is/is not. My hope - again - is that we just look at each other as people worthy of kindness and care.