Despite the emergence of pumpkin spice lattes and the forthcoming Halloween festivities fall is an amazing time in eastern Iowa for those of us who ride bicycles.
With RAGBRAI long past and college football in full swing a ride on the weekend is usually an affair where you might see a half dozen people out on the trail. In the summer it is like spending Black Friday at the Mall of America. Yes, it gets that bad.
Despite the increase in wind speeds the drop in temperature is manageable through some strategic layering and thoughtful ride timing. A friend of mine says that if you wear black in the sun it feels ten degrees warmer than whatever the weatherman is telling you. I do not know if that is true, but fifty degrees is pretty darn nice when you are twenty miles into a thirty some mile ride and starting to really heat up.
The cool temps and lingering humidity keep the dust down on the gravel. Save for the patches of trail covered in green hulled walnuts, which will drop you on your ass if you are not careful, the surface conditions are just about perfect. Dry and firm with enough give for traction. This is a trail you would have killed for in the middle of sun baked summer when the conditions vacillated between rock hard and sloppy mess. Sometimes in the same ride.
For some reason the animals are crazy this time of year. Kamikaze squirrels will dart across the path with alarming frequency. Raccoons crawl out from under bridges like they are coming off three day dumpster benders. Bald eagles circle lazily looking for the plump, easy meal of a rodent making its way across a freshly harvested soybean field.
The changing colors and dying grasses add an otherworldly quality to the landscape that has grown so familiar over a lot of summer miles. Where there used to be impenetrable walls of tall grass is now a mottled screen of drooping stalks and golden leaves.
Perhaps best of all is that your legs feel like they are carved from springy wood. Hardened from thousands of miles, yet fresh from a taper in riding time equals some refreshingly fast and fun rides in mid-October.
Plus, you can wear a flannel shirt on your ride and no one looks at you funny. Try doing that in July.