Tag Archives: trail

Labor Day in Lincoln, Nebraska Leads to…

Bikes and beers of course.  Were you thinking I was going to say University of Nebraska Cornhusker football?  Hah!

As a loyal University of Iowa alumnus going to spend a long weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska I was not going to participate in any game day festivities.  Instead I was going to attack the Homestead Trail south of town.

Last year over the Memorial Day weekend I went on a ride that covered a portion of the Homestead and Jamaica North trails.  At the time the temperature was hovering around 90 some degrees with an equal percentage of humidity which forced me to cut my ride short.  Heading back to my truck I vowed to return.

The route from just south of Lincoln at the trailhead off Saltillo Road southward to Beatrice is a little over 30 miles.  Round trip I expected this ride to take about 4 hours assuming I could keep a consistent cadence on the gravel.

The morning started out cool and humid.  How humid?  Like fog dripping from the sky humid.  Like trailside grasses sagging under the weight of morning dew humid.  At least the trail dust was kept down by all the moisture in the air.  One can really tell that it has been a wet spring and summer in Nebraska just by the density of the greenery along the trail.  It is damn near jungle-esque.

Traffic on the trail was light.  A few ultra-runners early on, but almost completely depopulated by mile ten.  I passed a few people on bikes the rest of the way.  If you want to be alone with your thoughts on a bike I highly recommend the Homestead Trail.

The trail surface was in good condition for most of its length.  Somewhere around mile 20 the trail was scarred by what appeared to be quad bike tracks that whipsawed across the width of the gravel surface.  It was as if someone deliberately came out after a rainstorm and dug deep tire tracks in an effort to frustrate cyclists.  If so, that is just sad and belongs in the hall of shame next to the guys who “roll coal” next to cyclists at traffic stops.

I have got to be honest, the trail is a lot of this:

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If it looks really flat that is because the trail is really flat.  Over 60.34 miles—out and back to Beatrice—I gained a total of 479 feet.  That is right, just an average of less than 8 feet of elevation gain per mile.

I made it to Beatrice:

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Barn wood…it’s not just for people from Waco, Texas:

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Caution: Animal Holes…my new favorite sign:

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The reward for achieving my goal of riding to Beatrice and back was a trip around Lincoln to try out a few, new to me breweries.  My legs were rubber after sixty miles of riding, but I was game for quick pit stop by White Elm Brewing and Code Beer Company in Lincoln.  Both breweries put out a well-made IPA.  I really only had the energy to sample a few beers before heading to dinner and bed.

Like before, I will be back.

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Homestead and Jamaica North Trails Ride Report

This past weekend in Lincoln was a blast…okay, spending two days in a garage driving nearly 500 2” pan head screws for a slat wall in near 100 degree heat was not a blast but I did get to ride.  Specifically, I spent a morning on large chunks of the Homestead Trail and Jamaica North Trail southwest of the city.

For a lot of people this is the Homestead Trail:

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Look it up “Homestead Trail” on Google and this is likely to be in almost all of the images.  Yes, bridges and century old ironworks are cool but this bridge is about a mile south of the trailhead.  It is not like people are really getting deep into the trail to get their shots for Instagram.

The trail runs thirty miles almost due south from the trailhead on Saltillo Road in Lincoln to Beatrice.  I rode about halfway to Beatrice before a headwind really picked up and I started to get concerned about the rising temperature.  It was already in the low 80s by mid-morning.

The ride reminded me a lot of what the Cedar Valley Nature Trail used to be like before it was paved all the way into Center Point.  It’s not good or bad that the trail is paved.  It is just different.  The surface is a thin layer of crushed limestone—yay, limestone dust in every crevice—over packed dirt.  There were very few ruts and it did not seem like anyone had been out when the trail was wet to cause any trouble, which is more than I can say for some of the unpaved sections of the CVNT north of Center Point.  Whoever rode their fat bike on the trail and put a wandering two inch wide rut in the trail for about three miles can suck a fat one.  I digress…

At about the mid-point of my ride the Homestead Trail ran parallel to Highway 77 which is a four lane divided highway from Lincoln to Beatrice.  You will find yourself exposed to some serious wind in this section.  Be advised.

The Homestead Trail is connected to the rest of Lincoln’s trail via the Jamaica North Trail.  The Jamaica North Trail runs a little more than 6 miles north and south on the west side of Lincoln.  The southern portion is crushed limestone like the Homestead Trail and the northern section is paved.  I did not ride on any pavement for the portion I rode.

On a hot day this was a nice ride because it was shaded by thick vegetation.  The gnats were not even that bad on the day that I rode.  It was even too hot to eat a Runza.

Right now the biggest issue with this great trail pair is that most of the southern portion of Lincoln is isolated from the trail via active railroad tracks.  There is a fundraising effort underway to build a link connecting these trails to the existing Rock Island Trail near Densmore Park.  One can never have enough trails.

If you find yourself heading to Lincoln grab your adventure bike and get out on the trails.  The Great Plains Trails Network has some excellent maps to guide you on your way.

Remember, where the pavement ends is where unlimited possibility begins.

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An Open Letter to RAGBRAI Guy

As the weather warms up here in eastern Iowa the trails and byways are flooded with a certain breed of cyclist not seen in other parts of the world…RAGBRAI guy. From about mid-June until the actual event begins in July travelling packs of cyclists will clog whatever path you are trying to ply and look at you with disdain when you attempt to pass their travelling circus.

Here’s the thing, no matter how much you claim to be advancing the notion of cycling as a mainstream recreational pursuit—something that does not require your assistance by the way—you’re actually a bad actor. Let me count the ways:

  1. A jersey from RAGBRAI does not entitle you to any special benefits from any other rider on the trail. It’s not a magic totem. There are thousands of us who put in just as many miles per year, if not more, and have no desire to spend our summer pretending to be part of a human powered gypsy caravan. Stop acting like you are the be all and end all of two wheeled fun in the Midwest.
  2. Riding three wide a few rows deep on a recreational trail is an asshole move. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I do not care that this is Team Ball Sack or whatever your clever clothing is supposed to indicate. You do not own the trail any more than the Hells Angels own the road.
  3. No one wants to be submitted to the sonic stylings from your modern day ghetto blaster strapped to the handlebars of your bike. You cannot hear me clearly when I am trying to pass you and the Grateful Dead suck. Save the jam band session for when you stop to crush a few Natty Lights.
  4. Don’t throw stones because your behavior leaves you residing in a glass shack. Lecturing other people on the trail about their behavior when you are a horde of locusts is just bad form.

Come the third week of July the trails and byways will be clear of these creatures as they spend the better part of a summer vacation rolling from town to town in search of a shower just above the temperature of a well digger’s ass on the shady side and a cold can of light American swill. Just imagine the collective stink of thousands of people sweating out a twelve pack of Busch Light mixed with the eau de nut cheese.

I cannot wait until July 18th.

Miscellaneous Colorado Beers

Unfortunately, I did not get to try as many beers along the Front Range as I would have liked but that leaves more things to do next time.

While on a break from biking along the Ten Mile Canyon trail at Copper Mountain I got a chance to have an Avery Brewing White Rascal:

The White Rascal is Belgian wheat.  Unfiltered, low bitterness (22 IBU), and moderate in alcohol (5.6% ABV) this beer is very drinkable.  Granted, I was over an hour into my light ride and the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than planned—thank you global warming—so I was a little dry.

Avery Brewing was not a company that I had heard of until I saw the beer listed on the menu.  This is the great thing about beer, there are so many different beers from so many different brewers that it always leads to discovery.  It’s why it is great to get out of your usual and try something new.

One thing I would like to see go away is serving a big chunk of fruit on a glass of beer.  Coors’ Blue Moon started this trend in bars a while back and now every unfiltered Belgian beer is served with a chunk of orange or a wedge of lemon.  Stop the insanity.

This pint made me want to see what else the folks at Avery Brewing are doing.  Next time.

At a shop in Breckenridge I picked up two six-packs of Odell Brewing Company beers: Easy Street Wheat and St. Lupulin.  Often, Odell is described as the other brewery in Fort Collins because of the omnipresent New Belgium.  I have found that the smaller brewers, owing to smaller scale, are able to push the boundaries because there is less push to satisfy mass taste.  Granted, even large craft brewers like New Belgium push the boundaries all the time with beers in the Lips of Faith series.

Easy Street Wheat is described as being “light and refreshing.”  That pretty much sums it up:

Low in alcohol (4.6% ABV) and very low in bitterness (15 IBU) Easy Street Wheat, like White Rascal above, is a very drinkable beer.  Not much else to say beyond that.

St. Lupulin is a different story:

Following Easy Street Wheat this beer is a little bit of a smack to the palate.  Not in a bad way, but a little shocking.  It’s a lot stronger (6.5% ABV) and bitter (46 IBU) than the first beer.  Furthermore, the beer tastes like it has been dry hopped which leaves a strong hop aroma in the beer because the beta acids are not driven off during the boil.  Used sparingly, this technique can produce strong aromas without making the beer overly bitter.  Used excessively, the beer ends up smelling like someone opened the door to a coffee shop in Amsterdam.  St. Lupulin falls more toward the sparingly end of the spectrum.

To no fault of the beers from both Avery Brewing and Odell Brewing, I got sick after my first morning in Breckenridge and spent the better part of a day in bed or hanging my head over a toilet.  It’s hard to separate the beers from that experience.  Getting sick sucks…

At Last!

On Saturday, I started my bicycle ride like so many others this summer with a short jaunt north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail from Robins.  All summer the CVNT has been closed for paving north of County Home Road.

Not today!  The signs announcing the trail was closed were down and the barricades were removed.  It was smooth sailing all the way to Schultz Road where the old crushed limestone trail resumed.  I do not know if this was the official opening of the trail because snow fence was still in place along the trail in spots and the final grading does not appear to be done.

My hats go off to all of the people behind this project because it enhances one of the true gems we have for outdoor recreation in eastern Iowa.  Ideally, the trail runs from Waterloo/Cedar Falls through Cedar Rapids and finishes in Ely.  There is a bridge out near Brandon due to the floods in 2008 so the route is not contiguous right now.  Nonetheless, it is a great way to spend an afternoon on two wheels.

Currently, the Linn County Trails Association is conducting a survey to rank the priorities for future projects.  My hope is the the “orphan” sections of trails in the area can be connected to form a world class system of trails.  For the moment, I will enjoy what I have.

The Annoyance of At-Grade

Uh oh!

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is closed north of County Home Road for approximately seven miles to accommodate the paving project.  Although this is a great project it does force me to change my preferred lunch time ride.

Normally I head north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and put ten to fifteen miles on the out route.  The return route is done in reverse for a total of twenty to thirty miles of mixed pavement, gravel, and hardpack.  The real joy is that most of the trail is very separate from traffic with a few at-grade crossings of infrequently traveled county roads.

With the closure I have been heading south to make a ride combining the last portion of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and Cedar River Trail.  This is a great community asset, but the difference in the ride is amazing.  One is very relaxing—the Cedar Valley Nature Trail—and the other is not so—the Cedar River Trail.

Why?  At-grade crossings of major roads.  Where possible, the Cedar River Trail crosses below grade but at several junctures it intersects major roads at-grade.  The crossing at Blairs Ferry Road and the trail portion through downtown are particularly loathsome.  Combined with the joyous smell of auto exhaust it makes for a much different experience.

Granted, portions of the Cedar River Trail are excellent departures from the city in the heart of the city.  The loop around the so-called Cedar Lake is relaxing even as it borders a rail yard and the portion of the trail from Czech Village south is superb.  Plus, even in the belly of an industrial zone that smells like Cinnamon Toast Crunch there are alternative energy surprises:

Having the Cedar Valley Nature Trail closed for a period of time made me realize how fragmented the trails are in Linn County.  There is no easy way to get from the trailhead of the Sac and Fax Trail near Cottage Grover Road to any of the trails through town.  The CEMAR trail is an orphan section waiting to be connected to the nascent trail system downtown.  There are no trails leading to the excellent mountain bike trails at Beverly Park or Squaw Creek Park.  Nothing links to the Grant Wood Trail east of Marion as of yet, although rumors of a plan exist.

A further bit of insanity is how little planning has been done to link the two major area employers—Rockwell Collins and Aegon/TransAmerica—to any of the existing or proposed trails.  There is a small section of former railway that runs parallel to Blairs Ferry Road that is going to be converted to trail and it terminated near the main campus of Rockwell Collins, but this almost appears to be more happenstance than intentional.  Here you have two locations to which thousands of people per day commute and there is no intentional plan to provide cogent non-automobile transportation options.  Lunacy.

Recently, a regional governing body has decided to take a small amount of money earmarked primarily for road construction and apply it toward completing a system of trails.  This is a great idea because there is no system today, although great trails exist and the right of ways for other trails are available.  However, it is my guess that opposition will naturally form against using money for trails because someone has a pothole on their route to or from work.

Here is to hoping that in a few years this fragmented network will resemble a system that can be utilized to string together most excellent rides.

The First Ride

The temperature was near 80 today in eastern Iowa and that just begged for a ride–the first ride of spring.  My trusty Bontrager–sixteen years young and set up for the gravel rails to trails that are very common in Iowa–was ready with a quick pump of the tires, libe of the chain, and a few quick turns on those pesky bolts that always work loose.

The portion of the trail from Cedar Rapids to County Home Road north of town is paved in asphalt.  North of that the trail, which runs all the way to Waterloo for a total of 52 miles, is primarily crushed limestone or gravel.  There are a few things that are really great about living in the Cedar Rapids area and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail is one of them.  It is great to just be able to ride without really worrying about cars save for the occasional crossing at grade.

I made it about 10 miles from my house before turning around to make a 20 mile round trip ride.  Unlike in previous years I can tell that all of the working out that I have been doing over the course of the winter really paid off.  I turned around not because of exhaustion but because of the condition of the trail.  It was a filling loosener.  Granted, my Bontrager is set up with a Kona Project 2 rigid straight blade chromoly fork and tires pumped up to about 60 psi.

This section of the trail is supposed to paved sometime this year, so there is unlikely to be any rolling of the trail surface or laying down of fresh gravel.  Here is to hoping that the warm spring allows them to get an early start.

The weather is supposed to continue to be in the 80s this weekend with no precipitation in the forecast so the Bontrager may ride again!

Note to the asshole who drove their truck down the trail.  Thanks for putting some nice ruts two to three inches deep for miles.  It was a really wonderful experience to worry about spilling off my bike from slipping into a rut.