A Bike Life

Four decades of touring, racing, commuting and recovery … a bike life indeed!

Category: Ride Reports

The High Trestle Trail

This week The Bike Wife and I went to Des Moines to ride a bit of RAGBRAI (a week long ride across Iowa). I have ridden several RAGBRAI’s starting 37 years ago with RAGBRAI IV. Originally, we had hoped to ride at least a full day but she tore her ACL and meniscus. She is recovering nicely but it will be some time before she returns to normal. She has been riding her bike on a trainer and riding some trails with me. She really is not ready for hills so we decided not to ride the full 50 miles.

We got to Des Moines on a Monday night and before we checked into our hotel we decided to go ride the High Trestle Trail from Woodward to Madrid. The High Trestle Trail is one of the gems of the Central Iowa trail system. The route from Woodward to Madrid is about an 11.5 mile round trip. The highlight of the trail is the trestle bridge, 13 stories high and almost half a mile long. the bridge spans a river valley and is lit up at night. The bridge is made up to look like a mine tunnel and it is lit up at night. We had hoped to catch the lights on this trip.

We were riding near dusk. As we rode, a storm front began to develop and we could see the thunder clouds forming. As time passed we began to see lightning on the horizon. We decided to hurry back to our car. Good thing, because shortly after we got to the car the Des Moines area was hit with straight line winds of 50-60 mph and heavy rains. One of these days, we’ll see the bridge at night. Even so, it was a great evening to be  on the bike with my wife.

The Longest Ride

Southern 1/3 of the Grand Rounds

For my wife’s birthday this weekend, I talked her into going to Minneapolis to ride bikes. Since my wife is a novice cyclist this was quite an accomplishment. Friday night we enjoyed a leisurely ride around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriett. For Saturday I had more ambitious plans. Minneapolis is one of the most bike-friendly towns in America. They have an extensive trail system and a culture that embraces an active outdoor lifestyle. I decided that we would ride a 20 mile urban loop covering the southern 1/3 of the Grand Rounds. The portion we would be riding starts out by Lake Calhoun, follows the Midtown Greenway  east to the Mississippi and then takes the bike trail on West River Road south to Minnehaha Falls. From there, it follows Minnehaha creek back to the Chain of Lakes.

Jan on the Midtown Greenway

It turned out to be a perfect day for a ride. There was a breeze from the south but when we rode into it we were on West River Road riding mainly downhill and somewhat protected from the wind. We started our ride by getting on the Midtown Greenway. The Greenway goes across town parallel to and just north of Lake street. It follows an old trolley or rail line and has exits for the major north-south streets. Most of the Greenway (and many of the major trails) have two bike lanes and a separate walking lane. Along the Greenway we passed by the bike-friendly Sheraton hotel. The Sheraton is right on the Greenway and has bike packages including a bike valet! Next time I am in Minneapolis, I am going to give them a try. This is a picture of my wife on the Greenway in her neon bike outfit.

Near the Mississippi, the Greenway crossed several roads at grade level. I was impressed with how courteous the Minnesota drivers were. In every case, cars stopped to let us and other cyclists by. In fact I felt guilty because a couple of times, I stopped at a road crossing to rest or wait for my wife and traffic on the street stopped to let me cross — I ended up having to wave them on.

At the Mississippi

The next portion of the ride was along West River Road. The path in this section parallels the river and is nicely shaded with woods on one said and stately old homes on the other. In the direction we went this section of the ride slopes gently downhill most of the way. There are a number of scenic outlooks and benches where one can stop and enjoy the view. We took a brief detour to ride across the river and back. The bridge is a couple of hundred feet off the river and had great views north and south. Since the day was beginning to warm up we appreciated the breeze. There are some businesses along the route near the Lake Street bridge, where one can purchase food and drinks. We saw dozens of bikes parked outside one of the establishments near the bridge. They had outdoor seating and looked like they were drawing a large crowd.

Sea Salt at Minnehaha Park

At the south end of West River Road, we came to Minnehaha Park. The last time I had ridden this route was in the evening so I didn’t stop at the park. Minnehaha Park is home to Minnehaha Falls. I thought the falls were some distance from the trail so I had not planned on stopping. About this time, we needed to refill our water bottles so as we got to the park we saw that tere were concessions and pulled in. To my surprise the park and concession area were packed with bikers, walkers and picnickers.  We stopped at the restaurant, Sea Salt to have lunch. Lunch was perfect. The restaurant prides itself on fresh fish so we ordered a fish sandwich, avocado stuffed with crab salad and a strawberry and walnut salad. We must have waited 30 minutes to order and 45 minutes to get our food, but we needed the rest. When the food arrived it was worth the wait. I generally do not like breaded fish but the sandwich was crispy on the outside and a perfect moist flaky white on the inside. The crab salad was equally good and I love avocado in nearly all forms. A perfect way to enjoy the halfway point of the ride.

Wearing Neon at Minnehaha Falls

After lunch we walked the 50 or so fee to Minnehaha Falls. The falls were spectacular and you could hear the cascade over the dining area. The picture is the two of us in our camouflage jerseys next to the falls.

After the falls both of us were getting a little tired. My wife was tired because it was her longest ride to date. I was tired because not only was it the farthest I have ridden my fixed gear bike but by far the most time I have spent on it. Fixed gear bikes do not allow you to glide so whenever the bike is moving, you are pedaling. I also discovered that while my saddle is comfortable for about 10 miles, after that it is not. I am going to have to look for an old school Selle Italia Turbo Special like I have on my road bike. That saddle is comfortable all day long.

Looking Up

The last part of the ride follows Minnehaha creek just north of the airport. The creek meanders through a residential neighborhood with some really nice homes and lots of green space. We saw people tubing and canoeing in the creek along the way. This part of the trail also has a few small rolling hills. As it got later in the ride we stopped more. This is a picture I took lying in the shad of a big tree and looking up into the sky.

After following Minnehaha creek we returned to the familiar territory of Lake Harriett. I had been carrying our swimsuits and towels in my front panniers but I was too tired to look for someplace to change and swim. When we got back to the car my odometer read 19.99 miles. I spun my front tire to make it an even 20. We had a great time, perfect weather, great scenery, excellent food and the chance to celebrate Jan’s birthday. We are definitely going to have to do it again.

The Perfect Evening Ride

Sunset on Lake Harriet

This weekend was my wife’s birthday. So, being the romantic kind of guy that I am I decided to take her for a weekend getaway that included bicycling. It wasn’t too long ago that I would never have considered such a thing but since she has been riding her bike I decided to give it a try. Since our oldest daughter just moved to Minneapolis, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

A couple of years ago, when she got her bike, she came with me on a business trip to Minneapolis and we rode some of the trails in the area. She had a good time but we really only rode about eight miles at a time. Even now she has been riding between 8-10 miles at a time. For her birthday I wanted to try something a little more challenging.

We got to Minneapolis in the late afternoon and after visiting my daughter, we checked into our hotel. We had a snack in the hotel restaurant and decided to head out for a short ride before dark. Our goal was to ride around Lake Calhoun and maybe Lake Harriett before dark. The last time we were in Minneapolis, my wife did not want to ride over the hill between the lakes. This time was different. We parked the car, set up the bikes and hit the trail. It had been a hot day but was cooling as the sun set. We rode around Lake Calhoun and she was willing to climb the hill to Lake Harriett.

Lake Harriett has a band shell on the North end so we listened to the music for a while and rode around the lake. The photo shows our bikes in the setting sun on from the southeast side of the lake. It was a great ride. We rode about seven miles at a relaxed pace and we both enjoyed every minute. My wife is a much stronger rider than she the last time we were here. It was a good warm up for our big ride the next day.

It Looks like an Expedition

Lining ’em up

My wife and I have eight children. Even with my adult children out of the house, a bike ride for the whole family invariably involves not just my kids but their friends as well. On the Fourth of July we decided to go up and visit my father and brother-in-law in Cedar Falls. Cedar Falls was one of the first cities in the country to get serious about bike trails and for a city of its size, it has an excellent trail network.

Unfortunately it takes a lot of work to get seven bikes ready for a ride. the first problem was that we didn’t have enough bikes in the right sizes. My son’s friend was coming along so his dad loaned us a bike. The loaner bike and my three bikes (road, fixed gear and mountain) all had clipless pedals of one sort or another and I was the only one in the group who knew how to ride with them. So, I had to swap pedals on a couple of bikes. Next I put the boys to work inflating 14 tires.

Seven bikes in the big van

Of course the other  difficult part of taking the whole crew on a ride is getting the bikes there. We have a Pointiac minivan that has the distinction of being one of only a few vehicles that neither Yakima nor Thule roof racks can fit. We have a Saris two bike rack that my wife and I use. Fortunately for big events we still have our Ford 15 passenger van. I have Yakima’s largest roof rack for it but as you can see on the right it is rarely necessary. With three of the seats removed we can fit 8 people and still have room inside for 8 bikes.  It is hard to tell but the picture above shows seven bikes in the back of the van.

The expedition was a success. We rode along the Cedar River on a tree-lined bike trail. The teenagers rode on ahead while my wife and I rode with her brother. Her brother hasn’t been on a bike in at least twenty years so we took it pretty easy. We probably rode about 7-9 miles. All in all it was a good ride. Her brother is interested in buying a bike since his house, in the Chicago suburbs, is surrounded by bike trails. We’ll have to make an expedition to go and ride with him.

The High Trestle Trail, Woodward to Madrid, Iowa

Jason, Jaylee, Josie (and Pop), Dave and Jan at the High Trestle Trail

The High Trestle Trail is a new bike trail that runs 25 miles from Woodward to Ankeny, Iowa. The highlight of the trail is the 13 story trestle bridge over the Des Moines River. This last weekend I took my wife and our three youngest to central Iowa to ride the trail. (My youngest brought her stuffed hippo — Pop)

We chose a perfect day, slight breeze, puffy clouds and temperatures in the low seventies. As a family we have a variety of riding abilities so I was not sure what to expect. I am an out-of-shape cyclist but I have years of experience and thousands of miles behind me. I was on my fixed-gear bike so I was not looking forward to any significant hills. My wife is relatively new to cycling and just getting accustomed to long rides. My son is an accomplished runner and my 12 year old daughter is a competitive swimmer, I knew they would have no trouble regardless of the terrain or distance. I was a bit concerned about my youngest. At ten, I had almost given up on ever teaching her how to ride a bike. This Spring she surprised me and a few weeks ago she learned how to ride. I put a basket on her bike for her hippo and now she rides daily. But this would be her longest ride.

The trailhead in Woodward is an old converted rail station. There is plenty of parking, restrooms water, bike racks and benches. The parking lot was pretty full several cyclists came and went as we unloaded the van. We got the bikes out, topped off the tires and I gave a brief trail etiquette lecture. We set off down the trail. It soon became apparent that the two older kids should be allowed to ride ahead on their own. My wife went on ahead with them and I rode with my youngest. She (and her hippo) had a great time. We listened to birds and talked the whole way. We re-grouped at the bridge and stopped to admire the view, it was spectacular.

We continued on to Madrid, 5.6 miles according to the sign. After having some ice cream we explored an exhibit to the coal mining industry. I know 11.2 miles is a short ride but we decided to turn around and head back. The ride was completely flat. The trail varied from open fields to wooded to the open expanse of the bridge.

Josie and Pop

As I was riding with my ten-year-old she asked to stop by the trail. I rang my bell and said stopping right … and she proceeded to cross the trail to stop on the left, when I told her I meant to stop on the right she crossed the trail again. I am so glad no one was coming by at the time (especially the triathletes in training who buzz by without announcing themselves) she definitely could have caused an accident. Once she was safely stopped I tried not to scold her but asked her what had happened. We had done a little trail riding at home so she should have known better. She said, “Daddy, sometimes I forget my right and left.”

It had never dawned on me. From then on I reminded her that we always stop on the side we are riding on, after announcing loudly, “Stopping!” and giving people around us time to react. I learned a good lesson, I will try to keep things simple.

The High Trestle Trail is a great family friendly ride. The portion we rode was flat but there are some mildly hilly sections. The bridge is spectacular and lit up at night.

The picture says it all, it is not often that my wife and I and our teen, tween and pre-teen (and her hippo) can all participate in an event and have big smiles on our faces. It was a perfect day.

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