Last weekend Nick and I went for a little ride on the Pugsleys. The plan was to cruise up to Cedar Falls, where I hoped to turn in my Trans Iowa VI postcard, camp at some park in the area (we weren't sure which, but I was thinking Blackhawk) and then ride back home. Our goal was to get in two full gravel centuries and test out some camping gear for the Arrowhead.
At a little after seven AM on Saturday we met at Nick's place and had some pancakes and coffee to start out our ride. Nick had photocopied the maps we'd need (we didn't have a pre-planned route, just an idea) and had a bag of Daddy Ray's fig bars ready for me (these things are the best [$2/lbs]). We left a little after eight and headed up through town to McFarland park, through the prairie along the interstate and on to the gravel.
There's not a lot out there. We rode through the wind farm north of Colo and then up to Clemons where we took a short break in the city park. On the downhill into town a deer ran along beside us before cutting in front of Nick forcing him to hit the brakes. Clemons is a nice little town that is pretty friendly without being in any way pretentious. After a few blocks of cheese and sausage (AHU food, not what I'd normally eat on a fall bike trip) we took off with the vague Northeast destination of Whitten.
We went north on Mormon Ridge road and then crossed the Iowa river on gravel. After that we were off of our Marshall county map. The photocopy had covered most of the county but left off in the North. I assumed we were only missing a few miles so we just continued North. Soon we came upon a town that matched where I assumed Whitten would be, but something didn't seem right. After consulting a large scale map of the state I had brought along (for the bike paths in Cedar Falls) and, more pointedly, the water tower we figured out that we were in Liscomb. After some locals expressed interest in our bikes ("those are the biggest tire's I've ever seen on a bicycle!") and we assured them that we knew where we were going ("Cedar Falls? That's up by Waterloo right?") we were once again on our way.
I started pushing a bit because I wanted to be in Cedar Falls before Europa Cycle & Ski closed so I could hand deliver my T.I. VI postcard, but at this point we started having to head more North than East which meant into the wind. The wind wasn't really all that bad, but when you factor in the Pug's tires and the camping gear we were carrying, it made for more of a slog than I really wanted. It was around this time that I noticed the first twinges in my Achilles tendon.
It was a little after two when we rolled into Grundy Center. The gas station had a nice sitting area and after having a Monster (I was trying to make it the whole two days on just the food I had brought, but I did make this exception) and refilling our Camelbaks we decided that it didn't make sense to try to get to Cedar Falls by five. We still had thirty miles to go in less than three hours. It would have been possible on our cross bikes, but on the Pugsleys we were thrilled to be averaging 11mph. It didn't make sense to push ourselves that hard. We took a longer break and then headed on to Dike.
At Dike the road that I had hoped to cross Highway 20 0n turned out to be a dead end. We had to detour through town adding a couple miles of unwanted pavement. Just outside of Dike we spotted a campground that looked about as boring as a campground can get. No trees and a view of the highway. I might have been tempted, but we weren't to our goal of 100 miles.
Just out of Dike the sun started setting and we turned on our lights and followed the gravel as it merged into University Ave and the last few miles into Cedar Falls. There was more traffic on University than I like riding at night, so we rode on the shoulders dodging pieces of metal and dead raccoons. This was actually one of the places where the Pug excelled. Anytime a car came past, pavement or gravel, we were able to get all the way over to the edge of the road. In fact the softer gravel at the edge of the road was often a smoother ride for us than in the "track", which often had larger rocks and potholes.
Once in town we started heading north on Hudson, following a bike path that was on my map. There was a lot of traffic in town that I hadn't anticipated and the cause was soon obvious as we approached the UNI Dome. There was a football game and everyone was just arriving at the stadium. At the Dome we found that, like several other bike paths in the state, this path ended in a staircase. Detouring around the staircase by a well worn dirt path we escaped the game day traffic and biked through Cedar Falls proper to get to our new camping destination, George Wyth park.
Navigating the bike paths was a bit tricky in the dark with an inadequate map, but we made it to the campground a little after six.