Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Almanzo 100: Howling for you.

I've heard the Almanzo described as "just a bike ride, with 1400 of your closest friends." While there was some quickly, perfectly formed friendships, there was also some very lonely miles. I had elation, terror, exhaustion and peace in the space of the day, and not in the order that you might expect. Before we get to details, lets lay down some basics.

The Course

The Almanzo is a 100 mile, unsupported (sorta) gravel ride in southeastern MN. It's lovely part of the world that also happens to be rather hilly.

This profile exaggerates the climbing. Still, 7500 ft of climbing does make a body tired.
As stated, the ride is on gravel roads. But there are different kinds of gravel, depending on local geology. This ended dealing me a pleasant surprise, because the gravel in SE MN is noticeably easier to ride on than the gravel in NW IA. The Almanzo gravel is chalky, with flatter stones. It often packs down to a hard pan that's smoother than many paved roads, while the flat stones made even the loose sections easier to manage. That said, I have never had a ride so test my ability to handle a bike. On occasion (especially on corners) the gravel got sandbox loose. Also, all that climbing made for some blazing fast descents, and even with heavy use of the brakes I had a difficult time keeping my speed under 30.

Pre-Race Shenanigans

While it's common practice to hold registration for bike events the night before, I'll dare to bet this is the only one that had free-for-all grass track racing. Somehow I though this would be a good idea, so I did participate in a few rounds. This was not a terribly serious event. At one point a singlespeed Schwinn banana-seat bike was winning against a couple of fatbikes and a few CX bikes.  Unfortunately participation was fairly low, I think many riders did not want to risk injury or damage to their persons or bikes. They missed out on some proper nonsense.

To Business

After spending a very chilly night camping at the local state park, my wife and I rolled into Spring Valley. This was the first unsupported event that I've done, and I was a bit of a basket case. I told her that if I had a fly on my bike shorts, it probably would have been unzipped.
This is my freakout face.
After a few basic instructions, and the traditional singing of "Happy Birthday" to the organizer Chris's son Jack, the 1400 or so riders rolled out in a controlled start. Mechanical problems struck the group immediately. I saw for sure one rider with a flat within the first mile, and at least a dozen riders working on their bikes in the first ten miles.

The first 40 miles went by in a blur. I was busy adjusting to riding in a group, getting settled in for a long day on the bike, and grappling with the different nature of the gravel in this area. The gravel is faster than what I am used to, and that coupled with a tailwind gave me an average speed in the 16 mph range. I found myself passing a lot, especially on climbs. Was I going too fast? Was I going to burn out? I tried to settle down, and mostly evened my pace out after the first big climb at mile 10.
Roads were very chalky, and hence, dusty.

I had arranged to meet my wife in Preston, which was the only place where outside help was allowed. As I got closer, I started texting her my mileage to give her a better idea of where I was on the course. Trouble was, I wasn't getting any response. I knew that cell signal was spotty, and nonexistent at our campsite. I also was coming into Preston at least 40 minutes ahead of schedule. I texted my arrival to her, and got a panicked text stating that she was on her way, but was 20 min out. Time for a nap and an assessment.

At this point I was feeling pretty good. My legs had plenty of zip in them, and my mood was good. My back was starting to become an issue though. On gravel rides longer than 20 miles, my lower back starts to hurt pretty good. Stretching usually helped, but I was worried about those stretches losing their effectiveness over the next 60 miles.

It was a flawless day to be out riding.

After the Preston stop, the ride became work. I now faced into the wind, and the elation of riding in groups was gone. Typically I could see one rider in front of me. I would catch that rider, then move onto the next. The enormity of the remaining ride, knowing about some of the nasty climbs coming up, put me in the lowest point of the ride. When I wasn't climbing, I was slugging in out with the wind. A welcome mood boost came when a cheerful volunteer along the road yelled "you're at mile 65, good job!" My bike computer, which I had suspected was off, was showing me at mile 60. Five free miles felt pretty good. Soon after that came the welcome Forestville Checkpoint.

I bet someone in this crowd knows where the water is at.
Did I ask any of them? Nope.

There was Coke, beer, various salty snacks, and some wonderfully shady trees. But I didn't see any water. I had left Preston with just two bottles (a bit dumb) counting on a refill at this stop. I drank a can of Coke and headed out, WITHOUT ASKING ANYONE ABOUT WATER. Clearly I was 1) more fuzzy in the head than I realized, and 2) an idiot. I was heading out for the final 40 miles of this ride with two half empty bottles.

Not long after my departure, I realized my error, but resolved to keep going and hope that a second unofficial checkpoint from 2013 would still be in existence, or else beg some water from a local farmer. Then, about 20 miles later, I rolled into a small town and saw bikers massing around some small tents. It was perfect, and like a mirage out of a fever dream.

There was water(I'm saved!), Coke (nectar of the gods), Oreos(!), beer(later), whisky(nope) and a man dressed up like Elvis singing Devo. I'm not kidding.

No idea. (H/T Banjo Bros)

I promise I was there. I'm in red, to the right of the tent,
slumped against the white building. (H/T MN Bike Trails Navigator)
Feeling hydrated and thoroughly tripped out, I headed out and soon snagged the end of a paceline. Not only did this group get me through a few rough miles, but sticking with them kept me from attacking hills as I had earlier in the ride. This section was made considerably easy by this gang, who I found out later was from Georgia. Thanks guys!

One of the fun features of the Almanzo is the river crossing. Last year they had to route around the river, since high water levels made the crossing borderline dangerous. No such issues this year. Some riders attempted to ride across the river, with about a 50% success rate. I found wading barefoot through the cold water felt pretty good.
There was considerable debate about crossing barefoot and risking the sharp rocks,
 or crossing with shoes and getting wet socks.

Getting out of this river valley was especially fun, it was barely a road at all. Here, and throughout the course, the 40mm Clement MSO's really shone. They were stable, grippy, comfortable tires, and I love them.

My first and only flat struck not long after the river crossing at about mile 84. The group I was with continued on while I did a quick swap. Maybe it was the adrenaline from doing the repair, maybe it was the time spent off the bike, but for whatever reason my back stopped hurting after that flat. With just 15 miles to go, I knew I could finish, and with energy to burn I set my highest average speed since leaving Preston. I still ended up walking the last two big hills, but I used that time to keep limber, eat, and check cues. I knew my wife was waiting for me (with the headwind I was now a few hours behind schedule) and I wanted to be done, wanted that finish line, wanted to see her again after a long day.

Cue mental motivational music:

After many hours of working through the miles, I remembered how fortunate I was to be here, in this beautiful place, riding a great bike surrounded by crazy people, with my wonderful wife running support.

Everybody was tired by this point. Nobody was talking.
But no one was complaining either.
Maybe it was just the endorphins and the adrenaline talking, but I was a happy to be so wrung out. The last 1/2 mile was on a city bike path, and I felt like I was flying. I got my handshake from Chris, (Thanks!) and shambled over to my wife.

Maybe a bit tired.
I'm very happy with how the event went. I had no disabling injuries or mechanicals, and despite my best attempts to dehydrate myself, I finished feeling pretty good. Compared to other rides (notably a disastrous 55 mile day during RAGBRAI 2012 where I thoroughly freaked out my wife and brother) I was not dangerously exhausted.

Will I do Almanzo again? I'm not sure at this point. Even with the event itself being free, it still is an investment to travel here, and training took up a lot of my time. I'm definitely hooked on gravel riding, so we'll see what next year brings.
(custom tulip stitching courtesy my wife. Thanks love!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Errandonnee 2014!

After a long, cold winter that reminded us all of our human longing for sun and heat, spring seems to be arriving fashionably late to the Midwest. I heard someone on the radio remarking that surviving a winter on the northern plains requires a patient spirit and a short attention span. Basically, we tolerate the months of cold, then promptly forget about it as soon as the weather gets above freezing.

This is all to say that I was very grateful that MG scheduled the Errandonnee a month later than last year. Doing this in February would have been possible-I'm generally more stubborn than sensible anyhow-but it would not have been a fun endeavor.  Plus, now I can include pictures of the cutest children in the world, who also conveniently happen to be my own.
Now if I could only get photo proof of that.

Errand 1
Category: Lunch
1.0 Miles
The Fruited Plain Cafe

The short ride to the cafe featured lots of little old ladies peeking through their steering wheels grinning at the kids and I slow rolling. Saturday was give-mom-a-break day, so we stopped by the FP for some flat bread pizza (pepperoni, nothing fancy but the kids love it so I will capitulate).

Errand 2
Wild Card
.7 Miles
The Centre Mall (Model airplane show)
Every time I looked away she shuffled a little bit closer.

The local mall is just a hop across the highway from our lunch stop. This Saturday the mall was hosting a remote control airplane show. Nothing was flying, but the models on their own were very cool. The gentleman responsible for the giant half built glider said that he was about 300 hrs into his project. "About 80% done with around 80% left to go." as he put it.
My daughter was fascinated (this meant a barrage of questions). My son, being 16 months old, was not allowed anywhere near.
When it comes to attracting the detail obsessive, the model airplane people are our kin.

Errand 3
Store that is not a Grocery
3.2 Miles

As we move through the errands, the quantity of snow slowly decreases
I despise Wal-Mart, if for no other reason than their grocery is laid out for maximum confusion, but I'll be stopping here more often if I want a chance at getting the needed number of miles. This was one of the first times that I've rode my road bike this spring, and it was glorious after months of slugging it out with the longtail. I've also been putting the Banjo Bros Saddle Trunk through it's paces the last couple of weeks. It's remarkable what you can cram in there, it actually works pretty good for light errands. Speaking of road bikes, I've got something new and shiny coming down the line that might make an appearance yet this week.

Errand 4
1.0 Miles
The Fruited Plain
Longtail switched over to muffin mode.
The purple tub has a dozen of the best Blueberry muffins you've ever had.

So, I don't technically work for The Fruited Plain. My wife does their baking from our home, and every morning I deliver the morning muffins. I don't get paid, but I do raid the day-olds, which I think counts as a wage. I've been doing this short ride 5 days a week almost without fail since Christmas (a studded tire as a Christmas present greatly increased the conditions I could ride in). After a nasty prolonged winter, it is wonderful to be able to simply enjoy a quick morning ride, instead of bundling up into a "fortress against the cold" as my brother puts it.

Errand 5
Community Meeting
1.0 Miles
(VOID-Photo lost)
My bike for this ride is the trusty Schwinn World tourist. It had been my go-to errand runner before the snow started flying (which was several months ago) so this short ride was a pleasant reunion. Despite it's weight, oddball shifting and many paint scratches, this bike just makes me smile. It's a bike that'll get me somewhere, sometime, whatever.

Errand 6
Personal Care and Health
Snap Fitness
3.2 Miles

Ordinarily, I'm not a gym/health club person. In part because I'm too cheap to pay for membership, and because (and my suspicions were confirmed on this) running on a treadmill sounds like a mild level of hell. My wife and I are participating in a marathon/half marathon challenge as part of Live Healthy Iowa, which is a state run 100 day wellness program. The challenge is to run a half or full marathon over the course of the week. I'm going for the full 26.2. This means getting up a 4:30 to get to Snap by 5:00, run 8 miles, and get back to the house by 6:30 to prep for work. Snap is a very nice place, people are friendly, but I really do not know how people can do this on a regular basis. I will happily run through the winter, polar vortex be hanged, if I can stay off that treadmill. That said, a easy bike ride makes a wonderful warm-up/cool-down after a long run.

Errand 7
Personal Care and Health
Snap Fitness

Back to Snap again for the 4th and final time. The previous evening I did a 9.5 slug out with the treadmill. This morning was an easier 3.0 to finish out the marathon challenge. All I know is that it is time to start training for Almanzo, and I am through with running indoors. I've mentioned it before, but the Banjo Bros Saddle trunk is working pretty well as a gym bag. Also: with the exception of the mall, there is not a single business in town that has a bike rack. I may have to start complaining.

Errand 8
Brothers Bike Shop
Calm before the storm

Time to sink or swim. I work part time at a small bike shop not far from my home. Over the winter, things get very quiet, so much so that I had not worked in the shop since late November. Now I was back, but my boss was gone for the weekend, so it's just me and the bike mad masses. RAGBRAI will be starting about 15 miles from my shop, and spring  fever had everyone all frothing at the mouth to get out. The morning went by in a blur, but I think I was able to get everything and everyone sorted out and happy.

Errand 9
Bike Shop
Brothers Bike Shop

NEW BIKE DAY! I am proud to welcome the newest member of my family's bike stable: The Civia Prospect. Though this bike was built to be used as a quick commuter/light touring bike, I think it has excellent potential as a gravel bike (comes with 32 mm stock, can go 35 mm without issue). The plan is to use this bike for the Almanzo 100 in May. If nothing else, it is a very pretty bike with enormous capability. I had intended to assemble the bike last weekend, but the very busy shop kept me from it. This meant getting to the shop at around 5am, which is early even for me. I'm a bit new at the bike assembly business, so this was actually the first bike I've put together that required cutting the steerer tube to length. Lets just say I took my time. Since the pedals for the new bike are at my house, I towed the new bike while riding my old city bike. I don't suppose that means I can double my mileage, since I was "riding" two bikes? (I'm also counting this as "Bike Shop" and not "Work" because I did not draw a wage assembling my own bike)
The Prospect fully set up.  Also, a giant pile o' gravel.
I trespassed to get this photo. Hope that's okay.

Errand 10
Store which is not a Grocery
Really, this is a photo of me with a bag of bags strapped to my back.
I'm bad at selfies.
Here's your oddball errand. We try to recycle our plastic bags, (I know, we should use reusable bags, we're trying) and the places in town that accept them are the local grocery stores and Wal-Mart. Our pantry was overflowing with plastic bags, so my mission was to simply get rid of them. Here's your 1st world problem: which bike? We have the old bike with a giant rack which would easily accept my bag o' bags, or the new (hellloooo shiny) road bike which had no provisions for a bulky load like this. The problem was solved by using bungee cords to strap the giant bag of bags to my back. I may have garnered a bunch of stares in the Wal-Mart parking lot looking like a very late Father Christmas, but I'm too bike happy to care.

Errand 11
Hulst Library (Dordt College)

Some quick work with a calculator revealed that I was barely half way to satisfying the mileage requirement for the Errandonnee. Some shameless padding was required. The library in question is about 3/4 of a mile from my home. The route I took looks something like this:
Basically direct route to the library to return a DVD, then proceeded to do a very good impression of someone seriously lost. One of the bad parts of a small town is I'm confined to this mess for training when it's too dark to ride in the country. It gets really old. But this was the first little shakedown ride for the new road bike, and I think that we'll do well together. The Prospect is technically the same size as my old road bike, same material, same tire width, built with the same focus, but they are very different animals. The Prospect feels much more stretched out, due in part to having STI and some very wide handlebars(48mm vs the 40mm of my old bike). The bike feels like riding a very sedate bull sometimes. Due somewhat to the expansive feeling of the bike, it doesn't feel as snappy as my older bike, whether that actually means it's slower is harder to quantify. The other big thing I've noticed is how quiet the bike is. I keep my Sekai in pretty good order, but it is still a 25 year old bike, and bits always rattle. The Prospect is like riding a ghost. A bull ghost.

Errand 12
Wild Card
All Seasons Center (Indoor Fair)
2.7 Miles

The Sioux Center Indoor fair is a local business promotion event. Area business set up booths, and you can ask them questions, and they try to sell you stuff. There are giveaways and food on the cheap, and its generally a good time. The kids and I arrived with one very specific goal in mind: Get a balloon. If you have young children, you know that at all costs, you MUST GET THE BALLOON. We got a balloon, then got out of there. By the way, a balloon flying behind your bike makes for an excellent driver attention getting device. No pictures of the balloon, sorry.

Errand 13
Coffee Shop
The Fruited Plain
Oh, the glamorous places you'll go.
We're into bonus territory here because I needed a few more miles to get over the minimum. My daughter shares a birthday month with MG (Cake for everyone!). My wife decided to make an Elsa dress for my daughter because she's the coolest mother in the world. She had completed the dress with the exception of some serging that needed to be done along the hem. This a problem, but fortunately we have some friends in well equipped places who were more than happy to finish the dress off. A pound of coffee was agreed upon as payment (Perhaps a bit generous, but if you need to serge and you do not have a serger, you're sunk). After padding my route a bit, I swung by the shop, stuffed the coffee into the Banjo Bros bag, and called it an erranndonee.

Thanks again to MG to hosting this event and helping all of us welcome spring with some proper bike riding. The Errandonne always gets me out when the weather says stay in. I hope all of you reading have a wonderful and safe spring.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


This winter's weather has kept many (myself included) inside far more days than we would wish. All that time inside has left me with too much time to think about being on the bike instead of thinking while on the bike. The question of "why" has been most common in my mind. Specifically, I want to know why I would want to do the Almanzo 100. Here are my thoughts now, I'm interested to see what they look like after the event.

I ride - more specifically I train - for the Almanzo because it is impossible. It is effectively impossible right now for me to go out and complete the 100 hilly miles of the Almanzo. Even if I could slug it out through hills and headwinds, it would be an experience so miserable in prospect that I would be unlikely to even begin.

Before 2012, I had a pretty no-growth view of myself. I had not been involved in an athletics in school, and my attempts at running had led to completing a very frustrating and humiliating 5k in 2011. When RAGBRAI came through in 2012, I fed off the motivation that comes for training for such a public event. Despite my training that summer, I have never completed a ride that left me so beaten. But the ride did plant in my mind the notion that "I can" or at least "I could if I trained." That was new, that was an idea that opened up the possibility of more rides, of longer distances and of harder courses.

2013 was rather quiet in the early part of the year, I did some shorter rides, but RAGBRAI plans fell through. After RAGBRAI, training picked up in preparation for my first century. That ride went quite well, surprisingly well, in spite of some nasty weather.

A few months after the century ride, I participated in a 7 mile run on the grounds of the Living History Farms in Urbandale (Des Moines) Iowa. This is a very hilly cross country run that includes several creek crossings where you will get wet. It was also the week before Thanksgiving, and about 18 F. Not being naturally inclined towards running (I was generally one of the slowest runners in my class) I was surprised that I could train for, and actually enjoy an event like this.

So now Almanzo. By virtue of its length and topography, I fully expect this ride to push me harder than anything I've ever done.

In the end, I believe the answer to the question "why?" is "because I can." Which sounds shallow and dumb, but it was that realization that I could train myself to become capable of rides like this that in turn enabled me to dream about doing something that was formally impossible. It is that desire to enable and enjoy my potential that gets me up and out when the weather is absolutely against me.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Memory and Humiliation

One of the most distinct memories I have of riding last year happened around mile 60 of the century ride my brother and I did in Sept 2013. We were both feeling the positive effects of a good meal an hour previous, we had no wind, the path was extremely flat and smooth, and were heading back for home. We took turns pulling each other in roughly mile long shifts. I felt no fatigue, just a smooth rhythm at 20 mph. It was awesome.

That feeling is long gone. The few rides that I've managed to sneak in this year have been slogs, usually against a wall of wind dragging against the multiple layers of clothing I've been forced to don. While this feeling isn't surprising, it is nonetheless discouraging. Prior to 2013, I've never been "in shape" in an athletic sense, so I've never had much to lose. A photo of me a year ago does not look that different from what I looked like at "peak" a few months ago, I lost maybe ten lbs, a good portion of which are back. Now I know what being in shape feels like, and I want it back.

This summer and fall I could run eight miles at a stop, which had never been possible before. I could bike for a hundred miles and feel pretty good. I could storm through loose gravel without gasping for breath. While my running legs are still mostly functioning, thanks to occasional runs through December, getting hard miles on the bike has been tough, and I feel like I've lost my engine.

Enough griping, here is what the plan going forward looks like:

Live Healthy Iowa. I'm teamed up with my wife on this 10 week program. She wants to run her first 5k sometime this year, I would love to drop into the sub 210 or 200 pound range. The program involves tracking weight loss and time exercised  as well as access to classes and discounts at the local ice rink and indoor swimming pool. There is also food entry, which'll keep me honest about my snacking. I'm not doing anything fancy (eat less, eat healthy, exercise like mad), but I want to drive down my weight into numbers not seen since high school. At a minimum, I need to either run or ride on a daily basis. I also need to work on core strength to make those rough road more bearable.

On a side note, I was very surprised to find out that RAGBRAI is coming back to Sioux County! The ride will be starting in Rock Valley which is about 15 miles from me. The shop I work for is the closest local bike shop to the start, so I anticipate things will be very busy come spring.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Spring 2014

Now that we've cleared the holidays, the old year recaps and the new year resolutions, not to mention the polar vortex (ice beards for all!), its time to start planning the spring.

Spring is going to be busy for reasons altogether new to me. I've never been much of an athlete either in comparison with other people in my family, or my classmates in school. So I find it very strange to be training hard right through the nastiness of subzero temps for the Almanzo 100 and the Dam to Dam 1/2 marathon, which take place 14 days apart from one another this coming May.

The Almanzo 100 has been on my mind since I started hearing rumblings about it last year in association with Trans Iowa and the Dirty Kanza 200. Unlike either of those extremely demanding rides, the Almanzo is shorter at "only" 100 miles (it is also free!). After watching the promo video filmed during the 2012 version, I needed to do this ride.


The Almanzo is also important because it planted the seed in my mind that riding on gravel with a road bike was not only possible but a ton of fun. That seed grew into a summer of training on the unpaved roads around my hometown. That unpaved training worked me harder for each mile and opened my eyes to the wonderful ride options in my area. After a successful first century this past September, I feel like I have a fighting chance of completing this ride.

I agreed to run the the Dam to Dam with my father and brother almost as an afterthought. I did the 7 mile Living History Farms run with them this November, and that went pretty well. The LHF run is a very difficult cross country run from a topographic standpoint, with several creek crossings (it was about 18 deg F) and steep hills that are crawled up more than climbed. I felt that running the flat and mostly downhill Dam to Dam half marathon should be easy by comparison, even with the extra miles.

But then I noticed that these two events take place exactly 2 weeks apart. While that should be plenty of time to recover from the Almanzo, it means that I need to train for both these events simultaneously. So that's why, come rain or snow or bitter cold, I'll be out running. Once the roads get clean enough for the road bike (maybe this weekend) I'll start sprinkling in the training rides. My current regimen is 2 mi or longer runs every day, plus some core and upper body exercises(I would rather run in sub zero temps than do push-ups, for the record).

While I need to ride more than run, the poorly lit polished streets do not allow me to actually ride hard enough to train, and the bike itself is not well suited to winter riding. The weather this weekend looks promising.

The big push is the contracted training window. Last year I had all spring and summer to train for a century. The Almanzo is in May, and it'll be March before I can count on ice and snow free roads. So 2 1/2 good months of riding, 3 at best. I'll keep in touch.

Unrelated: While I obviously support the idea of riding through the winter, I question the use of many of the "winter cycling clothing" articles that have appeared in the past month. Specialized clothing is almost universally expensive. While that's fine for people riding for recreation, for people seeking to ride as an economical form of transport it sends a message that winter riding is only for people who can afford the correct clothing. If you have clothing that you can walk in and still stay warm, you have clothing you can ride in.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Coffeenuering Rd 5

Coffee Shop #6
The Fruited Plain Cafe
Sioux Center
3.2 Miles

As promised  I saved the best for (nearly) last. I broke out the road bike for this ride, this perhaps being the final ride that I will take with this bike before putting it away for the winter. My old Sekai does many things well, but ice and snow are not one of them. Remarkably for this time of year, the weather was (relatively) wonderful.
The Fruited Plain Cafe is one of two shops in the entire county that you can actually order a genuine espresso at. That rarity probably makes me a bad judge of what makes a good/bad espresso, but I must say that I really enjoyed my double shot. The Fruited Plain also offers a pretty wide range of wine and beer (40 or so varieties of each) and makes some very fine baked goods (My wife being the producer of said goods has not influenced my opinion, I swear).
I remarked to the owner that things were quiet at the bike shop (fat biking has not caught on here yet, not sure if it ever will, we have almost no trails nearby). He noted that even with the nice weather, everyone is starting to hunker down for winter. Harvest is all in, gardens have been cleaned, leaves are mostly raked up, and now we wait for the white stuff.

Coffee Shop 6.5 (VOID)
The Fruited Plain Cafe
1.3 Miles

I know this coffeeneuing stop doesn't count, but it involves stroopwafels and cute small children with excessive amounts of hot chocolate.
Later this same day, I got a notice through Facebook that the Fruited Plain had home made stroepwafels for sale. I mentioned these Dutch treats before, but having them fresh is another level of tasty. I had also been promising to take my daughter out for hot chocolate, so off we went for another round of coffee (the things I do for this challenge...)
On our way over, we had to wait for a train. One side effect of the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline has been more of the Bakken oil field product being shipped by rail. Train traffic in our town has almost tripled since 2011. 

Leg header. Grain/feed is elevated, then dropped down one of the pipes
 for storage before loading out on a truck
Back to Stroopwafels.
As mentioned before, these are a traditional Dutch treat, consisting of a thin waffle that has been sliced (think like a bagel) then filled with caramel syrup. In my mind, they are the ultimate coffee dessert.
Remarkably, my daughter did not find them quite as amazing as I do, but her hot chocolate was another story.

I tried to emphasize that I wanted a very small hot chocolate for my daughter. It still looked like she was drinking from a soup bowl.
But doesn't seem to have been a problem for her.

Coffee Shop #7 (without walls)
Lat: 43.064091°
4.5 mi
Yerba Mate

Obviously, Iowa is flat and open. And obvious to anyone who has biked here, it gets pretty windy. You know what goes well with wind? Kites.

Highly specialized kite packing rig. 
The kite of choice is a 5' wide parafoil. Two nice features of a parafoil kite are its compact pack (no spars) and it's durability. You can crash these kites as hard as you want, and as long as you don't tear the fabric, its all good. The kite is a two string, which allows for very precise control. I'll admit that it is a bit tough to drink hot tea while flying a two string kite.

The odd perspective on the kite lines is from me trying to shoot from the chest
while flying a two handed kite. For scale, the lines are 100' long
The wind was steady, the sky a brilliant blue, and I'm wringing every minute I can from this out of season wonderful weather. Weekend is looking cold and wet (just in time for the Living history farms race) but I'll keep riding.

Thanks again to MG for continuing to host such fun (and odd) events. I greatly enjoyed this challenge, and look forward to reading about everyone's adventures.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Coffeeneuring Rd 4: All this for a cup of coffee

Coffee Shop #5
Dutch Bakery
221 Central Ave NE Orange City
21 Miles

While the "Coffee Shop without Walls" has kept me in the running for this year's challenge, it does start to feel like cheating after a bit. And while I don't think I can avoid having at least half of my stops be the "without walls" sorts, I felt compelled to put in a few miles to make up for it. Entry #5 will probably be about as far afield as I go this year.

The Dutch Bakery is located about ten miles from my home in the nearby town of Orange City. To be clear, we do not grow citrus in NW Iowa, rather the orange references William of Orange, and is yet another indicator of the Dutch obsessed corner of the world that I live in. Almost none of the offerings that the Dutch Bakery cranks out have anything to do with the Netherlands, but what this bakery does have going for it is its hours. This place is open from midnight until 5 pm, meaning that I could sneak a 20 mile ride for coffee before I needed to be home by 7:30.

I was rolling a bit before 6 am, which was about a half hour later than I had wanted. There was a headwind that would be an issue on the way back, and I would be taking all gravel. While there are two paved route options, both are some of the busiest roads in my area, and I had no desire to test them in the dark. Absolutely no one expects to see a bike rider out a full hour and a half before dawn out in the middle of nowhere. So I clipped on an extra flashing taillight, slipped on a reflective vest, and hoped for the best.

We had had light rain the night previous, so the roads were nice and firm without being tacky. This is a blessing because my headlights are bit under powered, so it's hard for me to judge where the best track is on the road. The sky was clear, but no moon, and the roads were dead quiet. The stars were amazing, Sirus burned like a torch.

Riding in the dark with poor lighting is a strange experience  I would find myself gasping for breath without knowing why, until I finally realized that I had started climbing a hill. The ever changing nature of the roads also kept me on my toes. In the dark, I can't tell if a smooth patch is packed hard or sandbox loose. With my 200+lb frame on 32mm tires, I find out in a hurry.

About 40 minutes later I rolled into Orange City, a town completely dark and quiet, except for my bakery.
It's hard to see, but my bike is lurking just to the left of that garbage can.
Also: To people with light temperature obsessions, I'm sorry.
Perhaps the owners think that as long as they have someone on the clock baking, they may as well try to sell a few rolls. Most of the day's goods were still cooling on racks in the back, so the nice guy behind the counter (looked like a linebacker with a Red Soxs grade beard) let me in back to pick straight from the rack. The other nice thing about this place are the prices. A coffee, a doughnut (for my wife) a pink smiley faced cookie (for my daughter) and a roll (for me!) cost $3. No idea how they turn a profit.

With no time to enjoy my loot, I loaded up and rolled out of town. I had been nice and warm, but now that cold wind was in my face, and I had cooled down while in the bakery. My highly specialized bike clothing (old pair of khakis, heavyweight work shirt) kept me shivering for a bit, but a few miles down the road and I was good again.

Dawn started to catch up with me a few miles from home. I know I've taken dozen of photos of the sunrise during this challenge, but I never get tired of this view.

A few miles later and I was home with enough time to get cleaned up and open up the bike shop. Then I finally got to enjoy the coffee (still hot in my thermos) and the roll that I had hammered 20 miles on the dark gravel to get. Effort makes for good flavor.