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2011 Diary

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May 25, 2011, Trail Closed, Biker Down

The Sixth Annual Christian Elder Memorial 900 is underway.  John and Dennis, along with our rookie support driver, Jim Elder, departed Minneapolis in the fully loaded RV.  The day was breezy and cloudy, and by the time we reached the Iowa border, it was more like a day in late March, cold and rainy.  We have struggled with the weather all spring as we have attempted to train, and the ride seems to be starting in the same fashion.  Regardless, we are prepared for almost all conditions.

We arrived in Des Moines just after noon for a rendesvous with Bob Benda, who drove from Fort Worth.  Our plan was to eat a quick lunch and to get a 30-mile jumpstart on our ride, in an attempt to accommodate our baseball viewing schedule.  It was still overcast and breezy, but the rain had ceased, as we departed on the Neal Smith Trail northbound.  We didn't get far before we came to our first “Trail Closed” sign.  Of course we went around the sign and continued on the trail, until the trail vanished into a pile of mud.  Turning around and back to our starting spot, we had all of 4 miles done.  We continued southbound on the trail less than a mile, where we were once again halted by construction.  The ride was not off to a good start.

Eventually, we made our way through downtown around numerous road closed signs and onto a trail along the Raccoon River.  The river level was high and overflowing the trail in a few spots, but we were able to make our way.  At one point John rounded a turn and hit a slick wet patch of pavement.  As his back tire slid out from underneath him, he tried to correct, but down he went in his best Bob Porter imitation.  Sorry, Bob, he jumped up too quickly for us to get any good action photos of him lying on the ground.  First John claimed that he was lucky that he didn't have his cell phone on his hip or he would have crushed the phone.  Then he claimed that he was lucky that the trail was wet, so he didn't get a road rash when he landed.  Of course, if he was truly lucky, the trail wouldn't have been wet in the first place.  And if this is his version of “lucky”, Bob and Dennis want no part of it!  We exchanged stories and laughed a lot while making sure John was ok. 

We finished the rest of our ride without incident and arrived back at our starting location, the Des Moines Botanical Center, where Jim had spent the afternoon touring.  After arriving at the Iowa State Fair campground, Joe Kranovich and Ron Nims, our friends and business associates from Des Moines took us to an Iowa Cubs baseball game.  We managed to sit through 6 innings in the chilly, windy ballpark, dressed in our coats, sweaters and one of us in a North Face parka.  Back at camp, we enjoyed our first slice of rhubarb pie, thanks to Sherry, and hit the sack.

May 26, 2011, Trail Open, Bike Down

The night was a cold one for sleeping, at least in the tin can trailer for John and Dennis, but everyone awoke well rested and ready for our first official ride day.  Jimmy was under pressure from the guys as he cooked his first CEM meal, and he came through with a great tray of french toast and bacon to fuel the day's ride.  Since we had failed to register for our campsite the previous night, we had a nasty-gram from security on the windshield.  John schmoozed the lady in the office, convincing her that our priorities were sound, and we were good to go.

We drove to the Raccoon River Trail in Jefferson to begin our ride.  Eight miles into the ride Dennis' rear tire blew.  John stopped to take pictures and generally cheerlead the tire change, making sure that Dennis had another tube and CO cartridge.  After about 100 yards the new tire blew, and Dennis jumped off his bike in time to notice that the air was coming out of the sidewall, meaning that the tire needs to be replaced and not just the tube.  An attempt to patch the tire using a dollar bill came to an abrupt halt when he tried to use the CO cartridge, only to learn that it was the wrong type.  Dennis walked back to Cooper and sent a message to John to bring the RV back.  An interesting fact learned during the wait:  Johnny Carson is the honorary 51st citizen of Cooper, Iowa!

Dennis' troubles did not deter Jimmy from his busy social calendar.  He was making lunch plans with his cousin, Jack Roth, his wife, Vanetta, and their daughter Nicole, our first official fans, who had driven over an hour to see Jimmy.  Bob and John loaded their bikes and drove back to Cooper to rescue Dennis.  After switching bikes, Dennis once again joined Bob and John on the trail.  We have ridden the trail several times previously, but the scenery was still amazing through the Iowa farm fields and small towns and along the river with numerous bridge crossings.  We all tried to remember to enjoy the scenery at times like these and not just focus on riding.

We finished the day in Waukee.  It had been a beautiful day to ride, breezy but sunny and temps in the 60's.  We are hoping for more days like these.  We drove back to the State Fairgrounds, where Jimmy grilled burgers and veggies before taking John on in a game of cribbage.  There is some dispute over who is the best cribbage player, and I am certain that 2 weeks is not going to resolve this.  We were a very lackluster group all evening, but we managed to stay awake until 10:00.  None of us should have any trouble sleeping tonight.

May 27, 2011, A Tale of Two Trails

We are learning that Jimmy is a little bit of a morning task-master, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.  Get up early, get some coffee, breakfast is on the table, get moving, the trail isn't going to ride itself.  We broke camp by 8:30, which is really quite an accomplishment with everything that needs to get done in the morning.  Future riders best be prepared for the 6 am wake-up call.

Our first mission was to find a new tire for Dennis.  After much internet searching and several phone calls, we took full heed of the biking culture.  The early morning bike shops opened at 10:00, but most not until 11:00 or noon.  Moving to Plan B, John, Bob and Dennis began biking on the High Trestle Trail, and Jimmy agreed to go to the bike shop in Ankeny.  The trail was outstanding with a smooth concrete and asphalt surface, including all road crossings.  We rode 20-plus miles before we came to the recently completed High Trestle Bridge, spanning the Des Moines River for one-half mile.  The view was amazing, so we stopped to take it all in and snap some photos.  We continued to the end of the trail in Woodward and then doubled back to Slater where Jimmy was waiting with lunch. 

After polishing off the remainder of the pasta salad Sherry sent with us (super yummy, by the way), Dennis put the new tire on the cyclo-cross, and we headed east on the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail.  We encountered some muddy sections, as expected from our trip through here last year, but it was much easier to navigate due to our prior experience.  There was a newly opened section of the trail between Maxwell and Cambridge, which was very scenic, but also eery in that there were absolutely no signs of civilization as we biked through a thick grove of trees.  At one point, though, we encountered a girl who was searching for her lost black lab.  She was very surprised to see bikers on this trail.

Unfortunately the trail conditions worsened dramatically the further we went, with patches of washed out gravel, sections of mud, other areas with grass covering and finally what can only be described as quicksand trying to suck our tires into the earth.  We all rode cautiously, but still struggled to keep our bikes upright, some of us more successfully than another.  After a grueling uphill ride into Collins, Bob stated that he never had so little fun, not that Bob would ever overstate anything.  We were almost to our 60-mile mark, but we had previously agreed to meet Jimmy in the next town, Rhodes.  John tried to reach Jimmy on his phone, but to no avail.  We had no choice but to continue riding.

Riding out of town on the highway to pick up the trail again, we came to a decision point...continue on this miserable trail or take the highway under the assumption that it went all the way to Rhodes.  We chose the highway, after consulting a passing driver, and biked into Rhodes, arriving with a 67 miles for the day.  Jimmy was waiting at the trailhead, which was about as nice as any campground we have stayed at over the years, complete with a shelter, picnic tables, restrooms and, to our surprise, electricity.  We decided to stay under the assumption that no town officials would ask us to leave.

Jimmy grilled chicken thighs and baked potatoes for dinner, and we settled into the RV for movie night.  John's selection was “The World's Fastest Indian”, starring Anthony Hopkins, viewed on our new flat panel TV and Blueray player.  Yes, sadly we retired the 13-inch box TV and VHS player.  We finished the night with rhubarb pie and ice cream and brownies, and once again were in bed by 10:00.

May 28, 2011, It's a Breeze

Our little campground in Rhodes worked out perfectly.  Bob commented that it had the perfect number of campers, which was the four of us.  The birds were singing wildly in the trees behind the trailer as we were awakened around 6 am.  The morning sky was cloudy, so Bob decided to make a small campfire.  He proudly announced that he only used one match to get the fire going and declared that one of his many nicknames is “One Match Bob”.  The rest of us were not inclined to argue over that one, so it is all his.

Jimmy whipped up some fantastic “Nederland” omelets on the grill, after which we got our bikes ready  to ride.  We were able to bike straight out of Rhodes to the north on a lightly traveled county road.  The wind was blowing from the southwest, and we were heading primarily north and east, a welcome development after yesterday's ride.  We were once again feeling very lucky.  In fact, we have been lucky the whole trip.  Reflecting on prior days, we were told by the girl with the lost dog that we were lucky it wasn't raining, Dennis was lucky that his tire blew so close to a town, and of course we all know about John's lucky bike crash.  We were going to call ourselves “The Three Amigos”, but we may have to change it to “Los Lucky Boys”.

About ten miles outside of Rhodes, we had to bike one mile on a 4-lane state highway.  Our side of the highway had one lane barricaded for road construction, but was otherwise passable.  Bob and Dennis rode through the barricade and traveled safely separate from traffic.  John for some reason rode in the single lane of traffic, but fortunately the traffic was very light.  Only later when we chuckled about it did John realize the obvious path he had neglected.

Jimmy had been lobbying hard since the night before for a stop in Union, where he has a “friend”.  We agreed to make Union our first stop, about a 25 mile stretch from Rhodes.  Jimmy stopped for groceries along the way and met us in Union.  We took a quick break and then headed west for 20 miles.  The wind from the southwest was a little more than we had bargained for, but we pedaled hard through it with the knowledge that we would be turning north with a tailwind for the remainder of the day.  By the way, Jimmy was unable to reach his friend in Union, but it was a nice thought.

We made our way quickly from Garden City, which sounds much nicer than it is, to Buckeye, the self-proclaimed “End of the Line”, an appropriate spot to end for the day.  The RV gray water tank was full, so we couldn't take showers until we dumped.  We picked Eldora on the map and drove 15 miles to a state park.  The park was full, too full for our liking anyway, but we used the dump station and drove back into town.  Luckily, Eldora is the county seat, and we drove to a secluded spot at the county fairgrounds with one other RV.  One of the city employees made sure the power was on and unlocked the showers for us...things were coming together quite nicely.

Jimmy cooked a batch of chili for dinner, after which we spent the evening reading, talking and another family duel in cribbage.  More rhubarb pie, brownies, ice cream and fresh strawberries followed, and that pretty much ended our day.

May 29, 2011, Rain, Wind, and a Dog 

Our little campground in Eldora worked out quite nicely.  It was quiet and secluded...we also learned that it housed POW's during World War II.  Our morning started with dark skies and light rain.  A radar and satellite search on Accuweather showed a mostly clear sky over the U.S., except for a giant swirling mass over Iowa.  Great!  We were in no hurry to get going as we drank our morning coffee and ate some of Jimmy's homemade oatmeal with nuts and blueberries. 

We had planned to ride east and south toward Cedar Rapids, but that seemed to be where the rain was heading.  Also, a check with our official Kids 'n Kinship windsock indicated that winds were blowing from the east.  As the rain stopped in Eldora, John and Dennis plotted a route to the west.  When Jimmy learned our route for the day, he said that he thought we were going to head to Cedar Rapids.  John told him that yes, indeed, we would eventually be.  Jimmy asked, “Isn't Cedar Rapids east?”.  Rookie...he still has so much to learn.

We packed up and drove a few miles to Steamboat Rock, where we once again dressed in our rain gear and began biking west.  Our first 20-mile leg back to Buckeye was a quick, wind-aided ride, although one 7-mile section was made up of bone-jarring, wrist-breaking cracks in the road.  During this ride an angry, vicious dog chased after Bob.  John tried coaxing Bob to slow down, so he could get a picture of Bob with the dog on his heels.  Bob declined to cooperate, so we have no photo documentation of the event.

We continued west another 20 miles to Kamrar, a particularly odd name for a town in Iowa.  Jimmy had prepared sandwiches and cut up watermelon for our lunch stop.  Our last 20-mile stretch to Stratford was south and west, and by now the wind was blowing very strong from the east.  As Dennis biked south out of Stratford, Jimmy approached in the RV and moved to pass.  Dennis only heard the squeal of tires braking on the highway, a very unsettling sound.  Apparently, just as Jimmy had switched lanes to pass, a pickup had also switched into the left lane to pass the RV.  According to Jimmy, the pickup hit the left shoulder of the highway and momentarily slid out of control before the driver was able to correct the spin and continue on.  Luckily Dennis could see none of this as it occurred, and both vehicles were past him in an instant.  It is a reminder to all of us that things can happen quickly out on the road, and caution must always prevail.

After showering we drove back to the campground in Eldora.  In honor of Bob's last night with us, Jimmy cooked steaks and veggies on the grill, and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner.  We sat outside and enjoyed the evening until darkness came.  Inside the RV, we all enjoyed brownies with ice cream and strawberries and watched the end of the NASCAR race on TV, after which we made our way to bed.

May 30, 2011, Oh What a Day!

First of all, Happy 75th Birthday to Audrey Hill (Dennis' mom)!  Also, we hope everyone had a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.  Our Memorial Day was interesting, to say the least, and someday we will be able to laugh...maybe not so much today.

The day started out well enough.  The wind was blowing hard from the south, so we found a 20-mile section of northbound highway ending in Dike, Iowa.  We only needed 20 miles to finish up our first 300 miles, so this was perfect.  The road and wind conditions were outstanding as we cruised to the finish, the three of us averaging between 22.1 and 26.5 mph, all with big smiles as we coasted into the stopping point.  The country cemeteries were numerous and in their glory, the flags lined up and blown straight by the wind.  We all considered the meaning of Memorial Day and the significance to us individually, remembering always that this is a memorial ride in honor of Christian.

After spending less than an hour biking, we showered and loaded up for Cedar Rapids, where we were to meet Kathy at the ballpark.  Pulling into Cedar Rapids our day took a bad turn, literally.  Coming off the freeway in a tight loop, we took a right turn to travel back underneath the road.  Next came a loud crash of noises and debris dropping through the roof.  Can anyone guess the height of the RV?  We now know it is exactly 9' 2”, excluding everything that used to sit on top.  That is also the height of the bridge we were traveling under.  After a quick stop, we backed up to assess the damage.  All of the vents, the antenna, and the air conditioner were no longer on the roof.  Actually, we found the air conditioner unit balancing on top of the trailer, not quite envisioning how it got there.  We cleared the debris and threw it all in the trailer, including the air conditioner, snapped some photos for the insurance company (our agent will be thrilled), and contemplated our next move.

We opted to head to Home Depot for supplies to at least waterproof the top and ensure that we didn't have any electrical issues.  Everything was still functioning, except for the air conditioner, which left some exposed wires when it was sheared from the roof.  In a collaboration between Elder-Jones and Westwood, and using electrical tape, wire nuts, corrogated signs, thick poly and lots of duct tape, we had the rooftop looking like new in about 2 hours.  Ok, maybe not quite new.  But we are hoping to hold this all together until we finish the trip, since this could otherwise result in the end of the ride.

Bob had a bit of a smirk on his face as he loaded up to leave us, a look that seemed to say, “there is no way this is going to hold up for 10 more days”.  We shall see.  It was great riding with Bob again this year, and the rest of the CEM boys (and girl) appreciate his participation. 

Needless to say, we missed the Kernels ballgame.  Kathy whined (a little) that she missed a scheduled game again this year.  Nobody displayed much empathy.  After our repairs, we stopped at a laundromat to wash our dirty clothes and then found a State campground, Pleasant Creek Recreation Area.  Jimmy grilled burgers, and later we had rootbeer floats for dessert.  Bedtime came early once again.

May 31, 2011, Rain or Shine

We awoke to a light rain a little before 6:00 and quickly dismantled the tent.  A check of the radar showed a line of showers and storms extending from the middle of Missouri on the south all the way into Minnesota on the north and moving easterly toward us.  The heaviest showers appeared to be a couple of hours away, so we decided on a quick breakfast of cereal and toast and broke camp very early, not even completing the previous day's diary before departing.  We drove a few miles to Center Point and started pedaling south on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail for a 15-mile round trip, not venturing too far from the RV in case thunderstorms would close in on us.

Shortly after the turnaround point Dennis felt the unmistakeable deflating of his rear tire, same bike and same tire that had given him trouble a few days earlier.  John stopped to assist with the change, and we checked the tire and the rim for any indications of a flaw.  Finding nothing apparent, we put in a new tube and decided that Dennis should ride ahead of John to the finish in the event that there would be more problems.  Near the end of the trip back to the RV the tire went flat again.  Feeling frustrated, Dennis stubbornly decided not to waste another tube until there was time to better diagnose the problem, and he walked his bike to the RV.  He walked slightly more than a mile, which was further than he originally thought it would be, and switched to his road bike.

Although it had rained lightly on this first section of the ride, the clouds were not nearly as dark to the north as we headed 16 miles toward Brandon.  Our trail, in theory, was composed of crushed limestone, but the further we went, the less limestone we saw.  Sections were overgrown with tall weeds and flowers...Kathy told us later that she had the song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” playing in her head, although there were no tulips to be seen.  The trail was increasingly difficult to navigate, especially with the road bikes Kathy and Dennis were riding, and our pace slowed.  We finally made it to Brandon, where a certain City leader must have had an odd fascination with skillets.

For some reason we continued on the trail, which was closed after 2 more miles.  We were aware that it was closed for a bridge replacement, made necessary by the heavy rains and flooding 3 summers earlier  when a couple of these bridges had been completely wiped out.  I am slowly leaning something about these crushed limestone trails in Iowa...they aren't worth a hill of beans.  I'm really not sure what that means, but I remember my Grandpa saying it when I was a kid, and he seemed like the kind of guy who knew what a hill of beans was worth.

We had been riding for nearly 3 hours and still had 25 miles to go, so we headed for the open road.  The clouds had cleared completely, and the sun shone brightly.  We rode through beautiful rolling Iowa farmland, and finished the ride on a pig farm.  We drove back to a campground we had seen earlier in the day along Wapsipinicon River in Quasqueton, stopping for a couple dozen farm fresh eggs along the way.  The campground was quiet and pretty, but completely lacking in facilities, absent a dump station and showers and the restroom a 2-seater outhouse.  We all like each other well enough, but not that much!  Ironically, it turned out to be our most expensive campground, too, after the camp lady returned to charge us an additional $10 for pitching a tent.

Jimmy cooked veggies on the grill and grilled chicken thighs.  After dinner Dennis worked on catching up the diary and pictures and John worked on roof repairs.  There will be more repairs forthcoming, I'm afraid.  We finished the night with rootbeer floats and turned in early once again, thinking that a movie might just put some of us to sleep.

June 1, 2011, WHAT?  Find That Girl

Quasqueton provided a great night of sleep, as we got off to our latest morning start so far.  We enjoyed more of Jimmy's omelets for breakfast, packed up the RV and drove to the trailer park (yes, trailer park) to dump the RV.  And what a dump station it was, complete with a pulley and crank to lift the wooden deck structure covering the hole.  Nice!

We unloaded our bikes in Quasqueton and took off on county road D47, which zigzagged 16 miles to Ryan.  Dennis arrived in Ryan first.  Then Jimmy.  Then John.  But no Kathy.  She had apparently been distracted by a shiny object at the last turn toward Ryan and continued straight south on W63.  Kathy didn't know she was off course until she came to a T in the road with no town in sight.  John sent an email message to Jan Belmore, Executive Director of Kids 'n Kinship, stating, “Much better day today – sunny and 70's, light breeze at our back.  We have lost Kathy but are otherwise unconcerned”.  Jan's response: “WHAT? Find that girl!” 

In reality, Kathy was able to reach us by phone, and we directed her 3 miles east to Coggon.  John and Dennis loaded their bikes, and we drove to Coggon to pick her up.  There were no great continuous roads for us to ride from here, and we seemed to be traveling farther away from our end-of-week destination.  Since we were loaded already, we decided to travel 70 miles west to Lincoln to ride a 40-mile stretch of county roads east to Brandon (the wind may have been blowing from the southeast, but we would never let such a thing factor into our decision-making process).  Somewhere along the drive, the RV developed a sun roof as we lost our makeshift vent covering.  Oh well, more to deal with later.

We disembarked in Lincoln at 2:00, still with over 40 miles to ride.  The day was absolutely beautiful, bright sunshine and 80 degrees with a nice, cooling breeze.  We rode through the rolling countryside and made a couple of brief stops for water and snacks along the way, finishing up around 6:00.  We showered and then stopped for groceries before heading to Waterloo in search of Home Depot where we stopped for more supplies.  It was nearing darkness by the time we reached George Wyth State Park on the north side of Waterloo. 

Rain was in the forecast, so John and Dennis jumped on the roof with a handsaw, wood, silicone, screws and a cordless drill to close our sun roof.  John commented that Jay Saterbak should be riding with us now, because he would have taken over the job and gotten it done more effectively while we sat around and enjoyed the evening.  We believe our work was top-notch, though, and that's all that matters right now.  Jimmy grilled steak and baked potatoes, and we mixed in a salad, as we ate in the dark with our little battery-powered lantern.  Dennis and Kathy went to bed while the Elders continued their brotherly cribbage duel.

June 2, 2011, North by Northwest

A thunderstorm rolled through at 5:30 a.m., waking Dennis and Kathy, who quickly dismantled their tent and made it into the RV just before the rain hit.  And the rain hit hard.  Our repair job on the front vent was not quite waterproof yet, so a bucket was needed for drip collection.  Within a couple of hours the rain had passed, and we began our daily preparations, first and foremost a bowl of Jimmy's oatmeal with milk and coffee for breakfast.

John climbed back onto the roof to complete the repairs.  The rest of us were suggesting that we ought to call in one of brother Joe's roofing crews, but John persisted.  In fact, upon completion of the task, John declared a 100% guarantee that we will lose none of these coverings for the duration of our trip.  There was no such guarantee regarding water-tightness, however, but we will probably get the opportunity to check that out based on the current weather patterns.

There was a chance of rain and thunderstorms all day, and it was also going to be very windy.  After a check of the weather, we noted that the wind finally seemed to be blowing in our favor as we drove 30 miles north of Waterloo to begin our day in Plainfield.  As we got our bikes ready to go, Kathy noticed a problem with her tire, a couple of small bulges near a very worn spot.  We debated the options, but ultimately decided to decrease the tire pressure from 115 psi to about 70 psi, thereby putting less pressure on the defect, and let her ride it out.  John agreed to stay behind Kathy, so she wouldn't be stuck out on the highway by herself if the tire blew.  And who said chivalry was dead?

The wind was blowing from the southeast as we biked primarily to the west, stopping briefly in Greene, where we agreed on chili for dinner and a movie afterward, Alfred Hitchcock's “North by Northwest”.  We rode another 20 mile stretch to Sheffield, during which we crossed the halfway point of Kathy's 300 mile ride and Dennis and John's 900 mile ride.  In celebration we did a half-hoist of the bikes.  After debating the direction for our last 23-mile leg, with Kathy lobbying to go north, John agreed after she said then we will have gone “north by northwest” for the day.  She does know how to push his buttons.

We plotted a course northbound to Burchinal.  Upon arriving at the mapped location of Burchinal, we found no sign for the town, only a few houses off to the right, and no Jimmy.  Jimmy had understandably driven right past and continued about 5 miles down the road.  A phone call from John confirmed this, and we biked down the road to the finish at just over 60 miles. 

We drove down to Beeds Lake State Park, set up camp and ate our chili at the picnic table.  We finished the night in the RV as planned watching “North by Northwest” and eating popcorn cooked in bacon grease in a deformed kettle with no lid...talk about challenging.  It was nearly 11:00 when we collapsed into bed for the night.

June 3, 2011, Hot, Hot, Hot

The wind blew strong all through the night; at times it seemed like the tent was going to take off.  The forecast was for more strong winds for the day, which was going to dictate our route.  It was also going to be very hot today, in the 90's with a heat index near 100.  The earlier we could get on the road the better, so we ate a quick and easy breakfast and worked together to get things done.

The CEM boys were prepared to send Kathy out on her bike again with no changes...hey, the tire held for one day, so why not two?  It was quite apparent that Kathy did NOT think this was a great plan, but after she said “It's fine” a few times, Dennis knew that there was only one way to correctly deal with the situation.  We unloaded the bikes and began working on them.  The picnic area became a mini version of a bike repair shop.  Dennis took the tire and tube off Kathy's bike and replaced it with the new tire and tube from his cyclo-cross while John cleaned and prepped his bike.  We really need a day off to deal with a couple of these tire issues and to give the bikes a good cleaning after riding so many days in the rain and mud.

After loading the bikes and driving to Austinville, we took out the windsock to confirm that the wind was indeed blowing straight from the south.  We had a route planned mostly to the north on county highways, and off we went.  It was only 10:15 when we got on the road, but it was already steamy hot.  Of course the temperatures would go from mostly 60's straight to the 90's with none of the pleasant stuff in between. 

We rode the first 20 miles very quickly to Aredale, refilled our water, ate some snacks and continued north.  A few miles later we came to a closed road; Jimmy was waiting for us.  We debated our options, but ultimately decided on a 1 or 2 mile gravel road shortcut that Jimmy found on the GPS.  The shortcut worked splendidly and we continued riding east and north to Rockford.  The crosswinds while riding east were ferocious, but turning back to the north it felt absolutely like an oven.  We traveled at about the same speed as the wind, 20-25 mph, and there was no breeze at all to cool us.  We rolled into Rockford a little bit gassed.

After a picnic with fresh cherries, watermelon and sandwiches at the city park in Rockford, we headed out for our last leg, stopping for more water at a convenience store along the way.  It was a flat road mostly northbound, so it was a very easy finish.  We were now northeast of Mason City and getting ever nearer the Minnesota border, but we need to be in Des Moines for another baseball game by Saturday night, so we loaded and made a 2-hour drive south past Ames to Ledges State Park.  We thought about taking Jimmy out for dinner along the way, but decided instead to have him cook burgers, corn on the cob, and baked beans for us at our campsite.

After dinner we sat outside and battled mosquitoes for the first time on the trip.  It was still very warm, almost 90 degrees inside the RV, and there was very little breeze coming through our sheltered campground, so John rigged a fan for himself in the trailer.  We ate ice cream bars and root beer floats, declared the day a success, and headed to bed.

June 4, 2011, What a Difference a Day Makes!

The overnight temperatures dropped nicely, and everyone claimed to get a great night of sleep.  The morning sky was overcast, but it felt much cooler than yesterday, and there was nary a breeze coming through our campground.  Jimmy cooked bacon and eggs and omelets with toast as we readied ourselves for the day.  On our way out of the campground, we stopped to check out the outdoor movie theater, complete with bench seating and a painted white plywood screen.  “North by Northwest” may have been the most recent new release movie to play there.

We drove about 40 minutes to Jefferson to ride again on the Raccoon River Trail back toward Des Moines.  John initially had a flat tire on “Rocket”, but after checking the tire and changing the tube, he inflated it and declared it fit.  Then as he started pedaling the chain was slipping on the sprocket.  A minor adjustment seemed to fix the problem.

After the riders took off down the trail before 10:30,  Jimmy stopped at the bell tower in Jefferson, but was disappointed to find it closed until noon.  Maybe next time.  A light, cooling rain fell as we rode the first 17 miles to Yale, where we met Jimmy for a snack.  We continued down to Redfield and thoroughly enjoyed our ride.  We were in no particular hurry today as we watched for wildlife along the trail, beginning with a large turtle pacing himself across the path, followed by bright red cardinals and only our second indigo bunting spotting of the ride, this one by Kathy.  We saw numerous other birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer, but the highlight was a baby raccoon standing on the edge of the trail, scared and shaking while John moved in for a closeup photo to send to his grandkids.

The section of trail near Redfield is particularly scenic, so we chose this point to ride back 5 miles to ensure that we would have our 60 miles for the day...we have so many pictures to choose from for the diary.  We finished the ride through Adel and into Waukee.  After being passed by a 20-something triathlete, Dennis pursued him the last 10 miles to the finish, but lost ground the whole way.  Must be getting too old for this.  All day was beautiful and calm, a great contrast to one day earlier, and it was a great way to finish Kathy's 300-mile ride and the first 600 for John and Dennis.

We made our way to the Iowa State Fairgrounds again and waited for Joe and Ron to pick us up for another attempt at an Iowa Cubs baseball game.  The night was perfect for a game, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, especially compared to last week's winter-like game.  We ate brats, Chicago dogs, popcorn, fresh-roasted peanuts, and funnel cakes!  And, oh yeah, there was a ballgame, too, which the hometown squad won 10-4 over the Omaha Royals.

After the game Joe dropped us off back at our campsite, and we wasted no time getting to bed.  No need for cribbage or rootbeer floats or anything else tonight, just a soft pillow and comfortable bed.

June 5, 2011, Finally, a Day Off!

Congratulations, Dante, on your graduation from high school today!!  John finds it hard to believe that the 11 year old boy he met seven years ago is now a high school graduate ready to attend college.  Both he and Sherry send their best wishes to Dante as he makes this life transition.

We slept later than we have all week, 7:30, maybe later?  It didn't really matter.  It was a day of leisure, and we intended to take full advantage.  Funny thing about those lazy days, though: they tend to slip by very, very fast.

After we ate a breakfast of french toast, bacon, eggs and V8, Kathy packed her gear and got ready to head home.  It has been another quick 5 days of riding, and the CEM boys appreciate Kathy's hard work and tough riding.  We also appreciate having a feminine touch to our rugged ways, such as the clean toilet in the RV, complements of John, who feels obligated to make this somewhat tolerable for Kathy.  We said our good-bye's, including a hug from Jimmy.  Bob barely got a handshake from Jimmy when he left, so we all know where he rates.

After Kathy left we spent an hour or so doing absolutely nothing productive before heading to our first Starbucks stop since the day we departed.  John was suffering from withdrawal, and he had a Starbucks gift card burning a hole in his pocket, courtesy of Kids 'n Kinship.  The gift card, that is, not the hole in his pocket.  We followed the GPS coordinates, which took us to a Starbucks within a Target store.  It was double bonus day for the CEM boys, since we needed to stop at Target anyway.  Here we once again debated the merits of rigging a window air conditioner in the RV.  The forecast shows the next few days back into the mid-90's, and air conditioning sure would be nice.  On the other hand, precisely how is this going to work?  In the end we settled for 3 new fans to go with the one we already have.  They were on sale for $15.99, and we saw no fewer than 4 other people walking out with them, so we felt like we were a big part of a larger trend.

We sat in the air conditioned Starbucks, enjoying our coffee immensely and reading the paper.  We knew that we still had other chores, so we moved on to a laundromat for our second and final laundry day of the year.  We may have found our best laundromat ever; if anyone needs to do their laundry in Des Moines, we would highly recommend Susy's.  Next door was an authentic Mexican fast food restaurant with tacos and enchiladas and tortas, so we took a lunch break while we had the time.  We finished the laundry and made a stop for groceries before heading back to the campground to meet with our new rider Dennis, who shall hereafter be referred to as Denny, lest we all get confused.  Thanks from Denny and the rest of us to Grayson and Andrea for taking the day to drive Denny to Des Moines from Minneapolis.

After settling in for a while, Dennis woke Jimmy from his nap to make dinner (he was awake before the rest of us this morning).  Denny got to enjoy his first camp meal, and what a meal it was...steak and asparagus and baked potatoes.  The temperature was down to 91 in the RV, but we sat outside for the evening where it was a cool 90 or so.  This could be a hot few days, which will bring back memories and stories of our childhoods without air conditioning.  Yes, kids, there was such a time.  It was a much simpler time, too, when we also walked to school every day, uphill.  It was a perfect night for rootbeer floats, and we savored each spoonful before taking a cool shower and going to bed, complete with our 4 fans.

June 6, 2011, It's 102 Degrees and the Refrigerator Broke, But We Are Otherwise Unconcerned

Knowing that it was going to be a hot one, we had pretty much everything ready to go when we awoke at 6:00.  It had actually cooled overnight much more than we expected, and our sleeping was good.  We drank our morning coffee, ate some oatmeal and toast, and packed up the RV, hoping to get an early start.  We drove to Bondurant in search of the Chichaqua Valley Trail, but in very typical fashion there were no trail markings whatsoever.  After meandering a bit, we found the trail head.

We unloaded our bikes and started getting ready when a biker came by and told us that the first section of the trail was closed.  Not to be deterred, we plotted a route on county roads to reconnect with the trail for the last 15 miles of the 20-mile asphalt trail into Baxter.  Our ride began at 8:45 as we were determined to get some miles in before it got really hot.  The trail was very nice with lots of shade trees.

In Baxter we switched from the trail to county roads east and north.  Our route was to then turn west on a county road into State Center.  US Highway 30 runs parallel to that county road, and Denny decided to try that instead.  He realized his error and backtracked to the correct route, where Dennis was waiting for him to ride through State Center and to catch the right road out of town.  We rode north to Clemons, which bills itself as “size of a dime, heart of a dollar”.  It must be mandatory in small-town Iowa to put up a sign declaring something.  The Clemons sign is good, but our favorite so far is “best little town by a dam site” next to the dam in Quasqueton.

By the time we reached Clemons it was well past noon, so we stopped for sandwiches and attempted to cool down.  We were 48 miles into the ride, but by now the pavement was cooking.  Rather than thinking about how hot it was getting, we tried to just focus on the last 12 miles.  Even though we finished the ride into Liscomb with a tailwind, the heat of the day had sapped the energy from all of us.  I'm not sure if we were happy or just relieved to be done with the ride.  After one day Denny may be questioning his judgment in accepting John's invite to ride with us.

As we drove to our campsite, one of the bank signs was showing 102 degrees.  No wonder we feel drained.  At least our early start enabled us to get to our campsite on Otter Creek Lake by 4:00, just in time to sit inside our hot RV, which was 95 degrees, but which John stated was very comfortable.  Sure could use an air conditioner.  Oh, by the way, the refrigerator is no longer working.  Sweet!

We all relaxed and ate chips with Dennis' homemade salsa until Jimmy got the burgers going.  After eating dinner outside at a shaded picnic table, we cleaned up and selected “The Dirty Dozen” for movie night.  The RV was still showing 97 degrees, so we ran the engine and air conditioner for the entire movie, finally dropping it to a chilly 86 by the end.  The rootbeer floats were very good, even though the ice cream was getting soft.  After the movie we moved all of the perishable food from the refrigerator to a cooler with ice, throwing out some dairy products which were already spoiling.  It was after 11:00 as we rigged the fans again, sprayed some Raid to take care of our gnat infestation in the trailer and collapsed into bed.  What a wonderful day!

June 7, 2011, We Will Not Abandon the Mother Ship

Morning came quickly meaning it turned out to be another decent night to sleep.  The fans are doing the job at this point, and it looks like we have to get through another couple of days in this heat.  The dog days of summer shouldn't be in early June, but here we are.  Jan Belmore has suggested that it is about time to check into a hotel, and Jimmy has really taken a liking to this idea.  We heard him lobbying for the hotel all day, but John has stated that we will not abandon the mother ship.

Even though we were trying to get on the road even earlier this morning, we took time for bacon and eggs with toast for breakfast.  We drove to the camp entrance and discussed the route.  We could bike directly from camp to get on the road even sooner, but this option included biking into a headwind for about 5 miles of our first leg.  Or we could drive to a better starting point, thereby delaying our start.  We decided on option 1, and what a great decision it was.  The first 16 miles today was stunning!  The scenery was absolutely amazing as we rolled over the hilltops and back through the valleys, the panoramic views of pastures and farmland and farmsteads spectacular each time we reached a peak.  This was definitely one of the most scenic road rides we've had in the past few years.

Leaving Elberon to the east and north, the roads flattened into gently rolling hills into Garrison for our lunch stop.  At this stop we learned that our fundraising had topped $28,000!  Thanks to all for your financial support of Kids 'n Kinship.  Renewed by these results, we rode north and then a tough 3-mile section into the wind to the west before turning north and east again, now on a familiar rode through Mount Auburn and into Brandon for our finish around 2:00.  In Brandon a couple of boys stopped by on their bikes to chat with us.  Jimmy told them some stories, a couple of which they may actually have believed.  They wished us good luck as we drove to Pleasant Creek to camp again.

We were done so early that we weren't quite sure what to do with the rest of the afternoon.  It was very hot at the campground and had been a hot day to ride, but it didn't feel quite as hot and humid as yesterday.  We are doing our best to maintain our fluid levels, each drinking over a gallon of water and gatorade during our ride. 

We unhooked the trailer from the RV and headed into Cedar Rapids for the ballgame, this time making it to the park without finding any low bridges.  The game was a blast as the evening cooled, our seats in the shade behind home plate.  Jimmy got the night off as we made our way to the concession stands for brats, meatball subs, and tenderloin and pulled pork sandwiches.  The Blue Bunny ice cream stand was also a popular stop.  The hometown Kernels played well early against the Great Lakes Loons, bashing 4 home runs to take 6-2 and 7-5 leads, but the bullpen and defense looked Minnesota Twin-like as the Kernels surrendered the lead in the 9th and lost 8-7.  By the time we arrived back at camp it was 10:30 and time to hit the rack, exhausted from another busy day.

June 8, 2011, Where is Troy Mills?

During the first week of the ride when it was cold, windy and rainy, the CEM boys were discussing how they would much rather ride in hot weather.  Now that it's been so terribly hot, we are begging for cold.  We would even take rain with it, perhaps even have a preference for rain.  It's windy all the time, so we don't even bother dreaming of a calm day any more.  Would it be too much to ask for a sunny, calm 75 degree day?  Apparently, the answer is yes.

The morning began with rain moving through just to the south of us.  Winds were blowing out of the southwest again, although at a much calmer 15 mph.  After our french toast, bacon and eggs breakfast, we drove to our starting point near I-380.  The map was very muddled, and not all of the roads were marked, so we were winging it a little bit.  At the first intersection Jimmy headed east, but Dennis thought we should be going north, so that's where we rode.  About a mile later we found our road and made a quick ride to Troy Mills, but upon arrival could not find Jimmy.  John tried to call Jimmy, but got no answer.  A few minutes later Jimmy rolled into town, muttering about the lack of road signage and the fact that the GPS does not recognize Troy Mills as a town.  At least he made it.

We continued north and east, criss-crossing and at times joining roads that we had previously ridden.  Denny tried to take a wrong turn at about the same location Kathy did last week, but John got him going the right direction.  Denny expressed his empathy for Kathy's plight and also made some comments about the lack of road signage.  Upon arrival in Masonville at the 36 mile mark, Dennis finally spotted the long sought-after restored Farmall tractor in a driveway.  John and Denny seemed uninterested, but Jimmy grabbed his camera and snapped a photo. 

We seem to be struggling more with taking photos as the ride goes along.  The riders are all focused on getting from one point to another and out of the heat, and Jimmy seems to be losing interest in the CEM boys as a subject of his photography.  Each morning when we download his pictures on the laptop, Jimmy has about 20 photos of wildlife and nature settings and about 3 of the rest of us.  Good thing we still have a few nondescript archive photos to pull out and use in a pinch.

The rest of the ride was uneventful as we continued north and east through Dundee, “tiny in size mighty in pride” (no comment), and into Greeley for our finish.  We loaded the bikes and backtracked a dozen miles to Backbone State Park, Iowa's first state park, which was nearly vacant.  We showered and set up camp and then lounged around for a while.  As Jimmy was preparing to put steaks on the grill, a small but loud thunderstorm moved over us.  He still managed to cook despite the rain, and the steaks and potatoes were outstanding, our last dinner in the RV if all goes according to plan.

More cribbage games ensued, as Denny joined the mix with John and Jimmy.  The rain was still falling lightly, so we settled in for “Uncle Buck” starring John Candy.  Unbelievably, Jimmy had never seen it before.  We all laughed through the movie, after which we finished the ice cream bars (yes, the freezer is still working).  A front had pushed through and cooled the air, a very, very welcome turn of events.  It should be a great night for sleeping, and we didn't even make it to 10:00 before turning in for the night.

June 9, 2011, The Rain Comes

We went to bed so early last night that Jimmy thought we should be on the road by 7:30.  John had other plans, though, as he slept until 7:00.  The rest of us were already eating bacon and eggs when John rolled out of the back of the trailer.  The heat had finally broken, and it was cool and 60 when we rode straight out of our campground southeast through Manchester, where we were momentarily confused by, you guessed it, lack of signage.  Dennis stopped to ask for directions and learned that County Road X15 was now called 3rd Street and would turn into River Road south of town.  Why would that be confusing to an outsider??

We had originally planned to go toward the Illinois border for a ballgame in Clinton, but we had really enjoyed the ballpark in Cedar Rapids, so we decided to head back for another Kernels game.  And so we re-traced our route back through Ryan and another stop in Troy Mills, although Jimmy questioned the wisdom of this.  The crosswinds were strong again today, and the roads had a fair amount of heavy traffic, but we all made it safely to Troy Mills, including Jimmy.  We had 13 miles to go when the rain started falling; it had seemed imminent all day long, so we weren't really surprised.  The rain fell hard as we finished the day completely soaked, but very refreshed.  We would have loved that kind of rainy finish on any of those hot days of riding earlier in the week.   

We checked the weather forecast and the Kernels website which stated, “Game Still On”, so we decided to go to the ballgame.  We claimed space # 34 again at the Pleasant Creek campground before taking off.  John got his fix of Starbucks on the way to the game, and we arrived at the ballpark early enough for 3 of us to get free t-shirts.  Our excitement diminished later in the evening when we saw that the t-shirts were for the 2010 Iowa games, whatever that is, rather than a Kernels t-shirt.  Then again, what do you expect for a $9 ticket?  The game was quite a pitching duel as each team scored a run in the first, but no other runs scored until the Loons hit a solo homerun in the 5th, and the Kernels could not rally.  The game finished 2-1, but more importantly, the rain held off until the end of the game.  The sky was lit up with lightning in all directions, as we drove through a downpour on our way back to camp.  It may be a very interesting overnight for us...


Dennis has given me the keyboard for additional commentary as we prepare for the final 60 miles of our journey.  First, I am proud that we ride in memory of Christian, and I know that somehow his spirit is with us as we pedal.  I know that he would be pleased that we not only honor him with this ride, but    also because it ultimately benefits Kids 'n Kinship.  I have enjoyed sharing the adventure with my brother and support driver, Jim, and with Dennis, Bob, Kathy and Denny as we have pedaled the farmlands of Iowa together.  My thanks to Merchants Bank as our title sponsor for continuing to give us their wholehearted support for this event and to our numerous friends, relatives and business associates who have contributed more than ever.  Thank you Casey and Carol for your assistance and support from your respective offices.   Thanks also to Anni and Cindy for handling so many of the details for us in the office.  And finally appreciation to Sherry, for sending us off with her blessing, with her fresh rhubarb pie...and for enduring two weeks with my little hunting companion, Ranger.  And Dante, I'm ready for our next battle with the cribbage board.


This has been wonderful trip for me.  I thank John for thinking of me when Gordy couldn't make it.  Watching the  riders go 60 miles each day is truly a wonder.  And doing it 15 times is magical.  A wonderful group of people – my thanks!  jim

June 10, 2011, Mission Accomplished!

Oh, man, what a night!  The skies opened up on us with a fury, alternating between pounding outbursts of rain and regular downpours all night long.  Wind was banging the trailer door against the back of the trailer, and thunder was booming.  There was no severe weather, however, and we made it comfortably through the night.

We awoke to drenched accommodations, both in the RV and in the trailer.  The roof of the trailer was leaking, probably from damage caused by the air conditioner landing on it.  Thankfully, the roof was leaking onto John's mattress while Dennis remained dry and happy in the upper bunk.  Rain had also blown in through the back screen and soaked everything in the open, including the bin with John's clean clothes and biking gear.  His only clean biking clothes were completely wet, and he was convinced that we needed a stop at a laundromat to dry them.  Dennis had an extra set of dry, clean jersey, shorts and gloves, though, so they were good to go.

In the RV, the temporary roof repair did not prove to be waterproof, or at least not monsoon-proof.  Rugs, chairs, clothes and mattresses all were wet.  None of the CEM boys is happy today, although we were very fortunate that this happened on the very last day.  Jimmy made one last batch of oatmeal while we plotted our route for the day. 

We drove about 20 miles to Brandon, “a little place we call home”, a motto we are also adopting.  We have been through Brandon so many times that we have arrived and departed from every possible direction, including on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  Our boys from a couple of days earlier spotted us immediately upon our arrival and biked over to chat again while we got our bikes ready. 

We rode mostly west and north all day long in the general direction of home.  It was relatively calm for one of the only days of the entire ride, a light wind from the northeast, and the day was overcast and in the low 60's.  A few days earlier in the heat of the day Denny was contemplating a “Nestea Plunge” into one of the muddy, brown rivers.  Today it wasn't even a thought.  We stopped at the midway point for lunch, but our food supplies had dwindled.  Jimmy and Dennis had finished the liverwurst a day earlier, with no protest from John or Denny, but we scraped together enough remaining items for sandwiches.

John and Dennis finished their 900 miles and Denny his 300 miles with a ride into Holland, Iowa.  Jimmy congratulated all of us, and we gave an O'Doul's toast to Christian.  We hoisted the bikes in full celebration of our accomplishment and reflected on some of the highlights, and lowlights, which we have chosen to refer to as challenges.  It's all done in the name of a great cause, Kids 'n Kinship, and it's always an adventure.

We showered, loaded and headed for home!  On the drive home, we made our first and only restaurant stop of the entire ride, a fine dining experience at Culver's in Mason City.  We pulled into Minneapolis at 10:00, exhausted and ready to sleep in the comfort of our own homes.  We need to be well-rested for our “Welcome Home” party.

June 11, 2011, Home at Long Last!

We reconvened in the morning a few blocks from Merchants Bank in Apple Valley for our ceremonial ride to the finish.  John's grandson, Nolan, rode his own bike with us while his granddaughter, Leyna, rode behind John in the burly.  The morning had turned out much nicer than we had expected, but there was definitely a chill in the air as we weaved our way to the bank.

We coasted into the parking lot and were greeted by a cheering crowd of our friends, volunteers from Merchants Bank, members of the Kids 'n Kinship Board, and even a women's chorus, the Minneapolis Southside Singers.  All of the riders made it to the ceremony, as long as we include “Flat Bob”, a cardboard cut-out in Bob's image.  Skip Stovern, Regional President of Merchants Bank, opened the ceremony with congratulations to the riders before turning things over to Jan.  Jan and the rest of the Kids 'n Kinship staff presented each of us with a photo montage and a gift, including a toy bat and ball for our rookie rider, Denny, a whistle for Kathy to blow when she gets lost, a giant chalk pencil for Dennis for writing the diary, a toy fan for John to keep cool, and a yardstick for Jimmy to measure the bridges.

Dante spoke for a few moments about how great Kids 'n Kinship has been for him and how fortunate he has been to have John as his mentor.  Finally, John and the CEM team presented a check for $28,500 to Kids 'n Kinship, a new record for the event.  The donations continue to come in, and we still have an outside shot at getting to $30,000, but maybe not quite this year.  After the presentation was completed, we had hot dogs, rootbeer floats (how appropriate), and chair massages (very appreciated).  What a great way to end the ride!

Some reflections from the 2011 CEM:  John was the big winner in cribbage, although, surprisingly, I didn't see much bragging.  The rumble strips on the highways as we approach the stop signs should be more clearly marked, because they are no fun to rattle through on a bike at 20 mph.  When the ride directions include turn right or left after you pass the hog farm, I mean “thee” hog farm just before the intersection of county road 47 and county road 63 outside of Ryan, although Denny has a point that using a hog farm as a reference point in central Iowa is not very helpful.  The rest of us did know which hog farm, however.  Fly swatters are fine if you are willing to be persistent, but Raid is much quicker...and also more effective for gnat infestations.  Road biking in Iowa is more hilly than most people believe, but also feels very safe due to the overwhelmingly courteous drivers.  And finally, although our entire ride was in central Iowa, covering every conceivable county road, this was most definitely not RAGBRAI.

I have no more words of wisdom.  To all who helped us along the way, followed us on our daily journey, made contributions, and supported us to the end, a big “THANK YOU” from all of us and see you next year!


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