Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My 1st Culinary Ride

About a week ago, on the 18th, I took part in my first major bike ride ever. I've been struggling with the bike culture here, to be honest, and was looking for a group of people to meet and ride with. I heard about this and figured, "What the hell? I may as well give it a shot, right?" We'll come back to this in a moment, and I have to admit it's going to be a bit of a rant. I apologize in advance. First, I need to tell you a bit about my biking background. Sit back, grab a beer, and get ready to read...

I started really cycling in January of this year. I had a Cannondale road bike that I had acquired from a dear friend, and I rode that when it was nice, but it was intermittent at best. I survived my oral exams for my PhD program last fall, and I decided that with those out of the way, I would look for a hobby. I had to walk about 15 minutes in the snow/pseudo-Antarctic weather that is a Minnesota winter to get to my bus to work, then I had to wait for the bus and hope it got there within a few minutes. There were days it took close to 45 minutes to get to work, a grand total of maybe 3 miles, including my walk to the bus. Maybe. I decided, "Hey, when I rode my bike to work in the summer, it took about 15 minutes. I really LIKE biking. Wait, it takes me that long just to walk to the bus. I have to freeze my butt off WAY longer than if I was just riding my bike. Sure, I'll still be cold, but it'll only be for about the same amount of time as it takes me to walk to the bus anyways..." So, I decided I'd get a new commuting bike.

I researched and researched and found a bike I wanted. The Surly Cross Check (www.surlybikes.com). It's a steel-alloy (Chromoly) framed bike designed for racing off-road/on-road races call Cyclocross races. The basic idea is that you have a road geometry bike with road bike parts, but the fork (Where the front tire goes) is a bit wider to allow for fatter off-road tires. Cyclocross races typically are on paths in the woods/mud and people ride around and have to run over certain obstacles while carrying their bikes. This meant the bike could take a lot of punishment. Another big plus was the steel frame. Aluminum frames are great. My Cannondale was an aluminum frame. They are light as hell and fast to boot. They do, however, ride VERY stiff and you feel every. Single. Bump. For real. By the time I'd ride 2 miles on the MN roads, I felt like a Rhino had run me over. It's not just your butt, so a comfy seat won't help. The whole bike rattles and rocks. Your arms hurt, your wrists hurt, your butt hurts... Steel takes a LOT of the shock out of the bumps. I still feel them, but they aren't a problem at all. Another rare, but possible, problem aluminum frames can have with potholes and really big bumps is that the frame can actually bend. No good. Frames are expensive as hell. Probably THE most expensive part of the bike. So... Steel is was going to be. Surly is based out of MN, giving some credibility to the bike's ability to handle weather of all types. They've got a GREAT reputation. Now that I've ridden one, I know why. I could use this bike for anything. It was considered a cyclocross bike, but in reality, it was a freaking tank. Really. After having it for a while - it's slick, fast, and can take just about any punishment you send its way.

Here's my bike, with all my stuff on it (rear rack, panniers aka the bags, bottle cage and water bottle, and some fenders)

My Granddad was gracious enough to help me out with buying the bike. He and I spoke a long time over this, and he gave me the money to get the bike. I'm forever grateful to him. If you're reading Granddad, I know I've said it over and over and you're probably tired of hearing it, but thank you so much. I love you.

This bike is my one and only vehicle now. Kelsey has the car, as she needs it for work. I wouldn't know what to do without my bike. I picked the bike up in late January and decided that I would try cycling in the winter on my first day with it... HUGE MISTAKE.

The first day I rode, Minneapolis/St. Paul got 6 inches of snow and it was freezing. Biking in those conditions is extremely dangerous. I almost got hit a number of times. I decided to hold off riding until the weather got better - so I did. Meanwhile I started to learn about the cycling culture. I promise, this IS going somewhere and it leads back to the Culinary Ride.

There are a different cyclists in the world. Racers, commuters, single speed/fixie riders, cruisers - pretty much all kinds. I happen to be a commuter, sort of a mixed breed of the racer and single speed/fixie riders. I like the racing styles bikes and the utility that a geared bike gives me, but I LIKE the community of commuters and single speed/fixie riders better. I'm not into racing and riding for hundreds of miles. This was great in MSP, as there was a HUGE cycling community and you could pretty much find whatever you wanted. I started riding again as Spring rolled around and tried to explore and ask the local shops where the cyclists got together. There are a bunch of places, Angry Catfish (http://www.angrycatfishbicycle.com/), One on One (http://www.oneononebike.com/) - these are just two of the most popular but there are tons of places. Even places that aren't "cyclist hangouts" have bike racks and tons of cyclists heading there, especially in Uptown.

Iowa City... Not so much. People here are either racers or they don't ride much. For the most part, at least. I went to a number of shops and was given the same "Nope, not around here. We all sort of do our own thing. There are a couple of group rides, though." I checked out the "group" rides and quickly found that they were for competitive racers, not social rides. I wanted to take a bike ride and grab a beer. That was it. Not here. Or so I thought... I stopped in to a shop called The Broken Spoke and it was exactly what I was looking for. Commuters who work in the shop, they mainly ride single speed/fixie bikes but they also have cargo bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, etc. They do a ride every Thursday called the "Friday Fixie Ride" to which I asked, "Can I still come even if I don't have a fixed gear bike?" The guys said simply "Sure. The ride isn't on Friday, so you don't need a fixie." I popped out one night with them and had a great time. It's about a 10-15 mile ride, followed by everyone grabbing pizza and beer at this local joint. It's EXACTLY what I wanted.

One of the days I was in the shop, I noticed a flyer for a Culinary Ride (www.culinaryride.com). This is a charity ride of either 22 miles or 55 miles to promote local, sustainable, HEALTHY food from Iowa farmers for lunches and breakfasts for the kids at Iowa public schools. I'm very much a proponent of local, in-season, good food for everyone and the public education system isn't always so great You pay a donation of around $30, get a t-shirt, and ride to different local farms and sample their goods. I chose to do the 22 mile ride as it would be my longest ride to date, the hills here in Iowa City are BRUTAL and I recently was diagnosed with sports-induced asthma and I've been awaiting my medical records to be transferred here to get my inhaler.

At 9:30 am Sunday September 18th, a really crappy day I have to say, I struck out for the 3 mile ride to the meeting spot to be there by 10. It was rainy and cold. It wasn't pouring, but that cold rain/mist/constant spray in your face that sometimes occurs. It was only about 50 degrees out as well. But, I wanted to be there for this ride. It meant a lot to me to be able to contribute to the cause. I dressed was warm as possible - leg warmers, merino wool cycling cap, a merino wool long sleeved bike jersey, my rain coat (which helps cut out water and wind and keeping heat in thereby heating me up, but itself isn't warm), merino wool socks, a pair of cycling capris, and I brought some gloves just in case. I also wore a backpack, and didn't use my panniers, as having a bag on your back helps keep heat.

Our meet up place was Earth Source Gardens, a 2 acre plot of land supported by the local food co-op, New Pioneer Food Co-op. If you're in Iowa City and are reading this, PLEASE join this co-op. They rock. It's only 60 bucks for a lifetime membership/rewards program, and if you leave decide to be done with them, they give you the 60 back. Earth Source Gardens is the community garden they sponsor, and there is a LOT growing there. I don't believe you have to be a member of the co-op to have a plot. I'd guess that it helps when you apply for one, but it's not required.

     Earth Source Gardens Entrance Sign       The volunteer tent from New Pioneer

One really nice thing is that I had spoken to some people from the Thursday night rides I had been on, and a couple of the group, a guy named Al and a girl named Andrea, were going to be at the ride, though they were both doing the 55 mile ride. Al showed up around 10:30 and he introduced me to his friend. I believe his name was Sam? I was still trying to wake up, I admit. The volunteer tent was run by the Co-op and they had hummus, pita slices, lemonade, water, carrot and radish slices, and these poppy seed/sesame seed/ sunflower seed brittle pastry things. I didn't eat those as I'm sunflower seed sensitive and I didn't want to run into any problems on the road. We all took tours of the gardens looking at all the great veggies that were growing. I asked one of the organizers about the route we 22 milers were going to take, as the map was hand drawn and in black and white and the first leg of the trip was shared by both groups. It was hard to tell where we were supposed to go. It turned out that we were just going out and back - 9 miles one way and 9 back - so really only 18. The organizers had no idea at first, and had to discuss. That should have been my red flag. But I was happy and still warm at this point, so I smiled and went about my merry way.

Al (left) and his friend head into the garden to tour it 
 The tool shed we all hung out near while getting ready to ride.
My bike is on the right, with the black helmet on the back.

At 11, the organizer came out and told us to go ahead and start going towards the first destination whenever we felt like it. This is when things sort of went downhill. I will start by saying I had fun. I would do this again. I really did have fun at the locations and in the beginning before we rode. Things weren't great, though. Everyone took off towards the first point, which was 9 miles East of us along The Hoover Highway... The Hoover Highway is a 2 lane road with no shoulder that cars drive 55mph minimum... Not great to ride as a large bike group without police escort or a lot of vehicle escorts. Especially in the rain and grey weather. There was a "Sag-Wagon," though that followed us to the location that had tools for working on bikes, or if you needed to you could put your bike in the trailer and hop inside to ride the rest of the way to the location. Great idea, in my opinion, especially when inviting all levels of cyclists to a large event.

We all made it to our first location, though, a place called Scattergood farms. This place was so cool. It's a school farm. They teach children normal subjects, but then they also have the children work on the farm. They harvest the food, cook the food and eat the food from the farm for every meal at school. It's really cool. Check them out for more info - http://www.scattergood.org/farm_prairie


They gave us a quick tour of their place, let us pick raspberries from their bushes, and then took us all back over to a warm, incredible, though small, fire. There were some chefs from local place Devotay and they served us hot vegetable soup from the Scattergood gardens and yellow watermelon. It was fantastic!! I started talking to one of the gents whose daughter used to be at the school and is now at Cornell on a full ride. Clearly, the school works.

** Just a small note here. Cows are assholes. Seriously. The whole time the guy was giving us a tour, the cows from the farm were following our group behind the fence mooing up a storm. Then the guy would stop talking, they'd get quiet, so he'd start again. As soon as he started, this one cow would just get every other cow riled up again. Jerks. :P**

It was about that time I noticed everyone was gone... The 55 milers had taken off a good bit ago, as they still had a long ride, on mostly gravel roads, left to go. They were going to a cider joint (both hard and soft), a couple more farms, and it made sense that they'd take off. But the after party wasn't until 6, and we'd been at Scattergood for maybe 20 minutes, after arriving at 11:30-ish. I checked my watch, and it was about noon. I looked around and all of the 22milers had pretty much taken off. "Oh well, I said, the winery that's our next and final stop before heading back is only 1 mile West, back towards Earth Source. I'll see everyone there." I thanked the farmers and cooks and took off to the Brick Arch Winery in West Branch, Iowa (http://www.brickarchwinery.com/). I got there a few moments later and lo-and-behold.... Not a damn person. No one was there. I guess the 22 milers either decided to switch rides, or they did their wine tasting in about 30 seconds and left.

I went inside after 2 of the volunteers and a few more cyclists showed up. We all went in and tasted some wine. I tried the reds, as I typically prefer reds. WARNING: THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT WINE ON THIS BLOG. EVER. Sorry Mandy and David ;) The wine was good, but I'm no wino so I really don't know a thing about it. I just drank it and enjoyed it and politely smiled and nodded when the woman told me all about the subtle hints of edam cheese and strawberries. Beats the hell outta me. It was good, that's all I know. The inside of the place was nice, too. We were confined to the main area where the wine bar is, as most of us had cleats on for cycling and they would scuff up the nice floors. There was a sign (I failed to take a picture of) that said anyone caught wearing bike cleats in the room pictures below (same spot, the left picture was me turned to the left, and the right picture was me looking straight on) would be beaten. I avoided those rooms, minus standing in the doorway for the pictures.

At 12:45 I left. I was done and didn't want to drink too much before riding back 8 miles. This is when the ride began to suck... When I left, no one else left. Either they had already gone and were done, or they were still drinking wine. "No big deal," I thought, "I'll see some more cyclists out there. There's always the sag wagon. I'm sure I won't be riding alone." Wrong. Dead. Flippin'. Wrong.

I didn't see a single soul until I got back to my apartment. The Sag Wagon was supposed to circulate through the ride to make sure everyone was ok. What it really did was follow the 55 milers to every stop they made and then stay at the stop until it was time to move on. I was under the impression that it was supposed to be for both groups and help everyone out. I figured it would follow the 55 milers to their stop, turn around and go back to Earth Source and then go back to the 55 milers, to ensure that the whole route was covered. Nope. They just went to the next stop, got out and had a good time. Unfortunately for me, on the last leg of the trip my chain decided 3 times that it no longer liked the front  derailleur and would pop off, prompting me to stop my bike and fix my chain. On the highway. With no shoulder. With speeding trucks and cars. Fortunately it's a relatively easy fix. But what if it hadn't been an easy fix? What if I got hurt or had an asthma attack? What if my bottom bracket broke? What if my chain broke? I'd have to walk my bike back the miles that remained, or I'd have had to call my roommate and hope he was around and sober (It was his birthday) enough to come get me. A trucker even stopped one time and asked if I needed help. I politely thanked him with a smile and said I had it just fine, but thanks. 

Ok, so the sag wagon was sort of a let down. What about all of those riders? Never saw a one. Even though I stopped 3 times on my way back, no one passed me. And when I got back to Earth Source? Not a person to be found. The tents were gone and the remaining food and water had been placed in the toolshed for us to finish. That's not a huge deal, but it would have been nice to at least have someone there. There was nothing. It really felt like if you didn't do the 55 mile ride, you were a let down and you just got to tag a long for a bit but then it was time for the big kids to play, so you had to go home. They even sent us all a survey to take today and there were only 5 questions, 1 being a general comments box. The first 2 questions were "what did you like? What didn't you like?" The 3rd question was the only one that actually pertained to the ride and it was "Did you like riding on gravel or would you prefer pavement next time?" I'm sorry, I didn't ride gravel. I was on the 22 mile ride, NOT the 55 mile ride. I know they don't mean it that way, but damn, if even the survey questions ignore the 22 mile ride? The ride was hard for me, but fun. The people were fantastic. The food and locations were great, and I totally understand that the 22 milers only got to go to 2 places - they were the only 2 on our route. The weather stunk, but who cares? It really was the attitude of the event itself - and not from the riders. No one was nasty at all, even the organizers. Everyone was super happy and really into the cause. It really was just that the 22 mile ride really felt like an add-on when someone said "Hey, what if people can't do the 55 mile ride? They should be included, too." I hope that when they do this again, I'll be able to do the 55 mile ride and that the 22 mile ride will be considered a bit more.

One nice thing at the very end was right before Earth Source Gardens there was a farm house and they had this beauty on display outside.
Why, yes, that IS a purple tutu on this rhino statue.

I have realized now that I don't really like super long rides. Maybe on a different day I would love a 55 mile ride, but I've realized I really just like to commute a few miles. I like city riding and the challenges it brings. We'll see where cycling takes me, though. It's nice to just be on the bike and have your feet actually locked in to the pedals, your legs an actual extension of the simple machines that make the bike move. It's a simple, elegant, beautiful system and I will go where the wheels take me. 

1 comment:

  1. Aaron and I just read this story. I'm with you that I like more chill bike riding. Keep on keeping on! Aaron says he hopes you can get some more good miles under you as it warms up.