Have you ever drafted a tractor down a gravel road on your bicycle and smelled the spray from a crop duster that had just swooped down past you a minute before? I have.
The day started out better than the last. I knew the folds of the tent that would allow it to fit back in the bag. I knew how tight I needed to roll the sleeping bag in order to get it back in its place. My hands were still diminished in strength but I was able to pack up.
The first part of the day was the best case scenario. I was only minutes from the campground in the North Des Moines suburb when a bike path materialized along the road. I road past Camp Dodge and remembered the helicopter ride I went on that took off from there a few years ago.
I made it to the trail head without event and headed toward East Des Moines. There were a few other early risers trying to get some miles in on their Saturday morning but, for the most part, I had the trail to myself.
The trail ended abruptly because of flooding damage and I made my way through the sketchiest neighborhood I've ever ridden my bike through. After a few zig zag roads, I was on University Ave which would eventually turn into highway 163. The plan was to take that all the way to Oskaloosa for an easy day of about 60 or so miles.
What a nightmare. Google maps and I had had our differences of opinion already about what constitutes a good route on the bicycle setting, but, this was on a whole different level. There is no reason in the world why any cyclist should be routed through this particular street of East Des Moines. The road is 2 lanes of engine gunning mayhem each direction. The sidewalk, when it was there, tended to be no more than twelve inches wide and overgrown with grass. Broken glass and who knows what else were strewn about wherever they had landed. I made my way as best I could and tried to remember when the last time I had a tetanus shot.
Eventually the urban blight of University Ave gave way to the traffic of the suburbs. This didn't really help my cause. I traded the worry of getting mugged by a homeless person for the thought that I may become the hood ornament of an Escalade piloted by a Starbucks sipping soccer mom texting on her iPhone. The troublesome sidewalk had turned into a narrow shoulder. It felt like I would make it only as far as the scene of the accident--my own or one I had caused just by being there.
I pulled over and called my wife Michelle. I was going leave the highway and make my way to a small town by gravel. Come pick me up when you can. I'm done.
The gravel was up and down hills--fast descents and slow spinning climbs. The roller coaster ride mimicked my thoughts. Away from the noisy traffic after about twenty minutes of thinking I called Michelle back. I changed my mind. I would probably be disappointed if I didn't at least make it to Oskaloosa. The support ride had just left and could easily be called back.
I charted another route of small white lines on my phone and got back to peddling. Away from the traffic, my route flowed from nice gravel roads to empty paved roads and back again. The weather was perfect and the riding felt familiar again.
I was grabbing some food at the Casey's in Monroe when it started raining violently. I watched the weather cell blow itself out under the eave of the convenience store. After ten or fifteen minutes, the rain was done and I was back on the road.
About 5 miles out of town, the paved road turned to gravel. I was spinning up a hill when I heard the small tractor. I slowed down and pulled to the right so it could go around me. Having crested the hill the slope gave me enough speed to catch back up to the small tractor as the crop duster flew over my shoulder. It was one of those moments I couldn't have planned and just had to laugh at.
Avoiding the traffic added about 30 miles and roughly four thousand feet of climbing--up and down, up and down--to my route. It was getting close to 7:00 in the evening when I rounded the corner and was joined by my kids and their cousins cheering me on to the finish line. The first order of business was a jug of gatorade and a picture.
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