There’s a great deal to dislike about the American Midwest in general and Iowa in specific. But I have to admit I love Iowa’s dedication to bicycling. The city, the county and the state are all investing money in building, maintaining, and expanding a statewide network of interlinked bike trails. There’s nearly 2000 miles of bike trails in Iowa–some are paved, some are dirt, some are crushed limestone–and many of them connect with each other in some way.
So I was only mildly surprised yesterday morning. I set out to do a quick three or four mile ride–just enough to stretch out the aging muscles and clear my mind for the day. I had a lecture to write, after all, and homework to do, and chores to perform. So…a quick morning ride. Twenty minutes, tops.
I took a slightly different path than my usual ride–a trail I hadn’t ridden since last year. This particular trail leads through a suburban area with condos beside a small man-made lake around which young mothers push babies in strollers, or young women jog or walk their tiny dogs, or old folks in loopy hats engage in their daily constitutional.
I don’t mind riding slowly and dodging the women and their strollers and their dogs, but I rarely ride this trail because it also passes through a couple of strip malls–and is there anything less visually interesting than a strip mall?
Once you get through the malls, though, the trail splits. The longer part travels through open rolling fields; the shorter part, through a wooded area. Because I’d already done a couple of miles, I planned to just circle the lake and head back. So instead of a three or four mile ride, it would be a five or six mile ride–hardly any difference at all, right?
And if I’m going to do five or six miles, I may as well cruise through the short wooded area, because that’s just another mile or so. Not even worth mentioning, really. However, where the bike trail ended last year, I saw this:
So I kept riding. The trail eventually ended at a point where a couple of old disused railroad bridges crossed the creek (the bike trail generally follows the creek path). A passenger aircraft was passing overhead, so I waved just in case one of the passengers happened to be looking down and wondering if anybody was on the bike path.
So, end of the trail. Time to turn around and head back to that lecture and those household chores and fuck all that. I mean, look–there’s a creek and bridges and what sort of person wouldn’t want to walk around a bit and see what there is to see? It’s almost a duty. I’m not one to shirk my duty (and honest, I’d get the lecture written at some point).
Through close observation I was able to determine that somebody named Candi rules. I deduced that the area was likely used by young folks to engage in mind-altering experiments. I further discerned hints that these things were a source of regional vanity.
Among my discoveries, I encountered an astonishing variety of plants with thorns, and a species of small but violently insane insect that is attracted to bloody scratches caused by exposing bare legs to thorny plants. Swarms of the little bastards dogged me, and the quicker I moved to escape them the more thorny plants I encountered, creating still more bloody scratches, which drove the insects into an absolute frenzy.
I would have explored more, but I had a lecture to write, don’t you know, and chores to perform. Granted, it took slightly longer than expected to get back to the lecture, on account of as I was circling the condo-encircled lake I had to slow down for a couple of old ladies who were discussing the barn swallows that were hawking for insects beneath a nearby bridge.
I am as fond of a swallow as the next person, and I was in the mood to see insects eaten. So I made a slight detour.
You can’t tell from the photograph, but there were roughly a gazillion hungry barn and cliff swallows, all darting and circling and doing spectacular things in the air. A gazillion, and all of them busily eating what I like to believe were the same sort of miniscule sadistic villains that sucked a full pint of blood from my thorn-gashed legs.
After watching them inflict mass casualties on the insect population, I mounted my bike and continued lectureward, a happy and contented and mildly bloodied man.
When it’s completed, that trail will be about 35 miles in length. When it’s linked to the next trail system, it will total about 110 miles–and that’s before it links to the other 2000 miles of Iowa bike trails.
When that happens, it seems likely I’ll never finish another lecture.