Solo ride to the Iowa Arboretum

by on July 3, 2010
in Iowa Rides

Last Sunday I took a solo ride with Kitten – I was really wanting to ride, but Steve had something on the lathe he wanted to work on, so I decided to head out in search of an Iowa attraction he didn’t have much interest in anyway: the Iowa Arboretum.

The arboretum is a park-like facility northwest of Des Moines that showcases hundreds of native and non-native trees and plants. There are perennial beds, landscaped viewing areas, trees and shrubs – and since one of my other interests in life is gardening, I’ve always wanted to go there and simply have never taken time.

One of the rides we’ve taken occasionally when we want to go but don’t have all day to travel is a loop that takes us past Saylorville Lake, past Big Creek State Park, and up to Madrid and back again. The arboretum is just a bit farther north than Madrid, so adding it to the loop was a snap: heading west on Highway 210 out of Madrid, just past the “alien structures” (which don’t look so alien anymore, now that there seems to be a walking path up on top of them), is a turn-off onto a county road that takes you to the Boy Scouts’ Camp Mitigwa.

That road becomes R26, which is one of those Iowa gems: easy, sweeping curves, a hillcrest (clearly marked with a yellow sign reading “HILL,” just in case you weren’t sure) offering a really pretty view of the valley at the bottom, lush green Iowa meadows and hard-working homesteads on both sides of the road. R26 comes to a T at E57, and the arboretum is at the end of a turn-off just back to the east of the T.

This is the type of place where I could easily spend an entire afternoon – it’s just over 375 acres, and I didn’t even scratch the surface of exploration since I only stayed about 30 minutes. I did manage to take some neat pictures of the small portion I walked through.

Back on the bike, I continued east on E57. Looking for Highway 17, I discovered that it’s poorly marked: I came to a two-way stop and since this was approximately where I was expecting to find 17, I took a chance and turned to the south. A few hundred yards down the road, there was my “State 17” sign. Would’ve been helpful to have a “Junction” sign back on E57, but at least I was on the right road.

This took me back through Madrid, where I stopped for a potty break and then headed home on the same roads I had taken on my way up: past Big Creek, through Polk City, and past Saylorville.

Notable things I passed:

  • A woman riding alone – she had a red touring bike and was wearing a bright red leather jacket with fringed sleeves. She waved enthusiastically as we passed each other, and I did likewise.
  • Several areas where recent heavy rains have gully-washed gravel and debris onto the road.
  • Extremely high water levels of the Des Moines River: I’ll be really surprised if it doesn’t flood this year.

And one thing I managed to avoid: I was riding at one point about a hundred yards behind an SUV towing a boat, and the fabric cover on the boat suddenly ballooned up and blew off. I slowed way down, but it floated like a giant purple parachute off to the side of the road. Since the driver kept going, I’m not sure he even knew what had happened!

In all a really nice ride, and a little outside the norm since I don’t ride alone all that often. There are a few more photos over on Webshots.

Scavenger Hunt 2010: Swan, Columbia, & Derby

by on July 1, 2010
in Iowa Rides

I am still job-hunting these days but I will admit that the one thing I like about being unemployed is that I don’t have to wait for the weekend to take a day trip! Last week we were invited by new pals Janet & Gerry to take a ride on Friday the 25th in search of some of the towns in our local HOG chapter’s “scavenger hunt” series.

janet in Derby, IowaIn the scavenger hunt, the idea is to ride to a list of towns and take pictures of yourself and your bike next to something that identifies the town – a welcome sign, post office, etc. – and turn in your photos to compete for prizes. Janet had mapped out a loop that would take us to three of the towns: Swan, Columbia, and Derby, and back up to Indianola for a visit to Route 65 Harley Davidson.

We couldn’t have had a more perfect day for a ride – sunny and hot, but not too humid. Steve had decided he wanted to reminisce about “the old days” and try riding without his windshield, which he had removed the day before while cleaning his bike. “I’ll just try it ‘au naturale,‘” he said.

We took off from Big Barn HD around 9:30 a.m. and headed south through Des Moines, past the state fairgrounds and then along Vandalia Road – which, once you get past the industrial “arm pit” portion, is a very pretty ride to the southeast.

We turned south on Highway 316 and took that to Swan, a tiny town of about 120 and at least one very friendly old, fat yellow lab who greeted us as we parked in front of the town hall. We snapped our photos and remarked on all the water we’d seen – the Des Moines River is out of its banks again, and it looks like we could easily be in for another “hundred-year flood.”

We left Swan and picked up Highway 5 heading southeast, then turned south at Highway 14. Our next stop was supposed to be Columbia. We soon came upon a nice junction-type intersection that I was sure would be our turn – only it wasn’t. Kept going, and shortly came up over a hillcrest and suddenly our turn was on the left – not marked with a regular green highway directional sign, but the only indication being a white sign on the left bearing some sort of commercial message along with the name of the town and an arrow.

I managed to get slowed enough (down from 55) to safely make the left-hand turn, as did Gerry and Steve – but Janet, who was directly behind me, did not. She was forced to make a nasty U-turn in the middle of the highway, with that stupid hillcrest preventing a really safe judgment as to oncoming traffic. She safely made the turn-around and joined us on the road into Columbia – a town so small its population is not even noted on my state map.

We paused for more pictures in front of the Columbia Community Center and I think that between the guy running the tire shop, the guy driving back and forth (why?) hauling a long horse trailer, and the older man sitting on his porch next to the park, we saw all the permanent residents of the town.

We headed back out toward the highway and watched Janet almost get skewered by a guy driving a large industrial forklift – for some reason (maybe because I was in the lead and displaying too much blindingly pale cleavage, but I can’t be sure) he wasn’t paying full attention, and turned VERY wide out onto the road into our lane – I zipped past him okay but Janet had to scoot wayyy over to the right, all the while staring down the barrel of one of two giant “tines” on his forklift.

Needless to say, we were glad to leave Columbia behind and continued south down Highway 14. (This is as good a time as any to caution you: if you are a motorcyclist in Iowa, Highway 14 hates you and wants to kill you by rubbing you painfully over its washboard road surface.)

South of Chariton, we picked up H50 and headed west over to Derby, our third stop. Once there, we pulled in front of the Post Office (“US Vehicle parking only” – hey, we are from the US so we parked there – plus, the postmaster had clearly marked the front door “out to lunch.”), and immediately noticed that the PO was the only building in the short little strip that was presently occupied by anything other than possibly animals – everything else, though in the past they must have been businesses, appeared to be empty.

I think it was here that Steve made the off-hand statement that he’d be putting his windshield back on when he got home. I’d thought about him back there, every time a large bug would hit my windshield, and knew he had to be taking at least as many direct hits. He had had enough of ‘au naturale.’

We picked up Highway 65 to the north just outside of Derby – a section of highway obviously in cahoots with Highway 14 – and rode north into Indianola. A visit to Route 65 HD and lunch at the One Stop completed our trip – from there it was a straight shot along Highway 65/69 into Des Moines, where we waved good-byes to Janet & Gerry as they continued north.

It was a beautiful day, and the good news is my cleavage is now getting tan so I won’t be blinding any forklift drivers for the rest of the summer. And, bonus for Steve: without the windshield he was afraid he would lose his favorite hat so he rode without that, too, and later found that his, um, thinning hair… had caused his scalp to be vulnerable to the sun’s rays. Needless to say, a top-of-the-head sunburn makes hair brushing a little painful.

Iowa Veteran’s Cemetery ride

by on October 6, 2009
in Iowa Rides

We hadn’t ridden much since Sturgis, and early October’s cold rainy weather was kind of a wake-up call that we’d soon have to put away the bikes for the winter. So when Sunday dawned with a bright clear sky and promises of low 60’s for temperatures, I decided we needed to get out for a bit. After briefly consulting the magic map we decided to run out and see the Iowa Veterans’ Cemetery just outside of Van Meter.

My local map showed that we could avoid the Interstate by simply riding west along Grand Avenue all the way to Van Meter, so we set out to do just that. A minor glitch occurred when we came upon a section of Grand that was closed with no marked detour. A slightly more major glitch occurred when Grand Avenue ended unexpectedly at a set of barricades several miles before reaching Van Meter, with a right-hand turn being the only option.

Not expecting this, but being pretty familiar overall with the concept of going one direction when I intended to go another, I knew we’d eventually end up in a spot I recognized. So we pressed on to the north and picked up Interstate 80, then headed west to Van Meter.

We arrived at the Iowa Veteran’s Cemetery around 3 p.m. The cemetery was dedicated in the summer of 2008 and will serve as interment grounds for any US veteran wishing to be buried there. Spouses of veterans may also choose burial there. Because the facility is so new, there are very few actually interred at this time. Still, you can see where several sections have been started, most with only 1-2 rows of stones so far. Several permanent buildings also dot the rolling hillsides (a cemetery office, a building where committal ceremonies are held), as well as a large memorial, and there is a section where stones can be erected in memory of veterans buried elsewhere. (More information is available on the cemetery’s website at

We stayed for about 30 minutes and then rode down into Van Meter, where we stopped at the Casey’s General Store. I asked the clerk there about a way back to Des Moines that didn’t involve the Interstate. He immediately told us about “F90,” the county road that I had thought was the western stretch of Grand Avenue. Despite the fact that I reported Grand Avenue ending in a forced right turn, he insisted that F90 would take us straight into Des Moines.

We left Van Meter and picked up F90 at the south end of town, then headed east back toward Des Moines. Turns out the clerk was right – F90 ends at Grand Avenue not too far from those barricades, and if we’d turned left there on our way west we would have avoided the forced right turn to the north. Ah well, all in a day’s work – it was a nice ride, if a bit short in deference to the cool weather. Hoping to organize a return trip to this area next summer!

Beautiful weekend on the new bike

by on July 28, 2009
in Iowa Rides

Had another great weekend on the bikes – first chance to really test out the new 1200 Custom. I knew Steve was wanting to get the oil changed (she only had 1300 miles on her and hadn’t yet had her thousand-mile service) but I wanted to ride. Because I always get my way, we rounded up a great bunch of friends including Wade, Howard, Susan (Coyote!), Steve, myself and our daughter Stephanie, for a shakedown cruise on Saturday afternoon.

What a beautiful day – calm, mostly sunny, warm – just perfect. We took off from the far south side of Des Moines and headed west to Highway 28, which took us South through Norwalk to Highway 92 at Martensdale, then west to Winterset. (Yes, we ride to Winterset fairly often – LOL – it’s a lovely small town, a sort of “gateway” to Madison County riding, and my mother’s whole family happens to be from there so it has a bit of a special place in my heart.) Thus far the 1200 and I were getting along great – she rides so smooth at highway speed, and the handlebars Steve had put on for me were SO much better than the drag bars she came with. We stopped at Casey’s at the junction of Highway 92 and 169 for a break – always lots of good conversation on these little breaks, sometimes bike-related and sometimes not. On this trip, Steve was testing out the video camera we’d given him for his birthday, and wanted to find a four-lane highway so he could up alongside each of us to shoot a little riding footage. The nearest choice was the Highway 5 bypass that runs east to west across the south side of Des Moines, so we decided that we’d take 169 north to a county road that would take us back up toward Norwalk and the bypass. 

We left the Casey’s behind and traveled north up 169 til we found a county road called G4R. Now Madison County is about as beautiful as Iowa gets with its rolling hills and lush valleys, and in that respect G4R did not disappoint with its lovely rural homesteads and pretty curves. Where this road completely failed was in the area of maintenance. It’s a prime example of my comment about “seams” – actual raised seams that remind me of welts – in Iowa road repairs. They don’t look like much – they raise up probably less than 12 inches. But on a bike, they’re jarring and, if tall enough, unsafe. Adding to the discomfort is that they’re always a surprise – you can never really tell when one’s coming up – and it can be downright painful to go over one. At one point, the whole right-hand portion of our lane was busted up and a few in our group had to swerve to miss it. Given the six-figure value of some of the beautiful new homes along this road, I’m surprised the County would let this road stand the way it is. I’m surprised the folks who live along here would put up with it.

G4R became G14 at Cumming, and took us back into Norwalk where we turned north to head back to Highway 5. Once on 5, Steve rolled up alongside each of us in turn in the left-hand lane and had Stephanie shoot some video of us riding along. A few miles later we exited Highway 5 onto Des Moines’ Army Post Road, and we ended the ride with a beverage break at the same Casey’s we’d departed from at 1:30. We recruited a random customer to snap a photo of our entire group, then headed home.

Later, Steve, Stephanie and I got to watch the videos that Steph had shot… only to see them get accidentally deleted from the camera before being saved to the computer. So, no video from this trip, but we did learn that the camera works pretty good and Steph knows how to get some great shots!

Friday Fives: 5 reasons riding in Iowa ROCKS

by on July 24, 2009
in Friday Fives

I’ve often thought it would be nice to live in a state where the weather allowed for year-round riding, but lately I’ve been coming around to the notion that having a “winter break” is worthwhile.

Since I’ve owned a bike and ridden around a fair bit of this state, I’ve come to realize a few things that now make me glad I ride where I do.

1. We’ve got curves! Sure there are some spots in Iowa where it’s nothing but long, flat ribbons of highway. But, it doesn’t take long to find the kind of twisty curves that make riding a blast – Madison County, for one… eastern Iowa for another… the Loess Hills of western Iowa… and much in between.

2. We’ve got scenery! Whether you’re coming around a curve as Saylorville Marina comes into view, or cresting a hill on F48 with lush green rolling farmland laid out before you, Iowa is a beautiful state.

3. We’ve got four seasons! And only one of ‘em isn’t suitable for riding, usually from about late November through mid-April. But, here’s the thing: that forced winter break makes you really appreciate the riding time you DO have, so none’s wasted when the opportunity finally arrives. And, if you’ve got plans for major changes to your bike, you can make ‘em in winter so you don’t have down-time during the riding months.

4. We don’t have traffic! Someone mentioned this in the comments of one of my posts (or was it in a forum?) recently… she lives in CA and said yes, they have year-round (almost) riding but it takes TWO HOURS or more to get anyplace where there isn’t a lot of traffic, just so you can slow down and enjoy the ride. I don’t know about you, but I can find a beautiful twisty and low-traffic two-lane just ten minutes from home that’s perfect for a mind-clearing ride any time I need it. I can ride all summer without ever once using the major Interstate that runs along the north end of town, or even the freeway that cuts through the middle.

5. We’ve got road food! We still have lovely, flourishing small towns filled with local home-spun restaurants so you can spend your entire riding life fulfilling your quest to find the best pork tenderloin. And, as an added bonus, there’s usually a local roadside oddity or historic site to make the day more interesting.

My one gripe about Iowa as far as the bikes are concerned? Road repairs are getting shoddy… it’s not that they aren’t making them, it’s that there seems to be a trend to make a raised seam across the road when a repair is made. Everyone who works for the DOT – from engineers to road crews – should be forced to ride these repaired roads on a Sportster before they call it quits for the day. If Iowa wants to attract more bikers as tourists, they should mark my words and make nice, SMOOTH road repairs. (St. Donatus, are you listening?)

SO – your turn to share your view: why do you like riding in the state you live in? What do you NOT like? Do you STILL wish you lived in a year-round-riding state? Let’s hear it!

Riders travel to Freedom Rock to honor veterans

by on May 20, 2009
in Events

Weather’s been beautiful here during the work week but crappy on the weekends, so I haven’t been out on the bike for awhile. But, Cassie took the opportunity to ride to Freedom Rock near Greenfield on Monday, May 18. The group traveled over to meet the riders who are heading from the west coast to The Wall in Washington, DC in honor of Viet Nam veterans. (I think I’m going to have to make Cassie an official “stringer” for Biker Chick News – she takes a lot of great pictures and she manages to make the rides I usually miss!)

Freedom Rock is a large boulder situated on Highway 25 just north of Greenfield, Iowa. Each year, artist Ray Sorensen paints a veteran-themed collage on the rock to recognize US veterans.

That’s Ray in the white sweatshirt.

Here’s a great-looking “rat bike” full of memorabilia – the riders also stopped at the veterans’ cemetery in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Friday Fives: 5 places in Iowa you must see

by on April 10, 2009
in Friday Fives

In celebration of Biker Chick News‘s fifth birthday, here’s the first in the “Friday Fives” series of bike-related lists. This week: five cool places we’ve visited that make great day-rides:

1. Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend – Father Frank Dobberstein was so grateful to recover from pneumonia that he built a shrine to the Virgin Mary out of precious stones and Iowa rocks, and just kept building for the rest of his life! (Northern Iowa, northwest of Ft. Dodge)

2. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri Valley – Beautiful wildlife preserve frequented by thousands of migrating snow geese. Also features an amazing exhibition of items from the 1800’s, found preserved by mud in the sunken Bertrand steamboat, razed from the Missouri River in 1968.  (Western Iowa, on the Missouri River just west of Missouri Valley)

3. Albert the Bull, Audubon – Giant concrete statue of a friendly-looking bull, erected to commemorate the contributions of the Iowa beef industry. Very pretty ride. (West central Iowa, west of Guthrie Center)

4. Pike’s Peak State Park, McGregor – Stunning overlook offers a grand view of the Mississippi River, with Prairie du Chien, WI on the other side. (Northeastern Iowa, along the Mississippi.)

5. J&P Cycles, Anamosa – Can’t live in Iowa without visiting Chrome Mecca, J & P Cycles. Biker heaven hosts an annual Open House event that draws thousands. New “Scooters” eatery is right down the road. (East central Iowa, northeast of Cedar Rapids)

And a few more I’m still anxious see:

1. America’s River Museum, Dubuque

2. Arnold’s Park Amusement Park, Lake Okoboji

3. Wilton Candy Kitchen, Wilton