Nick on the bike 2005: Oregon to Virginia
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Day 34: Onawa to Council Bluffs / Lake Manawa SP
August 17, 2005, 6:53 PM
Where am I now: Council Bluffs, Iowa (41.20309N by 95.85302W at 986 ft.)
Today's distance: 79 miles

This has been another one of those days where the last half is very different from the first half, where at one time or another various systems were stressed to the max. And once again I've come through it all & ended up in a nice place. I'm camped on the shore of yet another abandoned meander loop lake south of Council Bluffs. The city skyline is in view across the lake.

The wind was blowing this morning before the sun even got fired up, I had to use the aluminum shield around the stove to keep it going to heat the breakfast water. The wind was from the south, and that's where I'm headed these days. I knew things were going to be difficult. The weather radio said southerly winds 15 to 25mph, thunderstorms in the afternoon.

bike headed south, BOB flag pointing north....

Got on the road shortly after sunup, and settled into a morning with stiff wind directly in my face, alternating between the drops and aero bars. Cranking along at the right cadence in what my knees say is the right gear, I'm doing 10, 11mph on a perfectly flat road. There's no respite, if I stand on the pedals briefly to rest my butt, the bike just stops in the road.

I decided a week or two ago to deal with the wind with a spirit of gracious professionalism rather than get mad at it. I still curse it to anyone listening, but at this point I'm a well-oiled machine in terms of riding the bike. I run a cadence that fits, and use the gears to keep below the threshold where I begin to feel pain of lactate acid or whatever it is in my legs. That will carry me and BOB up hill and down dale all day long. It will also carry us through the wind all day long, but I'll take the hills over the wind any day. The wind has no redeeming characteristics, it's just a bitch.

I pass through cornfields where the corn is bent back into the direction from which I've come. Each little hamlet has a grain elevator and some trees, which sometimes block the wind for a bit. There's a rail line running parallel to the road, a long train comes through carrying hoppers of coal north (wonder where that's coming from). The train runs some positive interference with the wind but then we go our separate ways.

About 30 miles into this effort I pull into the town of Mondamin.

There's a cafe, I plop myself down in the corner booth and regroup. My mood immediately shifts as I become engaged in conversation with other folks hanging out in the restaurant. Charlotte wants to know the usual stuff, where I'm from, where I'm going, what does my wife think about it, etc. Turns out she has a cousin who lives up the road from us in Madison VA, used to live in Virginia herself. Over the next half hour I get to listen to all the gossip of Mondamin, Iowa while I feast on breakfast. Takes my mind off the wind.

In Mondamin my route shifted eastward for a few miles, over to a road that runs along Iowa's Loess Hills. These are wind blown deposits of glacially derived loam, that form a series of rolling hills east of the Missouri River through much of Iowa. As the road runs in and out along the base of the hills, the hills occasionally run beneficial interference with the wind. Some of the hills have perfect dune-like form, I stop and take photos.

it's a dune!!!! prevailing winds left-to-right

After Honey Creek the road climbs up into the hills, and it's just like home. Winding roads with hardwood woods and farm land. There are roadcuts in the loess, the stuff is not stratified, no hard rock, looks like you could dig as deep as you want with a front-end loader. The topography and trees take care of the wind for the moment, this is neat, it's a whole new ride.

All is not completely wonderful though, as it begins to rain, and gusty winds find their way into the hills. I'm now a just a few miles out of Council Bluffs, faced with my second urban adventure in as many days. There's a state park on the other side of town that I've been aiming for, but if the weather worsens I'll need to deal with finding a motel.

As it turns out, the weather had cleared somewhat by the time I got into town proper. I stopped at a grocery store on the north side, then proceeded with the ACA routing through the city. This time it went great, although I never did see down town until I got here and looked at it from afar. The city has an amazing network of paved bike trails.

I navigated my way through using the ACA map, and then was faced with figuring out how to get out to this park. The GPS showed just a bunch of big roads, no little ones. And yes, there was industrial wasteland to be crossed. I was standing astride the rig at an intersection peering at the GPS map when a jogger on the trail happened by. I hailed her & asked how best to navigate to Lake Manawa State Park. Cindy welcomed me to Council Bluffs, and gave me directions on how to get out there--on bike trails without having to deal with any big roads! I then had a relaxing tour that took me across wetlands, underneath Interstate Highway mayhem, past tank farms, rail yards and an occasional corn field, ending up at the park. This was really a lot of fun after a difficult day.

There's a lot more to a city than one can easily grasp on a single pass-through by bicycle. But this one appears to be bicycle friendly. Could have been a different story in Sioux City had I run into somebody who knew their way around from a cyclist's perspective.