Saturday, May 21, 2005

Half Baked

I take my baking seriously. This week on my day off I was in the middle of whipping up some Moldavian feta cheese cornbread when I discovered I had neglected to buy cornmeal. I cursed up a blue streak, slammed around the kitchen in a panic, pulled on sandals and a jacket, and dashed out into the rain to try to buy cornmeal at the Dollar General before my broccoli casserole had to come out of the oven.

Doubtless a little worried by my behavior, my neighbor emerged from his apartment just as I stepped out onto my front step. I grinned sheepishly, "Out of cornmeal," and took off at a dead run.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Back Roads and New Neighbors, Part 2

I got a day off this week and decided to find Sugar Bottom Recreational Area, site of the only mountain bike trails I know of around here. I knew the directions I had were inadequate, and the park was not marked on my map. First I found the wrong recreational area, stopped, and acquired directions and a map, so after that I went straight to Sugar Bottom. Of course when I arrived, I didn't know where the bike trails were. I stopped at the campground to ask, and they didn't know either. They had a map of the bike trails, and I had that too, but we couldn't tell what part of the park the trails were in.

However, the signs seemed to be pointing me to the beach, so I went there. At first I only found the frisbee golf course, the picnic shelter, and the bathrooms, but then I spotted a dilapidated sign at the far end of the parking lot. There it was: the access road to the bike trails.

I was glad to visit Sugar Bottom on a weekday morning when there was no one else around. I knew I was clueless, and I didn't want to be a rolling roadblock slowing down all the other riders. On that weekday morning I was alone. The only sounds in the woods were the cries of the birds, the whirr of my bicycle tires, and my muffled shrieks and curses.

The trails are rated "easier," "more difficult," and "most difficult." Some of the "most difficult" ones have colorful names like Hell Trail. I only briefly attempted a "more difficult" trail, but it seemed to have the same obstacles as "easier," just more of them. I suspect there is a substantial jump between "more difficult" and "most difficult."

Frequently on the "easier" trails I couldn't make it up a hill, either because it was too steep for me, or more often because I couldn't navigate the tree roots. I would get my rear wheel caught on a root and come to a dead stop, and then I couldn't get started again because of the uphill path choked with tree roots. Twice I simply carried my bike up a hill because the tree roots were so huge. Once my chain came off its track when I shifted down while ascending a steep hill. I took some skin off my thumb from gripping my handlebars too tightly.

I'm proud of my bicycle for managing all the bumps and abrupt changes of direction. My spokes are all intact.

I had to stop from time to time to admire the scenery, which was quite varied and nice. There was no time to look while I was riding! I was always either pedaling hard to get uphill, or holding the brakes like a total sissy on the downhill. I did improve over the course of my ride, and one time the cackling birds were briefly silenced by my raucous whooping and hollering after I made it up a root-choked hill without stopping.

I enjoy birds. I enjoy birds except . . . except when they take up residence in my air conditioner. Last week a pair of sparrows did just that. They would flap their wings against the grate of my A/C at 5:45 a.m. sharp, waking me up. Although it was 40 degrees outside, I ran my A/C fan in an attempt to frighten the birds away, but I was the only one frightened by the clanking, sickly churning of my A/C. The sparrows were unphased.

My A/C is well out of reach of a broom handle, so I called my landlady. She promised to come out the next day, but she didn't make it, and these birds were making a very large nest, so at 8:15 p.m. I took action. I laid my yoga mat out and wrapped it around the tip of a dowel to make a long pole, and when that wasn't quite long enough, I clipped my dust pan to the other end of the dowel. I was on a mission, and I didn't care how much of a crackpot the neighbors thought I was.

I knocked down about half the nest, with the sparrow couple watching me in dismay from a nearby phone line. "The crazy predator is after our humble home! Have we offended? Edna, what can have gotten into that monkey with the stick? I've never seen anything like it!" They were so sure I must have had a bout with temporary insanity, that they came back and rebuilt the next day. Equally obstinate, I gave the nest a quick knock in the morning, and my landlady got the rest down in the afternoon. The sparrows decided that since there were multiple monkeys with sticks, appearing at irregular but frequent intervals, maybe this wasn't such a great place to start a family after all, and they moved on to a quieter spot with saner neighbors.

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Back Roads and New Neighbors, Part 1

Occasionally I use my bicycle to save a quart of gas by riding to the next town instead of driving, but most of the time when I ride, I use up a gallon or two of gas by driving my bike somewhere and then riding on a trail. I feel a bit silly about this, but it sure is nicer than riding around town, especially now, when the town's lilacs are in bloom and I practically choke on their overwhelmingly heavy perfume. By the time I get across town, I feel sick to my stomach.

Trailheads are often located in the countryside, and I sometimes have to travel obscure roadways to find them. Driving on back roads in Iowa is challenging even for an experienced navigator such as myself, and I've decided to search for a road atlas of the state. Ordinary road maps show most of the roads, but they don't provide names for the small roads. I have to guess as to whether I'm on the correct road.

Last week I rode my bike from Graf, a tiny village in the hills west of Dubuque, an area similar in appearance to much of Pennsylvania. Only one road goes to Graf, and much to my surprise, the bridge from the east was out. I could either go back south the way I came and approach Graf from the northwest, or I could reverse direction and head east, look for a turn to the north, find the highway going west, and cut south in the hope of finding Graf Road. I accomplished this without making a single wrong turn, although it took 25 minutes, and I did not know I had chosen the correct route until Fivepoints Road became Graf Road a couple miles north of Graf. Graf is a lovely spot to ride from, but in future I'll park in Epworth instead so I won't have to worry about any collapsed bridges.

The ride was simply divine; I particularly enjoy the views of creeks that flow alongside the trail and cross it under bridges. There was one view that I'd like to forget, but it is, thankfully, unlikely to recur. Let's just say that bicyclists move faster than pedestrians, so a pedestrian might be in the midst of a private act and not notice an oncoming cyclist.

I saw two Great Blue Herons together, the first time I had seen more than one at a time. However, the next week at Coralville Reservoir I saw several, as well as possibly an osprey, and many smaller birds.

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