Last weekend, Sabra and I rode our bicycles on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail (CVNT).
We started at the southeastern trailhead in Hiawatha, just north of Cedar Rapids, and finished at an Econolodge between Waterloo and Cedar Falls.
The CVNT is a rails-to-trails, meaning it was an abandoned railway that has been converted into a trail. There’s many more around the country.
One thing that is missing on rail trails is hills. Because trains don’t climb or descend well, the rails could not have a slope steeper than 3 percent, and in general were built with even less tolerance. For long stretches on the CVNT, for example, it’s hard to tell if you’re riding up, down or atop a completely flat surface.
This makes for easy pedaling.
Because the beds were designed and built to support trains, the structure is extremely sturdy. Often laid before the advent of fossil fuel engines and unemployment compensation, the tracks were typically built by thousands of hands putting in millions of 12-hour shifts for wages slightly more attractive than indentured servitude.
Now, our country needs energy independency. While we have the technology and capacity to put up windmills and solar panels on a large scale, we lack the grid to get the power from where it can be produced to where it’s needed.
The “grid” in this case is high voltage transmission wire strung in the air by building towers every couple of hundred yards. In scope it’s no larger than crisscrossing the country with railroad tracks or damming the Colorado. Under the leadership of our new president it sounds as if we have a chance of “get’n ‘er done.”
Another endearing feature of the trails is that they typically pass through a small town every 10 miles or so. The CVNT does not disappoint. After Hiawatha, we passed through Center Point, Urbana, Brandon and La Porte City before hitting Waterloo.
We like to lunch in Brandon, home of the world’s largest frying pan. Like many Iowa small towns, Brandon’s business district is pretty much gone but there’s one old fashioned café, one tavern and one convenience store.
On the way up we hit the café too early for lunch so we stopped in for ice teas, one dollar each and free refills. We came back through on Sunday and everything was closed but the convenience store, where we rested for a while.
While hanging out, I overheard two men talking about the big T-ball tournament that was going on and the controversy surrounding it. Judging from the poster featuring the brackets, there were about a dozen teams involved. The controversy popped up when it worked out that the two teams making it to the final game were from the same, nearby small town. Not wanting either team to go home losers, the coaches of the two teams got together and decided not to play the final game.
They asked the organizers of the tourney if they could be named co-champions.
The request split the town into two camps: Those who felt it was a lovely gesture, and those that thought it was somehow a snub. Some places they settle disputes with rifles– here we sort things out over a cup of coffee.
The ride up was on a hot, humid day with a headwind that stiffened as the day passed. We ended up lost and confused in the city, which is a tradition when we visit the area. Luckily, the people of Waterloo go out of their way to be helpful. Unfortunately, a large portion of the population is direction-challenged. The end result is lots of friendly, bad advice. It’s actually quite endearing. People eagerly approach you, chat pleasantly and then send you in the wrong direction.
Our ride back featured a cool clear morning with a headwind all the way home. It was the kind of day anyone can appreciate to a degree, but only someone who has endured all of the Iowa weather can totally appreciate.
Even the gnats seemed to be at rest.