The first weekend in May Andrea took a group of University of Iowa students bike touring to Lake MacBride. She recounts the weekend and stories right here!
The students had signed up for the Intermediate Bike Touring class that is offered once a semester. The class description offered a brief introduction for what lay ahead that weekend, students should be prepared for around 80 miles of riding, camping overnight, and a fun time! What wasn’t listed was just how tough this trip would be. They would be carrying their own gear and food. What seems like a simple task was complicated by the fact that no cars were used all weekend! Just bicycles to carry what was needed. Throughout the reflection of this weekend I will sprinkle in what the student’s learned and what they wanted to share with you! I hope you enjoy!
“I had a very special weekend enjoying bicycle touring. Because it is called intermediate bicycle touring, it is not very easy for people to take this course. I have not had exercise for months, so I find it very hard to ride as fast as other students. I really hate uphill because my thigh will hurt so much. It is a torture to me especially when I am lack of exercise. At first, I enrolled in this course because I need one more semester hour and I’ve done long-distance bicycle touring in China. Therefore, I thought this course will not be easy but it will be fine for me to take it. I was wrong, and that remind me of how important it is to exercise regularly. However, I find it very comfortable after a long journey and then take a break. It feels so good to have a rest or have something to eat when you are exhausted. There are only seven people riding together, and I think it would be more fun if more people can ride together. What is very interesting about this kind of touring is that you can see some funny people and things. Also, if you survive from this touring, you will have a sense of accomplishment.”
We met late Wednesday night to go over some planning. The outline for overnight bike camping trips may be one of the most important aspects. Just gauging expectations and levels of excitement can be done with easy questions. The class was small, 6 people, so I decided pair everyone up in tents. This way we could carry a little more food and less gear. Questions were covered and everyone was excited and a little nervous, perfect! I wanted to keep the introductory meeting light and fun, but at the same time realistic. After about an hour the students were armed with some solid knowledge to go along with what they would experience the coming weekend.
Early Saturday afternoon we met at University of Iowa outdoor center, Touch the Earth. We gathered our rental gear and started packing up the bikes. I would personally be riding my fat-bike loaded up with Revelate frame bags. The first bikes we packed up were three cyclo-cross rental bikes with B.O.B trailers. The trailers are outfitted with gigantic waterproof roll-top bags so they carried all of our sleeping bags, food, and extra essentials the students brought. The fourth bike was equipped with a rear rack so it would carry a pair of Arkel panniers. The panniers were loaded with tents and some more food. Two riders on road bike would leave unloaded, but not feeling left out. They would ride the same roads, just maybe going up the hills faster!
“My favorite part of the bicycle trip was that I never knew there were BOB trailers and so many things to customize on bikes. I learned a lot just talking to you, Mark, and Michael about how different bikes can be. The BOB trailer didn’t make a difference with my performance at all except going up certain hills but that could also relate to me being a little out of shape. I like feeling intelligent enough to be self-sustaining such as fixing my own problems like a flat tire or maybe a different broken piece, I also learned enough to customize my bicycle more by adding a BOB trailer which is super cool. I feel like I learned so much that I could just travel around campsites and go from one state to another with just myself, a bicycle, and a BOB trailer.”
After readying the bikes and double checking that everything was secured we headed out of town! Getting out of any town on a bike tour is usually the trickiest part of navigating the ride. I informed the students that we would be heading straight down IWV Road towards Oxford. Many of them had no idea what that meant other than having to go under 218, which is daunting. The students all had to complete a prerequisite bike touring class in order to take this one, so I knew they could confidently ride around town and beyond! Once we turned off of IWV we took a quick break to reassemble. The group worked very well together. I was starting to realize just how lucky I was with these students! Throughout the whole trip stopping and regrouping was done without asking and we safely kept our group together.
After some snacks we marched onward towards Oxford. We had started with a headwind that quickly turned into a tail-wind, with slightly over-cast sun. Nearly perfect weather! Not wanting to jinx our good fortune I didn’t mention much about the wind other than stating the head-wind would be done for good once we made it to Oxford. The goal gave the students something to push for. They carried their loaded bikes into town around 2:30 and we sat down for lunch. Lunch consisted of gas station cuisine, complete with pizza, ice cream, and bags of chips. Up until this point there was no complaints and everyone was still in great spirits. I also used the break to show the students how we had gotten to this point. Combining the forces of my Garmin 510 and hand-written you can anywhere! Paper maps are great, but weren’t needed for the short weekend trip.
Leaving Oxford our next destination would be North Liberty. We cruised alongside the Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area. The wind at our backs everyone stayed in good spirits, even racing each other! Half-way through the Wildlife Management Area we stopped at a local farmer’s market and picked up even more food! I made a point to let the students know that bike touring revolves mostly around obtaining food and eating it. Everyone was more confident having conquered more than half of the trip and were eager to arrive at the camp.
“I love biking; I love camping; when combine them together, something magic happens. The intermediate bike touring class provided an excellent platform for me to explore the nature and to the options I have to have fun on the bike. I was surprised that we carried everything we needed for the two-day trip. The sun was shining high; the wind was coming from different directions; and the (corn) field is to our right and to the left.”
Nature was treating us very well and we arrived in North Liberty around 4pm, took a quick stop for more snacks, and grabbed some firewood. The final stretch to Lake MacBride would be the toughest bit of riding. Mehaffey Bridge Road is still under construction, but I reassured the students that if they rode just as confidently as they had been through town and tricky roads they would be just fine. I am sure the thought of dinner and getting off the bikes propelled the students, but we all arrived at camp in one piece and smiling! It was a tough 30-odd miles, but I heard zero complaints the whole entire time we were on the road. None! I noticed sore bodies and faces wincing, but I never heard a groan or grumble. Amazing.
Settling into camp we quickly popped up the tents, started a fire, and made dinner in record time! After inhaling the food as quickly as possible we settled in to the fire and finally took a rest. I think Mark’s recounting of the camp-fire situation explains our group perfectly.
“Cycling and camping are two things I have loved to do since a young age but for the most part I thought the two were mutually exclusive until recently. I am not sure why I thought this, but I did and thought packing gear on a bike was only for the most hardcore of cyclists. So when we met for class on Wednesday, I was a bit skeptical that our crew would make it out unscathed. I don’t mean offense to any of the great people I met over the weekend, but I thought I would struggle and have been riding for months already this year and have been camping/backpacking all my life. So when we got into camp with relative ease (we all made it and we’re still joking despite some sore muscles and growling stomachs) I was a bit surprised. And then things got even better. The group came together while setting up camp and making dinner despite being fairly diverse. Our atypical camp music, Robin Grills, side hikes, and waiting out the rain helped make a team out of complete strangers. There wasn’t an ounce of frustration or a single complaint despite some lackluster conditions on and off (something I’ve seen even experienced backpackers get frustrated by). On the ride back, there was plenty of conversation and it seemed that everyone was already excited to get out and ride more. All in all it was one of the best weekends I have had in awhile. I am glad that everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and hopefully we can figure out some future rides.”
After a quick trip down to the spillway the students and I were knocked out no later than 10pm!
We woke fairly early on Sunday to rain. Lots of rain. We tore down the camp in the rain. Ate oatmeal in the rain. Then we waited out the rain under a nice gathering spot. The rain held on for at least 45 minutes. Within that time we realized we had a flat! With quick group work we fixed the flat with a tire boot and it gave us something to do within that rainy wait. The wait was worth it though. Heading out around 11:30 we were greeted with sunny skies and nearly no wind.
We took another of my favorite roads back into town, Sugarbottom Road. Winding through the freshly rained on roads and drying out the wet gear in the sun was just what we needed. Still not a single complaint and seemingly just as great spirits as the day before. The group had become a team and we worked together to get back into town!
“My favorite part of the trip was how surprised I was at how easy it was to ride with a trailer. I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure if the weight would affect my riding but it didn’t really. Uphill was difficult, but realistically it is regardless of the trailer. The only difference was being more aware of my turns and making them wider. I felt more accomplished when we reached the campsite and I had a trailer of things we all needed for the night. I’m sincerely glad I went this weekend and would recommend the class to any student wanting to get out of Iowa City for the day and do something active.”
Cruising back into town the students were more relaxed and confident. We rode straight through town with all of our gear. At one point Shea remarked, “We are just like little ducklings, following you everywhere!” Up and over Grand Avenue we passed by the University dorms and headed straight for lunch! Once again searching for that food. We devoured burgers and desserts at Stella, reviving our bodies and souls. After lunch it was just a quick jaunt back to the outdoor rental center. Sighs of relief and accomplishment filled the air as we unpacked. They had done it! Conquered the roads of Iowa City and beyond, something that a majority of the students never get to see! The class was all about just doing the riding. Learning by the experience and really taking the time to slow down and fully appreciate the weekend. Needless to say I think we all enjoyed a wonderful adventure on our bicycles together!
“It was a marvelous bike trip since the beginning. During the entire trip i was completely overwhelmed by the loveliness of the nature. Azure sky, vernal wind, brilliant sunshine, and farmland that extended all the way till the skyline just made everything enormously magnificent. For a moment that the peace was pierced by an American V8 from an old Corvette, enthusiasm took control. “Race me, Robin”, said my friend, followed by a half mile race, which I lost. The night was excellent. We camped near lake MacBride, and we shared our interesting stories and brilliant food, and that was when I got my new nick name, Doctor Robin. Haha, I am a Chemical engineer that always share my knowledge in our peaceful life, and at the trip, people enjoyed all my “3 minutes lectures”. Rainy morning and flat tube had never decreased the happiness of the trip. I was enjoying the trip, and so did everyone.”