Eldora - Bridging the Gap - CycleBlaze

May 14, 2020

Eldora

In pre-pandemic times, this was the date I was scheduled to leave for Frankfurt, the launching point for a tour along the Via Claudia Augustus from Donauworth through the Alps to Bologna.  I decided to commemorate the day with a tour in a part of Iowa I had not previously visited. I settled on Eldora, a town of 2,600 located along the Iowa River about 50 miles northeast of Ames. After a leisurely morning visiting with neighbors, I arrived in Eldora at a quarter past eleven and headed south on county highway S62.

The landscape was varied, with horse farms and lush pastures mixed in with the usual cropland. A “Road Closed Ahead” sign appeared a couple of miles out of town, but I did not give it serious thought as vehicles continued to go by in both directions. Also, my experience has been that bicycles are often able to detour around road closures. I grew a bit concerned when traffic petered out after the third closure sign, but an inviting downward swoop beckoned me onward. As I neared line of trees at the bottom of the hill, it occurred to me that there might be a bridge ahead – the Iowa River was still to my east, but perhaps there was a tributary or small channel that crossed S62. Sure enough, the bridge over the South Fork of the Iowa River was closed for repair and there was no safe passage to the other side. With no regrets, I headed back up and found what looked to be an alternate route. I stopped a large truck that just happened by, and the friendly driver confirmed my assessment. Thankful that I had brought Vivien George rather than my road bike, I embarked on a five-mile gravel detour.

The ride begins at the Hardin County Courthouse in Eldora
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Scott AndersonHere’s another one that looks like a French chateau.
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Heading south on S27
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Lush horse pastures
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And the ever-present farmland
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Such an inviting swoop. I'll ignore the fact that the distant tree line suggests an upcoming water crossing
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Oops! Road is definitely closed - even to bicycles
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Backtracking
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I have come to really enjoy exploring the dirt/gravel roads of rural Iowa. In the more rural areas, away from the populated towns like Ames, the small gravel rock has given way to hard-packed dirt, making for easier, safer, and more comfortable riding. There is a quiet calm to these roads that remind me a bit of the small lanes in Europe, roads you can ride with your head on a swivel, intoxicating yourself with the surrounding sights, sounds and smells. This gravel detour was mostly dirt, dropping down to Iowa River and gradually climbing as I headed east and zig-zagged to the south. A final turn back west took me down to the bottomlands and across the Iowa River where I rejoined the S62 county highway. From there, it was a quick couple of miles into Union.

Early settlers to Union (pop~400) were mostly Quakers from North Carolina who were attracted by rich farmland and proximity to the Iowa River, which provided water, wood, and small game. The town hosts an annual Tar-Heel Days to celebrate their North Carolina heritage but today they were celebrating Dixie, who was retiring from the Hardin County Savings Bank.

On the gravel detour
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Happy gravel biker
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On the gravel detour
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In the bottomlands
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Crossing the Iowa River
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Beer Garden and Dance Hall, Union, IA
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Post office, Union, IA
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Downtown Union, IA
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Almost every car/truck/farm vehicle that passed honked for Dixie.
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Lunch break at small town park
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After lunch in Union, I headed west on county highway D55. It was the best stretch of the day, an exhilarating, rolling ride under a brilliant blue sky on a newly surfaced road. The only downsides were a crosswind and a pair of dogs that gave futile chase. I even had a cycling companion of sorts. I had stopped for a photo op when Ty passed me on the opposite side of the road, commenting on what a nice day it was for a bike ride. He was a young man (around 18?) pedaling furiously on a very small pink bike. I caught up with him on the next hill, where we met the aforementioned dogs – Ty informed me that he often encounters them on his walks into town. The dogs were neither overly aggressive nor persistent and we passed by without incident. Ty pulled ahead as I stopped for pictures but I eventually caught up with him and we had a pleasant conversation while pedaling on opposite sides of the road. He told me he had walked into town with a shovel but, not wanting to haul it back, had left the shovel in town and pick up the pink bike to cycle home. Such is small town life. We bade farewell at his turnoff, and I soon turned north into the wind.

The road climbed gradually into New Providence, situated at the highest point in the surrounding area. I passed the historic Honey Creek Friends Meeting House on the south edge of town - something I was surprised to see until I discovered that the early settlers to the region were Quakers. I also learned that New Providence has attracted a small core (n=6) of millennials who have taken over/started small businesses in this very small town (pop 225). 

Another New Providence building on the National Registry of Historical Places sits on the northern edge of town. The Roundhouse is a gymnasium built in 1936 as a WPA project. It continued to host area basketball tournaments and serve as a school facility into the 1980’s, but now functions as a community center.

Rollers ahead
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Along D55
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On D55 - the small dot in the distance is Ty, pedaling furiously
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Along D55
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Heading north along S55
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I was so surprised to find this sign indicating a Friends Meeting House that I neglected to take a picture of the church - which is on the National Registry of Historic Places
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Downtown New Providence, IA
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The New Providence Hardware, the oldest hardware store in Iowa, is one of the six millennial-owned businesses in New Providence.
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The New Providence Roundhouse - once a gymnasium, now a community center
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I continued north on S55 for another eight miles, initially a gradual downhill into a steady but not too stiff headwind. I looped east and south toward Eldora and took the back way into town on a nice gravel road. 

I was attracted to visit Eldora because I had recently seen a photo of the Hardin County Courthouse, another of the many Iowa county courthouses on the National Register of Historic Places. Occupying Eldora's central square, the courthouse was designed by TD Allen in the Romanesque Revival style with a mix of other architectural elements. I strolled around the square, which was quite busy today as our governor has opened almost all businesses and facilities. On the way out of town, I picked up some chocolate milk and Ritz crackers with peanut butter – a most satisfactory finish to a truly wonderful day of cycling. It almost made me forget about the Alps!

Leaning silo of New Providence? Bearded silo of New Providence? Leaning bearded silo of New Providence?
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The field look a bit like wide-wale corduroy
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Last gravel run of the day
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Back where I started
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Around the square in Eldora, IA
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Around the square in Eldora, IA
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Around the square in Eldora, IA
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Home
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Today's ride: 38 miles (61 km)
Total: 556 miles (895 km)

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