Loop ride to Cambridge - Bridging the Gap - CycleBlaze

March 31, 2020

Loop ride to Cambridge

I woke this morning in a bit of a funk.  Although I’d had a wonderful ride yesterday, I was beginning to worry if cycling was safe. Concerns included becoming infected and, if so, unknowingly transmitting the virus during an asymptomatic period. My concerns rose with increasing evidence that there may be some level of aerosol, or airborne, virus transmission.  Given the huge numbers of people out enjoying the nearby trails, it is near impossible to avoid encountering a walker or cyclist coming from the opposite direction. Not to mention following in someone’s “breath/spit/snot” stream. I did cover my nose and mouth yesterday while riding through Ada Hayden, but this did not seem like a longterm workable solution.

 It was another splendid day, one that needed a solution to my dilemma. I reasoned that although the trails are more crowded, the roads would be less crowded. This would be especially true on the smaller county and gravel roads laid out in a one-mile grids across the state. To test my hypothesis, I planned a loop ride through Huxley and Cambridge that included a combination of paved and unpaved county roads along with a smattering of trails.

My route took me past the ISU veterinary college, where I worked for 16 years before a 4-year interlude Washington State. The pavement ended just south of the town line and my gravel adventures begans

This Ames multi-use trail meanders for about 1.5 miles south along Squaw Creek
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A nice trail through woods and a golf course is in the early stages of transitioning to a roadway
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Where there's a golf course there's a goose
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End of the construction zone - at least for now. Shows how nice the trail was before road construction.
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The new animal hospital at ISU Veterinary College
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Cy, the mascot of the ISU Cyclones, decked out as Dr. Cy in white coat and surgical scrubs. Glad he's not wasting PPE.
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The gravel was fairly hard-packed, resulting in a more comfortable ride than yesterday. Traffic was light save for the occasional car or farm-related vehicle that raced by kicking up a cloud of dust. Today, I used my buff to block dust, not viruses. A mile down the gravel road I came to Black’s Heritage Farm, a cluster of old barns and grain bins and goods for sale.  Designation as a Heritage Farms is a formal recognition given to farms where there has been consecutive ownership within the same family for 150 years or more. Black’s farm may have once been a prosperous producer of grains and/or livestock but today is a tourist farm that generates income from sweet corn stands, pumpkin patches, buggy rides and the on-site sales of various sundries including eggs, firewood, scrap metal and timbers.  I don't know how successful these activities are, but the sweet corn is delicious.

Black's Heritage farm located about 4 miles south of downtown Ames
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Old barns and grain bins of Black's Heritage Farm
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Scott AndersonYou should have picked up one and hauled it home.
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Susan CarpenterUnfortunately I'd left my bungie cords at home and so wasn't able to attach them to my rear rack.
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A patch of rich black Iowa soil
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I continued south for another 5 miles, through an open landscape of fallow fields occasionally punctuated by farmsteads and small clusters of trees. When Iowa was settled in the 19th century, the early farms averaged 160 acres, a quarter section of one square mile. A network of small roads developed to serve those farms, running north-south and east-west every mile - mile after mile after mile. Over time, the farms grew in size, the farm families moved away, and the small towns lost their schools, their commerce, and their population. But the network of roads remain, mostly gravel and lightly traveled. Exploring these roads allows me to glimpse an Iowa that simultaneously reflects the past, present and future of rural America. So even though I am home, the experience is similar to a tour of new places and experiences. I just won't be meeting many new folks!

The road jogged east then south, and I came upon a large farm with several outbuildings. There was a tractor working the field, turning over the remnants of last year’s corn crop. Stopping to take some pictures, I heard the thumps and grunts of animals coming from a weathered shed. Rounding the corner revealed source of the grunts, and a sight I’d not seen for about 20 years – pigs outside in the open air. There are about 25 million pigs in Iowa virtually all of which are housed in concentrated animal feeding operations, each housing thousands of hogs. This farm was truly a flash from the past, and the pigs seemed to be enjoying their time in the sun.

Fallow fields stretch for miles
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Roads of rural Iowa
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I couldn't begin to count the number of outbuildings on this farm
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Springtime work in the fields
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An old-fashioned pig farm - a rare sight indeed
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Scott AndersonThey’re rare here too, but I also saw one last week, not far from John Day.
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Pigs loving the sunshine. Reminds me of Chester, Lester and Hester - the three little pigs I raised when I was in graduate school back in Massachusetts
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Getting ready to apply the anhydrous ammonia
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I stopped at a small park in downtown Huxley for a quick lunch. It was the first time I’d seen downtown. I’d driven through what I thought was Huxley many times, wary of speed traps as I passed through a series of shopping centers flanking the state highway. With its new subdivisions and golf course, Huxley seemed to be one of the more prosperous of the nearby small towns, a commuter haven between Ames and Des Moines with easy access to the interstate. Nonetheless, downtown Huxley had the all too familiar veneer of a town that had seen better days.

Leaving Huxley, I headed east on the Heart of Iowa Trail, a crushed limestone byway that is part of the Great American Rail Trail. It was a delightful stretch, a warming afternoon on a well-maintained surface. The trees flanking the trail had not leafed out, providing both a nice view of the surrounding countryside as well as a little break from the northerly winds. After a few miles, a water tower came into view signaling that I was approaching Cambridge. 

Huxley - you can almost tell the size of the town by the size of the water tower
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Corner of First and Main in downtown Huxley, IA
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Lunch stop in Huxley Memorial Park. The monument included the names of all Huxley residents who were lost during wars dating back to WWII. It reminded me of France.
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Heart of Iowa Trail - part of the Great American Rail Trail
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Approaching Cambridge
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Downtown Cambridge
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The only gas station/convenience store in Cambridge is boarded up and for sale.
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America first runs deep here, and Steve King is our congressman
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Another former school that has been repurposed for housing
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After a once around Cambridge I headed north toward Ames on a paved county road. I didn’t dawdle, stopping only a couple of times to take pictures. One stop was at a ghost bike, a grim reminder of the potential danger in sharing the road with large vehicles traveling at high speeds. I was soon back on familiar roads, stopping to chat with neighbors who were out for a walk – all while maintaining good social distancing. Back home, reflecting on the day and my earlier hypothesis, I became hopeful that I can cycle through the pandemic, joyfully experiencing both the familiar haunts and newfound treasures of central Iowa.   

Cattle grazing on last year's corn field, the traditional way to apply organic fertilizer
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More manure application
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An unusual sight today - two vehicles at once
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A grim reminder that no matter how little traffic, it only takes one inattentive driver to change things forever
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Back home
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Today's ride: 33 miles (53 km)
Total: 52 miles (84 km)

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Scott AndersonWe’re finding the same thing here - the safest place to be is on these old, empty back roads. The most folks we saw here before the shutdown order were at formerly quiet places like Sauvie Island and the Banks-Vernonia Trail. The county roads though really are empty.
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