Middle Raccoon River - Bridging the Gap - CycleBlaze

April 26, 2020

Middle Raccoon River

Perhaps the only trail in central Iowa that rivals the High Trestle Trail is the Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT), an 89-mile paved trail that includes a 72-mile loop. Passing through 14 Iowa towns, the RRVT is used by an estimated 350,000 people each year. Riding the loop is a benchmark achievement for central Iowans preparing for RAGBRAI and for the past several years has been the route for my “riding my age” birthday ride. I was very much looking forward to sharing the loop ride with readers of this journal. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is in the cards.

My usual starting point for cycling the RRVT is Perry, one of my favorite towns along the trail. Perry is also home to Tyson Fresh Meats, a meat packing plant located just off the RRVT trail on the western side of town. Many of you may have heard of the alarmingly high number of Covid-19 cases at meat packing plants in the US, notably in the Midwest. Outbreaks at Iowa plants in Waterloo and Columbus Junction have resulted in a surge of Covid-19 cases among plant workers and in the surrounding communities. Multiple cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed at the meat plant in Perry, but neither Tyson, the county, nor the state has released information as to the number of cases at the plant. Needless to say, I am not planning to ride my bicycle anywhere near Perry, Iowa.

Perry, Iowa - showing the location of the Tyson Fresh Meats plant. The green line denotes the Raccoon River Valley Trail. Though I've ridden past the plant several times, I did not know it was a meat packing plant until I looked at this map!
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Susan CarpenterUpdate on Tyson Fresh Meat Plant: On May 5, Iowa Governor announced that 58% of workers at Perry plant were Covid-19 positive - 780 cases.
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3 weeks ago

On a more positive note, there are wonderful stretches of the RRVT nowhere near a meat packing plant. In fact, my favorite stretch of the RRVT follows the Middle Raccoon River between Adel and Panora. My plan for today was a looping out and back from Adel, using a mix of trail and county roads. Despite my best efforts at getting an early start, it was almost eleven when I arrived “my” Adel trailhead. There are several RRVT trailheads in Adel, and the one I use is located at the brickyard on the edge of town. My first ride on the RRVT was almost a decade ago – a friend and I decided to go to the Adel Sweet Corn Festival and ride the RRVT as part of our RAGBRAI training. In searching for the trailhead, we ended up at the staging area for the Sweet Corn parade, maneuvering among horses, fire trucks and the band. It’s a memory that brings a smile to my face each time the Adel brickyard silo comes view.

It was another glorious day – a polka-dot blue sky with large cumulous clouds creating interesting patterns of light and dark across the Iowa landscape. I headed out on the trail towards Redfield and was stopped at the first intersection by a “Trail Closed” sign. Thinking it was just a short section closed for bridge repair, I detoured onto a parallel gravel road, looking for a way back onto to the trail. However, every trail access point was blocked. When I finally checked google, I found that the entire 10-mile stretch from Adel to Redfield was closed for trail repairs. No problem, I was riding Vivien George who is well-suited to gravel riding.

From Adel, the RRVT heads southwest to Redfield before turning northwest towards Panora. My gravel road headed due west, generally following the natural contours of the land. After a few miles, I turned south to pick up a paved road that took me into Redfield.

Trailhead of the Raccoon Valley River Trail adjacent to the Adel brickyard
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The RRVT runs alongside the brickyard as it heads west out of Adel
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Heading out from Adel, you can barely see the Trail Closing barriers in the distance
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The gravel road offered nice vantage points as it rolled with the contours of the land
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Landscape bathed in cloud shadows and sunlight. The horizontal tree line is the RRVT
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Turning south to pick up the paved road into Redfield
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A red highway to Redfield
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I have long thought that the town of Redfield was named for the colors found in the surrounding terrain, which somehow was linked with brick manufacturing in this area. I did no research to determine if this were true, or where the colors might come from. However, I conjured up this narrative based on the 1) the town name; 2) the red highway leading into town; and 3) the brickyards in both Redfield and Adel. I am a bit dashed to realize that the town is named for James Redfield, an early settler who bought the town when it was named New Ireland. Supporting my narrative is the fact that the red color is due to the pinkish hue of the quartzite used in road construction throughout  western and northwestern Iowa. Also, brick manufacturing in this area stems from high-quality clay and shale deposits left here by the Wisconsin glacier as it retreated about 11,000 years ago (you might recall a similar origin for tile manufacturing in Lehigh). When fired, the high-iron shale turns a rich red, and the bricks were known as Redfield Reds. While I completely struck out on only one of my hypotheses, I think I’ll hang on to my own rural legend regarding the town name.

 Redfield is a must stop when I cycle the RRVT – due to the presence of the small snack counter at the trailhead station staffed by Redfield residents. These volunteers are usually women of my vintage who bring home-baked cookies for sale. I always go in for small chat and a cookie, and to thank them for supporting the trail. As expected, everything was all locked up today and the only things I took away were a few photos.

The brickyard in Redfield, most recently owned by Glen-Gery, was in business for 150 years until it closed this past October after Glen-Gery was purchased by Brickworks Limited, Australia’s largest brick maker
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Entering Redfield on the Raccoon River Valley Trail
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Trailhead station in Redfield
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Not surprisingly, downtown Redfield has a lot of red brick buildings.
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After Redfield, there was a steady but gentle climb as the trail followed the Middle Raccoon River upstream from Redfield to Linden. This is the prettiest section of the trail, closest to the river. Today was especially delightful, with a spring light and the sweet fragrance of blossoming fruit trees. Though the fields were still covered in their varied shades of gold and brown, purple splashes of wildflowers sprang from the greening underbrush that grew along the trail.

I planned to stop in Linden (pop ~200) for a short lunch break, taking advantage of their nice trailside covered shelter. As I rode through town, I noticed the door to the town library was opened. Recalling that they sold drinks and snacks as a way of raising funds for the library, I ventured in to see if there was any water for sale. Sure enough! I also inquired about a restroom, and was led to the rear of the library/city hall through the ambulance garage to a small bathroom. Julie, the woman who was staffing the library, is a retired nurse's assistant and we spoke a bit about Covid-19 and the small towns in rural Iowa. I grew a little nervous at the stuffiness inside the building, so bade my farewell and found a nearby picnic table.

Middle Raccoon River
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A nice day for a lazy float down the river
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Trees are just beginning to leaf out
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Wildflowers emerge from the green underbrush
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Bill ShaneyfeltPhlox. Pretty flowers!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phlox_divaricata
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3 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterThanks Bill! I knew I could count on you for flower ID - I'm hopeless!
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3 weeks ago
An old wooden bridge disappearing into the landscape
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I'm watching you watching me
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Main Street Linden
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Vivien George and Julie at the Linden City Hall and Library
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A new paint job and barn art in Linden
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It was another six miles from Linden to Panora, my turn around point for the day. The trail had distanced from the river and there was more open land flanking the trail. I benefited from a nice tailwind and soon reached Panora, where I cruised through downtown checking out some of my usual haunts. I planned to take county highways back to Redfield, and turned south onto the Western Skies Scenic Byway. However, the wind was stiffening and my resolve was softening. The first climb out of Panora was short but directly into the wind. As I looked south to another roller I gave in and sought the protection of the trail for my ride back to Redfield. I would like to return and explore the Iowa's Western Skies in more favorable wind conditions.

Along the Raccoon River Valley Trail
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Dust from a tractor working the fields
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PJ's drive-in - a good place to stop if you're looking for burgers and shakes in Panora
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Panora has a town square with a wonderful gazebo
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The gazebo is one the best places to seek shade on a hot summer day
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A Dry Goods and a Five and Dime - almost feels like I've gone back in time
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As the afternoon wore on, more folks were out enjoying the trail and I didn’t stop until reaching Redfield.  I opted for a different route to Adel than the one I'd taken this morning so I headed north for a few miles, relishing the nice tailwind. The highway east to Adel was long, straight and quiet and I arrived at the brickyard basking in the late afternoon sun. I wandered a bit in downtown Adel (pop ~5,000), a city of brick streets, interesting shops, and the most impressive county courthouse I’ve seen. It was another day where my plans went somewhat awry, but the journey was splendid. 

Another long, straight Iowa county highway. Looks like this one has a little dip!
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Tractors in field at rest
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Back at the Adel Brickyard
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Dallas County Courthouse, Adel, Iowa
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Scott AndersonThat’s incredible. Did they ship it overseas from the Loire Valley?
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3 weeks ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Scott AndersonGood guessing. According to Wikipedia "The courthouse was designed by the prominent Des Moines architectural firm of Proudfoot & Bird. George Bird, who is considered the primary designer, used the Chateau Azay-le-Rideau in Indre-et-Loire, France, as his inspiration."
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesOh, of course. Azay. We visited it back in 2008, in the only tour we’ve taken in that part of France.
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3 weeks ago
Adel, Iowa
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I was wishing Brick Street Bakery was open
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Or maybe pie and a good read from the Brick Street Books and Cafe
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Home
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Today's ride: 49 miles (79 km)
Total: 368 miles (592 km)

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Scott AndersonSo you’re riding your age too! Thanks for the reminder - I should start planning my own. I suppose today’s was the big ride?
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3 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterI've been riding my age since 2012, when today's ride would still have been more than a decade short. I can do the whole loop for 3 more years, then have to start finding a new route. Have fun planning/riding your big day!
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3 weeks ago