Rollin' to Roland - Bridging the Gap - CycleBlaze

April 19, 2020

Rollin' to Roland

Another sunny day – with northerly winds predicted at 10-12 mph. I figured Stella and I could handle that and planned a route from home that looped through two towns north of Ames: Story City and Roland. I was planning on getting an early-ish start, but ended up in a long phone call catching up with my college room who lives in upstate New York. It was a little past noon when I finally got going, heading north through Ada Hayden Memorial Park.  

As I’ve mentioned earlier, rural Iowa is largely divided into square mile sections by an amazing network of roads, most of which are gravel. However, some roads, including the county highways, are sealed and provide mile after mile of quiet roadways for cycling. The trick in route planning is knowing which roads are gravel and which are sealed. And, as I learned today, the thickness of the map line is not always predictive of the road surface.

Leaving Ames, I zig-zagged west and north on a familiar route toward Roland. I had planned on heading first to Story City, but found that my road north was gravel. I was not keen to take Stella down a gravel road into the wind, so the plan for the day became an out and back to Roland. I continued east on E18, a nice county road with just the whisper of a roll. Traffic was light, mostly farm vehicles or pick-ups, and the cross-winds were pretty manageable.

Passing through Ada Hayden Memorial Park
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Maps can be misleading regarding road surfaces
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Low traffic and a soft roll on county highway E18
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Application of field conditioner means we're getting closer to planting time
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Large farm vehicles are a common sight this time of year
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I find that drivers of tractors and pick-ups almost always wave, while folks in cars seldom do so
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An old rural community school - renovated by the same people that repurposed my condo building
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After four miles, I turned north toward Roland on R77, one of the least travelled of the county highways around Ames. I’ve ridden this road many times and always enjoy it. The road passes a number of small family farms, most with signage noting their longevity and/or date of origin. The wind seemed to be increasing but it didn’t prevent me from taking in the views, those nearby and in the distance. I was about three miles from Roland when I noticed a fire up ahead. A plume of black smoke that had been drifting southward suddenly exploded with large billows of white smoke. I couldn’t see flames, but wondered if a “controlled burn” had gotten out of hand. By the time I reached Roland, the only evidence of fire was a faint smell of smoke on the eastern edge of town.

County highway R77
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The family farm of Rexford and Edna Hughes, established 1938 - "it grew with the plow"
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Tree with shed and electric pole
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I love these old tiled silos
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Seems like a good day for a controlled burn - or not
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Looking east as the smoke heads south - should be a good ride on the way back home
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In 1847, a group of 165 people Norwegians departed Bergen, Norway and immigrated to America, looking to settle in Lisbon, IL. Not finding land that was both available and affordable, a group of “12 families and three single men” left Illinois and settled in what is now Roland – the name selected for being easy to pronounce in both Norwegian and English. More Norwegians followed, giving this area a decidedly Scandinavian flavor. Today, Roland is a town of about 1,200 people, with tree lined streets and tidy houses. Many residents were outside engaged in typical weekend activities – mowing the lawn, grilling burgers, doing backyard projects. While Roland appeared to be a thriving small town, the empty downtown buildings spoke to the difficulties of Main Street in much of the rural midwest.

You don't have to speak Norwegian to understand that Roland welcomes you
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Most of the downtown buildings are empty, or have been converted to apartment units.
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The Salem Lutheran Church
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The Roland-Story Middle School. The school district covers both Roland and Story City. The elementary and high schools are in Story City
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Norsemen is the mascot of the Roland-Story school district
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A newer residential section of Roland
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This appears to be an outdoor bike shop, with a couple of bikes on repair stands. No locks were in sight - a benefit of life in small town USA
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The ride back down R77 was a treat. The wind had quickened, pushing me along for mile after mile. It was a different story when I turned west, back towards Ames. A crosswind whipped across the open landscape, with gusts that almost sent me across the road. Roadside barns or homesteads provide micro-relief, but they were few and far between. I was so thrilled to turn back south that I altered my route home to take full advantage of the tailwind. In doing so, I passed the large USDA animal health facility on the east side of Ames, stopping to take some pictures.

When I first came to Ames in the late 1980’s, I had research collaborations with folks at the USDA labs and I visited the facilities many times through the 1990’s. The main research lab has since been replaced with a new structure better designed to keep “germs” in and dangerous folks out. Security guards approached me while I was outside the gate taking pictures of the entry sign. “No pictures of the building” were allowed, only the sign. A sign of the times. Sighing, I made my way back home. Exploring routes to Story City will have to wait for another day, on another bike.

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Some of Iowa's roads don't even merit gravel - just caution
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Brief stop for a wind break
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The original USDA research lab is now a pile of rubble protected by chain link and barbed wire
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A surreptitious photo of the USDA National Centers for Animal Health
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Scott AndersonThat is so strange. What are they afraid of?
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterIt beats me, Scott. The increased security is all post-911 and all federal facilities have heightened security. And the USDA is also sensitive to actions of animal rights group. But not taking pictures seems beyond the pale.
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1 month ago
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Today's ride: 35 miles (56 km)
Total: 234 miles (377 km)

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