Triple Otho - Bridging the Gap - CycleBlaze

April 21, 2020

Triple Otho

An unanticipated delight in doing this home-based “hub and spoke” journal is experiencing my home territory from the perspective of a touring cyclist and chronicler. I’ve been more willing to ride beyond my usual routes and to stretch the boundaries of my “hub”, often traveling by car to the starting point of the day’s ride. Today’s destination was Fort Dodge, a city of ~25,000 located 67-mile northeast of Ames. What drew me to Fort Dodge was the Fort Dodge Grain Silo mural, which was created by an Australian artist Guido van Helten.  The plan was to start the ride at Brushy Creek State Park and do a loop ride to Fort Dodge using a series of paved county roads.

The day was clear with manageable winds and temperatures starting out in the mid-50s. The route through the park wound downhill and across Brushy Creek before climbing back up out of the little valley. On top, the terrain was flat and the vistas long. After a few miles, the road dropped down and crossed the Des Moines River into Lehigh (pop. ~400), a once prosperous coal mining and brickyard town. Today, the town seems to cater to sportsmen and outdoors folk. On this sunny day the streets were busy withsha friendly folks picking up mail and/or out on mid-morning errands.  

There are a number of initiatives in Iowa to restore native habitats. This plot is for generation of wildflower seeds for prairie restoration projects. Note the involvement of the Iowa Department of Corrections.
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Brushy Creek State Park
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Brushy Creek
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An old-fashioned windmill
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Crossing the Des Moines River
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Capturing the history of Lehigh. The pipe and tile industry was an offshoot of coal mining, which generated the clay for the pipe and tile.
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Downtown Lehigh
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The old grocery and lumber store - both now abandoned
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Almost every small town I've visited has an historical museum - Lehigh is no exception
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Leaving Lehigh, I climbed up from the river and was once again on flat, open terrain.  Silhouettes of wind turbines rose in the distance as tractors plied the soil.  I was a bit surprised when the route took me through another state park . I’d clearly not paid too close attention to my route planning, a fact I was later to regret. Passing through the stone gates of the Dolliver Memorial State Park, the road descended to the river illuminated by sunlight flickering through the trees. Magical!

I crossed Prairie Creek via a small bridge and was enticed to get off the bike and venture down to a smaller, parallel road for a closer look at the sandstone ledges along the creek. The creek glistened as it flowed over the smaller road, and I just walked through – unaware of how just how deep the seemingly shallow stream was. In a moment of true brain freeze, I didn't retreat when the cold water ran into my shoe – no, I just kept walking until both of my shoes and socks were soaked with icy water. It was only after I was across the stream that I thought to get back on the bike. Things were a bit cold and squishy for a while, but my concerns were erased by the joy of riding through the park.

Leaving the park, I once again climbed up from the river and decided to detour a couple of miles into Otho, pop. ~500. I made my way to the city park, where I wrung out my socks to dry a bit while I had some lunch. The town of Otho is largely comprised of small, neat ranch houses that flank Highway St, the main road through town. A small market/gas station serves most of the town needs, with other businesses closed for Covid, or for good.

Over 35 percent of Iowa's electricity is produced by wind, which is the highest percentage of any state.
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Entrance to Dolliver Memorial State Park
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Prairie Creek flows over small roadway on it's way to the Des Moines River. I went down to take a look
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It didn't look deep
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Dolliver Memorial Park
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Approaching Otho
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Otho city park
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Recharging and drying socks
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Otho, Iowa
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Gas station and convenience store - the happening place in Otho
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Sign says open, but looks closed to me
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After lunch and a quick tour of town, I retraced my detour route and headed north for Fort Dodge. When I stopped to check my navigation before heading down a big hill, I discovered that Otho was not a detour but in fact was on my planned route! I backtracked through Otho and headed east, and soon discovered that my planned route north was a gravel road. I was riding Stella, my road bike not fit for gravel.  I kept heading west, searching for the next paved road north. To my dismay, that road turned out to be US 169, a major 4-lane highway. I usually avoid these roads at all costs, but it did have a shoulder -one that was separated from the roadway by rumble strips. Also, it seemed that it was only a few miles until I would reach a smaller road that would take me into Fort Dodge. On reaching that smaller road, however, I discovered that it too was gravel. I stood on the side the highway as the trucks whizzed by, contemplating my options for getting to Fort Dodge and then back to Brushy Creek. Finally, I decided to skip Fort Dodge and return to Otho. 

I passed through Otho for the third time and headed south on county road P59. There was a small tailwind, little traffic, and mile after mile of smooth roadway stretching out ahead. Giant blades of wind turbines rotated slowly and silently, and I fell into that zen of cycling where the miles slip by with little notice. After four miles cycling bliss, I turned east towards Lehigh – stopping only for a few pictures of fields and animate objects.

Not my kind of road
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Otho, round 3
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County highway P59 was a little bit of heaven on this day
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Heading east towards Lehigh
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Hawks were also enjoying flights of fancy
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Scott AndersonMaybe Bill Shaneyfelt will be good enough to identify this. I don’t think it’s one we have out in the northwest.
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1 month ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTurkey vulture.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_vulture
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterThanks Bill - I'm hopeless when it comes to identifying most birds. I can usually recognize them when they not in flight due to their red head; now I can also rely on the distinctive wing pattern.
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4 weeks ago
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As I crossed the Des Moines River and climbed the hill up out of Lehigh, it all seemed vaguely familiar - and not just from this morning. In fact, I had been here before. It was on a brutally hot July day in 2012 when RAGBRAI passed through Lehigh. I was completing my first century ride and Lehigh marked the third time that day I'd climbed up out of the Des Moines River valley. I didn’t make it all the way up the Lehigh hill back then, but managed it today without a struggle. Same bike, but fewer miles and less heat for sure. Still, I like to think I’m also a little stronger now.

 After a few miles across the flats, I swooped down to the Brushy Creek entrance and had one final short climb back to the car. I thought about driving to Fort Dodge to see the silo murals, but opted for a meandering drive back to Ames. Though I didn’t reach my original destination, the ride south from Otho was truly splendid, one to savor. And you can never be disappointed with that outcome.

Retro pic of getting my Century Loop Patch from John Karras, co-founder of the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa
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The support and advice from my 2012 RAGBRAI teammates were key to completing my first century ride on a day where temperatures reached 106°F
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Cruising on the flat upland
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Back to Brushy Creek State Park
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I forgot to unpause my navigation for about 5 miles after leaving Otho for the third time
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Scott AndersonLooks like a route I might have come up with! It’s the journey, not the destination.
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterThe ups and downs were definitely a treat. I'm looking forward to more rides that cross the Des Moines River
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4 weeks ago

Today's ride: 41 miles (66 km)
Total: 275 miles (443 km)

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Mike AylingAnother interesting ride, Susan.
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1 month ago
Rachael AndersonSounds like you had a challenging day but you got some great photos. I hope you don’t have any lasting effects from getting your feet wet and cold.
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterThanks Rachel. There were some bumps in the day but overall it ended quite well. I was a bit concerned with my right big toe - it's still numb from my shingles episode last summer and I couldn't tell if it was getting too frosty. But all is good and no lasting effects.
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4 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterTo Mike AylingThanks Mike!
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4 weeks ago
Kathleen JonesThere's a lot going on here: "... the Fort Dodge Grain Silo mural, which was created by an Australian artist Guido van Helten." Globalization!
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3 weeks ago
Graham SmithSusan this is another interesting post. One of the many reasons I enjoy these journal entries is they give such a different and positive impression of the USA than we get via our media here in Australia. For example, who knew that your state generates 35% of its electricity with wind?
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3 weeks ago