The Long Road

Greetings from Iowa, where yet another winter storm is bearing down on us. This has really been a strange year. Although the cold season does have a tendency to hang on north and west of Des Moines, the monotony is typically punctuated with at least a little tease of 70 degree weather…often in  late February or early March. Not this year. This year has been cold straight on through.

Racing the setting sun home, Raccoon River Valley Trail near Jefferson Iowa

And so it has been a joy to ride in shorts as the mercury has risen past 60 degrees these last couple of days. The world may still be dead and colorless, but the planet continues to hurl through space and our side moves ever closer to the sun. Warmer weather is inevitable…even if it doesn’t quite yet feel like it’s real.

I have two long organized rides planned for later this year. In July, I’m going to the Pacific Northwest to ride the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic with a good friend I haven’t seen in years. You can ride the 203 miles over two days or do it in just one. We chose one. I have no idea what to expect. I’ve never cycled close to 200 miles in a single day.

In October, I plan to ride the Omaha Jackrabbit. It will be my very first gravel grinder. The Jackrabbit is a little bit different, but it sounds like it was built for me.  There’s no entry fee, no support, no tee shirt, no help if you get into trouble, no anything.   It’s 125 miles in length which sounds like no big deal, but then I saw where last year’s winner took over 12 hours to complete the course. Oh oh…

Both of these events are a step up for me and so I’ve been putting in a lot of long days since the first of March. For what it’s worth, I define a long day (an “L”) as 50 miles or more. I did six Ls in March including one century. So far, I’ve done three in April. Weather permitting, today will be four. I’d like to finish the month with 8-10 total. This is far more than I’ve ever done before.

Summer sunrise near Minburn Iowa
On the Kona Rove at the Greenbriar Creek Little Library, Guthrie County Iowa
The far end of the trail, Exile Brewery, Des Moines

Most of my long days are on the Raccoon River Valley Trail. Jefferson is at the northern terrminus, so I always start out heading south. That’s great in the summer when the wind is typically at my back coming home. It wasn’t so great yesterday.

That said, the RRVT is a treasure no matter where the wind’s blowing from.  It’s really the primary reason we’re in Iowa.  There’s nothing like it anywhere.  It starts just a few blocks from our front door and extends all the way to the steps of the state capitol building in Des Moines.   On the map below, Jefferson is the purple star and the blue dots are my turnaround points for 50 mile round trips.  One is in Perry Iowa and the other is just a few miles past Panora.    The loop is a 96 mile round trip and the state capitol is about 70 miles (140 RT) via the south fork and about 65 (130 RT) via the more direct north fork.   This is the long road in every sense.


You have to pay to use the RRVT. This is the case with most regional trails in Iowa.   The daily fee is $2 but you can buy an annual pass for $10.  I am a member of the trail association, so I pay $25/year and it includes the pass as well as some other benefits. I’m seldom stopped and asked to show my pass, but I was yesterday.  I’m glad I had it with me.  Sometimes I forget to bring it.

My benchmark for long rides is to go through 50 miles in about three hours. That’s roughly 17 mph on average. It’s a little easier on my Kona Rove than my Salsa Fargo, but for whatever reasons I seem to zero in on that pace and ride it regardless.  I don’t get too hung up on it.   3:03 is just as good as 2:57.    Because the trail was once a railroad, it’s pretty flat.   There aren’t a lot of road crossings, either.  That allows me to maintain some consistency from ride to ride.

That said, it doesn’t seem to matter how far I go. I’ve found that I can pretty easily maintain that 17 mph pace through 100 miles, at least. Beyond that, I don’t really know.  I’ve never been there. The good news is that we can slow it down to 3.5 hours per 50 miles for StP and still easily make it in before the cutoff.  In Omaha, you finish when you finish.  Chances are, everyone will have already gone home by the time I get in.  Works for me.


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