Adventures in Bicycling

Category: Joy of Cycling


“The moment you know you know, you know. “

-David Bowie

I started this blog a long time ago.  The objective, if there was one, was to share the positive things that cycling has done for me.  Back then, I naively believed that more people would cycle once they figured out how good it was for them.  Now I know they won’t.  Most people are pretty set in their ways.  Those who do want to improve, by and large, want a quick fix…a magic pill.  Cycling is not that.  Cycling takes a lot of time to change you.  

The Loess Hills.  This is as close to heaven on earth as a guy like me can get.

But that’s fine.   Cycling has changed me and that’s enough.  I still do it every day.  I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’ll ever stop.  Winter hasn’t stopped me.  I rode 18 miles one January day when the temperature was -14° and the wind chill was considerably lower.  Wind and rain and blistering summer heat hasn’t stopped me either.  Rattlesnakes and cougars and bobcats and moose haven’t stopped me.  I’ve run into all of these on the trail, and more.  Angry motorists who have serious issues and ought to be locked up in cages haven’t stopped me.  205 miles from Seattle to Portland didn’t stop me either.    Looking back, all of that stuff just made me hungrier for more saddle time.  I love being outdoors in God’s unpaved world.      

Encounters with rattlesnakes were pretty common in May and June on the bench east of Ogden Utah.   I learned that Great Basin Rattlesnakes like this one are docile and won’t attack unless cornered.  I’m no longer afraid of them.  Knowledge is power.

Unpaved…that’s the key.  In hindsight, that’s the real reason we came to Iowa.  I thought it was bike paths but they have bike paths everywhere.  Nobody has gravel like we do.  Well, maybe Nebraska and Kansas and South Dakota and eastern Colorado this side of the Rockies and that little southwestern corner of Minnesota do, but most places where people live don’t.  Gravel is endless in Iowa.  

And, increasingly, gravel is where I want to be.  I still ride to the grocery store and the post office.  I still pay my bills by bike.  That’s never going to change.  It’s just that those things are not enough.  I still want to ride, on average, 30 miles or so each and every day and most of those places are less than a mile from home.   If I want to go further, I can either take the Raccoon River Valley Trail down towards Des Moines or I can hop on gravel roads and go pretty much anywhere my heart desires.

I’ve made a lot of changes this year.  The biggest was riding from Seattle to Portland.  It made me realize what I am capable of.  I like how it made me feel, and so I want to do more of it.  What I didn’t like about StP was riding on the shoulders of busy highways to get from one to the other.   It’s not nearly as much fun as tearing down an empty gravel road with no cars buzzing me.  

And so I’m going to pull the plug on Pedalfree after four years.  I’ve started a new blog called Old Man Gravel (that’s me).  I’m going to be 60 years old (that’s old in a society focused on youth)  in 2019 and then I’m going to seek out gnarly gravel events, train for them and see if I can compete with the youngsters.  The first of these will be SBT GRVL on August 18, 2019…two weeks before my 60th birthday.  If that goes well, I’ll get serious about it. 

There are four other events I’d really like to ride while I still can.  One is the Land Run 100 in Stillwater Oklahoma.   The second is the Michigan Coast to Coast gravel grinder that runs from Au Gres on Lake Huron to Ludington on Lake Michigan.  It’s about 210 miles, more or less.  The DAMn (Day Across Minnesota) is a midnight to midnight 240 miler than extends from South Dakota to Cheeseland.     I saved the best for last.  I want to ride the DK200 (Dirty Kanza) just one time.  

If I’m able to do all that, I’ll figure out what comes next.   In the meantime, the new blog will be viewable at  If you’re interested, you can click on the site to follow along.  I may eventually re-brand the Pedalfree Facebook page to reflect the new site.  Then again, maybe I won’t.  If you want to reach out, email me at oldmangravel (at) protonmail (dot) com.

Happy Trails!

The Real Beauty of Cycling? Simplicity.

“Don’t buy upgrades.  Ride up grades.”
-Eddy Merckx

Peloton wants me to join  the movement.  Their advertisements have been popping up on the web pages I visit.  They somehow got the idea that I am their target market but they are wrong.  The last thing in the world I’m going to spend money on is a stationary bike with a video screen.  I already get more than enough screen time.

The places I’ve been…

I thought about this on my ride yesterday.  The wind was gentle and the temperature was in the 40s.  It was pleasant, at least compared to the last couple of weeks.  There were birds and deer and coyotes along the trail, all getting ready for the snow that’s on the way in tonight and tomorrow.  I’m not sure how they know it’s coming, but they do.

Ride up grades.  I think I understand.  When you’re out on a bike, you feel even the slightest slope and because you feel it you learn to see the natural world differently than you would if you were in a car or even walking.    I couldn’t imagine cycling indoors at this point.  I need the wind and the weather in my face to feel alive.  I need real hills.

Strip it all away and the real beauty of cycling is its inherent simplicity.   No matter where you live, you can probably walk down the street on trash day and pick up a free bike.  You don’t need a special uniform or other equipment to ride it.  You don’t really even need a helmet.  The people who ride bikes most often…the Dutch and the Danes…typically don’t wear headgear.

But simple is not profitable and so everywhere I look it seems like people are trying to make cycling more complicated than it needs to be in order to monetize it.  It’s sometimes easy to get swept up in all of this and think that we need the latest and greatest stuff.  We don’t.

Pure cycling is so simple that anyone from a young child to an elderly person can do it and if they do it will  make them feel better, no matter how little or how much they do it.   It is truly tragic that more of us don’t.





The Quiet Season

They’re all gone…the summer cyclists decked out in full kit and pedaling as if the peloton is back there about to reel them in.  Their handlebar boom boxes are no longer booming.   Their bikes are hanging from the rafters in the garage again, or wherever they put them, not to be used again until spring.  Where they’ve gone I do not know.

Evening fog rolling in…Raccoon River Valley Trail.

I ran into a couple of pheasant hunters on the trail this past weekend.  They were friendly.  Their dogs were well behaved.   It doesn’t bother me to see shotguns on the trail.  In some ways, I find these guys preferable to the Tour de France crowd.   They’re quiet and humble and focused on the task at hand.  They don’t litter.  They, too, are dressed in bright colors but for completely different reasons.

I’ve found myself struggling a bit this year to adjust to the cold.  I’m not quite ready for it, maybe because I know what lies ahead.  It’s not really going to warm up again in any sustained way until April.  Last year was our first in Iowa and I naively believed that by the first of March or so that Spring would arrive.  Maybe it did, but it was nothing like the Spring they get a little further south.

Since starting a new job, I’ve also been riding in the early morning dark most days.  That will change a little with the switch to standard time this weekend.  I’ll have a little more light, for awhile at least.  It’s been amazing to see just how much daylight I’ve lost since I started doing this three weeks ago.  This won’t change for another 50 days or so.  Then we’ll turn the corner and head back towards the sun.

It’s quiet on the trail these days and I can’t help but juxtapose it against the rest of life.  Those missing boom boxes are no small thing.  Our culture values the busy and the noisy.  We receive powerful, non-stop, external messages (mostly from people who wish to sell us something)  that tell us we must be on 24/7/365  and too many of us mindlessly play along by cramming our lives full of meaningless detritus and then we wonder why we are stressed and anxious.  When we find ourselves alone in the quiet with nothing to do, our natural state,  it’s very uncomfortable.

It isn’t that hard to deconstruct this.  Seek quiet and see how it impacts you.  Yes, I know, it is an act of defiance to consciously choose to opt out and to reject this way of living.   There are social costs that have to be paid, without a doubt, but as with most costs there’s also a return on investment.  Is it worth it?  I think so.

One of the things that cycling has taught me is to value quiet time.  When you learn how to be still, mentally and emotionally, everything changes.  It’s all very clear and makes perfect sense when you ride a bicycle through the wilds of middle America, in November, by yourself.



Summer’s Last Stand

The windows are open and a cool breeze wafts in as I write this morning.   Sunrise is still an hour or so away and so perhaps it will warm up later but maybe not so much that we’ll have to turn the air conditioner back on.  Fall is coming.   It won’t be long now.

It has been a summer of endless blooms along the Raccoon River Valley Trail.

Roundup time.

It has been an amazing summer.  I’ve ridden more miles than ever before and I’ve seen the most incredible things.  On the wildlife front, I’ve ridden with the bulls.  Okay, technically they were cows but you get the idea.  Most people never get to see cattle run.  It’s quite a sight…all that weight charging forward.  I’ve also seen copious deer, eagles, beaver, one curious gray fox and even a bobcat.

I’ve added Montana, Oregon and Washington to the list of states I’ve now cycled in.   I’d been to all of these places before, but seeing them on a bike is different and better and I have a new appreciation of just how special they all are.   Portland was everything I heard it was.  Billings and Missoula are completely different, but both delighted me in ways I didn’t expect.   If you ever find yourself heading to Billings and are looking for suggestions, let me know and I’ll share with you where to stay and where to eat.  It has blossomed from the gritty little oil town I remember into a nice smaller city.

Downtown Billings. I like it here.

I liked Missoula even more.

I crossed both the Mississippi and Columbia by bike for the first time this summer.

Closer to home, I crossed the Mississippi River in Davenport and rode the Hennepin Canal towpath in Illinois as well as the Three Rivers Trail in Hampton Iowa.   We also visited Cedar Falls for the first time.  If I was young and just starting out and looking for an affordable Midwestern “mountain” town, I  might consider moving there.  It reminds me of Boulder way back when.

The passing of summer doesn’t mean that cycling season is over.  Minnesota beckons.  The Root River Trail is one of America’s best and this month they’re having a Taste of the Trail.  That’s a good excuse to head north before the snow flies.

I’m also heading to Nebraska in a few weeks to ride the Omaha Jackrabbit, a 125 mile gravel grinder.   Like Seattle to Portland earlier this year, I have absolutely no idea what this entails.  It’ll be fun to find out.

The Loess Hills…another one of my “happy places.”

I plan to ride through the winter again this year.  I probably won’t go as many miles as last year, especially on those below zero days, but you never know.  I do plan to get out in it regardless.   I’ve even found myself looking wistfully at my Surly Wednesday fat bike these last few weeks.

That’s a good thing.

Ride on.

Thirty Minutes a Day Changes Everything

Yesterday was a milestone day for me. It was my 600th straight day on the bike without a miss. I’ve cycled five miles or more every day since December, 2016. I’ve covered a lot of ground over these 600 days…20,195 miles to be exact. That’s a little over 33 miles per day. Not bad for an old man.

The streak was just a crazy thought back in early 2017. I’d ridden more miles than I thought possible the previous year and didn’t want to fall into the trap where I felt like I constantly had to ride more so I changed my focus  instead. Why not just try to ride five miles or more every single day for the whole year? At the time, I thought it would be fun to see if I could stick with it for 365 days.

Day 20, Ogden Utah.  Snow is mostly an excuse.  It doesn’t have to stop you.

I almost didn’t. Eight days in we were still living in Ogden Utah and I woke up to eight inches of wet, slippery snow. It was nothing like the Utah powder the ski people love to brag about.  It was more like wet cement.  I headed out and couldn’t get any traction at all. I didn’t know how I was going to get five miles in that day.  I was almost ready to give up and then a snowplow came by. I stuck to plowed streets and managed to cover seven miles. This was my shortest day…so far at least.

Day 72: The trails above Ogden finally dried out and so I climbed.

Day 200: I begin to explore Iowa’s B Road kingdom.

Day 362: The wildlife I’ve seen has been such a treat.

Day 365. It was the wind more than the snow…

Day 513: Crossing the Mighty Mississippi at Davenport Iowa

When I was starting out, I had people tell me that I couldn’t ride every day. They told me I’d need to take days off to rest, probably because I’m not as young as I used to be.  I don’t hear that sort of thing any more.

So how does an old guy pull this off?   Well, I think part of it is luck.  I’ve been relatively healthy over this period.  But maybe I’m healthy because I ride everyday.   There’s also the challenge of finding a bike when you’re traveling but even that’s not as difficult as it used to be.  I’ve used bikeshare on several business trips. It’s not ideal, but we’re only talking about thirty minutes so it works.

Day 600: Pure blue sky ahead.

I think that another reason this has worked is that I don’t take it too seriously.  I often go long and hard, but if I feel like backing off that’s what I do. Some days I ride shorter or slower. I’m not training for glory, so it doesn’t really matter.   I’m cycling because I enjoy cycling and how it makes me feel.  When the day eventually comes that I don’t feel like heading out, I won’t and that will be that. The streak will end and that will be fine. I have no idea when that day will be. It might be tomorrow. It might be sometime later.  I suspect that whenever it happens a new streak will start the next day.

The streak has changed me and how I view cycling. Now it’s no big deal to go out and ride five miles.  This is true no matter what the weather.  I can do it in about 20 minutes. That’s important, because you get most of the benefits from cycling in the early miles. I still think five miles is the magic number. Most people can do it and that’s where the magic happens.

If you haven’t exercised in years, you should see your doctor and get a checkup.  That’s the first step.  Then, if he or she tells you to incorporate physical exercise and you decide that cycling is the way to go, just go for it. Go as long or as short as you want.  If you need a benchmark, I think thirty minutes a day is about right.   You’ll know.  It all starts with one ride.  You just might be surprised at where it takes you.

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