Day 10: Hoot-Owl Hollow to Cedar Rapids IA, 85 miles

A day of ups and downs.

After a cold night and colder morning at Hoot-Owl Hollow RV campground near Graf IA, I was painfully aware of the forecast for falling low temperatures over the next two nights. While I warmed up enough after the first half-dozen rolling hills to ditch the rain pants, pull-over jacket and stocking cap, I kept the rain jacket, cycling cap and double pair of knee-high wool socks.

Heritage Trail, Graf Access

Not far out of Graf I picked up the Heritage Trail, a mostly flat gravel trail that ranged from crushed limestone to just-smaller-than class 5 (very coarse) pea gravel consistency. Feeling generous after being offered a free night’s camping at the Hoot-Owl Hollow, I gladly paid the $2.10/day trail-pass fee. I took the trail all the way to just north of Farley IA, passing a trail-maintenance crew with a Long-Neck Fibre Eater that was about to remove a bridge at one point (fortunately they waited for me to cross before removing the bridge).

Lunch hopes in Farley were in vain, so I set my GPS for Worthington and rolled on. The wind had become fierce, and I’d noticed my rear dérailleur wasn’t staying in gear, but I was able to tweak the downtube barrel adjuster and didn’t think anything of it.

LaStraw Restaurant & Lounge

In Worthington I found the LaStraw Restaurant & Lounge, and ordered coffee. And, you guessed it, a bacon-cheeseburger. (Sampling bacon-cheeseburgers is my occupation, this bicycle touring stuff is just a hobby, remember? :-)

The burly guy next to me at the bar took one look at me, put down his Budweiser, and asked what kind of a bike I was riding. Then he told me how he has ridden RAGBRAI every year for the last (IIRC) 27 years. The two old guys at the far end of the bar asked where I was going, and the crowd of four (once the waitress came out of the kitchen) was amazingly positive about this crazy tour of mine. I must have looked pretty cold, because the waitress immediately brewed another pot of coffee. When my order came out, it consisted of the smallest, tastiest, “cajun-style” (blackened) bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever had accompanied by what looked like a full pound of french fries. I finished my burger in record time, yet still had half my fries. So I had to order another bacon-cheeseburger. (The waitress didn’t know what to make of it, but put my order in anyway. Bless her.) It was a delicious cycle. As I finished my lunch, and the rest of the pot of coffee, I received another recommendation for the campground in Monticello. Before I could leave, however, I was in for another photo-shoot.

Refueled, recaffeinated, and ready to rumble, I rolled out. Despite continued chills, hills, headwinds, and rear dérailleur problems,  I reached the campground in Monticello at 4pm. There was no-one there. The sign on the store-like building at the entrance said “CLOSED”. The house between the store and the RV sites looked deserted. I checked the GPS: 50 miles to Cedar Rapids, 2 hours 20 minutes to sunset. Rationalizing that I wouldn’t have to set up camp in the dark if I reached my Aunt & Uncle’s house in Cedar Rapids, I decided to continue.

By sunset I was about a mile from Coggon, about 35 miles from my destination. The quiet 2-lane roads were replaced by IA-13, and I rode most of the way on gravel shoulders. On the up-side, the traffic volume finally started to die off as it got later in the evening, and the stiff winds were at my back as I headed south along Highway 13. By the time I finally turned off the highway, I didn’t care it was onto an unlit gravel road. I got some cyclo-cross action cutting through a section of 10th St(?) that was “closed” for paving. I turned onto 7th, then found myself dumped into a suburban-style auto-centric CF of roads circling a mall.  Eventually, after far too many urban hills and high-speed suburban arterial roads,  I escaped, arriving only half an hour later than I had told my Uncle. And had to climb one last hill so steep I was again in the granny chainring before reaching his driveway.

Thoroughly drenched in sweat, chilled to the bone, exhausted and aching, I limped my crippled bike into the garage. I’d made it.

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