Pedal the Prairie - Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

 I recently had the pleasure of riding the Iron Giant across the prairies at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.   With beautiful weather and a conservation-oriented atmosphere it was Happy Riding at it's best.

The first annual Pedal the Prairie, hosted by Friends of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge showcased the new bike lanes flanking Prairie Parkway.  Closed to automobile traffic, the road was comfortably busy with over 500 cyclists pedaling their way up and down hills, stopping to view bison, native wildflowers, and toss seed bombs.  All genres of cyclists participated from those fully kitted out on road bikes to kids with bells, baskets and handlebar streamers.  What a happy sight! 

My sister and I prepped for the ride with coffee outside session at Entryway Park in Prairie City. Beans from Coffee Culture and two slices of pie.  Rhubarb and Apple.  Perfect!

After fueling up we pedaled the scenic (and hilly) 5 miles to the Welcome Center where we checked out displays, received great giveaways, and had lunch.  Next was a 3 mile walk along Tall Grass Trail.  What views!

Before heading back to Prairie City we stopped at the bookstore inside the Prairie Learning Center and purchased ride t-shirts.  I also bought a Sparky the Bison shirt.   Sparky lives at the refuge and survived being struck by lightening in 2013. Check out his interesting story here.  

The return trip was a bit quieter with fewer folks on the road.  Arriving at a rather empty parking lot it appeared we were some of the last to return.  

If you missed the opportunity to participate in Pedal the Prairie, don't fret.  You can pedal anytime this summer.  Bike trails are open during daylight hours and lots of events take place at the refuge throughout the year.  Plan a visit and a pedal along the prairie.  

Happy Riding!

RAVE Ride on The Great Western Trail

Biking and conservation converged for the second annual RAVE Ride on the Great Western Trail.  Hosted by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Bike Month and both Polk and Warren County Conservation departments, this group ride provided cyclists with an opportunity to participate in a Random Act of Volunteering for Earth.  

Having not participated in last year's ride, I was super excited.  With my sister joining me I knew it was going to be a fun time!

 The ride began at the Great Western Trailhead in Des Moines.  We were given large blue bags to place collected litter in.  Although I was wishing I had thought to put a pannier on the Iron Giant's rear rack, holding onto the bag didn't prove challenging as I pedaled down the trail.  

We leisurely made our way toward Cumming stopping to pick up beer cans, water bottles, gel pack wrappers, inner tubes and even an old glove.  Outside of Willow Creek Golf Course I found a golf ball.  That however, made it's way into my handlebar bag.

At the rest area near Orillia we were greeted by folks from Polk County Conservation and Saving our Avian Resources (SOAR).  We stopped to throw seed bombs into the nearby prairie area and to admire a rescued Great Horned Owl.  It was beautiful and reminded me of Woodsy Owl's slogan "Give a Hoot!  Don't Pollute! 

Arriving at the Cumming Tap we were welcomes by folks from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.  For our trash collecting efforts we were given a ticket for a free drink and a bag filled with awesome swag.  Sam Auen from Tacopocalypse was there personally hand crafting free tacos.  We sat out on the patio and savored our tasty freebies while watching the cycling crowd accumulate.

Cool temperatures, easy cycling, great conversations, tasty treats, and lending Mother Nature a helping hand all resulted in a fantastic evening out on the bike trail.  The Great Western Trail from Des Moines to Cumming is now trash free.  Let's keep it that way!

Happy Riding!

Fun on the Fourth

The Trail

The High Trestle Trail is 25 miles in length and travels through Woodward, Madrid, Slater, Sheldahl, and Ankeny.  The wide concrete trail is in fantastic condition and does not have significant grades or hills. The majority of the trail is flanked by trees. Trailheads with water and restrooms are available in Woodward and Madrid.  Parks in Slater and Ankeny can be used as locations for starting a ride.  

About 5 miles from of Ankeny is The Oasis.  It’s a trailside rest stop constructed as a memorial to a local cyclist.  With it’s shaded picnic area, water fountains, restroom and views of Iowa farmland, it’s a great spot for taking a break along the trail.  

The highlight of this trail is the bridge.  Crossing the Des Moines River it is 13 stories high and a half mile long.  The design of the bridge pays tribute to the coal mining industry that one thrived in the area.  The spiraling steel frames represent supports used in the coal mines and the designs of the entrance towers depicts veins of coal found in limestone. There are several overlooks on the bridge for enjoying the view of the river valley.  Educational signs are posted providing information on the bridge and habitat found in the area.

Trail Map

Trail Information


The Ride

Meeting at my sisters house in Ankeny we set out for the High Trestle Trail.  It was a beautiful July 4th, with the sunshine, temps in the 80’s and a light breeze.  Our plan was to ride to the bridge with stops in Slater and Madrid.  

Just outside of Ankeny the trail travels through a farmyard.  If you’re lucky you can get a glimpse of the bison that lives here.  If you’re even luckier, you can get a cold beverage from the vending machine tucked under the trees.  The trail was busy and a group of cyclists were taking a break at The Oasis as we passed by.

Slater was celebrating Independence Day along with their 125th birthday!  Lots of activities were going on at Nelson Park when we arrived.  Food and craft vendors were open for business, families were picnicking, and adults were relaxing under the beer tent.  We grabbed some delicious sandwiches and sides from Fabulous BBQ and headed to the beer tent. After our lunch we made our way back to the trail.  There were so many cute homes decorated for the holiday and vehicles having participated in the parade were parked along the curbs.  Riding through Earl Grimm Park we caught glimpses of folks having a great time at the pool.  Slater was certainly having a great birthday.

Flat Tire lounge is well known by central iowa cyclists.  It’s a popular pit stop as it sits only feet from the trail.   Flat Tire has a bike repair stand outside and tubes, tires and even lights for purchase at the bar. Tons of bikes were parked outside!  I always enjoy looking at what others ride and how they personalize their bikes.  Another group out celebrating the holiday with a bike ride had decorated their steeds in red-white-and-blue.  

The last time I was on the bridge was back in March.  Then, shallow waters of the Des Moines Rivers traveled in a narrow path in between the banks.  This visit was a different story!  The 13 story high bridge didn't seem so high with the water at it’s highest levels in years.  

Back in Ankeny we visited Firetrucker Brewing.  The new trailside brewery just opened and we were excited to try their beer and see how the former fire station had been renovated.  It didn’t disappoint.  “Beer is art” at this brewery and their taproom complements their philosophy with beautiful displays of paintings from Ben Schuh.  The five kinds of hops used to create the First Responded Red Ale made it a perfect match for me.   

The High Trestle Trail continues to be my favorite trail to ride in Iowa.  Beautiful views, smooth concrete and beer just off the trail make a fantastic combination.

Happy Riding!


The Bacoon Ride

Iowa is the top pork producing station in the nation.  It is also home to premier bike trails and the week long bike event of RAGBRAI (Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa).

Pork and cycling came together this past Saturday for the inaugural Bacoon Ride: The Ride for the Cured.  A 71 mile route along the Raccoon River Valley Trail with 7 bacon themed pit stops was the agenda for thousands of cyclists from around the state. 

Riding for Iowa Bike Rides were my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, myself, and my sister.  The Bacoon Ride was a significant goal for our group.  The longest ride any of us had ridden before was 30 miles.  

Our plan was to leave Waukee early with the goal of reaching Perry (52 miles), but being happy if we were successful in making it to Panora (28 miles).  My husband would be on call” to pick us up at a trailside town once we had our fill of pork and pedaling.

The early start to our ride proved to be a good idea.  We avoided waiting in long rides for the free food and even had sections of trail all to ourselves.  Riding down the slight grades through the tree lined tunnel between Redfield and Panora was our favorite part of the ride.

“On your left”, “bike up”, “crossing”, “stopping” were the vocabulary words of the day.  Friends and bicycles with unique accouterments were spotted in the crowds cyclists and along the trail. 

Mother Nature had been kind providing a nice tailwind ride but she changed her attitude after our extended break in Perry. Wrapping up our delicious meal at Casa de Oro, we noticed the sky darkening outside and the wind picking up.  Scrapping our plans to see if we could complete the remaining 24 miles, we elected to ride our personal “sag wagon” back to Waukee.  Once we had our bikes and gear loaded, the winds picked up and the sky opened.   Proud of ourselves for pedaling 52 miles we rode in comfort back to Waukee.

The Baccon Ride was great combination of bacon and biking.  Most of all it was a major accomplishment for our group and inspired us to plan the our next biking adventure.  

Happy Riding!