Mulberry Jam on the Raccoon

The Trail

The Raccoon River Valley trail is one of Iowa’s premier trails.  With 89 miles to ride and 15 communities to visit, it provides lots of route options for cyclists in central Iowa.  Each trailside community has it’s own trailhead.  Most are renovated train stations as this bike trail was once a railway. Trailside towns are less than 10 miles apart and provide good options for where to start/stop a ride or to take a break. The Raccoon River Valley Trail provides a variety of scenery ranging from open farmland to tree-lined tunnels of the wooded areas flanking rivers and creeks.

Trail Map

Trail Information


The Ride

My son and I packed up the bikes and drove over to Panora so he could experience a different portion of the trail.   The plan was an out-n-back ride to Linden.  12 miles has proven to be the perfect length for him at this stage in riding.  This route fit the bill.  With an easy stretch of trail and an ice cream shop at the trailhead how could we go wrong? 

With the plush tree canopy we felt like we were riding through a tunnel.  In the breaks between trees we caught glimpses of farmland and pasture. 

This portion of the Raccoon has a couple of gravel road crossings that have yet to be paved.   Only a few feet of gravel was enough to remind me of the luxury of smooth crossings. 

What wasn't luxurious were the clouds of gnats and mosquitoes.  They were out in force!  We stopped for a couple of photo ops and soon regretted it.  

Mulberries were ripening and dropping onto the trail leaving sticky spots to ride through.  Our bikes and clothes would need a wash. Only in Iowa can you ride your bike through a puddle of jam!  

All was quiet in Linden.  We did spy a tiny dog on the loose enjoying it's freedom.  After a short water break in the shade of  the trailhead we headed back to Panora.  Back through the jam, the bugs, and the beautiful trail.

Happy Riding!

Tar on the Trail

The Trail

Just outside the Des Moines metro, the Raccoon River Valley Trail for 89 miles, travels through 15 Iowa communities, and crosses the Middle Raccoon and Raccoon rivers. Riders 18 and up are required to a user fee of $2 a day or $10 for a year.  Strong boxes are located at trailheads for purchasing trail permits. Each trailside community has it’s own trailhead.  Most are renovated train stations as this bike trail was once a railway. This flat trail takes riders through open areas of Iowa’s farmland and tree-lined tunnels of wooded areas.

Trail Map

Trail Information


The Ride

With the goal of taking my time on the trail and enjoying a calm spring day my intentions were to leave from the Panora trailhead and ride to Dawson and back. The furthest I’d ever ridden on this north/south length of trail was to Yale so I was excited to see what lay beyond the tiny town.

Only a few blocks from the trailhead is Heritage Park.  It’s small but certainly catches your eye with the beautiful flowers, railroad artifacts, and bicycles decorating the flower beds.  There’s a water fountain here along with a shaded place to rest.  As I approached the park I met two cyclists who informed me “they’re putting down tar north of Yale”.  I thanked them for the heads up and quickly made an adjustment to my plans.  Not sure what riding across tar would mean for my bike tires I decided to ride until I met up with the trail crew and then determine if it would be necessary to turn around.

This portion of the RRV trail is the Bluebird Trail.  Dotted along the trail are numerous bluebird houses.  While I did spot a couple of Bluebirds, the majority of the houses had Tree Swallow perched on them.  It was as if they were calling dibs on the houses for summer.

Less than a mile outside of Yale things started getting sticky.  The tar had been laid in the trails seams and also small potholes.  Larger patches had lined with tar and sprinkled with limestone. Keeping a close eye on the trail and my bike tires II rode a short distance further.  Up ahead something was moving around on the trail.  Getting closer I was surprised to see it was a bird.  Both feet were stuck in the tar and it was flapping it’s wings in a desperate attempt to free itself.  I couldn't just ride by so I stopped and found a large tree branch and managed to free the Cowbird’s feet. It flew away leaving behind feathers as proof of the struggle.  Hopefully it lived.  

I certainly had not planned on rescuing wildlife on my bike ride.  After that experience I opted to turn around and cross my fingers I wouldn’t come across any other creatures trapped by the tar on my way back to Yale.  When I considered repair work on Iowa’s bike trails, I always thought of the positive results, but there are certainly possibilities of negative results too.

On my way back through Yale I rode through downtown and stopped at Bell Street Market, grabbed a snack, and headed over to the trailhead to collect myself.  It was such a beautiful Iowa day.  Cutting my ride short because of trail repairs would be a shame.  I opted to ride back past Panora and on to Linden.  The ride there was peaceful and I enjoyed taking in the scenery and observing how green everything had gotten since I was there last in March.  Reaching Linden,  filled up my water bottle and then leisurely returned to Panora with no additional mishaps.

I’ll definitely need to return to Panora to complete the ride I had intended to take.  Hopefully there won’t any more sticky situations on bike rides this season!

Happy Riding!

Season Opener

Trail: Raccoon River Valley Trail

Location: Redfield to Panora

Ride Length:  Long

Surface:  Asphalt and concrete

Terrain: Flat with slight grades

Date:    3-29-2014

Time:    1:00

Weather: 40’s/Sunny/Breezy

Starting Point: Trailhead in Redfield

Ride Map

Trail Map

Trail Resources


Overview

  • It was the official opening day for trails across the United States and the Iowa weather was encouraging folks to get out and celebrate.  I drove west to Redfield to ride the remaining south/southwest corner of the Raccoon River Valley Trail.  

  • At the Redfield trailhead is a restored train depot.  Facilities are open May through September.  It was quiet there with no other cyclists about.  I unloaded the Iron Giant and headed west on the trail with the intention of riding for for an hour and returning to Redfield.

  • The majority of this route travels through wooded areas.  It’s a favorite for cyclists during the summers providing cool relief on a hot day.  

  • The trail wasn’t very busy.  The majority of riders were from towns along the trails.  A group of kids just outside of Linden, a father with his boys, and a couple enjoying the trail on their recumbent bikes south of Panora.  

  • The Dallas/Guthrie county line is not far outside of Linden and is designated with a welcome sign.  At the next gravel road intersection the path changes from asphalt to concrete.

  • Northwest of Linden my watch said it was time to turn around.  Ignoring it I pedaled on towards Panora deciding it would be my turnaround spot.

  • A cool thing happened where the trail intersects with Yellow Ave.  The odometer on the the Iron Giant reached 1,000 miles!  

  • The Guthrie county side of this route becomes more open with glimpses of farm fields and grasses flanking the trail.

  • My turnaround location was the Panora trailhead.  It isn't fancy but is conveniently located next to PJ’s Drive In.

Considerations

  • Riding through forested areas can be a tricky combination of keeping an eye out for tree debris on the trail and enjoying the scenery.

  • Trees flanking the trails results in bumps and dips from roots making their way under the asphalt.  I was caught by surprise by with a big jolt from a bump I didn’t see because of the shadows on the trail.   Ugh! That’s a feeling I hate!

  • Riders get to contend with loose gravel at the multiple gravel road intersections. I got a little wobbly on one of them and wondered if maybe I should free my feet before crossing these types of intersections.  

Stops

  • I took a short break in Linden to check out their trailhead and a longer one on the bridge crossing Mosquito Creek.  There I enjoyed the sounds of the cardinals calling to each other while I ate a small snack.

Sightings

  • On this route you can see a Raccoon from the Raccoon..the Middle Raccoon River that is.  There’s a good spot to pull off the trail and take some pictures of the river as it winds it’s way to meet the Raccoon River south of Redfield.

  • The water tower in Linden is a rare sight.  Not many towns have this style of towers anymore.  

  • Bluebird houses can be seen along the more open portion of the trail.  

  • If it wasn’t for the leafless trees I would have missed spotting an old wooden bridge covered in moss and fallen leaves.  I suspect a farmer constructed it in the past to help get equipment across the creek.

  • A tree trunk sporting some Artist’s Conk (shelf mushrooms) caught my eye.  

Treats

  • I brought along DIY Nutterbutters (aka graham crackers and peanut butter).  With a new rear rack installed on the Iron Giant I realized it can serve as little table. How quaint!

Wrap Up

This ride is just one of many I’ll be taking on the Raccoon River Valley Trail. Opening day for the trails couldn’t have been much better!  

Happy Riding!