Bike Tour 2012 - Idiots Outside Biking Around Tour

Jim and Tom's 15th Bike Tour


2012 is a drought year for major portions of the US, and Iowa is definitely part of that drought territory. Jim and Tom decide to go down and take a look. Someone I know mentioned to me that IOWA stands for Idiots Outside Walking Around (showing the friendly rivalry between MN and IA).

We always name our tours. Since this tour proves to be quite a challenge it could be called "The Heat, Humidity, Headwinds, Hydration, and Hell Tour", or more simply - The 5H Tour. Then again we passed by lots of corn - The Corny 5H Tour. However, this tour is called the Idiots Outside Biking Around Tour or The IOBA Tour.

A friend of ours has gave Jim and I a new tail light to use on this trip. Its unique features are that it has both a motion sensor and a photocell built into it. It turns on when you brake and when it gets dark. We will test it out.

Saturday, July 21, 79 miles, Avg 12.5 mph, 6h20m riding time
Minneapolis, MN - Owatonna, MN

View Bicycling directions to 130 Allan Avenue, Owatonna, MN in a larger map


Late Start

The alarm goes off at 6:00am and we eat an early breakfast. This allows us to leave early and miss the hottest part of the day. However, Mother Nature strikes and it starts raining pretty heavy around 7:00am. This delays our start until 10:00am. So much for beating the heat.

It's cloudy when we start riding with very light rain. The temperature is in the high 70s. We start by riding wets on 49th St. to Nicolett Ave and then go south one block to 50th St. There's a nice downhill to Minnehaha Parkway, which we follow to 34th Ave. Then a quick jog south to 54th St takes us to a path that goes by Fort Snelling and leads us to the Mendota Bridge.


Mendota Bridge

We stop here for some photos.


Minnesota River Near Confluence with Mississippi River

Looking down off the bridge we can see the Minnesota River where it is about to meet the Mississippi River.

By now it has completely stopped raining but is still cloudy with a crosswind. It's also quite humid. We ride on Mendota Heights Rd to MN 55, and follow it southeast to MN 49. This continues southeast to state MN 3 where we stop for a rest and some snacks.


Strange Combo Shop - Quilting, Pizza, Truck Stop

I've always thought this was a strange combination to cram into one building. It's part quilting shop, part truck stop, and part pizza place.

Here Jim's bike suddenly blows over in a gust of wind. The unfortunate part is that this seems to affect the performance of his new tail light, as it is staying on all the time in the daylight. Our experiments (push buttons, take out and put back in the batteries) fail to get it to work correctly. We turn it off to save the battery life.

We are now heading straight south on MN 3, a wide open road with a nice shoulder. There is also much more of a headwind but the riding is uneventful. As we pass through Rosemount we see a large number of motorcycle riders leaving a parking lot. They must be outlaw bikers as only 3 of them are wearing helmets.

A friendly cyclist passes us and asks where we are headed. We tell him our destination but don't tell him that we are Idiots Outside Biking Around. He tells us to ride safely and rides on ahead. The next town is Farmington where a guy in a pickup truck yells at us, "is that your dump back there?" and then laughs really loud. We have no idea what he is talking about but he seems to be friendly and enjoying himself. We just smile at him, ride on and think that he is an Idiot Outside Trucking Around.


Minnesota Corn Near Farmington

Just passed the town of Farmington we take our first corn picture. This is Minnesota corn and it is looking healthy. So far, the drought has not hit Minnesota as hard. According to Jim, this is kind of a mirage, because lots of fertilizer and pesticides have made it tall and green and in the process created a monoculture that is vulnerable to disease and soil erosion.

We stopped at the DQ in Northfield for lunch but they only have soft serve. The cyclist that passed us earlier is enjoying a treat before heading back home. We chat some more about our journey.


Northfield Main St.

Can you find Jim?

Main St. in downtown Northfield has some places to eat so we stop at Hoggan Brothers for lunch. Northfield has a nicely preserved downtown area. After lunch we apply more sunscreen as it is now hot and humid. The temperature feels like it is in the mid to upper 80s with a dew point around 70.


Cairn in Northfield

We ride south on Division St. and see this nice cairn. Next we veer onto County Rd 22, which has some nice hills and low traffic. Here we are receiving some benefit from a tailwind with a slight crosswind. We take County Rd 20 and continue south to the tiny hamlet of Canon City (don't blink).

We glide down a very nice long downhill into the city of Faribault. Here we stop for a Gatorade at a convenience store. A woman is walking around asking everyone if they are from Faribault but no one seems to be. After asking several people she all of sudden raises her voice and says, "isn't anyone from Faribault?"


Straight River

We stop by the Straight River for a photo opportunity and tour the downtown area. It is getting very hot.


Faribault Mural

Here we see a nice mural of Faribault.

We head out of town on County Rd 45 and end up taking a short detour. There is still a light tailwind. This turns out to be a pretty nice road. We stop in the town of Medford and have a snack, and because Jim needs to do some minor maintenance on his bike. There's a sign across the road that says 'Central Park' here in Medford and it is just a small shelter with two picnic tables. I'm not sure that this meets the minimum requirements for a city park.

We continue our journey south towards Owatonna.


Owatonna Airport

The Owatonna airport has this unique sculpture on the side of I35. We ride into Owatonna and visit the historic National Farmers Bank designed by architect Louis Sullivan.


National Farmers' Bank of Owatonna, Minnesota by architect Louis Sullivan


Inside the National Farmers' Bank of Owatonna


Inside the National Farmers' Bank of Owatonna looking the other way

We recommend you stop in if you ever pass through Owatonna.

There are studies now that recommend drinking chocolate milk after a strenuous workout. Jim and I buy and drink some chocolate milk - any excuse to drink chocolate milk. Later we have a nice dinner at Mizuki Fusion - a Thai Japanese fusion restaurant.






Sunday, July 22, 95 miles, Avg 12.5 mph, 7h20m riding time
Owatonna, MN - Clear Lake, IA

View Bicycling directions to 2023 7th Avenue North, Clear Lake, IA in a larger map

It's raining again in the morning at sunrise and we finally manage to start riding just after 9:00am. First, we take Allen Ave south and then get on Lemond (nice biking name for a road) and bump into some road construction. We ride through the construction without too much trouble but make a wrong turn and end up going four or five miles west (instead of south). We have to double back by taking County Road 7 until we get to County Road 30, and here we head south. Since this is our longest day, it's hot and humid, and there's a headwind of 20mph, a detour is not a good idea. We start drafting each other to be more efficient. At least there is plenty of corn.


Corn South of Owatonna

We come across a telltale that confirms the headwind we are experiencing.



The next turn puts us on County Road 4 heading west for a short distance, then we take County Road 67 south where I break a spoke near this ornate barn.


Broken Spoke Barn

A broken spoke only adds to my stress level as this will cause the wheel to get out of true.


Ellendale Mural

County Road 67 takes us to the town Ellendale where we stop for a Gatorade. I start calling bike shops in Albert Lea and find one shop that is open. Unfortunately he doesn't carry parts for road bikes and cannot fix a wheel with bladed spokes, or even sell me a new wheel for a road bike. He does tell me he can true the wheel which will buy me time until I can find another bike shop. He also tells me there is a good Raleigh bike shop in Clear Lake.

After Ellendale we cross over I35 and then ride through the town of Geneva on County Road 45, and then along Lake Geneva. After that we cross back over I35 again as we pass through Clark Grove.



Soon there is this sad but curious sign along the side of the road. Jim and I wish we could honk but are just not able to.

There is a serious headwind and considerable heat as the Idiots Outside Biking Around take MN 45 into Albert Lea. I stop at the Bicycle Works bike shop where the friendly shop owner trues my wheel for me at no charge. We thank him and carry on.


Freeborn County Courthouse

The Freeborn County Courthouse in Albert Lea is quite picturesque with dog gargoyles, and was first built in 1888.

We stop for some a tasty DQ lunch and afterwards feel a few drops of rain as we head south out of Albert Lea on County Road 18. The rain is very light and short lived. The wind is starting to let up some but it is still hot and humid. The lawns look very dry and the cornfields appear to be in worse shape. We come across a different variety of corn along here.


New corn variety near Iowa

We are quite close to Iowa now.


Which way?

We ride a short distance on the State Line Road before turning south into Iowa on County Road S28 (though the road sign had a different name). Next we go west on Silver Lake Road and then south on County Road S22 where we stop for a rest under some trees. The owner comes out and jokes that there's a $10/tire charge for stopping here. He also takes a look at our map and tells us what to expect for hills and traffic. He tells us there is a big hill on IA 105, which is our next turn. The hill turns out to be not bad at all so I guess there's a different kind of gauge used in Iowa for hills.

A short distance after turning on County Road S10 there is this wind farm. We actually see a number of wind farms while riding through Iowa.


Iowa wind farm

The next town we come to is Joice and we stop and buy a soda from a machine and sit in the park. We watch kids go down a slide only to discover a puddle of water awaits them at the bottom. We ride out of town on Front Street and turn east onto County Road A38 for a short distance until we get to County Road S18. The town of Fertile appears after about 7 - 8 miles of riding south in the heat and humidity.


Fertile, Iowa

We continue south on County Road 18 and notice our shadows are growing long as the sun gets lower in the western sky.


Long shadows

When we get to US 18 we are in Clear Lake, the location of Buddy Holly's last concert. We make sure to find some chocolate milk.







Monday, July 23, 89 miles, Avg 12 mph, 7h22m riding time
Clear Lake, IA - Story City, IA

View Bicycling directions to 425 Timberland Drive, Story City, IA in a larger map

We wake up at 7:20am and start riding at 8:40am. It's quiet riding through Clear Lake to South Shore Dr. South Shore Dr. follows the lake shore line. At one point we stop and ask directions to Lake Side Cyclery and then turn around and go back a few blocks. It is located behind a red house along the road.


Lakeside Cyclery

There's a sign in the shop area that says the curmudgeon is in. Steve is a good wrench and scolds me for touring on a bike with bladed spokes because most shops do not carry all the different styles and lengths that are available. Who knew that was a bad idea? Not me - if I had known I wouldn't have done the other 14 tours. Steve has toured a fair amount himself.

Steve fixes my broken spoke and only charges me $15. He has this wonderful classic Tour de France poster in his shop.


Vervaeke and Geldhol smoke a cigarette.

We thank Steve for his help. Jim and I recommend stopping into Lakeside Cyclery if you are ever in Clear Lake, Iowa.


Clear Lake

Another late start on a hot windy day for us. We continue around the lake to S. Dogwood Ave., then to County Road B35, and west to County Road S14 where we see a road closed sign.


Which direction?

We try County Road S14 anyway and in 1 - 2 miles we are stopped by the construction crew and have to detour on a gravel road 1 mile west, and then 2 miles south. Going back to County Road S14 is better as we we go 1 mile east on a paved road. The wind is from the west at the moment but it is getting hot and humid. We are now back on track and continue south on County Road S14.

We notice we are in Cerro Gordo county and a long way from the 1847 Mexican-American War battle by the same name. This is a long straight road and, without the detour, this would have been a 20 mile straight shot.


Iowa corn south of Clear Lake

We stop in the town of Meservey and buy Gatorade from a vending machine. Not much is open in this town. It looks to be in rough shape. The only shops that are open are the Post Office and a bar. The friendly bartender fills our water bottles with ice water. We then continue by following County Road S14 to Alexander.


Alexander, Iowa

Alexander appears to be in worse shape than Meservey as only the Post Office is open. All other buildings on Main Street are closed.

We ride two miles west but here my mapping fails. No roads are paved and we can't find the road I have marked on the map. No choice but to ride back to Alexander where we stop in a park to make a few minor adjustments to Jim's brakes.

Our new route takes us south on County Road S14 again to IA 3. Then we head west for 1 mile to County Road S13 which takes us toward to the town of Dows where we cross over the Iowa River.


Iowa River

As we enter Dows we see this curious sign.


Not Yet (but when?)

The restaurant we had hoped to find for lunch was closed. We stop at a convenience store and buy Gatorade and sandwiches. We eat indoors and hang around to enjoy the AC.

We head SSW on County Road R75 and once again experience strong headwinds from the south. It's HOT, HOT, HOT and the Idiots Outside Biking Around continue on their journey.


More Headwinds

We follow County Road R75 about 16 miles to Williams but no place is open for business. We manage to find a truck stop on I35 called Boondocks and buy some more Gatorade and hang out some more in the AC. Some of the local friendlies want to know if we are going to RAGBRAI and we tell them no we're riding self contained. They give us some good advice on directions to Elsworth and we say "au revoir."

We follow these directions (R61 to D41, cross under I35, to R61) and stop for a rest about 5 miles north of Ellsworth. A fellow cyclist comes riding up from the other direction. Turns out he's headed north to meet some friends that are riding in RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). We wish him well and say "adios" as we head down into Ellsworth.

At Ellsworth we stop at another convenience store for soda and to once again stand in the AC - did I mention it was really hot? Someone tells us it's 101 outside (in the shade). Finally we get back on County Road R61 and head south. Fortunately the headwinds have let up some and there is some slight cloud cover that provides slight relief from the hot sun.


Iowa Drought


Scorched Earth

Here we see some seriously dried up corn. We follow County Road R61 into Story City, drink some chocolate milk, get to our hotel, and turn on the AC.




Tuesday, July 24, 62 miles, Avg 12.4 mph, 5h0m riding time
Story City, IA - Des Moines, IA

View Bicycling directions to 5000 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines, IA in a larger map

We wake up at 5:00am and start riding about 6:40am. Finally we manage an early start with the temperature in the 70s with an east wind. Our first stop is the downtown area.


Water Tower in Story City, Iowa

Here there are parking spots in the middle of the street here.

We start riding west looking for Larson Avenue but we make it all the way to US 69 and realize we've gone too far. After turning around and riding back into town, we ride around a bit looking for Larson. Finally we look at a map on Jim's phone and find it. We head south but bump into a gravel road after about 1/2 mile. I had relied on Google maps in this area and, unfortunately, it leads us to a gravel road.


Heavy Duty Corn Crop Machinery

The other route is US 69 but it turns out that it is under construction and the road is closed. The only other choice is a 10-mile detour. Jim talks me into just taking US 69 anyway, and if someone stops us, we'll seek forgiveness. The plan is to see if we can make it most of the way and only detour short distances on some gravel roads as needed. We are trying to make our way to the town of Gilbert.

Jim's risky plan turns out to be a good one as the road is silky smooth with no traffic for 3 miles. We turn west toward Gilbert and ride into town. We ask a friendly passerby about a nice road to Ames and she tells us to take County Road R50. We head toward County Road R50 and see a sign GILBERT spelled out as "Great In Looking Back, Excellent Reaching Tomorrow."

We make good time on County Road R50 with a nice ESE crosswind/tailwind. This is a nice change from all the headwinds we've experienced. There is also some cloud cover and it's definitely much cooler early in the morning.

As we approach Ames County Road R50 zigs and zags some until we turn onto Stange Ave. This takes us to Iowa State University where we see a number of students riding bikes - most without helmets. We check out a campus map and find an expansive mall area with nice grass, monumental buildings, and provocative sculptures.


Iowa State University


Provocative Sculpture


Clock Tower

Can you find Jim?

We ride around campus a bit more, see nice Lake LaVerne, and then stop at a convenience store for some large icy refreshments before heading out of Ames. We depart from Ames by heading west on a rough busy road during rush hour. Soon we pick up County Road R38 and head south riding in a bike lane. At the moment there is mostly a crosswind.


Ames Bicycle Barn

We pass by the Ames Bicycle Barn where the bicycles are in pretty rough shape. I would not want to ride any one of them as I doubt they would make it very far.

We decide to take a picture of some soybeans as, so far, it's been all corn.



And, for good measure, one last picture of corn.


Last shot of Iowa corn

Soon we arrive in the town of Slater and find the Iowa Nature Trail. We stop here for some snacks. Though, we are really looking for the High Trestle Trail bike path. A friendly local cyclist offers to lead us to that trail. He mentions that he has just recovered from a broken back (which he did during a RAGBRAI ride) and is just getting back into cycling. He tells us about some friends of his that were riding RAGBRAI the day before. They rode four hours in a pace line and could only average 15mph. Pretty slow when strong riders are in a pace line.


High Trestle Trail

We ride the High Trestle Trail south toward Des Moines and say farewell to our escort as he is riding west. The trail is nice and smooth with very few other riders. There is lots of ballast along the side of the path. Here we start getting some headwinds again. We stop at a rest area with a decorative railing made of old railroad rails.

After about 13 miles the trail ends in Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines. Here we search for a DQ to have lunch as it is starting to get quite hot. Jim has an 850-calorie Blizzard and I have the smaller 600-calorie version.

After lunch we decide to ride to Saylorville Lake to see the reservoir. We zig and zag around on roads like Ordinance and Magazine, and end up in a new suburb with a waterpark. We backtrack a bit to Slate Ave. and head south to Oralabor. Here we head west with a nice tailwind. This is a busy fast road that keeps getting narrower until it is becomes a single lane with no shoulder. We opt for a nice bike path even if it means giving up on seeing Saylorville. This is a nice bike path (Neil Smith Trail) and we head south at first. The trail then winds roughly west through some bottom lands and before too long we see a sign directing us toward Saylorville Lake. It's only 1.75 miles north, though this turns out to be quite a climb. This area is the only time on this tour where we drop into out granny gears.


Saylorville Lake

The dam is about 1/2 mile long and the lake is impressive. It was built in 1958 on the Des Moines River (River of Monks). By now the temperature exceeds 100 degrees and these Idiots Outside Biking Around are feeling it. With the drought, we can see that the lake is feeling it too. It looks many feet low as there is a visible bathtub ring.

After leaving the dam we climb another steep hill and come to Camp Dodge.


Camp Dodge

Here there is a tank, a plane, and a large cannon. At this point it is really hot again (over 100) and I tell Jim that's enough pictures. It's time to just ride to our hotel. Fortunately it's only about 3 miles away and there we will find more air conditioning and chocolate milk.



Total Distance: 325 miles

That evening we have a fabulous meal at the Alba Restaurant in downtown Des Moines. We are no longer Idiots Outside Biking Around


As we are driving back to Minneapolis we see RAGBRAI riders on a bridge passing over I35 near Story City, Iowa. The temperature is already in the 90s and forecast to reach 104. Jim and I are not the only Idiots Outside Biking Around. Send email with any comments or corrections to: