Apologies for those who are here for the gardening, hares and persistent light rain – normal service will be returning soon when we return home next week. But meanwhile we have been down to Iowa for a couple of days and our hosts were keen to stick us on a couple of bikes and send us off on their local tourist attraction, the High Trestle Trail (‘it’s a 46 mile ride but serious bikers like you should be fine’ … um).
I can’t tell you much about utility cycling in Ankeny or Des Moines (although there were an impressive number of bikes parked outside the local elementary school as we set off in the morning) but I can tell you that Iowa takes cycle tourism seriously. As well as an annual mass ride across the state (around 450 miles; Pedal for Scotland, eat your heart out) they’ve invested big time in leisure cycling with a massive 1,800 miles of cycle trails. And by ‘cycle trail’ we’re not talking ‘a goat track interrupted by steps’ or even ‘a blue sign alongside an A-road‘, but (at least as far as the route we took) something that’s an absolute pleasure to ride on a bike
Complete with actual toilets, oh glory be.
Oh and lights sold on an honesty box system.
It helped that we chose a glorious day to cycle out to ‘the bridge’ (as it’s labelled on the direction markers) with a nice breeze (more of that later) to counteract the forecast 30 degree heat. The cycle to the start of the trail was mostly along the usual American shared-use sidewalk (‘double wide’ to accommodate cyclists) but once on the route it was completely off road, almost entirely level, and smoothly paved (unlike many of the roads we crossed, which in a reversal of normal practice, were often just gravel).
These routes are largely intended to be a tourist attraction and the towns we passed through are clearly keen to take advantage of all those passing hungry cyclists.
This shouldn’t be rocket science, and yet it’s something we often forget to do in the UK – sending cyclists out into beautiful countryside, often bypassing any towns with any actual shops in them, and then neglecting to do anything to take their money from them.
We were a little nervous about committing ourselves to such a long ride on unfamiliar bikes (especially once we realised we were riding a strengthening tailwind) but the trail was so pleasant and the miles ticked away so easily, it seemed churlish not to go and at least look at the bridge, so sustained by granola bars (and a free banana) from a shop in a small town en route, we pedalled on.
The bridge was entirely worth it, too. Photos don’t really do it justice, but I did wonder at the sanity – and climbing skills – of the graffiti artist who had tagged the nearest pier.
Bridge admired, and ridden over, there was nothing to do but turn around and go back again, but first we had to inject some of our tourist dollars into the local economy, in an extremely pleasurable way (not quite up to the standards of our taco safari, but very tasty nonetheless and the standard ‘feed a family of four’ serving size was welcome after a morning of steady pedalling).
The last 12 miles were into what was now a stiffish headwind, and my bottom was beginning to comment unfavourably on the non-Brooks saddle on my otherwise lovely borrowed bike and wonder in increasingly insistent terms where its comfy leather hammock was, but we got our heads down and took turns to be in front and before we knew it we were back at our hosts and ready to go out and eat All the Food once more.
If you’re ever in Iowa (and why not?) I would highly recommend getting onto a bike and exploring the trails. Now all we have to do is build something of similar quality in Scotland and start hoovering up those tourism pounds.
Moo-I-5 might need to up their game a little though …