Biking Our Way to Iowa!


(but maybe not exactly what it sounds like…)

Each summer for the past few years, Stef and I work our way to Iowa for Winnebago’s Grand National Rally.  We’ve been doing it long enough now that we recognize people, and it almost seems like a sort of homecoming.  For the last two years, we’ve led bike rides at the rally, and Stef teaches fitness classes for the attendees as well.  It’s a great opportunity to spread the Fit RV lifestyle.  But it’s a long drive from our home base in Utah…  It takes a while!  Since we always have our bikes with us, this time around we put some extra effort in before we left to find rides along our route to keep us active and break up the driving.

This really paid off!  We found some fabulous rides at stops along the way, and I’m going to share them with you below.  Some of these rides (the mountain biking in particular) can get pretty technical, so before just jumping in and doing them, please do a little research on your own, and make sure any of these are within your comfort zone.


Grand Junction, CO – Colorado National Monument Loop

If you only do one ride in the Grand Junction area, this should be it.  I thought this ride was fantastic!  It’s basically a 33 mile loop that takes you through the National Monument. Depending on where you start, there can be a couple extra miles tacked on to the beginning and the end.  There’s plenty of climbing, and plenty of descending too, along with an easy-to-follow flat section between the two park entrances that completes the loop.

Stefany posing her bike… I think… I’ve learned not to ask questions…

We did the loop clockwise.  That puts you closer to the scenery… but also closer to the edge.  If you’ve got a “thing” with heights like Stef does, you might want to ride the loop in the other direction.  (But like I said – I thought it was fantastic.)  Also, there are three tunnels along the route, so you’re required to have head and tail lights.  And you will have to pay a nominal fee to enter the monument.

 


Gunnison, CO – Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Another fantastic ride that we almost didn’t do!  This is an out and back ride that follows highway 92 for pretty much as far as you want to take it.  We started at the Lake Fork Campground and rode out 25 miles for a total ride of 50.  It was pretty much all climbing on the way out and (thankfully) all descending on the way back.

It was quite cold when we started, and we hadn’t counted on that so we didn’t have much cold weather riding gear.  We decided to just start anyway and see if we warmed up – which we did, thanks to all the climbing.

Kind of a cool panorama taken by a passing cyclist. Click for the whole picture!

There’s not much of a shoulder on highway 92, but thankfully traffic was minimal.  If you turn around right at 25 miles like we did, there’s a little rest stop with a toilet.  Scenic views abound on this ride, so be sure to have a fully charged camera/phone/whatever you take pictures with.

 


Cañon City, CO, Riding into Florence

We were in Cañon City for the Fourth of July, so we wanted to catch a parade or some local color, or something like that.  We totally scored.

This ride was just a little 14 mile jaunt from one town to the next town over, so it wasn’t remarkable as far as riding goes.  But what was remarkable was the spectacle awaiting us in Florence!

This town has a tradition of what they call a “wet parade”, and basically it’s like the whole town turns up for a water gun fight.  This was a blast!  All of the floats were shooting water out into the crowd, and the crowd was trying to get just as much water back on the floats.  Neither Stef nor I had seen anything like this before.  Hilarious!

Naturally there was a festival/street fair at the end of the parade route, and we checked it out for a while before biking back out of town.  At the festival, I got a tamale that Stef didn’t complain about.  But I think it’s mostly because Stef doesn’t know exactly what’s in an authentic tamale.  (Hint:  It’s not exactly health food.)

There’s certainly no lard in this tamale…


Lake Scott, KS – Mountain Biking

It might seem strange that someone who lives in Utah would bust out the mountain bikes in Kansas.  I thought so too at first.  But this was the first of two Kansas state parks that had some pretty decent mountain bike trails.

Lake Scott is kind of a cool place in Kansas because it seems to me like it sits in a depression carved out in the prairie.  (Hey, I’m no geologist.)  It’s an abrupt depression, but not quite a canyon.  There’s a lake there, and the trail pretty much circumnavigates the lake.  So there’s some climbing, some descending, some prairie riding, and some single track.

It was a fun trail of about 7 miles, and I got it in before work.  The campground, by the way, is a winner.  Our site was spacious, and everyone was super friendly with us.  They even called us earlier that day to make sure we were still coming!  (It’s a running joke around here that we’re always late…)

Not the Amazon. Kansas.


Wilson Lake, KS – Way More Crazy Good Mountain Biking

Lake Scott was cool, but it was really just a warmup for what awaited us the next day at Wilson Lake.  Now THESE were some serious trails.  I’m not a super technical rider, but I can usually hold my own on a bike, and there were sections of these trails that I walked.

Most of the riding was so intense, I didn’t want to bust out a camera, so this is what you get.

The trails are apparently professionally designed, and they seem to have an IMBA event there every year.  For the more casual mountain biker though, the trails were well maintained, very well marked, and easy to navigate once you understand the loop and cutoff system.  There are three loops there, and I not quite completed one, plus the warmup loop a couple times.  I rode over 12 miles in total, and I only just scratched the surface of what’s available.  If you wanted to explore all of the options at Wilson Lake, allow yourself a couple of days.

 


Alta Vista, KS to Alma, KS – Old Kansas 10

Continuing to work our way across Kansas, we stopped in a little town called Alta Vista, parked our RV, and rode our bikes down a seldom used highway that links up with the town of Alma, about 15 miles away.  While it wasn’t a particularly challenging ride, there were plenty of rollers, and lots of super cool scenery, like this thing that I don’t understand how it happened – because it must have taken years and surely somebody could have stopped it in all that time.

The country side there is very picturesque, and Stef and I both really enjoyed this ride.  Plus, when we got to the town of Alma, we found a bakery selling things we won’t tell you we ate, and a creamery selling freshly made local cheese.  I’m a sucker for super salty cheese, and we found a cheddar in Alma that actually had little crunchy crystals of salt in it.  Sold!!

OK. I admit it. I really love salty cheese.

Sadly, my Garmin ran out of battery a few miles from the finish.  So if you look at the map, just imagine we completed the full out and back.

 


Alton, IL – Don’t Do This Ride!

Believe it or not, this was as scenic as this ride got…

First off, if you’re reading this and you’re thinking “they’ve overshot Iowa”, you’re correct.  We actually went to the Cleveland, Ohio area first to visit family and for some super cool RV modifications at Advanced-RV.  So this ride was on the way to Ohio.

This was the one clear “miss” in our pre-trip planning.  We had read that the Sam Vadalabene Great River Road Bike Trail was scenic and separated from traffic.  We never made it far enough to see any of that.  We parked in downtown Alton, by the visitors center.  And while the parking was free, it didn’t feel at all “secure”.  There were a lot of people hanging around in the parking lot loitering, smoking, and watching us get ready and roll away.  That didn’t make us feel super secure right out of the gate.

But then there was the “trail”.  The route starts you out riding in traffic with a whole lot of drivers who really don’t want to share the road with you.  There is a shoulder, but most of the time, you can’t ride in it.  It’s full of rocks and other debris.  Oh… and SAND.  Inside the first mile, this ride LITERALLY ROLLS BY A SAND FACTORY!  I couldn’t make this stuff up.  And they’re not very careful loading up their sand, because the entire bike lane is covered.  This all forces you out into the road with people who would rather see you dead.  Not great.

Yes, that’s a not-very-fresh raccoon in the bike path.

Eventually we got to the separated part of the trail, but when we started seeing bloated corpses lying among the discarded needles and car parts in the bike trail, we had had enough.  We turned around after about a mile and a half and headed back to our RV which had not yet been stripped for parts.

So, if the Sam Vadalabene Great River Road Bike Trail is on your list, just go ahead and cross it off now.  You have my permission.

 


Springfield, OH – The Little Miami Scenic Trail

This is a trail system that is bigger than you are!  We started in Springfield Ohio and headed south on the Little Miami Scenic Trail.  But the trail goes all the way to Cincinatti!  We didn’t make it that far, but we got in a solid 40 miles out-and back.  I think Cincinatti is about 60 miles one way, so that would be a full day if you wanted to take it that far.

There’s not much climbing to speak of, but the trail is beautiful and tree-covered (everywhere we rode, at least).  When you get to the town of Xenia, there are other trails that branch off to who-knows-where.  I got the impression you could spend a couple days exploring the trail system.  The trail does jump onto public roads at a couple of places, but is separated from traffic for the most part.

It’s also a pretty popular trail, so I wouldn’t recommend it for, say, Time Trial practice or something where you’re going to want to keep up speed.  The only negative thing I can think to say about this trail is that I somehow got a flat.


After this ride, it was on into Cleveland and now we’re back in Iowa.

I give Stef most of the credit for this experience.  It was a lot of work planning a route that included good bike rides at all the stops, and it took her hours and hours to get it done.  But like I said before… well worth it.

If you know of great rides between Utah and Iowa, sound off in the comments below!  We’re always looking for ways to change things up.

Cheers!



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.


    23 thoughts on “Biking Our Way to Iowa!

    1. John Cariotto

      Most folks drive across Nebraska on Interstate 80, following the Platte River, so they think the entire state is flat. It’s not. The Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) follows a different route each year. Highways 2 and 20 are both scenic, and the Cowboy Trail is a bike trail built on the old C&NW rail line, 195 miles between Valentine and Norfolk and another 126 miles which is “undeveloped” west of Valentine to Chadron. Fort Robinson State Park and Chadron State Park in northwest Nebraska will let you view the Pine Ridge – and you won’t forget a ride through Sowbelly Canyon, or the view north to the Black Hills on a clear day.

      Reply
    2. Ron Cook

      We stopped in Gunnison on our way from Ironhorse to Denver. Loved the ride up to Taylor Reservoir. We were told about Black Canyon and also riding up to Crested Butte. We enjoyed Gunnison so much its on our route for next year when we do the Ironhorse.

      Reply
        1. Ron Cook

          Further to Gunnison we too are trying to plan riding, typically paved roads, ahead of time with a strategic location of campgrounds so not needing to move rig. Those places that provide a # of rides (hopefully hills) from the one location are what we aim for in planning a route. Constantly scanning RV/bike blogs for ideas. On that note, any Lance memorable or bucket list sites with decent riding mileage,roads, loops preferred? Thinking more Southwestern states going up your way to take in probability of warmer winter/spring riding for us northerners.

    3. Jon Ault

      Today I drove through downtown Alton and along the Great River Road to Grafton for the first time in many years, and it’s sad how much it’s deteriorated. Back in the 90’s, downtown Alton used to have a lot of antique stores – between biking up to Grafton & back and browsing the stores, I could easily kill a long Saturday afternoon.

      Illinois has been having a lot of budget problems at the state level for the last few years; I suspect that has something to do with the lack of maintenance of the bike path.

      If you find yourself in that area in the future, you might want to check out the Katy Trail. There’s a trailhead in Black Walnut, which is about 20 minutes from Alton on the Missouri side of the river. From there, it’s an easy ride to downtown St Charles, which is a lot nicer than downtown Alton.

      Reply
    4. Indy Cyclist

      I just friended you on Strava but have not seen much activity. You are using Graman so I assume you have the Edge 1000. I love mine and it helps me keep up my tempo and effort.
      Thanks for all you interest and excitement about RVs and Cycling!
      Bruce M

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Actually, I have an old Garmin 510! It’s been solid for years and refuses to die, so I can’t justify replacing it.
        And while I am on Strava now, I’m just not super plugged in to social media – even social media for athletes. So the answer there is, typically I forget to turn it on.
        But RVs and cycling. Heck yeah!

        Reply
      1. James - Post author

        We keep hoping to do that one year, but we always seem to have schedule conflicts. This year, it’s the Outdoor Retailer show. (Next week)

        Reply
    5. Other Steph

      Let me say that if you’re on your way back west and are traveling near Omaha, specifically on a Thursday then you MUST do a Taco Ride. Every Thursday night, from the Lewis Central High School in Council Bluffs, IA down to Mineola, IA and back again. I was a huge fan when I lived in Omaha from 2010-2013 and thought they were a great way to enjoy the summers there.
      Here’s a recent article that gives you the scoop!
      http://www.omaha.com/taco-ride-thursdays/image_5d508476-3430-11e7-a442-4bbd92964771.html

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        OK. THAT sounds like a lot of fun. Exactly the kind of thing to break up the routine.
        Taco Ride is on the list!

        Reply
    6. Paul H.

      Wow, you got in a lot of great riding! Thanks for the beta. I’ve found the “MTB Project” app very handy for finding good rides easily when we are on the road.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        We use MTB Project ALL THE TIME! It’s a fantastic app, and I’ve even used it mid-ride to make sure I’m still on the trail.

        Reply
    7. Nancy

      Wow that was exhausting just reading about your adventures…looks like amazing rides, fantastic work and super detailed….thanks for sharing….great photos……..ps would you mind picking me up a Navion while at the rally….really getting claustrophobic in my Class B

      Cheers

      Reply
    8. Mike < FISH

      Well folks you took me with you on this trip. Reading your comments and the story of the trip takes me back many years ago when I would have no problem riding with you folks but Father Time and some knee issues have just about taking away from me most of the activities that I loved to do. Sometime when reading stories that others tell I tend to feel a bit sad but happy for those who are taking the adventure. Most of my activities have a lot of limitations now that I am about a month shy of hitting the big 66. Now what I do for fun is taking my bagpipes out and trapping all the tone deaf folks in the park as I belt out about an hours worth of tunes. What I enjoy the most if having a campground across the street from me up here in woodchuckville of the Hudson River Valley of New York State. So far over the years I have had many campers say thanks for the music. Nothing better than piping on the banks of the trout stream!
      In ending I have to say thanks for taking me along with you guys on the bike trails…the photo’s and the story was just pure fun even if it was all a vision found inside my mind! Fantastic story guys …thanks!
      ” Fish”

      Reply
        1. Mike < FISH

          Ride far and fast and don’t forget to stop at a Haus and get a few tankards to chose the dust and such away. If you happen to enter the Autobahn beside to peddle like the dickens…enjoy the trip…I had a fantastic time there when I was in the USAF…I think we were still using Zepplin’s…ha!
          < FISH <

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