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(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.
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.
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.)
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…)
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.
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!!
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!
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.
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.