Tag Archives: RAGBRAI

My 12 Reasons Why Iowa Rules

In a Washington Post blog post yesterday, naturally bouncing around Facebook and featured by the Des Moines Register, writer Chris Cillizza notes 12 reasons why “Iowa Rules.”

Well, Chris, I’m happy you enjoy the Hawkeye state. But your list is really why Des Moines is an OK city, as if people from Washington DC can’t imagine life any place smaller in Iowa being worthy of notice. Well, Des Moines, you are pleasant, it’s true. And a Cedar Rapids perspective isn’t exactly typical of Iowa, either—in many places, economically iffy small downs are trying to cling to viability as their populations age and schools slowly close, and in many small school districts, Iowa’s vaunted pride in its educational system languishes in parochial mediocrity.

Still, I find that Iowa is a good place to be, and if a Washington Post blogger can come up with 12 reasons why, surely this Iowan (born in Tennessee, but brought up in Iowa) probably can, too.

My 12 reasons why Iowa rules:

 1. It’s not Left Coast or Right Coast. I like visiting states like California or Washington or Florida, but traffic is heavier, people ruder and the pace of life too quick. It’s nice to visit there. And so very nice to return to Iowa.

2. We have four seasons. Yes, yes, many people want to go to the Sonoma dessert or the Gulf Coast and like to live in warm climes without our bitter winters—especially this one, which is a real winter. But, while I prefer the green, warm months, I like the rhythm of change, too. Zone 4 is a nice place to garden in. We have droughts and cold, but we have rain and green, too. And, no, CR, we don’t have five seasons no matter what that giant toilet brush monument is supposed to mean.

3. People are chronically nice. It’s a cliché. But, it’s also true. If you break down at the side of an Iowa road, the old person who stops to help you is far more likely to be me than a psycho kidnapper killer rapist. Not that we don’t have our share of scary or dangerous people, but Iowans as a whole like to help out and are usually willing to do so.

4. We don’t pretend to be trendy or edgy. And we don’t miss it.

5. Politics is fun here. Yeah, I know, there are comments on the WP blog that argue against that being a plus, but I’m a bit of a news junkie and I like being in a place where the political spotlight shines. If you want to president of the hew knighted steaks, not only do you visit Des Moines, but you also visit Cedar Rapids. Iowa is a progressive state that is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. The outcome of an election here, unless it’s for governor and a sitting governor is running, is not usually a foregone conclusion.

6. It’s got Cedar Rapids in it. Compared to DM, CR is definitely a small town with pretentions. But it’s big enough to have decent restaurants and bike trails and parks, so for an old Midwestern fuddy-duddy like me, it’s enough. Cedar Rapids is near Iowa City, it’s near nice county and state parks—and when you want to see giant topless war monument ladies, well, it’s not far from Des Moines.

7. You can get there from here. If you’re starting a long journey, such as to another hemisphere of the globe, being in Iowa is not a bad deal. Your journey might begin at a small regional airport, such as the Eastern Iowa Airport or Sioux City or even Des Moines. Granted, that may not always mean the least expensive plane tickets in the world, but in terms of travel hassle—the length of lines, the nature of TSA screening—it’s about the best place for a journey to start.

Flower at the Prairie Woods retreat center in Hiawatha. That summer blue, that lush green, the contrasting yellow of a wild flower--it's not a mountain, but most of Iowa is not that flat and much of Iowa is at least as pretty. I took this picture a couple of years ago while on an MMU service outing.

Flower at the Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha. That summer blue, that lush green, the contrasting yellow of a wild flower–it’s not a mountain, but most of Iowa is not that flat and much of Iowa is at least as pretty. I took this picture a couple of years ago while on an MMU service outing.

8. Bald eagles and tiger lilies. Granted, lots of places beat Iowa all to heck and back in terms of the grandeur of Mother Nature. Our lakes are small and often muddy, most of our rivers that don’t border the state are overgrown creeks, we have no mountains and a “beach” in Iowa would make a Californian cry for home. But there is a pleasant world out there to roam in still, bluffs along waterways, rolling hills and caves, and, well, nature stuff. As in green stuff. As in nature isn’t wide open and untamed as it is in other places, but it’s right outside your door. The Cedar River usually has plenty of eagles in the spring. In summer, our prairie flowers and native lilies will add their quiet splash of color to a shockingly green landscape. The great outdoors in Iowa aren’t the greatest in the world, but they’re better than you expect if you’re not paying attention. There is some “there” here if you’re willing to walk and look.

9. Sweet corn and fresh tomatoes. It’s only for a month, but there are few fresh food treats available anywhere that can move you more. In more ways than one.

10. The upper reaches of the Mississippi. We have, in Dubuque, the river museum and the Mines of Spain state park. It’s just one of several parks located along the Father of Waters. One of the blogs I follow notes the many eagles that are being seen now in Muscatine—surely the river is the highlight of that town. Iowa river towns can be a bit, well, shabby—some reached their economic peak when Teddy Roosevelt was president—but the river is still breathtaking, and the towns still quirky and interesting. I like the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, but it doesn’t compare to the Mississippi. And, while I’ve seen Old Man River in Missouri, Louisiana and Minnesota—for some reason, maybe the congregation of river towns, many of the most interesting places along the Mississippi are in Iowa. We have neither the urban vibe of St. Louis nor the touristy kitsch of Hannibal, but we do have lots of more subtle charms along the same river.

11. Ames and Iowa City. Our big state universities almost dominate their respective towns, which, while very different from each other, are both quirky, fun places. The vibe of downtown Iowa City or the vibe of Dogtown may not be the same, but both are worth experiencing.

 12. RAGBRAI. OK, on several points, the Post and I agree, and this is one. I am sure there are bike rides with more scenery, but the unique combination of crowds, silly teams, beer, small-town hospitality and Iowa summer heat make this an experience that stands out.

There you have it. Of course, you can make a list of why any place “rules.” When I lived there, many aspects of Missouri appealed to me, such as its deeper sense of history or the interesting way in which it was the fault line where the Midwest and the South run into each other. I have a daughter and some other relatives who live in Omaha, and, while that’s practically Iowa, I’m sure is has unique charms of its own. I would also like to see England again, where my oldest daughter lives.

And so part of what I like about Iowa is just that it’s familiar. But every place is familiar to somebody. I guess it’s OK to me that some people roam the world and leave a place to find themselves or find happiness. Just so long as you also recall that happiness can most be attained by appreciating wherever you are—contentment might be easier to locate in a cool place like Iowa, but it’s least difficult to locate anywhere if you can get comfortable in your own skin, wherever that skin happens to be.


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For #MMUrides: Early tune for Tuesday

CR Garden Joe will be on break for a while, a hiatus, while I trek across northern Iowa on my bicycle doing RAGBRAI.

It will be more than 400 blistering miles. For at least half of next week, forecast highs in Iowa are in triple digits—we are in the midst of a historic drought and heat wave.

Still, if I feel macho doing RAGBRAI, I can put it in perspective by reading this Gazette story about a World War II vet doing his first RAGBRAI. You go, Clarence!

Anyway, a bit early for next Tuesday, when I will be in the midst of my hot break off the grid, yeah, I’m sure it’s expected, but here’s the early tune for Tuesday:

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Changes in the Garden While I Was Gone


Hibiscus began blooming during my week riding a bike across Iowa on RAGBRAI

What happened in the world while I was off the grid?

Oh, yeah, Obama caved and there is a budget deal. I’m not quite as angry as some seem to be—congressional Republicans seemed in no mood for rational thinking—but I can’t say I’m happy, either. With a crushing federal deficit to erase, the only answer is crushing spending cuts?

Blah. But I don’t feel into it enough to write a political rant just yet.

It felt a little odd getting back to my gardens after riding across Iowa on RAGBRAI. Despite oppressive heat—the first three days of the ride were proof that despite advanced pudgy middle age, I’m apparently able to tolerate hot weather—Iowa appears fairly lush. A lot of native cone flowers and lilies are in bloom. The corn is high and breathing out a lot of water vapor.

When I got back home, the lawn needed to be de-sticked and mowed, but it felt a little odd that seasons had not changed or anything. RAGBRAI was such an ordeal that it felt like it was much longer than a week—my son Jon and I noted to each other on day two that it seemed we’d been on RAGBRAI for months and not days.

Lizzie and mushroom

Granddaugther Lizzie looks at giant mushroom that came up in front yard--proof it could not have been all dry the week I was gone on RAGBRAI.

Mushroom in yard

Close look at mushroom of doom

When I got back, two of the hibiscuses were in bloom, though not the Rose of Sharon, yet. The biggest surprise is that one of the new hollyhock flowers I had planted chose to bloom this year—hollyhock aren’t always in a hurry to get into gear, and I wasn’t expecting much from these new plants. Nice to see this flower return to my garden, even if I miss the cool looking black ones in back that the bunnies ate out last year.

Well, here are some yard and garden photos. I moved several favored young trees—the walnut tree and two oak trees were sent to the deer garden behind the fence, where I hope one survives but I fear all will be salad. The mushrooms were put into the yardy cart before I began mowing.

Lizzie helped me take these garden photos, in that my visiting granddaughter from England babbled to me and walked around with me while I photographed.

All in all, it was hard to fathom that I’ve been gone only one week. The best sight I saw in the garden I had no chance to photograph—during a family gathering on Sunday, I took out some recycling and was walking by the east side of the house.

A male hummingbird chose that moment to feed on some hostas just two feet away from me.

Well, cool. It was a nice welcome back to the garden. Hope you enjoy the photos.


New hollyhock in bloom

Peace Lily

Potted peace lilies--Spathiphyllum--also bloomed during RAGBRAI

Walnut tree

Couple of oaks and walnuts were transplanted before the post-RAGBRAI mow

Butterfly bush

Butterfly bush in front was already in bloom, but bloomed a lot more.

Bug eater

Spider on the deck. Had to rebuild the web after Sunday barbecue, but got the job done

Snake on a hose

Went to water Sunday after RAGBRAI and encountered this big garter snake. If it's Solomon, he tripled his size, so it's proabably not. To me, while a bit startling, the sight of such a snake in my garden is good news

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I Rode Up Every Hill


RAGBRAI reflected in the mirror of my bike. I rode about 445 miles across Iowa last week.

I’m back from a wonderful week, and when I get digging into fall course preps, I think maybe climbing out of a river valley near Boone on the longest, steepest hill on this year’s RAGBRAI may seem easier.

I rode up every hill. Very slowly, I was passed by old ladies and small kids, but still, not all RAGBRAI riders can make that claim.

I’ll be writing more about the week on my bike blog.

For now, I’ll just say I’m glad I did it, and glad I’m back, too. Photos on Facebook.

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Bye & The Elusive Bird That Hums

Packed for RAGBRAI

Discovered on a hot training ride this week that camel pack and cooler like to ride together in front basket and get along well--and I can still drink without massive sweat zone on my back. Awesome. See you on the other side of RAGBRAI!

I don’t often see hummingbirds—years have gone by between sightings. I think they may have been more common in California—I do recall seeing some there in my youth. Until this year in Iowa, the sightings have been few and far between.

As you know, I saw one earlier this year in my foxglove.

This week, while watering my sister’s garden, I spied another one at her house. The cool thing was it actually flew to a tree and sat—rarer than seeing a hummingbird is seeing one sitting still. Not for long—I could not even unholster my camera before she (definitely she) took off again, but to see a hummingbird sitting still, well, cool.

Anyway, I’m on vacation sans computer for a bike ride with Jon across Iowa. See you, by blog fans, on the other side! In the meantime, check out the awesome blog by my daughter. It’s awesome.

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Climb Mt. Everest, Anyone?

Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest, photo taken in 2007 and displayed on flickr on Rupert Taylor-Price's photostream.

My daughter Amanda noted that I’ve taken, in recent years, to doing “active” things with my kids, one at a time.

Two years ago, Theresa and I ran the Bix. This year, Jon and I are doing RAGBRAI.

In a Facebook message, Amanda said she wants to sign up for something soon before climbing Mt. Everest is the only option left. I told her that when we come across the pond to England next March, she and I can swim the channel.

I think she was amused.

Seriously, though, I’ll never climb Everest. I don’t like heights. And I won’t swim the English Channel in March (or any month). What might I do? What daredevil feats might Amanda, Katy, Nina or Ben attempt with me?

• Nina and I could do a 50-mile, two-day hike on the Appalachian Trail. Since it’s with Nina, we’ll both wear 6-inch spike heels.
• I’m not sure what Katy and I should try. Maybe a roller derby? Somehow, hanging with Tristan seems like such a daredevil activity anyway, Katy and I may have already earned our stripes.
• Ben I have kayaked before—some nautical challenge? White water rafting?
• And that still leaves Amanda. Everest is out and so is the channel. Maybe we’ll wait until she’s back in the U.S. in a few years and then we’ll sneak across the border to Mexico and pick avocados.

I do like Amanda’s idea of doing a “thing” with each of the kids, and even though I’ve moved up from the Bix to RAGBRAI, I don’t think each activity has to trump the previous one. So, kids and blog fans, what would some appropriate, do-able challenges be for a pudgy late middle-aged guy and his young adult children? The Bix and RAGBRAI have either been done or will be soon, so what is next?


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