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Biking the Back Roads

Favorite Bicycle Rides in Southeast Iowa

BY JOHN SALERNO

In the second of this three-part series on bicycling, I amgoing to reveal a few of my old-time favorite places to ride in SoutheastIowa, within a 60-mile radius of Fairfield. As a veteran rider with the FairfieldBike Club for over 20 years, I have come to know these back county roads likemy own backyard.

Unbeknownst to many, Iowa has a large network of clean, paved, relativelyunlittered, and well-maintained back county roads that are a real joy toride on. (If you only have a mountain bike, the network of dirt or gravelroads is even greater). Being a prime agricultural state, Iowa has manymore miles of paved back county roads per capita than most states. Translated,this means less motor-vehicle traffic for the cyclist per mile ridden.

The famous RAGBRAI (the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great BicycleRide Across Iowa) over the last 25 years has grown to become the largest organized(overnight) bicycle tour in America. It annually draws over 12,000 cyclists,half of whom are now from outside of Iowa. RAGBRAI varies each year, goingfrom west to east across the state using the quieter and more charming backroads.

I must confess that Iowa is much prettier touring by bike than car, especiallywhen taking these back county roads. The landscape—flowers, trees, prairie,farmland, and houses—is more easily appreciated as are the culturaland community values of Iowans and many of their quaint little towns.

This list of suggested rides was prepared based on at least one of the followingcriteria: a loop trip with varied scenery, usually hills (sorry, out-of-shapehill-haters), a park or town to enjoy lunch or other recreational activities,or a hiker-biker (only) trail system through forested areas on single trackor wider limestone trails.

The mileage on these rides varies, so you can start with the shorter tripsand work up to the longest all-day rides. Keep in mind the directions givenbelow are general, so bring a good road map with you.

Because I live in Fairfield, all of these suggested rides begin in my hometown.Cyclists living elsewhere could drive here to enjoy our fine local parks andtrail system. On the longer one-way rides, of course, you have the optionof starting from either location.

Jefferson County Trail System - 5 miles

This is an ideal trail for those starting out recreational cycling. Most ofthe trail system is wide limestone (not single track), but keep in mind thereare many hikers, so bicyclists should give them the right of way. Always usea bell or verbally alert hikers that you are approaching from behind. Saying “passingon your left” is a good idea.

Chautauqua Park is a good starting point. Ride over two bridges to WaltonLake and golf course, then meander along some nice lakes and farmland untilyou reach Pleasant Plain Road. Cross over and continue around the reservoirthrough pine forests and out to B Street. Here the trail breaks for abouta quarter mile, so head north on B St. and pick up the trail again by NorthCampus Village. Heading west along the north border of the Maharishi Universitycampus, you will come out on Highway 1. Cross over and continue on the westside of campus until you reach Gear Avenue and the golf driving range.

Jefferson County Park

Three miles southwest of Fairfield lies Jefferson County Park, a real hiddengem with a lake, campground, picnic areas, and an impressive large networkof single-track forest trails as well as a wider dirt road heading southtoward Libertyville.

The Lockridge Loop - approximately 38 miles

From Fairfield, go southeast on Glasglow Road (W46). It makes a large16-mile semiloop back around to Route 34, ending up 10 miles eastof Fairfield. (Be careful crossing Route 34). As you come into Lockridgeheading north, turn left at the intersection and go west through town,then make a right and go under the bridge. You will be on W40, whichbecomes Germanville Road. When you come to a T intersection, a signfor Fairfield will indicate 11 miles to go. Turn left and take SalinaRoad (H28) to Pleasant Plain Road (W21) on the east side of Fairfield.

Iowa City/Fairfield - approximately 65 miles, one way

Unless you desire to stay overnight, the best way to plan this one-day/one-waytrip is to arrange with friends or family to drive by car or van and pickyou and your bike up at the end of this ride. These directions are for theFairfield to Iowa City trip. If you’re coming from Iowa City, simplyreverse the directions.

A one-way trip allows you enough time to ride in about five hours (or evenless with a strong tailwind), starting early in the morning and arriving aroundnoon so you have time to pick a good restaurant and shop around.

Here are the best directions to avoid Route 1 (except for a mile onRoute 78) and not add on extra mileage. Kirkwood Road east out ofFairfield joins Pleasant Plain Road (W21) heading north to intersectwith Route 78. Go east one mile to Brighton and then continue on Route78 before turning left (north) on W47. This county road will run intoW55. Keep heading north into Washington and on the north side of town,you will pick up W61 to Riverside. Then proceed east on Route 22 fora few miles before turning north on old route 218 (not the new superhighway218). It has little traffic and heads straight north into the southpart of Iowa City.

Tour of Van Buren County - approximately 75 miles

This big all-day loop trip is for the in-shape hill-lovers. Alternatively,you can also arrange for friends or family to drive to Keosauqua State Parkand bring you back (a 30-mile, one-way trip). This round-trip route windsthrough some of the most scenic parts of Van Buren County at the southernedge of the state, including the Des Moines River Valley.

From Fairfield, take Glasglow Road (W46) southeast and go 10 miles to W30.Heading south on W30, the first town you will arrive at is Stockport. Takea short rest stop. Continue heading south from Stockport to Route 16, turnleft (east) and go about 3 miles. Then turn right (south) and go 8 miles onW40. When you come to a fork, bear right on J40 (heading south), and followsigns into Bonaparte (the first tourist town and a major rest stop). Afterleaving Bonaparte, take the winding, hilly J40 along the Des Moines River5 miles to another tourist town—Bentonsport. (This is worth a shortstop just to see the old-fashioned mom-and-pop country stores with their manyantiques). Continue on J40, crossing a new bridge over the Des Moines Riverto Route 2, then turn right and head straight into the town of Keosauqua.You can stop for food and drink across the bridge before heading back intothe state park to enjoy the beach at the lake or the Des Moines River nearEly Ford.

Be forewarned, though, that some of the steepest hills within a 50-mile radiusof Fairfield are here in Keosauqua State Park. Leaving through the back endof the park, you will hook up to J40 again, heading west for several milesuntil you come to county road V64. Turn right (head north) for about 8 milesand cross the Des Moines river again, arriving at the twin towns of Doudsand Leondo. Douds has a grocery to buy food and drink. It is also a majorrest stop. Keep heading north through the hilly, winding V64 until Libertyville.You are now only 8.5 miles from Fairfield. When you arrive home, enjoy a showerand get some rest. You deserve it!

South of the Border Century Ride to Kahoka, Missouri - Round trip 100 miles

This ride is for a most fit and experienced rider or racer. I have riddendozens of century rides over the last 20 years, some of them in organizedevents like RAGBRAI and TOMRV (Tour of the Mississippi River Valley, whichdraws 1,500 riders from all over the Midwest). This ride can take anywherefrom 5 to 12 hours, depending on your physical condition, the number ofstops you make, and how long you stay at each stop. It is wise to go slowerthan usual for the first 50 miles in order to save energy for the last50.

Follow the same routes to Bonaparte as in the previous Van Buren ride. Bonaparteis the major pit stop and the little-more-than-midway point to Kahoka. Youwill probably be ready for lunch, but on a century ride, one has to be carefulnot to eat too much. It’s far better to snack on high-carb foods, eatinga little every hour and drinking plenty of fluids throughout this challengingride.

After heading south of Bonaparte, crossing the Des Moines River bridge, youwill come to Route 2. Follow it southeast toward Farmington for about 5 milesuntil you come to route 81. Turn right and head south. Within a few mileson Route 81 you will be crossing into Missouri. Keep going all the way toKahoka (about 12 miles)—exactly halfway. Have a nice rest, some goodfood, and be ready to ride back the same routes. May the tailwinds from thesouth be with you, and may God bless.

Join Fairfield Bike Club Rides!

If you’re a fit, adventuresome cyclist ready to explore these kindsof rural routes, I would like to invite you to ride with the Fairfield BicycleClub, which averages 12 to 15 riders every Sunday morning from March to November.You don’t need to live in Fairfield to join us! Call me at (641) 472-1718for our spring-summer riding schedule. Happy pedaling!!

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