High Trestle Trail Ride

 Last Sunday we finally made our way to the High Trestle Trail in Iowa.  We started in Woodward, Iowa, which is about a 30 minute drive from Des Moines.  We drove up after breakfast, fully loaded with snacks, water bottles, and the orange bike sticking out on either side of our car rack like an large orange dragon.  We parked in the High Trestle Trail parking lot and promptly realized we left the entire diaper bag at home.  So, off we road to a local gas station that was teeming with coffee sipping cyclists.  It’s amazing to see what a bike trail can do for small communities.  The best part – we were banking on lighter crowds due to the start of RAGBRAI.

It is an easy 3 mile ride from Woodward to “The Bridge,” as it is dubbed.  The High Trestle Trail Bridge is a 13-story, 1/2 mile long bridge that was formerly a railroad bridge.  There are outlooks along the bridge that spans the Des Moines River, with informative signs detailing items such as river wildlife and cultural features.  There are 41 steel frames over the bridge which are meant to represent the frames used in historic coal mines.  The pillars at either end of the bridge have ceramic tiles created to look like coal veins.

We stopped the orange dragon at the first major scenic overlook, where we had nice views of the entire span of the bridge.  The kids were in great spirits and just wanted to be on the bridge.

I love taking this bike out – everywhere we go we get compliment and questions.  I think most people just assume that a bike trailer is the only way to ride with kids.  We used a bike trailer at first, but once we found out #2 was on the way, we started to explore other options.  We have discovered that a cargo bike is more enjoyable for adults and kids alike for a few reasons: A. it is lighter and easier to turn on a fully loaded cargo bike than you’d think. B. The cargo bikes can be configured in a variety of ways to suit your family. C. Kid passengers are not enclosed in a hot trailer, stuck in a reclining position, but are able to sit up and interact just as the adult cyclists are able to.

We bought our cargo bike from REI, but check around your area for dealers.  Even if you are not in the market for a cargo bike, I highly recommend the Yepp Bicycle Seat as an alternative to a trailer.  They can be used on regular bikes as well.
We stopped at an overlook for a selfie.  Yay for not being on RAGBRAI this year, and enjoying this inaugural ride with fantastic Iowa countryside views.  As you can see, the bridge is deserted!  It was not this empty on our return ride after noon, though.

 The verdant valley with the Des Moines River.  Lots of rain = a very green Iowa this year!
The pillars at the far end of the bridge.  We are heading on toward Madrid, Iowa (not pronounced like Madrid, Spain).

We found a great lunch spot in Madrid.  The kids split grilled cheese, fruit, and mac and cheese.  As my daughter said, “It is so good, it tastes like candy.”  There you have it, a strong endorsement from a 4-year old.
Saddles BBQ Bistro was the perfect mid-ride stop.  The kids were happy with their meal and Eric and I enjoyed our wrap and tacos immensely.  Madrid was a little deserted on this Sunday at lunch time, so we opted to eat our lunch outside.

 However, the inside of the restaurant was tastefully outfitted in cycling and Western riding decor.
We chose to dine al fresco in a small picnic area directly across the street from Saddles.  This way, the kids could stand and dance while eating.  They both get antsy after sitting on the bike for a while.

The weekday specials were prominently displayed in the front window.  After finishing our meals, we packed up and headed back toward Woodward.  It is only 6 miles between the two towns, so all in all, we ended up doing an easy 12 miles.
 My favorite shot from the day – selfie in motion.  Next time, we will ride more of the trail and hit up some of the infamous watering holes along the route. Cheers!

What’s your favorite bike route?

Asheville, NC Day Trip

We are continuing our farewell North Carolina tours and this past weekend we headed west to the mountains.  We try to get to the mountains frequently, especially since they are in such close proximity. 

On Saturday we took off for Asheville, NC for a day trip.  The cooler was purposely empty to leave room for souvenirs.  Asheville has been voted Beer City, USA four years in a row now in the Examiner’s Poll.  It has more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city, with 1 brewery for every 8, 000 people.  Nuff said, we needed some room.

We made the short drive in just a few hours, taking a detour through Marion to enjoy some mountain roads while Greta napped.  When we rolled into Asheville we headed straight to my favorite restaurant on this planet – The Laughing Seed Cafe.  This place is a fantastic vegetarian restaurant right in the heart of the best part of downtown Asheville.  The stairs you see to the left take one downstairs and into the Jack of the Wood Tavern – a great place for darts and sampling local brews.

Greta gobbled up bread, soup, and a smoothie.  

 I enjoyed a burrito, chips, and salad with mango dressing.

 Eric had a curry tofu dish.  I am sorry that these terrible cell phone images do these dishes no justice.  As Eric said, “If everyone ate at Laughing Seed at least once, you’d know that you don’t need animal products to make food delicious.”  Amen.  I’d make this drive more often, if I could.  This food is that good.

Unfortunately we are in the middle of North Carolina’s monsoon season which made it more difficult to walk around and enjoy the local food festival that was slated to begin at 2 PM that day.  Greta took no time at all to puddle jump – thoroughly soaking herself. 

We made a few stops at some of the breweries farther out from downtown – taking a stop at Green Man first.  This brewery has a tasting room/bar area and an outdoor patio area.  The brewing gear is a stone’s throw away.  We picked up their IPA.

Eric found the perfect map with all the breweries in the area.  Meanwhile, Greta’s socks dried on the dash.

 So wet.

 We stopped at another brewery, The Wedge, which was conveniently located in a fantastic arts district.

 These are the best window boxes I have ever seen!  This will be appearing in my classroom soon – a great way to decorate and show the kids what happens when brushes aren’t washed properly.

The Wedge Brewery is on the backside of a building housing artists, you have to walk down steep steps, toward the tracks to get to its entrance.  This fun fence with seating faces the train tracks and in the summer, they show outdoor movies.  

The inside is cozy with bars, stools, and buckets of peanuts.  My peanut waited patiently as Eric tasted an IPA and got a growler to go.  She was not the only child in this brewery, by the way.

The glass blower across the street makes pint glasses for sale, they are gorgeously uneven and rimmed in yellow.  The lamp with three holes cut out to illuminate the glasses was also pretty neat.

The other bonus to this trip – replacing the Karen Newgard mug I broke a couple weeks ago.  I love her nature and animal motifs done in sgraffito carving technique on porcelain.

A few other things we have done while in Asheville and the immediate vicinity are below and on this post. 

Catch a show at the Orange Peel.  We saw G. Love there a few years ago – it’s a fantastic show space.

Get outdoors.  The mountain biking in this area is world-famous.

Take a hike.  There are plenty of great hiking places nearby, we like the trail to Deep Gap that takes you to Mt. Craig.

 The Blue Ridge Parkway.  Drive it in the autumn for breathtaking views and picturesque colors.

Bike it for a slower pace to really experience the loss of breath.  I know am I biased, but I truly love the North Carolina section of the parkway.

Check out the Biltmore Estate and Vineyards.  This private home is open to tours and if you aren’t willing to shell out the ticket fees, the grounds are equally as interesting.

The acres and acres of gardens, forests, greenhouses, fish ponds, and views of the surrounding mountains can easily use up an entire day in Asheville.

Check out Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River.  When we were there in 2009, it was too foggy to see the views, but it is a great vantage point. 

Hanging Rock State Park – Moore’s Wall Loop Trail

As quoted in the Hanging Rock State Park brochureNot far from the cities of the Triad area, off the four-lane highways, there’s another North Carolina to be discovered — sheer cliffs and peaks of bare rock, quiet forests and cascading waterfalls, views of the piedmont plateau that stretch for miles.”
One of the perks of being a teacher is the time off.  This past weekend was a three day weekend due to Veteran’s Day, so Eric and I took advantage of the extra time and headed to Hanging Rock State Park.  This is a lovely escape just over an  hour’s drive away from Greensboro.  It was a perfect November day – tee shirt weather in Greensboro, which meant a little cooler in the foothills.   

We decided to take the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail which is a 4.3 mile strenuous hike.  This hike starts off  curving around Hanging Rock Lake, winds through the forest, and steadily climbs into the rocky mountain, and ending with a spectacular view from a fire lookout tower.  
Greta was a little tired from sleeping in the car, but in general a good sport.  She always gets excited by the site of her hiking backpack, and this trip was no different.  She’s a trooper as long as we keep her entertained with questions and leaves to grasp.  
Greta has been hiking since she was just a few weeks old.  Hiking with kids is easy, here are our 5 simple rules:
1. Don’t wait until they can walk.  Start kids young.  Kids need to get outdoors, especially out in nature, away from the city.  A backpack for carrying kids is the best way to start.  Try on these backpacks before you buy, as you tend to get what you pay for.  Buy secondhand, if you can.  
2. Stay hydrated and prevent hunger fatigue.  Pack twice as much water and healthy snacks as you think you will need.  
3. Be prepared for the elements. Bring extra layers and rain gear. ALWAYS bring sunscreen on the trail and apply before getting out of the car. Wear hats and sunglasses as well. 
4.  Prevent injuries.  Wear shoes that can withstand rigors of hiking.  I cannot tell you how many kids I have seen complaining of sore feet and they are hiking in flip-flops!
5.  Ensure repeat trips.  Rest often.  Make up games to interest kids .  On this hike we played, “What sound does ____ (animal name) make?”

I was so grateful Eric was carrying Greta on this hike – I had forgotten how steep the end of this hike can be – this shows the last few stone steps before reaching the watch tower.  
The views are rewarding.  This shows Pilot Mountain which is currently burning due to a controlled burn that got out of hand.  We could see some of the smoke, but could not smell the fire at all.  While we did not see all that many people on the trail, the watch tower was more crowded than usual – most likely due to the closure of nearby Pilot Mountain. 

Climbing the last sets of steps before the tower platform.  

It was windy up here – Greta gasped for breath a couple times.  The last time we were here, we brought Brownie, our dog with us.  She is deathly afraid of heights and would not go near the railing.  

The leaves were still quite beautiful, even this late in November.  

Great the hungry goblin needed a snack before we headed back. 

This hike is so rewarding with views – I was so happy with the weather on this day. 
This rock shows the graffiti of earlier hikers, circa 1900. 

We took the loop, and so took the shorter way down.  This section is shorter in distance, but much harder on the knees – lots of worn smooth stone steps due to the higher traffic on this section. 

The lake looked a little cold today, but we vowed to make it up here sometime this summer and perhaps stay in one of the cabins.  

The bathhouse was built from 1935 to 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  It offers lovely views of the lake, has modern bathrooms, and a comfortable place to sit and relax.  

I always say this is one of the most beautiful park parking lots I’ve been to – full of mature trees, granite stone walls, and lake and Sauratown Mountain views.