Iowa: Oh, there's nothing half way ...

Adventure abounds on Iowa's many beautiful trails. We explored the Raccoon River Valley Trail, rode a moonlight ride on the High Trestle Trail, cruised trails in Des Moines, and more in one long weekend.

Bicycle Adventurers: The Wild Hogs, Ann Wilhelm and friends.

When: Early May, 2015.

Accommodations: Hotel Pattee, Perry, Iowa,

Distance: Sixty-three miles over three days.

Adventure Bonus: Hotel Pattee has free bowling for guests and the Flat Tire Lounge in Madrid caters to cyclists.

Iowa, you know—that state in the center of the United States known for corn, hogs, and trombones?

When thinking of vacation destinations, Iowa had never been in my top-ten list. However, Rails-To-Trails Conservancy changed that when they featured 19 Awesome Rail-Trail Photos You've Probably Never Seen. Several photos on this page are beautiful, but the High Trestle Trail piqued my interest. Being close enough to home to be a weekend trip, I quickly began researching the trail and planning an Iowa biking adventure. 

Day One

After settling into our hotel, Hotel Pattee, truly "a destination unto itself" with forty historically themed rooms, we decided to brave a few raindrops and drive over to Woodward to take a quick ride on the High Trestle Trail. With a slight chill to the air, we jumped on our bikes and planned to ride the six miles to Madrid. In between Woodward and Madrid lies the high trestle for which the trail is known. This section of the trail was originally part of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. A trestle bridge built across the Des Moines River was used until 2003 when the railroad discontinued service and removed the decking, leaving only gigantic piers poking from the mud. In 2012, a new, artistically designed trestle opened. 

We explored this beautiful bridge before continuing on to the Flat Tire Lounge in Madrid, Iowa. The lounge is within feet of the trail and caters to both cyclists and locals. The metal quonset hut of the Flat Tire Lounge was once home to a feed store, but is now uniquely decorated in a cycling theme with a gorgeous bar made of polished concrete and broken wine bottles. We enjoyed a nice beverage at the bar before making our return trip to Woodward. 

We loaded the bikes in Woodward and returned to Perry by car, then began our search for dinner. Unfortunately, the choices in Perry are a little limited and the Internet listings were outdated. So, we wandered down the main street in search of a restaurant.

We found one and long story short, the song Iowa Stubborn from the 1957 musical The Music Man popped into my head:

"Oh, there's nothing halfway
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you
Which we may not do at all.
There's an Iowa kind of special
Chip-on-the-shoulder attitude.
We've never been without.
That we recall.
We can be cold
As a falling thermometer in December
If you ask about our weather in July.
And we're so by God stubborn
We could stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time
And never see eye-to-eye."

We returned to Hotel Pattee and waited for dusk and our moonlight adventure on the High Trestle Trail. Since we enjoyed The Flat Tire Lounge in Madrid so much during our earlier ride, we decided to do our nighttime journey as an out and back to the trestle bridge on the High Trestle Trail, starting from Madrid. Biking in the dark would be a new experience for all of us and we prepared glow sticks for our helmets.

Stormy weather covered the full moon and darkened the trail. Donning headlights, tail lights, color changing spoke lights, and numerous glow sticks, we set off on our night-time adventure. Riding slowly, and sticking close together, we called out warnings about walkers and other cyclists on the path, many without lights. Peepers, bullfrogs, and crickets sung in the background.

As we approached the bridge, two spectacular towers of light appeared on the path ahead of us. Entering the gateway, we were led across the 2,530 foot bridge by white lights. Half way across the bridge, we entered the "Twilight Zone," a spectacular tunnel of blue lights. Focusing on the path ahead of me became a challenge and I felt like I was pedaling into outer-space.

We continued across the bridge, admiring this magnificent work of art and joined the multitudes taking "selfies" under the blue tunnel of lights where our high visibility shirts, helmets, and bags took on a mysterious glow. The tunnel has a mesmerizing affect and leaving it was difficult, but it was already late and we had a big day of cycling planned for Saturday.

Day Two:

Saturday morning in Perry, Iowa dawned cloudy, cool, and windy. After much discussion and looking at the mileage charts we decided to park a car in Panora for a point-to-point ride on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, an eighty-nine mile trail that includes a seventy-two mile loop and links together many Iowa communities. Our ride would be a fifty-four mile, clockwise ride on the loop with numerous towns offering places to rest. Fifty-four miles is more miles than any of us had pedaled in a day, but since the trail was paved, we thought it was doable. 

After a fantastic and reasonably priced breakfast at Hotel Pattee, we took off on a beautifully maintained, paved trail. We saw a few cyclists heading in the opposite direction, but for the most part, we had the trail to ourselves.

Unfortunately, battling a stiff headwind and a slight uphill grade made the going incredibly tough and we averaged less than eight m.p.h. After a mere three miles, we changed plans and since the Raccoon River Valley Trail is a diamond shaped loop, this change of plans was easy.

Now traveling in a counter-clockwise direction, we'd only have twenty-seven miles from our turnaround point to reach the vehicle waiting in Panora. We pedaled back to Perry and stopped at the official trailhead for pictures before continuing our journey. At Perry, the trail turned towards the west and we had a pleasant cross breeze coming from our left. In less than a mile, the pleasant breeze became our enemy as it brought smells of the Tyson processing plant. We eventually out-pedaled the smell and stopped for a breather on a nice bridge spanning the Raccoon River. 

By the time we arrived at the trailhead in Dawson, the temperature had dropped, the wind picked up, and black clouds loomed in the distance. Several cracks of thunder convinced us that turning around and heading back to Perry was in our best interest. We parked our bikes in Hotel Pattee's secure bike storage, changed our clothes, and went in search of lunch and the hotel's free bowling alley. Bowling in our own private bowling alley was so much fun that we had to do it twice.

Day Three:

For today's adventure, we headed east toward Des Moines to explore its many trails. We started on Iowa's chunk of the American Discovery Trail, of which the Raccoon River Valley Trail is a part. Once in the city we joined the John Pat Dorrian Trail near the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens. We followed this trail across the Des Moines River and the continued following the Principal Riverwalk Trail. Then, we just followed the crowds towards Gary's Lake. After biking a loop around the lake, we continued on to Water Works Park. From there, we weren't really sure where the trail would go, so we decided to turn around and retrace our steps.

On the way back to the cars stopped along the trail at Mullets for a beverage. We liked the name. Later, we stopped at Zombie Burger.

To finish the day we decided to try a different section of the Racoon River Valley Trail. Yesterday, at Hotel Pattee, some of the locals told us that the prettiest section of the trail was between Redfield and Adel. This time we took into account the wind direction and started our adventure in Redfield. The trailhead at Redfield is very nice with restrooms and running water. The trail to Adel was mostly wooded and the shade provided a cool reprieve after the heat of cycling in Des Moines. The road crossings on this section of the trail were not paved and at times, the gravel was deep, so walking was the safest option. 

We arrived in Adel, then shuttled the cars to Perry, and rested for a couple of hours before heading out to Woodward to bike the High Trestle Trail again. We just couldn't get enough! Mileage total for the day: thirty miles. 

Biking in Iowa was a real treat with so many trails and options. The Wild Hogs will definitely be planning a return visit.

Your favorite local bike shop? Raccoon River Valley Bicycle,, 1118 Willis Ave., Perry, IA 

Bike overnight tips and tricks: 

  • Since we drove two vehicles to Perry, we used the second vehicle to keep from doing and out-and-backs on some of the trails.
  • Pack a bright light for biking the High Trestle Trail at night. 
  • Making one hotel our home base throughout the trip meant we didn't have to carry much weight on our bikes. There are so many trails to explore in the greater Des Moines area that this type of adventure can be done several times on new trails each time.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your bike overnight adventure!

2 responses so far ↓

Mike - Sep 30, 2015 at 5:50 AM

Living in Des Moines I have ridden the trails you experienced many times and agree that each mile is enjoyable. Also I have fought the headwind you mentioned. We joke that riding in headwinds is how we do our hill training. Glad your group enjoyed our trails and I hope you return soon.

Scott - Oct 3, 2015 at 3:59 PM

I travel to Des Moines on business and never realized they had such a great trail network. Definitely taking the bike on my next trip there!! Thanks for taking time to write such a nice piece on your Adventure.

Here is to Many more adventures!

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