Raccoon River Valley Trail loop ride from 6/8/2013

July 1, 2013

A much belated writeup here of a ride from a few Saturdays ago…

On Saturday, June 8th, Mr. V (of our October Katy Trail ride fame) and I drove up to Iowa to check out the Raccoon River Valley Trail (henceforth RRVT).  I first posted about this trail on this blog here, shortly after first learning about it; and I’ve been looking forward to riding it since that time.  The trail, another rail-trail conversion like the Prairie Spirit and the Katy, and whose official website is here, is one of the longest paved bike trails in the United States – and, with the recent completion of its “northern leg”, it contains THE longest paved bike loop in the country, at ~70 miles.  The trail, whose overall layout can be seen here, forms a kind of “boomerang” shape, with that interior of the boomerang also fully closed off into a loop.  It’s that loop, the ~70 mile route, that we chose to ride this day.

I’d been eagerly keeping tabs on the updates to the trail’s official site for the past several months, and had developed a  kind of “fondness at a distance” for this spirited little trail and its enthusiastic stewards.  The website was fairly dynamic with new content or posts fairly frequently, in contrast to the slow-motion, almost “time forgot” quality of a lot of rail-trail websites.  I’d come to view the RRVT as almost like a “sister trail” to my own beloved Prairie Spirit Trail, in that the length was comparable, the grades were comparable, the countryside both go through are similar, the spacing and sizes of towns, etc etc – both could just as well have been mirrors of one another, with the distinction that one was gravel and the other paved.  I found this a cool thing.

I stayed the prior night as guests of Mr. and Mrs. V so as to get a good early start to the drive to Iowa.  We made some final bike prep the night before, a little bit of packing, and tried to hit the sack early for some rest before the next day’s adventure.

We woke up around 5:30 AM, and with the prior day’s preparation, wasted little time in getting ready prior to heading out.  We stopped for breakfast on the road (a McDonald’s just outside Iowa) and made good time for our intended 9ish AM start time.  Our plan was to start at Waukee, the southeasternmost town in the loop, and ride counterclockwise, i.e. the Perry-Herndon-Panora-Redfield direction, ending back at Waukee at, we targeted, maybe 4-5 PM with lunch and breaks.

We’d been watching the weather for the day.  Wind would be a factor – it was going to be pretty strong out of the south/southwest all day, so some of the loop would have a favorable wind but some would be a battle.  Rain was a possibility in the forecast; but factoring in the times of day we’d be passing through various towns, the probability always stayed 50% or lower and was 30% or lower most of the time. Our guess was that we might ride through some sprinkles but hopefully nothing worse.  We were wrong  🙂

We did arrive in Waukee right around 9 AM. Like an excited kid, I noticed at a certain point that the trail (the “boomerang leg” piece of it that extends beyond the loop we were doing) had appeared and was running parallel to and mere feet off of the road we were on.  Many, many cyclists were seen on this stretch – many with nice road bikes and full kit, and more than a couple RAGBRAI jerseys, as I anticipated – and a few joggers.  This was my kind of place 🙂

We unloaded the bikes, filled up our water bottles and so forth, and chatted with a couple of the folks in the parking lot who arrived around the same time and were preparing for their own rides, got some suggestions as to places to eat (we were told PJ’s in Panora was a good place, which worked great with our plans, as our timetable had called for us to probably eat in Panora and we had read about PJ’s online) and particularly pretty parts of the trail to see. Got a couple of pictures of the start, and we were off!

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The first portion of the trail we were heading north and slightly west.  For the most part the wind was with us here, on a nice clear beautiful day.  The trail was beautiful!  Exactly as I’d pictured it (I’d of course read a fair amount about it and watched some YouTube videos, too).  It was beautifully paved and quite flat – just a nice enjoyable weekend ride.  There were several folks on this counterclockwise loop with us, although the groups were spaced out fairly well – we were only passed maybe once or twice, and we only passed others maybe once or twice. In general, we saw fewer and fewer folks as the day wore on – which was partially due to our chosen route and partially due to the weather which lay ahead.


We paused briefly in the towns of Dallas Center and Minburn…


…but we didn’t take our first true break until we reached Perry, which was the northeast “corner” of the RRVT.


An interesting note, Perry is actually one of the overnight towns on this year’s RAGBRAI!  So I will be back in this little charming town in just a few weeks time.  In fact it’s the overnight town at the end of the monster day two – the longest mileage day on this year’s ride (82 miles standard, 100+  if you choose to tackle the optional Karras Loop).  So I will hopefully arrive in Perry alive on July 22nd and having successfully finished my longest single day of riding ever!


As you can see, Perry is a very charming little town, clearly enthusiastic about cycling, as is a lot of Iowa.  I found these hand-painted pictures of bikes by local children, displayed on the inside of the trailhead building, to be very charming:

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Above 2 pictures:  Train car displayed just across the street from the Perry trailhead.RRVT_25_smRRVT_26_sm RRVT_27_sm RRVT_28_sm

We pushed on past Perry, now heading west toward Herndon, with the town of Jamaica in between.  This was the recently-completed “north loop”, which had its grand opening only several days prior to our ride.  Prior to that being officially completed and open, the RRVT wasn’t yet a fully closed “loop” within the boomerang shape.


First town was Dawson about 6 miles past Perry.  We captured a few pictures in passing but didn’t stop here.

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Next, another 5 miles down the trail, was Jamaica.  As you can see from one of the pictures below, this stretch (which I do believe was the last completed) is VERY fresh and new – the pavement here is fine, but the area to the sides of the trails is super fresh.

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We reached Herndon, the most northwest town on the loop. Cumulative mileage to this point was ~33 miles, so we were close to halfway through the day’s distance.

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Above:  The stormy weather rolling in.

At Herndon we met a couple who had been following along behind us for the past couple miles.  We kept assuming a single file line thinking these folks wanted to pass, but they never did; instead, they were benefitting (rather by intention or not) from my rather large profile drafting the headwind for them 🙂  We stopped at Herndon and so did they.  Nice couple, who regaled us with some tales of last year’s RAGBRAI (as I’d commented on at least the guy, I think, and maybe the girl as well, sporting RAGBRAI jerseys).  They had started in Waukee also (if memory serves) and had no particular route in mind for today; so they spent this break debating whether to double back or continue with the full loop.  The wind seemed to be a big factor in their decision.  I was trying to convey that since this was a loop; we were basically at the midway point; and the wind wasn’t shifting, pretty much either direction they went was going to feel roughly the same from a wind perspective.  Finally they decided to do the loop and left a minute or two before we did, headed south, same direction we would go.  Just as we were leaving, we chatted with another guy who’d just arrived, who was doing (if I recall correctly) a two day tour of the full trail.  He was blown away that we were doing the full 70 mile loop in one day, assuring us we were “animals”.  Being still pleasantly new to my own fitness level that allows me to do things like this, I was pleased with the compliment  🙂

We pushed on toward Yale.

Yale was only 5 miles down the road, but a combination of nature calling plus the STIFF headwind which was directly in our face during this stretch prompted our mutual agreement to stop there briefly.  We were surprised to see our RAGBRAI-riding friends from the Herndon trailhead, the couple we spoke to earlier, coming back up the trail toward us!  They announced as they rode by that “the wind is coming up” and they’d changed their mind.  I still maintain they really didn’t gain much at all, as they’d be facing it on the east side of the loop anyway; but, that was the last we saw of them.  From this point on, going first south and then east to complete the loop, we saw essentially NOBODY on the trail, as I recall.  The only person I remember seeing on the trail beyond this point was a guy we either passed or who passed us (don’t recall) on the final few miles, going into Waukee.

We did stop briefly at the Yale trailhead.  At this point we were a little over halfway through the day’s distance.

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Above:  Gotta love how the toilet paper is always locked down on these trails.  Cmon people, if you can afford a bike to ride the trail, you don’t need to be swiping toilet paper 🙂RRVT_45_sm

Above:  The Blue Nexus, ready to roll again…RRVT_46_sm

…and Mr. V’s trusty steed, AKA “Tank”.

We pushed on toward Panora and lunch!

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The Panora trailhead, as you can see below, was also very charming.  I loved this little place.  I always love rail-trail trailheads that retain a bit of the original track, as this one did; it also retained a track car and some signage.  The little bikes and trikes placed throughout were very – at risk of overusing the word – charming.

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From the trailhead it was a short mile or so jaunt to PJ’s, our intended lunch destination.  Pulling off the trail, we locked up the bikes and headed in to order.  I got a grilled chicken sandwich with fries (shown below half eaten, as I forgot to get the picture before starting!) and Mr. V got some kind of sandwich with onion rings, some of which I stole.

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Nice little place, PJ’s – and I was proud of myself for fighting off the temptation to order ice cream dessert here, which I’m given to understand is a must!  If you’re in Panora on the RRVT, eat at PJ’s.

It started sprinkling about halfway through our lunch.  Very light at first, and not troubling to us.  If anything it would help to cool us down (not that it was all that hot out) and be just refreshing.

Finishing lunch, we pushed on toward the town of Linden, 6 miles further. It was sprinkling on us as we deparated, but not bad.

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We stopped briefly at the Linden trailhead for a few pictures, but soon got going again.

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RRVT_75_smNext was Redfield, 6 miles away.

As you can see from the pictures below, by this point it was actually full-on raining and not sprinkling.  The tree canopy overhanging most of the trail was serving well to keep us pretty dry; but we were definitely getting rained upon.

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Just outside Redfield, one of the strangest things happened that either of us has experienced on a bike.  As we rode, just several feet ahead of us, as we watched, a rotted dead tree fell from its leaning position over the trail and with a loud smack, hit the trail!  As you can get some sense from the pictures below, this was not a small object.  The “footprint” of where it fell crossed where Mr. V was riding; and quite literally if it had fallen just seconds later or if we’d reached this point seconds earlier, the thing would have HIT Mr. V.  The day would have turned out very, very differently – broken bones at a minimum and perhaps worse.  Very strange.

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After taking a couple obligatory pictures of the tree that almost had Mr. V’s number, we cleared it off to the side of the trail and continued to Redfield just a few minutes away.

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At the Redfield trailhead, we were surprised to see a merchandise shop!  I’d done a decent amount of reading about the trail but was unaware that it had a merchandise shop along the route.  A very kind older lady ran the shop.  Mr. V and I each bought an RRVT shirt, which was already updated with the new northern loop (remember, it had only been formally open for several days), and I also captured a picture of the large RRVT trail sign she had behind her.  I find such things very cool, and both of us were reminded of our Katy Trail ride from last year.


Let me take this time to again thank Mr. V for shoving all of this merchandise in his rack bag, as I had no real accommodations on my bike to carry this.  He threw both our shirts in there, as well as a couple pamphlets he’d picked up for us in the town of Perry.  Many thanks Mr. V.

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Above:  Yes kids, this is what happens when you don’t rock the fenders in the rain.  You get the muddy wet strip up the back.

At this point we only had roughly 16 miles to go.  My old bogeyman of either insufficiently hydrating or fueling caloriewise (I think the latter) began to appear about here.  Prior to this point in the ride I’d been feeling great, although I was aware I probably should have been fueling a little bit more.  It started to catch up to me here, and I still feel badly for Mr. V that I wasn’t such great company for this final stretch.  During such times on the bike, I talk only very little – I’m never outright rude or snippy but I just don’t speak much and instead focus my energy on just getting through.  For this remaining stretch I was civil enough, but the combination of the rain, which had only gotten progressively heavier, and my starting to feel a little tired, was weighing on me.

We stopped briefly just past the town of Adel, mostly at my request – needed a short break. We took a few pictures at a very beautiful old bridge, and just generally got rained on.  A fittingly symbolic ending given the way I was feeling.

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From here it was roughly 5 miles to Waukee – and the last few of those miles were WIDE open, in the same kind of terrain as the road-paralleling trail I’d seen as we drove into town.  We were getting openly and unapologetically rained on during this stretch, and commented to one another how pitiful we must have looked out there in the wide open to the folks driving by on the road.  The remaining miles to Waukee ticked down and finally the trailhead came into view.  We rolled in to find several cars still in the parking lot – which surprised us.  We’d each brought a dry change of clothes and Mr. V had brought a towel for each of us.  Mr. V changed at the trailhead restroom while I packed up stuff in the van; when he was done, I changed.  It was absolutely heavenly to get into dry clothes, especially dry socks.  We loaded up the van and headed back to KC.  It was roughly 4 PM or so, and we would be back in our hometown by early evening.

All in all, a VERY fun day on the RRVT.  I’d been looking forward to this ride for some time, and was really glad we got a day to break away and do it.  We have plans to return, hopefully sometime this summer or so, and possibly with a few other friends, who enjoyed our narration of events and are interested to do it with us.

Thanks for reading!


One Response to “Raccoon River Valley Trail loop ride from 6/8/2013”

  1. Love reading about the day, even though the weather didn’t exactly cooperate with you. Might think about adding a link directly back to your Endomondo tracking with the write-ups. 🙂

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