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The Elbert Files: Exploring on two wheels


Central Iowa’s High Trestle Trail reminded me recently how enjoyable biking can be. 

Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on my 1973 Schwinn Super Sport bicycle, although not so much in recent years. 

I was 26 when I bought the bike, a top-of-the line 10-speed with toe clips that I never used, and a hard-leather saddle that’s still comfortable 46 years later.

I was living in Davenport, and I used it to go places I never visited by car. One favorite was Oakdale Cemetery, where legendary jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke is buried, along with Civil War generals and other luminaries, including department store wizard Charles J. Von Maur and the city-founding Bettendorf brothers, Joseph and William. 

Sylvan Island was another destination. It’s a small outcrop on the backside of Arsenal Island. It has a small hydro plant and a single-lane bridge connection with Moline, Ill. The plant was built in 1898 and rebuilt in 1941. Nearby was the largely abandoned site of an 1871 plant that supplied mechanical power from the Mississippi River to nearby factories years before the invention of the lightbulb. 

After I began dating my wife in 1974, I bought her a bike that was orange in color, like mine, but with a softer seat. 

When we married and moved to Des Moines, we bought a home 2½ miles west of downtown, and I began riding to work to avoid parking fees. 

Most days, the bike was faster than the bus, because the ride was downhill and the bus had to stop for passengers.  

Later, I became a master of free parking, finding temporary lots where construction workers parked when they were building 801 Grand and other downtown buildings during the 1980s and ’90s.

But even with free parking, it was still faster to bike than it was to drive and walk four or five blocks from my car to a desk on the fourth floor of the Register and Tribune Building at 715 Locust St.

When our daughter and son were young, I introduced them to biking by taking them with me, sometimes in a baby seat perched above my rear tire and sometimes in a backpack. A few times I rode with both babies on board. 

Nobody had helmets back then, so it wasn’t the safest way to travel with children. Even with helmets today, I wouldn’t recommend it. We were naive and fortunate, because we never had a mishap.

Daughter Holly particularly loved riding with me and is today an inveterate biker; son Craig, who lives in New York City, not so much, which is just as well given the dangers of riding in traffic there.

I was never a RAGBRAI rider. I don’t enjoy riding in large groups. I did, however, crew for RAGBRAI friends for many years, just so I could play golf at different courses across Iowa. 

I thought that after I retired from the Register in 2012, I’d do more riding, but I haven’t. Not until a recent weekend when Holly and her wife, Dawn, invited Mom and Dad to ride with them on the High Trestle Trail between Madrid and Woodard. 

Bringing up the rear on a cool, overcast Sunday brought back memories of my Davenport rides.

The Trestle bridge is listed by the BBC as one of the world’s “Eight Amazing Footbridges,” and with good cause. 

The panoramic view from the half-mile-long, 13-story-tall structure is breathtaking, and the on-site history and artwork are fascinating.

There are other fun things to do along the route, too, including watering holes, like the Whistlin’ Donkey in Woodward, where we had a good lunch and excellent bloody marys.

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