Although we only have a sample size of two trails on which to base our opinion, it certainly appears that the state of Iowa knows how to do rail-trails right. After being amazed by how well-maintained, wide, and lovely the High Trestle Trail was the day before, on our second full day in the Des Moines area, we were equally delighted by the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which runs along an abandoned railroad line.
We were able to access the trail by riding from our hotel on the city trail system in Clive, where we were staying, in just a couple of miles -- always our favorite way to go, when possible, rather than having to take the car. Once we got to the start of the Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT) in Waukee, we paid our $2 daily fee per person (a bargain!) and got going. We were pleased to see how well-marked it was with mileages to each town along the trail noted on charming signs. Ya get what ya pay for!
Here's a map of the trail showing the towns we went through. I rode all but the Herndon to Jefferson piece; Barry rode it all (of course!)
We started out heading west, riding the loop in a clockwise direction. I was planning to ride the 70-mile inner loop of the trail, and Barry planned to ride the entire trail, so it was going to be a long day. Fortunately, the trail is mostly flat with no grades greater than 1-2%. And we had beautiful weather for it, sunny and not too hot or excessively windy. And since we were riding on a weekend, there wasn't much traffic on the trail at all. We were able to keep up a pretty fast pace, though we still stopped for plenty of photos.
The trail was a mix of asphalt and concrete and in excellent condition. This made the miles fly by. We wish all trails were so well-maintained and would gladly pay user fees on all of them to reap the rewards.
Early on especially, we rolled through shady, tree-lined areas that are hard to get good photos of, so most of our photos show the farms and fields that are also in abundance along portions of the trail. We rode through a fair number of small towns as well.
In the tiny dot on the map of Herdon, Iowa, we split up. Barry continued riding north to take in the "tail" of the trail, where he'd do an out-and-back of approximately 24 miles, and I turned east to continue the inner loop. I'd wait for him in the larger town of Perry while getting a bite to eat and reading the paperback book I'd tucked into my back pocket.
Here are a few shots Barry took of the portion of the trail I didn't get to see. Looks like he got to see some cool sights.
Barry learned that one of the trail towns on this section, Cooper, had a claim to fame involving Johnny Carson. A tiny town of only 50 residents in 1981, the town put out a call for someone famous to become their honorary 51st citizen. The Johnny Carson Show found out about the contest and called the town saying that Johnny himself wanted to be that 51st famous "citizen". The show ended up flying several residents of Cooper to appear in a hilarious episode of the show. As a result, Johnny was named the 51st resident of Cooper, and a large plaque and stone honor him in the town to this day. Here's a link to read more about this story if you are interested.
So what was I doing while Barry was taking in all this history? Why, visiting Jamaica, of course! Not quite the island, but it was a cute little stop on the trail where I bought a soda and took a stretch break.
Ten miles later, I arrived in Perry, the largest town along the trail before getting back to Waukee and Clive. The trail was routed through an attractive downtown, and I rode around awhile looking for a coffee shop Barry had found online, but apparently it had gone out of business.
Eventually I settled on a cute restaurant, Gep's, in a train car right by the trail where I could sit outside, eat, and read. Their menu was short and heavy on sno-cones, but I hadn't had a hot dog in so long I just had to try one. I had really worked up an appetite, and it was delicious! We eat a lot of granola bars on our rides, that often I crave things that aren't sweet.
After eating, I sat and read my book for awhile waiting on Barry. I enjoyed sitting near these cheerful petunias.
Before I even expected him, he rolled up. He was pedaling so fast I almost couldn't get my camera out in time to snap a shot before he whizzed by. He was thirsty, so I bought him a Gatoraid at Gep's, then we headed on to finish the trail loop.
When we finally got back to our hotel in Clive, I had at least 6 miles more on my bike computer than we had estimated my ride to be ahead of time. It was a long day, and ended up being my longest ride of the year by quite a lot -- 88 miles! Barry ended up with 114 miles -- but then again, he always does the mega-miles!
Naturally an effort of this magnitude warranted a celebratory feast. We used a $5 off coupon for Romano's Macaroni Grill and enjoyed a delicious meal and wine. We even brought home enough of our entrees for the next night's dinner.
(I didn't realize that my camera lens was smudged, so the photos aren't the greatest, but you get the idea.)
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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