It has been a long-time goal of mine to ride the entire Cedar Valley Nature Trail from Hiawatha, Iowa to Evansdale. With the weather forecasted for ideal conditions for outdoor activities, my friend Emily and I deemed this the perfect weekend for the 52-mile bike camping trip.
I’ve been bike camping once before and used a backpack to carry my gear while riding. Although this method works, a sweaty, achy back isn’t the most enjoyable for a long trip. For this excursion, I purchased a back bike rack and a pair of 1000 cubic inch, waterproof panniers.
Packing light is key. For one, you only have so much room to strap things on your bike, and two, the more weight you carry the harder it is to maneuver and balance your bike. Emily and I both have panniers so we had plenty of room for our equipment. On my bike, one bag carried our cold food items and the other bag held my sleeping bag, change of clothes, rain jacket, toiletries and various camping necessities (matches, bug spray, garbage bag, bandages, headlamp, Swiss army knife, etc.) Emily carried the tent, dry foods, her sleeping bag, clothes and personal items.
We left Cedar Rapids around 10:00 a.m. and rode the 6 miles to the trailhead in Hiawatha. Our plan was to ride past Evansdale and camp 10 miles north in the George Wyth State Park near Cedar Falls.
We rode at a leisurely pace not wanting to wear ourselves out too quickly and made sure to stop periodically for a rest, water and food. Lafayette is the first town on the trail 7 miles north of Hiawatha. With a population of tiny (check the map, that’s what is says), it’s only noticeable by an increase of houses along the trail. Next up and 8 miles more is Center Point. It was easily noticeable by the restored depot next to the trail where riders can park their bikes and take a break inside the historic building. We chose to ride through eager to get some miles in since we had a long day ahead of us. 5 more miles led us to Urbana and 9 after that to Brandon.
The farther north we traveled the fewer people we saw. It was nice having the trail to ourselves and not having to worry about trail traffic.
The diversity of the scenery made the miles fly by. The trail alternated between residential areas passing by people’s backyards to open fields, pastures and farms, to deep woods under an awning of trees along creeks and rivers. It quickly became evident why the trail is called a Nature Trail. We saw and heard a variety of birds (cardinals, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, turkey vultures) in the trees and flying across the path in front of us. We saw deer, a groundhog running along the trail, rabbits and squirrels. In some of the creeks there were schools of fish including large carp swimming around in waters barely deep enough to cover their backs. Also poking around in the water was a large snapping turtle that we watched surface, dive and resurface to stick its long neck out above the water.
At the small town of Brandon we ventured off the trail and gave ourselves a tour of the small town. Main street is only a block long with few buildings still in business. There was a Kwik Stop gas station, a church across the street, a closed café and around the corner a bar. After our short tour we got right back on the trail and kept heading north hoping to reach our destination by early evening.
Leaving the city limits of Brandon, we rolled to a stop before crossing a road. To our dismay, across the street stood a large barricade and a road closed sign blocking the trail. What?! The trail is closed? It sure would have been nice to of known about this beforehand, we didn’t see any signs before this one.
While we went over our options of what we should do, we saw a couple on bikes so we asked them about campgrounds nearby. They were from the area and used to run a bed and breakfast and a campground on the trail. They told us of a couple of options with the closest being the Lime Creek Area campground. They said someone in town could give us directions.
So we rode back to Brandon and decided to as for directions at the Kwik Stop since it had the only sign of life when we rode through before. We got our directions, which luckily was only 1.5 miles away, and rode to the camground. It was easy to find and there was only one other camper at the site. We set up our tent, made a fire and retired to bed early.
The next day we got going mid-morning and made our way back to Hiawatha. This time we made Center Point one of our rest stops. We walked inside the old depot. And what was there posted on the wall?? An orange sign saying the trail is closed north of Brandon. Perhaps there were other signs along the way, but none that we noticed. Lesson learned: Do thorough research before embarking on a long trail ride. I later went to the Iowa Bicycle Coalition’s website and saw information there on the closing of the trial.
We still had a great trip and I hope to one day ride the rest of the trail.