Culinary Ride 2013: A Travel Memoir

Culinary Ride
Culinary Ride, a bicycle tour of local farms in the Iowa City area, kicked off its third annual ride in September.
Photos by Tonya Kehoe

At 8 a.m. on a Sunday, the air was chilly with the first day of fall. A crowd at Terry Trueblood park seemed to have risen bleary-eyed, helmets gleaming in the sun, ready to migrate South on their bicycles.

“Thank the good Lord for his sugar blessings,” said Nichole Schappert, 29, of Iowa City, while enjoying a glazed donut. People milled about signing liability wavers and snacking on bakery items from the Bread Garden, strawberries from Yotopia and coffee from Wake Up Iowa City. After receiving our Culinary Ride custom t-shirts, water bottles, and maps of the route we commenced our journey.

We traveled six miles down Sand Road to the first stop, Hills Access. Hills Access is a 40-acre park along the Iowa River. It is a quiet place where visitors can camp, fish and picnic. Griddle Me This served a breakfast of vegetarian or pork belly quiche and a daikon apple slaw. People poked at their food and discussed their bike equipment. Still full of energy after all of our Cobra Verde coffee from Wake Up Iowa city, we were eager to press on.

The ride progressed in typical fall fashion. Empty combines lingered in the fields. The corn faded gently from light-green to dry brown. Electrical towers buzzed over head with cicadas. Dried frogs and seed-pods littered the road shoulder all the way to Dirty Face Creek Farm.

Dirty Face Creek Farm is a family owned organic farm just outside of Hills. A sign on the property read, “please feed and pet the animals.” A happy white goat chomped cornstalks through the fence while cyclists, sitting on hay bales around a fire, chomped pulled pork and cornbread. “I like culinary ride because we just chill hard on bikes and eat a lot,” said Mark Pooley, a local brewer who donated some 20 gallons of his honey wheat brew for the ride.

We continued on to Belgum Grove where cyclists walked around and climbed trees for apples. Thumb-sized frogs startled in front of us on the muddy path. We walked up a hill and were surprised by a lone gnarled oak overlooking a large pond. The former pasture is part of the Johnson County Trust which has been converted and preserved as an orchard and small wetland area.

After the grove, participants could turn around and head back to town, or continue on to the Kalona Brewery. The day was getting hotter and the route would soon turn to gravel.

We pressed on. At this point I was not giving much thought to my map. This, I found out, was a mistake. Grey lids of 5-gallon tupperware containers, written on with permanent marker served as directional markers for the route. We missed a crucial turning point and found ourselves five-miles off-route on the country road gravel. Luckily for me I have GPS capability on my phone. We found the highway and rode a harrowing four miles along highway 22 to Kalona where we easily located the Brewery.

The Kalona Brewery had only been open nine days. Culinary Riders broke in the beer garden. Dave Burt, formerly of the Red Avocado, is the Brewery’s head chef. He prepared a lentil stew, curried vegetables, and chicken wings for the riders. We drank the brewery’s own IPA. “Everyone loves Sucha Much IPA,” said Sam Brewer, 36. Sam is the son of owner and brewmaster, Lew Brewer. “My mother’s maiden name is Vineyard. I was born to drink alcohol,” he joked. Sam, who grew up in Iowa but now lives in Honolulu, designed the space, which has a modern but handmade feel. The bathroom alone is a reason to check out the restaurant. It features a marbled trough as a sink and black toilets. He says he is considering hammocks for the beer garden though we were content to lie in the thick grass. So far, the Brewery has six different beers to choose from. They don’t have liquor, but you can bring your own wine.

“I’m lovin this,” Iowa City local, Liz Richards said, “I’m having a great day. It doesn’t even seem that hard yet.”

As a result of getting lost, we were running a bit behind schedule and had to hurry on to the next stop. The route took us through Amish and Mennonite country. Their traditional farms are noticeable by the large windmills and lack of electrical or phone wires, as well as their immaculate gardens filled with swan necked squashes, okra, chrysanthemum and sweet corn. On the dirt roads our bike tires mingled with horse-shoe prints and buggy tracks. We waved to passing families, and an older Amish couple who were out for a Sunday stroll.

We sped on. Drafting a horse and buggy up the last hill (not recommended or condoned by Culinary Ride officials). The rider waved to us as we passed. We breezed by the Yoderville Biodiesel Collective, noticeable on the Orval Yoder Turnpike because of the solar panels set up in the front yard, and continued down Black Diamond Road to the Windham Roadhouse Bar.

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Windham Roadhouse is your typical townie sports bar. Decked out in Hawkeye black and gold, the Roadhouse displayed a giant screen with Nascar playing on the projector. A Handwritten sign of, “we could loose (sic) our license,” threatened bar goers who would dare to try and pay by credit card. Annie Coatar, of Iowa City, ordered an Angry Orchard beer at the cash only bar. “I heard there’s pizza at the next stop,” she said. A local man in a pick up truck asked where we were headed, we told him Geyer’s and Anna’s garden and he assured us we would make it.

There was not any pizza. The rumor probably stemmed from the fact that Geyer’s and Anna’s Garden is home to Geyer’s Oven Bread and Pizza. The wood-fired pizza providers host an all-you-can-eat pizza dinner the second and fourth Thursday of each month. There were, however, cupcakes from Molly’s bakery, and Chef Gaby prepared more pork with kale. She drizzled all of our plates with aioli and red pepper sauces. We found a remodeled shed overlooking a large butterfly garden to rest in.

With 16 miles to go and the shadows elongating, people began to doubt their ability to continue. There was even talk of naps on the clean cool floors of the garden shed. A glance at the time showed that we we’re barely on schedule to make it to the next stop and be home before dark, so we set off once again.

The next stretch of the journey made me think that next year maybe I’ll just do the shorter, Cherry Tomato route. This truly was the “Beet-it-up” trail. We ground though four miles of loose gravel, at times having to dismount and push our bikes up the slippery slopes. A few bikes with large tires cruised past, teeth rattling. We emerged from the hellish Rohret Road vowing never to take pavement for granted again. Even the next 3.25 miles of extensive hills seemed a welcome relief from the dust and rock of Rohret Road.

At the second to last stop, Webb Tree Farm, everyone moved noticeably slower. We couldn’t tell if we were are hungry anymore. After one bite of my Bontrager egg and veggie taco from Kyle Sieck and Derek Roller of Local Burrito, I decided that yes, I definitely still had an appetite. I looked over at Liz Richards, who stretched in butterfly position on the grass beside me, “I’m never biking again,” she said.

At 6 p.m. I decided it was time to head home. The last 9.9 mile stretch, I spent alone, my shadow biking in front of me. The end of season corn grew more golden as the light faded. The last of the wild flowers fading from purple and yellow to brown. Crickets racketed in my ears. My legs, by now, pedaled automatically, too tired to take instruction.

Finally I reached the Trumpet Blossom. The normally calm space was packed with a sunburnt nosed mass of people eating quinoa salad, basil winter squash pate, sweet pepper relish, and fried tortillas. Chef Katy Meyer couldn’t seem to keep the tortilla bowl full enough. Emily Qual, one of the events organizers, said that 300 people registered this year. It didn’t seem like so many because they were all spread out over the highways and between farms, but the numbers were evidenced in the amount of food and drink consumed, which included an entire pig from Big Boy Meats, and 20 gallons of donated beer.

At Trumpet Blossom we continued to drink fresh squeezed juice and Iowa-made brews while relaxing to a live-band. I bought a raffle ticket from The Broken Spoke, hoping to win a tune-up for my trusty bike, which after all the miles and gravel travel, it sorely needed.

Update: This article previously stated that a raffle ticket was purchased from Thirtieth Century Bicycle. The ticket was, in fact, purchased from The Broken Spoke as part of a fundraiser for The Youth Off-Road Riders Cycling Club. Little Village regrets this error.