We crossed over the Iowa-Missouri border last week on our way back from a short getaway to escape the heat. The weekend in Waterloo was cool, perfect for riding the area’s 100-plus miles of paved bike trails without sweating your pedal pushers off.
Coming home our van was heaped with Iowa goodies, a 75 percent corn-based bourbon distilled in Swisher; a six-pack of Juicy IPA from Reunion Brewery, in Iowa City, and half-a-dozen ears of corn, a seedless watermelon and fresh tomatoes from a roadside stand.
More Than Just Corn
There’s little to dislike about Northeast Iowa, typically Midwestern, peopled with friendly folks and a new brewery in Waterloo that’s lights-out amazing. SingleSpeed Brewing was within walking distance of our rental, a new Airbnb condo I found online. It was beautiful, and a good deal, but was surrounded by construction. No matter — its location was perfect.
We could access the Cedar Valley Nature Trail right from the condo, and we did, biking 6 1/2 miles to Cedar Falls. The pride in community is obvious there, a town of 41,000 plus with white clapboard houses, neatly manicured yards, independent shops and a thriving downtown, near the banks of the Cedar River.
By contrast, Waterloo is bigger in population, but doesn’t have the character, is more industrial.
“It seems to be a city on its way back, is that right?” I asked one of the staff at Bike Tech, in Cedar Falls. The man said that was correct, and then talked a bit about Cedar Falls and the bike shop. The shop is located in what once was the town’s post office, a beautiful brick building doomed by the city until concerned citizens got behind a movement to save it. The post office boxes were left intact, as well as the former postal windows where the clerks waited on customers, complete with bars.
It was awesome to see history preserved, something we also observed in Waterloo at SingleSpeed. The brewery is housed in a huge building, the former site of a Wonder Bread factory, which has been converted into a brewery with a beer garden and beer hall like you see in Germany, with abundant long wooden tables and benches. A number of beers were offered and a delicious array of menu items, from tacos to salmon to fried chicken on waffles with maple syrup.
Liked the New Destination
We’ve biked before in Iowa, but since this trip had to be short, we needed to find a location closer to home than beautiful Decorah, where we’ve been twice before. It’s a little over five hours from Washington to Cedar Falls, where we’ll stay next time, when we have time for a longer getaway.
Cedar Falls is near two small scenic towns we’d like to visit, and just an hour and a half from Decorah where there’s one of the most beautiful bike trails you’ll ever ride, scenic, but challenging, the paved Trout Run Trail is not to be missed.
Iowa is plain Jane in many people’s minds, but it’s never failed to disappoint us. Driving home, I wished we could have stayed longer, to explore its country roads where tidy farms stand out like islands in acres of tasseled corn, red barns peeking hayloft eyes over gently undulating ridges, the fields cut with paths leading to farmhouses where children play on tire swings and laundry flaps in yards bordered with sunflowers and zinnias.
Americana at its best sums up Iowa, and though our goodbye to the Hawkeye State came too quickly, I took solace in the fact that we’d be back.