Biking through a Wisconsin Winter

Ready to Bike!

Ready to Bike! [Side Note: I have now cleaned this mirror]

Thinking about doing some below freezing bike commuting?  First of, you are not crazy and if you are prepared then you will be fine so don’t talk yourself out of it before you even start!

Biking to work this morning, I excitedly noted the temperature as I passed the hardware store’s large blinking sign– 9 degrees Fahrenheit   Sometimes you have to just give yourself a pat on the back and biking when it is 9 degrees outside definitely warrants some back patting! It didn’t even feel that cold but I am sure that is because I was just so excited to be back on my bike!  For the past couple of weeks we have been getting pretty regular snow here.  Snow combined with lots of temperature variation has made the roads an absolute mess. After one scary situation with a car (I’m fine, Mom! Don’t freak out!) my trusty bicycle was sentenced to the garage for a while and instead I took to walking everywhere.  I’m not afraid of the cold.  In fact, I find that I thrive in these long winters!  I could never live somewhere tropical.  Besides, all my jobs are within a mile and a half of my house so it’s not like I have to go super far anyway.  The roads have cleared nicely now and yesterday was my first day back on my bike.  It felt great to be moving fast again!

The most important thing to remember when winter biking is to have as much skin covered as possible.

If you are particularly sensitive to cold then I suggest getting something to cover your face.  [Make sure not to obstruct your vision!] On the days I have biked with a subzero wind chill I am usually find just wrapping a scarf around over my mouth and nose. Never under estimate or forget about windchill.  If it feels cold when you stick your hand out the car window on a hot summer day then just imagine how cold it feels to have your whole body against that wind when it is freezing out!  COLD!

It’s also important that your ears are covered.  A beanie under a helmet can often times be good enough but wearing a special ear covering headband under my hat under my helmet is de-luxe.

Gloves are imperative for winter riding.  I wear fleece mittens that are convertible to fingerless gloves.

As far as the rest of your clothing goes I think that really depends on how far you are going and the terrain you will be going over.  My ride to work is pretty evenly split between uphill and downhill with a long down hill at the end.  I follow the same ethic I do for backpacking which is start cold.  I find that if I start biking in my fleece and down jacket then I will be sweating bullets by the time I get to work.  Today I simply wore my work clothes (jeans and a flannel shirt) with a heavy fleece and scarf over top. If I am going for a longer ride then I add a wind proof layer on both top and bottom like a wind breaker or rain jacket.  Several days I chose to where a long sleeve with a fleece vest and my down jacket.

It’s really up to you and it takes a while to learn your preferences.  I am a big supporter of working with what you have instead of buying new fancy stuff. “Cotton Kills,” we outdoor educators always say so if you can try and have synthetic or woolen layers closest to your skin!

Lastly, REMEMBER TO ALWAYS BE SAFE!  Wear a properly fitting helmet, bright clothes at night, and make use of lights and reflectors during dawn, dusk, and night hours.

Biking during the winter is extremely rewarding and super fun.  I was really nervous at first because I don’t have a fancy bike or fancy tires but it has truly been a great winter of biking.  I’ve pushed my limits and my comfort zone and have had a blast!

Happy Biking!

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A CaCAWphony of Crows

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(Click to enlarge then zoom in!)

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Do you see them?  No, your computer screen is not dirty– those are birds!  Crows to be exact!  As I walked home from work at the middle school last night I witnessed this large and beautiful murder of crows flying over head.  And the noise?  It was a caCAWphony.

Anyone who has known me for a long period of time knows crows are my favorite animal.  I have loved them ever since high school when I was lucky to study them in depth.  A mentor of mine took me under his wing (eh ehh…) and let me help with crow studies both through his class at my HS and his class at Boston College.  It was such an exciting and formative experience for me.  Thanks to Dr. Auger, if you are out there! Ever since then I have been enamored with them.  They are beautiful, intelligent, and resilient beings.  Crows form bonds with one another, make and use tools, and learn to recognize people.  The crows outside in my parent’s neighborhood on Cape Cod got so accustomed to me throwing peanuts out to them in high school (which they were able to shell on their own!) that they would fly to our roof when they saw me walking home from school.  Many cultures have superstitions or omens surrounding crows, most of which are negative, but when I hear or see crows I take it as a call to consciousness.  When crows are near me it brings me back to myself and helps me put thoughts into perspective.  I looked for them again today as I was walking home but there were none to be seen and that just makes it all the more magical.

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Best GF Pizza Ever

This is not a food blog and it never will be but I just had to share this delicious pizza that I made the other day–

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As the new Sampling and Demo Assistant at the co-op I have had the job of sampling quite a few new and exciting products.  Last week after sampling Pamela’s gluten free cookies (they come as a mix to add butter and eggs to), I knew I had to try more of their products so I bought the gluten free pizza dough mix!  Sheep’s cheese (by Hidden Springs Creamery) was also something that I had recently given out samples of so I needed more of that because it was amazing and when I picked up a pear from the Scratch and Dent section available to co-op employees, the idea for this pizza was born!  I mixed some Bragg’s spice blend (ironically from a small packet I got as a sample from the co-op several months ago and never used) in the crust to jazz it up as well.  After a summer of canning  certainly have tons of tomato sauce but I decided to forgo sauce for some Driftless Orangic’s sunflower oil instead.  I was afraid sauce would over power all these delicate flavors.  Chopped up red onions, the most flavorful mozzarella I have ever had (from Carr Valley), and a swirl of balsamic cream (sent to us from Jamie’s sister in NYC) completed the deliciousness.  The end result?

Pear and Local Sheep Cheese pizza with gluten free crust, red onion, local mozzarella, local sunflower oil, and balsamic cream.

Doesn’t the name just flow off your tongue?  Okay, maybe not but I bet you can tell how good it is!

It was absolutely amazing. So amazing that I had to share. With all those run-on sentences and everything. Yumyumyumyumyum!

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Walking through the Park on a Snowy Afternoon

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Watercolor Whimsy

This morning I woke up at 7:30 and went for a long walk around town.  I put out a friend’s recycling, got a mocha at the co-op, ran a couple errands, talked to several people who were out shoveling about how warm 15 degrees feels after the bitter cold we’ve been having, and made it back to my house around 9.  After a delicious breakfast and catching up on the news I decided to get artsy.  Thus, Beatrice XIV was born.  In my free time over the last couple months I have been practicing drawing and using watercolors.  While I am not very good (yet) at drawing things that are in front of me or drawing from pictures, I think the things that come out of my imagination are pretty fun.  It is noon and I feel like I have been incredibly productive today.  Being busy really works for me.  Now that I am working 3 jobs, I find that I am making much better use of my free time.  Time for lunch, more errands, work, and a meeting. Huzzah!

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Farmsitting with a Wintry Mix!

The weather today has been bizarre! We’ve had snow, ice, sleet, rain, sun, and every combination in between. The noise you hear in the video is actually the snow and ice hitting the ground and trees because it was so loud! While walking down for evening chores I noticed the snow and ice had hardened quickly enough that I wasn’t even making footprints as I walked! I am thankful for this beautiful valley, dogs that like to snuggle, and woodheat– I love being out here! Yay farmsitting!

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Becoming a Lunatic– Full Moon Insomnia

Moon time

The moon is waxing and will soon be full but I don’t need to look up at the sky or read a moon calendar to tell me this– I just know intuitively. Each month as the moon becomes full I become an insomniac. I don’t know when this trend started but I first really took note of it during my last couple years of college. It was fun in college to walk around campus when no one else was awake and all was quiet. One time on a moonlit walk an owl dove in front of me and swooped up a mouse. Another time I sat and drank coffee with my favorite public safety officer while he told me stories about our college from when he was a student, many decades before. So what do I do now when I wake up at 3am and can’t sleep?

My first order of business this morning was to make myself some tea some nice minty tea that I thought might help me fall back to sleep. Once the tea was made I settled in on the comfy couch for a while and read some Harry Potter. After a while I decided I wasn’t going back to bed and turned on the computer. I don’t like to use the computer when I can’t sleep because I think the lights and the nature of it just encourages insomnia to continue but here I am. Hopefully my lack of sleep doesn’t screw up my schedule too much. I’m a solid 11pm bedtimer though and usually I get my schedule when the moon starts waning again.  Be sure to check out the full moon this weekend!

Nerd

Nerd

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A Dam Good Day… for Beaver Dams

Today was the Kickapoo Valley Reserve‘s Winter Festival in La Farge.
While I didn’t make it for any of the morning activities (flint knapping, dog sledding, ice cave hike, live raptor talk, and more!) I did get to go on a brilliant hike with Chuck Hatfield and learn about beavers–  I absolutely loved it!!!

[ Click the first picture then go through the slide show if you want to read the captions or see bigger versions of the images!]

I learned quite a bit about beavers in college but it was nice to get a refresher and actually see some dams and lodges!  Coincidentally I also read about beavers last night in Wintering by Diana Kappel-Smith.  She made some interesting notes about them, my favorite being that even when it is below freezing outside, it is still cozy inside of a beaver’s lodge thanks to all the warm bodies in there.  Chuck told us that beavers don’t leave home until 2 sometimes 3 years old meaning that at any given time there could be upwards of 10 beavers living in a lodge! Something else that I find fascinating about beavers that wasn’t touched on today is that the have a special gland inside their body that pumps super acidic juices into the beavers stomach so that they can process all the cellulose.  Wood is made of cellulose which is undigestable to most except for mushrooms and apparently beavers!  Other things that eat diets high in cellulose like ruminants actually have micro-organisms inside their bodies that help them break it down.  The beaver just gets cooler and cooler!  My last fun beaver fact, that I just learned through the wonders of the internet, is that beavers exude a substance called castoreum for marking territory that was often used in medicines.  Turns out that since beavers favor willow that this exudant is actually high in salicylic acid (aka aspirin) which explains its medicinal effects!  Fascinating!  Thanks Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Chuck Hatfield for putting on such a fun and thought provoking hike!

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Memories of My Future

On the loose

Last night I went and saw Mark Shephard talk about his new book Restoration Agriculture.  Mark is a Driftless Area permaculture guru.  The book deals with how one can mimic the native environment and biome to create an agricultural system that is high in calories and nutritional content per acre and is an ecosystem in itself rather than a lack of one.  I haven’t read the book yet but I definitely plan to once I finish the 4 (yes 4) books I am currently reading.   Mark’s farm is well known in the area for his hazelnut operation and the hard apple cider he makes.  He’s also well known for his hilarious band Synister Dane, being friendly and jovial, and taking on several interns each year.  I loved his talk and afterwards my mind was really spinning with dreams for the future.

I am an educator at heart.  It is what I am good at and what I am passionate about.  I am also deeply connected to the earth. I dream of forming a relationship with a piece of land and sharing it with others.  What that means is still unclear to me.  Will I someday own land and operate an environmental, outdoor, and farming education center out of it?  Would that land be mine or would I own it cooperatively? Will I find an educational community that I can make my home and educate from there?  Will I simply live close to the land like I dream and keep education as my day job working at a school or park or writing curriculum? I have worked with summer camps, outdoor education programs, public schools, a semester program, an alternative high school, and others and I have loved them all.  Even the experiences that were less than ideal at the time taught me valuable lessons about my values, strengths, and desires.  Where I am in life right now there is much uncertainty.  Where will I be a year from now?  Where will I be six months from now? Who will I be with and what will I be doing?

When I imagine my future I see images behind my eyes like vivid memories I have yet to live.  I am leading hikes in the rain and discussing vernal ponds. I am shelling beans into a bucket as the sunsets. I am chopping wood for future fires and looking up to watch others neatly stack it to season. I am singing songs round a campfire.  I am harvesting tomatoes with a baby on my hip.  I am skiing through snowy fields in the bright sun. I see fresh baked bread, a pantry full of canned goods, teenagers in waiters ready for adventure, and little kids with fairy wings and nature journals. I see a room of ecology supplies that always smells faintly of mildew in the best possible way.  I see children overturning rocks in the stream looking for salamanders and frogs.   I see my feet hanging from a handbuilt tree house as I read and sip on a tea of wild mint and nettles.  My journal is filled with drawings of encounters with wild animals and new plants. My hands are rough from hard work.  My schedule is busy, challenging, and always changing.  And best of all,  I am happy.

As I walked home from Mark’s talk last night  I decided it is time to embrace the uncertainties in my life.  I  don’t know what the future holds for me.  No one does. My professor Marty at Warren Wilson always to said, “Start small, go slow, but go.”  You can’t sit around and expect your dreams come to you if you don’t work towards them.  With that I am going for a walk and see what this rainy, freezing day has to teach me.

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Sunday Funday

Every Sunday in Annie world is Sunday Funday– a day for doing something special for yourself.  For this Sunday Funday we decided to go up to La Crosse for some hiking and coffee shop time. La Crosse is snuggled between the Mississippi River and these beautiful, towering bluffs.  The hiking trails, obviously, are located either near the river or up on the bluffs.  For our first La Crosse hiking adventure we decided to try the bluffs.  Before hiking, however, we stopped at Grandad bluff.  From the top we could see all of La Crosse and the Mississippi!  We even had the good fortune to have a train go through town while we were up there so La Crosse looked like a tiny train set!

After Grandad Bluff we headed over towards the Hixon Forest Trails where we went on some long windy hikes on the Human Powered Trails.  There was no one else out there so we got to enjoy it at our own pace. The best part was playing Nature Detective.
Who’s poop is this? [Definitely deer. There are tracks everywhere]
Who dug these little holes? [Probably squirrels]
Why? [Digging out their winter nut caches!]
Why are these so many berries over here but not over there? [Birds eat the berries then sit on the powerlines and poop out the seeds!]
Why are all the tree pointed in this direction? [That hill over there cuts off most of their daily sunshine so they have to crane this way for late day light!]

We hiked for a few miles and then after getting sufficiently turned around we found a trail that lead us back to the parking lot.  These trails and the land they are on is very cool because it is home to a prairie restoration project. The Driftless region used to be mainly oak savanna and prairie and prairie restoration projects are popping up all over the place.  I definitely plan on going back there in the Spring.

Before reaching the trailhead we stopped to take some cheesy perspective pictures.  In the parking lot there is a NOAA doppler station. The instrument used for doppler radar looks like a giant volleyball sitting atop a metal stand. When you are near it you can hear it hum.  My brother and I were weather nerds when we were kids– okay just plain nerds– and read all these junior meteorologist books. We loved our barometer and would always predict the upcoming weather.  We would have loved this giant volley ball station as children!

Post hiking we descended the bluff into town and read for a while at Jule’s Coffee Shop.  Jamie is currently reading the Harry Potter series (which he originally started to appease me and has since gotten really into) and I am reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.  We read for a hour or two, ate some dinner, and then headed home.

All and all it was a fabulous day and a Sunday Funday success!

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