Posts Tagged With: adventure

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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Walking through the Park on a Snowy Afternoon

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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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Nature + Magic + Science = Environmental Education

The other day my friends Jon, Alee, and I went on a moonlit cross country skiing adventure at Sidie Hollow Park.  The bank in town said it was 11°F outside but at Sidie Hollow, by the lake, it was most certainly colder. As we skied the trail alongside the lake,  it was easy to feel like we were out in the deep wilderness.  Rarely do I feel that way since moving to SW Wisconsin, a place with very little public land for hiking, so I was taking it all in.  I was struck by how incredibly bright it was outside with the near full moon and layer of snow on the ground.  Thanks to the wind during the recent blizzard there was no snow on the lake which made it look eery and still.  As we rounded the first bend in the lake I was introduced to the phenomenon of lake singing and, for lack of better words right now, my mind was absolutely freaking blown.  Seriously.

The first noises we heard were like a low humming.  Never having heard such a thing before, I think I just tuned it out and didn’t give it much though.  But Nature didn’t want me to tune this fantastic sound out and the next sounds were LOUD and startling.  The only way I can describe it is like a low humpback whale song combined with loud vibrations and cracking noises.  We continued skiing around the lake, stopping every once in a while to warm our hands and take in the beauty and stillness of the night. At one point when we had stopped to listen to the noises, one was so loud that we all jumped.  A crack or shift in the ice happened directly in the front of us while we were watching.  I could feel the vibrations in my body.  A dozen owls hooted in the distance as if responding to the ice.  Alee made a joke that in Wisconsin we stand around and listen to the lake freeze.  We all laughed because we knew there would be no way to ever explain this phenomenon to anyone who had never experienced it.  It was seriously one of the most fascinating and magical things I have ever experienced.

Upon hearing the noises I was first met with wonder and awe.   It was absolutely magical and completely mysterious.  My next thoughts turned to science– why is this happening?  Did it have to do with expansion?  Water is less dense as a solid so maybe it has to do with that.  Or maybe it has to do with the low temperature outside. Does the lack of snow cover on the lake make then louder?  It amazed me how quick my mind went from magic to science and in a way it bothered me.  Am I unable to see the magic in nature now? Has science ruined me?  Of course not!  It is my background in science and my love of the outdoors that made this all the more exciting the me!  Of course the noises were absolutely mind blowing but knowing how nature does it is also mind blowing.  This is why I love outdoor and environmental education!  Because it’s all about teaching folks to see magic in the outdoors! It’s about facilitating an experience that inspires wonder and awe and encouraging them to ask meaningful and insightful questions.  It’s about encouraging curiosity about nature and the world around us.   I would argue that environmental education can’t exist without both magic and science in some combination.

So why is it that the ice sings on a frozen lake?  The answer has been harder to find than I expected and many of the answers are actually just theoretical.  It could be changes in atmospheric pressure or temperature fluctuations.  It might have to do with the moon. Whatever scientific answer is it will not change this one fact to me:  skiing under a full moon and listening to the lake sing was absolutely magical.

If you are interested in learning more Dispersion of Sound Waves in Ice Sheets by Andreas Bick has great information as well as links and sound recordings.  The best way to learn more is to get outside and experience it for yourself if you can.  It will definitely be worth braving the cold!

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Where are all the snow children?

From playing in the snow we so desperately wanted to celebrating Winter Solstice in our own way, the last few days have been a really special time for Jamie and me.  On Thursday we spent most of the day either outside in the snow (hiking, sledding, playing) or inside enjoying eachothers company.  Yesterday we had an unplugged day with no computers, radio, or other things until after sunset so we could fully enjoy the shortest day of the year.  We went hiking at Hubbard Hills, gathered fallen branches and pine cones from around town to decorate our house, played several games of Scrabble, and exchanged gifts by candle light as the sun was setting.  Last night we had friends over for more Scrabble, beer, pickled green beans and carrots, potato soup, and brownies.  We wanted to have a party but when only two people showed up it ended up being exactly what we wanted all along.

These last two days have really gotten me thinking about our connection to the seasons and nature.  Taking note of the moon cycles, changing of seasons, and changing of the light is something I make a point of paying attention to– and something I know a lot of people take for granted.  Winter storm Draco brought Viroqua a beautiful snow cover and while walking around town through the snow on a beautiful sunny day, I couldn’t help but notice how few other people were out there enjoying it.  On Thursday we went to the park for sledding and there was about a dozen or so kids and their adults there having a blast but I still feel like there should have been more.  Where is everyone on these days?  Are they inside reading and playing Scrabble or are they sitting in front of the TV, zoning out.  My guess would be the latter.

In the after school program for middle schools where I work we recently had the kids make Keynote presentations about themselves to present to the class. We gave them free reign to put whatever they wanted on it.  Almost every kid talked about music videos they like, songs they listen to, video games they play, and tv shows they watch.  On their “Things I like” page no one mentioned hiking or play outside or making snowmen or anything of the sort.   I think part of the reason is because it is way cooler to say you like “Gangam style” than it is to say you like building fairy houses but how much of it is because the kids spend most of their time indoors?

If you walk past Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School in Viroqua on almost school day whether it is raining or snowing or perfectly sunny, you will see kids outside playing and having an absolute blast.  The importance of being outside and playing trumps the fear that they could get a cold or get hurt. They are taught to dress for the weather. If you pass by the public school when it is raining or super cold out then you would think school must have been canceled that day because it is deserted outside. What does this teach children? What doesn’t it teach children?

I don’t have answers to these questions right now.  All I have are my observations and opinions.  My gut tells me that the teachers in the Waldorf school are doing something right here though.  I strongly believe when it snows there should be kids outside playing in it.  We should be teaching children to notice the changing of the light and encouraging imaginative play.  And adults should be out there too.  Get outside if you can or at least take note of when the sun rises and sets each day if you can’t actually get out there.  Keep the heat in your house lower than you normal and simply wear more clothes because it’s winter and unless you live in Texas you don’t need to be wearing a tank top this time of year.  Take 10 minutes with which you would be distracting yourself on the computer and look out the window instead. Watch what the squirrels are doing. Notice what types of birds are around, what ones aren’t.  And if you are up for an added challenge, try to only eat things that are in season.  Strawberries in December is ridiculous unless you live someone that grows them that time of year.

The world didn’t end yesterday which means there is still plenty of time to get the know the earth if you aren’t friends already!

Now stop reading blogs and go play outside!

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Country Roads, Take Me Home

When we moved in this house in April, Jamie gave me the best present ever… a bicycle.  My trusty Schwinn and I have traveled all over this town and regularly take trips to the outskirts.  Never having gotten my driver’s license, I have always relied on either my feet or others’ kindness for getting to and from.  Riding my bike everyday has given me a new sense of independence and freedom.  I imagine it is similar to how a 16 year old feels when they first get behind the wheel without an adult in the car.  I cruise down the hilly roads of Viroqua, zoom past those on foot, and become intimate with the changing of the seasons.

My bike has given me the confidence to explore corners of town I never would have seen otherwise and to even head out of town to explore the beauty of country roads.  The Driftless Region, known for its ridges and valleys is a surprisingly bike friendly place.  I have never felt threatened or unsafe while riding on the roads here.  I like the attribute this to the high volume of Amish in the area.  I think that people are used to being on the look out for slower vehicles and know how to give ample space, etc.  With the shorter days I find myself riding in the dark a lot so I picked up some fancy blinky lights from the Halloween clearance section in November and keep my headlamp strapped to my helmet and on high in front on me.

With an uncertain future of oil scarcity or extreme gas prices, it seems smart to me that everyone has a bike.  A couple weeks ago I went to an event sponsored by Transition Viroqua where Mike Frank said [something along the lines of] every step we take towards resilience and away from oil dependence is making a transition. I really like that and sometimes reflect upon it while on long solo rides. How are you making transitions? Riding a bike or walking whenever possible is not only healthy but taking an active step towards weaning ourselves from oil dependency. It’s also super fun, low impact on your muscles, and pretty freaking hip as well!

 

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Summer: An Adventure in Itself

Camp Waziyatah adventure when I was 15.

At 13, I started going away each summer to sleepaway camp in Maine and the spark for summer adventure was lit.  Summer camp became my passion in life and what kept me going through what I always felt were boring winters on Cape Cod. After 4 summers in Maine I moved on to New Hampshire then Pennsylvania then New York. After college, which was already nearly 1000 miles away from home in North Carolina, I moved to California.  I spent each summer for a decade at camp! After a year in CA, I landed here in Wisconsin at the beginning of last summer and experienced my first season without camp.  I told myself it was okay because I was in a new place and learning things so it was kind of like being a camper again.  When summer started this year I didn’t pack a duffle and head out the door for the first time– instead I stayed put and found adventure right here at home.  I had brilliant climbing days, swam in beautiful lakes, biked everywhere I could, grew three fantastic gardens, hiked exciting new trails, grew closer with my partner, made new friends, and took/taught more classes with Driftless Folk School. At one point I even attended a talent show show in town that felt straight out of summer camp. While at first I felt restless, I am now appreciative to have spent the summer here in the Driftless learning about myself, my community, and this beautiful area.

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Illinois Adventure

On the road again!  Jamie and I went on another Driftless Folk School sponsored adventure this week—Oregon, Illinois for the Oregon Renewable Energy Fair.  The fair itself was kind of a bust because the attendance was so low but we enjoyed exploring the area.  Our first night there we went our to Dekalb for dinner because we saw they had a food co-op and figured that would mean other cool things as well.  We were most impressed with their beautiful artwork all around town.  One mural was particularly stunning and I couldn’t help being a tourist and taking a bunch of pictures.  Since the Kickapoo Country Fair, Jamie and I have been on a gluten free diet to see if it helps us out at all so finding a good place to eat was difficult.  We finally settled on a cool looking coffee shop where they served us the most delicious PESTO nachos! On the way home (we skipped out early) we stopped in Galena as suggested by our friend Jacob.  The town has an amazing downtown with loads and loads of fancy little shops.  We went to one place that sold canned goods where you could sample everything before buying it.  Naturally Jamie and I went around trying all the different jams, salsas, spreads, etc and took some mental notes on things we could make and can ourselves.

Special Note: Look closely at the sunset picture and you will see something unusual.  The Renewable Energy fair was in the shadow of a nuclear power plant—eeks!

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We need a new home!

Image

Move out day from the cabin is fast approaching and Jamie and I really need a new place to live!  We are looking for house or cabin or really anything decent near or outside of Viroqua.  I’d love to be able to bike into town– with the new bike trail that means Westby is also a possibility! We would like to have enough space to grow lots of veggies and raise a couple of chickens.  Ideally we would also be able to hold a couple Driftless Folk School classes there but we are not attached to that anymore because we really just need to find a place!  Please keep us in mind with ideas of any kind!

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