Posts Tagged With: wisconsin

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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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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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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A Place Just for Me

Around the corner and down a hill from my house, is a fabulous tract of woods on the edge of town called Hubbard Hills.  The woods are owned (as much as any woods are owned) by a family on the street who have built many trails through the land and allow people to use them for recreational purposes.  It’s a really spectacular place and is beautiful in all seasons.  On one of those trails, at a specific spot, is my super secret special place I like to go to ponder life, work through things, and just be with nature.  It is a place just for me.  It is so secret that this is the first time I have ever mentioned it to anyone. That’s right interwebs, I’m telling the whole world before I ever say it out loud.

Today is a very special day.  It is the 3 year anniversary of the day I graduated from college, the day I stopped religiously editing my grad school application and finally put it in the mail, it is the day I had my first snow day off from work, and the day I almost got shot at my sit spot!  To celebrate and reflect on my accomplishments, adventures, and misadventures over the past 3 years I decided to go on a hike through the snowy woods to my sit spot.  I hiked and I hiked through the magical woods.  It was peaceful and beautiful. I saw fun little tracks in the snow and followed them around for a while. Eventually I came to beloved sit spot.  I’ve been going to this spot since June and this is the first time I have ever been there in snow.  I took out a plastic bag for a seat and settled in for a while.  The trees I have grown so used to gazing upon looked extra enchanting with inches covered in snow on them.  I thought for a while about all that has happened and made some wishes for the next three years. Then the magic exploded.

BANG! BANG!  Gun shots. I’ve been there so many times and never encountered anyone that it never even occurred to me that it would be a great place to go hunting.  How silly of me.  I live in Wisconsin and it’s hunting season! My first instinct for some reason was the jump up and scream , “PERSON! I’M A PERSON!”  Seriously, Annie? I got no response, heard no snow crunching near me, and saw no other footsteps so most likely the person wasn’t even near me but I said good bye to my spot anyway and left immediately.

Next time I go out there, I will remember to wear orange.

[Note: None of these pictures are off my sit spot but simply from my walk around my neighborhood.  I refuse to take any pictures there because it is my sacred ground.]

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Four Months Later…

4 months.  That’s how long it has been since I last posted.  As I completed another round of folk school catalog design this week and went to delete “Annie writes a blog called Drift Less, Learn More” from my bio, I decided to instead actually take up writing again. As there is no way I could possibly write an update on everything I have done in the past 4 months, here is a “brief” slideshow of events instead.  Enjoy and come back soon for more updates!

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We need a new home!

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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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Where have I been?

In November I moved off the farm and into a cabin in the woods on the opposite side of town for the winter.  The cabin is one room, small (12′  x 17′) and about 6 miles from Viroqua on 5 acres of wooded ridge land.  My water comes from a well pump about 100 feet from my door and my bathroom is an outhouse about 20 feet away. Despite not having water, I have electricity, wireless internet, and a landline.  My heat comes from  beautiful and efficient woodstove and my food is cooked on the gas stove.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.

After my work/study position ended with the Drifltess Folk School I applied for and got the job of Administrative Coordinator.  For now it means that I am in charge of registrations and publicity and this summer I will also be coordinating the work/study program.  Sometimes it is stressful but in general it has been a ton of fun.  We are currently seeking new instructors for our upcoming catalog so if you are reading this and have some skills you want to teach then let me know.  I plan on teach a couple classes myself this time!

Besides folk school stuff I have also been teaching chemistry to juniors at the local waldorf high school.  The experience has been very eye opening.  I went from knowing very little about Chemistry to feeling like I have been teaching it for years!  I would love to teach an ecology, humanities, or outdoor class with them but for now Chemistry is excellent.  Next week is my final week teaching and the students are giving presentations.  They made me promise that we would have at least one explosion and one baking day.

In my free time I have been embroidering gnomes, drinking copious amounts of tea, eating my pickled goodies from the summer, spending hours at the food co-op and/or cafe, hanging out with friends, and baking lots and lots of bread.  I have also been doing a lot of pleasure reading and garden dreaming/planning.

My time in the cabin is up the first week in late March and I am currently on the hunt for my next place to live. I want it to be close to town but with enough space to hold some folk school classes, have a large vegetable garden, and have chickens. Where  I am now I rely a lot on my neighbors to drive me into town and for my next place I want to be within biking distance.  Money is tight but maybe I can throw in a box of vegetables and eggs for rent reduction!

Now that I have filled in some of the blanks on what has been happening in my life, I plan to continue updating regularly about my adventures in rural living. Enjoy!

     

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Harold!

Introducing Harold the magical horse.  Harold came into my life during my last year of college and has been a wonderful travel companion ever since.  He has been to several different states with me, gone backpacking, canoeing, etc.  He has also survived many encounters with dogs that want to gnaw on him, pet rats, small children, and checked baggage. For a while he even took baths with and slept beside my dear toddler best friend, Althea in California.

Here’s what he’s been up to since moving to Wisconsin!

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Northwoods and Knives

After saying that I would update more frequently I promptly left home and didn’t update. Sorry folks!

What I’ve been up to:
Northwoods Vacation!
Jamie and I took a trip up to Superior country for a few days. It was wonderful.  The lake and surrounding area are gorgeous. I really enjoyed seeing Ashland and Northland College as I had thought about going there way back when during college application times in high school. One night when we were camping I heard some crazy wildlife that I am unfamiliar with and haven’t been able to identify.  I also heard WOLVES!

What Cheer? Brigade!
On Friday night the What Cheer? Brigade took our little town by storm and it was a dance party extravaganza never to be forgotten. Pretty much everyone I knew or have ever seen in town was there and dancing and having a blast.  Not many bands come to Viroqua and it was great to see everyone out and having fun!  I love this community!

Early American Knives!
A full update with photos will follow this but let me just say that I made a knife and its awesome! I’ve never done any blacksmithing or forge work before and I really loved it!  More later.

Peaches!
We recently got a half bushel of peaches and I have been preserving them in various ways all day.  I have some peach rings and fruit leather in the dehydrator right now and I am mid-canning some in a light syrup. Unfortunately the propane tank ran out and I must wait for the new one to get here this evening until I can finish!

Garlic!
We harvested the garlic a couple weeks ago, tied it, hung it in the barn to dry, and yesterday I cut it down, cleaned it, and prepared it for storage! It’s fun to see the whole process and it smells oh so yummy!

More to come and don’t worry, there will be pictures!

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