Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mountain Biking - Returning to the Dirt

I bought my first mountain bike back in 1995.  It was a rigid Schwinn Frontier - it was what I could afford at the time and before I knew anything better about mountain bikes.  (Before the days of when you could just "Google" it.)

1995 Schwinn Frontier
1995 Schwinn Frontier
For years I rode that bike.  It went with me when I left Wisconsin for North Carolina and then Florida.  I rode that bike along the ocean during low tide and high tide.  Brought it with me when I moved back to Wisconsin and took it on trips to ride in Acadia National Park in Maine and on the trails around Stowe, VT.

It's been on the John Muir trails and the Milwaukee River trails - it was my bike and it was fun.

Giant Anthem 3 Upgrade

2006 Giant Anthem 3
2006 Giant Anthem 3
Then in 2006 I finally decided it was time to upgrade to a full suspension.  After renting one in Vail, CO to ride down Vail Mountain on some blue and black runs I was hooked.  When I got home I started researching and talking to friends about what was a good bike.  I ended up finding a great deal on a Giant Anthem 3.  Wow, what a difference the full suspension made.  Riding John Muir with a full suspension versus a rigid was such a smoother ride.

Vacations were now going to be upgraded.  In spring 2007 I started making annual trips down to Moab, UT to ride the infamous slick rock and trails in the area.  Amazing.  Any where I went I brought my bike with me.  I loved riding this bike.  Every weekend you'd find me at the trailhead.

Riding Burnout

I did that til about 2012/13 and then I hit a wall and burned out from riding.  I still rode some but managed to not look at the bike like I used to.  I pretty much put it aside and picked up a new sport - rock climbing.  I kept looking at the bike thinking I should really get it out but just didn't have the desire.  I almost felt guilty for having it and not riding it.  

In November 2014 I started talking to and hanging out with someone who rode mountain bikes.  These discussions revived my guilt feeling for leaving my bike hanging in the basement.  In December I finally pulled the bike down and took it to the trailhead.  I'm so glad I did.  My burnout period was over.  It was time to start riding again.  But now what - winter was coming.  

Winter Riding - Fat Biking

2015 Fyxation Blackhawk
Fyxation Blackhawk
With winter coming and finally getting beyond my burnout period I wanted to keep riding.  To do so I bought a Fyxation Blackhawk fat bike.  It was awesome - riding in snow.  I was able to ride all winter.  And I even decided to try racing - something I was always afraid to do.  It was fun, I took home a few 2nd places and I was addicted.

Spring 2015 - Back in the saddle

This spring I took the Giant Anthem 3 to my local bike shop - Fyxation and had a tune up done on the bike.  New tires, new rear shock, new derailuer hanger.  Back in the game - it was time to head back out to Moab, UT and ride.  I didn't realize how much I had missed riding the slick rock.  But I did realize how much I needed to work on my riding to get back to the level I used to be at.  And I think my Giant Anthem 3 was starting to show its age of 9 years old.  Even with the tune up - I managed to do something to the rear brake when I was out there and had the brakes replaced upon returning home.  Then the next trip over Memorial Day weekend to ride the CAMBA trails I started to have issues again with the gears jumping all over the place.  I finally decided it was time for the next upgrade.  And that this bike would become my project bike.  Something to use to learn how to work on bikes and drive trains.

Salsa Spearfish Upgrade

2015 Salsa Spearfish
2015 Salsa Spearfish
It was time, I reached out to the owner of Broken Spoke Bike Studio who I made a comment to about a month earlier and let him know.  I did some research before contacting him and new what I wanted and could afford - or at least I thought I did.  

That conversation ended up going in a direction I hadn't thought it would and I happened to contact him at the exact right time and had an opportunity to upgrade the original upgrade I thought I was going to do.  I ended up getting a custom built bike that was built to race in the WORS (Wisconsin Off Road Series).  It was actually my dream bike.  Wow.  But now - I have a bike built for racing.  I've never raced a mountain bike.  And WORS is a pretty big series with some pretty serious competition.  Not like the fat bike races I did during the winter.  Do I do this?  This is crazy.  Do I do this?  I guess I knew deep in my gut the answer.  As I said above racing the fat bike was addictive.  Yes - I will do this.  Starting this August - I will race my new bike.  It's a little stressful, but if I could do the fat bike race, I can do this.  My goal for my first race - finish it.  

I'm so glad my burnout period is over.  I've been training by riding as much as possible.  Riding on dirt as much as possible and getting out with other people to get used to riding with a group.  Riding my road bike when I can't get out on dirt and working to push myself as hard as I can or as hard as riding in the city allows.  Yes, I'm nervous.  But I'll let the nerves drive me forward and get over my fear.  

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world."  John Muir

I'm going to keep exploring between the pines and looking for new worlds to explore whether it be hiking or biking.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fat Biking - A New Winter Adventure

"Life is either a great adventure or nothing."  Helen Keller

How do you live your life?  Me - my life is all about the adventure.  And adventure for me typically means I've walked out the door and am on my way to do something in the great outdoors.

Seasonality doesn't stop me.  I do many of the same adventures year round.  Summer / Winter Backpacking, Rock and Ice Climbing (I need to more of these), Bicycling, Hiking, Snowshoeing and on and on.  I'm always open to trying new sports and activities and this winter is no different.  Over the last couple of years I've seen the occasional Fat Bike riding around in the winter and have always been intrigued by them.  Being a cyclist both road and mountain bike, this seemed to be a natural progression.  Well this was the year.

Fat Bike Leap

This was the year I made the leap.  After renting a Surly Pugsley for an afternoon I was hooked.  I knew I had to have one.  Two weeks of researching, talking to people who have them and expanding my knowledge of the Fat Bike world I found exactly what I wanted.  A Fyxation Blackhawk.  And lucky for me - Fyxation was in the process of moving their headquarters into my neighborhood.  I was able to walk down and get it set up for me.

Fyxation Blackhawk

Fyxation Blackhawk at John Muir Trails - Blue
Fyxation Blackhawk - John Muir Mountain Bike Trails (Blue)
My new winter adventure.

After a couple of days of waiting patiently it was built and ready to come home.  Waiting for that first weekend to ride was hard.  But once it arrived - I jumped on and never looked back.  I was hooked!  My bike, my FAT bike. I was riding a bike, in winter, in snow.  What could be better?

Fat Bike Adventures

To quote Dr. Seuss:

"Oh the places you'll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all"

That's kind of how I felt (except substitute bike for ball).  Adventure awaited.

  • I rode in my first ever bike race and took 2nd place.  Then I immediately rode in my second race.  And I was hooked on the thrill of racing.  
  • I rode on the John Muir Mountain Bike Trails.  In Winter. On Snow.  How incredibly fun.
  • I took a road trip chasing the last of the snow to Michigan and rode at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and on the NTN Trails in Marquette.  
And I've met some of the nicest people along the way.  The Fat Biking community is incredible.  

The snow may be gone (or do I go in search of more snow?), but the Fyxation Blackhawk will not be going into hibernation.  I'm sure there may be a summer adventure along the way where I'll want to ride a fat bike.  

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."  John Muir

Or in this case snow.  But whatever you do - get outside and find your own adventure.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ice Age Trail and the First Snowfall

Over the years I've probably visited and hike the Ice Age Trail like what feels like a million times.  There are areas I can go to and know every little turn, rock and where to find the hidden gems.  Today was one of those hidden gem type of days.

First Snowfall on the Ice Age Trail - 2014

Each year when we get our first snowfall I tend to steer myself to the same section of the Ice Age Trail in Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest.  The section that runs north from Mauthe Lake Campground can be magical in winter.  And over the years, I've noticed that this is the one section of trail that I like to do solo (or with my dogs) in the winter.  I have a spot by one of the three creek crossings that I find is a great place to take a break, think about things and sometimes try to put things into perspective.  The serenity it provides is something you'll not find in the city or our daily on the go lives.  Part of it is because of the beauty of the spot and the calmness the creek provides.  And part of it is the ability of the place to let the mind go free and let your imagination roam.  It's that power of nature that provides a calming sensation and prepares me for what may come.

Yes it was the first snowfall last night.  And yes, I went back to my favorite spot today.  I was fortunate enough to only have to share it with the deer, squirrels and rabbits today.  I now feel relaxed and refreshed after having the ability to look at the forest in a fresh layer of snow and my spot on the burbling creek.  And I feel a little more ready for what's ahead.

Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest
First snowfall on the Ice Age Trail Creek Crossing

Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest
First snowfall on the Ice Age Trail Creek Crossing
The power of the imagination.  What do you see?

Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest
First snowfall and my trail companion
"Everybody needs beauty...places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike"  John Muir

I hope you all have similar spots you can go to and if you're lucky that means you'll be in nature.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Reviving a Passion - Rock Climbing Red Rock Canyon

As an adult I picked up the sport of rock climbing and made some great friends along the way.  But as life as an adult, jobs and responsibilities change.  Over the course of time I found all of my rock climbing partners moving on to other locations in this great country.  And I ended up putting rock climbing on the sideline.  I never put it far out of sight, it was always within grasp and I knew some day I would want to pick it up again.

Well, that time has come.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Picking the Red Rock area outside of Las Vegas as my first time in over a year and a half to climb was exciting.  I had been trying to plan a road trip to Utah so this opportunity came just at the right time.  I was a little nervous at first because even though I volunteered all summer at the climbing wall at the Urban Ecology Center, climbing sport and trad is much different than top roping a preset climbing wall.

Calico Basin 

After 2 1/2 days of driving from Milwaukee to Las Vegas, I was there.  Right after meeting up with a friend we drove straight over to Calico Basin for a hike and to climb.  We hiked around Calico Basin into the Calico Hills area and found the Black Corridor.  It was a shady corridor which was a welcome site for a warm day in October.  And explains why it was a little crowded.  After reviewing the guide book for ratings on the sport routes in this area we picked Thermal Breakdown which is a 5.9+ single pitch route.  Nothing like starting with something a little more difficult for my first climb in a year and a half.

I surprised myself with my abilities that day and that I remembered techniques I had learned over the last few years.  I had made it to the top without falling!

Cookie Monster - Pine Creek Canyon

Next up on the hit list was Cookie Monster. This was a Trad route rated 5.7 with 3 pitches and was 360 feet in total height.  I've done multi-pitch before but had never done a trad route when doing multi-pitch so this was all new to me.  A great learning experience.

The route starts with a chimney and then heads up the corner for two more pitches.  Again I was a little nervous starting out because I was hoping I'd have the energy, strength and ability to remember how to climb chimneys and cracks.  Again I surprised myself.  Yeah!  After a few hours we reach the top of the 3rd pitch.  Now on to the next challenge.  We had to scramble down (class 4) over to the next route "Cat in the Hat" which has fixed gear so we could rappel down, another three pitches.

It was such a fun time.  And climbing high above Red Rock Canyon I was able to get some great views out and around the Canyon and even out to Las Vegas.  I am definitely ready to try some more climbing in Red Rock Canyon.

Cookie Monster, Pine Creek Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas
Cookie Monster Route in Pine Creek Canyon

Cookie Monster, Pine Creek Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas
View out from Cookie Monster over Red Rock Canyon with Las Vegas in the far distance

Cookie Monster Pitch 1, Pine Creek Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas
Looking down from Pitch 1 on Cookie Monster

Cat in the Hat, Pine Creek Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas
View out into Pine Creek Canyon from Cat in the Hat
I finally got to explore some of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area on this trip.  I know fellow climbers that have been to this area before and post about it.  It's always been on my list as a place to explore and it was the perfect place to get back into climbing.  Now to figure out where and what to climb next.  I made a stop in Moab, UT on my way home on this crazy road trip and I have a feeling that will be it.  I've climbed a couple times in that area and love the feel of the red rock to climb.  And I can combine the trip with other outdoor activities I like to do - time to get that mountain bike out and brush those hiking shoes off.  I'm ready for the next adventure.

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."  John Muir

Each day of climbing we went for a walk and a climb, thinking we'd be back before sundown.  That never happened, we stayed out til sundown and enjoyed the hike by the stars back to the car.  The desert is beautiful and serene at night.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Exploring Wisconsin's Hidden Gems

Aldo Leopold.  A 40 foot deep gorge.  Prickly Pear cactus and desert.  Just a few of the hidden gems I recently explored in Wisconsin.

Finding places I haven't explored before in Wisconsin is always an exciting adventure.  When my brother decided to pay a visit for the first weekend of Autumn, we decided (as we always do) to go out for a hike and explore.  This time we picked the Baraboo and Spring Green areas of Wisconsin which lie in the Dirftless Area of Wisconsin.

Aldo Leopold Foundation

We started our quick two day journey of exploration at the Aldo Leopold Foundation.  If you don't know who Aldo Leopold is, he's known as the father of wildlife conservation and was an early leader in the American wilderness movement.  (Read more about him on the

While visiting we decided to take the self guided tour through the land along the Wisconsin River that his family owned and worked to restore.  The Shack the family lived in is still there to this day and so are some landmarks of the work he did.  Overall it was a humbling experience to be able to view and feel the work he did here which has resonated far beyond the boundaries of his property.

Aldo Leopold Shack at The Aldo Leopold Foundation
Aldo Leopold Shack

The Aldo Leopold Foundation is definitely worth the visit.

Pewits Nest State Natural Area

Definitely a hidden gem in Wisconsin.  Pewits Nest State Natural Area in Baraboo, WI is pretty well hidden with no signs leading to it.  It's one of those places you need to know exists to find it.  Which makes it a perfect place to explore.   Upon arriving we hit the trail and starting walking toward the gorge.  One of the first things I noticed when we hit the forest was the wall of rock that was growing as we walked the trail.

Within a short distance we took the trail that lead us down to Skillet Creek where we could peer into the gorge and see a small waterfall.

Pewits Nest Gorge and Skillet Creek
Skillet Creek and Pewits Nest Gorge
Next we wandered around and to the trail above the gorge and followed the creek to the end of the gorge and park.  We noticed many small waterfalls and different views of the gorge.  

Skillet Creek and Pewits Nest Gorge
Skillet Creek and Pewits Nest Gorge
View down into the gorge and Skillet Creek at Pewits Nest
View down into the gorge
After hiking the trail and returning to the car, I felt lucky to have found this place.  From the road I would have never guessed what was just beyond the edge of the forest and in the middle of the farmer's fields that lie around it.  Definitely worth a visit to see the splendor that the retreating glaciers left for us to explore.

Spring Green Preserve

Did you know Wisconsin has a desert where prickly pear cactus grow naturally?  No?  Neither did I.  Upon arriving at the Spring Green Preserve I  immediately noticed a difference in this area versus the adjoining landscapes.  Upon hitting the trail which was dry, sandy soil I saw prickly pear cactus.  Even the ridge line in the distance was different than the others.  All the ones around it held forests, but not this one.

Prickly Pear Cactus at Spring Green Preserve
Prickly Pear Cactus at Spring Green Preserve
Spring Green Preserve - "Wisconsin's Desert"
Spring Green Preserve - "Wisconsin's Desert"
We hiked the 1.6 mile trail (one way) through the prairie taking in the beauty of the fall colors of the prairie grasses.  The trail itself winds its way behind and up the bluff and provides a great overview of the surrounding area.  

Spring Green Preserve Trail end - overview of surrounding area from atop the bluff
Spring Green Preserve Trail end - overview of surrounding area from atop the bluff
My brother and I continued to explore additional areas over the two days we had and found some amazing places to explore that we had never been to and places we've explored before, but were worth another visit.  In addition to the above we explored:
  • Bakken's Pond State Natural Area - definitely another worth visiting.  It's a wetlands area that is home to many species of animals including the Sandhill Cranes we heard and then finally saw as they took off over the pond.
  • Devil's Lake - no visit to this area is complete without a quick trip to Devil's Lake State Park.  Today we hiked the East Bluff and saw plenty of turkey vultures floating on the thermals.  
  • Tower Hill State Park - A smaller state park, but another not to miss.  We camped here and visited the Shot Tunnel and watched the reflections of the seasonal changes of the trees in the river.
  • Ferry Bluff State Natural Area - we hiked the short trail that brings you up to the top of Ferry Bluff and provides great views of the Wisconsin River and the surrounding area.  
Fall is a great time to get outdoors and explore.  And the Driftless Area provides plenty of opportunities to view fall colors in their glory.  

And today I'll switch it up a little bit, instead of a John Muir quote to end this post, we'll reflect on Aldo Leopold.

"Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language" Aldo Leopold

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail in Southern Kettle Moraine Forest

Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine

What a perfect way to enjoy a fall weather like day but to head out for a hike on the Ice Age Trial in Southern Kettle Moraine.  Heading out from the Forest Headquarters, I hiked to the Horse Riders campground.  

Heading out from the Forest Headquarters I took the Ice Age Trail west to the meadow hoping to find some fall wildflowers in bloom.  And that I did.  Goldenrod was still in bloom.  I watched it dance in the breeze as it called to the monarchs that were flying around in the meadow.  
Monarchs on Goldenrod on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Monarchs on Goldenrod on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
As I hiked on I watched the native grasses of the meadow flow in sync to the breeze and watched the big billowy clouds float in the sky.  After 1 1/2 miles I hit the Blue Springs Lake Segment and felt myself looking forward to the rest of my journey today.

Prairie Grasses on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
Prairie Grasses on the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine

Blue Spring Lake Segment - Ice Age Trail

Heading into the Blue Spring Lake Segment via the Emma Carlin side, I walked through the forest looking for signs of fall.  I didn't find any fall colors coming out yet in the forest, but what I did find was mushrooms.  Now I admit I don't know anything about mushrooms, but today I was intrigued with all the different types and colors of mushrooms growing along the trail.  So today's hike ended up becoming more about what would I find next and taking pictures of them.  Once I arrived home I did a little research to find out what I saw during my hike.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

The first mushroom that caught my eye on the trail looked like a brain, and was about the size of what I assume a brain would be (or maybe bigger).  These were huge mushrooms.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail in Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail
Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail in Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Giant Puffball Mushrooms along the Ice Age Trail
Giant Puffball Mushrooms.

False Chantrelle

Many of these along the trail.  They are yellowish orange in color and were still holding water from the rain we had on Friday.  Very pretty.  But not edible.

False Chantrelle Mushrooms growing along the Ice Age Trail
False Chantrelle Mushrooms growing along the Ice Age Trail

More Wisconsin Wild Mushrooms

Here's a few more that I found along the trail today.  I'm not sure what these are, so if anyone knows please leave a comment at the end of this blog.  I would love to know what I found.  

Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine

Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
Mushroom growing alongside the Ice Age Trail - Southern Kettle Moraine
I also found these flowers(?) growing along the trail.  The only other place I've ever seen them before was when I was hiking up to St Paul Lake in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana.  I've heard them called "Corpse Flowers" but am not sure if that is the official name.  Again if anyone knows please leave a comment at the end of this blog.
Flowers on the Ice Age Trail (corpse flowers?)
Flowers on the Ice Age Trail (corpse flowers?)
Another beautiful day hiking.  Another beautiful day in the forest.  Feeling rejuvenated.  

 “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”   John Muir

Today this was true, I went for a walk in nature looking for wildflowers and found something else of interest - mushrooms.  Unexpected and a learning experience.  I now feel a little smarter.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve - Bluffs, Wetlands and more....

Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve

Hidden along the shoreline of Lake Michigan just south of Port Washington in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin is this great little nature preserve - the Lion's Den Gorge.

Since I had just found out about this place a week ago, I was excited to get up today and bike there and do a little exploring.  Upon arriving at the park I locked up my bike and hit the trails.  This park has a nice trail system that will take you along the bluff line providing you great views of the bluff line and Lake Michigan.
Bluff Trail and a view of the bluff line along Lake Michigan at  Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Bluff Trail and a view of the bluff line along Lake Michigan
Less than a mile in on the Bluff Trail and you'll find a bridge that will take you over the gorge and to a set of stairs that will take you down to the lake shore.  I'm guessing the view from the bridge would be amazing in the spring when the snow is melting or after a good rain fall.  Today it was dry below, but still a pretty view.

The shoreline was a great place to find a log to sit on and eat lunch.  Sitting and listening to the waves crash on the shoreline is so relaxing.  It brings me back to the days I lived by the Atlantic Ocean.  I walked down the beach a ways watching the wave patterns and trying to catch some shots of the waves crashing on shore.
Waves crashing along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Waves crashing along the shoreline of Lake Michigan

Waves crashing along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Waves crashing along the shoreline of Lake Michigan
After wandering around for a while along the shoreline I decided to head up and explore the rest of Lion's Den Gorge.  Following the Gorge Loop trail through the forest I came to the Cedar Loop side trail.  It's a short little loop that walks through a small grove of cedar trees.  I then came back to the Lion's Den Trail and started walking back toward the parking lot.  This trail is wide and wheel chair accessible for those that need it.  Instead of following this trail which is away from the bluff line back to the parking lot, I took the Wetland Way trail and crossed back over to the Bluff Trail.  I wanted to make sure I had time to take in all the views that were offered while I was here.

Once this trail caught back up to the Lion's Den I took another side trip on the Waterfowl Walk and made a quick stop at the boardwalk viewing area to check out the Waterfowl Production Area.  It is an expansive wetlands area with lots of cattails.  And one little frog.

Waterfowl Production area via the Boardwalk Viewing Area at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Waterfowl Production area via the Boardwalk Viewing Area 

A frog trying to blend in at the Waterfowl Production area at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve
A frog trying to blend in at the Waterfowl Production area
After watching the frog for a little while, I hit the trail and headed back to my bike.  It was time to head out and back over to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail to bike back to Mequon and my car.  It was a great day for exploring this little gem of a nature preserve and I will definitely be back again.

Trip Stats:
Bike Ride from Mequon (Hwy 57/Mequon Rd) via the Interurban Trail / Ulao Parkway - 27.39 miles
Hiking at Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve - 2.55 miles
Trail Map of Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve

"I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness."  John Muir