We just got back from a 425 mile ride along the Wisconsin River, starting in the northeast corner of Wisconsin in Eagle River and ending in Prairie du Chien.  For seven days, we got to experience the beauty of the state –  from the lakes and woods in the north, to the agriculture and dairies, to the bluffs and the hills of the southwest.  What none of us were ready for was six days of riding in the rain.  Although it didn’t rain entire days, each day necessitated rain jackets and rain gear.  And after five consecutive wet days, this was the scene overnight in Baraboo –  shoes and clothes lined up on a gym floor hoping to dry out before morning.  But as luck would have it, it wasn’t really necessary because we woke to rain again on the sixth day.  Because of all the rain and storms, the Wisconsin River was over its banks and was roaring downstream –  an amazing sight to see.  The seventh day, our final day of riding, dawned with sunshine and blue sky.  Needless to say,  it was a treat to finish our ride without rain.

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Fall in the air 20150909_185659 StaatsThe winds have been from the south, bringing warm and summer-like temperatures into Minnesota.  But the days are shorter and nature is anticipating the change of seasons into fall.  Some of the trees have started the change in colors – a glorious outburst to the beauty of nature and autumn.  I was riding my bicycle on the Gateway Trail yesterday.   The sunshine was warm and I was breaking a sweat but the air didn’t have the fresh green smell of summer.  The path was littered with dried leaves that had already fallen, and they crackled as my bike tires ran over them —  reminding me of being a child and using clothespins to attach playing cards to my bike so they would snap through the spokes.  The sound was delightful and I found myself swerving to ride through the leaves on the trail.  Change is in the air.

Bicycling the Gateway Trail cp074731_StaatsAfter an unusually long hibernation, our bicycles have come out of storage and onto the roads and trails again.  Although the bikes adjust quickly, it takes a bit longer for us to get our riding legs back in condition.  We enjoyed two rides this weekend on the Gateway Trail.  Minnesota has wonderful biking and recreation trails, and the Gateway is one of my favorites.  This trail wanders from downtown Saint Paul, through the city, into the suburbs, and then out into the countryside passing farms, fields, lakes, and wetlands.  The trail has numerous  bridges that go over the main streets and roads, making it much safer for riders and drivers.  Built on an old railroad bed, it was the perfect trail for us to help acclimate back to riding form.  The weekend was a great reminder of how much I enjoy being on a bike, taking in the sounds and smells around me, and reveling in the trail and the physical exercise.

Last weekend I reached a goal I set for myself earlier this year – I completed 1,500 miles on my bike for the year.  From back in mid-March when the temperatures were cool and our legs weren’t ready, we’ve biked and journeyed through Minnesota and even across the state of Kansas.  We’ve seen prairies and wheat fields, lakes and flatlands, rain and wind, hills down and up.  Sadly some of my final miles this year have been ridden alone as my riding partner hasn’t been able to be on the bike.  But he was helping me along in all the important ways with his encouragement and support.  So last Sunday with a SSE wind of 14 mph+, I headed northeast on the Gateway Trail, then meandered on county roads with that tailwind behind me.  The final miles were north on the Sunrise Prairie Trail.  My wingman met me in the town of Stacy where I watched my bike odometer turn to 5,000 miles (yea!) and the culmination of 1,500 riding miles for this year.  My bicycle has brought me in contact with great people, amazing scenery, the best and worst of weather, a sense of accomplishment, and the most wonderful feeling of adventure as I cruise along on trails and roads.  The kid in me enjoys the freedom of riding and the adult in me appreciates the bounty of sights, sounds, and memories.  So this winter as the snow is piling up we’ll be planning our biking adventures and goals for next year.

With blue skies and perfect temperatures we headed north to the shores of Lake Superior.  We set out on our bikes on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail which parallels U.S. Highway 61 and has some of the most beautiful scenery in the state of Minnesota.  Although the bike trail will eventually run the full length of the North Shore, for now it is complete in sections.  We rode north from Gooseberry Falls State Park, through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, to the town of Beaver Bay a distance of about 14 miles.  The trail is anything but flat, with steep inclines because of the rock cliffs that line the shoreline of the lake.  Today the water was the most beautiful shade of blue, reflecting the clear and sunny skies above.  After an ice cream stop the return trip took us into a headwind, but the scenery and the downhill runs made the effort all worthwhile.  This section of Lake Superior is the closest I can come in the Midwest to seeing an “ocean” – the expanse is so large that there is no shoreline to be seen on the other side.  Just beautiful blue waters on a picture-perfect day all the way to the horizon.

As I set out on my bicycle early this morning the temperature was already in the 70’s and the air was thick and humid.  I was thinking about our recent 500-mile ride across Kansas and how this morning’s 20-mile ride wasn’t much in comparison.  All of the scenery across Kansas was new to me – the beauty of the plains and the rolling hills have left a mark on me, and yet today’s ride was going to be over city streets that I’ve ridden so many times before.  I set a goal to pay attention to the scenery and surroundings of today’s ride to see what I might find and experience.  As I headed east into the sun I knew there was a slight curve ahead where the cemetery trees would be shading the road, but I was amazed at the rays of sunlight piercing through the leaves amidst the haze of the humidity.  I continued on knowing that I’d be passing many lakes I’ve ridden by countless times.  I passed this scene, then turned around and went back to photograph.  In the quiet of the early morning two fishermen had a glass-like lake all to themselves — it reminded me of an old tourist postcard for the lakes of Minnesota.  I thought about sitting in the chair and watching them, but I suspected there might be more scenes waiting for me ahead.  I rode to a small prairie restoration area and was greeted by blooming butterfly milkweed and gray-headed coneflowers.  I passed a lake that we have fished on many times, yet today there wasn’t a boat in sight.  Instead there was flotilla of geese gliding quietly across the lake.  A mile further down the road and I spotted a shy doe grazing on the far side of a pond — close enough to the woods to be able to run inside if she felt threatened.  Feeling strong as I neared home I looked down and saw I was riding at 20 mph in a high cadence on a city street, much like the riding I’d enjoyed in the western flats of Kansas.  All the experiences of my ride today were ones that I could have easily passed by and not noticed, but the intention of seeing with fresh eyes had brought me an appreciation for what was here for me today, in this place, now.

After record-breaking heat this past week we finally cooled down a bit yesterday.  And with a Saturday evening with nothing to do we loaded the canoe on the car, grabbed our fishing rods, and headed out for some lake-time.  As we put in to the water the winds died down, and as sunset approached we knew we were in for a treat.  Our paddles whispered as they entered the water, the dragonflies were dancing over the surface, and we could glide over the lily pads in quiet.  I would fish, then stop and photograph.  I’d then put my camera away convinced that the sunset couldn’t get any better, only to pull it back out again.  It was a wonderful way to end the day –  the quiet of the lake and a mess of sunfish and crappies.  And when this morning dawned with quiet and calm too, I headed out early on my bicycle for a quick ride.  Like last night there was a great magic in the early hours.  The birds were awakening, there was little traffic, the wildflowers were blooming by the sides of the road, and my bike tires sailed smoothly across the pavement.  These truly are the “magic hours” and they make me appreciate all that is wonderful about this time and this place.