Love those Lupine

Bluebonnets of TexasNot being much of a gardener, I find wildflowers especially appealing.  They voluntarily spring up along the roadside, in the woods and wherever they find a hospitable habitat.  No cultivating required.  This spring we planned our whole bike tour around the bluebonnets of Texas, and reveled in the seas of blue we found populating the Hill Country.  The petite Molly in Bluebonnetsspiky plants were as irresistible as they were attractive.  We never grew tired of seeing them.

That was in early April.  At the time, northern Minnesota was steeped in mud season, not even close to spring yet.  But that was actually to our benefit, because we were able to experience spring all over again when we returned home in mid-May.

Lupine near the North ShoreWith the arrival of June came the return of one of our favorite wildflowers, the lupine.  These tall spiny flowers grace the North Shore, mainly in shades of purple with occasional pink and white blossoms sprinkled in between.  It’s no accident that they bear a strong resemblance to the bluebonnets – those Texas beauties are actually of the “genus Lupinus” so belong to the same plant family.  What I find especially humorous is that in this case the Minnesota version far bigger than that of Texas.  While bluebonnets grow to be 12-24 inches tall, our lupine reach 1-4 feet high.  Not everything is bigger and better in Texas!

Molly with lupine in our yardAlthough technically considered an invasive species, and therefore shunned by purists, we chose to introduce lupine to the natural (read “wild”)  Lupine in our yardlandscape of our yard.  Rich painstakingly harvested seeds last fall and sowed them among our grasses.  This spring they actually came up, and the initial blossoms are now gracing the view from our windows.  The hope is that they will increase and multiply, some day yielding our own personal field of purple rocket flowers.  Whether large or small, Texas or Minnesota, we love those lupine.

 

 

Chasing RAAM

Race Across America. We would never have heard about RAAM if it hadn’t been for a rain storm and some great hosts on our cycling trip. Stan and Misti insisted we stay a second day to wait out the storm, then entertained us with a delicious dinner as as watched a cycling documentary. Bicycle Dreams was captivating, following the thrill, pain, determination and tragedy that the cyclists endured as they raced across the country in a mere 10 days. Cycling day and night with little sleep, encountering temperature ranges from frigid to desert conditions, supported by dedicated teams and even medical professionals, they pushed their bodies to the limit.

RAAM map of cyclistsIt was pure coincidence that we happened to be in St. Louis just months later when the race was to pass through the area. We couldn’t resist this unique opportunity and we set out to see the race. Thanks to a race app, we could see the locations of the racers on a map as they advanced, and toted our own bikes to the route. While we’d hoped to see a number of cyclists, only the leaders were nearing the Washington MO time station, so we targeted rider #431 in third place, Anders Tesgaard from Denmark.

Doing the math, we started cycling about 25 miles in front him and calculated that we should meet up in about 45 minutes. It was exciting knowing we were cycling the actual race route, and kept constantly scanning the stretch ahead to spot the cyclist and support van. The further we went, the more the excitement grew. Would he be around the next corner? Will we see him over the next horizon?

Anders in LinnOur plan had been to stop and set up shop with our cameras in advance. But the town of Linn got in the way. We knew we had to be minutes away from the encounter as we rushed to get to more scenic countryside. Then suddenly, there he was! As we rounded a corner to descend a steep hill, the sudden jerk of Rich’s head gave me a moment’s warning. It was just enough to stop and pull out my camera to take some hasty shots. Rich called out “Go Anders!” and the astonished cyclist turned to give us a grateful grin as he arduously completed the uphill climb. Since the race is virtually unknown, and cheering sections non-existent, we figured our personalized cheers had to count for a revitalizing shot of adrenaline.

Quickly crossing the road, we reversed direction to follow in his wake. The town’s congestion seemed to mitigate his progress somewhat, and we were able to keep the van in our sights through that stretch. But once he reached open country again, Anders quickly lost us. How humbling, that after we’d covered a mere 10 miles we could be so easily outpaced by a cyclist who was on his sixth straight day of nearly non-stop cycling over 1800 miles!

We were nearly back to the car when I was surprised to spot the crew again. There was the support van on the side of the road, Anders snoozing under a tree. He does this, the crew explained – taking only about 1 1/2 hours to sleep at night, Anders would snatch brief naps during the day. We stood by to watch as he quietly retrieved his bike, consulted with his team members and returned to the road. Soon far ahead of us once again.Anders at his rest stop

It wasn’t too hard to catch him one last time with the car. We pulled ahead to get some final photos of Anders cycling, and were rewarded with a small wave. We couldn’t help but feel the thrill of being part of a RAAM rider’s journey.

Anders wavingAt the end of the day, the race drew us back once more. After seeing 5th place cyclist Henning Larsen on the road, we misjudged where he would turn and lost him. It turned out to be a fortuitous flub, as we chased him down at the Washington time station where we could observe more of the logistics of the race. Henning was already there, flanked not only his support van but two RVs filled with additional equipment and personnel. While he was checked over by his medical team, changed clothes, was shaved and took a short rest, we visited with Vicki, a volunteer. Henning at time stationArmed with a Danish flag (yes, he was another Dane!), pom-pom and cowbell, she dedicates 7×24 hours of the entire race to time station duties. But her passion is cheering on these amazing racers. She was full of fascinating tales and details of the race from her years of involvement.

By the time Henning left the time station it was fully dark. The night brought some relief from the heat and hopefully lighter traffic. And he would cycle on, 1100 miles yet to go. In an air conditioned car, with our bikes strapped on back, we headed for a soft bed in a motel. We were done chasing RAAM and our brief brush with some amazing athletes.Molly at the time station

What are the odds?

It was a month ago that we decided to do a cycling trip in Wisconsin. Having just returned from St. Louis in early May, the thought of repeating that long drive again in June for a family wedding was, well, not the most appealing. The solution? Stop and bicycle, of course!

Molly looking out over the Wisconsin River

Rich picked the route, and since he does 99% of the planning for these adventures and is very good at it, I tend to trust his work and show up when the time comes. In my defense, I did ask him where we were going, but I got only a vague answer. I probably asked when he was preoccupied with editing his bird photos. I should know better. By the time we left, I knew we were going to cycle along the Wisconsin River.

Meanwhile, our two sons decided to meet up for a weekend of canoeing. Since Erik lives in Minneapolis and Carl is in Milwaukee, they chose somewhere in Wisconsin halfway between them. They were about as communicative about their plans as Rich was. In fact, I first heard about their trip from our daughter.

It was only after completing our cycling trip that I thought to ask the boys where they were going. “Oh, somewhere on the Wisconsin River,” Erik replied. When I pried the details out of them, I had to laugh. They are about to cover a good share of the same stretch of river we just did!

The boys' entry and exit points circled in green

As Erik put it, the Wisconsin River must have been calling to the Hoegs this week. What are the odds of that happening?

 

Credit Card Cycle Touring

I thought that cycle touring reduced life to its simplest elements. But I've just discovered an even more streamlined way to cycle. Have credit card, will travel.

Rather than loading up our panniers and schlepping camping gear, for this tour we used only our day bags and brought minimal goods. A change of underwear, toothbrush and t-shirt and shorts were the basics. I threw in a cycling jacket, which I was glad to have for the cooler mornings. The bulk of the weight came from the camera, smartphone and tablet we each carried, and a few bike tools. That – and our credit card – was it.

Map of Wisconsin River tour

This approach is best suited to short trips, so Rich came up with a two-day out-and-back route along the Wisconsin River for this inaugural voyage. Starting in Bridgeport, near Prairie du Chien, our destination was Spring Green, 60 miles away. We had our choice of roads on each side of the river, and sampled some of each. While it would have been nice to make it a circle tour, we quickly learned that some roads were best avoided and others bore repeating. So we sashayed across the river and back.

Logistics were super easy. Staying at the Captain's Cove Motel in Bridgeport before and after the trip, gave us a place to leave our car. Not only that, but they allowed us to leave all our non-cycling gear in the motel room, and even offered to come get us should we have problems en route. True hospitality. At the other end, a motel room awaited us in Spring Green. In between, all we had to do was cycle.

Farm south of the river

As usual, Rich picked an excellent route. Not only was it scenic, but the roads were good for cycling. It helped that we were traveling mid-week, reducing the traffic. Although we followed the Wisconsin River, there were actually limited sections in which we could see the river. But even away from the water, we rode through beautiful farmland with prosperous looking farms and healthy green crops. This is called the “Driftless Area” because the glaciers missed it when moving through the rest of the Midwest. So it is largely rolling with long tree covered ridges and bluffs.

Molly at the Unique Cafe

With so little gear, packing and unpacking took only minutes. We were able to hit the road by 6:30 each morning with ease. Following our preferred style of cycle touring, we put in a good 20 miles before stopping for breakfast. Our favorite venue was the Unique Café in Boscobel, which was filled with memorabilia and still kept its old style charm. We were impressed with how vibrant all the towns were along the river, offering interesting places to explore or pretty parks where we happily rested.

Rich and the big hill

For the most part, the cycling was fairly easy. We had one big hill at the start of the first day, which I managed to block from my memory until our return. The second encounter was far worse, coming after 50 miles already and when the sun was very toasty. That was one long incline I was glad to complete. Rich liked it even less. My favorite stretches were on the small back roads. Armed with my favorite paper map in front me, I spotted a quiet alternate road on the way back. It stayed at the base of the hills and wound through quiet woods and farmland. That was a good find.

Our early starts and rapid progress gave us plenty of time to explore along the way. Naturally, Rich had his eye out for birds, but I was actually the one who spied the Trumpter Swan family. He still got the best photo, though.

Trumpeter Swans
No cycling trip would be complete without at least one “purple cow” – I made friends with this crazy cyclist along the way.
Molly and a crazy cyclist

I couldn't go to Spring Green without visiting something belonging to Frank Lloyd Wright. So while Rich rested in the motel room I set out on my bike once again. Not having the time for a house tour of Taliesin, I made do with the visitor center that he designed, and tried to get a glimpse of his house from the road.

Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center

And just to prove that we actually were near the river…

Along the Wisconsin River

We both agree, this was a most successful experiment. We brought just the right stuff, enjoyed cycling without heavily laden bikes, and appreciated the freedom. We're not ready to give up our long tours, but we'll be credit card touring again, for sure.

 

 

Recalculating…

What else would you want do for a 60th birthday but go on a 60 mile bike ride?  When my friend Myra proposed it, her birthday idea seemed totally reasonable.  Perfect, really.  Clearly we think alike.  It’s great having a friend as committed to fit activity and the outdoors as I am.

60th Birthday Cycling RouteIt was a great day for cycling.  Warm inland and as always, cooler by the lake.  We chose a route that started on Seven Bridges Road, going up, up, up to start and then leveling out once we were on top away from the lake.  The farther we went the less traffic we had on the roads, and we were able to cycle and talk as we usually do.  Puttering along was fine with us.

Once back down at the lake, we stopped for a bit of a break and refreshments at the Mocha Moose, always a favorite of mine.  Feeling good, we continued down the shore.  Until just past Knife River.  There we were stopped cold – Myra’s rear tire was flat.  She had no spare, and although I had one that would fit and the necessary tools, she was reluctant to even try to change it.  I couldn’t blame her, neither of us has done it on our own.  Surprisingly calm and unruffled by it all, Myra proposed the only solution.  I would bike the 13 miles home to get my car and return to rescue her.  Meanwhile, she’d continue walking her bike.

With a tailwind and mostly flat terrain I fairly flew down the Scenic highway.  The scenery barely registered in my brain as I zoomed along, and at one point I happened to notice was was going 18 miles an hour.  After all, I was on a mission.  As I approached the intersection with the expressway, with just a mile to go, there was Myra – cycling toward me!  Huh?  Someone had come along and offered to transport her home with her bike, and rather than stopping to inform me as they passed on the road, she told them, “Oh no, I want to freak her out!”  She certainly did.

Myra - on her second bikeIt never occurred to either of us to abandon our ride, in light of the circumstances.  Myra has a fleet of bikes, so she had just hopped on another one and we were good to go.  We headed back up the shore nearly to the scene of the flat and back again, to perfectly complete the 60 mile ride – for Myra anyway.  I logged a total of 71.

It wasn’t quite what we’d planned, but there was little harm in the outcome.  In fact, it delayed us less than an hour and solved the problem of where to cycle for our final 13 miles.  It just took a bit of recalculating.

Happy cyclists

Role Model Grandma

It’s been almost four years since my mom died.  And still the large boxes full of her photo albums lay untouched, squirreled away in our storage area.  It seemed such a massive task to go through them all and decide what to keep.  But finally this week I took the plunge.

Mom's photo albumsOpening the first box I reached in and pulled out the top album.  Before long, I was drawn into the pages, reliving memories as I perused each photo.  I feared that I would end up in the attic forever, pondering every last picture and feeling reluctant to let any of them go.  But in time I developed a process.  Soon I was surrounded by piles of photos, pulling them out of albums and picturing the delight of family and friends who would soon receive them in the mail.  Most were just fun photos, designed to solicit a smile or even better a good laugh at the memory of happy times past.

I was right to expect that it would be a big job.  But it turned out to be far more enjoyable and entertaining than I thought.  And I was left with some surprising takeaways.  Many of the albums were from the later years, after Dad died and Mom was on her own.  It was heartwarming to see just how prominently my family figured into Mom’s collection of photos.  There she was at all our kids’ major events.  She never missed a play, a concert, a graduation or any special occasion despite the miles between us.  And we made plenty of trips to visit her in Duluth.

Games with GrandmaBut this particular photo spoke to me more than any of the others.  I haven’t a clue what the game was.  It must have been invented by Karen, at about age three.  And Mom was right there in the thick of it.  Perfectly willing to lay on the floor, obviously enjoying the moment immensely.  It’s what Mom did best as a Grandma.  She got down and played with the kids.  She always had time for them.  And they held a special place in her heart.

I’m now a Grammy, with two and a soon-to-be third grandchild to treasure.  Little did I realize that within Mom’s photo albums lay a wonderful lesson.  I now know that I have the perfect role model for this special relationship.  And I’m taking the “play” message to heart.Molly and Ben playing Postman Dancing with Mya

My Civic Duty

I’ll admit it. When the envelope arrivedJury Summons I wasn’t thrilled.  In my 42 years of being eligible for jury duty I’d only received a summons once before.  Since it was just weeks before leaving for college, I didn’t have to serve.  This time there was no escaping it.

My first concern was the date.  I was being called to report the day before we were due to leave for a 6-week vacation.  But as it turns out, deferring my term of service was as easy as requesting an alternate date online.  Whew.

The first day was predictably chaotic.  There were numerous people to process, missing names, lost survey forms and mysterious other reasons to delay progress.  As expected, it was a lot of sitting around.  It didn’t take long to find out that most people were not thrilled to be there, and it was easy to succumb to the general aura of discontent.  I actually had it easy, being retired.  But that didn’t stop me from obsessing over my long to-do list and that I would rather be at home tackling it.  However, I did make great progress on my cross-stitch project that day.

With a trial ready to start immediately, we did proceed to jury selection before once we completed our orientation.  That’s when it started to get interesting.  I was not chosen as one of the 22 potential jurors, but was required to sit in the galley throughout the remainder of the selection proceedings in case they had to replace anyone in the jury box.  Because of the nature of the trial, the process of questioning was extensive and thorough.  I found myself fascinated by the line of inquiries made by the judge and attorneys, trying to follow their reasons for asking the questions and how they would act upon the responses.  I also tried putting myself in the shoes of those being grilled.  How would I answer that question?  Would I be able to think quickly enough to articulate my position?  There were definitely times when I was glad not to be in the thick of it.

It took well into our second day before the jury was finalized.  So we all returned to the courtroom the following morning.  I felt like I was back at work again, making my lunch the night before, setting my alarm for close to 5am in order to get in a run before leaving, and allowing time to make my coffee and toast before leaving for my “job.”  It was shortly before 11am when the final jurors were selected, and I was off the hook – able to go home and resume my normal life.  For the time being, anyway.

Round two came the following week.  We arrived to find that there were two trials starting, a criminal and a civil suit.  This time my name was called for the criminal suit.  Fortunately, this case was less complex, so the jury questioning was not as intense and was completed more quickly.  By this time, I was quite enamored with the process.  My irritation had transformed into a desire to see it all the way through.  So I was actually pleased when I made it to the final set of jurors.

Juror BadgeWe were cautioned several times that real courtroom proceedings do not match what one sees on TV.  They even questioned jurors on whether they would be disappointed not to see the histrionics of television trial drama.  What I discovered was that it was all a very controlled and deliberate environment, that incorporated a great deal of respect.  In the two cases I was exposed to, I was very impressed by the lawyers and judges.  They worked hard and were very professional, yet I found them personable and they showed great consideration for the jurors both in our role and for our personal needs.  They also readily showed their human side, including numerous jibes at the paltry $10/day we were being paid.

Our case took only until mid-morning the next day to conclude.  It was then in our hands.  It’s a mighty responsibility to weigh the guilt or innocence of a man, and I wasn’t sure how I would react to doing that.  But with the law clearly laid out for us, along with guidelines for treating the evidence and testimony, we had a good process to follow.  There were unanswered questions, holes in the evidence and ambiguous bits to navigate.  And ultimately I could logically evaluate each component and support my decision.  Guilty.  Fortunately, my fellow jurors all came to the same conclusion.

After being dismissed, the judge came back to meet with us in the deliberation room.  I did not expect that, nor his candor and willingness to respond to any questions we had.  He explained some of the reasons behind certain procedures in the courtroom, and the roles each person played in the proceedings.  We were surprised to learn that the defendant was already in custody prior to the trial, which he said was deliberate.  They were very careful to hide that fact from us as it may have biased us to presume his guilt.

With that, I was free.  Having served on a trial, I no longer had to check the phone line each night.  I no longer had to report for service.  It felt like I was retiring all over again – suddenly my days were my own again!  And yet I was glad I had done it.  It was a good experience and well worth doing my civic duty.