Grand Canyon Sun Painting

It's taken me 62 years to get to the Grand Canyon, and now I'm wondering why it took so long. Seeing it for the first time as we cycled along the South Rim, I was naturally awed by its vast expanse, the colors of the strata, its depth and the unearthly rock formations. Each turn gave us a different perspective, new views to behold. But it paled in comparison to what happened when the sun worked its magic on the canyon.

Near sunset, we toted our cameras and tripods to the overlook at Yavapai Point. It was already crowded with people, both photographers and those there just to bask in the view. Although most had already staked out their spots, we had no trouble finding a good vantage point as we planned to shoot in the opposite direction. While the sun performed its light tricks in the sky producing brilliant orange and red hues, to us the real display was on the canyon rocks. The further the sun sank the greater the glow on the peaks before us. That was the real show.

Grand Canyon sunset 1
Grand Canyon sunset 2

Morning brought a repeat performance. We returned to the same spot, first selecting an East facing view to watch the sun come up. It was more beautiful to watch than what I could capture with my camera. As soon as it crested the horizon, we skedaddled to another position to look West. As the sun advanced in the sky, increasing sections of the canyon were illuminated.

Grand Canyon sunrise 1
Grand Canyon sunrise 2

When the light began to wane, I set out on another tour of the canyon. What better place for my morning run than along the paved Rim Trail? Covering five miles out and then back again, I had beautiful views to spur me on. Both the 7,000 foot elevation and some steep sections of trail took their toll, but I had the perfect excuse to stop and catch my breath while snapping photos along the way. I can't think of many more picturesque runs I have done in my life.

Grand Canyon Rim Trail 1
Grand Canyon Rim Tail 2
Grand Canyon Rim Trail 3
Grand Canyon Rim Trail 4

We haven't even been here a full day yet, and already I think we have seen the best the Grand Canyon has to offer. The rest will be pure gravy.

 

Sandhill Crane Capital of the World

Kearney signIt’s a pretty audacious claim. But we were due to travel during the migration season and Kearney, Nebraska was not far from our route south. Rich the birder was naturally interested. And I was assured by others that even I would find it fascinating. How could we resist?

Over 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population funnels through Nebraska then fans out to the northern breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. They stop along the Platte River for several weeks to rest and build up their body fat before continuing their journey. At the Audubon Center in the Rowe Sanctuary, they report that the count for March exceeds 460,000 cranes to date.

The cranes spend the day feeding in farm fields throughout the flat countryside. It is at dawn and dusk that they fly between the fields and the river, filling the sky with clouds of birds grouping and regrouping in ever changing clusters and V-formations. It is a noisy process, as their cries fill the air in a roughly melodious symphony. Seeing the birds without hearing them is only half the experience.

Our first attempt to witness this aerial display is at dusk. I pile on my vest over more fleece, top it with a down jacket and add Gore cycling gloves, wool socks and hiking boots. Walking out to an old railroad bridge over the Platte River we find it already populated with other heavily clad birders sporting binoculars and cameras with lenses of unbelievable proportion. I stop between the metal side walls that shield me from the bitter wind while Rich goes out to claim a prime photography spot in the wide open span of the bridge.

The sun is low in the sky, lending a pink and red glow to the low hanging clouds. We wait for the birds to fly in front of the sunset and come in for a landing on the river. But they don’t. Clusters of cranes fly overhead, and there are undulating swarms in the distance. All heading to a more attractive spot downstream.  A lot of good-natured bantering goes on among those of us huddled on the bridge, taking the lack of luck in stride as the birds pass us by. Then one by one the birders peal off. Tomorrow will be another opportunity.

Believe it or not, I am the one who insists we try again at sunrise. Rich is disheartened by the dreary sky, but what is the point of being here without seeing the sandhill cranes I argue. By the time we work our way toward the river, we can see huge numbers of cranes already in flight. Situated on a dirt road adjacent to farm fields with brown remnants of crops, the birds come to us. They fly in from all directions, swooping and swirling. Sometimes they settle in the field momentarily then rise again in great volumes. Flocks of birds crisscross in the sky traveling in opposite directions, only to have one group do an about face and follow the others. The crowded acrobatics over our heads are all the more amazing for the lack of collisions that would seem inevitable; the cranes have their ballet down to perfection. And of course, it is all accompanied by honking overhead.

I leave the bird photography to Rich’s superior skills. His video best captures the experience.

Meanwhile my lens is trained on the photographer to lend the personal view.

Rich photographing sandhill cranes Rich watching sandhill crane migration

By the time the action dies down we can say we’ve seen the sandhill crane phenomenon. This time it truly lends credibility to the world capital claim.

Click here for additional videos on Rich’s blog.

Touring Again

We’ve been all over the map – literally.  The idea is to get out of town during “muck season” and do some traveling.  Each time we bring up Google maps, we come up with a new destination.  But we finally landed on the SouthWest – Santa Fe and the south rim of the Grand Canyon it will be.

It feels good to to dig out my cycling gear.  Although Rich has been out on his bike several times in the last month, I have yet to put foot to pedal.  But my bike has been in for a much needed tune-up, and many dollars later I am assured that it is back in top notch condition.  Just wheeling it around I get excited about riding it again.

Between the mountains and the desert, there will be a wide range of temperatures.  To a Northlander, it all looks balmy.  But my practical side dictates that I still bring my warmest cycling jacket, my Gore Tex booties and heavy gloves.  It always feels colder whizzing along on a bike.  No sense in getting chilled.

My extensive packing list details exactly what I need for a bike tour, and I know where everything fits into my panniers.  The only problem is that this time I’m packing a suitcase.  We’re cycling, yes, but only day jaunts.  This is actually a road trip.  By car.

The expansiveness of the space available to me invites excess.  Surely I can fit another outfit in my suitcase.  There should be plenty of room to throw in an extra pair of shoes.  I see no reason why I can’t bring my laptop.  I can’t decide which jacket is better, so I’ll just bring both.  Rich won’t need much room, will he?

I’m a little nervous about the car ride.  The undeniably perfect part of bike touring is getting exercise while traveling.  Not so being a passenger.  Knitting doesn’t burn many calories.  And the scenery races by so quickly.  It’s going to require a mental adjustment.

Once bike touring was foreign to me.  Now I can’t imagine travel any other way.  We’re off touring again but our bikes are only an accessory on the back of the car.  What a novel thought.

 

Just Press Send

book-coverWorking on my book definitely has its ups and downs.  I was really on a roll for a while.  Cycling stories were accumulating quickly, and it felt like good progress.  I could whip out a vignette each time I sat down, and I thoroughly enjoyed reliving each one of those days of cycling.  But I couldn’t see where it was going.

Time out for research.  Time to do a little studying up on what makes a good memoir.  What makes a compelling read.  How others before me have done it.  Then back to writing.  Progress feels slower now, but somewhat more focused.  Or that’s what I tell myself.

There is no doubt this is a long haul project.  So I have decided on some shorter term goals.  I am aiming to submit a story to a magazine each month, preferably one of my finished chapters.  The idea is not a new concept.  Even before I started my book, I envisioned targeting new publications and pitching my work.  But I always chickened out in the face of writing that query letter.  The process was intimidating.  The odds felt daunting.  The one time I did follow through, I received a prompt rejection.  It wasn’t that failure that stopped me from trying again – the editor was kind enough to point out how I had missed the mark on the magazine’s audience.  And he was right.  He did me a favor in guiding my future submissions.  I just couldn’t get up the gumption to put in the effort again.

But today I gave it another try.  I found a cycling magazine that looked like a good fit, read dozens of stories from prior issues and cooked up two ideas that I thought would intrigue their readers.  A short email exchange with the editor was encouraging so on the strength of that I went into action.  I pulled together summaries of my proposed stories and compiled samples of photographs, maps and writing experience.

Naturally, all this took time away from actually writing my book.  I’m not sure if this was actually a diversionary tactic or productive work.  Time will tell if it is rewarding or discouraging.  Helpful or just a detour.  It’s all a big learning curve to me.  For now, I can still hope.  I just pressed Send.

 

The North Shore Gift

We made the reservation weeks ago. A mid-winter weekend at Naniboujou Lodge is a treat in itself, but Mother Nature threw us a curve ball that made it picture perfect. As cross-country ski enthusiasts and lovers of winter, we cringed when we saw the forecast for continuous days in the 40s. But as visitors to the North Shore, we reveled in constant blue skies and sunshine with real warmth.

We put skiing at the top of our agenda, knowing the snow conditions were likely to suffer through the weekend. A morning ski at Oberg Mountain gave us beautiful soft snow before it got too soft and sticky.Rich and Molly XC skiThe harbor in Grand Marais sparkled in the sunshine, and the sun melted enough of the ice and snow for me to make it most of the way out to the lighthouse. It was so warm at the Java Moose that customers took their coffee drinks outside to bask in the Adirondack chairs. Could this really be mid-February?Grand Marais lighthouseNaniboujou Lodge was a lovely oasis. The rock beach was exposed and waves crashed onto the shore. Its deliberate lack of wifi and cell service was a fine excuse to read and relax in the quiet sunroom. And because they offer only package deals in the winter, we feasted morning and evening on fine meals in the colorful dining room. What’s not to like about that?

Naniboujou LodgeA trip to the Pigeon River, right on the Canadian Border, necessitated a walk up to High Falls. The warm weather had released sections of ice over the waterfall, giving us a view of the rushing water. It was easy to stop and look around amid the din of the falls in the mild temperatures.High FallsThe Witch Tree was nearby, and Rich knew how to find it. So we made a trek through soft, wet snow to its sacred location. There were signs informing us of its significance to the Ojibwe people, and asking us to remain silent and refrain from smoking. But there was a good platform from which to view the tree from a respectful distance. I’d seen many photos of the tree before, but never actually laid eyes on it in person.Witch TreeThe afternoon sunshine lured me outside once more. Judge Magney State Park was just across the road, and I followed the hiking trail up the Brule River. It was pretty easy going for the most part, with well packed snow. But inclines were slick and the 175 steps down to the middle falls required careful balancing on the narrow exposed wood on the edge of each step. The water shot forcefully out from under the ice at the falls and disappeared again, leaving a fine mist in the air. Devil’s Kettle proved to still be ice covered. If only I’d known, I would have spared myself the hairy climb and slipping down the treacherous slope that led to it. But it was so nice out, I was happy to prolong the hike.Middle FallsRich preferred seeking photo spots for the beautiful sunrises over the lake and starlit nights.  He obviously does it well.Sunrise over Susie Islands
This weekend was a gift from our son Carl and his bride Chelsea.  We loved their selection of Naniboujou Lodge, and the unending blue skies that accompanied our visit made it even more memorable.  Thank you!

The Year of my Book

It’s been rumbling around in my head for some time now.  Having progressed from blog to magazine stories, might the next step be to write a book?  There is no denying it is the ultimate writing accomplishment.  And I rarely begin something without going all the way.  This would be the marathon of writing.

Through the course of several memoir writing classes and workshops, I’ve pondered several topics.  It was only last fall that the idea crystallized.  And suddenly it was so obvious.  I would write about our cycling trips.  Between my blog posts, detailed journals, photographs and Rich’s trip reports I have a wealth of material.  My passion for the adventures will fill in the rest.

Feeling a bit timid about the idea, not to mention being a complete novice, I hesitated to mention it to anyone much less start the project.  So I set my sights on a writing retreat.  I would be spending Thanksgiving week with my son Carl and his wife Chelsea in Milwaukee.  With three full days to myself while they were at work, I had the perfect opportunity to dedicate myself to writing.

Sinclair Lewis tableCarl was the one who delivered the ultimate push.  He reminded me that their dining room table, which he inherited from his Grandpa Hoeg, once belonged to Sinclair Lewis.  What better place to begin my writing?  That did it.  I assembled my resources and notes online in preparation for the trip.  In the quiet household, I brewed myself a big mug of hot coffee.  I fired up my laptop and sat down at the famed table.  And began.

Molly and Rich near PerceBy the end of my three days, I had several short chapters written.  I could feel this book.  I knew my intended audience, and what I wanted to give them.  In my collection of stories, I will convey the good, the bad, the ugly and the funny about our version of cycle touring.  It should satisfy the curious.  Inform the wanna-be’s.  And entertain those with a travel bug.  For now it will be known as America at 12 Miles an Hour.

Clearly I have a long way to go.  A lot more writing to do.  A ton of learning, editing and selling. Even just admitting my goals here makes me feel vulnerable.  But if I don’t give it a try, I’ll never know if I can do it.  So far, I’m enjoying the challenge and reliving all the memories from the 10,000 miles Rich and I have toured via bicycle.

If my blog posts are sparse, now you know why.  My writing is focused elsewhere.  No matter what ultimately becomes of it, 2017 is the year of my book.

 

Grammy Jammies times 4

The tradition was reborn six years ago. Just as I made matching pajamas for my own children each year for Christmas, I began sewing slipper jammies for my first grandchild. As each new addition enters the fold, I increase production. The top sizes grow larger each year, and I wonder how long the oldest will still want to wear footie jammies. But I’m tickled that at age 6 1/2, my Grammy jammies are still popular.

Grammy with Kennedy grandkidsAs I commenced sewing for this seventh round, a new grandchild was on the way. Soon a cousin would join the three siblings. It seemed unlikely that the baby would arrive by Christmas, but it would be a shame to exclude her from the tradition merely for making an early entrance. Hence the first Grammy bunting was delivered.
Grammy JammiesAlthough even this newborn size swamps little Maren it feels good to see her initiated into the tradition. And should she grow quickly, I eked out one more set with proper footies for her in a 3 month size.
Grammy and Maren in buntingBy now I know this sewing pattern really well and have it in every possible size. I’ll be making my Grammy jammies as long as the babies keep coming. If the current trend continues, that will keep me busy for quite a while.