A Cycling Liberation Celebration

One of our first steps in planning a cycling tour is to establish a theme, give it a name and pick a logo.  In the past, the geographical location of our adventure has always been the focus.  Not so this time.  Our newest tourLiberation Tour Logo name is based on our life status.  Although for all practical purposes we have been empty nesters for several years, the marriage of our third and youngest child this summer has firmly established this rank.  With joyful wedding memories still vivid, we are embarking on our Liberation Tour.

Liberation Tour mapContinuing our propensity to follow shoreline, this trip will take us along the coast of the three northernmost Great Lakes – Superior, Huron and Michigan.  Taking advantage of our son Carl’s home in Milwaukee, we will depart from there and make our way by ferry over to lower Michigan.  We plan to travel the perimeter of the “mitten” with a foray into the UP to explore Mackinac Island, Whitefish Bay and Drummond Island.  When we return to Wisconsin, we hope to detour into Door County for our first visit to that scenic peninsula.

Per normal we have no detailed plans, only a vague route.  Daily distances and lodging will be decided the night before, based on terrain, weather conditions, sightseeing options and whim.  We haven’t done much research into how challenging (read “hilly”) this route might be.  Rich is convinced it will be flat.  Compared to Scotland, that’s bound to be true.  We look forward to a US tour once again, where we can follow our natural cycling rhythm minus any cultural differences.

Time and distance are pretty fluid.  The route is roughly 1250 miles, and we are allowing 4-5 weeks.  We’ve always had good luck cycling in September with fewer tourists on the road and still-mild temperatures.  And we are prepared for chillier days should we delve very far into October.  For someone who is normally highly scheduled, I look forward to the flexible nature of this trip.

Liberation Tour JerseyOur trademark custom jerseys have arrived.  The bikes are in the shop for their pre-trip tune-up.  I have my trusted detailed packing list.  It’s just a matter of dragging the panniers out of the closet and corralling all our gear.  The kids are well established in good jobs and happy marriages.  We’re ready for the Liberation Celebration to begin!

Letting Go

TownhouseWe haven’t lived there for four years.  Firmly established in Duluth, we use the townhouse only for brief visits to the Twin Cities.  Even our grandkids call it “Erik’s townhouse” as he’s been its primary occupant.  Now that he’s married, it’s time to sell.

It should be easy.  It never really became home to us, as we transitioned to Duluth within a year of buying it.  It carries no family history.  It doesn’t have any claim on our heartstrings. We don’t need any of its furnishings or personal possessions.  Crucial items made their way north long ago or been replicated there.  Clearing the place out should be straightforward.

Packing TownhouseAnd yet, it’s hard.  It’s not the physical work of packing things up and moving them.  It’s the decisions.  What to keep.  What to get rid of.

I thought we’d dealt with all that when we downsized from our family home to the townhouse.  True, that was a thorough house cleaning, sorting and tossing act.  We did divest ourselves of a great deal of paraphernalia that we had saved over the years just because we had the space for it.  But even then I deferred some decisions.  I squirreled things away to deal with later.  And later is now.

I’m pretty certain that this malady is confined to the female gender.  Rich is far more dispassionate about the whole business.  If it were up to him, he’d just clear the place out wholesale.  So it’s up to me to go through every item, agonize over what to do with the precious baby clothes, the matching Christmas outfits I made for our kids, the Easter eggs I decorated as a kid, the wedding gifts we no longer use but still carry memories of those who selected them for us.  That large oval portrait of great-grandma Julia.  It’s hard to part with family heirlooms that no longer fit our lifestyle or decor.  My efforts to will the kids into wanting them are fruitless.  I’m disappointed but not surprised.

The process is stressful.  “Are you still married?” a friend asks following one of our packing trips.  How did she know?  Nerves frayed, we snap at each other as boxes fill and piles mount for the U-Haul.  Sleep is fitful and I feel more tired than when training for a marathon.

Moving OutThey are only things.  I like the idea of simplifying and streamlining.  In theory.  But I’m grateful I don’t have to be there when the Empty the Nest service packs up and carries off the unwanted contents of the townhouse.  Seeing the place empty at the end of the day is not as hard.  And I console myself with the thought that they will re-purpose as many of the items as possible.  I’m glad to see the process completed, and focus on moving forward.

But I’ll be honest.  It’s still hard to let go.

Wedding Finery 2.0

Two sons.  Two summers.  Two weddings.  Two entirely different celebrations.  But the same flower girl and ring bearer for both.  And the same seamstress – me.

Each wedding clearly reflected the individual tastes of the respective brides (let’s be honest here, they do set the tone!).  As the plans unfolded this year, it became clear that Katie and Erik’s wedding would be a formal and elegant affair.  Glitter and sparkles also reigned.  It seemed only fitting to dress the little attendants accordingly.  I was up for the challenge, and Katie loved the idea.

Simplicity 1507 Mya dressI started with the flower girl dress. Eager to impress Mya with her finery, I showed her the pattern.  Big mistake.  She was excited all right.  “I want the purple dress!” she exclaimed.  What you have to understand is that 4-year-old Mya is very strong willed.  And doesn’t forget.  That phrase would haunt me up until the day of the wedding.

Materials for Mya's dressThe simple looking dress on the pattern disguised its complexity.  In addition to a silk skirt with an organza overlay, it also entailed a double-layer petticoat and lining underneath.  But it was well designed, and those additional features clearly distinguished it as a special dress.  The extra effort was well worth it.

The defining detail came about fortuitously.  Needing extra fabric to alter one of the bridesmaid dresses, there was enough left over for a sash to trim Mya’s dress.  That not only tied it perfectly into the wedding party, but gave the Sash and buckledress the zip it needed.  Struggling to get it to tie into a nice bow in the back, I turned to glitz and Hobby Lobby.  Using a diamond studded buckle and pin back, I fashioned a fitting anchor for the sash in the back of the dress.

Mya and Isabel's dressesIf one dress is good, two is even better.  Although not part of the wedding party, I saw no reason that baby sister Isabel should not match her big sister.

Next I turned my attention to 6-year-old Ben.  His attire was to be a suit that I carefully matched to the fabric and style of the rented tuxes for the groomsmen.  To be honest, I did briefly inquire as to the viability of renting a suit for Ben.  But the $200 cost quickly sent me back to my sewing machine with renewed determination.

I had made one tailored suit coat before, and relied on knowing that I had once mastered the required techniques.  I soon learned that sewing for little people presents its own challenges, creating the same level of detail on a much reduced scale.  Slacks with a fly front and side pockets was new to me, and went together quite nicely.  However, the trick came in scrunching the waist down to Ben’s skinny measurements.  With multiple try-on sessions and Ben’s patience, I finally got it right.

Ben's suit coatBen's pants

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glittery hair bows, tie, and pocket hankie completed the ensembles.  I finished all my machine sewing with only a few hand details left just over a week before the wedding.  And that night the big storm tore through Duluth and took out the power – for four days!  That was a close call.

Wedding morning, Mya dons her dress under protest at first.  But finally overcomes her objections when Katie whispers that she wants her to “look just like her” in a white dress.  Ben asks Daddy to get him dressed in the room with the groomsmen, and emerges looking just like the rest of the guys.  Isabel, wisely, is outfitted in her dress at the last minute.  And I’m swelling with pride at seeing them in their wedding finery for the second time.  Then I turn my attention to being Mother of the Groom.  It is, after all, Erik’s wedding day.

Molly with Grandkids at Wedding trimmed Ben and Mya before wedding trimmed Katie Erik Wedding Vows

A Metro Century Ride

We live in the beautiful wilderness of the cool Northland.  So why would we want to cycle 100 miles through the urban metropolis in the southern climes of Minnesota?  The answer is unclear, but Myra has her heart set on traversing the cycling trails across the Twin Cities.  I managed to fend off her desires last year, but ultimately succumb to her pleas.  We schedule our 5th annual Century Ride.

I should have saved myself the anxiety.  For every one of my arguments against the locale, we are delivered perfection.  Following a string of hot humid weather, storms blow through and the day dawns crisp and clear at 56 degrees, never climbing above a sunny 74.  We manage an early start and cross the city in the quiet of a Sunday morning, unencumbered by traffic.  When my rear tire suddenly blows only 16 miles into the Freewheel Bike Shopride, an angel appears in the form of a passing cyclist who generously helps me (read “does it for me”) change the tube.  Feeling nervous about the accompanying gash remaining in my tire, we discover the bike shop we passed just 2 miles back is opening in 5 minutes.  And to think we almost took a different route through town.

The best part of the trip is exploring the plethora of bike trails throughout the Twin Cities.  Mississippi River Locks from Ford BridgeStarting in Plymouth, we make our way into Minneapolis via the Luce Line Trail then onto the Midtown Greenway.  Reaching the Mississippi River, we travel many miles along its banks on the West River Parkway and Sam Morgan Regional Trail.  The splendid river views and gawking at the palatial homes keep us well entertained.

Downtown St. Paul presents the only area where we have to navigate city streets.  We had done our research and identified a viable route, only to discover that the main bike-friendly street is under construction.  But with a bit of dithering and the aid of Google Maps we identify a reasonable alternative, and survive the experience.

StillwaterOur eastern destination and the mid-point of our ride is Stillwater, and those 20 miles are sweet.  Three more trails take us there, the Bruce Vento Trail, Gateway State Trail and Brown’s Creek State Trail.  Each is more rural than the next, with Brown’s being the newest trail with a delightfully smooth surface.  Coasting downhill the final two miles into Stillwater is easy going, and the return climb back up is barely perceptible.  While not crowded, we share the trail with groups ranging from hard core cyclists to families out enjoying the beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Photo Aug 21, 2 11 58 PMWe reverse our route for the return trip, although there are several opportunities to vary the journey.  And everything looks different when viewed from the opposite direction.  Naturally, we take time out for a DQ break.  With nearly 1.5 hours lost to my flat tire and the putsy time it took to cross St. Paul, we don’t finish our trek until just after 7pm.  But on such a beautiful day we aren’t complaining.

Our final distance is 106.7 miles.  With bits and pieces of other trails in between the main ones, we covered 12 different bicycle trails.  And only 4 miles were on the city streets of St. Paul.  Even I have to admit, it was a darned good metro century ride.

Century Ride across the Twin Cities and back

Farewell Towering Pine

It's been almost four weeks since the storm raged through Duluth. Waking in the early morning hours to blinding lightning, constant thunder and howling winds did little to prepare us for the devastation that we would find when dawn came. And even then, we couldn't even imagine the true extent of the damage.

Trees down across driveway

We were among the fortunate. With just three moderate sized trees down in our yard, only our driveway was temporarily blocked. But heartbreak was only a short distance away. Our neighbors lost several venerable old trees, including our very favorite pine tree that dominated the skyline and was perfectly framed in our window. In its place we saw only jagged shards where the trunk had snapped, sending the majestic tree down into the woods below.

Our favorite pine tree

A bike ride around the neighborhood revealed further ruins. Everywhere I looked there were downed trees – in yards, on houses, clobbering fences, blocking streets, dragging down power lines. The strangest site was a tree that had been launched 50 feet across a yard to pierce the roof of the house and exit through the end wall. And yet, the apples on the tree below had its produce blown to the ground in the opposite direction.

That tour was early in the morning, and already people were out working. Neighbors helping neighbors, city crews acting quickly to reopen roads, strangers swapping stories. The camaraderie would continue throughout the lengthy power outage that ensued, as we all learned to cope with being off the grid and generous offers of help came from friends outside the “war zone.”

By now, many of us have returned to life as usual. But the landscape is forever changed, and the massive clean-up effort continues. Sometimes that comes in unusual forms. And I shouldn't have been surprised when our neighbors topped that list. Enterprising, outdoorsy, optimists and just plain good folk, they turned their misfortune into opportunity. She calls it “making lemonade.” He calls it building a sauna.

The big red portable lumber mill appeared on the lawn early in the morning. And so did a couple of operators. Soon the trunk that was once that big old pine tree made it onto the bed of the mill, and the cab passed back and forth turning it into planks and posts. It made for marvelous entertainment as I sipped my morning coffee on our deck.

Next door lumber mill

One of these days, when the sauna heats up and steam releases the pine smell, that giant of a tree will be immortalized. It seems very fitting. For in the process of cutting it into logs, they managed to count its rings. 240. It started growing the very year our country began. I am in awe.

I always knew it was a special tree. I just didn't realize how special. It took a mighty storm with winds over 100 mph to bring it down. I will miss its dominating presence in our window. But I'm glad to live next door to folk who are engineering a way for it to live on. Farewell old towering pine.

 

Artful Cycling

Two Harbors Art Bike Ride MapThe weather is definitely not what I envisioned.  Instead of clear blue skies and sunshine, the world is shrouded in fog with dense clouds.  But the radar map shows no storms, so I stay the course despite the conditions.  If I waited for good weather, I’d miss out on a lot of adventures.

My plan is to combine a favorite 50-mile cycle route with friendship, coffee and art.  The first leg of my journey is my inland route to Two Harbors.  With each turn of my pedals, the air gets wetter and my visibility shrinks.  My glasses further obscure my view by collecting mist and drips from my helmet.  I eventually abandon them, figuring a bit of blur is preferable to near blindness.  But it’s calm, not raining and the temperature is very comfortable for cycling.  And I love the quiet of an early morning ride.

My first destination is a new combination cyclery/coffee shop, SpokeNGear.  Joan is already there waiting for me and within moments, I am convinced that the advance publicity doesn’t do it justice.  The modern décor of the coffee shop is uncluttered and inviting, flanked by soaring windows overlooking the woodlands.  Anyplace with good scones is a winner in my book, and I can truly taste the lavender in my raspberry and lavender scone that accompanies my latte.  An hour passes quickly as we visit in the welcoming space.  Before leaving, a staff member from the bike shop graciously tightens some bolts on my bike that the Northland’s bumpy roads had worked loose.

Two Harbors Art FairCoffee and friendship established, it’s time to move on to art.  The Art Fair in Two Harbors is sandwiched between local businesses on the main street.  Numerous booths offer a wide variety of crafts and art, and it is always more fun to browse with a friend.   We complete our circuit with our wallets in tact, but enriched by the visual displays of talent and each other’s company.

Miraculously, by then the gloomy morning has been transformed into the sunny day I visualized. With the sun warming the slight wind off the lake, I fly down the Scenic Highway.  The scenery is classic North Shore with the deep blue lake contrasting against the greenery of the trees and the rugged rocky shoreline.  I can’t help but feel the good fortune of living where we are surrounded by such beauty.

Brighton Beach Art FestivalJust a mile from home and with my odometer already registering 51 miles, I reach Brighton Beach and the Art Festival.  There I find booths spread out along the shoreline, featuring 40 selected artists.  Having the Big Lake as the backdrop enhances the appeal of the art.  It invites lingering, considering, and in my case, yes, buying.

It’s a good thing I didn’t cave in to the whims of the weather gods.  It’s the sunny part of the day that will stick in my mind.  Along with the coffee, the friendship and the beauty of the shore.  Art is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case it was picture perfect cycling.

Feuding with a Loon

Disputed watersIt’s all out war. A territory dispute between me and a loon. The area in conflict is the patch of water between the reeds in front of our cabin. I claim it’s my swimming hole. The loon insists it’s his fishing ground, and perhaps his young family’s hangout. I have history on my side. Twenty six years of morning swims. He has fright tactics on his. And they are terrifyingly effective.

I’m not sure who was more surprised. Me or the loon. As I turned away from the reeds to swim another lap across the opening, the water suddenly exploded. To my immediate right the loon launched into his ritual warning dance. His eerie cries pierced the air and his displeasure was highly evident. The normally enthralling display took on a whole new perspective at close range. Far too close for comfort.

Molly chased by loonSeeking to quell the nascent fury I quietly turned away, breast stroking back toward the cabin. Attempting invisibility. Looking to put distance between me and the frantic bird. But he wasn’t so easily appeased. While his antics ceased his mission persisted, and he followed me in toward shore while continuing to holler. It wasn’t until I fully conceded defeat, nearly reaching the dock that he relented. Round one to the loon.

His behavior implied a baby loon in proximity. And I assumed my timing was particularly poor. So I thought little of taking a refreshing dip later in the hot afternoon. I will admit to scanning the waters for said loon or his family prior to immersing myself in the lake, but the coast was clear. The only loon in sight was well out in the middle of the lake. My laps proceeded and I regained my confidence only to have it shattered once again. Catching me on the opposite side of the channel, the loon repeated his performance. This time I knew I was a direct target, to have drawn him from such a distance. Forget the breast stroke, I made a hasty front crawl retreat with the loon in hot pursuit. Round two to the loon.

It’s quite a standoff. While I refuse to admit defeat, I confess to curtailing my swimming activities. No sauna for me last night, or swim under the prolific stars. I did boldly reclaim my ground for my morning swim, but only under the watchful eyes of a dock full of family members scanning for loons. As soon as one began motoring it’s way over from a distance, they sounded the alarm. I didn’t hesitate before returning to the safety of the dock. Round three, a draw.

It isn’t over yet. Swimming is my greatest love at the cabin. And I do so love the loons. Just not at the same time. My hope is that by our next visit the baby loons will have a greater range, and they will have moved on from my swimming hole.  I’m not particularly fond of feuding with a loon.

Loon Family

Loon family, taken by Rich Hoeg

(Click here to visit Rich’s blog for more photos of the loons.)