Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's my birthday and I'll bike if I want to...part deux

Post ride meal at The Noble in Milwaukee
As I quietly left Carolyn and Tristan's apartment early this morning, in the Walkers Point neighborhood of Milwaukee, WI, I noticed a small piece of paper taped to the door.  It read "Work hard, but don't forget to live."

Taking my time on the Glacial Drumlin trail to Milwaukee

I found myself there not by chance.  Consider it a wormhole, named "crazy idea", which bored deep into my brain.  Only by seeing this idea through to the end would I have been able to spackle that worm hole shut.  You see, I was meant to drive to Milwaukee for a photo shoot this weekend.  When the photo shoot got postponed, and I still wanted to head East, I just couldn't bear making the trip in a stinky car.  I've biked to MKE before--but it wasn't the distance that made me second guess myself.  Prior to pedaling out there, I had battled one hell of a nasty head cold.  One where I called in sick to work and was flat on my back, doped up with medicine for a couple days.  Being the type who only gets truly sick once every couple years, I wasn't a happy camper.  When I finally had enough energy to stand, I stomped my feet like a tantrumy child saying "But I'm not supposed to get sick.  This isn't fair.  It's my birthday week and the last big week of summer.  I WANT TO BIKE!"  Of course all this complaining was interjected with a disgusting hacking cough and mad dashes to try and find kleenex.  But I digress.

Saying goodbye over beers
Thursday night, in a slightly boozed state of mind from a friend's going away party, I made my choice.  I was going to ride to and from MKE in a matter of a day and a half.  Leave pieces of lung by the side of the road--why not.  Start sweating at 7:45am in what I could only think was still a reminant fever (it turned out to be over 90 degrees on Friday...and humid)--sign me up.  To my husband's quiet disapproval--he knows me well enough now that I am mule like and my heels would only dig in deeper if he tried to stop me--I took off on my Spacehorse.

The only plans I had were a) get to MKE in one piece before thunderstorms hit, and b) visit with great people.  Everything else I was leaving the door open to.  I chose to take the trails one way and the roads heading back.  I find out and back routes mind numbing (know I sometimes greatly appreciate this), and I felt the need to shake things up and test my map reading skills.

It had been awhile since I had done any long miles via crushed limestone trail.  Of course I forgot how slow going it would be.  A trip by road bike to MKE would have only taken about 6 hours, maybe less depending upon the wind.  Instead, the long slog, with temps in the 90's, and two panniers, took almost 8.  Granted, I did stop umpteen million times to refill water bottles (I downed eight of them and still only had to pee once), I got turned around in Waukesha...again, and to make matters worse, it was the 110th Harley Davidson Anniversary gathering which meant over 100,000 more loud people in the area making it nearly impossible to cross major roads on the New Berlin Trail.  When I finally hit 124th and Greenfield, I ditched the idea of trying to piece together the "under construction" Hank Aaron Trail and just b-line it downtown.  With thunderheads building and the promise of good food dangling in front of me like a carrot, I geared up into my big chain ring--something I rarely do on my touring bike--and hammered down Greenfield, then down National, all the way to Carolyn and Tristan's bike shop, Coast In Bikes.

One look from Carolyn and she knew I was dreaming of a shower.  My legs were so grimy it looked like I hadn't shaved in years.  A handmade map leading me to her apartment was the best thing since sliced bread.  Somehow, I managed not to rush, and instead, enjoy the sites and sounds of Walkers Point.  This neighborhood is a beautiful mix of cultures, but is home to primarily a Hispanic population.  Riding down the streets brought me back to Pilsen in Chicago, Lake Street in Minneapolis, sections of Hartford in Connecticut and so much of LA.  I tend to love Hispanic neighborhoods almost as much as Chinatowns and make a point to visit them whenever I travel.  Storefront signs reading "Lavanderia" and "Panaderia" are somehow, in a weird way, comforting.  In fact, after my shower and a quick bite to eat, I couldn't help but walk around in search of fruit, and hopefully churros.  I came back to the apartment with conjunto music pouring out of the neighbors window.  It felt so good to be "so far" from Madison.

Coast In Bikes
I rolled back to Coast In Bikes and was greeted with one of Carolyn's home-brews--a rye stout.  It was great to see what she and Tristan had done with the shop.  When I was there last, they were just in the "build out" stage.  They had done so much with the space and I was tickled to see a friend's, Gloria Van Dixhorn's, beautiful mugs with the Coast In logo.

When the shop closed, we rode over to The Noble for dinner.  Walkers Point is now considered a foodie mecca.  THE place to go in Milwaukee for creative dining.  It didn't disappoint.  A wonderful post ride dinner with a group of great friends.

My ride back to Madison today was blessedly cool and cloudy most of the way.  It felt good to be on roads and rolling hills.  I hate to say I got turned around in Waukesha once again.  I don't know how this keeps happening--well, I do, their road sign names don't match maps, and no one who lives there seems to explore outside a two block radius.  A few little curses, plus backtracking down a big hill, and I was back on the "correct" road.  I forced myself to stop at one of my favorite coffee shops, The Water House, in Lake Mills.  I was so close to home but chose to get a cookie--okay five cookies, but I only ate one--and some coffee.  As I came into downtown Madison, I realized a bit too late it was not only Taste of Madison, but also the first Badger football game.  Since I was already stuck in the thick of things, I chose to keep winding myself through a sea of red until I reached home.  Aside from the very minor "hiccups", it was the perfect way to spend my birthday--my first double century but better yet, I got carrot cake from Hubbard Diner when I got home.

Me in my "birthday suit" as well as loads of sunscreen

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Leo J--An Old Fashioned Troubadour in a Modern World

Leo J on the Glacial Drumlin Trail riding to Milwaukee

Once in a blue moon I get the pleasure of coming across a comet.  A person who is in my life for just a flicker, but leaves a lasting memory--not unlike the lingering light from the comet's tail.  I must laugh for a moment at my reference to a "blue moon" since last week, we were actually graced with this magnificent phenomena, but I digress.  This special person I had the pleasure of meeting recently, was the musician Leo J, otherwise known by his given name, Joel Shupack (Leo J is Joel spelled backwards).  Now, most of you who read my blog, know I'm a lover of music.  Music and cycling just seem to go hand in hand.  Leo J, however, has taken this to the next level.  He is currently touring across the country by bicycle, taking over a year to do so, playing at various venues.  He is completely self supported and by the looks of his panniers and trailer, is carrying about 100 pounds of gear.

His bike, Will, fully loaded, notice his guitar is also on the trailer.
Almost three months ago, Leo J set off from his home in Portland, Oregon and has been pedaling ever since.  His drive is not music alone, he is also working on a project called Common Place, interviewing people along his way to make a collective journal, if you will, of our nation and what binds us together.  This project was made possible through kickstarter, and will be able to continue by you, dear reader, attending his concerts and throwing a few bucks his way to help cover his necessities as well as a few ice cream sandwiches--something every cyclist needs.

I was lucky enough to be invited to his concert, here in Madison, by Tom Klein, Dane County director of the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.  Since Tom's background is music promotion, he continues to put concerts on for Redamte (where I saw Leo J) and for the Majestic.  Tom's passion is putting together bike friendly music events and Leo J most certainly fit the bill.

Leo J came into Redamte quietly.  He sat at a table while the Well Fed Sparrows finished their set, and then took stage with his guitar.  I had listened to some of his music online prior to the show and was looking forward to hearing his stories set to music.  With new artists, you never know how they will sound live.  I, along with the rest of the crowd, was very impressed.  His voice is beautiful, his songs are thoughtful and full of life and his guitar skills are quite fabulous.  He's witty (listen to his Woody Allen impersonation on the kickstarter link), and his music style ranges from folk to doo wop.  He even throws a bit of jazz into the mix as well just to keep you on your toes (take a listen to his song "Deliver Me"--my favorite of the evening).

Leo J and the Melee playing at Redamte.  Photo by Tom Klein

After the show, we chatted briefly and I offered to ride with him part way to his next stop,  Milwaukee.  I'm never one to be shy, and am always open to finding out more about people following their passion.  Talking to people like this tends to keep me honest and inspires me to become a better person.  It is these encounters that can also sometimes spark my own passion for life to it's fullest if it's dwindling.  Nine times out of ten, when I purposely open one of these doors, magical things happen--so turning my back on them is just something I wouldn't consider.

While on the road, Leo J usually stays with the gracious hosts of Warm Showers or camps out.  I met him bright and early, at the place he was staying, on the North side of Madison.  After he packed up--I'm sure he was amused when my eyes bulged out from the amount of gear he was carrying--we spun our way through rush hour traffic and finally found our way to the Glacial Drumlin trail--the trail that would take him almost all the way to Milwaukee.  Until this time, we weren't able to talk much due to noise pollution as well as having to dodge cars, trucks and debris in the road.  When we were able to relax and ride two abreast, the conversation flowed like we were old friends.

Leo J behind me on the trail

As I stated at the beginning of this post, it is rare to meet someone you have an instant connection with. Although I barely know Joel, and probably won't see him again for some time, I feel confident we could pick up right where we left off--discussing bikes, music (like me, he is also a fan of Leonard Cohen), books, small towns we've enjoyed in the driftless zone, tall bikes (he rode one for the first time in Minneapolis) and the Middle East.

In the short ride we had together, I was able to find out quite a bit about this talented musician.  Joel grew up near San Diego but called Bend, Oregon his home through high school.  Not long after high school, he moved to Queens, New York--where he first got into cycling and where his dreams of touring were born.  In Queens, he played in a punk band, the So So Glos, for awhile and got his feet wet by working at a bike shop.  Most recently, he called Portland, Oregon home.  Joel's abilities, other than music, run wide.  He's done some farming, cooking, and has lived in Israel.  His family is deeply important to him, and although he seems like a free bird at the moment, he has dreams of "going home" and possibly starting a bike lodge someplace on the coast of Oregon.  By talking with him, I could tell he's having a blast exploring our country and sharing his music, however, I could also tell he looks forward to a time when he can settle in somewhere and have a family of his own.

We parted ways near Lake Mills, a place he was able to find breakfast--something he looks forward to while bike touring.  Out on the hot dusty trail our goodbye was short.  Engulfed by about twenty leaping frogs, I turned my bike due West, and just to prove all meetings have their purpose, on my way back I encountered salamanders on the trail--a creature I cherished as a child and still do.  Thank you Joel for holding this door open.  Until our paths cross again, may the wind be at your back and may there always be a "little free library", stocked with Tom Robbins' novels, at your disposal.

I shot Leo J a few fun questions to which he'll reply when he gets a moment to rest and catch up.  I will post them soon.  In the meantime, check out his tour schedule.  If you live close to a place he's playing, I urge you to see him live.  You won't regret it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

There will be hills. Finding myself in the Driftless zone of Wisconsin

This is why I love the Driftless Zone!

Me on Valley Road near Wildcat Mountain State Park

"If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." 
-Joseph Campbell 

Joseph Campbell spoke, and I listened.  This Spring I chucked my "bucket list" idea of touring around lake Superior and opted for a more hedonistic bike tour.  Sure, riding around Superior had a sense of adventure and grandeur, but the idea of dodging logging trucks began to take it's toll on me.  Instead, I chose an eight day, zig-zag trip throughout my favorite riding area--the Driftless zone.

Other than the gorgeous scenery (gorgeous being a word which was repeated no fewer than twenty times daily), my husband and I were drawn to the fact we could pedal straight from home--the Driftless zone begins roughly three miles West from our house.

With shiny new touring bikes purchased and dialed in--see my post on our bikes, lodging reserved, a loose idea of where we could get provisions and bags packed, we rolled out of our neighborhood and up our first of several hundred climbs, on August 10th.  Our first destination was Muscoda, home to the morel mushroom festival, on the Wisconsin river.

Because we chose to stay off major roads, our daily routes resembled a line made by a drunken sailor vs. a direct shot.  Our cue sheets read like novellas and many roads contained the words "hollow", "river", "coulee", "ridge" or "creek".  From previous rides in this area, we knew roads containing those words were bound to be jaw dropping (notice I abstained from using the word "gorgeous") and most certainly hilly.

After two days of relentless hills, we began to categorize these hills as: a) not too bad--we can still breathe and hold a conversation, b) still able to breathe but goddammit don't even think about talking to me, or c) "blackout hill"--we'd puke if we had the energy to do so.  There were two things that managed to get us up the blackout hills.  First, we knew there would always be a mind bending view and second, 90% of the time, the climb would be followed by a thrilling descent--some of these descents would find us flowing around 45 mph and banking turns.

An excerpt from my journal for day #1 read:
Surprisingly my legs didn't fail me.  I felt good once I found a rhythm up the hills and became one with my bike.  Hills I normally dance up on my carbon road bike, like Fessenfeld, made me cringe knowing there would be much harder ones to come, and yet, I found beauty in moving at a snail's pace--taking time to absorb the details of every leaf.  To my delight, we got to ride on sections of the Dairyland Dare course.  I had to skip out on it this year, due to the tour, so it was great seeing their route markers on the road!  As we reached our destination, Victorian Rose Bed and Breakfast, for the night, I was tired--but oh so happy!
One of the many Dairyland Dare markers we saw

Day #2 was was riding from Muscoda to Wilton.  This was to be our be one of the most beautiful rides I've ever done.  With a belly full of eggs florentine, berries, muffins and tons of coffee, we managed to motivate ourselves to leave our cozy room and head out in the rain.  Watching the radar, we were supposed to get rain on and off all day long.  Luckily, we only had a few showers to contend with.  That, three blackout hills, and our first bout of gravel.  The piece de la resistance was our lunch break in Wildcat Mountain State Park.  I'm not sure if it was the lack of oxygen in my brain after climbing into the park (this is a part of the Kickapoo Kicker ride), but I could have sworn I was in heaven.

The view from Wildcat State Park

After tearing down 131 into Ontario, and then winding our way next to the Kickapoo River into Wilton, we were treated to a hot shower, and sad to say a dinner from the convenience store since the Dorset Valley School Restaurant and Country Thyme were closed.   Let's just say I couldn't get enough produce the following day.  I actually made my husband stop at two grocery stores so I could gorge myself on fruit and veggies.

Horses outside of Wilton as the fog began to lift

Day #3 was to be an early start from Wilton to Stoddard.  We had several stops to make along the way and, of course, plenty of climbing.  We woke to a wall of fog.  Visibility couldn't have been more than 1/10th of a mile and I was pretty sketched out about leaving in it for safety sake.  The problem was we didn't know when it would break, and we had to hit the road.  With blinkies flashing and our neon jackets handy, we rolled out.  With getting off the main road within a mile and away from the trucks, I felt much more at ease.  Everything seems a bit more peaceful in the fog and as we climbed for several miles, my heart rate may have actually slowed down.  Pastures with horses and old barns shedding their boards like they were paper birch dotted the ridge.  As we came into Cashton, the fog began to lift and we were happy to stop at a local creamery to buy some goat cheese, as well as a butcher in Westby to get some lunch meat for lunch.

The Cashton/Westby area is known for two things:  Organic Valley Farms and Amish country.  Our route was strewn with horse manure and we often times passed Amish buggies on the climbs.  It seemed as if half the farms had signs selling local produce or Organic Valley signs out front.  They made me proud to be a part of Wisconsin.

Food seemed to be a big part of our conversation on day three.  We spent way too long discussing the placement of food weight on the bike.  Markham likes to believe by eating more, you essentially lighten the load--or at least find a better center of gravity.  I kept telling him it was just displacing the weight and since we'd have to buy more food, in the long run we'd be pulling more weight.  Either way, it was an amusing way to kill an hour and brush up on our physics.

Our local lunch
As we continued to ride West, towards the Mississippi, we came across an amazing little town called Chaseburg.  It kind of came out of nowhere and I would have never sought it out, but I look forward to visiting it again.  Around this time, the coulees began to grow and they began to remind me of the palis I lived near in Hawaii.  In fact, the town prior to Stoddard is Bergen.  It was settled by Norwegian immigrants and was, I'm assuming, named Bergen because it reminded them of their fjord lands.

We finally made Stoddard and enjoyed a wonderful late lunch as well as an artisan well at the River's Edge motel, right on the bank of the Mississippi.

Crossing into Iowa from Prairie du Chien
Day #4 had a few snafus.  I won't complain at all since they brought a few magnificent things, but they did change our itinerary a bit.  We were planning on heading West into the coulees, drop down to the river in DeSoto, head across the Lansing, Iowa bridge to see all the limestone buildings, head south along the river to the Effigy Mound park and then onto Marquette and McGreggor, Iowa before heading back into Wisconsin to Prairie du Chien.  Instead, when we hit DeSoto, we found out the Lansing bridge was down to one lane--only nine feet wide.  Since the river is so wide at this point, we didn't risk crossing on our slow moving vehicles.  Instead, we rode down river on 35 for a bit, until the road became unrideable, and then headed back up another coulee and along a rolling ridge top until we could safely come down into Prairie du Chien.

A wonderful dinner!
When we finally got into town, we dropped our bags, didn't even bother showering, and rode across the river into Marquette and McGreggor to stock up for the evening meal.  Wine tasting at Eagles Landing Winery?  Sure!  Smoked Carp and Catfish?  You bet!  We even wound our way through the residential area of Prairie du Chien and finally understood why people would want to live there.

Day #5's mottos were:  "No matter what the weatherman says, you will always have a headwind" and "A bit of gravel a day keeps the doctor away".

A park in Gays Mills was full of these old hand hewn buildings
As we began our journey to the area between Gays Mills and Soldier's Grove, we couldn't help but laugh at the wind forecast.  All week it had been wrong, and now, in mid August, we were getting Northerlies.  WTF?!  No time to worry about that, however, since we also got a solid ten miles of crushed asphalt and fresh, deep gravel.  We were setting a trend, each day, except for the first, we had at least a couple miles of gravel, and today was no exception.  Most was quite fun, but riding crushed asphalt with washboard underneath made my kidneys shaken and not stirred.

Our relief came in Steuben as we hit the Kickapoo once again.  It was to be our shortest day, and I think we both appreciated it.  We also appreciated the wonderful food co-op in Gays Mills as well as our home base we would be in for the following two days--Red Clover Ranch.  We knew this place would be special the moment we turned off County Road X and onto their long, gravel driveway.  The second I saw it, I never wanted to leave.  Peaceful, secluded, a wood burning sauna, fantastic decorations, a record player with all my favorites and horses.  Yes.  I could live there.

Red Clover Ranch

A cool old tandem at Red Clover Ranch

Day #6 was supposed to be a "rest day".  It was, in a way.  We unloaded our bags and road up to Viroqua, the long way, to restock on supplies and stop by Bluedog Bicycles.  I've always loved the co-op in Viroqua and we took our time, eating and wandering around before heading back "home" a different way.  Our way home included Norwegian Hollow Road.  This is the third Norwegian Hollow I've seen in Wisconsin--all are very much worthy of biking to and on.

Norwegian Hollow Road
We capped the evening with a stroll up to the apple orchards on the ridge and a much needed sauna, as well as some carb loading via a mix of Wisconsin beer.  At no point did I miss watching the news, doing yard work, having a phone/computer or car or listening to one of my neighbor's dogs bark it's stupid little head off.  Yes, this was the good life!

The apples were just about ready!

Day #7 journal entry:
Today's ride brings a pang of sadness.  We can smell the barn from here and I know "reality" is only a two day ride away.  Tomorrow our journey will end and although my seat is a bit sore, and I could probably use a day off of long miles, I don't want this adventure to end.  The visual beauty, the simple way of living (biking, eating, reading, sleeping), and spending most of each day outside makes me feel healthier mind, body and soul.  
Rock Bridge on the Pine River
We said goodbye to our cabin in the heart of apple and solar country (Soldier's Grove is the first solar village in the United States) today.  Our route from Soldier's Grove to Reedsburg made us feel more like sailors tacking upwind than cyclists.   Although our end point was essentially due Northeast, we seemed to turn North, South, East and sometimes West and the wind seemed to always be a slight headwind.  We made jokes that cycling in this area is somewhat like banking.  We would eat (put money into the bank), go up a huge hill (withdraw funds), recover from the hill (put some more money in) and so forth.  The problem comes up when the banker takes a surcharge for each hill--eventually you run out of money.  Thank goodness, views like those we found at Rock Bridge and on Z Scott Hill Road also put a bit into our savings account.  We were also treated to a plethora of funny road signs--this one had me laughing for miles:

Our last night was spent at Parkview Bed and Breakfast in downtown Reedsburg.  We spent the afternoon wandering around looking at all the old mansions as well as eating and eating some more.

Day #8 and our final roll out.  We packed in silence and then enjoyed a final breakfast before pointing our steeds home.  We climbed over the Baraboo "mountains", crossed the Wisconsin river and hit roads we ride weekly.  It was such an odd feeling to be so close to home, although we were always "close" to home, we felt so far away.  I ended feeling strong and can honestly say this was one of the best vacations I've ever had!

I end with words from Bob Dylan:
I am still runnin' I guess
but my roads has seen many changes
for I've served time as a refugee
in mental terms and in physical terms
and many a fear has vanished
and many an attitude has fallen
and many a dream has faded 

Friday, August 9, 2013

I think I just bought a Cadillac

I think I just bought a Cadillac.  A big, blue, steel one.  Don't worry, I'm not talking about the car.  I am now the, um, proud owner of an All City Spacehorse.  This whole purchase started about a year ago.  Most of you know I'm a big fan of All City bikes, I also own their Big Block.  When I first saw and read about the Spacehorse, and found out that Anna Schwinn--daughter of the famed Richard Schwinn--designed it, I was sold.  My touring bike at the time was a Cannondale T2000 2002.  It suited me well and got me through multiple tours in the Midwest, but the hydraulic breaks made me a bit nervous and the fit wasn't perfect.  It was also aluminum and it beat me to a pulp unless it was fully loaded.  So, this winter, I put it up on Craig's list, sold it and put my order in to All City/QBP this Spring.

About a month ago, the frame came in, along with my custom Velocity wheels, built to hold true while hitting potholes with heavy loads, and my Shimano 105/Ultegra groupo.  I'll admit I was pretty nervous to purchase a bike I had never ridden.  I was going on specs alone--praying it would work.  When the build was complete, and I decided on the saddle I wanted to spend hour upon hour on, I finally took it out for it's virgin ride last weekend.  I won't go into details, but about ten miles into the ride I began to question everything.  I won't lie.  The ride sucked.  I hated the fact I had become "soft" riding my carbon road bike.  I hated riding 28 mm touring tires with a bit of tread.  I hated losing the responsiveness of a short frame and I hated how my body rejected just about everything on the bike.  There were moments on that ride I even questioned my upcoming tour.  You see, I tend to thrive on efficiency.  I don't go into those nasty, dark places triathletes do where I'd spend any amount of money on lighter frames/components, however, I also don't enjoy being on a gas guzzler.  There is a balance point I strive for where calories in/calories out is close to even.  Riding a fully loaded steel touring bike made me think I'd have to have an IV hooked up to me--especially in the driftless zone where food stops are few and far between.

Adding weight plates from the gym for a loaded test ride

I rolled home, after I'm sure pissing off my riding friends, showered, ate and moped.  I didn't know what to do.  Was I over touring?  Had I, in a few short years of not touring, turned into a complete high maintenance roadie?  This wasn't what I wanted.  I wanted to head out from home, completely loaded and free from a vehicle, and explore my beautiful surroundings.  I had to figure something out.  And so began the twenty step process of tweaking.  Handlebars, brake hoods, brake levers, seat post, saddle and on and on it went. Finally, after all these adjustments, and several fully loaded test rides, I "think" I've nailed it.  Wednesday's ride finally felt good.  It still wasn't easy, and I don't dare ride my carbon frame until I'm done with the tour, but I think it at least fits me.  Honestly, I think I just have to get over the fact I'm going to be god awful slow on this trip.  I may have to take multiple rest stops on what used to be an easy 70 mile day, but I'll make it, and dammit, I'm going to have a good time slogging up all the big hills in the Wisconsin driftless zone and eating everything in site to keep the gas tank from hitting E.

Finally feeling good in body and mind

This post is dedicated to Tom Barry.  A wonderful neighbor and friend who was always up for a good adventure and lightened every serious issue.  He could often times be found fixing all the neighborhood kid's bikes in his driveway.  Ride on Tom, ride on.

The Barry family

Friday, August 2, 2013

Flying with the Sandhills

This morning I was treated to field upon field of sandhill cranes

Since I moved to Wisconsin, over ten years ago now, my heart has been captured by the sandhill cranes.  Each March, I wait for their arrival; not unlike a child on Christmas eve waiting for Santa to come.  It's always the same.  I hear their first calls in Pheasant Branch Conservancy and I know Spring is on it's way.  No matter where my mind is, or what is going on in my life, their call brings a smile to my face.  I stop dead in my tracks, head tilted to figure out where they are, and let their song envelope me.

Since many of my rides include a stint on Pheasant Branch Road, I am often treated to a quick glimpse of them in the nearby corn fields.  They are, of course, scrounging for the leftovers from last year's harvest.  As the Spring wears on, and the new corn shoots begin to appear, I am sometimes lucky enough to witness baby cranes encircled by their parents.  I can't help but to pull over to the side of the road, careful not to disturb the family, and watch...sometimes for several minutes.  I'm sure this annoys the people I'm riding with to no end, however, these magnificent birds, with wing spans up to seven feet, have a magnetic draw on me.

Ask any of my friends and they will tell you I love all birds--and nature in general--but how often do you get to witness a creature that dates back 2.5 million years (other crane species date back 10 million years)?  You've got to admit that's pretty amazing!  Since I grew up in Minneapolis, I never got to see these fabulous birds.  Raptors, egrets, herons, yes...but no cranes.  Their song is one not many would describe as being beautiful--at times sounding like a sick goose.  They are awkward at landing and perform the funniest looking dances when mating, but are pure magic to me.  Once in a great while, I'll be treated to one of the best experiences around, riding my bike while one or a flock of them fly next to me.  It is at this moment, I feel like I'm flying.  The road drops away and I feel myself drifting over the landscape.  Something I will never tire of.

I leave you with a few poems I love about cranes:

We thought they were gulls at first,
while they were distant-
The two cranes flying out of a natural morning,
They circled twice about our house and sank,
Their long legs drooping, down over the wood.
We saw their wings flash white,
Frayed at the black tip,
And heard their harsh cry, like a rusty screw.

Down in the next field, shy and angular,
They darted their long necks in the grass for fish.
They would not have us close, but shambled coyly,
Ridiculous, caught on the ground. Yet our fields
Under their feet became a fen: the sky
That was blue July became watery November,
And echoing with the cries of foreign birds. 
Anne Barbara Ridler