Well, well, well, I’m back. I don’t have to say what’s been going on in my life that has kept me from writing. I could just say, “2020.” But honestly, other than the fear of contracting Covid-19, 2020 has actually been pretty darn good. It’s given me more time to focus, read, work from home, spend time with Chelsea, and ride my bike.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the way things used to be. You remember, back when they were normal. That was some stuff. I think that I’ve changed. My priorities are different, my views are more defined. I have more compassion and understanding for others as a result of the extra time that I’ve had to think. So, 2020 hasn’t been all that bad. It’s sort of been a good restart. Yes, I know I’m not the only one to say this but personally, I’ve turned a corner. I’ve grown disenchanted of traditional beliefs and the ascribed values that accompany them.
Because I’ve grown tired of consuming the negativity and seeing the awful I thought that I’d start using my blog as a place to share the happy and good that I see. To start putting joy into the world in hopes of brightening someone else’s day. My plan is to gradually leave the politically co-opted social media sphere and use the blog as a place to share. I’m not going to promote this at all this time around. No goal of this becoming a monetized side hustle. Just a place for honest, outside-focused, dirty fun! I may do race write ups, trip reports, gear reviews, recommend adventure spots, or just tell stories. I’ll probably also share too much.
So, here’s to a new beginning. Things are probably going to get worse in our country and world before they get better but at least we can spread some joy in the healthiest way possible. That’s the goal. Elevate the global joy, fun, and health level.
I have an honest confession to make: I have been Zwifting. Since a few days after Christmas I have been a card carrying member of the cellar-dwelling cycling contingent. Why, you ask? Because I decided to make a commitment to myself to be a more serious cyclist in 2018. I have some long fun-rides and “races” planned. Don’t get me wrong, I will not place in any of these races, but I need some sort of event/goal to spur my physical fitness on. So I caved, and I joined the ranks.
I have been putting down some miles. Zwift affords me the ability to get up, swing my leg over the bike, and start the day spinning. No hauling my bike to the trailhead at 6:30 in the morning in the pitch-black Marquette morning. No snow pants, goggles, or frozen water bottles.
When I got Zwift I vowed to not let it totally replace winter cycling. I wanted it to supplement my training without serving as the death knell of fat biking. Consistent morning rides on the spin bike and after work rides on the fat bike to remind me what it really means to be a cyclist.
Things have been going pretty well. But this morning didn’t line up right and I missed my Zwift. Regardless I packed up my fattie and headed to work. The workday sort of slogged on and I dealt with some pretty sad and heavy situations with my clients. While gearing up at the office I debated skipping my snowbike ride and putting in dedicated practice time on Zwift. But I told myself that I could just treat this ride as a training ride. Hit it hard and I wouldn’t fall off my loosely planned training regimen. That was the plan.
So I took off with a bit of a poor attitude. As I climbed Benson the direction of my attitude was inverse to the incline. The higher I went, the worse it got. It was like I forgot that riding outside would be much harder than my basement. The elements seem really harsh when you haven’t had to deal with them in a while. Needless to say I was not feeling it. The big fat under-inflated tires felt like they were working against me with ever pedal stroke. Mentally beaten down I plodded on. That is until it happened.
The wind picked up and the trees started to move around a bit. Unbeknownst to me all of that moving around dislodged a softball-size glob of snow. That glob floated down and smacked me right in the face. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. My poor attitude melted as quickly snow on my face and I wiped it all away. That’s all it took to turn things around. It’s like Ma Nature saw me struggling with some earthly crud and decided to set me straight. I was only half way into my short ride but the rest of the trail seemed to zoom by with much less effort. I was back to enjoying riding my bike.
That’s what it’s all about for me; enjoyment, communing with nature, and maybe getting in shape along the way. Not mileage goals, race results, or Strava KOM. Everyone’s drivers are a little different and this ride showed me that I was going about things in the wrong way.
System re-calibrated, I pedal on with the same goals for 2018, but now I have a better idea on how to achieve them.
Flyfishing and bike riding are two of my passions. They also have the capacity to be two of the most technical and confusing hobbies. I get it; I have a garage of bikes each with its own unique function. I also have many different rod, reel, and line combinations each for different species, water conditions, and times of year.
Sometimes you just have to shed all of those choices and complexity. Yesterday, rather than loading up my car with a few rods, multiple fly boxes, and driving out to any river of my choosing no matter the distance I chose instead to simplify the process. So I strapped my tenkara and its tube to the downtube of my Stache and started pedaling.
I’ve taken rods on the bike before but I have always had to strap them to a pack because of their length and the fact that the reel is usually attached. However the telescoping feature of the tenkara rod makes zip-tying it to the bike simple and effective. I just made sure that I could unscrew the cap without snipping the ties. The tube hangs below the bottom bracket a little more than I wanted it to but as with most home remedies the function outweighed the form in this case.
Here’s how it goes: get to the river under your own steam, shed the helmet, flip the bike, remove the rod, attache the tippet, and get in the water. Super simple. No time wasted finding a suitable spot to stash the car or picking the right rod. Just get to it.
This first trip was an experiment. Trying new things is always a little difficult for me for me and I was especially unsure about my rod attachment method. But it appeared to have held nicely and the rod went together without a hitch. Luckily finding fishable water is not a problem in our area and in 11 miles I was in the middle of a great trout stream without a soul in sight.
Earning things always feels better than having them handed to you. This was definitely an experience that was earned. I got to the river under my own power and used a very limiting technique which relies only on water reading and fly placement. It was beautiful, satisfying, and restorative.
The snow has totally melted but the trails are not quite fully dried up yet. That means that I’ve gotta get my two-wheeled fix elsewhere. I have been spinning around on dirt roads, snowmobile trails and backroads, like I like to do this time of year. One of the great things about the UP is that you can leave the main road and tear off down a dirt road and be in the middle of nowhere fast. Sometimes I methodically plan my route via google earth. Other times I prefer to just go wherever the wind blows me. Lately, I have been leaving from my house and just ticking off miles close to home. Rambling and rolling through the unimproved roads of central Marquette County.
Pounding these lesser-traveled roads in the spring is a great way to build base miles and fitness. It’s also a great place to be alone with your thoughts. You can do a lot of learning and growing on a bike in the backwoods. There are just some lessons that cannot be learned anywhere else.
I especially enjoy threading the needle through pockmarked sections like this. The rush is easily snuffed out when you make a miscalculation. I cannot wait for the road commission to come through and grade all of our dirt roads. Freshly graded dirt is better than any pavement.
The Stache performs quite well in its new duties. While I will definitely still take it on trails once in a while it will not be seeing the same amount of trail action this season… full squish bike is on its way. My goal for the Stache is to make it a little more comfortable to ride over long distances and maybe even some bike backing. I am sooooo excited to start looking for bike bags and gear! I think that the first order of business is going to be some less aggressive rubberz. What a year we have ahead of us. I think that it will be a nice companion for the Safari that Chels will be piloting.
Backroads are like beautiful byways for bicycles. Unfortunately, the ditches are littered with garbage. Luckily for me, I live in Michigan and they are each worth a dime. In law school I would ride the gravel in Washtenaw County picking up cans in order to buy groceries. Now that I have a big boy job I have gone back to my roots and am picking up cans again. However, now I get use the can money for fun stuff. (Chelsea and I are planning something crazy cool and the can money is going to support that chapter… stay tuned) I am working on getting a “Can Counter” on the sidebar to keep track of the cans collected & deposits earned. These rides are like going to a gym that pays you to workout. I get to help nature and stash some cash at the same time.
The Stache is in a period of transition right now so forgive the silly bent bars. The new upright position really suits this bike’s new purpose: exploration. (More on its replacement soon.)
The bent bars and slight riser stem have really transformed the Stache into a comfortable mile munching machine. (Alliteration is fun!). I am currently using the On-One Mary bars. The Jones Loop bar is definitely in the future once I figure out whether or not I like bike backing.
I cannot wait for the full-sus to show up but until then I will be building up and putting miles on the Stache.
Every Winter things start happening in Munising, Michigan. You’ve got the normal Winter activities: ice fishing, snowmobiling, xc-ski, fat biking, and snowshoeing. But for many years Winter has also brought another activity to Munising, ice climbing. Ice climbing is climbing of features such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, and cliffs and rock slabs covered with ice refrozen from flows of water. It involves lots of wicked gear, physical strength, determination, dynamic moves, good people, and takes place in some bitter environs. I dabble in many outdoor sports and for some reason ice climbing was not on that list. So, for 2017 I decided to give it a shot.
Mission: Learn how to find and climb rad ice just down the road in Munising.
For some reason, I did absolutely no training for this event. Nor did I geek out over the gear before trying it. The reason for this uncharacteristic approach is due to the limited timeframe for ice climbing and relatively high cost to get rigged up. I didn’t want to go all in only to find out that I hated being out there all day. I figured that in order to make sure I gave it a fair chance I should have some guidance and have the right gear. So, in November I took the plunge and signed up for the intro class which would provide a guided trip and demo gear from the top brands.
The week before Ice Fest I was pretty worried about the forecasted weather: hovering temps in the 30’s and 40’s. Not exactly stellar for ice formation. Luckily for my class Mother Nature had a change of heart, turned on the snow machines and fired up the ice maker. To say that we picked the perfect day for our class is a complete understatement.
We picked up our demo gear at the elementary school in Munising, piled into rented cargo vans, and headed out to the Curtains. Our group was assigned two experienced ice climbers named Joe and Alec. Their advice was succinct and pointed: this is dangerous but it also super fun! Be safe and have fun. We went over basic knots, crampon usage, tooling, and body placement. After the introductory info was out of the way we got to learning. Place the tools; set a steady base; keep weight on your legs; and look for the concavities for natural tool placement.
The Curtains are formed by groundwater seeping through the porous sandstone. In this area it forms wide sheets of ice instead of the pillars found in other places. It really provided a nice place to learn. For the most part the ice was very solid on the first two routes. It helped to build confidence and simple skill. Most of the ice was dry, but because the sandstone doesn’t stop weeping there were a few routes that had some pre-ice (running water) going on. Water running down the ice tools added some added difficulty. This is totally necessary though and allows the ice to be “reset” after a day’s worth of the climbing. Nature is pretty damn cool.
As the group progressed we moved to some longer climbs requiring more precise tool placement and appropriate rest periods.
I have climbed on gym walls before and even had a woody in our apartment in Ann Arbor but none of that compares to being out on exposed rock and ice with a fierce North wind blowing in fresh snow. It was everything that I hoped it would be. This is exactly what I expected life in the Upper Peninsula would be like when we decided to move up here.
It’s no secret that I love Michigan. The Great Lakes play a large role in that equation. Their vastness and depth are a mirror for the soul. Many a writer has attempted to put their beauty into words. Few have come as close as Jerry Dennis has with The Living Great Lakes. (TLGL)
This book is an informative series of tales woven into the narrative of the author’s trip through the Great Lakes on the Malabar, a tall ship out of Traverse City, Michigan.
Dennis, an accomplished American author, writes rather matter of factly in a manner which feels like a regular guy telling you of his travels over a beer. He gives lessons on the history of man-made features as well as the geological happenings and cycles that shaped the region. His use of everyday language makes TLGL approachable, understandable, and very pleasant. The reader learns and is entertained at the same time.
I especially appreciate how he explains what certain groups are doing to protect this awesome ecosystem! His lauding contains subtle warnings about environmental issues plaguing the Lakes without being too preachy.
I read this book with a map pulled up at all times on my computer, I loved to find the places that he was talking about, then I would Google the story, or the area that he was describing and get lost researching the topic. While the book reads quite quickly, if you take the time to delve into the side stories and look up the events that Dennis writes about you will find yourself taking a little longer than usual. The extra time is worth it because it will only enrich your overall experience.
Since reading I have amassed a list of places and events that I would like to check out due to their descriptions in the book:
The Witching Tree
The Snow Wasset
More of Sleeping Bear Dunes
The Manitou Islands
and so many more…
This book describes the Great Lakes region with such familiarity that any reader will feel at home, even if you have never been near them. The familiarity is achieved through anecdotal additions which cause each story to ring true. I especially enjoyed the references to the places where I have played since my youth: Manistee, Arcadia, Traverse City, Mackinac, and Leelanau. Now that I have moved to the Upper Peninsula I am rereading the book to see what new flames it stokes.
Guests to the area: I suggest you read this on your trip or before, it will provide you with a wealth of information and history of the area. It may also serve as a jumping-off point for your trip.
Residents of the area: I suggest you read this book, enjoy it thoroughly and research the stories. You will discover things about your town/ area that you would never have found before.
Pick this book up as soon as you can; read it; get inspired; start exploring.
We love to be outside. In fact, most of our free time is spent beneath the trees and alongside rivers. That often means that I don’t update this blog frequently enough. Trust me, I have a dearth of content to add when the weather turns on us. I also have a really cool longterm Hiawatha project that I am working on. That’s all beside the point, back to the story. While I couldn’t think of a better person to spend time in the woods with I couldn’t help but feel like we were missing some quintessential and possibly cliche aspect of being a twenty-something outdoorsy couple. When I told one friend he said that he and his wife had previously been discussing our need for this thing that would enrich our lives.
To that end pease help us welcome the missing piece: our adventure dog Copper, king of the north.
Right now he is 11 weeks of pure energy and excitement but Chelsea has been working extremely hard to whip him into shape. I know every puppy parent says this but he is a fast learner and might even be a genius. Dare I say smarter than your average honor roll student. He is very personable and loves chasing the blowing leaves.
The process of finding a four-legged friend was not as simple as just unilaterally picking one up. We discussed dog ownership extensively and have rearranged our schedules to make sure that time is being set aside to care for Copper. Luckily Chelsea runs The Big Lake out of our home so she gets to spend a lot of quality time with him during the day. We also made sure that we were both on the same page as far as expectations and breed were concerned. We are very active and enjoy a diverse array of outdoor activities. While several different breeds made it to the final elimination round the German Shorthaired Pointer was really only choice for what we do. Couple that with the fact that both of our families have had GSP and it was a no brainer.
He definitely has big dreams: Climbing hogsback, kicking up birds, prancing down single track, ski-joring, trout fishing, camping, and kayaking. Yes, he will be going everywhere with us and honestly he is probably going to take over our attention and social media feed for a while.
We have much to learn and we welcome your input along the way. For example, I just found out that a tired puppy can be jostled awake merely by the sounds of my grumbling stomach. Now he is staring intensely at it.
Today after work we will go on our first hike along the river. We probably won’t put down any serious distance but I can guarantee that it will be a learning experience for all of us.
The adventure continues, but now it feels a little more complete.
Weather plays a very important role here; it rarely stops us from doing what we do but it definitely alters the way in which we do things. While checking the weather report on Friday we noticed that we were under a gale force wind advisory out of the north which was slated to produce 10-15 foot waves on Superior. The waves were supposed to reach the upper level of their ferocity in the late afternoon so we planned our day around a trip to the lake at roughly that time.
The first spot that we stopped at on Presque Isle was largely sheltered from direct waves but served to whet the appetite and provide promise of bigger action.
While waves are easily enjoyed from a safe distance I tend to appreciate their magnitude much more when I can get down to their level. Our second stop on this tour de wave was at the Blackrocks. Most days you will find young shirtless human males trying to show their mettle and attract a mate by hurling themselves from the rocks into the water below. Today was not one of those days. Even the most boisterous of the males were tucked away in their dens weathering the storm.
Some of us can play near the waves and leave unscathed while others cannot…
We got to witness a real rarity on this wavy day, the Blackrock Falls:
Have you ever had the chance to see these mythical falls? They only manifest once in a blue moon and are quite fleeting.
Mother Superior really put on a show yesterday and I am so happy that we made it a priority to make it out before the final curtain.
This morning while going through my mail I came across the cable bill. Instead of just eyeballing the charges and paying it I decided to do something that I should have done a long time ago. I decided to cut the television portion of the programming. We couldn’t afford to have television and internet while in grad school so we went for many years without. However, when we purchased our home we were lured into a sweetheart deal combo-pack with television and internet. I never felt like I really got my money’s worth out of the television portion of the package because we only watch a half hour of local news, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.
So, having thoroughly assessed our television usage and weighed the costs we decided to get rid of television. The customer service rep at the cable company was very nice when the conversation started. She offered to cut the cost by $35 while still offering the same package. When that didn’t work she offered other lower level packages to try to keep our television box humming. Finally when I said that all I want is the internet and no television for the 9th time she asked me the most absurd question: “what’re you going to do when you get home from work?” She was very concerned about whether or not I would be able to discuss Game of Thrones at the watercooler, or how I would find out which team threw a tanned piece of animal hide through the other team’s goal. The fear and urgency in her voice was a terrifying marker of our society’s leisure-time activities. To be honest, her simple question really hurt my feelings; did she really think that we would sit at home and have staring contests while slowly losing our minds waiting for the next “tv+internet bundle” to come out?
Me, clearly waiting for the new season of Catfish.
If I hadn’t been so shocked by her question I would have had a much better answer for her. Instead I told her that I like to spend my time away from the office outside playing, riding my bike, and fishing. I should have asked here what she does when she gets out of work. I should have invited her over for a weekend to see how to LIVE a little bit.
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This is how we do.
In retrospect, her question ignited a little introspection which lead me to this: What do we do when we get home from work? Well, for starters we:
squeeze every last little drop out of the time that we have been given;
seek out out-of-the-way places and experiences and try to inspire others to get outside and enjoy our great creation;
geek out over outdoor gear;
read a book;
do some self-directed study; and
support local businesses, causes and environmental groups;
In short; we are going to LIVE our lives and we hope that you will too. Get out there and experience things. But always remember that Netflix and Hulu will be there for your cheat days.