Monday, April 5, 2021

#30daysofbiking continues

On April 3rd, I went for a bike ride by the river after coming home from a day visiting my Aunt Belinda for her birthday. It was our first time getting together since the Pandemic. On April 4th, I went for an 18-mile ride on the Jaclynn--up to 52nd Ave S, across the river, down a gravel road to Moorhead, then through neighborhood streets and bike path up to 12th Ave N, across the river again and back home.
On April 5th, I went for a ride after dinner to Gooseberry Park and back. I rode on some of the trails. The sun was just setting on a very warm day. I hoped to see some animals, but I didn't. I did see this interesting tree. It looked like it had legs growing out of it.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

30 Days of Biking

When I was in a Rouvy session with my friend, Barb Kelly, on March 31st, she reminded me that April is 30-days-of-biking month. I decided to make the pledge to bike every day in April. It seems like a good year to try it because our roads and trails are already clear of snow (and surprisingly dry). On April 1st, I had to go to the bank to deposit a couple of checks, so I just zipped over on my Bridgestone MB-0.
On April 2nd, I took a break from sitting at the computer to ride on the trails by the river, so I put new pedals on my Framed Fat Tire bike and headed out the door for a relaxing 30-minute ride before going back to work again.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A Ski on the Bighorn Pass Trail in Yellowstone National Park

On Thursday morning, I had my usual writing time with my sabbatical buddy, Tom Meyer, a writing project director at SUNY-New Paltz, and then Enrico and I checked out of our West Yellowstone hotel and began the drive back to Bozeman. We stopped at the pullout for Bighorn Pass and went for one more ski. This turned out to be the most magnificent ski of our trip. It was perfect spring crust skiing conditions, with warm temperatures, and an occasional wind that kept us from getting too hot. We skied up a flat creek bed, but found we could go anywhere with the still-frozen crust, so we ventured into the undulating hills on the sides of the creek drainage and into some forested areas. The day was mostly sunny and the valley was absolutely beautiful. As we rounded one of the twists in the valley, we saw a brown animal in the snow ahead. It turned out to be a bison.
It was a sublime experience—we skied around for about three hours and were very reluctant to leave this beautiful place. What a perfect last ski of this winter season!

Three days of skiing in West Yellowstone March 15-17

On Monday morning Enrico had a work meeting, so I walked over to the Rendezvous Nordic Ski Trails with my skate skis to try them out before it got too hot and mushy. Unfortunately, with the very hot weather yesterday and freezing temperatures last night, the trail was quite icy. I kept having my ski slide out unexpectedly, which was not good for my knee, so after trying just a bit of the main Rendezvous trail, I took the first cutoff and headed back. After resting for a bit, Enrico and I decided to head out to the Rendezvous trails again, this time to do classic skiing. The Swix thermometer read in between blue and purple waxes, so I waxed my better classic skis with the warmer wax on the bottom and cooler wax on the top. The trails were nicely set, so I thought it would be more fun to use my higher performance skis. We headed down the “In and out” trail to the main Rendezvous loop. So far, so good. Once we hit the uphills, though, it turned out my waxing job was terrible. I was either slipping or sticking, and each time, my knee jerked, it hurt more. We went a bit further than I had gone skating, but still failed to do the whole loop. When we got back to the hotel, I did some intensive icing and elevating of my knee for the rest of the day.
On Tuesday, I continued with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation), then we walked over to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. This is a nonprofit organization that has bears that would have had to be euthanized if they had stayed in the wild because they had learned to get their food from humans and were becoming “problem bears.” The bears are rotated into the area where people can view them every 30-45 minutes. The wolves are always in their areas, and there are two packs in separate enclosures. There is also an indoor riparian display with trout, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and otters. There are also different otters that rotate into the water area. During the summer, one can also see raptors, and they are expanding the bear area.
After walking back to our hotel, we had a short nap and then walked over to the Rendezvous Nordic Ski Trails. My knee was better, and I went with my slow, sturdy, waxless skis. It was warm in the afternoon, but not as warm as the day we arrived, and we had a long, slow, pleasant ski, completing the whole Rendezvous Loop plus the aptly named Deja View loop, which has multiple beautiful views of the mountains in the Park.
On Wednesday, we slept in and then headed back to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. We got to see some different bears this time. Seely & Condi, some siblings were out with Bo. They ran around and Bo took turns wrestling the younger bears. We also got to see Sam. I made a little video of Sam digging for food. I was the only human observing him, and I wasn’t that far from him. At one point, he looked up at me and moved his nose back and forth. His nostrils flared and fanned as he took in my scent. Yes, I forgot to wear deodorant today. We also saw some exciting wolf behavior. One of the dark wolves did not like the ravens stealing their food, and when one got too close, he lunged at it. A couple of the gray wolves got into a tussle too. In the otter habitat, there were two otters instead of one, so we got to see them interacting with each other. After spending a couple of hours observing the animals, we went hunting for food of our own. Most places were closed, but the Slippery Otter was open, and there was only one other table occupied, so we felt reasonably safe eating there. Since it was Saint Patrick’s Day, there was a corned beef special, so we got that and a Guinness beer, which was a wonderful treat. After that, we had a nap and when we woke up, we headed out to the ski trails, where we explored a couple of trails we hadn’t been on before—Dead Dog and Doug’s doodle. Dead Dog had a fun downhill S-turn and then a very long climb that started out very gradual and then got steeper and steeper. One feels like a dead dog by the time one gets up that segment! We skied for 2 hours and saw only one other skier. It was very beautiful, but some of the trail was already starting to ice up by the time we finished.
We walked back to our hotel room with the sense that we had definitely gotten our money’s worth on the 3-day ski trail passes. It was also very convenient to be staying at the Holiday Inn, as we could give our car a break and walk everywhere we wanted to go. The in-room jacuzzi tub, fridge, and microwave allowed us to stay in our room most of the time, which made it feel a bit safer to be traveling during the pandemic. Because Yellowstone Park closed on Monday, March 15th, there were very few guests in our hotel anyway. Most of the town’s businesses also closed this week. It’s good we came prepared with our own food for most of our meals.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Spring Break Trip to the Mountains

We thought Itasca would be our last ski because warm temperatures in Fargo completely melted what little snow we had received this winter, but then we decided to make the journey to the mountains for our university's spring break. While I drove from Fargo to Billings on Saturday, Enrico graded almost a whole class set of papers. We stopped in Glendive to go for an hour walk in Makoshika State Park to stretch our legs.
On Sunday, March 13th we drove from Billings to West Yellowstone, Montana. We stopped at the Co-op in Bozeman for groceries and sandwiches. There was no one sitting in the eating area, so we removed our masks and ate our sandwiches there before resuming our drive. Enrico was trying to finish grading papers, but once we entered the Gallatin Forest, I suggested he stop and just enjoy the sights. It was a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures in the 50s, a clear road, but lots of snow everywhere else. Last week, they got a couple of feet of snow, and we could see the berm from the last snowplow. As we reached the stretch of Highway 191 that falls within the Yellowstone Park boundary, we saw an animal on the riverbed to our right. I asked Enrico to pull over at the next turnout, so we could take a look. It appeared to be a wolf! Or maybe a coyote? We watched the animal for awhile and took a few photos. Our friends, Barb and Mike, who are avid Yellowstone wolf watchers, took a look at the photo and confirmed that it was a coyote.
As we continued on our drive, we saw several pullouts where skiers’ cars were parked. We could see trails wending through the woods and made a note that it might be fun to come back and explore one of these trails. After checking in at our hotel in West Yellowstone, we walked down the extremely snowy and slushy streets to Free Heel Ski and Bike shop to buy trail passes for cross-country skiing (Cost: $15/day or $30 for a three-day pass—we bought the latter). We also got a trail map. We decided to check out Riverside Trail, which started just a couple of blocks from the ski shop. After clambering over a big berm of snow, we found the trail, groomed with a single track on one side and room for snowshoeing on the other. We followed this straight, flat cut through the forest until we got on to a rambling trail that headed toward the Madison river. We chose to take the downriver loop because it was longer.
Once the trail dipped down into the river area, it was no longer set by machine, just by other skiers. We enjoyed seeing the beautiful pine trees, whose needles seemed extra bright green against the backdrop of a clear blue sky—maybe it was the altitude? West Yellowstone is at 6800 feet above sea level. Enrico said, “See that trail on the opposite side of the river? I wonder what trail that is.” “I don’t know,” I replied. I had my “near” contacts lenses in—the better to see the trail in front of me. As we rounded a corner and came upon a new vista of the river, I saw two white blobs bobbing in the running water. Had some snow broken off of the river’s edge or were these birds? It was too far away to see, and unfortunately, I had not taken the binoculars. Following the progress of the white blobs, my eye was drawn to a large brown lump on the opposite bank—it was a bison! He was just resting in some open dirt near the river. Now we knew what kind of trail we had seen earlier. As we got closer, Enrico took this photo:
All good things come to an end, and soon after this we got to the point where the trail headed back, but we saw some tracks continuing. Clearly, some other skier felt as we did—that they wanted to continue following the river. We chose not to—we hadn’t brought much water with us, and we had been working up a good sweat this whole time. It was over 60 degrees! We were glad we were using waxless skis because these conditions would have been impossible to wax for. Nevertheless, some parts of the trail that were in the open sun the whole time were very mushy. We were glad to get back in the forest on the set tracks on the way back, but sad to leave beautiful views like this behind.
That night we had pizza delivered to our hotel room, washed down by Alaskan beers that we had brought along. Our room had a jacuzzi tub, so we sat in there for a long while, soothing our muscles, so we could ski again the next day.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Transition Season at Lake Itasca with Alaskan friends Barb & Mike

I picked up Enrico from NDSU after he was done teaching Thursday afternoon, and we headed up to the athletic complex to be tested for Covid-19. I already had the car packed with snowshoes, skis, poles, boots, and fat tire bikes, along with some food, including an assortment of croissants from Nicole's fine pastry. We were headed to Itasca State Park for a long weekend to "Live deep and suck out all the marrow of life," as Thoreau said, which for us, meant grabbing the last few kilometers of skiing as the temperatures climbed from 20 to 55 degrees. Once we got notice that our Covid-19 tests were negative, we texted the results to our longtime friends, Barb and Mike Kelly, who were driving from their home in Hayward, Wisconsin with a similarly stocked vehicle. They stopped at Tutto Bene in Bemidji to pick up our to-go order of pasta, bruschetta, crab ravioli, and more and we met up at the adjoining four-season suites we had rented on the shore of Lake Itasca. We arrived just as it was getting dark and tucked into a fine meal. After months of eating alone, it was so wonderful to eat with friends, catch up with each other's lives, and plan out our play time for the weekend. Friday morning, Enrico, Barb, and I skied the trail from the suites to the Visitor's Center and then followed the trail from there toward the headwaters. It was pretty icy, but the classic tracks were intact, and we had a good ski. We came back to the suites, and had lunch with Mike. After that, I convinced Mike to come ski with me. He and I went further than the three of us had gone in the morning. We were just enjoying the conversation, softening trail conditions, clear, blue sky and bright sunshine. After Mike and I got back, I switched from skis to fat tire bikes and then ventured out on a reconnaissance mission with Enrico and Barb. I was riding my new Framed Fat Tire bike and Enrico was riding my old Specialized Fat Boy, which I felt was too big for me.
Barb had a beautiful carbon fiber bike custom outfitted. The road by Mary Lake was clear of snow, which was fine riding, but I wanted to see how my new bike handled on trails, so we tried out Ozywindib trail. It was OK at first, but soon we were sinking in too much on the soft snow and we didn't want to tear it up for the skiers, so we turned back and then tried riding up Wilderness Drive. It was quite firm, having been rolled for skate skiing. We continued up to Deer Park trail then rode down that back to Douglas Lodge. We reported back to Mike on our findings. Barb made a delicious tomato shrimp stew over rice and served cupcakes from their local bakery for dessert.
On Saturday morning, Barb and I decided to head back out on Wilderness Drive. It was still below freezing, so we thought it should be firm and fun. I was skate skiing, and she was on her fat tire bike, and somehow we managed to stay together. She was faster on the downhills and I was a little ahead on the steeper uphills. We went to Elk Lake, but in that area, there was a lot of bare pavement with ice on the edges, which was not great for skiing, so we decided to turn back. I wanted to take a photo, but I found out then that I had lost my phone. On the way back, we kept an eye out for it, and fortunately found it right in the tracks on one of the downhills--it must have popped out of my vest pocket when I assumed a tuck position. We got to hear a piliated woodpecker--it sounded like he was laughing at me for losing my phone. I love the woods at Itasca State Park.
On Saturday afternoon, the four of us set out on our fat bikes for the headwaters of the Mississippi, which flows north after leaving Lake Itasca. After riding awhile on the road, Mike turned back and the rest of us continued. At the boat launch, we left the road and took the bike path and walking path to the headwaters. We experienced hard-packed snow and ice, soft snow, open ground, and mud. Talk about transition season.
At the headwaters my knee let me know that it had had enough fun for the day, so I called Mike to come pick me up. Barb rode back with me and Enrico pedaled back the way we had come. That night I made polenta and ratatouille for dinner and we played Sequence. After 2 and half hours of us ladies dominating the game, Enrico and Mike finally conceded--hahahaha. Final score: 7 to 4. On Sunday morning, Enrico and went for one final ski on the bike path--he was doing diagonal stride, and I was skating. We both had our rock skis on and made good use of them over dirt, branches, pavement, and grass that was showing after a couple of days of warm, sunny weather. This was the end, my friend. We said our good-byes knowing we had made the most of the little remaining snow and could look forward to spring without regrets.
Also, Mike set me up with a "smart" trainer and a computer loaded with the Rouvy application. Now Barb and I can meet up and go for rides together virtually--looks like fun!

Monday, March 1, 2021

New snow on March 1st makes for fun ski at Edgewood this morning

I awoke to the sound of my neighbor's snowblower, which means we got new snow overnight! I readied myself to go for a ski at Edgewood Golf Course after dropping Enrico off at work. It was only 3 degrees when I arrived, and there were no other skiers out yet. My hands were a bit chilly when I started, but with no clouds in the sky, I soon felt some warmth from the sun. I enjoyed seeing all the animal tracks in the fresh snow. What do you think this bird was doing here (and what kind of bird do you think it was)?
After rounding the tip of the oxbow, I saw a deer looking at me where the trail ascends back up to the golf course. As I approached, it moved off the trail to join its family of 7. I stopped and watched them for a long time. They watched me right back. Here are some more animal tracks--a rabbit, I believe.
On the other side of the river, some movement caught my eye. It was low to the ground. What was it? I kept looking over that way, and two crows flying from branch to branch caught my eye. Then I saw the creature on the ground again--a river otter! It was running up the steep bank. Just then, the two crows began to squawk, and then several more crows higher up started making a racket. They seemed to be cheering on the river otter. I watched until he ran out of sight and the crows settled back down. Then, I glanced to my right and saw an enormous group (maybe 40?) of wild turkeys just quietly sitting among the trees. I had not noticed them while watching the river otter--they were so quiet and still. I wished I had my camera with the long lens. After watching them for a few minutes, I continued on my ski to the end of the golf course and then looped back to the entrance. What a great way to start the day. I dedicate today's ski to Bruce Ray. I remember when he helped with ski lessons for the children here at Edgewood over a decade ago.