september in the prairie

When I moved from Ohio, I missed the trees and hills. Yet, I’ve grown to find the prairie pure, abundant and ever changing. This section of Springbrook park was burned completely down last fall, once the lightning storms and the Indians renewed the prairie this way. In one spring and summer the prairie returns verdant and full of life.

renewed and full of life

renewed and full of life

As we cycle this path, every day its newness is a gift.

Advertisements

a cycling day in Chicago

We hopped the train to downtown and just outside of Union Station is Lou Mitchel’s restaurant. Since 1923 Lou’s has been at the start of famous Route 66, that American mother road connecting East to the West during the dust bowl ( 1930’s ) as people migrated to California hoping for new chances and prosperity.

A Chicago Institution since 1923 - worth the stop

A Chicago Institution since 1923 – worth the stop

Route 66 has long faded, replaced by the super highways that bypass the small towns, but Lou’s has kept some old traditions. You get a donut hole ( baked there ), a complimentary orange slice and prune with breakfast, and a free tiny serving of ice cream after your meal.

these are some seriously fine donut holes

these are some seriously fine donut holes

We had omelets which were light and fluffy, but the whole-wheat toast baked there was sublime. A bite of omelet, a bite of toast, a sip of fresh squeezed orange juice… life is good.

Kingly toast - on their own bread - no need for jelly or jam - just a bit of butter.

Kingly toast – on their own bread – no need for jelly or jam – just a bit of butter.

With a bit of ice-cream to cleanse the palate we were off. Chicago has adopted some European ideas for bike lanes and in many places the bike lane is next to the sidewalk inside the parking lane. This creates a wall of parked cars to protect cyclists – and I felt safe on those roads. We headed over to the 606, a new elevated bike/jogging/hiking path that runs over the streets. You can cycle for forty city blocks without a light or car nearby. It was one of the best planned paths I’ve seen – and at $95 million to complete – it’s certainly costly. But it makes Chicago safer and better for living.

Cruising down the 606

Cruising down the 606

Heading North about 35 miles through the luxurious Evanston and nearby burgs along the lake you view awe inspiring houses but we had The Botanic Gardens and butterflies in mind.

The butterfly house at the Botanic gardens

The butterfly house at the Botanic gardens

Then North another 15 miles for lunch…

Another great Chicagoland place for hot dogs

Another great Chicagoland place for hot dogs

Then ten more miles to the train-station and home. Chicago is a cyclist’s friend.


thoughts on cycling the katy ( old Missouri-Kansas-Texas line ) cycling

the katy trail is like a collage –
It’s Indigo buntings, and more cardinals than you’ve ever seen
It’s great owls that take off ahead of you like eagles
and eagles soaring overhead

The mighty Missouri river,  flooding and expected to rise  four feet higher that day

The mighty Missouri river, flooding and expected to rise four feet higher that day

It’s the river – powerful and fast
overflowing the boundaries after rain
It’s dolomite cliffs always on the right
and the river meandering near and away on the left

The cliffs that always are on your right as you follow Lewis and Clark by the river

The cliffs that always are on your right as you follow Lewis and Clark by the river

Towns that vanished leaving just traces when the
railroad failed…. bridges made 100 years ago

An old bridge crosses one of the many tributary streams that feed the river's thirst

An old bridge crosses one of the many tributary streams that feed the river’s thirst

It’s mosquitoes – turtles and frogs that serenade you…
and jump 15 times their length to get out of the way
it’s humming birds, and dragonflys that dart
like birds and pebbles that fly to life – butterflies
or salamanders or lizards as you approach

I always stop for turtles...

I always stop for turtles…

The Katy trail is smiles from most everyone you meet
for I suspect I was smiling too,
even in the Missouri heat.


dining in the shadow of lewis and clark – cycling, travel

The book “Undaunted Courage” chronicles the 38 man Lewis and Clark expedition to new and marvelous places. Some 200 years later on my bicycle I chanced to follow their steps for nearly 200 miles along the mighty Missouri river.

Expecting to live off the land, Clark and his crew were all expert hunters and brought with them 400 pounds of lead to make bullets and the following food supplies:

150 pounds portable soup ( bouillon )
3 bushels rock salt/spices
30 kegs of spirits

The expedition also traded with the native Indians for squash, venison and fish along the Missouri, but after thirty miles on the trail we found “Trail Smokehouse” – and learned Missouri is barbecue.

Missouri knows BBQ - and this pulled pork was perfect

Missouri knows BBQ – and this pulled pork was perfect

Funny how a great sandwich and a glass of dark beer can energize a fellow. The river was very high, and one section of the trail was flooded taking us about five miles around through mud and water before we finally rejoined the trail. At the end of the day nothing says sixty miles through 90 degree heat like a frozen Margarita.

makes the heat an ancient memory

makes the heat an ancient memory

In the morning it was waffle house and grits… ( I was born in the South after all ) It reminded me of Lewis writing in his journal about using the last of the butter, or his first taste of buffalo. Near Rocheport where the eagles and hawks soar over the river near the cliffs you can ride up, park your bike and get a fresh pizza made in his outside wood oven.

IMG_1530

The expedition found the bugs so thick that they often smeared their skin with grease or sat in the smoke of their fires. We had deep-woods Off, but this little gem of a restaurant had tents for shade, and giant outdoor fans to create a gentle breeze to keep the heat and bugs away.

IMG_1531

Clark’s team went through lean times, where they were forced to trade for horses and dogs from the Indians to eat, or the river was so dangerous that they had to wait until it subsided before continuing on. We had missed the rain, but the river was racing by full of trees and other obstacles. It wasn’t all hard times, when fruit and berries were in season, Clark and his men enjoyed berry tarts, or Morel mushrooms. Near Jefferson City after the hottest day we found a little place “Prison Brews” with a motif like an old prison. In it they brew some fine beers, but most importantly – make their own root-beer. I had that first.. what a way to start a meal.

A "Prison Brews" root-beer float - root-beer and vanilla ice-cream

A “Prison Brews” root-beer float – root-beer and vanilla ice-cream

They had a fine Stout that Jan enjoyed and my Blue Cheese Burger proved, life in Missouri can be pretty fine.

Blue-cheese burger and delicious slaw - life is good

Blue-cheese burger and delicious slaw – life is good


humanitarian or scoundrel – cycling history

We did a bit of urban cycling the other day, down the CALsag trail in it’s newly paved beauty along the canal, and then through Blue Isle ( not sure how a landlocked town gets that name ) and through Roseland to Pullman. Roseland is the hard hit neighborhood where many of the stores are boarded up or converted to Churches or Mosques or bars. When the jobs have left a place, then people look to find hope in one place or another. Just beyond is Pullman, a town of historical contradictions.

Of the Pullman factory – the engine of opportunity where luxury rail-road cars were made little remains.

Pullman cars became popular after one was used in the train that took the body of assassinated President Lincoln across the country

Pullman cars became popular after one was used in the train that took the body of assassinated President Lincoln across the country

Factories need people, and George W. Pullman envisioned a city for his workers, designed by architects with clean air, good schools manned by trained teachers, and indoor plumbing in every house. It was his idea of Utopia. In 1870, he was a visionary humanitarian – and his city was considered the finest in the world. Today, you can ride past the grand hotel, or magnificent church and the row houses and boarding houses in which his workers lived and worshiped.

Housing still used almost 200 years later

Housing still used almost 200 years later

The company maintained every building, and the workers paid rent. The workers shopped at the company store, banked at the company bank – and even the ministers rented the church for services provided their sermon’s aligned with the Pullman beliefs.

The "company" church

The “company” church

In 1874 there was a recession, and Pullman cut the worker’s wages by 30% but refused to reduce the rents. The factory workers struck, and Pullman crushed the strike. Then railroad workers across the country refused to work any passenger train that had a Pullman car on it. The Pullman name was reviled, and his utopia called un-American and despicable in every way. The Federal Government then broke the rail strike.

Pullman died shortly after the strike of a heart-attack. The scoundrel had tons of cement poured over his grave so that no-one could desecrate his body, and the humanitarian left a bequeath to fund a million dollar endowment to educate the children of the workers at his factory.

As we rode back to wrap up our 50 mile ride I pondered this complex man, and his vision while words of John Goodman’s ‘City of New Orleans’ played in my mind…

And the sons of Pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers’ magic carpet made of steel

PS – if you ever played the video game Bioshock – with it’s visionary madman and failed utopia – it has to be modeled after this time and place


michelson trail day 2 – travel cycling

I’d missed the deluge ( 3 inches of rain in an hour in the mountains means floods. ) In today’s 59 miles there would be several 9 mile descents and instead of mostly open vista’s, the ride would include more canyons and several tunnels.

It followed along and crossed rushing mountain streams,

rushing mountain streams

rushing mountain streams

And Jan kept finding places where the road intersected the trail and surprising me…

My beautiful support team

My beautiful support team

About 20 miles in, my tire started to flatten, and my portable pump no longer worked. That left me pedaling up hill for about seven miles on about 2PSI ( Pounds per inch. ) Few things equal the annoyance of carrying extra weight almost 100 miles in the mountains and finding when you need it it doesn’t work. But Jan had a pump in the car and at the next trailhead I replaced the tube. I was ready for more long downhills

The start of a several mile descent - my kind of riding, easy to get over 20 mph on the mountain bike

The start of a several mile descent – my kind of riding, easy to get over 30 mph on the mountain bike

Through tunnels ( mostly short ) ….

It's a new experience riding when it's completely dark...

It’s a new experience riding when it’s completely dark…

And up to the last meadow before the end. The burst of green aspen leaves is one of my favorite memories.

The view from about 6,500 feet above sea level and the final descent into Deadwood

The view from about 6,500 feet above sea level and the final descent into Deadwood

Near the end… I was a bit saddened… I wish the trail never ended.

Mile 100, I rest my trusty steed for the last nine miles downhill

Mile 100, I rest my trusty steed for the last nine miles downhill

But things end, even the good ones… and I was left with lingering reminders… I’d lathered on bug spray on my exposed flesh, never realizing the mosquitoes would bite right through my spandex leaving me with 40 itching memories on my behind and the back of my legs

Blue skies and the trail ahead, but bring your bug spray

Blue skies and the trail ahead, but bring your bug spray

This is a bike ride that’s worth the effort.


Michelson Trail Day 1 – travel, cycling

South Dakota can be brown and solemn or lush and verdant. This trip to ride the George S. Michelson trail was marked by rain and green. The trail runs from Edgemont ( mile 0 ) up to Deadwood ( mile 108 ) along an old railroad branch ( an offshoot from the main route ) that was built in the 1890’s shortly after the 1874 gold rush in the Black Hills. Last used as a rail way in 1983, with the help of Governer George S. Michelson it was converted into one of the best rails to trails paths in the country.

Like the foothills that lead to the mountains, the trail runs up, starting wide open along the crushed gravel path. It was in great shape, and crosses more than 100 converted train bridges as it gently rises. The first thirty-five miles I rode, I saw not a single other rider.

The road goes ever on and on, and I must follow if I can - JRR Tolkien

The road goes ever on and on, and I must follow if I can – JRR Tolkien

You ride along, with the birds and the small green frogs singing, keeping one out for rattlesnakes who might be sunning themselves ( I only saw one ) sometimes it seems that you’ve covered hardly any ground. If I crept slowly uphill, more on pace with Samwise and Frodo painstakingly ascending Mount Doom than the intrepid Tour de France riders… well stay with me, I’ll think of some excuse soon.

Notice my - I am not anything a wild animal would want to eat colors...

Notice my – I am not anything a wild animal would want to eat colors…

Then you look off to the side and think, I guess I’ve climbed a bit, even with this gentle rail-road pitch to the trail.

A look over the side shows how the climbing adds up

A look over the side shows how the climbing adds up

I admit at mile 35, where likely 30 miles had been uphill, I was hot from the sun and pretty tired. I met Jan at the trail-head and she had lunch, a sandwich, unsweetened green iced tea, and fresh blackberries. Encouraged an invigorated the last fifteen miles were easily climbed

Horses graze, oblivious of all the world's cares - near the almost effervescent  aspens.

Horses graze, oblivious of all the world’s cares – near the almost effervescent aspens.

Just past this pasture, Jan picked me up and it was off to our hotel in Custer City – just as she picked me up at the trail-head the heavens opened with the start of a three inch in an hour rain. But of course, anything can happen in the mountains.