Great Plains: Americas Lingering Wild

I just finished reading this amazing book – Great Plains: Americas Lingering Wild.
Forsberg, Great Plans

The Nebraska-based photographer Michael Forsberg thought up the idea for the book and filled it with dozens and dozens of exceptional shots of prairies from Minnesota to Montana, North Dakota to New Mexico – plants, animals, people, and especially the land itself.

Buffalo at the Buffalo Gap

Forsberg’s photographs are complemented by short essays by geographer Davis Wishart and natural historian Dan O’Brien, whose eloquence and erudition complement Forsberg’s artistry. Loss is an explicit theme in O’Brien’s writing, an implicit one in Wishart’s – the decline and death of countless plant and animal species, the near-extermination of the grassland’s original Native inhabitants, the continuing erosion (literal and figurative) of all three kinds of prairie…

Yet as O’Brien comes to realize through his work with Forsberg, denizens of the plains do have some reasons for optimism. Arguably, we are now experiencing a moment when more people than ever before are interested in "saving" the prairies as ecosystems, as homes for myriad living creatures, and as colossally beautiful places. Reading this book makes me – an immigrant to the prairie – want to do more to save it and expand it and love it.

Driving the Ice Cream Truck

Ice Cream Truck on the Hill
Ice Cream Truck on the Hill

I had to leave the Buffalo at the shop for a week while a defective part was replaced, which would have sucked except that a) the part was warrantied, and Tom, my LBS guy, only charged me for the labor needed to install the new part, and b) Tom let me use his shop bike, a Surly Ice Cream Truck, while the Buffalo was fixed.

The Ice Cream Truck is a wonderfully crazy machine: trail-ready frame geometry, candy-blue paint, and most importantly, massive 5″ tires. The ICT was loud and slow on pavement and sidewalks, but on any other surface – grass, dirt, sand, gravel – the bike took off. It was a rocket on straightaways, but really showed off in corners and on sharp ups and downs. Riding this thing, I easily railed tight, loose corners in the local singletrack park and rolled joyfully up and down steep banks – technical stuff that I could not handle on the Buffalo. For the first time, I could see how frame size and geometry could really make a difference in riding experience – a fact that I knew, but had never really experienced.

Ice Cream Truck at the Construction Site
Ice Cream Truck at the Construction Site

In short, I had a blast riding this bike. I was almost (almost) sad to give it up on Friday when the Buffalo was fixed, but I was also eager to take the Mukluk – with its expedition geometry – back to the singletrack to see if any of my new skills translated to the bigger, less nimble bike.

Science Rocks!

Julia’s fifth-grade classes are doing their “Science Rocks” musical this week: a set of songs about science, accompanied by some dialogue, a few short skits, and even a little dancing.

Julia at Science Rocks
Julia at Science Rocks

I went to see the big show on Wednesday morning, and found the whole production very entertaining and educational. The kids were really into it, which was funny and inspiring in its own right. Dedicating hours and hours to songs about the elements and genetics? Brilliant!

Spring Thursday

Today was just one of those days that went right. Perfect weather. Lots, but not too much, to do at work – including doing off a few to-dos that had been to for too long. A hard workout at noon. Some Carleton silliness: free root-beer floats at the library.

Root Beer Float Line
Root Beer Float Line

A task at the end of the day that turned out to be easier than I thought. Wonderful floral smells in the humid spring air. A great bike ride home, seeing a half-dozen friends and acquaintances and met a new fatbike. A gorgeous sunset. A pleasant few minutes with the girls when they got home, jazzed up, from tae kwon do. Now, a good new book to read and a delicious beer…

Vivi Poetry

Genevieve made a whole bunch of birthday presents for me, and probably enjoyed watching me open them as much as she had enjoyed making them. What a kid. Though they were all good (and though getting a $5 bill from your daughter is a little weird…), the best one by far was a book of poems she’d written over the week before my birthday – one per day. Here are two. Amazing.

“The bright that comes from the blue”
The Bright poem

 

“Life”

Life poem

Best of April Fools Day 2015

No matter what John Oliver says, April Fools Day is great, especially in the Age of the Internet and especially, I think, in Northfield, which is full of people who enjoy staging pranks and who enjoy hearing about them. Here are a few of my favorite AF jokes from 2015. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more – appreciating their creativity or watching fools fall for them.

General

com.Google

Wisconsin Citizens for the Renaming of Lake Michigan to Lake Wisconsin (especially good for fools)

National Air and Space Museum Puts Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet on Display

Academia

Smith College Quad Monorail Construction To Begin Next Year for The Frontier

Houghton College to Become First College in Nation to Construct $84 Million Bio-dome over Main Campus

Cycling

Pearl Izumi Releases the Fat Bike Bandolier CO2 Carrier

USA Cycling to Organize National Gravel Series, Regular Gravel Racing and Bikes (also especially good for fools)

Northfield

Goodbye Blue Monday Coffee House to open second location

City to Consolidate Library Expansion and Skateboard Park Projects

Announcing CarlCat! Cats now available for checkout at the library

Fortunes

Like you do, Vivi spent a good half hour the other night writing fortunes for fortune cookies. Her cursive script is excellent, and her sense of cookie fortune absurdity is top notch.

Be an advertiser that constantly says, “50% Fewer calories.”

Salt and/or pepper will invade your life.

Grow up to be like Aunt Jemima.

Make a dent is a dead bird’s beak.

Chip your tooth on a barb wire.

Develop a sack-racing obsession.

Pinocchio will take you to Kokaki land.

Work in a factory that makes butter.

An evil magicians will steal your hairbrush.

Smash a tulip.

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!

Fortunes
Fortunes

Magick

Vivi’s latest passion is magic tricks. I blame the library, as usual – all those books, full of interesting ideas and projects. A couple of the tricks in the first book she checked out were pretty easy to see through. Surprisingly, she wasn’t disappointed when I could tell how she did them.

One trick flabbergasted me, though. She put a different Matchbox car in each of these bags and had me shuffle them, turn them, stand them up, or lay them down the bags. No matter what I did, she could always tell which bag held a certain car. It was literally incredible. Though I knew intuitively that she had somehow marked the bags, I needed an embarrassingly long time to figure out what she was doing – and even then, she was delighted to have tricked me for so long.

Magic Bags
Magic Bags

Fatbiking Lessons

On the Trail (photo by Chris Gibbs - C5 Adventure Photography) On the Trail (photo by Chris Gibbs – C5 Adventure Photography)

As someone with a middling level of experience in long-distance fatbike riding and racing, I’ve learned a lot from more experienced racers like Danielle Musto, who posted a great list of tips for better fat biking and Jay Petervary, who gave a great presentation on winter racing at the Winter Bike Expo in Minneapolis last fall, wrote up some of his ideas on the 45NRTH blog, and later posted on Salsa’s blog a great video on the bike and gear he is using (right this very second!) in the Iditarod Trail Invitational.

Along those lines, and keeping in mind that I am not a fast guy, I thought I would write up a few of my own lessons for successfully undertaking long-distance fatbike rides and races.

Forget drop bags.
Though I know many racers use drop bags to replenish their food and drink and to have good stuff to anticipate at the checkpoints, to me they’re been a complication, something to worry about before and during the race: what should I put in the bag? where and when do I drop off the bag? what will I do if I can’t find the bag?

A fatbike set up for a marathon or longer will have enough space on it to carry the stuff that could go in a drop bag, eliminating this complexity – and living up to the "you are responsible for you" ethos of fatbike racing.

Wear a hood!
Hats are great, especially if you need to shade your eyes, but hoods are, I think, superior as means to manage heat and moisture. Not only do hoods look awesome, but they’re easier to pull up or down than hats are to remove and stow or dig out and don. Good hoods, the kind that have high front zippers that cover the chin, also serve as good buffs, helping to bottle up heat inside a jacket or jersey.

Practice everything.
To do well in a long race, you have to practice riding, of course, but an ultramarathon demands all kinds of other skills, often an in opportune times like in the middle of the night or after hours of fighting a frigid headwind. To be ready for those moments, practice finding and donning your extra clothing quickly, starting a fire, pushing your bike through deep snow, fixing a flat tire – all those eventualities that could mean the difference between comfort and suffering, between a finish and a DNF, or even between surviving and not.

Use caffeine.
I love regular coffee and Coke. Love them, and enjoy them whenever I can. But as good as they are, caffeinated drinks and foods are even better during arduous races. As such, I’ve started weaning myself from caffeine before big races, so that I am caffeine-free for the couple weeks leading up to the event. Not only does this help induce good sleep over that period, but this assures that when I do take caffeine during the race, it’s like rocket fuel. The effect can’t be overstated! Caffeinated gel and chews, Coke, coffee, Red Bull: it’s all magically potent.

Stay relaxed.
Riding and racing is a lot easier and more fun when you stay relaxed and loose, whether by temperament or by habit – by consciously counteracting the tension that naturally builds in the body and mind. A loose body also stays warm better, I think!

But staying relaxed ahead of a race also matters to the race itself. Practically, I do this with by using checklists to be mindlessly sure I’m packing all the right stuff, by using drawings to plan the locations on my bike of all my gear, by packing race kit in one bag in my duffel and my post-race clothes in another…

Less practically, I stay relaxed by trying to follow as normal a routine as possible: my usual food, my usual clothes, my usual habits. I’ve found that a beer or two the night before a race helps keep me calmed down. Delicious. Normal.

Move like a sled dog.
From my friend and super-fast fatbike racer Kevin Breitenbach:
"I feel like i dont have a ton of relevant things to learn from guys at the Tour de France, just like they dont have much to learn from me. i have way more to learn from my dog. The more i move down the trail like my dog the better. i dont suggest anyone move down the trail like a roadie. you dont have to be a great cyclist to do well in winter races. you need to know that the most important thing is to move efficiently through every aspect of the race. a good musher, husky, wolf, coyote, or fox knows the same thing. find the sweet spot in the trail, keep your back steady and stride consistent, regulate your temperature easily and constantly, no wasted motions, rarely stop, stay on top of the snow, eat and drink quickly and deal with it in uncomfortably large portions then get rest in whatever form, no matter how brief, as often as possible. Mushers and dog teams do all that very well, and if things go well in a race so do winter endurance athletes."

"Unless you’re riding, always do two things at once."
This is one of JayP’s tips. Ride as much as possible, but when you can’t ride – and any fatbike ride of any distance will include hike-a-bike sections – make sure you’re doing something else while you push: drink water, down a gel, adjust clothing, pop some ibuprofen, move food from a frame bag pocket to a bar bag, open or close is jacket zippers… Make full use of the time before you can get back in the saddle and start making better time again.

"Be disciplined."
This is another of JayP’s tips: do the thing you know you need to do as soon as possible. Tires washing out? Stop and air down. Thirsty but your bottle’s empty? Stop and find that full one in your seat bag. Getting sweaty at 0 degrees? Unzip the jacket (or lower your hood!). Craving some food that’s out of reach? Stop and dig it out. Take care of a little issue before it’s a big problem.

Sick Kids, Bad Words

Julia threw up all night Friday, after being up till 12:30 on Thursday night. Understandably, she lay on the sofa all day Saturday, tossing and turning, reading books, sipping some water, nibbling some crackers, and generally looking and feeling awful.

After dinner, Shannon went out for a walk – her first chance to leave the house all day. Julia propped herself up on an elbow, turned toward me, and said, “I feel so awful, I want to use a bad word.”

“Go ahead, honey,” I told her. “When you’ve had two days as bad as you have, you’re allowed.”

She settled back into the sofa and with great relish said, “I feel like crap. Crap.”

*sniff sniff* My little girl is growing the hell up!