Monthly Archives: June 2013

Biking to Blue Mounds

Picture of John and Katie.

John discusses the geological history of the region with Katie.

Ever since our bicycle excursion to Devil's Lake last month, my girlfriend Katie and I have been talking about other places we could bike to. We got our chance last weekend when we took a sixty-mile round-trip ride to Blue Mounds State Park with some friends from the Hoofers Outing Club.

We were supposed to leave on Friday morning, but a forecast of all-day thunderstorms caused us to postpone the trip by a day. It was still drizzling when Katie, John, Genya, and I met on Saturday morning, but the rain was a far cry from the torrential downpour that had hit while we were supposed to be on the trail. After navigating through Madison's extensive paved trail network, we left the city and joined the gravel Military Ridge State Trail, which crosses much of southwestern Wisconsin.

By late morning it stopped raining and we were able to shed some layers. Katie and I were covered in mud, which taught us the importance of fenders on bicycles. By the time we got to Mount Horeb, the mud had dried in to a dust that could easily be brushed away.

Starving after having biked twenty miles, we stopped at the Grumpy Troll, a brew pub with an assortment of delicious burgers. Another Dan joined our group at the pub, and we made sure our stomachs were as oiled as our bike chains before leaving.

We had a few more miles to go, but there was a problem: The previous day's storms had felled several large trees across the trail. On at least two occasions, the foliage was large enough to block our entire view of the trail which lay ahead. Glad to have postponed our trip, we blazed new routes through the blockage.

Picture of bike.

My fender-less bike gets a muddy beating.

All of the normal campsites at Blue Mounds State Park were reserved, but they had several sites cordoned as first-come, first-served for walk-ins and cycle tourists (an oft-overlooked advantage of not driving) and most were still free. We set up camp, had a quick nap, and went for a swim in the park's pool (Cost: $2) before returning to camp to cook our dehydrated pasta dinner.

While cooking, it became apparent that we were about to get hit with another thunderstorm, so we retreated to a shelter built by the Boy Scouts near our campsite (Thanks, Boy Scouts!). The rain continued unabated for most of the night, and in lieu of sitting around a campfire, we resorted to entertaining ourselves with silly stories and John's signature Tang-quila Sunrises.

The next morning was sunny, so we dried our gear before packing up and biking to the park's two towers, which overlook large portions of southern Wisconsin. Afterward, we had a fun ride down the large hill back to the park's entrance which brought back memories of the Death Road in Bolivia, though scaled down by about 1000 times.

“Let's have a contest to see how far we can go without pedaling,” the other Dan said to us before we went down the final hill out of the park.

“Sure,” we all agreed. It started innocently enough, with each of us building our speeds up to about 35 MPH as we neared an intersection before slowing down to a sane velocity. I took the corner onto the Military Ridge Trail as fast as I could without wiping out and rolled another 400 yards before stopping.

I won the contest and waited for Dan, but he didn't show up. Turned out he had blown a tire and was in the process of changing it. With painstaking attention to detail, he squeezed his spare tube underneath the tire, but as he blew it up with his fancy CO2 cartridge, the presta valve broke off and the tire deflated with a hiss. The original tube was so pockmarked, patching it did no good, so he rode the last few miles to Mount Horeb on his rim, which was oblong to begin with and likely the source of the flat tire. It happened to be the perfect opportunity for Dan to invite his parents to dinner and drive him home, so all was well.

Despite the inclement weather and flat tires, this was another fun weekend of cycling. My next longish trip might be to Governor Dodge State Park, which is another fourteen miles past Blue Mounds, in a combination biking/climbing weekend. Biking gives you low-impact exercise and it's fast enough to not be boring, yet slow enough that you actually take in your environment during your journey. If you haven't tried it yet, what's stopping you?

More photos from the weekend

Devil's Lake Day of Instruction

Picture of canoers.

Carl teaching a canoe lesson.

A couple of times per year, the Hoofers Outing Club holds a Day of Instruction (DOI), where they teach new members basic skills in canoeing and kayaking. Because of the construction at the Memorial Union, this summer's DOI was moved to Devil's Lake State Park. It's the most scenic park in Wisconsin, so this wasn't a bad trade-off.

Club members drove sea kayaks, whitewater kayaks, and canoes to the lake and lessons were given all day. I was recruited for my awesome boat driving skills, so I had lots of free time to walk around the trails. I climb at Devil's Lake all the time, but it had been so long since I had seen the Balanced Rock and Devil's Doorway, I had forgotten how amazing they were. I also finally got a closer look at the blue herons that nest next to the CCC parking lot, and there was family of birds living next to a light fixture in the shelter we used for the day.

At the end of the day, we grilled out and got in some extra relaxation. Fun times!

More photos from Day of Instruction

Twin Cities Couch Fest

Picture of couchsurfers.

Group shot at the sculpture gardens.

Last weekend was time for another Twin Cities Couch Fest, an annual gathering of friends old and new in the fabulous Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

On Friday, we headed up to Interstate State Park, which spans the St. Croix River between Wisconsin and Minnesota. We got to check out some of the hundreds of potholes in the park, which formed about 10,000 years ago during the last glacial period. The area was created by lava flows millions of years ago, leaving behind hardened basalt rocks mixed with some granite. Taylor's Falls was just upstream of the park's entrance, which made me wish I had brought my kayak. There were also boulders all around the park, which made me wish I had brought my rock shoes. Oh well, you can't do everything.

We dined on grass-fed buffalo burgers and gouda cheese at Eichten's Cafe, then spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the Franconia sculpture park. There were exhibits ranging from 80's pop to playgrounds, and I even finally got to live my lifelong dream of shooting Bambi. It was interesting seeing the artists at work on their next pieces; this place reminded me of a more diversified version of Dr. Evermor's Forevertron.

There were a bunch of options for Saturday afternoon, and Katie and I decided to ride our bikes from the Stone Arch Bridge to Minnehaha Falls in central Minneapolis. I was unaware that Minneapolis had so many bike trails, so this was a great option. I still wish the city had more bike lanes, though. They would make riding on the streets less scary, which would encourage more people to bike instead of driving, which would help to alleviate traffic issues, a win-win for all.

Picture of alien craft.

One of the stranger exhibits at the sculpture gardens.

Saturday night we went to Northern Spark, a free live art show in downtown St. Paul that went from dusk till dawn. This was my favorite event of the weekend because it had exhibits everywhere you looked and several live music acts. I didn't take my camera with me (too busy discoing it up), so check out the website link for photos. At 2:00 a.m., the main event happened when they burned down a replica of a historical house. Bloodlust was in the crowd as they chanted “Burn it down!” until it finally went up in a ball of flames. About 500 people recorded the event on their cellphones, which they held above their heads.

This was a really fun weekend where I got to meet old friends and make some new ones. I was especially glad they had more events this year in St. Paul – the evil twin normally doesn't get much love. Lots of other big cities have annual couch crashes now, which are organized through Couch Surfing, though the events are put together by the local couch surfers.

By the way, Madison's Couch Crash is coming up August 1-4. We're planning lots of fun stuff around town, so this will be a another great way for you to get to know the city and make friends. Here's our official website (it still has to be updated with this year's schedule).

More photos from the Twin Cities Couch Fest

External Websites:
Twin Cities Couch Fest
Interstate State Park
Franconia Sculpture Garden
Northern Spark
Couch Surfing

How To Set a Top-Rope Anchor

Picture of anchor setters.

Time to set some top-rope anchors.

I spent a day at Devil's Lake to learn how to set top-rope climbing anchors from several leaders in the Hoofers Mountaineering Club. After introductions, the leaders taught our group the basics of setting anchors:

– Tying knots in cordelette and webbing
– The attributes of all safe anchors – Secure, Equalized, REdundant, No Extension (SERENE)
– Advantages and disadvantages of passive protection (stoppers, hexes)
– Advantages and disadvantages of active protection (tricams, cams)
– Techniques for equalization
– How to sling boulders and trees

Next, we went over some example placements on the crag, which gave us a visual of what good and bad placements look like.

Picture of JJ.

JJ demonstrates a water knot.

Finally, we split into smaller groups and got to set up real anchors and receive constructive criticism from the instructors. I built four separate anchors and was feeling good about my judgment in placements by the end of the day. On top of that, I was feeling a lot better about standing near the edge of a cliff while building an anchor. Climbing has helped a lot in overcoming my fear of heights.

Thanks to all of the instructors who took time out of their busy days to teach us!

The club puts on this formal anchor-setting clinic at least annually. They also also teach clinics on other skills such as lead climbing and mountaineering. If you are interested in any form of climbing, the Mountaineering Club is a great resource for skill development and connecting with other climbers. I'm really glad to have such a great resource available in Madison.

More anchor-setting photos

Memorial Day Kayaking

Picture of kayakers.

Seth gives his river talk on the first day.

I spent another Memorial Day weekend whitewater kayaking with the Hoofers Outing Club. This is one of my favorite trips of the year as it's beginner-friendly and we get to camp on property the club owns in northern Wisconsin known as Hooferland.

Twenty-four people went on this trip, and on the first day we all kayaked the Pike River, a great place to shake off the rust that had accumulated during a winter without kayaking.

For day 2, we split up and some of the group headed to Section II of the Wolf river while the rest (including me) went down the Peshtigo River. We had a great day on the “Pesh,” with water levels much higher than last year. If we had run the Peshtigo then, it would've been the “Push To go.” We ended the day with a lentil soup, songs on the ukelele, and crazy kayaking stories around the campfire.

On our final day, we split up again, with some of us doing Wolf Section III and the rest heading down to the Red. My group got a bit of time to play at Gilmore's Mistake, a park-and-play rapid on the Wolf River.

The club provides a great opportunity to learn how to kayak in a safe(ish) environment. There are no guides, so everyone is expected to contribute however they can, which could include planning, food preparation or driving. This also keeps the costs down for those broke college students and bums without jobs. If you're interested in doing a variety of outdoors activities from kayaking to mountain biking, the Outing Club is a great option.

One tip: You don't need to be a student to join. You just have to be a member of the Wisconsin Union, which costs $50 per year.

More kayaking photos