Wednesday, November 26, 2014

To Lem

The Horizon
Blog: noun 1. a website containing a writer's or group of writers' own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.

I started this blog quite a few years ago-at first to share photographs, then as things progresssed it seemed more and more words found their way onto “paper.” Experiences, thoughts, feelings.

I never really know who reads these little posts, but from time to time, someone will mention that they like what they've read or seen, or they share some of the same thoughts on my random entries. Who reads them and how many people I reach really isn't the point-these are more for me.

Today, I really only care if one person reads this.

A couple days ago I received an email from one of my Twangfest (and family) friends Kyle. It was just a short note telling the Twangfest group that one of our guys had lost his close friend. It was a shock and unexpected. My good friend and “Twang-brother” Mike Lemoine, “Lem,”as we all call him, had returned from a great opening day of hunting on his property when learning that he'd lost one of his dear friends.

I didn't know Mike McCormick well-I'd met him at Lems home a few years ago at a summer get together and remember him as very funny, personable and someone who loved music. I can't imagine what Lem is going through losing someone like that-when I called, he just stated it was surreal-something one can't understand. At 55 years old (about the same age as all of us) Mike's passing was much too young, and a reality check. The obligatory statement (but so true) “Life is short” was shared between us during our short conversation and I just said I was sorry. Lem, as he does, sincerely thanked me for my humble phone call. I felt bad for him.

I've never lost a close friend like this. Thinking about it the past few days I know it would be very difficult. It's said “ Close friends are family you choose” -a very accurate statement I believe. I feel that way about my good friends, especially the Twang guys who I only see once or twice a year if I'm lucky. I'd hate to lose one of them....most of us have known each other for over 30 years.

Lem and I hit it off from the beginning-he had married into the group and since neither of us were boyhood friends like the rest from Onalaska, we had a mutual connection as outsiders in a way. 20 years have now passed and we have remained close cohorts-like we'd seen each other yesterday (a year later) good friends. I don't know why that happens but I'm glad it does with some you meet.

I do know that when you become friends with Lem, you consider yourself very lucky, as I do. I'm sure Mike McCormick and Lem felt the same way about each other, making this loss so much harder. When something like this happens we can't understand it, but we want to do something. We share someone's loss when they are a good friend. I could have bought a sympathy card and mailed it, but after my call, I knew I just had to write a few words-Just to Lem.

I'm sorry for your loss... very sorry and want you to know I don't take for granted your friendship. It's inevitable in life, these things will happen, but that doesn't make them any less painful. In time, we can look back and appreciate those who come into our lives, no matter how long they are with us. For that we can be thankful. Be well my friend.

Life is eternal and love is immortal; And death is only a horizon, And a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. ~Rossiter Raymond

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2014-The Box Stand

Yearly Count

Five pieces of thin plywood. Wood screwed together and attached to long legs chained to a red pine sixteen feet in the air. This has been my home, my refuge, during the gun season for over 15 years. Before that, some old Wausau Paper mill felt lined the shooting rails to help block the wind. Even earlier, it was a couple planks nailed to a crotch of an oak or birch, where I'd shiver in the exposed air yet try not to twitch a muscle for fear of being pegged by an unseen whitetail.

So maybe from a purest standpoint, my boxstand is sacrilegious to true hunting-too comfortable some would say? But deer hunting has changed-I've changed. Scant numbers of hunters cruise snow covered hills and dales seeking out a track to peruse.  Fragmented small land parcels prevent that technique and more-so, few nimrods* are willing to put the effort nowadays. Still hunters, taking step after painstaking slow step, scanning the forest for game are scarce as well. I wonder how many of us have the patience to use these techniques in our “modern” times? For a change of pace, I have reverted to those ancestral skills from time to time but not often enough it seems.

This year again, I, like the majority of hunters, sit and wait. Fred Bear championed this hunting style and indeed, maybe taking a stand, letting game come to you and staying put can be the most successful. This little box on stilts affords me at least a little comfort, letting me dwell longer. It's the second day of the season as I write this and what was a near perfect opener, (sans deer sightings) with mild temps and snow cover, turned to a damp windy grey scape. I'm happy to have these four walls blocking some of the mist and breeze.

It's not a luxury box like the new plastic or fiberglass ones for sale outside Gander Mountain or the local sporting goods store. Nope-mine is just homemade-I like the openness in order to hear a twig snap or leaf shuffle. I'm not sure how guys can hunt just visually from those windowed central heated stands. Not a criticism- for I enjoy my little crib in a tree, I just need a bit more exposure to keep all senses involved.

This stand is also my escape. I can duck down and pour and sip what usually is the best coffee ever (deer hunting helps “flavor” it) or stay almost hidden munching a sandwich. It's a quiet place as well, so needed when removed from my elementary school classroom (and appreciated). It's my humble abode where notes can be jotted down, my hunting journal updated and maybe pages of a book read. (this year's selection was Richard Thiel's “the Timber Wolf in Wisconsin”

The property where my stand resides has been our family near Mosinee for over 40 years. I wandered and hunted this and the surrounding land since a teen ager. The tree it leans against is not a random choice. My stand locations gradually migrated over the years further and further from our shack, now to this remotest corner of the property. County and managed forest land adjoin ours and although I've never had mass migrations of deer pass by, the spot has been productive. The stands' lifetime average is .75 deer per hour hunting. Maybe low by central farmland standards, but enough to put venison in the freezer from time to time. Least I forget, I've etched every whitetail seen from this box on the wood walls. Yearlings, does and bucks with little lines indicating the number of points. Occasionally, a mark will be circled, indicating a successful shot. Some are noted with “Ten” or “Nik” next to it-the kids joining me here for their first successful hunt with dad.

It can be a long hike in here-a mile now, and although I pass through good habitat, I seem to just want to get to the stand and settle in. Stashed warm boots, bibs and orange coat are changed into by the glow of a headlamp, daylight still an hour off. The backpack is unloaded of shells, binoculars, extra hats and a camera. The notebook sits next to a thermos, ziplock bag of moms cookies and a bologna pickle sandwich. Only when all that is set can I relax and start taking in the sounds of the still pitch black woods. Its amazing what one can hear and detect in those agonizingly quiet pre-dawn minutes. As soon as the sun is up and maybe a breeze begins, I can ease off the intensity of the senses.

Hiking in this year (on day 2) I thought the weatherman should have issued a dense fog advisory for hunters seeking their stands. My light barely pierced the blanket of suspended cloud I waded through traversing the old logging road. Luckily for me, my opening day tracks remained in the mashed potato snow and I could blindly follow them to the ladder. Not surprising, there were few shots in this murkiness, even after several hours of daylight. Opening day, it seemed everyone was shooting....except me. As it turned out, there were lucky hunters around us, but unfortunately, none in the Meurett group.

Having a little comfort like this box keeps me out in the woods longer. I usually stay all day. In the back of my mind I think I can't get a deer if I'm sitting back in the warm shack. Part stubbornness, part optimism I guess. I know if I'm out there at least I have a chance-even on dead slow long fog days. After several unproductive days and later in the season, even that tenacity starts to wear off. Hours and hours staring at the same bare trees and listening to the same red squirrel scurrying around gathering pine cones gets old. The stand fends off the urge leave a little longer-I have some coffee yet in the thermos and a few more pages of notes to pen and the .308 leaning against the wall still has a chance if it's here not in a case.
Day 2:Fog

Although I have a few days left in this season, the chances of getting a deer tend to dip dramatically. I know this. Fewer hunters out moving whitetails, the animals staying nocturnal and frankly, some of the deer are just now gone. I'll still take my place and put in more time-one never knows what will happen. It'll be bittersweet on the last hunt there this year, tucking away my gear one last time. You become attached and accustomed to this little place away from it all. I'll know that the season is over and it'll be another year to wait until I climb this ladder....with a new book, my trusty Winchester and a thermos full of coffee.
Hour 17
1. (Bible) Old Testament a hunter, who was famous for his prowess (Genesis 10:8-9). Douay spelling: Nemrod
2. a person who is dedicated to or skilled in hunting

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A World away- Twangfest

I feel like one of God's chosen people, having had the opportunity to share, with many fine companions, these varied and lovely realms of our natural world. -Fred Bear

A world away-the natural world as Bear speaks to. That thought kept passing through my head during the three days of Twangfest this fall. Each time I looked out over the surrounding countryside- every time I caught amazing sunsets from high above the encompassing forest. It was reflected in the deafening silence of the predawn morning, waiting for the landscape and trees around me to solidify from the darkness. This place is a world away from everything outside of where we were, if just for a few days. I relished it-every second.

I'm not sure why these thoughts were so vivid this year. We'd all been gathering for “Twangfest” for over 30 years, a group of old college friends who spent a weekend together bow hunting, camping and enjoying our friendship afield. I'd seen those sunsets before, framed by the tops of a massive oak trees and the tall ridges in the distance. In the dark, I'd watch tracers of car lights roam the roads and hiway below, all busy going somewhere. The blackness beneath our high perch base camp was dotted with farmyard lights and in the distance small towns glowed and twinkled. I'd seen that all before and liked it. I was here and “they” were all out there occupied doing other important things I'm sure.

I guess I “pondered” why it felt so disconnected from the outside world this year, but that term seems so old fashioned. Contemplate, reflect? I'll go with those words for they sound more profound, but mean the same thing. Maybe it's an age thing-the older I get, the more I appreciate just being out there. It takes effort and preparation and it's never easy, but there are small moments outdoors that sink into ones primal soul and make it all worthwhile. The snap of a twig or shuffle of leaves in the excruciatingly quiet dawn requires every ounce of attention to identify. Eyes strain to re-connect with a movement, careful to not twitch a muscle least the prey locks onto me instead. Every shift of wind is detected, noted and fretted over-something I don't give a second thought when removed of this place and this time.

Twangfest does detach the group, usually numbering between 6 to 9 guys, from almost everything for this short period of time each year. Smart phones intrude some, but the guys are pretty good about leaving business behind and escaping. It's like we are sequestered here in the woods, with bows and arrows, camo and gear among friends that seem we'd seen yesterday. Not a bad place to be, and one we don't leave once we are unloaded and settled. Any news from the outside world is unwelcome-I kind of take delight (or maybe respite) in not knowing what's going on, in being removed from it all. It allows us to focus on our camaraderie and concentrate on hunting, which yes, we do take seriously, though it's just one part of this yearly gathering.

When bowhunting, you find you get closer to the woodland critters. The flora and the forest floor becomes clearer. You look at things more closely. You're more aware. You know the limited range of the bow is only 40 yards or so. You must try to outwait that approaching deer. Careful not to make the slightest movement or sound hoping that your scent won't suddenly waft his way. That's when you'll know for sure and appreciate deeply what bowhunting is all about." - Fred Bear

Having the bow in hand does alter us-we're no longer an observer, but a participant, something hard to define, but I've found true none the less. As Bear reflects-you do look closer, one does become more aware and everything is clearer-something that maybe is missing from daily life. The Twangfesters in the early years had different priorities, we were all in our early twenties, still in college and a weekend in the woods centered around a lot of crazy fun, some hunting and maybe an impromptu touch football game-in camo. Wait...I guess much of that does remain, plus a lot of music playing and story telling built of many years of returning to this place. But perhaps it's now just the escape, the esprit de corps, that keeps us returning each year. The locations have changed a few times over the years, each spot with a different flavor, each place providing different memories and tales.

Fewer deer are taken these days-the hunters much more picky about the quality of our quarry. “Brown is down” (meaning does are fair game-for we all love venison) is whispered around camp, but in reality, long drives back home after the weekend, then dealing with deer processing probably hampers releasing an arrow from time to time. Chancy attempts are passed on, instead waiting on a opportunity to make a good shot. Filling tags has much less importance now than in early versions of Twangfest. It was said that just preparing, gathering gear (or buying new junk), washing camo and planning on stand placement is half the fun-maybe more. We can always dream of taking that big buck and imagining it happening is something that helps pass countless hours in the blind. Those aspirations also become great fodder for the boys back at camp-who doesn't love chatting up the pre-and post hunt each day?

My companions arriving at Twang after 32 years leave behind for a few days diverse careers-a couple battery executives, a pair of teachers, a musician and a VP of new talent in Nashville, a sales exec and a couple others who manage to drop in from time to time. We've gone from college bachelors donning camo each weekend to starting jobs, changing jobs, raising families, saying good bye to some and even welcoming grandchildren. Perhaps a new generation at some point will join us in the woods, also thankful to be worlds away. share, with many fine companions, these varied and lovely realms of our natural world.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Winds of Change

“The Winds of Change”

That line begins it's life from a speech by British Prime Minister Harold macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in February of 1960. The seeds of independence were beginning to take root in Capetown at that time. Thirty years later, the pop group Scorpions borrowed the phase again- “The future's in the air-I can feel it everywhere-Blowing with the wind of change” My revival of that line here is a long way from South Africa or a German rock band formed in 1965.

The words rushed back to me as I listened to the wind howl through the trees outside one morning, clanging chimes loudly and catapulting anything not tied down into the woods near the house. It seemed a cyclone had blown in overnight, kind of unusual for Wisconsin, not known for such gales. Out west, sure-I was used to non-stop wind whenever my buddies and I head to North Dakota. It's a constant, even in the dead of night we'd discovered. Usually those winds drive ducks and all manner of waterfowl along for the ride. Cold and wind seem perpetual in “nodak” during October.

Molly Morning
We usually make the trek west just before Halloween, which signals the imminent changeover to winter and our last chance for puddlers and divers before winter slams the potholes shut and frozen. Some years arctic air arrives early and breaking ice for dogs and birds becomes the modus operandi, a challenge (not pleasurable) for anyone and everything.

The winds of change arrived this year to be sure. A record high temp preceded us (86 in Bismarck) and it stayed in the upper 60's and 70's during our stay with little to no breeze. All that is fine and dandy, but not exactly favorable to waterfowl hunting. Apparently, the ducks didn't get the memo that late October is when they should be streaming through the pothole region where we hunt. They too must have just stayed put, enjoying the bluebird days wherever they do such things. Needless to say, we walked far and wide for the few birds we did take-scarcity, the order of the day (s). I shudder to think just how much each duck cost per pound on this trip, but again, that's not the reason for doing such things-besides, we re-cooped some of the cost in unused ammo.

Not only the weather was altered, but also the make up of our hunting party. My buds and I are all in our middle 50's, but the average age dropped considerably this year when 3 young sons of a couple of the guys joined us. I was all in favor. It kind of takes the pressure off the four elders to constantly torment and tease each other for now we had new blood. No missed shot would go unnoticed. There was also the advantage to have young backs to carry overflowing bags of decoys to far flung ponds or fit legs to circumnavigate the biggest of potholes.

The newbies were fun and changed the dynamic of our group. Devising a strategy for 8 guys is different from half that. It was almost like making a war plan, involving synchronizing watches, dividing the troops and being sure the correct retrievers tagged along with their owners. Things move slower but broader, from rolling out of bed in the morning to spreading out among all available wetlands in the search for game. There may have been fewer ducks aloft, but steel still flew-the youngins still working on their distance judging. If one shot were fired, then three, then down the line until guns reached the limit of their plugs. I think the ducks had little to fear at some of the volleys .

Molly and Mallard
As usual, filling gamebags was not the priority, but rather enjoying time outdoors together in a beautiful place. We made a point everyday to find the highest point around, park the trucks, let the dogs out to stretch and watch the sun go down. I think the “kids” appreciated it, not realizing in the early days, we'd still be collecting evening decoys at that time of day and slugging them back to the pickup. Now, we just take the time and savor it and the company. Perhaps the highlight of those evenings was the decision to tailgate on one of those hill tops. Why not? Grills were trucked in, coolers and lawn chairs set up and Wisconsin brats sizzled over flame. Times like these are made perfect, not only by the food, friends and scenery, but by stories told-many of which had us in stitches. That crowns a great day hunting out west.

Selfie with 1187 & Molly Mae
All to quickly the trip is over, and the task of packing, cleaning and driving is before us-8 or 9 hours for most back to central Wisconsin. Within 40 miles, the pothole region, with ever present water and rolling hills, is behind us-replaced by a dead flat plain, corn and soybeans. On the horizon, plumes of black smoke-here and there, accompanied us for almost 200 miles. Puzzled at first, I soon realized the source-farmers burning wetlands of cattails and marshgrass, then following with the plow and disk. Change was bowing in on the marshes as well. CRP land, so vital to not just waterfowl, but wildlife in general, was disappearing in every direction we looked. Sky high commodity prices last year had driven CRP acreage into virtual extinction everywhere in North Dakota. The change just in the past year was dramatic-far less habitat meant fewer birds and animals. I understand farmers need to make a living, but a few more acres of corn, fueling the questionable ethanol industry, comes at a high cost for the environment and wildlife.

Change is inevitable. Some, like sharing the outdoor life with new family and friends is the very best kind. Others, like the transformation of the landscape, would be better left untouched, the way the wind and weather formed it and what drew us to it's beauty many years ago. Let's hope the breeze shifts in a positive direction to sustain what we have come to love and keep future generations coming back and living life out of doors.
"USA Pond"
Story Time
Andrew-New Generation
Buck Pond Hike
"Twin Lakes"-Posted
End of Day Storytime
Sunset at Allens
Boot Pond Morning Decoys

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two days, Two Hunts, Same Outcome?

Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forest and fields in which you walk.  Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person. -Fred Bear

Fred Bear has always been one of my favorite outdoorsmen, perhaps because of his reserved and respectful character about hunting. He was a childhood idol and I pulled back many a Fred Bear recurve during my early years bowhunting. That was a long time ago and recurves have been replaced by high tech compounds and carbon arrows, none of which make the “outdoor experience” any better-in fact, those modern “advances” really don't matter.

Sure, better equipment, bows, guns, ammo, fishing gear and alike can make our sports more successful-if measured in harvested game. I think the older I get, that measure of success has changed-no, it surely has, because that theme has found it's way onto these pages more than a few times. Part of it is time-in my younger days it seemed time moved ever so casually and it was unlimited. Now in my mid fifties, there seems to be an urgency, that every second spent in the “forest and field “ as Bear speaks to, is it should be. There are only a finite number of minutes left for me out there.

Thoughts of years left on this planet were not filling my head the other day as I walked back to the truck, lab trotting alongside, double barrel broke and cradled in the crook of my arm. The day's hunt over. The game pouch was weightless. The last few minutes of daylight streamed through the trees far across a prairie valley-switchgrass and tall Big Blue Stem filling the fields in amber. Molly had done her job. I was satisfied in her performance, nailing down a couple rooster pheasant, her tail whipping violently each time she closed the gap on a bird. I could just waltz along following her zig zagging course through the grass and brush. The pheasant did well too-managing to put a tree or two between themselves and my shotgun leaving me with an empty vest and disappointed dog-retrieving is half the fun. Molly would drive back and forth searching out what should be a dead bird, and I felt disappointed for her I didn't connect. But that's how these things go and luckily her memory is short-there are always more birds to seek out and smells to smell.

It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.” That was more the thought as I fiddled with the two 20 gauge shells in my hand, then slipped the brass bell off Molly's collar. She happily jumped in the truck-perhaps thinking we were off to another hunting spot or at least to be rewarded with a treat. Two days earlier, at this same field and covering much of the same ground, I'd connected on a nice big colorful rooster. Molly raced to collect the still lively pheasant as it tried to make an escape, but the proud lab would have none of it and returned the bird to my hand. That hunt was much the same-beautiful fall evening, cool temps, the dog getting birdy a few times and a quiet walk back enjoying the sunset warm the colors in the west sky.

A bird in the Hand....” as they say, was the only difference. Yet, it didn't really make that day any more successful or satisfying. It would provide a good meal at some point and I was thankful to bring back some game, but really, that wasn't the point of being out there. Two hunts, two days, same outcome as far as what is really important and the reason I needed to spend a few minutes afield. Bear's quote, to me, really lands squarely on everything I believe when I lace up some boots, slide the gun into a case and step out the door. It's not about limits being reached or perfect shots, but rather it's about cleansing that soul and making me a better, happier person.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dogs, Guns and Time

Christian B
A dog, a gun and time enough.” - George Bird Evans

Whenever bird hunters or about to be bird hunters share a few minutes or hours together, these three topics will always come up. There is no doubt, there is no debate- dogs, guns and having enough time to do them both justice will be discussed. Birds as well, but as unlikely as it would seem, they are a minor part of the story and whether or not a game bag is filled.

This fall we have been blessed with awful weather. Awful as in the original meaning of the word-things used to be “worthy of awe” which is how we get expressions like “the awful majesty of God.” Yes, awful indeed and days that are not to be missed outdoors. Bird hunting with my good friend Dave Borman and his son Christian of Ladysmith would have to override all other activities these perfectly awful days. Bike riding gear and a fat bike were stowed in the truck-just in case, but I think we knew deep down, their tires would see no dirt. Not when dogs, guns and time were on the agenda.

We have hunted together for well over 30 years, sometimes in the central forest region near my home, others busting brush in the Blue Hills in search of grouse or woodcock. An annual trip to North Dakota is a priority,  putting our pups and and packs of shot on ducks geese and pheasant is something not to be missed. This year is no different. The ND hunt is a few days away and to tune up the labs and our reflexes, it was decided we'd wade tall swamp grass on a game farm, then try our luck on a state wildlife area in hopes of getting the dogs on as many birds as possible.

Barley, Dave's excellent senior chocolate lab, needed to be afield a few last times-although showing her age, when the weather turns cooler and shotguns are slipped into cases, a spark of youth fills her gimpy little body. The tail starts wagging and she won't let you near the pick up without her tight against your leg, not to be left behind. And why not?-she is one of the best upland labs I've hunted over and it's her life, and it might as well be until she can burrow through the cattails no longer. It was a chance to see if she had the vigor for one more trip out west. As we hunted together once again, the little brown dog proved she still had the goods, confirming my black lab Molly's hits on birds or finding her own. I trusted Barley completely for over the years she is seldom wrong when the tail starts excitedly whipping her backside. “Yep-there is a bird there.” 
Molly May

Molly is in her adult years now-proving herself a solid performer, turning into this serious all business creature when she catches her first hot scent of a bird. Her solid body plows blindly through brush and saw grass letting her nose lead the way-albeit, at times a bit far. As I see it, I just need to keep up and it's tough to slow her down when a rooster is sprinting down cornrows or through a bean field.

Of the pheasant and grouse the pair of labs found and put up-we managed to take about 80%, not bad for using flushing dogs on our first hunt of the year. I'm just happy if I manage to connect once and a while-especially on grouse, who always have a knack of putting trees between me and them during their startling escape. I actually enjoy watching the dogs work the most-and if they can find birds, zero in on the scent cone and get them flying, they have done well and it's a good day. It's hard to explain witnessing a good bird dog do their thing to someone who has never had the privilege to.

Dave recently added a new gun to his collection-mostly for the tougher birds out west, but really as an excuse to get a new gun-his eldest son Andrew would be joining us for this years adventure and would inherit Dave's older scattergun. Perfect reason (in all our minds) to pick up a new smoke pole. Obviously, it should be tested, so he was anxious to run a some shells through the camo'd barrel. After watching the first few birds wave goodbye after his shots, we dealt him (and his new gun) a good deal of ribbing-justified, of course. In no time, they became comfortable with each other, much like my well used over and under, and birds started to drop. Christian, a full time education student, has less time to hone his shooting skills, but made some good clean kills on a few birds. As nice as new guns are, and we discussed this, we always seem to wax on and on about the venerable 870-one of our first guns and as trustworthy as they come. We always have one along as a spare, knowing full well, they can be counted on without fail. With my double and Dave's auto loader, we sometimes forget to pull the trigger a second, or third time, not having the '70s slide action to prompt the followup shot.

There were plenty of times while loading or unloading guns and dogs or when just stopping for a minute in the field, we remarked how peerless these days were. How matchless October outings can be like we were living, with bells on collars, vests stuffed with shells and the sound of a round chambered with authority. I love that sound. The scent of wet dog, gun oil and decaying leaves waif around us-a most incomparable perfume. I wish I had bottles of it for days I'm stuck in lifes' other distractions though not everyone would appreciate the fragrance I suppose. Those smells, those sounds, the talk of dogs, guns and time I cannot get enough of. Time is always too short here. Always. 
Dave & C-Man and the Tiny Vest

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall Rides

Lyle on Sidewinder

I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.” Wendy Delsol

Fall is without a doubt the best time of year to ride. Spring is buggy, muddy and has a chill that I can never warm up to. Summer sticks with the bugs but replaces the cold with sweltering air you can barely breathe. Winter? Well, there is nothing really wrong with pedaling in snow, but it still doesn't quite hold up to Autumn.

In my racing days, fall signaled the end of the riding year, rolling in the final races of the season, concluding with the Chequamegon 40-the Christmas and New Years of the fat tire world. The workout season is over and it's time to “just ride.” That philosophy of non-training now carries me throughout the year and I can pedal to no strict regiment or because I have to. Okay, not quite true, I do “have to” ride in the fall. As Delsol writes, I so look forward to “drinking in the surroundings,” many times frantically not knowing what to do or where to go first. There are so many things pulling me in different directions, if only October were twelve weeks long. The black lab prances after work, convinced we'll be toting a shotgun chasing birds, the backpack waits to be slung on a shoulder and a tree stand impatiently expects my return. There are leaves to shuffle under foot as well and wildlife to photograph. But the mountain bike leaning in the corner is most anxious because I am. Those knobbie tires need to run over the carpet of yellow, orange and red in the woods, not always quite sure were the trail lies hidden beneath.
Yellow Carpet Ride

Eventually, each fall pursuit will get it's share of my time, but never enough and I feel the same way. Luckily for me, others concur and my bike is more than willing to share some singletrack with company. Biker friends from Madison arrived at their favorite trail (and mine) on what could only be described as a perfect autumn weekend. Trees in full color, that “crisp” air surrounding us and the scent in the breeze that only waifs by when leaves tumble to the earth.

Like myself, Lyle, Kelsey and Kat had no interest in a discipled ride of heart rates and average miles per hour. We were turning pedals and rolling tires to just soak this season in at whatever pace necessary not to miss it. Favorite routes like Sidewinder and Wolf Run (at Levis Mound) were revisited, this time with so much more color and snap. Riding some in reverse of usual added a new dimension, nearly like discovering a brand new trail. Other mountain bikers had similar ideas and it was nice to meet here and there along the trail. “Remember this,” I thought to myself, as the bike carved corners and scattered popple and oak leaves behind. This season would soon be gone and homage must be paid by stopping frequently, taking a few pictures and breathing it all in.
Kelsey & Kat & Yellowjacket

Days like these pass quickly and too soon the bikes roll to a stop at the trailhead leaving me to wonder how much I missed out there. There is always more to take in. While my friends refueled and readied for another ride, the other fall interests tugged me away from taking another spin...reluctantly. More hours in a day? More days in this month? I can only dream, dream of just one more ride in this perfect time of year.
Sidewinder in Fall

Wild Ride