Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mud Avoidance

There seem to be a few common truths to mountain bikers and while this is not always the case with all of them, the majority suffer from a couple ailments, and I’m no exception.
1) Avoidance of the first scratch on a new bike.
2) Don’t get the bike dirty.
The first is not really a serious problem and is quickly resolved by just crashing, falling or participating in your first “derby,” which of course, involves crashing and falling.  It’s almost a relief to get that first scratch in the top tube- “There, got that over with, now I can get back to serious riding!”  There is a sense of relaxation when that moment finally comes; the new paint is blemished, so one might as well ride like mountain bikes are supposed to be ridden-carefree.
The second is a bit trickier.  There will always be mud.  This spring, in Wisconsin, there is tons of it.  So common mountain bike law says you should ride thru the middle of it, not expanding the singetrack wider.  Eventually, the mud will dry up and the trail will remain as it was-narrow and flowing.  Of course in reality, we take steps to avoid it.  Mud caked bikes make such irritating sounds and time spend cleaning a bike is time missed riding.  Mud avoidance is directly related to how new ones bike is or how expensive.  My brother Scott and riding buddy Dean are two prime examples of having that to deal with as well. Again, there are some who relish a second skin of muck, but I’m not as big a fan.

My solution, and it has been for many years of trail building at Levis Mound, is to build bridges.  Not only do bridges, ramps and skinnys serve to rise the knobbies above the muck and provide a cleaner riding experience, but also as great trail riding features.

Which leads me back to this year.  The Levis trails have been as wet as I have ever seen them, recent logging in the trail system hasn’t helped-all those trees sucking up excess water, are now gone.  All the usual mud holes are deeper, wider and longer, forcing me to skirt around them in the tangle of trailside brush.  Enough of that.  The long weekend provided me with some extra time to “fix” one section on a trail called “Dead Turkey” (yes, named after a dead turkey I found years ago while scouting a new trail location).  One of my favorite mud hole solutions is to build a “Skinny.”  A narrow plank bridge, usually fairly low to the ground for riders to show off their balance skills, and in this case, keep the bike clean. 

We have built some skinnys as narrow as 7 inches, but most are a foot or so.  These can be traversed by the majority of riders depending on how long they are.  My plan on this one was to use some old county picnic table planking and set it up across a 50 foot span and keep it just 6 inches off the ground.

The process is fairly simple.  Get the building materials as close to the singletrack as possible, cart it all in to the site, lay out the planking, hike back to the truck for materials you forgot.  Repeat.  Overlap the planks and cut the angles (if any) with a chainsaw, and start screwing them into treated blocks underneath.  Move a little dirt around to make a smooth transition on and off the skinny and it’s done.  Moments after I finished the Dead Turkey skinny, the first rider came along and “tested” it.  Worked just fine and his bike was clean as can be. 

I had my chance a while later, after unloading building materials back at the trailhead, I quickly changed and knew I needed to try my luck at crossing the skinny.  Along the way, I met a pair of mud caked kids who obviously had not used my bridge! It’s always exciting to ride a new section of trail, a new feature or even a re-route for the first time, especially if I’ve planned and built it.  Today was no different-the skinny was out before me and a moment later behind, my bike high and dry without a drop of muck spatter-Success!

Monday, May 23, 2011



Hunting is so much more than taking game, filling the freezer and mounting a trophy.  This time of year in late May, if those were my goals, I would have to work hard at it.  Instead, my choice was to give the final week of the turkey season one last try, just to be out in the spring woods again.  I had been fortunate enough to take a young tom with the bow a few weeks earlier, so this time around it was more about enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and changes the big forest goes though and a chance to hunt with an old friend-you know, the real reasons we hunt. 

We jokingly call this late May weekend “Turkey Twang” a Spring version of an annual fall hunt “Twangfest” near Black River Falls, where seven of us have gathered for the past 28 years from all over the Midwest to pursue white tails with archery gear and have that chance to rekindle long friendships.  For most of us, it’s the only time we can get together from year to year.    In the spring, just a couple of us hunt turkey, so this past weekend I had a chance to meet up with my old college roommate, Kirk from La Crosse and spend some quality time in the lush green forest.

Rain and thunderstorms were predicted for the weekend, but tucked snuggly in camo tents-Kirk armed with an old family Winchester Model 12, and myself with my Mathews Monster, we’d give it a go.  I’ve seen turkeys out feeding and chasing in the worst possible weather; so a little rain didn’t worry me at all.  The spring woods come alive early, so after a 4:00am alarm, quick breakfast and thermoses of coffee filled, we were on our way down the steep coulee logging roads to our blinds in the dark.  The sounds of unseen deer (?) crashing through the brush on the otherwise silent hike in can be a bit unnerving, but again, it’s part of the experience I love.  We’d set blinds up in good locations, mine hopefully close enough to turkey traffic to allow a good shot with the bow.  30 yards was the longest I’d try here, so the decoy sets were arranged to pull wary toms in close.  I have had mixed luck with decoys-I’ve seen toms sprint to them and others totally ignore the best set-ups.  Guess I don’t always know how a turkey thinks.

Our first day out hardly allowed time to finish a steaming cup of coffee-gobbling started early and continued often and with my limited line of sight, I tried to be prepared at anytime to draw back.  The “safety was off” (release clipped on the bow string) several times, as I expected the strutting birds to step into my shooting lanes at any second.  But as luck would have it-the toms remained elusive, just out of sight and in my mind, strutting their stuff with unseen hens.  No amount of calling was going to sway them my direction.  Kirk had about the same luck, but we stayed all day and had a second round of gobbling later in the afternoon. The result was the same however, and we called it a day and would give it another optimistic go Sunday.

The great thing about the “Twangs” is hanging out and rehashing stories.  For Kirk and I, that can be reliving our time at UW La Crosse, music, cars but most often our hunts of the past.  This weekend was no different.  We also spoke of how with all the action we’d had, the following day would surely yield a successful hunt.  Storms had moved through during the night, but the day dawned dry and quiet, so we were hopeful we could bag a bird.  The turkeys had other ideas, and polishing off all my coffee was no problem, as neither of us heard a single tom all morning.  The snorting of a deer and screams of a broad wing hawk were the only sounds.  Trying another location proved fruitless and by mid-day we decided to clean up the trailer, pack up and head back to our homes-always a bitter sweet moment.  No game was taken, but friendships were re-kindled and maybe more importantly, the soul renewed after the many hours away from our daily routines.  That, to me is what this passion of the hunt is all about.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Another great relaxer for photographers is bubbles.  Silly, I know, but this little trick I learned from a photographer friend to get some natural expressions in portraits-plus, it just is plain fun.  It's amazing to see high school students re-live some of their early childhood when they start blowing bubbles-soon it's a competition, laughs, smiles and reactions-which are great for photographers to shoot.  The students will be making a slide show from their images while I decided to post a few myself here.

More from this set here:

Cloverbelt Conference Track Meet

The next in a series of posts from this weeks' shooting.  The Cloverbelt Conference Track and Field Meet was held at the Colby HS track this week.  Since I have retired from the head Girls Track Coach position, I have had a bit more time after work to just enjoy the spring.  This spring...well, kinda of glad I didn't have to stand for hours out in the cold, wind, snow and rain, but on this day, it was perfect for a meet.  I do miss many of the athletes, but having a chance to photograph them helped ease that withdrawl.
Katrina lead-off in 4X2

Morgan-100m Finals

Dodger-finals in LJ

Ryan-LJ Finals

Dodger Airborn express

Dodger Flyin



Sammie setting a PR!
More from this set here:

The Annual Arb Trip

So I've felt like a photographer again this week-it's been busy!  The senior shoot for Jamie started things off and I felt it went well, and I was really happy with the images.  Each semester in my HS photography class, I like to get the students to the Listeman Arboretum on the west side of Neillsville.  In the fall, we tend to shoot the colors and in the spring, wildflowers.  This time around, I never made it more than a hundred yard of the bus, and found myself moving very slowly looking for pictures in the small world of the forest.  Here are a few of my favorites.


When I have time, I'll search Stan Tekiela's book: Wildflowers of Wisconsin and try to ID some of these flowers and plants.
More photos here:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The "Neighbor" a Senior Photo Shoot

From time to time I am asked to shoot a wedding or senior portraits and even though that really isn't my profession, I am getting more comfortable with them.  Perhaps because I've been lucky to have had great subjects for those people I know, friends and neighbors.  Jamie lives next door..... well, a country next door, down the road.   She lives with "Aunt Jeanne" at the Reed farm and we have been close for a long time.  Like most country neighbors, we're also good friends, so it was my pleasure to do these photos for them. 
I like to ask what kind of photos they've seen and what they have in mind for the poses (I don't like that term, but it fits I guess).  Jamie wanted some formal shots and some with representing her years on the high school softball team at Neillsville.  Since she lives on a farm, I suggested we do some outdoors and maybe the contrast between formal dresses and gowns would be interesting against the old working farm buildings and fields.  Trying to cordinate our schedules was tough, but finally, last minute, we had  beautiful late evening light and scrambled to get the shots in.  She's a bit of a ham, and I suggested she must have practiced her modeling poses in front of the mirror.  An old tin shed and rustic wood barn worked well for backdrops and we tried just an "attitude" pose on a chair in the field.  The attitude maybe didn't come thru, but they looked great in any regard.   The light was getting way too long and fading so we decided to try morning light the following day to shoot the softball versions.  Those turned out well also and it was fun trying things like shooting thru a fence, adding props and changing light direction.  Trying to make the subject comfortable is probably the number one challenge, but joking around, making faces and doing about anything to get them more relaxed seemed to help. 
I did discover some technical things like underexposing (it's always easier to lighten the shadows than darkening the highlights), the limits of my camera flash and finding surfaces to bounce light off, like the floor of the dugout.    Overall, it was great fun photographing Jamie and I was pleased with the results....hope Jamie is as well.
What follows are some standard portraits and some I played with as high key shots, infrared and black and white, which I always love in portraits. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mothers Day Wildflowers

One of my ongoing battles in photography is to try and present, common things in a different way.  That's why light, to us photographers, is so important-it can change a dull everyday scene into something special, or at the very least, much more interesting.  My love of the outdoors takes me...well, outdoors, and at this time of the year, I like to see nature coming back to life from a long tough winter.  Maybe that's why turkey hunting has become such a great thing for me-it has me out in the Wisconsin woods all spring breathing in the seasons' change.
A tough nut for me to crack is making good pictures of wild flowers.  I mean, I do it every year and it's almost something that I have to do, I mean-"Look at all that color, those cool shapes, I need to take pictures of those!"  I come back, download and stare at hundreds of images and just a couple make the cut.  "I took those same exact pictures last year" I think to myself.  But, that struggle in photography never ends, sometimes, you just have to press the shutter to get those images out of the way and behind you (each year?).  What follows are some I like, or maybe one small thing is different from others I've any regard, my Stan Tekielo "Wildflowers of Wisconsin" book comes out, I learn to identify a few new flowers and have a good excuse to spend more hours outside.
Yellow Trout Lily
The Trout Lily seem to be everywhere this spring.  The forest floor is just carpeted with them and each night, they close down, only to open wide in the sun and warmth of the next day.
Spring Beauty

Cow Slip or Marsh Marigold
Of course, these are the first spring flowers I see and the ones that signal it's time to head out the door with camera.  In some places, they just blanket the wet swamps with yellow and an amazing sight to start the spring.
Another very early spring flower which can grow in large patches, anytimes, amoung Yellow Trout Lily, as seen here.  The stems, when broken, seep "blood" from their veins.  Another flower, like the lily, that open and close each day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ramp it Up

For the past few years, I have become more and more interested in harvesting and gathering from the forest.  My interest was piqued by wild mushrooms, especially the well known and delicious Morel, which gradually makes its appearance early each spring-around here, usually the last week in April and early May.  Living in west central Wisconsin, I’m not exactly in Morel heaven, but I give it a shot every year anyway, scouring under dead elm and ash and old apple orchards.  The Coulee region is much better and with prime Morel hunting grounds well-guarded family secrets.
Ramp Colony growing in hardwood swamp

Prior to Morels popping through the ground, another forest plant gets a head start.  I first noticed these plants during early spring turkey hunts, where the scent of garlic and onion would waif through the air after walking through a patch of them.
Harvesting Ramps or Wild Leeks
Ramps, also known as Wild Leeks, are a wild onion native to North America.  Its bright green leaves are some of the first color to carpet the forest floor, a stark contrast to the brown of the previous fall.

The bulbs of these flavorful plants resemble a scallion and the flavor, although similar to onion, is usually of strong garlic.  I’ve used them in different dishes, just as you would onion.  The green leaves also can be used and have a similar flavor, but not quite as strong.
Cleaned Ramps

When Ramp hunting and harvesting, be aware that they grow in colonies and you should only harvest a small portion in each group.  They are easy to clean-cut off the roots, wash and cut to whatever size you like.  I freeze them whole for later use in dishes.  This “spring,” Ramp it up and enjoy another small savory plant from our outdoors!
Prepared Ramps and some refreshing Oscars Chocolate Oatmeal Stout-great foraging day!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Scenic Spring Roads

The "Spring" of 2011 will probably go down of one of the coldest, most drawn out and wet snowy one that I can remember.  Maybe it seems that way because there is an urge to get out and start summer sports-hikes, mountain biking and mowing (ha!).  Most of the township roads near my home are gravel, okay, ALL of them, which isn't all bad, but after this spring-they are turning into a wet potholed mess.  These images were taken on a cold morning while heading to Levis Mound to do some trail work.  One, Columbia Road, is the main road north and south through the county forest.  Another is passing the Sturtz Prairie, still flattened by the winters' snow.  The third is the old rail road bridge in the ghost town of Columbia-I guess it was almost mandatory to make this picture-the most "picturesque" of them all.
Columbia Road in April

Sturtz Prairie
Columbia Railroad Bridge