Minnesota to Iowa

Well, it’s been a treat to see my old friend again. But the camping was expensive! and there’s always something else down the road that beckons. I had a final sweet day riding Lebanon Hills, with CT this time.

after four laps in these woods I finally spotted this guy

And Hops and I had another hike in the Nerstrand Big Woods on our final morning.

I do not know what this is

And then it was time for my twentieth state:

I headed for a trail system near Iowa City that comes recommended. But the trails are wet and not drying quickly, so I suppose we’ll spend a day in the city instead, and see what they have to offer.

we did see a baby bunny at least

I’m nearing a much-anticipated stop to see a dear friend and attend Hamilton in the next week! Stay tuned…

Northfield & a field trip

Well, the weather eventually calmed somewhat, allowing me to get a very fun ride in at Lebanon Hills a few minutes north of town.

And CT and I took a field trip back across the Wisconsin state line –

signs this time!

for a bike race. I decided I wasn’t ready for the distance and elevation offered, so I sat it out, which was kind of bittersweet (especially as the elevation turned out a bit less than expected). But it was neat being in the scene again.

CT’s bike

It was also neat seeing another friend again after some years: Derek used to put on a race up here which is how I know CT and how I know that Minnesota (and now Wisconsin!) offers some fine riding and fine people.

The boys each had a better race than they’d anticipated, I was slightly sorry that I’d missed out, and good times were had all around. I even had this unique opportunity to drink two beers next to one another that are not sold within about 800 miles of each other (recall trivia here).

Back into Minnesota –

signs this time!

and Hops, who was boarded for two nights, appeared surprisingly untraumatized but still happy to be back home again in Foxy and with me.

settling in Northfield

Well, the joke’s on us a little bit. As I scheduled Hops’s doggie daycare afternoons, allowing me to ride bikes with my buddy CT, three things happened: 1, it cooled down enough that he really could have stayed in the van. 2, CT’s work schedule tightened up and he couldn’t take off work after all, so I’d be riding alone. and 3, it rained and rained and rained (see: cooler weather), so I didn’t get to ride at all. Roll with the punches… Hops and I had a really lovely hike in Nerstand Big Woods State Park in the gentle rain.

We enjoyed some walks around town and evening beers with CT instead. All’s well.

Bonus: Northfield’s little bookstore, Content, is an exceptional example, especially for such a small town – I had a lovely browse there. I think it’s a model!

Wisconsin to Minnesota

On our last full day in Wisconsin, I had hoped to ride another trail, but high temperatures and no shaded parking made even the dawn patrol option too big a risk for Hops. We hiked the trail instead, interacting with all the ticks and other biting bugs.

There were some lovely lupines, though, that match very closely the Texas bluebonnets that I love. Wonder what these are…

Our final evening we had some cooling rain (sigh) and beautiful views…

horses frolicking in the wind

And the next morning we got up early to walk the Listeman Arboretum before the drive into Minnesota.

I have a buddy in Northfield, Minnesota who I met years ago at a bike race (in Minnesota). We’ve become close friends remotely, but have only seen each other a few times IRL (always in Minnesota), so I was excited to come back and see him again.

We had big plans to do some riding together, and it’s been so hot recently that I made plans with a doggie daycare/kennel facility. I drove into Northfield on a Monday for Hops’s appointment to take a temperament test – his first – and while he is a loving dear with humans, he occasionally grumps at other dogs, so I was mostly confident that he would pass, but still waiting to hear. First surprise: they took his leash from me and said I could return in three to six hours! I had no idea I was to leave him at all… and I confess, it was pretty disconcerting. What do I do now? I got over it and got on my bike – after all, this was a free half day’s doggie daycare. So I got in a little urban/bike path ride.

I saw a beautiful striped snake, an otter in a little pond, and what I guess was a woodchuck. My local friend says they’re not sure they even have otters here anymore – they might be headed up to Canada – but there was no question what I saw, so that was exciting!

Back to pick up Hops: first of all, no problem at all with passing his test. He did great! And they even included a little congratulatory gift bag – shout out to Cannon Valley Vet for that nice touch! (Good goodies in the bag, too – not only dog treats but a pen [always needs more of those], a koozie, and a keychain flashlight that I love.)

Hops seemed in high spirits, and not at all upset at being left in a strange place. He often is, on this trip – his separation anxiety is much worse now that we spend ~23 hours a day together. But he was fine with this daycare episode. So the lesson is: my own separation anxiety is a real thing in the world, too. Good to know.

slowed a bit in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, I did the two most obvious things first: bought some cheese curds, and headed to New Glarus Brewing.

It’s a lovely place, some acreage in the rolling green hills, set up (in the public areas) as faux-ruins among rocks. It was a bit warm and shade-less the day I was there (and Hops keeps me outside, you know), but the beer was very fine – I drank four sours – and it’s a gorgeous setting. Trivia: on the list of top 50 craft breweries based on volume sold*, there are only two that do not sell outside of their states: New Glarus in Wisconsin, and Real Ale in Texas, my most recent day-job employer. (One observation might be that Texas and Wisconsin are powerful beer markets!)

*in the year when I went to work at Real Ale, at least.

I also rode some of the John Muir trail system in Kettle Moraine State Forest, which was a lovely way to spend a morning – a very early morning, up at 5:30 to beat the heat for Hops’s sake in the van, whew.

We hiked some of the trail together, too, and then again at a roadside rest area that advertised a scenic viewpoint but didn’t tell us how far it would be (under a mile, but still might have wanted better shoes).

view from Bell Mound

Signage tells of the mining history in this area, and claims that mine buildings and an open pit mine are still visible from the scenic overlook at the top of Bell Mound; but the signage was dated or the trees were faster-growing than expected, because I could decipher no such sights. Maybe if you knew what you were looking for.

One more day here, and then I’m looking forward to the next visit with a friend just across the state line…

on mountain bike trails and not everything can be a 10

On this trip, I have been fortunate to stop off at some destination-worthy mountain bike trails in Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. Previous to this trip, even, even I have been lucky to ride some world-class trails in Vermont, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Texas (Louisiana, Arkansas…)

On this trip, I have also stopped off at some mountain bike trails that are not destination-worthy; I would not recommend building a trip around these; nobody vacations cross-state or cross-country to ride in De Soto National Forest in Mississippi or the Blackwater River State Forest in northern Florida.

one of my favorite trails back “home”

But you know, I find inspiration in these places, too. A different kind of inspiration. Horry County Bike & Run Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was a surprise: in this coastal plain of flat sandy country, a sweet little 7-mile course involves lots of berms and even pumps and jumps. Many of these were constructed using carpeting, admittedly. But it was a fun ride, and I appreciate a local community that makes its sport work where it must. I come from a trail system like this. Nobody travels to Houston, Texas for the mountain biking. There is something comforting and admirable about trail-building in the places that are not the Pisgah, the Moab slickrock, or the steepnesses of British Columbia.

As I shop for a place to settle, I’m not necessarily looking for the world-class destination. For one thing, I know the lines will be so long (and all that that means). But a local community that invests in its imperfect topography? That’s for me.

just another day in Brevard

Rode another trail, this one in the Dupont State Forest, and the most fun I’ve had/the most suited to my style and the trails I’ve loved most in the past. A wonderful fun ride! Hops and I then traveled a few miles further into Hendersonville, and checked out two dog-friendly breweries. After a delightful and relaxing afternoon I returned to the campsite to cook my dinner, only to find that my stove & fuel had been stolen during the day.

I was angry with myself for leaving them unattended, and embarrassed at my own role in the theft. But then again, this is common practice in every campground I’ve known – and in driving around this one, I see lots of tents, piles of gear, chairs, and yes, stoves, left unattended. So I’m also very angry with whomever took advantage of the opportunity to steal from me my chance to cook my own dinner. In the grand scheme, of course, it’s not that great a loss, financially. I’ve been very lucky on the whole. When Foxy got hit-and-run in Houston, that was another difficult piece of ugly humanity to deal with; but that one turned out fine, financially, thanks to my insurance policy. And this one will be fine, too. It’s just money, and not that much of it. I’ve mostly been very lucky.

This is how I spent the next hour or two of my evening: working to process my feelings, to be upset but also philosophical and not too weepy. I’m still a lucky woman in this life.

Then I pulled it together and made the drive up to Asheville to the nearest REI, where I spent my annual dividend and then some replacing the stove – I got the exact same thing, having shopped and found nothing better suited. And then, what the heck, I was so nearby the Mills River location of Sierra Nevada… I had thought I’d miss this brewery, but why not? One beer later I was headed back for camp. And as Hops and I snuggled in for the night, I thought again: I’m so lucky. I love this life.

a week in Brevard

It’s been lovely here, and there’s so much riding I didn’t want to miss, and I found a decent campsite, so I’ve just stayed.

I’m camped in the Pisgah National Forest, in an improved campground with toilets and showers and water, for a very modest price. There’s even an old church on the grounds, which is not a service I require, but it’s very pretty.

English Chapel

A wooden version was originally built here in 1860; as it fell apart, the rock church replaced it in 1910.

I have been doing the usual: reading, writing, riding, and hiking with Hops. And enjoying the local breweries.

Next up is Greenville, SC, and happily I ran into a couple at a brewery the other day who live there, so they gave me some brewery and restaurant tips. They were fans of Hops (and, I guess, hops). It’s a lovely world, most days.

Mulberry Gap

Holy smokes, y’all, this one is a find! Leaving the Atlanta area, I headed a little north just past the town of Ellijay to Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way. It’s a special spot in the woods where you can camp or rent a cabin, pay for lovely meals to be prepared for you, buy a beer, and most importantly, ride straight onto some fine trails and gravel roads. (Services also include guided rides, shuttles, and map consults. All services à la carte – meaning you can cook for yourself, etc.) This is a magical place.

Hops and I parked the van, took in a few meals, and listened to the creeks burble along. I did a short ride alone but was quickly set up with some other guests who took me out on some self-shuttled adventures. Even with shuttling, I climbed nearly 2000 feet each ride: these are hilly parts. My first night there – a night on which they were technically ‘closed’ – I was invited to share beer & pizza with a small group including the proprietors and a few friend/guests. Within hours of meeting, guys were handing me keys to their trucks to drive up & down mountains. The mountain bike community is a special one. I mostly keep well to myself on this trip, other than visiting with people I already knew before beginning. This couple of days was the first time I’ve really made new friends, and it was such a delight. Thanks to Kate & Andrew for the above-and-beyond hospitality; Alan of Walking Tree Brewery for beer & companionship; Greg for taking charge, pushing me, and even a bike wash (!); and Scottie of Club Ride for the ride, the gear, and talk of the future. I’m humbled.

For my mountain biking buddies out there, I highly recommend this experience. It’s remote – no cell service, and very spotty wifi. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The trails are plentiful and challenging, mostly in terms of climbing, but with some whooping fun downhills as well. Routes tend to include some gravel road as well. There’s more here than I could ride in a few days, even with shuttle assistance. I’d be thrilled to hang out for a week, like Greg was doing. The food is very good, the beer selection likewise, great company – really, this is the destination you’ve been looking for. Heartily recommended.

near Atlanta

There has been pie; a Mexican brunch; beer; and trails. I’ve mountain biked at Blankets Creek a few times, and Hops and I have hiked. That is our deal: I ride while he naps in the van (temperatures permitting), and then I take him out on the same trails. Repeat. Sometimes I find a bar or brewery afterward that we can enjoy together, too.

Most days I get to read, write, ride, and walk around with my partner in this wild and varied life. I’m the luckiest woman I know.