Tonight Paul and I rode the stretch of the KRVT that runs between our house and the Kal-Haven trailhead. Along the way I found this absolutely massive puffball. It was literally bigger than my head. And of course, since it was the one time in the last ten years I went out without my pannier, I had to carry it home zipped inside my hoodie like a great round beer gut.
Paul isn’t interested, so I have a heaping plateful of mushroom slabs fried in butter. Anybody want them for breakfast tomorrow morning? Just fry them again with a couple eggs and you’ll have a killer breakfast.
Hiking has become an increasingly important escape route for me. Here’s one of the more gorgeous places I’ve been lucky enough to hike: the Pacific Northwest. This is Second Beach, in La Push, Washington. I would love to escape there again someday.
I went for a walk in the woods today and thanks to the wet weather, there were mushrooms EVERYWHERE. I’ve literally never seen so many, and so many kinds. Inspired by this clown I watch on youtube (no, really: he was an actual clown) I took a mess of photos and put them into a slideshow. Puffballs! Destroying angels! Orange mushrooms! Purple mushrooms! (no, really: purple mushrooms. I’ve never even heard of purple mushrooms before.)
If you guys know about mushrooms, I’d love to know if you know any of the kinds I photographed, especially the really odd-looking ones.
The return trip was a success! Everything worked out just about as perfectly as could be expected, especially when dealing with small children and a dog. Izzy joined us for the walk, and she did really well despite the odd terrain and new people. The nieces immediately took to hiking, and the first thing we did was consult a map and have them choose a trail. They picked Kaskaskia canyon, which was the longer of the two, and it ended up working out well because the second trip seemed faster and easier by comparison.
The only downside to the trip was that it had rained heavily the night before, and the paths were thick with greasy grey mud. Didn’t phase the girls any, though there were a couple of times that we had to ferry them up a steep bank or over a deep stream. Even my sister-in-law, who’s not big on either mud or bugs, had a good time and was patient with all the ups and downs. I was really proud of everybody for rolling with the punches.
Two canyons proved exactly enough hiking for little legs, and we went from there over to the shelter for lunch and letting Izzy run around a bit. Our timing was perfect, and the girls slept in the car all the way back home. Before she fell asleep, Tom said that E. kept saying, “That was really fun.” Cool Aunt achievement unlocked.
Best part? There’s a bunch of other canyons there and at Matthiessen State Park that we can explore next year.
Last weekend, Paul and I and hiking buddy R decided to make a short day trip out to Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby, IL. The main purpose of the trip (aside from burning off some of the Christmas cookies) was to scout the park to see if it’d be a good place to start introducing my nieces, currently ages 3 and 5, to hiking.
Since we were driving right past Chicago on a Sunday morning, we thought it’d be foolish to not stop in Chinatown and get some high-quality dim sum:
When we first arrived, we found that the flooding in Missouri had not been isolated; the Illinois river had jumped its banks and covered most of the park.
Judging by the online map, my initial thought was that the nice little loop to the west of the main lodge would be a good starter trip for the kids. It was indeed a scenic trip, past several small but beautiful canyons, and ending in the spectacular St. Louis Canyon, all bedecked with ice:
But there were about a thousand stairs to get there, far too many for little legs. Nobody wants to lug a wailing toddler up the equivalent of 20 flights of stairs. The middle section from Lovers’ Leap to Wildcat Canyon was pleasant enough, following along the Illinois river and past another beautiful waterfall, but the trek back up to the bluff trail involved another monster staircase, and by the time we got to the top we were all sure we’d made short work of all the shumai and taro puffs we’d devoured that morning.
At this point we only had a few hours of daylight left, so we hiked back to the parking lot and drove out to the easternmost set of trails: Ottawa Canyon, Kaskaskia Canyon, and Illinois Canyon. We were not disappointed:
Now this was more like it. Far away from the bustle of the main lodge, with the cold and distance keeping most of the other hikers at bay, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Here we got to take our time fording the little creeks and admiring the myriad ice structures:
The creek ice amazed us with its odd geometry. Spikes, needles, planes, odd rhomboid holes the size of a silver dollar.
But the neatest structures weren’t the chandeliers of icicles or the beautiful fractal shelf ice, it was these wonderfully weird ice spheres:
We saw them in several places in the park: perfectly smooth, usually perfectly clear, formed by water dripping down from the heights above. They looked like carpets of huge frog eggs.
The waterfall in Ottawa Canyon is enormous, and we only had to compete with one other person for its full attention, so we spent a lot of time there. I’m grateful to have friends and a husband who think dorking around taking pictures of ice in a canyon in 30F weather constitutes fun.
The best part about this section is that there are no stairs at all, and the hike back to Ottawa Canyon is maybe only half to three-quarters of a mile, and there’s interesting stuff to look at and climb on the whole way.
These sandstone cliffs look oddly like the sea caves we saw at Pictured Rocks this summer. I wonder if this whole area was submerged by the river at one point.
After leaving Ottawa Canyon, we had just enough time left to check out Kaskaskia Canyon, and it was equally good. A short hike brought us to this gorgeous place:
Again, no stairs, no obstacles, just a shallow stream and plenty of logs to jump over. The nieces are gonna love it here.
Darkness was encroaching fast, so we didn’t make it to Illinois Canyon. Ah well, all the more reason for us to come back.
This was a really fantastic trip. We started from Kalamazoo at 7am, dallied in Chicago for a delicious breakfast, spent a full five hours hiking around, ate dinner in Joliet and still made it home by 11pm. If you’re in the mood for a great outdoors roadtrip this winter, wait for a break in the weather and give Starved Rock a try. I can’t wait to bring the nieces back here in the springtime and see the whole place turning green.
Way back in April, I had the opportunity to visit South Carolina, and since it was my first roadtrip to the South, I decided to make the most of it. After getting business out of the way in Columbia, I drove north to Durham, NC to visit my dear old buddy Virus and his wife Andrea. For two days they escorted me through all the best that Raleigh-Durham has to offer: the Duke botanical gardens:
The local ballpark (alas, no game!):
The Durham bull (strong like bull!):
I had a fantastic time, and I loved every minute in Durham. The restaurants are amazing, and there’s so much going on; I can see why folks love the area so much.
After my stay with Matthew and Andrea, I started the next leg of my journey and picked up my buddy Sumana, who had taken the train down from New York City to join me in some hiking at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I tried AirBNB for the first time and was very pleased with the accommodations: the cabin where we stayed had a porch that overlooked a wide, ferny creek, and I got to spend the post-hiking evenings reclining in a slat-backed rocking chair, reading comic books and listening to the water rushing over moss-covered rocks. Heaven.
We hiked two trails up different sides of Mount LeConte, Alum Cave (which was due to close for repairs the following day, so we lucked out!) and Rainbow Falls, both of which were spectacular and left me craving more. I’m hoping to return here one day to hike the mountain again and stay overnight at the LeConte Lodge, which sounds like an absolute perfect vacation for me. Plus, llamas.
After dropping Sumana back in Asheville with a friend for lunch, I headed home, narrowly missing a distillery tour in Bardstown. Ah well, all the more reason to return soon! I made up for the loss by picking up some fantastic bourbon at the less-than-picturesque Liquor Barn, then treated myself to an excellent Cajun meal in Lexington before driving the final leg home, Art Bell keeping me awake all the way.
I used to hate long drives, but this turned out to be a really fun time, and I think I’ll do more in the future.
About a month ago, my paddling buddy R. emailed me to invite me along on a kayaking trip to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin. This was a leap of faith on R’s part, because the last few years I’d been so busy with comics and other hobbies that I’d put her off on several other invitations. Fortunately for me, the stars aligned this year, and I spent the month of July training up for the trip.
Located in the far western corner of Lake Superior (if you imagine it as a wolf’s head, they’re just below the point of the wolf’s nose), these 22 islands boast some of the most pristine wilderness in the Great Lakes region. And because they’re located in Lake Superior, preparation is paramount. the water there never gets much above 55F (even in mid-August, when we went) which means wetsuits at a bare minimum, and drysuits most of the year. I was fortunate to have a “farmer-jane” style suit I’d bought for a previous trip that I never got to take (see R’s leap of faith, above), and so I didn’t have to buy much new safety gear. I did elect to rent a longer, faster boat than my dear little Tsunami, because we were doing open-water crossings and I didn’t want to fall behind. It turned out to be a good choice, and the Scorpio I brought was speedy and a delight to paddle.
After driving through Chicago traffic and spending the night in Wausau, we arrived in Bayfield around 1pm and picked up our permits, then headed out to the lakeshore to put in. The weather shifted from overcast to bright and sunny, and we were super excited to get on the water. No sooner had we taken the lines off the boats and struggled into our neoprene when an impenetrable bank of fog rolled in and diminished visibility down to ten feet. We were crushed — but then we noticed the signs for the hiking trail and decided to have a walk along the shore, so we tied the boats back up, struggled out of the neoprene, and changed into our hiking clothes. This turned out to be a very wise choice, because we still got to see all the famous sea caves from above, watching other, braver (?) paddlers below weave in and out.
The hike was great, and it was nice to stretch our legs after having been in the car for so long that day, and the day before. We got to see all sorts of neat plants like reindeer lichen, blue bead lily, and thimbleberry bushes, plus the gorgeous natural formations of the sea caves, and this natural land-bridge over a deep crevasse of a sea-cave (we’d paddle that same cave the next day).
After a good 6 miles, we were ready for dinner, so we drove back to Little Sand Bay and made a gourmet dinner on our camp stoves: thai green coconut curry with fresh veg, brown rice, and dark chocolate cook-pudding. One of the perks of kayaking is that you don’t have to carry dehydrated space food, and we ate beautiful satisfying meals every night of the trip.
As we packed our mess kits away, the last of the fog lifted, and we still had time to take a sunset paddle:
Our adventure started in earnest as we returned to Myers Beach, scene of our previous defeat by Lake Superior fog. We put in at around 10am and paddled out to see the sea caves along the mainland.
Here’s R’s sister K and I exploring that crevasse of a sea cave. The cliffs must have been fifty feet high, and the cave narrowed down to a tiny point you could just stick the stern of your kayak into.
The caves were tremendous, and were so spectacular that throughout the course of the morning, we would find ourselves spontaneously shouting “SEA CAVES!” and “WE GET TO BE HERE!” just out of pure joy. There were enormous caves big enough to house small buildings, some so tiny you could only fit a single-person kayak through, some dripping with sheets of the previous day’s rain, some covered in lichen and moss in a dozen colors. We squeezed our boats through stone arches and into caves so low that we tucked our paddles under our arms and pulled ourselves along with our hands on the ceilings, the water lit greenly from below by the sunlight spilling in between the sandstone pillars.
After a good three or four hours playing our favorite game, which is called “I Bet I Can Fit My Boat Through That,” we stopped for lunch, and then completed our first of five open-water crossings out to Sand Island, leapfrogging each other the whole way to pass the time. We then paddled along the beach until we came to the campground, set up camp and ate dinner, then hiked the three-mile trail out to the Sand Island lighthouse. With our campsite on the east side of the island, and the lighthouse on the northernmost point, the hike was exactly the right plan to see the stunning sunset. Up that far north it just lingers on and on, painting the sky in unbelievable colors.
We hiked back by headlamp, moving quickly over the boardwalks to avoid the terrible bugs, and made a pot of ginger tea with a camp stove on the beach to watch the stars come the rest of the way out. More stars than I have ever seen — even growing up as a kid in the country, I’ve never seen such deep sky — the Milky Way a ghostly trail across the heavens, the Pleiades meteor showers gifting us with streaks of light, the ISS tracking its unerring orbit.
Sand Island is home to more sea caves, so we spent the morning exploring them for as long as we could. The Sand Island caves are much smaller than the ones on the mainland, but more intricate, with more little tunnels and secret chambers and tiny sculpted pillars. Plus these caves are much more difficult to reach, so there were far fewer other boats around, allowing us to play and dawdle and really enjoy fooling around in them.
Bald eagles live all over the place up in Lake Superior, but we were startled to come across a single eagle, perched on top of a cliff — not in a tree, just on the cliff — some twenty feet above us. We got into a staring contest with the eagle, fully expecting it to fly away, but it never did. The eagle totally won.
Sadly, we eventually ran out of sea caves, and began our second open-water crossing to York Island, where we stopped for lunch on some beautiful sunny rocks tailor-made for the purpose. One of the things that struck me most about the Apostles was how unbelievably clean the whole place was. The entire trip I never saw garbage of any kind, no visible pollution, just gorgeous unspoiled wilderness. Each of the campsites we stayed at was well-established, with ranger stations and vault toilets and bear-boxes, and even those were shockingly well-kept. It must be because it takes actual work to get out to the islands, and those who are willing to put forth the effort are also those with a healthy respect for the environment. Regardless, it was a real treat to see such beauty in such good care, and York Island was no exception.
Lunch finished, we made a third crossing to Raspberry Island, were we stopped for another quick break by the lighthouse for some gorp and a stretch before continuing on to Oak Island, where we lucked out and got the outlying campsite far away from all the other campers. true, it was a quarter-mile hike to the pit toilet, but the solitude was worth it. We set up camp, ate dinner, waited out a quick burst of wind and a few sprinkles under R’s mammoth tarp, then read books on the beach and watched the sun set in another spectacular display.
It was so difficult to get going on that last day, knowing we’d be heading back to civilization with all its troubles and worries and work, but there were still sights to be seen. We made our final open-water crossing back to the mainland and began working our way back to Little Sand Bay. R. had worried at the outset that since we’d be seeing the best of the sea caves on the first day that we’d find the remainder of the trip boring, but the coast had tons of beautiful rock formations for us to see, as well as loads of little rocks that we could sport and play around, practicing our steering and maneuverability.
The remainder of the day came and went so quickly, but we still saw an abundance of eagles (juvenile and adult) and had a great time playing our way back to reality. As we pulled into the bay, K and I joked about distracting R and making a break for Isle Royale, but alas, reality called. We packed all our kit into our cars, loaded the boats, squelched out of our smelly wetsuits, and drove into Bayfield for a last look at Superior while we ate dinner.
The Apostle Islands are such an amazing place. This felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I hope I get to return someday and see the outer islands as well as the inner ones we did this time. Huge thanks to R for planning the whole thing and keeping me and K safe from both drowning and bears.
I planted a dwarf Montmorency cherry tree several years ago, and have been waiting eagerly for a year in which I could actually, y’know, pick some cherries. Previously, one defiant bird stripped all the cherries before they even had a chance to ripen, but this year, the tree not only had a bumper crop, but the birds mysteriously stayed away.
In the last week, we’ve harvested three huge bowls of tart cherries, probably around 10 quarts total. I was mystified at the good luck until Paul reminded me that a feral cat has taken up residence in our backyard — a slender, white-and-grey kitty with gangly long legs that we have taken to calling “Teenage Cat.” That seems to be the only differing factor this year — the topmost branches were picked clean as usual, but all the lower ones remained untouched — and it seems as likely an explanation as we’re going to get.
After pitting them in stages and freezing them (there’s only so much pitting one can do in a day before one starts getting aggrivated…) I’ve simmered the cherries down in the crockpot and whirled the results in my blender to make a kind of cherry butter. I’m more fond of jam with whole fruit, but this allows a nice thick jam consistency without a ton of extra sugar or pectin. I like it lots.
Thanks, Teenage Cat! We’ll have to leave you some extra food out this winter.
Tonight the clouds parted after several days of rain, so I took my first bike ride on the KRVT so far this year. I saw a bald eagle, a downy woodpecker at work, and this lovely Jack in the Pulpit. I love biking in the golden hour, seeing shafts of light through the deep woods, watching my shadow lengthen in front of me.
I have one of those colds that I like to think of as a Cú Chulainn flu.
Your body comes to you in the morning, with oracular prescience, and says to you: Listen, you’re sick. You can either stay home like a sensible person and rest up, whereupon you will live a long and happy life. Or, you can not only keep to your regular schedule, but take on a whole bunch of extra stuff that sounds like a good idea, and you’ll go out in a blaze of glory, and be unable to get out of bed for a week.
Guess I’m going skiing today, then.
Michigan’s been just sitting around in her sweatpants for the last two months, so it seems extra special when she cleans up and puts on a party dress. Makes you want to go out and dance with her.
We just got the first substantial snow this winter, so I skiied to the office, and as I went past the bar with the mechanical bull, their loudspeakers started blasting Guns of The Magnificent Seven. Pretty good music for the opening credits of 2012.
Went skating on Sunday, to try out my new outdoor wheels. Twenty feet from the parking lot, I wiped out on the pavement, took all the skin off my knee. Two little boys on bikes rode by and audibly gasped at the blood. The older one said, “Man, if that were me, I’d DEFINITELY be crying.” Jumped right up, looked at them and said, “You gotta be brave and just keep skating!” And then went and got my kneepads like a smart person.
Also: Dang, you guys, skating for distance in quads is *nothing* like skating in rollerblades. Also also: Ow, my thighs.
On Sunday, Paul took the dog to the park across the street, and noticed a huge patch of mushrooms that had sprung up overnight. He thought they looked like an edible kind, so he called me over. I was 95% sure I was looking at shaggy manes, but being that I really like my liver and want to keep it in good working order, I hesitated until I could check them with a practiced mushroom hunter.
Unfortunately, shaggymanes have about a one-day window in which you can pick them, and by the time I got a solid confirmation it was three days later. Most of the patch had turned to black goo (hence their other nickname, “Inky caps“), but there were a few brand-new mushrooms that’d popped up in the interim. Those I picked tonight, and fried in butter for dinner. So good! They would make an absolutely outstanding cream-of-mushroom soup, and I know the taste would compliment chicken really well in a casserole. Seriously, they were fantastic; I like the taste better than oysters or hen-of-the-woods. Best of all, now that I know we’ve got a good patch of them growing, we’ve got many years of delicious harvests ahead of us.
Last weekend, my buddy J and I returned to the Pine River, following the same big group of paddlers as last year. About 70 people showed up this time.
Despite the dire forecast of 60F and perpetual rain, we had absolutely stunning weather, the best kind of Michigan autumn: bright, bright blue skies, thin sunlight, and a deep green forest peppered with a spray of fiery-colored trees.
The top half of the river is a bit slower, and this year’s water level was lower than last year, so we had a nice, calm 22-mile paddle the first day. There are these amazing sand cliffs everywhere, sometimes as tall as 60-70 feet.
The bottom half, on the other hand, is some of the only whitewater in the entire state. As I mentioned, the river was slower than last year, but we still had a nice wild ride on Sunday. It was especially gratifying because this was the first time I’ve really been able to think, rather than just react, on moving water. I was able to see and feel how the current was moving my boat, and use the current to my advantage rather than fighting against it. It was really wonderful to feel myself level up on paddling again.
And fortunately for me, I had the financial wherewithal to buy a proper sleeping bag this summer, so there wasn’t a repeat of last year’s unfortunate incident. I had a lovely, toasty-warm night’s sleep, and had a great time with friends R and K and J. I sure hope to do it again next year — maybe then I’ll take the time off of work and do all four days of the paddle. Looking forward to it already.
(All photos courtesy of fellow paddler Eric Stallsmith. Thanks, Eric!)
Two skates ago, I lost a wheel again, but through sheer luck, managed to find axle (on the asphalt), wheel (four feet off the trail under a poison ivy bush), and even the precious nut (in the gravel), which is a darn fine thing because I have no more spares, and a new set of axles and nuts is $20. Fixed everything and skated another five miles without further issue.
One skate ago, I managed to keep all my wheels, but was done in early by the sunset — though not before I saw a slender teenage buck sporting a tiny, six-point rack, its tallest tines no longer than my index fingers, and later, a mother deer with her twin fauns, their spots all faded for the autumn. Tried to point them out to the other people on the trail, who studiously ignored them, and me.
Tonight’s skate brought rain, and the knowledge that wet pavement and skates don’t get along well. Managed not to fall, but had a couple close calls on steep uphills. Still managed eight miles.
Even if I never set foot on a track, I’ll always be deeply grateful to roller derby for inspiring me to get my skates out of the closet for the first time in five years. I’m really going to miss skating the trails when the snow hits — though I’m sure the cross-country skiing will be a good consolation prize.
Last week I finally felt my skate wheels — now thirteen years old — probably needed replacing, since I’d rotated them earlier this spring, and by now the fresh sides have worn down to match the old sides in curvature (did I mention I did a lot of skating this summer? ). I went to the local sporting goods store and bought a new set of wheels and bearings, and replaced them that evening, along with a new set of brake pads. These bearings had aluminum spacers (called “floating spacers,” I found out later) which rattled loosely on the axle, unlike the plastic spacers on the old wheels, which hugged the axle. Well, I thought, they’re brand-name Rollerblade wheels, same as my skates, and the wheels are the same diameter, so they must fit. And away I went skating tonight, eager to try out my shiny new wheels.
I got about four miles in to my usual twelve, and felt a strange tug on one skate. I looked down, and the rear wheel axle on my right boot was hanging loose, free of its nut, the wheel rattling dangerously in the frame, and held in place only by the brake assembly. I figured I must not have tightened the nuts enough, so I took off the skates and hoofed it back to my car where (lucky me!) I found that the replacement brakes, luckily stowed in my trunk, had a pair of spare axles and nuts. So I fixed the wheel, finger-tightened all the other nuts to be sure, and got back on my merry way.
In the *exact same spot* about a half-mile out, I felt the same strange tug on my *left* boot. Sure enough, the left rear axle was hanging loose, free of its nut. A few limping strides later, and the wheel popped loose of the axle and rolled away behind me. I’ve never in my life lost a wheel while skating, so two in one day was a bit of a shocker. This time, with no hanging brake carriage dragging behind, I was able to slowly skate back to the car (lucky me!) and give up for the night. I’m fairly certain that all the extra rattling and looseness on the axles caused the nuts to come loose, so I saved my last replacement nut and ordered a set of the correct spacers (lucky me!).
I’m scoffing, mostly, but my real luck tonight was that I made it to the bottom of the biggest hill in the park with a shot wheel *twice* without breaking my neck. It really could’ve been disastrous, and I’m really very lucky that I’m all right.
Work generously gifted us with a four-day weekend, which I spent mostly doing a comics intensive, trying to get caught up, and a little ahead on my page count, so that I can spend a week getting caught up on digital corrections. I allowed myself one day of vacation, and spent it out on Lake Michigan with paddling buddy R.
It was a beautiful day, slightly overcast, but just right in temperature and humidity, about 85F, and a little cooler out on the lake. The week’s heat had made the water beautifully warm, and getting wet was a treat rather than a hindrance. I’d never done any deep-water paddling before, and was more than a little worried about the trip, but R is on her way to her safety certificate, and we had the full compliment of safety gear, so I felt comfortable giving it a shot. We put in at Deerlick park, just south of South Haven, and paddled up the coast. The waves were about as large as I felt I could handle — 1-3 foot swells with minimal whitecapping. It was like being on a rollercoaster: three feet up, three feet down, and several of the waves pulled an unintended yelp out of me. Things never got to a point where I felt I couldn’t handle myself, and I kept my seat the entire time, but if they’d gotten any more serious, I’d have headed for shore immediately.
We made our way up the coast, stopping briefly for lunch, and came to the clay cliffs north of the city, these weird wonderful river-sculpted gray cliffs that look like something out of a lunar landscape. Our buddies R&S were camping there on the beach, along with a bunch of their friends, and were dipping hunks of freshly-caught steelhead into batter, preparing them to go in a deep fryer. Now that’s living.
Back in our kayaks, we headed back towards the South Haven lighthouse, arriving just as the sun was setting. It was a bit dodgy, as tons of boats were all headed out to watch the fireworks, including the beautiful replica sloop, the Friends Good Will, flying the 1812 American flag and a long green pennant. The sunset was spectacular: long thin horizontal bands of clouds alternating molten orange and purple stretched from north to south along the western horizion, the sky to the east gone pink in harmony.
As a result of last year’s lackluster fireworks, the mayor got together a bunch of donors and promised an impressive show. We moved further south, far out of range of both city and citizen arsenals, and past the outer ring of boats, where we bobbed gently on water as flat and calm as Lake Michigan ever offers. The show definitely delivered, and lasted at least its promised 25 minutes. We could hear the synchronizing music — a mix of movie themes and such — coming from the boats around us, but I thought the music actually detracted from the show. Seeing the lights reflected in the water was a real treat.
After the show we found our way back to the park, and then spent two hours crawling back east along M-43. If we do this next year we’re taking county roads, I swear. All told we got at least ten good miles paddled, the first five against steep swells. I’m surprised my arms still work at all this morning, but so far, I’m only a little stiff, and hardly even sore. I really hope to do this kind of all-day paddle again; the sunset alone was worth the trip.