Monday, April 21

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area: 152 miles of lessons

DSC_2102 My preference is to get on the road early. Sunday's planned ride started off a tad cooler than I expected. I wore my Tourmaster, silver and black jacket and black overpants, which performed as expected. I packed hiking boots, camera equipment and a fruit lunch. I navigated an Interstate most of the way. Riding into a head wind contributed to much of my initial discomfort. Still, the thrill of embarking on my first real ride of the season kept my mind off my increasingly cold, gloved fingers. By the time I had exited the city and entered the hinterland, I forgot about my numb digits. As I pushed increasingly west and south, I settled in and located that comfortable zone of being alert yet relaxed. DSC_2117

The streets show the ravishes of winter. Repair work is omnipresent. Clearly the patching is done without regard to two-wheeled travelers. In places, huge craters and ruts cover half the lane! Gouges and poorly marked road shifts make riding seem like an obstacle course event. Patched road surfaces are also problematic as some are often doctored with that slippery black stuff that looks like electrical tape snaking down the road. In one unavoidable spot, I felt the back tire slide just enough to elevate my heart rate. Far too many repaired edges are ragged and raised enough to trap a motorcycle tire--that is, if one isn't paying the closest attention to the road's surface.

I am out of ride shape! Admittedly, I slacked off over the winter and shouldn't be surprised. Since rescuing the bike from winter camp, my "trips" have been of short duration so I've avoided confronting the result of my winter vegetation. This journey was payback! On this, my first real trip of the season, my ankles cracked, creaked and complained after about 20 nonstop miles. My knees begged for stretching; my neck felt the weight of my helmet. Ignoring these bodily grumbles required considerable mind control! It helped that I did a full body parts check and ordered myself to loosen up my shoulders, keep my thighs tank tight, and position my feet comfortably on the balls. It took me more time than I care to admit to find that sweet seating spot. I am, however, thrilled to report that my lower back didn't fail me. It is the one thing I worked on over the winter.


Last ride season, I tried to visit many state parks, forest preserves, natural, and wildlife areas. Continuing with that theme, I settled on Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, located in Grundy County. According to its literature, prairie once covered nearly 60 percent of Illinois and Goose Lake Prairie, which is the result of glaciers, best reflects the grasslands and marshland of the area. Goose Lake Prairie is also home of many birds with at least 175 species having been recorded since 1970. Unfortunately, the ones I spotted were faster than my camera skills. I did see a spotted sandpiper and a couple of Henslow's sparrows. And, something rather large flew over head and looked rather raptor-like but I couldn't ID it from the rear and so far away.DSC_2146

Goose Lake Prairie now totals more than 2500 acres and is the "largest remnant of prairie left in Illinois." The diversity of grasses is stunning. It took me more than 2 hours to cover most of the grounds. It is understandably soggy but the trails are beautiful and the sounds one hears are truly symphonic! The trails are isolated (I saw one person the entire time). When I saw this individual, I immediately realized I left my weapon of choice packed on the bike but I was too far to return to the bike. He carried a huge tripod extended. I made up a mental story of him killing innocent hikers and photographing their dead bodies. I had my Nikon D80 and N80 with me and decided either one would make a good weapon if needed. You know what they say, "You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl."

Buffalo once roamed this area before it became Goose Lake Prairie, but the place is now home to far less formidable wildlife. Today the area contains red fox, coyote, prairie dog, deer, cotton tail rabbit, muskrat, beaver and badger. While on the trails, I thought of how a visit to a place like this would be a healing trip for kids mired in the bustling inner city. For some children getting away from the city is rare and difficult. Places like Goose Lake Prairie are wonderful respites for hearing yourself think, for deep breathing, for listening to sounds created not by mankind, but by nature's orchestra of birds, bullfrogs, and cricket, to mention a few. DSC_2151

Goose Lake Prairie is best known for its mammoth variety of grasses, some of which grow as tall as 12 feet. The Tall Grass Nature Trail is well-marked and doesn't allow you to get lost. I'm now impressed with my new knowledge of big bluestem, switch grass, Indian grass, bluejoint and prairie cordgrass, among which I can probably only identify two on the list--if my life depended on it, that is. Walking along paths with varied hued grasses lining the whole way is surreal. Grass color, style, and personality are unequivocal. I especially like the round clumps that create a textured landscape in the middle of smooth flat grasses. Looking out on the vast prairieland is breath-taking and the absence of trees had a visually striking impact my conscious mind. DSC_2157

After finishing the trails (I think I missed one, shucks), I head north to Heidecke Lake, which is part of the state's fish and wildlife area program. It claims 1,300 acres of "prime fishing." To avoid over fishing the exact amount of fish one can catch on a given day is clearly posted. I plan to return to the area--I enjoyed it that much! DSC_2177

Fortunately, the ride home was uneventful. I took a very circuitous route, enjoying the two lane stretches of road that took me farther west than I needed to go but it was a welcomed relief to avoid the Interstate for some of the return trip. Regardless, it is evident that winter has not be tough just on us humans. The roads have been battered, forcing anyone on two wheels to take extra special precautions out there. In closing, as I write this, I feel the outcome of having been a slackard over the winter. The correction begins today!

Ride total: 152 miles

Safe riding!

Saturday, April 19

Visiting the Dead, Part II

oakwdbike1 I'm learning to have more patience with whiners, particularly now that I've become one on more occasions than I care to admit. I'm realizing that my riding alone, which I prefer, has little to do with how I feel about other people and most everything to do with how I feel about myself. I'm realizing too that this is not some recent personality flaw. It's choice, which I know doesn't negate it being a personality disorder. Neither is it a "stubborn" streak that someone recently attributed to me. On rare occasions, I actually know I'd enjoy a ride with another person and I accept that it will be over-stimulating. The kind of stimulation I seek from a ride, comes for the ride, not from worrying about those I'm riding with, which I know I'd do to some extent. I don't want such distractions. Yet, I know I can prepare myself for anything. I'm a team player when the situation calls for it. oakwoods

But I prefer singles tennis over doubles. I'm real sociable, believe it or not, and have tons of comrades around the globe. Still, I prefer to ride alone. Why am I whining about that here. Well, I'm feeling a bit defensive. I'm not a misanthrope. Seems like every ride season I'm engaged in the negative discourse on motorcycling riding. oakwd5

Generally, I don't care what others say about what I do. Sometimes I get sucked into the vortex of stinking thinking and the need for air is immediate. Perhaps because it's the start of the season, but the questions are coming. "Why do you like/need/want to ride?" "Don't you know how dangerous it is to ride." "What about your family, isn't it unfair to them?" Here's my favorite: "I just couldn't do that to my family." Another favorite: the universal story of knowing someone who knows someone who was killed in a motorcycle accident. My short coming? Allowing myself to feel defensive about these comments. Like any one else, I'm not immune to these things ringing in my head, particularly if I'm already grumbling about other life issues.

Tomorrow will mark one week since my gal pal has been home. I've probably put about fifty miles on her thus far (the weather is improving, my work life is not). Not counting the cell phone drivers who seem to feel that the "Rules of the Road" do not apply to them, I have enjoyed these measly miles. I've had two drivers literally share the lane with me. Some cabbies continue to play Pac-Man and come way too close. Getting caught in rush hour traffic means accepting that there is no such thing as a "space cushion." Too many drivers behave as if any gap is an open lane invitation for them to fill that space. And, when did turn signals become optional? So, when I have those experiences and then hear the negative voices droning in the background, one is going to need something to recharge the human battery. Add to this, a ghastly work load that violates United Nations Human Rights policies and you'll understand better the origins of the whining. oakwd6

Still, grumbling should have time limits. To prevent mine from spiraling out of control, I took a visit to one of my favorite thinking holes, a place where people no longer have a second chance, where most residing there would probably prefer not to be there. It's a visit to a place that always gives me a fresh perspective on life and living, a place filled with both told and untold stories and more history than the history books can record. For me a cemetery visit is the best antidote for whining, a panacea for what ails my over-stimulated mind and body. Visiting an old cemetery, reading the headstones, feeling the once lived history entombed there is a much needed correction, a sort of re-calibration of the soul. I always feel reinvigorated when I leave, ready to brave again what can sometimes feel like a harsh, cold, thoughtless world. Some people don't need or want such getaways and might think mine is rather macabre. That's okay. It works for me. Just like riding works for me. Riding gives me that regular, albeit seasonal, boost I need stay grounded, focused and mindful.


It's time to ride! First trip coming up.

Sunday, April 13

"Share Your Adventure" with SPOT!

"Share your adventure ...," so says the advertisement for Spot, a messenger tool (i.e., satellite plus GPS) that allows you to inform others of your exact whereabouts. For some of us this might be more info that we want to share but the beauty of Spot is it puts you in control of just how much you want to share. You can select up to ten email addresses of family/friends whom you want to keep track of you. Think of the safety factor. Think of the possibilities for families who want to keep track of children--well perhaps it's not that great an idea for teenagers. SPOT

For me, this sounds like a perfect little gadget for the solo adventurer. In the UP of Michigan, cell phone coverage is dismal! Throughout Canada--forgetaboutit! I'm forced to check in with family via public phones (which I detest) or hotel phones or email--if I stay in a hotel with Internet service. The Spot allows one to send a text message that will include your satellite position. With the help of Google mapping, family/friends can zero in on your exact location. Cellular coverage becomes irrelevant. All the Spot needs is a clear view of the sky and a subscription service.

Another super feature of Spot is the ability to instantly connect to emergency help. This is the peace of mind loved ones will appreciate. I don't have a Spot yet. But riding solo moves this to the top of the list of essential tools for distance riding. For more than a week in Ontario, I had no mobile service and it would have been neat if, every now and then, I had the ability to send a message saying "I'm okay." I recall long days of riding and finally reaching the hotel just before dark and the last thing I wanted was to make the customary call or set up the computer to send an email. The Spot could make checking in easier and allow others to check in on me when they desired.

I'm looking forward to doing a gear/gadget review of this little doohickey after I get my hands on one.

Saturday, April 12


Well, the jury is still out on Nova Scotia. It remains, however, my numero uno travel destination for the big summer trip. An important family event stands to push this trip to the summer of ’09. Dang! I will continue to plan as if I’m going but it’s looking iffy. So, on to some alternate “big” trips.

My goal to complete the five great lakes within five years is always a nice alternative trip. Visiting Nova Scotia would have allowed me to get in one great lake, two if I really wanted to push it. I could do one side of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario on the way to Nova Scotia and the opposite sides of the lakes on the return from NS. I’m afraid that strategy would take much of the fun out of circling the lakes. These lake areas are rich in history, surrounded by magnificent landscape, charming people and delicious regional cuisine. To sail around these lakes without soaking in the areas' offerings would defeat the purpose of exploring the lakes. It’s best to keep the lake circling to single trips, not something that I wedge in during Nova Scotia. Sometimes I am carried away with goals that if I don’t watch it, I can forget the much bigger gift of traveling just because…

Realistically, Lake Huron is more likely my big trip. Next summer, I’m confident that I can get Lake Erie and Lake Ontario completed together in a couple of weeks.

Another destination:

Amherstburg, Ontario is a place I’m looking forward to re-visiting. My first trip there was via car and I, as someone who tolerates auto tripping, loved that particular adventure. The National Black Heritage Museum is in Amherstburg. It’s a place everyone should visit if in the area as there is much US history alongside the Canadian. The Museum honors runaway slaves who sought refuge and freedom from American slavery in Canada. I remember the museum was rather emotional; I wasn’t alone then so I contained myself. This trip, I’ll be able to stay longer. While there, I will take a side trip of less than 30 miles southwest of Amherstburg to Colchester, Ontario, the home of Elijah McCoy, who born in 1843[?], is still considered master inventor par excellence. Don’t know who McCoy is? Don’t feel badly. Most people, unfortunately, don’t know the man or his brilliance. Surely, most have heard the phrase, “It’s the real McCoy,” which has come to mean “authentic,” “perfection,” and "the real deal." This railroad man holds approximately 70 patents!

McCoy’s parents escaped Kentucky slavery and made their way via the Underground Railroad to Canada, and settled in Colchester. McCoy was a born inventor, tinkering and perfecting things at an early age. He was fascinated with trains and how engines worked. Due to racial prejudice and discrimination, McCoy couldn’t get a mechanical engineering job. When his family moved back to the US, McCoy took a job as a firefighter in Michigan with the railroad, where he oiled engines. McCoy continued with inventing and following his passion for machines.

McCoy contended that oiling engines while they were stopped as opposed to oiling the parts while they were in motion wasn’t an efficient process. The moving parts needed to have the oil flowing around its nooks and crannies. To remedy this, McCoy invented a lubricating cup, which was patented in 1872. Here’s what one website said about the automatic lubricator,

“This device allowed machines to continue to operate as oil continuously flowed to the gears and the moving parts. McCoy's invention revolutionized the machine industry.”

I could wait to visit Colchester on the Lake Erie trip, as it is nestled along that circle. Buy why wait? I’m practically there when in Amherstburg.

Another trip:
William Murphy’s Traveling Across Ohio has me excited. I trust Murphy. I used his MI book, with the same title (Michigan), so much that it is held in place with a rubber band. If you are a history buff, Murphy’s rides emphasize the social and geographic history of place. I’m thinking of doing the Dixie Highway Ride. This road runs through my (suburban) neighborhood and has a history that begins around the same time as the Lincoln Highway, which is also near me. As Murphy explains, the Dixie Highway is a multi-legged road with one leg running from Sault Sainte Marie, MI to Miami, FL, and another from Chicago to Miami. In Ohio, it runs from Toledo south to Cincinnati. I'm considering the Cincinnati leg. While there, I'd like visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which I’ve tried to do before but learned it was closed due to some professional athletic game that virtually closed down the area. Bummed to say the least!

Then there's old faithful: The Lincoln Highway. I’m tempted to get up one morning and just ride it east bound until I tire of it. I’ve ridden chunks of it west but relatively speaking, not far past Dixon, IL. Lincoln Highway, the first road to stretch across the US is approximately 3,400 miles in length from New York to San Francisco, CA. It covers twelve states. I have a house less than one mile from a point along Lincoln Highway. I’m itching to do the whole thing, but pieces of the OH, IA and IL might be all I can realistically do in the foreseeable future. I hear the PA portion is absolutely gorgeous…hmmm? Of course, if time--and funds--were nonissues, I'd fly me and my bike to NY, start there and ride west to San Francisco. That's on the long list.

Other plans still under construction…

On another note, my gal pal Queenie is home from winter camp. Two weeks ago, the weather made for some great riding, which I couldn’t enjoy fully. My city sticker had expired, which I'd forgotten about over the winter! Thus, Saturday ride was short--from the shop to home well, there were a few detours. Sunday’s ride was brief too but oh, so sweet, with temps near 70 degrees F. Forty-eight hours later, the temps had dropped more than 30 degrees! This week has been cold and mostly wet. Still, I rode Friday when, for a few hours, the temps hit 60 degrees. It was terribly windy, making the bike a challenge to keep in my lane. At one point, I found myself humming Paul Simon's "slip slidding away...the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidding away..." Yet, the short ride was much needed. Saturday was cold and wet and rained all day. With new sticker in place, I was tempted but I have the whole season ahead of me. Saturday's rain was expected to turn to SNOW on Sunday! We were spared!

Still, winter made a returned this past weekend.

Saturday, April 5

The joy of trip planning--and a painful reminder

Trip planning has an appeal all its own. I realize now that it isn't just about where I'm going to travel, it's a process. Trip planning is a ritual of sorts that signals the riding season is around the corner. Last season, I didn't go to all the places I had planned on but every place I went, I truly wanted to go.

As a researcher, I love nothing more than pouring over things, looking behind the statistics, unearthing long dead things, and poking around in unfamiliar places. To me, curling up with a map and travel guide is more fun than one should have alone.


When I was little and would ask my parents a question about some esoteric tidbit, they would frustrate me by saying, "Look it up, that's what a library is for." They lived, I believed, only to make my life difficult. In retrospect, I think their refrain was a wise one. Early on my search for answers took me deep inside libraries and gave me a parent-approved, ready-made excuse to be excused from most chores and family duties. Looking up stuff had some wonderful hidden rewards! I enjoyed annoying the most patient among my teachers when I wielded my new found knowledge as a weapon against boredom. For me, K-12 was mind numbing--and you know what they say about idle minds... Books and stories held secrets. I feel that way still. And maps...well, they hold the most secrets of all.


While taking notes on places to visit, it dawned on me that this is my third riding season since my return to motorcycling. According to the famous Hurt Report (that really is the researcher's name!), a rider with "two to three year's experience is even more likely to crash than the new kid," as quoted in Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough. This sounds counterintuitive but it really makes sense. After a couple of successful seasons (i.e., no accidents), a rider can become "cocky" and mistakenly feel that s/he knows all there is to know. They start to ride on automatic rather than ride with a consciousness that this could be the last ride ever. I don't ever want to visit that zone.

To stay mindful, I go through the motorcycle check before my daily mount. I've actually gotten on the bike and gotten off again when I've forgotten this step. I don't expect the machine to change much in these daily checks--it's not about that really. it's a way of getting my head and heart ready for riding. It slows me and everything else down (in a good way), it gives me time to think about what I need to remember and execute on the road. This fun we take on can be deadly at any time. This time to slow down matters is also the hidden benefit of donning gear. Personally, I don't ever want riding to become a quick and easy thing I do. Driving my car had become that way. I would just hop in, buckle up and drive. Fortunately, I only drive stick shifts. I think do so imposes a bit of this "mindfulness" that I'm referring to.


Two things I've vowed to do to launch each riding season: 1) take an advance riding course, which I'm scheduled for next month; 2) read one or more of the classics (anything by David Hough, or the MSF's Motorcycling Excellence, or year's worth of my favorite moto magazine's riding skills articles). MIbk

I do something too that others might think rather morbid. I read accident reports. Some people probably don't want such reality checks but I think that most two-wheel riders need it now and again--it's great anti-cocky research. Until recently, however, I didn't know just how powerfully such an exercise could affect me. While visiting one of my favorite haunts, Adventure Riders forum, I happened across what I thought would be an interesting ride report. I paused to read it and soon found myself hooked. It told the emotional story of Clayton Schwartz's trip on a KLR650 from Seattle to Argentina. I couldn't stop reading. If you ride two wheels, take the time and read Clayton's aka "Ozymandias" story. Please, read it to the end. CIMG0863


Queenie returns from winter camp today. The weather looks great the entire weekend! A little parking lot practice is in order to reacquaint myself with my gal pal. Tomorrow, a short trip.

Ride safe. Ride smart. Ride mindful.