Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities' Bike Rides

One of the reasons I love living in the Milwaukee area is its close proximity to Chicago. While there are many reasons which give Milwaukee the edge as to my choice of residence, I consider Chicago as a second, adopted hometown. (I guess growing up midway between Chicago and Milwaukee has left me with torn allegiances - we won't even get into Bears vs. Packers or Cubs vs. Brewers). Anyway, I avail myself of any opportunity to take advantage of what both cities have to offer. Organized lakefront bike rides are no exception with each city offering up a ride on back to back weekends.

The first was Chicago's Bike the Drive on May 29th, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Organized by the Active Transportation Alliance, a group encouraging biking as transportation within the Chicago area.  The ride offers the once a year opportunity to ride a bike along Lake Shore Drive. The 30 mile loop begins at Jackson, with the option of 1st heading south to the turn around at the Museum of Science and Industry or north to the turnaround at Hollywood. I love the views of the skyline and Lake Michigan, the museum campuses and harbors from a car along Lake Shore Drive and was quite excited to see these from my bike. Alas, this year, the weather did not cooperate. The city was fogged in with a slight mist all morning. Not sure I ever caught an actual glimpse of the lake...or even a true view of the skyline.
 This ride was very well organized and supported. The event website included a calendar of spots to pick up ride packets in the weeks leading up to the ride. We didn't make it in town until too late to get to one of these pick up locations...but will next year. The line to pick up packets was long when we arrived around 6:30am, and getting longer by the minute. Look closely in the picture below - when we got there the line went to the porta potties in the far back, by the time we got our packets, it had doubled back upon itself. Packets included the mandatory, and frequently checked, race bracelets and numbers, along with t-shirts and route guides.
Rest and re-fuel stations were provided at each turn around point and in the middle/start area. Quite impressive set-up - well stocked, tons of volunteers, and active recycling efforts.
While in line to pick up packets, I heard a group debating which direction to go first, and the 1st mention of "the hill" - as in "maybe we should go north first to do the hill in our first half". As we rode, I'd hear bits and pieces of conversations about folks dreading the Ohio Street hill. When we encountered this hill at about mile 28, it reminded me that hills are relative to where you live...and that Chicago is a very flat place. Yes, as I was feeling smug about my ease of riding up "the hill", I also acknowledged a biker from Colorado would laugh at all my complaining about Hillside Drive or the Hanson Park hill on my bike commute. At the top of the hill we stopped for a quick photo opportunity of a leg of the river and the idle construction site of the Chicago Spire project.
The ride offered a post ride festival, but the weather just wasn't hang in the park and listen to music friendly. Instead we biked over to our fav breakfast spot, Yolk as a post ride treat. Great ride despite the weather, and one I plan on making a tradition.

 The next weekend was the Miller Lite/UPAF Ride for the Arts in Milwaukee. This fund raiser for Milwaukees Performing Arts scene offers a variety of routes from 5mile and 12 mile family friendly routes through downtown, to a bit more challenging 25mile route heading south along the lake, and for the true cyclist northerly 50 and 75 mile versions. We'd originally planned on doing the 50miler, but technical difficulities (a deja vu of hubby's flat in last year's ride - but with need of a new tire in addition of the tube) put us behind schedule and we called an audible and joined the 25miler.
All routes begin at the Summerfest grounds. As with the Chicago ride, routes are well marked, well organized and well supported. Yellow shirted ride marshals were apparent through out. I appreciate all the volunteers time and efforts, but would suggest the ride provide a bit more training and guidance to the marshals. We happened to be riding much of the route by a couple of marshals that frequently rode no-handed, changed lanes without looking back, passed without calling out to riders - all of which in a crowded biking situation could cause problems, but more importantly did not model good biking etiquette and safety while on an organized ride.
 A highlight of this year's ride was the trip over the Hoan Bridge. Before the start organizers warned that no photography or stopping on the bridge was permitted, s have no pictures of the incredible views. The 3 percent grade of the bridge made climbing it not too strenuous at an easy pace, nor did it cause problems on the group descent. Hopefully this made us one step closer for the DOT to allow biking across the bridge in the future.

Bikes of all types, road, mountain, hybrid, recumbent, were apparent on the ride. Huge props to the guy on the single speed old fashioned bike. We saw him start and finish - and at the turn around, so know he did the 25mile route. Passed a couple of families using tandems plus tag alongs for a three person ride.
The UPAF Ride also includes a post ride festival on the Summerfest grounds. Local fav, 'Love Monkeys' were the featured band. However, we opted to head to brunch instead, this time to Honeypie in BayView. Creating our own post ride tradition, of re-fueling at brunch favorite restaurants.

Recommend both rides, and together they make a great way to kick off the summer riding season!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A bit of a slow start.....

The cool, wet spring (probably better described as long wet winter) combined with a significant amount of both work and personal travel has put me a bit behind on gardening. Did a bit of work a couple weeks ago, and this past weekend finally got out and got dirty - setting back up the driveway farm.

My yard and garden are heavily shaded with only a small area offering enough sun to successfully grow food. And that small spot is centered around and on my driveway. Last year I started experimenting with growing herbs and veggies in pots along the driveway edge. This experiment was mostly successful and has created what I call my driveway farm.

This year I'm focusing mainly on heirloom tomatoes and herbs with a pepper or two thrown into the mix. I started the day with last year's pots filled with last year's dirt and more than a few volunteer weeds. I look like a bit of a mad scientist as I rejuvenate the soil in the containers. Mixing in a bit of new potting mix, compost, fertilizer and my secret ingredient of alfalfa pellets.

I use the largest pots I have for the tomatos, filling between them with the smaller herb pots. I'll be sticking in nasturium and other small plants such parsley at the base of the tomatoes. Also need to rig up some kind of automatic drip irrigation system, but all and all good progress on the farm.
 The area I think of as the lampost bed is filling in nicely. Planted the barrel with annuals a couple weeks ago, but it really is the perennials stealing the show - and proving the value of foliage for color in a garden. Love the brightess of the yellow foliage in this shaded yard.

 On the other hand, the bed under the walnut tree is not quite as successful. Several of the pernenials did not return. Some corners of the bed are fine, other a bit bare. Still experimenting here on what will grow successfully beneath a walnut.
As I worked  and took pictures around the garden, I realized that last year I kinda lost steam on updating garden progress on this blog. I think the last phot I did of the front beds looks something like this:

Nothing but spray painted bed lines on both sides of the front walk. Readers digest version: We tilled it up, I planted in a variety of shade and part sun plants, sticking to a green/white/burgundy color scheme, relying on foliage color more than flowers, and finally used stones from other areas of the yard to create an edging. If I can say so myself, it has all turned out quite well.
This spring we added the bottle tree, and bottle bug earlier this year. I lost few if any of the perennials over the winter. Most of all, I am thrilled with the Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' (aka red leaved redbudtree). One of my favorite small trees. I find the deep color of the young leaves enchanting. Cannot imagine a garden without this tree.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Up in the Air Junior Birdman

Another collection of phone pictures: Milwaukee, Louisville, frozen lake Michigan, Manhattan, Hudson Bay, Chicago, Indiana "wind farms", Travese Bay