Friday, November 18, 2016

North Dakota

Last weekend marked the end of another year chasing ducks and geese across the prairie potholes of northern North Dakota. In many ways it seems like the land that time forgot. The birds migrate more or less how they always have, following the water south to Arkansas and the Gulf of Mexico. The big mallards and drake green wing teal wait until the last water freezes up on the Canadian prairie. As long as the sago pond weed remains, canvasbacks will be on the canvasback sloughs, teal in the teal spot. Crops go in, crops come out, and the bar in town has its Thursday night steak fry to raise money for the city park.

Few things in North Dakota have more impact on the economy than water and The Farm Bill. Without crop insurance, too dry or too wet at any given point on the annual crop cycle could be disastrous to a farming economy. But, the right combination of  water and crop prices produce good times at the local implement and Ford dealerships. 

U.S. energy policy is installing windmill farms across the state. The county built a new high school just outside of town and a full service gas station went up just down the road. The old school in town is now apartments and there are some new characters to talk to down at the bar. 

The town is now connected up to city water because of the high nitrogen levels in the groundwater, a large and expensive undertaking. The number of deer tags issued by the state is down to half of what it was in 2010. Our good buddy Ron, son of an implement dealer, driver of combines, and town ambassador passed away last year due to health complications. Far too soon. You are missed buddy. I guess that's what happens when you keep coming back, year after year to the land that time forgot. 

The landscape is forever changing and intimately connected to the Bigger World. The ducks and landowners don't seem to mind the windmills. The people are thankful for the work and the out-of-towners seem nice enough (wind farm workers and duck hunters). 

I'm grateful for the hospitality of North Dakotans, for the ducks, and for my father-in-law and brother-in-law who chase birds and brought  me to this place. And for goose with cream and rosemary, roasted duck stuffed with sweet potatoes and pecans, jalapeno poppers, and Canadian whiskey.

- Ride North

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ravenna Trail Run

When it's 50 degrees (10C) and sunny on November 2nd you take the afternoon off and go for a motorcycle ride. This is just what is done when you ride north. It's the equivalent of heading to the local ski hill for a powder day. Make hay while the sun shines as they say.

I took the first road out of town, cruising down to Hastings Minnesota, a not so sleepy river town on the Mississippi. The Vermillion River cuts through town before heading south, parallel to the Old Miss. It's river valley is the northern most remnant of the Driftless Area's limestone and spring water bounty. 

Much of the river from Farmington to Highway 52 is a cold water trout stream, shifting in and out of  cold and cool water status whenever a new groundwater spring wells up into the river. (Cold water streams are the home of trout, pike and smallmouth bass love the cool water, catfish are found in warm water. Warm water streams have big swings in temperature from summer to winter while groundwater keeps a cool water a consistent temperature all year long, they don't freeze up. )

Ecology lesson aside, The Vermillion also topples over the limestone bluffs of the Mississippi River at the Old Mill Park in Hastings. Next time I stop, I'll have to look into the history of the building that sits over the falls. It houses a hydro electric plant and I'm curious if it's still operating.  

Vermillion Falls/ Old Mill Park in Hastings, MN

I took Ravenna Trail south out of Hastings and turned left into the Prairie Island Indian Community, home of a casino, several communities, farming, mining and a nuclear power plant. The Island is a section of high ground between the Vermilion's back waters and the Mississippi with a complex history (see the people's encyclopedia).

Just north of Red Wing I turned inland again, taking the back roads into Welch. The winding roads in and around Welch are Minnesota's northern most sections of bluff country. I often skip them on my way to Wisconsin, so the ride was more like discovering new roads than retracing my steps, a welcome addition.

Dutch Belted: Few hoof and joint problems, they produce milk that is easy to digest and take well to rotational grazing. Known for their longevity and hipster farmer cred. 
And some Scotties, which are cool too.

Cannon River tubing epicenter in Welch, MN, not much activity on November 2nd. 

From Welch, I took the dirt toads west towards Cannon Falls. Most of these roads are polished smooth by the back and forth trips of old school buses dropping off tubers and their coolers up river. It's a beautiful section of Minnesota road, when nobody is there. Tubing the Cannon id fun but get on the river before noon to avoid most of the drinking and shenanigans. Of course, all that is long gone by November.

the Cannon River

Miesville Ravine Park is the home to Trout Brook, a native brook trout stream.

note to self: go fishing. Take picture of a brook trout. Reread "Brook Trout: a Natural History" as punishment for your crimes.

The City of Miesville is home to the Miesville Mudhens, a AAAAaaaaaa league baseball team and the 2016 state champs!

West of Miesville, new marble sized gravel has been spread across the road, making the conditions closer to riding on ice than sand. I may have broke 20 mph but not for long. My touring tires squirmed under the bike with every change in direction. "Go slow young man" was my mantra.

(Maps by Google, recorded via

I also took this opportunity to test drive a new smart phone app, Rever. The base maps were well labeled and it is really easy to start and manage new rides. I'll have to test is out on an all day ride to see how much battery it munches. Overall though, it was not bad. 

Nov 1st | 2:40 | 120 miles

- Ride North