A Bike Trip

Thursday’s bike trip from campus to the participating downtown businesses started from home to campus for me.  But my preparation for this little group excursion actually started over a week ago.  Since moving to Bemidji, my mountain bike has been one of those toys that has taken a back seat to other toys and activities.  When I found out there was a bike trip planned for one of our field trips for People and the Environment, the time came for a good reason to pull the bike from its suspended animation in the rafters of the garage, blow the dust off, take it in for a tune-up, and shake the rust off my butt.

The bike shop said two weeks turn around time as they were inundated with projects from patrons who apparently had the same idea I did with the long awaited hint of summer making an appearance.  The only problem was whether they could find the parts to repair what 10 years of hard riding and five years of sitting on the shelf had inflicted.  She needed a good lube, brake adjustments, gear shifters repaired or replaced, and, as I found out after the fact, new tires and tubes; both the tires had deteriorated to the point where they blew in the shop after I dropped it off.  My apologies to the folks at the Home Place Bike & Ski shop for that one!

I didn’t know if I would have it back in time for the big ride, but to my surprise there was a voicemail Monday saying it was ready to go.  I immediately headed down for pick up, hoping to get as much riding in as possible before Thursday in order to get, well, certain parts of the body use to it again.  One more piece of new equipment would be vital to this – a new seat to replace the worn out, cushionless original.  So, $120 later, my Giant ATX 760 had new rubber, a new seat, properly functioning brakes, and working gear shifters.  Not bad, considering the alternative was a MegaLowMart special for a similar price or a comparable Trek replacement for for over five times the cost.

Now, I just needed to get the old muscles reacquainted with the bike.  The first few strides told me the worry would not be my gluteus maximus, but my quads.  Apparently, parts of those muscles had forgotten what it was like to ride a bike.  Ol’ Jake remembered the days when we used to tackle the trails of the Three Rivers Park District, as he headed down the road beside me – one sorry old butt after another.  Well, the bike rode like new again, the quads were a surprise, but I’m happy to report the new seat worked great.  It felt good to be back on that bike again.

Thursday morning I timed the commute from my place to Deputy Hall so I could begin implementing a bike commute for summer and fall classes – 16 minutes flat without pushing it really, well, at all.  I had no idea how long it would take me to cover the few miles to campus – I was the first one to arrive by about 15 minutes!  I suppose there was about 40 of us on bikes, students and faculty alike, and we finally were blessed with a gorgeous day in this rain-filled spring to enjoy the ride.

There would be five businesses we would be visiting in the downtown area as part of the reacquaintance with this mode of transportation:

At Wild Hare, co-owner Reed spoke with us about the integrity of the benefits of organic agriculture and fair trade, such as a fresher, higher quality product produced with little to no hormones, pesticides, and herbicides by producers being paid a fair price that covers the costs of sustainable production and living in order to establish balance between industrialized and non-industrialized countries involved in international trade.  He talked about how the produce they use in their cuisine have a naturally better flavor than the genetically engineered “cardboard” products you’ll find from corporate farms.  Their “About Us” introduction on their website states:

We envision a space where people of all walks of life can come together and share in good food and conversation, get to know their neighbors and break down social barriers.

At Harmony Foods, Lisa introduced us the benefits of local produce versus products shipped in from all corners of the world giving the consumer a better quality, fresher product that has ripened on the vine or grazed natural grasses rather than the lesser quality, truck-ripened, hormone-injected, whatevercide-laced, growth enhanced, vitamin and nutrient free products you’ll find at the any nationwide MegaLowMart.  She informed us of the ability for their consumer to buy bulk products by ordering or bringing in their own receptacle to the store which saves the all parties involved, from producer to consumer, the extra costs of packaging and advertising.  She also spoke of the benefits of fair trade, their community-based service niche, and, although shelf price is shelf price, for a $60 lifetime membership, members can share in profits and benefit from price discounts on bulk items.

At Pawn USA, Goodwill, and the Twice But Nice consignment clothiers, each store explained how their business worked from the pawn or sell option at Pawn USA, to the tax-deductible donation option at Goodwill, to the percentage based profit if sold option at Twice But Nice.  Overall, the message portrayed by these businesses is one of reducing by reusing when it comes to clothing and “stuff,” and, with my mother and sisters’ garage sale and my own eBay success, I can attest to the fact there seems to be quite a market for fraction-of-the-cost-of-new, second-hand goods.  In affect a second hand purchase preserves the amount of our natural capital it would take to produce the same item, albeit new, but for an inflated price tag of the slightly used.

OK, OK, I agree with most of the stuff these businesses are pitching, but I draw the line at clothes someone else has lived in – but that’s just me and my opinion.  I’ll just have to make up for that part of my ecological footprint somewhere else.  I think the thing that left the biggest impression on me was the realization that Goodwill uses the money from their profits to help create training programs for people with disabilities.  I didn’t know this and it will help me the next time I am reluctant to give away some of my “stuff” in the form of a tax-deductible donation.

I was most intrigued by the introduction to Wild Hare and Harmony Foods Co-op.  The convenience of shopping the MegaLowMart has robbed me of the quality produce local, organic agriculture can provide.  I had shopped Harmony Foods prior to this encounter but I never really understood the value of the co-op and the products they provide.  I plan to shop there more frequently in the future.  Wild Hare is a no-brainer for me as I am always on the lookout for a new, great place when it comes to dining – any type of dining.  I will be back often.

However, I think the bike trip for me was about the bike trip itself.  The bike had spent too many summers hanging from the roof of the garage and I have spent too much time behind the wheel of the truck.  It’s time to get right back on that bike.

Hobson Forest

Hobson ForestOur field trip to Hobson Memorial Forest on Thursday offered a chance to spend part of the morning in nature’s classroom.  Prior to the field trip, I didn’t know that BSU owned a piece of the forest, so it goes without saying that I had never been there.  But any day in the woods is a good day.

After a short drive to the forest northeast of Lake Bemidji and a short hike through the rustic log cabins area on our way to the amphitheater for a quick briefing, we were turned loose to explore in solitude.  Leaving the amphitheater area, I anxiously looked for a way to separate myself from the group and an alternate exit down a game trail helped me slip out of sight within seconds of departure.  We had a half hour.  I didn’t have a watch.  There would be a whistle when time was up.  I was soon out of whistle range.  Now, what natural wonders could I find?

Before I could escape deeper into A Beaver Boardwalkthe woods, the ridge trail I followed dropped into a clearing where a boardwalk snaked through a bog leading to a beaver lodge.  It looked as though the beavers could have designed its route themselves – easy access to the shoreline timber, but a long drag back.  I didn’t dare pay a visit; I was unannounced and the first few steps down the boardwalk looked precarious at best. 

Back up the ridge, I came across a deer enclosure where university scientists study the affects of the white-tail herd outside the enclosure versus the protected vegetation inside the enclosure.   Time to get off the game trail, and deeper into the woods.  I cut cross-country between the ridge and swamp.  Weaving through deadfalls and blowdowns in the soft soil just above the water table, I came across a favorite perch of a resident squirrel where winds had found the breaking point of an immature oak.  No chatter of discontent with my presence, but it left behind part of its cache for later, or for better feasting elsewhere.

Squirrel LeftoversWorking away from the water and into the woods, I interrupted two male American Redstarts squabbling over something so intensely that their game of give and chase brought their course within inches of me.  In fact, I had to side-step them as they dove through the underbrush.  A second later, I gathered myself and my camera to capture brilliant black and blaze woods warblers, but they called a cease to their dispute to elude their intruder.

I must have hit some tall grass somewhere because a half dozen wood ticks were making their way north along my legs looking for a warm spot to engorge with indulgence. 

The forest, bursting with growth from a late spring of blanketing snow and soaking rains, created such a fluorescent green, I strained to remember the last time I had seen as rich a color.  Tiny pops of lavender and red were revealed along the way deeper into the woods.  The whole place Wildflowerssmelled washed clean by the rains the day before.  The rains had also left the forest floor damp, soft, and quiet, perfect hiking conditions for discovering something with the element of surprise.

Deeper into the older growth trees and thicker underbrush I lost the cool breeze of the morning and waves of mosquitoes began to sing into my ears.  I’ll cross one more ridge and then I’ll turn back, or maybe the next ridge after that.  I don’t want to turn back.  I have to have been gone for a half hour, but I’ve only just begun to explore this place.  To turn back now would be anticlimactic.  I didn’t have enough time to even begin to map things out in my head.  But fresh white-tail tracks told me it was Burst of Redtime I make tracks myself before someone sends a search party.

I picked up another class member along my way back who had neglected any recognition of a watch as well.  Together, we rendezvoused with one of the instructors who was on his way back from looking for stragglers at the amphitheater.  I never heard a whistle.  We were the last ones back.  Nearly left behind.  I took only photographs, and left only footprints, as the saying goes, but my senses were still computing all the information they had just received.

I wonder what was over that next ridge?Fresh Tracks









To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.

– Excerpt from the Seventh State of the Union Address by Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, December 3rd, 1907.

This is my first journal entry in a new category entitled “People and the Environment.”  The category title comes from a Bemidji State University (BSU) course of the same name in which I have enrolled during summer session in order to complete my last liberal education requirement towards my bachelor’s degree.  The class fulfills the BSU Category 10 requirement of the liberal education requirements for bachelor degree graduates.  Category 10 also goes by the same name of People and the Environment, and is part of BSU’s commitment to an awareness of the planet’s global community and the future we are providing for ourselves and generations to come by acknowledging modern society’s influence on our planet’s limited natural resources in a global ecosystem.

In order to fulfill its mission and its responsibilities as a public university, Bemidji State University will:

  1. Promote an uncompromising pursuit of knowledge, excellence, civic responsibility, and environmental impact.

Excerpt from the Bemidji State University mission statement.

During the next month you will see journal entries made into this category stemming from lecture in association with the text Sustaining the Earth by G. Tyler Miller, Jr., reflections on activities and field trips into the discovery of the interweaving of our natural capital, and reactions to small group discussions from the global pollution perspective as I analyze my own ecological footprint.

With that introduction, in our first journal entry, we were asked to respond to the following question:

  • What does the term “environment” mean to you and why?

My environment.  When I think of my environment, I think of a place, a location, where I am in my element, or more specifically, where I feel the most comfortable spiritually and emotionally as well as where I get the most satisfaction physically and socially.

For me, my environment will always be the small town, countryside, and the wide open spaces of this wonderful world in which we live.  I grew up in a small town, a central Minnesota town of some industry and technology, but mostly a community supported by and risen from the surrounding industry of the agricultural community – the farming families.

I didn’t grow up on a farm myself, but I had many relatives and friends who did and both my parents came from families who worked the land.  My connection with this environment came through them and the countless days I spent in the woods, on the lake, the prairie, or on the farm itself.

Summers were filled with camping trip after camping trip in which our main activity was fishing.  My dad loved to camp and fish and if there was a weekend between fishing opener and football season that we weren’t gone fishing or on a excursion to some far away place, something was peculiar or amiss.  Falls meant football seven days a week unless we were in the woods harvesting timber to heat the family house for the long Minnesota winter ahead.  Winters were snowmobiling and ice-fishing, and spring meant crappie fishing with my dad and brother at our secret spot before the obligations of school and work.

Lumberjacking with my dad and bothers was hard, strenuous, and sometimes dangerous work, but those days spent working together in the outdoors are some of my fondest memories of childhood.  Another of my fondest memories from childhood is making homemade summer sausage using the family recipe with beef from my Uncle Dan’s farm and smoking it in the old smokehouse at my Uncle Ray’s farm, the farm that previously belonged to my grandparents and where my father grew up.  It’s been 25 years or more since I set foot in that little old smokehouse that now has long since been gone – given back to the land from where it came – but I can still smell the penetrating aroma like it was yesterday.  This was also an important dietary staple as homemade summer sausage and homemade strawberry jam sandwiches were the required pail lunch for a day spent lumberjacking in the woods!

My upbringing in a place where environment meant the outdoors and a way of life has shaped the way I have chosen to live my own life.  I spent a decade in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul after leaving home.  Other than the first couple years of college when I spent summers at home, I was living the city life.  Although there were still weekend escapes, outdoor refuges inside the city, and even a career in the outdoors industry, it was never a sufficient substitute for the outdoors lifestyle of the lakes, woods, and countryside of rural Minnesota.

I relocated to Bemidji, Minnesota – a community similar to my hometown – in the early spring of 2003, with no intention ever to return to the city lifestyle.  The decision to fight for the opportunity to come back to where I’m from was a choice I made for the improvement of my life.  The fact that Bemidji is located in the middle of lake country in Minnesota’s North Woods amplified then, and now, the reasons why my environment is dependent on my surroundings, earth and timber instead of concrete and steel.