Tracking A Deer

I’m going to be honest here. I am not a hunter. My grandpa Ed was a hunter, I think. I mean, the family has more stories about the improvements that my grandfather (a physics professor, a consummate tinkerer, and lover of duck tape) made to his bow, scope, deer blind, etc. than we have stories about his actual deer kills. Maybe I am wrong. After all, the story about my Grandpa Ed’s improvement to his scope—the one that captured more light and was more accurate than existing scopes, but a WHOLE lot HEAVIER—is funnier and more memorable than remembering whether he bagged a deer during the 1982 bow hunting season. But then again, I am not a hunter.

Okay, that disclosure aside, last Friday, I got to track a deer. It wasn’t a deer that I shot. My Uncle Jeff did that part with an arrow last Thursday, at dusk. So, when my father and I showed up at our family’s cabin for a “work day” Friday morning, he informed us that the first task of the day was to find his deer. This was something new. I had never tracked a deer before.

We set off up the trail toward his blind where he had shot the deer. He had been lucky (skilled) enough to find (and mark) a few drops of blood in the fading light, so that is were we started. We stood a few feet from either side of the marked blood drops so that we wouldn’t stand on the possible blood tail and looked for the next tell tail signs of the deer’s flight. I would have thought that a deer shot with an arrow (or a bullet) would leave a bloody trail, a trail easy to find, but it wasn’t.

Instead, it felt like we were CSIs . . . looking for tiny miniscule blood droplets on the mottled autumn colored leaves. We stood there, swiveling our heads from side to side, pointing with a stick when we though we found a new droplet. More often than not, they were darkened holes in the leaves, but as we went on . . . following each drop . . . my eyes started to figure it out, finding a particular red-brown shape, sometimes completely round, sometimes with a little tail pointing to the next drop. And sometimes, the drops would come in fast succession, bright vicious red trails . . . that would stop suddenly . . . and then we would scour again, in circles, until we found another small red clue.

Each clue, we’d mark with a small length of plastic tape. Hunter’s orange in color, the tape pointed the deer’s path through the woods, in fear and pain.

The deer went straight, then it zigged and zagged and zigged again. We lost it in a gully, found it going uphill (a direction we didn’t expect) and then back down (okay, that made more sense). It was slow going, bushwhacking through brambles, but slow fun like filling in a NYT Sunday crossword while simultaneously looking for Waldo.

We laughed that we’d just stumble on the deer, heads down looking for the next clue. About ½ mile into the search, I was leaning up against a tree pointing with my stick to the latest clue, while Uncle Jeff circled to the right side of the blood drop. I’d already started looking for the next drop, when my uncle laughed and said there it was. I looked around the tree that I was leaning on, and there was the deer, nestled up against the uphill side!

It wasn’t bloody, and the only sign of distress was it’s tongue hanging out, frozen solid. My uncle pulled out his hunting knife, and then turned to ask me, his vegetarian niece, if I’d be okay with this. As a resource vegetarian who had just helped locate a dead dear, I “gamely” said, “no p” and agreed to hold the deer’s hooves while my uncle field dressed the deer. (For those interested, field dressing started with zip tying the deer’s butthole so that it doesn’t spew feces, then cutting off the buck’s privates, cracking it’s ribs, pulling out entrails and organs (steaming, even though the deer had been dead for hours), and then relieving its bladder (smelly)). It was strange to see how quickly a small, sharp knife could remove the organs and entrails of a dead deer.

Then, it was time to DRAG. We tied a rope to the buck’s antler’s, made two loops at each end, stepped into the loops and started pulling the deer uphill through the woods toward the path. Lucky for my uncle, I’d just come off the New Orleans ride and was in tip-tip shape for hauling a deer uphill. It was like a workout drill from hell . . .

We pulled it up the hill and then my uncle took off to get the ATV, while my father and I pulled it along the, now mostly downhill, path. We used the ATV to do the rest of the work . . .

I wish that I had more photos of us hanging out at the family cabin—Calendonia, but we were too busy working – hanging a deer, splitting and hauling wood, and making the ancestral cabin ready for the large family Thanksgiving gathering in a few weeks.


Some Day Is Today, by John Fitzgerald

Some Day Is Today, by John Fitzgerald

My sister found and bought us this hand-printed screen, by John Fitzgerald in New Orleans.  She understood that this sums up the Mike and Chandra philosophy . . . complete with the quirky bicyclist.

And it is so true . . . in the planning, preparation, duration and re-telling of our story, we hear over and over again of how people would like to do such a trip someday . . . someday when they can afford the time, someday when the kids are older, someday when I’m in better shape, someday when . . .

The fact that we are able to make our someday dreams reality is a testament to how fortunate we are.  We have the flexibility, freedom, resources and support to do so.

But there are so many others out there as examples to us of how important it is to live life fully, regardless of resources and time.  To know what one’s dreams are and to find a way to make them real everyday.

So, as we head back to Madison, to our “real” lives full of responsibilities, work, and challenges other than “miles, food and shelter”, we also are reminded to keep dreaming our dreams and to figure out how soon we can make that next “someday dream” happen today.

God bless all of you who have taken this trip with us–in spirit and in support.  Special thanks to my dad and sister (a.k.a. the Rendezvous Crew) without your support we’d still be in NOLA (maybe that’s not a bad thing though); to all the Hoseas, especially Grandma Marie, in Springfield who fed and housed us; to Mark and Julie in St. Louis for hosting us on our rest day and to Hudson for the baseball game and the map; to Mike’s mom whose daily replies to the blog made us smile and know that we were loved and being prayed for; to the Veaseys and Milbinos whose prayers are particularly powerful; to fellow tandemers, Chris R. from St. Louis and to Dave and Rhona from West Virginia, who understand the beauty of paired travel; to Perry and Lep for their generosity not just to us but to hundreds of fellow bikers; to Joy Gauss for her artistry (I love the pendant); and to Jimmie Cropper and Johnny Blancher at Ye Olde College Inn for making us love New Orleans even more than I thought possible.

We love you all.  And if there is anyway we can help make a dream of yours possible . . . know that we will be there.

Till Next Time!

Till Next Time!



Day 17 : Lousianians are NICE!!! — Perry & Lep’s Veloshack in Jackson to Fountaine Bleu State Park, LA, 97 miles, 1,418 miles total

Wow. As a Midwestern girl, I have always heard and thought that Midwesterners are “so nice”, but I have to say, I think I we need to up our game ‘cuz wow, Lousianians are really, really nice!

Morning started with us up and packed early, by 7:00 am with the thought we’d get an early start. But we were soon seduced by Perry. First, it was her hot dark Columbian coffee.

Then, it was the tour of the house that she and Lep built using salvaged wood from four different houses. It is simple and beautiful. They have antiqued bead board on the ceiling of the loft, different colors and patinas — harmonious yet random.

Then, it was her biscuits with honey and butter. Even though Perry can’t eat wheat, she made us biscuits. And for those of you who have been following our story, you know that I’m a biscuit girl. I set a new record at four.

Then, it was just Perry with her hilarious stories about the bikers who have preceded us, about reading a book on the evils of sugar only to find the advice 75% of the way through that it is better to eat junk food and exercise than to forswear sugar and not exercise, about building the house, and well, pretty much anything. She’s a wealth of knowledge, especially about bikes and bike touring. For anyone thinking of doing a bike tour, Perry could offer a million tips on what to bring (and what not to bring), how to take care of your bike (and yourself), and generally how to stay alive on a bike. She’s amazing.

Eventually, we managed to motivate ourselves away from the coffee and biscuits and Perry, and onto our bike. Perry meets 200-500 bikers a year so I imagine that we must all mush together. But for us, Perry and Lep will always stand out like a beaming example of the generosity we humans are capable of. When was the last time you housed and fed (hundreds of) strangers — for nothing???


So, it was a little before 9 when we finally got rolling, following Perry’s final bit of advice to walk the bike across the road before mounting because the cars and trucks are coming around a blind curve. And that is wise advice that anyone lucky enough to visit Perry and Lep should seriously heed.

We settled into another glorious day of riding, although the headwind we had been expecting finally did show up. We had planned a turny unusual route to take us toward the north shore of Lake Pontchiatrain. About 20 miles in, this huge pickup truck rolls up to us, slows down to our pace, and the guy driving yells out, “Did you bike here from Wisconsin?” When we said yes, he replied, “Congratulations! That’s awesome!”, and gave us a friendly smile and wave before driving on. When was the last time you took a second to offer a stranger encouragement??? Like I said, Louisianians are NICE.



We pushed on against the headwind, stopping at the Walker Town Park for lunch. After all these little turns, we eventually turned onto Rte 22 and prepared ourselves for the 28 mile afternoon grind. Before we did, though, it seemed advisable to stop for cold Gatorade and ice cream. I found Hagendaz ice cream bars at this little convenience (bait/booze) store where the clerk apologized that they were more expensive than the other ice cream treats. But I knew that we would put those high fructose corn syrup free ice cream bars to work, so the price was well worth it.

So there we were, eating fancy ice cream bars outside the bait and booze shop that seemed to serve as this little town’s center, when this woman comes out and tells us that we had better be careful because locals are a little crazy. Then, she goes on to say, that they are also super nice and that if we have any bike trouble, “any drunk will help you.” She’s about to climb into her pickup truck, when she gets back out and says, “I’m not one of the crazies. You got a place to stay tonight? Cuz, I live just two miles up the road.” She seemed satisfied when I told her that we still had miles to go, but were going to stay at Fountaine Bleu Park. I swear, if my answer had been unsatisfactory, she’d have taken us home. When was the last time you offered to house a stranger??? Louisianians are NICE.

Fueled up, we ground out Rte 22 in a couple hours. When we got close to Mandeville, we stopped to check the location of the grocery store. We weren’t on the side of the road but a few minutes, when a car stopped and a guy got out, just checking to make sure we were okay. He gave us directions through town to the store and told us that he and his wife had ridden a tandem in France and loved it. After ensuring we were okay, he drove on. When was the last time you stopped for a stranger who might be in need? Louisianians are NICE.

We rolled into Mandeville where Mike left me with the bike while he shopped and then we cranked out the last few miles to Fountaine Bleu Park. Unlike many of the state parks we have encountered on this trip, this park is well-marked and has a manned entrance where we got information about the park and a map (!) pointing out the camping spots, water and bathhouses. It’s a lovely quiet park along the north shore of the lake. Even Louisiana’s parks are nice!

For dinner, Mike really upped his game having bought a bottle of white wine, fresh (never frozen) gulf shrimp, and a pound of butter!!! We ate pasta with a bell pepper-portabella reduction and grilled shrimp In white wine and butter sauce. Lovely anywhere, but truly delicious as a camp meal after nearly 100 miles of biking.


And for dessert, we had blackberries with yogurt.


After such a glorious meal, we took a walk to the lake. We will get a picture of it tomorrow before we leave, but at night, you can see the cars on the 30 mile long causeway into New Orleans and the dim lights of the city. It’s beautiful in the moonlight.

I cannot believe that the trip is near its end. Tomorrow, we will be in New Orleans. It’s been a long, hard, fun, amazing trip. It will be strange (it always is) to leave the simplicity of the trip where our needs and objectives are completely aligned and return to the negotiation and balancing required in our “real lives.” But we are thankful that we can have these trips, these adventures, to remind us who we are, who were want to be, and — thanks to today’s Louisianians–how we want to treat others.


Day 9: Tennessee Hills: Dover, TN to Shady Grove, TN, 96.6 miles, 814 miles total

Whispering Pines Campground might not be the most appropriately named spot, what with its proximity (about 50 yards) to TN Hwy 79. On the plus side, the shower was hot, we slept like logs, and the fog in the morning was gorgeous.


We got our earliest start to date, leaving the campground by 8:30 am, and pedaling through the thick fog. We quickly turned off the highway onto Old Rte 76 and cruised along the empty road–fog in front of us, autumn trees on each side. After about four miles, we were surprised to find ourselves at the intersection of Hwy 76 and Old Rte 76 (again). We had gone in a complete circle. Perplexed, we turned on the phones and discovered that there was yet a third intersection of the two 76s. It was this third option that would lead us south toward the Natchez Trace trailhead.

On the right track (literally), we continued on and made good time through beautiful rolling hills. We stopped for a snack on the porch of our “dream house”! Cute, isn’t it?


The fog burned off and the hills turned steep as we crawled our way toward Waverly, where we stopped and ate lunch at a little memorial grove commemorating the disaster of 1978. Not-so-fun fact: Waverly was the site of a L&N train accident where 20,000 gallons of propane gas exploded–decimating a large chunk of the town and killing 16 people, including their fire and police chiefs. I think I had heard this history not that long ago as part of the news reporting on more recent train derailments.

We headed out of town and continued along beautiful scenery with long ups and downs. Both of us like climbing hills, and these were fun, although some quite challenging. We hit a trip best on one: 52 mph. (Yes, the hill we had to climb to do so took its toll, but it was worth it.)


And — with one major exception — the drivers here were exceptionally courteous about sharing the road. More than once, a driver would hang back giving us space on a long descent and ensuring the cars behind didn’t crowd us on narrow sections. Overall, the drivers here seem much more courteous to bikers than the drivers we regularly experience on Wisconsin’s country roads.

The one exception was some dimwit who had rigged his pickup truck to blow black exhaust at cars (and bikers). We got a blast of it as he zoomed past us, clearly trying to give us a scare. I can’t understand why someone would spend money to do something intentionally mean. But it was just a glancing insult to an otherwise awesome day.

Due to the hills and short fall days, we barely made it to the campground before the sun set. But Mike had picked up a little refreshment at the last convenience store.


Home for the night is a cyclists only campground. Tomorrow we will finally be on the historic Natchez Trace.

Mike made a lovely dinner and we ate by the fire restoked from existing hot ashes left by a recent visitor. After tidying up camp, Mike beat me in the trip’s first game of cribbage.

There’s a sliver of moon in the sky, the hum of cars going someplace, and the yips of a coyote pack. Everything but is and our little green tent seems far off and of a different world.

All in all, another great but exhausting day.

Day 4: Special Guest Post from our Senior Trail Vegetation Correspondent

Hej Road Warriors,

I’m loving the blog posts. Sunday was a tough day. Way to persevere! I’m rooting for ya! As a fellow biker I totally sympathize with the walnut woes. Armed with a laptop, internet, boredom, and insomnia, I am ARMCHAIR ANALYST MAN!

<SUPERHERO-INTRO_MONTAGE costume=”nerd glasses, bathrobe”/>

It looks like the habitat of both white and black walnut species overlap with your route.

According to the US Forest Service, both species fruit from September to October.

According to USGS maps, Illinois will offer you no respite from either species. Things would have been bad if you were going through much of Missouri; 65% of the wild annual walnut harvest originates there.

Black walnuts will accompany you in Tennessee and Kentucky, but, according to the USDA, white walnuts should taper off. Although the native coverage of white walnuts in those states is extensive, they have been classified as “Threatened” and “Of Special Concern” in those states, respectively. Northern Mississippi will present no white walnuts and some black walnuts. Come south Mississippi, you will be free of any kind of walnut for the rest of that journey. Which is good; jambalaya and fresh walnut smell don’t mix anyhow.


<CREDITS> (terrible map, but check out the legal tab)


Am I “nuts” or what?



Day 2 : overcoming adversity, 84 miles, 196 total

Well, for those of you out who think we are crazy, today might prove you to be right.

It started lovely enough–we woke at sunrise and went through our usual routine of me packing up the gear while Mike makes first, coffee, then breakfast. Since we had planned ahead, making extra rice the night before, we were in for a breakfast treat–Belly Pleaser, which is a delicious and high calorie rice gruel with water, coconut milk, cinnamon and dried mangos. It is a great way to jump start a long, cold day. And although we didn’t yet know it, we were going to need it.


We were packed and on the road by 9AM, feeling full, strong and ready for day 2. At Rock Falls, we turned south onto Hennepin Canal Trail. (Fun fact- Started in 1834 but not completed until 1908, the canal never lived up to its promise as rail became dominant and the canal too small. More here: wiki). It was a beautiful crushed limestone trail, which unfortunately slows us down, along the slowly moving canal.


Well maintained (for the most part),


We saw blue herons, ducks and other unidentifiable water fowl, deer, one slightly scary dog, and a gaggle (?) of wild turkeys. Life was okay.

But THEN, we hit a soft uncompacted 10 mile section that really slowed us down. And THEN, came the minefield of walnuts–that caused us to flat out! No real biggie. We expect these things.


Eventually, we came to the old locks, which were cool.




And we turned off the road and headed into the wind toward Wyoming, IL. OH, the wind. It blew straight at us, and we quickly discovered our route had a preference for the gravel over the paved roads. We’d pick a paved alternative, only to have the directions update and shift while we were biking without bars or coverage. While I would try to reconfigure the route as we biked, we missed a few turns, vetoed bad options, and generally made us bike about 6 extra miles straight into the wind.

When bike touring, the wind is some days your guardian angel, and others, an evil monkey on your back. When you have a tailwind, the miles fly by as if you are going downhill. But when you have a headwind, it strips your legs of power and your heart of spirit. It was past 4:30 pm, when we finally made it to Wyoming. And we still had miles to go to get to our planned stopping point in Peoria.

To escape the wind, we choose to return to another rails to trails limestone unpaved path. We knew it would be slow, but we were slightly sheltered from the wind and off the bigger road as the sun approached the far horizon. Having committed to the path at the trailhead, we were somewhat dismayed to discover a TRAIL CLOSED sign several miles in. Because we like to go toward our destination (rather than away from it), we persevered with expert Captain Mike mountain biking the big long train through some very sketchy rutted out sections. As Stoker (the one in the back), my job is to not freak out when the front wheel is going one direction, the back wheel is drifting, and the trailer–who knows???

Okay, so an hour or so later, we hit more trail closed signs. Mind you, there really wasn’t a road escape route for us at this point. So again, we went FORWARD. (It is after all, the Wisconsin way.). And fairly soon, we discovered the trail was missing a bridge.



But–Captain, My Captain, was undeterred. He quickly disassembled us and — chivalry is not dead — carried the heavy parts (i.e., not me) across the chasm.



Not to shirk my duties, I carried the water bottles and front bag as I skipped across the go. (Did I mention, we were tired, souls stripped by the wind a few miles back, and looking for a place to make camp).

And, we found one. Because, according to the IL DNR maps, there was a closer campground with toilets and water just off the trail about 10 miles shy of our planned destination. (Point of reference: On this trail, that’s another hour, in the DARK). So we pulled off at the Alta-Dunlop Rock Island campground. Happy to stop at last.

But the obstacles were not yet all overcome, because despite the signs and the IL DNR website indicating there is water here. There is not.


Options were get back on the bike and fetch water (a 2+ miles trek) or (after 84 miles) forego dinner (and breakfast) and just fend. Oh, Illinois DNR, I expect more from you. So, we dined on cheese quesadillas and drank our meager emergency supply of Elmer, feeling like the day could have been easier, but this is what makes it an adventure. For everyone, warm and cozy on their couch right now, we certainly are living life to it’s fullest. (Although I do long for my couch just a wee bit–I guess my cousins’ in St. Louis will have to do.)

But, I am warm, fed (better than 3rd world standards), and ready for bed.


Day 1! Departure! 112 miles, 112 total


Departure day has finally arrived! Up early, last minute packing, big phat breakfast burritos at Monty’s Blue Plate diner (thanks Mark!) a swing by the farmers market to say goodbye to Mama Jo and then the day could really begin!!

It was chilly, but had a tailwind almost all day. Of the 112 miles we covered, probably 65 were on gravel. We took the Badger State path from Madison through Monroe to the Illinois line. Then it becomes the Jane Adams trail for a while. The paths are lovely although a bit taxing on a road bike– especially a tandem when stability is at a premium. The changing leaves were ridiculous though!!

Chillin at the state line.


When it ended in Freeport (fun fact – Freeport Illinois is the location of the Lincoln – Douglas debate) we thought pavement would rule the day. It did for a while! The riding was easy through corn fields and rolling hills. The chip seal roads felt just like home. But after 20 or 30 miles the chip seal gave way to gravel. Some of it was fun but much was loose and full of big rocks. Descending some of the hills on loose gravel tested the zen abilities of my stoker girl a lot!

We eventually reached Sterling, IL. We are at the Ruffit campground which is empty save for “10 idiots” (their words not mine) who stay here for weeks on end. It’s going to frost tonight and tomorrow might have a headwind. But I’m cozy in the green tent with my sweetie, with a weary body, a belly full of beans and rice, and a strong desire to see what tomorrow brings!

Oh. Chandra just reminded me we had a flat. Just after a tunnel on the Badger State trail. Old tube. Little rip. Nothing obvious to have caused it. Kept on truckin.

Day -3: The Route: Madison, WI to New Orleans, LA

Okay . . . we are back for another adventure!  In 2006, we biked from San Francisco, CA to Madison, WI.  Then, in 2011, we took a quick spin from Madison to the Canadian border.  This time, we’ll be taking the silver tandem, Talulat, from Madison to New Orleans to celebrate our 20th anniversary. (I know, crazy, we’ve been married for 2 decades!)  Neither of us have ever been to New Orleans before, and it is a LONG way to bike for some beignets, but we figure that if we bike there, we can eat whatever we want when we arrive!  We will be leaving this Saturday, October 18th and blogging as we ride (assuming that we have time to write, since some of these days are long, while the days in October are shorter than they are in the summer).

For those that are interested in the route, here it is: Madison, WI to New Orleans, LA.

1,274 miles, 20,800 ft up and 19,961 down in total. 

Day 3: Sparta to Merrick State Park

74 miles – total 214

Today was as flat and easy as 74 miles could be. The ride into La Crosse, along the La Crosse river was gorgeous and the going was fast! We arrived in La Crosse in time to stop in a bike shop for a trailer tube and to hit the People’s Food coop for food supplies. Had lunch at a sandwich place, grabbed wifi and coffee at a little coffee shop and still were on the road north at 1 pm.

We backtracked a bit to join the Great River trail along the mighty Mississippi even past Trempeleau. Amazing to have the opportunity to cover over 100 miles on rails to trails. It’s great to not deal with cars and to see the scenery but the crushed limestone eventually gets a bit old so we were happy to hit the pavement for the final 20 miles or so today.

One of the big hazards of the path is loose sand. With skinny road wheels, it can be harrowing to get through it. So whenever we successfully navigated such a section I swear I heard Bob Roll and Phil Ligget from the VoiceOver in the sky saying “well you know, mike and chandra are mountain bikers so they are used to these conditions.” in the end though I’m most impressed with Chandra’s ability to keep her cool ( and her balance?) while slipping around on such loose ground. It’s scary enough for me and I’m in control!

Among long haul bikers it’s often said that day 3 is the hardest. It’s when legs and butt are most sore and energy is often lagging. Luckily neither Chandra nor I felt that way today at all! We had tons of energy and bodies holding up well. Out of Trempeleau Chandra suggested the stoker hit it a bit and we jumped from 15 to 24 MPH for a few miles! Of course neither if us could maintain that too long but sometimes afterburners are fun!

Today was also a social day – running into a few people. One was an old timer that we met while standing on a bridge where the trail crosses Tank Creek. We were marveling at the amount of flow and admiring the patterns made by the currents and asked him if this was Tank creek. He said it is ( he was born a few miles away and still farms up the hill a bit ). When I mentioned high flow he said “yeah – a dike broke on the Black River so now lots of flow from there enters Tank creek and it changed everything in the bottom lands. It used to be clear water fed from springs but now it’s all cloudy from the black river.” he went on to tell us the dike was from when the loggers used to need to float their rafts down the Black. Late 1800s. Previously when the dikes broke the DNR fixed them but now they want to return the area to it’s more natural state. For this guy, the natural state was probably 100 years of a baseflow dominated stream with no input from the black river. Interesting to think about which timescale is appropriate to attribute “natural” to and can humans making new habitat and ecosystems be considered part of nature? The new flow in Tank Creek has killed of tons of trees, for example. It’s like the Searsville dam at Stanford or North Pamet river on Cape Cod. Who’s to say which habitat has more right to exist? It’s a philosophical question I find more interesting and important as time goes on. That made the conversation with the old timer quite satisfying.

We moved on eventually and had burritos at the campground. We realized we forgot the cribbage board so chandra made the one in the picture. AT&T lousy here so probably only can upload the one photo. But, we are snug in the tent serenaded by coyotes and freight trains right along the river. Tomorrow we ride to Wabasha and hope to meet up with Java Jim at the Eagles nest then on to a rest day in Red Wing! Looking forward to a beautiful ride on familiar ground.