Chronicling The Brass Rooster for OnMilwaukee

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I ran into John McLaughlin of The Brass Rooster and was stunned by the hat he was wearing. This isn’t surprising, as John and Kate have provided a haven for haberdashery in Milwaukee for a decade now. This hat, however, had some unique artistry going on. So I made plans for later in the week to stop by the store, and came up with this article for OnMilwaukee.

Sunset on the Prairie at Riveredge

I went out at work to take a few sunset pictures the other afternoon. Something everyone takes pictures of can be a challenge to shoot in a unique way.

It wasn’t a particularly stunning sunset (no clouds) and I wanted to reinforce the idea of being outdoors, hence the emphasis on footsteps, not just reinforce scrolling through pretty pictures from one’s phone.

I go back and forth with imagery of nature. Does it motivate people to get outside, or might it satisfy that desire from a standpoint of spectating? A visual candy, lacking experiential sustenance.

Pretty pictures are nice, sure, but I’ll trade all the pretty pictures in the world for going outside and experiencing it myself. I’ll continue venturing outside and will continue to take pictures often when I do. 😘

Chronicling the First Year at The Riveredge School

Creating a new school is a little like designing an iceberg. Once it’s open people might notice it looks like a huge undertaking, but most of that work takes place before it appears. This past fall The Riveredge School opened onsite at Riveredge Nature Center. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to document some of the activities of these students at the first nature-based public charter elementary school in the greater Milwaukee region.

This picture above was the first time I went out to grab some snapshots of students out on the trails. They were participating in an exercise to sit down, and write or draw everything they saw and heard in the forest that surrounded them. They sat down and began to take in their surroundings and went to work, overall quietly and contemplative. I’d never seen a group of first graders work so independently and so calmly.

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How do you start a nature-based elementary school when you don’t yet have a school? You figure it out by using the inquiry-based educational philosophy that you work to instill in students! Thanks so much to everyone who has helped out The Riveredge School throughout this entire process, now culminating in our new (nearly complete!) yurt classrooms. We’re so excited to take this next step, in becoming the first nature-based public elementary charter school in the region with The Riveredge School this fall! . . . . . #education #environmentaleducation #nature #volunteers #milwaukee #wisconsin #elementaryeducation #midwest #yurt #optoutside #natureeducation #science #scienceeducation #outdoors

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Here is the completion of the yurt classrooms last summer, two of which are in use at Riveredge. Volunteers are extremely helpful.

Science lessons can take place on the land in conjunction with Riveredge staff and educators. Above, student learned about habitat restoration and creating ways for a less common plant species to flourish.

A snapshot of the inside of the yurt classrooms. I wonder what it’s like to have your first school experience be one in which the majority of your time is spent outdoors and the remainder of the time is inside a cozy round room looking out onto prairies. That idea kind of makes me wish I could be seven years old again and go to school there.

This was one of the first snows of the season and everyone was outdoors having a great time.

Students learned to cross country ski this past week. I bet they’ll be excited to arrive at school this morning with our six inches of new snow yesterday.

Late last summer, when the yurts were completed and awaiting students to begin classes.

Catching my breath, and a little winter sanity, outdoors

Got out on the trails for a little ride this morning. A few extra photos on my Instagram account below (including a little brief poetry). Feel free to follow me there.

Wisconsin winters are long…we’ve got to get outside and celebrate whatever weather we have. Or we’ll all go insane indoors.

Lovely Snow Season at Riveredge

Lucky for me, the quickest way to get around and take pictures is on cross country skis.

Why I went Fat Bike instead of a Mountain Bike

Welp, I picked up a fat bike. Here are the reasons why I went fat, even though I might one day look back. This piece isn’t so much a fat bike review or comparison, but more of an observation of why I settled on a fat bike instead of a more conventional sized tire trail bike.

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In my head I’m smiling, instead displaying RBF: Resting Beard Face.

This summer I remembered I had an old 26” wheel triple chainring mountain bike hanging in my basement. I did a few things to it, got it riding ok, and started thrashing the heck out of it. Quite frankly, I was a little caught off-guard by how much I enjoyed riding on trails. I spent a few months riding two or three times a week and then started to feel that my skill had probably eclipsed the bike’s capabilities. I decided to begin looking around for a 29” wheel bike with modern geometry, gearing, and amenities like a dropper post and/or a lockout fork.

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Disc brakes are new-to-me. As is the accompanying banshee wail when using them.

Then it snowed.

I considered that I’d end up realistically waiting until April or May before being able to get out onto the trails again. Having felt such enjoyment riding on the trails, I didn’t want to wait for the trails to dry out before being able to ride again. Enter the fat bike.

I shopped around for awhile and found this used first generation Trek Farley. It’s got an aluminum frame and fork and the tires are 3.8” Bontrager Hodags. This is the largest width tire that the first gen Farley will realistically fit. Having such a wide tire allows for what riders refer to as “float,” this is when having such a large contact patch allows the tire to move above a surface with greater ease, such as snow or mud. This tire isn’t as wide as more contemporary fat bike frames will allow, but I’m happy with having paid one third the price of new to get to know this style of riding.

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Jackelopes and Hodags.

So how does it ride? So far I’ve only been out a couple times (I picked it up two days ago) but it’s definitely a different feel than a 2.1” mountain bike. You definitely feel like you’re driving a monster truck, whereas the 2.1” tire might have been a Subaru. It’s not as responsive or quick handling as a smaller tire, but you have the sense of being able to roll over everything.

Speaking of rolling over everything, I’ve definitely noticed that sense of floating. It’s been rainy and the trails are muddy but not overall waterlogged. Definitely conditions in which I wouldn’t have had a clear conscience about creating trail ruts with a 2.1” tire. With the 3.8” tires, however, I’ve been able to ride above without ruining the trail. Days in which a little bit of rain before would make me not ride, now I feel like I can go out on the trails without damaging them.

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I’ve enjoyed the grip offered by Bontrager 3.8″ Hodag tires and have been impressed by how little mud they retain.

When riding a fat bike, one definitely has a sense of requiring greater effort to turn the larger front tire, which isn’t surprising. Again, turning a monster truck compared with maneuvering a Subaru. I’m 5’10” and relatively stout so the greater effort required isn’t an overall issue for me, but it’s noticeable and something to consider if one happens to be more slight of build.

If you’re on the fence about riding trails or getting back on them after a long layoff, fat bikes can be a good option. I’m finding this one to be forgiving, confidence inspiring, and generally offers exceptional balance because the size of tire making contact with the ground is roughly about the same size as a human foot. You sacrifice razor-crisp handling to be able to ride year-round, and at the moment that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to accept.

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With the green accents of this bike, I think I’ll name it Slimer, after the ghost in Ghostbusters.

Taking photographs of Riveredge School Students

The other day, while out on the trails, I ran into the students (and teachers) of The Riveredge School trekking out for recess at Riveredge Nature Center. These kids seem so happy having daily access to nature. Click the arrow for a few more pictures.