Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Root beer challenge

This summer, one of the fun things Noah wanted to do was figure out which was the best bottled root beer (there may have been adult guidance to narrow the experiment in scope to bottled only). We went to 2 stores and bought one case of each kind of bottled root beer that we could find.  Here's the line-up:
We tried Dang!, Spring Grove, Killebrew, Henry Wienhard's, Stewart's, Virgil's, IBC, and Sprecher.  We opened one bottle of each and poured a taste into little labeled cup (the labels were on the bottom where the consumer couldn't see). It didn't feel like it would be too much to drink in one sitting when we planned this, but by the end we were all feeling a little OD on root beer.
We each had an area where we could line them up as we tasted and we sorted them into best to worst ranking.
Then, we compared our rankings and created the family master list.  I kept the groupings, but not the specific scores since they didn't really matter in the end.
The varieties of locally available bottled root beer that we'll continue to buy occasionally are: Sprecher, Dang!, and Henry Wienhard's. 
The varieties of root beer that we'll choose not to drink, even if we happen to be in a social situation where they are available are: Spring Grove and Virgil's. We had general agreement that they had a medicinal undertone to the taste and we don't care for them.
The other 3 were okay, fine, nothing to splurge on, but not to reject if we happen upon it in a social situation. Generally, I think they had more fizz and foam than the leading names. 
It was an interesting anomaly in that Noah and Brian had identical top 3 lists - which isn't just a case of son wanting to be like father, because they didn't know what was in each cup until we revealed each ranking. What is the probability of that?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Climbing, boating, and hiking

Have you heard of the "I Can" program through MN State Parks?  Noah had some interest in rock climbing after trying the army recruiter tower at Rochesterfest, so we took him out to Blue Mounds to get a little more serious about climbing.
He was a natural and had a fun time.  An hour and a half wasn't as long as he wanted to go, even though the older batch of us had some really tired muscles by the end of that time.
He wants to go back again every time they have the I Can Climb program.  Probably not, but we'll definitely take advantage of other opportunities to climb.

Luverne, MN is just down the road from Blue Mounds and has a river area that caught Brian's eye while figuring out what else to do while over there.  There's a playground and city park adjacent to a fun spot on the river.
The playground was pretty well forgotten about and the river became the playground.  We did lap after lap after lap of the rock garden area.  Brian finally has an excellent use for his toy boat that hasn't seen much water in it's first year in our gear closet.  It packs under the car seat real easy, so it's always handy if you find an exciting piece of water.
Upon return home, Brian immediately found more fun river locations to take his little boat to.

There's also a National Wildlife Refuge within a couple miles of Blue Mounds called Touch the Sky.  It's an area that was restored to native prairie.  We chose to hike the <1 mile prairie waterfall trail. It was absolutely gorgeous!  It reminded us of the north shore with large rocks to jump across, but it was surrounded by flat expansive prairie land and big sky.

That was all done between breakfast and dinner on one action packed day.  Dinner was quite late because of adding on the play time at the prairie waterfall.  Who knew the SW MN farming region had so many fun recreational opportunities?!

We camped overnight there too, but the camping wasn't much to recommend the place.  Blue Mounds has a rentable tipi camping option, we might see if we can get that next time - they built the tipis in the best camping area.  We were deep in the woods and could barely stand to be in our campsite because of the mosquitoes. I bet it's beautiful in the fall too, after a frost so the bugs are gone...

Friday, August 7, 2015

Vacation re-cap: North Dakota relaxing

It's August now, so I'll tell you about all the fun we had in July.  We've been going, going, going and making the most of the summer.  We headed out to the northern fringes of our favorite "West Dakota" region, this time visiting the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and touring the campgrounds of the Little Missouri National Grasslands.  Here's TRNP beauty and hanging out:

After taking in the main vista point, we thought we were going to spend a night in the back-country inside the park.  They wouldn't give us a back-country permit for the trail we wanted to follow (really odd...), so we took the recommended trail permit and headed out thinking we were being all chill and flexible.
 Here we were less than 2 hours later...
The trail was hard to follow, over grown, and full of ticks. I don't think this park sees many hikers. So we headed back to the driving tour and allowed our buddy to catch some zzz's.
 He woke up before we left the park, so we enjoyed one more short hike on the interpretive nature trail.

 You see we tucked our pant legs into our socks - this is to help prevent ticks from getting to our skin.  These light pants were a really good choice for Noah, as we could see the ticks very easily.
Is there anything more scenic than badlands and buffalo?

Camping spots - National Grasslands in style.

We started at CCC which is right next door to TRNP north unit.  When we bailed from our hiking trip, we went back for a second night at this location.  The big issue right now for campers in this region in North Dakota is that the Bakken Oil field is contaminating the wells. CCC water was deemed non-potable.  TRNP water was high in fluoride and not recommended for children under age 9.  Good thing we were planning for being in low water conditions and had lots of water with us.  We got some nice evening shade at this site and Brian biked the Maah Daah Hey a bit from camp.
 Our most unique camping location - Sather Lake.  We really liked the shelter, which all sites had available.  In spite of some sprinkles that night, we packed up a completely dry tent and gear. This lake area would be great for a picnic or fishing trip.  Sleeping there with the oil activity was a joke.  It's at the corner of 2 highways (county roads).  There were trucks going sporadically all night - and rumble strips approaching the junction and stop sign.  It was really hard to sleep there, but a beautiful little area.  
 Our third camping area is Burning Coal Vein.  We loved it! It was on the south edge of the National Grassland at the opposite end of the Maah Daah Hey trail from CCC.  It had a cool badlands feature to hike around at and bike trail access.  The drive into it was absolutely breath-taking beautiful.  Badlands, grasslands, and some evergreen trees in just the right portions.  I want to buy a ranch in that area and never leave.
There was another, newer campground halfway between BCV and Medora - Coal Creek.  We stopped there briefly at the end of our trip. It had potential to become a favorite.  It's on our list to stay at next time we go out there. I forgot to mention that BCV and Coal Creek are far enough from the oil activity that they have clean water!

I have a ton more pictures of our tourist activities and the scenery, but this is getting plenty long for now!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Funning in Trempeleau

We had a spectacular outing last weekend to "compete" in the Chase Trempeleau scavenger hunt. Chase is actually an acronym in this case for cycle, hike, and seek - all things that we enjoy! The organization Communities Off N' Funning puts on this event as well as a number of other events throughout the year. Their mission is to get kids to have fun outdoors. They know that to do this, they have to get adults to also have fun outdoors. In the end, they create an environment where kids are surrounded by healthy adult role models. Due to the competition rules, we have to play in the non-competitive segment of the event. However, we have the right equipment and skills to really be competitive. This year, with some knowledge of what we were doing and a much more capable "tail gunner", we rocked it! We accumulated 220 official points (we had calculated 240, but had at least one answer wrong and a photo fail). We rode a season record of 32 miles during the 3 hour race, and we had a ton of fun!
See if you can spot Noah with a face-wide grin running to the finish line in this album: Our team was called "big red bike" can you figure out why?
Let me explain this event a little better. You get a map with clues on it, a punch card, and the clock starts for a 3 hour race. You ride your bike all around town, with your team, to as many places on the map as you can get to collect points. The close-by, easy stops are worth 5 points, the far-flung or challenging spots are worth more, up to the highest point punch being worth 40. There are lots of 5 pointers, and only 1-40 point checkpoint. There are 38 or 40 total checkpoints and it would be impossible to complete them all. Sometimes, it's just a punch (they use Braille alphabet punches, I believe), other times it's a trivia question that is answered at the location somehow, other times, you have to take a picture to get the points. If you come back late, you lose points. Both years now, we cut it close and truly had to put on the gas to get ourselves through the finish line on time. Then, they feed you a fabulous pasta dinner (and cookies and brownies and lemonade) and give out prizes. 
Noah's favorite stop was the one where we had camera failure- take a picture of a member of your team roasting a lil smokie over the fire. I think he ate 3! Note to self, so that we don't take as a long at the roasting checkpoint, bring lots of good back pocket snacks to fuel the race. There are also a number of checkpoints that you have to hike to get to. If you're a big cross-trainer, these might suit you. We dislike the Mississippi jungle and bugs, so stuck mostly with the roadside checkpoints. Most checkpoints are un-manned, but a few have volunteers that might give further instructions. Ooh I almost forgot to mention that for one of the checkpoints, you had to hop into a canoe and paddle a little ways in the Mississippi backwater to get to the punch. How can you pack that much fun into a sunny morning anywhere else?! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Anniversary River Ride

15 years, can you believe it?!
I don't feel old enough to be married that long.  
Here's our "happy couple" picture heading out onto the river.  That's how we get sunburned on good weather weekends in SE MN.
 We put in at Oxbow park for this outing.  There was just the right amount of water for the trip.  In a few places, there were cool cliff walls  - Brian was quick enough on the camera for this one. The river was moving pretty good in places and lazy in places.  Not nearly as swift and fun as last weekend, but it had a few more maneuvering challenges.
 In the final mile before Genoa, there was an extensive log-jam.  We had to pull up next to a huge tree, climb out of the canoe, balance carefully, and lift the canoe over. There was a lot of careful tree avoidance in this stretch.  We deemed it a poor choice for kayaks or beginners.  Good thing we have 15 years under our belts!
When we pulled out, we finished our lunch on the tailgate and I thought this was a lovely scene.  
The shuttle for this river ride was Brian's fat bike.  We were going to tandem, our anniversary custom, but the shuttle route involved a good amount of gravel. I soaked up the sunshine at a picnic table with a magazine while he drove to the end and biked back.  
We didn't see a single other boating party while on the route, though there were some people around Oxbow on the bridges.  There was an obnoxious lawnmower at one of the river-side estates that we had to listen to for about a mile. There was a huge, handsome bald eagle that we saw twice along the route.  There was an amazing number of ducks that kept trying to distract us away from the youngsters in their flock. And, black-winged, glittery green-bodied dragonflies were flittering about all the way along the river edges.

I'm just going to end this since I'm out of pictures and have added plenty of commentary.  If I don't, you'll get some sappy essay about how marriage is like a canoe trip down a river...