Sunday 26 August 2012. Exploring Phinney Branch

Welcome to Velo du Jour’s 100th post!  It’s been a joy to record and share my adventures.  Hope to keep it up (even if less frequently) for a long time, and hope it has something for you to enjoy.

Took a long time to get out of the house this morning because I sat for a while at the computer trying to figure out how to connect the path along Copper Slough through Heritage Park with the path along the creek in Robeson Park.  Finally figured out that they don’t connect (the Robeson Park creek is a branch of Copper Slough that joins at Staley Road and about Windsor).  So opted for the Phinney Branch ride, which I took via Meadowbrook Park.

Finally got out on Blue.  Not far along on the way, there was something interesting: lots of bees in the moonflowers. It

immediately struck me as unusual –don’t usually see bees active this early in the morning–and I thought that moonflowers were pollenated by night-flying moths.  But there were the bees, humming away.  Maybe in this drought year there were fewer of their usual flowers available, and they were working “extra hours” with different flowers.

Rode to the Windsor/Vine bridge at Meadowbrook and checked for beavers but didn’t see any, alas.  No frogs, almost no bird song.  Just field crickets.

Meadowbrook Park along Windsor Road featured some lovely Gaura, which spread its thin, branching stems pink and white

among the prairie dock, tall Coreopsis, a few remaining rosinweed and compass plant blooms.   Still lower down among the

prairie plants were many cream gentians, many of those with open blooms.  Haven’t found any blue ones in this area.


On Windsor Road, heading west toward my destination realized I’d forgotten my bike helmet!?!  Thought briefly about going back to get it, but suppressed my regret by pretending I was the helmetless, carefree college student that had put many accident-free miles on her bike many years ago.  The wind-in-my-hair was nice, but still didn’t like setting a bad example for other cyclists, and missed that protected feeling the helmet gives.  Life is so not perfect.

Passed right by the City of Champaign prairie on Windsor near Neil.  Can’t always take in everything!

But one of the lessons Velo du Jour has taught me is that even one wonder observed, even if I’m brain-dead with distraction or discomfort for the rest of it, can make the whole trip a pleasure and a “success.”

So got on the trail at Robeson Park, at Duncan between Windsor and Kirby. Right away there was a lovely dip and turn. But the narrow path was crowded with walkers, so I got off to take some photos of the shore of Phinney Branch.

The cloudy morning once again made me feel moody, my attention going to the inside and erratically to the outside.  Made me feel glad I wasn’t Lewis or Clark, or even, maybe especially, Sacagawea.  They had to have a sequential, organized description (or at least a mental picture) of where they went and what they saw.  On Velo du Jour,  I can just talk about what most grabs my attention.

The wooded trail behind peoples’ back yards crossed Phinney Branch several times, back and forth, each with a dip, a turn, a little bridge.  It was lovely and made me want to stop and investigate, but the going was pleasant also.  Could tell that Phinney Branch received some form of sewage, though the faint aroma didn’t completely distract from the otherwise lovely course.

Came out by Westminster Presbyterian Church (Crescent Street near Kirby), a different place than I’d ended up from this trail when I first discovered it a couple of weeks ago.  I look forward to  more exploration.

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Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 August 2010. Gentian-o-Rama with Friends

Here is a little about two trips this week.

On Tuesday went for an 8:30 AM ride to Meadowbrook Park with my friend Christina.

The sky was clear, the air calm and pleasantly cool: too late for the sunrise but otherwise a perfect morning.

Christina rode Discovery and I rode Blue to Meadowbrook.  We stopped at the rabbit bridge (under which the channel was again without water) to admire the cardinal flowers and the goldenrod setting them off so nicely.  Giant (though not so giant this drought year) ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) was starting to bloom, almost exactly in synchrony with the goldenrod.  Must be why people have thought goldenrod triggered allergies.  Then, we locked our bikes and walked on the unpaved path to the “Inner Prairie.”

A few compass plants still had bright yellow flowers, but most were finished blooming.  A few smooth-stemmed prairie dock were in bloom.  Christina especially liked the  Gaura, with its delicate pink buds and contrasting palest blue flowers, which is now  close to the peak of its bloom.   She spotted some dried up but still red petals of royal catchfly.   I was eager to show her the cream

gentians, which I had a little trouble locating at first.  But a little farther down the path there they were, looking like the rain had given them  extra freshness.  We saw plants with three and four stacks of flowers and lots of opened blooms, though no bees in action.

We both admired the grass flowers.  She pointed out one that still had its little flower units packed in the stem, just about to

emerge, like spawning salmon packed in a stream .

We saw a variety of dragonflies zooming about and a monarch (but only one, alas) butterfly.

We both liked how the prairie flowers looked against the very blue sky and we paused for a while to get a view from the ground and reflect on what a gift it was to stop and behold such simple, sustaining beauty.

At the end of our Meadowbrook trip we stopped for coffee/ smoothie at Cafe Zojo.

On Wednesday at about 2 PM got to ride with an old friend visiting from out of state, with whom I used to work at the Illinois Natural History Survey.  Marilyn actually was very involved on making Meadowbrook what it is today, and so it was very special to be in a place I loved with someone very important to the place, and friend I get to see only occasionally, besides.

Marilyn rode Blue and I was on Discovery.

We made a big loop, along which Marilyn pointed out a sizable patch of side oats in a place I’ve walked by innumerable times but never noticed.  After that we parked the bikes and followed the unpaved path through the “Inner Prairie.”

On the path we enjoyed the many big bluestem flowers. I told her how they reminded me of the Brahms German Requiem, and began, “den alles Fleisch es ist wie gras…” and she joined in!  Many years ago we both had sung the alto part in a local production of the Requiem and both found it an appropriate response to the fragile grass-flowers.  Not something you get to do every day!

Marilyn was impressed by all the cream gentians.  We noticed that some of the flowers were open quite wide and also found some

bees at work!  So they must like it better in the afternoon.  Some of the gentian flowers were turning brown, but there were stillplenty of buds.

Found some light blue gentians whose flowers were starting to turn brown.  Thought maybe the blue ones bloomed ahead of the white ones this year.

But then a little farther in there were these new blue ones, which clearly were not of a blue version of the white ones.

On that high note, we turned back and headed for Cafe Zojo for more conversation and smoothies.

Monday 20 August 2012. Velo Now and Then

I never knew how easy it would be to think of a place to go by bike  and then to take pictures and write something about it.  The hard part, it turns out, is finding the gap in my schedule where it fits in and doesn’t take too much time that rightfully belongs to other people, especially my family.  Anyone who has ever tried to do something creative while carrying other responsibilities knows what I’m talking about.

So I have decided to let the “du jour” part of the title of this blog go, at least not necessarily be literal about it.  Was going to wait till I reached 100 posts to do that, but heck, I’m close enough.

Left the house at 9, after the guys got off to school, on Blue. There was no moon and the sun was too intense to think about observing.  Need to get used to the fact that there is a lot of other kinds of perfectly good light that shines through the day than just those precious (still my favorite!) photons of the early morning.  Took the default, the favorite, velo to, yes, Meadowbrook Park and headed down Race Street toward the rabbit bridge.  Was amazed at how fast the grass, after some rain, had returned to a lush shade of green.

At the bridge there was water, though only in a pool on the east side.  Noticed a pile of sticks resting on an overhanging root nest to the stream.  They were arranged so neatly (as by beavers) it seemed impossible that they’d just been deposited when the high water went down.   Still,  couldn’t figure out quite what the purpose of the pile might have been.

Wanted to get close to the cardinal flowers today, but wasn’t able to climb down into the channel.  So bushwhacked a little along the side of the stream and stopped right across the stream from the large red flower spike.  Saw several other plants nearby, on both sides of the stream, including one almost as big as the large one.  It was lovely to see, especially with the contrasting yellow fingers of goldenrod (Soligago canidensis) that have been starting to bloom.  Ah, goldenrod!  So common (still, native)  but so photogenic.

Heard a low hum, like a horsefly, and it turned out to be a hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).  This time it lingered and drank

from several of the flowers, maneuvering all around the spike.  I was able to get a little movie of its movements and this, not especially great, but  documentary, still shot.

Looked again at the other site where cardinal flowers were last year but did not find any.  Did find some other flowers from last year blooming there, like sneezeweed (Helinum autumnale). 

There were a lot of dragonflies, not exactly a swarm, flying around, including some of which reflected the sun in a coppery color.

While looking for the cardinal flower, noticed a group of deer cavorting across the field.  There were a buck, a doe, and two fawns, from what I could see.  Trained my camera on them and took a couple of motion picture shots.  It looked like the fawn was following the buck; was I witnessing an example of male nurturing in deer, where the bucks were supposed to be involved only in the conception of fawns?  But then played the movie and noticed that the buck seemed to be standing between the fawn and the doe, and the fawn really was trying to get to the doe.  This time the status quo stands.

Checked for gentians and there they were, still blooming in force.  Funny how it still takes some looking to find the first ones, then they seem to be everywhere.  Still have not found any really blue ones.  There were a couple of  gentian plants with only the tiniest of buds near the Marker statue.  Maybe they will turn out to be blue ones.

Was caught up again by the charm of the aging prairie growth, e.g., by a yellow burst of a surviving rosinweed flower holding a beautifully contrasting black beetle.

Was drawn to the stark shapes of the seed heads and pods.  There were some of that lovely combination of yellow flowers and dark indigo seed pods, but didn’t manage to get a satisfying photo of those.  Oh, well.  The bad pictures remind me of what I really saw.

Did not expect to see beavers this late in the morning at the Windsor/Vine bridge over McCullough Creek, but checked anyway.

There was considerable motion on the surface of the water upstream from the bridge, of the kind that I seem to remember preceded the sighting of a beaver.  The motion was quite prolonged, but it didn’t seem to change or shift much, and no beaver ever became apparent.

Although Velo du Jour won’t be posting every day (unless I figure out how to do it faster!) I’m still looking forward to exploring Central Illinois by bike and sharing my discoveries with the world via the blogsphere.

I want to thank you, whoever you are, for  reading this blog and am truly happy if you get something you like from it.  Thanks especially to fellow bloggers who have indicated liking various posts.  I always check out your blog (even if I haven’t made comments) and have enjoyed reading your work; every one has something interesting and unique to say.  It’s nice to be part of this world-wide community of self-expression.

Looking forward to more exploring and sharing what I find!

Wednesday 15 August 2012. Miles (Not too Many) to Tolono

Here we go with another brief post.

Finally got some miles in!  Rode Blue to Tolono, pretty much due south of town.

Since Meadowbrook was on the way, took enough time just inside the park to speed down to the rabbit bridge, pay my respects to the cardinal flowers there, and try again to find some on the mid-south side of the park.  Still they were absent.  Did get a couple of shots of Gaura flowers, delicately small and pink and spread out on thin, branching stems.  Will post photos of that species in a future post.

Turned around directly after shooting the Gaura (what restraint!) and rode straight off the path when it turned toward the bridge, across the mowed grass to Race Street.

In the open farmland searched the sky for the moon, but did not find it.  Supposed to be new this Friday.  Will look forward to its return.

Rode Race to Old Church, then to First Street, which had no shoulder and in places had rather steep sides.  But there was an easy

place to get off the road to shoot the morning glories on the dark green soybean leaves.  It was a nice complement to the photos I’ve taken of morning glories on corn.  Rather liked the light-edged, dark green shapes of the soybean leaves.  Made me feel very much in Illinois.

After a few miles, First Street crossed a diagonal road called Main Street, which led me into Tolono.  The edge of Tolono had houses with a row of mailboxes on a stand that slanted to one side.  Only a few blocks away was an old, very well-kept house with

a “Champaign County Map Site” sign that also said, Gere Thompson.”

Tolono is a quite a small town.  Did find a fire station (which I photographed) and two occupied police cars oriented so the officers could talk easily (which I did not photograph).

Really enjoyed all the pedaling, even when the road was very straight and the landscape uniform.

Stopped at the Old Church bridge over the Embarras River and photographed the fish, of which there were quite a few.  The water

was extremely clear: the fish made shadows that made them look like they were swimming in pairs.

There is something very absorbing about watching fish.  It was another example of needing to take a while to come back to the “real” world after enjoying observing their movements.

Need to keep Tolono in mind as a short but still “interurban” trip.

Tuesday 14 August 2012. Another Grey Morning

Was reluctant to post today’s observations (no moon again) from another very short ride to Meadowbrook Park on Discovery, but here it is.

Barely squeezed in a trip to the Windsor/Vine bridge, after waiting for light in which to see.  There was no actual rain this morning, but the sky was a mostly uniform grey, and there were still puddles and wet surfaces on the ground.  It’s so funny how soon we get used to having our desires (in this case for rain) fulfilled.  Yes, the rain was wonderful, but not long after, there are all kinds of other things to worry about.

Like this stroller near the Orchard Downs garden plots.  Saw just the back of it as I spotted it and rode close; did not see an adult

person anywhere close to it, and gave a start.  Decided to check it out and really hoped there would not be a child inside, which, fortunately, there was not.  As I saw on the return trip, a gardener was using it to transport tools and produce.  How clever.

At Meadowbrook stood on the bridge a while, leaned on the railing, which was still beaded with rain, and looked and listened.  The breeze caused movement on the surface of the water below, and once or twice was sure a beaver would materialize from the

movement, but none did.  It was quite silent, not even any frogs could be heard today.  Felt a sharp pang of loneliness for the beavers, the mink, the woodcocks, the ducks, the green heron, the swallows, all of which I’d seen there at one time or another but none of which was there today.  Felt a bit foolish standing there waiting, like I was being stood up.

But then realized they were just busy doing other things, not abandoning me, and besides, how awesome it was that I’d seen (and blogged about!) them at all.  Yet another example of so much wanting and never being satisfied.

So headed back along Windsor Road and beheld the multitude of cream gentians, burgeoning nestled below the “canopy” of the

darkening prairie.  Even in its waning days, there is glory here on the prairie.  Was interested to see blooms of plants most of which had long gone to seed: Baptisia and mountain mint, the small patch of which still was fragrant.

Saw some nice evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) giving a little lemon-yellow color to the late-summer prairie.

Noticed lots of common goldenrod in bud.  It was nice, after all this melancholy over the fading of royal catchfly and compass

plants, to anticipate the last flush of yellow that would be here soon.  A coda for the season’s succession of blooming.

Tomorrow:  MILES!!

Monday 13 August 2012. Caught in the Rain

Was reminded today of how true it is that “life is change.”

The sky was thick with clouds (no moon report) like the ones that delivered a lovely, gentle, prolonged rain very early this morning, a sharp change from the long succession of bright, dry days that have characterized this summer.

Didn’t get on the bike (Discovery)  until 2:30 pm, due to various responsibilities, and then it had to include a stop at the grocery store. Definitely am getting away from the summer schedule, sigh.

Have to say, though, that as the light comes later in the morning, it does get more comfortable to ride later in the day. And the special early morning light will return again next year, something to remember fondly and anticipate with joy next time.

So thought I’d go to a store near Meadowbrook Park after a quick visit.  On the way saw quite a few American robins spread out a

cross the lawn of an apartment complex.  Actually, the robins have been abundant and widespread during the whole time I’ve been riding and blogging on Velo du Jour.  And they are native birds with a very melodious song.  But somehow I’m not moved to comment on them the way I am about, say, goldfinches or red-winged blackbirds.  Their numbers drew my attention today, but usually I don’t remark on them.  Yes, more prejudice.

The stream channel was muddy, though without any actual water, so climbed down and got close.  Took lots of  pictures of those

practically glowing red flowers.  Discovered two or three more  tiny cardinal flower plants with spikes of only a few blooms. One had a few tiny, sad-looking faded flowers.  Decided to move on when it started to sprinkle lightly, but didn’t believe it would actually rain heavily. The drought had trained me (and a number of other people in the park, it seemed) to stop associating clouds, of which there were plenty, with rain.

But it did rain harder, so made a beeline for and stopped at the picnic shelter next to the playground, close to the Windsor-Vine

bridge.  Stayed and worked on this till it stopped and proceeded to the Meijer store and on home.

Sunday 12 August 2012. Sunday Miles, in Brief

Hang on. This is the abbreviated version of a not-Meadowbrook ride.

Close to home there were some apples on the sidewalk and in the street, fallen from the tree above. What would Cezanne say?

Sky mostly clear with some thin spread-out clouds, the thinning moon high up and on the east side of the sky.

Rode Blue in a slight chill down Windsor Road.  Looked back at the sunrise, a pretty good view.

Stopped at the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration near Neil Street, which, like Meadowbrook Park, had many more seeds than flowers (the point of flowers, after all).

But there were several blooms of those beautiful pink Hibiscus I’d seen only one of at Meadowbrook.  It had seeds also, along with these late flowers.

The long past-bloom lead plants still made a nice foil for the sign for the little prairie.

Rode back to First Street then south just a little way past the string of residential developments to its west.  Noticed a rather

restive-looking, loose flock of red-winged blackbirds perching and moving over the corn.  So that’s where they went.

It wasn’t an especially long ride, nor full of observed detail, but it felt good to be outside, pedaling and pedaling, mentally mashing smooth the obstructing lumps of fear, doubt, and discouragement mixed into life off of the road.

At the Espresso Royale Cafe,  where I stopped to write this, asked a guy in line in front of me if he’d really biked across the US for MS like it said on his t-shirt.  Yes, he said, he was actually in his way back from its end point of Seattle and that I should do it.  We discovered that both his mom and a good friend of mine have MS.  Then noticed his car, painted to advertise the ride, with two bikes on the roof, outside the cafe.  Ah, the dream of a really long-distance ride….