Sandhill Cranes 2017.

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The sandhill cranes have returned. We saw the first few birds a couple of weeks ago, but now they are there in flocks. When we drove through today, they were a tad more spread out than usual. These ones (above) were hunting the early wood frogs. I could hear the frogs while I took the pictures.
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These were across the street from the others. During the summer this hill is a cotton field, so I’m not sure what critters there are now.
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However, there must be something because the flocks were spread out over several fields. These were the closest to the road where there was a convenient place to pull over and take pictures. I used a 600mm sigma lens. I’m not thoroughly happy about the sharpness.

crane_map This map shows where to look if you’re interested in seeing them yourselves. Remember they are protected birds. If you continue to Centre there are some half-decent places to eat and the petrol is about 30 cents cheaper than in Atlanta.

Playing in Traffic

me_on_bike One of my wife’s students caught a picture of me on Piedmont street on my way home. Outside of practice, practice, practice and ATGATT (All the Gear All the Time) a few thoughts on what I’ve learned in the last few weeks.

 

  1. Lane position. A motorcycle has the right to be on the road. Use it. It actually increases your visibility if you weave a bit. In queues I’ll tend to be on the right where I can get out of trouble if the car behind me gets too close. (I’ll also stop further back than I would with my cage car. ) On the other hand I’ll stop in the left side of my lane when that’s where I can see what is happening. It’s also important to give yourself the room to turn. Turning right from the far right of the lane results in crappy turns.
  2. The “cagers” don’t see you. (This youtube video, while horribly edited, is right on the spot). You will appear “out of nowhere” – get over it. It’s not malice. Defensive driving is a must – but you knew that already. It does mean I’ll give the car in front of me more distance than most. I’ve learned to hate tailgaters – even more than I do with a car. If I’m driving at 35 mph, it’s not because I’m slow, it’s the ************** speed limit and/or the speed the car in front of me is going.
  3. Timing and rhythm are important. Think smooth. When it works, you can pop through the gears and be moving at the speed limit in no time. Leaning your bike with countersteering and acceleration is not just the right way to turn, it’s really fun. No “chicken strips” on my bike.
  4. It is exercise. This is the one real surprise to me. Riding is physically demanding. You’re holding on to your bike with your legs, shifting weight in turns, lifting one’s bum when there are unavoidable bumps, and putting your feet down when stopping. (Though I can balance for a few seconds.) I don’t know how much of this is stopping in traffic and my “sport bike” and how much is innate to the genre.
  5. Hearing protection. My helmet (especially when I’m going fast enough to put the visor down) muffles sound until about 45 mph. Above that speed the wind noise gets a tad loud. Use ear-plugs if you’re planning to be that fast for more than a few minutes.
  6. Middle-aged and old white men will want to drag race you at stop lights. Ignore them. You’re already way cooler than they ever will be.

A week in (almost).

A week with a motorcycle (almost)

I recently joined the fellowship of motorcyclists. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So I finally did it. The featured image shows me in about half of my safety gear – that jacket is armoured. For what it’s worth I’m a strong believer in ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time). People worry a bit about the hazards, with good reason, but the serious accident rate in a bike is about the same as driving a 1970’s or 1980’s car. Still, I’m a highly defensive driver, and not just with my bike.
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It looks a little shaky parked in my garage. I’d just finished my first ride on the roads (after training and getting my license) and was shaky myself. The clutch was different from the nighthawks on which I trained and the engine needs to be given enough gas petrol. I don’t get shaky like that now. Well, not quite, now I’m excited.

I picked out a used Honda CBR250R with ABS. It looks sportier than it is, but it moves. It’s an elegant, light, and reasonably modern bike. ABS is critical – while I’ve managed to not need it – accident rates and severity with ABS equipped bikes are much lower than with traditional brakes. (The study was done in Europe where all new bikes have ABS.)

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I try to practice at least a half hour a day. Maneuvering – turns and swerves – is easy. It’s, if anything, more stable than a regular bicycle. I’ve practiced emergency stops, starting on uphills, and holding a constant speed. I’m slowly getting competent and able to ride in real traffic.

Some of the milestones:

  • Uphill starts, mostly mastered. Smooth starts on really steep hills will still take some work.
  • Turning on hills, left, right, from downhill and from uphill. In good shape.
  • Threading tight spaces when a parked car and a moving car take up almost the entire road. (Bikes do not have a reverse gear.)
  • Night driving. Not bad – there’s more visibility than with a car.
  • Negotiating a gas station and filling the tank.
  • Negotiating heavy Atlanta traffic and stop lights.

I’ve had the bike up to about 40 mph (a little fast for the 35 mph roads) and the sensation of speed has so far been exceedingly fun. Even a 250CC bike can accelerate when you push it. I’m having to watch speeds when I drive a car. It just seems so slow.

Cretaceous and Tertiary Trails

Another trail map from a visit to Golden Colorado. This is a short walk that was suitable for the morning while we waited for our flight home.

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This stroll starts from a somewhat tricky to find parking lot off of South Golden Street near route 70 (Hint Kilmer Street is the entrance to the Colorado State Police school – which makes it a very safe place to park.) It’s also near the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

It proceeds up South Table Mesa, and crosses the K-T boundary several times.  We took a digression (must remember to take the map with us next time) that would have led to the top of the mesa seen below:

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We saw people on top the day before, but it appears they weren’t rock climbers.

The top is rather barren and desolate. A basalt layer with
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Yucca

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Telegraph/telephone wires. dsc_0138Surprisingly wild views. CSM is this way, hidden by the edge of the mesa (you can also see Lookout Mountain in the distance).

It was, on a Monday morning, mostly deserted. Most of the runners and bikers appeared to be connected with NREL.

Elk Range Trail

The Elk Range Trail is a short (3.3 mile) trail in the Centennial Cone county park near Golden Colorado. Getting there is a scenic drive from the city, whether you use the twisty route 6 or the interstate 70, then cut north. Be warned, on weekends mountain biking and hiking pick alternate days (hikers on odd days, bikers on even ones). 9-oct-2016

We were doing a flying visit and so only had time to do an out and back walk, but the loop with the Travois trail would be even better.

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Lookout Mountain is in the distance in this picture from the other car park.

Lookout Mountain, Golden Colorado.

While making a flying visit out west for various personal reasons, I had a chance to drive up to the top of Lookout Mountain near Golden Colorado. I had to be a tad careful on the road up the mountain as it is a popular (and dashed strenuous) bicycle ride. Wild Bill Hickock and his wife’s graves are at the top, but I didn’t feel like paying the $5 admission to the museum.

The views are fantastic.

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This shows Golden, the Coors plant, and the Table Mesas. If you look carefully, you can see traces of the K-T boundary in the South Mesa (right hand one). They’re about as far down from the bottom of the cliff as the top is up.  It’s a line in the vegetation where the discontinuity traps water or lets the roots grow deeper.

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dsc_0063 Wild Bill’s grave.
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More views.

We did a bit of pub-crawling – which means something else when you’re walking this far from town to try the Cannonball Creek brewery.
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The view from the Brewery back into Golden

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A town scene. Historic means something else in the American west. Coming from the east where buildings are a touch older and knowing the UK pretty well – where things are truly old – I found this disorientating.

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A wild sunflower.

 

(and by the way – a liter engined car is perfectly fine in the mountains – don’t let the rental people upsell you.)

So, I passed.

I alluded to taking a MSF Basic Rider’s Course in my last post. I passed! It means a trip down to the DSCC (Georgia’s DMV) to get my licence endorsed.

Whoopee!

It means another quandary. What kind of bike?

In the good old days, say 1990, I’d get a small 125cc bike to learn on. The trouble is, they don’t sell them in the US any longer.  The smallest (real) bikes are 250cc. (Honda makes one that is a 125cc, but it’s tiny.)

There’s another problem. Motorcycle technology has advanced, but not all bikes share in the advances.

  1. ABS (antilock brakes). These are much safer and more effective than standard brakes. Most small bikes don’t have them. Those that do are “sport bikes.”
  2. Choke vs. Fuel injection. You can still buy a new motorcycle with a manual choke and good old fashioned carburetor.
  3. Wire Wheels vs. Solid Wheels. Wire wheels look neat, exactly what a motorcycle “should” have. They need to be tuned or “trued.” Not an inexpensive process.

The small “standard” bikes, like the Kawasaki Tu250x or Honda Rebel, are what I imagined riding. None of them have ABS.

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The sport bikes, like the Ninja 300 ABS or Honda CBR300 ABS, look like racing bikes (they aren’t). They use modern technology.

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Decisions.

Addendum: The issue has been studied and the evidence is indisputable, even in multiple nations. A sport bike it is.

Oldbury-on-Severn.

The recent kerfuffle about a nuclear power station brought this trip, from 2013, to mind. It’s just south of it. The area marked as “Settlement” in the ordnance survey map is an ancient town. (Likely pre-Saxon and pre-Roman) This small village, not far from Bristol, has a long history, even by English standards.

It’s a nice walk, there’s a pub in the village (which we didn’t sample, unfortunately). 2013 was hot, much hotter and drier than 2016, so there weren’t as many nice pictures to take. Brown grass on a earthwork, even an ancient earthwork, is brown grass. Simply not photogenic.

DSC_0881 The shade by Saint Arilda’s Church was a welcome relief from the hot sun. The church, itself, is on a hill just to the south of the village. It’s something of a conundrum why there isn’t a castle ruin, because it’s an obvious place to put a defensive structure. The church community, in typical English fashion, was having a sale of used books, CD’s and nicknacks. It sat on the side of the road, and was on the honour system. I picked up a CD of bagpipe music to play in the car when the bairns misbehave.
DSC_0890 The view from the church toward the nuclear power plant.

 

 

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The Severn bridge is in the distance.

Mount Snowdon.

The image above shows the view on a good day.

What if it’s not a good day?

Rather one like this:

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Where the temperature is approaching 4-5C (30 40F), it’s windy and wet.

If you’re prepared, these are excellent conditions for a walk. If you’re not … well, let’s just say “may the force be with you.” You’ll need it.

What do I mean by being prepared? Here’s my gear list.

  • Rain gear
  • Winter coat
  • Thin hiking sweater (Marks and Sparks has an excellent one – wool and silk.)
  • Wind shirt.
  • Dry bag in pack containing Fleece, change of clothes. I use a trash-compacter bag as a pack liner.
  • Food and water.
  • The rest of the “10 Essentials.” Map, compass, headlamp, first aid kit, and cell-phone.

This looks like an enormous amount to carry. Especially if you add in my camera and GPS. It isn’t. I’ve chosen light-weight gear. The single heaviest think I carried was water (@ 1 kilogram/liter). The total weight was about 3-4 kilograms.

Route Selection

There are five major routes up the mountain. They range from long (following the train) to short and steep (Watkin and Pig trails). We’ve used the Ranger Trail and Rhyd ddu paths. The Ranger Trail is probably the easiest with children. The Pig trail is the shortest climb, but it’s decidedly steep and the parking lot at the base is always a zoo. An informal survey of the people in the restaurant at the top suggested that most either come up the Pig trail or take the train.

14-july-16 Our route this year was up and down the Rhyd ddu path. My wife and I did this path when we were just married. I think we actually made better time as old-codgers. (Walking poles help, a lot.)

6-july.13 This map shows a trip we made a few years ago. We thought hard about coming back this way, as the Ranger Trail is a lot easier to follow in the dense fog. The path across the bottom, through the abandoned slate quarry, is swampy even in a dry summer. Therefore, rather than face the mire, we decided to take it slowly on the way down.

IMGP3955 The slate quarry, close up.

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The trail starts with a well-maintained track of large stones embedded in the soft peaty ground. It’s land covered with sheep. We chose shearing day for our stroll; the local farmer had gathered his flock and we started to the noise of distraught ovines.
DSC_0944 The trail rises faster than you think. I thought we’d been walking on the flat when we stopped here.DSC_0949 About 1/3-1/2 the way up, the fog descended. It usually burns off by mid-day. I started out looking forward to purchasing a pint at the top. A few minutes later, a cup of tea seemed a much better idea. IMGP4223 Leaving us with this view from the top.

A Fun Walk on the Gower (or Gwr).

A 13.5 mile, 22 km walk through one of the most beautiful beaches/wild spots in the UK. It combines beaches with hills and heather in a unique walk. This is a fairly strenuous walk, at least when the temperatures reach 28 (90ish). There’s a decent amount of climbing, but no truly long epic climbs (the total climb, about 2400 feet or 740 metres, is most of the way up Snowdon).

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The Gower is about a 2 hour drive from Bristol and an hour from Cardiff. We started about 9 in the morning to miss the rush-hour traffic, stopped at a bakery on the way, and ate our lunch (Pasty’s and bread-pudding) at the National trust car park (3.50 for all day, Oxwich bay is 2.00). The picture above shows the view from near the top. The tide was out so we climbed down and around the Great Tor. The day was exceedingly clear, so sunscreen would have been a good idea. Hindsight is 20/20. The UV in the UK can be surprisingly strong, even stronger than in the American South.

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After that we climbed up onto the Gower path which follows the spine of the peninsula. There’s some free parking where the path crosses the main road.

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This shows our progress. We’re parked at the top of the cliffs in the centre left. The dim blue line at the horizon is Devon.

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We ran into the first of three Duke of Edinborough crews on this hill. They (the program) seriously need to look at lighter weight pack gear. One of the girl’s packs was forty pounds or so for a short trip. Hers was on the light side. I gave them some Philmont advice (It’s not a race and “Hydrate or die!”) for hiking in the heat.  My brother-in-law’s dogs found their own way to deal with the heat.

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Then we climbed down to Oxwich. We refilled our water bottles at a tap in the campsite – which they may not approve of, but what they don’t know won’t hurt them. (It’s a lovely site, but does not take pets). We also stopped at the store for a choc-ice, which was well-received.

IMGP4230 The tide was now in, which the dogs enjoyed. It also meant we had a digression on the way back. Unless we wanted to swim. (We considered it.)IMGP4231

 

 

This is an example of a large blue jellyfish that was washed up on shore. There were at least three other species in the water. Most of them don’t sting.

 

 

IMGP4241Three cliffs bay with the tide in.

IMGP4239 Pennard Castle. It’s in the middle of a golf course, so visit with caution (and keep an ear out for ‘fore’).IMGP4242

This last picture shows one of the sandy climbs. Climbing a sandy bluff is much harder work than climbing a stoney path.