USA … Home!

My final 3 days flew … no, I actually drove long hours, many miles … across Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico to Arizona … to arrive home! Yeah!

Home … yes, here in the USA! There are many things to be proud of and thankful for as an American, especially as we commemorate this day, Memorial Day.

Now home, I hope to get back to projects helpful to people in my community, my own workout routine with healthier meals, and time for activities I did not do while traveling. Yet I enjoy birds; time in nature is the best calming force in my life! 

Thank you to all who served and now serve in the various Armed Forces for this country … so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have here. Most appreciative and again, thank you!

Hope for freedom around the world too!

MO’s Katy Trail for Cycling, Part 2 of 2

The next day I bicycled from McBaine access point to New Franklin and back. I started earlier this day; it was hot and I really appreciated shady sections on the trail. I loved listening to the birds. The indigo bunting and northern cardinal were the two birds most often flying across the trail in front of me and impossible for me to capture in a photo. Since my bicycle makes noise as I slow it down, plus I have no kickstand or fast access to my camera, it is a wildlife photographer’s nightmare. As a result, I stop, get off my bicycle, spend 15 minutes at a location to view birds in the area, and maybe get a photo. Often I wished I had my zoom lens; these birds hid deep in the trees!

Caution signs along the trail.

I did ride through a short tunnel on this trail. A sign: “Caution, falling rock, do not stop on the next .25 mile of the trail” were posted. Each time I saw these signs I’d look up the bluff’s wall and wonder, is this my day to be knocked dead by a rock? We take all kinds of risks in our lives, some more calculated than others. Sometimes a rock can come careening down a mountainside, as one did when my partner and I were in Colorado. Fortunately no one was hit. Other times you hear of a person enjoying lunch and being killed by a tree limb falling on her head. Wow! Life is like that … unpredictable, unexpected, keeps us on our toes! We can try to control what we can, but otherwise my philosophy is live in the moment and enjoy it while you can.

There are many historical signs along the trail, but I was intrigued by this gnome on a stump. The gnome is measuring the actual depth of flood waters that reached this spot in Rocheport in 1993 when there was a flood! The people of this town did not give in to the river. They rebuilt and the gnome is their mascot and part of a memorial to the McDermott family who had a home here.

See how high the water was?

I love meeting people when I travel. One couple and I talked about their bicycling adventures on the C&O and GAP …. future trails on my to-do list. They were planning to bike the entire Katy Trail trail and bike back to their starting point. However, between the heat, humidity and price gouging from places along the trail, they were contemplating a shuttle from the endpoint to their start. (I did pay $2.15 for a can of soda and from their info prices seemed to be high on everything.) Another woman was walking the trail; I passed her by with a “hi” and wave. We met again at my turn-around point which was where her car was parked. We got talking; she is a cancer survivor; moving from St George, Utah to Virginia with her partner whose family lives in Ohio. They felt Virginia would be closer to his family. I asked, how was it that she was here in Missouri on this day? She had a horse, found a place here for it to be cared for, and they allow her opportunities to stay at the place and visit the horse. Great! As I rode away I thought we really should not need reminders of how fortunate we are when we have good health, opportunities to travel, and supportive family and friends … but I did ride away thinking about all of that. Every person I meet has a story and I always want to hear it. Most often, there are lessons to be learned and/or reminded with moments of reflection and gratitude in my own life. Yes, life is good; I am grateful!

This day’s ride: 37.62 miles accomplished with no flat tire! I could have ridden an additional connector: the 8 mile MKT Trail from Columbia which connects with the Katy Trail, but I chose not to this time. There are future plans for another loop south of the Katy Trail to eventually connect with this one to create a loop. That would be an interesting trail too. Now time to truly head home.

MO’s Katy Trail for Cycling, Part 1 of 2

2500 miles driven eastward; now continuing westward with bicycling time to be part of my agenda! Missouri’s roads allowed me time away from the highway interstates as I drove to bicycle trailheads. I built my van’s interior wrapped around the concept of storing my bicycle under my bed platform and yet no bicycle ride had happened thus far. I decided for my return drive across the USA to stop at a couple of trail segments along Missouri’s famous rail-to-trail, the Katy Trail. The Katy Trail stretches across most of the state. It is 237 miles with half of it paralleling Lewis and Clark’s path up the Missouri River. This trail is America’s longest “rail-to-trail” project and enjoyed by hikers and bicyclists, locals and visitors. 

Katy Trail

As I pulled my bicycle off the sliding drawer in the van, along with the front tire and gear, advantages and disadvantages of the set-up became clear and may be worth rethinking another time for my loading of it all. Anyway, I cycled down the trail from Hartsburg access point and at 1.13 miles from the van I had a FLAT tire! Darn it! Fortunately it was the front tire. I flipped the bicycle over and patched the hole since I did not want to use my spare inner tube so early in the ride. A couple stopped, asked if all was okay, and we continued to chat while I patched the tube. They were going the opposite direction from me and mentioned a detour ahead. Apparently water was flowing over the trail and cyclists were getting wet feet. Another guy rode by and asked if all was well … yes, and almost done!

Flip bicycle back over and ride!

I rode to the detour sign and decided I did not need wet feet. I turned around, rode 11 miles in the other direction. So many birds were chirping! There is nothing easy about birding while cycling. Beyond enjoying time to take a good photo of a bird, I sometimes need one to help me identify the bird. Despite the challenge, I think I identified 17 different species in the 3 hours I was riding. Most numerous bird was the northern cardinal!

American redstart

Oh, did I mention it was 92 degrees! Freaking hot and humid! My body was not used to this temperature; it was in shock since this entire trip I usually had 55 degree weather and only the last couple of days 80 degrees. In this 90 plus degree weather, I worked at keeping my body fed, hydrated, and in shady areas while birding. 

The mostly flat trail is hard-packed sand, crossing creeks on nicely built bridges, paralleling the Missouri River, passing conservation areas and agricultural lands, with benches to sit and relax, and overall a pleasant scenic ride. There are a few businesses on the trail, such as the Missouri River Relief and campgrounds, but overall this section of trail has few amenities. I cycled 23.3 miles this day.

Boat henge!

Heading West … Ohio to Indiana!

Time to head home … it’s been a long trip and with many more miles to drive before I get home. It was nice being off major roads, noticing just how beautiful our countryside is with its rolling green hills, seeing Amish driving their carriage with a horse, stopping at their bakery, contemplating a cheese curd stop, and loving less traffic!

I stayed at a nice campground in Homerville, Ohio … lakefront campsite, quiet as it was just the start of their season, and with land to explore while I stretched my legs. 

My typical routine: cook and eat dinner, then take a longer walk before the sun sets. Two birds caught my attention: singing robin and house wren jumping, actually about to fly off!

The next morning was beautiful. I wished for another day here, but it was time to move on.

I stopped at Alum Creek Park Reservoir in Lewis Center, Ohio. I looked for waterbirds on the reservoir and then walked their Storybook Trail. Plenty of birds here! I could not miss this Baltimore oriole.

By days end I was in the Indianapolis area, cooking dinner, and finally taking a walk at 7:00pm. This is not the best time for photography, but did see a house wren singing and a red-bellied woodpecker.

Next day …driving to Missouri!

Long Point State Park … NY fog, rain and birds!

Why am I not surprised that it is raining on this trip and raining in upstate New York? No worries, birds are around. My friend and I visited Long Point State Park on the east side of Cayuga Lake in Aurora, New York. 

The rain let up, the fog rolled in, but we still walked to the lake’s edge. We immediately saw the silhouette of common loons! These birds bought back wonderful memories for me! I used to hike 4 miles to an Adirondack lake where I knew loons were nesting; few people knew of this location. Also and often, a friend and I would canoe to and set up our tent on an island on Stillwater Reservoir. We loved hearing the eerie calls of the loons at night. 

We saw other birds on this park visit … so we continued to walk the lake’s shoreline and a section of a hiking trail.

Here are some of the birds we had seen:

Common loon
Warbling vireo
Caspian terns
Common merganser

We watched 6 buffleheads. Two male buffleheads were being aggressive toward each other and the female bufflehead swam away!

Female bufflehead followed by male bufflehead
Bufflehead conflict between two males

And then, the best way to end a day … relax with a friend at a local brewery … Aurora Brewery … and drink a craft beer; time for a German style lager! AAAHHH!!!

Visiting NYS’s Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge & Other Stops

A few years ago I bicycled, solo and self-contained, from Minnesota to Indiana, then across New York State. After weeks cycling and a few days of absolute drenching rain, I stopped short of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. I had hoped to enjoy some wildlife viewing with its diverse habitats, but it did not happen. When a friend and I could visit the refuge on this trip, I said, let’s go! We lucked out with an overcast, not rainy day; off we went! 

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a huge property, located northeast of Seneca Falls, NY. There is a Welcome Center at the start of a 3 mile Wildlife Drive. At specific locations we could hop out of the car and walk to a blind. Certain times of year a hiking/bicycling trail is open for use too. One could spend hours here and the other parcels of land within the refuge. 

Warblers were arriving in NYS! Yellow warbler and yellow-dumped warblers were part of our 20 different bird specie sightings.

Yellow warbler singing
Yellow-rumped warbler

Our second stop was the Montezuma Audubon Center, north of Savannah, NY. There was an informational center and hiking trail network. Thanks to the director, since we were looking for specific birds, he sent us on our way to Guy’s Marsh. We were welcomed by tree swallows and Eastern bluebirds as we started the mile trail around the marsh. We eventually opted for a shorter walk and the observation tower. There we watched 2 muskrats fighting with each other. We guessed the third muskrat was a female as it swam away.  More birds seen and I was surprised to see a Caspian tern.

Muskrats
Not sure any of it was friendliness
Caspian tern

RI Part 3: Tennis, Mansions & State Parks

Another beautiful day, so indoor activity in the morning, outdoor activity in the sunny afternoon. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is located in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Newport, Rhode Island! I had not realized the hall of fame was actually established to save the Newport Casino from being demolished. It was Jimmy Van Alen, president of the casino, who lobbied the US Lawn Tennis Association to have a hall of fame here. Not till 1986 was the place recognized internationally. 

If one read all the info in the museum it would take hours! There are interactive exhibits, many showcases with old rackets, history, tournaments, trophies, displays of clothing worn through the years, and info about players. I learned tennis racquets were originally manufactured in neighboring cities in 1876. At Kent Racquet Company’s peak production in the 1930’s, they employed 100 people and produced 1,500 frames a day. When tennis became more popular, Kent Racquet Company supplied Spalding, Wilson, and Slazenger …names you may recognize. Here’s the equipment/press used to shape the wood for the frame:

Everyone talks about the hologram of Roger Federer when they visit this place, so I checked it out too. His talk about 10 reasons he likes tennis was eerie in the sense it was him and his reasons were great and sounded similar to some of my own. Take time to walk the grounds as they are beautiful with lush green grass. I especially tried to imagine this place back in the day when it was in a less busy town.

Then I wanted to spend time outdoors. I drove Ocean Drive along with, I think, every other Sunday driver! Bicyclists share the entire road with motorized vehicles, including these 2 seater scooters. Mansions are along this road … huge places … huge lawns …. mansion after mansion …. with some providing tours.

My first stop was Brenton Point State Park. Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean here and as I walked along the pathway I stopped at the Portuguese Discovery Monument. Again, plenty of history here. Many people picnicking, kite flying, walking the reefs, and essentially enjoying the day. I did chuckle when I saw a person pull up in a van exactly like mine, open the rear cargo area and pull out an Adirondack chair to sit in on a grassy knoll near his van! We all use our vehicles in different ways! I could see how one could spend time looking off to the horizon or close-up at the blue and green colors from algae and seaweed … beautiful spot to relax!

Great place to sit and relax!

I continued my drive to Fort Adams State Park, an active army post from 1841 until 1950. Many people were enjoying the day catching a ferry ride across Newport Harbor, walking the 2.5 mile bay walk, touring the fort and/or watching the sailing competition. I discovered this is where the Newport Jazz Festival is held. It was so relaxing walking the area. 

Oliver Hazard Perry sailing ship
Sailing activity happening on this day

I leave Rhode Island tomorrow, drive to upstate New York to visit more friends, then to Pennsylvania to visit family before I finally head west to go home. This has been a long trip and I am in my last 2 weeks of travel. It will be great to be home!

Time to Connect or Not … 

Solo travelers, such as myself, can choose how connected we wish to be with others while we visit a place or observe some activity. There are times I want/need a quiet, meditative experience; other times, I enjoy newly discovered connections, shared moments, with individuals or people around me. 

With travel, one does not know the individuals one may interact with and/or if a possible connection, shared moment, or not will be made. This is a huge part of why I find solo travel so enjoyable. Conversations with people I had never known may spark new ideas in my brain as I listen to their point of view. This allows me think through what is said and to speak my mind to someone who cannot assume they know what I will say. Shared observations open my eyes to see and learn about something new or can be a reminder of things I should have known. It is the perfect time to be non-judgmental, in the moment, and with no expectation. When meeting new people it is time to break away from possible old habits, thinking you know what the person will say and not really listening. No assumptions can be made and thus I find myself more engaged and enjoying the moment. The level of connection, shared moment, varies upon the place and/or activity … and of course the individuals you’re with … and can be most fun!

I was at Southard’s Pond Park in Babylon, NY when I had an amazing shared moment while walking the trail and looking for birds. I met one woman and almost immediately we were sharing birding and photography info, talking about life, and the wonderful park with its wildlife. This woman patiently pointed out where a red morph Eastern screech owl was sitting, a new bird for my life list. Finally seeing it through many branches blowing in the wind and about 50 feet off trail, we continued walking, talking and observing birds for each other. When we bumped into another woman it was obvious she wanted her own space, so little was said to her and that was okay. Next we were talking with a man with his very young daughters. He was such an animated guy one could not help but be excited as he talked about the observations the 3 of them made, but he also wanted to know where the owl was… so we gave him the bird’s location. 

At one point I continued on and the woman I was walking with headed back to the parking lot. When I decided to return too, I got talking with another birder who was looking for the owl. I tried to help since I had seen the owl earlier, but which tree was that bird in? Before I knew it, the father with his daughters and the woman who initially pointed out the owl to me was returning to the spot. She pointed the owl out to all of us! There was such joy with help in locating the owl and seeing the young girls and father excited too. It was a magical moment; the power of connection, a shared moment, was perfect as we all saw the owl!

As I walked back to the parking lot I thought how wonderful a world would be if we could have more positive connections in the world. I struggle in understanding why there is so much negativity, conflict and disconnect among humans in the world. Why is there no desire to have a healthy, supportive, fair world for us all to live in for the decades we are only here? I simply do not understand the strife we put before ourselves when with the same energy we could do for the betterment of all. It seems this is one of those things I will never understand and can only do my part to to remain positive.

Thanks to the woman pointing out the red morph Eastern screech owl to me or I would never had seen it! It was a challenge taking this photo, the wind blowing tree branches in front of the bird, but I wanted it since few times do I see an owl.

I did see 15 different bird species on this walk. Photos of a mute swan and osprey are below. This is a nice park to visit if you are in the area. I’ll return someday as I did not walk all the trails and would like to do so.

Memories and Madness… What a Day!

While visiting family in New York State, I drove to the northern tip of Long Island, specifically Orient Point County Park. It’s been more than decade since visiting here. Driving past what once were duck and potato farms and large agricultural lands, now were vineyards, farms growing fruit and raising goats, numerous small businesses and certainly none of the usual fast food joints! My youngest sister and I had tasted Long Island wine at some beautifully located tasting rooms in the past, but never out this far on an island that is 118 miles long. 

I had an elementary school friend whose family owned another property in Greenport, located on the north shore, where the rocky terminal moraine ended its movement eons ago. My family and I grew up in Suffolk County on the south shore created by the sand from that terminal moraine glacial melt eons ago. The geologic history of the island is fascinating especially regarding glacial movement.

The Long Island Expressway is more than half the length of the island, 71 miles, and always feels like a racetrack! The speeding and traffic is a horrible combination and increases on weekends, thus I plan my travel during the week. Once off the expressway there are smaller roads to the island’s tip where people can ride the Cross Sound Ferry to Connecticut.

On this day I hoped to see some unique, or new to me, birds along the stony north shore looking out to Orient Point Lighthouse. The day was cool and sunny, slight wind, with birds off in the distance. I was carrying my tripod with my largest zoom lens about a half mile and trying to capture photos of the birds in the distance, but even with my binoculars I could not be sure of their identification. I would have to wait till looking at the photos when I returned back to our family home. That’ll be okay.

And then …

I had a long drive to return to my Mom’s home so I headed back with plans to stop at a supermarket. I plugged my phone’s cord into the USB  slot and the radio indicated “no media connected”. Then my new van’s back-up camera started working as I drove forward!! I could not drive forward and see this camera showing the road behind me at the same time … distracting! Very weird! After a short distance I pulled off the road, turned off the van, started again and had nothing at the radio. Fortunately I had a service appointment for an oil change the next day at a RAM dealership so I headed to that location while simultaneously handling a spurting nosebleed! WHAT!?! Now I really was crazed… it’s been years since ever having a nose bleed … yet with nose pinched with fingers on one hand and other hand on the steering wheel I continued down the road.

I arrived at the dealership, pulled straight in to a parking space, and explained to a service advisor they would be looking at more than an oil change the next day. I walked out to the parking lot now realizing I pulled into a parking space and wondered how I would safely back up the van with no back-up camera. What happened? Everything is working!!

What a day! Sigh…..

Next day I brought the van in for the oil change and the back-up camera and radio were still working! Okay, so that is good, except they will not be able to diagnose the problem because at the moment there is no problem! My solution has been to not turn the radio off. I will do so when finally home and deal with whatever happens then … closer to a RAM dealership … yet hope I have no major issue as I still need to drive west to get to my home.

The good news: I observed 3 new birds while at Orient Point County Park: great black-backed gull, long-tailed duck, and white-winged scoter with hopes I can eventually get better photos of each than the ones I have since I will be along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast, other side of the Long Island Sound, in the next week. But here are some of the birds:

Long-tailed duck
Double-crested cormorant and Great black-backed gull
Common loon
Osprey

Wildlife Surprise … Not a Bird!

My eyes are scanning … up, down, across … bushes and trees, the water’s surface while also wondering if a water bird will pop up through the surface and dive again, observing the ground and thinking the birds may not be enjoying the light rain that is currently falling … I too would fluff up and tuck away if I could! 

I am at Ithaca’s Stewart Park, located at the southern end of New York State’s largest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake. It’s a beautiful park with plenty of human activity when the weather cooperates. Some 10 -12 brave souls are learning and practicing sailing techniques in their sailboats, a couple of hearty fishermen are hoping to catch something and I am sitting in my van with the window open, camera and binoculars ready, and all of a sudden I notice something!

What is that drowned rat-looking creature? I think to myself, that animal is too large to be a weasel or a rat, I am guessing a mink. Thanks to the app, iNaturalist, I include a photo and the necessary info about time, date and location of my observation for others to agree or disagree with my identification. Here the American mink is running by:

American mink sniffing around…
And then it was running off!

I was surprised to see the mink since they are usually nocturnal, but the gray rainy weather may be throwing us all off kilter. The mink’s thick brown coat appeared to be soaking wet, possibly from just being in the water. Mink are known to rely on aquatic prey so it may be the reason it was active during the daytime. I like seeing other wildlife. My outdoor time is not only about birds, but observing the web of life firsthand … yet I do worry about its future… in this moment though, time to enjoy this critter as it will be gone in a flash! And so it was!