Monday Memories: Solo Bicycling Trip

I decided I was not getting any younger, and I was reading about people in their 60’s bicycling across the USA! Could I do the same? I did not know, but I decide to attempt some distance.

Yes, in June 2018, I did bicycle 600 miles from Prescott, Wisconsin to Rensselaer, Indiana by way of many small towns following most of Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route. After a heat spell, I continued on on New York State’s Erie Canal trail for 100 miles before meeting friends in central NY.

People asked why I chose that area of the USA to bicycle ride. Since I typically fly over it, I thought it a good idea to actually see it. I saw many windmills, fields of corn, artwork and rolling hills.

There were sights to see. An Eagle Center, National Farm Toy Museum and the famous Field of Dreams to mention a few. I also stopped at activities roadside, such as this dog competition where they collect the bird that was shot. When I heard about saloon bars similar to an AZ bar, I checked it out as I did often stop in churches for a reflective moment.

Most nights I stayed at bed and breakfast, or motels, and did camp. My goal was to survive so I wanted comfort at the end of the day, especially since you never knew if the next 40-60 miles per day was going to be in the heat or a drenching rain. There is nothing worse than bicycling in the rain; stopping to check the weather radar to discover how many hours you may be sitting and waiting out the weather. Some places were entirely for myself and I would wander into the town to find dinner, and other places I spent hours talking and eating with the owner of the place. I always love connecting with people when I travel. All of my accommodations were wonderful from Motel 6 to some really nice bed and breakfast places!

One of my most fun places was at an old jailhouse. The woman helped me hoist my loaded bicycle up the five steps into the place, invited friends over to have a beer with us, and cooked delicious dinner and breakfast for me. She offered me an additional night, yet I decided to keep on my plan since the weather was good.

Enthusiasm for bicycling is beginning to take off in the USA as we develop the US Bicycling Route System to be added to many Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Routes and Adventure Cycling’s Routes. I did see a bicycle campground and I rode a bicycle path where each rider pays a fee. Men drove on the bike path to collect the fee from me and were pleasantly surprised when I could show them I had my receipt of payment.

I ate plenty of snacks, which I carried in my bag, and always a lunch. I loved Casey’s General Store located in many small towns. I was hooked on white cheddar cheese popcorn, until I broke a front tooth – later repaired in Buffalo, NY. I also bought Arizona green tea and Gatorade to supplement my water bottles. I love chocolate and that meant a Snicker’s bar too.

I discovered I was close to Route 66 so I decided to ride a portion of it, especially since I did not know if I would ever ride its entire distance from CA to IL. Lots of history along that route! The road was so busy at one point there was a passageway for people to walk under the road! Of course, there are still some old gas stations in the area, and portions of the road are grown over with grass in its cracks.

I met many other bicyclists on the road and all going from east to the west coast (I was going west to east). There was only one other solo female bicyclist, yet every single person always stopped at the bottom of a hill to say hello, check-in on how I was doing, and offer ideas of what was coming up in the next town or two. I really appreciated the camaraderie! One guy told me he was sleeping in ditches at night after cycling about 100 miles a day. Another guy told me of a free place to set a tent. A mother and daughter team had stayed at the lodging I was heading to on my 70 mile day. Other people at stores, bars, and their homes were very generous. One family offered their swimming pool to me as I laid on their front lawn, under the only shade tree I think in the county! Another guy brought out bottles of cold water for me as I sat by a church he was renovating for his family home. Another guy stopped in his pick-up truck and asked me if I was okay, and if I knew how hot it was that day. Yes, wherever I could find some shade, I spent time there. I could tell you more, but I think you got the picture!

The heat did me in! To hot to go on, dehydrated and with concerns of heat stroke, I decided to take the heat wave in the US seriously. Unfortunately I have been in hospitals needing fluids pumped into me other times when on hiking and bicycling trips. I knew I did not want that happening here. With the help of great people in Indiana, I rented a car a few days after getting my fluids back to where they needed to be and headed to Buffalo, NY. Along the way and there, I had wonderful friends allow me time to recuperate before jumping back on my bicycle to cycle the Erie Canal trail to central NY where I met other friends. Yes, I shipped my bicycle home and relaxed before planning my next trip. What an adventure this was … and cannot wait to do some bicycle travel again!

Don’t Move … Thanks!

This desert spiny lizard was not lively at all. It simply stayed on the tree limb and watched as two photographers tried to capture the perfect photo!

I see you and I am staying right here for a moment or two!

I was sort of wondering what this lizard was thinking about while the two of us with cameras tried to jockey around for a photo. Its reptilian brain knew this was a safe spot in the park and there was no need to move till it was time to hunt for food: ants, spiders, plant material, and/or caterpillars. And so we enjoyed watching and photographing this colorful lizard!

I loved the colors of this desert spiny lizard!

It’s A Tarantula Hawk?

I learned something new today! A tarantula hawk is a spider wasp, colored blue-black and about 2 inches long, that preys on tarantulas which are large spiders. Earlier in the month I came across tarantula webs at a local park and I hoped to see and photograph a tarantula; so far I have not seen one. I have continued photographing wildlife with my latest a tarantula hawk!

Tarantula hawk on wildflower in our backyard.

The tarantula hawks have been buzzing around, enjoying this particular wildflower pictured above, and not bothering me. Tarantula hawks are docile. I guess if I started swatting at them would they sting me which would cause intense pain and numbness around the bite. (Not interested in that experience!)

We can be thankful we are not tarantulas. This spider wasp hunts for its food of choice, a tarantula! Tarantulas are one of the largest spiders, yet a bite from the tarantula hawk leaves the tarantula paralyzed and being eaten by wasp larvae. Now that would be something to see for real, and there is always YouTube, so check it out there until you see the battle between the two in real time!

In 1989, New Mexico named the tarantula hawk their official state insect. Thanks to elementary school students for being interested in adopted state insects. Ballots were mailed to all schools for a statewide election with three possible insects considered. Tarantula hawk wasp was the winner!

Just Passing By!

Yes, this small mammal may be passing by your neighborhood too.

It’s a very common wild animal; some people will love this house mouse. (Or is it a rat?) I was not taken with any love for it. I thought it should be shy and at least out of my sight! But no, right out there for all to see.

Mouse, or rat, climbing exterior column of business.

I could envy its wall climbing skills! My wall climbing is in need of great help, thus I am always harnessed in at the climbing wall in my town. Off it went; may pass your neighborhood soon!

If you can identify this animal, let me know…. thanks!

Looking for Tarantulas

I wish I photoed a tarantula; not yet! I will keep my eyes open for the 3-4 inch tarantulas that grow here in the Sonoran Desert.

I did walk past a tarantula’s web the other day, but no 8-legged creature was seen by me! Tarantulas are nocturnal hunters and spend a lot of time in their burrow so I guess I am not surprised to not see one.

Desert tarantulas live in a deep burrow and line the entire floor of their enclosure with silk and surround their entrance with a silken “welcoming mat”. Tarantulas do not have great eyesight so the “welcoming mat” helps when it vibrates like guitar strings, yet it is not for capturing prey. Unlike other spiders with webs to catch insects, tarantulas take on an active approach to feeding by subduing and killing the prey themselves. When the tarantula is alerted to the presence and location of the intruding beetle, grasshopper, small lizard or mice, it will attack and kill by injecting venom through its fangs into its prey. Since they have no teeth, it is the venom that liquefies the prey and the tarantula uses its sucking stomach to draw in the meal.

Who keeps the tarantula population in check? Coyotes and foxes.

There are 4 dozen species of tarantulas in the USA and Mexico, so hopefully at some point I can capture a photo of one. In the meantime, keep an eye open for more “welcoming mats”!

Capturing Action of a Hawk

It was exciting! There was a Harris hawk on top of the pole. I knew it would soon take flight. I did not really know what I would see, nor what I would capture in a photograph. I readied my camera. Where do I begin!?!

I refer to myself as a novice wildlife photographer. I get so excited about the action to eventually unfold that I sense great hesitancy within myself in how I should get my camera ready for the action. I don’t want to miss the action, but I also need to be sure the camera is set!

I begin with shutter speed. Bird flying, I select shutter priority. Dialed in, got it. I consider depth of field and set my aperture. Yes, the hawk is still on the pole. What ISO? Test shot of the hawk on the pole looks okay so I believe I am set.

The hawk has something in its talons!

Do I really have the best lens for a photo as this hawk flies off? Maybe not, but nothing can change in that department. I was only carrying my camera today because I never know what I will see and want to photograph. Often I have had regrets when I do not have my camera. (Best bird watching happens when you have no camera!)

The hawk flies and I immediately see the talons were holding a rabbit in place atop the pole. Wow! Thankfully I had continuous focus and burst on as I tried to get a decent photo or two. Not bad for this lens, but also not great … that’s the way it is sometimes. Any way I look at it though, it was an amazing sight for me to see! Photo or not, it is in my memory!

Wish, then Take Action!

Decades go by as I continue to wish for increased global solar energy usage, equality, justice and education for all, along with clean air and water for the ever increasing planet’s population! Wishing for anything is never enough; what is needed is action! Even with action, reaction and solutions take time. Frustration does mount as the time it takes to solve issues is ridiculously long!

I understand all peaceful protests no matter the issue. What I do not condone is the violence, vandalism and arson most often happening under the cover of darkness. It might not be a bad idea for locals to not protest at night, so the agitators who are destroying our businesses are caught!

I understand we need to increase pressure on our politicians. Many of them collect paychecks with little to show in making the world a safer, healthier, just place for all. Why can’t our energy systems be environmentally safer? Everyone’s health, physical and mental, be cared for with the same health care policies as our politicians?

Racial and gender inequalities need justice to prevail so no one lives in fear. Our communities all need regulations to have and maintain the best quality air and water. All can be accomplished while simultaneously growing businesses and wealth for all. If we wish and take action, let’s prompt the legislators, business leaders and world leaders to see the benefit for all is a minimum requirement in making this a planet where we can all survive even 10 years from now.

Write your politicians, peacefully protest, support local businesses, speak up when injustice happens and you are present, boycott places you cannot support their stance on issues, and be an ally for those needing protection. You and I are in this together; let’s take action!

Under the cover of darkness, let there be peace!

Driven Weed Crazy …

My front yard is covered with many weeds; yes, it is weedy. Who cares? Well, actually there are people and home associations that care. They see green growth on my front yard that are not on the approved plant list. Oops! Yet for me, I see the unwanted plant, a weed, important for all of us and especially while it has a flower. No way will I pull that plant out by its roots at that time. A seed blew in or was part of the hydro-seed thrown down when the landscape was created and now the plant is growing. It is beautiful with its flower and I want to see it each day it is there. When there is no flower, then I will pull it. You see I have a method to caring for my landscape. I appreciate nature’s colors and the role of all plants in our world.

During my latest weed-pulling hours, I thought this would be a good time to remind myself of the importance of weeds. Often people think they do not want that plant, the weed, and forget the role these plants play in our natural world. Weeds do grow much faster than other garden plants and for good reasons. They grow, flower, and produce more young weeds to continue the cycle of life. Weeds hold soil in place for a hillside to remain stable and not be washed away in a heavy rain. Weeds absorb nutrients from the soil and when they die the nutrients are released. Their process of photosynthesis is important for us all too! In nature, you rarely see many bare soil areas. There is much to be accomplished by these weeds and their seeds simply move in and do what they need to do.

There is one weed that drives me crazy! I get so frustrated with this one. Unless I look at the plant from a particular angle I cannot see it! This plant is called skeletonweed. Perfect name choice! I am sure it is doing all that a weed is supposed to do. But just as I walk away from an area of the yard where I think my weeding is done, there is another skeletonweed! Take a look for yourself … do you see it in the photo below?

Skeletonweed growing out of the rocks.

Your welcome. I photographed it so you could see it! If I included a photo of its first growth or younger growth or from a different angle, you would not see the plant. I don’t care it is a species of wild buckwheat; I just know it arrives every year to drive me crazy. For me, this weed is tougher to love!

Wished for Wisconsin Travel

January 2020, I had a great idea! Could I organize a road trip to Madison, Wisconsin? Once settled at a state campground, here was my plan: photography and bird watch in the morning, photography and bicycle ride on bike paths and rural roads during the day, and enjoy dinner and craft beers in the evening.

February 2020. So I could camp at state parks, I got my Non-resident Annual Admission Sticker to WI State Parks and Forests and to bicycle ride on their trails I got the WI Annual State Trail Pass. I wanted both done to have 2 less things to do when in the state. Campground and hotel reservations were also made from Arizona to Madison and Stevens Point, Wisconsin. My plan was to be traveling for a month but I only booked half the accommodations. I researched Audubon Centers and other places of interest, along with bike paths that criss cross the state of Wisconsin. How could I not get excited about eating cheese in this state? It has the largest number of milk goats and 600 or more cheesemakers. I did not know it is a large cranberry producer and despite being known for its Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, I heard a craft brewery scene had been growing. I wanted to check all of this out!

I was ready for Wisconsin camping and bicycling!

March 2020, do I have to cancel my May into June visit to Wisconsin? Covid-19 has run rampant the past few months around the world, including the USA. What shelter-in-place world am I living in now?

April 2020. The numbers of USA Covid-19 cases and deaths related to the virus increase across our nation. I cancel all my accommodations. Thank goodness I only booked a couple of weeks, but I am sad. I love to travel and discover new places and things. Darn, darn, darn!

May 25, 2020, I thought I was going to be on the road this day, Memorial Day. I had booked my WI state park reservation back in the winter since I figured everyone else would be camping this weekend too. Instead I am home in Arizona with limited access to most places and our Covid-19 cases still on the rise. I will take time on this day to honor the men and women who died while serving in the US military. There usually are parades, but there is a 3pm, your local time, national moment of remembrance on this day too … a time to think and thank those who served, and I want to thank those individuals who still serve!

You and I are alive; let’s have a good Memorial Day wherever we are!

The message on this trail is a good one!

Bicycling the Path … an Issue

We are fortunate to have at least 131 miles of dedicated bike path available to us Tucson,AZ bicyclists. Why are we fortunate? It is so much safer to maneuver around other bicyclists, runners, walkers, roller bladers, and anyone else out on this dedicated path than to be on a roadway.

We have a beautiful, smooth bike path with appropriate signage and I feel safe cycling on it. (The farther I can be away from automobiles the better.) Yes, I hear people complain about speeding cyclists and working around walkers, but in the overall scheme of things this is all pretty great.

YET… my annoyance is when someone comes along and writes political messages in chalk on the pathway. I do not care what the message is, it should not be done! First off, I call that graffiti on a public space … I do not like it and would say a person should be found and fined. Secondly, we are all outdoors for exercise and a space to relax, not needing any prompts to piss us off!

Please keep your messages/gripes/political views to yourself and off our bike paths. Yup I was annoyed, so all I could do was squirt some of my water from my water bottle on those messages. Which annoyed me all the more since it was hot here and I did not want to be wasting my drinking water on graffiti. Geez don’t you know, water is precious here in the desert!

Bike path separate from autos.
People enjoy a graffiti-free, smooth and very long path.