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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Elation, exhaustion and eating.  Those three words pretty much summarize our first official “bicycle tour” for me.  We set out for the Little Red Barn Campground in Quakertown, PA last Friday morning, spent the night and rode back to Philly on Saturday.  So all things considered not much of a tour, but a great practice run for longer trips and overall a good experience.

We loaded our bikes on Thursday night and ate a carb-full dinner in anticipation of the 50+ miles we’d ride each day.  On Friday morning I woke up to cramps and general malaise but I was determined to go.  So after egg sandwiches, coffee and stretching we hit the road.  It was so nice to feel the warm sun and take in the lush green Schuylkill banks, especially after a week of rain.   The Manayunk tow path was looking like a jungle with crazy vines and tunnels of green leaves.  We stopped for a snack at the “wayside bike stop” at the beginning of the Schuylkill path and saw a doe about 20 feet up the path– I was surprised to see one so close to the path and houses!  No picture since digging for it would have scared her 😦

Pat's bike loaded up

Our journey continued until we pulled over just after Valley Forge (about 25 miles) to mow down hoagies and cookies for lunch.  Once back in the saddle we both commented on how awesome you feel after eating… a full tank of gas!  After a few more miles we turned onto the Perkiomen Trail, a first for us.  It’s a very pretty, hard-pack gravel path that winds west through towns and forests.  We spotted cardinals, a bluejay and some super-cute chipmunks.

“Navigation” for this trip was printed google directions– I now admit this was not my best plan ever.  At some point in the directions you are instructed to leave the path and start heading north to Quakertown on country roads.  Somehow we got waaaaay off track.  Luckily Pat’s phone has a decent maps application and we were able to redirect ourselves.  Unluckily we took a wrong turn and ended up many more miles out of the way.

Throughout all of this navigational bumbling we were also tackling some of the biggest hills I’ve encountered.  Philly is pretty flat and the 3 hills I climb each day commuting are just a few blocks long so this was uncharted territory.  These hills felt endless to my screaming legs and I had to get off and walk a few times.  Pat gently reminded me that Europe has WAY more, and bigger, hills so this is good practice.  We had to pull over for a banana break after he said that since I was irrationally yelling “screw Europe! I HATE bicycle touring!” in response.  I felt so defeated by the hills, being off-track and my tired body that I even suggested heading home.  But 15 more miles of hills sounded more manageable than 40 miles back.  No quitting!

I will survive!

Twelve miles and many turns later I ecstatically blew kisses at a road sign that said 3 miles to our campground.  As we churned up one last hill I found a hidden pocket of energy after spying campers and tents in the woods to our right– we had made it!  I checked us in, picked up some hotdogs from the camp store and we got settled into our “home” for the night.  Our tent is a breeze to pitch and we were set up and devouring left-over pizza in about 15 minutes.  We relaxed in the tent, soaking in the beautiful woods around us and breathing in the fresh air.

Trees from inside the tent

REI Quarter Dome T3 tent, love it!

Later we walked the campground’s loops to stretch our legs and check out all the ridiculously large RVs clustered together. I gave Pat a run for his money at the air hockey table in the campground’s game room (they also had a pool but we didn’t have suits, boo)  Dinner was hotdogs roasted on the campfire then stuffed in pita pockets with cheese and mustard.  Trust me, anything is delicious after 6 hours of bike riding so this was gourmet.

Forest surrounding the camp site

Breakfast and map reading

The next morning I woke feeling a little sore but ready to take on the day’s riding.  Knowing that the hills were at the beginning of the ride and that we wouldn’t get lost this time made getting back on my bike a lot easier.  A quick breakfast of PBJ in a pita, trail mix and cookies and we were back on the road.  Our route back to the Perkiomen Trail was more direct (understatement of the year) and carried us through the many small communities and back roads of Upper Bucks county.  Just outside of Collegeville we stopped to gawk as several skydivers landed in a grassy airfield.  Feeling venturesome, we agreed that if we can bicycle tour we can certainly skydive!  SO now that’s on our bucket list…

Although I had pre-made some falafel patties to have with hummus, pita and veggies for lunch we decided to treat ourselves to a diner sitting just a few yards off the trail.  The best part of the meal for me was letting my booty rest on the squishy booth, sweet, sweet relief!  We rode side-by-side for the next 20 miles or so, cracking up at our lame jokes and encouraging each other on.  One more snack break in Norristown and all of a sudden we were in the city again.  The ride home from the trail is a complete blur to me, my mind was focused only on a cold shower and our couch.  The one and only safety incident we had on the trip happened 4 blocks from home when a police officer nearly doored Pat while getting out to talk to a bike cop.  But we made it home in one piece and the rest of the night was spent chillin’ and reducing a large pizza to crumbs.

Here are some things we learned:

1. GPS is an absolute MUST.  We were rewarded for this mistake though because REI had a brief mega-sale on them the day we got home and I picked up a Garmin GPSMAP 62s for 30% off- score!

2. Eat a lot.  I think we learned this last year when we went on our first long haul, but it’s good to keep in mind.  I can get really cranky when my blood sugar dips!  I’m planning on taking a small, soft-side cooler next time we do an overnight.  Also bring more water.  We stopped at CVS on the way there and back for big Gatorades.

3. Our plan for Europe is totally do-able.  Not that I really doubted that… but thinking/writing about it is one thing, actually doing it is another.  So this showed me that we will face some challenges in our trip but that they will be more than worth it.

Lastly, sorry for the lack of pictures– we were pretty focused on biking.  I want our next trip to be a 3-day weekend so we won’t feel so rushed for time.  At the end of the trip we had logged 121 miles and over 10 hours in the saddle!  Not too shabby for two Long Haul Truckers’ first really long haul 🙂

Life is good!

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Rolling through PA

I-80 cuts clear across Pennsylvania, 311 miles of pavement connecting the gently rolling Pocono mountains to the flat prairies of Nebraska and eventually on to the Sierra Nevada range in California.  Pat and I drove nearly all of the PA portion a few weekends ago to join my family for my Nana’s memorial service.  Spring was definitely creeping through the many valleys we passed though.  Some were vibrantly green while others still held on to winter gray.

Spring arriving

As we headed north out of Philadelphia we spotted huge storm clouds ahead. The radio station we were tuned into issued tornado warnings for the county we had just left.  Luckily the storm seemed to pass over without too much adverse effect.

A powerful storm

Driving toward clearer skies

By the time we got hungry for lunch the skies were nearly blue again.  We took a little detour to the Bald Eagle State Park.  It was really nice– lots of benches, a little lake with beach and clean bathrooms.  Sadly no bald eagles were sighted 😦

Tall trees

We had a picnic, snapped a few pictures and then got back on the road.

Us by the lake

The forest smelled really good

It even had a babbling brook!

With many more miles to put behind us Pat set the cruise, I kept the jelly beans flowing and amused myself by taking out-the-car-window pictures.  I can’t wait until we’re touring on our bikes so I can get closer to the beautiful world around me.

Pretty farms

One bright green tree

Fatty cloud

I hung my head out the car window to take this tunnel shot… camera strap on, of course!

zooming down the tunnel

Rocky PA

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It must really be spring now– beautiful sun-shiny days interrupted by days of drizzle and flood-worthy downpours.  Unfortunately today was a bit of the latter, which resulted in an early closure of the “Science Carnival”, kick-off event of the Philadelphia Science Festival.  My museum is the organizing parter and we all put a ton of work into the Carnival so a little bad weather wasn’t going to keep us down!  We saw a surprising number of people and everyone was in really good spirits despite the rain.  It kind of felt like Halloween at Eastern State with all the crowds and lousy weather 😉  I was so proud of my staff and co-workers though, they really know how to get people excited about learning!  I hope all of Philadelphia continues to explore science after the festival ends.

Since I had an abbreviated weekend we made the most of it with a little backyard BBQ on Thursday night and a bike ride yesterday.  P & E brought over their nifty new “Kelly Kettle“, an ingenious little camp stove they plan to take on their upcoming Appalachian Trail hike.

Beer not included
 It is a rocket-shaped stove that you build a little fire under/inside of and can then use with a “burner” or a grill.  The top part also doubles as a water boiler, a very interesting addition.  It took about 3 minutes to boil a quart of water on this sucker– not too shabby!  Then we cooked a sausage on the grill and everyone decided it had a much “woodsier” taste than the ones off our BBQ grill.  Downsides: must be able to start a fire to get it to work (doesn’t help when everyone’s put a nice little dent in the six-packs…) and it did get pretty smokey.  Pat and I are seriously considering one for our trip/camping kit though so if you know any other pro’s/con’s for these let us know!
FIRE!!!

Yesterday Pat and I rode out to REI which is easy to access via the Schuylkill bike path.  We had a much-deserved lunch at Five Guys Burgers and then enjoyed the outdoor shopping wonderland.  Our mission was to exchange the way-too-large sleeping pads we’d ordered online.  Not only did we do that but we were also able to pick up a rain jacket for Pat, biking gloves for both of us, two cases of heavenly Odwalla power bars and some other odds-and-ends all for the same price as our two returned mats!  We decided on the REI lite-core Self-Inflating pad in the shorter version.  They are so tiny when rolled up and felt pretty comfortable on the floor of REI.  Once the Science Festival is over we’re going on our first camping trip!

You know me, so gangsta

On the way out of the city we saw several large birds soaring overhead.  We pulled over, whipped out the telephoto and got a few good snaps before the birds were too far out of view.  I think they may have been turkey vultures, due to the red heads, but there were about 7 hunting together and I thought vultures were pretty solitary birds (?).  I loved watching them glide on the air currents, not once flapping their large wings. 

Hunting party

 

Click, zoom in for a closer look

WordPress is driving me bat sh*t crazy with formatting issues… so hopefully this post looks something close to normal on your computer!

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I rode 100 miles this week!  Impressive… except that I’m going to have to compress that distance into ONE DAY by the end of September.  Yikes!  But considering I usually ride about 45-50 miles a week, this is a good step (pedal stroke?) forward.  Now that we get an extra hour of daylight I know this is something I can easily keep up with.  My work is 2 blocks from the Schuylkill Drive trail and one loop on that is 8 miles.  Do that 3 days a week, add in my daily commute and one long-haul on the weekends and there’s my 100 miles.  I’m getting a little tired just thinking about it…  Today my body is sore, especially my hips and back.  I found this nifty website that has a little animated dude showing you how to do stretches.  Neat!

Pat had to work all weekend so I rode out to Forbidden Drive by myself yesterday.  I took the telephoto lens and got a few good shots of geese and ducks:

Geese!

Lift, I need lift!

I like his red eye... a lil freaky though

After riding around for a while I decided to lock my bike up at Valley Green, a random restaurant on Forbidden Drive, and check out a staircase I had seen earlier.  It led down to a little dam that you could walk out on and, after seeing a couple of 6 year-olds tromp out there, I decided I’d take the risk for some interesting photos:

View from the dam

Stairs leading to the creek

 

More stairs, I love the color of the moss

Hello, green bug!

Monochromatic creek

It was nice to get some fresh, non-exhaust-laden air and to spend some quality time in nature.  My ride home from Forbidden Drive was slow, slow, slow.  Not only was I a little tired but the feng shui of my bike shorts/saddle was NOT working out… let’s hope that doesn’t happen on our one-day century!  My partner-in-crime has to work again this weekend (boo!!) so we’ll see where my solo long-haul takes me.  I have a feeling Plymouth Meeting is in the cards, how can I resist a pit-stop for an Ikea ice cream cone?  Answer: I can’t 🙂

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I’m going on vacation next week—back home to Michigan to see my family and enjoy a little R&R.  Since I’ll be gone next weekend Pat and I spent a beautiful day enjoying one another’s company yesterday—he’ll be holding down the fort/bringing home the bacon while I’m away. 

Regatta grand stand and crew emblems

The ride out of the city was heavenly.  I could feel the air clear as soon as we got to the river path.  I can’t stand humid, smoggy city air in the summer.  I felt my lungs gratefully expand as we whisked down the empty path.

There is a very nice picnic area a little bit beyond the turn-off to Valley Forge Park.  It even has real toilets and a drinking fountain.  We took one of the mountain bike/hiking paths a teeny bit north off the main path until we found a nice shady, breezy picnic area.

Chillin' in nature's air conditioning

I feel so lucky to have our bikes and good health to ride them to places like this.  While there we saw a doe, cardinal, a ton of groundhogs, chimpmunks and a couple bunnies.  I love seeing wildlife.

Pat telling a bug to go away/looking at his bicep

While perusing my new issue of Afar Magazine I spotted this contest: Blog Your Way Around the World.  My jaw is still hanging open from when I read about the main prize:

A travel package valued over $70,000 for eight of the world’s greatest adventures for the winner and a friend…”

All you have to do is write a 400-word essay on why you should be chosen and how you will blog about the adventures they are sending you and your equally adventurous husband on.  Then you get your wonderful family, friends and hopefully a ton of other people to vote for you to win. 

There are several entrants who have a lot of prior travel and blogging experience.  But I think I should win for most genuinely excited about the whole thing.  So stay tuned for updates on that, I just need to find my “hook” for the essay.  Pat had some suggestions that I won’t mention here but would probably make a good storyline for South Park…  Thinking caps on!

C'mon, who wouldn't want to follow these Long Haul Truckers around the world??

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This morning we woke up early (for a Saturday…) to join the Bicycle Coalition on a hike along the Schuylkill River.  Unfortunately we did not realize we had the wrong date until we got home.  We were a little perplexed when we go to Bartram’s Garden, the starting point, and found no trace of other hikers.

We decided to set out after them, looking forward to the free breakfast at the end point.  I worked at Bartram’s Garden for a couple of months so I led us out through the meadow to the path.

Can you see the city through the haze?

This meadow used to be a “brownfield,” a former industrial site where the soil is polluted.  The site was treated about 30 years ago and is now thriving.

I could not believe we were still in Philadelphia.  This part of Southwest Philadelphia is only a half mile from our house but it felt like we were miles out of the city.  I imagined John Bartram and his wife strolling along the same stretch of river.  Taking in the fresh country air, feeling the same June heat and walking hand-in-hand like us.  I wonder if they had pancakes for breakfast, too.

Urban Meadow

We carried on.  The walk was supposed to end at Grey’s Ferry Ave at a section of the path we have seen them working on for several months.  I recently snapped this on the way to the grocery store:

Next to the Recycling Center

Since it was the wrong date we never caught up with the group.  We turned around after the trail terminated in the Street’s Department’s parking lot.

I see this bridge from Grey's Ferry all the time

By the time we got back to our bikes I was really feeling the heat so we headed home for a second cup of coffee and work in the studio.  Pat gave his mom this illustration for mother’s day, isn’t it beautiful?

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Two Long Hauls

Last weekend we rode out to our friend James’ house in Phoenixville, PA.  It’s about 34 miles from our apartment.  Luckily the Schuylkill trail runs all the way out to his town.  Then it’s only 5 miles or so on the shoulder of the road.  It was a little hairy on the skinny country-road shoulder and misty weather.  But we made it there safely and enjoyed some delicious BBQ courtesy of James. 

bonfire

We built a giant bonfire.  Of course marshmallows were roasted. 

James the goat whisperer

We met some goats.  Hearded them around…

The house James is living in belongs to his boss at a landscaping business.  The boss wants to have a large-scale sculpture in the front yard to act as a kind of billboard.  So Pete and James are constructing a 5-foot tall stone egg.  We watched them dig the foundation pit and carry stones.  James gets to drive a real Tonka Truck Bulldozer.

Where the egg will live

We spent the night and rode back the next day.  I was absolutely exhausted on Sunday at work.  They were great rides though so I didn’t really mind.

Restorative ice cream treat on the way home

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