In the Cold

We were supposed to do the Feaster Five run on Thanksgiving day, but the temperature turned out to be in the teens (in degrees Fahrenheit), and with the wind it felt like -3 degrees F.  We ended up staying indoors, not even daring to try out the shortened course that the organizers had set up because of the weather.

But one can stay indoors for only so long.  We also had to burn off the calories that were consumed during the Thanksgiving meal.  So, we were out the next day.  The temperature had risen to a balmy 20 degrees, still well below the freezing temperature.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Weir Hill Reservation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of us ran, while the others walked.  We did two loops, each slightly less than two and half miles, around the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe survived!

A Strange Month of April So Far

This is the time of year when things normally begin to warm up in our part of the world. This is the time of year we see signs of Spring all around us.  It also becomes a season for allergies.  But the early part of the month had us experiencing a snowstorm instead as we drove through the Midwest.   This was the scene on the road in the morning the next day as we drove back home to Maryland after the storm.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack east, the cherry blossom tree in our backyard looked miserable compared to past years.  The blossoms looked thin and sparse.  Things then started to improve as we approached the middle of the month.  There was an awakening of the blossoms.  There were even a couple of warm days to go with this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis phase of Spring did not last too long.  A heavy snowstorm hit parts of the Midwest once again last weekend.  It also got colder here in the Northeast, and we got a significant amount of rain that put an end to nature’s show.  We now have white stuff on the ground and flying around all over the place, and it is not snow!  Strange weather!  I wonder what we have in store for the rest of the month.

A Trip to Sugarloaf Mountain

We are in the middle of winter.  It is the time of year when it is usually quite cold in this part of the world.  But it has been unusually warm during the last few days, with the temperature threatening to reach the upper 70s (Fahrenheit, that is) later on this week.  We hiked up Sugarloaf Mountain, just across the border of Montgomery county in the neighboring Frederick county, last weekend.  It has been a long time since we visited Sugarloaf even though it is quite close to home.  We have been dissuaded by the crowds that are attracted to the location because of its proximity to the high population area of Washington DC and its suburbs.  The crowds are especially overwhelming during the other seasons when families come in large numbers to picnic on the mountainside.  The place is littered with cars, adults, children, and dogs when this happens.  It is not the kind of place one would go to if you were hoping for a little bit of quiet and solitude.  We saw more people than we expected last weekend because of the nice weather,  but we had fortunately gotten to the park early enough to avoid the biggest crowds.

It was a beautiful day for a hike and we ended up walking over 8 miles.  We got to some areas of the park that are less accessible and therefore quieter. Here are some pictures from the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Training in the Summer Heat

The practice rides for the Pittsburgh to DC biking event continue.  Since it could be quite hot at the time of the ride at the end of August, I thought it appropriate to not try to go out of my way to avoid the heat while training.  We were notified of a heat advisory by the National Weather Service last Thursday, with predicted heat index values between 100 and 105 degrees.   Since there was work being done in the house in the morning I could only get on the trail around 11:00AM.   This was perfect for training! This being the first time I was subjecting myself to such conditions, I decided to be more cautious than usual, carrying extra water, and splitting the ride into two parts, with the ability to shorten the ride easily if I wanted to.

It was not too bad riding under the trees, but the heat did take its toll on me over the long run, and I was struggling towards the end.  Even though I was hydrated and had eaten enough, I was tired and dragging.  I was glad that I had decided to shorten the ride.  The ride did have its interesting moments. I encountered some suicidal Canada geese parked right across the trail who refused to get out the way of the speeding bike.  They just stood and stared. I am actually scared of these birds when they are with their young ones, as was the case here. They hiss and chase after you. Fortunately, no goosicide ensued. Then there was the squirrel that decided to take off across the trail as the bike was approaching, misjudged the speed of the vehicle, and unexpectedly made contact with the bike. It was fortunate  for all involved that it did not get caught in the spokes. The crazy animal continued its mad dash across the trail. I did not stop to see if it was hurt.  I saw an unexpectedly large number of great blue heron in the sections of the canal that were watered.  I suspect that they were fishing.  I could actually see reasonably sized fish swimming in the waters when I stopped to have a snack.

Friday promised to be less humid and I set out very early in the morning to do a complete ride starting at Williamsport, MD, biking past Hancock, MD.  I was going out of my way to ride a new section of the trail.  I had covered these sections of the trail on foot previously, but that was a very long time ago.

I had been hesitating to start rides far away from home for a while because I do not have a good bike rack for transporting the bike on the back of the car.  The bike rack I am using is very old, designed well before the Prius with its broad spoiler came into existence.  (Even today the options for getting a newer and more suitable bike rack that is capable of transporting the woman’s bike (that is another story) on the Prius are limited.)  I finally ended up using the simplest solution, something that I should have thought of in the first place, which was to fold the back seats of the car and push the bike all the way into it from the back.  This is possible because the Prius is a hatchback with a wide rear opening.  The new strategy allowed me to drive further out from home, and on the highway, without having to worry about something untoward happening with the bike and/or the car during transportation.  I will have to deal with the dust from the trail that collects in the vehicle later.

It felt especially thrilling to set out out this part of the trail on a still cool morning, remembering how it used to feel in times past, but this time making much better speed and covering more distance than I used to in the past.
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In no time I had reached Dam 5 on the Potomac river.  This is the point at which the canal ended for a short distance before starting up once again further northwest.  Canal boats used to be pulled along the side of the river in this section.
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Beyond that I passed McCoy’s Ferry and then Big Pool.  Soon after I got to the spot where I could have taken an alternate route using the smoother WMRT that parallels the C&O canal for the next twenty miles or so.  Instead, I stayed on the towpath thinking that the ride had not been too bad until that point.  But it was about to get worse! A few miles out  I came to Little Pool and a section of the towpath where they had just laid a thick layer of crushed stone on the trail.  Unfortunately, the stone was new and had not been compressed enough to set into place. Previous riders had not yet created a track clear of loose stones.  The ride became much rougher and uncomfortable.

As the trail passed the town of Hancock, I transferred to the WMRT for the rest of the ride. I rode the smooth asphalt into a mountainous section of the trail, passing though the Roundtop State Park. Looking down the hill through the vegetation, I could sometimes see the the towpath running beside the Potomac well below me.  The trail itself ran through some very beautiful surroundings.  It all felt awesome, but I was missing some of the sights on the towpath like the Round Top Cement mill because the WMRT ran above the ruins.
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I turned back after riding for a little while longer, and after having lunch. This time I stayed on the WMRT till its very beginning before shifting back to the towpath.  Got back to the start of the ride in good shape.

 

 

Hushinish, Scotland

Hushinish, a little village on the Isle of Harris, was one of our destinations during the trip to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.  We had started the morning with a big breakfast at the Garybuie B&B on the Isle of Skye and driven quickly to Uig to catch a ferry to the village of Tarbert in Harris.  Unfortunately the day had started with bad weather, and it looked like this was going to continue at our destination and through the day.  This was what it looked like at Tarbert just as we were docking.
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We were determined to continue with our adventures come what may.  We started out driving to the southern tip of Harris.    It was clear that driving through the rains would be made more of an adventure than usual because the narrow and winding roads through the stark rocky landscape were for the most part one-way affairs.  There was no place for cars to pass each other other than at the occasional passing lanes.  When two cars approached each other, the first one that got to the the passing lane waited for the other one to to get to it and pass it before proceeding.  It was a process that took some getting used to, and was easier said than done.  There were places where I had to back up, and doing that in a car with a manual gear shift that I had not used for many years made it more interesting.  If you steered incorrectly your wheels could go off the road, and in the worst case you could hit something and/or fall off the side of a hill!

We got to our destination of Rodel at the tip of Harris and visited St. Clements Church.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter quickly taking in the view beyond the southern tip of the Outer Hebrides (in the rain), we drove back to Tarbert using a smaller country road.  This drive was even more awesome and thrilling, with the narrow path winding between rocky outcrops and little lochs,  and through little villages by the coast.

After getting back to Tarbert, we continued on to our next stop.  In addition to the destination of the village of Hushinish at the western end of a country road going across the island, we had read that we could also visit the remains of a whaling station at Bun Abhainn Eadarra, and perhaps see some white tailed sea eagles at the North Harris Eagle Observatory.  Unfortunately none of the secondary objectives were met due to the time factor and due to the weather.

Shortly out of Tarbert we had to turn off the main road between Tarbert and Stornoway (A859) to get on to the one-lane country road  (B887) to take us to Hushinish.  This was even more of an adventure than what we had experienced before.  It took a long while to negotiate the 13 mile stretch of roadway to its terminus. The road wound its way through the rocky landscape with plenty of twists and turns and switchbacks. And it continued to rain.  There was enough tension in the passenger seat beside the driver during the ride that we had to switch riders, but I was enjoying myself!
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We passed a tennis court in the middle of nowhere during the early part of the ride.  Since Andy Murray is from Scotland, we were wondering if he had anything to do with it.  Apparently not.  We  encountered cows that refused to move from the road.  The side of the car might have actually touched a big one with a nose-ring when I attempted to get past. The cows kept going about their business. These guys seems to think that they owned the road.  Perhaps they do.  Fortunately, they are most docile.  We saw Highland cows (also called Hairy Coos by the Scots) at some point.   This was a moment of much celebration in the car since we had been on the lookout for these unique animals ever since the beginning of the ride!
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We saw people getting ready for a walk at a place that appeared to be the start of the trail to the eagle observatory. It seems that they were well prepared for the rain and were determined to get to their destination in spite of the weather. They were not to be deterred by it. (We actually saw walkers in many areas, including a couple in Hushinish itself, who had the same attitude when it came to walking.)  We passed the Amhuinnsuidhe Castle.  And then the road got worse for the last few miles.
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When we arrived at Hushinish it was pouring.  I could see the beach and about three or four houses on the other side of the beach.   There was a small parking area and one other vehicle.   We made sure we had our raincoats all zippered up before we opened the car doors.  I put a plastic bag over my camera when I stepped out.  The wind was howling.  The adults walked just a little bit, bracing themselves against the gusts of wind, while the young ones climbed  the cliff to get a view of the ocean in the distance.  (You can barely make the kids out in the top left corner of the second picture.)
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We waited beside a rock for the kids to come back.  You could see the island of Scarp in the distance.  The island was last permanently inhabited in 1971, and you can barely see the remains of the settlement in the picture below.
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The sheep watched us with amusement undeterred by the weather.
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The clothes on our lower extremities were completely wet by the time we got back to the car.  It was time to move on.

As we drove away I stopped to take this picture of the beach.  You can see the few houses that remain.
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We drove back to the main road to Stornoway and proceeded north.  Before we got to Stornoway, we stopped to see the Callanish Stones and the Dun Carloway broch.  The stones are from the neolithic age, while the broch is most likely from the first century AD.  There is indeed a lot of old history on the islands.
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The rain was beginning subside by the time we got to Stornoway.  After checking into our room we found our way to a table at the pub to conclude the evening with some fine food and drink.  We raised a toast to the end of yet another memorable day of our vacation in Scotland.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Optimistic

We just got through a major blizzard in our area that I have blogged about.  Woke up this morning to this sight in front of the house early in the morning.  It lasted only a few seconds.

Today is the first day after the day on which the roads to our neighborhood were cleared.  Our driveway is also completely free of snow and ice.  We have not been away from the house for four days. We will be venturing out into the still recovering neighborhood in a few minutes.  And I will be carrying my camera.  I feel optimistic!

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