Weekly Photo Challenge: Narrow

This week’s response to the challenge is a tale of three travels.

We saw a “Close” for the first time during our most recent trip to Edinburgh in Scotland .  Basically, these are narrow passageways between buildings, or small streets that are dead-ended.  A lot of the closes in Edinburgh are found on the Royal Mile.  Here are pictures of a couple of closes.

Last year, my sister, older daughter, and I, hiked the Little Haystack-Lincoln-Lafayette section of the Appalachian Trail in the Franconia Ridge section the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The trail running along the mountain ridge looks narrow enough to be scary, but they are OK to traverse on a day with good weather.  This hike was one for the ages, at least as far as I was concerned, and something that I realistically hope to able to revisit at least a couple of more times while the body is still able.

Finally, these pictures are from a hike in Ditinn during our trip to Guinea in 2012 to meet up with our daughter (who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in that country at that time).  I think every picture in the sequence below talks to the theme of this week’s challenge, perhaps in different ways.

The Kids are Alright – maybe..

Anybody remember this song?

I have put in quite a few miles on my bike on the trail this week.  It occurred to me that, remarkably, I was not feeling bored in spite of the repetitive nature of the rides.  I remembered a blog I had read from a webpage tracking a couple’s hike on the Pacific Crescent Trail.   This particular posting was a guest blog by somebody who was traveling with them for a short stretch. He talks about what the experience of hiking means for him.  I could empathize with some of what he was saying –  about the silence and the thinking that goes on.  You  can cover a lot of ground, both physically and mentally, without even being aware of it.

A couple of days back I was cruising in the cool of the early morning, lost in my own thoughts, on a section of the trail near Carderock.  Between the mind games and the focus on the act of riding (something that has become more automatic these days) I was having a ball.  I was brought back to reality by the sight, out of the corner of my eye, of two older gentlemen who were walking in the other direction.  When you are riding a bike at a decent pace people pass by quickly, but I did notice that one of the guys was smiling  broadly, looking at me, and giving me a thumbs-up sign with both his hands.  He was encouraging me on.  I had to smile back.  Or maybe I was smiling already, and this was his response.  Did I look like I was on a mission and needed encouragement?  Or was he simply happy to wish somebody on the trail.  It does not matter.  He had reached me somehow and raised my spirits even further.   Everything was good!

With the distances I am covering, and with the coming of summer, I am seeing kids everywhere on the trail. There are summer camps and outings, with bike rides, horse rides, boating (tubing/canoeing), fishing, swimming, and other kinds of activities to keep the young ones occupied.  It is great that the natural resources of the area are being taken advantage of so that kids learn about the great outdoors all around rather than getting stuck indoors staring at the screen of some electronic device the whole day.

But with kids on the trail there is an additional element of caution that is required, especially if one is cruising on a cycle.  Sometimes they seem to be completely oblivious to what is going on around them.  Last week I was passing a group of kids and everybody moved out of my way except for one lad who basically got on his bike a started riding straight towards me on the wrong side of the trail.  I had to yell and brake hard.  He finally moved away at the last minute.  Who knows where he mind was at.

Then there was this group of kids on bikes who rode off the trail at Whites Ferry while I was trying to get on to it.  They did not know enough to even get out of my way.  I had to stop and let most of them get through first. Their adult leader apologized once he got them going properly.

A couple of days ago I rode up behind a group of adults and kids on horses.  While most of the horses were well behaved and were keeping to one side of the trail, a couple of them were not cooperating at the back of the line.  They were wandering all over the trail, standing across it to look at me (maybe they were curious) while their riders were trying to talk them into getting back into line.  At one point one of the riders thought that the horses wanted to get in line on the other side of the trail (the wrong side), but that was obviously not their intention. The horses finally cooperated and I was able to pass on the left.  On my way back on the trail, as I approached the same group and started passing them from the front, the little kids on the horses started shouting to me. They told me that the last two horses in line were in training and that I should be careful.  The kids seemed quite concerned about my safety and they were so sweet about it.  I yelled my thanks without slowing down too much.  The kids are alright!

During the last couple of days I have run into more issues with people, both adults and kids, on the trail who do not seem to know what to do when a biker comes by.  Sometimes people are not keeping to their side of the trail and they get very confused when a biker comes up behind them.  I announce myself loudly so that people can move aside, and if at least one person in the group hears me I am usually in good shape.  But sometimes somebody darts across the trail into my way at the last minute and I have to brake hard and yell.  Just yesterday,  a kid almost ran me off the cliff near Anglers Inn.  He apologized while I tried to recover my composure.

But I want to come back to the thought I started this blog with, which is that it does not matter how many times you go over the same territory when hiking or biking.  The experience simply does not get old.   Just yesterday I was riding past a section of the trail that always catches my attention in the early morning light.  As I have done several times in  the past, I stopped once again to take a picture.  Perhaps you have seen this picture before.
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Then there are these other experiences from the ride.
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And, yes, it is hot as heck outside right now.  The folks in the picture below have more determination than I do!
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We will  see what the next week of riding brings.

 

The Latest SpaceX Mission

I watched a video of the latest SpaceX Mission this morning.

A few thoughts occur to me after viewing the video.  Major innovations have taken place even in the last 20 or 30 years in space travel.  The Space Shuttle has vanished into history and is being replaced by a family of new and much more advanced and smarter technologies.  The term “nimble” comes to mind when I think of the cost points and the efficiency of the systems being designed.  At this point SpaceX can even recover the first stage of their rockets for reuse by landing them vertically on a landing pad!  This would have sounded like science fiction even a few years ago.  Other players are also basing their designs on the principle of launch vehicles that are reusable.

A lot of the new technology is being developed by private organizations and not the government.  These efforts include SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, etc..   Hats off to the folks with the vision to invest their own money for further advancements in space.

While watching the video it struck me that all the narrators were dressed quite casually.  These folks appear to be people  in the mission team with significant responsibilities.  While the culture of casual attire at work is now common in the tech industry, I would have never have imagined something like this in a area of technology as serious as space travel.   I do not know if what we are seeing in the video was a careful decision made just for the camera, or if this really represents the work culture in an advanced technology environment like that at SpaceX.

 

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.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Details

This is a broad topic for a challenge because the details of pictures are almost always interesting regardless of the subject matter.  I have seen so many wonderful postings on this topic already.  In spite of the many submissions, one should not get fooled into thinking that capturing the details in a picture is always easy to do.  In fact, this objective requires you to get beyond simply finding the focal point for the picture, to thinking about the depth of focus needed to capture the details across the entirety of the object of interest, and then making sure you have the right set of conditions and parameters for your shot.  This is particularly challenging for closeups. I think I have been fortunate to be able to capture a few such pictures.  You can make the judgement. So here goes!

The first series of pictures is of some pelicans that I was observing during a holiday a few years ago.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI liked the spots on this toad in the sunlight.

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I like to get close up to see the details on butterflies, but sometimes it more difficult than you actually think it is because you do not get the depth of focus needed.  Sometimes the butterflies cooperate by presenting a flat surface.
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I like trying to capture the details of the various plants and flowers in their natural surrounding.  Here are a couple of examples that I liked.
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Finally, here are a couple of pictures that are really not the best quality, but I liked the subject matter a lot.
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