Monday, June 20, 2011

A Trip to Chincoteague

Driftwood shell art on the beach.
People add pieces to it every day.
Well, it's taken me far too long to sit down and write this out, but I wanted to share the trip to Chincoteague, VA that my girlfriend and I took the weekend of June 11th - 13th. For those of you who don't know, Chincoteague is a tiny island off the tip of Virginia's part of the Eastern Shore. It was made famous in a series of children's books, the most famous of which is Misty of Chincoteague, which tells a tale based around the wild ponies of neighboring Assateague Island. The ponies on the island are in two distinct herds, and the Virginia herd is owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Dept, which rounds up ponies every year and auctions off some of them.

Anyway, Christy and I had talked about visiting there for quite a while, since we'd both been avid readers of the books, and had both been there some years ago, but hadn't visited in a long time. So I managed to make a deal with Bruce, my trusted lieutenant at the shop, and we took three days off together to camp down there. And despite less than meticulous planning on my part, we had a wonderful time!

View of marsh and lighthouse from our site
To begin with, we ended up with a really great campsite, at the Maddox Family Campground, on Chincoteague. Remarkably convenient to both the beach (which is part of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge) and downtown Chincoteague, it has a large open area for tents at the edges of the campground. We pitched our tent far from any neighboring tents and had a lovely view of the marsh and lighthouse... and enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitoes and biting flies away! I couldn't have hoped for a better site for our first camping trip together.

This fellow acted tough as long as I kept my distance
Assateague has beautiful sandy beaches, and if you're willing to walk a ways, you can have a stretch of it just about to yourself. We took several long walks where most of the living creatures we saw were birds, crabs, and dolphins.  One particularly lucky sighting was a bald eagle, zooming very low over the waves. I've seen a number of baldies along bays and rivers and streams, but never one right over the ocean. Of course we saw plenty of gulls, but they were mostly Laughing Gulls, not the more familiar Herring Gull. We also saw several flights of Pelicans and watched their wild display of diving for fish, smashing into the water with a great splash.  I've also never seen anywhere near as many Osprey in one day as we saw on our walks... truly astonishing.

Click to enlarge -
If you look really closely, to the
right of the birds, you can just
make out dolphin fins!
Perhaps the best animal sighting wasn't really a "sighting" strictly speaking. We saw several schools of dolphins during our walks, which we both really got excited about. The coolest part was when Christy suddenly realized she was hearing the dolphins... she was floating on her back, with her head tipped back, and heard a steady, loud clicking sound. I checked it out too, and sure enough, there it was. Neither one of us had ever heard them in the wild before, so it was a very fun discovery.

See him? By the middle
clump of brown needles.
The Refuge also has some trails running through it, a few of which are "multi-use", so we unfolded our Brompton folding bikes and tootled around the marshes and woods for a while, stopping to watch a bald eagle perching in a tree. It was pretty far away, and hard to spot, but as is so often the case, once you find it, you can't imagine how you didn't see it in the first place.

Of course, no visit to Chincoteague and Assateague would be complete without ponies. We actually only saw a few small bands out in the wild (I think the Maryland end might be better for wild pony sightings), but we also visited the Chincoteague Pony Center in town. There we visited the gift shop, but mostly just stood and watched and petted the ponies. Some things you never grow out of... it's fun to see people of all ages just stand and smile and touch these beautiful animals.

My Laughing Gull kite and Scott Sled

Another first for us on this trip was kiteflying... well, the first time we've ever done it together. Long ago, in my teens, I helped start up a kite making company with my then-brother-in-law, and I've owned and flown a variety of kites on and off over the years ever since. The beach is always a fun place for kites, so I brought some along, and one evening after our walk we put a few up in the air and just relaxed and enjoyed the feel of a tug on the string and the dancing of kites in the air. One of the several kites we flew was of my own design, built over 30 years ago (wow), in the image of a Laughing Gull. It had been one of our popular models back when the business was going strong, and it still flies great, if I may say so myself. My girlfriend flew a classic delta, as well as the yellow Scott Sled you see to the left, both also more than 30 years old.

It wasn't all sand and sun and water and wilds for us though... the town of Chincoteague is very charming, and has a bunch of shops and restaurants and a museum to visit. We didn't get to everything (so darn, we'll have to go back!), but we got a nice taste of the town by wandering the main street and ducking into some shops. Among the sights we took in were the Volunteer Fire Deptarment's firehouse on Main Street, the Roxy Theatre (where Misty put her hoofprints), and a lovely little memorial/statue of Misty, based on one of Wesley Dennis' wonderful illustrations from the book.  And of course we indulged ourselves with some ice cream... is it possible to go to the beach and not do so? I think not.

All in all a wonderful, fun, relaxing trip. Too short, of course, but most vacations are. This way we've always got more to see and do and all the more reason to go back.

Assateague Lighthouse

More photos -

Chincoteague/Assateague June 11-14, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Another morning ride on the W&OD this morning. And today was even more of the "Three Hs - Hazy, Hot, and Humid! You could feel and see it in the air, as the photo shows. As for my usual "critter report", today I saw both a pretty large black rat snake and a garter snake crossing the trail. Alas, both were far too quick to get a picture. Aside from that, a few birds and a chipmunk or two.

What set this morning apart was when I suddenly heard voices behind me... women's voices... a number of them, approaching. I sound found myself being passed by a group of 8 - 10 women on bikes, which isn't that common an event on the trail. I don't mean it's unusual for me to be passed by female cyclists... honestly, I'm not that fast a rider, so lots of folks pass me. What was unusual was seeing this large a group of women together on bikes.

And what made it all the more interesting was when they settled into a pace that neatly matched my own, so I could sit at the back of the group and observe. What I saw fascinated me. Compared to a similar group of men, these women were actually TALKING to one another as they rode. And enjoying each others' company! Now, I'm not saying men never talk while riding, and never enjoy riding together... but I'm hard pressed to say I can ever recall seeing a group of more than three men on bikes having much social interaction among themselves.

And it's not that these women were just dawdling along, chatting away. They were riding at a good, steady clip, and all seemed to be fit and for the most part, experienced riders. It's just that they included actual conversation into their ride in a way I rarely see in groups of male riders. I don't know if it's simply that men aren't as talkative in general, or that male riders are more "serious" (I mean in terms of image, not substance) and competitive when riding, or what it is, but it does seem there's a general difference.

Sadly, one other thing I realized set this group of women apart from the male riders, both solo and in groups, that pass me on the trail. As this group passed me this morning, nearly each and every one of them warned me politely and clearly of their approach. More often than not, the more "serious" male cyclists simply blow by without a word, heads down, as if I weren't there.

I know I'm painting with a bit of a broad brush here, but I don't think I'm totally off the mark. What do you folks think?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hot this morning!

So, I went out for a ride this morning about 8am, and it was already really warm... over 80 degrees, and growing warmer by the minute it seemed.

The bike today was my 1992 Bridgestone RB-2. It's the "raciest" bike I have, in the modern sense. It's got a long top tube and the stem has a long "reach" as well, so it stretches me out more than most of my bikes, as well as skinny, "fast" tires.

Ironically, today I chose to take a side trip on the bridle trail that parallels the bike path! I'd reached my turn-around point, and the simplest way to turn back was to use the bridle path to reverse direction. Once I had done that, I figured what the heck, I'd stick to it a ways. The bike handled it perfectly fine... I wouldn't pick it out for a day of dirt riding, but with a little care and attention, it zipped right along in the dirt.

Which gave me a chance to see something I'd not seen along the trail before. There's an auto repair shop near the trail that has set up a table and chairs beside the trail, as well as a couple of bird feeders and a bird house. I imagine the staff must enjoy lunch outside, and appreciate the birds that visit the feeders. It's nice to see something like that.

And once again, I saw a box turtle along the trail. I first saw him on the way out, on the path itself, slowly making his way across from the far side.  When I was on my return trip, he was back at the edge of the path, as if he'd been picked up and put back where he'd started. Yet he was still slowly making his way toward the other side. I figured if he was so set on getting across, I'd give him a hand, so I picked him up and place him in the grass on the other side.

And finally, here's a cool shot I got of a bumblebee just as he was taking off from a flower.

All in all, another nice ride, despite the heat.

A few more pics can be seen here:  W&OD, June 8, 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sometimes you see the darnedest things!

This evening, as my girlfriend and I were walking her dogs in her neighborhood, I pointed to a house we've passed many times before and said "I wonder why there's a 30 cubic yard dumpster in front of that house?" (And yes, thanks to my theatre career, I can tell the capacity of a dumpster on sight.) We speculated a little and came to the conclusion that they were probably renovating an apartment while it was vacant, and that's why there was a refrigerator, cabinets, sink and other items in the dumpster. I thought nothing more of it...

... until I was walking back to her place alone (she'd met friends for dinner, and I'm minding the dogs tonight)... and as I was nearing the same house, noticed a pickup truck in front... with the bed full of material from the dumpster... and the fridge resting on top of a steel rack over the cab of the pickup truck. Now, this wasn't a huge shock in itself... heck, "picking" has reached the point where the History Channel has a TV show about it! No, what was surprising was the fact that there was only ONE guy doing the picking.  I didn't want to make a big deal of it, so I surreptitiously watched while walking past... and saw him single-handedly wrestle what I imagine was a pretty heavy set of metal cabinets out of the dumpter. Impressive in its own right, but I would have loved to have seen how the heck he singlehandedly got a refrigerator out of the far end of a dumpster, across a small patch of lawn, and on TOP of a rack over the cab of the pickup truck! I saw no evidence of any sort of machinery, such as a winch or "come-along", so he must have just hauled it by brute force.

Definitely impressive. I hope he makes enough money doing this to pay whatever doctor's bills he may incur if he keeps this up!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Do You Know Where Your Cyclecomputers Are?

Yes, the obvious answer is "right there, on my handlebars, where else?"

But you see, I've moved a few times in the last couple of years, and each time my organizational scheme seems to fall apart somewhere, and as a result, I don't know where most of mine are! As regular readers, friends, family and my staff knows, I own a LOT of bikes... and most of them have the wheel magnets, pickups, and wiring harnesses of some sort of bike computer attached to them. But at the moment, I have no clue where most of the main computer units are for most of my bikes! Somewhere there's a box...

So, as a result, most of my rides lately have been of indeterminate time, speed, and distance. And you know what? I don't mind that at all. There was a time it probably would have bugged me, when I carefully logged all of my miles, and average speed, with notes about the weather and type of ride (commuting, group, solo, casual, fast, etc.). Nowadays, it just doesn't seem as important to me... I'm out there just to have a good time. I'm slower than lots of folks, and faster than some, and that's fine with me. I don't need to know the specifics all the time.

That's not to say I'm going to throw out all my computers when I do find them... I'm just not in a panic about finding them, and doubt that I'll be very consistent at tracking my stats when I do find them. It's all about the fun, you know?

Here's the Bike of the Day, my 1978 Centurion, bought for a song back when I worked at the Community Cycling Center in Portland, OR.  Mostly original, and a classy looking bike, no?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You Never Know How Folks Will Use Their Bikes

Josh here came by the shop just to say hi today... and to tell us how much he has enjoyed owning his Batavus Personal Delivery Bike. That sort of thing is always nice to hear, but what made this visit even better was hearing how Josh has used this bike... it just might surprise you!

Most folks see these bikes and think purely of "utilitarian" uses for it... shopping at the grocery store, or a trip to the farmer's market, maybe even hauling some hardware and materials home from the hardware store. But looking at the bike that way is really limiting... for example, many of you may recall seeing John Brunow carrying his chocolate labrador, Java, around in a big basket on the front of an orange Batavus.

Well, Josh here has done even more wonderful things and unexpected things with his PDB. He's ridden it on the C&O Canal, all the way up to Cumberland, MD, 185 miles away... AND back again in the same trip! He said it was perfect for the trip, with its comfortable ride and stability... plus the ability to carry all of his gear securely. It reminded me that years ago, when "10-speeds" were just becoming all the rage, the Washington Post carried an article about cycling the Canal, and recommended a lowly 3-speed over the fancier 10-speeds, because of their comfort and stability over rough surfaces. Josh has shown that it's still a great option today.

But he didn't stop there... he's even ridden the Batavus on RAGRAI... the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa! Many of you know from John Brunow's tales that this is a week long party on wheels, where thousands of cyclists on all manner of bikes pedal across the great state of Iowa. Well, Josh took his Batavus on that trek, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

And yet that's not really the best part... Josh has found the bike fits into his family life as well. This past weekend, he took his kids on their first overnight bike camping trip, on the C&O Canal and W&OD Rail Trail, including a Potomac River crossing on White's Ferry, carrying all of their gear on his trusty Batavus. And today he when he stopped by, he'd just helped his daughter carry gear to a softball game before he came to see us.

It's always fun to hear how folks find ways to make the bikes they have fit into their lives, enriching their lives. It brings a smile to my face when I see how such a simple machine can make such a difference. Does anyone out there have a similar tale of adventures on unlikely bikes?