Warm Showers 2016, Part 1

Despite our absence on our own shortened “Beyond 70” tour mid-March through mid-May, 2016 brought a steady stream of Warm Showers guests. We had to turn down a few while we we participated in the NorthWest Tandem Rally in Klamath Falls, Oregon over the July 4th week, and plan to take a short break at the end of July to get in some more cycling and camping before heading east at the end of August for an early September tour of Door County, Wisconsin. This entry covers the 39 guests we have had through 22 July (including Toph, the dog).

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Cara came through in early March, headed south. With El Nino, the bicycle touring season in the Pacific Northwest is nearly year-around.
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Carina and Mat, from the U.K., arrived in mid-May, traveling from south to north on the Pacific Coast.
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Nico, from Iowa, traveling down the Pacific Coast at a more leisurely pace than most. As of this writing, he was in Los Angeles.
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Mark and Seth also traveled down the Pacific Coast.
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Simon, from Switzerland, was a “drop-in,” guided to our house from downtown by our neighbor after finding there were no campgrounds nearby. He was already a Warm Showers member, but hadn’t made firm plans for daily distance, counting on finding campgrounds near the end of the day. Simon was touring south on the Pacific Coast route.
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Justin was riding north to British Columbia and points east, to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, having cycled from his home in mid-Texas to California and up the Sierra Crest route.
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Betty and Robert, AirBnB hosts and new Warm Showers members from Vancouver, BC, were touring to San Francisco.
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Lisa, headed north from Portland to tour the Canadian Rockies, crossing paths with Tony and his dog Toph, below.

During the busy part of the summer, we often get multiple requests for the same night. Sometimes the travelers are headed the same direction and may meet on the road, but sometimes they are headed in opposite directions, as were Lisa and Tony. Tony had rescheduled because of the medical emergency with Toph. We have plenty of room, with three guest rooms, large open porch, and large format leather furniture in the living room, having hosted seven once.

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Tony, from southern California, was traveling the Pacific Coast route with his small dog, Toph. Our cat insists that dogs camp outside, so Tony and Toph pitched their tent on the porch.
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Toph cut her feet on shells on a beach a few days before and the cuts got infected, so she got the dreaded cone the day before she and Tony arrived.
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Brian and Heather, finishing a loop around the Olympic Peninsula.

Shelton is a nexus for several popular routes: The most used is the Pacific Coast Route, with riders chosing the ACA route between Bremerton and Elma, or riding down U.S. 101 from either Port Townsend or Port Angeles. Some choose to take a short cut to Centralia via Olympia (or around Olympia on Delphi Road, skirting the Capitol Forest), and some head west from Elma for a more direct route via U.S. 101 and the 6800-meter-long Megler-Astoria Bridge across the Columbia River. Some extend to the Washington coast at Westport. The Olympic Peninsula Loop is also popular, but most riders continue south along the coast from Aberdeen, so bypass us entirely. Some riders starting or ending in Seattle also choose to follow the route of the Seattle-To-Portland ride, east of Puget Sound, and also bypass Shelton. This year, we’ve gotten riders who have ridden the Sierra Crest Trail through California and Oregon and continue on the Pacific Coast Route to Vancouver. We also have gotten, from time to time, Trans-Am riders who head up the coast from Newport, Oregon to Seattle to fly home.

And, there are some riders who are in the middle of a Grand Tour, either from Alaska or the Yukon Territory to South America or a loop tour of the U.S., via the Southern Tier, Pacific Coast or Sierra Crest, and Northern Tier. And, of course, riders to and from Portland, Oregon, the undisputed bicycle capital of the West Coast. Not everyone stops in Shelton: we see a lot of riders throughout the day, passing through, and some who stop at motels, the other Warm Showers host on the north side of town, or Couch Surfing hosts.

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Glenn and Bobbie had ridden across the Southern Tier from Florida to California and up the Sierra Crest Route, headed for the San Juan islands.

Another night with two groups: Veteran tourists Glenn and Bobbie, finishing their tour at Anacortes, while Jason and Amy, below, first-time tourists, were just starting a cross-country tour. Conversation is interesting when comparing notes. From our own experience touring the Canadian Rockies 28 years ago, much of the fun is meeting and sharing stories with other tourists on the road.

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Jason and Amy were headed north from Portland to Anacortes to join friends on the Northern Tier route to the East Coast.
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Ana, a graduate student at UBC in Vancouver, BC, was taking a summer break from her studies to ride the northern half of the Pacific Coast route.
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Mark finished the Trans-Am route from Virginia to Oregon and intended to take a break from cycling to hike in Colorado before heading back east on the Northern Tier route. He stayed a couple of days to recover from a bout of food poisoning, a risk when food stops are sometimes limited to convenience stores.

After Mark headed north toward Seattle, we clamped our Bike Friday tandem on top of the car and headed down the Oregon Coast, following the route of many of our guests. We spent the night at an AirB&B near Seal Rock, a nice couple who recommended a gastrobpub nearby and fed us a nice breakfast. We then drove to Eugene to augment our Bike Friday accessories and ride the wonderful trails, staying at an AirB&B downtown across from a brewery and pub. After another stop in Rogue River to visit relatives, we spent several days at Klamath Falls, along with 650 other tandem riders, for the 30th Anniversary Northwest Tandem Rally. Then, we headed north, following the Sierra Crest Route to Bend, then over the Cascades to camp at the beautiful Silver Falls State Park, hiking to several of the breathtaking waterfalls.

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Judy with Julia, Christina, and Dana, friends from Ottawa, Canada cycling from Vancouver to San Francisco.

While camping in Oregon, we got several Warm Showers requests, which we regretfully had to decline. But we would be home in time to receive Christina and her friends. Knowing we were arriving from our own trip at about the same time, they graciously offered to bring and cook dinner. What a fun evening, and it gave us time to unpack before they arrived.

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Hugh (right) and Liam, a father-son team cycling the Pacific Coast route from their home in North Vancouver, BC.
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Chris, from southern California, cycling back home from Vancouver, BC. Chris’ arrival got delayed a day to ship his front rack and panniers home to lighten the load on the hills ahead, on his first self-supported tour.
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Jamine, Taylor, Mia, and Nicole, housemates from Portland on a tour to Bellingham.
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Jacy and Tom, on the last day of their tour from New York to Virginia to Oregon to Seattle.
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Ryan, from Philadelphia, on tour on the Pacific Coast, starting from Vancouver.

Jacy, Tom, and Ryan arrived about the same time, from different directions, and at different ends of their tours. It was interesting to see the contrast between seasoned tourists about to finish a long tour and someone just starting out. Many of our travelers start in Vancouver or Seattle, on their first long tour, and are just finding their limits, so they arrive in that period of doubt about the feasibility of continuing on, whether the destination is 200, 2,000 or 20,000 kilometers away. This year, the 40th anniversary of the Trans-Am tour and founding of the Adventure Cycling Association, has seen more riders finishing that tour with a final week-long dash from Newport, Oregon to Seattle, as well as riders following the warm weather north on the relatively new Sierra Crest route.

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Ludo, Pierre, and Phillip, friends from Montreal, cycling from the Pacific Coast. They intended to start in Seattle, but had to switch plans to start in Vancouver, so rescheduled to arrive three days later than planned.

Seasoned tourists Pierre and Ludo, knowing how hard it is to fill up hungry cyclists, supplemented our pizza and salad offering with a pound of spaghetti, with pesto sauce, and also broke out packets of oatmeal in the morning to supplement our bagel/cold cereal/fruit. buffet

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Genie and Lydia, a mother-daughter team on the last day of their tour. Lydia started her tour in Paraguay 19 months ago, and Genie joined her in Los Angeles for the trip north, riding the Sierra Crest to Yosemite, and the Pacific Coast the rest of the way, ending in Seattle.

Genie and Lydia had arranged to meet Brad, a cycle tourist they met in the Sierras, who lives in Puyallup, for dinner, so invited us along as well. A fun evening, at a local BBQ restaurant we hadn’t been to before, being vegetarian. However, we found lots of good items on the menu with meat optional.

As has been our custom, we publish two lists of Warm Showers guests, divided at mid-summer or before and after our own tour, typically in late summer. This year, we changed tour plans in mid-tour, breaking up what was to be a four-month expedition into a series of short tours and weekend cycle/camping outings. We’re probably going to be unavailable most of the rest of the summer now, with our own travel schedules, but will, no doubt, take in tourists when we are home for more than a few days.

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor…

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The new, $9 CHIP computer, which comes complete with WiFi and installed Linux OS (mouse, keyboard, power supply, and monitor not included, of course): running “headless” as just another network appliance, along with the five nearly as small Raspberry Pi computers and numerous virtual machines.

The last few months, our articles have focused on our bicycle adventures, notably, the preparation for, launch of, and, ultimately, termination of our planned four-month expedition from Florida up the east coast.  We arrived home just less than two months after departing, and just in time to perform some much-needed maintenance on the Chaos Central computer network.

As the title of this blog indicates, we have, for the last 25 years or so, depended on Unix, Solaris, and Linux for both our livelihood and, of course, to operate our in-house network.  The majority of our systems run GNU/Linux, in various distributions: Ubuntu and Mint Linux on desktops and laptops, CentOS on the server and virtual machines, and Raspian on the collection of Raspberry Pi micro-machines (and the above CHIP nano-computer) that are rapidly becoming the backbone of the home network.

GNU/Linux is very stable: we have, in the past, run systems for up to two years without a reboot–and then only because we suffered a major power outage.  But, with a collection of systems, something is bound to go wrong.  First, less than a month after we left on our trip, a power surge that made it through the power conditioner/battery on the server took out the virtual machine that renders the timelapse videos from our driveway surveillance system.  We actually didn’t notice this until I went to review the current day’s timelapse progress and found the video was an hour out of date.  Ah, this was because I had programmed a failover plan into the system: the videos were now being rendered by the Raspberry Pi cluster in the basement, much, much more slowly on a 32-bit ARM single-core processor with 512 MB RAM than on the Intel Xeon quad-core processor with 8GB RAM in the virtual machine host.

The server rebooted without incident when we got home: it actually didn’t reboot when the power hit came, but had an error that locked up the processor, an unusual condition.  Had we not been headed for home at the time we discovered it, we could have instructed our house-sitter in how to cycle power and bring up the system.

Then, a couple of weeks after we returned, the surveillance system, which is also the remote login gateway, simply stopped, which would have been a show-stopper had we not been at home.0  We happened to have a spare Raspberry Pi, one that had seen duty as a print server and scanner server before we got a new WiFi-enabled printer/scanner.  It took a couple of hours to add the necessary software packages to run the camera and web server and configure the machine to perform all of the necessary duties of the old one, including limiting access to specific machines and login accounts, and we were back in business–for a while.  A few days later, the external disk drive that we use to store the camera output had an unrecoverable error.  The files affected could not be erased due to the error, but renaming the folder and creating a new one kept the system running until we could get a new disk and copy the rest of the files onto it.  The old disk had been re-purposed from use as a portable backup for travel, and is about six years old, so it’s time to replace it, anyway.

After taking care of the disk issues, I revisited the Raspberry Pi failure: it turned out that the SD card that the Pi uses as the internal system drive had simply expired of  natural causes.  SD flash memory chips have a finite lifetime, and can be rewritten only so many times before becoming useless.  The culprit here was the surveillance system software (which I wrote, so I only have myself to blame)–even though the camera photos, taken every 10 seconds, are written to the external hard drive, my program copied the latest one to the system disk, in the web space.  Every 10 seconds, 8 to 18 hours a day, for a year and a half. That’s about 2 million writes, all in the same location, in addition to logging system activity.   So, a simple fix to preserve the new system: put the web file on the external drive.

The discovery of the worn-out SD card meant that the old Raspberry Pi was still OK, it just needed a new system drive.  About this time, I replaced my 3-year-old Android phone with an iPhone.  I had installed an SD card in the old phone for photos, so I removed that, backed up the files, reformatted it, and built a new Raspian “Jessie” operating system on it (the rest run the older “Wheezy” version), and booted up the once-dead Pi.  Yeah!

This uses up nearly the last of the 8GB cards around the house, though I still have a 2GB card in an old Kodak camera that I use to document our Warm Showers bicycle visits.  We have a few 16GB cards yet:  the smallest cards on the general market (Costco, Best Buy, etc) are 32GB.  I have one 64GB card, installed in a GoPro camera, which required installing an additional set of packages to handle the exFAT (no, not skinny: it’s an acronym for EXtended File Allocation Table) file system when copying files to Linux systems.  New purchases tend to be the micro-SD footprint, since most new devices, plus phones and POV cameras, take those, and the older devices use adapters that are supplied (for now) in the package.  Speed is important for high-resolution cameras and video devices.  But, when cost is a factor, we still look for the lowest capacity and speed, as older devices have a size limit, and won’t operate with the new cards.  In the age of mass-production, the devices themselves become obsolete while still functional because the supply of suitable storage media dries up.

So it goes–it has been said that Linux is free, but only if your time is worth nothing.  It takes a lot of time to build a custom system, but the flexibility is enormous.  Each machine takes on a personality of its own, as it develops different capabilities, selecting from among the many different distributions available and the thousands of software packages downloadable for free in addition to the basic system.  Plus, the machines acquire a collection of custom scripts over time, that don’t exist anywhere else.  As a software and web developer, having instant and free access to database engines, web servers, and many different programming systems is priceless.

When I need to run several different software systems or distributions, I can use virtual machines, running all versions at the same time, on the same physical machine.  And, there are choices, with no buyer’s remorse penalties with free software. I’ve tried three different non-linear video editors, and stick with an older version of one (the new version isn’t compatible with the old project files…).  The stock desktop systems come with web browsers and office productivity software, and several different graphical desktop systems, which can be chosen at login time.

The latest addition to our Linux/Unix obsession is the CHIP computer, by Next Thing, which I pre-ordered for $8 back in January and which arrived direct from the factory (in China) a couple of days ago.  The CHIP is a bit smaller than the Rpi, with no HDMI (TV output), only one USB port, but a built-in 4GB flash drive, WiFi, and Bluetooth, which are all not included in the Rpi.  The CHIP is low-power, has a battery connector (3.7v rechargeable battery not included), and can be  programmed via the micro-USB power cable if connected to a laptop.  This device is more suitable to mobile (read: robotic) applications, as, like the Pi, also includes a number of digital/analog input/output circuits.  And, being a full-featured Linux computer, is more versatile than the Arduino micro-controller popular for hobby embedded applications.   Unlike tablets and phones, which are powerful miniature computers in their own right, and microcontroller-based devices like thermostats and security systems, these small experimenter’s devices are completely programmable and physically extensible, becoming whatever tool your imagination can envision.

So it goes: in our 21st-century cottage (built in the early 20th), computing devices are as ubiquitous as light bulbs, with Windows becoming as irrelevant and obsolete as incandescent lights.  But, “some assembly required” becomes “a lot of assembly, some compiling, and a bit of fabrication essential.”  And, you may have to write your own documentation, operations manual, and maintenance plan, as well as some software.

Expedition 2016: Afterword and Video Record

Even though we had planned to be on tour well into the summer, it was good to be home in the Puget Sound in mid-spring.  Our trip north on the East Coast had been accelerated by the switch to automobile speeds, rolling the seasonal clock back to tree buds.  At the same time, Facebook’s Memories algorithm enticed us with photos of our yard in springs past, in full bloom.

We missed the apple blossoms, dogwood, and the giant Rhody that gets full sun early, but most of the rest of the yard was just starting to bloom.  The cat quickly adjusted to having her “regular” people at home, once more demanding a fire on chilly mornings and a warm lap until the room got cozy.  And, we, too, settled into a routine that didn’t involve packing up and moving on, attending our fiber guild meetings and resuming our yoga practice, neglected while on our own, but easier to arrive at the Senior Center at the appointed time, mat in hand.

As usual, video documentation of our trip was sketchy and random, an afterthought rather than a deliberate production.  The footage we hastily published while “on the road” got a post-tour review, with minor edits uploaded, and the “rest of the tour” documented with slide shows of still photos shot on walking tours of the old cities and historical sites, from the back of the tandem, and out the windscreen of the car.

Meanwhile at homewe reassembled the bicycle, encountering some adjustment difficulties that were best resolved by partial disassembly and a more careful reassembly.  After five years, I have finally realized that the adjustments that affect the timing chain tension also affect the shift cable tension, and that a lot of futile adjustment of the shifters can be avoided by rechecking the fit of the frame tubes.  And, finally, I got the new rack system installed on the car, ready for a summer of trail riding and distant events.  One of the first things we did on arrival home was to sign up for the 30th anniversary NorthWest Tandem Rally, being held this year in Klamath Falls, Oregon in early July.  We’ve ridden the roads around Klamath Falls before, in 2007, and are looking forward to socializing with the 900-1000 other tandem riders that show up for the event.  We last attended (and for the first time) in 2012 at Salem, Oregon, with little training before the rally, so we hope  to keep up with the slower groups this year.

The Bicycle

Our route via the bicycle took us from Orlando to Folkston, Georgia, then from Savannah, Georgia to Walterboro, South Carolina, for a total riding distance of 597 km (370 miles). We rented a U-Haul truck to bypass bad weather and dangerous roads between Folkston and Savannah, about 170 km (110 miles).

Week 1 took us to from Orlando to St. Augustine.
Week 1 took us to from Orlando to St. Augustine.

Expedition 2016 – Week 1 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

We spent a day with a walking tour of St. Augustine…

Expedition 2016 – St. Augustine from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Week 2 took us to Folkston, Georgia, where we trucked to Savannah  in the rain for a trolley and walking tour of the city.

We didn't have a firm plan for Georgia, making the route up as we went along, using the ACA route and GA Bike Route 95 as guides, driven by road construction and weather.
We didn’t have a firm plan for Georgia, making the route up as we went along, using the ACA route and GA Bike Route 95 as guides, driven by road construction and weather.

The Florida segment of this week’s route was the most pleasant of the trip, with actual off-road bike trails and a bike lane.

Expedition 2016 – Week 2 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

We stayed in Garden City just outside Savannah, which happened to be the rail, truck, and port area, and were glad to have shuttle service to the historic district from our hotel, since the 4-lane road outside was bumper-to-bumper and curb-to-curb with large, fast trucks. Choosing routes that minimized (but did not eliminate) truck traffic, we crossed into South Carolina through Alligator Alley and picked a route parallel to Interstate 95 for access to motels, but access to food was a problem. Weather and bad roads meant stopping at every town along the freeway. With our experience with urban roadways near Savannah and the prospect of long, arduous stages ahead through the rest of South Carolina, we decided to abandon our plan to cycle the entire East Coast, renting a car in Walterboro for the rest of the journey.

Savannah to Walterboro, SC.
Savannah to Walterboro, SC.

South Carolina didn’t offer much in way of scenery: Judy took lots of swamp pictures, and pictures of modest homes in poor communities, festooned with Trump signs. But, although the Deep South is deep crimson in their political leanings, we found drivers courteous for the most part: even though we had to “take the lane” on shoulder-less roads, overtaking traffic waited patiently behind us until it was safe to pass, unlike most of Florida, where we seemed to be invisible to motorists, who seemed to always be late and in a hurry. However, it may have had something to do with us mounting a small American flag on our trailer in Savannah, something suggested to us by one of our hosts in Florida. The reasoning was that, while “Bubba” (our stereotypical name for aggressive drivers of large pickup trucks) may hate bicyclists, as a Patriot, he won’t run over the Stars and Stripes, even if he wears the Stars and Bars on his truck.  We actually didn’t see any of this type in the South at all.

Expedition 2016 – Week 3 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

The Automobile

The flexibility of the automobile allowed us to use our time to explore Charleston in depth, with a ferry to Ft. Sumter, a horse carriage tour of the University district, and a walking tour of the historic Market and Battery districts.

Expedition 2016 – Charleston from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Our gasoline-powered tour took us quickly through the rest of South Carolina and into North Carolina, where we elected to drive the bridges across Roanoke Island instead of the ferries up the Outer Banks as we had planned. We did make a brief excursion to Hatteras Island before spending the afternoon at the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hill, where they tested their gliders before making the historic powered flights in December 1903,  on level ground at the base of the hill.

Expedition 2016: North Carolina from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Entering Virginia, we missed the James River Bridge somehow, and a coffee stop in a construction zone got us on the wrong road in Norfolk, so we wandered through back streets before finding our way back to the Interstate, through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, and on to Williamsburg and Jamestown, visiting both the recreated 1908 Settlement and museum, run by the state, and the Jamestowne historical site, a national archeological site. The next day, we were back on the I-95 for a quick trip up the Potomac to Mount Vernon, where we spent the day touring George Washington’s estate.

Expedition 2016 – Virginia from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

We elected to bypass Washington, DC this trip–the traffic on the Beltway was overwhelming even on a Sunday afternoon, so we pressed on north into Maryland, where we took time to ship our bicycle and camping gear home before crossing into Pennsylvania for a tour of the Gettysburg civil war battlefield and cemetery. A leisurely drive through the Amish and Mennonite country dumped us into the expressway rat race of suburban Philadelphia, arriving at Valley Forge too late in the day to tour the Visitor’s Center or the only historical building of interest, Washington’s headquarters. However, driving through the park brought us back out into the countryside for a relatively quiet drive to Allentown, with lots of pictures of stately old homes and well-preserved 19th-century city architecture in towns along the way.

Expedition 2016 – Pennsylvania from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

After a tour though the Delaware Water Gap, and a hike to a waterfall, we finally headed west, a portion of the trip well-documented with photos in earlier posts.  We’ve decided that our elder years will be best spent exploring bike trails: our days of jousting with trucks on narrow roads on long-distance treks should be well behind us.  And, we can pick the distances we’re comfortable riding, with a minimum of baggage on the bike.

Expedition 2016, Week 5 — Bucket List and Family Time: Mentor, OH to Madison, WI

Fokker D-VII, one of my favorite WWI aircraft designs, at the Air Force Museum
Fokker D-VII, one of my favorite WWI aircraft designs, at the Air Force Museum

We left the Cleveland area early, in the rush hour to Akron and Columbus, and on to Dayton to close the loop on our Wright Brothers pilgrimage.  We arrived at the Air Force Museum just before 1100, and spent the next six hours wandering through 108 years of military aviation history, ending with a drive downtown to stand in front of the Wright Cycle Company, where it all began with two bicycle mechanics obsessed with a quest for flight.

After such a long day, we were glad to have reserved a room nearby. We enjoyed an evening out with vegetarian “bar food” appetizers at a nearby pub.  The next morning, we headed west in an all-day rainstorm, plowing a tunnel through the mist through Indiana and Illinois to cross the Mississippi and arrive in Iowa for the night, fighting a fierce northeasterly wind to get to our room, which no doubt had helped the gas mileage on our long day’s drive.

Sunday morning, it was still raining, but less.   We headed west to Iowa City for morning coffee, a convoluted search because of massive downtown road construction and closures, but worth it to find a huge coffee shop in this University town.  By the time we reached Waterloo, the iPhone we’ve been using for navigation got indecisive about routing, so we ended up driving west on US 20 to I-35 and north to I-90, a bit farther, but easy to follow.

We thought about a hot sit-down lunch, but the restaurants at Clear Lake-Mason City and in Albert Lea, Minnesota were backed up with locals as well as tourists on a spring Sunday mid-day, so we grabbed our usual yogurt and hummus in the convenience store section of a travel stop and moved on, later stopping at a supermarket for eat-in-the-room cold supper supplies.  Traveling in the south and midwest is difficult for a vegetarian: we find ourselves improvising a lot, eating cold out of grocery stores and coffee shops, with the occasional veggie burger patty and all-day breakfast eggs ala carte (no bacon in my milkshake, please).  Judy is still in the “road kill vegetarian” mode, not one to turn down a meal just because it was prepared with chicken broth or spiced with bacon bits, and she does order seafood within sight of salt water.

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The sun came out as we arrived in my birthplace, Jackson, MN, where we had a lunch appointment the next day with the family elder, my one remaining aunt.  We spent the morning in the local coffee shop, one of the few espresso places in this part of the world (we found two more in Algona, Iowa, the next day).  Our lunch turned into a whole afternoon of reminiscing, mostly among the three nurses.  Aunt Jo was an Army nurse in WWII at various military hospitals and POW camps around the country, and had a long career in Jackson hospitals. Cousin Cathy recently retired from 39 years of nursing, and Judy was active in nursing for 35 years before opening her fiber arts and quilting business in 2001.

After our visit, we traveled a short way “down the road” into northern Iowa, staying overnight at Emmetsburg, a town about which I had heard a lot, growing up, but had never visited.  A caffeine recharge in the aforementioned coffee shop in Algona sustained us into Mason City, better known as “River City” in “The Music Man,” as it was the home of composer and playwright Meredith Wilson.  Mason City is also the site of the only remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The hotel and attached bank building were the basis for the design of the famous Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, which has since been destroyed.  The town is also home to many street sculptures, most around the Central Park and the city library.

DSCF2260Our destination in Iowa was our daughter’s house.  She had recently moved to “Brick City,” Clermont, home town of Iowa’s first governor, William Larrabee . Clermont is a picturesque collection of historic brick buildings straddling the Turkey River in a pretty valley at the edge of the rugged Driftless region of bluffs and canyons radiating outward from the Mississippi River between Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, a region in stark contrast to the deep layer of glacial drift in the surrounding area.  This spring brought a half-dozen kids to the small goat herd on their 7-acre hobby farm at the edge of town, so we spent some time in the barn with the nippy little critters and the rest of the herd.  She is a jewelry artist: we got to see her latest creations before they went off to a gallery for a weekend show.  A good visit, all too short to take in the area, but we’ll be back.

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The final stage in our expedition took us the short way down through the bluffs to cross the Mississippi for breakfast and coffee in Prairie du Chien  and on to our son’s home near Madison, Wisconsin, looking forward to seeing the grandchildren this weekend before our flight home on Monday.  As it turned out, it was a typical weekend for our family: our son was on call for his job on the organ transplant team, was called out to travel to Illinois soon after we arrived and again (to California) during lunch the next day, so we were left to pick up our grandson after school for the weekend.  Reminded me of the bad old days in the 1970s and 1980s when I would rush off to the airport after dinner or in the middle of the day to parts unknown and return days or weeks later, having worked long days or around the clock on ships or secure shore facilities with no outside communications.

But, we had a nice visit through Mothers Day, and had most of Monday to prepare for our evening flight home, having put 5600 km on the rental car since stopping our bicycle adventure in South Carolina after 600 km.  So it goes.  We are headed home, looking forward to a summer of shorter bicycle adventures and road trips.

Expedition 2016, Week 4: Washington, NC – Mentor, OH, the History Tour

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Morning coffee and pastry at Rachel K’s Bakery, Washington, North Carolina

Having spent the first two and a half weeks exploring the 16th-century Spanish settlements and the 17th- and 18th-century British settlements on our 19th-century invention, the bicycle, we headed into the 20th century, driving our rental car to the Outer Banks to see where the age of the airplane started.  But, first, a trip to Rachel K’s Bakery in Washington, NC for coffee and a pastry (to share–we have to watch our diet when no longer bicycling).

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Bridge between Roanoke Island and Nags Head on the Outer Banks

Our new path (and steed) took us across Roanoke Island, site of a failed colonization attempt in the 16th century: the “Lost Colony,” where the supply ship found no trace of the colonists when returning the following year.  We briefly drove through the modern town of Manteo before crossing the bridge to Nags Head.

We headed south as far as Waves, the easternmost point on Hatteras Island, then back north.  Again, we were glad we had chosen to drive the rest of our tour, rather than attempt to bicycle this route.  NC Hwy 12, which runs the length of the Outer Banks, has a narrow shoulder marked as a bike lane, in places, but the winter winds had drifted the sand dunes over parts of it; other sections of the road were under construction or repair, and the bridges were narrow with debris strewn in the “bike lane.”

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Stabilizing the dunes at the north end of Hatteras Island, Outer Banks. the “bike lane” is nearly covered with sand.

Back in Nags Head, we found a nice coffee shop that had a vegetarian sandwich lunch special, then spent the afternoon visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hill, site of their 1902 and 1903 glider experiments and the 1903 first powered flights.  We hiked to the monument at the top of the hill just as the first drops of rain began to fall.  We drove in the rain the 100 km to Elizabeth City, checking in to our motel just before the fierce downpour started.

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Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer at Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina.

On Saturday morning, we left early, braving the construction-confused traffic in Norfolk to finally find the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (I-64) and on back to the 17th century for an exploration of the reconstructed 1608 Jamestown Settlement interpretive park and the nearby original Jamestowne Island, where the original colony is an active archaeological site,.  The dig is peeling back the layers of the settlement over the century it existed as first a not very successful charter company colony and later as capital of Virginia, until 1699, when it was abandoned to farmland.

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The Susan Constant (replica), one of three ships that brought colonists to Jamestown in 1607: 55 passengers, 14 crew. 144 days to cross the Atlantic via the Canary Islands and the Caribbean windward islands.

A quick turn through Williamsburg showed us why it had been difficult to get motel reservations–some sort of gathering was taking place in the historic district, so we backtracked 50 km to Newport News, where we had found an affordable motel.  Newport News was the site of one of my first visits to the East Coast, in 1968, when I participated in the U.S. Navy’s acceptance trials of the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), as a vendor technical representative for the computer systems that ran the Combat Information Center and automated aircraft landing systems.

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George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Tourists are assigned a time slot on arrival to line up for an orderly procession through the house.

Sunday morning, we headed back through Williamsburg and on to Mount Vernon, where we spent the day touring George Washington’s estate, the 18th-century farm he built into a profitable plantation and where he retired after his long military and political career.  We had decided by this time to forego a tour of the Washington, DC area: the traffic was overwhelming.  We headed up the beltway through Virginia to Frederick, MD, gradually becoming re-acquainted with the metropolitan commuter rules of the road in the congested East Coast:

  1. The minimum acceptable speed is 20-40km/hr over the posted speed, proportional to the number of lanes (2-6).  If you fail to adhere to this, the driver behind you is obligated to force you off the road, lest you continue to impede traffic flow.
  2. Rule 1 applies between interchanges: when approaching a major interchange or the site of a blocking mishap, traffic slows to zero, quite suddenly.  Changing lanes in other than an orderly group fashion is frowned upon, and may be vigorously prevented.
  3. The lane that you are in is probably not the one you need to be in to follow your planned route.  Rule 2 may affect your ability to reposition gracefully or even successfully.  Abandon hope if you miss your interchange–it may have been the only viable route to your destination.
  4.  At traffic flow speed, which may reach 125km/hr with less than 10 meter spacing between cars, lumpy road patches, deep horizontal and parallel grooves, and potholes may cause your vehicle to momentarily leave the roadway.  Be sure to be aimed in
    the general direction of your lane and be ready to accelerate or brake heavily when contact with the road resumes.
  5. Be sure to have at least a half tank of fuel and an empty bladder before venturing into traffic–frequent collisions and breakdowns may block traffic for hours.  Do not be tempted to exit the main roadway: there are no through secondary roads.  You must stay on the expressway to reach your destination.
  6. The term “freeway” is a public road, to which all of the above rules apply strictly.  An “expressway” connects major industrial and population centers with few or no opportunities to exit between.  A “thruway” is an expressway with tolls.  Be sure to stop at any service plazas provided on your route to pad your time, even if you don’t need fuel, food, or the necessary–if you stay in the traffic flow, you will be fined for speeding when you pay the toll at the exit, as the ticket records time as well as distance.
  7. Some bridges, tunnels, and thruways now cater only to electronic pass subscribers.  Watch for “No Cash” and “EZPass Only” signs and be ready to exit to an alternate route (which may be hours out of your way or dump you into a nest of car-strippers) or be fined for  non-payment of toll.
  8. Road signs at intersections are often obscure and often placed on the far side of the intersection.  A general rule is “if you can read the sign, you have missed your turn.”  If you do miss the turn, do not be tempted to exit at the next exit–chances are there is no alternate way to rejoin your route via local streets.  Continue on to a major intersection where U-turns are possible, reverse course, and try again.
  9. On local roads, traffic lights are suggestions–expect cars to continue through intersections at high speed for several seconds after the light turns red. Stopping on yellow may get you rammed from behind.  Make sure the cross traffic is stopped before proceeding on green, even though the car behind you is flashing his lights, honking his horn, and nudging your bumper, starting within milliseconds of the light changing, especially if you did not start rolling forward when the cross signal is yellow.
  10. When changing lanes, make sure no cars in the second lane over are aiming for the same spot.  If you can’t seem to find an opening in the desired lane, it is probably because the car pacing you in your target lane wants to get in your lane.  Watch for “jockeying” speed changes and make your move when chances of success are good.  Signaling isn’t always the best option, as others may aim aggressively for your space, expecting you to be gone when they get there.  Make your decision and do not hesitate.
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PA route 462 bridge across the Susquehanna River, between York and Lancaster, PA.

Somehow, we made it to our hotel (after some false turns due to GPS foibles and signage issues noted above).  The next morning, we found a FedEx office next to a Starbucks, near our planned path, and finally shipped our bicycle and camping gear home, then continued on to Gettysburg, PA, for a tour of the Civil War battlefield and cemetery.  Later that afternoon, we drove on back roads through the famous Amish country near Lancaster, PA, arriving at the Revolutionary War encampment at Valley Forge just before closing time.  We did drive through the park and on secondary highways north to Allentown for the night.  After more than a month on the road, staying at the more inexpensive motels, the one at Allentown was the only one that we found wanting in terms of cleanliness and perceived safety: very disappointing, as we generally read reviews before booking and this was one in a chain we frequent most in our travels.

Dingmans Falls from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Our tour took us next through the Delaware Water Gap, the “Columbia Gorge” of the East Coast, where the Delaware River cuts through the mountains.  We stopped at a PA visitor center and the park headquarters, getting pointers on a quick tour of the best features, which paid off with a hike to Dingman’s Falls, the highest waterfall in Pennsylvania.  We had lunch at a bistro in Port Jervis, NY, then continued up the Upper Delaware.  At Hancock, we stopped at a coffee shop on the main street, but found it was closed until May.  While we were standing at the door, it opened, and the proprietors, two sisters, invited us in for coffee and a chat.  We got a tour of the place: they are renovating an old opera house into a coffee shop and dinner theater, a gradual process, with the women doing almost all the work themselves: one is the remodeler, the other the cook and baker.  What a delightful stop!

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Coiled bead rope, composed of millions of black beads, which look to be #8 size. Corning Museum of Glass.

Refreshed, we headed onto the main highway, NY 17/I-86 (future?) to Binghamton for the night, at a family-run hotel that occupies the former municipal building.  The young man who checked us in recommended a pub across the street, where we enjoyed a pint of  Guinness and veggie sandwich.  Early morning, we were off again, with a short drive to Ithaca for breakfast at a bagel/coffee shop near the Cornell University campus, then across to Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake and south to Corning for an afternoon at the Corning Glass Museum, watching demonstrations of glass blowing, fiber optics, and a gallery of 3500 years of glass artifacts from around the world, including  Tiffany lamps and windows and Frank Lloyd Wright windows as well as contemporary glass sculpture and art.

Niagara Falls from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

With the afternoon waning, we drove north to Niagara Falls, enduring yet another round of thruways, freeways, and toll bridges,  arriving near sunset for a quick look at the rapids above the falls in the evening chill and dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant.  In the morning, we walked downriver to overlook the falls, then a quick drive by the “closed for renovation” viewpoint between the Canadian (Horseshoe) and American Falls.

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Lake Erie, south shore NY/PA route 5, between Buffalo, NY and Erie, PA

Eschewing the freeway/tollway gambit, we drove on the old local roads through downtown Buffalo, NY, then along Lake Erie shore.  The route took us briefly through the notch of Pennsylvania that reaches Lake Erie, stopping in Erie city to have the oil changed on our rental car (it was due just then, and there was an Enterprise office near our route).  Veggie lunch at the local Co-op, and we were soon on the freeway into Ohio, stopping for the night in Mentor, just outside Cleveland, to end a very busy week of history and famous scenery.

Thus, we put a close to our East Coast tour as we headed into the Midwest and family visits before returning home, several months earlier than planned.  We’re a whole lot wiser about the practicality of extreme self-supported bicycle touring in our eighth decade, in unpredictable spring weather on poorly-maintained roads meant for cars only.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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