Archive for the ‘geography’ Category
Here’s my year 2015, recapped in approximate order. I’ve been doing very little blogging despite much happening in my life, but the new year is a nice time to reflect on how things have been developing.
We took a little break from work and spent a few days in Chicago this past Labor Day weekend. My second time in the city was a new look at the skyscraper-filled Midwestern city on Lake Michigan.
My first visit, in 2007 for Pitchfork Music Fest, was a short roadtrip from DC. I stayed in a downtown Chicago hostel in a room with ten (!) people, listened to Sonic Youth, GZA, and others play great sets in the park, took a very informative walking tour of the city, and tried deep dish pizza for the first time at Pizzeria Uno.
This visit, 7 years later, I tried an AirBnB rental for the first time and loved it, attended the incredible blowout wedding of two good friends, explored the “finally up-and-coming” Logan Square neighborhood, took an equally informative river boat tour of Chicago architecture, and had deep dish at Lou Malnati’s.
And the first time I was in Chicago I had no idea that in the 19th century, the city (buildings and all!) had been raised and that the original flow of the river had been reversed, both for water sanitation reasons. Knowing this gave me renewed respect for Chicago’s history and its incredible feats of engineering, not to mention its architectural heritage.
We were sad to leave Chicago and city life behind, but glad to leave the humidity. Southern California living makes you soft.
I haven’t been writing on this blog as much since starting grad school, which I could have expected since I’m doing plenty of writing otherwise. But I’ve completed a year in my program here and managed to do it without too much lost sleep, so that’s one thing to celebrate! I’m grateful for all the support I have, both here and back home in DC, and have no regrets about the decision to come here. My department is filled with inspiring people who challenge me to consider new perspectives and help me flesh out new ideas. This summer I’ll be conducting research with one of them and also starting data collection for my thesis, making several Los Angeles trips, and hopefully doing plenty of cycling and rock climbing.
And happy six years to my blog. I started this “new blog” in 2008 (and I’m sure the one before was plenty embarrassing, since it was probably started in my high school or undergrad years). Here’s to six more?
I finally got around to taking the New York Times’ dialect quiz that’s been making the rounds online. I hadn’t yet seen anyone sharing results that were very off-base for them, so my “most similar” cities in terms of dialect surprised me: San Francisco, Fremont, and Santa Rosa. All California cities, all in the Bay Area.
This is peculiar because I’ve spent my life – except the past few months – in a fairly compact area in the Washington DC metropolitan region, between DC proper, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. So that little red cluster you can see on the east coast on the above map describes my home region to a tee. Looking into what this quiz determines were my “most distinctive answers” (biggest differentiators), it seems that what tilted the results towards the west was this answer:
What do you call the small road parallel to the highway? frontage road
This one’s easy. I blame my use of Adventure Cycling maps for this, as I adopted the term “frontage road” into my vocabulary when cycling through the northern US this summer. I didn’t have a term for those kinds of roads before, nor did I see a need for one, but their bicycling maps frequently route you onto frontage roads paralleling higher-traffic roads. You’d better believe I’d have a term for it if I was a rancher or farmer growing up in Montana.
Besides vocabulary, it would be interesting to learn more about how long it takes more subtle linguistic differences to settle in, such as accent, and how that process differs between people. In Santa Barbara, I wonder what gives me away as an east coaster first: slang and vocabulary, demeanor or mannerisms, intonation, some other obvious cue?
Being that San Francisco is my favorite California city, and I’ve been told by both coasters that it’s the most “east coast” city in California, perhaps it’s not too surprising that it’s similar linguistically and culturally. Or maybe those similarities are exactly what draw me in.
These quiz results are more interesting to me than if they had managed to point directly to the east coast cities nearest to where I had grown up. Guess I’m soaking up that California lifestyle just fine. If you’re interested in more of the same, don’t miss the Pop vs. Soda map by Alan McConchie or the wonderously detailed North American English Dialects map by Richard P. Aschmann. Here’s a relevant paper on linguistic differences within California as well. Happy Holidays!
Reached Los Angeles on the day after Thanksgiving – a rainy one – after two days of riding from Santa Barbara. Adam and I had decided on a short Thanksgiving weekend bike tour since we finally had a chunk of free time off from work and school. Despite the rain, which left us thoroughly drenched by the time we reached LA, we enjoyed being back in the saddle and exploring new places on the California coast.
Entering Los Angeles via the Strand trail from Will Rogers Beach past Santa Monica was as relaxing as any weekend bike ride. We rode along a mixed-use path that cut right through the beach – no need to deal with traffic other than the occasional brave jogger. The path itself continues further south for a total of 22 miles in length, but we headed in towards downtown once we got to Venice. The mix of rain and sand led to lots of accumulated grime on our bikes, but the wet day also meant very light traffic once we got back to on-street riding.
It was neat wandering around Koreatown in the afternoon (eventually the rain did lighten up), as it was my first time visiting LA and because I’d been missing easy access to good Korean restaurants. We also enjoyed trying a selection of pastries from the local panaderias. It’s true that LA’s Koreatown is home to about as many Mexican immigrants as Koreans, and apparent when you walk around the neighborhood. Some streets have more Spanish-language signage while others are dominated by hangul. A vibrant neighborhood overall, with lively street life and families with young children walking around in the evening. We did also see a little bit of downtown in the early morning, though I’m sure we’ll be back to see more soon.
A great weekend trip up north to Big Sur, a scenic part of the central California coast where I had last been on the bike trip with Adam. It was definite change to see things from inside a car, with the tight curves of the Pacific Coast Highway passing in a blur. I was both pleased to see other cyclists enjoying this beautiful stretch of coastline and anxious about how little space they really had on the road, with a constant stream of fast-moving cars and motorcyclists enjoying the drive. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d ride the PCH again on a bicycle, at least not on a busy weekend.
Big Sur is an interesting area. The first time we passed through we couldn’t figure out when we were actually in Big Sur. The signage seems to disagree on what bounds the region. There’s a little community that calls itself “Big Sur” toward the northern reach of Big Sur, but the region continues quite a bit further south along the PCH. The shift in landscape is very apparent as you leave Big Sur, however.
We hiked through stands of coastal redwoods and set up a miniature tent city at our site. With the decreasing daylight, we donned headlamps and finished cooking dinner into the darkness. We consumed close to twenty heads of garlic in one meal (almost 2 heads of garlic per person). An early start that morning, a good uphill hike, and 10 o’clock quiet hours meant we were all in our tents with plenty of time to sleep off the long day.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a great choice if you’re looking to camp in the area. It’s popular but large enough to accommodate hundreds of people, and offers hiking trails in walking distance of your site.
In the evening, we took time out to admire the stars. You can see so many out there.
I love arriving at a new place that welcomes visitors with a sign that goes beyond the standard highway sign. They show off local pride and give you a sense of place that helps you distinguish it from any other town. Small towns in America often plaster their claims to fame on their welcome signs, ranging from the modest (Twin Bridges, Montana: “The Small Town That Cares”) to the baffling (Alexandria, Minnesota: “Birthplace of America”). I looked that one up later.
Many towns, of course, merely describe their physical location. Portland, Michigan, for example, calls itself the “City of Two Rivers,” which I suppose you won’t argue; it sits at the confluence of the Grand River and the Looking Glass River. Some towns pay respects to the local fauna, which I like to think may be more abundant than the people there. This could be the case of Norwalk, Wisconsin, “The Black Squirrel Capital of the World.”
Others were amusing to me when read in succession. We were welcomed by a sign to Fargo, North Dakota: “Gateway to the West” only to find that a few days of riding later we were in Mandan, North Dakota: “Where the West Begins.” I guess the gateway to the west is positioned two hundred miles east of where the west actually starts. It goes to show you how flexible place boundaries are depending on who you ask.
However, my favorite small town claim to fame may have to be the welcome sign for Marion, North Dakota: “Why Not Stop & Stretch” – simple and self-effacing. And a perfect suggestion if you’re cycling through.
As cyclists know: For every uphill, there is a downhill, but for every headwind, there is another headwind.
That’s a good recap of our past three days of riding. Coming into the Columbia River valley going west, we knew to expect the constant headwinds, but it’s been a real challenge to make our planned distances for each day. We’re fortunate that our schedule is flexible and there are many campgrounds along the Columbia River, and stopping ten or fifteen miles short hasn’t really thrown our plans. We are arriving in Portland tomorrow and planning to take a rest day there before we head to the coast (!).
That being said, we can’t complain because the riding has been beautiful.
We have also been meeting more and more cyclists every day as we near the west coast. Today, we even met three cyclists from Santa Barbara, who were on a bike tour that started from Seattle. Their blog is Ready Riders. I talked to Bob about the maps he uses to navigate, and it turns out he’s using OpenStreetMap downloaded maps so he can look at them offline on his iPad while riding. Pretty interesting solution – the iPad doubles as their blogging tool, as well.
Yesterday we went across the North Dakota-Montana border, after a solid week of riding through North Dakota prairie lands. The landscape of North Dakota was flat and monotonous until we got west of Bismarck, but the biggest challenge for us was dealing with the constant sun in a place with few trees and few populated places.
We were lucky not to hit too many days of the infamous North Dakota winds, but we did get some ferocious crosswinds on the day we left Fargo. There was nothing to break the wind for miles and miles, except in the places where trees were planted in a line along the road. It’s unbelievable how precise of a grid is laid upon North Dakota – the roads meet at right angles, sometimes cutting right through a lake. I love riding along watching the birds, and it’s especially entertaining to watch them try to fight the wind.
In Bismarck, our host Ron showed off his deep knowledge of North Dakotan history, assuring us that he had passed those history lessons onto his grandchildren. At breakfast, Ron encouraged us to fill up: “You got miles to go before you sleep… and miles to go before you eat.” The towns along our route west from Bismarck were fairly spread out – thirty miles or so between places to stop. Later that afternoon, we talked with a woman from Fargo who takes each of her grandchildren on a trip across the state when they’re in the fourth grade studying North Dakotan history. We met her and two of her grandchildren in New Salem at the largest Holstein cow in the world, Salem Sue. Morton County also boasts its place as the largest producer of cattle, hay, and oats in the state of North Dakota.
The big talk of the state is, of course, the Bakken Oil Field and the oil production business that comes with the use of fracking there. The predictions for how much oil potential there vary and seem to always be adjusted upwards, but generally it seems like it’ll be booming for at least fifty years.
There are so many people working in the oil fields that not everyone can find housing – some live tightly packed in “man camps” which are basically bunkers for workers, some work two weeks on, two weeks off in Bismarck or someplace else where they keep their homes. Checkout lines at Wal-Marts run for hours. We’ve been told it’s tough to find contractors to do any other kind of work in the surrounding area, since so many are employed by the oil business. And fatal traffic accidents occur daily in those areas. (Luckily, the closest we came to witnessing the boom times firsthand was when we passed through Dickinson, and we sped through there quickly.) It sounds like there are a lot of trade-offs for the new economic prosperity.
Before we crossed the border into Montana, we were treated to gorgeous views of North Dakota’s Badlands and a cute Fourth of July celebration in historic Medora, a very touristy and well-maintained town with a locally-famous musical they put on every summer.
Wisconsin has been a wonderful state for cycling so far. With an extensive trail system and well-maintained facilities, it was an enjoyable ride from Milwaukee to Madison to Trempealeau (crossed into Minnesota after that). We didn’t need to navigate leaving Milwaukee from the ferry, since we just followed our new friends to Waukesha. Chad and Amy gave us great routing advice for the next leg of our trip, even printing us a copy of the annual ride to Madison that they organize with their friends.
Leaving Waukesha, we hopped right onto the Glacial Drumlin Trail. This is one of Wisconsin’s state trails, which serves pedestrians, cyclists, and snowmobile riders (in the winter). There is a daily or annual fee for trail usage – you can buy a trail pass at local businesses or sometimes at self-registration boxes along the trail. It’s $4 for a one-day pass, or $20 for an annual pass, and they’re good for any trail in the state of Wisconsin.
Here’s us getting trail-legal.
We took the Glacial Drumlin Trail to Dousman, a town with a bike shop on Main Street called the Bike Doctor. We stopped in to talk to the staff there and look around: coffee bar, lots of cycling snacks, great bike selection, and all kinds of apparel. It was worth the stop for the conversation, though we didn’t need any bike parts or service.
From Dousman, we took a series of backroads with low traffic. The county roads in Wisconsin are named by letter rather than number, which is kind of amusing – you’ll see signs that say something like “County X.” For most of this stretch, we only had to follow County Road B. A long, relaxing break in the central park later, we got back onto the Glacial Drumlin to finish our ride into Madison. Good trail riding and a smooth, fast descent into Madison. We reveled at the appearance of a bike lane, and spent a great day and a half in Madison, staying with friends, walking the square during the Saturday Farmers Market, and drinking Wisconsin beers on the Student Union terrace.
We left Madison by way of the city riverside trail near the UW campus, then found our way west to the bike trail along Route 12. After that trail ended, we took some country roads into Reedsburg, where the 400 State Trail picked up.
Wisconsin has four connected state trails – the Bike 4 Trails: The 400, Elroy-Sparta, La Crosse River, and Great River State Trails. Our favorite of these was the Elroy-Sparta trail, which links together several small towns with amenities for trail users and passes through three refreshingly cool tunnels. We even noted that the Elroy trail station had free showers for trail users!
The trail itself gains elevation as it approaches each tunnel, but then rewards you with a nice descent on the other side of the tunnels. Tunnel #1 was the most interesting, with the interior resembling a cave (there are bats, too) more than a man-made tunnel. Camping along these trails is easy to plan, as campsites are noted on the maps.
Once we completed these interlinked trails, we used Adam F‘s advice to help route our trip up the Mississippi River. Thanks for your tips along the way! Today we mostly rode on the Great River Road / Route 61 up to Red Wing, Minnesota, where we’re staying tonight. We were treated to some beautiful views of the Mississippi. Onwards to Minneapolis tomorrow!