Archive for the ‘geography’ Category
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!
The past couple of weeks we’ve been digitizing building footprints from satellite imagery in advance of the “mapping party,” which is a gathering to conduct an on-the-ground survey. I’ve been getting the hang of using JOSM, the Java OpenStreetMap editor, which is great for repetitive tasks like tracing buildings.
To coordinate our activities, we tried out a tool called MapCraft to help us track which areas had already been traced and divided up ‘slices’ of the overlaid cake diagram to prepare for surveying. This was a nice way to coordinate when several people were editing Falls Church from different locations.
A group of seven of us gathered at Mad Fox Brewing in ‘The Little City’ of Falls Church, Virginia on Saturday to gather details on buildings and other points of interest in the area. We had a good mix of newbies and more experienced mappers, and were able to pair off to go into the field to collect data. Mostly we relied on paper printouts – thanks to Brian for the great preparations! – of specific sections of the area, so we were able to cover more ground in a short amount of time. A few of us also took GPS tracks and waypoints using either dedicated GPS devices or smartphones. Since the building footprints were already on OSM, it was easy to navigate with the printed maps and take notes about tags to add later (name, address, use, etc). We reconvened after an hour or so of walking around Falls Church, and spent a little time updating the features in OpenStreetMap. I regret not taking a “before” screenshot of Falls Church before we focused our attention there, but there is a definite improvement in the coverage of that area.
If you have any interest in joining a mapping party or just learning more about OpenStreetMap, join the MappingDC Google Group and come out to a future event. Ideas for next events include the Arboretum, updates to Chinatown and Georgetown, and a trip to Baltimore.
The latest book by renowned city planner Jeff Speck is Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (2012). This is a follow-up to Suburban Nation, his popular work on sprawl in America’s suburbs.
What I really enjoy about Jeff Speck’s writing is that he explains city planning concepts in a way that is universally relatable – to anyone with or without a background in planning, whether a resident of the city or the suburbs. It’s clear his writing is meant to grow mass support for urban living and walkable cities, and though he employs plenty of statistics to make his arguments, he keeps the material from sounding dry or inaccessible.
Speck moved to Washington, DC after leaving his home in South Beach, Miami, and has also lived in the various towns and cities he has helped plan. This means he can draw upon plenty of firsthand experience of what makes a city livable and capable of drawing new residents. (If you live in DC, you’ve likely seen his flatiron-style home at 10th and Florida Avenue NW.) His city planning experience also lends itself to his writing, and he pulls many real-world examples of the advantages of walkability and what makes certain cities so magnetic.
Speck centers the text on his “General Theory of Walkability” which centers on four conditions of what makes a good walk. It must be (1) useful, (2) safe, (3) comfortable, and (4) interesting. From this theory, he then presents ten steps for creating a more walkable city. As a self-proclaimed generalist, he recognizes that to design a city one cannot disregard cars, bicycles, transit, or the other elements at work. Speck makes sure to touch on these points in turn. The result is a book that is tuned into the physical and cultural landscape of cities today, as well as the demographic and geographic shifts currently at play in America. Jeff Speck didn’t write Walkable City for the planners, but for the people who live in these communities.
Jeff Speck’s Twitter feed is @JeffSpeckAICP.
MappingDC is the local group of OpenStreetMap users who’s back in action after a few months lull (various folks leaving DC to work on projects around the world). There have been “mapping parties” to work on filling out areas of the map around Washington, DC that are lacking or inaccurate – recent ones having taken place in Hyattsville, MD and at the Congressional Cemetery in DC.
Even if you’ve never mapped with OpenStreetMap before, I encourage you to get involved if you have an interest in improving the map. OSM grows in importance and reach daily, and is becoming more widely used in applications and services such as Wikipedia and Foursquare. Whether it’s small changes in your neighborhood or participating in mapping parties, the community is open to having your help.
Check out the MappingDC group to learn more about upcoming events. Map locally, think globally.
Made an overnight bike trip to Harpers Ferry from DC this beautiful fall weekend. Three of us met up at Baked and Wired in Georgetown on Saturday morning for pre-ride caffeine and quiche before setting off. The plan was to start off on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) and take that until Fletcher’s Boathouse, where we then switched over to the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath. The C&O runs parallel to the CCT for awhile, then the two trails branch off. We didn’t get going until around 10am, which made for a late lunch stop.
The section of the C&O going out to Great Falls was gorgeous – trees ablaze with autumn colors, crushed gravel path tracing the Potomac River, the sun drying the puddles from the previous day’s rains. The cool weather made it a perfect day for riding in shorts and a light windbreaker. Since we were staying in a hostel overnight, we didn’t need to carry much other than a change of clothes and snacks. There were lots of hiking paths that met up with the towpath, which made me wish we had more time to stop and hike. Future plan: bike-to-hike trip?
At one point, we stopped to help a boy whose pedal had fallen off of his new bike – his parents didn’t have tools with them, but we were carrying a mini adjustable wrench. The karma didn’t pull us through for long, because we had a flat tire in our group about three hours into our ride. Luckily it was the only flat of the ride. While stopped, we helped another woman pump up her flat wheel as well. Being such a mild October day, there were plenty of cyclists and hikers out. We even saw a horse towing a boat full of passengers on a little tour down the C&O.
At Edward’s Ferry around mile 30, we stopped to stretch after too many miles of the rocky C&O towpath. A man walking by told us that we had to stop for lunch at White’s Ferry: “I wasn’t expecting much from the ‘snack bar’ but the burgers are phenomenal and they have hand-cut french fries.” His ardent recommendation pulled us through the next five miles to White’s Ferry, where we ate great burgers (and a veggie burger) with a boatload of french fries. We sat on one of the picnic tables outside and watched the cars line up for the ferry across the river. Hunger is the best sauce, second best being ketchup and hot sauce. If you’re planning on stopping here, make sure you have some cash on hand as they don’t take plastic money.
The last 25 miles to Harpers Ferry were less eventful – we were starting to grow weary of the constant vibration from riding on rocky trail and promising ourselves we’d ride on paved roads tomorrow. There were many puddles and muddy patches left on the C&O towpath, so we were dodging those as well as the green balls that fall all over the trail. The miles peeled away slowly because the riding took our whole concentration. We were happy to finally make it into Harpers Ferry, even though there was a spiral staircase we had to ascend carrying our bikes and then a steep climb up the road to our hostel! When we got near the top of the hill, we spontaneously ran into two friends from DC who were also spending the night in Harpers Ferry. We quickly made plans to meet up for dinner, checked into our hostel, and took well-deserved showers.
The Teahorse Hostel, where we stayed, really felt like a home away from home. The owner, Laurel, is a friendly and accommodating woman who named the hostel after a place she visited in China near the ancient “Tea Horse” trading route. She provides bike storage for cyclists, and told us that she had two other groups of cyclists staying there that night. We ended up meeting one group the next morning who had ridden from Great Falls, but the other group left earlier than we woke up. Laurel made us a generously portioned waffle breakfast before we checked out on Sunday, great to get us going until lunch time. Orange juice, coffee, strawberries, bananas, waffles – the works.
We decided to get back on the C&O towpath for just a few miles until we reached Brunswick, then switch to on-street riding until Leesburg where we could connect to the familiar and smooth Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) trail. Though we were riding on fairly wide tires (knobby 35mms), the C&O had been rough going – many others we passed were on mountain bikes. It was a blissful moment when we reached Brunswick and our tires once again felt the welcoming embrace of paved roads. Brunswick has some steep hills, however, and we got to ride up a few extra hills by making some wrong turns. Bonus miles!
Once we finally crossed the bridge to the south of Brunswick into Virginia, the views were really spectacular. It was a two-lane road most of the way with little car traffic, weaving up and down past farmlands and vineyards. It was pleasant riding and the kind of bright autumn weather that feels infinite. We got on the W&OD at Clarke’s Gap and took the trail to my parents’ house to have a long lunch together. Back on the W&OD, we passed a group of four riders on horseback, as well as rollerbladers, joggers, families, and many other cyclists. Though much more crowded than the C&O, the W&OD is smooth sailing.
Overall, our stops were well-placed through the weekend and I felt like it was pretty well-organized (that’s a pat on the back). The pace was leisurely, riding about 35 miles each day before lunch and another 30 or so after lunch. I’m not sure I’d take the C&O towpath for such a long stretch at a time again, but it was fun riding and had nice views.
To continue going through our Iceland trip, I wanted to write a little bit about the area surrounding Lake Mývatn. Myvatn is a common vacation spot for Icelanders and tourists, with mixed-use paths running the perimeter of the lake, opportunities to birdwatch in the surrounding wetlands, and a beautiful geothermal bath. The lake was created by volcanic activity, which continues to shape and re-shape the region.
The drive to Lake Myvatn by way of Route 1 was preceded by sweeping changes of landscape throughout the morning. The immense looming glacier Vatnajökull, miles (or kilometers) of open ocean raging against the shoreline, black sand beaches, and barren volcanic deserts carried us along the coast and back towards middle Iceland. The last couple of hours driving towards Myvatn from the east was truly a barren land – no people, a few wandering sheep, sparse vegetation, and patches of snow atop the seemingly endless stretches of mossy lava.
More photos, so the post continues after the cut.