Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Pony Pasture

If you do Team in Training with the Richmond team, one of the rights of passage for the marathon runners and power walkers is the route to the Pony Pasture and back.  That's because it is five miles out and five miles back for a total of 10 miles.  For many of us, it is our first time doing double digit miles as a foot racer.  So I have been to here a number of times during marathon and half-marathon training over the past seven years.  But I had never before hiked the trails here - until today.

The Pony Pasture is part of Richmond's James River Park.  It is also in an area that almost became a freeway, which would have been tragic, frankly.  I saw in the paper today that three of the people who formed the group that helped fight this died in 2012.  So during my walk today, I reflected on their hard work and determination to keep this area scenic.  There are several miles of trails.  I hiked about three miles on this blustery and cool day.  It was a great opportunity to check out my new Nikon binoculars that I got for Christmas.  I think I will really like them.

I saw a number of birds on the hike, must notably large numbers of buffleheads - I saw dozens of these striking ducks - in the river, and also some Canadian geese and herring gulls.  I also saw several cardinals, a red bellied woodpecker, and some other birds, one of which I will feature in a "What Am I?" post in the near future.  I enjoyed my leisurely hike, watching for birds as I went, and listening to the rapids in the James River.  Here are some photos to share of what is likely my last hike of 2012.

The mild rapids here are popular with urban white water enthusiasts.

You'd never know you were so close to a large city here.
Much of my hike was in view of the river, and other parts went through deciduous forests, with some pine.
Being on foot is not the only way to enjoy the outdoors and to get around here.
Returning to the parking lot was a tribute to volunteers and all that they made possible.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thinking Ahead to 2013

I have today off from work, and had hoped to go for a short hike.  But it has rained steadily since the wee hours of the morning.  Hiking is not a lot of fun in a cold and steady rain.  So instead, I am thinking about the new year ahead and what some of my goals, hiking-wise, should be.  I'll write this out, and then head to the gym, where I can get at least some kind of a workout in.

In less than a week, it will be 2013.  That is kind of hard to believe, for me, but it is the truth.  I have been trying to come up with some things I would like to do in the coming year, and here is my list:

I hope to hike 10 "new" places - including hikes I have not done in the past 10 years - in the upcoming year.  I enjoyed trying that this current year, and making it successful.

I'll make it a goal to hike in two states in 2013 that I didn't hike in during the past year.  That means hikes in two states besides Michigan and Virginia.  My next goal complements this one.

I have a goal of hiking in another state next year that I have never hiked in.  Some leading candidates would be Maryland, West Virginia, and South Carolina.

I want to go backpacking at least twice in 2013.  I've managed to go one time in each of the last three years, and I'd like to step that up.

I will have a goal of keeping this blog, Oh, To Be Hiking, going.

I'll explore a goal of having another writing outlet besides the blog.  I've set up goals like this in the past and never accomplished them.  So I am unsure what this will be - but I want to set that goal and see if I can make it happen this time.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday's Weather Forecast

I thought this was pretty funny:

So will the world still exist tomorrow?  Or does the fact that the Mayan calendar ends on 12/21/2012 mean the end of the world?  It seems pretty clear to me that the world will continue, so be nice, not naughty!

I wonder sometimes how people would react if we knew beyond a doubt that the end was coming, for example, if an asteroid the size of Texas was going to hit the earth in three weeks.  Would people stay calm and be kind to one another?  Or would we go crazy with violence and debauchery, knowing that the end was coming?  Would society fall apart because no one would go to work?  Or would people dutifully keep on doing their jobs until the very end?  Hopefully we will never find out, because civilization seems like a very thin veneer at times.

Well, however today turns out for you, I hope that you enjoy the Winter Solstice.  I have a strong feeling that there are more days to come, and more hikes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What Am I?

I saw this animal in the little pond near the Hodge Memorial on Saturday's hike to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I know you can figure this one out.

Are you all set to start this game?
Three words in all make up my name

My name comes from my feathers hue -
And from my height - I think that's true

To never meet me is the wish
Of any self-preserving fish

As fish and frogs my sight should fear
With my sharp bill I can them spear

With my long legs with ease I wade
With wings the water I can shade

So that I can thus spot my prey
And have fish dinner this fine day

My color is a blueish-grey
I'm four feet tall I think I'd say

Okay, then
enough clues!
to see

How with guessing are you fairin'?
For I am a great blue heron

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Marsh and Beach Hike

Yesterday, I had time to take an hour and a half hike in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  It was a cool and cloudy day, but the effort of walking was such that I stripped off my fleece after a while.  It was also still warm enough that I saw the noses of a few turtles poking from the water's surface like a submarine's periscope.

First, I hiked along the bay, spying on a little group of American coots as they swam away in formation.

Back Bay was very calm this day, and the marsh vegetation looked kind of golden.

Then, I continued on a trail through the marsh.  I wanted to visit the memorial to Richard McCormick Hodge.  It is nice to know something about this young man, who died way too young.  Here is a view of his memorial from a little distance so that you can see the pond behind it.

And here is a close-up of the tree frog on the memorial - so cool!

From this point - where I had spotted two animals that I will write about later for one of my "What Am I?" (here is one of them) features - I hiked back to the access road and along the marsh to the observatory blind.  Like is often so, there were no animals to see this time.  Other times, I can hit the jackpot!  So I decided to head to the beach with the short amount of time before dusk.  It is a beautiful beach, backed by nice dunes,

and is fairly pristine all of the way to the North Carolina border.  The recent Super-storm Sandy, which kissed our coastline, had rearranged some of the dunes and also made the beach more level and wide.

It was a very nice walk, and in the next few days to come, I will be posting more about some of the wildlife that I saw.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Bookstore

I know that this blog is about hiking, not books, but every now and then, I decide to stray off topic - writers prerogative, I guess.  Today is one of those days.

The other day, I made an impulse buy while browsing a little downtown bookstore on my lunch hour.  I was looking for a Christmas gift, and found a great cookbook in the Fountain Bookstore.  It was $35, and I knew it might be a little less on-line, but it was right there in front of me, and I like supporting local businesses.  The lady even gift wrapped it for me.  I am a terrible wrapper.  Sometimes for Team in Training, we do fundraisers where we wrap purchases at stores.  I joke that the stores donate to my fundraising with the agreement that I stay away from them.

A few days later, I decided to get the same book as a gift for someone else, and found that it was $22, plus shipping, on Amazon.  On a whim, I went back to the bookstore the next day and asked if they could cut a deal, take a few bucks off.  The lady seemed a little frustrated.  She told me that she simply could not, that she was barely making it (she was the owner).  I told her that the same book was $13 less on Amazon.  She said "I hear that every day.  You have to decide what to do."  She told me how frustrating it is when people come in, browse the books to see what they like, and then order it on line.  After thinking for a few minutes, I bought the book, plus another book for myself about odd animal friendships.

It's not that I want to hand someone $13 more of my hard earned money.  But I think it is sad to contemplate a world without little local bookstores, and that is very possible.  First it was the big bookstores that were putting them out of business, then it was the big on-line eBusiness organizations that started putting the big bookstores, like Borders, out of business.  It's clear that without customers, places like the Fountain Bookstore are endangered.  And it is clear that customers will have to pay more for merchandise at small bookstores, which just don't have the volume to compete on price.

So, given the choice, this time I choose to spend more for the exact same product, but keep some money in the local economy.  What would you have done?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hiking the Dutch Gap Oxbow

An oxbow is formed when a river seeks a new channel and its older, curved channel is cut off.  The Dutch Gap Conservation Area on the James River is a good example of such a feature, and with me having the day off yesterday, I went hiking there.

I am liking my job a lot better for the last 7 months or so.  Before that, it was not a very fun day being at work for a long time.  I am very grateful that things are improving, and generally enjoy my time at work now.  But even the best day at work cannot compete with a day outside, hiking in an interesting place.  The Dutch Gap area always has interesting wildlife sightings.  I saw a kingfisher, cormorants, an unknown hawk, an osprey, Canada geese, mallards, bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, an unknown woodpecker, great blue herons, gray squirrels, and a deer. I came up on at least six of the great blues just as they spotted me and flew away, croaking in alarm at my intrusion.  Even though I took my bigger camera with the 10 power zoom lens, I couldn't get any wildlife photos.

It was a cool day, and I wore my new Icebreaker 200 Merino wool shirt.  At the start, I wore a fleece and light gloves, but shed all that after about a mile.  I was plenty warm enough in just the shirt.  The hike is interesting - one is never far from water as you can see from the map:

My route started and ended at the orange star.  I hiked the loop counter clockwise, as the orange arrows show, and I had lunch at the tip of a little peninsula, as marked by the purple circle.  The main hike is about 4.4 miles, but all my little side trips, I hiked about 6.3 miles.  A nice bridge (that I have marked with a bridge symbol) makes it possible to do this as a loop rather than as a long out and back.

The trail is very level, and there is plenty of evidence of human activity here, including a huge coal-fired power plant that is visible at times.  As I neared the end of my hike, it started raining, a few drops at first and then a steady, moderate rain that unexpectedly lasted until sometime during the wee hours of the night.

Here are a few photos from my interesting hike at Dutch Gap, starting with a large flock of double-crested cormorants out in the old river channel.  I need a new pair of binoculars.  Santa, I've been good this year!

Woodpeckers have really worked this tree over, haven't they?
After walking down this trail, looking back from whence I came, along this peninsula, I came.....
.... to a perfect spot to have lunch, complete with a bench to sit on, and a lovely tree.
Mother Nature hasn't put away all of her autumn decorations just yet.
Another side trail led to this nice river view.  As I got almost this point, yet one more great blue heron, croaking an alarm to its pals, took off from this point.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

North Georgia Hikes? Really?

No, I am not hiking in Georgia right now.  I've never hiked in Georgia.  Not yet!  So, let me explain....

At work, we are having our annual Charitable Virginia Campaign to raise lots of money for all kinds of worthy causes.  I always donate by payroll deduction, but there are also many fundraisers, and my division often does a used book sale.  I need more books like I need 10 more pairs of used running shoes, but in the afternoon yesterday, I finally had a break from a very busy week at work to check it out.  And lo and behold, prices were slashed in half - just 50 cents for paperbacks and a buck for a hardback!  The first thing I saw was a paperback entitled "50 Hikes in the North Georgia Mountains" by noted outdoor author Johnny Molloy.  I read an article about him over the weekend that said he spent more than 200 nights outdoors so far this year.  Oh, and his girlfriend just broke up with him!  Coincidence?

Anyhow, I live hundreds of miles from the mountains of North Georgia, but for 50 cents - just a penny a hike - how could I not buy this book?  After all, I could win the lottery and quit working.  Or maybe I will retire some day (year, decade, century) and have a lot more time to hike.  So I bought it!  I'd like to hike in Georgia someday, and I bet after reading this book, I'll really want to.

It got me wondering: how many of the 50 states have I hiked in?  So I added them up.  I only counted states where I have done at least one real hike - not a stroll in a city or a footrace - of at least a few miles.  Here is what I came up with:

New Hampshire
New York
North Carolina

16 states: almost one third of them - not too bad.  I was tempted to count California, because I hiked once in Muir Woods, but it was only a mile or so.  And with all the great places to hike in the Golden State, that can't really seem to count.  It would be cool to hike in all 50.  I think I need to set a goal to hike in at least one new state next year.

In the meantime, now I can read all about hiking in the Georgia Mountains.  If I win that lottery or get that retirement check, I'll have to head down that way and take a hike.  After all, I don't want to waste my 50 cents!

How many states have you hiked in? Take my poll!