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Sean's Blog

Whales of a Time

The second half of my birthday in Boston involved a lot of aquatic life.  After having lunch I headed to the waterfront, and the New England Aquarium.  I had bought a combo ticket in advance for the aquarium itself and a trip on their whale watch boat.

The aquarium had a new exhibit (though the whole place was new to me, as I’d never been there before) – a touch tank.  That is, you could stand by the side of a big, shallow tank, reach in and touch rays and small sharks.  There were a couple kinds of each swimming around in the tank.

If you can’t tell from the photo, the background is painted on the wall.

Here are some of the rays:

Those are cownose rays, which I got to touch a couple of (you’re only supposed to touch them on the middle of their backs – otherwise you might freak them out).  I also touched a bonnethead shark and an epaulette shark (for them it was more like petting a cat).  All of these animals are about a foot or so long, I should add.  It was pretty neat – the rays felt pretty slimy, whereas the sharks were rougher.

Moving into the main part of the aquarium, there is a large central tank that takes up multiple floors, and on each level there are smaller tanks around the periphery.  Below the ground floor are various kinds of penguins:

They have a lot of rocks to sit on, surrounded by water for swimming.

Before heading up the various levels, I took a detour to the seal and sea lion area:

 

I then made my way past various tanks on my way upward.  Some highlights included the sea dragon tank:

At first I thought this next one was a piece of seaweed floating around.  That would be its camoflage:

It was hard to get a good picture, unfortunately.

When I got to the top level, I was able to look out over the surface of the large ocean tank.  They have a big, fake coral reef in the middle which goes up to the surface.  I saw (but failed to take a picture of) a moray eel swim upward and (mostly) hide itself among the convolutions of the reef, then sit there with its mouth opening and closing, as morays are wont to do.

There was an aquarium employee at the top talking about the big tank and some of the animals in it.  In particular, it was mentioned that their large green sea turtle (named Myrtle) is about 80 years old.

As I headed down the spiral walkway along this tank, I got a good view of Myrtle, just after she’d come to rest:

 

When I finished going through the place, I headed outside to line up for the whale watch.  It was an early evening boat trip, starting at 6:00.  Here’s the aquarium as seen from the boat:

And looking back at the building once we got underway:

I had figured that the boat ride would be chilly compared with the city, especially as it was so late in the day.  So I had worn jeans instead of shorts for the day, and brought a long-sleeved shirt in my backpack.  I’d been hot at points earlier, but dressing warmly was well worth it once the boat got going (with its attendant wind).

Here’s a view of the harbor once we were a ways out:

The boat headed about 30 miles east from the harbor to get to whale feeding areas.  We remained in Massachusetts Bay the whole time, and at our farthest point out we could see the tip of Cape Cod just to the east.

The boat slowed down once whales were spotted, and a crew member called out whale appearances at various angles around the boat.  There were a number of appearances I couldn’t get on camera, as I wasn’t quick enough, or the whale was too far away, or other passengers were in the way.  But I got a few good shots:

We saw 2 species: humpback and minke.

After about 45 minutes in the whale area, the boat headed back, and soon the sun was setting ahead of us:

It was dark by the time we returned to the dock.  From there I hopped on the blue line train and headed back up to Revere, then took the bus to near my hotel (and walked the last few blocks).

Next: the ride home.

Posted by seaking on 07-24-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Science, Travel, Wildlife with 1 Comment

Pride of Ducks?

On my birthday bike trip, I spent my birthday itself in Boston and its suburbs.  I decided to give myself a break from the bike seat for the day, so I got around on foot and by public transit.  After breakfasting at my hotel, I walked a few blocks through a residential neighborhood to pick up a bus to the Revere Beach train station, where I bought a day pass that’s good on all buses and trains.  It was a bargain at $9 (though the price went up to $11 on July 1).

I rode the blue, green, and red lines to get out to Cambridge, and went to a fun secondhand clothing store, The Garment District.  Specifically, their by-the-pound section (formerly known as dollar-a-pound).  For those that haven’t had the experience, they have a large floor area covered with clothing that you go through, and then you pay $1.50 per pound for whatever items you want.  The only thing I found that I wanted was an additional moisture-wicking shirt for biking (bringing my total of such shirts to 2).

I then took the train out further to Harvard Square, and hit a few stores, including a very good comic shop, Million Year Picnic.

I headed back into Boston after that, and walked around the Public Garden.  The best aspect of the Public Garden is the many ducks that make their home by the large pond there (ducks that inspired a famous book).

The pond:

Ducks and ducklings:

I like how you can see the beads of water on this one’s feathers:

The ducks will come right up close to people in hopes of being fed (and several people were tossing the birds food).  There were some birds who were kept separated in this fenced-off area, though:

Here the swans are building their nest:

 

After hanging out with the park’s waterfowl for a while, I exited to the south onto Boylston St., where a crowd was gathered along both sides of the street.  This was in anticipation of the Boston LGBT pride parade, which was scheduled to come by soon (I took my place in the crowd around 12:30).  When I got there, there was a nearby church playing, for some reason, ‘Danny Boy’ on its carillon.  When that ended, I was surprised and intrigued by the next piece of music that played – it was ‘Happy Birthday’.  I wonder how they knew…

Before too long, the parade came through.  This was the first time since the mid-90’s that I had been to a big city pride parade, and it was neat to see.

It started out with the mayor riding in a car, along with other dignitaries, such as the Pride King and Queen:

There were pink flamingo balloons:

There was, of course, a lot of rainbow-colored stuff, including this…interesting hat:

A gigantic rainbow flag is de rigueur:

There were a bunch of men in purple priestly vestments:

Cool balloon sculptures:

and The Price is Right!

It also wouldn’t be a pride parade without some leather men:

And their flag looked bigger than the large rainbow one:

This might have been the largest headdress I saw:

But this was a more impressive outfit:

Star o’ teal wig:

There were a number of politicians marching in the parade with groups of supporters.  They were mostly city councilors or candidates for state legislative districts in the area.  Toward the end of the parade, though, I did see my favorite U.S. Senate candidate:

After the end of the parade passed by, I went back through the Public Garden toward Boston Common.  I caught the last parts of the parade again as they came up Arlington St., and got a good view of this vehicle:

 

I went off in search of lunch, and found a Turkish place east of the common where I got a very filling falafel, hummus, and tabbouli sandwich.

Next time: the latter half of the day.

Posted by seaking on 07-20-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Politics, Travel, Wildlife with 1 Comment

4 Decades – 2 Centuries

Those in the know (and to be in the know, you only need to have read this page) will be aware that I turned 40 last month.  I had been thinking for a while about a special way to celebrate, and I decided that, given my increasing bicycling prowess, that I should take a long bike trip.  So, I took a long weekend and rode to Boston and back.

I had to prepare for the trip by getting some luggage that would fit on the bike.  A backpack wouldn’t hold enough stuff for a weekend, and I ideally didn’t want to be carrying stuff on my back anyway, as that would make me tired and sore sooner than necessary.  After looking around in local bike shops, and then finding cheaper stuff online, I ended up getting this set of bags.  The 3 bags held plenty of things, and the top bag can be used as a backpack, so it’s good for walking around without the bike.  I also mapped out directions online and printed them out.  It’s true that my phone can look up maps, but you never know when you’ll be lacking signal.

I headed out from my house in Hadley on Friday, June 8, about 8:45am.  For the first 1.5 hours or so, the ride was familiar, as I headed through Amherst and Belchertown into the town of Ware, climbing some good-sized hills on the way.  Before getting to downtown Ware, I passed this marsh, where one can often see herons, and that day was no exception:

I stopped briefly to rest in downtown, and put on sunscreen (it had already been sunny, but there were several shady areas).  At this point, I was about to head into unfamiliar roads.

I headed north out of the town center, then started bearing northeast, coming to state highway 32.  There I saw this pond:

and just past the pond was the next road I was supposed to ride on, heading east.  However, that road had a “Dead End” sign at its beginning, so I thought it probably wouldn’t help to go that way.  Instead I consulted the direction sheets, which had some small maps of various stages, and elected to head further north on 32 before taking a more major side road.

I found the road I wanted, headed east (and uphill), and before too long was back on my official mapped route.  I made my way through the town of New Braintree, which involved more hills, and then followed an odd route toward the center of the town of Oakham (odd because I had to keep turning at various intersections, but the name of the road I was on always was the same).

After Oakham center I got to do some nice downhill riding for a while, then passed by Rutland state park and into the town of Rutland.  Here is some nice waterway by the park (looking to either side of Route 122):

I had to head up a longish hill after the park (on Route 122A), and my legs were starting to feel weak.  At this point, I’d been on the road for about 4 hours, and was in need of a longer break.  I pressed on, having a couple more slow climbs as I headed into the next town, Holden, where I was planning to stop for lunch.

I did get lunch in Holden, at a place called Ethan’s.  I allowed myself plenty of resting time, staying there for an hour and 15 minutes.  It was 2:45 when I got on the road again, and while there was still sun shining, a good bit more clouds were in the sky.

I rode out of Holden on some residential side streets, passing into the town of West Boylston.  Here I encountered the Mass Central Rail Trail – that is, one of the few sections of that trail that has been built.  I rode on this trail section for its 2.5 mile length, and was surprised to find that much of it is not paved – it’s hard-packed dirt.  Still, it’s a nice trail, with a couple of bridges over creeks:

Here’s a waterway that flows near the trail:

And the trail passes underneath Interstate 190:

After leaving the trail, I headed into the town of sterling, as the sky became overcast, and I started to hear thunder.  A chance of storms had been predicted for the late afternoon, so I had brought a poncho for myself and a rain cover for the luggage.  Pretty soon it started to sprinkle, so I put the rain cover on the bags and continued.  Just after I passed Sterling center, rain started to fall more earnestly, so I put on the poncho and kept going, heading east on highway 62.

The rain got really heavy just after I put on the poncho, and it was getting hard to see.  I saw a garden store/nursery on the side of the road, and pulled off to wait out the worst of the rain under their generous wooden awning.  They sold bottled water, and I was just about out of water, so I refilled there.

After about 20 minutes, the rain stopped entirely.  I continued into the town of Clinton, still wearing my poncho to help dry it out.  I made my way a bit northward again, and got up to state route 117 in Bolton.  This was the road on which I’d spend the most time that day – it made up more than a quarter of my mileage for the day.

There were some hills to ride up on 117, but overall it was a pretty quick ride.  In Bolton it took me past the outer beltway of the Boston area (I-495), and through a number of other towns (including Concord and Sudbury).

Eventually, I passed over the inner beltway (I-95) and headed into downtown Waltham.  Here I was able to go a few blocks down to the Charles River, and start riding on riverside bike trails toward the city.  The trails were a little hard to follow, though, as the directions indicated changing sides of the river several times, but there were often trails on both sides, so it wasn’t always obvious where the turns were.  While heading along the trails, it was starting to get dark, so I put on my lights.  Eventually, I did get into Boston itself, and walked my bike on a footbridge over the turnpike, ending up near the Public Garden.  I rode over to Boston Common and called home to indicate that I’d made it.  It was just after 9:00pm.

I then went and had dinner at a nice taqueria, and after that, I and the bike caught a bus up to the city of Revere, where my hotel was (I’d gotten a deal on the place online).  I took a much needed shower and went to bed.  Total riding for the day was about 97 miles or so.

Next: what I did in Boston.

Posted by seaking on 07-17-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Biking, Travel with 2 Comments

Urban Wings

A while back, I noticed a falcon sitting on the fire escape of an empty building in Holyoke that I pass on the way to work.

I took a closer look after work, and saw that there was what looked like a nest in the top landing of the fire escape:

In that blurry cell phone picture, you can see the mama falcon just to the left of the nest, perched on the railing.

I wanted to bring my better camera to get clearer pictures, but kept forgetting it for a few days.  By the time I managed to bring it, I ceased to see the mama there.  Eventually, I think whatever babies there flew away, and the nest was abandoned.

However, one of the mornings I brought my regular camera, I noticed a different sort of flying creature on the side of my building:

I know this to be a butterfly, because it rests with its wings folded together (moths have their wings apart when at rest).  I owe that knowledge to the trip to Magic Wings earlier this year.

 

Posted by seaking on 07-13-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Wildlife with 0 Comments

Down South, and further South

Over Memorial Day weekend I took my bike for a longer ride.  I headed for the rail trail in Southwick, MA, which I’d been on once before.

I began by riding on the usual trails through Northampton and Easthampton.  I came to what used to be the southwestern end of the Manhan trail, and prepared to ride the recently completed extension, seen here across the street:

The Manhan trail now goes just over the town line into Southampton.  I rode to its new end, and then headed south on roads toward Westfield.

On the way down, I encountered an intersection with a flashing stop sign.  That is, the sign has little flashing lights at its vertices.  You can see the lights on here:

The sign was on a little traffic island, on which there were 3 abandoned shoes:

The road I was on passed through the western edge of Holyoke, then into the eastern edge of Westfield.  I went by Western Mass Hospital:

The hospital is on a hill, which is the only real hill that was on my route that day.  One heads down it when going south:

 

I had to ride briefly on US-20, which is a pretty busy road, but then was able to head through the rest of Westfield on quieter residential streets.  I got to the point where the trail starts in the southern part of the city, to find that work was partially complete on paving this piece of trail:

There is no road at the town line between Westfield and Southwick, so one previously had to ride on dirt from this road to the town line, where the pavement began.  Now the bit in Westfield had some of its pavement, but was clearly waiting for another layer or two:

The trail will eventually extend north from here as well, through downtown Westfield, but that may be years from now.

When I’d ridden about half the Southwick trail, I stopped for lunch at this place:

It’s conveniently located right by the trail, and has a bunch of large bike racks.  They also have nice, cold raspberry lemonade.

When I was done and about to get back on my bike, a couple of people who had just arrived on bikes saw the one I was riding and recognized the model.  They had just bought their daughter a Tricross as a graduation present, and we chatted briefly about it and my experience so far.

From there I headed to the state line and into Connecticut.  I went further into the state than I had last year, reaching the first road intersection and parking area (on Copper Hill Road in East Granby, CT):

There was a nice board with some maps and info about local wildlife.  This portion showed my having passed through the Great Marsh just before reaching this road:

I turned around and headed back north from there.  Here’s a picture of part of the Great Marsh:

That’s looking west from the trail.  Looking east I saw some turtles:

Just after I started taking pictures of them, they both slipped into the water.  Bashful creatures, those turtles.

I did the hill climb by the hospital with no problem, and went back up through South-, East-, and Northampton toward home.  My total distance for this ride was 71 miles, and the total time (including the lunch stop) was 6.5 hours.

 

Posted by seaking on 07-11-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Biking with 1 Comment

Riding Dry

On May 20, I participated in the third annual Hotel Bridge bike ride.  I’ve done this every year they’ve held it, and fortunately this year they planned for possible bad weather.  That is, they scheduled a rain date a week later (last year it rained most of the day of the ride, and I rode 50 miles in that rain – I apparently didn’t even bother blogging about it).

The rain date was not needed, as the weather was quite sunny on the scheduled day.  This made it a perfect day to give my new bike more of a workout.  I arrived early and headed out precisely at 8:00, doing the 50-mile route again.

The route began by going past a reservoir in the corner of Northampton, and upstream from that is this little pond:

A view looking off toward the hills of Westhampton:

Having done the ride twice before I was pretty familiar with the first half of the route (two years ago I just did the 25-mile ride, which is the first half of the 50).  I didn’t need to stop and look at my direction sheet at all.  The bike was pretty speedy, even climbing hills, and before I knew it I was at the first rest stop, at Outlook Farm in Westhampton.

Here’s part of the outlook for which the place is named:

They seem to be putting up a new building there:

Soon after that I passed through Westhampton center, and got asked for directions by a motorist.  They were looking for a lake that I hadn’t heard of, so I wasn’t able to help.

As I made my way back toward Leeds (the midpoint of the ride was the same as the start/end), I came across this sign on a lawn:

For those who don’t know, Vermont Yankee is a nuclear power plant in Southern VT.  Despite the objections of the VT legislature and much of the public who live in the region (and a troubling safety record), the plant recently was granted a 20-year extension of its operating license.

I soon got to the halfway point and checked in.  It had taken me almost exactly 2 hours to travel 25 miles – a pretty good time.  I then headed out on the second, and more hilly, half of the ride.

This part started getting slower after I passed through the town of Williamsburg and headed up toward Conway.  There’s a very long hill climb, which gets kind of steep toward the end (as one turns onto a side road).  There is then the reward of a bunch of downhill, but the pavement had a lot of loose bits of gravel and such on it, so I didn’t dare to travel too fast.  Once I got to the bottom of that hill, I emerged from wooded areas to some more nice views:

That’s looking back the way I came (the road bends to the right, though – I didn’t come over that ridge in the distance).

The remaining rest stop was near Conway center, by the town’s historic covered bridge (which had been a welcome refuge from the rain last year).  There’s another hill heading out of Conway, and soon after I reached the top of it, I saw this family by the side of the road:

I didn’t want to approach too closely, as I was afraid the parents would come after me.  They were certainly wary while I was taking pictures.

From there I headed down through part of Whately, then back through Williamsburg into Leeds.  My total time for the ride ended up being 4 hours and 45 minutes (total length was close to 53 miles).

 

Posted by seaking on 07-09-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Biking with 0 Comments

New Wheels Go for a Spin

So this year I decided to get a new bike.  Just as 4 years ago I bought a hybrid because I wanted something faster than my old mountain bike, I wanted to upgrade to something lighter and faster than the hybrid (and that I could take on longer rides).  I visited my local bike shop (which is partly owned by my neighbor) to look at road bike models, as well as looked for used ones online.  One thing I found was that a lot of road bikes don’t have places to screw in bolts for a rack, and I definitely wanted a rack for almost all my trips (but especially for long distance biking).

I found that there are a few models of bike made especially for touring, which sounded like they were up my alley.  I talked to the bike shop guys some more about good touring bikes, and they had an instant recommendation (which some of them ride).  They even had one of the previous year’s model in stock that they could give me a discount on.  So, I went for it.  Here is my new bike, the Specialized Tricross:

It’s got a light, aluminum frame, with drop-style handlebars like a road bike.  The tires are a bit wider, though, like what you find on a hybrid.  It’s got 27 speeds.  It basically is good for a lot of different situations.  It’s not the speediest bike for road riding, but is a bit more comfortable and durable for long rides, especially if one has to ride on bad pavement or dirt.

One thing that’s very convenient about the bike is that, for the most part, the brake and shift cables are tucked inside the frame tubes, rather than being suspended on the outside.  That allowed me to do things like mount the holder for the locking cable below the crossbar (wrapping it around the vertical tube), rather than putting it just under the seat as I had done on the previous bike (where it kind of got in the way of my rack-top bag).

I bought the bike right at the beginning of Bay State Bike Week in mid-May, and in the middle of the week, took it for its first ride.  I had volunteered to help out with the bike commuter breakfast in downtown Northampton, which was that Wednesday.  Even though rain was predicted, I rode over to Noho (in misty conditions) to the event, and stayed to help pack up when it was over.  It was drizzling by the time I rode to work, but the bike performed nicely, and I did seem to be moving faster than I had on my old bike.  By the time I was done for the day at work, the sun was out, and I had a more pleasant ride home (which was definitely a good 10 minutes shorter than it used to take).

Coming up: the bike gets a longer trial.

Posted by seaking on 07-08-2012 at 10:07 pm
Posted in Biking with 0 Comments

Pride Goes Both Ways

In May I participated in the Northampton LGBT Pride parade with a group from work for the third year in a row.  This year the parade route went a different direction than it had previously.  Instead of progressing into downtown, with the rally in a parking lot there, the parade started downtown and went out to the 3-county fairgrounds (which I had not been to before).

I biked over to Noho for the event, getting there later than I intended, as I got a flat tire on the way (fortunately I had a spare tube with me and was able to change it fairly quickly).  I still managed to meet the group in the staging area before we had to step off.

Here is the view as we had just started, and were headed up the hill to Main St.:

And the crowd on Main:

Some folks were watching from the bike trail bridge:

 

The crowd is always thickest right in the downtown blocks.  It certainly thinned out as we went on, but was still pretty decent:

 

There is a walking path/driveway that we followed down from the street into the fairgrounds, where we were greeted by this balloon arch:

 

I ended up carrying one end of our banner for most of the parade.  Here is a pic someone took of me in the act as we reached the end:

 

The group of us having finished the parade:

 

I hung out at the rally for quite a while afterward, wanting to see a couple of the speakers.  One of whom had a booth there:

Yes, I’m into Elizabeth Warren.  I had thought about wearing my Warren for Senate t-shirt that day, but it was in the laundry.

This was the stage for the speakers and performers:

And that is Dr. Warren herself on stage:

She was a ways into the lineup, after the mayor’s proclamation, a few musical performances, and an invocation.  Her speech was short, and touched on the same sorts of things I’ve heard her say in videos, but it was still neat to see her speak in person.  Also cool was getting to see another guest: Holyoke  mayor Alex Morse, whom I’ve written about before.

The musical performances I saw ranged from decent (gay men’s chorus) to oddly lame (Little Mermaid lip-synch, which admittedly was plagued by technical problems).  It was also a hot day in the mostly cooler days of early May this year, and it was very nice that there was a tent I could stand under to watch the proceedings.

After leaving the rally I biked home without incident, stopping off at my local bike store for a reason that will be detailed in my next post.

Posted by seaking on 07-07-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Politics with 0 Comments