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Sean's Blog

This Year’s Quabbin Pics

As I seem to do just about once a year, I went for a bike ride last Memorial Day weekend that included riding through the Quabbin Reservoir reservation.

What I have not done every time is ride up the long hill to the observation tower there, but I did so this time.

Here are views west and north from the tower (click each image to enlarge):






From there I continued riding east on Route 9, through the town of Ware and just a little ways into the town of West Brookfield (which I had not been in before).  At that point I needed to turn around for time and energy reasons (I needed to save some strength for climbing the hills on the way home), and I just passed through a bit of the Quabbin park on the way back (one can pass over Winsor Dam without having to go through the hilly parts of the reservation).

Posted by seaking on 11-24-2014 at 10:11 pm
Posted in Biking with 0 Comments

Iceland Summary

Just a quick post tonight, as I’m pressed for time.

When I was in the Keflavik airport, about to fly to England, I found this postcard in the duty-free shop:


(Click the photo to see it at a larger size)


I thought it summed up the trip pretty nicely.    😉

Posted by seaking on 11-14-2014 at 08:11 am
Posted in Biking, Humor, Travel with 0 Comments

Plane, Train, Buses, and Bike

On my last morning in Iceland I got up somewhat early so I could return my rented bike (Óli Stef).  I headed for the Reykjavik waterfront along the city’s bike paths, and partway there, I noticed geese in the median strip of the road (click photo to embiggen):


I also encountered this little bird at the waterfront:


I believe it’s a starling.  In this photo it’s poking into a seawall, presumably trying to get some food.

After dropping the bike off, I walked back toward my lodging, taking in some more of the city on my way, as I did not have to hurry.

A couple of days earlier, I had visited the home of the original Althing, the gathering of the country’s leaders to make law.  The Althing still exists, but it meets in a building in Reykjavik – this building, to be exact:



It’s labeled on this side section:


As are the spaces on the street in front of it:


That third letter is the letter thorn, by the way, which has a soft ‘th’ sound.  I’ve been transliterating it to ‘th’ in Althing and Thingvellir, among other words.

I thought this fountain was neat looking:


And yes, that is a hot dog stand in the background – it’s supposedly quite popular.

I came across some interesting sculptures on my way east through the city:





Not sure what to make of these folks:



or these polar bears:


I saw similar stuffed bears in chains in front of other stores.  It’s some kind of thing…

At the far end of the street was one sight I wanted to make sure to go by:


It is Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland, and of unusual architecture:



There is a statue out front of Leif Ericsson out front:


This inscription is above the door:


The side view:


I did not go inside, but I did encounter another friendly cat outside the church before I moved on:



I got back to the apartment and packed up my stuff, then took a city bus to the bus station.  There I had some lunch (more lamb) and waited for the bus to the airport.

It had been dry that morning, and for a couple of days before, but it started raining by the time I got to the airport, just as it had been raining when I arrived in the country.

Getting my bags checked required waiting a while in line, because the luggage conveyer belt at the check-in counter had broken down.  Eventually some carts were brought to move the luggage through, and I was able to head for the gate.

On the flight to London, I watched an Icelandic documentary called Electric Reykjavik, about the electronic music scene there.

The plane flew southward over the British Isles, and I was able to glimpse some thin white things in Scotland or Northern England.  I took as best a picture as I could with my phone:


They’re right in the center of the image.  I was able to figure out pretty quickly what they were, because I could see blades turning.  Apparently, windmills are visible from tens of thousands of feet in the air.

I arrived fine in Heathrow airport, and took a bus from there to Reading train station.  From there it was a short train ride to Didcot, where I was staying with a friend for a couple of nights.  The next day, she’d be showing me around Oxford.


Posted by seaking on 11-11-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Arts/Media, Biking, Cats, Travel, Wildlife with 0 Comments

Crater and Climb

On my fourth day in Iceland, I checked out of Héradsskolínn to head back to Reykjavik.  There was finally good sunlight shining on the town of Laugarvatn, so I took some last pictures of the hostel:



and of the nearby mountain:


and some other buildings in the town:


This is the Laugarvatn Fontana, where I had the geothermal bread and smoked trout.  It’s kind of hard to tell in the photo, but it has a grass roof:


I also got a picture of this re-purposed mixer inside the hostel:


I took a different route back to Reykjavik than I had taken out.  I first headed south on Route 37.  Here’s a view of the lake not long after I departed:


I headed south until I hit Route 35, which I then followed west by southwest.

At one crossroad, I made a point not to take the right turn:


although resistance was probably futile.


At one point on 35, I saw signs for a tourist site called Kerid (it can also be transliterated as Kerith – the last letter is an eth).  I did not know what it was, so I stopped to take a look.

It turns out to be a huge volcanic crater:



To give you an idea of the scale of the place, here’s a person standing atop the slope:


There was a path going all the way around the top, so I got to see the crater and its little lake from all angles.




One can also walk near the bottom, around the water, but I didn’t want to take the time, so I got back on the road.

Not too long later I came to Route 1, near the large town of Selfoss.  I started following it west (with it angling north a bit), and after another half hour or so, stopped for lunch in a much smaller town called Hveragerdi.  There wasn’t much there, but there was a bakery in a small mall that served sandwiches, so I got a decent meal.

I walked around the little mall after eating, and discovered this:



I did not know what to make of it until I saw this sign:


Thorir thú, indeed?  It didn’t matter whether I dared, as it did not seem to be in operation while I was there.

The riding had been pretty level so far that day, but as I left Hveragerdi I had a good-sized hill to climb.  I did not realize just how long a hill it was.  I was in the lowest gear, pedaling as long as I could hold out, and then stopped to rest.  Then I went another good ways, and had to rest again.  I thought I was getting near the top at that point, but I found out soon enough tha my second rest was only halfway up the hill.

Here are some pics from the halfway point:




Here’s the view up the hill:


Which at least contained a pretty waterfall:


After 2 more rest stops, I was at the top, and rode on a fairly long straightaway.  I could tell I was on a high plateau of some kind, because the wind was fairly unrelenting.  The temperatures had been in the 50s for most of my time in the country, and it was right around 49 or 50 that day, so the wind made it uncomfortably cold.  It also was often blowing from in front of me, so it was not easy to make headway.  Another unfortunate fact is that the shoulders of the road were not very wide through this section, and on Route 1 cars were zooming by at 90 KPH or more.

I do not recommend this road as a good cycling route.   🙂

Eventually, I got to a good long downhill portion, and though I still had to contend with cold wind, the going started to get easier.  I stopped off at a gas station to warm up a bit at one point, after which the shoulders got wider as I got near Reykjavik.

Once I got to the outskirts of the city, I was able to find my way back to the paths I’d used to exit the city earlier in the week, and so I retraced my route back to the airbnb apartment (I was to stay that night in the same place I’d stayed my first night in Iceland).

I got checked in around 4:30pm, showered and changed, and then went to the shopping mall nearby to look for a cheap backpack or something like it.  I was done carrying luggage on a bike for this trip, so I thought I should replace my broken bags with something better.  I found cheap, small backpacks at a sporting good store and bought 2 of them.

After that I headed into the city to get dinner. I saw this recycling container near the harbor:


I ended up at a restaurant called the Sea Baron, where you pick out skewers of raw food from a refrigerated case, and they grill them for you.  I got skewers of redfish, potatoes, and vegetables (pepper, mushroom, onion, tomato).

I looked around the downtown a bit after dinner before heading back to my lodging.  I saw this figure next to a gift shop:


One of many elves that populate Iceland, I believe.

I also passed by a little lake, which had ducks swimming around in the dark:


Usually I’d expect them to sleep at night.

Speaking of which, I got back without incident and went to sleep for my last night in Iceland.

Next: off to the UK


Posted by seaking on 11-10-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Food, Travel with 0 Comments

Not-So-Plain Plain

On my third day in Iceland, I had a quick breakfast of yogurt and granola, or rather, of yogurt drink and granola.  It turned out that the stuff I thought was yogurt, Skyr, is more like a thin smoothie.  It still worked fine, as I even like having granola with plain milk.

Outside, before getting on the bike, I took a picture of Héradsskolínn itself (click any picture to see it bigger):


And here is Óli Stef up close:



And here is the peak across the road, without its summit obscured by clouds:


I started riding west, back up Route 365.  When I say ‘up’, I mean that there is a long hill that I had to climb as I headed out of Laugarvatn.  Here’s a view of that same peak from a ways up the hill to the west:


This is a view looking downhill at the town:


While I was paused at this point, there was a pretty stream off to the side of the road:



As I rode along 365, I took pics of mountains that I hadn’t stopped for when I came through earlier in the week:




I also saw some more sheep, including a variegated one:


When I came within view of Thingfallavatn, I could see what looked like a geyser on the other side of the water:


Soon I got to Route 36, and headed north into the Thingvellir park.  A little ways after getting into the park, I turned off on a side road that goes west along the north side of the lake.  There I was able to get close to the lake, as at this parking area:


The lake, complete with a fisherman off to the left:



I walked along the water a bit, and observed some interesting seaweed, which was very brightly colored:


It was also very stringy:


The plant life on the ground was mostly low-growing stuff, and not all of it green:



Continuing along toward the center of the park, I soon came to the odder parts of the landscape.  Namely, various geologic fissures:





Iceland, and the national park in particular, sits on the divide between the North American and European tectonic plates, which are moving apart very slightly each year.  It’s this action that causes much of the ground breakage there.

Around these fissures, I also saw my first view of this long rock wall:


That wall borders the parliament plain (the Althing Vellir) itself.  This is where the world’s first parliament met, established in the 10th century by the Viking settlers of Iceland.

When I got to the plain, I locked up the bike in a picnic area, and headed up some steps toward the rock wall.  Here are some views of the plain from most of the way up:



There was a path in front of the rock wall, which went slightly downhill to the north:


And uphill to the south:


I followed the line of people uphill, and came to the top of the wall, with a viewing platform, and a good view of the lake and plain:




I could also see Óli Stef from up there:


At the top, there was also a parking area and visitors’ center.  I went in and watched a few videos on the history and geology of the place.  Apparently, the land in the plain is slowly sinking, which is why water flows over so much of the places that people once camped for the annual assembly.

Here is the view back down the path along the wall, just before I headed down that way:


More of the wall:



Here, marked by the flagpole, is the Law Rock, where the Law Speaker would recite the country’s laws:


Looking down at the plain from here:


Further along the wall, I came to water flowing down from above:


Looking down from a bridge over the stream:


And here the water flows onto the plain:


I headed down onto the plain after that.  Here’s a view looking south:


And looking back up to the Law Rock:


I wandered through the little collection of buildings on the plain, including a small church.  There is a graveyard there:


And behind the buildings is this mysterious tree:


A wider fissure:


And here there is a diver getting ready to swim along the tectonic divide:


I headed back to the bike at this point, and noticed the lava rocks found around the picnic area:



On my way away from the plain, I saw some geese – a type that I don’t generally see in the US:



Riding eastward, I stopped to check out a couple of hiking trails in the park.  The first one took me through some tundra:


There was a cable running across the ground, for some reason:


I came to a waterway which had more of the neon seaweed, as well as a much stranger growth of stuff on and in the water:




The other trail I hiked took me through a stand of evergreen trees:


And then up a hill which has a neat gully cutting across it:




There was another pleasant view from up there (looking west):


Once I hiked back down from there, I rode out of the park, back toward Laugarvatn.  At the park exit, I stopped and took this picture to the north:


I had a rain-free day this time, but still wanted a shower when I got back to the hostel.

I met this individual in the hostel parking lot when I arrived back:



It was very friendly, and must belong to someone, as it was wearing a collar (but no tag).

After cleaning up, I had dinner in the hostel cafe, this time getting an item not written on the menu.  It was local trout, baked with a cheese sauce, and with fried potatoes and salad on the side:


It was quite delicious, and a nice end to the day.

Next: back to the city

Posted by seaking on 11-09-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Cats, Hiking, Surreal, Travel, Wildlife with 0 Comments

Water Falls and Rises

Having biked from Reykjavik to Laugarvatn, I checked in at Héradsskólinn, a hostel in a former school building.  After getting both rained on and sweaty through the day, it was nice to be someplace warm, and I took a nice shower after getting situated.  I got dinner in the cafe there, which was vegetable soup with bread and a small salad.  They had reindeer meatballs as one of the menu options, which sounded intriguing, but I passed as that dish was pretty expensive.  The soup was unlike any vegetable soup I’ve had in the US, as it was basically a cloudy broth, as though all the veggies had been pureed, and it had a dollop of sour cream on top.  The bread was freshly baked and crusty.

I had no trouble going to sleep after all the riding I had done, and I got up nice and refreshed in the morning to ride some more.  I was going to head further east to a couple of sights, and then back to the hostel.

I had the breakfast buffet in the hostel cafe, which included more fresh-baked bread, with options of jam, butter, cheese, tomato, and cucumber to put on it.  They also had thick, plain yogurt with jam and muesli to mix in, and hard-boiled eggs.  I ended up having a few slices of bread with jam, a cup of yogurt and meusli, and some tomato and cucumber on the side.

Just before hitting the road, I took this picture of a mountain just across the road from the hostel:


And here is the lake (also called Laugarvatn) on the other side of the hostel:


I saw a few more nice views on my way (though a bit more rain fell on me, as well):






I also crossed a couple of rivers.  Here’s the first, helpfully labeled:



I also saw quite a number of sheep (I had also seen some the previous day):



That one on the left appears to be looking at me, but sheep have just about a 360-degree range of vision, so really all the sheep were looking at me, in some sense.

I also saw horses, who seemed curious about me:



These 2 were scratching each other’s backs:


And at one point, in the middle of a field, I saw a geothermal water spout:


After about an hour-and-a-half of riding, I passed the site of Geysir, where there are multiple hot springs and spouts (also know, of course, as geysers, taking their name from this place).  I would be stopping off there on my way back west.

Here is the other river I crossed:



The first rain of the day had not lasted very long, but soon after passing Geysir, I got rained on more solidly, and for longer.  It cleared just before I climbed a hill up to the site of Gullfoss, the golden waterfall.

Right near Gullfoss I saw some more, somewhat jagged-looking, mountains in the distance:



And there appeared to be part of a glacier visible beyond them:


I parked my bike on a rack at Gullfoss, and then started down a wooden boardwalk toward the waterfall:


I then got a couple of pix of the fall itself:



I was able to go a good deal closer to the water, but it started to rain again as I did so, and thus I didn’t want to get my camera or phone out for any more photos.

I went inside the cafe/gift shop after I’d had my fill of the falls and the cold rain.  It was late enough that I decided it would be a good time for lunch, and the “traditional lamb soup” sounded pretty good (it came with 1 free refill, plus bread).  The soup contained chunks of lamb, along with carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbage.  It was very nice on a chilly, wet day.

After lunch I browsed around the gift shop a bit, then headed back into the rain.  I headed back west, with the rain continuing until I was almost back to Geysir.

The geysir site is rather surreal, as much of the ground is steaming:



Those areas are roped off, because the water flowing over the ground is quite hot:


Around this site you constantly smell sulphur, and there are several spots where minerals are left on the surface:


The main geyser at the place is the original Geysir, which I did not get to see erupt.  It apparently only does so after earthquakes:




There is one geyser there which goes off frequently (every 8 to 10 minutes or so).  It’s named Strokkur:




Despite its regularity, I had difficulty getting a good picture of it erupting.

There was also this little bubbling pool, called “Little Geysir”:


There were also some calm steaming pools, and I love the deep blue of this one:


I spent some time looking around in the gift shop here, too.  At both places I saw nice looking Icelandic wool sweaters, but they were pretty expensive (and I didn’t have room to transport one anyway).

From there I headed back to Laugarvatn.  A little more rain fell, and I was once again very glad to get a hot shower.  After showering, and before dinner, I went to the town’s little grocery store:


I picked up some granola and yogurt there, to have for the next couple of breakfasts.

I then went and had dinner at a spa near the hostel.  It’s called Luagarvatn Fontana, and its main feature is geothermal baths.  I did not take advantage of those, but in their cafe I got a slice of geothermal rye bread (yes, they bake it by burying a tin of bread dough in the hot sand by the lake) topped with smoked trout from the lake.  After eating that, I had a piece of a flourless fruit and ginger cake.  All of the food was quite good.

Next: Back to the parliament plain.

Posted by seaking on 11-08-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Travel with 0 Comments

Rain, Repairs, and Rocks

September 2 was my first full day in Iceland, and as detailed in my last post, it began with picking up a rented bicycle.  Once I rode back to the apartment I’d stayed overnight in, I packed up my things, including trying to compensate for the broken zippers on my luggage.  I loaded the panniers on the bike’s rack, and used a piece of stretchy netting with hooks (which I got years ago for holding things on a bike rack) to hold shut the side pocket.  I then covered the top bag with a plastic trash bag and wrapped the borrowed bungee cord around it.  This held it closed nice and tightly.  I made a few holes for the buckles that would clip it on top of the panniers, and attached it.  I then put over the whole array the rain fly that came with the bike luggage set.  That would keep things dry and have the added benefit of holding the bags together.

I got going on the bike around 11:00am.  I headed east, following a bike/walking path that paralleled the main road out of the city (Route 49).  On the way, I encountered a river with an island of ducks (click on any image to see the high-res version):


There had been a bit of drizzle off and on during the morning, but just after I took this picture, it began to rain in earnest.  The rain did not last very long, though, mostly letting up by the time I got near the outskirts of the city and Route 1, AKA the Ring Road.  Here I’m looking out at Route 1 from up a hill, the bike path having gotten away from 49:



I managed to make my way downhill to a road whose sidewalk went under Route 1, and then bent north, which was the way I wanted to head on 1.  The sidewalk went away from any roads for a bit, and I followed it in what I thought was the correct direction, but I eventually noticed I could see the city ahead of me.  I had gotten partly turned around and was heading northwest, into a residential neighborhood, and sort of back toward downtown.  I made my way toward high ground to see if I could find my way back to 1, and it started raining some more as I did so.  I did eventually make my way out of the subdivision, and saw a way down to 1.  I headed there and got on the proper bike path, which went north right next to 1.

After a short while, I came to this sign at a cross road:


Not sure what to make of the graffito on it (it’s reversed from the usual swastika orientation).

In that field were a bunch of horses:


with an impressive ridge behind:


The rain had subsided for a little while, and then started anew.  I had to get off the bike path briefly and ride on 1, and just as I saw where I could get back on the path, I suddenly had trouble steering, and discovered that the rear tire had gone flat.  I got off the road, and looked around for a good place to change the tube.  Fortunately, I was next to a small park, and I spotted a gazebo.

I had planned for such an emergency, bringing a spare tube, tools, and pump.  With the gazebo, I was able to get out of the rain, which made the repair work much more pleasant.  It also stopped raining again while I was working.

This is the gazebo, and Óli Stef with a fresh new tube in place:


There was a little pond right near the gazebo:

There were also some fairly hidden ducks there (at least, it took me a while to spot them):


The park seemed to be in honor of someone or something, according to this sign:


and it included this interesting sculpture that uses a big piece of lava rock:



I got back on the path and rode on to the intersection of 1 with Route 36.  The bike path headed off to the east, running along 36, which happened to be the way I wanted to go which was good.  It was also raining heavily at that point, which was not so good.  I had a rain poncho, but it only does so much good – especially annoying is the rain pelting one’s face in such circumstances.  Soon after starting to follow 36, I passed a cyclist going the other direction – the first other bike I’d seen since leaving Reykjavik.

After another couple of miles, the path ended and I had to ride on the edge of the road.  36 isn’t a very wide road, but there also is not a ton of traffic, so it was generally not an issue for cars to go around me.  As had been the pattern so far, the rain let up after a while, but this time a bit of sun peeked through.  Here’s an example of what the view is like along much of 36:


For a while after taking this picture, I had dry riding.  Before I knew it, I had reached the border of Thingvellir National Park.  There will be more on the park itself in a later post, as I was only riding through the park that day, and would be coming back to visit more thoroughly later in the week.

When I got to the park border, I found this field of rock cairns:



Beyond the field is the park’s lake, Thingfallavatn:


The road went a bit north at this point, then turned east again (so as to go around the lake).  In the middle of the park I stopped at the snack bar/gift shop and got something to eat.  It was a lamb and bean salad sandwich.  That is to say, the sandwich had a slice of lamb lunchmeat, and the bean salad was basically mashed white bean of some kind, with bits of green bean in it.  It wasn’t bad, and I was certainly hungry, even though I’d eaten some snack food that I brought along.

Some more rain started falling while I was at the snack bar, but the sun was out toward the west, so there was a rainbow in the eastern sky:


I headed on through new rain, as the road headed south a ways.  The rain stopped again shortly before the road exited the park, and I had dry riding the rest of the way to my destination.  Here are some more views from around the eastern park border, including looking back at the lake:




I soon turned east again, getting onto Route 365.  This took me another several miles to the town (and smaller lake) of Laugarvatn, where I would be staying the next few nights.

Posted by seaking on 11-07-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Food, Travel, Wildlife with 2 Comments

Continued Tale, with Luggage Fail

I arrived in Iceland in the late evening, not long before midnight local time.  The international airport is not in Reykjavik, but about 30 miles southwest, in the city of Keflavik.  I had no trouble entering the country – the officer at Passport Control just looked at my passport, looked at me, stamped it and handed it back, without saying a word.  I had nothing to declare, so did not have to stand in a customs line after getting my baggage.  I headed to get on the bus that would take me to Reykjavik, thinking that everything seemed to be going very well.

The bus supposedly had wi-fi Internet access.  I got my laptop out of the backpack/bike bag and was able to get on the wireless, but could not seem to connect to anything online on the ride.  After a while, I gave up and put the computer away – and the zipper completely separated as I was trying to close the bag up.  As I tried to unzip it in order to get the teeth back together, the zipper pull itself broke in half!

Now, to describe this bag, it was designed to sit horizontally on top of a bike rack and the side panniers that were part of a set with it (I had brought the set with me because I was planning to bicycle  around part of the country).  The zipper went almost all the way around it.  It had straps on the bottom so that it could double as a backpack, but with the zipper not closing there was no way I could carry it on my back (and using it on the bike was suddenly very dubious, as well).

When we got to the bus terminal in the capital, I made 2 trips from the bus into the building, as I couldn’t hold that bag together and carry the other 2 I had with me (the pannier set being one of those 2, plus a large duffel).  Once I was inside the terminal and out of the rain (did I mention the cold rain?), I moved some items around in my bags.  In this process, the zipper on one of the panniers’ small pockets separated and broke its pull, just as had happened to the top bag.

After getting everything I expected to need for the next 4 days into the bike luggage, I took the duffel to the bag storage place in the bus terminal and paid to keep it there.  I then tried to lash the other bags closed, and grabbed a taxi outside to get to my lodging for the night.  I had booked a room in an apartment through airbnb, and managed to make it there without losing anything from my bags.  At this point it was close to 2:00am, and I had to be up early to go pick up a rental bike I’d reserved.

I got an okay night’s sleep, getting up a little after 7:00.  As I hadn’t had a chance to exchange cash, I could not take a bus downtown, so I went ahead and walked to the bike rental place (it was about 3 miles, so not too bad a walk).  Just after leaving the apartment, I saw this sculpture, just off in the grass by the residential neighborhood:


A lot of the sidewalks in the city seem to be wide asphalt paths that are also used by bikes.  At one point, I was even passed by someone on a moped using the path.

At a few places on the way downtown, I saw odd mushrooms:


I also saw some interesting buildings:



This place has a familiar business on the ground floor (you may want to click to enlarge the photo to see what I’m talking about):


Here is a familiar brand at this place:


And a church with a familiar-looking name:



Before getting all the way downtown, I ended up by the harbor, where there are separate paths for bikes:


and for pedestrians:


I walked west along the water, and saw this art, honoring the country’s viking ancestry:


That was followed soon by this neat building, which is the city’s opera house:


Here’s a billboard for an odd-looking show (a children’s TV program, I think):


This is a preserved locomotive from an early railway that was used for construction projects in the harbor area:


There have not been many trains in Iceland, and currently no railways operate in the country, though a proposal seems to be moving forward to run train tracks between the capital and the KEF airport.

Shortly after the train, I reached Reykjavik Bike Tours, from whom I was renting my transportation.  I met Stefan, one of the owners, who got the bike ready for me to ride (he put a new chain on it and made several adjustments).  All of their bikes have names, and mine was named Óli Stef, after Iceland’s most famous handball player (that would be this guy).

I mentioned to Stefan the issue with my bike baggage, and wondered if he could recommend a place to get a replacement bag, and he suggested that I might be fine if I covered the top bag with a garbage bag and then used a bungee cord to hold it together.  He even loaned me a cord for this purpose.  Armed with this idea (as well as helmet and lock that came with the bike), I rode back to the apartment to pick up my luggage and start my tour.


Posted by seaking on 11-06-2014 at 10:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Travel with 2 Comments

Tunnel and Dam

On April 12 of this year, I went to the town of Clinton, MA for a “Golden Spike” event where updates were provided on the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail (MCRT).  Presentations were given on each section of the trail, what had been done so far in terms of planning or construction, and what would be done in the near future.  Slides that were shown for each section can be viewed here.

There is still only a small percentage of the eventual statewide trail finished, but good progress seems to be happening.  The event also featured a keynote speech from the state’s commissioner of conservation and recreation, and some awards given to people who have been important in the development of the trail.

After the event, a tour was given of a former railway tunnel in Clinton that will become part of the trail in the future.  I couldn’t resist trekking through a dark and dank tunnel, so I went along on the tour.  This is the end of the tunnel near a major road (click on the pictures to view larger versions):


There are no longer tracks running through the tunnel – its floor is dirt and gravel.  One very interesting feature is that, while there are concrete walls near the ends, much of the sides and ceiling of the tunnel are just rough-hewn rock.


Even though it was a fairly warm day in mid-April, and there had been plenty of warm Spring days already, the interior of the tunnel was quite cool.  There were even large chunks of ice still to be found inside:


While the ground was merely damp through most of the length, there were large puddles at the far end, and some deeper water in the pathway beyond.  Here is the view out the other end:


And looking back through the tunnel:


In the leaves next to one of the rock walls, a snake was lurking:


It emerged more as it checked out the people:


After seeing the tunnel, I walked over to the dam on the nearby river.  The Wachusett Dam creates the Wachusett Reservoir:


Here is the top of the dam, which is closed to visitors:


Off to the right (north) is the Nashua River:


As well as a long stairway down to the bottom.

At the bottom, where the water emerges from the dam, there is a sort of fountain, which might be the way the water comes out from the reservoir:


Also in that picture, there is a row of white dots crossing the river in the distance.  Those are the remains of pilings for the train bridge that used to connect with the tunnel.

Here is the dam seen from near its base:



And the stairs back up to the top and road:


I counted the steps as I climbed back up: there are 194 of them.

Even though there is not a whole lot of trail running from Northampton to Boston, there are more sections complete than I knew about when I rode to Boston in 2012.  If I should do such a ride again, I can spend more of the distance off roads.  I certainly look forward to riding some of the other trail sections whenever I have a chance.


Posted by seaking on 11-02-2014 at 10:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Wildlife with 0 Comments

Another Century

So, as promised, here is the full write-up on my 100-mile (actually more like 105-mile) bike ride for the Food Bank of Western Mass.

Will Bike 4 Food took place just over a week ago, and I showed up bright and early.  I arrived at the Food Bank’s headquarters in Hatfield at 6:30am.  It took a little time to park, get my gear onto my bike, and check-in, but I still had plenty of time to get some food (they had bagels, pastries, and fruit).

I also had time to take some pictures of the foggy start:




Unfortunately, my camera stopped working while I was taking these.  It seemed to run out of power.  I tried swapping in the batteries from my headlight, but it still would not respond.  That left me with only my (old) iPhone to take pics.

The ride was due to start at 7:00 for those riding the century route.  There were apparently 37 people signed up for that route, but only about 10 of us were in evidence at that time.  They ended up actually sending us off at 7:10, though I saw 1 or 2 riders who took off earlier on their own (I later found out that about half of the people signed up for this route didn’t show up to ride – maybe some of them had knee problems?).

I got ahead right away of the other riders I started with, though I didn’t expect that to last.  We actually started climbing the first hill just 2 miles into the ride, and most of the other riders passed me pretty quickly on the way up.  While climbing this hill, the fog lifted and the sun came out, though it remained chilly for a while.

The ride progressed west at first, heading through Whately on some roads I wasn’t familiar with, eventually making our way to Williamsburg center.  We then headed north through Conway and into Ashfield, on the same road that I’d ridden just the previous weekend.  By this time, there was another rider hanging out by me, a young guy named Jack who had come up from Springfield.  He was a little better on hills than me, staying at least a little ahead of me during the long climb to Ashfield, but I did slowly catch up.

The ride turned off that main road soon after entering Ashfield, and I was once again in unknown territory as we headed further west, and climbed up some more.  We were soon rewarded with a sizable downhill, though it was steep and curvy enough that I had to lay on the brakes (Jack was more daring and zipped ahead without braking).  After some mostly level riding, we got to route 112 and went south just a bit, then west a couple more miles on route 116.

A turn to the north on a side road soon brought us to the first rest stop, at the westernmost point of the ride.  I almost didn’t realize that it was the stop as we approached – I saw people in green t-shirts by a farm and thought there was some 4H function going on.  It was the place to stop, though, and I happily had some trail mix and refilled on water.


From there we went north a bit more, then started back east toward the town center (we were still in Ashfield).  On this leg, we passed a point that had been on the first Food Bank ride, where I’d seen a big cairn of stones by some power lines.  The cairn was no longer there – who knows when it got dismantled.  Maybe it just fell apart over time.

We passed through the center of Ashfield and headed northeast on some of the same route as in the Bikefest ride, but then angled a bit more southward into Conway, and then went south to Conway center, where the second rest stop was located.


We knew there was at least one cyclist behind us, and some volunteers who were driving the route (in case anyone needed roadside assistance) confirmed that there was exactly one cyclist behind us.  She arrived while Jack and I were at this stop, and left before we did, so from that point we were in the back of the century pack.  Fortunately, it was not a race.

After this I was familiar with just about every road that took us back to the Food Bank.  We headed straight south out of Conway (up another moderate hill) down into Whately, and then headed eastward back into Hatfield.  Somehow I got far enough ahead of Jack that I lost sight of him, and he arrived at the Food Bank a while after me.  I got there right at noon, and was halfway done with the ride.

I took advantage of this stop to use the bathroom, then got a little more food, and ended up heading out for the second half close to 12:30.  I knew the remaining portion would be less hilly, so I still had some hope of getting back by the 9 hour mark, even though the first part had taken me almost 5 hours.  The riding was certainly flat for quite a while, as we headed north near the river, through Whately and Deerfield.  We got to the next water stop around 2:00, and that was located at the beginning of the bike path in the northeast corner of Deerfield.  The route then followed that path across the river and much of the way toward Turners Falls.

Before actually getting to downtown Turners Falls, though, we turned and crossed the river again into the east part of Greenfield, and climbed a gentle hill up to, and across, Route 2.  There was a bit more of climb after that, and then we rode into the town of Bernardston.  The ride was still fairly easy, but I was getting quite saddle sore by this point, and sometimes needed to stop and rest just to get off my seat.

Just a little ways into Bernardston, the route went west along a side road, and then the one big climb of the second half began, with the road rising and rising into the town of Leyden.  This was where I really slowed down, as I didn’t have a lot of energy or strength for the somewhat steep climb.  I had to stop and catch my breath almost right away, and I told Jack not to wait for me.  He pedaled on and was quickly out of sight (spoiler: I did not see him again the rest of the ride).

I had to rest a number of times heading up this hill, and even walked my bike up one short bit that felt too steep to pedal up.  When I was on a plateau near the top, a car full of volunteers drove up and let me know that the next rest stop (which would be at the bottom of the hill) was closing up, but that they would leave some fruit and water for me.  I managed to make it up the last little bit of hill, and then had a nice long downhill ride.  I got to the water stop, and this is what was left:


Actually, there had also been an apple.  I ate that before I took the picture.  This stop was in the parking lot of an elementary school:


I think this is still in the town of Leyden.

From here I was a little unclear on which way to turn, as the school is at a T-intersection.  I didn’t immediately see street signs, and there were no left  (or sharp right) turns indicated on my cue sheet.  Most intersections had been marked with little arrow signs to show which way the route went, but there weren’t any here.  I ended up making a left turn and riding a mile or two before beginning to doubt that I was going the right way, as I still didn’t see arrows, so I doubled back to the school.  This time, I did see a street sign, and figured out that what I was calling a left turn, they were calling “continue onto X road” because of the angle of the intersection.  So, I had originally gone the right way – it was just going to be 5 or 6 miles before the next turn after that.  I went on, covering the same ground again.

By this time it had already been more than 9 hours that I’d been riding, so I was just hoping to get to the end before dark.  I headed down the road, still sore in a few places, and saw the same volunteer car pass by me, checking up on me.  Eventually I was back in Greenfield, and took the next turn, and soon got on a bike path along the Green River that I had never ridden on before.   It is a nice little ride, though this path is only a mile or so long.  On the path, I passed a black cat who was intently focused on something moving in the nearby underbrush (a chipmunk, perhaps?).  I didn’t take any more pictures, because I just wanted to make as good time as I could.

A little more climbing after downtown Greenfield took me to Deerfield, and more familiar roads.  And there was yet another little climb just after I crossed the Deerfield river (I had to walk my bike up 2 more inclines – ones that would have been no problem to ride up earlier in the day).  By the time I got into Whately again, it was getting dark.  Fortunately, I had my lights with me, as I’d used them in the fog when the ride started.  I continued as quickly as I could, still needing to rest frequently, and finally got back to the Food Bank just after 7pm.  There were still a few volunteers there (waiting for me to finish, as I was the very last rider of the day).  I felt a little bad for making them stick around, but everyone was cheerful, and thanked me for doing the ride, including the Director of the FB.  There was no food left from the after-party, but they had saved me 4 cups of beer (which were of no interest to me, though, as I don’t drink).

After calling home, I walked to the car (which was a ways away from the FB building), then realized my car key was still on my bike (which I hadn’t brought to the parking lot), so I walked back to the building to get the key.  A volunteer then offered me a ride back to the car, which I happily accepted, tired as I was.  I got the car, loaded on the bike, and headed home, where I pretty much ate some dinner, showered, and fell asleep.  I was exhausted and sore, and it took much longer than expected, but I did get through the whole ride.  And the next morning I felt much better (9 hours of sleep can do wonders).  I felt refreshed, and my legs were only a little sore as I headed to work (not by bike).


Posted by seaking on 10-09-2013 at 11:10 pm
Posted in Biking with 1 Comment

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