Monday, October 23, 2017

Friends and Falls

In late October, a friend came to visit and we decided to go see Niagara Falls.  The 42 mile round trip was a bit out of what we could accomplish, so we stuck all the bikes on the car and drove across the Grand Island bridges to a park in Niagara Falls.  This is a great way to see the falls, especially if you have friends and family who don't ride much. The ride is pretty flat, and is only about 8 miles, round trip. Bikes allow you to ride around from vista to vista quickly, albeit due to the time of year, it was not extraordinarily busy.  Sometimes it is so crowded, you have to walk your bike a lot, but this is still better than walking everywhere.
Cave of the Winds, Niagara Falls
Cave of the Winds, Niagara Falls
We took the trip to Cave of the Winds, which I had never done before and it was really, really cool.  You can no longer go behind the falls, because it is too dangerous, but they have built this weird boardwalk at the base you get to via an elevator.  The boardwalk looks like it was constructed by me and my friend, because it is just propped up against the raging torrent by 2x4s and a few 2x6s.  Many of the boards have been reused as they needed to be replaced.  The owners just cut them down and nail them in different places that need shorter boards. There are not any obvious spots where the structure has been morticed or drilled and anchored into the rock. It is just braced, but seems oddly stable. You can stand almost under some of the flow and it is like something out of Master and Commander; you are blasted by water and wind. You can avoid those extreme spots and are not herded along by anyone, so you can totally take your time. Highly suggested.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Going to the Sun Highway

We rented bikes and a rack from Glacier Cyclery. They were awesome, the bikes were quite nice, they put the trunk rack on our rental car and gave us great advice.  They suggested we take a full change of clothes for the ride down.  We had planned on taking just jackets, but added dry shirts and light gloves and this probably saved us from great discomfort. The drive to Avalanche Creek was complicated by construction on the main Glacier road, so our planned start time of 4:00 was shifted to 5:00, not a good start.  We had promised ourselves that if we didn't get to the top by 8:30, we would head back down to avoid riding in the dark.  We had brought our own silicone wrap lights, but felt those were not ideal.
Carrying about 4 liters of water was not quite enough.  2 miles from the top,  I ran out of water, which on many rides would be no big deal.  There, however, it was not too good.  There was a working drinking fountain at the top, so we were able to refill, but the ride down did not require a lot of water.

The views were amazing and the shadows on the snowfields and forests were awesome.

 I stopped to talk to this woman, who reported she had about 30 unicycles in and on the car.  She was returning from the Unicycle National Championships near Seattle.  She told me about the challenges posed in the competition and those sounded pretty wild. She was from Wisconsin and the driver had to bail, so she offered to drive the vehicle back, with the stipulation that she could visit National Parks on the way back. The car was packed pretty tight, as you can imagine.

1/2 mile from the top, my partner told me he was unsure he would make it by the deadline and that I should go on, so with reservations, I left him.  Near the top, I bypassed several parked cars and hikers, thinking they were going up hiking trails.  The visiter center at the top was closed, but the most important parts, namely the drinking fountains and bathrooms, were open.  I hiked a tiny bit up the alpine meadow trails behind the center, but was really out of time.

After refilling my water and changing my clothes, I turned back to head back down and was thrilled to find my partner had indeed made it all the way. He asked if I had seen the mountain goats...

On the way back down, he pointed out all the people looking at a herd of big horned sheep and on the other side of the road was a mountain goat.  So very cool.
The down trip was pretty hard on our necks and hands, one long braking session. The views were still spectacular, but we traveled the last mile or so in the dark.  It was not really unsafe, since there were few cars on the road at that point. Such a beautiful ride. One of our warmshowers guests reported he did the same route, but much earlier in the season and the pass was closed, due to snow. He rode back down, then up the other side the next day, so he could see if from that perspective.  So hard to imagine doing that 2 days in a row.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Plotting the Summer starts the previous December- Glacier; Going to the Sun Highway

Riding the Going to the Sun Highway has been on my bucket list for many years. I wanted to hit it when I went down the Great Divide , but that was a missed opportunity. When I mentioned this to my partner, he agreed to go with me. My partner is a good cyclist, but not hardcore. The fact that he's interested in doing this truly thrills me.

I started the process by calling Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish, Montana. One of the employees, Vanessa, emailed me back with a lot of information. She suggested that I make sure I have bike rental reservations finished by mid-March. When I had the dates all confirmed and the airplane tickets, I called Glacier Cyclery. I actually got to speak to Vanessa, and she suggested altering my plans. My plan had been to start up as early as possible, believing that everybody had to be off the road by 11 o'clock and there were no other chances to go up. Vanessa noted that leaving early in the morning, it is cold and there's a lot of traffic that makes the trip up quite stressful. Adding to that stress is the time factor, requiring cyclists to be at the top before 11 o'clock. Vanessa also informed me that after 4 o'clock cyclists are allowed again on the road. She noted that it's a fabulous time to go up since the sun doesn't go down until 9:30 at night. She also stated that at 4 o'clock most of the traffic is coming down, and all the people who were rushing to go up to start hikes in the morning are gone. There was an added bonus on top of that; the alpine glow lends a beautiful hue to views on the way back home. We don't have to mention that I do not work for Glacier Cyclery... I was truly impressed by her knowledge of that particular road, and that she's done it several times. The bike rental situation is quite good, especially after I asked her for her advice in terms of timing. Also the rates are quite reasonable and they're going to rent us a bike rack for our rental car. I have had positive dealings with Glacier Cyclery previously, when I was on The Great Divide Route. They took a phone order while we were far away and very remote, for one of my companions who had panniers that failed. The panniers were waiting when we arrived in Whitefish, MT at Glacier Cyclery.

I am more excited to go than ever...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Aug 25

Breakfast- tried something new. The spirally things are just steamed dough, no filling. Oh, well. I dipped them like I would have dumplings, in the red lightly spiced sauce, mixed with vinegar. 
Tiananmen Square southern gate: Zhengyang Gate
Tiananmen sq: looking kind of stormy, but never a drop did fall. 
The Tiananmen- first gate into the Forbidden City
Two pillars greet you
And another pair inside
Second try for the Forbidden City.
I tried to use someone else's ticket they had purchased online for yesterday. Fail. After standing in line at the regular ticket purchasing booth, I was redirected to (via pointing to a little map of the Forbidden City in my Lonely Planet guide) the correct area for the line, which was also the wrong line, but at least I hadn't spent a lot of time in that line. Finally approaching the window I was told it was for the wrong day. BUT I handed the clerk my pre-prepared money and voilĂ , she sold me a ticket rather than making me go back to line 1.

The Fordidden City is as massive as the Summer palace, flatter, less interesting and even more crowded. I really liked the Summer Palace's lakeside setting, too. There were many of the same types of buildings, like the private opera stage for example, and the Summer Palace's example was in better shape. The Forbidden Palace had slightly nicer Rockeries, but it was much more difficult to get around, I think. The signage of each in english was comparable. 

From atop the outer wall
Hall of Literary Glory? After awhile all the halls and gates started looking alike. 

This must be where they are storing parts and pieces in preparation for some restoration project.
Outside the walls, on the other side of the moat. 
Hundreds of these vats are on the grounds. They held water for the purpose of putting out fires. The buildings look made of stone, but in fact the walls and roofs are mostly wood.
I have always loved ancient Chinese clay horses. This one is small and from the Tang Dynasty.
I also like looking at the gardens. These are called rockeries.
No signage, but pretty.
Imperial garden; many are rockeries and almost bonsi trees. Very calming, they have a great dimensionality (making up words now) that flower gardens lack. There was actually one regimented plant garden, but it looked too regimented for my tastes. 
The ubiquitous lion, but always fantastic when original. 
Steps up the sides for the litter bearers; the emperor rode in the litter suspended over the beautiful carvings in the middle, usually dragons. 
I totally did not photoshop that sky; Beijing on a low smog, overcast day. This is one of several sun dials. 
I think this is the first turtle I've seen, though the signage seemed to imply turtles were a regular symbol of the emperors. They used to place lit incense in the turtle's mouth, so it would look like its mouth was smoldering. Again with the sky.
I think we should totally add water spouts like this to our eaves.
So many thrones. I'm not sure if each new emperor got a new throne.
Nine Dragon Screen all done with glazed tiles. This might be better called a wall mural, but there are not many of these left, 3 in Beijing.
This would be an awesome sliding tile puzzle.
The omnipresent huge doors. Since they were all made of wood, fire was also omnipresent.
Door detail- it is interesting that the thresholds are almost always raised 8-10", even in people's ordinary dwellings.

Main throne/ receiving area
Paving around the tree roots turns them into works of art (accentuating nature's own artwork).

This was a form of entertainment; cups filled with wine were placed in water filled channels, flowing from water kegs hidden in rockeries nearby to the building. If the cup lodged next to you, you drank the wine. 
Rocks were imported and artistically placed. Trees were placed among them and trained into shape. 

Both carved from one piece of jade:
Close up:
The emperess was jealous of a favored concubine (25 yrs old), so she took power and had the young woman drowned in this well. Later, she felt the ghost was haunting her, so she had the body removed and buried in a plain grave. It is a pretty infamous story. 
Apparently the elephant was sculpted in the impossible position to show even elephants would bow to the emperor.
Love the "whiskers". 

5.5 hours and I'm back at the Meridian front gate. 
I went back looking for this exhibit of figurines. I doubt I saw everything of value to see, but was pretty shot at the end. 

There are many of these wells distributed around the compound. 
This again is the southern gate south of Tiananmen sq. (Front Gate- Arrow) It is one of my main landmarks. 

I saw this in the hostel and laughed. My daughter has this exact image as a sticker. The young lady was from Italy, but bought it from the same website. 
I fell asleep at 8pm. I didn't mean to, I was just closing my eyes for a second. Really. That second lasted 10 hours.