Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Month of Beach Sunrises—31 in a row: The week three Extravaganza

Sunrise of April 11th at the Sea View fishing pier

This fourth installment in the "month of sunrises" project found me hiking the dawn beach in the presence of some awe-inspiring displays. If you want to catch up on what came before, here are the links to the first three posts in this series:

Introduction and the first three sunrises of the thirty-one (March 25-27).

Week One—March 28th through April 3rd

Week Two—The sunrises of April 4-10

Now, without much further ado, here come the rest of the Week Three sunrises:

Pre-sunrise sun pillar on April 12th.  This phenomenon is caused by flat ice crystals that are falling through the air.  The air flow around each crystal causes it to spend most of its time oriented parallel to the ground.  You can observe this behavior yourself by dropping a piece of paper or a flat leaf. 
On April 13th, with the help of high thin clouds and a few thicker ones, the sun seemed to be imitating the planet Jupiter with its stormy bands.
The sunrise of April 14.  This is one of my favorite shots of the month, with the gull and the billowing and towering cumulus clouds out over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
Close encounter.  Before sunrise on April 14th I came across this UFO—a jellyfish saucer—that had landed on the beach.
Ragged clouds and a red-rubber-ball sun made for a spectacular wide shot on April 15th
Earlier on April 15, I came across this beach castle.  Is this where the jellyfish-saucer Aliens live?
Another 'red-rubber-ball sunrise' happened on April 16th.  When it's very hazy the sun rises dimly, sometimes barely visible when it first appears, and gets bright only very slowly as it lifts above the haze.
Final day of the week, April 17th found the waning crescent moon perched high in the sky as the first pale light of sunrise was developing.  This view also features Sea View Fishing Pier.
Another of my favorite shots, the sunrise of April 17th.

Weather was wonderful this week.  Temperatures were in the 60's F.  While wind on the beach can make a day in the 60's feel downright cold, there was very little wind this week.  It was a pleasure to be out there as the new day unveiled itself.  I almost don't want this month to be over.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Thirty-One consecutive sunrises, week two

Sunrise of April 5th, which I shared with another two legged onlooker

Sunrises seemed to come in matched pairs during this seven day period.  The headline shot above came on the second day of the week, and it was sandwiched between two mostly cloudy mornings where the sun didn't make a direct appearance.  Fortunately the sky still held some interest.

Bands of retreating clouds around sunrise on the morning of April 4th.  It got sunny later in the day.
Roving bands of clouds obscured sunrise on April 6th.  It didn't rain, but the morning was persistently cloudy. 

The following two days had almost identical appearing sunrises.  I've already posted the one for April 8th.  Here's April 7th's sunrise.  The sky was completely clear except for this scattering of very low cumulus clouds out over the Gulf Stream where the cool air met the warmest of the water.

Fortunately there were some other beach oddities to keep my interest on these two days.

Portuguese Man-o-War.  I found several beached on the morning of April 7th after the stormy onshore winds of the day before.  These are not considered jellyfish but are a colony of cooperating organisms that, like jellyfish, have a very nasty sting.
A Black Skimmer. The color of its translucent bill and bright legs was enhanced by the early morning orange sunlight on April 8th.  Lower mandible of the beak is much longer than the upper because this bird skims the surface of the water with it as it flies, scouring the surface for small fish, insects, crustaceans, and mollusks.

Finally, April 9th and 10th featured bright orange sunrises. and for both of them my best shot happened right at the moment of sunrise.  What's more, on both days I was in the vicinity of the New River Inlet channel entrance buoy.

So to provide a distinction between these last two days I grabbed one final shoreline shot, taken in the dawn glow before sunrise on April 9th.

March for Science - well meaning people, but a very bad idea

Tomorrow, Earth Day, 22 April 2017, well-meaning folk will be gathering in cities around the world in a ‘March for Science.’  I won’t be one of them.

The idea is to advocate for and to raise awareness of science as one of the major pillars that uphold the common good.

But in practicality it comes across as a protest march. The lofty positive message is window dressing. People have picked this particular Earth Day to march because they perceive that science is suddenly under attack due to a political change.

Wrong. What is under attack is the respect for the role of science in society, and the problem has been slowly developing for decades.

Particularly since the arrival of the internet, we, the people of the free world, have been engaging in way too much hot, polarizing, rancorous debate over issues ranging from the effect of vaccinations on Autism to the effect of human activity on Climate. The volume of scientific research directed at these and other hot-button topics is completely inundated by the volume of rhetoric. The March for Science will only add more rhetoric to the mix. It is only going to bury the science even deeper.

The way to most effectively ‘champion’ science is exactly the opposite. Science shares three qualities that naturally allow it to rise above the smothering partisan fray. It is these qualities that need to be communicated, not the supposed ‘facts’ that result.
  1. Science is selfless. Personality has no place in its process or its products. At the heart of the scientific world-view is the assumption that all results (all ‘facts’) are conditional, always subject to review and revision. Science requires the experimenter to ‘turn the other cheek.’ Any individual who questions a result is free to test it themselves—to try to knock it down. The methodology and the result of these tests are all that matters, not who does them.

  2. Science is universal. The more people who try to knock down a result the better.  Reproducibility is the measure of the ultimate value of a scientific result. A scientific finding is not considered ‘true’ unless an overwhelming majority of the experiments used to test it, conducted independently around the world and over time, converge on the same finding. The power of universal results cannot be underestimated. They can be applied to people’s daily problems, and they work. Look at the ‘miracles’ that modern technology has produced. Thanks be to Science. Science gets results.

  3. Science is transparent. The average person today does not believe this. They see science as some alien religion—completely fallible and requiring faith in order to trust it. That is because these days, science experimentation is so complex and so specialized that only a handful of people world-wide have enough knowledge to fully understand what is being done. This implied ‘elitism’ is one of the greatest hurdles to trust. I do not have a solution to this pervasive loss of respect. All I can say is that the standard of transparency is iron-clad and must be unimpeachable. We who do science have no right to demand trust and respect. We must earn it with our behavior and with our results.
I am a retired Earth Scientist. On the face of it, participating in a march for science on Earth Day would seem natural—a near perfect fit. But marching on Washington will do nothing to improve the quality of any scientific finding. I’m willing to bet that participants will not come away from it appearing more selfless. They are not likely to spend any time better exposing any universal truth, and almost certainly participants will not come away with any more trust and respect than they arrived with. No. Bad idea all around.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Month of Sunrises - hiking the beach, Week One

A peloton of pelicans.  Pre-sunrise, March 28th.

In a previous post I introduced the 'Month of Sunrises' project with a discussion of the astronomy of sunrises and a look at the first three of the thirty-one consecutive sunrises I hoped to witness while hiking the beaches of Topsail Island, NC.  I'm going to present the remaining 28 sunrise views in four posts covering a week each. 

March 29th telephoto shot of a flat sunrise, typical of the situation where the air is warmer than the water.  Air was in the mid 60's this morning and water temperature of the coastal shelf was in the upper 50's 

The weather here in coastal NC has been unusually mild, even warm, this spring.  Winter's chill is long gone.  The coldest temperature I've encountered so far in this month-long string of hikes on the beach at the coldest time of day, has been in the low 50's F.

Sunrise of March 30th framed by the structure of the Sea View Fishing Pier.

When you propose to capture sunrise every morning, regardless of weather, you have to expect some cloudy, stormy days, where there won't be much of a view of the sun.  So far I've been pretty lucky with that, but a very windy storm blew through overnight of March 30-31.  The rain ended at 8AM and I went out and was able to get this shot of the wind-and-wave-whipped foamy surf with a bit of reflection of a dim, cloud-shrouded sun.

For the rest of the week I focused on the variety of sky color preceding the actual moment of sunrise.

God rays, April 1.  Although there was not a single cloud in the sky, there were clouds below the horizon from the departing storm of yesterday.  The 'streamers' of light and dark are caused by the shadows of these clouds and the sun beaming between them.
Denizens of the dawn, April 2nd.
Beach pavilion, snack bar and restrooms at the county park, sunrise on April 3rd.

No other time of the day combines quiet serenity with such a kaleidoscopic color display.  Sunrise is my favorite time of day.  Seeing a sunrise from a mountain top is a special experience, but with mountain trails you have to stop to catch the view.  Because a beach itself can stretch from horizon to horizon you can capture the joy from wherever you happen to be.  Freedom.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Hiking Home - Need your feedback - Help me choose my route

My 'Tiny House', built before 'Tiny Houses' were a thing.  I called it a 'shack.'  8x16 feet, built at a cost of $75. Lived here Nov. 1976 through Sept. 1980 while building a regular house on this four acre Colorado mountain property.

A week from now, once I finish my 'Month of Sunrises' beach hiking project, I'll be heading out to Ohio to resume hiking west to the last two areas where I've lived that I haven't yet connected with 'boots on the ground footprints' - Wisconsin and Colorado. 

Recent Google Street View of 713 Jefferson St., Sauk City, Wisconsin, where I lived from when I was born until age  .
The house I built in Colorado, set on a ridge with a killer 150-mile view of the high plains to the east.  The 'shack' can be seen at right in the background of the last photo.

Over my life, I've had twenty-four different mailing addresses, and except for the ones in Wisconsin and Colorado, I've already hiked trails connecting all of them.  I call it my 'Personal Continuous Footpath' project.  You can read more about it by clicking the tab labeled 'Hopping Rocks' above.

But Colorado and Wisconsin are a long way from eastern Ohio, and the Nationally recognized (scenic and recreational) foot trails across the middle of the country are pretty sparse and take very meandering courses to get me to where I'm going.

Important also is that my biological clock is ticking away.  I'm approaching the age of 70.  Who knows how many more miles I have in this old bag-o-bones I call a body.

So ... as I return to Ohio, I will be facing a fork in the road.

Should I carpe the diem, stick with the trails, smell the roses, take the scenic route, let the journey be the destination?  Or should I hit the roads, make a bee-line, pound the pavement, travel as the crow flies, keep my eyes on the prize?

Here are some of the pros and cons.  Distance and time are obviously much shorter, probably at least five times shorter, taking the roads.  In Ohio alone the North Country Trail route meanders for 750 miles to get to a point 214 miles by direct road walking from where I will start at that fork in the road.

Yet road walking can be a dreary affair.  I hate the barking dogs worst of all.  I'm generally pretty good about finding things to entertain myself when boredom seems inevitable, but for close to 1500 miles with no respite? - no chance to wander in the woods?

On the other hand even the established trail route consists of roughly half road walking.  I've never come to terms with the lack of connected trails in our country.  Why can't we have a Benton MacKaye Interstate Trail System to rival the Dwight David Eisenhower Interstate Highway System?  The cost would be trivial by comparison.  The benefit in terms of improved quality of life and national pride is immeasurable.  Ahhh, but that's an aside, a subject for another post.

Lastly, the good trails are way up north for most of the way, so that I won't be able to hike a long season.  There will be winter down time.  It may take four years of all-summer hiking to get to Colorado.  Meanwhile my joints aren't getting any younger.  My stamina and recovery get less every year.  If I get the road walking done, achieve the goal of connecting every place I've ever lived with a continuous string of footprints, then I can always go back and hike the longer trail route at my leisure, and make a more 'honest' connection.

So ... HELP!  Which way should I go?  Share your thoughts with me ... please!  One thing I know for certain is that you readers have the experience that can help me with my decision.  You'll come up with all kinds of ideas and angles that I've overlooked.  Post your thoughts in the comments here and/or on Facebook where I'll be posting a link to this page.  Let me know what you would do and why.   And I thank you in advance for your feedback.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Beach bumming -- a Month of Sunrises

Gosh!~ Has it really been nearly three months since I posted something here?  What the flying-hairy-horse-potato have I been doing?  Why on this green Earth have I not been sharing it here?

Well, let's answer the second question first.  I confess that I have no good excuse.  I've been lazy and I've been too focused on other goals.  One of those goals has been to try to finish reading a behemoth 4.4-million-word Fantasy tale called The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  Honestly I wish I hadn't, but I own the books and I wasn't about to let them sit on my bookshelf unread.  Maybe I'll post details about this later.  By late March I had finally finished all fourteen books, and I've written reviews for each one.

The reading was my obsession.  I tend to be an obsessive personality.  I focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others.  So while I read I took a break from my more deep-rooted obsession--hiking, and that was not a bad thing.  The break let a minor tweak of my chronically weak left knee heal and recover.

To answer the first question, I've been spending most of these first few months of 2017 taking it easy at the shore, Topsail Island, NC.  Once I finished the reading, I headed back to the trail, or in this case the beach.  I slipped on a pair of Crocs on March 25th and headed out the door of my oceanfront condo, and have been hiking the beach at sunrise every day since.  I've made a project of being on the beach to personally witness every new arrival of the sun for a full month, through April 24th.

Here's where the laziness shows up.  I should have been posting these sunrise photos, but I kept putting the work off.  Now I have accumulated 22 sunrises to share, and a handful of other interesting sights captured in photos along the way.  I've hiked about 113 miles during this time, so my average morning sunrise hike distance is five miles.

To properly witness a sunrise I need to be out on the beach at least an hour before the moment the sun actually appears.  A sunrise is a dynamic thing, and the changes as it evolves are as exciting as that instant when the sun first appears.

Sunrise of April 8.  There's a hint of a green flash here (see text) but it was already transforming into orange.  The sun is at left, surrounded by a halo in the thin haze.  To its right are shreds of small clouds, and their reflections are bouncing off the surface of the warm water (air temperature has to be lower than water temperature for this 'mirage' effect to happen) so that inverted mirror images of the clouds appear.  Yes the true horizon is up there in the 'sky' where the bright sliver of sunlight appears.

At middle latitudes the sunrise 'process' begins with what's called 'Astronomical Twilight' a full hour and a half before the sun actually appears.  During the next half hour, depending on how clear the sky is and how much man-made light or moonlight is around, the first visible glow develops on the eastern horizon.  Astronomers shut down their telescopes this early, because their sensitive detectors are already picking up the sunlight being scattered by the far outer fringes of Earth's upper atmosphere.

An hour before sunrise when the sky is free of clouds and haze the glow is readily visible.  That's when what's called 'Nautical Twilight' begins.  For the next half hour all you can really see are silhouettes, such as that of a ship out at sea.  There's not enough light for the human eye to make out details or identify small objects.

Then starting a half hour before sunlight comes what's called 'Civil Twilight'.  At the beginning the light is about as strong as the light from the full moon.  Over the next few minutes most people will begin to feel comfortable walking around without bumping into things.

About twenty minutes before sunrise, the sun begins to shine on jet contrails and the highest clouds at the boundary between the Stratosphere and the 'weather layer' called the Troposphere.  This is when those clouds, made of ice crystals, begin to display fiery pink and orange glow.  It's when the real glory of a sunrise begins.

View about fifteen minutes before sunrise on April 5th.

About ten minutes before sunrise the sun can begin to shine on the underside of middle level liquid-water clouds, creating perhaps the most spectacular moments of all.

Finally the sun actually peeks above the horizon and there are intense changes that sometimes last only seconds.  First there is the 'green flash'.  Because the atmosphere bends light rays of different colors by slightly different amounts, the shorter wavelengths curve around and reach the eye first.  But this really is a flash--way less than a full second.  A good green flash requires a haze-free sky, so it's best when the humidity is low.

The rising disc of the sun produces endless variety of effects as it climbs up through layers of haze and any clouds that are around.

No two sunrises are the same.  Meanwhile under my feet the tide and waves have sculpted a pristine new treadway for me.  That's what I love about doing these beach hikes.  I can hike the same geographical location over and over and have different surroundings every time.

Okay, so without further ado, here are the first three sunrises.  I will follow this post with four more posts covering a week each.  Enjoy.

March 25, wide view
March 26, a stormy night led to the sunrise being hidden behind racks of departing clouds
March 27 was a warm morning.  When the air is warmer than the water as it was here, the sun rises compressed and flat-looking at first.  Shore birds add a wonderful dimension of additional variety to the scene.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tenth anniversary of a life-changing hike - Bob's Hill

Unremarkable little Bob's Hill as seen from the east - a summit that launched a trek of 12,000+ miles (and counting).

Ten years ago on this date, January 24, 2007, I gave up twenty five years of life as a couch potato.  I went out and found a trail, and I hiked it.

It was just a mile and a half up a hill and back, an effort that seems woefully insignificant in retrospect.  But the point is that I did it.  I had decided to get myself into shape, and this was the first step.

The 'getting into shape' actually started back in August, 2006 when I decided I was sick of feeling puffed up and bloated.  I went on a severe calorie-restricted diet and dropped 33 pounds in 100 days.  I did not consult a doctor and I did not do one whit of exercise.  I couldn't recommend that approach to anybody else, but it worked for me.

The next step in the transformation from couch potato to long distance hiker came in December, when I watched a Discovery Channel series about an expedition to Mt. Everest led by Russell Brice. It was a six-episode series and the installments became the highlight of my week.  One of the participants was 62 and had just had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney.  I was 58 and generally in good health, if out of shape, so I reasoned that if he could get out and tackle something that tough, so could I.

In the back of my mind was a 'Bucket List' goal that I had set for myself back in high school.  It had lain dormant all that time but not forgotten.  Before I died I wanted to climb a 20,000 foot mountain in South America.

After the TV series ended I sent an email to Russell Brice, and he promptly and personally replied.

From that moment on I knew I was going to give it my best shot.  As I dreamt of Everest I began researching Russell's expeditions and I studied brochures of companies offering climbing excursions in South America.

I spent a month gathering information and building up inspiration and excitement, all from the comfort of that soft, cushiony couch.  A full month.

Why it took me so long to pick a trail and actually set foot on it I do not know.  But I can guess.  Inertia.  Newton's First Law.  For twenty-five years I had been 'A body at rest ...'

Well, when I finally did manage to stir that body into motion, a few of the wheels and gears naturally complained.  My personal journal entry from that fateful day seems almost comical, particularly the part highlighted in bold type.  Here is an extended excerpt.

* * *

WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2007: I fell asleep instantly and slept like a log until 5AM sharp. At that time I got up because I wanted to look at maps of the Catoctin Mtn. Park/Cunningham Falls Park area west of Thurmont, MD.

Early yesterday morning I had hatched the idea of using that as a nearby training ground for mountain hiking. I am hoping to find a good place to hike uphill carrying weight and then down without it, either using the hand truck, or using water jugs that will fill and empty easily.

I couldn’t identify a good stretch of trail I could hike near road access, such that I could possibly ride a bike or trundle the hand truck down asphalt and hike up a steeper foot trail. But the Bob’s Hill trail from the Manor Area parking lot of Cunningham Falls park, right off highway 15, provides an excellent rise of 1100 feet in less than a mile and a half. So I was really eager to check out that trail – so much so that it was hard to resist jumping in the car immediately and going there, and so much so that I was willing to give up my book writing time. That’s the way it is when I get a “hot” idea, and I guess that it’s a healthy sign that I can get do excited about something that I happily break my entrenched routine – probably helps keep me young at heart.

Anyhow, instead of leaping into my car, I got up out of bed where I was looking at the various maps and trail guides (the Bob’s Hill trail is part of the Catoctin Trail that is documented in the Appalachian Trail guide book and maps that I have for Maryland). I did some usual chores and spent some time on the book.

But yes, I was too excited to go see the Bob’s Hill trail. So I got off the computer at 9:10 and dressed and packed up and left for Thurmont at 9:20, arriving at the parking lot at the trail head at 10AM sharp. I headed up the trail to the top of Bob’s Hill – an 1100 foot climb in 1.5 miles.

The uphill trek was nowhere near as difficult as I had expected and hoped. The slope was only really taxing in one short stretch right before the top where there is a side trail to the overlook. The view from the overlook was nice – a pretty picturesque rock outcrop was great for having someone stand on as a photo op with the scenery in the background.

It was the downhill part that was hard. I was using my ski poles religiously and taking my time. As a result, my left knee never had a twinge, but there were a few twinges in my right knee and more surprisingly, almost every other joint in my body started complaining! My hip joints seem to have had the most enduring complaints – I think I was walking stiff legged enough that the hips were doing a lot of the work that the knees might normally have done. Also, my arms complained. Even my hands got pretty exhausted from holding the ski poles and using so much arm power to help support the weight on descent.

But almost all the complaints went away instantly when I sat down in the car. The climb to the top took 40 minutes and it took me the same amount of time to descend in full knee preservation mode.

Bottom line: I feel as though I passed this test – 1100 feet climbed without added weight and descended with only minor temporary joint problems. Next step will be to repeat the climb with the 5 gallons of water on my back. But before I do that I need to get a good sturdy container or containers for the water, so I can easily empty it at the top, and so I don’t have to worry about babying the containers.

It’s clear that because I rely on the walking sticks so much, I don’t want to use the hand truck on the way down – even though the trail is probably smooth enough to allow me to use it.

I was back down at my car at 11:35. That is definitely the closest mountain trail to my apartment, so it’s a real serendipity that it is also one with a good vertical ascent in a fairly short distance. I drove back home, arriving at 12:15. I didn’t even notice any difference from normal as I climbed the steps to the apartment! I started warming up lunch, looked over the maps and trail info as sort of a post-mortem then took a shower before eating lunch. At 1:30 I lay down and napped – mostly rested my body. But the body didn’t really feel as much need for rest as I had thought.

* * *

It took almost a week before I went back.  After that climb I stopped at the Trail House in nearby Frederick where I spent a couple hours with an experienced hiker/climber named Jeremy, and I bought my first gear, including my first pair of Crocs.

Since then I've climbed Bob's Hill more than 115 times by my best count.  It's a nice climb with that great view as a reward at the top.  And in May, along the middle part of the climb, you're sure to see loads of the wild pink orchids called 'Lady Slippers' right beside the trail.

Back in May 2015 I took a nostalgic trip back there with my GPS and recorded the track and the elevation profile.

What happened next?  Well, in March I took a mountaineering training course in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The climax of that trip was a winter climb to the summit of Mount Washington.

I did Bob's hill about thirty times with ten pound weights on my ankles and fifty pounds of water on my back before heading to South America in late May.  I had hoped to join a later excursion, set for July, when I'd be in better shape, but nobody else was signing up for that one.  I was so eager to go that I gave it a shot.  But I wasn't in good enough shape to get to 20,000 feet.  I made it to over 19,000 feet but a combination of lack of training time and 'Montezuma's Revenge' kept me from my goal.

After at least fifty more ascents of Bob's Hill carrying 50 pounds of water, and months of grueling interval training (a method that simulates the oxygen deficit of high altitude) on a tread mill set at maximum incline with the same burden on my back, I finally achieved my Bucket List goal in Argentina in early 2010 (see this series of blog posts with the label 'South America').  Since then I've hiked the Appalachian Trail twice in a calendar year (they call it a yo-yo), and many other long distance trails.

I write this blog in hopes of sharing the joy I get from hiking.  This particular post goes a long way toward describing the origin of that joy.  It wasn't an earth-moving experience that set me on this adventure, just a simple decision to take that first step.  As it says in the header to this blog:

"Step out.  Discover your path."