Saturday, January 29, 2011

Farewell to Goose Island

We leave in the morning for Falcon State Park after eight days here at Goose Island. It’s finally shorts and T-shirt weather and we’ve enjoyed getting out to walk, bike, and run. Penny has become pretty well-known with her running alongside the bike. Lots of little yappy dogs here which tend to drive her (and me) a bit nuts.

The first morning we were here, the roar of airboats awoke us about 4:30 A.M. It was the last day of duck season and all the good old boys were out. It calmed down considerably after that although guides take out anglers about every morning -- with the resulting racket.

The birding has been wonderful -- and we’ve met several interesting folks. Last night we went on an owl prowl -- which turned out to be a walk along an oyster shell filled trail through the puckerbrush with Mary and fifteen others -- but no owls. The night sky through the trees was quite something -- these Texas nights can be quite spectacular.

This morning, after coffee, scones, and wifi downtown, we went to say goodbye to the whooping cranes. Three flew over as we approached and later, as we watched, a male from the group of three that reside there drove the newcomers off.

We met a guy today with a Bates sweatshirt so we had to query him -- and learned that he and his wife moved down here from New England about five years ago. He’s a photographer -- shooting birds and and scenery -- and loving living in Texas. I’ve seen the temperatures for this area in the summer. Mary and I, while enjoying the area a lot, have too much Yankee blood in our veins to move south. However, getting down here for part (or most) of the winter is enticing.

Falcon Lake got some bad press six months ago when the guy was killed by “pirates” on the Mexican side of the lake. That story always has had a phony ring to it -- no debris, no body -- so it will be interesting to hear the local version of the story. We hope to erect and launch the kayak but will be staying close to the U.S. shore for many reasons. I think it’s likely safer than it was when we were there last year.

Temperatures down there are forecast in the low 80’s just as the rest of the country is getting ready for another big storm. One side of me feels guilty -- but I suspect as soon as I see a Green Jay and three types of orioles, I’ll get over it.

Seriously, we will be thinking of our friends/family dealing with this tough winter.

Take a look at my latest post on the birds of Goose Island.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Settled In at Goose Island

The trip down on Saturday was uneventful and traversing Houston on a Saturday morning was relatively easy - although the Houston drivers must have trained in Boston. We did go by hundreds of school kids working along one of the Interstate exits and Mary remarked, “They are planting stuff.” Sure enough, sort of a Green Up day in January in Texas.

Once we got south of Victoria, the traffic was very light and the road Texas straight. The trip by Aransas refuge to Goose Island was familiar and it was good to have an easy 270 mile trip done.

Goose Island is very busy so we were smart to have reservations. Texas parks don’t reserve specific sites -- just a slot -- so it is take what you find when you get there. We were bummed that our favorite site from last year was taken but we found a spot nestled under some trees on Bayberry that will do fine. We have other campers a little too close with too many dogs but it is quiet -- I can hear Cardinals singing loudly as I type -- and we’ve already seen some nice birds.
Yesterday was laundry morning so Mary logged some time feeding quarters and I went looking for birds and coffee. We have a couple of little repairs to the Airstream for which I got some bolts and parts. We are settling in for some good birding -- there’s a raptor expert here this week. Penny has had some good runs with the bike setup and yesterday we saw three Whooping Cranes a few miles from here. Since we’ll be here for a week or so, I’ll likely be mostly blogging about birds I see. I’m including a Brown Pelican shot that I took yesterday as a teaser. Visit vtbirder.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Village Creek State Park, TX (Days 6-7)

We launched from Louisiana mid-morning and soon joined the west-bound travelers on I-12 north of New Orleans. A major east-west thruway, Interstate 10 drops down to New Orleans and splits off 12 north of the lake. It’s a fast-moving collection of trailer trucks, pickup trucks, quite a few RV’s, and many autos. The speed limit most of the time is 70, and that’s the pace in the right lane. The left lane is moving from 70-85.

There’s a twelve-mile long bridge/causeway that we recalled from last year. Nothing but marsh and water as far as one can see, and pity the vehicle that has a breakdown. We cruised along at 70 when we could (there was quite a lot of construction) and approaching Texas, we saw ominous black cloud up ahead. After a quick stop for maps, we were back on the road in light rain but lots of wind. The spray from the trucks was tough for probably fifteen minutes and then we we out of it. We turned north at Beaumont and navigated up to Village Creek State Park outside Lumberton.

Village Creek is a small park with only about twenty sites with electricity and water. However, only two were occupied. We checked in, showed our Texas Pass*, and picked a site. The park has a wonderful network of hiking and biking trails so Penny and I were off before dark on a long jaunt. With no one around on the trails, I let her run freely.

The weather is cold for Texas. The temperature dropped after the cold front and was about 34 this morning. The electric heater kept us snug. It took a 5 mile walk with Penny this morning and it was chilly at first, warming as the sun broke out.
Today we got Mary’s bike going and she took her first ride since last time in Texas. With no traffic and smooth roads, it’s a perfect place to get comfortable again. Meanwhile, the dog and I took a long bike ride this afternoon down along the river. It’s challenging bike riding with the soft sand on parts of the trails and the dips and climbs through sloughs. I missed my mountain bike tires although the hybrid did pretty well. We went all the way to the end where there is a beach and Penny took a little wade and chased some shorebirds. She’s a tired pup tonight.In the morning, we hook up and head to one of our favorite spots, Goose Island State Park. The trip will go right through Houston but since it is Saturday, I’m hoping it won’t be too difficult. The weather looks to be cool for the next week but nothing like our friends and family in the Northeast are putting up with.

It’s been a week on the road and it will be nice to settle down at one place for a while. We plan to be at Goose Island for over a week and visit one of our favorite coffee shops, The Daily Grind, in Rockport.

Check out my birding blog here

* If you plan much camping at state parks in Texas, you need to buy a $60 annual pass. Otherwise, it is $5.00 per head each day you stay at a park. The pass also gives you some half-price coupons for the first day so it doesn’t take long to pay off. We bought one last year and it is good until the end of February.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Biking With The Vizsla

One of the challenges of traveling and camping is too eat healthy and get enough exercise. Fortunately, with the Airstream we can manage our food choices and not be stuck with the fast food options that seem to be everywhere.

On the exercise front, it often boils down to walking the dog -- which isn't aerobic (unless she slips her collar) but is one good alternative. We take two or three ten minute or often longer walks per day just to keep sanity -- for her and for me.

I've written before about biking with Penny. I did it long before we started traveling and have used a Springer system which works well for me. I was riding a high-end mountain bike until last year but the geometry was to0 radical for a 70-year-old back -- so I sold it on Craig's list last Spring. My friends at Onion River Sports -- one of the northeast's best bike shops -- sold me a hybrid which is comfortable and perfect for riding with the dog. I got it set up yesterday for the Springer.We went out again today on a long ride to look at birds and explore the nature trails at Fontainebleau State Park in Louisiana. We probably went about 8 miles on a combination of grass, gravel, and mucky trails. We passed a "Don't Feed The Alligators" sign and whisked by something posted about Cottonmouths. The combination of surfaces was perfect for Penny's pads and challenging enough for my early-season riding form.

Of course, coming back to the park, we passed several dogs with whom Penny seemed to have issues. I gave up on the "break-away" tabs when she snapped them while lunging for dogs so now, I just tie a leash tight and she can back and tug all she wants. Picture this -- a Vizsla going sideways down the road talking trash while her owner peddles the bike straight ahead. I'm sure campers don't forget her -- although it's over fast.

She starts out runs at top speed and I hardly have to pedal for the first half mile. Later, it's sort of even-steven and then, at the end of long rides, she's pooped and we walk it in. The trick is to give her rest breaks and carry enough water -- although she'll opt for puddles when available.

Our other exercise option later will be kayaking. Somehow, I don't see a role for Vizsla -- although I'm sure she does. A tired Vizsla is a good Vizsla.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Great Weather and WiFi

Any day that starts with seeing a Great Egret on an early morning walk and ending the day with a bike ride with the dog alongside is a good one.

Yesterday (Day 4) was a "get it together" day at Clarko State Park in Quitman, MS. I got the water system operating after winterizing it. You always worry about problems due to freezing and we had one split spray nozzle -- which was easy to replace. I washed the truck and the Airstream, taking off months of salt and crud.

There were only a few campers at the state park so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. The birding was wonderful (see my birding blog) -- and the dog could run free on the miles of back trails and roads. She went nuts with the many squirrels around -- chased a wild turkey, and had her nose down in an armadillo hole until I pulled her away.

Today, we had an easy trip down Highway 59 to I-12 and ended up at Fountainbleau State Park in Mandeville, LA. It sits at the northern end of Lake Ponchartrain on an old sugar plantation. Louisiana parks have WiFi which is a big help -- we can only do so much with our iPhones.

I got the bikes unloaded from the chaos that is the back of the pickup, hooked up the Springer system, and took Penny for a spin around the park. She gets a wonderful workout and is snoring beside me on the couch.

We are going to stay here for a couple of days -- do some bike riding and birding -- and then head on to Texas. Weather is nice -- today got up to 70 but it will be in the 50's tomorrow. However, reading the weather forecast that my Vermont friends are facing, mid-fifties sounds pretty good.

This state park is about half full with many people who stay for weeks -- with big rigs. We are the only Airstream here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

3 Days on the road & gonna settle down tonight

After waiting out the storms and dealing with the electrical problems noted in my last post, we launched early Friday morning with the temperature holding below 10 degrees. The first trick was to get down our snowy driveway. I took it easy, in first gear, but halfway down, the truck and trailer all started sliding with brakes full on and I just got it down and around the corner and could then slow down on the sanded Wood Road. Fortunately, it was very early and no one was coming down the hill in the dark. Once our heart rates slowed, we trundled down through sleepy Montpelier and had an uneventful drive down to Bethel, Killington, and up over Mendon Mountain. Roads were dry, snow flurries were minimal, and traffic was light.

The first day brought us down to Albany and then down I-88 to Binghamton. We then join the rat race south with truckers headed home on Friday and driving like crazy. With gas stops (we paid $3.30 a gallon at a ripoff joint on I-88) every 180-200 miles, my debit card was getting a workout. We made it as far as Chambersburg and stayed at a Walmart in very cold conditions. There was a Hoss’s restaurant on site so we ended up having a good dinner storing up calories for the night ahead.

The Airstream, when operating on battery power, is heated with a propane heater up at one end. It’s not easy to get the sleeping end heated when it’s 15 degrees so it was not the most comfortable night we’ve spent. We tanked up on coffee in the morning and were again on the road before seven.

Saturday is a good day to travel. The truck traffic is reduced as is commuter travel. We were out of Pennsylvania at once and zipped through the ends of Maryland and West Virginia and then spent a lifetime in Virginia. I-81 has some pretty scenery through this stretch and we thought we’d got out of the snow cover -- but after an hour of bare ground, we came back into where last week’s storm had dumped a lot.

Knoxville is a tough city to negotiate, even on a weekend. The merging of interstates, the ever-present trucks, and some event at UT made this trip through town stressful. We decided to stop at the Walmart in Athens, Tennessee, having called ahead for permission.

I had talked to a local cop patrolling the parking lot -- just letting him know we would be there overnight, with permission. We had a nice chat about Vermont and he told me to call them if we noticed any problems. Well, for a bit, I thought we’d have to take him up on it. For an hour or so, several hot cars seemed to be doing laps around the parking lot with loud engines, tire squealing, and lots of sitting, idling, and whatever. The scene quieted about 9:00 and I later figured that the kids were waiting for buddies working in the tire/lube section of Walmart.

Today was a relatively easy Sunday drive -- if you call driving 370 miles hauling a trailer easy. The traffic was ok and we negotiated Chattanooga and Birmingham and then encountered a stretch of concrete highway that was hell. It reminded me of the NY Thruway where decades of truck traffic had trashed the right lane, leaving the left lane relatively smooth. The road was horrible -- I was very concerned about the trailer tires. So, we drove 20-30 miles primarily in the left lane -- watching the mirrors as best we could. Of course, we then hit construction and had a twelve mile stretch with only one lane -- the right one -- and it was painful. The truck and trailer did ok in spite of the thumping.

The rest of the journey, through Tuscaloosa and into Mississippi, was easy. We have stopped at a state park in Clarksdale where for the first time, we can activate the water system and have power. There’s no one here -- just a couple of families -- and it’s a good place to bird and run the dog. We’ll catch our breath for a few days before moving on to Louisiana.

The park in just south of Meridian, Mississippi. I learned to fly jets at NAS Meridian many years ago and we live in Meridian during the height of the civil rights movement. We were sort of insulated from the events but did get a taste of southern attitudes from our neighbors -- so the airfield has good memories for me but the town still leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We may check out the air station while we are here -- just for nostalgia’s sake. And find a wifi hotspot.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ready, Set, Wait Another Day

As is the case before most major trips, we were up very early this morning. I had plowed the driveway yesterday (we got nearly a foot of new snow), and cleaned off the trailer. I had a lot of trouble getting it into place and whacked a piece of ledge submerged in the new snow. Finally, we spent all evening finishing loading.

We were ready to launch at 6:15 A.M. In a last minute check, we found that the trailer lights didn't work. Shades of day one last year -- except it wasn't along I-81! I realized that in the struggles to extricate the trailer and get it moved into the driveway, I had trashed the electrical connector to the truck. It was at first depressing, especially since it was dark, snowy, and windy. Then the truck lights were wacky -- brake lights staying on, turn signals inoperative. That improved once I disconnected the broken connector.

I was able to back the trailer on to flat land in front of the garage and get unhitched. First, I tried to tape the broken connector up with electrical tape -- in 15 degree temperatures and wind with Mary holding the flashlight. No way, Jose.

So after thawing out, I went downtown and bought hand warmers first (enough frostbite the last few days) and then a new plug and some truck fuses. The next several hours was spent wrestling with 7 frayed leads and set screws -- plugged it in and.... nothing. I dug out the Ford manual, studied the fuse layout, and replaced a 20 amp fuse. Running lights! The right turn signal worked, left not. Aha, the fuse -- I replaced it, tried again -- nothing (but a blown fuse.) I knew I would have to take the plug apart again so I went to to warm up and have coffee. I wrestled the plug apart, got the left turn wire reconnected and carefully put it together. Tried it .. nothing. Oh yeah, the truck fuse was blown again. I took the cover plates off, found the fuse .. which was again blown, and replaced it. Finally, after about four hours plus, things were working.

By now, it was approaching mid-day and I had not been impressed with the road conditions during my earlier trip. We were tired, stressed out by the hassle, and decided to wait until tomorrow morning. The forecast is better, we'll double-check everything once more tonight - and should be good to go. Now I've got to haul in some more snow-covered firewood and take Penny for a long walk. She's been "clingy", knowing something is up but not completely sure she's going. She'll go if we go -- and tomorrow the internet/cable gets disconnected so we'll be out of here.

I guess I'm glad that all my learning last year on systems and replacing stuff helped. However, doing electrical work in biting wind is above my pay grade. We need to get the Airstream, and ourselves, south pronto.