Archive for September, 2008

Lost the boat?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

We headed back to Hollywood today, hoping to get our cameras fixed. The backlight on Scott’s Canon G9 is turning off intermittently and Becky’s Olympus 850 SWdied shortly after taking it snorkeling. We also needed to get in contact with the port agent to figure out what was happening with the boat.

Scott spent much time talking to our camera shop in Ottawa and worked out a plan that will hopefully allow for his camera to be fixed under warrantee. We don’t have the receipt for Becky’s camera and are not 100% certain where we bought it, so we will have to pay to have it fixed. According to Henry’s, water damage after inversion a known problem with the Olympus 850SW, so hopefully the shop can fix it quickly.

We were told last week from our travel agent that the freighter would be in Port Everglades on Oct 3rd. When we finally reached the local agent, they were not able to find any records of our boat coming here. So, we are no longer certain what is happening with the boat that we were supposed to be boarding on Friday. We have sent a message off to our travel agent in Germany, and hopefully when we get up tomorrow morning we’ll have an update.

We are both rather surprised that the lack of information regarding our boat is not stressing us. We figure that if the boat is leaving from a different place, then we will figure it out. We may need to take a plane to catch the boat, since time is becoming short. We may even end up giving up on the boat – who knows. One big reason for our lack of stress is the hospitality Dave and Leo are providing. It almost feels we’re at home!

Key West and Key Largo

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

We arrived in Key West just before dinner last night. We are staying with Jim, who we met on Warm Showers. We had a delightful dinner at a local beach restaurant while watching some of the “local entertainment” on the beach. Unfortunately, due to its temperate climate, there are a fair number of homeless who make their way to Key West, and several of them got into a brawl shortly after we arrived at the restaurant. Fortunately, there were a few folks around who were willing to break up the fight.

Powered By SmugWPJim has done a fair bit of bike touring, and other interesting things in his life, and is planning another bike tour shortly. We had a chance to learn a bit about his story after dinner. He started out in the Navy after High School, working in San Diego, then moved to San Francisco after his discharge. He has also worked in Yosemite, and has spent the last 10 years in Key West, watching it change and grow.

He has managed all this while being HIV positive for more than 20 years, which not too many people can say. Now HIV in North America gives you the same life expectancy as Type One Diabetes (which my father has survived for over 40 years now), but that certainly wasn’t true 25 years ago. At that time, HIV-AIDS was mysterious, and seemed to be eventually fatal for everyone. Jim left San Francisco to travel by bicycle after being diagnosed, and he attributes the travel, exercise and serenity he gained through cycling for helping him in the early years of his illness.

For decades, Key West has been a refuge for gay tourists, and was also an area hit very hard by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. The complex where Jim lives is a testament to that. It is called “Marty’s Place”, and was established in 1990 by composer Jerry Herman in memory of Marty Finkelstein, as a home for people who are HIV positive. We waved to a few of the residents, but we left on Sunday morning, so didn’t get a chance to meet any of them and hear their stories. Two days certainly isn’t long enough to really get to know anyplace, and Scott felt that we were rushing through our trip to the Keys, but we had things to do back in Hollywood on Monday, so didn’t feel we had much choice.

Before Jim headed out for a training ride, Puffie got a chance to meet Marvin the Martian (Jim’s mascot), and to pose for a photo.

After packing our gear, we headed to downtown Key West to check it out. It was oppressively hot (over 95 deg F and humid). We have not yet adapted to the heat, so weren’t happy being out of the air-conditioning for any length of time. It is very good that we choose not to bike!

After a nice lunch at the Banana Café, we went to check out the Key West cemetery. Because everything on Key West is close to sea level (the highest place is only 12 feet above sea level), a lot of the burial plots were above ground tombs. It was neat seeing the family burial plots with tombs stacked 2 , 3, and even 4 high. Becky wonders if there is a building ordinance that limits the height of any given plot?

After our tour of the cemetery, we decided to head up to Key Largo to enjoy an afternoon by the pool and a nice dinner in celebration of our sixth wedding anniversary. Just as we were getting into the car, Becky accidentally dropped Puffie, directly into a mud puddle! It was a good thing we had a bottle of water in the car. Becky was able to give Puffie a nice warm shower. Puffie now isn’t quite as muddy, but looks like a pretty bedraggled Labrador Puffin (scruffy Puffie). We hope he will dry out OK.

It was nice to see the Keys weren’t as heavily developed as other coastal areas we have been to – still lots of low-rises and small homes, and very few buildings taller than 3 stories. Some of that may be due to the relatively recent ‘discovery’ of the Keys as a destination, but also related to infrastructure constraints. All the water for the Keys comes down from wells near Florida City via a 130 mile Aqueduct, although there are two desalination plants for emergency use.


Puffie goes snorkelling

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Aruba, jamaica ooo I wanna take you
To bermuda, bahama come on pretty mama
Key Largo, montego baby why dont we go

(the Beach Boys)

Becky keeps singing the kokomo song! I wish she would stop. I know we are in Key Largo, but really, she must stop soon!

The day began with rain. It sucks to fly in the rain – your wings get all wet.

We packed up our bags and headed out on an afternoon snorkel trip to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park about 2-3 miles off the coast of Key Largo. The boat was a nice big catamaran, with sails! Becky certainly was in heaven – sailing and snorkeling. I’m sure Scott was pretty happy too. I on the other hand am still molting in this heat. Soon I’ll shed enough feathers to make a pillow!

When the boat stopped, Becky and Scott were pretty quick to don their snorkeling gear. When we jumped in the water I was shocked at just how warm it was. The water felt warmer than the air. Apparently it is around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Certainly too warm for me!

Scott and Becky swam around and stared at the funny looking fish. I was hoping to have a nice snack, but the fish are all funny looking, with lots of bright colours. One of them looks like parrot! I tasted one of the smaller ones, but it is all full of bones and has no meat on it! Not good eating at all. I am certainly missing my North Atlantic home.

When we got back to the boat Becky discovered that her camera was no longer working! It worked fine when she was taking pictures underwater, but suddenly it thinks the card door is open even when it is closed. It looks like we won’t get to see any of the wonderful pictures until she can get the camera fixed (apparently it is a known issue with the Olympus).

Unfortunately, the captain decided not to put up the sails for the trip back, so it turned out to be a trip on a sailing catamaran that did not involve any sailing. Becky was disappointed, but the most of the others folks on board didn’t notice.

After the snorkeling adventure, we packed ourselves up and jumped into the car to head to Key West (a little too far to fly in the heat).

A weekend in the Florida Keys

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Our first order of business today was to get our bikes. The UPS website had each of them leaving Jacksonville last night at a different time, but this morning they all “went out for delivery” at the same time. The bike shop told us that they should arrive at around 2 pm, and lo-and-behold they did! Dave kindly gave Scott a ride to the bike shop and they picked up the 5 boxes – good thing Dave and Leo have a pickup!

We decided that rather than jumping on our bikes right away, we would rent a car for the weekend to take advantage for the weekend rental specials and get out to see the Florida Keys. If we rode, we might get to Key Largo, but we would not likely make it all the way down to Key West.

The bikes arrived safely, and we rapidly put them together. It appears that all the pieces arrived! In addition, a new shock for Scott’s bike arrived. So, when we get back from our weekend escape to the keys, we’ll be ready for a few days of riding. On Dave’s recommendation, we plan to check out the beaches north of Hollywood (the Palm Beach area).

Puffie Molts

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

I stepped off the train with Scott and Becky in Jacksonville Florida, only to discover a heat wave! Immediately my feathers started to molt … whatever shall I do? Puffins were not meant to travel this far south!

Welcome to Florida

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

We both slept rather late this morning (given that we went to bed before 10 pm). Our roomette bunks were comfortable, and the swaying of the train didn’t keep us awake. It appears that we both sleep well on trains. Hopefully that will translate to sleeping well on freighters too.

After breakfast, the train made its first daytime stop in Jacksonville Florida. We were ahead of schedule, so we had a good 40 minutes to walk around outside and enjoy a little bit of the beautiful day before getting back on the train. We could tell that we had moved south, as it was much warmer outside (about 25 degrees C) and muggy. Unlike in Washington, no-one was concerned that we were taking pictures of the train, station and rails.

Last night Scott was told that it was illegal to take photographs of any Amtrak equipment, on grounds of Homeland Security. We found an interview clip from earlier this year where an Amtrak spokesman states photography is allowed, but is contradicted by a security guard nearby during the interview. Good to see there’s a consistently understood policy!

The train ride today is a bit rougher than yesterday. The dedicated Amtrak rails ended at Washington D.C. last night, and we’re now on freight rails. As we pass over some of the railroad switches, they can throw the train car quite sharply sideways. Overall though, the train ride was very pleasant. Much nicer than the horror stories we had heard, and we arrived right on time.

We had purchased tickets to Fort Lauderdale, but then found out that the place we really wanted to go to was Hollywood. We enquired about changing the ticket when we went to pick it up, but the change would have cost us more than $150! (Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale are serviced by the same public transit, so our alternate plan was to take public transit once we got off the train). When we asked the cabin steward if we could stay on the one extra stop, he said “Sure, no problem”.

Tonight and for a few nights before we get on the boat, we will be staying with Dave and Leo, whom we met through Warm Showers. We are looking forward to getting to know them better.

Upon arrival, Becky called up Leo to let him know we had arrived. He jumped into his truck and picked us up at the train station – what wonderful hospitality!

Puffie rides Amtrak

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Scott and Becky are stuffed into a small compartment on the train – now they know what I feel like being stuffed into a pannier all day while they ride their bikes! It took them awhile to find a way to get organized and comfortable in the seats. There is not a lot of leg room unless they each place their legs up on the others seat. Also, one of them must always be riding backwards. The roomette is a little bit odd, with a toilet right in the room. The space is quite tiny (I can’t even fly around in it), so having a toilet seem kind of dumb. It would be better designed if there were a shared restroom (we are in the States now, so no more “washrooms”, they are “restrooms” here) rather than the in room facilities. Watching Scott and Becky try to maneuver when one of them needs to pee is quite amusing!

At 6 pm, they made their way to the dining car for dinner. There was a wonderful assortment of meal options, including a salmon meal – which neither of them chose – grrrr. You’d think that one of them would be considerate enough to feed me a little bit of fish while I’m out! I can’t believe they had the steak and chicken. Becky said the steak was actually good – but grrrr I’m hungry and they should have had the fish.

While in the dining car we went through Baltimore. The area near the tracks looks like it belongs more in a war zone than a suburb of the US capital. From the tracks, I could see many houses with broken or boarded up windows. Every third or fourth house was significantly damaged by fire. It was a really sad contrast to the pretty monuments we could see as we passed through Washington DC.

Once we arrived in Washington DC the power went out. The train switch from the “high speed” engine (I think I can fly faster than the “high speed” train which topped out at 170 km/hr!) to a regular engine. After Washington DC the top speed of the train is only 130 km/hr.

After dinner we all relaxed in the roomette. Once everyone found a comfortable position, the ride was rather pleasant – although somewhat bumpy from time to time. There seem to be frequent places where the tracks intersected with other tracks causing the whole train to lurch from one side to the other on its rails. Watching Becky navigate the narrow hallways when the train is bouncing is rather amusing. It is much more convenient to be able to fly from car to car!

At 9:30 pm, the car host came to reset our roomette into sleep mode. He converted the seats into a bed and lowered the upper bunk. The room was tight, such that Becky and Scott had to take turns getting ready for bed – standing room for only one person!


Architecture in the Big Apple

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

We received notification this morning that our boat out of Florida is delayed a couple of days, so the new estimated departure date is October 3rd. This is actually a relief as it gives our bikes a little more time to arrive in Florida, and us a little more time to prepare for the boat and our European adventure. We are both rather nervous about riding in a country where we don’t speak the language or necessarily understand the customs, but we’re also quite excited about trying something which feels like a real adventure.

We ended up taking the express train to New York City. Had we booked earlier, we could have gotten a slightly less expensive ticket on the commuter train, but it was a nice opportunity to try out the Acela Express – North America’s only “high speed” train. Since the commuter train price for a regular ticket and a business class ticket on the express train were the same price, we logically chose the express train. The ride from Boston to New York City is 3.5 hours, and it certainly wasn’t the TGV or the Eurostar. It was comfortable, albeit a bit bumpy at times, but much of the time it was running pretty slow.

We’re staying at the West Side YMCA overnight, which is pretty nice for “budget” accommodations. (Well, budget by New York standards anyway). A bunkbed, locking doors, and shared showers are more than enough for our needs.

At the Rye Recumbent Gathering, David and Lynette suggested we look them up when we got to New York City. We spent a delightful evening with them, starting with dinner at Nooch, an interesting Asian Fusion restaurant with interior by Karim Rashid, then David led us on a tour of the interesting buildings in the Chelsea and Meatpacking districts. He’s an architect with the City and has been in NYC for more than 25 years. We saw the townhouse where Jack Kerouac wrote “On a Road” on a huge scroll, the IAC building by Frank Gehry as well as many others. Becky wasn’t as impressed as Scott with the IAC building, but she really liked some of the nightclub interiors. We also saw the Highline Park, soon to open as a linear park up the West Side of Manhattan. It was a raised railway, but was abandoned in the 1970s, and it returned to nature. Now the railway has been cleaned up, paths, staircases and elevators added, and it will soon be open to the public. A very neat idea!

Chelsea has a pile of Art Galleries, so much so that it has been called (with justification) the “Art Capital of the World”. Living here provides great opportunities to check out various gallery shows, seeing interesting art as well as munching on yummy finger foods. Lucky David and Lynette…

We also saw the Nabisco Bakery, birthplace of the Oreo cookie, and the Chelsea Market, which passes through it. An industrial setting, well preserved and updated without affecting its intrinsic character, with a variety of funky stores and art within.

We recessed to Billy’s Bakery for some late-night sustenance after our wandering – just like Magnolias (made famous on “Sex in the City”), but much less crowded with tourists.

Overall, it was a delightful evening in New York City – one that we never would have had, had we not been riding recumbent bikes through New Hampshire last weekend!


Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Our first order of business for the day was to get our bikes to the bike shop that would then ship them to Florida. The process turned out to be a little more stressful than we had hoped. The initial reaction of the guy in the bike was dismay. He wasn’t sure how he would get our bikes and all our gear into boxes. After a bit of discussion as to options, we left the bikes in their hands and headed out for a day of seeing the city. We would return later in the day to see how things were going.

On Don’s recommendation we decided to check out the “Unofficial Harvard Tour”. It was highly entertaining. We learned that the Boston accent involves drawing out the a (ahhh) and dropping the r. So Harvard becomes Hahvahd! The tour provides a colourful history of Harvard and its relationship with the town of Cambridge. One of the things that Becky was disgusted to learn was that until 1999 Harvard did not issue degrees to women. Women who graduated would get a degree from Radcliff. Fortunately, Harvard has seen the error of its ways and now issues degrees to any graduate regardless of gender. They also re-issued Radcliff degrees as Harvard degrees. We highly recommend the tour to anyone who happens to find themselves in Cambridge.

Before supper, Scott walked back to the bike shop to check thing out. Unfortunately, the bikes were not yet ready to be shipped, so they did not make today’s cut off. We are hoping that they will get out tomorrow, as we really would like them to arrive in Florida by Friday. (UPS promises 3-day ground delivery). The total of our gear will be 5 boxes and will cost us about $450 for shipping.

We’re staying with Don while we’re in Cambridge – the first person we’ve connected with through Warm Showers, and have had a lovely time with him. He is a founder of the Middle East Cultural and Charitable Society, which puts on the Boston Palestine Film Festival among other things. He’s a great host, and it has been very interesting to get his perspectives on the Middle East and American foreign policy.

Boston bound

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

88 km, 5.75 hours

Our detour to find a hotel last night meant that we were in Massachusetts, but not on our planned route and without a map. Scott spent a couple of hours trying to figure out a good way to get into Boston and downloading tracks from the Coast Greenway. We were well away from the Adventure Cycling route into Boston, so their maps were not useful.

It was due to be a long ride today, so at lunch Becky convinced Scott that we should ride along Highway 1 for a bit (which was a straight line) rather that zig-zagging along the Eastern Coast Greenway. For the first 10 km, this turned out to be OK, but then the 1 turned into a divided highway and then it got really busy. The challenge was that we did not have a map, so we had no idea where we could go until we reached the intersection of Highway 1 and the Eastern Trail. We ended up stopping at several gas station in search of a descent map and a way to get off highway 1. No joy. Eventually (only 2 stops before the intersection) we did get off the highway and found some less busy streets. We were definitely into the suburbs of Boston.

The ride into Boston was stressful for both of us. We were entering a large city without any maps. Unlike Maine and New Hampshire, the interim Greenway route in Massachusetts does not appear to be signed, so we were working solely from a GPS track (without street names). Our planned Greenway route turned out to be useless once we got close to downtown, since it followed a proposed bike path which appears not to exist yet . At one point Scott almost directed us into one of the tunnels under Boston (Big Dig!). Fortunately, Becky had been to Boston before and refused to ride on any road that had no shoulder and looked like it was going into a tunnel! Through some magic, Scott managed to get us to the Charles River bike trail. From there it was an easy ride to the home of Don, our host for the next two days. By 6:45 pm, we arrived Don’s place in Cambridge and were happy to meet a new friend and enjoy a meal out.

Elevation Profile
Download GPS Track in GPX format