Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ants, Dogs, Locusts and Vultures in Southern Ohio

     Athens, Ohio is home to Ohio University (not to be confused with Ohio State University) with 23,000 students. My plan was to swim laps at their pool, sleep at the hospital parking lot, and move on the next morning. My first stop was the University’s unique Visitors Center.

     At the Visitors Center I asked the student employee if I could leave my van in their parking lot while I walk across the street to check out the Aquatic Center. She said no, I needed to put quarters in the meters located in front of the Aquatic Center. Aha, I recall now how all college towns seem to depend on parking permits and meters for revenue. I was momentarily annoyed because carrying coins seems archaic to me. But then I saw this sign . . .

     The hospital parking lot rescues me again. Only one-fourth mile away, I park at the hospital, unload my bicycle and pedal back to the University on this scenic bike trail along the Hocking River.

      This bike trail takes you to Athens' commercial strip with every imaginable retailer and grocery store, as well as the public library and community center. 

Very nice amenity for a college town.

     The Aquatic Center has a super-nice swimming pool. Visitors can swim laps for only $3.50 but unfortunately public swim hours closed for the day just before I arrived.

      I continue on the pleasant dedicated bike trail. Had to stop and take a photo of this unique road sign.

      The trail eventually connects with a scenic bikeway called the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. I seem to have good luck finding dedicated bicycle trails without really looking for them.

     After biking through shady woods along a former levee of the Hocking River for about 10 miles, I return to Athens. Nearing the hospital parking lot, I see about eight vultures standing on a roof of a house and about two dozen vultures walking around the yard! 

Vultures don’t normally socialize mid-day like this on the ground. My first thought was a leak in the gas pipelines; each house had a gas meter and there were gas pipeline warning signs. Vultures can smell gas leaks. When I fiddled around with my camera to get a photo, I spooked them all. Half of the birds had already taken off and were in the sky.

    By the time I knocked on the house owner’s front door, all the vultures were gone. No one answered; just two barking dogs. I knocked on the neighbor’s front door, and again two barking dogs came to the door. When the neighbor managed with difficulty to remove his dogs so he could open his door, I told him my concerns. He agreed it was a strange sighting, and promised me he’d call the lady who lived in that house. End of cliff-hanging story! I know nothing more.

     Back at the hospital parking lot, I saw a uniformed security guard making the rounds of the employee, doctor, emergency, and visitors parking lots in a golf cart. Uh oh, maybe the hospital is on to the University's parking-meter evaders. Fearing I was stretching my hospital parking luck too much, I loaded my bike and left. A few miles north, luck struck again! On a busy Memorial Day Weekend, there was an available campsite at the US Forest Service’s Burr Oak Campground. That’s La Lair behind the trees in the photo. Not the best site, but I wasn’t complaining. The 17-year locusts were chirping away, too, endlessly.

      The next morning while most campers were still waking up, I biked down the hill to the Burr Oak Lake and State Park, both owned and operated by the state of Ohio. It has a buoyed-section for swimmers called “The Beach”. But, I doubt if anyone swims there.

     The power of suggestion! Yes, the water looked like all of the above! I saw green slime under the surface, plus other odd-looking stuff. I certainly wasn’t going to swim there nor paddle on my little ski. I sat at a picnic table nearby and on the grass, three butterflies and a bee caught my eye. Then I realized they were feasting on doggy turds.

      In fact, the more I looked around, the more doggy turds I saw on the grass everywhere, and much more on the sandy beach. Would you want to play beach volleyball with turd-infested sand squishing through your toes?

     An employee on a tractor had just finished plowing The Beach (see middle section above in photo) so I asked him if people swim here or play beach volleyball. He said no, they mostly go pontoon boating, camping, and picnicking. I asked him if I was the only person who’s bothered by all the doggy turds. He pointed to a large grassy area behind the bathrooms with several “Pet Area” signs, and sadly confessed that dog owners don’t use those areas. He was very friendly. We talked about my electric bike and he asked where I was from, mentioning that mostly locals visit The Beach. He promised he’d tell his supervisors about my complaint.

     Back at my campsite, two protective dogs at a campsite next to me barked, and across from me, two more protective dogs barked. I mumbled to myself that this place has gone to the dogs. To cheer myself that afternoon, I took a one-mile hike on the Lakeview Trail which starts at the campground and winds through the US Wayne National Forest. It’s a worthy trail.

My definition of “worthy trail” is any walk in nature that makes me feel reverent. My hiking-buddy and new friend David from last week’s Buffalo National River adventures told me that “Church” in an ancient language means trees in a forest, or something to that effect.  David is a perfect hiking buddy. Not only very communicative about life in general, David is a college-educated botanist, tri-lingual (Russian!) and a professional landscape designer who uses nature as his architect. 

     But my reverence was briefly interrupted. Skipping toward me with youthful exuberance were three young girls under the age of 10 and four large wet puppies about one-year old with muddy paws. They had just cooled-off in the lake. As if intuitively deciding this old lady’s ill-thoughts about dogs needed to be remedied with group hugs and kisses, all four happy large puppies jumped up on me. Eight very large muddy feet pawed on me, each trying hard to kiss me. I couldn’t dishearten those girls by being a crabby old lady, so I shared their enthusiasm. Y'all got to cool off, great! Y'all originally had 16 puppies? How wonderful!

     We said our good-byes, made a brief connection with their friendly parents a few minutes later, and then I continued on the trail to the lake. I saw this excavated tree, perhaps a birch tree? See the arrow pointing to a small black hole?

     Wood-boring ants were mining that tree from that little hole, magnified below. 

     Ant #5 is carrying a piece of sawdust out of the hole. Ant #1 already came out of the hole with a piece of sawdust and is on its way to the sawdust mound. Ant #2 is depositing a piece of sawdust at the sawdust mound. Ant #3 is returning back to the hole. Ant #4 is waiting for an opportune moment to re-enter the hole, perhaps yielding to anyone coming out? Their methodical endless work is amazing. Wonder if they rest at night?

      I left Burr Oak Campground on Memorial Day, and arrived a few miles away at Logan, Ohio, where a parade was organizing. I quickly parked and waited for the parade to go by.

   The high school band is very large for such a tiny town, especially the sax section.

See the red-headed girl with the tenor drum? Almost 50 years ago, that was me.

      I had piano lessons for six years, so I could read music. That’s why they recruited me to be a bass drum player in Symphony Band. They taught me tenor drum in Marching Band. Excited about my very first parade after weeks of marching practice, feeling very official in a uniform and cap, I boarded the school bus with my drum sticks and we all drove about 15 miles south. For some stupid reason, I thought the boys had loaded all the drums, chivalry perhaps? So here I was at my first parade without a drum. Since there cannot be an empty space in a marching band formation, I had to march in place without my drum, just carrying my sticks. It was one of the worse days of my teenage life.

     The little town of Logan, Ohio by the way touts itself as "Gateway to Ohio's Scenic Wonderland".

Friday, May 27, 2016

Boring Places are Challenging

     It's not often that I visit a boring place. The reason I camped at the Jackson County Fairgrounds is because I have reservations four days from now, further north at Hocking Hills, Ohio. So, I'm biding my time here with big rigs.

     The fairgrounds has a racing track that's used by amateur harness racers.  The horses are kept in stalls near the track, but while I was there, only two horses were removed from their small individual stalls to race. I didn't see any nearby pastures. It was kinda sad.

     The man in the photo above warned me to keep my bicycle out of the horse's view. His horse spooked easily. When I hid my bike and stood outside the fence to take the above photo (very zoomed), his horse spooked sideways when it passed me standing about 30 feet away. I tried to be as unmoveable and invisible as possible, yet the horse spooked sideways every time it passed me. Obviously the horse rarely sees people standing at the fence along the track. My bike and I sneaked out of the track; probably to the cart rider's relief.

     I decided to bike to Lake Alma State Park about four miles from the Fairgrounds. I started out on the main highway, and happened to glance to the left. Was that a dedicated bike trail??!!! Couldn't believe my eyes! This trail led directly to the Lake Alma State Park.

     But the bike trail is the best part of Lake Alma State Park. It's just a pond with $28 p/night high-price camping spots for big rigs parked too close together.

There are short, dried mud-trails in the woods around the Park.

     Back in Wellston at the friendly Krogers Grocery Store (perhaps the smallest Krogers in the USA), I asked the clerk if I was hearing head-noises. Outside I heard the sounds of millions of geese in the very far distance. Could be Cicadas, we have them in Texas, but the noise here never stops. She told me it was the 17-year locusts (click on link for interesting recent news article). I'm not sure if anyone actually sees these locusts in town, but somewhere nearby, there must be millions of them. Supposedly full of protein, gluten-free, low-fat and low-carb, cicadas and locusts were a food source by Native Americans and are still eaten by humans in many countries, including China. Sounds yummy, seriously.

     I've spent enough time here, trying to make it interesting. Time to move on!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Being a Traveler

     As a female solo traveler, I've noticed women approach me freely. They're curious about my van. "Do you travel in that?" or "Is that a motorhome?" or "What is that twirly thing on top?" Men approach, too, but women approach more often. One man walked by and said "That's a sweet ride!" La Lair definitely gets noticed.

     I'm more of a traveler than a tourist. Tourists drive on 2-digit routes, I drive on 3-digit routes. For example, "Paris Pike" (Route 68) was widened and 4-laned and it's a favorite road for tourists who want to look at million-dollar Kentucky Horse Farms. I took the lesser traveled Route 460 which forces folks to slow down because it's so narrow. The view of Horse Farms was pretty spectacular. Wonder where folks get their money?

     Most times, I'm just looking for an interesting place to go bicyling, paddling or hiking. It doesn't need to be a national or state park. Last Sunday morning, for example, I biked Main Street in Henderson, Kentucky. It's a wide street with a bike lane and has wall-to-wall big ole' mansions with wonderful landscaping. I also spent the night at Henderson's hospital parking lot with a view of the Ohio River at sunset and the helicopter landing pad.

     I sleep at hospital parking lots pretty frequently. When there are no state or national parks or forest campgrounds nearby, the hospital parking lot offers peace and security. I'm parked with other vehicles (24/7 hospital hours) in a non-commercial zoned quiet neighborhood. I don't look peculiar parked there and no one seems to suspect I'm sleeping inside La Lair. Plus, I can walk to their cafeteria and bathrooms. Some hospitals have free WiFi, too.

     I also visit YMCAs and city indoor swimming pools to swim laps as much as possible. I swim a mile, sit in the jacuzzi and chat it up with the locals, shower, and go back to La Lair feeling refreshed.  I use this website to find an indoor pool as I travel along; these facilities usually have weight/exercise rooms and some have indoor jogging tracks.

         My beach bag is always ready for a swim. Inside is an 8" by 24" camper towel which dries in a half hour. Last summer, Chef Renauld bolted (with a backer-board behind ABS) a folding towel rack to the wall above the water containers; handy little thing. The nifty bubble solar light in front of the rack is also a handy little thing. It's useful to find things in the window-less cargo area when the doors are closed or at night.

     The past couple of days I've been on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. I stopped at Maysville along the Ohio River which reminds me of the fictional Mayberry. I took a walk around town. Stopped by the classic twirling barbershop sign and poked my head inside the open door. Wanted to make sure it wasn't a gimmick. The barber and customers laughed and said "Not a gimmick!" I stopped at a beautiful historic building with an old "Opera" sign above it. I asked the gentleman (Mike Thomas, Opera House producer) who was standing there, "Is this really an opera house?" And, for the next hour, I got a walking/talking tour of Maysville's Opera House the fifth oldest opera house still in use. With George Clooney's help and many others' donations, it was completely refurbished, including the beautiful upholstered maghogany seats. Inside, it's everything you want an intimate opera house to be.

     Mike told me to visit Augusta down the road, the boyhood town of George's aunt, Rosemary Clooney. So, I did. It reminds me of a fictional smaller Mayberry. These Augusta rowhomes overlooking the Ohio River were built in 1798.

     Straight through the middle of downtown Augusta, the freight and passenger railroad cars toot continually and go very slowly. Amtrak passenger service is available three times weekly. If you leave nearby Maysville at 4:30 AM, you can be at a New York City party by midnight. And on the river is a busy ferry. I asked one trucker (towing a flatbed trailer to haul heavy equipment) if the ferry was big enough for his approximately 60-foot length. He assured me it was. I asked why he was taking the $5 ferry and not the bridge. He pointed to an industrial place on the other side and said, "I'm going to that plant." Probably would have cost him $7 in gas to take the bridge.

      At the Augusta library, I casually mentioned to the librarian that they had done a good job of converting an old house to a library . . . .

And she said, "Oh, this was never a house. This was built originally as a library, and it's got a new addition in the back." I suppose an institutional looking library would have looked way out of place at a mini-Mayberry.

     I use libraries for WiFi for my emails, financial obligations, and posting on this blog. Today, I'm on the Ohio side of the Ohio River. After my swim at Portmouth, Ohio's indoor swimming pool, I stopped at their library which is an institutional-looking library. It has a magnificent ceiling; would be way too outlandish for Augusta, Kentucky.

     My only traveler worries today are the upcoming Memorial Day festivals. It means I may not be able to find an available campsite as they were probably all reserved weeks ago by tourists. But alas, there's always a hospital somewhere . . . .

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nothing Plain about Southern Illinois

     About 90 percent of Illinois is considered The Plains. When I discovered the other 10 percent by accident, it was a pleasant surprise. I don't know what geologists would call this area, but I'm calling it Illinois' Sweet Spot.

     It all started innocently enough by pulling over to do a little biking. A pedestrian there told me to take the spur trail to the Cache River Wetlands Center.

On the spur road, I saw a cypress swamp! I'm thinking "What the heck is a cypress swamp doing in Illinois???"

     The Wetlands Center is a super-nice large modern building. It has wetlands landscaping surrounded by trails for self-guided walks but inside, there are wonderfully informative displays showing changes from the ice ages to 19th Century destruction to conservation today.

I saw this display which explained the cypress swamp oddity.

The lady at the Center showed me a canoe trail of the swamp.

     And that's all it took to get me in the swamp on my ski about 45 minutes later. It was a very enjoyable paddle, well-marked trail with stakes/arrows, and especially enjoyable knowing there were no alligators!

     Back at the bike trailhead, I discovered this bike trail was 45 miles long through the Cache River area. Called the Tunnel Hill State Trail, it is another abandoned railway track converted to a bicycling trail. 

It was not muddy at all despite all the recent rains. In fact, it was an excellent gravel trail.

I enjoyed this trail tremendously.

So many photo opps!

Several furry animals and lots of birds, too. This little guy thought I couldn't see him.

A short tunnel . . . .

And a very long tunnel through the rocks.

And an iron trestle bridge . . . .

And remnants of a historic bridge.

And another surprise! water flowers in another swampy area.

     I concluded my 30-mile bike ride at Vienna, Illinois. Their city park provided me a free office to prepare this posting; free electricity to recharge my bike and use my laptop, free bathroom, and free water to wash my dishes. How lucky can a blogging camper get? Lots of folks stopped by to chat, too.

     And by the way, there's an excellent posterboard explanation at Olmsted, Illinois of the Project to Replace Dam and Lock 53 and 54 on the Ohio River. An employee explained how things were done in the old days with steam engines. He was proud to work there, and proud of the lock and dam's history. Very refreshing to run into folks like this.

 I really lucked into these experiences. It's all been very sweet at Illinois' Sweet Spot.