A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about oceans

Project: One Good Photograph A Day

Attempting to capture one good photo, Ocean Scenes, Island Scenes, Desert Scenes, and Dolphins

sunny 73 °F

I like to think I take one good photograph a day. Now, I realize this idea is purely subjective. When I say this, I realize that not everyone would agree with me on what a good photograph would consist of, or agree on my choice of “good” photographs. However, I am the only judge in this competition of self-satisfaction, and so I only have to please myself to place in this contest.

That being said, I offer you my subjects for the past week. I do not take photographs everyday, some days I am either too busy, or nothing of interest caught my eye. On other days, it seems like I take up my camera at dawn and set it down after sunset. This week, there were only two days that I didn’t take out my camera, and so offer other satisfying pictures I captured to balance out my week.

These photos are of various subjects on the Sea of Cortez, east of the peninsula of Baja California Sur.

LONG BILLED DOWITCHER
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I was strolling along the boardwalk near the beach one early morning after work. The human-like early birds of La Paz were all out, walking, jogging, biking or sitting. La Paz is a friendly city, and I nodded to a lot of people, offering a sincere, “Buen Dias” and receiving the same with a smile in return. The sidewalk neared the edge of the sea, and I noticed this Long Billed Dowitcher foraging for its morning meal. I stopped at a bench, took out my camera, and took this photo of the bird.

ON THE CUSP OF SHADOW AND LIGHT
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I had spent the afternoon perched on a bluff high above the emerald green waters of San Juanico. It was an amazing place to hang out. Turkey vultures soared by riding the wind currents not more than 35 feet away from me (probably an exaggeration). I was exposed to the elements, and therefore in my element. Upon descending (also known as skidding recklessly down) the trail, I was making my way back along the beach to the land when this scene appealed to me. I have always loved shadows, especially when I can position myself on the very edge of dark and light. In this zone, the light moves very quickly, but I find these scenes to be quite alluring compared to full on shadow or full on light.

ORGAN PIPE CACTUS ON THE NORTH RIDGE OF DANZANTE
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I went for a hike on Isla Danzante (Island of the Dancer). This is a great name for an island. The Spanish supposedly name it when they found the island. There was a clutch of native folk rejoicing in their way-- dancing up a storm. I was performing my own dance on this beautiful island. I had climbed my way to the highest point on the north end of the island. It was a scramble up a steep loose gravel trail. It was mildly taxing, but not that long. I had climbed to this point last year, and when I reached the top, I decided I wanted more.

Looking southward, I saw another high point that I had never climbed, and it sparked my interest. To get there, I was going to traverse the north ridge of Danzante. This was no easy task. The entire ridge looked to be made of crumbling rock along a narrow knife-edge. I pondered my moves, and held firm to my one spot of good footing. I decided that I would only take one step to see how it was. If I didn’t like it, I could take one step back, and call it a day. So I took that step, and it held true. It turns out, the worst looking part of the traverse held the best footing. I would have never known, if I hadn’t tried. Halfway across the ridge, and finally on better ground, I found this attractive clump of organ pipe cactus. It was an easy composition, and I decided upon a sepia exposure, as there just wasn’t much color to the scene. When there is not much color in a scene, why try to make a color image?

FIRST LIGHT ON PUERTO LOS GATOS
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To me, the Sierra de la Giganta, are among the prettiest mountain ranges in North America. Their dramatic backdrop has improved many of my photographs, and I’m longing for the day when I can spend an entire month roaming along their rugged peaks and deep arroyos.

We were on approach to our morning anchorage just as the sun came up. I had time to take these photographs of the beautiful morning glow that reflected off the sandstone to a gentle orange blush.

ANIMALS IN FLIGHT
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I am lucky. I’ve been blessed with very good photographic timing, and I offer this shot as my proof. I had never taken a successful picture of a magnificent frigate bird before this shot. We were watching a feeding frenzy take place on the surface of the ocean just off the rocky point of Los Gatos. This frigate bird flew by fairly close to where I was standing, and I panned my camera along with it in flight shooting the whole way. I didn’t know the common dolphin was airborne as well, until I looked at the photo on my computer. When I saw it, I laughed aloud. How lucky can a guy get?

This is my favorite picture of the week.

FEEDING FRENZY
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As I mentioned, we were watching a full-blown feeding frenzy take place not more than a hundred yards away from the boat. There were common dolphins driving the bait to the surface, and the sea birds were getting in on the action. It was interesting watching the various techniques used by the birds, the large brown pelicans would fly above the mass and dive missile like into the ball breaking through the surface with their large beaks. The frigate birds don’t like to get wet, and would streak in, hovering briefly to snap up a fish with it’s beak before snapping its wing and gliding away. The frigate bird looks to be the inspiration to the skydiver’s spandex wing suit. It has a forked tail, and narrow, yet very maneuverable black wings. The gulls would simple land, and swim nipping at the bits left by the others before squawking and moving on.

It was awesome to watch this kind of behavior first hand, and not on a nature documentary.

SUNRISE OVER ISLA SAN JOSE
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Looking at the pre-dawn sky, I knew the sunrise had potential to be a good one. It isn’t often that there is a nice layer of scattered clouds over the eastern horizon on the Sea of Cortez. As the sun climbed closer to the horizon, the most brilliant oranges I have seen in some time began to erupt over the island. I finished my duties as quickly as I could in order to have time to grab my camera and document this amazing display. The last zodiac full of guests was heading directly into the fiery sky, and it was an easy leading line into the scene. I shot my fill, and then went up to the highest point on the ship to drink this scene into my memory.

CARDON CACTUS OVER ENSENADA GRANDE
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Having worked a full day, all I wanted to do was go to the beach and go for a swim. This seems like and easy enough task to accomplish, but in reality, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. During the full moon, the tides on the Sea of Cortez pull a little higher than normal, and the shallow bay of Ensenada Grande is victim to them. I could not get a ride to the shore, I had to get out and shuffle my feet a hundred yards or so to get to the beach. From there, I took off my life jacket, and proceeded to walk another hundred yards along the shore back out into the bay to find water deep enough to sit down in. It felt good, and I sat there with my body immersed up to my neck in beautifully clear green water. Satisfied, I stepped out of the water and air dried. Who needs a towel in the desert? Not me. As I was about to make my way back to the populated beach, I noticed a cardon cactus with some character perched high above me. I thought about it, and figured with the right angle, I could make a compelling scene of the cactus and the bay. So I went rock climbing. How did going for a swim get so complicated? Anyway, I love spontaneous decisions, and my hunch was well rewarded.

I couldn't resist one more.

DOLPHINS TAKE FLIGHT
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Cheers to a great week down in Mexico!

Posted by Rhombus 13:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged birds islands wildlife hiking mexico deserts sunrise oceans dolphins photography Comments (1)

To Baja By Hammock

An Evening Spent in a Hammock, Sensing Baja, Our Passage South

sunny 63 °F

We have reached the Cape (Land’s End near Cabo San Lucas) and the tropics. The air is humid, the air temperature is comfortable and warm. I’m back in my desert paradise. It hasn’t really set in, I suppose. I think it will when I see a pod of dolphins leaping through the air, or when I hike around the giant boulders of Bonanza Beach, and most definitely, when I swim for the first time. Where I come from, swimming in December is a death sentence. Down here, it’s like dipping yourself into the fountain of youth: so rejuvenating.

I rose out of bed at about 3 p.m. I went up stairs, fixed myself a breakfast of honey on toast, apple juice, and a double shot Americano. I brought it up to the bow, and sat down on one of our line lockers to eat. As I enjoyed the crunchiness of my toast, I realized a post breakfast in the hammock would be just the thing to start this day off right.
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I set it up on the bow, stringing the slap straps between our anchor box rails and portside bow rail. Then I grabbed a pillow, two books, a journal, and my camera. I wrote in my journal (in fact, everything you are reading is excerpted from my journal), and read from Yutang’s “The Importance of Living.” I wish I had brought my hammock last year, but now I am a year older and a year wiser. I’m still living a good life.
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It is glorious. I’m rocking easy with the swells, comfortable in my nylon nest. The sun is setting, beginning its last hour of sunlight in the sky. The distant mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta are layer in the humid mists of the tropics. The sky is serene. Light cirrus clouds wisp southeasterly. The distant thrum of the engines is constant, and my white noise is occasionally broken by the non-distinct words of passing crew. The best noise is that of the wake off our hull. It’s a soothing chuffing rhythm, a rolling breaking wave followed by a moment of quiet before another crash of water sliced over on top of itself. The air is a mixture of ocean saltiness and cool humid air. Finally, though I am not eating, I realize that this tastes a lot like paradise. I’m glad to be back.
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Our passage south was uneventful. We had one day of sloppy seas, the ocean had become quite confused with ocean swells and wind blown surface chop coming from two different directions. We rocked side to side for most of the day, making it very difficult to work or sleep. I enjoyed it. I love being at sea, and I accept what the ocean offers with a calm appreciation. You cannot fight the ocean, you just have to accept it and go with the flow. The ocean is a great metaphor for life.

I’ve been working nights once again, and I enjoyed seeing the beauty of the night. This week, the thinnest sliver of a waning moon would rise just before sunrise. Looking at it through binoculars is still one of my favorite views of the moon.

In working this shift, I would watch the sunrise break over the ocean scape, eat a good dinner of bacon and eggs with orange juice and go to bed by 8 a.m. Often I would sleep until sunset, stepping out my cabin to a glorious arrangement of colorful sun, sea and cloud.
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So begins my next Baja adventure. “Ah, Is this not happiness?”

Posted by Rhombus 18:35 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats deserts sunsets oceans baja hammocks Comments (0)

Eating Habits of Whales and Bears

Bubble Net Feeding, Swimming in Alaska, Brown Bear Fishing, and Farewell to Alaska (for now)

semi-overcast 69 °F

I’m wrapping up my last week here in Alaska until September. Yep, it’s time for a month off, and let me tell you I’m quite excited about my vacation. Before I go, it seems like Alaska is giving me a farewell party with a fantastic show of wildlife, cloud, and activity.

Bubble Net Feeding of Humpbacks

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I’ve talked a lot about the behavior of humpback whales, and now I’m going to attempt to describe one of the more spectacular eating techniques they employ: Bubble Net Feeding. Bubble netting is aptly named-- a pod of whales blows a net of bubbles that captures their prey inside of it. Then as a group, they can swim through the net, gulping their way to the surface.

I’ve seen two sets of bubble netting feeding whales, a small two-whale group, and now a large group of over six whales. There are several steps that go into making a successful net, and the whales have gotten their system down pat.

The whales arrange themselves in a line, and breathe along the surface for several deep blows. Then, as in a game of follow the leader, the first in the group takes one final blow and dives down. Each whale in succession follows it. It was impressive to see fluke after fluke of these humongous creatures dive down.
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I haven’t witnessed what goes on beneath the surface except on video, but what can be seen from the air is a large ring of bubbles that percolates at the surface. These bubbles are the sides of net. This net is formed as the whales circle the bait ball and capture it by blowing a long steady stream of bubbles from beneath them. The bubbles panic and confuse the fish, drawing them closer in their fast moving defensive swirl.
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The whales, having trapped their prey, bellow out a long trumpet like call, akin to a charging army’s cry of “CHARRRRGGGGGEEEEE” and as a group launch themselves through the bait ball opening their humongous mouths-- devouring their prey in gigantic gulps of gluttony. The whales break the surface as one, their momentum carrying them high out of the water. Look at how full their mouths are! They filter out the food with the baleen at the top of their mouth. A baleen is a series of long comb like cartilage that allows water to pass through but not the fish. They hold on the surface for a second, and then slowly sink back down enjoying their bite. The surface of the water is turmoil of bubbles dead fish and froth from which the seagulls get their share of the bounty.

I saw them surface through the bubble at least 8 times and we watched them for over three hours. I wasn’t on deck the whole time either, so this goes to show you the massive amounts of baitfish that can support this kind of feeding. That biomass of fish is impressive. The whales eat their fill, and their summer eating supports their migration south for the mating season.

To hear their trumpeting call as their bubbles trap you must be terrifying. We heard it on our underwater hydrophone, and it is eerily awesome. That call signals the others it’s time to eat and they do so with vigorous relish.

If you don’t have an underwater microphone you can tell where they will surface by the activity of the seagulls. They will signal where the whales will surface, and you can see the gulls get more excited as their lunch approaches.

I with I could have so much fun when I eat a fish stick.

Swimming in Funter Bay

This summer our Bosun, Nikki has been really big on swimming everyday. I’ve joined her several times, as I love jumping in cold water. If you are having a bad day, jump in cold water. It will refresh you, wake you up, and somehow make you feel a whole lot better. We were anchored in Funter Bay, and she asked my deck partner and myself is we wanted to go for a swim. Hell yeah! Why not? So I grabbled my shorts, stripped down on the fantail and without much ado, jumped in. Hot damn, was that some nippy water! Woooeeeeeee. It woke me up, made me feel good and I tingled all over from the experience. It was what swimming in Alaska is all about.

I jumped in two more times to seal in my delight. Then, since I was technically still working, decided I should change and get back to work. Since dinner was being served, I didn’t want to walk through the crowded dining room. I decided to change on the back of the ship, the fantail.

I looked around as I always do when I’m about to get naked in a public place, that ol’ wary eye. The coast was clear, literally, and I dropped my unmentionables in a heap on the deck of the boat. Just then, the captain of the boat walked out to have a smoke. I noticed him, laughed out loud, and said, “Hi, Cap.” Damn my timing. Luckily, I had gone for the towel wrap before I dropped my drawers and so saved the captain from a year’s blindness.

A moment in the life of Thom.

The Brown Bears of August
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Brown bears love august. The reason being, the fishing is good. The salmon have begun running up the rivers and streams of coastal Alaska. They are looking to have one last romantic getaway before dying.

The brown bears know this, and after eating greens and carcasses all summer long are ready for a change of diet: Fresh salmon. They come to their favorite fishing streams in singles (males), or families (females with cubs), to eat their fill before passing out for a long winter’s nap.
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Today I watched three bears pounce on salmon in the shallows just beneath Pavlov Falls. I’m not sure who Pavlov was, but of Russian descent and probably the first person to hike up this little creek. The fish were plentiful, and the bears make fishing look easy. They simply wait until the salmon get shallow enough, and then pounce on them, hooking their enormous claws into them and mashing them with their bulk against the stream. If we humans tried such a technique, we’d fail miserably.

Then the bear would grab the fish with its mouth, haul it to a nearby rock and eat only the choicest parts, mostly the guts and brains.

Now for some science.

Soil scientists have been studying the soil around these streams and have been finding large amounts of salmon nitrates in the soil. How did it get there? How could so much fish bits be in the soil? So they took samples perpendicular to the stream to see how far back the salmon bits went. They went until they finally found salmon free soil. I don’t remember the distance from the stream but I think it was at least a half mile on either side of the stream.

What they found was that salmon have been fertilizing and enriching the soil around these streams, which in turn gives the forest it‘s impressive lush foliage. How do salmon get into the soil? Bears. The bears catch the salmon, and often will carry their salmon out into the woods to eat in peace. The fish decomposes and turns to soil, and the bear having eaten its fill will digest and pass on the rest of it, broken further down and ready to add nutrients to the soil, making for lush coastal forests.

Now that is a smart natural system. Nothing is wasted, and everything keeps the system working.

One Last Whale
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This was the last whale I'll see in Alaska for awhile. I'm pleased that my last memory is that of a humpback waving good by with its gigantic fluke.

Alaska has once again been very good to me, and I'll miss waking up to its tremendous landscapes. I think it's good to take a break from it for awhile, lest I get complacent with the scenes around me. I don't think I ever will get tired of Alaska, but I don't want to take that chance. I'll be back in September and look forward to my return. Until then, stay tuned. This traveller has some fun lined up for August.

Some Last Looks.
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Posted by Rhombus 14:03 Archived in USA Tagged islands fishing seascapes whales alaska clouds oceans swimming photography bears bubblenetting Comments (0)

An Alaskan Visual Feast

Some of My Favorite Memories of July in Alaska

semi-overcast 69 °F

For this week's entry, I'm going to let the scenery do the talking. Alaska is an amazingly wild place, that I've been fortunate enough to explore with my eyes and camera. Here are a few of my favorite shots of the last two weeks. Enjoy!

Glacier Bay National Park

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Waterfalls and Brown Bears
Near this waterfall we saw six bears foraging in the grasses.
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Near George Island
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Humpback
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Scenery Cove
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Fjord!
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Sunrise to Sunset
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Leaf
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I have three more weeks of work before I begin my next adventures. In august I'm hoping to explore Denali, Yosemite, and Isle Royale National Parks...

Posted by Rhombus 17:25 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds sunset wildlife alaska sunrise oceans glaciers photography forests Comments (2)

A Day Off In Gustavus, Alaska

When Not To Laugh, Concerning Bikes, Flowers, Libraries, Pizza, and The Great Settlement of Gustavus, Alaska

semi-overcast 65 °F

I had spent the last few hours running around the ship wondering why we were sailing at full speed with our “not under command” lights up. I was also wondering why I was the only one working the night shift while everyone else slept and why nobody told me that nobody was driving the ship. I frantically ran up to the bridge to try and steer the boat away from the island we were headed straight for. I awoke to find myself running in bed, thrashing through my blankets. Argh! Only a dream.

So began my day off. I jumped out of bed, threw some stuff in my backpack, took two sips of coffee and jumped off the ship. I walked up to the Glacier Bay Lodge to inquire the cost of a room for the day. I informed them that I was from the National Geographic Sea Lion, looking for a cheap rate. The nice lady at the front desk looked me over (I was wearing my ripped up comfortable jeans, homemade sailor beanie, xtratuffs and raincoat, completely unshaven and haggard from little sleep) and then responded, “Twen… hundred and twenty four dollars.”
I must’ve misheard her. “Could you repeat that?”
“For a standard room it will be two hundred and twenty four dollars.”
I told her I had to think about it, which didn’t require much effort. I thanked her and opted for plan b…

Plan B began with a frantic exiting of the boat and jumping into a cab against my better judgment to be taken to the small settlement of Gustavus, Alaska with two other crew members. One was going to Juneau for the day, and the other looking for a cheap room to hole up in. The taxi driver unceremoniously dropped me off with Pete at The Gustavus Crossroads. When the driver took my 40 bucks and tucked it into his front pocket without offering me any change, I swear I heard blues music coming from somewhere. The dude made 40 bucks for a five minute cab ride, and left us standing on the roadside wondering what just happened. I’ll admit, my mind wasn’t really operating on all cylinders yet, and so I was literally “taken for a ride.” I guess I’m a sucker.

So Pete calls up the nearest motel to find out they also charge 200 dollars a day for the experience of staying at an Alaskan Bed and Breakfast. Pete gave up and wanted to go back to the lodge to hang out, and not wanting to face the shrewd cab driver again, we decided to hitch hike. When your best options include hitch hiking you might ask yourself if the decisions you’ve made up to this point in your life have been good ones.
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The first guy to pull over was a true Alaskan wild man. Dirty blond hair fringed light on a dark tan face. He had a hunk of chewing tobacco in his lip. He wore a dirty blue jean jacket and jeans (some call this a Canadian Tuxedo) and a deep sullen voice. He drove a rancid old ford that looked in no worse condition than he did, and told us that he wasn’t going as far as we were. He looked like an axe murderer. We hopped in anyway. I sat up front with him, while Pete hopped in the greasy back of his pickup.

I’m seriously trying not to laugh my ass off at this memory. I’m writing this at the Gustavus Public Library, and I’m dying. This guy looked like an axe murderer, and yet we blindly jumped right in his truck like the rubes we are. Silence. He didn’t speak. I didn’t speak. I pondered my last few minutes in this world. I got the giggles. I didn‘t dare to snicker, as I didn’t want to upset “Spike.” I’ve found when I have to laugh, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I can’t, it makes me want to laugh even harder. I had to bite my lip to keep from busting a gut and laughing at the incredible start to my day. I looked back at Pete huddled up against the cold wind, looking less than amused, and damn near lost it.

He let us out several miles up the pike from whence we had come. When we got out of his truck, I burned up some good laughs and we carried on walking through the dense forest of Alaskan’s temperate rain forest. The second ride was unremarkable, and we arrived back at the lodge thirty minutes later, 40 bucks poorer, and hungry.

I decided to eat breakfast which would improve my day immediately. Then I parted ways with Pete, opting to rent a bike while he chose to relax at the lodge.

Finally, I felt in control of my destiny, and my day began to take shape in a series of enjoyable experiences. On the way to and from Gustavus, I had seen a couple of scenes that I wanted to investigate with my camera. Alaskan wildflowers are gorgeous, and so I set off down the highway I had so recently traveled this time at a much slower, less expensive, and much more enjoyable pace.
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The bike was dark green, of a mountain variety. It was missing its front brake, needed some oil and tapped out a six count rhythm for every three rotations of the pedals. “TAP, tap, tap, tap, tap, TAP…TAP, tap, tap, tap, tap, TAP.” The front wheel was slightly oblong and losing some air, but outside of that, she was cherry. I didn’t mind, and set out down the road, tapping my way to freedom.
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I stopped to admire some lupines that were out along side the road. I love lupines and perhaps they might be my favorite Alaskan flower of mid-summer. Moving along, I found a wet meadow full of what I believe are Alaskan cotton, but I‘m going to call them “Thom Heads.” It was in these plants that I found a kinship. I used to think that dandelions were my kin, but even with their fuzzy white heads, they don’t compare to Thom Heads. The heads of the cotton were soft, shaggy and blond. They reminded me of a sheepdog, and if I grew my hair out, it would look eerily similar to these plants.
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I enjoyed my bike ride. It was cool out, perfect temperature for a ride. It was overcast, but the clouds offered no rain. I pedaled on in a pleasant mood, happy to be free of the ship, happy to be biking along a deserted road through a beautiful forest.

One really great thing about biking on Gustavus roads is the fact that everyone waves at you, and it was fun to wave back. I immediately felt like part of the community, and I blended in perfectly with my classic Alaskan ensemble. Those three words were probably never put in the same sentence before, and I want to take credit for it.
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Anyway, I made it into town and stopped once again at The Crossroads. I stopped into the gallery to get a mocha and called up my brother. It was nice to sit in the shade at a small table and talk with him. Staying connected on a ship is hard, and it was good to chat with one of my people for awhile.
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I moseyed down to the beach and found a likeable bench to lie around on and read my book. I’m currently reading, “As Told at the Explorer’s Club” Edited by George Plimpton. A fascinating read about all varieties of adventure. Then my phone rang, and it was my girlfriend. What luck! I spent the next hour catching up with her, and making up for lost conversations. She works on The Sea Lion’s sister ship, The Sea Bird, and so while we might pass each other in the night, I haven’t seen her since May. Such is the life of a sailor.
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After my long siesta on the beach, I went to the library to surf on the ‘information super highway.” My favorite part of the library was the fact they made you take your shoes off, and everyone walked around in socks. At closing time, I was “socked” out, and made my way to The Crossroads and the Homeshore Café. I had been told they sold pizzas and beer, a combination I had been looking forward to all day. I was not disappointed, and they served up a great pizza using fresh ingredients and lots of love.
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Fully satiated on carbs, I was really looking forward to my nine mile bike ride back to the lodge. It was really more of a slog than a bike ride, but fortunately I had my six count rhythm to keep me company. I was entertained by waving at everyone who passed me, however, and they both seemed like nice people.
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I stopped in my field full of Thom Heads for a break. They were brightly lit up with the afternoon sun, and it was a welcome break from my toil. I continued on, running different bear scenarios through my head. I was blinded by the bright sunlight I was biking directly into, and the deep shadows of the forest were black in contrast. If a bear took a dislike to me, and decided to press the situation there was very little I could do about it. I was stuffed on pizza, and was not moving fast. I needed a bed, not a bike, and I decided I was probably a tasty looking long ravioli on wheels.

After an eternity, I finally hit the only downhill stretch of my ride and coasted back down to the lodge. It was a very welcome sight, and I was happy to get my saddle sore ass off that bike seat.
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I spent the remainder of my day off reading down by the water on the dock. A couple passed by talking excitedly of a moose swimming by. I looked out at the water, and sure enough, it was a moose! I grabbed my camera and ran down to the end of the dock to get a very close look at it as it swam by. Moose are very good swimmers and this one had crossed from an island well over a mile away. Impressive. It reached the far shore, climbed out and ran off into the woods.
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Weary with my efforts of the day, and quite satisfied. I settled into my comfortable bunk for an uninterrupted slumber.

Posted by Rhombus 11:26 Archived in USA Tagged bikes towns roads alaska oceans moose photography wildflowers gustavus Comments (0)

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