Saturday, November 2, 2013

Baltimore & Washington DC


My wife was in Baltimore for a conference so I took the opportunity to leach off her hotel room and visit the area. Thanks to grandma and grandpa who made this possible by watching the kids. ;)

Baltimore from the air

Getting from the airport to the hotel was a breeze with a combination of the light rail and two rides on the free circulatory bus.  After dropping my stuff off I searched for food and ended up exploring the charming Federal Hills neighborhood. I saw the Cross Street Marked and assumed it to be a grocery.  I was surprised though that this grocery had the length of a block.  So curiously I looked inside where I found an indoor marked like the ones in Taiwan. I'm quite surprised to find one in the US.  There are several in this area as I found out later.

Domino Sugar Baltimore

After lunch at the marked I wandered a bit more and saw the gorgeous view of Baltimore and the Inner Harbor from Federals Hill park.

Baltimore Inner Harbor

Biking DC

Since I've never been in DC and there were a few nice bike path I took the opportunity to ride with the bike into the city for a day.

Arrived at Union Station

The monuments were a slight letdown.  They appeared much smaller and less impressive than my mind had them build up to.  It's one of the issue having heard of them so much.  Maybe you should only visit them as a kid.  The white house of course was just a white building behind a fence.  Slightly interesting was Penn Ave. and the park behind it, just because of the diversity of people there.  As everyone probably expects there are small groups of people that demonstrate for some cause and think they'll change the world by doing that.  Truth is that so few people are at Penn Ave. that they get mostly unnoticed.  Then there are the small groups of tourists, quite often on Segways, to stop briefly to take a shot before rushing off to the next site. Surprisingly homeless people sleep in the park while daycare providers wheel toddlers in wagons through the park. It's just like any old park in big cities across the US.

Lincoln Memorial
Jefferson Memorial

Interesting things are the little less talked about side things that one stumbles across.  The Eisenhower Executive Office Building for example was architectural more impressive for me than the white house.  And the nature areas on the Potomac river while riding the Mt. Vernon trail are a nice sight.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Capitol Building

Mt. Vernon Trail

Dyke March by Mt. Vernon Trail

As for riding bicycle in DC it's quite nice and easy.  There are just a few things to keep in mind.  Unless you are OK with locking up your bicycle outside you won't be able to go into any buildings. That meant no Congress or Library of Congress visit with my Brompton.  Laws aren't enforced even though DC has a wast amount of police officers, park rangers, and other security personnel.  The DC bicycle map states that riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited yet all commuters were riding on and off the sidewalks as needed. I ended up riding on sidewalks as well since in some places it just made more sense. At first it was a bit queasy when riding past police officers and park rangers.  Right at the monuments I didn't ride and in the beginning even folded up and carried the Brompton since there was an explicit no bicycles sign.  But I gave up on that as well when I saw that the guide led the bicycle tour groups with bikes right up to the monuments. 

WWII Memorial Detail

Jefferson Memorial as seen from MLK Memorial

I met a coworker for lunch and we ate at Toki, a Taiwanese soup place which served lunch at the Union Market. The place had only seating for 6 people and a nice and apparently one of the shorter line of customers stood right behind them patiently waiting for their turn.  Some unacquainted customers asked if they could have  the soup to go or asked for a menu.  The cook nicely told them that he only serves this beef ramen soup with whole soft-boiled egg today and that he didn't had more soup bowels. While the soup was great, I think the exclusiveness added a lot to his business nostalgia.

Not everything is bicycle friendly

The National Cryptologic Museum sounded intriguing for the second day.  The museum could be quite interesting  in a geeky kind of way.  I also wouldn't be torture others with a potentially boring subject to them. And also I would have some rest from riding the bike.  Oh, and did I mention that it's free.  Well this plan fell apart when I was looking at Google map and noticed that none of the streets around there were visible in Street View.  This is due to the Fort Meade military base.  The only way to access the museum without military credentials is via the freeway and bicycles aren't allowed to ride limited access roads in Maryland. So, no Enigma or Hobo signs for me.

Must be a bicycle friendly hotel

Gwynns Falls

So instead I cycled the Gwynns Falls trail which had lots of interesting historical markers and text along the way. Part of the trail was on an abandoned road.  Especially the disconnected water hydrants gave the ride an unique feel of abandoness.

Gwynns Falls trail markings

Abandoned road

The weird thing I saw was the Terra Nullius. I still don't understand this. If it's truly free land then neither the local or federal government would be able to do any enforcement over this area. That isn't the case. If it were some interesting stuff would probably be occurring there. Instead it looks like a public park to me.


The following I rode down the Baltimore Annapolis Trail, which was another beautiful long trail. Cycling in Annapolis itself wasn't that great and the small historic downtown was crowded with tourists.  Unplanned and by accident I visited the Maryland State House and learned that it served as the capitol for a brief period.

Navy Academy and Annapolis

Maryland State House

More Baltimore

After my wife's conference was over we visited the Constellation and Fort McHenry.  It didn't click until I was there that this is the origin of the star spangled banner. At least now I got a pretty good grasp of the history around it.

Masts of the Constellation

Checking out the plastic cannons of the Constellation

Hanging out aboard the Constellation

US Capitol

The last day we saved for visiting DC.  For the first time slot I got us tickets to tour the US Capitol. On the tour we learned that to visit the chambers you need special passes from your state's congress men(or women) and you can even get exclusive tours from them.  While the representative offices can only issue passes for the House, the senator offices can issue passes for both. So right after the tour we went by our democratic senator's office.  The intern was kind of like "what the heck do you want here" but she did give us passes to the chambers after we told her we're from Iowa and made the request for them.  So I wondered how the republican senator's office would welcome us.  To our luck a few Iowans had made arrangements for a tour and the republican interns invited us along on the tour.

US Capitol in the sunrise

Iowa corn part of the US Capitol

Tourists in the Capitol rotunda

These private tours start right away off by going through the restricted access subway which is way cool.  Of course we saw several of the same rooms in the Capitol but having a different tour guide we learned lots of new things.  Unfortunately neither the House nor the Senate was in session so we didn't get to see them again but the tour guide told us we could come back in the evening when the Senate was in session.

Old senate office building subway monorail car

Russel capitol subway line

Needless to say we went back to the Capitol after visiting the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court across the street. Btw, I highly recommend sitting in on the Courtroom Lecture.  When we entered the Capitol building the visitor center was already closed.  It was just us walking alone past the security personnel through the Capitol building.  By that time I felt like "home" in this building which is super cool.  No sleeping was one of the strict rules for visiting the chambers.  After having experienced the Senate I understand why.  Not much was going on.  At one time Senator Harkin (Dem) was addressing the empty Senate.  Apparently it is normal for Senators to hold speeches to nobody but the cameras.  After a long time of nothing we decided to head back to the train and call it a day.

Library of Congress

Supreme Court

Staircase in the Supreme Court

US Capitol with secret service

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hotel Rumorosa

So this year will have no major trip in store but lots of smaller adventures.  For the fall I'll have two more lined up.  I'll be tagging along with one of my wife's work trip to Bostimore (not Boston but Baltimore, sorry insider joke).  Using her hotel I'll do bike rides with my folder around Baltimore and at least a day in DC.  It'll be the first time for me in Baltimore and the Capitol City.

My second adventure will be far less urban, the plan is to bike from San Diego via Tecate and Mexicali to Calexico.  Then back to San Diego with the Greyhound bus.  Yes, that's Mexico, another first for me.  The route will have several exciting and challenging features.  For one there is the 4000 feet mountain range I'll be gradually climbing up and quickly descending.  Sweetened with a desert crossing.  But the different culture and the language, which I don't speak, will certainly be the most "adventurous" part of this trip.  Of course I'll keep this plan somewhat flexible, especially since I'll be on the road late November and snow is not unheard of in that part of Mexico.

I'll leave you with a the only two references of Hotel Rumorosa in the world wide web.  That is the only hotel between Tecate and Mexicali.  I guess I'll better take my tent along. ;)

Did you see the hotel in the video?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

4th of July Ride

A quick decision was made to go on a bike ride over the extended 4th of July weekend.  I found a nice route to the two Boone County campgrounds that would keep the riding fairly short and enable us to do a loop from our home.  We didn't get packing until late Wednesday and had to do the final packing on Thursday. But with only 20 miles for the first day starting a little late didn't cause any issues.  Half way we stopped in Slater to eat lunch before continuing on to Madrid on the High Trestle Trail.  The night we spend at the Swede county park.

Swede Park, no worries about tent sites.

Our worries about having difficulties to find a open campsite was not justified.  The park had 10 tent spots that were nicely separated from the RVs and none were taken when we arrived.  Later that night only one other tent campers came.  Swede Park had a nice bathroom/shower facilities, great tasting water and some nice hiking trail in the woods to a prairie grass meadow.

Oskar walking along the prairie grass trail.

Heidi enjoying the flowers.

Oskar at the camp fire

The second day we rode back a short stretch to Madrid to get on the High Trestle Trail and cross the High Trestle bridge.  Being spoiled from the day before, we again ate lunch at a restaurant in Woodward and had another nice cold beer.

Heidi studying birds.

Family photo on the High Trestle bridge.

After Woodward we left the well traveled bike trail and headed north on rural highways. Although not having to cross the Des Moines river again, the road dipped down at Seven Oaks to the river and we had to ride up a steep hill. A killer moment for Melissa having to haul Heidi on the trail-a-bike up the hill in the afternoon heat.

Heidi and Mama riding on a rural Iowa highway.

Heidi playing with a cat while we rest after a monster hill.

Again at Don William county park there was no issue finding a tent spots. After setting up the tent we went to the near by beach and took a long refreshing swim in it.  The perfect way to end a day of 35 miles.

Impromptu game with shirts and tree nuts.
No need to buy toss games.

4th of July fun with sparklers.

For our way back we decided for the route through Boone.  Although part of that route is well known to us we decided for this instead of going north to E18 and having to battle the south wind for a long stretch later in the day.  In Boone we got to watch the Scenic Valley Railroad getting ready their trains for the day's rides.  The kids got a personal  tour of the caboose and a demonstration of the railroad switch.

Heidi and Oskar inside the caboose of the Boone Scenic Valley Railroad.

Demonstration of the railroad switch.

Heidi getting on after a short rest.

Finally just a quick update on the Garmin Oregon 450 handheld GPS.  In the past I've been using it with the display constantly on.  So regular batteries only lasted about eight hour, not quite a full day.  Because of this I often use the more expensive lithium batteries. I don't want to carry a whole bag of AA batteries with me when hiking.  This trip though I used the setting that turns off the display after one minute.  One set of regular (alkali) batteries lasted me for the whole trip, although the display light was disabled due to low battery power on the last day.  The cost though is that the display is mostly off and I wasn't able to take a quick glance to see how fast I was going without having to touch the screen.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Standing Indian Loop Hike

Happy to share this trip.

Leaving the kids with the grandparents we get to hike several days in  the Nantahala National Forrest.  Our route is a 30 mile loop with a significant amount on the Appalachian trail.  We arrived late afternoon at the Standing Indian Campground (backcountry trail head to be exact).  My wife got to experience the drill of picking up the rental car from the airport and swinging by REI to get the camping fuel for the hike.  For some strange reason though we ended up spending more time and money there end ended up with a few gear enhancement including trekking poles for me.

Interactive route map.

Packed and ready for the hike.

Initially our plan was to hike to the newly constructed Long Branch shelter but it was getting late and we found a pretty meadow on the Long Branch creek that was perfect for camping.  After we got the tent setup a strong rain passed over us.  So we were lucky to duck into the tent and stayed dry.  But since the Hogback Tarptent doesn't have a vestibule for cooking we had to wait out the rain to make dinner.  Yes, we had a lot of room inside the tent with only the two of us.

First night on the Long Branch trail.

Wild strawberries for breakfast.

The meadow had a large patch of strawberries that my wife picked for breakfast.  It made the oats very delicious.  Unfortunately that was the only campsite with wild strawberries that we stayed at.  I was glad we didn't try to make it for the Long Branch shelter since the intersection with the Appalachian trail didn't state in which direction the shelter was. It turned out the shelter was south bound of the Long Branch trail.  We stopped by to checkout the shelter and take a short rest there.  Later on we passed the remains of the Big Springs Gap shelter.

Long Branch shelter on the Appalachian trail.

Torn down Big Springs Gap shelter on the Appalachian trail.

Albert Mountain finally gave us a wonderful view of the area.  For an even better view one can climb nearly all the way up the fire tower.  The south trail of Albert mountain is quite steep, more difficult and therefore less traveled.  We still made it down even if it meant for my wife to butt slide down some large boulders.  The trail there was very pretty though with the bushes flowering beautifully.

Panoramic view from Albert Mountain.

Appalachian trail sign.

It was quite busy at Carter Gap, which is probably to be expected on a Friday night.  We skipped staying in the small shelter since others were staying there already.  The spring was a small little trickle thing further down the hill.  This place was certainly our least favorite campsite on this trip but it gave the chance to talk to other hikers.

Our camp at Carter Gap.

On the third day of hiking we meet a woman and her son who stayed at the Standing Indian shelter the night.  She was still pretty shaken and reported of their encounter with a bear.  The bear apparently tried to open their bear canister and then got a hold of another food bag of their.  When he saw them though he ran away.  Sadly or luckily for us we didn't encounter any bears on this hike.  I did hang the food at Carter Gap and the next night.  At Carter Gap I tried out the Pacific Crest Trail style of hanging the food bag.  The food bag got suck up there somehow and poked a hole in one of the bags.  We did get it down though with a lot of yanking and some flex in the branch.  I guess one shouldn't use the PCT bag hanging method on the AT. ;)

On top of Standing Indian mountain.

Standing Indian mountain is the highest peak around this area but because of the trees the view is a bit more limited than on Albert Mountain.  Tip: a good lookout can be found by going south on the ridge of Standing Indian to a big boulder in the trees.  There take a right and go through the bushes and you'll end up on a rock with a great 180 degree view.

Southern Natahala wilderness.

Our camp next to Kimsey creek.

Our last night was spend on a mossy patch right by the Krimsey creek.  This was by far our favorite spot besides the missing wild strawberries.  After setting up the tent we took a nice refreshing bath in the creek.  The benefits of not being on the AT.

Breakfast time.

Hiking along Kimsey creek.

The vegetation of the Krimsey creek and Long Branch creek are quite different which helps to make the hike quite interesting.  The Krimsey Creek trail is so close along the creeks that there are quite a few crossings and muddy ground.  Not bad enough but certainly not the easiest rating a sign up at the beginning was giving it.  You'll see a lot of cool rapids and small waterfalls along the way.

Hiking along Kimsey creek.

Waterfalls of Kimsey creek.

Even though we passed a garbage can at the top of Kimsey Creek trail, my wife keep a hold of all our garbage till the end to show how much garbage we'd accumulate on our hike, minus the organic matter that was left at the composting toilets or burred in the forest.

All the garbage we accumulated.

Rufus Morgan Falls.

Since we hiked out so early on Sunday we decided to do the short Rufus Morgan trail that is near by and goes to a water fall.  Both of us had a great time and are dreaming of hiking more of the AT.  The Appalachian mountains are quite beautiful in North Carolina.  I don't think these photos really show how pretty the Appalachian mountains are in North Carolina.

Rufus Morgan trailhead.

Cheapest gas seen so far.