Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bicycling Four Rails-to-Trails

As I mentioned in a previous post, I took a trip to four of the six states that I somehow never visited. In each state, I stopped in one city to bicycle the length of a rail-to-trail. Here's what I found in my wanderings in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas:

The Keystone Trail - Omaha, Nebraska

This trail is very well used not just by cyclists, but also parents pushing strollers, families walking with kids in tow, joggers, and bladers. Having a well-maintained trail so close to downtown certainly motivates members of the community to get into a fitness mode. And, though I didn't feel far removed from my urban environment -- a network of highways were withing sighting distance and when I neared the airport jets roared overhead -- the trail allowed me to get "in the zone" as I pedaled parallel to the rippling Papio Creek, past the sprawling lawns of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and St. Mary's campuses, and the small copse of shade trees in Esther Pilsner and Democracy parks. Tall, delicate grasses waved beside the trail while plump clouds bumped up against each other as they drifted above. With Missouri River flooding that has affected Omaha, it was no wonder that part of the trail, at the Bellevue Loop, was closed.

The Landon Nature Trail - Topeka, Kansas

This sun-dappled mostly dirt/crushed stone trail literally starts smack in the city (right beside Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site) and cuts through agricultural lands. It couldn't be more convenient but it wasn't swarming with cyclists or walkers because I was bicycling in the middle of the workday. And, though the entire almost 13-mile peaceful trail is technically open, the last couple of miles is so thick with gravel and stones and overgrown with weeds, that I had to turn around. What I found on my tranquil journey were expansive farms growing corn, alfalfa and soybeans, colorful moths fluttering in front of my face, tall cottonwood and ash trees and a brilliant display of wildflowers.

Osage Prairie Trail - Tulsa, Oklahoma

Railroad fans will especially enjoy cycling this paved path that has a reproduction of an original mileage marker and Osage Prairie signs that are replicates of railroad crossing signs. This path also crosses over several different types of bridges, including an original trestle bridge constructed of core 10 steel and another that's a plate-girder type. But it's not just railroad fans that will be fascinated by this trail that provides scenic views of the Tulsa skyline at the trailhead, but also birdwatchers and nature lovers. That's because the trail courses through a prime birding area, according to the National Audubon Society. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the candy red trumpet creepers while towering pecan, walnut and oak trees line the trail. When I cycled this path, many a creature crossed in front of my bike, including a tortoise, a weasel and a black snake. A former railroad car transfer station at the end of the trail in the town of Skiatook has been transformed into Central Park with its boldly-colored waterpark, curvy lake, blooming flowers and shaded benches. It's so well designed that the entire community, young and old alike, is attracted to this relaxing venue.

Arkansas River Trail - Little Rock, Arkansas

You're never far from the river along this trail that travels along both sides of the waterway that separates North Little Rock from Little Rock. After I started out with views of the old State House and Petit Rouge, the rock that gives the city its name, my trek became a little more exciting than I anticipated because I ended up cycling on the lone day that week when the city was hit by a violent thunder storm with torrential rains. Instead of heading indoors, I continued cycling -- this was the only day I had allotted for this trip so I didn't see an alternative -- until the rain impaired my vision. Once I pulled off to the side of the road, lightning struck a transformer 20 feet away, sending sparks flying in all directions. I immediately got back on the bike but, again, was forced to bail out and, coincidentally, lightning struck a tall tree directly across the road. I finally took shelter with half a dozen other cyclists in a nearby open-air pavilion where we waited it out. Once the storm abated, I continued along the path, passing tall red-tinged bluffs, an old quarry, the lush Emerald Park (a good mountain biking and hiking venues), the massive pedestrian-only Big Dam Bridge, and the spacious Murray Lock & Dam Park with its well-tended and densely forested sections.
continue reading "Bicycling Four Rails-to-Trails"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Authentic Azores

When I tell someone that I just returned from the Azores, I'm often greeted by a mass of misconceptions or confusions. Many don't realize that this archipelago is part of Portugal. But even those who do, believe it's hard to get to and requires a very expensive flight. Not true on all accounts.

In fact, the Azores are only 4+ hours from Boston yet you feel like you're on the other side of the earth. Though not known for their beaches, the Azores present a wealth of opportunities to get in touch with nature while also finding a place that remains true to its traditions.

Chris Christensen at the Amateur Traveler just interviewed me on the Azores.
Check out the podcast here or below:

Amateur Traveler Episode 290 - Travel to the Azores

Podcast correction: I may have mentioned in the past that I don't speak Portuguese. And subsequent to my interview, I found out that, though the interviewer suggested that the name Ponta Delgada had something to do with the door of a cat, the derivation of this word is "thin point." And one of my kind readers also commented to that effect. It's always good to have keen-eared, linguistic-focused people reading my blog.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seven Special Posts from the Past

Late last week, travel blogger Donna Hull of My Itchy Travel Feet nominated me to participate in a project devised by the folks at the TripBase Travel Blog. Referred to as My 7 Links, the project has each of the nominated bloggers -- who, in turn nominate five other travel bloggers -- look back on their past posts that were well received, controversial, exceptionally helpful or perhaps didn't get the deserved attention. But in all cases, it brings back blog posts that many new readers may never have read. And it also will make you aware of the other nominated top-notch bloggers that all can provide valuable information, advice and travel lessons learned.

I've been blogging now for just a touch over 2.5 years and, during that time, I've learned a lot about what my readers want, what they most enjoy, and how to get the word out about my posts via social networking. Here are seven of my posts from the past, listed by category:

Most Beautiful: Day Trips from Zagreb

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I'm a serious tree hugger. Since nature plays such a large role in my life, this post provides scenic day trips from the city of Zagreb where you can see some of the most eye-catching waterfalls around.

Most Popular: Savvy Packing with Only a Purse

I'm all about being the savvy traveler and that means packing ultra light. As many of you know, I never check luggage, no matter how long I'm on the road. This post was extremely popular because of the video slide show ilustrating the multitude of outfits I can pull out of a purse!

Most Controversial: What I Love About Rio de Janeiro

Well, I should clarify: as I was writing this post, I thought it would be controversial because so many people have misconceptions about Rio given the talk about crime, slums and crazy traffic. (And, here I discuss all the green spaces and cool bicycling options.) But, in fact, the comments were quite positive and reflected the ability to maintain an open mind, something that's essential when you travel.

Most Helpful: Travel First-Aid Advice - Video

We all have our view of what should be in a first-aid kit. But most of us skimp, preferring either to believe that nothing will go wrong or that whatever you may need you'll find at your destination. Because I like to put my mind at ease by preparing for all manner of disasters on the road, this post provides strategies for putting together the ultimate travel first-aid kit.

Most Surprising Success: Greece Beyond its Isles

Because I know most people think of Greece as synonymous with its sandy isles, I didn't expect this post on my long, arduous bicycle trip far beyond any beaches in Greece's interior would be such a success. The reason it was well received, I believe, is because once you get off the beaten path, you're bound to make authentic finds.

Deserved More Attention: Plenty of Nature in New Jersey

New Jersey has always gotten such a bad rap, especially when it concerns anything to do with nature or eco-consciousness. So I thought that this post, which reveals green spaces and nature-based activities in New Jersey, would be a real hit. After reading it, you'll see why the state is given the moniker, the Garden State.

Most Proud Of: 50 Places of a Lifetime - National Geographic Traveler iPad App

I always spend a lot of time writing my posts. They are all carefully crafted. But in order to write a comprehensive review of this app, I spent hours playing with it and going through all the bells and whistles. I remember finishing this post at 2:30 am and feeling like I did the best job I could to convey the entire experience one will have when using this well-designed app.

My Travel Blogger Nominations

Memoirs of a Travel and Food Addict

My Melange

The Trip Chicks


Journey Woman
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bicycling Rails-To-Trails in the U.S.

Last year I sat down with a map of the United States and realized that, despite all my traveling, I somehow missed six states. Who knew? And, looking at the map, I saw that they all fell down a vertical line that made a little sweep to the right at the base. The states are: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. My idea was to do a different sort of trip to hit all of these: I would take a Greyhound bus from north to south and, in each state, bicycle a relatively long rail to trail.

But, because of miscommunication on the ground with the ND tourist board, I had to nix that state. And, there was no point in going out of my way to visit SD without also hitting the north. (North and South Dakota will have to wait until the winter when I cross country ski a rail-to-trail in both states.) That left four states. I just returned from this trip that was full of adventure, including almost being hit twice by lightning in Little Rock. Here is my pre-trip interview with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy that is the not-for-profit advocacy group for converting old, abandoned railroad beds to pedestrian/bicycle lanes. My next post will be about some of the highlights from this journey.
continue reading "Bicycling Rails-To-Trails in the U.S."