Redefining Old

#Optoutside

Today’s the day people refer to as “black Friday” or some recreational outfitters suggest is a day better spent outside instead of shopping inside a mall or big box retail store. In their hearts I think the #optoutside folks want us to go out and get some exercise, fresh air and enjoy the our natural surroundings instead of participating in the consumer arts and acquisition and/or giving of more things.

What does optoutside really imply though? For some it’s going to a city park and spending the day in the sunshine. Some adventure seekers look for a getaway from city life to go hiking or numerous other physically demanding activities. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of physical activity, getting out in nature carries with it some sense of responsibility and respect. The natural world doesn’t have a cleaning service. Our behavior directly affects the health of wildlife and habitat. If you don’t care or refuse to bear the burden of that responsibility, perhaps the mall is for you.

Yesterday we went for an afternoon walk at a wildlife preserve and nature center not far from where we live. We didn’t even have to leave the city. On our walk came upon rabbits, a wild turkey, a beaver swimming with a branch in it’s mouth, a great horned owl perched in tree, a coyote hunting in the tall grasses and reeds, and a group of people who chose to ignore the nature center rules and were cutting through the grazing and hunting areas for the significant variety of animals that call the nature center home.

If you decide to #optoutside be careful to #leavenotrace as well.

Urban wildness

This morning when most people in Denver were going to work I took my bike and binoculars and headed out for ride alongside two major freeways to see what other things live among the 682,545+ human inhabitants. I knew there was a of industry on the northwest end of the Sand Creek Greenway trail and I wanted to see what kind of plants and animals I would find who have adapted to living along an inner city creek and its riparian area so close to heavy traffic.

The trail is much greener and wooded than I expected. I spent some time looking at it on Google Earth where the aerial photography must date back a couple of years. On an August morning with the temperature hovering around 60° at 8:30am it was a surprisingly pleasant ride and there was quite a bit of activity along the creek. Riding northwest from the parking area just off 56th and Sandcreek Dr S the trail descends slowly for 1.83 miles until it reaches the South Platte River trail. In some places the riparian zone is set back from the trail and the open short grassland areas are a lovely ripe golden color despite the recent daily afternoon rain showers. Both blue grama and side oats grama grow in abundance easily identifiable just riding by. Today the breeze was stirring the leaves of all trees as I passed by nearly drowning out the sound of the freeway traffic making riding next to the freeway astonishingly peaceful.

The path follows along the north side of Sand Creek, crossing several bridges and going under others. The atmosphere riding the trail changes dramatically from the pastoral  to uneasy urban decay. If you look, there is beauty in all of it. The water birds hunt these shallow pools and glide by in the deeper waters. Snowy egrets (?, I couldn’t see their feet), ruddy ducks and double-crested cormorants were busily working the creek. One lone egret moved slowly on its long slender legs in water no deeper than the tops of its feet, but every few seconds it extended its long neck down to scoop some water borne tidbit up and swallow it. One cormorant was sunning itself on a boulder in the middle of the stream, wings spread wide, while the others were swimming in deeper water.

Both sides of the creek displayed an abundance of sunflowers today, adding softness to the hard edge of the trail and freeway right-of-way.

To the east of the Dalhia trailhead about a mile and a half there is a small but thriving wetlands area and while some song birds were too hidden to see the bright yellow American goldfinches could be easily spotted in some of the taller trees along with a large and watchful buteo who was probably a red-tailed hawk. Even with the field glasses I couldn’t see enough of its markings to get a definite ID. Just an hour’s leisurely ride and only minutes from downtown Denver with a variety of bird species, rabbits, a snake, it’s astonishingly rejuvenating and fun.

 

Cycling through a Food Desert

I was so pleased to write this article for Adventure Cycling Association‘s blog, called Advice from a Food Desert, based on my experience living in Far West Texas and working as Executive Director of the Texas Mountain Trail.

Hint: prepare well, stock up, enjoy the experience of riding through a true frontier. Big thanks to everyone who played a part in this community effort!

McKinney Falls biking adventure

It was the brilliant red chest of the painted bunting that caught Monte’s eye. The morning was young, the air cool, and the trail still quiet. We’d already been rewarded.

 

All we have to do after a quick breakfast is throw our bikes in the back of the pickup and we are at the front gate of McKinney Falls State Park (park map) when they open for the day. Just a short drive from the heart of Austin, this park offers a great getaway for visitors, including a fun paved trail for an easy bike ride through the forest and along the falls. We opt for the Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail, a 2.8 mile paved journey through the park. Since we are up early and the park is still quiet, we take our binoculars along for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.

It was our second consecutive Saturday morning on the trail. We love the easy ride through the forest, the chance to meet friendly people, and see some wildlife.The big reward? The trail runs alongside Upper Falls, where Onion Creek circles into tiny pools and then cascades over the limestone ledges. Shade is provided by the bald cypresses along the bank.

This is a quiet place to sit and reflect if you’d like, or take a moment’s rest before heading back on the trail. There was plenty to see: the bald knobby “knees” of the cypress, the turtles catching sun on the limestone.

Our two Saturday mornings offer us sightings of deer, raptors, turtles, boy scouts fishing, friendly bulldogs on leashes and their human friends, the green of the forest, the sounds of running water, wildflowers, QUIET, and an easy restorative ride.
Our assessment: this is a great trail for beginners and families, or those wanting a leisurely morning on a bike. The surface is uneven, but easy to navigate, except for one (very) well-marked section where you really do have to dismount and walk your bike for a short while. Shade is plentiful, but it will get hot in the summer. Best come early in the day as we did. We will be back, hopefully many times.

 

Outdoor Auntie/Grandparent (Mom) Academy

Are you an Auntie or Grandparent or a caretaker for a young person this summer?
Do you feel bewildered when you consider outdoor adventures, camping (and the packing, oy!), or outdoor safety and doing it all on a budget? My friend Amelia is one of the lovely people behind a new online course–which I am certain will be wonderful–called Outdoor Mom Academy. Use this coupon code when you sign up: OMA-19.

(Amelia and I were Stonewear Designs Ambassadors a few years ago, and I’ve always been a fan of her blog, Tales of A Mountain Mama. She knows her stuff, and she knows how to make the outdoors fun and safe for everyone.)

Here’s how it works…and even though it is called Outdoor Mom Academy, it works for Aunties and Uncles and Grandparents, too.

Once you enroll in The Outdoor Mom Academy you’ll receive new training each Monday morning for 6 weeks starting May 15, 2017.

Your training includes videos, audio files, workbooks and PDF downloads focused on the topic of the week.

They’ll also include access to our exclusive private Facebook page where you can discuss the weekly topic with their community.

Since they like giving away FREE gear you can expect weekly drawings where you can win outdoor clothing and gear too.

As a thank you for joining them, they’ll give you a coupon code for a free e-books, How To Hike When You’re Pregnant & How To Hike With Kids & an awesome Outdoor Mom Academy patch to sew to your daypack or jacket.

Week #1: May 15-21, 2017
Raising outdoor leaders. This class will be taught by Amelia, Rebecca & Susan and break down adventuring with children through each age group from babies to high school students.

Week #2: May 22-28, 2017
Identifying, reducing and managing risk in the outdoors. This class will be taught by Rebecca and discuss ways to keep kids safe but still allow for outdoor exploration and adventure.

Week #3: May 29-June 4, 2017
Family first-aid. This class will be taught by Amelia and will go over what you really need in your first-aid kit and the most frequently used first-aid items for kids.

Week #4: June 5-11, 2017
Family camping made simple. This class will be taught by Susan, who actually took a 7 week camping trip with her family last summer. She’ll share her lessons learned, pro-tips and checklists.

Week #5: June 12-18, 2017
How to pack what you need. This class will be taught by Amelia and discuss how to decide what to put in your daypack and how to carry your gear + kids.

Week #6: June 19-25, 2017
Equipping your family for outdoor adventure on a budget. This class will be taught by Susan and discuss frugal ways to find quality outdoor clothing and gear and the expensive items to splurge on.

For $60, you’ll get the backup you want when you venture out in to the outdoors with the kiddos this summer. Use the coupon code OMA-19 to sign up here. Enjoy!

 

Cycling the Battlefield

We’re celebrating Travel and Tourism Week and Bike Month with this look at an article I wrote for Authentic Texas magazine about my trip to Brownsville, Texas to bicycle on the Palo Alto National Battlefield.  A spitting distance from the Gulf of Mexico, the place still has the feel of wilderness. The battlefield marks the start of the War with Mexico in 1846, and it is a GREAT place to visit by bicycle. You can read the entire article online here. It starts out:

“On my bike, I zip down the battle’s front line, pretending I’m a part of U.S. General Zachary Taylor’s cavalry. This is the first day of the War with Mexico, and it is May 8, 1846. The Mexican Army is just across the prairie and dense chaparral, which is bursting with yellow wildflowers. The soldiers on the other side are close, but not quite in clear sight. Cannon fire is all around me.

And then, I ride down the Mexican front line, for the Palo Alto National Battlefield in Brownsville provides both vantage points. The asphalt walking paths on the historic battle lines are perfect bike lanes.  This morning, I hear (if in my imagination only) the sounds of the first battle of the war: cannon fire, soldiers shouting, horses neighing.

This site, now under the care of the National Park Service, remains largely untouched since the first battle of the War with Mexico, 170 years ago.  Flags and cannons mark the open prairie, making it easy to imagine and wonder about the events and the emotions of the day. Inside the Visitor Center, exhibits tell the story of the events leading up to the battle and the consequences of the war, which by dramatically increased our country’s size.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849, ceded vast stretches of land to the United States, and established the national border of Mexico at the Rio Grande River.

In less than a mile—on bike or by foot—visitors get a sense of the battlefield and the opening moments of the war.  A bonus for the visitor:  the Palo Alto National Battlefield is the northern point of the nearly 10 mile long Brownsville Historic Battlefield Hike and Bike Trail, which reaches down to the Mitte Cultural District near downtown Brownsville, and makes it easy to experience the entire city on foot or by bicycle.

A short distance from the trail’s midpoint is the site of the second battle of the War with Mexico, the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield, also managed by the National Park Service.  That battle took place a day after Palo Alto, on May 9; both days, the Mexican army retreated in disorder.  By May 11, when war was formally declared, the Mexican army was again across the Rio Grande, and the rest of the war took place on Mexican soil.

A small portion of the Resaca de la Palm battlefield remains intact. Today, visitors can enjoy both battlefields sites free of charge: Palo Alto is open daily 8-5, and Resca de la Palma is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9-3. Both, free of charge.”

Thanks to my friend Matt Walter, who provided great photos for the magazine version!  And thanks to my friends at Authentic Texas magazine. Y’all are great advocates for the great places in the great state of Texas!

#AdventureHopeAndWonder

Spring inspires new beginnings and May is a fine time to start something new.  I’m posting daily features all over our social media with this hashtag, #adventurehopeandwonder, because frankly, sometimes I need a reminder to pursue each one.

Here’s a rundown of the features for May 1-5:

May Day!

One of my favorite holidays, May Day, and in past years I made May Baskets for friends and delivered them by walking all over town before dawn. To celebrate the diversity of flowers, and to encourage us all to look more closely at the details in life, I decided to make this the first #adventurehopeandwonder post. Consider it a virtual May Basket delivered to YOU.

May 2

A simple #adventurehopeandwonder for this day came with a plea to get outside before the day is over, get under a tree and look up. Color, movement, song. In May, there is still the bright green of spring and soft temperatures, and they won’t last forever. And if you live in the desert, you can still do this one!

 

May 3

A mere 1.65 miles from our house is a magnificent farmstand. In the middle of Austin, at that. On two feet or two wheels, today’s #adventurehopeandwonder is about conducting business, running errands, getting to work without four wheels. Try it in ordinary street clothes rather than fitness wear as if to say, “no big deal.” The visit brightened my day, and made me feel great. But if you must drive, be kind to those walking or biking on the road. Thanks.

May 4

It is windy today. This #adventurehopeandwonder is from Fort Pierre National Grasslands, but inspired by our trip to Far West Texas last week. Because far away from the city, the quiet can be unnerving, especially to new visitors. But I found the silence and the wind enriching.

There are delicate touches on my skin, then nothing, then brief moments of rising intensity, like music starting; then with no logic, it ends. Random, without thought or forethought or motive. It just is, than it isn’t, then it dances. It carries life, a prodding, then a calming.

A gentle breeze on the sea is described, “Large wavelets. Crests begin to break. Foam of glassy appearance. Perhaps scattered white horses.” On land, “Leaves and smaller twigs in constant motion.” I see it in streams, swirls, rivulets.

May 5
A hiking tip for today’s entry: throw a pair of airy sandals in the car for the ride home. Your feet will love you!

Catch more #adventurehopeandwonder entries on our Redefining Old social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Or on Beth’s Twitter (as @trailgirl) or Instagram (as @happytrailgirl).

The Good Stuff

Today was one of those days that roll around every couple of weeks. We’re getting low on coffee and it’s mid week so I have to decide what I’m going to buy from a list of specialty roasters and an ever changing list of available beans. I’ll check a my favorite roaster websites and those of roasters I’ve been wanting to try to see what’s currently available. It sounds easy but it brings on some anxiety. It takes a lot of time and I get impatient, I second guess, but I enjoy seeing what’s available and I always like to mix up our menu with new varietals, coffee from different regions and different roasters.  Mixing it up also seems to keep our palates fresh and the coffee drinking an ongoing exciting adventure.

Nearly two years ago I started putting together a list of specialty coffee roasters from around the country that I thought would be fun to visit while traveling. It just kept growing and lately I’ve begun adding roasters abroad.

roasters spreadsheetThis list was also inspired by visits we’ve paid to some of the small but important roasters within driving distance of home, roasters we could visit for tours and tastings and a couple of those trips have been documented in other posts in this blog. But having a list didn’t seem helpful enough, I really wanted to have an online map. It was one of those “wouldn’t it be great” ideas that I couldn’t stop thinking about. So I’ve tinkered with some simple mapping and what you see below and at the top is the result so far. You can zoom into major cities where there are a lot of roasters just like Google maps.

So what good is a map of specialty coffee roasters? For me, it gives you the chance to readily see roasters that are close to you and if you’re traveling, who’s roasting in that area. During one of my recent ordering days I thought there might be other people interested in what I find when I look at coffee ordering options so I decided to try to make it available to other coffee lovers and followers of the blog in the form of a biweekly newsletter that right now looks like this.

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This is not intended as a review, the tasting notes are those of the roaster pulled directly from their websites, it’s merely a list of coffees that look interesting. Something else may catch your eye or sound more interesting to you. My intention is to list a few roasters representing all regions of the country with each issue, rotating through the best, so anyone can find a roaster fairly close to them if shopping locally is important. Most roasters will ship USPS priority mail so second day delivery is pretty common. I will generally recommend roasters on the list who roast to order but that’s not always the case and I make a note of that in the database. My picks will always be single origin beans but of course each roaster will have blend options. Since they are seasonal and often sold in small lots, they are often only available for a short time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found an outstanding new coffee and tried to order more only to find it already sold out. That’s why the list will be updated regularly.

Take a look, tell me what you think!

A new home, a new trail, a new challenge

Our path has meandered south again with new challenges to face and hopefully new adventures. Our running and biking habits have to adjust to living in a major metropolitan area again. I used to scold friends who exaggerated their age and now I find myself doing that very thing as I slide into my late 60s. Riding a bike and running through the woods still make me feel like a kid but there are other issues and maybe I will talk about those things later.

For now I want to talk about a new trail, one full of roots, rocks, zigs and zags, rugged climbs and rocky descents, small songbirds, and an entirely different plant population, tall grasses, juniper and at least one surprising little species locally known as frost-weed.

This rough and tumble trail roughly parallels a shallow clear stream that cuts through the old limestone rock of the Texas hill country.

We also have a groomed urban trail that offers the aesthetics of smooth surface, low hills, semi-tropic lush vegetation, a river frequented by water birds, big turtles, rowers and other boaters, with a skyscraper backdrop. You can bicycle this trail but it gets a lot of visitors.

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Our neighborhood is one in transition. We have a couple of neighbors that were the first people to live on this block decades ago but the increasing majority are young professionals looking for reasonable housing in a relatively inner city location. There are humble little churches scattered throughout, ostentatious new builder box homes and little pockets of charm. I haven’t met this neighbor but I think their sign reflects the general attitude of the area.

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Occasionally we have nice skies

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and one of the best perks is we have 4 farmer’s markets within a 2-1/2 mile radius.

Having more fun on the road

We loaded the folding bikes, Terns, into the back of my car as he headed out for the Christmas holiday.  Also in the back were our suitcases and food for the holiday, as we were headed to Houston to visit family.  Not knowing if we had time for riding, we were ready. The extra (hardly any really) hassle paid off magnificently, as we had the time to stop on the Buffalo Bayou Trail for a spur of the moment ride.

img_2093The trail was in heavy use on Christmas Eve Day, with lots of runners, cyclists and a dog-walkers enjoying the fresh air; and although the day was overcast and a little wet, all were having a good time.  Houston has done some great work building and enhancing trails, and it shows.

How to have more fun on the road, tip 1:  find trails wherever you travel.  There are aps, of course, but I often just google, “trails Houston” or wherever I’m headed.

How to have more fun on the road, tip 2: if you have folding bikes, keep them in the car.  If you’ve never ridden one, try to borrow or rent them for your next trip. They are fun to ride, more stable than you might expect, and compact when packed away. It helped us decompress from the traffic and the long drive there, and it made us happy.  We took the time to see the beauty around us, another benefit of taking things slowly.

(Tip 3, below the video)

How to have more fun on the road, tip 3: Pack some books in the car to enhance your travel.  On some trips, that would be a field guide to the birds, like this one.  Or a wildflower book.  I find another source infinitely interesting, the 1930s era travel guides for each state, in this case, Federal Writers’ Project Guide to Texas, or The WPA Guide to Texas.  I have an original and a reprinted copy for Texas, and you can find them online for many other states as well.

wpa-guide-to-texas Originally published in 1940, the Texas volume has an entry for the Buffalo Bayou, the site of our Christmas Eve Day ride: “An early English traveler in Texas described Buffalo Bayou as a jungle river, bordered by magnolias, ‘eighty feet in height with a girth like huge forest trees.’ The land slopes from wooded heights on the northwest to the bayou, which runs through the business section, at the lowest part of the city; and then, after rising slightly from the bayou, descends to the southern boundaries.”
Picturing Houston as it was in 1940, helps me understand it better today. While the Bayou isn’t a jungle river any longer, I’m grateful the city fathers (and mothers) and countless citizen volunteers and key nonprofit organizations have worked hard to keep it a little bit wild and a place for us to enjoy.

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