If you are an avid touring cyclist and want an unending supply of beautiful roads with little to no traffic … negotiate the month of September as your vacation time for the rest of your working days. Then, when you retire, simply continue this travel pattern until your legs no longer spin.
September is my favorite month to travel. There isn’t a single place in the United States (or the entire Northern Hemisphere, for that matter) I’d avoid in this glorious month.
Summer vacation is over and the summer crowds and traffic that go with it have faded. The sun is angling lower in the sky, which your eyes and camera will love. The days are getting shorter, but the lack of blistering hot afternoons surely makes up for the loss of daylight hours.
Add to that the availability of camping sites and lower prices for airfare, hotels, restaurants, and just about everything else.
May might be Bike Month, but I’d like to nominate September as Bike Travel Month.
As we crested the hill, it appeared as if it were snowing. In southeastern Oregon? In September? It was 75 degrees!
A blizzard of white flakes floated down from the ponderosa pines above. A glance over to the side of the road revealed tens of thousands of butterflies feasting on the nectar of wildflowers. The ditches were white with butterfly carcasses.
It was quite a sight. But it is rather weird to have all of that movement, the flapping of thousands of wings, and no sound.
At least not that we could hear.
Information posted at the Malheur National Forest campground answered many of our questions. We were witnessing a pine butterfly outbreak, an uncommon occurrence. The last documented outbreak in Oregon was in the 1980s.
Pine butterflies (Neophasia menapia) range from British Columbia to Mexico. Their favorite food in Oregon (while in the caterpillar stage) is the ponderosa pine. During a normal year, the caterpillars eat only the older needles of the tree.
But during a large outbreak, they munch on the newer needles as well, weakening the trees and making them more susceptible to pine beetle infestation.
So, this wonderland of butterflies for us was a bummer for the stands of ponderosa pine all around us. Many of the trees in our campground were obviously stressed.
Nature’s control is already at work. The numbers of parasitic wasps that feed on the pine butterfly are up.
As much as we enjoyed the wonder of the butterflies, it’s time to root for the wasps!
Last week I confessed my obsession of photographing house numbers during our bike journey in Portugal.
I realize the short “video” might have had a certain entertainment value, but probably fell far short of convincing the viewer that they should hop on a bike and tour there.
I now present “Countdown Redux”. Twenty-one images that should whet your traveler’s appetite and have you dreaming of your own bike trip through Portugal or somewhere, anywhere on this incredible planet.
When traveling through a country there is so much to take in — sights, sounds, culture, language. It can be overwhelming.
Sometimes I choose certain specific things to focus on as I’m pedaling. Trees or birds, or the hats people are wearing. The signs on the side of the road. Or I’ll pick a color. It is amazing how your perspective changes if you focus on the color red, and later on the color blue. What your eye takes in doesn’t change, but how your brain processes it does.
While we were pedaling in Portugal, I started noticing house numbers. In the small villages, most weren’t generic, but often obviously fashioned by the home owner. I began taking photos of them. Then I got obsessed. I started collecting house numbers like you would try to fill out a bingo card. Could I find and photograph all the numbers from 1 to 100?
This was rather entertaining for me, and rather annoying for my partner, Kat, who constantly had to stop and wait as I dismounted my bike to search for the perfect angle to photograph a house number I hadn’t captured yet.
I didn’t make it to my goal of 100. Somewhere along the way my obsession began to annoy even me. My vision was so zeroed in on house numbers that I was literally missing the big picture.
The video is a shortened version of my countdown to Portugal … as entertaining or annoying as it may be.
Kat and I took a break from the heat and humidity under a tree in northern Thailand. We laid our bikes down by the side of the road and dug through our panniers looking for snacks.
The tree was enormous and the base of its trunk was decorated with colorful ribbons of silk. A local art project perhaps?
Trees are often decorated in public places. Just recently an artist “yarn bombed” trees in Occidental Square in Seattle. It was whimsical fun.
In Thailand, we didn’t meet many foreign cyclists on the road (at least on the routes we pedaled), so we got wonderful reactions from motorists. But never honks. The people of Thailand are some of the most polite drivers on the planet.
So when we heard someone honk as they passed it startled us. Then the next car honked as well. And the next. And the next. Were our bikes too close to the road? But each car only honked once or twice. And the occupants were smiling. We smiled and waved back. For the next thirty minutes it was like being on a parade route. We waved at every car and every car celebrated our journey in Thailand with polite honking.
What was truly strange was that the honking never happened again. It took us at least a week to figure out that the motorists weren’t honking at us.
It was the tree. Or the spirits in the tree. We found someone who explained to us that it is common belief that spirits inhabit certain trees. These trees are often decorated with flowers, garlands, and ribbons.
It is considered good luck to honk once (or twice) as you slowly pass by a spirit tree.
Note: If a couple of touring cyclists are sitting under the shade of that tree, it is still good luck to honk. And it will make the cyclists feel special … at least until they learn a little bit more about Thai culture.