Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hovering and Hiking in Humidity

Saturday was an unstable weather kind of day, one minute the sky seemed to be clear blue, and then the clouds appeared, dark and thundery. The air was thick with heavy moisture causing me to reconsider my hike, but it was a local venue and since I was alone I could always cut it short if the weather became too oppressive. I was heading to a local wildlife management area and so grabbed my bright orange baseball cap on the way out, so hunters wouldn't mistake me for a deer in the bushes.
I was very relieved to arrive at the park and find only 1 truck parked there, so a maximum of 4 guns were out in the area somewhere. I decided the odds were OK and started out on one of the paths which was supposed to lead to a lake. Almost immediately the going was tough, the trail was extremely overgrown, making it pretty difficult to push through. I came to a little creek and this would be the only open area I'd come across while on the trail.
Despite my heavy use of repellant spray before I set off, bugs and midges swarmed around my head and i was positive I could feel little nips on my arms and legs. Because the trail was so overgrown I often found myself walking into spiders' webs and having to negotiate long brambles that stretched across in front of me, as though deliberately trying to impede my progress. and whenever I saw bugs on the leaves, they were in couples. This wildlife area must be the Sandals resort for bugs. I was getting pretty fed up. The trail was almost disappearing and I wondered if it was a proper trail I was following or a track of a deer or hunter busting through the vegetation. Then suddenly a little area opened up, brightly lit with hot sunshine, colored with clumps of pretty purple, the Virginia Waterleaf flowers. Skimmers and dragonflies hovered and whisked around the plants, with butterflies and bees greedily flitting quickly from one pollen laden stamen to the next.
 But then something bigger caught my eye, and I quickly turned to look at a creature which I thought was a hummingbird. But it was too small and as I slowly crept closer, I suddenly realized I was watching a hummingbird moth. I gazed in wonder. It didn't seem too bothered about my presence, but then I thought, with it almost impossible to follow a trail, there was likely few people who came here. It's wings sounded just like a hummingbird and moved equally as fast, its wings beating 30 times a second. It darted from one flower to the next with the same sudden movements and I struggled to take a photo. As soon as I had focused, it had moved on again. Then, amazingly, it stopped, and for a couple of seconds I was able to focus and quickly snap a picture. I had no time to study the little creature itself, it had no intention of staying still. And then it was gone. I stood there, waiting, willing it to come back, but I waited in vain. I felt like I'd seen a fantasy creature, or a fairy, Then slowly I became aware again of those damn little nits buzzing around my head, and where I'd stood still for a while, they were getting more daring and were now around my eyes. I had to get moving.
I carried on up the 'path', pushing branches, webs and huge briars out of my way but eventually it just got to be too much. The trail was almost disappearing and the vegetation was taller than me. I couldn't handle pushing my way through all that with bugs being on leaves at eye level. I'd tried to look for photos of things that would keep me going but even my interest in taking photos diminished to the point that all I could think about were bugs, bugs and bugs. I'd picked a couple of ticks from my capris and my poor shins were feeling sore from the brambles scratching me. I had to admit defeat, and I had not even seen the lake.
I turned around and started walking back the way I'd come. I'd only covered about three miles but it felt like seven because of my battle through the undergrowth. The heat and bugs had really sapped my strength. And then as soon as I emerged into the little open area with the beautiful purple blooms, I saw the same little hummingbird moth flit across in front of me, its wings buzzing loudly.
And this time I managed to get photos that were a little better than my first attempt. I had to wonder how it managed to keep so active in this humidity while wearing that big furry coat. I even succeeded in taking a short video to show how fast it moved:
I uploaded a video of the little chat here.
A detailed explanation and video footage here.
Seeing this wondrous little creature totally made my day worthwhile and I was happy to swat the mosquitoes and tiny black flies from my face as I walked back to the car. I may not have hiked the miles or seen the landscape I was hoping to see today but this magical little creature more than made up for it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fun and Frolicks on the River

Sunday was another hot and very humid day, perfect for tubing down the Shenandoah River with Emily, Elizabeth, Steve and Margie. We were dumped at the side of the river by our bus driver and took so long titivating and fiddling and discussing the best way to float along together that another bus had pulled up and was tipping out more tubers before we'd even got a toe in the water. We finally decided that it was best to all tie our personal tubes to our large cooler tube so that we became like a huge raft and were all able to reach over to the beer, of which we seemed to have rather a lot of, and snacks.
A quick pose on the bank and then were were off. The water seemed a little cool to start off but we soon forgot about that.
We had all manged to secure tubes with beer holders, a very important feature when you need hands free to nibble snacks, smoke cigars, take photos, or generally fool around.
Cheers from all as we merrily bobbed downriver. Elizabeth, for some reason, had the hardest time in determining which way we were going and often thought we were traveling upstream. I did sit and ponder over this for a few minutes but gave up, and chose to accept her just the way she was, and love her regardless.
Steve managed to lose an unopened beer can in the water and good ole Margie, bless her cotton socks, dove in and swam furiously after the errant drink, standing triumphant once she'd caught the can. Emily and I had failed to even lift a finger, we were too relaxed for that kind of commotion, and I think Elizabeth would have got lost if she'd gone...
We were also very fortunate in that the sun wasn't blazing down today. It sometimes peeked out from a cloud, just to assure us that it was still there and had every intention of keeping us warm, but it was lovely not to be blinded or burned by its blazing rays.
We had a few little ruckuses where we tumbled over rocks, poking up through small rills but for the most part it was a smooth and pleasantly slow ride, during which we had plenty of time for laughs as we shared out our beers and munchies.
But even though we were moving so slowly down the river, it seemed that we were approaching the finish line too fast, and so we stopped at a small bank, climbed out of our tubes and parked ourselves in the river instead.
Elizabeth looking for the widget in the bottom of her Boddingtons can.
It's rather apparent from the photos that we were having glorious fun. The water was crystal clear and the perfect temperature. We sat for a long time, drinking, munching, laughing, and watching other folks pass us by. We also noticed after a while, probably as our skin softened, that there were tiny leech like critters that clamped onto us and manged to give little nips. None of us liked this discovery too much so we decided to carry on, since they only seemed to latch onto us while we were keeping still.
Looking upriver, so peaceful and empty. I think we may have been the last ones left in the river.
The many changing landscapes of the river bottom on our journey.
We only had a hundred yards or so until we reached our finishing point and so we all laid back in our tubes, and closed our eyes, lapping up the sun and letting our big rubber raft slowly Float On. But I snuck open one eye and saw responsible Steve and Margie climb out and gradually tug us towards the bank. And then a voice boomed out, "Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!" from one of the outfitter's staff, and our watery voyage ended
A funny sign in the Ladies back at the outfitters.
We soon got changed into dry clothes then headed into Front Royal to have dinner. Stopping at Joe's Steakhouse seemed like a good plan as they had lovely outside seating and the last time I'd been here the food had been great. And so we sat outside and ordered our drinks. And waited, and waited. It seemed that our lazy slow moving day was to extend into our evening, but finally our waiter brought them out and took our order.
We ordered mussels for starters and put in our main courses. And waited, and waited. Our previous lackadaisical attitude seemed to have rubbed off onto our waiter as he showed zero contrition when we commented on our delay of service. Whatever, the food at least was very good and we managed to gee him up a little when we wanted to leave. And as the day gave way to dusk, it was a car of tired pals that all looked forward to soft pillows at the end of our journey home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shooting Brews

I received a call from Steve Saturday morning asking if I wanted to join him and some friends at Bull Run to go clay shooting. I had always fancied a go at this so promptly cancelled my kayaking plans and shot over to Steve's house.
These are Steve's and Marc's shotguns.  We got to Bull Run Shooting Range and I was given a quick lesson by the boys on how to handle the gun and the rules of shooting. I was extremely glad I was with them, they're all very experienced and responsible so I felt safe with them. I've shot various rifles and pistols but not a shot gun so I was looking forward to this.
Once we arrived, I had a quick nose downstairs at the archery range. There weren't too many people down there so I may bring my bow and give this a go in the near future.
Outside on the range I was very pleased to see that we had to wait a while for another group to finish their shooting so it gave me time to study the protocol of this sport. When first on the stand, everyone had one shot and then moved around to the next position. Then it was 2 shots, move, 2 shots, then step down. We called 'pull' when we were ready and I was very grateful to Brian who after I had called 'pull' twice, told me the second call wasn't necessary as the clay was automatically released. I could have looked a right dylan calling 'pull' on every shot. Thank you Brian!
Obviously my first shot went a little wild and I initially felt a little overwhelmed, trying to grasp the newness of aiming with a strange gun, but having seen there were also a lot of misses from the other shooters, my confidence grew and I was almost disbelieving when I hit my first clay. Our scores were called out and I was last with 7, but I walked on air. I really hadn't thought I'd get any. The others praised me and if I had been a gorilla I would have stood tall and beat my chest but I just looked down and credited my score to beginners luck.
Not a view I'd want to see too often but I had to take the photo. I'd kept shuffling around the gun looking at the barrel and then moving away, too nervous but desperate to have a photo looking down the barrel. I finally took a deep breath and leaned over, took the shot (pun intended) and stepped back, immediately satisfied.
Brian and Marc taking their turns. Brian is a superb shot and on our second round scored 21/25. I was puffed up with pride having gotten 12/25 and not getting the lowest score on the stand for that session. This afternoon tipped me off the fence regarding owning a gun and I've decided that I'll get a shotgun. As well as having a firearm for personal safety this is a sport which I'd like to work at getting better at, and with it not being expensive to take part in this activity or having to travel far to enjoy it, I felt good at making this decision. so now my next step is to visit a gun show or a local store to see what my best options are. Do I want a pump action, a side-by-side or under-and-over action? Friends' advice and money will likely determine that.
We left the range, grateful to get out of the intense heat and humidity, and after saying goodbye to Brian, the three of us decided to visit some local breweries.
Steve and Marc raved about Heritage Brewery in Manassas, so that was our first stop. A very friendly place with a superb chalk artist's work on display and great use of old pallets being evident in tables and chairs. There was no AC but at least it was shady inside and we gratefully pulled up high chairs to the cool concrete counter. We were all starving and because the brewery didn't sell food, they showed us a book of local delivery menus and within 15 minutes we were stuffing a superb pizza. The Kings Mountain Scottish ale was a wonderful accompaniment to our pepperoni and mushroom slices.
Our next stop was almost across the road to a well acclaimed little brewery in a strip mall called BadWolf Brewing Company, a tiny place with just a few tables and chairs, but known to have folks standing shoulder to shoulder when busy. I had the Fuggin Good Gold, a delicious golden ale that was perfect for this hot steamy day. It was also nice to be inside with some AC blasting across the room. I noticed they carried a few Route 11 chip flavors and recommended the dill flavor to the owner who said he'd get some in. We finally decided to leave the wonderful cool air and make a last stop at my favorite brewery, Old Bust Head.
No AC here either but the tables and chairs were shaded, and it won't be long before they open their brand new tasting room with a lovely controlled climate.We all had the English style pale ale and then decided it was time to head home.
But not before we made a quick stop at Pickle Bob's, a small ice cream van in Haymarket, where we had the special, half blizzard, half milk shake.
Then back to Steve's where the boys struck a quick pose for me with their guns. Hopefully not too long before I join them!