Still plugging along

Despite a lack of posts recently I’m still around and plugging along on my virtual trek. I seem to have injured my left toes so I had to back off on intensity of workouts. So to get roughly the same amount of calories burned I have to go a longer distance so actually my pace has picked up a bit. So I’ve reach 427.0 miles and seem to be near the tiny village of Peruscallo heading to Morgade. The Camino, since Ponferrada seems to have nicer facilities and certainly has nicer scenery. The comparable here would be like going east where it has more precipitation. Instead of looking like western Nebraska now this part of Galicia looks a lot like northern Missouri, the natural environment that is since the human part looks nothing like anything around here.

So in keeping with the thread of this post I’ll add a few more trail pictures of an area that is radically different than anything you’d find on the Camino.

First up, here’s the trail (this one I’ve actually walked):

This is the St. Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park in Texas. You can see a few people on the trail headed into the canyon. The trail only goes a relatively short distance before a deadend but is a spectacular hike. Often you can also see many canoes on the river, which just happens to the the Rio Grande. IOW, the left side of the picture is Mexico. If the insane and ugly wall ever got built they couldn’t put it in the middle of the river so instead this trail would be lost forever (or have a gate in the wall so tourists can visit but then what’s the point of a wall with a hole in it).

So here’s an image of where the cars go (you could hike that road but I wouldn’t advise it).

Same river and you’re looking north, the USA side. Now try to imagine where you’d put a wall there. And no one would ever get to enjoy this spectacular sight-seeing drive in Texas.

Now the previous two pictures are along the river where there is a lot of greenery. But just a bit further north (and in this case also west) this is more what this area looks like:

I never really cared for or appreciated deserts until I visited the Big Bend area but it can be quite spectacular. At this time of year there are few flowers but on my first visit it had been an unusually wet winter and the wildflowers were overwhelming and gorgeous. Many places you can just walk out in the desert (outside the US National Park and the Texas State Park it’s all private land and not advisable to walk as locals don’t care for strangers and everyone has guns). But you have to be really careful and watch your step, first to avoid damaging the quite fragile growing things, but also, since almost every growing thing has thorns to avoid damaging yourself!

BTW: In case you’re wondering about my learning Spanish and studying menus in Spain, yes, I’m still doing it. In fact I’ve reached level 22 in Spanish at Duolingo.

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More trail photos; < 100 miles to go

I was close in the previous post when I declared I’d crossed the border into to Galicia, but now I do have less than 100 miles to go on my virtual hike. At the slow pace I’m doing on machines that is a couple of months.

But this post is mostly about photos in my continuing series of photos I’m finding in my personal archive of trails (or crude roads). As it’s said in the movie, “the road is among our oldest tropes”. There is some about a path that holds us, compels us to move forward on that path. So here’s the first of this series:

This is a short trail along a river we found on the way to the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. It was a pleasant walk through the woods. I don’t much like photos that include me but in this case I relented. But from behind it could be anybody.

So let’s get something a bit more visible:

This was an unexpected and quite beautiful hike in Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the border of New Mexico into western Texas. While this photo doesn’t show the fantastic fall color we encountered, totally unexpected for just a dry place, it is one of the few pictures of me on the trail, taking photos of course. Here the trail crosses a dry riverbed that probably experiences the classic rapid flooding when there are rains. This is along the route through McKittrick Canyon which I can highly recommend, especially in the fall.

And as, I hope, the last time I do this here is another hike, this time across country on no trail at all:

This couldn’t be in a more different location. Here we’re hiking overland in the Big Snowy Mountains of Wyoming. I’ve visited this area multiple times (the nearest big mountains to my home in flat Nebraska). The interpretative signs there claim that at one point in Earth’s history these were the highest mountains on the planet.

This shot is late fall and there is even a bit of snow falling. The purpose of going cross country to to “nowhere” is indicated by the invisible object I’m holding, a Garmin eTrek GPSr. We’re headed to a “dashpoint”, a completely arbitrary coordinate on the earth to try to reach if you can. Usually we reach these points with a car but this was a case where the dashpoint was on public land and thus a place where we could hike.

Actually this was a tough hike because much of the area was even more rocky than you see in this photo. Without an actual trail scrambling over rocks can be very tiring. But we found the dashpoint and returned to the car (had to drive to civilization to file our reports) and escaped the snow that closes in just after we were there.

Looking at all the photos of the Camino, the closest I’ve come to actually trekking there, it’s very pleasant, but if one seeks some beautiful country off the beaten path it’s hard to beat the USA. This isn’t some patriotic chauvinism, just a simple statement of geography. When I see the area around the Camino and realize how long people have been there, with terrain altering technology, part of the beauty of the “nowhere” in USA (or even more so in our neighbor to the north) is simply that people, at least with much technology, have been here such a brief time and thus so much of the land is only slightly altered.

In the trail I showed in the previous post, a very symbol of “civilization” (the railroad) has retreated and disappeared and nature has reclaimed the narrow corridor where once steam prevailed with greenery and now fortunately a place of respite of trekkers.

So enjoy these photos because of the 30,000 I have (with a few worth posting) these are probably the only ones where I’ll be in the shot.

Made it to Galicia; Another trail picture

I’ve now pushed through 393.3 miles on my virtual Camino (i.e. treadmill in the basement) thus putting me just past O Cebreiro which is just over the border into Galicia, the last autonomous community before reaching Santiago in just about 100 miles. By “reached”, of course, I mean I’ve done the distance (from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port) along a GPS track of the Camino. I’d love to be doing this for real, but at least I get to “experience” some of what this trek is like, checking out restaurant menus along the way, which is the primary topic of this blog.

And at least I’ve gotten some idea of what the trek looks like. That is, converting treadmill miles into locations and then using Google Street View to “look around” I’s also decided that most of the trek is in pretty boring country, not much different than what is around here. However, since reaching Ponferrada from the East where the way begins to enter the mountains the country has been much prettier. But also, interestingly, it seem that lodging and restaurants are a bit higher quality as well. I deduce that’s because most of the escorted trips along the Camino occur in this area, as only about 100km are required in order to qualify for the compostelana (diploma) and so trekker who want a bit more luxury and a lot less walking start much closer to Santiago. Which, of course, is a “cheat” as getting there (as opposing to being there) is the whole point of the trek.

But here’s another of my trail photos, one of my favorite:

OK, so it’s pretty ordinary looking spot and not at all spectacular. So why is it one of my favorites?

Well, it’s accessible and pleasant walking, that’s why. This is one of many bridges on the Wabash Trail, which goes from the south side of Council Bluffs Iowa to the Missouri border. It’s a Rails-to-Trails recreation project which are sponsored all over the USA.

You see when railroads were first built in the US the land was granted by either the state or the Federal government, often with a provision that if the railroad is abandoned the land reverts back to government (thus public) ownership. Now Iowa is the most intensely farmed state in the USA which means very little land is in its natural condition (and it’s all private, so no access for recreation). So this tiny corridor of “wild” for the Wabash Trail is a real jewel.

Also, though it may just be urban legend, the original trains that used this route burned coal (or even wood) and so burning embers escaped their smokestack. As a result the railroad had a wide buffer of land to avoid setting stuff on fire. Today, given that entire right of way is abandoned woods have reclaimed that area, except for the trail itself.

SO, even though there are farms and houses everywhere along this trail it does a good job of pretending to be wilderness. And all that plant growth creates enough shade that the trail is much cooler for walking than out in the sun (one of the obvious drawbacks of so much of the Camino, exposed to intense sunshine).

This particular photo is where I stopped for a brief rest (that’s my stuff on the bridge). The bridges were for the trains and have been reclaimed and converted for foot and bicycle traffic, which is handy, not having to fork creeks. In addition to the buffer of woods along this trail, often it is cut into the hills so the train had a level grade and that also increases the isolation.

I’ve walked almost all of this trail, although only in intervals, never end-to-end. The problem, compared to the Camino, is there are no accommodations along this trail. Even on a bike it would be hard to cover all of it in a single day and walking is a multi-day trek. While there is so access to food and drink along the trail the only way to walk all of it would be to have someone drive to meet your and take you to some overnight lodging. That kinda defeats the point of it.

This bridge is on the longest stretch I’ve done in one trip, about 15 miles, where I had someone drop me off and then meet me in the town Malvern where we had a pleasant lunch with a couple of craft brews. I wanted to push for 20 miles but my ride wasn’t going to wait for another two hours, so this was the best I could do. Of course one other approach would be to get my ride to haul my bike down to my turnaround spot and so walk one way and bike back, but that’s a lot of trouble. So while I like hiking on this trail: a) having to drive 30 miles to get to it, and, then, b) the logistics are impossible as a long hike is part of the reason the Camino, just from the POV of hiking, is attractive.

When the rails were removed the rock bed under the rails was left and then covered with a crushed limestone aggregate. So actually the walking surface is quite pleasant. The trail is well drained so rarely muddy but it’s much “softer” walking than paved roads would be. Again, with all my StreetView studies of the Camino much of that route is NOT very good walking and certainly walking on streets and dodging cars is not my idea of a good trek.

So while this Wabash Trail may not have the history or significance or the experience of a different country I’m grateful it exists and provides some opportunity to move on foot outside instead always in the basement on a treadmill. Of course, right now it’s buried in snow and it’s nearly 0F outside so I’ve got a month or two before I set foot on this trail again.

A Camino not taken

Since I lived in California, in Palo Alto, not far from the major street El Camino Real I have known that ‘camino’ means way or route or road. What I’ve now learned is that it is derived from the verb caminar and the first person singular (yo) conjugation is camino; IOW, it also means “I walk”. I was born in the city of Amarillo Texas which I now (mostly) know how to pronounce correctly and that it is the masculine singular adjective ‘yellow’. Interesting how Spanish has been all around me.

But that’s not what this post is about. As I’ve mentioned I’ve gone off now on several digressions from my original project and subject of this blog – that is a virtual trek along the Camino de Santiago, decoding restaurant menus along the way so I can produce a food specific translation tool. I haven’t dropped that project and from time to time, given I’m still putting in miles on my treadmill which I convert to distance along the Camino route I do check what restaurants I “encounter”, that is via Google maps and StreetViews and their ratings and most importantly user submitted photos. I’ve seen thousands of typical mom-and-pop Spanish dishes but with the exception of a Spain oriented restaurant in Columbus Ohio I have yet to actually taste any comida español.

What I have been doing, after getting a new computer to use in my programming projects, is going back through 30,000 old digital photos and selecting those that either are visually interesting or interesting as reminders of my travels. So, in the absence of any other posts getting created, I thought I could just try adding a few of these photos. I’ve had a fondness for photos, otherwise fairly boring, of roads or, better, trails I do manage to walk. So I figured I’d post all my photos of trails (many more interesting than much of the Camino) and when I run out of those then some roads.

So I’ll start with this one:

Note: I still haven’t quite figured out how WordPress resizes photos so I have much higher resolution photos than I’m posting and I’ll have to figure out the trick to getting better quality.

I picked this shot because it fits my title – the footpath bifurcates with a more obvious trails and a lesser one. Naturally I hiked the lesser one (this was about four years ago).

The location is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, USA. I camped there for about a week, often overrun by bison who decided the fresh spring grass in my campsite was what they wanted to eat. So I sometimes retreated to my car as a thin nylon tent is not much to stop a bison. This park has its name from the fact that President Teddy Roosevelt, as a young man, had various physical weaknesses and he chose to go to North Dakota (not then a National Park) and try his hand at ranching. Despite definitely being a “dude” from a rich East Coast family, tough and later rough-rider Teddy eventually impressed the locals with his tenacity and energy. So when the land was transferred to the US Park Service naturally it was named after him.

Now the area of the park is interesting because it appears almost out of nowhere in the middle of very flat plains of western North Dakota. While, at the bottom (where that trail is, the first photo), it can appear to be mountainous but it is actually canyons created by the Little Missouri River, which eventually flows into the Missouri River which is the border of my home state, about 10 miles away. So here’s a sample of the larger area from the top of the canyons:

Note: This photo still looks horribly fuzzy to me despite having 1920 pixel wide resolution – what is WordPress doing?

Since this is spring it’s quite green at this time of year but this is mostly prairie with some cedar trees. It was consider fairly inhospitable to any life and was known as “badlands”. But now there is actually a Badlands National Park in South Dakota, which I visited on the way to TRNP and it looks rather different.

So this is my first “camino” post with what looks like disappointing photos (in WordPress edit mode) and hopefully these images will look better in the finished post. Otherwise I’m clueless, now, how to get decent photos that I have (from a Nikon, not a cell phone) into posts.

I won’t do that many of these so it’s not just filler until I get back to Spain restaurant menus but I do enjoy (me gusta caminar) and I have some photos to prove it.

p.s. Since I mentioned bison (incorrectly called ‘buffalo’) I suppose I should include a picture of one of those sitting in my campsite near my fire pit.

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This is a real wild (and very large) animal. I was amused by signs warning tourists not to bother the wildlife, but there was no sign explaining what to do if the wildlife was bothering us!