Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jan 25 (Day 25) - Wind, snow, and butterflies......

Today was very, very frustrating. There were no birds, strong headwinds, snow, and just generally  miserable conditions. I am getting very tired of this weather as it is unpleasant if not impossible to do any real birding while biking. The riding has become so painful that I just want to lay down my miles and get into my next point of refuge as fast as possible. Detours have become too energetically expensive, and with each extra foot I ride in these conditions the chances of something going very wrong increase. I have been incredibly lucky with the birds I have seen in the Northeast, but I am paying a very steep price for them now. I wish I had more bird content to offer, but until conditions improve, I just have to power through this birding void. The forecast shows that next 3-4 days are going to be even worse. I did add American kestrel (#121) today. Such a pretty bird, and I didn't even stop to look at it.

The ride from West Philadelphia to Newark, DE was 40 miles. Temperatures were in the high teens without the wind. The first 30 miles of the ride paralleled the Delaware river in a southwesterly direction. The steady 20 mph wind, also from the southwest, blew unimpeded up the river valley and completely crushed me. Every pedal crank was hard work. My legs started cramping 1 hour into the 4.5-hour ride. I was in my lowest 5 gears all day, even when going downhill. If I stopped pedaling the bike came to a near instant stop. While I got my layering on my chest and legs correct, I underestimated the insulation I would need on my feet and as a result they were frozen all day. It started snowing very heavily during the last hour of my ride. At one point I was so miserable that I said I was going to duck into the next open store that I passed no matter what it was.

I ended up in the Shear Chalet ("Quality hair with a personal touch"), a hairdressing salon located between Wilmington and Newark. The women running the show, Beverly and Sandy, initially looked at me as though I was from outer space. The asked if I was surviving the weather, and offered me coffee - which I declined. They asked about my adventure and seemed quite curious about the whole endeavor.  I ascertained that they lived in the area and had run the salon for the past 10 years. I said it was good to a see a successful small business doing well for such a long time. They seemed satisfied with their achievements, as well they should be. I convinced them to pose for a photo before I left. The 20-minute interaction was a welcome distraction from the world to which I now had to return to complete my ride.

For the last hour of my ride, my mind alternated between cursing the weather and the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect, originally articulated in the context of chaos theory, describes how tiny changes to an apparently stable system can potentially elicit huge changes in that system. The example from which the phenomenon derives its name is the flapping butterfly on one side of the planet that causes a small air disturbance that eventually grows to manifest itself as a hurricane on the other side. As I rode along, I started to wonder what effects my short interactions with others could have on my life and theirs. Can small, transient personal interactions alter people's thoughts, behaviors, and lives? While most people who hear my story or see me on the road will certainly think that I am just a crazy guy on a bike, for a few I must believe that seeing what I am doing will actually elicit some form of profound change. Maybe someone starts riding a bike to work, maybe someone starts paying more attention to birds, or maybe someone quits his or her job to pursue a life dream. I have no idea which interactions will lead to what outcomes, but if I do not believe that change is possible then I may as well catch the first bus back to Boston. I must use every interaction as a potential opportunity, no matter how miserable I may be at the time that it occurs. I wonder what, if anything, resulted from my time at the salon. The real beauty is that I will never know. I just need to keep flapping.


  1. Hey, all this polar vortex stuff can go straight into your book once this is all over. Hang in there buddy.

  2. Dorian, for every miserable day like yesterday you're going to have 10 fantastic ones. Hope the wind has laid down for you today.

  3. Only the change that happens in you can be known certainly (if one is reflective). And, frankly, that's all that ever really matters--what happens in the world is just a story that you interpret.

    -Unknown Birder

  4. Not sure if it's "profound change," but your adventure has me paying a bit more attention to birds around here. Just last week, I missed my regular morning train. While waiting for the next one in a coffeehouse overlooking the local harbor, I watched about a dozen common loons going about their business of diving in the frigid water in search of food.

  5. Dorian
    I'm slowly catching up to your current posts. I only wish you could have started out in the spring time and avoided the miserable weather. To me the birding is secondary, the cycling adventure that your on is the main event. I only hope that this lousy weather doesn't discourage you from moving on. You have so much beauty to look forward to as you move south. The wildflowers, the blooming trees, the songs of migrating birds as they defend their territory the many hours of solitude and serenity that you only get while riding a bike in the beautiful countryside, the small towns and villages that you will come across and the wonderful new people you will meet along the way.