Friday, October 24, 2014

Oct 23 (Day 296) - Goodbye to Sonia and Mom, thoughts beyond 2014......

I spent this morning with Sonia and Mom before they headed out for LA. It was really nice to see both of them. This was likely the last time I will see either of them before my year finally finishes. Sonia has been incredibly supportive of the project since I originally joked about the idea in September of 2012. She provided much encouragement during the first part of 2013 that eventually helped me make the decision to trade in my science career for the bicycle and whatever accompanied it. My mom, however, was a different story. When I originally told her that I was going to quit my job to ride my bike around the country looking for birds, it didn't sit very well with her. We actually didn't speak for about a month after I told her, and, even when the lines of communication did finally open, I was essentially forbidden from bringing up any aspect of the the trip. It was like by ignoring it she could pretend it wasn't going to happen. She did at multiple points express concerns for my safety. This is completely understandable; She's my mom. Once the trip got going though she got on board. I think it was the blog that actually did it for her. I think she caught "blog fever" like I know many readers have experienced. She saw how the blog provided this great window through which the rest of the country (and even the world) could follow along. Now she is a as proud as I have ever seen her. It took some time, but I think she now understands how I plan to capitalize personally and professionally on the successes of this year in future phases of my life. As a side note, my dad was supportive of the project right from the outset. When the adventure finally ends, it will be interesting to talk with my parents about their feelings as the project progressed. Who knows what they said to one another when I wasn't around! 

34 + 1 unmapped for 35 miles.

Mentally I was not ready to tackle the long, hard ride to Jacumba Springs today. I was still in "family mode" and had not yet fully transitioned into "riding mode". As a result, I made a modest move south to the same Best Western Otay Valley Inn where I spent Saturday night during the Imperial Beach booby search this past weekend. Today I rode to the hotel, dropped off my stuff, and headed to Imperial Beach and the Tijuana River to do some late afternoon birding. Besides the usual shorebirds, pelicans, gulls, and terns, not much was present. I spend some time scoping the sea for boobies; I only saw 2. Given the lighting conditions, I did not expect to be able to identify much over the ocean. What I can say is that the ocean was very quiet compared to this past weekend. Tomorrow I could return to the beach to take one last crack at Blue-footed boobies. Given how quiet the sea was though, I think I will take a pass on this as it would add 15 miles (in the wrong direction) to what is going to be a very challenging ride over the Laguna Mountains to Jacumba Springs. The chances of seeing the booby  just seem minuscule compared to the certain pain associated with the longer, hotter ride to Jacumba should I look for it.

I will say that I have some mixed feelings about this last leg of the trip. Coastal birding has been incredibly enjoyable the past 2 months. I must now head east and inland towards higher temperatures and less support. The run to the Rio Grande Valley is going to be very challenging and very bird thin. There are simply many more challenges (water, food, heat, no support) in the next month than there have been in the last month. Its a bit scary, but I can rely on the knowledge that I have made this run once already. 

The reality is also setting in that the year is almost done. While it will be nice to see the project reach completion, it also means that I will at some point no longer be able to dodge the question of "What's next?" Unlike most Big Year birders who have worked for a large chunk of their lives and have generally secured their financial futures by the times of their Big Years, my professional life is still in its infancy. In fact, it is nonexistent at the moment since I effectively folded my hand on academic science. The biggest challenge I am going to face is finding another project that winds me up as much as this one. I think that between my science education/experience and the creativity and determination that this project has required, I possess a background and skill set that is incredibly unique. I know that I don't want to punch a clock, deal with reporting structure, or chase profits. I want to find a handful of other really motivated individuals, concoct some completely crazy socially/environmentally beneficial idea/experiment, secure backing for the project, and then spend a chunk of time executing what might seem impossible to everyone not directly involved. In essence, I want to replicate this project on a larger scale. If I have learned one thing from this year, it's that there are no points for small ideas. Any idea has legs if you are willing to break your back to execute it, can communicate the potential benefits to interested people, and recruit these others into the fold to help achieve what everyone involved feels is a common goal. The irony is that this is a perfect description of how the American political system is ideally supposed to work. However, anyone with a functioning brain can see that that train derailed a long time ago (and Citizens United ripped up the tracks). Maybe there's a way to start rebuilding the rails.......

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