Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 4 (Day 124) - Black-capped vireo, big year bummers, on-road meltdown

I dipped on Black-capped vireo yesterday, so I returned to South Llano Rive State Park in Junction, TX again this morning. It was a really beautiful, sunny morning. I noticed this very cool shadow that I was casting on one of the hillsides as I rode into the park. It took me a few passes to get the shot just right, but I am very happy with the result. I was to meet local birder and retired biologist Rhandy Helton in the park at 7:45am. This is his local patch, and if anyone would be able to help me find the vireo, he would be the guy. Rhandy had offered to show me a vireo nest on which he had been keeping tabs for the last few weeks. We met in the parking lot and headed off to the the nest area. However, about 5 minutes into our walk we heard a Black-capped vireo. It took a bit of maneuvering, but I eventually got a good look at the bird. I was even able to grab a serviceable shot of this very elusive little bird (#353). This bird was actually in the area that I searched for roughly 4 hours yesterday. This shows how much easier it is to find birds when they are singing. This is one of the main reasons that I pushing hard to get to Arizona; It will be much easier to find many of the Arizona specialities if they are still singing when I arrive. Birds tend to sing most vigorously at the beginning of the nesting season and then taper off as nesting progresses and the young fledge. I also added an immature male Scott's oriole (#352) while chasing the vireo.

Sunrise at South Llano

Rhandy and me

Black-capped vireo

South Llano River

Armadillo from yesterday at Llano.
These are a personal favorite!

Texas waffle at Junction Best Western this morning

I ticked the vireo so early in the day that I now had a big decision to make. I had mentally prepared to spend the whole day at the park searching for the bird. I figured I would stay at the same Best Western in Junction tonight and then head west tomorrow - with or without the vireo. Since I now had the vireo in hand, it meant I could possibly save a day by riding to Sonora today. I knew it was going to be very hot in the afternoon, but I figured I could cover the 63 miles from the park back through Junction and onto Sonora before the inferno reality got going. I have been starting my rides before 6am to get in several hours of riding before it gets warm, but this ride would start at 9am when things are starting to heat up. 

What all of this meant is that I literally raced out of the park right after I saw the vireo. It would have been nice to spend a few more hours finding a few more of them, but time is just to valuable at the moment. It was such a shame to leave South Llano in such a rush when it clearly deserved more time. This is one of the worst aspects of big years, and my year is worse than all others. If mismanaged, the Texas heat could kill me. While I won't say that I am in imminent danger at every moment, I clearly face infinitely more life threatening decisions than petroleum-based big year birders. I have to be very mindful of the weather and wind at every instant, and one bad decision could be the end of my year. It was a bummer to leave Llano in such a rush, but that's what needed to happen. Sunday and Monday are supposed to be scorching with the mercury rising to between 95 and 100 degrees. Since I did this ride today, I will have 2 shorter days of 38 and 50 miles for these next 2 very hot days. Temperatures will relax a bit on Tuesday but they will still touch 90 degrees on almost every day for the next week. I did make a quick birding stop on the way out of Junction to add Yellow-headed blackbird to the year list (#354). I spent 30 seconds looking at them, and then raced away.

Yellow-headed blackbirds

I will say that riding through this area of the country at this time of year is not fun - at all. The lack of support (i.e. food and water) coupled with the high temperatures makes every single decision incredibly important and VERY stressful. Unlike other areas of the country where I could stop short of my destination if my legs did not have enough juice, here I MUST make it to my designed destination. There is NOTHING in between the small towns. Some of the landscapes in this area are really pretty, but I just want to keep moving. To be honest, I want to get the hell out of here. Sorry if this bothers doe people but I am trying to convey exactly how I feel at the moment. 

Dry, rolling hills along I-10 today

There was another episode today that made me really rethink what the heck I am doing. The bit of I-10 that I rode yesterday was great. However, shoulder condition varied greatly today. There was one stretch that made me more livid than I have been at any point this year. There is a standard 18" wide rumble strip that separates the traffic lanes from the shoulder along the length of I-10.  This poses zero problem for me and helps keeps potentially drifting drivers at bay. However, at a random point about 45 miles into my ride, a second set of rumble strips appeared that spanned the entire 12-foot wide shoulder. These were spaced about 30 feet apart and made my ride a living hell. "Tha-thunk, tha-thunk, tha-thunk" every 5 seconds for what seemed like endless miles (it was actually about 10 when all was said and done). My arms hurt and my knees ached from the pounding. It felt like my bike was going to fall apart at any moment. 

I was so angry I was yelling F-bombs into the air.  I though about how I wanted to murder the person who made the decision to put these extra gashes into the road. I thought about how I would then leave his/her body on the roadside for the vultures to eat. While I was at it, I'd kill anyone genetically related to him/her. I though about blowing up the machine that cut the gashes so it could never function again. I thought about getting of my bike and throwing rocks at the metal road signs to let out my frustrations. I thought that anyone who wasn't alerted by the first, rather epic 18" rumble strip was beyond help should they stray off the road, so what good would these extra gashes do? I continued to yell obscenities into the air and at no one. Sonia called me right in the middle of this stretch and all she could do was listen as I cursed and cursed and cursed on the road from hell in the 90 degree Texas heat.  It sucked - period. These stupid strips came and went for much of the ride, but those first ten miles were terrible. I tried to make a video of these rumbles, but I was so angry I am not sure if I operated the camera correctly. I'll post it tomorrow if it worked (doubtful).

72 hot miles today

I'm sorry if this is graphic, scary, or offensive, but it's how I felt at the time. What I am doing at the moment is incredibly challenging, and any additional obstacle on top of those already present makes life more difficult than it already is. Now that I am in my hotel, I realize that these strips are meant to save lives and probably do just that. I-10 is not designed around cyclists, after all. I am not going to murder anyone or blow anything up. I just want to show you with what I deal on these really tough days. I have many more of these days coming up, so we'll see how it goes. 

I did have a nice end to my day. Right as I was about to exit I-10, I saw a young woman pulled over on the side of the road. She flagged me down, and I realized it was Wilson (my friend Cullen's fiancĂ©) who I had met in Austin. She was heading out to West Texas for a night or two. She had passed me on the road, called Cullen to see where I was, and, once he had told her it likely was me, pulled over to provision me with snacks and drinks. It was a really nice gesture that came at the end of a very hot and frustrating ride. I checked into the Best Western in Sonora, showered, and promptly passed out. It was a hard day, but I got the vireo! 

Wilson and me

Best Western Sonora Inn - Home for tonight!

I only have about 40 miles to ride tomorrow, so I am going to look for a local spot to do some early morning birding before I hit the road. Fingers crossed for no more extra rumbles.......

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