Today I rode the ~85 miles back to Sterling, CO from Wray, CO. This ride was very low pressure because of the Greater prairie-chicken triumph at the end of the day yesterday. Had I not found the bird last night, I would have been back at it this morning in the sand-sage and long grass. Who knows how much time I would have pushed into this now hypothetical bird hunt, but its a moot point at this stage!
The forecast called for east winds today, but it seemed to blow from every direction but east. This made riding a bit more difficult than I thought it would be. I was wiped out after the 85 mile ride. I have been averaging ~70 miles a day this month, and I can certainly tell that my legs are getting really tired. Unfortunately, I am getting killed on lodging expenses at the moment. There are no birders, no cyclists, and few Best Westerns out here to help defray lodging expenses. The Sterling Best Western where I stayed on my first pass through this area is very nice and apparently very popular as it was full when I arrived. I simply must get to real city (i.e. Cheyenne) where I can find a free place to stay for 2 consecutive nights to rest. I am not going to pay twice to sit in a motel room and do nothing.
The cost of staying in motels is further compounded by the fact that I must eat all my meals at "restaurants". In areas this remote, this often means eating at 7-11 and gas stations. Frankly, it sucks, and it is getting very, very old. Real food today was several miles away, and I just did not have the energy to cover that distance this evening. Because of this, dinner was a can of Spaghetti-Os, a terrible double cheeseburger from the nearby gas station, and a pint of ice cream. I would kill for a good salad and a nice pasta dish, but I'm not going to plunk down $30 after tip on top of $70 for a motel room (that's probably worth a whole lot less). I'm paying for motels the next two nights as well. That'll be five nights in a row, the most expensive stretch of the year so far. The prairie-chicken is turning out to be very expensive, both energetically and financially.
Since we're talking about money, and we just passed the halfway point of the year, I'll give everyone an honest look at my monetary outlay so far. So far, this year has cost me about $6,500 since January 1. This covers my meals and snacks, lodging, bike supplies, and so on and so forth. People must remember that I need to eat 2-3x as much as a normal birder/person so food is a huge part of this outlay. Lodging is the #2 expense. The bike is not counted in this $6,500. It and all of the accessories originally cost me around $2,500. I have several bills that need to be taken care of each month. My cell phone doesn't count towards the year total since I'd pay that anyway. Sonia has been kind enough to take care of my health insurance (her company offers partner health insurance). I also have my share of our storage locker in Boston for which I paid Sonia before I left (~$600). We had some various other expenses (van rental e.g.) that totaled several hundred dollars. Basically to date, I have spent about $10,000, and if my spending rate stays consistent with the first half of the year, I should come in at around $17,000 for the whole year. I'll also need to fly home which will cost around $500. So that's ~$17,500. My goal was to keep everything (including capital expenses) under $20,000, so I have a a small cushion at this time. It is worth highlighting that this budget is achievable only with the help of Best Western. They have provided around $3000 of support so far; This projects to $6000 for the whole year. $20,000 isn't cheap, but for an experience such as this, I think its decent value. Camping would bring this number way down, but for reasons I've discussed, this just isn't viable for me as a single cyclist/birder/camper. The way to really do this on the cheap is to have two people do it with camping. That way they can share the weight of the cycling/birding/camping gear between them where as I would have to carry it all myself. Plus, blogging would take a real hit with camping! This is not an exchange I want to make as the blog is such a HUGE part of my year.
There was a bit of very good news on the bird front today. In the last mile of my ride I saw an interesting hawk circling over Route 6. I skidded off the road to grab a nice look at a dark phase Ferruginous hawk for year bird #498! I frantically got the camera out and grabbed a few quick shots as the bird flew higher and higher on what I presumed was a rising thermal.
The bird was so high it was tough to
get an upper wing shot. This is the
best I could muster.
Tomorrow I will head to Nebraska where I will spend the night in Kimball. The following day I will ride through the northern bit of the eastern unit of Pawnee National Grassland where I will try for Sharp-tailed grouse. This is an incredibly long shot, but given how well bird finding has been going of late, maybe I'll get lucky once again! I will spend the night of the 10th in Pine Bluff, WY before I head to Cheyenne for the nights of the 11th and 12th. I will get to see Sonia on the night of the 11th! She'll disappear to Denver and Rocky Mountain NP for a few days with a friend before she rejoins me on the 14th/15th somewhere in central WY. She'll be around for at least a week at that point - yippee!