Bicycle Botany: Lamp Revamp

The microscope in use with my head lamps from my bike. 

Most of my post about Bicycle Botany are about how my bike takes me to distant places to look for plants or about plants that I happen to see on a ride (usually while moving at a snails place up a steep climb, plants are much easier to see that way!). Recently however, my bicycle has made another contribution to my plant obsession. I have a stereo-dissecting microscope with a fiber optic lamp that I use to help identify plants. The bulb in the lamp burned out which renders one's microscope pretty much useless. 

Here is another view of the set up. The head lamp is attached to the arm of the fiberoptic. The battery is attached in the rear. 

The bulb is not an easy one to find; a 150 watt 20 amp halogen bulb. I found them on line but being impatient I couldn't wait that long. Instead, I remembered how bright my headlamps (Niterider Trail Rats) on my bike were and wondered if I could possibly use them for my microscope. Since the fiberoptic "arms" were round, like a handle bar, I thought the lamps might mount there just like on my bike. Well the answer is, yes it does, quite nicely in fact. Click on the photos for a better view.

They are plenty bright. The only draw back is that the batteries need charging after about an hour or two of use. Luckily, I have 4 batteries so I can keep two on the charger at all times. While the preferable option is the have a functioning fiberoptic lamp, my Trail Rat substitute will work absolutely fine until I can find a replacement bulb.  

Ride lots, stop often.  



Bicycle Botany: Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex Nutt). 13 March 2013. Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania

At long last, I took a ride on my bike that wasn't on my stationary bike in my basement. The last time that I did an out doors bike ride was sometime in November! Prior to that the longest break in bike riding was in 2007 when I dislocated my shoulder and broke my collar bone. Even then it was only for a bout 4 weeks. 

Excuses aside, it was great to get out for a 21 mile ride. As I rode my bike along Creek Road I saw one of my favorite sights of spring: skunk cabbage! Both the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast have skunk cabbage, albeit different species. The one that we have here in the northeast is Symplocarpus foetidus and the one in the northwest is Lysichiton americanus. While they both are in the same family (Araceae) and are commonly called skunk cabbage they are actually quite different. 

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex Nutt). 20 March 2013. Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania. 

The reasons that I first became interested in skunk cabbage is that they employ a different strategy for pollination than most plants, and their name should give you some clue as to what strategy that might be. Their odor actually doesn't smell like a skunk. What it smells like is rotting meat and rotting meat will attract a whole bunch of insects, such as flies and beetles specifically, staphylinid (rove) beetles. Back in Washington when I would take a closer look at the flowers I would sometimes find 15 or 20 little black beetles on a single flower. Having come to the flower in the hopes of finding a meal of rotting meat, they find none and then move on to the next scent of rotting meat taking pollen with them. 

While pollination by carrion eating beetles is pretty cool, that is not the coolest thing I like about skunk cabbage. Actually the coolest thing about skunk cabbage is not cool at all. Skunk cabbage grows in northernly climates. Which, if you think about it, poses a problem if you are a large flowering plant that blooms very early in the spring and in wet marshy areas. The reason this would be a problem is that the surfaces of these wet marshy areas are often frozen solid in early March. The easiest way to deal with ice is to melt it, and this is exactly what the plant does. 

Skunk cabbage is one of the few plants that can produce their own heat, known as thermogenesis. And they don't just produce a little heat to melt the frozen ground, in fact, they can produce heat at temperatures that is 59-95° higher than the air temperature! Their ability to produce heat to melt icy habitats might be a lucky side product of the real reason they produce heat. 

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. ex Nutt). 26 March 2012. Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania. This photo shows many plants which are only about 25% of their final growth. They can be up to two feet tall. 

Most plants that are thermogenic also depend on carrion loving insects for pollination. Most of these plants live in the tropics, where no icy habitats occur. The reasons why these plants produce heat is not clearly understood. It may be a way for the plant to produce additional vapors that enhance dispersal of the compounds that attract insects to them. This got me to thinking that if the plants are producing heat, they must also be producing infrared light. If so, they could also attract insects that see in the infrared spectrum. I don't know how if carrion eating insects see infrared, but I do know that insects that are hematophags (blood suckers) like mosquitos and bedbugs, can see the infrared heat of their victims.

As a side note, another interesting group of insects that can see infrared are the metalic wood-boring beetles (Buprestidae). These beetles see infrared for a different reason. They see the infrared heat produced by forest fires because they lay their eggs on charred wood. 

Regardless of the evolutionary pressures that caused these plants to start producing their own heat, they are pretty cool plants in my book. If you are on your bike this time of year, they are well worth the time to stop and take a break to check them out. Click on any of the photos above for a better view. 

Ride lots, and stop often!


The Stroud Preserve, 4 March 2013


Today started of with an unknown. I got out of the car and immediately heard a high pitched and loud “ki-ki-ki” call that reminded me of a Northern Goshawk. I looked for the bird but was not able to find anything that I could identify as the source. Sometimes, that is the way it goes.

Otherwise, it was cold and windy. Even a hardy jogger that I see regularly at the preserve commented about what a pain the wind was. As with other walks in the past couple of weeks, individual numbers were down, and it seemed that each species on the list was hard fought for. Crow numbers were way down again. Only 1 Fish Crow which is way down from Friday’s walk.

The Great Horned Owl was again sitting in a very elevated position. Today nearly the entire bird could be seen. It watched me as I walked around the field in front of it. I still did not see any signs of nestlings. Also, as a side note, I managed to get out and walk around the preserve at dusk and early evening last night in hopes of hearing American Woodcocks or other owls. However, I heard absolutely nothing. Sometimes, that is the way it goes.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

I did manage to find another flowering plant. This one was actually just off the preserve along Creek Road. It is called winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), and is another introduced plant from Europe. It is a member of the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and is the only member of it's genus found here, which is nice. If you have ever tried to key out a member of the Ranunculus genus then you know what I am talking about. It blooms from February to late April.  As a biologist and ecologist that has spent most of my career dealing with invasive and nuisance species, I'd rather not be giving any attention to introduced plants, but it is what's blooming out there at the moment. That said, early blooming is the type of advantage that give introduced plants the upper hand in finding a foot hold in new environments. My non-native bias aside, it is really a nice looking plant and I was quite excited to find it!

Start time: 9:00

End time: 11:30

Temp: 27-34°

Wind: brisk and steady and cold, out of the north

Skies: clear to scattered high clouds

Species Total: 35

  • Black Vulture – 6
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 20
  • Canada Goose – approximately 300
  • Mallard – approximately 15
  • Common Merganser – 4
  • Bald Eagle – 1, adult
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1, adult
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 8, 6 adults, 2 immature
  • Killdeer – 1, heard only
  • Great Horned Owl – 1, same bird, same place
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – approximately 10
  • Downy Woodpecker – approximately 5
  • Hairy Woodpecker – 2, heard only
  • Northern Flicker – 2
  • Blue Jay – 2
  • American Crow – approximately 10
  • Fish Crow – 1
  • Carolina Chickadee – approximately 10
  • Tufted Titmouse – approximately 10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – approximately 10
  • Carolina Wren – 2, heard only
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 25
  • American Robin – 6
  • Northern Mockingbird – 4
  • European Starling – approximately 125
  • Eastern Towhee – 5
  • Field Sparrow – 1
  • Savannah Sparrow – 4
  • Fox Sparrow – 1
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 75
  • White-throated Sparrow – approximately 25
  • Dark-eyed Junco – approximately 75
  • Northern Cardinal – approximately 20
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 50
  • Common Grackle – 3

Bicycle Botany: Road Marbles, Part Two

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In part one of Road Marbles we learned that humans were not the first of earth's organisms to engage in chemical warfare. Plants were probably in need of a Geneva Convention long before animals ever showed up on the scene. Osage orange also has interesting chemical properties…or not.

A common story that floats around is that placing an Osage orange under your bed or in your basement would repel spiders and insects from your house. There are even websites today that sell Osage orange touting it just for that purpose. However, there is not a lick of science to back up that claim. Plus, why would you want to drive away spiders? Spiders are a surefire way to get ride of insects in your house! Osage orange does contain a chemical, elemol, that has been shown to be as effective at repelling insects as DEET. However, the chemical has to be extracted and refined from the fruit for it to be effective. Here is a website that talks about the myth of Osage orange repellent. 


An other myth around about Osage orange is their edibility. Some say that is, some say that they are but why bother, and most (overwhelming majority, including myself) say they are not. My reasoning is that zillions of these things fall to the ground around here and remain there until they rot and turn to a putrid mush (see right). If they were edible I would think some animal would eat them. Plus, who in their right mind would eat something that could also repel and kill insects. We'll just leave it at that. 

Chemical and food issues aside, the thing that I find most interesting about Osage orange is that it is native alien. Yes, a native alien. Osage orange is a native tree of North America. However, it's natural range is fairly restricted, confined to eastern Texas, and small portions of Oklahoma and Arkansas. It's current range extends across nearly the entirety of North America. It is particularly common in the east and midwest. 


The primary reason for this distribution is cattle. Not because cows eat the orange and the distribute the seeds in cow pies (a process know as endozoochory). Nor do the seeds stick the cows fur and fall off in some distant spot later (a process know as epizoochory). Nope. Osage orange has sharp thorns on their branches and can grow in thick hedges that cows cannot pass through. Humans planted these trees far and wide to keep cows close to home. But as it turns out, metal fence post and barbed wire was cheaper and could be put into use fairly quick as there was no waiting around for that fence to grow. 

It was also planted widely as a windbreak in the Great Plains and other places. It was such a popular plant for hedges and windbreaks that FDR incorporated it into his New Deal program called the "Great Plains Shelterbelt." This WPA project set out to stop the dust bowl and change the climate. Really. They planted 220 million trees for this project, most of them Osage orange. 

Osage orange was also prized by Native Americans as the best wood to fashion bows from. It was such a valuable resource for them that wars were fought between tribes for control of lands where the tree grew. I'm thinking the Osage Tribe was pretty popular amongst Native nations. The bows sure were, as they have been found as far as 2000 miles away from native Osage orange range. 

The uses of this tree are many and I could go on and on. It is clearly a plant that humans value and admire. Except for me. I hate the darn things. These oranges are large and when they first fall off the tree they are pretty hard. When the 23 mm wide front wheel of an expensive road bike meets one of these unexpectidly, the chances that you will become a road marble are suddenly increased to a troubling level! 

Ride lots, stop often, and avoid road marbles!


Bicycle Botany: Road Marbles, Part One

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In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t blogged much about cycling lately. This is due to what boils down to one reason really; I haven’t spent much time on my bike lately! Actually, that is not true, I have spent a lot of time on my bike, just not outdoors.

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I’m still having some issues with keeping my hands and feet warm so the idea of heading out on my bike lately has been a difficult issue do deal with. I have been riding my trainer in the basement of our house a great deal (there is Zippy to the left). Which has been working out fine. I don’t know about anyone else, but I really do get an excellent workout on that silly thing. It’s just not a whole lot of fun.

It was about this time last year I started having issues with fatigue, numbness in my toes and various and sundry other stuff that effected my ability, or desire, to ride my bike. I had a blood test done which showed that I had extremely low levels of vitamin D. Normal is between 30 and 100. Mine was 7! My response to hearing this was that 19 years of living in the Pacific Northwest finally caught up to me! Hummmm, sink me.

So, to make up for this I took massive doses of vitamin D and things were dandy...or so I thought. Now, a year later, I just got another blood test. The results were good in that my vitamin D levels are higher, all the way up to a 15! So I’ve still got some work to do there. In addition, I also learned that my vitamin B-12 levels are low. Normal is 200-1000. Mime is 230. So, starting tomorrow, I’ll be getting shots to boost that. Hopefully, that will bring back some of the feeling in my toes. Either way, I’ll be back out on the open road soon! You’ll see.

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That’s all good and fine, however, low vitamin levels are a metaphorical road marble that have kept me from riding much lately. They are not the type of road marbles I was thinking about for this blog post. I was thinking about real road marbles. The ones that can actually be a real hazard here in Pennsylvania if you are on your bike. Anyone who rides here probably knows what I am talking about.

What are these road marbles you ask? Road marbles are green and range in size between a racket ball and a soft ball. They come in two types, the smooth smaller type with a fleshy outer layer and very hard center and the nubby fleshy type that are just plain fleshy. Yeah, is said fleshy twice. These road marbles are in fact the fruiting bodies of the black walnut and osage orange trees.  And in the fall they can completely fill the shoulders of the roads around here. I have nearly hit the pavement on more than one occasion after hitting one of these little green spheres.


Black walnuts probably don’t need much explanation. It is a common native tree here in the east. I see them just about everywhere and I think they are quite beautiful (in my humble opinion) and I also think they are one of the trees that define the eastern forest (now that the American chestnut is MIA). The photo to the left is of my parent’s old barn (constructed out of American chestnut) on Fisher Branch near Mars Hill, NC with a walnut tree beside it. While I assume not everyone reading this could pick out a black walnut tree in a tree line up, I would think all most every one was familiar with black walnuts the food item. They are, in fact, yummy. I would expect fewer people to know that the black walnut tree is an important dye for both fabric and wood. Black walnut stain really comes from black walnuts!

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My favorite fun fact about black walnut trees is the fact that they are allelopathic. I’m sure you haven’t use the term allelopathy in a while so let me refresh your memory. It is “a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other.” Got that? Great.

Allelopathic properties are the reason that you plant marigolds in you garden to control nematodes. Marigolds produce a substance known as alpha-terthienyl that kills nematodes at a 100% kill rate. Who knew? Asparagus also produces compounds that control nematodes but they are not quite as showy as Marigolds. Other things like corn pollen can affect the growth rates of other plants. Being able to control the growth rate of your neighbor is a pretty cool trick when it comes to competing for valuable and limited resources.

Black walnuts trees produce a compound called juglone or more specifically 5-hydroxy-1, 4-naphtalenedione. I don’t know about you, but I’m calling it juglone. Like corn pollen, it also allows the walnut tree to inhibit the growth of their neighbors. Which may be a good reason that I see so many of them around.

The problem with so many of them around is that walnut trees are prolific producers of walnuts. They fall to the ground and become road marbles. Something cyclist must stay on their toes (petals, peddle, pedal?) for…

Bike botany, part 2, the osage orange, coming shortly. Stay tuned.

Ride lots, stop often,


The person that drives this car...

IMG_0590.jpg an asshole. I told him so to his face. Why? On my bike ride on Thursday, he buzzed me by a matter of a few inches going at least 40 mph. He turned into a parking lot about a half mile up the road. So, I stopped to give him a piece of my mind. He was in his early 20's probably a student at West Chester University. I told him he needed to give cyclist more room when he passed them. He ignored me. I then told him he nearly hit me and that he was a large asshole. 


Well, well, well, what have we got parked here at the end of the alley behind our house. What I would have liked to do is taken some clippers and snipped off the valves to his tires. That would be an acceptible Philalelphia "City of Brotherly Love" way to handle things and it would have made me feel really happy. But, I kept a cool head and left him a nice little note to remind him to drive in a more considerate manner.

A Bonus Bridge!


Most of my bike rides from West Chester head due west straight into horse country. Recently I have been heading south into Delaware for a chance in scenery. I usually take Creek Road which runs along the Brandywine River. I usually stop at first intersection that I come to in Delaware to figure out which way I’d going to go. One of the roads at this intersection is Smith Bridge Road.

I have never chosen to head down Smith’s Bridge Road, mainly because it heads right back into Pennsylvania and into some fairly urban roadways that are not fun for cycling. A few weeks ago at Kevin’s graduation party I was speaking to our friend Matt about the area. He pointed out to me that Smith Bridge Road has a nice covered bridge on it that is called, of all things, Smith’s Bridge.

With this new information in hand, I headed out to see it this past Thursday. Getting to the bridge was pretty easy. As the crow flies it is only about 10 miles away. Taking Creek Road it was a mostly flat (522 feet of climbing) and very pleasant 16.3 mile ride. This route takes me past the N.C, Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth house and the Brandywine River Museum that houses much of their work. The museum has a nice collection of early American artist. I particularly like the 4 or 5 Horace Pipin paintings. 

The bridge is a new one of sorts. As the plaque at the bridge states, the original bridge was built in 1839, modified in 1956, destroyed by fire in 1961, rebuilt with out a cover in 1962, and reconstructed with Burr Trusses with cover in 2002.

My return trip I decided to travel through the area that I have always avoided. With the exception of about half a mile along Route 1 I was pleasantly surprised at what a nice it was. I stopped at the Brandywine Battlefield Park, which I have never seen before. I also came across the ruins of an octagonal one room school at a place called Archies Corner in southern Delaware County PA. My route covered 30 miles and past some interesting sights! 

See photos from my ride here.

Ride lots, stop often!


Covered Bridges Number 4 and 5


I have finally gotten back to the task of riding my bike to all of Chester County’s covered bridges. In the post about my last visit, Speakman Bridge Number 1, I said that Speakman Bridge Number 2 was close by but that I couldn’t visit it. In fact there are two bridges close by, the other is called Hayes Clark, and the reason that I couldn’t visit these to bridges before now has to do with my shoes.

Both of these bridges, which are only 500 feet apart, are close to the end of my favorite ride in the Chester County countryside but I had never seen them until yesterday. At the end of Apple Grove Road there is a gravel road that goes off to the left to the Laurels Preserve. The preserve, along with the bridges, are owned by the Brandywine Conservancy. Thus, the roads to the bridges are close to traffic. So, you can’t ride your bike or drive your car to these bridges, you can only walk. The entrance to the preserve is 17.5 miles away and I have always ridden my road bike to this location, which has “Look” type pedals. You know, the kind that you have to wear the funny shoes that clip in. These shoes are great for bikes, but poor for walking.

So, in order to see these bridges, I needed to either ride my commuter bike with the mountain bike shoes that are good for walking or bring a pair of shoes with me on my road bike. Since my commuter bike, aka Bubba, is much heavier than my road bike, aka Zippy, I chose to strap a pair of sandals to the handlebars and hope for the best.

The walk to the bridges is down an old dirt road that goes along side Doe Run Creek and is just beautiful. As I walked along I thought it would be nice to load down Bubba with a picnic lunch and take a slow ride out to spend the day there with Mary and other friends. The Hayes Clark Bridge is the first bridge that you reach, which is only about a 0.7 mile walk from the entrance. It was built in 1871. The Speakman 2 bridge, which also goes by the name Mary Ann Pyle, was built in 1881. Both of these bridges were renovated in the 70’s or 80’s. What I noticed is that either of them had been modernized, with steal beams or such, in the way that the other bridges that I have visited have been. So, my guess is that these bridges appear much the same way that they would when they were built. This may also be a problem in that they are falling apart. So much so that the Brandywine Conservancy has limited their usage to only pedestrians (i.e, no horses allowed!). The Conservancy is working on permits to repair them bridges as soon as they can.

My ride out the Laurels Preserve was fairly standard at 36.18 miles. The only complication (besides the heat and humidity) was that some of the roads were getting a fresh chip seal coat on them. I tried to avoid those areas as much as I could because I always seem to get a flat tire when I go over fresh chip seal.

Now it is off to the other 10 bridges. The rest will all be over 60 miles round trip and will take some preplanning on my part. Some of them a clustered pretty close together, so I should be able to do more than one bridge per ride.

See photos of the bridges here, and the route of my ride here.

Ride lots, stop often,


Speakman Bridge No. 1

Last Wednesday I got up early (before the heat set it) and visited the Speakman Bridge No. 1 (Speakman Bridge No 2 is a few miles away and will probably be the next bridge that I visit. I'll explain why I couldn't go see it the same day later). It was built in 1881. This is one of the bridges that I see fairly regularly. It is about 20 miles from home out in the middle of horse county. To get there I ride along the Brandywine River and out to the end of Apple Grove Road, which I have stated on past blog post as being one of my favorite rides ever. If I do nothing but ride this route the rest of my life I would be pretty happy.


The Speakman Bridge has been a topic in the local news lately. Back in November a tractor-trailer truck tried to go through it. In the process it severely damaged the bridge nearly knocking it over. Since then, the county and local residents have been at odds as to how to go about its repairs, or even if it should be repaired at all. These things are never easy. Read more about it here.  

The good news is that you can still ride a bike over it. As a result of being closed to traffic Frog Hollow Road on the other side has no traffic at all, which made for a nice bike ride. In all, I rode 40.29 miles to get to the bridge and back. Check out photos of the ride here and the route here

Now, on to the next bridges.


Ride lots, stop often. 

The Next Cycling Project

My next cycling project will be "The (Covered) Bridges of Madison Chester County." There are 15 of them spread throughout the county and my plan is to ride my bike to see them. It’s not that I have any great interest in Covered Bridges. It's just that there are 15 of them spread throughout the county. As the old saying goes, "it is something to do."

According to this website there are 197 covered bridges in Pennsylvania, and of these 15 are in Chester County. Here is a map showing where they can be found. Two of these bridges are ones that I see every once in a while on my regular bike rides. There are three others at are fairly close to home and won’t be too much trouble to see. The other 10 will take some planning and would probably be an all day trip via bicycle. I estimate that, in all, it will take me 7 or 8 trips covering 300 to 400 miles to get the job done. Or in other words, a nice summer project. So, to get things started, yesterday I headed out to The Gibson and Harkin Bridges which are to the northwest of West Chester.


The Gibson Bridge

Only five miles away, this bridge is the closest one to West Chester. It is along Route 322 going to Downingtown. It was built in 1872 and restored in 2003. It gets a lot of use still. In the 20 minutes or so that I was there about a dozen cars went over it. From underneath the bridge the ka-thunk ka-thunk of the tires rolling over the big timbers made a pretty cool sound.

The Harkin Bridge


This bridge sits in an odd place over a drainage ditch next to a busy road. It looks pretty out of place when you first see it. In fact, it is very much out of place. It was built in 1854, then rebuilt in 1881. Then in 1972 the area was submerged to create Marsh Creek Lake, so the bridge was moved to a new location in the newly created Marsh Creek State Park. Then in 1998 the bridge was bought by Upper Uwchlan Township, who, in 2006, chose to move it to its present day location to be part of the Upper Uwchlan Trail System. Who knew?

See photos of my bike ride here. Also, here is a link to the route I rode my bike in order to get to these locations. In all I rode 30.85 miles. 

Ride lots and stop often!


Pennsylvania: the bicycle friendly state?

Year after year the League of American Cyclist ranks Washington State first place as the most bike friendly state in the County. Now that I no longer live there, I can tell you that I whole-heartedly agree with their assessment.

However, I think Pennsylvania might be giving them a run for their money. Why? I'll tell you why. On April 1st a new law went into place that makes up for the lack of no shoulders to ride on here. In Pennsylvania giving cyclist three feet wasn’t good enough. Nope, we had to have four! The widest margin for cars passing cyclist in the country.

Not only will this law make it safer for cyclist, it also puts more of the law on their side if there is an accident. Here is an overview of what is now in place;

  • Bicyclist shall keep to the right. While this has always been the case, the new law allows for cyclist to take any position in the lane to be safe. It allows for the cyclist to “control the lane” and move at a speed that is appropriate for the cyclist. An example would be on a narrow street with parked cars. The cyclist is allowed to ride well to the left to avoid being doored. Any vehicle that comes up behind the cyclist must conform to the speed of the cyclist.
  • Cyclist’ do not have to move of the roadway if going slower than prevailing motorist if they are traveling at a reasonable speed for cyclist. This reiterates cyclist have a right to the road.
  • Any vehicle overtaking a cyclist properly on the left shall allow at least 4 feet distance from the cyclist. To achieve this motorist are allowed to legally cross a centerline, even in a no passing zone. However, it is the motorist responsibility to pass only when it is safe to do so.
  • Motorist’ are prohibited from making right turns into or across the path of a cyclist proceeding straight. Motorist should stay well behind cyclist and wait until they have passed the point where the motorist will turn. This formalizes what should be common sense.

When I moved to Pennsylvania I checked the PENDOT website to see what rules were in place for cyclist. Much to my surprise, the state used pretty strong language to encourage cyclist to stand up for their rights to the road. Check out the website here (note: the navigation bar for this website is at the bottom of the page).

Of course, it is up to local law enforcement as to whether or not the laws will be enforced. This is usually a weak link with many bicycle/car issues. There is hope that things are moving in a good direction here. Only hours after the law went into effect, it was used to charge a driver who struck a cyclist and tried to flee the scene. Checkout a news link about the incident here. Bob Mionske also had a good column recently about progress in this direction.  

So far, I have not had any cars buzz me since the law went into effect. Let’s hope it stays that way!


Ride lots, stop often!

Riding Grapevine, Stinking Willies, and the Land Speed of a Turkey

This post comes to you in triptych form; bicycle, bicycle botany, and bicycle birding.

Bicycle: Riding Grapevine

The kids and I are spending the week at Grandpa and Grandma's house in the mountains of western North Carolina. They live on Fisher Branch (a branch is a small stream that a healthy Appalachian resident could easily jump over. The key word is healthy. This eliminates 95% of the population of Western North Carolina), which is near the community of Center (a fork in the road), which is near the community of Petersburg (an actual cross road), which is near the town of Mars Hill (a real town), which is about 16 miles north of Asheville, North Carolina. Needless to say, they are up in the hills.

The road that leads from Center to Fisher Branch is Grapevine. Grapevine is a road that is about 7.3 miles long. It runs the length of Grapevine Valley, which is only a few miles long. The rest of Grapevine road goes up and over Walnut Mountain to Big Laurel Road in Big Laurel. Got that? Don't feel bad, I ain't got it either. What's important is that Grapevine road crest Walnut Mountain at approximately 3163' in elevation. When you ride your bike from Fisher Branch to Big Laurel it is a round trip ride of about 14.6 miles with about 2000' of elevation gain (see a map of the route here). It takes about an hour and a half. All in all it is a pretty good workout with some fantastic views. Like this one.

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Bicycle Botany: Stinking Willies

On the way up and to the pass on Walnut Mountain the pace is kind of slow. Slow enough that a cyclist can glance over and check out the flowering plants as you go. Coming up on the far side of Walnut Mountain I passed a small stream that was loaded with many different kinds of flowering plants. The most dominant amongst them was a species of Trillium.

This is  Trillium erectum . Here is a good example of why the use of the scientific name is a good ideal.

This is Trillium erectum. Here is a good example of why the use of the scientific name is a good ideal.

Scientific Name: Trillium erectum (L.)

Common Names: Wake Robin, Red Trillium, Purple Trillium, Stinking Trillium, Birthroot, Beth Root, Stinking Benjamin, Stinking Willie, Birth Wort, Nodding Wake-Robin, Bathroot, Bathwort, Bath Lily, Nosebleed Trillium, Ill-sented Trillium, Indian, Shamrock, Squawroot, Lamb's Quarters, Ground Lily, Wood Lily, Daffy Downlily, Jew's Harp Plant, Milk Ipecac, Pariswort, Rattlesnake Root, Bumblebee Root, Truelove, and last but not least, Three-leafed Nightshage.

The reasons that T. erectum has acquired so many common names are many. One reason is because it is a showy plant that is wide spread in eastern North American so many people (other than plant nerds) take notice of it. It is also highly variable, coming in white, red, purple, pink, and rarely yellow and green, leading people to believe that they were different plants. It was also used for medicinal purposes by early midwives and Native American cultures as something that would induce labor or help control hemorrhaging during childbirth. And as some of those names imply, it also smells to high heaven. Like skunk cabbage it is a plant that uses the smell of rotten meat to attached pollinators like flies and beetles. The common names that caught our attention was "stinking willie." When we pointed this out to William he screamed "Oh no! Another reason for Emily to torture me!" Back in Grandpa Gene's yard there was a deep red one blooming. Same species different flavor!


As I mentioned above it enjoys a wide distribution through eastern North America. In North Carolina is primarily found the western mountains. It Pennsylvania it is found in almost every county except Chester! So, I'm going to enjoy it while I'm here.

Bicycle Birding: The land speed of a Turkey

Coming down Walnut Mountain may sound like an easy thing. However, it is almost as difficult coming down as it is coming up. The reason is for the winding road, with many hairpin turns and blind curves, that is starting to deteriorate with gravel and sand in the most unwanted places. Going up the workout is with your legs. Coming down it is with your forearms because you are applying the breaks where possible without skidding over the side.

Coming down you always want to make sure you stay in your lane because a car coming up would certainly take you out. Today, I round a curve and found something else to worry about. A male (tom) American Turkey jumped in front of me with on a few feet to spare. I was able to slow down enough as to avoid and negative outcome for both the large dark chicken and cyclist alike.

Once the situation was under control the turkey did the oddest thing in that it ran straight down the road about 10 feet in front of me. We rounded a bend and it kept on running. I laughed out loud (lol) at the way it dashed down the road; a view of a turkey that I have never seen. I glanced down at my speedometer and was impressed that this bird that I always thought of as clumsy and somewhat gangly moved along at a steady 16+ mph! After about 100 yards of this we got to one bend and the turkey simply ran off the edge of the road, spread it's wings and flew up into a tree. I chose not to follow suit, made the turn and continued down the mountainside via the road.

Ride lots, stop often,


Back in the Saddle

Bicycle Botany: Bloodroot ( Sanguinaria candaensis  L.) blooming on a roadside in Chester County on 26 Mar 2012. 

Bicycle Botany: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria candaensis L.) blooming on a roadside in Chester County on 26 Mar 2012. 

At long last, I have our new site up and running! On my last post on the old website I stated that I was having some health issues, which included, but was not limited to, joint pains, cramping, extreme fatigue, numb toes, general malaise, to name a few. 

My bike riding was going great up to December then it fell of quite dramatically. Before December I could do 40 mile plus rides and maintain a healthy pace of over 18 mph (a good pace here with all of our rolling hills). Then in December I was struggling to do a 20 mile ride in an hour and 45 minutes. And when I got home from those epic 20 mile rides I was absolutely drop dead exhausted as if I had ridden ten time that many miles. 

My best guess as to what was going on was a tick illness. Back in November I did get a tick bite from an Ixodes tick, the type known to carry Lyme Disease. So, I went to my doctor to get a blood test. The test came back mostly negative (these blood test for Lyme Disease of not very precise). However, what it did show was that I had a severe vitamin D deficiency. Humm....

The doctor said that normal levels of vitamin D in your blood were 33-100. Mine was seven. The doctor said that many of my symptoms could be attributed to low vitamin D. So, they put me on some heavy dosages of vitamins.

This turned things around almost immediately. I have now gone through an eight week course extra D and I'm felling pretty good. Last week I managed to do a 50 mile ride with a 17.5 mph average without any issues as before. So things are looking up!

Another thing that I talked about in one of my last post was my goal of riding my bike on February 29, April 17 and September 23 as they are the only dates on the calendar in which I have never ridden my bike. I have already failed at this. The whole week of February 29 Paddy was home sick and I just wasn't able to jump on my bike at all that day. Oh well. My next chance to close out that date will be in 2016 when I will have a high school senior, high school freshman, and a fifth grader! Holy Mackerel. 

My riding thus far this year is at a much reduced pace with only about 900 miles logged. One reason for this is stuff like the photo above. As spring unfurls in my first east coast spring in tweny years I am seeing many plants that I haven't seen in a long time. When I see a new and interesting plant, I just have to stop and check it out. So you can expect more bicycle botany in future post. 

This one is commonly called bloodroot because of its reddish-orange sap. The genus name Sanquinaria comes from the latin word sanguis which means blood. This is amongst the eariliest blooming wildflowers that I have noticed here. It is also a native plant to North America. Most of the flowering plants that I have seen so far have been introduced. More on that later. 

That's it for now. Ride lots and stop often!