Martha’s Vineyard via Wrangler

I enjoyed my trip to the Vineyard last year with Brian and Pam, and I’ve been thinking about getting a Jeep Wrangler for a while. Since the Vineyard is one of the places where you can rent a Wrangler, it made sense to me to kill two birds with one stone and go back and rent a Jeep to see how it felt.

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Sunset and Moonrise over the Charles

This Saturday night was a full moon, and I decided to take the bicycle, tripod and camera into town for a ride around the river. I got in just at the tail end of sunset, when the orange was still glinting off the Boston skyscrapers, but fading. I parked where I usually do, on the Cambridge Parkway, balanced the tripod on the bicycle’s handlebars, and set off westward along the Cambridge side. Once past the Longfellow Bridge, I set up the tripod and took some sunset pictures. Then I asked Siri, “What time is moonrise”, and she replied, “Moonrise on May 19th will be at 8:59 PM.” That’s kind of a weird reply, I thought, since it was still the 18th. But I decided to pack up the tripod, and come back a little later when the moon was out.

Then I noticed a little glowing cloudiness around one of the buildings across the river. “This looks interesting,” I thought, and set the tripod back up. Then it dawned on me — the moon had already risen today, and was just starting to clear the buildings.

As it got darker, I shifted my position upriver a bit, and got some pictures of the river and the moon. It became more difficult to get an exposure of both the buildings and the moon, so as I crossed the Mass Ave bridge, I tried a couple of high dynamic range pictures with both the Nikon and the iPhone.

It took me a while, since I still was balancing the tripod on the bike’s handlebars with one hand, but I eventually got over the river and to the Esplanade. As part of a recent renovation, they’ve installed cool blue lights underneath the bridge’s arches.

Chasing the Type 9

The MBTA is in the process of adding 24 new streetcars, called the Type 9, * for the Green Line for the extension to Somerville. The first one, #3900 went into revenue service in December, and I’ve been wanting to ride one since.

A gentleman by the name Stefan Wuensch has created a site showing real time location data of each train on the system, and I’ve been monitoring it to see if I could see #3900 running. Yesterday, it was running on the B line with #3902, and I decided to head into town.

I got to Riverside, and checked the site again. #3900 was inbound from BC, and I was curious to see whether we would get to Kenmore before or after it. The B line is shorter, but also slower. As we approached Fenway on the D Line, I could see it approaching Blandford Street on the B. As the lines merged at Kenmore, it was one train ahead of us.

I saw that the Type 9 train was terminating at Park Street. I decided I wanted to see if I could take it back outbound. Decisions, decisions. Do I take my train all the way to Park Street, and hope it takes some time to turn the Type 9 around, allowing my train to catch up, and allowing me to board an empty train? Or do I get off at Boylston? That way, even if the train is turned around fast, I’m still going to be ahead of it. It also means I will have to pay to re-enter on the outbound side, and possibly getting onto an already crowded train. I decided to get off at Boylston, walked fast past the old PCC and Type 5 parked on the outside inbound track, up to the Common and back down to the outbound platform.

First up was a Type 8/7 combo bound for the B Line and Boston College. “Great,” I thought. “The Type 9 will be less crowded. The train loaded, and left, and I saw the the next train approach. It was the Type 9, and it was now signed for the C Line. “Great,” I thought. “It’ll be easier to get back to the Riverside line”. As the trolley pulled into the station, I grabbed my phone, and took its picture.

MBTA Type 9 #3902
MBTA Type 9 #3902

And then it continued on, without stopping. Curses, foiled again.

* The MBTA uses the same “Type” nomenclature to designate models of Boston streetcars that its predecessor, the Boston Elevated Railway, did. Types 1 – 5 were Boston Elevated models, dating from the early 1900s up to the early 1950s, before going to an industry standard streetcar, the PCC streetcar in the 1940s. When it came time to replace the the PCCs, they prototyped a Type 6 car before going with the US Standard Light Rail Vehicle, manufactured by Boeing. When the Boeing LRV failed to live up to expectations, the T went with a custom design, the Type 7, which is still in service, along with the Type 8 cars, which are a “low floor” car designed for wheelchair accessibility.

Off Cathedral Rocks

I went diving with my friends Jack and Jane this Sunday. Between trying to do painting prep work, and other interests taking priority, I’ve been diving very little this summer. Bonaire aside, this was only the third time I’ve been diving this year, and the first time I took the camera with me; I seldom take the camera with me on the first dive after a layoff, and the lanyard I use to attach the camera to me broke right before the second dive — fortunately, before I took it into the water.

Sunday’d dives were off of Cathedral Rocks; it’s certainly easier to enter from a boat than it is from the shore there. The first dive was with Jack and his friend Rich, the second with Jack and Jane. The visibility was OK on the first dive, and less so the second dive. 

One of the things you see a lot of here in New England is cunner;  small brown fish flitting around the rocks, but they’re very hard to photograph — they’re skittish, and don’t tend to stick around much. I’ve been trying with less than great results for years to get pictures of them; I finally got a couple on Sunday.

We saw a couple of very large lobsters both dives; Rich found one, Jack, the other, neither one would have been legal to take, so they didn’t even try. Jack also spotted a large red anemone.

The weather was great Sunday — clear and calm and warm, and the water was relatively comfortable too. Thanks again to Jack and Jane for having me along.

Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard

I got a text from my brother Brian last week asking if I’d like to join Pam and him on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard that Thursday. Even though it’s close by, I haven’t been to the Vineyard since I was a teenager.

We took the ferry from Woods Hole over to Vineyard Haven, one of the seven towns comprising Martha’s Vineyard. The weather was perfect – sunny, dry, slightly breezy. The island is about seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts, and the trip takes about 45 minutes each way. The view from the ferry was great, especially coming into Vineyard Haven Harbor, passing tons of boats on the way in.

Once the we arrived, Brian rented a bright red Jeep for the day. We put the roof panels in the back, and headed off around the island.

The first town we passed through was Oak Bluffs, with its gingerbread cottages and old Victorian hotels. Then we passed the beaches on the long sand spit on the way to Edgartown. Once in Edgartown, we got out and walked around town for a bit, and had lunch. Then we headed west across the island, through West Tisbury and Chilmark, to Aquinnah, where we got out to see Gay Head.

Gay Head is a clay cliff on the western end of the island; it’s one of the few pre-glacial landforms on the island. The name comes from the fact that parts of the cliff are reddish. There is a lighthouse there, and an outlook over the cliff; we got out and walked around  a bit, and then it was time to head back to Vineyard Haven for the 5:00 ferry back.

We had a great time. It was nice doing the sightseeing thing, it was good to spend time with the two of them, and you couldn’t ask for better weather. The trip over and the scenery there got the photographic juices flowing.


2018 Quechee Balloon Festival, Vermont

I first went to the Quechee Balloon Festival in 2012, with my brother and nephew Matt, who were accompanying one Matt’s friends and father to the festival. I managed to get a balloon ride, and liked it enough to do it again with them the following year.

Since then, they haven’t gone again, and I’ve wanted to go back. I figured this year would be a good year to combine a balloon flight with a short motorcycle tour. So I booked a flight for Friday night, and made motel reservations for Friday and Saturday, in case of weather trouble that would require re-booking the flight.

Friday

I left home around noon on Friday, and ran into heavy traffic in Boston and on Interstate 93 up through New Hampshire. By the time I was on I-89, I’d lost over an hour, and didn’t dare switch over to the side roads.

I did eventually get to the motel barely in time to check in, bring the bags up to the room and switch my boots for sneakers, before heading off in search of the festival grounds.

The Flight

Despite being told to be there by 5 (which is why I was hurrying), they didn’t start processing reservations until 5:30. Finally, after signing off on a lot of paperwork, I got my boarding pass, and met Katherine, from the crew, who took me down to the balloon.

My pilot was Walt Rudy, of Aloft Horizons based in Ohio, and his crew chief was his wife Deb. I met my fellow passengers, and together, we helped get the balloon set up.

The balloon envelope is stored tightly packed inside a big canvas bag. It has to be pulled out to its full height on the ground, unbound, and then spread out flat on the ground.

In the meantime, the basket is laid sideways on the ground, and the envelope fastened to it. Then it was time to wait for the wind to drop, and the festival’s “balloonmeister” to give the ok to launch. It took a while for the winds to abate, but finally we got the go ahead.

The first step in getting a balloon aloft is to “cold inflate” it. The mouth of the balloon is held open by a pair of people — I was one — while fans blow air into the balloon. First there is a ripple of a bubble, and soon enough, while still lying on the ground, it’s nearly its full round shape.

Next, the pilot starts to heat the air, first with a couple of short bursts from the burner, then with longer ones. The envelope develops lift pretty quickly, and starts to pull the basket to a standing position. At that point, the three of us piled in — there is no graceful way to do it–and we sort of “idled” for a moment while Walt got the lay of the land. He added just enough heat to get us just off the ground, and his ground assistants walked the basket a few steps to get clear of our neighbors, and then he blasted the burners again and we were off.

We were probably the fourth or fifth balloon to head out. All the balloons headed south-easterly, over the Quechee Dam, Simon Pearce factory and covered bridge, and toward the Ottauquechee River. Walt tried to drop us down over the river, hoping to pick up a current of air, but the wind didn’t cooperate. We did float over the Quechee Gorge and past the bridge. At various points we could see our reflection, or the reflection of another balloon below us.

Floating in a hot air balloon is very different from flying in an airplane. You’re in the open, for one thing, and you can feel the open air around you. You can turn around and look in any direction. It was crystal clear, and we had the setting sun behind us, so the colors ahead were vibrant, while the balloons behind were backlit. And it’s mostly quiet and serene, punctured by the roar of the burners when it’s time to gain or maintain altitude.

We flew over a bend in the river, and a few farms. At one point, we passed over a stable, and Walt called down to the horses. It was peaceful and quiet, just the four of us in the basket, and the other balloons around us as we floated over the forest.

Around the half hour mark, Walt was starting to look for places to land. We would see little oases of flat ground in the middle of the forest. I could see he had his eye on one likely spot, but the winds would not cooperate, so we hopped over a hill, plowing through some tree tops, before he spotted an open field right beside Route 5, and dropped us gently to the ground.

We met the homeowners, and their children, who were rather wide-eyed about it. Walt helped them up into the basket so they could get a sense of what it was like, while the envelope deflated. The chase crew arrived only a few moments after we landed, and we had to quickly pack up the balloon – we’d taken off late, and had to get back to the festival for the Glow. As a parting gift, Walt left the homeowners a bottle of champagne, a ballooning tradition.

The Glow

After the evening flights, the balloons come back to the Festival grounds for the Glow. By this time it’s dark, and the balloons are re-inflated, tethered in a row, and then the pilots fire off their burners in sync to light the envelopes. It’s very pretty.

Walt’s crew was a little short-handed, so Steve, one of the other passengers, and I helped set the balloon back up. Once the balloon was re-inflated, I got out the camera to take some pictures and video:

After The Glow, I helped Walt and his crew pack the balloon back up. It had to be deflated,  the envelope bound up and packed into its bag, and the basket put on a platform on the back of the van.

Saturday

My plans for Saturday were pretty loose. I wanted to visit the Simon Pearce glass factory again, and then I intended to simply follow Route 4 West on the motorcycle, and see where it took me. During breakfast, Walt called me and asked me if I could drop off the boarding pass from the night before so he could turn it into the festival.

My first stop of the morning was the village of Quechee. There is a dam and a waterfall and a covered bridge there, which I’d flown over the night before. Next to the dam is an old mill, which is now the home of the Simon Pearce store, restaurant and glass factory. They make fine glassware right on the premises. The store is at street level, and the glass factory is at river level.

Once I’d picked up a vase for my mother, it was time to hit the road. Route 4 in Vermont is a really nice road for motorcycles — nice scenery, some curvy sections, not too busy, and in reasonable condition. There wasn’t anything in particular I wanted to see, I was just out for the ride.

Serendipity struck though; as I approached the junction of Route 106A, I saw signs directing me to Plymouth Notch, the birthplace of President Calvin Coolidge. “Why not”, I said, so I followed 106A, a fun road in of itself, to the Coolidge homestead.

There’s a small museum, detailing Coolidge’s life, and then you can walk through the village of Plymouth Notch, which, paving aside, is pretty much the way it was a century ago. There is a General Store, operated by his father, the Coolidge Birthplace, which is a small house attached to the back of the store, the house where Coolidge grew up, and where he took the oath of office, and the barn owned by his grandfather, part original and part a restoration. I joined a guided tour and got to see the insides of all these buildings.

After leaving Plymouth Notch, I headed back up to Route 4, and continued to follow it westward, to the fringes of Rutland, where I turned around, and headed back to the Festival.

When I got there, I found Steve and Kathy from the night before were there too, and together we helped get the balloon set up again, and helped this evening’s passengers into the basket. I was also grabbing shots of the other balloons preparing to take off.  Deb offered me the chance to join the chase crew, and I accepted. I did have time before we left to get a few more pictures of the festival.

The chase crew drives the van to where the balloon lands. With luck — and we were lucky this evening — it will get there just as, or slightly before, the balloon lands. Deb, Walt, and their assistant Katherine are all from Ohio, so we had a local friend of theirs, Tiffany, with us, to navigate the roads. There was a GPS beacon aboard the balloon and Katharine and Tiffany were both tracking it; Tiffany chose the route to get us to where they anticipated the balloon would land. This time they forecast it pretty closely; as we traveled along Route 5 we saw the balloon come over the hill; Deb parked the van, and we got out to run to where the balloon was landing.

The first order of business when the balloon touched ground was to get rid of its buoyancy. Walt continued to vent hot air out the top of the balloon, and the ground crew held the basket down. If necessary, the pilot will hover an inch or so off the ground while the crew walks the basket to a more convenient spot. Passengers are not allowed to leave the basket until the pilot says so — to lose the weight of the passenger suddenly could cause the balloon to shoot back up. Once Walt gave the go ahead, we helped the passengers out of the basket.

Once the passengers were out, one crew member pulled on a rope attached to the top of the balloon. Gradually, the hot air cooled and escaped, and the envelope settled onto the ground. As it did, the basket was laid on its side, the mouth of the envelope closed, and we started to gather up the fabric of the envelope into a long thick line to drive the rest of the air out. Velcro straps were bound around the envelope at intervals to keep it tidy and compact. Once the envelope was bound up, we got it into its bag. It’s a lot of work, and fortunately the homeowner where the balloon landed helped out. He had a couple of little kids with him and Deb put them to work sitting on top of the envelope as it was put into the bag to drive the air out. Once the balloon is in the bag, we heaved it up into the truck, then hauled the basket up onto a platform on the back of the van and fastened it down.

Once everything was packed away, Walt had a short champagne ceremony with the passengers and homeowners, where he told the story of how the Montgolfier brothers invented hot air balloons, and started bringing champagne with them to reassure the people where their balloons were landing that these strange devices were friendly. Story told, he poured out a cup of champagne for everyone, and left a bottle with the homeowners.

We then headed back to the festival grounds for the Saturday night Glow. Since takeoff hadn’t been as late as our flight, we had a a little more time to get back and get set back up. Once again I helped get the balloon inflated; once it was up, I walked around to to get some more pictures.

After the glow, I helped pack up the balloon one last time, and then it was time to say goodbye to Walt and Deb, Tiffany and Katherine.

The ride back the next day was uneventful. Since I was in no particular hurry this time, I took Route 4 back through New Hampshire. The weather and scenery were great. Route 4 ended at I-93; after a few miles of backed up traffic I got off the interstate and onto Route 3A. While on this road I made an interesting discovery: I was passing along the a river, and I had a nice view of it from the bike, so I stopped to get some pictures of it. I walked back nearly a mile, but found no spot where I had a clear shot of the river; my mind must have stitched together the flashes of the river as I rode by into one continuous vista that didn’t really exist.

I got home just before four, just in time to run some errands. Overall, I had a great time. I loved being in a balloon again, and it was fun helping out, despite the fact that it’s surprisingly physical work. It was good taking the bike on a longer trip, and hopefully I can work my way up to even longer ones.

Last Saturday in London

As I mentioned at the tail end of my last post, I was sick with a cold most of the second week in London. Basically, I went to work, then came back to the apartment to eat and crash. I did go out to Piccadilly Circus / Leicester Square after work one night, but paid for it the next day.

Meanwhile, my pictures of Portsmouth and Greenwich sat on my hard drive; I couldn’t work up the gumption to edit and post them.

I will say that the UK version of Sudafed actually worked to a certain extent; I’ve definitely felt worse, but I was still pretty drippy up through Thursday night. It was actually kind of weird — I went to bed feeling miserable, and woke up from a dream of a little girl offering me a present, and I knew I was past the worst of the cold. Friday I was still feeling kind of jury-rigged, but the worst of the drippiness had stopped, which left the question: what to do about Saturday?  I had one day free before my flight back. Continue reading