A Lesson Learned about Lowcountry Fishing – Will the Learning Ever End?

Recently a friend and I went on a fishing/scouting trip to an area that I hoped would be suitable for fly fishing for redfish.  We went down to Hilton Head Island and put in at the Haigh Point landing then ventured up McKay’s Creek to the north end of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refugee.  According to navigation charts there is an area just off Pinckney Island, where at low tide is an area about a half square mile where the water is 1 to 2 feet deep.  While I have boated around this area several times I never looked at it as a possible location to fish.  We were scouting this area to see if there was any smooth cordgrass in the water that might attract redfish that feed on fiddler crabs or periwinkle snails that attach themselves to the blades of grass.  It turns out I had it backwards.  At low tide this area is just a sandy bottom where we saw a few blue crabs scampering along the bottom.

 

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North end of Pinckney Island at low tide.  This grassy area would be partially submerged at high tide.

The grassy area I thought I would see partially submerged at low tide is actually partially submerged at high tide which is where I assume redfish would feed on crabs and snails.  It is in areas like this that you can sight fish by seeing dorsal and tail fins above the surface of the water as the fish search for food, or you can see a distinct “V” moving on the surface as a fish swims just below the surface.

After fishing the area with no luck, we got in the boat and worked our way back through McKay’s Creek stopping at a few spots to do some bottom fishing for sharks.  This area around the Broad River is a virtual shark nursery.  When my grandkids visit in the summer they love to fish for sharks because they are abundant and easy to catch.  We usually end up catching small blacktip and bonnethead sharks using cut mullet or squid as bait.  Occasionally, we catch a larger shark which makes the day all the more exciting for them.

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We didn’t end up catching any sharks or redfish on our scouting trip, but I did catch a small stingray.  So even though we struck out fishing just being out on the water  was worth the trip.  Being in this area around Pinckney Island, as with any waterway here in the low country, is spectacular.  The scenery changes with the tides and around every turn.  While I grew up and lived in the mountains for most of my life I can’t say enough about how fortunate I feel to be living in the low country of South Carolina.  I guess I am what the former director of the county department I worked for would call a “Damn Yankee”.  He said tourists that visit this area and return home are “Yankees”, and those who visit but don’t go home are “Damn Yankee’s”.  I take pride in that moniker, but he also said that since I was from West Virginia he kept me around for the entertainment value.   I must have been an entertaining Damn Yankee.   But I also understand his concern for the expansion of development in this area.  On one hand it is amazing and on the other hand alarming how much development has taken place in the nine years I have lived here.  Only responsible development can protect the water resources that makes this area special for fishing and shellfish growth.

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Late afternoon near Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refugee

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The Perfect Bicycle Storage System for Me

Storage in my garage is sometimes at a premium from all the “stuff” we accumulated over the years and not having enough space to organize and store “stuff”.  Even though my wife and I have downsized and de-cluttered we still seem to have “stuff” we don’t often use or has some sentimental value.  I have often heard people say that if you haven’t used something in 6 months to a year you probably don’t need to keep it.

Bicycles take up a lot of floor space so having a way to store them off the floor is helpful. There are many bicycle storage rack systems on the market from hanging bikes from the ceiling to wall mounted racks.  I found that I did not have enough head room to hang my bicycle from the ceiling using ropes and pulleys, like the 2-bike Elevations Garage Hoist kit, nor did I want to hang a wall mounted storage rack like the Homee Bicycle Bike Wall Hook Rack Holder Stand Bike, so I searched for a storage rack that could store my bicycle off the floor while still leaving some floor space for other “stuff”.  I found this Delta Donatello 2 bike leaning bicycle rack that serves that purpose but what I really found appealing is that it functions perfectly to keep the bike off the floor so I can do routine maintenance.  This storage rack can accommodate 2 bicycles and has adjustable arms to hold almost any bike and leans against a wall with a tab that can secure the rack to the wall for added stability.

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Delta Donatello 2 bike leaning bicycle rack

As I said earlier, there are a multitude of bicycle storage racks on the market and each serves a particular purpose depending on our individual needs.  With a little research each of us can come up with the perfect bicycle storage rack to make room for our other “stuff”.

Fly Fishing and Taggart’s Grill in Utah

Have you ever been to Utah?  If not, you need to travel there to see spectacular mountain ranges whose color and appearance change with the seasons, and situated among those mountain ranges are some of the best fly fishing trout streams in the west.  My son lives outside Park City and his girl friend’s brother, Berk, is an exceptional fly fisherman, and in fact he is very close, in my opinion, to being an expert fly fisherman.  He he knows the rivers in this part of Utah, ties his own flies, studies insect hatches, mastered fly casting techniques, understands trout feeding habits, fishes many rivers in the area, and as it turns out he is a very good fishing guide.   My wife and I visited our son in May 2015, and during this visit Berk took me fly fishing on the Provo river about a mile below the Jordanele Reservoir dam.  The Provo river below the dam is a cold water stream because water discharges from the bottom of the lake which makes for ideal trout habitat.  He even provided all the fly fishing gear and waders for my first fly fishing excursion.

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Fly fishing in the Provo River

This was my first time casting a fly rod but I had a basic idea of what to do by having watched fishing shows.  However, watching others cast a fly rod and actually casting one yourself are two different things.  Berk was a very patient instructor but he was constantly reminding me to watch my back cast, keep my rod tip path straight, keep my rod tip up, mend the line if the slack went downstream of the strike indicator (flip the rod tip upstream so the extra line is above the strike indicator), keep your eye on the strike indicator, etc.  With each cast I seemed to forget at least one of these techniques and had to be reminded again and again.  Like I said he was very patient.  I must have done a few of those things right because I ended up catching 3 German brown trout that day.  In addition to teaching me the basics of fly fishing, Berk managed to catch 5 or 6 of these beautiful fish himself.

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Beautiful German brown trout

On another visit in December 2016, Berk offered to take me fly fishing on the Weber River across from Taggart’s Grill, a restaurant he and his family own “nestled in a picturesque high desert canyon in scenic Morgan, Utah.  They offer a diverse menu featuring classic American entree’s, gourmet burgers, hand crafted sandwiches, and decadent home-made desserts.   The grounds surrounding the restaurant feature lush landscaping with a variety of vibrant flowers and foliage, a beautiful Koi pond featuring cascading waterfalls, and a small family of friendly peacocks.”  The restaurant is  located just off  I-84  between Morgan and Henefer Utah.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of dining at Taggart’s Grill you are denying your taste buds a very special treat.

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Taggart’s Grill near Morgan, Utah – photos courtesy of Mike Baker

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After that brief commercial break let me get back to my fishing tale.  December in this part of Utah is what you expect of winters.  Cold and snowy.  The temperature on this day was 29 degrees and there was a foot or more of snow along the banks of the Weber River which was running clear and very cold.  We left the restaurant late in the day and walked under the interstate highway to the river.  The sky was overcast and snow flurries drifted down around us.  Again, Berk provided all the gear and equipment I needed.  About a week before I arrived Berk had two pesky raccoons that were residing in his chimney or somewhere on the roof of his house.  Being a fair minded individual he told the raccoons they had 8 hours to vacate the premises or else.  Well, or else happened, and since he ties his own flies, Berk took some clippings from the raccoons fur and tied a few flies and gave me the honor of testing his new flies on the German brown trout population in the Weber River. After several casts upstream and letting the “raccoon” fly drift downstream I hooked a trout.  Berk was happy his “raccoon” flies proved worthy and I was glad to have participated in his experiment.  We fished for a couple hours until the light faded and our feet and hands were nearly frozen.  I managed to catch 3 trout and Berk caught a half dozen.  We released these fish, as Berk always does, unless he wants a few for a meal or a friend asks for a few trout to eat.

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Sorry for the blurry picture

My wife and I look forward to our next visit to Utah to visit our son and his girlfriend, a lovely young woman whom we consider our daughter-in-law.  They live up in a canyon at about 8,000 feet above sea level which is inviting to a lot of the local wildlife such as moose and elk.  We look forward to visiting at a time when there is not several feet of snow on the ground which keeps these large creatures down in the lower elevations to forage for food.  For now we regularly get pictures and videos of moose and elk wandering through their yard seemingly unconcerned about the human inhabitants.

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This young bull moose almost came to the back door – photo courtesy of Mike Baker

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This gal slept outside their bedroom one night – photo courtesy of Mike Baker

Keep Moving on the Water

Fishing is another activity that keeps me moving.  However, to say I am an avid fisherman would be a misnomer.  I like to fish but to be honest I don’t fish as much as I would like.  There are so many activities I like to do to Keep Moving.  It is not often that I focus on one activity for any length of time with the exception of training for my bicycle trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  I usually rotate activities depending on how I feel and if I have a specific goal to achieve, i.e., getting into “softball shape” each spring and fall.

Fishing and boating entered the picture when we retired to Beaufort County, South Carolina.  With thirty-eight percent (38%) of Beaufort County consisting of water in the form of tidal creeks and rivers, not to mention the ocean, I wanted the ability to see more of the county than you can see from a car.  So when I retired I bought an 18 foot Key Largo center console fishing boat because of the great fishing and dolphin watching opportunities.

My initiation to salt water fishing came the first time, Eddie, the Director of the County department I worked for asked me to go fishing in his 21 foot Carolina Skiff.  I jumped at the chance because I had no experience with salt water fishing.  On the day we decided to fish we left the Station Creek boat launch on St. Helena Island just before low tide and passed through salt water marshes lined with oyster beds and marsh grass all accented with the aroma of pluff mud as we headed towards Trenchards Inlet and south to Gale Break, a location on the north side of the Broad River across from Hilton Head Island. What makes this such a special place is there is no development and with the exception of the very limited view of Hilton Head Island 4 miles to the south there is nothing but pines, palm trees, sand, and driftwood.  I could stand in the surf for hours with my Ugly Stick fishing rod watching the waves and the white puffy clouds and feel like I was the only person on earth.

On the way we took a side trip up a small creek where Eddie caught a few mullet for bait using a cast net.  I am still learning to throw my 6 foot Betts Saltwater fishing net and I produce a good throw maybe 2 out of 5 times.  No doubt I scare away more bait fish than I catch.

Gale Break is an area where the shoreline is constantly undergoing transformation from storms and shifting tides.  At one point there was small “lagoon” with an entrance channel created by a sandbar curling away from the beach that afforded us a place to anchor the boat in calm water.   From there we would walk over the sandbar to the beach to surf fish.  Each time we went to Gale Break over the next few years sandbars appeared where none existed the year before or navigation channels around the sandbars changed.  I went back to Gale Break a few years later and the tides and storms closed off the entrance channel and turned the “lagoon” into a saltwater pond that would flood at high tide and return when the tide receded leaving redfish, flounder, mullet, and other species stranded until the next high tide. For a while this became a good place to catch bait fish.  But subsequent storms eventually filled this saltwater pond with sand and it disappeared.

I don’t think a fishing trip to Gale Break with Eddie ever ended without us bringing a few redfish home in the cooler.   I don’t know about elsewhere but in South Carolina to keep a redfish they have to be between 15″ and 23″.

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Me and my neighbor Bob showing off our redfish after a fishing trip with Eddie

At times those fish seemed to feast on the cut mullet we used for bait on the incoming waves as the flood tide rolled in.  There isn’t much better than a dinner of freshly caught redfish.  My wife lightly coated the fillets with Zataran’s and pan fried the fillets until they were a flakey golden brown.

I’ve learned a lot about saltwater fishing but still consider myself a newbie.  For example, knowing when to fish on certain tides, moon phases, consideration of the wind direction and the effect on surf conditions, learn about fishing inlets where small fish move with the tide, and other environmental factors that affect how fish behave and feed. But the great thing about fishing in the ocean and its tributaries is you have no idea what type of fish you will bring to the surface.  Could be redfish, whiting, sharks, lady fish (although once you catch a lady fish you will know what you have the next time you hook one because those fish are quite acrobatic), stingray, etc.  So if you haven’t gone fishing in a long time find a body of water, wet a line, and enjoy the peace and serenity that is the next best thing to catching fish.

Keep Moving by Volunteering

My blogging theme of “Keep Moving” involves more than just riding a bicycle, jogging and other forms of exercise, travel, gardening, volunteering, and other hobbies.  It is about doing and experiencing things you never thought you would have the time or money to do, or things you have dreamed of doing all your life but work and “life” got in the way.  It is about having a reason to get out of bed each morning with the idea that “I can do anything I want today.”  In retirement no one expects you to be at a certain place at a certain time.  You control your time and how you spend it.

Many people choose to work part-time in retirement which is wonderful.  Some work for financial reasons and others work to keep them engaged with other people and keep them moving instead of retiring to a recliner in front of a television with a bag of Doritos.  If I would work part-time in retirement it would only be in a job that I did not have to think too much.  Give me a task and leave me alone.  I would not want to supervise other employees or be in some high stress position.  Just a job, not another career.  I obviously did not go in that direction but I can see why others do.  I am fortunate and very thankful that I do not have to work to get by in retirement which is a blessing.

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Many people do volunteer work to keep them involved and active by giving back to their communities.  My wife and I have a very good friend who volunteers at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank near her home.  She is a very talented individual and those running the food bank soon discovered she had skills they could use.  She eventually agreed to work part-time for a few years before retiring again but she still volunteers one day a week.

On a recent visit I had the privilege of joining her and a group of her fellow volunteers to spend a few hours filling 280 boxes of food to be distributed as supplemental food for needy seniors.  Seniors are a growing demographic needing assistance but are often reluctant to ask for assistance, and that specific need is expected to increase by 50% by 2025.  Each box contained 2 boxes of cereal, 2 boxes of milk, 2 boxes of macaroni, a half gallon of orange juice and a half gallon of cranberry juice, 2 cans of green beans, 2 cans of canned pears, canned mixed vegetables, canned potatoes, canned white meat chicken and recipes.  These items will then be supplemented with fresh vegetables.  It was quite a production and was probably the best workout I had in the past two weeks and gave me a greater appreciation for the work these volunteers do each week.

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, a member of Feeding America, was founded in 1981 with the idea that “hunger is unacceptable, that everyone deserves enough food, that food sustains life and nourishes our health, and we are called to serve neighbors in need without judgement”.  Today this organization serves 25 counties and 8 cities on both sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Their location in Verona, Virginia serves as a central distribution center for distribution centers in Lynchburg, Va., Charlottesville, Va., and Winchester, Va.  They provide 114,400 of people in need with nutritious food each month through a network of 215 food pantries, soup kitchens, churches, etc.  What is remarkable is that much of this service is provided by volunteers.  For example, according to their website, in 2016 there were over 24,000 volunteer hours that made possible the distribution of over 25 million pounds of food.  For more information about the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank or if you wish to make a donation or offer your services you can check out their website:  www.brafb.org.

 

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There are many people in my Sun City Hilton Head community who regularly volunteer at food banks and church sponsored thrift stores, while others volunteer at local schools and churches. These are people who have been blessed throughout their lives and felt the need to give back to their neighbors and their communities.  With all the negative news in the world today it is sad that more volunteers do not receive recognition for their valuable contributions to their communities.  These are definitely people that make the world a better place.

 

“Keep Moving” is a Lifetime Challenge

My reason for writing these blogs is to encourage people in or near retirement to “Keep Moving”.  Even those who are years away from the traditional retirement age should follow this advice or the advice of some retirement expert.  Most of us hope to have a full and active retirement, but just like preparing financially for retirement we also need to take steps to maintain good overall health and healthy habits in order to achieve that goal.

A recent article by Kelli B. Grant for CNBC follows along with my thinking (or visa vera) that “not all investments for retirement are financial.”  She cited an Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey from early 2017 that polled 14,000 workers and 1,600 retirees in 15 countries.  This survey found that few were taking steps to stay healthy to achieve their retirement goals.  The survey looked at behaviors such as:

  • avoiding harmful behaviors (alcohol, tobacco use, etc.)
  • eating healthy
  • regular exercise
  • thinking about long term health when making lifestyle choices
  • taking their health seriously (regular medical check-ups)
  • practicing mindfulness (i.e., meditation)

The study found that globally, half of the workers got regular exercise and 57% ate healthy.  Almost half engaged in 2 or fewer healthy behaviors, while 8% did not do any of these.  Only 5% said they engaged in all healthy behaviors.

The report also concluded that poor health in retirement could have a severe impact on a retiree’s financial well-being because of increased medical costs.  Incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviors early in life doesn’t guarantee a happy and healthy retirement but it does give you a better chance to meet your retirement goals and “Keep Moving”.

Staying Active in Durham, NC

My wife and I spent this summer in Durham, North Carolina.  Being a college town, Durham has much to offer in the way of cultural activities, trendy restaurants, numerous shopping opportunities, and sporting events along with venues to “Keep Moving”.  For example, Duke University has a cross country trail that circles the Duke University Golf Club.   Called the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail, named for the long time track and field coach, it is a little over 3 miles long and runs through a beautiful wooded area with just enough hills to make it challenging.  I took advantage of this trail several times throughout the summer.

The University track and field facility was open to the public for use except when the school was holding summer track and cross country camps.  I mostly used this facility in the evenings and there always seemed to be adults coaching young children and high school aged kids on various running techniques such as how to properly use starting blocks, arm motion, body posture, etc.

But to me the best amenity the City of Durham and the adjoining counties of Durham, Chatham, and Wake offers its citizens is the American Tobacco Trail.  I like riding on rail trails and I have ridden on many over the past 20 years.  Some include the North Bend Rail Trail, the Greenbrier River Trail, and the Panhandle Trail in West Virginia, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Montour Trail near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to name a few.  I was glad for the opportunity to add the American Tobacco Trail to that list.Att4ATT beginning

The American Tobacco Trail is a 22.6 mile rail trail that begins in downtown Durham near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the Durham Bulls Triple A baseball team. This abandoned rail bed was originally built for the American Tobacco Company as the New Hope Valley Railroad.  It later became the Durham and SC Railroad (but never reached into South Carolina), then finally part of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad.  This rail corridor was preserved in the 1980’s by the Triangle Rail-Trail Conservancy and is a wonderful multi-use trail.  Starting from Durham the first 14.5 miles is a paved 10 foot wide path and the remaining portion is a hard packed crushed limestone base.  This trail is now part of the East Coast Greenway which will eventually become a 3,000 mile route from northern Maine to Key West, Florida.  Presently, approximately 900 miles of off-road pathways are designated as East Coast Greenway.ATT 2

If you have a rail trail in your community or your community is planning for such a trail I encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity to use an existing trail or support any planning activities.  These trails offer citizens a place to ride bicycles, walk, roller blade, push strollers, even horseback riding if permitted.  Rail trails can take you to areas in your community that you have never been before unless you passed through on a train.  Many communities use rail trails to interpret their history and help locals and visitors understand the purpose the railroad served.  In some rural communities rail trails often serve as an economic stimulus for small businesses to serve trail users. Businesses like bicycle rentals, restaurants, outfitters, and campgrounds are a few small businesses I have seen along rail trails.  The economic benefits of rail trails can spread to outlying areas from trail users who stay an extra day or two to visit other nearby sites and attractions.  I have been in small communities that have old train depots that have been restored to their former glory and the surrounding area transformed into a small park that hosted community celebrations and holiday events.  These are little things that bring pride to a small community and it is all because of the restoration of the rail trail.

In my opinion, rail trails offer communities unique opportunities for citizens to improve their health in ways they would not do otherwise.   Many people would not ride bicycles, roller blade, or jog on city streets because of vehicle traffic, but rail trails provide a safe place to exercise where the only traffic is other trail users.  So if you have a rail trail near your community give it a try and “Keep Moving”.

 

Heard of Broccoli Sprouts?

If you followed my early blog posts I chronicled my bicycling trip along the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  This was a long term planned event to get me out of my comfort zone and do something I had never attempted.  Before beginning those trips in May 2016 I was having some issues with my PSA numbers (prostate specific antigen).  My numbers had been bouncing around for several months and my urologist scheduled me for a biopsy in September.  The results showed there was cancer in two of the samples taken, but further test results reveled the cancer to be slow growing.   My urologist suggest we just watch it for the time being (active surveillance or watchful waiting) and do another biopsy in 5 to 6 months.  Another biopsy was performed in late January 2017 and the results indicated the cancer from this sample was more aggressive than the sample taken earlier.  We discussed treatment options and there were 3 available to me.  One was to continue active surveillance.  The second option was 60 days of radiation, which I did not want to do and my urologist would not recommend because of my age and good physical condition.  The third option was to have the prostate removed, and if the cancer is encapsulated within the prostate this is a cure. So I chose option number 3.  My recovery went well but kept me off my bicycle for a couple of months.

The reason I mention this medical condition was to segue into the point of this blog. Between the two biopsy’s my son sent me a link to a Youtube video about broccoli sprouts and their beneficial effect on cancer cells.  The Youtube video is by Dr. Rhonda Patrick and is entitled “Sulforaphane and its Effects on Cancer, Mortality, Aging, Brain and Behavior, Heart Disease, and more.”  The video is approximately 47 minutes long and is very technical in some spots but overall is very informative.

There are many articles on the Internet from many sources highlighting the benefits of broccoli sprouts.  If you are interested,  I encourage you to do more research.  In the meantime, you can begin to grow your own sprouts.  Here is where I purchase my broccoli sprout kit and seeds.

Briefly, broccoli sprouts are 3 – 5 day old broccoli plants that look like afalfa sprouts but taste like radishes.  They contain high levels of glucosaphane, a cancer fighting phytochemical isolated in 1992 by Johns Hopkins scientists.  When chewed, broccoli sprouts release glucoraphanin that combines with myrosinase, an enzyme found in another part of the plant cell, which work together to produce sulforaphane.  A 1997 study found that 3 – 5 day old broccoli sprouts contain at least 20 times (some researchers say 10 – 100 times) the concentration of glucoraphanin than full grown broccoli.  Which means that broccoli sprouts are rich in sulforaphane and offers promising anti-cancer protection.

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Broccoli seeds soaking in jar and sprouts on the right

Sulforaphanes combat cancer through the removal of carcinogens, prevention of cancer cell production, destruction of breast cancer cells, and tumor reduction.  Other benefits include promoting detoxification, lowers cholestrol, improves diabetes, has antioxidant properties, anti-microbial properties, and anti-inflammatory properties to name a few.

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Harvested sprouts

Broccoli sprouts are easy to grow.  Place 2 – 3 teaspoons of seeds in your jar or growing container.  Rinse them thoroughly then soak the seeds for 6 – 12 hours.  Rinse again then place the container in an area out of direct sunlight.  Rinse the seeds once or twice a day even after the seeds sprout.  The seeds should begin to sprout in 2 – 3 days.  Harvest when the sprouts are 1″ to 2″ tall.  They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

You can add the sprouts to sandwiches, salads, combine with other vegetable dishes, sprinkle sprouts on top of a baked potato, add to stir-fry’s, salsa, cole slaw, or add to humus or other dips.  Use your imagination and enjoy.

The Skyline Drive, a Black Bear, and Big Meadows

After becoming disillusioned with the weather in Roanoke and not wanting to sit in a motel for two days waiting for the skies to clear and knowing I didn’t finish what I started I needed to get myself in gear and plan a ride that I knew I would complete. Planning to bicycle 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway on my first self-supported bicycle tour was a healthy goal, yet I still had a desire to do more bicycle touring in the mountains. So I set my sights on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

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In hindsight I should have started my bicycling touring on the Skyline Drive, you know like learning to walk before you run.  I did this bicycle trip in August, 2016 and planned to complete this trip in two days.  The Skyline Drive is 105.5 miles long and runs from Front Royal, VA to Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, VA, and seamlessly continues on as the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The longest climbs are on the northern and southern entrances, but once you reach the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains the elevation varies, so don’t think you won’t have some climbing to do, but the climbs are not as long as those on the Blue Ridge Parkway.   I started at the northern entrance at Front Royal where elevation is 1,390 feet.   From there you climb 10 miles to Dickey Ridge before connecting with the Blue Ridge mountains at Compton Gap.  The climb continues to Hogback Overlook at an elevation of 3,385 feet.  So in the first 22 miles you climb nearly 1,995 feet.1024px-Blue_Ridge_Parkway_from_Ravens_Roost

The day I began this ride the weather was spectacular.  Clear blue skies and visibility from the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains was endless.  From most overlooks looking west you can see the Massanutten mountain ridge that divides the Shenandoah Valley for nearly 50 miles.  Beyond Massanutten you see mountain ridges for as far as the eye can see.

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Massanutten Mountain in the distance

I enjoyed this ride more than my experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway because I understood the effort it took to climb these mountains,  I finished what I started, and I took time to enjoy the scenery and views from many of the overlooks.  The climbs were hard at times but I made sure to enjoy the experience instead of focusing on reaching the next hilltop.  I took more pictures, breathed in the fresh mountain air, and was not pulling my trailer.  My wife accompanied me by driving our van to serve as a support vehicle so I only carried a small backpack with snacks and water.

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Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Experience

At the time I decided to bicycle the Blue Ridge Parkway I had several goals I wanted to achieve.  First, was to get myself into better physical condition to handle the mountainous terrain.  Second, I have never been on but a few miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC.,  so seeing and experiencing this linear National Park and the amazing vistas was exciting.  Third, was to get me out of my cycling comfort zone.  It is one thing to go on long rides in an area that is familiar, but another where there is more wilderness surrounding you than civilization.

A person should take their time when experiencing the Blue Ridge mountains from the saddle of a bicycle.  Most of the time you are going slow enough to enjoy the miles of scenery that open up around every turn. spring As you look out across mountain ranges that stretch to the horizon 30 to 40 miles away you can’t help but be amazed at the majesty of these mountains.  They appear as different shades of color depending on the amount of light reflecting off the trees and vegetation.  Many areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway are made up of such a vast wilderness that there are probably places in these mountains that no man has ever set foot.   In early May, when I began my trip, the azaleas and other spring wild flowers were emerging from their winter hibernation as the sun warmed the forest floor. Trees in the lower elevations were breaking out in brightly colored light green leaves while trees along the ridge tops were still clothed in their wintery gray.  dogwood

Climbing mountain roads that snake through the Blue Ridge mountains was hard for this lowcountry senior.  The grades on the climbs varied from 4% to 7% with an occasional 8% grade for a short distance.  My speed varied from 5 to 8 miles per hours on climbs so I had time to notice the scenery and I would find a cadence and rhythm that was comfortable and tried to enjoy the experience.  But to be honest, there were times during some of the extended climbs my legs were screaming and I could have cared less about the view.  All I was focused on was reaching the top so I could coast.  However, reaching the crest of each hill despite my aching legs was more satisfying than the last hill.

These mountains are beautiful but they can be cruel.  There were times I would be climbing for miles and the road ahead would appear to level off as it curved around the mountain giving the illusion I had reached the top of the climb only to discover the road continued upward and I could  see the road cut into the mountain several hundred feet above me.  So I continued to climb.

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You may or may not have reached the top of this climb