Sunday, September 17, 2017

Brompton Ride to Newburyport

A couple of weekends ago, I carried my Brompton on the 9:30 AM Commuter Rail train from Boston to Newburyport, Massachusetts.  From there I rode out to the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.  '

The Parker River NWR is a prime viewing spot to see migrating birds.  While I didn't see anything exotic like Piping Plovers (the rare bird this refuge is known for), I did see lots of egrets, double-crested cormorants, and thousands upon thousands of little tree swallows.

It was a beautiful ride ... and you can experience it too by watching my GoPro video!




Sunday, August 27, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 21 Watercolor

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, click here.

And then another great Tour de France came to a conclusion as it always does, on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

2017 Tour de France Stage 19 & 20 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France project, click here.

Stage 20 brought the Tour through the beautiful red-roofed villages of Provence.


One more treat before heading to Paris ... a spectacular individual time trial through Marseille.  The
beautiful view of all was as the riders climbed the hill to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 17 & 18 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, click here.

Stage 17 featured the spectacular giants of the Tour -- Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Galibier -- as well as a beautiful alpine landscape of mountain rivers, lakes, and treeless slopes.


As if the climbs of Stage 17 were not enough, epic Stage 18 finished atop the Col d'Izoard, sending the riders through the col's desert-like landscapes before reaching the summit.


2017 Tour de France Stage 15 & 16 Watercolors

For an overview of my 2017 Tour de France project, click here.

The tour not only headed into the land of extinct volcanoes on Stage 15, but also through some beautiful French villages (actually, aren't all French villages beautiful?).  I just had to try to capture those narrow streets and fans pushed up against stone houses as the riders careened around sidewalk-less corners.  The interesting thing about this is if you take a look at some villages on Googlemaps Streetviewer, they can be quite plain, albeit lovely.  But when the Tour comes through town the flowers and flags break out, and a whirlwind of color descends on even the sleepiest little community.


The theme of beautiful villages continued into Stage 16 as the Tour made its way into the Rhone valley.  Red roofs and elaborate cathedrals looked down on the peloton today, and Michael Matthews took his second stage win of the tour.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 13 & 14 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, click here.

Tour de France 2017 continued its journey through the Pyrenees on July 14, Bastille Day.  Stage 13 concluded with French rider Warren Barguil winning the day, after having just missed victory on a very close Stage 9.


Hilly Stage 14 made its way through the beautiful fields of southwest France, finishing with a sprint won by Michael Matthews -- win #2 for Team Sunweb in two consecutive days.  It turns out that the Stage 13 and 14 winners were not only on the same team, they were roommates!


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bookstore Ride ... With Video!

Take an ordinary errand, and make it something special -- that's what a bicycle does so perfectly, especially when that errand is to visit a wonderful bookstore.

Here's a video I created of my ride to from Cambridge to Newtonville Books in Newton, Massachusetts.  I shot the video with my GoPro camera and iPhone7, and then I edited it in GoPro Studio.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 11 & 12 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, click here.

Sunflowers!  I wait for them every year, and then there they are!  Whole fields of them, like in lovely Stage 11 from Eymet to Pau, as the race made its way toward the Pyrenees.


By the time the Tour reached the last 100 kilometers of Stage 12, we were high into the Pyrenean Mountains, with heavy fog enveloping the riders.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 9 & 10 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, click here.

My Stage 9 watercolor was inspired by the mountains and vineyards of the Jura region.


From there, the Tour took a rest day as it traveled west to Perigueux to begin one of the most magical stages of the tour.  Commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen said that this route through the Dordogne passed by 52 castles!  The scenery was nothing short of spectacular.  Here's my Stage 10 watercolor:

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 7 & 8 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, click here.

Choosing a castle as a Tour de France watercolor subject is simply a question of "which one"!  There are so many beautiful chateaux in the French countryside.  Here, in my Stage 7 painting (my only watercolor with no cyclists included) I chose a beautiful very old hilltop castle ruin.


My Stage 8 watercolor is at the top of the Cote de la Combe de Laisia Les Moilunes, where French rider Lilian Calmejane rode away from the peloton for a solo thrilling finish.


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Sunday, August 6, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 5 & 6 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, click here.

My stage 5 watercolor was inspired by the start of the La Planche des Belles Filles climb.  I always love seeing the polka-dot banners that announce each climb's start.  We celebrate the summits of Tour de France climbs for all the excitement they bring.  But every great climb also has a beginning.  More often than not, that beginning is just an ordinary spot on the road, made extraordinary by the Tour.


My Stage 6 watercolor is of one of the many lovely stone bridges the Tour crosses every year.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 3 & 4 Watercolors

For an overview of my 2017 Tour de France watercolor project, go here.

The Tour entered France for the first time on Stage 3, passing through the beautiful villages of Belgium and Luxembourg along the way.  Here's my watercolor:


And then there was Stage 4.  I suppose in retrospect all other stories of this beautiful stage were overshadowed by Peter Sagan's eventual ejection from the Tour.  But my watercolor depicts Guillaume Van Keirsbulck's unintentional lone breakaway, when he took off at the start of the race and -- to his surprise -- no one went with him!  Seeing that happen, some riders would have simply fallen back into the peloton.  But not Van Keirsbulck!  He just kept going.  After establishing a 13 minute advantage, the numbers on the yellow chalkboard started getting smaller and smaller as the seconds between him and the peloton decreased.  Van Keirsbulck was caught 16.5 km before the finish line, but he survived out front for 191 kilometers, was given the red number award for being the most aggressive rider of the day, and he had plenty of TV time in front of happy sponsors, friends, and family.  Totally worth it, I'd say.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

2017 Tour de France Stage 1 & 2 Watercolors

For an overview of my Tour de France watercolor project, check out this post.

Here is my Stage 1 watercolor, full of the rain that filled the skies during the opening time trial in Dusseldorf, Germany:


Here's my Stage 2 watercolor, showing the beautiful fields between Dusseldorf, Germany and Liege, Belgium:


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

2017 Tour de France Watercolors (Overview)

Tour de France 2017 was awesome.  It was one of the closest Tours in history, and it was full of the spectacular scenery and compelling stories that make the TdF so special.

And because the Tour de France is so amazing, I once again accompanied my nightly television viewing with a TdF personal art project!

If you ask me why I feel compelled to do a creative project in addition to watching hours of the Tour each night on tv, I don't really have an answer for you.  It certainly makes for some late evenings.  There are times after a long day at work and then watching the Tour that I say to myself, "Oh no, now I have to do my project!"  But I really do say it with a laugh.  Maybe it's because the Tour de France is so overwhelmingly great that I feel I just have to do something to participate in all the excitement.

For the last two years, my project has been keeping a shorthand notebook for each stage, accompanied by small colored pencil or watercolor drawings.  I haven't posted many of those here, but it's on my to do list!  This year, I did a nightly watercolor for each stage.

Don't expect paintings that summarize the stage or depict the big news of the day.  My paintings are simply inspired by scenes that I liked from each day's stage, watching the Tour on the NBC Sports Network.  And remember, these are quick, daily paintings.  There's no time for perfectionism!  But it was fun doing them and that's all that counts.

I've gathered a nice set of painting supplies over the years.  Here's what I used for this project:
  • A old set of Winsor & Newton Travel Paints (you can see some mixing I did to try to get those reddish-orange rooftops and green trees and fields!).
  • Fluid 100 brand 6 X 8 smooth watercolor paper, in a block.  It's a perfect size for fast painting, and the block set-up keeps the paper nice and flat.  After your painting dries you simply (but carefully) cut it off the block with a dull knife.  Very handy.
  • A big set of Derwent watercolor pencils.  I especially like them for drawing trees and adding weathering to buildings.  Applying water with a brush over the these pencil marks creates a beautiful watercolor affect, but with more defined lines. 
  • My Pentel 0.7 GraphGear 500 pencil (which I use for pretty much everything), a fine-point Faber-Castell Artist Pen, and a Pentel waterbrush.  I could have used a regular brush, and I often dipped the waterbrush in a cup of water rather than use the reservoir, just like one would with a normal brush.  But I like the idea of the waterbrush.  It gives me the sense of dong a fast on-the-spot painting with very little clean-up.  I really enjoy using it.

So in the next 21 posts, I will put up pictures of my 2017 Tour de France paintings. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Riding the Rail Trails of Northampton, Amherst, and Beyond

This past Saturday, I did a 30+ mile ride on the beautiful rail trails that connect the Massachusetts towns of Florence, Northampton, Hadley, and Amherst.

So let's jump right into the action with my very first posted GoPro video!  I mounted the GoPro Hero Session camera on the handlebars of my Brompton bicycle and then edited it in GoPro Studio.




And now for the details of this great ride...

I woke up at 4:15 AM on Saturday morning, and by 5:00 AM I had my Brompton, helmet, Brompton bag, and supplies packed away my rented ZipCar, ready to go.  I stopped at my local Dunkin' Donuts for my morning coffee...


...and then headed west!

Around 2.5 hours later I arrived at Look Park in Florence, Massachusetts -- a good starting place for riding the Mass. Central Rail Trail, which turns into the Norwottuck Rail Trail in neighboring Northampton.

This area is known as the Five College region, named after University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and Hampshire College.  Far away from any big cities and anchored by the towns of Northampton and Amherst, this a land of rolling hills, farms, and villages.  And much of it is now connected by bike paths and bike lanes.

Here's where I joined the Mass. Central Rail Trail at Look Park:



In Northampton I rode by the old train station (now a restaurant)...


...made my way down a quiet side street (lovely sunflowers)..,


and then joined the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which runs from Northampton, through Hadley and Amherst, and ends on a rural road by the swamps outside Belchertown.

The rail trail follows the route of old the train tracks that used to run from Northampton all the way to Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Passenger service ended in the 1930's, partly because of damage sustained during the Hurricane of 1938.

The Norwottuck begins with a grand start, as you cross the old railroad bridge that spans the mighty Connecticut River.



From there the path heads east through peaceful farmland.





The photo below is of a place I stopped for a good long while, watching the tree swallows dart about catching flies.  They're tough to photograph, but you can see two of them zipping by in this picture (I just realized that I missed a great GoPro video opportunity!  Oh well, next time!):


All along the path were places where the trail branched off and led to streets taking you into the towns along the route, like Hadley and Amherst.  I decided on this trip to stay on the main path and then check out some of the towns on the drive back home.  I've learned from past rides that it's usually a good idea to set these kinds of priorities in advance, otherwise you try to see too much, get exhausted, and can't fully enjoy all you experience.

The most magical part of the Norwottuck Path lies just beyond Amherst, where it enters the swamps of the Brickyard Conservation area.




At the risk of getting over-dramatic here, I must say that standing in this spot really affected me deeply.  It was so quiet, with nothing but the sounds of birds, critters, the wind, and the cyclists and walkers on the path.  Living in an urban area, I'd forgotten how quiet the natural world can be.  Although I saw very few birds (I was hoping to jot down more sightings in the front cover of my Peterson's Field Guide to Birds of North America book!), I could certainly hear them, and I imagined so many little animals call this beautiful swamp home.

On my return trip, I passed by this sign:


So of course I had to stop in to get a bite to eat!  I purchased some very good cornbread.



This is a good time to add that the Brompton rode like a dream on this trip.  It's so remarkably comfortable, even over long miles.

Arriving back at my ZipCar....


I decided to explore Look Park a bit.  It's such a cool place!  There's a little narrow gauge railroad for kids, paddle boats, picnic areas, and beautiful landscaping. I must come back another day and explore this park further.


For my drive home, I decided to take local Route 9 for most of the way back to Boston, rather than the Mass. Pike. In doing so, I made a remarkable discovery...

Although I drove back through the lovely villages and farmland that I saw from the bike path, I also drove through vast areas full of fast food restaurants, malls, and big box stores -- all of which I could tell from Googlemaps were very close to the bike path!  It was as if the path lived in a quiet world all its own, just out of view of 21st-century suburban life.  That being said, I enjoyed driving by all the malls, box stores, and fast food restaurants too. 

As a final treat, Route 9 took me by the huge Quabbin Reservoir.  You can actually walk over the earthen dam that was built in the 1930's to flood the area and create the reservoir.




It's a pretty overwhelming site.  It reminded me of pictures I've seen of fjords in Norway.  The four towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott were actually disincorporated so that the area could be flooded for the Quabbin.  Roads and foundations of old houses apparently still exist deep below the water's surface.  It's a place full of history and somewhat haunting beauty.

So to wrap up, last Saturday I explored a region of my home state that was totally unfamiliar to me, and it turned into a  great adventure.  Massachusetts really is a remarkable place.