Eleven years ago, I completed the Tour of Gondwana, an eighty-six-thousand-kilometer-long bicycle tour through the southern continents. Many people might consider that to be a Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience, but our lives are long and the World is large. So—why not go around again! This site will chronicle my current Grand Tour, this time taking the name World2, and the posts presented here, which you will find below, will usually focus on three of my favorite topics. Please join me for the ride!
Recorded each day at 12:00 PM, map updated whenever wi-fi is available (zoom in for clarity.)
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When you are in Eastern Europe, and you want your Tour to lead you eastwards, towards the Pacific Ocean, there are only three general routes available, a northern route, a southern route, and one that is, more or less, in between. Long ago, while in the early stages of planning the World2 Tour, I ruled out using either of the two southerly options for reasons including the oppressive heat expected to be found in that part of the World during the summer months, general challenges resulting from terrain, infrastructure, and politics, and the fact that portions of those routes traverse areas through which I have previously toured. For me, that was fine, since the northern route was much to my liking, with many compelling sights along its path and a relatively relaxed geography. Therefore, I put forth a considerable effort to plot a lengthy Tour route that would let me visit almost all of the places I really wanted to see found in the World’s largest landmass within the time allotted by the boreal change of seasons, and to do so by surface travel only: lots of cycling, a fairly significant amount of rail travel, and a few ferries. I expected to begin that section in Milan around the first of March, and reach the shores of the Western Pacific before the end of September. Of course, this was 2020, and even as the end of summer neared, the Corona Curtain was still effectively blocking eastward movement out of Europe. That particular barrier was not quite as impenetrable as its twentieth-century predecessor, the one fabricated from mythical Iron, had been. But almost.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of August 2020, the seventeenth month of the World2 Tour, a month which unwillingly pushed the Tour to an alternate destination, and which could have involved more cycling were it not for unfavorable conditions.
The possibility of skipping large portions, or almost all, of my planned route through Europe, because of the travel restrictions imposed during the spring, was something that I would probably have accepted without too much complaint. That was especially true since, by then, I had already visited most of the locations I distinctly wanted to see, which were primarily those related to my family history. Most, but not all, of course, and I was definitely unwilling to give up seeing the last of those places. I still needed to make my visit to Boian, probably the most important of the family sites for me, and that meant I needed to stay in Europe until I was able to travel into, and around, Ukraine. I have already written about Boian, but Ukraine is a large and interesting country with much to see. However, in a similar manner to just about everything during the present year I was not completely confident that my visit would actually happen until I was finally standing on its soil.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of July 2020, month sixteen of the World2 Tour, a month when cycling finally began to return to a more regular pattern, though not quite all the way back just yet.
Up to this point, all of the posts in the Origins series have focused entirely on the people from my father’s side of my ancestry. There were simple and practical reasons for that. My father’s heritage was primarily Western European, and essentially Colonial American, while my mother’s ancestry was exclusively Eastern European and her family arrived in North America only one hundred twenty years ago. Consequently, with the four-hundredth anniversary of the first arrival of my father’s ancestors just months away, at the time of this writing, and with the majority of his other ancestors arriving in the decades that followed, there have been ample opportunities for me to scour records that can be found relatively close to home and to develop theories to complete most of his family tree. On the other hand, the story of my mother’s family had been locked behind The Iron Curtain until relatively recently. That particular aspect is especially sad, since it meant that my mother never really had a practical opportunity to visit the land from where her family originated, and, in fact, I had also not been able to learn much about them until later in life. But the most basic reason that I have not mentioned them before now is that the World2 Tour had always been routed in a eastbound direction, and, therefore, Eastern Europe would be, by default, the last of the relevant places I would get to visit.
I was thrilled when Poland opened its borders in the middle of June, 2020, because after a long wait I would finally be able to enter a country that was part of my original plans for the Eastern European section of the World2 Tour. In fact, the freshly-devised route I created for traversing the country would allow me to see much more of the country and more of its interesting sites. In doing so, I discovered that Poland is a surprisingly attractive and a pleasurable country to tour through. I only use the term surprising because no one could deny that Poland had endured a rather rough patch of its history during most of the twentieth century. The country could certainly be forgiven if it still exhibited a certain disheveled appearance today. Instead, like it had done after similar hard times in centuries past, the country endured and seemingly put the last thirty years to good use, creating what is now an appealing destination for part of a long cycling tour.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of June 2020, the fifteenth month of the World2 Tour, and the first month in 2020 with a reasonable amount of cycling. Not enough, but reasonable.
Like essentially everyone else on the planet, at the end of April 2020 I was feeling restless. And generally unhealthy due to a sudden drop in physical activity. And annoyed by an increase in body mass. Five weeks sitting still in Berlin, instead of tallying up two or three thousand kilometers of cycling, has a way of creating those kinds of situations. As mentioned in the previous post, my status as someone already recovered from covid-19 six weeks earlier, and my normal mode of travel, which is almost as isolating as being in lockdown, made it reasonable to conclude that a limited restart of the Tour would not pose a significant risk to anyone. The question was, how and where could that happen. All of the locations that were further along my original route were still behind closed borders, some with rather severe internal restrictions as well. Only one possibility presented itself at the time and, as far as I was concerned, it saved the day: Sweden.
I would hope that most readers will realize that the title of this post is reasonably sarcastic. However, all well-formed sarcasm has some basis in reality, and that is also the case here. An early draft on this topic might have used the alternative adjective Antisocial, but that term possesses a pejorative character that would not be appropriate. Instead, I use a less judgmental phrase that better conveys the strangeness of the last few months.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of May 2020, month fourteen of the World2 Tour, a month that started pleasantly with a return to cycling, until a mechanical failure caused another long and annoying pause.
The title of this post is a little misleading. As far as my family is concerned, my mother’s ancestors were the last to reach North America, arriving around the year 1900. My father’s family, however, was a full three-quarters Colonial. By the middle-to-late seventeenth century, my father’s early grandparents living in America numbered almost four hundred, but the ancestors of his paternal grandmother were still in Europe, and would not arrive for another two centuries, more or less.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the months of March and April 2020. These months were to be the start of the longest section of cycling of the World2 Tour, however, things did not really work out that way.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of February 2020, the eleventh month of the World2 Tour, with the only January ride, on the final day of the month included, a month with only a limited amount of cycling thanks to the dark and cold days of winter.
In the German region of Baden-Württemberg, near the Rhine River, there is a small, otherwise nondescript, neighborhood where the streets have names like Alberta Strasse, Toronto Strasse, Victoria Strasse, and Ontario Strasse. Not far away, but a considerable distance from any major cities, is an airport hosting flights to southern European destinations on discount airlines and numerous small corporate aircraft. How did this come to be? As it turns out I have known the answer to that question for many years, and so desired to include that area on my route during the World2 Tour. If you look at certain maps, you may see this neighborhood labeled as Kleine Kanada.
Like many people who research their family history, I have spent a considerable amount of time working on the branch of my family that belongs to my paternal line, those ancestors who made up the chain of grandfathers on my father’s side of the family, and who all would have had some version of the name Ayers. One reason for that was that, as I have already mentioned, there had been a frustrating gap, now thankfully solved, at my third great-grandfather on that line, a break that I always felt should not have existed. Of course, it is also common for people to place an inordinate amount of importance on the branch of their family that gave them their surname, even though the practice of inheriting that name from one’s father is particularly arbitrary. That is a rather unfortunate, and even a limiting, viewpoint. During the time periods I will present in this post, beginning twelve generations back and drifting vaguely further back for perhaps two hundred more, at any given point in time the number of my grandparents living then would have numbered from a little as four thousand to an unknowable amount in the millions. Each of them has given me an equal contribution to my personal story and should be of equal value to me, even though my name came from only one man.
Undertaking a long tour in the Northern Hemisphere is invariably affected by the simple fact that this half of the World is most definitely a four-season location. Even in my younger days, when I usually set a rather insane touring pace, there would be no realistic route for a circumnavigation along a northern route that would avoid the perils of winter. The Southern Hemisphere, in contrast, with significantly less land area at high latitudes, allows one to more easily avoid cold weather, though many areas there have wet seasons that must also be considered. However, since I had already toured most of the bottom of the planet on the Tour of Gondwana, I desired the route of World2 to be slightly more boreal in nature. That would necessitate some sort of accommodation to the cold northern months.
During the Tour of Gondwana I utilized container ships to cross oceans on five occasions, so I had very good idea what to expect when I chose to do the same for the World2 Tour. As I mentioned in the previous post, in a typical circumstance, I did not know the particular ship or ports I would be able to use for the first ocean crossing, specifically that of the wide Atlantic, until a month, or so, before the Tour began. At that time, I booked the CMA-CGM Saint Laurent for a cruise departing from Natal, on the northeast coast of Brazil, to London, scheduled to sail on January 11th and arrive about fifteen days later. Right away, that voyage became one of my most anticipated features of the first half of my planned route for the Tour. Even though I knew I would enjoy the months of cycling, the interesting sights, and the beautiful nature of the early Tour, I also realized that fifteen days essentially unplugged from the World at large, and with nothing to do but rest, would be just what I would need at that point. Additionally, the previous few years, for me, were filled by a series of numerous tasks of the type that were sometimes surreal, frequently annoying, and usually of the type that kept thoughts of the future unclear, and a long sea voyage seemed like it would be a nice antidote for the mental effects of that period. However, the way the tropical section of the Tour ended caused the actual time on the ship to be less relaxing than I was expecting, at least at first.
For another example of what has become a personal tradition, of sorts, yet another large section of a Grand Tour has ended in a rather anticlimactic manner. It is understandable, I think, to look forward to completing a long segment of a tour, especially one that ends at a port where a sea voyage will subsequently begin, by cycling right up until the very end point. While this is always part of the original plans for my long tours, for various reasons, things change along the way and it is often an unwelcome circumstance that a transfer to the port must be made using alternative transportation. Frequently, that is caused by changes to a ship’s schedule, an unavoidable fact of life where sea travel is concerned, but in some cases these unplanned reroutes are more the fault of the cyclist. Unfortunately, in this case the latter situation was what dampened the mood for the end of this section.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of December 2019, the ninth month of the World2 Tour, the last month with cycling in this part of the World.
Because the first several months of the World2 Tour involved many disparate locations, often involving crossing a body of water, and an unfortunate dependence of non-cycling modes of transport, my schedule during that time was uncharacteristically and unpleasantly scripted in advance. Therefore I was certainly looking forward to my longest planned segment in South America, and the opportunity to return to a set-the-schedule-on-the-go routine that would be more relaxed and more in keeping with my traditional style of touring.
This post will, in all likelihood, not be of interest to anyone who is not a cyclist, or even those cyclists who choose not to travel for long distances that way. That is because its topic is tires. Specifically, bicycle tires. Even more to the point, bicycle tires for long distance travel. Therefore, those who are not personally interested in that subject may want to come back in a week or two, when I should have additional thoughts concerning more general subjects, assuming that I can stay awake long enough to write about them.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of November 2019, the eighth month of the World2 Tour, with more days of cycling, but only slightly more distance covered.
You are in Manaus. You need to reach other parts of Brazil. Options are limited. Of course, there is an airport, but, as has already been established here, that sort of solution is to be avoided at all costs. By road, one could double back along the highway that leads back towards Guyana and Venezuela. I had precisely zero interest in cycling that route for a second time. There is one other road out of Manaus, of the long, lonely, mostly dirt variety, which leads to the remote town of Porto Velho, located in the far southwestern part of the country, not far from the border with Bolivia. That region of the continent was not in my list of places to visit for this Tour, and this time around I had little enthusiasm for the sort of rough cycling expedition that would entail. That left only the method of travel that has been the lifeline for Manaus since it was founded, namely, river travel to the east, or west, along the greatest of all of Earth’s waterways. During my last long tour, I made a short side trip to Iquitos, Peru and briefly experienced the Amazon at that point. However, that encounter was far from adequate, considering the scope and scale of the river system in question. So, I was distinctly looking forward to making a significant voyage along the great river during the World2 Tour, heading east to near its mouth at the Atlantic, a distance of one thousand six hundred forty river kilometers from Manaus.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of October 2019, month seven of the World2 Tour, with a return to continental mainlands and somewhat more cycling, though a birding side-trip and a lengthy river transfer at the end of the month kept the total distance fairly low again.
When one finds themselves at the small border towns at the frontier between Guyana and Brazil, there is really only one place to go next. Technically, there are two, since it is still possible to enter Brazil briefly and then turn north to enter Venezuela. However, as I mentioned in the previous post, visiting that country is significantly problematic for the time being. That leaves just one route heading south along the only road in that region of Brazil, which leads to Manaus, a former rubber-boom town and the only large city in Amazonia, nine hundred twenty-five kilometers from the border. Seeing that part of South America has long been of interest to me, but as the start of that section of the Tour approached, I was feeling less than enthusiastic, and a little apprehensive, about what lay ahead.
Back during the Tour of Gondwana, when I became interested in seeing a Scarlet Ibis, I tentatively extended my route plan for the South American Stage of that Tour such that I would finish in Venezuela, where that beautiful bird can often be seen. However, as I neared the end of that Stage, both my time and money were running short, and I wasn’t able to make that happen. Nevertheless, seeing that country continued to be a goal of mine, for a chance to see the Ibis and also to visit Canaima National Park, the location of the famous Angel Falls and a top-level World Heritage Site. In fact, in my earliest sketches of a route for the World2 Tour Venezuela was intended to be the starting point for the entire Tour. Everywhere that has already been visited during this Tour was added to the route later on, usually in a
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of September 2019, the sixth month of the World2 Tour, yet another month with a disturbingly small amount of cycling, once again caused by even smaller islands, the time spent moving between them, and the incompetence of one particular airline.
Between Puerto Rico and Trinidad the island chain known as the Lesser Antilles contains at least twenty-five inhabited islands of significant size, divided among around fifteen political units, either independent nations, or remnant overseas territories lingering from the colonial period. In theory, it could be possible to visit most or all of those when traveling between the Greater Antilles and mainland South America. However, for reasons of logistics and practicality, which should be obvious, doing so, especially during a long bicycle tour, would be excessively difficult. Instead, choosing a few of the more interesting islands and bypassing the rest would normally be the most common choice for travelers going that way. My criteria for selecting the islands I would visit included: the possibility of arriving or departing by sea, the presence of World Heritage Sites, and the possibly of observing some cool birds, in keeping with the general themes of the World2 Tour.
Puerto Rico is an island that I have had on my list of places to visit for many years. That was primarily because, under normal, non-touring, circumstances, it is a place that would provide a nice change of scene from my former homes on the mainland, while also being relatively easily, in logistical terms, to visit. Like many such places, however, I had never quite gotten around to making a visit there. Since the Tour route had me in the neighborhood, and especially since I could reach the island by ferry from Hispaniola, it was an easy choice to include a stop there along my way through the Caribbean.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of August 2019, month five of the World2 Tour, another month with less cycling than normal, caused by rail and air tranfers and islands that were smaller than those of the previous month.
Because I was forced to use air travel to leave the Bahamas, I had a few choices as to which island would be next on the Tour route. I decided that the island would be Hispaniola, and the country would be the Dominican Republic. A few factors were important in making that choice, including the shortest flying distance of the available options (though there were no direct flights, requiring a short layover in Turks and Caicos,) a location that would allow me to tally another WHS and potentially some nice birds, and, importantly, the ability to make the next transfer by sea. I also felt that the country should be a relatively pleasant touring destination, since it contains a variety of terrains, has a reputation for controlling deforestation (at least relative to its equi-insular neighbor, Haiti,) and possesses an interesting history.
With the aim of avoiding the fall and early winter seasons of the Northern Hemisphere, I knew that my Tour route should find a way to get me into the Tropics again for much of that time. However, another passage through Central America didn’t hold much appeal for me this time, since by now I have seen just about everything that interests me in that region. Therefore, this time I decided to make my way south via the Greater and Lesser Antilles, which, of course, by definition, necessitates a lengthy section of
island hopping. There are definite pros and cons to taking that approach during a long tour. On the positive side, I would be able to see a handful of small, but distinctive countries, pick up a few World Heritage Sites, and potentially tally a nice selection of island endemic birds. On the other hand, such a route must involve numerous transfers between islands, with associated costs and logistical issues, and, given the small geographic area of some of the countries along the way, relatively little cycling would be involved. The latter factor is especially unfortunate at this time because after Greenland and the lengthy transfer down the US east coast, I have been feeling my level of fitness slightly decline recently, and I could really use a nice, long section with nothing but cycling right about now.
The World2 Tour has now moved beyond the mainland of my home continent of North America, and, as is the case with most very long tours, the end of one continent usually involves some form of transfer across a body of water, sometimes small in scale, but other times very large, in order to begin again on a new one. In my case, this first continental change turned out to be somewhat disjointed, taking a little longer than it could have, costing me more money than it should have, and involving less cycling than I would have liked. I will come back to the reason for that in a moment, but a change of continents also provides some time to reflect of the experiences that the land just crossed has provided, and so I will begin with that in mind.
Within the genealogical community, it has long been stated that anyone who has the surname Ayers, or one of its variants, and who also has a family connection to New England, is almost certainly descendant of the founding colonists of that family, namely John Ayer and his wife Hannah, of Haverhill, Massachusetts. For most of my life, including the years I spent as a graduate student in the western part of that state, this circumstance was unknown to me. Had I realized at the time that my paternal line ancestors had lived nearby around 325 years earlier, I certainly would have taken the time to explore some of the places that would have been familiar to them. Now, many years later, when Boston was the most convenient waypoint for my flight back from Iceland, I knew that I needed to spend a few days in that area, even if there was little tangible evidence visible related to their presence.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of July 2019, the fourth month of the World2 Tour, a relatively light month for cycling, thanks to a country without roads, and too much time in airports.
I wanted to see Greenland. I wanted to see the Greenland Ice Sheet. I was interested to see how it is changing. All of these things are reasonable goals. The problem is that to achieve these tasks today essentially requires one to participate in the destruction of the very qualities that made that place interesting in the first place, not to mention the eventual ruination of the natural systems and human societies that have been in place on that large island for hundreds of years or more. Erik the Red and his settlers made their voyages to Greenland using only sail and human power, and, almost certainly, that seamed reasonable to them. In the modern age that we are so proud of, there are now no low-energy modes of transportation connecting Greenland, or most other populated places in the Arctic, for that matter, to the more temperate regions farther south. The only choices available now consist of the most carbon-intensive form of transport around, passenger jet services, and a few large-scale cruise ships, which are not far behind in terms of emissions.
The title of this post sums up the situation nicely. Why would someone on a long bicycle tour include a stop on the massive, but sparely inhabited, island of Greenland? Though I am not trying to sound pretentious, by this point in my life I have been to 60 countries around the World. That is actually not a lot, compared to those people who are really serious travelers, but it is enough that for me there are relatively few places on the Earth left that hold that certain mysterious magnetic pull that makes one desire to visit, even if such a visit would seem to be a remote possibility. Being the largest island on Earth, with the second largest ice sheet, and being a country three times the size of Texas, but with a population less than sixty thousand human inhabitants, and possessing a primarily Inuit culture, but with a strong Danish influence, Greenland is one of the few remaining places that had that sort of attraction for me. So, since I was already going to be in that corner of the globe, I was determined to see as much of that huge land as I could, even though my bicycle would, more often than not, be an expensive piece of luggage, as opposed to a means of conveyance, during that section of the Tour.
The next section of the World2 Tour was one that I was eagerly anticipating, and one that would bring me to my first new country on the route, Iceland. As it turns out, this portion of the Tour got off to a rather rough start. The reason for that involved two circumstances related to one of everyone’s least favorite aspects of modern life: air travel. One of these was out of my control, while the other I must admit to being complicit in its creation.
Some time after my first Tour, but long before the Tour of Gondwana, or even my Tours of Madagascar (v 1.0), Cuba, and New Zealand, the Tour that I wanted to do more than any other was a circuit around the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. I am not sure exactly what piqued my interest in that region, but, in general, I think it seemed like an area with a lot of potential variety in geographic features, and place that would be substantially different from others that I had been, up to that point. Of course, as often happens, other factors of life got in the way of that particular journey, and by the time I had the time and resources available for another long Tour, the destinations mentioned above had risen to the top of my list.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of June 2019, month three of the World2 Tour, annoyingly delayed by the missing tablet debacle. A month that began in the continuing cool, damp spring, and ended in an interesting new part of the World.
As I mentioned in Part 2 of these Origins posts, my great-great-grandparents were Abial Ayers and his wife Hannah. In fact, for many years all we knew about Hannah was just that—her name was Hannah, one of the most common names for women of that era— with no family name known. I did know that she was born in Genesee County, New York around 1841, but that was not much to go on if I was to uncover anything about her family history. Nevertheless, I started searching by employing a brute-force approach. I scoured the census records looking for every girl named Hannah, born in Genesee, and the neighboring counties, between 1840 and 1842. As you might guess, there were quite a few. I then used the process of elimination to whittle down the list, removing those who were known to have married someone else, died young, or were otherwise disqualified. Eventually, I was left with just a handful of possibilities, with one that stood out from the rest. Hannah Ferguson was born in 1841 in the village adjacent to where Abial Ayers lived, and I felt certain that she was my ancestor. I placed her in my family tree, and was quite pleased when I located an official document a few years later that proved I was correct.
Periodically crossing into a new country, with a different culture, is one of the things that makes a long tour fun and interesting. However, most people probably realize already that when crossing between the United States and Canada, no matter which direction one is going, the differences that will be found on the other side are fairly subtle. The money is different, but similar. Shops and restaurants may sometimes have different names, but sell and serve, more or less, the same items. Architecture and urban design may often appeal identical. To make this crossing have the most impact, it is useful to do so by entering Canada in Quebec, a Province I have long wanted to visit.
Here are the Ride Tracks for May 2019, month two of the World2 Tour, another month that spring refused to be spring.
The next destination that was relevant to my family story, was the small town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in Caledonia County, one of three counties near the borders with New Hampshire and Canada, which, mostly for marketing purposes, are together referred to as the Northeast Kingdom. I had only uncovered my connection to that town relatively recently, but I was distinctly looking forward to my visit. Before I expand on my personal link, however, I want to mention some aspects of the route I used to get there, and about the town as it is today.
The next stop of the Tour that was relevant to my personal history was one that corrected an error made long ago. At the beginning of my first long tour, twenty-six years ago, I passed through the attractive region of western New York state. I was younger then, of course, and more interested in successfully reaching a high distance target each day, as opposed to seeing as many interesting things as I could. I knew beforehand that my great grandfather lived in the town of Batavia, today a rather disheveled small city that is the county seat of Genesee County. So I passed through there and thought, So that was it, and kept on riding. What I now know was that, about 30 kilometers farther west, I would also pass though another, smaller town, called Newstead, where two prior generations of my family had lived. In doing so, I would obliviously ride just one kilometer north of the land that they farmed for fifty years, a piece of property located along a road that is named for my family! Clearly, that oversight was something that desperately needed to be corrected during the World2 Tour.
One of the aims of the early part of the Tour route, which I have not mentioned before now, is to bring me to several of the places that my ancestors had lived. I have, off and on, been researching my family history for just over twenty-five years. For most of that time, we really knew very little about our ancestry, as the trail often disappeared into the fog as recently as the late nineteenth century. However, like many people, over the last decade, or so, I have benefited tremendously from the proliferation of online records databases and genetic testing services. Now, I have a picture of my personal history that is close to complete, at least on my father’s side of the family, and I will be able to visit several places that were important to that story, some of which I did not realize were involved until very recently. The first Tour stop where I can learn about that past, however, is one that had always been known to us.
Here are the Ride Tracks for the month of April 2019, the first month of the World2 Tour, and a month of chilly nights and seemingly constant climbing.
The second section of the World2 Tour is now complete, from Grand Junction, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like most tours in the United States, parts of this section were very nice, while others were somewhat less so. Additionally, for some reason that I can’t quite remember, the schedule for this section was more aggressive than I should have made it, without any full days off for rest and recovery. I may have done that in order to partly avoid starting too early in the spring, but, as it turned out, I started earlier anyway, so I nullified any advantage that would have created. Another reason was a change of end point that added some additional distance to the route. When I first plotted out this route, a few years ago, there was a staffed Amtrak station near Santa Fe that would have made a nicer final location. However, when I eventually started to book the rail tickets shortly before the beginning of the Tour, I learned that station had been closed, and the only available station that would take checked baggage, specifically my bike, was Albuquerque, which added another 80 km the route, thereby removing a potential half-day off. In the end, however, I managed fairly well, all things considered.
I normally would not bother to write a post about something as mundane as a train journey. When I relocated to the American West Coast 26 years ago, I began using Amtrak extensively for travel around the region, almost always with my bike accompanying me. So, for me, rail travel became ordinary rather quickly, though for many of the other passengers likely to be met on board, the experience was often more novel. However, these days a rail transfer during a bicycle tour in the United States is much more user-friendly experience than it formerly had been, thanks to a new policy introduced in the last few years. Consequently, the first rail transfer of the Tour, at least, is relatively post-worthy.
When a cyclist begins a tour that will eventually encompass much of the World, it is rather uncommon to begin riding right outside their former front door. For example, those traveling the Alaska-to-Cape Horn route will almost always begin near either of those end points, so as to better take advantage of the prime summer riding season. There is also the undeniable pull to find oneself in a land that is culturally and geographically distinct as quickly as possible. However, departing directly from home creates a certain sentimental effect that many would find appealing, and, additionally, may eliminate another expensive transfer that uses other, non-cycling, methods.
I have lived in five of the fifty constituent parts that make up the United States of America during the little over half century that I have been animated and conscious on this beautiful planet. Also added to that time are three years during the Tour of Gondwana when I was, technically, homeless. The first four of those States were, in effect, chosen for me by default, either by circumstance of birth, or to obtain education or employment. As my previous Tour drew to a close, I had no professional or personal commitments that would require me to live in any specific location. In fact, I did have a personal commitment, but it was one that could be satisfied from any location, anywhere. That provided me with the enviable circumstance of being able to choose a place to live solely on the basis that it was someplace that I would distinctly enjoy.
Spending more than a month in Turkey, as opposed to not visiting at all, or the three-day layover that I improvised later on, did, at least, provide me an opportunity to visit a selection of the country’s extensive list of World Heritage Sites, a collection that is, not surprisingly, heavily slanted towards the area’s ancient history. When I initially plotted a route on short notice, resulting from delays caused by current travel restrictions, I attempted one that would allow me to see just over half of the eighteen Turkish Sites that are currently inscribed on the List. However, as I have already mentioned, generally poor touring conditions led me to significantly abbreviate that goal. Nevertheless, I was able to make it to six Sites, eventually, and that was probably sufficient. The first two I visited were urban Sites, whose highlights date back through several time periods, while the remainder were ruins from Classical Antiquity. That was a useful happenstance for me, since my only experiences with Greek and Roman historical sites, up to then, were the visits I made to the Acropolis in Athens during my previous long Tour and, of course, the City of Bath, earlier this year.
The World Heritage List currently contains seven Sites in the nation of Ukraine, and I saw all six of them. The error in that statement was intentional, I am afraid, due to the frequently unwelcome effects of geopolitical interference in cultural affairs. One of the seven Sites, added to the List only in 2013, is a ruined ancient Greek city on the Crimean Peninsula. One year later, the entire peninsula was summarily annexed by Russia. Consequently, it is not a particularly easy place to visit, for the moment. However, its location in the southeastern part of the country would have meant that it would have been an unlikely visit for me in any case. The rest of the Sites were more conveniently placed along a reasonable route for me, so I didn’t have much difficulty in reaching all of those, whose quality ranged from excellent to a little quirky.
The second half of my route through Poland brought me to World Heritage Sites at a breakneck pace. Were it not for one extra, and probably unnecessary, day off due to an unfavorable weather forecast, I could have visited five Sites in six days. Such a frequency can create a feeling of dizziness, but in this case it also helped to relieve the large gap in my tally caused by the closures of the previous few months. It was also nice that two of those five were the type of Sites that I consider to be near the top in terms of interest. The others were a little more ordinary, but worth visiting, nonetheless.
In my original plans for the World2 Tour I would have passed through Poland as part of a longer Eastern European segment. However, in that case I would have ridden close and parallel to the country’s eastern border, been traveling in the opposite direction, and would have done so in the month of April. Consequently, the number of World Heritage Site visits I would have been able to make in Poland was a mere two. For once, the recent changes forced upon my route resulted in a substantial improvement in my circumstances, at least as far as Site visits in Poland was concerned. With my revised route taking me through the center of the country, in a southward-bound direction, I would be able to see nine out of Poland’s sixteen Sites, including some that would be a slight step up from my recent stops. The first four are presented here, with the remainder coming in the next post.
The changes that the pandemic of 2020 imposed on my plans for the Tour resulted, among other things, in me being forced abandon potential visits to many European World Heritage Sites, including several that were among my most anticipated. Eventually, I salvaged what I could of the spring season by transferring to Sweden for several weeks, where cycling would theoretically be more possible. However, it must be said that among the community of people who intentionally travel to see such Sites, the collection that Sweden possesses is typically described as somewhat underwhelming. Of course, beggars cannot be choosers, and I made the best of things by visiting eight of the country’s fifteen Sites.
When setting out to visit a World Heritage Site it is usually assumed that one will attempt to see all the important aspects of the Site, and, if it is a building or structure, to at least try to see both the outside and whatever may be indoors. Of course, in a period of time when the entire globe closes down, essentially simultaneously, normal behaviors must be modified. My longstanding plans for the days after I left Hamburg and Mecklenburg, which should have happened in the first week of March, included a transfer by rail to Northern Italy, and shortly thereafter, the start of the longest cycling segments of the Tour. Obviously, that idea had to be jettisoned permanently, with little ability to craft alternate plans for the time being. In addition to the loss of weeks of cycling, something that I certainly needed at that point, I was forced to skip visits to perhaps sixteen World Heritage Sites, some of which are top-quality examples. Instead I spent that time indoors in Berlin, mostly being lazy and getting fat.
Next up from my planned list of wintertime World Heritage Site visits were three locations on the northern coasts of Germany that have been listed for the roll they played in the important trade routes of the Baltic region, from medieval through modern times. The notable parts of these Sites that can be visited today include examples of buildings employing the
Brick Gothic style of architecture that was a distinctive feature of this region during its heyday as a center of trade, as well as a few more modern buildings that utilized somewhat similar design principles. This was fortunate for me, since I was still under the influence of some variety of unwelcome virus and I was able to see these Sites mainly by walking around outside where I could keep clear of crowds, for the most part.
In line with my original plans, the end of February included a series of World Heritage Site visits, to the east of Paris and into the Rhine Valley, made in quick succession using transfers by TGV, with just a little cycling during that period. At the present, my level of tolerance relating to the task of writing is not the greatest, so this will be another primarily photo-based post.
Of course, Paris holds more than one World Heritage Site, given that city’s well known status as a center of history and culture. And, of course, since I am on a Tour that includes visits to such Sites as a major goal, I could not pass up an opportunity to see the Sites of the City of Light. Technically, there are four Sites in the Paris Metropolitan area, however, two of those are small portions of much larger serial Sites whose components are scattered all around France, or even the World. One of those is a collection of seventy-eight historical structures around France related to the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. There is one component of that Site in Paris, a beautiful old Church Tower, which I did see, but I do not feel that seeing only one part out of seventy-eight is adequate to allow me to count that Site on my list of Site visits. The other serial Site is the works of the modernist architect Le Corbusier, which has components in several countries, including two private homes in Paris. However, I did not feel I should waste any of my limited time going to see a couple of ugly houses. Fortunately, the two other Sites are among the very best the World Heritage List has to offer. Here, I will not write a tremendous amount about them because I feel I am quite far behind my posting schedule and because, well, it’s Paris.
World Heritage Sites continue to enhance the current section of my route on a nearly daily basis, and my recent visits involved four in the vicinity of the English Channel. Well, alright, the first two are not particularly close to that body of water, but they are within a half day’s cycling distance, so that is close enough for me.
Now that I have arrived in Europe, I also find myself in the center of gravity of the Sites included on the World Heritage List. That continent contains more such places than any other, by a wide margin, and in many places it is possible to conveniently visit several Sites within a few days. One such Hotspot is London, which holds four Sites within its metropolitan area, with several others not very far away. I began my visits in Europe with the four metro sites, which are all located on the banks of the Thames River and easily reachable by transit, notably the River Bus boat services, for the first three, that is nicely bike-friendly. In so doing, I quickly began to anticipate that over the next several weeks I will have increasing difficulty keeping up with my posts here, as the pace of site visits is set to remain intense. I can’t promise completeness or timeliness, but I will try to keep my head above water.
My first World Heritage Site visit in Europe was one that I had not expected to make, and one that was also exceedingly brief. In Brazil I foolishly snapped off the left-hand shift lever on my set of Campy Veloce controls. It seemed to me that the best way to deal with that would be to have it repaired at a Campagnolo service center when I reached the United Kingdom. I might have assumed that such a center would be located in, or near, London, however, in reality I would need to visit the northern part of England to take care of that situation. It was a quick and simple train ride to get therethere, but doing so would and a few extra days to my already tight schedule. To make up for that, I would at least be able to add a quick visit to another World Heritage Site, the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which is located not far from where I needed to be to have the repair made.
in São Cristóvão & Olinda
The need to end this section of the Tour in Natal, in order to board my forthcoming container ship transfer, afforded me the opportunity to visit two additional WHSs that I has previously considered only to be
optional Sites. Though both of those would probably be considered to be second-tier sites by experienced WHS travelers, I was pleased too have the chance to see them, nevertheless. However, being forced to suspend the cycling portion of this section early, thanks to the unwelcome virus I had recently been dealing with, changed the tone of these visits from a pleasant bonus, to more of a quick, business-like chore. Sometimes things like that cannot be avoided, however, and in this instance I would have been more disturbed had the Sites in question been among the more impressive offerings from South America’s collection of Sites.
Four hundred kilometers northeast of the easternmost point of the South American mainland lies a lonely archipelago called Fernando de Noronha. The southwestern Atlantic is notably devoid of oceanic islands and so this small cluster, one primary island and numerous rocky islets, has long provided one of the only safe harbors for many types of species that most of their time on the open ocean. The main island, eponymous with the archipelago as a whole, has been inhabited since the early Colonial Period, though never to a very great extent, and without establishment of any large-scale extractive industries. Consequently, the seas of this area remain an important stronghold for threatened marine species, such as turtles, rays, whales, and pelagic birds. This prompted the government of Brazil to created the Parque Nacional Marinho de Fernando de Noronha in 1988, a park consisting of the waters of the archipelago and the undeveloped areas of the insular shorelines, and UNESCO to list that park as the Brazilian Atlantic Islands WHS several years later.
The recently completed section of my route terminated in the city of Salvador, a World Heritage Site, and the week-long side trip I made following my stay there would allow me to make brief visits to two more Sites. Such whirlwind visits are not always ideal, but in this case the Sites in question are probably not of the top-level variety, so I felt it worked out.
My recent route through Brazil has been more indirect, and somewhat less-than-ideal from a cycling perspective, than it otherwise could have been. This was caused by my desire to see one particular World Heritage Site, and two special birding locations, in northeastern Brazil, none of which are located anywhere near the more user-friendly coastal route. The first of those place I encountered was Serra da Capivara National Park, one of Brazil’s nicer, though also one of its more seldom-visited, Sites.
After a string of recent World Heritage Site visits that were dominated by rainforest sites, I was feeling ready for a change of style. So, I distinctly anticipated my arrival in São Luis, the capital of Maranhão State, in Brazil, whose historic district was listed because it is said to consist of the
best example of Colonial Portuguese architecture in the Americas. The List now contains many colonial city centers in Latin America, and I have seen a significant fraction of them by this point in time. In such circumstances there is always a risk of adopting a seen one, seen them all attitude, but each place invariably has some subtle differences from the others, and all are usually pleasant and fun places to visit. São Luis proved to be a good example of that.
The somewhat bureaucratic-sounding name of this World Heritage Site simply refers to two large national parks that are, indeed, located in the central potion of the Amazon basin, namely, Parque Nacional do Jaú and Parque Nacional Anavilhanas. Both of these are accessible from the rather pleasant small town of Novo Airão, located a considerable distance up river from Manaus, on the Rio Negro. Jaú is the largest of the two, but is quite a long way farther up the river, requiring a lengthy boat trip and at least a full day for a visit. Anavilhanas, on the other hand, is adjacent to Novo Airão, primarily consisting of a large parcel on the opposite river bank, it also includes a compelling archipelago of several hundred riverine islands, one of the World’s largest such assemblages. Since that park could be accessed by any of several short boat trips from the town, I chose that portion for my WHS visit.
Not long before the Tour began, I made a significant change to my intended route in the Caribbean region, the reason for which I will mention in another post. The relevant impact, for now, was that I would visit Suriname, and would therefore be able to see two World Heritage Sites, when only one would have been available on the earlier version of the route. Those two would be the Historic Center of Paramaribo, and the Central Suriname Nature Reserve.
With the exception of Cuba, the insular nations of the Caribbean possess relatively few World Heritage Sites, with none of the other countries currently containing more than one. The two that were along my route were both Natural Sites, and both connected to the region’s volcanic past. Islands, in general, often host interesting and unique ecosystems, thanks to their biological isolation, and, in this case, that combined with their obvious esthetic beauty have earned these two natural areas places on the List. Natural Sites, which are often relatively large, may require a considerable amount of time in order to fully appreciate their important aspects, unfortunately, with the delays, heat, and travel complications I have previously mentioned, I did not have as much time at both of these sites as I should have spent, but I was certainly able to realize their overall importance.
The World Heritage List contains a fairly large number of historic city centers from the Spanish colonial era in Latin America, and recently, during the World2 Tour, I visited two of those in two days. This was made possible because those two cities are connected by the overnight Ferry operated by Ferries del Caribe, with both docks being mere meters from each historic zone.
The third and final site I visited in Greenland was one of its most well known destinations, the Ilulissat Icefjord. Getting there required another air transfer from Kangerlussuaq, which I would rather have not needed. I have made my distaste for air travel clear on many occasions, and will discuss the contradictions inherent in the flights required for this visit in particular in another post on this site, however, in this case the view from the aircraft that brought me to Ilulissat provided an amazing additional perspective to the site in general. The flight from Kangerlussuaq travels north, paralleling the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and along the way one can see several glacial
tongues that stretch out towards the sea. These come in various sizes, determined in part by the amount of ice that flows down their courses, and send off numerous icebergs with sizes and quantities again scaled by their various physical properties. It was interesting to see how each of these glaciers had different characteristics in that regard, but then, at the end of the flight, the Ilulissat Icefjord appears, and provides a whole new level of impressiveness.
Greenland currently hosts three World Heritage Sites, all of which have been added to the list fairly recently. These are strung out along the island’s west coast, so it is not too difficult to combine visits to all three in a single trip to the country, though doing so invariably requires more logistical planning, considerable expense, and, more likely that not, some additional air travel.
Surtsey is a small island, south of the Vestmannaeyjar, the
Westman Islands, that came into being during a volcanic eruption several decades ago, and it is a place that I have been fascinated with for essentially my entire life. In fact, the island and I are almost exactly the same age. Technically, Surtsey was “born” about eight weeks before I was, but I also existed at the time Surtsey rose from the sea, I just hadn't “erupted” quite yet. I also remember watching movies about the creation of the island, and also of the eruption ten years later on the nearby island of Heimaey, in the Vestmannaeyjar, when I was in the fifth grade in elementary school. Consequently, I was very motivated to make an actual visit to this difficult-to-reach WHS.
Iceland had two World Heritage sites when I arrived in the country, and three when I departed, and I managed to see them all.
The first of these on my route, Thingvellir, is contained in a National Park, the oldest in the country, not far from Reykjavik, and is a mixed Site with both natural and cultural components. I had planned on visiting the site on the first cycling day of this section, as I headed north from Reykjavik. However, there was a threat of rain that day, and I decided that since I would be passing by again after visiting the Westfjords, I would postpone my visit until later, with hopes of better weather. Of course, the rain on that first day never really came about, and, after generally pleasant skies during the days I was in the north, rain returned as I approached the site for the second time, and at that point I had to make my visit anyway.
While nearing the end of this section of the Tour, I also completed my planned visits to the nine Canadian World Heritage Sites that were convenient to my route. The final two that I saw were of the type that many WHS travelers consider to be enjoyable places to visit, though not generally the most amazing places on the List.
In a similar manner to archeological sites on the World Heritage List, sites that have been inscribed for their value to the study of ancient life can be somewhat hit-or-miss in terms of their worthiness to visit as a tourist, especially if time is limited. This was demonstrated again for me by two visits I made to such sites while I was in eastern Canada. That country is notable for its collection of exceptional places to study and collect fossils from the earliest eras of life on Earth, three of which has been included on the List on that basis alone, with another currently being evaluated for inclusion. The sites I saw, while undoubtedly important for research and scholarship, gave me mixed results.
Many national parks around the World are also World Heritage Sites, and they are always enjoyable places to visit. One example along the Tour route is Gros Morne National Park, located on the central west coast of Newfoundland. The park is a mountainous region, which, like the Appalachians, represents an eroded remnant of still larger mountains formed when North America collided with Asia to form the northern part of the supercontinent, Pangea. Much later, glacial periods further carved the landscape, leaving behind attractive fjords and lakes.
World Heritage Sites that are listed for their archeological value can often be somewhat arbitrary with regard to their touristic interests. Sometimes one can get a fascinating glimpse into the past, while in other cases a considerable amount of imagination is required. That was demonstrated by the two sites I recently visited in far eastern Canada.
When I was a graduate student in Western Massachusetts, back in the late 1980s, I often tossed around the idea of gathering up some of my colleagues and taking a weekend trip to Montreal, which was not especially far away. However, people in that stage of life a noted for always being short of both time and money, so that excursion never happened. So it was pleasing to me that I was able to finally make that trip during the World2 Tour. Of course, I exchanged Montreal for Quebec City, which has the advantages of being considerably smaller, always a smart move on a tour, and also being a WHS, which made the decision effortless.
There are a few examples of historically important canals included on the World Heritage List, and they are not always the easiest sites to visit. More precisely, they aren’t if you are the type of person who would not be satisfied unless you saw the entire length of the canal. Fortunately, I am not that type of person, and I will normally be pleased seeing just a representative portion, especially since, where canals are concerned, one end usually looks very much like the other. Since the western terminus of Canada’s 200 km-long Rideau Canal, which stretches from Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario, was not far from my route, I was able to make a quick visit.
I have long thought that in the unlikely event that someone were to create a Time Machine, and it was made available to me, one of the five places I would use it to visit would be North America prior to 1492. If I were able to do that, there would be no better place to see than the center of the Mississippian culture, a place known today as Cahokia. The Mississippians created a complex society with an urban component that included large settlements incorporating large, human-built earthen mounds. This society arose around 1,200 years ago, flourished for a few hundred years, and then declined before European contact.
Sometimes a place earns a spot on the World Heritage List based more on what it is than its inherent potential for tourism. This is probably the case with Taos Pueblo, a community about 2 km north of the modern town of Taos, which has been occupied in, more or less, the same manner for over a thousand years. Because it is a fairly small site, and, more so, because it is still a living community with several families making the Pueblo their year-round homes, there is relatively little for visitors to see and do compared with other sites. Guests are expected to respect the resident’s privacy and not to enter homes or other buildings, unless they have a posted shop selling crafts or food, which many do have. There are also guided tours available, which are worthwhile and provide the needed context to fully understand the history of the community. However, it is the site’s intrinsic value as being a place occupied for so long, in the style typical of a fascinating culture, that provides its justification for inclusion on the World Heritage List.
The Chaco Culture was a sophisticated society that flourished in the Four Corners region from about 1700 to 500 years before the present. No definite epithet can be ascribed to the people of that society, so they are most often referred to as The Ancestral Puebloan People. Like the Chaco Culture itself, which was spread over a wide area of the Southwest, the Chaco Culture World Heritage Site consists of ten separate archeological sites located in northwestern New Mexico. I was able to visit two of these locations.
When I developed my route for the Tour of Gondwana, I knew that the end point was going to be the Grand Canyon, but before reaching that impressive site I also wanted to visit several of the other great National Parks of the American Southwest, including a handful in Utah and Mesa Verde in Colorado. However, as is often the case, time and money pressures forced me to modify my plans. I first jettisoned the parks in Utah, but still hoped to get to Mesa Verde, especially since it is a WHS. In the end, I had to skip a visit there as well, which was quite disappointing. Therefore, it seemed fitting that I should choose that park as the first WHS to be visited during the World2 Tour.
If you are someone who enjoys visiting World Heritage Sites, the time, expense, and effort you will be required to put forth in order to do so will depend greatly on the location of the place you call home. The greatest concentration of WHSs, by far, is in Europe. There are a few other hotspots, such as East Asia or the Middle East, but, in general, no other part of the World comes close to that crinkled‑coastlined bastion of the Old World. Consequently, most of our European friends have the ability to visit a nice selection of WHSs by making only easy day-trips. What does that mean for a resident of the peaceful, though somewhat lonely coast of the Pacific Northwest region of North America? Even on this continent, the distribution of sites is quite unequal, with most being in Mexico, and a good portion of the remainder located in the Rocky Mountain region, or the lands east of the Mississippi River. So a person who lives where I have been is required to possess a level of determination that others may not, in order to see these special places.
As I have already mentioned elsewhere, instead of just three days in Istanbul, the current travel restrictions and confusion unexpectedly caused me to spend the entire month of August in Turkey. While that was not exactly what I hoping for, it did afford me the opportunity to try for a few more birds that are more localized to the Eastern Mediterranean region, which were not species I had originally expected to encounter. The total number of possibilities was not particularly large, and I did not see all of them, but at this point I will take any bonus birds that I can find and some of the species I did get were quite satisfying.
As will be explained in more detail in another post, due to persistent border closures I needed to work out some sort of unwelcome, complicated, and expensive transfer to leave Ukraine and the relevant part of that story is that I had a few days to spend in Istanbul. That interesting city was definitely a long way off of my intended route, but the possibility of picking up a few more southerly-oriented birds helped compensate for that situation, somewhat. In fact, Istanbul is rightfully famous as a migrant trap during the spring and fall migrations, with raptors being notable highlights. However, in August one needs to be content with resident species and, not having done any research into the birds of that region before arrival, I was somewhat surprised that the bird list for Istanbul bears a striking resemblance to the rest of Europe.
I was not particularly surprised that for the past several weeks I have been experiencing a rather slow period with regards to observations of new birds. I have been in Europe for about six months&madash;three months longer than I had planned—which is not really the birdiest continent to begin with, so I have been running out of possibilities for new and interesting sightings. Additionally, recently I have been in Poland and Ukraine and both of those lands are extensively agricultural, resulting in a predominance of grassland or Ag-land species that are, honestly, rarely the most spectacular avian examples. There were few nice species, including a couple of the more colorful European varieties, that I distinctly wanted to see, but they normally are present with a slightly more southerly distribution. Had I been able to travel according to my original plan I probably would have had a more facile time in making those observations, but as I approached the end of my time in those two countries I was beginning to feel that none of them would present themselves. Therefore, I was preparing to add the words
Mostly Brown to the title of this post. However, at the last moment, in particularly unusual circumstances, one of those great species was seen, so the title remains as is.
My original, pre-pandemic route through Europe included only a fairly short segment along the eastern Baltic coast, tentatively planned for late April. Once I was compelled to jettison many of the places I had wanted to see, and replaced some of them with several weeks of rolling around Sweden, I consoled myself by considering the idea that I might have a chance to pick up a few more boreal-oriented birds. The possibilities included some fine species, a few of which I was able to observe, as well as a number of others that could only honestly be described as ordinary.
When it became clear that the World2 Tour would need to include a Pandemic Pause, I had hopes that before that began I would have made it far enough east that I would be able to hunker down in some less-populated area, where, at least, I could wander through the woods alone to look for birds. I didn’t make it. Instead, I spent the second half of March, 2020, and most of April, being completely useless in the giant city of Berlin. I was, therefore, not expecting much.
I have often said that the best way to go birding is to locate yourself somewhere where almost all the birds are Life Birds, and then just walk around and enjoy the sightings. Of course, for that policy to exhibit its maximum effect, the location involved should usually resemble a place like Ecuador or Tanzania. However, in my case, even the massive Eurasian landmass, not usually known as a major location of avian diversity, provided a distinctive selection of birds where only a few had been familiar to me before my arrival. The drawback inherent in that situation is that with a fairly small species count, and given the fact that my observations would begin in February and March, when only over-wintering birds would be expected to be present, it is likely that one would find a large number of species very quickly, then hit a wall, after which new species would trickle in. Indeed, that is how things went for me as I arrived for my first extended visit to northern Europe.
I had reasonable expectations that the last section of my planned route, from Salvador to Natal, in Brazil, would allow me to pick up a number of nice observations of beautiful birds. Unfortunately, the virus that blew up my cycling plans also caused me to spend most of the last three weeks indoors, usually in highly urbanized locations, and that also wiped out most of my recent birding opportunities. However, I still had one more chance to add a few more birds, since I had decided not to skip my planned trip to Fernando de Noronha, an oceanic island that hosts two endemic bird species.
The side trips I made without the bike to the more southerly States of Brazil were mainly intended to give me the opportunity to see a good number of new birds. I had been to the south of Brazil on my previous Tours, but my birding was much more limited then, and there was much that was still available for me to see. As it turned out, one of the stops I made was essentially a failure, but the second more than made up for that.
As often happens, after my initial observations of some nice new birds in the arid region of Brazil, I quickly exhausted the supply of heretofore unseen birds and spent several days watching the same cast of characters over and over again. In this case, that did not bother me at all, since I knew that my route was taking me to the home territories of two very special bird species, each of which are both rare and extremely beautiful, and which exist only in two very small geographic locations in northeastern Brazil. Of course, my desire to see those two species was opposed somewhat by the lengthy and tedious process of getting to those two separate areas, which, while not exactly remote, are nonetheless quite a long distance from anywhere else that might seem interesting. That required me to travel for several days under the scorching Sun, over terrain that was more hilly than anywhere else I had been during this section of the route, and use roads that were usually decent, but sometimes not. If my observations were successful it all would have been worth it, but they weren’t, well, I simply would have been despondent.
As my route took me from the humid forests of Amazonia and northeastern Brazil towards the much more arid region around the hump of South America, I expected to be able to observe a decent number of new and interesting species of birds. In fact, the chance to do so was one of the primary reasons why this part of Brazil was included in the Tour plans to begin with. However, as usual of late, good sightings proved to be distributed unevenly during the first half of my time in that area, and got off to a slow start in general.
During my previous Tour through Brazil, there occasionally were places where interesting and beautiful birds seemed to be dripping off of the trees. Many of those places were in the southeast part of the country, wherever residents put out fruit feeders, which continuously attracted many colorful species. Probably the best location, however, was The Pantanal, the immense wetland in the southwestern region, near the borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. Wetlands are usually great places to see birds, and that particular example may have been the most facile place I have yet seen, in that regard. Therefore, I was expecting to be able to tally a great number of new species during the birding stops I planned to make along my transit through the region of Amazonia, well known for its high level of biodiversity, at least for the time being.
Traveling south along Highway BR-174 in Brazil, one passes through a region where someone who has never looked for birds in northern South America could have a very good time. Likewise, a birder who is talented at identification by ear may tally a large number of species quite easily. Neither of those descriptions fit me particularly well, so I had to be a little patient and live with a slightly smaller species count than I might normally have liked. The early part of my route passed through a long section of savanna habitat, which contained many birds, though most of those were species I have seen before. Once the route moved into a more forested region, birds were frequently heard, but rarely seen. In those types of situations, making a quick decision whether to stop riding and seek out a potentially interesting bird can be a difficult, because such stops often prove to be fruitless. With this section of the route being a little more remote, and somewhat more taxing than earlier sections, I rarely chose to stop when success was not assured, in order to maintain my cycling pace.
The title of this post does not contain a reference to the star that powers our World. In fact, I have had more than enough of its streaming radiations of late, and any brief appearances of clouds have been most welcome. No, in this case, the Sun in question describes a particularly amazing bird, one that was near the top of my desired sightings list, and one that normally requires a visit to a remote part of Guyana to observe.
Suriname, as a country, is a top-quality birding destination, but one that relatively few birders have had the chance to visit. When I added it to my route plans, very late in the process, it did not take me very long to realize that this would be where the Tour really got down to business, as far as seeing birds was concerned. A quick glance at the country’s checklist, containing well over seven hundred species, showed me that, while some other countries may hold more species, Suriname’s collection contains some quite outstanding varieties and holds its own when compared to any other region. During only four or five days of birding, I tallied thirty-six Life Birds. While that is not an exceptionally large number, quality surpassed quantity in this case, and that list contains some great birds, including some that I have wanted to see for a very long time.
Seeing the interesting bird life of the Caribbean Islands was something that I very much looked forward to as the Tour got underway. Islands are well known as biodiversity hotspots, and tropical islands even more so. I was well aware of many beautiful and unique birds that live on the five smaller islands that made up this section of the Tour route before I reached the region, and I hoped to see as many of them as possible. I should also confess that I frequently think of birding on small islands, to use an unfortunate simile, as a fish-in-a-barrel activity, but in reality things are never that easy, and I missed a few high-quality species I had wanted to see, and failed to adequately photograph several others.
Many islands, of a certain size, possess several species of birds that are found nowhere else. The geography of islands of the Greater Antilles place them in the Goldilocks Zone of the Caribbean, in terms of hosting endemic bird species. They are large enough to contain a variety of habitats, including a variation of elevation, and distant enough from neighboring islands to allow the isolation necessary to permit the evolution of new species. Puerto Rico is a fine example of this, hosting seventeen endemic bird species, in an area that is small enough to make seeking them out a little easier. Easier, but not always easy, since several of these species can be very challenging to see, whether because of rarity, as with the Puerto Rican Parrot, or restricted habitats, in the case of the Elfin Woods Warbler, among other reasons. Therefore, I knew that I would not be able to see all of the endemics, but I would do the best that I could to see as many as possible, as well as any other interesting species that might be in the area.
Hispaniola, and the Dominican Republic specifically, possess a nice list of bird species, and I was excited to see some of them, since, after many weeks of seeing primarily black, gray, or maybe brown, birds, the reappearance of colorful plumages could be expected to gain momentum on that island. I knew, however, that some species would be difficult to see within the time frame I had available, and because many of the best birding sites would be away from my route. As usually happens, I saw some nice birds, but missed some others that I had distinctly hoped to see. With my return to the neotropics now making progress, I will also be modifying my posts in the Birds section of the site. While I had previously made an effort to post a photo for every species seen, I will now begin to include images only for those species that are particularly interesting or beautiful.
After a fairly long transfer, mostly by rail, to a less polar part of the World, I am now picking up the pace of additions to my bird list for the Tour with a few days in the Bahamas. That archipelago nation is definitely a tropical one, but its avifauna seems to me to more closely resemble that of mainland North America, compared to the explosion of colorful diversity found in the greater Neotropics. Nevetheless, there are many nice birds to be seen, and a sizable fraction of those can be done so without much difficulty. A smaller number of endemics are possible, but my efforts to see some of those fell short on this occasion. Here are a selection of the new species that I saw on the three Bahamaian islands that I visited, Grand Bahama, New Providence, and Andros.
It should probably not be surprising that a very large island, with only 25% of its surface being free from permanent ice (at least for the time being,) would not be the kind of place one would expect to find a wide variety of bird life, even more so in the Northern Hemisphere, where Penguins choose not to live. That is indeed the case for Greenland, and while the open, treeless landscape can make seeing what birds are there fairly easy to see, there certainly aren’t very many birds to choose from, both in terms of diversity of species, and absolute numbers.
My initial route plan for Iceland would have taken me from Reykjavik to the city of Akureyi, in the north-central coast of the island, the second largest town in the country. I knew that there were some interesting places in the northwestern region that would be missed by going that way, but for a while I thought that would be my preferred destination. As the start of this section of the Tour drew near, I frequently had thoughts of the noteworthy Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs, located at the extreme northwest corner of the island. Those particular cliffs are said to be the most densely used nesting site for seabirds in Europe. I have previously mentioned that I think the western half of Iceland should be thought of as being in North America, so perhaps it would be better described at one of the largest nesting sites in that continent, instead. Well, I suppose in the interest of good cross-oceanic relations tgat issue can be put aside for now. In any case, it seemed crazy that for a Tour that has a large birding component, a place like that should not be visited. Therefore, I made the necessary modifications to my route, which were not really that simple, and went in that direction, instead. This also had 5ge advantage of getting me off of the narrow Ring Road sooner, rather that later.
I expected that I would have a fairly easy time gathering a decent-sized selection of new bird species observations during my visit to the island nation of Iceland, and that indeed turned out to be the case. However, as a mid-oceanic island in the Arctic region, the list of resident birds found there is not especially large. As a place that was totally covered by ice as recently as 5,000 years ago, there has not yet been enough time for evolution to produce any species endemic to the island, and so today the majority of birds found there are either marine birds, or shorebirds, which are found throughout much of the northern polar region, and a handful of Eurasian terrestrial species that have found their way there in the relatively recent past. By looking at various checklists, I expected that I should be able to see up to twenty-five species, given the amount of time, and the specific locations, that I had scheduled. As it turned out, I saw most of those, with only a few disappointing misses, some of which I could have opportunities to see elsewhere.
I expected that the final days of the Tour in mainland North America would probably be bereft of interesting new bird species for me to see, and that, more or less, proved to be true. I had a fairly tight schedule to adhere to, to accommodate scheduled ferry crossings and the forthcoming transfer to the next section, and for most of the time I was running slightly behind, not leaving much time to wander around seeking new sightings. There was places with adequate habit along the way, but none of that was different enough from the other places I had recently been to expect a change in the common species found there.
As the saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. That was the case for me one day in Newfoundland. After a few more days of unpleasant weather, and some long stretches of riding where the birds that would be of interest to me were the type that are difficult to observe while cycling, I had little to show for my recent efforts.
For some reason, I expected to have slightly more success over recent days in finding new birds, however I still feel that I am in a bit of a rut. There are certainly some more terrestrial birds out there that I have missed, and I blame the recent stretch of poor weather for much of that situation. There has been almost no chance of wandering through a wooded patch, or loitering close to a marsh during that time. I also hoped to see some interesting marine species while on board the Bella Desgangés, but there was not much to be seen until the last few hours of the sailing, when there was more ice in the surrounding waters. Nevertheless, eventually I did find a small selection of feathered creatures.
I knew that there would be periodic birding droughts during this Tour, and the last couple of weeks turned to be this first of those times. While there were a number of new species I could have potentially seen along my route during this section, none of them presented themselves for my viewing, and, even if they had, the several days of bad weather I endured would have made actually seeing them much more challenging. Despite riding past numerous areas containing suitable habitat, the majority of the birds I saw were members of the melodious, but frustratingly common, quartet consisting of Common Grackle, American Robin, Red-Winged Blackbird, and Song Sparrow. Though they are all admirable species in their own ways, I have had my fill of them, for now.
The Tour route has reached the northeastern part of the United States, but even with a somewhat different set of avian residents in this region, compared to the earlier sections out west, I have been expecting that locating new species here will continue to present a challenge. That is primarily because, having grown up in Virginia, I had encountered many of the birds of this region in years gone by. However, most of what I had seen in my younger days were the common, easy-to-see birds of this region, and so there still remain a number of fine birds that I can add to my total while I am in the area. In fact, I have estimated that with some effort, and some luck, I may be able to pick up around fifty Life Birds during the next three months, including some that are normally found further afield, in other types of environments. That would not be a spectacular total, but one that would be reasonable given the circumstances.
I suppose that one could say that I am in the process of a migration of sorts, albeit one that is a bit chaotic, ill-defined, and certainly not an annual occurrence. The beginning of May in North America is also near the peak of the northward migration for many bird species, which is most definitely an annual event. Therefore, it made sense to try and take advantage of this coincidence by spending some time during the brief pauses I had scheduled recently, before the cycling component of the Tour really gets going, to seek out a few more new species where these two migrations overlapped. Additionally, I expect that some, but not all, of the new birds I will have seen in this region, and will see in the weeks ahead, are species that I have actually previously seen at some time in the past, specifically, at a time when I wasn’t paying attention. That is a situation that definitely needs to be rectified.
While I did not want to ride across the entire Great Plains of North America on this Tour, I did want to stop somewhere along the way to pick up a few birds of the prairie. The most conveniently located place, which was both close to a stop on the Southwest Chief route, and within a reasonable distance from a birding hotspot, seemed to be the area around Newton, Kansas, so that was the place I chose for a short visit. The notable birding location in the area is the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve, and site jointly managed by the US Park Service, and The Nature Conservancy. The chance to see one of the last remaining areas of prairie in its natural state was also a big draw for me. While it was a little too soon for many wildflowers to be in bloom, and the Tallgrass was not very tall yet, spring was definitely in full force on the Reserve, and the scene was really quite beautiful.
I should mention that another one of my birding incongruities is that I am usually reluctant to travel somewhere in hopes of observing a specific species of bird, a so-called target bird, even though that is an activity that seems to give many other people great pleasure. For me, success in such endeavors is a rarity and I am usually left with feelings of disappointment and thoughts of wasted efforts. However, there are certain birds that possess enough charisma, or at least uniqueness, that I would consider waiving that policy. One of those must be a bird that even non-birders are familiar with, but few have actually seen, the enigmatic Greater Roadrunner.
When the Tour eventually brings me to a far-away land, where most of the birds present themselves in a riotous display of color, will I look back at these first few days and shudder at the memory of a place where every new bird I saw was some shade of gray? Quite possibly.
Of course, in this post I am not referring to the specific
first bird I have seen since the World2 Tour began. As I mentioned in the Introduction for this section, I am primarily interested in finding birds that as new to me, the always-sought-after Life Birds. That doesn’t mean that I ignore all the other birds I see along the way, but rather that I will simply enjoy and appreciate them without working too hard to record their presence. It is tempting to wish for something special to be the inaugural bird of a grand tour such as this. Perhaps something rare or unusual, or a multi-colored exhibitionist, or maybe a strong and powerful raptor, would fit the bill. In any case, I knew it would take some time for me to find something new, so I really had no guess as to what it would turn out to be.
Anyone who is interested in observing birds, and who has lived in the same location for several years, will undoubtedly come to the realization that they have seen all the common and easy-to-find birds in their local area, at some point in time. Seeing new species after then will depend on waiting for some unexpected vagrant or rarity to make an appearance, or traveling to some other location that holds its own set of distinctive birds. It took me a number of years to reach that point around my most recent home base, in the small coastal town of Bandon, Oregon, but, eventually I did. Around that same time, circumstances generally prevented me from travelling very far from home for a while, so I had a lot of built-up lack-of-new-bird exasperation to deal with. Now, with the imminent start of the World2 Tour I expect that situation to be completely relieved for the foreseeable future. At least, it will, eventually.