Monday, April 27, 2009

Montebello Camping

We had a great time camping with the outdoor club last weekend in the Jefferson National Forest, about an hour south of here near Crabtree Falls. It was a nice private campground with lots of amenities, so we weren't roughing it at all. The occasion was the club's 5-year anniversary and there were about 100 people coming and going from the club throughout the weekend. There was live music, good food, and lots of activities throughout the day.

Tom went hiking for a few hours on Saturday with a group while I did classes on map reading skills and native skills. I also took a quick dip in the cold lake and had a nice shower.

Tom and I did some fishing together on Friday evening after we set up our tent. Tom dug up some worms and let me use them, and I caught a nice little fish but set it free.

The walk from the tent to the pavilion where all the activities were held was uphill, so that made for a difficult time on my back. Plus it was hot (90's !), but nice at night. Saturday night I passed out early on my hammock. Tom woke me up looking for me in the dark, so I went back to the tent which was a lot less comfortable. I don't mind sleeping in the open but the sun wakes you up very early.

Overall we had a great weekend and arrived back with enough time to unpack and get the house ready for guests this week!

Pictures coming soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Health Insurance Update

Someone from the hospital filed a grievance to the insurance company on my behalf, and everything was corrected without me having to do anything. All of the claims went through and have been paid, and it turns out that I owe only one ER visit co-pay (I thought that I would have to pay two, for two hospitals, plus in-patient co-pays).

Tom and I were wondering why the hospital would do this for me, and my best guess is that they will get their money more quickly this way. It all comes back to money, right? Anyway, two thumbs up for Carilion.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Everglades, Day 4 - Trash Pick-up on Tiger Key

Sunday, April 5 - In the morning we headed out along the beach to pick up trash, one of our scheduled activities. We all walked along the beach and inside the brush to find things that washed ashore, mostly from fishing boats. One of the kids walked about a mile each way to to pick up a large barrel that he saw the night before, and then carried it all the way back to the campsite. Overall we picked up about 5 large trash bags of rope, plastic, etc, I am guessing about 150 pounds. They all worked hard and showed great enthusiasm.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yesterday was a good day and another milestone for me in my recovery. It was my first day back at acac and karate. The open practice is much less formal, and I helped teach the kids by doing slow basic kata with them. The workout was good for my back and my mind.

Today was a crazy busy day. We decided to drive to the Ikea store in Woodbridge and stop at the Fredricksburg Battlefield on the way. The visitors center was nice, but the traffic in Woodbridge was terrible.

We got two chairs and some accessories for our living room. Amazingly both chairs fit in my Outback so we were able to take them home today without too much trouble.

We also stopped at a sofa discount store in Fredricksburg and found and nice couch and loveseat set that we both liked at a decent price. A very nice quality brand called Rowe based near Roanoke.

Our new sofa looks like the white one in the picture, but in a "butterscotch" brownish color. They will be delivered in about a month.

The day was very long and tiring, and reminded me again that I am not completely healed. My back is sore, I couldn't walk as fast as Tom, and my purse felt like a ton of bricks by the second hour. He was very accommodating and slowed down for me, and was ok with me sitting down and taking breaks.

On the way home in the sunset sky we saw a cloud that looked like a heart. Awww....

Day 3, Continued.

Before dinner the group and I decided to explore the island (we were waiting for Tim from Crystal Seas to deliver cooking supplies). It was a beautiful walk along the beach at low tide, so there were lots of things to see. We saw sandpipers and plovers, a nesting osprey, little jelly animals in the sand, lots of pretty shells, and horseshoe crab molted exoskeletons.

The sand here is very fine and white, made of limestone. I am used to the coarse sand in the Chesapeake Bay made of quartz. There aren't many rocks either, just shells and pieces of coral.

After about 3/4 mile along Tiger Key I decided to turn back (after all, it had been a long day), but Rick and some of the kids decided to keep going. I did not know it at the time, but they were determined to walk around the island. First thick brush, then mangroves, then swimming. Dave, one of our guides, got worried when Rick called with his cell phone and requested us to bring the kayaks around before his signal cut out. About an hour later, coming around the back side of the island, we saw several heads bobbing in the water and a canoe. A group of boy scouts camping on Picnic Key saw Rick and picked him up so he could go back and pick up his abandoned camera equipment. The kids decided to swim because it was easier than wading. Luckily everyone made is back safely with only a few scratches.

Trees, Birds and other animals seen while paddling:
  • Red Mangroves
  • Sea Grape
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Royal Tern
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Osprey
  • Dolphins
On Tiger Key:
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Sanderling Sandpiper (?)
  • Dunlin Sandpiper (?)
  • Osprey

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Everglades, Day 3 - Paddle to Tiger Key

Saturday, April 4 - After a superb buffet breakfast at the Ivy House, the group headed out to the NPS canoe and kayak launch site. We re-packed our personal items in dry bags, stuffed the tandem kayaks and pushed off into gentle water. The longest stretch of open water was the first mile, which doesn't sound like much. But when you are sitting 3 feet above the water level with nothing but a paddle in your hands, the distance can be daunting.

The first day was especially hard on my arms and shoulders, and I was wondering if anyone else was having trouble. My back was was feeling ok, or at least I was not thinking about it over my arms and shoulders. Rick was my partner and we were behind the group some of the time, and I needed to take breaks, but he was great about it. That's was great about him - he always has a good attitude.

We stopped at Indian Key for lunch. This was a beautiful yet busy sandy beach only a mile or so from the Gulf of Mexico. We shared the beach with another group off their boat, and a Park Ranger and clean-up crew. After a nice lunch of sandwiches and fruit we headed to Tiger Key, and our home for the next three nights.

Along the way we saw lots of birds and a few dolphins. Lots of mangroves and boats too. I did not quite feel in the back-country yet, like when you are backpacking and you settle for the night at the top of a mountain or in a remote valley with only you and your tentmates, the wind and the hawks soaring above. But at the end of the day we logged over 8 miles by paddle, and Tiger Key was beautiful and remote. This time all we had was our guides, friends, and the sound of the surf. It was an amazing feeling looking out over the Gulf of Mexico and see only water from a small island off the coast of Florida. I immediately feel in love with the Everglades.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Snakes and Talons

While I was home for Easter, my Dad, a Florida native, asked me, "Did you see any snakes while on your trip to the Everglades?!?" I replied, "The only snake I saw was overhead, dangling from the talons of a Red-Shouldered Hawk."

Unfortunately I did not get a photo of this first-time spectacle for me, but it was sure neat to see. I did get a photo of a Red-Shouldered Hawk later, perched in a pine tree at Sweetwater Creek at the Big Cypress Preserve.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 2, continued

Our kayak trip was delayed by one day because of weather. Our outfitter company, Chrystal Seas, was very nice to cover us for the night at the Ivy House in Everglade City, a nice hotel with a dorm style lodge. It had a pool (very nice), community showers (ok), and air conditioning (essential, considering the summer-like heat and humidity of the night).

The trip guides cooked us the dinner that we would have had camping (Tai veggies and shrimp, very good) at the picnic pavilion at the NPS Visitor Center.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Everglades, Day 2 - Day Paddle and Swamp Boardwalk

Friday, April 3 - We met our guides at the NPS Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City. The weather was very windy and the water was too choppy for beginner kayakers to attempt a 8-mile trip across the bay. So the guides decided that we would just do a day paddle trip and start our big trip tomorrow.

Our day-trip paddle included a treacherous trip along the side of a bay. But when we paddled inland, we were out of the wind and in a brackish mangrove forest. We were in long tandem kayaks so the maneuvering through the narrow, twisted tunnels was challenging yet fun. I did not hear or see many birds on this trip, perhaps because of the rough weather, and perhaps the mangroves do not provide much food source. We did hear one bird call that no one could identify, and I am currently going through my bird call audio files to try to find it. I used my point-and-shoot film camera for this trip, so I don't have any pictures to show you yet.

The second half of our extra day was spent at the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve (just outside of Everglades National Park). This was another classic wetland similar to Sweetwater Creek but with more plant and animal life diversity. We saw palm trees and shrubs, strangler figs, cypress, pines, etc. It was a birder’s paradise, with birds flying and calling everywhere, some close by, totally oblivious to all the people walking around. The highlight was a Bald Eagle’s nest with a chick in it. At the end of the boardwalk was a naturally-made water hole, formed by the gaters so they have water to soak in and raise their young during the dry season. These are rare now because the gaters use the man-made lakes and canals.

Some of the birds I saw at Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk:
  • Black-and-White Warbler (saw very close while feeding)
  • Common Yellowthroat (Warbler) at the water hole
  • Carolina Wren (building a nest in a palm)
  • Bald Eagle chick in nest
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk, S. Fl pale form
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Kingbird

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Everglades, Day 1 - Shark Valley

I helped chaperone a high school trip to the Everglades. My karate teacher is also a science teacher and leader of the Outdoor Club at Charlottesville High School. He graciously asked me to help with this trip. I kept a hand-written log of our travels and bird sightings, and here is a summary. Check out my Picasa Web Album for all my pictures.

Thursday, April 2 - I got up at 3am to meet the group at CHS parking lot. Some of the parents were nice enough to drive us to Richmond for our flight to Ft. Lauderdale. We rented a 15-passenger van and drove to Shark Valley Visitor Center in the Everglades along Tamiami Trail.

Our first adventure was a casual hike along the Tram road/Otter Cave Hammock Trail. We saw lots of alligators, turtles, lizards, birds, and fish. The adult alligators were really tame and allowed you to get close without running away. The baby alligators were neat to see but usually ran away. The Otter Caves were actually holes in the limestone rock formed by the sea that covered Florida at one time. The area is called Shark Valley because of the shark fossils found there.
From Everglades

Some of the birds I saw on the drive from Ft. Lauderdale to Shark Valley:
Cattle Egret
Great Egret (white)
Great Blue Heron
Double-Crested Cormorant
American Coot
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture

Some of the birds I saw at Shark Valley:

Red-Shouldered Hawk (S.Fl. Pale form), one with a snake kill


Black-Crowned Night Heron

Green Heron
Palm Warbler
White Ibus
boat-tail grackle
swallow-tailed kite
Carolina wren

Here is the whole crew, from left to right: Barbara, Kai, Rick, Michael, Max, Claire, Caroline, Stella, and Laura. The kids are polite, well behaved, and fun to work with.

The first day was long, tiring, full, rewarding.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

molly and I say hello from hampton, my home town.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I went to the orthopedist today. Waited 2 hours for a 5 minute visit. I talked to a guy in the waiting room who just broke his back at snowshoe last month. It was a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra. He snowboarded off a jump and landed flat, and blamed snowshoe for bad grooming. He said it took a long time for the ambulance to get there and take him to Pocahontas (I think I waiting only 15 minutes). And he was able to convince them to transfer him to UVA hospital instead of Roanoke. Bummer for me. Maybe I should have been more persistent.

Anyway, the doctor did not prescribe physical therapy, even though I asked. He said I am still healing and should not have a person pushing me too hard. I think that's bs. They scheduled my next visit in July, and if I am still having problems I can get pt then, but otherwise things should heal on their own. Oh well. I was really hoping for pt because it always helps you recover faster.

About the insurance. I have been watching the claims come in to the insurance company through my online account and it looks like almost everything is going through. One of the doctors, or maybe the physical therapist at the Roanoke hospital, was not "in network" so they did not pay for any of it. It is only $70 but I am still going to dispute it.

I am leaving tomorrow for the Everglades. Don't worry about me, I am doing a lot better. This trip was arranged and paid for back in December and I am not going to let a little back pain get in my way. Plus I am a chaperon for these high school kids and they are depending on me :). The doctor said it was ok for me to go and that I won't injure myself worse, but that I need to take it easy, and I will. I won't have access to email or cell phone. So, I will see you on the eighth.