Friday, June 11, 2010
Well it is time to wrap this thing up. I had a very good flight home yesterday. Whatever it was that was affecting me on Tuesday and Wednesday was gone when I got up Thursday morning, which was a huge relief, of course. I don’t know if I had a bug or if it was simply due to too much ibuprofen, aspirin, alcohol, and my poor diet the last week or so, but it was gone on Thursday. I hadn’t had any ibuprofen, aspirin, or alcohol for a couple of days, so maybe that was it, although some of my symptoms seemed to go beyond stomach upset.
I got all packed up, the taxi came on time, and I got to the airport so early that it was too early to check my bags for the flight. As it turned out, that was a good thing, because I had them weigh them, and the big one was about 7 pounds overweight. They had a bag repacking area, with several tables and scales, so I moved stuff back and forth between my two bags until I had both of them under the weight limit. I thought the bag repacking area was a very nice touch, and it was being used all the time, as people struggled to meet the weight limits.
My luck held out on the seating, and I had an aisle seat, with two empty seats next to me, just as on the flight over. That is really a luxury on a long flight in economy, and I enjoyed it. The flight was smooth, and after debating it with myself, I took a chance and had some scotch and some wine, and I had no stomach problems. It is pretty hard for me to turn down free drinks. I finished my book (the last one of the 8 I had taken along with me), watched a movie (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and a documentary (on the Outer Hebrides, which I had missed because of wimping out on the ferries), and stood up and exercised from time to time. The time passed, and eventually I was home.
I managed to stay up until 9 PM, and I slept for three hours before waking. I got another hour of sleep altogether, but gave it up at about 4 AM and got up for the day. So, I will see how far 4 hours of sleep takes me today. My body is bound to be messed up for several days, and my mind will be mush, as I adjust to the 8 hour time change.
It was an excellent trip overall. I saw more bird species than I had expected to see (167 species for the trip, of which about 117 were lifers), largely due to the wonderful help I had from British birders, both in taking me out and giving me advice. I got some pictures I like and that I will enjoy using as my desktop wallpaper in the future. I got to visit London again, which I had been wanting to do for several years. I met a number of people and enjoyed that very much. I got to parts of Britain I hadn’t seen before. And, I got “out and about”, something I love to do. All in all, it was everything I had hoped for.
As I mentioned a number of times, I found the road system hard to deal with, but I managed to escape without any incidents, other than making wrong turns a few times. The narrowness of the roads got easier to deal with as time went on and I got more familiar with my rental cars. It was an advantage that both cars were the same model, although different model years. I learned that it takes longer to get anywhere than I would have expected, and the driving was more difficult than it is in the US or Australia. After four or five hours on the British roads, I was ready to stop for the day, whereas I can still do 8 hours over here before I feel I need to stop. When I was much younger, I used to drive for 18 hours, straight through from L.A. to Seattle, but those days are long gone.
The weather was cold and windy at first, and pretty wet all the time. Despite all the rain I saw, it really hardly ever interfered with my birding. Mostly, they were showery days, and I was very lucky that the showers came at times when I was driving, usually, or overnight. I was expecting weather issues, and had built in extra time to compensate, so I still had plenty of time to bird each area I visited.
It is too bad that I chickened out on the ferry trips to the Outer Hebrides. I missed 5 or 6 species I would have seen if I had gone ahead with my plans. It meant I had to scramble to make alternate plans, but I enjoyed the alternate places, too, and I would have missed them if I had gone out to the islands. The Cumbrian coast was quite enjoyable and I had never seen it before. I saw the Outer Hebrides in 1971, and I don’t imagine they have changed much.
I really appreciated all the emails and the comments on Facebook from my “followers”. As I said many times, there is no way I could be gone so long on my own without the contact that the internet provides. I worked really hard to find self-catering places that had internet access and also would rent for less than a week. That was a real challenge, but it was worth the trouble. I had access to the internet at virtually every place I stayed.
Food was a big issue with me, as you know if you read many of my Ramblings. I hardly ever eat in restaurants (other than fast food places), either at home or when I travel, and the challenge of finding food I was willing to eat was continual in Britain, since things are so different over there. When I had a kitchen, it was fine, but when I was staying in motels or B&B’s, it was more of a challenge. The best meals I had on the trip, by far, were the ones I had in people’s homes.
It was a very pleasant surprise to find that almost every grocery store, even small ones, had cooked chicken breast in 4 or 5 ounce packages, often with a choice of “flavors” (BBQ, Tikka, Flame-broiled, etc). I haven’t ever seen that in the US, and it was a great help to me. It meant I could get protein from something other than ham and cheese, although I did have quite a bit of that, too, as many people have noticed and commented on. Even when I had a kitchen and bought prepared meals, I usually supplemented the protein with some chicken or ham. One thing I missed was having a refrigerator in my room, when I didn’t have a full kitchen. In Australia, where I have done most of my birding related traveling, every place of accommodation has a small refrigerator, B&B’s and motels included. You can’t get ice in Australia, as you can in the US, but they always have a little fridge, which makes it easier for me to carry my own food along.
The subject of food brings me to my weight. As many of you know, and as I think I have mentioned here, I lost about 80 pounds in the year leading up to this trip, and I had been eating in a very rigidly controlled way, weighing and measuring everything and entering it in a spreadsheet. I took my food scale and measuring stuff along, but I never used them. I just kind of watched it and knew from my ten months of keeping my spreadsheets what I needed to do, more or less. I deliberately raised my caloric intake, as I knew I would be more active and I not only wasn’t trying to lose weight on the trip, a gain was acceptable to me. After all, I was on vacation. My target was to gain no more than a pound a week, which would be 6 pounds for the trip. I even took my old bathroom scale along, to monitor that, but it broke on the trip over, so I never could do that.
Anyway, I am glad to report that at this morning’s weigh-in, I was up just 5 pounds for the trip, so that pleases me very much, especially since my eating discipline had slipped a bit toward the end of the trip. When I get back on my program, I expect that several pounds of water weight will come off in the first few days, too, as it does when one cuts down on carbohydrates, although I might be dehydrated today, from the plane flight, so that water loss might not happen.
Traveling by car in Britain is really different from traveling by car in the US. There are way, way fewer motels, restaurants, gas stations, and fast food joints. Maybe 5% as many, if that. All I can figure is that Brits don’t travel by car nearly as much as Yanks do. On the motorways, they have Service Areas, where you can get food and gas, and they usually have one motel at them. These Service Areas are maybe 20 to 30 miles apart, on average. You never see any of the services (food, fuel, and lodging) from the motorway, while in the US, you see them at every interchange, and there are many more interchanges than in Britain. It isn’t much different when traveling on smaller highways or local roads. They just have very few motels, gas stations, or restaurants of any kind. Those that there are seem to often be located off the main roads, like they are intended for the locals, not for travelers. Britain is about 60% of the area of California, but with about 60% more people than California. I would bet that there are at least 20 times as many motels, gas stations, and fast food places in California, though. I guess it works for the British, and more motels, gas stations, and fast food places is not necessarily a good thing, so I am not criticizing, but it seemed strange to me, and it meant that I had to learn new ways of dealing with traveling. It added to the experience in some ways, as learning new ways to do things is often stimulating mentally.
I am planning another Big Trip in October/November this year, to Australia for the 5th time. I will again post pictures and commentary, and I invite all of you to again follow along with me. I need to firm up the rest of my accommodations soon, but the itinerary is planned and the plane flights all booked.
So, with that commercial or preview of Coming Attractions, I will sign off. Thanks very much for coming along.
The Old Rambler