The rest of the story...

Here's where I tell you all the stuff that wouldn't fit in a 2-minute TV story.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bluebirds Along the Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of Roanoke’s great treasures. If you’ve followed my reporting and maybe even some of my activities over the years, you may have noticed that it’s a resource I’ve always enjoyed.

With a natural calling to run, bicycle and more recently, drive my Mini-Cooper, I’ve spent more time on the Parkway than most. Despite the time and mileage logged, I’ve never known the story behind the bluebird boxes that dot the landscape along Roanoke’s section of the road.

Were they maintained by someone? Monitored? A Boy Scout project of some kind? A state or federal project maybe when I was young my folks saying that bluebirds were fussy. Boxes had to be a certain height, face a certain direction and that getting a pair to nest was a great accomplishment. That was all I knew about bluebirds – except that there were these boxes I had run and biked past literally hundreds of times.

It turns out they are maintained by the Roanoke Valley Bird Club, which monitors the boxes during nesting season. Only members of the club or approved volunteers may open the boxes. They count the eggs and the young and turn the numbers over to a larger organization, which presumably puts them in a database to track bluebird numbers.

The Bird Club also works to protect the nests from snakes and other predators who prey upon they eggs and the young. They allowed me to help install a snake guard during our story.

Kudos to Alyce Quinn, who along with her husband and another couple, have been chairing the committee that oversees this bluebird trail and two others in the region. Alyce has been in charge of the trail for 13 of the 30 years the trail has been in existence.

(By the way, Alyce says the birds are not particularly fussy here in Virginia, they just want a nesting site that is safe. She says they depend upon man-made boxes because cavities in trees are too scarce in our modern world.)

When you watch the story – pay attention to the part where Alyce demonstrates her ability to identify the birds in the trees by their songs. It’s clear that the members of the bird club are very good at what they do – and that birding can be a lot of fun.

Next time you’re on the Parkway slow down and take a look at the boxes. You might see a mother bird looking out at you. You’ll definitely see the results of a lot of hard work by Alyce and her team.

Other bluebird information: Virginia Bluebird Society

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

California Superbike School

Note: The initial blog was in fact written on a smart phone while watching the WWE Smackdown at the Civic Center. Call it bad time management on my part. I am now adding some pix and links. -- jc

Reader beware. This blog is being written and filed from my iPhone. While I am attending the WWE Smackdown at the Roanoke Civic Center. I'll explain later.

Meanwhile, at the track....

Seeing motorcycles buzz by in excess of 150 mph is a thrill. But when you see these guys laying the bike over in the corner, hanging off the seat with an inch of rubber holding the road, it's like watching a magic trick.

This school takes that racer's ability to handle a bike, to the realm of everyday safety. The better you can handle a motorcycle, the reasoning goes, the less likely you are to wreck.

No one knows that better than Keith Code, a cycling icon who has raced at the top levels of the sport. Code has developed all kinds of training tools to help his students "get it."

The lean bike might be the coolest. He's attached training wheels with hydraulics to one of the school's superbikes. Now to be fair, I want to be clear that students xo not take to the track on this contraption. Instead, under the watchful eye of Code's team, they circle a parking lot at about 30 mph. They lean as if they were going much faster-- with essentially no chance of wiping out. After a few loops the instructor re-positions the rider on the bike. Small adjustments here make a big difference on the track or the highway.

I asked Code why he trains people on the BMW bikes, which are billed as the world's fastest production bikes, rated at 200 mph right out the box. "People think speed and power are dangerous," he said. "They are not.
Our incident rate has dropped by 40 percent since we went to these bikes."

Code even teaches U.S. Marines how to handle bikes so they don't get hurt off the battlefield. "Those guys think they are invincible. We need to give them training to match their confidence," he said.

Most of the guys in this class are far from marines or racers. They were mostly middle aged executives who could afford the roughly $2,200 cost of the two day event. But they were all smiles, hanging out with Code, and learning hang just right in the curves.