Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bar-Tailed Godwits: Randonneurs of the Skies

Bar-Tailed Godwit migration...nonstop!

I had already planned to post about today's New York Times Science section story about new micro-technology enabling us to study long-distance migration of birds even before I saw the reference to the Tour de France. And of course, the Times got it wrong, as most non-randonneurs might. The cycling activity analogous to the Bar-Tailed Godwit's 7100 mile non-stop journey would naturally be randonneuring, not racing in the Tour de France. For other migratory birds that do stop along the way like the Arctic Tern, it might be more similar to the Tour where one stops each night, eats, gets a massage, checks in with sponsors, etc.

I won't comment much on the story of these migrating birds. You really should just read the article. What I find exhilarating is using technology to study our natural world. Sure, I like the bicycle, a fine technological advance, and I use a smart phone and all that stuff. But where technology makes me perk up is in how it reveals the more marvelous natural world that's always been here with us...though constantly evolving, innovating.

For instance, it took micro-transmitters to elucidate these migratory marvels! I love that.

I also love the Space Program. Always have. I forgot to mention that when Mike and I stopped at Mesa Verde National Park ten days ago on our "auto-randonneuring" we had a blast visiting the ancient ruins and imagining the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans. The evening of our tour we splurged and ate at the National Park restaurant for a fine meal.

The couple next to us had a small boy about seven years old. He was one loud and precocious guy. In fact, by his behavior while waiting to be seated, I was not thrilled when they were eventually seated next to us. Turns out he was a great kid with a fabulous sense of humor. And his parents were very sharp themselves. While Mike and I were finishing our Southwestern-inspired meals, the boy's Mom pointed out the window at this swiftly moving light in the sky and declared: "There's the Space Shuttle." And so it was. And they even knew when it would be back around, how its orbit is elliptical, and how the next possible viewing for us was a function of the Earth's rotation and the Shuttle's orbit!

Very first Space Shuttle Columbia's "blast off" as we used to call the launch, compliments of Wikipedia. This, in 1981.

There we were in a pretty barren National Park in the off-season with not a lot of folks that night watching the shuttle whiz by (it does appear to really get a move on) after spending the day contemplating the most humble of technologies, like the kiva.

And, coincidentally or no, that very same Space Shuttle we spied, Atlantis, likely on its final voyage, is scheduled to land tomorrow according to NASA.

So how does all this relate to randonneuring? Well, the technology of endurance athletes is fascinating for us randos. I asked one experienced rando after we finished an SIR Permanent (he had just returned from an completing an Australian 1200k) what he thought the secret was. He told me that if you just stayed beneath your max (assuming that was still fast enough) you can go on for as long as you'd like.

Like the Bar-Tailed Godwit (photos above of bird and migration route courtesy of Wiki), randonneurs just get into that endurance state of mind. If the body is prepared, it is the state of mind that matters. You'll see, eventually technology will confirm that it is this state of mind that separates the birds-that-could-but-don't from the birds-that-can-and-do that the New York Times article alludes to.

Meanwhile, back in the heavens, I have a cousin whose husband's ashes I spread over a little cove on San Juan Island that is frequented by lots of migratory birds. I barely knew the man as he married her later in life. He wanted his ashes spread in the Pacific Northwest as he came to love it during his time in the Service. As she tells it--and if you read about it you'll see this is much disputed but who am I to say?--her husband was the one who uttered the now famous line: "Godspeed, John Glenn."

But as Godwits and Randos know, speed counts, but it's that enduring state of mind that matters.

And when it comes to tenacity, look again to the birdworld. Here's a story my Mum sent about Bald Eagles returning to my home county. Mike and I also spotted American Avocets (a really stunning bird) and what looked like Little Blue Herons during our journey. All good for that Spring is in the air feeling!

Keep it nonstop,