Our First London Marathon: From Dinosaurs to Prince Harry

Pamelia and I watched Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge pull away in the final half mile to win in 2:04:42.

Pamelia and I watched Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge pull away in the final half mile to win in 2:04:42.

You may never have heard of Paula Radcliffe or Eliud Kipchoge or Tigist Tufa. You may not think it fun to stand for hours in cold, gray weather watching people run. But on Sunday, Pamelia and I pulled on extra layers and hit the streets for one of the world’s great events, the London Marathon, in which more 38,000 runners traversed a scenic 26.2-mile route from Greenwich Park (aside the historic Royal Observatory, through which the Greenwich Mean Time meridian passes) to Buckingham Palace. It was bone-chillingly wonderful.

The start, in Greenwich Park.

The start, near Greenwich Park.

Here’s the thing about the London Marathon: The field each year includes not only the world’s fastest elite competitors—such as world-record holder Dennis Kimetto of Kenya, the 2015 pre-race favorite—but also public-spirited everyday runners who generate a stunning $75 million in donations by linking their miles to causes ranging from children’s cancer research to rainforest conservation. The race is Britain’s biggest annual charity fund-raising event. 

Ian Bates, 44, from Crawley, England, ran wearing a T-rex costume that weighed 84 pounds.

Ian Bates, 44, from Crawley, England, ran wearing a T-rex costume that weighed 84 pounds.

Others on Sunday dressed up to run for fun, whether as a Tyrannosaurus rex or Captain America or the Mona Lisa or a bride and groom—though those two actually were a bride and groom whose ceremony took place midway through the race.

One of the course's many landmarks was the Tower Bridge.

One of the course’s many landmarks was the Tower Bridge.

I covered many marathons over the years as a writer for Sports Illustrated and always wanted to at least attend the London race. It always takes place within a week or two of the Boston Marathon; great 26.2-mile events pop up each year along with the daffodils and tulips. On Sunday, however, I was eager to see not just the spectacle but also how Kimetto would fare against the second-fastest marathoner in history, his training partner and countryman Wilson Kipsang. Could Kimetto’s almost unbelievably fast record of 2:02:57 fall?

From our vantage point 400 meters from the finish we watched Kenya's Mary Keitany (left) hold off Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia for second place in the women's race.

From our vantage point 400 meters from the finish we watched Kenya’s Mary Keitany (left) hold off Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia for second place in the women’s race.

To stay warm and find viewing spots not obstructed by banners and the maze of crowd-control fencing, Pamelia and I kept moving. We joined the mass at Buckingham Palace, where a large video screen was broadcasting the marathon telecast, but finally settled on a perch on Birdcage Walk, the onetime site of King James I’s Royal Menagerie and Aviary and a perfectly named location for The Naturalist’s Notebook duo. (Oh, and there just happened to be a Cock ‘n’ Bull Rotisserie barbecue and hot dog stand 20 yards away.)

We could see runners come down Birdcage walk and turn right into the race's final stretch.

We could see runners come down Birdcage Walk and turn right into the race’s final stretch.

Sharp-eyed birder Pamelia spotted another apt feature of Birdcage Walk: a large bird’s nest  being built in a tree top right above the runners. She saw what appeared to be a crow flying a stick in to the nest. Unfortunately her view wasn’t good and we didn’t have our friend the great naturalist (and record-setting ultra marathoner) Bernd Heinrich with us for expert confirmation.

The field included runners dressed as everything from a purple cow...

The field included runners dressed as everything from a pink cow…

...to Captain America...

…to Captain America…

...to a bone-head raising money to osteoporosis...

…to a generous bone-afactor raising money for osteoporosis research…

...to, inevitably, Elvis...

…to the inevitable Elvis…

...to—this one was a Naturalist's Notebook favorite along with the T-rex—a rainforest plant who spoke of the need to conserve rainforest for future generations, and for the good of the planet.

…to—a Naturalist’s Notebook favorite, along with the T-rex—a rainforest plant who spoke of the need to conserve rainforest for future generations, and for the good of the planet.

Here's the bride, before getting hitched at the midpoint of her race (to a guy running in a faux tuxedo).

Here’s the bride, before getting hitched at the midpoint of her race (to a guy running in a faux tuxedo).

In the end, the race was fast but not record-fast. Favorites Kimetto and Kipsang could not keep up with fellow Kenyan Kipchoge, who won in 2:04:42. Tufa, from Ethiopia, won the women’s race in 2:23:22. But she did not receive the loudest cheers among the women.

Those went to 41-year-old Paula Radcliffe, Britain’s great marathoning champion and the female world-record holder (2:15:25, run at London in 2003), who was competing for the final time. She ran with the mixed-gender masses, not with the elite women, and smiled often as she cruised to a 2:36:55 finish.

Paula Radcliffe enjoyed her farewell as race at least as much as the crowd did.

Paula Radcliffe enjoyed her farewell as race at least as much as the crowd did.

She capped her day by receiving a lifetime achievement award from one of the few bigger British celebrities on hand: Prince Harry. (Other notables included soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, the former Spice Girl, whose 12-year-old son ran in the children’s marathon, and seemingly every London-area politician running the the United Kingdom’s May 7 general election.)

Paula Radcliffe, her lifetime achievement award and her Prince.

Paula Radcliffe, her lifetime achievement award, her kids and her Prince.

Pamelia and I took away 26.2-miles of memories and an appreciation for the 38,020 runners and the effort they put in.

Pamelia and I took away 26.2-miles of memories and an appreciation for the 38,020 runners and the effort they put in.

And that lunch from the Cock 'n' Bull's Dog 'n' Bun stand, with Buckingham Palace in the distance and a couple of mysterious visitors in Pamelia's hands, turned out to be a story in itself. A story for another day.

And that lunch from the Cock ‘n’ Bull’s Dog ‘n’ Bun stand, with Buckingham Palace in the distance and a couple of mysterious visitors in Pamelia’s hands, turned out to be a story in itself. A story for another day.

Happy London Marathon Sunday to all. And stay tuned for more adventures from the road!

—Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Two Amazing Weeks with a Bobcat

bobcatstrollWe first caught sight of the bobcat on a snowy day in February.  He or she—we never did figure out its gender—snuck up on a flock of ducks that were eating spilled sunflower seed beneath our bird feeders. In an explosion of noise and flying snow, the panicked ducks took off. That is, all but one, which the bobcat carried off in his mouth.

That's the bobcat in the lower right.

That’s the bobcat in the lower right.

Pamelia and I were stunned. Any bobcat sighting is a rare treat. We had never seen a bobcat here before, and only once had I observed one in the wild, fleetingly, more than a decade ago by a beaver pond (in a woodsy wetland marked on old maps as Wildcat Swamp) in Northwestern Connecticut.

The bobcat scampered off with the duck that he or she had caught.

The bobcat scampered off with the duck he had caught.

Though bobcats are the most common wildcats in North America, their population is no more than a million or so (maybe 750,000). That’s not all that many, considering that their territory covers roughly 3 billion acres from Mexico to southern Canada.

They’re solitary animals except during mating season (late winter to early spring) when males and females can be found together. Was ours in search of a mate? We heard reports of other bobcat sightings in Maine around the same time as ours, though none within 10 miles of us.

To our amazement and delight, the same bobcat kept returning nearly every day for more than two weeks. Through our windows we observed him in action, at close range, time and again, in daylight. We appreciated every sighting. We knew this might be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The bobcat often returned to scout our feeders. That black box is a motion-detecting wildlife camera.

The bobcat often returned to scout our feeders. That black box is a motion-detecting wildlife camera.

A typical afternoon viewing session would begin with either Pamelia or I yelling, “There he is!” after seeing him. As he moved around, we would dash back and forth between windows, trying to angle better views and photograph him. (We wished we had taken the window screens off last fall.) He generally would stay close enough for us to watch him for anywhere between five minutes and an hour.

The 'cat often walked by our art studio. He or she sometimes hid under the picnic table in the distance when hunting.

The cat often walked by our art studio. He sometimes hid under the picnic table in the distance when hunting.

We came to know his patterns. The bobcat followed routes through the snow from one hiding spot (under a fir tree or picnic table, for example) to the next. Sometimes he descended to the rocky shore at low tide; other times he headed away from the water, into the woods. The only prey we saw him catch was that duck, but on some mornings we found feathers on the snow, suggesting that the bobcat (or some other animal) had found a meal overnight.

The bobcat seemed to have an injured left eye. The eye appeared cloudy, and from certain angles the bobcat looked almost cross-eyed. Bobcats in the wild have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, so we wondered if this was an old cat that had been through the wars. Seven years ago carpenters working at our house had seen a bobcat; could this have been the very same animal?

Notice the odd looking left eye. Could the bobcat have been partially blind?

Notice the odd looking left eye. Could the bobcat have been half-blind?

For several days I moved our motion-decting wildlife camera to a corner of the house where we had seen the bobcat. I was curious if the camera would capture the cat at night. Bobcats are primarily nocturnal—another reason why our daytime sightings were so extraordinary. The only images the camera produced, however, were afternoon shots of our bobcat’s coming and going. That doesn’t mean he didn’t hunt at night; we merely have no evidence of  it other than those suspicious feathers in the snow.

At times, apart from its short tail, the bobcat reminded us of an oversized Maine coon cat.

At times, apart from its short tail, the bobcat reminded us of an oversized Maine coon cat.

The bobcat in another of the resting/hiding spots along its route.

The bobcat in another of the resting spots along its route. Again, very house-cat-like.

Resting just outside the studio doors.

Resting just outside the studio doors.

The bobcat was not huge—perhaps 20 to 25 pounds. His paws were noticeably larger than those of a house cat.

The bobcat was not huge—perhaps 20 to 25 pounds. His paws were substantially larger than those of a house cat, but smaller that those of his cousin the Canada lynx, a threatened species that also can be found in Maine. The lynx has longer legs, less noticeable spotting and hips that are higher than his shoulders. Lynx paws are large enough to help him move through deep snow; bobcats aren’t as well suited to that.

Here's a shot from the motion cam.

Here’s a shot from the motion cam.

He paused to take in the coastal Maine view.

He paused to take in the coastal Maine view.

We don’t know where the bobcat went, but we hope it found a mate and a place safe from coyotes and human threats such as hunting. If you have any bobcat stories or photos—or other wildlife tales—to share, please let us know. What was your most memorable animal sighting?

We'll miss seeing this beautiful cat on the prowl.

We’ll miss seeing this beautiful cat on the prowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things You Missed at the Schoodic Institute’s First Winter Festival

Acadia National Park superintendent Sheridan Steele (front, left) and Schoodic Institute CEO Mark Berry (yellow jacket) led the group to our animal-tracking hike on Schoodic's Alder Trail.

Acadia National Park superintendent Sheridan Steele (front, left) and Schoodic Institute president and CEO Mark Berry (yellow jacket) led the group to our animal-tracking hike on Schoodic’s Alder Trail. Sheridan and the national park provided enthusiastic support to Mark, Mark’s team (including events coordinator Megan Moshier) and other organizers, most notably behind-the-scenes dynamo Mary Laury of Schoodic Arts for All.

It can be scary to launch a new event. Will anyone come? Will the weather hold up? Will participants enjoy it? The Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park took that toboggan ride into the unknown with its 2015 Winter Festival, held from Feb. 19 to 22 at the institute’s 80-acre oceanside campus in Winter Harbor, Maine. I hopped on board for what turned out to be a bracing and memorable run down the hill.

The experience was best summed up by one of the more than 100 people who came from as far away as Boston and New York to attend some portion of the festival, be it a talk by the great naturalist and writer Bernd Heinrich or a birding hike or a paper-snowflake workshop. “This is so much fun,” she told me in the cold morning sunshine as she and others built a multi-piece, illuminated ice sculpture atop a snowbank. “It has changed my whole relationship with winter.”

For those of you who didn’t make it to the event, here is a glimpse of 10 things you missed:

1) A new way of enjoying Maine’s awesome, historic, bring-on-the-blizzards winter.

Our happy group of snowshoers clomped along the Alder Trail, where we saw tracks of deer, snowshoe hares, squirrels, possibly a coyote and other animals.

Our happy group of snowshoers clomped along the Alder Trail, where we saw tracks of deer, snowshoe hares, squirrels, possibly a coyote and other animals.

The secret to surviving a season of sub-zero cold and 100 inches of snow is to embrace the experience. I put on my warmest snow boots (which I bought before covering the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics in Norway back when I was the editor of Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine) and headed out for a variety of activities, among them an animal-tracking hike with outdoor educator Chuck Whitney, the birding expedition (also led by Chuck) and a peaceful walk through the forest to visit the winter camping site set up by wilderness guide Garrett Conover. Other festival participants cross-country skied, built a quinzhee snow hut (more on that below), tried open-fire cooking (more on that too) and found other ways to explore and engage with the winter world. They loved it.

A bitter wind didn't stop Chuck Whitney's birding group from scouring the coast for eiders, goldeneyes, buffleheads, scoters, cormorants and gulls.

A bitter wind didn’t stop Chuck Whitney’s birding group from scouring the coast for eiders, goldeneyes, buffleheads, scoters, cormorants and gulls.

2) Frozen Water Balloons. The illuminated-ice-scupture workshop, taught by sculptor and art educator Blake Hendrickson, brought out the creative inner kid in participants of all ages. Blake brought vessels in which to freeze ice pieces of many shapes and sizes.

The frozen balloons were one of many creative ice forms in Blake Hendickson's illuminated ice workshops.

The frozen balloons were one of many creative ice forms in Blake Hendrickson’s workshop.

Blake also provided white and colored lights to weave through the outdoor installation of those pieces. Some of the lights changed color in response to sounds—clapping, talking, even the strong wind that gusted one night.

Artist Sherri Streeter helped create and assemble the ice forms.

Artist Sherri Streeter helped create and assemble the ice forms.

The installation came together over the span of a couple of days.

The installation came together over the span of a couple of days.

At night the sculpture lit up and changed color, a snowbank transformed into art.

At night the sculpture lit up and changed color, a snowbank transformed into art.

3) Nature. This is the essence of Schoodic at any time of year.  Hearing Bernd Heinrich describe how animals survive here in the harsh winter conditions changed how many of us looked at the landscape we were exploring. We envisioned the tree holes, dens, snow nooks and other homes keeping animals alive. Bernd told of grouse diving into the snow and making temporary tunnels in which to hide from both cold and predators. The next morning, as I walked through the woods, a grouse exploded from the snow and flew past me. An electrifying winter moment.

The patterns of lichen and of sapsucker holes adorned the Schoodic woods.

Lichen and lines of sapsucker holes adorned the Schoodic woods.

Snowshoe hare tracks.

Snowshoe hare tracks. The front track marks were made by the animal’s snowshoe-like back feet as the hare hopped.

We debated whether this stick-and-lichen construction could have been a nest, perhaps for one of the many types of warblers found at Schoodic in warmer months.

We debated whether this stick-and-lichen construction could have been a nest, perhaps for one of the many types of warblers found at Schoodic in warmer months.

In the foreground you can see the tracks from a river otter that slid down the snow to the water's edge to feed.

In the foreground you can see the tracks from a river otter that slid down the snow to the water’s edge to feed.

 

I loved this tree.

I loved this tree.

 

Naturalist Chuck Whitney shared not only his outdoors expertise—he guided two nature walks and gave a bird talk—but also played the Irish flute in evening music jams and slept each night in the quinzhee snow hut he and festival attendees built.

Here’s naturalist Chuck Whitney, whom I mentioned earlier, sharing his outdoor expertise. He was a cornerstone of the festival, not only leading hikes but also giving a winter-birds talk, playing the Irish flute in evening music jams and sleeping each night in the quinzhee snow hut that he and other festival attendees built.

After Bernd Heinrich held a Moore Auditorium audience rapt with his talk on how animals survive in winter, his fans lined up with books and nature questions.

After Bernd Heinrich held a Moore Auditorium audience rapt with his talk on animals in winter, his fans lined up with books and nature questions.

4) Outdoor beauty. This too is a Schoodic hallmark, and the snow only enhanced it.

Even the drive Schoodic was a wintry escape.

Even the drive Schoodic was a wintry escape.

The ice floes filled inlets.

The ice floes filled inlets.

This forest trail took me over a wooden bridge well-trodden by snowshoers.

This forest trail took me over a wooden bridge well-trodden by snowshoers.

I popped out of the woods at one spot and saw clammers in the distance taking advantage of the day's unusually low tide.

I popped out of the woods at one spot and saw clammers in the distance taking advantage of the day’s unusually low tide.

5) Great indoor food. We fueled up in Schoodic’s cafeteria-style dining hall, which has the warmth of a woodsy lodge. Home-baked lasagna, seafood chowder, chicken-salad wraps, Caesar salad, pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies, blueberry pancakes, vegetarian options—the food was all delicious, and we shared it at communal tables where new friends were made at each meal.

The meals at Schoodic include vegetarian options, but for my Saturday lunch I went for the hot-out-of-the oven, homemade chicken pot pie.

For my Saturday lunch I went for the hot-out-of-the oven, homemade chicken pot pie.

 

Hungry participants had to check their snowshoes at the dining-hall door.

Hungry participants had to check their snowshoes at the dining-hall door.

6) Great outdoor food. Naturalist and outdoors educator Alexandra Conover Bennett taught the workshop on baking bannock bread, a camping favorite cooked on a stick over an open fire.

Instructor Alexandra Conover Bennett assembled the ingredients and build the fire.

Instructor Alexandra Conover Bennett assembled the ingredients and built the fire.

Alexandra Conover Bennett demonstrated how to cut wood shavings for the fire with her homemade crooked knife, a type of tool long used by Native Americans. She constructed hers from a crooked piece of yellow birch, a straight razor she found in an antique store and a wrapping of moose hide.

She demonstrated how to cut wood shavings for the fire with her homemade crooked knife, a type of tool long used by Native Americans. She constructed hers from a crooked piece of yellow birch, a straight razor she found in an antique store and a wrapping of moose hide.

 

The ingredients are simple: flour, baking powder, water, a touch of salt and a bit of oil (optional).

The ingredients of bannock bread are simple: flour, baking powder, water, a touch of salt and a bit of oil (optional).

Wrap the dough around a long stick.

You wrap the dough around a long stick.

Roast until ready. Not a bad way for the chefs to stay warm either.

Roast until ready. Not a bad way for the chefs to stay warm either.

Tastes great with jam.

Tastes great with jam.

7) Snowflake-making. Instructor Breanna Pinkham Bebb was adamant: Snowflakes are hexagonal (six-sided), not octagonal (eight-sided), and to cut eight-sided snowflakes—as some crafty types apparently do—is inauthentic. I’m science-based all the way, so I was on board to learn the correct, if more challenging, technique of folding and cutting a piece of copier paper to resemble real snow crystals.

 

Breanna tried to keep it simple for us.

Breanna tried to keep it simple for us.

Follow these steps, snip here and there, and you too could be a snowflake maker.

Follow these steps, snip here and there, and you too could be a snowflake maker.

No, I didn't make the lobster snowflake.

No, I didn’t make the lobster snowflake.

 

I did succeed in making a snowflake featuring birds.

I did succeed in making a snowflake featuring birds.

8) A different view of Cadillac Mountain. Schoodic Peninsula is a bit more than an hour’s drive up the coast from Mount Desert Island, where the larger portion of Acadia National Park is located, but by water the two bodies of land aren’t far apart. Time and again during the festival I looked up and saw Cadillac—the tallest mountain on MDI—rising in the distance.

Each day Cadillac looked a bit different from Schoodic Point. Sometimes crashing waves send spray far in the air in the foreground.

Each day Cadillac looked a bit different from Schoodic Point. Sometimes crashing waves sent spray far in the air in the foreground.

9) The quinzhee snow hut. Unlike an igloo, which is made from piled blocks of snow, a quinzhee is hollowed out from a mound of snow.  It’s a survival cave, but a cozy one. The group had a blast building one near the Schoodic Institute’s baseball field.

Side note because I’m a word nerd: The term quinzhee was coined by a Native American tribe in Canada, and last summer it was one of about 25 Canadian-originated words added to the official Scrabble dictionary. Quinzhee was the most exciting addition for Scrabble players because it includes a q and a z (each worth a lot of points) and, if played on the top row of the board, ending on the top right square, can supposedly score 401 points for a player. That’s an almost unbelievable total for a single play.

The quinzhee hut became Chuck's nighttime home.

The quinzhee hut became Chuck’s nighttime home.

The view from inside the quinzhee.

The view from inside the quinzhee.

I took a break in there myself.

I took a break in there myself.

In case you were wondering about that winter tent site set up in Garrett Conover's workshop, here it is. Look closely and you'll see a metal chimney coming out the left side.

In case you were wondering about that winter tent site set up in Garrett Conover’s workshop, here it is. Look closely and you’ll see a metal chimney coming out the left side.

 

Now that's the way to go if you're camping in a tent in the Maine winter.

Now that’s the way to go if you’re camping in a tent in the Maine winter.

On the subject of lodging, here's a look at the Schoodic Institute's historic Rockefeller Hall, where some of the attendees stayed.

On the subject of lodging, here’s a look at the Schoodic Institute’s historic Rockefeller Hall, where some of the attendees stayed.

 

I overnighted in another option on campus, a condominium apartment.  It's a rare privilege to sleep within the boundaries of a national park and Schoodic Institute enables visitors to do that at almost any point in the year (space permitting). The nearby village of Winter Harbor has B&Bs as another alternative.

I overnighted in another option on campus, a condominium apartment. It’s a rare privilege to sleep within the boundaries of a national park and Schoodic Institute enables visitors to do that at almost any point in the year (space permitting). The nearby village of Winter Harbor has B&Bs as another alternative.

10) The people. Shared experiences build unique camaraderie, and the pioneering group that attended the winter festival bonded with each other as well as with the place.

Here's our animal-tracking group again. Notice how many are smiling. Enough said.

Here’s our animal-tracking group again. Notice how many are smiling. Enough said.

If this sounds like an event you might like to attend in 2016, check out the Schoodic Institute’s website (http://www.schoodicinstitute.org) and keep following The Naturalist’s Notebook here and on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Naturalistsnotebook?ref=aymt_homepage_panel). Keep enjoying the winter!   —Craig Neff