Monday, October 15, 2007

AMA IBET - Sweeping Up a Few More Points

There's a Houston in Florida? Who knew?! I learned this while working with Microsoft's Streets & Trips as I prepared for what will most likely be my last road trip to finish out the AMA's I've Been Everywhere Tour for 2007. This is the much-anticipated trip over to Tampa, where the Florida coast to coast ride - or FLC2C - begins. This event is in its third revival year, raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I have worked as a volunteer for FLC2C for the past two years, this year hosting the website for the event.

A straight shot east on I-10 Thursday morning (Oct 11) gets me as far as DeFuniak Springs FL for the night. The next morning I continued east to pick up Highway 90 at Live Oak. There's a tiny dot on the map east of Live Oak that is supposed to be the location for Houston FL. Of course, if there proves to be nothing there, I have Houston TX as my backup plan. The city limit - and the green city sign - are just three miles from my house. But a Houston in Florida will be worth three points. So I exited I-10 onto Highway 90, a convenient and scenic alternative to I-10 and the I-75 interchange.

Just as Jill, my GPS, told me I was approaching "Houston," I spotted the green sign marking the town limits. I put my flashers on to warn the truck following behind, and pulled over. Highway 90 is a very pretty road through this part of FL, rolling countryside, its ancient Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss. That photo complete, I continue along this lovely road to I-75. A dreadful 18-wheeler accident early that morning had I-75 completely stopped just 4 miles before my planned exit. After a 3 hour delay, I finally made it to the next exit where I got off, got gas, took a break, and then headed west a few miles in search of a sign that would mark the location of Cadillac FL. The GPS location came and went, with no sign marking its location. Oh, well...

Back onto I-75, my stop for the night would be the host hotel for the start of the FLC2C ride in Tampa. The next morning saw the parking lot of the hotel and the restaurant next door filled with motorcycles of every type, as riders arrived to sign in for the event. I told the event organizer that I'd see him at the end point in Daytona, and I headed out to bag a few AMA points on the Gulf coast side of FL. First stop was University of Tampa in the downtown area. Tampa is beautiful! And so is the University campus. I turned into the campus and rode the brick-paved streets just to admire the buildings. I exited back out, stopping long enough to pose the photo of bike and AMA flag in front of the University sign. Next stop: Sarasota.

I had the post office flagged in my GPS but on the way, I passed the perfect fire station, complete with circular drive that let me park my bike beneath the lettering on the building without blocking the firetrucks (although my red BMW next to their red firetrucks would have made a nice photo). Photo done, I retraced my route back north to get onto I-4 east toward Orlando. The next town will be Davenport, which lies a few miles south of I-4. Urbanization doesn't extend much beyond a narrow corridor on either side of the interstates in FL. Davenport is a tiny little town surrounded by farm country. The tiny municipal square seemed like a good opportunity, but they were having some sort of festival and the parking lot was blocked off. So I let Jill guide me to the post office which was surprisingly big and new for such a small town.

Back onto I-4, I headed toward Daytona, taking a lunch and gas break along the way. I was being passed by packs of sportbikes and I was pleased to see that most of them were riding responsibly and all wearing full or nearly full gear. One group of 6 or 7 bikes caught up with me and the lead bike pulled along side of me, waved, gave a thumbs up, and flipped open his visor. I did the same as we rode along for a couple of miles this way, the remainder of his group on either side of me or behind me. Judging from their lean and trim bodies, these were all fairly young men...and the lead rider is flirting with me! How fun! Little does he know I'm old enough to be his mother, maybe old enough to be his grandmother! Kinda made me wish I'd sucked it up and ridden my FZ this trip. They tired of this after a while and took off, leaving me to proceed at my own leisurely pace.

The event having concluded Saturday night, I headed off towards home Sunday morning and made it to Lafayette LA for the night. The next morning I would continue my ride home, but not before seeking out my last AMA tour points on this trip: Grand Lake. This is another of those tiny dots on the map and I wasn't sure there'd be much out there in the swamps and waterways south of Lake Charles LA. But I let Jill take the lead, wary the entire way of the possibility of bad or nonexistent roads. But it was a pleasant surprise, as the road led me through marsh lands, past large tanker ports, and over pontoon bridges spanning the Intracoastal Waterway. The last pontoon drawbridge was raised and as I waited for the boats and barges to pass, I suddenly realized that this bridge was marked the Grand Lake ICWW. So there would be a photo opportunity after all! After getting this shot, I proceeded over the pontoon bridge and immediately on the right was the sign marking the town line. There was virtually no traffic on this road, so I stopped and took this photograph as well.

From here I could either continue on this road, which would take me back up to Lake Charles eventually, or I could do a U-turn and backtrack the way I came, which would be about 15 miles shorter. I opted for the U-turn, headed back to Lake Charles and I-10 and towards home.

The tour is nearly over, just one more short month to go. This has been an incredibly enjoyable adventure!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

AMA IBET - Tiniest Post Office and Ol' Sorehead

With Black Rock photo and Charleston photos complete, I continued on I-57 north, where I got onto IL 13 to head east to Pittsburg and Eldorado. Google Earth told me there was a Pittsburg town services building just off of County Road 3. The little town of Pittsburg is nothing more than a very small crossroads, with a filling station and a few homes clustered on 3 or 4 side streets. I turned onto E. Avery which, according to Google, would be the location of the town services building. And there it was, a small tidy aluminum and brick building with an elaborate monument arching over the sidewalk at the street. I set up for the photo, took the shot, then headed down the side street, working my way back toward the main road. These tidy little towns are so much more fun to scout and visit than their large city named counterparts. Pittsburg PA would have been an entirely different experience!

Now it's on to Eldorado. According to Streets & Trips, this would be a significantly larger town or small city with several possible photo opportunities. As I headed east on IL 13, I spotted a motorcycle on the shoulder, its rider down on his hands and knees working on something under the gas tank. I pulled over and stopped and walked back to see if he needed help. Just as I got to him, he stood up, gave a big smile, and said he thought he'd solved the problem. A loose vacuum line. We chatted for a bit, there on the side of the highway, with cars, trucks, and a surprising number of motorcycles whizzing by.

When he learned I was from Houston TX, he was all questions: where was I going, do I ride a lot by myself, and so on. He and his wife ride Harleys, and he was headed to Cave In Rock for an event called HOG Rock, apparently an annual motorcycle rally for the cruiser crowd. I told him that I was doing the AMA tour and explained the rules of the contest, saying that my next stop was Eldorado. he offered to come with me, since he lived in nearby Harrisburg, and offered to show me the smallest post office, which was on the way to Eldorado.

We took off, me following him toward Eldorado. In the tiny little town of Muddy, he put his turn signal on and we turned left down a very small little street past small homes to a deadend right turn where he slowed and U-turned into a small turnout area next to a pre-fab building housing a post office. Shoot! That's not that small! Boston KY post office was smaller than that. But then I parked my bike, took off my helmet and he pointed across the street to the building I didn't see. Easy to miss, it was that small!

Before we went our separate ways, he told me about a sign in Eldorado that would make for the perfect photo for the AMA Tour. So as I headed into Eldorado I kept my eye out for it, not sure what I was looking for or how big it would be. As it turned out, I couldn't miss it! It was billboard-sized and conveniently there was a dance hall right next to it, with a large open parking lot, so that I could get the photo easily without fear of traffic. The billboard welcomed me to Eldorado and informed me that their town boasts 4,536 friendly people and one ol' sorehead. The folks of Eldorado clearly have a great sense of humor!

AMA Tour points collected for this trip, I pointed my front wheel south on IL-145 toward Metropolis and a weekend spent with over 100 of my closest friends!
Next entry: Is there really a Houston in FL?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

AMA IBET - Sweeping Through AR, MO, IL

No need to travel to ND to get a Fargo, or PA to get a Pittsburg! These and four other towns were pretty much on my route to Metropolis IL, where I was headed for a motorcycle group event the first weekend in October. Just a little work on the GPS gave me a route that would pick up 15 AMA points and add just a little over 200 miles to the trip, not to mention take me off the interstate and onto some great little riding roads through cotton and rice country.

My first stop would be Jacksonville, just a few miles northeast of Little Rock. I had waypoints in my GPS for two potential photo opportunities: the post office and a military museum. As it turned out, the post office was a tough camera angle, with the letters on the building facing a busy street away from the parking lot, helpful for folks looking for the post office, not so convenient for those of us who want a photo of our motorcycle and a little white flag! The museum was just across the road and down a side street. Now this is more like it! Big circular drive around an obelisk monument, great southern mansion-style architecture!

Jacksonville in the bag, I could now head back down to I-40 for a short distance east to Brinkley AR, where I exited to begin heading north toward Jonesboro and my night's stop. Along this route I would be going through a tiny dot on the map called Fargo. My research showed no businesses, no schools or other structures that might provide a photo opportunity. I could only hope that there'd be a sign marking this apparent ghost town. The GPS let me know when I was getting close, so I slowed down and hoped that the truck that was riding my tail would just go ahead and pass me, which he did. I spotted something green on the side of the road and there it was! Not only a green "official" town sign, but a "Welcome to Fargo" sign, both looking a little derelict and worse for wear.

Now the tricky part was going to be getting the photo without having to park the bike on the nonexistent shoulder of this steeply crowned country road. I fiddled a bit with the flag and camera angle, rolling the bike a bit to fine tune the shot. It didn't turn out bad at all!
When I first planned out this route, I was a little concerned about making it to Jonesboro before dark. After all, it would be 600 miles with the photo stops in Jacksonville and Fargo along the way. My original plan was to leave Houston after the morning rush hour but I woke up early enough to get on the road at 6:30 AM, early enough to be at the front end of the really heavy traffic headed from the south side and through the downtown. This was a good thing, getting me into Jonesboro at 6:00 PM, still in daylight.

The next morning I headed northwest toward Black Rock, a tiny little town perched on a bluff overlooking the Black River. I turned right immediately after crossing the bridge over the river onto a pretty little road that dipped down near the river then climbed up into the town. My destination for Black Rock was the post office, but this little road brought me straight into the center of town where I spied the perfect sign. Did you know that Black Rock is the home of the Zebras? I did pass the post office and pulled in for the photograph as back-up, but the Zebra sign is so much more interesting.

A little backtracking brought me to the fork in road where I picked up U.S. 412 through fields of soybean, cotton, and rice. The land is flat here, fed by streams and rivers branching off the Mississippi River. This road took me to I-55 where I headed north toward Charleston MO. The post office was my destination in this small city. As I headed into the quaint historic downtown area, I spotted a Welcome to Charleston sign. But I continued on to the post office which was a very old brick building nestled under giant Live Oak trees. I pulled up in front but could only see bits of the lettering across the front of the building above the door. It didn't seem to say the word "Charleston." I circled the post office block and pulled back up in front again. No signs anywhere. But I had fortunately seen that welcome sign on my approach, so returned to that spot and got my photo.
Now I'm pointed in the right direction to continue heading east toward IL and my ultimate destination.

Next entry: Smallest post office and ol' sorehead