Sunday, October 12, 2008

Days 5 and 6 - Return from FLC2C

FLC2C was an excellent event and the turnout just keeps getting better and better every year! But now I must head for home. I plan to go up the east coast to visit St. Augustine, first, then get onto I-10 in Jacksonville, maybe even make it home in one day. My original plans were to meet up with the MTF River Ride folks somewhere enroute, but my ride to Tampa on the FZ was about as much time as I cared to spend on the Corbin seat. The ride home would be a test of uncomfortable endurance.

I left the Cocoa hotel early, just at daybreak, and got onto I-95 north to ride a now-familiar stretch of that interstate up toward St. Augustine. The fresh orange stands were tempting me severely, but I had no room on the bike for much of anything, not even a few oranges and grapefruit. So I continued north toward St. Augustine and Castillo de San Marcos NM for my National Park Stamp.

I had not been to this national park since I was in high school, so it was no surprise to me that I hardly remembered it. But I really enjoyed walking through the interior, examining the moats and the view over the harbor. Easy to imagine why this spot. I needed to get on the road, so headed back toward the interstate through sparse traffic and continued north to I-10.

Had I been on the BMW, I would have easily made it home. It was only 9:30 when I got back on the road in St. Augustine. I stopped for lunch in Marianna, and did not stop again until Pensacola for gas. I made good time, and traffic wasn't too bad. Weather was perfect! However, when I reached Gulfport MS, I decided to stop for the night. I had spent the last 30 minutes pretty much partially standing on the pegs, trying to relieve my backside.

So I had a nice leisurely evening working on my photos from the FLC2C event and eating Krispy Kreme donuts (the "hot" sign was lit at the Krispy Kreme store next door to the hotel...what can I say?) and was able to get an early start the next day.

The last day would be an easy half-day, and I didn't press too hard to get home, stopping more frequently than I needed to, just to get off the bike. Because it was a short day, it also meant I'd get into Houston early afternoon, well ahead of the traffic, which is always a good thing.

Next trip: Founders Feast

Friday, October 10, 2008

Days 3 and 4 - Ride to FLC2C Event

Today was going to be a fun, full day and I woke up early, excited to get on the road. I spent last night at a nice Holiday Inn Express in Chiefland, FL and had some great BBQ for dinner. I rode south on US 19 for a few miles, then crossed east to pick up the Suncoast Parkway (darn! Why didn't I remember to get that Sun Pass??). I took this toll road straight south to I-275 in Tampa, where I headed west across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg. I thought the Suncoast Parkway was pretty in most places, and it sure did speed me along toward Tampa.

I had two things I wanted to get in St. Petersburg, both for the AMA Grand Tours I'm participating in. This will be the last 6 weeks before the AMA contests are over for the year. I've done diddlysquat on the AMA Italy in America Grand Tour, but have amassed a considerable amount of booty for the AMA World's Largest Grand Tour. So I headed south on 275 toward the downtown area of St. Petersburg, and got off onto 375 headed east.

This was a really pretty area, and I wandered around on the streets a little bit, just checking things out. Ultimately I headed to my first stop, The Coliseum, a really neat older building apparently still in use for what it was intended for. I pulled into the drive and let the one-way aisles take me around the back of the building and to the other side into a really pretty, shaded parking lot. The whole complex had a really neat, old-style Florida look and feel about it. I enjoyed just sitting there in the shade on my bike soaking it all in. Finally, I posed my photo, got on the bike, and wandered through the parking lot to an exit.

I found myself on a one-way street headed in the wrong direction. But with the freeway (375) running along side I had to continue until I found an underpass. Things were even prettier on the other side of the freeway and, after a few wrong turns, I eventually worked my way over to the next AMA photo opportunity at Mirror Lake Park. This was such a gorgeous "old-Florida" area! And my destination was the Mirror Lake World's Largest Shuffleboard and Duplicate Bridge Club. Just to be sure it truly was the world's largest, I rode once around the circumference of the club, amazed at all the shuffleboard courts...countless numbers, all lined up side by side for an entire block. I pulled into the parking lot and worked my way over to the sign that declares their claim as world's largest.

That done, I returned to 375 west to 275 south and prepared to cross the Skyway Bridge to Bradenton. I approached the toll plaza, wishing once again that I'd remembered to buy that Sun Pass, and came to a stop next to the toll booth. Flipping up my visor and turning down the GPS volume, I realized the woman in the toll booth was talking to me. She was a very pleasant woman, perhaps a little older than I am. "You're not going to ride that bike across the bridge, are you?" This was said more as a declaration of amazement than a real question. "Girl, you sure are braver than I would be!" This really made my day! It is a tall bridge, but we have a couple of very tall bridges right here in Houston: The Beltway 8 Ship Channel Bridge (which I think is actually steeper if not taller) and the Fred Hartman Bridge across the Ship Channel further south. So I really hadn't given it any thought. Besides, I survived riding across the Mackinac Bridge...ON THE GRATED this was nothing!

I made it across the bridge without incident (not even white knuckles or sweaty palms) and continued toward Bradenton where I would work my way west to the DeSoto National Memorial. It was along this stretch of roads that I noticed, for the first time, the shortage of Premium fuel. Not one single gas station had anything other than Regular gas. I stopped at two different stations, before deciding to just fill up with Regular and not worry about it, since the reserve light was now on and I didn't want to worry about it after leaving the park.

DeSoto National Memorial is a beautiful little park, set on a small peninsula overlooking Tampa Bay and the Manatee River. The parking lot is shaded by giant live oaks dripping with Spanish Moss. Inside the visitor center I got my National Park stamp and browsed the bookstore (of course). I asked the usual question of the park rangers: If I could buy only one book (I'm on a motorcycle and have little space) what would you recommend? This has always worked, I've never been disappointed in my book selection. They came through with an excellent book recommendation about the Spanish explorers in America. I took the time to watch the very excellent film about DeSoto and his conquistadors before walking a bit of the trail and taking some photos of the overlook and gorgeous view of the bay.

Now I would head back up to Brandon, near Tampa, get to the hotel, change into shorts and sandals, and go find some lunch. It was an easy 30-40 minutes back to Brandon and the hotel was easy to find, on a perimeter road around a large shopping mall complex. I arrived just minutes after Richard Buber, and pulled my bike up behind his Honda Dream. It's become a tradition of his to ride the FLC2C on a restored vintage bike of some flavor. Last year it was a military BSA, the year before that, a Honda CB160. This Honda Dream was gorgeous!

I went inside and got checked in, then went back out to unpack the bike and move it to a parking spot. Changed out of riding gear, I walked over to the mall and found a really nice little deli and had a sandwich and cold drink. Other riders began showing up throughout the rest of the afternoon, as did Al, the event organizer.

We had a giant group for dinner that evening at the Olive Garden, within walking distance of the hotel. Lots of photos of dinner are at my on-line photo album:

The next morning, Al had set up registration in front of the hotel and immediately the line snaked back along the driveway, and riders who lived nearby and did not stay at the hotel started arriving. It was fun to watch the bikes and riders, and to walk among them chatting. The first bikes departed around 7:40 AM or thereabouts, and the last bikes, of which I was part of, departed close to 9:00 AM, maybe even later.

The route across FL was "pure AL" with lots of zigs and zags and turns. I warned Al that I would be bailing out of his group so that I could get to the mid-point checkpoint to take photos. I found my opportunity when the route took us under I-4 and there was an on-ramp right there. With the checkpoint entered into my GPS, I let it take me to the very attactive town of Kissimmee...not the Disneyworld Kissimmee but the real, authentic, historic town center. The check point was one block off the main road but the problem was, there was an Hispanic festival going on in the park right next to the checkpoint, so all roads were blocked off. Fortunately, the couple manning the check point talked to the police, letting them know there would be a couple hundred motorcycles arriving throughout the day, so the woman manning the blockade on the street I approached from let me through.

After hanging around the checkpoint for an hour, with no arrivals, finally Ray and Joe arrived and we decided to get lunch, wandering over to the festival and scoring some excellent cuban food. At that point, the checkpoint was still very slow, so I departed with Ray and Joe to finish the ride and arrive at the final checkpoint, at a beautiful park on the Indian River in Cocoa FL. The second half of the route was definitely the best part of the ride. The last segment took us on a road along the Indian River, past some stately and gorgeous homes then into the little village of Cocoa.

We somehow were managing to stay well ahead of most of the FLC2C participants, so we hung out a bit at the final checkpoint then headed to the hotel. I was eager to get out of the riding clothes and into something more comfortable. Al's mom was there in the lobby and it was so good to chat with her again. She had 3 of her girlfriends coming and they were planning a gals' night out!

Later than evening, the riders gathered around the hotel pool for awards and door prizes. It was a wonderful, if long, day and it was so good to see so many MTF members at the event. Some I don't get to see but once a year, so this was a great opportunity to get caught up with everyone.

Tomorrow: Up the east coast to St. Augustine then home to Houston.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On the Road to FLC2C - Day 2

After spending the night in Gulfport MS, I got on the road early this morning to continue my ride east to Florida and the Florida Coast2Coast event, which will start in Brandon FL. I had the MS Gulf Coast National Seashore visitor center programmed into my GPS, but when I got to the exit I realized it was too early and it probably wouldn't be open yet. Bad planning on my part. But the timing would be good to stop at the one in Gulf Breeze FL.

They have I-110 re-construction nearly complete in the Pensacola area, and I had the road nearly to myself as I headed south toward the bridge that would take me across the bay to Gulf Breeze and the Naval Live Oak Plantation. Once there, I inquired about the status of Fort Pickens and Santa Rosa beach. The park ranger thought that Pickens might be open again to vehicular traffic sometime early next year. This is good news, as I really enjoyed going out there a few years ago. I continued along US-98 toward the Avalon bridge, where I realized the one thing I'd forgotten to do: order a Sun Pass!! I meant to do this weeks ago, knowing I'd be traveling some toll roads and toll bridges this trip. Darn it!!

Once back on I-10, it was a long, straight ride to just east of Tallahassee, where I'd get onto US 19 to head south toward the Tampa area. This is the same route I take to go to Cedar Key each year, and I'm looking forward to this year's Cedar Key weekend in December. My stop for the second night would be the Holiday Inn Express in Chiefland, FL.

I really needed to get a run in and, to my delight, I found a small neighborhood on MS Streets & Trips, so changed into running clothes and headed out of the hotel. A small road ran parallel to the highway and I cut through a side street to pick it up. What's this? I see the pavement end and turn into nice packed sand surface. Wow! The entire little neighborhood was built on these same packed sand roads and it was perfect running surface, especially since I'm still recovering from last year's foot injury. I had tucked my room key and a $20 bill together in the little envelope the hotel key came in, so when I finished my run, I stopped at a BBQ place that was on my route and ordered BBQ to go, took it back to my room, and had a great feast!

Tomorrow: some NPT stamping and AMA Grand Tour point collecting before arriving at the FLC2C hotel in Brandon.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Riding with those darned Love-Bugs!!

A friend and I cooked dinner together last evening and at nearly the same instant, we said to each other, "Let's take a ride tomorrow morning!" The weather has been glorious ever since Gustav pushed north through Louisiana and parts north, dragging cooler, drier air into Texas in its wake.

I needed to get a photo of Sam Houston for one of the AMA Grand Tours, so we agreed to meet at the Chevron/McDonalds at League Line Road in Conroe, have breakfast and then ride the few miles north up I-45 to get the photo before getting off the interstate and cruising around on some pretty secondary roads.

Going up Highway 19, I realized I would be able to fulfill my long-time desire to ride onto the now-bypassed bridge over the Trinity for a photo. The bridge and roadway have been beautifully maintained and preserved, and I thought it would be cool to take a photo. This section of the Trinity River is calm and sluggish, perfect conditions for water birds to feed along the shoreline, and there were many egrets and heron doing just that.

Our route took us on up to the town of Trinity, then onto highway 94 toward Groveton. FM-355 south to FM-356 are both wonderfully pleasant riding roads, leading us to Onalaska. We crossed inlets of Lake Livingston several times along the way.

We bypassed over to FM-3277 to stay closer to the lake shore before dipping along the southern edge of the lake over to Coldspring. As small as this town is, it is the county seat, complete with big courthouse set on a square, so we rode around the square, before stopping to regroup and decide if it was time for lunch. There isn't a whole lot in the center of town, but just as we started back onto US-150 east, My friend spotted a local restaurant set right across the street from the church...which was just starting to let out.

We did U-turns, rode back to the restaurant and backed into a spot, where I took a photo of my bike, which was encrusted with love bugs. So was my visor. Yuck! Not very appetizing, just before lunch, but I knew that if I didn't take a minute right then to clean it, I would most likely forget and ride off after lunch, and still be half-blinded by the carnage.

My friend noticed it first...the sign in front of the restaurant, declaring that Elvis was there last night, entertaining the diners. Well, darn!!

Home-style cooking, buffet-style! Wow! Good food!

Now, at lunch, I mentioned that a new Harley dealership opened in Kingwood, just a stone's throw from where he lives. He had no idea!! So on the way home, heading south on US-59, we took the exit before his usual exit, so that we could scout it out. And there it was, bigger than life, and looking brand-spanking new! Since my friend rides a Harley, this sure will be convenient for him!

We parted company, I rode home to the south side of the city, and before getting to the house, got gas. I took one last photo of the now-totally-gross front fairing of my FZ! As soon as I got home, I took off my riding gear and got to work with a bucket and sponge. Even gave her a wax job afterward.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Heading Home from Laredo...the Long Way

In Blanco, TX for the night, we decided to walk back into town the next morning for breakfast. That Bowling Club Cafe looked promising, having lots of pickup trucks parked in front, so we ate there with the locals. Some riding friends from Bay City TX were camped at Blanco State Park so I convinced Keith that it wouldn't be much more of a walk to continue on down to the park and join them for a little visit.

Blanco State Park is a beautiful little park straddling the Blanco River. A dam across the river creates a swimming hole for the park, and the camping areas are beautiful and spacious with nice amenities and facilities. We stayed for about an hour then hitched a ride back with a couple who were making a run for ice. Keith and I loaded our bikes, checked out, and headed north toward Johnson City, TX to visit the LBJ national historical park. I'd been to LBJ Ranch but not the Johnson compound in the center of town. After talking to the park rangers, and learning that vehicles are now permitted onto the LBJ Ranch tour, we decided to also head west 14 miles to the ranch and take the self-guided tour.

Riding through the LBJ Ranch, along the live-oak shaded Pernales River, past exotic wildlife grazing in the pastures, down the runway of LBJ's private airport, and stopping to see his hangar, old car collection, and "Texas Whitehouse" was wonderful! So much better to be able to do it at our own pace and to see it from the seat of a motorcycle, not through the window of a tour shuttle.

We exited the park after taking the tour and headed north and east to pick up a couple more AMA Grand Tour points. One of them was in Oatmeal, TX, a non-town northeast of Marble Falls. Really, it was mostly an excuse to ride FM 1431 for a while. But FM 1174 proved to be at least its equal!

Our next stop was in Florence TX for another AMA photo op and to get a cold drink and snack, since we didn't get lunch. It was a nice break, as it was getting quite hot. From here we rode east to Bartlett, which proved to be an amazing little town, with red brick-paved roads and a really cool downtown. I need to get back there when I have more time, to do some photography!

We turned south to get to Hutto, TX where I wanted to get a photo of the hippopotamus in town. I parked my bike strategically so that I could include it in the photo, and then proceeded to take my helmet and jacket off. Keith stood there watching, not sure why I was undressing, since all my other stops for AMA photos are quick grabs. He just didn't understand!! LOL!

We had just 18 miles to our stop for the night, a really excellent little motor court in Rockdale, TX called Rainbow Courts. This has been family-owned since 1913, and the rooms were very plush, luxurious and comfortable, with beautifully landscaped grounds. Definitely a place to return to some day. The only downside was that we had to get back on the bikes to get dinner, so we headed out for an early meal, really not a problem, since we hadn't eaten lunch, so that we could get back to the motel, change into shorts and sandals and relax on the front lawn.

Tomorrow: Dime Box and home.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Laredo Trip - Day 2

My job as B2B witness complete, I was now free to get on the road and proceed up to San Antonio to start a nice 3-day riding weekend with a rider friend from Kingwood, who would be meeting me along the way. I headed north on I-35, getting off at Pearsall to have a look at the World's Largest Peanut. I saw the peanut that Durant OK claims to be the World's Largest Peanut but have to say that Pearsall's peanut has Durant's peanut beat by a very large margin!

Then it was on to Poteet TX to get the world's largest strawberry. I remembered seeing on Streets & Trips that there was no good way to get to Poteet from Pearsall. I also remembered checking the GPS route against the S&T route, to make sure they were doing the same thing. But dang it! I sure was being directed onto what seemed like a most indirect route, and on some really tiny roads! This was no time to be doubting the GPS, as there didn't seem to be any alternate roads in any direction. I had to keep reminding myself of this, as I went for miles and miles of nothingness. But at least it was all a pleasant "nothingness."

Finally the little orange flag appeared on my GPS screen, letting me know I was coming into Poteet. The water tower was very easy to find, and I was able to park right at the base of it to get the photo. I was just one block off the main road, so only had to do a series of left turns to get back onto that road, but a rearview mirror check as I was pulling out confirmed that I had a town policeman on my tail. He stayed right with me all the way throught town. I rode 5 mph below the posted speed and, at each stop, I made sure I came to a complete stop, put my left foot down, and looked both ways before proceeding. He stayed with me all the way to the outskirts of town and, once I rode past the town line, he did a u-turn and headed the other way. Guess he thought I was a terrorist doing reconnaisance on their water tower or something.

I had a tiny town entered into my GPS - Verdi - but a quick check of the clock and I decided to skip this stop and head for my meeting location with my friend Keith. We would be meeting at Mission San Jose National Park in San Antonio. He'd never been there, and I wanted to get the national park stamp. My original plan was to visit all 4 of the missions located south of the downtown area, but it was so very hot, and I was hungry. After lunch I was eager to get moving, to catch a breeze, so we headed north into San Antonio in search of a couple of AMA Grand tour points.

The first one was easy, but the second stop - at the mall to get the large cowboy boots - presented a major problem. It was a busy feeder road for the mall and the attached parking garages and there was nowhere to pull over to get a decent photo. But with a little jockeying, I was able to turn the bike into a loading dock area, where I could get a partial side view of the boots.

Now we could get the heck out of the hot city and head north on US 281 toward Blanco, TX, our stop for the night. Boy, was 281 busy! I could see that San Antonio is growing north up this corridor, with new housing, strip malls, and traffic lights everywhere! Near Spring Branch, we could finally break free of the confines of city traffic. The landscape here is decidedly hilly and rocky and looking very much like Texas Hill country.

Our motel was located on 281 less than a mile north of the little downtown square that is Blanco. It was a small and very clean little mom & pop motorcourt type motel, the Swiss Lodge, and I was pleased with it's quiet location and very clean and pleasant rooms. We had a very nice walk into town, where we asked a local for a recommendation for dinner. His suggestions weren't very helpful but they did lead us to check out the "Bowling Club" cafe. Intrigued, we asked the staff about the "bowling club" part of it. Turns out it's 9-pin bowling, and he explained the basics of the game and let us take a peek in the back room where the lanes were. We went next door to a steakhouse and had a great dinner before our leisurely walk back to the motel.
Tomorrow: LBJ and hippo's

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ride to Laredo: MTF Event and AMA Points

Another great day to get on the road! This time, I'm headed to Laredo for the start of the MTF/IBA Border to Border ride. I had originally signed up to do this ride on the BMW. It's an IBA certifiable ride, going from Mexico to Canada in 24 hours (Gold) or 36 hours. I had signed up for the 36-hr version, even though I qualified for the Gold version, having done a BBG. But I had put some waypoints on the route to collect a few national park stamps and AMA Grand Tour points along the way.

However....I had an unexpected opportunity to sell my very high-mileage BMW and, even though my new BMW won't be here until sometime in late September, I felt that a bird-in-hand was better than two in the bush, so accepted the buy offer. I took the FZ on my trip to the IBA meeting in Tulsa, then on up into MO and KS, as a test of its comfort and capabilities for an LD ride. The new Givi luggage are excellent! Large, capacious, I was able to live out of them for a week, without bringing the topcase. I put the SW-Motech risers on just before this trip, and what a difference they make! The bike gets excellent gas mileage (between 55 and 60 mpg) and has a 5 gallon tank, making the FZ a very capable LD motorcycle. The seat, however, is not up to the task. I bought the Yamaha comfort gel seat, but it's every bit as uncomfortable as the stock seat, maybe more so. The gel is hard, with absolutely no "give" and the seat itself is flat, with no contouring, so I found that after about 400 miles, my ischeal tuberosities (the bony top ends of your femurs, the part that you sit on) felt like I'd sat on a belt sander, they were so sore from bumping and sliding on this seat. I really miss my Bill Mayer seat on the BMW!!

So, without my LD-proven BMW to do the B2B ride, I contacted the ride coordinator to say that I was withdrawing. He mentioned to me that the site witness had decided to do the ride himself, and he now needed someone to replace him, so I offered to do so.

Bike loaded (this trip I decided to take the topcase to see how that works out), I got onto the road at 6:00 AM, to head south down 59. I would be meeting up with three other riders: Tom, who's the ride coordinator; Lewis, whose place I'll be taking as site witness; and Perry, a friend and coworker of Lewis's. We all rode together as far as Beeville, TX, where I split off in search of some AMA Grand Tour points.

I had several AMA Grand Tour point locations entered into my GPS and the first couple would be "Italy in America" points. The first was just north of Beeville, a town called Normanna. Now the town in Italy is really Normanni (which is the Latin or Italian plural form of Normann). So I figured that a female member of this family immigrated to Texas and founded the town of Normanna (female singular form), naming it after herself. Think that will fly?? Well, that point in the bag, I continued north to my turn-off for a tiny dot on the map called Caesar. There is no indication that this is a town any longer, so no guarantee that there'd even be a green town sign.
There wasn't. I expected the terrain to be flat and featureless, but I was pleasantly surprised, as I rode a very hilly, windy road through some really pretty wooded sections.

So 1 for 2, I headed south toward Alice, TX where I'd be meeting a Corpus Christi friend for lunch. I arrived about 30 minutes early, so headed into the center of town to get a photo of the world's largest concrete water tower. Then it was over to Subway to have lunch. The skies had been looking a bit threatening all morning, and they chose to let loose while I was inside eating. An hour later there was still no sign of it letting up and I had to get to Laredo by 3:00-3:30, so I geared up and headed out into it, only to have it stop not 10 miles down the road!

Freer, TX is home to the annual rattlesnake roundup, so it's no surprise that a large concrete rattlesnake greets you as you come into town. This oddity was also on my AMA Grand Tour list of World's Largest things. I pulled over to get the AMA photo, then continued on through town and out the west side. This little Texas town, like so many of them, could be used as a western movie set with very little modification. The main street, with its row of connected store fronts, all facing a raised sidewalk...I could almost imagine the hitching posts out front and the wagons trundling past.

Now it would be smooth and easy riding southwest on US 59 toward Laredo and the Family Gardens Hotel, where the MTF riders would be gathered. I arrived just a little after 3:00 PM, got checked in and rode over to the separate building, were we'd all be staying. The set-up was perfect for what we needed. It had a large, open atrium, and most riders had pulled their bikes up into the atrium. We would be walking to Logan's Roadhouse for dinner, so I unpacked, changed into shorts and sandals, and very soon afterward, we were headed out on foot to dinner.

It began to rain heavily while we were inside eating, and didn't look to be letting up much, so being the all-weather riders that we are, we slogged back to the hotel in the rain, with water up over our ankles in some spots.

Tom and I had the bright idea to go ahead and do the odometer checks and witnessing that evening, which would greatly streamline departure of riders the next morning. So my time that evening was spent getting everyone's odometer and starting witness forms completed. Most riders indicated to me that they wanted to start somewhere between 4:00-4:30 AM the next morning, so I made plans to get up and be available for sign-out, starting at 3:45 AM. The first rider was on the road, headed toward the Mexican border at 3:54 AM, and the last riders were off at around 4:30 AM. I tried to go back to bed to get some more sleep, but by this point, I was too awake, so packed up the bike, made some coffee, and waited for a semi-decent hour to call the EMG contact person and the person who would be the ending witness at the other end. I needed to let both of them know about any riders who did not arrive/start, of any changes to rider plans or EMG contact names, and to give them the departure times of the riders, so that they could plan accordingly.

My job complete, I was now free to get on the road and proceed up to San Antonio to start a nice 3-day riding weekend with a rider friend from Kingwood, who would be meeting up with me along the way. I headed north on I-35, getting off at Pearsall to have a look at the World's Largest Peanut. I saw the peanut that Durant, OK claimed to be the World's Largest Peanut, and have to say that Pearsall has Durant beat by a very large margin!

Tomorrow: missions and cowboy boots.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Return from IBA Meet - Day Two

I awoke to rain in Wichita this morning, but expected it, so "sucked it up" and got back out there on the road at 8:00 AM or so. This morning's route took me west of Wichita to collect two Italian towns: Viola and Milan.

The road west out of Wichita was flat and straight, with nothing to catch my attention but my speedometer, careful not to speed. 30 minutes later I took the turn south into Viola and got a good photo of the city limits sign. My next town, Milan, would be another 20-30 miles south down a pretty secondary road, SR-49. The rain was now light and intermittent, for which I was grateful. It was cold... colder than I had prepared for since I only had mesh gear on. I carry a lightweight windbreaker on the bike and had put this on at the hotel, but it was not quite warm enough.

A turn west onto US-160 and a mile later I saw the turn south onto a tiny road into Milan. But what's this?? A sign that said, "road ends ahead" and I could see a gravel road beyond the railroad tracks which went into the small ghost town of Milan. Fortunately (!!) there was a green city limits sign just before the pavement ended at the railroad tracks. I stopped, took the photo, then considered whether I could make the U-turn on this road or not. Freshly mown, wet grass covered the road surface and there was not a single soul for miles around. I opted to do a 3-point U-turn, just to be on the safe side, and was soon on my way back to US-160 to I-35 south.

The rain had started up again in earnest as I got onto the interstate, and I was getting very cold. My next gas stop, I pulled out the long-sleeved IBA meet shirt and pulled it on under the windbreaker. This helped some, but I was really wishing I'd thought to bring the Olympia Airglide quilted, waterproof liner with me.

I stayed on the interstate for a few miles before exiting east toward the beautiful town of Pawnee. The road to Pawnee was a pleasant hilly route, but the town was the real surprise. The highly ornate brick buildings, store fronts and brick paved streets wrapped around a large courthouse square in the center of town. I wandered around for quite some time, looking at the buildings and enjoying the architecture and decor of the town. Pawnee is the home town to Chester Gould, creator of the Dick Tracy comic, and there's a terrific large mural in memory of him. I made a note that I must get back there to spend more time.

I backtracked to I-35 then headed south to Guthrie in search of a possible "BIG" bonus. Conflicting reports have it moved, closed, or for sale. I should have just skipped it, because the rains started up again, in earnest, and the road I was wandering down was very hilly, very narrow, and in very rough condition. I rode it from end to end and could not find what I was looking for. So, back on I-35, I continued south toward my exit for Arcadia. This would be in search of a large soda pop bottle and I easily and quickly found it, on the west side of town, so not too far off the interstate.

It was absolutely pouring when I got there, and there was a Cruiser rider with no helmet, only a do-rag and leather jacket waiting out the rain under the gas pump overhang. I parked my bike in front of the soda pop bottle, got off the bike, got my AMA flag arranged, my camera out and stepped back to take the photo. He watched me the whole time, but did not say anything. I packed my flag and camera back into the tank bag, got back on the bike, and took off again in the pouring rain, headed back toward I-35. Sorta reminded me of the similar scenario in North Dakota.

There was a long stretch of I-35 ahead of me, with no end in sight to the rain. I would not get off the interstate until well south of Oklahoma City, in quest of an Italy bonus point. It was right off the interstate and I rode around the block to get my bike in the best position, got the photo, and boogied back to the interstate again.

I cut over to US-75 at Sherman, where I would find another Italian-named town but would be unsure of what I would find in terms of signage, since it appears to be a very small town on the map. I followed the GPS directions to Ravenna and the post office, but it was tiny, with a mud parking lot and a narrow road with no shoulder in front of it. I did a U-turn and gingerly parked the bike in the sand and mud in front to get my photo. I was getting brave about handling this motorcycle, bolstered by its light weight, tight turning radius, and narrow seat.

The last stop of the day was another Italy town, possibly a ghost town, but it was on the direct route to the hotel, so worth taking the chance. The road to get there was a wonderful winding lane, FM 1377. I was very pleasantly surprised to see a large blue water tower with the town name on it, despite the complete absence of anything resembling a town itself. I pulled over and parked the bike at a spot that gave me a good view of the tower, and got my AMA flag and camera out to pose the photo. As I was putting things away and getting back on the bike, I noticed that a horse was making its way over to me in the pasture across the road. I could see another horse at the back of the pasture take note of me and start its way over to me as well.

Friendly and curious, the first horse watched me as I got my camera back out. I took a photo of the horse and my bike, and then I could see that the other horse had made its way to this side of the pasture so I took another couple of photos. That made my day!

Now it was an easy ride to the hotel in McKinney and I called Brenda to let her know I'd arrived. She, her husband Bruce, and another riding friend, Suzanne, met me for dinner that night at Hank's Texas Grill. Brenda brought her laptop and showed us photos of their recent Alaska cruise (wonderful!), we had a great dinner together, then walked back to the hotel so that they could see my FZ6 and talk motorcycles for awhile, before the rain sent them scurrying to their cars.

Tomorrow: beeline home to Houston in the rain.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Getting Home from Tulsa the Long Way

I expected to awake to rain, but the skies were clear as the sun rose at 6:30 AM. I jumped out of bed, got cleaned up and dressed, and did a video checkout before lugging my things downstairs to the bike. Just as I was getting my helmet on, Sal came over to wish me a safe ride home. He's always such a joy to be with! I wished him a safe ride home, as well, and then rode out of the parking lot, headed toward my first "BIG" thing of the day.

Sunday morning and the roads were nearly deserted, which made it very easy to make my stops as I headed out of Tulsa. I had three big things to collect, and each went quickly and easily, and next thing I knew I was on the expressway, heading toward Route 66 and some more point collecting in Catoosa, Claremore, and Foyil.

I spotted the blue whale in Catoosa, on the other side of the divided road, so did a U-turn at the next cut-through and drew up slowly on the shoulder to choose my spot. But I overshot the best angle, so went down to a cut-through, did a U-turn, continued up the road to another cut-through and another U-turn and stopped a few dozen feet further back to get a better photograph. This done, I did yet another U-turn to head in the right direction on Route 66 toward Claremore and my next point collecting opportunity.

This one done, I continued on to Foyil in search of a large concrete totem pole. As I approached the coordinates I could see that parking on the side of the road would not be an option and I would have to pull into the little driveway which led to the owner's gravel and grass back yard parking lot. The angle was tricky, but I did get most of the totem in the photograph. As I was parking my bike, a tall lanky fellow in a leather riding suit and riding a KTM pulled in next to me. I thought maybe he was there for the same AMA tour, but as he watched me take out my AMA flag and drape it over the bike, he asked what rally I was doing. I explained what the AMA Grand tours were, hoping I was a suitable ambassador for these great excuses to get out and ride. He asked me where I was headed next, gave a nod of approval at my response, then headed out on foot with his camera in hand, and I got back on my bike, did a U-turn in the gravel and hoped I didn't embarrass myself by doing something stupid. But I managed to negotiate the difficult turns and got out on the road unscathed.

My hunt for "BIG" things continued as I headed toward I-44, where I'd get a turnpike-spanning McDonald's and a giant Indian, before heading north into KS and Big Brutus. the KTM rider assured me that I'd start seeing signs for Big Brutus and he was correct. the signs routed me a different way than my GPS, which was probably a good thing, since one of the roads on the GPS route would have been gravel.

However, the roads the signs directed me to would barely qualify as paved, and I had to wonder if they were paved only for the tourist attraction, since every other road coming off this route was gravel, and I was pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. Whatever the reason, I was grateful for semi-solid pavement beneath my tires.

I could see Big Brutus poking up above the trees about a half-mile before I got there. This large electric earth shovel was enormous!! I pulled into a spot right in front of the shovel, for a great photograph! The parking lot was plenty large enough to take a large U-turn on the deep gravel and I exited and got back onto the little roadway, headed east toward the road that would take me to Ft. Scott and lunch with Genia and Glenda.

I was pleased that my timing was working out well, despite all of the stops, and I arrived at the parking lot of Ft. Scott National Park at 11:15, just ahead of our 11:30 AM meet time. I no sooner had my riding gear off and National Park passport book in hand, and I heard them coming. Perfect timing! We went inside so that I could get my NP stamp and asked the park rangers for lunch recommendation, which turned out to be the pizza parlor across the street.

We had a great lunch and nice long visit. I reluctantly said goodbye and got back on the road at 2:15 PM, headed east toward Milo, MO and an "Italy in America" photo. It was a tiny little town with no post office, no police station, and no green town limits sign. I was worried I'd not find anything, but I then spotted a small volunteer fire department building down a side street, did a U-turn to pose the bike in front, and took my photo.

Now it would be a fast haul up the highway to Rich Hill for an indeterminate, unconfirmed "BIG" item. First, I needed to stop on the edge of town for gas. As I was getting off my bike, an attractive young lady returned to the car that was parked next to me. She started to say something to me, but I had to get my helmet off and earplugs out to hear her. Soon the rest of her family - mother, father, brother, sister - joined her and both her mom and she seemed very interested in my riding experiences. The young lady wanted to learn to ride, but had been discouraged by others who said she'd hurt herself. I encouraged her to take an MSF class, start small, and learn to handle risk with proper gear. She and her mom both thanked me and wished me a good trip.

I wasn't sure what I was looking for and wandered around the small town looking for a big coal shovel. I guess I was looking for machinery, but did eventually find what the town proudly proclaims as "Big Mouth." I got the photo and then continued west on what proved to be a fantastic road, SR-A, with lots of 90-degree curves, taking me to US-69 south back to Ft. Scott, where I picked up 54 towards Gas, KS another "BIG" photo.

From Gas, I had a straight, long ride west toward a decision point. Either head north toward Florence, Newton, and McPherson KS or head straight west toward Wichita. I would make that decision depending on the time, but also on the weather. Skies were looking very black to the west and it would be after dark if I chose to get those three towns and their AMA points. I opted to cut this loop from my route and just head straight to the hotel. It was a good decision, as it started to rain about 30 miles east of Wichita. I filled my gas tank and checked into the hotel a few minutes after 7:00 PM, with the rain on my heels.

Tomorrow: headed toward home, but not before gathering some Italian towns and meeting Suzanne and Brenda for dinner in McKinney, TX.

Friday, August 15, 2008

IBA Meeting in Tulsa

So many attendees!! So many legends of the LD Riding community!! So many very-well equipped motorcycles in the parking lot!! And did I say, so many long distance legends??!!

I got downstairs early so that I could register and got to introduce myself to Lisa and thank her for such a well-organized event. Waiting in line for breakfast, I was joined by another MTF member, Randy Freyer, and as we were being led to a table, another MTF member, Lori Majors, waved at us to join her at her table. I think the large group is overwhelming the restaurant staff at the hotel. The night before, three of us - Sheila Winnie, Lori Majors and I - had dinner together and, as the restaurant filled, they pressed the bartender into helping wait tables. Lori had done a BBG to the meeting, arriving that morning, and she was clearly beyond tired and fading fast as we waited for our food.

This morning's session got off to a rousing start with a talk given by Dale "Warchild" Wilson about an endurance ride he did last summer. He was followed by an MD and her LD riding husband, to talk about nutrition, hydration, and "truck stop pharmacology." Before we broke for lunch, several LD riders participated in a fashion show, demonstrating the riding gear each of them chooses to wear.

The delivery style was at least as entertaining as the story itself. It was to set the tone for the entire day of excellent seminars and workshops. The format was the same both days: general assembly and topics in the morning, break-out sessions in the afternoon. Each afternoon several "Farkle Masters," wearing blue t-shirts, conducted parking lot sessions on bike electronics, wiring, soldering, autocom set-up.

Friday afternoon I attended the afternoon breakout sessions which included topics on riding a first rally and efficient rallying. The second topic was of much greater use to me, as it was not necessarily specific to rallying and provided information of value to the type of riding that I do, i.e., "power sniffing."

During the breaks and at lunch I had the opportunity to meet some MTF members for the first time, even though I'd "chatted" with them on the forum. This was a real treat for me. We all had time to socialize for an hour or so after the sessions and before dinner. Dinner was excellent, and the guest speaker was Bob Higdon, who gave an excellent photography presentation of his and Mike Kneebone's trip on rented BMW dualsports across Australia. This was followed by a preview of the '07 IBR!! Really well-done, so far.

On Saturday, the day started with a panel discussion about the upcoming 2009 IBR. The panel consisted of past IBR participants, both rookie and experienced. It was a good cross-section of experience and lack of it, covering everything from rally preparation, motorcycle preparation, mistakes made, and things done right. This was followed by two very rally-specific topics: digital photography for bonus verification, and Electronic navigation and mapping. I popped in and out of these two, finding the digital session of little value and filled with questions, the answers to which, were very obvious. I skipped the navigation session to go out to the parking lot with Richard to adjust my chain. I had the bike serviced prior to this trip but could feel the chain binding when decceleratiing to a stop.

Another great lunch, and it was then into the breakout sessions on doing the National Park Tour (one of my favorites) followed by rallying in the rain which, again, I skipped so that I could spend some time with one of the vendors. I ended up buying a pair of First Gear Katmandu summer-weight riding pants, which they were introducing here at the meeting and offering at a national meet discount.

The newly renovated Marriott hotel handled the event beautifully, preparing the meals, serving them buffet style, the room set-ups...everything seemed to go flawlessly. The last evening's dinner featured an hilarious presentation on rally bloopers, given by Tom Austin.

I wasn't much into the bar scene each evening after dinner, pretty much wanting to get back to my room to watch the olympics. I was so disappointed that I'd missed the women's marathon Saturday, catching it moments after the winner crossed the finish line.

Before dinner I had taken a load of things out to the bike to get a jump on the next morning's packing. I also sent an email to Glenda to confirm our lunch date Sunday at Ft. Scott, KS. I'm looking forward to getting on the road again, riding up through AR, MO, and KS, and collecting some national park stamps and AMA bonus points.

Tomorrow: Big things, Italian things, and lunch with friends.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Getting to Tulsa for IBA Meet

My alarm was set for 6:30 AM so that I could get an early start to a very busy day. I wanted to arrive in Tulsa before 5:30, when registration would close and the welcome reception would begin. So I got on the road before 8:00 AM in Paris TX and headed north to my first of many AMA Grand Tour bonus locations.

A large Campbell Soup plant in Paris, TX was my first stop of the morning. There was supposed to be a large soup can at the entrance, but as I approached the site, I slowed down to assess the worthiness of the bonus as well as the parking situation on a busy divided 4 lane road during morning rush hour. The can was a really only a 3-D bulge on the sign in front of the plant, and it wasn't even very big. I rode down to the next available cut-through to do a u-turn and rode back and stopped on the shoulder to consider it. Nah!! Not really worth fooling with, so I continued on to my turn north toward Hugo OK.

It was pleasantly cool this morning and the morning air was clean and fresh. As I rode north out of Paris I spotted a large pistol sitting upright on a grassy swath in front of a barn-like antiques store. I remembered seeing a large pistol on the Roadside America website, and reading that it used to be in the window of an antique store but was long since gone. Could this be the same one, only now in its new location? Didn't matter....I decided to do a u-turn, head back to the pistol and get a photo.

A little further up the road I spied the most perfect billboard. On the MTF forum someone posted, saying that in order to make my flower-sniffin' legitimate, I needed to stop for ice cream along the way.

I thought I would find the Olivet cemetery in Hugo to take a look at the circus performers' tombstones, but as I neared the town, I decided that, as interesting as this stop would be, I should skip this diversion and just continue on to Durant OK, where there was another AMA Grand Tour point opportunity. U.S. 69 out of Durant took me up to I-40, but not before getting off at Krebs to capture an interesting AMA Grand Tour bonus. Krebs and its neighbor town McAlester were both settled by Italian immigrants, and their culture and history lives in these two towns still today.

Being a female rider, I often have interesting encounters at gas stations. Once I got onto I-40, I stopped at my first opportunity - a Love's Truck Stop - for gas and something to eat and drink. After getting gas, I pulled into a parking spot in front of the store, stopping in front of two men who were having a coffee and taking a short break from their 18-wheeler rigs. As I rode up, and before I could dismount and get my helmet off, I noticed them talking, pointing and looking over my way. As I got off the bike they started to talk to me, but I had to get my helmet off and earplugs out before I could hear them. "What bike is that?" one of them asked. When I answered "Yamaha," he turned to the other fellow and said, "See, that's a Yamaha." So apparently there had been a debate going on about what my bike was. This has happened more than once, as the FZ is not a commonly seen bike.

Fort Smith, AR has been on my NPT route every year that I've done national park tours. It's at a convenient "crossroads" to somewhere else. As I entered the town, going over the bridge, I spotted a sign indicating that Fort Smith has a sister town in Italy. The problem was that the sign sits right at the end of the bridge, with nowhere to pull over. The park ranger thought that the visitor center in town might know if there was another sign somewhere else in town. But there wasn't, to their knowledge, so I continued on my route toward Springdale and Bentonville AR and some more AMA Grand Tour bonus points. I spent a fair amount of time wandering around Springdale trying to find a particular sign, but finally gave up, took a photo of the building with no signage, and can only hope that it will suffice for the points.

Out of Bentonville I picked up an incredibly good road, SR-12 toward OK. Not only was it a pretty road, but it had a number of 90-degree turns to keep it interesting. At this point I realized I wouldn't make it to the hotel in Tulsa in time for registration, and might even miss a good deal of the reception as well. So I relaxed the pace a little, and took a gas and snack break in Mason Valley.

The hotel for the IBA Meet in Tulsa was easy to find, and I pulled in to a parking lot filled with motorcycles of every brand and model. I unloaded my stuff, covered the bike, and headed inside. Almost immediately I ran into Richard Buber who had just come in from doing the Butt Lite V rally. I dashed up to my room, dropped my stuff on the bed, and hopped in the shower. I wanted to get back downstairs to mingle and get something to eat.

On my way up to this Tulsa event, I had plenty of highway time to consider how far I have come as a rider, and how my association with the MTF organization had helped me grow in that regard. Two and a half years ago I knew no one in this community, meeting a small number of MTF members for the first time in January 2006 to help scout an MTF rally that would be held later that Spring. Two months later, in March, I stood in the lobby at the IBA Party in Jacksonville while an MTF member who I'd met in January put names to faces of the stream of people in the lobby. So when I got back down to the lobby after getting checked in and cleaned up, I realized just how many people I have met or come to know who were in that room. And if I hadn't met them in person before, I recognized the names of people I previously knew only on the forum.

Tomorrow: meetings and mingling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On the road to Tulsa

Yep! On the road again, this time to Tulsa to attend the IBA meeting. I'm getting there the long, round-about way as I collect more points for the AMA Grand Tours (Italy in America Tour and World's Biggest Tour).

I got on the road late, around 10:00 AM. I wanted to get a bicycle ride in first, and then noticed that the hollies along the front of the house were looking a little ragged. So I got a 10 mile ride in (50 minutes) and then, while still hot and sweaty, got the electric hedge trimmer out and whipped those hollies into shape. So...on the road, headed up I-45 a little late, but I have a 475 mile day ahead, with no deadline to reach Paris TX for the night.

My first stop was a tiny dot on the map named Venetia, north of Normangee and west of Buffalo. I let the GPS lead me to the approximate location of where there will (hopefully) be a sign marking the town line. On Google Earth there doesn't appear to be much of anything except a few farms, so I can only hope. FM 977 was a terrific road, as was FM 3. Lots of curves! I must remember these roads for future rides. And there it was!! The characteristic green sign along the side of the road. Perfect! Thankfully! I was pretty far afield of the main route, and this one point bonus cost me 45 minutes to get.

I love riding on US 79 out of Buffalo. This road is just beautiful, and surprisingly hilly and winding. At one point, the view ahead looks like somewhere else, not Texas, with its woods and hilly terrain. In Palestine I turned onto FM 155, another really beautiful road. It passes through Frankston and Coffee City, where it crosses Lake Palestine in two places. The temperatures were noticeably cooler as I rode across the lake and into nice heavy wooded stretches of road as it brought me into Tyler. My next stop would be in front of the Pilgrim headquarters, where I bagged a photo of my bike and the AMA flag in front of the giant head of a pilgrim. Corny, but kinda cool, too!

I skirted Tyler on the west and north side to pick up US 271 toward Mount Pleasant. This is a 4-lane road most of the way and I was able to make up time along this stretch. My next stops will be back in Italy in America. Naples is about 20 miles east of Mount Pleasant, and I remembered scouting this town for an MTF rally in January 2006. The town has a nice engraved marble marker in the center of town, which would make a great photo.

Backtracking to Mount Pleasant, I had a chance to ride through the center of this really neat old town. It has a nice courthouse square and a real downtown, looking like it must have looked for the last 50 years. I got onto I-30 west for about 30 miles to exit onto FM-69 south to Como. I was in search of the post office, but came upon a volunteer fire department first, so stopped and got a photo.

But just a half mile further on, I came upon an absolutely perfect little post office and photo opportunity. It was a tiny town, as were many of these that I've ridden through today. Nearly all had two things in common: cattle farms and rail lines running through the town. I crossed and re-crossed many railroad tracks today.

Back onto I-30 for a couple of miles to exit onto SR 19 north to Sulphur Springs and then on to Paris TX. The SW Dairy Museum is in Sulphur Springs and I learned that there are two very large cows in front of the museum, so I headed that way to snag some photos of very large bovine.

Then it was on to Paris, TX to get a photo of the Eiffel Tower replica. There's a large red cowboy hat on top, an entrant in my World's Largest Grand Tour. I decided to go ahead and ride on to Reno, just 5 or 6 miles east of Paris, to bag that Italian town namesake, before turning around and heading to the hotel. Stopped on the side of the road to get the Reno town sign photo, I was just getting ready to pull back onto the road and do a U-turn when I saw a biker pull up behind me. But I'd already taken off and was in the middle of that U-turn when I noticed him. I waved and gave him the thumbs-up sign and he returned it.

Tomorrow: Mostly World's Largest things on the route, which will take me into OK, AR, and MO before turning west to Tulsa.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Return from MOA - Riding through Colorado & Texas

My stop in Greeley CO culminated in a nice dinner with another woman rider I know from one of the riding forums. Checking my e-mail that night, another friend, who is following this blog, reminded me that Greeley was where she had her motorcycle accident a year ago. I had forgotten about that. I rode right through that very same intersection where she rear-ended a fast-stopping vehicle. We are all very glad that she survived this incident inharmed (ATGATT) and the bike could be repaired so that she could continue her trip.

The next morning, before getting on the road, I checked my e-mail again and learned that some edits were needed to a webpage that I maintain for a non-profit fund-raising event. So I made those edits and finally got on the road around 9:15 Am.

Just a few miles east of Greeley I ran into construction that had the road down to one lane. The delay was about 15 minutes which, added onto the delay getting out of the hotel this morning, might delay my meeting with another woman rider down at Bents Fort National Park. I told her I'd call her when I got within 100 miles, so this should be okay. Once "sprung" from the construction delays, I was able to move along quickly towards Brush CO, where I'd turn south onto US-71. I've ridden 71 before, so know what to expect. It's wide open, passing through wheat and corn for miles and miles, with no towns to slow me down.

Once I arrived at Limon CO, I called my friend to give her an ETA for Bents Fort, and then got onto I-70 east. I had an AMA Grand Tour photo op just a few miles east, in a town called Genoa. Obviously, this would be for the "Italy in America" Grand Tour. On MS Streets & Trips and on Google Earth, it looks to be a decent little town. Heck, it even has a post office, so it can't be too dinky. Ha! Once off the interstate, both my GPS and the sign toward the "business district" were telling me to turn left onto a sand and gravel road. This can't be right! But there didn't appear to be any options. This was out in the middle of nowhere, on flat prairie, with no other roads visible. So I turned onto the road and followed it toward a cluster of low buildings and run-down houses.

At what appeared to be the "center" of town, the GPS told me to turn right. Ahead I could see that the sand road became paved for a stretch of two blocks and, there on the right, was a very old a sad looking post office. I stopped, got my AMA towel out and arranged it on the bike for the photo of bike, towel, and post office. There was not another person in sight. Mission accomplished, I continued to the end of the block and turned right, off the short two-block section of paved road and onto sand roads again. I carefully worked my way back to the little county road at the interstate and returned back to Limon.

Passing through Limon on the way out to Genoa, I spied a KOA campground. These are worth points for both the AMA tours I'm doing. It was right next to a gas station, so I filled up, posed the bike for the KOA photo, and then continued down US-71 toward La Junta and Bents Fort. I will add here that for the last two days, I have been very cautious about keeping my gas tank topped off. Gas stations are few and far between on the roads I've been traveling. Today would be no exception.

I arrived in La Junta, followed the GPS to Bents Fort, and arrived there at around 2:00 PM. Genia was there waiting for me. We walked to the Fort from the parking lot, where we took a quick tour of the buildings and then visited the bookstore - my favorite place to spend money! By now it's very hot, forecasted to be 100 degrees, and I was hungry! We rode east to Las Animas and had lunch at DQ. With ice cream for dessert, of course! Genia tells me that the large birds I was seeing scurrying across the roads in ND and Montana were most likely pheasant hens, based on my description of how they would scurry upright across the road on stout legs.

We rode together to Lamar, where Genia split off towards home in KS and I continued south on US-287. Thank you, Genia, for a great visit and nice break in the middle of a long hot day of riding.

I made excellent time heading south to TX, even hitting the road construction with one lane just right, so that my delay was only about 10 minutes (compared to this same stretch of road on my outbound leg, which delayed me 30 minutes in the heat of the day). I made fast tracks toward Amarillo, where I'd planned to stop for the night.

The road construction had the same effect on traffic - bottleneck - that it did when I passed through here a few days before. Cars and trucks were badly bunched up, and moved at quite a bit less than the speed limit with lots of accordion-effect going on. Very unsafe!! I couldn't help but notice a State Trooper parked on the side of the road in the opposite direction and now know why he was there. As we moved south after getting through the construction, there was a lot of passing and jockeying going on. A large black pick-up truck decided to start passing a long line of 18-wheelers and cars and got past a couple of them before entering a no-passing zone. The terrain is gently hilly so the passing zones are relatively short. But he continued in the left lane as we went up a hill and I held my breath, waiting for the head-on collision to occur. He managed to squeeze himself into a tiny space between two 18-wheelers...but just barely.

Remember the State Trooper I saw a few miles back?? A few moments later, I saw him working his way around the traffic behind me with his lights on. He was after that pick-up truck. And he got him. So now I know what that trooper is doing. He's intentionally sitting there waiting for the bolus of cars and trucks to come through, all bunched up after the construction zone. He knows that drivers will take risks and chances just to break away from all of the bunched up vehicles.

The pack eventually broke apart as more passing zones and third lanes appeared, but it took many, many miles. As the sun got low in the sky, the temperatures moderated some, which was a tremendous help. I love the late afternoon light, which gives everything a warm glow. I made good time from Boise City, where I stopped for gas, and arrived in Amarillo at 9:00 PM.

Last day:
I was in no hurry to get on the road for my final day of this trip. I wanted to arrive in Houston after 7:00 PM, to miss the rush hour traffic. I checked the weather, knowing that Houston would be feeling the outer rain bands from hurricane Dolly. I would ride into rain, but am used to it, so there were no concerns or worries.

I was packed and headed out of Amarillo by 9:15 AM or so, and took US-287 southeast toward Fort Worth. There were no surprises, just lots of open prairie with a chain of small towns strung along the highway. I had lunch in Wichita Falls, and ate a surprisingly good slice of pizza at the C-store at a Shell station. I guess I'd been eating so much bad food on this trip, that anything tastes good at this point!

As I got near Buffalo, I could see the cloud build-up on the south horizon, which grew larger and darker the closer I got to Houston. I opted to stop and fill the tank up one more time in Buffalo, even though I still had 1/2 a tank or more, but this would ensure I wouldn't have to stop and gas up in the rain, once close to Houston.

I rode into the rain as I approached Conroe. It would rain hard for a couple of miles, then I ride out of it onto dry pavement. It continued this way down to Beltway 8 near the airport, then stayed dry all the way to within 3 miles of my house, where I rode into another band of rain. But...I'm nearly home!

2008 BMW MOA Rally trip is done!
Miles: 3995
Total Days: 9
Travel days: 7
Average miles ridden per travel day: 571 miles
Longest day: 720 miles in 13.5 hours

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going Home the Long Way - Getting to Colorado

Today was hot...very hot! It would also be another long day, 670 miles, as I wanted to make it to Greeley for the night. I was packed and on the road by 8:15 AM, and it was pleasantly cool as I headed west from Miles City on I-94.

My next stop was Pompeys Pillars National Monument along the Lewis & Clark Trail.

This area of Montana was beautiful! The highway generally follows Yellowstone River and to the north of the river I could see a ribbon of green with high buttes and bluffs beyond. Some very pleasant elevation changes and sweepers led me 115 miles toward the national park exit.

The "pillar" was easily visible from the highway. NPS have built a beautiful new visitor center and I was intrigued by the landscaping and walkway that led to the building. Inside, I got the stamp, talked to the ranger a little bit, and then left. There's a several hundred yard walk to the rock formation itself, and I debated whether to take it, but in the end decided I had too much ground to cover to get to Greeley.

I continued to Billings, rather than take a shortcut down to I-90. The gas station choices were few and far between out here, and I didn't want to take a chance. So, fueled and fed, I got onto I-90 toward I-25. I'm seeing many, many cruiser-style motorcycles, mostly Harleys, and mostly loaded down with all sorts of luggage. They are no doubt headed toward Sturgis to get an early start on that rally. Surprisingly, I found that I was passing most of them, and I was pretty much going the speed limit, or maybe just a little over.

Many long stretches of I-90 and I-25 were down to one lane due to construction. This slowed me down quite a bit, as the speed limit through these zones was 45 mph. It meant that I would not make it to Greeley by 6:00 PM as I had hoped.

A few miles beyond Casper WY, I had an AMA Grand Tour point collecting opportunity, so I took the exit and was immediately dumped into a very confusing mess of construction. Access to any gas stations or other businesses was through a maze of orange cones and gravel drives. I did need gas, but opted to continue on to my AMA photo op and seek gas on the south side of town. I was looking for the world's largest jackalope and rode to the supposed coordinates at 3rd and Cedar, in the center of town to find nothing. I circled a few adjacent blocks and still could not find it. Then, finally, just as I was about to give up and get back onto Business 25 to leave town, I saw it on the corner of that road and 3rd Street, about 3 blocks off from it's supposed location. Thank goodness!

All afternoon I could see large rain cells off in the distance and I began beg them to head my way to cool me off and wash the bugs off my visor. I did run through one brief bit of rain just north of Cheyenne which cooled things off nicely. I would be meeting a woman and fellow rider in Greeley for dinner, but was about an hour behind my projected arrival, so I stopped in Ft. Collins for gas and gave her a call to let her know where I was. Once at my hotel in Greeley, I had a few minutes to change clothes and freshen up before walking to a nearby IHOP to meet her. We had a great dinner together, talking until 9:30, when the restaurant staff subtly let us know they were trying to close.

She rode her bike over to the hotel where we continued to chat for a bit before saying our goodbyes.

Tomorrow: Bent's Fort and riding back into Texas. It's going to be very hot!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Going Home the Long Way - Enchanted Highway

In my never-ending quest for national park stamps and big things, I routed myself about 500 miles out of my way so that I could ride the Enchanted Highway and get a national park stamp in North Dakota.

So I headed east on I-90 to Spearfish, where I turned onto US-85 north. A few zigs and zags north and east got me to Regent, at the south end of Enchanted Highway. Gary Greff, an artist from Regent ND, creates these very large metal artwork sculptures and has been leasing land from the farmers along the 30 mile stretch of CR-2117 between Regent and Gladstone.

Along the way, I came up on a deer who was shoulder deep in a field of wheat. All I could see was her head and neck, as she walked slowly through the field. I saw her and slowed down, and as she got closer to the road, she sensed my presence and froze. I continued to slow down, as I watched for her next moves. We were at an impass when she finally turned and bounded over the wheat towards a line of woods along the edge. This was one of those moments when I wish I could photograph on the fly. It was a magnificent sight!

The sculptures were great! The first one, closest to Regent, was the large metal farmer and family. These were followed by a large pheasant family, a large Teddy Roosevelt on rearing horse, large fish, large grasshopper, large deer, and finally the large geese in flight. Well worth the detour.

Roosevelt National Park Painted Canyon Visitor Center is about 40 miles west of Gladstone on I-94, so I pulled off the interstate and got behind a very slow-moving 18-wheeler who was also pulling into the visitor center...this center also serves as a rest stop.

He was going so slow that when I crossed the cattle guard, my rear wheel started to spin on the slick metal. Yikes! That's not a pleasant feeling!

I parked, went inside to get my stamp, and then took some photos of the overlook. It sort of looked like a cross between painted desert (south of I-40) and the SD Badlands. It was cloudy so the colors weren't as vivid as they probably would be in sunshine. As I started to get back on the bike, a fellow from Canada on a red sport bike (something like a VFR or similar) and in full racing leathers pulled up next to me, stopped, and took off his helmet. His first comment to me was, "This is the first motorcycle I've seen all day that's not been a Harley." Now, I'd been seeing BMW's all day, headed home from the rally, and I said that to him. He responded by saying something along the lines of "so was there lots of drinking and partying?" That sort of hit me wrong, so I just ignored him, put my helmet on and rode off.

I wanted to also get the stamp at the park entrance in Medora, so took that exit and went into town. It's a cute town, mostly turned into a tourist trap, with quaint log cabin buildings turned into gift shops and various museums. I wandered through the little streets, taking it all in, but decided to skip this visitor center since I already had the stamp, and headed back to I-94. The sky was looking a little black to the west, and it was another 128 miles to Miles City, my stop for the night.

One more gas stop before getting to Miles City and I saw three Harleys sitting at one of the pumps. They'd gotten gas but were obviously going to wait out the rain, since it had started just as I was getting off the interstate. I said Howdy as I walked past them to go inside, but they did not respond. When I returned to my bike it was raining pretty hard, but that didn't deter me. I put my jacket and helmet back on, plugged my speakers into the GPS, saddled up and smugly rode off. Rain doesn't stop me.

Tomorrow: Pompeys Pillars then south to Colorado.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rally Day 2 - BMW MOA Rally, Gillette WY

Rally Day!!

Up at 6:30, dressed, fed and on the road to the rally site by 8:30 AM. My First Aid Center shift begins at 12:00 noon today, so I wanted to get there early to do some vendor browsing beforehand.

I changed into shorts and sandals and stowed my gear temporarily in the first aid room while I attended the Woman Rider seminar. It wasn't what I expected or hoped for, but was too polite to leave. LOL! Onward, then, to the vendor hall and outside vendors, but first a stop to watch Skert do her bike pickup demonstration at the outside stage next to the demo bike area. I ran into another Houston club member, and saw Mike ride by, looking for us with the club sign-in roster for club attendance awards. That was lucky!

My next stop was Bill Mayer Saddles to fill out an order form for a custom saddle for my not-yet-owned R1200R. I can get a spare seat pan and get it sent in to be worked while waiting for the new bike to be built in Germany. BMS is offering a rally discount plus "head of the list" build date, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Next, it was inside to find the Bob's BMW booth. I spoke to Bob Henig about getting a seat pan and also ordering the side cases for my R1200R. He is offering free shipping for rally goers, so this will help alot, as these are bulky items. I ran into fellow MTF'er Don Wallace at the Bob's BMW booth. We'd been playing phone tag for the last three days.

My last stop was National Cycle to ask the manager which windscreen he had on the R1200R at the RA rally the previous month. From the website I saw that there were two heights and wanted to make sure I ordered the right one. So, now my business was complete!! I was hungry!

The rally food was not the greatest, consisting of typical vendor food: hot dogs, polish dogs, hamburgers, and the like, but I did find a pulled pork sandwich that wasn't too bad. But I sure was craving some good food!

The 4-hour First Aid Center shift was relatively quiet. We had four staff, so two of us took the radios and the golf cart and roved for awhile. It was good to get out and about the rally site on four wheels for a change. We packed things up at 4:00 and closed down. I walked over to the campsite of the Louisville group, but they were striking camp, as most of them were leaving that afternoon after closing ceremonies. One of the fellows was planning to leave the next morning, so he and I walked over to the beer hall and had cold drinks and went off in search of ice cream. That hour spent just sitting and talking was really pleasant and relaxing.

The hordes headed over to the outdoor arena bleachers for the closing ceremonies. No, I did not win the R1200GS!! In fact I didn't win any of the grand prizes, but I did win one of the daily door prizes! Mike from Houston called me on the cell phone to say that he was at the grocery store buying things to cook on the grill. One of the other club members camping at the rally site was having a cookout for all Houston members. I wandered over there after the closing ceremonies but didn't think this shindig looked very promising, so I bid goodbye, walked over to the day parking lot, changed into my riding gear and headed back to the hotel.

I parked, dumped my stuff in a chair in the lobby and walked next door to Subway. As I arrived, a fellow on a GS with Canada plates rode in to the Subway parking lot and got in line behind me. What the heck! I asked if he was staying to eat, 'cause if he was, I would. So we had a pleasant meal together. He won one of the grand prizes: the $1500 gift certificate for camping gear from Twisted Throttle. Turns out that a couple of years ago he retired, sold all his belongings and has been riding and camping all over the world on his GS! That particular grand prize couldn't have gone to a better recipient!

Tomorrow: Enchanted Highway, Teddy Roosevelt, and coloring another state on the map.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rally Day 1 - BMW MOA Rally, Gillette WY

This day didn't turn out the way I thought it was better!

My original plan was to ride over to the rally and spend the day visiting the vendors, eating, sitting with friends. So I packed sandals and shorts on the bike and, at 9:15 AM, was headed toward I-90 to ride 2 exits down to the Cam-Plex Center where the rally is. But it was so gorgeous - blue skies, cool temps - that I rode right on past the exit and headed towards Devils Tower.

Lots of BMW's on the road headed the same direction I was. There are plenty of great riding opportunities in this direction: Devils Tower, The Badlands, Needles Highway, Mt. Rushmore, just to name a few of many. I exited the interstate 25 miles later at Moorcroft and took US 14 north. The road was smooth and wide, and a few miles later it started ascending into the Black Hills with plenty of high speed sweepers to accomplish that elevation change.

As I neared the next turn-off, I caught a glimpse of the top of Devils Tower, peeking over some hills to the northwest. Just a few miles later, on WY-24, the road was flanked by two wide pull-outs with a spectacular view of the tower. I made a note to stop here on the way back to Gillette and continued to the park entrance. The terrain was beautiful riding through the park to the visitor center. The road wound through woods and open fields as it made its way up to the visitor center. An open field along the south side of the road was home to prairie dogs and they could be seen sitting on top of their burrows watching the tourists.

Up at the top of the road, the parking lot was filled with BMW's. I slipped in to a slot between two other bikes and went to the visitor center to get my passport stamped.

The center is housed in an old log cabin, built in the very early 1900's. It, in itself, was an attraction worth examining more closely. I got a great photo of my bike with the tower immediately behind it, before getting back on and riding back out of the park. I savored the scenery, spotting a deer in the woods just off the park road. Just at the entrance to the park there is a KOA Kampground and I pulled in to the entrance to get photos for the AMA tour.

Back onto WY-24 I joined the parade of BMW's heading back toward Gillette. I saw many BMW's headed the other direction as I worked my way back to I-90 and the rally.

At the rally, I changed into shorts and sandals, checked in at the First Aid center, and then went off in search of vendors. I wanted to meet Mario Winkelman of LDComfort riding shorts. He's on the MTF forum, but I've never met him in person. Then I went to the Bill Mayer saddle booth outside and met Rocky in person. He has done two saddles for my R1150R in the last 3 years. Now I wanted to get my name on the production list for my new R1200R, which should be built and shipped in the next month or so. Rocky was offering a discount for those who order there at the rally, and also is putting rally goers at the top of the production schedule.

I ran into Mike at the registration area and we went off in search of food. Klaus and Diane joined us as we waited in line. But Mike decided to head over to the hotel and get checked in so the three of us sat in the shade, visited, ate, and then walked over to their camp site to visit until my shift in the First Aid Center.

A great group of people have been working First Aid, and today my co-volunteer was a fireman from Colorado. We had visitors drop in all afternoon: Fletcher Clark from MTF, who'd just finished his shift volunteering in registration; Glenn from the Detroit BMW club, who I met in Houghton at the BMW RA rally; Mike came by for a short while.

In late afternoon, the winds picked up considerably, and the sky turned red from the dust being kicked up. Weather radar showed a strong band of thunderstorms headed toward Gillette, so the rally goers thought we were all in for another wild night like last night. A strong storm blew through last night, much to the discomfort and dismay of the many campers at the rally site.

Stories of tents and motorcycles blowing over abounded. The dirt roads that crossed through the camping areas turned to muddy soup, and there were many episodes of big, expensive bikes going down in the slop. Klaus brought his KLR and his GS to the rally, and has been scooting around the rally grounds on the KLR. An extremely accomplished off-road rider himself, he even got bogged down in the mud on a bike that is normally more than capable of handling rough off-roads. But fortunately the storm skirted to the north and the winds died off just at sunset. So the campers are safe tonight.

My shift over at 8:00, I headed toward the entertainment tent and Beer Hall. There I ran into a group of guys we'd met at Burlington VT rally two years ago, and I called Mike and Klaus to determine their location. The band - Riders of the Purple Sage - were playing, but I didn't think they sounded very good. We all visited for a while but by 9:45 PM I was more than ready to get into my riding gear and head to the hotel.

Tomorrow: Some morning workshops, 12-4 shift in First Aid, closing ceremonies at 6:00 PM.