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.