Monday, December 21, 2009

100,000 Miles on BMW Motorcycles

When I first started riding a motorcycle, I had no vision of the future and where it would take me. I could only look far enough ahead to pass the MSF course, get that "M" endorsement, and screw up the courage to go shopping for my first bike. That was August 2002.

When I finally got out to the various dealers to shop for a new bike a month after getting my endorsement, I only looked at small cruiser-style bikes. Being short, I felt it was the only option available to me. And even with low, low seat heights - 24, 25, 26 inches - I was intimidated by every single bike I sat on. But I needed to just do it before I chickened out forever. And so I bought a small Yamaha cruiser.

The shortcomings of a cruiser motorcycle became obvious to me only once I outgrew the large group day rides and yearned to go beyond the 50-mile, all-day rides to a greasy spoon lunch spot 30 miles outside of Houston. This is when I realized that a 130-mile gas range was hugely inconvenient. And it's when I came to realize that the cruiser "feet forward" riding position was uncomfortable and impractical for more than 100 mile trips.

When I approached my 2-year anniversary of riding, a friend started pushing me toward a motorcycle more suited for the kind of rider I was evolving into. He convinced me I was ready for a BMW. Until this point, I never even considered what options were out there besides Harleys and Harley-clones. I had no knowledge of "standard" and "sport-touring" mounts. I only knew about cruisers and crotch rockets.

But he was right. I was ready in theory, just not ready in practice, not ready to tackle a completely different style of bike. However, a year later, a trip to Laconia - four 500-mile days strung together back to back on interstates in pouring rain - was the turning point. I'd put 31,000 miles on this Yamaha V-Star 1100 in 2 years. That sounded like an outrageous amount of miles to me and indeed it sounded like a lot of miles to prospective buyers as well.

A new BMW R1150R that summer of 2005 changed my riding forever. A short learning curve and a change in my habits and riding style, and I adapted to the radically different riding position and the much higher seating position. And then, 6 months later, I discovered and got active in a "virtual" riding group called Motorcycle Tourers Forum (MTF).

In March 2006 I did a SS1000 to become a member of the Iron Butt Association (IBA) and thus began my long-distance riding career. I put nearly 90,000 miles on this first BMW in just 3 years, crisscrossing the continent to attend MTF events, participate in IBA events, and visit every National Park within easy reach of an interstate highway.

But suddenly I had a motorcycle with almost 90,000 miles on it. 5 sets of tires; 15 oil changes and valve checks; 3 alternator well-traveled companion to adventure. And just 10,000 or so miles away from earning the BMW Motorrad USA 100,000 mileage award.

While I was accumulating these miles, I wasn't conscious of doing so; it wasn't about the miles at all. The BMW was an excellent conveyance to parts of the country I'd always wanted to visit and see: Mt. Rushmore, Acadia National Park, the great plains of the midwest, Rocky Mountains, mid-Atlantic seashore. It was about escape. And about satisfying my wanderlust and need to travel.

I found a willing buyer of this very high mileage BMW in July 2008 and ordered myself a new 2009 R1200R BMW. This new mount arrived the end of October and I took my first trip on it the first weekend of December - to Cedar Key FL. By May, 2009 I had accrued 100,000 miles combined on BMW's: My first one, the R1150R, and my second and current BMW, the R1200R.

Throughout this BMW "era" a second motorcycle has always shared garage space with her. First a Harley 883C Sportster, then a Yamaha FZ6. They accumulated their share of miles and - including those first Yamaha cruisers - another 80,000 miles' worth of rubber have been burned in the interest of riding enjoyment.

The BMW Motorrad USA 100,000 mile award was presented to me on December 19, 2009 at the Gulf Coast BMW dealership.

Back in August 2002 did I imagine I would have embraced this sport the way I did? I didn't imagine anything, truth be told, except learning to ride and getting past that scared, neophyte stage.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Things

What was I thinking???

A trip to the grocery store late this morning resulted in more than I ever imagined coming home in the trunk of my car....much more. But let me start at the beginning.

Feeling somewhat "bah humbug," I decided to get outside and put the lights up on the front bushes. It's been so dadgum cold and wet this past week, I've hated the prospect of getting out there in it. So procrastination took over ever since I returned from my trip to Hawaii over Thanksgiving.

All of the outdoor lights are stored in the garage in a cardboard box on one of the shelves. It's really quite painless to get out there and do this task...when the weather is nice. I have maybe 6 or 7 strands of outdoor lights and every year I end up replacing half of them. This year would be no different. The "plug-in" test showed three of the strands wouldn't light up; one or more circuits were dead. I've learned -finally! - after all these years of trying to find the bum bulb, that it's easier to just buy a new string. Heck! They're only $3.00 or $4.00 each at a discount store (including Walgreen's) so it's just not worth the hassle. I wrapped the front foundation plantings with what strings of lights still worked and then went inside to clean up and get ready to head to the grocery store. I added "lights" to the shopping list, since the front row of hollies were now 3/4 lit and 1/4 unlit, the working strings of lights being not quite enough to make it across the front of the house.

So here's where the trouble began. I had the usual list of groceries, needing to re-stock after being away for more than two weeks, and having depleted the fridge and pantry contents sufficiently prior to departing on that trip, not to mention that it took me a full week upon returning to finally get to the store. The list had the usual suspect items on it: fresh fruit, salad makings, bread, sandwich meat, Cheerios. But on the way to the sandwich meat and bread section of the store, after leaving the produce department, I cruised the aisles in the meat department. Boy, that turkey sure tasted good at my son's house at Thanksgiving. And I don't get turkey very often. And did I mention how good that turkey tasted? Magically, a 14-lb turkey just jumped into my shopping cart. Just like that.

Well, since there's now a turkey in my cart, I might as well back-track to the produce department for some fresh cranberries. I have a recipe for cranberry salad - it was my mom's recipe - and a turkey dinner just isn't the same without that salad. So this meant a couple of additional items just got added to my shopping list in order to complete the recipe.

Recovering lost ground, I continued on over to the cracker/cookie/cereal aisle and resumed my shopping. But wait! While I had pumpkin pie at my son's house, no holiday ever passed me by without my making my signature pear galette. So...back to the produce department to buy 3 lbs of fresh Bartlett pears. Now this has added a couple more items to my shopping list: the ingredients for my secret pie crust recipe, none of which I currently had in the house.

This was becoming a two steps forward-two steps backward shopping expedition, since the produce department is right next to the entrance to this store. Okay! Moving right along...

Next it was on to the baking goods aisle to get the remainder of the salad ingredients and some flour for the pie crust. Forward progess at last!

This is nuts! What am I doing, buying a 14 lb turkey, the ingredients for cranberry salad, and the fixings for a pear pie??? It's just going to be me, myself, and I home alone for Christmas eve/day. I will have leftovers coming out of my ears! Oh, who cares!! As I continued to work my way down my shopping list, I worked hard at convincing myself that I was doing the right thing: It might be nice to have half a leftover turkey lolling around in the freezer somewhere down the road.

I continued to work on my list and progressed through the store aisles until I came to the area set aside for "seasonal items." This would include Christmas wrapping paper, ribbon, boxes, ornaments, wrapping tape, tree stands, and the like. Four boxes of multi-color lights, 100 bulbs per indoor/outdoor strand. $2.39 per box. Perfect! I only need two of these strands to complete the outdoor lighting and will have 2 boxes of new lights for next year's inevitable off-season death of Christmas lights.

I made it nearly to the cash registers and oops!! I forgot the Cheerios! Leaving the cart, I dashed back to the cookie/cracker/cereal aisle to grab a box. Can I count this toward my weekly run mileage?? This is a giant HEB grocery store. Easily a quarter mile back there to that aisle and then another quarter mile back to my shopping cart!

Now I think I have it all and proceed to checkout. The store wasn't too crowded and I gloated at finding a register with no one ahead of me. I further gloated at having gotten my Christmas dinner shopping done a full week earlier than most others will. The interior of this store will look totally different a week from now.

Groceries put away, freezer rearranged to accomodate the turkey, I headed outside to get that last string of lights put out on the front row of hollies. That was, afterall, the start of this whole thing, wasn't it?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Strangest Things on I-10!

Okay, I've ridden this stretch of Interstate between Houston TX and points in eastern Florida many, many times. I've seen some pretty strange things, too. Like 18-wheelers down in the median, cars pointing the wrong way, a car crushed up underneath the back-end of an 18-wheeler. Like odd loads on trailers being pulled by pick-ups and cars, animals dodging traffic across multiple lanes, truck fires, cars on fire, and a strange-looking, possibly not street-legal dune buggy going 45 mph in the left lane.

But yesterday's incident really took the cake. It happened just east of the MS-AL state line, and just after I returned to the interstate after a gas fill-up. When I'm in the left lane, I always ride the right-hand track so that I can see well down the road and keep my eye on what the traffic in both lanes in front of me is doing. I also do it so that I'm visible in the side-mirrors of the vehicles in the right lane. So anyway, as I'm going along I see the most improbable thing happen.

About 5 or 6 cars ahead, in the right lane, there is a white pickup truck pulling an open trailer. On that open trailer is an old car, gray with Bond-o and primer paint, a major project car if I've ever seen one. One minute everything is normal, the next minute I see a wheel leave the axle of the trailer and start rolling along the middle of road between the lanes. I can't believe my eyes! It just backed its way off the lugs and parted the trailer, like a ghost had decided to grab the wheel and pull it off.

Somehow, magically, the wheel crossed the left lane without any cars hitting it, and proceeded to roll down the left shoulder for a bit before it took off across the deep gully in the median and then up the far side toward the oncoming traffic. Improbably, the tire was still rolling across that rough and grassy ditch. Not only that, it seemed to gain momentum from the downhill incline and was making good speed up the far side.

Now bear in mind, this wheel, with perfectly good tire attached, was rolling along under its own power. The power of gyroscopic effects in action. And it was heading generally in the same direction as our side of traffic, only at a diagonal, to possibly meet its head-on demise on the other side of the interstate.

But unbelievably, when it hit the pavement on the far side the "edge trap" effect turned that wheel more than 90-degrees so that it was now rolling in the SAME DIRECTION as the cars and trucks on the other side of the interstate. Now it was rolling along the left shoulder of the interstate heading west. As I came up even with it, I watched it as a rain gutter grabbed that wheel and once again the wheel took a more-than-90-degree turn to follow the rain gutter down in the gully in the median. Only now it's heading diagonally east, back toward our side of the interstate.

The downhill slope and the smooth rain gutter gave the wheel some added momentum and I watched it as it flew down the median gully and back up towards us. I did a quick visual calculation and determined that the wheel would make it back up into my lane and that it and I would cross paths in just a few moments.

A quick glance over my right shoulder showed a space in the right lane so I moved over and then applied the brakes to slow down because, meanwhile, up ahead, the truck pulling the trailer noticed that something was very much amiss with his load and he'd been slowing down, enough to pull onto the right shoulder.

I still kept my eye on that wayward wheel and, sure enough, it bounced up into the left lane, right in front of the pick-up truck that was immediately behind me. This truck was pulling a small U-haul trailer and I'm sure he was panic-stricken. I doubt that anyone behind me was watching this saga as intently as I was, because I doubt that anyone behind me had seen the initial parting of wheel from trailer.

The truck-with-U-haul did a quick maneuver onto the left shoulder to avoid hitting the wheel, which looked like it had finally lost enough momentum to flop over and stop rolling. He managed to avoid it, but I'm not too sure about the pickup truck that was behind him. The driver of the pickup and trailer that lost the wheel were now safely on the right shoulder and I'm sure he was a little more than surprised at what had just happened. It was the rear wheel of a tandem pair on the left side of the trailer. It looked like the one wheel was still able to hold the trailer upright but at an angle.

I continued to watch the saga in my rear-view mirrors as it disappeared in the distance behind me. The lack of any vehicles coming up behind me for the next few miles tells me that there was most likely a multi-car wreck as a result of that wheel.

That was the most bizarre thing I've ever seen!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hitting the Road Again Soon!

It seems like eons since I've ridden, but that's because life has gotten very busy for me this past month.

First, there's the marathon training, which actually began end of last May. During the summer months I concentrated on restoring my base conditioning. After Labor Day however, it's been all about the miles. Long miles, that is. Getting those long runs in takes precedence as it gets closer to January 17, 2010. And it's hard to get those miles in while on the road traveling.

So there's that...and then there's the imminent new product launch - the main product - for the company I've been doing consulting work for. "Soft launch" was this past weekend at the American Association for Hip & Knee Surgeons national annual meeting, held this year in Dallas TX. It was a scramble to get the marketing materials done in time: booth graphics, brochure, price list, website, demo tools.

And then in between all this I've been in rehearsals for the musical, "South Pacific" since early September. Rehearsals every day, sometimes twice a day, plus meetings for costumes, makeup, and the like. The run is over, now, and this has freed up my time greatly.

Time for a road trip! I leave this Thursday for Florida and the Florida Coast2Coast ride, held annually to raise money for Leukemia-Lymphoma Society. I'll leave early Thursday, go as far as I feel like going, stop for the night, then arrive in the Tampa area sometime mid-day on Friday. The ride is Saturday, leaving Tampa, riding every teeny-tiny road between the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast, and arriving in Ormond Beach by dinnertime.

I originally thought of taking the Yamaha FZ6 on the trip, but have changed my mind. The BMW went in for a major service interval (24,000 mile service, actually done at 26,200 miles) and she has new "shoes" so now I think I'll take her instead.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Heading Home from the Ozarks

Yesterday was a great - and productive - day of riding, and today I head for home.

I took the on-ramp to I-40 east and headed straight for Little Rock where I stopped at the Central High School National Historic Site. I was just here a few months ago, but now find myself in need of an AR national park stamp, since I was unable to get out on Friday to Pea Ridge near Bentonville AR. This route would also be the fastest way home, not because it is more direct, but because it would be all interstate.

I arrived at Central High visitor center around 9:30 AM and the park rangers were excited that I was their first visitor of the day. I stamped my NPS Passport and then went ahead and took the tour through the visitor center, not wanting to disappoint the over-eager park ranger, before going outside to get some photos.

Mission accoomplished, I got back onto the interstate and pointed the bike south toward Texarkana. I briefly considered getting off the interstate when I saw the signs for Hot Springs, but came to my senses and stayed the course. It would be late enough getting home as it was, without adding a 60 mile detour.

I stopped in Hope AR for gas and lunch and decided to go check out Former President Clinton's birthplace. It was sad. The parking lot was empty and weed-filled, the sign for the home peeling paint and generally looking derelict. I guess this former president is not important enough to have his birthplace designated a national historic site as are so many other presidents' childhood homes. I rode through town and took a photo of a neat restored train station...about the only thing "happening" in this tiny forgotten little town.

Another stop for gas just north of Nacogdoches, some heavy rain between there and Livingston TX, and then straight home.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Riding Northeast of Russellville!

Well, we might have gotten rained out on Friday, but no matter what! I was riding on Saturday.

We had an MTF board meeting Saturday morning at 8:00 AM but we were done by 10:15 AM, and by 10:30 AM I was hitting the start button and backing my BMW out of the parking spot to get on the road. I had to abandon my planned route for Friday, but intended to do my Saturday route as planned. Part of this route would be Push Mountain Road riding north to south, and I learned last night that there is now a photographer set up on that road - a la Killboy on the Dragon. Cool!!

I headed 32 miles east on I-40 to get to AR-5. I wanted to check out Greers Ferry Lake and to ride across the dam that creates that lake. There's a dam theme going on here, since I rode the dam at Beavers Bend State Park in OK a couple of days earlier. There's a nice visitor center at the dam so I stopped inside and walked through the exhibits.

Getting back onto AR-5, I headed north to Mountain View. My friend Mike and I camped at a great park on the White River north of Mountain View a few years ago and we had opportunity to ride all of the great roads in the area and to spend some time in this cute town, catching some impromptu musical performances on the courthouse lawn. I wanted to visit the town again, so I parked the bike on the courthouse square and walked around a bit before continuing north.

My route took me north on AR-5 to the town of Norfork AR. I remembered that Mike and I had discovered a neat log building there, the first permanent county courthouse, built in the 1800's. I stopped here again and took some photos and walked about the property a bit. When he and I were here a few years ago, a local told us about Push Mountain Road. It was a fantastic road so I had it on my route for today.

I picked this excellent motorcycle road up just north of Norfork and had the entire road all to myself for the entire stretch between 5 and 14. 30+ miles of terrific sweepers and 90-degree turns! I could see the photographer and his white truck set up about 2/3 of the way. He saw me coming and jumped up, camera in hand. I wasn't sure he'd had time to get a bead on me as I rode past, but he did in fact get some good shots of me banking around that right-hand sweeper and setting up for the left-hander that followed.

I turned east onto 14 heading back toward 5. About halfway, there's an excellent road - 87 - which is a bit more crooked than anything I'd ridden that day. It took me back into Mountain View, where I got gas before heading south on 9 toward Clinton. This road took me through some adorable little villages, including Shirley with its 90-degree turns that could only have been created 200 years ago by horses or oxen teams, as they skirted someone's homestead or other obstacle through the mountainous village.

A full day of riding nearly through, I let 9 put me onto I-40 west toward Russellville and the hotel. I arrived around 5:30 to learn that two riders went down today while out riding the very same roads. One had major damage to his bike but no broken bones; the other had minor damage to his bike but a hairline fracture of his lower leg. Folks seemed to be milling about with no plans yet formulated for dinner. I didn't eat lunch so was too cold and too hungry to hang around outside waiting for a plan to come together, so I walked back over to the Subway shop and brought back a meatball sub for dinner. With the heat cranked way up in my room, I enjoyed my sandwich while downloading photos from my camera and watching a movie on TV.

Tomorrow: I'll ride home by way of Little Rock so that I can get that AR national park stamp!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rain-out One Day, but Great Riding the Next

Yesterday's riding got me to Russellville almost entirely on secondary roads, with some OK and AR mountain passes to get there. That evening I had dinner with a small group and one of the fellows - Bill - mentioned that he'd scouted out a gym and was planning on getting a little workout in on Friday morning before going for a ride. I have a hard time getting my running in when on the road, especially if the hotel I'm at is not in an area where I can take to the road on foot and get some miles in. So I jumped at the chance to go to the gym with him.

I awoke to heavy rains this morning and the forecast for the day made it obvious that no riding would get done before lunch, possibly for the whole day. Bill and I headed out on foot in search of the gym that he'd learned of from the hotel desk clerk. We headed in the general direction of where it should be and walked around in the increasingly heavy rain until we finally cried "uncle" and stopped at a Fairfield Inn for directions. One more block over and we still couldn't find it in a road that looked like it would disappear into a dirt track right around the next bend. So Bill poked his head in the volunteer fire station while I jogged down that side road a little ways and...lo and behold! I turned and ran back to the fire station where Bill was just exiting and pointing where I'd just come from.

It was a great little gym, with only one other person working the circuit machines. Bill got to work on those machines and I stepped onto a treadmill and decided I'd run for as long as Bill worked the weights. An hour and 6 miles later, we both decided we'd had enough, but I was quite happy with the fact that I could get a longer run in, since I'd be missing my weekend long run back home.

Still raining out, so Bill and I walked to a nearby Cracker Barrel where we had a good breakfast, and then headed back to the hotel to see what everyone else was up to. Groups of folks were hanging outside under the overhang or in the lobby area. We learned that the hotel manager was treating us to a pizza party at lunch time. Still digesting my breakfast, I sat and chatted with the others while they enjoyed their pizza. About two hours later Bill and I walked over to the Subway across the street for a later lunch then stepped next door into a biker shop called Twisted Grip. I purchased a neck buff and a pair of lined gloves, since I neglected to bring warm enough gloves and it had gotten quite cold since noontime. We then walked down the side street a couple hundred yards to a giant Honda motorcycle dealer and killed some time looking at the bikes, chatting with the staff.

Still raining! I pretty much gave up hope that I'd get a ride in this day and resigned myself to the fact that I also would not be getting national park stamps in northwestern AR or in MO. I could get an AR stamp on Sunday on my way home and really don't need MO since I will have gotten 25 states by the end of the year, enough for the certificate. Besides, I may get up into MO before the 12 months run out next April.

Hanging around the hotel was a great chance to spend more time with folks that I rarely get to spend time chatting with at other MTF events. Dinner that night was at Colson's Steakhouse next door, where our group took over one whole side of the restaurant and where we had a really great group meal.

Tomorrow: Weather is supposed to clear out and we're to have a cool and partly sunny day. Let's ride!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No Interstates Today

Well, hardly none. Last night was spent in Mount Pleasant at a very nice and pleasant new hotel, with gas and restaurants within 100 yards. This morning it's foggy and drizzly and the temperatures are cool, enough to require the quilted jacket liner. I had to ride on I-30 for a few miles (hence the "hardly none" comment at the top of this paragraph) but it was only for a short distance, to get to US-259.

US-259 has some nice sweeping curves as it wanders along property lines between farms in southeast Oklahoma. Downtown Idabel probably looks the same as it has for the last 100 years, with its angled parking in front of the storefronts on the main street through town.

A few miles up 259 and I was riding through Broken Bow OK. North of town I turned onto Alt 259 to ride through Beavers Bend State Park which straddles the dam which created Broken Bow Lake. The road was a delight: narrow, hilly, twisty, deep in the woods. It made a loop through the park and exited a little further north on 259 crossing over the dam and some bridges with views of the lake along the way. Definitely worth a return visit!

Back onto 259, the road started its ascent up into the Oachita National Forest; it immediately became so foggy I was unable to see but a few feet in front of me. Lane markers were invisible and the rare vehicle coming the other way was visible only when it was right in front of me. I put my flashers on, in hopes that no one came up behind me too fast. As soon as I reached the top and started to descend, I could see blue skies and sunshine ahead of me. Once down onto level straight roadway, the temperatures were significantly warmer.

Soon I was heading into Fort Smith AR and to the National Historic Site for a national park stamp. This is a nice area and I always enjoy coming here for a stamp. I parked the bike in the parking lot next to the site and walked the two or three blocks to an old restored drug store soda fountain, where I had a float, a packet of cheese and crackers, and took a break off the bike, planning my next stop.

It was a nice break, but I needed to get back on the road if I was going to make it to Russellville by late afternoon. US-64 runs parallel to I-40 and passed through some really great little towns in AR on my way to Ozark AR where I'd drop south on 309 to Paris AR then over Mount Magazine. I poked around a little bit on the town of Alma AR, the spinach capital of the world (so they say).
My next stop would be the overlook at Mount Magazine. As I climbed the switchback road up toward the top, the fog started to close in around me. Part way up the road, three deer ran out in front of me, reminding me to take it easy on this road, with its steep grade, switchbacks and limited visibility. At the fork in the road for the visitor center, I pulled in to the parking lot and went inside. While there, I decided that there was really no point in continuing to the overlook, since visibility would be near-zero. I shopped a little in the gift store, took some photos, and then headed back out, continuing south on 309 to Havana AR.

I love this road; it is so heavily wooded that it's hard to know if the sun is shining. It's pleasantly challenging, and the BMW with her new shoes on handled it very nicely. I could pick up a nice rhythm on the alternating S-curves as I lost altitude and dropped down into the tiny town of Havana.

From here it was just a short and very pleasant ride to Dardanelle then up to Russellville and the Best Western. I arrived at the hotel around 3:30 PM, where there were only a few other motorcycles in the parking lot. I unpacked, changed clothes and kicked tires a bit with a couple of other MTF'ers. Other riders began to return to the hotel from day rides and groups began forming for dinner. I walked over to a place called Dixie Cafe with 5 others and we had a relaxed and quiet dinner together.

Tomorrow: A ride up into the northwest corner of AR and southwest corner of MO for some national park stamps.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rain, Rain to Russellville

That's "rain" not a misspelled "train." This morning had the word "work" written all over it so instead of hitting the road toward Arkansas, I was hitting the road toward the office to get some needed work done, preparing the company for an upcoming trade show. I was all packed, just needed to get home, get changed into riding gear, and then get on the road.

The work obligation was thankfully done by 11:00 AM and I was home by 11:30, eating a fast lunch, changing clothes and backing the bike out of the garage. But what's this??? Sunshine earlier in the morning had suddenly dissolved into wet stuff. To add insult to injury, the wet stuff turned into copious amounts of wet stuff even as I was driving away from my house.

Heavy rains stayed with me until I got just north of downtown Houston, fortunately. It would be gentle to middling rain the rest of the way up US 59 toward Mount Pleasant, TX where I had determined my night's stop would be.

As I neared Nachogdoches, the temperature began to drop noticeably. I began to fret that I'd made some wardrobe mistakes in packing. Should I have brought my Gerbing jacket liner? Do I have warm enough gloves with me? Will only one pair of long pants for off the bike be enough for 4 days? This kept my mind occupied as I rode north, changing over to US-259 at Nacogdoches. This is a wonderful road, very little traffic, miles and miles of wooded countryside and only two towns to pass through before my night's destination.

At Kilgore, I turned onto TX 42 to cut northwest a bit toward US-271. About halfway there the traffic was backed up behind some one-lane construction. This was a very long stretch and therefore a very long delay. But it really didn't matter much. I would still arrive in Mount Pleasant well before dark.

A nice new Holiday Inn Express with a family-run BBQ joint across the road. Perfect!
Tonight the weather man on TV said that the lows for the night would be about the same as they are right now - low to mid 60's - and that it would warm up tomorrow. I was relieved, as earlier worries about wardrobe have now been alleviated, somewhat.

Tomorrow I'll head east on I-30 to pick up US-259 north and start heading - somewhat indirectly - toward Russellville and the MTF Ozarks weekend.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pressing On to CO then Home to Houston

Yesterday my travels took me from Altus OK to Washita Battlefield National Park in Cheyenne, then to Fort Larned in Kansas and then to Dodge City for the night.

I was in a quandary this morning. Here I am in Dodge City I ride into town and do a little bit of sightseeing or do I head west toward Colorado? The time zone change is in my favor...I have some time. Or do I lounge around a little bit. Lounging seemed very appealing, coming off of a very aggressive trip the previous week with early morning starts and long days that ended well after dinner time each day. Lounging won out, so guess I'll need to get back to Dodge City another time.

Sitting in the saddle, riding west with the morning sun to my back, the landscape unfolded to my front as I rode toward Colorado. The miles slipped effortlessly by. I took a late breakfast break at a nice large gas station plaza somewhere on US-50. The temperature was cool but comfortable as I stood along side my FZ6 eating some crackers.

Back on the road, I passed through Lamar CO and so had a chance to scout the restaurant where I'd be having lunch later with some other riders.

Fifty more miles to Bent's Old Fort, where I'd be meeting up with another Houstonian and with an MTF member who lives near Colorado Springs. A few miles east of the national park, I came up upon a flock? a gaggle? a brood? of pheasants standing in the middle of the road. As I slowed down, I honked the horn, but to no avail. These guys held their ground. Afterall, they got there first. I slowed further and, finally! When I was within a couple of feet of them, they scurried off to the side of the road. They were big birds! Maybe a foot to foot and a half tall.

I got to Bent's Old Fort a little early and took the opportunity to remove my riding pants and boots and slip on my running shoes for comfort. Within about 15 minutes my fellow Houstonian - who'd been riding the Colorado Rockies for the past week or so - arrived. A few minutes behind him, the MTF friend from Colorado Springs pulled in with another rider in tow. I thought, at first, it was his wife, but instead it was a friend of his.

We toured the fort, I bought another book, got my Passport book stamped, and we returned to the bikes to head to Hickory House Restaurant in Lamar CO for a late lunch. Rumor had it that we may be joined by another MTF member who was returning home to TX after finishing the Iron Butt Rally. We ordered, we ate, we kicked tires for a little bit in the parking lot, but by 1:30 we all agreed that it was time to get back on the road and head in our respective directions. I learned after I got home that the MTF rider did arrive and that my Colorado friend did a U-turn and intercepted him for a brief chat.

Back on the road and heading south, my Houston friend and I made good time to Amarillo TX where we stopped for the night. In the morning he would be heading in a different direction: Toward Austin to visit family. I rode home to Houston.

The trip was a success: Several more national park stamps in 3 different states. And the Bill Mayer saddle was everything I knew it would be!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Here I Go Again

Crazy madness has driven me to hit the road again, only 4 days after returning from a 3,900 mile, 8-day trip that took me to such far-flung places as West Branch IA, Ypsilanti MI, and Roanoke VA. But there's a brand new Bill Mayer Saddle on my FZ6 and I'm just dying to see how it feels on a long multi-day trip. Besides, I have a legitimate excuse: an acquaintance of mine will be riding home after spending a week+ riding in Colorado. I offered to ride up to the Las Animas area to meet up with him and accompany him home. Crazy excuse, I know. The way I see it, I get to try out the new saddle and add two more states - KS and OK - to my fourth IBA National Park Tour, which is currently underway.

As a side note here, the FZ6 has really won my heart as a very capable touring bike. I really love this bike, love how smooth the throttle response is, how easy she is to ride in any condition: grips the road in rain, falls easily into the twisties, can do u-turns on a dime, and - the real biggie - is very tractable in extremely slow traffic. You know, the creep-along 5-7 mph conditions that, on the BMW, would require constant clutch work. No clutching necessary on the FZ6. I can rest my left hand on my lap or tank bag and motor along at 5-6 mph all day long. After my SS1000 on her in June, I determined that all she needed was a custom BMS seat to make her ideal for me.

So on Labor Day weekend Saturday, with bike packed and ready, I left home at 8:00 AM and rode north towards Dallas-Ft. Worth north from Vernon on US-283 toward Altus and my first night's stop at a nice, new Hampton Inn.

The next morning, as I departed the hotel parking lot, a V-Strom went by and then pulled over onto the shoulder about 100 yds up the road. As I neared it, the rider pulled back out onto the highway and we rode together for 20 miles or so, all the way to Mangum. Two strangers sharing the same road.

As I rode north of Mangum, I noticed a white fog bank ahead and very soon rode into it. From bright sunshine and blue skies to a thick fog, it was a marked change. The terrain took on a more dramatic look, lending a more interesting look to the landscape. Cattle were eerie apparitions on the prairie and the folded, convoluted hills were softened by the gray blanket of fog.

The fog did not dissipate until I was well north of I-40 heading toward Cheyenne and Washita Battlefield National Park. Lt. Col. Custer's lowest moments occurred at this battlefield, where he and his army massacred a peacable tribe of Cheyenne indians including Chief of the Council of Forty-Four, Chief Black Kettle. At the time of the massacre, Chief Black Kettle had declared his peaceful intent by signing the Medicine Lodge Treaty. Frontier settlers were still being attacked by Dog Soldiers, a more aggressive Cheyenne Warrior, and their allies the Arapaho and Kiowa, and later the Comanche. Black Kettle had no control over these attacks, but neither did he condone them. So in spite of his signing several peace treaties over the years, each one less and less favorable for the Cheyenne nation, and each one resulting in broken promises by army, Black Kettle and his wife were shot in the back as they tried to escape across the Little Arkansas River during the raid and massacre on his settlement.

This National Park stamped and recorded in NPS Passport book, I continued north on US-283 towards Kansas. Along the way, passing through Shattuck, something caught my eye and caused me to do a U-turn and backtrack. A whole bunch of windmills!

The further north I got, the closer I got to Kansas, the more wild sunflowers there were on the shoulders of the roadway. It was an amazing sight. So, when I came to a little town in Kansas called Minneola, another roadside item caused me to U-turn and backtrack. What a cheery welcome to a tiny little town called Minneola!
Twenty miles up the road is Dodge City KS, where I turned east toward the town of Larned and nearby Fort Larned. This fort sits on - and was built to protect - the heavily traveled Santa Fe Trail. It was mighty hard to imagine what life would have been like for the soldiers and their families assigned to this post out in the middle of nowhere.

The preserved fort structures include several buildings that are in outstanding condition set around the perimeter of a large parade field. This national park is celebrating the fort's 150th anniversary with a variety of special presentations and events, many of them over Labor Day Weekend.

I was fortunate to be arriving at the fort in time to see a matinee performance of a play written specially for this occasion. The play, entitled The Oxbow Incident, had nothing to do with that original play, but was a take-off on the name only. It was hilarious! Done in the style of a comedic melodrama, it involved a couple of ne'er-do-wells who bury gold on the oxbow of the Pawnee Fork river in Larned. Others get wind of this and set out to find the gold, with a little deceit and love along the way. Very enjoyable!
I toured the grounds a little bit before heading back to the bike and riding west, back to Dodge City for the night. On my way to Dodge City and nice shaded picnic area along the roadside beckoned me to take a break. As I sat at a picnic table with a snack and beverage, two long-tailed raptors - could they have been kites? - floated directly overhead, nearly motionless as they let the lift of the strong wind currents hold them aloft. They were so near to where I sat that I could see their eyes and the markings on their feathers. And they stayed in one place, with only the occasional wing flap or tail twist to hold their position, for what seemed like forever. It was magical!
Reservations awaited me at the Comfort Inn, where I got a run in on the treadmill in their tiny fitness center then headed out on foot in search of some food.

Tomorrow: Continuing west along the Santa Fe Trail toward Bent's Old Fort near Las Animas CO, then lunch with some MTF friends.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Returning Home After Big Ride-About

Saturday was a nice, relaxing day on the bike visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appomattox Court House. Just 200 miles...seemed like I hardly rode at all, compared to the pace I'd set the previous 5 days. But now I had to point the bike south and west to head toward Houston TX and home. My routing, using Streets & Trips, indicated that it would take nearly 3 days to get home, which would put me in my driveway Tuesday afternoon. I have a couple of national park stops along the way and wanted to allow time for these.

So Sunday morning I awoke early and had the bike packed and was ready to leave by 8:00 AM. I left the Roanoke area on US-220 to 581 which was much faster than the way the GPS had routed me in to the hotel a couple of days earlier. Down I-81, past the exit for I-26 and Johnson City, where just a month ago I was at the BMW MOA rally, to the exit for 25E that would take me to Cumberland Gap. This is another national park I've always wanted to visit...have been within miles of on many of my trips...but have never taken the time and detour to do it.

As I neared Cumberland Gap, the road became more entertaining as it ducked into a long tunnel under the Gap. Exiting the other side, I took the ramp toward the Cumberland Gap National Park Visitor Center. The center had exhibits describing the explorations and groups of travelers who have used the gap over the last two centuries. There wasn't much else there of interest to me, so I headed back south on 25E to TN-33, which would take me diagonally southwest back to I-640 north of Knoxville.

I began thinking about my route and what time I'd be passing through Nashville. What I hadn't counted on, when originally planning my return, was the return to Central Time Zone. I would gain an hour on the road and realized that I'd be getting to Murfreesboro in plenty of time to visit the Stone River National Battlefield Park before it closed. This offered the potential for getting home on Monday instead of Tuesday.

I arrived at Stone River at around 4:00 PM and had plenty of time to visit the park, view the exhibits, get my national park stamp. There was an excellent pictorial time line of the events that led up to this battle, and some nice exhibits of soldier life in the fields. As I was leaving, a park ranger was walking out to his car and he commented on my motorcycle, asking the oft-asked question, "Are you riding alone?"

I thought I'd finish here and then get back on the road and continue west for another hour or two before stopping for the night. But when I departed the park, my route took me past a cluster of hotels and restaurants before getting onto I-24 north. The temptation was too great. I stopped at a Comfort Suites for the night, getting a great room rate at a brand new hotel within walking distance of several restaurants, including a Quizno's. This would leave nearly 850 miles to get home and I could decide in the morning if I wanted to do it in one day or break it up into one and a half days.

The next morning was cool and sunny and I was on the road by 7:15 AM. The bad news here is that this would put me in rush hour traffic up I-24 towards Nashville. And it was really clogged as I got within 10-12 miles of I-440. Stop and go, stop and go....but finally I could break free of the worst of it when I got onto I-440.

The miles just seemed to fly by, as the temperatures stayed comfortably pleasant, with no humidity and ample sunshine. By the time I was west of Memphis, stopped at the Arkansas visitor center, I knew I'd go ahead and ride the remaining 600 miles toward home. I had a light lunch out of my side case - Power Bar, Gatorade - and called Mike, assuming he was already home. Imagine my surprise, though, when he answered the phone and said he was taking a gas break and was about 3 hours ahead of me on I-30. Turns out he left his mom's house in Memphis about 8:00 AM this morning, but he was too far ahead of me to catch up.

I stopped for gas just east of Little Rock and then again in Texarkana. I was making very good time. In Nacogdoches I stopped one last time for gas and took a brief break to eat some cheese and crackers. This would be my last stop. I came into the outskirts of Houston around 8:00 PM and was turning into the Conoco station near my house at 8:30. I always like to arrive home with a full tank of gas. Home by 8:45 PM.

Great trip:
Miles ridden: 3900 miles
Days on the road: 8 days
Total NPS stamps: 25 stamps
A good national park stamp booty. Good visit with my Rumble Sisters.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spending the Weekend in Roanoke area

Yesterday afternoon I arrived at the host hotel for the RSBS Annual and before I even dumped my stuff off in my room I stopped into the hospitality suite just a couple of doors down to say hi to the "sisters" who'd already arrived. It was so great to see a couple of them that I already knew, and to meet for the first time those women who I'd been chatting with on the RSBS forum for 5 years but had not yet met in person. Wow!

I gathered up my pile of stuff, went to my room, and changed out of my riding gear and into some comfortable shorts and sandals, before returning back to the suite, where our hosts Carla and Don had set out cold cuts, fruit, chips, and cold drinks. That was a really nice touch, and we greatly appreciated it. Later that evening we moved down to the hotel bar where we socialized and some of us ordered a light dinner. By about 8:00 PM, though, I was ready to call it quits for the night. It had been a long hard week of pushing the miles: 500-600 mile days including sightseeing stops along the way each day at various national parks. I knew that leaving the bar would mean leaving behind some of the best 'sister' antics of the evening but I was ready to crash.

During dinner that night I shared my plans to ride north for a bit on the Blue Ridge Parkway and had a couple of takers, so we agreed to meet the next morning around 11:00 AM to head out. The next morning I went downstairs to the restaurant to have a light breakfast and discovered that the only choice was the fixed price buffet. Now, I don't eat eggs and other "heavy" breakfast foods, so I never get my money's worth out of a buffet. So I paid $8.00 for a small plate of cut-up canteloupe and pineapple. Ouch!!

Out in the parking lot a couple of other women agreed to join us and so, by 11:15 AM, we were leaving the parking lot and heading toward US-220. We stopped for gas just before the entrance ramp and, mis-hearing the GPS instructions, I got us onto 220 heading north, instead of south. So, our first U-turn of the day! LOL! Heading back south, in the correct direction now, we caught the BRP entrance and headed north, the Peaks of Otter visitor center and lodge our destination.

This is a very sedate section of BRP, with gentle curves, very little elevation change and rather mild views over low hills and suburbs. Within 30 minutes or so, we were at the visitor center where some of our little group bought some souvenirs. The original plan was to have lunch at the lodge, but I wasn't hungry so soon after eating breakfast, and so departed the group and continued north on my own.

North of Peaks of Otter to James River, the BRP changes dramatically. It gains nearly 1,000 feet in elevation and the gentle curves earlier become sharper and tighter turns with a couple of switchbacks thrown in for excitement. At one point, about 3-4 miles north of the Peaks of Otter visitor center, a bobcat darted across the road just in front of me. It was so close I had to momentarily pull on my front brake. I got a good look at it: larger and taller than a house cat, a short tail and large head. It was deeply shaded in that area so I was unable to see its markings, only that it was a darker color.

I arrived at the James River visitor center which is just north of the bridge over the James River with terrific views on either side. I parked, grabbed my camera and headed to the visitor center, where a ranger had a display set up outside of replicas of wooden Appalachian toys. I recognized every one of them, being similar to the toys we had as children. He demonstrated each of them for me, including one unique and intriguing toy called a Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle. I video'd him demonstrating this very clever yet simple toy (the video is immediately following this paragraph). He explained that it was usually made out of rhododendron wood and consisted of a stick to which a small propeller-shaped stick was attached by a small nail into the end of the stick. Rubbing the stick with a smaller stick a certain way would make the propeller spin. Rubbing the stick slightly differently would cause the propeller to spin in the opposite direction. How simple! How fascinating!

When I walked inside the visitor center to get my stamp, another ranger came over to me and said, "You have a hitchhiker." I had no idea what he was talking about until my hitchiker flew in front of my face. A butterfly had lighted onto my cap and gone for a little ride with me. There were dozens of butterflies flitting about just outside and one of them apparently wanted to go inside. We struggled for a bit to catch the little guy and carry her back outside.

This was a very enjoyable stop along the BRP! I walked down toward the river to get a view of the lock and dam on the other side. Very peaceful and quiet, no traffic, just the sounds of nature - cicadas buzzing all around me, the river sounds of moving water. I could have stayed here the rest of the day but really wanted to get to Appomattox, so I reluctantly returned to my bike , backtracked across the river bridge, and picked up US-501, a delightful surprise of a road, toward Lynchburg.

US-501 is clearly a local favorite of motorcycle riders as a way to get to the BRP, as I saw dozens of them coming the other way. Heading south, it was all up-hill switchbacks for me and I had no traffic in front of me so I could take these turns at a decent speed. And Honeysuckle! Heady fragrance stayed with me for miles and miles all afternoon on this road, and then later in the day on my return to the hotel.

I have always wanted to visit Appomattox Court House, and this trip was the perfect opportunity to do so. I've visited so many Civil War battlefields in my multiple National Park Tours, and have read dozens of books on specific topics related to this war, books that I've purchased on park ranger recommendations. All have been excellent books and the more parks I visit, the more the pieces of this war come together for me. It is only natural, then, that Appomattox would be a required stop.

I wished that I had left a pair of shoes - my sandals or running shoes - on the bike when I arrived in Roanoke, because this would have been the place to remove the riding pants and boots and put on some comfortable walking shoes. The site is a good 100-150 yard walk uphill from the parking lot, and the buildings cover a several acre area. I spent a fair amount of time here, visiting each of the buildings that were open to visitors, and reading the signage and plaques. Some of the buildings have been rebuilt to original plan, while others are the original buildings. Beyond the main park are several pull-out areas with overlooks onto battle sites and the two armies' headquarters: Lee and Grant. I must definitely return to this park to spend more time.

My route was to also include a stop at Booker T. Washington national park, as it was sort of on the way back to Roanoke, but by the time I got the turn-off to the road that would take me there, it was already about 4:30. Unsure of how late the park would be open, and with another 22 miles to go to get there, I opted to skip it and return back to the hotel in Roanoke.

In the hospitality suite after returning from my ride, I learned that the group would be eating at 6:00 PM in the hotel restaurant. This was fine with me. I had a chance to sit with a couple of 'sisters' I had not had a chance to talk with before and, afterward, we all went outside for a group photo before it got too dark to do so. While many of the others then spent the rest of the evening in the bar, it was already 8:30 PM and I had to get my route planned for my return ride back to Houston, so I skipped out on the rest of the group.

Tomorrow: heading south on I-81 but not before getting off the interstate and riding up to Cumberland Gap, then to Murfreesboro TN to the Stones River National Battlefield park.

Friday, August 28, 2009

On Toward Roanoke and the RSBS Annual

Yesterday's highlight was the Hudson Auto Museum in Ypsilanti MI, a really terrific find on my stamping travels. Last night I made it to Grove City, on the south side of Columbus OH. And today I head south into WV for more national park stamping before arriving at the Holiday Inn in Roanoke for the weekend.

This morning I slept in a little, since my first stop would be not too far down the road at Hopewell mounds, near Chillicothe OH, for a national park stamp. The GPS routed me down a great secondary road, OH-104 toward the national park. Very little traffic and some very nice scenery along the way...not to mention a few roller coaster hills thrown in for good measure. I was a little underwhelmed by this park. The mounds at this site are recreations; some actual, surviving mounds are on a non-contiguous piece of land not open to the public. However, there was an excellent display of artifacts - effigy pipes, pottery shards, beads - found at this and other nearby Hopewell mound sites. The area not open to the public is undergoing some archeological studies. Ever since I read the De Soto book, I've paid closer attention to the Indian mound sites that are strung across the south and mid-regions east of the Mississippi River. De Soto's expedition took him through many of these areas and his interaction with the Indians forever changed their culture, even their very existence.

With this stamp in my NPS Passport book, I continued south on US-35 - a great road - through southern OH and into WV. I'd never been through Charleston WV before; it's gilded capitol dome dominates the landscape, poking up above the low buildings of downtown and with green mountains providing the backdrop. I-64 becomes a toll road south of the city, but its twisty nature makes paying the toll well worth it. It took enormous amounts of restraint to keep to the speed limit on the great sweepers and 90-degree curves!

My original plan was to visit the New River Gorge Canyon Rim visitor center, since I've not been to this one yet, but the road to get there would be slow going. So I deleted this waypoint from my GPS and let it recalculate my route straight down I-64. Instead, I opted for the Sandstone VC, even though I'd been there on my last national park tour. But it was right off of I-64 and very easy to get to. I would go there after my next stop in Beckley WV.

I had visited the Coal Heritage administrative offices on Mason Rd in Beckley the last time I was through here, which was on my way to the Cape Fear 1000 rally in April. It was nothing more than an office - not a visitor center - and getting there was a PITA. So this trip I had the Exhibition Coal Mine visitor center in my GPS. The exit off of I-64 sent me east down a busy two-lane road past the obligatory fast food restaurants, strip malls, and gas stations that always seem to congregate near interstate exits. Once past all this, the road wound its way downhill to where I took a left turn onto a small road that dropped me down a steep hill and into a little grotto-like area of small homes.

Just a little further down this road and it opened up a bit and I could see the turn into the driveway for the Exhibition Coal Mine visitor center. It was a large building and behind it I could see the entrance to the "coal mine camp," a reconstruction of a typical coal mine area. I parked the bike and walked inside to a small cash register desk and a gift shop. The stamp was behind the counter and I had to ask for it. I had no interest in paying to take a coal mine tour, so looked around a bit in the visitor center and then headed back out to the bike.

Next stop would be the Sandstone Visitor Center at New River Gorge. As I got off the bike, a nice fellow walking two cute dachsunds stopped and we chatted for a bit. The usual questions, "where are you from? where are you riding to?" He was nice and I was hoping he'd still be there after I got my stamp and used the ladies room, but he was gone. I used this stop and the really great picnic area to take a break, pulling a banana, a Power Bar, and a bottle of Gatorade out of my sidecase. The view was spectacular from where I sat and I took my time savoring the rest stop.

From here I had two choices of routes to Roanoke. I could continue on I-64 to US-220, or I could backtrack on I-64 to I-77 to US-460. I opted for the latter and so got back on the bike and headed back toward Beckley and I-77. As it turned out, 460 was a great road, following the New River for much of the way and passing through small river towns like Narrows and Pearisburg and Pembroke, and passing through miles and miles of Jefferson National Forest. With the changes in altitude, the river gave me some great views of rapids and small "falls" over rocky ledges. Just before it united me with I-81, it passed through Blacksburg VA, home of Virginia Tech.

Once onto I-81, I was only 20 or so miles away from the RSBS Annual event at the Holiday Inn on the south side of Roanoke. I let the GPS route me, which was a huge mistake! I wandered endlessly on busy local streets with its accompanying traffic and frequent intersections and red lights. Note to self: route myself back to I-81 on US-220/I-581!

Finally, one last left turn and into the Holiday Inn parking lot where I could see many motorcycles already parked and a few ladies outside gabbing and hugging new arrivals. I'm here!

Tomorrow: Perhaps a short stamping run along the Blue Ridge Parkway and some sister-time visiting with other Rumble Sisters.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Leaving Chicago to Head East

This morning Mike and I would be going our separate ways, he to Memphis to spend the weekend with family, me east and then south, stamping my way through IN, MI, OH, WV to Roanoke for the RSBS Annual.

But before I departed the hotel, I spent some time in the parking lot watching some of the riders pack their bikes in preparation for leaving on the second leg of the Iron Butt Rally. I saw the rider on the rotary Suzuki working on his bike and saw Kevin from the MTF making his final preparations for departure.

Mike was awake but still in bed when I headed out the door for the last time. My first stop would be Isle a la Cache in Romeoville IL for an I&M Canal Heritage Corridor stamp. There are several of these stamps located in small towns throughout this region. I had three of them waypointed in my GPS, just in case. The one in Romeoville was very easy to get to, but I found myself at the visitor center at 9:15, 45 minutes before they opened. What to do?? I could go get gas...had half a tank, but topping off wouldn't hurt. So I departed the parking lot and headed back into town to a gas station. That managed to kill about 15 minutes, but I still had a 30 minute dilemma on my hands. I had pretty much decided that this was the stamp I wanted to get.

As I pulled back into the parking lot after getting gas, I saw a woman approach the building and go inside. So I gathered my things off the bike and headed that way. When I got there, I could see that she had neglected to push the door all the way closed. It had a push-button key pad and that was how she entered the building. I opened the door and went inside, feeling really guilty about trespassing.

I noticed a doorway toward the rear of the main visitor area and walked over and peered in. Three people were busily working away in their cubicles and I was a bit timid at first about interrupting. Afterall, I had no business being inside. Screwing up my courage, I started my inquiry with an apology for being there when I knew they weren't open yet. My voice startled and surprised the workers, but one of the women came out and obliged me by getting the stamp and letting me stamp my NPS Passport book. I thanked her profusely, apologized again for interrupting [and trespassing] and was then on my way.

I had no real need to collect additional stamps for the I&M Heritage Corridor so worked my way up onto I-80 and headed east, my next stop the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for a stamp. I got this stamp last year, as well, on my way to the BMW RA rally on the Upper Peninsula. This time I considered proceeding to the Indiana Dunes state park on the shore of Lake Michigan to take photos, but in the end decided my route was amibitious enough already so didn't do it.

The real prize for the day was going to be the Hudson Auto Museum in Ypsilanti MI. I knew little about it, as their webpage is kind of scanty, but there is an Auto Cities Heritage stamp at this little museum.

As I continued east and north on I-94 the temperatures continued to drop and I began to get chilled. I was wearing the warmest riding gear I had with me, but it wasn't quite enough. If only the sun would come out, it might warm things up a tad. Part of this was a "lake effect" as I was still very near to lake Michigan. I could only hope that as I moved inland, east of the lake things would warm up a little.

Michigan is a pretty state and the miles flew by as I continued east across the state. Once I got to Ann Arbor I began to notice a slight improvement in the temperature and the sun started to peek out a bit from the clouds.

The GPS directed me north of the interstate and through the town of Ypsilanti and then a right turn and down a hill into the section known as Depot Town. This was like another world! It still had that small mid-west town look, with store fronts along both sides of the narrow road, a brick crosswalk bisecting the road at midpoint along the way.

Immediately in front of me I spotted the Hudson Auto Museum, situated on an odd intersecting corner on the other side of diagonal railroad tracks. I found a parking spot along the curb a half block away and walked toward the museum. It sat there like a pale green jewel, its stucco walls freshly painted and the concrete sidewalk in front spotlessly clean. I paused long enough to set my helmet down on the bench in front and take a photo.

Stepping inside this museum was like stepping back more than half a century. Childhood memories came rushing back to me, memories of being in dealerships much like this one. Everything within was perfectly restored and "staged" to appear as it would have when this dealership was open for business.

The museum curator was excellent...not obtrusive, but enormously helpful and informative if asked a question. He told me that when the building was turned into a museum, records were found that went back to 1927 and the first sales of automobiles. He gave me some background on some of the automobiles and told me the significance of the Hydromatic transmission.

I spent more than an hour at this museum, looking at the cars, returning to the curator with more questions, taking photographs. It was time well-spent and well-enjoyed. I asked the curator if any of the cars were in running order. "All of them are," he replied. He went on to tell me about the Hudson Hornet (in photo below). It is the most well-traveled of the cars in the collection, often going on loan to other events or organizations. It is being readied to go on loan for a full year to another museum.

Reluctantly, I left the museum but not before the curator gave me a postcard of the Hudson Hornet as a keepsake. Back on the road again, I had a destination in Maumee, outside of Toledo, set in my GPS but as I neared the exit for this location it was 5:00 PM. This would have been the Fallen Timbers National Historic Site stamp, located temporarily in the Maumee branch of the library. I wasn't sure how late that stamp would be available, so chose to bypass it for this trip. I already had several OH stamps and did not need to get this one. Perhaps once they get the visitor center built for this national park I'll return. It's a newly designated National Park and is still under construction.

My stop for the night would be Grove City, just south of Columbus OH and I arrived at my hotel just before dark, settling in to a nice Hampton Inn with a White Castle within walking distance.

Tomorrow: Hopewell Culture national park, some park stamps in WV and then RSBS Annual!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Stamping and Then on to the IBR Checkpoint

The clouds had moved in overnight and things were a little damp when we started to pack up to depart the hotel in Moline IL. We chose to get on the road early and head straight west for Hoover's birthplace in West Branch IA and then catch the Putnam museum in Davenport on our way back east. This would get us in to St. Charles IL a little earlier.

"Damp" turned to "very wet" as we rode west on I-80 for 40 or so miles toward West Branch. Lucky for us, though, the rain tapered off just as we pulled into the tiny and cute little town. We parked, went into the visitor center and watched the video before venturing out onto the park grounds. The video taught me more than I knew about Hoover, including his worldwide humanitarian efforts and I saw a side of him that is rarely presented in others' assessment of him as a U.S. president.

The little 2-room house is very small and spartan. The on-site ranger told us a little bit about the home, how the stove would be moved inside for winter, to the outside kitchen in summer. The furnishings were not original but were of that era and typical of furnishings in a Quaker home of that period.

In threatening rain we got back on the bikes and began our trek back east on I-80 toward Chicago. The rains became torrential and visibility nearly zero at some points along the interstate. The weather service on my GPS, through the XM radio, was tossing up severe weather alerts onto my GPS screen until the list was a dozen long. Many were flood warnings and I wasn't surprised, because even the interstate was threatening to go under water. I happened to glance down and noticed a dim red light glowing on the dash. I'd never seen this light before and had no idea what it was, except that it seemed to coincide with the heavy rains, so I assumed something was shorting out.

At the next exit, I pulled off into a Pilot or Love's truck stop where we could get the bikes out of the rain and could investigate the problem. I had a hunch that there may have been a wiring problem associated with the Hyperlites installation. Looking through the BMW owner's manual, I learned that the light I was seeing was the "alarm set" light. When we installed the Hyperlites, we tapped into the alarm wire on the harness for switched power. There were two possible sources of the short: The routing of the Hyperlite wires up through the rear fender; or the tap itself into the alarm wire. I removed the seat and could immediately see that it was wet under there. Water was being flung off the rear tire and up through the small hole we had drilled through the rear wheel well. But the wire insulation was intact so there was no rub-through from that hole. I could see moisture accumulated around the EZ-Tap though. The cap looked to be cross-threaded. I dried the tap and used some electrical tape to make a temporary moisture barrier and when I did, the light went out. When I get home, I must remember to seal that small hole with silicone.

At Davenport we detoured into town to the Putnam museum where a Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Corridor stamp was located. I had also routed a couple of stops for I&M Canal stamps but with the rain, opted to delete them from my GPS and let it lead us to the Iron Butt Rally checkpoint hotel in St. Charles, IL.

As we approached the hotel, I could see the parking lot filled with motorcycles and knew I was in the right place. The front desk clerk said we'd already been checked in, but I knew that wasn't correct. Only the rally participants would have been checked in by the IBA staff. But debating that with him was pointless so we got back on the bikes and rode to the other end of the property where he directed us. Voni Glaves and Claye Curtis were waiting for us, cameras in hand and we parked our bikes and got big hugs from both. I walked back to the front desk, this time with my reservation confirmation, and magically he produced our room keys.

The first riders were starting to arrive, so I quickly unpacked the bike, dumped everything into the room, and changed out of my riding gear so that I could get back outside and start greeting and photographing the IBR riders. The photographs of the ralliers are here: 2009 Iron Butt Rally Riders

The riders all looked great! Many had big smiles on their faces as a good-sized welcome committee greeted them. I think they appreciated the familiar and friendly faces after the first of three long rally legs. By 9:00 PM all but one rider had arrived at the checkpoint. I was beat, so returned to my room to get horizonal and wait for Mike to return from dinner with a friend of his who lives in the area.

Tomorrow: Mike heads south toward Memphis and I head east through IN, MI and OH.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heading toward Chicago Area the Long Way

Monday morning and Mike was in my driveway ready to roll by 6:15 AM. The first day's ride would see us covering 640 miles to Blytheville for our first night's stop. We had to fight our way across Houston in rush hour traffic, but once north of the city it was smooth and easy riding.

The Quality Inn in Blytheville was clean and comfortable with those rare exterior entrances that let us park right next to our door. While there were plenty of choices within walking distance, dinner that night was at a Subway. I must remember this hotel for future trips that take me north on I-55.


I was excited to get on the road the next morning, a day that would take us to Springfield IL and the Lincoln home. My routes in past years had brought me tantalizingly close to this national park but this time the route would go right through Springfield IL. No excuses this time!!

Before getting to Springfield, though, I routed us to the Lewis & Clark Visitor Center in the Lewis & Clark State Memorial Park in IL, across the river from St. Louis MO. As we rode up I-255 along the east side of the Mississippi River, we could catch the occasional glimpse of downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch glinting in the sun.

This park destination marks the start of the Lewis & Clark expedition, at the point where the Missouri River meets up with the Mississippi River. It's where men and supplies were assembled and routes discussed. We watched the video and browsed the exhibits and I got the Lewis & Clark trail stamp.

Next stop would be Springfield IL, 90 miles up the road. But first we gassed up and ate lunch at the Hen House restaurant nearby.

Springfield is a lovely little city with a well-preserved downtown area filled with beautiful churches and municipal buildings. The GPS brought us to the parking lot next to the visitor center. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth and there have been special events and presentations in the park all year. Today a Teddy Roosevelt re-enactor was strolling the park and would be giving a presentation later that afternoon.

The grounds were gorgeous and faithfully restored with boardwalks, dirt and brick paver roads. The trees are mature, throwing abundant shade across the park property. It was easy to imagine horse-drawn carriages gracefully moving down the street and couples strolling on the boardwalks. Some really great old photographs from Lincoln's era show that very little has changed in this preserved neighborhood. Lincoln was a successful lawyer and his neighborhood was filled with other successful men - business owners and professionals.

Mike and I walked the well-preserved 4-block area looking at the homes and talking to the park rangers. Just for fun, Mike asked them if any had ever been to Big Bend National Park. It was during this conversation that I noticed the giant acorns on the ground. I've never seen such large acorns! I picked up a few, including a sporty fringed acorn "cap."

As we departed Springfield, our route took us through the rest of the downtown area and then past a gorgeously restored red brick train depot. We headed north to Moline IL where we stopped for the night. It was a good second day on the road.

Tomorrow: Silos & Smokestacks stamp in Davenport and Hoover birthplace in West Branch IA.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Riding North to the IBR checkpoint near Chicago

Tomorrow morning will be a big day for 97 riders who will be starting the Iron Butt Rally at 10:00 AM EDT. Over in Spartanburg a group of some of the world's most accomplished long distance endurance riders are preparing for the start of this premier skill rally event, the Iron Butt Rally. This small but very select group have spent this weekend at the rally headquarters hotel going through various inspections, including a tech inspection of the bike, inspection of paperwork (insurance, registration, license) and attending mandatory seminars that touch on such topics as time and fatigue management and how to handle the media.

Tonight the IBR participants will attend a meeting during which time they'll receive the first of three bonus location packets, and then each will retire to their respective rooms to spend a good deal of the evening and into the night working on the best possible route that will maximize bonus points, miles, and time.

No, I'm not an entrant in this event, but I am planning to ride up to the first checkpoint location near Chicago in order to capture photos of the riders as they arrive at the checkpoint hotel. I have met more than 35 entrants in this year's rally, and call more than half of them good friends. I am excited for them yet also feel some nervousness and anxiety on their behalves, since many of them are doing the Iron Butt Rally for the first time.


I have just had my BMW serviced so she's ready to roll. I've finished packing the bike, and now have only a small pile of last minute things to load tomorrow morning just before I leave.

My route will take me to Blytheville AR for the first night, and then up through MO, IL the second day, collecting national park stamps at a number of locations. I plan to stop the second night in Moline IL before continuing into IA for some additional NP stamps in that state before working my way back to the checkpoint hotel near Chicago, with every hope that I will get there before the first of the rally riders. These riders will be focused on surviving the first of three checkpoints, not in socializing, so I will stay as unobtrusive as possible and not be a distraction from the more important rally business.

The riders will check in, turn in their first leg paperwork, and get some much needed rest before they go behind closed doors in a meeting to receive the bonus packet for the next leg. Sometime early that next morning they'll start to roll out of the parking lot to undertake leg two of the rally. I'm not too sure that I'll be out there to see that!


Once the ralliers are underway from the Chicago area, my plans will take me east through IL, IN, and MI for national park stamps, then I'll head south into OH where I'll stop for the night before continuing south through OH, WV and then into VA to Roanoke for an all-women's motorcycling get-together.

Mike is riding with me as far as the checkpoint hotel and then he'll turn around and head back south to Memphis to spend a couple of nights with family before he returns to Houston.

Tomorrow: A "put the miles on" day to Blytheville AR

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Giving My Marathon Training a Shot in the Arm

Okay, so the training started as soon as I returned from my Moab UT trip but got serious over Memorial Weekend. And of course we've had record-breaking heat in Houston ever since: Temps over 100, with heat index hovering around 112-115. And naturally, with this kind of heat, and living near a "concrete city," the night-time temps weren't dropping below 80 degrees. Rain usually cools things off around here. Only problem is, we've had no rain.

So we runners just acclimate. As part of this acclimatization process, I bought some cute Hind tank tops out of incredibly light and airy mesh material. So naturally I had to buy some cute new running shorts to match. And the SmartWool socks I just love were getting a little thread-bare in the heel so I had to buy a few more pairs of those as well. A Facebook post recorded the new running shoes purchase, to replace the worn pairs I used last year. Two pair a season, dutifully rotated each running day, usually do it for me. New running outfits always put a renewed bounce in my step!

This week I've been at my condo on Captiva Island, off the coast of Ft. Myers FL. Last time I was here was 2006 and that time, the resort had just reopened after nearly 2 years of repairs and restoration from Hurricane Charley in 2004. Running here - before Charley - was a dream! The entire roadway to South Seas Resort and then from the south end of the resort to the north end of the resort, where my condo is, used to be fabulous! A runner's paradise!

Usually by the middle of August I'm up to 7 miles for my long run. So running south from my condo on the resort would take me 3.5 miles down a tree-tunnel of beautifully shaded roadway through the resort, out the security gate and well toward the small bridge that joins Captiva Island to Sanibel Island. A stretch of about a mile runs right along the beach and I would often see dolphins frolicking in the water just off shore. A nice breeze would skirt through the gaps in vegetation from the bay side and, once along the gulf, there would be a pleasant and steady breeze coming from the beach side.

When I returned here in 2006 I was heartbroken at the devastation caused by Charley. All, and I mean all, of the large trees were gone. Australian Pines, Mangroves, and other trees were decimated. In their place were ragged stumps standing alone amidst scruffy low-growth weeds and brush. No more blessed shade.

So this year, as in 2006, I adapted by getting out there about an hour earlier, before the sun was too far above the horizon. But there's nothing like a change of scenery from the monotony of the routine to inject some freshness in the routine of running. And it's about 10 degrees cooler than it is back home, too. When I might otherwise cheat and skip a day here and there if home, I find that I eagerly awake and get out the door for a run. The weekly long slow run - part of anyone's marathon training program - seems to go more quickly as well. This week I found that my mileage totals came easily and I was able to put in more miles than I really needed, including not only last Saturday's long slow run but I was also able to get in next Saturday's long slow run with its required distance bump-up...two days early, on Thursday. This is a good thing. It will make the return to a normal weekly schedule feel easy by comparison.

Tomorrow I return home to Houston.