Friday, July 24, 2009

Packing Travails

Whenever I'm starting to pack for a motorcycle trip, I'm always agonizing over what to bring. I start watching the long-range weather forecast for areas I'll be riding to or through, and I start laying things out in piles, which allows me to change my mind multiple times until the day of departure.

Most of my clothing purchases are made with motorcycle packing in mind. Technical fabrics, sink-washable, quick-drying, pack up small. Some of this does double-duty as running apparel. But this type of clothing lulls me into the over-packing trap, so now I always pack a couple of days before departure so that I can "sleep on it" and then I almost always remove a few items that I convince myself I won't need.

So...what to pack, what to bring? With limited carrying capacity on the bike, I can't afford to be wrong. And I am often wrong. Not completely wrong....just partially wrong. Like bringing all short-sleeve shirts, when a couple of long-sleeve shirts would have been nice. Or wishing I had brought a pair of shorts when I thought the weather would be too cool for them. Or bringing more of the right kinds of clothing than I really needed.

On this last trip, what did I do right? That is, aside from the usual required riding apparel like jacket and AST pants, LDComfort shorts, Coolmax socks. I packed three pairs of shorts and wore every one of them...more than once. I packed running shorts, which really came in handy for not only running, but hanging around the hotel room. Four short-sleeved technical fabric tops came with me, and each got washed and worn at least twice. Two jog bras that were brought for running but got pressed into action, instead, for everyday wear. One pair of cropped pants, which I pulled on Saturday afternoon at the rally and was glad to have them with me, even if they were only worn for half of one day. The Columbia rain jacket came along and saw good use, as did the super-lightweight BMW zip-up wind jacket. I brought a half-zip heavier weight running top and pressed this into action when the temperatures dropped Saturday afternoon at the rally and again on my last day riding home, after rains dropped the temps more than 20 degrees in less than an hour.

What took up space and wasn't used? The technical fabric skort, which saw lots of use on the Moab trip, but just didn't strike my fancy on this trip. The two sleeveless polo tops and one sleeveless technical fabric top that I brought but never wore, taking up precious space. The long-sleeved Under Armour shirt, which could have been used Saturday, but the lightweight wind jacket served the same purpose. A second set of running clothes...ever the optimist that I am. One pair of jeans...I always pack these in case of emergency, say, should something happen to my AST riding pants.

Of course, the next trip could be totally different. What worked on this trip might not work on the next one, even given similar weather and amounts of time off the bike. That's what makes it so hard....and interesting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Final Day on the Road Home from MOA Rally

Yesterday morning I awoke and got on the road, but not before checking the weather forecast. It was looking very grim...a strong band of thunderstorms with "straight line winds and hail" were in store for me. It was cool and there was a light overcast as I left Tuscaloosa and headed west on I-20.

It was mostly just drone along on the interstate to get to Vicksburg, where I could get a national park stamp. I was just here in March, getting a stamp to finish up my 3rd IBA National Park Tour. So it was deja vu as I pulled up to the light and turned right into the park. The same park ranger gal was there and I commented on her longevity there at the park. She was there two years ago, as well, when I stopped here for a stamp for my 2nd NPT. The last time I was here 4 months ago, I had plenty of time and rode the loop, making many stops along the way, including the USS Cairo. I'd visited this park several years ago after having read a couple of books about the detail and history of the park, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so in March 2009 I did it again. This time, though, I had 700 miles to cover to get home, and this would be a stamp-and-run and I would take a pass on the long slow ride through the park to get to the other side where the USS Cairo stamp is.

With that stamping business complete, I continued west on I-20 into LA and then got off the interstate to cut diagonally on secondary and local roads down to I-10. This is a nice route and the roads are mostly good. Only a small section of dirt and gravel where they're doing road construction in Jonesville, but after that it was smooth and mostly new blacktop.

When I got to the I-10 interchange, I needed gas and knew there would be a good stop at the next interchange. When I got off and pulled up to a gas pump, I noticed how black the sky was to the west. By the time I'd pumped my gas and gone inside to use the restroom and buy a snack, the black wall had moved closer. I sat there a minute and observed the clouds and could see how rapidly they were moving east, toward me. Next door was a Burger King, so I rode over to their parking lot, dismounted, and brought my jacket, helmet, and wallet inside. I went back outside to get a warm pullover, since the restaurant was cold enough to hang meat.

I decided to go ahead and take a real meal break and wait it out. By the time I'd ordered my food, the winds had really picked up and I could see folks struggling to walk or even stand up outside in the parking lot, the winds were so powerful. The rain came moments later, followed by serious lightning and thunder. A couple of guys came in, and quickly made the connection between my helmet sitting on the table and the motorcycle outside. They got their food and sat next to me and we chatted. They were amazed that I was riding by myself, and even further amazed that I planned to ride to Houston. When one of them asked me where I was coming from, I could see that blank look set in when I told him I was coming from Johnson City TN by way of the Carolinas, as he was unable to process that fact. They seemed genuinely concerned for my safety when I stood up and started to put my jacket and helmet on. By that time the winds had stopped and it was just a light rain with no lightning or thunder. I knew that I'd soon ride out from underneath as I headed west and the storm continued east. They still tried to dissuade me from heading out, saying that I would get soaking wet, but I assured them that I was used to riding in rain and had all the right gear to stay warm and dry.

It didn't take long to get out from under the rain...and by Orange, TX the roads were dry and by Beaumont TX the sun was peeking out and I had to stop long enough to fish my sunglasses out of the tank bag to put them on.

I arrived home at 7:37 PM after a really great trip!

Monday, July 20, 2009

National Park Stamping after MOA Rally

Yesterday I visited the Carl Sandburg home and Cowpens revolutionary war battlesite, and today I'll visit another revolutionary battlefield site - Ninety Six - and will try to get a few more stamps along the way to Alabama.

I was in no hurry to get on the road, since I had just a short ride to the Ninety Six National Battlefield site. My route took me through the beautiful town of Clinton and home to Presbyterian College. Beautiful old homes sat on spacious green lawns shaded by old-growth Live Oak trees.

I passed through the town of Ninety Six and continued another couple of miles to the Ninety Six national park. I watched the short film and learned the connection between this battle and the ones at Kings Mountain and Cowpens. This park preserves the star-shaped earthworks of the old British fortification and a one-mile walking trail goes out to this ground structure and to a reconstructed garrison fort. It would be fun to come back when a live reenactment is underway.

My next stop would be the South Carolina Heritage Center in Edgefield. I was here in 2008 to get this stamp and would be going right past it on my way to Augusta. Bike parked, passport book in hand, I got to the front door of the beautiful white house near the center of town only to realize they were closed on Mondays. I took a photo, but didn't get a stamp.

The road would cross over I-20 and continue into Augusta where I hoped to find an Augusta Canal stamp at the Canal Interpretive Center at the historic Enterprise Mill. I rode into the downtown area and let the GPS lead me to the supposed address at Greene Street. Not knowing what I was looking for, I rode right past the large factory-like structures on my left. I continued around the block and pulled over to check the map on S&T. I went around again, and finally gave up and asked a sheriff who was pulled up next to me at a red light. She directed me down Broad Street to 6th Street, where there was an Augusta Historic Museum. I parked and walked inside and could see that this wasn't where I needed to be. The nice lady in the Information store didn't think there was a place where I could get a national park stamp, saying that she'd had others ask the same question. Undeterred, I got back on the bike and headed back over to the general area where the GPS was sending me. The city is constructing a bypass highway through here and it was a mess of gravel and cones. I wanted to turn left across the large gravel swath of construction but was reluctant to do so. So, I blew this one off and continued. I had already wasted more than an hour trying to figure this out.

Up onto I-20, I continued west to Atlanta to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Wow! Talk about easy off-easy on to get there! Right off of I-75/I-85 a couple of right turns, and I was pulling into a large, well-marked parking lot. The tours of his birth home were all full so I walked through the exhibits before getting my stamp and then leaving. The stamp was being held behind the counter and I had to ask for it...guess this stamp might be a "collectible."

Traffic was a breeze getting through Atlanta on I-20 and before I knew it I was on the west side with a decision to make. I had planned to get the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park stamp then continue south to I-65 and continue south. But some quick calculations told me that I'd be cutting it very close time-wise. So, plan B was put into action. I continued west on I-20 with the plan to stop for the night in Tuscaloosa then continue west to Vicksburg. By skipping Horseshoe Bend, I was not only losing another AL state stamp, but the chance at the Gulf National Seashore stamp near Biloxi. I needed a MS state stamp.

When I got to Tuscaloosa, I headed for my usual Pilot gas stop and Sleep Inn, but the Pilot was packed with cars, with lines waiting at the pumps, so I u-turned out and headed the other direction, under the interstate and got gas then pulled into the Comfort Inn, with a Cracker Barrel right next door.

Tomorrow: Vicksburg National Battlefield and home to Houston.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Leaving MOA and RTE in Asheville

Sunday morning was sunny and cool and I enjoyed sitting outside the hotel while waiting for Mike to arrive so that we could ride together to the RTE in Asheville. A few other BMW riders had indicated they'd be coming. The interstate was filled with BMW's heading home after the rally at this mid-morning hour.

It was an easy 60+ miles to the restaurant, taking the exit into downtown Asheville. I'd never been through the downtown area, even when I was here for the RA rally at the Biltmore a couple of years ago. Much of my time that year was spent in the Biltmore village area and riding the roads to the south of Ashville. Downtown Asheville is cute, with many shops and restaurants begging to be explored. We parked in the lot that Bryan suggested, arriving about 45 minutes early. A few others were already there: Mike and Tina, Rick...and a few others began to arrive: Roy, Theo, Charles, Claye. Then Bryan arrived on his FZ6 followed by his parents on their FJR. The food was good at Barney's Brewpub and we had a little time to socialize, but in typical MTF fashion, folks began to load up and get back on the road pretty quickly after paying their bills.

Mike and I parted company, as he was headed to Boone and his brother's and I was headed south to collect some national park stamps in NC and SC enroute to home.

I had a couple of parks on my GPS route, the first of them Carl Sandburg's home near Hendersonville NC. It was such a perfect day to be riding and there were many motorcycles out on the roads today. I was able to get off of I-26 and onto some nice little roads to the Sandburg home.
After the uphill 0.3 mile hike, I was rewarded by the beauty of the Sandburg home and grounds, and the great setting and views.

That stamp in the NPS passport and I backtracked to I-26 and continued south to the exit that would take me through Chesnee and to the Cowpens National Battlefield.

After my visit, I stayed off the interstate taking secondary roads to get to Clinton where I stopped for the night. Nice new Comfort Suites with a Pilot truckstop and Subway right across the street.
Tomorrow: Ninety Six battlefield and MLK National site in Atlanta.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Let's Rally!!

The BMW MOA rally is in Johnson City, TN this year, set on the Appalachian Fair Grounds west of the city, off of I-26. I arrived on the fair grounds Tuesday morning to meet up with Volunteer Committee Chair Don Norwood. We met up on the fair grounds, where I parked my bike and joined him in the golf cart - our chariot for the next several days - to get the "lay of the land" of the fairgrounds and to get me oriented. Then it was off to the Sit 'n Bull restaurant at the bottom of the hill to grab lunch, before getting to the real work of setting up the sign-up area at the school.

The appearance of the fairgrounds would gradually change over the next two days as the vendors continued to arrive and get set up in the outdoor vendor area and as more volunteers start to arrive and get their campsites set up.

Wednesday morning and the elementary school parking lot was already full at 7:45 AM. Registration would not open until noon or 1;00 PM for the volunteers, but there were already many folks milling about or helping to get the registration area set up.

When the flood gates opened, we were overwhelmed! By the end of that first day everyone was exhausted, and we realized that we needed to radically overhaul our set-up to ease the congestion and improve the traffic flow.

In the midst of this, Barbara and husband Ron went back to their motorhome and made sandwiches for those of us who couldn't get away for lunch. We were barely able to take a bite or two of our sandwiches, we were so busy! At the end of the day, I was more than ready to just return to my hotel, grab a light take-out dinner at the Atlanta Bread Co. next door, and just crash.

Determined to beat the crowd on wet and rainy Thursday morning, I got on the road toward the rally grounds early - 7:00 AM - but yet again this day the parking lot at the school was packed with motorcycles and the line had already formed and was out the door and down into the parking lot. I rode past the school and continued onto the grounds, parking in the same spot I'd used the last two days. However, the congestion in that area, created by the outdoor vendor and demo bike area, meant I had to rethink my parking after this day. I walked down to our group's little RV compound to take off my riding gear and Melissa and I then walked back to the school to get to work.

It was non-stop but not as hectic as Wednesday. We rearranged the area, which helped, and we had volunteers to help us and to give us a chance to take lunch breaks. Melissa and I walked back up to the rally and had a nice relaxed sit-down lunch, and to visit some of the vendors for a little bit before returning to the school to finish out the day.

LOTS of really great vendors!! Many of my favorite on-line stores were there in person:,, Bob's BMW, and many others! Every conceivable gadget, accessory, clothing, gear could be purchased at the rally. It would take tremendous will-power - plus the constant self-reminder - that I had no excess room on my bike to carry any purchases home, UPS be damned!

A walk around the rally site to choose our lunch spot uncovered many, many choices! This is the best rally year ever for food selection and variety, and the prices were unbelievably reasonable. Thai food, healthy sandwiches, German food, fresh produce, homemade pumpkin, banana and spice breads, ribs, fish, chicken, salads...Wow! Add to this the fact that there were a couple of very good small-town homecooking type restaurants within a short walking distance, and the appeal of this location for the rally became obvious.

Still, even though we had a good lunch, Melissa and I worked a 10 hour day!

On Friday morning it was again raining and the temperatures were a bit cooler as I headed out of the hotel toward the rally grounds at 7:30 AM. Today I decided not to park on the rally grounds. The congestion created by the foot traffic, motorcycles, golf carts, people-mover shuttles, and passenger cars and trucks was making it very difficult to get onto or off the rally grounds, even early morning or late afternoon. I had scouted the situation at the parking lot behind the school and decided that it might be a perfect spot, just an easy short walk up the hill to the pedestrian gate (which was very near to where I'd been parking the previous days).

Friday wasn't so hectic. We had moved Volunteer Central up onto the rally grounds at the group's RV compound which overlooked the GPS motocross track. It was more relaxed, and we had access to food, beverage, and chairs which made it more comfortable for us. Because of this more-relaxed setting and because we were on the grounds, now, it made it much easier to communicate with the other committee chairs and we got to know some of them better, as well. We also got to know many rally attendees, as well, as they walked past our location throughout the next two days. It was fun!

Don and I took the cart up into the tent camping area at one point and got some great views down over the rally grounds. Up on the very top of the hill I happened upon the Missouri group of guys that I met for the first time at the VT rally and have seen several times since at other BMW rallies.

On Friday and Saturday the MOA brought roving musicians in...some were pretty good. One young boy was playing a fiddle with extraordinary skill and was accompanied by a banjo and a guitar. He had a high soprano voice and was singing Appalachian folk songs beautifully!

Ice cream sundaes for $1.00! I was unable to resist...twice!!

On Friday afternoon, the entertainment committee chair found us and asked for help urgently to get the hospitality tent set up for the band. Don and I jumped in the cart and started recruiting on the fly! We stopped random people and managed to get two men, and then met up with a young teenager who was walking up the hill. He jumped at the chance to help! On the way down to the stage area he and I hung on the back of the cart and I asked him if he did Camp Gears. He thought he wasn't old enough and really wanted to attend, so I planted the seed so that next year, if his family attends the MOA in Redmond OR, he will hopefully get to attend.
Saturday, the last day of the rally, and we pretty much dropped the volunteer recruiting down a few notches, filling only key positions and urgent positions as they were brought to our attention by committee chairs. This freed us up to do more shopping and visiting.

The rally wind-down could be seen and felt. Some camp sites were being packed up and some rally goers were starting to leave. Our committee closed down at noon time so that we could conduct the drawings for the volunteer door prizes and could have a restful lunch and kick back in the shade for a few hours.

All too soon, we were heading toward the closing ceremonies arena and saying goodbye to this year's rally.

Tomorrow: leaving Johnson City and heading to Asheville NC for lunch with MTF members and then picking up some national park stamps on the way home to Texas.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Great Balls of Lightning...heading to MOA Rally

When the bolts of lightning were striking the ground just ahead of me, I began looking for an exit. When the balls of white light were flashing in my peripheral vision and the hairs on my body began to tingle, I started to get desperate.

Such was the case this morning after leaving Tuscaloosa to continue my trip toward Johnson City and the MOA rally. I delayed my departure this morning as the heavens opened up and dumped enough water to bring tears to the eyes of a North Texas rancher. I waited it out, until the rain became a light drizzle. On the radar map I could see a slot between the red clouds that ran southwest to northeast, and the storm was moving in an east-southeast direction. If I could time it just right, I could ride in that slot all the way to north of Birmingham, out of the moving thunderstorms.

Unfortunately, I ran right into it about 40 miles east of Tuscaloosa. That's when the balls of lightning began to appear. Thankfully, there was a rest area just a mile up I-20 and I pulled off and took cover as claps of thunder pealed from all directions. I didn't have to wait too long; the storm was moving rapidly.

Once back on the bike and onto 459 around Birmingham, the rain became light to none, but I could see the aftermath of foolish drivers. Not to far up 459 after the interchange with I-20, a car was on the left shoulder pointed in the wrong direction. A little further on, a red sedan had taken a nose dive into the deep ditch in the median. Several cars had pulled over and a police car had its lights lit to warn oncoming traffic. Then, just before the merge with I-59, an 18-wheeler had slid off the entrance ramp from the other direction and had the entire road blocked. Traffic was backed up on southbound I-59 for miles. Slow down, folks! Our greatest danger on wet roads is auto drivers going too fast for road conditions.


I-59 is such a pretty highway north of Birmingham. The mountains are like green cones poking up above the landscape and the green in summertime is startling for its lushness. North of Gadsden, though, and I-59 becomes a state highway department embarassment. What's the deal: Low-ball contract bidding gone bad?? This stretch of road between Gadsden and Fort Payne makes I-10 through Louisiana (before it was completely resurfaced) feel like a bowling alley. I bingety-bangitied all the way to my exit at Fort Payne, where I got gas then headed west on AL-35.

This state highway really had a surprise waiting for me as it gently curved to the right and revealed gorgeous glimpses of the Tennessee River from high bluff overlooks. The road carves along the edge of the bluff, with the greatest heights off to my right and the river down below to my left. Some nice curves brought the road down to river level and to the bridge that crosses the river.


My route north on US-72 followed along the river valley until I turned off to head for Russell Cave. So many times I've come so close to this national park but never took the detour to see it. The cave reveals itself under a rock ledge and one need not enter too far to get the sense of how far it reaches into the mountain. I watched the short video and learned that Paleo Indians (descendants of ice age dwellers) first inhabited the cave. Down through the ages, evolving Indian tribes - ancient indians, Woodlands, Mississipian - lived here in this area. I had a lovely chat with the Park Ranger, who seemed knowledgeable about mound sites. She and I compared notes about some of the ones that I'd ridden by on my way through MS and AL. I definitely want to make a special trip some day, just visiting some of these archeological mound sites.


The "puzzle pieces" continue to fall into place as I visit so many national parks. I have just finished reading a book that I purchased at the De Soto National Monument. Now here I stand, staring at a cave that was occupied by Indians at the time of De Soto's expedition through the area. Archeological indications are that the cave ceased to be occupied or used sometime in the 16th century. It is known that many tribes were decimated by old-world diseases against which the Indians had no natural resistance. Tribes nearly wiped out by disease migrated and merged with other equally decimated tribes for safety and economy. It is generally believed that these merged tribes are the forerunners of the later Choctaw and other Indian tribes.

This national park is set up against a long mountain ridge that runs generally north-south along the west side of the Tennessee River. I backtracked to US-72 and continued north to I-24 East to Chattanooga, where I picked up US-27 north toward Wartburg TN.

US-27 on the north side of I-40 narrows and starts to gain elevation through a series of nice sweeping curves. It brought me from 800 ft to 1300 ft above sea level into the pretty little town of Wartburg TN where I visited the Obed Wild & Scenic River Visitor Center.

Passport book stamped, I chatted with the park ranger, first asking him if he knew how the town got its name. No doubt from a German settler, he said. He added that the county is named after the revolutionary war hero, Officer Daniel Morgan, who led three companies in the invasion of Canada and the Battle of Quebec. He led troops in several other revolutionary war arenas, as well, and ultimately defeated the British at Cowpens.

The park ranger at Obed noticed the Russell Cave leaflet in my ziplok bag and exclaimed that he tried to find it one time, 3 or 4 years ago, with no success. Guess he didn't refer to the NPS website, which has excellent directions and maps for all of their parks. And he certainly didn't use a GPS. GPS "Jill" had no trouble finding it.

I'm just an easy 30-40 miles away from my hotel for the night and have a very pleasant ride down US-62 toward I-40 and Knoxville.

Tomorrow: Arrive at the BMW MOA rally grounds...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Heading to the BMW MOA Rally

The first day of any trip by motorcycle is always a thrill for me. I never tire of the sense of anticipation of another New Adventure as I back the bike out of the garage. It's nearly always early dawn when I leave on these trips, and the neighborhood looks fresh and tidy in that soft pink morning glow. I leave with expectations for a great trip filled with new experiences, since these are what we make of the day. This trip should be no different.

It's very early Sunday morning and newspapers still lie where they've been tossed by the delivery man. I see no one out or about - it's too early for the daily walking and bicycling brigade that usually fills the streets by 7:00 AM or so - except I do see one neighbor who always enjoys seeing me on my motorcycle; his son and daughter-in-law ride, so he "gets it." He's out there in the near-dark, watering his lawn as I ride by and he gives me a big wave.

With the feeling of New Adventure still fresh, I settle in to my zone on I-10 heading east into the rising sun. I can't help but notice the large number of "gators" on the interstate, more than usual. It's been blisteringly hot here in south Texas, triple-digit temperatures every day for the past month. Could this be the cause of so many blown truck tires littering the roadway?

In western Louisiana I let my imagination take over as it processed the string of state trooper cars parked behind a van that's been pulled over on the other side of the interstate. A little ways behind them - maybe 300 or 400 yards - are two more state trooper cars, and the troopers are out of their cars hunting through the tall grass in the median. chase? Car finally comes to a stop but not before tossing something out the window onto the median? Drugs? A gun?

When I got to my all-time favorite Shell station just west of the Mississippi River bridge, it was a little early and I wasn't all that hungry. No favorite fried chicken for me today!

I watched the temperature climb to 96 degrees by noontime, and began to scan the skies for any sign of rain. The forecast said there'd be a 40% chance of rain and long about now I could use some to cool me off. Well, lo and behold! As I neared Hattiesburg a weather warning popped up on my Garmin and, as I came around a bend and crested a small rise in the road, I could see the black skies ahead and to the west. Hallelujiah! Rain, rain, rain! All the way to Meridian! The temperature dropped 20 degrees and it felt so good!

Tonight I'm at my favorite stopping point whenever I come this direction... on the east side of Tuscaloosa. Pilot truck stop next door so I'm able to fill up the bike before checking in to the hotel. Good place to get a run in, along US 11 (or the treadmill in the hotel). Subway right next door. Everything this gal could want!

Tomorrow: heading north past Birmingham and doing a bit of national park stamping before stopping in Knoxville.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Getting Ready for BMW MOA Rally

Today is Thursday, and on Sunday I'll leave home to start my trip to the BMW MOA rally near Johnson City, TN. I've been anxiously watching the long-range weather forecast, not for fear of rain. No...rain would be most welcome on this journey east across the southern belt. It's the heat that concerns me. We've had triple-digit temperatures here in Texas for the last couple of weeks. This unseasonable heat and drought has several southern states in its grips. Right now it's looking like Sunday - my first travel day - will be the worst for the heat. Monday there will be 30-40% chance of rain as I head northeast through northern Alabama and into Tennessee, and the temps will be about 10 degrees cooler than they will be along the Gulf coast. Riding in rain has its benefits!

Items are starting to pile up in the usual spot on the kitchen counter, my staging area for every trip: GPS, SPOT unit, NPS Passport book, EZPass (just in case), snacks, camera, copies of hotel reservations, MOA pre-registration slip, paperwork for the Volunteer Central committee work. The pile is getting higher and higher the closer it gets to departure day.

Tomorrow and Saturday I'll agonize over what clothes to pack and will take care of those things that need taking care of before leaving on a trip. The bike will get a once-over: Check the oil level and tire pressures. Then I'll start to load the bike. And then I'll start eliminating things that I thought I couldn't live without, in order to lighten the load. It's a process I go through every trip, so no use trying to fight it or change my ways.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Riding-Related: Running and the Foot Saga

Okay, so this post doesn't have anything directly related to motorcycle riding, but there is a connection between being physically and mentally fit and being able to stay on the motorcycle for extended periods of time, day after day.

Running has become a part of my life, ever since my husband died. It's not so bad. The shoes and other gear are so much better than they were 20 years ago. Shoe technology has become more sophisticated than ever. Sort of like motorcycle tires. Different compounds, different shoe lasts for different types of running strides, better cushioning, better foot stabilization. They make it so much easier for old people like me to get out there and do 20-30 miles a week without injury. Or nearly so.

I began running seriously in February, 2001 and have vivid and fond memories of every single race I've entered. I've accumulated many marathon and half marathon finisher's medals, even a couple of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place awards in shorter races. The long running distances seem to come naturally for me. I'm not the swiftest person on the race course, but I've proven myself to be consistent and to have the ability to put in negative splits, something many runners are unable to do. My running partner used to call me the Energizer Bunny, since I could keep going, and going, and going...

Unfortunately for me, though, I have osteopenia. This means thinning bones (the bane of being light-boned to begin with, and having a hereditary tendency as well). Despite taking once-a-week Fosamax to slow down - even to reverse - the steady decline in bone density, I managed to get a stress fracture on my left heel. At first I thought it was plantar fasciitis, and was doing all the things you're supposed to do to help that condition heal. But all the while, I was puzzled how I could have developed this condition since I didn't have any of the risk factors: I don't have flat feet, I have a very neutral gait with no excessive pronation, I don't have tight calves, ACL, or hamstrings. Nonetheless, this pain had been nagging me to the point that it finally cut my training short in October 2006, preventing me from participating in the 2007 marathon.

A long rest, stretching exercises, and then gradual return to running the summer of 2007 seemed to be going well. The pain in that left heel was mostly gone, reduced to a very dull ache if I'd been on my feet for a long while. So in August 2007 I began to increase the miles - gradually - in preparation to doing the Marathon in January 2008.

When the weekly long run distances got up over 10 miles, though, the pain started to return. Then, in early December 2007, I was at Cedar Key FL for a motorcycle group get-together. This is a great place to get a long run in, and I had worked out a 12 mile route on the island for that Sunday. The run was going well until, on the return leg, about 8 or 9 miles into it, I felt - and seemingly also heard - a sharp stab in that left heel. It was so sharp and so strong that it brought me to an abrupt halt. I began to walk, putting as little weight on it as possible, and limped the remaining distance back to the motel. It was getting no better and, in fact, seemed to be getting worse.

Back at the motel, I crafted an ice compress using a zip-lok bag I had in my room and applied it until the ice melted, then went and got more ice and continued the application for another hour or more. By that afternoon I wasn't able to put any weight at all on the foot. This was totally unlike any previous pain or discomfort I'd had with the foot. I began to question if this was plantar-related or maybe something else.

Once back in Houston, a consultation with a surgeon in our BMW club changed my self-diagnosis of plantar fasciitis to a diagnosis of stress fracture in the heel. This made sense, given my history of osteopenia (and my really low T-scores: -3.4). I stayed off the foot completely the whole rest of the month of December and first week of January 2008. But I was determined to do the Houston marathon one way or the other so, undeterred, I bought some orthotics specific to my problem and bought a pair of running shoes one size larger to accomodate them. When I went to the Fitness Expo the Friday before the race, I changed my race registration from the full marathon to the half marathon. I was determined to walk a half marathon...and I did. Every step was agony, but I finished in 3.5 hours. Stupid, I know.

The event completed, I could then give the foot a complete rest. I stayed off the foot as much as possible. When I was on my feet, I wore supportive and well-cushioned shoes. No more flip-flops. All that spring and fall I bicycled for exercise. And I registered for the Half Marathon which would be in January 2009. I simply could not let this foot problem get me down.

So, in October 2008, I began, gingerly, to start running again. I'd put some significant mileage on the bicycle, trying to maintain an aerobic pace - between 12-15 mph - but I could tell it wasn't the same. I was gaining weight and I clearly didn't have the endurance I had when I was in peak marathon form. A trip to Spain in early November and all the stairs and hills we encountered in our sightseeing confirmed that. I had a lot of work to do before mid-January. I had to reassure myself that it would be OKAY if I had to walk part of the race. The important thing was to be out there doing it.

The training went well through the fall and winter, by mixing in some cross-training by bicycle and reducing the weekly running miles. It was just enough to allow me to gradually increase the distances and the foot was holding up well. I knew from running other races that I didn't have to actually attain the mileage of the race before the actual event. If I could get within 2-3 miles of the race distance in training, the excitement and hoopla of the actual event would carry me along. The down side of this is that my weight continued to creep up. I just wasn't getting enough training in.

Through the Christmas and New Year's holidays and into early January, when other runners would start tapering before the race, I continued to increase the distances. But then the flu bug hit me! I stopped all training completely the week before the race and concentrated on getting over this bug! It took over my sinuses and moved into my chest - never a good thing for a runner. This really sucked big time! And it wasn't getting better, it just kept moving around from head to chest. Ack!

I went to the Fitness Expo to pick up my race packet and to browse the vendors a bit, but I felt about as unwelcome as Typhoid Mary. All runners are super-paranoid the week before a race!
I don't blame them!

So on race day, pumped up with cold medication and pockets bulging with tissues, my friend drove me to the start line and I ran the half marathon. Well, I managed to run the first 7 or 8 miles of it before the cold medicine began to wear off. Then it was: run, run, walk and blow my nose, run, run, walk and blow my nose....

By the last 2 miles, I could no longer run (I could hardly breathe!) but was still able to keep a 15 minute-mile pace walking. And I had run out of tissues, which was miserable. The last meet-up point with my friend before the finish line was at mile 8 and I didn't think to arm him with extra tissues. But...I finished the race. That's the important thing. I promised myself a long hiatus after the race, and that's what I did. No running for two months, and then some sporadic outings here and there through March and April.

But come May, 2009 I had to get back at it. I needed to get a good mileage base in before the marathon training cranks back up in early July. So that's where I am today. I've been running 4 days a week since Mid-May, putting in 12-15 miles a week. Six weeks of this and my endurance is now at a 5K level and I've lost 8 pounds. One more week at base mileage and training will begin.

So here's the mentally fit part: Keep pressing on when all you want to do is stop. Running marathons and half marathons these past seven years, boy do I know that feeling!

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion; objects at rest will stay at rest.