Friday, July 24, 2009
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
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
Sunday, July 19, 2009
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.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
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.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
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. Hmmmm.....car 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
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
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.