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.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dream List...

A nice lunch ride yesterday to Tuffy's in Mauriceville - one of the many great little cafes within 150 miles of the house - got me to thinking...

Texas has more than its share of great one-of-a-kind family-owned restaurants, restaurants with long histories and regular clientele. They sit on the main streets of mid- to small-sized towns throughout the state. Some are brick or cinderblock, some are wood-sided, and some are tin structures. The ambience is always mom-and-pop 50's decor, sometimes the tables and chairs are wood, sometimes they're chrome and formica, but almost always they have wooden floors.

The food is always good. Country-style homecooking: chicken-fried steak, hamburgers, meatloaf, fried chicken, brisket. And always served with comfort-food choices for "sides," like mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, black-eyed peas, biscuits, cornbread. Great prices for plentiful portions. But there's rarely enough room for dessert. Such a shame, too, because there's almost always an assortment of homemade pies - meringues, custards, pecan - to choose from. Mile-high meringues. Fruit cobblers with melting Blue Bell ice cream on top.

So I've decided to make a change. From now on I'm going to skip the entree's and go straight for the desserts! I'm compiling my list:
Tuffy's, Mauriceville
Tony's, Sealy
Frank's, Schulenburg
Burton Cafe, Burton
Bluebonnet Cafe, Marble Falls
Maxine's, Bastrop
Hamburger Store, Jefferson
Must Be Heaven, Brenham
Orsak's, Fayetteville
Texan Cafe (pie happy hour!), Hutto
Simply Country Cafe, Moss Hill
Sherry's Busy Bee Cafe, Santa Fe
H&H Cafe, Yoakum
Barth's, Kenedy
Yumm Factory Cafe, Lampasas
Florida's Kitchen, Livingston
Citranos Coffee Shop Cafe, McGregor
Sue's Roost, Eustace
Peabody's, Goldthwaite
Johnny Reb's, Hearne
Hill Country Cupboard, Johnson City
City Cafe, Elgin...

Just for starters.