Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
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.
Friday, August 28, 2009
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.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
"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
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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
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
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
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:
Burton Cafe, Burton
Bluebonnet Cafe, Marble Falls
Hamburger Store, Jefferson
Must Be Heaven, Brenham
Texan Cafe (pie happy hour!), Hutto
Simply Country Cafe, Moss Hill
Sherry's Busy Bee Cafe, Santa Fe
H&H Cafe, Yoakum
Yumm Factory Cafe, Lampasas
Florida's Kitchen, Livingston
Citranos Coffee Shop Cafe, McGregor
Sue's Roost, Eustace
Johnny Reb's, Hearne
Hill Country Cupboard, Johnson City
City Cafe, Elgin...
Just for starters.