Saturday, March 27, 2010

Phony Texans

I felt there was a potential story here, but have been at a loss for words to explain it without sounding petty or cheesy. But it's such an interesting one, I thought I 'd give it a try.

I had a great trip out to Big Bend in February and recorded it a few posts back on this blog, with photos and some detail of the Gage Hotel, the trip over to Ft. Davis, and the ride down into Big Bend National Park. I think I even touched briefly on my encounters with some great folks who were also staying at the Gage, including two couples who randomly sat near me in the hotel restaurant Monday evening. One couple was from Ohio, near Cleveland, the other couple was Illinois, outside of Chicago.

We all happened to come down for breakfast the next day at about the same time. I sat with them at the large boardroom-style plank table that the hotel uses in their breakfast seating area.

Now, granted, this time of year you'll see lots of "snowbirds" down in the Texas Valley. They come down from states that bump up against the Canadian border, bringing their RV's and their "toads" with them and filling the RV parks from El Paso to Brownsville. License plates declare their citizenship in states like WI and MN, IL and MI, OH and NY. When they're down here "wintering" they're cohabiting in RV parks with like-minded snowbirds and their limited interaction with Texans will be with park managers, restauranteurs, and random citizens at the local Walmart store.

So I can understand their possible fascination with the myth and legend that is "TEXAS," things like cowboys, or the open display of guns, or Ewing-style cattle ranching. I rarely miss a chance to attend the Houston livestock show, making my way through the livestock exhibits and watching a few of the judgings to get a good feel for the people who raise livestock for a living. I've also traveled extensively through this fair state of Texas, meeting lots of folks in lots of lines of work including ranch owners. My late husband had an electrical designer who worked for him, the best man on his project team - quiet, industrious, modest - who owned a working ranch in Madisonville TX with a few hundred head of cattle. He'd come down to Houston and work his weekday job then go back to Madisonville every weekend to tend the ranch.

Now back to the breakfast at the Gage Hotel in Marathon TX and my breakfasting companions from OH and IL. We were sitting there discussing what our respective day's plans would be for this snowy Tuesday morning when a couple made a rather dramatic entrance into the room filling it literally and figuratively with their presence. Well, actually, the man sort of stood back and let the woman pretty much carry the show.

I have never seen such a performance of utterly phony "native Texan" as I saw that morning. She had a roomful of Rubes and knew it. Well... except for me, and I just sat back, biting my lip to keep from laughing out loud at this display. She'd apparently chatted with the OH and IL couples the evening before, so was ready to really perform for them this morning... and perform, she did, to the room's occupants, which included the aforementioned couples from OH and IL and a father and teenaged son from Canada.

She really laid it on thick for her audience. First of all, that accent! It was so exaggerated, I could hardly keep from laughing. A whole lot of "ya'll's" and words with the letter "g" missing were sprinkled liberally throughout her sentences. And she pretty much swooped into the room with the first words already on her lips, prepared to take over whatever conversation might have already been going on. It was a grand entrance, one that would make Norma Desmond jealous. The room was stunned, I with incredulity, the "snowbirds" with awe: A Real Texan! The kind they've only read about or seen on TV nightime soap operas like Dallas.

She was all a twitter about the plans they were making for her son's wedding, all self-important about the appointments they had that day to meet with caterers, and artists, and venues, and florists. Generous and broad hints at the expense of all this were dropped unashamedly.

Her attire was every bit as corny as her accent. She apparently didn't realize that her get-up went out of style in the 80's, about the time that Gilley's burned down in Pasadena. She was all decked out in a denim dirndl skirt with the 16" flounce at the hem, a chambray overshirt buttoned partway up, sporting silver studs and sparkly stuff. It was left untucked and cinched in at the waist with a giant concho belt. She had huge amounts of silver and turquoise jewelry at wrists, neck and ears. Her hair was smoothed back with that silly little bump in the front over the forehead, a hairstyle that went out of style when Seinfeld went off the air, and it was pulled into a short bobbed ponytail at the nape of her neck. She had about 10 pounds of foundation on her face, so much so, that it smoothed out whatever character her face may have had. Expertly shadowed, lined and mascara'd eyes looked out from a face that was so plastic in appearance she looked like a mannequin.

I've seen this look in the past, plenty of times, at the Houston Livestock show back in the 90's, where bankers and secretaries and insurance salesmen and store clerks haul their "Go Texan" clothes out of the back of their closets once a year and sashay off to Reliant Park to spend the evening being wannabe's at the Hideout.

And those folks from the Great Lakes area were just eating this up!! They were asking her all sorts of questions, the kind that you might ask a person who you perceive as living a totally different and exciting life in a totally different realm than your plain-old humdrum boring life in the cornbelt of America. From these lines of questioning I learned that they owned a ranch, raise cattle, and live in ***** which is a town halfway between Del Rio and San Antonio. I will not divulge the town, but suffice it to say it is a one-horse town sporting its share of small-town Texas cultural venues such as Walmart, Dairy Queen, and Texas Burger. It is serious enough distance away from a large city to qualify the town as being "isolated" from the main stream.

Ranching is not glamorous. It is hard work. The ranch owners are usually down-to-earth folks and certainly don't wear 10 pounds of pancake makeup. This woman no more represented this lifestyle than I would. I felt sorry for the Great Lakes contingent who were so totally taken in by her acting skills. They'll no doubt go home to their neighbors and friends and families and rave about meeting a real life Texas rancher, up close and personal, in the flesh. Well, if it made them happy and their trip to Texas complete, who am I to burst their bubble?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Because...

...it is absolutely perfect outside.

...I had a day off from running.

...a motorcycle or two beckon from the garage.

...there is nothing else planned for the day.

So, after breakfast, I showered, got dressed, and headed for the BMW waiting patiently in the garage. Today I want to scout some other lunch destinations south of where I live, my ongoing quest for interesting rides of moderate distance and interesting or unique cafes and small-town restaurants.

My ride today took me down 288 to TX 35 west toward Sweeny. Google Maps shows a couple of interesting possibilities in the center of this town, but a Google satellite street view shows only some empty store fronts and a new drugstore in the general vicinity of what should be at least one of these restaurant possibilities. But it's a nice ride along 35 to East Columbia and then south on FM 1489 toward Sweeny.

A slow cruise along Sweeny's Main Street to the south, then a U-turn and slow cruise north confirmed what the satellite street view shows: Empty store fronts, that new drugstore, and a building which used to house a restaurant called My Cousin's Place, now vacant and for sale.

So I'll scratch those places off my list of potential lunch destinations.

I continued down FM-524 to FM-521 toward Brazoria. There's a very good lunch destination -tried and true - in this town, but that's not where I'm heading. Nope. I have a different place in mind.

At Brazoria I headed south on 36 for a few miles through open cultivated fields to FM-2004. This FM road skirts along the west side of Lake Jackson and avoids the overdevelopment along 288.

My lunch destination today is different from the usual. I ate here maybe 10 years ago. I went with my husband and a neighbor. And we did not get there by car. So how did we get there, you ask?

By airplane.

My neighbor is a retired Air Force pilot and, at that time, owned a small 4-seater airplane and hangared it at a small grass strip airport in Manvel. We took a nice tour, flying along the Gulf Coast before landing at our lunch destination, having a leisurely meal, and then climbing back in the plane, taxiing away for take-off, and then flying up the Ship Channel toward Houston before heading back to Manvel.

The lunch destination today is Windsock Grill at the Brazoria County Airport.



This airport is a popular fly-in destination for private pilots and the restaurant caters well to this demographic. The airport restaurant has a large plane "parking lot" which allows easy taxi-in, park, and taxi-out. But of course it does also have a parking lot for the more earthbound of us arriving in cars and on motorcycles.



I arrived at around 1:00 PM and could see that they were doing a good business today. The parking lots - both of them - were filled with planes and cars. I backed my motorcycle into a spot along the fence line that separates the cars from the planes.


The menu is great with a wide variety of sandwiches offered on a wide variety of breads including wraps. Just to tempt you, the pie case sits right at the entrance, on the counter, so while you wait to be seated you can contemplate your calorie allocations.
It's a little cool today so there was no seating outside on the patio, but on a warm day its a nice option. My grilled chicken wrap was big and juicy, to the point of being a handful.
It's a great destination for lunch...not for a big motorcycle group, but with a friend or two it's perfect.






Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Starting a new list...

Doing some research, looking for interesting but little-known lunch destinations nearby. These are all easy day rides from home. I've already eaten at a couple of them, but worth the return visit:



Ganado Cafe - Ganado

Estella's - Ganado

Tree Frog Cafe - Wharton

Pat-a-Cake - Wharton

Greek Brothers Oyster Bar - El Campo

Emil's Cafe - El Campo

Hanging Tree - Goliad

Empresario - Goliad

Blue Quail Deli - Goliad

Moya's Cafe - Refugio

Paradise Key Grill - Rockport

Tropics Waterfront Bar & Grill - Port Lavaca

Green Iguana - Port lavaca

White's BBQ - Port Lavaca

Outrigger - Palacios

Spoonbill's - Matagorda

Dido's- Brazoria

Small Town Cafe - Brazoria

Willie Joe's Seafood - Freeport

On the River - Freeport

Windswept - Freeport/Oyster Creek

Jovy's Handmade Tamales - Clute

Windsock Grill - Angleton

Friday, March 19, 2010

One of the Joys of Retirement

The last two days have been awesome, weatherwise, here in south Texas. If I were still working, I'd be sitting in my office daydreaming wistfully as I stared out the window at the perfectly clear blue skies and fretting about being stuck indoors when the temperatures and humidity were as good as they get in south Texas.

But I'm not still working, I'm retired! Hooray for me!

Yesterday I rode the Beemer over to Mike's house, waiting conveniently for all those poor working slobs to get to where they were going before I ventured out on the roadways around 10:00 or so. On the way, I stopped at the auto parts store to buy 4 quarts of Castrol GTX 20w-50 oil for the Beemer. I'd purchased an oil filter last week at the BMW dealer's when I drove Mike over there to pick up his GSA, which was having warranty work done.

We did a leisurely oil change on my Beemer in Mike's well-equipped shop then headed out to run a couple of errands and get a late lunch.

Seemed a shame to pull into the garage at the end of the day, but....it's going to be gorgeous again on Friday!

So, sitting at my computer last night, I planned a day ride that would include someplace for lunch, a place, any place, but one that I'd not been to before. Let's see, there's a place in Yoakum that I read about and had added to my dream list (http://agmom98-5.blogspot.com/2009/08/dream-list.html) of lunch ride destinations. Nah...the roads to get there are uninspiring. How about someplace southwest, down near Wharton or El Campo? There are a couple of interesting and nice (for south Texas) backroads to get there. Digging a little, I found a couple of possibilities that sit right on the courthouse square in Wharton, the Tree Frog Cafe (http://www.treefrogcoffees.com/cafe.htm) and Pat-A-Cake (http://www.patacakewharton.com/). I didn't know anything about these except what appears at their websites, so thought I'd check them out in person, stop and eat at the one that looked the most promisinig. Only one way to find out!

My early morning run confirmed that today would be an outstanding day for riding! My friend Mike met me at 11:00 AM and off we headed, south on 288 to FM-1462 and west then south on 36 to West Columbia.

One of my all-time favorite roads down this way is FM-1301 heading toward Wharton. Once it gets west of West Columbia it is enchanting! Curvy, wooded, nothing for miles but the occasional open pasture filled with bred cattle. Not those cattle-equivalent of mutts, all brown and white, but large herds of purebred cattle breeds: Brangus, Charolais, Limousin, St. Gertrudis, Longhorn. As we rode along, I suspected that some of the top specimens from these ranches were possibly being exhibited and shown at the Houston Livestock show, currently going on at Reliant Park in Houston.

On the left side of the road, in a pasture all by herself, I spied a heifer and her baby calf. This calf was tiny, with her coat still glistening from afterbirth. She (or he) was adorable, all wobbly-legged. The mom was reclining very near by, no doubt taking a little rest after her labors.

Not far down the road, we approached Wharton, where I wanted to check out those two cafe possibilities on the courthouse square. It was a typical Texas square with one-way streets circling the courthouse. I spotted one of the cafes on one corner and continued around the square until I spotted the other one, 3/4 of the way around. Both were open for business, but whether they were any good is unknown, since my riding partner was beginning to get impatient and, at a red light, hollered over to me, "When are we going to eat?" I thought I'd made it clear to him before we headed out that I wanted to scope out these two places, and would use Hinze's BBQ on 59 as the backup plan if neither of the downtown Wharton cafe's looked suitable. Apparently he missed that part of the discussion beforehand, so I aborted the plan to investigate and turned left at the light and headed toward 59. I will come back by myself to check these two places out. I'm always on the lookout for interesting, small-town cafes.

Hinze's was crowded, but it was near the end of their lunch rush so things moved along quickly. It's a typical Texas-style BBQ house: Walk up to the counter, place your order, pay, and go find a table to wait for your number to be called. I ordered a combination meat/sausage sandwich, blackeyed pea salad, and iced tea. The giant cupcakes sitting on the counter under a clear pie cover were calling my name, so I bought one of those, too!

The sandwich was huge, way more than I could eat, nothing remarkable, but the blackeyed pea salad was to die for! As best as I could tell, it was made with dill pickle relish and small bits of green chili pepper. Sort of a pea variant to cucumber salad. Superb and perfect with the BBQ sandwich.

Heading back toward Pearland, we took 59 north to 762, which offers some nice 90-degree sweepers, to 1462 to 288 and back home.

Four hours later and I'm still full of BBQ!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

ERC - Experienced Rider Class

Yesterday I took the Experienced Rider Class (ERC). It's the second time I've taken it. It gives me a discount on my motorcycle insurance and for that purpose is good for 3 years. It's not just the insurance discount I'm after, but a reality check on my motoring skills. Things like fast stops in a curve, tight u-turns, and reaction times to roadway obstacles.

The class was scheduled to start at 8:00 AM sharp and since I live on the complete opposite side of Houston as the Harley dealership where this was being held, I got up at 6:00 AM, ate a light breakfast, packed some fruit, water, and crackers, and was on the road by 7:00 AM.

The weather couldn't have been more perfect if we had ordered it up! Clear blue skies, low humidity, mid-60's temperatures!

It was an interesting mix of motorcycles in our little class of 5 students: BMW K1300GT, Kawasaki Concours, Suzuki GSX-R, Harley Davidson Dyna-Glide, and my Yamaha FZ6. All participants but me were there for only one reason: traffic ticket dismissal.

All I can say is that I was one tired puppy when I got home! The last time I took this course, it ran from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM with a lunch break in the middle. This time the instructor pushed us through the entire program, getting us off the range course before 1:00 PM to make way for the Beginning Rider Course that would be moving outside after a morning of classroom work. For us this meant only minimal short breaks, and nearly continuous range work. There also seemed to be one or two exercises that I don't recall from the first time I took it.

My conclusions? First of all, I got high praise from the instructor. He stopped each of us as we completed one of the last exercises and talked to us each individually. He said I was a very skilled rider. :-) My personal observations:
  • Bringing the bike upright and to a rapid stop in a curve is scary. I know I've done this a number of times in real-world situations without thinking about it but on the practice range it was nervewracking.
  • I can do a good, tight U-turn to the left, but not as tight to the right; I need to work on this. My front tire consistently went outside the line when doing this to the right.
  • I was praised for my rapid braking skills. Actually much of the credit goes to the predictable and strong brakes on the FZ6. No skidding, no lock-up, she just delivers smooth and quick stops consistently without drama.
  • By the time we got to the slow, swerve, and go exercise, I knew I was getting tired. it was the second to last exercise of the day and my "swerves" were more like "steers," not quick and snappy.
A good day, though, and good self-assessment. Now I know what I do well and what I need to brush up on.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Jacksonville Experience - Part II

I arrived at the hotel in Jacksonville early in the afternoon on Wednesday by design: Get there early enough to get off the bike and relax for the afternoon before the "big ride" tomorrow. There will be a SaddleSore 1000 tomorrow, put on by the Iron Butt Association (IBA). It will be a loop starting and ending in Jacksonville with a route that stays entirely in the state of FL to qualify it as an in-state SaddleSore.

As I unloaded my things I spied a small group of folks I knew who were standing around chatting a few parking spots down the row and so I joined them for a bit. W.B., who I haven't seen in a long time; Kit, who I haven't seen since San Diego in 2008; Steve, who I saw last at the IBR check point in St. Charles IL.

After getting unpacked I headed over to the bar to see who else was there and joined a small group of MTF'ers for a beer. I had eaten a late lunch at Steak 'n Shake when I arrived so I skipped supper and hung around waiting for the mandatory 8:00 PM pre-ride meeting. I was surprised at the number who had registered for the ride: 90 riders! There were many folks in the room that I knew from MTF. It's going to be a really fun ride!

The SS1000 is going to be unique in a number of ways. First and, in my mind, most important is the addition of checkpoints, 7 of them. These checkpoints will be manned by IBA "Legends," big names in LD riding and Iron Butt Rallies. The second most important point is that, with these checkpoints positioned at key turn points on the route, the usual gas receipt requirements for documentation are being waived on this ride. I'm lovin' it! No log and no receipts to keep track of! The day will be long enough with the addition of 7 checkpoints. All of these checkpoints will be restaurants, not gas stations, and this will necessitate making extra stops I wouldn't ordinarily make when doing a SS1000. I'm factoring this into my timing, as I estimate my ETAs at the various checkpoints.

I had mapped out the route as given to us by IBA staff, and plugged it into my GPS. I also printed out the narrative turn-by-turn of the route, penciled in the ETA's for each stop and for each planned gas stop, and put this into my tank bag map pocket. I would be in the second departure group - leaving at 6:20 AM - and had therefore estimated my completion time as 11:30 PM, based on the Streets & Trips route.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I had set multiple alarms for 5:00 AM Thursday morning, but I awoke on my own at 4:55 AM and felt that I'd gotten a pretty good night's sleep. I dressed and, after getting my bike uncovered and ready to go, went down to the lobby where there was a light breakfast waiting for us and a check-in procedure for the ride. A few other riders were sitting in the Comedy Club area chatting and eating a light breakfast so I joined them for a bit before visiting the group outside who were staging for their 6:00 AM departure, greeting those that I knew and wishing them a safe ride. Soon they were released to start their ride and I walked back up to my room, got my jacket and helmet and headed down to my bike to move it to the staging area. It would be a cold start, in the high 30's for the start.

Our bikes were recorded - odometer reading, license plate state/number - and then a few minutes later, at 6:20 AM, we were turned loose onto I-295. It would be about an hour's ride down I-95 to the International Speedway exit and the first checkpoint - at the McDonald's. There were 5 or 6 bikes there already and as I got the first of the Legends - Bob Higdon - to sign my certificate, a few more bikes pulled in. I needed a quick potty stop...and made it very quick....then continued west on International to I-4 and our next checkpoint in Tampa. The sun was getting higher in the sky but the temperatures weren't rising any too fast. Another SS1000 rider who lives in the Tampa area sat with me in the bar the afternoon before and mentioned the rush hour traffic on I-4 through Orlando. He suggested taking 417 - a toll road - around the south side of Orlando to avoid possible stop-and-go traffic. I didn't have my Sunpass with me, but opted to take the road anyway in hopes the tollroad authority would match my license plate with my Sunpass account. It was 20 miles longer but might save that in time, or at least aggravation. Sure enough, as I merged back onto I-4, I saw a pale yellow R1100GS that I recognized as having left the previous checkpoint ahead of me, pulling out as I was walking inside to use the bathroom.

I stopped for gas in Plant City before continuing down I-4 to Hillsborough and the next checkpoint at Denny's. I ignored the GPS for some reason when she told me to turn left at a light, because I knew the Denny's was just ahead, but what this meant was making a u-turn at a light that refused to turn green. I watched, as other bikes that I knew were behind me, including the Honda 50 that I passed on I-4, pulled up to the intersection on my left, took the right turn onto Hillsborough and proceeded to the Denny's while I sat there stuck at the light. Guess I shouldn't have ignored the GPS!!

Dave McQueeney was the Legend who was manning this checkpoint and I pulled into the parking lot, found a level spot after some jockeying of the bike, and got the paperwork out for his signature. Hillsborough would take me back to I-4 and then I-75 north to Ocala and the next checkpoint.

When we checked in at the hotel early this morning we were each given a wrist band, visible proof of our legitimacy for the Legends who were at the checkpoints. I got a good grin every time I fished that wristband out from beneath my riding jacket and many underlayers to show the Legend at each checkpoint. You see, it was blue with yellow smiley faces. Very cheery!

Once on I-4 I caught up with the Honda 50 and passed him and then caught up with a pair of riders from our group and stayed with them to the exit for the Taco Bell in Ocala. This was Ardys's checkpoint and she already had a gang pulled up to get her "autograph" on their certificates. I parked my bike and walked over to her with my helmet on and certificate in hand. she greeted me as one would greet a stranger but when she saw my name on the certificate she lit up with a smile and gave me a hug. Others were waiting in line and I didn't want to tie her up, so I headed back to my bike, mounted up, and headed off to the next checkpoint.

The route took us off I-75 at the next exit, onto US 27, a secondary divided highway. It had very little traffic and I made good time over to US 19 in Chiefland. I had a gas station waypointed in my GPS but when I got there it was closed. So I pulled back out onto US 19 and headed a block north to the next checkpoint, a McDonald's. I pulled in and rode around to the back of the restaurant where Jim Owen, winner of the 2009 Iron Butt Rally, was "holding court" and signing certificates. The parking area was jammed with motorcycles, to the point that cars trying to pass through were nearly obstructed. Many of these riders I recognized from the first group, the one that departed twenty minutes ahead of me at 6:00 AM. A few others were in my group and we were obviously maintaining a similar pace.

Somewhere along US 27 my right rearview mirror decided to come loose, no doubt from all the miles of bucking stiff headwinds, so at this checkpoint I took the extra time to fish out the right sized wrench and tighten it. I had already worked the little rubber boot up to expose the nut, so the only delay was removing the seat to get at the toolkit. That bit of business taken care of, I tossed the tool kit into a sidecase and proceeded back onto US 19. I still needed gas, but it wasn't urgent, so I waited until I got to one that looked promising as far as pay-at-pump and bathrooms go. Each stop was an exercise in patience, what with all the layers of clothing and cables to unplug. Before I mounted to head back out, I made sure all of my bundling against the cold offered no leaks for the cold to sneak in, tucking in the neck buff under the helmet, making sure the gloves and glove liners were fully covered and cinched beneath the sleeves of my riding jacket. And then it was a few minutes of teeth chattering and teeth clenching until the Gerbing jacket liner heated up again.

I've ridden US 19 several times - to Wizard's Wild Weekend three years in a row in December, and to Cruzin' Al's FLC2C rides which start in Tampa or north of Tampa every year. So I know what to expect, including speed limits and speed traps along the way. Aside from that, I made good time and was soon up onto I-10 and just 20 miles away from the next checkpoint at a Waffle House on the east side of Tallahassee. This checkpoint was staffed by Shane Smith, another IBR veteran and winner. Like all of the other Legends so far, he was cheerful and friendly and seemed genuinely happy to see all of us. He handed each of us riders a blue bandanna, telling me that he always wears one, and was passing the tradition along.

I took a few additional minutes at this checkpoint to eat a power bar and drink some water, before getting back on the road. I was making very good time and was staying very close to my ETA's at the checkpoints and gas stops, maybe 5-10 minutes behind at one or two of the stops. But I knew that I'd make that time up once on I-10. A good-sized group of riders were also using this checkpoint as a break, and there were anywhere from 15-25 bikes congregated at this checkpoint: at the gas pumps, in front of the gas station, in front of the Waffle House next door.

I pulled out just behind a couple of other riders, and got onto I-10 westbound to the next checkpoint which would not be until Pensacola. I had scheduled a gas stop for myself in Marianna and as I neared that town, was passed by a yellow BMW R1200GS. It was the first rider I'd seen since leaving Tallahassee. He exited just ahead at an exit a few miles before my planned exit. Once at my exit - and the TA gas/truck plaza - I gassed up and used the bathroom before getting back on. As I was pulling back onto I-10, who should I see but that same yellow BMW GS, coming up behind me. He got ahead and I didn't see another rider in our group until I got near the Denny's on Davis Highway in Pensacola.

I was beginning to see riders heading the other way as I rode through the Milton area. I passed two cruisers as I was crossing Escambia Bay Bridge, and they pulled in behind me as I exited on Davis. Into the Denny's parking lot, I noted that there was the yellow BMW GS again. There were only 3 other bikes there, all three BMW's: two R1200RT's and the GS when I pulled in. The two cruisers followed in behind. I was surprised that there weren't more bikes, but I began to suspect that I was near the front of the pack of riders at this point. The Legend at this checkpoint was Marty Leir, winner of the 2007 Iron Butt Rally.

The GS and I left together, onto a very busy Davis Highway with a median which complicated the turnaround back toward I-10. I noticed that the rightmost lane became a right-turn-only lane at a light up ahead and that it turned into a big shopping center. Perfect! Right turn, U-turn across the median on this shopping center approach road and then we had a protected light to make a left turn onto that busy Davis Highway. the GS rider pulled up next to me at the light and made the comment "Excellent Idea!" I told him I would be exiting in Milton where there was a Shell Station and Subway (just in case he was interested). "By the way, my name is Karl," he said. "Mine is Barb," I replied, before the light turned green and we headed back toward I-10 and the long eastward leg of the ride.

Crossing Escambia Bay again on I-10, I saw many riders I recognized heading west. The Shell gas station with the Subway is at the first exit just past Escambia Bay. The break was most welcome and, since I was well ahead of my ETA's at this point, I didn't feel I needed to rush. I ordered a foot-long sandwich and ate half of it along with some potato chips, and washed it down with a bottle of water. I wrapped up the other half, half of the chips, and a cookie and put them into my sidecase with the intention of eating them later that night once I arrived at the hotel.

Now it would be a long "leg" to my next stop and last checkpoint, at the same Waffle House I was at earlier in Tallahassee. There was very little traffic and I made good time to the next checkpoint. It was now dark and, with the sun going down, getting colder by the mile. I was really regretting leaving the quilted pant liners at home on this trip. What was I thinking?? There were at least a dozen motorcycles at this checkpoint, most of whom I'd been seeing all along the route at the previous checkpoints. I pulled up to a gas pump, got gas and then, leaving my bike in place, ran inside to use the bathroom and then next door to the Waffle House to get my certificate signed by the last Legends, husband and wife riders Ross and Jean Copas. Jean was a sweetheart! She gave me a hug and seemed excited that I was the first female to reach their checkpoint. I asked if they'd be at the dinner the next night, as I hoped I have a chance to talk to her again. As I was leaving I saw a fellow MTF rider and IBR finisher Steve walk in. I had passed him not too far west of Tallahassee.

I went through my usual cold-weather ritual getting back onto the bike, and I was headed out again toward I-10 eastbound and the final stretch to Jacksonville and the finish. It was dark. It was cold. It was dark and cold. Getting very cold. And there were deer grazing along the side of the interstate. I switched my XM channel to the Laugh USA station and cranked the volume up. Anything to take my mind off of the bitter cold. I was getting temperature readings in the 30's much of the way. Those 145 or so miles seemed like an eternity with no visual distractions in the pitch blackness, with only the XM radio to keep my mind occupied.

But then...finally! I was just 8 miles away from the turn onto I-295 which would take me south and east around Jacksonville toward the hotel. The temps began feeling warmer, too, and a quick check showed it had risen 10 degrees from 32 to 42 due to that "concrete effect" around cities. Hallelujah! I was nearly done!

Soon the exit I needed was in front of me and I was down the ramp and turning left then straight, then right toward the hotel. I pulled up under the canopy where the IBA staff were waiting to sign me and the other riders back in. A photographer was snapping photos while Dean and Bill of the IBA staff signed me in, checked my odometer and checked my certificate for all of the signatures. Arrival time was 11:06 PM, more than 20 minutes ahead of my projected arrival time. Not too bad!!

Just as I was pulling away to go park the bike, Steve came walking up and asked me if I'd join him for a late night dinner at Steak & Shake. Sure! That sounded better than the half a Subway sandwich residing in my sidecase. I rode around to the side of building, parked the bike, and we walked over to the restaurant together. First thing we did was wrap our hands around cups of hot cocoa to warm up!!

It was an interesting twist on a SS1000, and created a keepsake suitable for framing and hanging alongside the SS1000 certificate. It was cold, it was repetitive for half the distance, but it was definitely fun, especially knowing there were 73 of us out there on the roads, doing it together.

Stay tuned for the IBA Party report...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Jacksonville Experience - Part I

The road to Jacksonville is I-10. Many folks hate this road, but I've come to really like riding between Texas and Florida on this road. There are my favorite exits, gas stations I'm now comfortable with, some good road food that cause my stomach to growl in anticipation.

At 6:00 AM I was on my way. It was cold and would be cold for the next several days. I would pass many motorcycles heading in the other direction, no doubt returning from Daytona Bike Week. I would pass many trucks pulling trailers containing one or two motorcycles and heading in the same direction as I was, no doubt heading for Daytona Bike Week. A stiff wind straight out of the north kept me on the sides of my tires for much of the way, tossing me about in my lane and even shoving me completely into the next lane. It required constant vigilance. It stayed cloudy all day, which increased the sense of cold and chill.

Gas up in Mont Belvieu, TX; gas up again in Rayne, LA; another gas stop in Gulfport, MS. Once in Florida, my next gas stop would be just east of Milton. The winds continued to blow me around, even threatening to pitch me as I pulled away from the gas pump in Gulfport. However, I was not mindful of this as I exited I-10 and headed to the bottom of the ramp to get gas in FL. The ramp split near the stop sign, sending us right-turners onto a curving rightward lane. I hate this ramp arrangement, as it requires a difficult look over my left shoulder to check for traffic. As I waited for several cars to pass, I could feel the wind pushing against the left side of my bike. Suddenly it felt like a giant had reached down and pushed hard against the back end of my bike. With only my left foot on the ground, right foot on the brake, I was not prepared for this and, in a blink of an eye, the bike was leaning precariously to the right with no hope of recovering it. Well, this was a fine kettle of fish! My bike lying on its right side and a pickup truck approaching down the ramp.

Only one time have I ever been able to lift a fallen bike, and that was my very first motorcycle, a Yamaha Virago. I had dropped it in my driveway and had no other choice but to get it up, using the "rear-end push" method. That bike weighed maybe 450 lb and it took all of my leg strength to get it up past that last 45-degrees to upright. So now it's 8 years later and I have a bike weighing more than 500 lb loaded lying on its side. I put the sidestand down and then got myself in position, handlebars turned full-lock right, left hand on the grip, right hand on the passenger handhold, and managed to get it up about 45 degrees but being short, the bike requires I take another "bite" by scootching my butt back down into another crouch to lift against the seat for the remaining 45-degree lift. This just isn't going to happen at my size and weight.

I turned to the driver of the truck who was patiently waiting, and extended my arms while shrugging my shoulders, letting him know that unless he helped, we'd be there a long time. I could see him through the windshield as he put his truck into "Park" and stepped out to come over. Just a few words on my part let him know the problem, and he had the bike up like it was a toy. He asked several times if I was okay - I was, since the bike goes down but I don't. A few moments to straighten the tankbag, put my gloves back on, and I pulled onto the side road toward the gas station. The bike fared okay: A small scratch on the sidecase, a broken turn signal lens, and a scrape on the edge of the windshield. At least the windshield now has symmetrical matching scrapes; the first one happened when the bike was only a month old, in Tucson AZ at a gnarly pull-out in the west unit of Saguaro National Park.

Some electrical tape did a neat job of restoring the turn signal lens to functionality. With the tank filled, I could continue to Marianna where I filled up one last time before heading to the Comfort Inn. Some good KFC was in order so a very cold and windy walk accomplished that errand and I settled into my room for the evening.

The next morning I got a good long run in by heading south on the highway, crossing under I-10 and going about 2 miles before turning around and heading back. It was cold but not as windy as it had been the previous day. Getting back onto the road that morning, sun shining, it seemed warmer than yesterday, despite identical temperature readings. One gas stop near Lake City, and soon I was riding into Jacksonville, taking 295 south, and exiting to the hotel, where I'd be staying for the next 3 days.

To be continued...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Going East Tomorrow

Tomorrow I get back on the road, riding to Jacksonville for the annual IBA "Pizza Party," always held around the same time as Daytona Bike Week and timed this way just in case some of the LD rider types want to head down I-95, strafe a few trailer-queen Harleys along the way.

In anticipation of being on the road for a few days, I needed to clear out some contents of the fridge that are getting a little long in the tooth. Yesterday, however, as I was rummaging through my cupboards and fridge on a "search and destroy mission," I chanced upon a box of yellow cake mix and an accompanying can of chocolate frosting. Oh, no!! There are enough foods and leftovers teetering on the brink of spoilage, without adding 2 dozen cupcakes. An hour later the house smelled of freshly baked cake [guilty grin]. To assuage that guilt, I wrapped a dozen cupcakes tightly and put them in the freezer. The rest, however, are being systematically consumed in hopes there will be none left before I leave the house tomorrow morning. Arggghhh!

I-10 here I come! Yet another trip across half the continent to Jacksonville FL and I should be at the hotel by early afternoon. These last few years there's been some form of "ride-in" to this event, a way to earn an IBA LD Ride certificate of some form or another - SS1000 or longer, 50CC, 100CCC or similar - and this year will be the same. The "twist" on this year's ride is that it will begin and end in Jacksonville.

Legends SS1000
IBA has pulled a soon-to-be memorable ride out of their bag of tricks, putting together what they're calling the Legends SS1000. The route will be a Florida in-state Saddle Sore 1000 with checkpoints along the way. Not just an ordinary "get a gas receipt" stop, but stops that will be "manned" by riders who have become legends among the LD riding community. Their identities are being kept a secret to us at this point, but will be revealed when we're given our checkpoint sign-in sheets. The "deal" is this: Ride to each of the seven checkpoints and have the legendary IBA rider sign our checkpoint sheets. This sheet will not only prove that we've ridden the prescribed route, but will become a keepsake along the traditional IBA SS1000 Certificate, suitable for framing (or so we're told; assuming I'm able to keep mine reasonably pristine and uncrumpled).

Tomorrow morning I'll get up and hopefully get the wheels turning by 6:30 or 7:00 AM, make it to Marianna FL for the night, get a run in, in the morning, then get back on the road and arrive in Jacksonville by early afternoon in plenty of time to socialize with the other IBA members who will also be participating in this Legends SS1000.

Weather is forecasted to be absolutely perfect for Thursday, so wish us all safe riding.