Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011 Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Yesterday afternoon I packed a small bag with all of my running stuff, a frozen dinner, and some snacks and got into my car for the 6 mile drive up 288 to the Holiday Inn Express that sits just two blocks from the George R. Brown Convention Center and 3 blocks from the start line of Sunday's race. What could I do at home that I couldn't do sitting in a comfortable hotel room? Absolutely nothing! Mini fridge? Check. Microwave? Check. Laptop computer? Check. TV? Check. Kindle? Check.

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This morning my little travel alarm raised its usual ruckus at 6:00 AM and I laid in bed for a few minutes until my eyes adjusted to the dark. A quick peek through the curtains confirmed that the rains had indeed moved in during the night.

No need to get out there until I absolutely had to. No hurry, since the start line was just a 5 minute walk and I am in the second wave of runners, turned loose onto the course at 7:10 AM. It was already quite warm - over 60 degrees - and muggy. Far from perfect conditions for a marathon and half marathon. It will be a challenging run this year.

I didn't have long to wait before our wave started moving forward toward the start line, more than one block away. It took me a full 10 minutes to cross the start line, but folks started running and jogging immediately once past that mark.

The first mile of this race course is a long uphill grade, up the Elysian Viaduct. The one mile mark is at the crest of this bridge that crosses over railroad tracks, roads, and I-10. It always takes the starch out of my legs, but never more so than this year. A check of my watch and I realized I had started out too fast, which could come back to haunt me later in the race. It's so easy to do this, as the adrenaline pushes the massive throng of runners forward and up that long hill. The mood is ebullient and fun. Husbands and wives, girlfriend and girlfriend, mother and daughter, father and son...obviously many, many small nuclei of running partners are starting off together on this big adventure.

I came upon a mom running with her two sons, ages 8 and 10. I slowed a bit to run alongside them, wishing the boys a good run and congratulating the mom on getting them involved. "I'll see you boys at the finish line, right?" They gave me an enthusiastic "YES" and I moved ahead, picking my pace up a little and working my way around the slower folks as we headed down the backside of the Elysian Viaduct hill.

It's damp out, but not uncomfortably so, yet the crowds along the "flats" of the Fifth Ward in Houston are noticeably quieter with fewer spectators than in years past. Every year this portion of the route is a blur, as the pack of runners is still large and it's hard to look around for fear of tripping up, getting run over, or running over someone else. But there was a large and noisy group of folks cheering us along on Quitman Street.

Another long uphill grade occurs between miles 3 and 4 and it runs along White Oak Bayou. A bit more "starch" is consumed here and some years I've walked part of this stretch, just to save my legs. This stretch west of I-45 is really pretty and I enjoy running the section of the route through the Houston Heights district of the city. Beautiful Craftsman homes, restored to their early 1900's beauty. A few "gingerbreads" mixed in and lots of spectators along the route through here. The Heights has very active neighborhood organizations and many of them plan marathon lawn parties, serving brunch and pumping music out of speakers set up on front porches and in open windows.



At mile 5 in the Heights, I scanned the sparse spectator crowd for friend Keith, but didn't see him. I had sent out a message to a couple of friends with my ETA's at a couple of prime race viewing spots. I expected to be at this spot at around 8:15 and in fact reached that point at just a little past 8:15 AM. But...alas....I did not see him as I ran through this stretch and then turned south on to Studewood.

At one point along Studewood we reach the 6.2 mile mark (10K) and at that point we run under the Washington St bridge. There's always a fun crowd of spectators up there on that bridge, including a group of folks promoting the Houston Live Stock and Rodeo 10K race in February. I love their large banner which says, "If you were running the Live Stock and Rodeo 10K you'd be finished by now." It always makes me smile. A camera up there on that bridge caught us running by.


At the beverage station at mile 6 I moved over to the curb to grab a cup of water but realized this group of tables had Gatorade, not water. In every previous Houston event, the first tables were serving water; the Gatorade would always be half a block further down the course. Could I have been so zoned out that I ran right past the water tables? Could be. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade, something I never do, and it no sooner hit my stomach and I felt a pang of heartburn.

The pangs got sharper with each beat of my running gait. At mile 7 I had to stop running and start walking. Every time I broke into a run, the pangs stabbed me in the gut. The best I could do was to run about 1/2 mile then walk 1/2 mile for the next 2 miles. Friend Keith was at mile 8 and he walked along side me for a bit, until we parted and I continued on to the 9 mile turnaround point.

It had been raining lightly all morning but coinciding with the Gatorade-heartburn was a brief bit of heavy rains. It stayed with us until near the 9 mile turnaround. By this point the heartburn had resolved itself somewhat through a series of burps and I was able to start jogging a bit, but here's the thing....if I ever stop running - for any reason at all - it's very hard for me to start back up again. The longer I walk, the harder it is to get back to a running pace again. Two miles of mostly walking and I had walked myself down a path of no return. There was no regaining my running rhythm again, no matter how hard I tried.

But even at a fast walk pace I was still passing many, many other participants. My stats show that I had passed 110 other runners in the last 3.8 miles (running chips and statistics are a really cool thing!).


That turn onto Allen Parkway at around mile 11 is always a big boost. I can see the marathon runners in the lane to my left. This is the front of the pack, the elite, and they move along so gracefully and with so little effort. How do they do that?! At one point one of them stopped, and leaned over to massage out a cramp in his hamstring. I caught up with him and then passed him as he started to walk it out. How often can I say that I'm locomoting faster than an elite marathoner?? Eventually, though, he worked out that cramp and quickly passed me leaving me in his wake.


For the whole distance along Allen Parkway we are heading into Houston's downtown and have the most scenic and spectacular view of her towering skyline in front of us. The clouds were very low, hanging in among the tops of the skyscrapers, sometimes enfolding them completely until a breeze pushes the along, revealing the skyscraper once again.


The hardest part of the race is that last mile straight through downtown, where the blocks just seem to stretch in front of me forever, until the street and sidewalks diminish to a single point in the distance. This year they returned the finish line to it's original location in front of the convention center. This means a 90-degree left turn in front of the Hilton Hotel and no finish line visibility until nearly upon it. Psychologically, this is dreadful. At one point, along this miserable long straight stretch a couple of women passed me and, as they did, they tried to urge me to join them. But by this point I was in energy conservation mode, saving it up for the last 200 yards and the finish line.

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Not my best effort, but still in the top 50% of my age/gender group.


It was a hard race, one of the hardest. Maui was hard, as well. So two mediocre performances after a super performance at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati last May (in the top 15% for my age/gender group). Still...I did it. And in warm, muggy, rainy conditions.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half is Tomorrow

....And yesterday I drove into town to visit the Fitness Expo associated with this race to pick up my race packet with runner's bib and cotton t-shirt. In past years, when I was still working and even after I had retired, I would drive over to the Expo at lunch time. So does everyone else, apparently. The Expo opens at 11:00 AM on Friday, and often there'd be a line at the door and cars fighting for parking spots in the surface lots. What was I thinking all those years??

This year I did something different, not by conscious choice, but because friend Keith and I had tickets for a play at the Alley Theater downtown. It made sense to wait until mid-afternoon to go to the Expo since it's only a few blocks away from the Theater District in downtown Houston. Oh my! What a difference this made! Parking was a breeze, the staff were bored silly with lack of traffic at the bib pick-up booths and the t-shirt pick-up counters. The aisles were nearly empty, no jostling, no pushing and shoving to cruise through the Expo to check out the wares, the vendors, pick up all the freebies. I even had time to sit in the stage area and watch several of the speakers and performers that rotated on and off the stage every 15 minutes. It was so leisurely! I've definitely been doing it all wrong these past 9 years.

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This was a day of change in other ways, too. Usually friend Keith and I have dinner beforehand at Biroporetti's or Mingalone's, but I was tiring of their menus, their loud and crowded dining rooms, and just wanted change for a change. There was a write-up about the restaurant, Voices, at Hotel Icon, which is just a few easy blocks away from the Alley Theater. An easy stroll and we were soon seated at the restaurant and reading an incredibly creative menu. The food and service were simply outstanding, and the ambience was one of pleasant quietness, even though about half the tables were occupied. We are going to be regulars at Hotel Icon's restaurant from now on.

The play was God of Carnage, performed by 4 visiting actors from Seattle. Excellent production! The original production won several Tony Awards in 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_Carnage. I wasn't too sure about it, from the synopsis in the Houston Chronicle, but I was quickly sucked into the plot by the really excellent acting by the cast.

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So today was a quiet day, spent doing a little consulting work, baking some cupcakes for post-race recovery, and then packing my running clothes into a small bag and heading into town for the night. Yep! Staying at the Holiday Inn Express, just 2 blocks from the start line of tomorrow's race. This is the first time I've done this for the Houston Marathon. I realized, after doing races in other cities, how nice it is to roll out of bed, get dressed and head for the start line on foot, just minutes before the race starts. Add this to the list of firsts for this weekend.

Tomorrow morning I'll wake up at 6:00 AM, eat a light breakfast of Cheerios, then pull on my running clothes and Brooks running shoes and get out the door by 6:45 for a 7:10 AM start.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Deceptive Sunshine

This is ridiculous! I'm sitting here this morning in my breakfast room looking out the window at absolutely clear blue skies, not a single cloud. The rose buds and leaves on my prize Belinda's Dream bush are glowing pink and brilliant green in the early morning sun, and the birds - cardinals and bluejays - are sounding their mating calls in the trees in my backyard. The winds are still, barely a breeze.

But I know that this is all a Grand Deception, devised by Mother Nature to lure me outside to play. It's 32 degrees out there. The lingering frost on the roof tops of the houses nearby confirm that fact.

Yesterday I was sorely tempted to take one of the motorcycles out for a spin, in search of some BBQ south of the city. But late that morning I took the trash out to the curb and my decision was made for me by the still-sharp northerly winds and temperatures in the high thirties. It struggled to reach the mid-40's by mid-afternoon. This morning a quick peek at the thermometer made my mind up for me about getting a run in early. Maybe tomorrow morning's temperatures will be a bit more moderate.

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A look at the long-range weather forecast is encouraging for next weekend's marathon event in Houston. All this coming week the weather forecast is a broken record: High's in the high 50's, lows in the low 40's with abundant sunshine every day. This pattern is forecasted to continue into the marathon weekend. It's perfect!

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On a sad note, there has been a beautiful long-hair grey cat in the neighborhood for many years. It passes through my yard regularly on it's daily rounds. Sometimes it takes a little break, lounging on my deck in the shade of the house before moving on. I know it's someone's pet because it's well-groomed and well-fed and, in the summer months, is often shaved giving it a "mini lion" look.

A couple of days ago, I noticed it crouched down - sort of hunkered up - on my patio in the cold and dampness of near-freezing temperatures. That seemed very odd to me. This is a classic body position of a cat that isn't feeling well. I eased the back door open and tried to approach the cat but it sensed my presence and quickly darted away, disappearing under my deck.

Here's the sad part. When I took the trash out to the curb yesterday, as I was walking back up the driveway toward the house, I spotted the cat lying on its side in the driveway, up near the house and near the teak bench that sits near my front door. This shady spot under the bench is another favorite resting and vantage point for various cats that cruise through my yard. But this cat was not under the bench, rather, was out in the open next to it. I suspected the worst, approaching the cat and giving it a nudge with my toe. It was dead.

I was heartbroken to see this. A beautiful cat - hopefully one that was loved and cared for and will be missed - suffering outside in the cold rain then dying alone, out in the open, sometime during that very cold night. I went inside and called the security office, asking if anyone had reported the missing cat. No one had, but he assured me that residents most definitely call Security when they've lost a pet. Not knowing who this lovely cat belonged to, and since keeping the body indefinitely was not an option, I had no choice but to bag the body and dispose of it. I'm still grieving for this cat today.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Journey Started on January 14, 2001

Ten years ago yesterday, I was not a runner.
Ten years ago today I became a runner.


Ten years ago today, I watched other runners and said to myself, "I want to do this. I want to do it and raise money to fight cancer." Only problem with that was, I wasn't a runner. Not even a jogger.

You see, ten years ago today, I stood on the sidelines of Houston's Marathon, not really sure why I was there, except that a friend of mine was running in it and he thought it might cheer me up. That previous summer my husband died of cancer. That previous month I spend a sad and lonely Christmas.

This day in 2001 I found myself standing on University Blvd in Rice Village across the street from a Starbucks, waiting and watching as hundreds and hundreds of marathoners ran past singly, in groups of 2 or 3 or more, all inexplicably looking like they were having the times of their lives. Many were wearing t-shirts with images of people they were running for, shirts saying, "in memory of," shirts saying they were raising money in the name of a loved one.

This experience - this cold but sunny day in January 10 years ago - changed my life forever. When I reconnected with my marathon-running friend after the race, I said to him, "I want to do this, but how?"

I was blessed when I met this wonderful man! He took me under his wing, encouraged me, was my trainer and mentor. We ran the Mardi Gras Beach 5K run in Galveston, my very first race. Then the 2001 Bellaire Trolley 5K.


Then the 2001 Nassau Bay Resurrection Run:



And the 2001 Bayou City Classic 10K:




He enrolled me in a local chapter of USAFit, located in the Clear Lake area. We met after work often and ran together, finding fun and interesting sections of Houston: Museum district, Hermann Park, Memorial Park, Rice Village, Tom Bass Park, Challenger Park.

And we did all of the Houston Warm-Up Series Races: The 10-miler, the 20K, the 25K, and the 30K:


And then in January, 2002 - one year after watching that marathon and resolving to do it myself - I ran my first marathon:
We did the Conoco Houston Rodeo 10K the next month:

Without his encouragement, his long legs, his pushing me to run a little faster, and his friendship, my running hobby would have never happened. I have been blessed to know you, my dear friend!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cold Weather and Comfort Food

Winter in Texas. Not like winter in many other parts of the country, but winter here in S. Texas can be miserable for those of us who are more accustomed to temperatures and humidity in the high 90's. We live in homes with expansive window space and single pane glazing and feel the chill in our less-than-perfectly sealed homes.

In winter, my out-door living lifestyle moves indoors and, while the wind is whipping that cold rain against those expansive windows outside, I'm pulled toward the kitchen and food. It's the right time of year to roast chicken, make a crockpot stew, bake cookies, any kitchen activity that heats an appliance and heats up the kitchen.


Problem is, I'm also pulled toward all the food groups that are not good for my health or waistline. Fortunately this is Houston Marathon month, so the calories get readily burned: An eleven mile run will handily take care of 7 or 8 freshly baked cookies. But then, once the marathon is behind me, the cookie craving still persists. It's a vicious cycle. Good thing there are other marathons - and other reasons to train and, therefore, burn calories - in other cities.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Scary Story with a Happy Ending

I have honed and fine-tuned an efficient routine at the gas pump, developed over the course of doing more than a dozen Iron Butt Association certified rides including two highly demanding Bun Burner Golds. Such an efficient routine ensures that there are no wasted motions and that nothing is forgotten in the quest for good IBA documentation.

In my case, this means my wallet lives in my tankbag when I'm on the bike. At the pump, the magnetic tankbag is removed from the tank and placed on the seat, where I can comfortably and safely unzip it and remove my credit card from my wallet, while the wallet stays safely in the tankbag. After I swipe the credit card, it's immediately returned to the wallet in the tankbag. My gas receipt is recorded and then placed safely in the wallet, the tankbag returned to the top of the gas tank, and - if I don't need to go inside the store - I'm ready to reset the odometer and get rolling again. If I do need to go inside, I take the wallet with me, do my business, return to the bike, place the wallet back in the tankbag, and ride away.

So, at the gas station in Brookshire, coming home from a lunch ride to New Braunfels, I followed this routine to get gas and then go inside to use the bathroom. When I exited the store I headed to my bike and, mid-routine, was interrupted when friend Keith, who was riding with me, started walking in my direction to say a few parting words before we went our different ways towards home. He was too far away for me to hear him (we both had earplugs in and helmets on at this point) so I took a few steps his way in order to respond to him. This is apparently all it took to disrupt my concentration and routine.

I got on the bike, started her up, reset the odometer and then headed out of the gas station toward home, 50 miles away.

No more than 1/2 mile down the road I realized that I didn't remember returning my wallet to the tankbag. A quick unzip and peek under the lid and my worst fears were confirmed. I whipped a quick U-turn and raced back to the gas station, thinking maybe - beyond all probability, given how ingrained my routine has gotten - I'd left my wallet in the stall of the ladies room. I pulled up front, jumped off the bike, and ran inside to check. No wallet!! I asked the clerks at the counter if anyone had turned one in. No, they said. I stepped next door to the adjacent Burger King to ask them. Same answer. I ran back into the ladies room and checked again. I went back outside to the pump I'd used and checked the ground, checked the trash can, asked a group of motorcyclists who were parked off to one side if they'd seen a wallet. No dice.

Now I was beginning to panic a little and to doubt myself. I couldn't believe that I'd leave the wallet in the ladies room. It was a routine I'd followed for much of my adult life, preferring to carry a wallet rather than a full purse most of the time. What could I have done with it??

I frantically tried to reconstruct my steps, but the whole routine was so ingrained, such a deep-seated habit, that I was totally unable to retrace my actions. Every aspect of my gas stops is done fully rote, like brushing my teeth. I can no more remember the details of that activity early that morning than I could reconstruct my steps at this gas stop.

Then, worrying that I had perhaps left my wallet on the seat of my bike when I'd become distracted in my conversation with Keith, I walked down the road for at least a quarter of a mile, scanning every inch of the shoulder then returned, walking down the other side of the road on the shoulder. No luck. I was truly becoming despondent at this point and really starting to worry that this episode was the beginning of a slippery slope into senility. What will my son think if I tell him his old lady mom had lost her wallet in a seemingly foggy episode of dementia?

I went back inside the gas station and asked the clerks one more time. Their answer was still no. I was reluctant to leave, feeling that it was here somewhere, it just had to be! This couldn't be happening to me!

With a sick feeling in my heart I headed for home. It will be dark soon and clearly there wasn't going to be a miracle happen here any more today. As I rode out of the gas station, I stayed on the shoulder riding very slowly and scanning the roadway. When I reached my U-turn spot, I stopped and got off the bike, thinking that if the wallet were left on my motorcycle seat and if it had managed to stay on thus far, the whipping action and lean of the U-turn would have dislodged it. I walked along the shoulder on both sides of the road for about 20-30 yards before giving up.

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I had to give up on it. There was just no other choice. As I rode the rest of the way home I ran through my mind all of the things I needed to do as soon as I got home. Fortunately, as far as the really important contents go, I carry only a credit card and a debit card, my driver's license, and insurance card in my wallet. Also in my wallet were my AARP card, my new Senior National Park Pass, and about $50 in cash. Other items include a book of stamps, my BMW MOA card, BMW RA card, and AMA member card. Copies of my proof of insurance cards for auto and bikes are also in my wallet.

The minute I was home and in the door I got on the phone to USAA to block my debit card and AMEX card through them. I logged onto BCBS and requested a replacement insurance card. I logged into my auto insurance and bike insurance carriers' websites and printed out replacement proof of insurance cards. The motorcycle club membership cards were unimportant. The national park pass was fortunately only $10, being the senior pass, so not a big deal.

The biggest headache was going to be getting a replacement driver's license. I logged onto the TX DOT website to see what that would entail. $11 replacement fee and bring proof of SS # and another form of permanent ID (passport). I gathered these items together and put them in a safe place, ready to take with me Monday morning to the DMV office.

And then there was the issue of having no cash, so I was thinking that, after I got my long run in the next morning, I would drive over to the grocery store, make a purchase with one of my backup credit cards and get cash back. I had recently requested a copy of my driving record and so pulled that out of my file cabinet with the intent of having it on my person, just in case. It shows my license status (active), any actions on the card (none), the license number, issue date and expiration date (in 2016).

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I slept fitfully last night, fretting and worrying about the lost wallet, about possible identity theft, and all sorts of unreasonable-in-the-light-of-day worries. Worst thing is, this morning I needed to get a long run in: 11 miles. Not a good thing with a poor night's sleep, no appetite to eat anything the night before, and a churning stomach this morning.

But it was a good run. I spent the first hour turning the events over in my mind, becoming more convinced than ever that the wallet had fallen onto the roadway, could be at this very moment lying in a ditch or in the grass somewhere along that short stretch of roadway between the gas station and my U-turn. I even thought about driving back there after my run, spending more time carefully searching that area. I convinced myself that I'd done all that I could do, had done all the right things, and that everything will work itself out in the next couple of days, as replacement credit cards arrive, the drivers license is replaced.

I spent the second hour of my long run thinking larger thoughts....about things that have happened to me this past year and in recent years. The good things, the bad things, the sad things, the heartbreaking losses. And being thankful for what I do have, for what I've not lost. I have the gift of fitness and ability to do these long runs. I have my health. I have a beautiful son and daughter-in-law and two very precious grandchildren. What is a lost wallet compared to all of this? It's only a tiny speck on the giant Kodak Moments photograph of my life.

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When I returned from my long run, I walked into the kitchen, ready to prepare my breakfast and get on with the day. It was then that I noticed the message light blinking on my answer machine. It was the security officer at our entrance gate. Someone had brought my wallet back. He has it at the guard house. That message took my breath away! I quickly called the guard house, got the guard on duty - Kevin - who confirmed that, yes, he has my wallet.

I ran out to the garage, jumped on my bicycle, and rode as fast as I could - ignoring all stop signs - to the guard entrance where Kevin handed me my wallet. MY WALLET! I'm holding it my hands! There's a note taped to it. It's from the fellow who returned it. His name is Ray. And he left me his phone number. I was elated!

I jumped on the bicycle and pumped furiously back to the house. When I turned onto my street, it suddenly hit me with a strength and power that totally overwhelmed me. It was a wash of relief. And the tears came. I could hardly see, just steered the bike through my tears and into my driveway. They were tears of relief. And tears of gratitude. When I took the wallet from the security guard I said to him, "There are still good people out there."

I dialed the number on that slip of paper and waited while the connection was made, while the rings piled up, knowing I was going to get his voicemail. My voice nearly failed me as I left a teary message of gratitude, thanking him, asking him to please call me back.

Waves of relief kept washing over me, one after the other, all day long, as I thought about the kind actions of this man who found the wallet, took the time to drive perhaps dozens of miles out of his way to make sure that wallet was back in my hands.

When he did return my call late this afternoon, I was once again overcome with emotion. He told me that he had once lost his wallet and a kind person returned it to him. He was simply passing the kindness along. I asked him where he'd found it. He described the scenario and it was exactly as I'd imagined it had happened. He said he and his wife were returning up the road to I-10 after being in Fulshear when they saw it lying right in the middle of the road.

He apologized profusely for having gone through the wallet, no doubt looking for an address, hoping for a phone number. He said they looked up my address on Mapquest, that they lived near the Montrose area of Houston, just a 20 minute drive to get it to my house. He said that he left it with the guard reluctantly, not sure if he could be trusted, and even turned around and returned to the guard to get his name, and to leave his own name and phone number in hopes that I'd call him to confirm that I'd gotten that wallet so that he wouldn't worry. It seemed very important to him that I get that wallet back to ease my mind. He told me that he just knew what I'd been going through, getting cards canceled and worrying.

This man and his wife are truly angels! My faith in humankind has been restored, after a long holiday season of bad in the news: bank robberies, home invasions, parking lot robberies. I will never forget this genuine act of kindness and good will. Thank you, Ray! You will not be forgotten.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cooper's BBQ RTE

New Year's day and a ride to New Braunfels TX for some good BBQ! It was a lunch ride - a RTE - called by friend and fellow former co-worker Steve. He posted it on the MTF forum and I was in! We both wimped out on the ride over to Stockton AL (just north of Mobile) for a big annual RTE event held at the Stagecoach Inn. Forecasts for that day, December 30, were for rain. Heavy rain. And if I had done this ride, it would follow me all across I-10 and greet me the next morning and stay with me much of the way home. We had 4" of rain in my hometown that day.

So now I'm primed for a good New Year's day ride....185 miles to New Braunfels for a good meal at the legendary Cooper's BBQ. I talked friend Keith into riding out there and he did, meeting me at the restaurant just as we were all ready to walk inside to pick our choice of meats from their giant covered warming grills. There was a good turnout: about 14 or 15 of us, including a fellow that Steve met randomly at a gas stop on his way to Cooper's. It was a nice fellow on a Harley Road Glide, heading to Junction TX, so he joined us. Glad he did!

The weather was a little chilly in the morning with some stiff winds coming straight out of the north and blowing 25-30 mph steady. Coming home after lunch, though, it had warmed up nicely, enough that I didn't need to turn on my electric jacket liner and the winds seemed to have moderated some. Not totally, but enough to only need to ride on the sidewalls half the time, not all of the time.

Friend Keith rode back toward Houston with me, following behind and when I neared the exit for Brookshire I signaled, expecting that he'd pull up along side and wave goodbye before continuing on toward his home on the north side of the city. But he followed me off the exit ramp and to the Exxon gas station on the south side of the interstate.

So we had a few more minutes to spend together, saying goodbye and determining what each other's schedules would be for the week - and possible opportunity to get together again - before we each headed in our own different directions.

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