Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On the Road to Wisconsin - Day 2 then Arrive in Chippewa Falls

We stopped in Alma AR for the night.  Today we were back on the road at 7:30 AM with Ron joining us. He rode in from Temple TX and met up with us at the hotel the night before.  Our route put us onto 540, a delightfully mountainous interstate.  The early morning sunlight was beautiful as it cast its golden glows and shadows onto the Boston Mountains of western AR. 

When we stopped for gas north of Bentonville, I proposed that we take a detour over to Fort Scott to tour the national park and then have lunch.  Mike has never been to Fort Scott and was definitely interested.  We could then head north on the Kansas side, getting up to Kansas City to catch I-35 without adding too much more mileage.
 

Once at the Fort Scott National Park, we spent some time at the visitor center talking to the park rangers and then watched the video.  Afterward, we walked the short distance to the restored main street area and found a little pizza restaurant for lunch.   Over lunch, Ron proposed that he take us for a little detour deep into the KS countryside to visit his childhood home and the town where he attended high school.

So Ron took the lead and brought us to the tiny near-ghost town of Bush City then on to Garnett and the pretty courthouse square.  The roads were tiny...on the map and in person, the kind of roads one might pass up, not knowing if they are paved or gravel.  But paved, they were, and very scenic as they followed the undulating countryside past tidy farms and acres of lush, green corn.






From Garnett, we worked our way up to I-35 and toward Kansas City, then on to Des Moines.
We passed fields of lush green corn all the way to the horizon.  Miles and miles of farms, pretty farmhouses, old barns, even one with a tree growing up through the middle.   I spotted many abandoned silos, one a perfect red brick structure.

As we neared our next night's sto,p the low late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the interstate.  A young teen girl in an SUV gave me the victory sign as she peered out the passenger side window at me.  All day we were seeing many motorcycles on the roads.

We stayed in a new Comfort Inn in Story City, IA for the night, a good location in a lightly populated little town.  Nice easy-access gas station, McDonalds within walking distance and, for the ambitious, a Dairy Queen across the street. 

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The next morning - our final enroute day - I got a short run in first, about 2.5 miles.  I ran out of the hotel and turned right where the pavement ended and turned to a groomed gravel road.  Along this gravel road I spotted fresh deer prints and was greeted by the song of many birds in the trees overhead.

We had perfect riding temperatures yesterday and this, our final day on the road to Chippewa Falls WI was the same.  Clear blue skies, beautiful temperatures, little wind...

We took 35N to 90E to 43 into Winona.   When we neared our exit, Mike rode up next to me and signaled a gas stop.  He apparently didn't realize that we would be taking the next exit anyway, toward Winona on Route 43.   It was over 200 miles since our last gas stop so I knew that gas tanks were all probably close to empty.    Mike went inside the gas station to get a recommendation for lunch.  My Zumo took us on a wild goose chase and we never did find the place - Lakeview Drive-Inn - but Mike spotted a sign for a place called Timbers Restaurant, just about on our route so we headed that way.  I had sauerkraut and dumpling soup, elk burger and chased it with a slice of pumpkin pie a la mode.  Excellent!!

Our route up to Chippewa Falls from Winona took us along the Great River Road a short ways then headed north on Route 93, a beautiful road through storybook little towns with neat-as-a-pin cottages and farms and through some beautiful hilly terrain.   Most of the agriculture here is dairy farm and corn.  Lots of black and white cows gathered in cow-fabs near big, old, but perfectly maintained barns.  One barn had the words "Roadside Mootel"  painted on the front.  The cluster of black and white dairy cows in front of the barn door completed the picture. 

In Chippewa Falls, checked into the room at Americinn, we unpacked, changed into shorts and sandals and thought a Subway sandwich and just chillin' sounded like a fine idea.  A Walgreen's was within easy walking distance so we shopped for some snacks and beverages to put into the mini fridge in the room. 

Tomorrow morning it's the BMW RA Rally!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

On the Road to Wisconsin - Day 1

I'm sitting at the designated meeting spot to get this "show" on the road...it's 6 AM and just starting to get light.  But no Mike.  At ten minutes after 6 AM he zoomed in next to me, flipped up his visor, and stated that he'd forgotten his passport and needed to go back home to get it.  Good thing it's early and he lives only 5 miles away.  So a 6:00 AM start became a 6:30 AM start and we'd have to deal with a little more Houston rush hour traffic with this later start.  But finally we're off, heading north on 288 toward I-45.

We made a stop in Madisonville at the new Buc-ee's to grab a coffee and breakfast snack then continued north on I-45.  Our next stop was at the big Love's Truck Stop just before the I-20 interchange.  It's my usual stop, just the right distance from home to fill up my gas tank before beginning the arduous ride through or around Dallas.  I filled up, pulled my bike around to a parking spot off to the side of the pumps and went inside to use the bathroom. 

Re-grouped - or so I thought - I put my bike into gear and headed out of the Love's and back onto I-45.  After I merged into traffic I did a mirror check and...no Mike!  Now where the heck is he??  He had pulled up along side my bike at Love's, but facing the other direction so, when I moved off, I assumed he was just doing a U-turn to follow me out.  But now he's nowhere in sight in my rearview mirrors.  

While at Love's I mentioned to him that the lights on his new Concours didn't seem very bright and he was not visible in my rearview mirrors, getting "lost" in the mix of cars and trucks behind me.  Now this is more true than ever, as I cannot see him at all in the traffic behind me.  I found a good spot to pull over along the shoulder, in a wide spot just past an exit ramp.  Just as I came to a stop, there he was, coming out of nowhere and whizzing past me down the exit ramp, pointing his left arm ahead of him in a large gesture which, to me, indicated that I should proceed up I-45.  If he'd wanted me to follow him down the exit ramp, he would have made a "come along" gesture. 

So I took off, continuing up I-45, expecting he'd come up the entrance ramp and catch up with me.  But apparently he got caught at a long light.  I never did see him the rest of the day and this, despite going slow all the way through Dallas.

I'm on my own, riding up US 75/US 69 to I-40 - actually, just the way I like it - then over to Alma AR for the night.    US 69 traverses northeast along the western edge of the OK mountain ranges with pleasant views and slight elevation changes.  I stopped just south of McAlester for gas and a cold drink then continued on.  As I passed through McAlester I saw a billboard advertising Pete's Place and remembered finding that restaurant for a photo with my AMA "Italy in America" flag a few years ago.  The town hosts a large Italian festival and Pete's Place is ground "zero," providing the feast.  Here's my photo of Pete's Place, from that AMA Grand Tours ride a few years ago:


I arrived at the Comfort Inn in Alma AR nice and early - 4:00 PM or so - and spotted Ron Goodall's Honda Interceptor parked in front.  Once I'd checked in and showered, I gave him a call and we hooked up, sat and compared Zumo's until Mike arrived about 90 minutes later.  Dinner at Cracker Barrel next door and I was ready to call it quits after a long hot day of riding.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back to Wisconsin

Way, way back in the early 1980's, as a product manager for a line of medical laboratory diagnostic instruments, I took a trip to Wisconsin to travel with one of our territory reps.  I flew into the Madison airport and we headed northwest into the heart of the state, making sales calls at hospitals scattered around the region, in Wassau, Au Claire, and other pretty little towns in the heart of dairy country.  We also made a call at a cheese factory - a Land O' Lakes cheese factory at that!  Our clinical analyzers worked on slurry, as well, to measure the salinity.  I tasted my first cheese curds at this factory and soon developed a connoiseur's palate for fine (meaning fresh) curds.

Thirty years later, friend Mike and I rode through eastern Wisconsin on our way home from the BMW RA rally on the Upper Peninsula.  We hugged the shore of Lake Michigan for a part of the way, passing through Green Bay, Manitowoc, Sheboygan.   I vowed I'd get back to this state one day.  So when BMW RA announced this year's rally would be in Chippewa Falls, really some of the prettiest countryside around, I made the decision to attend this rally rather than the BMW MOA rally next month in PA.

Plans got underway:  Riding route mapped out to get there, reservations made in Chippewa Falls and along the way to get there.  With a recently serviced BMW and new tires, she sits in the garage, her windscreen cleaned, gas tank full, and mostly packed, ready to go. 

We'll leave tomorrow morning, 6:00 AM, to be ahead of the rush hour traffic.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tire Update on Zooty BMW

Procrastinating just isn't in my genes.  I thought about the condition of those tires on the BMW and considered the number of miles I'd be riding up to Wisconsin, the possible side-trips once there, and thought there probably wasn't enough rubber left to do this trip.

When I woke up this morning, I knew I was going to jump on the bike and ride over to my favorite motorycle tire store - Discount Motorcycle Tires- and put new "shoes" on the BMW.  I love this place!  Lynn, the co-owner, recognizes me as soon as I walk up to the tire counter.  "Back again??" she asks as she pulls the sign-in blotter towards her and starts writing my name.  I give them all of my motorcycle tire business.  That's 3 sets of tires a year, on average, between the two motorcycles.   They're fast; they're efficient, and they have a whole staff and shop dedicated only to motorcycle tire installation. 

A couple of years ago, I won a pair of Dunlop RoadSmarts from the American Motorcyclist Association.  I did a few of their AMA Grand Tours in past years and earned a "Special Finisher" plaque and a pair of Dunlops.  A devout Michelin user, I was reluctant to install these and had them wrapped in plastic and tucked in a back closet.  Then last summer I was getting my FZ6 ready for a BBG to the IBA Meet in Denver.  She needed a new chain and sprockets and new tires.  I thought about this a bit, considering how much the chain and sprockets were already going to cost, and here I have these new tires, absolutely free, sitting in my closet.  So I drove them over to the Yamaha dealer, and brought the FZ6 back for a full service, chain/sprocket, new tires.

During that BBG, I had plenty of different riding conditions thrown at me and was very impressed with how these Dunlops weren't fazed by any of it.  They had a very positive road feel and handling

So, standing at that tire counter at Discount Tires, I hesitated only for a moment before asking if they had those Dunlops in stock in my size.  They did. In less than an hour they had me back on the road, my BMW sporting a brand new pair of Dunlop RoadSmarts.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Getting Ready...Trip to RA Rally in Wisconsin

Time to start thinking about this in earnest.  Departure date is 11 days away and there may be a few things to take care of.   The Zooty BMW is taking me on this trip and she's recently - 2,000 miles ago - had a major service.

The route is straightforward:  North through Texas to Oklahoma, northeast to the western edge of Arkansas, then north through that central tier of states that stack like bricks all the way up to the Canadian border.  Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, then a jog east into Wisconsin.  Two and a half days to get there:  Stop for the first night in Alma AR, stop for the second night in Story City IA, then arrive in Chippewa Falls mid-day the third day.

I've had my motel reservation for months, now.  I've learned that it pays to jump on this as soon as the location of the rally is announced, usually 6 or 7 months ahead for the RA rally, about 11 months ahead for the MOA rally.  I made reservations at two different motels, and will cancel one of them the day before I hit the road to head north.

So what's left?  The tires on the Zooty have 14,500 miles on them.  They're Michelin Pilot Road 2's and the wear has been phenomenal.  There's no cupping on the front tire, and the rear is not squared-off, though a close inspection shows that it's getting near the wear bar on the rear, not too bad on the fronts.  Guess I need to get new "shoes" on Zooty before the trip.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Staying Close to Home...Too Hot to do Anything Else

A week of triple-digit temperatures has kept me close to the house, dreading my morning runs and scurrying out to run errands early in the day before the sun gets too high in the sky.  Whew!  Hot in Houston!  Staying close to the house has its benefits, including enjoying the wildlife that often pass through my back yard.  Birds, hawks, snakes, skunks, raccoons...

The other morning I was sitting at my breakfast table, drinking coffee, checking e-mail, when I saw some movement in the large crape myrtle in my backyard.  I love the view out my breakfast room window.  From here I can watch the hummingbirds at my feeders in the fall and spring.  I see the cardinals pair up during nesting season and the mockingbirds flirting with each other with their aerial acrobatics.  A large raptor, with a predominantly brown back and wings, regularly comes into my backyard and perches on the fence beneath the crape myrtle.  It will sit there for quite a while, still as a statue, before taking off again.

So this morning, when I saw the limbs shaking in that crape myrtle I grabbed my camera and stepped out onto the deck to see what was causing it.  I quickly spotted a small racoon, a baby really, hanging for dear life from one of the limbs.  It was desperately trying to get a purchase with its hind limbs but eventually gravity won out and the little guy dropped down onto the ground in my neighbor's yard.


It was then that I realized that there was another little raccoon already up in the tree and a third on the ground - actually peeking at me around the trunk of the tree.  If I could have gotten my camera turned on, aimed and focused, I would have captured a truly adorable photo of that one.  But wait!  What's this?   The one that fell out of the tree is coming around the corner, sees me, and starts to make menacing noises and "box" with its adorable little front paws.   I'm being "faux-attacked" by a baby raccoon!!  Precious! 

The second raccoon clambered up the tree, and this third little guy - I'll call him the runt of the litter - skittered over to the tree sideways, never taking his eyes off of me.  He cowered at the base of the tree, then awkwardly began to climb the tree.  All this time, the three of them were communicating with each other with non-stop mewls, chitters and clicks. 

Now, the other two raccoons were safely ensconced in the tree, well up in the branches, but the little runt was having a really hard time getting up there.  The other two were clearly encouraging the little runt with their chirps and squeaks.  When the little runt got closer, one of the other raccoons reached out to him, as if to say, "Here, take my paw.  I'll help you up."  I was enthralled by all of this!!

Once all were safely up in the tree, I moved closer to get some photos of them.   I noticed that they were shaking - no doubt from fear of my presence - so I went back into the house to leave them alone to their exploring.

Thirty minutes or so later, I wondered if they were still in that tree.  I ever-so-quietly opened the back slider and crept out into the yard, camera in hand.  There they were, all huddled up in a pile of fur on a branch, their heads tucked in under a tangle of tails, paws, and fur, sound asleep!  Oh, so cute!


Another thirty minutes passed and went back outside to check on them again, and found them awake.  Here they are, alert and all eyes, as they check ME out!

Monday, June 6, 2011

My Name Is Barb, and I'm An Enabler

This past weekend I enabled six riders to complete their first IBA SaddleSore 1000, a motorcycle ride that challenges a rider's resolve and tests their ability to stay in the saddle and ride efficiently.  These six riders are now on their way to becoming members of the Iron Butt Association.  Some are already talking about their next IBA ride.  I love enabling other riders!  I love it when riders who, at one time would have said they could never in a million years even think about riding 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours, finally "get it" and prepare to make their attempt at it.

This event was one of more than a dozen held in cities all over the U.S. and is put on by the Motorcycle Tourer's Forum, an internet-based riding club.  We started planning these events last Fall, choosing locations, identifying site coordinators, getting the events posted on our club's webpage.

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Friend and former co-worker Steve came over to my house late Friday afternoon on his Kawi Concours to meet up and ride over together to the Cracker Barrel for our pre-event dinner.  I rode my FZ6.  We had four riders staying at hotels near the starting point for this SS1000, and it's an MTF tradition to have a pre-ride dinner the night before an MTF-sponsored IBA certifiable ride.  So seven of us sat down to a great dinner with good conversation and an opportunity to get to know a few of the riders who will be participating in this ride tomorrow morning.

Because Steve lives in Tomball, the complete opposite side of the city, he stayed over at my house. After dinner and back at the house, we relaxed and chatted over glasses of wine before we both retired to our respective bedrooms to try to get some sleep before our early wake-up Saturday morning.

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In the morning we made a small pot of coffee and poured it into two stainless steel travel mugs then headed over to the Buc-ee's gas station one mile from my house, me in the car with folding chairs and tables loaded in the back, coffee travel mugs safely inserted into the cupholders, while Steve rode over on his motorcycle.

We got to the gas station before 5:00 AM, plenty early we thought, but the other volunteer - Lewis - and one of the riders - Tom - were already there.   We quickly grouped up and got Tom signed out and on his way.  He would be doing the "alternate" route, open only to experienced IBA members. 

Soon, the other riders began to arrive and we got them signed out as soon as they were ready to go.  Once Steve and Lewis witnessed their odometer readings, the riders rode over to a gas pump, topped off their tanks, and saved their gas receipts which will serve as their time/location stamp for their start of the ride.  They will need to be back to this same gas station less than 24 hours later to have successfully completed this ride. 

Riders continued to arrive, one by one, and to quickly get their witness paper signed, their gas receipt, and out on the road.  All except a pair of riders who arrived there early but loitered and hung around until the last rider had gone.  We couldn't figure out why they weren't getting on the road.  It was going to be hot this day and, if it were me, I'd want to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures as much as possible.  But...it's their ride, not mine, and as long as they're signed out before 6:30 AM they can loiter all they want.

After the last riders left, I had two no-shows so tried to call them to make sure they were accounted for and okay.  Then Steve and I rode over to the IHOP nearby for breakfast.  Afterward, he went home and I returned to my house to get on with my day.  I left my cellphone on for the riders, in case they needed to contact me, but otherwise did housework, ran errands, then settled in to watch some movies on TV. 

One of the riders had a SPOT unit so I was able to watch his progress, and the two riders who were the last to leave were updating their location to Steve by iPhone.  From this data I was able to calculate the SPOT rider's arrival to be approximately 9:25 PM and the other two riders at around midnight.  I knew the other five riders would come in sometime within this time window. 

Lewis and I agreed to return to Buc-ee's gas station at around 8:00 PM to prepare for the first riders' arrivals.  Tom, the rider with the SPOT, was the first to return at around 9:30, followed within a short time by a couple more riders.  Soon, five of the eight riders were back, their ending odometer readings witnessed, their ending gas receipt obtained, and then it was time for some pictures and an opportunity for the riders to celebrate their accomplishment a little bit with us before they got back on their bikes toward home, loved ones, a good meal and a comfortable bed!

There was a long gap between the arrival of the first five riders and the next two riders.  But they did eventually arrive safely at a little after midnight.  Once they were signed in, I departed for the house.  Steve stayed back at the gas station to chat with those two riders since they were friends of his.  Lewis had gone home a little earlier. 

The riders were all given my cell phone number and were told that I would be at the gas station until midnight.  If they arrived after that time, they were to get their ending receipt and then call me and I'd be there within 5 minutes to sign their witness form.  I was no sooner in my garage, unloading the tables and chairs when my cell phone rang and it was Steve, letting me know that the last rider had just arrived. 

I drove back to the gas station where Steve was just finishing up signing the last rider's witness form.  So off Steve went towards home...a long ride in the dark after being awake for a very long time.  I stayed to make sure that last rider got off safely towards home and then I headed for home myself .

The riders' receipts and witness forms and logs were all captured digitally using my Canon DSLR camera, so when I got home I took the time to get those images off the camera and organized into folders on my computer before I finally climbed into my own bed.

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I enjoy long distance riding, defined as rides that are specified distances ridden within specified time limits.  I have accumulated quite a number of SaddleSore 1000's, a SaddleSore 2000, and two Bun Burner Golds (1500 miles within 24 hours).  I find them fun yet challenging, akin to my love for running long distances and participating in marathons and half-marathons.    I enjoy sharing this love with others, but only a very small percentage of motorcycle riders understand the satisfaction derived from successfully completing these IBA certifiable rides.  So it's a hard-sell, no question about it!  But the looks on those riders' faces Saturday night!  Their excitement, which overcame their physical discomfort or exhaustion, was palpable!   It gave me great satisfaction to hear the enthusiasm and sense of achievement in their voices and to see it on their faces.  So the IBA will welcome 6 new members in the Houston area!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

National Running Day, June 1

Not coincidentally, National Running Day also happens to be opening day for the Houston Marathon lottery registration.  This morning I registered for the lottery and will know on June 23 if I made it in or not. 

Meanwhile, I revisited the website for another half marathon, one that I stumbled upon last summer.  Back then I was searching potential alternate late-2010 races in case I didn't make it past the lottery system for the 2011 Houston marathon.  This half marathon website is for the Women's Half Marathon Series and has one in St. Petersburg FL in November.  At the Fitness Expo at Flying Pig in Cincinnati they had a booth which gave me a chance to chat with some representatives, ladies who'd run the race themselves.

Everything about this Womens Half sounded perfect. Women's Half Marathon - St Petersburg FL  It's a loop course, flat, interesting, and is within walking distance of a couple of good hotel options, including Hampton Inn.  Last night I went to their website again to find the date for the 2011 event.  It's the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  I went to the Hampton Inn site to check rates for a hotel room for that weekend (Fri-Sun).  A little "spendy" but so have the other hotels I've stayed at for "away" races. 

I went ahead and booked the room (it can always be cancelled without penalty up to the reservation date) and then went back to the race webpage to contemplate this further.  Let's see...if I drive to this event I can always stop in LA on my way home and visit my son and his family, since they'll be living there by then.  Or I could fly to Tampa and rent a car for the weekend.  There's at least two good options.  The race registration is a little "spendy" as well, but pretty much in line with the cost of other marathons/half-marathons.  So...I clicked on the "register" link and did the deed.