Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Fitting Tribute to an Outstanding Rider and a Great Man

Jack Shoalmire SS1000 - A nationwide tribute
Jack Shoalmire  1942-2011
Taken at Big Bend Ranch State Park, February 2011

It started at 4:16 AM on Saturday, October 15, 2011 and ended seventeen and a half hours later, at 9:54 PM.  My ride of 1,053 miles on some of Texas's most beautiful roads would join those of a hundred others', being done in all 50 U.S. states.

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Jack Shoalmire
Taken at Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park
February 2010
When the word got out that this event was being put together in memory and honor of Jack Shoalmire, I knew that I had to be a part of this.  I immediately e-mailed back to the organizer to count me in.  After all, I had just seen Jack six months earlier in Big Bend and had seen him many other times at other MTF events prior to that. 

His sudden death has left a hole in the hearts of all of us who knew him and is a loss to the LD Riding Community as a whole.  What better tribute in his memory than to complete those in-state Saddle Sore rides (1000 miles in less than 24 hours) in all 50 states, rides that Jack had started but never had the chance to complete.

The LD riding community really came together on this one!   As Howard Entman, the person responsible for proposing and then organizing this event, said...More than 100,000 miles were ridden in Jack's memory this day.

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I knew that this would be a momentous event.  I also knew that, because of this, I didn't want to do a simple out-and-back "interstate blast."  Last spring I routed a SS1000 for the MTF's regional Saddle-Sore event.  I had a straight interstate route for the first-timers, but I also drew up a route to appeal to the experienced IBA members, a more difficult route, one that included over 600 miles on non-interstate two- and four-lane roads and passed through a number of small Texas towns and county seats.  This would be the perfect route for a Jack Shoalmire Tribute SS1000.   I convinced friend Steve to join me on this ride.  He willingly agreed.















It was a lovely route.  It headed south toward the Gulf coast of Texas, ran 150 miles southwest, skirting the coast, crossing inlets and bays along the way.  Then it headed due north for 200 miles through the heart of the state's agricultural region to the eastern edge of Texas Hill Country just north of Austin.  The next leg of the route was 100 miles ridden on one of Texas Hill Country's most beautiful motorcycle roads, Texas 29, with its combination of sweeping curves, blind hills, and rugged terrain filled with mesquite and prickly pear cactus.   Then southwest on US 377, skirting between windswept mesas and through some pretty ranch country.  At Junction TX the route heads west to Ozona on I-10 then turns around and heads east to Houson on I-10, then right back to where it starts, just south of the city.


I made just one minor change to the route, sending it a little further east as it goes north out of Aransas Pass to Georgetown, in order to avoid Austin - and the traffic of a University of Texas home-game day.

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My zooty BMW is ready.  I'm ready. So, with snacks, water, and Gatorade stowed in the left sidecase, it was off to Buc-ee's gas station, one mile from the house, to get my starting receipt for the Jack Shoalmire Tribute SS1000 Ride.  I had two photos of Jack - a nice portrait-style shot of him taken while we were at Big Bend Ranch State park for lunch last February, another of him taken the previous year at Big Bend National Park with his red KLR.  I also had printed out a copy of his obituary and had tucked all of these items together in the map pocket of my tankbag.  My rear footpegs were in the down position.  There was no question at all in my mind that Jack was coming along with me - and with all of the others - on this ride. 

At 4:16 AM my gas tank was topped off and I had receipt safely tucked away in my tankbag.  Now I just had to wait until friend Steve arrived from Tomball TX to join me.   By 4:30 AM we were headed south on TX-288 toward Angleton, Highway 35, and the Texas Gulf coast.

Okay, Jack.  Hang on!  We're off, heading south to start this memorial TX instate SS1000 in your honor! 

 It was pitch dark along Highway 35 and my imagination was cutting no slack.  I knew that this was a high deer-density area because of the  heavy vegetation and major Texas rivers that flow through here on their way to the Gulf of Mexico:  Brazos River, Colorado River, San Antonio River, Guadalupe River.  I was not sorry to see the first pink glow in my rearview mirrors, as the sun began to rise.  As we were passing over the causeway on Aransas Bay, I looked over my left shoulder and was treated to the start of a gorgeous sunrise.  Look, Jack!  Do you see that?  Do you see how calm the waters are, how the pelicans are poised on pilings and piers, waiting for daylight to reveal their breakfast, lurking just beneath these turquoise gulf waters? 


The light was a soft golden glow when we arrived in Aransas Pass for our first stop for gas...and to mark the corner of our route.  Steve and I had a small SNAFU at the planned gas stop.  The gas station I'd scouted earlier in the year for the MTF SS1000 was not yet open for the day.  The pumps were turned on, but the C-store was closed, a bundle of that morning's newspapers still sitting on the mat in front of the locked door.  Someone overslept, did they??  And of course the pumps would not dispense a receipt.  The message said, "Cashier has receipt."  I took a photo of the pump's display and of the store itself, recorded the purchase and odometer reading, then rode across the street to a Chevron station to get an ATM receipt for date/time/location stamp and to use their restroom.  Not a good start, but we were a little ahead of schedule, so not a problem.

Then another SNAFU as my GPS got totally lost trying to get out of Aransas Pass.  Construction to widen Highway 35 and add limited-access on- and off-ramps had us totally "off route" and Jill was so busy "recalculating" she neglected to tell me to turn right onto US-181 north.  But a quick discussion on the side of the road with Steve got us turned around and back on route.  Hopefully this will be the only U-turn of the day.

The aroma of freshly plowed earth assailed my nostrils as we passed through miles and miles of cotton fields in Taft and Sinton and Skidmore, on our way to Beeville.  Jack, can you smell it?   Hundreds of giant wind turbines were lined up to the horizon, doing their work and taking advantage of the prevailing southwest winds.

We stopped in Kenedy for gas and to mark the route, showing that we stayed east of I-37 on US-181 and TX-80, and didn't take that easy and fast route.  On up through the town of Luling with its watermelon-shaped water tower - and home of the Luling Watermelon Thump and some of the best BBQ in the state, City Market - and then continuing north to Georgetown.  We very carefully skirted Austin to avoid what was sure to be a crush of traffic heading towards the home game between University of Texas and #6-ranked Oklahoma State. 

Our next corner was Georgetown, where we turned west onto TX-29.  Corner marked with a gas receipt and a snack of peanut butter crackers and Gatorade, I began what was to be yet another pretty leg of this trip.  TX State Highway 29 heads west from Georgetown, through Bertram and Burnet, past the gorgeous Buchanan Dam, and then through Llano and Mason, both towns being county seats with pretty courthouse squares.

Coming out of Burnet, the highway begins a gentle downhill journey with gentle curves that sent me down and around a final bend where, first, a nicely restored iron trestle bridge came into view and then, off to the right, the Buchanan dam was gradually revealed.   It was an impressive sight!  The lake at its base glistened a brilliant and rich blue-green in the sunlight.

The road with its high-speed sweepers begged for some throttle and, with its smooth lanes, devoid of any traffic, I complied.   West of Llano, I spotted a deer feeding along the side of the road.  I had plenty of time to slow down, and was prepared to come to a complete stop if I had to.  The deer - a beautiful large doe - stood frozen, staring at me, until I came nearly to a stop along side her, when she leapt off the shoulder and into the wooded fields beyond. 

There's a short section along this highway where there are interesting pink and red rocks, large rocks, piled one upon another, tossed there by some colossal force of nature.  And here they sit today, how many thousands of years later.   It's not too far from Enchanted Rock State Park, no doubt another result of the same natural force of nature.  Riding through this area while doing this SS1000 was indeed enchanting!

At Mason TX I turned onto US-377 to continue toward Junction TX and was treated to beautiful views of mesas, their tops worn smooth and their sides carved into "organ pipe" formations by the strong winds that whip through and around these natural formations.  Cattle and horse ranches fill the flat pastures between the mesas.  The area was not nearly as desolate as I imagined it would be.

Soon, I was in Junction.  I needed to go inside to get my gas receipt and couldn't help but notice the motorcycle parked up near the front door.  Once inside, it was obvious that the man working the cash register was the owner of that bike.  He clearly knew that I belonged to that BMW parked at one of his pumps and knew why I'd come inside.  He was prepared to print my receipt, but not before marveling at how many gallons I'd pumped into that bike.  It really wasn't that many...the fuel light wasn't even on, nor had the low-fuel countdown begun.

Another quick "gas pump snack" of Granola Bar and Gatorade, and I was up on the interstate, heading the 90 miles west to Ozona, my turnaround point.  My SS1000 is now almost 2/3 complete.  In Ozona, it's now 3:30 PM, The exact time I predicted I'd be there.  Now my route will be straight interstate to home.  I'll have just one more gas stop - in San Antonio - and then I'll be back at the Buc-ee's gas station where I started.  I'm happy, because I know these next few hours will be easy riding.

As I rode along on I-10, passing through Sonora, then Junction, then Kerrville, I knew that I'd be on the Anderson Loop around the north side of San Antonio well before dark.  I reflected on how I'd just ridden this stretch of road 6 days earlier, returning from Van Horn after serving as witness for riders who were doing IBA BBG3000 and BBG4500 extreme rides.  How different my ride was this day compared to 6 days ago.  Today the sky was perfectly blue, the temperature a near-perfect 85 degrees.  Last week it was cold and gray and wet.  I was very thankful for how perfect the weather turned out to be on this day, the day we memorialized Jack by doing this ride.

The sun set in my rearview mirrors as I rode through Luling TX heading east toward home.  By the time I reached Schulenburg it was night-time.  But it didn't matter. I was on roads I'm very familiar with, I was feeling great, and I knew I was only 100 miles from home.  Besides, Jack was riding along with me, keeping me company.

As I rode through Katy, TX on I-10, my trip odometer turned over 1000 miles.  It is done.  Now just another 50 or so miles to my last gas receipt near home.

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