The much-anticipated "Last Ride of the Year" happened again, this one its 15th year, on December 30, 2011. The restaurant - Stagecoach - in Stockton AL gives the event its name...The Stagecoach Ride To Eat or, simply, Stagecoach RTE.
The last two times I attended this, it was cold and wet and not too conducive to parking lot chat. But this year was quite different. The weather was glorious!
My BMW and I left my home on Thursday, December 29, and headed east on I-10. It was a little cool -requiring use of my electric jacket liner for the first few hours - but it warmed up enough that I could remove the jacket and stuff it into a sidecase when I stopped for gas and a light lunch snack near Hammond LA.
I arrived in Saraland and the Microtel Hotel late afternoon and noticed a little coffee shop right across the side street from the hotel, so got unpacked, changed and made a beeline to that little cafe, where I ordered a decaf cappucino and bought a nice yogurt parfait with fresh strawberries, and some mini cupcakes - red velvet with sour cream frosting. Dinner.
The next morning was equally as glorious and even warmer than the day before. I didn't even don my electric jacket liner. Just pulled on my lightweight fleece pullover to wear under my jacket, and headed north on I-65 for the 20 miles to Stagecoach. A quick gas stop at the exit and I was soon pulling into the parking lot, which was surprisingly full for 9:30 in the morning! Wow! Last time - when it was cold and wet - I arrived at about the same time to a nearly empty parking lot, save for the short line of bikes backed up along the back edge.
Many, many MTF folks were there, and I'm pretty sure I missed saying hi to a number of them. I chatted for a while with groups in the parking lot then went inside and realized that even more MTF folks were inside eating breakfast. I didn't put this together at the time, but realized later that many folks were going to attempt the "Trifecta," which included Stagecoach lunch on Friday, lunch in Brooksville FL on Saturday, and lunch in Ona FL. Getting all of this in meant scarfing food at Stagecoach and then hitting the road before noon to make it to the second location.
No trifecta for me. I'd rather visit family in Mandeville on my way home from Stagecoach. So I sat with Bronce and his brother Darryl and had coffee and some toast, and then hooked up with Fletcher and Lewis and stood in line for the lunch buffet. By 12:30 PM the line had dwindled and the parking lot was beginning to empty out.
It was a wonderful ride to Covington, where I stopped for the day at the Clarion Hotel. I decided to stay here for two nights, since son and family had just returned from their holiday visit to family in California and I was pretty sure they had enough on their hands without having a houseguest.
The next morning Jeremy and the two grandkids picked me up at the hotel and brought me back to their house. We spent the day visiting, watching the A&M bowl game, and had new year's dinner at home. That night, amidst rampant home fireworks displays, Jeremy drove me back to the hotel after making plans to meet me at the Waffle House next to the Clarion for a New Year's day breakfast.
It's been a year of triumphs and a year of loss. I completed another Iron Butt Association Silver Level National Parks Master Traveler ride. I ran in three half-marathons. One of those half-marathons brought me up to Lansing MI, where I had a nice visit with sister and family afterward. I had a wonderfully memorable visit with my mom, what ultimately would be my last, as she passed away on October 31.
The year is over; a new year is begun. What will it bring? What paths will unfold in front of my journey through each season?