Monday, March 26, 2012

March Waffle Houses

This day is too perfect to let go to waste!    I chowed down breakfast, jumped in the shower, and then pulled on my riding pants, pulled the Olympia Airmesh riding jacket out of winter hibernation in the closet, and headed out toward Baytown to grab three more Waffle Houses.  Zooty BMW got to go on this little day ride with me.

My three Waffle Houses today will be:
Waffle House #1207, Fairmont Parkway in LaPorte
Waffle House #896 on Hwy 146 @ I-10 in Mont Belvieu
Waffle House #920 on Garth Rd @ I-10 in Baytown

WH #1207
LaPorte TX
I took the Beltway east to the Fairmont Parkway exit and then worked my way east to the first of the three Waffle Houses...the one in LaPorte.  The entrance to Hwy 146 was just a block away. 

This makes a perfect little loop, perfect because I could route myself over to Hwy 146 and then north over the Fred Hartman Bridge, a spectacular example of a modern suspension bridge.

Fred Hartman Bridge, Houston Ship Channel

Once over the bridge and riding north on 146 toward I-10, a large flatbed 18-wheeler pulled up even with me on my right side, his window down, so that he could give me a thumbs-up and nod of approval.  I gave him a big wave of thanks and he then eased off to let me finish passing him.  Nice gesture!

WH #896
Mont Belvieu TX
Continuing on, I neared I-10 and could see the Mont Belvieu Waffle House sign sticking up well above the interstate overpass.  A quick pull-in to get this photo and I was on my way, onto I-10 westward the few short miles to Garth Rd in Baytown.

WH #920
Baytown TX
Getting into the Waffle House parking lot from Garth Road was a little trickier than most, since it's a busy six-lane road with turn lanes and lots of traffic and lots of back-up at the light.  But finally a break came and I could scoot through the three lanes of traffic and into the parking lot. 

Photo is taken, and now I continued west on I-10 to Beltway 8 heading south and over the Ship Channel Bridge.  I love this bridge nearly as much as I love the Hartman bridge.  Both are very tall and command excellent views for miles and miles out over the ship channel and the bay.  There was little to no wind, so it was easy to crane my neck a little more than usual to get a good view on this crystal-clear day.

Perfect day for a nice little ride!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Empty, Quiet House This Afternoon

My son's Highlander SUV disappeared around the corner and I walked back into my house, struck by how quiet and empty it now seemed.


My son and two grandkids came to visit me this past weekend, arriving mid-afternoon Friday.  Suddenly my house was transformed to one filled with the chatter and joyful noise of a 4 year old and 2 year old, and the floor quickly became covered with toys, puzzles, games, and all the accessories that come with two pre-schoolers.  I was loving it!  The entire weekend my son kept apologizing for the clutter and the disaster zones but I had absolutely  nothing to complain about and gotta say that it was a delight and a pleasure!  What he kept referring to as disruption and clutter I call grandbaby love!

The excuse to put the kids into the car and drive from the Mandeville area to my house was to pick up an antique oak dresser that I was giving to my son, but it also gave this grandma a coveted weekend to spend with grandkids nearly one-on-one, but also gave their mom a respite from caring full-time for the two and a chance to spend the weekend with girlfriends.

Saturday morning we made a trip to Home Depot to purchase a new outdoor light-and-motion-sensor spotlight for my driveway, which my son then installed for me.  That afternoon we played board games, grandson rode his strider bike, Mimi took a nap, I scraped the faux stained-glass effects off the front door "highlights" windows.  That evening we went to IHOP for dinner.  Gasp!  Breakfast food for dinner!! 

Sunday morning we went to the pool and while grandson and son swam, granddaughter and I walked over to the lake bridge and fed the giant turtles and carp that live in the lake. 

Too soon it was time for them to pack up and head for Louisiana and home.   Now the house is way too empty and far too quiet.  What can I use to lure them again to Houston?!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Half that Was Even Better

Remember how my last post was entitled, "Half is Every Bit as Good as the Whole?" was probably even better.  Call it serendipity.  Or use the expression, "Sometimes things work out for the best."  Either will do.

My truncated SS2000 - turned into a SS1000 - resulted in my driving to Jacksonville rather than riding.  While I was in Jacksonville I received an email from my daughter-in-law, letting me know that Grandparents Day at my grandson's preschool had been moved from that next Friday to Monday, just 3 days away.  This was actually much better for my travel schedule...and so much better that I'm in the car and not on the bike.

Nice weekend with my son and his family...and cute Grandparents Day!

When I arrived at my son's house Saturday afternoon, the delicous smell of corned beef filled the house!  They had prepared a corned beef with carrots and potatoes and had an Irish ale chilled and ready.  Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Sunday morning I went out for a little run, and Trevor rode along on his bicycle to keep me company. 

Monday morning was Grandparents Day at Trevor's preschool and the students put on a musical performance for their audience of doting grandmas and grandpas. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Half is Every Bit As Good As a Whole

So, the SS2000 to Jacksonville turned into a SS1000...but it was every bit as rewarding.  Possibly more so for how things played out in the end.

This was to have been a SS2000 that ultimately took me to Jacksonville for the IBA Pizza Party.  As planned, the first leg, or first 1,000 miles, was a round trip ride out to Ft. Stockton and back home.  The second leg of 1,000 miles was a one-way trip to Jacksonville, picking up 10 Waffle House photos for the Grand Tour along the way. 

My starting point was the Waffle House in Stafford TX.  I left my house sometime around 4:15 AM and rode west on Beltway 8 to US 59 south and then exited on W. Aiport, the Waffle House yellow sign a bright beacon in the night.  I pulled in next to the store and, as I was getting off the bike, two police officers walked over to check out my bike.  Their squad cars were parked in front of this Waffle House and they were just leaving when they spotted me.  We chatted for a long while about bikes; turns out one of them had a Triumph Speed Triple, but recently sold it.  I was trying to get my start photo of bike, flag and Waffle House but it was so dark, I couldn't get it all to show up properly in the photo.  That's when one of the officers pulled out a Smart Phone and proceeded to get a great photo.  I handed her one of my personal calling cards with my email on it, and in seconds she had that photo winging its way through the ethernet to my email box.

With that done, I went inside the Waffle House to order some cinnamon toast and then paid with a debit card to get a good receipt before using the restroom and getting outside and on the bike to start the ride.  The clock is now ticking.

An absolutely perfect day and a totally uneventful ride out to west Texas.  Gas in Seguin, gas in Junction.  And then it was time to test the FZ6's range as I rode the 200 miles from Junction to Ft. Stockton - my turnaround point.  It was going to be close, but FZ didn't let me down.  Her count-up reserve odometer started when I was about 30 miles east of Ft. Stockton so I slowed down to 65 mph to conserve fuel.  I felt that I'd be okay, but no sense pushing it.  At the pump in Ft. Stockton the bike took 4.1 gallons of gas.  She holds more than 5 gallons.  I was fine!

On the return leg, I decided to stop in Sonora for gas, and then again in San Antonio at my usual Valero station in Converse.  But when I got to the entrance ramp to the Anderson Loop, traffic was backed up onto I-10 and not moving.  My XM traffic showed two slow spots on the Anderson Loop, and this visual confirmed the problem.  I continued straight on I-10 and even though traffic was very heavy near the 410 interchange, it was at least moving, if slowly. 

I had Hildebrand Street in my sights for my gas stop and it was easy off and easy back on.  However, traffic was backed up pretty badly at the I-35 interchange, so I continued on I-10 which might be a mile or two longer.  Once east of San Antonio, the road was fairly wide open and I made good time.  I knew I could not make it all the way to Pearland without stopping, so stopped for gas in Brookshire.  Since my stop in Sonora, I was feeling stiffness and pain in my knees, no doubt their way of protesting being folded up for so long on a sport bike after having run a half marathon only a week before.  When I pulled up to the pump in Brookshire, I nearly dropped the bike, my left knee was so stiff and unwilling. 

As I continued that last leg to the Bucee's gas station near home, I thought about the next day's 1000 mile ride to Jacksonville.  Could I do it with this stiffness?  Did I even want to do it?  So I weighed my choices.  Go ahead and do it?  I didn't think I wanted to, given the ache in my knees.  Change bikes for the more relaxed ergonomics of the BMW?  I could do this, but it would mean not getting a SS2000 out of it, since change in equipment was not allowed mid-ride.  I could get a second SS1000, but why?  Or I could just unpack the bike, get an ending witness signature from my next door neighbor and drive to Jacksonville in the SUV.  This alternative was sounding better and better, as I neared my last gas stop and the house.  In the end, this was my decision. 

I called my neighbor as soon as I pulled into my garage and, while I waited for her to walk over, I got a Lean Cuisine started in the microwave and began pulling everything off the bike and stuffing it into a duffle bag. 

1017 miles
15 hrs, 15 minutes.


It was easy falling asleep in my own bed, knowing I would be driving in the comfort of my SUV and not riding on two wheels to Jacksonville.  I can get that Waffle House SS1000 another time.

890 miles to Jacksonville.

The hotel parking lot in Jacksonville was already filled with motorcycles when I arrived Wednesday night.  I hooked up with friend Ray and we walked next door to Steak n' Shake for a late dinner for me and a snack for him.  Even though we both had to get up early the next morning to see the Mountain 1000 riders off, we sat up way too late!  He surprised me with a chilled bottle of cava wine and we sat up chatting and sipping until the wee hours!

Up at 5:00 AM, I went in search of the riders and to wish one of the riders, friend and fellow co-worker Steve a safe a fun ride. 

Then I joined a small group for breakfast.  A fellow who was supposed to be riding the Cape Fear Rally with me in April now finds himself out of commission after a track day accident, so he came over to the hotel to have lunch with me and Ray.  We didn't talk much about his situation or his condition, but I could tell by his "guarded" body positioning that he was still in some pain and he had not yet gotten his orthopedic surgeon referral for an official verdict. 

After lunch I changed into running clothes and got a 3 mile run in then headed to my room to get showered and to visit with MTF and IBA friends before dinner.  A group of three riders, all MTF members, did complete the Waffle House SS2000.  We needed to celebrate their accomplishment.  One of the riders wanted to find a "seafood joint" and we got an excellent recommendation from the fellow I had lunch with:  Trent's Seafood, near the entrance to the NAS on the other side of the river, not too far away.  Everyone piled into my SUV and we headed over there for some incredibly good seafood!  3 dozen oysters, lobsters, king crab legs, 2-for-1 draft beers.  Awesome way to celebrate the IBA ride completions!

Now it was time to start looking for the first riders to return from the Mountain 1000 and in particular, I wanted to be there to greet Steve when he arrived.  I was watching his SPOT and his progress as he finished up the last couple hundred miles and neared the finish at the hotel.  Next thing I knew, his SPOT was showing him near the hotel.  But where was he?  A phone call and I learned he was next door at the Steak 'n Shake, had been for 15-20 minutes or so, and Ray and I walked over there to congratulate him and welcome him back.

Friday morning, I met Steve for breakfast and then headed out together for a run.  I set the McDonalds on Old Augustine Rd as our destination, about 1.75 miles away.  Steve hung with me, running the entire way. 

We had to hurry to get cleaned up and on the road to Ray's Flagler Beach ride-to-eat (RTE).  Friend Bronce Smith arrived last night from Missouri and he rode with me in the SUV down to Flagler Beach where Ray had a great turnout of riders at Martin's for lunch. 

This evening is the IBA "Pizza Party," now more of a banquet, with great food, a great and funny speech by Bob Higdon, and some words from Mike Kneebone.   It was a pleasant, if loud, evening, but I was glad to retreat to the quiet of my room, finish off the last of the cava with Ray, and then say goodnight and get a good night's sleep before heading for Mandeville LA for a few days enroute to home.

Next blog entry:  Serendipity

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Waffle House Madness

There's this fun Grand Tour going on called the Waffle House Grand Tour, which entails getting photos of the bike with the Waffle House Grand Tour flag in front of - you guessed it! - Waffle Houses.  It runs the full 2012 calendar year and awards are earned for grabbing the most Waffle Houses, riding the furthest from home for a Waffle House photo, getting at least one Waffle House photo each month, just to name a few of the competitions within this Grand Tour event.

Since I don't live in a Waffle House-dense area, there's no point trying to compete for greatest number of WH's with those Southeastern boys, who live in Waffle House's home state of GA or one of the adjoining states.  So I'm not killing myself to collect them, just making sure I get at least one a month. 

However there are other contests within this Grand Tour that I can compete for.  Working with the IBA, Michael Hickman - brainchild behind this Grand Tour - is also offering the riders a chance to earn an IBA ride certificate.  I thought about this and realized that there are a few opportunities to do one or more of these as I ride to and fro to various upcoming events.

The first such opportunity is my trip across I-10 to Jacksonville for the annual IBA party.  The distance is around 850 miles (give or take) and I usually make this trip in one day, anyway.  So why not tack on another couple of hours of riding and do a Waffle House SS1000?  Even better...why not do a 1,000 mile loop west out of Houston, stop at the house overnight then head east for another 1,000 miles to Jacksonville.  This would make it a Waffle House SS2000.  And of course there's the trip back home, where an easy detour past Houston to Columbus TX and then to home will turn this into a SS1000.
Waffle House SS2000 route to Jacksonvulle

Waffle House SS1000 returning home from Jacksonville

Maps are routed to include the requisite Waffle Houses at the start and finish of the rides and the 10 Waffle Houses along the way for the SS2000 and the 5 Waffle Houses along the way home for the SS1000.  These will all be unique Waffle Houses - no duplicates - which is easy enough to do, given the wealth of these little yellow and red boxes along I-10 and I-12.

I have the routes loaded into my Garmin 550 and am pretty sure I'll be doing this trip on the FZ6.  I've checked her tires, moved the Garmin cradle over to her, and am staging things in a pile on the kitchen counter as I get ready. 

I have collected Waffle Houses in two states so far, and will add another four on this trip.  Let's see how many more state flags I can pin onto my rally flag before this thing is over.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

50 States Marathon Half-Marathon Challenge

Without specifically planning for it, I now find myself the proud owner of  marathon and half-marathon finisher's medals from several U.S. states.  I was aware of the 50 States Marathon Challenge, but only recently learned that there was a similar challenge for half marathon runners.  I knew I'd never accumulate full marathons in all 50 states, but half marathons?  Now that's entirely possible! 

So for 2012, I've changed my focus, and am looking outside of the state of Texas, rather than repeating the same Texas races year after year. 

I've completed Marathons/Half Marathons in the following states so far:
Hawaii, California, Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, Michigan.

But the year's not over yet!  I have a few more half marathons on the schedule for 2012.  I'll continue to update my blog...and this I add more states to my collection.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Little Rock Half Marathon - A great Experience!

Brilliant sunshine and a starting temperature for the race of 45 degrees is just about perfect!  However, I did agonize over what to wear.  Should I wear the cropped pants or the shorts?  Will the while long-sleeve shirt be warm enough or will it be too warm?  When I worried that I might be too cold at the start, I made a quick dash back to the fitness expo to purchase an inexpensive long-sleeve top to serve as a "disposable" jacket. 

In a quandary, I consulted the handy "what should I wear?" tool at the Runners World website.  I like to be a little on the cool side when I run, and that site recommended a short-sleeve top and shorts.  Well, I didn't bring a short-sleeve top so the white long-sleeve top I brought will have to do.  I brought gloves...and I wore them at the start of the race, but really didn't need them and ended up carrying them in my left hand for much of the race.

I walked out of the hotel at 7:35 AM, turned left and headed the three blocks to the start line.  This brought me into the back of the pack - the "open" corral - which is pretty much where I belonged.  Ample banks of porta-potties sat in a small parking lot immediately to the right of the open corral and even though I really didn't need to go, I did anyway.  Standing in a corral, waiting for a race to start always get my heart rate going.  I try to connect with some of the runners near me, making small talk.  This morning I connected with a couple of gals standing behind me, as we listened to Bart Yasso pump the crowd.

The wheelchair competitors started at 7:55 AM and then the countdown began for the start for the rest of us.  Bart Yasso, noted long distance runner and staffer for Runner's World, sent us all off with some great commentary, as he singled out various folks in the crowd - the gals in the tutu's, the back-of-the-pack runners, made comments to pump up the group as we ran across the start mat and under the start-line arch.

The half marathoners, full marathoners, and 10K runners were all lined up together at the start and we all stayed together as we ran straight down Clinton Blvd to the Presidential Libary, then turned right, then right again, and then right again to cross over the bridge spanning the river and into North Little Rock.   At around mile 3 a really terrific Christian Rock combo with male soloist was entertaining us with a beautiful song.  They were set up on the lawn of the North Little Rock Friendship Church of the Nazarene.  They get my vote!

It was warm over here on this side of the river and I was concerned, just 4 miles into the race, that I was overdressed in this heavier weight long sleeved shirt.  I shed the neck kerchief I was wearing, and that helped some.  But actually, once over the river and into the shady downtown and residential areas, it was cooler and I was okay with what I was wearing. 
The Half Marathon Route:
Uphill stretches indicated by red arrows
Downhill stretches indicated by yellow arrows

The bridge itself was an uphill on the approach in each direction, but really, the hills started in earnest after mile 6.  The route zig-zagged us south, then north, then south several times, with each south zig taking us uphill and each north zag taking us downhill.  It seemed sadistic to me, but at least the route was scenic, taking us past the governor's mansion, the performing arts center, nice residential homes and, at one point, a great view of the capitol building as we ran up the hill on Capitol Street. 

Just a few tenths of a mile from the finish line, L'Oreal Cosmetics (one of the corporate race sponsors) had a table set up with volunteers handing the female runners tubes of lipstick.  How unique! 

Bart Yasso was standing down at the finish line high-fiving all the runners as they came in.  Such a nice, personal touch!  He is such a great guy!

I was pleased with my of my better times, better than many of my more recent race times.  One of my best continues to be my 2010 Flying Pig Half Marathon time, a surprise since that course has a couple of bridges and one giant 2-mile uphile stretch.

I hurried from the finish line to the hotel, took a quick shower and checked out.  I had a long drive back home.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In Search of Coffee and Clinton

As I watched the 5k race participants run under my 10th floor hotel room window this morning, I realized that what I really wanted was to go find a cup of good coffee.  I lingered at the window to watch not only the lead male runner go by, being led to the finish line by a police car, but I stayed at the window until the "back of the pack-ers" passed by 60 minutes later.  Now it really was time to get that coffee!

Just a few short blocks away from the hotel is the River Market, a format so popular in other cities:  A warehouse-like structure housing food concessions along the walls and with seating in the middle.  From Boston's Haymarket Square to the River Market in Lansing, there's always something fun about these buildings.  I found a counter serving cappuccinos, ordered mine, and then, with coffee in hand, went in search of a likely table of folks to join. 

As it turned out, I joined a group of race volunteers, identified by their white long-sleeved shirts with the words "volunteer" running down the sleeves.  It was a very nice husband-wife team and two other men.  The husband-wife team have been volunteering for 10 years and in fact her husband was the Volunteer Coordinator for many years before stepping down.  One of the other men is currently the "boss man" of volunteers, with his red jacket and microphone headset.  They were on lunch break and were glad to have me join them.  I pumped them for details, tidbits, and race history factoids for nearly an hour. 

I told them I wanted to walk on down to the President Clinton Library and they encouraged me to do so.  It was the perfect day to take a little walk!

The library sits right on the river and is nicely situated to take advantage of the views.  I spent an hour or so taking it all in, then headed back toward the hotel in search of a light lunch.  That cute little place, 4Square won my lunch business and I had a small cup of corn chowder and some hummus with pita chips.  

On my way back to the hotel I stopped back in to the Fitness Expo and bought an inexpensive long-sleeve shirt to wear over my running outfit tomorrow morning.  I didn't pay too much for it, so won't regret peeling it off and abandoning it somewhere along the route as the temperatures warm up. 

While I was there I got to shake Bart Yasso's hand again.  I met and chatted with him back when I did the Runners' World Challenge at the Cincinnati Flying Pig marathon for the first time in 2010. 

When I got back to the hotel I decided that I'd not had enough to eat and stepped inside the hotel restaurant for a half sandwich and cup of chili.  Now I'm full!

This evening was the Pasta Party and as I headed down to the ballroom, a fellow got on the elevator...he was alone, so I invited him to join me for dinner.  He was from Atlanta and when he learned I was from Houston, mentioned that he was there in January for the Houston marathon.  We found a table with a couple of open chairs and spent a delightful evening with three folks from St. Louis and five women from Dallas.   We shared info about past races and what races were up next on our calendars.  There was live entertainment and, at one point, Bart Yasso took the microphone and talked to the group about running and his exploits and then got some audience participation going by having first-timers raise their hands, and then he introduced a few folks who had accumulated some remarkable running stats. 

Now I'm in my room, feet up, relaxing in front of the movie National Treasure and hoping I'll get at least some sleep tonight.  Start line is three short blocks from the hotel...all I have to do is step out the front door, turn left head down the street until I run into the back of the pack, then wait for the start gun.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rockin' in Little Rock Today

A very uneventful drive brought me to Little Rock, Arkansas today, although it did take a couple of McDonald's stops to finally get that desperately needed Latte.  The first feasible McDonald's was in Porter, but I decided it was too soon, so I pressed on to Livingston, which I shall rename "Living Hell."   As soon as I saw the empty school bus in the parking lot and the long line of cars in the drive-through, I should have just kept on going.  But, no, I pulled into a parking spot, thinking that often at this hour of the morning drive-thru's are busy.  Besides, I needed to use the ladies room.  I had to fight my way in the door and squeeze past dozens of high school kids who were mobbing the order counter and apparently overwhelming the staff.

Okay...on to plan B.  The good news is that I drive or ride US 59 so often that I pretty much know where to find gas and food.  I knew that the next McDonald's would be on the south side of Lufkin, on the right side of the road, just past a Shell gas station.   Ahhhh!!   Perfection!!

Of course, the downside to consuming a large latte - or any other beverage for that matter - becomes evident within an hour.  Good thing I'm in the SUV and not on the motorcycle. 
The drive up 59 to I-30 and on to Little Rock was smooth and the weather was stellar.  I found myself pulling off the interstate and into downtown by 1:30 PM.  Checked into the hotel, I walked next door to the convention center where the fitness expo was being held.   I picked up my race packet and browsed the merchandise.  I was impressed at the relative size of the expo, a good indicator of the success and participation of the race itself. 

Browsing done, I went back to the hotel, had a light lunch and asked the waitress if there was a place within walking distance where I could pick up some snacks to have in my room for the weekend.  She sent me a few blocks down the street to a little cafe/market called 4Square.  Adorable!  The sweet woman behind the counter told me that her husband runs the 1/2 marathon and that the shop would be open at 6 AM on race day morning.  I noted that they had stocked some GU products near the cash register and had a bin filled with perfect bananas and another filled with bagels.  Smart marketing and I made comments to this effect to the woman behind the counter; no doubt she and her husband are the owners. 

My sweets and other items purchased, I headed back to the hotel to return a call to MTF friend Russ Dickerson, and we had a long chat about another fellow MTF member, Bill Ouellette, who was attempting an extreme IBA Waffle House ride:  A 50 WH SS1000.  I quickly got my laptop booted up and logged into Bill's SPOT page so that I could discuss his progress with Russ in "real time" since he wasn't in front of a computer at the time of our call.  Russ and I talked about Bill's route, conjectured on his arrival time back into the Atlanta area, and worried about the band of severe weather on a collision course with Bill's route.  I wish Bill God-speed and hope he somehow manages to skirt this severe weather - weather that has spawned over 70 tornadoes today - to successfully complete this ride and make it safely home.