Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rejoice the Green Growing Things

2011 was a hard year in Texas.  Record-shattering drought had most of the state in the "Exceptional Drought" state - the most severe drought rating - for the entire 12 months of 2011.  The large lakes and reservoirs just north of Houston were nearly dried up.  Thousands of trees died in the city, leaving the many beautiful inner-city parks mostly bare and shadeless.  Ranchers and farmers experienced losses in the millions of dollars, as their herds and crops withered and died from lack of sustenance.  I commented in this blog last summer about the convoys of trailers carrying large bales of hay west on I-10 from the southeastern states to Texas.

This spring has been different.  Very different.  We had rain, rain, and more rain.  And plenty of it!  All lakes to the north of Houston - the city's primary sources of drinking water - are now 100% full.  We are well ahead of the year in total rainfall so far.  The convoys of hay have disappeared, as the grasses have grown thick and lush on the prairie. 

And as far as the Spring of 2012 goes, all of the trees and flowers in Texas had a statement to make.  It's as if Mother Nature had a lot of making up to do.  The live oak trees went way overboard producing flowers with copious amounts of pollen, and anything that blooms - wild flowers, flowering trees - have been putting on a real show!  Everything is so richly green!

My own yard looks the best it's looked in a couple of years.   The daylilies are thick and lush and sending multiple-budded flower spikes. 

The roses have had their first blooming "flushes" and the number of blooms have exceeded anything I've ever seen on these bushes. 

These are just the early bloomers.  Soon to show their "colors" will be the Althea, Crape Myrtles, and hosta.  Even my lone camellia is showing promise of coming back from the near-dead after a withering year last year.  The Lantana is just starting to bloom as are the society garlic.   This is the time I love as a gardener!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gulf Coast Half Marathon - The Evidence

Somewhere along the route
I can remember running in some brutal temperatures and humidity in past races and training runs.  Afterall, training for Houston's full Marathon meant doing 10, 12, 15 mile runs when the Houston weather was still locked into summer mode.  And here these last couple of years, when I've run half marathons in September, it's meant doing my longest training runs of 11 or 12 miles in late August. 

Near mile 12
But it seems the older I get, the harder it gets.  This past Sunday's Gulf Coast Half Marathon in Pensacola Beach proved that point.  Starting temperatures were in the mid 70's and the sun was already well up in the sky.  Within an hour the course became a torture device.  No delicious off-shore breezes - they were blocked by buildings or sand dunes -, sun turning the asphalt into a pizza pan.   Misting stations would have been nice but hard to arrange out there on that desolate beach road.

As good friend Steve likes to quote, "That which doesn't kill us makes us strong."  It could have been worse, as those who ran the Boston Marathon the next day in 80 degree temps can attest to.

But in the end, as another good friend said, "It's all about the medals."  And here's another very unique one to add to the collection. 

Next stop:  Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon/Half Marathon in early May!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gulf Coast Half Marathon on Pensacola Beach

So here's the short version...

The start line was a mere 200-300 yards away from the entrance to the Hampton Inn and getting there was ridiculously easy.  This is a small race, with a cap of 1800 runners, so the start line experience was extremely laid back.   It started in the massive parking lot at the beach and folks were rolling in, creeping their cars past the porta-potty lines, just minutes before the start of the race.  It had the feel of a running club Sunday morning training run. 

Looking around, it was easy to pick out the military personnel - the area teems with military bases - participating in this race.  Overall, it was a younger crowd...but then, that's been the case more and more.  Or maybe it's just that I'm getting older.
Photo courtesy of Ray King
The national anthem was played, a cannon was fired, and off we went, heading out of the parking lot to Via de Luna going east into the sun.  It was already warm, in the high 70's at the start. 

Friend Ray routed himself to Pensacola from a lunch ride he attended in GA the day before and we chose a couple of places along the race route where he could watch for me to run by.  The first was near mile 2, and there he was.  I spotted him easily in his hi-vis shirt.  He snapped a picture and off I went, into the sand and sun and heat!

The first 4 or 5 miles wound us back and forth through some residential side streets before the route popped us out onto Via de Luna again.  Miles 5-10.5 were along a straight, shadeless stretch running alongside the beach, but dunes blocked our view and blocked the off-shore breeze for much of the way.  It most definitely had an ever-so-slight uphill grade to it, not much, but enough to be noticeable.
Mile 6

The turnaround was at approximately 7.5 miles.  Running along, we could see the head of the pack coming back our way.  The ultimate winner ran by and then, quite a long time later, the second place male passed by.  The winner had a huge lead!  Then I could see the "middle of the packers" as they passed me and, more discouragingly, I began to see back-of-the-packers go by, identifiable by the fact that many of them were walking at that point.  Yet here I was, still further back in the pack. 

Mile 7
I kept slogging along but when I got to the turnaround point, I began to lose steam.  Fortunately it was an ever-so-slight downhill all the way back to the turnoff at mile 10.5, so I tried to make the most of it.   The sun was relentless as it scorched my back and shoulders and when I reached the water station at mile 10 I began walking so that I could consume a Power Gel and drink some water-Gatorade mix.  Here the route wound us through another residential area on the north side of Via de Luna.  Ray found a nice shady spot at about mile 11, where he could see me twice as our route took us around a block and then back to that intersection before continuing west toward Via de Luna.

Once I took that walk break at the 10 mile water station, it was nearly impossible for me to break into a run again.  I had definitely run out of gas.  The best I could do at this point was walk at a fast pace, although when I spotted the official race photographer at the corner where we turned back onto Via de Luna I groaned to myself, as I didn't want him to catch an image of me walking.  I'd already waved off a photographer just past the mile 10 turn for that reason.  So I forced myself to start running again for his benefit and for the benefit of my pride.

Last mile!  It was a killer!  It was very warm at this point.  There had been absolutely no shade along this course.  Add to this the heat radiating off of the bumper-to-bumper traffic running right alongside us just on the other side of the traffic cones.  At this point I knew that I was not going to come in under 3 hours, so I stopped forcing myself to break into a run and just stuck with the fast walk pace.  Three hours has become my personal achievement barrier.  If I finish in less than 3 hours, I'm happy with my results.  When my pace gets consistently slower than a 3 hour completion time, then it's time to worry.

The finisher's medal is beyond cool!  The race organizers bill it as being "the most useful medal in America."  Probably so.

The Completion Map - April 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Food "Fest" in Pensacola Beach

Who knew?!  I've stayed at the Hampton Inn on Pensacola Beach twice before - had eaten at some of the restaurants within walking distance of the hotel - but this trip I truly uncovered the hidden little gems in the area!

I arrived at the Hampton Inn around dinner time on Friday so as soon as I had the bike unpacked and had gotten checked in to my room, I got out of my riding gear and into some shorts and headed out on foot in search of some "provisions" for the room and dinner for myself.

A nice wine and spirits store just an easy walk from the hotel yielded a nice bottle of Spanish Cava to chill for later, and a package of Fig Newtons and box of White Cheddar crackers in case the hungries hit me during the weekend.

Then I walked in the other direction, to a place called Crabs, right on the beach, and sat at the bar and drank a McGuire's Red while waiting for my seafood platter to-go.  Shrimp, coconut shrimp, oysters, clams, and fish, with a small cole slaw and slice of key lime pie.  I brought all of these goodies back to the room and had a veritable feast!  I was so full, I had no interest in opening the bottle of wine or in eating the pie.  They were safe and chillin' in the little room fridge.

I slept fitfully that night and the next morning had a hard time getting out of bed and moving toward being alert and "human."  Eventually I needed to go in search of food since, after all, I would be running 13.1 miles the next day and needed to "fuel up."  I walked across the street to a little cafe tucked within the shopping/dining complex on the bay side, called Laguna's.  It was a great little place, with crisp, clean modern decor and a very nice menu!  I took a chance and tried their fish tacos, which were outstanding!!  Blackened fish with shaved purple cabbage, carrot garnish, bits of pineapple, and a tangy sauce drizzled over the fish.  It was too big to wrap up and eat like a taco...but it sure was tasty!  I walked away absolutely stuffed! if all of this great food wasn't enough, I walked out the door of the hotel that night and had a cup of crawfish corn chowder and a cheese burger.  By the time I ate the soup, I was nearly too full to eat any of the burger, but cut it into quarters and managed to stuff down one quarter of it. 

Man, I really need to stop eating like this!! 

But wait...there's more!  Sunday morning was the Half Marathon (and I'll write more about this later) and I had called a Ride-To-Eat for 1:00 PM afterward.  One person - friend Ray - showed up to cheer me on during the race and afterward we had a very pleasant and enjoyable lunch at Flounder's Chowder House, which was one fo the race sponsors.

To start this celebratory lunch off, I had a Mimosa and then Ray and I split an order of baked oysters.  They were delectable!  Just the right amount of Parmesan cheese on top to give them a great baked crust on top.

Then I had grilled tuna with mashed potatoes and asparagus, while Ray had coconut shrimp.

And what the hell!  We ordered a slice of key lime pie to share.  What a slice of pie!

We barely made a dent in it, and brought it back to the hotel and tucked it away in the fridge next to the other slice of key lime pie already taking up space in that little refrigerated minibox!  But we did pop open the bottle of Cava and toasted to a good day together!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fires and Flipovers and Funerals, Oh My!

Yesterday was a day of "F's" which is fitting, since it was a Friday the 13th.

The downside to getting a motorcycle trip started before daylight is riding in the dark where my little bike is lost in a sea of headlights.  The upside is getting to witness a fantastic sunrise.  As I headed east on I-10 through Baytown and Mont Belvieu, a giant red sun began to peak over the scallop of clouds sitting out there on the horizon.  It rose quickly and soon I felt less invisible, as we all flew along the interstate at 75+ mph. 

Somewhere along that stretch of interstate, there was significant police action on the other side of the median  - an 18-wheeler turned over on its side.  I always wonder how the heck that can happen on a flat, straight stretch of highway.  Not too much later, on our side of the interstate, the left lane was closed off and workers were repairing a damaged stretch of pavement left charred by another apparently recent accident.

Another bad accident near Gautier had traffic backed up for miles in the west-bound lanes and had the eastbound lanes slowed significantly, as folks rubbernecked the mayhem on the other side.  An SUV or minivan was flipped over and resting on its roof perpendicular to the roadway and was part on the shoulder and part in the right lane.  Folks could be seen working over someone or someones in the grass alongside the shoulder.  As I continued east, a few miles later, I saw the ambulance flying along the shoulder, so this accident had apparently just happened moments before I got there. 

Then there was the smoke - lots of it - billowing up into the sky above the treetops.  It could be seen for miles but was impossible to tell which side of the interstate this inferno was happening.  A portable electric sign warned us travelers of smoke on the roadway ahead, but fortunately the wind was blowing it away and off to the north.  As I passed what was apparently 'ground zero,' the trees blocked any view of what might be causing this inferno. 

As if all this wasn't entertainment I neared Tilman's Corner, AL, a funeral entourage, with significant police car and motorcycle escort - lights flashing - entered the interstate.  The mounted officers had the entrance ramp lane and adjacent lane blocked to allow smooth entry of the entire motorcade and then moved up to the front of the line to lead the escort and block up-coming entrance ramps.  Judging from the number of police cars and motor escorts, the number of white stretch limos, this was an important person.  This was confirmed when I spotted the news chopper hovering above as we neared downtown Mobile.  The police cars blocked all three lanes of the interstate, effectively creating a rolling roadblock and keeping the funeral procession together.  However, from the rear, it was creating mayhem.  While those of us near the front and immediately behind the procession knew what was happening, cars coming up from behind had no idea, as they weaved through traffic trying to get past the traffic jam.  Once they worked their way up, they could see what was happening, but not before these drivers put those of us near the front at real risk.  By the time we reached the split immediately before the tunnel, my position in traffic moved from being second vehicle behind the trailing police car in the left lane to about 10th or 11th position, thanks to all of the drivers who weaved through traffic, cut people off, and forced themselves into adjacent lanes of traffic and up to the front of the queue in futile efforts to find a way past the roadblock.  The funeral took the last exit to the right, just before the tunnel. 

Well, all this visual distraction and need for vigilance certainly made the miles fly by!  That, and the absolutely perfect weather!  Not a cloud in the sky, temperatures in the mid- to high 70's the entire day.  It couldn't have been more perfect for a motorcycle trip.

Before I continued across the bridges to Pensacola Beach, I needed to take a detour over to the Running Wild running store on Cervantes St to pick up my race packet with race bib and event shirt.  The shirt is awesome, one of the best!  Good fit and emminently wearable.

This little detour now out of the way, I back-tracked to US-98 and to the beach and the Hampton Inn, where I'd be staying the next three days.


I used this trip across I-10 to Pensacola - and to the Gulf Coast Half Marathon I would be running on Sunday in Pensacola Beach - to collect those Waffle Houses that I missed getting when I abandoned the second half of the Waffle House SaddleSore 2000 last month.  Getting these would add a few more states to my list, and to my goal of getting all 25 states.

First Waffle House stop was in Jennings, LA.  It was an easy off-easy on detour to grab a quick photo of the Waffle House and took only a couple of minutes.

WH #945, Jennings LA
Second Waffle House stop was in Walker, LA and was combined with a gas stop.  I got lazy on this one and simply backed the bike up from the pump after getting gas, pulling out the rally flag and camera and snapping a couple of shots.

WH #1233, Wal ker LA
Third Waffle House stop was in Gulfport, MS.  Here I topped off the gas tank and grabbed a small McDonalds burger.  The Waffle House was right next door, which made getting this photo easy.

WH #1497, Gulfport MS
Fourth Waffle House stop was in Loxley, AL.  I pulled up to the gas pump to top off, looked across the street, and quickly abandoned my plan to ride over there for this photo.   It was easily grabbed right there from the gas pump, although it took a couple of attemps to get the zoom and shutter speed correct.

WH #869, Loxley AL
Fifth - and last - Waffle House stop was in Gulf Breeze, FL.  I debated whether to get this one, given the very heavy traffic and the very tiny parking lot of this particular store but as I neared it I could see that the parking lot was completely empty and that a traffic light just before the store would help me greatly when it came time to depart the parking lot. 

WH #158, Gulf Breeze FL

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday Run

This glorious morning I went for a run and thrilled at the cool air that greeted me as I headed out the door.  It was just at the break of dawn, my favorite time, when everything is bathed in a soft pink light and the neighborhood is just starting to wake up.  Only a couple of my neighbors were out and about, walking their dogs.  A few houses had sprinklers running and the air was noticeably cooler as I ran through the mist. 

Two miles around the western loop, a quick stop at the house for a swig of Gatorade and a bathroom stop, and then back out, running toward the exit to my neighborhood and out onto McHard Road.  An entourage consisting of a momma muscovy duck and an impossibly large number of little fuzzy yellow and gray baby ducklings was working its way across the fairway at the 10th hole as I ran along McHard Road, heading toward Cullen and my turnaround point.   There are two significant water hazards on this hole and there are always a number of ducks and geese populating the banks, preening themselves, or lazily floating across the water with no particular destination in mind.

As I neared Cullen, my nose caught a familiar, sweet fragrance and I began scanning the dense scrubby woods that line the sidewalk for its source.  Aha!  Lots of honeysuckle has established itself alongside a good 200 yards of this portion of the road.  So this lovely aroma stayed with me as I ran this stretch in both directions.

A couple of weeks ago the floor of the large retention pond which captures the overflow from Clear Creek was completely filled from the rains we'd been having in late March.  It wasn't full, but the footprint was filled.  Normally only the western portion - about 1/4 of it's potential capacity - is filled permanently.  In the early mornings this pond is visited by a large number of "fishing" birds:  heron, egrets, seagulls.  Today it wasn't as busy as usual.  But as I ran over the little bridge that crosses the bayou, I paused long enough to look down and immediately spotted two enormous red-earred turtles floating with the current, letting it take them toward the pond.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The "Lull" Before the Next "Storm"

The "lull."  So-to-speak...

It's been a slow couple of weeks, now that I'm returned from the IBA party in Jacksonville.  Weekend before last, my son and two grandkids came over from Mandeville to spend the weekend.  I have a beautiful little antique oak chest that I'm giving to my son and this was the excuse for them to come visit me for the weekend.  But this little trip had so many other wonderful benefits, as well!

It gave my daughter-in-law a reprieve from the kids for the weekend.  She could spend those three days doing what ever she wanted to.  Having just come off of a long and tiring trip to California with the kids, she was overdue for this little "vacation" and what parent couldn't use a vacation from the kids??

It gave me the rare opportunity to spend some time with my grandkids without the over-riding influence that having their mom within hailing distance tends to have on their ability to trust their grandma and let her do things for them.  So this was a good opportunity for me to gain their trust a little more and to create some maternal bonds with them.

It gave my son a chance to spend more time with his kids, and particularly with his son, who's reached the age where relationships with dads become an important part of small boys' lives.  And it tested his ability to travel in a car for 6 hours with a 2 year old and a 4 year old and maintain his sanity.

I was lovin' the grandkid time!

But now they're back in Mandeville, and I'm home, recovering from a mild head cold no doubt "gifted" to me by my grandkids (since both were showing symptoms themselves while they were here).

The MTF (Motorcycle Tourer's Forum) 2012 event t-shirts showed up on my doorstep this week from the vendor's, two very large and very heavy boxes, so I spent the last couple of days sorting them, preparing mailing labels, and then packaging them into USPS Priority Mail envelopes and getting them to the post office to get shipped out in time for the first of this year's MTF events.

I've also spent a fair amount of my time this past week poring over my upcoming calendar, fine-tuning travel plans and making needed reservations for those trips that are coming up in the next couple of months.

First up is my ride across I-10 to Pensacola Beach next week to run in that town's half-marathon.  I'll ride the BMW over there on Friday and lie low before the race on Sunday morning.  The next day I plan to leave Pensacola and head up through GA, SC, and NC to pick up a few Waffle Houses for the Waffle House Grand Tour.  This trip will add 6 states to my list of "bagged" states. 

The "storm."  So-to-speak...

Once returned from that trip, things get very busy!!  Stay tuned...