Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just Running for the "Time" of It

Taking it "Zen."  
When I started running back in 2001, it was little baby steps at first:  a single 3 mile loop around my subdivision.  I conscientiously got in my car and drove the loop so that I would know exactly how many miles it was - right down to a tenth of a mile.  Then I gauged my progress by how my time to cover that ground got better and better as, week by week,  I could run more and walk less.  I ran this same little route 2 or 3 times a week and then ran the weekly long slow distance runs on Saturdays with my running club.  The club did the work determining the distance.  I just had to show up and run that week's route.
Navy Pier
Chicago IL

When my running really got serious though, and the marathon training distances got longer, I had to learn how to fit it in around my work and heavy travel schedule.  When my running shoes came with me on business trips around the country and overseas I needed to break myself of that time-distance "slave master" and stop obsessing over mileage, because often I had no idea how many miles I was running, only how long I'd been on the road. 
Ferry Building
Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA

Finding myself in a strange city, without benefit of today's GPS watches or fancy mapping software, I discovered that all I had to do was just decide how many minutes I wanted to run, head out the door, run half of that, then turn around and return to where I started.   I had been running long enough to have a pretty good idea of my pace and to know that if I ran for so many minutes, I'd have run an approximate number of miles.  It didn't have to be exact.  What a liberating concept!  Ridding myself of that "distance dictator" freed me of my obsession over mileage and pace and added joy and freedom to my running.

With this new "tool" in my running tool box, I felt confident enough to run out the front door of a hotel, start my chronometer and then just...run.  A number of running coach programs promote the concept of running for a particular length of time, not a particular distance, only focusing on distance for the once-a-week long run.  This is what USAFit advocates, and many other running programs follow their lead.
Royal Palace
Oslo, Norway

My running friend Nelson and I did these types of runs often.  He'd meet me somewhere in the city after work and we'd just run by the clock, not worrying about the distance.  We'd meet, park our cars, and then head out exploring new neighborhoods, not worrying about how many miles we were covering, not worrying about our splits or our pace or about lap times.  We'd simply agree to a rough time, say 60 minutes, and then just head out.  When we got to 30 minutes, we'd start heading back in the general direction of our cars.

Village of Bellville OH
Today I do this wherever I go on my travels around the country.  I scout a likely route using Google maps satellite view, not worrying so much about distance, just the run-worthiness of the road.  Then I just do it!  If it's going well, I keep going; if it's not going well I turn around early and head back to the hotel.  This technique has delivered me to sites as delightfully diverse as the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, the pretty little Village of Bellville situated on a "rails to trails" path in Ohio, the brewery district in Denver, the Royal Palace in Oslo, the Navy Pier in Chicago, the Embarcadero in San Franciso.

I learned that it isn't always about the distance.  


It is about the time spent running. 


The distance covered is simply the outcome. 

Little Mermaid Statue
Copenhagen, Denmark

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gaggling Geese and Clacking Herons

When I started running more than 11 years ago, I expected the usual benefits of course, but didn't anticipate or expect to experience another set of benefits, including a closer connection to nature.

I had the good fortune to have met a gardening friend who also, by the way, was a very talented long distance runner.  Our connection was a shared love of nature, of gardening, and then, of running.  When we ran together, we often sought out new-to-us places to run around the city and its surrounds.  Conversation between us as we ran along side by side was usually minimal.  Brief observations about our surroundings, pointing out an interesting flower here, an animal over there, a bird call, a waft of fragrance, but often just miles of convivial and familiar silence punctuated by an occasional word or two of sharing or encouragement.  This shared comfortable silence made us the perfect running partners.

As I got more involved in the long-distance running community, I soon realized it was a style shared by many other runners as well. Perhaps it's because long-distance running is a solitary endeavor, perhaps it's because, in order to cover the long miles, a runner must learn how to "disengage."

 Long distance running is the very definition of meditation.

When I can disengage, when I can stop talking, stop focusing on myself or on a conversation - in other words, when I can step into the "here and now" - I notice so much more about my surroundings.  I notice the really tiny things that I would never experience if I were "self-engrossed."  And I actually run better.


I notice the subtle change of temperature as I run past a storm drain in winter, past a lawn sprinkler in summer.  I hear the woodpecker getting his breakfast from a tree in the distance, its pecking ringing out in the early morning hush.  I see the momma skunk gently clutching a tiny kit in her mouth as she scurries through the early foggy rainy morning to a new nest.   The soft murmury quacks coming from the lake off to the side of the road draw my attention in that direction, where I'm rewarded by the vision of a momma duck and an impossibly long line of tiny little ducklings trailing behind.  I've enjoyed some spectacular sunrises and witnessed some dramatic storm clouds.  I've paused just long enough on bridges to watch a parade of red-eared sliders swimming in the water below.

This past Saturday morning I did my usual run route in my neighborhood, distance varied only by my choice of "sides" along the way.  This 4.4 route took me down a couple of side streets I don't often get to see.  I noticed a new "For Sale" sign in front of one house, a fresh coat of paint on another.  A bunny greeted me as I turned onto one of the streets.  It was just barely dawn, the perfect light conditions to offer camouflage for the rabbit from predators.  I caught the flash in my peripheral vision and turned to see it poised to take off.   We sized each other up as I ran by, the rabbit finally deciding I was no threat and holding his ground. 

Sunday I awoke very early to drive up to the north side of the city to walk with a friend in a park I've never been to before.  It was still dark when I arrived and I stumbled along behind in the dark as I tried to get my Garmin watch reset.  Being unfamiliar with the park and with this trail, I kept him and his friend in my sights until it got light enough to make out the features of the landscape and to see the trail ahead of me. 

A gaggle of geese were holding a large soccer field hostage, protecting it from any interlopers foolish enough to try.  One goose stalked the perimeter, honking at everyone who walked or jogged by as the other geese moved as a group, wandering around in the center of the field.


As the path took me past a small pond, I spied a Great Blue Heron standing still in the water, hunting for breakfast.  As I walked past that same pond on the next loop around the park, I could hear the adorable and unmistakable clackings of heron chicks as they were fed that just-caught breakfast, and I then spotted a Great Egret fishing in that same pond. (video from Cornell Ornithology Labs nest-cam)

Around one curve in the path, a squirrel stood waiting for me and, as I walked past, fell in behind and followed me for a short distance.  Other squirrels in the park seemed so tame, coming up to the outheld hands of other park visitors and providing endless entertainment with their antics.

Walkers and joggers started to arrive and I greeted each one of them as we passed, forging a friendly sense of familiarity with smiles and eye contact each time our paths then crossed and recrossed as we made our way around the 1.25 mile loop.  I declared my love to a pair of adorable dachshunds.

A side trail headed off to the south, and some of the runners were going in that direction.  I wonder where that goes??  So I followed it for about 1/4 mile until it took a 90-degree left turn, headed over a little wooden bridge and then disappeared around a curve ahead.  That looks promising!!   Next time...if I ever come back to this park.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

BMW Rally - The Only Thing Melting is the Ice Cream

The BMW MOA Rally is over and now it's time to pack the bike and head for home.  Why is it that nothing ever packs up as small as it did at the start of a trip?!  Does sweat and dirt really make those clothes bulkier? 

I very carefully folded all of the dirty clothes exactly as they were folded when they were clean and packed the first time.  I put the last remaining clean shirt and shorts into a plastic bag and laid it on top.  Nothing additional went into that sidecase liner that didn't come with me from home.  So why does it seem so much fuller?  Weird!

I had three new t-shirts and volunteer hat coming home with me from the rally, but then I expected that.  I brought an old, worn pair of running shoes with me with the intention of abandoning them in the trash can at the end of the rally.  This would make room for the extra shirts in my top case.  I remember the Gillette WY rally and standing there in my hotel room trying to figure out how to get the really cool volunteers' cowboy hat home without crushing it.  I never did figure that out and ended up abandoning it at the hotel.

Remember that pillow I bought at Walmart?  It was a very nice Beautyrest down/feather pillow with very nice box-quilted pillow cover.  I momentarily considered strapping it to my back seat to get it home.  But then I came to my senses and realized that it only cost $16, a small price to pay to get a good night's sleep for 3 nights.  And if I really wanted that pillow, I could just go to the Walmart near my house and buy another.  So I abandoned it in the motel room, sitting on top of the nice Beautyrest zippered fabric/vinyl dust cover that came with it. 

The early morning sun gave the nearly deserted streetscape a lovely golden color as I rode out of the motel parking lot and headed east on US 50 in search of gas to top off my tank.  After turning south onto US 65, I glanced to my right as I passed the rally/fair grounds.  Bikes and RV's were queued up at the exit, waiting to turn onto the road for home.  There was very little traffic and the ride down to I-44 seemed to pass by more quickly than the ride up. 

I debated whether to stop for gas before Joplin or wait and stop at the service plaza on the OK toll road.  But a quick check of the distance and I realized that I wouldn't have enough gas to make it to OK.  It was a good, easy stop in Sarcoxie, exit 29.  Easy off, easy back on and now I could relax and not worry about gas again until I was south of I-40 on US 69.  So I just droned along, enjoying the relatively cool morning temperatures.

A nice, big and new Love's truck stop beckoned to me off the Eufaula exit. It was starting to get hot as the sun got higher in the sky, and I needed a bathroom/water break anyway.  I was second-guessing my original plans to stop in Durant and was seriously considering riding straight through to home.   There were some benefits to this, but the unanswered question was how hot was it going to get today?  I hadn't seen the forecast for the day along my route home.  I tried checking it on the WX service on my Garmin, but couldn't draw any conclusions.  The current temps along my route and the forecasted temps were very disparate. 

As I neared Durant, I made up my mind.  I was hot and hungry and the idea of quitting for the day was very appealing.  It was a short day, mileage-wise - 439 miles - but I cut myself some slack, convincing myself that there was no dire need to get home a day early.  My cat would survive one more day; the mail was already on hold until Monday.  So, as I topped off my gas tank at the hotel exit, I chose to turn right out of the gas station, rather than left.  Another Hampton Inn, another late lunch..  More ice cream.

A decent Mexican chain restaurant, one I'm not familiar with called Taco Mayo, sat right behind the hotel, so I walked over there and got a very good chicken/rice burrito for lunch. There was a Walgreen's next door, so I walked over there afterward, with a craving for something sweet to round out my lunch.  I cruised the aisles and settled on a package of cookies to eat later, and a pint of Ben & Jerry's to eat now!


Then I settled into my room, turned on the TV, something I'd not done for 5 days, and ate my Ben & Jerry's. Tomorrow, I should be home by lunchtime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was up, dressed, and packed, ready to go early on Monday.  But I wanted to time my departure so that I wouldn't be riding into Dallas rush hour.  As it turned out, I did run into a bit of it, but it was mostly just slow, and never came to a complete stop as I rode through McKinney and Plano.  Then, once I popped out onto I-45, the traffic was behind me and it was just GO, GO, GO to get home.  

A quick stop for gas in Buffalo and I noticed that it was cooler here than it was while riding through the Dallas metromess.  Now that I was conscious of this, I periodically checked the WX temp on my GPS and noticed that the further south I got, the cooler it was getting.  By the time I got to the Conroe area, there was broken cloud cover and the temperature was high 80's.  As I got onto the Hardy Toll Road, it began to sprinkle, then to rain steadily, and it stayed with me all the way to within a mile or two of home. Ah, it felt soooo good!!

A couple of red lights, couple of turns, and I was into my neighborhood, onto my street, and into my driveway.  Pulling into the garage, I breathed a sigh of contentment. 

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig.




Sunday, July 22, 2012

The BMW Invasion - BMW MOA Rally

They're everywhere!!

Every time I attend a BMW rally, I think of an unverified story I once read about the Wizard of Oz and the "extra's" cast for the Munchkins.  The rumor is that when they were all assembled in Hollywood to start filming, back in the 1930's, most had never seen another person like themselves, never mind seeing so many others like themselves.  And, according to that rumor, things apparently got wildly out of hand in the evenings.   Not that BMW riders get wildly out of hand, but to see so many BMW's assembled in one place is unique in a Harley and Harley-wanna-be world where like-styled riders move in packs and clog the streets of Sturgis, Wier's Beach, and Daytona with annual regularity.

Wednesday
I got into Sedalia around 11:30 AM and quickly checked into the motel, changed into shorts and running shoes, and headed on foot to the rally grounds and the registration tent, stopping along the way at McDonald's for lunch. 

Once at the registration tent, I immediately ran into several people I know from our local BMW club and from the LD riding community.  I sat and chatted with Jim Green and a couple of other riders with him from Houston, and then sat with Ardys Kellerman for a while, enjoying her company and the pleasant shady breeze that blew through the large registration tent.  I was glad for the respite after walking the 2+ miles in 100-degree sunshine to get there from the motel. 

But I knew that I needed to take my leave from the pleasant company and environment to work my way over to First Aid to check in and get my name on the volunteer schedule and then over to where Security was set up to check on their schedule as well.  On my way across the rally grounds, I passed the BMW Motorrad demo van, where they were getting the demo bikes unloaded and set up for the next three days' demo rides.

BMW Motorrad demo truck with bikes lined up beyond.

Tom already had my name in a 2-man Security cart patrol slot for Thursday morning and I added my name to another slot on Saturday afternoon.  I'd need to return to First Aid first thing Thursday morning to sign up for that committee.  Pat didn't have the schedule out yet when I stopped by earlier. 

Nothing was open yet, so there was nothing else to do but head back on foot to the motel.   My route to the motel took me past a small farmer's market set up in a large parking lot, so I bought a bag of beautiful, juicy peaches.  Then I passed a Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers restaurant.  Hmm...Tempting!  It was a very hot walk to get here!  Decision made!  I ordered a turtle sundae and sat in the air-conditioned comfort to enjoy the treat! 

By the time I got back to the motel, the parking lot had filled up somewhat with other BMW's.
Parking lot at the motel

Dinner at the Applebee's next door and I was ready to quit for the day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday
Ugh!  I slept poorly!  Sleeping on the motel's flat, hard pillows made for a miserable night.  I knew the breakfast selection at this cheesy motel would be even worse.  This was, afterall, a Super-8 cast-off property.  How low can you go??

I made up my mind, after scouting the rally grounds the previous day, that I would just go ahead and walk to the rally each day.  It was only 2 miles each way.  I knew I'd not have opportunity to get runs in while here, so walking to and from the rally would be a reasonable substitution.  This morning it was nicely cool with gentle, brief rain showers, which made the walk to the rally very pleasant.

My Security shift started at 9 AM on Thursday, so I had time to grab breakfast at McDonald's on the way to the rally and to poke around the grounds a bit before going on duty.  Seeing the rally grounds from a golf cart was a huge advantage over trying to get around to see it all on foot.  My cart partner and I rode all through the RV and camping sections, rode over to the GS Giant course area, through the sheep pens, where the "special needs," i.e. electrical outlet, campers were set up, and back and forth through the vendor area and out to gate 12. 

We made multiple runs through the grounds, picking up and delivering people, transmitting messages via the handheld radios, all while keeping our eyes out for the wristbands on the folks, for campers set up in off-limits areas, and just generally watching for safety hazards and any problems on the first morning of the rally.  I had a fun and entertaining cart-mate and the shift went quickly. 

A friend from the St. Louis area and his brother were coming to the rally just for the day, so once they got there we connected by cell phone and met up after my shift.  We ate lunch together at one of the very reasonable on-site restaurants - a BBQ place - and then browsed the vendors together for the rest of the afternoon.  They had a 3 hour drive back to St. Louis, so too soon we were saying goodbye, but not before they gave me a ride back to the motel in their truck. 

I knew that if I wanted to get a good night's sleep, I would need to do something about the pillow situation.  There was a large Walmart across the street from the motel, so I walked over there to buy a pillow and to pick up some bananas and Gatorade for the room.  While I was shopping, my cellphone rang and coincidentally it was Steve, my motel roommate, calling from the same store, asking if I wanted him to pick up something for me.  We connected at the store, chatted a bit, and then headed back to the motel, me on foot, him on his motorcycle.

I took Steve back to Freddy's for dinner, since it was close and different.  Then it was time for me to see if the new pillow would make a difference in getting a good night's sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday
Up again early and I'm pleased to report that the new pillow definitely did the trick!  We walked to McDonald's again for breakfast where I ran into Fletcher and Don, both friends from the MTF.  We got to talking and they told me they were heading west in a truck to check out some stealth bombers that are apparently stationed at the Air Force base nearby.  Well, that sounded interesting to me!  So off we went, heading west on US 50 about 20 miles.  A friend I'd met at the BMW rally in Johnson City - Melissa, or Mel - is in training for a half ironman and was riding her bicycle to meet us at the base.  The timing was perfect, as we all arrived at the exact same time.  Fletcher went into the visitor center, but came back out with bad news.  Contrary to what he'd been told earlier, there were no civilian tours, no permission to get on base to look at them.  So we piled back into the truck, Melissa mounted her bicycle, and we all headed back to the rally grounds. 

My shift with First Aid started at 1:00 PM, so the three of us went to a different restaurant on-site and had giant hamburgers for lunch, and then we all went our separate ways, me to the First Aid station.

Our intrepid First Aid crew

I always enjoy working for Pat and Hank in First Aid.  Previous years we've had some busy moments.  This year my shift was quiet.  There were four of us on the shift, and two headed out in one of the carts, and two of us turned the other cart around so that it faced out, and then sat in front of the First Aid station and watched the rally go by as we listened on the handheld radio for calls.  Things were pretty quiet.  When the guys returned after two hours, it was then our turn to rove and look for folks who may need help, may appear to be overcome by the heat, or who looked like they could use a ride to their destination. 

As soon as my shift was over, I strapped on my backpack and walked back to the motel.  Tonight's supper was at a place recommended by Don that morning, called Brick Front Grill.  So Steve and walked over there, not knowing what to expect.  It turned out to be a middle-eastern menu, with gyros and kabobs, so I had lamb kabob with rice, naan, and hummus. It was good, and I finished it with some kind of little pastry that looked and tasted like brownie but had an exotic name.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday
My roommate Steve decided to head for home today so I had the day - and the room - to myself.  But  despite Steve's conscientious efforts to sneak out of the room as quietly as possible at 5:00 AM, we both overlooked the fact that his CPAP machine was plugged into the only convenient outlet, which happened to be located behind the head of my bed's mattress.  Unplugging it stealthily was impossible.  He had to rouse me in order to slide the bed back to get to the outlet.  I did manage to dose off again for another hour, so no harm done. 

I made my usual morning stop at McDonald's on my way to the rally grounds, and headed directly for the RV area to meet up with Don and Fletcher, Mel and Al.  It took a cellphone call as I stood amid the maze of RV's in order to find them, only to realize I was standing right next to their RV.  We sat and chatted and John B. from the MTF arrived, along with Ray W.  So we sat in the a/c and chatted and sipped our coffee, then I stepped next door to say good morning to Mel and Al before we all headed over to the vendors to do some serious shopping. 

Ray was in line to get Ohlin shocks installed, and another MTF member, Bo G. was in line for new tires.  Since John B. and Ray W. had just arrived to the rally this morning, they wanted to shop the vendors and I gladly joined them. John had a particular list of vendors he wanted to be sure to visit, ones that specialize in accessories for the GS model. 

Here's a fully-farkled GS Adventure in the Touratech booth:

Every possible farkle from Touratech has been
installed on this GS Adventure!

We all went over to the BBQ place for lunch, and then I had another shift with Security coming up at 3 PM, so after a bit more vendor shopping and promises to meet up again for the closing ceremonies at 6 PM, we split up. 

My Security cart-mate and I roved the grounds, our only brief excitement being the message that an ambulance was arriving at gate 6a and so we sat on that main road waiting for it and then directing it to the appropriate building where they were needed.  At 5 PM Tom called us back in to headquarters.  He relieved my cart-mate of duty, but kept me on to help shuttle the arriving police officers to their stations at the gates and to do security detail at the vendor buildings.  This would relieve the volunteers from their duties so that they could attend the closing ceremony.   I drove up to gate 6a to await the arrival and then drove one of the officers across the rally grounds to gate 12 to start his shift.

Now relieved of duty myself, a quick call to Ray W. connected me with the group and we sat together through the blessedly efficient and short closing ceremony.  I had a wad of doorprize tickets in my pocket, tickets from my friends who had left the rally early.  Unfortunately for all of us, none of us were winners.

Giant frosted cookie


A rally attendee enjoying a piece
of that giant cookie
This year celebrated the 40th anniversary of the MOA and they had giant cookies set out, along with bottled water, throughout the arena where the closing ceremony was held.  Many of them went untouched so folks were bringing them over to the beer tent and one of them landed in front of me and John B., who had walked over to the beer tent with me after the closing ceremonies were over.  He and I sat there enjoying a beer and the great retro music show put on by Shaboom!  They sang a beautiful a capella harmonized version of the National Anthem at the closing ceremony and now were putting on a great show on stage next to the beer tent. 

View of the band Shaboom! from the beer tent

As the sun got low in the sky, I said goodbye to John and headed toward the gate to go back to the motel.  As I walked along, I heard a familiar voice and then saw a familiar figure.  It was one of the group of attendees that I see every year at the rally.  They are from Louisville and southern Indiana and we always try to meet up each year.  I ran into two of them earlier in the week at the motel, but this was my first opportunity to catch up with the rest of them.  They called me over, clearly excited, and I learned that one of them, Kent, had won the motorcycle tour to Croatia!!  He was so excited he was speechless.  The rest of the group were more than making up for this speechlessness by babbling and hooting and hollering like crazy!!  It's a fabulous doorprize and one that I would definitely have loved to win for myself.  I was so happy for Kent!  This good news came soon after I learned that another friend, one from the MTF, had won one of the Superstakes bikes!  Just awesome!  I don't think I can ever remember a time when someone I knew had won a major prize at one of the MOA rallies.

My walk back to the motel was very pleasant.  The sun had gotten very low, a nice breeze had picked up, and the air felt cooler.  Now it was my turn to get my things packed and staged for tomorrow's early departure. 

I had a nice dinner at Applebee's and then headed to my room for the night.

Tomorrow:  Taking two days to get home

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Off to Ride Into the Hot "Wilds" of Missouri

Well...not that Missouri is wild, but the idea of willingly riding a motorcycle straight into the "hot cauldron" forecasted for the plains states of Oklahoma and Missouri seems a little "wild."  The BMW MOA rally is in Sedalia MO this year and it promises to be hot in Sedalia this year. 

I had the bike all packed the night before, but was still trying to convince myself that getting on the road before 6 AM made the most sense.  My stubbornly retired body, however, had other ideas. 

I didn't haul myself out of bed until close to 6:30 AM, which pretty much meant that there was no need to hurry, since I'd missed the "window of opportunity" as far as Houston morning traffic goes.  I ate a leisurely breakfast, checked my email, and then backed my bike out of the garage at 7:30 AM.  This put me into a bit of heavy traffic heading north into the city, but it was manageable and soon I was squirting out the north side of the city, with wide open road in front of me. 

Determined not to set a "hair on fire" BBG pace like I tend to do on any motorcycle trip, I relaxed and went with the traffic flow, even stopped for gas in Corsicana rather than my usual "nail-biting, watch the gas gauge" stop closer to I-20 near Dallas.  The timing was perfect for Dallas traffic and I breezed through and onto US 75 with hardly a touch of the brakes.

I never tire of the stretch of I-45 between Willis and Centerville.  I don't know why.  I'm plenty tired of the other exit routes out of Texas, including the maddeningly slow US 59 and the mind-numbing boredom of I-10 east toward Louisiana.  But this stretch of 45 is kinda pretty.  And just interesting enough to the eye to fend off boredom.   It was comfortably pleasant, not yet hot, and the air flow through my jacket and pants was perfect.

My mind had already been made up that I wasn't going to do the ride to Sedalia MO all in one day.  It certainly could have been done.  It was only 700 or so miles.  But I knew the heat would be dreadful in the afternoon.  Besides, I wanted to time my arrival in Sedalia for Wednesday mid-day.   So McAlester seemed like a reasonable destination the first day, so did Muskogee another 60 miles up the road.  There's a Hampton Inn in Muskogee and I wanted to beef up my Hilton Honors points balance, so Muskogee it was.

It didn't start getting hot until north of Dallas, somewhere around Durant OK or so.  Suddenly the switch was flipped.  It went from "this isn't so bad" to "OMG, I'm cookin'!" in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

And to make sure that I noticed just how hot it had gotten, traffic on this four-lane divided highway came to a complete standstill about 30-40 miles south of McAlester. 

So there we all sat, out there in the middle of nowhere, with no idea why.  I stopped the bike, put the sidestand down, and then eventually got off the bike, removed my helmet and unzipped my jacket.  18-wheeler drivers were out of their rigs, walking around, so I knew this wasn't just a momentary delay.  I walked up to a rig next to me and asked the driver what the problem was, but he didn't know.  Neither did the rig driver behind him.  Guess drivers no longer communicate with each other via CB's.

After about 45 minutes I could see drivers getting back into their rigs up ahead, and then brake lights appeared, and then movement.  We started to slowly inch our way forward.  Occasionally we came to another lengthy stop, once long enough for me to turn the bike off again and remove my helmet.  But eventually the forward movement became steady, and then we came upon the problem:  An overturned 18-wheeler lying on its side across both lanes.  A large tow truck had pulled the cab portion out of the roadway, which was allowing us to now pass, but a state police officer was directing traffic at the blockage to allow for an orderly merge into the left lane.  An 18-wheeler in the left lane made sure that he gave me plenty of room to merge in front of him before we got to the merge spot, for which I was very grateful, since cars in front of him, seeing my left turn signal blinking, were closing up their ranks to prevent me from moving over. 

What was worse than standing out there in the middle of that hot, shadeless highway was watching the projected arrival time on my GPS creep up from 3:39 PM to 5:00 PM.  Mentally, it was a killer.  Visions of getting to the hotel early in the day, getting into shorts and sandals and getting a nice late lunch in air-conditioned comfort were evaporating faster than the sweat trickling down my face and neck.   I was definitely thankful that I'd stopped for gas, snack, and bathroom break back in Durant!

When we finally got past that roadblock and I could roll through McAlester, I was sorely tempted to call it a day.   But moving along finally at highway speeds, the sweat accumulation on my body was actually cooling me down and it didn't feel so bad anymore.  So I kept going.  I kept my eye on the "miles to go" on the GPS, and kept watching the estimated arrival time and the time on the bike's clock slowly merge. 

When the Hampton Inn sign appeared, I was elated! 

Unpacked, into those anticipated shorts and sandals, my first order of business was to get lunch - which we'll now call dinner - and to get cool.

IHOP won my business this evening.  Actually it was the only thing within easy walking distance.  But I like IHOP.  A decent meal and a more-than-decent blueberry crepe loaded up with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream for dessert really hit the spot!


Tomorrow:  Sliding into Sedalia and scoping out the rally grounds.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

THUMP!

I bolted upright out of a deep sleep.  What was that??  I flipped the light on and saw the cat next to me in the bed, ears perked up, looking up at the ceiling.  She heard it, too!

I sat there a moment, getting my bearings.  2:17 AM. 

THUMP, THUMPITY THUMP!!  There it was again!

Fully awake now, I could identify where the sound was coming from - the fence next to the house near my bedroom - and the probable source - raccoons.
Glimpse of three juvenile raccoons this spring

Two months ago I glimpsed a trio of raccoons sitting on the fence in my backyard, but it was only a brief glimpse before they disappeared into the yard behind me.  I remember thinking, "Oh, no!  Not again!"  I dealt with a trio of juveniles last year, finally trapping them and having them relocated.

After that initial glimpse earlier this spring, I haven't seen this new crop of juvenile raccoons and assumed they moved on.  Well apparently not.

THUMP, BANG, BANG, THUMP, THUMP!

Now they've jumped from the fence to the roof and they sound like a herd of elephants.  I grabbed a flashlight and braved the mosquitos in my backyard.  But training the flashlight beam up on the roof, I was unable to see them on the back side of the house.  Plenty of peaks and valleys on my roof and they could be anywhere!

Back in the house and the thumping moved back over to the rear corner of the roof, near the fence.  Aha!  My presence has spooked them!  More loud thumps as they leaped from the roof to the fence, one by one.  And then they were gone.  Maybe some barbed wire across the top of that stretch of fence would help.  Gotta work on that solution.

But now the cat and I are wide awake.  And it's 2:30 in the morning.  And now I'm hungry.  Darned raccoons!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Random Miscellaneous Thoughts Today

It's been a rainy last few days but we need it and it's cooled things down a little bit, which helps. 

I'm glad I had a chance to get both motorcycles out for a ride last Friday.  I didn't even shower or eat breakfast, just pulled on my riding gear, grabbed the Zumo GPS and headed out to the garage.  The bike that had the Zumo cradle already mounted got to go first.  That was the BMW.  She and I did a nice little 85 mile loop, then I topped off her gas tank and returned to the house.  FZ6 got to go next, and I transferred the Zumo mount, started her up and off we went for another, identical 85 mile loop.  Both bikes ran well, had no issues, and at least now I can say that I rotated the air in the tires and moved the oil around in the engine on both bikes.  FZ6 needs to get in for a routine oil change but that's not going to happen for a while, since rain is forecasted for the next several days, and the following week I'll be taking the BMW to the BMW MOA rally in Sedalia MO.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I finally had some time to "learn" this new Garmin Forerunner watch.  I sat down with the user manual again, corrected some of the settings that I had put into place a couple of weeks ago, and then took it out for a run on Monday.  Pretty darned slick, I must say.  It's a unisex design so is a little large and clunky and the vinyl band doesn't want to make such a tight bend in order to fit around my skinny wrist, but I can deal with that.

I took it out for another run this morning and am really appreciating the mileage tracking.  Since I don't always take the same route every run, I'd been tracing my route after-the-fact using Microsoft Streets & Trips.  It's a tedious process at best.  Now I don't have to do that.  Just sit down at the computer afterward and enter distance and time into my mileage log at Runners World.  I like using this log because it has a "gadget" I can attach to my blog.  See that little "Running Stats" box over in the right column just below the motorcycle/Vicksburg photo?  Here you can spy on my diligence, keep me honest.

Both of my runs this week have flirted with rain and on both days I've had folks say to me, "Don't get wet!"  They just don't understand!  They're out there walking, umbrellas in hand, hoping that they'll finish their walks and be safely indoors again before it starts to rain.  And I'm praying that it will start to rain while I'm out there running, BEFORE I get back home.  Please rain!  Please bring cooling winds, pleasant soft raindrops!  Please drop the temperature about 15 degrees!  I really wouldn't mind!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I got my photos from the Milwaukee Half Marathon in the mail yesterday.  Most event photographers now have instant download options, but apparently the company handling Milwaukee's race hasn't taken that leap, yet.  But they did have a great package for a great price:  all photos printed 4x6 plus all files burned to a CD for just $49.  It took a little longer to receive (no instant gratification) but still pretty quick.  I think this is the most images ever captured of me in a race!  From doing these races for so many years, I've learned to look for the photographers so that they don't catch me looking pathetic.  Every runner learns this lesson pretty quickly.  Here are a few of the many taken of me along the race route.





I can smile and wave, but there's no getting around the fact that camera lenses don't lie.   I love it when the photographer catches me in mid-stride.  It's like catching a person's "good side" in a photo.  I can look at the photo and pretend that I'm really not that old. 

That's as opposed to when the photographer catches me at the end of my stride, with my landing leg fully loaded and compressed.  That's when gravity takes over.  Here's where my age really shows.  I hate that "elephant knee" look, the thin, wrinkly skin that now encases my legs and sags with every landed step.















Here's my favorite photo from the race, with Milwaukee skyline off to my right and a large American flag waving behind me as I run over a pretty bridge in Veteran's park, just one mile from the finish line.


I don't know what I've been thinking all these years, but it's only been since the Houston marathon in January of this year that I've taken the few moments at the finish line to pose for a finisher's photo.  Brain-dead I guess.  Now I know better and do it at every race that has that set-up at the finish line.



Thursday, July 5, 2012

Garmin and Kickin' it Out the Door



[Groan]  It was 6:00 AM and already hot and humid.  But I needed to do two things this morning.   Get my first serious run in after doing the Milwaukee Half Marathon....and try out my new Garmin Forerunner.  It's so geeky.  And so big and clunky.  I wanted to use it during that Milwaukee race, but I just couldn't get the hang of it in time.  So my trusty 10-year-old Timex Ironman - the one with the well-worn velcro strap and recently replaced battery - did faithful duty as my timekeeper during that race.


This morning I really needed to get this run done.  I must say that the first 100 yards down the road, I just wanted to turn around, go back to the house, and crawl back into bed.  Let's just say that first mile did not go well.  I felt like I was running in peanut butter.  Wait...maybe I was!  I was appalled when I saw my split time for that first mile.  It was ugly.  Okay, pick those knees up, lift those feet, pick up the pace.  Stop doggin' it.

But then, as all bad starts do, things got better as I found my groove in the second mile.   A quick glance at the face of the Garmin now and then to look at the time, and things seemed to be going okay. 

I stopped at the Carriage House mid-run but couldn't remember how to stop the timer.  I hit a button that then started a new lap.  Well, crap!  But then I focused a little more closely on the other data that appears in tiny little fonts on the screen.  What's this??  What I thought was the distance number was showing what looked like 2.44, yet I knew I was well into mile 3.  Talk about demotivational!   And because I didn't actually stop the timer when I took a break, my calculated running pace was slowly creeping up toward a walking pace, even as I stood there and watched it.  Further demotivation!

When I finished my run I still couldn't remember how to stop the timer and only managed to bump the thing up to lap 6.  Geez!! 

Reading glasses on and instruction manual in hand, I figured out how to stop the dadgum thing, and I figured out that what I thought was distance was calories burned (without the imaginary decimal that I thought I was seeing). 

Well, I was pretty certain that, when I set the device up, I selected distance not calories as one of the display choices.  So, back to the drawing board to get that fixed in the set-up menu.   

Maybe the next run will go better!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Cute Town of New Glarus, WI

I knew it was going to be cute, just looking at the town through Google Streetview.  But until I could get there and see it in person, I just wasn't sure how cute it would be.

The roads to get there, once off the interstate, were classic "Wisconsin."  Rolling hills, green farmland, pretty red barns, and plenty of silos.  My first time back to this state as an adult (I lived in Wisconsin for one year, back in 1953 when my dad was stationed as an exchange pilot at Truax Field AF base) was a business trip in early 1980's.  I was enchanted enough by what I saw to write a short article about it for our company newsletter.  That trip took me from Madison WI up through the heart of dairyland - through Lacrosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, and Oshkosh, making sales calls.  We even made a sales call to a Land O' Lakes cheese factory and got a tour and the chance to make purchases at the employee store.

Town of New Glarus.  Visitors are
welcomed by a lovely flower clock.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
It was a relatively short but pleasant drive on very nice county roads to get to New Glarus and before I knew it I was past all the dairy cow farms and into the town. 

 A trip on foot from the motel to the little downtown area rewarded me with ample photo ops.  The town is populated not just by very nice people, but also by very nice cow statues, each decorated in unique colors and designs by their sponsors. 








It's a small little town area, just a few blocks long and a few blocks wide, but the residents work hard at retaining the Swiss feel of the town that was originated by its Swiss settlers.  

Even the streets are posted in both English and German.




A beautiful large church dominates the skyline, poking its spire high above the trees and all other buildings.




Pubs and beer halls sit cheek-by-jowl, pushing out nearly any other kind of retail business. 

Maple Leaf creamery







Just a very small sampling of stores catering to the tourist trade and a very fine ice-cream/chocolate/cheese shop in the center of town.

Sugar Creek trail system
visitor center, housed in
old train depot.


I found the visitor center for the area Trail System and poked my head in to chat a bit with the volunteer and to pick up some brochures about the area and about the trail system. 

For those of us who are into running or cycling the trails, this is an excellent place to set up home base.  There were enough amenities in town, including restaurants - even a Subway - and gas stations.  Even its very own micro-brewery! 

New Glarus Brewery




A laundromat was right next to the motel.  With my supply of groceries brought with me from Delafield, the mini-fridge and microwave in the room, I could have easily stayed here for a week or longer and never gotten bored.



New Glarus was definitely one of those little gems that can be overlooked by the interstate traveler.  If it hadn't been for our MTF get-together, I certainly would have been ignorant to its charms.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Doing Nothing Very Well

When I first retired, I worried that I'd have a hard time handling all of the "down-time."  My career was filled with long, busy days and a whole lot of travel, so I thought that doing nothing would be impossible.

I am pleased to report that I was wrong.  I've learned that I'm very good at doing nothing.  I eased myself into that "doing nothing" mode by using my timeshare weeks going places I've never been to.  Or to places I've been to, but never for more than just a few days.  And once there, I did....nothing! Or as little as possible.  Now, after almost 6 years of practice, I've become somewhat of an expert at doing nothing.

This past week I spent a whole lot of downtime after the race in Milwaukee.  On Saturday, after finishing the race, I checked out of the very nice Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee and headed west about 30 miles to Delafield, WI.  I parked myself in a nice Holiday Inn Express within walking distance of restaurants, shopping, a movie theater and stayed there for 3 nights/days. 

Sunday morning I walked over to the Starbucks, ordered my Grande Cappuccino, and sat at an outside table waiting for Super Cuts to open.  I needed a haircut and ran out of time to get one before leaving for this trip.  I got a very nice cut and blow dry, then walked over to the big new Sports Authority and browsed a bit.
 

Monday morning I drove to a nearby Mazda dealer to get service done, another task I didn't get done before leaving home.  They set me up for a 1:00 PM appointment, so I did some grocery shopping and browsed the nearby Kohl's before returning to the dealership for the scheduled service.  It was a nice dealership and they had me done in short order. 


At my post-race luncheon at Water Street Brewery on Saturday, I received a couple of recommendations for things to do.  One was to go to Penzeys Spices.  It was very hard to get out of that store without spending a lot of money!  But, since retiring, I've been doing a lot more cooking.  The purchases won't go to waste.
Le Duc's turtle sundae
Another recommendation was to go a few miles south of Delafield to a little custard shop called Le Duc's.  So Tuesday, on my way to New Glarus, I took that little detour and had lunch - a bratwurst sandwich with sauerkraut - and dessert, a turtle sundae as recommended by a friend. 

And so then it was on to New Glarus, just 80 miles further west, to do more of that "doing nothing" thing.  And I'm getting very good at it.  In New Glarus there was a laundromat next door to the motel so I did a load of laundry and read my Kindle while waiting.  Afterward, with nothing else to do, I walked into town to check it out and to get a treat at the Maple Leaf shop.

Wednesday morning I got a little run in, heading southwest on the Sugar Creek Trail, one of those "rails to trails" projects.  Nice hard-packed gravel and pleasant views.  Afterward, showered and dressed, I drove over to the nearby New Glarus Brewery and took the tour, shopped in the gift shop, and bought a "tasting" of three different beers.  Then I visited the beer depot downstairs.  Here, I purchased two mix-and-match six packs of the New Glarus offerings, bought a bottle of Belgian Ale, and a four-pack of a limited edition IPA. 

With a nice little beer-buzz going on from the beer tastings, I drove back to the motel and got a Subway sandwich for lunch, and then I sat outside of my room in the shade and waited for the MTF folks to start arriving.  Yep, definitely getting very good and the "sitting around doing nothing" part of retirement.