Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend in the Panhandle

I left the house about 6:30 am Saturday morning. My first stop was in Brady at about 9. From there I started adding to the TX counties I've ridden through, starting with Callahan and Shackelford. My second stop was in Albany, which was surprisingly nice considering it's a ways from the interstate or much of anything else. I went through Throckmorton County, then made a minor detour to go through Young County for the ABCs of touring, then through Archer, Baylor, Knox, Dickens, Motley, and Briscoe counties. I arrived in the town of Quitaque (apparently pronounced kitty-quay, I found out later), took a picture for the ABCs, and went on to Caprock Canyons State Park. It was about 3:30 when I checked in at the nice new visitors center, well ahead of my GPS's original estimate of 6:42.
I took a quick ride through the park before going to my camp site. I didn't have a specific site reserved, just the area, and since I was the last one to arrive I got the last spot, right next to the privy. It wasn't too bad, it didn't smell (outside, anyway). There was a sheltered picnic table, a fire ring and a grill. The site was somewhat lacking of privacy, facing two other campsites. It was really hot, so before doing anything else I changed into a short sleeve shirt and shorts. I set up my tent, leaving off the rain fly, and set most of my gear inside of it. I got back on the bike to get some water, which proved more difficult than I had thought. I first stopped at the bathroom (the real one, by the drive-up campsites with electricity); then the Discovery Center, which must have been the original entrance station, now a kids' learning area; then back to the visitors' center, where I asked but still didn't find a spigot to fill up my water jug. They did, eventually, come up with there being a spigot by the interpretive center. Before heading back towards camp, I decided to make a quick run to town for some bug spray. I don't normally like bug spray because of the smell, but I dislike biting flies even more. I stopped in the parking lot of the interpretive center, which is also a nice new building, with steel bison silhouettes, filled up my jug and the bladder in my backpack. I pulled over at a scenic overlook on the way back and discovered that I had not adequately secured the water jug to my luggage rack, and it had fallen off and been dragged behind the bike, ripping off the spigot and tearing numerous holes, rendering the thing worthless. There wasn't a trash can there, or many other in the park for that matter, so I drained what water was left and stowed it in my saddle bag to throw out later. When I was preparing dinner back at camp I realized I hadn't brought my water bottle that would allow me to measure how much boiling water to add to the freeze-dried packet. I guesstimated, and it turned out pretty well, slightly watery at the bottom.
I rode back to the interpretive center to meet up for a ranger-guided hike of the Eagle Point Trail to the natural bridge at 7. It was a very large group, about 25, which the ranger said was several times what she normally gets. We stopped a few times along the roughly 1 3/4 mile trail to learn about the geology and flora and fauna of the park. The natural bridge itself would be pretty easy to miss, except for a bench on top, it doesn't look like much when you're hiking on the trail. It was like a small cave open on both ends. I would have gone in with everyone else, but the large boulders and giant steps worried me with my ankle not feeling very happy as it was. Hiking back was cooler with the sun going down, but it was still strenuous enough that I was sweating profusely. At the head of the trail by the interpretive center I ran into a swarm of mosquitoes. It was worst trying to refill my camelbak at the spigot, I was being bitten all over my back through my shirt the worst, probably because that was sweatiest from wearing the backpack. I was swatting as much as I could but it was hopeless. I rushed filling up with water and ran and jumped on the bike as quickly as I could. I stopped at the bathroom to take a shower and survey the damage. There were dozens and dozens of bites, concentrated on my shoulders and back. That may have been related to my putting bug spray on my arms and legs earlier.
Back at camp I put on the rain fly because I saw lightning in the distance, but left the vestibule flaps open. I read for a little while before going to sleep. Since it was still pretty warm I didn't get in my sleeping bag, but I did get in my lightweight bag liner. The flapping of the tent in the wind (and the less than comfortable ground) woke me up a number of times. About 2am I started getting pretty chilly, but didn't get out my real sleeping bag until about 5 and slept pretty well for another hour or so. After breakfast I rode a short distance to a parking area for one of the trail heads. It was a little before 8am and there were only two cars in the parking lot, which implied there weren't many people camping in the primitive area, somewhat surprising considering how full the rest of the park was. I originally planned to hike up the Haynes Ridge Trail to the top of the canyon, check out the view and then come back down the same way. The crude park map seemed to show the trail as having switchbacks, but it was pretty much just straight up. I realized a little too late, partway up, that it would be too steep for me to want to hike back down. I was counting on the other route, the Upper Canyon Trail, not being as steep, and continued up to the top. Once I got on top of the canyon the trail flattened out, but it was very narrow and the yucca and scrub brush on either side scratched my legs. I stopped at a bench at the intersection of the Haynes and Upper Canyon trails. As I approached, I heard some rustling but didn't see what it was at first. It turned out to be two deer, one of which ran off, but the other one didn't seem to be too worried by me and continued to snack on the leaves of a bush while I had a snack of my own. From there, the trail headed back down the canyon. It wasn't quite as steep as the way I came up, but it was still pretty steep. I took my time and was very careful with every step. Most of the way down the steep section was the Fern Cave. I was intrigued when the ranger mentioned it the night before, but it wasn't impressive. It wasn't much of a cave- more like an indentation in the rock with a spring. It's called fern cave because there are ferns on the "roof" due to the year-round water flow. Because of the water there was a swarm of mosquitoes. I took some pictures and climbed around a little bit, but after a few minutes I was getting bitten so much I grabbed my backpack and ran back to the main trail, as much as I could. There was only a little bit more of the steep downhill before the trail widened and flattened out, where it looked like it a piece of equipment had been through not too long ago. The trail back to the parking area from there wasn't strenuous, but it was about 4 miles, and the sun came out from behind the clouds about 11am, making it even hotter. I ran into more mosquitoes when the trail ran along a not-quite dry stream bed. About halfway my feet and my ankle were begging for respite, so I sat down and read for about 15 minutes. It was hard getting back up and I was pretty well shot at that point so the rest of the hike went pretty slowly. After I got to a the intersection with the Lower Canyon Trail, 1.5 miles to the parking lot, I started seeing people for the first time all day. I stopped for one last break on a bench at the head of the Haynes trail next to an older couple. Once I got back to my bike I rode back to camp and had lunch. After changing into jeans I set out on a ride to pick up a few more counties.
I got to the town where I was planning on getting gas to find that the gas stations were long closed, so I jumped on I-27 (another tick for my master list) to Tulia. I went through Swisher, Castro and Parmer counties before going about 100 yards into New Mexico, turning around and heading back through Bailey, Lamb, Hale, and Floyd counties. I went through mostly agricultural land- fields of crops, probably grains and cotton, based on the gins and elevators I passed; cattle feed lots; and dairy farms. The feed lots and dairies smelled similarly bad, but not nearly as bad as a hog farm. I stopped and ate dinner in the decent-sized (relative to anything else I saw that day) town of Plainview. I had been hoping beforehand to find a mid-scale chain restaurant. When I got to the interstate all I saw were regular fast food places. I was resigned to eat at Wendy's, but was glad to find a Chili's next door. When I walked in I had to check my watch because I thought there was no way it would be that empty at 6pm on a weekend, but sure enough it was. I sat at the bar and nobody even seemed to notice. There was a guy behind the bar who was too busy chatting with old friends to help me. A woman came out and got me a beer, but then turned and chatted with some guy and didn't even look in my direction for 10 minutes. I finally got her attention to get a menu, and after that the service was alright. When I left at about 7 the weather looked a bit threatening. The wind was a little bit stronger than the steady northerly wind I'd been in all day, and there were some dark clouds. I put on my clear glasses, but no other change in gear. I got back to camp about 8, changed and went to take a shower. It was still too hot in my tent, so I tried reading at the picnic table, but there were too many mosquitoes. I remembered I'd brought my tent fan and set it up back in the tent. It was a big help, and I read until I started to fall asleep about 11. At some point I woke up and turned the fan off since it was cooler. Later still it was cool enough I got into the sleeping bag.
I woke up at about 5:30 and briefly attempted to go back to sleep before realizing I was awake for good and started packing. I got off around 7:30. I added a few more counties, Crosby, Garza, Scurry, Mitchell, Nolan, and Runnels. I thought it was pretty cool riding through a wind generator farm outside of Sweetwater. I had attempted to recharge my iPod in the bathroom, but the plugs didn't seem to work. I was kind of surprised the battery lasted as long as it did, until 10:30, considering how low the indicator looked. Before what seemed like too long of a time I got to US 87 and ran into genuine traffic. Not stop-and-go level of traffic, but enough that it slowed me down. Plus it was hot by that point and I was more than ready to get home. Fortunately it looked as though more traffic was going the other direction from Brady home, so it wasn't so bad. Just outside of Llano I stopped at the entrance to a former quarry, now a high-dollar custom home, with an amazing stone wall made out of giant leftover pieces from the quarry. It turns out it's for sale, but I'm pretty sure just the wall would be way out of my price range, let alone the house and 200 acres. It was about 3:30 when I got home hot and tired. I vegetated in front of the computer and almost fell asleep, but unfortunately didn't. I eventually went outside in my bare feet in the scorching heat to get my mail and newspapers. I laid on the couch with the paper for the rest of the evening but didn't fall asleep until I went to bed about 10:30.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bicycling Around Town

Friday afternoon I ducked out of work a little early and went to Opal Divine's for dinner and to sit on the patio reading the newspaper drinking beer. On my way home I picked up some more street-worthy tires to replace the knobby tires on my bicycle. They're still relatively wide, using the same tubes, and aren't completely smooth, so they still allow some off-road use.
Saturday morning I installed the new tires, and also patched the front inner tube which had a pinhole leak. I rode the Night Train over to the Harley shop to check on some parts I was thinking of putting on. I wanted to change to a Rocker ignition coil, but it turns out it would be a major project, requiring a different motor mount and doing something about the ignition switch. I had lunch at Texas Roadhouse and went home and changed into shorts to go for a bicycle ride. I decided to ride over to the Wildflower Center. I was riding on the sidewalk, but forgot that there isn't a sidewalk on the north side of Slaughter west of Brodie, so I rode on the street. I've always been wary of riding in the street, especially where there isn't a bike lane, but traffic was very light. The new tires helped a lot too, they roll much better on pavement than mountain bike tires. At the Wildflower Center I walked around some, then went on one of their longer trails, stopping at a shaded bench to read the paper for a little while. On my way back home, I stopped for dinner at a new sandwich shop, which was pretty good. After relaxing for a bit after getting home, I went into the backyard to start tackling the innumerable weeds. I picked a path from the deck to the prickly pear, then set about clearing around it and uncovering the aloe and agave. I picked weeds until the daylight was fading and I was dripping sweat and covered in mosquito bites.
Sunday morning I spent another hour-plus picking weeds, working from the prickly pear to the rose, then to the mountain laurel, and the other plants in the corner. I could tell it made a big difference, but if anyone else were to come along and see it, my backyard would still look like a field of weeds. After a shower, a Dr Pepper and a granola bar I set out for a bicycle ride about 11:15. I had chicken wings and a beer at Hooters, then went to the Alamo Ritz to buy a ticket for the 3:45 showing of Big Trouble in Little China. I rode down Sixth Street to REI to pick up a spork that should have come with the Swedish mess kit I got at their sale a couple weeks ago. I then went into Book People to read a little bit of the paper and pick up a copy of Naked Lunch. I rode some of the hike-and-bike trail before heading back to the theater. I know I've seen pieces of Big Trouble, but I don't think I've ever seen the whole movie straight through. I really liked it, and the rest of the audience certainly seemed to enjoy it as well. It was 5:30 and I headed home, but I was pretty tired from all the riding I'd already done, so I wasn't going nearly as fast. It was warmer at that time as well, and the ride home started by going uphill. I was pretty sweaty when I stopped about 6:30 at Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. Once I got home I watched the drag race until I started to fall asleep a little after 10.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Riding, Hiking, Bicycling

I rode my Night Train for the first time last week, on Tuesday to the Road Captains meeting and to work Friday. Upshifting was strange and uncomfortable at first, and even after a while it didn't come naturally. The worst was from first to second gear, on Tuesday in my sneakers it was more uncomfortable than subsequent upshifts, and on Friday in my boots I kept hitting neutral. Still, it was nice to be back riding her.
Saturday I went on my first HOG chapter ride since breaking my ankle, and I was the lead Road Captain no less. The turnout wasn't as good as I would have hoped, and until 10 minutes before the ride it looked like it was only going to be me, Andy, the sweep RC, and his son. There only wound up being five bikes, but three of them were riding two-up, including Andy, for a total of eight people. I don't know if it was the weather- overcast with a forecast high of 96 (but no rain), or people weren't interested in hiking (I was the only one who actually hiked, but the ride was billed as "Go take a hike"). When we got to Buescher State Park, there wasn't anybody outside collecting entrance fees, so we had to wait in line inside the ranger station to pay. The ride through the park to Bastrop SP was nice, and then we stopped at Bastrop's entrance, everyone else went on to lunch, I bought a Dr Pepper and rode to a trailhead parking lot. The parking lot was large gravel, so I was very wary. I sat at a picnic table and ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I had brought with me in my backpack. The trail started out pretty steep downhill, which was unnerving, but other than a little discomfort of stretching my tendons, there were no problems. The first bit was the steepest, and it was a well maintained trail, so not many big obstacles or major risks to my ankle. I was alone for a while, but eventually ran into a couple families, but fortunately wasn't around them for long. About halfway on my roughly 2 mile hike I stopped at a bench and had another PBJ while reading the newspaper I'd brought with me. It wasn't really hot, but it was quite humid and I was wearing jeans. It was cool enough that stopping for a little while cooled me down. When I got back to the parking area, I sat down and read the paper some more to cool off before riding home.
Sunday morning I rode my bicycle to Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Earlier, when thinking about plans for the weekend, I had separate thoughts of riding my bicycle and of going to see Iron Man. Eventually I hit on the idea of riding my bicycle to the theater. I had ridden the route previously, so I knew what I was in for and that it shouldn't be much of a challenge, knowing that I had managed 7 miles the previous weekend. I had a tough time starting out, my legs were stiff from hiking the day before and took a while to warm up. I walked up the first hill, but did better the rest of the way. I got to the theater early- I'd allowed more time than I needed even though it took me longer than I thought it would. It was only 10:20 for an 11 o'clock show, but the theater was open so I went and got my seat. The ride was enough for me to ignore the clock and have an early lunch. I enjoyed the movie, much better than some other comic-book movies I've seen, but probably not the best. Since I didn't have any other plans for the day, I rode toward downtown. I went into a couple of bicycle shops, considering getting a more road capable bike. I rode some of the hike-and-bike trail, then went to Uncle Billy's to sit, read the paper, and drink a couple of beers. My legs started cramping up a bit sitting there. At about 4 I started back towards home, stopping for dinner at Home Slice. My legs were shot and my butt was sore when I got home. I called my mom to wish her a happy Mother's Day, but that was about the only thing I did other than lay on the couch and watch TV.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Riding for Real Now

I went to my doctor's on Tuesday for another x-ray and checkup. The x-ray was good, showing that the bone has healed, so my doctor gave me the okay to walk without the boot. It was really weird at first, and I'm still limping, but it was good to be that much closer to normal. As something of a celebration, I decided to go to the final preliminary competition of Austin Air Guitar at the Alamo. I also attended a pre-party on sixth street featuring karaoke with a live band, which was a lot of fun and a little different from regular karaoke. The band did punk and metal, so I got up and did For Whom the Bell Tolls.
I rode the Fat Boy to work on Friday. That went better than my first try riding- I could actually put up the kick stand with my foot, but with the traffic I had to put my feet a lot, which got a bit uncomfortable. I left at 4 and headed down to New Braunfels to register for the state HOG rally. A really bad car accident on the frontage road had traffic backed up stop-and-go for almost a mile. The actual rally was pretty typical of other HOG rallies- not a whole lot going on at the rally grounds, the more interesting part is the riding. I did buy a $10 pair of riding glasses to replace the badly scratched pair I had been using, but otherwise the vendors were pretty typically lame. It was held at the Wurstfest grounds, which is right on the Comal river, so it was pretty at least.
Saturday morning I rode back down to the rally in order to get the ABCs of touring picture I forgot to get the night before. When I got to the sign, there was a guy there watching the gate the sign was in front of. He was ready to take my picture when I realized I didn't have a 2008 magazine with me- the last time I used it I left it in my leather jacket. Fortunately, the guy tracked a copy down for me and took the picture with my camera. He was a tourer himself, so we chatted a bit about riding the country. I went to the Gruene Harley shop nearby, where there was a lot more going on. They had carnival rides and more vendors, including Drag Specialties, which trumped anything at the actual rally. I left New Braunfels and went on a partial pre-ride for next Saturday's ride to Bastrop SP. The ride up to the park was nice but nothing special. When I got to the park (actually I entered Buescher SP) I inquired about riding through with a group, then went to enjoy the ride. It was a really nice ride through the pine trees, but the road was very narrow and there were quite a few bicycles and people walking. When I got into Bastrop SP I stopped and read a section of the newspaper by a small lake. I headed home after picking up a trail map. I was hoping to take a nap before going out to a party, but I just wound up laying on the couch watching TV for about an hour before taking a shower. As I was on my way, I realized I shouldn't show up completely empty handed and started looking for a place to get some beer or something. Fortunately there was a new HEB near their house and I was pleased to find New Belgium's Mothership Wit, a favorite of mine I hadn't seen in a while. The party was nice and normal enough for a while, but after a lot of tequila shots (none for me) some permanent markers appeared and it got kind of crazy. First it was the women writing on men's butts, started by the hostess, then the men demanded payback. I managed to get out of the way before it got too crazy and people were writing all over each other.
Sunday morning I took my bicycle to the Veloway for a ride. I thought about avoiding the hassle of wrestling my bike in and out of my tiny trunk, but decided I wanted to go in order to avoid any cars or other obstacles. I started with a short 1-mile lap, which went well enough that I went for a full 5K lap. The full lap went fine until I got to the steep uphill section. I tried to stand up on the pegs to climb, but I didn't get one pump before aborting and walking my bike up the hill. I did one more full lap, coming to a complete stop at the bottom of the steep hill, not making even the slightest attempt. I went home and showered before going to a coworker's BBQ. I obviously forgot what the invitation said since I showed up with beer and no food when there was a keg of beer and everybody else brought something to grill. Fortunately most people brought way more meat than they could eat, and there were some good side dishes as well, so I went home quite full. I was enjoying myself, but my foot was swollen and getting itchy, so I left about 6. On the way home traffic was backing up pretty bad and I could see emergency lights in the distance, so I got off the interstate to take surface streets. As soon as I did, I had the idea of going to check out REI's sale. I picked up a few sale items, but managed to walk out for about $50. At home, I laid on the couch watching qualifying from the drag race and fell asleep about 9 o'clock. I considered just going to bed, but woke up enough to finish watching qualifying and to take out the trash. I tried to go to sleep at 11:30 but at that point I was awake again and had things on my mind keeping me awake. I decided to just get up again and I played on the computer until about 1 am. I woke up at 6:40 this morning, but went back to sleep until 8.