Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Early Days on the Road

The past couple of weeks have been pretty intense.  I apologize for my absence from the blog - at first I was just busy with figuring out life on the road.  Then I got sick, so for the past week I've been laying super low.  But since my second visit to the doctor where I got the cough syrup with codeine, which is now allowing me to get some sleep, I'm feeling ready to begin piecing together how I got here.  It's important to me, not only to update all my adoring fans, but also for me to take time to reflect.  I get so busy just doing that I'm not always conscious of how I'm feeling...which is probably how I got sick in the first place.

I extended my stay in Texas due to the hefty gravitational pull I mentioned in my last post.  I'm super happy with that choice - I made it because of how I felt about the place and the people, and I was rewarded with multiple days filled with fun and connections with new people.  And this is where I experienced the first sign that Texas did not want me to leave.

On Saturday the 20th, I had no plans except to go watch a band play that night.  I asked around about flying, but the weather wasn't great for it, and Tracy's son Dakota had invited me to go tubing with him, his brother/sister/cousin/various significant others.  This sounded like a fun & relaxing way to spend the day, so I tagged along.  I put my phone & clothes in my dry bag, which I'd intended to clip to the handle of my tube.  But when someone suggested I just throw it in the cooler, that seemed much easier.  We couldn't get the cooler closed with the bag sealed, so we left it open...which was fine right up until we had to get the cooler out of the river at the end.  My dry bag became just a regular bag, all too happy to let the river in and let my phone go swimming.  

As Dakota said, luckily I was in a small town and everyone has everyone else's number anyway.  From my perspective, though, this just meant that I couldn't leave that small town.  My phone is my means of contact with the outside world in so many ways - it's my means of navigation, my camera, my phone of course, my Facebook update system - basically, my phone is everything to me while I'm on the road.  So Texas had conspired to create a situation where I was perfectly fine and well taken care long as I stayed in Texas. 

Well, I made it to see the band play with the use of good old fashioned directions WRITTEN ON A PIECE OF PAPER.  I know - crazy right?!  It actually worked!  I had a lovely time being courted by all of Cistern, TX's most eligible bachelors and the bartender told me I should come back any time - she was having a grand old time observing all the activity.  The next day I got to hang out with a new friend and make some more new ones, drinking some good beer & putting together some serious puzzles at the Cistern Schoolhouse. Well, OK I mostly watched the puzzles get put together.

I got the new phone on Monday but by the time I had everything installed and working it was too late to leave (nicely played, Texas) so I had one last night in town.  As hard as it was, I did actually leave Schulenburg on Tuesday, June 16th.  I'm so glad I got to stay there as long as I did, but as fun as it was, I was in a holding pattern and I was starting to really feel a need to make some progress toward my goals.

The first night on the road was pretty uneventful, but I woke up the next morning to a bunch of storms all around me.  Although it wasn't currently raining where I was, I had driven through some rain on the way to Tracy's and it wasn't fun, so I decided to stay put in Sanger, TX for another night and move on in better weather.  I still think this was the right decision, but that night was pretty scary.  Hard to tell how scared I should have been vs. how much I was just plain freaking myself out because I was alone and inexperienced...but I was skeered.  I hadn't really looked at the forecast, but around 11:15pm I did check it and saw that we were looking at 30mph winds, gusting to 50+.  My little trailer was definitely a-rockin'.  I didn't know what I should do - I tried to look at things logically and I figured, at the very least, I would not be able to sleep with the trailer rocking like that, so maybe I should get a hotel room. The closest hotel was about 12 miles away, though, and with 50mph winds I thought I proabably shouldn't be out driving.  So I was back to square one, spending the night in the trailer.  I looked around outside and saw that there were quite a few others spending the night where I was, so I told myself it must be safe.  My next door neighbors had a fine time getting their awning in, but not until it got so loud that it scared the crap out of me - I was so relieved to finally realize it was their awning I was hearing and not just the angry storm!  I passed the next couple of hours coloring in my coloring book (see pic), watching movies, meditating, basically anything I could think of to take my mind off the question of whether my trailer was going to topple over with me in it.  And sometime after 130am I fell alseep, and woke up to what amounted to paradise for me.  And life was good.  
Best coloring book ever!

Paradise, relatively speaking

On Thursday 6/18 I high-tailed it out of Texas, and things were going great - for a few miles.  I ended up taking a long lunch in Ardmore, OK while I waited for the roads to reopen.  That's right, not road. Roads.  Plural.  Including the INTERSTATE.  Apparently, Oklahoma was in cahoots with Texas and some boulders had fallen into the middle of the interstate, forcing it closed.  Local news story.  I'd thought, hey, no big deal, I'll take the US Route.  A little slower but just generally more interesting anyway...but that US Route was closed due to recent flooding in the area.  I literally could not get away from Texas.  My TX friends reiterated that I was welcome to turn around and come back, but I persevered and in a couple hours I was back on the road.  I was rewarded with this beautiful sunset:
#‎nofilter‬ somewhere in Oklahoma

That Friday I drove from OK to KS.  Pretty boring drive, until I stopped for lunch at a rest stop.  As I was walking back to the car from the restrooms I noticed one of the trailer's hub caps was missing...on closer inspection, so was the wheel bearing cap.  Now, when I say lunch, I mean my lunch...which is a little later than normal people eat lunch because I don't like to wake up as early as normal people.  So by the time I noticed this little issue, it was 330pm on a Friday, and I was about 20 miles North of Salina, KS...not exactly a metropolis but the last "city-ish" place I was going to see for the rest of that day.  So after hurriedly texting a pic to my buddy Jim to confirm exactly how much of an emergency this was, I decided to turn around and plead with a local mechanic to help me out.  Dan Peery of Peery's Auto ended up staying past closing on a Friday to fix me up and get me on the road.  He replaced the bearing on that wheel and eyeballed the rest of them.  In the meantime I got to meet some of the local cast of characters.  All very nice guys who were astounded to see me traveling alone, and even more shocked to learn that I don't "pack a piece".  This wound up being an interesting stop and I was just happy I didn't have to hang around town until Monday morning.  So, back on my way I ended up in Wellington, KS for the night.  
Something doesn't look quite right here...

But it's all going to be fine.

Neither Wellington, KS, nor Grand Island, NE were particularly memorable stops for me, but on Saturday 6/20 I got to drive through the Pine Ridge region of Nebraska, and I learned that gorgeous!  The plains were pretty boring - just miles of the same flat land, but the Pine Ridge region had hills and cliffs and lakes, and I was forced to leave the interstate and drive northward on US routes towards Mt Rushmore, so I got to pull over and take pictures whenever I wanted.  It was awesome.

It was also on Saturday that I passed a sign for Carhenge in Alliance, NE.  I wasn't sure exactly what that was, but it wasn't too far off the main road so I figured I owed it to myself to stop...especially since I hadn't stopped for the World's Largest Porch Swing or any other such attractions.  It was pretty cool.  Apparently this guy conceived the idea and his family helped build it for a family reunion.  At first the town was against it, but once they realized it drew in a bunch of tourists with money to spend, they came around.  It's a free attraction and worth the stop if you're passing through.

...and yet another sign from Texas
After checking out Carhenge, I drove another hour & a half north to spend the night in Chadron, NE.  The following morning I would drive up into South Dakota to my base camp near the Badlands.

To be continued...

Friday, June 12, 2015

Don't Mess with Texas

Hard to see here, but that's a complete rainbow surrounding the house and my trailer.

Texas hospitality has proven to have a strong gravitational force - at least for me.  I had planned to leave this past Wednesday, but here I am sitting here at Ina's Kitchen in Schulenburg, Texas, eating chicken fried chicken (I couldn't resist any longer) and finally updating my blog.  Tracy's entire family has basically adopted me by now, and I have to say they are a force to be reckoned with - in the best way possible.  
Cool light fixture at Ina's

I arrived at Tracy & Chris's brand new house on the night of Tuesday, the 2nd, thoroughly exhausted and not wanting to drive again for a very long time.  Tracy was exhausted from moving (this was only her 3rd night sleeping in the new place). So, of course we got up bright and early Wednesday morning to drive 2.5 hours and go hang gliding!  Thankfully, Tracy was happy to do all the driving so that she could introduce me to boat towing, a method of launching hang gliders I had never tried before.  I have it on good authority that Tracy is really good at boat towing, and I know she absolutely loves it.  It combines hanging out on a boat on Lake Conroe with good friends and flying - what more could you want?

Tracy, ready for takeoff

Our day of boat towing was made possible by Gregg Ludwig, who owns the boat and runs the operation in his time off from being a big deal pilot at United.  Gregg knew I was coming into town and he made sure to have Mark Moore on hand to give me a check out tandem. Both Gregg and Mark were truly awesome - patient and laid back, and super helpful, just wanting me to succeed and have a good time.  I can't thank them enough because I LOVED boat towing!  

It was such a nice day to be out on the water, making new friends and sharing something new with an old friend.  After my tandem, Mark pronounced me "solid" so Tracy and I got to work setting up her Falcon.  We waited for Mike Hoffman to finish a few solo tows and then Gregg got the Falcon set up at the back of the boat.  I let Tracy go first so I could have one more demo, but then I was ready to get some air myself.  My first solo tow was a little nerve-wracking at first, but once I released from the boat it was really smooth sailing.  The air was pretty smooth, although there was an occasional thermal, but I found it pretty easy to stay behind the boat.  Once the boat stopped and I felt the line go slack, I pulled the release on the tow rope and had a good look around.  I was pretty damn high - I didn't have a vario so I have no idea how high I was, but it took a while to come down.  In the meantime, Gregg retracted the tow line with the help of a little parachute, and also put up a flag to show me the wind direction for my landing.  Meanwhile, Mike Hoffman shot a couple of videos.

I was a little nervous about the landing for a couple of reasons - 1) I usually land standing up, on my feet...on the water we land on pontoons attached to the basetube & keel, similar to wheel landings on the ground - and 2) with no vario and so much water stretching out beneath me it felt a bit difficult to judge my altitude.  I figured out I could use the size of my shadow as a guide, and the bigger it got, the closer I was to the water and to landing.  Thankfully, I had a really good landing, sliding in on the pontoons, and boy does the water feel refreshing on a hot day in Texas.  We had time for one more flight, so I went up again - this time I was so relaxed I didn't immediately realize that the boat had stopped and it was time to release.  By the time I released, the line had enough slack in it to allow the parachute on the tow rope to wrap itself around the left pontoon, which put me into a hard left turn.  I had no option but to continue in that turn and keep my airspeed up so that the parachute would eventually fly off the pontoon...which it did, thankfully.  That part was a bit scary, I have to admit, but I'll be super alert from now on and Gregg is modifying the setup to make that less likely to happen in the future.  Overall, it was an awesome day and it felt incredibly good to be up in the air after so much time in the car. 

As if that wasn't an exciting enough start to my time in Texas, Tracy and I enjoyed one rest day, complete with a family dinner where I made my now-almost-famous bacon/onion/garlic burgers, before getting in the car for yet another road trip.  This time we were going to San Antonio to meet up with my friend Vanessa for Friday night, followed closely by Saturday night in Austin. It was a whirlwind weekend and it was so much fun.  Food is very important to me and my friends, so we got a dinner recommendation for Friday night at Zinc in San Antonio.  The food was pretty good, although the service was a bit slow, and since we were out on the patio we ended up feeling like we were at a nightclub when the DJ started playing next door.  After a brief walk on the Riverwalk, we retired like the old ladies we are and watched a movie in the hotel room, during which all 3 of us passed out into food comas.

Saturday morning we were up at the crack of 11 to check out at noon and drive to Austin for the main event - at least it was for me.  Three years ago I stopped in Austin for one night and I ate brunch at South Congress Cafe, where I tasted the heaven that is...Carrot Cake French Toast.

I'll just let that sink in for a moment.  This is french toast made out of carrot cake, accompanied by a cream cheese pecan syrup.  Seriously. And O. M. G. it was possibly even better than I remembered.  Each of us wound up getting another order on our way out of town to take home to loved ones (or just gobble up on our own).  Actually, all of the food and drinks at South Congress were delicious - I also had some short rib hash and one of the best bloody marys I've had. The rest of the day was mostly recovery from brunch, but we did manage to squeeze in a trip to the piercing shop for a new nose piercing for Tracy & a new ornament for Vanessa's existing nose piercing.  (My nose remains intact.)  Saturday night was a fun mix of bars down on Rainey street - amazing people watching down there.  We saw more handlebar mustaches than I'd ever seen before - is this really the hot new trend?? - and even a mullet.  How these people manage to keep a straight face when they see themselves in the mirror is beyond me.  At any rate, we made a bunch of new (albeit young) friends and drank some good beer.  We even found a beer hall that had kombucha on tap!  

The next morning, Vanessa really was up at the crack of dawn to go wait on line for Franklin BBQ - I have to say, it was some of the best BBQ I've ever had but I'm really really really glad that Vanessa was the one who waited on line and not me.  By the time we left, around 1pm, there was still a line all the way around the corner.  And we're told that, if you want to order ahead, you'll need to do it 2 months in advance...and even that method sells out in 5 minutes.  This is some serious BBQ, people.

Sheesh...I'm tired again just thinking about that weekend.  We made a quick stop at the "Greetings from Austin" postcard mural, dropped V at the airport and made our way back to Schulenburg for some R&R.  This past week started out in a much more healthy manner - decent sleep, cooking breakfast every morning before working a bit, and making sure to squeeze in some yoga or a walk with weights around the neighborhood...until Wednesday night, when we went to Sengelmann's to hear some live music.  I wasn't expecting much, but the band was really good, and Tracy's family knows these guys so we got to hang out with some very interesting (and attractive) musicians into the wee hours.  This meant that Thursday was a lost day for me, but it was absolutely worth the recovery time.  

Today is mostly dedicated to prepping for getting back on the road - new wiper blades and new wider towing mirrors for the truck, stocking up on supplies, etc...but tomorrow there's more fun on the menu with some river tubing, beer pong, and some live music at a true TX country bar.  I'm excited :)

I'll get back on the road Sunday or Monday and make the long trip to Mt Rushmore over several days. Stay tuned...