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...

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