Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Hotter 'n Hell Lives Up to its Name

When my older son TJ and our friend Michael Freeman rolled into Finish Line Village at Wichita Falls, Texas this year, it was 105 degrees, with a surface temperature over 120!  The temperature eventually reached 109, a record heat for the HHH.

We camped out again this year, and it proved to be a big mistake!  It was far too hot to sleep when we finally turned in for the night.  I estimate that it was about 2am when it finally cooled off enough to sleep, and even then, sleep was fitful.  When the alarm went off at 4:45, I don't think any of the four of us had slept more than an hour or so.  There were supposed to be five of us this year, but my younger son Josh's wife London had to cancel her plans to ride because their daughter was ill.

Josh and I rode the 25 mile route again this year, just as we did last year.  The photo above was taken in front of a C130 transport plane at Shepherd AFB, which all of the shorter routes travel through.  It is really a highlight of the trip, with a great rest stop where the voluteers hold our bikes while we refresh ourselves with sports drinks, water, and cookies. 

Josh and I happily finished!

While TJ and Michael made excellent time on the 100 mile route, Josh and I beat our time from last year, and Josh had a much easer time of it. He has pledged to do the 100k next year. I'm already in training for it. Why don't you come join us?  By the way, we are planning on air conditioned accomodations next year!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Vacation on the Katy Trail, Missouri, part 2 of 2

We were very impressed with the condition of the trail. The crushed limestone surface was flat and smooth. Being a converted railroad bed, one would not expect much in the way of elevation changes. The trail from St. Charles to Defiance closely bordered the Missouri River on our left, with mostly hills and cliffs on our right. Trees lined both sides of the trail, often meeting one another over the trail producing abundant shade.

We met several cyclists and a few walkers and joggers along the way. At one trailhead we stopped and visited with some locals that ride up and down the Katy Trail frequently, but as avid cyclists, have also traveled to trails in Florida and the New England area. They traveled on ahead of us, but we met up with them again as they were taking a break under a highway bridge at about the 10 mile mark. We visited with them again for a few minutes there, and the conversation turned to the weather, as clouds had begun to gather and a light sprinkle of rain was starting. The gentleman said they were turning back towards home, and asked if we planned to get wet. I told him we knew there was a chance, and we had brought rain gear along.

It was time to move on for the last 10 miles of our journey for the day. We bade our new friends farewell, but had not gone more than 500 yards when we encountered significant thunder, lightning, rain, small hail, and a quickening wind. I told Rhonda we should turn back and wait this out under the bridge, but no sooner had we started to backtrack than we came upon a huge tree that had been blown down and blocked the entire trail. The tree appeared impassable. We felt we had no choice but to turn back to the West and travel on to Defiance in the storm.

Soon we met another cyclist who was traveling East. He said we should turn back, because it looked like a tornado had hit the trail behind him, and he had encountered several trees across the trail. We told him about the large tree that we had found impassable behind us. He said he had been able to get through, around, or over the trees he had come upon, so we still felt we had no choice but to travel on towards our destination.

Over the next 8 miles, we probably had to portage over 10 trees. We were soaked to the skin from the rain, and often had to unload the bikes and carry the luggage through the obstacles and then the bikes. Rhonda often had to lead the way while we were riding because my sunglasses with the prescription inserts were so fogged up that her billowing blue poncho was much easier to see than the limbs that covered our path.

At one particularly large blockage, we met two cyclists coming towards us. We helped each other through and over the trees, all of us obviously wishing for a more positive journey.

With about two miles to go before Defiance, the rain began to taper off and the sky got a little brighter. The path looked clearer ahead, and we thought it would be smooth sailing (pedaling) the rest of the way.

I had a flat on my rear tire. Of course it was the rear tire. It is always the rear tire.

I had a spare tube and was able to change it relatively quickly. Rhonda fanned the mosquitoes that had come out to enjoy the humidity from me the best she could. We reloaded the luggage on my bike and took off again, then I noticed the tread was separating from my front tire. We do not carry spare tires, and luckily it held air for the rest of the ride into Defiance. I knew I would have to replace it before we could ride further, but I sure was glad to be off the trail for the rest of this day!

The storm had knocked the power out in Defiance, but Norm from The Parson's House had provided us with the access code to his battery operated secure door, so we were able to enter this beautiful old home. The Parson Family had purchased 13000 acres of land here in the 1860's and built this 3 story, brick home. Norm told us the construction took six years.

We did not know what room was reserved for us, but we raided Norm's refrigerator and spent a couple of hours on the sun porch playing cribbage. Later we walked into town and grabbed a bite to eat at a local tavern that Norm told us about. The food was good and the people were very friendly and consoling about our day's bike ride during the storm.

Norm, the owner and our host at The Parson's House also works for a utility company and the storm kept him working til about 7PM. He let us pick our room, and said after we had a chance to clean up from our adventure, he would share a bottle of wine with us. Norm was one of the most hospitable hosts that we encountered staying at 5 different B&B's on this trip to Missouri. We probably stayed up much later than we should have considering the day we had just experienced and knowing we had another 20 miles to ride the next day. We were very tired by the time we turned in, but it was that good kind of tired where you know you will sleep well through the night.

Our host had informed us that he would not see us in the morning as he would have to be at work early, but his friend Ruby would come by to make breakfast. Ruby prepared a breakfast casserole that was an old family recipe from Norm's family. The food was delicious, and if I've learned anything on this trip, it is that you never leave a B&B hungry. We found that a light lunch would be more than sufficient every day.

We would have to address the issue of my front tire before we could leave Defiance. Fortunately, Defiance, Missouri has a bike shop that equals or exceeds any I have ever been in, with the exception of the huge Richardson Bike Mart in Richardson, Tx. Our new friend at the bike shop had to search pretty hard to find the tire I needed. I chose our vintage bikes for this trip, never considering that 27 inch tires are a little harder to find these days, but I sure never thought I would need one, either.

While at the bike shop, I decided to go ahead and invest in new racks and panniers for both bikes. I had thought about buying them before we left on the trip, but never got around to it, and reasoned that we were traveling light enough that seatpost racks with our luggage bungied on would be okay. The new racks and panniers made a world of difference in the stability and handling of the bikes. I was very glad to have them on the bikes. So glad in fact that we "donated" our seatpost racks and old luggage to the bike shop. There was no way I was going to add the additional weight to the bikes to get them back home.

Of course these changes and repairs delayed the start of our journey from Defiance to Marthasville by about three hours, but it was a beautiful day for a bike ride! We encountered only one downed tree over the 20 miles, and all we had to do was walk our bikes around it. Rhonda rode like the wind to get there. There was a chance of storms in the forecast, and she really did not want to go through that again!

Much of the distance from Defiance to Marthasville is open farm land, as opposed to the tree lined (and strewn) path we had been on the previous day. The sun was shining brightly, the trail was smooth, and we made the 20 miles in less than two hours, including a stop along the trail for lunch at a brew pub in Augusta. I had a great bratwurst with kraut, and Rhonda had a grilled chicken wrap. They really hit the spot, and contributed to the pleasure of this ride the second day on the Katy Trail.

We rolled into Marthasville around 2PM. We stayed at the trailhead for about 30 minutes drinking water and visiting with a young man that was going east on the trail and had just paused to rest for a few minutes.

We were not expected at our B&B in Marthasville for a while so we entered the only establishment that we found to get a soft drink and kill a little time. It was a locally owned pizza restaurant that had only been open a short time, but we were impressed with the cleanliness of the restaurant, the modern equipment, and the friendliness of the staff. We even found out they delivered to our B&B, so guess what we had for supper? Pizza!

Our accommodations for the night were at Monnette's Cabin, which was actually about 4 miles out of town, and uphill all the way! Fortunately, our hosts' policy was to come pickup their guests in town with their pickup truck, and we were more that happy to have the ride.

Monnette's Cabin is far from rustic. It was built several years ago as a dream home for the current owner's grandmother, and is a beautiful, two story, three bedroom home with all of the modern conveniences, including an outdoor jacuzzi. It sits high on a hill overlooking a farming valley below. If it was mine, I think I would spend a lot of time rocking on the front porch.

We were the only guests in the Cabin, so we could choose which bedroom we wanted, so we chose the big one! Have you figured out that even though we were on a bicycle vacation, we really had no intentions of "roughing it". Breakfast the next morning was fabulous (again!), with quiche that was baked in a large stoneware cup without crust that rose like a soufflé, fruit parfaits, and delicious sticky buns. I'm hoping the bike riding offset the calories. Probably not.

The weather forecast was foreboding. Storms were predicted along the trail, and there were indications that part of the trail might be closed. Although we hated to admit it, is was becoming clear that if we were to really enjoy the rest of our vacation in Missouri without another "adventure" like we had from St. Charles to Defiance, we had better choose motorized transportation for the rest of our trip.

We hitched a ride for the next 28 mile leg of our journey with our Marthasville hosts. They drove us and our bikes to our next B&B in Rhineland, and added a brief tour of Herrman, Missouri. Herrman is a really interesting looking town that we would probably want to spend some time in on our next trip to the Katy Trail.

There was a great flood from the Missouri River at Rhineland in 1993, and afterwards they basically relocated the town up the hill from the river. All of the homes were moved to higher ground, with the exception of one house owned by the Doll family. They just said "we ain't moving", and didn't. So our accommodations in Rhineland, The Doll House Bed and Breakfast, is the only house that remains in the flood plain near the river.

Rhonda and I stored our bikes under the front porch of The Doll House and were sitting on the porch above them playing cribbage when a tornado siren sounded about 40 feet from us. It was so loud that we could not stay on the porch, and of course we thought it best to see what the TV weathermen were saying anyway. The television screen was covered in red and dark green, with tornado warnings and watches all over the area. We had made a good decision to not ride that day. There was another couple coming from the west on the trail scheduled to stay at The Doll House that evening, and they called from another town along the trail to say that the sirens were blaring there also, and they eventually found motorized transportation there also.

Our host showed us the basement "just in case", but we never felt compelled to go down there.

The room at this B&B had just been remodeled. It was formed from the attic of the house, and had a huge bathroom with a big hot tub. We had another great nights sleep and woke up to another great breakfast. We had scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, and french toast with strawberries, cream, and chocolate. Wow!

Amanda owns The Doll House, and agreed to take us to Jefferson City after breakfast. Her small car just barely allowed for us and the bicycles, but we were very happy to have the ride. Before we left Rhineland she drove by her home and Rhonda took pictures of her pretty roosters. She drove us all the way to the front step of Cliff Manor Bed and Breakfast in Jefferson City.

Since it was too early to check in at the B&B, we took the luggage off the bikes and rode up to the capital building. We were bicycle tourists, chaining our bikes to a light pole and going into the capital and the governor's mansion wearing our bright bicycle jackets. We ate lunch at a nice restaurant called Mcallister's in downtown Jefferson City, then checked into Cliff Manor.

It seemed that each place we stayed got a little fancier, and Cliff Manor was no exception. Our suite had a big king size bed and the sheets had to have the highest thread count I've ever slept on. Besides the bedroom and bath, there was another huge room with a hot tub, wet bar, sitting area with double overstuffed chair, and a cafe table. From this room we also had a private sun porch, and there was a stairway that lead down to another outdoor patio.

Cliff Manor recommends an Irish Pub in downtown Jefferson City for supper. We enjoyed it immensley, Rhonda had fish and chips and I had the bangers and mash.

After another great night's rest, we had our most elegant breakfast of the trip. We were able to choose what we wanted from a small menu, and we both chose "egg blossoms" because we had no idea what it was. The egg blossoms were filo dough that was put in a muffin cup, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, then the egg is dropped in, sprinkled with chives, and baked. The egg is similar to a poached egg, the flavor was great, and the presentation really made it. There was also sausage and delicious blueberry scones.

After breakfast, we packed our bags and our host took us to the train station for the ride back to St. Louis. We could just roll the bikes on the train for this part of the trip, then when we got to St. Louis we put them in boxes for the ride back to Dallas. We had a few hours to kill in St. Louis before our connection back to Dallas, so we took the metro bus service up to the famous St. Louis arch and then downtown to look around and have supper. In no time we were back on the train to Dallas.

The Wabash Cannon Ball!

Rhonda getting on "The Katy".

Our daughter Kelly met us at Union Station in Dallas. The first thing we noticed was the heat! It was in the 50's when we left Jefferson City, and nearly 100 in Dallas. This week Rhonda and I celebrated 35 years together, and for our anniversary Kelly took us to El Fenix before the drive back to Ennis. What a great way to end a vacation!

Vacation on the Katy Trail, Missouri, Part 1 of 2

On Saturday, May 21st we removed the pedals and loosened the handlebars on our bikes at Union Station in Dallas so we could box them up for the ride to St. Louis.

Some trains allow bikes to be rolled aboard, but from Dallas to St. Louis, bikes are considered checked baggage. It really was not too much trouble, as Amtrak sells the boxes at the station and provides the tape to seal the box with. Also, the baggage department in St. Louis agreed to store the boxes for us while we were on the trail, so we did not have to purchase them again for the return trip.

The conductor's final "all aboard!" was at 3:40pm, and we were on our way!

Having seen the coach chairs on the Amtrak website, we felt like we would be comfortable sleeping in them because we carried small pillows and the train provided additional ones, and the chairs reclined with leg rests. In hind site, having slept in coach on a train, I would have to say it was "okay" for one night, but on the return trip we tried to book a sleeping car to be more comfortable. None were available this time, but the next time we ride a train overnight, I'm pretty sure we will upgrade our accommodations. There will definitely be a next time. The seats are large and much more comfortable than any airplane or bus. The dining car and club car were both very good and easy to get to. Prices for food were similar to a chain restaurant, and we enjoyed both of the meals we ate on the train.

The trip to St. Louis from Dallas by train is about 15 hours. We arrived in St. Louis early Sunday morning, unpacked the bikes, reattached the pedals, tightened the handle bars, loaded our luggage on seatpost racks with bungee cords, and began wheeling our way to St. Charles.

St. Charles is at the top right portion of the map shown above, and it is about 30 miles from downtown St. Louis. I had printed a Google Bicycle Route Map to follow to get us to the Katy Trail just north of St. Charles.

The trip to St. Charles was somewhat difficult. I had hoped to purchase proper racks and panniers for the bikes before we left, but just never got around to it, and really felt like small overnight bags attached to seatpost racks would be okay. I was wrong. The bikes were top heavy and rather difficult to control with this setup. Several times along the way we had to stop to adjust the load or tighten the bungee cords. I was also carrying a full size floor pump that caused some additional difficulty, not only securing it to the bike, but it was also a problem swinging my leg over it to mount the bike.

Our Google Map kept us off of high traffic roads for the most part, and being Sunday morning, we initially encountered very little traffic. Neither of us had any prior knowledge of St. Louis, and the map took us through some areas that made us glad it was Sunday morning rather that Saturday night. Also, the map had us making turns about every half mile. I'm sure there were much more direct routes. We lost our way a couple of times and had to backtrack after going a mile or so out of our way, and once even had a police officer lead us (lights flashing!) to get us back on the correct road.

The last three miles of the road to St. Charles were harrowing! Following our Google Map, we found ourself on a narrow (though nicely paved) two lane road with no shoulder, and significant traffic traveling at 60 miles per hour. We hugged the white line, occasionally holding up traffic on curves and hills until we could find a place to pull off and let the cars pass. We were well frazzled by the end of this road only to find there were worse things yet to come.

The map showed a right turn down the "service road" of a major six lane highway towards the Missouri River. The road became a small path that curved back under the highway near the river and back up the other side. I approached a local man who appeared to be about to dump some trash along the path about where we might cross the river on our bikes, and he just pointed up at the highway bridge. I was sure he had misunderstood me. I reiterated that we wanted to cross the river on bicycles. His only answer was the highway bridge shoulder, or another similar bridge a few miles away.

We had been 30 miles and were pretty tired. It was a very steep hill up from the path to the highway, and by the time we got to the top, Rhonda announced that she did not want to ride across the bridge, so we walked the bikes. Traffic was flying by at 70 mph, 3 lanes each way, and we had the shoulder. It was a l-o-n-g way across the bridge pushing the bikes, but we thank God we made it safely. I had prayed a lot over those last three miles.

Finally! Our real initial destination, The Katy Trail was right in front of us. After a brief water break, we rolled into the beautiful town of St. Charles and found the Boone's Lick Trail Inn, our first of 5 Bed and Breakfast's for the trip.

St. Charles was the first capital of Missouri, but it was later moved to Jefferson City. The entire main street is paved with red bricks, and there are a lot of very old inns and pubs along the street. We really did not have a chance to enjoy this quaint little town, as we were bushed from the ride over. Our innkeeper was not available when we arrived, so we just parked the bikes and walked across the street to a nice pub/restaurant for lunch. The picture the waiter took shows our accommodations in the background.

We enjoyed our evening meal at a nice restaurant that had a third floor balcony. There was a nice breeze up there, and the view was great with the Missouri River in the background.

Sleep came easy that night, and after a great breakfast casserole with fruit and assorted pastries, we packed the bikes and started down the Katy Trail a 20 mile ride to The Parson's House Bed and Breakfast in Defiance, Missouri. What an eventful day this would prove to be!