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Sunday, April 29, 2012

County Count Up

Now that we've been home for a week, I've had time to update the counties list. This is total counties we've traveled so far on motorcycles since I got a motorcycle in August of 2009.

Here is a video illustration depicting the April trip on the U.S. Map. This shows counties we crossed over each day we traveled.

We added 181 counties to our total count on this trip. Our total count so far is 385. So we are just over a tenth of the way to achieving our goal of riding through every county (3,033 counties).

Here are some other statistics about our trip.

19 days
19 States
6,565 miles

Longest day: 1040 miles (Anna, Ill. to Parker, Colo.)
Shortest day: 175 miles (day trip through Santa Fe)

Four of 19 days were non-traveling days.

We didn't keep all the gas receipts, but the average cost was $4/gallon, so at about 40 mpg per bike and each bike traveling 6,565 miles, that's about $1,300 we spent on gas.

It rained on us for about 100 miles out of 6,565, almost all of that rain was on our Iron Butt day. We had a few sprinkles on two other occasions. We had unbelievably great weather, we stayed between storms somehow. We followed tornadoes into Texas about two days later, and 25 inches of snow dumped in Mammoth two days after we left.

We had wind gusts up to 70 mpg in New Mexico. I will never look at the wind report the same now when considering whether to ride my bike. 30 mpg just doesn't seem so menacing now.

Highest elevation with the bikes was at 11,158 feet (Eisenhower Tunnel, I-70. Colorado) and the lowest was 214 feet below sea level (Death Valley). 

We stayed with family or friends 12 of 18 nights. Three of those nights was with Steve's brother in California, but we rented the condo there, so that's nine nights of paid lodging, but all of it was less than $100 a night, in some cases, well less. We didn't end up camping at all.

The Iron Butt Association has already notified us that we have been approved for membership in their prestigious organization.

We needed no bike maintenance on the trip, but I had one headlight bulb go out two days before getting home. And my bike is now in the shop for its 12,000-mile service (It has 15,530 miles on it right now) and a new rear tire. Steve's bike just had the major service done before the trip, so he's going to do his own oil change.

I had 985 emails in my work email when I got back on Monday.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Natchez to Home

Time to wrap up this trip with the final three days. We started on Wednesday (April 18) in Natchez, Miss. We intended to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway the entire 444 miles to Nashville. I forgot to mention when we were in New Mexico that we decided that we weren't going to camp on this trip, so we had Sully send some of our extra bags back home to Virginia. So, we were staying in hotels the rest of the week until we got home on Friday. Anyway, once we got up and going, we entered the Natchez Trace right at the beginning in Natchez. I forgot to get a photo as we entered, so picked one up at a later entrance ramp.

This parkway is nice, but Steve and I like the Blue Ridge Parkway a lot better. But the great thing about a parkway like this is there is very little traffic, no big trucks, no stop lights or major intersections.

The speed limit is only 50 mph on the NTP, but there are almost zero curves, at least in the first couple of hundred miles. I wanted to take it slow to enjoy the ride, maybe like 60, but Steve really wanted to go faster. This was about the only disagreement we had in three weeks of riding together. We edged it up to about 70, which really felt kind of fast to me on this little road with the trees right next to it. But we kept it there for a while. At one point, we had a police car pass from the other direction; right before he got to us, he flipped his lights on. I was thinking, "Oh, bummer, we're going get a ticket." But he kept going. I guess it was just a warning.

I really didn't think there was that much to enjoy about this parkway. There are no views, just green and trees and more trees and the occasional stream or something.

We did come across some construction and had to sit for a few minutes waiting our turn to go.

I have to admit, I was kind of thinking it would have been kind of cool to get pulled over by that cop. So far, we hadn't had any negative things happen on this trip, other than some high wind. Not that that's a bad thing, but a little trouble can add some character to a trip. But I'll take all the good stuff, especially with weather.

At some point along this route, we decided to get off and start making our way toward Virginia. I'm quite sure we missed the best part of the Natchez Trace, but if we had stayed in Nashville, it would have meant a very long day to Danville, Va. the next day. We got off on mile marker 320 in Alabama and went past Muscle Shoals (actual place, not just lyrics in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song).  We made it to Chattanooga, Tenn. When we decided to get off the parkway, I looked up a hotel and reserved a room. It said downtown Chattanooga, so I thought it would be cool. I should have known the $67 a night rate was a dead giveaway to "not cool." This hotel was totally in the hood. The GPS was freaking out a little bit. It was lagging in directions and would say to turn right as I was passing the right, we ended up driving through a neighborhood with cars double parked and folks outside drinking 40s. Steve was thinking, "Don't stop to ask for directions."

We did find the coolest Starbucks, though, on our way out of Chattanooga. This place had an outdoor fireplace and they gave us stickers.

So, while we were sitting there at the Starbucks, we were trying to figure out the best route to get to Danville. Fastest route was I-75 to I-40 to I-81 into Virginia, then U.S. 58 across the bottom of Virginia. We have done a lot of the mountain roads in the Smokey Mountains, like Deal's Gap, a.k.a. the Dragon. I had heard about the Snake, so looked it up. It was pretty much right on the route already. So, we adjusted a bit, to get off of I-81 in Bristol, Tenn. to take U.S. 421to Boone, N.C. then we were going to take the Blue Ridge Parkway to U.S. 58. The Snake is 421 from Bristol to Mountain City, 489 curves in 33 miles. It was a very nice road, not quite as good as the 318 curves in 11 miles on the Dragon, but still a very nice road.

Anyway, there is a neat store in Shady Valley that is really trying to promote the Snake. We did get our stickers though. Got mine next to my Dragon sticker. Also, gotta love the gas pump with the premium snake venom. 

We got on the Blue Ridge but had to get off after about 20 miles for a closure. We made our way down N.C. 18, (also a nice road), to Winston-Salem then up through Martinsville, Va. before heading to Danville, just a few minutes after dark. We had to go via Martinsville in order to get Henry County as part of our county collection. I think we have about nine counties in Virginia left. At the beginning of this blog back in June of last year, we decided we are going to visit all the counties in the United States on our motorcycles over the course of the next couple of decades, starting with getting all of Virginia. The rules are that we both have to be on our motorcycles and we have to be together for it to count. Steve had been to Henry county before on his bike, but I had not. 

We stayed in the best hotel of the whole trip in Danville, it had a bar/restaurant right there that was apparently a happening place for the locals there, not just hotel guests. Great dinner and DJ.

We left Danville on U.S. 58 home. This was uneventful and we've both ridden this route before, so no pictures. We got home early, so we stopped at Adventure BMW in Chesapeake to pick up a headlight bulb for my bike (it burned out two days before) and also to make my service appointment, since it's been a few miles.

We just didn't want our trip to end, so we stopped for lunch at Catch 31 at the beach, just two miles from the house and then at Starbucks, of course.

We made it home safe and sound Friday, April 20. I will add some statistics in a follow-on blog, like 6600 miles, 19 days, etc. I will also have a follow up of the counties collected.

The dogs were also very happy to see us. They were beginning to think we weren't coming back and they were destined to live at the house with the two giant dogs. Not a bad thing for Belle, but Tanner was apparently starting to get depressed. He was so excited that he was even ready to drive the car himself if I didn't hurry up.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What's Photo Worthy?

New Mexico might have been the last place worth taking any pictures. At least until the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The above picture is taken from what I call "My Mountains." They are mine because this is where I grew up. White Sands National Monument is in the background there against the Oregon Mountains. This photo is taken headed up to Cloudcroft on Hwy 54 from Alamogordo in the Sacramento Mountains.

When we left Alamorgordo, we got a couple of good photos with the Sullivan clan who we stayed with in Alamo.

Steve "Sully", Moises, Steve, me, Lynn, Carol and Jim Sullivan. Thanks for letting us stay with you Lynn and Moises.

Steve, me, Sully and Glenda.   

Once we had a nice breakfast and coffee in Alamogordo, we stopped by my Mom and Step-Dad's house for a minute. Since they don't live there anymore, I don't feel bad about it only being a minute. I didn't want you to think that we dissed my Mom on this trip. The house has been uninhabited for several years, but hopefully with some updates over the next year, Mom and Bruce will be moving back. This will give me a reason to visit Alamogordo. That's the key word, "visit." I would not want to move back there.

This is the house I spent the last few years of high school in.

We were taking our time getting out of Alamogordo. Knowing that this would likely be the last time I would see Alamo for several years, made me kind of want to take my time heading out. On the way out, we were leaving by way of My Mountains. I took a helmet cam video of the ride up to Cloudcroft, which I'll load at another posting, since it will take some time to edit and then load.

We stopped at the tunnel. This is the same spot from where the first picture in this report was taken. We also went across the street to the place I used to go rappelling every weekend. We even climbed up to the "whole shot" spot. I will try to explain in the captions what that means.

On this cliff, we would tie the ropes off at the very top. There is a cliff in the middle, then a third layer, which you see closest to the bottom, from where the photo is taken. The middle cliff is the "whole shot" spot.
From this perspective, I'm standing at the "whole shot" spot, or the middle cliff. The rope comes from the top of the cliff. The Whole Shot means you jump from where I'm standing and you have to clear the lower cliff without touching it to land at the bottom, which is about 80 ft. The bottom is not visible in this photo.

After my trip down memory lane, we continued up to Cloudcroft. I had to get a photo in front of the Western Bar with the bikes. Another massive memory jolt.

We went inside for a soda. I saw my old friend LeRoy in there and it was great catching up. So, by the time we really hit the road, it was about 2 p.m. with Midland, Texas as the goal.

Once you leave the Sacramento Mountains from the eastern side, there is not a lot to see. Eastern New Mexico and Western Texas is very unattractive. Oil derricks as far as the eye can see and the smell of oil in the air, pretty much all the way to Midland. I got no photos of this trip until we hit the Starbucks on the way out of Midland. (The hotels on I-20 in Midland by the way are outrageously expensive. We got some great advice from a guy in the parking lot of one to go about four miles toward town for a better rate.)

From Midland, we went to the Austin area. Again, nothing much to see from the route we took. Eventually, there were some obviously wealthy farms or ranches, and that made it a nice ride, but not really photo worthy. We stayed the night at my EX-husband, Rob's house. He and his wife Alison were gracious hosts. It's great that I can still be friends with my son's father and his wife (especially since we've all known each other since we were kids). Rob and Ali have a daughter, Asa, who is two. She's a cutie. Reminds me a little of Taylor when he was that age.

Rob, Ali and Asa. Thanks for the hospitality.

Asa is ready for the trip. 
The next stop for us was Natchez, Miss. We didn't really expect any weather, but right about the time we hit the Texas-Louisiana border, we saw some pretty dark clouds ahead.

Looking back at Texas looks nice and clear.
Looking forward to Louisiana not so good.
We stopped to put some rain gear on and ended up with only a few sprinkles. Better safe than sorry. We arrived in Natchez, Miss. before dark and now I'm all caught up on the blog. We will start the Natchez Trace Parkway tomorrow morning with a goal of doing the whole 444 miles to Nashville, Tenn. in one day.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Winds from H. E. double toothpicks

So, we thought the winds in Death Valley were bad. Dear God, the winds in New Mexico are horrible in April. This was one of the things I was concerned about with going to New Mexico in April, and we experienced the worst of it. We left Albuquerque Saturday (April 14) morning. Our first stop was Starbucks, then Sandia BMW Motorcycles. We didn't end up actually leaving Albuquerque until about 11 a.m. or so. We had 250 miles, which means we should have had plenty of time to get to Alamogordo by 6 p.m., the time we had planned to meet some friends for dinner at Margo's.

We decided to go through the east mountains to Carrizozo then through Ruidoso through the Mescalero Indian Reservation, possibly through Cloudcroft to Alamogordo. The first part of the trip through the mountains was great. The wind was not too bad. But then if flattens out onto a plateau and then the wind got crazy. By the time we got to Willard, we needed to take a break. We think winds were gusting at about 60 mph. We found a building we could hide behind from the wind. The pictures do not at all show the horrificness of the wind that day. At one point, I could barely see the lines on the road because of the dust. Here is a picture and a video, but in this, we are protected from the wind.

As we sat there out of the wind, a man named Felix stopped by and offered to let us come hang out at his house. We decided not to, although it was very tempting. He was very nice, but I was determined to keep going. So, we did. It didn't seem as bad as the 10 miles or so prior to Willard, so we continued. What I didn't think about before we left Albuquerque was that we should have just left all of our bags with Sully to bring down to Alamo, since he was coming a couple hours behind us. In Corona, we called Sully and decided to have him meet us in Carrizozo so we could put the bags in his truck.

We kept going to Carrizozo and stopped at the Four Winds restaurant for coffee (appropriate) and waited about 20 minutes for Sully. He also brought a ramp and tie downs in case I wanted to put my bike in the truck, but we decided to just put the bags in and I would try to continue on my bike. Steve was to call him if I just couldn't do it anymore. We had been told by several folks along the way that the wind was even worse in Alamo and the Tularosa Basin.

But we continued on to Alamogordo without the bags. That made a big difference and since it was getting later and later in the afternoon, the wind was slowly dying down. We made it to Margo's by 6:15. We had a few friends waiting for us.

Steve and I on the left, Carol and Jim Sullivan, Moises and Lynn Cardiel, Kathy Flores Hague, Mary and Duane Pirtle. 

Here is a picture of one of the bikes parked at Lynn's house. We stayed there in Alamo Saturday night. But this picture shows the dust covering the windscreen on the bike.

That night we went up to the Western Bar in Cloudcroft, my old stomping grounds from almost 20 years ago. It's always a good time. Sully, Glenda, Steve and I went up to sing some karaoke.

That's all for now. I'll relay our trip out of New Mexico on the next blog. At some point it gets a little boring in western Texas, so I might be able to catch up on the next blog.

Land of Enchantment and Enchanting People

It's been really nice to be back in my home state of New Mexico. We arrived last Thursday, so I've been behind in posting. As of right now, we are sitting in Midland, Texas at a Starbucks (of course). We have a short ride today to Austin. But now I'll tell you a little about our time in New Mexico.

You know you're in New Mexico when all the overpasses start looking like Aztec artwork.

We stayed in Albuquerque for two nights at my friend Steve Sullivan's house. I will refer to him as Sully to prevent confusion between the two Steve's. Sully had a Victory motorcycle and took Friday off work. We told him we wanted to have lunch in Santa Fe with Steve's aunt Elizabeth and he planned out a nice ride for us. We slept in a little ( a luxury on this trip), then headed out to Santa Fe. One of the cool things about the West is how you can see forever. Not long after we started riding, Sully pulled over and pointed to some mountains in the distance and said Santa Fe was over there. Then he pointed to some more mountains to the west and said we would come around those near Los Alamos and into Jemez Springs and then back around into Rio Rancho. He basically laid out a three-hour tour and we could see the whole thing from where we were standing.

We had a lovely lunch with Steve's aunt Elizabeth and her friend Emily at the Blue Corn restaurant. In the picture, Emily is on the left and Elizabeth is in the middle.

We continued our ride after lunch through the high desert and mountains. We stopped for a few pictures.

Steve is pointing to Sandia Peak which is the mountain Albuquerque sits at.

We also stopped at Valle Grande. It's impossible to show in a photo the magnitude of this enormous valley. Apparently, one of the largest herd of Elk frequents this valley. Unfortunately, they did not bless us with their presence this time.

As we rode into Jemez Springs, this was another beautiful mountain drive. We stopped for a drink at a place called Los Ojos with all the character of a saloon right out of a western (except maybe for the rainbow umbrella).

Steve squared.

Once back in Albuquerque, we had a BBQ at Sully's sister's house. I pretty much consider Sully's family as my family as well, so to call them friends doesn't really seem to fit. They are family.

David Sullivan and I.
Amy, Michalene and I.  
On Saturday, we headed down to Alamogordo, the town I'm from. I had invited several people to Margo's for dinner at 6 p.m. so our schedule was driven by that. What we didn't count on was the high winds through the mountains.

We need to hit the road, so I'll post more later about that adventure.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Route 66

We've been in New Mexico for a couple of days now and I haven't updated my blog. I guess we've been visiting too much with so many friends. I'm so happy to have seen Steve Sullivan, my friend since we were eight years old, his sisters Amy and Michalene and their husbands, Juan and CJ, and also Steve's brother, David. I met his wife, Angela, for the first time as well. It was just like old times for me. Of course, Juan husteled us in a game of pool, but that's o.k. Good times.

Anyway, I'll post more about our time in New Mexico next time, but now I want to catch up on our trip here from California. As I said before, on Wednesday (April 11) we left Mammoth Lakes on our way to New Mexico. Our first stop was a bakery in Bishop, Calif. for coffee and pastries, called Schat's. That place was amazing. I felt like I could have been in a bakery in Germany or something. It even looked like it. If you're ever in Bishop, you have to stop there. Apparently, everyone does.

Schat's Bakery, Bishop, Calif.

Not long after we left Bishop, we cut across Death Valley. Unfortunately, we had some clouds, so you can't really see it, but the highest point in the lower 48 is pretty much visible from the lowest point. Mt. Whitney has a summit of 14,505 ft. Steve and his brother, Clark, climbed it back in the day.

Mt. Whitney is somewhere back there behind the clouds

Death Valley was different than I thought it would be. I guess I expected desolation, no growth or beauty. I mean, the name of it is "Death" Valley. Instead, this is what I saw.

I did take this photo with my GoPro from my helmet, but I'm quite sure I thought it was an amazing view when I took the picture. The GoPro has that extra wide angle, so it doesn't do the scenery justice.

Maybe it's called Death Valley because this is the place I thought I might die. Well, not really, but it was very scary because I experienced the worst wind so far on this trip as we drove through Death Valley. I had the bike leaned over pretty far to combat the sideways wind, yet I was going straight. In fact, at one point, the wind literally blew me over. I had come to a stop and a gust of wind hit me just right and I couldn't hold the bike up. This time I didn't have time to get the camera before Steve was picking up the bike. Plus, I was so frustrated, I think I just laid there on the ground for a minute.

Or maybe it's called Death Valley because they are going to bleed you to death of all your money. Check out these gas prices.

Once we finally made it out of Death Valley, Las Vegas was next. We continued to have high winds and we half considered calling it a day and hitting the casinos. We rolled into the BMW Motorcycle dealership there at about 4 p.m. or so, and we were ready to call it quits for the day. Unfortunately, it would have meant a very long drive to Albuquerque the next day. So, we continued.

Once we left Las Vegas, we stopped at the Hoover Dam. I had never seen it, and Steve had never seen it with the new bridge, so we did the tourist thing and stopped for a few pictures. Which picture do you think is the best Dam picture?

With all this stopping, we were really running late. We had thought we were going to be riding in rain most of this day, but as you can see from the photos, it was a beautiful day (other than the high winds). By the time we rolled into Kingman, Ariz., it was 8 p.m. Arizona doesn't spring forward, so it was quite dark by 8. We had a few sprinkles from a storm that was petering out, but apparently we missed the worst of it from earlier. We decided on a hotel again, instead of camping.

It was another great day on the road, with so much desert and mountain beauty.

On Thursday, we could have taken I-40 to Albuquerque and made quick work of the 480 miles we had to go that day. But, that's no fun. We absolutely had to do some of Route 66. From Kingman, we did about 85 miles of the old Rout 66 and it was a great road. I wish we could have done that kind of road the whole way.

This was one of the first things we came across on Route 66, an old Union 76 gas station. Obviously, this was not even made into a tourist stop like so many of the other old stations. This one was also a post office at one point.

They sure are making signs bigger than they used to. I don't know if you can see it, but there is a neat Route 66 sign behind us.

This was a neat shot of one of the historic road markers with the long stretch of road behind me.
We got back on the Interstate a short distance before Flagstaff. Now we were on a mission and wanted to get to Albuquerque by 7 p.m. Well, except for a leisure stop at the Starbucks in Flagstaff where we met another GS rider. We have a game we play when we see another BMW GS type bike in a parking lot, it's see if you can pick out the guy (or gal) riding it. Too easy, BMW riders all wear the same kind of gear.

But, we didn't get any more pictures that day. Once out of Flagstaff, the eastern side of Arizona is not as pretty, at least not from I-40. And now, we had a tail wind. We were moving, and getting great gas mileage, like about 50 mpg. That meant less stops.

We are in Albuquerque for a couple of days and I will blog about our time here on the next one.