2008 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  CARRY ME BACK TO OLD VIRGINNY

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12

 
"Be careful going in search of adventure - it's ridiculously easy to find."
- William Least Heat Moon
 
 

So true! If you've read any or all of our web journals you know that Jim and I find adventure -- and occasional MISadventure -- as often when we don't expect it as when we're seeking it. Fortunately, this trip we had no flat tires at 65 MPH, no icy roads, no rotted wooden bridges, no generator carbon monoxide leaks, no rattlesnake bites, and no other near-disasters.

We prefer our adventures a little more tame the older we get -- more surprise and delight than danger. It's a slippery slope after 50 and we don't want to hasten the slide. However: although there is a measure of security and safety in always doing things that are familiar or non-threatening, there is also incredible boredom in living like that. We both prefer a little more excitement in our lives. So we love to learn new skills, travel new places, and extend our mental and physical comfort zones in various ways (like ultras and journey runs). We definitely expanded some horizons, and had some interesting mini-adventures along the way, on this trip to the Southwest.

And doggone it, now it's over and we're back home in Virginia. <sigh>

I've said before that we love our home and our lifestyle in the Roanoke area. It's always good to get back home. But we're usually not quite ready to return after our fun trips away from home for several weeks or months, and this time is no exception. We'll adjust. Again. It's always a bit disorienting for a few days but soon we're back into our previous routines.


Why I like to be home in the spring (photo taken 5-8-08)

I'm the one who wanted to come back home the most this time, although Jim agreed that the trip was getting expensive. Our summer treks the last two years were more cost effective because of the inexpensive weekly ($110) or monthly ($300) fees at the Foothills Campground we use near the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming and the *free* national forest camping in Colorado. The only free "camping" we had on this Southwest trip was at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and Flying J on the way out there and back! We did find reasonably-priced regional and state parks, however, that were about half the price of private campgrounds and had much greater appeal in other ways (size of sites, great scenery, quiet locations, etc.).

On all our camper trips, the biggest expense is fuel. Diesel was significantly higher on this trip than last summer's. We're wondering just how bad it might be by this summer. [Addendum in late May: a lot worse. More about that below, and in another entry re: our further travel plans for the year.]

We had no definite plans for our return date this time, no specific agenda or deadline. We knew after Rocky Raccoon that we weren't quite ready to go home, so we headed for Galveston Island to see what it was like. Very nice! We paid for a couple nights, then paid for two more nights, and decided after our busy day at the Space Center to stay just one more day and night to relax some more . . .

Procrastinators! We're glad we did, but it led to another adventure getting home. Winter travel is always unpredictable, even in the South.

IN A FOG AGAIN

Saturday morning we awoke to our second very foggy day at the beach on Galveston Island (our arrival was on a day like this, too). We wanted to relax and be rested before our three-day drive home, so the fog was probably a good thing. It was a little disappointing, though. The three sunny, warmer days we had at Galveston Island were more enjoyable.

This was our last opportunity to walk and run along the beach and I took full advantage of it, fog or not. Jim went out for a walk with the dogs and me in the morning when we were enveloped in the mist:

As you can see, we weren't the only ones on the beach. It was Saturday, and the campground was nearly full. Folks walked and fished and played in the surf despite the weather.

A foggy day like this really makes me feel the pull of the tide in my very core. A sunny day is more of a visual experience for me; I'm busier focusing on interesting sights in the distance and not paying as much attention to my body and what's right around me. A day like today intensifies my other senses. I'm more aware of the ebb and flow of the water and what's beneath my feet -- like netting, unusual shells, and eviscerated fish that washed in during the night:

.

In fact, I enjoyed that walk so much that I went back out with Cody later for a five-mile run along the beach and across the road.

Until I ran toward the bay side of the park we didn't realize that it was only the gulf side that was fogged in!!!

Too funny. It was sunny and warm only a couple hundred feet beyond our camper to the north, and we had no clue!! That brightened Jim's spirits when I returned from my run and told him.

That afternoon we talked some more about our plans. Now what? Sunday's weather forecast for the island was perfect -- sunny and 70s. Gosh, we liked it here! Wouldn't it be nice to stay a few more days?? (Yes!)

Or maybe we could mosey home through several states along I-10 close to the Gulf, stopping if we saw something interesting, taking our sweet time getting back. The weather should be better if we stayed as far south as possible before going north, like through Atlanta on I-75. After all, it was still winter in most parts of the country and we didn't want to get stuck somewhere in ice or snow on a more direct northeast route to Roanoke.

Economics and my desire to get back home sooner rather than later prevailed, however. We resolved to leave on Sunday morning after the blasting was supposed to be finished on the Galveston Bay bridge, and head for I-10 east of Houston. We had 1233 miles to go the shortest route(s) home and figured three days on the road was a reasonable time frame.

HITTIN' THE ROAD AGAIN, SLOWLY

About that bridge . . . we heard on the news that it would be closed to all traffic from 7:45 AM to 9 AM on Sunday so workers could set off explosives to remove pieces of the old bridge. We'd been over the bridge twice already and had seen the extensive construction work being done (see photo in Feb. 5 entry). We timed our exit from the island to reach the bridge about 9:30.

We did. And we found traffic still backed up quite a ways. Great. People were out of their vehicles talking to each other, some panicking because they might miss their plane departures in Houston, others taking pictures and being cool about the situation. There wasn't much anyone could do; it's the only way off the island by road.

We weren't in any particular hurry, so we chilled out for forty minutes while we waited for traffic to move again. It was interesting to observe how people reacted to the inconvenience. Some (like us) dozed or read in their vehicles. Others treated it like an impromptu party and made new friends. Some walked down the freeway embankment and across a feeder street to a convenience store. Traffic on that street was also at a standstill. We watched the cops ticket several people down there and up on the freeway for driving the wrong way on the shoulders to escape the tie-up. That's a big no-no.

Finally we were on our way across the Bay. I took this photo from the I-45 bridge as Jim drove:


Railway and structures along the Galveston Bay Bridge

After crossing to the mainland we made an impromptu decision to take Texas Hwy. 146, a shorter route, north and east of Houston to reach I-10 as opposed to staying on 1-45 north. It was Sunday so traffic shouldn't be bad, and it looked like we might have some scenic views driving closer to Galveston Bay.

It wasn't as awful as the stop-and-go traffic we endured on a "shortcut" through the El Paso area weeks earlier, but I doubt we'll ever go this way again. There just wasn't much good scenery and I don't think we saved any time. It's quite an industrialized area with a lot of refineries and shipping access to the Bay and Gulf.

We liked the unusual double suspension Hartman Bridge over the San Jacinto River on Hwy. 146 east of Houston:

This is an interesting perspective as we drove under it, if you can ignore the sun's glare on the windshield in my photo:

San Jacinto.

Remember that name from my earlier Texas entries about General Sam Houston?? Upriver from this bridge is the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site commemorating the decisive battle General Houston won over Mexican General Santa Anna, the event that is considered the birth of the Republic of Texas. We didn't stop to see the site on this trip but we'd like to see it someday to sort of complete our "circle" of Sam Houston's life in Texas.

We expected "smooth sailing" on I-10 through southeastern Texas and southern Louisiana. Instead, we found rough roads, lots of construction, narrow lanes, heavy traffic (on Sunday??), and slow going. Good thing we weren't in any hurry. The freeway was jammed with semis, RVs, and other vehicles until we hung a left on northbound I-59 in Mississippi. The most scenic part of the first day's  drive was a 15- or 20-mile span of bridging over wetlands west of Baton Rouge. There was a channel of water in the "median" that was interesting. We also enjoyed seeing  rice paddies in southwestern Louisiana and signs for a little town named Roanoke (not our Roanoke in Virginia). If only.

After driving 468 miles, we spent the night in a spacious Sam's Club parking lot in Hattiesburg, MS. Our "price" for a free night's stay was arriving just after the store closed at 6 PM (Sunday, remember?) so we couldn't shop there, no internet connection ("extended" Verizon service through much of Mississippi, and we can't get online with that), and noise that earplugs didn't muffle adequately. It was anything but restful, but it was convenient and *free*.

And we were able to get TV and radio reception just fine. Good thing. We discovered that sleet and rain were headed for the Roanoke, VA area on Tuesday. Uh, oh. That's probably the main reason we didn't sleep well Sunday night -- concern about wintry weather on the drive back home. Our most recent plan had us arriving at home by suppertime on Tuesday, right through that storm. Not a good plan any more. Maybe we should head back south again?

DODGING THE STORMS

We woke up earlier than usual on Monday morning. It was sunny but only 34 F. in Hattiesburg. Brrr! Back to winter. Kinda the reverse of our trips home from Colorado in August or September, when we go from cool summer days out there to hot, humid weather back at home.

By morning, Jim and I came to the same conclusion: to avoid a possible winter mess, we'd better hustle on home in TWO days, not three. The weather forecast still looked OK for us on our intended route that day as we continued north on I-59 through Mississippi.

Going from three days to two meant a very long day's drive on Monday -- 765 miles in 13+ hours, to be more precise. We made it home safely, but we were pretty tired when we pulled into our driveway at 9:15 PM Eastern. It didn't help that we "lost" an hour changing time zones going eastbound. Even the dogs were glad to get home; they love to ride, and did quite well that long day. As always, they got to run around several rest areas during the day, but it was still a lot of time to hang out in the back seat.

For my brother's benefit (he likes to follow along on the map!), this was our route home: I-10 from Houston I-12 around New Orleans, LA → I-59 / I-20 northeast to Birmingham, AL → I-59 / I-24 to Chattanooga, TN → I-75 north to Knoxville, TN → I-40 east to I-81 to Roanoke, VA and the rest of the way east to Goodview and HOME.

Random observations on Day 2:

  • hauling a camper 765 miles in one day is a Very Long Drive and probably a PR (personal record) for us
  • the weather was chilly but sunny and dry all day through all four states; it's so much easier and safer hauling a camper on dry roads than wet ones
  • the road conditions and traffic were much improved over Day 1, especially after dark when most of the trucks were off I-81, a busy transportation corridor
  • I-59 in the northern half of Mississippi is often scenic, with lots of nice trees (yes, even when they're bare); the southern portion was less attractive due to logging activity along the freeway
  • we passed a huge field full of what looked like unused FEMA trailers somewhere along I-59, reminding us once again of the Katrina relief debacle
  • Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia were a blur of attractive Appalachian foothills and forests as we drove relentlessly forward
  • we had a "dust to dust" experience when we saw the sign for Davy Crockett's birthplace near Greenville, TN; he died at the Alamo in San Antonio, which we visited recently.

HOME, SWEET HOME

When we got home we considered sleeping in the camper because we'd left the thermostat at only 50 F. in the house while we were gone and it would take a few hours to heat it back up to the mid-60s. Overnight temps were predicted in the mid-20s -- ugh! We ended up staying inside the house, buried under flannel sheets and fleece blankets. We slept soundly.

We got the camper mostly unloaded on Tuesday and went back to town for groceries and supplies. The predicted sleet and snow didn't materialize in our neighborhood, but it was rainy and much colder (low 30s) than we were used to for daytime temperatures. Welcome home!

Our timing for getting home turned out to be very good -- one day earlier or later would have been more dangerous on the road. Weather-wise, the two days we chose to drive home were dry and uneventful everywhere we were. Not only did we avoid driving in Tuesday's wet, icy conditions, we also missed Sunday's "high wind event" in the Roanoke Valley -- which we didn't know about until we turned on the news after getting home.

Although we didn't have any damage to our house or twelve acres of trees, there were lots of problems a few miles away with damaged property and downed trees from sustained 40- to 50-MPH winds and gusts up to 74 MPH on Sunday. About 80,000 homes lost electrical power for several hours to a week (subsequent sleet and snow at the higher elevations in the Blue Ridge Mountains on Tuesday exacerbated the problem). It wouldn't have been any fun driving through that if we'd come home just one day earlier or later. Because it was dark when we drove through Roanoke on our way home Monday evening, we didn't notice any of the wind damage. We could see it in the daylight Tuesday when we went into town, though.

BACK TO REALITY

It happens every time we're gone for several weeks or months -- the readjustment phase.

Jim's pretty bummed out right now, a day after our return, wishing he was back in southern Arizona or Texas a while longer. All he sees is the potential for more snow (which we've mostly avoided so far this season), more cold weather, higher electric bills despite our hard work to keep the woodstove going as much as possible, and the fact that there is "always something to do" around the house and yard. When we're camping, we can relax more.


There's always work to do when we're home! Jim mowing the back yard last November.

[Addendum in late May: Roanoke got only about five inches of snow this season, nowhere near its average of 23 inches, and we missed all of it except for a little dusting in December. Our electric bills were reasonable because temperatures were relatively mild in February, March, and April. We did run out of dry wood, so we've been working on that huge mess of downed trees and limbs that AEP so generously (not!) left lying on our property last August. Like good little squirrels, we should have enough wood cut and dried to see us through the winter of 2008-9 -- if we're even here to use it! We really liked being gone during the winter and would like to repeat parts of this trip. <wink> ]

I'm happier to be back home than Jim is. Now I can use my own computer with Windows XP and the software I'm accustomed to using, and work on this web site. It was simply too much of a hassle to use Windows Vista for photos and the journal on the new laptop this trip. I can also see my friends, resume scrapbooking and other hobbies, go to the YMCA to work out, run my favorite local trails and greenway, resume local volunteer work, and learn to ride Jim's mountain bike (we wish we'd taken our bikes this trip).

And wonder of all wonders, there are NO SIX-FOOT WEEDS TO PULL in February like there are when we return after being gone all summer!! That's one reason I dread returning from our summer trips. It'll be fun to work out in the garden again this spring.

Still, I have fond memories of this Southwestern trip and that nice, warm sunshine . . . it'll soon be time to plan our next adventure!

Next entry: comments and tips about the RV lifestyle

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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