2008 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  GALVESTON, OH GALVESTON!

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5

 
 
"Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin'
I still see her dark eyes glowin'
She was twenty-one when I left Galveston

Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston

I still see her standing by the water
Standing there lookin' out to sea
And is she waiting there for me?
On the beach where we used to run

Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she's crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston"
 
- Popular song lyrics written by Jimmy Webb and recorded by Glen Campbell in 1969
 
 

I was humming this song as we drove pretty much due south to Galveston, Texas today from Huntsville. Although the song expresses the yearning of a soldier for the girl he left behind while he was fighting in a war, there is a lovely reference to "the beach where we used to run."

And that's how I'm tying this song to our little trip to Galveston! Simplistic, yes, but this web site is geared more toward running and traveling than a discussion about whether this was an anti-war song or a pro-soldier song. Besides, it's the song that comes to everyone's mind first when you mention Galveston.

WHY GALVESTON ISLAND?

Jim and I usually prefer to spend time in the mountains rather than on beaches, but you can't beat the Texas Gulf Coast in February. I guarantee you it's not 65 degrees at 10,000 feet anywhere in the Colorado Rockies right now!

Much of this trip has been "planned" on the fly. We've pretty much been making it up as we go. About all we knew before we drove to Phoenix in late December was that we had a race to run on New Year's weekend. After that, we weren't sure where we'd hang out in the sun -- probably Arizona most of the time, we figured. We wanted to stay somewhere (relatively) warm for a month or two where there were trails to run and interesting things to see and do. And camping accommodations had to be affordable -- like parks, military bases, national forest land, etc., not expensive private campgrounds.


Colorful hibiscus brightens a Galveston neighborhood

Jim was planning to run the Pemberton Trail 50K at McDowell Mountain Park so it made sense to camp there until the race, if possible. We loved it there and stayed almost three weeks. Then he decided to run Rocky Raccoon, which was scheduled for a week before the Pemberton race. That meant withdrawing from Pemberton and heading to Texas earlier than originally planned. Although we considered going back home from there, after the race we simply weren't ready to go home yet.

So where could we kill some more time? The Gulf Coast somewhere? Maybe we could follow the coastline along Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, stopping anywhere that looked interesting, then head north through Atlanta. We even contacted a running buddy in Atlanta to see if he wanted to go to the Georgia Aquarium with us.

Then one evening I was reading an RV travel newsletter on the internet. On a discussion board someone raved about the great camping right next to the dunes on the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston Island State Park, and I began formulating a plan: Hmmm. That sounds like a warm place. We've never been to Galveston, and a beach setting sounds so exotic right now . . . 


View of the Gulf one evening from our campsite at Galveston Island State Park

Jim was game. After looking at our maps and doing some research on the internet, we determined that the island wasn't much out of our way after Rocky, it had interesting things to see and do, it was WARM in February, the state park campground looked and sounded very nice, and we'd be close enough to Houston that we could drive up there once or twice. Let's make reservations!

And we did. Although we couldn't reserve a specific site ahead of time, by arriving early in the week we were able to score a terrific spot by the dunes. Dune sites are $5 more per day than sites farther from the beach, but the cost is still reasonable with our Texas State Parks Pass (i.e., no additional daily entry fee to the park).

And we love it here so much, I doubt we'll go up to Houston more than once while we're here! More about the park in the next entry.

ONE LONG CITY COMMUTE

We waited for morning rush hour to end before leaving Huntsville State Park for the 125-mile drive south through Houston to Galveston Island. Or rather, we thought rush hour(s) would be over. Not. Apparently it is never over. There was heavy (but fast-moving) traffic on the 1-45 corridor this morning and it was like one long city most of the way to Galveston. There was very little rural scenery, just traffic and buildings and one suburb or town after another -- your typical huge metro sprawl.

We were happy to get south of the Space Center and into more exotic terrain with tall palm trees and bayous full of water and birds the closer we got to the island. I was surprised to see some deciduous trees without leaves; I thought all the trees would be "ever green" in this very mild climate.


Stormy weather approaching Houston

It was cloudy and very warm (in the 70s) on the drive south. Possible severe thunderstorms were headed toward Houston and parts north and east by afternoon, but they weren't supposed to strike Galveston Island. However, it was very foggy as we crossed the bridge spanning Galveston Bay and we were deprived of a great view of the little city from the high span. This is a photo I took of the bridge on a sunny day later in the week:

Galveston, like other barrier islands and cities along the entire Gulf Coast, is vulnerable to storms. You wouldn't want to be caught here in a hurricane, especially one as strong as the one that struck in 1900. It wiped out many homes and other buildings and killed about 6,000 people. After that debacle, a 17-foot high, ten-mile long seawall was constructed between 39th and 53rd Streets to help protect the city. Today the drive along Seawall Boulevard is one of Galveston's major attractions for visitors to the island.

During our stay on the island we saw lots of people walking, running, and cycling on the pedestrian walkway along the sea wall. I was hoping to run down on the sand, but there wasn't much sand on which to run here -- mostly rip rap to prevent erosion from the relentless waves:

Stewart, East, and Apffel Parks along the eastern end of Seawall Boulevard provide access to beaches for swimming but they weren't open yet. I was happy just running on the hard-packed sand on the wide beach at our campground in the state park and it was much quieter and more scenic there than along the seawall.

One day we drove to the eastern end of the 32-mile long island to Apffel Park to watch some large ships enter the Galveston Channel. The entire Galveston Bay area is a major seaport. Notice the helicopter flying above this ship:

We could also see some oil rigs 'way out in the Gulf of Mexico on clear days and nights. 

There are over a dozen piers along the seawall for people to fish or just walk out. At least one hotel and several restaurants are built on piers over the water. Some are quite sturdy, while others look a little rickety.

In one area about half a mile long, artists have been allowed to paint the wall in bright sea motifs. You have to go down one of the stairways to the sand to see them. They aren't visible from the street:

 

TRIBUTE TO TENACITY

Galveston has a serene commemorative plaza and sculpture along the seawall to honor the victims of the devastating hurricane of 1900:

One of the plaques reads, in part, that the sculpture (shown below) "represents the suffering of those who perished and the tenacity of those who survived the nation's deadliest natural disaster."

The plaque describes the severe destruction of lives and property in 1900, the efforts over the next decade to build the seawall and elevate the city 17 feet, and the success of that huge project. A similar hurricane in 1915 resulted in fewer than a dozen deaths of people living behind the seawall, and apparently no one has died in Galveston during a bad storm since then.


1900 Storm Commemorative Sculpture dedicated a century later in 2000

After spending five days on the island Jim and I decided this is a great place to visit in the winter when it's cool and the likelihood of a hurricane is low, but we wouldn't want to live anywhere this vulnerable. Beautiful coastlines all over the world draw residents like moths to light and they pay a fortune to live close to the water. They may pay an even higher price by losing their property and/or lives to hurricanes and cyclones. Many people are willing to take that risk. I'll take other risks (like living somewhere tornadoes sometimes strike!), but not that one.

I understand the draw. The sea is mesmerizing. I have a visceral reaction to it when I'm walking or running along a beach. The tide literally pulls at my gut and my soul. That doesn't mean it makes any sense to build on such risky real estate, though. Consider New Orleans, which is even more vulnerable because it is below sea level. As much as I enjoyed a visit there in the 1980s for Mardi Gras, I'm not so sure it should be rebuilt after the devastation Katrina wrought. Galveston's been luckier -- so far.

And some people think running ultras is risky! 

MARDI GRAS IN GALVESTON

Sometimes the serendipitous events you aren't expecting are the most fun.

We had no idea that Galveston celebrates Mardi Gras until our arrival at the campground this afternoon. The office at the state park had lots of brochures with things to do and see on the island. We looked through those as we waited our turn to check in, then the personable ranger commented that we were lucky to be here on the last night of Mardi Gras for the Fat Tuesday parade.

Really? That sounded pretty cool. Tell us more!

It's been about twenty years since I attended the real thing for a week in New Orleans and about as long for Jim, too  He wasn't initially so thrilled, thinking of the debauchery that often accompanies the original celebration. My memory bank, however, holds more fun recollections like catching colorful beads and coins during the daily parades and touring the fascinating Blaine Kern float museum. What magic! The ranger assured us that Galveston's celebration is definitely more family-oriented, suitable for kids and older folks like us who don't appreciate drunken revelry.

Jim consented somewhat reluctantly to go to the parade but ended up having a decent time. We were able to park within a couple blocks of a corner that proved to be a good place to watch the parade, which began near us after it got dark. Quite a crowd assembled along the parade route on the last night of the celebration. It was definitely a much smaller version of the original Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the krewe floats weren't as impressive, but we enjoyed doing something unexpected and fun.


The obligatory fire-breathing dragon float

And yeah, we got into the whole bead-catching thing with all the other kids (from two to eight-two) around us! Jim also caught some beads to hand to kids iin front of us who were too short to snag them first. Each time I've watched a Mardi Gras parade I've told myself it's silly to catch beads, coins, and candy the krewes throw to spectators -- but it's one of those contagious crowd things where I quickly get into the spirit of the celebration. It's kinda like being a 10-year-old again when I'm running through puddles on a trail run

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The whole city of Galveston gets decked out for Mardi Gras. This is the 97th year for the event in Galveston, compared to almost 300 years in New Orleans. When we toured the historic districts we found considerable evidence of Mardi Gras season, including this large street banner displaying the trademark purple, green, and yellow colors:

We also saw homes with Mardi Gras masks and cloth banners:

. . . Mardi Gras beads hung on tree branches like the large Norfolk Island Pine below:

. . . and beads hung on porches and in windows:

These folks go all out for Mardi Gras!

After we got home I tried to emulate the beads-in-a-tree thing, hanging several on one of our peach trees:

They look better on a large Norfolk Island Pine!

My favorite necklace from our take has four parrots. Shades of Jimmy Buffet? Now all I need is a tropical shirt, board shorts, flip flops, and a margarita . . .

         

I'll have more about the beauty and charm of the city of Galveston soon. But next, let's tour Galveston Island State Park where we are camped . . . risky, yes, but we can see how it's hard to leave a place like this!

Cheers,

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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