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A Ride Story at Last!

29 Jul

(To explain my lack of ride stories lately, this summer I’ve taken three 10-day cage (car) trips to Des Moines due to a family medical issue, and that’s left little time for riding.  Fortunately, the patient is doing well, and my last trip will be in August.  By the way, cages are for wimps.  It’s so easy to travel that way!)

Now for the story. . . .

This morning before daybreak, I pulled my trusted and dusty friend, Lizzie, out of the garage. . . at last.  With little wind and a clear sky, it turned out to be the perfect day for a Sunday drive.  

The Texas Hill Country is surprisingly green for late July, and it reminded me of springtime in the early-morning light.  Seemed like I was the first person to go down the road towards Sandy, and I had to slow several times to avoid open-range cattle, white-tailed deer, and even a few jack rabbits. 

It took several minutes to pull the camera out of the saddlebag and take the next two pictures, and not one other vehicle passed.  Nice! 

Just look at that dusty, neglected windshield.  Not acceptable!

Ended up at Willow City Loop, which meanders through a unique little ecosystem with lush vegetation, desert willows, and flowing streams.  I do believe this is the most scenic road in the Texas Hill Country.  Really, you have to see it to believe it.   Saw tons of sun flowers and other wild flowers, several roadrunners (one of my favorite birds), and hundreds of butterflies.

Didn’t take any extra time to get pictures at Willow City.  I wanted to be home by 11:00, before the heat and Austin traffic had a chance to spoil the mood.  In fact, the handlebar thermometer read 90 degrees by 10:00.  (It’s always so hot out on the asphalt!)

Heading home by way of Llano, as always, I loved cruising past Enchanted Rock and seeing the pink granite “mountains” in that area.  Man, it’s been way too long!  That new gas station on the corner of SH 16 and SH 71 sure saved me the headache of driving into town. 

Some rides are fun and all; but, like today, other rides — well, they filter down and settle in your heart.  Maybe it was the saturated morning colors, maybe it was reconnecting with Lizzie, or maybe it was the gentle reminder that my chosen home is here in Texas.  Maybe I simply needed a two-wheeled experience. . . at last.    

Peace on the Road!
BT

Side Trip Into Nature

2 May

Right now the entire State of Texas is in a severe drought.  Add some strong spring winds and 90-degree temps, and our Hill Country is left with dry creeks, brown roadsides, and clouds of dust.

While I have been riding, it’s been difficult to come up with a colorful AND interesting story to pass along.  For that reason, the latest BT Holiday  has nothing to do with two wheels  or even leaving the front yard.  It’s a remarkable side trip into nature that I have to share.

Towards the end of March I decided to get serious about planting tropical milkweed throughout the yard.  Conservation groups are asking people to plant milkweed to help offset the huge loss of the monarch butterfly’s habitat; and, in fact, nurseries in Austin are making a special effort to keep it in stock to help with the demand.

Monarchs are totally dependent on milkweed since they only lay their eggs on milkweed and the caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves.  Chemicals from the milkweed makes the brightly colored caterpillars and butterflies poisonous to birds and most other predators.

Less than two weeks after planting we have caterpillars gorging themselves on the milkweed, and the next photo shows two of them munching away.

Here they’ve eaten the poor little plant down to a nub.   They start eating at the top, where leaves are the most tender, and work their way down.  Fortunately, there are other milkweed plants close by and they move over to the next plant when nothing is left.

Another day goes by and the largest caterpillars crawl off to go into chrysalis.  One of them crawls up the bird bath and goes into chrysalis there.  It couldn’t have picked a better location for us to be able to observe!  (No picture.)

This link to the Monarch Butterfly Website explains what happens during chrysalis and their life cycle in general.  Fascinating stuff!

Fast forward.  Ten days later I bring Desha outside to show her how the chrysalis is no longer green, but you can see bright orange wings underneath.  As we’re talking about it, right before our eyes the chrysalis splits open and a butterfly emerges in just a few minutes.  Breathtaking!  Left us both speechless and our mouths hanging open!  Unfortunately, no camera, but I ran in and got it as soon as the “birth” was complete.

This next picture shows our wet and wrinkly firstborn and two caterpillars that had attached themselves to the bird bath the night before.  After the caterpillars attach themselves, they assume a J position and then rest for several hours before going into chrysalis.

Several minutes go by and the next picture shows the wings are drying out and inflating.

The yellow in the background is the tropical milkweed blooms.

An hour or so later the caterpillar begins an up-and-down rhythmic motion and starts the process of going into chrysalis.  In the next pic you can see the caterpillar has straightened out some, and the little bit of green showing down by the antennae is where the striped outer skin is beginning to split.

Here we are a little farther along.   At this point I stop taking pictures so I can sit back and take it all in.  The entire process of going into chrysalis takes less than five minutes.  The second bird-bath caterpillar goes into chrysalis a few minutes later.

Now we have a bright green chrysalis and our butterfly has taken a few more steps.  Hard to believe those delicate wings come out of such a small enclosure!  It’s difficult to see, but you can make out the little patches of white silk where each of the chrysalises are attached to the bird bath.

By now about three hours have gone by since our butterfly first emerged.  He begins to slowly fan and stretch his wings and takes short hops.  Here are his gorgeous new wings opened as he rests in the skullcap below the bird bath.  The two black oval scent glands on either side of the lower abdomen tell us we have a male.

Back onto the bird bath for a quick pose.  You can see the edge of the brand-new chrysalis in the upper right-hand corner of the picture.  After a few more minutes, he takes flight and disappears over our neighbor’s roof.  Godspeed, my winged friend!

But that’s not the end of the story!  We still have nine more chrysalises on a nearby Texas sotol, and most likely there are several more hidden in the bushes.  I expect them all to open on May 5th, possibly May 6th.

But that’s not all!  In a completely different part of the yard there are monarch caterpillars busily munching away.  This morning we spotted a bruised and battered female, presumably all the way from Mexico, laying eggs outside the back door.  Here she is taking in some nectar.  (After she left I found several tiny white eggs.)  You can see a caterpillar on the underside of the milkweed pod in the lower right.

And what about the poor ole milkweed plant that was eaten down to a nub three weeks ago?  Here it is this morning, on its way to a full recovery.

You know, it was so easy.  All it took was finding a sunny spot to put a few milkweed plants.  Mother Nature does the real work.  This experience has been wonderful and I’m totally hooked.  Now that I know what to expect. . . .

Note to self:  Start saving for a DSLR camera!

Right now monarchs are making their extraordinary migration to the Northern United States.  If any of you northerners are inclined to plant some milkweed, now you know what to do!

Peace on the Road!
BT

May 13th Update

Monarch caterpillars have been falsely accused of pilfering other plants by several of Auntie Biketrash’s devoted readers!  Slanderous!  To set the record straight, the monarch caterpillar only feeds on milkweed plants and does not ever feed on tomato plants or dill or rue or anything else — although the caterpillars that feed on those plants do look similar to the monarch caterpillars.  Monarch butterflies take in nectar from a variety of plants.

Since the May 2nd post, we’ve had at least 13 butterflies emerge from chrysalis — four males, seven females, and two unknown (didn’t see them, but found the empty chrysalis).  Judging by the number of caterpillars, I’m quite sure there were several that anonymously crawled off into the bushes.   Great results from my small effort!

It looks like the monarch action here on Brentwood Street is about over for this year, but I’ll leave you with a video showing  one of “our” females coming out of chrysalis.  I call it “Birth” of a Monarch Butterfly, because that’s the term everybody understands.  The proper term is “eclose,” which means to emerge from the pupal stage.

Texas Independence Day Ride

2 Mar

Is there a better way to honor Texas Independence Day than to get out and ride under a clear, blue Texas sky?

Today’s episode starts way back in 1835 when dissatisfied settlers of Mexican Texas started the Texas Revolution.  On March 2nd, 1836, with the Alamo under siege by Santa Anna’s army, Texas formally declared its independence from Mexico.  Only a month and a half later, on April 21, 1836, Sam Houston defeated Mexican troops at the Battle of San Jacinto  in the Texas Revolution’s decisive battle.   The Republic of Texas  remained an independent nation until 1845, when it joined the Union.  Nowadays Texas Independence Day is an official state holiday and is celebrated every March 2nd with parades and festivals.

I’ve lived in Texas for 33 years and am still in awe of  Texas culture, especially in small towns.   Most of that culture is great and some is not so great, but one thing is for sure:  there ain’t nuthin’ like it anywhere else on earth!  On this warm, springlike day, it was only proper that I get out to explore and appreciate some of that culture.

My first stop was the small town of Blanco.  No matter what direction you come from, you can’t help but notice the old Blanco County Courthouse filling the main square.  It was built in 1885, but in 1890 the county seat moved to Johnson City when the county lines were redrawn.  Since then the beautiful stone building has been a school, hospital, bank, museum, restaurant, and now an information center.   It’s an interesting stop, where you’ll see many Hill Country artifacts on display, old pictures and clean bathroooms (!!!).

Headed over to the Blanco Bowling Club Cafe for a heavy dose of small-town experience and an early lunch.  

When was the last time you had roast beef that melts in your mouth, perfectly steamed cabbage, mash potatoes and gravy, and a small salad for $4.62?  (Not so enthused about that included desert.)  This was the small portion.  You should’ve seen the large!

The Bowling Club is known for its pies, and here is the chocolate meringue.  Unfortunately, meringue bothers my stomach so I was forced to admire from afar.

While I’ve stopped here several times before, I’ve never taken the time to learn about the Bowling Club’s history.  As it turns out, there doesn’t seem to be anything in print about the history, not even on the back of the menus or anywhere on the internet.  Lucky for me, the manager introduced me to an oldtimer having lunch in the back, who knew all about it.  Before long, two other patrons got in on the story.

Ninepin bowling clubs are an old German tradition, and several small towns in Central Texas still have them.  This particular club was built in 1947 by a private investor, and shortly thereafter he sold shares or memberships.  In fact, the original document with the bylaws is still tacked to the wall for anyone to look at.  It’s yellow and brittle, but miraculously intact.  Today the club has over 300 owners/members, and they vote like stockholders.  They still have ninepin bowling leagues that play Monday through Thursday.  The pins are set up by hand.

Here is one of the score tables.  The sign shows how the bowling pins are set up.

Bar, complete with bowling shoes.

It was a lot of fun visiting here, and I highly recommend stopping if you ever get the chance.  I thoroughly enjoyed talking to everyone, and they seemed proud to tell me about the club.  Here is the best part, though.  Not one person asked me for a link to my website, which has never happened before.  I love the fact that they don’t seem the least bit impressed with us city folks!

Next stop was the Leatherlyke motorcycle luggage factory in Bulverde for a few minor repairs to Lizzie’s rear trunk.   Although I wasn’t expecting it, they replaced and installed the latch and lid gasket  for free.  How nice is that?   Didn’t take a picture because the building is boring and nondescript with no signs, only an address.  The inside lobby is the same, and you’re not allowed to see where the luggage is put together.  

What used to be the tiny town of Bulverde pretty much seems to be a suburb of San Antonio.  If there was any old-time culture going on, I missed it!

Took several roads less traveled to get home.  Rebud trees are popping out and everything is starting to turn green.   It’s scary to think what will happen if we don’t get some rain soon. . . .

Now for a quick EFM auto clutch update, sort of.  It still looks like the auto clutch is doing exactly what I need it to do.  I’m having to learn a few new techniques and change some ingrained habits, which is turning out to be harder than expected.  However, I rode well over 200 miles today and my left arm and hand felt zero strain, which is amazing.  I’ll continue to reserve final judgment on the EFM auto clutch until I have more time in the saddle!

Today was a lot of fun, and I hope I did my adopted home state proud by celebrating this Texas Independence Day on two wheels.  

Peace on the Road!
BT

P.S.  Did you know that the name Tejas, which later became Texas, comes from the Caddo Native American word “teysha,” which means “hello friend”?

New Year’s Solution

1 Jan

It’s the beginning of a new year and time to think about my two-wheeled future. 

Those of you who have been following Biketrash Holiday for a while may have noticed a sharp decrease in motorcycle miles in 2010.  It’s only right that I confess to y’all and to myself that I’ve been in denial about a serious issue and am forced to face a difficult fact.   The tendons in my left hand and wrist, which operate the clutch, have become increasingly weak, and it’s impossible to ride the motorcycle any distance without pain. 

It seems to have started back in the eighties when, working as a court reporter, I was in court all day every day and that left arm and hand would go numb for weeks at a time.  In the nineties, working as a ride marshal and motorcycle official for the US Cycling Federation, I frequently had to crawl along behind the peloton, constantly changing gears and feathering the clutch, leaving my hand tired and weak.  Then in this century, add trigger digit in the  left thumb and index finger, and my poor ole hand has worn itself out and doesn’t want to play anymore.  (Thus ends complaints.)

That being said, I am not yet ready to give up my long two-wheeled rides.  No way, man!  There are apparently two options to keep riding:   installing an EFM auto clutch on Lizzie or getting a maxi scooter.  The auto clutch is an expensive risk, but the perfect choice if it works like it’s supposed to.  In some ways a maxi scooter would be easier, but I’d still have to use my left hand for the rear brake, which is less than a perfect choice.  

So here is the New Year’s Solution:  I WILL make a decision NEXT WEEK about which option to choose:  EFM auto clutch or maxi scooter.  Whichever option is chosen, I WILL keep riding and WILL have some amazing BTH experiences in 2011!

Lest we forget the “Why?” in all this, here is a photo taken on the AMA Conference ride, showing the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.  This, my friends, is why.

   

A few “housekeeping” matters. . . .

You may or may not have noticed a fairly new link on the right sidebar, FleeterLogs Travel Journal, where you’ll find many interesting and entertaining motorcycle travel stories with plenty of pictures.  Check it out.

And about that Three Twisted Sisters video you were promised a few months ago. . . .  There is more than enough great material for half a video, but the most important half – the actual riding on the sisters — did not turn out so well.  With the sun being at such a low angle in November, the tall limestone cliffs shaded the roads to the point that they’re not bright and inviting like they they are when the sun is high in the sky.   You know Auntie Biketrash insists on portraying our Hill Country at its best, so will finish the video next spring.

Okay.  So let’s get on with 2011!

Best wishes for a healthy and safe New Year; and, as always, Peace on the Road!
BT

Twisted Sisters Wrap-Around

15 Nov

Hello from Austin, Texas!

Picking up where we left off on Saturday. . . .

So glad we stayed the extra day on Saturday.  The sky was blue and bright, with plenty of light to take videos with the helmet cam.   Hopefully there will be enough to put together a Twisted Sisters video.  If not, guess we’ll just have to go back and get some more!

Did an out-and-back on two of the sisters, 335 and 337, all the way to Medina.  For the first time ever, it felt like I was one with Lizzie on the twists and turns, and I was able to effortlessly zip through from beginning to end.  Used to ride the Intruder like that and have missed it something fierce.  I was able to recapture the euphoria, altered state — whatever you want to call it – because last week, for the first time in 3.5 years, my left shoulder released and miraculously rotated into its proper place.  No more straining and holding back!   That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

 

One thing you do not ever want to do is ride a motorcycle in the Texas Hill Country at dusk, especially during the peak (right now!) of white-tailed deer rut.  It’s dangerous because they seem to be everywhere and constantly pop out onto the road.  This has to be the favorite time of year for vultures and auto body shops.

That being said. . . we didn’t do the best job of keeping track of time, ended up returning at dusk and crawling along the last 20 miles or so.  Bet we had to completely stop five times out on the highway to avoid a potential collision.  Of course, as the light waned, the slower we went, the more deer on the road.  Never want to do that again!  But, in spite of frazzled nerves, we made it back safe and sound, and that’s what counts.

This picture was taken a short while before we got onto the Junction highway, and you can see the long, late-afternoon long shadows.  Oopsie!

So remember me talking about running into Kathy and Jim at the museum?  Well, their riding group had coincidentally moved to Junction and our same hotel.  It was good to be with friends after that nerve-wracking experience, and they patiently indulged us as we recounted our story several times!  We all rode back to Austin together on Sunday, which was fun.  Had a great time hanging out with them and hope to get to do it again soon.

Peace on the Road!

Linda

More Sisters!

12 Nov

Hello again from Junction, Texas!

We covered a lot of ground today,  so let me give just a few highlights.

After riding on a few roads I’d never been on, we eventually wound up at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpool.  For an unexpected surprise, our good friends, Kathy and Jim, coincidentally showed up a few minutes later.   Sure was fun seeing them there!

This amazing little museum is owned by a former American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association competitor, who has plenty of stories to keep everyone entertained.  He’s from Australia, and I enjoyed hearing his accent when he talked.  Here I am trying to look tough on the one bike we were allowed to get on.  Notice the pan of kitty litter underneath to catch the oil spills.

Had a genuine Aussie meat pie  at the Ace Cafe, which is located at the back of the museum.   Truthfully, it was way too salty and I didn’t care for it, but the home-made pineapple-coconut pie more than made up for it!   I’m told the burgers are fantastic and the fries are even better.

This picture shows the amber grass I was talking about yesterday.  It also shows how cloudy it was today, with the sun breaking through intermittently.

Finally got to ride my favorite sister, 335, late in the afternoon.  She isn’t as twisted as the other two, but her scenery is definitely the best.  The next two pictures show a few of the more, ahem, unusual sights.

Looks like the windy and cloudy  weather is passing tonight and we’ve decided to stay until Sunday.   Hope to be able to get some good video tomorrow.

Peace on the Road!

BT

Veterans Day Ride in the Hill Country

11 Nov

Hello from Junction, Texas!

Before we begin with today’s adventure, Auntie Biketrash wants to remind everyone that today is Veterans Day (written without an apostrophe), where we honor our nation’s military veterans.  European countries call it Armistice Day or Remembrance Day.  Major hostilities of World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with Germany signing the Armistice, and President Wilson declared November 11th a national holiday in 1919.

So. . . this morning Desha and I left Austin for three days of riding in the Texas Hill Country.  Specifically, our goal is to spend time enjoying the Twisted Sisters in the Medina-Leakey-Camp Wood area.  The twisted sisters are three farm-to-market highways that offer some of the best — maybe even THE best riding and scenery in the state.  Unfortunately, for various reasons we didn’t get started this morning until 10:30, so our stops were rushed and we didn’t have time to take photos and hang out at any one place for very long.

Keeping with the sisters theme, our route took us through Sisterdale, which is not too far from Austin.  Check out this Sisterdale link for the unusual history.  From there we took a slow route and were able to enjoy lovely brown, red, orange, and amber fall colors at every turn.  Had a completely different feel from a summer ride down the same road.

Right after passing through Sisterdale, a buck suddenly jumped out of the trees and ran across the road in front of us.  In spite of the butt-pucker moment, we had a good laugh because there was a thick mass of bright green foliage wrapped around his antlers that trailed behind as he ran.   So is that the dorky-deer equivalent of having toilet paper stuck to your shoe?

Stopped for lunch at The Apple Store, formerly called Cider Mill Cafe, in Medina for lunch and had a fantastic hamburger with our choice of three kinds of tasty home-made buns (sourdough, jalapeno, and sesame seed), fresh apple pie, and apple ice cream with hot apple-cider sauce.  MMMmmmm good!

Highway 337, the twistiest of the twisted sisters, begins (or ends) in Medina, and I felt myself grinning from ear to ear as she greeted us with limestone cliffs, a herd of buffalo, amber meadows, smooth pavement and a steady pace and rhythm of tight curves.

At Leakey we hopped onto 336.  She’s not quite as twisted as 337, but the scenery is magnificent and the fall colors seemed to be more vibrant in the late afternoon light.

Tomorrow will not be so rushed and I promise to take some pictures.

Peace on the Road!

BT

P.S. Auntie Biketrash says, Always thank a vet!

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