It’s Been A While – IBR Prep Continues

Man, it has been a while since my last post! I have been busy getting my foot back to working condition and now start to focus on getting my new bike ready for the 2023 Iron Butt Rally in June.

My foot. It is probably 90% at this point. I can walk (a little farther each week) without a limp and all of my shoes finally fit again. I wound up not needing surgery! Longer days on my feet definitely serve to remind me that the foot isn’t 100%, yet. But it is the kind of pain associated with overuse and not the sharper pain associated with injury. Just need to keep going!

My BMW was a total loss, as expected. I was able to find a Honda Goldwing at a fair price and now have it in my garage. I have been out on a few rides – longer rides make my foot angry, so we are working that endurance, too. I have the bike essentially set up for the IBR with the exception of a custom seat – my ride in appointment for that is in late February. Here’s my bike on the lot waiting for a friend to ride it home for me πŸ™‚

My new Honda Goldwing DCT.

I have a new windshield that is taller, highway pegs to ease the strain on my knees, a mounting system for a pelican case on the back and wiring to support a GPS, phone mount and heated gear. I also installed a set of Clearwater aux lights in the stock location near the engine.

The only stuff I want to finish up is the seat and some service items. I also have a few ideas on a better mount for the Pelican case that I am working on. What about an aux field tank? I have struggled with this idea since buying the bike, even went so far as to get a friend to help fabricate a mount for a tank. I want to get out on a few longer rides and see how much of a pain it is to stop and fuel up more often before making the final decision. I am leaning against it and am trying to adhere to the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” principle. Plus, my approach to the IBR has shifted SIGNIFICANTLY since my crash. I just want to finish and don’t really care how high.

I even had a small run of stickers made to remind me about priorities on the IBR…

I plan to add one to my fuel filler door so I have to look at it every time I stop for gas πŸ™‚

Well, that’s it for now. I will try to post more updates as the IBR approaches and I get out more. For a little more background on what the “IBR” entails, keep reading.

IBR = Iron Butt Rally. The IBR is an 11 day timed rally run every 2 years. I found out I was picked to participate (you have to apply and be selected) before the LDX rally and my crash. The first feelings after reading the email are excitement and relief. It quickly turns to anxiety!

The rally starts in mid-June and finishes in late-June in the northeast. I won’t share the exact location here, yet, but my ride out to the start is about 2,400 miles…just to get there! Oh, yeah, and about 2,400 miles to get home afterwards. We show up at the start hotel and spend roughly 2 days checking in, having our bike inspected and attending meetings. At the end of those 2 days we have a start banquet and that is when the bonus locations are released to us. The rally starts the following morning, so we have the evening and early morning to come up with a route that covers the first portion of the rally.

We have a couple of mid-rally checkpoints (we don’t know where, yet) and then finish back at the same hotel 11 days later. It is reasonable to assume an average ride will put about 10,000 miles on the odometer. The riders who finish well ride a little farther πŸ˜‰

So we wait…here’s some great reading on this linked website, perfect for these cold, rainy winter days.

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LDX Rally Thoughts

This is most definitely not how I wanted my rally to end. I went down on my bike on the beginning of day 3 of the rally after a long ride and suffered a badly broken right foot. My rally ended at that point, of course, and the recovery started (and is ongoing). The bike looks to be a total loss at this point – I am still waiting for the final verdict from the insurance company. Let’s take a look at my efforts in the rally. I’ll add more details on the crash at the end.

Welcome to Wyoming!
Wyoming on a bright, sunny day.

I had stopped by the BMW dealer in northern Colorado to get my oil changed and look at the bike one last time before heading out. It was a fun visit with a couple other LDX riders sharing the same plan. A quick visit to a couple TOH stops near Cheyenne and then I was at the rally hotel and unloading my bike.

Cheyenne National Cemetery
TOH stop at Cheyenne National Cemetery. Small but mighty.

The LDX rally team had really streamlined the check-in process for riders. We were able to select a time online to show up for the odometer check and to sign the final waiver. I picked a time in the morning and got it done without issues. I had my first warning of things to come as I rode uphill into a strong headwind and watched my gas mileage drop into the mid 30s. That would be a theme and a distraction during the first days of the rally.

The mandatory rider’s meeting on Saturday comes super early at 4:30. We all sit down in our assigned places and each of us has the rally book in place with our names on it. Quite the fancy presentation! The theme of the rally is “Founding Fathers”, and the Rally Master (Paul Tong) comes in wearing a George Washington costume. It was pretty cool. He takes some time to explain the bonus format and a few other topics and then lets us go to start planning our first leg. The rally starts at noon, so we all have about 7 hours to get a plan put together.

LDX Class
Fancy, wax seal and all!

I spent a few hours getting the files organized, reading through the rally book completely and then setting up an initial route. The twist on the first leg was that if you visited GW bonus locations and immediately followed each one with a non-GW bonus, your bonus stops became worth more and more points. I came up with a good route that highlighted the GW sequence and included one combination bonus. Total planned miles were around 3,600 and I should have been able to score around 60,000 points. It was a bit aggressive but totally realistic for me as long as there were no significant delays. As I usually do, I had a few escape routes planned in case I did run into obstacles.

LDX Start
We all lined up before noon for odometer readings and the start!

I left my room a few times to wander around and make sure my plan made sense after disengaging from it. Once I was satisfied with my route, I looked for gas stops and a motel for the first night. As noon approached we all lined our bikes up for the start.

I usually plan my gas stops on a rally at about the 225 mile point and it works well. But…we were riding into a strong headwind and my gas mileage was crap. I made it to the first gas stop and put about 6 gallons in – the most I have ever done. There was one other stretch of similar conditions that caused me to reduce my speed to improve mileage and make the next gas station. It was a little stressful, but it all worked out. Day 1 found me making my way north through Wyoming and then into South Dakota – both states were somewhat familiar territory for me. I continued on my way to my stop for the night in Pierre, SD – a total of around 800 miles and a warm room to get some sleep. No real issues on the first day.

South Dakota!
South Dakota near sunset.

I took a few moments to look over my route for the next segment before hitting the bed for some much needed sleep. Mistake number 1 – I was making decisions about my ride plan while tired. I looked it over and decided I wanted to make it into and out of Milwaukee for a couple of bonus stops that night (Sunday) to avoid traffic. I planned to find a hotel outside Milwaukee to get some rest but didn’t make a reservation – mistake number 2! I almost always have a hotel reserved. It forces me to set realistic goals and then the possibility of losing the hotel fee forces me to stop.

I woke up after a very good 5 hours of sleep and got set up to get out. Most of the day was pretty uneventful. I made good time into North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin and even bumped into a couple of other LDX riders at bonus stops. The Rally Master had meal breaks as a rest bonus multiplier, so I stopped for my 45 minute meal break at a Subway and enjoyed some time off the bike. As the sun was setting I was well on my way to being in Milwaukee before midnight and should clear the area with a good chance for rest.

North Dakota
North Dakota – new state for me!
George Washington Bonus
An example of one of the George Washington statues located at a Scheels store in North Dakota.

I made it to Milwaukee around 12:30 am and spent some time wandering around a park looking for the required statue. The Rally Master had stated the bonus was available 24 hours but that it was located in a park with poor lighting. Fortunately, the iPhone takes great low light pictures and I was able to find it. One more quick stop in Milwaukee and I was headed out of the city.

A Night Shot
A low light picture in a Milwaukee park πŸ™‚

And this is where the wheels came off the plan. As I was leaving Milwaukee I tried to assess how I was feeling and decided I could push a little farther to get south of Chicago and possibly avoid that Monday morning traffic. As my ride continued, I allowed myself to believe I was doing OK with brief stops to get off the bike and walk around a little. I was so wrong! I was in no condition to be riding at that point and should have found a room and got some sleep. Poor decision making when already tired. I nodded off at 70mph, drifted into the median on I-39 and as my eyes opened, the front wheel was digging into the median and it was already over. I don’t remember much from that point until I stood up again. I knew my foot hurt but otherwise was feeling OK.

I had to stumble around to find my phone (it had popped off its mount) and called 911 to get help. Another driver ahead of me (not involved) had seen me go off the road and already called 911. Emergency responders showed up and helped me into the ambulance for a ride to the ER and xrays of my foot that revealed at least 5 separate fractures. Appointments over the last week have revealed have revealed a significant crush injury that will require surgery and months of rehab to get back to being able to put weight on the foot. All because of a poor decision (or series of decisions) that didn’t have to be made that way to get me safely to the checkpoint.

The End of My Rally
Not the ending I was hoping for, obviously.

So what’s next? Recovery is the number one priority. I am not prepared to make decisions about my future riding status right now. The bike is toast anyway, so there is a big open reminder in the garage. Sound like I am beating myself up a little? You bet I am. This was my fault and was totally preventable. I just don’t ride like that ever, and this time I allowed myself to do it. Bad choice.

Having said that, I am in good spirits and ready to face the long path to recovery. I will do what the doctors tell me, I will suffer with the PT, I will recover and walk normally again!

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Trip to Colorado (LDX Rally Arrival)

I left home on Sunday morning with Twin Falls, Idaho as my destination. It would be a longer day, about 700 miles, but mostly interstate and so I hoped to make it there before sunset. Pretty boring ride into Idaho before I took a detour up into the surrounding hills for a few bonus stops. A solid tailwind all the way into Twin Falls made the trip more relaxing and made my gas mileage more acceptable! It was cool and dry pretty much all the way (one exception was a little drizzle over Snoqualmie Pass).

Black Canyon Dam
Black Canyon Dam outside Emmett, Idaho.
Black Canyon Dam
The flow over the spillway was impressive!
State Capital (ID)
Visited the Idaho state capital for a rally stop πŸ™‚

After a good night’s rest, I got back on and headed on into Utah to collect some Tour of Honor stops. Clear of the metro area before traffic picked up and then headed east to Colorado via US-6 through the Price Canyon. This still entertains me, lots of good higher speed sweepers and lots of places to safely pass slower traffic. The tailwind continued until I got to Colorado and then shifted to be in my face for a bit. Excitement when I got to the first city in Colorado (Fruita) – I had hotel reservations and had planned to fill up that night (as I do). All 3 gas stations in Fruita were out of gas. What the heck, is this more widespread than I have been exposed to? So far, seems isolated, but I was a little anxious until I got to Grand Junction the next morning and found business as usual.

Weird weather all the way through Utah with temperatures never rising much above 55F made it a little cooler than I expected, but at least it was dry!

Need Gas
A cool old gas station in Helper, UT.
Made it to sunny Colorado.

The final day was the one I was most looking forward to with my planned route taking me through some very scenic areas including Grand Mesa, Black Canyon and Monarch Pass. Great weather all day and fantastic scenery made the trip go by way too quickly. I am still running into the random restaurant that has changed its operating schedule without updating their website. Kind of frustrating when you are trying to make sure you eat something besides McDonald’s every darn day.

Grand Mesa Scenic Byway
The start of the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway – 4,800 feet to 10,600 feet!
Grand Mesa Visitor Center
Nice lake setting at the Grand Mesa visitors center.
Black Canyon Dam
One of many awesome views into the Black Canyon.
Monarch Pass
Monarch Pass did not disappoint!

Now I am off to Cheyenne for the start of the LDX rally. Probably won’t post much until it is over, sleep will be more important!

Here’s some links to the last 2 days of riding from my ride tracking app.

Monday – Twin Falls to Fruita

Tuesday – Fruita to Larkspur

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Headed Off to the LDX Rally

The time is nearly here to participate in the inaugural LDX rally. I will be headed off to the start location in Cheyenne, WY soon on a scenic route that takes me through some great riding in Colorado. Lots of prep this Spring (winter?) to get my bike and mind ready for an extended rally, and I am hoping it serves as a good primer for the Iron Butt Rally next summer.

My plan for riding out there includes visits to several Tour of Honor sites, a few PNWGT sites and also some scouting for next year’s PNWGT. The first day will be a slog along Washington interstates into Eastern Oregon, into Idaho and eventually Twin Falls for the night. I tried to vary the ride, but the interstate route is the shortest and it will be a long day.

Day 2 will be across southern Idaho and into Utah, then down through Spanish Fork and US-6 into Green River. My planned stop for the night should be in western Colorado.

Day 3 is the most enjoyable day. I plan to ride down to US-50 through Grand Mesa. I have been in Grand Junction several times and never spent the time to ride up to Grand Mesa, so I am looking forward to it. After joining US-50 I will go over Monarch Pass and will eventually find my way to friend’s house near Denver.

The rest of the trip is pretty boring. Up to Cheyenne via a service appointment in Fort Collins. We are supposed to be in Cheyenne for check-in and meetings on Friday, June 24th. The rally starts Saturday morning (June 25th). We head east towards our checkpoint in State College, PA on June 28th, then back to Cheyenne for the finish on July 2nd. Lots and lots of miles and a lot of new areas for me to ride!

Here’s a link to my Spotwalla track for the entire trip (including the rally). The Rally Master hasn’t placed any restrictions on us sharing our locations, but if that changes then I will update this link.

Tim’s LDX Trip!

Here’s a link to the official LDX website if interested to learn more.

LDX Website

I’ll try to post a few ride updates as I go along if time permits, and hopefully a full rally report after it is over. Meanwhile, here’s a look at my planned route out to Cheyenne.

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First Long Ride of the Season

I have been looking for opportunities to complete an IBA ride that was something different than a Saddle Sore. After wandering through the long list of possibilities, I decided an Interstate 5 End-to-End was a good chance to get down south to better riding weather and maybe use it to collect some TOH stops in southern California (note – TOH sites in California alternate between northern and southern each year).

The I5E2E ride requires the rider to ride the length of I-5 from Blaine, WA to San Ysidro, CA.You have to stay on I-5 the entire way (excluding gas stops, of course) – that means no detours for traffic and can’t allow GPS to route me along I-805 in San Diego, for example. Planning the ride timing was important because there are several large cities with bad traffic along the way. Everyone knows about Los Angeles, but few consider the choke point that is Portland, OR. I decided that riding most of the ride on a Saturday would avoid most of the traffic issues, and timed my departure from Blaine to try to get to LA after any rush hour.

I headed up to Blaine, WA on Friday and spent the night nearby. It was going to be an early start so I grabbed a light dinner and tried to get some sleep. Fail. As frequently happens to me, I was wide awake again at 1am. I had planned to get up at 2 anyway, so I just got up and adjusted my timeline a little earlier. Out the door at around 1:30 and at the first stop gas station at about 2am – my ride officially starts at 2:01am with a dated business receipt (DBR).

It was cold and damp all the way south to the first gas stop in Castle Rock, WA. I was riding into a head wind the entire way and gas mileage was not so good. In fact, I wound up pulling over once to double check tire pressures! Still, I managed to get to the gas stop by 5:30am. So far, so good. The rain was only intermittent and not much of an issue, and my heated gear worked perfectly to keep me relatively comfortable.

Off to Oregon! Portland traffic was non-existent that early in the morning and I breezed through without really slowing down. That had to be a first! The rain was also done with me but the headwind continued. I had planned my gas stops for around 225 miles each. I managed to make it to my second gas stop in Roseburg, OR at around 9am and was a little ahead of my pace. My route had planned for 15 minutes per gas stop but no allowance for a sit-down meal. A little ahead was fine with me as it gave me a chance to stretch my legs, and also gave me some cushion for the unknowns of LA traffic.

Next stop was just north of Redding in Shasta, CA. Truck traffic was picking up and it was finally getting warmer! I had dreamed of something above 60F for about 700 miles…LOL. My Shasta stop at about 12:30 was even further ahead of plan and it was approaching 70F – time to peel a few layers off πŸ™‚

Next stop was in Lathrop, CA (just about Stockton). Sacramento traffic presented the first slowdown of the ride, but I still managed to gain even more time on my plan. I was now about 45 minutes ahead and feeling pretty comfortable about LA. Now it is about 80F and glorious, and magically the wind has shifted and is pushing me along with great gas mileage!

Next (and last) gas stop was Bakersfield, CA. The Grapevine looms ahead and LA beyond. It is still pleasant riding weather but the sun is going down and it will be dark up on the mountain. Not a huge concern. One thing about the ride between Stockton and Bakersfield along I-5 is that it is flat, straight and boring! You also get the enjoy the alternating scents of citrus orchards (wonderful!) and cow poop (not wonderful!). I remember watching the trip-meter roll through 1,000 miles and was excited until I remembered I had about 380 miles to go…

On to LA! LA presents one of the biggest challenges on this ride because of traffic and also because of the myriad route possibilities along the way. Also consider that riding through LA takes longer then riding through multiple eastern US states! It was a grind and traffic slowed for no apparent reason several times, but I was comfortably ahead of my plan and really had no worries. The slowdowns turned into speedups pretty quickly and before I knew it I was through LA and on to San Diego.

I had planned my ride to achieve the Gold level version and had to get to San Ysidro within 22 hours of leaving Blaine. As 11pm approached I was taking the final exit into San Ysidro making my way to the final gas station. A little excitement on the final DBR when the receipt that I printed at the gas station showed an address about an hour north of my location, but I was able to fix that by buying a bottle of water across the street. I made it with time to spare!

I used the new IBA Insta-Cert process to submit my ride and it was super-easy. The key is to take a picture of your gas receipt and odometer at each stop (which you need to do anyway) and then add that picture to your SpotWalla map. The link to the properly formatted map is all you need for certification using this process.

Final stats were something like 1,386 miles in 21 hours and 4 minutes.

This was my first long ride with my new full-face helmet. I have issues with the way modular helmets fit me – I have a classic Arai shaped head and the modular typically cause some pain in the front of my head. The new helmet was very comfortable but my ability to drink while riding is near-zero…not good for long-distance riding. Back to the drawing board and look for ways to make the modular work for me.

The trip home was a little more relaxed, although I did get stymied on several attempted Tour of Honor cemetery visits. National cemeteries typically have banker’s hours and timing a long ride to include those locations is tricky. I collected several but left even more on the table for a future visit.

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A Small Ride Planned in 2023…

Two years ago I got a PayPal refund and an email from the Iron Butt Association – never good when a refund accompanies the email – it meant my hopes of riding the ’21 Iron Butt Rally had ended before it even started. It is challenging to get an entry to the premier long-distance rally. I knew that, but was still disappointed.

Fast forward two years. I considered whether to apply again because the starting location was advertised as being planned in the northeast US. That’s a long haul just to get to and from the rally. But I am not getting younger, and if the last two years have proven anything to me it is that there may not be a “tomorrow” or “next year”. There is no such thing as normal anymore. So I threw my name into the hat again, and this time I was picked! 2023 IBR, here we come.

I have a lot to think about, and while it may seem that 12+ months is a good amount of time to plan and prepare, I am here to tell you that it flies by way faster than you would hope. So preparation starts now!

My summer riding plans this year are really busy. I have a long rally out of Cheyenne in June and another shorter rally out of Colorado Springs in July. These two rallies coupled with a handful of other multi-day rides should help me get the bike dialed in.

I’ll share the journey when it seems useful.

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Caribbean “Warmup” Cruise

It started like this…”Do you want to go somewhere warm in February?”

The itinerary was fairly simple with 2 at sea days and 4 port calls – 3 of the 4 port calls were new for us. The repeat was Cozumel, and we had a good time there when we last visited, so it wasn’t a big deal. We decided on this cruise because it departed Tampa Bay and that would allow us an opportunity to stop by and visit my Mom in Naples, Florida for a few days.

It was warm and sunny in south Florida while we were there. We took a drive into the Everglades for lunch at a Cuban restaurant, visited the city docks in Naples for some pelican watching and even got to see an alligator up close.

A trio of pelicans posing for pictures on the Naples docks.
Florida Aligator
A little roadside stop and an alligator staying warm on the bank of a pond.

The embarkation process is still streamlined for COVID. I wonder if this process is the “new normal” for embarkation. If it is, I am a fan. It was about an hour from arrival on the pier to sitting down for lunch and a drink. Norwegian has you pick an embarkation time so that the waiting area doesn’t get so crowded. We had to be tested for COVID prior to embarkation and the process was pretty efficient.

NCL Dawn is one of Norwegian’s smaller ships and they are still sailing at about 50% capacity, so waiting is not really something we struggled with anywhere we went on board. The only place that got a little crowded was the pool area (on a Caribbean cruise – who would have guessed??), but even that was fine. We went out on deck to watch the ship transit under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as we left Tampa Bay. We knew it would look close, but as we approached I remember thinking that it was too low! I am guessing that bigger Norwegian ships cannot pass under the bridge. Our first full day underway was spent at sea and we took the time to relax by the pool in the shade.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The Sunshine Skyway bridge at the entrance to Tampa Bay.
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The ship was so nice to time our passage with sunset πŸ™‚

Cozumel, Mexico

We had visited Cozumel once before and took a shore excursion to some Mayan ruins that proved a little under-whelming. This time we decided to enjoy a trip to the Mayan Cacao company for some tequila and chocolate tasting. I have bad memories from tequila when younger…this time it was fine. Maybe moderation is really the key. They also demonstrated a more traditional way to make chocolate from cacao beans and we were able to sample the result – it was delicious! A final stop at a bee sanctuary and we were headed back to the ship along the coast in an area I recognized from our last visit.

Cozumel is a place for beach time, and I am not much of a beach person so no plans to return unless a good itinerary stops there.

Cozumel, Mexico
A pair of rescued Macaws guarded the entrance πŸ™‚
Cozumel, Mexico
Sanctuary to the Melipona bee, a stingless bee that produces excellent honey!
Cozumel, Mexico
NCL Dawn (one of Norwegian’s smaller ships) sits at the pier next to the NCL Breakaway (one of their larger ships).

Harvest Caye, Belize

Our next stop was on Harvest Caye, Belize. Harvest Caye is a resort owned by Norwegian that offers lots of fun activities like a large pool, sandy beach, zip line fun and more. We spent most of our time pool side enjoying the weather and also took a few moments to wander through a small wildlife area.

The real fun started when we returned to the ship. We noticed several large brown pelicans “fishing” in the water next to the pier by dive-bombing the surface! It was a lot of fun watching it, and I spent some time trying to get a few decent pictures.

Harvest Caye, Belize
Harvest Caye from the ship. You can see a small portion of the walkway in the lower left of the picture.
Harvest Caye, Belize
The beach area was nice but it was a very windy day and we stayed near the pool instead. The “lighthouse” is actually the biplane tower.
Harvest Caye, Belize
One of the better captures of a pelican fishing.
Harvest Caye, Belize
A pelican taking off πŸ™‚

Roatan, Honduras

Our next stop was Roatan, Honduras. Roatan is an island off the coast of Honduras that is tourist oriented, but we were also told it is a popular place for foreigners to buy land and settle for a much better cost of living. It was beautiful and we enjoyed our visit.

We took an excursion to a wildlife refuge that featured iguanas, white faced monkeys and macaws among other animals. We were told that the animals had been rescued from other places and were taken care of here. They were very tame and there were stops along the tour that we could interact with the macaws and monkeys.

Our guide told us at the beginning that the driving would be entertaining as there were no speed limits and other traffic control measures were “optional”. A bus is king of the road here, so we had few worries, but we did see several accidents along the way. Driving on Roatan is not for the faint of heart!

2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
Several Iguanas hanging out in the feeding area waiting for chow.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
A pair of Macaws chilling out in the trees.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
A white faced monkey on the lookout.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
The monkeys were not timid – they would jump up on your shoulders and hang out until a handler came over to help remove them. I am sure they were looking for food πŸ™‚

Costa Maya

Next stop – Costa Maya, Mexico. This port was purpose built to handle cruise ships and increase tourism in the region. The area at the head of the pier is all shopping and restaurants with a large saltwater pool and swamp bar. You really wouldn’t have to leave that area, and there really isn’t much outside the shopping area nearby.

We took an excursion to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. These ruins were much more enjoyable than what we had seen in Cozumel on a previous trip. Our guide was very engaging and we had a really nice time wandering the ruins. It is a bit of a haul from the cruise port (about 45minutes), but definitely worth it. From Wikipedia, “Settlement by the Maya at the site is estimated at 200 BC, and the structures date from 700 AD. It is characterized by large temples and massive platform groups.”

2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
One of the more spectacular sunrises on our cruise!
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
Looking at the beach area outside the cruise port in Costa Maya.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
One of the temples located at the Chacchoben site.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
Another temple located at the Chacchoben site.

The cruise was a great experience and might have convinced us to try to make it an annual warm up from our cold, gray and dreary winters. As if to reinforce that thought, Seattle presented us with another “atmospheric river” when we returned home. From 80F and sunny in Tampa to 40F and absolutely pouring in Seattle in about 6 hours…bummer!

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A Trip to Italy and Greece

SmugMug Album LInk

OK, this is a long post. I apologize in advance, but not too much. Jeannette and I made a trip to Italy and Greece, including a 7 day cruise of the Greek Islands, and it was fantastic. I will include a link to a SmugMug album with a lot more pictures if you are interested. This first post covers the time we spent in Italy and Greece, and the next post will cover the Greek Island cruise.

We originally planned a trip to Rome with a 10+ day cruise into the eastern Med. As we watched the travel complications multiply, we kind of knew the cruise was in jeopardy and eventually it was cancelled by Norwegian (NCL). We (Jeannette, Ken, Karlene and I) decided to vacation anyway since travel restrictions allowed it. Eventually we settled on spending several days in Rome, several days in Athens and the rest on a shorter cruise of the Greek Islands.

Ironically, most of the travel complexity came about because of countries relaxing travel restrictions. The relaxations brought about new requirements to allow tracking of tourists for contact tracing. It retrospect, it really wasn’t all that hard – it was just a pain to keep up with the changes. In the end all we had to do was prove our vaccination status and fill out the visit paperwork online. The airline checked our paperwork during checkin and the authorities in Italy checked us when we arrived.

Day 1 – Arrival in Rome, Italy

Our first day in Italy started pretty early after flying through the night. We landed in Rome around 8am and gathered our luggage for the roughly one hour train ride from the airport to the train station in Rome. Our hotel was a short walk from the train station and we all struggled with our bags over Rome’s cobblestoned streets and sidewalks…LOL. We all agreed that we needed to stay up and force our way through the first day, so we left our bags with the hotel and struck out on foot to explore a few nearby areas. We found our way to the same restaurant we enjoyed last time we visited and then headed back to our hotel for a well-deserved sleep!

Day 1 agenda…fight off jet lag. We went out for a walk and found the Fountain of the Naiads.
A view of the plaza in front of the Alter of the Fatherland with the Church of Saint Mary of Loreto on the left side.
Alter of the Fatherland. It serves as a good navigation landmark.
Yawn…just a quick look down a Rome street to see the Colosseum.

Days 2 – 4: Rome, Italy

Our hotel was nicely located and we decided to walk to most of the places we wanted to explore. After enjoying breakfast, we headed out to explore at a more relaxed pace than our last viist. Our path covered a lot of ground. We headed through some shopping areas toward Trevi Fountain, had a light snack/lunch next to the Pantheon and tried to explore the Castel Sant’Angelo before heading back to our hotel. The Castel was a cool visit but the inside wasn’t open because of a bank holiday. We had seen a very nice restaurant on our way back the night before and we went back to find it for dinner. It was our first experience with having to prove vaccination status before being allowed to dine indoors, and there was no issue with using a picture of our card on a phone. Turned out to be a very popular place with the locals and outdoor seating was full well into the evening. One thing you learn when dining in Italy (and Greece, too, we learned) is that it is something to be enjoyed, can’t be rushed and can last as long as you like. No one drops the check on your table – you have to ask for it when you are ready to go.

Trevi Fountain – the lack of crowds was appreciated and enjoyable πŸ™‚
Ken & Karlene taking a selfie at Trevi Fountain.
The streets of Rome are also sidewalks and restaurants. Some of the best food we ate was enjoyed with a delivery van passing a few feet away!
The Castel Sant’Angelo was a cool stop even if it was closed due to a bank holiday.
The River Tiber with Vatican City on the background.

All 4 of us were really looking forward to August 31st. We had booked a tour of the lower levels of The Colosseum and were excited to see a perspective we had not enjoyed before. We walked over to the meeting point near The Colosseum and joined our tour guide. Our path took us into the Roman Forum and Palantine Grounds before heading over to the Colosseum where we skipped the (short) lines and descended into the basement. It was a fantastic tour and we saw some aspects of the structure that made the whole thing make more sense, like the restored elevator system that moved gladiators, animals and equipment from the lower levels up to the main floor. The Colosseum was one location that required mask use indoors and outdoors, and it was pretty warm the day we visited. Lots of water and looking for shade whenever possible – that was the order of the day!

After enjoying the tour and finding a place to cool down a little, we decided dinner the previous night was fantastic and headed back to our new favorite restaurant for a repeat performance!

Looking at some of the carvings on the Arch of Titus.
Another view of the Palantine Grounds with the Alter of the Fatherland in the background.
A portion of the lower areas of The Colosseum. One significant difference involves the construction materials – less marble, more limestone, and no attempt to make it smooth since slaves were the primary occupants of this area.
Colosseum underground tour.
It was a warm day and we avoided the sun whenever possible. This was taken at floor level looking into the lower levels we had just visited.

We spent our 3rd and final full day in Italy on a tour to Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius. We were trying to find something new to go explore and this seemed like just the ticket. We had to head out of the hotel kind of early to make the walk to the meeting point, and then boarded a tour bus for the trip to Pompeii. Our guide was pretty entertaining, and after a brief stop to grab a snack, we arrived. To say Pompeii is amazing would be a dramatic understatement. One of several eruptions of nearby Mt Vesuvius buried Pompeii under 20+ feet of volcanic rock and debris. Pompeii didn’t burn – it is more likely that the inhabitants were killed by suffocation.

The ruins remained hidden until a portion was discovered during the early part of the 18th century. Excavation has revealed essentially an entire town with streets, buildings and portions of some finer details like floor mosaics and wall frescoes. It was an amazing experience, one I will not soon forget.

After enjoying the ruins and grabbing lunch, we got back on the bus for the trip up a narrow, winding road to get to the parking area for the hike up to Mt Vesuvius. The hike wasn’t particularly difficult or long, but it was pretty warm and I was not enjoying the pizza in my gut! The views of the caldera are pretty cool, and the views of nearby Naples, Italy (a city of roughly 3 million) and the adjoining Bay of Naples were fantastic!

We got back to our drop off location around 7:30, so a search for dinner was the next task. We found a place on the way back to our hotel. Sadly, it was one of the less enjoyable dining experiences we had in Italy.

It turns out that the best time to visit the Spanish Steps is 7am…who knew?
The rocks are used as stepping stones to allow pedestrians to cross flooded streets. They are spaced to allow a chariot to pass!
The ruins of Pompeii.
This is a good example of how some of the building decoration survived the eruption.
A nice view while cooling down in the shade.
Mt Vesuvius crater.
Here’s a good view of the crater of Mt Vesuvius. We made it to the second checkpoint (working on the trail from the left, it is the larger of the buildings).

Days 5 – 8: Athens, Greece

We enjoyed Rome, but now it was time to make the trip over to Athens, Greece for some new exploration and, eventually, our Greek Island cruise. The trip from Rome to Athens was uneventful – we used the train to get from our hotel to the Rome airport, and we had set up a driver for the trip from the Athens airport to our hotel there. I had looked over transportation in Greece and most people agreed that using a taxi should be approached with caution as you might find yourself stuck with a very large bill. We decided to avoid using a taxi, if possible, and the hired service worked out well. Uber worked in Rome, but the service doesn’t seem to be available in Athens – only taxis showed up.

Our first day in Athens was spent wandering around near the hotel, grabbing some dinner at a nice street-side cafe, finding a bakery for a sweet treat and then a drink on the rooftop bar at our hotel. A quick lesson was learned about Athens in particular, and Greece in general. Food and drink prices were very reasonable throughout the country…except at the hotel. No big surprise, just confirmation that hotels charge a lot no matter the location. We enjoyed awesome views of the east side of the Acropolis from our room and from the rooftop bar.

A view of The Acropolis from our hotel room balcony at night.
A busy intersection below our hotel provided some fun opportunities!

Our first full day in Athens was spent exploring the Acropolis and the surrounding neighborhoods that were full of shopping, eating and snacking! We had looked forward to visiting the Acropolis and having that view from the hotel only multiplied the anticipation. Ken did some research and we decided to go early (it opened at 8am) to try to beat some of the diminished crowds and avoid the heat of the afternoon. It was a good plan as it approached 90F in the afternoon.

Cats! Lost and lots of cats around this area of Athens. For anyone that has visited Kauai and seen the chickens, Athens’ version is the feral cat. They were everywhere, and we even watched one stalk and capture a pigeon inside the Acropolis grounds. The thing about that scene that will stick with me was the sound of all the other birds as they tried to make the cat release the bird and go away (unsuccessfully).

The Acropolis is a fantastic area sitting on top of high ground in the middle of Athens. They have done a lot of work in this area and there is a nice museum nearby that has quite a few artifacts on display. After exploring the grounds and museum, we walked the streets in the old section of the city and browsed shops, had a nice snack and slowly wandered back to our hotel. One unexpected delight was watching the changing of the guard at the parliament building (it happens at the top of each hour, 24 hours a day).

A typical Athens street near the Acropolis. It was early and not many shops were open, yet, but that would change later!
A portion of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus with Athens sprawled behind it.
The BeulΓ© Gate offers entry into the Acropolis grounds.
Morning light brightens the inside of the Parthenon.
My favorite view of the Acropolis from Filopappou Hill.
We enjoy some shopping and the crowds are getting al little busier.

After a long day of pounding the pavement the day before, we decided to use one of the hop on/hop off busses to see some more of Athens. The bus was pretty easy to use and we just kind of went along until something struck our interest. One of the things we had decided we wanted to see was the Temple of Zeus. It was kind of along the walk we did the day before, and it was also pretty close to the cafe that served excellent mojitos…so off we went.

The Temple of Zeus is in the shadow of the Acropolis and probably not as popular, but it was still pretty neat. As with all sites that are this old, it is interesting to me to try to imagine what was going on when it was active. The Acropolis is visible from the grounds of the temple.

After enjoying the Temple of Zeus, we hopped on the bus for a museum visit, a few drinks and a snack, some shopping and, finally, a fantastic dinner of Greek food with unbelievably large portions!

Another view of the Acropolis over the entry to the Temple of Zeus. No, it never gets old πŸ™‚
A column lays on the ground, waiting for restoration at the Temple of Zeus.
Several of the columns have been restored, and the scaffolding is in place to protect them. Jeannette poses for the shot πŸ™‚
Our dinner venue for the night – it was like a street fair of fantastic smells and tastes!
One of the shopping areas that we enjoyed in Athens.

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Where’s the Heat?

I have this uncanny ability to choose riding days that turn into the hottest days of the year! It’s not hard to do this year – we have all been baking in the PNW. I took a little time to make a trip down into Northern Nevada for some Tour of Honor stops and some PNW Grad Tour stops, too.

What is PNW Grand tour, you ask? It is a little grand tour style rally I put together last Fall that has grown to over 350 riders. We have had our share of growing pains, but overall I would say it has been a hit with most of our participants. I tried to choose locations throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and portions of California, Nevada and Montana that would take riders to places they may not have explored, yet.

My first day took me down to Burns, Oregon via Portland and John Day. Temperatures rose to about 103F by the time I made my first bonus stop in Kimberley, Oregon. I also saw clouds building on the horizon and knew some rain showers might be in the plan for the day. I honestly was looking forward to it since I knew it would cool off quite a bit if I did encounter one of the cells. Alas, I managed to dodge all but one shower. It did cool off to a comfortable temperature by the time I made my way down to Burns for the night.

One of the struggles associated with riding these days is the availability of food on the road. A lot of fast food places don’t have enough workers to open the lobby (try the drive thru on a bike!), and a lot of other restaurants have hours that don’t show up accurately on their websites. There have been a couple e vending machine meals in the past few months 😦

Kimberley, Oregon for my first PNW GT stop.
Some of the thunder storm activity – I did well dodging them!
A little road work with thunder booming behind me. What trip would be complete?

Day 2 found me making my way down through Nevada to the interstate via McDermitt, Nevada and then back up into Oregon via the bustling metropolis of Gerlach, Nevada. It was still a hot day and as I approached my stop for the night just south of Bend, the smoke started to get thicker from nearby fires. If you have never ridden through Northern Nevada, the thing that sticks with you is the sense of isolation! I think I saw maybe 2 cars on the stretch of road between Fernley, NV and Alturas, CA. And not much road work to speak of, either.

Gerlach is an acquired taste…
McDermitt, Nevada is a blip on the map.

Day 3 was a more leisurely ride up through central Oregon to the Dee Wright Observatory and then over to Salem and then home. If you have never been to the Dee Wright Observatory, make the trip. It is a beautiful drive and a rather fascinating landmark with spectacular views of some of Oregon’s most famous mountains.

The Dee Wright Observatory in the background.
A peaceful morning ride up through the forest to Dee Wright.
Mt Washington in central Oregon is a fantastic landmark on a mostly clear morning from the observatory!
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Snowshoeing in Paradise

My son and I decided to head up to Mt Rainier National Park after Christmas to enjoy some snowshoeing in the Paradise area. The road up to the visitor center is open year-around if road condition allow. It is controlled at lower elevation to limit travel to daylight hours.

We took off at a reasonable hour since the gate doesn’t open until 9am. Weather forecasts predicted pretty nice weather up at elevation, but the drive didn’t give any indication it would be enjoyable. We had steady rain all the way to the outskirts of the park. It was like magic when we neared the entrance station – the rain stopped, the clouds thinned and we could even catch a glimpse of blue skies once in a while. The road was in very good condition all the way to the top. Plows had obviously been working hard to get it cleared. The mountains had received over a foot of new snow over the holiday.

The parking area was a little more crowded than we expected, but given the fantastic conditions, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised. Even with a full parking area it didn’t feel crowded. There were a lot of families with kids on sleds. It was fun to watch!

We took off with no real destination in mind. Our trek took us past one of the park’s most recognizable and iconic waterfalls – Mrytle Falls. It was totally different with all the snow, and clouds obscured the mountain that normally dominates the background of the picture. It was actually easier to access on snowshoes than it normally is in the summer months. We crossed the creek on a snow-buried foot bridge and continued up the Skyline trail to a hill with a great view of the Tatoosh Range.

All-in-all, it was a great way to spend a weekend day!

The road up to Paradise was well maintained.
Some fresh ski tracks in about a foot of new powder. Someone had a fun time πŸ™‚
Myrtle Falls looks remarkably different with all the snow. Those people in the frame are standing on (or near) a footbridge buried by over 5 feet of snow!
The Tatoosh Range dappled with mid-day sunshine peeking through the clouds.
Sun splashes across mountain tops.

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