Friday, May 25, 2007

Tale of two bike rides

Saturday, May 12, 2007 - North Texas Classic, Saginaw, TX

Sponsored by Saginaw Kiwanis, the North Texas Classic offered riders a choice of four rides: 10, 20 40, or 60 miles. I had to be at work on Saturday afternoon, so I chose the 40-mile route. It began at Boswell High School in Saginaw, then headed up along the east shore of Eagle Mountain Lake toward Newark, then north to Rhome, then southeast toward Avondale and along Hicks Airport and back to Saginaw.

Starting area at the North Texas Classic - Saginaw, TX

The ride itself did not seem very well attended; I'd estimate there were less than 300 riders on all the routes combined. This is only their third or fourth year to sponsor this ride, so maybe it will grow more popular in the years to come. I'm not a fan of huge crowds, but when I'm part of an organized ride, I don't want to feel like I'm the only one on the road. 20 miles into the ride, there were many times when I didn't see any other riders ahead of me or behind me, including on long straightaways.

the open road near Newark
(UP Duncan Subdivision tracks at left)

I was a bit disappointed at the 40-mile course. I didn't have any complaints about the route, except that it wasn't 40 miles... just 37.5 as I measured it. I stopped at two of the three rest areas along the course. None were crowded, and all were staffed by friendly volunteers offering Gatorade, water, bananas, orange slices, and cookies. The post-ride hot dogs, Cokes, and chips were a nice finish.

North Texas Classic finish

Saturday, May 19, 2007 - Cross Timbers Classic - Flower Mound, Texas

This was the ride I'd been looking forward to. Scheduled to start at Texas Motor Speedway, the Cross Timbers Classic promised riders on all routes (10, 30, 50, and 100 miles) an introductory lap around the race track.

Cycling at the speedway - Cross Timbers Classic 2007

This ride drew a much larger crowd; I'd estimate there were at least 1000 riders. The morning began with cloudy skies and light rain, but the ride started as scheduled, and we got make a complete lap before we exited TMS and headed out onto the highways. I overheard more than one rider saying that just the TMS lap made the ride worthwhile. It was definitely the most unique feature of any organized ride I've been on so far. I've driven by TMS countless times on I-35 and have even watched a few races on tv, but had never been there in person until the Cross Timbers Classic. Pedaling around the 1.5-mile track at ground level gives you a real sense of appreciation for how highly the turns are banked (24 degrees, according to the TMS website). I had no idea they were that high!

Lining up in pit row for the start of the Cross Timbers Classic

Leaving pit row, heading into Turn 1

Turn 1

Turn 4

I had decided in advance to ride the 50-mile route. After leaving TMS, we headed north to Justin, east to Argyle, and then through a series of backroads east of Argyle before heading back to Justin and TMS. It was a nice course; I'll probably go out and ride parts of it again on my own. I stopped at two of the rest areas for Gatorade, water, and bananas. Only one of the rest stops had cookies. Fortunately, the rain let up, but the skies stayed cloudy so it never got too hot. I finished my 50 miles with energy to spare. Back at TMS, there wasn't much in the way of post-ride festivities... the only food they had was smoked sausage and other barbecue that the sponsoring Rotary club was seeking "donations" for. I didn't have any cash with me and didn't see any ATM's around, so I called it quits and headed for home.

Cross Timbers Classic riders near Argyle

Final thoughts

These were the first two organized rides I have done where the courses use some of the same roads I use during my daily rides. It was cool to be part of an organized group on roads that I normally ride on my own.

As far as which of the two rides was better, I'd give the edge to the Cross Timbers Classic. It's hard to beat that introductory lap around the TMS track, and it was fun to be part of a larger group and not feel like I was out there all alone.

Memo for next year: the North Texas Classic might be worth checking out if you happen not to be doing anything else that day, but the Cross Timbers Classic is the one to mark on your calendar.


nr: June 2006 Railfan & Railroad

np: Mazzy Star - "Ghost on the Highway" from "She Hangs Brightly"

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Monday, May 21, 2007

No time for the blog... (4)

... Just the photos. Please excuse my extended absence; I've been a bit preoccupied lately. Here is a selection of scenes from the past couple weeks in north Texas. Enjoy!

My reflection in the wheel of a fire truck at Keller, Tx.
May 17, 2007.

BNSF Z-train heads north, approaching Justin, TX. May 13, 2007.

Texas music billboard & suburban rooftops. Watauga, TX.

May 17, 2007.

No comment. Avondale, TX. May 14, 2007.

Southbound UP freight on BNSF. Haslet, TX. May 13, 2007.

BNSF loaded coal train north of Saginaw, TX. May 14, 2007.

Old coal hoppers rolling through Haslet, Tx. May 14, 2007.

Center-cab switch engine at Trinity Industries near Hicks Airport. May 14, 2007.

A cultural statement on the rear window of a pickup truck.
Watauga, Tx. May 17, 2007.

That's all for now... stay tuned for my next entry, "A tale of two bike rides" (my reviews of the May 12 North Texas Classic and the May 19 Cross Timbers Classic).
np: Hayes Carll - "Hey baby where you been" from the "Little Rock" album
nr: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Red dirt day trip

A week ago Sunday (April 29), M joined me for a daylong trip to Black Bear, Oklahoma. Located about an hour north of Oklahoma City, Black Bear features an interlocking where the BNSF Red Rock Subdivision (former Santa Fe from Gainesville TX to Arkansas City KS) crosses the BNSF Avard Sub (my current dispatching district, the former Frisco from Tulsa to Enid to Avard). It's a neat place to spend a couple hours or a whole day, and we saw plenty of trains. It was a lot of ground to cover in a day, though... we drove over 600 miles! Maybe next time, we'll find a motel room and drive back the next morning.

Eastbound H BARTUL (Barstow, California to Tulsa OK) on the Avard Sub approaches the Black Bear diamond. April 29, 2007

M's photos of the BARTUL were a little bit more "interpretive".

BNSF 914 northbound on the Red Rock Sub at Black Bear.

Grain hoppers rattle across the diamond on the Red Rock Sub. Track in foreground is the connecting track from the Red Rock Sub to the Avard Sub.

A portrait of backwoods Oklahoma - the Avard Subdivision southwest of Black Bear

the same crossing - with a train

We found aptly-named "Railroad Avenue" in nearby Morrison.

Also on hand at Morrison was this backhoe in a hopper, part of a work train that was unloading ties on the Avard Sub during late April and early May.

M enjoyed a visit with the crew of this eastbound before they headed for Tulsa.

Live music report
Well, I missed Ray Wylie Hubbard at Love & War in Texas (Plano) this past Sunday. He played at the "Shiner Sunday" event, but I was busy taking the kids to a birthday party for one of the neighbor's kids, so I wasn't able to go. Too bad -- I really enjoyed Ray Wylie's show when we caught him in Waxahachie a couple years ago. Hopefully I'll have another chance to see him sometime soon.
Wayne Hancock will be playing at Dan's in Denton on Friday, but I'll probably have to skip out on that as well... I'm signed up to ride in the North Texas Classic (bike ride) at Saginaw on Saturday morning. Eleven Hundred Springs will be at Dan's on Saturday, though... if I'm not too tired from riding, maybe I'll go check that out. I haven't seen them "long-hair tattoo hippie freaks" in quite a while...
See ya next time...
I'm pretty much all caught up on my backlog of material. It might be a week or two before I post again. Until next time... take care of yourselves -- and each other.
np: Mr. T Experience "Alternative is here to stay" (single)

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Whiskey's movie & radio reviews

Whiskey reviews Borat

I first heard of Borat last summer or fall, when actor Sacha Cohen appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Ordinarily, I wouldn't watch even 5 seconds of Leno, but when I caught a glimpse of Cohen I stopped flipping channels -- here was a guy who, before he even spoke a word, I just knew was going to be funny. When they showed a film clip of Borat taking a driving lesson, I could tell this movie had some potential. I missed it at the theaters, but just recently rented and watched the dvd.

For the benefit of the uninformed, I'll briefly summarize the plot: Borat, a boorish, unrefined, socially ignorant tv reporter from the third-world nation of Kazakhstan, embarks on a journey to document the culture and lifestyles of typical Americans. Hilarity ensues.

During several "interviews" with Americans in various walks of life, Borat asks a series of questions, each more offensive than the last, attempting to find "common ground" with his American contacts by revealing his own racist, homophobic and misogynistic attitudes. What I didn't realize until after I had seen the movie and read some reviews, was that these interviews were unscripted, and were conducted with unsuspecting "real people"! (Think of it as "Coming to America" meets "Jackass". Just when I was thinking that the movie runs out of steam about halfway through, I can now appreciate it on an entirely new level!) In this regard, "Borat" is essentially a cinematic equivalent to the now defunct Phil Hendrie radio show, where the talk show guests were fake, and the joke was on the callers.

The funniest scene, for me, was when Borat goes shopping for a car. The salesman discusses the various benefits of Corvettes and Hummers, but Borat is forced to settle on a used ice cream truck. Probably the most memorable scene, one in which Borat and his producer Azamat argue and wrestle in a hotel room, an elevator, and a banquet hall (both of them nude the entire time) would have been more amusing if it wasn't so visually disgusting. It made the "Fat Bastard" scenes from Austin Powers look like a Disney film.

Anyway, if you're looking for a few good laughs, pick up "Borat" from Netflix. I won't say it's worth plunking down 15 bucks to buy the dvd... it wears a little thin after the third or fourth viewing. But I did enjoy it the first couple of times...

Whiskey reviews "Lone Star 92.5"

Something new has hit the FM radio dial in the D-FW market -- a reincarnated version of Clear Channel's KZPS classic rock station on 92.5 FM. I caught wind of it on the Hard Country Radio discussion board on yahoogroups. I'm glad someone brought it up, because otherwise I might have missed it. You see, I gave up on KZPS years ago, around the time I caught them playing songs by U2 and the Talking Heads. Good music? Maybe, but it sure didn't fit my definition of classic rock.

The new KZPS is different than anything I've heard on the airwaves so far. In an attempt to assume the form of the various satellite "channels" on XM and Sirius, KZPS has adopted a radically different format, free of traditional commercial spots between blocks of music. Instead of strings of 30-second commercial spots, each portion of the programming day is "sponsored" by a commercial giant such as Coors Light, Southwest Airlines, AT&T, etc., whose names the dj's mention frequently during breaks in the music. But listeners no longer have to suffer through endless series of inane and annoying commercial spots.

The best part, of special interest to me, is the station's music format. Billing itself as "Lone Star 92.5" the station offers a musical mix of Texas and "outlaw" country along with southern and classic rock. During the first two weeks of programming, I've heard Jerry Jeff Walker, Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Daniels Band, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, the Old 97s, Wilco, Son Volt, the Drams, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Miller Band, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Tom Petty, the Eagles, the Band, Eric Clapton, and Willie Nelson. In fact, Willie himself provides some short bits that air between the songs, comments like "This is Willie Nelson for Lone Star 92.5. If it sounds like we've stolen your cd collection, maybe you'd better go check!" Yep, I can see that... I'm not that familiar with some of the classic rock stuff they've been playing -- and they could stand to expand their representation of "Texas country" by adding more of the lesser-known artists. And I don't really support the Clear Channel "monopoly of the airwaves" philosophy. But the new KZPS is an inventive concept, and I'll give it a chance -- at least during commercial breaks on KHYI.


np: "Jackass" reruns on MTV

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Final impressions from Hawaii

A few final thoughts on our trip... when we visited Honolulu and Maui in 2005, we had no idea we'd be returning to the Aloha state again so soon. Well, late last year when we began discussing taking an anniversary trip, we talked about the possibility of a return visit, since we had enjoyed our previous trip so much. K's friends had just moved to Kane'ohe, and my friend Bill was still in Honolulu. We figured we could visit them for a couple days and spend the rest of our time doing something else. Since we hadn't gotten to see the Big Island (especially the volcano) during our 2005 visit, that's what we decided on. We had really liked Maui in 2005, and we'd go back there in a heartbeat. We enjoyed the Big Island as well, but it was definitely different from Maui. In some aspects, it met -- and even exceeded -- our expectations. We might make a return trip sometime with the kids; we found lots of things to see and do that they would have enjoyed. The black sand beach at Pololu would have been a great place to spend a half-day or so, maybe with a picnic lunch ...

Visiting Honolulu for the second time in less than two years was kind of neat; we stayed right up the street from where we had stayed the last time, and everything felt really familiar. I've now been to Honolulu -- twice -- more recently than I've been to Ruidoso, New Mexico, which has always been a frequent vacation destination for the Whiskey family. But we might finally be heading back to Ruidoso this fall.

Oh, by the way... you've seen how long it has taken me to post the Hawaii blog entries, and how many photos I've posted... that's precisely why I never got around to posting a trip report or photos from our 2005 trip!

Lasting impressions

One thing that really made an impression on me on both trips is Hawaii's climate; the coastal locations are just so pleasant to be around. It never gets too hot, and there's always a nice breeze. I really enjoyed the open-air environment at many of the places we went -- hotel lobbies, restaurants, even some of the airport terminals! Although the birds can be a bit of a problem at the outdoor restaurants, we saw very few insects anywhere we went.

K at the all-outdoor airport in Kona.

We had never seen anything like it!

I'm pretty sure I could handle life on the islands, if it weren't for the sky-high real-estate prices! Houses and property are damned expensive there. We're used to getting a lot of value for our housing dollar here in north Texas. In Hawaii, we'd be lucky to get a QUARTER of our Texas home's square footage for the same price! It's probably safe to say that we won't be moving out there anytime soon. But if we should ever happen to win the lottery...

Uniquely Hawaiian

I enjoy travel because I enjoy seeing new and different places. Things that are unique and different from what I'm used to at home always make an impression on me. Here are a few such things I took note of during our 2007 Hawaii trip.

Check out these Hawaiian-attired "restroom people" in the Honolulu Airport! Someone better tell that dude he forgot his pants...

The airplanes look different, too.

It's not every day you see road signs encrusted in lava...

With only 12 letters to work with in the Hawaiian alphabet, you end up with some interesting place names -- and lots of apostrophes!

The gardens around our hotel were home to lots of these critters...

Japanese "lucky cats" (maneki neko) were seen at several restaurants and businesses.

Back to Texas, back to reality

Beginning with my next entry, we'll be back on the scene in Whiskey country (north Texas and surrounding areas). I've accumulated a small backlog of material during the time it has taken me to post all the Hawaii stuff, so there'll be no shortage of stuff to talk about. Until next time...

np: Waylon Jennings - cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't think twice"

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hawaii trip - day 7

Saturday, April 14

All vacations must end eventually; on Saturday, it was time for us to check out of the hotel and fly back to Texas. But first...

During our drive on Friday, I had taken special note of the scenery around Waimea... as we drove head east, uphill away from the ocean, the landscape looked a lot like west Texas -- mountainsides covered with yellow prairie grass and very few trees. But as we approached Waimea, the climate became cooler and more humid and there was an increase in vegetation. The town itself was very picturesque, with a number of scenic hillsides. I noticed quite a few locations that would have made for some good photos, but we were pressed for time, so I didn't really have a chance to shoot anything. On Saturday after breakfast, I had a couple hours to go back and take a few pics...

Hawaii or west Texas?
picturesque landscape near Waimea

Mauna Kea as seen from the hills above Waimea

After checking out of the hotel, we grabbed some lunch and did some shopping at the King's Shops near Waikoloa Beach. I tried to interest K in a t-shirt that we saw...

I couldn't convince K to purchase this one...

Next, we headed to the Kona airport to catch our Hawaiian Airlines flight back to Honolulu.

boarding our plane at Kona Airport

We had a 2-hour layover at Honolulu while we waited for our flight to D-FW...

Honolulu International Airport

Who knew the rap group NWA had their own airline? ;-)

a round of farewell drinks at Honolulu

Our flight back to D-FW was pretty uneventful. We left Honolulu around 8 pm and arrived at D-FW around 8 or 9 am, local time. It was dark when we left Honolulu; by the time the sun came up, we were just north of Portales and Clovis, NM. We were following approximately the same flight path we had taken home from Phoenix last month (see March 21 post) . It was chilly in Dallas (low 40's -- brrrr!) I had to dig out a jacket and pair of socks from our suitcase after we picked up our luggage. We went home and went to bed... I slept a solid 6 hours before waking up around 4 pm. Those flights will really take the energy out of you...
Well, that's pretty much it. What an awesome trip; we got to see and do lots of neat stuff. Big thanks to Mom for offering to keep the kids so K and I could share a special anniversary trip.

Stay tuned for one more Hawaii post, a few follow-up comments and a final selection of photos. Until then...
np: Old & in the Way - "Panama Red" on KHYI 95.3 FM

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