Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains – Day 02

Day 02
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Athens, TN to Winchester, VA
481 miles

I was feeling very good about my schedule getting to Pennsylvania. With only ~700 miles to go and two days to do them in, there was no rush.

My SPOT was flashing a low battery light that morning, so I decided to look for a Radio Shack along the route (I also needed another stereo extension cable). I found a likely exit near Knoxville and pulled over in a strip mall to consult the GPS. A shouted question to a man who happened to be walking by resulted in a point at the large shopping center just across the street. I thought that I couldn’t get any luckier until I rolled up to Radio Shack and found that it wouldn’t open til 11:30 (over an hour later) on Sunday. I ended up finding everything I needed at the adjacent Walmart, but the gear-down and lock-up required for shopping at a large store delayed me more than I had really wanted.

I felt a little silly stopping for lunch at Hardees (Western Bacon Cheeseburger, WOOO!) less than 100 miles into my day. At least I was on I-81 (the interstate that would take me all the way to Pennsylvania) at that point.

I encountered some of the worst traffic of the trip on I-81 in Virginia. The interstate was congested and hilly. This translated into abrupt slowdowns that made this section of the trip one of the least relaxing. I was forced to cover my brakes more closely than usual.

For Scott:

I had been hoping for a cool down in temperature as I got into the mountains. Instead I had another crazy hot day. It was so refreshing to walk into my air conditioned motel room in Winchester, VA, only 230 miles away from tomorrow’s destination in Pennsylvania.

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Yes. I know it’s upside down. You try taking a photo with your mobile phone on the side of a busy interstate. It says “Virginia”. (it’s a state)

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Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains – Day 01

Day 01
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Monroe, LA to Athens, TN
561 miles

I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation among riding buddies as a late sleeper. On past trips, the only legitimate reason for waking up before 8 AM has been a planned long mileage day. Well, this morning I didn’t use slightly sore shoulders as an excuse to skimp on my (relatively new habit) “every other morning” 6:30 AM jog. My riding camelbak flopped around a bit more than my usual waist hydration pak, but it was fine for a quick 40 minute run. I got back, took a shower, packed the bike, and was on the road before 9 AM.

I found I-20 to be very similar to US59 in appearance. Road construction crews basically chopped down a swath of pine trees and laid down a ribbon of pavement.

I got a few sprinkles just after stopping for gas near Tuscaloosa, AL. I quickly pulled over to stow my camera and cover my GPS with a ziploc bag. A few miles later the cooling rain really caught up with me on I-459 around Birmingham, AL. It was only a cherished memory when I took the I-59 ramp toward Gadsden.

Drying off, I passed my intended destination for the night, Ft Payne, around 5:30. I again decided it was too early to stop and continued on toward Chattanooga, TN.

When riding in the west, I’m generally pretty aware of where the time zone borders lie. I know that Mountain begins roughly even with the New Mexico/Colorado eastern border, and Pacific as I cross into California/Nevada. I’m not as familiar with the boundaries of the Eastern time zone though, and was watching for a notification sign that never showed. I should have gotten a clue when I crossed briefly into Georgia.

I had initially felt a little guilty for stopping for the night just past Chattanooga in Athens, TN at only “6:30”. I felt much better about my decision when I realized that it was actually just before 8 PM.

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Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains – Day 0.5

Every spring my mind turns to motorcycle trips. I cast about for ideas, weighing where I’ve been against all the farflung places I’d like to go. When the boyfriend invited me to spend a couple of August days with his family up in northeast Pennsylvania, I immediately saw the possibilities. I haven’t ridden northeast since June 2006. It’s clearly time to revisit the Blue Ridge Mountains and tag a couple more states.

My plan is to leave work early on Friday, August 7. I’ll spend a couple of days interstating north, arriving in Pennsylvania on Monday, August 10. I’ll spend a few days there before starting a more leisurely ride back via Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Deals Gap. The last two days of my ride will be mostly interstate, arriving home on Monday, August 17.

I’ve been avoiding trip reports lately. I rode in the Georgia mountains last year, and more recently in New Mexico. Those rides had an ambitious itinerary so I took few pictures and ended my days too tired to do a trip report. My For this trip, I’m pushing the reset button. I resolve to take more pictures, spend time each night on my trip report, and stop the bike when a truly beautiful vista presents itself.

Day 0.5
Friday, August 7, 2009
Houston, TX to Monroe, LA
341 miles

I left work around 1pm, fully prepared for the blistering heat of Houston August. My camelbak was full of ice water and all vents were open on my touring suit. I navigated my way around to US59, one of my favorite ways to get out of the city.

My mapping program had initially told me that the fastest way to Pennsylvania included a half day’s travel eastbound on I-10. I’m tired of I-10. I’ve done that segment a couple of times recently and on a (undocumented) riding tour to Georgia last year. I decided to instead ride up US59 to I-20 and take that across Louisiana and Mississippi, picking up the mapping program’s route in Meridian, MS.

For the most part, US59 north of Houston is tree-lined and high speed, much like an interstate. There are a few town bypasses to pay attention to (if you don’t want to slow to a crawl passing through a “downtown”).

It was HOT. My POS Formotion thermometer was registering 110 for most of the ride while the cheap Walmart thermometer in my tankbag map window ranged through a (probably) more accurate 97 to 105. Sweat was dripping off my nose and chin, but each ice cold sip from the camelbak noticeably cooled me.

My intended destination for the night was Marshall, TX, an easy ~200 miles away at the intersection of US59 and I-20. Rolling through Carthage, TX at 4:30pm, I started seeing signs for both Marshall (~30 miles straight ahead) and Shreveport, LA (~40 mile cutoff toward the northeast). Just as the exit for US79 toward Shreveport came up, I decided that it was WAAAAY too early to stop for the night and why not get ahead of myself on the I-20 segment. I veered toward Shreveport and figuratively tossed my tentative itinerary “out the window”.

A construction detour on the I-220 bypass around Shreveport slowed me down a little, so I “only” made it 140 miles into tomorrow’s route before deciding to stop around 7pm in Monroe, LA.

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Lunar Rendezvous 5k

“10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…LIFTOFF!” and the front runners streamed away as astronaut Sandra Magnus started the 31st running of the Lunar Rendezvous 5k race. Held on Saturday, July 18, 2009 at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake, the course wound around the perimeter of the campus.

Anticipating being one of the slower runners, I held back and crossed the start line (starting my chip) about a minute after the race started. I’d warmed up by walking back and forth between the start line and the finish line (a little ways away) a few times and was feeling pretty good. I resolved to run at least the first 35 minutes of the race (following my “One Hour Runner” plan for the day). I also wanted to improve my 5K time.

I let my heart rate settle in the mid 160s during the first mile as we passed the rocket park and a long building with a line drawing of the Saturn V rocket it contained painted on the side. This building and others provided plenty of shady areas that really helped keep the temperature down. At the first mile marker, I glanced down at my HRM and saw that I was at just over 12 minutes.

The HRM slowly crept up into the 170s during the 2nd mile. I slowed down slightly a couple of times to bring my heart rate down, but I didn’t worry about it too much. I know from my training runs that my heart rate will tend to rise slightly as I tire. I downed the second mile in around 13 minutes.

During the first half of the run, I noticed a pattern to the people around me. There were several people that jogged past me at a blazing pace. A few minutes later, I’d pass them as they slowed for a walk break. My pace was fairly consistent the whole time. I told myself that I was the slow and steady tortoise getting passed by a succession of hares (Yay Bunnies!). Sure enough, by the second half of the race, I was no longer seeing any of these people. They’d dropped behind me and their jackrabbit hops were no longer sufficient to pass me.

The last mile of the race turned into a mental battle to keep going. Somewhere around 32 minutes in, my legs were suddenly awash in a wave of lethargy. My heart rate was high (into the 180s) but my breathing was easy. I kept going.

My determination was rewarded a few minutes later when I got my second wind. At 35 minutes into the race, longer than I’d ever run before, I was good to go. Nothing was hurting, nothing was overwhelmingly tired, heart rate was high but not worrisome, and I could see the spires of the rocket park in the distance.

I jogged across the finish line with a chip time of 40:57, 22 seconds slower than my Dad’s Day 5k time. I’m okay with that. It’s only 7 seconds difference per mile, about as close as it could be.

I’m SO proud that I actually ran the entire 5k. A huge milestone has been passed that will give me extra confidence during my next 5k.

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My First 5K Race – A *Run* Report

To give some background, ever since I got Lucy, I’ve been casting around for ways to make sure that she gets enough exercise to keep her from bouncing off the walls of my apartment. Along the way, I decided to make a major push toward improving my own fitness levels. 
In late April I discovered and began the Couch to 5K program. Over 9 weeks, I worked up from running very short intervals all the way to 40 minute training runs (5 minute warm up walk, 30 minute run, 5 minute cool down walk). To give myself even more motivation, I signed up to run in a 5K race that a couple of friends were also doing. Lucy has been running alongside me this entire time, but for some unfathomable reason, the race organizers do not permit dogs on the course.

This morning’s Dad’s Day 5K race in downtown Houston was my first 5K race and also my graduation run from the Couch to 5K program. 

Chip Time: 40:35
Gun Time: 41:16
Overall Place: 630 / 725
Division Place: 33 /44 (F 30-34)
I met up with friends Michelle and Jesse at the race start under the Wortham Arch around 7:40 AM. We were standing towards the back of the crowd (past the 10 minute/mile pace sign) so we hadn’t been able to make out what the announcer at the front was rambling on about. When the gun went off at 8 AM, it was a little unexpected.
As the crowd started to slowly edge forward, I quickly put my headphones in and started my music. My trusty Polar F11 HRM was queued up, requiring just a one button push as I crossed the start line about a minute later.
I emerged from under the arch and was immediately presented with brilliant sunshine and a fairly steep (compared to the few other hills I’ve covered during my training) climb up and over 6+ lanes of Interstate 45 through downtown Houston. I knew I would be slow compared to other runners, so I stayed to the side, but I will say I was a little surprised at how very many people were passing me on each side. Michelle and Jesse quickly disappeared into the crowd ahead.
The run had started over an hour later than my training runs. The sun was beating down and there was very little shade on Memorial Drive. I estimate that it was already in the high 80s or low 90s. I kept telling myself that just like my initial *long* runs, this would be a mind over matter experience. I was capable, I just had to keep my mind on running and off my aching legs.
Passing the first mile marker, I was shocked to see that I had run it in only 12:15. This was my fastest mile ever, at least two minutes faster than my training pace. My heart rate was also much higher than it has been during my training. I started to constantly remind myself to slow down and save my energy for the rest of the race. I finally gave myself permission to walk about 16 minutes into the run when I glanced down at the HRM and saw it in the 180s, higher than I’ve seen it since my first week of C25K. 
I started paying a lot more attention to the HRM at that point. Even at a brisk walk, it was high, at running rates. During the rest of the race, I ran only in brief spurts. I’d set a goal: run to that water station, run to that overpass, etc. Once I made the goal, I’d walk for several minutes. Despite walking large portions of it, I took only 14 minutes to get through the 2nd mile.
Climbing back up the I-45 overpass, I spied the Wortham Arch in the distance and saw that my time was still under 40 minutes. I decided right there to make a big push at the end and try to come in under 42 minutes (14 minute/mile pace). A few moments after starting to run, I found myself getting chills, and thought “This can’t be good”. I ignored it and the feeling soon went away.
Michelle and Jesse were on the sidelines cheering me on as I approached the finish line. I’m still a little surprised that I had the presence of mind to hit the “end” button on my HRM as I crossed it. I didn’t make it in under 40 minutes, but my chip/HRM time of 40:35 far surpassed my original pre-race estimate of 42 minutes minimum, 45 minutes probable.
After I’d cooled off a bit, I looked more closely at my HRM results and was slightly horrified to see that over the 40 minutes, I’d averaged 91% of my max heart rate and even hit 101% at some point during the race. To compare, my recent training runs have averaged 80% and maxed out at 89%. I know that none of this is where I *should* be running, but as my body continues to adjust, average HR is trending slowly downward.
Anyway, the 5k was a lot harder than I expected. I need to work on not getting excited about running in a group and keep my pace slower and more sustainable. I hate to make excuses, I but I feel the weather was a big factor in my inability to run as much of the race as I would have liked. Houston in summer is pretty brutal. The organizers might have done better to schedule the race an hour earlier.
Lucy and I will continue to run and plan for another 5k in July or August. I’d like to improve my time and aim for actually running more of the race.
For my readers who are more interested in motorcycle topics, I have not been riding much lately, but I do have a 9 day trip planned for late August. I will be heading toward the east coast this time.
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Life With Lucy

I’ve had Lucy for about 4 months now. She’s mostly figured out how things work: where to “go”, which toys are hers, don’t chase the Cat, etc.

Some pics for the grandparents:

A typical evening nap on the couch (she steals pillows)

At work (she comes with me about once a week)

Taking a bath (poor little abused puppy)

On a hike

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