Monday, January 28, 2008

Big Bend Freeze Out 2008 in Review

We left out early on Friday morning before dark and I pulled into my driveway on Monday evening after dark having added another 1,837 miles to the odometer. What happened between that time is what I've written below.

First off, it was my plan to use the audio blog feature of Utterz to blog about the trip verbally instead of with written text. I also didn't expect to have Internet access when I got out to Ft. Davis. It turns out I type a little better than I talk so I don't think I'll be using Utterz in this manner again.

I got over to John's about 4:10am, and we left promptly at 4:15. Once headed down 90A I realized I had forgotten my wallet so I radio to Fred and John and turned around. I'd catch up with them in Brookshire. A quick dash into the house and I had my wallet, then back on the bike and through the yard I went (I would hear about driving through the yard later). I pulled into the Flyin' J about 40 minutes later with plenty of time before we had to depart. On the way over it was misting and I had on my Lee Parks Design PCI gloves. Since I had coated them the night before with mink oil I wasn't worried about them in a light mist (big mistake).

We got on the road just after 5:30 with 5 of us on bikes and 3 bikes on trailers. As we were leaving I thought about putting on my Aerostitch covers but decides against it. Ooops! Riding west on I-10 from Brookshire isn't terribly exciting but it was the beginning of the trip, it was raining, it was cold, my electrics were working, and I was headed to west Texas.

By the time we reached Lulling my hands seemed really cold and I thought the left heated grip had malfunctioned. Great, I'd have to ride the entire weekend without my heated grips. When we reached Seguin we filled up at the Exxon next to the Kettle grill. My left hand was so cold it felt like someone had smashed my fingers. When I took my hand out of the glove and touched the grip I realized my grips were working but the gloves had failed me miserably.

Breakfast at the Kettle grill was interesting. The food was good but my plate came out last as asking for eggs over hard, really hard, was a challenge for the cook. But I had time to warm up while I was inside and my hands began to feel normal again. When I examined my fancy gloves I realized they were completely soaked and would not be of any use to me for the rest of the day. Luckily I had brought extra pairs of gloves. So I used my Joe Rocket Drytech gloves that I had bought 2 years ago on a special closeout for $30. These ended up being my cold weather gloves for the weekend.

Once we got through San Antonio the rain seemed to disappear and we were left with cloudy skies and cool temps (in the low 40s). With the electric gear on and dry gloves I was comfortable and enjoying the ride. We rode west from San Antonio stopping every 100 miles or so. Just taking it easy and enjoying the scenery. When we stopped in Sanderson to fill up there was some concern about getting up the road quickly and getting to our motel before dark. We were in serious deer country now.

We arrived in Fort Davis before dark and checked into our motel rooms. Once everybody arrived (some stopped along the way for stuff) it was time to find dinner which we did at the local drug store. Food was good.

"Side stands up at 7:30am" that was the plan decided upon the night before. Well by 7am, everyone was out at their bikes getting ready. The plan was simple, ride down 118 to Study Butte, ride the river road (FM 170) up to Presidio, eat lunch and then continue on 170 to Candelaria, turn around and ride back to Presidio, then head up 67 through Marfa and take just outside of Ft. Davis we'd take Hiway 166 west to do the Davis Mountain loop. According to Mapsource, this would be a 419 mile trip. I was pumped.

We ate breakfast at the Drugstore in Ft. Davis but it didn't open until 8am so we stood around for awhile. After breakfast we took off on 118 as we had planned. I don't think we got 10 miles out of town before a deer jumped out in front of Gary who was in the lead. Hello! I was awake now.

When we got to Alpine, we caught up with Fred who had left ahead of us to fuel up in Alpine. We got caught by a train and Fred was asking where Doug was. Apparently Doug was the last one out of breakfast and he hadn't caught up. Later in the day we'd discover that he had started to run the planned route backwards heading toward Marfa. Doug would catch up with us down the road in Study Butte.

Since Fred and Gary didn't know where Doug was they decided to turn around and go look for him along the route. The rest of us continued on down 118. We stopped in Study Butte to gas up, as Presidio was the next gas stop 70 miles away. This is where we met up with Doug. Once everyone had gassed we took off on FM 170. Wow! what a road. Of course in the back of my mind I heard Fred's warning, "if you crash on the river road we won't call an ambulance, we'll just call for a body bag because it's gonna take a while to get help." With that warning in mind, I set my speed accordingly. My decision was to limit myself to no more than "double over" warning signs and not over the posted speed limit.

Along the river road we stopped at a scenic over look to take pictures. Mike convinced me to walk down the hill a little ways to get a picture on the other side. He said "I'll give you your money back if you aren't happy". Well the picture was nice but the walk back up the hill SUCKED! After everyone got finished with pictures and the group had collected from Study Butte we suited up and continued on the River Road toward Presidio. Just a couple miles down the road we caught up with Gary and Fred who were coming from Presidio. So everyone turned around and we met back up at the scenic overlook. After some discussion it was decided that we'd continue along FM170 to Presidio for lunch, but Fred and Gary were heading to Lajitas for lunch.

Wow! The river road was fun. Once we got going after leaving the over look Randy and I ended up riding together. We kept the pace at my predetermined speeds and had a good time. Only once did a corner give me a little "pucker factor" when it started decreasing it's radius and seemed to go on forever.

We fueled up in Presidio and then went over to El Alamo for mexican food. It was after 2pm when we all finished and paid the bill. Fred and Gary had shone up as there wasn't any food in Lajitas. John, Fred, Gary and Doug decided they were done for the day and were heading back to the motel. Randy and I weren't really ready to call it quits and neither was Andy on his K1200GT. So the 3 of us decided we'd take our own route back. Since it was already after 2pm and it was a good 45 minutes in each direction to get to Candelaria and back, we opted to do that another day. The plan was to ride up 67 through Marfa and go to Ft. Davis, then we'd do the Davis mountain loop. We made good time going up Hiway 67.

Once in Ft. Davis we took 118 west and headed into the Davis mountains. Andy in front, then Randy and me in the rear. A few miles up the way, and many turns into the ride, we came upon 5 deer in the road. Actually 3 in the road and 2 in the ditch alongside. Once we stopped they got out of the way, but this was our reminder that deer were present! We continued on and took a break at the McDonald Observatory to check it out briefly.

After a quick stop we decided to continue along the loop and hoped to return to the observatory that even for an astronomy program. Heading west on 118 the road got narrower and rougher but it was still fun. We saw some turkeys off to the right. Once we turned left onto 166 we saw more wildlife and we enjoyed wide open spaces. First we saw antelope, then we saw javelinas, then we saw more javelinas. I was just glad that they would run away as we approached. When we got to 17, we headed north back to the motel. It was a great day of riding and another 340 miles on the odometer. Randy had a smile on his face that he couldn't wipe off.

Dinner was had at the Ft. Davis drugstore. That place was pretty good.

It was decided that we'd eat at the drugstore again so we weren't in such a hurry to leave since they didn't open until 8am. Another tasty breakfast and then we were off. Some of the group was headed for Black Gap, while Randy and I were headed to Big Bend National Park since we were the rookies and had never been. The plan was to ride down 118 again through Study Butte and enter the park on the west side. We passed the Black Gap group just before Alpine and lost sight of them as we continued on 118 out of Alpine. Riding 118 for the third time was great, I knew some of the curves better and could have a little more fun. A short gas stop in Study Butte and we were headed for the park. It was about 11 am when we left Study Butte.

Both Randy and I had heard the warnings, "it's 45mph in the park" so we kept the speed right at 45 or less for the first hour or 2 in the park. Our first destination in the park was Santa Elena Canyon, so we could dip a toe in the Rio Grande River. We passed up lots of beautiful sites along the way but since I knew we were coming back via the same 30 mile long road I asked Randy if it would be OK to stop at the sites on the way back. He was good with that. By noon we were at the Santa Elena canyon and I had ridden my bike out on to the river bed and parked it just a few feet from the water. Randy decided to keep his RT on the dirt road but still in plain site. I was content to hang out at the river and b.s. until Randy started talking about the tubers who had been shot from the cliffs. Considering we were both in hi-viz jackets it was time to leave!

We headed up the road and stopped at several scenic exhibits along the way. The most beautiful was Sotol Vista Overlook. My camera just couldn't take in the entire view but it was incredible. After some photos we moved on and checked out other attractions along the way. Some we were able to pull up along side, in those cases I snapped a picture without even getting off the bike.

Once back on the main road we headed east to go to the Chisos Basin to hopefully get a look at "the window" from the lodge area. I'm not sure we actually saw "the window" but it was amazing riding up to the lodge. As you got closer you went from an arid desert into an almost tropical forest. Once we got to the lodge it was quiet and peaceful. I could have stayed there for awhile but by now I was starting to watch the time as I wanted to be heading out of the park by 4pm so we'd be back before dark.

Time management was on my side. and at 3:25 we were heading north on 385 out of the park. The only thing is that you have to ride through the desert in the park, at 45 mph for about 30 miles. That had to be the most boring part of the ride, it was straight, flat and slow. At least off in the distance you had plenty of mountains to look at and I wondered if we'd get to ride some twisties when we came out of the desert and out of the park with it's 45 mph limit. Indeed we found a few twisites upon leaving the park, and then more straight roads. This allowed a little time for creative pictures.

Once out of the park we continued north on 385. I saw the sign for Black Gap but knew the other group had been long gone from there and we'd be hard pressed to go scouting in Black Gap and make it home by night fall. So onward we went. When we pulled into Marathon Randy reminded me about the local law enforcement that liked to watch 90 and 385 so we took it nice and slow. By now Randy and I both were a little nervous about the deer as we had seen a few along the way and at a check point the border patrol officer asked Randy if he'd seen that deer along the road beneath the tree. He hadn't.

We took 90 into Alpine and then headed north on 118. Alright so this was the fourth time on 118 but it was getting late and was prime deer time. So I took it a little easy but still had fun. We rolled into the motel parking lot at 5:32pm with another 326 miles on the odometer. Randy had a smile from ear to ear again. It was another great day.

Dinner was another story altogether. Sunday night in Ft. Davis you don't have much of a choice as the only thing that is open is Hotel Limpia and you'd better call them if you plan to eat after 4pm because they just close up after the last guests leave. So we called them and told them we would be having 10 people show up at 7pm. They seemed a little excited and said they'd stay open.

We arrived just a few minutes before 7 and was seated promptly. I was one of the last ones in as I was fiddling with stuff on my bike. At my table there were 7 of us. The waitress introduced herself as Kara and proceeded to take our drink orders. Tea, tea, tea, water, tea, tea w/ lemons, lots of lemons. Off she went and we all looked at the menu. Fred wanted an appetizer but there were none on the menu. The menu is some what pretentious with fancy dishes and high prices. The Fried Beef Tenderloin caught my eye as I was in the mood for a steak and thought that a fried tenderloin might be interesting.

Well the dinner took a definite down turn when Kara brought out the salad. She brought out one little bowl and said that was for everyone. We told her we'd need more and she said it was served family style. So after about 3 people got their helpings of salad we had to wait for more. She could have changed the entire mood of the meal if she had started by bringing at least 2 bowls of salad, I mean there were 7 healthy men sitting at the table.

Next came the main course, I wish I had my camera when Doug's Lemon Parmesan Chicken was placed before him. To say it was smaller than he expected would be an understatement. Kara served the rest of the meals and when Doug saw Gary's chicken fried chicken I thought he might cry. It was at least twice the size. He asked Kara about the size different, her excuse "It's because it's fried, that makes it larger". OK, now I knew we were in trouble.

Everybody got a serving of the cream cheese mashed potatoes. I don't think anybody was interested in the squash. Everybody started commenting about how hot (spicy) the potatoes were. Then promptly all the drinking glasses were emptied. And they remained that way for several minutes. Finally Fred asked the manager for some tea as our waitress had forgotten us.

As for my Fried Beef Tenderloin. If that was in fact a tenderloin it had to be the worst cut of tenderloin ever. I've had poorly cooked brisket that wasn't that tough and dry. And the batter? It was caked on there in far too much abundance. And there was at least 1/2 the gravy served with the meal as should have been. Both Gary and I asked for more gravy when we received our plates, Kara acknowledged our requests but never brought us gravy.

After picking off most of the battered crust and finishing the leather tough tenderloin I proceeded to check out the fresh snap peas. They were cold and soggy. They had been boiled to death in the back. The potatoes were good although drowned with black pepper so it was impossible to taste anything but the pepper.

After everyone had stopped eating Kara returned to offer desert. She had blackberry pie but no icecream, she was out of several deserts, had 1 slice of coconut pie, and mainly pushed the chocolate cake and a combination chocolate cake/french silk concoction. I figured I had endured enough of this chef's disasters.

In summary about Hotel Limpia's restaurant, STAY OUT!!! I honestly believe the chef would be fired from even the worst short order cook position in a greasy spoon. I saw him once when he came out of the kitchen and he looked as though he truly did not know what he was doing and didn't look like the type of person who should be cooking the type of expensive cuisine this place was trying to sell. Read my words,


I'd nominate it for the worst restaurant in Texas if I could find a link.

Today's ride would be long and boring but my philosophy is any day on two wheels is a good day. Not everyone shared my thoughts. From the weather forecast I figured I'd be shedding some layers early but that I had strong winds to content with. Well with just the eletrics on I was able to easily regulate the temps until we got almost to San Antonio. The biggest challenge between Balmorhea and Kerville had to be the wind. It was coming out of the south and it was blowing hard. I was thankful I had the GS and not a lighter bike like a GSX-R or K1200GT. We stopped every 100 miles or so to take a break. We weren't in a hurry.

Breakfast was had in Ft. Stockton at the Burger King inside the Shell station. This was the first time we'd eaten at a fast food place all weekend long. It was also nice to take a break from the relentless wind. We decided we would push for Schulenburg to have a late lunch/early supper.

By 4:30 we arrived in Schulenburg at the Oak Ridge smoke house. I had always known this place for it's home cooking buffet and jerky. It didn't even dawn on me they had Bar-B-Que. Well now I know, THEY DON'T!!!! Sure they call it BBQ but I had to cut my brisket with a knife that I darn near broke. It was so tough you couldn't even just bite off a piece, you had to cut it into smaller chunks. And yes my beef tenderloin was tougher than this poorly cooked brisket. John took pity on me and brought me some pulled pork from the buffet. It wasn't any better. Those folks in Schulenburg should be ashamed of the crap they call bar-b-q. It's an insult to those of us who know how to cook good 'Q.

After dinner we headed home. John and I decided to stay on I-10 and head for 99. We were taking the faster route home. While Fred, Gary and Doug were taking 102 into Eagle Lake and enjoying a few local roads on the way home. Well shortly after getting on 99 we got hung up in a huge traffic jam for almost 30 minutes. So much for the fast way home. We turned onto Morton road and took back roads into Sugar Land. I arrived in my driveway at 7pm with a total of 1.837 new miles on the odometer. I wheeled the bike in the garage and went inside, I was home.

Gear - What worked and didn't:
I had purchased a few items for this trip as this was really my first winter trip to take. Items included Gerbing liners (pants, jacket & sockets), a heat-troller from Warm & Safe, Lee Parks Design PCI gloves, and a Technik mount for my camera. And I borrowed some Aerostitch Tank Panniers from Gray.

The electric liners and controller worked great! They made the entire weekend comfortable. When it was cold and wet on Friday morning, my body was warm and dry. I did learn that you have to really crank up the pants though to get the socks right. That may be due to the wind being blocked by the tank panniers but I think I'll try to get another controller just for the socks.

The Lee Parks Design Phase Change gloves with Outlast were probably the biggest disappointment for me. All of my gear is water proof so I don't worry about rain. But with the gloves I had to worry about the rain, so I wiped them down with mink oil to give them a little water resistance. Well they were soaked through by the time I got to Seguin on Friday. So I had to fall back to my $30 cheapie winter gloves which worked great. I tried the gloves again on Sunday morning on the way to breakfast. Just 2 miles down the road my finger tips were cold and the gloves were dry. Motorcycle Consumer News has raved about these gloves in the past, but for me they seemed to be money wasted. I think they'll be up for sale by the end of the week. I plan to replace them with electric gloves or at least electric liners for my $30 pair of cheap winter gloves.

I had hoped to use the Technik mount with my camera to take some videos while I was riding. Well that didn't work well at all. There's just too much vibration transmitted through the mount to record a good picture. Of course I have to consider that I'm using a Sony DSC-H9 camera that has some video capabilities and not a real video camera. None the less the purchase of the mount isn't wasted, I'll use it for my radar detector which has been on my farkle list for some time now.

The Aerostitch Tank Panniers had to be one of the better things I took on the trip. They allowed me to carry my camelback bladder on one side along with an adult beverage for the motel room. And I was able to carry lots of other things that normally got carried in my top case. On the return trip they were invaluable as I was not wearing as many layers as I had going out and I was able to find enough space to pack everything with those panniers. These are definitely on my farkle list, before the radar detector for sure.

Some gear that I've had for a while that worked as expected:
Olympia AST Hi-Viz Jacket (water proof)
Olympia Ranger Pants (water proof)
Setup Riding Boots (water proof)
UnderArmor Cold gear, best long underwear ever!
Shoei Pin-lock visor system (no visor fogging)

And the one thing that is high on my list to fix:

My gosh awful Rick Mayer custom seat. I've sent it back once already for adjustments and I don't think Rick actually listened to my complaints. I had 2 problems with the original stock seat, I felt like I was sliding forward and it caused a pain across my tail bone that made it painful to sit for days after. Well the RMC seat did the same things. After sending it back the sliding forward problem is mostly gone but even 2 days after the trip, it still hurts to sit down. It's going back for another adjustment just as soon as I can fine a temporary seat as it takes 2 weeks to get adjusted. If he can't get it right this next time around I think I'll look seriously at the Russell Day Long.

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