Riding in Spain!

Alright, it´s about time!

After partying hardy our first night in Spain Carlos let us sleep in a little. It is customary in Spain to sleep well into the morning and eat breakfast close to noon. We felt it necessary to obey customs and rested as long as possible. That day would be all touring and sight seeing. Plus there was the beach to tempt us, but we waited until after dinner to make it down there. For lunch (approaching 4PM) Carlos’ family treated Jessica and I to paella, a famous meal known around the world, and it was delicious. I was hungry by then, as you can imagine, and probably ate more than most humans on earth could attempt, but it was good!

We did get some more beach time, and this was when I realized just how late things start going in Spain. Carlos called his friends before 11PM saying we should meet up for dinner after midnight; he’d call them when we left. Dinner was special let’s say. The Spanish put some strange things on sandwiches. The night only started rolling around 1, and we found it quite fun. I did my best to impress the Spanish ladies with my Spanish tongue, but it wasn’t working. I did get some dancing in however, and there are a lot of pretty girls on the Mediterranean coast in August. Hopping bars was just the start. Eventually we found ourselves at a beach club that was really the size of a small theme park. There were people everywhere and lots of music. We had drank a bit in the parking lot, and those hours at the club passed a little faster than I can remember. Before long the sun came up to let us know it was bed time. It was fortunate Carlos lived within walking, or better said staggering, distance. You can read some more about our time with Carlos here.

Some interesting things from that night

Friend of Carlos, Carlos, Jessica, and Me. Then Cigarette machine, then believe it or not a beer with the label written in 17 Languages!

About the time we got to his place his sister was arriving and had plenty to discuss about her night as well. His parents were already up and packing for a day trip and some party they were invited to. It was a normal day in Spain. Again we slept until afternoon, and again we enjoyed the beach. Jessica and I stayed in a hotel that night near downtown with hopes of getting up early and seeing sights beyond the bars and clubs. Of course there was more beach time:D

We were able to get up and go see some sights. Not far from the beach there are mountains, and we aimed to go see them. I think there was a state park up there also. It was quite beautiful and a really nice ride. Jessica and I took a picnic and ate up on top of a rock overlooking the valley, church, city, and sea. An amazing place it was!

We came to a dead end on the road and had to turn around. Darn, the scenery was just too beautiful to enjoy a second time. On the way back was the church ruins right in the middle of this impressive place. There were many people walking down to see them, and we stopped to enjoy ourselves too. It was quite scenic.

These are two of my favorite pictures that I have taken. The first of the road leading up into this fantastic place. The other is the view we had on the hike down to the ruins. Breathtaking it was. The orchard you see in the foreground is an almond orchard; the sea in the distance is the Mediterranean sea; and the city in the middle is Benicassim, a wonderful little undertouristed place to visit.

After our short visit it was time to move again, something we were used to. The previous week had been all riding everyday, and the three days on the beach were welcome. Thankfully we barely had to pack because Valencia is only 45 minutes south of where we were, and the roads were nice. I remember it being the first time of my entire year that I could ride a motorcycle without a jacket on. It was the nicest day of riding I had in all that time; too bad it was so short. While we rode Jessica was able to snap a nice photo of the sunset.

like all the photos here, click for larger.

That night we were in a hostel, quite a nice one, with many people from around the world. This time there were many Italians, and Jessica felt at home speaking with them. We made food in the kitchen and toured the town after dark. The clubs were kickin’, and it was a late night, but we were on the road again, and I was happy.

You can see all the photos from these days by clicking this link.

Prospective Student Weekend

This weekend is set up for applying Geology graduate students at the University of Texas.  About 65 people from out of town, and a couple from here, have been invited to come meet professors and see what the department is all about.

It starts today when most fly in to town and goes till Tuesday afternoon.  During this time professors get to meet students and vis versa.  The idea is that they can narrow down the group and everyone gets what they want.  Of course some people won’t be chosen, and we’ll find out next month about that.

I am in a unique position because I have already found the person with whom I want to work, and he wants me as his student.  I still have to be accepted into the program, but my confidence is high on that.  Other students don’t know yet who they want to work with or what they want to do.  They’ll have to meet a lot of people and impress at least one.

This weekend should be fun.  I’ll get to meet a lot of new people, many of whom will be my classmates and colleagues for the next 4-5 years.  Wish me luck.

Hey Guys

I wanted to post a couple pictures from my ride this weekend. Got about 120 miles in beautiful weather. Took the KLR out to see my dad, and we rode down the riverbanks of the Perdinales river then out on a neighbor’s ranch. It was quite a great day. Plus I ended up with about 30 lbs of deer meat freshly cleaned. I had some back strap tonight for dinner. Good stuff.

Here are some shots

View from a treetop at Dad’s

Half a deer.

Me and the bike out in the Hill Country. man it is gorgeous out there.

And then one of Austin.

Not much to say. I’ve been chatting with friends tonight. I realized it’s been 6 months since I was in Germany, and I miss the friends I made there. Maybe I’ll write something about them soon.

All the photos from yesterday.

Vegas Here I come

I awoke the next day refreshed and ready for more travel. The road was my guide, and I followed it. There was only one way to go, and that was west back through the canyon national park. This took me past the places I had seen the day before along the short pines, which are only visible/ viable above seven thousand feet. They were on both the left and right, and sometimes between breaks on the right, northerly, side there were vast glimpses of a canyon much older and rougher than I.

Packing to go.

along the way

The day was sunny and warm even early in the morning, but at that elevation the heat was tolerable and dry. This time of day there is little traffic on the park roads. Afternoons see the heaviest load. Some busses were just pulling in as I turned south to leave the park. My experiences at the Grand Canyon were over, the images secured in my mind; I would never forget.

South of the park is a small town setup to serve the heavy traffic of 10 million visitors per year. I spent as little time there as possible, only seeking a place to burn my photos to cd, which I found for 7 dollars: quite a bargain when your memory card is full. It was late morning now, and after eating a snack I continued the journey south, and down.

The Grand Canyon is in an elevated plane well above the desert floor. It itself spans nearly a mile in elevation and therefore must be quite high at the rim. But half an hour south and it is back to 3 thousand feet and less. The trees stop growing there, and the heat really picks up. I understand that up high, in the middle of the desert, it often snows, but down here on the desert floor nothing, rarely any precipitation.

On my mind were a couple things. The canyon is located quite out of the way for any roads going anywhere. It was nearly 75 miles north on a local road through Indian reservations to reach the park, and it was the same distance back to a primary road. I was trying to make it to Las Vegas that evening, and it would be quite a stretch.

The heat picked up and so did my thirst. At every stop it was hydration time, and it seemed I was giving back less water than normal. The leather jacket was bunched up with my luggage behind me, and only my vest protected me. Vests are often compared to women’s purses. They carry everything from wallets, combs and cameras, to nail clippers, phones, change, and this time my mp3 player. The tunes kept me company as the miles clicked by. It was a hot day, and away from the park the scenery isn’t quite as demanding.

The second thing on my mind was to look for a speedometer cable. My only way of knowing speed and distance was the GPS unit loaned to me by Kerry Hill through Eddie D. It was still working, but that would change soon. The attempt was futile, as the small towns had nothing to help me except gas to get to the next stop. I did succeed in losing quite a bit of time however. The second stop that day, like the first, was to refuel and refill the water bottles. It was going fast, and I needed it.

By that second stop my lips had started coming off and would soon start bleeding. Being a native east Texan, and at the time living in St. Louis my entire body needed humidity just to survive. Pain was only part of the problem, as I am sure sores would have started once the lips split. What saved me was a nice woman at the Chevron station who showed me an all-natural lip balm, which blocked the hot, dry wind from doing any more damage.

Back on the road, but this time headed north the terrain started picking up, and big brown hills filled the horizon. There was no color to speak of, only the dusty brown dirt of North West Arizona and the near cloudless sky. The road was nice, double lane in most parts, and lightly trafficked. I was able to relax with the throttle lock on and take in some of the view. The heat was bad though, and I drank water through a straw continuously.

What you’ve seen if you’ve ever taken that road from Kingman, Arizona to the Hoover Dam is hard to forget. My imagination was working, and my memory sees it like this: glops of dried mud piled high with no real pattern. It really looked like some child had been making giant mud pies and after turning them upside down left them to dry. It seemed as if these big hills and soon to be mountains had no rocks and would wash away with any rainstorm. Of course that perception was wrong, but it was an odd sight I’ve never seen again.

Finally signs of humanity, other than the well paved road, appeared, and would you believe it: a traffic jam. Out in the middle of nowhere this was hard to imagine, and hopefully by now the source is cleared up. Construction crews were building a bridge to cross the canyon below the Hoover Dam and had blocked the road to move equipment.

I sneaked stealthily through using superpowers only given to motorcycles and soon arrived at the dam overlook. This was a happy sight, and after removing my gear I relished in the idea of cooling down at the gift shop and possibly buying some memento.

This proved dangerous. Outside the temperature had cooled down to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, but inside the concessionary lady from Washington state kept it at a brisk 70 degrees. It felt great – for about 2 minutes, then I nearly passed out. As much as it pained me to do this, it was mandatory that I go back outside to the warmer temps. My body could no accommodate the over 40 degree swing.

This time while outside I met a nice couple from Alberta, Canada who were traveling as I was by motorcycle, and enjoying some of America’s most prized sights. They were cool people too my first impressions told me. She was an artist pursuing a career from home after deciding the office life was not for her. He supported her and the decision, and to celebrate their new lifestyles they took this trip.

We took photos for each other and walked across the dam noting the huge updraft that came from downstream. Once we were back to the bikes she asked me if I had any time to read along my journey, and without thinking my reply was affirmative. Well, this is the time when first impressions wear off and more of a true person reveals herself in this case. She offered me a magazine entitled “The Watchtower”. I still don’t know to which religion that belongs, but taking her for a crazy person I mounted up quickly and headed across the dam, this time on the bike, in the direction of Las Vegas. I suppose my close encounter of the weird kind doesn’t have to stay there because I wasn’t yet to LV.

Thinking back they weren’t the weirdest people I had met that day. Earlier, before even leaving the campground in the park I got a chance to speak with a family camping there in a homemade RV trailer. Being as kind as possible, I’ll say they appeared Amish with the homemade clothes and girls in dresses. They looked out of place there though, the whole family 2000 miles from home – in a car! The story gets much weirder though, more than I cared to ask, but the topping of it all was their rig.

They were pulling a long trailer with plywood siding and roof. There were no windows to be seen. I supposed they were like the doors, both exactly paneled in plywood like the rest of the trailer. I can only imagine how much this thing weighed, probably 2x + what a normal trailer would have. Add to that they were pulling it with a Ford Explorer short bed! Now you probably know that Uhaul won’t rent a trailer to someone with a Ford Explorer because of the danger, but these people neglected to mention that to whomever rented them the car. Now you’re not going to believe this, and I wish I had a photo, but that Explorer was bent! This family had driven it to Oregon and somewhere up there had hit some bump. The truck went up, but the heavy trailer did not. The frame bent right where the cab met thee bed, and they drove this a-framed truck all the way down to Arizona. In all of my travels I think that was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few strange things.

It was time to get my head out of the clouds because traffic was picking up. I saw the signs to Las Vegas well before the city itself. Sin City lies in a huge valley, and once past the rim you can see the entire expanse in one view. It was late in the evening, Saturday night was fast approaching, and I was in Las Vegas.

more of the weird mud pies

Martian looking scene. – with extra water and shrubs of course

After finding a hotel, quite nice actually, and cleaning up I hit the town. Now I wish I could tell you that I met lady luck and hit some jackpot or made a lady friend, but those things don’t happen to me. I walked up and down the strip enjoying the shows; especially the water works at the Bellagio. At 1 AM the temperature was still 95F and it felt every bit that hot. The Treasure Island show with scantily clad women and a floating/sinking battle scene was quite cool, and so I went inside. Casinos are spectacular places: huge, bright, loud, and full of people. After making my way past what seemed like enough people to fill a stadium I found the tables and bars and concert halls. There is a lot to do in a place like that.

There wasn’t much money in my wallet so I watched from a distance. I can say however that I did leave Las Vegas with more money than I started (not counting gas, the 3AM breakfast of steak and eggs, or the hotel bill). I put a quarter in a machine and a full dollar came out. Greedily I gave them one quarter back before quitting, so over all I gave them one of mine but left with 3 of theirs!

The night was pretty uneventful otherwise, and I will have to go back to get the juicy stories from Las Vegas that everyone else seems to have. Truth be told Lake Tahoe is more my kind of place, and much nicer all around. But that’s another day in the life!

All the photos are here. They are more of the same, lots more.

5 years ago, shuttle disaster

I remember watching Colombia fly over me in a big orange and green streak. It was so bright you could see it in the day time, brighter than that even, brighter than a full moon. This article reminded me of that day, and I wanted to write a story.

It was nearly 8AM and I stayed at my friends house in Nacogdoches hoping to see it the next morning. Nac is my hometown, and I had lived most of my life and graduated from high school there.

I remember watching the glowing light come over the horizon just between two trees in Forrest’s front yard. It was cold for Texas, hovering around freezing, and I wasn’t dressed properly, but these things happen on schedule.

About 9 minutes till eight it started to cross; it was on a trajectory to cross the sky in probably 2 minutes. At 39 miles altitude it must have been moving fast. Only once it got above the trees in the neighborhood did I notice the light splitting into several others. Some were big, some were much smaller, but they were all bright, and green-yellow.

I had never seen anything reenter the atmosphere before, so this was novel to me, and I suspected it of being normal. Had I watched the video of the space station MIR reentering only years before, I’d have known how bad things were. After the bright lights crossed to the eastern horizon, for it was supposed to land in Florida, I headed in colder than before and inspired. I had just watched the space shuttle come home. Or so I thought.

Immediately all the news channels had a bulletin. The space shuttle is missing. This is bad; it has no engine and little maneuvering capability. Still there was hope in my mind, they never said explosion.

Several minutes later the world started to shake. Window panes rattled, the walls vibrated at a low frequency; it was loud. Before the sonic boom from reentry even ended the neighbors started calling. It seemed I was the only person on the block that knew what was happening. I had certainly been the only one outside that Saturday morning.

Shortly after, once the whole world had realized what happened, we heard reports that pieces were falling on our city. National Guard troops were being sent to Nacogdoches to protect the falling parts, and we were directed not to touch anything.

I decided at that point to go home, about 30 miles south and see what was going on there. It was a very still day, perfectly clear, and the traffic was unusually light. It was Saturday morning after all in a small East Texas town.

I followed the news well into the afternoon, and that evening we headed back to Nac to see what was happening. Troops were everywhere. Orange cones and police tape roped off things that had fallen from the sky. In the middle of our small college town were herds of people and vans. All major news stations were “on scene” in tiny Nacogdoches. Our downtown is paved with bricks, and one of the largest pieces had fallen right in the middle of a big parking lot. The vans and people were centered around this one spot watching it as if it were a shrine or it might magically repair itself. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but like me and my family we all wanted to be there.

Over the next few weeks many more pieces and even body parts were found. Police, state guardsmen and women, plus the national authorities all came to help in the recovery of the space shuttle. There was no chance of survivors, and no salvageable parts, but maybe if they could find enough to piece it back together they could discover what happened and avoid it in the future.

Slowly the people and news crews faded away, and our once sleepy town returned to it’s normal mid winter pace.

I didn’t have a camera at that time, but Forrest had a newly bought digital and shared with me his photos. Here they are.