Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Landsford Canal State Park

A couple of years back Donna and I visited Landsford Canal State Park near Rock Hill, SC (blog post here) and really enjoyed it, so we recently visited again the weekend of May 22. From the park's website:

Stretched along the Catawba River along the South Carolina fall line, the park is home to the well-preserved remains of the canal system that made the river commercially navigable from 1820 to 1835. Locks, a mill site and the lockkeeper’s home are among the numerous intact structures from that era.

Out in the river is one of the largest known stands of rocky shoals spider lilies, tough plants that hang tight in the swift water and bloom spectacularly in a huge blanket of white in late May and early June.

The spider lilies were in full bloom:

The hike along the river was nice.

Look closely!

Lots of well-preserved masonry from the canal and locks.

We always enjoy seeing herons. I like the fact that they're solitary and elusive creatures.

After leaving there we visited Glencairn Gardens in downtown Rock Hill; it is a very nice park with lots of vegetation and flowing water.

Before heading home we had dinner; we never eat at Shoney's, but for some reason the last time we visited Rock Hill we ate there and enjoyed it and had the best server ever, plus Donna likes their strawberry pie, so we ate there again on this trip. Another good meal and server, and Donna had her pie again (a freshly-baked one, at that), so next time we visit, Shoney's again it will be. :-)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Space Shuttle Launch

I've always wanted to see a Space Shuttle launch in person, and I was able to do so on May 11! I was planning on riding down to St. Augustine, FL the weekend of May 16 for a vintage motorcycle show, and in reading up on the area, I learned that a Shuttle launch was planned for May 11 just a bit further south, and I lamented that the two were not closer in time so I could do both. But I then realized that I go to motorcycle events all the time and will have plenty more opportunities to go to more, but a Shuttle launch would be something new, and I may not have another chance to see one, so I decided pretty much spur-of-the-moment to ride down for it instead of the motorcycle show.

I left home on Sunday morning and made a straight shot down I-26 and I-95 to the Cape Canaveral area. It was a very toasty ride - my thermometer registered 97 degrees for most of it; I was really glad I'd decided at the last minute to take my Camelbak. The trip was around 450 miles and took around 7 hours. I had reserved a site at the Manatee Hammock campground in Titusville, just across the Indian River from the launch site, so I checked in and got my tent pitched and enjoyed a nice, relaxing afternoon. I strolled around the campground a bit and enjoyed some time on the river bank and out on the pier. There was a strong breeze blowing over the water, so it was much cooler there and a welcome respite from the hot ride down.

My campsite

Monday morning I awoke with a hankering for a big Cracker Barrel breakfast, so I set out in search of one. I had an enjoyable 60-mile ride and eventually found one ... just a couple of miles from the campground. :-) But, the ride was nice, and breakfast was even better.

I got back to the campground around 11:00 and gathered up my stuff (chair, binoculars, camera, book) and headed out to the river bank where everyone staying at the campground congregated to watch the launch. I enjoyed kicking back and getting in some reading and wandering around and visiting with folks. I chatted for a while with the guys who were camping next to me; they had just graduated from an arts college in New York City and had flown down primarily to see the launch.

As the 2:01 launch time approached, clouds started moving in, and we all started getting antsy about a delay, but everything went according to schedule. If I had to describe the event with one word, it would be bright. Photos and videos just do no justice to how bright the flame is. We were about 10 miles from the launch pad, so the craft was sufficiently into its journey before we heard anything, which was pretty wild. When we did hear it, though, it was a very loud, very low-pitched rumble. We probably had about one minute of viewing time before it was gone, but it was a very thrilling one minute, and one that I'll never forget.

The crowd quickly dispersed, somewhat akin to a sporting event or concert ending ... show over! It wasn't long after the launch that the rain started, so I lounged in my tent during that, reading and dozing a bit. Very relaxing.

By the end of the afternoon the rain was pretty much over, and I headed into town for dinner; I ate at El Leoncito, a Mexican & Cuban restaurant, where I had the classic Cuban dish Ropa Vieja, consisting of spiced shredded beef, black beans, and plantains. It was very tasty, especially the plantains; I could have eaten an entire plate of them.

Following dinner I rode down to Cocoa Beach, home of the Ron Jon Surf Shop; I spent some time exploring it and the Cocoa Beach Surf Shop, which featured a large aquarium stocked with several species of fish, including a pair of sharks.

Encountered the Cape Canaveral post office on my way back from Cocoa Beach

Made it back to camp around 10pm. Listened to some tunes and drifted off to sleep.

Tuesday morning I was packed and on the road by around 8:00. I stopped by McDonald's for a quick breakfast and chatted with a fellow rider who had his BMW touring bike parked outside; he turned out to be a NASA engineer who works on the International Space Station, so it was pretty cool talking to him. He got a big kick out of the fact that I'd ridden 450 miles to see the Shuttle launch.

On my way down I'd seen a sign for the Ponce de Leon Inlet lighthouse near Daytona, so on the way home I detoured and checked it out. Recalling how hot it was Sunday afternoon, visiting it Tuesday morning was a wise choice. It was built in 1887; at 175 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the nation. 200 steps lead to the top, and I ascended them and was treated to a terrific view. In addition to the lighthouse, there are some other buildings on the grounds, such as the keepers' houses, the oil house, and the pump house.

You can see my motorcycle down in the parking lot.

Looking down

Looking up

The ride home was much cooler than the ride down. Whereas it had been around 97 degrees on Sunday, it was only around 75 for most of the day on Tuesday. I drained my Camelbak on Sunday and barely touched it on Tuesday. Good journey home with a coffee and lunch break at Chick-Fil-A somewhere in Georgia. Made it home around 6:00; total mileage for the trip was around 1100 miles.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Barber Superbike Races - Birmingham, AL

The weekend of May 1-3 I made my annual pilgrimage to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL for a weekend of AMA Superbike racing action. I left Friday morning and stopped in Atlanta to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Park, which is comprised of the home in which he was born; Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was a pastor and where his funeral was held; Fire Station Number 6, which was an important part of the community from its building in 1894 through 1991; the King Center, housing some of his personal effects; an interpretive visitor center; and his and his wife's tombs. It was a very educational and inspirational visit; we have certainly come a long way since Dr. King's time; we still have a ways to go, but I think he'd be happy to see just how far we've come.

His birth home:

I got to the track around 3:00 and got checked in - like last year, I worked as a volunteer, which is a pretty sweet deal - for 4 hours of work, you get a weekend pass for yourself and another for a friend, a cap and t-shirt, and a meal voucher. I scored an extra meal voucher, so that covered dinner for the evening; I enjoyed it while watching qualifying action. I also checked out the vendor area; it can get really busy on Saturday and Sunday, so exploring it on Friday was the way to do it.

A historic bike; Dick Mann won the 1970 Daytona race aboard it:

A new Bass Pro Shops was recently built literally next door to the track, so I spent a couple of hours checking it out. All those stores are big, but this one seemed bigger than usual; it was great fun exploring. While enjoying the fish tank, none other than Roger Hayden (a racer) and one of his mechanics joined me at the tank! I figured he was wishing to be an average joe for the evening, so I didn't bug him ... I just enjoyed the moment. :-)

Had a nice, relaxing evening at the hotel reading newspapers and watching a bit of TV and then turned in not too late so I could get up early the next morning to report for my shift.

I awoke about 10 minutes before my alarm was set and so had plenty of time to get ready and walk next door to BK for a biscuit and coffee. Then drove to the track, checked in, and headed up to the will-call ticket building where I was working. The flow of people waxed and waned depending upon the weather - the morning ended up bringing lots of rain off and on - it was a good time to be working indoors! During the course of the morning we got to see some excitement right in front of our building when a fellow decided to get huffy when a law enforcement officer asked him to move his bike. It escalated to the fellow shoving the officer, which led to him being floored and cuffed mighty quickly by the officer. Some people.

The afternoon brought clear skies and good racing action. I watched from several vantage points around the track and also spent some time walking around the paddock checking out the equipment, the mechanics at work, and a few racers, including Roger who I'd seen last night at Bass Pro Shops.

These guys seemed oblivious to all the action and noise.

Upon leaving the track I headed into downtown Birmingham to explore a bit. I visited Vulcan, the world's largest cast iron statue; it stands 56 feet tall on top of a 124-foot pedestal. I climbed to the top of the pedestal, from which there is a magnificent 360-degree view. A comical bit of info is that his backside is bare. :-)

View of Birmingham from the top:

Continuing the nude statue theme, I next sought out Electra, a 23-foot tall statue atop the Alabama Power Building.

I drove around downtown a bit more enjoying some nice architecture and stopped to savor the beautiful First United Methodist Church built in 1891.

I then headed back to the hotel, and upon arriving I was surprised to hear the tornado sirens going off! I tuned in to the weather and learned that there was some nasty weather just north of me; wall clouds and some cyclonic activity had been spotted. Fortunately it stayed north of where I was, but just barely. I was glad I was not camping!

Sunday morning I awoke to learn that there was an 80% chance of thunderstorms, with strong ones predicted, for the day. Didn't sound like a good day to be at the track, and I'd actually gotten my fill of action from the previous two days, so I decided to enjoy a leisurely drive home instead. As mentioned in my previous post, I'm on a mission to visit all of Georgia's 16 covered bridges, and I sought out my tenth, Howard's Bridge, just east of Athens. It was much more secluded than the last one I visited, and so fortunately wasn't marred with too much graffiti.

From there I took secondary roads back to the interstate in Augusta. I passed through Washington and stopped for lunch at a really neat little deli on the town square. I enjoyed a really good sandwich and cup of coffee while reading a bit and enjoying the breeze.

Stumbled upon this guy not too far from Washington:

I got home around 6pm, which was much better than the midnight it would have been had I stayed for the races. I checked in to see how that went, and a tornado warning had been declared at the track; the grid was cleared and the spectators were told to seek shelter. The first race finally ran after a delay, though it was shortened due to rain; I'm not sure if the other two races were run. It was a good decision to head on home.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Helen, GA

The weekend of April 24-26 I rode my Ninja to Helen, GA for a Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA) rally. I departed Columbia around 9:00 on Friday morning and took secondary roads the whole way. I stopped in Toccoa, GA to visit Toccoa Falls, which turned out to be much more impressive than I was prepared for!

Closer to Helen I stopped at the Tallulah Gorge overlook where I enjoyed the scenery and a very refreshing 8oz Coke in the bottle ... nothing else like 'em. :-)

One more stop right before Helen was the Stovall Mill covered bridge in Sautee. I'm on a mission to visit all 16 of Georgia's covered bridges, and this made number 9. It's a beautiful bridge that is unfortunately severely defaced with graffiti.

I got to Helen around 5:00, right before my friend Daryl from Cincinnati arrived. Several folks were already there, and more were arriving. I got checked in and then milled around catching up with old friends and making some new ones.

One especially interesting fellow I met had ridden all sorts of long journeys and had a handful of photos showing his routes, one of which was a ride of the perimeter of the lower 48 states; he rode all the way around, staying as close to the border as he could; that sounds like a fun trip.

We broke up into small groups for dinner, and my group walked to a nearby German eatery called Hans, where I had a good meal of Bratwurst, potato salad, and sauerkraut. The rest of the evening was spent kicking tires and telling tales with the other rally attendees.

On Saturday we broke up into small groups and headed out to ride for the day; north Georgia offers very scenic as well as tight, technical roads, which are great fun to ride on a motorcycle. Daryl and I made a clockwise loop with Helen being at about the 4 o'clock position. We had planned on finding somewhere in Dahlonega for lunch, but as we got close, we realized it wasn't too far out of our way to head down to Gainesville to visit our friend Phil at the Hickory Pig. Eating there has become an annual tradition when we attend the WERA motorcycle races at Road Atlanta in October. He makes the best barbecue and sides you've ever had, and he throws in a healthy dose of entertainment to supplement it. As always, we had a wonderful meal (I had a pulled pork sandwich, Brunswick stew, and "Nanner Pudding" as spelled on his menu board) and many good laughs.

From there we headed to Amicalola Falls State Park, home to a very impressive waterfall with a walkway built right over the base which gives a stunning perspective of the power of the water. The trail leading down to it was built with ground-up discarded tires, which is a really ingenious and environmentally-friendly use of them, as well as the perfect product for a durable surface that offers good cushioning and grip.

After visiting the waterfall we rode up to the lodge at the peak and kicked back on their porch overlooking the vista below and enjoyed a nice, quiet breeze. That, combined with Phil's barbecue, caused me to nod off a bit; it was very relaxing, and I really enjoyed the break.

After that we were ready to carve up some more curvy roads (and one gravel road that we stumbled upon in the course of a shortcut.) We made it back to the hotel around 5:00 after having covered around 225 miles.

Saturday night was pretty much a repeat of Friday night - camaraderie around the hotel, then off to dinner in small groups. My group went to, of all places, a barbecue joint. :-) It's called the North Georgia Barbecue Company, and it was actually very good barbecue and a better (and less expensive) meal than Friday night's. I had a plate of pulled pork, slaw, beans, apple pie, and a good ole Barq's root beer (the only brand worth drinking, IMO.) I ate with several folks I did not previously know and had a great time getting to know them; one of them was a fellow attending the rally from Toronto, Ontario! He was quite a ways from home.

MSTA rallies always conclude with acknowledgments and door prize giveaways, and I won a big one ... a free hotel night at next year's rally!

Sunday morning we all headed home, and before I got out of the Helen area I stopped to visit Anna Ruby Falls, a double waterfall.

I next visited Tallulah Falls State Park, home of the Tallulah Gorge that I had gotten a glimpse of from the overlook on Friday. I explored it up close and personal this time. It is home to five waterfalls, which are visible from many different angles, so in my photos you will often see one later in the series that you saw earlier, just from a different angle.

I got out of my motorcycle gear and donned my shorts, hiking shoes, and Camelbak and grabbed a couple of granola bars and some grapes, all of which turned out to be very wise, as it was a pretty strenuous hike. All told it was about 3 miles including 1100 steps descending to the gorge floor; it took around 2.5 hours start to finish. All very much worth the effort; it was truly stunning! Here are some representative photos of the waterfalls, but the entire collection contains many more.

After hiking part of the north rim trail, I headed down the steps to the suspension bridge, which was cool, but a bit unnerving, as it would really get to moving when someone else would walk across it! I then descended the remainder of the steps to the floor and then climbed up the steps (all 1122 of them) to the south rim trail and hiked it to the dam, walked across the dam back to the north rim trail and finished it, ending up after a circular journey where I began.

That was enough adventure for the day, so from there it was pretty much a straight shot home with a quick meal stop. Total mileage for the weekend was about 750 miles. It was a great rally, and I look forward to attending again next year (with one night's hotel bill on the house!)

Here are all of the photos I shot.