2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  FUN IN THE TEXAS SUN:
SAN ANTONIO & MUSTANG ISLAND

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1

 
 
"With more than five miles of Gulf Coast beaches, Mustang Island State Park offers
visitors the chance to sample every facet of seaside fun -- beachcombing,
swimming, sunbathing, camping, picnicking, surfing, and fishing. Birdwatchers
flock to the park to see the area's resident water and shore birds . . .".
 
- Mustang Island State Park brochure
 
 
Somehow the brochure left out our favorite beach activities: walking, running, and photography!

Although beaches aren't our favorite travel destination, Jim and I enjoyed our visit to Galveston Island so much last February that we wanted to go back this trip. Unfortunately (especially for the residents), Hurricane Ike destroyed so much of the city and island late last summer that we had to come up with an alternative this year. (Much of downtown Galveston wasn't destroyed, but the state park where we camped hasn't reopened yet.)

As we were planning our current trip last fall I pulled out our maps of Gulf Coast states and started looking for another beach we might visit. I started with Texas since we planned to be there for a while in January and February. Most of the eastern Texas coast was devastated by Ike so I looked farther west and zeroed in on Padre Island National Park and smaller Mustang Island, which has a state park and lies just to the north.

Research indicated that the camping would be more suitable for us at the state park than the national park. In addition, our Texas state parks pass is good through the end of February, so camping fees would be reduced. I called the park to see if it had been damaged during Hurricane Ike. No, not directly. A lot of flotsam and jetsam washed up on the beaches from farther north and east, but the park was open and predicted to be all cleaned up well before our arrival.

We made reservations in September for the last week of January. In a little bit you'll see how fortuitous our timing was.

ON THE ROAD FROM NEW MEXICO

Let's back up to the Ghost Town race in Hillsboro, NM on Sunday two weeks ago.

After enjoying breakfast with the Reynolds and several remaining runners on Monday morning, Jim and I headed back east through the foothills of the Black Range. As we neared I-25 we had nice views overlooking Caballo Lake (below), where we'd stayed one night prior to the race.

Our destination was Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Since it's nearly a 700-mile drive, we broke the trip into two days. Our route included driving on 1-25 south through Las Cruces to I-10 east, which we followed all the way to San Antonio.

The weather was great both Monday and Tuesday, warm and sunny. Traffic was light most of the way through western Texas. I think we saw as many campers as semi trucks -- probably more retirees like us seeking sun and warmth!

The very long stretch of interstate between El Paso and the northern 'burbs of San Antonio is fairly hilly and scenic. It's also pretty desolate, probably one of the areas of this country with more cattle and horses than people per square mile. It wouldn't be a good place to have a vehicle break down. Fortunately, ours didn't this time.


Equestrians on a trail at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio

We had extended Verizon cell service along I-10; we could make and receive phone calls but we couldn't get on-line with our broadband connection. It's also tough to find decent radio stations for about 400 miles. That's when Jim would hook up his MP3 to the truck radio and we'd listen to Neal Boortz segments he'd recorded previously (it's also a good time to listen to CDs). TV reception isn't too hot, either. When we stopped overnight near Ft. Stockton at a Wal-Mart with a spacious parking area off to the side we had trouble getting any stations either with or without our digital converter box.

Diesel prices ran the gamut from $2.14 to $2.49/gallon along I-10, getting cheaper as we approached San Antonio. Once at Ft. Sam we found diesel cheaper at a nearby Wal-Mart ($2.02 with shopping card) than on post. I think that's the lowest we've paid on this trip so far. We're hoping to find it under $2 soon. What a switch from the exorbitant prices last summer (maybe the only thing that's good about the current global economic crisis).

CHILLIN' AT FORT SAM

We made reservations for our week at the family campground at Fort Sam Houston back in the early fall because it stays very busy during the winter months. The weekly rate for full hookups and decent-sized sites is a very reasonable $96 (one night free); monthly rates are even more cost effective. This was our third time to camp at Fort Sam. I wrote quite a bit about the campground and post during our week's stay last January. We also stayed one night in December to see the holiday lights at RiverWalk before we went out to Phoenix.

Last year we hit all the main historical and scenic attractions that interested us in San Antonio -- the Alamo, the old missions, the cattle drive, the old neighborhoods, the IMAX theatre, RiverWalk, an historic Mexican market square. This time was much more low-key and relaxing, despite beautiful, sunny days in the 60s and 70s. Instead of playing tourist, we mostly stayed on post to relax, run, and run errands: the PX, commissary, Post Office, fitness center, Sam Houston Club, etc.

Getting around on the streets was a bit of a challenge this time. Fort Sam is building and rebuilding to the tune of $2 billion, so a lot of the huge military installation is torn up and several streets are rerouted. I feel sorry for the folks who live and work there (like Abi Meadows and Bob Culp, who we met at Ghost Town). Road work also continues on several nearby surface streets and freeways, just as it was a year ago when we were there. I can't see any progress there.

Jim and I avoided paved roads as much as possible on our training runs, walks, and bike rides on post. We found several new trails to add interesting loops or out-and-backs to our basic forays from the campground. We've never been there long enough to have to seek trails elsewhere. (It's our understanding that we'd need to drive a good way to find them.) Neither of us is doing mega-miles right now anyway. Jim's recovering from Ghost Town and I've been in a holding pattern since ATY with just 20-30 miles a week until this past week at Mustang Island (37 miles).

We managed to stay busy enough without any tourist activities.

Besides the usual camper and truck repairs and maintenance (it's always something!), Jim's had an interesting project to work on the last couple of weeks: developing a survey for feedback from ATY runners. Not very many ultras do formal surveys after the race. When Rodger and Paul expressed an interest in a survey for ATY, Jim jumped at the opportunity and I had fun collaborating, too.

First Jim found a suitable survey format online -- for free! He could tailor the questions, format, and result tabulation as needed. Then he got permission to modify some of the questions from the Hardrock Hundred survey to fit Across the Years. He ended up with very few of the same questions as HRH, but it helped him get started. The other ATY committee members had input, of course, and after several days Jim got the go-ahead to send the new survey out to all the participants. It was fun to take the survey and the response rate is very high (about 90%). By any kind of survey standards, that's an unusually high response rate. We hope the answers are helpful to the race committee, although we think ATY is just about perfect the way it is!

I kept busy trying to get caught up on this journal (not very successfully), correspondence with friends and family, and other "business" while we were at Fort Sam. I also did more running, walking, and cycling than Jim did.


Nice running along the creek in Salado Park at Fort Sam

The weather was great (sunny, 70s-80s) from Tuesday to Friday. Most of southern Texas is in a drought and could really use some rain. As visitors, however, we were happy with all the sunshine. A cold front came in and lowered the temperatures to the low 60s over the weekend. It was cloudy but didn't rain. That was still better than most everywhere else in the country so we didn't complain.

But it would soon get worse. That's where our fortuitous timing regarding our reservation at Mustang Island came in.

On Monday (January 26), the last full day of our reservation at Fort Sam, we woke up to fog and temperatures that didn't even reach 60F. A little bit of rain fell, but not nearly as much as the area needs. Jim looked at the weather forecast for Mustang Island and was dismayed to see highs in the low 60s and a slight chance of rain. What fun will that be? he thought. I really wanted to go to the island so I asked him to look at the forecast for the next few days in San Antonio (not that we could have extended our reservation there). Hmm . . . even cooler and with a higher chance of rain. He agreed we may as well leave as planned on Tuesday morning, but he sounded skeptical.

Then the evening news showed us that most of the rest of the country was under a winter weather advisory. Rain, sleet, and/or snow was predicted as far south as San Antonio on Tuesday afternoon. Only far, far south Texas (like Corpus Christi and Mustang Island) appeared to be below the line of nasty weather.

Suddenly Jim was more than happy to leave for Mustang Island the next morning! Perspective.

We made those reservations months ago. Dumb luck!

TIME TO STOP GLOATING

The next morning we awoke to a very humid, overcast 65F in San Antonio. Freezing rain was predicted by late afternoon.

We left Fort Sam at 11 AM for the three-hour drive to Corpus Christi and Mustang Island. It was sunny and in the mid-70s when we arrived. Ha, ha! We escaped the cold and wet!!

Not exactly. We got to gloat for only a few hours.

It was very humid and breezy along the beach and at our campsite about a hundred feet behind the sand dunes. When we came back from an hour of walking and running on the beach, our skin, clothes, and glasses were covered in salt from the moist air. Cody's shiny black coat looked funny.

We were asleep when our good-weather luck ran out. About midnight the cold front from the north hit the warm, humid air from the Gulf. What resulted was hard rain, a temperature plummet to 39F., and so much wind I couldn't sleep. Earplugs pretty much drowned out the roar of the wind and rain, but nothing could stop the rocking motion of the camper. It felt like sleeping on a boat that was rocking in the ocean.

I got both nervous and nauseous enough to get up and read for an hour before I was able to return to bed and sleep. Sleep was fitful; I awoke several more times. All I could think of was Hurricane Ike, the terrible storm that devastated Galveston Island less than five months earlier. (It's easy to "awful-ize" during the night.)

When we got up the next morning the sun was out, the rain was gone, and our camper was sitting in a pool of water. So were several others in our campground. They all drained by mid-morning. It was still breezy all day but nothing like the gale-force winds during the night. We never did hear how strong they got.

We both stayed in the camper most of the morning and worked on our computers (we're so glad we brought two this trip), waiting like weenies until the temperature warmed to the mid-50s to venture out on the beach that afternoon.

Despite the rough night on Tuesday, we still lucked out on the weather all week. Freezing temperatures, sleet, and/or snow reached deep into the southern states from coast to coast. The rest of our six days on the island were sunny, warmer (60s), and just about perfect for any beach activities visitors wanted to enjoy. I think the rest of the country warmed back to normal temperatures, too. (Normal for late January, that is.)

Next entry: more photos and stories from Mustang Island

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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