2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  WET & WILD IN SAN ANTONE

SUNDAY, JANUARY 17

 
"Oh, and there's a $2 coupon I have right here [reaches into the cash drawer]
that you can use when you buy two cards!"
 
~ cashier at the Fort Sam PX as I was checking out with my purchase
 
 
I felt like I'd won the lottery a few days ago when I bought two fancy greeting cards at the PX that retailed elsewhere for $8.78 plus tax.

A sign in the card section indicated all the cards were 20% off that day, so I was pretty surprised when the $4.99 card (Jim's Valentine's Day card; don't tell!) rang up at only $3.06. I'm no math whiz but I immediately knew that was significantly more than 20% off. The next card said $3.79; it rang up for only $2.38. Wow, I thought. Two fancy cards for only $5.44! (My calculator later confirmed that was 38% off.)

So when the cashier smiled and pulled out the $2 coupon, I was one happy lady!! I thought it was very nice of her to do it, considering I had no idea it was available. How often do you get customer service like that in any store?


San Antonio's popular River Walk

That brought the price of two fancy cards down to only $3.44. Oh -- and there's no usurious 8.25% sales tax on items at the PX either. There is no sales tax at a PX. Nada, zip, zero. That's one of the perks of either being in the military or retired from it. (Prices on goods aren't always lower than discount stores like WalMart, however.)

Yup, I won the lottery that day. I did tell Jim about my little coup but he'll have to wait until February 14 to see the fancy card!

A WEEK OF COMPARATIVE LUXURY

In the last travel-related entry (Sunday, January 10) I mentioned that we were leaving the Hill Country State Natural Area near Bandera, TX and heading to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a fairly short drive of only 66 miles to our next campsite.

We'd just spent a frigid weekend with temperatures dipping down to 10F. on the morning that the Bandera ultras began. All four nights we were there were well below freezing. Brrr.


One of the courtyards at The Alamo in San Antonio

How cold was it?? Just east of Bandera on TX 16 we passed a waterfall that was frozen solid!

If we hadn't been hauling the fiver, I would have asked Jim to stop so I could take a photo of it. I haven't seen a frozen waterfall since we moved from Montana. A frozen waterfall is such an anomaly in southern Texas that several other folks had stopped and were taking pictures of it when we drove by.

Although we (mostly) kept warm enough inside the HitchHiker, by Sunday we'd run through most of our propane and gasoline after four days of boon-docking in the natural area and we were really looking forward to spending the next eight days with full hookups (water, electricity, sewer), clean concrete pads, nice green grass, good cell phone and internet service, decent TV reception, a laundry room 200 feet away, nice workout facilities on post, nearby running, walking, and cycling opportunities, and proximity to suburban shopping, downtown San Antonio, and attractions like the Alamo and Riverwalk.

That's what I mean about comparative luxury.

It's good to be back! Boon-docking has its advantages but in the winter it's nice to have more conveniences like running water. One of the first things Jim did when we arrived was to wash the truck, camper, and Cody, all of which got very dusty at the natural area.


Day is done:  colorful sunset over the Fort Sam Family Campground

Fort Sam charges a very reasonable $17/day** or $102/week to the military families and retirees who camp here. There is also a monthly rate. One month is the longest reservation folks can make unless there are special circumstances, such as extended treatment at the hospital on post.

** Comparable private campground sites are in the $35-$55/night range now. That's why we rarely stay in a private campground unless we can get a really good monthly rate.

We've stayed several times previously at Fort Sam's "Fam-Camp" and love it. So do a lot of other military families. It's a good idea to make reservations early for any of the winter months. We were surprised to be able to reserve eight days in mid-January since we didn't make our reservations until a few weeks ago. There have been very few spots empty during the past week; they've all been full the two weekends we have been here.

(IN)SECURITY

This week's stay in the campground has had a bit of extra intrigue. We're within sight of the Brook Army Medical Hospital on post. It's in the background of the next photo, separated from the campground by some fencing, a railroad track, and the Fort Sam equestrian center:

Brook Army Medical Hospital is where they're housing and treating Major Hasan, the Islamic terrorist who "allegedly" (innocent-until-proven-guilty and all that) murdered all those military folks at Fort Hood a couple months ago. Fort Sam was on lock down one day last week when someone got on post and tried to see Hasan, alternately claiming to be his doctor or lawyer. The "visitor" is still at large and his motive is unknown -- get Hasan out or kill him?

We had no trouble getting on post when we arrived with the camper last Sunday or several times since then when we've gone off-post to run errands. We like the convenience but wonder how secure the place really is. The guards eyeball our military IDs, make sure the photos look reasonably like us, and wave us through with a cheery greeting. This has always been one of the easiest military installations we've entered. We were scrutinized more closely than that at one of the Border Patrol checks on I-10 recently.

Of course, the Fort Hood incident was an "inside job" (Hasan worked there) so you can't really feel secure anywhere you go, even on a military post.

CONSTRUCTION AHEAD

Every time we've visited Fort Sam the past three years the nearby freeways and many areas on post have been under construction. There's a lot going on around here and it's interesting to watch the progress from year to year.


Grounded

The $2 billion project at Fort Sam by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (known as BRAC) to consolidate military installations is still underway. When the work is completed about 4,000 more jobs will be added here. San Antonio has been one of the most recession-proof cities in the country this decade because of all the military installations in the area. Besides Fort Sam  there are Brooks AFB, Lackland AFB, Randolph AFB, and Camp Bullis Military Reservation. The local housing and job markets haven't been devastated like they have been in many areas.

In fact, Texas in general is doing quite well compared to other states. I'll have more to say about that in another entry about state park closures around the country.

One of the first things we noticed on arrival at Fort Sam was a brand new bridge (next photo) spanning Salado Creek, which bisects the post. They hadn't even begun construction on that when we were here last winter. When we made reservations we were given notice of the reroute to approach the campground but the large size of the handsome bridge was still a surprise to us:

You have to realize what it used to look like to understand our surprise.

We used to cross a very low bridge on a narrow road over the creek each time we left or returned to the campground, either by vehicle or on foot. The next picture shows the old route, which was barely above creek level during a drought, and the new, much more sensible bridge in the background:

I took that photo this morning. Until this past week, that's more water than we've ever seen over the low bridge. It's always been dry when we drove, cycled, or ran over it. We know the area floods but we've only seen post-flood evidence on prior visits -- matted weeds, debris up high in trees and in fences -- but no high water.

Last week we saw first hand just how seriously flooded that low area can get.

I'll show some flood photos in a little bit to graphically illustrate just how necessary that bridge is. Soon it will carry a lot more traffic than just people going to the campground, helipad, and guard armory; a large laboratory is being built across from the campground and already heavy construction equipment is using the new bridge and road.

A NEW PROJECT FOR US TO "SUPERVISE"

Soon after our arrival last Sunday we set out to retrace our various running/hiking/cycling routes near the campground.

One of our loops with no traffic used to encircle a large, empty training field right across from the campground entrance. Now we can use only about half of the loop due to construction of a research lab emerging out of the weeds and mud:


Jim and Cody walk past the construction site across from our campground early in the week.


Same view, after a deluge of rain.  I like the Skanska reflection in the puddle.


After a wet week, work continues on Saturday and Sunday to meet deadlines.

It'll be interesting to see if the building is done when we return next winter. Even though it has eliminated some of our running/cycling route, it's fun to "supervise" the construction while we're here. We both enjoy watching construction projects, especially ones with big cranes and front-end loaders.

There is considerable construction of new training facilities, housing units, and other buildings closer to the center of the post but I didn't take pictures of those. That maze doesn't look much different to us than it did a year ago. Although some streets are closed/rerouted, we remembered how to get around post OK and it was easy to reach the fitness center, PX, etc.

For our military friends: note that diesel fuel is usually (in our experience) several cents cheaper at the nearby Wal-Mart on Harry Wurzbach Road than it is on post.

NOSING AROUND

We had three nice sunny days at the beginning of the week as temperatures gradually warmed up to their average of low 40s at night and mid-60s during the day.

Since we haven't had many "average temperature" days so far this winter in Arizona or Texas, we made the most of them. We got outside as much as possible. We even found a new trail spur near the campground that we hadn't noticed before:

 


Salado Creek and Salado Park; the creek is a little higher than normal but nowhere near flooded.


Huge live oak draped with Spanish moss;
this trail was under several feet of water a couple days later.

The San Antonio area had gotten a lot of rain before our arrival so we did have to modify a couple of our trail routes to avoid some of the stickiest mud we've ever seen. I didn't ride Jim's mountain bike through the bad spots either. It would have gotten completely mired. This soil must have a lot of clay in it because it really cakes the bottoms and sides of your shoes. Before long we were lugging around several extra pounds of glop until we could effectively scrape it off (not an easy task).

And that was before the deluge hit.

Love the green grass in January (above)! The trail below still looks like winter.

We knew a major storm was on its way so we ran, walked, and cycled as much as possible early in the week. Many of those miles were on pavement to avoid the mud.

Jim's favorite venue to run was on the golf course:

He could run on either paved paths or grass. He never got evicted and on the rainy days when he ran there he had the place to himself.

Golfers are even wimpier than we are in the rain!

HERE IT COMES . . .

The rain started on Wednesday and continued for three straight days; it was especially hard on Thursday night and all day Friday. It began to feel epic in nature by the time it stopped. I never did hear the exact final total accumulation but it was in the 6-7" range at the campground.

Temperatures hovered around 50F. those three days. It was not pleasant to run or walk in the rain but we sucked it up the first two days and went out anyway. We stayed on pavement to avoid the world's even-stickier mud.

Remember when I said I've found some advantages to walking vs running? One of them is being able to carry an umbrella if it's raining! Came in very handy last week . . . It's a lot less comfortable to walk in the rain than run in it.


Didn't need an umbrella this morning when I took a photo of the cemetery at Fort Sam.

When it wasn't raining too horribly hard on Wednesday and Thursday we also drove around to run errands. We get cabin fever pretty easily, even when it's miserable outside.

I did another weight workout at one of the fitness centers on post and got my hair permed at the PX (not as cheap as last year since they've become a snazzy Paul Mitchell studio). We got our mail via General Delivery at the Post Office and it was like Christmas all over again, with holiday cards and real letters (!) that weren't in the last package we got in December. We shopped at Lowe's, WalMart, and Sam's Club.

We also checked out two city parks for trails (Brackenridge and McAllister) but they were so muddy we didn't run or walk there. We filed McAllister away in our memory banks for future reference; it has about fifteen miles of paved and dirt trails.

Then the deluge came. On Friday so many streets were flooded in San Antonio (at least fifty of them were closed) that we stayed inside the camper all day except to go to the fitness center on post to do a workout there. It was a good day to install our new Turbo Tax software and start working on our 2009 tax return.

Oh, boy. You can imagine how much fun that was!

HOLY MOLY!!

After the rain started I kept an eye on Salado Creek and the old bridge every time we went over the new bridge. I was fascinated with the rising water, remembering my rides and walks across the low bridge just a few days earlier when the water was only an inch or two deep on the cement, as in one of the photos farther up in this entry.


Approach to the low bridge at Salado Park on Friday, when the water was just below its peak.

Unfortunately, I never got a picture from the new bridge looking down at the creek at its flood peak on Friday. It was always raining too hard when we crossed the bridge or someone was behind us; there isn't any place to pull over.

The picture above and the two below were taken Friday afternoon from another angle -- the old road to the low bridge. Soon after I took these photos they closed access to this area for two days. Salado Park is behind me on the right. It got badly flooded, too. 


The new "high bridge" is in the background; the old "low bridge" is under several feet of water.
The creek normally flows well to the right in this angle.


Looking toward the park; the creek normally flows in the background.

UNHAPPY CAMPERS

Neither of us was a happy camper by Friday afternoon -- literally or figuratively. Enough is enough!

Working on taxes for several hours will do that to you, too.

After three days we were just about as miserable inside the camper as outside in the rain. The HitchHiker is old, relatively small, and not built like a house to withstand extremes of weather -- hot or cold, snow or monsoon.

It became very humid inside; running our two small electric heaters and the propane furnace didn't work to remove any appreciable humidity. The single-pane windows remained fogged up for several days, water pooling at the bottom of the frames. Running ceiling vents in the living area and bathroom was futile.

We had old towels lying over most of the tan-colored carpet so we didn't get it wet or muddy when we came inside. Thank goodness we were on a concrete pad and didn't have much mud right around the camper. We can take our shoes off, but Cody can't!


Tree debris and fence damage where the water had been several feet high (photo taken Sunday)

Poor Cody. He loves to swim but he's not wild about going out to "potty" in the rain. Once out, however, he likes to sniff anything and everything and leave tree-mail (p-mail?) to establish his territory. After (finally) finishing his business, his fur is still damp when he comes back in even though we towel him off. 

Think wet, stinky 80# of dog after three days of rain . . . and lots of wet towels accumulating.

Which reminds me of a funny expression we heard from a Southern caller to the Neal Boortz radio show one day: "You got a dog that stinks, you still love him because he's your dog." Although the caller was making some political reference I've since forgotten I latched onto the phrase and I'm using it literally here.


Life doesn't get much better than this for a Lab:  a creek and a stick to retrieve! (Cody's not a duck dog.)

Isn't camping fun?? And this is like being in the Hilton compared to camping in a tent . . .

OK, I'll stop whining. At least San Antonio was substantially warmer than the previous week and we didn't have several feet of snow like some other folks we know.

ON A MISSION

Mercifully, the rain stopped late Friday night and we awoke Saturday to a bit of sunshine. By afternoon it was 62F. and mostly sunny. The creek level was still high but gradually falling.

The trails and even the roads near the campground were such a sodden mess that we didn't even go out for a run or walk. After doing laundry (lots of wet and dirty towels, dog bed covers, and running clothes), we resumed our search in earnest for the perfect RV. We've had it with the HitchHiker. I'll talk more about that in the next entry.

Today was another beautiful, sunny day in the low 60s, which is about normal for this time of year in San Antonio. Both of us got out for a longer run (Jim 16 miles) and walk (Cody and me, 2+ hours). I also rode my bike again.


View from the new bridge down to the old one:
all of this (and more) was under several feet of water two days earlier.

The water in Salado Creek was way down (see photo above) but what a mess it left!

I could tell exactly how high it got by all the vegetation that was flattened. New trash was stuck ten to twelve feet high in the trees. Logs washed up well beyond the creek banks in Salado Park. Leaves, branches, and other debris were plastered high on the fencing around the park, up that hill in the background in the photo above. Some of the high chain link fencing even washed out. At least half of the park was flooded this time. Two days after the rain stopped it was still too muddy to walk on the grass that had been under water.

Since local RV dealers were closed on Sunday we spent several hours that afternoon conducting more online research regarding RVs.

Tomorrow morning we're heading north to the town of Fredericksburg to visit a dealer that carries a brand of 5th wheel campers that we've researched but haven't viewed yet (except an older model owned by a couple camping near us at Fort Sam). Our next campground reservation begins on January 25 at Huntsville State Park, where Jim is still considering running the Rocky Raccoon 50-miler. Between now and then our plans are fluid, depending where our RV quest takes us around the state.

Stay tuned to see where we go and whether we find what we want at a price we can live with!

Happy trails,

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

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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