Saturday, January 31, 2015

San Antonio Missions Bike Ride

We had been in a hurry to replace Mark’s bike because we wanted to ride the new River Walk bike/hike trail in San Antonio.  Tuesday was the last full day in this area, and we had temperatures in the upper 70’s—a perfect day for a 15 mile bike ride!
 Everyone knows about the Alamo, but there are 4 other missions south of the downtown River walk that are now joined by a wide, smooth path.  (Note that I did not say it was a flat path because there were definitely a few hills.) All of the missions are part of the National Park Service, and have free admission.  So it was a cheap day of exercise and education.  It is so much fun biking for hours without worrying about car traffic, and enjoying beautiful missions along the way!

We started the day at the mission 3 miles south of the Alamo—El Concepcion.  We left our car in the parking lot and walked through the beautiful church.  

After we left Concepcion, we unloaded our bikes and headed the 4 miles south to the second mission—San Jose.  This includes a one mile ride off the trail, and either the signage isn’t very good or we are both rotten at reading signs. This was the only time that we felt lost all day. Because we have visited San Jose before, we didn’t watch the national park film this time.  The compound walls are the most intact of any of the missions, and made it the easiest to imagine life for the Franciscan friars and the local Indians they were trying to convert.  I love the deep blue sky against the white limestone walls of the mission!

The next step was the furthest south gem on this necklace of missions—Espada.  Less visited because of its more remote location, we enjoyed talking to the volunteer guide here.  He was spinning wool and practicing dying it with powder he made from the cochineal we learned about during our hike 3 days earlier.  We might have left the university, but we’re still learning!  We assume this new knowledge will be helpful the next time we decide to spin our own yarn to make new red clothing for ourselves.

We headed our bikes to the other side of the river and rode back towards the downtown area.  We stopped at the 3rd mission in the chain—San Juan.   Check out the prickly pear cactus that is a head taller than Denisa!  

 All the missions have active congregations that have services on the weekend.  Because they are also operated by the National Park Service, there are friendly docents to answer any questions at each stop.  We talked to the group here who are living in their RVs, working 3 days per week in exchange for a free camp site.  Once we settle down from wandering, we might do the same.  

Our total bike ride was over 15 miles.  We started a little before noon, and returned to the car a little before 5:00.  The path was smooth and reasonably flat.  But I can’t lie—I chose to walk my bike up a few of the longer inclines.   Mark was showing off with his new bike, and rode to the top of all the hills (even though once I passed him while he was riding and I was walking).

We stopped for water and protein bars, but we definitely burned more calories than we consumed.  So we celebrated by fighting the 5:00 rush hour traffic to get to Grimaldi’s Pizzeria--home of the coal brick oven pizza!

We also stopped in at Trader Joe’s.  It was our first shopping experience there, so I googled for recommended things to buy.  We were proud of our healthy choices of Spinach and kale greek yogurt dip and the grape seed oil.  But we are looking more forward to trying the cookie butter and Joe-Joes.  It was a great day wandering around San Antonio!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Going Green in Gruene, Texas

After hanging out with the locals and taking care of dentist appointments, it was finally time to play tourist on Monday.  We actually started the day with a 7 mile hike inside Guadalupe River State Park.  It was beautiful weather and we found that prickly pear cactus can even grow up in trees.

We also spotted wildlife on this hike—2 wild pigs and a herd of audad.  The audads have huge curved horns and looked like something we had seen in South Africa.  Sure enough, the ranger told us a few had escaped from a wild game ranch in the area that brings in animals from Africa.  As evidenced by all the babies in the herd, they were adapting to life quite well in Texas.  Sorry, all the animals moved faster than the photographers on this blog, so we have no pictorial evidence of our wildlife spottings.


Mark then spent three hours kneeling beside or contortioning into the electric bay of our motorhome to install our new Progressive Industries power protector.  This will protect our onboard appliances from surges and brown outs.  All those years of installing network switches and wireless access point were good practice for retirement!


After all that hiking and installing, Denisa wasn’t sure if Mark could be up for the real project of the day—visiting Gruene (pronounced “Green”).  This historic village is inside New Braunfels, and is known for its cute shops and eateries.  We had a wonderful meal at the Grist Mill Restaurant overlooking the Guadalupe River at sunset.

The Grist Mill is easy to find, it’s directly under the old Gruene water tower. 

But the real reason for a trip to this historic hamlet was to go to the Gruene Dance Hall—the longest continuously run dance hall in Texas.  Denisa loves to two-step, and this was the best night of dancing she can remember.  Bret Graham was the singer, and he entertained us with nonstop dancing music from 6-10 p.m.  Two ladies from Gruene took us under their wings and gave us the low-down on some of the regular patrons.  We loved the family-friendly non-smoking atmosphere and closed the place down at 10:00.  We hope to dance our way back to Gruene some day! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Guadalupe River State Park

We had always planned a stop north of San Antonio to visit Mark's brother, Lucky and his wife Liz.  

But Denisa's tooth decided that we wanted to stay a good long time to really get to know the area.  After Denisa's root canal, we will stay here through Wednesday until the appointment for the temporary crown.  Denisa just loves these "royal dentist appointments!"

During our bike rides in Abilene, Mark managed to flatten his front tire and ruin the valve stem on the rear tire.  Denisa thinks he did this on purpose, as it would cost more to replace two tires than the bike is worth.  Our bikes are ones we bought for the boys at Walmart when they were in junior high.  They've taken us many miles, so it was probably time that Mark had his own "big boy" bike.  Since Denisa got a new root canal as a San Antonio souvenir, it just seems fair that Mark got something too.  After reading all the reviews and spending some time shopping, Mark has a new aluminum frame bike that will be lighter to haul around the country.  Also, he looks really handsome on it!

We've enjoyed biking around Guadalupe River State Park and we've spent time hiking every day as well.  We've hiked to the river many times, but Mark has convinced Denisa that the water is too cold for kayaking in January. 

The trails were muddy from the 3-inch rain, but we won't complain since Texas so desperately needs the moisture.  We also checked out the state park's Discovery Center--designed for kids like us!

On Saturday morning we joined a naturalist for a guided trail tour of the adjacent Honey Creek Nature Preserve.  We learned lots about the flora and fauna of the area, and enjoyed the extra time with Lucky and Liz.

Staying in one place for a week allows us to get to know an area and the people.  Denisa went to a women's bible study with Liz on Friday, we both went to church on Sunday, and then a couple's bible study Sunday night.  Messiah Lutheran Church in Boerne has adopted those crazy motorhome relatives that keep showing up!  Thanks for making us feel so welcome!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Route to a Root Canal

We have been preparing for this vagabond lifestyle for years.  Especially this last year we did all those medical tests and procedures that we knew would be easier with our local doctors.  We had those colonoscopies that we had both been putting off, and we told our local dentist to be sure our teeth were in top condition.  But as proof that it doesn’t matter how well you prepare, your body will still need some health care when you are living full-time on the road.  We just didn’t expect it quite so soon!  Denisa first noticed an ache in her jaw the second day we were away from Weatherford.   An occasional Tylenol kept that ache under control, and we were having so much fun that it could be willed to be ignored.  But every day was a little worse, until Wednesday morning when the pain ramped up and it was obvious that she would have to see a dentist.

This was when we could tell that God was taking care of us.  We were preparing to leave Abilene for the drive four hours south to a state park outside of San Antonio.  We called Mark’s brother in San Antonio, and miraculously their highly regarded dentist office was covered by our dental insurance plan.  More miraculously, they would hold a 4:50 appointment for me that day.  When Dr. Hoeppner concurred that a root canal would be needed, miraculously the endodontist he recommended was also in our dental plan.  Another miracle was that this unknown walk-in patient could get an appointment with a specialist for a root canal the very next morning!  Some people would call that a series of coincidences or just very good luck, but we see that as a miracle of God taking care of us.

Dr. Hoeppner suggested I take 4 ibuprofen every six hours to get me through the intense pain the night before the root canal.  I had never taken more than one ibuprofen at a time!  But it hurt so much that I followed the doctor’s orders and got some sleep that night.  The root canal went smoothly on Thursday, and afterwards Denisa felt so good she drug Mark down to the Guadalupe River that evening for a very cold walk.

The timing of the root canal was even perfect.  It was cold and rainy all day, so we would have been motorhome-bound.  So it was perfect weather for a visit to the endodontist for a root canal!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Abilene, Texas - January 17-20, 2015

On Friday, we spent a night with our good friends Connie and Steven and gave them the 3-minute tour of our new home.  They sent us off the next morning with breakfast and enough chocolate chip cookies to get us all the way to our first camping spot at Abilene State Park.  As you can tell from the picture, it was very windy for our trip south.  That cold north wind blew us south and we averaged 10.6 miles per gallon!

Mark spent much of that first day flushing out the pink antifreeze and sanitizing all the water lines on the motorhome.  We feel pretty up-town now that we have running water in our home!

We were blessed with the most perfect weather while in Abilene—70 degrees and no wind in January!  We would recommend the wide camping spots in the Brushy Trail (not to be confused with Bushy Tail) campground.  We spent one whole day biking the roads, then hiking the trails in the state park.
  Lake Abilene is completely dry, so one hike included walking clear across the dry lake bed.  Jesus can walk on the water; we can only walk where the water used to be.

Sunday was spent in the city of Abilene, dividing our Sabbath between several denominations.  We worshipped at Zion Lutheran Church, then spent the afternoon walking around Abilene Christian University (Church of Christ) and Hardin Simmons University (Baptist).  From spending almost 30 years working at a college, we have always enjoyed “touring” universities while on vacation.  ACU has an especially nice campus with beautiful outdoor sculptures.  Mark attempted to climb Jacob’s ladder with the other angels.

Abilene is a western city with cowboys and buffalo, and the state park is right outside the quaint little town of Buffalo Gap.  So we had to take pictures of the world’s largest buffalo skull. 

But our favorite must be Denisa riding a giant buffalo while drinking a slurpee.  Who knew retirement would be this much fun?

The main reason for stopping in Abilene was to see our relatives—Jennifer, James, and Colin.  It was so good to spend time at their beautiful home meeting the four-legged members of their family on Tuesday.
Then we ate at Perini’s Ranch Steak House—home of the Barbadillo.
At the invitation of George W. Bush, Mr. Perini was invited to cater the Congressional Picnic in Washington DC on 9-11-2001.  Because of the historic tragedy of that day, they would have to return in 2002 to actually serve the Congressional picnic.  In 2009 the Perini’s were honored as preparing the “best burger” on the Today Show in NYC.  So Mark ordered the steak, and Denisa ordered the burger so we could split both.  They were amazing!  Denisa had to use her best manners to keep from licking the last of the rum sauce out of the bread pudding bowl!

The only Abilene area disappointment was when we traveled to Ovala on a road trip.  Mark’s mother remembered climbing the “mountain” behind her aunt and uncle’s house in Ovala around 80 years ago.  We had hoped to recreate that.  But the double barbed wire fence and “NO trespassing” signs persuaded even Mark that we would have to include a picture taken from the bottom (instead of the top) of the “mountain.”

After four perfect weather days, Abilene is forecasted for rain and possible snow on Wednesday.  So we are wandering south for warmer weather!