The Oregon Trail – In Reverse

One of the great stories of our nation is that of the Oregon Trail. While the trail was first used by trappers and traders as early as 1811, it became the primary way for migrants to travel west to Oregon beginning in 1836. More than 400,000 pioneers crossed the trail between 1840 and 1860, often considered the boom years. Recall that by 1869 (May 10th to be exact) the transcontinental railroad had been completed, offering an alternative faster, safer and cheaper way of moving west.

oregon-trail

The trail did not cover a single path. The beginning and end points on the trail changed over time. On the front end, travelers might start in Independence, Missouri or Omaha, Nebraska/Council Bluffs, Iowa. At the endpoint, pioneers settled in Oregon, California, Idaho, or Utah. Only an estimated 80,000 out of the 400,000 noted above made it to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Approximately 70,000 Mormon pilgrims travelled it to Utah before stopping (aka, the Mormon trail). The California Trail, which began in the same places as the Oregon Trail, was traversed by 250,000 persons. Even today the ruts left by the wagons pulled on this long trek can be found in many western states.

oregon_trail_wagon_ruts_-_panoramio

The trails noted above have a rich yore. Some of the stories are true, some not. As noted above, there was not just one trail, although all shared long elements such as the trek along the Platte River in Nebraska to Fort Laramie. Most agree that the first crossing was made by Protestant missionaries in 1836. They led a small party from St. Louis to the Walla Walla Valley in Oregon in 1843. Travelers most often did not rely on the large and unwieldy Conestoga Wagon seen in so many western movies and reenactments, but on smaller covered wagons which have been referred to Prairie Schooners. They travelled between 15 and 20 miles per day, leaving an impressive collection of trash (e.g. discarded food barrels and wagon parts) behind as they consumed their supplies. Unlike Hollywood movies, attacks by Indians were rare. Only about 400 of these travelers are estimated to have been killed by Native Americans between 1840 and 1860. Pioneers were much more likely to die from diseases such as Cholera as well as wagon accidents and exposure.

prairie-schooner

I travelled along a part of the Oregon Trail, in reverse order, in late November-early December. I drove with three of my colleagues to visit the satellite offices of our small business development center and to meet with partners in several parts of the state. Overall, we traversed over 1,000 miles in four days covering the sand hills and valleys in central and western Nebraska and the flat lands that lie along the Platte River. We first drove north and west, not along the Oregon Trail but on highways 275 and 20, taking us through the cities/towns of Fremont, West Point, O’Neill, and Valentine to our first overnight stop in Chadron, Nebraska, a total of 432 miles often on two land black top roads. On day two, we traveled south through Hemingford and Alliance to Scottsbluff. On day three we drove to North Platte. On the fourth day after our meetings had concluded we headed back to Omaha on I-80 along the Platte River, the most popular starting point of the Oregon Trail after 1855.

sandhills-whitman-rd

The drive to Chadron provides a strong reminder of the beauty and greatness of our country. As the topography and annual rainfall amounts shift so does the nature of the crops and grazing land. The eastern part of Nebraska contains what appear to be endless acres of mostly corn and soybeans, although by late November most of the crops had been harvested. One main exception is the sugar beet crop in western Nebraska which in late November was still being carried to the processing plants in Chadron and other places. The small towns along the way have undergone tough times, but as we discovered in Cody, Nebraska, “a town too tough to die”, the people in those places are innovative and resourceful. While many places try, and fail, to hold their populations, they retain their unique, cowboy tough, nature which drives them to press on.

cody-ne

Chadron, a city of nearly 6,000 is home to Chadron State College, our partner institution in providing assistance to small businesses in northwest Nebraska. Chadron has a real west look and feel, and is closer to Cheyenne and Denver than Omaha. It became a town like so many places when a railroad line was constructed through that part of Nebraska in 1884. Its elevation, 3,400 feet, provides evidence of the gradual rise that can be found as one travels west from Omaha toward the Rocky Mountains (the official elevation of Omaha is 1,089 feet). In addition to the college, Chadron is also home to the Museum of Fur Trade and the Pine Ridge Recreation Area. During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Chadron was the starting point of the 1,000 mile Chadron to Chicago Cowboy Horse Race, won by John Berry in 13 days and 16 hours.

chadron-ne

Scottsbluff, south of Chadron, is on the Oregon Trail, and the area around it provides some of the iconic scenery observed by those who went travelling west. Even today, Scotts Bluff National Monument and Chimney Rock are impressive reminders that “city life” has been left far behind. The city itself has roughly 12,000 persons, by far the largest locale in western Nebraska or eastern Wyoming. The city was not established until 1899, long after the Oregon Trail had been replaced by the railroad as being the best way to reach Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and points west. Unlike most of western Nebraska, it is socially/ethnically diverse. Nearly 30 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino.

chimney_rock_nebraska

North Platte, our last stop, is a city of nearly 25,000 and home to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey yards, a massive collection of track, locomotives, and railcars, that are mixed and matched so that they can be sent on to their final destinations (or next point of remixing the railcars). Bailey is the largest rail yard in the world, and in operation resembles a ballet as a most coordinated effort is made to assemble the right collection of railcars to be moved on. North Platt was the western terminus of the Union Pacific Railway from the summer of 1867 until the next section was completed (Laramie, Wyoming) in the summer of 1868. It should be noted that Wild Bill Cody had a ranch just north of North Platte. It can be visited today. North Platte is located what some might call “big country” (my apologies to those of you further west). On the day that we drove back to Omaha, 28,645 acres of ranch and farm land was auctions in 50 parcels for $37.5 million.

PRAIRIE LAKES 2

And then we were on our way home.

Grand Island, Kearney and Lexington (Nebraska)

In late October, I was out with my colleagues from the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC), a department in our college, to meet with our business partners and elected officials in central Nebraska. We were also introducing our new NBDC director, who is only the second director we have ever had. Our founding director stayed for 37 years—he is just a few months younger than me which qualifies him as a geezer. It was an easy drive from Omaha to Grand Island, about 150 miles. Just get on Interstate 80, set the cruise control to 79 (speed limit 75), go slower getting out of Omaha, and slow down when passing through Lincoln.

Central Nebraska is made up of friendly people, a lot of cropland, a bit of grazing land (along Interstate 80), a few larger towns, more smaller places, and a great deal of clear sky. The rolling hills throughout the drive become even more noticeable by the contoured plowing of the land which prevents erosion and maximizes yield. Tourists are drawn to this part of our state in March and April to watch over 500,000 Sandhill Cranes as they stop at the Platte River valley to “fuel up”” for their continued migration north. The migration of that many birds flying in formation and roosting together along and in the Platte River is quite a sight. I suggest that you visit sometime. Get a tour guide and be prepared to be up and about long before dawn.

sandhill-crane-migration

The cranes are gone in October. The corn and beans are drying in the fields, and harvest season is well underway. Large combines along with 18 wheel and other trucks dot the fields, with farmers working long into the night to bring in the crops that feed our nation. Even though I have observed harvest season many times, I never fail to stop, look, and wonder in amazement about how this all gets done. I have seen quite a bit of agricultural land in Eastern Europe. The harvest process, whether it be for grain or fruit, is much more labor intensive there.

combine-in-operation

Grand Island, Kearney, and Lexington are located along Interstate 80 in a belt of Nebraska counties that have a mixed record of population growth over the last 80 years. Nebraska is made up of 93 counties, way too many by 21st century standards (opinion). Only 12 of those counties achieved their largest population in 2010 or later. That is, 81 Nebraska counties have lost population since 2010! The demographic story is even more complicated. Out of the 81 counties that have lost population since 2010, 73 or 90 percent recorded their largest population in 1940 or earlier. Three of the twelve growth counties are in Central Nebraska, and Grand Island and Kearney are located in population growth counties. Lexington is part of Dawson County, one of two counties in Nebraska that had the largest recorded population in 2010.

All three cities are interesting, with strong business communities and populations that are changing. Grand Island, population 49,000, is undergoing a downtown revitalization that is making it an exciting place to work, play, and live. Buildings constructed in the earlier part of the 20th century are being modernized and gussied up, and the streetscape has been completely redone with outdoor seating for restaurants and new landscaping. I recommend a visit to The Chocolate Bar for lunch or dinner, and conversation with those who are leading the change.

the-chocolate-bar

Kearney, population 32,000, is home to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a 7,500 student institution offering a range of bachelor and master degrees. New construction on the campus is having significant effects on both the university and the city. Kearney is also home of the Gateway Arch, a structure that is suspended over Interstate 80 and was designed to be a tourist attraction. It is an excellent example of the operationalization of the “build it and they will come” phrase that should be followed by “but maybe they won’t.” Short-sighted planning with respect to highway access and program planning have led to actual revenue realized that falls far short of that projected.

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Lexington is one of the most interesting (demographically) cities in Nebraska. It began as a trading post in 1860 (Nebraska achieved statehood in 1867), and was originally named Plum Creek. After years of functioning as an economic center in the middle of an agricultural area, beef processing came to town. The jobs brought to Lexington appealed most to a population that did not yet live there, Latinos. Today over 60 percent of Lexington is Latino, a much larger proportion there found in any other Nebraska community, many work at the Tyson plant. A second round of migrants was drawn to meat packing, this time made up of Somalis. Official data show that the population is 6.6 percent African American, but vast majority of that group is African (Somalian).

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Travel, Just Outside Our Building

Thus far, all of my posts have been about travel. I am making an exception here so that I can share a good story and a fine piece of art with you. On November 3, we unveiled a statue of our founding dean, John Lucas. Dean Lucas has had a lasting impact on our college. He led our efforts to achieve our first national accreditation and started our MBA program. He assembled a very talented faculty, holding them to high expectations.

fullsizerender-lucas-statue

The statue was made possible by alum and donor, Al Thomsen, and his wife, Beverly. The sculptor is Matt Placzek, a most talented artist.

Chicago – Business Deans, Architecture and That Goat

I was back in Chicago in early October to attend the Mid-American Business Deans Conference (MABDA). As you might remember, in the past MABDA has been held starting the day of the Chicago Marathon, and I have always liked being there on race day. The sights and sounds of over 40,000 runners and cheering crowds of over 1 million make the race a great event. Not this year. We moved the meeting back one week because of the havoc created for those who drive to Chicago for the meeting. The traffic on race day is bad, with street closings that are not easy to understand or predict. Taxi and Uber drives are sometimes at a loss with regard to the best route from airport to the Omni, and those who drive in from wherever seem to just drift from street to street hoping for an opening. Well, the drivers have prevailed and we will no longer meet on race weekend, so sad. Anyway, MABDA was good, and as always I came away with a few ideas that we will try out here. I also learned that the longest standing dean in our group, at 23 years, is retiring. That puts me near the top at 13 years. Recall that the average number of years a business school dean has in her/his current post is approximately 4.5. So, in dog years…

chicago-skyline

The first event for MABDA is on Sunday evening at Loyola University. I flew in to Midway on Saturday, giving me early and midday Sunday to do some work and explore. This year I chose to take an architectural tour on the Chicago River. The tour starts just a bit southwest of the Wrigley Building, right at the front of a Trump International Hotel and Tower (all of the retail space on the first two floors facing the river was vacant, leasing informational available, what?). The river tour is 90 minutes, first moving east to Lake Michigan and then west to the north/south split in the river. The tour takes the north split first, and then the south route.

chicago-river

I recommend the tour to anyone who has an interest in architecture, the history of Chicago, and/or who just likes getting out on a boat. Our tour guide was first rate, providing the small details about a building or a location that makes a story jump to life. For example, the structure currently on the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, the Art Deco building built in 1928 by Fred M. Torrey, was once the site of Ft. Dearborn. As it turns out, the fort was located there because it was on the lake at that time. The several blocks of land east that we see today have been made possible by infill and adjustments in the location and flow of the river.

fortdearborn1804

Chicago’s history of architecture is most interesting, and much of it can be seen from the river. The world’s first modern steel-framed skyscraper, the Home Insurance Builder, was built in Chicago in 1885. Of particular interest, to me, are the river views of the Wrigley Building (1924), Tribune Tower (1922), Old Main Post Office (1921), and the Merchandise Mart (1931). The post-World War I flurry of construction was most impressive, but most work ended by the early 1930s when the effects of the Great Depression took hold.

marina-wrigley

Yes, the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series for the first time since 1945 (they lost in seven games to the Detroit Tigers). In early October, the baseball playoffs had started and the Cubs happened to be home when I was there. No, I did not attend. Never far from any conversation about the Cubs and the World Series is the curse of the goat. The curse was delivered in 1945, but the stories about whether or not the curse was later rescinded (how do you take back a curse?) are not clear. So, William Sianis and his goat, Murphy, arrived at game 4 of the World Series on October 6, 1945. William, Billy, had two box seat tickets for the game, one for himself and one for Murphy. They went to their “seats” and proceeded to “watch” the game. Well, the goat and Billy had peculiar odors about them, goats often smell goaty, and a few complaints were made by fans within the smell-sphere of Murphy.  Billy, was asked to take his goat and leave, and an outraged Sianis is reported to have said, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” His family reported that he later sent a telegram to Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley which read, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again because you insulted my goat.” So, the curse was in play. There is one version of the story that Billy and Murphy never got into Wrigley Field that day, having been turned away by officials at the entrance. On October 7, 1945, the Chicago Sun reported that Billy left Murphy tied to a stake in a parking lot, and attended the game alone after Murphy was not allowed into Wrigley Field. Either way, the “curse” lingers 71 years after the story’s origination.

spt-billgoat

Living on Tulsa Time

My mother says I’m crazy

My baby calls me lazy

         …

Cause you know I ain’t no fool

I don’t need no more damn schoolin’

        …

Livin’ on Tulsa time

Performed by Don Williams (1978) and Eric Clapton (1978)

Written by Danny Flowers

It was back to Dallas and Love Field in the second week of August. It was a nice day for flying from an Omaha perspective, just a few clouds and not much wind. I settled into my window seat, already focused on the weekend to come. Before the southwest Airlines 737 was wheels up, I had my nose in the July issue of the National Magazine of Texas, Texas Monthly. The cover story was about Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show who turned 80 this year. He is a fellow University of North Texas alumnus, which over the years has given me extra reason to follow his writings. And, yes, I have made the trek to Archer City, population 1,675, McMurtry’s home town and the model for Anarene, the setting for the Last Picture Show. The article did not disappoint, and I wondered if it was time for another road trip to Archer City. Perhaps I would meet McMurtry, who lives there part time, or Archer City’s current mayor, Kelvin Green, who is only 20 years old.

Archer City

After the normal taxi dance and mad dash down the runway, we were headed south for an on time arrival in the Big D. I drifted from the story about McMurtry to one about Simone Biles, a new American heroin and another Texan. At the time the article was written, she had not yet won all of those Olympic medals, so part of the focus of the story was on how she might fare on the Olympic stage. We now know the answer. As I continued reading, THAT voice of the pilot, the low baritone sound that carries bad news, came on the speaker to tell us that because of a severe thunderstorm hanging out over Love Field (he did not use this exact language) we were going into a holding pattern until the storm passed. By now you have figured out where I am going with this. After performing numerous figure eights and barrel rolls, just kidding, we received the dreaded news, in an even deeper voice, we were getting low on gas and the flight was being diverted, to Tulsa.

Tulsa

Thunderstorms with a lot of rain were forcing us to land in Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of Oral Roberts when he was alive. My mind began to wander in two directions: what caused those storms and how many songs with the word rain could I name. I am easily distracted. The answer to the first question was simple. It got very hot in Dallas that day, 107 degrees with humidity factored in, and a touch of cooler air set the whole thing off. The result was a lot of rain, more than two inches over a short period of time in some locations, lightening, and wind, a bad combination for landing anything. The answer to the second question is that I could not name that many songs. But, in case you care, I looked on a website (there are web sites for everything) for well-known songs with the word “rain” and found:

  • Singing in the Rain
  • A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall
  • Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain
  • I Think it’s Going to Rain Today
  • Have You Ever Seen Rain
  • Rainy Night in Georgia
  • Here Comes the Rain
  • Purple Rain
  • Rainy Day Women, No. 12 and 35

Too bad Riders on the Storm does not have rain in the title. The back drop of falling rain in that song is very cool.

There is not much to report about Tulsa International Airport. It has 22 gates and is shaped like a “U”. The restaurants are all closed by 7 pm on Friday night, even when your flight has been diverted. The U provides a nice walking course, but after two laps I was too bored to go again. The folks on our flight were generally in good spirits, but there were rumblings about missed connections and such.

Tulsa Airport

It was a long while before we were airborne again. The delays at Love Field and DFW combined (the airports are only about 10 miles apart as the crow flies—do crows fly in a straight line?) had a rolling effect on the volume of traffic. Aircraft already in the air were given priority, as should be the case, with respect to the landing queue. Since we were on the ground, we could wait. So…wait we did. We were wheels up at just before 9 pm and finally on our way to Dallas—about a 45 minute flight from Tulsa. But, one more surprise awaited us. Once we were wheels down and we were rolling toward the Love Field terminal we discovered:

  • There was no gate for us (imagine that), so we had to wait for a gate re-assignment
  • There is no clear protocol for passing a disabled plane once on the ground—we got behind an aircraft that was being towed and we had to stop, for about ten minutes
  • When we got to the gate, yes you guessed correctly, no ground crew was in sight

From wheels down to gate and deplaning, 25 minutes. Altogether, I was nearly five hours late, just like the last time I flew to Dallas.

I moved quickly, no running, out past the jet way and through the concourse past Whataburger (mmm). The scene outside the airport as I waited for my sister to collect me was like a mad house, with cars parked at all angles, speeding away dangerously after their drivers had snagged their tardy passengers, fingers and arms signaling to fellow drivers how happy they were to be there. And, it had started to rain again, making the scene anything but boring. As we sped away (my sister is pretty good at speeding away) I noticed the shot up windows outside the baggage claim area at Love Field had been replaced. There is no more evidence of that strange exchange back in June between a guy and his girlfriend that resulted in him stoning her car and getting hit by three bullets fired by the airport police (remember, they shot at him nine times).

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One more thing. I went on one of my now all-time favorite bicycle rides on this trip. I rode the White Rock Creek Trail, starting at the 635, AKA, LBJ Freeway, south and east to White Rock Lake, around the lake and back (with a  few side trips) – about 25 miles in total. Wow, the ride along the creek bends gently, sometimes sharply, mirroring the direction of the creek which is always in site. Much of the ride is in the shade of a very thick canopy of trees, almost like riding in the woods until all of a sudden the backside of businesses, apartments, or condos come into view. The shade keeps the temperature in check, a good thing on a hot Texas summer day. Elevation changes, not too steep, make the ride even more interesting, especially when 15 or 20 feet above the creek. The ride around the lake is about nine miles. The lake is always in view. Sharp turns and hills and great views of the lake make the ride even more enjoyable. There are many residential neighborhoods not far from the shoreline (none of the homes are on the shoreline), built mostly between the 1920s and 1970s. Those homes have unblocked views of the lake, except for the trees. There are boat houses on the lake, for sailboats. No motorized vessels are allowed.

WhiteRock Lake

On the way back to my starting point I encountered a Pokémon fool. Some big dude stoked with limited judgement and bad manners stopped abruptly in the middle of the trail, face down in his cell phone. Those who passed him encouraged him to get off the trail, sometimes with a polite suggestion other times with harsh language. He responded to no one and stood his ground, seeming to be proud to a Pokémon hazard. Oh, the joys of the 21st century.

The Long Ride Home

It’s always a bit sad to realize that the party is over. The time has come to pack up and go home. Seeing the gulf in the rearview mirror can lead to post-vacation funk if funk counter measures are not taken. I sucked in my last views of the bay driving east on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, and found myself thinking about our next trip, in December, to these parts as we swung around downtown Tampa at Ybor City heading from the 275 to the 75—and Ocala, Gainesville, Lake City and other parts north. The drive on the concrete slab is pretty boring. But, we had a plan and that was to avoid interstate driving when reasonable, select a route that was new to us, and engage in some espionage work.

Courtney Campbell Causeway

As we drove north on the 75 through Florida and Georgia, we continued to see signs for U.S. Highway 41. The 41 is also known as the Tamiami Trail, and yes it runs from Tampa to Miami, long predating Alligator Alley, the 75 between Naples and Ft. Lauderdale. The 41 originates in Copper Harbor Michigan and ends in Miami, or is the other way around? The 41 is the non-interstate alternative to the 75, and offers a much slower way to get to Atlanta and beyond. The 75 is heavily patrolled (lots of drugs) and there were a good number of cars and trucks that had been pulled over as we rolled on by, violations real or perceived not known. FYI: Georgia has 159 counties so if you are driving fast you don’t stay in one for very long. At one point, we crossed three county boundaries in less than five minutes.

tamiami trail

We began to avoid interstate driving in earnest north of Nashville, once the espionage was complete. If I wrote about the nature of the espionage, it would not be espionage, so that’s it. Four lane and two lane alternatives provide a look at America that cannot be seen at 80 miles per hour next to a texting truck driver.

OwensboroRiverfront1

We spent our second evening in Owensboro Kentucky in a high-rise hotel looking out over the Ohio River. Wow! We were on the tenth floor, high enough to observe where the river turns gently from west to northwest. Below, we saw barge traffic moving up and down Owensboro Riverfrontriver, and a downtown that has been revamped in a most attractive way. Music venues, green spaces, and a bike/walk path border the bluffs of the river, with restaurants, other commercial buildings and a performing arts center mixed in to the landscape. We were chased indoors by threatening rain, but not before we dined at a restaurant with outdoor seating and an excellent view of the river (good music too). The following day we continued west to Hannibal Missouri, four states and three major rivers later.

owensboro

We learned that it is possible to drive from St. Charles Missouri, just west of St. Louis, to Omaha without travelling on a road that starts with an “I”, and in an acceptable timeframe. The 49, which runs from St. Charles to Hannibal and north is a windiMississippi_River_Lock_and_Dam_number_19ng, roller coaster type roadway with some of the best views found on any byway. For several stretches it shadows the Mississippi River, offering broad views of the tree lined waterway, its locks, and the massive delta created by an estimated 100 million years of meandering, and flooding, as well as the much more recently reshaping by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The towns along the river are historic, the best known being Hannibal the hometown of Samuel Clemens. I enjoyed being inHannibal sign Hannibal where the ideas underlying Huckleberry Finn and other great works originated, but I was also disappointed by its appearance. It has been re-worked and refurbished, somewhat, but it still looks tired. At the same time, the historical significance of Hannibal is such that the run-down condition of many buildings can be overlooked. The two towns just south of Hannibal, Louisiana and Clarksville, are much more attractive, although a lot smaller.

SONY DSC

The ride west of Hannibal on the 36 is relaxing and offers rolling views of corn and bean fields along with small towns with character. It is a four lane affair for the most part, but has steeper hills and more turns than the interstate alternatives. We turned off the 36 to head north toward Marysville, MO, and soon found ourselves on a gravel road looking for the home/farm of a friend. We found his place, but decided not to stop unannounced. We saw newly constructed windfarms, and read from the web about the controversy that ensues when a trucked-in three hundred foot plus object that spins around is constructed in the middle of a cornfield. The neighbors are quoted as saying that they do not like the appearance of these objects. Some do not like the sound. You decide. Do you prefer the sound of money to the smell of money?

The last miles took us through Marysville, Plattsmouth, NE, and on home to Omaha. Well, here we are, home in our apartment and already thinking about next year’s travel route. Do we take the incline railway in Chattanooga up to the top of Lookout Mountain?

250px-Inclinerailway

The Water is Always Calmer on the Gulf Side

As noted previously, my first trip to Clearwater Beach (CB) occurred in 1989. A colleague at Rollins College in Winter Park Florida (just north of Orlando) suggested that we visit this quiet coastal burg that featured a very nice beach along with one-off excellent restaurants and a slow pace. He was making the not-Disney case. Well, he was right. Moreover, the almost turquoise water was very clear, imagine that, and was warmer and calmer (that is, the water) when compared with the Atlantic Ocean side cities and towns such as Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami. Today, CB is no longer quiet, but it still has the beach, ocean, and enough mom and pop restaurants to keep drawing us back.

As I noted in the previous blog, our bikes made the CB trip this year. My goal was to ride 80-100 miles each week, but I only averaged about 60, 250 miles in total. Each riding day I (or we) would leave our place relatively early to avoid the worst of the heat, rain and CB traffic which tends to build up, sometimes exponentially, as the day wears on. I rode a part of the Pinellas Trail each day, in total a 47 mile bike and walk path that winds its way primarily from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs (and a bit beyond) on an old CSX railroad bed. The trail is 15 feet wide, great for these types of routes, with 10 feet devoted to bicycle traffic and five feet dedicated to walkers.

pinellas

The ride from our place to the trail is most interesting. It involves traversing the main roundabout in CB, which early in the day is remarkably almost vehicle free. I then heading east along the causeway/bridge combination that connects CB to the city of Clearwater. Fortunately, there is a bike path to cover the distance, although a number of idiots prefer to challenge the 45 mph plus traffic made up of tourists and others who are texting, talking on the phone, screaming at their kids, being blinded by the sun rising in the east, or otherwise being distracted. Staying in the bike lane may be a bit slower, but it minimizes the chances of getting smacked by a car or truck. The last part of the relatively short CB to Clearwater ride involves a nice incline onto the bridge that crosses the bay separating both places. I always slow down or stop at the apex of the bridge in order to look out on the glistening water, boat traffic, and the distinct water-influenced architecture of the condos, apartments, single-family homes and businesses that occupy the shoreline. At low tide, many sandbars appear, and sometimes these temporary land masses serve as gathering places for boaters who want to meet up with other boaters. The ride downhill into Clearwater is pretty fast, but a nice relief from the 90 second grind that it takes to pedal up to the top.

CB Bridge

About three miles from our place, I intersect Pinellas Trail, and a decision must be made: ride north or south. Most often in July, I rode north toward Tarpon Springs, with its sponge docks, excellent Greek cuisine, and neighborhoods that twist and bend along the many waterways that make up this most attractive coastal town. The ride north involves skirting the east side of scientology-central, not to too far from the Flag Building, the epicenter for Flag BuildingThetans who come from near and far to take courses, be audited (not in the IRS sense), and otherwise get turned up and advance in the hierarchy of their mysterious organizational structure. Most mornings, I pass Sea Org members (Scientologists) walking along briskly. I always, yes always, say hello and they always respond in a very pleasant fashion. They are very easy to spot, with their dark blue slacks and vest which overlays a white shirt with tie. Even on the hottest days they are dressed this way and for some time I thought that whenever they got to wherever they were going they would be drenched in sweat. Not to worry, however. I learned, yes you can look it up, that Thetans, Scientologists, do not sweat. Perhaps they have a different body cooling system?

The ride north continues, passing by the police station, past the coolest post office in Clearwater POFlorida (see picture), and up through the towns of Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Ozuna and Tarpon Springs. It is a flat trail for the most part, deviating only as the old CSX route changes directions, rising to a bridge that crosses US Highway 19A. If you get hot, and you will get hot, and need water, fruit, a light breakfast, or a sports drink, there are options at the 7 mile mark (for me, from our condo), especially at the old railroad station (converted boxcar) in Dunedin. You can also check out the Chick-a-Boom Room for an excellent breakfast. The trail is also covered by shade for relatively long stretches, offering a break from the rather intense summer Florida sun. The path provides views of the water: small lakes, the bay, mangrove swamps, and narrow canals. You will also come across Pinellas-Trailcommercial areas and residential neighborhoods. On Saturdays and Sunday mornings, the smell of bacon can be detected in one part of a Dunedin neighborhood—mmm (where is that house?) The main downside of the trail is that early in the ride, Clearwater through Dunedin, the path intersects numerous city streets. The intersections are well marked, and automobile and truck traffic most often must stop, but for safety reasons one really has to slow down. Stop-and-start biking is not my favorite way to ride, but it is also the case that the car and truck drivers are most polite, often stopping at an intersection even before you arrive.

rec.trail2

July is part of the rainy season on the west coast of Florida, and while it is unusual to have all-day showers, most often it is raining hard somewhere in the neighborhood, especially late in the day. Frequently, sprinkles turn into gully washers (aka frog stranglers) pretty quickly, sending one and all to seek shelter. Many tourists are goofy and pay little attention to lightning strikes that precede these storms (lightning during the storms as well). I have watched folks from all over the world continue to walk on the beach, swim and hang out at the pool as the bolts from above are followed by very loud thunder. Just before our arrival in Florida, two poor souls in Daytona Beach got zapped while strolling oceanside. In July, two more took a hit not too far from our place, once again ignoring the very obvious signs that the end could be near.

We have incredible viewing posts to watch these storms form and begin to roll in our direction. CB storms can come from the gulf or inland (off the bay) depending on the nature of the weather system, prevailing winds…I am including two of the cloud formations we saw in July. The first looks as if it might be a cover for alien spacecraft. Think of the movie, Independence Day (the first one). The second, taken to the east with the benefit of a setting sun, offers so much of the beauty nature has to offer.

One last note. We only saw four baseball games on this trip, a very low number by our standards. The most interesting game featured the Clearwater Threshers (Phillies) and the Port St. Lucie Mets (Mets), at Bright House Field in Clearwater, a game won by the Threshers in the bottom of the 9th inning. Upon arriving at the ballpark, we learned that it was “Dogs Night Out.” People brought their hounds to sit thought the entire game! And, it was 100 degrees at first pitch, topping out at 101 degrees about 15 minutes later. Needless to say, the dogs were overheating and the owners gathered them up in the main concourse out of the sun. Plenty of water was provided, but the sloshing of the water bowls and inadvertent deposits made a big mess. Many of the dogs did what dogs do in hot weather, sleep. The venue began to look like a doggy sleepover. I could see that the stadium staff did not really like this event. They were the ones who often cleaned up the mess from Fido’s accident.

But, the best was yet to come. When the game ended, dogs and their owners were encouraged to run the bases. From Chihuahua to Great Dane and all points in between, the dogs did run or walk the bases, and more than once. By now the staff looked so sad. Poop on the field is so anti-baseball. The highlight of highlights was when one dog, breed unknown, hiked his leg on third base. Mmm, I’ve never seen that before. It’s true, you can look it up.

Bark in the Park