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C2C Day 20: Swinging Ribeye July 21, 2009

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Some time ago I watched a miniseries on the Food Network called Feasting on Asphalt, where the host, Alton Brown rode his motorcycle across America eating only “road food “- i.e. dining only on that which one finds in the little local roadside cafes, diners, and dives.  He had two rules: Avoid the interstates where possible, and absolutely no chain restaurants.  The show is really quite inspirational both from a biker and “foodie” point of view.  In the first series he went to three places that I vowed I would as well:  B&R Old Fashioned hamburgers in Hawthorne, CA; Dino’s Dogs also in Hawthorne, and the Mexican Hat Lodge in Mexican Hat, UT.  I had gone to the first two on business trips to Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, CA during the development of the LCROSS spacecraft.  …but that is another story.  This one deals with the Mexican Hat Lodge’s Swinging Ribeye.

I was quite lucky bedding down in Kanab the day before.  The weather in the entire area turned quite nasty for riding and I managed to get a lot of work done on the blog.  That evening, I enjoyed a nice cesar salad, ribeye, and a couple of glasses of wine at their at the Rocking V there in Kanab (I recommend it.)

Having started the trend of departing early to beat the heat, I stood to arrive at Mexican Hat quite early.  I packed the bike and left Kanab, UT via US-89 to Page, AZ.  It was a very pleasant morning ride with great scenary.  Lake Powell seemed starkly (but beautifully) desolate.  There were housing developments going up there, and while I found the scenery quite lovely to look at, the whole aura of the place has a harshness that would preclude me from building a house to live there.  Lake Powell is formed by the Glen Canyon Dam which is crossed by US-89.  Crossing over and seeing the resulting canyon was really amazing.  Sheer red walls to the Colorado River far far below.  I was very impressed (again). 

I got off US-89 to enter Page to find gas and coffee.  The town is not that old, established in 1957.  I rather liked it.  It is a well proportioned blend of city convenience, country friendliness, and rustic scenery.  I would like to go back and spend more time there. 

Standing out in front of the Circle K while drinking my morning coffee, my bike caught the attention of a gentleman who asked me about my trip.  We chatted for a while.  Orginally from Alabama, he and his wife rode around the countryside the on his Harley for eight years until she developed MS.  She started having trouble with the heat, and getting on and off the bike.  When he would start the engine, tears would come to her eyes at the thought of him being on the road without her.  So he sold the bike, and bought her a convertible: their “Harley with a windshield”.  He stood staring at my bike as he spoke.  We wished me well and advised that I keep riding for as long as I can.

I went back to US-89 south to pick up SR-98  crossing  into the Navajo Indian Reservation.  The road that early morning was very desolate, the kind of conditions I love to ride.  The scenery continued to wow me with so many beautiful erosion-induced rock formations, mesas, ravines, and washes. 

On SR-98, I happend upon another biker (Jim) coming the opposite direction who was just pulling over to the shoulder looking back at the road behind him as if something had fallen off…  something vital had.  I pulled over and asked if he needed assistance.  He had lost his cup… a special cup for his Capt’ Morgan and water that he carries with him.  Figuring there was little I could do about that, other than keep my eyes peeled, I wished him good luck and continued on scanning the road.  Until about a mile up, I saw a steel cylinder lying in the middle of the road.  I pulled over and picked up the cup just as Jim was coming up behind.  He stopped his bike and we got to talking about our trips.  Jim had been laid off a while back and decided now was the time for a big trip.  Dipping into his 401k, he was travelling a western states route meeting up with friends along the way.  Monterey, CA was on his agenda, so I told him about the CA-1 ride a few days earlier.  We talked for a while longer and went our separate ways. 

I picked up US-160 to US-163 which head back into Utah.  The scenary was nice: wide open spaces with large mesas and rock formations in the distance.  I approached Monument Valley; the road seemed to be guarded by two memorable formations.  On the right Agathia Peak rising powerfully and majestically up from the plain.  On the left, Owl Rock perched upon a ridge (though to me, at certain angles, it looked oddly like the bassett hound god).  Riding closer, more mesas and formations reached from the earth.  While very impressive, the distance lacked the intimacy I had experienced at Zion National Park.  I started up the road to the park entrance, but slowed and turned back feeling that given the distances, even the park view would not be much better than that from the road.

mon-valley-pan

I continued up US-163 to Mexican Hat, a tiny little town on the San Juan river named after a nearby rock formation.  As you may have seen from my earlier megatweet, I had arranged to stay in the Lodge TeePee thinking that was pretty much all that was available.  I was warned that the TeePee was not particularly comfortable in the heat, and the heat was coming on as I arrived in early afternoon.  It had no shower or bathroom, though there was a campground shower/bathroom available.  But one of the biggest drawbacks was no wifi, and I had an afternoon free to work on the blog.

I still regret the the decision to cancel the TeePee.  I ended up in the San Juan motel by the river.  Small but comfortable, and I managed to crank out three days worth of blog articles that afternoon… So I guess it was good in the practical sense, but I still kind of rue the decision.

The Mexican Hat Lodge was open for steaks at 6:oopm, so I worked on the blogs, got a shower and rode over.  It was better than I remembered in the show.  It was outdoor dining with the tables set up in a small patio where the infamous grill was set: a long metal box housing the wood fire, and over it, a large rectanguler grill swinging lazily back and forth over the flames.  The setup is great and allowing great conversation with the owner as he is cooking.  I talked with him for quite a while, a really amicable gentleman.  I identified myself as the guy that backed out of the TeePee – he had no problem at all, and rented it soon after I cancelled.  (Mexican Hat was packed)  I told him my story of seeing him on the Food Network and planning my return ride around this steak.  We talked for a while about flame cooking and steaks (how each individual steak has its own personality) and a little about country music. 

As the story goes, years ago he ran out of coals to cook the steaks and was forced to cook with wood.  But cooking over an open flame was so time intensive to avoid overooking, that he didn’t have time to tend the wood and fire.  So, he rigged up the swing to keep the steaks in a constant flame-kissed state without burning up.  Personally I love the taste of meat kissed by wood or charcoal flame much better than the radiant heat of coals or especially gas.  So this was a dream come true for me.

swinging-ribeye

The menu was focused on the meat.  An 18 ounce Ribeye, a 12 ounce New York Strip, an 8 ounce burger (I think there was chicken in there as well)…  For sides: beans and salad with the house dressing.  That’s it… no other veggies or substitutions.  Clear, simple, and carnivorous.  The meal is served on one of those hot metal plates.  The metal plates are kept in the top on an antique wood burning stove.  When the steak is ready, a plate is pulled from the stove and a ladle of beans is added with a hiss.  The salad is place in the middle right on top of the bean spillover, and the steak added at the end. 

mexhat-ribeye

The steak was excellent.  My preferred preperation is charred medium rare, which is quite difficult to do with a cut as thick as 18 ounce.  Mine still had a bit of “moo” in the middle, but he had no problems at all with throwing the middle back on for a little while essentially creating two great meals for me with a little break in between. 

Though the band wasn’t playing that night, I spoke with the band leader (who I think is the owner’s father).  Ialso had a great conversation and chance to practice speaking German with a charming mother/daughter travelling team from northern Germany who were touring the western US before heading on a New York shopping spree. 

With my stomach full, I made a fairly early evening of it, again figuring to rise early to beat the heat, but stayed up quite a bit later than I planned adding photos to the blog… at least I got caught up a bit, justifying the TeePee for wifi trade… Maybe??

I gotta TeePee!! July 20, 2009

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UPDATE:

I really really hate to admit this, but I have to stay true to the story…

The teepee has no wifi, no bathroom, no shower (which is kind of why it doesn’t rent well).  Pulling into Mexican Hat, I saw motels with AC, bathrooms, showers, wifi, and vacancy…  so I wimped out and cancelled the Teepee and checked into the San Juan Inn on the San Juan river for about the same price.  For the record, I did call the Mex Hat Lodge and asked if they would have any problem with my cancelling in the interest of bath and wifi – and they were cool with it. 

_______________________

This is too wild.  As some of you may know, the focus of my southern route home (besides collecting states) was to have a Swinging Ribeye at the Mexican Hat Lodge. Figuring hotel vacancy may be at a premium, I just called to book a room… and of course they were “booked solid”.  I told the guy about the trip and how I arranged my southern route for the express purpose of having a Swinging Ribeye — so he is renting me the TeePee!  Apparently even when full-up they don’t rent the TeePee as it is a little “uncomfortable”, but it has a bed and it is all mine. You have to see this…  I can’t wait.  The adventure continues.

Jinxed June 8, 2009

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Well, with the exception of the last hour, this leg has been a bit “hard”.  Today I made it from Lillington, NC to Savannah, GA — barely.  I woke to very dense fog setting my mood for the day.  I walked over to the neighboring Waffle House for (guess what…) a waffle.  Then I made the mistake of checking my work email to get embroiled in the crisis of the day.  Three telecons later I was on the road  much later than I hoped.  The night prior I had replanned the trip to avoid I-95 to attempt to catch some local flavor, knowing I was adding time, and despite my late start, I headed out on the revised plan. 

I headed west on US-421 to pick up US-701 south to pick up US-17 into Savannah.  The route was much slower, going through several towns on 2 lane roads.  But the problem was the weather.  Suffocating sultry southeastern humidity with the constant threat of storms — of which I hit 5.  The first three not so bad – though they slowed me up a lot.  I was making horrible time.  Five hours in the leg and I had made less than 200 miles.  When I got to US-17, I started making up some good time, and just when I thought things were looking up, my optimism was dashed by storm number 4; manageable, but it slowed me again. The fifth was devastating hitting me in the I-565 bypass around Charleston, SC.  Being as tired as I am right now, I won’t regale you with the watery hell I endured in the middle of Charleston rush hour with visibility extending no farther than the tail lights ahead of me.  (Nor the pressingly urgent yet futile search for a restroom in the midst of it, hitting three gas stations to find a working lav.)  I have never ridden in such adverse conditions.

Lesson learned: Harley is not a great form of long distance transportation when you are locked into a tight schedule.  I need to be in Florida for the LRO/LCROSS Flight Readiness Review Wednesday morning, and I had hotel reservations in Savannah that I would be paying for whether I was there or not.  If I were on “my time” I’d have stopped in Charleston and maybe found an adventure – instead I pressed on to Savannah.

Storm 5 soaked me to the core, of course without wearing my raingear.  After it was over the rest of the ride was actually not too bad, drying off everything but my boots and my “backside”.  I finally arrived in Savannah looking as though I never did find a restroom.  After a very long wait at the check in with a less than pleasant receptionist I got into my room to find that I had no spare jeans nor shoes.  (I couldn’t pack for two weeks of riding, business, business social gatherings, and beach lounging, so I shipped half my clothes for pick up in Cocoa Beach.  Of course all my shoes and my spare jeans were in the shipment.)  I more or less dried my jeans with a hair dryer and set my boots on the air conditioner.  Getting to the point that my boots no longer squished when I walked, I set out for the streets of Savannah. 

Finally – a relaxing end to a rough ride.   I stopped at Belford’s Steakhouse (a regular destination for me when I find myself in Savannah) and had a ribeye (charred medium-rare) with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus accompanied by a glass of Mark West Pinot Noir — and for desert a Sandeman’s Tawny Port … which brings me to the start of this post.

After a most excellent meal — I headed out in search of Stogies (a cigar bar I had frequented in past trips) to find it was no more – now a Paula Dean restaurant.  So I am now planted enjoying a Guiness in an eccentric little bar called The Jinx….  it seems appropriate.

Nothin’ Could be Fine-ah June 7, 2009

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Than to be in Carolina in …     Ribeyes Steakhouse

LRO and LCROSS are all set to launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 17th, and I am heading to Florida for the Flight Readiness Review on the 10th.  Instead of flying down, I took the opportunity to ride the Harley.  I broke the trip into three legs – the first stop in Lillington, NC.

Am sitting in Ribeyes Steakhouse, the same wonderful establishment from my Columbus Day ride.  I love this place.  The salad bar is a carnivores dream (or at least my ideal)  — it’s small but with everything I could want.  My “salad”: lettuce, shredded cheese, ham, real bacon, hard-boiled eggs, onions, sunflower seeds, croutons, french fried onions, and the creamiest ranch dressing.  Oh yeah!

Having had a significant stomach issues following a 32-oz cowboy cut ribeye a few weeks ago, I chose to me a little more parsimonious in my selection this time.  I debated between the 14 and 16 ounce, and finally went for the 16.  ‘Cept after telling the story of my Columbus Day ride (340-odd miles for a Ribeye’s ribeye) to the barmaid, and the guy at the end of the bar saying “Yeah – I remember that!”,  the chef upgraded me to an 18 ouncer….  I regret to inform you that I am kind of wimping out with half the slab of Pittsburgh-charred cow flesh still sitting there as I very unrealistically hope to get a second wind….

The ride down was generally pretty good.  Excellent weather: warm with sun, very little wind.  Shade was a bit chilly with a jacket, but completely tolerable.  I got on the road much, much later than I had hoped and was a little concerned about making it to Lillington by nightfall.  I pretty much stuck to I-95 hoping for a fast ride but ended up hitting major backups just south of DC and some slow-downs near Richmond, VA.  Looking at my unfinished steak I realize my stop south of Richmond at Hardee’s was a huge mistake.

I hopped off I-95 about 8 miles ahead of the North Carolina boarder onto US-301 to pick up my ABCs-09 picture at the same conveniently-placed North Carolina sign I used in 2008.  As a bonus I picked up my “N” and “G” counties in the same stop.

A few miles down the road I saw a biker waving his arms as he sat in the shade of a roadside tree.  I did a quick U-turn to see if he needed help.  He had stopped for a quick “bio-break” and found his bike unable to start.  Unfortunately, I was at a loss as to how to help.  I offered my cell phone but he already had one.  I hung with him for a while until he got a line on a towing service.  Despite my inability to provide much more than moral support, he thanked me profusely for my willingness to stop to try to help.  With tow truck en route, I got back on the road.

I hopped back onto I-95, near Weston, NC pleased to find beautifully new smooth asphalt with little traffic.  I raced down the interstate making excellent time as my shadow grew longer and longer to my left. 

Reaching Benson, I turned off onto the road to Lillington.  I was thinking the place looked quite pleasant, but smelled of a familiar stink I couldn’t quite remember.  What was it?  Oh, yeah — a chicken coop.  Hmmm, must be a poultry farm nearby… Nope.  It was a semi stacked 8 layers high with live chickens.  The two cars in front of me turned off leaving me following directly behind the cluck-truck  Now, I have followed garbage trucks on my commute into DC many times before, and have to say that the foul stench if a DC sanitation vehicle is truly rivaled by the fowl stench of a poultry wagon.  A few times I saw “something” leaking from the side of the truck.  “Gross!” I thought.  But that was topped by the sight of chickens projectile crapping, literally shooting excrement from their cages.  I tried to back off but was caught in the wake of chicken shit and feathers for several miles until the truck turned off.

Shortly thereafter I was in Lillington.  I pulled into the Mictotel lot, unpacked the bike, and checked in.  I dug thorough my poorly packed luggage to find a clean shirt, cleaned the chicken shit off my jeans, and walked over to Ribeyes….

Columbus Day Weekend – Day 1 October 30, 2008

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I had planned a vacation – sort of – to see the space shuttle launch for the Hubble repair mission.  A very resourceful co-worker in the knowmanaged (more or less) to snag me an invitation to the launch.  It would have been a very cool thing to see on many levels.  To see two shuttles on their launch pads at the same time – cool.  The mission was to maintain the Hubble Space telescope which is planning to image the LCROSS lunar impact (my current assignment as a NASA program executive) – very cool.  And to see a shuttle night launch – very very cool.  However, as luck would have it (for both good and bad) the Hubble itself developed a telemetry framing problem a few weeks prior.  Good news, since it happened when it did, the mission could be modified to send up replacement hardware for the new problem.  Bad news in that it kicked the launch down the road into early next year – scrubbing my vacation. 

By riding down on the Harley, that vacation would also be my best opportunity to pick up my last four ABCs of Touring points for the year before the weather got, well, more challenging.  I had planned to take a leisurely week and a half to keep a comfortable pace and enjoy the back roads, making the launch seem like “just another adventure-filled stop” in the middle of the trip.  I was especially looking forward to the first stop — Ribeyes Steakhouse in Lillington, NC.  The menu on the internet was pretty basic:  14 oz, 16 oz, 18 oz, or 20 oz.  I had never been there nor heard of the place before, but with a menu like that…. well, given my passion the charred-medium-rare ribeyes, that destination was nearly as important as the launch.   With the launch delay, I had a tough time trying to self-justify taking all that time off, but my urge for meat kissed by fire, and my 4-point paucity, inspired a great 4-day ride from Friday through Columbus Day.

The Day 1 objective was clear – an ABC point for North Carolina followed by a 20-oz ribeye.  After freezing my tail off camping in Ohio the week or so prior, I decided I wasn’t even going to bring the tent for this one.  It would be cheap motels.  I packed my standard assortment of riding outwear to meet expected weather and as many pairs of socks and underwear as days I expected to be gone, and I headed out. 

As per usual, I was most eager to get out of my immediate region before hitting the slower, more enjoyable ride.  I took I-95 south to the DC beltway, circling around the east side.  I continued down I-95 into Virginia.  Leaving on a mid-day Friday before a Monday holiday, the traffic was quite manageable and I made pretty good time.  The scenery and ambiance was nice enough, but typical of interstate travel.  About 17 miles shy of the North Carolina boarder I hopped off I-95 and took US-301.  Of course I immediately lost speed, but was finally getting more local flavor.  About this time, the clouds starting getting a little ominous…

Reaching the NC border I stopped for my ABCs point and gave my butt a rest. It started getting a bit chilly and the little dive of a border cafe nearby looked very inviting, but the weather was looking more threatening, and I really wanted to be in Lillington by day’s end, so I pressed on.

North Carolina definitely had its own flavor.  It definitely felt like the economy was seeing hard times.  I passed small, run-down homesteads admist small cotton fields.  The landscape was littered with half demolished out-buildings and heaps of rusted vehicles and scrap.  I had hoped to find cheap local-flavor motels, as I am wont to do, and oh did I…  There were plenty; but of course none were open.  Motel after motel was abandoned and dilapidated.  Several had been burglarized or vandalized, and many in such bad shape you could see right through them.  There were so many, one would think that at one time there must have been something in the area to draw a lot of tourist traffic, but that was clearly not the case any longer.   Gasoline was becoming a problem too.  Quite a few stations were simply out of gas, even more were out of high-octane fuel, which of course the Harley needs.  I had heard that Georgia was having fuel supply problems, but didn’t know it extended so far.  I very quickly learned to fill up at half tank or sooner. 

The weather went from chilly and gray to cold and rainy.  Given that I only had the clothes on my back — I pulled off in Enfield to pull off the leathers and put on the rain gear.  The next 40-50 miles were as fun as any cold rain — drops feeling like bee-stings on my face on the highway — my goggles fogging to advanced cataract clarity at in-town speeds.  In Wilson I took a break getting some gas and coffee.  The rain had let up a bit, so I ditched the rain gear and planned my remaining route to Lillington.  I had a lot of comments from the locals about my “nice bike” and several well-intentioned offers of directions and barbeque recommendations.  I finished my coffee, looked across the road at yet another abandoned motel and figured I’d better get going if I was going to make it to Lillington. 

The weather more or less cooperated from that point on.  The occasional drizzle and road spray was interspersed with periods of cool wind– just mild enough to be wearing jeans, toggling between wet & cold and less-wet & colder. 

The atlas was a bit deceptive in giving the illusion I was close to Lillington.  The last 30 miles felt like 60.  I stayed on US301 to Benson then headed west on NC27.  I really wanted to get to Lillington while there was some light to help me find Ribeyes and a place to sleep.  I was ecstatic that when I got to Lillingtion one of the first things I saw was Ribeyes.  It didn’t look like I imagined — a newer building, almost chain-like in appearance.  Right next to it was a Microtel Suites – not my first choice (Only because it is a chain.  I actually really like the cozy European design of the tiny rooms.  They remind me of my brief stays in France and Germany.) but at least I was assured of lodging. 

It appeared that Lillington was little more than a crossroads where NC27 intersected with NC210 (along with a weird co-labeling of US 421 and US401), and I came in on the arm that had Ribeyes.  I rode a little way up each arm looking for more Lillington, and didn’t see any more of it.  (Turns out the town was actually a mile south on the arm of the cross-roads that was NC27, NC210, US401, and US421 all at the same time).  But the sun was going down, I had found Ribeyes, and I was hungry and tired. 

I checked into the Microtel and was glad to hear that Ribeyes had a bar – and with adjoining parking lots with the hotel, a very short walk.  I got the bike unpacked, draped my rain gear and chaps to dry, and headed for the steakhouse.

I was greeted by a young hostess who (presumably seeing the jacket and wind burn) asked if I was a biker.  She was curious and mildly impressed that I rode 375 miles to have one of their steaks, and I quickly became “that biker guy who rode all day for a steak” among the staff.  I saddled up to the bar – did a quick check of the menu to confirm the largest one was in fact a 20-ouncer and placed my order.  The barmaid politely let me know that they would cut larger ones if I wished – but I was content with the 20.  I specified charred-medium-rare, speaking very slowly.  I have had far too many waiters and waitresses hear only the “charred” part or the “medium-rare” part, or put far to much confidence in a not-so-hot grill or an inept chef, resulting in a less than fully enjoyable dining experience.  But she didn’t bat an eye, prompting me to repeat my order, and actually ask if they could do that.  “Of course” she replied, as though I was daft to think the order was unusual.  I knew I was in the right place when she asked me if I wanted steak sauce, with her head moving side to side silently but firmly saying “No, you do NOT want steak sauce.”  I am a meat+fire purist; if you see me using steak sauce, there is something horribly wrong.  I hit the salad bar to find all the ingredients for my kind of salad – cheese, ham, creamy ranch, eggs — all the stuff that makes a salad unhealthily delicious.  My steak took a while, showing up in the middle of my second Newcastle – and it was a site to behold.  Thick, well charred, and dripping in medium-rarity (actually it was a bit on the moo-side of medium rare, but on a cut that thick, I couldn’t begrudge the chef).  Absolutely delicious, and worth every mile. 

Bad cell phone picture of a great 20 ounce ribeye.

Bad cell phone picture of a great 20 ounce ribeye.

I hung out in the bar for a while, drinking ale and watching/reading the Ghost Whisperer in closed captions on the TV.  I never saw it before – but the plot of that episode was suspiciously the same as I Know What You Did Last Summer starring the same actress.  The music seemed like someones mix tape containing several excellent Beatles remakes from the movie Across the Universe, which I had just seen a couple weeks earlier.  The miles and the pints gradually caught up with me.  So I bid the barkeep goodnight and meandered back to the Microtel (thankful it was not a tent in the frigid night air) with “…nothing’s gonna change my world…” gently echoing in my mind.