Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: bike, special events, vacation, workout

So we came back down to the waterfront Saturday morning for athlete check-in, mandatory athlete briefing and the IRONMAN Expo. It’s a little overwhelming to see those bridges looming out there off in the distance. Knowing that I was going to have to swim a LONG ways around an island and then under those two, yes count them two, bridges before getting out of the water.

We parked the car and then started off towards IRONMAN VILLAGE. There were already athletes in the water for the official open water swim practice. Sure, I probably should be practicing with them… but then again, why start now?!

So we finally made it to IRONMAN VILLAGE. Exciting!!!
There’s the official IRONMAN Expo Tent, assorted vendors and other things in the Village. We did a little shopping and hung around for the first official Athlete Briefing of the morning. They cover all of the basic rules & information for tomorrow’s triathlon. After the briefing, you’re good to go and get ready for the Big Race!!!

After getting my bags and checking in, we went back to the hotel to pack up my gear for each leg of the race. For most triathlons you generally keep all of your stuff at one place. You continue to return to that same Transition Area in between each leg of the race. But for the IRONMAN, because it’s so much longer, they split it up a bit… and they provide you with a Special Needs Bag for both the run and the bike. Those special needs bags will be out on the route at the half-way point. So it’s important to think about what you might need at each leg of the race ahead of time.

It was great to have Chris there as my longtime friend, eager supporter and Sherpa for the weekend. She was the perfect choice to keep me on task and help keep everything running smoothly. Trying to plan, organize and prepare for every step of the way. I don’t want any surprises along the way tomorrow.

Once we were packed up, and had my numbers attached to bike, helmet and everywhere else… it was time to go back to the Transition Area. I had to get my bike and all of my Gear Bags checked into Transition ahead of time. So my Sherpa Chris and I headed out of the hotel towards the Transition Area again.

When you get there, you suddenly see a LOT of bikes!!! There are nearly three thousand people signed up for the race. And the Transition Area was filling up fast. Right on the waterfront. In the “shadow” of the bridges. Thousands of bikes waiting for their big day tomorrow!

Once bikes are in place, then you take your Gear Bags to the other side of the Transition Area. It’s a big system of numbers & rows. Everything is planned & organized. Everything in its place. Every place with its thing. Thousands of bags all lined up in the field.

After setting up in Transition, we went to find my friend Pam who was working… and sitting down… in the Volunteer’s Information Tent. So glad that she made it down to cheer me on… even if she couldn’t do much walking…

Earlier the day before, as we were leaving Chicago,¬† I got this text from Pam…

Turns out Pam actually broke her foot. And yet she still pulled it together and came down to Louisville to cheer me on, as well as volunteer at the race. She’s a trooper. So much fun to have Pammy there to be part of my Support Crew, along with her husband Jeff. Too bad she’s going to miss her marathon next weekend through the Redwood Forest in California!!! Mwah, mwah, mwah…

After playing with Pam, Chris and I decided to walk up a mile or so to the location for the the Swim Start. It’s a cozy little marina of docks located between the shoreline and a small island. So the swim plan is that all athletes will jump off one of the closest two docks. Swim north, turn around the island, and then swim south back to Joe’s Crab Shack.

So then it was back to “reality”… dinner, hotel, early to bed.
Chris and I discussed our morning plan. It was going to be a VERY early morning start down at the Pier. The race officially starts at 7:30am. But my personal start time is whenever I cross the timing mat on my way into the water. But the sooner I start, the longer I have to make it across the Finish Line. So we’re starting VERY early tomorrow!!!

 

 

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Categories: architecture, vacation

So I must admit that I didn’t really know that much about Louisville before going there.
I knew there was a river. I knew there were bridges. Only because I knew I would be swimming in it and under them. But I didn’t expect for the Ohio River and their multiple bridges to be so beautiful… or wide?! The Ohio River was almost as wide as the Mississippi River at this point. A little daunting for my upcoming open-water swim!!!

 

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Categories: bike, friends, vacation

After a long & wandering road trip, we finally arrived in Louisville, Kentucky.
We tried to avoid the construction traffic everyone was complaining about. And somehow we wound up in the middle of nowhere relying on Siri and Google to send us in the right direction. Along the way we had a ton of fun, saw some wonderful landscapes, and even a wonderful Amish community. Sometimes it’s fun to get “lost” along the way!

After we checked into our hotel and lugged all of our luggage and gear up to the room, we took a little walking tour to see the town and grab some food. It was fun to see the excitement at Fourth Street Live… Louisville’s center attraction. Lots of neon. Lots of music. Lots of food. LOTS OF EXCITEMENT!!!

It’s a little nerve-racking knowing that in just two days this will all transform into
The Finish Line!!!

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Categories: vacation, weather

It was a beautiful drive up north to Minneapolis today. The sky was clear and it was surprisingly warm… nearly 90-degrees?!!! What? It hasn’t been this warm forever!!! As I continued north, the clouds started getting thicker and more dramatic. Beautiful.

I got a text message from Sarah telling me to be careful driving in the thunderstorm. Of course I said “What thunderstorm?” And then about 30 minutes later, and a few miles further north, I found out. As the beautiful cloud cover was replaced by a huge deluge… serious wiperblade action. As much as I wanted to take some pictures, I thought it better to keep my hands safely on the wheel.

Categories: family, special events, travel, vacation

Yesterday we all “played hookie” and spent the day at Six Flags Great America. A wonderful day of roller coasters, ear-piercing screams and theme park food. This was our third “annual” excursion with my niece Taylor. Each year she gets a free ticket for reading a certain number of books in school. And with the new school year right around the corner, we needed to squeeze this in quickly. So Monday was the day!!!

Taylor is now tall enough to go on EVERYTHING!!! Once she was measured and given the coveted red wristband, she was ready to tackle everything… first up, the “Superman” roller coaster. They hook you into you seat and then rotate it forward so you’re “flying” face down just like Superman. So yes, the track is above you so you can’t really see it while you’re riding it. And yes, Taylor was quite the trooper… a few hysterical ear-piercing screams along the way… but all smiles at the end.

Then we calmed it down a bit with a spinning, rotating “lobster” ride. The perfect time for a quick photo shoot of Taylor and her mom Jen… my sister. But once the ride got started, my cousin Kim wasn’t quite so calm any more?!!!

Sure, who am I to pass up a foolish photo-op?!!!

Next up it was the “Batman” roller coaster. Taylor started out a bit more determined… kind of enjoying the fact that this is a regular sitting roller coaster. Okay, sure there’s no floor and your feet kinda dangle over nothing, but still better than flying face down!!!

Whew… made it… bottom lip still quivering just a little…

Next a quiet ride along a lazy river in the “Logger’s Run” boat ride. We got a little wet when we made the big splash – and it felt great as the day was warming up as the sun kept popping out more & more.

And then “Goliath.” The newest roller coaster at Six Flags Great America. Hyped as the tallest, steepest & faster wooden roller coaster. I’d say it was good, but not great. Always fun the first time, but I doubt it will hold up to the test of time. And I must admit… I expected taller. I expected steeper. I expected faster. What I DIDN’T expect was so many upside-down flips!!! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE flipping upside-down. I just didn’t expect it.

Then we tackled a few more rides like “The Revolution” and “American Eagle.” Taylor conquered The Eagle two years ago, so this time it was no big deal. A little more rickety than any of us remember, but still a lot of fun. Followed by lunch and a little relaxed time eating in the Pavilion.

Next up was “The Viper” – another older wooden roller coaster wit a lot of pop-out-of-your-seat-hills. Which I love. And quickly enough, “The Viper” became Taylor’s favorite roller coaster of the day!!!

Mom & Taylor both enjoyed their trip on “The Viper”… a little exhausted, but fun.

A little post-ride selfie with my cousin Kim.

Looming on the horizon was my FAVORITE – “The Raging Bull.”

Locked in and ready to go… clickety-clacking up that first big hill approaching the big drop. It was at this point that we saw Taylor having a little melt-down. A little anxiety kicking in as she was trapped, go upwards and not too pleased with it… as a single tear ran down her cheek. We were all concerned that maybe we had taken her one step too far??? But she knew it was “may favorite” and I think she knew that she just “had to” go on it!!!

Soon enough the ear-piercing screeches began again… shrieking over every hill & twist…

Relieved that she made it to the end…

Whew…

Thumbs up if you liked the ride!!!

And yet “The Viper” was still Taylor’s favorite… so why not do it again?…

This time she was ready. She knew what to expect. She was ready…

And then the screaming kicked in once again…

But still lovin’ “The Viper.”

Our last ride was “The Condor” as our day was all too quickly drawing to a close. We all assumed the park was open until 10:00pm. We were all surprised to find out it closed at 7:00pm. So a fond farewell from Kim…

And some “glamour shots” of the park as the sun was hitting everything just right.

And there it is, another year under out belts. Another great trip to Six Flags Great America. And Taylor was a trooper… as was her Mom. The deal was that Jen would go on any roller coaster that Taylor went on. And I think this was probably the most roller coasters that Jen has EVER done in one day!!! It was a great day for everyone.

So Taylor… keep reading so we can go again next summer!!!

 

Categories: nature, vacation

After nearly three weeks of working every single day, we finally got a day off today. The semi-trucks are all packed… and we headed off to the beach. We decided to hit Dewey Beach, just south of Rehoboth. We were pleased with how un-crowded the beach was. The day started out cloudy & overcast…

Still nice enough to stick my “painfully-white” feet into the ocean…

After about an hour, the clouds started to pass, and the blue skies were filling in.

And what’s more fun on the beach than making sandcastles?! Well these were a few I found along the way as I strolled along the ocean.

 

Categories: bike, vacation

GRABAAWR – Richland Center to Prairie du Chien

The last day of any long bike ride is always bittersweet. It’s kind of exciting to finish
the journey. But sad that you have come to the end of your journey. That the fun & excitement
has come to an end. That your vacation is over and tomorrow it’s back to reality.

So it’s always important to cherish the final day… and the final miles. And today we set off
again with some cloudy skies as we cross the Wisconsin River… one more time.

Enjoying the moment with my friend Chris (right) and our Wisconsin biking friend Sue (center).
Gotta love the arm up, hold the camera and shoot your own self-portraits!

So we headed out early, knowing that we would still have a long drive home ahead of us
at the end of the ride. But never too early for more pie.. this time from the ladies at
St. John’s Church. Great food. Great ladies. Raising money for a great cause.

The day was fairly overcast, with fewer scenic stops along the way. Unless you consider
a large state penetentiary as a scenic stop?… keep pedaling, keep pedaling. But I did love
some of the “lawn art” we saw today… including this “wonderful & patriotic” angel?!

Plus, many of you might be aware of my strange fascination with roadkill. Ive spared you
the gruesome photos… just know that I do stop & take pictures of of them along the way!
Throughout the week there have been so many to see. Deer, raccoons, opossum, turtles,
birds & more. But it seemed so oddly fitting that the “final” roadkill of the week would be
one of the orange Bike Wisconsin flags that had fallen off one of the SAG trucks!

And there it is… Another wonderful week on my bike! Just over 500 miles of fun!!!
Pedaling across the state along the Wisconsin River with my friend Chris.
We both had a wonderful time seeing the scenery, smelling the Northwoods and sharing
this wonderful experience together. I’ve always said that biking is the best way to travel.
You get to see things, smell things an feel things along the way that you would never get
to see if you’re zooming by inside a car. So many great chances to enjoy the beauties of nature.

 

Categories: bike, vacation

GRABAAWR – Baraboo to Richland Center

Today was another beautifully sunny day. We were ready for another wonderful day.
And started off a little earlier than normal for a little longer mileage today. But even though
we may have started earlier, it’s never too early to take a break and cool off with your feet
in the water! If there’s a pier… we’re always ready to stop… I’ve always said that
“the best part about biking, is stopping.” And if you don’t take time to stop and enjoy your
surroundings, you’re going to miss a lot of life passing you by.

Today’s route was wonderful. And took us through one of my favorite Wisconsin State Parks.
There was an option for the riders to go around the park on the easier route, over through the
park up & over the bluffs on the more difficult route. Of course we chose the more beautiful
and more difficult hills route. And it was well worth the extra effort. After the one big hill climb
up the bluffs on the west side of the park, it was a beautiful downhill ride pretty much through
the rest of the park. Of course we did have to stop long the way… there was another pier!
And it overlooked the bluffs we had just ridden up & over.

Shortly after exiting Devil’s Lake State Park (with one of the best downhill coasting rides ever)
we found ourselves waiting for the Merrimac Ferry. And since we were waiting, it seemed like
the perfect time for a huge ice cream waffle cone!

On the other side of the river, it was back to farmlands and beautiful skies!

And although the pictures don’t really show it… it was pretty windy today.
And of course, we were riding straight into the wind! Figures, huh?! So it was very hot,
and very windy, and we were working extra hard on a long mileage day. There were plenty
of times when I looked back and found Chris tucked in and drafting behind me. So we made
frequent stops for more Gatorade, a quick run through some sprinklers and even some pie!
As we rolled through Spring Green, we stopped at a couple art galleries, a few little shops and
saw this sign that quickly pulled us in… for some Bumbleberry Pie ala mode!

Along the way there were other great things to find. Like some rusty art… and you know how
I love me some good rust! And an unusual wood plank with a smile on it that we now know is
somehow attached to a horse’s hoof so they can walk through snow & slush better. Kinda like
snowshoes for horses. Which was interesting, because my friend Amy gave me one of these
(sans metal hooks) last year for Christmas and we had no idea what it was used for…
she just thought it was great because it had a face on it?! Now we know…

The day started to get really long as the miles started taking their toll. It was hot.
We were tired. But never too tired to stop and see some cute donkeys on a farm on the side
of the road. The ride in was spotted with very picturesque farms on incredible rolling hills.
It was incredibly beautiful to ride through in late afternoon as the sun was lowering
and casting some great light across the fields.

Hill after hill, we started to wonder if we would ever make it to the camp school.
I think this was our longest and toughest day of the week. It may not have been the longest
mileage, but it just felt really longer. Okay, so we did stop quite a few times. And the wind
was a tough element to be faced with. But we just kept plugging along…
and finally made it in. Exhausted. But happy.

 

Categories: bike, GeoCache, vacation

GRABAAWR – Adams-Friendship to Baraboo

Sun shining and ready to roll…

By now we are well out of the scenic wooded Northwoods. And getting more into the flatter,
more agricultural parts of the state. The sky was clear, and another beautiful day on my bike!

As the miles continued before us, it looked something like this… with such promise!
There’s nothing better than the feeling of freedom on the open road.

After a quick stop in Lyndon Station for lunch, we decided to take a moment to see if
there were any GeoCache treasures to be found. A luckily, just a couple blocks away
was one in the town’s Memorial Park. Just another hidden scroll to be signed…

Did I mention lunch?… we stopped at a little diner in town for lunch. Where I had possibly
the best pancakes ever! They were huge, I was starving and they had fresh blueberries
in one and fresh raspberries in the other! Yummy!!!

Further down the road, we pedaled through the Wisconsin Dells – which brought back some
childhood memories. We used to vacation there a lot and it was great to be back… even if
it was just to pedal through it quickly. But not too quick… Chris and I stopped in one of the
“tacky” gift shops looking for Mexican Jumping Beans and my favorite barometer dodo bird.
Sadly, we left empty handed. But had fun sharing our memories with each other.

Towards the end of the route, we passed the International Crane Foundation. I have seen
the signs on the highway for years and have always wanted to stop. Today was the day.
It’s a very nice wildlife park where they have collected some of all of the crane species from
around the world. It seemed very educational – including an area where they have workers
in actual crane costumes helping the crane chicks learn how to survive on their own.

And it wasn’t just cranes… there were a few others hanging out with the whooping cranes!

Plus some wonderful metal sculptures – each showing a different stage of cranes in flight.
And some beautiful yellow cactus that are apparently somehow indigenous to Wisconsin…
that Chris now wants to add to her own landscaping at home.

At the end of the day, we were in Baraboo. A beautiful evening with a beautiful sunset.
And a very welcome surprise… “My Friend Julie” decide to stop by. We met Julie a few
years ago as one of the SAG Staff for the ride. She and her husband Jim have been part
of the Bike Wisconsin rides for years. However this time she had to work for the week.
Tonight she stopped by to see her husband… and ME!!! A great ending to another great day!

Categories: bike, vacation

GRABAAWR – Stevens Point to Adams-Friendship

Day after day, we continue pedaling. By Day Four, your body has gotten used to it
and you just keep going. I find myself almost “forgetting” that I’m pedaling and not
worrying about how far we need to pedal. It becomes more about the journey, the
destination, and the fun.

We stopped of along the way to check out one of those functioning “homestead” places.
Sadly, the place was there – but no functioning! No blacksmith. No cobbler. No people.
The buildings were great – and I especially loved the wonderful wood on the buildings.

Across the street was another find – a local deer farm run by the Dept. of Natural Resources.
Sadly, they weren’t open and we couldn’t get in there. We were striking out. Two for two!
At least the scenery was still beautiful…

There are so many paper mills around in the Wisconsin area, and we went past a lot of them!
This one had a pile of logs waiting on the side of the road waiting to be debarked, dried and
ground into pulp. But of course, we just had to stop and play… again. And the incredible smell
of fresh-cut pine was everywhere.

Along the route there is a lot of wildlife. Sometimes you just need to look in the right places.
Like here on top of some powerlines where an osprey has built its nest.

The ride into town was beautiful, and dinner was pretty tasty in a local park.
But when we got back to the school, and back to our tents, there was a lot of talk of another
huge storm brewing and coming our way! About an hour later, the clouds rolled in
and were quite dramatic! After the storms we have already had, we were ready to
hunker down and hope once again that our tents were water-proof!

Luckily, the clouds blew over with just a little drizzle.