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Delicious fresh fig bread

In an effort to use more figs during this never-ending fig season, I tried a new recipe. Since I love banana bread, I looked for bread recipes that use fresh figs. I found a fig bread recipe on Renee’s Kitchen Adventures. It used almonds so I adapted it to remove the almonds, since I’m not a fan of nuts in baked goods. I also added lemon zest because in the fig crumble cake I like to make, lemon zest makes it awesome.
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The fig bread came out delicious, so I’m sharing the recipe of course.
To make 2 loaves, I used:
  • 3 cups all purpose flour + 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped brown turkey figs from my tree
  • Zest of 1 small lemon (next time, I will increase this to 1 small lemon per loaf)
  • 2 additional figs cut into 4 vertical slices to place on top of each loaf before baking, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare 2 loaf pans with your favorite method. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour through salt). Beat together eggs, applesauce, oil, vanilla, sour cream, and sugar. Add the dry ingredients in approximately 3 parts and mix just until combined, don’t over mix. Fold in the figs and lemon zest by hand. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans, and place four fig slices on each loaf. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Figs and zest:

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Batter:

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Ready to bake:

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Yum!

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Deliciously full of figs:

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Making a dog bed cushion

I think I finally completed the last of my tasks to make my dining and sitting room renovations complete! That task was to make a new cushion for my dog’s awesome window bed (which I made myself). Since I made the bed, she (and the cats) have been sleeping on an old dog bed that I made in our other house. It is a fleece cover with two bed pillows inside, covered by a layer of eggshell foam. It does the job, but the cover is the wrong color now and it has a large indent in the center from use. I bought new gray fleece and nice thick green foam from Joann Fabrics quite some time ago. I kinda can’t believe I waited this long, as it took me less than an hour to make her the new cushion. What a bad dog parent I am.

I bought one section of green foam that was the thickest they had, when it was on sale for 50% off. To make the bed thicker, I also bought two chair cushions that were about the right size. The thick foam wasn’t the right size to fit in the dog bed, so I had to cut it to size. It was so thick I had to cut the top half first and then the bottom half with my scissors.

Measuring the foam to fit:

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Molly lays on her old cushion watching me:

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After cutting the foam to size, I basically sewed a large pillow case. I wasn’t too concerned with dimensions, just that it needed to be large enough to fit.

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After sewing the fleece, I wrestled it over the foam and installed it in the dog bed. Here you can see the nice new cushion next to the old sad one:

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And Molly agreed to model for me. She’s the cutest!

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Checking out the new Southern Walnut Creek Trail

I don’t typically post about biking when I’m not training for a Bike MS event, but I still ride multiple times a week. This weekend I decided to incorporate the new Southern Walnut Creek Trail into my route, which just opened. It’s a paved 7 mile long hike and bike trail, one of a few such projects the city is working on right now, which includes the Northern Walnut Creek Trail very close to my house. I think the grand vision is for these two trail systems to connect, but it’s not funded or designed yet. 

I rode to the southern end of the trail, which begins in Govalle park, to get on the trail. It was strange – the trail head wasn’t marked at all and you couldn’t even see it from the street. It was marked by one small green bicycle sign once you were in the small park.

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The trail is unfortunately paved like a sidewalk – cracks and all – and that doesn’t make for very smooth riding on a road bike. Kathunk, kathunk, kathunk… It was worse in some places than others.

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The trail has many bridges and you ride along the creek in a number of places.

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And you go under some bridges, including this railroad bridge:

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The trail is nice and shaded in some parts, more so on the southern section of the trail. The northern end gets quite sunny.

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The trail was quite overgrown by vegetation in parts, leaving only about half of the path actually rideable. A number of places had lots of dirt and sand on the concrete, making for a slippery ride. I assume the city will soon clean those places up and maintain the trail for maximum use. Construction has only recently ended.

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The trail goes into Walter E Long park, but I turned off before then because I wasn’t sure where it went after that. Looking closer at the Walnut Creek Trail system page, I see that the Manor trail actually is partially constructed, so I could have ridden that trail instead of riding along the busy Decker lane. Next time!

Goodbye popcorn ceilings!

Guess what! We finally did it – had the rest of our downstairs popcorn ceilings removed! In the aftermath, we also painted the entryway and the living room to match the sitting and dining rooms, and replaced the hideous kitchen ceiling light. We paid a contractor to remove the popcorn ceiling texture, reapply a much lighter orange peel texture and then prime and paint. The square footage of these rooms was just too much for us to do on our own. And because the texture in the sitting room and dining room would no longer match the rest of the rooms, we also had them apply matching texture over what we had already done ourselves.

The process was a bit labor intensive, we had to move out of our house from Monday to Friday (originally it was supposed to be Thursday, but the primer didn’t dry in time due to humidity). Our pets had to move too, so Molly (our dog) stayed with us in a short term rental and the cats all went to a place that has a special cat boarding room. I think they hated it. The worst part was moving the majority of our furniture from the downstairs rooms into the garage so that the house would be ready for the contractors. We’re still working on unpacking…

Our new ceilings are SOOOO much better than the old popcorn texture. There are a few places that are less than perfect, but they aren’t really noticeable unless I show you, and I suppose the only way to have perfect ceilings is to have that texture applied to a brand new house.

The part that I was most unhappy with throughout this process was the clean up. I was under the impression that the house would be decently clean when they were done, but we had to clean the floors multiple times, wipe down doors, clean windows and we continue to find splatter on surfaces. When they came back on Saturday to finish some touch up, we had already cleaned on Friday and then they left a mess again… sigh. I know that’s the way these projects work sometimes but I hadn’t factored that into my plans.

On Sunday, while the furniture was still in the garage, we decided to paint the entryway and living rooms. It wasn’t something we planned to do immediately, but since we had the supplies, we decided to go for it. I’m glad we did, because it covers up the overspray from the ceiling paint, at least in those two rooms.

We also decided to remove the kitchen light fixture from our drop ceiling so they could texture the inside of the light cavity, and then we installed a new track light we picked up at Lowe’s. It’s so much nicer! Eventually, I’d like to renovate the whole kitchen and knock out the drop ceiling, but this will hold us over.

Before pictures:

Kitchen ceiling / light
Kitchen, viewed from dining room doorway

Bedroom ceiling & fan

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Entryway

 

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Kitchen light – partially removed

 

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After pictures

Kitchen ceiling & new light

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Looking towards the entryway, you can see the painted walls and new ceiling texture

 

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Looking into the living room

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Our next house project is hopefully to get new wood floors where we have carpet downstairs and get all of those ugly, peeling baseboards replaced with nice white trim like in the front two rooms! I. can’t. wait.!

Related:

The renovation of our front rooms

The renovation of our front rooms

So this project was a long time in the making… like August 2013 until March of this year perhaps? Probably because we could only do it a bit at a time and I was hesitant to call it complete before I did things like hang curtains. Of course, it’s not 100% complete because I still have two or three minor decor tasks on my mind.

The two rooms we renovated are the ones in the very front of our house – the dining room and what we call the sitting room (we have a much larger living room in the back of the house). The entry way also got a bit of love, but not nearly enough as you’ll see in a bit.

This is the before view – dining room right after we moved in, before getting a new dining table:

Dining room, view from sitting room

The sitting room (I think I purposely cut off the ugly light fixture because of it’s ugliness, but check out that dining light fixture in the background)

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And a view back towards the entry way. I think I was taking photos of the dog bed that I had just built.

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The planning of my front room renovations was quite a while in the making. I started pinning ideas to my Pinterest board basically as soon as we decided to buy this house in 2012. My ideas were full of white trim and wainscoting, gray walls, and furniture that had both a rustic and modern look – metal combined with dark wood. I wanted the accent color to be teal. Oh, and to remove the hideous popcorn ceiling. I’m very happy with the end product. Taking such a long time to plan my ideas really drove my furniture, light fixture and decor purchases into a more cohesive style then I normally end up with.

With the before pictures out of the way, let’s dig into what we did. First up:

REMOVING POPCORN CEILINGS

This part was a pain in the … you get my drift. I now know that having a professional do this task isn’t as cost prohibitive as I initially thought and am considering getting the remaining downstairs rooms taken care of. After reading a variety of posts we rounded up the supplies we needed: plastic sheeting, brown construction paper, a water sprayer, scraper… and got to work.

We removed the old light fixtures and then got to work prepping the room.

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After covering the entire room with plastic we laid dow the brown construction paper.

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We then we got to work spraying the popcorn with water, waiting for it to soak in and then scraping it off. It was definitely a process to learn how long to let the water soak in. As we scraped some of the drywall paper came off which we patched after the ceiling dried.

 

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After working on the first room, my shoulder had enough and my husband had to scrape the popcorn alone in the dining room while I took his photo through the plastic.

 

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Someone was super excited to get rid of the dining room light fixture. In fact, after we first viewed this house when it was for sale, we walked out and I asked him what he thought, he said, “We’d get rid of that dining room light, right?” First thing he said. I really hadn’t even noticed it since lights are easy for me to buy and him to replace.

After the ceilings were patched and dry, we primed them and I went to work trying to apply a light texture to mask the imperfections left behind.

 

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I first tried applying a knock down texture that comes in a spray can. It was super messy and got all over me, and after it dried you could still see a lot of problems. After that, I bought a “sand” texture that you applied by mixing little silicon pellets in with the paint and then rolling it on. It worked much better than the knock down texture, but if the light hits the ceiling right you can still see imperfections. However, it’s a huge improvement over popcorn.

After the ceilings were done, I painted both rooms while my husband was enjoying a bachelor’s weekend. I painted them both Valspar Signature Marble Tile.

INSTALLING NEW TRIM

The second, and longest, stage in this project was installing new trim. To make the rooms feel fancier, I decided we needed crown molding and trim around the door openings. While it has the desired effect, it was a lot of work. Just to get enough trim we had to rent a truck to pick up the necessary trim pieces at Lowe’s.

We brought the trim inside for a few days before starting the project to let it acclimate. We purchased primed pieces since we were planning to paint it all white. We also replaced all the light switches and outlets with new white outlets and switches. The old ones were gross.

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I read a tutorial about how to use a paint sprayer on new trim by installing the trim over plastic, spraying, and then removing the plastic from the rooster and the hen so we decided to try it. We started with the door openings and followed the way that the charming nest DIY’d their door casings. The nail gun that came with our craftsman evolv compressor crapped out almost immediately on this project so we had to buy a nicer one. We had the original one for so long without using it that there was no way to get it replaced.

 

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The door casings were pretty easy to install. It was the crown moulding that almost did us in. Getting the angle and length just right was hard. We ended up buying a Kreg Crown Moulding Cutting Guide, which helped, cut certainly didn’t solve all of our problems. I think the biggest problem was that the corners were often not exactly 90 degrees. I was able to decently patch the corner gaps by shoving in some paper and covering it with caulk.

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After all of the trim was installed (except the windowsills because we had decided to get new windows) it was time to use the paint sprayer. We had tried to cover everything we plastic, but the sprayer blew with much more force than we were imagining and we ended up having to remove some over spray from the floors. It was too difficult to adequately spray the door casings that led into the adjoining rooms so I ended up painting those by hand. I also had to touch up some of the parts that I sprayed because it was difficult to tell while spraying that I went too light in some areas. I wouldn’t use this method of painting trim with a sprayer after it was installed again. Removing the plastic was especially annoying. It definitely didn’t just pull right out and if you cut it close to the edge, then you had an issue when trying to caulk the gaps. Of course, after caulking we had to go back and touch up paint again… it was quite the process.

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NEW WINDOWS & DOOR

When pulling out the trim, we realized we had to do something about the windowsills. If we were going to remove the windowsills, shouldn’t we just get new windows? I was planning to get a new front door with a window, so we decided to bundle all of the work together. We ordered our new windows and door through Lowe’s. We’re very happy with the new windows. They are white with prairie trim, making them feel so much lighter then our old ones. They also fold in for easy cleaning. I want to be happy with the new door, but when I painted it, the paint peeled right off the trim around the window. I fought with Lowe’s and the door manufacturer and no one could really help me. I at least know how to fix the problem, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. So I like the door itself, but am unhappy with the service I received.

 

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After the windows were installed, we got to work on the windowsills. This time, we painted the trim in the garage before installing it. We also put trim around the windows.

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And with the windows done, all of the major work was finished. I then finished decorating. Along the way, I made and bought a slew of new furniture for these two rooms:

THE FINAL PRODUCT

Let’s start in the dining room with a view from the sitting room.

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The cabinet with glass doors, with shelves above. I stained the cabinet and wood for shelves after we first moved in. This is where we keep lots of fancy glassware.

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The wine rack and an old wooden bucket for storing magazines. I also have a wine fridge, which is why this looks so empty.

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The dining room viewed from the kitchen. You can see the valances and the corner shelves I made.

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Close up of the new windows, trim, and valances.

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Sitting room viewed from the foyer. Yes, that’s a cat mat on the rocking chair protecting it from fur. I don’t think they’ve laid on it yet though.

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View from the dining room.

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Dog bed and window.

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Although the foyer isn’t done, I did put in new light fixtures and a cabinet for the entry way so I thought I’d share.

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That’s it for now! I have only a few tasks to complete for those rooms that I hope to get to soon. I’m also starting to plan the removal of the rest of our popcorn ceilings, but this time by a contractor. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2014 Bike MS: Sam’s Club Round Up Ride Recap

Wow! What a fundraising year! As of publishing, my awesome friends and family helped me raise $2,285 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Texas Chapter, Bike MS Sam’s Club Round Up Ride! A HUGE thank you to all of my donors! This is a new record for me, and it helped me blow by the $10,000 mark for lifetime donations to Bike MS events. It’s amazing how thinking about all of these donations helped me persevere through some difficult parts of the ride. I expect a few matching donations, including a sizable one from my employer, to roll in over the next few months, so my final donation total is still TBD. Of course, it’s not too late to donate if you’d like to get in on the action!

I couldn’t have asked for better weather over the weekend. I think this was definitely the best Bike MS ride I’ve had, weather wise. My husband and I left Austin Friday afternoon and headed up to Plano, north of Dallas for packet pickup. Of course we had plenty of traffic to deal with in Dallas, since it was near rush hour. We made it and picked up my packet next to a little pond in an outdoor shopping mall.

The next morning I woke up around 6 am, had breakfast and walked outside the hotel and rode to the start line, about a mile away. I waited at the first corner of the route for the lead riders to come out so I could jump in.

GoPro selfie at the Saturday start (notice my top fundraiser jersey from last year’s Bike MS: Ride the Rim!):

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The first 20 miles or so was us riding along a very ugly frontage road, straight north. Because I was up near the front, I was able to hook onto a pace group for a number of those miles and kept a very high average speed. You can see the group plus the lead truck way up in the front of the riders.

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I was unimpressed with how surprised they were that I was keeping up with them. I promised I’d never be able to keep up with a lead group in Austin. I eventually dropped off, knowing that if I kept going so fast I would miss my cheering crew at the rest stop at mile 40.

One of the first interesting sights, a decorative tractor, a water tower and the large sign for “Light Farms” – it was a fancy housing development out in the sticks.

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Me and my shadow on the long ride north. I was all alone for quite a while after I dropped off the pace group.

 

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See? No riders around. So flat and very little wind at this point. It was fast and awesome.

 

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An early rest stop. It was quite small compared to some of the later ones.

 

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I saw so many ranches and farms!

 

 

 

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See? The Malone ranch, named after some of my husband’s family, I figure.

 

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With all those ranches, so many horses!

 

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Small town Texas, and some cyclists.

 

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The number 3 on this guy’s back indicates that he was the #3 top fundraiser! How awesome is that?!?

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Speaking of top fundraisers, these signs were spaced sporadically throughout the route – one sign for each of the top 100 fundraisers!

 

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I stopped for the first time at mile 40. I made it there in just over 2 hours! At mile 40, my husband and his parents were waiting to greet me and one of our friends from the area stopped by to say hi. It was so nice to see everyone!

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After seeing my supporters at the mile 40 rest stop, I rode by Lake Ray Roberts.

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Another shot of the lake:

 

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A country church hosting a rest stop:

 

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Around mile 60 or so the route split. I choose the century route of course. Although, this century was almost 106 miles instead of just 100!

 

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This woman was growing irises. Lots of them. And they are for sale. When I was in high school, I had a flower garden in the backyard (thank you mom and dad!) and I grew some iris bulbs along with gladiolas.

 

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At the mile 70 (ish) rest stop, my husband and mother-in-law were hanging out to see me. Carl took this picture of a group going by:

 

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Here I am approaching the mile 70 (ish) rest stop:

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Jeannie and I at the rest stop, where I managed to try to eat an orange slice and splattered myself with the juice. They were not easy to eat oranges.

 

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And away I go!

 

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So the next exciting thing that happened to me was the rest stop at mile 90. It was sponsored by Cheetos and featured Chester! We got a picture together:

 

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After I was done resting, I got to follow the orange cat prints out of the rest stop:

 

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An old rusty tractor lawn ornament. For my father-in-law:

 

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Encouragement from the local Sonic as we got close to the finish line. I found it very sweet.

 

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A road sign letting drivers know what was going on:

 

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I road in a weird little pack making my way towards the finish. It was a bit like playing leap frog. However, eventually I made the turn onto the grounds of the Texas Motor Speedway. Have I mentioned that I’ve never been there before? Warning: it’s HUGE!

 

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I think I rode like 4 miles just to get around that thing. I was definitely ready to be done at this point!

 

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I agree, SAG 8 is GR8T! For the uninitiated, SAG stands for support and gear. That’s what we call the vehicles involved in supported rides. They usually carry supplies to fix a flat and will drive you to the next rest stop if you need it. Some year, I’d like to do SAG for a ride. You know, once I don’t ride as far. The best SAG driver I saw was a little gray haired lady who leap-frogged me a bunch of times around mile 30 – 50. Have I mentioned how awesome the volunteers are on these rides??

 

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So happy to see the finish…

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A picture from my support crew at the finish:

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Oh hey, I took a photo of them too (I’m holding my GoPro):

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Me and the family, at the finish of day one! Got my medal on and everything!

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Saturday was a great day for riding. Probably one of the best Bike MS days I’ve ever had. The wind was minimal and it was a comfortable temperature and I finished in record time. The only downside was the many bumpy roads I had to ride on. If you’d like, you can check out my garmin results – 105.6 miles at 18.3 mph average!

 

 

 

Ok, now let’s talk about day 2! It started and ended at the Texas Motor Speedway. Carl and I stayed in a hotel about 9 miles away so he had to drive me to the start. He even got out of the car and walked around with me while I tried to figure out where the heck they put the start line. I turns out it was way down the road at one of the gates into the track since we had the option to ride on the Texas Motor Speedway before heading out for the day. Of course I took that option. We were supposed to be let on at 6:45 am, but unfortunately we were not let on until 7 am. In my selfie by the gate, you can see that I’m wearing my 2012 Bike MS jersey from the Ohio Pedal to the Point. Sunday was warmer than Saturday so I didn’t require the extra layer that I wore Saturday and then gave to Carl at mile 40.

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I’ve ridden the F1 track in Austin, and it’s a 3 mile course with many twists and turns and even a hill. By contrast, the Texas Motor Speedway is an oval track with EXTREMELY banked curves, to the point I don’t think you can walk up them. The straight away:

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A little bit of bank:

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Because they started us late, it took a bit of hard riding to get around all of the slower riders. Eventually I made it out on some nice country roads:

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I saw some ponies and what looked like miniature donkeys. Do those things even exist??

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Some fans along the side of the road:

 

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Yellow wildflowers and a cool looking tree:

 

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A field of purple wildflowers behind the fence, to prove that north Texas had wildflowers. Kinda.

 

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A large ranch with lots of fences. Do you spy the horse that came to check us out as we rode by?

 

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A random chimney, all that was left of a house. It strangely had other houses around it.

 

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Sunday was windier than Saturday. I found this rest stop after riding south through some  headwinds for a while. They were very spirited. The kids immediately offered to hold my bike.

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A nice young man poured me some home-made punch at this tiki bar. You can see one of the radio operator stations that helped coordinate the entire rides right next to the tiki bar.

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One of the most common wildflowers that I saw were pink winecups. However, central Texas has way more wildflowers than north Texas.

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On both the out and back sections of this ride, we rode on one of the bumpiest roads I ever met. I thought my toes might fall off. I did see this old falling down barn though.

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For a few miles before the last rest stop on Sunday’s ride, Bucko’s bike shop put up signs. I think this one was my favorite! It kept my mind off the insanely painfully bumpy road. I don’t have a photo of the rest stop, but my husband surprised me by meeting me there, which we hadn’t planned.

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Eventually we had smooth roads, basically for the last 10 miles to the speedway. I don’t think you can understand how happy this made me.

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Passed a little “airport community” with a strip of big houses (not shown) that had their own little private planes.

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The trailer coming towards me had a horse head sticking out of it. Can you see it?

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Me and the motor speedway. A selfie.

 

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Sunday’s finish. I was one happy lady.

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A picture from my entourage:

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Ah, I finished! And Carl met me there. I don’t know if you can tell, but he definitely qualifies for best husband ever.

 

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Along with him, my mother-in-law and Carl’s aunt met me as well! It was such a great day!

 

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Despite being much windier, and some of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever met, I still finished the ride with an average that I was very happy about! 67.8 miles with a 16.7 mph average! I’ll take that any day!

To end this post, I just want to say thank you to each and every one of my donors. And an extra special thank you to those who saw me on the course over Saturday and Sunday. Also, my husband is the best ever. Carl, I hope you never change.

 

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Last Bike MS training update, April 26: Red Poppy Ride

This past weekend was my last training weekend before the  Bike MS: Sam’s Club Round-Up Ride in north Texas next weekend! The ride goes from Frisco to Fort Worth with an overnight at the Texas Motor Speedway, 105 and 67 miles respectively. This is my 7th year participating in a Bike MS ride, fundraising for the National MS Society in honor of my godmother and other family members that have been affected by Multiple Sclerosis. If you can, please consider making a donation in support of my participation.

I just finished tallying up my training mileage for this Bike MS. I started training at the beginning of February and so far I’ve ridden 1,183 miles. I think I’m ready for next weekend :) Last Saturday, I rode the 10th annual Red Poppy Ride up in Georgetown. This year I actually saw red poppies! It was a nice but windy ride with a bit of mist almost all day. I rode the longest route, 102 miles. Despite the wind I was able to average 16.6 miles per hour so I was very happy but exhausted. While I was out riding, my husband did the sweetest thing anyone could do for me after a long ride – he went all the way down to south Austin to pick me up my favorite treat – a hand-dipped chocolate covered banana from Bananarchy! It was the most amazing food I’ve ever eaten, covered with graham crackers and toffee…. yum!

And now for my ride recap.

I saw the guy with the yellow recumbent bike again.

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I saw my first red poppies early in the ride.

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Walburg, Texas. An old biergarten.

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A couple of red poppies and cyclists.

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I think these are poppies too, but they were more of a purple color.

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This ride has quite a large contingent of motorcycle escorts. They were very helpful, keeping an eye on things and helping us cross some of the busier intersections. This guy was like my own personal escort for much of the ride checking in on me a number of times.

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Wildflowers and I-35.

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A llama and his pal the donkey were just hanging out watching us go by. Isn’t he the cutest?

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This ride had the bumpiest roads I’ve ridden this year. It was like riding on gravel in some cases.

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Red poppies at the rest stop!

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The rest stop was in Schwertner, Texas – a little town with a big heart apparently.

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It has a big church, of course.

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The little towns we rode through mostly felt like old ghost towns.

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In Granger, I saw an old city hall with a lion statue in front of it.

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Across the street, a matching lion guarded the park.

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It had an old hardware store.

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And of course Granger has a big church!

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Randomly, I saw a large metal rooster in a field. And I mean really large, this photo doesn’t do him justice.

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So many bluebonnets!!

 

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Bluebonnets and yellow flowers.

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A country cemetery.

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Luckily, the ride went in a loop so I was only in the wind for sections. A few times I found some groups to draft off of and it was wonderful. I thought you might enjoy seeing what I looked like after riding 103 miles – check out that hair! I was sporting my new Ireland bike jersey, a birthday gift from Dad and Ellen.

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On Sunday my husband and I rode our bikes to check out the Mueller Farmer’s market for the first time. It was quite nice and we bought lots of great food. It was an 18 mile round trip and I used my commuter bike and panniers to bring home our goodies. I think we’ll do that again.

 

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