Road trip to Space Camp, the finale

Friday morning I got up early to get in a short run, knowing it would be a busy day. I ran through the Rocket Center parking lot, then back the other direction, past the hotel and into the area where the kids had test-flown their rockets. Rocket debris and random parachutes littered the ground, and a few wayward rockets dangled from tree branches.

I wasn’t feeling great though–a week of restaurant food was taking its toll, perhaps. I cut my run short just over a mile and headed back to to the hotel to get ready for the boys’ Space Camp graduation.


Finally get to see my kid today!

At first, I thought graduation sounded a bit over the top, but then again, this wasn’t just regular sleepaway camp either. They call the kids trainees, and their group leaders are crew trainers. They didn’t just play around on space equipment and shuttle simulators–they experimented with the physics of rockets, they learned about the history of the space program, and they had hands-on experience with G-forces and moon gravity. It’s camp for brainiacs! So graduation really was that–the kids finished the training program and earned their wings, presented to them by Col. Bob Springer, a real astronaut.


Space Camp gives you wings!

After graduation, the boys wanted to show us all the cool things throughout the Space and Rocket Center, so we spent an hour or two being led around by two 10-year old tour guides. They chattered about everything from Black Holes to Apollo missions, climbed the rock wall, took my dad on the G-Force trainer, and explained all the equipment. At the shuttle simulator, B miraculously found his baseball hat he’d left there several days previously.

As we were eating lunch, we greeted a family we’d seen at the hotel pool the day Space Camp started–the boys had played together most of the morning. The mom returned the greeting, saying, “I didn’t recognize you at first, with your clothes on.” I wondered what the people at adjacent tables thought about THAT!

And then it was time to go. We retrieved their luggage, packed everything in the car, and said our goodbyes. B asked if we could look for his wayward rocket in the rocket graveyard I’d passed earlier, but we couldn’t find it. We hit the road around 1pm, hoping to make it somewhere into Mississippi before stopping for the night.

As it turns out, it was a good thing I’d gone running in the morning. As we got settled into our hotel room in Vicksburg, Mississippi, ominous clouds moved in. I let B swim in the pool for a few minutes since he’d been cooped up in the car for six or seven hours, but when I saw lightning off in the distance, that was the end of that. As soon as we got back into our room, a deluge hit.

The next day was a long one, and we arrived home around dinnertime. It was over 100* so I waited until about 8pm to run. I made the three-mile loop around my neighborhood, catching up on my Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me podcasts. I had a great trip, but it’s good to be back. I’ve got five more days of this run streak–I think I’ll make it. 🙂

There's no place like home.

There’s no place like home.


Road trip to Space Camp, part four

After a couple of days in Nashville, we headed back to Huntsville via Lynchburg, Tennessee. Home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Naturally, we took the tour.


Why thank you.

They produce pretty much everything on this site–it’s the only place in the world they make Jack Daniel’s (and yes, the apostrophe is in the right place). They make the barrels in which the whiskey ages (for four to six years!), they use water from a spring that runs through the property, and they bottle it and distribute it from right here.


Jack on the rocks

Ironically, Moore County is dry, so they don’t serve it or sell it in stores or restaurants. However, at the distillery bottle shop, they’ll sell you a bottle and throw in the whiskey for free. And our tour guide said the company gives employees a bottle a month–everyone comes to work THAT day, according to him. So I’m guessing it’s not hard to find a Jack and Coke for consumption somewhere in Lynchburg.

The free tour did not include samples, but we were offered lemonade. Southern hospitality!

From Lynchburg, we drove back to the same hotel in Huntsville, figuring we’d hang out by the pool for a day before picking the kids up at Space Camp. This morning, however, did not dawn very pool-like.


The Saturn V probably isn’t the best place to be during a thunderstorm.

I decided to take advantage of the clouds and go for my run. As we’ve spent multiple nights here by this point, I now have a regular route. But today I encountered unfamiliar obstacles: puddles and mud.


Perhaps the origins of the name Redstone?

My route again took me past the Space Camp habitat and entrance. You can see our hotel off to the left.


So close, yet so far away.

How’s Space Camp going, you ask? No clue. I’d sent B with a phone card, and he called that first night. But we’ve not heard from either of the boys since then. We assume that means they’re having so much fun they don’t have time to call home. Guess we will find out tomorrow!

Road trip to Space Camp, part three

We arrived at our hotel in Nashville just as the rain started. But by the time we’d checked in and stashed our stuff, the sun had re-emerged. So we set off to acquire lunch.

After fortifying ourselves with Cheeseburgers in Paradise and margaritas at Margaritaville, we set off exploring the downtown area. Street performers, Elvis statues, bars, and restaurants lined the streets around the waterfront. We visited the Johnny Cash museum, stopped for salt water taffy, and picked up a couple of souvenirs. Because our hotel room had a small fridge, we found a little grocery store and bought a few things to fix a light dinner.

The sky was cloudy and rain was in the forecast, so I decided to go for my run a little early. I went through Printers Alley toward the waterfront, and ran along the Cumberland River for a mile or so.


On the way back, I passed the Davidson County courthouse, a huge columned structure a block away from the river.


I ended up only running 1.5ish miles, but I realized it’s difficult to get longer mileage in an urban downtown area like this. So I was pretty satisfied with my efforts and returned to the hotel.

The next morning, we decided to try a longer route, possibly crossing the river via the pedestrian bridge and making the loop around. But as we rode the elevator down, a passenger suggested running to Centennial Park, about two miles away. The park itself is a mile loop, so we could get in an easy five or six miles if we wanted. That sounded good, so we headed out in the opposite direction from what we’d originally intended.

The route went in a straight line from our hotel to the park. Lots of intersections and stop lights, little shops and restaurants on either side. And then there was the Hustler store, which is exactly what you think it is. On Church Street, no less.

When we got to the park, we realized we’d run to the Parthenon! I had no idea why Nashville had a complete replica Parthenon in the middle of the city, but I’d heard about it and there it was.


Instead of running the mile loop around (we’d both been running the day before and elected to take it easy) we meandered through the park and around the Parthenon. It’s absolutely massive, apparently an exact replica of the Greek version (well, before Napoleon blew it up), and its history is much more fascinating–and much older–than I expected. A plaster and wood version was originally built in 1897 for the Centennial celebration. It was supposed to be temporary, but the public loved it and it stuck around. By the 1920s it was crumbling, and the city rebuilt it using permanent materials, which is what stands there today. A massive Greek Revival Parthenon in the middle of Nashville. It even appears on the registry of historical places–definitely not what I had expected.

We stopped for water near Vanderbilt University and began the return trip. But before long it became clear that the temperature and humidity had sucked some of the energy out of us, and we ran-walked the last mile and a half back to the hotel. A shower and iced coffee hit the spot.

Tomorrow is my 31st consecutive day of running, and I’m not sure what’s in store yet!

Road trip to Space Camp, part two

Saturday morning we got an early start, and by 9:30 we had crossed the Mississippi River. We stopped for lunch in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (a city that made this Longhorn twitch a bit) and continued on to Birmingham.

My students study the Civil Rights movement every year, and I teach a novel that refers to the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. So when I knew we’d be driving through Birmingham, I made plans to stop there. Being able to see it for myself was really important; teaching my kid about it was priceless.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church from Kelly Ingram Park

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church from Kelly Ingram Park

I’m not religious, but it was really powerful for me to stand in front of this structure, knowing what it represented–both as a location of an act of hatred, and a symbol of perseverance.

From there, we drove another two hours to Huntsville. Our hotel was on the grounds of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, so after we got our stuff in our room, we walked around a bit, checking out the facility’s space shuttle, the Blackbird, and the massive Saturn V rocket.

Later in the evening, my run took me back through the rocket center’s parking lot, by now deserted.

Welcome to Space Camp!

Welcome to Space Camp!

Another runner had the same idea, and we exchanged greetings, comrades on foot in a facility built to display powerful engines. As I turned around and headed back to the hotel, I saw an amazing sight: the big Saturn rocket backlit by a fiery sunset.

Saturn V, the rocket that launched men to the moon

Saturn V, the rocket that launched men to the moon

The view from our hotel room

The view from our hotel room

The next morning, we met my friend J and her son at the airport. The boys swam in the hotel pool all morning, and after lunch they grabbed their stuff and checked in to the Habitat at Space Camp. We helped them get settled in their room, then toured the facility until it was time to say goodbye. They could not have been more excited as they ran off to their orientation.

This evening, I decided to go out for my run a little earlier since I wanted to watch Nik Wallenda walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. I took the same route as the evening before, and as I passed the Space Camp entrance, I smiled, knowing my kid was in there somewhere.

Hope you're having a blast, B!

Hope you’re having a blast, B!

Tomorrow: Nashville!

Road trip to Space Camp, part one

Friday morning, we hit the road for Space Camp, which is not in Houston like most people think, but in Huntsville, Alabama. That meant a two-day road trip through four states.

The thing about living in Austin is that you can drive for six hours in any direction and still not leave the state. And that proved true for us. We got stuck in a massive traffic jam on I35 south of Salado, then took smaller roads from Waco to Tyler in an effort to avoid Dallas. Finally, six hours later, we crossed into Louisiana. By dinnertime we had reached Monroe, and having been on the road for more than eight hours, we decided to stop for the night.

We figured we’d stay near the university–odds were good it would be a safe place to take a short run, something we all needed to do after a day in the car. Plus I had my RW Run Streak to keep alive! But barely into West Monroe, we spotted a giant metal crane (bird, not construction) standing alongside the road, next to what appeared to trail running trail. Lo and behold, a hotel (and the obligatory Hooters) sat adjacent to the trail. So yes, I chose this night’s lodging based on its proximity to a giant metal waterfowl.

I think it's actually a blue heron,not a crane. But still awesome.

I think it’s actually a blue heron,not a crane. But still awesome.

The trail turned out to be part of Restoration Park, and the path made a mile-long loop under a huge canopy of trees, around a wetland area.


There was an actual crane standing in the water about where the bridge turns to the right.

B and I ran about 1.25 miles–it was gorgeous, but so so humid. The tree cover provided shade, but it also trapped the warm bayou air. So after a quick photo op, we headed back to the hotel for showers and dinner.

Restoration Park, Monroe, Louisiana

Restoration Park, Monroe, Louisiana

Tomorrow: Mississippi and Alabama!

Why is it …

… that when decide to run because it’s cloudy or windy or somehow less oppressively hot, the minute I get outside the sun appears and the breeze dies?

I normally don’t run in the late morning during the summer–it barely drops below 80 overnight, and by 10 it’s over 90. But this morning, I looked out the back door and realized it was breezy and cloudy, and getting in three miles before lunchtime would solve a scheduling problem for later in the day.

Random Google car

Picture via Google Images. Naturally.

Almost immediately after I left my driveway, two things happened. One, the breeze blew the clouds away, then died. The things that got me out of the house at 10am completely disappeared. And two, I hadn’t even gone half a mile when the Google Street View car drove down the street towards me. Oh yay, a blur of me, forever captured on Street View. I mean, it could have been worse, but still.

I continued on, listening to my Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcast and shouting out random answers. Second man to walk on the moon (and the guy in all the pictures) Buzz Aldrin was the guest for Not My Job, offering sage advice such as: you don’t have to be the first man to walk on the moon as long as you make sure the other guy is the one with the camera.

Around 1.5 miles, I neared one of the main roads through my neighborhood, and guess what passed me again? Yeah, the Google car. Lovely. The good news is they seem to re-map things fairly often–this is not the first time they’ve been through here–so perhaps my sweaty image won’t forever grace my neighborhood’s Street View. But there it was again, giant camera and red ball thing on top of a little hybrid car. I can’t wait to see myself twice. :/

I finished my route without seeing it again (hooray!) at a reasonable (for me) pace. And guess what? As soon as I got inside, the clouds rolled back in and the breeze picked up. What’s up with that?