Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 24

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We left our motel in Columbus TX at about 9am to make the 60 mile ride into Houston and the NASA Johnson Space Center. To save time, we took the outerbelt, called the Sam Houston Freeway, around the south side of the city. We knew the Sam Houston is a toll road, and the normal strategy is to have the lead bike pay the toll for everyone. So John got the job today.

Little did we know that there is a toll booth every few miles. Apparently the charge is by the axle, so John and Buss had to pay for three axles each, and two axles for me. It made for lengthy stops at each booth. Paying tolls is a real pain on a bike, and I think the USDOT should just say bikes get to go through for free. During the Harley 100th Anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, the tens of thousands of bikers coming through Chicago clogged the toll booths on I-94 for hours. This is a good assignment for the American Motorcycle Association.

The Johnson Space Center visit was interesting, but also a little disappointing. The visitor center is a little too commercial for me. You have to pay $5 to park, and $18 to get in, plus another $5 if you want the audio tour devices. Then if you want to play with the lunar lander simulator, it's another $10 or so. They run a tram tour through the center, and before you get on they tell you they have to take your picture 'for security purposes.' Of course, when you return from the tour, they offer to sell you the picture for $15 (wallet sizes also available).

But at least you get to see a couple of very interesting things: a) the Mission Control Center where all space missions through Apollo were managed; b) the mock-up center where all the segments of the International Space Station are set up for training; and, c) an entire Saturn V vehicle.

Then we rode over to the USS Texas, the only surviving World War I era battleship. This was the highlight of the day. Bummer that the engineering spaces were closed for refurbishment, but we had a blast touring the rest of the ship.

We then headed east on I-10, having made hotel reservations in Lake Charles. But when we got to the hotel, it was in a bad neighborhood, our room had a chirping smoke detector, and the door handle came off in my hand. We bailed out, and after a couple of tries, we found some nice rooms in a hotel attached to a casino.

By our planned route, we are now 1,500 miles from home. Seems like a lot, but seems like a short hop now.

Off to New Orleans in the morning.

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