There weren’t as many cloak and dagger shenanigans this year as there have been in the past. My wife and I planned a simple ride down south to celebrate our anniversary and to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Although both of us had been to the Gulf Coast several times between Florida and Texas, neither of us had been to Corpus Christi. We left in the wee hours of a Friday morning and returned the following Monday giving us three nights and two full days in town.
Corpus Christi is the eighth largest city in Texas with a population approaching 300,000. It is home to the fifth largest port and the largest barrier island in the country. It is also a good starting point for visits to Mustang Island State Park, Padre Island National Seashore, The King Ranch, and Mexico.
The city is located approximately 415 miles south of our location west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and while I could have taken I35 south to I37, I wanted to keep the pace a little more casual and decided to run state route 281 to San Antonio and pick up I37 there. Texas 281 runs through several towns including Stephenville, Hico, Lampasas, and Johnson City. The going is slower due to stoplights and reduced speed limits, but there are plenty of places to buy gas and food, and the scenery is great.
We exceeded the predicted seven-hour travel time by several hours due to stopping for breakfast and lunch and just generally not being in much of a hurry. (Taking the same route home, the trip was almost two hours shorter.) We also had a fierce northwesterly wind whipping us around the entire trip down. This wind contributed immensely to several severe wildfires in the areas around Jack and Palo Pinto counties that we had just left. (At this writing, the fires have consumed 150,000 acres and 160 homes locally and are within 30 miles of our house. Two of the approximately 1,700 firefighters deployed have lost their lives.)
Since our last long trip I have traded in my 2007 Harley-Davidson Ultra for a 2009 Ultra. The ride on this bike is a little rougher due to the stiffness of the new frame, but we had no ill effects after spending the day in the saddle. The six-gallon tank made life a little easier, and the six-speed transmission made it a little smoother. This transmission has a fifth gear whine though that can get on the nerves. I did find out in short order that this bike has no fondness for sand whatsoever. The moment the bike left pavement and hit the sand, the front tire dug in like a plow, and that, my friends, was that. (No, I didn’t drop it, but it took both of us to get it turned around and back on terra firma.) This bike is a lot firmer in corners and seems to stand up better to the wind than the old model. I figured my gas mileage at between 43 and 45 mpg.
We spent our nights in the Airport Holiday Inn on Leopard Street near North Padre Island Drive. The hotel is a full service facility with a restaurant, a bar, and pool. There is no dedicated motorcycle parking area, but the staff allowed me to park the bike under the portico in view of the security cameras. The room itself was clean and well appointed. We had supper at the hotel the first night. The food was good, the price was high. This hotel is about ten minutes away from most of the attractions. We could have gotten closer, for a price.
After breakfast, our first stop on Saturday was Corpus Christi Harley-Davidson for the obligatory T-shirts and dealer pin. Oscar Henderson in sales was very informative and pointed out several good places to ride and eat. The remainder of the day in town was spent at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, The Texas State Aquarium, and the USS Lexington. One of the attractions at the museum is the replicas of the Pinta and the Santa Maria. These ships sailed Columbus’ route from Spain to the Bahamas in 1992 and visited several U.S. ports before being docked in Corpus Christi.
My wife and I both agreed that the highlight of the Aquarium was the Dolphin Show, although we could have spent hours in the other attractions as well. The longest visit of the day was to the Aircraft Carrier USS Lexington. There are five separate self-guided tours of the vessel including the tower, flight deck, forecastle, hanger deck, and engine rooms. We saw several people who were struggling with the ladders and the amount of walking required. This is a very strenuous visit. If you take small children, you will wind up carrying them most of the time including up and down near vertical ladders. The ship is huge, the history long. There are places on board where the sadness and grief for lost sailors is almost palpable.
After leaving The Lexington, we decided to ride the “loop,” taking 181 north to Portland, picking up 361 in Gregory, through Ingleside, across the free ferry (which was a first for both of us on a motorcycle) to Port Aransas, through Mustang Island State Park, to Padre Island, where we picked up South Padre Island Drive (SPID, Park Road 22, and Rt. 358) to get back to the hotel. Along the way we stopped for Supper at Logan’s Steak House where, as usual, the food was great. I have mixed emotions about the ride. Traffic was fairly heavy, but the views were breathtaking. I tend to not do well with heights, but The Harbor Bridge, on 181 was fun, it soars to 243 feet high and is 5,818 feet long.
Sunday was more relaxed, starting and ending on Shoreline Drive. We stopped at a couple of sections of the bay, a shell-lined beach, to pick up a bunch of seashells, then stopped a bit further up on a rocky stretch to relax and watch the gulls. A short ride later found us on the causeway at Snoopy’s Seafood for lunch. Afterwards, we headed out to Padre Island and a Gulf Coast beach. Balli Park was where I ran into trouble with the sand; it is also where we found Bob Hall fishing pier. The concrete pier stretches out 1,240 feet, is over 15 feet wide on the walkway and 168 feet at the T-Head. We saw a lot of folks enjoying the fishing, and I saw a picture of a huge hammerhead shark that was caught off the pier. We came off the pier and settled a short distance away to sit and watch the swimmers and surfers. To park on the beach, you are required to have a Beach Parking Permit that you can buy at either the park office or at almost any convenience store for $12. I didn’t know that initially and had to double back and purchase one. I am glad that I did. The fine for not having a permit is $154 plus court costs. I called the Permit section when I returned home to inquire as to whether or not there were provisions for motorcycles, and was informed that there were not any in writing. They do understand, however, that not all motorcycles have windshields, and those of us who do own motorcycles with windshields may not wish to place a decal on the plexiglass. I was advised to keep the bike in sight if the decal wasn’t applied; apparently the officers may entertain polite discussion (read: no attitude) providing that the decal was purchased. We left the beach knowing that we had to leave early the following morning, and to keep life simple, opted for pizza in the room for supper and finished the evening relatively early.
Checkout from the hotel was easy, the return trip smooth. And while we both enjoyed the trip very much, two days went by very quickly. There were two festivals that we didn’t attend: The Wind Fest in Portland and the Sand Fest in Port Aransas. The Sand Fest is where people come from all over the world to create immense, highly detailed sand sculptures. This worked to our advantage in that we had much smaller crowds on the other beaches.
Our next major milestone is 35 years, but I don’t think we are going to wait that long again. I see a trip out west in our near future, maybe a repeat of the trip I took solo to the Superstitions. Maybe we’ll ride somewhere else.
To my wife of Thirty Years: Happy Anniversary, and I Love You.
To everyone else: Ride Safe.
By Michael P. Lousha