Thanks for all the great feedback. I went to a local shop and ended up bringing home a "GT Alloy 105" in blue. I love it. It will take a bit to acclimated since I've spent most of my time over the last 10 - 15 years mountain biking and riding a recumbent as a commuter. I sold the bent and am also considering selling the MTB.
I could not refuse getting this bike at $999. It has great reviews, is comfortable, handles well off road and is a great all around ride.
GT Alloy 105 what? Is it the Grade? That bike with 105 components for that price is a good deal.