Six weeks on the road and six states behind us — California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Yesterday, under sunny skies and warm temperatures, we rolled into Alabama.
The sign indicating the state line was riddled with bullet holes. I hope that is not an omen. We’re spending the next two days enjoying the beach and exploring the trails of Gulf Shores State Park before heading on to Florida
Wednesday for the final leg of this adventure.
The highlight of our excursion to the beautiful city of Baton Rouge, the historic capitol of Louisiana, was lunch Louie’s Diner for catfish po’boys and strawberry smoothies. Delicious!
Our campsite that night at Jim’s Place was a front-row seat onto the Mississippi River. Better yet, it was free for cyclists. The shower was interesting. There were two taps but no shower head. The water shot right out of the wall. I had to stand on tiptoes to wet my hair and face, then direct the flow of water onto the rest of me.
Much of the south is very poor. Mobile homes are everywhere and it looks as though many have been flooded out or destroyed by one of the many storms that come through this part of the States. It saddens me to see the conditions in which people live. When the home is no longer habitable, or the vehicle driveable, it is simply left in the yard to rot.
A Day’s Ride with the Over-the-Hill Gang
Leaving Poplarville, Mississippi on Saturday, a group of cyclists sped by. I caught up to them and they invited me to join their ride. This wild bunch, the youngest of whom was 66 and the oldest well into his 70s were doing the Southern Tier as well. It was great to ride with someone else for a change. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, which ended at Bluff Creek campsite and a swim on the white sandy beach of Bluff Creek with the locals.
That night we had a terrible thunderstorm and the rain continued into the next morning. When I got ready to go, the Wild Bunch was already up and out and well down the road.
Texas is great, but it’s so darned big, I thought we’d never get through it! In fact, I almost didn’t!
We have been pretty lucky with the weather here in the south. In fact, when I see the reports of the snow and cold back home, I think it’s fantastic here! In five weeks of riding, we’ve only had two days of rain. But last Tuesday’s storm was a real doozy. The day started out very promising. The small towns all along the route are huge antique markets, set up with both temporary and permanent antique display areas. In fact, the sign outside Wendleton proclaimed, “A little drinking town with a big antique problem.” There’s even a gasoline alley, featuring the signs of a dozen or more now-defunct gas stations.
I was having a great ride through the hills, even though the clouds around me were getting darker. I assumed it was like back home,where you’d get a few drops of rain falling. Then it might get a bit heavier, and eventually it might pour. In other word, you can see and feel it coming. Not here. The skies cracked open with thunder, and totally dumped on me. I ran for shelter under a big tree (I know that’s not safe in an electric storm, but it wasn’t the tallest tree in the area.)
The wind lashed at my back, the lightning flashed all around me, and the water moved in waves across the road. I waited and waited for Myrna to arrive while shivering and feeling hypothermia coming on. I thought I was going to die on that lonely Texas road.
By the time Myrna arrived with the van, I was almost frozen. I stripped off my wet clothes, climbed naked into the sleeping back, held the dog close for added warmth, and had a couple of nips of Crown Royal to warm my innards. Myrna drove on to Independence, where we parked, with the furnace on, and napped until the storm passed.
We camped at the municipal park in Navasota, cleaned off in what may have been the nastiest shower we’ve yet encountered , did the laundry and prepared for our excursion to Houston the next day. I met Charlie Dominguez and Dave Bourbeau at the Golder office to catch up on the latest company news. It was great to see them both, however brief our visit.
Then on to south Houston, to see former (and still honorary) Calgary Frontrunner Simon and Kirby and their three ultra-cute dogs — Paco, Lester and Rhys.
We went to Barnaby’s for dinner, a unique restaurant where dogs are welcomed — as are their owners!
When I awoke the next morning, Simon had already returned from a run before the day got too humid. We enjoyed a nice breakfast together, then hit the road, loaded with goodies Simon had packed for us. I was glad to leave the big city and get back on my bike and onto the back roads through the Sam Houston forest.
We get the last camping site at Cagle Campground on Lake Conroe — a gorgeous spot with big trees, big sites, bbq pits, hiking trails — the works. I knew that with the long weekend coming up, we may not be as lucky the net couple of days.
Critters, large and small. Some dead, some not!
There are a lot of critters on the Texas highways — most of them roadkill. Rabbits, raccoons, armadillos, turtles, possoms and bullfrogs, My experience with snakes last year had me a bit jittery about stepping off the shoulder, because there seem to be a lot more of them here. Most of those who have ventured out onto the highway are dead. So I am cycling merrily along, weaving between the asphalt repair strips, until one of those strips starts moving. YIKES! It’s a black snake! I leapt about two feet out of the saddle, and had to get my heart back in my chest. I console myself by thinking he was probably more afraid of me than I was of him. Yeah, right!
Louisiana, Here We Come!
Eastern Texas and Western Louisiana feature lots of mobile homes. One dilapidated dwelling with a tarp covering the broken roof had a sign posting, “You come lootin’ I come shootin’!” And there are LOTS of churches. In one small town of 500, I counted 11 of them, including one massive, brand new Baptist congregation. All are spiffed up for the Easter weekend, with brightly colored bunnies and eggs, promoting their family services.
We entered Louisiana at Bon Weir. The names are now sounding distinctly more French (Villes Platte, Mamou, Morauville and the restaurants feature more cajun than TexMex. A long day’s ride on Sunday brought us to Chicot State Park on Lake Chicot. Having just ridden 150k through the heat and humidity, I asked if the lake was good for swimming. “Well, Ma’am. I wouldn’t, she said matter-of-factly.”
Four weeks of cycling the Southern Tier and we’re almost through Texas. Moving from the desert into the green, rolling hill country has been a joy. For my Calgary friends, it’s like Springbank x 1,000! This is Lance Armstrong country and the land of LBJ. Their tire tracks and footprints are evident everywhere.
Riding here in the Spring has meant seeing the trees turn green; the profusion of colorful wildflowers along the roadside; the motorcyclists like swarms of wasps; and the baby lambs trying out their wobbly legs for the first time. One ewe had triplets, all with black little faces, jumping around her. Another one was going for a walk while her baby chased her crying, “Ma-a-a-a! Ma-a-a-a-!” Just like their human counterparts at the Walmart on any Saturday morning.
Communication all in order
One of the learnings we had from riding cross country last year was that we had to find a better way of communicating between Myrna in the van and me on the bike. Although the stories of our regularly getting lost may have seemed amusing, they were very frustrating, and potentially dangerous.
This time, Myrna has set us up with US phones on a solid network, and an app that helps us keep track of one another. This has reduced the amount of foul language on the road, and prevented decapitation of one or the other of us. I usually get a 3-hour head start before I see the van coming up behind me — just in time for lunch! You can imagine how envious my fellow cyclists are.
Today is Myrna’s birthday, and her wish was for a day to please just rest! Happy Birthday, Myrna!
Catching up to The Womens Tour — at the Winery (where else?)
This is a popular time of year to ride the Southern Tier. I have already mentioned the Adventure Cycling group. On the route as well, are Jackie’s Women’s Tour and Bubba’s Pampered Pedallers. The women’s tour left San Diego a few days ahead of us, but I caught up to them (a couple of them, anyway), looking fresh, relaxed and enjoying a tasting at the Lost Maples Winery. I joined them for a sip or two –or three — and continued to the campground with a bottle of 2016 Pinot in my water bottle cage.
Texas Floods and Texas Food
The other constant in Springtime Texas is the flooding of the rivers. We were warned that we always need a Plan B route, because roads are often closed due to flooding. When I saw a border patrol guard waving at me from the side of the road, I thought maybe he recognized me from the APB sent out the week before, about a cyclist crossing the tunnel under the Interstate. But no, he was just giving me a friendly wave. And then he told be the river ahead was flooded about 20 miles ahead, but that I should be able to make it through. I sure hoped so –I’d hate to pedal all that way back!
Riding through the Nueces River as it streamed over the highway was just part of the adventure, repeated again over the Guadeloupe.
And the food in Texas — yummy! Everyone knows about the Mexican, the barbecue and the steaks. But I discovered the Texas world of grocery shopping at HEB! “I think it stands for Howard E. Butts,” the girl at the checkout told me of the store that has everything. “People come here all the way from out of state to buy groceries here.” And now from Canada as well!
On the menu for Myrna’s birthday tonight — a big barbecued Texas steak, baked potato and salad, accompanied by fine Texas wine and finished with pecan pie!
Looking forward to seeing our friends in Houston this week, then it’s on to Louisiana!
It’s been quite the ride since last we touched base from Silver City, New Mexico. Three things made a huge impression on me: first, the huge fields of chili peppers and the endless groves of pecan trees. I didn’t realize the US produces 85% of the world’s pecans.
Oh, my god. My son, Markus would think he had died and gone to heaven — hot, spicy Mexican food for dinner, pecan pie for dessert, washed down with a growler of local craft beer! Be warned, though. There were signs everywhere, warning illegal nut-pickers they would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The second thing that really struck me was the ubiquitous presence of the border patrols. Helicopters and drones in the sky; trucks, trailers and ATVs on the ground; lights, cameras and check-stop stations on the highway to make sure everyone is legitimately in the country. I hope they’re not after me. The instructions on my map were clear: “all bicyclists MUST stop at the border patrol station.” At the time I saw the upcoming station, I was riding the Interstate frontage road opposite the flow of traffic on the highway. At the designated offramp, the map then plainly said, “turn right and go under I-10.” There was no going under. I think it should have said “over” but I guessed there must be another exit close by. I was wrong. By now I was long past the station, and the road I was on was ending. Should I chance running across 6 lanes of the interstate, where trucks were going 110 mph? Or double back and cross over the ramp? Ah! A third option presented itself. A tunnel appeared. I assume it was there to direct flood waters under the highway, but bats and illegal immigrants be damned, I hefted my bike and picked my way through the tunnel and up on the proper side of the Interstate! Problem solved.
Keeping company with trucks
And that’s the third thing — though riding the freeway was OK, it’s not just the speed and noise of the trucks one has to put up with. Those FedEx and Walmart trucks are constantly shedding their tires — and they’re not just rubber. Tiny bits of wire hide in the pavement, just waiting for an unsuspecting cyclist to come by. . . And so I got my first flat, just after exiting the interstate. There were three wire bits lodged in the tire. The one that did the damage was buried half an inch deep. I pulled the offending piece out, just as my support van rolled up. I pulled out a lawn chair, a cold beer and made myself comfortable in the shade of the van whilst doing the repair. Voila!
And since there wasn’t a campsite for another 60 miles, we just stayed drew the curtains and rough camped for the night! It was a fairly remote spot, so Myrna got out her pirate sword and we went through a drill of what we’d do if the banditos attacked. As I found out the next morning, there were very nice “lay-bys” every 20 or so miles up highway 118 that we could have used. Oh, well!
Fellow travelling companions
I have not run in to many other cyclists on this trip. The distances between towns are vast and maybe it’s still early.In any case, there is an Adventure Cycling group that I am leapfrogging.
We met in Alpine, California, again in Silver City, and then again in Marathon, Texas. There were 11 of them — 8 men and three women, plus there two leaders. I stopped to chat with Linda from Dunfermline, Scotland; Pam from Whitefish, Montana; and Andrea from Sacramento, California just as we passed the big open-pit copper mine at Santa Rita, New Mexico. Apparently, it is one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world. More interesting to me was the story of the mine workers in 1951-52 attempting to strike for better working conditions. Strikes were not legal, however, so the wives, daughters and sisters of the miners took up the picket line. Despite verbal abuse and physical threats, they held their ground, making national news at the time. The movie, “Salt of the Earth” tells their story. Strong, determined women seemed to be the theme of my day.
I crossed over Emory Pass that day, the highest point on the Southern Tier route, and fairly flew the 20 miles of rolling, swooping downhill. Awesome!
The next day the weather turned ugly. Lightning bursts and heavy rain continued through the night. The next morning I set out in the wind and cold, bound for Las Cruces. Myrna and I celebrated our arrival in this beautiful little city with a fabulous Mexican dinner and a couple of huge Margaritas. Mmmmm.
And Now . . . On to Texas!
Not a fan of big cities, we got through El Paso as quickly as possible and began our long journey through Texas. It’s big all right. A sign posted on a barbed wire fence, behind which was scrub desert as far as the eye could see, read: “For Sale. 8,290 Acres.” That’s bigger than some countries!
In Fort Davis, I cycled right in to the Hammerfest Race. Lycra-clad cyclists were everywhere in town and on the roads for miles around. I ran into Chris from Austin and Rick and Tracy from Dallas — all competing in the race. I must have looked goofy in my safety vest and riding sandals!
My Own Hammerfest
Yesterday morning, as the skies cleared from another night of heavy rain I left Marathon and rode like the wind, 186 km (115 miles) to Langtry, made famous by Judge Roy Bean, where we camped for the night. Today we are in Del Rio, home of the Laughlin Air Base and tomorrow we head out to Camp Wood, in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. I think we are about halfway through Texas.
The many lonely miles has given me lots of time to think, and there are always the songs of birds to accompany me, the sightings of desert critters; the colorful blossoms of the cacti; the feel of the sun in my face, the wind at my back and the smell of the soil. I am most definitely living the dream.
Til next time, keep safe and get me back on my bike!
I am in the library at the Western New Mexico University in Silver City. I apologize for being so late in getting out a blog, but this is truly the first opportunity I’ve had to get decent WiFi.
Two weeks on the road have taken me more than 1,200k from San Diego, through the California desert, to Arizona and now into New Mexico.
It has been a fantastic trip. We had the best ribs EVER at Bobby Q’s in Phoenix, the best beer (so far) from Four Peaks Brewing in Arizona, watched the Dodgers play the Brewers, seen the most incredible wild western vistas and met some wonderful people. I’ve crossed the Continental Divide, passed through the great sand dunes. And tomorrow, I climb over Emory Pass, at more than 8,000 feet, the highest point on this trip.
Some days have been hotter ‘n Hades while other times I am fully in my longs and still chilly. I’ll try to capture some of the people I’ve met and the things I’ve experienced so far in the photos below:
This last photo, of me with Donald Trump is “fake news.”
Until next time, keep well, and get me back on my bike!
It’s -15C in Calgary today, snowing, blowing and flippin’ freezing! Rather than wait for spring to arrive, we are hitting the road for another cycling trip. Thanks, Curtis and Gerrick, for attaching the new ladder and bike rack to the rear of the van. So sorry about your frozen fingers.
If all else goes well, tomorrow we head south, along the Pacific Coast to San Diego — in search of sunshine, heat and adventure along the backroads of the southern US. The route will take us through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama –all the way to Florida. In total, about 6,500 km.
I’m so looking forward to spending my days in the saddle, meeting new people, seeing new places and experiencing the beer, barbecue and bourbon for which the south is known. I’ll update this blog every week as a way to keep in touch with friends and family back home.
I completed my ride on Sunday, July 17th. I posted photos of myself at Yorktown, Virginia on Facebook. My non-Facebook friends may be wondering if I ever made it to the finish line and survived. I need to finish the story of this great adventure.
Virginia was made for cyclists. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which overlooks the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley is not open to commercial traffic, is a dream to ride. The route continues onto the quiet roads of the Piedmont, along the James and the Roanoke Rivers — rolling through lush, green countryside — past Civil War battlefields (I was surprised to learn that 80% of the Civil War was fought in Virginia); old plantations; the immaculately-kept mansions and estates of Presidents Jefferson and Monroe and into a number of quaint college towns like Lexington, Ashland and Williamsburg with their beautiful campuses. I felt like I was in a living history book.
And the weather was fantastic! As we here in Canada head into the cooler days of fall, I will look back and think fondly of the days of waking at 6 a.m. with the temperature already hovering around 74 degrees, and heading out in shorts, a jersey and sandals. It did get hot by
midday, but the breeze created while riding, plus the many big shade trees along the road made for very pleasant riding.
Also, I have to note that people in Virginia keep their dogs tied up!
My dog bite experience has provided me a bit of a window into the US healthcare system. Since my initial rabies shots in Wytheville, I have had follow-up shots in Charlottesville and Virginia Beach — each one taking up a half day. If it weren’t for my insurance, I would have had to pay a minimum of $300 for each shot. And you don’t see a doctor or nurse until the billing people are satisfied you’re covered.
I was getting anxious to finish my ride. On Saturday, July 16th, exactly two months from the start of the ride, we reached Ashland, just outside of Richmond. When the ladies at the campground learned that I was about to complete a cross-country bike ride, they gave us the site for free!
One last, long push!
At 158 km, the final day was a long one. Beginning 40 miles west of Williamsburg, the route went onto the Capital Trail, a gorgeous bike trail alongside the highway. There were dozens of cyclists out for a Sunday spin on the cool, shady trail. And the final push
to Yorktown, over the beautiful Colonial Parkway, actually felt like the end of a marathon– coming in to the stadium for the finish. I ended my 10-week journey where the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1781 is commemorated — at the Yorktown Memorial.
From there it was off to the waterfront to dip my front wheel.
We celebrated with a bottle of champagne and take-out ribs from Scoot’s Barbecue, then spent the next day at Virginia Beach (actually, I wanted to spend the rest of my life in Virginia Beach!) before beginning the long trek home.
We arrived home safely in Calgary on Sunday, July 24th.
Some parting thoughts
Completing this trip was the fulfillment of a long-time goal and the memories will be with me for a lifetime. Small things made each day a memorable one and I can say that not a single day went by that I did not experience joy that brought a wide smile to my face. I had a lot of time alone to think and reflect on my life.
In his book, Stumbling Into Happiness, Daniel Gilbert talks about peoples’ ongoing desire to find happiness in their lives; how (and why) it so often eludes them. I find happiness every time I climb on my bike and begin to pedal. These past 10 weeks have afforded me an up-close view of a most wonderful country– from coast to coast. Even more, they have affirmed for me the kindness, neighborliness and goodness of people everywhere. From the guys who pulled Myrna out of the ditch on the Blue Ridge Parkway (that’s her story to tell!); to the gals who loaded up poor Joe and his bike to take him to a hospital; to every truck driver who waited patiently behind me while I slowly made my way up a blind hill; and to every passing motorcyclist who floated me a”low five.” Maybe there’s something disarming about being on a bike, or taking on a big challenge, but people everywhere have been just wonderful.
People ask how Myrna and I managed to spend 12 weeks cooped up in a tiny van. I can honestly say we loved it — 85% of the time. I am lucky to have had Myrna and Basil as my support crew, and travelling in Priscilla was an awesome way to go. One of Myrna’s jobs was to pick up local microbrews along the way, and keep it on ice in the cooler. There were times she failed in her duty, and the only choice was Budweiser or Coors. In my opinion, Bud Light is about the worst beer on the planet! Moose Drool rules!
Many people have told me I am an inspiration to them. I hope that’s true, in that I believe that anyone can complete this trip if they want to — it’s just a question of how long it takes and what their objectives are.
And now, back to the laundry . . .
I have a few days to catch up on chores here at home before heading out to Minnesota for a Family Bike Trip in Paul Bunyan country. WooHoo!