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.
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.