Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Southern Hospitality

The glamorous lifestyle of a touring cyclist.

The  muffled chime of my watch alarm chirping through earplugs at six am announces the start of another day.  The strong southeast wind blowing against our nylon and aluminum doublewide rudely proclaims what awaits us for our day on the road.   Eventually I emerge from the warm, albeit somewhat rank embrace of our shared sleeping bag and face the gray skies of the southern Gulf Coast.  I rush to fire up the stove and brew two cups of hot dark motivation as Jen packs up the bed and prepares for yet another long day in the saddle.

Try as I may, I can no longer deny that summer has come to an end.  Fantasies of warm riding under  sunny skies have been progressively crushed by the persistent headwinds and ever-colder days of the Gulf Coast November.  Daylight is at a premium, and the undeniable lack of it requires a disciplined approach to cover the sixty miles a day that will get us to the Atlantic Coast on schedule.  No more ten am starts or mid-day beers;  for better or worse, riding has become a job and I must admit that many days the stoke is a little hard to muster.

Out of New Orleans, Jen and I followed wide, trash cluttered shoulders over the bayou formed between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Saint Catherine under sunny skies.  New houses built on 15-foot concrete stilts tell a story of a people who who understand the risk that living a few feet above sea level entails,  but choose to make their stand here anyhow.  Black clouds on the eastern horizon and strong gusts announced our soaking an hour before we rode into it.  We crossed the Pearl River into Mississippi soggy-cold and pushed hard to reach Waveland by nightfall.  Marine fog swallowed the night as we searched in the dark for Buccaneer State Park.  Murphy's Law mandated a flat tire and my lack of motivation to wrench in the dark on a shoulder-less road required pumping every quarter of a mile to keep me rolling.  The hulk knocked loudly on the door of my psyche, but I managed to keep him in check.  We pitched our tent in the primitive site at the park nestled conveniently inches from the railroad tracks; you get what you pay for I guess.  I neglected to zip the tent up completely and woke to a swarm of mosquitos buzzing around my head.  None escaped my rage, but the pint of my own blood smeared on the inside of our tents among their body parts made the execution a little superfluous. Revenge, however made me feel a little better about the fresh track of bites along my receding hairline.

The morning dawned cold and dark and we continued east along the white sand beaches of the Mississippi Coast.  We blew through Bay Saint Louis, Gulfport, and Boluxi Mississippi riding 40 miles of concrete boardwalks that separate the beach from Highway 90.  Casinos, fishing boats and a plethora of seafood restaurants tell of an economy dependent upon tourists that have been slow to return since Hurricane Katrina decimated this coast with sea waves over 55 feet high in 2005.  We cut the day short at Ocean Springs and arrived at the Gulf Island National Seashore Park just before dark.  Raccoons helped themselves to our food bag while Jen and I showered; at least the dirty little bastards didn't get to the whiskey.

A new day and temperatures in the low forties invited the opportunity to wear every stitch of clothing we own.  We stopped for a minute to watch the Brown Pelicans feed in the Davis Bayou on the way out of camp and I spotted a 10-foot alligator basking in the sun 50 feet from where we stood.  She didn't respond when I called her to come closer nor when I offered to feed her my cute wife; no wonder the dinosaurs went extinct.   It is funny how the small things lift your spirits and seeing one of these giant reptiles in the wild renewed my excitement for the unknown road ahead.  Back on wide shoulders of Highway 90, Jenny and I pedaled into the wind towards Pascagoula on the quite Sunday morning.  We passed a man  parked along the side of the road blaring music from a huge stereo in the back of his truck into an empty field.  He spotted us riding by, turned the speakers towards the highway and cranked God Bless America and pumped his fist into the air as we pedaled past.  Some things you just have to see to believe.  We crossed into Alabama in the afternoon, turned south and caught a rare tailwind covering the twenty miles to Dauphin Island in Mobile Bay as the sun sank low over the Gulf and the biting chill of a clear night set in.  Morning welcomed with the nylon of the tent slapping violently in the east wind.  We packed up in anticipation of starting the day with a quick ferry ride over Mobile Bay to the town of Gulf Shores and reaching Florida by nightfall.  We pedaled across the street to the ferry terminal and were welcomed by a "Ferry closed due to high winds" sign across a locked gate.  My heart sank as I realized that we were going to have to bike 100 miles around the bay to cover the distance that a two mile ferry would have delivered us.

With stoic resolve we reversed our direction and pedaled back into a stiff crosswind towards the urban center of Mobile, Alabama.  Navigating in and out of cities is my least favorite aspect of touring across this country, and Mobile is not a cyclist friendly metropolis.  Busy four lane roads void of shoulder and frequent stops to navigate on the iPhone got us north of the city, back on Highway 90 and crossing the mouth of the Tensaw River in the late afternoon.  The inevitability if being caught in the dark weighed heavy on my shoulders as Jen and I did our best to power against the strong eastern wind and the substantial rainfall promised for the night.  With a sinking heart, we passed our campsite for the night and headed into Spanish Fort to buy groceries.  A huge storm brewing off the coast and 100% chance of heavy precipitation in the forecast for the next two days required restocking of supplies for an inevitable day hanging out in the tent.  Jenny pedaled hard, but I could tell she was not having fun; to tell the truth neither was I.

Darkness fell as we arrived at the grocery.  I waited outside, feeling, and no doubt looking quite dejected.  After nearly five months on the road,  the life a vagabond starts to lose it's appeal a little.  As I sat planning the best route back to camp, a man dressed head-to-toe in University of Alabama apparel approached in a motorized shopping cart.

Bottom's gonna fall out'a the sky here in anotha' hour or two, where y'all staying tonight,  Brad inquired as he motored out of the grocery store.

Down at the State Park by the bay, I responded unable to even recall the name of our intended home for the next couple of days.

Brad frowned, Hell, that sounds miserable.  Y'all be gator bait down there.  How many of y'all are there?

Just my wife and I sir.

How would you like to take a hot shower and sleep in a bed?

I felt pretty safe accepting the invite without conferring with my lovely wife and soon Brad was drawing me a map to his home on the outskirt of town.  Within the hour Jen and were settling into our room with a queen bed and drinking beers by the fire with Brad while his wife Saundra cooked us hamburgers.

We slept in this morning and ate eggs with toast for breakfast. It is 40 degrees and raining outside and Brad has extended our invitation indefinitely.  Jen is roasting a chicken for dinner and we will celebrate an early Thanksgiving tonight and head out again tomorrow under a clearing sky.  I cannot express in words the gratitude I feel towards folks who open up their doors to complete strangers such as Jenny and I.  As much fun as this journey has been, the road can wear on you a bit and weaken one's resolve to finish what was started.  The kindest gestures of hospitality; a warm bed, a hot shower and a home-cooked meal refuels my soul with determination and reminds me of the goodness that runs throughout the core of this country.

Onward to Florida and what tomorrow may bring.

Kloshe konaway
Kloshe nanitch


Monday, November 18, 2013

Cajun Country

Reason to Celebrate

I am not in the habit of drinking before midday, usually.  But hell, it's always noon somewhere and a celebration was in order.  As sincerely happy as I was to see Texas come, and as much as I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Lone Star State, a thousand miles of any place on a bike is enough to dampen the greatest of enthusiasm.  Shots of whiskey were called for as Jen and I crossed the muddy Sabine River and entered the swamps of Louisiana.  It could just be my renewed enthusiasm for the tour upon entering a new state, but the pace of Cajun Country seems a little slower than it's neighbor to the west, drivers appear to be in a little less of a hurry and folks come across a bit friendlier.  I think I might like Louisiana.  

Touring Romance

Sweet Mother Mary of Jesus! 
Jenny choked through tears as the odoriferous assault migrated north in our dual sleeping bag.  I giggled just a little, rolled over and sealed my head off from the defusing stank, not to be a victim of friendly fire in the warfare of flatulence.

It is hard for me to feel bad; it really isn't my fault that I stink so bad.  Much like our life at home, existence on the road calls for a division of labor.  Jenny does all the grocery shopping and I sit outside with the bikes and bullshit with locals who feel like striking up a conversation with a guy in sandals and safety vest.  When we arrive at camp, I drink cold beer and Jenny cooks dinner.  I eat whatever I am served and can't be held responsible for it's impact on my digestive system.    

Jenny's culinary range has expanded exponentially in the past four months and what the girl can do with a can of baked beans, a bag of broccoli and a tin of marinated sardines is simply amazing; she does however have to sleep in a confined space with the consequences.


Sans helmet and barefooted, he sported basketball shorts and a neon green construction shirt.

Where ya'all headed?  Where ya'all from?, were the first words out of his mouth as he pulled up along side of us on a solid looking steel framed mishmash of a bicycle with bar end shifters.  Deep in Southern  Louisiana, fellow bicyclists are a rare sight and Spencer was the first we had seen in hundreds of miles.

We're from Seattle and headed to Georgia, I replied as I tried to match his robust pace.

Hell yeah! he exclaimed, I'm fixin' on doing the same soon as the crayfish season is up.

We don't see to many cyclists down here, Jen remarked as Spencer buried me and pulled along side of her.

Hell man, this is Louisiana!  Only poor folks ride bicycles down here! he yelled over his shoulder as he sped off into the distance.   Ya'all have yo'selves a real good trip now, ya hear!


Market Basket Grocery in Welsh, Louisiana.  Like most evenings, I am sitting outside the store chatting up curious locals while Jenny shops for dinner.  
Cheryl stopped her cart in front of our parked bikes and struck up a friendly conversation with me about where we were from and where we were headed.  Her warm and calm demeanor permeated the discussion about travel throughout this country as she inquired about what motivated this adventure, what we ate and where we stayed on a nightly basis.

Wherever we can to tell you the truth.  In fact, tonight we are sleeping over at the the city park.  The  policeman that we ran into drove me to city hall to pick up a key for the bathrooms.  

She continued to smile, but an immediate deep sadness fell over her visage and the corners of her eyes welled as she fought back tears.  I wondered what I had said wrong.

I understand there is a nice plaque at the park in honor of my son.  He passed about a year ago now, and I just haven't been able to go over and have a look quite yet.  Things are still pretty fresh.  I am told they planted a nice tree there by the tennis court as well.  He was thirty-seven years old.

I didn't know what to say, parents shouldn't bury their children and and I don't have the capacity to understand this type of pain.   I am sorry for you loss ma'am, I'll  make sure to go and have a look at the plaque in the morning.

That would be nice, he was a really great guy.  God bless you.  She turned and rolled her cart to the car.  

It's not the heat, it's the humidity.

Hot wet sticky sweet, from my head down to my feet…yeah...

I doubt that Def Leopard was trying to describe a sleepless night in the bayou with these timeless lyrics, but the lines of Pour Some Sugar on Me keep rolling through my head as I lie awake, naked and suffocating in the sweltering heat of the Louisiana night.  Mosquitos as big as hummingbirds swarm hungrily outside the mesh of the tent inches away from my cooking head.  The fact that it is raining and 85 degrees defies everything that makes sense to me and I just wish that I could sweat.  No way around it, Southern Louisiana is a hot swamp and I simply cannot imagine riding through here in August.    

Several days of pedaling across the Gulf Coast of Louisiana under dark skies into stiff headwinds indicates that our endless summer is drawing to end.  It is easy to forget that it is mid-November when most of your days are spent under blue skies and you haven't worn shoes for months.  All good things must come to end though,  and as we close in on New Orleans it seems the winter of the Northern Hemisphere is finally catching up with us.  With less than 1000 miles to go before we reach the Atlantic Ocean, Jen and I are laying out the next several months of our life and very much looking forward to escaping south of equator for the New Zealand summer.

Kloshe konaway
Kloshe natich


Frozen chamios are super comfy.

 Back in the land of mosquitos.  Jenny is a ruthless killer, 4 in one slap!

 Louisiana is the northern most latitude that sugar can be grown and the state produces over 1.4 million tons of raw sugar each year.  Saint Mary's Sugar Processing Plant.

Pork "Cracklings" AKA deep fried pork skin.  A cajun tradition and one that I can say I tried.  I could feel my blood thicken as I ate and will refrain from partaking in the future.

If cavemen would have known about donuts, they would have eaten them!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Notes from Texas


After nearly 500 miles of unbending rough chip sealed roads I didn't believe it myself, but the westward bound cyclists we began to encounter outside of Del Rio assured us that the arid desert of West Texas would eventually subside to the relatively lush rolling terrain of Central Texas.  I never imagined that I would be so happy to climb hills again, but I smiled broadly as I stood out of my saddle, pushed hard on the pedals and ascended steeply out of Brackettville into the thick oak, maple and sycamore trees that characterize the Texas Hill Country.  After months in the desert, this Pacific Northwest Boy is more than ready for a little cooler temperatures and greener terrain. 


As much as I like riding my bike, I must admit that sometimes I get a little sick of doing the same thing day in and day out.  My legs have ballooned in the past four months under the steady propulsion of cranks at a blaring 10 mph, but my shoulders slump and a little belly sags over my tattered cycling shorts.  I did push-ups and pull-ups for the first time in two months this week and feel like someone beat me with a two by four.  Riding bikes can make you a little soft, although I am sure that my copious consumption of tortilla chips and beer has nothing to do with this phenomenon.


The best part of touring is the human interactions that traveling on a bicycle facilitates.  In the ghost town of Langtry, Jenny and I rolled into town low on groceries at 5pm to find the gas station market closed.  We met a wonderful couple traveling from Fort Worth while wondering the empty streets and shared a pot luck of SPAM, sardines, frozen vegetables and sherry.  Andrew and Sue emptied the cupboards of their RV and filled our panniers worrying we wouldn't have enough to eat the next day. 

In Del Rio, the Tooke family hosted us and entertained us with stories of racing the infamous RAAM.  In 2011, Dallas Tooke in his early 60's,  complete the Race Across America in a little over 12 days on a bike.  Simply amazing.

In Ingram, Fred and Janice took us in, fed us and provided a soft bed.  In the morning they departed for the opening of deer season hours before Jen and I were even thinking about stirring.  They didn't hesitate to allow us to sleep in and trusted we would respect their home as our own.   

In Blanco, Jenny and I rolled into a completely full State Park at dusk.  Camp hosts Larry and Bonnie watched us come in, sought us out in the dark and invited us to stay with them.  In the morning, we were treated to homemade biscuits, scrambled eggs, bacon and coffee and found it hard to the leave warm embrace of our new friends.  


Bike lanes and microbrews.  Whole Foods Market and fair trade coffee.  Live country music and Texas Two Step.  The thriving capital of Texas feels a lot like Portland in cowboy boots and has been perfect place for a much needed week of rest.   Jen and I reunited with the one and only Kate Purcell who recently transplanted from Seattle and will soon be running this fine city.  I caught up with my childhood friend Ryan we connected like only folks with a common history can do.   I was reminded why shots of whiskey are always a bad idea.


We're told that the terrain east from here flattens out considerably and the miles begin to fly by (we''ll see about that!)  Another week in Texas and we will be in Louisiana, eating fried everything and cycling the Gulf Coast.  The tires are rotated on the bikes and Jen and I have our sights on the South and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. 

Kloshe konaway
Kloshe nanitch


Impromptu potluck with Andew and Sue!

Pecos River.

Lots of this in West Texas. 

I can't remember $2 gas in Washington! 

Tortilla love. 

J Hurst crushing the dirt terrain. 

Drive through Beer Barn.  God Bless Texas! 

It's got to be noon somewhere! 

Buddies and Big Ass Beer Night!