Notes on the Southern Tier

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In 2006 Steve and and I crossed the United States a second time together (Steve’s third crossing), this time along its southern border. It was an interesting trip, fraught with inclement weather, injury and other adversity. It was also, as can be expected of a months-long bicycle journey, a beautiful experience.

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The Southern Tier tour journal has a noteworthy caveat: somewhere between early 2006 and today, large sections of my writing was lost. Every letter was tapped into a dusty old iBook from 2004. There was never a paper version. Several years and web servers later, the blog regrettably suffered some deterioration, surely some fault of mine for not keeping adequate backups. At any rate, I was able to transcribe the entirety of Steve’s own tour journal (kept on good old fashioned paper). His words thankfully fill all of the gaps quite well.

You’ll be able to determine the author of a post by noting the aside just to the left of the body of the journal entry. You’ll also notice that the tone of Steve’s and my writing are in sharp contrast at times. I believe this to be mainly a function of our intended audiences. I have always written this journal to paint a picture of bicycle touring for my friends and family. My goal is to inspire and entertain. Steve, on the other hand, kept more personal notes. His journal is less imaginative, and focuses more on the details that he’d like to recall at some later date. He’s known to flip through the pages of his small black book with a smirk, recalling fierce headwinds and brutal cold. I’d say his words are generally less positive, but perhaps more realistic. It’s true that the Southern Tier route was not without its hardships.

At any rate, the journal is about as complete as it will ever be, except for the photos, which I’m currently adding day by day. Please enjoy.

– Mickey

Orlando, Florida

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Orlando, FL—Flew from Portland via Newark.

Upon landing in Florida, we discovered that an airport employee had taken several items out of our bags. Mickey lost a carabiner, his new carabiner knife (to replace his other new carabiner knife that was stolen by the airlines between Sydney and PDX last year), his Leatherman tool, his never-before-worn cycling gloves. They stole my new gloves, also (of course I had just bought the best ones I’ve ever had), a new innertube, and my Topeak tool set. All together about $300 worth of very important equipment.

Erin and Sam picked us up and fed us dinner at their house. “Watched” the Superbowl. Pitt 21, Seattle 10.

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St. Augustine, Florida

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St. Augustine, FL—Spent most of day replacing stolen stuff. Put our bikes together. That took longer than we had thought. My rear derailleur pieces that joins the derailleur to the drop-outs was bent, but Mickey was able to fix it. My front right shifter is damaged though and needs to be replaced. We’ll see if Jens can help.

Erin and Sam took us to St. Augustine. Arrived after dark. Went to the campground. It was closed, but the gate opened for someone coming out. Found out it was $25.

Took E & S to an Italian Restaurant. Not every good food. $100 for the 4 of us. Worth what they did for us! They left us off just down the street from the restaurant. We found some woods to sleep in. Just the Trans-Am first night. Not much has gone right so far.

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Palatka, Florida

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St. Augustine, FL to Palatka, FL—Packed up to leave the urban woods. We heard that the local bums had recently been kicked out. I walked my bike up a steep, short incline and down a steep short incline. Difficult, but doable. Mickey, however, didn’t successfully negotiate the downhill. Bent many of his bike parts. Wow. 20 feet into a 3,200 mile tour for his first crash.

Toured St. Augustine. Lots to see. Kind of European in character. Big rain as we left the fort. Rain off and on for 5-10 miles. Official start was at Ponce de Leon statue. Windy (headwind) and cold ride.

Rode last 3 miles on a highway with rough shoulders in the dark. $10 for a terrible RV park. Dirty and noisy. Very cold night. Frost in morning.

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Hawthorne, Florida

Palatka, FL to Hawthorne, FL—Started journal 2 days late. Hence last night and this a.m. conditions on previous page.

Very difficult riding today. Poor or no shoulder. Extremely heavy truck traffic. More trucks than cars. Headwind most of day.

Stayed in worst campground in the history of the world. $18 for a bit of grass between a major highway and another road. Adjacent to the other road was a heavily used railroad. Trains blew whistles all the way through town. A trio of dogs barked continually day and night 30 ft. from where we pitched the tents. The facilities were filthy. All for only $18. Also the proprietor was a big fat pig. Oh, and did I say rude?

O`Leno State Park, Florida

Hawthorne, FL to O’Leno State Park, FL—Mickey’s birthday! Hawthorne to Gainesville trail for first 16 miles was wonderful. A birder’s delight & obviously no traffic.  Called early to a bike shop to see about a replacement shifter for my bike. Amazingly, we were successful. $135 did the deal. Also replaced gloves stolen. Not as good, but OK. A guy named Doug escorted us the last bit of the trail and all the way to the bike shop.

Passed U. of Florida on the way out of town.

OK ride. Longest and hardest. 55 miles. We have arrived at our destination every day just at sunset. The days are so short we are having a tough time making the mileage we need to make while enjoying the whole ride. It would be better to get up earlier, but it’s so cold (High 20s to low 30s) in the morning. We put the flies on the tents for warmth and they get soaked with condensation. They take a while to dry out and we need sunlight for that.

As usual, ride was windy (headwind!), a bit cold to very cold at the end of the day.

Excellent, but expensive, state park tonight ($16.50). Good shower. Mickey fixed fajitas and we drank a bottle of Jim Beam. Nice fire. No one in the campground that is anywhere near where we are. Near full moon. (The campground IS near where we are!)

Suwannee Music Park, Florida

O’Leno State Park, FL to Suwannee Music Park, FL—Got up a bit late as the overnight temperature was in the 20s. We had the campground to ourselves. Guess I already wrote that.

Very pleasant day of riding. 56 miles. Very light traffic. Nothing remarkable. Good birding. No stores with produce or much food at all. Made fried egg sands with ham and cheese. Eggs tomorrow for breakfast and lunch.

It’s supposed to be 28°, 26°, and 22° at night in the next three days, thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow morning. It’s a tough start.

Suwannee Music Park, Florida; Rest Day

Suwannee Music Park, FL—Poured most of the night. We were soaked in the the morning. Hung our stuff and waited. Accuweather said it would be clear at 2:00. Decided to pack up and leave wet or dry at that time. We were packed and ready when the rain started in earnest. We were getting wet even under the picnic table cover. Accuweather changed the clearing time twice more, the last for 4:00. We knew that was too late for us to start. Decided to stay put another night.

Did laundry, read, got organized. Mickey updated web page. I dried the sleeping bags in the dryer and also the tents. Hung the footprints and the flies.

Mickey went to the store as we were out of food. (Goreburger for lunch!) Store was closed at the campground. He went down the road to our last store and bought 3 cans: chicken and dumplings, peas and applesauce. Put the first two together along with my rosemary and English thyme. MAT *, baby! Slurped the applesauce out of the jar in turn. Oh, and he bough a 6-pack of Heineken.

The Pickin’ Shed had a group of very old people come in while we were drying stuff. It’s a good sized building and was perfect for our endeavors. But these people needed to play music. There were 3 guitars (4 in time), one bass, a mandolin. They took turns playing songs. When they made it around, they asked me if I’d like to do one. Would have preferred to play a guitar, but I sang “Amanda”. Took my turn for the next 3 rounds, then made dinner and turned in.

* Makes a turd, i.e. not much culinary value.

Monticello, Florida

Suwannee Music Park, FL to Monticello, FL

The ride:

High 30s.

15 mph HEAD winds. Constant all day.

67 miles.

9.5 mph average.


Got a motel when we heard a forecast of 17° overnight.

Tallahassee, Florida

Monticello, FL to Tallahassee, FL—Had a pretty enjoyable ride, albeit still cold and windy.

Mickey’s knee has been getting sorer by the day. He can barely walk and rides with considerable pain. We had a real mess in Tallahassee today. Went to a hospital to see if Mick could be examined. At least a 3 hour wait! Got names of 3 doctors at an orthopedic clinic. Rode to the area to find lodging as overnight forecast is for less than 20°. Best deal we could get was $129 at the Marriott.

If Mickey can’t ride, we might be done. We’ll see tomorrow.

Tallahassee, Florida; Rest Day

Tallahassee, FL—The final hotel bill was $143. Dinner was $35.

This morning I had my shifter installed at a bike shop. The guy charged me $15, but did far more work than I paid for.

Made our way to the orthopedic hospital/clinic. Mickey got in to see the doctor. $1,000 later, he had meds to treat his inflammation.

Made the horrible ride out of Tallahassee. The Odoms met us just east of the city. Janette fed us dinner as we had no food. Definitely the highlight of our trip so far.

Went to the RV park a mile down the road after we left the Odoms. The RV place wanted $23+ tax for each of us. They said we each needed to have a separate space. Mickey mooned her and we left. We’re sleeping in a lot in an empty box car. Still waiting for something, just one thing, to work out right. Well, the dinner did.

Florida Caverns State Park, Florida

Tallahassee, FL to Florida Caverns State Park, FL—Very cold night. In the low 30s when we awoke. Rode 3 miles to a truck stop. Had a breakfast sandwich at a Subway and a big cup of coffee. My feet still had no feeling when we were ready to leave.

Warmed up nicely as we rode. Good surfaces, frequent tailwinds for the first day, and pretty light traffic. Crossed time zone line. Rode a fairly easy 72 miles. Mickey’s knee still hurts him and he walks with a big limp, but the pain is much less than the last few days.

Mickey got a haircut in Quincy. His barber had been cutting hair for 50 years. His name was Master. He said he joined the Air Force in 1951. Had to be in his 70s. Judging by the cuts on Mick’s neck, Master has lost his touch. OK haircut and shave though.

It is warm tonight! Predicted low is 46° — Tropical!

Had barred owls in the campground well before dark and after dark. Very loud call. Also saw several armadillos.

Shalimar, Florida

Florida Caverns State Park, FL to Shalimar, FL—Cold, but not as cold, this morning. Took a tour of the caverns. Got on the road at 11:30. Rode about 45 miles.

Called the Odoms. They picked us up and drove to Gene’s folks’ house in Shalimar. Gene suggested we ride along the beach rather than return to the route. However of his route was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Also part of the Adventure Cycling route that gets us from Florida into Alabama may not be doable because of a ferry being discontinued. This is a part we were very much looking forward to. The ferry would take us to Dauphin Island, which also apparently suffered great damage. We’ll have to see in the morning about our options.

The ride today was boring.

Shalimar, Florida; Rest Day

Shalimar, FL—Rested at the Odoms’ today. Gene and I rode bikes to Destin (16 miles). Mickey took the day off to recover. The others, including Mickey, met us at Destin and we walked along the beach for 1/2 mile or so. Very good birding day.

Janette and Gene treated us to lunch. I had a fried oyster sandwich.

We then went to visit Gene’s brother, Jay. Hailey was there, but Jay was having dinner with the President. Yes, that one. Whatever.

Big dinner of boiled shrimp and trimmings.

Turned in early. Big day tomorrow. Gene will take us to De Funiak Springs to resume the tour. Rain predicted tomorrow.

Black River State Park, Florida

De Funiak Springs, FL to Black River State Park, FL—Gene took us to De Funiak Springs. Said our goodbyes, put on sunscreen, and rode around the historic city.

Headed out on Hwy. 90, our near constant companion. After a short while it started to rain. Was raining and cold and windy all the rest of the day. The traffic was heavy and there were a couple of construction projects going.

Got to the campground just before dark. It was full. The guy at the booth told us about a primitive area nearby. It was free. No table or any facility. Then he remembered that a woman who had reservations for the weekend had just called to cancel. HE said that we could take her spot and there would be no charge as she had already paid for it.

We went to the restrooms and waited for about 1/2 an hour for it to stop raining. When it did, we set up tents and took a shower. Water was, as in all state parks in Florida, tepid. We bought wood, but had a very difficult time starting a fire. I got it sort of going about the time Mickey finished making dinner. We stood in the rain and ate. Eventually we went to the restrooms to finish eating out of the rain. The fire got going great after we got in our tents.

Big Lagoon State Park, Florida

Black River State Park, FL to Big Lagoon State Park, FL—Very cold when we got up. I started the coffee before the sun came up. The first part of the ride was good, on deserted roads and a bike path. Fairly cold, though.

After that we had very heavy traffic all day and it never got out of the low 50s. Good tail wind!

Pretty nice campground and not very cold at 8:00 or so as I write.

Mickey’s knee is as bad as ever and he struggled at the end of today. Don’t know if he can make it. 69 miles scheduled for tomorrow. Options for shorter.

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Big Lagoon State Park, FL to Dauphin Island, AL—Got up early for 70 miles day. Mickey’s leg is hurting a lot, so we went slow, 12-13 mph, with a good tail wind and smooth surface. Got steadily colder all day. The forecast has been wrong almost every day. A week ago, Tuesday was supposed to be perfect. Now they predict 60% chance of rain.

By the time we got to the ferry it was very windy and cold. By the time we waited for the ferry and rode it, it was 3:30 with 29 miles to go. We knew with Mickey’s bum knee we couldn’t do it. So we stayed on the island. Sat down to relax a few minutes and it started to rain. Put the tents up and threw stuff inside. Went to cover.

Dinner, shower, to bed.

Van Cleave, Mississippi

Dauphin Island, AL to Van Cleave, MS—Packed up wet today. The usual overcast and windy. Not too cold though. Early on we had a 10 mile bridge crossing. Very blustery. Toward the end we met Fred and Joe, the first tourers from the west. They were doing the route in 4 weeks! Liars! Huge days, very little stuff, sleeping indoors.

After the bridge we got to see a rare bit of blue sky. After a morning break to buy food and other stuff we needed, we rode hard for several hours. Did the last 30 just before dark in two and a half hours. Very heavy traffic all day. Almost all pickups with one person in the vehicle. The riding would have been very enjoyable if not for the traffic. Another tailwind day.

One of the guys we met this morning was a doctor. He commiserated with Mickey and suggested taking regular doses of Tylenol. Success! Mickey felt WAY better today.

“Campground” was full. The proprietor offered us a cabin for the “same” price as camping: $36. We took it. Dried all of our stuff and stayed dry as it rained during the night.

72 miles today.

Rogers Lake, Mississippi

Van Cleave, MS to Rogers Lake, MS—In a good groove now. Awoke early and were on the road by 8:30, 45 miles by noon. Had a 2 mile stretch on a busy divided four lane state highway. It was all downhill with a screaming tail-wind and a very wide shoulder. Unfortunately, we overshot our turn from the highway and I broke a spoke. Back-tracked into Perkinston. Found a little store that served food. (We rode right by it, as it was obscure and no one was parked in front. We were directed back to it). Got a good lunch, then went to the shade of a church and fixed the spoke. Broke on the rotor side. Had to remove the rotor. The Schwalbe Smart Guard tires are very difficult to mount and dismount. Did the job efficiently and were on our way.

The addenda lists a bridge out on our route. We asked several people. Most didn’t know (a frequent response in the south!), some said yes, some said no. We called the sheriff’s office. The lady answering the phones didn’t know. She checked with others. They said they didn’t know of a problem. Left town hoping to get through. A woman going in the opposite direction stopped and asked if we were going to Rogers Lake. We said we had hoped to go 25 miles further. She had an RV park closer that had been damaged by Katrina. She quoted us $5/each and coffee in the morning if we wanted to stay there. She said the bridge is out, but we may be able to get bikes across. When we got to Rogers Lake, we decided that the repair delay had taken away our chances of the further spot. Also Nella Ruth Rogers has the best price around. We are the only ones in the campground. Extensive damage to the property from Katrina. Very pleasant evening. 62 mile day with favorable winds.

Franklinton, Louisiana

Rogers Lake, MS to Franklinton, LA—70 mile day began with a nice visit and cup of coffee with Nella Ruth. She told us about her experiences with the hurricane Katrina.

My tire was flat on the rear wheel when we awoke. I pumped it up 3 or 4 times before we got to the first town where we fixed the flat in front of a Dollar General.

Moderate traffic, mostly tailwind today. Lots of broken and uprooted trees as well as damaged roofs from the storm.

Got food at Franklinton and started to backtrack to motel. A man waved us down guessing where we were headed. The hotel was full of relief workers. The guy was pastor of his church. He was standing out in front. Pastor Stan offered us a room in the church. He took us to another building across the street for showers. When I asked him the Laundromat was open in town, he offered to take our clothes home to be washed.

Great Discovery Campground, Louisiana

Franklinton, LA to Great Discovery Campground, LA—Pastor Stan returned our clean, folded clothes, we made a donation to the church and left a thank you note.

Had a very nice 30 mile ride to a quiet nice campground. Our choices for distance over the next few days is very limited. The camp is a church type place: chapel, labyrinth (replica of Chartres Cathedral floor!), meditation areas, etc. The proprietors have been assigned here by their church. They’ve only been here 3 weeks after 8 years in Costa Rica as missionaries.

Forecast is for rain beginning tonight and continuing with thunder all day and the next night. Guess we have another “rest” day. It’ll be soggy in the tents.

I made a dash for town—eight miles round trip—for food, just before the rain hit.

Great Discovery Campground, Louisiana; Rest Day

Great Discovery Campground, LA—Poured all night. We got pretty wet. Forecast is for heavy rain. Entertained foolish ideas of riding in it. Asked about a cabin after we had breakfast in the bathroom. The camp dorms were available. At $20 we got a room with 9 sets of bunks, several sinks, showers, toilets. Only problem is that there was no water. Were able to dry stuff out and get out of the rain. We packed very quickly and moved during a brief rain interlude.

Checking weather for the next 2 weeks, it looks like we’re in for more rain. We have had one day so far that was nice all day. That was our rest day in Shalimar.

St. Francisville, Louisiana

Great Discovery Campground, LA to Green Acres Campground, St. Francisville, LA—Cold and clear this morning. Bundled up and got out early. Very nice day of biking. 67 miles with very light traffic and good wind. Warmed to about 62°. More farms and interesting scenery.

At the Green Acres Campground we were told it would cost us $15 per tent. We called three days ago and were told $10 for 2 tents. Settled on $15+ tax. It’s pretty silly and arbitrary to charge per tent and just ridiculous to charge us the same as a Class A motorhome. I asked how much it would be if we didn’t set up a tent. The lady was dumbstruck. She had no answer. Stupid.

Simmesport, Louisiana

St. Francisville, LA to Simmesport, LA—We rode through a historic St. Francisville early in the day. Steve and I snapped photos of many of the old buildings in town. This has been a welcome sight; for a long time we have been pondering the existence of charming little towns on the tour. The TransAmerica Trail—which Steve and I rode two years ago—has many a bastion of Americana tucked away in the sprawl of the mundane.

We took a ferry across the Mississippi, dodging barges and tugboats. The man collecting fare waved us through, which was good because we didn’t have any money except for nickels and a fifty dollar bill.

On the other side, we rode along levees designed to contain the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. The grass was green, which was good for the cows, and the pavement was flat, which was good for my recovering knee. A man in a truck stopped and gave us his contact information, telling us to call him if we had any trouble in Louisiana. As we thanked him for the gesture, we noticed a bicycle in the back of his truck. We were hoping it wasn’t a common thing for bicyclists to need to call the cops in Louisiana: the piece of paper he wrote his number on also indicated he was a sheriff deputy. An nice gesture, though, from one cyclist to another.

Opelousas, Louisiana

Simmesport, LA to Opelousas, LA—It is Steve’s birthday today. It is also Mardi Gras. It rained a bit. It was very windy, which is becoming an unwelcome trend. Our average speed drops several miles per hour when the wind opposes our path, and that, in turn, means more frustrating hours in the saddle. Enough about the wind for now.

The scenery wasn’t fantastic. We passed many shallow ponds or flooded fields, each with rows of hundreds of crawfish traps half-submerged. A few times we saw farmers in flat-bottom boats with a revolving paddle in the stern. They were floating along the rows, pulling up the traps one by one and occasionally emptying a crawfish into a bucket in the boat.

We were told about Mardi Gras parades and the possibility of getting stuck in one. One man, fueling a small airplane, told us we had better pick a different street to ride on because we were on a parade route scheduled in the very near future. We successfully avoided any parade-related delays.

As I cooked our dinner, I noticed our stove fuel canister getting light. We have not been able to find butane-propane canisters along the way. I hope we can find fuel before we run out. I would hate to wake up without coffee and oatmeal.

We will have to wait on Steve’s birthday dinner; the situation does not look promising. I am sure we’ll find a nice little town with a nice little restaurant, and then we’ll celebrate.

Oberlin, Louisiana

Opelusas, LA to Oberlin, LA—We woke early and rode through rural roads and fresh air in the morning. We came across a small grocery store at about noon. A large hand-painted sign out front read: Hot Boudin + Cold Beer = Good Company. Not knowing what boudin was, Steve entered the store to find out. An old man indicated that boudin was a sausage with rice and spices, definitely a food of the locale. He also said that there two days that he didn’t prepare boudin: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As was our luck so far, it was Ash Wednesday. He paused a moment, then told his wife, who was standing at the end of the ancient store counter, that he would make an exception. He had a few leftover sausages in the refrigerator, and he would cook them up for us.

Boudin is pretty tasty. The seasoning was fantastic. We skipped the recommended beer and continued our ride. We noticed piles of purple and green beads on the side of the road for miles. These roads were the Mardi Gras parade routes. Thankfully, we weren’t stuck in any parades yesterday. Only beads on the side of the road and horse poop. Lots of beads and poop.

We saw a flock of white ibises in one of the crawfish fields. They stood out against the muddy water. A farmer driving his paddle boat startled them to flight; the sky was shimmering with the whites of their wings.

We rolled into Oberlin, and we were asking folks if the city park was available for camping. We asked one fellow at the local grocery store, and he said that it would be okay to camp nearly anywhere in town. We rode to the park, which was somewhat uninviting, and sat on park benches for a bit. The man we spoke to at the grocery store, Dale, drove by the park and invited us to have a drink at his place. We could set up tents on his lawn. We agreed.

About a mile on the bikes, we arrived at Dale and Terry’s home. Dale was cooking food on a grill. We had beer and ate. We learned that the couple were from Wisconsin. We chatted for a while, then prepared for bed.

Merryville, Louisiana

Oberlin, LA to Merryville, LA—We headed to Merryville in the usual morning fog. We had heard of bicyclists camping at the museum in town, but the phone number I had for the museum was no longer in use. We rode through DeRidder at about lunch time and decided to drop by the visitors’ center to find out if they knew anything about camping in Merryville. Surely they did, and the woman at the desk called a number—which was different than the one I had called—and verified that it was okay to set up our tents in the front lawn of the town museum.

Museums were the place to be today. We ate lunch at the DeRidder museum, then took a tour. Dolls were the highlight, and this particular collection featured over three thousand dolls, all owned by one person. The experience turned out to be mildly interesting, and we felt obligated to shove a couple of dollar bills into the wooden box near the door.

After leaving DeRidder, we were flagged down by a woman at her mailbox on the side of the road. She invited us to stay on the lawn of the town museum, with which she was somehow affiliated. It seems that everyone in these parts knows that cyclists can camp there.

When we arrived in Merryville, a man was just pulling up in his truck to unlock the restroom building—complete with showers—for us. I think the folks are thrilled to have cyclists ride through. He unlocked the doors to the main buliding as well, and we took our second museum tour of the day. After we were set up, we did our laundry at a truck stop and had dinner at a local restaurant. The food was fair, but we had to endure the imbecilic drivel of the owner, a rotund arrogant slob who obviously ate too much at his establishment. We returned to our tents to sleep.

Kountze, Texas

Merryville, LA to Kountze, TX—We are now in Texas and we will remain in Texas for many days. The weather good and there is a noticeable tailwind. We made good time today. We left Merryville and hit highway 96, a busy road with wide shoulders. Log trucks shoved the air violently. The riding seemed a blur. It was fast paced but uneventful.

I saw the silhouettes of cowboy hats through the windshields of trucks all day long. Nearly everyone in Texas drives a large pickup truck and wears a cowboy hat. The people here are friendly but difficult to understand. A thick, sincere dialect sort of rolls out of their mouths in a smooth jumble of words, some of which I have never heard before. The scenery is plain: flat terrain with pine trees. Wildlife is minimal.

We got a motel room in Kountze. There is no official place to camp in town. We decided against camping in Silsbee, a town eleven miles back, because it would have put us out of reach of a US Forest Service campground tomorrow. We’ll be well rested and able to make it from here.

I never thought I would be so sunburned and pocked with mosquito bites in March. The weather really has taken a turn for the better. I only hope the winds stay in our favor. It’s the difference between sixteen miles per hour and six miles per hour.

Coldspring, Texas

Kountze, TX to Coldspring, TX—We woke to a cool, clear morning. We were able to get rolling quickly because we slept indoors. The riding was again uneventful, but it was pleasant. I enjoy the rolling hills we have recently been introduced to. Central Texas should be nice in that respect.

Coldspring, the county seat, is a cheery town lined with antique shops and small boutiques. A massive courthouse sits in the center of town. When we arrived, we visited a row of antique shops. Steve bought a gift for Susie. We had some time before the sun set, so we meandered through the streets.

The campground is full tonight, with us filling the last available spot. We are near a small tree-lined lake. While there are many people here, it is peaceful and relatively quiet. We are both tired tonight. We shall sleep well I am sure.

Navasota, Texas

Coldspring, TX to Navasota, TX—The riding has become hilly, which, in my opinion, is a pleasant change. I can admire the surroundings at varying speeds, watching a fence post crawl by and then a stand of oaks race past in a blur.

We hit the town of Navasota in the late afternoon. We were expecting a more interesting town. It has a small-town look, but with none of the friendliness and warmth that so many tiny towns along our route embrace.

We were on our way out of town to the city RV park when we happened to spot a large pavilion on a grassy hill. It was the city park, a large abandoned plot of land on the edge of town. We checked it out and found it to be a perfect place to set up a couple of tents. It is nice to have free lodging now and then to offset the overpriced campgrounds we have been paying for.

I prepared another cold dinner in anticipation of us running our of fuel. We are getting close.

Lake Fayette, Texas

Navasota, TX to Lake Fayette, TX—There is a package for us at the Round Top post office, and there is talk of it weighing almost ten pounds. A package from Oregon to us, full of delightful things, waiting to be opened. That is our motivation today.

We rose to find the air foggy and sticky. We drank our coffee and began our ride. I can’t recall the details of the road because I was thinking about the box in Round Top, full of delightful things from Oregon.

Round Top in a fine little town, population 77. I bought a t-shirt at the general store. It says “Round Top, pop. 77″. The buildings are old and the roads are narrow. People scramble from one antique shop to another, then to get ice cream or some apparently authentic Mexican food. And in the corner of town is a post office; this post office has a large brown box with my name on it. It weighs almost ten pounds…

The box was opened in a very short amount of time. The letter was temporarily thrown aside while we took inventory of a plethora of candy, energy bars, a DVD full of music, magazines, candy, healthy snacks, and candy. The box of goods, prepared by my mother, my brother, and my girlfriend, was a thoughtful token; they may have overseen, however, our ability to carry our new belongings with us. We worked for some time to stuff every last chocolate chip cookie into small crevices in our panniers.

Barely rolling, we continued to our camp site. It was an expensive grassy hill with clouds of insects. We were on the shore of a lake, which we shared with a mammoth power plant some miles across the body of probably contaminated water. We were several yards from the boat launch, where fishermen noisily launched and gathered up their boats until midnight when the park closed.

But we didn’t really care; we have over a pound of M&Ms.

Bastrop, Texas

Lake Fayette, TX to Bastrop, TX—Today was a short ride, just over 50 miles. We began the day on quiet, rural roads. We rode along steep, ungraded state park roads towards the end of the day. While the climbs and descents were challenging at times, the scenery was terrific, well worth the burning muscles in our legs.

As we exited the park into Bastrop, we happened upon a restaurant on the side of the highway. It was named, appropriately enough, The Roadhouse. The city of Bastrop is located in a large basin, and we were on the edge looking into it. Our choices for dinner were to ride down a very steep hill to a grocery store and climb back out, or to have dinner at The Roadhouse. We chose the restaurant. It looked inviting: a faded metal building with solid wooden floors set in a dusty parking lot.

Our server, who was also the owner, had just returned from Portland where she was visiting friends. We spoke for a bit, then ordered two bottles of Shiner Bock, our favorite Texan beer. Dinner was good, a jalapeno and cream cheese burger and an avocado and swiss burger.

Afterwards, we rolled to the fairgrounds to see if we could avoid paying for camping. We entered the rodeo arena and set up our tents against the concessions stand. We had the place to ourselves.

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas

Bastrop, TX to McKinney Falls State Park, TX—Our stove fuel ran two days ago. No coffee. No oatmeal. No hot dinner. We needed fuel. Unfortunately, the fuel canisters we require are difficult to come by. We hadn’t seen any since Orlando. I had called perhaps fifty sporting goods stores, and the common response to my question about their inventory of isobutane/propane fuel canisters for small backpacking stoves was, “…what?” So now it looked as though we had one option. There is an REI in Austin. We would need to get there.

Our map showed a route through Austin, but it warned of bad traffic and poor riding conditions. We decided to go anyway. As we split from the main route, we felt a bit isolated. We were in foreign territory. There was no guarantee of good traffic; in fact, traffic would almost certainly be bad. The roads were quiet because it was early in the morning.

As we crossed the city limit, traffic increased dramatically. Already thirty miles into the ride, and were were on the far end of town. I had plotted out a rout the night before using information I found on the internet about bicycle-friendly roads. Traffic was heavy. We made a few wrong turns. Afternoon approached. We were at the intersection on two state highways and an interstate. The familiar REI logo was visible in the distance. We were tired.

We got to the store and bought four canisters of fuel. I also bought new bicycle gloves, a set of new tires, a new cook kit, soap, an inner tube, and several other items. I was just happy to be in a familiar setting. Steve exchanged his shoes because the ones he bought at the Oregon REI before we left were apparently defective.

The bike service department helped plan a route out of the city. It was longer than the one we took in, but we took their advice to avoid the traffic, which was only getting worse as the day dragged on. We left and headed south to where we started the day. We would camp at McKinney Falls State Park.

Tired and sore, we settled in to our campsite as it was getting dark. We have vague memories of downtown Austin and the beautiful capitol campus, but it was a blur intertwined with strings of cars and traffic lights. Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to appreciate Austin. We slept well. We would have coffee in the morning.

Blanco, Texas

McKinney Falls State Park, TX to Blanco, TX—Finally finished with Austin, we embarked westward again. Traffic was heavy for a bit, and then became sparse as we left the population center. We had fierce headwinds to fight all day and rolling hills. Traffic again became busy, and the road provided no shoulder. We were so focused on maintaining a straight line with cars screaming past that we were unable to enjoy the scenery. Steve and I were run off the road a few times by careless drivers.

We pushed onward with the hope of relaxing in town, but we arrived in Blanco fairly late and decided to eat at a restaurant, quickly do our laundry and get to bed. We just learned that March is New Mexico’s windiest month, with sustained thirty to forty mile per hour winds heading east. I wish someone had told us that about six months ago. I suppose it just means we will be stronger when we return. And so ends my complaints about the wind, at least temporarily.

Dinner was a couple of hamburgers and a pound of french fries in a restaurant connected to the service station in town. The food was inexpensive, and worth every penny.

Kerrville, Texas

Blanco, TX to Kerrville, TX—Our route follows the Guadeloupe River for many miles. The valley that holds the blue-green water is serene; trees and grass growing within the river’s reach are verdant. We crossed the shallow channel today half a dozen times on low concrete bridges.

I had spoken with my uncle on the phone about perhaps meeting today, and we decided to rendezvous in a state park outside of Kerrville. When we rode into Kerrville-Schreiner State Park, the Odoms were already there. Janette had prepared a casserole, a dish that is well-known in the family as Sackie’s Mess. We ate well on the banks of the river. This was the third consecutive dinner that I did not prepare. We are becoming spoiled.

Dusk is falling swiftly. There is a group of perhaps two dozen ten-year-olds camping within a hundred feet of us. The noise emanating from the swarm is enough to drive a man crazy. In addition, every one them has either a glow stick or an empty plastic tube and is covered in glowing liquid. Several glow sticks dangle from the trees. The ironic “quiet whistle” has pierced the chorus of hellish screams several times. Helpless adults scramble to round the demons into tiny little tents. I almost hope it rains three inches tonight to wash their camp into the river.

Leakey, Texas

Kerrville, TX to Leakey, TX—Just when I thought Texas Hill Country was flattening out into vast expanses, we hit some substantial hills. We rode steep grades cut into the side of rock faces. Big, daunting hills. It was a lovely day of riding. I saw the first roadrunner of our tour sprinting wildly across a rocky ditch.

Our final descent put us in Leakey. The town had a warm feel, despite resembling a ghost town. We approached the sole grocery store just as the owner was locking the front door. She apologized about the timing, but easily gained our favor when she said we could camp on the lawn behind the store. With lodging taken care of, we decided to try our luck at a birthday dinner, something we were both owed: each a year older, each without sufficient celebration.

We asked a young lady passing by which of the two restaurants in town was better. As a waitress at one of the establishments, she suggested we dine at her place tonight. We agreed. We both ordered fish. The meal was delightful, complete with a couple of beers, dessert, and coffee. At last, the two of us had celebrated out birthdays officially. We ate our fill. We savored every bite. We paid the bill with a bit of cash designated for such an occasion, a gift from my grandmother.

Upon our return to the lawn behind the grocery store, a sheriff deputy spotted us and drove his squad car to the far end of the lot. He was barely able to fit his mass into the driver’s seat. He had a sweaty forehead and his uniform was wrinkled. I approached him, and he cast a bright beam of white light in my face, presumably to limit my gawking at the collection of fat rolls set under his chin. He rudely asked what we were doing. I politely answered. When he was satisfied that we were not breaking any laws, he drove off without a word. I can only imagine that his cholesterol-encrusted heart was racing with excitement when he realized that we were potential law-breakers. I felt that I had let him down. He wanted so badly to catch me in some sort of illegal act. In hindsight, I should have asked him to stop by in a couple of hours to check up on us. That would have given him something constructive to do, anyway.

Brackettville, Texas

Leakey, TX to Brackettville, TX—Our ride was long. We started the day in a big hole. The climb out was a big one. Traffic was sparse and people were friendly. We rolled into Bracketville with time to spare. As I was buying groceries, Steve was asking locals if there was a place to stay in town. One man, the owner of an RV park, invited us to stay for free at his establishment. We found the park on Alibi Hill just outside of town. We set up our tents in a deteriorating gazebo and headed to the restaurant and bar next door.

We had a couple of Shiner Bocks and spoke with a few of the locals. Heading back to our tents, I planned dinner. We had sauteed vegetables and scrambled eggs in tortillas. The wind is becoming more noticeable. The flags strung to the pole outside of the Alibi Hill RV park were as stiff as if they had been starched, and they were pointing east.

Amistad National Recreation Area, Texas

Brackettville, TX to Amistad National Recreation Area, TX—Our map shows a beautiful oasis known as Amistad National Recreation Area. We rode through Del Rio and arrived there in the afternoon. A nice ride, although windy.

When we arrived in Del Rio, we looked for a Mexican restaurant. We had been hoping for some good Mexican food for a while. We asked one of the checkers at our grocery stop if she could recommend a place to get a taco. She pointed up the road, and we headed that way. Steve and I had very good fajitas at a small shack on the side of the road. There were fresh vegetables and rice and beans as well. Not too pricey. A spanish speaking staff. Excellent.

We turned off Interstate 90 and rolled towards the first of many campgrounds at Amistad. The dusty, gravel road led us to a spot on the Amistad Reservoir. We paid four dollars to stay. Steve spotted a plethora of shore birds in the mud near the water. I changed a flat tire, which had been slowly leaking air for a week. The stars were bright. Not a sound in the air except for a breeze out of the west.

Langtry, Texas

Amistad National Recreation Area, TX to Langrty, TX—Well, we got a surprise: wind from the east. I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to live in the Willamette Valley, where an occasional breeze slides through the treetops. Here, the wind is howling all the time. Lucky for us—at least for now—it’s howling down our strip of asphalt. And so we traveled at great speeds.

Yesterday in Del Rio, Steve spoke with a security officer at one of our grocery stops. Leo, after being complained to by Steve, promised to steer the winds in our favor. After thoughtful silence, he whispered something and blew into a cupped hand and managed some other mystical hand gestures. He assured us that it would do the trick. And I guess it did. I feel like I ought to believe it anyway, or the winds will resume their attack on us. Leo saved the day with voodoo or black magic. Or something.

The hills flattened out today. We headed towards Langtry, home of Justice of the Peace Roy Bean. The town is empty except for a small store and a visitors center. Our maps indicate the store being a grocery store, which was good because we were out of food. Unfortunately, the store sold souvenirs, one bag of potato chips, and several stale sandwiches. Disappointed, we bought two sandwiches, which were nothing more than a slice of cheese, one piece of meat, and spongy bread.

The visitors center was just closing, so we would investigate it tomorrow. We made for some old community center building to set up camp. We were hungry. I knew prickly pear cactus, which has been a common sight for the past several hundred miles, was edible, so I set out to cook some up for us. In the grocery store, the large green pads are called nopalitos and are plump and green. The prickly pear I found were water-starved and grayish green. I sliced the healthiest pad I could find and started to peel it. After gouging my fingers several times on the sharp spines, I succeeded in removing the skin. I tasted the bright green flesh inside. It was awful. Bitter and fibrous. We ate stale sandwiches.

Alpine, Texas

Study Butte, TX to Alpine, TX—It was time to leave the company of the Odoms. We woke up early in an effort to keep the eighty mile day within grasp. Eighty miles straight north to Alpine to rejoin the route. It would be a quick reintroduction to the exhausting work we have been doing for the last few weeks. The day rides were fun, but eighty miles with a full load can’t compare to even the longest ride without the weight of panniers.

We drank our coffee and ate out oatmeal. We packed up our gear, which had slowly expanded and become scattered through the Odoms’ RV. There was sort of a lukewarm “goodbye” by the family, and then we were off. As we rode north to Alpine out of the RV park, a herd of Odoms on bicycle joined us. They rode alongside us for a bit, then turned off.

The hills were steep, but the wind was in our favor. It was overcast. The scenery was repetitive: rolling hills with sparse vegetation. We were stopped by the Border Patrol. We chatted for a bit about the remainder of the ride into Alpine. We all agreed it was hilly.

One more big climb, then a descent into the city. We saw the Sul Ross State University campus laid across the valley, along with some small stores and service stations. We stopped at a natural food store I had read about in Big Bend. I bought couscous and some organic vegetables to cook. Steve asked about lodging and the woman running the store invited us to stay in back of the building for the night. It had a covered area, and a storm was approaching. We accepted.

Sure enough, after we walked up the street to get some coffee from a small cafe, it began to rain. We hurried back to the covered area and set up camp. Lightning could be seen beyond the hills. As I was unpacking my gear, I cam across a canister of steel BBs that Gene had slipped into my panniers. I had carted the nearly ten pound container eighty miles over steep hills today. A little retribution for all my trash-talking on the hills in Big Bend, I suppose. Fair enough.

Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area, Texas

Alpine, TX to Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area, TX—After some gray skies yesterday, the weather looked a little better. It rained last night. Our ride took us through high elevations and small towns. We stopped in Fort Davis to look at the row of shops on main street. The smell of lunch was seeping through a screen door on an old building at the end of the row. We stopped in. We ordered milkshakes and large lunch entrees. We studied the map and left, knowing a climb to McDonald Observatory was next on our agenda.

The terrain was pretty as we crept up the hills towards one of the largest telescopes in the world. Their tours ended at five. We would have to ride hastily to make it. The wind was not helping. At one point we stopped to have a snack and two bananas and a jar of mayonnaise blew off the table we had set them on.

We crept on. The day crept on. The were beginning to realize that we would be unable to make it to the observatory before it closed to the public. We reached a peak where three telescope domes were set. We made the final climb to the visitors center to find water. We would need to get some for our dry camping tonight. The place was deserted. We spoke to one person, just leaving. Still no hint on where to find water. Eventually we tracked down an observatory employee who led us to a faucet.

Disappointed, we descended a small distance down the other side of the peak to a remote picnic area. We set up tents. It was cold. There were clouds in the sky and the wind was howling. We made a small fire to try to stay warm. We remained cold. Lightning could be seen across the horizon. As we crawled into our tents, the clouds blew past and stars could be seen. It looked as though we would be spared the rainfall, and I could now see why they built telescopes in the area: the Milky Way was smeared across a black sky. There was no trace of blue; only black and white. And I could imagine how cold it might be in space.

Plateau, Texas

Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area, TX to Plateau, TX—We continued our descent down the mountains. The wind was at our faces, blowing thirty miles per hour with gusts of over fifty. We had to push hard to ride the steep decline. Coasting was not an option, we would be blown to a halt if we stopped pedaling. Occasionally a gust from the side would knock us off the road. We would steady the bike, walk it back to the pavement, and continue.

We crawled off the side of the road and hid in a drainage ditch for a bit. The wind did not let up. We had our first stretch of Interstate 10 to ride soon. We were not looking forward to seventy mile per hour traffic added to the riding conditions.

We hit the town of Kent, an intersection with a service station and convenience store. We had lunch on the side of the building, slightly shielded from the wind. Then we were off at about three miles per hour on the massive road west. Traffic was heavy, but our shoulder was wide and smooth. Our knees hurt as we pedaled to maintain three our four miles per hour for a couple of hours. We found a truck stop as darkness fell. We decided to get dinner and find a place to camp.

It was wonderful being indoors. I washed my face with warm water in the restroom. I made four trips to an all-you-can-eat salad bar. I could have done five. Steve ordered a Mexican plate. The food was not great, but it was appreciated. The owner of the truck stop told us to camp around back. We set up our tents, which almost blew away.

The owner told us the wind would eventually blow itself out. I saw a weather forecast that suggested the same: tomorrow, winds would actually be coming out of the east. Hard to believe, I thought.

The stars were again covering the sky, which suggested a dry night. As we prepared for sleep, the wind decreased velocity. The screaming in our ears ceased. The air was suddenly still. I felt like we were in the eye of a tornado. Steve and I looked around in amazement. The air was hot. Then, as suddenly as it had stopped, the wind began again. It was blowing from the east, and with the same velocity.

I could never live in a place where the wind ruled. Your best friend, your bitter enemy. Tomorrow we will try for big miles. We have the wind to our backs and a nice, smooth surface.

Fabens, Texas

Plateau, TX to Fabens, TX—We woke early. It was cold. The wind was blowing our way, but we could not fathom riding in the near-freezing temperature. We went back to sleep.

Our second awakening suggested that we would have to ride in cold conditions. We packed up. Breakfast would be had indoors at the truck stop. We scrambled into the restaurant section of the building. Just moving from our tent site to the breakfast table made our noses runny and our cheeks pink and numb. We ordered pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and a carafe of coffee.

Full of cheap, greasy trucker food, we decided to ride off a few calories. We swung our legs over the cold metal frames of our bikes. The wind helped us along, and soon we were traveling at twenty miles per hour with little effort. We reached our stopping point at lunchtime. We had to move on; the prevailing winds would return soon enough. We had to capitalize on the tailwind.

Our route indicated that we would be on frontage roads paralleling Interstate 10. After careful consideration, we left the route to join I-10. Big miles were in our heads, and the straight, smooth road would take us there. Traffic was heavy, but the shoulder was wide. We rode.

And we rode. Our plan was to continue until the sun dropped below the peaks along the Rio Grande. As the sun was setting, we pulled into a town called Fabens. Looking at my odometer, I was pleasantly surprised. One hundred thirteen and two tenths miles. Steve decided that we would sleep at a motel; we had earned a soft bed and a shower.

After settling down, we ventured to the convenience store across the street. After some friendly conversation with the store owner, we were invited to wash our clothes in his personal washing machine in the back office. This was a good thing. Our clothes were becoming grayish brown and beginning to smell like a foot.

We enjoyed dinner, prepared by me, and drank a couple of beers. I had been in contact with the Gene on the phone. The Odoms were in El Paso. Once again, we would meet them. We planned for an easy day of riding tomorrow.

El Paso, Texas

Fabens, TX to El Paso, TX—We rode to San Elizario to meet the Odoms. The town is rich with history: it was once south of the Rio Grande and part of Mexico, but it became part of the United States when the great river changed its course. We toured the museum with the family. Gene suggested that we throw our gear the back of the truck and ride unloaded with him into El Paso. Janette and the boys would take the truck back. But first, we had lunch at a mexican restaurant. It was a small, dirty establishment, but the cheap food was authentic. Very tasty.

The winds were gross. We were being thrown across the shoulder of the road by strong gusts. There were puffs of brown dust suspended in the air around us. We were glad we weren’t hauling our heavy luggage.

We made it across town to the RV park through heavy traffic. We were able to relax and enjoy the vast Franklin Mountains and the light blue sky. Lazily, we visited and marveled at the miles we have traveled. Tomorrow we will take a day off at go to Juarez. We have earned it.

El Paso, Texas; Rest Day

El Paso, TX—Gene found a shuttle service that would take us across the border to El Paso’s neighboring city, Juarez. We parked downtown and caught the trolly. As we approached the river, the English language seemed to disappear; street names and storefronts all featured Spanish words. Most of the people on the streets were Mexican. We crossed a bridge over the Rio Grande, which was a trickle of water constrained by concrete.

We stopped a short while later and walked along the sidewalk past numerous small shops. We passed the masses of high pressure salespeople who insisted that we buy an assortment of cheap glass windchimes, bandanas, leather wallets, and a million other things that may or may not have even been made in Mexico. What a concept, to buy a Mexican souvenir made in Indonesia.

We had lunch in the vast courtyard of an attractive restaurant. The manager greeted us and gave us a tour of the grounds. He explained that he had grown up in the house that was now a successful dining establishment. Inside and out, his home had been transformed into a work of art that could seat several hundred patrons inside, and many more in the courtyard. There was a loosely organized clutter of murals and statues, fountains and antiques. The food was good, the margaritas plentiful.

After some more wandering through markets and down sidewalks, we boarded the trolley and hurried towards the line of cars waiting to return to El Paso. United States customs was checking every vehicle and every person, and the process was slow. Finally free of the gridlock at the border, we made our way back to the RV park as the sun was setting.

I helped Zac and Cory set up a web page of their own, We’ll continue to develop it as time allows. Cory was able to understand the technical concepts required to create a web site, so worked together through the evening writing some brilliant hypertext. Zac was able to add creative influence to the project.

Tomorrow we shall part with the Odoms. While we can’t be sure, I think this will be the last rendezvous with them on the tour. It has been an unexpected facet of the trip. We have been able to see Big Bend and Juarez and we have rested and eaten well. We owe a debt to the Odoms’ hospitality. One more night in the comfort of the RV, then it’s westward again.

Percha Dam, New Mexico

El Paso, TX to Percha Dam, NM—Gene picked a route out of El Paso. Instead of skirting the Franklin Mountains to the south as our maps would suggest, we were to plow right over the top of them. Exciting. We drank coffee and prepared our things.

The ride began early, so traffic was minimal. We escaped the dense tangle of freeways and headed for the hills. Gene and I rode at a quick pace. Steve dropped back a little. We climbed the mountains and reached the top to find a fantastic view of the city. Gene decided to continue with us for a bit. We descended quickly; my speedometer registered forty eight miles per hour.

Before long, we had reached the New Mexico border. It almost didn’t register in my mind. We were finally out of Texas. My God, I thought we were trapped there forever. We were moving through a new state. Texas was behind us. Wow.

Gene continued riding with us for a bit more, then finally peeled off to return to the RV park. He would end up riding about sixty miles that day. We figured we might do about the same, but as the miles flew by, we opted for a further stopping point. We were paced to make it to Percha Dam just before dark, a little over a hundred miles from El Paso.

Our pace changed when Steve got a flat tire. I was ahead of him and I received a phone call. Steve had borrowed the cell phone of a Mexican family whose driveway he had pulled into. I backtracked and helped change the tube. Now we would finiah in the dark. We covered ourselves with lights and continued in the dusk. Our last turn was onto a two mile dirt road, which was very difficult to navigate in complete darkness. At long last, we found the grassy campground where we could set up our tents and sleep. A tremendous rush of water was crashing over an unseen dam. The sound was soothing. We had ridden one hundred ten miles.

Iron Creek Campground, New Mexico

Percha Dam, NM to Iron Creek Campground, NM—Emory Pass would be our big obstacle today. The highest point on the tour, we reached an elevation of over eight thousand feet. There was snow on the ground as we crawled switchback after switchback. The air was thin and cold. The pale sunlight was distant.

I waited for Steve to crest the last hill. Our day nearly over, we coasted to the first campground on the other side of the pass. It was a United States Forest Service campground with no water. We had brought enough water to make dinner and coffee in the morning, however. Tomorrow would a a long, satisfying downhill.

We decided that we would ride north tomorrow to Gila Hot Springs to see the cliff dwellings. The route crossed the mountains again, then dropped into the Gila River valley. We would do more climbing and descending, quite a bit more in fact.

Gila Hot Springs, New Mexico

Iron Creek, NM to Grapevine Campground, Gila Hot Springs, NM—Ready to commit to the route through Gila Hot Springs, we broke away from an alternate route which was much shorter and flatter. The wind kept our speed low on the flats, and the hills kept our speed even lower on the hills. We would have a massive climb and a steep descent to enter Gila wilderness. After coming across several closed grocery stores, we finally managed to get the owner of the store at Lake Roberts to temporarily open his store so we could buy some food. Our groceries were overpriced, but it was all we could find on a Sunday.

The main climb was mentally difficult because we knew we would be riding back out the next day. And it was steep. The uphill was a five mile per hour pace for a couple of hours. The downhill was too steep to enjoy; it passed like a blur, my hands frantically trying to grab the brakes to keep my speed below forty miles per hour. There were no guard rails on the tight turns and switchbacks, and I could imagine myself launching over the cracked surface of the road and hurtling into an abyss several hundred feet down.

We finally got our bikes to stop, and with hot rims and brake pads, we slowly rolled into a campground called Grapevine. It was dry, but we had packed water. The only unfortunate aspect of the area was the lack of picnic tables. We started a small fire to keep warm and sat on some large rocks. We prepared our overpriced dinner in our laps. Tomorrow we shall take a tour of the cliff dwellings. As happy as I am, I can’t help but worry about dragging myself back out of the hole we’re in.

Pinos Altos, New Mexico

Gila Hot Springs, NM to Pinos Altos, NM—We rose to the rushing sound of the Gila River just north of camp. I slept well, except that I was stirred from unconsciousness several times when the wind shifted in such a way as to waft the odor of a decaying javelina towards my tent. Steve and I confirmed the source of the foul odor yesterday. Also unpleasant was the number of people who had arrived in the campground late last. At least three vehicles and half a dozen dogs roamed the wooded hills for some time before settling down. I was surrounded by growling dogs at one point in the night. They were eventually called off by their owners, but not before I was left a bit uncomfortable and annoyed.

We readied ourselves for the short ride to the Gila cliff dwellings. More downhill. Riding back over the pass would be nightmarish. At this point we could only hope that the national monument was worth the pain. We arrived at the visitors center and milled about. A man was trying out the Native American flutes they sold in the gift shop. He was able to exactly replicate the music on the CDs they were also selling in the gift shop. A talented musician to be sure.

We left to ride to the caves where ancient man apparently lived many years ago. There were about five others getting ready to walk to the caves, and this was a surprise; we had expected the crowd to be large and obnoxious, much like the mobs at Old Faithful we remembered from our previous tour. We paid our three bucks apiece and walked the trail to the cliff dwellings. The ruins were fantastic. Deep caves with stone-walled rooms built into them served as protection from enemies and the elements. Things were well-preserved. We spent some time walking through dozens of rooms in several large caves.

Short on time, we made lunch and drank a cup of coffee that the park ranger had offered us. He said, “What are we, if we are not hospitable.” The uphill commenced immediately. About ten miles later and almost two thousand feet, we were on top of the pass that separated the Gila wilderness from the rest of the world. We were both weary, but the descent was sweet. Traffic was light. We returned to the depression on the other side where we had stood the day before. Now to climb an equally lofty pass towards the west. A mental challenge, we pushed the pedals and climbed again. Dusk was falling upon us. We passed up two dry campgrounds because we didn’t have very much water. Turning down an offer from a gentleman we met on the road to stay at the fire station in Silver City, we opted for a shorter day at the RV park in Pinos Altos, seven miles short of our goal. We would have been riding in the dark. The hills were killers today. Our speed was low, our legs and minds tired. We decided that we ought to get a cabin for the night because it looked like it might rain. It’s clearing up a bit now, but a bed under a roof is nonetheless a luxury I can enjoy.

Coal Creek Campground, Arizona

Pinos Altos, NM to Coal Creek Campground, AZ—It remained dry last night, but the clouds became daunting early in the day, gathering around the foothills of the surrounding mountains. We rolled. It rained. We made it to the small town of Buckhorn and scrambled under the awning of the post office. Steve called Susie at a nearby telephone to check in. I waited for the rain to stop. There was an RV park next door, and we were very close to calling it a day and staying there. At the last minute, Steve decided that we should ride in the rain because he thought it would clear up.

An hour later, it began to clear. Had we stayed back, we would be in some soggy, overpriced RV park wondering what to do for the rest of the day. As it turned out, we were headed along rolling hills towards California. We rode State Route 78, a nice alternative to the busier US highways we had been pedaling on.

We climbed a pass into Arizona and wondered where New Mexico had gone. My spirit is lifted; we are almost done. We are really moving. We needed the satisfaction of blowing through a state in a hurry, especially after we had come to believe we would spend the rest of our lives in Texas.

We hit a Forest Service campground and set up. There was no one else around. We stood by our fire in perfect quiet and enjoyed dinner, steam slowly rising from two plastic bowls full of the casserole I made. Tomorrow we will clear another pass, then descend into Safford or Thatcher, two mining towns down the road.

Safford, Arizona

Coal Creek Campground, AZ to Safford, AZ—What should have been the best descent of the tour was ruined by high winds. I don’t mean to dwell on such things, but the wind made riding impossible. We left the Coal Creek campground and climbed a short distance to the pass. As we reached the top, the forest opened into a vast canyon and the road below unfolded in a beautiful ribbon of downward angled curves. We worked hard to inch along the steep declines, where we would have been coasting at thirty and forty miles per hour in still air.

We dropped a couple thousand feet into a basin. Without the help of gravity at the bottom, we were now nearly unable to keep the bikes upright. We made it to a junction with a gas station and a small grocery store. We bought ice cream. As we ate, the roar of the wind was still in our ears. Our route left the basin and climbed westward. We rode on. Steve’s knee began to hurt. I was averaging about three miles per hour. Steve was walking his bike. The wind velocity was around forty miles per hour, gusting to well over fifty.

I wanted to ride on, but Steve could barely bend his knee. He stuck out his thumb.

And someone stopped. A young man driving a Jeep pulled off the road and we decided to get a ride to Safford. I initially refused assistance, but at our current pace, it would be well after dark before we would arrive at our destination. We loaded the bikes into Stan’s car and piled into the passenger seat.

Stan worked at the Phelps Dodge copper mine in the area, the fifth largest open pit mine in the world. He told us about the staggering amount of copper ore extracted every day by the huge dump trucks. A very interesting area. The mining company actually owned the nearby towns. As Stan struggled to keep his car straight in the wind, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We arrived in Safford and got a motel room. We needed a rest.

We will soon decide whether we ride tomorrow. We might take another day off. We were battered today. Not a fun ride.

Safford, Arizona; Rest Day

Safford, AZ—We chose to stay another day at the motel. It was the first rest day we would take that did not have a plan. We would relax and recover. The city had a laundromat, so we cleaned our clothes. We ate sandwiches at Subway. We mailed some of our unneeded items home at the post office.

It was good to take care of some business. I felt ready to try riding again. Steve’s knee was still bothering him, but he remarked on its improvement. We shall see of his old joints hold out. We ate at a Mexican restaurant, Stan’s recommendation. A bit of chocolate afterwards, and now for bed.

Globe, Arizona

Safford, AZ to Globe, AZ—The warmth of a soft bed made it difficult to get going. The hot shower helped. And the coffee. We packed up and left the motel. A gradual descent and a few short climbs later, we were fifty miles down the road, just into San Carlos Apache Reservation. Our average speed was around sixteen miles per hour. We stopped to have lunch in Peridot. As we ate, the prevailing wind regained control, and our average speed dropped to about ten miles per hour for the rest of the day.

We entered the long sprawl of Globe early in the day. I bought groceries for dinner and we made our way to the community center to set up camp. Shortly after we finished eating, Amy, another cyclist we had met earlier in the day, pulled up. She is traveling the same route as we are. So tonight there are three tents on the lawn. We’ll see if our pace is compatible; we may see Amy for another day, or perhaps until we reach the Pacific.

Apache Junction, Arizona

Globe, AZ to Apache Junction, AZ—Our goal today was to reach the east side of the Phoenix conglomeration. Tomorrow, Sunday, we would ride through Mesa and Tempe and Phoenix and out of the metropolis. Although we tactically planned a weekend crossing, we were expecting bad traffic and a poor route.

The ride today took us through the rest of Globe, which had nearly no redeeming qualities except that it eventually ended and we were able to resume travel along the highway. I did enjoy the ruins at the park we stayed in last night. A series of stone houses built by native Americans. I toured the historic site alone in the morning before we left.

Amy got a ride at some point in the day. We found her in Apache junction. She was trying to get another ride across the city because she was not comfortable riding the busy streets. We parted with her at a grocery store and headed off route about six miles to our camp. Hours later, she stopped by our camp site to let us know that she was staying in the same campground.

The place was very nice. Usery Mountain. There were birds making homes in the massive cactus. The sun turned the sky pink, then orange. We enjoyed the scenery, keeping in mind the cloud of smog hovering over a section of the horizon we guessed to be Phoenix. It was a reminder of tomorrow’s ride. We hoped for the best.

Wickenburg, Arizona

Apache Junction, AZ to Wickenburg, AZ—Nice sunrise. Saw Amy leaving before sun-up. She was going to try and make Wickenburg.

Started with an 8 mile coast, 5 back to the route. Tailwind almost all day, but very gentle. 60 miles of cycling through Phoenix and the 10 or so towns attached. Very pleasant with good surfaces and mostly bike paths. Once it went for 8 and a half miles. After leaving the city we biked 35 more miles for a 95 mile day. I’m tired and sore. Last 25 or so was on very bad pavement, slightly uphill. Same crappy surface we finished on yesterday: Hwy. 60. On it all day tomorrow. It has huge cracks about every 10 feet that jar your teeth you ride over them.

In an RV park that’s $10. Hot shower.

From Mickey:

As much as Steve complained about my decision to ride off route to the campground last night, he agreed the ride back was very pleasant. We began our day with a gentle downhill into quiet suburbs in Mesa. Traffic was non-existent. Every home had a gravel front yard with a variety of succulent plants, very often a twenty foot cactus. There were birds living in holes in the larger cactus.

Harcuvar, Arizona

Wickenburg, AZ to Harcuvar, AZ—We decided in the morning, against our better judgement, to buy breakfast instead of having our morning ritual of coffee and oatmeal. The glow of the golden arches across the street from the RV park must have worked some evil hypnosis in my sleep; I had a craving for those rubbery, perfectly round discs they sold as pancakes. I am not sure why. Even the thought of McDonald’s coffee was passing through my head as not entirely repulsive.

We packed our things and headed across the busy highway to the establishment that boasts “billions and billions served”. Maybe that’s why I wanted a McDonald’s breakfast: there was no preparation to be sure, but more importantly, I wanted to belong. I wanted to be part of the billions who called themselves part of the McDonald’s family. A good pal of Ronald himself. That slogan is flawed, of course. You can’t count me every time I come in and order a cheeseburger. It should say “millions served thousands of times” or “millions served and average of 1539.7 times” or “we’ve probably served you before”. I wonder what it would be like to enter a McDonald’s for the first time.

I snapped out of my McHypnosis with a cup of coffee. We reviewed the map and decided we would ride about sixty miles today. I checked the weather last night and saw that we were in for warm weather and moderate wind. We finished our pancakes and set off. The scenery was dull. Distant mountains and small shrubs. Flat, straight road.

From Steve:

No proprietor at the RV park in Harcuvar. Mickey called him. He us to camp anywhere (for $10) and to make ourselves at home. Had a kitchen, 2 refrigerators, stove, utensils, etc. Nice covered and walled patio with lights. Good shower. Cooked up a nice dinner. Leftovers for breakfast.

Called Mom. She told me Maureen lives in San Diego now! Got her number.

Palo Verde, California

Harcuvar, AZ to Palo Verde, CA—I got up at 5:30. The wind had been howling all night and it was supposed to blow big today. The flags were still. Woke Mickey and we went to the kitchen for a big breakfast. Went fast since we could cook several things at the same time.

Figured we could get 20 miles done before the winds hit, maybe 30 if lucky. Got in nearly 60 before 1:00. Winds finally hit us, but we did another 23.

Primitive campground on Colorado River. I took a bath in it as soon as we arrived. Finally talked Mickey into joining me. As he was getting out he realized he had his phone in his pocket. Immediately took it apart to dry out. We’ll see if it works tomorrow.

Called Maureen earlier. She is excited to meet us and will help us out with bike boxing and airport transportation.

Brawley, California

Palo Verde, CA to Brawley, CA—Winds during the night had to be 60-70 mph. Fine dust blew right into our tents covering us with dirt. We just got into our bags and held on. Didn’t have flies on. Don’t think it would have helped. Couldn’t sleep for the chaos. My knees were in excruciating pain. It was a miserable night.

Started out in the gale-force winds—right in our faces of course. 3-4 mph riding. Short rolling hills with short sight lines and moderate traffic, but the traffic was very fast. In two and a half hours we did 13 miles. I stuck out my thumb. A Mexican couple picked us up in their very small pickup. We huddled in the bed of the pickup with our bikes and stuff for 50 miles. My knee was hurting and we never would have made it to a campsite. I gave them $20 for gas and took their picture. We rode 4.5 miles north on Best Road—the world’s worst road—with a 40-50 mph crosswind. Turned east a mile and a half (all off route) to campground. 19 mph without turning the cranks once!

Ocotillo, California

Brawley, CA to Ocotillo, CA—Woke to calm air. Is that possible? Very nice ride through the Imperial Valley, some it below sea level. Made many stops and took our time. Some of the roads were very rough, but traffic was light.

Picked up a package from Fred and Anna in Imperial: a bottle of Dead Guy Ale and one of Arrogant Bastard Ale, both Rogue Brewery concoctions. In a soft cooler were about 2 dozen chocolate chip cookies. Called Fred to thank him. There was a note explaining that we should put the beer in the cooler on ice, which we did shortly before our ending spot.

Rode through the Yuba Desert. Excellent surface with huge shoulder.

Our RV park had a rec. center with full kitchen, TV with about 200 movies, shower, laundry. We were invited to stay in the rec. room—all for free to cyclists. We left a $10 tip.

Cibbet Flat Campground, California

Ocotillo, CA to Cibbet Flat Campground, CA—Started with about a 15 mile 6-7% climb almost all on I-8. Good shoulder. OK ride. Still near top.

Got to our campground at about 3:30. The campground was closed. Called USFS and were told there was another campground fairly close. We backtracked for one mile and were told that we needed to go 2 miles on Kitchen Creek Rd. We didn’t know it was a very steep climb (with a couple of fast downhills that will be climbs tomorrow) and more than twice as far as we were told. $10 for pit toilets and a table.

It’s cold now and will get into the 30s. Snowed here last week. Talked earlier to cyclists who were stuck near here for 3 days in the snow.

Last night of tour!

San Diego, California

Cibbet Flat Campground, CA to San Diego, CA—Up before the sun today. Early winds were from the east. Had a very nice mostly downhill for the first 6 or 7 miles. Desert-mountain terrain. No traffic at all.

Rest of day was mostly downhill on a variety of surfaces and conditions. We enjoyed most of it as it was the last day. Moderate to heavy headwinds most of day. Surface very rough in some of San Diego. Warm and sunny, though. Used up all of our food and threw away what we didn’t need.

Maureen met us at the end. Took pictures and relaxed on the beach.

Rode to the bike shop nearby. Boxed bikes and sent them home Fed-Ex.

Had a nice Mexican dinner with Maureen and Amy. Seeing San Diego tomorrow.

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