Archive for the 'The United States' Category

09
Nov
08

Approaching the Rio Grande

    My stay in Corpus Christi turned out to be far more delightful than I could have possibly anticipated, thanks to my wonderful host, Ken.  After saving me from the gale-force winds, Ken drove us the remainder of the way in to Corpus Christi and up to his home which was shrouded in lush tropical plants billowing in the afternoon winds.  We headed inside and once I had scrubbed the three days of sweat and sunscreen from my skin, I went to join Ken in the kitchen where he had prepared satisfying lunch accompanied by a tall, icy-cold glass of raspberry green tea (which I am now addicted to and have purchased three boxes of the instant mix powder for my trip).  As we sat in the kitchen conversing, full refreshing breezes flowed in through the open back door, carrying with it the gentle sing-song of morning doves and other chattering birds outside.  Afterwards, we went out to hang the laundry which Ken had put in the wash while I was showering and then collect the kayaking gear for our paddle up the Nueces River.  Once we had chosen the appropriate gear from Ken’s ample selection and lashed the kayaks on his rear trailer, we were on our way.

    As we launched the kayaks into the polished hazy-green waters of the river, I couldn’t help but notice just how calm the river was within the shelter of the bowed tree limbs which kneeled on its banks.  Ken and I were soon off, gliding through the glassy waters, surrounded by dangling spanish moss which hung from the skeletons of gnarled trees surrounding the river.  Throughout the voyage, we were graced by the nonchalant inhabitants of the Nueces, such as exotic birds, little river snakes, and “Mexican” jumping fish (at least thats what I call them).  All in all, it was a perfect way to unwind after having battled the daunting winds of earlier in the day on my bicycle.  Afterwards we headed back to Ken’s house to get ready for dinner (and for me to work on my journal).

    That evening, Ken had fixed a dinner of baked chicken with cajun spices, fresh steamed vegetables, and the toasted cinnamon raisin bagels from HEB (a Texas grocery chain) that I had become quite fond of at lunch.  After dinner both of us began to feel the weight of a long day and retired to bed, although I ended up sitting up writing my blog and responding to e-mail for the next two hours (funny how this internet thing can warp the passage of time, eh?).  In the morning we awoke early… ok, eventually I awoke, to begin a fantastic new day!  Ken soon whipped up a delectable breakfast followed by a one of his mouth-watering shakes (he’s the master of the blender, and over the course of the weekend had made the best banana, strawberry, and chocolate shakes I’ve ever had), and then we were off to the coast.  We rode out to Mustang Island, just North of Padre Island, and cruised along the dunes out to the launching site for the day.  Once we had parked, Ken handed me my fantastic new frilly, red and black water-proof skirt (somewhat reminiscent of a salsa dress, and actually called a water-skirt – intended to keep sea spray out of your kayak), but unfortunately the photographs that we took of this classic outfit just didn’t do it justice.

    Moments later we were venturing out into the open bay, winding out from the shallow dune islands and slicing through the ocean ripples.   Off in the distance was our destination, the bird sanctuary of Shamrock Island.  After crossing the expanse to the island, a chattering roar rose above the seas, wavering in the breezes, and clouds of gulls, pelicans, and other exotic winged creatures wheeled and glided throughout the air, somewhat reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  As we floated aimlessly amidst the teeming island cluster, it was awe-inspiring to behold the sheer masses of birds around us and also to witness so many new species for the first time.  Of all, the most majestic and lovely in my memory were the rosea spoon-bill and the artistically carved pelicans.  After thoroughly exploring the area from offshore, we headed back out into the sound and towards another remote island off in the distance (one where you could legally get out of your boat and step ashore).  The winds had picked up and the seas were now choppier, but the new obstacle was a welcome challenge and made the journey feel more like the ominous beginning of an episode of Storm Stories, with the sky growing darker by the moment.  Nevertheless, we reached the island uneventfully and banked our kayaks, hopping onto the gravelly crescent beach.  We stared out blankly across the ocean waves, as one often does when surrounded by such dynamic natural beauty.  We lingered briefly on the island before heading back to our kayaks to return to our launch site.  As Ken shoved my kayak backwards away from the beach, I dipped my absentmindedly dipped my paddle into the water to my side, and as the reverse current caught it, my little boat swiftly rolled to one side and capsized.  Well of course, as any right-minded person does, I instinctively thought not of righting the vessel and preventing drowning, but of saving my precious little digital camera from becoming water logged (although it was in a water-tight container, I trusted not the contraption).  I bobbed foolishly to the side in the shallow water, trapped in the cockpit by my now not so glamorous salsa skirt, pushing off the mushy ocean floor in a feeble attempt to right the boat.  But after a few tries it became apparent that I would need to free myself from the hull and right the kayak from outside.  I grabbed the water-skirt release and popped it off, tumbling out into the water.  I quickly stood, nose and mouth filled with salty ocean brine, and pulled the boat back upright then pushed it to shore.  Shortly thereafter Ken came over and helped me to drain the kayak and we took off again back to our starting point.

    Once we had returned to the car and hitched up the boats to the rear trailer, we began the forty-five minute drive back to Corpus Christi.  As we fjorded the bay along the expansive causeway, the raindrops finally began pelting from the massive black storm clouds along the distant shore we could see the palms whipping to their sides in the blustery winds.  We drove along the waterfront of Corpus on the return and finally arrived back at the house where dinner was soon underway and a shower and clean clothes removed the grimy ocean feel from my skin.  Ken and I perused my vast collection of photos from throughout my travels after the meal was over and spent the rest of the evening enjoying casual conversation.  Then, on a late night whim, we decided that no such evening would be complete without dessert (although for me, even breakfast merits dessert) and headed to the HEB for some cherry chocolate truffle ice cream.  Once we had returned and the chilled, cherry-swirled goodness devoured, it was time to hit the sack.

    When I awoke the next morning it was time to get into gear and embark on my least favorite task – repacking my panniers.  So I went about my business, folding and cramming, and eventually everything was in and the drawstrings were pulled taught.  I sat down to one final breakfast with ken and he even insisted on fixing a pre-departure shake for me before I hit the road (to which I quickly suggested chocolate – I know, I can’t help it if I’m predictable).  The birds were singing in the lush foliage outside and vibrant sunlight cascaded into the kitchen as we were preparing to depart, and with weather so impeccable for a ride, I couldn’t help but think of what a wonderful past few days I had enjoyed the in Corpus with Ken.  But alas, the trip must go on, and moments later we were saying our farewells and again my pack-mule was loaded and ready to go, headed along the final stretch that separated me from Mexico.

    I easily picked my way through Corpus Christi and was soon zooming along through the outskirts, which yielded more and more into farmland.  Off to every direction the horizon simply disappeared into complete flatness with no clues as to what lay beyond.  Roads stretched infinitely in straight lines and cars came and went, appearing in the far distance as minute specks and eventually zooming by me only to disappear again to the opposite horizon.  Fortunately, the gods were smiling on me on that sunny Saturday afternoon and I flew down the farm roads effortlessly as a tail-wind guided my feet.  Life was good and I found myself singing aloud to my new playlist, which surely to the passing motorists must have compounded their conviction in my lunacy (beyond the fact that I was a cyclist pedaling along through the middle of nowhere).  I ventured onward through the scrub country, making such good time that I covered over ninety miles by the close of the day.  But as I passed Falfurrias, I had noted on my map that there was only one place that I could possibly stop to set up camp, and that was the rest stop just beyond.  At this point the wind had begun to turn on me, and when I spotted the oasis-like outcropping of trees up ahead which signaled my stopping point, I was glad to have finally arrived.

    I pulled into the wooded island between the split roadway and rolled my bike along the paved paths, noting the well maintained facilities and rather attractive aesthetics of the site.  I glanced around and within a few moments had chosen an ideal spot in which to pitch my tent, nestled between a three trees, and began to unpack my equipment.  I had just finished erecting my little synthetic home when an amiable, elderly, Mexican gentleman ambled toward me and struck up a conversation.  He was one of the maintenance staff at this particular rest stop and was trying to tell me something about my new campsite.  He spoke English relatively well, but I couldn’t seem to understand the key word which he was trying to communicate to me.  He held his wrist upright, with his hand closed in a fist to the sky and shook it vigorously, making a sound like a rattle…  Well, now I understood what he was saying, but I most certainly wished that I hadn’t – rattlesnakes.  We chatted a bit longer, and as we talked, I reached back under my tent’s rainfly and began putting my shoes back on, deciding that perhaps this was not the right place for sandals after all.  Eventually I said thank you for the information and goodbye, and after a few quick chores, carefully made my way back to my accommodation (walking very slowly and staring closely at everything that lay before me on the ground before taking steps – apparently they often only rattle just before they strike).  Once I was safe and sound, back inside my tent with all zippers pulled shut, I inflated my mattress, pulled out my sleeping bag, and tried to snuggle my sticky, dried sweat and sun-screened skin into the bag (by far one of my least favorite aspects of a trip like this).

    When the sun awoke me the next morning and I pulled out my earplugs, I found that I was indeed still alive and had not been victimized by any fork-tongued predators in the night.  I began the long drudgery of dismantling and repacking my equipment, prepared an extremely healthy breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (on heavily compressed slices of bread, which had then become triangles), and struggled vainly to repair yet another issue with my panniers before hitting the road.  Nevertheless, by ten thirty I was back in the saddle and looking forward to seeing the fabled gates to Mejico in McAllen.  Unfortunately, today’s ride was not to be like that of the day before.  The day started out coolly and relatively calm, but within the hour the clouds began to thin and recede, yielding the blazing sun and the winds whooshed past me, and much to my chagrin, in the opposite direction in which I was riding.  I staunchly pushed my weight and strength into my pedaling, yet the low gear in which I was forced to pedal was leading me to rest more so on my rear and hands, and soon thereafter soreness began to settle in.  And my muscles cried out in agony, burning from the exertion and heat, while my knees gingerly begged me to cease the relentless rotations.  Again, the pavement ahead seemed to push into a disappearing horizon, but this time it had evolved into a somewhat more dismal metaphor and I found myself constantly glancing at my odometer and repeatedly being disappointed by as the miles crawled by.

    At long last I began to see the signs for Edinburg and McAllen and inside my hope renewed, knowing that it would not be long before I could shed the shackles of my toe-clips and drink an icy cold glass of water in the shade of Francisco’s home, away from the brutal mid-afternoon sun.  Yet, though my heart said go, when I closed my eyes I felt as though I was pedaling underwater, each cycle an arduous task, as the wind pulled backwards on every surface of my body and wide-loaded panniers.  As I neared, I glanced at my written directions and knew that I was nearing my first turn off of the main road, and, at long last I spotted it up ahead! Ingle, a right turn.  There I was, riding along and feeling as though I must almost be there, but wait – up ahead in the distance was a car driving toward me… but why was it followed by a long, billowing cloud of dust?  Oh no, what had I done.  Mapquest hadn’t said anything about this being a dirt track, just what I needed right now.  But when you’re this tired, you don’t turn around, so there I went hurtling off of the pavement and bouncing along down the dirt road with my heavy beast crawling along beneath me.  Finally, after almost a mile, we reached another turn, and, thankfully pavement, a bicycle’s best friend.  Onward!

    Two more turns and then it was time to flip over my instruction sheet and look at the last three lines of directions I had written out – surely I was in the home stretch.  Oh no.  The third to last turn was onto McColl, and the distance was twelve miles until the next turn!  How could this be?  How could I have made this oversight?  But there was nothing else to do but call Francisco back, regret to inform him that I would be late (of course) and forge ahead… very slowly (and still against the wind!).  After what seemed like endless deja vu moments of passing the same strip malls, the same Walgreens, the same Sprint stores and cookie cutter homes for miles and miles, finally I was nearing the home-stretch.  According to my odometer, only one more mile until my right turn.  Then up ahead I saw a very unfamiliar sight in the Southern half of the United States, someone else riding a bicycle.  As I approached they were riding towards me but then slowly wheeled out across the street towards me.  A voice called out my name and immediately I registered that this must be the welcoming committee!  I was overjoyed, this was a sign of hope and that the finish-line was near.  It was Kurt, Francisco’s roommate, and he had graciously decided to come out and greet me to guide me the rest of the way in.  I welcomed the conversation as we towed in the last stretch of the ride, and it helped to distract me from my aching body.  Then after the last two turns and a few hundred feet up the street, we were there. Home sweet home in McAllen!  I dragged my wretched steed into the garage and pulled off my panniers, intent on the thought of a cold shower and the clean, delicate feel of cotton caressing my clean, degreased skin.  When we stepped in the door to the house Francisco was there to meet me, along with Blackie and Hobo (the cats) and Bella and Tula (the dogs).  I dropped my bags in a corner, quickly accepted a tall glass of frosty iced tea, and plopped myself onto the bar stool.  My new hosts and I quickly warmed up to each other, all enjoying one another’s gregarious and unpretentious dispositions.  Soon thereafter I was on my way to a rejuvenating shower and a glorious new outfit, followed by freshly prepared sandwiches of avocado, sliced cheese, and tomato served over plump rolls alongside hummus with pita and sliced cucumbers for dipping.  I had finally reached the border to Mexico, and, ahh yes, life was good again.

09
Nov
08

Trickling towards Mexico

    Ok, so in my defense, I did have a few very important errands to run while I was in Houston, but yes, I know, its still not Mexico.  Ya know, when you spend eight hours or so on a bike each day, its real easy to get comfortable sleeping in, eating home cooked meals, and wearing clean underwear every day.  I eventually did make it out of Beaumont (after almost a week) but only to hasten towards Houston, where I quickly took to my new hosts, Sam and Linh, and found myself lingering (again) longer than planned.  

    It was about ninety-five miles to Houston, and not a bad ride at all.  I made great speed, oftentimes careening along at almost twenty miles per hour and was expecting to have my first truly on time arrival – 6:00pm sharp.  But as I finally drew into Houston’s massive radius and was riding along the city streets of the periphery, I found myself bouncing over a railroad track, and then immediately scraping against asphalt.  As I pulled over to the gravel along the side of the road and looked back, I saw that my rear tire was completely flat, generally meaning that it was something big.  Exasperated, I decided that this would be a quick fix and was still determined to make to Sam’s place by our arranged time.  I leaned the bicycle up against a chain link fence and began removing the bungee cords that strapped on my camping bag, pulled the bag off, and then proceeded to remove the panniers.  Soon thereafter I had the wheel off and was beginning the repair process.  Well, unfortunately a huge, old rusty nail had gone straight through the tire, not only puncturing the tube on both sides, but also severely damaging my fancy Kevlar lined tires (bullet-proof my a*s).  As you can imagine, once I had patched both holes, gotten the tire back on the bike, reattached all of my equipment, and finally gotten underway, I’d already lost over an hour of my time.  I glanced at my clock and wondered just how fast can I possibly pedal?

    This quickly became a non-issue, as Houston was filled with traffic lights, shoulder-less roads, and infinite bridges and overpasses, generally impeding my progress.  Oh well, time to make that phone call (or in this case, text message) – I was going to be late again.  So long story short, I did eventually make it, and only about an hour late.  Sam and Linh were happy to point me to the shower once I arrived, as I was looking quite ripe and, I can imagine, not quite fit for company.  Once I was all spic and span, Sam and I headed to the store for some dinner ingredients and were soon back out the house chowing down on some fantastic left-over Thai, jasmine rice, and rotisserie chicken, followed by some fresh green grapes and a bottle of white wine which had been donated by his generous neighbor.  Although Linh was feeling under the weather that evening, Sam and I enjoyed one another’s conversation and he shared stories from some of his travels and experiences living all over Asia.

    When I finally awoke the next morning (which was quite difficult, when you’re lying in comfy, pristine white sheets and a fluffy yellow comforter, with diffused rays of sunlight gently cascading in through the venetian blinds), I went down and joined Sam and Linh for some casual breakfast.  Our plan for the day was to head to a few of the shows in the Houston PhotoFest and by mid-afternoon we were on our way.  Our first stop was G Gallery in the heights where we were able to admire such pieces collages made from unclaimed human remains, paintings by primates (for a zoo fundraiser), frozen clocks, and ghastly mummies made from what looked like a paper mache technique.  We also met two sweet little hairless Egyptian dogs (who I believe were from Argentina or Peru) whose skin was crinkled and rough like sandpapered leather.

    Linh and Sam made the mistake of taking me to a buffet style restaurant called Souper Salad for lunch that day, and, seeing as how my post-cycling appetite apparently takes several days to calm down, you can imagine how many times I went back for more… and more and more.  Finally I was satiated (and somewhat in shock by some of the other patrons), and although the other show that we had planned on hitting had already ended, we headed back to the house to unwind for a bit.  I managed to get a lot of reading done during our downtime, and that evening we headed out to meet Linh’s friend Naki and a few others for some dinner at Goode Co. and then some bowling.  We found a table out on the patio, and as I devoured an enormous burger with mozzarella, canadian bacon, and sauteed mushrooms, I enjoyed the company of the new friends that I had met and sipped on frozen margaritas (of course, followed by a cinnamon chocolate shake).  Although I had originally planned to join the gang for bowling, my old neighbor from Atlanta was in Houston on business and I headed downtown to meet him.

    When I arrived at the Flying Saucer to meet up with Gavin, I decided that I had already consumed my limit, and that a beer tasting was not in order, but did thoroughly enjoy the conversation (in between pestering from a severely drunken character whom Gavin had taken pity on since they were both from the same town).  We stopped by a pizza joint around the corner and then finished up with another drink on the second floor of a restaurant called Cabo before calling it a night.

    On Sunday Sam and I headed over to the West side of the city to hit the REI and a few other sporting goods stores and which ended up turning into a rather exhausting day of shopping.  However, I did manage to get all of my last minute purchases done in the final major US outpost before I leave the country and REI even exchanged my damaged panniers for me! (greatly relieving my stress with respect to the effects of torrential tropical rains and how they would affect my equipment)  Later that evening we had dinner plans with Sam’s family and were on our way to his parents’ house.  This turned out to be quite a treat, as the event included a variety of my favorite things – yummy barbecue, delectable brownies, creamy Blue Bell rocky road ice cream, and some of the most delightfully quirky conversation I’ve had since I left Atlanta.  Sam’s parents were truly an entertaining couple to dine with, and I found myself constantly laughing with his mother’s witty responses and comedic anecdotes.  After dinner it was time for the Macho show, a feat of chihuahuan skill and coordination.  Together, Macho and his sidekick (of whose name I can’t recall) performed by jumping, rolling, dancing the cha-cha, playing dead, and acting roles in well fitted costumes.  Finally, after a thoroughly satisfying evening, it was time to hit the road, and Sam, Linh and I were off (but not before getting some brownies to go ;).

    The following day was my intended departure to begin working my way Southward.  After sleeping in later than intended, I eventually awoke, showered and headed downstairs to fix myself some waffles and a cup of coffee.  Then began the fun part, repacking all of my things which I had strewn about the bedroom, back into my panniers.  This always tends to be mission impossible after I’ve spent a few days in a place, but after an hour or so, and lots of cramming and grumbling, the task was finally complete.  I headed downstairs and bid adieu to my wonderful hosts, almost tearing up at the thought of another three days without a shower (no, I’m not completely unhygienic, but rinsing and scrubbing yourself with a water-bottle and towel while standing out in the woods naked and being bitten by bugs is hardly an enjoyable task).  A few minutes later I was pedaling away, with visions of white sandy beaches in my near future.  But it wasn’t quite so simple.  I had purchased some new sneakers while in Houston, but unfortunately I had made the mistake of compromising with a size twelve and a half, a half size smaller than my usual thirteens.  As I rode insolently along the side of what had turned into a rather unwelcoming thoroughfare, I realized that my toes were going numb – hardly the way to start an international voyage.  I tried to give it some time in case the shoes just needed to be broken in, but after an hour and a half I realized that this wasn’t going to be the case.  I glanced behind me, wincing at the thought of having to wind back up along this highway and into Houston again.  An hour and a half later I was back at Sam’s house.

    Well, by the time I had gotten back, unloaded my luggage, and decided to pedal back out to Westheimer Road to make my return I realized that I’d might as well get comfortable, it was gonna be another night in the big city.  So I headed out to the super-strip malls of West Houston for a little shoe shopping.  After searching around, I finally found the perfect pair – the North Face Rucky Chuckys, the shoes of my dreams!  Hardcore hiking boots in trail runner form and fit for spider-man.  Pleased and more confident with my purchase, I rode around a bit more before heading back to the house.  Me and my new family got to spend one more pleasant evening together and then on Tuesday I was really leaving… no really.

    Fortunately, Sam had helped me re-plot my route, and to my great pleasure I was met with an absolutely gorgeous next few days of riding.  I decided to head down route 152 towards the coast and then follow it along to 35 then all the way to Corpus Christi.  Although civilization was sparse along the way, the countryside was filled with brightly colored hues of tall-grass, wildflowers, deliciously green foliage, and fluffy angel-white clouds against a pure blue sky.  After riding about ninety miles on the first day, I was ready to camp.  Although I began to worry that I wouldn’t find a suitable spot as the sun was melting onto the horizon, I amazingly spotted a perfect campground overlooking the Colorado River just as I went over a large bridge (and had almost lost hope).  It really was the perfect spot – well, until Paco showed up.

    Ok, so there I was just unloading my cargo and in the first stages of setting up camp for the night, when who should come ambling along but Paco.  He was a rather curious little racoon, and I was convinced that he was part kitty cat, and that surely if he didn’t get out of my equipment, his curiosity might not kill him, but it was going to hurt.  I tried to talk it over with him, but he just ignored me, climbing all over my bike, delicately fiddling with the drawstrings of my bags, and leaving little dirty coon prints all over my stuff.  Well, I’d just about had it, I told him that we couldn’t be friend anymore and then began prodding him away with my tent-pole.  But he still needed some more convincing.  So, as the last light of day was fading away, there I was, chasing after a raccoon and yelling, hoping I could intimidate him into leaving me be.  Eventually he got my subtle hints.

    The rest of the night went along uneventfully, and although I did wake to overcast skies and a light drizzle, the view across the river from right out my tent door was quite lovely.  I began riding and a few minutes later, as I passed a massive power plant (the South Texas Project), I couldn’t help but think that yes, ignorance is bliss.  The drizzle soon subsided and for the rest of the day I rode along past dazzling bays, endless farms, shrubby fields, and vibrant bayous (with a brief stop in Port Lavaca for a seaside lunch and some library wi-fi).  Eventually the day caught up with me though, and I began looking for a camp-site.  This time I wasn’t quite so lucky however.  As the wind picked up against me, I decided I had to call it a day and turned into a rest stop on the side of the road (three pic-a-nic tables with shelters in the middle of flat, endless farmland).  I set up my campsite, socialized with some passing RV drivers, and was soon on my way to sleep, optimistic that tomorrow would be a beautiful day and that I would be in Corpus in no time.  Well, things aren’t always that simple.

    A few hours after drifting to sleep I was awakened by a flashlight pointing into my tent and was soon engaged in an interrogation, not because I wasn’t allowed to camp there, but mostly because the policeman was curious.  Afterwards I realized that he’d just been talking to a tent, since I never actually got out, but hey, I was sleepy and disoriented.  After I finally made it back to sleep, then I was awakened again by a first a suspicious vehicle which pulled up nearby, turned off its lights, and then the passenger got out and I could hear them walking around outside – kinda creepy.  Later, after he was gone, a truck then pulled in and decided to park there and, I guess take a nap, but with its loud engine on, for the next several hours.  You can imagine, this was not the most blissful night’s sleep I have had so far.

    Nonetheless, I awoke the next morning to my tent shuddering and the wind howling outside, somewhat reminiscent of Dorothy and wondering if I was still in Kans… err, Texas anymore, or if my tent had been deposited in Munchkinland (which honestly, would just be another day in my life).  I stepped outside to fix my breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and much to my chagrin was greeted by gale force winds – uh oh.  An RVer pulled up to my picnic table as I was eating my continental breakfast and the gentleman was kind enough to tell me that the winds were gusting at forty five miles per hour and would last all day, oh and to the North.  Fantastic, this was going to be a really long day.  But there was nothing else to do but get on the road and get going.  So I broke down my camp (which is always fun, folding up a tent in heavy wind) and hopped on my rig, gloriously pedaling down the endless, straight farm-road at seven miles per hour.  This went on for a while, absolutely grueling, my heavy and bulky load acting as a sail to pull me backwards.  But then I got a call from Ken, whom I had contacted in Corpus Christi about some kayaking, and he offered to come and pick me up!  Well, at first I was headstrong and insistent that I refused to be such an imposition, but an hour later, haggard, cursing at the ground and shaking my fist at the wind, I reconsidered.  I called Ken back and he agreed to head my way.  I pedaled onwards towards Corpus, hoping to close some ground, but hey, who was I fooling?  I had barely gone eight miles when Ken pulled up an hour later and much to my relief, since its difficult to endure an entire day of complete misery (especially when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and singing “Ohhhhklahoma, where the wind comes whipping down the…”).  We were soon cruising towards Corpus and to happier times.  

    Once we reached Ken’s place I instinctively headed for the shower, and, once I had reemerged, Ken had prepared a tasty home-cooked meal for us and a glass of highly addictive raspberry green tea.  We chatted for a while and it was amazing to hear all about the fantastic places that Ken had lived and his decision to move to Corpus Christi to retire and dedicate his life to kayaking.  On that note, after lunch we loaded up the kayaks onto the hitch and made our way to the Nueces River to enjoy the rest of the day kayaking and admiring the idyllic sights along its banks.

09
Nov
08

Way too Comfy in Beaumont

    Alright, so at long last I’m in Houston, and yes, one day I will actually make it to Mexico.  Ya see it all began with a little lady named Michelle from Beaumont Texas.  It was Easter Sunday, and, seeing as how I’m now officially a homeless vagabond, I was sure that I would be spending it alone – while everyone else in the known world (ie Louisiana and Southeast Texas) was living the good life and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ by boiling crawfish and hunting for Easter eggs.  Well, Michelle, whom I had found through Couchsurfing, had called me back (well after I had already given up hope on her) and asked me if I still needed a place to stay in Beaumont.  Well, seeing as how I didn’t particularly want to camp for three nights in a row on the way to Houston, I said absolutely.  But then suddenly she remembered that Sunday evening was her family’s Easter dinner!

    Somehow I didn’t think that I was going to get an invite, and I was wondering if there might even be a possibility that I would be out on the streets for Easter, but then something miraculous happened.  I got invited to the dinner!  Unfortunately, my timing was a little off, since my ETA was 6:00pm at Michelle’s house in Beaumont whereas dinner was slated for that same time in Port Neches, several miles away.  Since one was West and the other Southwest of me, Michelle said to ride towards Port Neches and she would pick me up on the way.  I told her that I’d hate to be an imposition and that I could just meet her there, but alas, there was a minor obstacle preventing this.  According to Wikipedia, “the Rainbow Bridge was built with a 680 foot (210 m) main span. In addition, it has a vertical clearance of 177 feet (54 m), which was intended to allow the tallest ship in the US Navy, the USS Patoka, passage under the bridge,” and this was indeed the bridge that stood between me and a yummy home-cooked meal (haha! me professors can’t stop me from citing Wikipedia on my own website!).  So I met Michelle in Port Bridges and soon after we were rolling along.  Michelle was a sweet, outgoing and unpretentious girl and we quickly hit it off.  A few minutes later a looming object became visible in the distance, an arch that just went upward continuously into the sky and eventually dipped back down on the other side.  This was the Rainbow bridge.  And to make matters worse, it was a one way bridge with extremely narrow lanes and no shoulder.  I wave of relief passed over me now that my rescue was put into context and I was able to appreciate the sheer engineering magnificence of the bridge from the safety of Michelle’s little 4 wheeled vehicle.

    As we pulled up to her family’s home, I wondered how Michelle’s family would receive me, but based on her feedback, was optimistic.  Her family seemed to immediately take to me and I was so joyfully pleased to be surrounded by all of their sweet and gregarious personalities (oh and some incredibly delicious food too!).  And I must add that my favorite moment was when Michelle’s father came in from preparing to start gardening and asked in an exasperated tone just where exactly 6 pairs of left handed gardening gloves would possibly disappear to?

    Once dinner was over, Michelle’s mother had prepared me an Easter bag filled with all of my favorite types of chocolate eggs (I swear that woman is a psychic), which those of you who know me know that it didn’t last the ride back – and it wasn’t no long ride neither.  Michelle and I decided to head to a local bar called Thirsty’s (apparently all bars in Beaumont end with ‘s) and mingle with some of the locals.  Well, once we got there, the six of us in the bar all got to talking and trading stories, and I must say that one topped the cake.  A young lady named Laura told us about a time that she was driving home from Dallas and had some rather unfortunate luck.

    Well, it was late at night and she was driving down a pitch-black, windy old country road – when suddenly she smashed into something and heard a loud cry.  She got out of the car only to find that she had hit a huge pig, and it was still alive and moaning!  She stood there staring, panic-stricken.  Then, from the underbrush to her side, a withered little country woman emerged shoe-less, smoking her extra-long Virginia Slim through a plastic filter in her night-gown and mentioned that she had just been sitting on her front porch sipping on some peach schnapps when she had heard the accident.  She asked Laura if she had hit a cow or a pig, to which Laura told awkwardly replied, completely in shock and uneasy.  A few moments later a portly farmer in overalls with no shirt underneath also appeared and, glanced at the pig disappointedly, then pulled out a shot-gun and shot the creature in the head to put it out of its misery, then kicked it into the ditch.  He lamented the death of his poor pig Hannah, then disappeared back into the darkness.  Soon thereafter the police came to investigate the situation and question Laura, at which time a tractor came rolling up and the man in the overalls lowered the shovel end, scooped up Hannah, and rolled away with her battered carcass.  The questioning had soon ended and Laura was allowed to get back into her now dilapidated car and drive off to meet her friends at a bar for a Saturday night drink and to tell them about the red-neck version of the twilight-zone type of night she had had.  This was my introduction to Texas.

    The next few days found me growing more and more comfortable, however, just hanging out with Michelle around Beaumont: cooking breakfast together every morning, me reading and working online at a coffee shop while she was at work, then meeting for lunch, and finally with us cooking dinner and usually watching a movie in the evenings.  One of the nights, another Couchsurfer named Kellen came to join us on her was from Maine then Asheville, across the country and finally up to Eureka, in Northern California.  Although quiet, we welcome her company and I enjoyed the poetic style in which she traveled – with her quaint little vintage yellow car and a sweet little tan labrador named Nika.

    Well, before I knew it I had been in Beaumont for five days and, if I remember correctly, I’m supposed to be on my way to South America.  I finally got up the initiative to tell Michelle that we couldn’t just hang out forever, that I was on a quest to find my holy grail, and that I would be leaving in the morning.  Since I had postponed the journey to Houston for so long, I decided not to dilly dally any longer by splitting up the journey into two separate days, and instead I decided to take the near 100 mile journey in one day.  The next morning, after a somewhat scattered breakfast, I hugged Michelle and thanked her for all of her wonderful hospitality and company over the past few days and set off for Houston.  I pedaled with a fury, as the weather man had predicted afternoon showers, but alas, the showers never came and my evening-time I was arriving at my destination in Southwest Houston and was welcomed by Sam and his wife into their lovely and immaculate home.  After my obligatory pre-socializing shower, Sam and I headed to the grocery store for dinner’s ingredients and had soon returned and began fixing a wonderful supper of tender chicken, several Thai dishes and sticky rice.  Sam and I spent a few hours getting to know one another and as the night dwindled on, retired to our beds for the evening.

    And there you have it, I’m finally in Houston and intend to spend the rest of the weekend here exploring the city and acquiring the remainder of my equipment before heading for the Mexico border and my first exciting encounter with the border patrol!

09
Nov
08

The Journey to Texas

    Whereas the first half of my voyage thus far was a desolate and isolating experience, the latter portion has become one filled with warm, inviting families, eccentric and eclectic characters, and glimpses into alternate realities which had been existing in parallel to the one which I had once lived in Atlanta.  It all began in New Orleans with the discovery of a mind bogglingly vast international online network of people interconnected in their love of travel and the desire to commune with new and exotic people.  This network is couchsurfing.com, a curiously named, but brilliant concept.  It is a world avoidant of the anonymity and intimidation of foreign lands and instead allures you with the promise of new friends, amazing adventures, insights into local culture, and a cozy and welcoming place in which to lay your head at night.

    I was introduced to couchsurfing by my hosts in New Orleans, Bill & Erin (whom I had discovered through a similar site, warmshowers.org).  Consequently, I had come into contact with another couple in Baton Rouge, Alvin & Shari, who were members of both sites.  After several e-mail correspondences and a few phone calls, I was soon headed to Baton Rouge completely unbeknownst to me that I was embarking on a new chapter of my journey and a renewal of faith in the human spirit.  That evening, as I approached Baton Rouge, having had a much later start than originally intended and therefore riding until well after dark, I called Alvin to regret to inform him that I would be arriving behind schedule.  As a fellow cyclist himself, as well as a resident of Louisiana, he recognized the perils of riding in such dangerous conditions and offered to drive out and pick me up a few miles from his home to bring me in the rest of the way.  I quickly agreed, knowing that they were waiting on me to begin dinner, and within a short while he had met me on the road and we were on the way back to his home by the Lousiana State University campus.

    As we walked in the door to his house the smell of divine country cooking wafter out from the kitchen – a most welcome aroma after having been pedaling away all day.  Shari emerged from the kitchen a moment later and came over to greet me and welcome me into their home.  Moments later we were all seated around the dining room table and feasting on a spread of marinated beef with rice, delicious fava beans, and corn bread, followed by sweet potatoe pie.  As we were dining, Alvin and Shari had begun to share their world with me.

    Together the two had raised a wonderful family together while pursuing their passion of cycling.  Alvin himself had traversed the entire United States from West to East, East to West, and South to North, even while contemplating his next trip from Canada all the way down along the Mississippi.  The two also told me hilarious and outlandish stories of their tandem bicycling adventures through Alabama, a state of which we could all commiserate, was intolerably hilly.  The evening passed in fantastic company and ended with a refreshing shower and a comfy bed in which to lay my head.

    The next day I awoke and Alvin and Shari were soon preparing perfectly fluffy pancakes in the kitchen, along with fresh Louisiana strawberries, oranges, blood oranges, and peaches.  Again we ate together and conversed jovially before I began packing and preparing for the days ride.  Soon thereafter, Alvin and I set off to go cycle around Baton Rouge and see the downtown area together.  We headed to the bicycle store for some parts and adjustments, I had an unfortunate flat tire, which turned into a blessing when Alvin was able to show me a few pointers on more efficiently performing the repair, and then were headed up the bike path on the levy along the Mississippi River.  We rode out past the bridge and riverboat casinos to the old Louisiana state capitol building and admired the architecture while Alvin recounted the historic significance to me.  We then made our way to the newer capitol, which was apparently the tallest capitol building in the U.S. and quite a spectacular architectural piece in itself.  The grounds were gorgeous and we were able to head up to the observation deck in the top of the building to look out over the entire city and across the Mississippi.

    Once we had had our fill, we headed out and rode up to the route 190 bridge over the river together at which point Alvin and I parted ways and I continued on  across the river alone.  I rode for several miles through gorgeous farmland and budding fresh green spring blooms in the forests and swamps.  As the day drew on, I came upon “Not Your Momma’s Cafe & Diner” which had been recommended by Alvin, so I decided to stop in for a hot meal and a place to rest my legs.  I decided on a seat at the bar, and given the time of the afternoon, was one of the only patrons there.  After ordering my shrimp po-boy, the waitresses and I had soon struck up a delightfully comical conversation and they were giving me an entertaining view into Louisiana countryside culture.  We discussed the festivities of crawfish boils, and how the live crawfish were cleaned by forcing them to regurgitate, then soaked in cajun spices until they were saturated, boiled live, and served piping hot for the crackin’.  Apparently Louisiana had perfected this ritual so much as to even have their own custom sized smaller beer cans to serve at a boiling so as to avoid the unpleasantness of having your beer get warm.  We talked about the local bar down the way, situated in a little old country crone’s house and where you could sit at the bar next to a coon.  We debated how gas stations were the center of indigenous Louisiana civilization, and how everything you could possibly ever want could be found in them – boudin (pork & rice sausage), crawfish, showers, and a casino (among other things).  Then we went on to comment on how Louisiana had truly perfected the art of recycling and how almost no piece of road-kill went un-grilled (or fried).  And we enjoyed several other tasty topics before it was time for me to say goodbye and head West again.

    As I headed on, the sun began to dip down in the sky like fiery embers behind tufted cobalt clouds.  I knew that soon it would be time to find a camp-site for the evening but just ahead had spotted the Morganza Spillway, a stretch of straight, shoulder-less, elevated bridge constructed above the swampy spillway and which continued on for several miles.  I decided to take my chances and was soon racing along at almost 20 miles an hour, hoping to reach the other side of the spillway in before night fall.  After what seemed like an endless ride along the spillway, I finally reemerged onto solid ground far beyond and rode over one final bridge spanning a glistening river.  On the far side I spotted several gas stations (ie, a town), which I immediately realized must be Krotz Springs.  I headed into one of the stations to ask advice about my camping situation and was pointed towards an RV camp several yards down the street.  The girl had said it was next to “Miss Jammah’s” restaurant, but as I approached I realized that this must be one and the same as “Miss Johnny’s”.  I cautiously pedaled into the RV park searching for someone to ask about whether I could set up camp and on the far side found a two inhabitants sitting on their front step.  No sooner had I asked that they invited me to camp on the shared space between their RVs and I began to set up my tent.

    The night finally ended with the break of dawn, after incessantly waking up throughout the night to truck roaring by in the distance, train horns, ambient RV park noises, and the dews of 100% humidity Louisiana swamps dripping down from my tent canopy.  I eventually dragged my weary and bedraggled self out of my sleeping bag to break down my site when I heard the weathered old lady from the night before, Sarah (one of the RV owners), call out to me if I’d like a cup of coffee.  I said absolutely, why not.  She invited me into her 10’ by 5’ RV, in which immediately to my left was a sleeping man and to the right a table with booth-seating.  I awkwardly sat and Sarah poured me a cup of coffee (which I decided I would enjoy black this time).  We talked for a few moments and then Sarah asked me if I’d like to make some money while I was in Louisiana.  I tinkered with the thought in my head for a moment, and then decided that this might be the right time to politely refuse and quickly withdraw myself from the situation (not knowing what kind of illegal or illicit offer she might have been offering me).

    I finished packing my things and headed across the street to the small gas station country cookin’ restaurant for some southern style breakfast and was soon enjoying an egg and cheese sandwich with grits and hash browns.  As I languished in the sweet aura of their free wi-fi, the chef came over and introduced herself, timidly rubbing her lips and asking me if I thought the shade was too dark for her.  Again, this seemed like a good time for an exit, so once she was drawn back to take care of another patron, I decided to use the opportunity to extricate myself from the situation.  Having had quite my fill of Krotz Springs, I straddled my bicycle saddle and headed westward.

    Sadly I had mis-approximated the distance of my final destination for the day, and after 102 arduous miles of riding through the blistering sun and dripping humidity, and several links of boudin later, I finally arrived in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  I rode down Mill St., chased by massive hounds and dodging little children playing in the streets and eventually spotted Ross’s building.  After getting all of my equipment up the stairs to his second floor apartment, we conversed for some time, then I headed for the shower to rinse the layers of salt off my skin and afterwards wolfed down a pizza.  Ross told me about his most recent hobby of which I wasn’t familiar, called Poy.  Poy is a performance art in which a person spins two flaming monkey’s fists (or kerosene doused denim) around their body on chains.  We then decided to go meet his friend and head out to the Lake Charles boardwalk where they could practice spinning poy.  Watching the flames swoop and arc around in the air, leaving trails of graceful flames in their wake was quite a spectacular sight.  After accruing an ample crowd of spectators and practicing for some time, we soon headed back to Ross’s house so that I could get some sleep after my long ride that day.

    The following morning Ross and I got up and went for a stroll down on the beach by the lake.  We then searched for a cajun restaurant that would be open on Easter Sunday and finally found one, on the quest for some yummy etouffee.  When the dish finally came out, it was one of the best meals I had eaten so far.  Delicious little crawfish smothered in a tomato and vegetable reduction with cajun spices and soft rolls.  After lunch we headed back to Ross’s place where I packed up my things and prepared to depart for my journey into Texas.  Ross helped me with a ride across the I-10 bridge and we bid farewell to one another before I headed out towards a new an unexperienced state and culture.

09
Nov
08

New Orleans Renaissance

    I’ve found myself truly luxuriating in my return to New Orleans.  Every live oak canopied avenue, verdant hidden courtyard, and wrought iron edged alleyway melts with nostalgia.  Arriving in New Orleans was like bursting out from a long, washed-out desert into a lush and vibrant oasis.  The place pulses with life, culture, beauty, hedonism, art, and tasteful extravagance.  The caressing breezes stir the world around you to life while lapping against your skin through the deliciously sultry air.  Intricately unique and mesmerizing architecture is wedged into every corner of the city, ensconced by creeping vines, hanging ferns and bright flowers.  Hypnotic melodies float through the French Quarter, wafting on the same breezes as the scent of cajun spices.  This is the New Orleans I remember, this is the New Orleans I’ve come home to.

    To be back is thus far and with no comparison the greatest delight of my trip.  Although I tried to make myself think otherwise, I had truly been looking forward to this far more than anything between here and Atlanta.  To come back is to remember just how much I had fallen in love with this place the first time I came here in the late Summer of 2002.  Something indescribable had drawn me in and had the promise of the mystique and the unknown which was so compelling to me.

    I’ve spent the past few days here running errands, performing repairs and adjustments to my bike, and also just relaxing.  The weather had been warm and overcast with wonderful breezes from off the water but has now gotten vividly sunny and cooler.  I’ve had the opportunity to just stroll around town and ride the old streetcar down St. Charles Avenue, just as I used to do all those years ago.  Hours were spent just reading in quiet uptown coffee shops and peaceful French Quarter courtyards.  I languidly browsed the unique locally flavored artwork of Orleans along Royal Street.  I searched for random bicycle accessories about the city.  And finally, on the night before I left, I ran into my old high school friend, Patrice, in a Bourbon Street frozen drink bar, whom I hadn’t seen in almost six years.

    My hosts, Bill & Erin, have been so welcoming and had extended me an invitation to stay for longer than I had originally intended, as I hadn’t wanted to impose.  Their home is spacious and cozy, tucked away on a quiet street corner of uptown New Orleans.  Ironically, when I had arrived I asked Bill some questions about bicycle components hoping that he could point me to the nearest shop, but instead to my delight, not only was he an exhaustive resource of bicycle knowledge but also had his own online bicycle parts store with an office only a few blocks away from the house.  The company, Wallingford Bicycle Parts (wallbike.com), happened to specialize in exactly the lines of equipment that I was interested in (Brooks saddles and Ortlieb panniers) and I was able to get the proofide that I needed to treat my leather saddle and the patch kid to repair my panniers after my tumble in Alabama.  I soon had my chariot up to snuff and ready to go.

    Although I would have loved to have stayed in New Orleans longer, I knew that on the fourth day it was time to get back on the road and begin making my way towards the Mexican border.  Although it is bittersweet to leave this place, I know that there will be many more amazing worlds that I will be passing into soon and look forward to my journey while having appreciated the time I was able to spend back with my old muse, New Orleans.  I learned many lessons in my time here years ago, but most importantly that sometimes you have to go the wrong way in order to figure out which way is right.  And after coming back to the river bend after all this time, I know that sometimes falling in love is even sweeter the second time around .

09
Nov
08

The Gulf Spectrum

    As I fell asleep in the quaint little Bay Minette motel on Friday night, after a nice long shower and some light reading, I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about the coming day and how it would bring my path down along the coast and into a brand new state, Mississippi.  However, when I awoke the next morning, began folding my clothes which I had washed in the tub the night before and hung out to dry, and headed out, I was greeted by a vicious wind blowing directly against my intended course.  I plugged onward, heading Southwest towards Mobile, but only to meet true frustration as the gale force winds beat me backwards.  My progress slowed almost to half that of what it had been before and it was compounded by some remaining hilly terrain between I and the coastal flatlands.

    At some point while I struggled against the onslaught, I manage to overexert my right knee and began to feel relentless discomfort (bordering on pain).  Finally, I found myself crossing the long causeways leading across the bay to Mobile and saw the little city rising before me.  Soon I had approached downtown, and thinking that I should continue to follow US-90 (as I knew that it eventually led to New Orleans), I continued on.  Unfortunately, what I didn’t know was that the alternate route, US-98, was in fact a shortcut underneath downtown through the Bankhead Tunnel.  As I went farther along my path, a large and quite steep bridge loomed before me.  Thanks to my uncooperative knee, the climb ahead seemed quite daunting, and intended to take the uphill very slowly.  Nevertheless, as I reached the pinnacle of the bridge, I began to feel my knee worsen, almost to the point that I could not go on any farther.

    Finally, I reached the top and then coasted along the descent from the bridge.  I very very slowly meandered along my route hoping that soon I would be passed Mobile and could begin looking for an early campsite.  Well, to my dismay, instead what I discovered was that US-90 suddenly joined onto interstate 165 and led directly back to downtown Mobile where I had just come from!  This was it, I had just about had it.  I decided that to go back and go over the bridge again was out of the question and instead intrepidly charted my course onto the freeway and away I went!  Yes, I felt foolish.  Yes, I was scared.  But thankfully there was a massive shoulder, the highway was almost deserted, and it was only a hop, skip, and a jump back to downtown on this much more direct route.

    I soon reached the exit ramp and quickly turned off to rejoin US-90 heading West.  I pedaled along at a discouragingly slow pace, but thankfully the road here became more of a local route with slower speeds and lovely live oak lined streets.  I continued on as far as I could (which wasn’t far at all, about another couple of miles) and finally spotted a motel where I could stop and let me knee recuperate (since finding a campsite here would undoubtedly be impossible).  Sadly, the establishment didn’t have the finest facilities or a very high level of hygiene, but hey, it was a place to have a shower and get off my torturous bicycle saddle.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening laying in bed, snacking and ardently losing myself in “Atonement” (which I’ve sworn to myself I’ll finish at some point this year…).  The next morning I awoke and hoped that my rest had done magic, but alas, blind optimism doesn’t always work.  Again, it proved to be a slow day, and at one point I actually dismounted and began walking my bike, fearing that I would now have to walk the rest of the way to Tierra del Fuego (and man was that gonna take a long time!).  But after a while I tired of this and at the top of a hill I got back on and decided that I must go on.

    Fortunately, the hills soon began to dissipate and allowed me to indulge myself in some low-impact coasting.  Soon I was in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  My riding went along uneventfully from then on, just painfully slowly, and by the end of the day I was approaching Biloxi.  Before I crossed the bridge over the back bay, I decided to stop and pick of a Muffaletta and a 40 of Corona to ease my troubles once I reached my campsite.  I popped the Corona into my water-bottle holder and within the hour had crossed into the Gulf’s casino capital.  Thankfully, right next to the Grand Casino there just happened to be an empty lot (then again, there’s a lot of empty lots on this part of the coast nowadays) and I pitched my tent among the huge RVs and walked out the the peacefully deserted waterfront to watch the sunset and eat my dinner.

    When I awoke the next day, for the most part I maintained a lethargic and leisurely pace as I pedaled along the gulf coast.  Most of the waterfront from Biloxi to Bay St. Louis was still a huge wreckage zone, but the sunshine, white sandy beaches to my left, and the sound of the lapping ocean waves was a great way to spend the day riding.

    I had intended to make it a short day and split up the rest of the journey to New Orleans, but I ended up overshooting the last bit of civilization and soon found myself in the swamps.  Somehow that didn’t seem like too wonderful of a place to set up my tent (a bit too moist & buggy for me), so I rode onward!  It was a long and drudging ride through the bayous and along the endless stretch of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake St. Catherine, but I did run into some extremely friendly fellow bicycle tourists named Carl, Dick, and LuAnn from Minnesota who were riding from New Orleans and heading to Pensacola, Florida.  After briefly stopping to chat about our travels we soon parted ways and I could almost taste the gumbo in the air (sadly, still 5 hours away).  

    However, by the time I made it to the beautiful crescent city, I was haggard, knees creaking like rusty hinges, and fried to a crisp by the bayou sunshine.  I wearily ambled along the old familiar streets from downtown all the way to the far end of the bend and Uptown.  But when I finally made it to my destination it was all well worth it, as my wonderful hosts Bill & Erin (whom I had met through warmshowers.org) welcomed me into their gorgeous home and soon thereafter had a sumptuous meal prepared for us.  I had soon showered, shaken off my sticky synthetic clothing for some comfy cotton, was fed and found myself happily dozing away in my comfy periwinkle victorian room… while visions of crawdads danced in my head.

09
Nov
08

Leaving las Alabamas

    Its amazing, although I know that everyone else’s lives continues on as normal and that this has probably been just a typical week for most, for me it was more like an eternity.  Already I feel like I’ve been gone for months and seen so much.  And on top of that, I’ve begun to develop the feeling that I’m seg-waying into a new life, not just the journey itself, but even once I reach South America.  As I left Atlanta, it became more and more real that I no longer live there, and that all of the things that I once did and places that I once went to, I probably won’t do and won’t be going to anymore.  It was strange – imagine throwing away your entire keychain, something that you would never even dream of leaving the house without, and just walking out the door without knowing anything about what lies before you.  It was definitely a difficult decision to make.  To declare myself homeless, commit myself to bicycling halfway around the world, and to leave behind everyone that I love.  Now I’m alone, but along my way I’ve already met some amazingly welcoming and supportive people – and I hope to meet many more along the way.

    It is quite an amazing feeling to, for the first time in my life, truly be an inspiration to people.  To have people hear what I’m doing and be so completely fascinated and excited for me.  I hope that in some way what I’m doing can inspire the lives of others and show them that, despite how impossible something may seem to be, it is attainable, you just need to overcome the shackles that other peoples beliefs have imposed upon you.

    As far as the past few days, showers have become such an amazing luxury.  After having spent the past week riding a bicycle all day and camping in the evenings, the few showers that I’ve managed to get have been quite blissful.    Although right now my ass is brutally sore from sitting on a saddle all day, I’m painfully sun-burnt from all day exposure (and they’re not pretty tan lines…), despite repeated sunscreen application, and my muscles and joints are not very pleased with me, at least I’m feeling fresh and clean.

    I’m also quite glad that now I’ve left behind the harsh frigid nights (and especially mornings) of winter and have now traded it in for the sub-tropical sunshine of the gulf.  Fortunately, I have had relatively accommodating weather so far, with only one day of rain (although that one day was quite frigid and unpleasant to ride in).

    The past few days haven’t been terribly eventful, although yesterday I did have a rather nasty spill near Greenville, Alabama, in which I found myself skidding down the pavement along with my bike.  A nasty crosswind was blowing through the hills as I was pedaling down a long hill when an immense 18-wheeler went blasting by me.  The turbulence from the truck’s passing caused my bike to oscillate dangerous and because of the cross-wind, my high speed down the hill, and the ungainliness of my cargo, I couldn’t regain control of the bike before it flipped and sent us both sliding down the pavement like sandpaper.  The funny thing about bicycle injuries as that they don’t happen in just one place, they have a funny way of showing up all over you body.  In this case, my left shoulder, chest, thigh, calf and ankle, and my right wrist and rear-end.  Oh well, so is life!  I was actually more worried about my cargo anyway – I’ll eventually heal.  Sadly I did spring a leak in one of my bags which I will have to figure out a way to fix in the next couple of days.

    Other than that, I’ve spent the majority of the past few days just riding along ardently and trying to cover as much distance as possible.  In the evenings I’ve had a difficult time finding places to camp over the past few days, unfortunately leaving me desperately searching for a place to sneak into the woods and find a campsite, since almost everywhere in Alabama has “No Trespassing” signs and the road signs are pocked full of bullet holes (actually kept hearing gunshots in the middle of the night two nights ago while I was in my tent…). 

    Also, if any of you ever find yourselves driving down route 31 through Brewton, Alabama, theres a great barbecue restaurant called Big Stevie’s which I’d recommend.  The BBQ is delicious and the owners were incredibly sweet, the wife even fixed me a fantastic care-package for my trip ;).