Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cross city to West Frostproof, FL.


Day: 51

Sunday Mileage: 108

Monday Mileage: 85

Total: 2,864

Well, i have been hauling butt and I am just about to the east coast. I should be in Miami tomorrow evening where I will e staying with one of my best buddies from college. I just have to get through a stretch of highway called alligator alley....maybe i wont be camping out there!

Sunday was a bit of a big change. I felt like in the space of a few miles I went from riding through a Jeff Foxworthy joke to Gone With the Wind. I went from mobile homes to country estates with huge, beautiful lands with horses everywhere. It got a little hilly too, which was a surprise for Florida.

The scenery has remained very beautiful and there are lots of wild flowers here, very similar to the hill country of Texas. Sunday night I stayed in Lake Griffin State Park in Florida, which was a nice change from consistently missing them in the last week.

One piece of advice if you plan on riding though this area is to take some bug spray. They eat me alive every evening and morning when i get off the bike. No joke, there are times when I am riding in the evening that the insects are so thick it feels like you are riding through the rain. It stinks, they fly in your mouth, your eyes, up your noes. That has definitely not been too fun. The mosquitoes i knew, but they have these little bugs called no-see-ums here that are literally so small they are dang near invisible. Despite their small size, they pack a mean bite and leave welts all over your skin.

Monday was a bit of a rough day. I had headwinds all day and i struggled to put miles down, plus it dumped on me a few times and i got soaked. It rains sporadically here, just for a half hour or so, then it stops, then another cloudburst throughout the day. The rain wasn't so bad though because it kept me cool. It has gotten pretty dang hot and humid as I have gone south.

Last night was wretched because of the heat and humidity. I camped out in the woods and slept in my hammock, which turned out to be a really bad choice. Imagine sleeping in a sauna wrapped in a heating blanket and you have an idea of what last night was like. I had to put my sleeping mat under me to keep the bugs from bitting me through the hammock and that insulated me, trapping my body heat next to my skin, plus my body was hot from riding all day, so i just lay in my little oven of a hammock pouring sweat. I striped down to just my shorts and i was still dripping. I had to tie my shirt around my head to stop the sweat from running into my eyes and ears.

It was a really horrible way to lay there, and i am pretty sure that that is a form of torture in ancient China. Needless to say, i didn't sleep much, and when i woke up i drank about a gallon of water, i was so dehydrated. However, today I am pumped because I am almost to my destination and, get ready for this.....i have a tailwind!!!!!!!!!!! I almost dint believe it! On instinct i almost turned around and started riding into it because that feels normal for me! It is a really light tailwind, but still, im happy for what i can get. Well, i need to hit it, i have to get another century under my belt today.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday Mileage: 80

Saturday Mileage: 107

Friday I continued to ride along the coast all day until I came to a place called Ochonokee Bay (I believe that is what it was called) in Florida. The ride was just beautiful, with more great beaches and i just couldn't resist jumping in the water from time to time. The 98 highway out here does get a little scary in places with no shoulder at times, but the traffic is fairly light, o as long as you are on top of your game, you will be fine riding on it. One nice thing about riding out here are all of the wild blackberries that grow along the road side. If you need a bite to eat, just stop and pick a few. They taste great too. I also saw my first gator! I was hoping too see one out here and as I was riding down the road I spotted one jut hanging out in a little stream. I took his picture (look in the bottom right corner of the pond) but it didn't come out too well so when i moved closer to get a better picture, he bolted into the woods and i lost him. Its crazy how they just hang out like that feet from traffic.

I had a pretty stiff headwind in the morning, but it died down by the late afternoon and I was able to put a decent amount of miles down. I would have gone further but I was offered a place to camp behind a little deli that i had stopped to eat at. It turned out to be a bad move, despite the very kind offer of the nice people there.

I put up my tent and settled in with local animals. One was a little Jack Russel that was a really nice dog. He just came out sniffed me and then decided I was ok and went back into the deli. The other one was a horse that was an attention hog. It would come up and make that horse noise where it blows a raspberry at you, over and over till I would look out my tent at it, then it would run away. As soon as I would lay back down, it would come back and start making that noise again until I would look up and then it would take off. It was like plying peek a boo with some one else's kid. It's fun for a few times then it gets really old, really fast.

That was just a warm up for the real scare though. I was sleeping in the back of the deli out by the dumpsters (classy! and smelly, something was rotting in there) and just dozing off when two deep swamp dwelling guys came charging right past my tent and started digging in the trash. It scarred the bejeezus out of me. When they saw me they were kind of taken aback, but what ever they found must have been pretty awesome because they ran off, got a ramshackle old van (that was blaring music) and came back and started digging stuff out of the trash and throwing it into their van and at each other, along with some of the most colorful swear words I have ever heard, before driving off. It was bizarre. After I finally fell asleep after that strange event, a police officer came by and woke me up again to make sure i belonged there and wasn't some bum. He was very nice though, so it wasn't so bad. Better than the trash divers coming back for a third go.

Speaking of weird people, this area is full of them. Now don't get me wrong, the vast majority of the south is full of the nicest people i have ever met in my life. I met a couple in a little fishing town that were just super friendly and we stayed and chatted for a while and they told me about some good places to go eat and showed some of the local fish they catch out here. But this part of Florida has some really odd birds as soon as you get away from the water. I have ridden through some of the weirdest little communities where people live in just horridly run down mobile homes, with multiple cars in the front yard that are not mobile. Its the kind of people you see on COPS that get caught cooking meth in their basements and then try to run from the police. It baffles me how some people live the way they do. One classic guy was driving his tractor wearing no shirt, his cowboy hat and cut off jean shorts but still wearing cowboy boots! It was awesome, but i didnt have time to take his picture.

It is so beautiful out here too, I could almost be on a tropical island, then a truck with wheels bigger than I am flies by blaring country music with a giant confederate flag sticker on the back window, yelling something at me I would expect a junior high kid to say, and I quickly realize that i am definitely not on a tropical island. I get more lewd yells per mile out here than anywhere else in the country.

The weirdest of all of the weirdos I encountered so far though, was a real doozy. I was getting ready to pull off the road and camp out in the forest when I see a guy walking down the side of the freeway in my direction. He looked really strange, so i decided to ride up and get a better look before pulling over and as I got closer my jaw just dropped.

We were about 10 miles from a town in any direction, so this is way out in the forest, and this guy that looks like a dead ringer for Charlie Manson, with a giant beard and long, crazy hair, comes walking down the side of the highway wearing a brown jump suit and holding both arms out with, get this, animal skins hanging off of them. I kid you not, I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn't seeing things. He was walking down the road with the skins of some forest critters dangling from his outstretched arms.

You can't make this kind of stuff up.

Needless to say, i decided that these particular woods were not for me and I headed into town to find something a little more civilized.

Things like this just make me scratch me head and laugh. How in the blazes do people get to that point in the United States of America? But like i said, for every one weirdo i meet out here, I meet a ton of incredibly friendly people. The weirdos just seem to stick out more!

At any rate, I am going to bed, I have a ton of miles to get down by Wednesday if i am going to get to Miami on time. I think i may have to pull a He-Man and unleash the power of greyskull if i am going to make this hppen. But, my legs feel good so i think i will be fine. Until next time!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Navarre Beach, FL to Meico Beach, FL

Day: 46

Mileage: 103

Total Mileage: 2484

I made good time today despite stopping several times to go swimming and to eat about 6 times today. The water here is just so beautiful! It was aquamarine and crystal blue all down the coast. I never realized the Gulf side was so pretty. I went through Panama city toady and I have always wanted to check this place out. It is a legendary spring beak location in the states, and i have always loved a good party! It is really a beautiful place until you get into the really touristy part and all of a sudden it becomes this big built up, tacky mess. Panama City itself, is pretty rough. Can't say I would want to live here right off hand, but who knows, there my be more to love than I saw riding through.

I was going to stealth camp out in the woods, when a guy pulled over and told me I should rethink camping out in that particular area (guess I wasn't so stealthily after all!). He was a really cool guy and he pulled out his digital camera and showed me a picture of an 11 foot Gator that he had taken the day before in the exact place i was going to sleep! Yikes! So i thanked him, packed up and rode into Mexico Beach and am camping there tonight. That could have been really bad.

One lat thing, I came across really negative in my last post. There is nothing wrong with riding across America with the adventure cycle touring association at all. Its like running the Boston marathon, it is no less of an accomplishment just because a thousand other people do it with you each year. You don't have to be Indiana Jones to have an adventure....I just want to!

Also, the other cyclists I met at camp were super nice guys, they were just use to bumping into other cycle tourists where i was not.

Well, i am wiped out, time for bed.

Dauphin Iland, AL to Navarre, FL

Made it to Florida!

Mileage: 84

Total Mileage: 2381

Day: 45

I left Dauphin island about 8 am on a ferry over to Ft. Morgan, AL. I rode along the gulf coast and as I said yesterday, this is a really cool, happening kind of place. The little beach towns all down the coast seemed really lively and fun. The super nice women at the AL tourist info center were telling me that this stretch of coast is wonderful and they were trying to convince me to go the annual mullet toss, which the name alone sounds awesome! What it is is a huge party in a place called Floribama (one of Jimmy Buffet's hang outs) where people drink and dance to live music all day and then see how far they can throw a mullet fish into Florida! hah! that sounds like fun! But, I have to get to Miami by the 1st, so i will have to miss it, unfortunately. This is another reason to get out of the state and slow down a bit, so I can go to fish throwing parties!

Also, when i was on Dauphin island, i ran into two other guys who were riding from San Diego to, I think, Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I was shocked, i had come all this way and here were two other guys riding the same direction! So I stopped and was all pumped to talk to these guys and they were like, hi. And pretty much blew me off to go get some food. So i was thinking, wow, these guys are pretty nonchalant about meeting another rider. So i get into camp at Dauphin island and i meet another guy who is leading a guided bike ride from Alabama to Minnesota. So he and I start talking and I told him about the guys I had met earlier and he said, well yeah, you got onto the the Southern Tier cross country bike route, which is really popular. He was shocked I hadn't seen anyone else so far. So he explained to me what the outfit was that he worked for, the Adventure Cycle Touring Association, and explained that they make a series of maps that, as he put it, make for a pretty brainless trip. Basically they outline exactly where to go, where to stay, where you can eat, etc. It takes all the thinking out of the tip, you just have to get on your bike and pedal. I had heard of this association before, but i didnt realize how popular it was or how much they held your hand on the trip. Then, the next day, I bumped into another guy who was riding around Alabama. He was the coolest of them though, an older Scottish guy who was riding with some beers in is pack so he could stop and drink a few while watching the sea. Now that is my kind of cyclist!

I have just been winging it and going my own way. And I am glad I did. Strangely, this was the nail in the coffin for me to get out of the states. All of the guys I had met had done 3 to 8 of the Cycle touring association trips but none of them had gone riding out of the country apart from Canada. Now, there is nothing wrong with going that way at all, it just isnt what i want to do. I want an adventure, a physical and mental challenge. I want to have to figure out where I am going, what I need to do and to have some real adventure, not a prepackaged guided tour. The idea of just going along the exact same route that hundreds of other people go on ever year just doesn't get my blood pumping. Bumping into all those guys just sort of diminished riding in the states for me.The best travel experiences I have ever had have been spontaneous and off the beaten track. So I am going to go with my gut and clear out of dodge.

That decision made, i rode into FL with a big smile on my face. I think about things a lot before i make big decisions, but once I do, it feels good to be committed to course of action. I took a stop to jump in the Gulf and swim, the water was just to inviting not too! I made it into Navarre after dark, where I was looking fro a state beach. I had to get a ride the last couple of miles in a truck, as this road has no lights and the guy who gave me a lift told me a kid had just been killed riding on this road at night, so i jumped in and got a lift to the state park...which was closed!! Stupid website needs to be updated! So again, i had to pay $20 to get into a campsite. My budget is getting murdilated! Oh well, not much I can do about it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Biloxi, MS to Dauphin Island, AL

Mileage: 75

I left Biloxi after gorging myself on a continental breakfast (got to try and get my money's worth!!) and made good time into Alabama. I was making great time into AL with no headwind for about 30 miles when I realized I had made a wrong turn! Son of a... So I had to double back down to get to Dauphin Island where I had intended on taking a ferry across the bay there to Ft. Morgan and up the coast to a state park. However, due to my stellar navigational skills, i got there late and missed the last ferry, so i had to stay on the island (which is beautiful, by the way). They had a camp ground, which was great, but it cost 21 bucks a night?!?! It was a super nice camp ground but still. Oh well, chalk another one up to experience. Today I am making my way up the Alabama gulf coast, which is a surprisingly cool place. It is a pretty happening string of beach towns that remind me of Pacific Beach, back in good old SD. I will be in FL in a few minutes, and i have to keep this one short with no pics as my old friend the headwind is back and i am struggling for miles. I want to hi Nevarre Beach state park before it gets dark.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Orleans to Biloxi, Mississippi



Total Mileage:

I left New Orleans at about 8:30 am yesterday and made my way out on the 90, which is a nice hwy for LA standards, with a big paved shoulder, not too much traffic and beautiful scenery. It was tough to leave though, I have to admit. I really wanted to stay another week for the upcoming jazz fest and to hang out longer with the cool people I had met there. But, I needed to move on to stay on schedule, which is something I have been thinking long and hard about, but ill come to that later.

At any rate, I was hauling butt out of LA on nice flat roads and, are you ready for this, the first day with no wind in weeks! Yes! I felt like my bike had grown wings with the lack of head wind. Well, my dream of having wings was more accurate than I had thought because I soon felt like Icarus when my rear wheel took a nail clean through the tube, tire liner and tire landing me on the side of the road in the heat, 25 miles from a town in either direction. That was no good. And, in all the fun I was having in New Orleans, I had forgotten to get a spare tube.

So i had to flag down a friendly stranger who gave me a ride to the nearest town...25 miles northwest. Ouch! That is the opposite way I wanted to go. So by the time I got new tubes, replaced them (and of course, it was the rear tire again) and made it back to where I was, I had lost a lot of time.

I eventually made it to Mississippi, over another big, scary ridge with no shoulder. The gulf coast of Mississippi is nothing like i expected. It is very beautiful, but also still very devastated from the hurricane. here is a really strange mix of people here too, for a beach community. I ended up having to sleep in a hotel again because i didnt make it to the state park i was shooting for due to all of the delays i have been having. Oh well, i got a nice sleep and shower and continental breakfast.

I will be in Alabama later today, and there is no wind so far today (knock on wood) and flat terrain, so i should be able to make good time. And here is a MS bridge, they know how to build them right!

One last note, I am considering making a pretty big change in my route plan. I have been thinking about this since New Mexico, but I am just about convinced that this is the right change to make. I am thinking about cutting out the rest of my North American tour after I get to Miami in favor of going straight into Mexico and then slowing my pace. That way, i will have 10 months to just cruise down the pacific coast of Central and South America and really take the time to enjoy myself. It dawned on me when I was in New Orleans and in Austin that I wanted to stay longer, but i felt compelled to leave to maintain a schedule. I am on this trip to get AWAY from schedules! If i try to do everything on the first leg of my trip that i want to in the time frame i proposed, I will be constantly on the move at a fairly fast pace.

I think I will have more fun if i take the pressure down a notch and slow down. It stinks though because I am dying to go to New York, DC, boston, chicago and Yellowstone, Arches, Zion, Moab and the Grand canyon. Those are things I most want to check out in the USA, but, i can also go back to those places anytime from home. I am itching to get to some more exotic locales too. America is great, but it is also my back yard and i am getting sick of riding past one town full of fast food joints and walmarts after another.

My mind isnt made yet, but I am pretty sure that I am going to make my way into Mexico from FL and then slow my pace so that I can spend more time doing things besides riding. I think that will make the journey more enjoyable. The world is a big place! But quality vs. quantity comes into play too when trying to see it. And, I can also fly into New York when i come home, and then ride back to California on my way home.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A few days off in New Orleans.

Day: 43

What a mad, mad city!

New Orleans. What an insane place this is. A city of huge contrasts and totally unlike anything i have ever seen before in my life. This is a place where the normal rules that bind the united states are either relaxed or ignored. People here do things a little differently and there is definitely a feeling of mild rebellion and anarchy in the air here.

Coming into the city I was thinking to myself, what in the blazes have I ridden into? I felt like I was entering a third world country. Entire neighborhoods were abandoned, people were living in communities of tents under bridges. There are places here where entire neighborhoods have been demolished down to the foundations. It is insane to think that here in the USA, a place could still be in this state of ruin, three years after a tragedy. A big part of me was outraged at the state of affairs.

But that was my initial impression as a California boy. Once I had spent a few days in the city I began to understand that the very attitude that keeps this place from pulling itself up by its bootstraps is the same attitude that makes this such an amazingly unique city. The big easy really is a perfect description for this place. You get the feeling that people do enough to get the job done here, but that is it. Its a kind of infectious laziness and attitude that life should be enjoyed more.

I stayed at the India House Hostel, which is a great place and a really cool experience for a traveler. I went out on Friday night with some locals that a friend of mine back home new (Thanks Mike and Kristin!) and got a taste of New Orleans and all i can say is that this place is addicting, despite all of the problems. Everyone here is so laid back and friendly, and also a little crazy them selves, but in a really good way. This is a city full of history and people that dance to their own beat.

We were cruising down the streets, drinking beers and chatting to everyone that passed. The streets themselves are packed with people laughing, drinking, smoking and enjoying themselves. Rules that the people don't like here are just ignored. We were sitting in a bar that was packed to the gills until 6 in the morning! There were people dressed as pirates, cross dressers, college kids, bikers, hip hopers and vacationing parents. People walked the streets smoking marijuana openly and all of it was accepted. It was mad. But a good kind of mad.

This is a strange place where you have to be careful not only of the crime, but also of falling in love with the craziness of the place and getting pulled in. The hostel i was staying at was full of people that had come for a weekend and were still there months later.

Also, Dave, his girlfriend and two of their friend came and joined us on Saturday night which was awesome. We ran around town and had a great time, it was so nice to see them again after staying with them in Baton Rouge.

In the end, I have to say that New Orleans is a pretty incredible place. There is a lot that needs to change and some of the damage to the place is mind boggling, but in terms of character, I don't think New Orleans can be beat.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Day: 40

Mileage: 128

Total Mileage: 2132

LA has been quite an adventure to say the least. This is a really interesting state, totally unlike any other place i have been in the US. You have a combination of really rural country with very dense urban sprawl, rich and poor culture all mixed up. The countryside is easily the most beautiful I have seen so far and also the most wild. The road conditions out here are atrocious and I have been having a tough time putting down miles because it is so hard to get anywhere by bicycle. Nearly every bridge out here, of which there are a lot in America's wet state, lacks a shoulder. So you have to ride on the highway to get over them. Its not so bad on the rural roads as traffic is fairly light, but in the cities, it is impossible to cross them without risking life and limb. One really tough bridge was a 4 mile long two lane stretch over a swamp with NO shoulder at all, that was not fun. There are no ways around them though, so you just have to go for it. You can also see how nice the shoulders are here.

I also got my first flat on my bike yesterday. I was pretty surprised about that, even though i have about 3,000 miles on those tubes. Since I have Schwalbe marathon tires, thorn resistant tubes, AND Kevlar tire liners, i expect to go long periods of time without a flat. But when I pulled the tire off (and of course it was the back tire, which is a HUGE pain to take off with my set up) there were three little slivers of metal, like super sharp little needles, that had punctured my tire. It was pretty much the perfect shape and size object to go through all of my defenses. They must have been sitting at the perfect angle too to go through my tires.

The big adventure of the week though, and probably not the brightest ting I have done so far on the trip, was deciding to sleep in the swamp. Like, the real swamp. I wanted to see what it was like and to say that I had done it, and I'm not going to lie, it was pretty scary. You are besieged by insects too. I don't mind most of them but the mosquitoes are a plague! I hate those little pests. The worst part though, is that all night long there were things moving and creeping around in the water and the underbrush. I got pretty spooked because I heard something moving towards my hammock about midnight. It was moving super slow too, but it was getting louder so I knew it was coming closer to me. It was the creepiest sounding thing too, too big to be a Raccoon but moving so slow. It would move towards me, stop, move again, stop and so on for about 2 hours until is was right next to me then it just stopped. I was frantically trying to look out my hammock to see what it was but it was really dark and directly behind and beneath me so I couldn't see it. I didn't want to get out of the hammock and look because one, i was pretty freaked out and two, getting out of the hammock makes a really loud noise and I had set it up pretty high up in the air over my bike. So i sat there trying to listen to every little sound holding my knife as tightly as I could.

Despite being pretty dang scared, i fell asleep and when I woke up my hand had cramped from squeezing my knife all night. I had to open it up with the other hand! I never figured out what was creeping around near me that night, but I hope it was just a big turtle or something and not a gator. When I got to Baton Rouge later the next day, the guys I stayed with laughed when they heard I had slept in the swamp. They told me Survivor Man (who is awesome!) had slept in the swamps too, and he had gotten really freaked out as well. That made me feel like less of a sissy, because Survivor Man is pretty hardcore.

I stayed with some awesome guys in Baton Rouge. Dave and Robert are students at LSU, and that is one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen. They have rivers and lakes on campus, with trees everywhere. LSU even has a tiger on campus, how cool is that?! I think Tigers are the greatest of the animals out there in the world and if I had a Tiger on campus I would have eaten lunch all the time watching it. They are just such impressive animals. Staying at a college campus made me a bit nostalgic for my own college days back at SDSU. Both Dave and Robert were Airforce ROTC, and avid cyclists. Dave has already done two half iron man triathlons! Needless to say, we had a lot in common and went out to grab a few beers and some pizza and Dave's girlfriend was nice enough to let me use her computer to try and fix my ipod (which has lost all of its music strangely). Dave has a sweet tri bike and it was funny how much faster his bike was than mine (and he is obviously a very good athlete to boot), we were joking that his bike was like a Ferrari and mine was like an RV towing a car! Dave also had an awesome Airforce cycling jersey which made me jealous!

Dave rode out with me on Thursday for about an hour and a half and was nice enough to let me draft off of him which was great because it was pretty dang windy. Speaking of wind, I am going to whine right now so someone get me some cheese, but I have had a head or cross wind EVERY DAY since my second day in New Mexico!!!!! Come on! Granted, some days the wind has been pretty light, but it has been going against me the entire time! Just one day of a tailwind would be cool, just to lift my morale! If i was going from east to west, i would already be at the coast!

I passed over the Mississippi, and the banks are flooded big time. It looks like the water may pass over the levies. Dave pointed out some trees that are no almost totally submerged that just a few weeks ago were above water. That could be really bad if they get some rain.

I slept out in the bayou again last night, but it was far tamer than Tuesday night. I was on a walking bridge elevated above the swamp and so it was much safer and more comfortable. The stupid mosquitoes still did there best to torment me though.

I will be pulling into New Orleans today and I will take the weekend off here. I should be staying with a friend of a friend so I am looking forward to a nice shower and to see the city. I have always wanted to go to New Orleans, so I am really looking forward to it. I have a little bit of a fever and a runny nose which stinks, but I cant let that get in the way of seeing one of America's most unique places.

I have one last thing to add, as this is turning into a really long update. The people out here are super nice, everyone just walks right up to you and starts shooting the breeze. Sitting and passing the time talking seems to be a big part of the culture in the south and here in LA, they do so all the time. However, the accent out here is no joke. I had always heard that parts of LA had a really strong Cajun dialect, and when I was in a really small town in rural LA coming towards Baton Rouge, two older gentlemen came and sat down next to me as I was eating lunch. They were both really nice, but i could not for the life of me understand what one of them was saying. He was a serious Cajun too, with overalls, galoshes, and a big hat, made of straw. I think he was a crawfish farmer. He would say something and it would sound like this:

"Youse riding yo bike out heya all de way from California? I say, dat dere is bout the craziest ting i ever done hurd. You must of bonked yo noggin, son."

It was pretty awesome.

Well, I need to hit the road, it may start raining today.