Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunny Florida greets us at last

Dani's legs, notice the presence of shorts instead of pants!

Our bikes leaned together during a hard boiled egg snack break

Our campsite at Itchetucknee Family Campground

Swampy, mossy Florida forest

Mike, a westbound cyclist we met today

Suwanee River State Park to Ichetucknee Springs State Park


Day 116

56 miles

We woke to cold temperatures again this morning, but not as cold as it has been. We completed our usual morning routines and pedaled up to the park's entrance station with our fingers crossed. We were hoping the rangers would give us a break for sneaking into the park after hours. We had good intentions, so we figured we could get out of any trouble relatively easily, and being on bikes is always a help. Come to find out, the ranger didn't even blink an eye. We paid for our night and headed out onto the road.

Within the first few miles, the sun really gained some purchase in the sky and we were treated to a rare (for our trip) warm and sunny Florida day. We stopped to take off our long sleeve shirts and soaked in the sun happily. The terrain here is either very flat or gentle hills, and we are surrounded by a nice pine forest that sometimes gives way to stands of live oak trees. These are nice to see because they are the only green leafed tree around this time of the year, and they are heavily draped in Spanish moss. When the wind blows, the moss sways back and forth and is every bit as relaxing as palm trees swaying.

With the weather so nice, I knew we were going to meet cyclists headed West today. Sure enough, we met one gentleman named Mike cycling the Southern Tier East to West. Coincidentally, he lives in a town that we rode through when we were on the Pacific Coast route. We chatted with him for awhile and then continued on. We stopped for a lazy early afternoon lunch break and ate our hard boiled eggs.

For most of the day we either had a tail wind or a side wind which contributed to today's lazy feeling. We saw two more touring cyclists on the road before we got to camp, but didn't talk to either one. We stopped in a small town to buy some milk for breakfast, but the only food store was a gas station. We were surprised to find some local, non-homogenized, hormone free milk in the gas station, so we bought it despite the fact it came only in half gallons.

We arrived at Ichetucknee Family Campground next to the Ichetucknee state park. We got ourselves a camp site and set up camp. Dani gave me a reprieve from my usual set up duties because I was starting to feel a bit under the weather. Unfortunately, I think I have come down with a little cold, but hopefully I will be over it in no time. Not long after we set up camp, another group of touring cyclists came into the same campground! That is the first time we have stayed at the same place as any other touring cyclists on the whole Southern Tier. We talked to them and told them about our trip, and they told us they were just 3 days into their trip. One man in the group of five named Pete told us about many of his cycling journeys. He has ridden his bike all over the world, and went 7,800 miles in one tour. The most amazing part, he didn't start touring until he was in his sixties, and now he is 72 and is riding the Southern Tier. He didn't look near his age, and was as excited about bike touring as we are. Let that be a lesson to all of you out there who think you are too old to start now. It is never to late to start bike touring.

After today, we just have a few more days until we reach the Atlantic Coast and St. Augustine, Fl. We cannot believe our trip is almost over.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Suwanee River at sunset.
The Suwanee River was made famous by Stephen Foster's song Old Folks at Home, in which he sings ..."the folks up North will see me no more when I get to that Swanee shore".

Monticello to Suwanee River State Park


Day 115

52 miles

4,742 total miles

This morning we slept longer than usual because we were so used to central time. We ended up waking up at 9AM. We had brought granola and almond milk for breakfast. When we tried the almond milk we were both a little grossed out. Greg said “it tastes like dirt.” I have to agree. I must have had sweetened almond milk when I last tried it because I did not really enjoy this stuff. It was a good thing Diane had all the eggs you could dream of and we helped ourselves to some more eggs this morning. Mmm! It is so good to have fresh eggs. Diane sent us on our way with a dozen more eggs, half of them hard boiled for snacks. Thanks again Diane and her many chickens!

We rode all day on Highway 90 and Greg kept noticing Colt 45 cans along this road. We think this is a pretty gross drink, but it must be popular around here. After riding for some time without saying much to each other, Greg turned to me and said, “Do you know what I'm thinking about right now?” I thought for a second and asked him if it had to do with Missoula, and he said it did. I immediately said “You're thinking about Big Dipper Ice Cream.” He was so surprised and said, “No way! How did you know that?” I knew because I had just been thinking about Big Dipper as well. It was ironically funny how we both came to be thinking of our favorite ice cream place at the same exact time.

We stopped in Madison at the Winn Dixie supermarket for some groceries. I felt quite refreshed after downing some Naked juice for lunch. After Winn Dixie we headed down the road for some more food for lunch and stopped at Subway to finish off the balance on our Subway gift card. We had a filling meal there and proceeded across the street to...yes...a McDonalds. It is irritating that this is our only reliable source for internet and that they are so conveniently located on our route. Oh well, its better than not posting our blogs at all. We spent a couple of hours in the McDonalds while we wrote and posted some more blogs. Two obese children sat in front of us and must have been the kids of someone working here at McDonalds. I felt bad for them because they were obviously eating McDonalds food all day and that has to be bad for their bodies, especially for growing kids. The childhood obesity epidemic is very apparent in this part of the country.

Pulling into the Suwanee River State Park at around 6:30PM we found that the entrance gate had already been closed for the night. We could not duck under it, so we bushwhacked around the gate and rode into the park. We found the campground and set up our camp. We were a little nervous about having come in after hours and we initially started setting up camp in a site that had a “reserved” sticker on the post. When we realized this, we ended up having to move everything down the road a couple hundred feet to an empty spot. Greg and I had a filling meal of egg, bean and hashbrown burritos and fell asleep as soon as we could because it was going to be another cold night.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Tallahassee to Monticello, FL

One of the chicken coups at Diane and Maria's.

A totally canopied road.

A sign warning us of the canopy over the road. Not really sure why it is a hazard?

This is the courthouse at Monticello with the traffic circle around it.

Dani calling Diane to get directions in Monticello.

Tallahassee to Monticello, FL
Day 114
33 miles

We were so thankful this morning when we woke up inside of Susan and Kevin's house. Last night was “Florida Cold” as I would call it. The temperature reached the mid twenties, and with humidity like it is down here, that is very cold. I never believed how much humidity affected cold until this Southern Tier trip. I have seriously felt colder down here at 40 degrees and near 100% humidity with a slight breeze than I have up North at 10 degrees and our usual near absence of humidity. We ate some breakfast with Kevin, Susan, and Dominick and then started getting our gear ready to go. Susan left for work and Kevin took the dog, Cooper, in for a haircut while we packed. When Kevin came back, he and Dominick helped us get our things together and get ready to go. We checked out the triplet tandem that the family rides and I asked Kevin a few questions about this amazing bike.

Kevin realized that I was riding without cycling gloves and would not have it, so he gave me a pair of his old ones. I am thankful, and excited because I have not ridden with gloves since Arcata, CA where I lost mine. Dominick and Kevin took some photos of us as we rode off, and I hope some of them turn out, but Danielle and I are not always the most photogenic couple, especially at this point in the trip. My wild beard and hair combo does not always help out this matter. Kevin and Susan gave an alternate route today, so we will not be following the Adventure cycling route. We are pretty excited about this for a few reasons. We will be able to stop at a nice grocery store, and they say the route they gave us is one of their favorite rides around. Also, it cuts almost 20 miles off of our day. All good reasons to try a different route.
We stopped at the grocery store that Kevin and Susan recommended and found some great food and stocked up for the next few days. After the grocery store, we saw a Macaroni Grill restaurant that I have heard about, so we decided to stop in and see what it was it was like. The food was actually pretty darn good, but a bit more expensive than we usually go for. After lunch we thought we were going to head out of Tallahassee, but in less than a mile we came across a coffee shop that had free wireless internet. I was feeling a bit slow after the time change from Central to Eastern time robbed us of some needed sleep, and a belly full of pasta did not help me feel energetic. I drank a cup of coffee while we caught up on internet chores.

When we finally did leave town, we found ourselves on some beautiful roads. The route that Kevin and Susan mapped for us was amazing, and we might recommend it to Adventure Cycling. We enjoyed the peaceful quiet roads and thick forest canopy as we rode along. In no time we made it to Monticello. We looked around a little bit and found this to be a really nice little town. One of the neat features is a huge traffic circle around the courthouse that seemed to move traffic smoothly without a stop light, and it was fun to ride around it on our bikes. We eventually called our host, and Diane gave us directions to her and Maria's house out in the country. We rode out there from Monticello and checked out this nice place while we waited for Diane to get home from work. They have lots of chickens in two different pens, two horses, and a sweet yellow lab.

When Diane got home, she invited us right in and we started asking her about what sort of things they do out here at this farm. Diane and Maria used to have Boer meat goats, but they have gotten out of that business do to various reasons. Now they have roughly 100 chickens, and Diane sells almost all of the eggs to coworkers in Tallahassee. I guess this just goes to show the demand for farm fresh eggs. Diane welcomed us to have as many eggs as we could eat, so we cooked up some omelets for supper with some Cotswold cheese we bought back in Tallahassee. It was great. While we ate, we watched the Olympics with Diane and watched Apollo Ohno get disqualified in a medal race. At least he was able to make a comeback in the relay and win a bronze medal. We could not believe how much fun it was watching the Olympics. The best way to enjoy TV is to not hardly ever watch it, and then watch it for a few hours. It is incredibly fascinating! Especially the Olympics. Once it started getting late, we took some great warm showers and headed off to sleep in a nice warm bed. We had a great night eating fresh eggs and sharing stories and company with Diane. She is a great host.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Long day in the saddle, we ride to Tallahassee

The sun came out today!

Beautiful trees lining out route
On the left of the road is a tree farm, I think.

Marianna to Tallahassee Florida
Day 113
79 miles

This morning I got up and washed dishes because I felt very awake before Greg felt like getting up. I had a relaxing time finding a nice spot in the sun to do some yoga before eating breakfast. After I finished the yoga, I went back to our picnic table where I had spilled some water while washing dishes to find that the water I had spilled was frozen. It definitely got very cold here last night, and apparently it is still very cold. I thought I had been wimpy for thinking that my fingers felt really cold for some reason, now I know why. After breakfast we attempted to get out of the campground at a decent time but the cold really kept us moving slowly. We ended up leaving at 10:30, which isn't too bad. We pulled into a McDonald's for wireless around 11:45 AM to check email and get in touch with our warmshowers hosts in Tallahassee. We tried our best to leave at a good time, but with the cold we just couldn't make it happen faster.

Today's riding was a gentle and hilly ride. We felt strong to start out and I told myself I was going to ride today as if I was in a triathlon. I pushed as hard as I could all day, or for as much as I reasonably could and Greg did the same. We ended up making pretty good time but our biggest concern was getting to our hosts Susan and Kevin's home before it got too late. We also hit the realization about an hour into the ride that we are also crossing into Eastern time today, which puts us another hour later that we had planned! Well, our hard riding got us to the outskirts of Tallahassee right at dusk and we ended up riding through some moderate to heavy traffic for a short distance in town. It was a relief to see Kevin on a street corner cheering us on and making sure we were on track. He really helped us out by guiding us through the neighborhoods in the dark to his family's home.

When we arrived we couldn't believe what a relief it was to finally be done riding for the day. We worked so hard to make it this far today and truly feel exhausted. We were met at the gate by Susan and Kevin's son Dominick and their dog Cooper, a little Yorkie. Dominick is 11 years old and he has gone on some really amazing adventures with his parents. The three of them ride a triplet, which is a tandem bicycle built for three. They have taken the bike to Europe on many occasions and ridden in France on five different trips. What an amazing experience it must have been for a whole family to spend such good time together and see a new country, all while getting exercise. Susan and Kevin served us some homemade ginger pancakes with syrup, bananas, and homemade whipped cream for dinner. We even had tea and raspberry sorbet for dessert. We feel so welcome here in their home. We had a great time talking to them tonight and hearing about their adventures and life philosophies. After a hot shower, we will really sleep well tonight.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DeFuniak Springs to Marianna Florida

Only picture of the day, what a cool sounding name.
As you can tell by this picture it was a pretty dreary day

DeFuniak Springs to Marianna Florida
Day 112
63 miles

We woke up this morning and were thankful to have been in a warm bed last night. It has been so cold here that we have begun to use the phrase “Florida Cold” for when something is extremely cold. Such as “Greg, is it just me or is it really cold outside right now.” “Yeah it is Florida Cold right now.” We have found out a couple of new things about Florida while on this part of our trip. It used to be that when I thought of Florida I thought about palm trees, beaches, nice warm weather and typically flat and very swampy. Well, this part of Florida is very hilly, though the hills are not very large or very steep. Either way, this state is not flat. The landscape is filled with trees, and it was a surprise to me to find that most of the trees around here are pines, longleaf, shortleaf and loblolly. The second big revelation we have come to is that Florida is definitely not always warm. Well, actually it usually is. The average lows here this time of year are around 45 degrees. We have been having an average low of around 25 for tonight and the next several nights. We are experiencing Florida at about 20 degrees colder than its typical low. Yikes!

We know that tonight will have a low of around 25 so we hope to get to the campground, get food in our bellies, and get to sleep! We are riding hard today to make it in time for the campground to be open as it closes at sundown. It has been slightly damp and cold all morning and the sun hadn't peeked out once. Finally we decided that if we saw a cafe we would stop in for lunch and to warm up. Sure enough we saw a nice little restaurant and got inside just as it started to drizzle. Greg got a lunch special with meatloaf, black eyed peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, coffee and a lemon crème pie. My lunch was a big bowl of vegetable soup. I loved this homemade soup because it was not from a can or a mix and they actually put fresh veggies like okra in to spice it up. What a good choice for lunch. After getting warmed up and having to tear ourselves away from the cozy, warm cafe, we faced the cold, dismal road ahead.

Although it never got warm today, eventually the sun came out from behind the clouds and we were encouraged to get to the campground and make good time. After some good effort to get to Marianna we remembered that we still had three more miles to ride to the state park where our campground is located. Greg ended up riding that whole way with a half gallon of milk in one hand so we could have milk with our granola in the morning. We got to the campground in the nick of time because the ranger had already closed the gate but had not left. She was very friendly and let us through the gate and checked us in so that we could just pay in the morning. We rode yet another mile down to the campsite and set up our tent around 6:20PM. Greg made some quesadillas for dinner and after the meal we scurried as quickly as we could into our sleeping bags and drifted off to sleep (after a dessert of Newman-O's -in the tent, what a treat!)


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Milton to DeFuniak Springs, FL

Florida pine forests. You usually don't think of Florida looking like this.

Florida swamp. Wish we could see some gators

Milton to DeFuniak Springs, FL


Day 111

68 Miles

We actually slept pretty well in our cheap hotel last night. The location of our hotel was baffling though. There was not a grocery store in sight, so we looked at google maps, and sure enough no grocery stores existed within a mile from the hotel. So, instead of eating breakfast in the hotel as we would normally do, we went out for breakfast. We tried a new place we have been seeing all over the South. It is called Waffle House. We thought it was more or less just a fast food joint, but when we went in, we were happy to find that it is actually like a sit down Americana style short order cafe. We order up some waffles and omelets, and it was actually pretty good. Better than what you would find at a Perkins or something like that. After breakfast we stopped at the bike shop in Milton to buy a tube. We have been riding without any spare tube since the middle of Louisiana, and we decided it would be better not to tempt fate.

After making these few stops, we headed out of town on the Blackwater trail, a nice path just for non-motorized transportation modes. We instantly found ourselves grinding into a head wind, and it was cold. We are in Florida! I can't be cold here! We recently read a friend's blog from Western Washington, and she said it was nice and sunny there. Florida, for crying out loud, is even called the sunshine state. Shouldn't it be sunny here and not in the dreary Pacific Northwest? Maybe we did our trip in the wrong direction. Florida even took the state motto “Sunshine State” from South Dakota (Where I grew up), and now South Dakota now is called the “Rushmore State.” Come on Florida, live up to your reputation!

We were very surprised to find the number of hills that we did today. We always thought Florida was flat, but there was very little flat ground today. Instead there were many gentle rolling hills covered with solid pine forests. After the Blackwater trail, we found ourselves riding on back roads through rural country. At one point we came to a small settlement and a pit bull came running from his yard chasing us with more vengeance than most dogs. I yelled at him and he changed his focus from me to Dani. Dani looked back and saw this sizable dog coming at her with teeth bared. The dog lunged and Dani instinctively swerved as she was reaching for her water bottle to spray the dog. Right when she swerved there was a vehicle coming in the other direction and I screamed as I watched what in my head looked like it could have been a disaster. Dani dropped her bottle and steered back to safety. The turn of events caused the dog to stop, but I was so upset I tried to run the dog down and spray it with pepper spray. Unfortunately the dog ran home and I was unable to scold it for its aggression.

As I looked back toward the dog running home, I realized that the vehicle that Dani had almost swerved in front of while the dog was chasing her was actually the dog's owner. This was so upsetting because the person never even came out to apologize or control their dog. I made sure Dani was ok, and she was, but when she dropped her water bottle it broke and spilled all over the road. I went back and stood in front of the house and waited for the owner to come out, but they never did. I called the sheriff and they transferred me to animal control so that I could file a complaint.

For some reason, today was harder on me that most days are. I am usually full of energy, but my saddle was giving me more pain than usual today and it just took the energy right out of me. Riding most of the day into a headwind did not help. There was also an inordinate amount of jerks on the road today that either screamed at us or flipped us the bird for no particular reason. Who knew that bikes were so offensive. We were trying to ride 80 miles today, but by the time we reached DeFuniak Springs, my body was telling me it was time to quit, and the sun was going down. We tried to find a place to stay the night, and finally succumbed to the fact that we would have to stay another night in a hotel. Luckily, we were able to find a very cheap hotel that was only a few bucks more than the campgrounds down here tend to be. Hopefully we can get some good rest and have a better day tomorrow.


Monday, February 22, 2010

We enter Florida today!

Gulf of Mexico from the Scenic Highway

Maya and Max and their nice tandem, looking ready to ride the Southern Tier

Welcome to Florida! We made it this far!

Greg liked this street sign since we are big fans of the Colbert Report

Sand Dunes and the Gulf

Gulf Shores Alabama to Milton, Florida


Day 110

56 miles

4,446 miles total

Last night it rained. Now, when I say it rained I mean it rained a lot and it rained hard. It was extremely loud on the tent, like a million little drummer boys equipped with snare drums and symbols. This was a full on thunderstorm. I don't know when the last time was I heard a thunderstorm as good as this one. We are lucky that we pitched our tent on a slight slope on sandy soil. We didn't get wet in the tent at all and there was no puddle under the tent in the morning either. Despite the storm, last night was one of the warmest nights we have had on our whole trip. I don't think it got below the mid-forties. It was very refreshing to wake up in the morning and see sun coming through the rain fly. We talked to several retired folks who rode up on their bikes to ask how we fared in the storm and if the raccoons had bothered us. Apparently everyone else in the campground knew about the raccoons except the hosts.

As we were preparing to leave, we realized that today was going to be really warm and extremely humid. We took a bike path out of our campground to the east and into the city of Orange Beach and right onto our route. Shortly after leaving Orange Beach we met a couple on a tandem who are riding east to west on the southern tier. Maya and Max are riding a sweet 15 year old Santana tandem and have been following the Southern Tier and riding some off route along the coast as well. We were excited to hear from them that there are two more cyclists eastbound on our route ahead of us. When we first met up with Maya and Max they told us these guys are just five minutes ahead of us and when we parted ways they may have been 25 minutes ahead. We never ran into them during the ride today, but we may see them at some point between here and St. Augustine. One of the cyclists ahead of us has been riding his bike for three years, from the states to the Tierra del Fuego and back again. They sound like some interesting folks who we would really like to meet.

Not long after leaving the campground we made our way to Florida, the last state we will ride our bikes through on this trip. We are very excited about experiencing possibly a whole week of favorable weather while in Florida. It will be a nice change to ride through pleasant weather for a while. The Gulf coast of Alabama had lots of summer homes but the same coast in Florida has been very quickly and very majorly developed with huge skyscraper condos and apartments forming a wall at the edge of the sea. It went on like this for at least 10 miles while coming into Pensacola. Pensacola had a nice downtown but traffic remained pretty heavy for the rest of the ride. We rode along the Gulf Coast Highway leaving Pensacola. The road here was slightly rolling and many of the homes overlooking the Gulf were large and looked very expensive. The last 25 miles of riding today were very heavy with traffic but had a decent shoulder. We pulled into Milton about 4PM and realized we still had over twenty miles to get to our original goal. With any closer campgrounds being full or requiring more riding on busy 90 we decided to stay in a cheap motel in Milton. We have not actually caught up completely on blogs for awhile so we decided that we would get them done tonight and sleep well in a bed. Tomorrow we will ride through to the last map of our journey.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gulf Ferry Ride, Wind, and a taste of Gulf Shores

Beach homes on the Alabama Coast

Greg and the bikes on the ferry in the Gulf

Palmettos in the forest on Dauphin Island

Path to the campground from the beach on Dauphin Island

Greg reenacts a mother sea turtle digging a nest for her young.

Its Greg's "windblown" look

Oil drilling platforms in the Gulf

Gloomy day on the Gulf of Mexico

Dauphin Island to Gulf Shores Alabama
Day 109
27 miles

This morning Greg rode more than two miles back into town to get some fuel for our breakfast. We got to our campground last night and realized we barely had enough gas to make dinner, much less breakfast. Surprisingly, no one in the campground had any fuel to spare. We usually eat cold breakfasts because they are faster and dirty fewer dishes, but every once in a while we decide to make a big, hot breakfast. Greg loves to cook breakfast for me and I love it when he does. Today he made us breakfast burritos filled with cheesy eggs, ranch style beans, hash browns and salsa. It was so satisfying and certainly got us off on the right foot. We finished packing up our gear and decided to walk down to the beach before boarding the ferry. The sand is very white here and the gulf water is a silty brown color. The forest is filled with loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, magnolia, live oak and palmettos. The overcast skies and the murky water with the oil drilling platforms in the distance have left us with a dismal impression of the Gulf Coast.

We departed our campground, crossed the street and instantly found ourselves in line for the ferry to take us across Mobile Bay. It surprised me that this ferry was in fact smaller than the one we rode across the Mississippi River. The watercourse here is much wider and probably as turbulent. Once we rode on to the ferry in line with all of the cars, we parked our bikes against the side of the boat and took everything in. We are riding a boat across a huge bay in the Gulf of Mexico. We rode our bicycles here from Oregon. Sometimes Greg and I have to stop and reflect on that even though we have been the ones making this great trip, one pedal stroke at a time. When the ferry began to pick up speed a friendly man came over from his car and invited us to sit in his car with him, his wife and his sister for the ferry ride. We decided it would be nice to get out of the wind and talk to some folks while we rode across the bay. We had a nice time talking to the trio from Kentucky. They were very interested in our adventure and we had fun talking to them. We realized that we are going to have to figure out what to say when people ask us, “what is the most interesting (weird, most beautiful, coolest, scariest) thing you have seen on your trip?” At this point there are so many things to draw from but those questions make my mind go blank.

Once we got off the ferry we encountered a very strong headwind for the duration of the ride into Gulf Shores. Today the headwind really brought me down. I know that headwinds can physically wear you out, but they can also tire the mind. Having a positive attitude can do wonders for your energy level and willingness to continue. On this particular day I let the headwind get to me and I was grumpy for most of the morning riding. I hate to admit it, but I definitely felt like Oscar the Grouch. Thankfully, Greg has a positive attitude about these situations more often than I do. He just told me, “what can you really do about it? It is going to be windy and you can hate it or you can just accept it.” Sometimes it is good to hear that perspective and get your mind on to other things, thanks Greg.

The beaches here are just filled with an unbelievable amount of beach houses and vacation homes. I see the plants in this area, the native pine trees that have weathered hurricanes and those that have not survived. Most trees are dead, like hundreds of toothpicks just stuck into the land. I can't imagine how anyone can believe that all of these homes could ever stand the forces of a hurricane. My guess is that most will not, considering most of the homes seem to be less than five years old.

We got to Gulf Shores and decided it was essential that we catch up on blogs. Unfortunately the only reliable wireless internet in this part of the country is at McDonalds. So we spend just under three hours working on the blog and it was about 5PM when we headed to the campground, just two miles from here between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Our camp for the night is a 450+ site RV suburbia filled to the gills with snowbirds. We were lucky to get the last site available in the park. We were not lucky in that all sites cost the same amount- RV or not, the plus side is that it was $25, instead of California's state park fee of $55 for RVs. When I was at the office I asked if there was a problem with raccoons in the park and the hosts said, not that they knew of. Greg and I set up the tent and ate a dinner of MREs courtesy of Ron Foley. The novelty of the MRE is fun initially, but I have a feeling this pseudo-food will come back to bite me.

We cleaned up after dinner and couldn't wait to try out the nice, clean and very hot showers. When I returned from the shower I found one of the small food panniers dragged away from where I placed it and a shadow of a raccoon slipped into the swamp. I was so frustrated when I saw that the raccoon had looted our pannier and destroyed at least $10 worth of food. We were excited to have Fig Newtons as a snack tomorrow, but no...not now. To add insult to the raid, I found slobbery pieces of Fig Newton were spread all over pannier inside and out. I spent the next half hour scrubbing the pannier and cleaning slobbery crumbs off of the salvageable food. The raccoon also managed to bite a couple of small holes in the lid of the pannier. We then placed all food items on top of the charcoal grill in the campsite and placed the BoB trailer on top to keep critters at bay. Greg is ready with the slingshot if they try it again. We both went to bed feeling a little sick with a slight headache. We think this is due to the MRE and all of its mysterious preservatives. We will be doing a cleanse and resuming our food ethics as soon as the tour is over. The forecast calls for a thunderstorm tonight or tomorrow morning, so stay tuned for the coming storm.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Vancleave, MS to Dauphin Island, AL. We ride to an Island!

Greg on the top of the bridge to Dauphin Island.

Janet and Alex along with their very cool Xtracycles

Alligator Meat in the grocery store.

The Train rides through Alabama.

A good example of Gulf Coast pine forest

A good bakery along the way

First good view out onto the Gulf of Mexico

The Cedar Point-Dauphin Island bridge.

Dani enjoying snacks from the first MRE she has ever tried.

Another State!

Vancleave, MS to Dauphin Island, AL


Day 108

67 Miles

Despite our less than acceptable campground last night, we did manage to get a good nights rest in our cabin. Staying inside allowed us to get a pretty good jump on the day, and by the time we left the sun was actually out and shining.

The roads in this part of the country are in pretty rough condition and shoulders are nonexistent. The hills here are pretty small and rolling, but just big enough to make us glad that our bikes have gears. At the bottom of each divide is usually a river or a bayou filled with cypress and other deciduous trees. The ridge tops consist mostly of loblolly pine with some long leaf pine mixed in and oaks scattered throughout. The undergrowth is thick and appears almost impenetrable. It makes for some nice scenery to ride through.

Just before the Alabama state line, we spotted a busy little bakery and decided we had to stop and see what all the fuss was about. Inside we found some delicious pastries and cookies, and decided to buy a few. I have a hard time riding past a bakery. Every time I see a bakery sign I think of all of the wonderful bakeries in Missoula I used to take for granted, that is, until this trip. These pastries were great, but until this trip, I didn't realize how extraordinary the baked goods are in Missoula.

As we rode on further, the road conditions did not improve. We were forced to ride on the road because there was no shoulder and, unfortunately, traffic began to increase. This led to people passing us on dangerous blind corners or hill tops. One person even pulled right up behind us and then started honking his horn in earnest, as if we were doing something wrong or like we should be riding somewhere else. We pulled completely off the road in fear that this person might try to run us off, and they honked some more and roared past us in a huge pickup with a loud exhaust. After the news of our friend getting hurt, this really set me off and I yelled at the person as they went past. I would have liked nothing better than to have had him turn around so we could have a little talk.

We entered Alabama, and found a gravel road short cut that would allow us to get out of this busy traffic for a few miles. We haven't ridden on gravel much on this trip, but it was actually a nice change. The road was well packed and we only saw a few cars. Before long we came to the town of Bayou La Batre. This is the town featured in Forest Gump where Forest begins his shrimping business Bubba-Gump Shrimp. The town is actually a huge seafood processing area, so we were going to stop and eat at a certain restaurant we heard had the best food in Alabama, but it was closed when we arrived. We stopped for a food break anyway. As we ate our snacks we saw two people on touring bikes cruising through town heading West. We waved them down and they came over to talk. We met Janet and Alex. They are traveling by Xtracycle. An Xtracycle is basically a bike with a longer wheelbase, almost as long as a tandem, but the whole back of the bike is an integrated rack with bags. These things are really cool and they can carry tons of gear. We talked with these two for awhile about the bikes and about their trip. They started up in Georgia and are heading to Houston. Coincidentally, Janet has mapped out a route from St. Augustine to Jacksonville, and this is the route we have been wondering about. After we reach St. Augustine we will need to ride to Jacksonville to get on the train. Janet was very excited that we would be able to use her route that she had taken some time to plan. She and Alex even had a bike map of Jacksonville that they gave us. At least we have that figured out now! After a nice chat with these two, we decided we had better get going. It is so exciting that we are seeing people heading the other way.

From Bayou La Batre to Dauphin Island, we rode to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Then we rode over a couple mile long bridge that was quite high at the top to allow for ship passage. We stopped at the top and enjoyed our first views of the Gulf of Mexico. It was so strange to see off shore oil drilling platforms as far as we could see. A stark contrast to the Pacific Coast.

Once we reached Dauphin Island, it was immediately apparent that this place is much fancier that the other parts of Mississippi and Alabama that we had ridden through. This looks like a resort town. We rode from one end of the island to the other and then found the campground. The campground here is full of snowbird Rvers and was reminiscent of Arizona in that way. We enjoy being around these retired people though as they make for a carefree and jovial atmosphere. We found our campsite and set up for the night. I was very excited because, as far as I know, this is the first time I have ever camped on any island. Luckily, it sounds like the ferry across the Mobile Bay is operating tomorrow so we will be able to get across. We heard that it was broken down a few days ago.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Silver Run Lake to Vancleave, MS

Jeff on the left and Ryan on the right. They had two cool bikes.

Dan on the left and Steven on the right. Rollerbladers on the Southern Tier!?

View from our campsite at Silver Run Lake

Silver Run Lakes to Vancleave, MS
Day 107
55 miles

Today was just one of those kind of days where we couldn't get the smiles off of our faces. It all started with us waking up in a warm room and a comfortable bed at the Foley's house. Ron and Carol offered to make us a warm breakfast. We couldn't decline because it is so rare that we ever cook ourselves a breakfast. Carol made some delicious pancakes and bacon and we shared a pot of coffee to wash it all down with. Ron and Carol showed us one of their favorite ways to eat pancakes, with sorghum molasses on top, with or without syrup. We both tried this new topping, and actually we liked it a lot. We really enjoy finding differences in food, even in something as simple as pancakes.

After breakfast, we chatted with Ron and Carol for awhile, and then bid them farewell so we could pack up our stuff and get on the road. Once we had all of our gear loaded up, We went to tell the owner of the campground, Nella Ruth, goodbye. When we went in her house, we found that she had prepared some coffee for us and had been waiting with two coffee mugs set out for us both. Nella Ruth was so nice, we couldn't decline drinking a cup of coffee with her, so we talked with her for a bit and drank some more coffee. Nella Ruth told us she is 85 years old, and she has been having some health problems, but she is eagerly awaiting her recovery so she can continue taking care of her business. She has suffered breast cancer and just had her second mastectomy, but she said she expects to be out mowing the lawns and taking care of the yards of the property at Silver Run Lakes this summer. She said she is not much of a house keeper, but she loves to work hard outside. Her optimism was inspiring to us, and gave us some motivation to get on our bikes and ride.

Just as we were getting on our bikes and about to leave, Carol pulled up with her friend Renee. She introduced us and asked us to tell Renee about our travels. Come to find out, Renee is a bit of a cycling fan too, but she was amazed at our trip. She couldn't believe that we had ridden from Oregon. We talked for a few more minutes and then actually left Silver Run Lake for real. We only rode about three miles down the road, and I could not believe what I was seeing. I thought I was looking at cyclists, and as we got closer, I noticed it looked like they had panniers. This couldn't be true I thought, we never see other bike tourists. As we neared this mirage, it turned out to be real. We stopped and met two cyclists traveling the opposite direction on the Southern Tier. Jeff and Ryan met up in Pensacola and had been riding together since then. It was great to talk to these two guys, they were the first cyclists we have seen since Sundance and Yana in Bracketville, TX. Jeff is riding the Southern Tier, and Ryan started in Virginia and rode down to the Southern Tier to get to California. He is using his bike literally as a form of transportation to get himself to the beginning of the Pacific Crest trail. When he arrives at the beginning of the PCT after biking the whole Southern Tier, he will ditch his bike and then hike the whole 2,600 miles to the Canada border. Needless to say we had a great time talking to these guys. Coincidentally, Ryan has a friend in Missoula, so he might visit Montana after the PCT. We told him he should give us a shout when he makes it that far.

At this point, we had stopped to talk so much, we weren't sure if we could still make it to our destination, but we figured we would try. We had only gone three miles and it was after noon. We chugged along about as fast as we could. We were still able to feel some deep down fatigue from our 95 miles a couple of days ago. On one deserted country road along the way, an old timer waved to us as we went by and asked us if we were having a good ride. We reluctantly stopped as we knew we should keep on the stick as much as possible, but it is very hard for us to pass up a conversation with elderly folks. The man was out feeding his chickens when he waved us down. He told us that he is a county official, and that Mobile county had just approved a one million dollar bike path from his part of the county all of the way to the city of Mobile. We told him how much we cyclists appreciate projects like this and assured him it would be a boon to the rural area. We told him we had to keep riding, and on we went. At this point, we couldn't believe how many people we had stopped to talk to today, and we were wondering how many more times we would be stopped to talk before the day was over.

Now I really thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I saw two guys coming up the road in our direction with blaze orange vests on. I could not imagine what they were doing. From a distance I thought I was seeing a garbage clean up crew, but as we neared, the two people looked like they were rocking back and forth. When we came up to the two, we found that they were on rollerblades. We couldn't even believe that this was all happening in one day. We had to stop and talk to these two. Dan and Steven were embarking on a cross country rollerblade trip on the Southern Tier. They both hailed from New York and were the first people we met who were doing a trip for a cause. They created a charity called In Motion for a Million for Huntington’s Disease Society of America and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. They are trying to raise one million dollars. After swapping some stories with these guys, and they told us a tale about getting kicked off the roads in Alabama, we let these two get on their way. We cannot imagine rollerblading the Southern Tier, but these guys seem up to the challenge.

Not long after we talked to the old timer, we came to an intersection and stopped to check our map to make sure we weren't making a wrong turn. The back roads in Mississippi are poorly signed, so we double check them if we can. While we were stopped, a school bus pulled up and the driver got out of the bus and walked over to us. She asked if we knew where we were, and we asked her directions to double check our map. She point the way, and then asked us where we were from. As soon as we mention to people where we are from, and where we started our trip, we always get a few questions. Well this bus driver was very friendly and she asked us all about our trip. She then found out that we both work in Yellowstone and gushed about how much she loves Montana and both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. After talking with her for awhile, we rode off again, this time laughing about the unlikely odds that we would still make it to our destination before dark. Less than five miles down the road, we stopped for a bathroom break and, to our amazement, some recreational cyclists pulled up and we chatted with them about our trip and about riding in Mississippi in general. We also coaxed them into taking the spare wheel we found in Texas off our hands. They were part of the Gulf Coast Cycling Club, and said they could use this wheel as a door prize or something like that. We were more than happy that our find would go to some cause that would promote cycling in some way. After we chatted with these folks for awhile, we again made our way toward our final destination, Vancleave.

Despite all of our stops for conversations, we still made it to Vancleave right as the sun went down. We found the Bluff Creek campground and inquired about a tent site. Much to our disappointment, the tent sites were $30 per night. At this point, then sun was completely down, and the nearest campground was 6 miles further. Dani was not in the mood to ride in the dark, especially because near Vancleave, the traffic had increase and people were driving like idiots. The owner informed us that our only other option was a cabin at $40 per night. I was not happy with this at all and balked at the price. I told him we didn't need water, electricity, or even a shower, but he snootily said that is all he had. The sign at the entrance said they had primitive campsites, so obviously there was some false advertising going on. After talking with Dani, we decided that the cabin was then better deal and doled out forty greenbacks.

We had high hopes for our cabin, obviously much too high. We found our cabin right next to a campsite with a degenerate drunk couple yelling and arguing with each other. They were saying things like “I hope you have to have lung surgery you !@#$%.” Great we thought. We opened the cabin and it was basically filthy. There was no heater which we assumed we would have for forty bucks. The shower house conveniently located across the street from the cabin was so run down that we hardly even wanted to walk in the door let alone disrobe and take showers. We had been taken for forty bucks. Just let this be a lesson to you all out there. Do not even go to the Bluff Creek campground in Vancleave.

Despite the end of our day, we were smiling all day. We met so many great talkative folks who were genuinely interesting, and who were also interested in our travels. We have discovered that no matter what the time is, it is always worth taking the time out of our day to chat with new and interesting people. Because of this, we are starting to feel like the United States is more of a community we belong in rather than just a big amalgamation of states with whom we have nothing in common. We now have friends spread out all over this land, and any news we hear from those places in the future will be so much more personal. One of our biggest goals in doing this trip was really discovering America and the people who live here. That has happened, but to an extent beyond what we could have imagined at the beginning.

Speaking of people we have met, we just need to make a note about Matt Potter, the guy we met in San Luis Obispo, California. He is the guy that was there when Dani crashed. He helped us find a good place to spend the night, and he even took us out for supper. We just received word from him that he was out for his daily bike ride and, in almost the same place Dani crashed, he was hit by a truck that swerved into the bike lane when the driver stopped paying attention. The truck was traveling at 60 mph and struck Matt from behind. He woke up in the hospital with a broken spine, an arm broken in five places, a fractured skull, broken ribs, and a whole litany of other injuries. Matt spent a month in the hospital and is now in a body cast. We have not been able to call him back due to the complete lack of Verizon service along our route and at our camping spots, but we got this info from the message he left us. He said he expects full recovery in 6 months to a year. This just goes to show how important it is to really pay attention while you are driving. To cyclists, nothing really matters more than that. We are so vulnerable to automobiles. Stay off the damn cell phones while you are driving and appreciate the fact that cars and trucks are basically massive cannon balls. One little slip up at the wheel can mean killing a cyclist or a pedestrian. Slow down and appreciate that roads are not just for cars. In the mean time, we hope Matt will recover quickly, and that he can get back on the bike again someday soon.