Monday, February 11, 2013

P4W2 Day 37 Salt Mine Wallace-Morehead City, NC 92 miles

For a period of time today, the road conditions were as I would have scripted them:  rainy and windswept but otherwise quiet.  I was able to lose myself in a series of daydreams...essential nourishment for one's soul.  I thought about the many miles behind me across this beautiful land.  Pedaling through Mojave moonscapes, the sun-soaked climb into the lovely Davis Mountains of West Texas, and the tranquility of the Natchez Trace: these memories will stay with me for a long time.

I have many people to thank for making this journey a reality.  Thanks to my parents, C.G. and M.E. Rudershausen, and my siblings, Chuck, Bonnie, and Sara, for their support and encouragement of my ride.  I want to thank the OWLS director, Trish Slape, for being game for another fundraising ride for the shelter.  My boss, Dr. Jeff Buckel, graciously gave me time off from a busy work schedule.   Chris Whitlock's many words of encouragement and hog bars were carefully planted to provide me a maximum boost of 'umph' when I needed it the most.  And thanks to my many faithful e-mailers and texters that gave me regular words of support.   They kept me going when my legs started to fail.

I would like to thank all the donors to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter through Pedal 4 Wildlife II.  Your generosity will be put to use to revamp the pool that houses brown pelicans that come into OWLS from all over eastern North Carolina.  You, the donors to OWLS, really gave my ride as bedrock sense of purpose and motivated me through seemingly endless miles of hills and headwinds.

I was able to bike across the continent with really sub-par bike mechanic skills.  Despite my love of biking, it's simply something I have not mastered, far from it!  So I am thankful particularly for the shop that sold me a wonderful bike and trustworthy components - Downingtown Bike Shop (Downingtown, PA).   Ken and George have always provided me wonderful service.  I committed their phone number to memory many years ago, and called them 'cold' many times during my ride this winter.   I also thank the shops I visited on the 'spur of the moment' and who unflinchingly gave me wonderful service: Hi Tec (San Diego), Gila Hike and Bike (Silver City, NM), Crazy Cat (El Paso), Arrowhead Bicycles (Kyle, TX), Trippe's Western Auto (Natchez, MS), and Cycle Therapy (Rome, GA).

In an era when bikers and bike lanes are unfortunately still way too uncommon, I am pleasantly surprised and very thankful that the vast majority of motorists gave me space on the road.  I could not have asked for, or been provided, better road etiquette by almost every one of the tens of thousands of drivers that passed me between the two oceans that bound this wonderful country of ours.

Finally, a message to those of you that have considered a big journey of your own.   A journey like this stirs rare, priceless, and powerful emotions.  Completion of a trip like this can have an everlasting benefit on one's soul.  If you've ever considered a big journey like this, whether it be carried out by the mind or the muscles, or both, have faith in your plan.  Do not let natural human trepidation derail your visions.  Dream big, believe in yourself, and go for it!

I think over again my small adventures, my fears, Those small ones that seemed so big. For all the vital things I had to get and to reach. And yet there is only one great thing, the only thing. To live to see the great day that dawns, and the light that fills the world.   -Inuit song

Sunday, February 10, 2013

P4W2 Day 36 Stretching for the Atlantic III Laurinburg - Wallace, NC 102 miles

Last night I spoke to my boss and his wife, Jeff and Christine Buckel.   They had a novel idea to drive down the road to meet me, and then one of them hop in the truck while the other let me draft off of them for my second-to-last day on P4W2.

This turned out to be a great idea.  Jeff and Christine, thank you!   When they first met me, I felt like....well, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Either over-eating the night before (another 5000 ish calorie dinner) or the four waffles, five cups of OJ, and two cups of coffee this morning were not sitting well with me.
We ditched the four paniers in the truck - suddenly I was 60 pounds lighter! And I drafted off of Jeff and Christine for essentially the rest of the day.  That really helped to take the bite out of the east wind that confronted us all day long.   We crossed numerous cypress swamps and blackwater creeks traveling southward towards the long meandering coastlines of the Carolinas.  We made several pleasant rest stops along NC Highway 41, which has now taken me fully into the Carolina coastal plain.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

P4W2 Day 35 Chester, SC - Laurinburg, NC 114 miles

A good day of riding.  On a cold clear morning I was able to pedal a few miles just as the sun started warming the South Carolina hills.   The frost melted fairly rapidly.  It was a clear cloudless sun-splashed day from sun up to sun down.

The wildlife highlight of the day was raptors - many red tailed and red shouldered hawks were seen today.  I was descending one hill today and saw something out of the corner of my eye.  A hawk was taking flight about 50 feet from me, with a large black snake in its talons.

Late in the day I crossed a flagship road in the country  - U.S. 1.   Ten miles later I made a turn to the north and turned 20 really pleasant miles on a quiet and flat secondary road leading through a mix of forest and farmland near the state border.  And just before dark I finally pedaled back into North Carolina.  Was it really only a month ago that I left here to start P4W2?

P4W2 Day 34 Anderson - Chester, SC 99 miles

After yesterday's beating from the rain I woke up with
puffy eyes.  I had to blink out a lot of rain drops after
giving up on yet another pair of so-called 'anti-fog'

After 30 years of pretty enterprising outdoor activities
I am still really stunned how much the weather can dictate
the terms of the experience.  To say that today's ride was
different than Day 33 would be an under-statment.  This
difference was largely due to the rain yesterday, and lack of
rain today.  I had wanted to stay in the South Carolina
Mountains yesterday but glad I dropped south because it was
likely a few degrees warmer, which made the sting of rain
not quite as bad as it would have been at higher mountain elevations.  I would
suspect some of the higher passes of the southern Apps got
snow yesterday.  I hope those AT thru-hikers had a good book and
a dry lean-to to park it in during the storm.

Today's route wound through some picturesque piedmont roads
of western South Carolina.  The air was filled
with the scent of loblolly pine.    The traffic was not too bad. Upon looking
back at some photos from the first couple weeks of the trip, I
realize that I have definitely accepted a new norm for shoulder
widths over the course of the trip;  many wide shoulders and
deserted roads out west, the exact opposite here!
And the desert weather seems like a lifetime ago; I crossed countless
muddy streams and rivers that were running high from yesterday's


Thursday, February 7, 2013

P4W2 Day 33 Sky Lake, GA - Anderson, SC 85 miles

Heavy traffic, hard rain, horribly wet, headwind, head down, head east.

P4W2 Day 32 Talking Rock - Sky Lake, GA 71 miles

Day 32 was a very tough but wonderful day of pedaling.   A heavy fog and singing cardinals and phoebes greeted me when I woke this morning.  The fog quickly burned off and brought about one of the nicest days of weather of the entire trip...60s, totally clear, and calm. 

I snapped a photo of a Civil War era chimney before I left Talona Creek Campground.  And I couldn't resist feeding one of the local horses one of my granola was consumed as if he was on a bike tour (very quickly!).

The hills were immediate and intense today.  The first 30 miles I covered on pleasantly traffic-free roads.  World-class roller coaster rides have nothing on today's ride, and I shifted gears constantly.  I was fully in the beautiful Georgia mountains, and going slowly for a long long time.

Six miles into the ride today I got to a T in the road.  I sat there puzzled, for I had not climbed Burnt Mountain and the truck was pointed downhill on the sign.  Well, I think the Georgia DOT was playing a joke on me, for the 12 miles posted on the sign was uphill!  Turns out the hill signs in the state always have the truck facing the direction that bikers like to see.  Don't be fooled into thinking the tough riding is behind you!

Burnt Mountain was a very tough climb.  It was very similar in duration and steepness to Rabbit Ears Pass in Steamboat, Colorado (P4W1, Day 15 ish), except at 6000 feet lower elevation.  But Burnt Mountain had the elevation change where I could literally see the lobolly and oak forest give way to one dominated by white pines, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels, the southern terminus of species found even a couple thousand miles to the north.  The top of  Burnt Mountain even had snow.  I felt I was back into winter after a spell in the deep south where it felt like summer was upon me.

By noon I had made 20 super tough miles and detour off to see beautiful Amicalola Falls State Park, which has a spectacular mountain cascade.  And the state park is home to the start of Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking path of the East.  The quote on the memorial sums up the wonder of the AT.

The traffic re-found me later in the day.  But I had wonderful mountain views all afternoon as my route paralleled a major spine of mountains in northern Georgia.

After traveling through several very picturesque mountain towns, I finally made it to Sky Lake, where Gail and Dennis Piccirilli  hosted me at their beautiful home in the Georgia foothills.  Gail was a volunteer at OWLS and recently retired along with Dennis to a lovely and peaceful spot in the southern highlands. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

P4W2 Day 31 Centre, AL - Talking Rock, GA 88 miles

This started kind of like Day 30 ended.  Rain and really heavy traffic on narrow two-laned roads forced me to purposely drive into the grass a few times in the tight spots.  It's not the drivers...they've been considerate here in the southeast.  The roads are not designed for road biking.  And the traffic volume speaks to either a populated part of the country or low number of paved roads, or both.  It's amazing to think that 150 relatively short years ago Atlanta was reduced to rubble, because now its traffic extends out like 50 miles from city center.  Late in the day I stopped over the I-75 bridge and watched traffic pouring down a six lane interstate in both directions.  Getting across these interchanges is pretty challenging with a bike when you have that many trucks and commuters on a mission to get where they are going.  Sensory overload with traffic avoidance, lights, and billboards everywhere trying to grab your attention.

By noon today I had made it to Rome, GA, a very busy city in its own right, with traffic issues to boot.  Getting frustrated by biking on the sidewalk, I needed a timeout and committed to a slow time-draining ride through downtown.  I am glad I did.  Unfortunately many downtown squares in America have died and their businesses left to the outskirts, or left altogether.  That was not the case in Rome.  I got a tip from a local to go visit Trey Smith at Cycle Therapy, a locally owned shop that provided me some really nice, friendly service.  Turns out that the road salt way, way back on snowy Day 1 rotted one of my cables.  A visit to the bike shop and a local bakery was a good way to forget about the traffic and break up the day.   The city was marked by beautiful architecture.  Several lovely churches lined the city streets.

A tailwind after leaving Cycle Therapy let me cover the next 25 miles easily.  The trucks lifted me up a bit when they passed.  I then crossed through tiny Adairsville, which I later learned had an F-3 tornado go through a week earlier.  My point-and-shoot camera wouldn't capture the damage.  The destruction to houses and trees was alarming.  Two people died from this tornado.

The late day featured a couple sharp climbs on mountain roads with lighter traffic, clear skies, calm winds, and views of stands of beautiful hardwoods on steep hillsides.  With the hills and re-entry into the eastern time zone, I soon realized with the daylight compression that I wouldn't make my destination of Amicalola State Park even an hour after dark.  A stop at a country store, consumption of a pint of ice cream, and fish talk (reservoir striped bass) with the owner revealed that one Talona Creek Campground was just five miles away. 

Talona Creek Campground is what you would picture in the Georgia mountains:  go to the top of one hill, turn right, and drop down a short but intensely steep hill into a hollow filled with apple trees to get there...the kind of hill you are already hoping you don't have to go back up the next morning (I don't - there's a cryptic dirt road shortcut I plan to take.).  The picturesque campground sits right next to  - you guessed it - Talona Creek.  The owner John Rausch informed me that the creek has several species of rare darters in it.   I pulled into the campground right at dark.  Over the sound of bluegrass music John and I shot the breeze for an hour in his cabin by the creek.  It felt really good to be inside by an oak wood stove fire on a cold Georgia night.  It turns out that formidable Burnt Mountain would have blocked my passage to the state park tonight; I am glad I didn't try this climb at night. 

With the rush of cold mountain water by my tent and barred owls calling from the woods, the traffic, at least for a spell of time, felt a like a really long way away. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

P4W2 Day 30 Decatur - Centre, AL 91 miles

Today was a lot tougher of a time biking than Day 29, even though the mileages were similar.  The trade off for taking the Natchez Trace was having the southern Appalachians eliminating flat passage east back to the Atlantic.  Out of Decatur by about 20 miles I hit the first thumping hill in like a week: 2 miles at 9 percent grade....25 minutes gone right there, then 5 minutes at the top of the hill to figure how whether it was real or a dream that I was getting up to 20 mph regularly just one day earlier.  Gravity never rests.  This kind of climbing continued all day long as I crossed several mountain spines of the southern Apps.  They are easy to spot when you fly west out of Atlanta on a clear day; row after row of mountains can be see for the first half hour or more of air time.  The hills were tougher with the traffic.  I never could lose some pretty heavy traffic even though I was on secondary roads for the majority of the day.

Despite a raw day with 40 degree temps and slate gray skies, there were glimpses of spring.  Many beds of daffodils had started blooming.  It was a weird site having these flowers in bloom but going past countless houses with wood smoke pouring out of their chimneys.   The damp cold of the eastern U.S. feels more bone chilling than that of the desert.  Many people today asked me if I was cold.  I told them that going uphill was fine but downhill was tough with the wind chill factor.

The Tennessee Valley Authority operates many dams in the U.S. Southeast.  The mighty Tennessee River is dammed for much of its course.  I crossed the massive Lake Guntersville Reservoir around midday.  It was amazing to see dozens of common loons in their winter plumage.  The lake was flat calm and they were fishing side-by-side bass anglers in seeming perfect harmony.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Paul's Appeal for Your Donations to OWLS through Pedal 4 Wildlife II

I credit my friend Rachel Bisesi for the photo artwork.  Such an all-encompassing photo needs to be accompanied by my all-encompassing appeal for donations to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter through Pedal 4 Wildlife II!

I have roughly one week of pedaling remaining on a 3500 miles bike trip across America.  To those of you that have donated, thank you for your support of OWLS!   And please pass this message along to friends and colleagues that hopefully will be interested in supporting a wonderful wildlife shelter in coastal North Carolina.  If you are following my journey but have not yet donated, I am asking for your support.  Remember, all your donation dollars go to support OWLS and their mission to treat sick and injured wildlife.

Thank you!

P4W2 Day 29 Tishomingo, MS - Decatur, AL 88 miles

Tishomingo State Park is a beautiful place.  It looks like it represents a part of the state where the rocks return.  There were very pretty slate-bedded creeks in the park, where the water runs clear, and if you are not claustrophobic, possibilities for cave exploration as well.

Last night felt like one of the coldest nights of the trip simply because it was pretty cold for camping (25 F) and the air never dehumidified after the rain yesterday.  I woke up to a coat of ice on the bike, the paniers, and the road.  The slow-rising sun made for pretty lighting on the pond inside the park.

This morning I said goodbye to the lovely Natchez Trace.  I left it like I started on it - I had the road to myself.    This re-routing decision to take the Parkway instead of rutted roads to the south enabled me to cover about 10 percent of my cross-continental distance on a beautiful road with great scenery.  Maybe someday I'll pedal the northernmost 25percent.

After I left the Parkway I realized I had to make some uneducated guesses on what roads to take across a populated stretch of the red clay country of northern Alabama.  U.S. Highway 72 was not a bad road, had variable shoulder widths, lots of traffic, and some nice tailwinds.

The highlight of the afternoon was passing by Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge had many waterfowl.   And I spotted my first belted kingfisher, a species that adorns the bird trail signs in the northern part of the state.
Dogs are everywhere in the south: dogs that eat dead stuff, stray dogs, dogs that chase bikers, howling dogs at night while people try to sleep, and also a place where they can be laid to rest.

P4W2 Day 28 Mathiston-Tishomingo, MS 112 miles

I was able to make some good miles today on the rolling Natchez Trace.  The winds were calm and the skies were gray.  The many bird sightings today included pileated and red bellied woodpeckers, wood ducks, turkeys, and brilliantly colored bluebirds.

Then it happened.  At around Tupelo the rain started.  I got soaked!  Cold rain with heavy traffic around the city.  I needed a break and Starbucks coffee tasted pretty darn good.

As quickly as the rain started, after an hour it quit just as suddenly.  The skies cleared and I once again had a beautiful afternoon sun-soaked road all to myself north of Tupelo.  The lovely Tishomingo State Park greeted me with super cold and clear skies for my last evening in the state of Mississippi.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

P4W2 Day 27 Jackson - Mathiston, MS 88 miles

Another great pedaling day on the Natchez Parkway.
I think that this road has spoiled me for the remainder
of the trip!  Many pines and oaks line the Parkway.
Oaks here are impressively sized. The growth rate
of red oaks here looks maybe double the rate in New
England, based on the radial spacing between rings here;
about 1/2 inch (~ one inch diameter growth per year).

I had told Ben Ball at the Talk Station that I thought
that I had entered the very fringes of the Appalachians
back near Natchez.  Now I don't think that was true.  Today
turned out to be flatter than Day 26.  And I noticed that
the highest elevation in the state as posted on my map is
only 900 feet above sea level.  I think that the Apps missed
the state of Mississippi. 

Today I wound through
swamp areas with a lot of standing water.  I saw many
groups of wood ducks, including some of the really brightly
colored males.  They spook easily but I got quite close to them
due to how quiet a bike is on a smooth road.  Is it the
world's most quiet machine? (at least when the chain is oiled?!).
I tried to get close to a big flock of wild turkeys, but
they would have none of it.  I saw dozens of deer, including
several bucks that still had their antlers.

Today was also surprisingly cold.  A north headwind bit into me
all day.  The difference in speed between yesterday and today
was 2 mph, but it felt more than this.  Despite another day
with cloudless bluebird skies, the winter hat never left my head.
Ironically, it felt warmest today when the wind stopped at around
dusk.  I think I have advanced farther north than spring.  The
grass is less green up hear and the vernal pools were mostly
quiet of frogs.  Great blue herons looked like they were snacking on cold-stunned frogs in these pools.  Daffodils along the Parkway looked about 10
days away from blooming.

Late in the day I got to the historic town of French Camp.  I still
had a few miles to pedal to my campground, so didn't want to get
too far off the Parkway.  But this town is right on it.  I turned
left to a convenience store that had a little side business of
southern fried dinners.  I got a really nice meal of fried fish,
plus boiled stuff which was a welcome change from the batter fried
business of LA.  Boiled sides included true southern flare - okra (sliminess
and all), collards with butter, corn on the cob, and then also fresh
cole slaw.  The only zany part of my purchase at the store was
the pre-packaged coconut pie I bought.  In the dark at the campground
I was about to lay into one.  I noticed through my dim headlamp that
this product hadn't left the shelf very often - both pies were covered
in a healthy layer of fuzzy green mold!  Even my appetite couldn't
deal with that type of frosting.

On the way back to the Parkway from the store I noticed another
side of French Camp.  The French Camp Christian Academy maintains
some really nice old historic buildings.  I wish I had discovered them earlier in
the day.  I went into the cafe, which was located in an early 1800s cabin.
After 80 miles of cold pedaling, I could have napped by the red oak log fire for
a few days.  It felt great.  The ladies sold me my second take out dinner and some first-
rate dessert - Mississippi mud cake made from scratch in...Mississippi.  I should have asked for 3 or 4 servings.  The
old oak beam dwellings and exhibits the Academy maintains at French Camp were really
well maintained, and a great stop for somebody visiting the Parkway.  Before
I left to get back on the Parkway for my last 10 miles of pedaling, I sat in
the rocking Adirondack chairs on the porch.  I would have liked to take one
with me - much, much more comfortable than my bike seat!  The chain connecting
the chairs is to keep bike tourers from getting any ideas.

Friday, February 1, 2013

P4W2 Day 26 Natchez State Park - Jackson, MS 96 miles

A fine day of pedaling on the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Just
wonderful scenery all day on a well maintained road.  I
wound through a mixture of hardwood and softwood forests,
over rolling terrain.  Red-shoulder and red-tailed hawks,
bluebirds, red-headed woodpeckers, and nuthatches were all
seen in abundance today.  In a swamp close to Jackson, I
spotted a blue heron rookery;  the wispy nests had survived
the windstorm a couple days earlier.  Many trees had fallen across the road as a result of the storm.

What makes the scenery so good along the Parkway is that
it is a commercial-free zone.  No advertisements.  Litter
is rare.  Lots of well-maintained exhibits and farms along
the road.  And a super-smooth road surface that makes pedaling
easier and quieter. 

One of my stops today was in front of an historic home in
the really sleepy town of Port Gibson.  Figured I better
take a photo of blooming flowers while I could before I passed
them to the north!

Lots of folks have asked what I eat.  Late in the day I was riding
well (read: comfortably!) and spotted a Fresh Market right near
downtown Jackson.  Taking a loaded touring bike through a rush
hour roundabout in the state's biggest city will turn some heads!
After several days on small and limited grocery stores, I was
overwhlemed in the bountiful Fresh Market;  I picked up a real motley
crue of stuff that I then ate for dinner; one pound fresh salad,
two hard boiled eggs, four stuffed grape leaves, one package (4
servings) imitation crab meat (Alaskan pollock), one mango protein smoothie,
4 ounces chocolate covered pretzels, one package bagel chips,
one quart tangerine juice, one can smoked almonds, and one Pay Day bar.  After eating this,
the whole loaf of pumpkin walnut bread looked out of place in my
tent, so I ate it too.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

P4W2 Day 25 Simmesport, LA - Natchez State Park, MS 82 miles

My goal today was to travel north into Mississippi, the 49th state
I've to.  The route in the morning took me due north.
I pedaled on a massive windswept levy of the Mississippi River.
Water control and diversion structures were everywhere.  It would take a lot
of study or a stop in one of the many Army Corp of Engineers offices
to determine what all the structures where for and where the water was headed.
Many, many birds inhabited the river bottom lands still left flooded;
white pelicans, bald eagles, countless hawks, pileated woodpeckers, and wood ducks were all seen today.

I made 70 really slow miles as the west wind throttled me full-tilt.  In fits
and starts I pulled the winter biking garb back out of my bike bags; it
had gotten pretty much ignored over the previous week and I had a hard
time finding it and then putting it on...once I was on the levy there
was no place to stop or hide from the wind over the flat miles to the
river crossing.  The big bike was a partial blockade from the wind!

By mid-afternoon I had crossed the big river on a wide and (now needless to say...)
windy bridge.  The Mississippi with a cold clearing wind whipping it into a
muddy froth, looked pretty intimidating if I was to get blow off the bridge...maybe a 150 foot swan dive.
This marked the third time I had crossed the river on my bike trips.  In
Minnesota, the river is, obviously, considerably smaller.  There is a lot of
erosion between here and there to create that kind of mud load.  Chocolate milk has nothing on the Mississippi this far down.

Natchez, MS is a really nice town.  It has sweeping views of the river and
stately red brick buildings.  In a lot of ways it resembles a smaller version of
Williamsburg, VA.  I had three good stops in town.  The folks at a really nice
visitors center gave me some route advice.  I stopped at the Natchez Coffee Company and
gave the owners son a geography lesson on where I had pedaled over the past 3 weeks.
And I stopped at Trippe's Western Auto to get my bike tires changed.  Chris
Trippe, the owner, was a great guy.  He told me that his grandfather bought and
owned one of the original Western Autos in the 1930s.  Chris's store remained
an independent franchise after the other stores were taken over by by Sears in a buyout
years ago.  He had added a bike department to his store due to the popularity
of bicycling here.

My goal for days was to intercept the historic Natchez Trace Parkway in order to cut through a
wide swath of the Deep South on a good road.  I had done a bit of homework on the
Parkway and read that it was a bikers dream.  This is spot-on.  Late in the day
I finally left town and got on the Parkway for the last 10 miles of riding.
A smooth, quiet, and pretty road with great scenery.  Dozens of deer hurdled off in front
of me.  Frogs chirped from river bottoms before their likely re-hibernation due the
recent cold snap.  I even treed a raccoon that wasn't quite sure what to make
of me in the new-found cold twilight.   Stately oaks, beeches, hickories, and pines line the Parkway.

For folks in my reading audience that may be considering a bike trip of their own, the
rolling topography of Natchez Trace might be for you.  The scenery is apparently outstanding during spring
bloom and fall color seasons.  There are lots of places to stay along the Parkway,
and motorists appear really cognizant of bikers; for the first time during the P4W2, I had
motorists stop in both directions to let a biker past safely.   Wonderful!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hi Paul from everyone at OWLS - we're all enjoying your ride from your colorful tales of adventure everyday! Thanks for taking us along for the ride!!! We also appreciate you keeping us posted of your progress on the Talk Station WTKF 107.9 every Tuesday and Thursday at 8am - it's been great to hear your voice! We've raised almost $6000 so far for the pelican pool, so we're looking forward for you getting home - not only because we miss your cheerful face around the shelter - but also so we can get down to brass tacks and get started on the long awaited PELICAN POOL!! The Pelicans are waiting!! Be safe and we'll see you soon!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

P4W2 Day 24 Mittie - Simmesport, LA 104 miles

The roosters from the nearby farm started warming up at 3 AM this morning and were in full chorus by 5.  The night air was hot and humid and some mosquitoes escaped my lethal swats in the the sleep was light and restless.  Maybe three good hours.  After my radio interview was over I was sliding down the road.  Rhett was still in his house;  I don't think his level of inebriation was going to lend itself to milking the Holsteins or catching steelhead this morning.

Today was a rich and varied day of riding across the deep south.  It felt like a long day - not only because it was long but because of the tremendous variety of things I saw.  Even a flag rooting for the football team from the frozen tundra.

First thing in the morning I made my way down to Oberlin, a sleepy swamp town in the heart of the state.   They had a neat sign announcing the entrance into town.  I also figured that a second-tier college in Ohio was named after this little hamlet in the middle of a world of water.

In Oberlin I bumped into Jim Riley, a sage retired pharmacist that  had decided many moons ago to call the sleepy town his home.  He treated me to breakfast at the local diner, and I met a number of nice retired folks that told me about their very unique part of the country. 

East of Oberlin the country got abruptly flat.  Pine trees gave wave to rice fields and crayfish (crawfish) traps.  The season for these crustaceans was just starting with the early spring warm-up, and I saw several fishermen tending their traps.  The boat/buggy really is an unusual contraption for navigating through flooded rice fields - kind of like half boat, half car.  The metal wheel in the back is for moving through the water as well as over dikes that separate one field from the next. 

So I weaved among rice fields for about 30 miles today.  I saw many many birds, including a peregrine falcon.  Gulls, terns, and snow geese inhabited the flooded rice fields.  Turtles crossed the road often.  I save some from auto tires, but many more had already been squashed.  The strongest south wind of the trip blasted my starboard side for about 2/3 of the day.  For the other third I had incredible tailwinds that lifted me north by northeast towards the Mississippi River.   Moving across the state today was like moving a checker  - some east, then north, then east again, etc.

Pine was the flare of Day 23 and crawfish the flare of Day 24.  In Mamou I stopped into a local fish market.  A couple nice college guys told me about fishing for crawfish and how to eat them.  So I bought a pound and put them in my panier (the double plastic bag to avoid crawfish juice spillage was a good idea).  An hour later I sat down roadside and ate them.  I wasn't particularly adept at getting the tail meat out, and ended up impatiently eating the tail just like I do shrimp - Beowuf style (shell and all).  And the Cayenne pepper they boil crawfish with - not good for saving one's ration of water while biking with a fearsome crosswind!

After the town of Ville Platte I abruptly departed the flooded rice fields and pedaled through the really pretty Chicot State Park.  That's where the state arboretum is located.  I had forgotten how many species of oaks occur in the southeastern U.S.

The weather was very threatening today, but for the most part held off.  With the hot humid air, even given some passing rain bands ahead of an approaching front, I left the rain jacket packed away.  The lightning and tornadoes held off.  I pressed on through many quaint small towns, across many muddy cypress creeks, and very close to the mighty Mississippi.

P4W2 Day 23 Silsbee, TX - Mittie, LA 99 miles

The bulk of today was spent in a wide shoulder on
two lane interstate roads.  I ran a serious slalom course
all day, weaving in and out of pieces of tires, small rocks,
spark plugs, and a really wide variety of other objects.  I even became a packrat and picked up an old pair of pliers.  Most
notably, however, I weaved in and out of loblolly pine debris -
chips, bark, sticks, and even some logs.  The loblolly is king
around here, and hundreds of trucks passed me enroute to paper
mills and sawmills.  It is only fitting that I post a photo
of loblolly bark, very similar in appearance to that of
the ponderosa pines of the Rockies that I traveled through two
weeks ago.

That kind of noise I experienced today and days recently past  - a south wind whining into my right ear, and trucks whizzing by my left ear, has made studying impossible... I brought a little pocket tape recorder with me to listen to my dry voice remind me of some really laconic fisheries and statistical formulas I need to know.  The sound of my own voice reciting some of this stuff also has turned out to be a pretty rough thing to listen to!

Some of the trucks at stop lights were
close enough to me that on the sawlogs the rings were easy to
count; their wide spacing indicated a growing season that almost
never stops.  Here it is in January and I am wishing for a cold
spell.  Even the mosquitoes have hatched down here already.  Some have invaded through the small cracks in my tent fly and I am swatting away as I write this. 

I said goodbye to Texas and entered Louisiana around midday.
Folks seem friendly here.  And the posted speed limit is less than Texas, which sure makes riding less of a rear-view mirror task than it seemed to be on two-laners in Texas.
A week ago I hadn't seen a riverbed with water.  Now water is
everywhere.  In this low-lying part of Louisiana - just
north of the bayou, the cypress stream are filled with tannin.
So you have tea colored water running over picturesque white sands.  The streams are higher due to the really heavy rains these parts received a couple weeks back.

The nice ladies at the Louisiana welcome center back Merryville called ahead to the White Sands Campground and said that the owner was very talkative.  They had a tough time getting him off the phone after making sure the place was open for business - or kind of open for business.  And the White Sands Campground is where I found myself for
the night after pulling in around dusk.  Rhett Pitre was a very, very colorful camouflage-dressed Louisiana native
that proceeded to charge me zero for the primitive camping (read: no shower) and then tell
me about his life - more or less his whole life.  I asked him to substantiate the holes where he was shot many years ago, and there they were.  Same goes for where he was hit with a pool stick. I wasn't sure how my request to take a photo of him and his chihuahua would be received so I kept my camera in my jersey.  Barred owls
and herons squawked from the nearby river bottom as Rhett talked well into
the night on the porch of his canoe livery.  Rhett occasionally punctuated the night air with giddy shrill whistles that would get the attention of dogs barking from farms nearby.  He encouraged me to eat all of the fried fish and other fried trimmings that the boys had cooked for him down at their swamp camp.  By the end of the evening Rhett had convinced me that he could catch, trap, shoot - or drink - anything the Bayou had to offer.  I politely declined his repeated offers to take Bayou sized swigs from his whiskey bottle.  I fought off tiredness and swatted bugs until I could resist sleep no longer.  I was glad I had a tent; the couch on the porch he suggested I crash on smelled very much like a cross between a wet dog and the deep south fried dinner whose odor had fully permeated my bike clothing.

Wow.  Steinbeck and I could have shared notes on this journey.

Note to Craig and Greg from the Houston bike club:  Great hearing from you guys! And thanks for offer to send photos:  my e mail for photo attachments:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

P4W2 Day 22 Sam Houston National Forest - Sillsbee, TX 101 miles

One of the most interesting things about a bike trip is that it is a 'blind voyage.'  By that I mean that you don't really know what anything is going to be like until you get there.  There are exceptions, like well known national parks and such, but for the most part you just see things as you bike to them, without any pre-existing knowledge.   The same goes for where you plan to stay each night.  In the morning, it kind of goes something like,  'the weather looks good, I am not sure about the winds, the road is pretty flat, my legs are wicked tired but will eventually cooperate, and there's a town like a hundred miles off that I think I'll go for. '

The camping in Sillsbee couldn't be any more different than last night's quiet sleep under the tall wispy pines in a national forest.  I am in an RV park with barking dogs, railroad tracks nearby, and U.S. Highway 96 right next to me.  A couple very pleasant southern men needed a bit of computer help this evening, and we took up conversation.  One of them asked me which RV was mine.  I pointed to the unformed backpacking tent that was laying in the grass between us.

My route today took me through loblolly pine flatlands of southeast Texas.  I passed a really nice westbound rider from Stockholm.  I reckon these parts are different than Sweden (and cheaper!).   Strong south winds blew threatening clouds off the nearby Gulf of Mexico all, but the raincoat stayed in the panier for a 22nd straight day.  Wood chips lined the side of the road for almost every mile, indicative of the importance of wood products to this part of the state.  The motorists were quite pleasant today, given the many narrow roads I found myself on.  The many stray dogs left me alone.  Some were simply content munching on dead stuff along the side of the road.  Trash was plentiful along the roadsides.  Robins and bluebirds were active.  Spring is definitely here...I saw two magnolias in full bloom.  And Ms. Lona, at the cafe that bears her name in Rye, Texas, sold me fried catfish, french fries, and fried okra....southern flare for the first of my 3 dinners tonight.  I think I am in the deep south now.  She threw me a softball of a question and asked if I wanted homemade peach cobbler with my meal.  I should have told her I wanted the whole pan. 

It really is amazing that I am still in Texas.  I would now rank the state as one of the most naturally diverse in the country, behind California but ahead of almost every other state.  West Texas, its deserts, and its 50 mile views might as well be on a different planet.  Ironically, the one constant over my whole time in Texas was the south wind, which was surprising given that it is the middle of January.   Except for an occasional mile or two in Texas, I never got the three perfect cycling conditions all at once - light traffic, a smooth asphalt road, and tailwind; it is a real rarity in bicycling to have these all come together.

And on my last full day in a really big state, finally a 'biggie' sighting fitting of the state itself.