Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ready to Sit

Not too much exciting these last few days, just thought I'd do one more quick post before I start sitting tomorrow.

Leaving Huntsville was dark and rainy, nothing exciting. The next day felt like I was trying to out race groups of dogs all day long. It was just one after another, more today then on the rest of my trip combined, ugh! One even chased a full mile. These were not your nice friendly, I want to run beside you dogs, they were mean. I was lucky they didn't actually attack.

The weather started to improve then, its gotten nice and warm but a bit windy. Yesterday I stopped at the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area to see what it was about. Turned out they had camping there, so I decided to stop for the day to look around. It's an artificial wetland, so a little strange, and mainly constructed for hunters, but there weren't any out, so it was very pleasant. I was able to go for a nice walk surrounded by waterfowl as the sun was setting. The Game Warden saw me and asked if I had a permit, of course I didn't, but he was nice enough to let me stay the night and gave me his card in case I ran into any problems. I guess you're supposed to have a hunting license even to be in the area, oops.

Richland Creek, the thing on the left is the continuously running water keeping this place wet.

Another view

Today was hot and muggy with a frustrating west wind at the end of the day. Now I'm in Ennis, staying with a warmshowers family tonight, then off to Kaufman to sit for ten days. We'll see how my body takes to being sedentary for so long, I'm a little nervous about that aspect.
This little guy was in a bad spot this morning!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just killin' time

After leaving Millberg Farm, I headed back to Austin for one last night. It was another cold day and I was glad it was short and brought me back to Daniel and Kacie's place. Again, I took advantage of their generosity and am so thankful to them for giving such a great base in Austin this past month.

The next day it was back out on the road, this time for a little longer. I was definitely excited to get moving again and make a little more progress on this journey. However, as I'm attending a ten-day meditation outside of Dallas starting on the 20th, I can't make too much progress. In order to use up some time, I'm going round about ways, doing short days, and happily spending an extra day here in Huntsville at the moment.

As I started to think about camp outside of Austin, a women waved me over and invited me to her house for the night. I was really excited as this was the first time someone has randomly invited me in! 20 miles down the road, I pulled into the Miller's homestead. Lodema met me at the gate and introduced me to her four children still living at home: Andrew, Angelina, Julia, and Karen (husband, Jim, was away for work). They have a beautiful home and farm with horses, dogs, a cow, geese, guinea fowl, ducks, chickens, and cats. They're off the grid running on solar and wind power and get their water on-site (though with the cold weather one of the pipes had frozen and broken). Their home is being slowly built by them from timber off their property and heated by wood stove and propane. Their avid cyclists, planning a family tour of the Natchez Trace Trail (from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN) in the spring. I had a wonderful evening with the family and enjoyed the freshest mozzarella and butter I've ever had (Lodema makes all of their butter, cheese, and yogurt from their cow's milk). As a Mennonite family, they're very used to simple, rich living off of the land. It was such a pleasure to spend time with this warm and generous family.

The Miller Family in front of their home: Julia, Andrew, Karen, Lodema, Angelina, and one of their dogs, Lobo.
After leaving the Millers, I rode on into La Grange. They'd gotten a hold of a cyclist and family friend to give me direction for a nice, back roads ride the next 20 or so miles. I met Brad in a coffee shop in La Grange and he set me up with a nice, rolling, very quite ride. This part of Texas seems to be mainly pasture land with cows scattered about the rolling hills.

View of the road
From there it was into the Sam Houston National Forest. As part of my way of passing time, I'm seeking out public lands to wander about in. I'd now ridden out of the oak and into pine forests. It was nice to be back in trees, but the forest didn't hold anything spectacular; it lacked the terrain variation, rock formations, or rivers that I'm most attracted to. The camping was great though, nice to feel 100% secure, be away from road noise, and go for a walk on some trails after setting up camp. I even slept in two mornings, one as I waited for the rain to stop. I was a little disappointed that the majority of the Forest seemed to actually be private land with houses, maps can sure be deceiving.

Lake Conroe in the Sam Houston. This was a nice, large lake.

Out of the Forest I rode a short rainy day into Huntsville, explored around town, then met up with Keil, my couchsurfing host. Keil is a passionate world traveller with an enlightened world view and great to spend time with. We made a good dinner and I had my first of Texas' Blue Bell ice cream, which lived up to its fantastic reputation. Keil offered for me to stay another day and I was happy to take him up on it. Today I've been learning more about this town, headquarters for the Texas prison system and home of Sam Houston. The Sam Houston State University is also here, where all students become "cops or cowboys." I toured the Texas Prison Museum. With all that I'd always heard about prison in Texas, this was an interesting place.

"Old Sparky" The electric chair used on Huntsville's Death Row, retired in 1980 (I think)

Today has been dark with showers, so not a bad day to be off the bike. The weather looks good for the next few days, into the sixties! A few more days of slow riding ahead.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Easing Back In

Leaving Austin after around three weeks of not touring, my body sure felt it. The first two days of riding were even harder then my very first days of the trip! Fortunately, as I'm in no hurry, I've been able to rider shorter days and take it easy.

I took two days to ride a little round-about way to San Antonio. Riding along the Guadeloupe River turned out to be very scenic and a popular cycling road. An eagle, pestered by a gull, dropped a headless 10" fish a few feet in front of me-I was sure glad that I wasn't riding any faster!

Once into San Antonio, I made my way to Clare's, my warmshowers host for my stay in town. Clare made a great dinner and I settled in, one whole night of camping and I was back to a bed! Rough life. The next day I rode around the city, explored a number of missions and the downtown area.

San Antonio has five missions built in the early 1700s by Spanish missionaries. The goal was to convert native people to Catholicism and introduce them to Spanish culture, thus turning them into Spanish citizens. The missions lasted for around 80 years before they were abandon due to cost, disease, attacks, and declining interest. The last mission I visited was the Alamo in the center of downtown, the site of the historic battle between the Texans and the Mexican Military.

Mission San Jose, the only fully restored mission site. This is the church, it's surrounded by housing, a grist mill, and farming outside of the compound.

Mission Espada

The Alamo

The other main attraction in San Antonio is the Riverwalk. The river is dammed and diverted to run in a horseshoe through town and lined by shops and restaurants. There are even little gondola type boat rides you can take around it. However, every year after new years, they drain it out to clean it. This is the way I saw it, so it definitely wasn't attractive, mucky and full of trash; but I can envision how it would be nice.

The Riverwalk, this machine was stuck and had around twenty workers standing staring at it.

Another, nicer looking section of the Riverwalk.

Upon leaving San Antonio, I rode up to Kyle, TX to spend a few days WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) on Millberg Farm with Tim Miller and his family. Tim grows on five acres for his CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) customers and two restaurants.
He currently delivers to ~20 families every week, but has had as many as 45. As a one-man operation, this is very impressive; he also grows/delivers nearly year-round, only slowing down in the extreme heat of summer. Tim is a wealth of knowledge and had a unique method of farming so had been excellent to learn from. Despite the high temps most of the year here in Central Texas, he uses no irrigation, only rainwater from limited catchment systems (which he's planning on expanding). He grows over 50 different crops throughout the year. Currently, Tim's CSA members are getting: eggs, mustard greens, mixed greens, collard greens, green onions, leeks, carrots, turnips, and radishes. He has 125 families on a wait list to get on his CSA, which he says will never get on, no one leaves and he just can't produce more.

Ann, Tim, and their two dalmatians

A view of part of the farm, covered up from the cold.

In this cold weather, the chickens would wait right outside the door, seemingly begging to come inside.

Not only is it great to get my hands in the dirt for a few days, but with this arctic front here it's a wonderful time to be off the bike. Next it's back to Austin for a night then wandering around Texas for another 10 days.

I had a question about what gear I'd changed out so I'll briefly state what I did:

Sleeping pad-I had a Mont Bell 3/4 length pad, it deflated many (but not all nights), my hips and tail bone hurt from hitting the ground constantly. I replaced this with the Exped SynMat 7, this is synthetic filled with an R value of 4.9 (so warm!), it has a built in pump and is 2.5" thick! Although I've only spent one night on it so far, I love it! It's so comfortable and worth the extra size, weight, and effort/time to pump it up.
Rain Jacket- I didn't really have one before, I used a water resistant soft shell and an old outer shell, neither kept me dry in anything bit mist. I gave in and got a Showers Pass Double Century jacket. I had one day of little rain so far and it worked great, hopefully I won't have to test it out too much, but will definitely be a great improvement.
Dromedary-this I just had to replace the cap which was leaking, I have an MSR drom.
Stove-OK, haven't done this yet, but am planning to when I get back to Austin. My MSR Whisperlite just hasn't been running well for the last month+, so I'm planning on switching it out and upgrading to an MSR Whisperlite International, that way I can fulfill my dream of riding up to a gas station to fill my fuel bottles! And maybe I won't have to lug around a gallon of white gas anymore.

I think those were the only real changes I made. My tent fly is starting to look a bit rough, needs more duct tape! It will probably be a little while before I get a new tent.