Friday, March 26, 2010

Half Way!

After 6.3 months and 7769 mile since leaving Seattle I've made it to my geographical half way point! I say geographical because I'm guessing that my mileage the rest of the way won't be quite as high, but I guess I never really know. Anyway, this is the farthest point of my journey and the end of my southern leg. From here I begin the ride north!

The last bit of riding to the coast was very enjoyable. Well, I actually started to get really bored while riding for the first time on this trip. Florida was just so flat with straight roads and little change in scenery. However, in Fort White, FL I ran into my first other cyclists riding east at a gas station. Tony and Brendan rode the Southern Tier from San Diego and their friend Nick joined in Tallahassee. They're riding to raise money for Big City Mountaineers (http://justanotherbikerideacrossamerica.org/). I joined them their last few miles of the day into High Springs then for dinner. Very happy to have their company, they let me crash in their motel room and ride with them the next day.



Some goofy guys (Nick, Tony, and Brendan)

It was great timing to meet other riders since I'd been getting bored. I really enjoyed sharing stories of our journeys, especially since we'd been through a number of the same towns. This was my first time following someone else and not knowing where I was going which was a strange feeling. They were using the ACA maps, which although took us on some nice small roads and a great bike trail I wouldn't have otherwise found, sure took much longer then I would have gone. Into a little head wind it was also great to draft and switch up the lead, made for a fast day.

Company on a nice bike trail

I left the guys at their hotel that evening and kept on riding towards St Augustine so I could arrive early the next morning. St Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited city in the US, being settled in 1565, so has tons of history. I rode out to the Atlantic to enjoy breakfast on the beach and wade around. Then it was back into the city to explore.

At the Atlantic! In St Augustine Beach, FL.

The town is of course very touristy, but has lots of neat old buildings and different styles of architecture from the colonists of different periods.

Castillo de San Marcus a fort built by the Spanish in 1695.



Inside the fort looking out at the city.



Historic hotel, now Flagler College


Inside the rotunda

From St Augustine I let the wind carry me north to Jacksonville Beach where I met my couch surfing hosts Cheryl and Brain. They have a lovely home a few blocks from the beach and have been fabulous hosts. They have a wonderful perspective on life that I greatly admire.

I took today off to rest up a little and clean up my gear. It was a beautiful, hot day and I got out to some preserves to walk around the salt marshes and then sit on the beach and watch some surfers.


Enjoying the Spanish moss on a walk in one of the many preserves.



Inter Coastal Waterway at low tide.



Beach



Cheryl and Brain, ready for their weekend canoe trip.

Now it's up to Richmond Hill (outside Savannah) to visit a college friend. After that I'm trying to come up with a plan. It's still pretty chilly in the Blue Ridge Mountains and I'm not sure I want o go back to cold quite yet, so may ride the coast of the Carolinas and then head back west to the Great Smokey Mtns NP and Blue Ridge Parkway. I'll make up my mind sometime soon here.

It's crazy to think this is half way. Starting out on this trip I wasn't sure I'd make it past six months, but am still excited to continue riding. So on I go, now slowly working my way back to the northwest.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Riding the Gulf

Since pedaling out of New Orleans, I've pretty much been riding along the Gulf of Mexico. In the eastern end of Louisiana and the Mississippi coast, I passed a lot more hurricane ravaged areas. Whole strips of land were obviously stripped of houses, leaving only foundations and some pillars. While many of these were for sale, many had also been rebuilt. The new homes may be higher of have better foundation (hopefully), but if you have to build like that is it really worth it?

A historic church in MS. Spray painted on it is "In this ditch since 2005" and "historic building, do not tear down"
New houses and old lots
This was the scene a lot
What used to be houses.
It was wonderful to make it to the Gulf of Mexico. The water was warm and beautiful! Mississippi's coast had lots of casinos, Alabama and Florida's has resorts. The Alabama coast was where the beaches really got nice, seemingly endless white sand beaches.
Got to keep the beach smooth!
Now that the weather is good and I'm somewhat on the ACA's southern tier route, I'm meeting other cycle tourists again! I'm enjoying talking with others touring, through they're all heading west, so no one to ride along with yet.
Although I only spent about 24 hours in Alabama, it will always stand out to me as a very religious state. I spoke with a number of people, but most were tourists, only two locals. Very early into the conversations, both locals asked "Are you a Christan?" Then they went on to tell me how wonderful Christianity is. In one of the encounters I ended up talking with the Joe Lake for nearly two hours. The conversation started off with him telling me the benefits of raw food-fine, and then he went into religion and pretty much preached to me for 1.5 hrs. Now, I'm a patient person in most instances, but don't do as well when someone tells me I'm going to hell if I don't let Jesus into my heart. Joe really was a very nice man (told me that I'll make a good Christian someday), I just didn't want to be preached to and he was difficult to get away from. Oh well, keeps it interesting I guess. After informing me of about a dozen different vitamins I should be taking I finally pedaled onward.
Lots of these long bridges, luckily there is a good shoulder most of the time.
Taking the ferry across Mobile Bay
Mobile Bay is full of these ExxonMobile natural gas platforms.
Joe Lake
It was never quite warm enough to entice me to swim, but I enjoyed walking the beaches and wading. The beach sure beats many of my usual roadside rest stops!
I was excited to get into Florida and spent my first night outside of my tent in months. It was right on the beach, looking up at the stars, fantastic! For at least two days of riding I felt like the coast was an endless resort town. Some areas were way too perfect looking. A little town of Seaside was one of these, it even had an outdoor art walk and wine tasting with live music.
Nice riding
I've been meeting tons of very friendly people; tourists almost seem friendlier most everywhere I've been-strange. One family rode up alongside me and we talked a little. The father told his maybe 12 year old daughter, "now that's girl power!" I thought it was cool.
Continuing o the coast I made the mistake of riding through Panama City Beach. Back in New Orleans, Bill and Erin had warned me about this but I had no clue what I was in store for. It's spring break time and I learned that PCB is a hot destination. For literally ten miles I rode through barely crawling traffic made up of college students out to cruise the strip. (When I finally made it to the end, cars were just stopped with nothing in front of them.) This was my first experience with a stereotypical spring break and it was ridiculous, totally not me scene. Groups of college students in their swimsuits walked the strip, everyone just honking and checking each other out. There was a bike line, but it was typically full of people and slow navigating through. It was a stressful ride and I was so happy to finally got out of there!
Spring Break! Not the best pic, but gives a little idea.
FL has some strange houses along the beach.
Gulf
Sunrise on the beach
A sample of the artwork in Seaside
I've been fortunate with some great tail winds along the coast. Yesterday after fighting a head wind in the morning, it finally turned in my favor and I felt unstoppable! I didn't want to stop riding. As I've learned, you've got to take full advantage of a tail wind when you get one. I'd crossed into the eastern time zone, so now it's light past 8pm. This is both good and bad, I've been riding until pat 7pm but able to get in long days and feel better about taking longer mid-day breaks.
Inland FL, swamps

Now I've left the coast and heading across the bulk of Florida. I'll be hitting the Atlantic in a few days!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Louisiana

Riding through Louisiana has been such a pleasure. I've ridden along the levees of the Mississippi pretty much the whole time. It's made for very pleasant riding, usually very low traffic levels and scenic. It's also been just about dead flat the whole state and I've been luckily with some tails winds so I've made much better time then I anticipated.

On my way to Baton Rouge, I passed through a number of wildlife management areas, mainly swamps. There were also numerous spillway control stations that were interesting to see. On one of them there were a few fisherman that I stopped to watch. I'd guess 80% of the time they put their nets in the came up with a fish!



Fishing


Spillway control area

In Baton Rouge, I had a couchsurfing host, David who directed me in along a bike trail trough town on top of the levee. David's a nursing student in the ROTC looking to be a labor and delivery nurse at an air force base. He's a wonderful, fun, guy with a big heart. I decided to stay an extra day to explore Baton Rouge then make it to New Orleans in a day.

The capitol of LA, I toured the capitol building which looks so different from any I've ever seen. The old capitol, is a castle, now museum which was very interesting. There was much hype about Huey Long, the LA senator who was assassinated in the capitol building in 1935. He was a very controversial figure, but seen as a hero of the people. The circumstances of his death were sketchy and will probably be forever unsolved.













LA capitol building


Bronze plate on the floor of the capitol, showing all of LA's perishs and thier principle industries.



Inside the old capitol, now museum.

The downtown area was very empty, I've never been in such a desolate downtown. I guess it's because there weren't any commercial stores, mainly just office buildings, but it was strange how quiet it was.

I spent the rest of the day exploring a much more lively part of town, the LSU campus. David told me they had the universities mascot, a tiger, on campus, so I sought him out. Mike the Tiger lives in a cage right next to the stadiums and seems to have a constant influx of visitors. Unlike in a zoo, here you can get much closer to the tiger and everyone was yelling at him, trying to get him to some to them, I felt badly for the guy.

There was one guy there who could seem to make the tiger come almost instantly; he called himself "the tiger whisperer." I guess he had a special relationship with Mike, said he could even recognize his car as he drove up. When this guy called Mike, he'd crouch down, then pounce, pawing at the cage or plexy glass. When in the water he'd jump up pawing the glass, making for quiet a spectacle for those standing on the other side. At first I thought the tiger was kind of mad, but then he'd start rubbing against the cage purring, so I guess he did like this guy. Strange.

Mike the Tiger

Leaving Baton Rouge, I rode through lots of and industry along the levees to New Orleans. This was my first century in months and the easiest I've ever done! Twenty miles outside of New Orleans, there was a bike path a top of the levee that went all the way into town. Being a beautiful day, it was filled with riders on their fancy carbon fiber bikes. Some were very nice and rode alongside me to chat a little and make sure I had a place to stay in the city.


The levee trail.
In New Orleans, I stayed with warmshowers hosts Bill and Erin. They live in a hundred year old home conveniently located right next to the St Charles street car line that runs into downtown. Bill and Erin lived in Seattle for 20 years and here the last tens o it's fun to have that mixture. They also rode a tandem from Seattle to New Orleans and Bill runs a specialty e-commerce bike part shop. They've been incredible hosts, filling me in on the history and culture of the city, giving me suggestions for where to go, and giving me a little disaster tour of the Hurricane Katrina damage.


Bill and Erin

The night I arrived, Bill and Erin drove me out to the 17th St levee, one that broke. Being 5 1/2 years after Katrina it's not as dramatic as it once was as much clean up has been done. However, there are still a number of empty lots where houses once stood and houses gutted and left abandon. Last night we drove to the lower 9th Ward, the area hardest hit by the flooding and another levee breach. This is also a very impoverished part of town, so people just don't have the money to rebuild here. Much of the land was vacant, the houses all being torn down long ago. There a a few houses that have been built and more in the process. All are small, green homes with unique features. They're raised up high, have solar panels and supposedly green design, very artsy looking. In some areas the houses still stood but nearly all were abandon, quite eerie and powerful to see. I can't even imagine what it looked like a few years ago, not to mention right after the hurricane.



One of the new homes in the 9th Ward

Here in New Orleans I've also been ding quite a bit of walking around and exploring the city. It feels like a completely different country with the enormous old houses and architecture and live oaks towering over the streets. I haven't heard much French though. I rode the historic St Charles street car into the downtown area and wandered all through the French Quarter. I can't believe how many tourists are in this city! They pretty much all have Mardi Gras beads around their necks and "hand grenades" or daiquiris in hand, guess there is no open container law here. The French Quarter was interesting, lots of neat homes and history. Street musicians were scattered all about and I really enjoyed listening to them.




St Charles Street Car








In Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Palm and tarot readers all over, along with artists and musicians.




French Quarter





Awesome street band.


There were a few guys like this who would do stationary poses for long periods of time.




Here's another one.




Some of the houses.








One of the most different things here is the cemeteries. I've explored a few and they're fascinating. Since the ground is so swampy here, they can't bury people, the caskets would just pop up out of the ground in the rain! So, the cemeteries are all above ground in large tombs. Many of these are family tombs, some dating back to the early 1800's. Once a new family member dies, they push the other remains to the back, or lower them down, and put the new ones on top! Some of these tombs are still being used today.



In one of the cemeteries


I've also been wandering the Garden District-more big mansions, Magazine Street-shopping area, Audubon Park and the Tulane campus. I'm constantly blown away by the grandeur of the homes and beauty of the streets (although the condition of the pavement is some of the worst I've ever seen). It's been a very nice stay, I'm very glad I didn't pass the city over in a rush to get tot he Gulf.

Spanish moss hanging off live oaks in Audubon Park.

I'm taking off this morning to ride into Mississippi. I should be following right along the Gulf for the next few days!

My brother, Scott, got up his report on our Olympic trip. He has tons of pictures if you want to take a look.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Peace on the Parkway


I'm in Natchez, MS now having just finished the southern 250 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Trace runs 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville, TN. It follows a historical road used by Indians and colonist traders back in the 1700 and 1800's. It's now a corridor run by he National Parks Service, completely lined by forests and fields with numerous historical sites, nature trails, and picnic areas throughout.

Once I hit the tail it was immediate relief. No more logging trucks zooming by (no commercial vehicles are allowed), no turns or even intersections for days, easy camping, and overall peacefulness. This is a very popular bike ride, and with my first two nights in free bike only camping" areas, I hoped I might run into some other tourers, it's been so long since I've seen anyone else. I did met one older couple, the woman was riding and her husband driving the sag wagon, and greatly enjoyed chatting with them.


On the Trace

That 2nd night on the race I started feeling awful. I'd been fighting a cold since leaving Memphis and it had finally hit me full bore. Calling my parents that night, my dad thought my bike had been stolen or something terrible had happened from the way I sounded; he was glad to hear I was just sick. My voice was as bad as it's ever been, I could barely get words out and breathing wasn't easy. My parents tried to convince me to take a day or two off. Although I didn't want to, the next morning I knew I had no choice as I hadn't been able to sleep for days and breathing was still not easy; time for meds. Luckily, I was camped legally and just outside of Kosciusko (Oprah's hometown).

The morning of my day off, I wandered over to the visitors center to stumble upon a ribbon cutting ceremony fora remodel of the building. Being the only visitor there, and "visitor is what this is all abut," they pushed me forward for pictures. Te newspaper and radio that were there also interviewed me about my ride. Lots of attention lately, I'm not used to this! Everyone was incredibly friendly and the mayor even came over and introduced himself. I really enjoy happening upon these random community events. After picking up some meds, I spent the rest of the day resting and soaking up the sunshine.


Kosciusko Visitor's center


Even though I woke up to rain the next day, I felt good enough to put in an easy days ride. One other nice thing about the Trace is that it's near flat, so I was able to take it very easy. Although it rained most of the day, it was warm out so didn't bother me; I love that it's warm again! Thunder showers continued through this morning but the sun came out yesterday afternoon and it was gorgeous. South of Jackson, spring is here: the frogs are noisy, grass is green, and the flowers are in bloom. I love being able to wear just a jersey and shorts again. After three months in a jacket and leggings it's time to get my bike tan lines back!


Tupelo-Cypress swamp


One of the most exciting things for me recently is that I saw my first wild alligator yesterday! I'd been scanning all of the wet areas since getting into Mississippi in hopes of spotting one and I finally did! I'm actually afraid of them (because of how I camp and my complete ignorance of them), but I was high enough above on the road so felt safe. I'd guess it was 7-8 feet, I don't know if that's normal, but seemed big to me. Moving to set my bike down for a better pic, it swiftly slipped into the pool. I'm glad it was afraid of me, but seeing how fast it moved is also a little worrisome.

Gator!


Lots of old, historical houses here in Natchez

I'm about to cross into Louisiana and follow the Mississippi River for a few days. Tomorrow I'll be in Baton Rouge, then onto New Orleans.