Day 1: Spooner Lake Trailhead to N. Kingsbury Trailhead – 12 miles
I really couldn’t imagine a more worse case scenario than what I find myself in right now – bar a lightning storm or a wildfires near attack. Phew, bet you weren’t ready to read that! I’ll explain more later.
Let’s start this off on a happier note. Joan and Greg are seriously the kindest folks, truly. We all had a lovely dinner together with great conversation. Addie and I retired early to get the packs ready to go and had a great night’s sleep in the cottage. This morning, giddy with anticipation, we got up early and did a final once over. We were finally ready for the TRT!
Joan dropped us off at the trail head and we were on the trail at 8 AM. Beautiful blue skies and chirping birds greeted us as we ascended up through the wilderness. As usual, Addie needed about 1 mile to get used to her pack (as has been the routine since forever, despite many trial runs). But today she just didn’t seem to shake her sluggishness. I was mildly concerned, but she was keeping up, so keeping on we did.
We had beautiful views of Lake Tahoe for the first 5 miles. The size and depth of the lake is almost frightening. But it was bustling with activities from boats to jetskis to paddle boarding. Apparently the lake is too cold to actually swim. Across the lake out to the west was a perfect view of Desolation Wilderness, shrouded in gray clouds that looked to be threatening lightning. Luckily they didn’t float over the lake to us. But we’ll be over there exploring them in a week!
Eventually, after much searching, we found the famous Tahoe Bench! Famous in so much as I’ve seen so many pictures taken on it and I really wanted a picture with Addie on it. With a prime view of Lake Tahoe and snow covered mountains peeking out in the background, is there really a more picturesque bench?!
While there, Addie showed the first signs of unhappiness. She would lay down at any given moment and would only start moving for a treat. I checked her feet and while still intact, they were covered in sap and one pad had a blister. What the heck!? She has never had issues with her feet before. I lubed them up with musher’s wax and put on her booties. Well if she refused to walk before, forget it now. She was more stubborn than a mule and made me take them off. I even decided then and there I will be carrying her pack. What’s another 10 pounds? Addie’s happiness is worth it.
The bench was a happening place! While lubing up her feet, a young man came up to it and we started to talk. Asking questions, it turns out that we knew of each other, in fact, we had been in communication for all last month! It was Blake from warm showers! He couldn’t host us in South Lake Tahoe because he was hiking the TRT and there he was making great time. He saw the shape Addie was in and was in agreement that bailing out might be in our future.
So with her pack strapped to my back and her feet all jazzed up, Addie was a new dog. She had her usual pep in her step. Faker! What a good actress – or manipulator? Either way I didn’t care Addie was back!
But not for long. Soon she lagged behind and took frequent breaks. We took a one and a half hour break which barely made her better. I couldn’t tell if she was sick, exhausted, sick from altitude, being a princess, or her feet really really hurt. Didn’t matter, she wasn’t happy so I was resigned to the notion that this was a one day attempt. We tried. It didn’t work out. Oh well. As my mom so eloquently put it, “A broken heart over not finishing a hike heals much easier than a broken heart over a beloved broken dog.”
We stopped 1 mile short of North Kings trail head for camp. It was early and Addie instantly laid down as I did camp chores. We both took short naps and I woke up to a panting Addie in a very cool tent. Thinking she had to relieve herself, I let her out and she just fell into the dirt. That’s it. We’re out of here.
I packed up camp in record time and started for the bail out point, 1 mile away. Along the way, Addie perked up. What?! She was fine! I called my parents and they calmed me down. I decided to go back, camp tonight, and call Joan to pick us up in the morning. I called Joan to give her a heads up and she was more than willing to pick us up tomorrow, literally. She even offered to watch Addie so I can finish the hike solo. Wow. I was speechless. The only caveat was they were going to San Diego Wednesday through Saturday. Addie would either have to be boarded for that or I wait to head back. This is something to further discuss with Joan and Greg tomorrow.
Addie is snoozing in her bed and it finally got dark. I feel horrible that Addie isn’t enjoying this hike like past ones, but I won’t subject her to anymore if in the morning she still isn’t acting right. We have one mile to figure it out.
Day 2: North Kingsbury Trailhead to S Fork Daggett Creek – 11.5 miles
This morning could not have started better. Addie woke me up in her usual “crawl on her belly licking me awake because it’s feeding time” fashion. I love her waking me up because it not only means snuggles but it means she’s happy. It was actually litmus test for the course of this morning. If she woke up like this maybe she’s happy. If she didn’t, then it’s definitely bail time. I let her out to do her business and eat, and she pranced around barely able to contain her energy. Great!
We walked 1.5 miles to the trail head to pick up water I stashed in case of emergency. Thank God I did, I dumped out water during the frantic camp break down yesterday to offload pack weight in case I had to carry Addie. With low water sources, it wasn’t my brightest move, but I was in panic mode!
We met Mike along the way and hiked with him for a little. He is a 69-year-old retired landscaper who lives 2 1/2 hours away. He makes the trip several times a week to hike and is constantly discovering new trails to explore. He said he’ll be hiking until the day he dies. My kind of guy!!
After we said goodbye to Mike, it was 3 miles so another bail out option. We had beautiful views of Lake Tahoe along the way. It’s crazy how blue the lake is. It’s hard to tell where the sky ends and the lake begins! If it weren’t for the mountains in the background it be impossible. It would just look like one big reflection. When we got to 207 Addie was still riddled with energy. We thanked Joan for her assistance but let her know we were trekking on. There were about 100 road bikers riding 207, something I was jealous of. After driving up at Sunday, I want to ride it! It looks beyond challenging, but worth it.
We soon got to Edgewater Creek, the first reliable water source since Spooner. I refilled water only to realize my filter was clogged. Crap. After 20 frustrating minutes, I procured 32 ounces. Record timing. UGh. I tried to unclog it but no dice. Luckily I have water purifying tablets if necessary.
We trudged on I mean trudged. Addie lost some energy, but kept up. Soon though, she was truly lagging. Though we’ve been taking lengthy breaks, it doesn’t seem enough. We took a two hour lunch and only had 2 1/2 miles left.
During those miles, we ran into a man with his dog bailing out. He believed his dog had altitude sickness, as they came from Santa Cruz without acclimating. The symptoms he described are similar to Addie’s, only I am pretty positive Addie isn’t suffering from altitude sickness. After he drops off the pooch he’s coming back. Maybe I’ll run into him again soon!
We got into camp after spending 45 minutes filling water, talk about frustrating. Because Addie’s temperament in the afternoons, I’m likely going to bail Thursday to South Lake Tahoe to get her off the trail. I’ll get back on and continue solo. It’s not fair to have her suffer.
Day 3: S. Fork Daggett Creek to Gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe – 12.7 miles
The next couple of days, the Tahoe area is experiencing a heat wave, along with the rest of the southwest. Thank God I’m not riding the southern tier now! In an effort to beat the heat, I got up early. I intentionally say effort because Addie felt like sleeping in. Much like a stubborn teenager, I had to practically force her out of the tent. Food was the only thing that she would listen to. After refilling water (we’ve switched to the tablets – I can’t deal with that stupid filter anymore) we set out at 6:30 AM. We started with an assent that didn’t seem to stop. Along the way we entered into California! I’ve never hiked into another state, so that was a new fun experience.
Our first destination was Star Lake – 5 miles away. Since Addie does best in the morning, we were able to get there quickly and take a break to enjoy the view.
Then we were off to the next checkpoint – Freel Lake trail junction. A 600 foot climb over 1.8 miles, I way underestimated how difficult it would be. Plus it was hot. Plus I was carrying 50 pounds worth of junk on my back. We took a long break when we got to the top not only because we were exhausted, but I got into talking with an Italian mountain biker. Now living in the bay area, he was bursting with Italian pride and told me 1 million different places to visit. Italy should hire him for tourisma even though he no longer lives there. It was an awesome engaging conversation, but the whole time I could only think about how badly I had to go to the bathroom. Oh the glamorous life of hiking!
We hiked another 3 miles and took a 2 1/2 hour break. The sun took mercy and hid behind some clouds. The temperature became a lot more manageable and Addie perked up. We hiked a little with Rose and Alex, a nice couple who is also through hiking the trail. Either Addie is faking it or she really loves to chase, but she was hauling it to keep up with them. I feel very comfortable taking her off leash at this point. She keeps me in sight at all times and is listening extremely well (if a treat is involved).
We made it to camp and have a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe, I can’t wait for the sunset and sunrise! People on Guthook raved about it and I guess people listened to the 5 star reviews. There are two guys who are also sharing this camp with us.
As usual, I have a plan A, B, C (and all the way down to Z) For tomorrow and it all depends on how Addie is doing. Regardless, she’s only gonna hang for this first stretch. I don’t want to hurt her or make her absolutely hate me.
Day 4: Gorgeous View of Lake Tahoe to Big Meadow Trailhead – 7 miles
We woke up to an absolutely beautiful sunrise and broke down camp. Sorry to the guys we shared the site with – they are not early risers like us.
The 7 miles to 89 were all downhill and lovely. Addie was her happy little self and did well off the leash. 89 is a bailout point and the only one until tomorrow. The whole hike I was considering what would be the best option to get Addie out. Could she handle another day out on the trail? Today was planned to be a 14.2 mile day in the heat. Is that acceptable? I decided no it isn’t. She’s done and I’m not pushing her. I looked up ubers and lyfts, and decided the best (and cheapest) option is to Lyft it to Carson City and let Addie rest. I’ll pick up my resupply from South Lake Tahoe tomorrow and get back on the trail Saturday. Joan and Greg are gracious enough to watch her. I couldn’t be luckier.
Unexpected, yes, but 100% worth it. Addie’s happiness is my priority and nothing else really matters. I feel guilty that I may have taken too long to pull her out, but now that she’s back in civilization, her tail is wagging and she’s greeting everyone with smiles.
I’m gonna miss my little trail buddy. She’s great at finishing my dinner and sharing my snacks. She forced me to slow my pace and stop to smell the roses – or the dirt or the tree or the whatever she used to try and squeeze out more of a break. But now that I don’t have to slow down for her or carry an extra 12 pounds of weight, I can complete the trail in just over a week, so I won’t be away from her for too long.
Having just completed the cross-country Southern Tier Bike Route, I am not quite ready to return back to real life and the responsibilities that come with it. Pushing back my return to work date and delaying the house hunt, I decided why not whet my whistle for backpacking? While I love the adventure of bike touring and the stories and experiences that come from living off a bicycle, there is nothing quite like exploring the back-country with nothing to rely on but you and the gear you have on your back. The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) has always caught my eye as an epic thru-hike with great views in the Sierra. Only 165 miles with multiple bail out options, I set my sights on it and have been planning out this journey since even before the STBR.
The Tahoe Rim Trail, a relatively new thru-hike, circumnavigates Lake Tahoe on a relatively easy grade trail that offers epic views of the Tahoe basin. Before my 2018 JMT adventure, I spent a short time in Tahoe City and fell absolutely in love with Lake Tahoe and the depths of this blue jewel. So imagine my absolute joy when I saw that there was a thru-hike around it! And you don’t need permits!! With an explosion in interest of hiking and backpacking within the last 10 years and itchiness to get out thanks to COVID, a lot of trails and National Parks are requiring either a permit to hike or a reservation to enter. One thing about me is I hate the permit system and competing for a reservation to enter a National Park? Forget it. As of right now, the TRT does not require either of these, save for an overnight permit to enter Desolation Wilderness, but I’ll get to that later.
And another selling point of this trail? It’s completely dog friendly. Considering I was just away from Addie for 2 months and always miss her terribly when I go on trips, I wanted to take her with me to share in the adventure. She has done multiple multi-night hikes with me before that I have not documented in this blog and she handled them as if she was a packmule. She has her own backpack and carried her daily food and water. Even a 10 lb pack doesn’t slow her down! During one of our hikes she handled 18 mile days, swarms of angry hornets (she got stung at least a dozen times), and a near encounter with a rattle snake. None of this fazed her and she trekked on unbothered. She was even called the best trail dog an experienced hiker had ever encountered! I may be biased, but I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment.
A 165 mile thru-hike is not something to take lightly and thoughtful planning must be done to ensure a safe and successful hike. The resources I used to plan were the 4th edition of the Tahoe Rim Trail Guide by Tim Hausermann, Guthook for water and campsite information, various blogs, and the most useful of all – the Tahoe Rim Trail Association website. I have never come across a more concise and informative website for hiking ever. It has up to date trail/water conditions, resupply options, and all the information you would need to plan a thru-hike. I honestly could have gotten away with planning just by using this website. Needless to say, I’ll be donating to them as a thank you!
First thing’s first: Where to start? What way to go!? How long with this take!?! Well the answer to all three of these questions depend almost entirely on where to resupply. Most people complete this trail in 10-12 days. But given Addie has never gone so long on a trail, I don’t mind taking it slowly to ensure her health. So regardless, that means carrying multiple days worth of not only my food, but her’s as well. Not wanting to carry a 50 lb pack, I knew I wanted to do 2 resupply stops. A lot of folks will start at the popular Tahoe City trail head. It’s awesome that a major city is literally just feet from the trail, but the proximity to the trail seemed more appropriate for a resupply, not an entry/exit point. So it was established. Tahoe City will be a resupply stop! Another city not too far off the trail is South Lake Tahoe, which is almost exactly on the opposite side of the lake. It’s a perfect way to break up the hike, but given that it’s about 12 miles from the trail, we will either hitch or order an uber if cell service is in our favor.
So, with two resupply options solidified, the first question can be answered. Where to start? Well someplace between Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe! The TRT is notorious for having a dry eastern section where there is very little reliable water sources. Unfortunately, Tahoe had a very low snow year so any water sources that aren’t rushing rivers should assumed to be dry. In order to ensure I have enough water for Addie and myself, I wanted to break up this eastern section. And it just so happens Spooner Lake outside of Carson City achieves this want perfectly. But it also causes a logistical problem. How do I get to the trailhead and where do I park my car? All sources did not recommend long term parking at less used trailheads because of human and bear break ins, so that option was out. I could park it at a hotel and pay a daily rate, but that can add up. I figured since I had just gotten done a cross country bike trip, why not ride that out and see if WarmShower hosts will be just as hospitable to a backpacker?! I sent out a message to the Wrights and asked if I could park my car at their home for the duration of my thru-hike. Not only were they very receptive towards that, but they even offered to let us stay and drive us to the trailhead the next morning!! WarmShowers never fails to amaze me. I even reached out to Blake in South Lake Tahoe to send my resupply package and spend a night off the trail. He responded that he was also thru-hiking the TRT! But found someone who was more than happy to help out. I’ll be running into him on the trail!! What are the chances!?
Now, what way to go? I didn’t put much thought into this question. From Spooner to South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City to back to Spooner are all pretty equidistant, so direction doesn’t really matter. Most hikers go clockwise, so I decided to go with the flow of traffic to avoid encounters with other hikers (not because I’m snotty, but Addie can be).
So how long will this endeavor take? With all the time in the world, we can take it as slowly as needed. Not wanting to overtax Addie, I wanted to keep our days relatively short. I didn’t want to average more than 12 miles/day to keep her joints, paws, and mind all healthy. With special attention to water sources, I was able to achieve this mileage goal with 5 days between re-supplies and one rest day in Tahoe City. Of course, with any hike, itineraries are subject to change but I’m pretty happy with this schedule.
Oh dreaded permits. Yes, to thru-hike the TRT you do not need a permit other than a self registered one at the trailhead. But, if you’re spending a night in Desolation Wilderness (on the west side of the lake), you need an overnight permit – that you get from a lottery system. NO! But, luckily for us thru-hikers, we can bypass the lottery system and get a TRT Thru-hiker specific permit 2 weeks prior to entering Desolation Wilderness. The ranger who distributes these permits is quite possibly the most helpful woman I’ve ever spoken to and will go above and beyond to ensure that you have that permit no matter the situation.
As I mentioned earlier, California had a very low snow pack year. In years of high or even normal snowfall, a mid-June thru-hike would be a risky endeavor with a lot of the north facing slopes still holding onto feet of snow. Given that most of the snow has already melted, this year is a prime year to hike it early. Ideally, I wanted to hike the Four Passes Loop in CO as a shakedown hike, but Maroon Bells still has feet of snow. So it looks like we’re jumping headfirst into the TRT! We are starting June 15th and expecting to end June 29th, exactly 2 weeks on the trail. Plus the temperatures in June don’t rise too high. Days are in the 70s and nights drop into the 40s. Good thing I got Addie her very own sleeping bag!
So permit is acquired, re-supplies are shipped out, and itinerary is set! Big Booty Judy is all geared up to go and Addie’s pack is awaiting another journey. Addie’s nails are clipped, the Subaru’s windshield is replaced and lubed up (wow that was a frustrating experience), and we are both very excited to get going! Well I mean Addie has no idea what’s in store for her, but if she did I’m sure her tail would sprain from nonstop excited wagging.
What if things go wrong?
The older I get, the more I realize I have inherited my mother’s tendency to over worry. Little fears snowball into ripped from sleep panics in the middle of the night. So I figured why not address these fears and have a plan should worse case scenario happen.
Addie: Having my precious Addie girl with me adds a layer of concern that otherwise I wouldn’t have alone or with another human. Though I’m sure she’s going to have a blast, she didn’t consent to this hike and she will be completely and wholly dependent on me to ensure her safety and health. This is no small matter. Should something happen to her on the trail, I would never forgive myself. I have a very large (and heavy) first aid kit full of dog specific ointments and salves for cuts, scrapes, and paw health. She has booties for the rocky sections and plenty of water to stay hydrated. If at any point she lags or demonstrates any sign that she’s not having fun, I have absolutely no problem carrying her pack or full out bailing out of the hike. I have a lot of pride when it comes to my own achievements, but will gladly swallow that pride to make sure Addie is happy, healthy, and safe.
Another great concern of mine with regards to Addie is her absolute fear of thunderstorms (she’s so neurotic she’s got a lot of fears. But you would too if someone gouged out your eye as a young pup!). Having spent the majority of days on the JMT seeking shelter from storms, I understand how terrifying thunder can be in the Sierras. But after asking locals, I was told that while thunderstorms can happen at any time, they are rare in the month of June. And when they do happen, you can see them from miles away. Fingers crossed they’re right, but should one pop up I’ll quickly set up my tent and just hold Addie until the storm passes. Or just knock her out with some benadryl, ha!
With a dog it’s probably going to increase the time it takes to hitch a ride into town. Or maybe people will take more pity on a one eyed dog with a pack and stop quicker to offer assistance? Who knows, that’s a toss of the die. Fortunately, for an additional cost, Uber allows dogs. So worse comes to worse, if we have service I’ll just order an Uber.
I’m not too concerned about Addie and bear/wildlife encounters. I will have her leashed and attached to me at all times. I have heard that coyotes will lure a dog back into their pack and kill. Not on my watch! And with her nasty dog smell and collar jingling and jangling, she’ll likely act as a bear deterrent.
Water: As I mentioned before, what used to be reliable water sources in the past can no longer be counted on this year during a low snow year and drought. I have been keeping an eye on Guthook for the most up to date reports on water flow from people who are actually on the trail right now. For those sections that have 15 mile stretches of no water, I will be caching water along the trail to refill along the way. To prevent people from using the jugs I’ll be caching, I’m going to bring a few more “free” jugs to discourage looting mine. I’ll have 3 places along the trail I’ll be caching, which should hopefully be plenty.
Me: Should injury or illness befall me, there are plenty of bailout points along the TRT we can utilize to get a ride into a town. If something catastrophic happens and we’re out of cell coverage, I’ll be bringing the Garmin InReach along. I just bought SAR insurance, so I’m not overly fearful of the bill that comes along with a helicopter rescue, but that won’t even be necessary. I’m much less concerned with my well being than Addie’s. I have also gotten into watching extreme rescue shows and podcasts because, well, they’re really interesting and demonstrates the will and ability of the human body to survive horrific events. Besides entertainment, it also serves as a lesson as to what to do and what not to do in an emergency survival situation – mainly being don’t panic and ALWAYS share your itinerary with a friend/family member. I’m hoping I won’t find myself in such a situation, but it’s better to be prepared!
Time to go!
We are setting out Wednesday 6/9 for California. Since I’m convinced Addie will drop dead from a heart attack flying, we’re road tripping out there! We have a very loose schedule for getting into Carson City 6/14, but are giving it plenty of time for rest breaks – and even giving Sheena a visit out in Colorado! So all that’s left to do is finish going over gear, pack up the Subaru, and go! Hopefully it’ll be a great and successful trip and Addie will come home with a great trail name 🙂
Day 53: Milton to Fort Walton Beach, FL (42 miles); May 6, 2021
We woke up to coffee and the most delicious eggs cooked by Dave. We gobbled them up and enjoyed a nice morning conversation with Dave and Stacey. When we were set to leave, Stacey gave us about 15 pounds of snacks each. She has an eBay business where she sells bulk items for cheap. Since she literally just graduated nursing school (at 63 years old – so inspiring!) she hasn’t been getting rid of inventory, so she’s pawning them off on bike tourers. Which we were happy about because now we don’t have to go shopping for a few more days!
With fully loaded bikes, we pedaled off. We lucked out with tailwinds today and our short day was even easier with the encouraging push. Though the uphills were few, they felt gargantuan to the point where I thought I had a flat. I did not, I just had a really heavy bike loaded with snacky goodness.
We got into Fort Walton Beach early and decided to do some planning before heading to our warm showers. With only 300 some odd miles left, we’ll be in St. Augustine in a week! That’s unbelievable to me. The end of this trip really snuck up on me. But at least I’ll see Addie soon!
We met Christina and Tyler, a young couple who are awesome property investors. We talked with them, had dinner, played cards, and saw firsthand the troubles of being a short-term landlord. Apparently frogs sound just like a dying generator liable to blow up the surrounding area, requiring a cop to tell the tenant, “no ma’am, they are amphibians”. Cannot wait to read that review.
Day 54: Fort Walton Beach to Panama City Beach (54 miles) May 8, 2021
We left Christina and Tyler’s home early, excited to have a rest day in Panama City Beach with my longtime friend Ryan. We rode through many beach towns, including the gorgeous Destin, Seaside, and Rosemary Beach. We rode about 15 miles on the well known 30A, a scenic highway I rode on a few times last year during my month hiatus to PCB. With a busy bike path, I would definitely recommend riding it if you find yourself in the area and in search of a leisurely bike ride. There are a ton of restaurants, shoppes, and beaches along the way to discover. But we were not in search of a leisurely ride. We were on a mission. So the Northeast came out of us a few times to get around some folks, startling them in the process I’m sure.
Riding 30A brought back so many memories! But not as many as when when we rolled onto Front Beach Rd in PCB. Given I spent a month there running and biking that street daily, it felt like I never left! Plus the aqua colored water and white sand felt like home. This is truly the Emerald Coast.
With tailwinds pushing us strongly, we made it to Ryan’s with gusto! And there she was waiting. I’ve known Ryan since 2004 and because she travels for work, I am only able to see her a few times a year. So I’m really excited I get to see her on this trip, if only briefly, and stay in her gorgeous condo. She’s even starting a new job the end of this month and will be traveling less. I’m so happy for her and excited I’ll be able to see her more.
After catching up and some beach time, we got dinner and came home. We’re all pretty sleepy. We have off tomorrow, so we’re going to enjoy the beach and food before powering off towards our last day!
Rest Day: Panama City Beach (May 8, 2021)
Spending the day in PCB was great. Got to see some old friends I met last year, eat some good food, and of course spend some time at the beautiful white sand beach with the gals. People were staring either in awe or confusion at our tan lines. One outspoken little girl exclaimed, “Mom! Look at her tan lines…. no wait look at HER tan lines!” Leave it to kids to be brutally honest.
While I still love the beauty of the beaches and the great nostalgia I experienced at PCB, there were huge crowds and horrible traffic. Getting a table at a restaurant was nearly impossible and forget getting a taxi – so was everyone else. I missed the days of last year where COVID kept the crowds at bay. But that’s selfish – the restaurants and businesses are finally back on track after a year of loss, no doubt. I just don’t see myself coming back during the busy season anytime soon.
Day 55: Panama City Beach to Bristol, FL (67 miles) May 9, 2021
We said our goodbyes to Ryan and Amy early (Ryan even got out of bed to send us off!) and were on the road by 8am. I’ve noticed getting started after a day off is really difficult physically and mentally. Today was the first day where I actually felt ready to be done and go back home. After over 2 months riding, I’m feeling a little burnt out. While it’s been an amazing trip, I’m ready to see Addie again and hold The Cat. Which is great cause we only have 4 days left until I can do just that!
We’re following google maps to get to St. Augustine, which provided a bit of a hiccup. It directed us to make a turn to get off the highway, which is fine. But after a few miles that paved road turned into sand. Deep sand. For 3 miles we pushed those darn bikes through that sand, cursing the dumb Lady in the phone. After we succeeded in pushing our steeds through the fickle sand, she directed us to another sandy road that was fenced off. I was beyond irritated and frustrated by why google thinks these roads are rideable on a bike. After doing our own navigating with an old fashioned map, we came up with a new route that would add 6 miles to today’s ride. At this point, what’s another 6 miles? We’re in the homestretch and the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brightly. As long as we don’t get hit by a car, we’ll take all the hiccups the universe will throw at us and try to embrace them.
Luckily the winds were on our side and to our backs. We breezed through the miles today which is great because the views weren’t exactly breathtaking, but nor were they ugly. Just feels like the pine barrens of Jersey.
Right before our destination, we crossed into the Eastern Time Zone! I’m in the same time zone as little Addie, finally! It’s the last major milestone before ending in a couple days.
Bristol is a small town and we’re staying in a motel. Unfortunately, we didn’t make a reservation and the only room left was the “honeymoon suite”, making it the most expensive room here. But it’s roomy and has a nice kitchen, so there are worse places to spend the night.
In order to make the Thursday deadline for St Augustine, we have a long day tomorrow. So we’re going to relax and turn in early in preparation. I also inspected all the roads we’re taking tomorrow – so at least we won’t have any surprise sandy roads in our future!
Day 56: Bristol to Hampton Springs, FL (88 miles) May 10, 2021
We rolled out of the motel an hour earlier than usual in preparation for our longest day yet. It was foggy and dreary with high humidity. I really and truly don’t remember much from the morning. It was overcast and flat with very little to look at. Knowing a very boring day was forecasted, I listened intently to a podcast (Dirty John – fascinating true crime story) to help the miles go by. And it helped immensely. I listened to all the episodes and before I knew it, we were halfway done!
At around 1:30pm, Sheena’s stomach started rumbling so we stopped for second lunch at the only gas station for 20 miles. Sheena’s stomach must’ve felt something in the air, cause barely 5 minutes into our stop a severe thunder storm rolled in. Had we not stopped, I’m not sure where we would have went to to get out of harm’s way. It would have been way too dangerous to ride in. We sought shelter in a nice roofed porch the gas station’s neighbor offered us. We made friends with the chickens and roosters inhabiting it and soon found ourselves drifting to sleep from the lull of the pouring rain and booming thunder. The storm lasted for 2.5 hours. Thankfully we were making really good time, so we weren’t too worried to still have 20 miles to go at 4pm. And the roads were smooth and freshly paved – no sand to be found!
The next 20 miles were fast and monotonous. We got into Rocky’s campground at 5:30pm and ate a delicious pizza with chips. We are the picture of health. It’s supposed to rain the next 3 days, so our plans are a little up in the air as to whether or not we’re going to stick to the original plan of camping or splurge on motels. The weather has been unpredictable, so really who knows. We’ll wing it!
Day 57: Hampton Springs to Newberry, FL (83 miles) May 11, 2021
We have not had luck camping. From raccoons to storms to what happened last night, I think we’ve had our fill of sleeping in a tent. Allow me to explain. It’s 12:30am and Sheena goes to the bathroom, waking me up from a light sleep. As she returns to her tent, she calmly claps. Why the heck is she doing that? Wait – WHAT THE HECK JUST RAN INTO THE WOODS?! Huge creatures fled from near Sheena’s tent, scared of her ginger claps. They were too big to be raccoons, too awkward to be dogs. Whatever they were they looked straight up demonic.
“Sheena. What were those..?” I asked, uncertain if I wanted to know the answer. “Pigs,” she answered quickly, the annoyance obvious in her tone, “they’ve been snorting around my tent for the last hour.” Well, shoot. I was not prepared for feral pigs. Raccoons and bears, sure I can handle that. But what do you do if a feral pig attacks you?! Knowing they can be aggressive and some of the most dangerous animals a human can encounter, my pulse quickened and I was prepared for not having a good night sleep.
I kept a lookout and sure enough, 10 minutes after the initial encounter, they were back. I was astounded. There were close to 30 wild pigs, half of which were piglets. Double shoot. Those mamas are going to be super protective over their youngins, and no tent will protect me from their wrath should they feel threatened. Based on my observation, they were benign and just digging for grubs. They weren’t actively seeking our food or showing even the least bit interest in us. So I decided to just let them be. Every half hour I was wakened by snorting or squealing, but they were still very amicable. Sheena must have set her tent over the best grubs, cause they were not moving from her tent. So just imagine the sleep Sheena got. Hint – she didn’t. But the sun came up and they went back to their nests, or is it dens? Either way they left and we broke down camp, a little disoriented- did that really happen?! Pigs?!?
We decided at breakfast that after last night, we are done with camping. We were going to ride another long day and get a motel. Pigs can’t possibly break into a motel room, right?
The ride again was unremarkable and boring. We found good timing by getting a sheltered lunch right as a thunderstorm rolled in. We talked to a guy who knew about Rocky’s Campground. “Well do you know they have a feral pig problem?!” I inquired. He just so happened to know all about their problem, as with all of Florida’s problem. He’s a pig hunter and trapper and he’s not short on business. Where was he last night?! Well, that’s not his jurisdiction. He told us the pigs are a real nuisance and he’s been mauled/slashed by many a ruthless pig. Thank God the ones last night were “friendly”.
The storm rolled out as did we. We spent a decent amount of time on a great bike path as the rain poured down briefly. We were surrounded by gorgeous trees tinseled with Spanish moss. The last 11 miles into Newberry annoyed me for some reason, so I put on my angry music and cranked out those miles at a fast pace. We got into town at 5pm and checked into Sunny South Motel. I won’t even put in a picture because it is horrifying. It has a hot shower, clean bed, is pig free, and four walls with a roof, so it gets the job done, but wow it needs a deep cleaning and upgraded furniture. That’s all I’ll say about that.
The pizza in town is amazing, though. We decided on Villaggios pizza right next door. Of the four pizza options we had in a block radius, we chose correctly. They were so nice and the service was not lacking. Plus the food was so tasty! We got salad, garlic knots, meatball parm, and a slice. Needless to say, we were more than full and satisfied.
Apparently there is a gas shortage from a Russian hack. Colored me surprised and caught unawares. I was wondering why there was a huge line for gas yesterday, why a cop was asking a gas clerk if people were “panicking”, and why the clerk tonight answered the phone with, “we are out of gas”. When I asked, she explained everything to me. A lot of stations around here, as with the whole eastern seaboard, are out of gas. Well nuts. I had just reassured my dad that stations around here were fine. I may have been wrong. I really hope this doesn’t affect my parent’s ability to come down here with Addie! It would be such a disappointment to not see them in St. Augustine.
Day 57: Newberry to Palatka, FL (67 miles); May 12, 2021
Despite being a filthy room, we slept soundly in a comfortable bed. We woke up late and rolled out late, getting breakfast in Gainesville. Unfortunately the clouds retreated today and we were subject to a humid, hot, sunny day. The sweat was just pouring out. Towards the end of the day, I was feeling sluggish and ready to be done. I think the heat had a lot to do with it. It zapped my energy – but got through it, even if just barely.
Most of the ride today was on a bike trail lined with beautiful trees draped with Spanish moss. We have been attacked by kanikazzee bugs left and right all during Florida, provoking odd sounds of terror from us multiple times an hour. I’m sure motorists find it humorous. Speaking of motorists, we had the most aggressive encounters today in Gainesville. We experienced rolling coal 3x within a 5 minute period with close passes. Luckily it didn’t last long and we were out of the city in no time.
We got into the hotel around 5pm. It’s our last night of this trip and it’s definitely bittersweet. I’m ready to be done physically and mentally, but I’ll definitely miss the unpredictability of everyday and the general sense of adventure. But I’m ready to see Addie and the cat. In fact, I’ll see her tomorrow! Even though a lot of the stations we passed today were out of gas (even saw a few hoarders), my parents lucked out and were able to find enough gas on their way from Jersey to make it to Florida! I’ll see them tomorrow!! Makes the last day of this trip all the more exciting!
Day 58: Palatka to St. Augustine, FL (30 miles) May 13, 2021
Well, we did it! We rode our bikes across the country, again. And little Addie (as well as my parents) were there to greet us, making it all the sweeter! The 30 miles into St. Augustine were more of the normal boring roads we’ve been encountering, only today it was rainy and cold, a stark difference from yesterday’s ride. But a difference I honestly preferred. Yesterday was way too hot and muggy for even me.
While riding, one car in particular was really happy to see us. Beeping the horn and cheering, I thought it was odd that someone out there knew what we were doing. Sheena thought they were angry honks and nearly flipped them off. Then a few minutes later they were back right next to us cheering and holding out a sign. “Wow, that’s even weirder,” I thought, “they have a ‘you made it’ sign and they’re filming us!” I thought they were either with The Guys (who also finished today) or just bike tour hunters/cheerers. I turned to Sheena to see if she was just as confused. She wasn’t. It was Steve (her boyfriend) and his parents! It all made sense!
We met everyone at Crescent Beach Park and dipped our front wheels into the Atlantic Ocean, officially signaling the end of another tour. And what a tour it has been, which you know if you’ve been following along.
There are way too many people to thank for making this trip possible. First and foremost, Sheena is the best touring partner I could ask for. She helped make all this possible by just agreeing to do these crazy adventures and being the ying to my yang when things get tough. We make a great team – hear that Amazing Race?! Huge thanks to my parents for not only being the best pet sitters to my furry babies, but also for making the trip even more special by driving down during a gas crisis to see us roll in. We met so many kind people on this trip, particularly through Warm Showers, who made this trip truly stand out. The kindness of strangers was humbling and overwhelming. Thank you to everyone who contributed to support us be it with a meal or just encouraging messages. It helped get through some of the tough days knowing people were cheering us on.
We are going to explore St. Augustine and make it home this weekend. It will be tough to adjust to life off a bike, but I have a feeling I might be living out of a backpack in the not too distant future…
Day 49: Buccaneer State Park to Pascagoula, MS (61 miles) May 3, 2021
With thunder booming until 1am and every rustle causing a panic stricken bolt upright from a half conscious slumber, I did not sleep well. When we did wake up, we were attacked by mosquitos (better than raccoons!) and packed up quickly. Sheena discovered yet another flat and changed it quickly before breakfast. We really should’ve changed our tires before this trip, or at least in Austin.
Riding out of the state park to the gulf was breathtaking. It’s so deja vuish to the coast of California. The sand, the seagulls, the salty taste in the air, and the carefree lively towns that call the gulf coast home. As Sheena put it, it’s a reality check as to how far we’ve come. Saying goodbye to the pacific coast only to ride in the desert so long was sorrowful – seeing and riding along the gulf coast breathed new life into us… and also put things into perspective- our ride is almost over!
Without access to coffee immediately upon waking, we returned to our old ways and rode 13 miles to a coffee shop. The next 20 miles were gorgeous until we rode into Biloxi. The Mississippi version of Atlantic City (all day I had to remind myself I was in MS, I didn’t know it had such built up Gulf towns. It truly reminded me of the Jersey Shore), Biloxi is a huge bustling town with a ton of traffic. Riding on the sidewalk was rough and inconsistent, but riding in the street garnished near passes, honks, middle fingers, and an interesting choice in name calling. Neither decision was favorable, so we did the best we could.
After taking 5 years off my life, we made it out of Biloxi and had relatively smooth sailing to Pascagoula, our destination for tonight. There were talks about tacking on 20 more miles to meet The Guys, but the stress of today’s battle with traffic left us deflated and ready for a long-term break. We checked into Studio 6 and collapsed for a while. It’s a really awesome motel for the price. An extended stay, we have our own little kitchenette! After shopping and dinner, we’re ready to just pass out. It’s our last night in Mississippi, what a long stay we’ve had here!
Day 50: Pascagoula MS to Gulf Shores AL (72 miles) May 4, 2021
We left the motel at 7:45am with gusto. We had to catch a 12:30pm ferry across Mobile Bay, a 40 mile ride. Meeting The Guys halfway as a break left us plenty of time to achieve that goal. With the ferry leaving every hour and a half and bad weather predicted for the afternoon, we had to make that ferry in order to avoid getting stuck in Dauphin Island.
Our plans were derailed almost instantly when Sheena got a flat 2 miles in. No biggie, we had a decent time cushion to allow for these kinds of hiccups. We were soon back on the road and reached Alabama quickly. We’ll be in Florida tomorrow so we won’t have too much time to explore Alabama, but it greeted us as all the states have since Texas – with a flat. Again, this misfortune struck Sheena. With thin walls and balding tread, this may continue to be a trend unless we can find a new tire.
With 15 miles to go and only 1.5 hours to make it to the ferry, we were running low on time and panic started to set in. We flew. The guys were already waiting for us at the ferry, adding another layer of anxiety to our already rushed state. Getting to Dauphin Island we hit pretty severe headwinds for 10 miles. Sheena took the lead which relieved me from exhaustion by allowing me to not only draft, but also refreshed me by showering in her sweat. Disgusting, but when it’s humid and swelteringly hot, anyone’s sweat flying into your face is a blessing.
With 12 minutes to spare, we made it!! Almost passed out from exhaustion (seriously felt like a college track sprint workout), we were reunited with The Guys as a hot disgusting sweaty mess. But we didn’t miss the ferry. Our efforts were not in vain.
As with our ferry ride in 2018 where I ran into Dr. Pepper of Married at First Sight fame, I had another run in with a reality TV personality, or at least his relative. Russel Hantz is known as the #1 villain of Survivor, a show I still hope to be on one day. But seeing as he was working on the ferry, I did not stop to strike up conversation. Missed opportunity to have an in on the show, darn.
After the ferry all 5 of us enjoyed lunch together at Tacky Jacks. Full and hot, we set out for Gulf Shores. Jim led the way and don’t let the “I’m retired” facade fool you – Jim is strong and fast for a 65 year old man. Us 30 year olds struggled to keep up. Huffing and puffing and pouring out sweat, we reached the point where their path and ours split. They have a hotel and we’re staying at the State Park. But we’re ending up at the same place tomorrow, so I have no doubt we’ll see them again.
As we rolled into the State Park, we were warned by many people about the severe weather coming our way tonight. 70 MPH winds, violent thunderstorms, hail, and even a tornado watch. With all the hotels in the area being super expensive, we were okay with taking our chances of flying away in a freak storm. We nabbed the last camping spot and set up camp. So far, there’s only lightning in the distance without any rain at 9pm. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change!
Day 51: Gulf Shores, AL to Milton FL (58 miles) May 5, 2021
Well all my finger crossing did nothing. A bad storm rolled in around midnight, followed by an even worse storm at 3am, followed by the grand finale at 5am. We were hit hard with a dazzling display of lighting and a giant orchestra of thunder. Rain battered against the tents, but the wind stayed at bay as did the threat of tornadoes. Having been caught in plenty lightning storms in the mountains I have heard booming thunder before, but this was different. It reverberated and shook the entire ground and though it was miles away, it sounded like it was right next to us. After talking to a local, I learned that the thunder echos off the water, amplifying it to the ear shattering magnitude we experienced last night. After seeing there was a flood watch and the amount of rain we were being pounded with, I was worried the little creek behind our tents was going to overflow, causing alligators and snakes to body surf right into our tents. I had a plan ready for in case we had to bolt out of those tents to safety and ready to execute it when necessary. But like most worrying, this was wasted energy. We were fine. The only thing we woke up to was soaking wet tents.
We packed up the soggy and sandy tents quickly to avoid another storm coming our way. After eating breakfast in the bathroom (holy heck were those bathrooms clean) and waiting out the worst of a downpour, we headed out in the light drizzle for the day.
Before we knew it, we crossed into Florida!! Last state of this trip!!!! So crazy to think that a few weeks ago this day seemed so far away. Florida was like the Emerald City – a far off land requiring feats of physical and mental strength to get to. And now we’re here!
Lightning skittered across the sky, giving me a mild freight, but the adrenaline rush makes you feel alive, right?! We pedaled to Cafe Beignet and enjoyed some powdered sugar goodness and coffee. It proved to be a good stop because the skies opened and dumped out rain. So we waited it out.
But we did all the waiting we could and we couldn’t put off the inevitable anymore. We suited up and faced our foe. Right as we were about to take off, none other but The Guys passed by! They saw us and waited so we all could ride together. The next 20 or so miles to Pensacola were all a blur, mainly because it was hard to see the road from all the rain. We decided to stop and have lunch at a little diner who didn’t seem too thrilled to have 5 soaking wet cyclists come in, but money is money – even if it is dripping wet.
After lunch we said goodbye to the guys. Although we’re staying in the same town, our paths are diverging after today. But who knows, maybe the universe will smile down upon us and we’ll all finish the same day next week.
The skies cleared and the next 24 miles into Milton were relatively dry with great tailwinds. We got to our warm showers (Dave and Stacey) where they cooked us dinner and took us to Tastee Freeze for ice cream. They treated us like family, joked around, told stories, and fed us way too much food. They even gave us a million snacks and drinks to take on the road with us. Their kindness and generosity is astounding, as is their humor.
Because of the rain, I wasn’t able to take pictures from today’s ride. But it was gorgeous with gulf views. Jim’s phone succumbed to the weather and he had to buy a new one. I’m glad mine didn’t befall the same fate.
We have an easy day tomorrow then a rest day in Panama City Beach with Ryan who had a condo there. After not seeing her for so long, I’m excited to see her again at one of my favorite places!!
Day 43: Merryville to Oberlin, LA (56.7 miles); April 25, 2021
The beds in the cabin were pretty squeaky. So much so in fact, it ripped Sheena from a deep sleep convinced there was a snake in the room. Fortunately for us, it was just a dream. We woke up and got ready before heading back over to Stu’s for breakfast. Their bacon is just as good as their cheeseburgers.
Before we left for the ride, we ran into some bikers (of motorcycles). After briefly talking with them, they asked if we would join them in a prayer circle. Never one to turn down a prayer or well wishes, we accepted gladly. It was a wonderful prayer asking for our safety and protection as well as protection of our bikes – that they ride smoothly and without failure. Considering the state of Sheena’s bike, we said AMEN! to that.
And so we were off. Really nothing crazy to report on today. It went smoothly and flatly. Winds weren’t awful and it wasn’t too hot. All in all uneventful. We didn’t have to outrun any gators and our bikes didn’t fall apart. Sometimes boring is good.
We got into Oberlin around 5pm and checked into the Crossroads Inn. We originally were going to stay in the community park, but didn’t reach out to the coordinator in time. But looking at the town of Oberlin, I think it is a good thing. I’m not positive it’s a place we’d want to be camping exposed at night. Though I’m not too sure we’re much safer in this hotel room.
Sheena discovered she had a flat as soon as we arrived in the room, but was happy it happened here than on the side of the road. She fixed it and we’re just relaxing. I have a feeling tomorrow will be just as uneventful as today, though I’m hoping for a little bit of spice to break up the monotony.
Day 44: Oberlin to Bunkie, LA (78 miles); April 26, 2021
Well that’s the last time I wish for a spicier day. Cause well, it was granted. And I was not at all happy about it.
We set out for what was supposed to be a 57 mile easy day in the dense fog. We rode 25 miles past endless crawfish farms on a flat and boring stretch for a stop in Mamou for a rest. It was the first time this trip I felt threatened and even thought about taking out my pepper spray (on humans, not raccoons). Luckily we were okay and we left for another 20 miles to Chicot State Park. It was crazy how we went to poverty stricken Mamou to sprawling mansions just down the road in a less than 10 minute bike ride. And it’s even crazier how cheap these gorgeous homes are not only in price but property taxes. I guess it really is all about location, location, location!
That’s where the real trouble started. For some reason we thought we only had 15 miles to go once we hit the park. We miscalculated the distance drastically. We had another 25 if we followed the ACA. We didn’t want to ride another 25 miles, so we were able to find a shortcut that shaved off 8 miles. Great! We even got approval from an RV couple and a state park ranger. We were warned that a road within the park was closed, but bikes could get through. Rules never apply to bikes!
We took the park road and passed through the road blocked signs. We were cruising when a state trooper pulled us over. He told us the road was closed. We told him a ranger said we could go through. He said there was no way we were going through and we had to take the long way. Apparently the state is using the park as a COVID sanctuary. How adamant he was about not letting us pass was odd and felt like they were hiding a little more – like a zombie camp. Not wanting to mess with a cop or potential zombies, we turned around and were resolved on riding close to 30 more miles to get to Bunkie. We considered just bunking it in the park, but ultimately decided to stick to the schedule and suck it up. Besides, there were definitely gators in that park and we do not want to mess with gators.
The ride into Bunkie was noneventful, though riddled with dogs. Despite being chased by up to 15 dogs a day, all the dogs have been super friendly and appear to just want to run. Really fast. So fingers crossed that trend continues.
We got into Bunkie tired and hungry around 6pm. We’re staying on couches in the fire station. They host cyclists frequently and we’re the 5th in a week.
We got a well deserved pizza and beer and are more than ready for sleep. And I will no longer wish for days with a little more “spice”. Boring is fine enough for me.
Day 45: Bunkie to New Roads, LA (67 miles); April 27, 2021
Luckily today was pretty smooth. We had coffee with the fire guys and headed out around 8:30am. It was an overall pretty uneventful ride with the exception of 15 dog chases, none of which were too aggressive. We did see a road killed alligator, which has been a deterrent for popping a squat on the side of the road when nature calls. Just going to have to hold it until getting into the next town!
We had our first sighting of the Mississippi today, first indication of the East! We got into New Roads around 5:30pm and was greeted by locals at Jim’s Campground (and bar and grille) by locals who were expecting us. Word gets around quickly in these parts. We stopped in for a drink and appetizer and got to meet the locals. Talking with them is an effort in concentration because their accents are so thick and different than anything I’ve ever heard. We got talking about our route into Baton Rouge. No one could recommend a bridge to go over because “you’ll get flattened on any bridge. Seriously you will die”. Encouraging.
We met Susan, who along with her fiancé Matt, are extremely proud Louisianians. We got into talking and she offered to take us to a crawfish boil tonight and take us into Baton Rouge tomorrow. After the warnings about the bridges and the week we’ve had, we decided to take her up on her kindness. Besides, it was only a 30 mile ride we’d be missing out on.
We went to The Crawfish Hole, a new boil joint Susan highly recommended. It was just opened by a 20 year old, Luke. A kid with a lot of drive and determination, I was impressed by the operation. He was hospitable and treated us as VIPs. Plus the crawfish (my first experience) was delicious. I would highly recommend.
We are staying at Susan and Matt’s before going into Baton Rouge to drop the bikes off at a bike shop. Susan is going to take us to a great lunch spot as we wait – let the food tour continue!
Off day in Baton Rouge: April 28,2021
It always feels great to sleep in. When we rolled out of bed we noticed Susan was nowhere to be found. I popped my head outside and realized the situation – a locksmith was over trying to get into the truck. Matt has his car keys and Susan’s were in the locked truck. Looks like we’re riding after all! But not so fast – Sheena reminded me we had our helmets and her shoes in the truck. We were stuck and mild panic set in. We had to get the bikes looked at today and get into New Orleans by the weekend to keep up with the schedule. While pacing in the kitchen, I noticed a set of GMC keys on the kitchen counter. Surely these weren’t the keys. But I brought them out to Susan anyway. Lo and behold, St. Francis delivered and they were indeed the keys! We were piled in the truck and off to Baton Rouge in 10 minutes.
We got to the bike shop and they were confident they would have our bikes ready by the afternoon. Wonderful! We were hungry and it was lunch time. Susan took us to Chimes and we enjoyed delicious crawfish entouffee and BBQ shrimp. My aunt Janet gifted me some money and I thought a great creole lunch was the perfect way to spend it. Thanks Aunt Janet!
After lunch Susan showed us around LSU’s campus. She told us we were going to see Mike the Tiger. Thinking it was just a mascot statue, I was convinced it had the most epic statue ever to warrant a visit. Then after a few questions, I realized it was an actual live tiger and my mind was blown. I didn’t know live mascots existed – especially tigers. Where were the lions during my time at Widener?
We checked on the bikes at the shop and they were ready in record time. We said our goodbyes to Susan and thanked her for her southern hospitality. Who knows – maybe we’ll crash her wedding in October!
Our warm showers host, Mark, met us at the bike shop. We chatted a little and followed him back to his apartment.
When we got to Mark’s we did some planning for New Orleans and tomorrow. We had plans to stay with a warm showers host, but that fell through. With limited places to stay between here and New Orleans, we’re in kind of a bind. But we’ll figure it out – we always do.
After eating dinner and legitimately getting chased by cockroaches walking back, we hung out with Mark till way past our bedtime. We shared stories and had some pretty good laughs. He is a pleasure to stay with. In fact, bike racer legend Mike Hall stayed with Mark back in 2012 during a Guinness record breaking ride. Mike Hall was highlighted in the movie Inspired to Ride, a documentary about the transamerica race. It’s an inspiring and great movie. Tragically, Mike was killed during a race in Australia in 2017 after getting hit by a car. It was awesome meeting someone who hosted such an inspiring person.
Day 46: Baton Rouge to Gramercy, LA (64 miles) April 29, 2021
We started the morning with coffee with Mark and all three of us set out together early. Mark was riding to work, we were riding to La Place.
Soon our paths diverged and we were on our own. Today’s ride was going to be our longest yet – 85 miles. I ran into a guy at the bike shop yesterday riding the BALL, Bike Across LA Louisiana. He shared with me a route him and 30 others were riding and considering the routes out of Baton Rouge looked sketchy, I figured 30 road cyclists knew what they were doing. So I grabbed the route from him and we decided to follow it today.
The ride itself was fine (zero dog chases!), started up on the levee which was pretty cool. Then we dropped down to the road. At 60 miles in, I received a call from Jerry (aka Duwaine), the warm showers host who initially said he wasn’t available to host. Yesterday during planning I left a message asking if he knew anyone in the area who could host us. We were striking out and I must’ve sounded pretty desperate. He wanted to let us know that after speaking with his wife Stephanie, they were okay with us staying the night even though they wouldn’t be there. Wow! Only 3 miles away, it was great timing. After looking at the maps and seeing it wasn’t worth it to ride to La Place and spend money on a hotel when it’ll only save 10 miles. Now we have more money to spend on beignets and daiquiris in New Orleans!
Before leaving for Houston, Stephanie hung out with us for a little at the Parker’s gorgeous home! She is really awesome and fun to talk with. It’s a real shame she and Jerry won’t be home, I can tell they would be a lot of fun to hang out with. I feel very blessed that they are willing to open their home to us and trust us when they’re not home. It was great timing and might be a sign that our luck is finally changing for the better!
Day 47: Gramercy to New Orleans, LA (60 miles); April 30, 2021
We rolled out of the Parker’s home into the suffocating humidity around 8:30am, set for an easy 50 miles to NoLa. We were excited for a rest day and getting to explore a new city!
Everything was going smoothly until we hit a closed road that was taken out by the spillway overflowing. In order to detour around it, we had to tack on some additional miles. But it was early and not a big deal.
We stayed on the winding Mississippi River Trail, a beautifully paved trail lining the river. We avoided cars and had pretty much the whole trail to ourselves, until we got into the outskirts of the city. We had one cyclist pass us, joking, “I have more weight on me than you guys!” We saw him a mile or two down the road, where he pointed out a live gator. We didn’t stick around to risk our luck – knowing us he’d probably come out of the water and chase us. Eventually the cyclist caught up with us again and we had a really good conversation with him. Originally from New York, Michael went to Tulane for his undergrad degree and Wharton business school for his MBA. He’s now an investor and lives in London, but is currently staying at his home in New Orleans for the next couple of months. He took us on a tour of Audubon Park and showed us his house, where he said will be a small town jazz festival tomorrow and invited us. Perfect way to spend the day!
After we parted ways with Michael, we headed to the French quarter to our hotel. Sheena’s mom was extremely generous and paid for a hotel right on Bourbon Street – The Royal Sonesta. It’s a beautiful hotel and a perfect spot to relax. We are so thankful! Though rolling into a fancy hotel covered in sweat and bike grease garnished a couple snooty stares from upturned noses riding in on their high horses.
After showering and getting ready like proper ladies, we went out to eat. After fearing gators for so long, we took our fears out on one and had some pretty good alligator creole and gumbo at Evangalines. Though super tasty, the portions were lacking for two starving cyclists.
After dinner we took in the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street. And let me tell you. There were some sights to behold. As someone who can experience sensory overload, I didn’t know which way to look. There were people all over. Sheena put it perfectly when she described it as a mix of OCMD, OCNJ, and Baltimore/Philly. We didn’t feel 100% safe, it was a little trashy, but the people watching was exquisite. After avoiding crowds for so long because of COVID, it was overwhelming walking in a sea of people. There was some mask use, but it felt like pre-covid times. Hopefully this is a sign that we may soon be out of pandemic times, but I’m not holding my breath on that.
Soon we found ourselves at a speak easy suggested to us by Jake, who Sheena met getting our Hurricanes. He works there and it was nice to go to a private bar (password required) that wasn’t crowded. We got to stand on the balcony and have a birds eye view of the ridiculousness going on below.
But as usual, it got to be late (for us at least) and we retreated back to the hotel for some rest. We have a pretty busy day tomorrow exploring the city. Maybe we’ll even stay an extra day!
Rest Day: New Orleans; May 1, 2021
Apparently New Orleans is not an early rising city. When we headed out for brunch at 9:30am, the city seemed to still be asleep. We had a delicious brunch and met a ton of awesome people at Curio, it’s a lot of fun to make new friends along the way. Unfortunately, I learned a tough lesson that there should be a bottom to mimosas and went back to the hotel.
Sheena went to Cafe Du Monde and brought back a New Orleans staple – beignets. They were just as delicious as I imagined. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the Jazz fest Michael invited us to. The day got away from us. Pretty bummed we missed out, but I think this city deserves another visit.
Tomorrow we’ll be entering Mississippi for a short jaunt. Florida is on the horizon and we’ll likely wrap up our ride in 2 weeks. It’s been such a fun and eye opening ride, I’m going to be sad to be done and go back to the normal daily routine.
Day 48: New Orleans to Buccaneer State Park (58 miles) May 2, 2021
When leaving the luxury of the hotel this morning, we felt right at home. Street cleaners were cleaning the massive amounts of trash and vomit from off the gutter, appropriate for us in so much as we look and feel like trash. The smell and mounds of garbage was nausea inducing and disgusting. People must’ve partied hardy last night.
We made our way through the sleeping city and eventually got rained on relatively hard. Soaking wet, we rode past marshes, bayous, and a lake. The houses along the lake were charmingly gorgeous and a great distraction from pedaling. Soon we found ourselves leaving Louisiana and saying hello to Mississippi. We look moderately like drowned rats, but at least it’s warm and we’re not shivering our tails off.
We had lunch and rolled the rest of the miles (with the exception of one flat) to Buccaneer State Park, where we had our first sighting of the Gulf of Mexico! I’m really excited to be back on the “coast” with water views. It’s crazy to think we went from pacific coast to desert, to rolling hills, to now the gulf. We’re truly seeing it all! While cooking dinner we talked to Gretchen and Jeff from Bend, OR. Both retired early, they’re touring the country in RV. Gretchen was kind enough to give us microwave popcorn, a treat we’ve both been craving this whole tour!
We have a short stay in Mississippi and Alabama and will be in Florida before we know it! We’re likely going to run into The Guys again either tomorrow or Tuesday, so excited for our reunion!!
Day 38: Austin to La Grange, TX (72 miles); April 20, 2021
After two and a half rest days, I was more than ready to hit the pavement, even if my legs weren’t. After saying goodbye to the Alvarez family, we said goodbye to Austin. The first 12 miles were a total drag. My legs felt tired, weak, and out of practice. How was I supposed to ride another 60?! But with some time and the help of tailwinds, we made it 38 miles to Bastrop before noon.
The scenery to Bastrop was like it was plucked out of South Jersey. Flat and farmy with green everywhere. I felt like I was riding down to the shore. It felt just like home, only with longhorns dotting the roads.
We were going to have lunch a little east of Bastrop, but stopped in our tracks when we saw Buc-ees off in the distance (and from being totally frazzled from being on a really horrible road with really busy traffic). I have heard rumors of Buc-ees for a year now, ever since visiting Florida. A Jersey girl through and through, I never thought anything could beat Wawa, not even this rumored mega gas station/convenience store found only in Texas. Well I was proven wrong today. I couldn’t believe my eyes. With 50 gas pumps and a store bigger than a football field, I was overwhelmed walking in, littered with the beady eyes of a thousand cartoon beavers, smiling a little too happily. They had everything and I found myself lost – in the hunting/fishing section of all places. From fresh hot sandwiches to fudge to lawnmowers to groceries, Buc-ees has it all. And their brisket sandwiches are pretty tasty too, if I do say so myself.
With 32 miles left and great tailwinds, we made it to La Grange in great time. We stocked up at Walmart which is where I noticed we’ve been receiving the most attention today from strangers about our trip. I spoke to close to 10 people about what we were doing. They were all flabbergasted by our journey, most never even heard of anyone embarking on such a quest. 50% thought it was “badass”, 30% thought it was brave, and only 20% thought we were out of our minds. After talking to a gentleman at Walmart about the Pacific Coast, we went on our way to our home for the night, Colorado Landing RV park, which so far has taken the cake as my favorite RV park. Cheap, quiet, and clean with extremely friendly owners, I couldn’t be happier to be staying here. We made dinner in their kitchen and lounged in their community center until finally setting up our tents before sunset. It’s already feeling like it’s going to be a pretty chilly night. Wish I had little Addie here to snuggle up with.
Day 39: La Grange to Navasota, TX (67.2 miles) April 21, 2021
For as cold as it was forecasted, I was pretty warm and cozy waking up. So warm and cozy, in fact, that I overslept half an hour. Realizing the time and that Sheena was already practically ready to go, I got up in a tizzy to break down camp and get moving. Not the most ideal wake up.
I calmed my nerves by stopping for coffee in town at a cute little coffee shop. Like a lot of these East Texas towns, La Grange seems to have seen better days, but is trying really hard to make itself available and attractive to tourists.
With the coffee barely making a dent in my fatigued state, we set off at 9am for a long day on the road. Headwinds were in full force, so I just kept my head down and pedaled. It was also freezing. I’m not exaggerating, a cold front moved in last night and it’s unseasonably cold here. Plus the sun wasn’t out to thaw us out. So I just shivered through the miles.
The towns we went through (Warrenton and Burton) seem to be super active during antique season (surely there’s gotta be a season for antiques?). The road was dotted with antique stands and the home’s lawns were covered in what an untrained eye might deem “trash”. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
On our way, we ran into Justin, a tourer going west. He’s from Philly so it was nice being able to talk about home. He’s moving to California and decided why not ride there? A thirty something year old, he might even stop somewhere along the way he likes and work for a month or two for some cash. He was fun to talk to and offered some tips on navigating LA and FL.
Though he was fun to talk to, we spent a lot of time chatting with Justin and found ourselves only 16 miles in at 11:30am. With 50 more to go, I already felt a little defeated. Someone at a convenience store offered to let us stay at the community center in Gay Hill, shaving decent mileage from the day. Though tempting, we ultimately decided to trek on and stick to the original plan. Plus the sun was out and the headwinds were winding down, so we really had no excuse not to keep on schedule.
We’re definitely close to Louisiana. I didn’t get a picture in time, but I saw the first sign of Spanish Moss and we passed the first Cajun restaurant. Can’t wait to eat it soon! Scenery wasn’t anything special, more farms that look surprisingly like Medford, NJ (Lil Bessie’s hometown. Unfortunately the humidity ruined her hold on the outside of the bag so she’s been hanging out inside of it for safe keeping since Austin).
After some grocery shopping, we arrived at our motel around 6:30pm. Named “Vanguard $45 and Up!” – literally – we weren’t sure what to expect. Luckily it was safe, had 4 walls, 2 beds (sans bed bugs), was $45, and didn’t stink. So it was great to me. And considering I’m wiped out, I’ll be happy to just pass out quickly in clean sheets.
Day 40: Navasota to Coldsprings, TX (67 miles); April 22, 2021
And slept hard I did. Probably could’ve gone for another 10 hours easily cause I did not want to get up and moving. But time was ticking and I had to get moving.
After coffee in the room, we set out for the day. The first 20 miles were more farms, nothing fancy or picture worthy. We stopped for a break in Richards (no donuts :() and rode into Sam Houston National Forest, a really pretty area that was oddly reminiscent of the Pine Barrens. Crazy how so much of East Texas reminds me of Jersey.
Right before our lunch stop in New Waverly, Sheena’s rack broke yet again. We had some bumpy roads yesterday and after cruising over a pot hole today, the rack officially had enough. Unable to completely fix it, Sheena was able to jerry rig it with zip ties. Unfortunately, the fender was rubbing against the tire, creating resistance. Because we were on the side of a road with limited shoulder and tons of logging trucks (first sighting this trip), we decided to ride into New Waverly and fix it more properly there. So we did.
New Waverly is definitely as close to a living ghost town I’ve seen. With lots of old abandoned storefronts but a bustling population, it was a weird juxtaposition. We hung out at the extremely busy grocery store for 2 hours as Sheena fixed her bike. We talked to a number of residents curious about our trip. One of whom was Tristan, a 21 year old originally from Tennessee. He was wearing a Philadelphia Eagles shirt and is an avid fan, despite being in Cowboy country. “Yeah I went to a Cowboys game once, it was during a tornado warning and I didn’t even see one touchdown” Ba-da-ching! He just graduated high school in 2020 and was proud that he was the only one in his class who was old enough to drink alcohol at graduation. He walked 5 miles to work everyday and was very proud of his physique and tan. He got out of Tennessee because there were too many exploding meth labs in his neighborhood (one of which nearly killed him), and he unfortunately ran with a bad crowd in TX. He was incarcerated for 34 weeks for attempting to blow up the Post Office, an offense he claims he was framed for. Quite the character, Tristan had a little too much energy and could’ve gone on for hours talking to us, but it was getting late and we had to pry ourselves away.
We arrived at our campsite in Coldsprings (Double Lake Recreation Are) around 5:30pm and quickly set up camp/ate. We’re both exhausted from the last few days and ready to be lulled to sleep by the frogs. It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow, something I’m very much dreading. Keeping my fingers crossed the 50% prediction goes in my favor.
Day 41: Coldspring to Kountze, TX (70 miles, 40 ridden) April 23, 2021
There are very few nights, if any, that have terrorized me like last night. Nights spent solo deep in bear country can’t hold a candle to the insanity that ensued next to that quaint little lake in innocent little East Texas. Only that fateful night in Benedict, Kansas in 2016 beats what happened last night.
Let me explain. I had trouble getting to sleep last night for no reason besides just not being able to find it. So when I finally did fall asleep, I didn’t want to wake up when I heard rustling in the woods right by my tent. Having seen tons of deer earlier, I just assumed it was one of them poking around. No biggie. Only it was poking around way too close and making scratching noises. It ripped me right out of sleep. What kind of deer scratches?! “Sheena?” I asked out into the dark night interrupted by the terrifying noise, “is that you? Do you hear that?” No answer. Assuming she was asleep, I whipped out my light and sure enough, two beady eyes were staring right at me from under the tent fly. It was an enormously fat raccoon. I screamed. It ran. Sheena yelled.
I ran out of that tent so fast ready to fight that thing, totally ignorant to the fact it might have rabies. I was so amped up on adrenaline I grabbed my flip flop (first thing I could find), and slapped the picnic table, keeping the creature at bay. But he had his beady eyes on the prize – my food pannier. Which I was using to tie my tent fly taunt. I couldn’t untie it without turning my back to the demon trash panda, which I was not ready to do considering he was holding his ground. I explained to Sheena the situation poorly because I was half asleep but also so frightened I couldn’t get words out. He saw his opportunity and charged at me, which made me let out the most primal, guttural sound that scared even me. It came from the depths of my soul. It would make my mom proud that I inherited her ability to make animals terrified by the bizarre noises made to scare them away. And it worked. With a look of what I can only interpret as confusion, that fat rodent ran right up a tree with a perfect aerial view of me and my tent. Whatever. That’s fine, it bought me time to untie the bag and remove temptation from the beast. The last thing I needed was a ruined pannier from sharp greedy claws and teeth.
With him nestled in the tree, I returned to the safe haven of the tent. I got everything in order thinking I successfully scared him off. That is until I saw his little dexterous foot under the fly of my tent, enraging me to scream and grab my pepper spray. Again he retreated and a few minutes later Sheena thought she heard him rustling with a trash bag on her bike. I thought it was wind. Until I heard scratching again. My tent was rocking back and forth like it was in a windstorm and it struck me – he was attacking from the back!! I thrashed around within the tent yelling like a madman, infuriated by the tenacity and brazenness of this creature. At this point it was close to 2 hours of him employing fear tactics to antagonize and terrorize me. Shaking, I grabbed my Keen sandal ready to strike him when he attacked again. I was so done with being scared of a stupid raccoon. The possibility of getting food was too tempting for him. Sure enough I saw his wretched hand reach under the fly. I wound up patiently ready to strike. Soon I saw his little nose poke up followed by his shining eye. We locked eyes and I swung with such force I was surprised by my strength. And so was he. I made contact and he ran off, retreating quickly – this was not a battle worth fighting for him. Sorry PETA, but I can’t afford rabies treatment. I was hopeful that he finally realized that I meant business and threw in the towel. I kept watch for another half hour and Sheena would temporarily sound off her air horn app, which hilariously sounded like she was getting a rave amped up. Without any sign of him, I tried to catch some sleep. But that was hard to get when every rustle caused a panic. I kept replaying seeing his head poke out under the fly, him shaking the tent (ripping it in a couple places), and him charging me. What a nasty little critter. Luckily I proved my dominance and he kept his distance.
Had there been any warning of aggressive raccoons in the area, we definitely would’ve secured and hung our food bag out of reach of nimble little hands. These raccoons without a doubt have been fed before and have lost all fear of humans. But this human has a new found fear of raccoons. When talking to the camp host the next morning, he brushed off the experience saying, “yeah they can get pretty aggressive when food is involved”Huh, is that so? Enlightening. Where are the ferral cats when you need them?!
With barely any sleep for either of us, we got up unscathed and happy to see the bleak morning light, surely causing the rabid beasts to retreat back into their dens. We got coffee at a gas station and went on our way to Kountze, where a hotel was waiting for us. Bad weather was predicted for this afternoon and after the night we had, we didn’t want to be caught in a raccoon ravaged tent during a tornado.
Could’ve been the extreme fatigue or lack of any signage, we missed a turn and ended up miles off route. Ah, sounds about right for the couple days we’ve been having. According to google maps, it was an easy fix and we’d soon be back on track. Great! Until it wanted us to go down someone’s driveway and on a dirt path for miles. Not wanting to get shot for trespassing or break our bikes even more than they already are, we were forced to add miles onto an already long ride. And it was just starting to rain. Appropriate! We have been chased by a ton of unleashed dogs, but luckily they all seem to be not only cute, but also friendly. We have a system in place where I act as bait so Sheena can get away. It’s a foolproof system.
We stopped for lunch defeated and 40 miles in. Of course where we stopped were infested with fire ants and boy they loved my feet. So we fled and just collapsed in a driveway. 5 minutes later a man pulls up in his pickup asking if we were okay. He passed us earlier (to which I nearly replied “well why didn’t you hit us?”) and was worried that we might get caught in bad weather. He offered to let us stay in his guest house 2 miles down the road, a really gracious offer. But we were on a schedule and had to make it to Kountze. So Sheena asked if he was willing to give us a ride. You never know if you don’t ask! He said of course and soon we were on our way to Kountze in a truck.
Michael is a 78 year old retired vet from Wisconsin who moved to Texas by request of his second wife. Unhappy with the move, he’s looking to return up north. And I don’t blame him. The eastern Texans we’ve encountered the last few days have been standoffish and there seems to be pretty heavy meth use. The interactions we have had with people the last 2 days have been unnerving. We felt a lot safer in the border towns of Texas than we do here.
Michael dropped us off and we went grocery shopping and got some pizza. Yum! We checked into a motel and waited for the weather to roll in. We definitely lucked out with getting a ride into town. After the last few days, a break was exactly what we needed to boost our spirits. Plus it’s great to be under a roof. There’s a severe thunderstorm watch as well as a tornado warning for most of the night. The only thing worse than fighting off a raccoon is a tornado.
I realized I haven’t mentioned The Retired Guys recently. They took their time out of Austin and are a day behind us. We’re keeping in contact hoping that we’ll cross paths again in Louisiana. I hope so, I miss their jokes and company!
^^a really great read about another tourer’s experience with raccoons. As I was battling him in the tent, Sheena was reading this to herself, fearing that the raccoon was gonna be in it for the long haul and she was going to have to intervene. Thank God my encounter was only half as terrifying as this girl’s.
Day 42: Kountze to Merryville, LA (65 miles); April 24, 2021
Believe it or not, the raccoon incident actually worked in our favor. Our original plan for yesterday was to ride to Silsbee and camp, however, we decided after the incident to treat ourselves to a motel room. Which was a great idea considering the weather we had last night. Lots of rain, wind, and tornado warnings for where we were, we were glad we were safe and dry inside.
The day started out great. We got donuts and set out early. 4 miles in, Sheena’s rack broke again, requiring a lengthy fix. Because we’re nearly out of zip ties, we headed over to O’Reilly to pick up some more.
The ride into Kirbyville was 31 miles of nothing. But flat nothing. So I was happy despite the headwinds. We stopped for lunch where unfortunately Sheena noticed a problem with her front derailer. Unable to fix it completely, she was able to get it to work so that it was rideable on flat land. It’s extremely frustrating for her, but luckily we’re done all the big climbs, so it should get her to Baton Rouge where it can be seen in a bike shop.
We have an interesting theory. Our luck all went south when I put ‘Lil Bessie away for safe keeping. Living a dark and uneventful life in my handlebar bag, we think she’s been acting out for attention. From the bike issues to beckoning the raccoon attack, ‘Lil Bess is putting some major Voo-Moo black magic on us for missing out on seeing the hunky Longhorns. Wanting to stop the bad juju in its tracks, I brought ‘Lil Bessie out from her prison and pinned her safely back where she belongs in hopes that she stops her temper tantrum and frees us from this bad luck spell.
Well, I think it worked! After 20 fast and smooth miles, we were out of Texas!! I’m shocked about how quickly we got through this gargantuan state and how fun it was, with the exception of the last couple of days, of course. Initially dreading the dull long rides, I think having the guys to ride with and Aaron around for a little bit distracted us from the length of time we spent here. We had a lot of fun! It was 20 days well spent, but we’re happy to move on. Unfortunately, Louisiana does not have a welcome sign, a mega disappointment. However, we finally found a Texas sign! Only took 1,100 miles.
Not even a mile into LA, guess what greeted us? A very large snake was in the shoulder just hanging out. As we passed it lunged with an open mouth, causing some minor panic. I hope that’s not a bad omen…. We arrived in Merryville a couple miles later famished. We went right for a hamburger shop because there’s nothing better to drown out your sorrows with than a delicious cheeseburger. Besides a cold beer. Which the restaurant had none. After that we went over to the museum where we are staying the night. Elaine from warm showers is a museum curator and is letting us stay the night in a cabin on its campus. It has everything we could want and will be a cozy home for our first night in LA. Sad to say bye to Texas, but excited to explore more of the south!
Day 33: Del Rio to Camp Wood, TX (77 miles); April 13, 2021
After a great rest day, I started today with a Texas waffle and a satisfying continental breakfast. We set out in the rain and rode a good, but nondescript 30 miles to Bracketville where we caught up with the guys. Looking for a convenience store Jim prophesied to be just down the street, we kept going until we realized the store didn’t actually exist. So we had a brief break on the side of the road amongst some roadkill carcasses. Glamorous, truly glamorous.
Once the rain let up, the humidity set in. We’re definitely out of the desert and in the hills of Texas. Plenty of rolling hills with wildflowers made us feel like we were back in Virginia, but with cacti. It was really pretty and a great, but drastic, change in landscape.
We had lunch by a goat farm and set out for the last 22 miles. Dripping in sweat, we rolled into the convenience store around 5:30pm and sat outside it for a bit. That’s where we met Ken, a country and western music singer who was good friends with Ray Price (he was deeply offended we didn’t know who Ray Price was). He serenaded us, complimented our teeth, and told us a bunch of stories while I made friends with his chihuahua. He was quite the character.
Speaking of country music stars, my friend Aaron meet us at the RV park (Wes Cooksey – a really great park with a beautiful view of the Nuences River). He came with his mom Roni and her dog Grace. He cooked a great dinner that we were happy to scarf down. I met Aaron in Florida last year while he was performing at a restaurant. He’s an excellent country singer and is about to drop some more music on Spotify (check out Aaron Kantor). Since he splits his time between different states, Texas being one of them, it’s great his schedule lined up with ours that he could meet us. He is going to ride with us a few days while Roni, who is the sweetest person ever, will be our first ever sag! Considering we’re entering hill country, he chose a heck of a time to ride with us.
Day 34: Camp Wood to Lost Maples State Park (45 miles); April 14, 2021
Well Aaron definitely did pick a heck of a day to choose to start riding with us. We began the day with 25 miles of hills. And not just any hills, but hills reminiscent of the Appalachian mountains. Up steep grades with lots of twists and turns. Considering he had an old mountain bike, Aaron handled it like a champ.
When we reached Leakey, Aaron strapped his bike to the RV and said he’d meet us at our night’s stop. Pretty smart move considering how hilly the rest of the way looked. So we were off and conquered those hills, earning ourselves a super steep downhill where we clocked a frightening 45 mph.
With 4 miles left we met the guys at the country store. Jim inspired me to get the best recovery drink there is – a beer – and some ice cream. Because we haven’t had any service and the state park was likely out of RV spots, we asked David if Aaron could park the RV in his reserved camp spot. He had no issues with it and left to see if he could find Aaron. And with a beard like that, he’s pretty hard to miss.
We arrived last and everyone was hanging out. Aaron grilled another delicious dinner for the gang and we all had a great time eating and sharing stories.
Day 35: Lost Maples to Kerrville (46 miles); April 15, 2021
Getting up and looking at the elevation profile, Aaron made a good judgement call and did not join us for the morning. The hills looked intense and steep. And appearance was not deceiving – they were super steep and frequent. It was raining and misty, which added an interesting ambiance to the ride. We crossed the Guadalupe River multiple times and worked our way to Hunt, where we hung out until Aaron and Roni pulled up to meet us.
The next 13 miles to Kerrville looked easy and Aaron was game to join us. Sheena went ahead and Aaron and I stayed back a little. Traffic picked up and the shoulder disappeared intermittently with a thick, slippery white stripe. My tire caught the strip and threw me off balance. Unable to recover, I fell directly into traffic. Luckily there weren’t any cars coming, and luckily Aaron wasn’t directly behind me so I didn’t take him out too. But he was close enough to get my stunned and shocked self out from the middle of the street. The bike was okay and as far as I could tell, so was I. I fell on my left side with some minor road rash on my elbow and hip, but saw that a bruise was already starting to form. I could walk it off, but knew I’d be sore the next few days. I was a bit frazzled, Aaron calmed me down and we rode till we met up with Sheena. Little painful, but workable.
We made it to Kerrville early and Sheena and I did laundry/showered. We took Aaron and Roni out to dinner at a really pretty restaurant on the river with really good food. We’re staying at a KOA and it’s looking like rain all night and into the morning. We’ll probably get a late start in tomorrow to avoid getting rained on too badly.
Day 36: Kerrville to Johnson City, TX (60 miles); April 16, 2021
With it still raining until after 7:30am, we slept in. Planning on a longer day today for a shorter day tomorrow, we for once weren’t worried about a later start. We both feel a lot stronger than the beginning of the trip and a lot more capable of handling longer distances. We mosied around the damp camp until after 10, where we said bye to Aaron and Roni until tomorrow.
The morning was again full of mist with some drizzle. My bodily injuries made themselves known, but were completely manageable once I pedaled enough. The temperature was cool but the humidity was majorly oppressing. We made it to Fredricksberg around 12:30pm, relatively good timing with the wind to our back. With another easy 30 to go, we took an extra long lunch break. Not only cause we were feeling a little lazy, but we had absolutely no idea where in Johnson City we were staying tonight. We’ve been getting a little too lacksey daisy with planning recently now that we’re no longer in the middle of the desert where towns are few and far between.
With hotels either super expensive, bug infested (based on reviews), or sold out of rooms, we were running out of options for where we could stay until Sheena remembered about Warm Showers! We haven’t needed it use it in almost 2 weeks, so it almost completely escaped our memory. Sheena messaged a woman and we kept our fingers crossed it wasn’t too late a notice. Within 2 minutes Julia responded with an “of course!” text, but with one caveat – she is 5 miles off route with 2 of those miles being on a dirt road. Not ideal, but it was a place to stay. So sold.
We finally got on our way to Julia’s around 3pm. And passed a massive amount of vineyards and wineries. I would love to come back to hill country and do a mega wine tour – so many peach wines. We planned on the ride taking only a few hours of easy riding. But like all things, the easier it appears, the more the universe throws curveballs. First was a mild disappointment- 15 miles in we stopped at a cafe to fulfill my donut craving, but they had just closed. Well darn. Not a mile from there I noticed that going downhill was a struggle and I was barely moving. I had yet another flat.
With it approaching 5:00pm and still having to fix the flat, shop, and ride 20 miles, I was tired and not looking forward to riding. Sheena took the lead and I could barely keep up – which was fine cause we made it to Johnson City really quickly. That’s when Julia texted Sheena that we’ll actually be staying a her friend’s house who is out of town. Since Julia had to get gas anyway, she offered to pick us up at the store so we didn’t have to ride the 5 additional miles. SOLD!
We got Subway for dinner and Julia picked us up and took us to the house. Sitting on 5 acres with a beautiful view, it’s a gorgeous small house with a ton of charm. It’s about to go up for sale. Who knows, maybe some jersey gal might snatch it right up from the market. Hmm. But after showing us around, Julia left and we had the house to ourselves. We each have our own room and have been enjoying the quiet and even watched some TV.
Tomorrow is a short day, only a few miles down the road to Dripping Springs to watch Aaron perform. We convinced the retired guys to come along, but it’s looking like their plans might change. Either way, it’ll be a fun day. We’re going to sleep in again and use the morning to really plan for after Austin, considering we have been severely lacking in the planning department. Luckily it worked out for us today, but we don’t want to continue trying our luck.
Day 37: Johnson City to Dripping Springs, TX (20 miles); April 17, 2021
Having a whole house to ourselves and a short day the next day, we indulged in some TV and went to bed late in our own separate rooms. We got up without an alarm and had coffee while planning out the next week. I cannot believe that by the end of next week we’ll be through with Texas. I planned on it taking an entire month, we cruised through it in 20 days, 3 of which were rest days. What great timing!
After planning was complete, we left the house around 12pm to head out for the day. It was hilly with some pretty significant grades, but were able to manage the entire ride in 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, I’m really feeling the effects of the fall. It feels like I got hit by a truck with laughing causing the most pain. But as is true with all things, this pain is temporary.
Our destination for the day is Bells Springs Winery. Since we are in Texas wine country and passed a million wineries yesterday – we had to make at least one stop at a local vineyard to taste the fruit of the land! The vineyard was packed with people dressed in their Saturday best, so imagine the glaring looks we received when our tired dirty looking selves rolled in with a fine glistening layer of sweat. Good thing wine pairs perfectly with any outfit and any amount of filth.
Aaron and Roni met up with us there and we sampled delicious wine and played a hardly competitive game of cornhole. Who would’ve thought Roni would wipe the floor with three young bucks?! She dominated the game and carried Sheena, who could hardly toss the bag with any sort of accuracy.
After our fill of wine, we loaded the bikes onto the Minnie Winnie and rode into Dripping Springs. Aaron had a show lined up there for tonight and we all were excited to cheer him on. The Retired Guys showed up and Aaron had a pretty rowdy fan club to entertain.
Having 2 rest days in a row, we went to bed late after Roni gave Sheena and me a facial treatment, leaving our skin flawless and smooth.
Rest Days in Austin: April 18 & 19, 2021
Apparently a staple of Austin is Franklin’s BBQ. With such a great reputation, people line up hours before it opens just for a shot of its brisket. Being 20 miles away, there was no way we could bike there in time to get in line. So Aaron drove us into the city. Unfortunately, indoor dining was closed and we were too early to order for pickup. So we went to REI instead to pick up new tubes, since we didn’t get new tires. We’ll probably get a few more flats along our way to Florida.
After that we got lunch at Coopers BBQ, which Aaron claimed to be better than Franklin’s. While I can’t vouche for that, I can say it’s the best BBQ so far on this trip. Which is a good thing cause I’m pretty sure I’m all BBQ’d out at this point and it’s great to end it on a high note.
We walked around the downtown a little before saying goodbye to Aaron and Roni. We might see them briefly tomorrow, but it’s likely this’ll be it. It was great having them with us this week. Even though we rode everyday, it felt like a little mini vacation from the bike world and we had a ton of fun with them. But we’re ready to be more serious and get in more miles and back on track.
We’re staying with a beautiful family we found on Warm Showers. We walked into Dan and Ann’s home in the middle of Sunday family dinner. They invited us to have chili with them and they were absolutely wonderful to talk with. Their house is stunning with lots of gorgeous architecture with a Mexican feel. Which isn’t surprising considering they own a vacation home in Mexico. There were children everywhere when we arrived and we quickly made friends with them. These kids are basically geniuses and talking with them is like talking to a mini adult. They’re adorable. Sheena even read them a bed time story, by request.
We got gelato around the corner and were ready to hit the hay for another rest day.
We woke up to coffee and did some more planning for further out to New Orleans. It’s still mind blowing that we’ll soon be out of Texas – something I imagined being a huge mental drag. But it’s been anything but. It’s been an awesome part of the trip with lots of fun highlights.
As with any rest day, we looked forward to exploring the city by eating our way through it. Ann and Dan’s house is very close to downtown where all the action is, so we were excited to being within walking distance to all the great eats. We got amazing breakfast tacos at Granny’s, a ginormous donut at Gordoughs, a Texas staple at Whattaburger, and closed out the day with happy hour at Moonshine.
Austin is a really interesting city. There’s construction everywhere for skyscrapers and apartments/condos. The population is booming with big corporations like Google and Amazon building hubs there. Like any city, it has its pockets of extreme wealth and contrasting tent cities. Known for its music scene and food, it was great to explore this expanding city for 2 days. But we’re definitely ready to move on and continue with this trip. We’re officially sick of Mexican and BBQ and totally ready to explore cajun country for both the food and the culture.
Day 26: El Paso to Fort Hancock, TX (63 miles); April 5, 2021
Not sure if it was the massive amount of food or the super comfortable bed, but boy did we sleep well last night. Getting up was a chore, but we knew that we had to roll out early to avoid El Paso rush hour and the heat. We had breakfast with Rebekah (Mike left for a 6am bike ride) and she gave us tons of Easter leftovers. Spending the holiday with them was such a blessing.
Getting out of east El Paso is dicey no matter how you slice it. Even Mike couldn’t come up with a safe route. But with his help, we came up with the safest possible route, because the one ACA suggests is apparently a death trap. After 8 miles, the treachery ended and we were safely on our way. We’ve ridden on worse roads before, but the hype of almost anyone we talked to caused a lot of stress about getting out of town. Luckily we did just fine.
Again, not much to report on with scenery. We skirted the Mexican border for a while out of El Paso and returned to farms (mainly pecans) for most of the ride.
After lunch we ran into 3 retired guys who we knew were catching up to us. We rode with them for a good 15 miles just chatting. They know each other from meeting on the Appalachian Trail in 2016. They kept in touch and one of them suggested doing the southern tier and they all jumped aboard. Jim even hiked the John Muir Trial in 2019, so it was great to relive some memories chatting about that. They’re a fun group of guys that I’m sure we’ll see plenty in Texas.
We got into Fort Hancock around 3pm. In spite of the 93 degree heat and temperamental winds, we made good time. We got cold ice cream and drinks and just relaxed before leaving for where we were staying for the night. Because the motel in town looks sketchy (to put it lightly), we called a local church to see if we could stay with them. Unfortunately because of Holy Week, Sister Silvia said no one was around to let us in, but we were welcome to camp in the backyard. Great!
Well, what wasn’t so great was rolling in and seeing that the backyard was home to a feral cat colony. So, definitely not ideal. I love a good cat (I have dreams of mine almost nightly), but 11 feral cats roaming around with the potential for marking our stuff is not what I would consider fostering of a good night’s sleep. But, it was free and we felt safe. After an hour, two women showed up. It was Sister Silvia and her friend Sister Darlene! They stopped by to try and catch a sick cat. After 2 hours and much coaxing, little Blanca proved to be too agile and got away.
Voicing our concern about staying outside with a bunch of roaming feral cats, Sister Silvia invited us to stay inside. We were so thankful to just be indoors, so imagine our surprise when they gave us Gatorade and all the food we could need. They were so giving and willing to help.
The guys we met are staying at the motel. Hopefully we run into them tomorrow to get their review of the place!
Day 27: Fort Hancock to Van Horn, TX (68 miles); April 5, 2021
As I said before, finding places to stay in Texas is difficult. Towns are small with limited services. So when faced with the option of staying in a sleazy motel, a yard full of feral cats, behind a restaurant at a truck stop, or inside a haunted church, the haunted church was by far the most appealing choice. Not to say we weren’t grateful for the hospitality of the Santa Teresa Parish, but neither of us slept particularly well. There was a terrifying latch floor door to the basement that made both imagine something crawling up from the depths in the middle of the night. Between that and the 5 noisy refrigerators going off all night, I woke up every hour terrified. But after hearing all the roosters and cats making another unharmonic symphony in the morning, I knew we made the right choice.
The ride into Sierra Blanca wasn’t really noteworthy, shockingly enough. We hopped on I-10 for some of it, keeping an eye out for the retired men crew. They said they were leaving their motel early and having a half day to avoid the afternoon winds, which confused us because according to what we saw, we were in for some epic tailwinds. But to each their own – bike your own bike.
We got into Sierra Blanca at really who knows what time. Our phones and ourselves were confused by the time change or if there really was even a time change. Either way, we got there at 11am MST or 12pm CST and had an early lunch. As we were leaving, we ran into the retired guys! We chatted a little and figured we’d see them down the road. They were cutting it short and we were sailing on. Depending on what we end up doing the rest of this week, that may have been our last run in with them. Wish I got a selfie with them!
The winds were in full force this afternoon, all to our back. We rode 18 miles in one hour and were having a great time. That is until, however, we got on I-10 and had a small climb. Now I enjoy climbs, they’re usually my strong point. But dangit if this little climb wasn’t the most difficult hill I have ever encountered. It felt like I was hauling a 300lb bike up Mt. Everest with 50mph headwinds. I was struggling and could not figure out why. So when Sheena said “wow, these winds are awesome, I’m barely pedaling!” you could imagine my intense confusion and exhausted death glare I casted in her direction. “What’re you talking about?!”, I could barely get it out I was panting so hard from pure exertion, “I’m dying!” That’s when the lightbulb went off in Sheena’s head. She looked at my back tire and saw I had a flat. I wasn’t crazy or going through heat stroke – I had my first flat in nearly 8,000 miles of touring.
I’ve only ever had to change a flat on my road bike, so I’m a little out of practice with Ol’ Bessie. I found the culprit of the flat, a wire from tire beading, and after seeing that the tire wasn’t holding any air at all, I knew I had to fix it right there. With Sheena’s vast tire fixing knowledge, she guided me along and we patched the tube. After only about 15 mildly frustrating minutes, we were back on the road.
AND IT WAS EPIC! Seriously. The winds were in full gear and we rode the last 10 miles to Van Horn in less than 20 minutes. It was amazing. We barely had to pedal, the winds were pushing us so hard. It was thrilling and I hope to relive it someday soon. It was the perfect way to make up for getting a flat.
We rolled into Oasis RV Park in Van Horn at 4:30pm (we are officially in CST). As we pulled into our camping spot, we encountered more feral cats. Two nights in a row sleeping in a cat colony, fabulous! I have been craving grilled cheese and tomato soup for a while, and since the supermarket is right down the street and we can grab fresh ingredients, we satisfied my craving. It was so darn good. And on a 93 degree day, what’s more refreshing than soup?! Exactly. It was the perfect meal.
The forecast is looking like more tailwinds for tomorrow, though not as mighty as today’s. But after our experience coming out of Lordsburg, we will take any tailwinds we can get, lest they turn to headwinds.
Day 28: Van Horn to Marfa, TX (75 miles); April 7, 2021
Not sure if it was cause we were so exhausted, but we both slept so well. The temperature was perfect for a good night’s sleep and there were no dogs or roosters to keep up awake. We woke up refreshed and ready to go.
Because we crossed into a new time zone yesterday, we’re all mixed up with the time. Now the sun doesn’t rise until 7:30am and it really makes getting out early to ride difficult. But we’re getting the hang of it.
The ride into Valentine for lunch was (per usual) what we’re used to. More desert landscape. The only thing new is pretty severe lower back pain that affects my ability to ride more than 15 miles without stopping to stretch. I have a feeling it’s from overused and tired legs affecting the mechanics of my pedaling, ultimately manifesting in poor posture affecting my back. I’m going to start adding core exercises to my routine in an effort to correct it. Cause it is really no fun.
On our way to Valentine, we stopped at a Southern Tier staple – the Marfa Prada! A tiny little store, someone built it in 2006 (maybe – I forget) as an art piece. It’s weird to see a designer store in the middle of nowhere, but hey, all in the name of art. It truly baffled an older gentleman who was dragged there by his wife. To be honest, I don’t get it either but it was cool to just see. There used to be a tiny Target, but that was torn down a few months ago. What a shame, I could’ve really gone for a good shopping spree.
At lunch, we noticed the winds were picking up. Still riding the high from the end of yesterday’s ride, Sheena thought to put a makeshift sail on her bike to propel her forward. Great idea, but unfortunately the first flight lacked the needed results and the idea was scrapped. But can’t deny her contraption made for some good laughs.
As we left Valentine, a dust storm was rolling in. We just narrowly escaped it. Along the way to Marfa we saw countless dirt devils off in the distance. They are pretty neat to look at, but I would not want to be caught in one.
We rolled into Marfa around 5pm, perfect for happy hour. We ordered a bottle of champagne and hatch chili burgers and just enjoyed being off the bike and people watching. It was a short ride to El Cosmico, the campground we’re staying at. It has a definitely hippie/vaguely cultish vibe that makes for an interesting atmosphere. But overall, it’s really awesome and beautiful, though the showers leave you pretty exposed. I would love to stay longer and explore the town more, it seems like a hidden gem out here.
Day 29: Marfa to Marathon TX (56 miles); April 8, 2021
One month on the road! It’s kind of mind blowing to me how quickly, but also how slowly, this past month went. A lot of it has been a blur and we have trouble remembering where we were this time last week. The days blend together, but the strong memories that made impressions (good and bad) stick out. Who can forget the disaster of a day in California or trying to catch a sickly feral cat with a bunch of nuns? Really, of all the tours, this one probably has the best stories so far.
We woke up late because it was freezing in Marfa. Eventually we convinced ourselves it was time to get moving and got coffee along with all the other cult members in their matching robes. As we were getting our bikes together, we spoke with three different people about our tour. Two of the couples rode often and the third has his bike all set up to do his first tour soon. One couple even invited us to stay with them down the road in Fredricksburg, an offer we’re likely going to take them up on.
As we were leaving, one of the couples wished us bon voyage by filming us as we went. We have a fan club! Unfortunately, not 3 minutes later, I incurred another flat in my rear tire. Upon inspection, it was noted the patch failed from the other day. Instead of messing around with it, we put in a fresh tube and were on our way in 15 minutes. Sheena is a pro at changing flats. But we gotta stop talking about flats with strangers – it puts a jinx on us.
With strong tailwinds, we made it to Alpine, TX in no time flat – without anymore flats. We had plenty of time to eat a huge food truck lunch, go grocery shopping, and visit the visitor center. For such a small town in the middle of nowhere, Alpine seems to have a lot of culture. Like Marfa, it’s unique and artsy. Near Big Bend National Park, I hope to revisit Alpine and spend some more time there.
After an extended break, we were on our way. Our original plan was to take a half day to Alpine to recover from the long week. However, because of the awesome tailwinds, we decided to take advantage of the optimal conditions and continue to Marathon. The wind was lackluster for the first half of the ride and Sheena wasn’t feeling great from such a big lunch. It served as a lesson to take lighter lunches, especially with the heat. Eventually the winds kicked up in our favor and pushed us the rest of the way to Marathon. We’re staying in an RV park. Marathon is known for its dark sky and optimal star gazing. It might be a little overcast tonight, but hopefully I’ll be able to see a few shining stars.
In Alpine, some girls suggested we go to Brick Vault for some quality BBQ. Craving good Texas BBQ since we got here, I was all on board with that. And their suggestion was perfect. Great food (BBQ sauce was one of the best I’ve had) with an amazing sour beer. While enjoying the food, we planned out the next week. We’ll be at our half way point in a couple days and Austin by last next week! It’s unbelievable how quickly we’ll be flying through Texas.
I’ve noticed I’ve stopped taking scenic pictures. Call it scenic overload or what I consider unphoto worthy scenes, but regardless I’ll try to fix that an add more scenery to the posts. I’ll let you be the judge if it’s worthy.
Day 30: Marathon to Sanderson, TX (55 miles); April 9, 2021
This morning wasn’t nearly as cold so we got up and zipped out of camp early for a 1 mile ride to coffee. So imagine my surprise when we’re sipping coffee and we see the guys rolling in! Already 30 miles under their belt, they were planning on continuing to Sanderson, an 84 mile day. And with predicted tailwinds, they were well on their way to achieving that goal.
We rode 21 miles without a problem (we saw javalinas!) and had a quick snack. The guys caught up and we went off. The next 25 miles were glorious. The tailwinds pushed us all the way to a lunch spot in a little over an hour. The guys again caught up and we talked for a while. Only noon with only 10 miles left of a ride, we didn’t mind chatting it up. Plus, the 10 miles into town only took us half an hour. The wind gods surely have been nice to us in Texas, but I fear our luck may soon change.
The ride today was gorgeous. Maybe cruising with tailwinds made me able to sit back and appreciate it more, but I really enjoyed the scenery of the day. I had no problem taking pictures of our surroundings without exerting too much effort.
Sanderson is another small Texas town, but not nearly as artsy. We hung out at the convenience store for a while before heading to Canyons RV park, which is the cheapest we stayed with the nicest amenities. Unfortunately the wind caused our tents to sail away (I was in the shower and sprinted out mid rinse to help Sheena), a deeply frustrating experience.
We had dinner at the only restaurant in town (would not recommend) and met up with the guys. We’re riding the next 2 days with them, which is reassuring because we’re not super confident with where we’re staying tomorrow. Having safety in numbers will surely put our minds at ease.
Day 31: Sanderson to Langtry TX (60 Miles); April 10, 2021
Today started out as great as we could hope for. Yesterday we ran into a couple in the RV park who asked us a bunch of questions about our trip. They offered us help in any way they could, and we took them up on in by asking for coffee in the morning. They were happy to oblige! Not only did they make us coffee, but Joyce gave us cereal and home made coffee cake. It was a real pleasure talking with Joyce and Steve, a retired couple who bought a luxury RV to travel the US in. They were lovely and we were pretty thankful to have a caffeine fix while getting to know them.
I slept very poorly last night, so I knew the ride today was going to. be anything but pleasurable. But we persevered and rode slow and steadily the easy 30 miles to a good lunch spot where we caught up with the guys. As they were leaving, David promised us that the next 30 miles to Langtry were “all downhill”.
Well, David was wrong. In the afternoon heat we not only had the temperatures and headwinds to contend with, but obnoxious rollers as well. They were steep at times, but manageable. The rest day in Del Rio on Monday was what motivated me to not have a mental breakdown.
Eventually we made it to Langtry, where David promptly apologized for giving us bad intel. Not on the map, there was a tiny convenience store we treated ourselves at to cold drinks and ice cream. The owner, Jerry, even gave us free water and Reese’s cups. He also warned us to keep an eye out for illegal border crossers, saying that though we’ll be safe in Langtry, this area of Texas has the most crossings of the country, with up to 850 apprehensions a day.
We used the restrooms at Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center before they closed and learned a little about the history of the area. Though, not much of it sank in considering how tired we were from the day’s ride.
We’re camping at the community center, only a quarter mile from the border. There’s an RV here as well as the 3 guys. I don’t feel like setting up my tent, so I’m cowboy camping under the stars. Since the last 2 nights were horrible for sleeping, I’m really hoping to catch up tonight! Fingers crossed.
Day 32: Langtry to Del Rio TX (60 miles) April 11, 2021
I slept surprisingly well last night, must’ve been from just pure exhaustion. We got up before sunrise and hit up the visitor center for the restrooms before setting out for the day. The winds started kicking at 4am and I knew they would not be in our favor. 60 miles over rollers in headwinds. I knew what I was in for so I put in a podcast and just rolled.
Because the winds knock me around wickedly, Sheena rode ahead and I started straying back, probably a good half mile. We kept leap frogging with the guys, who were also getting their butts kicked by the wind.
Still in good spirits, we reached Comstock (our halfway point) for lunch. I was pretty famished so I grabbed a really good slice of gas station pizza. Anyone out there want to pay me to bicycle tour and write reviews of small town food joints?! That’s a niche I would love to fall into.
After putting off the inevitable for long enough, we set out for our final 30 miles. Only now we had pretty intense heat to deal with. Luckily, the bumpy road turned into freshly paved asphalt that made riding directly into wind less taxing.
Today was probably a record for the amount of roadkill I’ve ever ridden by. Able to smell it before seeing it, I must’ve rode past close to 100 carcasses ranging from deer to javalinas, to cows, to hawks, and even tons of salamanders. Pretty grotesque and entirely unpleasant to smell.
The scenery is a lot greener. It no longer feels like we’re in a vast desert, but more like a grassland. It’s more humid too, which feels more like home to me. There are farms along the highway and in the confusion of the heat, wind, and difficulty of the day, Sheena swore a bleating goat was me screaming at her in distress. Luckily I know that should trouble befall me, Sheena will stop on a dime to ensure my safety.
With the rest day in Del Rio motivating us and preventing a mental breakdown, the last 13 miles were still pretty brutal. We rode past and over the 1 mile bridge over the Armistead Reservoir. After that we knew we were in the home stretch!
After some shopping at Walmart, we checked into the hotel. Extremely hungry and relatively late, we were happy that a Del Rio staple BBQ (Rudy’s) was still open. So we took a shower and headed over. We must clean up well because David (part of the Retired Guys) didn’t even recognize us! We scarfed down that BBQ (maybe a little too quickly) and were ready for bed. Today was an exhausting day, my body is so ready for a rest day tomorrow.
Rest day: April 12, 2021
What a great night’s sleep! Wow, it feels so great to sleep in air conditioning in an actual bed. Woke up without a blaring alarm and enjoyed a pretty substantial breakfast at the hotel – complete with a Texas waffle!
After laundry and shipping stuff home at the post office, we did a little food tour of Del Rio. We got a plate of nachos and had BBQ with the guys for dinner. Any weight I lost in the beginning of this trip is certainly going to be back soon if I continue eating like this – the food down here is so good and we haven’t even hit Cajun country yet!
We have a long haul tomorrow, so we’re going to go to bed early to get up early. I’ll probably have another Texas waffle to really get charged up for the ride.
After sleeping in and housing an entirely too large breakfast, we sat in a food coma before fixing up our bikes. I checked all my bags and tightened any loose screws. They should be good for a few more miles.
We ran some errands and were lazy for the rest of the day. It was just what we needed to rejuvenate our minds and bodies for the next several hundred miles.
My alarm clock played a cruel April fools day joke on me by not going off, setting off the day on an anxious foot. Though because of the time change, it felt like we were right on time. After coffee, we left the motel at 8:30am. Gotta say, for a Motel 6, that was a great stay. The room was spacious and safe and a great spot for a lazy day of rest.
As soon as we walked out of the room, we felt it. The wind. It was blowing hard and strong, even making walking difficult. We knew going into today that wind was going to be a factor, we just had no idea how detrimental it was going to be.
Our first clue should have been the tumbleweed blowing right into me a mile into the ride. It came out of nowhere, terrorizing me. Luckily I was able to escape its grasp with a swift kick.
Once we made the turn out of Lordsburg, the crosswinds kicked up, but they were manageable. Not entirely pleasant, but we were making good time despite their nuisance. However, after another few miles they became fierce, blowing us left and right. With snot blowing all over our faces and eyes tearing up, it was starting to not only get very annoying, but it was getting to be a little dangerous. Sheena voiced concern about the potential for being blown into a passing car; however, with the infrequent traffic, I wasn’t too worried so we pressed on.
Then, wouldn’t you know, a sudden gust blew me left. I could not control ‘Ol Bessie and was blown from the shoulder into the lane right in the path of a speeding sedan who had quick enough reflexes to avoid hitting me. Alright. Sheena had a point. We decided at that point it might just be faster to push the bikes than ride in the whipping wind. Plus maybe some poor sap will see our suffering and offer a ride.
Well, our strategy worked! After a mile of pushing, a pickup stopped and a man came out saying he saw us on his way to a quick job in Lordsburg and saw us again coming out and felt sorry for us. Because riding with 45MPH gusts proved to be dangerous, we accepted his offer of a ride into Silver City. Jubil (we called him Jubilee because he made us so happy) is a contractor who has lived in New Mexico all his life. He was on his way to his kid’s basketball game and had some extra time to take us to our camping spot for the night, Silver City RV Park. We were so thankful he stopped. Though we were mentally okay at that point, I could imagine another 30 miles of being blown around would have broken us.
With a whole bunch of time to kill, we figured we’d make the most of it. Sheena dropped off her bike at a bike shop for a new chain (and then some) and we got lunch and planned for the next 2 weeks. The bike shop we went to, Gila Hike and Bike is awesome. While Sheena was talking with the owner Martin about what was going on with her bike, I was able to talk to his fiancée, Alex. In 2015 she rode the southern tier with a group of women, one of whom was in her 70s. She met Martin at his shop and that’s where their romance started. They’re due to get married next year.
Silver City is a really cool little spot, one that I definitely want to explore more in the future. It’s a resupply town for CDT hikers (there are 2 in our camp tonight) with really interesting history that Alex discussed with me. Also in our camp is a guy who saw us struggling in the morning. Laughing, the guy said he would’ve stopped but his truck bed was full of junk. He was happy to hear someone did give us a ride. The bathrooms here are not only amazingly clean and spacious, but they also have a scale. We both have lost weight – now I’m back to my pre-moving back home weight. Without my mom’s tempting food to continuously chow down on and burning thousands of calories a day, I guess weight loss is to be expected.
Wish we could explore this town a little more, but we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow. We’re gonna make it to the highest elevation of the trip! And with a better wind forecast, we’re both excited for it to be over.
Day 23: Silver City to Kingston, NM (49 miles), April 2, 2021
Today started out very chilly and dark. We got up before sunrise to break down camp, not wanting to leave the warmth of our sleeping bags. Knowing we had a long climb ahead of us, we wanted to get out early. But not before indulging in some coffee and donuts! We had to make sure our energy stores were in full swing before heading out, and what better way to do that than with caffeine and sugar.
The day started with rollers out of Lordsburg that were easy to navigate. We rode past Santa Rita’s Copper Mine and got to see the great pit of doom. Something about mining pits has always scared me – this one was of no exception.
Eventually we got to where we knew we were in for 16 miles of climbing. We had lunch and embarked on the journey upward. It was windy (not to be mistaken for windy – wind played no part in today’s ride!), steep at times, and sunny for the majority of it, but it was manageable with breaks. Sheena even got attacked by a hornet, willing to sacrifice her bike to it. But thankfully it flew off uninterested in her offer.
Then we made it! The highest point of the Southern Tier – Emory Pass (8228’)! And boy was it gorgeous. I wish I could say it’s all downhill from here, but I know for a fact that is completely irrational and false. We have temporarily escaped the desert. It feels like we’re in the alpines – interestingly enough, we’re in Sierra County, aptly named. Trees are everywhere and the smell takes me back to CO/WY/MT/CA. It’s a nice break from desert vastness. And there are even bear warnings! Who would’ve thought?! Just a few days ago we were in saguaro country, now bear country.
Ready for a pretty epic downhill, we noticed a road cyclist coming up the pass and recognized her as Alex from the bike shop! We chatted a bit and all rode down to Kingston together. Sheena and I were debating about continuing on to Hillsboro, 9 additional downhill miles, but the free camping in Kingston was too good to pass up. We’ll have a longer day tomorrow, but it looks like relatively easy miles.
Being so high up in elevation, we’re in for another cold night hopefully uninterrupted by bears. It’s very quiet here so fingers crossed we get some good sleep!
Day 24: Kingston to Radium Springs (74.5 miles); April 3, 2021
Well the threat of bears did not make for a good night’s sleep, but it was better than nothing. Luckily we survived without encountering a single one, but I can assure you any sound was met with panic. We rolled out of bed late again cause it was very, very cold. As the sun rose and heated things up, I was met with a freight I can’t even describe. I was putting my bags together when something ran up behind me, grabbing my backside aggressively. Thinking that it was either a bear or worse, a human, I screamed in terror, causing Sheena to scream right after me. Turning around quickly, I was met by a cute little floofy dog out for a walk. It took a while to come down from that adrenaline rush.
We enjoyed 10 miles of downhill to Hillsboro and had coffee before setting out for a long day of riding. But luckily it was pretty much all downhill/flat. We blew into Arrey quickly and had a pre-lunch snack. A big thing in New Mexico is green hatch chile and everyone has been raving about the green hatch Chile burger at Sparky’s in the town of Hatch (who apparently is known not only for hatch chiles, but also pecans. Thanks to Random Facts Bob, also known as Bob the Weatherman). So I was pretty jazzed to check it out for myself. And with only 17 miles left to Hatch, I didn’t want to ruin my appetite.
And boy was it worth it. I’m not sure if it was cause we were so hungry, but the burgers, fries, and mango lemonade was worth the stomach ache that ensued during riding.
Because it was so hot out, we stuck around Sparky’s for a while enjoying the live music and people watching. We also discovered that where we were planning on staying – Leasburg Dam State Park – requires reservations to camp (thanks covid) and they were fresh out of sites. We decided to roll the dice and see what happens when we show up.
We had 23 miles to worry about it, but arrived at 5:30 to a very nice camp host, Shane, who said we could stay in the group site since it wasn’t booked. Thank goodness he took pity on two very tired bikers.
Being so hot out and not wanting to break down tents in the morning, we decided to “cowboy” camp out in the open under the stars. Unfortunately the train is maybe 50’ away, so that’s sure to startle us awake a few times tonight. There are also plenty of dogs barking and roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing, but we’re used to that by now.
Tonight is our last day in New Mexico! Tomorrow we arrive in Texas, where we’ll probably stay for at least 3 week. Can’t say we’re looking forward to the length of time we’ll be spending there, but at least it’s another state to cross off the list.
Day 25: Radium Springs, NM to El Paso, TX (56 miles); April 4, 2021
Apparently the whole animal kingdom was rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus this morning cause boy was it loud. There were dogs barking, coyotes howling, toads croaking, bats chirping, and a symphony of ducks, roosters, mourning doves, owls, and chickadees making the most awful screeching of a hymn. Don’t even get me started about that train, ha! But despite that, our last night in New Mexico was nice. Not too cold with a sky full of bright stars.
We got rolling and rode 19 miles through more pecan farms to our coffee destination – Mesilla. While enjoying our coffee at the only cafe open on Easter, about 20 road cyclists rolled in – our cue to roll out.
We rode another un-noteworthy 18 miles to a shaded lunch spot all before 12pm. The flat roads made for easy and quick riding, but it is boring at times. But it is really fun slowly watching the landscape change. Yesterday we were in the mountains of New Mexico, today we’re in farmland, and tomorrow we’ll be right back in the desert.
A few miles after lunch we were in TEXAS! Should I be excited? I’m not sure. With a lot of miles between us and Louisiana, we are planning on being here just shy of a month. So we’re in it for the long haul. Just going to take it one day at a time. But it is exciting in that it’s another state. Plus I’ve split this trip into quarters – the first is the pacific coast, second is the southern tier to Texas, third is Texas, fourth is the gulf. So technically in my head we’re halfway there! Kinda close considering we’re 1230 miles in, only 2000 left to go!
Texas welcomed Sheena with a flat, but after pumping it and nursing it, we made it to our warm showers home quickly. We are staying with Michael and Rebekah, empty nesters who were kind enough to take us in on Easter of all days. They had company over and together we had an Easter feast of epic proportions. With 4 different kinds of potatoes and 5 different pies, full is an understatement. Being away from family during a holiday is especially difficult, but Mike and Rebekah made us feel welcomed and part of the family. It was a joy to spend the evening with them. And Mike even fixed Sheena’s flat!
Getting out of El Paso is going to be rough. Mike warned us that any way we take is going to be dangerous with traffic. So we’re going to just be careful and take it slowly. After we get outta El Paso, there’s not much of anything. It’s going to definitely be a mental and physical challenge getting through this state, especially with rising temperatures. But we’re up for the challenge!
Today was my favorite day so far. Everything was perfect for a long day’s ride. From the wind to the temperature to the smooth pavement, everything was just what we needed for a relaxing and fun ride to Dateland.
We woke up early to get out early because we knew we had our longest day yet ahead of us. We were worried that we might get road fatigue from being on I-8 the whole time. And maybe even more worried that the shoulder wouldn’t be completely paved, making for a rocky ride. So we figured why not just get out early in case something goes wrong. We’ve noticed an ugly trend during this trip – any time we expect an “easy” ride, it becomes anything but. So it’s just easier to expect and prepare for the worst that way we’re not disappointed when things go horribly wrong. And if they don’t? Then hey, great!
Our hotel was right off 8, so hopping on was easy. And we couldn’t get lost – we were on the interstate the whole way. Yesterday I wrote off a cheat sheet to know what services were available at each exit (roughly 15 miles apart) so we knew what to expect at each. At Fortuna Hills we got donuts at the first Dunkin Donuts we could find. We’ve been sniffing them out because Stephen’s mom gave us gift cards for DD for coffee and donuts, so we’re hoping we find many more along the way. Thanks Carol!
The tailwinds (15mph) pushed us right through the 42 miles to Tacna, our lunch break, by 11:30am. We chowed down leftover burritos (so stinking good) and spent 2 hours just lounging. We only had 26 miles left and with those tailwinds we knew we’d be there in no time flat – flat being the operative word. There were no hills to worry about!
And that was true. We got to Dateland at 2:30pm, way before we planned for. We had plenty of time to get some souvenirs and indulged in a date shake. Yes, you read that right. A date milkshake. Now I’m sure by now you put together that Dateland is famous for dates. And everything in their gift shop is made out of… dates! Including milkshakes. We actually were told about these by Justin, the air bnb tenant we met at Ben’s Desert View Tower. After his dog almost murdered a chicken and the three of us bonded over our initial impressions of Ben’s little oasis, Justin put us on to a little known local delicacy – the date shake. “You’re going to pass through Dateland. You have to stop there. You HAVE TO get a date shake. Don’t pass it up, it’s amazing”. With a review like that, we just had to try it for ourselves. And unlike the hot springs, this suggestion was not obtuse. Those shakes were amazing. So if you ever find yourself in Dateland, AZ, do yourself a favor and grab one. Don’t pass it up – you won’t be disappointed.
Riding on 8 today was pretty great. After we got out of Yuma, the traffic died down. The shoulder was wide and newly paved so we were just sailing. Literally. The tailwinds were so strong it felt like the bike wasn’t even loaded. When semis would pass it would add an additional quick gust – acting like a speed boost from Mario Kart. And the temperature stayed below 80 degrees, so pretty comfortable. Though I didn’t take many pictures, the scenery was truly stunning. First sign of big saguaro cacti with gorgeous chocolate mountains in the distance. Does it get more desert than that?!
We are staying at a campground in Dateland. At $10 a night, it’s a steal. The showers leave a lot to be desired, but it was hot with a very aggressive water pressure. Can’t complain too much about that. The next few days will definitely be interesting. We have a pretty solid plan and having continued luck with tailwinds would be super helpful!
Oh! We met the mystery tourer! We saw someone come in late at Holtville Hot Springs a few nights ago, thinking maybe it was Christine. After seeing him zoom by yesterday near Yuma, we knew it obviously was not her. Guess who rolled in right after us tonight? Bill! Well we learned that Bill is riding the southern tier, following the ACA route loosely. From Reno, Bill started his tour in LA and has hopes of finishing in Florida, but didn’t sound too committed. He’s riding a mountain bike, which is probably a good idea considering suspension would’ve been very helpful for some of the roads we were riding on. Maybe our panniers would’ve been spared and still fully intact. He’s heading east to Tucson tomorrow while we’re headed more north. I’m sure we’ll see him in a week or two. But it’s good to have a name to the face.
Day 14: Dateland to Gila Bend (50 miles); March 22, 2021
Our campsite was maybe 100’ from the train tracks. A very well used set of train tracks, I might add. So well used, in fact, that every half an hour a mile long freight train would pass by. If the noise didn’t wake us up, the shaking ground sure did. It’s extremely frightening to be awoken at 2pm by what you think is a train plowing through your tent. Despite the minor inconvenience, I slept pretty well.
We woke up late and slept in. The morning desert is freezing. Once the sun peeked out and thawed things out, we set out for what we expected to be an easy day, relying on the hopes of good tailwinds.
Bill set out before us. Maybe we’ll see him down the road. We enjoyed coffee at the travel center before heading out for the ride.
The scenery of today’s ride was similar to yesterday’s. Still gorgeous but with more cacti. I didn’t take many pictures because it would all look the same. The winds were fair, but not as mighty as yesterday’s. It didn’t propel us with nearly the same gusto, but it did make pedaling easier.
We again spent all day on I-8 on well paved roads with extremely encouraging motorists. Every few minutes we had a car or two honk (kindly) at us cheering us on. We had lunch on the side of the road (a good 50’ from the actual road) and enjoyed some good car watching.
We got into Gila Bend around 3:30pm where we were met with many questions at the travel center. One family was kind enough to buy us dinner after hearing about our trip. The generosity of strangers is again very humbling. We even had a woman say she’ll pray for our safety because, as she puts it, “everyone needs a grandmom to pray for them”. And I’ll take her prayers. Because although I don’t have any grandmothers on this earth to pray for me, I know I have two angels in Heaven praying even harder, and that gives me such confidence and strength.
When looking for places to stay in Gila Bend, we didn’t find many options. We decided initially to camp in a park in town. However, after reading reviews, we realized that might not be the safest option. So we took a page out of the ACA TransAm Playbook of 2016 and called every religious denomination in town to see if we could stay on their property. We had a friendly bet of who, if any, would respond to our request. Between Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, my guess was the Mormons. Sure enough, they responded happily within minutes saying they would love to have us stay with them. We were thrilled by their generosity. We met Alma at the community center and she showed us where we’d be staying. She was so kind, sweet, and accommodating. She made sure we felt comfortable and safe before leaving – placing emphasis on making sure the deadbolt was locked at all times. That tipped us off that maybe they were so eager to let us stay with them because they knew we’d be toast if we attempted to camp in the nearby park.
After catching up on the train wreck of a season finale of The Bachelor, we are off to sleep before a big day tomorrow. Hopefully being inside will shield us from the obnoxious train that is still right in our backyard. Fingers crossed!
Day 15: Gila Bend to Chandler (64.5 miles) March 23, 2021
Well the train did not keep us up at least. But there was a bunch of arguing right outside the church that got pretty heated and Sheena woke up to a few gunshots at 1am. So needless to say, we were happy to get rolling out of that town early in the morning, especially when we were informed by News Lady Lisa that Gila Bend was placed under State of Emergency that morning for everything happening at the border.
We were getting coffee at a SubWay when Bob the Weather Man forewarned us of the odd wind patterns coming our way. Some were in our favor, some were not. But either way, we had to face what was coming head on so off we went.
The first 40 miles of the ride were glorious for me. The scenery was amazing with huge cacti everywhere and mountains in the background. It took Sheena a few miles to wake up from the past few nights of no sleep, but eventually the tailwinds picked up and sailed us right into Maricopa where we had a nice lunch.
After lunch was when the real trouble started. We had 26 miles and we knew we were in for some hardship because of cross/headwinds. We had to go almost directly North to get to Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. And as soon as we got going, we were met with head winds, crazy cross winds, heavy traffic, and rough roads. Within a mile, another pannier broke. Luckily Sheena is a pro at zip tying by now.
She’s also a pro at riding in the wind. She prevailed on as I struggled to make any headway. Between the crosswinds pushing me off the shoulder, the headwinds halting any forward progression, and the gusts from the semis zooming by, I must’ve looked drunk swerving from left to right to all over the place. While it was annoying, it wasn’t defeating. I just kept my head down, listened to a podcast, and would check every once in a while for how far ahead Sheena was.
During one of our wind rests, we were laughing at how comical it all was. This morning we were zooming at 14.5mph enjoying the winds. Now we’re battling them and seemingly losing. That’s when I heard it. My back was to traffic, but I knew something had fallen off a truck and was bouncing straight to us. My worst fear (besides getting hit by an actual car) was becoming a reality. Surely a huge tire was bouncing our way, hurling with enough force to kill us. Oh the poetic justice. I just looked at Sheena, not at the bouncing object flying my way. At least it’ll hit me first, and she’ll be safe. I braced for impact and the mystery object hit my bike, only centimeters from my leg. It was an empty bucket. Thank God. There was no damage and no fatalities. The truck it came from slowed down a little, but ultimately kept going. Hopefully that’s the only run in we’ll have with flying debris. In the end all we could do was laugh about it. Really, it was the cherry on top of a pretty rough day.
When we eventually got into Chandler, we went straight to a bar for a drink or two and an appetizer to calm down our frazzled nerves before heading to our warm showers host’s home. Kino is an electrical engineer who has done a few bike tours around the world with very interesting stories. He cooked us dinner and dessert and we all chatted pretty late. He has two dogs that helped me get over (or maybe made worse?) my yearning to hold and rub little Addie’s ears.
We have a very short day tomorrow and are taking advantage of it by sleeping in tomorrow and planning the next few days of riding. Again, services are limited for this stretch and we have to be pretty diligent with resources.
Day 16: Chandler to Apache Junction (23 miles) March 24, 2021
We slept in late. Like super late. And it was great. We both slept so well, which was definitely needed after the last few sleepless nights. We woke up to dogs, coffee, and breakfast. Besides waking up to Addie and The Cat, is there really any better way to wake up?!
Kino let us stay pretty late to plan. He made us breakfast and lunch, both of which were delicious. We got a good plan going, only for it to be crushed by the realization that one of the towns we were planning on staying in has high amount of crime, really not a place you want to be camping in. So we called a Lutheran church and have our fingers cross that they’ll let us stay with them or camp on the church grounds.
After saying goodbye to Kino and the pups, we left at 3:15pm (latest departure time ever) for Apache Junction, only 23 miles away. Not sure if it was because we left so late or the city riding, but it felt a lot longer than that. Either way, we got through it and landed at Rick’s house at 6pm.
Rick is a retired NJ police officer who moved to AZ after living the beginning of retired life on the road in a van. He’s extremely active and either hikes or kayaks everyday. He showed us a ton of pictures of hikes around here and I couldn’t believe how beautiful this area is. May have planted a seed for my future home.
We met Rick on warm showers. He rode across country in 2012 via the Northern Tier and devotes a lot of time to Spokes Fighting Strokes, a charity that builds adaptive bikes for stroke victims. Rick said how rewarding it is seeing people’s reactions to riding a bike after such a devastating event. He has ridden with dozens of stroke victims, and even rode across country with a man who lost both his arms in a farming accident. It really struck a chord with me, pulling at my physical therapist heartstrings. They do exceptional work and if you’re interested in donating, their website is http://spokesfightingstrokes.org
Rick took us out to dinner (pizza – just what we were craving) because he’s sick of cooking. He apparently has been having a ton of cyclists coming through the past month, keeping him very busy. We’re staying in his guest house and he is even letting us stay an extra day to rest. He offered to take us kayaking or hiking – an offer we’re likely to take him up on! Again, we are astounded by the kindness and hospitality shown to us by warm showers hosts. We will definitely pay it forward.
Rest Day; Apache Junction, March 25, 2021
I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better off day if we tried. Having done a lot of planning yesterday, we felt comfortable spending the day hanging out with Rick.
After his PT appointment and breakfast, we set out along with Rick’s friend Holly for kayaking. We rode past Usery Mountain State Park and ended up in Tonto forest to start the paddle. Having very little kayaking experience, I was pretty nervous to give it a go, but Rick reassured me that I look “athletic” and could handle it. Looks are deceiving. But he pushed me out first and right into a rapid I went. Luckily I survived and built confidence quickly.
I am definitely a land mammal, but found my sea legs and felt more comfortable by the minute. We floated past wild horses, blue herons, bald eagles, and swallow mud nests. It was relaxing and a great way to get in an upper body workout.
After kayaking Rick took us to explore the Tonto Basin Wilderness with some short hiking to check out views and cacti. Rick talked about some interesting history (mainly Mormon history and its ties with AZ) and his previous hikes. It was awesome exploring and spending time with Rick.
After a day of exploring, we were hungry. Rick made a great steak dinner and we all got full from food and conversation. Since Rick is leaving before sunrise for a hike with Holly, we said our goodbyes after dinner. Rick is one of those special souls you rarely meet that you just click with. He took me and Sheena under his wing and was such a gracious host. It’s hard to put into words, but he made an impression on both of us. He’s the type of person who finds beauty in every landscape and just wants to share it with others. If we could stay longer and didn’t have a bike tour to worry about, we would!
The next couple of days are going to be interesting. We have a plan, but plans are likely to change. We’re doing a lot of climbing with potential for some cold nights coming our way. We are definitely going to take advantage of sleeping in a nice warm cozy guest house for tonight before braving the next few nights in the cold. The last 2 days of rest have rejuvenated us, hopefully it won’t be too hard to hop back on the bikes!
Day 17: Apache Junction to Sunflower (45 miles) March 26, 2021
We woke up today not wanting to leave. We had such a great time these last few days that we have gotten spoiled. But if we want to make it to Florida at a reasonable time, we gotta keep moving.
We headed out from Rick’s early. Being a couple miles off route, we back tracked a little to get back on. We headed up past Usery Regional park and where we launched the kayaks out from yesterday.
There was a saguaro forest that kept my mind off the climb. I love those cacti. No two are the same and each seems to have their own personality. According to Rick, each saguaro in AZ is protected and you can face a huge fine and punishment for defacing/stealing/messing with one. And if you want one in your yard for landscaping? Well you need permits and a ton of money, cause it can cost upwards of $10k for a healthy saguaro cactus.
We then found ourselves surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It reminded me so much of hiking under the rim at the Grand Canyon. It was a pleasure to ride in such a beautiful landscape.
The rest of the day was still stunning scenery, but man did we work for it. It was nothing but climbing, reminiscent of the Pine Valley day last week. But today just felt longer and steeper and more taxing. Plus it was threatening rain all day. Not wanting a repeat of the ride into San Diego, I was paranoid and made sure a plan was established for if the rain really started to pour. Preparing for torrential rain in the desert. What’re the odds.
Where we are staying tonight is by no means ideal. We knew this coming into today. Without much in the way of town/services and with a hefty climb (3900’), we couldn’t make it much further than Sunflower, AZ. A town without any services at all. So where are we staying?! Well. The Arizona Trail (an 800 mile thru trail) crosses in Sunflower so we figured we’d find camping along there, just like the backpackers do. Well, after much searching, we did. It’s an established site, but it’s not ideal. So we waited until nightfall to set up tents. It’s not that we don’t feel safe – we wouldn’t be camping here if we didn’t. We are just very close to the highway and don’t want anyone seeing that we are here. We are also next to a towing company and don’t want them to know we’re here either. People might see two young women camping and get some bad ideas.
After the tough climbing day, we’re hopefully going to be too tired to worry about camping on the side of the road. It’s going to be a brisk 37 degrees tonight, so fingers crossed we’ll be toasty in our tents. And who knows – maybe the raindrops that are rapidly pouring down will lull us to sleep.
Day 18: Sunflower to Roosevelt Lake (45 miles); March 27, 2021
For being next to a highway, we slept fairly well. So well, in fact, I didn’t wake up until nearly 7:30am. Which was fine, because the tent was frozen. A pretty solid chunk of ice was lining the inside of the fly, dripping onto me as it melted in the sun, waking me up in the rudest of fashions. I didn’t feel like moving because it was so comfy and warm in my sleeping bag, but my warm and comfy sleeping bag was slowly getting drenched so I had to suck it up make moves.
We were slow to get started today. Under the presumption that the majority of the day was downhill, we weren’t too worried about a later start. After drying out the tents we set out at 9:30am.
The first three miles were all uphill and I was not having any of it. I was still tired and annoyed from yesterday afternoon’s endless climb that I was ready to just be done. I think the last few days of good tailwinds and easy riding really spoiled me. I was so ready to be done that I was ready to stick out my thumb and hitch a ride. But after over an hour, we made it to the top and had 4 miles of a 7% grade downhill. However, even Sheena agreed that the downhill was horrible. I clenched in fear the whole time because of a bad shoulder with a ton of debris and she felt the same. After another climb that nearly broke me, we sailed into Jacob’s Corner and got a very late coffee at the general store.
There we met Becky, the sister of the general store’s owner. She was really interested in our trip and got us lunch. It’s experiences like that with strangers that can really change the entire mood of a ride. I went from being downtrodden and annoyed with the day to grateful and excited for the next few miles. We enjoyed our time at Jacob’s Corner so much that we spent over an hour there. I didn’t want to leave – I was enticed by the biker’s bar live music across the way. Music, a beer, and some wings would’ve really hit the spot. But time was ticking and the winds were finally in our favor.
So much in our favor, in fact, that we made record time to Lake Roosevelt. We stopped at Chollo Campgroud, one of the first campgrounds. Being a Saturday night without a reservation, we figured the largest campground would be our best bet for finding a spot. Which we did! But that does add a few miles to tomorrow’s ride – one that again involves a pretty significant climb. But at least we have a very pretty site with a good view of the lake.
While the rest of the campground is still pretty lively, we’re going to bed early trying to catch up on lost sleep from last night. The moon is gorgeous and full, but pretty darn bright. But I think we’re so tired it won’t halt our sleep at all.
Day 19: Lake Roosevelt to San Carlos (61 miles, 26 ridden); March 28, 2021
The full moon did not foster good sleep. Shining right into my tent along with loud campers made for little rest. On the bright side, though, I didn’t need to mess around with my head lamp during a midnight bathroom run. The moon lit the whole way.
But it made rolling out of camp in the morning unpleasant. With little sleep and desperate for coffee, we traveled the 16 miles of rollers to Roosevelt where we quenched our caffeine thirst. But what awaited us was staring right back at us. A hill of mountainous proportions.
After a lengthy stop and staring at all the pickup trucks contemplating asking for a ride, we started the journey up the hill. We knew we were in for a climb, just had no idea how long it would be. After 5 miles (and many hours) and it only getting steeper with headwinds coming right at us; we were reaching our breaking points. Not even getting to the top and 4 miles of downhill made us feel better. We were exhausted both mentally and physically. It was nearly time to throw in the towel.
With the headwinds blowing at 20 mph and 30+ miles to go, we found ourselves at 1pm distraught and done. We had resigned ourselves to ride the remaining miles to Globe and grocery shop, seeing if we could possibly get a ride for the additional 15 miles to San Carlos. But first, we would stick our thumbs out just once at the next car that drives by to see what happens. Surely they wouldn’t stop and we’d be back to pedaling.
But surely wasn’t sure enough. With a lazy thumb, we were shocked when the pickup slowed and eventually stopped. An older non-intimidating gentleman came out. After asking a few questions, we felt safe loading up and getting a ride to Globe, where we bought Rick (we’ve been having great luck with Ricks this trip!) lunch. After some conversation, Rick said he’d be happy to take us all the way to San Carlos. We couldn’t believe it. Rick is a mechanic originally from Michigan who worked on really fast cars (he was featured on a reality TV show in 2014). Now in his older years he owns a mobile repair business. And considering the number of RVs there are here and the countless aftermath of burnt up cars on the highway, he’s never short on business. He dropped us off in San Carlos and gifted us with a crystal he’s had for years. It’s to give power to the owner. After he left I accidentally broke it – typical – and felt horrible about it. But it broke in such a way that Sheena and I can each have a piece. Again, we have been very fortunate with the kindness of strangers. However, we understand that we lucked out with Rick and will not be so quick to hitch a ride in the future.
We got in early and used the time to do some more planning. While doing so, we spoke to a lot of curious town members. One of whom was Rose, the town’s PD dispatcher and retired wildfire fighter. An Apache Native American, she told us we missed out on a traditional coming of age celebration for her two great nieces. She said they would’ve loved to have our company and demonstrated what she hinted at was a dying tradition. We were bummed we missed out on it. She also informed us that the reservation was closed during COVID because the virus ravished their community, which apparently was dwindling even before the virus. They just recently opened it back up to non native people. Though sorrowful, Rose was a delight and wished us well on our journey.
Our original plan for tonight was to camp in Peridot, a small town in an Apache reservation. However, after reading about high crime and robbery, we realized that this was not an option. So we found the local church and after a few back and forth calls with the pastor, he agreed to let us stay with him and his family. We were so grateful and relieved they said yes. They are a wonderfully sweet family with a beautiful 2.5 year old and a lively 8 month old. They made us dinner and invited us to family movie night. They definitely made sure we feel safe, included, and welcomed.
Day 20: San Carlos to Safford AZ (63 miles) 29 March 2021
After some much needed coffee, we were ready to head out for a long day to Safford. We said a grateful goodbye to Pastor Tim, Calista, Rosie, Mariah, and Emily (can’t forget Merlin!) and rode a few miles south to meet back up with the route. Because the reservation does not have leash laws, we were chased by a few dogs, but managed to get away before they could catch up.
Setting out for the day I knew we were in for some bad headwinds. Especially bad for the morning. The gusts were strong and forced us to pedal even downhill. Luckily the truck ride yesterday was enough to mentally put us back on track so we were spared a mental breakdown battling the winds. After nearly 30 miles with barely any breaks we made it to Bylas just before noon. We stayed there for a while and had lunch.
Still on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, we talked with many tribe members who were curious about our trip. They wished us luck on our journey. Two men, in particular, really stood out. Elders of the tribe, they talked about Apache history and the struggles they face maintaining tradition with the younger generations. Apparently the tribe is dwindling (as hinted by Rose yesterday) and many people are shocked that Apache members even exist today. They spoke of the lands their ancestors had before being placed on the reservation and the way of life. They were not bloodthirsty savages as depicted by history and their tribe isn’t even actually called Apache – it was coined by settlers after hearing it used by the Apache’s enemies in Mexico. Apache is literally translated to “enemy”, placing a very negative connotation to their people. Their tribe is actually called Ndee. It was so interesting speaking with them and seeing their passion for their history and culture. It was very heartbreaking as well, however, seeing the hurt in their eyes as they expressed their distress that their culture is slowly being erased and forgotten. They were upset of the life they lost out on, the devastating effect of addiction in their community, and the lost sense of culture of the younger generation. It’s a conversation I won’t soon forget and I feel honored to have had such a raw experience with two members of a tribe so many forget about. It makes me appreciate what I have and realize that life isn’t about the material things. I was actually having a conversation with someone about how they were upset that not having their pool open for Memorial Day was causing them distress. After having this conversation with the Apache natives, my lack of sympathy for their first world problem was apparent. I hope when little inconveniences in my life pop up, I dwell on this conversation to humble and ground me.
After our extended lunch, the winds died down as did the rollers. We made good time and eventually hit Pima. We ended up getting ice cream at Taylor Freeze, a shop with such great marketing it roped us in. Think of a smaller scale “South of the Border” scheme with billboards strategically placed every so often. We enjoyed our ice cream and then sailed the tailwinds all the way to our warm showers host Hal’s home.
Hal is an 81 year old retired history/statistics professor and Arizona native. He has traveled and lived all over the world and enjoys backpacking. Not necessarily into biking, he found out about warm showers through a friend and just loves meeting new people and hearing their stories. He made us a huge whopping dinner complete with wine and we are going to bed bellies full. The next few days are short because of oddly spaced out towns, but we’re happy about it. We need some short days to make up for the killer last few. And we’re finally going to be out of Arizona soon!!
Day 21: Safford, AZ to Lordsburg, NM (76.5 miles); March 30, 2021
Today was a mix of emotions I hope to never experience ever again. It was a rough day, but ultimately ended as a great one. I’ll elaborate more later.
Neither of us slept super well. We both woke up frequently throughout the night and had issues falling back asleep. At one point we talked about taking advantage of the tailwinds and riding almost 80 miles to Lordsburg. But given it was 4am, we didn’t commit to anything. We were gonna wing it.
Hal made us a breakfast of mega proportions – I couldn’t even finish it all. After coffee and conversation, it was getting pretty late. Antsy to get on the road to at least attempt a long day, the chances were dwindling. The sun was settling up in the sky and it was starting to get hot. Before we set out, Hal showed us his project in downtown Safford. He and a group are restoring an open-air theater to bring a more social atmosphere to the town. He is so proud of it and it’s coming along beautifully. But alas, it was quickly approaching 10:30am and we had to get on the road.
Because of the massive breakfast and heat, Sheena stayed back as I took advantage of the tailwinds. During a break, we ran into Dave who was transporting pack mules – the same kind who delivered supplies to me on the JMT! He’s a rancher with great stories and even some not so great. In the past year he’s known of two kidnappings – one involving a 6 year old girl right from her home. Both were returned home safely, but it was scary hearing it none the less and he used these stories as a warning to be vigilant the next few days. He offered us water and was soon on his way to deliver the pack mules further West.
The vastness of this stretch was very humbling. The desert went on for miles with very little services and very little traffic. I went miles without seeing one car.
Eventually the winds really picked up and getting into Duncan was a breeze – literally. Our original plan was to camp in a local park in Duncan, a short 40 mile day. We got in kind of late, and I was resigned on the fact that we were just going to stay there – the additional 36 miles to Lordsburg was out of the question. Given my mental state and high anxiety (likely from lack of sleep), I was really indifferent as to whether or not we continued on. Having a rough day herself, I was surprised when Sheena suggested going to Lordsburg so as to take advantage of the headwinds. Already 4:30pm, we’d get in after dark. We held counsel and debated pros and cons of both options. We decided our fate would come down to the flip of a coin. Heads, we stay. Tails, we go. We got heads. The coin gods have spoken, and I was glad to listen. However, Sheena voiced displeasure at the decision and we agreed to best 2 out of 3. Sure enough, it was heads again. Right then and there we decided the coin gods were wrong. We put our fate into our own hands and we made the choice to try and get to Lordsburg. If we make it, great – we’ll make it a rest day tomorrow. If we don’t, there’s plenty of wild camping options along the way. So after replenishing our water, we set out at 5pm.
The first few miles were a little rough. Not much in the way of winds to get us moving. But that all changed after we reached the New Mexico border! Arizona was great, we met awesome people, learned about the Apache culture, and saw some beautiful scenery. But it was also lengthy with some tough days. We were ready to put it behind us. So we were thrilled to pass the border to a new state. With only 30 miles left to our destination, we set out with gusto.
Literally. The tailwinds picked up and we were cruising. Because I have nothing better to do, I’m constantly timing miles and calculating speed. At 3 min miles exactly, we were moving at 20 MPH for a lot of the stretch. It felt great to be moving that fast with a 90lb bike. Soon the sun went down and we were riding in darkness. The stars appeared and it was magical riding under them. Because the traffic wasn’t busy at all, we felt safe with our front/rear lights
We rolled into Lordsburg at 9pm (really 8pm because AZ doesn’t observe daylight savings – we lost an hour crossing into NM) and checked into our hotel. For what we paid, we were pleasantly surprised by the space we have! We will definitely sleep long and hard these next two nights.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to just relaxing. This is our second rest day in a week, though the first didn’t feel like one. We wouldn’t trade the day spent with Rick for the world, but given that it was full of kayaking and hiking, our bodies didn’t feel completely rested. Tomorrow we will achieve that goal. We plan on doing nothing but eat and plan. We already have breakfast lined up at a restaurant next to the hotel, courtesy of the Hanrahan family. They’re my childhood (well I guess now adulthood too since moving back home temporarily) neighbors who were kind enough to treat us to a meal! Thanks guys!! We already can’t wait to chow down on some good diner food after today’s extravaganza.