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 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.
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.
After a very delicious meal cooked by Sheena (margaritas and tortellini- who would’ve thought they would taste so good together?!), we went to bed and slept in to sleep off the past week. In the morning, while enjoying some local coffee, we planned out a few days in advance for the Southern Tier. After a couple hours, we had a plan A, B, C, and D. Tomorrow was the greatest challenge. Getting out of San Diego we knew was going to be a mega climb, the likes of which we haven’t seen since *maybe* the Transam. So we sent out some Warm Shower requests and waited to see what stuck. Based on the responses we received, we had a pretty good game plan for the following week.
So we celebrated with tacos! We ended up at a taco Tuesday hot spot and had our fill of tacos, chips and salsa, and sangria. Frankie’s family came into town and we got to meet them.
Where we stayed in North Park was perfect. Everything was within walking distance and Frankie was so accommodating to our schedule and needs. He has both his studio and house on Air BNB, so if you ever find yourself in San Diego, look for his place. You’ll be super comfortable.
After our taco feast, we returned to Frankie’s and had a very low key night. Sheena hosted a poker night while I just took it easy. That rest day was beyond needed and we felt both physically and mentally prepared for the challenge ahead.
Day 9: San Diego – Pine Valley (43.8 miles) 17 March 2021
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! What a way to celebrate – starting a transcontinental bike tour. Donning our St. Paddy’s day finest, we set out for what we knew would likely be our most physically challenging day of this whole trip.
Frankie joined us for the first 12 miles to our coffee break. He almost convinced us to stay for what is apparently an infamous St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Evidently, San Diegoans take this holiday extremely seriously. Not wanting to get too far behind schedule, we begrudgingly passed on partaking. We said bye to Frankie, wishing him luck on his deployment to the Middle East next week.
After we left El Cajon (our coffee destination) we knew we were in for a heck of a day with endless climbs. We took it climb by climb until we got into Alpine in the early afternoon. During that leg, we ran into Christine. From Boise, she is also starting the Southern Tier today with her Surly Shirley. Planning on taking 8 weeks to complete, we no doubt will be running into her a few times this trip.
We had a long lunch break and did some shopping. During the course of our lunch, we spoke to a man who was curious about our trip. We didn’t think much of it – our bikes garnish a ton of attention. As we were heading into the store, he was walking out. He asked us where we were staying. When we said we weren’t entirely sure, but most likely camping, he responded, “Oh no. It’s entirely too cold to do that”. Knowing he wasn’t altogether wrong, we semi-agreed with him. Before we knew what was happening, he reached into his wallet and grabbed some cash, shoving it into Sheena’s hand. Sincerely grateful, Sheena gave it back promptly, thanking him for his generosity. But he gave it right back, he insisted we take it, “treat yourselves and stay safe. I’m a retired Sherrif Deputy in Pine Valley and want you to just enjoy it.” Dave was truly an generous man. That experience was extremely humbling and left us speechless for a decent amount of time.
After our lunch, we were in for another 15 miles of climbing. Only this time we were more anxious because we knew we had to hop on I-8. After accidentally getting on it 2 miles early, we were on the interstate for 6 grueling miles. We hated every minute of it and we were honestly surprised we didn’t get kicked off by a cop. Eventually, we made it off and were only 8 miles from Pine Valley.
After we got off the highway, we stopped to decompress for a few minutes. We discussed our options for the night. Our original plan was to wild camp at a trailhead in Pine Valley. Under normal circumstances, that would 100% be the plan. We love sleeping in our tents and it would save money on a hotel/private campground. However, with the nighttime temperatures dipping into the low 30s that night, we were extremely hesitant to execute that plan. After a brief discussion, we agreed that Dave’s gift was a sign that we should get a hotel room and stay warm. Because he is from Pine Valley and obviously has a lot of PV pride, we wanted to support the local economy. So it was decided. We were going to get a room and spend the remainder of the cash for breakfast at a local cafe.
But in order to execute the plan, we had to get there first. Of course it was a hilly ride with mostly uphill climbs. However (!), we did get an amazing 1.5 mile downhill into town. Crazy how 1.5 miles goes so quickly cruising downhill while 1.5 miles slugging uphill can feel like an eternity.
But we made it! An extremely long day, we were so happy to roll into Pine Valley Inn and Motel. Riven, the guy who checked us in, was extremely accommodating and kind. Again, we have been truly humbled by the generosity and kindness we have received from total strangers this trip.
After almost certainly losing our minds during today’s nearly 5k’ worth of climbing, we had dinner and enjoyed a drink in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
From the research I’ve done on this trip, most people stop in Alpine due to the severe climb. But given that we have a warm showers in Jacumba, we decided to have a long and sucky day today instead of having an even longer and suckier day tomorrow. Any benefit our knees received from a day’s rest has certainly gone to waste from today’s excessive climbing. My knee certainly isn’t happy and for the first time this trip, Sheena’s knee was crying out in pain. But she’s icing it now and I’m still convinced my will just sort itself out. I know exactly what’s wrong with it, but don’t have the patience to deal with it.
Obviously we’re pretty pooped and are very much looking forward to some sleep in our very own beds. Tomorrow has some climbs, but compared to today, it should be a piece of cake!
Day 10: Pine Valley to Jacumba Hot Springs (36 miles) 18 March 2021
Based on where we ended tonight, riding the long and treacherous day yesterday was worth it. I’ll get back to that later.
We woke up this morning very happy with the decision to get a hotel last night. The morning walk to get coffee in the lobby was freezing and I’m not quite sure if we would’ve made the night had we camped.
The climb out of Pine Valley got us warmed up and woke us up for what was to come. We left later to enjoy the warmth of the hotel room. As we were climbing, another ex-sheriff we ran into yesterday (not Dave) wished us luck on our journey. Though a small town, the locals are extremely proud of their close-knit community.
The day was full of a lot more climbing than either of us were expecting. Sure there were plenty of downhills that lasted for miles (I hit a new record of 44mph), but they felt short lived compared to having to go back up.
During the morning half of our ride, we crossed paths with the PCT. Close to the southern terminus, I was pretty happy to see it. Maybe I’ll see it again soon if I ever get around to hiking the PCT.
Soon we found ourselves in Live Oak Springs and had lunch with some good people watching. That’s the cool thing about being off the coast. The towns are smaller – much smaller – and we get to see a different way of life. Everyone we met have been super nice and caring, usually inspiring us or cheering us on.
What wasn’t so inspiring or cheerful was our first encounter with dogs. They came out of nowhere and chased us for a solid quarter mile. And I’m convinced they can smell fear and instinct drives them to go after it. They didn’t pay any attention to me, but were attracted to Sheena like a magnet. They would not give up the chase and Sheena was only saved by a motorist honking his horn at the dog. I imagine that encounter was just a taste of what’s to come.
We have officially reached Mexico. As we approached from the North, we thought we spotted train tracks. As we got closer, we saw that it was actually the wall separating the US from Mexico. It was pretty expansive and went on for miles.
We saw plenty of border patrol agents this whole ride, which we expected, being so close to the border. What we didn’t expect was witnessing the detainment of 2 immigrants who entered past the wall. Sheena saw it firsthand and needless to say, it shook her a little.
After a few climbs, we zoomed into our home for the night. Our inspiration for riding a crazy day yesterday was a very interesting warm showers host. With great reviews and a name like Desert Valley Tower, we just had to check it out. And thank God we did, not only is it gorgeous, but it’s very quirky. Every time you turn around there’s 5 different things to look at. The owner and host, Ben, owns it and sold tickets for tours pre-COVID. Having to close during COVID, it made Ben realize that at 62 years old, he’s ready for retirement. And that means selling the Tower. It has unique sandstone carvings, peacocks, chickens, and about a dozen dogs. So naturally I’m in paradise. Very charismatic and kind, Ben talked to us about detours to avoid unsafe roads as well as ways around “sketchier” towns we might not want to get caught in.
The tower is actually an Air BNB and because it is currently rented, we’re staying in an RV. The renters are really awesome and they invited us to check out the tower, which we were gonna take them up on, but got too tired after dinner. The wind has picked up significantly and we are pretty thankful to be sheltered in the RV. We are definitely ready for bed and what is looking like a much needed and well deserved easy day with miles of downhill coasting tomorrow.
Day 11: Jacumba – Holtville Hot Springs (60 miles); 19 March 2021
As pretty as our spot was last night, boy was it windy. Starting around 8pm the winds began howling. So much so that the RV was moving and grooving all night. I laid awake wondering if it was going to sweep the bikes away, right off the cliff never to be seen again. But alas, after being able to catch a few hours of sleep, it was time to get up and get moving. And the bikes remained right where we left them.
I forgot to set an alarm, so we woke up late. No biggie though, cause it was pretty cold out still. So we mosied around until Ben got coffee ready. He took us up the tower and showed us around. We said our goodbyes and were on our way.
We started our day with a 14 mile 2000’ drop in elevation hill that I was pretty pumped about. Only problem is was that it was all on I-8. With high winds (we witnessed the aftermath of a pretty gruesome crash visible from the tower only half an hour before our departure) and steep grade, I was worried something bad could happen. But sure enough we made it down unscathed and it was blissful. Some high gusts here and there, but we were able to maintain good control and really admire the beauty. Which was truly breathtaking. We both wish we set up the Go Pro to capture it. Darn.
Once we got off of 8, we knew we were in the desert. Not only was it hot, but there was sand and sage brush for as far as the eye could see. We set off through Ocotillo and Plaster City (both with a population of maybe 100) on the worst road in the world. It was barely paved and what was left was all potholes. It went on for miles causing fatigue and mental anguish. It was so rough that it broke my pannier (superglue fix), bounced off my rear light (retrieved) and bounced off ‘Lil Bessie’s hat bell (lost for good). Eventually the road leveled out to a more tolerable surface.
Soon we found ourselves in an oasis of 30 miles. We rode past tons of farms and enjoyed a nice flat few miles through El Centro to our home for the night, Holtville.
Ben had suggested we continue just a few miles east of Holtville and stay on BLM land by the “most amazing hot springs in the world”. Given our easy ride and wanting to take advantage of good riding conditions, the hot springs sounded like a great spot to stop. When we got to the site, we decided to eat dinner before going to the springs. When we were cooking, guess who rode by to make sure we got there? Ben! He was in the area and wanted to make sure we were safe before heading home. We were very excited to see him and appreciated the nice gesture.
The springs were pretty busy, but we got a good spot and enjoyed a nice soak after a tough few days. The water was warm and relaxing. A perfect way to decompress before going to sleep.
It’s our last night in California! Tomorrow we are headed into Arizona. We’re following a detour the ACA put out earlier this year avoiding narrow roads with heavy traffic. It even cuts out a few miles. We’ll take it! We also decided that because of wanting to spend more time in other places, we are going to cut out the Grand Canyon excursion. It would definitely be cool to ride to it, but we just don’t want to add on another week to do it.
Day 12: Holtville Hot Springs CA to Yuma AZ (45 miles) 20 March 2021
After another windy and sleepless night, it was time to do it all over again. The aftermath of yesterday’s trek over treacherous roads continued to add up. Sheena’s rack cracked and another pannier of mine broke. Luckily, it’s nothing a few zip ties can’t fix.
We set out over another bumpy road for a little over a mile then pure paved bliss. With tailwinds and smooth pavement, we were hauling those heavy bad boys at a 13 mph clip. We made it the 20 miles to I-8 in record time, and hopped on.
As we rode on the interstate, the imperial sand dunes emerged and it was gorgeous. Something I was looking forward to on the southern tier were these dunes. Unfortunately the detour routes us away from riding in them, but we still got to see them from the freeway at least.
Unfortunately admiring the dunes was short lived. I-8 turned into a nightmare with raised pavement every 10 feet in the shoulder, acting as jolting speedbumps. I was so frustrated. What use are tailwinds when you have to ride slowly over horrible roads?! Eventually we got off 8, I cooled down and we moved onto Center of the World Road.
Well let me tell you. This road was (shocker) horrible. But at least it was predictable. For a quarter mile it would be tolerable, a few bumps here or there. Then for another quarter mile it was treacherous. Then for another quarter mile it was just downright unbearable. But hey, at least it was predictable. And by my analysis, if the center of the world is molten lava and ungodly hot, then it stands to be compared to Hell. And so, Center of the Earth Road is within the same realm as Hell and I can thereby tell you with certainty that this road is very aptly named.
Eventually we got back on the 8 (newly paved woo!) only to get off it and enjoy some good riding into Winterhaven. The plan was to grab groceries there before riding up to Laguna (AZ), which had very little service in between. However, while eating lunch we realized that our planning was flawed and following the ACA Route might not be our best option. So we decided that we had some planning to do and wouldn’t be able to do it by riding 20 miles to a campsite.
I had put out a warm showers request earlier in the week to someone in Yuma. I was surprised when he didn’t respond, given the reviews noted a quick response. Sheena tried calling, however, the phone was disconnected. “Hmm, maybe he’s dead” we pondered. A quick google search revealed, unfortunately, that he passed away from a trike accident in June. At 83, Jim led a long life devoted to cycling and helping others. Though we didn’t get the chance to meet him, we know he would’ve been a delight to stay with. RIP Jim!
As we were eating lunch, another cyclist rode by. Sheena instantly recognized him as the mystery cyclist who rode by our tents the night before. Like the dead of night, kind of freaking me out. We were hoping it was Christine, however, it obviously wasn’t. He didn’t see us and went on his way. Who knows, maybe we’ll catch him soon enough.
It’s official, we have one state down! We said goodbye to California and entered into Arizona. May we have tailwinds, kind strangers, and smoother roads ahead.
We got a hotel in Yuma and did some planning before devouring some pretty delicious Mexican Food. We have a pretty long day ahead of us tomorrow, so the food coma sure to ensue will hopefully give us some good sleep in preparation.
*Of note: I will not be doing daily updates, instead I will be posting state by state, so mostly weekly updates 🙂 Thanks for stopping and taking the time to read!*
Well, tomorrow’s the big day – the start of another bike tour! We landed in San Luis Obispo yesterday (seriously one of the most beautiful flights I’ve been on, especially the landing) and have been spending our time here getting ready and tying up any loose ends. We’re staying with Oliver, a warm showers host who, along with his 10 other roommates, go to school at California Polytech. He wants to get more into touring and was gracious enough to let us camp in his backyard for two nights. Super awesome and fun house, but it does not make me miss the good old college days.
Colorado was simply amazing. It was great to catch up with Sheena for a few days before embarking on a cross country bike ride. She showed me all around Vail and made a compelling case for moving there. I mean I know Addie would be in absolute love it out there. She took me snow shoeing (as snow was falling!) and gondola rides. We didn’t partake in skiing or snowboarding so as to avoid any injury before the trip.
In the last week, two cyclists I was following who were riding the southern tier dropped out. One after only one day (a horrible day) on the road. Had I not already had thousands of miles of touring experience under my belt, I would find this greatly concerning. It speaks volumes to not the physical strain touring takes on a person, but more so the mental toll. Granted these two brave souls took on this challenge as solo riders. I couldn’t imagine riding thousands of miles alone with nothing to occupy my mind other than my own thoughts. I’m very aware how important it is to have someone you can trust to bounce ideas off of, to talk you through a tough day, to laugh with during a mechanical crisis, or just unwind with after a particularly grueling ride. I’m so grateful I found the perfect riding partner in Sheena.
Ol’ Bessie is greased up and rearing to go. Especially ready to go in that Sheena noticed that the handlebars were put on upside down and solved a 2 year long mystery. I was actually super worried coming into this trip that the handlebars had dropped and any time I rode, I would get bad back pain. Thank God for Sheena and her mechanical eye. I do have a new handlebar bag that hopefully won’t bend under pressure and a new tent. Still a marmot, this guy is ultralight and again, hopefully, will withstand the torture I put my gear through. I also have an additional riding companion! Meet Lil’ Bessie, the Christmas cow. She is to remind me of my grandmother who passed away late 2020. She grew up on a diary farm and Bessie was her favorite cow, hence the original name for Ol’ Bessie. Lil’ Bess is to commemorate her. Along with the rose pin that has accompanied me for the last 3 years, I am reminded that I have the two best guardian angels I could ask for.
We took the bikes out for their inaugural ride today around SLO. We stopped at REI, the chamber of commerce (for bike stickers), and the grocery store to pick up necessities. We are already very in tune with the sun and have adjusted our bed and wake up times accordingly. We are definitely ready for life on the road and excited to start this journey.
To me, today was a bit of a sad day. It’s our last day riding when I think both of us still have a lot of ride left in us. We finally got back into the swing of things and boom, trip is over because of time constraints. But with Big Sur behind us, we figure anything else isn’t going to live up to the hype or beauty of what we’ve already seen. That’s the word on the street, anyways. But not wanting to miss out on seeing SoCal, we’ll be taking the train down to San Diego this weekend!
We woke up without an alarm this morning and went to breakfast at the Inn. It was delicious, but big. So we waited until 10am to digest before getting back on the bikes. Latest start yet!
We left at the same time as the French boys with their contraption. We played cat and mouse with them for a few miles where we would pass them, they would pass us. The game got monotonous and came to a halt when they got a flat.
With a gentle tailwind, we rode past a beach of sunbathing sea lions and elephants. We just had to stop because it was overwhelming how many there were on the beach. Sheena exclaimed, “oh my God Emilie I think some of them are dead!” Likely scaring all the children in the surrounding area, we stuck around for a while to ensure that all of the creatures were alive and accounted for. We all can rest easy.
We rode on through some not so scenic scenery. We are definitely out of Big Sur territory. In fact, when off the coast, it feels and looks like we’ve been dropped right back into Wyoming. That is, until, we rode past a herd of Zebra by Hearst Castle. There were a ton of them just grazing along with the cows. If you squint real hard you can see them in the picture I took. They’re great camouflagers, likely hiding from those vicious California lions I’m sure are stalking about.
Because we were feeling good and knew San Luis Obispo (otherwise known as SLO) was our final stop, we decided to push on towards our goal despite the late time of day. But not before stopping for cookies! We were told the best cookies on the west coast were found in the cute coastal town of Cayucos. We made a stop at Brown Butter Cookie Company and had plenty of free samples before purchasing some delightful crumbly cookies that did not last long.
We got into SLO around 6pm and waited around to see if any of our warm shower requests would be answered. They were not – well besides a woman who lives in the community library….. – so we decided to celebrate the end of our riding journey with a hotel!
Tomorrow we have to run around town and ship back our bags and (very sadly) our bikes. Another tour done!
Hands down today was both of our favorite days. Big Sur is without doubt the most beautiful place I have ever ridden my bike. Mountains meet beach, what can be better than that?!
We of course encountered hills, but this time I was so excited to see what view was atop the hill or around the corner that I was happy to climb. There were so many “wow” moments that were stunning and mesmerizing. Pictures surely don’t do them justice, but I tried to capture the beauty as best I could!
Like yesterday, we took plenty of stops to take pictures and just enjoy being present in the moment.
Now for the real challenge of the day: Two years ago there was a massive mudslide that took out a bridge and a section of route 1 (the very road we’re taking down the coast). Obviously, these closures will put a bit of a bump in our plans to bike down to San Luis Obispo – only 60 miles away. Fortunately, the bridge is open and we rode across it yesterday! Awesome! Unfortunately, however, the road is still closed just past Gorda, right where we find ourselves now. So what do we do?! Well we’re for sure not biking all the way back to Monterey (as beautiful as that ride is) and we’re not taking a detour up a dangerous pass without a shoulder. So that leaves us two options – pick up a shuttle in the morning with a couple we met today to bypass the slide, or we cross it. Being fools for adventure and cheap ones at that, we are opting to cross.
Now we are not making this decision lightly or without doing a ton of research. With knowledge that the highway was still closed since the beginning of the trip, we’ve been asking all our warm shower hosts and other cyclists ahead of us for any information possible on crossing the slide. First and foremost – is it safe? The answer we got is “yes, but it is illegal”. Okay, great, what are the chances of getting caught? None – once the construction boss leaves at 5:30pm, the road is yours. Literally no one cares if you cross it. We heard rumors that there was a sheriff patrolling the slide issuing fines, but those were proven false. It’s a scare tactic to dissuade cyclists from crossing. And that tactic almost worked on us. After speaking with a couple who crossed 2 nights ago safely as well as the owner of the restaurant right before the slide where we’re eating dinner waiting for the foreman to leave, we feel confident with our decision to cross the 1/2 mile of slide safely. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it! I’m sure it doesn’t come without danger – sliding into the pacific is a true risk and rock slides are an ever present concern in this area. But without rain the last 2 weeks and no wind to speak of today, we feel nothing but confidence going forward. We even talked to some of the construction crew at dinner, who pretended they didn’t know what we’re about to do, but cheered us on anyway.
So the plan – ride to Gorda, eat dinner at the restaurant before the slide, wait for Mr. Foreman to leave ( we have a perfect view of his car, cross by pushing the bikes, ride 15 miles where we’ll reward ourselves with an expensive room at Ragged Point Inn.
And there goes the foreman, so here goes us!
Well, we made it across the mudslide… and that was the easy part! The worst of slide itself was pretty short, down a pretty steep slope but wide enough where we didn’t feel like we were going to slip into the ocean. We crossed it with three young French guys riding some sort of tandem contraption. Honestly I don’t know how they did it, but it was funny to watch regardless. They started April 4th in Seattle and have spent a lot of time in each city since then. That in addition to having to push their bikes up every hill has accounted for the time it has taken to get to this point.
At no time during the crossing did we feel in danger. For the most part the surface was very well packed down and we didn’t hit too many rocky spots. In fact, we rode our bike along most of the slide! Pretty cool to be pushing my bike over a slide I remember hearing about in the news, never thinking it would have any impact whatsoever on my life!
Before we left, we spent some time talking with the restaurant owner about how the mudslide affected her business. Prior to the slide they were busy nonstop and doing great business. Since the slide, business has dropped nightmarishly, the only patrons they get are those who missed the 4028482 signs leading to the road closure and didn’t realize the road was closed, or those who didn’t think the signs applied to them and thought they were above the law (AKA – us). Which led me to wonder if it was just her business affected or all those along the Big Sur stretch. All the markets and restaurants along the route are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. For example, a regular no fuss drip coffee this morning was $5. My burger and fries was $20. A loaf of bread was $6. Are the prices so high because it’s a tourist area and there’s nowhere else to go grocery shopping so they gouge prices, or because the mudslide has so greatly affected their business that they have to increase prices to just get by? Questions I’ll never have answers to.
But anyways, the road continued to be closed 8 miles past the slide, meaning we had the whole road to ourselves, woo! We didn’t really care cause the way to Ragged Inn was nothing but hills and pain. The only redeeming quality was that it was during sunset, lighting the entire landscape in an entirely different fashion than we’ve been used to.
We arrived at Ragged Inn around 8, unsure if they would have a room in our price range. Sure enough, they did! And it was way cheaper than we were expecting! We booked it immediately and we were completely shocked by how grandiose the room was. I have stayed in motels where I paid the same exact price but had to barricade shut the door lest someone try to break in and steal Addie! This place is a 5 star resort – literally. It’s a great way to end such a long day.
Because we’re staying in such a nice place, we’re going to sleep in and see what happens tomorrow. As long as we’re in San Diego by Sunday, we can afford to continue to take our time in Big Sur! Well afford time, not sure how long we’d last out here with it rapidly depleting our funds.