Adventure, Bicycling, Mexico, The Great Adventure, Travel

Observations on Bicycling in Mexico

Photo by André

Photo by André

The first official road log will be up soon, but for now I wanted to share a few general observations on cycling in Mexico:

  • The border area felt very safe. I don’t regret any of the planning and preparation we did to minimize risk, but the dire warnings were overwrought. Traveling by daylight and staying in safe places at night, I have not felt in any real danger at any time. This might be different if I were going out to bars, engaging in risky behavior or flashing money and expensive belongings.
  • More than just safe, the border area is beautiful. South of Nuevo Laredo is a savanna far more lush and green than I could have expected. Wide open spaces with few fences and fewer buildings. The tall grass along the roadside rustled with tiny animals as we pedaled by. It’s glorious. All of you who warned me away: go and buy a ticket to Monterrey for your next vacation.
  • Traffic seems much safer here. Even though I’ve been mainly on major federal highways, the heavy traffic seems to give me plenty of space with few exceptions. This was true not only when we had a slow-moving support vehicle behind us, but even now, out there alone. I think drivers in Mexico are used to seeing lots of people on bicycles, as well as other obstacles like dogs, carts, mules, pedestrians on freeways, etc. They assume they have to be alert and as a result they give me plenty of space.
  • The above notwithstanding, I notice a lot more of those roadside memorials were people died in accidents. Maybe it’s just in my head, but there seem to be 2-3 times as many as in the US. That might indicate a higher accident rate, but it also might just mean the shrines are maintained better. I can easily picture a Mexican mother making the trip out every single week to refresh flowers, where a US family might just go once a year on the anniversary of the accident, at least after the initial period of mourning.
  • I have not camped out at all yet, largely because of the unseasonably cold weather, and I’m pretty happy about that. I love camping, but feel less than secure stealth camping even in the US.
  • This country is not as cheap as Americans say it is. I’m not sure where some bicycle bloggers get their numbers, talking of $10 hotels even in posts from the last five years. The cheapest hotel room I’ve found was 290 pesos, about US $25, and that was at a grubby and truly ramshackle little truck stop. (If there’s something cheaper than this, I’m a little afraid to see it.) Most hotels are closer to US $50. Similarly, meals are easily US $5-9. While these prices are substantially less than the US equivalent, they are nothing like the prices travel bloggers gleefully recite. If I continue in hotels the whole way, my budget will be a lot higher than I expected.

Those are the basics. Have any questions? Let me know and I’ll do my best to answer.

Standard
Mexico, The Great Adventure, Travel

Photo Friday: Washin’ Ropas

I’m interrupting these road logs to bring you a quick glimpse of my first rest day in Cedral, San Luis Potosí, Mexico. I’m staying at an AirBnB rental (the only one in town!) which is cheaper per night than most Mexican hotels.

Here is my setup for washing my clothes:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Technically, the owner does have a washing machine, but the water doesn’t drain out of it. She seemed prepared to let me use it anyway but I didn’t want to create extra hassle for her. I said I could wash them in my sink, and she instead showed me the set of buckets she uses to do her family’s laundry.

I also ended up with some helpers:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Their assistance mostly consisted of playing with the hose, spraying each other (but not me), and drowning a plastic dinosaur. Their mom eventually ran them off, pictured here. They also put some leaves in my laundry water. I’m not sure if that is supposed to help (maybe they smell good? Or have helpful properties in local folklore?) or if it was just boys causing chaos (this seems more likely to me).

Either way, I have no clue if I did a good job or not. I mean, I swirled my clothes around in the soapy water till it was grey, and rubbed them against a washboard (a real washboard!). But is 60 seconds of that the equivalent of 40 minutes in a laundry machine? Or will they still smell a little funky when they’re done drying? I have no idea.

I did, however, manage to complete the job and my clothes are now hanging up to dry:

Photo by André

Photo by André

…which shouldn’t take long in the desert air (I hope, since I want those jeans before the nighttime chill sets in).

Please share this post on the social media of your choice. And if you want to help support the adventure, consider grabbing my novella in print or ebook!

 

Standard
Adventure, Bicycling, Road Logs, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: To the Border!

Last time I paddled a kayak 100 miles down the Gulf shore and washed up on a lonely beach after dark. This time I pick up from the same beach and bicycle with two friends: Blake, my roommate in Texas, and Pixi, an old friend from Minnesota. Our goal is to reach the US/Mexico border crossing in Laredo, Texas.

This particular adventure has already been covered in great detail by Pixi herself, so I’ll stick to charting our route and a few observations on each day.

Two things bear mentioning however:

  1. Having two good friends with me made this was one of the happiest sections of the entire adventure. Adventure always has its difficult moments but with good companions everything is happier. Riding with Pixi and Blake made me believe that my Adventure can be everything I hoped it would be—if I go with friends and kindred spirits.
  2. I was very sick throughout this trip. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a stomach parasite (thanks to produce at a Texas grocery store). I had gastrointestinal troubles every day, got fatigued easily, and may have been running a mild fever. When I mentioned this later, both Blake and Pixi said they had no idea I was under the weather.
Our "before" picture. Photo by Amber.

Our “before” picture. Photo by Amber.

Thursday, July 18, 2014 (Day 742 of the Great Adventure)—The Fast and the Falfurrias

The three of us needed a ride to our starting point. Amber, the wife of Blake’s brother, generously stepped in. Soon we were in her truck with our bikes and gear in the back, heading down the highway toward the tiny town of Riviera, Texas. From there we easily found the beach where I’d washed up in the kayak months earlier. Picking up from this last stopping point, we mounted our cycles and headed out, Amber and her toddler son Kayson waving behind us. (Kayson may have been screaming rather than waving.) If you’re reading this, thank you Amber!

The first section was a peaceful country stretch. I made up some Texas history and we had no problems. It was cloudy and soon we got rained on. I was worried this would dampen my companions’ spirits but they seemed fine.

We took a break at a gas station. When the rain passed we pushed on toward Falfurrias, Texas, now on a more heavily trafficked highway. Everyone seemed fine. It got quite warm toward the afternoon (July in Texas is, according to every Texan who weighed in, just about the worst month we could have chosen for this expedition). When we reached Falfurrias we stopped at a former gas station and called a local RV park. They said we could camp there. A couple more miles and $15 later we had our tent and bivy set up.

Blake got a flat tire on the final mile and we did “how to fix a flat” session at the park. Mexican for dinner. Stomach grumbling, I declined the margaritas. 34.9 miles.

Map.

July 19—Falfurrias to Hebbronville

We got a fairly early start, hoping to beat the heat. Today there were no rain clouds to help keep us cool.

It was interesting to see everyone’s unique style. Blake, an athletic swimming coach with a brand new cycle and minimal gear, rode ahead at high speed and then came back to take photos of us. He was fueled by punk rock playing in one ear (earbud) and frequent texts from his girlfriend. Pixi, true to her Minnesotan origin, was quiet and stoic. I kept a close eye on her because her bicycle effectively had just one gear (actually three, but we couldn’t get it to shift correctly to the others). It didn’t seem to affect her pace at all.

As the heat intensified our pace lagged. I was struggling and I could tell Pixi was too. We took turns dumping water on the back of each other’s t-shirts (“it’s like a shot of espresso,” Pixi said). Temperatures climbed over 100 degrees. This was expected but still brutal. By the final run into Hebbronville I borrowed water from Blake. We finally reached a hamburger stand where we sat in air conditioning, ate, charged our wireless devices, and looked for lodging.

The only major RV park in town turned down us tent-campers. Checking out what looked like another, smaller RV park we ended up knocking on a random residence thinking it was the office. The man there not only introduced us to his mother, who let us camp at one of her RV spots for free, but also invited us to a barbeque that night.

I took a long afternoon nap, completely beat due to the parasite. 36.5 miles

Map.

Sunday, July 20 (Day 744 of the Great Adventure)—This Way to Mexico!

Taking a lesson from the previous day, we got up so early it was still dark when we left. The first 40 minutes of our ride out of town, after a coffee-and-ice-water stop at a gas station, were in total darkness, occasional trucks passing us and giving a friendly berth to our flashing rear lights.

The sun came up all too soon and temperatures began to climb. This was our longest mileage day and also involved real hills. Blake maintained his previous free-spirited pace, like a puppy running at a park. Pixi’s body had already acclimated to the hard pedaling. She became the leader of the pack, zooming forward with relentless determination.

My own pace suffered. I have a strong constitution and I can endure almost anything. There was no question I would make it to Laredo, but how long it would take me and in what condition I’d arrive were open questions. It wasn’t just the heat and the parasite, but also the gear: I had more and bigger saddlebags than the others, and carried most of our shared gear. Slogging up those hills was a challenge and I fell behind.

I think Blake later felt guilty for letting me get behind. At one point I shouted at a dog to scare it off, and Blake fell back thinking I’d shouted at him (!). Luckily it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits.

The final stretch of big hills and heavier traffic took place in the oven-like hours of late morning/early afternoon. We hopped on a freeway for about a half mile to get into town, then stopped at a Whataburger for a long lunch/hydration session/cooloff. Blake got his 48th flat tire of the trip or so, and all my assurances that a patched tube was as good as a new one were proven wrong.

After changing the flat we biked into the downtown area to reach the border station. There are two bridges and two international crossings, only one of them valid for cyclists, so we had to cruise around a bit figuring out where to go. Finally reached a sign that read “TO MEXICO ● ELEVATORS ● ESCALATORS.” We had arrived.

The sign in question. Photo by Blake.

The sign in question. Photo by Blake.

The point of this leg was not to cross the border, just to reach the border so I could pick up from there on the great Mexico leg. We had achieved our goal. Sweating in the afternoon heat, we posed in front of the sign and I high-fived a nearby pillar. I would tag it again months later when starting the next leg, proving I hadn’t skipped a single inch.

(André’s note: also on this day, I surpassed my 3,000th mile of the trip!)

Afterward we went to a nearby park surrounded by colonial buildings. Pixi and I napped in the shade while Blake went present shopping. Later, Blake’s mom and step-dad (hi guys!) generously picked us up for the ride back to Corpus Christi. We stopped for tacos for dinner, which I could barely eat. I was proud of having finished 130 miles in 100 degree heat even when I was ill. But more than that, it felt good to have shared this accomplishment with friends. 57.5 miles

Map. (Note: The portion of this map in Laredo contains approximations due to one way streets. Also, our actual end point is several hundred feet to the east of what is marked—in the “Paseo del Antiguo.”)

Our "after" pic. Great job guys! Photo by André.

Our “after” pic. Great job guys! Photo by André.

Total traveled this leg: 128.9 miles

Total traveled since Day 1: 3007.8 miles

That officially catches us up on old road logs. See them all here, and get ready for new stories from my current adventure, the ride across Mexico. I’m current in the highland desert town of Cedral, in the state of San Luis Potosí. I’m just a stone’s throw from the ghosts towns of Real de Catorce and have much to report. More soon!

Standard
Adventure, Corpus Christi, Road Logs, Sea Kayaking, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: 98 Miles at Sea

In the last road log I biked 700 miles to Corpus Christi. In Corpus, I spent months training on sea kayaks with master kayaker Ken Johnson. (Ken has been written about by Forbes magazine and you can find information on touring with him here.) The plan was to switch from bicycle to kayak and do the entire Gulf coast all the way from Texas to the Yucatán.

That plan didn’t work out, mainly because of the difficulty in finding paddling partners to go on such a long voyage. Kayaking is much more expensive than cycling, which narrows the pool substantially. But I didn’t want all those months of training to go to waste, so I decided to at least do a section of the Texas coast before switching back to bicycle for Mexico.

I’ve already written up the story of that fateful, windswept voyage—one of my most popular adventure stories (part 1, part 2). But I never did map it out and figure out the total miles paddled. So here’s a road log (or sea log) of the kayak trip.

Note: Normally I use Google Maps to show the route I took on each leg. This isn’t possible for kayak routes because Google doesn’t have a sea voyage option. Instead, I used Google Maps’ “measure” tool to plot the course and tally up the miles covered—but you cannot share a link to measure tool maps. So no interactive maps this time, but I did include screen shots of each map below.

Friday, February 28, 2014 (Day 602 of the Great Adventure)

This was a standalone paddle day. The point was to go from our usual launch point, in town, to a location on the Intracoastal Waterway outside of town. That spot on the Intracoastal would then be my launch point for the big voyage. Thus, today was kind of like a prelude. 16.4 miles

Map 1:

Overland from my last bicycle point to the kayak launch point.

Overland from my last bicycle point to the kayak launch point. 0.4 miles.

Map 2:

Map 2

Standalone kayak day. 16 miles.

Thursday, March 6 (Day 608)—The Launch

I set off with Ken and our friend Winnie bidding me farewell on the shore. I put offerings in the water and then paddled against a tough tide/wind combination. Slept on the porch of a floating cottage in Baffin Bay. 27 miles.

Map 3 first full day

March 7—Waking in the Sea

Early start but slow progress. Very hard by late morning. I had heard that the tide creates a powerful draw in one direction or another down the long, narrow Intracoastal. I suspect it was with me at night/early morning (mostly when I wasn’t paddling) and then against me all day. Camped underneath another cottage, this one on land. Ken warned me of storms the next day. 17.3 miles.

Map 4 second full day

Friday, March 8 (Day 610 of the Great Adventure)—Race Against Storms

After probing ahead a bit, on Ken’s advice I turned for a pullout point. The kayak trip would be cut short due to approaching severe storms and hypothermic weather. First pullout point was a dud, and second one was a mad dash through a squall. It ended with a night crossing of the final stretch of bay and landing on a beach in the dark. Beautiful. 37.6 miles.

Map 5 Last Day

Total traveled this leg: 98.3

Total traveled since Day 1: 2878.9

Next time I’ll track the 130 miles that Blake, Pixi and I bicycled together in the Texas heat—100 degree days in July. Until then, check out old road logs. And yes, more reports on my current Mexico ride are coming up soon!

Standard
Adventure, Bicycling, Road Logs, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: New Orleans to Texas

In the last road log I paddled across the Mississippi to avoid taking a ferry. This time I pick up on the opposite bank and aim 700 miles away at Corpus Christi, Texas.

Image via Polkadots Cupcake Factory

Friday, October 4, 2013 (Day 455 of the Great Adventure)—Leaving New Orleans

Finally, after multiple false starts, I biked to the ferry, crossed the River and left. I made final offerings to say goodbye to the Mississippi, who had been my companion for 1900 miles and more than a year.

I headed toward Houma on a mix of levee trail, River Road, major highways, and the Old Spanish Trail which had some good scenery at times. I did my best to dodge rainstorms spun off of distant Tropical Storm Karen, and got a little wet but not soaked.

My destination that night was the hone of Alvin, a 50-something cyclist and a teacher. Easily the most knowedgeable cyclist I have ever met. I learned a lot from him in our short time together and enjoyed a great meal together. 58 miles.

Map.

(You can also see the actual route I took to get to the ferry, more or less—Google doesn’t approve of wrong ways on one ways—but this segment isn’t counted in the mileage because I had already crossed the river by kayak in June.)

October 5, 2013

Today there were more serious showers bearing down on me from Karen to the east. I made a calculated decision on being able to outrun them (the east wind was also a tailwind for me) despite Alvin’s offer to stay a day or two till they passed.

My destination today was Bayou Salé, but what I’ll always remember is Bayou Teche. Friends in New Orleans had helped me plan my route and insisted I bike along this bayou, and I’m sure glad I did—some of the most beautiful cycling I’ve ever seen along with the Natchez Trace. The road runs on either side of the bayou out of Houma, very lightly traveled. I did pass a park/fishing area that was closed due to the federal government shutdown.

My route then took me through Bayou Black, over the steep Amelia bridge, and through one small town before lunch at Morgan City. In the past I’d had only good experiences stopping at Shoney’s restaurants, but in this one they treated me like I was an escaped convict. I was sweaty but friendly, yet my manners didn’t seem to get me anywhere.

After crossing a big bridge out of Morgan City I continued to eschew major highway for a winding bayou road, adding miles but enjoying the scenery. I began to feel better about leaving New Orleans and pushing on with my adventure.

The small towns and scenic byways continued right up toward sunset. Finally I turned down the last road toward Bayou Salé, well off the beaten path. With only a few more miles to go, this road held one more steep bridge and—after staying dry all day—the first rainstorm to catch up with me. I arrived at my hosts’ house tired, wet and in good spirits.

Russ and Paul, my hosts, convinced me to have some wine with dinner. We had a great conversation and I got some much-needed sleep. 67.8 miles.

Map.

Sunday, October 6, 2013—Rest Day!

Russ and Paul are a sweet gay couple in their 50s. Russ grew up in the bayou and Paul moved there from Pennsylvania to be with him. Together, they opened a stained glass studio in a small building across the road. The studio makes a variety of objects, with most of their profit coming from large scale windows for churches. (Russ told me there was no need for me to pass on their business card to churches on my route, because they already had more orders than they could fill.)

They also make small items for tourists and do a lively trade teaching stained glass classes. Russ said that the men who take their workshops usually come to learn the skills needed, then start doing their own work at home; the women are more likely to keep coming back over and over, treating the classes as a social occasion as well as a learning opportunity. As a side benefit, the women have begun bringing food and wine to each workshop/social (which they share with the guys).

Russ also told me about how the devastation of the coastal marshes has made flooding worse in his area. Buildings that have not flooded in 200 years were feet below water after the last hurricane. One of his family’s houses was still in a needs-to-be-restored state from the last flood, and the glass studio had been badly damaged but already fixed up.

Russ and Paul live in another of Russ’ old family homes and Russ takes care of his elderly father, who is mostly confined to his bed. I spent part of the day doing writing, and rode with Paul to get some groceries from a gas station/mini-market. (By “groceries” I mostly mean ice cream.)

Like so many hosts, Russ and Paul offered for me to stay longer, but I planned to head out the next morning.

October 7, 2013—Bad Gear Day

I started out excited about more bayou country, but today quickly became a lesser disaster. I’d had a strange noise on the bike the previous cycling day—never a good sign—but couldn’t trouble shoot it. Just miles after setting out, as I made my way back over the nearby bridge from the other day, the back gear set began to fail. I limped forward and stopped at the gas station/mini mart hoping to fix it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy. The gear cassette was loose and, contrary to what would make sense in a world run by the Rogue Priest, cannot just be screwed back on. It takes a special tool. To make matters worse, the lockring that holds it in place appeared to be stripped. Tools or no tools, my gears—the crucial component that translates pedal strokes into forward movement—were hanging on only by force of habit.

I could have called Paul and Russ and asked them for a ride back to their house just 7 miles away. But with no bike shop anywhere nearby it wouldn’t have helped. My destination for tonight, Abbeville, was still 60 miles off—but if I could get there, a bike shop in Lafayette was only a 20 minute drive away.

After at least an hour of failed troubleshooting, I mounted the Giant and limped him back onto the road. What followed was one of the most agonizing days I’ve ever experienced: soon the gear cassette lost its grip and fell off the wheel of the bicycle. I fitted it back on, still with no lockring to hold it in place, put the chain back on, and continued. Repeat this 100 times or so—anywhere from once every few hundred feet to once every five miles—and you have a clear picture of my day.

After a few bayou towns I figured out a partial solution: as long as I kept the chain in the absolute lowest gear, the tension of the chain itself helped guide the gear set toward the wheel instead of falling off. (It still fell off, just not as often.) The downside is that I had to run in my lowest gear. At an approximate pace of 6 miles per hour, I cruised onward.

I alerted my Abbeville hosts of my bike troubles and late arrival. I was determined to get there: camping in the middle of nowhere and then getting back on the wounded bike tomorrow sounded awful. No way was I stopping till either I arrived at their house or the bike crumbled to dust under me.

Eventually I had to depart the beautiful bayou roads and take a major state highway toward my destination. This was around rush hour and very, very unpleasant. The shoulder was a cratered mess—a good recipe for knocking that gear cassette off—so I stayed in the lane as much as possible (legally correct, but not a popular choice). One trucker actually pulled over and blocked my way, apparently planning to give me a scolding. I shared some opinions of my own.

My persistence paid off. Completely beat, I coasted into Abbeville at sunset just as the moist swamp air cooled down. I made my way by dusk to the home of Leanne and JH (names changed), a former boulangerie converted into one of the coolest homes I’ve seen. Leanne made Thai food and we ate at the former butcher counter, now their bar. 64.2 miles.

Map.

October 18, 2013—Rest & Repair

Both very laid back, Leanne & JH had no problem hosting me for an extra day while I repaired the bike. JH is mechanically inclined and had some thoughts on pillaging a gear set off an old Peugeot. I, being less initiated into the inner workings of these machines, preferred to get a brand new replacement. We took a ride to Lafayette where a bicycle shop installed the new gears without difficulty. (I also managed to leave behind my chain oil there, which I mourned for some time.)

Tonight it was my turn to make dinner. I made a giant pasta served with red wine. Friends came over. I enjoyed meeting everyone but I recall my two evenings in Abbeville without much fondness: I spent most of my time worried about the bike or the road ahead, plus I was physically beat. I get a feeling that I wasn’t the most social guest to my young, fun-loving hosts, though they did enjoy the dinner. I also got my first taste of Cajun hospitality at a nearby house party.

Late at night, I found myself craving some sweets. Leanne had told me to help myself to anything in the kitchen. In the freezer I found some chocolates, and had a few. They tasted (I thought) freezer burned, but satisfied my sweet tooth and I went to sleep. I remember feeling dizzy as I passed out…

Wednesday, October 9, 2013—Ouch My Head

I awoke feeling like a bag of garbage, or like something that the entire garbage truck had run over. I was on my own for breakfast: Leanne had to run to work early and JH was already gone. Somehow, I was simultaneously nauseous and ravenous, not to mention dizzy, bleary and suffering from a jackhammer of a headache. Doing morning yoga did not help.

Also, there was no food in the house.

Wondering how just a few drinks had left me with such a hangover, I moaned as I climbed onto the bike. The Giant, at least, was refreshed and ready to go—minus a lack of oil on his chain—and off I wobbled.

I remember the first hour of this ride as some of the most painful cycling I’ve done. Days later, I would find out from Leanne that the chocolates I’d eaten contained large amounts of magic mushrooms. Recommended dosage: one chocolate. That explained both the horrible after effects and the grittiness I had taken for freezerburn, though it does not explain why people would ever eat these mushrooms voluntarily.

About an hour out I reached the small town of Kaplan, LA. and had the “Hungry Man Breakfast” which helped considerably. (The hunger had, by now, overcome the nausea.) I picked up an extra bungee from a hardware store to secure gear in my front basket. Last, still reeling from the last effects of mushrooms, I conducted a review with one of my clients via phone while wandering through the side streets of town. Just another day as a freelancer on the road.

My destination for the day was Lake Charles, LA, a bigger city. It was a lot of miles away on a hangover and an untested bike, but the Giant was a champ and I’m happy I was able to get the brand new gear cassette for him. The chain slipped from the gears once but overall it seemed like a successful repair.

Between Kaplan and Gueydan I sang an entire Vodou ceremony, which felt good.

Sadly, I lost one of my (worn out) bicycle gloves while resting in Gueydan, just after I started thinking of replacing them. My hands and bum became very sore, but I had no knee pain, indicating my new seat position was good.

The towns were all interesting. Abbeville was beautiful if quiet. Not much going on in Kaplan. Gueydan was pretty and looks like it has good eateries but the people were a little standoffish. Lake Arthur seems like a good sightseeing destination. I stopped there in a park beside the lake and called my mom while I hydrated. Not much in Hayes or Bell City, barely towns at all.

I stopped at a roadside eatery/convenience store in Hayes late in the afternoon. While slamming Gatorade, cashews and a Cliff Bar, a teenager named Seth struck up a conversation with me. Really social, really interested in what I was doing. His dad put up two cyclists from Australia with their family about three years ago. I explained that I work on the road and I hope it planted the seed that he can do this too. His friend was much more cynical. Seth can do better than that.

Finally I cruised into Lake Charles just after rush hour and found the home of my next host, an English professor. 80.8 miles. 

Map.

Thursday, October 10, 2013—Work Day

I got along great with my host, Dustin, not only a young professor but a fellow writer. We discussed favorite books, authors, the difficulty of writing and the great joy of revising. He had a sort of high-functioning hippy attitude that I’m sure made him popular with his students. I read some of the original Conan the Barbarian graphic novels from his book shelf the night at one point during my stay, likely the night I arrived. The conversation was great.

Dustin understood about my need for a peaceful, quiet place to write and recommended the Stellar Bean Cafe. While he went to teach classes, I bicycled into downtown Lake Charles. The cafe was everything I hoped it would be (there was even a local writers’ group meeting there, which I did not join). I completed a lot of work, much more so than at previous rest stops, and that night I bought Dustin dinner at a Mexican restaurant. He seemed surprised by the gesture but his attitude and camaraderie meant a lot and I wanted to do something nice.

This would also be my last full day in Louisiana, as tomorrow’s route would take me across the border if all went well.

October 11, 2013—Train Bridge Day

I had no host lined up so I planned to go 37 miles to Orange, Texas and look for a place for the night. I was hoping a Methodist pastor there would respond to an email and offer me a spot. Because of the short day I took my time and got a late start. I left Dustin’s around 9, went to a park and did yoga, went to two bike shops and bought a new pair of bike gloves, then cruised up to the bridge I expected to take, the I-10 bridge. So steep! And negligible shoulder. I had seen the shoulder situation on the satellite but not the steepness.

The I-210 bridge appears to have wider shoulder but it’s much, much longer, and even from a distance I could see it was tall as well. I considered using a train bridge to cross but couldn’t find a way to access the tracks. Ultimately I went around the lake entirely, through the towns of Moss and Westlake, adding 15 miles to my day. Had lunch at Jake’s Cakes and Coffee Shop north of Sulphur.

During this time I received an offer from a WarmShowers host, Jeff, to come stay two nights in Beaumont, TX. That is significantly farther than Orange, and I held out hoping the pastor would get back to me, but no luck. So I pushed on, and my day’s route grew from 40 miles to 60 miles to 80 miles.

Was on track to reach Jeff’s house just at 7:20 as promised, but the I-10 bridge into Beaumont was under construction, with absolutely no shoulder for bikes on either side! Jeff offered a ride, but I struck out and used a railroad bridge instead. Walked for about an hour on gravel and rail tracks in the dark, covered in mosquitoes, dodging living and dead snakes. Moved off the tracks at one point to let a train go by.

Halfway across the train bridge, a train appeared coming straight for me.

[André’s note: this is one of the craziest things that has happened to me and you can read the full story here.]

Once across, coming off a huge adrenaline surge, I made it to Jeff’s about 9:00 p.m. a 12-hour, 83-mile day. Ugh.

83.3 miles.

Map.

(Map includes a loop before the I-10 bridge that equates to the actual distance I took on the railroad tracks. Across the river, map does not show the distance I crossed on the bridge itself or on the city streets from the bridge back to the latitude of I-10. The estimated total for those two combined distances is 1.4 miles, which I’ve added in. After that the route on Magnolia Street is accurate. I always exclude time spent cruising around locally, which would amount to about 6 more miles in Lake Charles, and in this case I excluded the many spans of frontage road I took along I-10, which sometimes included small detours.)

October 12—Work Day

Jeff had never hosted anyone before, and was only able to put me up because (a) his wife was out of town and (b) he agreed to keep me in the guest room attached to the garage, not part of the main house.

One other cyclist was there the night I arrived, though I use the word “cyclist” loosely. This man drove a car which may or may not have had a bicycle inside of it, may or may not have been on his way to some kind of vague family emergency, and had the approximate social skills of a stoned badger. I felt incredibly grateful that this guy was not Jeff’s only introduction to the world of hosting travelers, and I endeavored to be the best guest possible and leave him with a good impression.

Thankfully, Mr. Grumpy left early on the morning of the 12th. I had arranged a rest day before continuing, and Jeff invited me to go fishing with him. I was extremely tempted—the area he was going sounded gorgeous—but I had too much client work to do. I stayed in and was a homebody, but I did get all of my work done before Jeff returned that evening. We went to the store and got some ingredients, then Jeff cooked up his catch with curry and we had a great meal and conversation.

Jeff and I hit it off. We come from different worlds but I know a good soul when I meet one, and he had it. He also seemed to take to me, and even put me in touch with relatives of his around Corpus Christi so I would know someone when I got there. Like many hosts, he invited me to stay longer but I felt the need to push on.

October 13, 2013—Loneliness

The day was dreary with occasional piss from the heavens. Riding out of Beaumont toward Baytown involved little traffic but a headwind that made the going frustratingly slow. The whole day was a long slog of a ride. Knee pain and saddle soreness became so extreme that I started making adjustments to my seat. Starting to get scared about my knees.

Really not much fun today. Not sure why I’m so worn down. Saw a guy sitting roadside (on the freeway) just out of Beaumont and offered him some water. He drank it without touching the water bottle to his mouth. I really admire that.

Rain clouds threatened all day. Didn’t get rained on till about an hour out of Baytown. Rain matches my mood. Further slowed everything down.

I had nowhere lined up to stay tonight. Thought I might get in by 3 pm and try to find a local who would help. Felt horrible sense of insecurity because of not knowing where I’d sleep—sometimes I think I’m giving myself an anxiety disorder out here. Ended up deciding I would just get a motel on arrival, and that brightened my mood up a lot—sense of security and promise of comfort.

Good decision too. Didn’t get in to Baytown till nearly six (reached my motel at 6:30) and this town really doesn’t have a cute downtown or anything particularly welcoming. Would have been hard luck trying to find a free place to stay. Lots of taquerías though.

Rested well and ate Mexican for dinner. Drank two beers. Stayed up too late. 68.1 miles.

Map.

Monday, October 14, 2013—Galveston Day

I had really looked forward today as a short, fun bike ride ending on the Gulf coast. But the wind was against me and there were many steep bridges. My knee pain became pronounced quickly, and I felt a new, much more urgent discomfort in one knee. I stopped and made adjustments again (I had also made more adjustments before leaving the motel). I think I’m closing in on the best seat height/position/angle for my body and bicycle, but the existing pain is still going to take a while to subside.

Going across the causeway onto the island was amazing, however. (Galveston is located on an island.)

Once on the island I saw another person sitting on the side of the freeway. This one seemed drunk and disoriented. He asked me how to get to the beach. I couldn’t do anything for him so I wished him luck and kept going.

Galveston is a beautiful town! I stayed with Kellyn, a graduate student and her roommates. As a man I couldn’t ask for a better welcome: four college girls living in a giant house together. I had a guest bedroom with its own bathroom. I also happened to arrive the night they were carving their Hallowe’en pumpkins, and I brought a six pack of beer to contribute to the event. They had an extra pumpking for me and we all chatted as we carved. My night with Kellyn and her roommates’ will definitely be one of my favorite memories from the trip. 44.5 miles.

Map.

October 15—Work Day and a New Host

On Kellyn’s advice I chose a little cafe in downtown Galveston to work in. Galveston is a great city, with a lot of artists and a lively downtown. It’s a vacation destination, which is part of its charm, but it also lacks the sprawl of other Texas cities because the island only has so much space.

When I planned my stop in Galveston I arranged two nights with two different hosts. It was one of the first destinations on this trip that had a large Couchsurfing community, and I figured I would meet more people this way. In reality, though, I was sad to leave Kellyn & Co. My second host, Celia, was incredibly kind and had many interesting stories of her own. I’m happy I met her. But Kellyn and her friends are closer to my own age, and after having such a lonely time on the road the chance to socialize with them had been very nourishing. Celia has a son to look after and after our dinner together I was mostly left to my own devices. I think the smart choice, after having met Kellyn yesterday, would have been to change my plans and stay with her both nights while simply meeting Celia and her son for dinner. I’m sure neither host would have minded.

I iced my knees regularly during this rest stop.

October 16, 2013—Freeport Day

Instead of crossing back to the mainland I rode alone the barrier islands. Extremely pleasant ride with beach and beach houses to my left, and pasture or dune prairie to my right. A little rain at the beginning and end. My knees are feeling differently, with the right knee feeling much less strained and the left feeling more strained, which means my seat adjustments have had an overall good effect though still not perfect.

Really enjoyed the ride along the Seawall in Galveston in the beginning, even though the tourist strip is less attractive than downtown. Wish I had taken a week or a few days in this town.

Just before reaching my destination, near the tip of the barrier island, I stopped at an oceanside restaurant for a burger, a beer and some rest time. I called my friend Saumya, long overdue and good to speak with her again.

In afternoon I reached my next host, a young couple named Danielle and Chris living in a small, nice house in the edge of a bayou outside Freeport. Both work as chemical engineers at a major refinery operation. Interesting, friendly people.

[André’s note: much later, they would take me up on my offer to reach out to me if they were ever in New Orleans. I got their message very last minute and was unable to find a place for them to stay that night. Will always feel like I let them down after they helped me out so generously.]

43 miles.

Map.

(This map still shows me leaving from Kellyn’s house, not Celia’s. That’s because the two houses are nearby, and this way my route includes the distance traveled between the two. One house is literally on the route onward from the other.)

October 17, 2013—Bay City Day

Reluctantly, I turned away from the Gulf and its beach communities, which seemed open and welcoming. I went through the “city” of Freeport, which is more like thirty miles of nothing but refineries. It felt like bicycling through the Death Star. Actually kind of fun.

Very sore ride especially the second half. Had to fight wind at times too. Late-ish start from Danielle and Chris’ house (they left early for work and left me to my own devices) and had a big lunch at a Tex Mex place in Brazoria, right at the V-corner in my route. More Tex than Mex for sure. Called many motels in Bay City and cruised through town to get a feel for the place (not reflected in map/miles). Settled on Studio 6 for the night and was quite happy with it—apartment-style rooms with full kitchen at very low price.

Notably, this was the one year anniversary of arriving at New Orleans.

Had indulgent Mexican dinner at Ricardo’s. 49 miles.

Map.

Friday, October 18, 2013—Port Lavaca Day

I ate again at Ricardo’s, this time for breakfast, and really loved it. Possibly the best huevos rancheros (with chorizo!) I’ve ever had, and one of the top breakfasts in general, too. I’m starting to like these “shorter” 50-mile days, even though I’m mostly using the extra time to leave later in the morning—flies in the face of my original reason for shorter days (although still no sunset runs in quite some time) but makes everything less stressful.

I also took a long break at a gas station in Blessing, TX after almost missing the turn off (continuing past would have sent me through Palacios, adding perhaps 15 extra miles onto my route).

The last section of roads before reaching the causeway to Port Lavaca, such as Highway 1862 and then back on 35, were gorgeous and empty and perfect. Felt that spiritual sense of awe at the beauty and desolation that makes me love journeys in the first place. It’s really been too long since I felt that.

The causeway was another matter. While I made it across fine (and was actually impressed at how smoothly and politely traffic changed lanes to go around me), no sooner was I across than a sheriff vehicle threw on its lights and motioned for me to pull aside. He scolded me for using the causeway and told me “the worst accidents” happen because of cyclists. I didn’t tell him that I was the one following the law, or that if law-breakers are causing accidents, maybe they should be the ones pulled over. He told me “next time” I should “get a ride or… whatever.” I was polite.

I planned to camp tonight at a public park in Port Lavaca, right there on the shore near the causeway. It had RV camping so I figured if I paid my hammock would be more than welcome. Wrong. When someone asks if you need a “tent site” apparently you should just say yes. Something about the idea of the hammock made the woman fear for her job. She did recommend another possible campsite (which seemed dubious) and a Mexican food stand (which I never went to), and I liked her overall. But with the cold north wind, no promising camp option, and storms on the way I ended up going to a motel for the third time on this trip. (It was a regular Motel 6, directly across the street from the RV park, which was oddly more expensive than the apartment-style Studio 6 the night before.)

I feel a lot of regret that I didn’t get to camp. Not that I was super looking forward to it, in all—setting up camp solo after a long bike day can be exhausting—but I had gotten excited about it that day. Plus, with tomorrow having a scheduled CouchSurfing host, this was my last opportunity for this whole leg of the trip. Turns out I hauled the hammock, fleece sleeping bag and cold weather gear all this way for nothing. It’s a substantial amount of dead weight on a bike. Sunk costs and all. But it would’ve been nice to sleep in the breeze at least once on this segment.

After checking in and showering I spent an outrageous amount of time biking around looking for a local pizza place that turned out to be closed, then settled for Mexican again at a restaurant that was truly sub-par (but more expensive than Ricardo’s). I miss you, Ricky. 51.9 miles.

Map.

October 19, 2013—Broke Axel Day

Today seemed like an easy day. At “only” 50 miles, I felt good that I would make it to my host for the night, where I would get to sleep on his sailboat in the Fulton, TX harbor. That’s a pretty cool prospect, and one I looked forward to. Plus, tomorrow would be my arrival in Corpus Christi if all went well.

All did not go well. Less than 10 miles out of town I heard an odd noise from the back wheel, and the second time I stopped to check on it the axle fell out in two broken pieces. The bike couldn’t go any further.

I’ve already told this tense story before, so I won’t repeat it. The short version is I had to hitchhike forward 10 miles to the next town, where I failed to find a further ride onward toward Fulton. Instead, a friendly local gave me the axle from an old Peugeot road bike and helped me change it. I continued on from that point and, in a heart-pumping race against the sunset, made it to host Mel and his boat.

[André’s note: I had to come back to this stretch of road months later and bike the missing 10 miles I’d hitchhiked over, for the sake of covering every inch powered by my own body.]

Mel was a fascinating individual whose spirit I admire. He lives aboard his catamaran, which he’s slowly fixing up for long sea voyages. He’s also toured extensively in his camper van, and not long ago took a cruise ship one-way to South America and bused back to the US slowly over the the course of months.

We had an excellent evening swapping travel stories. Mel served a home made dinner of soup with brisket and noodles and a big side salad. It’s rare to meet a host on my travels who will serve healthy food, and while I’m always grateful for whatever people share, I was extra happy to get some greens in me. 50.6 miles.

Map 1: Completed that day before breakdown. 10.4 miles.

Map 2: Hitchhiked that day; completed by bicycle later on January 18, 2014 (Day 561). 10.8 miles.

Map 3: Completed that day after repair. 29.4 miles.

Sunday, October 20, 2013 (Day 471 of the Great Adventure)—Arrival in Corpus

This was a good day. After a light breakfast with Mel I set out on the bike, confident I could cover the 34 miles to Corpus. I stopped for an early lunch at a cafe in Rockport and took byways off the main road as far as I could. Remembering my entrance into New Orleans, I allowed myself a congratulatory beer at a gas station in Ingleside—not quite as memorable as the one on the way into the Crescent City.

The first (larger) bridge into Corpus, the causeway, was no problem. Wide lanes, wide shoulder and not steep. The second bridge however proved much trickier. I feel that Fortuna always throws one last obstacle at an adventurer close to completing a quest, and mine was the bridge featured in this video:

Finally I made it into the city proper, the freeway bridge depositing me directly in the downtown. Known for its beach, I had hoped Corpus Christi would be similar to Galveston (especially after the cute, laid back feeling of Fulton). The truth was it felt very different, more like the big, sprawling city that it is. I aimed myself at the palm trees and the waterfront and followed Shoreline Boulevard and its scenic Seawall. (This isn’t reflected exactly in the map, since I was on the pedestrian/bike walk on the Seawall, which Google doesn’t approve of.)

Finally I reached a yellow concrete building facing the ocean. It looked like it had survived from the set of a Miami Vice episode 30 years ago. Inside that building was the apartment of my final host, a man who had offered to put me up for a few days while I found an apartment—and would ultimately take me on as along term paying roommate.

For now, my host was out on a fishing trip and I was told to let myself in and make myself at home. I tried to determine if there was a beer store nearby, so I could have a gift waiting for him, but to no avail. Instead, I took a shower and prepared for a new life in Texas. 37.4 miles.

Map.

Total traveled this leg: 698.6

Total traveled since Day 1: 2780.6

There are just two more road logs to go (the kayak trip, and the final push to the Mexico border), and then we’ll be all caught up—and ready to start chronicling the current Mexico ride! Until then, check out old road logs if you’re so inclined.

Standard
Adventure, Bicycling, Mexico, Photographs, Spotlight, The Great Adventure, Travel

Photo Friday: Narcolandia

Since I’m now back on the road, I thought it would be a good idea to resume my semi-regular Photo of the Week practice every Friday. This week’s photo, which you can find below, is actually taken by my friend the Fly Brother, and shows Pixi and me—the first two cyclists of the Fellowship of the Wheel–as we set off on a ride across northern Mexico under our own power.

Photo by Ernest White II

The Fly Brother also wrote a riveting account of that first day, from his perspective as the driver of our support vehicle across what he refers to as Narcolandia. It was thanks to Fly’s cheerful bravery, and the help of numerous contributors, that we didn’t have to go it alone. Read his full account (with more photos) here.

And since I’m long overdue for an update of my own, here are some essentials:

  • We made it safely to our first rest stop in Saltillo, Coahuilas. That’s where I am as I write this. The roads seemed all in all safe, and we put as much distance between us and the border as we could in our first three days.
  • For those who contributed to the Fellowship of the Wheel crowdfunding campaign, I’m just editing the first video logs. They should be in your email before Monday. For everyone else, I’m hoping to create a way to become a supporter even though the campaign is over, allowing you to get access if you missed out.
  • I’m staying 100% on top of my road logs this time, so unlike the ride down the Mississippi there won’t be any year-or-more lags before my journals are up. However, I’m also determined to get the last few overdue road logs up from Texas, so expect those in the next couple days. Mexico logs will start after that.

Again, thank you to everyone who provided support in any form. Gracias and viva la Fellowship!

Standard
Adventure, Adventure Prep, Bicycling, The Great Adventure, Travel

The Next Three Days

The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) as seen through the chain links of the border crossing. Photo by André.

The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) as seen through the chain links of the border crossing. Photo by André.

Right now I’m in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I crossed the border bridge yesterday on my bike in the rain. It almost never rains here—especially not at this time of year—but we managed two get two days nonstop.

I was exhausted. I left New Orleans around 9 am on Tuesday in a rental car, the bike in the back. That night I reached Corpus Christi where I had dinner with friends and grabbed a few hours’ sleep. I left before 4 a.m. on Wednesday, driving onward to Laredo, TX.

There I spent a long day working on my laptop at a motel. I raced to take care of last minute preparations. I got less than a full night’s sleep, but the next morning I set off on bicycle.

It felt good to cross an international border on a bicycle, a first for me. The border guards on the Mexico side didn’t search me, instead expressing shock and interest in the plan to bike to Yucatán—nearly 2,000 miles. The immigration officials were similar, and very friendly.

Then I bicycled over and met a local, Scotch, who had offered to put me up for a night. I met him at his sushi restaurant, Mr. Rollo. He’s very warm and easygoing, a bright businessman who has built up his two restaurants, his bar, and his girlfriend’s hair salon from nothing. We went to his house and I dropped off my bike, then he helped me get a new SIM card so my phone will work in Mexico. We ate at Mr. Rollo and later had dinner with his family at his house, conversing in two languages.

Today is a little slower paced. Pixi arrived this morning on her bicycle. I met her at the border bridge and led her over to Scotch’s house. Later, my friend Ernest White II will arrive—via flights and taxis, not bicycles—to act as our support. He’ll rent a car and follow us for the next three days.

So the plan is this. Tomorrrow we roll out at dawn, Pixi and me on bikes and Ernest behind us in the car. If we have a mechanical problem or other delay, Ernest can pick us up so we’re off the road before dark—a key part of safety in this area. For the first three nights, we’ll stay in hotels rather than camping.

As a further precaution, a friend stateside has my Find My iPhone login and will be able to report us missing—along with our exact last known location—if we miss any of our nightly checkins those first three nights.

Two other cyclists will join us within a week, but are running too late for the appointed start date. So it’s just the three of us tomorrow, but I feel good about our little group. It is a small Fellowship, perhaps, but one that I believe can go a very long way.

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

Your contribution helps us afford crucial safety precautions as we bike across Mexico. Plus you get exclusive perks like video logs, letters from the road and blessings! Click here to support the the Fellowship of the Wheel today. Just one day left!

Standard