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.


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


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!

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.


(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.


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.


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. 


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 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.


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.


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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.

Adventure, Bicycling, Spotlight, Texas, Travel

130 Miles to Laredo, Pixi Version

This is a guest post by Pixi, one of two co-adventurers who accompanied me on the 130 mile ride to the Mexico border. 

Pixi just before we start. Photo by André.

Pixi just before we started. Photo by André.

In one of the last emails before the 3-day bike trip across southern Texas, André wrote to Blake and me:

“Okay guys. Yesterday and today I did some riding. Yesterday in 94 degrees, today in the low 90s in peak afternoon. The wind was comparable to the one we’ll have behind us. When I was against the wind the heat was unbearable because of the hard pedaling. But when the wind was behind me the heat actually seemed fine… And I was even wearing long pants!”

“Sounds awesome,” I wrote back.

And it did, even though I was freaking out in my head. I didn’t believe there was any way this trip was going to be that easy. Just the planning had already been stressful: getting time off work, finding a replacement bike after mine was stolen, and figuring out how to get it from Minneapolis to Texas. But, I knew deep down that this was what I had asked for. I wanted an adventure.

Despite the stress of transporting the bike in a bike box on the Greyhound, I arrived just fine. Blake and André picked me up at the bus station and we went back to Blake’s house to prepare for the journey the next day. André helped me put the bike back together and gave me a tour around some of Corpus Christi showing me what he meant by going with and against the wind. It was still hot in long pants, but I could feel the difference he talked about.

Early the next morning, we were picked up by Blake’s sister and brought to the dirt road where André had ended the kayaking leg of his adventure. After last minute sunscreen application and pictures we set off down a deserted country road full of excitement and anticipation. The South Texas roadside flora, so different from Minnesota, was fascinating and beautiful to watch go by. The trip was off to a great start as we chatted, joked, and greeted the cattle who watched us go by, while an overcast sky kept some of the heat and sunshine at bay.

Then, despite Captain André’s weather reports, it started to rain. We stopped to put our phones in plastic bags and turn on our bike lights. The rain actually helped a lot with the heat and I was grateful for it until I realized my brakes didn’t work as well when they were wet. But, we ended up keeping a good pace of about 9 miles per hour. By the time we rolled into Falfurrias in the early afternoon the rain had stopped.

André had already researched the town and knew that there was an RV park where we might be able to pitch the tent and bivy. He called them up and the owner told us we could definitely set up camp there for a small fee. They even had a laundry room to dry out our wet clothes, a shower and even a pool! About a half mile from the RV park, Blake got the first flat of the trip. But with a place to rest in sight, he just walked the bike the rest of the way. The owner, Arthur, was one of the nicest guys and very accommodating. He showed us the area where we could camp, chatted about how he ended up owning the RV park, and told us if we needed anything to just come to the office and ask him. He also recommended places to get dinner—including a good Mexican restaurant and a bad Mexican restaurant. We changed into dry clothes, set up camp and André gave us a class on how to change and repair a bike tube (By the end of the trip, Blake was an expert at this!). Still, I was almost disappointed at how easy the day had been. Where was the Adventure?

After dinner at the good Mexican restaurant we went back to the RV park and started a fire in the fire pit in the rec room. Well, André would say I made a fire and he just helped. It was still hot outside, even at that time of day, but the opportunity to have the traditional fire at the end of a long day of adventuring was hard for me to pass up.

We started earlier the next morning to try to beat some of the heat, silently wishing for more rain which never came. Leaving the RV park, we headed straight for a country road that we thought would have less traffic than the highway. The country road eventually turned into a dirt and gravel road. We stopped and André asked us what we wanted to do: bike back to the last intersection and try to meet up with the highway, or walk the bikes for a somewhat uncertain distance on the dirt road. Blake and I said we’d be fine walking (a short break from biking and the opportunity to move our legs in other ways sounded good, actually). André later told us that that’s what he probably would have done if he’d been alone, too, just gone straight on instead of backtracking.

The heat of the second day got harder to deal with as the morning went on. I started lagging behind. Blake, on his new bike with the skinny, yet highly breakable tires, was taking the lead. We kept up a 9 to 10 mph pace, even in the heat and gratefully stopped at the very first food establishment when we reached Hebbronville. After burgers and being in the air conditioning long enough to feel cold, André whipped out his phone to research possible camping spots. He found a mobile home park and while it was less likely we’d be able to camp there, he called them anyway. The woman who answered the phone was not sure if we could tent camp there, though. One of the employees at the burger joint suggested a park in the middle of the city, sure that no one would care if we put our tent there.

We decided to scope out the Catholic church in town, which ended up having no yard space to speak of, and then the city park, on the way to ask the mobile home park owners in person about pitching a tent. We eventually found a mobile home park and André confidently walked up to what appeared to possibly be the office, or just someone’s house, and knocked on the door. The door was answered by a man who happened to be the son of a woman who owned a different mobile home park across the street. Her son pointed her out to us, saying we could probably camp over there, that all the neighbors who lived there were really good people and even invited us over for a BBQ later. We thanked him and went across the street.

His mother, Lupita, said we could set up our tent in an area that wasn’t being used. At first she charged us the same $15 for the night that we had gotten charged at the RV park, but later gave us back the money saying we should use it for dinner. Her husband brought us some plastic chairs to lounge in and we took a siesta in the shade. Later, they offered to hook up an extension cord so that we could charge our phones. But when none of the electrical boxes seemed to work, a neighbor connected the extension cord straight from his mobile home. Their hospitality was incredible!

After dinner, Blake and I decided to readjust our seat heights, as both of us had started having knee pains. When it got dark, another neighbor came over and offered us a flashlight. Everyone was so nice. Now the question is, would André have gotten the same hospitality in both these cities if he had been alone? I think he would have. We just ended up meeting the nicest people in these small towns.

We got up extra early the next day to beat the heat on our longest day of the trip. We got everything packed in record time, went to the nearby gas station to fill up all our water containers, and took off before sunrise. We knew from descriptions from our new friends that there were several large hills on our way to Laredo and one bridge, but also that it was mostly downhill. Whether it was the ease of our route, the seat adjustment, the cooling breeze we got most of the way, starting to listen to music on my phone like Blake had been doing, or a combination of all these factors, this day felt like the easiest of all three and I was leading most of the way. Even when I ended up getting my one flat of the trip, the three of us worked together very smoothly to replace the tire roadside.

Iconic road shot by Pixi.

Iconic road shot by Pixi.

We rolled into Laredo before we knew it and then the most difficult part started. When we got close to the city there was a lot more traffic than before and the shoulder of the road was filled with debris.Trying to navigate between the danger of passing cars or getting a flat tire was difficult and a little scary. Captain André’s leadership skills really came out to help us navigate the dangerous road.

After lunch, André tried to figure out the route to the border crossing and Blake worked on patching his latest flat as best as he could. We followed André, biking through the downtown, going the wrong way on several one ways until we finally found the right bridge for pedestrians to cross over into Mexico. Here we stopped and André made us take several pictures of the three of us. Then André put his hand to one of the columns, choosing the spot where he would officially begin the next part of his trip into Mexico. We went to a park in the middle of town to wait for Blake’s mother and stepfather to pick us up. Proud and exhausted at finishing our trip, we then had dinner and beers with them in celebration before heading back to Corpus Christi.

One of the pictures André made us take. Photo by Pixi.

One of the pictures André made us take. Photo by Pixi.

I am so glad I went on this trip. It was challenging and so much fun! I really believe anyone can do this. I didn’t really do any training at all. I only did one 25 mile ride beforehand. I can’t wait to see what other adventures I will get to be a part of in the future. Thanks, André, for letting me be part of this one!

Some notes to interested travelers:

  1. Having the correct bike fit for you (seat position, etc.) is very important and does make a huge difference in how tired you get or how many aches and pains you have when riding long distance.
  2. Although I had fears about packing my bike onto a bus it was actually much easier than I thought it would be. The policy on Greyhound is that you have to take the bike apart and put it in a bike box in order to have it as a piece of checked baggage. I thought I might have to pay a fee for it being larger than their 62” total height/width/length limit, but I ended up not having to pay anything extra. I may have had to if it was over the 50 lbs. limit, though. I also had the fear that with my several transfers, on a crowded bus there wouldn’t be enough room under the bus for my oversized box and I would have to wait for the next bus to my destination. This never happened either.

André’s note: does anyone have a question for Pixi?

Adventure, Bicycling, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

Making New Adventurers

Sunday at around 3:00 p.m. our little bicycling group reached the US/Mexico border. I officially completed the US leg of my Great Adventure.

It was also the first leg I did with a group. I can safely say that this trip went as well as I could possibly have imagined it going.

I don’t want to give too much away, because both Pixie and Blake have offered to write up their own accounts of the trip which I’ll share here. But I did promise before and after pictures, so let’s start with those.





I had expected that the two pictures might show a major change. In the “after” shot I thought we’d look dirty, disheveled, totally beat. As you can see, we don’t. I also wondered if my co-adventurers would look a little unhappy by the end. This isn’t experienced cyclists with professional equipment and sponsorship; this is normal people with mismatched gear and no idea where we’d even sleep at night. And yet, everyone’s smiling.

From the beginning everyone seemed ready for a challenge. We worked as a team and we all got along. Neither the rain on Day 1 nor the 100 degree biking weather on Day 3 garnered any complaints and, more importantly, I don’t think there were supressed complaints either. Everyone was mentally prepared for what they were facing.

That’s not to say it was easy. The sun just savaged us. I ran out of water on the second day and had to borrow more from Blake. Pixie’s gears didn’t work. There were more flat tires on one bike than I expected from all three of us.

But none of that really mattered. When there was a problem we just huddled around and solved it. As Blake said, within a very short time traveling together we had started to work like a well-trained pit crew.

More than anything, I’m grateful that we got good rest each night and stayed safe each day. All the concern about heatstroke paid off, with some tough rides but no truly dangerous moments. Between the three of us we always had enough water and the right basic gear to survive in the sun.

I’m sure I can’t expect every adventuring group I travel with to operate this smoothly, but it taught me a great deal about what to plan for and how to lead. That will be important as I plan the Mexico leg. Within a few weeks I hope to announce the dates for each segment so that more co-adventurers can come along.

But what gives me the most heart isn’t what I learned. It’s seeing others get to experience an adventure of their own. By the end Pixie and Blake both came to me and told me they’re tempted to join for Mexico. (Blake’s mom has already told me he is not allowed to do the border region.) They now have memories and achievements of their own—the kinds of lessons from the road you can’t learn by reading about it, only by doing it. When we made it back they positively beamed.

For myself, there’s something like 5,000 more miles ahead. But that road doesn’t seem so long now that I know I can share it.

André's Great Adventure reaches the Mexico border!

Adventure, Adventure Prep, Bicycling, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

On the eve of my first group adventure

Photo by Arturo Sotillo.

Friday morning I take out a bicycling group for the first time. This is the last leg of the US, and the first of my recruit-fellow-adventurers policy. Three days, three people, 125 miles. It’s a weird feeling.

For starters, people now call me “leader.” It’s a role I’m comfortable with, but in the past it was always more formal. As a younger man, the teachers who meant the most to me were the ones who enforced a strict master-apprentice relationship. That was the only way I knew how to lead. But that approach depends on having a lot of authority behind you, and it isn’t well suited to free adults. These days I prefer a partnership of equals, where I may guide or nudge but ultimately everyone makes their own choices. The problem is I have no experience leading that way.

Thankfully, a look at my two co-adventurers says not a lot of leadership is needed. Both seem pretty self contained. I can show them how to change a tire or I can talk about road safety, but for the most part I think they’ll be fine.

I do wonder if they’ll need moral support. On a long bike trip, the beginning and end are fun but the middle is the passage of darkness. That’s when you’re a long way from home and still have a long way to go. On a three day trip, will that still apply? I don’t know. Waking up that second morning, tired and sore but not even halfway done, could be the roughest moment.

Most of my time is spent thinking about safety. On my own, I can abuse myself as much as I want. I know my body pretty well, and I can push it to levels that most people would shy away from. If I want to keep going in the dark, or the rain, or against a strong wind, or with no food—I can.

With a group that’s no longer my right. To some degree I have to think about what my people need, even if they won’t say it out loud. I’ve never so thoroughly considered heatstroke, bike safety or equipment as I have in the past eight weeks. At the same time, I have a commitment to finish this trip powered only by my own muscles. If one of them has a crisis, I not only have to get them picked up and driven to safety, I then have to continue on my own.

It’s been fun to see how different people prepare for a trip. Pixi is organized and planful, asking equipment questions well in advance and demanding checklists for what to bring. This is a quality I really admire and aspire to. Blake’s style has been more like mine: plan it in the abstract but put off the details until crunch time. I’ve forced myself out of that habit: I’m the one who has to be ahead of everything here. Blake has expressed amazement at how much I pre-plan. Heh.

If there’s anything that surprises me, it’s that both of my copilots are totally following through. While I never had reason to doubt them, I’m just used to the reality that most people flake out on most things. Of the three people who wanted to come kayaking with me, zero ever showed up; but of the two who wanted to join this bike leg, both will be gathered around the bikes by the time you read this message.

This is particularly amazing considering both had huge setbacks. Pixi got her bike ready months ahead of time, only to have it stolen our weeks ago. When I read her email I was sure it would end with Sorry, but I think I’m done. Likewise, Blake was gifted a beautiful 1970s Schwinn from his dad, which barely wobbled out of the garage but survived a 30 mile test ride. We took it for routine maintenance and cleaning at a bike shop and 24 hours later it was a pile of scrap.

(Old bike fans: it will be resurrected one day. The head bolt was rusted through and snapped, and some other components were kaput as well. The shop in question isn’t used to working on v̶i̶n̶t̶a̶g̶e superior bicycles, but Blake is dedicated to getting the parts and fixing it.)

This is where a lot of people would have thrown their hands up, especially with the added cost, but Blake bought a brand new aluminum-frame touring cycle meaning he’ll probably outpace us all. Meanwhile Pixi hit the garage sales and successfully combined two non-functional bikes into one functional bike, even rebuilding a back gear cassette together with her boyfriend.

Ironically, while my bike is named The Giant, Blake’s is a Giant brand. I’m going to call it the Little Giant until he comes up with a name that doesn’t infringe. I don’t know what Pixi’s bike’s name is, but it seems like she has good taste in adventuring names, so I expect big things. Of course, there will be before and after pictures of all three of us.

I don’t really know what to expect from these next three days. Even with all the planning, all the new equipment, and two friends at my side, we’re heading to towns we’ve never visited and anything could happen. To me that’s where adventure comes from. Adventure is the unknown and embracing it wholeheartedly.

No one in the world knows where they’re going; an adventurer has no choice but to admit it.

Adventure, Bicycling, Texas

And then there were three

As you know, this month I’ll be doing the last 120 miles of Texas by bicycle. I announced earlier that my friend Pixi will be joining me. But in a few recent posts, I let slip the possibility that there may be not two off us but three. I can now officially confirm that we have a third adventurer!

Joining us for the whole three day journey will be my friend Blake. I first met Blake shortly after I moved to Texas, and soon I had rented the spare bedroom in his house two blocks from the bay. Blake is a philosophy student and quick with puns. He also seems to have a natural way with living things, from his many exotic fish aquariums to his hand-built turtle pond and the bonzai and other plants in the garden he grew himself.

I think the three of us are the types who will get along on the road. This is the first section of the Journey that’s truly open to others, and I’m excited that two practical and easygoing people will be my copilots. Hopefully it will give me a chance to learn what exactly it takes to open this kind of trip up to everyone.

Of course, there are still two weeks before the big ride, which happens July 18-20. So if you want to throw your hat in it’s time to send me an email…

Adventure, Bicycling, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

But Must One Adventure Always Alone?

Photo by Farrukh

My time in Mexico is almost over, and as we reach the end I have something pretty amazing to announce. We all know that once I return to the US next month, I’m setting out on bicycle again. I’ll pick up where I washed ashore in a kayak in South Texas and bicycle toward the Mexico border. The quest to cross the Americas must go on.

However, on this particular leg of the quest I won’t be alone.

I’ll have a bicycling companion for my final US leg. I put out the call for companions in April, and about a month later I received a message that read, “Alright, Andre. I am interested in joining you. So… what now?”

The message was from Claire, an old acquaintance of mine in Minnesota. Nowadays she goes by the nickname Pixi. (What is it with adventurers and nicknames?)

Pixi’s message had me smiling from ear to ear. Pixi is not an experienced cyclist—in fact she’s never gone more than a few miles in one ride. But the idea of sharing an adventure with other explorers is my dream come true. She’s already started building her endurance and has gone from total newbie to whopping 25 mile rides. (I’m a little jealous; I did zero training before my first 32 mile day.) Most people are surprised how quickly their body will adapt to long distance cycle rides, and Pixi seems to be right on track.

Not that she doesn’t have some serious adventuring chops of her own. A short while ago Pixi completed 365 straight days living in the wild as a hunter-gatherer. It was part of a wilderness training program (to say the least) with over 30 other people—including whole families. Not everyone completes the program, but Pixi made it through the entire year.

Our trip will be July 18-20, three beautiful days of bicycling. The mileage will be relatively short (32, 35 and 55 miles respectively) which will let us set an easy pace. At night we plan to camp out near churches in two small Texas towns.

Here’s a map of our route:

Texas Adventure Route

This leg of the Adventure will be the last ride through the US for me. For Pixi I hope it will be an introduction to a truly incredible way to see our country and enjoy the outdoors. Bicycling is the perfect pace, slow enough to see everything but fast enough that you rarely get bored.

Pixi and I are also in agreement on one other key factor: we’d be happy to have other people with us. The Texas ride is ideal for total beginners, with flat land, short riding days and a pretty friendly countryside. Are you interested? If you might like to meet up and join us for these three days, please email me at and let me know.

Or if you have questions, ask away. What’s holding you back?

Mexico, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

How I Got to Mexico and What I’m Doing Here

The morning after my kayak expedition I was a new man. When Ken had gone to bed I was shivering, unshaved, salty, soaked and smelling like expired barnacles. Now I was groomed, packed and dressed to travel.

“You’re a real quick change artist,” he said.

He made us a terrific breakfast and then dropped me at the bus station. Online, Greyhound offers a ticket from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to the city of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. But in person at the ticket booth that line doesn’t exist. It makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d paid for the ticket on their website.

Undeterred, I just asked for a ticket as far as Brownsville, the border town. I’d already been assured by a Mexican bus company that I could pick up one of their buses the rest of the way (this would also turn out to be a lie).

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

I was in fair spirits that morning. It would have been nice to go the full distance on kayak, but I felt good about my decision. It was the best decision under the circumstances. Now I have a new mission to pick up from Riviera, Texas when I resume my self-powered adventure—either by kayak or bicycle.

And this is something that people don’t get about adventure. There’s this idea that adventure is about taking dangerous risks, the biggest risks possible. Maybe that’s true for thrill-seekers but to me adventure is about minimizing risk. You’re choosing to do something challenging and unusual that will require planning, determination and endurance—why make it even harder? It’s hard enough out of the box. An adventurer’s most important skill is risk management and risk avoidance.

When I got deep into south Texas I had to transfer buses to continue on to Brownsville. I really liked the station in Harlinged because it felt like I was already in Mexico, right down to the family vending street food inside the bus depot.

Finally I reached Brownsville. The station is a giant multiplex of different bus companies. I quickly found out that no one offered direct tickets to San Luis Potosí (or anywhere); you take one bus to cross the border and then you do your bus shopping on the other side.

Well, okay.

That went well enough. No one in this station—the Texas station—spoke English, which gave me a good preview of what to expect ahead (jokingly I wondered if that meant all the station attendants on the Mexico side would speak only English, in a kind of cultural cockblock exchange, but alas international relations have not evolved that far). I grudgingly stocked up on pesos, hating to pay exchange booth fees but not wanting to risk being penniless if there was no ATM on the other side.

And I ate a giant sub sandwich. It would be my last American food for some time, and my only food break before a very, very long bus ride.

Illegal Alien

Eventually we loaded up and went over. Crossing the border was very easy and low-key. So low key in fact that no one stamped my passport. I didn’t realize it till after we pulled away, and then it was too late. All that happened at the border station was we waited around while people said they would search our bags but, as far as I can tell, did not do so. When a guard saw my US passport (the only one in the bunch) he told me to get back on the bus.

This all felt like a weird repeat of Haiti, like I’m in a pulp series and my schtick is I never go through customs right. I’m now living as an illegal alien in Mexico, I suppose.

(I could easily get work teaching English here, meaning I’d also be stealing their jobs.)

Looking out the window at the border town of Matamoros really lifted my heart. I recognized Mexican brands like Oxxo, which flooded me with nostalgia; even better, I could see home-made things and craftsmen’s shops and street food cooked by grandmas and brightly colored cement walls everywhere I looked.

At the Matamoros bus station I quickly put my limited Spanish to work: No, no taxi, thank you. No, I don’t have a ticket. San Luis Potosí. What? Wait, what? What? Speak more slowly please. Oh, you do? How much? One please.

Several hours later I boarded an express bus which would make a single all-night run down Highway 101—the most dangerous highway in Mexico, the US Department of State assures me—with Narco country on both sides.

But at least they give you a snack on the way.


Sometime around 1 a.m. I woke up, probably because of the narwhale-like snoring of the man in front of me. Staring out the window, I admired the empty scrub desert in the dark. There are no towns out there, no light pollution. It’s pretty.

The bus stopped.

I tensed up. There was no stop sign out here, and no traffic. Not even police lights as far as I could tell. I rapidly consulted my dictionary for how to say, Take the snoring man, he is very wealthy.

Then the bus tried something I couldn’t have expected: it turned around.

Bear in mind this is a two lane highway with high embankments on either side. There’s no side road or turnabout to use. The bus just sort of ground one end into the embankment, made a rocky little pivot and zoomed back out of there.

I spent the better part of the next half hour wondering what had happened. Did the driver see something? Did he get word on the radio that there was trouble ahead? Worse, is he selling us out? And even if not—then where the heck are we going to end up?

We reached a junction with another endless two-lane highway and turned onto it. I realized, then, what had happened: the driver took a wrong turn.


Rogue Cellar

I made it to San Luis Potosí. My friend Cintain just finished building his new house, lovingly dubbed the Palace of the Emerald gates—a sort of Batcave for a Taoist Bruce Wayne. I’m renting a garden level room for April and intend to use most of the time to write.

My days are slow and pleasant. It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was burning 6,000 calories a day and paddling through squalls. But this is the rhythm my life has taken on: short periods of heart-racing adventure interspersed with weeks or months of quiet, peaceful creating.

That’s the life I’ve always wanted.

I’ll be exploring San Luis Potosí over the coming month, and doing my best to document it. What do you want to know about, or see? Is there anything about the city or my life here that you want to make sure I cover?

Also, I’m notoriously bad about taking photos when I find something interesting. Instead of reaching for a camera I just daydream about the stories I can tell (I’m a writer, not a photographer). But everybody loves photos, and honestly I do too. So this Friday I’ll post my first ever Photo of the Week… which hopefully will become a tradition every Friday from now on.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. It’s about travel, adventure and magic. Get your copy here.