Thursday, December 28, 2006

12/28 San Diego to Pine Valley. I left the cyclocomputer on the bike, which is 1/2 mile walk from the library I'm at now, so I don't have the average speed, but the total mileage today was around 58, over 35 of which was spent climbing in lowest gear. Hard work, but very rewarding. The views are spectacular. From Alpine, at 2000' elevation, where I stopped for lunch and the earlier posting, the road climbs to 4000' with an average grade of about 8% and a few pitches over 10% and then drops to about 3700' into Pine Valley. That last drop was a two-mile downhill from Guatay on the shady side of the mountains during which all the sweat I was soaked with damn near froze! I figured I'd warm up with a hot shower at the Pine Valley Motel, but they'd rented their last room just before I rolled in. I'm now camped out in the back yard of the community center (with the Sherriff's blessing) on some nice, soft ground. A couple of good restaurants in town and warm, dry clothes on, so I'm all set. Supposed to be in the 20's tonight, which will be perfect for the sleeping bag I brought. No wind and no rain forecast, not that either would matter, but it should be a nice, clear night. As I mentioned to my niece, Rachel, in an earlier e-mail, I'm glad I had 1500 miles under my belt before I tackled today's climb. If this was day #1, like it is for the folks who do the official route from west to east, it would've darn near killed me!

Beautiful country up here in the southwestern mountains. Some of the peaks look like piles of stony rubble, with very little vegetation, but then there are hundreds of square miles of peaks and slopes that are solid green and lush. Here in Pine Valley, the flora lives up to its name, with huge old pines scattered everywhere and little creeks running through the stony, steep-sided valleys. The route up was on the old US-80, then joined I-8 for a few miles before breaking off onto Rt. 79 and back onto the old US-80 around the north side of Guatay Mountain (4885') through farm country that was reminiscent of (a dryer version of) New England, with grassy pastures backed by mountain vistas. Really pretty. Tomorrow, the route climbs to 4200', then drops to 3200', then climbs back up to 4100', then sawtooths its way up and down to 3300', then drops to 300', all within the next 50 miles! Not sure how early I'll be able to start, since the bike lane was wet in places on the way up and those spots will be iced in the early morning hours. Should be an interesting day. And now it's time to go fuel the furnace!
12/28 San Diego to Alpine (so far) About 50 miles into a planned 70 mile day.

Began this cool, clear day by heading from downtown San Diego (I spent the night by the airport instead of fighting 30 mph north winds to get out of town, especially after about 30 hours of no sleep) up to the beginning of the official Southern Tier route. It starts at Dog Beach, which is at the western end of a bike path that runs alongside the San Diego River, just south of Sea World. The Pacific was anything but this morning, huge breakers rolling in and crashing onto the breakwater at the river's mouth. Dozens of dogs running around on the beach, all getting along. Cool place. The ride east climbs very gently for the first 20 miles or so, through San Diego, Santee and Lakeside and then starts to climb seriously. The map has a very scary profile view that shows the route practically going up a wall, but it's a trick of scale. The vertical scale of the map rises about 1000' per inch, while the horizontal scale runs about 12 miles per inch. The route, which climbs from sea level to 4000' in the first 50 miles, therefor looks like about a 90% slope. There were a few steep pitches of 10% or more, but they were fairly short; a half mile each or less. Good thing, 'cause with no granny gear and 40 lbs of junk on board, those were slow, sweaty affairs accompanied by much undignified huffing and puffing. There was a very pretty diversion for a couple of miles through Mission Trails Regional Park, just west of Santee. Most of the rest of the climb so far (Alpine, where this library is, lies at 2000') has been on grades of 6 - 8%, quite doable in my present low gear as long as I pace myself. Still have a couple of thousand feet to go to get to my target for tonight, so I'd better get to it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

12/25 Monday VanHorn to Sierra Blanca 33.1 mi., 11.3 avg.

I had planned a lazy Christmas day going from Van Horn to Sierra Blanca, only 33 miles away. Well, it was uphill into the wind and ended up taking longer than I thought. I didn't start 'til after noon. Since I was in cell phone range, I spent a lot of the morning on the phone sharing Christmas with family. Sierra Blanca was closed down, except for the United Methodist Church, which was putting on a Christmas dinner for anyone on the road that day. I enjoyed a lovely visit with the folks there and a yummy turkey dinner. Their pastor, Linda, was the first person I'd met on this trip who'd heard of Friedreich's Ataxia. She has two parishioners suffering from it and we had a very nice talk. At this point, I need to clarify something, mostly for family members who may think this hypocritical. Although I am not a person of faith, I still deeply appreciate the positive thoughts and prayers of those who are. I got some feedback that my 'Angels are everywhere' comments were inappropriate, given my philosophy, and I just wanted to make it clear that I didn't mean angels in the religious sense. Hikers use the term 'Trail Angels' to describe anyone who helps others selflessly. It is a secular description, even though many of the folks it describes are people of faith. To me, they're just good, kind folks who enjoy helping others in need with no thought of what might be in it for them. And they are everywhere, including Sierra Blanca, TX. One of the folks there was a pilot who owns a restored Taylorcraft airplane so of course we had a nice chat, too. This headwind thing is really starting to bug me. Flip-flopping is starting to seem more and more attractive.

12/26 Tuesday Sierra Blanca to El Paso 89.7 mi., 14.2 avg, 30.8 max

Steep uphill for the first few miles out of Siera Blanca through rugged arid mountains, but then you crest the hill and a desert plateau stretches out before you with El Paso at the base of the mountains 80 miles away. It was cold but calm at 7:00 am and I was able to coast around 30 mph for several miles on I-10 down out of the mountains. What a nice change of pace! I made the 55 miles to Tornillo by 10:45, when I was flagged down by a very excited former coast-to-coast cyclist. We compared notes for a half hour and I decided to exit the interstate there for lunch. After lunch, the daily breeze had come up and the next 33 miles to El paso were a grind once again. When I was on the eastern edge of town, I called Greyhound just out of curiosity and found that there was a bus leaving for San Diego at 4:30, arriving at 10:30 Thursday morning. The thought of spending the next 1500 miles with the wind in my face influenced my decision and I beat feet to the bus station on the west side of downtown. Got there with just enough time to box up the bike and off we went. So now...

12/27 Wednesday

After 18 hours on the bus, I'm now at the San Diego Public Library with a reassembled bike ready to head north to Sea World Drive to start the trek back to El Paso, where I'll now finish my journey. There's a reason for the prevailing wisdom, why everyone rides this route from west to east. I didn't think it would make such a big difference, but life's for learning, right? I apologize to Mariela Chevez at Scripps Institute in case she was planning anything big for my arrival. She's been very helpful and it'll be a shame to miss meeting her to thank her in person, since she's on vacation this week. I just don't think I would've made it if I'd kept heading west, or at least not in the planned time frame.

Gotta go - time's up.

Monday, December 25, 2006

12/25 Van Horn, TX

Having a lazy day today; only doing 35 miles to Sierra Blanca. Using the time off this morning to get in touch with family. I'm new to this blogging thing and just learned this morning that I can read comments from folks who've read and responded. I didn't know that before, so I apologize to anyone who's comments have been ignored until now. I just finished going back through them and was delighted to find that so many folks are following along and enjoying the trip with me. To the gentleman who wanted to get a group together and join me for a while; I would've enjoyed that but I'm sorry I didn't go that far north. My route's been along the southern border of Texas and I'm a couple of days away from New Mexico and points west. Merry Christmas everyone; I'll be sure to check for comments from now on!
12/21 Ft. Clark Springs to Comstock, TX 66.5 mi @12.3 avg.
Passed through Del Rio today. Loughlin AFB is just east of town and I enjoyed watching the student pilots doing touch-and-goes in their single-engine trainers. They do 60-degree banked turns at 500' AGL, pulling 2 G's, just turning crosswind. You can see the differences between the rookies, who are either tentative or overshoot and correct, and the more experienced who roll in smoothly, nail the bank and then roll out smoothly. Cool to watch, but not cool to try at home. Low-altitude maneuvering flight causes more accidents than any other flight mode and GA pilots are taught never to exceed standard-rate turns (about 25 degrees of bank at approach speeds) that close to the ground. Anyway, Del Rio is a neat town. I stopped at the bike shop there to get my chain cleaned and the tech cleaned the whole bike for me. I also picked up another spare tube, since it was 450 miles to the next bike shop in El Paso with many thorns along the way. Just west of Del Rio is the Amistad National Recreation Area and a huge reservoir that extends into Mexico with loads of side canyons and boat launches. Very pretty and evidently a very popular vacation destination. Spent my first night camping out in Comstock in the side yard of a small convenience store. My sleeping bag was a bit too warm at first, but by 2:00 am it was perfect. Cools off dramatically under clear skies out here in the (semi)desert. Meant to watch for forecasted meteor showers but slept right through them.

12/22 Comstock to Sanderson 91.1 mi., 13.6 avg.
Rough breakdown lane all day, but helped by a light tailwind. 1500' of elevation gain, interspersed with many short, steep descents into canyons and dry washes with corresponding climbs back up the other sides. Really desolate countryside with no sign of human habitation for many miles. Could finally see mountains on the western horizon, but unsure which ones. There are a dozen different named ranges in this direction. The last twelve miles or so are spectatcular as the road descends into and then crosses Sanderson Canyon, which is several hundred feet deep, four or five miles across and about twenty miles long. The walls reveal the geology of the area, with the various sandstone and igneous strata, folded and tilted in interesting ways.

12/23 Sanderson to Alpine 84.6 mi., 14.0 avg
Cold leaving Sanderson this morning but a good tailwind for the first 55 miles to Marathon. Really spectacular country, harsh and arid but loaded with wildlife. 1000' elevation gain to Marathon, where I stopped for a great panini lunch at Caroline's restaurant. Last 30 miles to Alpine tougher. Another 500' of elevation gain and the tailwind turned into a crosswind. Low clouds were blowing in ahead of me across Cathedral Mountain and I climbed up into the icy fog. The last twenty miles to Alpine were spent in blowing mist, the temperature just above freezing. Cold but eerily beautiful as the view was limited to a few dozen yards and features gradually materialized and then disappeared. Good thing it didn't go below 34F, since I don't have a snow tire and one-wheel drive leaves a little to be desired in terms of traction.

12/24 Alpine to Van Horn 73.4 mi, 10.0 avg.
Toughest day yet. I discovered the one good thing about a rough road surface. Ice crystals form in the interstices of the stones, but the sharp points stick up far enough to allow traction. A smooth surface would've been impassable until mid-morning. Beautiful, spectacular scenery at first as I climbed out of Alpine into Paisano Pass. Mountains all around with shreds of that freezing mist clinging to their flanks and hiding some summits. After the pass, the country opens up and at Marfa, US 90 turns due north, right into the teeth of a 20 - 25 mph headwind. Got a ride for a few miles into Valentine from a kind local hunter who stopped to help while I was fixing a flat. I figured this wasn't really cheating since I was heading north, not west and I would've run out of daylight otherwise. Struggled to go 7 - 8 mph for the rest of the day, but had to get the last 40 miles to Van Horn to be back in cell phone range on Christmas day. Got there right at dusk. The frustrating part was knowing that for all that effort, I was heading due north to get to I-10 and not making any westward progress at all. Headwinds change the whole experience. With a tailwind, you can cruise along with medium effort, enjoying the scenery. Climbs are easier. With a headwind, you struggle at maximum effort in low gear all the time, even going downhill. Your focus closes in to the pavement ahead because you're down over the handlebars all the time trying to be aerodynamic. You can't sit up to relieve the saddle pressures without paying a huge price in loss of efficiency and momentum. Unfortunately, the Weather Channel doesn't always forecast local surface winds, so if I can't get to a computer, I don't know what I'm going to be facing on any given day. One recurring thought today was that, if I'm going to be fighting headwinds like this the rest of the trip, I may be smart to do what hikers call a flip-flop; hop a bus to San Diego and finish the trip in the opposite direction, biking back to where I left off. I've got 130 miles from here to El Paso to consider that. It would be anti-climactic and make for awkward scheduling by friends and helpers in Phoenix and LaJolla, but if I can only make 50 miles a day into the wind I wouldn't be able to finish in time. We'll see how the next few days go.

12/25 Van Horn. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

12/22/06 Sanderson, TX. Can't remember when I posted last, but I can't check my blog or post to it from this library, since blogs are blocked. I'm e-mailing this posting to son-in-law Andy, who'll post it for me. The last few days have gone like this:

12/19 Seguin, TX to Hondo, TX. 83.2 mi., 15.4 mph avg. Tailwinds today and nice smooth breakdown lanes. Passed through San Antonio today, left there in the rain. Passed Lackland AFB and had a Starlifter transport plane take off right over my head. I forget the C-number, but it's a four-jet transport one size down from a C-5A Galaxy. I heard the engines screaming at full take-off power as it approached and passed over me and as it disappeared into the low overcast the sound changed to this magnificent thundering rumble that shook the ground. Wicked awesome! You can see a whole lineup of Air Force history through the fence from the Loop 13 highway. SR-71 Blackbird, F-15 Eagle,
F-16 Falcon, A-10 Warthog, DC-4 medical transport, and several more models I couldn't identify, all on display. Very cool. Got back on US90 west of San Antonio. The terrain is gently rolling, except for a very steep climb for
1/2 mile out of Castroville.

12/20 Hondo to Ft. Clark Springs 84.1 mi., 12.1 mph avg. Tough day today.
Headwinds all day and a rough breakdown lane most of the way.60% chance of rain as I left Hondo. I rode under the leading edge of this black cloud layer that stretched from horizon to horizon. The temperature dropped about ten degrees and the headwind picked up, but it didn't rain and after another ten miles or so I was through the cloud band and into broken clouds for the rest of the day. That's one of the things I like most about Texas; the weather fronts are really spectacular. Long views in all directions out here. It's cotton and cattle country, but very dry. I wonder how many acres it takes to graze a cow out here because there's precious little grass to be seen among the scrub and cacti. Stopped for lunch in Uvalde, where I saw a sign that said "Texas Hill Country Trail". I thought, 'Oh-oh'. Sure enough the hills got more frequent, although not much higher or steeper. Crossed a bunch of 'rivers' that were just dry, sandy gulches. The Neuces River had a large pool beneath the highway bridge, but it disappeared into the sand both upstream and down. Riding through this country is like riding through a Louis L'Amour western. The names all sound and the scenery all looks familiar, if you've read his stuff. The country is so vast, one is reduced to relative insignificance.
All for now... library's closing.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I have some catching up to do. I'm in Halletsville, TX today, about halfway between Houston and San Antonio. As I mentioned yesterday, I opted for a flatter route instead of heading for the Texas hill country around Austin. The one thing Dave Tullier, bike mechanic extraordinaire, told me when he dropped me off was to stay away from the Beaumont-Houston area as it was very dangerous. But there was Rt. 12 heading to the southwestern corner of LA, with a wide, smooth breakdown lane, not much traffic and great Cajun food all over the place. The other option was to head 75 miles almost due north into hillier terrain on winding back roads with no breakdown lanes and lots of rural yards with unrestrained dogs. I stayed on Rt. 12 and ended up just east of Beaumont, TX with a bit of a dilemna. Rt. 12 ends in the town of Vidor, TX. (Fabulous fried oyster lunch with red beans and rice, fried okra, green beans, cole slaw and hush puppies for $5.95 there!) Beaumont is just a few miles away but the only road that goes to it is I-10, which doesn't allow bicycles. There are 20+ mile detours in either direction to avoid the interstate. I asked the restaurant owner if he thought I'd get busted if I tried cycling I-10; there are wide breakdown lanes, after all. He said the cops were very strict around there and I might end up with a hefty fine. I was riding down the frontage road towards the on-ramp to test the waters when I saw a young couple with an old pickup truck with a bike in the back buying gas. I approached the guy, explained my problem, and a few minutes later was lying in the back of his pickup with my bike whizzing over the I-10 bridge into Beaumont. Angels are everywhere! I found US 90 and headed west again, only to get stopped by my second flat tire. I had already installed my spare tube, so I had to patch this one. The problem was a small piece of tire wire that had poked straight through the tread. The patch held and I was able to make Liberty, TX right at dusk. It's about half way between Beaumont and Houston. US90 was a trip through there; the first 20 miles with no breakdown lane at all and the last 15 miles with a breakdown so rough it like to jarred my fillin's loose, as they say down here. Daquincy, LA to Liberty, TX was an 85.6 mile day at an average speed of 14.7 mph. Western LA was mostly rice, sugar cane and cotton with lots of woods and logging. Lots of trucks use US90!

Friday, I left Liberty and headed for Houston. I had bought a TX highway map that had blowups of the big cities, so I had what I thought was a good route planned to get around the city without hitting the main roads though its center. The fun started when I left US90 to go on Bus90 towards the north side of Houston. Bus90 runs through semi-deserted bayou country for about ten miles before getting to the outskirts of town. So I was cruising through the bayou, swamp on either side with very little traffic feeling quite smug about my good planning when my front tire went flat. Again. Another piece of tire wire. That stuff is all over the place! No sweat; I was getting pretty good at changing it now. I got the tube out and started to inflate it so I could find the leak and the valve stem broke off inside the pump. This was an unforseen eventuality and I was worried for a minute until I realized that I could disassemble the business end of the pump and remove the broken piece. So that tube was shot, anyway. My other tube was the unrepaired spare. I inflated that one very carefully and took it down the bank to the swamp to find the tell-tale bubbles that would locate the leak. Handy to have swamp water all over the place when you need it! Ten minutes later I was on my way. As bus90 got close to town, it crossed a bunch of railroad tracks and ended up going through the Houston freight yards, most definitely on the 'wrong side of the tracks'. Several miles of very poor black neighborhoods gave way to the largely Hispanic north side where I came upon a Taqueria right at noon. The windows and doors had bars, but it was bright and clean inside. The menu was en Espanol and the enchiladas muy delicioso! Took me another 3 hours to wind my way around the northwest corner of Houston. The names of most of the streets I was using weren't on my map, but I kept the skyscrapers at my nine-o-clock and found US90 again (actually Alt90) on the southwest side. Headed southwest with the beginning of rush hour traffic to Richmond, about 20 miles out of the city. By the time I got there, the setting sun was blinding the drivers coming up behind me, so I decided to call it a day at 77.3 miles, avg. 13.0 mph.

Today (Saturday, 12/17) I was headed for Gonzalez, about 110 miles from Richmond. The terrain for the first 50 mile west of Houston was tabletop flat, with cotton fields and cattle ranches as far as I could see on both sides of Alt90. Small towns are dotted along, about 15 miles apart on average, about a day's horseback ride. At first, Alt90 was smooth asphalt with a wide breakdown lane; really nice riding with very light Saturday morning traffic. The morning fogs are quite heavy down here this time of year. It's been this way since Baton Rouge. If you were driving, you'd have the wipers on intermittent. I have no wipers on my glasses, so they just bead up with moisture. Wiping them just makes a distorting smear, so I end up just looking over the tops. The fog starts to lift between 9 and 10 and I usually start seeing shadows by about 10, as I did today. About twenty miles west of Richmond, I passed under a spur of I-10 which wasn't shown on the map and right there the pavement changed for the worse. I'd really like to meet the SOB who decided that a good way to build pavement was to lay down some tar and then spread small, sharp stones all over it and roll them in partially. Where the truck wheels roll, the surface gets smooth as glass as the stones get mashed into the substrate and rolled flat side up or get their sharp points worn down. Neither of these things happen in the breakdown lane. It doesn't even get rolled as smoothly to start with, so it's like riding on courduroy; very rough, very noisy and very slow. As I got farther west, the terrain started to change from flat to rolling hills. The hills, combined with the rough riding surface, conspired to tire me out 30 miles short of my goal so tonight finds me in Halletsville after a 77 mile day. I don't have the computer with me so I'm not sure of the average. I was cruising between 15 and 20 on the smooth stuff, but the rough road, hills and a persistent breeze slowed me to the 10 to 12 range for much of the day. Doesn't matter: I'm closer to California than I was this morning! Now time to find some chow. I should be in San Antonio on Monday.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

I've realized that I don't have the gears for the steep hills on the originally planned route, so I've deviated to the south a bit. I came down through Beaumont and Houston and am now in Richmond, southwest of Houston, on my way to circumnavigate San Antonioto Del Rio, which is on the original route again. A few adventures, a few flat tires, but the library's closing so I'll have to write about them another time.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Well, a couple of interesting days. Fairly easy day Monday from Wiggins to Franklinton, LA. Found a library there, then a motel, then an all-you-can-eat buffet that had jumbo shrimp and crablegs along with all the standard Chinese offerings. I did some serious damage! Found out after I was registered that two people had been shot and killed at the same motel the previous week, so I decided it would be prudent not to make any spouses (shouldn't the plural be 'spice'?) jealous while in this area and behaved accordingly. My rear wheel with one broken spoke was rubbing against the brake pad annoyingly with every revolution. The next bike shop on the route was in Austin, TX, over 300 miles away, so I decided to detour 60 miles south to Baton Rouge to get it fixed. At 30 miles, I took refuge under a gas station roof to wait for a storm to pass. Ended up reading a book for 1-1/2 hrs while it poured buckets. Then suddenly it was over, the clouds broke up and I moved on under a steamy afternoon sun. Ten miles further, there was a loud pop and my back wheel started rubbing hard against the frame. The two spokes on either side of the broken one had failed under the extra load and now the bike was unrideable, 20 miles short of Baton rouge. Luckily, a passing minister named Danny stopped in his pick-up truck, loaded my bike in the back and took me right to the door of Dave Toullier's bike shop in Baton Rouge. He would accept nothing but my thanks for his trouble. Angels are everywhere!

Dave Toullier is another. He's a short, stocky, former Marine, a Viet Nam vet, a long-distance bike tourer himself with thousands of miles under his belt and a meticulous and very knowledgeable bike mechanic. He showed me his touring wheels, which are set up with Phil Wood hubs, 700 mm rims with 40 spokes and Marathon tires. Turns out all I would've had to do to change my bike over to 700's was lower my brake pads about 3/16". Wish I'd known that before I invested in all-new 27" wheels, since 27's are not available with 40 spokes. It's the high spoke count, along with meticulous tensioning, that are the secrets in preventing spoke breakage under touring loads. All my spokes had to be replaced, since even the unbroken ones had been over-stressed. My chain was also stretched beyond tolerance limits. Come to find out, chains only last 1000 - 1500 miles under touring loads. Mine had over 1500 on it. Luckily, the front and rear sprockets had not yet been damaged by the worn-out chain, as is often the case. Since the repair wasn't finished 'til after dark, Dave gave me a ride to a nearby motel. He and his wife, Cindy, then returned an hour later and took me to dinner! As if that fabulous service wasn't enough, Dave also picked me up this morning and gave me a ride over the Mississippee River bridge, a scary span having no breakdown lane. He dropped me off about ten miles west of town where the breakdown lane got nice and wide and sent me on my way on a vbike that rode as quietly and smoothly as if it was brand new!

That lasted about 20 miles. As I came down off the Achafalaya River bridge in thick fog, the breakdown lane suddenly got very gnarly, with several large potholes and broken pavement that I couldn't avoid. The new back wheel took the bumps OK, but my front tire was flattened. There was a service center right off the bridge, so I got to practice my tire-changing skills by installing my new spare inner tube. Fortuitously, I also discovered a new delicacy called a boudin (pronounce boo-dan'). It's shredded pork, rice, scallions and spices with just enough hot sauce to make it interesting, all wrapped in a paper-thin dough and deep fried. Half-way between a golf ball and a baseball in size and I'll bet you can't eat just one. Delicious!

An aside: A beer delivery guy was astounded that I was traveling cross-country without a 'piece'. This was not the first person I'd spoken to in Louisiana who expressed surprise that I was unarmed. I saw four kids in their twenties at a McDonald's up in the little town of Amite where I waited out the rainstorm, all dressed in jeans and T-shirts, no two the same, three of whom had the word 'Sheriff' on the back and all packing semi-automatic pistols. Except for the weapons, they certainly didn't look or act very professional. Even a couple I befriended at a restaurant, who are certainly peaceable folks, have carry permits. All of this makes me wonder about the culture down in this neck of the woods.

The fog started to clear as I finished my repair and snack and I moved on to Opelousas, which is where I am now. Just finished lunch, which was a bowl of delicious gumbo at Mama's Fried Chicken. Gotta get going now and get some miles behind me today.

No offense to Herb at Revolution Cyclery, who helped me out a lot in preparing for this trip, but anyone reading this who wants a bullet-proof touring bike built, it's worth the extra freight to have it done by someone with specialized touring expertise. Call Dave Tullier at 225-924-4337. Trust me on this!

Monday, December 11, 2006

If it's Monday, this must be Louisiana. I'm in Franklinton, LA, my fourth state! Lucky I got to do the skinny parts of AL and MS. I found a broken spoke on my back wheel in Mobile, AL, but it was on Saturday night and there were no bike shops open 'til Monday, so I pushed on. So far, the wheel is holding together. I've got to try and true it up tonight to stop the occasional rubbing. So much for bullet-proof wheels! Today was the first day that I could wear shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, with temps into the seventies. Showers were forecast, but the overcast broke up early in the day and the afternoon has been sunny and breezy. A nice change after having to bundle up in winter gear all across FL, AL and MS. I've been watching the weather channel and have seen the nasty weather you guys up in the northeast are getting. I'm looking forward to doing some cross-country skiing when I get back there, as soon as my knees recover! Came from Wiggins, AL this morning and passed through Bogalusa, LA at around midday. Stopped at the post office there for my first mail drop. Had to wait in line 1/2 hr. to get it, and then another 1/2 hr. to mail a box of unneeded stuff home. Bogalusa has one of the biggest paper mills I've ever seen and there are thousands of acres of clearcuts along the roads I traveled. Also, dozens of logging trucks coming from every direction; coming in full and going out empty. Fun when there are no breakdown lanes! They were all pretty nice, though, either swinging wide or hanging back waiting 'til they could. The most dangerous thing I've encountered so far has been the domestic canine. Got chased by five dogs coming out of a yard on my left just west of Bogalusa. They were all small-to medium mutts, but making very unfriendly noises and expressions. Just as I cleared them, I glimpsed movement to my right rear and here came a 70-lb Rottweiler from a yard on the opposite side of the street, not making a sound but very intently focused. Thank heavens I wasn't going uphill and was able to speed up before he got to me. I keep thinking I should get some pepper spray, but in this case acceleration was my best defense. I'd have had to slow down to deploy a spray and that may have been worse. The problem is worst on the rural roads that Adventure Cycling likes to use. The roads are scenic and less traveled, but some of the country folks down here don't like to fence their yards or tie their dogs. Not much else for excitement today. Gotta go find some good home-cookin' and a place to crash.

Frank

Saturday, December 09, 2006

12/9/06 11:53 am Posting from Daphne, AL, en route to Mobile.

Nice ride yesterday, 84 miles at 13.8 mph avg. from Destin, FL ti Gulf Shores, AL. I'm through my first state! The route direction has been tending around from WNW to WSW and the wind, which has been from the north, has been trending to NE. This means that over the last couple of days, it's gone from a stiff headwind to a crosswind to a quartering tailwind yesterday, a refreshing change! The planned route today was out to Ft. Morgan and then a ferry ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay, but the ferry's down for maintenance so I had to take the 18 mile longer route up the eastern side of the bay and across the top to Mobile. That's about an hour from here, so it's looking like a good lunch stop. It's a relief to get away from the high-rise haven that the coast is becoming. I couldn't believe the number of ten+ story condos I saw, with as many more being built. The whole gulf coast has gotta be sinking under the weight of the concrete around its rim. Maybe in a hundred years or so, if the ice caps and glaciers keep melting, they'll all make nice artificial reefs! Pretty ride up the eastern bay shore, lined with small towns and single-family homes, each with it's own boat dock, of course. Nice views across Mobile Bay on a sunny day with light winds. Now that I'm getting away from the coast, the hills are back. From here through Mississippi is supposed to be 'very hilly' according to the map's route description. Towns are also smaller and more widely spaced, so the camping gear might finally get a workout. I've been spoiled so far, with restaurants and motels at every turn. Good thing, too, 'cause I've been tired and it's been pretty chilly. Pensacola tied their record low temperature yesterday, which was when I passed through. The bridges across the bays and inlets have been a trip. Some have nice breakdown lanes, but a few have been downright scary, with open concrete railings lower than my bike seat. One more set of bridges to cross to get into Mobile and then its out into the boonies. Don't know where the next library will be, so don't be alarmed if there are gaps in communications.

I've talked to a lot of folks about Friedreich's Ataxia. Not a single person I've spoken to about it has ever even heard of it. Maybe some awareness is being raised, anyway. Gotta go for now. Getting hungry and lunch is still an hour away!

Friday, December 08, 2006

(Thursday's blurb, posted Friday)

Panama City to Destin, FL today: 56.6 mi., 12.4 mph average in 4-1/2 hrs. saddle time. First morning in new time zone and motel restaurant, the only one around, didn't open 'til 7. After breakfast, I backtracked to the city library to do yesterday's posting, then chatted with the librarian, who's also a cyclist and now a somewhat jealous one. I'd figured on an easy 63 miles today to Ft. Walton Beach, but there was a stiff headwind until early afternoon and I had to work hard to stay above 10 mph. I still had 26 miles to go when I stopped for a late lunch at 1:45 pm. Fried chicken, turnip greens lacd with bits of onion, green beans and salt pork, black-eyed peas, cornbread and a large sweet iced tea gave my attitude and energy a major boost. (Not quite as good as the fried cornbread at the Yellow Pine Restaurant in Madison on Tuesday, but darned close!)

The poetic version of Thursday's ride wold go something like...
'Flags whipped straight out from their straining halyards under a leaden gray sky as the lone cyclist, crouched low over his aerobars, cruised steadily westward, the miles melting away beneath his wheels.'

The more realistic version: Pumping hard to cruise at 10 mph, the odometer crawls through the tenths, taking forever to increment each mile. Blowing sand and dust sting my eyes. Staying low over the bars helps cut the wind resistance and aids pedaling efficiency, but it also puts more weight onto those little bony protrusions below my pelvis, already bruised from four days of pounding by a not-yet-broken-in saddle. Sitting up frequently is the only way to relieve the pain, but when I do the wind catches me full in the chest, forcing me to drop a gear to ease the pedaling strain on my sore knees and quads. I spend most of the time telling myself that other people have done things far more difficult than this, that persistence will win out, that I must "...fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run...", etc., etc. Found myself singing "They call the wind Mariah" but could only remember the first verse over and over. That eventually reminded me of "Old Man River" and Summertime". Passing motorists must've thought it strange to see this demented soul straining along, belting out old showtunes, but, hey, it helped pass the time and take my mind off my tender tush!

About half of Thursday's ride was on divided four-lane highway with pines on either side and 5 - 10 mile stretches between turn-offs. Rather monotonous. I actually got so I welcomed the big trucks whizzing by a couple of feet from my left shoulder, 'cause each one brought with it a few seconds of tailwind and a brief respite from the headwind I was fighting.

Destin, where I stayed last night, was only about 6 miles short of Ft. Walton, my original destination, which is where I'm writing this from. I stopped early because after the clouds broke up and the late afternoon sun was in my eyes, I didn't want to bet my life that drivers coming up behind me could still see the flashing red light on my backpack. Just before a high bridge over the Intracoastal waterway, there was a Days Inn right behind a Pizza Hut. Looked like a pretty good combination to me! California was sixty miles closer.

Frost this morning and one ice patch at the motel exit where the sprinkler had run and frozen. Twenty mph wind and chilly, but sunny. More later; running out of computer time.

Frank

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Well, I'm in Panama City, FL on day #4 of my trip. Made Gainesville the first day from St. Augustine, about 80 miles through flat farmland. Huge fields of cabbages everywhere and a few cattle farms. Stopped for second breakfast at a Hardee's in East Palatka and while perusing the Sunday paper, found my horoscope that said, "...The level of difficulty is going up for a while. Don't lose patience... You can do this." Gotta love it! Second day took me north from Gainesville undera heavy overcast and into a stiff northerly wind. Tough day, punctuated by two run-ins with pit bulls on an otherwise empty country road. Outran the first one, but the second time, there were two of them and I had to dismount and walk the bike past them, sidestepping most of the way to keep them faced down. Pepper spray would be a nice addition to my gear! Tough day. Pretty country,though. Lots of farms and yellow pine plantations. Ended up at a motel just north of Wellborn, about another 80 miles. My trip computer got its scale factor messed up in shipment, so it was only recording less than a tenth of actual speed and miles. Took me a couple of days to get through to Goodale's bike shop, where Brian (yeah, Brian!) walked me through the reprogramming to get it working again. Frost on the grass when I started out Tuesday. Gently rolling hills for the first 50 miles which got progressiveley steeper as I approached Tallahassee. Arrived there after 95 tough miles, averaged 13.5 mph over 7 hrs of saddle time. Speaking of saddles, mine is still not broken in. We're talking major bruises in places where you don't want to be bruised! Also, don't let anyone tell you that FL is flat! The north central region is as hilly as southern NH. The official bike route headed northwest from Tallahassee, up into higher country. I bought a FL state map and headed southwest on US20 to Panama City. Much flatter! Wednesday took me to Panama City and the Bayside Days Inn right on the Gulf of Mexico. At 98.3 miles, my longest one-day ride ever. Averaged 14.3 mph over almost 7 hrs. of saddle time, but paid the price in terms of a rather sore left knee and of course, the tender tush. Showers forecast today, so I'm planning a short 60 mile stretch over to Fort Walton Beach. Should be a nice ride along the gulf coast. That puts me through Pensacola Friday afternoon. About 80% of the roads so far have had decent breakdown or bike lanes; a few hairy stretches with neither. Some of the bridge crossings are a bit scary; there's a bridge over the Apalachicola River that's over a half mile long that's just two lanes between concrete walls, with log trucks zooming by at 50-60 mph. Gotts have a lot of faith in that flashing red light I wear on the back of my hydration pack. The vast majority of the drivers have been courteous and given me as wide a berth as possible. Hope that keeps up!

Gotta go: 5 minute warning on the library's computer.

Later, Frank