Category Archives: Daily report

Long-form end-of-ride entries

Day 35: Palatka to St. Augustine

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 26, 2010 7:30:26
Ride Time: 3:09:35
Stopped Time: 36:48
Distance: 46.52 miles
Average: 14.72 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 42.08 miles/h
Climb: 868 feet
Calories: 1803

I made it.

Once I reached Austin, there wasn’t much doubt in my mind that I could make it—the hard parts were all behind me. Still, there’s a difference between being sure that you can do a thing and actually doing it.

Today’s riding was short and uneventful, mostly on a country road that hugged the St. John River. Jenny Nazak had agreed to meet me in St. Augustine, and in fact she parked on one of the country roads I came in on, so we actually met about 5 miles before I reached the city. We then made our way down to the beach via our separate conveyances for the ocean-dip ritual, and then had some lunch. It was really good to have an old friend on hand for that moment.

The fact that I’m done hasn’t fully sunk in yet. What it all means isn’t entirely clear to me yet. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject soon.

One thing I do know that I want to say now is this: as much as an endeavor like this seems to be in individual effort, I received a lot of help and support in it, for which I am very grateful. My Warm Showers hosts, and the people I met on the road who spontaneously offered me a place to stay. Manako at my starting point. Carlos in Phoenix. Jenny here at my end point. And most of all Gwen, who supported me materially and emotionally the whole way, when my absence made her own life that much more difficult.

I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad I’m done with it.

Day 34: Gainesville to Palatka

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 25, 2010 7:54:46
Ride Time: 4:53:49
Stopped Time: 58:32
Distance: 69.09 miles
Average: 14.11 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 89.46 miles/h
Climb: 1505 feet
Calories: 2879

The distance above is understated by 2 or so miles because I paused tracking and forgot to turn it back on for no good reason.

Today was an easy day, and a day for reflection. I managed to sleep later than usual this morning, which is good—many mornings, I’ve found myself awake at a ridiculously early hour and unable to get back to sleep. Today I didn’t wake until after 7:00. Had breakfast with my Warm Showers host Ann and got going. The riding through the city of Gainesville wasn’t bad, and at the edge of town, the route put me on a bike path that runs with minimal interruptions for 16 miles to the neighboring town of Hawthorne. Very pretty riding with lots of tree cover. I saw very few other cyclists on the path, and none at all after mile 10 or so.

As I’ve mentioned before, my route is broken into detailed maps that each cover 30-40 miles. My map holder can show three of these maps at once. So every 80 miles or so, I refold them to show what’s coming next. Today on that bike path, I refolded my maps for the last time. I had to let that sink in for a minute when I thought about it.

The rest of the riding was unexciting. I wound up missing a turn, which added 3-4 miles to my distance today. Made it into the town of Palatka on the early side, so after I got cleaned up, I went wandering around. The entire downtown is shut on Mondays though, so not much to see.

I’m not done yet, but tomorrow already feels sort of like a victory lap. Victory over what, I can’t say. In fact, the experience and the near-completion of it bring up feelings that I can’t quite get a handle on myself, much less describe. It’s good to have done it, and it will be good to be done with it and get back to my everyday life.

Day 33: Madison to Gainesville

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 24, 2010 7:50:03
Ride Time: 6:39:42
Stopped Time: 2:00:46
Distance: 92.28 miles
Average: 13.85 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 140.53 miles/h
Climb: 14192 feet
Calories: 4112

I started my ride today a few miles off the ACA route, and when I looked at a map of the area realized that i could easily take a completely different route and get where I was going a little more directly. My original goal for today had been the town of High Springs, but by taking some of the bends out of the roads, I could easily make it to Gainesville, where I’d be able to find a Warm Showers host. So that’s what I did.

I started off at first light, and the morning was extremely foggy—visibility of maybe a quarter mile. I turned on my taillight. Not ideal riding conditions, but it was beautiful with the sun coming through the trees, filtered through the mist, and the temperature was just cool enough to justify my long-sleeved jersey without being cold enough to make me uncomfortable.

I rode through a lot of farm country before getting to High Springs, a cute touristy town, where I had lunch. At this point I was only about 20 miles from my host’s place, and would probably beat her home if I kept up the pace I had been going, so for the rest of the way I took it easy. I hadn’t been riding particularly hard up to that point—it’s more like the riding had mostly been very easy, so I could click off miles quickly.

I have to give Florida credit: the state may have ruined the 2000 presidential election, but almost every mile of road I have ridden so far here has been excellent. They generally have shoulders of adequate width, with smooth, clean pavement. I doubt Florida drivers are that much more fastidious than other drivers (and the amount of litter I see in the grass would corroborate this), so I must assume there are cleanup crews out there constantly. Road kill is also conspicuous by its relative absence, which is a welcome change from East Texas, where the frequency, variety, and pungency of dead animals made that smell a constant companion. This is one of the negative aspects of riding such a low-slung trike. I’m right there at eye and nose level.

Two days until I reach the Atlantic. Three days until I’m home. I am ready.

Day 32: Tallahassee to Madison

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 23, 2010 10:43:02
Ride Time: 4:52:34
Stopped Time: 1:41:37
Distance: 69.43 miles
Average: 14.24 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 64.10 miles/h
Climb: 20438 feet
Calories: 2910

An easy and really pleasant day of riding today. My Warm Showers host Kevin had promised me one of my best days of riding, and he was good for his word.

He and his wife Susan are long-time cyclotourists and know the local roads of course. So they recommended a route that would take me to the nearby town of Monticello, where I could reconnect with the official ACA route. This would take me down canopy roads, heavily shaded by trees.

I didn’t set out until fairly late in the morning, after Susan had fed me an almost comically large bowl of oatmeal—on par with the bowl of pasta she fed me last night. Both of which I consumed gratefully, eagerly, and completely. I also got Susan, Kevin, and their son to take a spin on my trike. Kevin was a little reluctant, and wasn’t entirely sold on the experience. I really enjoyed staying with them and hearing about their own cycling experiences, and about Susan’s work on particle physics.

Once I finally did get rolling, I took it easy. I didn’t have a lot of miles to cover (by my standards) and was pretty sure my destination town of Madison was nothing I was in a hurry to arrive at (I was right). Despite that, I made good time. Arrived at the town of Monticello, which seems like a really nice place. It has something resembling the courthouse squares we have in Texas and seems pretty lively. I stopped in a bakery that apparently was the starting point for a local farms tour that was going on, so it was extremely busy. Had a sandwich and a sticky bun.

Got going on US90—that road again—toward my destination of Madison. A few miles along I came across four westbound Southern Tier riders, all college guys who have taken the semester off. They actually began their ride in Virginia, rode down to Florida, and just got on the Southern Tier route a few days ago. They were all riding pretty nice racing bikes that have been kind of jury-rigged to carry racks and panniers. I admit I was looking at their rigs with a bit of concern: those skinny tires don’t provide much shock absorption, and those low spoke-count wheels seem to be asking for trouble. And I didn’t even get a good look at their gearing, but I have to wonder how they’ll manage the five miles of 7% grade they’ll encounter out of Three Way AZ. Then again, they’ve made it this far already and they’re full of youthful vigor. I did not voice my concerns. We had a good chat and I told them a little about what they had ahead. They congratulated me on almost finishing, which in hindsight gives me kind of a funny feeling.

While we were chatting, another guy rode up on a hybrid bike. He said he’s planning on doing the Southern Tier next year and is getting in shape for it. I also think I overheard him saying he’s been riding 100 miles at a stretch and averaging 18 mph. I wanted to tell him to get a better bike, but I held my tongue.

The rest of my ride in to Madison was uneventful, as is Madison itself. Tomorrow will be a ~90 miler to High Springs.

Day 31: Bonifay to Tallahassee

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 22, 2010 7:00:05
Ride Time: 7:15:19
Stopped Time: 2:07:49
Distance: 101.14 miles
Average: 13.94 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 35.09 miles/h
Climb: 2371 feet
Calories: 4339

Today was much like yesterday in terms of riding. Some time on US90, some on back roads to relieve the monotony. Riding conditions were very similar, though today felt a bit hillier—certainly hillier than I was expecting. I felt better on my ride today than I did yesterday, so that’s good. I have to admit that at this point, I’m mostly riding to get to the end, not to be in the moment.

Ending the day in Tallahassee has a couple of good points: one is that I found a bike shop where I could replace the rear-view mirror that mysteriously fell off my trike while I was riding yesterday. Recumbents really need them in a way that conventional bikes don’t because it’s almost impossible to do a head-check on a recumbent. The other is that I wound up with another set of Warm Showers hosts, Kevin and Susan, who are enthusiastic bike tourists, and have the first triple I’ve ever seen in person.

Tomorrow will be a short day, so I may bum around Tallahassee for a while before I get rolling. After that, two full-length days, and then a short ride to bring me in to St Augustine.

Day 30: Pensacola to Bonifay

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 21, 2010 7:23:15
Ride Time: 8:00:49
Stopped Time: 1:51:32
Distance: 115.22 miles
Average: 14.38 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 32.45 miles/h
Climb: 2811 feet
Calories: 5496

Hello, my name is Adam, and I think I may be turning into a distance addict.

My plan when I started today was to finish in DeFuniak Springs, which would have been an 85-mile ride. A perfectly respectable distance. When I arrived, it wasn’t even 3:00 PM yet, and I felt like that was just too damned early to quit for the day. Plus the fact that for the first 70 or so miles of my ride, I just couldn’t get into a good groove. My legs felt heavy. This might be exhaustion, it might be that rotten fried-oyster po’boy from yesterday having an effect, I don’t know. Anyhow, when I got to DeFuniak, I took a break, changed maps (because it is the transition between Sections 6 and 7), and considered my options. The small,evocatively named town of Ponce De Leon was only 11 miles away—less than an hour—and Bonifay only about two hours. So I pressed on.

In fairness, DeFuniak looks like it might have been worth stopping at. The town is built around a small lake, with a ring road circumscribing it and some park land, ringed in turn by residences and some city buildings. Idyllic.

The day’s riding to that point wasn’t much to remark on. I could have stayed on US90 all the way from Pensacola; the ACA maps zigzag around on a bike trail and some country roads for a while, mostly to break the monotony, I suppose. US90 is actually quite good for riding, with a reasonably wide, smooth, and clean shoulder. But it’s a long straight line of nothing much. It also runs parallel to I-10 (my guess is that I-10 along here was laid along US90 intentionally), so the string of towns along the route still have interstate-exit traffic. I could often just see I-10 traffic through a row of pines.

At this point I have just under 400 miles to go. If everything goes according to plan (knock wood), I’ll be dipping my wheel in the Atlantic on Tuesday morning and be home the next day. I’ve been working out some of the tour-end logistics, and my old friend from high school, Forrest, will be coming up from his home in Miami to meet me at the end. Looking forward to it.

Only chased by one dog so far in Florida—in that respect it’s not so deep-south. But in another, it is: I’ve seen three instances of the stars and bars here so far, which is two more than I saw in either Alabama or Mississippi, and as many as I saw in Louisiana during the four-odd days I spent there.

Day 29: Bayou La Batre AL to Pensacola FL

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 20, 2010 7:18:53
Ride Time: 5:12:50
Stopped Time: 2:55:29
Distance: 82.53 miles
Average: 15.83 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 75.99 miles/h
Climb: 3969 feet
Calories: 3973

A fast day. The mileage above is a little low because I paused recording for a couple miles before remembering to turn it back on.

I got rolling a few minutes later than intended, but I wasn’t worried about racing the sunset today, and the fact that the day was a little warmer when I got going didn’t hurt.

Made very quick progress as far as the Dauphin Island ferry, and then had a pretty long wait (Dauphin Island is “the birdiest small town in America”). The only vehicle ahead of me was a duallie covered in an Air Force graphics wrap. The two young airmen driving it were the support team for a memorial march by a few other airmen from Texas to Florida in memory of fallen comrades.

The ferry ride across Mobile Bay was about 30 minutes, and went past numerous oil rigs.

Once across, Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores were pretty much as I remembered. A lot of vacation homes up on stilts, painted in pastel colors, and a lot of condo towers, all lining the beach. More than a decade ago, I spent a couple of long weekends in one of those condos, owned by the parents of a friend. I’d had a tailwind as far as the ferry; now I was bucking a bit of a headwind but still making good time. But I was also feeling really hungry. I passed by a few fast-food chains that I wasn’t interested in, and came upon a clearly local seafood place.

Back in college, I took a trip to New Orleans and had a fried-oyster po’boy. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. This place had fried-oyster po’boys on the menu, and against my better judgment (deep-fried food just doesn’t make good fuel when I’m riding), I ordered it. It was awful. Complete waste. And now I’ve used up my cadmium and mercury allotment for the next decade. But getting some food in me—even bad food—re-energized me. I pushed on and made the Florida border, and then the edge of Pensacola in very good time. At one point I noticed that the ACA map seemed to be taking an unnecessary detour; i decided to try the obvious direct route. I quickly found out the reason for the detour: the direct route was a busy two-lane road with no shoulder. I turned around and got on the route like a good boy, chastened.

I had booked a hotel room for tonight through Priceline; unfortunately I didn’t research the location, and I’m in an anonymous interchange-land filled with chain businesses. Could be anywhere. The best I can say is that I’m well-positioned to continue with the route tomorrow, which will take me to DeFuniak Springs and the beginning of Section 7. Home stretch.

Day 28: Poplarville MS to Bayou La Batre AL

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 19, 2010 7:14:43
Ride Time: 8:02:46
Stopped Time: 2:04:11
Distance: 118.79 miles
Average: 14.76 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 97.53 miles/h
Climb: 12669 feet
Calories: 5850

The distance above is overstated by 2-3 miles because of a brief GPS freakout around mile 63.

Regardless, today was my second-longest day, right on the heels of my longest day. I’m feeling surprisingly good. My idea of what constitutes a long ride has completely changed. Before this tour, I thought of 50 miles as kind of long. Lately, I’ve barely gotten warmed up by mile 50 on some days, and my average speed will be faster past mile 80 than before. I’m hardly riding at a racing pace at any point, of course, and part of the reason for the speed increase is just good pacing, but it’s still interesting. It’s interesting for me to find myself having ridden 80 or 90 miles already in a day, stopping to check my bearings, seeing that the next town is 30 miles away with two or so hours of daylight remaining, and thinking “I can make that.” Admittedly, I could overdraw on that fund of confidence—a flat that late in the day could leave me riding in the dark, which I’ve tried very hard to avoid. But I do have a new level of confidence in what I can do with my body.

Anyhow. I made an early start from the home of my Warm Showers hosts, Steve and Tanya. Steve had left for work before I was even up, and Tanya was sleeping in a little after a long day, so I almost missed saying goodbye to either of them—Tanya caught me as I was headed for the gate.

Around 13 miles in, I missed a turn and wound up off-route and a little lost. Fortunately I was right at one of the “one-stop” stores that dot the rural south, so I stopped in there. Despite the early hour, it was like a social club in there, with a few folks installed on chairs and hanging out. Before I said one word, one of these characters said “Let me guess, you’re lost.” They showed me where I was on my map—I hadn’t really lost any distance, and could get back on route easily while avoiding some hills. They also showed me a couple of alternate routes I could take, and in fact I did take one that cut off a few miles but also cut off the last opportunity I’d have to grab a bite for about 45 more miles. Since I hadn’t eaten anything yet today, and only had five fig newtons as ready snack food, that might not have been the smartest idea, but I managed fine.

Pushed on through the De Soto National Forest. More tall pines. Compared to most of the country I’ve been riding through lately, this part of the ride seemed very remote. A little farther along and I was in what seemed like prosperous farm country, with a fairly high density of new, square, brick houses, with steeply pitched roofs designed to shed snow that will never fall on them.

Then it was across the Escatawpa River and into Alabama, which greeted me with the shittiest road it could muster. It was like riding a paint shaker that someone was occasionally hitting with a sledgehammer. Fortunately I turned off that soon enough and found myself on a very nice road that was a weird mix of suburban and rural. I’m guessing the area is being transformed into a bedroom community for Mobile or something.

After that, it was a short, easy ride to Bayou La Batre, where I am now. Somehow I imagined this town would be more of a tourist destination, but apparently not.

Only chased by one dog today. Either Mississippi dogs are very well-trained, or there is a very successful invisible-fence dealer around here. Many times over the past couple days, I’ve seen a dog jump up and run a few paces toward me, only to stop or turn around and run the other way. I vividly recall a Great Dane and his Yorkie sidekick doing exactly that. When I saw the big dog take an interest in me, I thought it was all over: even though I’ve been successfully out-sprinting dogs, there’s no way I would have won a race against him. So it was lucky for me he backed off.

Day 27: near Jackson LA to Poplarville MS

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 18, 2010 7:46:04
Ride Time: 9:01:58
Stopped Time: 1:37:51
Distance: 141.69 miles
Average: 15.69 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 203.09 miles/h
Climb: 4256 feet
Calories: 6908

The above mileage is overstated because my GPS track got hinky over the last 15 or so miles of my ride. Still, I estimate that I rode about 135 miles today—my longest day on the tour so far, and I hope my longest day of those yet to come. Despite the distance, I’m feeling surprisingly good, apart from being very tired—a bit spacey even—and some residual hotfoot on the ball of my left foot.

I got rolling about 30 minutes later than I intended this morning. But Perry and Lep had made me a nice breakfast, and I was enjoying visiting with them. I was a little reluctant to get going, even though I knew I’d be racing the sunset from the word go.

They had told me I had a nice day of cycling ahead of me, and indeed, the first 70 miles really were nice, with mild hills, good pavement, and a lot of tree-shaded roads. The sky was very cloudy, and while it wasn’t very cold, it took a long time to really warm up. At one point I made a wrong turn, which chewed up about four miles. I cursed myself as soon as I realized my mistake.

After that 70-mile point, the road got a bit rougher and I found myself in a more remote area, with much less population. At one point, I turned onto a road and it instantly felt like a different place. Partly because the sun had burned through the clouds, but also because the vegetation along the road had changed. What had previously been a solid carpet of grasses was now scrubby plants with dirt showing in places. The tall skinny pines were replaced with lower, broader ones. The area was remote enough, and reassuring road signs scarce enough, that I started worrying I had gotten onto the wrong road. I hadn’t. Pushed on to Bogalusa, the last town in Louisiana I’d see. This was my fallback, in case I didn’t think I could make my target of Poplarville MS. Checking my time and my average speed, I decided I had barely enough time. I pushed on.

I crossed into Mississippi a few miles later, and found myself om a busy two-lane highway with a rumble-strip along the edge and a minimal shoulder, so I had to ride in the lane. The official ACA route quickly took my off that road onto sinuous back roads that looked like they would add at least five miles compared to staying on the highway, which was a straight shot into Poplarville. I chose the fast road over the scenic route, reasoning that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the scenic route in the dark.

While I made it to the town of Poplarville with the sun still over the horizon, my Warm Showers hosts for the night were a few miles past town. As I continued, it was getting dark enough that I decided it would be a good idea for me to have my lights on. By the time I did get to my hosts, Steve and Tanya, the lights were all but necessary.

When I got to the gate of their home, I saw a warning sign of a dog biting a hand, so rather than push my way in, I phoned. Steve came out momentarily, accompanied by four dogs, three of whom were ready to kill me with kindness, the other being indifferent. Steve was starting to think I wouldn’t make it. But he had made me a pizza, which I inhaled, and he followed that with some of Tanya’s gumbo and a beer. So I feel pretty well refueled.

Day 26: Simmesport to near Jackson

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 17, 2010 7:22:39
Ride Time: 4:37:34
Stopped Time: 2:34:16
Distance: 68.82 miles
Average: 14.88 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 50.82 miles/h
Climb: 4678 feet
Calories: 3550

A relatively short day today. I’m in a chunk of the country where there aren’t a lot of likely places to stop, so I don’t have the luxury of picking the distance I want to ride and being able to expect a town anywhere near there. But that’s irrelevant, because I’m staying with great Warm Showers hosts, Perry and Lep, and it would have been worth making a destination of this place regardless. They’ve been hosts for 10 years, and have a pretty amazing setup for accommodating cyclists.

Rolled out of Simmesport good and early and crossed the Atchafalaya. Followed a little-used and very rough road. Saw the mist rising off the earth. As I approached the town of Morganza, I had a view of a body of water whose name I’m unclear on. Perhaps it was the Tunica swamp. It seemed to spread out for miles, with trees growing from the middle of it and flocks of waterfowl arranged with almost military precision on its surface. It was beautiful. I wish I could have gotten a picture, but it was a narrow road with no pullouts and a fair amount of traffic.

Following Morganza, I went slightly off route, choosing a road that looked like it would have smoother pavement over the parallel road that the ACA would have put me on. It was along this stretch that I met a westbound Southern Tier rider, Russell (?). He’s fresh out of college and shooting interviews along the way for a film he plans to put together when he’s done. He interviewed me, there along the highway. Probably didn’t get great sound.

I wound up rejoining the ACA route within 10 miles anyhow, riding a road that ran right alongside the levee for the Mississippi, and then boarding a ferry to cross the river. There was about a half-hour wait to get across—there was enough traffic trying to cross going east that the ferry could only handle about half the cars backed up waiting to get on. So I had some time to chat with the locals.

The ferry ride was unexciting, and once I was across, I was in St Francisville. This is exactly what you would want every small town in Louisiana to be like. Massive trees dripping with moss and shading the streets below. Old, well-maintained houses. Very picturesque. I had spoken to Perry the day before and she suggested stopping at the Magnolia Cafe there, so I did. It was great, and I ate a lot.

Riding out of St Francisville, I missed a turn and wound up staying on a busy highway that’s currently under construction for longer than I should have. By the time I realized my mistake, I was pretty far past my turnoff, but figured out that I could make it into a shortcut to Perry and Lep’s place, so that’s what I did.

I arrived in their absence, but Perry had warned me of that and told me I should make myself at home anyhow, so I did. When they did return, we had dinner together and a nice natter about cycling, houses, pets…the usual.

It’s good that today was relatively short, and with plenty of good eating, because the next couple of days may be the longest of my tour, depending on how I hold out.

Day 25: Mamou to Simmesport

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 16, 2010 7:37:51
Ride Time: 6:16:49
Stopped Time: 1:38:12
Distance: 85.18 miles
Average: 13.56 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 48.52 miles/h
Climb: 2460 feet
Calories: 3799

Today was a slog. I spent much of it on the rough roads that I had been promised. They didn’t so much slow me down as beat me up.

Stopped for a poor approximation of breakfast at a poor approximation of a coffee shop in the town of Washington. Ground onward to my destination of Simmesport. I am staying at a combination motel/convenience store/liquor store/video-rental shop/take-out pizzeria/U-Haul rental agent. I suspect they are equally competent at everything they do. I also suspect they could shut down everything they do but beer and cigarette sales and still clear 90% of what they’re bringing in now. But they sell an incredibly bizarre assortment of junk, including colored contact lenses, hair extensions, glass pipes, and mobile phones.

There’s not much to remark on about the riding itself today, except that after four century days in a row I was feeling kind of tired. Even so, I would have pushed on farther if there were a town worth reaching in a distance I could have achieved today. There wasn’t. But I did make some general observations.

Most notably, Louisiana drivers seem way more patient with cyclists, and more laid-back in general, than what I’m used to. At least that’s what I observed on the back roads I’ve been riding on. In fact, many drivers seem perfectly content to drive at speeds well below the posted speed limit.

It’s also been interesting to note the different patterns of settlement. In the western states, there may be no sign of human habitation between towns, or very little. Here, there’s almost continuous settlement between towns—I doubt I’ve ridden a miles in Louisiana without seeing a house.

Dogs, however, are the same, and I have gotten chased by plenty since entering the state. I had one funny moment yesterday when I saw two small lapdogs sitting in their yard at the edge of the road, just observing my progress. Some vestigial hunting instinct that hadn’t been completely bred out of them must have risen in them and said “Come ON! You need to react to that!”. Each dog gave me a single yap. I laughed. So far I’ve been able to out-sprint every dog that has chased me, but there was a Rottweiler today that got pretty close.

Day 24: near Kirbyville TX to Mamou LA

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 15, 2010 7:39:17
Ride Time: 7:48:38
Stopped Time: 1:02:39
Distance: 106.03 miles
Average: 13.58 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 35.89 miles/h
Climb: 2755 feet
Calories: 5294

Started the day with Jerry, my Warm Showers host, fixing me an omelette that wound up powering me through my longest day yet—though not my hardest, not by a longshot. The distance shown above is wrong—more GPS flakeouts. My actual distance was 111 miles.

He also served me some raw goat milk from their goats. Carol had explained to me that it was contact with male goats that made goat milk goaty. She keeps her goats segregated, and so the milk she gets isn’t goaty. That’s what she told me, but I was skeptical. Skepticism: unfounded. The milk really just tasted like milk. A bit richer—I think there was more fat content than I’m used to—but that’s the only difference I noticed.

I got rolling when the sun was out, but not quite shining over the trees, so my first few miles were in shadow and really cold. If I had been smart, I would have stopped and put on my tights (and if I had been smarter, I would have had full-finger gloves, too). I wound up getting a bit of a cramp in my right calf that didn’t work itself out until nearly the end of the day.

The day’s riding was almost featureless once I crossed into Louisiana. A few trees, but mostly flat farmland. I think there’s a lot of rice cultivation here.

Roads varied between exemplary and poor, and just as one road will have very different qualities as it crosses different counties in Texas, so too here as it crosses parishes. On balance, the roads were pretty good. When I stopped for a snack in DeRidder, I got to chatting with someone who asked how many miles I could ride in a day. I told him I could cover 110, but could probably do more with favorable wind and good road surface. He replied “So about 70 in Louisiana.” From what I’ve seen, the roads aren’t that bad.

With nothing to slow me down and nothing to slow down for, I made good time, and in fact was averaging over 16 mph on the last 25-mile stretch between Oberlin and Mamou. In fact, I was feeling fresh enough that I considered pushing on an additional 15 miles to Ville Platte, but decided against it.

So I’m in Mamou, in a curious hotel. The building is pretty nice. The interior was recently redone with quality materials. But my room is just small enough that I can’t open the bathroom door without banging it into the bed, and even weirder, the room has no windows.

After four days back on the road, I’m a little farther than I had planned on being after five. I need to spend some quality time with my maps and re-figure my daily targets.

Day 23: Coldspring to near Kirbyville

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 14, 2010 7:14:23
Ride Time: 6:55:29
Stopped Time: 1:19:09
Distance: 95.79 miles
Average: 13.83 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 26.56 miles/h
Climb: 1630 feet
Calories: 4718

Rolled out at the crack of dawn this morning. The entire Indian family that runs the hotel where I stayed turned out to wave me off. With all of the hotels run by Indians across the rural US, you’d think maybe one or two would open an Indian restaurant to go with it. Man, I’d be all over that.

East Texas is the land of loose dogs: I was chased by eight before I even took off my cool-weather jersey this morning—though none after, oddly enough. Connection?

Apart from a few miles here and there, I spent almost the entire way on roads with exemplary pavement. That, and the walls of trees that shielded me from winds helped me speed along and knock out 70 miles in exactly five hours, which is a good clip when touring. At that point I was in Silsbee, which has an actual Italian restaurant where I stopped for lunch. Pasta is a staple food for cyclists, and it’s a little frustrating not to be able to find it more often.

I was also in the land of the logging trucks. The westbound riders I met in Sanderson had told me about riding on roads with no shoulders and having logging trucks blast past them with no clearance. I’m pretty sure I know which road they mean—I rode on it yesterday—and I must have gotten lucky, because the logging trucks I saw passed me with plenty of clearance. Maybe it’s the trike. At one point l saw a logging truck heading one way, and a flatbed truck stacked tall with new shipping pallets. Wish I could have gotten a picture of that. Later I saw the plant where the pallets came from, its yard covered to a depth of two stories with pallets.

After lunch, I pushed on another 25 miles on US90. The riding here was less pleasant, and the wind was hitting me full-strength, so it was slowed as well. But it brought me to the home of Jerry and Carol, my Warm Showers hosts. They have a working farm, mostly raising goats for milk and chickens for eggs, but they also have horses, a burro, cows, and guinea fowl. Their home seems to function as a social center, with friends dropping by unannounced at all hours.

I’ll be crossing into Louisiana tomorrow, but I felt like I was already in a different state today, and was momentarily surprised when I saw a TxDOT vehicle on the road. It occurred to me that it’s preposterous that West Texas, Central Texas, and East Texas are all the same state. They feel so different.

Day 22: Burton to Coldspring

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 13, 2010 7:24:12
Ride Time: 7:53:00
Stopped Time: 2:24:33
Distance: 109.80 miles
Average: 13.93 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 742.62 miles/h
Climb: 8016 feet
Calories: 4930

Another long day. While I was riding through the lost pines yesterday, I was riding through the piney woods of East Texas today. I spent quite a few idyllic miles riding through the Sam Houston National Forest, flanked on both sides by walls of tall pines, on a glassy road with minimal traffic. Some of the best cycling I’ve had during this trip.

Many of the roads I’ve been riding on are maintained by counties, and in Central and East Texas, I may criss-cross five counties in the course of a day. Today, in fact, I rode through six, and even if there weren’t county-line signs, I’d know by the quality of the road. I’ll just say that Montgomery and San Jacinto counties are the cyclist’s friends. Walker county, not so much.

Early in my ride today, in the community of William Penn (seriously), I met my second set of westbound Southern Tier riders, Sue and Ken from Canada. They’re apparently retired, and are very experienced cyclotourists—I think they said they’ve toured over 30,000 km in the USA. They were both riding Surlys with 2″ slick tires and a full set of bags. We traded tips and stories. They’re planning on taking a couple days’ break in Austin, and I was happy to be able to give them some pointers.

I pushed on to Navasota, the transition between Sections 4 and 5 in my maps. When I encounter a small town in Texas, I place it in a two-dimensional spectrum. On one axis is whether the town’s commerce is directed at locals or tourists. On the other is whether the businesses are succeeding or failing. It always makes me a little sad to see small towns that aren’t serving their local communities. Having seen Navasota, I think I need to add a third axis: nice or nasty place to live. Navasota’s main drag looks like most of the businesses are doing ok, and they’re clearly local-directed, but the place just has a nasty feel to it. La Grange, by contrast, is also local-directed and successful, but looks pretty pleasant.

I stopped at a café that was visible from the intersection that marks the transition from Section 4 to 5, and when I was paying my tab, got to chatting with the guy at the register who asked “are you riding east or west?”. He told me some stories about other riders who had stopped there, and told me that when I get to Louisiana, I should stop in the scariest, diviest restaurants I see—places I would never stop anywhere else—because they have the best food.

I had been riding mostly with strong crosswinds to this point (at one point, I saw a poorly secured barn roof being partly tugged off), but it was a few miles after Navasota that I found myself in the pines, and they shielded me from the worst of it.

By the time I was past the thickest of the pines, I was around New Waverly, on SH 150, a busy, chattery 2-lane road with nothing resembling a shoulder and a lot of redneck drivers who have no patience for cyclists. Not the best stretch of riding. But once I got past the town of Pumpkin (again, seriously), I entered a different county, the road improved, and the traffic diminished. I had a pleasant ride the rest of the way into Coldspring. Despite the fact that I already had a lot of miles behind me, I was feeling pretty good and still had about 90 minutes of daylight, so I thought about pushing on to the next town, Shepherd. But I decided to end on a high note.

Day 21: Austin to Burton

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 12, 2010 9:55:54
Ride Time: 7:04:06
Stopped Time: 1:20:30
Distance: 101.85 miles
Average: 14.41 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 32.05 miles/h
Climb: 4002 feet
Calories: 4975

I rolled out from how at about 10:00 am today, a little later than I planned, but what can I say? It was hard to leave.

Feeling rested, re-energized by plenty of good eating, and renewed by time at home, with Gwen and the cats, and the company of friends, I made excellent time today. A tailwind that stayed with me all the way to La Grange didn’t hurt either—my average speed was above 15 mph for the first 40 miles, and stayed pretty high through the end of the day.

My route today took me through Bastop/Buescher state parks—they feel like one, but are really two. Lost Pines. I’d ridden through those parks before, bit more than a decade ago. It was really pleasant. After that, I was in pretty flat pastureland and farmland, all the way to La Grange. I had tentatively planned on stopping there for the day, but I had lots of daylight left and felt good, so I pushed on. Made it to Round Top and decided to push on some more to the next town, Burton.

The whole Round Top area is apparently a major antique mecca. There weren’t antique stores per se, there were warehouses that are apparently open during limited times of the year for big shows. Different warehouses had different dates. I saw a couple of sites where big event tents were being struck, so I must have just missed a show or two.

Also somewhere around there, I rode past what is billed as the smallest Catholic church in the world. I would have taken a picture, but I don’t have a macro lens.

Astute readers may notice that I completely ignored the Kerrville-Austin leg. If this invalidates my coast-to-coast ride, so be it. I am considering adding about 100 miles at the end anyhow.

Day 20: Camp Wood to Kerrville

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 7, 2010 7:38:37
Ride Time: 6:13:34
Stopped Time: 2:09:21
Distance: 89.64 miles
Average: 14.40 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 964.56 miles/h
Climb: 22324 feet
Calories: 3740

The data above is pretty wonky, but I think the map is accurate.

Got rolling before the sun was showing over the hills, and it was downright cold. Had to keep my jacket on and zipped for the better part of an hour, at which point I got to the climbing. Steep climbing. That got me warmed right up. There was one long hill that just went straight up, and I had to take four or five breaks on the way to the top just to let my heart rate recover.

I spent a long stretch on Ranch Road 337 in the first part of the day (and at the end of the previous day as well). RR 337, along with 335 and 336, are known as the “three sisters” to car and motorcycle enthusiasts, who seek them out as a driving loop for the roller-coaster hills and curves. I know this because Gwen and I spent our anniversary in a cabin on RR 337; we had brought our bikes out but Gwen prudently refused to ride on the stretch of road right in front of our cabin (and several miles on each side) because the road was narrow, with no shoulder, and presents a lot of blind turns. We did do some riding nearby, and were puzzled to see six Porsches drive by at once, or a dozen Mazdas, or four Corvettes. Eventually we got to talking with some Mazda drivers and they explained the whole Three Sisters thing to us.

I didn’t put this together right away when I found myself riding on 337. I rolled through the town of Leakey and found it strangely familiar, but couldn’t put my finger on when I had been through there before. And then I saw a warning sign reading STEEP GRADES AND SHARP CURVES, and I knew exactly where I was. In fact, I saw a trio of identical Honda minivans with dealer plates and serial numbers stuck on the back windows driving back and forth here, presumably using the road to test their handling.

So, that was challenging. I rode right past our cabin. At the easternmost, and most notorious peak along 337, I saw a motorcycle rider pulled out at an overlook, so I joined him. We chatted for a while and took pictures for each other.

I pushed on to Hunt, where the road crisscrosses and then runs parallel to the Guadalupe River. It’s one of the prettiest areas I know in the state, with cypress and pine trees lining the banks. The road was mostly level with the river here, and the pavement quality was somewhat improved, so I was able to make better speed and enjoy the ride more. When I made it to “the store” in Hunt, I pulled over to get some water and Gatorade, and chatted with some motorcycle riders who had passed me on the road not long before. They were impressed at how quickly I had caught up with them.

I wound up taking a slightly extended break here and pushed on towards Kerrville. When I was just a couple miles away from town, I was startled by my first actual blowout. When I got up to examine the tire, I found a gash at least two inches long, with the cords completely frayed under the casing. I knew that trikes tend to wear out tires quickly, and I knew I was wearing my tires out faster than usual, probably because of the pack weight, rough roads, and heat. They had about 2200 miles on them (which includes pre-tour riding), which still seems pretty short.

In any case, that kind of damage is a showstopper. I might have been able to patch something together that would get me to the next town, but even that’s debatable. If this had happened anywhere else, I would have found my way to the next town and had a new tire overnighted to me. In this case, since I was so close to home (and would have ridden home the next day, had the tire held), the logical thing to do was to have Gwen pick me up. Which she did. So I got home a day early for the break I had intended to take anyhow, and I’ll be here for a few days. I’ll write an interim tour overview shortly.

Day 19: Comstock to Camp Wood

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 6, 2010 7:57:15
Ride Time: 9:09:23
Stopped Time: 1:48:24
Distance: 111.22 miles
Average: 12.15 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 54.39 miles/h
Climb: 13101 feet
Calories: 5244

Another long day with not a lot to remark on. Got rolling with first light to get the hell out of Comstock. Made it into Del Rio in pretty good time. Had breakfast on the east side of town at a joint called Julio’s, where I had the migas plate, which included carne guisada and bacon. And beans and tortillas. Made up for a miserable dinner the night before, but sat like a rock in my gut for the next 50 miles. Apparently migas in Del Rio are not what I’m used to in Austin: just crumbled chips and eggs. Nothing else.

Del Rio was also the transition from Section 3 to 4 on my maps.

Once I had Del Rio behind me, I found myself out of the desert and into ranchland. A lot of game ranches as well as some cattle ranches. Flew through Bracketville, which is like a real town with a grocery store and everything—a rare sight in what purport to be towns, it seems. Stopped there for Gatorade and water. It was only 2:00, which was too early to knock off for the day, so I mentally committed to reaching Camp Wood by sundown. That was a pretty long stretch on top of the ~60 miles I had already ridden today: I knew I’d be racing the sunset again. Out on a long empty stretch of road, I got a flat. Great. And not two minutes after I fixed that, the same tire was flat again. This most likely means either that there’s something pointy embedded in the tire that I haven’t been able to find, or that I put on a tube with a bad patch. I was carrying some virgin tubes that Carlos in Phoenix very helpfully chased down for me while I was there, and so I finally broke one of those out. It held the rest of the way.

I also got chased by 5 dogs today. In fact, all but one of the dogs that has chased me has been in Texas. So far I’ve been able to outrace all of them, much to my own surprise.

Made it into Camp Wood with maybe 40 minutes of daylight remaining. It was my 6th century-plus day. I can get into Austin on Friday if I pull two more.

Day 18: Sanderson to Comstock

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 5, 2010 8:02:56
Ride Time: 8:27:58
Stopped Time: 49:26
Distance: 92.65 miles
Average: 10.94 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 93.26 miles/h
Climb: 10775 feet
Calories: 4210

A long and unpleasant day of riding. I started in a town with nothing of interest (Sanderson bills itself as the “cactus capital of Texas”), rode through 90 miles of dull, repetitive, and un-scenic scenery, and arrived in an even less interesting town (Comstock bills itself as “between Amistad and Del Rio”).

But the thing that made today memorably bad instead of just forgettably bad was the headwind. I’ve been fighting headwinds for the past five days, but today’s was especially strong and unrelenting. I spent the entire ride cursing it in my mind. If that wind had been at my back instead, I would have easily made it the next 30 miles to Del Rio. Apparently the wind is always like this at this time of year.

So, not much else to say about today other than that I am beat.

Day 17: Alpine to Sanderson

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 4, 2010 8:50:57
Ride Time: 7:08:57
Stopped Time: 1:19:09
Distance: 83.32 miles
Average: 11.65 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 25.67 miles/h
Climb: 2153 feet
Calories: 3630

Today I rode though some of the emptiest country I’ve seen on this ride—but empty in a peaceful way that I enjoyed. I would stop periodically during the ride today and just listen to the wind.

The day started out with my host from last night, Ron, fixing me a nice breakfast. I was a few minutes later getting rolling than I had planned, but it was worth it, and I wasn’t especially afraid of racing the sunset today.

The ride into Marathon was unexpectedly chilly, with a stiff headwind and what felt like a long, slow climb—but that might just have been the headwind talking. In Marathon, I stopped at the first café I saw for lunch, which was quite pleasant. Everybody there seemed to know what the Southern Tier is, and knew right off that I was riding it. Funny thing—in some small towns, it’s well-known, in others, not at all.

After lunch, I pushed on to Sanderson. That was the big empty part. During that leg, I noticed the rocks changed from dark red to limestone, reminding me of home.

In Sanderson, I checked into a hotel, got cleaned up, and went directly to the restaurant in town for food. There I met a group of three Southern Tier riders heading west—the first westbounders I’ve met. We traded tips on what the others were about to encounter, places to stay, that sort of thing. It was great getting to just chat with them and share the experience. They told me that at the pace I was going, I could probably knock out the part east of Austin in 10-15 days, which is encouraging.

Austin is now less than a week away, and I am hot to get there. Following is my fairly conservative estimate of where I’ll be stopping over the next several days:

Tue: Comstock
Wed: Bracketville
Thu: Leakey
Fri: Kerrville
Sat: Wimberley
Sun: Austin

Day 16: McDonald Observatory to Alpine

Elevation Profile
Speed Profile
Started: Oct 3, 2010 12:35:07
Ride Time: 3:20:14
Stopped Time: 1:02:03
Distance: 45.29 miles
Average: 13.57 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 104.86 miles/h
Climb: 3618 feet
Calories: 1533

When I went out and looked at the trike this morning, I discovered the rear tire had gone flat, and judging by the wear on the tire, I had been riding on low pressure for some time. So add that to the factors that slowed me down yesterday.

Despite a solid night’s sleep, I was way too beat to put in a long day’s riding today. Which was fine. I got off to a late start at about 1:00 pm because my host John gave me a tour of the telescopes, which was fascinating. John’s job is on the engineering side—keeping the telescopes working properly. I had never appreciated how much engineering goes into making those things work, but the numbers are pretty astounding. The 107″ mirror by itself weighs 9000 lb, and needs to be removed and re-aluminized once a year, which is all done on-site using a motley array of equipment that includes ultra-low pressure vacuum pumps and wading pools. The whole suspended telescope assembly weighs 109,000 lb, and needs to be able to align on and track stars accurately. This can all be done with surprisingly little equipment, but even the slightest mechanical imperfections will affect astronomical observations.

John’s academic background is in geophysics, and he was able to tell me the life story of every mountaintop we could see up there. I’ve never had a strong foothold in geology, so I couldn’t quite keep up, but it seems like a great place for someone with an interest in that. Despite that background, John seems to be a tinkerer at heart, and loves the opportunity to work on those big machines. I had a great time getting the tour from him, and also just chatting with him and his wife Deb. And also visiting with their many pets.

So, like I said, off to a late start. It was downhill all the way to Fort Davis (which made my wrecked legs happy), where I got soup and a sandwich at the local hippy-compliant grocery and contemplated my next move. Alpine was the only town it was reasonable for me to try to reach. There were a couple of Warm Showers hosts there, who I called. One was not able to accommodate me; the other was, but it sounded a bit like I’d be imposing. Still, we agreed that I’d stay with him. He wasn’t going to be home for hours, so I had plenty of time to get to Alpine.

I took that time, riding slowly, and still arrived in town well before he did. So I rode around for a while. Came upon a shop serving ice cream and raspas. Got to talking with a guy there, Ron, who had also ridden the Southern Tier on a recumbent. There was a music jam happening at a little covered space a couple of doors down. Lots of folks were hanging out. Ron introduced me around. Someone put a beer in my hands. I met Ron’s girlfriend Emmie and her old friend Esther, who was from Austin and happened to be with Max Nofziger. I had seen him and thought “that guy looks exactly like Max Nofziger.” Small world.

I wound up inviting myself over to Ron and Emmie’s place, which is where I am now.

I know that other cyclotourists have said they have more fun on tours when they ride short daily distances and get to just hang out. I still enjoy putting in long miles (up to a point), but I know what they’re getting at.

Tomorrow will probably be an 80-miler that will put me into Sanderson. If I can manage it, I’ll ride to Del Rio the day after that: it’s well over 100 miles, but it’s mostly downhill. It’s also a milestone because it’s the end of Section 3. And Austin is in the middle of Section 4.