Monday, May 19, 2014

The End of the Road

After camping in Gulf State Park and enjoying the Gulf of Mexico, it took us a week to cross the Florida panhandle. Cruising through Pensacola was interesting, as my brother was stationed there for some of his years as an aviator in the Navy. The Panhandle is made up of the Western Highlands and Marianna Lowlands. Rolling hills and the Apalachiola and Perdido Rivers lie in this area. I was surprised by the vast amount of rural farmland we cycled by and the number of sweet, little towns. It gave me a whole new insight into the many contrasts within this state.

We spent the night with Warm Shower hosts, Al and Sally Melvin, in Milton then continued east to DeFuniak Springs, the only time we were asked to leave a camping spot (in the city park) at 11:30 pm. That was a bummer!

Hot and humid southern weather arrived as we camped on beautiful spots like Seminole Lake. Alligator eyes shimmered at night on the  water. No night swimming for us. 

The route took us through some university towns including Tallahassee and Gainesville. We found floor space at the Bicycle House in Tallahassee. Scot Benton, a former pro cyclist for Team Coors Light, started this non-profit, to help any needing transportation assistance to build and maintain  bicycles/components. Volunteers help with the process and recipients donate upon their economic levels. Admirable cause in so many realms.

               St. Augustine at the Bridge of Lions

On May 17 we crossed the St. John's River into East Palatka. It runs north for 318 miles before draining into Jacksonville. From there we cycled east into the oldest city in America, St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565. Spanish Coquistador Don Juan Ponce de Leon actually put shore at this site searching for the Fountain of Youth in 1513.  The group landed during Spain's Feast of Flowers (the Easter season) so the new land was named Florida, meaning "flowery".  We saw many flora and citrus in bloom for sure. We also enjoyed a day of sight seeing including Flagler College and the massive Castillo de San Marcos (the fort that has guarded the city's waterfront for three centuries). Fifty days after beginning our cross country trek we celebrated our final day on the Southern Tier.  But the next morning got back in the saddle to ride north along oceanfront A1A to Jacksonville Beach, Mark Trail's hometown. Light winds made the ride easy and our bicycle computers docked over 3,100 miles. 
 Reaching the Atlantic at Vilano Beach,FL

Our adventure was over, but what we witnessed over the past 2 months crossing the U.S. will linger. Not only the beautiful, but the distressing things as well- environmental concerns (fracking, pit mining, oil extraction, waste/pollution, feed lots, severe drought, fire devastation, flooded Florida towns), economic affects (extremely  depressed small towns, urban sprawl 20 miles out from cities, extreme poverties on reservations and especially, southern rural areas), and social dilemmas (alcoholism, drug abuse, and crime reported to us by residents of these areas). We have many challenges ahead of us as a nation, as well as our place in the human race. We each go back to our communities to do our part to better the world. Thanks to all those who made our rides easier and more memorable. A special appreciation also, to my fabulous cycling partner, Mark - through highs and lows it was an amazing adventure to share together. Thank you. We both extend gratitude to God and the universe for our many blessings.

We met many long distance cyclists. We wish them safe and happy travels. Here are just a few:
Vanessa from Quebec, Canada cycling from Vancouver through the Southern Tier and back to Quebec.

Father with son, Grant, riding the Southern Tier, and mom supporting them nightly in their RV.

Two blokes from the UK, Gary and Steve, crossing the U.S, and previously have done the Northern Tier.

Mark and Alex, from the southeast to the Pacific Northwest.

Fina and her husband, from Oklahoma, as they make their way from Key West to Northern California.

Thank you for sharing in our blog. If you are interested in supporting notable bike organizations and efforts here are just a few.
Fellow cyclist, Michael Zachary, raising funds for World Bicycle Relief-

Tallahassee Bicycle House-

Rails to

Adventure Cycling

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother Love

Marit, Chelsea (oldest daughter), Halldis (mother)

Happy Mother's Day to my amazing mother, Halldis Anderson! She came to America from Norway, married my dad and lived all over the world, then raised my two brothers and me when he died at a young age from cancer. This cross country bicycle trek is dedicated to her. She thinks I am crazy, but my zest for adventure is very much attributed to her and all the travels she took us on. Love you so much, Mom, and thanks for being there for all of us.

Last week we made it into Louisiana and crossed the mighty Mississippi River over the John James Audubon Bridge. This river basin contains 1 million square miles- making it the second great river valley of the world, after the Amazon River valley. The Southern Tier follow along the Choctaw Trail. These Native Americans called their people in Louisiana the "Sunrise People" and those in Texas the "Sunset People". As we went east through the parishes we stayed north of Baton Rouge and New Orleans going through sugar cane fields, groves of loblolly pines, giant cypress with Spanish moss, and large oaks. We enjoyed local crawdads, red bean & rice, and gumbo. Cajuns are the descendents of 17th century French colonists who settled along the shores of Canada Bay called "Acadia". they were eventually relocated to Louisiana. The name was shortened into 'Cadian, and finally Cajun. 

We had been warned by west bound cyclists about the dogs in Louisiana. They are the biggest concern after automobiles for a biker. We kept our pepper spray handy, but unfortunately I was a victim of an aggressive dog before I could even reach for my spray in the town of Moreauville. The good thing is that a nurse, Nan Gastar, was nearby and initially treated the bite. We pedaled another 15 miles to Simmesport, which was luckily on our route, and I was treated at the Country Clinic with stitches and antibiotics. 

Nurse Rose Kuplesky and Dr. Steve Kuplesky not only treated my dog bite, but insisted we spend the night at their home. Amazing folks!

We also spent the night at the home of Cajun Pedlar, Perry Templeton, in Jackson, LA. She is the third female host that has built her own home and has a showcase shop. What industrious and talented women on the Southern Tier.
Loved the strawberries in Mississippi.

And the crawdads in Alabama...
David from Bayou La Batre, AL.

Crossing Mobile Bay via the ferry - the storm held out.

We are in the last state..home stretch..tired, but think we are going to make it!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Lone Star State ( or the LONG Star State)

After we left Del Rio, things turned from brown to green near Brackettville. A neat stop was camping in Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park and cycling around the LBJ Ranch/Historical Park near Johnson City. Lady Bird's legacy of beautifying the roadways with wildlowers was especially evident in Texas- blue bonnets, poppies, and Indian paintbrush everywhere.

The terrain continued to be very hilly as we pedaled into Austin with a fellow cyclist, Michael Zachary (going L.A. to Key West). We spent half a day in this bike friendly city enjoying swimming in Barton Springs and in search of the best barbecue.  Lance Armstrong was nowhere to be found, although we rode on some of his bikeways. Hopefully professional cycling will eventually come clean.

From Austin to Navasota the rolling hills reminded me of Virginia with horse farms, orchards, vineyards, and lots of wild flowers. As we got closer to Louisiana, east Texas was much flatter and fast. Finally the wind subsided. Tornados had been ravaging parts if the country, but fortunately lighning storms in the distance were the only activity we witnessed.

Wonder what we eat? The best part of bicycle trekking is that you can get healthy food almost daily, especially produce. We stop by local markets whenever we can. Such as below,
 fresh oranges and pistachios from La Mesilla, NM.

We enjoy stopping for lunch at parks like this one in Johnson City. Notice the Oreos- we eat junk food too and have an affinity for Texas dairy Blue Bell ice cream and a daily beer to share.

Sam's Barbecue in Austin was the bomb, although we were hoping to sample Franklin's, La Barbecue, or McIlthwaite's.  To no avail- closed on Mondays.

Carol Montgomery spotted us on the side of the road in Burton, TX and invited us to her home for dinner and lodging. We shared our avocados, asparagus, and mushrooms too. A great night!

So after logging over 2000 miles we have left the fine state of Texas and entered Louisiana and Beauregard Parish. Logging, sawmills, and farming are the primary forms of income. Fields of rice, soy, and alfalfa surround us and various rivers beckon canoeists. The weather has been wonderful for days and we are making good miles, life is good.
Good-bye Texas and Hello Louisiana!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bike Angels

Seminole Canyon Historical Park- we camped here and got a great tour of the canyon pictographs and cave dwellings from the Paleo-Indians. We crossed the beautiful Pecos River before reaching the park.

The Southern Tier has been hugging the Mexican border of Chihuahua and Coahuila. We had two experiences with Border Patrol visiting us at our overnight campsites. Always unsettling to have a flashlight shining into your tent, but once they know we are American cyclists they leave us alone.
The canyonlands were fascinating- harsh environment and much hardship and bloodshed for Spaniards, Native Americans, Hispanic, and pioneers. Historical markers line the roads- so we ride and read!
Temperatures are really heating up, so we were glad the route took us towards the Hill Country. Sheep, goat, cattle and hunting ranches abound. We have long stretches of no services requiring us to stock up on food and water. The bikes are loaded.

We are so grateful to the many folks who have helped us along our journey with water, directions, food, housing, and hospitality. Here are just a few of the "Biker Angels" we have encountered.
Cookie and Walt water us up near Three Way, AZ

Dave from Gila Bike and Hike in Silver City, New Mexico spent a few hours tuning up our bikes. We have had many flats due to goat head pricklers, cactus spines and tire wire so we stocked up on tubes too.

Father Robert from San Luis Church in Chamberino, NM allowed us to camp in the courtyard of the Catholic church

Sessy and Jorge let us take refuge at the fire house in Acala, TX, then filled our water bottles

Warm Shower hosts, Joni and Dexter Tooke, provided us a wonderful overnight stay. He has completed RAAM twice, which is a race cycling across America in 12 days. He hopes to be the oldest to finish it when he attempts it in 2016 when he is 66 years old!!!

Much appreciation to all the kindness bestowed on us. We will pay it forward upon return. Bless you all😇

Marit rides with the free roaming sheep near Kerrsville, TX. Tomorrow we should be in Austin.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keep on trucking

**correction from last blog: bicyclists hosting site should actually be

Three  three weeks out and we are still moving along. The days have been long though. We thought the Southern Tier would be fairly flat and biking from the west the winds predominantly tailwinds. Boy were we wrong! There are actually many mountain ranges to cross and being spring there is lots of WIND. Unfortunately many of our days with headwinds against us. We are trying to keep our mileage up, therefore we are out on the road longer when we can average only 6-7 miles per hour. But we are trying to keep our spirits up with gratitude for the amazing scenery we ride by every day and the fitness our bodies are providing for us. When you get into your fifties one is grateful to still be able to ride a bike!
This past week we experienced wild, enchanted New Mexico. One of our favorite days was riding through the Gila National Forest to the highest point on the Southern Tier up to Emory Pass at 8,225 ft. We had to bundle up with all of our clothes on the descent though. It was only 28 degrees when we got up and chilly all the way down.
Emory Pass - Gila National Forest

When down off the mountains we have been cycling through beautiful farm country- fields of chile, alfalfa, and pecan orchards. From the small town of Hatch down to Mexico City was the Road of Kings (now Rt. 25) following the Rio Grande and lush farms because of the waterway. Now the river is mostly dry due to damming and drought, but the farms have water sources with the abundant deep aquifers.
We have been riding by the Rio Grande for days with little water in sight.

Four days ago we left the lovely state of New Mexico, which we fell truly fell in love with, and entered Texas, via El Paso. Initially we gently transitioned from countryside to more urban terrain along the El Paso Bike Path, but once that ended we were in congested roadways with many construction projects. Yikes! That takes lots of concentration. But we made it and really enjoyed tooling around the University of Texas, El Paso and stopping by the Chamizal Memorial where the U.S. and Mexico made final negotiations on land disputes. 

Our route continues to snake along the arid border of Mexico and into the many mountain outcroppings of Texas- a geologists paradise. Yesterday we chose to take the more arduous route up towards FT. Davis to see the McDonald Observatory atop 6,800 ft Mt. Locke. As the day wore on the weather looked more threatening, but it was too late to take another path. At the top we were greeted with a rain/lightning storm and pelted with 3/4 inch hail. Our saving grace was a Warm Showers family (John and Debbie Kuehne) waiting to take us in after we finally found their home. This morning we got a personal tour of all the telescopes and McDonald Observatory area by John, a scientist employed by the University of Texas to tecnically support the telescopes.
John shows us the area from the catwalk on McDonald Observatory.

We pray to stay safe as we head southeast towards Del Rio and hope the same for you.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Where do we stay at night?

Wonder where a cyclist might stay each night while crossing the Southwest on the Southern Tier? For us it varies, but most nights we bike until it almost dark and then start looking for a camping spot. We are never sure where it will be, but fortunately we seem to always find something suitable. And often with a great view. We love the western climate because we can often just lay our our pads and sleeping bags right under the stars. One of our favorite places was west of Wickenberg, AZ. But the next morning as we pulled out onto the main road we realized we had rear flats on each of our bikes.  We pulled out the tubes to patch them- one culprit was a cactus prickler and the other was a bit of wire that went right through Mark's Kevlar tube liner. Must have happened on I8 the day before. Lots of blowouts on the side of the highway and not much room to avoid them.

Camping spot west of Wickenberg, CA

Fixing our flats

Another unique form of housing in the cycling community is a network called Hot Folks sign up to host cyclists in their home listing what they will provide- shower, bed, camping spot in yard, meals, etc. The cyclist looks ahead and gauges where they might be on a given night. Mark uses this app
on his phone and so far we have had 2 great nights with host families- Errin & Jonathan Heuberger and four children in Alpine, CA and Dawn & Gene Ziegler in Phoenix, AZ. I guess you could equate it to Couch Surfing or Trail Angels in the hiking community. We hope to do the same someday for traveling cyclists around Wintergreen. The Transamerica Bike Trail goes right by us.
Gene and Dawn with one if their two tandem bikes. They love to use Hot Showers themselves on their many biking treks. In return they host cyclists that come through their area in Phoenix

Two other overnight options are camping at fire stations and churches. We were very grateful two late nights when the light ran out and we had no where to camp. Fire stations in Pine Valley, CA and Apache Junction, AZ were amenable to us pitching a tent on their sites.
The next day leaving Apache Junction Fire Station

We have also camped at San Carlos Apache Reservation and eaten a great meal at reservation casinos. Thanks for the tip Rick Harris! Last of all hotels are an option, but we rarely go that way. 

So we have left Arizona on a very long day of climbing 6000 ft into the Lue Mountains to enter the Apache National Forest and make our way into New Mexico. Hope your spring is going well and in full bloom as the desert flowers are out here.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

La Jolla, San Diego, and back in the saddle- ouch!

It was nice to escape winter in Virginia and fly to the sunshine of La Jolla, CA to spend 5 days with my daughters, Chelsea and Corinne. We stayed in a cool apartment above a local surf and kayak shop with free rentals of all the equipment. We found out paddle boarding in the choppy Pacific is not a good thing to do as a beginner though! But we did enjoy kayaking out to the local sea caves and biking the area, especially to the local farmer's market.

Mark Trail arrived on March 31 and we had the wonderful hospitality of San Diego friends, Rick, Holly, and Keelan Harris, including the use of their living room to put together our bikes, panniers, and other gear. Marit's new Surly Long Disc Trucker was sent out by bike mechanic and gear guru, Les Welch, from Harrisonburg, VA (recommended by David Ledbetter). If you have any need for a bike fitting - he is your man. We finally headed out for the Southern Tier route, which coincidentally begins 8 blocks from the Harris household  at Ocean Beach Park.  Mark was compelled to touch the ocean. Notice the shade hat and cooler. Function over fashion is his motto.

We spent the next two days climbing out of San Diego to the Laguna and Jacumba Mountains to 4000 ft elevation learning how to navigate our new fully packed bicycles and getting into biker shape after a long winter only skiing and the occasional hour on the Lifecycle at Wintergarden Spa. Needless to say, my rump, back, and neck were screaming.
We have already gotten to experience rain, hail, and snow in Pine Valley and hot, dry conditions in the Yuha Desert. As we head towards Arizona we have seen industrial scale produce farms and cattle feed lots of the Imperial Valley. Literally "food for thought" as we witnessed some of these controversial practices.
Camping in the desert is always an experience, as was riding by the border wall between Mexico and California. Another highlight was cycling past a beginning point of the Pacific Crest Trail. Brings back great memories from our long distance hike two years ago. There are pros and cons for both hiking and biking, but it sure is nice to be doing closer to 65 miles per day and riding to get authentic Mexican fare on a regular basis. Catch you in another week or two!