In Conclusion...

 

GEOFF'S FINAL WORDS

It's been a couple of weeks since we rolled into St. Augustine Beach, concluding our coast-coast bike tour and proving the adage that everywhere is within cycling distance, if you have the time. The 50km home stretch on a sunny Monday (March 20) included some standard elements of our entire 3,600km bike ride, including towns with unusual names. On this day, we departed East Palatka ("pile of kaka", opined our Best Western clerk) and rolled through Spuds, perhaps the potato-growing capital of Florida. The route featured both tailwinds and headwinds, dedicated bike paths through woodland, bike lanes on a busy highway, and cars…many cars…on the roads leading to St. Augustine Beach. Unusually, we encountered a group of 250 Bike Forida road cyclists on a loop to and from St. A. At one point a large guy on a fancy carbon-frame bike moved up behind me and started berating in lavish terms retirees from the West Island of Montreal with the leisure to ride across America. Turns out he was a DDO guy who flew down for this one-week event, and Barc (a few minutes behind me on this leg) had unwittingly provided him background details essential to this riff. Less amusing was his misogyny and Duddy Kravitz-like schtick that grew more extreme until I conveniently arrived at a junction requiring me to re-orient with Barc. Oy!

The crest of the causeway bridge over to St. Augustine Beach…while providing a fine view of the intracoastal waterway…failed to give us that hoped-for vista of the Atlantic coast, but it was still very exciting for this rookie to pass through some dunes to emerge near the ocean pier marking the end of our long journey. No bands, flags, nor cheering throngs to mark our arrival on this windy day at the beach, however, which for us was a required photo op rather than a tanning opportunity. After pictures taken by some lonely divorcee we pressed into duty on our behalf, we looped back to the city of St. Augustine for lunch at the Ice House, recommended to us as a great lunch option by this same woman. Good, if expensive, food and cordial bar service located in Florida's first legal distillery, a location very much on the route of the local tourist trains. The driver of one passing train "interviewed" me for the benefit of his passengers, thereby securing our place in the history of the area. Two Canadians who just arrived from San Diego, folks: Exhibit A.

It would be nice to think that like all great travellers (per Disraeli), I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. Even now, my memories of our forty-nine days on the road fade, re-align, or become more vivid. Some of my takeaways:

• Glad I agreed to Barc's invitation to complete his Southern Tier trifecta. Whether in a tent, at a "warm showers" host, or in a motel, seven weeks of togetherness with my brother had its strained moments, but the journey was mostly fun and cordial, even though I was less obedient than his sons. Thanks, Barc.

• Barc was right about the Southwest desert and hills being really evocative and the most interesting stretch of the journey, even though every section had its charms. We had rain on only two of the days, and seeing the South close up on a bicycle is the right way to feel the heat (and occasional cold), meet locals, and gather a sensory memory of all we've seen or smelled.

• We saw too many Trump bumper stickers, but a surprising number of NPR types were outspoken about the orange-headed one. Even the South seems divided on American politics. 

• Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

• Drink water.

Our car rental for the 21-hour, overnight drive north to Syracuse NY was a Toyota minivan, which rendered unremarkable 1,100 miles of any hills, rain, and headwinds. Is there gas in the car? Yes, there's gas in the car…adios, friends.

 

 

SIBLING REVELRY

A Limerick by Barc

 

Two brothers went out for a ride

From one to the other side

It mostly got done

It mostly was fun

And they're mostly glad they tried

Fathers No Rest

 

GEOFF STUFF

 

"YOU CALL ME A FOOL,YOU SAY IT'S A CRAZY SCHEME"

It's true that we will have cycled over 4,000km by trip's end, and that some rigour had been involved. Lest we delude ourselves into thinking we're hardcore, however, we met up this week with two couples heading west whose itineraries were significantly more ambitious. In Bonifay FL, we had lunch with Paulina and Alexandre from Grenoble, France. They had landed in Miami, and were on their way to Los Angeles via San Diego, and thence Washington state, as time allows. Alexandre was pulling a trailer and both were already fit and lean, dressed even more stylishly than Barc. The mess of creamed chicken they ordered for lunch was unappetizing to see, but by now their palates must have been deadened. Haut-Savoie gastronomy this was not.

The next morning we met Dick and Jane from Boston, who intermittently drop everything in their normal lives and go on self-contained bike or hiking trips. Their bike tour this time began in southern Florida, was continuing west along the "southern tier" to San Diego, then north to Alaska a few months from now. By then I'll be back on my modified ripple chips diet.

PANHANDLING

Rolling east of Mobile, the landscape continues with the rolling highways of LA, MS, and AL, but as we approached Florida the road featured more frequent mid-forest causeways over marshes and floodplains. My hope is to see at some point a gator lazing in the sun as I observe from some safe, overhead distance, but so far it's still been largely turtles, herons, buzzards, and roadkill. While southern Florida is mostly flat, until Tallahassee we had to use granny gears working on some serious uphills...some as high as 300 ft. above sea level, relatively safe real estate when the ice caps melt. The biggest climb was up and into Chatahoochee, just east of a sprawling Florida "correctional facility": this hill would slow down any escaped criminals fleeing the work gangs we often pass on the highway. We wave, smile, and keep pedalling. Nothing to see...just move along, sir.

COLLARD GREENS WITH THAT, HONEY?

Best soul food of the trip was the lunch buffet in Chatahoochee: all-you-can-eat for $7.99 at WB's Sports Bar and Grill. Fried chicken, oxtail stew, beans, rice, boiled collard greens, sweet potato, cornbread, homemade cake. I unwisely had seconds on the chicken and greens...no crisis, but a reminder to never cycle on a full stomach.

BUFFET REDUX: IS BREAKFAST INCLUDED? 

Chronic headwinds aside, the weather this past week has until now lacked the renowned Florida sun and warmth, the temperature dropping below freezing on consecutive nights after cool days forced us to layer stylishly for each day's ride, including gloves on top of cycling gloves. Our self-serving response in these chilly days is to research nightly the services of Best Western and its competitors. Requirements: two beds, ESPN, a relatively good price, and a breakfast that includes a "hot" option that at least mimics the high quality offerings of, say, a Waffle House. The "eggy" scrambled substances and sausage disks complement the hot coffee, filling our apparent need for an all-American start to the day, although waffles, syrup, donuts, or biscuits with white gravy seem to be the staples enjoyed in volume by our US fellow travellers. Barc has previously warned me about the dangers ("no upside") of my gesturing rudely to bad drivers crowding our road space...he's right, but some impulses are primal...but it was his recent, inadvertent bump of our neighbour's breakfast table and the consequent spillage of some of this man's Trix that caused our first cross-border crisis. This hollow-eyed fellow, last seen as an extra in Deliverance, was none too happy with Barc, to judge by his twisted face and his tense grip on his plastic spoon. Had he been slurping a higher-end delicacy--Froot Loops, say--we'd have been in real trouble. We now tread more carefully in the breakfast room, giving wide berth to wide girth.

THE KEY WORD IS SURVIVAL ON THE NEW FRONTIER

On the frequent occasions we stop for a coffee break or equivalent, it's common for people who approach us to

a) inquire about our route...You've pedalled all the way from Canada? (Rare follow-up: How do I get citizenship?)

b) point out that the stretch of road we're currently cycling is America's most dangerous, cyclists are injured or killed every other day, and drivers never watch the road because they're too busy texting or lighting their crack pipes. 

We thank them politely for their interest, and wonder at their need not simply to wish us safe journey, but also to imply that we're completely insane, the pedalling dead.

MARCH MADNESS

Speaking of dangerous drivers needing our attention, Barc and I agree that school bus drivers are our biggest threats, as they consistently seem to want more of the road than they need or warrant: we issue a yellow alert each time one appears in our rearview mirrors. Our theory is these drivers have become unhinged by their repeated exposure to the worst behaviour of kids, classic examples of the bullied becoming the bulliers. They consequently see touring cyclists as potential victims even more helpless than they.

HOME STRETCH

After the comparative comfort of tonight's St. Patrick's Day celebration in our Hampton Inn room (green peppers on the pizza), it appears we're just three days riding from Perry FL to the beach at St. Augustine, arriving tentatively March 20. Famous Last Words next time.

 

 

MOOD SWINGS

an unusually inane piece by Barc

 

WHO: An innocent biker

WHERE: A 60-mile stretch between Tallahassee and Perry

WHERE?: The Florida Panhandle

WHEN: St. Patrick's Day. March 17, 2017

WHY: Best guess: a profound chemical imbalance combined with a somewhat delicate startle reflex.

 

EMOTIONS IN PLAY

FEAR: A blue Chrysler 300 passes close enough to lick the passenger-side window.

SADNESS: On a cold, windy day, urine warms the inner thighs for a surprisingly short period of time.

JOY: A couple of miles down the road, a blue Chrysler 300 is parked at a rest area, the driver sitting behind the wheel. To drag her by her blue-rinsed hair to the swamp, stuff her into the waiting maw of Gussie the Gator, scuff dirt over the two tracks made by her sensible shoes, and brush my hands together smugly shows how much can be accomplished in a short period of time if you love your work.

DISGUST: There's only $43 in her purse.

DOUBT: Should I take the 85 cents in the bottom of her purse, or will the extra weight slow me down...

SURPRISE: Part 1) Gators are unreliable. Part 2)  Some old ladies are strong, nimble, and stealthy.  Part 3) Some old ladies clutch their key rings as they're dragged by the hair and stuffed into gators. Part 4) Some key rings include pepper spray.

ANGER: The Florida State Trooper takes the side of the 89 year-old grandmother of three, dismissing my dangerous driving/attempted murder charge as "sissy talk".

DISMAY: The old lady calls her three grandchildren for moral support. Moments later, three blue Chrysler 300's pull into the rest area.

SHOCK: The clear outline of a Canadian tongue print shimmers on the passenger-side window of the nearest 300.

AMAZEMENT: The granddaughter in the saliva-smeared car is my fourth half-niece, twice-removed. Her name is Patty.

REGRET: Family may be family, and no family is closer than ours, but she must pay for her crime.

DESIRE: To get it right this time.

CONCLUSION: You're no saint, Patty.

 

 

 

Pilgrims Progress

 

GEOFF'S GENEROUS PORTION

 

FLATULENCE: Flats are something that happen to other people, like my brother, despite our both rolling on Kevlar-lined Schwalbe tires. So Thursday morning's soft rear tire was a further reminder of the impermanence of all things, the folly of instrumentality as a buffer against nature...or road wires. My bike tech (Barc) installed one of our new "slime" inner tubes, the notion being that any existing or future small leaks will be self-sealed by the green goop inside the tube. Folly, but a dream to hang on to. At day's end Friday in Bayou La Batre (Cajun for "that frock I bought you looks splendid"), Barc ran over a 3-inch nail on a roadside, causing a very fast leak. Bad Friday. Even his stylish new haircut could not lift his spirits, so we passed on the Lenten fish fry at the parish church, opting instead for the comfort of Riesling and ripple chips. Bedtime for the Sparky at 7:15 pm; I pushed it to 8:00 so I could watch Seinfeld re-runs.

BLAZING SADDLES: No, not that other flatulence. I laughed when Santa put a tube of butt butter in my Christmas stocking, but he must have known that seven hours on the bike saddle--for weeks on end, literally--can render some sensitive areas as red as Rudolf's other end. In Phoenix I bought a small stick of Glide, a lubricant applied to skin folds and seams in the nether regions of one's choice, and have applied it intermittently until Louisiana, when a minor flesh-eating disease called for stronger measures. Grandson Jonathan favours diaper rash ointment with a coconut oil base: I'm more of an aloe type. Now if I can manage to cycle without sitting, all will be well. March 12 update: smooth as a Georgia peach.

I'M LESTER THE NIGHTFLY, HELLO BATON ROUGE: Brother Barc is occasionally right, and his advice to cycle with pre-recorded music and audiobooks was sound. But what to download? My playlist includes multiple Steely Dan albums, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Ella and Louis. Barc calls my tastes "elevator music," but I'll happily ride that lift. Books? To date, Donald Spoto's biography of Grace Kelly, Louise Penny's latest Gamache, Lee Child, and Nick Hornby. The latest was Atwul Gawande's Being Mortal, in which this surgeon explores our culture's (and the medical profession's) failure to anticipate aging and inevitable physical decline. As we two senior citizens pedal furiously in pursuit of our more youthful selves, Dr. Gawande's thoughts were an interesting counterpoint to the tractor trailer with our names on it, not quite yet in our rearview mirrors. What has been a revelation to me are these things called podcasts...daily from CBC, NPR, The New Yorker, NYTimes, Fox News...just kidding: I'm sticking with the fake news foisted by the liberal media. Audio overload sets in for me at regular intervals, so the stretches of road with just birdsong or headwinds are enough to cleanse the brain of trumpery.

BARC'S BREAKFASTS: My little brother, as previously reported, is a man of defined food tastes. Four legs good, two legs bad...just add fried onions and gravy. Where our culinary interests intersect, though, is in an appreciation of a proper full breakfast, including fried eggs, assorted sides, and good coffee. While other breakfast stops along our route have been good, we experienced the Platonic ideal at BJ's Cafe in Vancleave MS. After camping out behind First Baptist (beside the kiddies' playground and downsized toilet...what could go wrong?), BJ's (opening at 4:00am) served up a perfect plate of eggs, sausage, biscuit, grits, and coffee in a crowded, authentic setting of drawling locals and no-nonsense waitresses. I wanted the t-shirt, but appropriately none were for sale. Just a test.

ROAD KILL: No human bodies to date, but a remarkable roadside menagerie of stiffening or flattened carcasses. For the record: wild hogs, dogs, cats, turtles, possums, otters, snakes, weasels, armadillos, birds, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, frogs, and other critters who lacked reflective clothing.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: If Steve Bannon's agenda is to link church and state throughout the US, the South seems covered already. Baptist churches of all shades compete with gospel missions, Catholics, Presbyterians, and a few Episcopal churches in larger towns with electricity and indoor plumbing. It's hard to imagine all are well-attended, but in absolute numbers the South seems well churched, unlike contemporary Quebec, unless one considers the "dep" a place of worship.

BAYOU BUDDIES: Speaking of religion, Barc and I have been blessed by the kindness of strangers, even if Barc might ascribe such impulses to secular humanism. In Franklinton at the Sugar Cafe, Big John comped us our buffet lunch of southern treats...including the best boiled okra and tomato mixture of the trip...just like that. When the Dauphin Island ferry shut down because of high wind, we were (sort of) stranded until the ferry's captain, Lewis, drove us back north to west of Mobile in his pickup, complete with politically-charged bumper stickers. Southern hospitality is not a myth.

COOL RUNNINGS: While it's winter down south, it's warmer than usual, so the AC is used liberally in all restaurants and many stores. At the Lagniappe in Zachary LA, for example, Barc had to leave before I finished my lunch, as somehow 63F was not agreeing with his skin tone. It really was freaking cold, but typical of many establishments.

PINS ON THE MAP SINCE AUSTIN (TX): Wincester, Independence, Coldspring, Silsbee, Merryville (LA), Oberlin, Chicot State Park, Simmesport, Perry's hideaway, Zachary, Amite, Poplarville (MS), Vancleave, Bayou La Batre (AL), Mobile, Daphne (March 12).

B-52's: Saw our first strategic bomber at the USS Alabama memorial exhibit east of Mobile. Big, although not battleship big. Sidebar fun fact: Barc likes aluminum-hulled boats.

 

 

BARC'S HUMBLE CONTRIBUTION

 

 

THE SITUATION

I had a problem. Owing to a magnetism over which I have little control, so many fair maidens were throwing themselves at me, it was becoming a safety hazard. After leaving tire tracks on three bodices in a row, I had to act...  a tired woman in a bodice is never a pretty sight. I needed a haircut, stat. My long, flowing, lustrous locks, the envy of all regardless of their position on the gender spectrum, had to go (Before I go on, I know what you're saying: "Barc. Sometimes when I measure your attractiveness, I don't even consider your hair." Please. Women are getting rubbered. This is no time to kid around).

 

PROJECT UN-SAMSON

 We were in Bayou La Batre, an evocatively-named small Louisiana town which, loosely translated, means "Swamp of the Uncooked Pancake". I called "The Cut Above"...

Unknown Female: "The Cut Above. May I help you?"

Hairful Man: "Can you fit me in?"

Female-sounding Person: "If I couldn't, you'd be the first."

Feeling a little uncomfortable with the thrust of the conversation, I reined in my phone pheromones and mumbled a demure thank you; with great power comes great responsibility.

 

DIRECTIONAL FAILURE

Google Maps put "The Cut Above" about a mile down the road, just south of St. Margaret's Catholic Church. Google Fake Maps lied. Unaware of an impending Interweb letdown, I zipped down the road on my pannier-free bike, light and powerful, the biking equivalent of shedding a heavy backpack on a summit and floating away. Faster than Trump's attention span, I arrived at my destination - sort of.  Things were a little murky.  I consulted my phone. My phone consulted Google. Google insisted "The Cut Above" was right in front of me." I stared in front of me, squinting a little this time, but "Bubba's Discount Dental" continued to stare back at me. Plan B...

Still Unknown Female: "The Cut Above. May I help you?"

Hirsute Man on Bike: "Where are you?"

Lady of the Afternoon: "Marlin? You know you shouldn't be calling me here."

Shaggy: "You're supposed to be here in front of me."

Bayou Baroness: "But Marlin, it ain't Friday."

Unshorn Stud: "It's not Marlin."

Swamp Squaw: "Billy Ray?"

I hung up. The feng shui of Project Haircut: The Cut Above, was profoundly out of order. Across the street, a Vietnamese man swung in a hammock outside a post-Katrina, peeling-concrete block with a small, faded barber shop symbol (true story). He took care of my needs (somewhat true story, with profoundly limited parameters).

 

COUP DE GRAS

Over the first hundred yards of the seventeen hundred yards back to the motel, I passed seven women wearing tightly-laced bodices, and precious little else.  I braced myself for evasive action. Nothing. Not a swerve, not a lurch. My relief, as you can imagine, was palpable. The US is a litigious nation. For weeks I had been fearing getting slapped with a lawsuit for Malicious and Salacious Tempting. In these uncertain times, I couldn't be certain of the outcome.

At yard 183 of the 1700 yards back to the motel, a 3 inch spike impaled my rear tire, leaving me flat broke. The walk back to the room was interminable, and bodice-free. Karma giveth, and karma taketh away.

 

 

 

 

Pedal Pushers

"One Day"

A Segment By Barc

From consciousness to unconsciousness, here's what happened yesterday between Simmesport and Jackson, Louisiana:

6:47 am:  Woke up with my cheek pressed against a dining room chair leg, chin soaking in a pool of drool.

Context: Our Warmshowers hosts-de-jour run a seafood restaurant. They were kind enough to let us sleep on the tile floor of the dining room rather than pitch a tent amid the carnage and hordes of illegals in the backyard. That was the good part. The bad part was that we had to wait until the last diners dined. Turns out a big plate of crawfish takes about 4 and a half hours to eat - all those teeny claws...  When the Baptist preacher ordered a second plate, I nearly smote him.

9:21 am:  Made a mental note to make a pro/con list of the many reasons to go on a bike tour, followed almost immediately by a second mental note not to waste space on "pros".

Context: Amidst a steady rain, fully outfitted in good-for-the-first-five-minutes raincoats and both-ugly-and-inefficient rain pants, we cycled into a 30 kph headwind on a busy two-lane road with poor-to-no shoulders. With no choice but to put my faith in a whimsical God, I regretted wishing the Baptist preacher a swift, choking death-by-crawfish.

1:14 pm:  Came to a fuller appreciation of: 1) the dangers of not changing your Depends on a regular basis and 2) why McDonalds favours plastic seats.

Context: Enjoyed a delicious Fruit & Yoghurt Parfait at a McDonalds in New Roads, La.  The puddle of mostly rainwater grew and grew on my semi-swivel seat. Every time I moved, it sounded like a hippo asserting dominance at the local watering hole. I was not asserting dominance. I was freezing. You get that way when you eat cold treats on a cold, wet day. Third mental note of the day: create a pro/con list for self-defeating behaviour.

3:22 pm:  Spit from the apex of the suspension bridge over the mighty Mississippi River. The gob took a long time to reach the water. It landed poorly. 

Context: I read an article a few years ago about how the Golden Gate bridge was the suicide bridge of choice in North America. The author tracked down three people who survived the jump and discovered that each had entered the water in a similar way: feet-first and slightly angled back. Their heels shattered but they survived. The author additionally discovered that each of them, the moment they had jumped, instantly said to themselves "Wait! I changed my mind!" I am, to this day, haunted by this not-fun fact.

 

A moment of quiet reflection to get over the buzzkill paragraph above...

 

6:23 pm:  Politely excused myself from the dining room table of our Warmshowers hostess, nodded lovingly to my oldest brother, walked casually to the washroom, and hurled up a healthy, nutritious mixture of five Whole Foods anti-death beans, non-taste-of-the-moment quinoa, and a hundred other kill-me-now, life-extending faux-food products.

Context: Life is too short to eat food that makes it longer.

9:02 pm: Sustained a mild concussion slamming my head against the particle-board wall of an 8x8 bunkie shed, missing the mosquito but giving him a pretty darn good scare. Spent the next several minutes trying to remember... anything.

Context:  The same kind hostess who had the gall to feed us well provides a rain-resistant, bug-friendly structure - recently displayed on the cover of Outhouse Weekly - to her many, many touring cyclist visitors. Any accommodation that means you: don't have to set up the tent; blow up the thermorests; re-roll-up the thermorests; and take down the tent, is a powerful temptation; so is smelling scented candles while they're lit. I'm downgrading "any" accommodation to "most" accommodation...

10:11 pm: Dreamed of world peace, the eradication of all disease, and the downfall of Trump - not in that order.

Context: Is all. Peace out.

"Several Days"

A Segment by Geoff

Our Coldspring hostess Susan exceeded her "warm" title, providing a hot shower that ended my experimental trial with the Saputo Body Cheese Company. Cleansed and refreshed, our delicious meal of pasta and venison meatballs (with a side of homemade pizza) were just the carbo-protein load we needed after a full day's ride. The mounted hunting trophies stared straight ahead above our sleeping nook, with Barc on the sofa and I on the dog-scented animal hide carpet. Ken's sleeping bag may someday lose that Fido tang.

It seems that east of Austin, the majority of our winds are headwinds, and the road through the "Big Thicket" was no exception, with the town of Thicket the portal. (Fun historical note: "bushwhackers" is a term used to describe the press gangs who searched this dense Texas scrubland--the Big Thicket--hoping to flush out men avoiding Confederate service in the Civil War.). Honey Island is a town in the heart of this wilderness, an "island" for war dodgers that featured an abundance of natural honeycombs. On this heads-down ride, there was little sweetness for us; thus it was full speed ahead to the unfortunately named town of Kountze, at which point in my wind-driven delirium I noticed a disturbing pattern in these town names...Thicket, Honey Island, Kountze.... Coincidence, or my adolescent mind at work?

Our stopping point that night was an RV campground east of Silsbee, one known to Barc and his boys from previous tours. What may by now be obvious to discerning readers is that Barc and I are different from one another in some key ways, including our tolerance for noise. While Barc overstates my snoring, I cannot overstate how loud our campsite was. While nicely protected under an awning, we were within 200 yards of two busy highways and a railroad level crossing. That somehow these noise elements are soothing background to him is a wonder. Next to us was a trailer whose owners had planted a US flag and a sign announcing "He is Risen." While no doubt a Christian reference rather than a Trump slogan, it might also describe my need to seek nocturnal refuge in the quiet of the park's clubhouse. But what do you expect for $18 US?

In a continuing trend as predictably vexing as a presidential tweet, the road ahead from Silsbee TX featured yet another headwind to Kirbyville, with a stop for brunch at a Subway, our first of the trip. We met there Roger, a Rimouski transplant who had lived there for 40 years but still recognized our Canadian flags. His French was pur laine, but his English definitely Texas-fried. We each "ate fresh"--sort of--a 12-inch breakfast sub, a weird combo of erzatz egg omelet and all the regular sub toppings. Why not? The route turned east after K-vile to Bon Wier, our final Texas town which--like Roger--foreshadowed La Louisiane. 

Full speed ahead to Merryville (originally Marieville?) LA, where our warm showers space was a big step up from the RV park, although inevitably near a level crossing. Adjoining the bandstand on which Barc and Seb had previously camped, our hut even had AC, which appealed to Barc because of its white noise capacity: be careful what you wish for. Now installed in Louisiana, po-boy sandwiches at nearby Stu's grill (shrimp for G, Philly for B) were essential for our dinner. I slept deeply, but Barc awoke with a blue-ish tinge to his lips which eventually disappeared after a second coffee at Stu's the following morning.

In a continuing tradition, we cycled into a headwind to DeRidder LA, home of Cecil's Cajun Cafe, a Republican sports bar with good food. Gumbo? Bring it on...and was it ever good! Thus fuelled, we headed toward Oberlin LA, not to be confused with the Ohio college outpost of liberalism, music, and latkes. Just west of town, we caught up with Mike and Kathy, the remarkably youthful parents of eight kids, who had pitched their tent on the soft sands of a riverbank. They encouraged us to join them, but the mosquitoes encouraged us to decline. In Oberlin, we joined Mike #2 (a retired veterinarian from Georgia who was a thousand miles into his perimeter ride around the outer edges of the US on his recumbent bike) at the local diner for fried catfish and Philly cheesesteak. Mike #2, an experienced hiker and well-heeled bike tourist, was equipped with minimal luggage, a high-end custom bike, his Fender acoustic guitar, and a credit card, with his 8,000 mile trip goal to raise money in unspecified ways for the Fender Music Foundation, which supports music programmes in underfunded public schools. Our cause being us, we opted that night for the Oberlin "Inn," the decrepit and only motel in town, where the room was warm, even if the shower was cold.

Breakfast the next day was a pleasant surprise across the highway at the Oberlin Donut Shop, which featured a fine egg, sausage and homemade croissant sandwich, reasonable coffee, and the second-best apple fritter of the trip. The owner clearly knew his pastry, but his habit of staring out a small window and speaking of firearms had us finishing our meal quickly. 

The road ahead to Ville Platte LA would not have been complete without a headwind, so the 90km was a beautiful slog through the crawfish fields and rice paddies. Having missed Mardis Gras, we were instead treated en route to a day-after, happy family tableau west of Mamou, where a drunken husband had pulled his handicapped wife out of the pickup truck driven by their stoned nephew. Both were lying on the road's shoulder, while Billybob was looking for the truck keys the husband had quietly passed to me. I encouraged some locals to call a) an ambulance for the diabetic, vomiting husband and b) the sheriff for the nephew intent on finding his keys and driving away. Both outcomes realized, we carried on to Mamou, only to be passed by a) the sheriff's car and b) Billybob driving his pickup. Only a little perturbed, we rolled through the bead-strewn streets, not stopping until we reached a grocery on the far side of Ville Platte, where our Canadian flags attracted the attention of two Cajuns, who urged us--incroyable--to "larche pas la patate." We sought refuge from Billybob by camping in Chicot State Park, an unlikely place for him to travel for any reason.

The next morning's first coffee was at a roadside grocery where we met a retired oil rig worker with harrowing stories of his experiences on the Gulf oil rigs, and the sound advice that we (like him) ought to be carrying a handgun. We thanked him for his wisdom, which spurred our efforts into the--yes--headwinds until we reached Simmesport and Ray's seafood restaurant, our warm showers stop for the night. The affable Ray instructed us on the correct technique for eating boiled crawfish (separate the tails, suck out the meat, then suck out the head). The only downside of Ray's hosptality was his offering us the restaurant floor as our sleeping area. The last patrons left at 10:30pm, which meant it was after ten before we were able to bed down close to the floor slightly tacky with shrimp droppings. No matter: we were way past our bedtime, so lights out was literally and figuratively coincidental.

Sunday's ride was to New Roads LA, and along with the headwind was our first rainy day. Even though our rain gear functioned, it was still pretty wet going, although crossing the Mississippi River was a trip milestone for us on our way to Perry's warm showers roost for bicyclists, according to Barc a "legendary" stop on the Southern Tier route, even though this would be his first stop there. Sure enough, Perry was a transplanted Texan dynamo who served us a bean/sausage mixture over black rice: Trader Joe meets Whole Foods. Very yummy. Our bunkhouse was comfy, the showers warm, and the morning coffee bottomless. While Barc demurred (too nutritious), her breakfast treat was a combination of sweet potato and molasses, butter, and peanut butter (recipe available upon request).

After nine days of headwinds, we decided to make today a short ride of 20km, and avoid the forecast heavy rains with a Best Western solution. An afternoon of lazing about, blogging, and clean sheets has been therapeutic, and will serve us well as we hit Mississippi in a couple of days. We will know what it means to miss New Orleans, sadly, but the azaleas are in bloom, if not also the oleanders. Au revoir.

 

 

 

The Inside Scoop

 

BARC'S PART

We're sitting in a booth at The Hop, an old-school diner in Coldspring, Texas. When we entered an hour or so ago, a now-familiar little ritual played out between my brother and the staff. Like this:

We take a lot of backroads through forsaken towns and once-upon-a-towns on this bike trip. At least once or twice a day we enter an establishment that serves deep-fried food - the better ones not requiring us to push the buttons on the microwave ourselves. These are places where the proprietor looks up quickly at the sight of two cyclists walking through the door and, with a calculating eye, wonders if we'll buy enough food that he can put off selling his kidney for another week. It is with a certain amount of wonderment then, and, to be fair, a grudging respect for blind, dogged persistence, that when the server says "Yew want fries with that?", my brother invariably - INVARIABLY - asks "Do you make the fries yourself?" At this point I usually look away.

Now many of you urban hipsters may think this a perfectly reasonable question. In fact, leaving out the natural follow-up question: "And do you use duck oil?", might leave you shaking your head and conferring outer-circle status to the inquirer. But at these joints, where dust and cobwebs form on the frozen mystery-meat and an urge to change the fryer oil every bicentennial is discouraged as wasteful, the response to Geoff's question is always a long pause, as they process the question and what might be behind the question, and then one of many, many regional variations of "No, sir." It's amazing how many ways "No, sir." can sound like "You gotta be shitting me". 

Where was I...  oh yeah, we're in Coldspring, Texas. Speaking of springs, we sprung from El Paso to Austin in a rented car, eliminating 10 days of the trip; the first seven endless desert, the final three endless climbing. I'm trying to feel ashamed of myself, but it just won't take. We detoured north to Carlsbad Caverns, an absolutely extraordinary, other-worldly place, and my only regret is that I didn't do it with Seb and Emer each of the last two years; think of the Mines of Moria as depicted in the Fellowship of the Ring, remove the orcs and balrog, add electricity to provide subtle, evocative lighting, and you're more or less there.

We're now cycling through Greenworld, having left Brownworld west of Austin. As a species, we must be genetically predisposed to lushness. I was cycling past our first genuine big lake of the trip this morning, in the Sam Houston National Forest, and some primitive part of me just thrummed in a very satisfying, non-political way; no wonder the editors told Bible-writers to scrap "The Desert of Eden" first draft.

Last night we had our first truly stealth camp of the trip. 'Til now we've sought and received permission to pitch our tent behind churches or bars or wherever, but last night we were passing through a dark, scary state forest and a small part of me said "I want to expose myself to giant, feral hogs in a setting with no cellphone reception". So I did. They were unimpressed - maybe my raincoat-opening flourish needs work. In a state of anticlimax, we wandered into the woods and pitched our tent. It was okay for me.

Geoff is covering the details of our trip in his writing.  I appear to be offering Sunday Supplement "Slice of Life" segments. Maybe we'll switch on the next blog, but I doubt it. Peace out.

 

GEOFF'S  PART

 

Having experienced the cornucopic tip of Texas (El Paso), all else was likely to be a desert in the coming days. My brother, displaying remarkable good sense and route savvy, ignored any macho completion fixation to suggest we rent a car and visit Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, which would mean missing out on a week of nothingness in the south Texan desert, apart from the spectacle of the occasional illegal being chased across the Rio Bravo by ICE agents. Another day, another collar, in Mr. T's Amerika. Very sad.

The Caverns were worth the detour. Access to the Big Room, the Suessian wonderland 85 storeys straight down by elevator, or more interestingly 1.5 miles down a switchback path that begins (literally) at the mouth of the Bat Cave. The interior pictures I took are largely dark and uninteresting, but our wanderings in the defined and well-railinged (especially beside the "bottomless pit") were compelling, as the space had an area of 14 football fields and a ceiling height of over 200 feet in places. We couldn't think of which particular Dr. Suess book the place evoked, but both evoked wonder. The photo of Barc staring for several minutes at one column requires a caption I dare not provide.

The car ride to Austin in our rented Passat is remarkable for three things:

1. The speed at which we could travel legally: a "limit" of 80mph on two-lane rural highways and the interstate were more guidelines to most drivers, and Barc (our driver) had his own Das Auto moments at speeds occasionally north of this. Hills and wind mean nothing to cars.

2. We saved 500 miles or so of pedalling in the desert, and thereby about 10 days or so, rendering this trip the "Southern Tier Lite" route...only 2,700 miles.

3. Texas is still very wide.

Austin, the state capital, is home to Lance Armstrong's bike shop, which despite his fall from grace still displays the various bikes he rode during his several Tour de France "wins." I am sympathetic to his drug-aided rides, as I admit to using both ibuprofen and naproxen on this trip. No blood transfusions yet. Austin has a whiff of Portlandia about it, and the Whole Foods market attracted a wide range of hipsters, some even cooler than we are, to buy organic meals and dine on their terrace. My super foods salad medley topped with salmon has added a year to my life. Post-dinner was a mystery author book reading at nearby BookPeople, a thriving independent bookstore somehow able to attract first-rate authors to read and sign. Had we been one week earlier, Ian Rankin was their guest! This night two Texas-based writers were on tap: Kathleen Kent and Joe Lansdale, the latter a fairly big name. Both were entertaining, but there was no mention of Rebus, the Oxford Bar, or McCaffery...just a lesbian police detective in Dallas and a black&white detective tag team (the black enforcer is gay, of course) on the trail of crooked cops. We had clearly stumbled into the blue, NPR-addled, fake news part of red Texas! Our brief Austin visit concluded with a visit to the legendary blues bars on 6th Street, one of my pre-identified trip goals. Like many idealized music scenes, the reality on this Thursday night was less than expected; mostly empty clubs with aggressive doormen pitching their product ("No women, but lots of cold beer," offered one), stoned panhandlers, and a police presence. We did sit in for a set at on place featuring a power trio fronted by the next Stevie Ray (he was good, but the two others didn't keep up). We also heard a female blues harpist (yes, a real harp) in an Irish pub. She was good, but I wouldn't come to Austin just for the music, based on the slice we sampled.

Back on the bikes Friday morning and to camping on the back roads and small towns of East Texas. Winchester's one bar/general store/restaurant offered Burger Nite T-F-S, so this Friday we enjoyed a pretty good burger, which I washed down with Shiner Bock, a beer brewed just down the road. Travis, our bartender, was like many in this area of rural Texas a person of German descent, settled by presumably legal immigrants in the 19th Century. While Baptist churches of all stripes are commonplace on our route--only every two miles or so--we camped behind a well-kept Methodist church across the road...I guess sort-of Christian sects are allowed in Texas too. While little Jonathan and I both like trains, our chosen campsite (we learned belatedly) was only a couple of hundred yards from a level crossing, so throughout the "nite" we inevitably woke to the repeated airhorn blasts that in other circumstances would be charming.

Saturday was a really nice day and beautiful ride through the increasingly gentrified hills to Independence, TX. The Ewing homestead would look downscale compared to a few of the spreads we saw, most with iron gates with the property name a scrolled arch: Century Oak Farm, The Willows on Oak Hill, Trophy Wife Manor, etc. Our tent was pitched on the site of an old cotton gin, and a stroll to the general store, where Mike records the names of all touring cyclists who stop in. Nice. Sunday featured a side-windy day to the Sam Houston forest, where we pitched our tent a few miles east of the smouldering forest fire we cycled through. My worry was not the fire getting us, but the wild boars apparently plentiful in the area. "Poppies," said Glinda. "Poppies..."

Awaking alive and unmauled this Monday morning, we rolled into Coldspring for a lunch where we sampled the best-ever onion rings and caught up on our e-mails, blogging, and re-hydration at "The Hop," a 50's retro burger joint incongruously playing Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes. Tonight we're stopping at a Warmshowers host a few miles down the road that I'm hopeful actually offers a shower. I would not dare to speak for Barc, but I know that I'm overdue for a good scrub. Some details are best left unwritten. Adios.

 

 

Taking Kale from Strangers

Geoff's Segment:

Blowin' with the Wind

Having now taken the time to read my brother's earlier posts regarding this trip, it's a little frightening to imagine the thoughts he is not actually writing down. His delight in apocalyptic scenarios not coming true reverses Jack Reacher's credo ("Hope for the best, plan for the worst"). Barc's version: Imagine the worst, take perverse delight in normalcy. Perhaps rolling every day for hours on a bike seat has interfered unduly with the blood flow to his thought centre. He is good company, though, and his prior experience along this route has been essential to our efforts, for which I am thankful. Plus he usually makes me laugh. What we've both appreciated are the joys of the tailwind, which made the 85km from Deming to Las Cruces along the I-10 a pleasant roll. 

Unexpectedly, I am enjoying audiobooks more than music as a road companion, and this ride completed Operation Mincemeat for me, an account of MI-6 deceiving the Nazis regarding the Sicily invasion by floating a dead body in to shore in Spain (a more accurate version than The Man Who Never Was, an earlier book). Considering the tribulations of WWII will make any cycling discomforts easy to take, by comparison. My other find (c/o Barc) are podcasts. Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, As It Happens, The New Yorker..this new-only-to-me technology is PVR for the ears.

As we neared Las Cruces, we passed first a desert speedway on which insecure men were compensating for their shortcomings by driving Porsches at high speed around and around the circuit...Barc and I compensate at more modest speed, but at least with a destination in mind. Closer to town was a firearms range: the sound of gunfire just off the highway served as an accelerant for us toward the long, fast downhill to Las Cruces (elev. 3,900'), where our warm showers host had literally left the door open to us to join two other men already encamped at her home, one for a few days, and the latter a few weeks(!!). Our hostess was off touring with a fifth itinerant cycle tourist/guest that weekend, showing remarkable trust in us and particular warm hospitality to him. John (resident there for only a few days) had left Florida in the fall, when he quit his job as a carhop and decided to pull a kids bike trailer stowed with his gear to Oregon, via San Diego. A talkative fellow, John was certainly on an interesting voyage of self-discovery and physical challenge, but remained chipper four months in. We will not take the same endurance test, thankfully.

Brother Barclay--while not a fraternity man, religious adherent, nor Freemason--is most certainly a man of many rituals. On this "Not My President's Day" holiday Monday, we needed to breakfast at the same Cracker Barrel at which Seb and Emer had both dined with him in 2015 and 2016. Both boys presumably also avoided the "gravy" served with the requisite biscuits. For the experience, I sampled a taste of this congealed, lukewarm mess-in-a-bowl, its beige colour as bland as its taste. A side of baby vomit, anyone? Monday's sun, west wind, and balmy temperature were perfect, so we were making good time toward the Texas border and El Paso when we were overtaken by a small truck driven by Ray, who ostensibly wanted to talk about cycling with us. Barc saw in him a potentially deranged person, and Ray's offer of freshly picked kale from his garden was no incentive to my brother, a meat and potatoes man, for whom the veggie offer from Ray was equivalent to a lighted Bates Motel sign. I nonetheless accepted his invitation to pick fresh greens out back of his junk-strewn hovel, while Barc remained at the rusted gate, providing our coordinates to his son so that the police could be notified about where to find our bodies, or at least some forensic evidence, when we disappeared. I believe Barc's wacko-meter is more sensitive than mine, calibrated to the norms of southern Ontario and the mini-putt population. While odd, Ray really only wanted an audience to talk about himself, cycles, his yard full of rusted cars, and more of himself. Turns out he may have invented and built the first Fat Bikes, but made only dollars rather than millions because of those darned Alaskans and the Chinese. This rationale no doubt sounds reasonable to a Trump voter, but Barc was alert to the potential for exaggerated claims. The kale patch, though, was verdant and a potentially delicious hostess gift for Erica, I thought. Turns out Barc was wrong about Ray's sinister nature, but correct in presuming Erica would be lukewarm to this gift, regardless of its provenance.

The last leg of the day followed our rest break at Barc's official El Paso Starbucks (the day's second ritual) in the fashionable west end of town, and our shortcut for the last ten miles was along a freeway closed to traffic, a fact pointed out by only a small minority of the workers sharing the road with us. Most waved to us in a happy way.

Our hostess Erica (www.ericagamet.com) lives near UTEP, earns a living as a master IT trainer, and is a total Anglophile. Despite her tall pile of tech projects-on-the-go, she was generous in sharing her time, good humour, and apartment. Barc Ritual #3 of the day was dinner at Kiki's, an institution apparently famous for its chicken machaka(roast chicken smothered with cheese and salsa). Washed down with bottomless Arnold Palmers, the dish itself was delicious and calorific, the day's exertions creating barely enough room. We decided to spend another sunny day in El Paso (yes, "the pass"), a city with good free museums, great Tex Mex food, and as a bonus the home of the AAA Pacific Coast champs, the Chihuahuas. That evening we took in a couple of innings of a high school game played at the Chihuahuas home ballpark. Even at this level, Barc and I agreed that baseball involves more macho posturing than even football. Somewhere in the midst of this we did decide to alter the standard, planned route (and Barc's ritual) by cutting out some barren south Texan desert (and many miles of wear and tear on us) by renting a car and looping up to the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns for some caving (report to follow). We'll consequently need to adjust our diets temporarily until we get back on our bikes in Austin on Friday. Kale, with a side of ribs? Adios.

 

 

Barc's Segment:

 

Remember a couple of posts ago when Geoff grew tired of a slight breeze in our face, impulsively stuck out his thumb, and instantly secured us a bowel-withering ride in a pickup with Charles Manson's meaner, more unstable brother? Well, we have a new example of...

 

Positive interpretation

...Geoff's willingness to fully embrace all peoples and places, leading to potentially marvellous experiences.

 

Negative interpretation

...Geoff's fantastic, possibly-pathological inability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, and dark from light. Put Forrest Gump on a bicycle, add a few IQ points but subtract an equal amount of judgement points, and you have my brother.

 

Like this: we're rolling happily down a secondary highway about halfway between Las Cruces and El Paso, wind comfortably on our stern quarter, when an old Toyota pickup comes up from behind, zooms past me, and slows up to cruise alongside Brother Geoff about 50 yards ahead. Something about the scene reminds me of one of my fun scenarios, the one where a gangbanger lethally targets Geoff for choosing elevator music over rap, so I quickly switch my song selection to Notorious B.I.G. and await developments.

What develops is Geoff pulls over and a wiry, wizened garden gnome of uncertain years gets out of the truck and starts talking rapidly and very enthusiastically, accenting every third word with an arm swing or a head jerk - think Dennis Hopper as the photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, but less reserved.

Gnome: WOW! YOU GUYS WERE REALLY ROLLING!!!! I CYCLE TOO!! WHERE ARE YOU GOING???? ARE YOU HUNGRY???

Geoff: Well, we...

Gnome: WHERE ARE YOU STAYING TONIGHT?????!!!!!! I CYCLE TOO!!!!! I RUN BIKE TOURS IN MEXICO!!!! ARE YOU HUNGRY????

Geoff: I...

Gnome: SORRY THAT MY HANDS ARE SO DIRTY!!!! I WAS PUTTING AN ENGINE INTO ANOTHER TRUCK AND I SAW YOU GUYS GOING BY SO I JUMPED IN THIS TRUCK AND CAUGHT YOU!!! ARE YOU HUNGRY????

At this point I'm trying to catch Geoff's eye to indicate that, much as I enjoyed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it's time to disengage from this live performance. Geoff fails to catch my eye.

Geoff: I'm a little hungry...

Gnome: GREAT!!!!! DO YOU LIKE KALE?????? I LIVE JUST A HALF MILE BACK, THE PLACE WITH ALL THE CARS OUT FRONT - IT'S A BIT OF A MESS - BUT I'VE GOT AMAZING KALE!!!! (turning to me) WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?????

Barc: I couldn't kale less.

Gnome: (turning back to Geoff) YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT BUT MY WIFE OF 30 YEARS MOVED OUT LAST YEAR TO A HOUSE A MILE DOWN THE ROAD!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT??? WE'RE STILL MARRIED BUT SHE LIVES THERE AND I'M HERE!!! WHATEVER WORKS, RIGHT????

Geoff turns to me like the idiot-child in a horror movie who decides to pull back the drapes and, blank-eyed, says

"I could use some kale."

Oh... My.... God.....

The gnome calls himself Ray. Ray's place is... troubling ; two acres of overgrown, junked cars in front - overgrown thanks to the remarkable fertilizing properties of body parts stuffed into trunks, glove compartments, and cup holders.  Unknown acres of psychosis inside the two structures looming behind, probably the skinning room and drying chamber.

Ray: THE KALE'S JUST BEHIND THE BUILDING!!!! C'MON!!!!

As I watch Forrest Dowd disappear behind the building, I'm still straddling my bike at the end of the driveway. I pull out my phone and call home. My son Seb answers. "Seb." I say, "Your uncle may die shortly, and I may be next." I proceed to tell him where we are, approximately, and that I love him, specifically. Death is in the air. I'm waiting to hear Ray's voice. "BARC!!!!!!! GEOFF FELL DOWN!!!!! COME QUICK!!!!!! 

Quiet. Too quiet. Then... sucking wound sounds? After enough time to harvest seven kidneys, let alone four heads of kale, Gump and Ray return. Ray is still talking. Geoff is not. The why-the-hell-not shine has left Geoff's eyes, replaced by a rare hint of awareness. Twenty minutes too late, he's realized that getting away from Ray will require unusual effort. Ray's got game.

Geoff does what he has to do. He throws his brother under the bus. "Barc's really into bikes." he says. Suddenly, I'm shielding my eyes from Ray's manic energy. "REALLY?????? I INVENTED FAT BIKES!!!!!! LOOK AT THESE RIMS!!!!!!!! LOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!

Later, much later, we carried on down the road, hyperactive chatter ricocheting off the cacti behind us. The fire had cleansed me. I was at peace. I had accepted my role. My brother turned to me:

"Lieutenant Dan!" he said. "We've got kale, Lieutenant Dan!"

"I know." I said. "I know, Forrest. Good for you."

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Having Fun

fun

fən/

noun

  1. 1.

    enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.

    "the children were having fun in the play area"

    synonyms:enjoymententertainmentamusementpleasure

The trick to having fun on long bike trips, as with long dinner parties, is to manufacture internal amusements when traditional, external sources of enjoyment are in short supply. Some people outsource this responsibility to alcohol and chemicals. Weak. Weak and sad. My successful, twisted strategy for self-funnelation involves imagining fairly horrible scenarios and then, when they don't come true, FUN!!!

Here's what didn't happen the last two days along the 150 miles from Safford, Arizona to Deming, New Mexico:

- I wave to an Arizona state trooper driving the other way. He waves back but then realizes that I'm holding a small gun in my delicate Canadian hand so he turns around, drives up beside me, and shoots me in self-defence. Too late, he discovers the "gun" is a tube of hair gel favoured by balding metrosexuals. For a few days, the trooper is a little bummed out.

- We've got the tailwind of our lives and are flying across the landscape. We've never gone so fast. I look back and Geoff has fallen off his bike, dead from a heart attack. By the time Geoff's body is carted off, the wind has died too.

- I stop amid the vast desert landscape, walk off the road a discreet distance and start to pee. I feel a burning sensation. I look down and see that I'm standing on the charred corpse of Bryan Cranston. Bad break.

-  We stop at a rest area and Miss Armitage, my grade 9 english teacher, is writing on a chalkboard behind the picnic table. She hasn't changed a bit. I get tumescent in an untimely way and have to cross my legs while riding the bike. She turns and faces me and...  she's old. Older than me. By a lot. I uncross my legs.

All to say, don't worry about me. I'm having fun. Peace out.

 

And now, a word from Geoff...

 

Donald Spoto's biography of Grace Kelly was my first audio book on this tour, indeed my first ever. The narrator was fine speaking in his flat American accent, but in taking the voice of French or Italian speakers in the text sounded Russian. The bio provided a good deal of insider Hollywood history, as Kelly was right in the middle of things, an MGM player who fought the studio system. Most interesting for me were details of her three pictures with Hitchcock. What I hadn't known--the full list is long--is how short her film career was, and how she was only 52 when she died in a Monaco car crash caused by a stroke. 

Our ride out of Safford--mild wind, sunny skies, good vascular circulation--gave me time to mull another untimely death: Stuart McLean at 68. One of my many happy family memories was attending (with Kathy, Rebecca, and Sarah) a Vinyl Cafe show at PDA as my birthday present. Was it 2013? Whatever...great laughs, good music, and a fine time listening to an amusing storyteller...frankly, better to listen eyes-closed, radio-style. If I were the teched-up sort, I would have downloaded some Dave and Morley for the ride that day. Easy, evocative comfort listening. "In a time of plastic water bottles, CBC is the village well." Thanks, Stuart McLean, one of the well-diggers.

But enough about death. Our road through the high desert to Duncan (elev. 3,600') featured a long climb past historic markers for whites slain by Apaches--no memorials for murdered natives (oops, death again)--and a fun, winding descent into Duncan...despite this descent a net altitude gain of 800' from Safford. We have benefitted from Barc's warm showers connections, this night scoring a free bed in a tiny, teardrop trailer (c. 1950) out back of the Simpson Hotel, an off-beat B&B with its back garden filled with religious icons, cats, chickens, and a friendly goat. Our absentee hosts...liberals existing in a land of Trumpish types...left the back door open. Nice. Duncan itself is a typically spare southwest town: shuttered stores, fading paint, and trailers...lots of permanent trailers. But across from the nearby Methodist church was Humble Pie, a one-man pizza shop. Pete is an artiste of the genre: dough and sauce his secret recipes, and toppings hand-picked from his market sources. Cheese? Special order. Barc and I were happy to eat in and chat with Pete--in business there for 19 years--while a steady stream of take-out business suggested his reputation was wide. Our all-dressed special was of a calibre that might compete with Little Italy's better offerings. Next time you're in Duncan....

The breakfast at Hilda's was pleasing for me: huevos rancheros, with a green pepper salsa. Sadly, Barc's lukewarm pancakes couldn't soften the butter. There are worse problems, though, like a strong headwind. But not this day, where we cruised the 100 miles (!!) to Deming NM with a good tailwind much of the way, the speed offsetting the bland views from the wide shoulder of the I-10, unless the hundreds of discarded beer bottles littering the highway scrub are of interest. The moment of crossing the"continental divide"(at least on this route) was as anti-climactic as crossing the equator at sea must be. Even though we were at 4,600 feet elevation, the roadside sign was our only hint of this transitional point.

Deming NM apparently exists because it lies along what was a stagecoach route at the junction of two railway lines. Not much else recommends the town, apart from a record number of motels and restaurants along its three-mile long Pine Street, by odd logic basically treeless. With a healthy respect for strong headwinds and our being overdue for a rest day, we spent our Saturday in Deming, where we visited the local history museum, described by the volunteer greeter as the Smithsonian of the West. Not exactly...but still a good collection of historic odds and ends in a building that originally served as an armoury. Barc was particularly taken with the Braille edition of Playboy...he claims he didn't see it. Mexican tonight at Si Senor (Pine Street), and an early start to Las Cruces tomorrow, ideally with the forecast tailwind. Adios.

The Kindness of Strangers

 

The Kindness of Strangers

February 15, 2017

And on the tenth day we rested. Having enjoyed warm welcome and delicious dinner c/o warm shower hosts Suzanne and Don (S&D) in northwest Phoenix, we repaired to our digs: their 40 ft trailer parked out back. I was in the front end sleeping area, while Barc preferred the large upper bunk in the rear, which perhaps recalled for him some happy youthful memories. But wait: our hosts (and their four dogs) insisted a second night would suit them, as Suzanne's mom Ellen, acquainted with my brother from past visits, had somehow been charmed by him. The next day featured relaxation, NY Times crossword, shopping at REI for biking essentials, coffee at Dutch Brothers Coffee, a chain featuring servers who have all drunk five expressos before facing customers very energetically, and Costco...my first of the trip (homage to KJM), and pleasing in its sameness. S&D were champion hosts, and Ellen and Brian's welcome at their Architectural Digest home on a Phoenix hillside a great dinner. Amazing the generosity of people.

Phoenix is a poster child for the catastrophe of suburbia, spreading about 80x60 miles over the desert. We wound out of the city diagonally along the Arizona Canal bike trail, eventually passing ASU and its artificial lake, past the Cubs spring training facility, and out to Apache Junction, an exurb of this sprawling city. The Walmart there seemed a collector for the halt and lame, the downtrodden, tweekers, retired circus freaks, and us. Fairly depressing, but the litre of chocolate milk powered us onward to our night's hosts Betty Kay Betty Kay (not a misprint) and Robb. Once again we were pampered by these new friends, and camping on their patio, largely free of rattle snakes, was a pleasure. Their place is on the edge of the desert, and looked out to the eastern hills, the route for the next day's climb.

Valentine's Day featured no chocolates from Barc and a day of extreme climbing in glorious sun (btw, sunblock for lips, I've learned via pain and blisters, is a must). The first climb was a modest 6km or so, a steady but pleasant climb over a mesa's shoulder, and down and up again to Superior AZ. The next 16km, though, featured off-road cranking to avoid the death tunnel, narrow shoulders, and a climb that would fit in well on the Tour de France, but all amidst spectacular views and canyons. Lots of ups and downs after this, including a roll over a bridge favoured by jumpers (sadly true, as per the plaques). I stayed well clear of the railing and Barc. The ride finished with yet another long uphill into Globe AZ, and pizza with Cynthia (host) and Patti, two clinical psychologists who work with Apache people at the San Carlos rez wellness centre. Used to dealing with the likes of us, we had a jolly time sharing thoughts on the sociopath currently serving as the US president. Patti was among those who went to DC for the Women's March. Hope lives.

The next day hope died, though, as we headed east into a strong headwind. Barc's memory of this may be different, but three hours to go 30km was not going to get us to our goal before midnight, and camping out on the rez was not an option. After peddling with effort DOWNHILL to a grocery break, a pause featuring varied expressions of despair, Barc's false courage, and colourful language, we set out uphill after determining a rez bus was not an option. After cranking a couple of miles more, uphill into the stiff wind, Barc stopped to fix some wardrobe malfunction, which gave me pause to think: Why am I here? What is truth? Is Carl's Jr. better than McDonalds? But what was the white shape appearing on the horizon? A pickup! A pickup! I stuck out my thumb, our good Samaritan Robert stopped, and salvation of some sort was at hand. O wedding guest, let me fix you with my glittr'ing eye: are you one in three who will hear my story? We bundled the bikes and packs into his pickup, and sped the remaining 80 km to Safford, crushed into the front of his cab, as the back was filled with his massive speakers. When Cream started playing Sunshine of Your Love, my spine vibrating to Jack Bruce's bass line, I knew we had arrived, if not at salvation, but at least at the Safford Walmart. Robert, a born-again ex-addict and criminal, had felt a divine power urging him to stop for us. On this day, even Barc felt the healing power, whatever its inspiration. We awoke the morrow happier (not sadder) and wiser.

 

AND NOW A WORD FROM BARC...

You know those news reports where they send some disposable reporter to the scene of a hurricane, and you see him reporting live from the scene and he’s all bent over, screaming into the microphone, old ladies and TV’s flying past in the background? Well, we cycled into that wind today. Dear brother Geoff has been a fair-weather cyclist for some time and forgot how, in certain conditions, if you don’t keep pedalling down that steep hill you will, in fact, be blown back up that steep hill. On Youtube, were you watching someone else try to cope with such conditions, it would be rather amusing.

So things are a little appalling from an eastwind point of view. It’s already taken us 3 hours to do the first 17 miles of an eighty-mile day. 12-14 hours of continuous cycling is suddenly on the table. While no one likes a challenging bit of fun more than the Dowd brothers, the wind had sandblasted our fey natures fairly early on; stoical grimness descended on Barc (me), while Geoff sported a kind of WTF shocked expression, combining disbelief with why-am-I-here-ness to an almost unbelievable degree. Complicating the situation was that 70 of the 80 miles were on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Why is that a complication you ask? Allow me to recount a snippet of conversation I had with a clerk last night in the Safeway grocery store in Globe, Arizona:

Perky Stock Girl: You cycling?

Intrepid Middle-Age Canadian Suddenly Sucking In His Gut: Yep.

PSG: You staying on the rez tonight?

IM-ACSSIHG: Nope.

PSG: Good.

IM-ACSSIHG: Why?

PSG: Because if you did, you’d totally get murdered and burned.

 

Okay, I wasn’t really sucking in my gut the whole time, but the rest of that exchange is absolutely true. Apparently, there’s a whole lotta drug violence, gang violence, and general unhappiness violence goin’ on in those parts, and random camping overnight is strongly discouraged.

Naturally, I discounted the ramblings of the PSG as another example of horrible, ignorant, racist tripe of a kind practiced by clown-haired imbeciles everywhere. But that night we had dinner with two clinical psychologists who worked on the reserve and, unhappily, they agreed that the reputation for arbitrary mayhem was well deserved. Machetes were particularly popular. Yikes. Sooooo, the complication being that once we started the rez, we had to finish the rez - 70 miles  worth - or face almost certain hacking death, followed by a possibly respectful incineration. The next morning, we woke up merely fearing for our lives in a general, machete kind of way, then came the headwind…

An 80-mile ride that would normally take us a leisurely 8 hours is now looking like a purely miserable 12 -14, with the last several hours cloaked in darkness in a potentially, though surely not really, murderous setting. What will the Hardy Boys do????.  Here’s what “they” did: at about mile 25 Geoff suddenly pulls over and sticks out his thumb. Just as suddenly, a white pickup truck pulls over, disturbing the feng shui of a tanker-truck driver immediately behind, who angrily feared an unexpected and unconventional cremation-first, death-second scenario. Geoff spoke to the pickup truck driver. The pickup driver spoke to Geoff. An accord was reached and we threw our stuff into the back of the truck.

 

Robert, our Good Samaritan, drove us 55 miles to Safford. Please indicate which remark below, uttered by Robert, you believe to be true:

A)   I mean, I should have been locked away for 25 to life, but all they got me for was some DUI’s.

B)   You know how you put that thing around your arm when you’re shooting up? When I was seven I would put both my hands around my brother’s arm cuz he didn’t have any, like, elastics.

C)   So I drove an ice cream truck for a while and I used to, like, pull out an ice cream sandwich and say to the kids on the rez “You guys fight. Whoever wins gets the sandwich.” And they’d just go at it!

D)   Yeah, I tried all the programs and nothing worked. But six years ago, I don’t know how, God called me. My pastor said God chooses some but he only calls a few. I don’t know man, I just got called.

E)    All of the above.

 

Too eeeeeeeeeasy. All fun and games til someone loses a guy. More adventures to come. Peace out.

Flat Tired

Blue Skies, Grey Highways

February 11

 

There are at least fifty shades of grey asphalt and its cousins, all once proud blacktop, but aged and beaten down by the years and tire wear into grey middle age. At our leisurely pace, I have become a particular student of the shoulder lane, to which sensible bicyclists must hew. Whether riding the wide sort found on the interstate, or the narrower variations on the secondary highways (our principal routes), I've been interested to see every few miles or so burnt asphalt outlines on the shoulder. These rectangular effigies are likely cars abandoned and left to burn. Why so many in the Southwest? Insurance? A settling of accounts? An alternative theory is that hill-weary bike tourists have self-immolated (Buddhist monk-style), unable to face one more long climb.

The ride out of Quartzite took us past the many gem vendors peddling crystal rocks to the apparently robust market of new age adherents and lazy souvenir seekers, then up another long but gradual climb up the I-10 until we could get back on Rte. 60 and into the desert. What struck me was the straightness of the road: at least twenty miles dead ahead with no bends, but very gradual ups and downs. Two surprises in Brenda (pop. 676): a salad bar for only $4.99, and it was good. I channeled my inner Greg Scruton and loaded that one plate heaping full! This day featured a headwind and record high temp for this date (87F), so the road ahead to Hope (pop. 0) was longish. Once there, the question for our plucky team was whether to camp out and save a long climb for the next morning, or get it out of the way before dusk. We thus chose the road beyond Hope--sorry--and got as far as Salome (in AZ the biblical reference is lost on most and the town name rhymes with comb, a tool I may need to obtain should I not get a haircut soon). Don's Cactus Bar provided us a campsite out behind the trailer, excellent burgers, cool Bud Lights served by the affable Jeff, and a perch for us to watch Duke upset the Tarheels. A good day and a free campsite, although one scented with creosote. As grandson Jonathan and I both like trains, he would have been as excited as I to sleep just 30 feet from the train line, which allowed me twice that night to awake screaming, just like J, as the freight trains roared past. Or was that Barc screaming?

After a fine breakfast at Don's, Barc found his rear tire flat as we prepared to leave. In his previous two cross-country trips, he had a total of one flat, but today was to be a special payback for his atheism. In changing tubes, his zealous efforts punctured the replacement tube #1, so #2 was installed successfully while I reminded myself how to--and not to--patch spares. Barc will no doubt recount in his blog the subsequent flats, caused (in part) by a ghost wire that had penetrated his Kevlar tire. It turns out the subsequent flats (day's total: 5) were caused by another agent (the goathead thorn), and he stopped every two miles to pump up his tire, a slow leak on the remaining 20 miles to Wickenburg AZ. Poor Barc feigned good spirits as he sought to catch up to Grant from Ottawa, a fellow biker and true mechanic going our way whose company Barc now regretted eschewing earlier (author's note: Barc is selectively anti-social). After a grinding climb, we were able to cruise mostly downhill into Wickenburg to avenge our father's death (no, that was Wittenburg), blew through this Sodom celebrating its annual "gold rush days" with rodeos, brightly-lit rides, and Trump voters, and coasted a couple of miles past town to a truly friendly welcome at the "Horspitality RV Park" (yes, horses are welcome) as the daylight was waning. Key score: $5 off our campsite fee with my military veteran discount (the hospitable Sue did nor probe the exact nature of my actual service record, a scant few months in the militia in the summer of '72). Thus, a warm shower, PB&J sandwich (Barc's specialty), cheese, sausage...a good toothbrushing is always the right dessert following this menu...and reading before a good sleep.

This morning began with a slow descent into a mild headwind all the way to Phoenix (85 km) where Barc and I are now sharing a table at his favourite Starbucks. We had a coffee and donut holes with Sue at her office to begin the day, where we were relieved to discover that the Trump bobblehead and life-size cutout (except for the hands) in the office were not her idea. Originally from Vermont, she lives now as a political minority in RV land, where groping women is presumably standard practice. I will treasure the picture Barc took of me and the current Prez's effigy, the cardboard about as deep as Mr. T. Himself. Pity the fool.

Lunch today was an homage to our parents, Betty and Ainslie, who were known to take advantage of the Golden Corral's tasty buffet offerings, just as we did today. As Barc passes for a senior and I actually qualify, we saved $1.80 US on our bill, of which mom would approve. The food was actually pretty good and varied (both healthy and deep-fried), if unsurprising. The only disgusting part was how much food was being put away by the numerous walking dead working on their Type-2 diabetic preparedness. The small plates are a hurdle, of course, but not a discouragement. But never mind: I finished off with mint chip ice cream, a final nod to our late mama. The final 35 km (of the day's 90) will work off at least the ice cream, and two of the onion rings. Tonight we'll be guests at a warm showers host Barc knows well...nice to have a friendly place to land that we know in advance. Did I mention the desert and cacti are beautiful? They are. Adios.

Flat Tired, A Poem of Sorts by Barc

 

A tent behind Don’s Cactus Bar

Smelled like sweaty tube socks trapped in a jar

Old men made unpleasant noises inside

Suggesting all filters had shriveled and died

 

Finally one old man emerged through the flap

The younger old man, the one without clap

A glance at his bike showed the rear tire flat

He muttered a word, it might have been “drat”

 

The tube was replaced, air pumping began

He pumped very hard, as only he can

In hour or so on, he finally twigged

That the new inner tube, was also frigged

 

The tire levers had pinched, a jagged hole

Like greed and avarice pinched Trump’s soul

A second tube was installed with care

Unlike Trump’s soul, we carried a spare

 

That tube lasted, thirty-two K

Just long enough for hope to say

“Thanks for setting me up you prick

I thought tube two had done the trick”

 

The tire was re-examined, now that it mattered

Now that sanity was frayed, and scorched, and tattered

The young old man found a wire

Hiding like cancer, deep in the tire

 

The surgeon’s knife, dealt with the scourge

Redemption music began to surge

Flat number three would be the end

The fabric of happiness, would begin to mend

 

Flat number four, came one hour later

The young old man became a hater

A darkness descended on the Arizona plain

A darkness unrelated, to a chance of rain

 

The last new tube was, duly inserted

All hope of success, duly perverted

That tube went, on the thirtieth mile

Five flats, one day, taste the bile

 

The old men still had, twenty miles to go

It was desert, no services, only ravens and crow

The young old man hatched a plan that was sad

He pumped up the tire and pedaled like mad

 

Every two miles, he pumped again

A kind of fever seized his brain

Interval training, how hard can it be?

Ten reps of two miles, no stops for pee

 

And that’s what he did, the pathetic freak

All the way to the campground, seemed like a week

The young old man, when he finally stopped

Had eyes like a tweeker, frantically hopped

 

The old old man, talked him down

“It’s cool, man.” he said “We made the town.”

“We’ll fix the tire tomorrow” he said

The young old man nodded, and went to bed

 

The next day they found, a goat head thorn

Diabolically embedded, its top half shorn

New tubes were procured, new hope oozed out

And all that day, troubles were nowt

 

But the young old man, was a bit of a wreck

Karma had stomped on his head and his neck

Like a swarm of evil, memory gnats

He’ll never forget the day of five flats

 

Motion is Lotion

 

February 6, Geoff speaking

Ups and Downs

Kathy knows that camping is not high on my good times list, but on this road warrior adventure with hardcore Barc it was the right thing to pitch the tent in Pine Valley after Day 2, even if the site was on gopher-infested land. Barc was more concerned with the security of our belongings--shady youngsters about, looking for bike bags, no doubt--so our all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner down the road a little was one serving only, truly the early bird special ahead of an early night in the bags at 6:30 pm local time. What we had not factored was that the overnight low would be about -9C, so we slept fitfully, as we had not layered sufficiently. Won't be fooled again....

Day 3 was our third and final day of climbing in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and my goal for the finish was to sleep in warmth near a TV with the Super Bowl. As luck would have it, Jacumba had the requisite environment, plus the healing waters of a spring-fed hot spa. The nearby landscape also featured The Wall, which we had on our right for several miles along the Mexico/US border, which of course gave us both a warm sense of security and insulation from illegal aliens. A fellow at the bar tried to engage me in anti-Trump talk, but fearing a ruse, I did not engage. This was wise, as another group in the bar were so moved by Fox's pregame coverage later on that they were moved to applause at contrived nationalistic moments. Jingoism in situ! the game was fun too, even if I lost a $1 bet, but the bonus of being in the West was that the game was done by 8:00 pm or so, thus giving us time to recover from Lady Gaga's exertions at halftime. 

Day 4 (today) was the ride to Brawley, our resting place for the evening after our first 100km+ day, but onewith an asterisk. After some modest climbing for a few miles after breakfast, we rode down over 3000 ft and ten miles on a fast, wind-sheared Interstate 8. As planned, Barc was ahead of me, and we had agreed to meet at the exit halfway down featuring a sign that said "Bikes Must Exit." Somehow I neglected to note this sign as I hurtled across the ostensibly dangerous overpass, teeth gritted, watchful for potholes, and generally avoiding death. Now I was ahead of him, and his thoughts were consumed with the thought that should he be incapacitated, and I unaware he was behind me, oh what would happen? Our joyful reunion near the bottom of this piste featured strong language and general outrage on Barc's part, an interesting reversal of our 1983 adventure when Barc biked onto the elevated M road on our way to Heathrow: think of Montreal's Metropolitan highway, but less safe. At the time I coined the term "minor intellect," which Barc was misguidedly pleased to re-apply to me today. The "asterisk" I added to our century ride today is that 16 km of it was a fast descent with no peddling, and 75% of the rest featured a strong tailwind of the sort that had Professor Marvel packing up his wagon in Kansas. Yes, tumbleweeds too, but perfect.

My last word on today is that I have now seen romaine lettuce picked in the fields: those elastic bands we see around heads of lettuce at Maxi are actually slipped on directly in the lettuce field by the labourer who cuts the head from its roots. As we rolled through Brawley, it was pleasing to cross Cesar Chavez Boulevard. He and migrant workers generally work harder than than cyclists on tour, even if tomorrow's ride through the desert is 120km. I have said a small prayer for another tailwind. Adios

 

Barc here. It’s a pleasure to chat with you again. We are at the Coco Palms Mobile Park, south of Palo Verde, awaiting the arrival of our host John, who promises exquisite barbeque of a texture and tenderness unknown to 99% of mankind. Let us not pretend otherwise, tonight we are 1%-ers and, while my aged riding partner fumbles with our bike map, issuing staccato bursts of outrage at slights known only to him, I’m practicing looks of elistist disdain consistent with our temporary status. Funnily, I seem to have a knack for it.

 With respect to recent events involving long descents and missed exits, no harm actually came from the potentially tragic blunder. Let us put it behind us and remember that it is best not to dwell on the relative powers of siblings. Brother Geoff has described the experience as best he can, and we can ask no more of him; that would be unfair and… mean.

 Today’s 63-mile ride from Brawley was, like yesterday coming out of the mountains, a remarkably pleasant wind-assisted effort. Had we set a world speed record, which we surely did not, our time would have been disqualified. That’s why we didn’t set a world speed record. Today’s highlights included crossing the ten miles (10 miles wide but 400 miles long) of Algoma Sands National something-or-other, a truly Saharan expanse of sand dunes and powersport enthusiasts drawn to sand dunes. If you squinted both your eyes and credibility, the dudes in the distance, standing on the crests of massive peaks of sand, adjusting the testosterone throttles on their berserker machines, could have been named Lawrence; there was even a train.

Changing gears, and regarding my personal fitness level for this trip, I may have made a slight miscalculation. My unshakeable conviction was that no matter how out-of-shape I was, no matter how pathetically soft and squishy and stiff and clunky I felt, I could never be as feeble as my ancient desk-bound retiree brother. Oops. Five days of riding has convinced me that I may not have to wait for him quite as often as originally planned. He is… doing… rather well (he said, choking out the words). Let us hope that my natural athleticism and brilliant physical powers will shortly reestablish the natural order.  Sigh… First Trump and now this… Can we take nothing for granted?

 

The next day…

 

A hot, sunny day saw the intrepid duo chug chug chugging from Palo Verde, California to Quartzite, Arizona. Crossing a state border is a pretty big deal on a bike trip. It felt so special the first time, I backed up and did it again, triggering a playful scream of frustration and annoyance from my brother. He’s so funny.

 Except when he’s… truculent. This morning we were at a highway intersection and Geoff had stopped to look at the map, his front wheel protruding a foot or so onto the two-lane highway. A large RV was bearing down on us from behind and I said to him, in a rare note of fraternal concern, “You might want to move a bit.”

In a tone of voice remarkably like the petulant, stubborn, entitled schoolchildren with whom he spent his professional life, he replied “No. I don’t.”  Denial of reality is currently in vogue in the United States. Perhaps my brother had an alternative fact that he hadn’t shared, one not involving an immoveable object meeting an unstoppable RV. Yowza.

 But, like the missed “Bicycles Must Exit” exit on the harrowing interstate descent, everything turned out okay. The RV driver was paying attention and did not smush my brother. I did not have to tell his wife Kathy that Geoff died taking a stand that was important to him. Question: If bad decisions pass without negative consequences, do they become good decisions?

Blythe Spirits, Geoff Speaking
 

As much of southern California is desert, the patchwork of green fields in the Imperial Valley is in stark contrast to the sand and stone everywhere, and speaks to the continual need for water from overtaxed aquifers to keep this land arable. One of my favourite movies, Chinatown, features John Huston's Noah Cross going to criminal lengths to buy up desert near L.A. ahead of the water getting there. That tale was set in the 30's, so I wonder who made the real estate deals in this valley (and others like it) decades ago, who controls the water, and how long it will last.
 

Never mind, our water bottles are full, and on Day 5 we passed through real desert east of Brawley around Glamis, not to be confused with Macbeth's land, but right out of T. E. Lawrence. This Glamis (allegedly a town, but really a whistle-stop) is a mecca for dune buggiests, who were scurrying bug-like over the dunes. Unlike TV commercials, we saw no scantily clad young people catching air, but Buddy and Gloria were taking a break at the tables outside the store at Glamis, allegedly the t-shirt capital of the world. their RV was no doubt nearby. I might have bought a souvenir, but Jabba the Hut was at the cash and scared me. That "no washrooms available" was the sign outside is suggestive.
We had another friendly tailwind for our 100km through the dunes and rolling highway, with an early arrival at our first "warm showers" host, a network of kind souls who offer a bed, campsite, and/or food for a nominal fee to cycle tourists. Barc had built up my expectations of meeting Nancy, a massage therapist, great cook, and Haight Ashbury survivor. Sadly, she was on assignment, so her neighbour John was our host. A friendly soul, he provided a tasty meal for us in his trailer packed fully with mementos of all sorts. Now I like to hang on to things, but John has dusty treasures from every stage of his interesting life, and was pleased to provide the back story to many. We camped on Nancy's deck next door, a happier experience than Pine Valley thanks to the comfortable temperature and lower altitude. Even the howling coyotes did not disturb our sleep.
Day 6 began with a great run through the Colorado River-fed fields between Palo Verde and Blythe. Two highlights:
 

A) Meeting David, a solo cyclist who has been on the road for weeks escaping his personal ghosts in Mississippi. Having foresworn the advertising world and the perfidy of certain women, his ride was an extended cleansing of the soul. His ironic sensibility, as suggested by his Conway Twitty cycling club shirt, and his amusing tales of the road were a happy diversion for us.
 

B) Barc pointed out a crop-duster flying over fields in the near distance, but no dusting was occurring. As we approached a dusty crossroads, I had a brief Hitchcockian moment of alarm, but the plane did not buzz us. False alarm.
Our brunch in Blythe was in the fantastically retro but genuine Courtesy Coffee Shop, built in 1964 and staffed still by its original waitress. Such one-off restaurants are generally our preferred stopping points for the one non-picnic meal of the day, a nod to Barc's belief in the sanctity of eggs and bacon.
 

Half the day's trip done, the remaining 40 km featured our anti-climactic entry into Arizona (one state down, six to go) as we crossed the Colorado River, a long uphill grind on the interstate, and the slow descent into Quartzite through a wilderness of RV's camped in the desert. My key role in this trip is to advocate for comfort, so the Super 8 is our friend tonight: the biker's special.  We'll see if their bacon-less breakfast measures up to my brother's high standards. Adios.

The Big Brother Tour

READER'S ADVISORY

Full disclosure: I am not my brother Barclay. While this is good news for me, I am indeed his older brother by 4.5 years, and we've set out on a cross-country bike ride that may test the family bond, and certainly our stamina. After two days, no crises.

This "Barc's Chair" blog, established by my little brother in 2015 as a chronicle of his trip with his son Seb, was originally meant to be a full-purpose site on which readers could follow their Southern Tier adventures and hear regional jokes from interesting people met along the way. The hilarity and local colour would be compelling enough to become a Youtube sensation, with TV offers soon to follow. The idea was for these locals or fellow travellers to be filmed sitting in the 85 lb chair Barc constructed and was to pull behind his bicycle across the Southern Tier route for 5,000km or so. He realized after Day 1 and a series of long climbs that this project was a Sisyphian folly, and thus Barc's Chair was modified to become Barc's Bench, only 40 lbs and thus much easier tow. Always a quick study, Barc recognized within another day or two of pulling this load up some long hills that any trailer was not going to function as planned if he was to pull it, so the whole assembly conveniently broke and was discarded somewhere in the California hills. Last year Barc did the trip again with other son Emerson, their trailerless journey successful and largely joke free. Blog entries for Years 1 and 2 can be viewed somewhere on this site.

This third year I will be Barc's trailer. Being a considerate fellow, Barc has worked hard at his diet to ensure his conditioning is relatively poor, so my rookie trek begins with both of us looking to be in shape by the time we reach the Florida coast in early April. We have agreed to co-blog intermittently for those wishing to follow our adventures, and we will not be reviewing or editing the other brother's posts in advance. Perceptive readers may discern the literary device known as the "unreliable narrator." Barc's posts typically feature "alternative facts," but you can count on my contributions to largely accurate and truthful. Whatever the case, we will be rolling through the Southern US in the early days of the Trump administration, and so have confidence that all this country's ills will be addressed in short order. Or not. It will be an interesting ride.

Brother Geoff has written some kind of preamble giving context for his decision to ride across the States with me. Presumably you've just read it. Well, now you can hear my side.

It's Day 2 of Trip 3. The same trip I've done each of the previous two years, each time with a different son.  It feels strikingly similar to the previous Day 2's, except for the fascinating sibling element that allows me to blame my brother for all aches and pains, all unfavourable weather conditions, all... everything.  As a parent, I took full responsibility for every aspect of the trip. As a sibling, I only take responsibility for the good things. This could be fun.

What hasn't been fun - and I blame my brother - is re-entry into the tedious reality of the 60 or so mile climb that begins the trip. The happiness barometer, bright and sunny in San Diego, drops steadily as we move up the Sierra Nevadas. Lunchtime reads drooping and weak. Late afternoon, feeble and disoriented. I called June last night and, after a few minutes of what I thought was light, clever banter, she said "I'm going to go now cuz you're rambling." The bottom of the happiness barometer reads: "No One Loves You". Sigh...

But that was yesterday. Today we've climbed for a mere 25 miles and knocked off early in beautiful Pine Valley. Saying we've "knocked off early" in that blithe way sounds nice. It almost sounds like it was a conscious choice rather than a no-option response to our bodies shutting down. I never knew legs could have a heart attack. By infallible logic based, I think, on Newton's fourth law of misery and overreaching, our bodies will feel better tomorrow. I long for tomorrow. Some people train for these cross-country trips. Others merely complain for these cross-country trips.  I speak, of course, for my brother.

I write from the Pine Valley library. Time has gone by and Geoff is slumped in a chair behind the stacks looking unwell. Several people have nudged him to see if he's still alive. They are not reassured. I'm going to end this first posting before someone calls the paramedics. Perhaps if I wipe the stream of drool glistening on his chin he'll look less disturbing. Perhaps not. Later y'all.

 

February 4

In the Footsteps of History

I am thankful to Barc for partnering with me on this trans-US trip, but at this early stage it's clear that we are inevitably re-tracing the route and highlights of his two earlier treks, his history. The youth hostel in San Diego, the motel in Alpine CA, the tent site behind the fire station in Pine Valley CA: these are touchstones for Barc's nostalgia for his younger days when his lovely boys did his bidding on this ride. I am less tractable, and in time, my perspective will factor. Curiously, his staple diet of bread and peanut butter is not my thing at this stage, but I am willing to share my sardines, avocado, and almonds. Theme 1 of this trip for me is to eat interesting regional food, but thus far slim pickings beyond the usual fast food options (Jack in the Box, anyone?) in populated areas, while in the desert we'll carry our rations. Mexican street food is the first cuisine on my radar, and Barc clams to like this food too. Thus, in the shadow of The Wall, we plan to eat well in the near future.

A word on my travelling companion: Barc is an agreeable free spirit who has fought a long, losing battle against the indignities of age. As the owner of a seasonal business, he is free to take on new projects, and as he ages has found in cycling a new obsession, and has crossed the continent three times in the last four years. We'll see if this experience breaks him.

The first two days were mostly uphill as we cross the Sierra Nevada mountains, and we have some climbing tomorrow as we make our way to whatever town has a TV on which we can watch Atlanta win the Super Bowl. Good nachos will be a bonus. My road biking and stationary cycle training brought me to a baseline level of fitness in advance of the journey, but there's nothing like the real thing, baby. Several hours of sustained riding and hills at the outset are a fair reminder of my own mortality. Still, I'm feeling remarkably good after finishing today's ride, helping Barc clean up his vomit, and eating a slice of fine pizza for lunch. The sun is shining, and our first night of camping is nigh. Whether Barc is only an indoor snorer remains to be seen. Adios

Finish Lines

 

RECIPE FOR A SUCCESSFUL FATHER AND SON CROSS-COUNTRY BICYCLE TRIP

 

Ingredients

1 dad who pays for everything, as long as everything means PB&J's, roadside camping, and reliance on the kindness of strangers.

1 son with remarkably low expectations of accommodation, diet, and dad.

1 shared belief system that showering and laundry, like the multiverse, are interesting theoretical concepts, but unimportant to daily existence.

2 much time on your hands

4 titude

4 bearance

10 sion deficit disorder 

23 inches of precipitation

2000 kilometres of desert

525,735 metres of total ascent

Preparation 

Roll out of airport on lightly flowered surface and, after 3 blocks, knead to tighten handlebars as Emer turns right but goes straight. 

Slowly mix in fortitude as you climb over the Sierra Nevadas in the first 3 days, beating yourself up for not starting in better shape.

Set oven on broil and freezer on icicle, then place desert in a vast bowl and cycle bowl between oven and freezer until chapped and desiccated.

Add peanut butter

In a separate bowl, combine rain with forbearance, then pour into the big bowl for three weeks straight.

Sprinkle entire mixture with a dusting of ADD, but don't spend too much time on this step.

Churn everything for two months, then let sit.

Serve hot, cold, wet, frozen, and room temperature. Recipe feeds two.

 

Thank you Emer for a wonderful trip. We have this fantastic shared memory together, and we have it forever and ever. That's pretty neat.

Love always,

Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheel Twubble

Question: If you borrow a bike from someone and, after a few gentle days of riding, a section of the rear wheel where the brake pad squishes decides to lift and separate a mere three inches or so, are you obligated to replace the wheel?

Answer: No.

This classic morality tale played out in Tallahassee a couple of days ago, over the Easter weekend, when Jesus not only rose again, but borrowed and broke Ken's bike when we weren't looking. Okay, I did try to do the right thing, but neither of the two places I went to had a 36-spoke, double-walled, 26-inch wheel, and I didn't want to put a lesser-quality part on the Surly Long Haul Trucker. Granted, Popeye's Chicken and 7-11 haven't carried that particular size of wheel for some time, but at least I tried.

So with only five days to go before St. Augustine, "we" decided to take a chance that the wheel wouldn't continue to deteriorate. Emer seemed to think that an inferior but stable wheel was a better choice, but I asked him to picture Ken's face when we returned the bike with a Dollar General wheel. "Would he prefer it returned with a broken wheel?" he asked. "Yes." I said, "He would." 

Not that this excellence-and-only-excellence strategy is without risk. Because of the pesky delamination of the metal sidewall, the rear brake had to be disengaged. To compensate, we put new brake pads on the front (and unused rear) brakes - a pretty serious investment. We're also travelling through some relatively uninhabited backwoods country for the first three days, an area scoring low on population and income, but high on "Trump for President" signs. The good news is, if we do break down and need a lift, the statistical likelihood of the next vehicle coming along being a pickup truck is off the charts.

You can imagine how pleased Emer was when, after twenty miles into gator country, the rear tire went flat. "Don't jump to conclusions!" I didn't say. "It may be unrelated to the profoundly unstable sidewall issue!" I didn't say it because, like Emer, of course it was the goddamned cracked wheel that, with a degree of asininity rare even for me, I had decided not to fix.

Except that it wasn't. It was a flat in a completely different spot. As the redemption music swelled in my head I took the opportunity, during the repair, to cover the ridge-over-troubled-metal with Gorilla Tape, adding another layer of confidence to my dubious proposal to proceed into Swamp-People wilderness on a brokeback bike. I mean, to make Emer proceed into Swamp-People wilderness on a brokeback bike.

And now to the Present: two days down, three to go in the quality-first, money-second Wheel-Twubble experiment. The Gorilla Tape is holding, and Emer has even started to sing again. Emer's singing has been a fairly obvious is-my-child-happy barometer throughout the trip, and it's nice to hear him letting go of petty fears like getting stranded in the middle of a bog where his pretty mouth would single him out for special attention. If we make it to Gainesville tomorrow, the back country will be behind us, and the cultured road to St. Augustine will ring with his song.

See ya.

States of Mind

The nearly constant heavy rains and thunderstorms of the last few days have yet to dampen our spirits. Here's why:

- cycling all day in a marine element lubricates the sticky latch mechanism on my wallet, allowing my Scroogian psyche to spring for a motel at the end of the day. The creature comforts of even a modest inn are so overwhelming, so purely decadent and hedonistic compared to turning a crank under a waterfall for 8 hours, that every night is Christmas morning.

- I've been listening to an audiobook by Oliver Sacks called Musicology, which investigates "the power of music to move us, to heal us, and to haunt us". One of the cases describes a 42 year old physician hit by lightning while emerging from a phone booth (for the younger readers, ask your parents what a phone booth is) and suddenly developing a new zest for life and amazing musical powers, teaching himself piano and composing classical pieces (we'll skip lightly over the part where these new passions led to a certain untidiness in his personal life, including divorce). Anyway, as we ride through crackling lightning on our wonderfully-conductive frames, I see only the upside: I get to play the piano.

- When playful classmates referred to me as Elephant Boy during my formative years, the allusion was not to any particular deformity of feature, but because my skin had the colour and texture of an especially non-metrosexual pachyderm. Well... for any of you still suffering in dermo hell, let me tell you that if you perform low-impact, drudgery-infested aerobic activity in monsoon conditions for multiple hours a day, the outer you will simply glow.

Our hands are really clean.

Yours with inner sunshine,

Barc

P.S. The bottom photo, blue skied and paradisal, was taken from the bridge onto Dauphin Island, Alabama about a week ago. Sure it was nice and everything, but we had to use sun screen like crazy...

Misfire

If you average it out, we heard about 43.67 rounds of gunfire for each of the 70 miles we cycled yesterday through rural Mississippi. The numbers are skewed somewhat by someone or someones in the last 10 miles deciding to test the self-defense, or possibly squirrel-hunting, qualities of his rifle on full automatic. It was loud and it was long.

Think of Bonny and Clyde (who actually met their fully automatic demise in Louisiana, at the hands of state troopers) pulling over about a half mile ahead of you to make a cellphone call. As you cycle into a mild headwind the cops, rather than applaud the safety-minded couple, open up with their machine guns, and the percussive sound carries instantly to your delicate ears. You let up slightly on the pedals, not because you're tired - though you are - but because some primitive spider sense tells you that ahead there be darkness and mayhem. Yet you're so damn powerful and you had such a head of steam that before you know it you're right up on the scene and the noise is deafening. Holding up your passport, the troopers pause for perhaps two seconds as you slip through the scene, wheels running over so many brass cartridges that it feels like gravel, then the hellish uproar starts again behind you, the leadwind providing an unexpected but useful counter to the headwind. Cycle easily for about another half mile and pull over. Good. That's how long the person or persons with the probably-illegal gun or guns was shooting yesterday in Mississippi.

It's been raining a lot but, like Charlie Chaplin reaching down to pick up a quarter just as the girder swings overhead, we have, for the most part, kept flukily dry. We'll pull into a Dollar General for peanut butter and, while arguing over extra crunchy versus merely crunchy, the skies will open for an hour. We'll get to a campground with a place to set up the tent beneath a cat on a hot tin roof and, within five minutes of crawling inside, there'll be meteorological lions, and tigers, and bears - oh my. On the days when we do get wet, I feel such smug satisfaction at what pathetic-yet-remarkably-tough figures we must present, imagining people in every passing car saying "Those poor bastards...", that it's almost worth the sopping layers of discomfort to be able to clench my jaw and nod curtly to a passing motorist - the movie-in-my-head panning slowing across my chiseled features, soft focus. Some people will do anything for attention; with such heroic self-delusion are presidential bids launched...

We crossed into Sweet Home Alabama a couple of hours ago - no gunfire yet. Confederate flags still dot the landscape and pickup trucks but, not surprisingly, we've met with little extreme prejudice in the South. We were having a pleasant conversation with the owner of a restaurant a couple of days ago, and I asked how the business was going. "Yeah, it's mostly good," he said "but the other day a "n"-woman called up the food inspectors to say there was a roach in her grits." Well, call me a naive, Obama-loving-liberal, but the absolutely casual way he said the "n" word kinda stopped my heart for a second, pleasant expression frozen on my face. Did I say anything? Did I call him on it? I did not. I just felt sad and a little lesser-than. 

Okay, now I'm totally bummed out from remembering the encounter. Time to tell you my favourite joke:

I told my wife she was drawing her eyebrows too high.

She looked surprised.

 

That's better. If only everything were so easy. See ya.

Ham Sandwich

I was nearly crushed to death the other morning between a pickup truck and five little piggies going to market. Like this: Emer and I were rolling through Cottonport, Louisana, following the bend of a river swollen enough to make a pretty decent paté. Since I was setting the pace, the water was moving faster than we were but, unlike the river, I wasn't getting too big for my bridges. Setting the scene just a tad more, the population of Cottonport supported two gas stations, a Subway, and Miss Scissorhand's Shear Delight, but failed to reach the level of human density necessary for a Piggly Wiggly grocery store; there, now we're clear.

Back to the action: as we rounded a curve, river on the left, slave-quarters-converted-to-Subway on the right, we were surprised to find a pig cage straddling the centre line, complete with pigs. Even Tom Jones would have to admit that it was unusual. Y'know those "volunteer" toll booths that service clubs set up in small towns to indulge in a little fundraising via guilt extortion? It was like that, but without the pails and guilt. The cage was about four feet by six feet - I think - but I didn't pace it out. Instead, we leapt off our bikes and helped the two hapless pig transporters, one in his twenties, the other in his hundred-and-twenties, to shove the cage off to the side of the road. Note to the uninitiated hog-shover: pigs are  heavy.

After seconds of painstaking work, I have reconstructed the event: the world's oldest pig deliverer stopped for a ham sub and a nap. Waking up, he stomped on the accelerator while pulling out of the parking lot, dislodging his porcine parcel. Why? Unresolved anger-issues stemming from the Civil War? Fine-motor skills starting to deteriorate in his 13th decade? Winning a bet that pigs can fly? We may never know...

Q: Why did the pig cage try to cross the road?

A: To get to the other sty. 

Back to the story: so we pulled our pork over to the other side. Another guy, of appropriate cage-lifting age and physique, who had been fishing for crappy in the river, joined the team. Then - stick with me now - I says to the ancient oinkiner, I says "Okay, here's the plan. We'll tilt the cage at a 45 degree angle. You back the pickup truck into position and we'll lower it down onto the tailgate. Then, we'll lift it onto the truck. Got it?" 

He got it. Most of it. The part he didn't get was that as we tilted the cage up - I had my back to the pickup while the other guys, the more far-sighted guys, lifted from the sides - he was supposed to stop in a timely manner while backing up. Try this at home: put the tailgate down on your pickup truck and walk 20 feet behind it, keeping your back to the truck. Then bend down and lift something that feels like it ways 500 pounds. Then ask your most playful friend to back into you, fast, with the tailgate, but magically forget that you asked him to do it.

That's what happened. It was pretty startling, as you might imagine. It's not everyday that I try to lift 5 pigs in a cage, so I was kinda focussed on the task. The transition from Good Samaritan to Squashed Samaritan was rather sudden. Everyone but me screamed various versions of "STOPPPPPPP!!!!!" I might have joined them, but I had chain link metal in my mouth and was, as I think I already mentioned, somewhat caught off guard. But the fossilized freak eventually found the brake pedal and, other than some interesting welt-patterns front and back, all is well. We got the creatures locked and loaded, and sailed merrily on our way. As the demented elder might have said had he been capable of coherent speech: "That's sow business!" 

The Pun Police just called and asked me to stop. Just stop. So I will... Bye from Franklinton, Louisiana where, once again, it is raining. Not that I'm complaining. I'd rather be wet than a potential pork chop stranded in the middle of the road - that would be unsavoury. Peace in.

 

 

 

 

 

Rain Check

A week ago we were sitting in the living room of an 85 year old Texas woman, watching the torrential rain come down. A tornado warning was in effect too, just to add a little something something to our reluctance in setting out. "You boys will have to go back to your area." she said, in the manner of a schoolmistress shooing the nerds outside at recess. Our "area" was the attic zone of her barn where, metal cots lined up in neat formation, cyclists were allowed to sleep, provided they be out by 10:00 am. It was 9:58.

We could have stayed another night, I think. Chances are, if I distracted her, and Emer put a sack over her head, she could have been subdued. Maybe even calmed. But when an 85 year old woman shoos you out of her house, and it's 9:58 in the morning, and you have a choice between counting cots in a barn for 24 hours or, just possibly, landing your bike on Glinda, Good Witch of the North, all roads lead to Oz. So we bundled up, put our heads down, and ventured - nay, adventured - into the denture of the wind and rain and rain and rain...

That was a week ago. Since then Louisiana and East Texas have experienced historic and record-breaking rainfall and floods. After approximately fourteen years crossing Texas, we were thwarted in our first attempt to enter Louisiana (a virtuous state) by the first of multiple road closures along our route. A passing Game Warden informed us that we had to go north about 70 miles before we could find a road open going east. Shut up, I said. You shut up, he said. Just kidding, I said. I'm not, he said. At that point Emer intervened with a magic trick, defusing a potentially ugly confrontation.

By the way, for those of you tracking every detail of our progress, Emer's all better. He blames his brief illness on some Jif peanut butter that we bought from a tiny store in Hill Country. We might have twigged to the product being somewhat dated by the fact that it was 29 cents for the jar. But we didn't. The grey colour didn't slow us down either. We reasoned that this must be Texas wood-fired peanut butter, and ashes a delicious part of the package. We're reasonable people, after all. Speaking of reasonable people, we've started encountering cyclists coming the other way.

The rain and detours have disrupted the delicate balance that is blog production, hence the delay between postings. By tomorrow we'll be back on the original route, having only lost a couple of days and, maybe, I'll get back on track. When we arrived in Newton, Texas a couple of days ago, a state of emergency had been declared, and the fire department was set up to receive all the evacuated population from the flood zones. Despite our protestations that we weren't exactly homeless, they treated us to free food and drink and let us pitch our tent beside the hall with more than usual firefighter kindness - good people.

We finally entered Louisiana yesterday, and it was worth the wait. The father and son shared-experience can go to some weird places. Just sayin'. Peace out.

Ex-Austined

Emer's feeling under the weather. Like many of the larger animal species, the first indication of illness is when the creature goes off his feed. Yesterday he declined lunch - I attributed the decision to playful perversity - but then he passed on dinner too. Uh oh. Time to call the vet.

But before throwing money away on life-saving measures, I asked him to please speak directly into the stethoscope and tell me what was ailing. Just tired, he said. Just wanted to sleep, he said. I can help with that, I said. Just another twenty miles, I said. Is that okay, I asked. Don't care, he said. Alrighty then, I said, and we soldiered on.

Speaking of vets, and touching on random acts of kindness and the glow produced on both sides of the transaction, Emer and I were treated to coffee at Starbucks by a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.  For those of you caring about times and places, this was in Bastrop, east of Austin, after Emer had skipped lunch but before his sign-of-the-apocalypse refusal of dinner. The soldier liked biking, he liked what we were doing, and he really liked the idea of buying us coffee. We liked his way of thinking, and were actually pretty enchanted and touched by his enthusiasm and generosity.  Emer even experienced a temporary lifting of the malaise threatening to make him pedal as slowly as his father; a happy, caffeinated interlude.

We rolled into Bastrop State Park as night fell, through the gate and past the fine trimmed lawn. No authority figures asked for our papers. Not knowing where we were going,  we randomly headed to the first set of campsites we could find, which turned out to be reserved for RV's and aircraft carriers. We fit right in. "Don't worry Emer", I said, "I'll set up everything. You just rest your bones." Five seconds later: "It's a bit windy, Emer, could you just grab that corner?" Ten seconds later: "C'mon! Do you want to sleep or not? "

Finally, with me doing practically everything, we got the tent set up. The boy crawled into the chamber and... was... gone.  Today he claims to be feeling better, but as I write from the McDonald's in Gidding, Texas, he's lying flat on his back in the booth. "You've got to be Gidding!" I said. Classic... One day Emer will look back on this trip with, with a kind of fondness for his dad. I'm sure. No doubt about it. But first he has to feel better about himself...




Moving On

Bloggers Note: My last post was so bad, I got a call from Donald Trump telling me how much he liked it. It has been removed.

 

We've been staying with Laura, Aaron, and 17-month old Ayla in Austin for the last two days. Seb and I met Laura in a coffee shop last year and, as some of you may remember, we were her Act of Kindness for 2015. This year we fall under her 2016 Courses of Compassion program and, thanks to our tax-deductible status, got to stay another day. Actually, since Laura sees the "good" in everyone, you never really know where you stand with her: are you a pure charity case?; are you an amazing person that she simply must meet?; is your neediness something that nourishes her? We may never know...  But as someone with a generous-spirit three sizes too small, allow me to say that, literally, these are wunnerful people.

After 35 days of sun, the forecast is for storms and rain all this week. As Emer prefers the cold to the hot, we'll soon find out if he prefers the wet to the dry. 

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We're not quite done with the hills, but in a week or so we'll be done with the all-day rollers.

But not the irritating obstructions...

Peace out.

The Second Son

Emerson waves to all motorcyclists, presumably feeling a certain two-wheeled kinship. I do not, for I have boundaries. He estimates a return-wave rate of approximately 50%, dropping to 0% when he wears his second buff over his face in true-jihadist fashion. Even his father, the most open and non-judgemental of people, cringes when Emer assumes his Death-to-America guise. Yes, he may get 72 unexperienced-females-of-varying-ages-and-body-types in Paradise, but he ain't getting lucky on this trip rocking the Achmed-the-Unwashed look.

The Middle Child is faring well so far. The lashing cane is attached to my bike, in the spot where long pumps used to sit, and perhaps the visual reminder of the beating stick has dampened Emer's historic tendency to carp. For whatever reason, long days of mild toil, long weeks without a hint of soap or water to disturb the body's natural cleansing function, and an exclusive diet of Jif Extra Crunchy all combine to create, beneath layers of sediment, a fine figure of a man.

The profoundly squalid tree-planting culture may explain Emer's comfort level with grime and, of course, tedium. For the last two summers the Middle Child has thrived amid the black flies in a post-apocalyptic landscape: bend, perform C-cut in scorched earth, insert sapling, repeat - thousands of times a day. Why, this bike tour must seem almost like... almost like...  a vacation (It seems so simple once you think it through...). If, every night, like the planters, we were folded in the warm, wafting arms of ganja, I believe Emer would touch the Atlantic, point his bike in a new direction, and just keep going.

But the demon weed plays no part in our travels at the moment, he said righteously and, looked at narrowly enough, without even a spliff of the hypocrite. I write from the porch of the Lost Maples Country Store in Vanderpool, Texas. Sprawling trees surround me. It's beautiful. Toto, we're not in Pecos anymore. See ya.