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.




Just Deserts

You see I've been through the desert on a bike with no name

It felt good for the first few days

In the desert you can remember your name

Cuz there ain't another goddamn thing to distract you forever and ever and ever...

 

I write to you, in a state of culture shock, from a Starbucks in Del Rio, Texas, population 35K souls, some saved, most just hoping for an inattentive, forgiving deity. Last night, we created our own Canadian community in the desert, population 2 transient souls, heavenly all-access pass... doubtful. The crazy pace, lightning-fast wifi, and shocking demographics of Del Rio are making our dirt-spattered heads spin - in a mere half hour, we've already seen over 10 people under 50! So this is where the young people go... Emer can barely cope with the sudden, suffocating near-peer-group immersion.

After 23 days of being surrounded by every manner of botanical prick, we are bidding the desert adios -Texas Hill Country awaits our pleasure. Over the next few days, the trees will go from stunted to stunning, the ground from gravel to grass; a decompression chamber where, deprived of sensory stimulation for weeks, we gradually reacclimatize to surface life. Some people are drawn to the desert. Some people like to cut themselves. I'm just sayin', I'm glad it's over.

(We're on our way to [Bracketville] tonight, {home} of all variations of asides). With luck, the firepeople or sheriffpeople will allow us to erect our tent aside of their dominions, maybe even under a tree. 

This is the bridge to the desert, over the Pecos River. Back in the 1800's, they said there was no law west of the Pecos. Now there are two less people. Peace out.



Marfa Less

I waited a long time for the store to open. I waited in vain.

This is the only Prada store in the world that sells single shoes. June's been dragging her left foot a little lately, and her red Pointy Toe Pump has unsightly scuff marks.

Emer tried to buoy my spirits by striking the pose that won him the Most Male Model award at last year's Milano Fashion Week. But it didn't help, so I took a nap.

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When I woke up and the store still wasn't open. You can imagine my disappoint. Emer offered to buy me a balloon.

 

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But I didn't want a balloon, I wanted a shoe.  Finally I had to go somewhere else.

And they had it: a single, red, Pointy Toe Pump. In fact, there was a 2-for-1 sale, perfect for June's two left feet. Happy wife, happy life. Can't believe Target didn't work in Canada.

Good In-Tent-ions

Many of you are clamouring for a description of our evening, how-we-find-a-place-to-camp routine. By many, I mean no one, but I'm hoping to generate interest after the fact. So quit'cher potential yelling and begging already, get a nice hot cup of tea, put your feet up, and settle in for a not-at-all-idiocyncratic account of our sunset tradition. We'll take two nights ago, somewhere east of El Paso, as a classically-representative example:

 

Barc, pulling over and pulling headphones from his ears: "Son! It's getting all twilight-ee. We'd better start thinking about a place to camp."

Emer, pulling over and not pulling headphones from his ears: "What?"

Barc, gesturing to his delayed child for bud-removal with less patience than good-parenting books would advocate: "We need to find a place to camp!"

Emer, with a certain insouciance uncommon to many delayed children: "You think?"

Barc, jamming his headphones back in and starting off again, expecting blind obedience from his Middle Child: "Follow me!"

Emer, with a forbearance even rarer in children thought-to-be-delayed by their fathers: "Yup."

 

So we plodded along and, as I searched for 8'x 8' pieces of earth unlikely to experience gunfire or tire tracks over the next 12 hours, I reminded myself that we're now in Texas where, if rural legend is true, property owners have the right to shoot trespassers and, depending on the county, even collect a bounty; extra care is required. (I think I'll speed up my account, your tea's probably getting cold)

A copse of trees appeared on the north side, between the road and a train-track embankment. It was about the size of an elementary-school gym in a small town with an insubstantial tax base - make that an abandoned, inner-city, primary-school gym that, even in it's finest days, oozed a lack of team spirit and barely enough room to set up a tent (okay, now your tea's cold). Signalling politely to an imaginary safety-counsel audience, eyes squinted in the gloaming, I directed my bicycle woodward.

The centre of the mini-forest was somewhat dense. What you're probably thinking was: are wild boars territorial?  That would be good, for "we" would only have to kill the one with our 3" Bear Grylls knife. Emerson, clutching hardened steel, waded into the heart of darkness, his father's advice to slash-first-and-ask-questions-later ringing in his ears. There were sounds of a struggle, some grunting, an unearthly cry that neither man nor beast could make, then Emer returned, licking the blade. "We're good." he said. I love my son.

A clearing between discarded tires, about the size of the vice-principal's office, made an excellent spot for our tent. The first of approximately two hundred and forty-seven freight trains passed by, about 4 feet away, while we were setting up. My fear-generator noted our perfect location on the outer-apex of a sharp curve of the track, so that when the train derailed, which it almost certainly would, we could fully participate in the event. 

But for some reason that didn't happen. And we weren't rousted by the selectively-vigilant Border Patrol (Mexico was about two miles to the south). And we weren't shot. If anyone owned the 50 feet of property between the road and the train track and happened to spot us, they must have been out of bullets (perhaps not all of the clickety-clack sounds in the night were of choo-choo origin).

So we had another "free" night. Yay. FYI, the money we save, living like dogs, or boars, on the side of the road, is allocated to the Save the Dowd Children Fund, a profoundly non-profit family trust. All contributions gratefully received.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Push Bikes

A few days ago, Emer and I rode the stretch between Superior and Globe (Arizona), climbing up and up to Top of the World (the actual name of the community), then down and down to Globe, via Miami, copper mining capital of the world. Except we didn't. Combining the thrill of modern cross-training with a more primitive instinct-to-survive, we pushed our bikes, uphill, against a hurricane wind, on a road with no shoulders, for - oh, I don't know - about 6 miles. But let's start at the beginning of that fabulously tedious day.

The Queens Creek Tunnel, just east of Superior, Az., has a fearsome reputation in the cycling community. Depending on who you talk to, between 2 and 10 riders have been struck and killed attempting to navigate its 300-400 yard length.  A roadside memorial, with bicycle handlebars, dims the joie-de-vivre of eastbound bikers about to try their luck through the poorly-lit, uphill, no-shouldered, heavily-travelled mine shaft of sorrows. Seb and I did it last year, and the thin, wavering trail of Canadian diarrhea is almost certainly still evident - a tunnel tattoo of fear.

So this year I had a different plan... Thanks to the brilliant suggestion of BettyKay BettyKay (a Warmshowers host who liked her first name so much she had to say it twice, changing her surname legally for $130 big ones), we decided to take the old road out of Superior and go through the old tunnel - exchanging traffic concerns for crumbling ledges, rockfalls, and the ever-evocative tunnel collapse. On balance, a fair exchange. 

The secret, don't-tell-anyone, old road up to the secret, don't-look up, old tunnel was about 3 miles long, closed to vehicles, and rumoured to be featured in the upcoming Mad Max movie: Forsaken Road - No Longer Angry, Just Disappointed. The new-route strategy was a success, and the photos below, taken by our in-tent photographer E. J. Dowd, give you a feel for the scene.

Only after we'd thwarted the fearsome tunnel of doom did things get interesting. Last year, Seb described the stretch of highway between Superior and Globe as miserable, without a shoulder to cry on (oh that Seb...). Now, I believe I mentioned the wind a few paragraphs ago. It was the kind of wind that causes you to automatically duck your head and lean forward, striving for balance. But wait, there's more - let's pretend there was no wind: the uphill grade for the next 10-15 miles was such that, even in a vacuum, I would be in my granniest of granny gears, straining and wobbling my way along. Now combine the gale and the grade (if I ever open a pub, that'll be its name), the lack of shoulder, old-man legs, and too-big-to-care trucks, and we got about 200 yards up the slope from the tunnel before I yanked the bike over onto a scenic lookout/suicide zone-of-contemplation, and announced to Emer that this was silly. Between the wind and the slope, I was barely able to keep the bike upright. I needed a PB&J and a few minutes/hours to contemplate options. Here's what I came up with:

1) Huddle behind the rock face until June comes and picks us up.

2) Return to San Diego, with the wind at our back.

3) Flag down a car, and ask them - nicely - to drive behind us with flashing lights for the next eight hours.

I was leaning toward #3 when Emer came up with a suggestion:

4) Push our bikes up the side of the road for several hours, against traffic, and pause every 12-16 seconds to flatten ourselves against the cliff face to avoid vehicle after vehicle as they come around and around the numerous blind curves.

Excellent idea, Son! Let's do it!

Because it was President's Day down here (Family Day in Ontario), and we were on a scenic, touristic, as well as commercially-travelled route, the traffic really was a little denser than you might ideally wish. But we were going faster on our legs than I (not Emer) would have been able to go on bike so, really, it was a winning solution by The Middle Child. His only concern, as we scrabbled down into the little ditch against the rock face over and over, was that we might disturb any number of venomous serpents, unhappy at having their President's Day disrupted by clumsy hikers wearing biking shoes.

All's well that ends well, and the day ended well. By the time we reached Top of the World the wind had abated, of course, and we zoomed down through gorgeous countryside, past several fine examples of open-pit mining, and celebrated the strength and progress of Mankind in all its glory - big and small, young and old.



Night Night

We slept behind a medical marijuana dispensary last night. The lingering contact high has led to the consumption of four Sausage and Egg McMuffins only moments ago. Far out.

After a record five nights in a row of Warmshowers hospitality, Emer and I found ourselves in the not unfamiliar position of racing a setting sun to find a "safe" spot to pitch the tent. "Safe" does not mean "clean", or "level", or "without possible chemical contamination". Cruising along Main Street, Safford, Az., tentatively headed toward the sheriff's office to ask advice on non-paying campsites, preparing to reprise my role as the wholesome Canadian father sacrificing two and a half months from an extremely busy schedule to provide his troubled son with memories to cherish, we were passing through a "mixed commercial" district. Mixed in this case meant various degrees of non-thriving, repurposed business entities: a real estate office in a former A&W, a hairstyling school in a dentist's office, and a derelict car dealership, all signage removed, showroom windows painted black, but with a tiny "Open" light flashing by the door. Perfect. Everything we'd passed had been closed. Like a little bottle with "Drink me" written on it, the teeny-tiny "Open" sign pulled me in.

Approaching the door, there were dimly-perceived sheets of paper taped to the other side of the tinted glass, stating the nature of the business. Difficult to read, with or without the aid of medical cannabis, I will attest that they were not written in crayon. Nonetheless, they created an impression of a management-style high on concept, low on production values. The showroom had been turned into a large waiting room redolent with the new-crop smell that, as every salesman knows, pushes product right out the door. No one was waiting. The room was so big, and so empty, that I got a whiff of "I threw a huge party but NOBODY CAME!!" I tried not to cry.

The attractive lady sitting behind a sliding-glass window smiled at me. Perhaps I'm being unfair to the profile of the average legal marijuana dispensary user, but as I looked like a grubby, scattered, aging hippie in need of a little smoothing out - she could be forgiven for thinking I was a client.

Pretty Lady: "Can I help you?"

Dishevelled Man, scratching himself: "Um, yeah. This may sound weird but, um, I wanted to ask a favour."

Pretty Lady: "Did you just spell "favour" with a "u"?

Unclean Man, nervously fondling his water bottle: "Um, yeah."

Pretty Lady: "Are you Canadian?"

Soiled Man, unsure of the right answer, and easily distracted: "Um, well, I guess I literally am...  Um, I just said that - the "literally" part - cuz my daughter, who's also Canadian, says it a lot."

Pretty Lady: [non-responsive]

Filthy Man, not meeting the pretty lady's eyes: "She used to say "like" a lot. My daughter. Y'know, before "literally" came along.

Pretty Lady: "What do you want?"

Unkempt Man, sliding into obsequiousness: "Some of my best friends run medical marijuana businesses..."

Pretty Lady: "What do you want?"

Soiled Man, taking a deep breath, and speaking quickly: "My-son-and-I-are-crossing-the-country-on-our-bikes-and-can-we-pitch-our-tent-behind-your-business-cuz-it's-getting-dark-and-scary-but-we're-not-scary-or-criminal-we're-just-grubby-and-Canadian?!"

Pretty Lady: "Sure."

So that's what we did. We pitched the tent beside the open-sided, double bay where they used to do oil changes. The subterranean pit where the changers toiled, ala Pennzoil Lube joints, was strewn with broken beer bottles and other evidence of merrymaking - a perfect tornado-party site. Wasps swarmed nearby, entering their nest above a rusty back door, but, recognizing us as one of the tribe, we were left alone, and slept the sleep of the just-too-cheap-to-believe.

We're in eastern Arizona, making our way toward New Mexico in a landscape of high plains and long lines of mountains - some over 12,000 feet - that get close, but never too close, like a really clear, ever-receding mirage. Even when we're climbing a pass, evidently on a "mountain", these phantom ridges appear to be the "real" mountains that we'll never actually get to touch, stuck in the poppies before a teasing Emerald City.

The McMufffins are digesting nicely, thank you for asking. Two weeks into the trip, all systems go so far: I'm getting slightly stronger, and Emer is a rock - like a rolling stone.

See ya.

 

 

Flights of Fancy

   It didn't take long to recover from our relaxed midnight ride on the Interstate - that's what drugs are for.  Here's what we've done the last few days... 

Slept with a remarkable couple who would rather fly than drive, and have the technology to back it up.

Learned that haters are grammatically challenged.

Coped badly with the intrusion of a correctional facility for vending machines in the very spot, damn them all, where Seb and I camped last year. The rest stop is no-longer-closed-for-repair. They paved Paradise and put up a prison lot.

Coped better with the revisiting of our camp site in Aguila, but got awful tired...

Hated the cartoon Roadrunner. But, confronted by the unstirring sight of the real thing, I must add ornithology to my list of unfathomable-to-me hobbies,  top of which are fishing, mechanical twiddling with gas-propelled objects, and anything to do with horses. That smug, self-satisfied, perkily-irritating, sadistic cartoon roadrunner is starting to look a little better - maybe we're cousins.

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Nearly bought "The Official Defense Language Institute Video Course" (blue book) but I lent my VCR and eight-track player to Neil Sedaka and he hasn't given them back - probably still mad that I wouldn't do a "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" duet with him. Probably...

Hung out with Nancy, who has touched Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito in special ways (massage therapy, sickos). I continue to wear the Bike Tech shirt, even though I need help opening the zipper on our tent. Wearing the mask...

And lastly, saw our first memorial to poor, helpless, hapless pioneers...

And its counterpoint. Later y'all.


The Thrill of Poor Decision Making

 With the Adventure Cycling Route Map spread out before me, I says to Emerson, I says "Emer, we need to be in Phoenix by Friday." Emer does not question his father, for I am God to him. Many a child might have asked "Why Father, when you took four days to do this stretch last year, do we have to do it in three this year? Why Father? Why?" But Emer is not many children. His faith in his father reaches Stevie Wonder proportions. 

 

The day before, I had purchased the second book from the top of the stack and solemnly handed it to my son. "You are fairly bright, son." I said, "But it is not enough. Ray Charles once said to me, 'Get off my piano! And get away from the tip jar! I see what you're trying to do!' I've kept the secret of Ray Charles' fakery my whole life - well, until now." Emer's eyes were closed as he listened to me. His deep breathing and lolling head indicated a state of maximum informational absorption. I carried on:

"But I digress, son. I'm not even sure why I brought up Ray. Or bought you the book. It's pretty heavy. The point is, your total faith in your father is completely justified. Rarely do I misjudge. So today we're going to double our usual mileage." Emer's silence was that of the penitent before the priest - nothing unhealthy, just a kind of grovelling submissiveness appropriate to many uneven power relationships.

We actually had to be in Phoenix by Friday because Suzanne, our Warmshowers host, had the complete nerve to tell us that Saturday was unavailable - like she had some kind of life outside of hosting heroic, inclined-toward-mooching cyclists! Why, if she were my daughter... 

The above photo was taken as the sun set on Interstate 10, with about 20 miles to go before the next exit. It had been a long day. Somewhere in the planning process of my "double-mileage day", I hadn't factored our being on the Interstate for the last stretch, the stretch that, had I stepped outside of magical-thinking, I would have acknowledged would almost certainly be ridden in the dark.

By the time Emer snapped the sunset picture, I had descended into a kind of fatalistic stupidity. Cycling in the dark on a quiet country road can be kind of exhilarating. Cycling in the dark on Interstates, with almost constant 18-wheeler traffic, is also exhilarating, in the way that setting your hair on fire and letting it burn for two hours before extinguishing the fire can be described as exhilarating (I used to have a lot of hair).

I once descended Mt. Mitchell, a road biker's climbing mecca in North Carolina, in the dark with my buddy Jeff.  It was November. We were underdressed, and hypothermia kept giving us speed wobbles as we plunged down the windy, state forest road. Jeff only had his prescription sunglasses. We had no headlights, but I had a tiny blinking red light on the back of my helmet, so I got to be caboose. Pickup trucks only picked us up at the last second.  There were many, many blind curves, and many, many close encounters with understandably irritated drivers.

That was stupid. And dangerous. But I'm not sure it compares to cycling along the Interstate for a couple of hours at night. Because we were climbing a long mountain pass, there was a wonderfully nightmarish, slow-motion quality to the ride. Instead of "I think I can, I think I can...", I chanted "I think I'm dead, I think I'm dead..."

Picture it in your minds: you see these two tiny, blinking red lights on the Interstate and, as you zoom by and perceive the source, you turn to your husband and say "Those two have a death wish. What a couple of idiots." And you'd be right - well, not the death-wish part.

Many trucks felt inclined to express an opinion on the wisdom of our actions by way of their air horns. I thanked them graciously, but I'm not sure they heard me. Emer, at an age when risk-taking behaviour is an adventure, and immortality taken for granted, hummed along happily behind me, unperturbed. 

When at last we got off the Interstate, the relief was rather special (to celebrate, Emer dove into the ocean and snapped a picture of a La-Z-Boy on the floor of the sea bed - the only Titanic souvenir overlooked by James Cameron). We were now cycling down a quiet country road in the dark, and it was exhilarating, but our hair wasn't on fire. When we were breaking down camp the next morning (below), Emer looked at me, his unerring father, with quiet devotion, and said "What's for breakfast?"


The Melting Pot

We met an Italian cyclist the other day. We met him on a stretch of desert. Until further notice, please assume that all interactions take place on a long, lonely stretch of desert. The rear rack of his bike appeared to be supporting 73 of the used futons donated by the God-Loves-Syrians-As-Long-As-They-Don't-Get-Too-Close-Oh-And-Don't-Forget-To-Vote-For-Trump Fund.

I didn't quite catch his name, but it sounded Italian, or at least foreign.  He said he'd come from Boston. Well, he said it, sort of. He pointed at himself, pointed to the horizon behind himself, and said "Boston" (you may add your own accent and pronunciation).

Barc: "Do you speak English?"

Weathered European with a foreign-sounding, possibly Italian, name: [a negative shake of the head].

Barc again: "French?"

Conveyor of multiple sleeping supports, suitable for speakers of one or more romance languages: [another shake of the head, this time more aggressively, followed by a long stream of spit directed at the pavement between us - he must have been well hydrated].

Still Barc: "Huh. Well I'm tapped out of languages." Then, unsure he'd been clear, Barc tapped the side of his head meaningfully.

Former owner of Coliseum Bedsprings and Bicyclettos:  "Gesu Christo! Spagnolo?"

A Final Barc: [trying to spit, in a when-in-Rome way, but failing - not well-hydrated] "Nope."

And that was it. Though we couldn't find a language in common, a perfect understanding was reached. We understood that there are still tensions between Italy and France, that Spanish is a gateway-language allowing you to cycle diagonally across America, and that Barc can't spit. Without another word, Mussolini's grandson continued west to peddle sleeping aids and, with a Gallic shrug, the Canadians went east, just to pedal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desert Heir

Act 1, Scene 1:

A remote stretch of desert between Brawley and Blythe, uninhabited by thinking people...

Barc:  (forcefully)  Son! Son! Come down from that 300 to 400 foot slag heap, the one you're standing on too far away from me to hear, the one with scary steep sides and death shards of razor rock, the one evidently vomited up by the adjacent, abandoned uranium mine, this instant!!

Emer: (insouciantly, with a complete lack of awareness of the long-term effect of exposure to Uranium 235, an even greater absence of appreciation for the short-term effect of falling down a cliff of radiation knives, and, in fact, utterly oblivious to the squeaks of his father 297 yards away)

Whoa! Cool cairn!

Barc: (using a strong parental tone that nearly always works)  Emer!  It's really, really far away, and I can hardly see it, but if that stack of rocks is a cairn then... well, then...  I told you!  It's really dangerous there! People have diiiiiiiiiied there, probably from not listening to their dad who is not at all worried, in general, about random and statistically-improbable things happening to you, but actually uses a laser-focused, brilliant anticipatory acumen to separate real from imagined fears, and I'm telling you, step back from the cairn and proceed quietly to the nearest emergency door!

Emer: (glancing at the bikes in the distance)  I wonder if I should have two or three PB & J sandwiches.  Wait!  A PB & J club sandwich! Brilliant!

Barc: (with a frustration only a parent can feel when his idiot child defies him)  Fine!  I'm just going to sit down on the road and not even look. If you kill yourself because you didn't listen to me, your siblings may be initially dismayed, but then probably pretty darn buoyant when they realize that the seventy-three dollars June and I are leaving in our estate can suddenly be divided 50/50, rather than thirds.  That's what really.

Emer: (oozing fondness) Better get back to the old man.  Gosh how I love him!

End of Scene 1



Dearly Beloved...

The minister, severe, self-important, looked past the two figures and glowered at the assembled body slumped in the pews..

"If anybody here can show reason why these two should not be cycling together, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace."

After a brief pause, an attractive lady of indeterminate years stood up, cleared her throat, and said 

"Uh... I'm June, Barc's wife." 

A stirring in the congregation acknowledged the apparent physical incongruity between the stunning, statuesque blond standing poised and erect, and the bald, withered, flaccid figure slumped pathetically on his bike at the alter.

"Barc called me last night, sounding just a tad whiny, and I happened to take a few notes on the very off chance that a ceremony just like this one would be held today. Furthermore, in a burst of perspicacity, preparedness, and prudence, I just happen to have a Powerpoint presentation prepared."

A slight shift could be felt in the room, as the various husbands suddenly swung from "He doesn't deserve her..." to "Poor Barc..." - no one likes to be on the wrong end of a Powerpoint.

June continued "I took these down verbatim, so I apologize in advance if some of the language is offensive. Lights please."

The figure on the bike slumped a little more. He might have been praying, or determining the exact size of burial plot needed for one bike and one husband. The other biker on the alter, youthful, fit, and in the prime of his life, seemed oblivious to the proceedings, scrolling through Reddit on his tablet.

 

BARC'S MOST RECENT COMPLAINTS AND EXCUSES

 

June, remember how I said, with appalling breeziness, how I'd "ride myself into shape" this time? Why didn't you tell me how completely inane, idiotic, and painful that would be?  What's wrong with you? The first three days of this ride were climbing over the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains!  You can't ease into cycling up cliffs! Turns out my Garmin heart rate monitor maxes out at 300 bpm, so I can't even track my cardio!

June, whenever I see my shadow while riding, it looks like it's someone from the Bomb Disposal Unit, in full-protective regalia, moving with old-man caution toward an IED. Why didn't you gently, lovingly remind me that eating thirds and fourths at breakfast, lunch, and dinner could possibly, just maybe, Dear Sweet Husband, make the first two months of your bike ride feel like you were on a tandem with Look-Mom-No-Legs Larry, Last in Line for Liposuction?

June, remember how, with smarmy complacency, I said about a hundred times how Emer might be "in shape", but he's not "in bike shape"? Well, guess what? Turns out being 23 and "in shape" is about a million times more useful than being 56 and shaped like a pumpkin.  Emer has taken to riding backwards behind me, to ease the boredom of travelling at 6 kph.

June, seriously, isn't it your role, as wife and guiding light, to warn me that I'll feel, every day, like that poor, twitching, spasming, dehydrated lady trying to cross the finish line at the Ironman race in Hawaii? Or like the ski jumper from the start of Wide World of Sports, who's wife failed to warn him of the perils of going off-piste from the ski jump track? 

June, it's Day 4, and my body has yet to adjust to the rigours of this trip. If it doesn't get better soon, I may have to break my long vow of stoicism and share some of my sufferings. I just wanted to prepare you for this, as it would be the first time in our over 30 years together that I gave even a hint of weakness.  Probably won't happen but, as a good husband, I wanted you to be ready. If you had only told me to get ready for this trip, we'd be even...


The Powerpoint screen went blank. The lights came up. At some point during the presentation, Barc had slid off his bike and was lying inert at the feet of the minister. Emer continued to scroll.

The minister stared for a long time at June, who had resumed her seat, moved his gaze to the prone body at his feet, took in Emer, who may or may not have been aware of the world around him, and finally said "Well, the thing is, they don't really need a paper from me to cycle together. Let's just see what happens. Coffee and sandwiches are being served in the basement. Thank you for coming."



Twice Upon a Time...

The Middle Child Tour has begun. Emerson and I are one day out of San Diego, recovering from a night where we pitched the tent at a 45-degree angle at the base of a 30 foot retaining wall.  Above us, way above us, the Alpine Fire Department sat like Camelot, a mere catapult's throw away, but unable to provide that halo of protection we wall dwellers crave ("You know nothing, Jon Snow.") Below us, down the black-diamond slope, the Old Forest awaited our pleasure, Old Man Willow swaying invitingly through the night. For a guy who has to invent fears if there aren't any to face, it didn't take us long to get back into the sketchy saddle again.

But it's morning, the sun is shining, and in beautiful Southern California we are counting our blessings: 

1) The camp of homeless Mexicans 400 yards away, below the Rite Aid Pharmacy (we're in the mountains, everything's above or below) lacked the climbing equipment necessary to investigate the new guys.  

2) The swarm of meth-addled skateboarders determined our swampy, soggy site (despite the drought, there was a major rainstorm last weekend ) to be unworthy of gnarly exploration, dude.

3) Our tent fly effectively deflected the boiling oil raining down from the ramparts above.

All is well. Emer and I are noshing away, basking in the cesspool of caloric abundance and nutritional nullity that is Carl's Jr., a fast-food chain founded by Carl Sr. in memory of his son and heir, who choked on a cheeseburger.

Speaking of fast-food chains, we went to internet-favourite In-N-Out (SoCal burger mini-empire) in San Diego, remarkable for the simplicity of its menu: Hamburger; Cheeseburger; Double Cheeseburger (670 calories); Fries; Shakes; and soft drinks. That's it.  It's like the original McDonald's formula, back when McDonald's was a treat rather than a blow to your self-esteem.  

After the photo of Emer and I (above) at our Pacific starting point was taken, by one of two kind ladies who happened to be passing by, the other lady asked if she could bless our trip.  Grateful for any blessings that come our way, the four of us assumed the group hug position, lowered our heads, and she began.

TWO HOURS LATER

Who would have thought you could have too much blessing?  The first half hour we were hanging in pretty nicely, counting and cataloging our blessings - including her asking God to provide two "buff" bicycling angels to ride along with us  (not kidding) - but by the one-hour mark our attention began to wander. The Blessing Lady's friend had made repeated attempts to escape the ceremony, but the blesser's hands seemed possessed of a clutching power not entirely of this world.  The Blessing Freak somehow succeeded in talking throughout her entire respiration cycle, leaving no pauses to escape. I had to suddenly stagger, blaming my gamy leg, to break the relentless litany of kindnesses being ordered on our behalf.  Last year we had the chair to weigh us down, this year it's blessings.

Our first Warmshowers night, in northeast San Diego, was serene and wonderful - thank you Jim and Julie. Last year our first night Warmshower's host was the Unibomber's angrier brother - a night of not daring to sleep; not serene, not fun. But that was last year. A long time ago. I'll let it go soon...

Emerson is pleasingly pleased by the new sights and sounds - I feel like a good dad. Of course, it's early days, but one takes one's pleasures where one can.

 

Tonight we'll be pitching a tent behind the fire station in Pine Valley, Ca - no walls involved. Just heard a story from a fireman about how, yesterday, they tried to rescue a horse from a cliff using a helicopter, sedation, and a sling. Unhappily, the horse wriggled out of the sling while in the air, with predictably horrifying results. On another predictable, but less horrifying, note, the above picture of Emer was taken at a rest stop along Interstate 8 as we took a break from a five-mile climb with a 50 mph (well, it felt like it) headwind. He claimed that his pose maximized body position to minimize wind impact. Yup, that's what he claimed.

Moving on. Talk to y'all soonly.

Best of Barc's Chair - A Sampling of Lines

 

WANTED

A publisher or patron to commission an article, a series of articles, or even a full-fledged tome, chronicling this winter's Middle Child Tour, beginning February 3, 2016.  The MCT is a fully-sustainable, organically-grown sequel to last winter's selectively-successful First Born Tour. I speak of bike tours, of the two-wheeled, human-powered kind. More specifically, a father and son, Barc and Emer, cycling (cheerfully, uncomplainingly) from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida.

 

PUBLISHER'S WHY?

Because you want this guy Barc providing content for your readership, if he does say so himself.  Please peruse the samples below, culled from last year's trip, to form your own opinion. 

 

BARC'S WHY?

Because if you spend two months straight with your child - 24 hours a day, every day - they may come to the conclusion, all by themselves, that saying bye to Mom and Dad and leaving the nest really isn't such a bad option.  Case in point: Seb is now in British Columbia.  Coincidence?  I think not.

 

 

Barc’s Chair - The Sample Edition

 

Barc and Seb, a Canadian father and son, cycled across the Southern U.S. last winter.  They began, but didn’t end, by pulling a giant chair behind them.  Barc wrote about the experience – hilariously.  Here are some samples…

 

On sleeping in a sketchy city park in Florida…

“When last we spoke, an anxious night had been passed - a night where a father's concern for his own welfare was unnecessarily complicated by qualms about using his own child as a human shield.”

 

On the fitness regimes of Alabama women…

 “The startlingly pretty wife of the proprietor had both Seb and I a little tongue-tied when ordering, as we'd encountered precious few Southern Belles who hadn't chosen The Waffle House to cater for their wedding.”

 

On crossing a Louisiana train bridge…

“So rather than detour 3-5 hours, Seb and I sauntered across the bridge - if you can call ten minutes of epileptic quailing on a narrow metal catwalk sauntering.”

 

On getting lost in Texas Hill Country…

“But, just pass the henhouse or the outhouse or the doghouse, the little-lane-that-could kept farting along, passing through yet another rusting gate, looking like the Yellow Brick Road ten years after the Munchkin Party repealed taxation.”

 

On being given a free cabin to stay in…

“Our benefactress is a true Good Samaritan, with no apparent ulterior motive. If I survive the night, I’m going to be a better person tomorrow. The rotting smell under the floorboards isn’t worrisome. I mean, you wouldn’t store bodies under the Killing Cabin itself, would you?”

 

On blog entries…

“That was two days ago. Like crash-test dummies hitting a brick wall, let’s move forward.”

 

On agricultural techniques outside of El Paso…

“Turns out you harvest pecans the same way you discipline wayward children - grab them by the neck and shake the idiocy, or pecans, out of them.”

 

On breakfast at an RV Campground in Hope, Arizona…

“For $3.50 we gorged our physical selves but, more importantly, scratched the spiritual itch that can only be reached by bad coffee in styrofoam cups, an announcement of memorial services for Edgar, a $12.00 jackpot on a 50/50 raffle, and the soothing white noise of loose-dentures slipping over shrivelled gums.”

 

On finally crossing Texas…

“Texas was interesting in parts, in LARGE parts, but so was Mama Cass, and I expect most guys were glad to be done with her too.”

 

On camping at a closed-for-repair rest stop in the desert…

“Everybody has private jets these days, but who among the 1 %-ers are pitching a tent beside the "Not All Cacti are Pricks" display at their own private rest stop along the Interstate?  Damn few that’s who.”

 

On soliciting stories for Barc’s Chair at a San Diego Hostel…

“Seb, on the other hand, has that whiff of a used car salesman on an unusually-long crystal-meth jag, jittery, rambling, possibly well-meaning, but ultimately toxic and on the edge of sticking a knife in your eye.”

 

On pre-trip planning…

“Apparently I don't handle stress well.  I've been standing paralyzed in the dining room for the last ten minutes, surrounded by Barc's Chair detritus, staring blindly and making little rhythmic mewing noises, like an endless loop featuring the Top Ten Therapist Sounds of Acknowledgement.”

 

On parenting skills…

“Full night had fallen as Seb, who's never pedalled a fully-laden touring bike, followed me out into blackness, like the only-surviving duckling of a really bad mother duck.”

 

 

Should you wish to reach Barclay Dowd, please email:  dowdfamily@sympatico.ca

 

 

 

 

 

Over and Out

 

Dear Son,

 

When you're shopping your children's book

And doors are closing in your face

We'll always have this trip

 

When you meet the love of your life

And she's the only one you'll ever think about

We'll always have this trip

 

When you're changing the diaper of your screaming baby

And you wonder what the hell you've gone and done

We'll always have this trip

 

When all is well but you're overwhelmed

And the open road is closed for repair

We'll always have this trip

 

When your father acts like a jerk again

And you're embarrassed for your kids

We'll always have this trip

 

When you visit me and I'm barely there

And a word from you brings a gleam to my eye

We'll always have this trip.

 

Thanks for the memories, Son.

 

Love always,

Dad

Coming Closer

When last we spoke, an anxious night had been passed. A night where a father's concern for his own welfare was unnecessarily complicated by qualms about using his own child as a human shield. But, like many an uncomfortable moral hypothetic, it never needed testing.

From the heart of darkness in Chattahoochee, we pedalled with a survivor's light heart to Tallahassee, capital of Florida. Choosing destinations on the basis of syllable-count may seem whimsical to some, but we crave structure in our nomadic lives. We landed at The Bike House, a non-profit social experiment combining Marxist themes of each-according-to-his-ability (to pay for or fix a bike) with Haight-Ashbury themes of whatever-turns-your-crank and free love, the latter fuelled by a steady stream of co-ed volunteers from the adjacent Florida State University campus.

The enterprise is run by Scot, a former pro bike racer and business consultant who, in 1997, while standing on a street corner in Boston, underwent a sudden, involuntary life change when he was smushed by a vehicle, and spent the next two years in hospital, the first 8 weeks in an unconscious state. He emerged with a new forehead, a new eye socket, a new outlook, and, purely speculation on my part, the absence of a "t" in his first name, possibly still stuck to the grill of the car that hit him. If you want to meet someone who's learned to live in the moment and make the most of each second, hang out at The Bike House. Carpe Diem.

We slept on a MOUP (mattress of uncertain provenance) on the floor of the parlour, pizza parlour (as in, Bond, James Bond), an extinguished business in the process of annexation by the two-wheeled empire.  Well, not technically on the floor. Actually, on a stack of particle boards and 2x4's providing a comfortable buffer between our MOUP and the tomato-stained tiles. A restless night. I dreamed of Cher and double salami.

I was so anxious to repeat the dream that we spent a layover day in Mama's Kitchen (Seb's needs and desires are like distant thunder - I'm aware of them, in a remote way, but they don't have much immediate impact on me.) Among other things, we: took in an FSU vs. University of Miami tennis match; took out The Bike House trash and swept the floor; ate eight $1.00 tacos; attended a First Friday block party of music and art; and hung out with Susie and Craig. Susie is tenaciously clinging to technical Canadian citizenship while being gradually co-opted by American mores and mannerisms - not a pretty thing to see. Harper, yes. Susie, no.

But the road beckoned. As Seb was jonesing for an alligator sighting, Scot suggested we depart (again) from our old-school, paper, ACA map set and take a different route to Gainseville, a route guaranteed to provide, if not a gator, at least an intolerant redneck spewing diesel spoke at the pussies on bikes. Well, he was right on both counts, but we only snapped the gator, cuz the redneck's confederate flag was too big to fit on our memory card.

Passing lightly over the next couple of days (see forthcoming bestseller) we headed straight for The University of Florida in Gainesville to satisfy Seb's healthy, and my unhealthy, appetite for youthful pulchritude. Picture then our state of mind when the Warmshowers Host-de-Jour turns out to be The Love Shackteaux, a domain where one may leave their bourgeois notions at the door, and a mysterious sense of equal opportunity sexual freedom pervades tout la maison. Smart people, rock climbers and bikers, unshackled by conventional norms, living life on their terms. My personal prude-ometer was in the red zone. Seb wants to go back.

I write from Palatka, Florida, a disappointment from a syllabic point-of-view but gamely compensating by it's proximity to St. Augustine. Today's the day we touch the Atlantic. The networks begin coverage at 4 pm. Set your PVR's.

Au revoir.

See All Evil, Hear All Evil

Once upon a time, a father and son (who looked like brothers) cycle into a small town with a large name in the Florida Panhandle. Chattahoochee. Pleasing to say. Evocative. Playful. 

Our heroes-in-their-own-minds head for a city-managed campground down by the river, next to all the vans. They turn off the main road, unwittingly saying farewell to civilization, the rule of law, and toilet paper, and descend into a pre-apolcalyptic setting Cormac McCarthy may well use in his next novel "The Road Kill". 

Halfway down to the water, they take a spur road, following faded billboard signage, to a Bates Motel office last painted when Janet Leigh looked good without a bra, and find it locked up tight, or as tight as... never mind.

A shirtless male emerges from a nearby structure - picture an overgrown outhouse large enough to hold a single soiled mattress scattered with Kleenex - and tells them, between conversations with himself, that they have to go up to city hall to get a permit to camp. The youthful-looking father scorns this bureaucratic pettiness and informs his son that, by God, they'll pitch their tent down by the river, near the playground, maybe even on the bandstand, and worry about the paperwork later.

So that's what they do. They pitch their tent right on the covered bandstand, beneath towering pines, a mere frisbee throw from the playground to one side and the standard-size outhouses on the other. It really is beautiful. The father goes off to Hardee's to consume fat and write a blog, and the son paces around the tent in a manner suggestive of a compulsive motion-disorder, eating oatmeal, granola, bananas, protein bars, raisins, rice cakes, and canned anything-to-make-him-fart.

When the father gets back, the son, by way of casual observation, remarks that the park seems to be the local haven for drug transactions - cars pulling up beside each other, brief exchanges, and cars leaving. Only then does the father realize how isolated the park is. How, 500 feet below the car bridge, they are 500 years from civil society. The river that once looked so beautiful now looks like the perfect place to throw a body. Or two bodies, both young-looking and quite fit.

The father's night is ruined.

The following is an internal-dialogue excerpt from "It's All in Your Head - Anxiety Disorders and their Impact on Campsite Decision-Making", Volume 74.

[First person personal. Father perspective.]

6:03 pm - "I'm such an idiot. It's not too late to change campgrounds. The sun hasn't even set yet. Shut up. Don't be an idiot. Such a chicken shit. No way we're changing campgrounds."

8:12 pm - "Fuck. It's too late to change campgrounds. We're stuck. If we leave now they'll know we're pussies and jump us."

10:04 pm - "I'm staying in the tent. They don't know what's in the tent. They may not attack if they don't know what's in the tent. Even I have to piss in my water bottle, or not in my water bottle, I'm staying in the tent."

11:39 pm - "That car is definitely idling at us. It's leaving. Probably going to get more guns."

12:03 am - "We should have brought our 'VULNERABLE AND STUPID' banner and hung it over the tent. We're going to die, all because I was too lazy to change campgrounds. Don't any cops ever patrol this place? Shouldn't we get rousted? Why can't we get rousted? Jail would be safer."

1:43 am - "That sounded exactly like the motorhome from Breaking Bad."

2:36 am - "They're waiting til after 3. Middle of the night. Sitting ducks. Meth Team 3 to Squad Leader, commence operation."

3:34 am - "Cunning cocks. Waiting til I let down my guard. Not gonna happen. But what am I going to do? Polite them into submission? This sucks."

4:28 am - "6 o'clock is morning. Not allowed to murder in the morning. 'Nother hour and a half til not dead."

5:59 am "Can't believe Seb slept through the night. Hope he appreciates that I saved his life. Again. Of course he doesn't. Jerk."

6:01 am - "Don't feel very good. Tired. Going to sleep."

 

And they lived happy ever after.

 

THE END

 

 

 

A Sheltered Life

I'd like to say a word or two about this whole Warmshowers thing...

Once you get over the initial trepidation of asking total strangers if you can crash on their bed, couch, or yard, the result has been, as far as I can tell, pretty favourable for both sides. Here are a few statistics that I've managed to compile:  

 

Host Demographics

 

41% - Former touring cyclists looking to pay off their karmic debt after staying at the homes of former touring cyclists looking to pay off their karmic debt.

37% - Individuals and families who, supported by a $35.00 search from geneology.com, can provide documentation showing a distinct, if sometimes tenuous, family link to Mother Theresa.

14% - Scientific households wishing to understanding the link between touring cyclists and mental illness.

6% - Mentally-ill people thinking of becoming touring cyclists.

2% - Shower salesmen.

 

Guest Demographics

 

63% - Genuine Long-Distance Cyclists of Extraordinary Fortitude Who Stay with Hosts Not Because They're Cheap But Because They Value the Interactive Experience

21% - Genuine Long-Distance Cyclists on Multi-Year Tours Who Effectively Have No Home Anymore and Feed Off Proximity to Stability

15% - Moocher Freaks Who Pretend to Be Touring But Haven't as Much Money as the Genuine Long-Distance Moocher Freaks

1% - Canadian Cyclists Who Defy Categorization, Often from the Greater Belleville Area

 

The above figures have strong whiffs of truth. And sometimes, we guests are even helpful. For example, one experience involved transporting a sofa bed from a farmyard outbuilding to a farmyard second-story loft. Before beginning we decided to remove the mattress and cushions to make things a little lighter for Seb.

Setting Description: It was night time. The light didn't work in the shed. There was a hint of reflected illumination from a truck headlight. If I hadn't had to pretend to be brave for Seb, since Seb is the merest child, I would have been scared.

Action Description: With only a vague suggestion of light, we pulled off the cushions and flipped open the mattress. Sometimes, partial blindness is a good thing. The sudden scattering of large rodent forms, a genuine rat's nest, was heard but only dimly perceived, like a parent unexpectedly coming downstairs at a teenage party. 

But it wasn't dark enough. The stain of rat piss was about a yard wide, and it smelled like our bike seats. Never fear, said our hostess, she had just the thing to clean it. At this point, I was aware of a tipping of the scales with respect to my enthusiasm for moving rodent-infused furniture. Nevertheless, we gamely carried the non-rat portion of the sofa into, and partially up, the winding staircase to the loft, breaking first a light bulb, then the light fixture - darkness being the evening's dominant motif. Here we got stuck in one of those profoundly frustrating moving-furniture-where-furniture-won't-fit experiences familiar to us all. Despite hernia-inducing efforts and the traditional, testosterone-fueled bout of "we'll make this work", we simply couldn't get it up, as they say. In the end, we left the couch on top of shards of glass and ceramic at the bottom of the stairs, walked calmly away, and accepted the disappointed looks and Canadian's-suck eye rolls with steadfastness and aplomb.

(Author's Note: I'm drinking sweet tea at a Hardee's in Chattahoochee, another town we had to stay in because of the name, but I fear I have to go - in so many ways.)

 

 

 

Altered States

Mississippi, the first state where we've encountered the southern tradition of calling a lady - any appropriately-shaded lady, of any apparent age or relationship status - "Miss" Something. As in, the 400-year old lady at the campground in Vancleave - Miss Lacie - will be here all night if y'all need anything. There seem to be a lot of unmarried-sounding maidens around these parts, more than these two Northern gentlemen can handle: Miss Heather's Cafe, Miss Lucy's Salon, Miss Matilda's Mud Wrestling and Bingo - like that.

Many of the private homes and plantations have really impressed the country mouse in Seb and me.

Some real...

Some imagined...

Speaking of imagination, we pulled into Franklinton, Louisiana, population 3,857, the other day with the full intention of staying the night at a campground, or at least pitching our tent on a relatively-level patch of ground, whether or not we paid for the privilege. It took me about 34 seconds to decide that there was something wrong with the town. You know how you arrive in a place and it speaks to you, often in a wonderful way, as in "I'd like to live here!" Well, this was a town that, for reasons more Stephen King than Martha Stewart, said to me "You're going to die here!" So we packed up and carried on another two hours to Bogalusa, mostly cuz it's fun to say.

If you listen to this little voice too often, your useful life, your functioning role in society, may grind to a halt. But heeding it when it speaks clearly is probably a good idea. We'll never know what fate might have befallen us in that strangely discordant town, but I can live with that.

The picture below was taken as we overtook the trailer in our rental car outside of Baton Rouge. The two thoroughbreds, Spot and Fido, were gulping the air on the interstate at 70 mph - a spectacle neither of us had ever seen. Seb, always kindhearted, fed them each a cube of sugar as we passed.

I wrote my previous post, One Track Mind, amidst the hanging gardens in the gazebo pictured below, part of a little Eden connected to a take-out-only Cuban and Cajun Cuisine joint in Grand Bay, Alabama. The startlingly pretty wife of the proprietor had both Seb and I a little tongue-tied when ordering, as we'd encountered precious few Southern Belles who hadn't chosen The Waffle House to cater for their wedding. Amongst the cognoscenti, the Fatkins Diet is pretty popular down here.

Barc's Touring Tip of the Day: Dark pants hide urine stains. 

Our route through Alabama has been gorgeous, marred only by the occasional brush with vehicular death. The "OVERSIZED" loads, the one's preceded by a pickup or cop car with flashing lights, are the most likely to cause unintentional voiding.   If the truck driver happens to have a casual attitude with respect to the fragility of species positioned on the shoulder of the highway, the shock to your system is positively electrical, then liquid. Unhappily, I've learned that if I look over my left shoulder, I often unconsciously turn the wheel to the left too. Combining this inanity with the aforementioned "SOUTHERN BELLE" load, on a road with no or narrow shoulders, has led to near-cataleptic seizures at times - being a nose hair from death will do that to you.

We enter the state of Florida shortly. Even though we still have 700 miles to go (actually, more like 900 cuz we're probably going to cycle from St. Augustine to Tampa to make up for the 180 mile hitchhike we did in Texas), it's a pretty cool benchmark. Florida is WIDE along the top, like many of the grain-fed Misses we've met along our merry way (and that's my last slam at the calorie-dense Southern Belle, y'all). Sunshine State, here we come.