- Oscar – LA
- Dan & Pat – Phoenix
- Hal, Jay – Safford, and the history tour
- Deborah & Clayton – Duncan
- Nick – Silver City
- Bonnie, Lake Roberts, not actually WS, but so kind she must be an honourary!
- John & Donetta – Las Cruces
- Greg & Cindy, Matt – Victoria – and good luck with round-the-USA later this year!
- Ryan – Houston
- Mike & Peggy – Crystal Beach, and again in Port Neches
- Melissa & Elvin – Grand Chenier
- Will & Kathy – New Iberia
- Martin – Inlet Beach
- David – Blountstown, who remembered a friend from Worthing, Tim Lezard, who cycled round the world a few years ago.
- James (and Jeffro) – Medart
- Divina & Dennis – Fort Myers
- Steve- Kendall near Miami
- Max – for advice in Miami Beach
Fortunately, WarmShowers gave us a string of prearranged cosy overnight stops providing us with some respite from camping, and more hours to pedal in. It’s been the kind people who put us up who have made the highpoints of the trip from Texas into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and into Florida.
And finally the headwinds eased.
I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. With temperatures in the low thirties both of us had been cycling along in T-shirt and shorts all day – of course we could camp tonight.
I’d declared a week or so ago that I wasn’t camping in sub zero temperatures. I really didn’t feel we had the kit to cope with it and yet, here I was again. We woke up to the tent bulging in on top of us. Despite the guy lines pegging it out the bottom was lifting up two or three inches as the wind tunneled underneath.
Another morning of -5.6. Today, the added factor of wind chill made it feel much colder. And where was the golden orb with warming rays?
We ate breakfast huddled up inside the tent but sooner or later we’d have to brave the bitingly cold outside. I soon decided that full rain proofs, as a wind proof layer, on top of all my other layers, was the only way to go. Even so trying to pack and undo the bag clasps was proving nigh on impossible with frozen unbending fingers. Gid wasn’t managing much better. He’d borrowed my spare buff and was wrapped up with nose and eyes peeking out. He came to help but we had to agree that neither of us could undo my knot of the previous night on the plastic bag covering my handlebars, so ripped it off.
We tried to huddle, whenever possible, in a teepee standing vacant some metres away. Gid had told me hot drinks were available at the site office but getting them was proving difficult. It was too cold to sit outside and tend to our stove.
By 9:15, with not a ray of sunshine in sight, we were in the nearest cafe with a hot Mexican breakfast and tea/coffee ordered. Sitting in the warmth we decided to press on but we hadn’t got far, pedalling into the biting cold and headwind, before reassessing that decision. I suggested cancelling the day on the grounds of it being too cold. Hide in the nearest motel was my idea but Gid was keen to press on. ‘We’re managing,’ he said.
Well, yes, managing, in a manner of speaking. 10kph – Ugh. And our circulation was still moving.
3 hours later feebly, the sun came out but it got no warmer. The services ahead were a welcome sight – shop, drinks machine, restaurant, the lot. Well, no motel, but no objection if we put up the tent out back, then cower in the restaurant for the rest of the day. And, they say, the next service centre, at our turn off the interstate, closed down five years back.
We huddle in the cafe, slurping hot drinks. The News declared 63 inches of snow fell in a storm in Erie, USA. New record. After careful consideration, we buy a Texan hat and a saddle. Key rings. And another hot drink.
It’s only lunchtime, if we stop now, the next comfy accommodation is much more than a day further on, so that’s two more nights rough camping.
“Where ya goin? Did you come through the fog?” A customer asks us. Fog? Turns out it’s ahead of us. Another joy as we set off. Headwind still holding us to 10kph.
Ahead the highway pulls alongside a low beige hill, and vanishes. It’s a wall of low cloud. Fortunately it’s not that dense, road visibility is fine but it’s freezing, We start passing bushes loaded with hoar frost. Really loaded. Fog, doesn’t cohabit with wind, and sure enough, the headwind’s gone. So for that matter has the incline. We whizz, toes, noses and fingers still numb. At 3:45pm the temperature was -2.5 degrees and dropping by then. I doubt that it got above freezing.
Kent: The cycle route information says “no services”, so did the garage staff. Map shows a few streets. The services are bricked up, the other four buildings are deserted, boarded and/or on their way to ruin. But hey, behind a wooden wreck is a patch of clear land, out of sight, sheltered from the easterly if it kicks up again, even old carpet to sit on.
And wood. Gid, sitting outside to cook, made a camp fire. The first on this trip and definitely a first time ever when it’s needed purely to keep warm.
Our night in a ghost village is not too bad really. Clare slept like a log. Gid was a bit disturbed by all the extra noises a decrepit building makes. And the interstate. And – the trains – HOOOOOOOHH! HOOOOOOOHH! HOOOOOOHH! – followed by about an hour of rumbling and ground shaking as the mile long brute crawls past, shipping containers stacked double on massive wagons.
Next morning – fog’s gone, hoar frost is gone, sun’s shining. Still cold, but the rays warm the day up. By 2pm, climbing into the Davis Mountains, Gid’s shirtless. What a difference!
The United States has never been on my ‘must visit’ list. The awe and wonder has long since gone with the US continually in the limelight; splashed across the media for this reason or that. The States felt some how over familiar, un-exotic, and ‘the easy way’. Gid had occasionally posed the idea of going east across South America, denying that it would be his first choice for our way home; just waiting for me to bite, I felt.
But an hour or so after we arrived in LA, I was hooked. It didn’t have one or two beach volleyball courts, there were twelve of them lined up waiting for players. Roller blades, bikes, skateboards all zoomed past; the place was alive. As we cycled toward our host’s place in Korea Town, Gid pointed out the Hollywood sign on the hill in the distance. What a perfect start! Hollywood boulevard, Sunset boulevard, Route 66 here we come.
We were lucky to be staying with an enthusiastic local, Oscar, who was generous enough to take us on a guided tour for a day. Whizzing about on our bikes we visited the Griffiths Observatory, downtown, rode the metro with our bikes (yah boo LT) … and had the best tacos in town.
Under our own steam we wandered along Hollywood Boulevard, spotting the stars names in the pavement sidewalk. Besides a spattering of tourists like us, there were scores of movie wannabes, in costume, hustling for paid photo shoots. Instead, more economically, Clare opted to lie down with Rod Stewart and Burt Lancaster, and fire off selfies. She passed on Donald Trump though: he used to host a talk show, apparently. What have we missed?
- Wide, long, hot, dusty streets – check
- Grids, intersections, traffic lights – check
- Glitzy mall – check
- Elaborate Christmas decorations – check
- Spanish spoken maybe more than English – check
- Stretch limos, Ferraris; and Porsche runabouts – check
- Movie cameras in use on the street – check
- Black & white squad cars – check
- Big red fire engines blasting through intersections – check
- Palms and bougainvillea – check
- Huge pickups with nothing in and rumbly engines – check
- Empty lots and abandoned shops – check
- Body beautiful workouts on the beach – check
- Joggers left, right, and centre – check
Gid was struck by the poverty evident amongst the splendour. Street walkers riffled through the bins, make-shift shelters filled hidey holes, and tents appeared along the concrete floodways. Shanty towns, where structures were covered with random sheets of plastic, that could have been straight out of India, filled areas of wasteland. Such ad-hoc homes were especially evident when we followed the cycleway along the enormous culverted drain – and each tent seemed to have a bicycle or several.
We’d chosen Cycle Route 90 – the USA Southern Tier coast to coast crossing, because during the fall it’s run as a commercial trip. Local ‘guided trips’ we’ve done before are picked for their scenery, points of interest and traffic free roads so we hoped this would be too. We would be cycling November to February, so we hoped staying well south would avoid frozen toes (and many mountains too).
To reach Route 90 we rode down the California coast, with eye watering camping costs but beautiful coastal views, to the starting point in San Diego, then turned eastwards and set out through California towards the desert. To our relief, camping costs plummeted, often being free and the occasional motel became affordable.
This was a different USA entirely. Small towns, widely spaced in the hills and sands. The days are short, so we often cycled through sunset, and occasionally met the dawn when we crawled out of the tent in the morning. Most days we meet at least one other cycle tourist, although most of them seem to be heading for South America rather than California. It’s a playground for the local big cities too. Motor bikes, quad bikes, buggies: big, medium and small career around sending out plumes of sand up behind them. Endlessly, we’re passed by towed buggies and all-terrain vehicles behind monster pickups and huge RVs. Unfortunately, while American freight drivers (“semis” mostly) seem responsible enough in passing or waiting, the RV boys seem unconscious of their width, bow-wave and tail suck; it’s a good job the roads are mostly wide and lightly trafficked.
With lots of space to leave things where they are, and a climate that’s kind to buildings, metalwork and even mummified roadkill, there’s lots of photogenic old stuff to take pictures of.
One disappointment so far, is that wildlife seems very timid. We’ve not seen much although, the humming birds were rather special and much too fast for our cameras . On the highway, there’s not even roadkill, until just recently a couple of flat & desiccated coyotes. Maybe morelive beasties will turn up further east.
Writing this, here we are in Wickenburg, AZ, a town of cowboys and rodeos – team roping capital of the world, it claims. But frustratingly, it’s Thanksgiving Day, so no rodeo today. Worse still, the local shops have run out of turkey, except for whole frozen ones. Chicken will have to do, cooked on the camping stove on the veranda of this comfy motel.