Recap Leg 3: Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas ( 850 miles) (2,450 total)

I’ve heard from readers, especially people who only occasionally check in, that they really enjoy the recaps. Since I skipped them after leaving the coast, I am going to write up recaps for the rest of my journey. Here is the first one, leg three:

The Deserts of the American Southwest

The third leg of my trip, from Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas, turns me away from the coast as I enter the American Southwest. I forgo the traditional Southern Tier route that roughly follows I-10 out of San Diego in favor of Route 66 to Santa Fe, then turning south through New Mexico to El Paso. It is an easy choice – I really want to see Flagstaff and would rather avoid Phoenix, even if it means the possibility of very cold temperatures in the high desert.

My phone having stopped working as I entered the most remote part of this trip I crossed the low desert of eastern California and climbed into the high desert of northern Arizona with nothing to distract me from the blandest scenery I have encountered so far. Most days I could see for hours ahead, noting nothing but scrubby desert in all directions. Getting over a break-up is a long process, but my extremely limited communication with other people certainly accelerated the process as I retreated into myself, wandering down long branching thought paths to pass the time.

Reaching Flagstaff was an immense achievement, not only for crossing the desert but also for hitting some lows and learning to push through them and learn a bit about myself in the process. I rode Amtrak between Flagstaff and Santa Fe partially for time and safety reasons but also because I did not think I could mentally cope with another week of blistering headwinds and very slow progress. This was absolutely the right decision. Between Flagstaff, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque I had an amazing time in the high desert with some fabulous people. From hiking and mountain biking to olive oil parties and ‘stump,” I certainly found my share of excitement. The only pitfall: the election.

Leaving my amazing host and his friends in Albuquerque was extremely difficult after a week and a half of great times since Flagstaff. I cruised south through New Mexico, continuing to fight headwinds and now frost as temperatures dipped and I once again found myself in fairly remote areas. It did not last tough, and soon I arrived in El Paso, Texas, which reconnected me to the Southern Tier. By this point I am accepting that headwinds are inevitable.

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Days: 23
Miles: ~850 excluding about 400+ on the train (2,450 total)
Flats: 0


High Points:

  • Jumping in the Colorado River
  • Adapting to being alone, with very little interaction with other people, and no phone for entertainment/distraction.
  • Reaching Flagstaff after struggling through western Arizona
  • New friends in Albuquerque, NM with excellent mountain biking fun, a dance party, and more.

Low Points:

  • The presidential election
  • Riding in Arizona. The headwinds were relentless, for days. And while Route 66 provides a low-traffic route almost all the way to Flagstaff the pavement is shit in several places.
  • Leaving my new friends in Albuquerque. It felt a little bit like leaving home. There were tears this day.
  • Endless day from Socorro to Truth or Consequences, NM. This was also back-to-back after the emotionally tough day leaving Albuquerque.

Favorites:

Meal (camp): Veggie wraps on top of a volcano, at sunset

  • Once I started riding solo camp food definitely took a turn for the bland. I just don’t have as much motivation to cook for one, especially after long desert days. But even so, sitting atop a volcano in the desert watching the sun set behind distant mountains, eating veggie wraps is a dinner I will never forget.

Meal (bought): Happy Hour at Grand Canyon Brewery & Huevos Rancheros in Hatch, NM.

  • $2 beers (everything), a gigantic &8 bowl of chili, and a $0.01 Halloween-themed jello shot. Nothing spectacular, but they hit the nail on the head. Plus there was a fireplace and comfy couch.
  • Huevos Rancheros with red chile at the Valley Cafe in Hatch, NM. I’m more of a green chile fan but it wasn’t ready yet. The red was fabulously tasty and the whole meal affordable and delicious.

Riding Day: A long day from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, NM

  • It’s over eighty miles on my route through the mountains of northern New Mexico, and what a sight to see! It’s very hilly but I lose somewhere between two and three thousand feet of elevation too, which helps. The sun is blasting out of an astoundingly blue sky. Puffy clouds are drifting lazily across my vision. In the aftermath of the election I hit a down wave, but on this day I felt inspired and determined. Plus, at the end I rolled right into yoga and an amazing time in Albuquerque.

Campground: None

  • I did not do a whole lot of camping at established facilities on this leg since there is not a whole lot in this part of the country. The first day leaving the San Bernardino Mountains was a thrill- unexpected host cancellation, long day, first experience in the desert, and a slightly nervous first night camping in the middle of nowhere on BLM land. By the time I reached NM camping wherever seemed perfectly normal.

City/Town: Flagstaff, Arizona

  • Flagstaff is a smallish mountain town with a well-established network of paved and unpaved trails that make getting around both easy and fun. Transit is meh, but I easily rode to hiking and mountain biking. There is a college, plenty of bars and restaurants, and all the basics. Plus Sedona is huge for mountain biking and it is only an hour or two south. Summers are warm, winters are cold and sometimes snowy but the weather is generally mild. The biggest downside I saw: lack of good career opportunities. My friends told me it was pretty transient – people come for the outdoors and fun but leave for the job.

Non-bike activity: Colorado River jumping & local bar; Mountain Biking; Catan

  • Pretty much upon entering California I said goodbye to freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams. After the first week of riding east I hit the Arizona border and jumped into a wondrous Colorado River flowing amid the desert. It was short-lived, but fantastic. And then I had some beers at a local joint and was offered a place to spend the night. Basically, exactly what I dreamt for this trip.
  • Mountain biking in Flagstaff and Albuquerque. First ponderosa pines, then the high desert. So different from the Pacific Northwest!
  • Catan in Flagstaff. An unexpected taste of home.

I’ve made the decision to rent a car and drive to Big Bend in order to be able t really experience the park. Afterwards I will take Amtrak from El Paso to San Antonio to stay on schedule, skipping the notorious West Texas. It certainly feels weird for a bike tour but I am not coming all the way down here and missing out on Big Bend!

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Days 114 & 115: Final Days in NOLA

Day 114 (2016-12-18): Rainy Sunday Fail.

Holly and Bert invite me to join them for breakfast this morning which turns out to be an assortment of fresh fruit, applesauce, and nuts. Holly is vegan and I get the impression they don’t cook a whole lot, so it makes sense. But I am left wanting, and I start the day by walking to the Wayfare Cafe on nearby Freret St for brunch. Today’s food adventure: Cajun-style pulled pork on cornbread, topped with poached eggs and a Cajun sauce. Side of buttery garlic grits rounds out the heavy, filling breakfast. So good, yet so unlike my typical food with its extreme richness. It would be a health struggle to live here.

Although it does not look like a ton of food this brunch is a monstrous undertaking compared to the scant vegan fruit things this morning.

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Although it does not look like a ton of food this brunch is a monstrous undertaking compared to the scant vegan spread this morning.

It pours on and off during brunch and I manage to catch a bus before it begins to truly downpour. But by the time I get off it is raining again, and I scrap my plans of joining a walking tour. I try the main library but it is closed for repairs, so I head to the grocery store. By this point I am soaking wet and pretty chilly so I try to catch a bus to another library branch. The bus never shows and I am getting frustrated, so I just get an Uber back to my hosts’ house. They’re not home yet and did not give me a key, so I sit at a nearby coffee shop and wait until they return. Once back, I don’t leave again. It just keeps pouring!


Day 115 (2016-12-19): Walking Tours, Food, Music

Well, it is cold but at least it is dry this morning so I catch a bus and join a walking tour of the French Quarter. We start in Jackson square, a historic square with a statue of Andrew Jackson commemorating his defense of the city against British invasion during the War of 1812. Picturesque NOLA town homes border two sides while an imposing lineup of museums and a church look out over the square towards the French Market. I won’t go into a big history lesson here, but I learned a bit about the history of the city through French, Spanish, and American rule. The current architecture is strongly tied to the Spanish fire code, instituted after the city burned several times.

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The Spanish fire code required buildings be rebuilt without porches so owners instead built beautiful balconies overhanging the sidewalk.

 

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Part of the fire code required courtyards with water access. The legacy of this is beautiful, private green spaces scattered throughout the Quarter. Some belong to hotels and restaurants, others to very expensive homes (mostly on the outer fringe), and some very small and expensive apartments.

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Another view of the Quarter.

After the tour I follow our guide’s suggestion and wander to Coop’s, a no-frills bar known for its jambalaya. I order the rabbit and sausage jambalaya and it is great, if a little small for the $6 cup. I want something warm so I go with a buttered rum as per the bartender’s recommendation, but it is way too rich for me. Next time I’ll stick to hot cider or a spiked hot chocolate.

I meet the guide again shortly after lunch, this time for a tour of the nearby Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, home of iconic jazz clubs along Frenchman Street. We stroll through this traditionally Creole neighborhood learning about the difference between Creole and American slavery (can you guess which one is slightly less terrible), the Free People of Color, and even a bit about the infamous Marie Laveau, Vodoo Queen of New Orleans. The heart of Frenchman Street is just two blocks but packed full of food, drink, and music.It’s supposed to be far milder than Bourbon Street and more authentic – I’m curious to come back tonight because it seems a lot more my style. Plus it’s Monday, so I figure it should be pretty chill.

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Staples on a utility pole in front of Snug Harbor, one of the premier Jazz Clubs in the neighborhood. Clearly, nothing exciting ever happens in this town.

I wait out the afternoon by finally getting to the Main library where I doze off reading the Atlantic and am woken by an irritated security officer. After struggling with NOLA’s terrible transit system I return to Frenchman Street and stop at 13, a small bar recommended by my guide for cheap eats. I go for the $5 red beans and rice, a NOLA staple. It’s good but having skipped lunch I opt to jump right into another, non-traditional dish: vegetarian chili tachos.

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Vegetarian chili tachos. Tachos, for the uninitiated, are tater-tot nachos. Perhaps a gimmicky urban millennial thing, but they were so good and inexpensive!

After getting my fill I walk a block down to The Spotted Cat and enjoy a drink or two while listening to the Frenchman Street All-Stars play typical NOLA jazz music. It’s Monday night and the place is quiet, but as the band begins to play a crowd slowly fills the small space. I get the sense that the band is neither exceptionally popular nor terribly close-knit from their furtive glances ta each other and hesitation when improvising. Eventually they loosen up though, and I enjoy a relaxing night of music.

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The Frenchman Street All-Stars performing at The Spotted Cat jazz club

Day 113: From the 9th Ward to the French Quarter

Day 113 (2016-12-17): Extreme juxtaposition. I was going to roll all of NOLA into one day, but this really stood out to me.
I kicked around the house this morning, waiting to leave and head toward my final Warm Showers host for the trip. I face a head wind the whole way, but it’s only about 10 miles so I can suck it up. I meet Bert and Holly, two art therapists who have toured both together and separately. Their most famous trip was from Iowa to NOLA when they pulled a trailer full of art supplies and made art with folks along the way. Pretty cool.
We chat for a while and I wash up before hopping in the car and riding with them down to the 9th Ward – one of the neighborhoods most devastated my Hurricane Katrina a decade ago. I am blown away – many of the lots still sit empty, leaving a checkerboard of houses, plots of smooth green grass, overgrown weed forests, and lots with nothing but a foundation. Even a decade later the devastation is right in your face. We go to a local house-turned-museum to learn more about Katrina. I can only stay so long because the experience weighs on me…and nothing from Katrina impacted me personally!
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This is the only photo I took in the 9th Ward. Not only would photos not do the devastation justice, it felt wrong. Here I am in a nice car with two other white people, spending our Saturday afternoon cruising around a black neighborhood to look at the devastation. I felt like an intruder.

Seriously, learn about this – it’s bad. This historically African-American neighborhood where people of color were able to gain a foothold and pass their homes along to their children has been devastated too many times. First when the canal was built against residents’ wills in the 20’s, to facilitate shipping but bisecting their neighborhood and forcefully separating the lower 9th Ward from the rest of the city. Then again shortly thereafter, when the canal was purposefully blown up to sacrifice the neighborhood and ensure flood water. Several major floods over the next few decades destroyed swaths of the neighborhood, and Katrina was a disaster.
On top of it all the city botched evacuation efforts, a President Bush and the federal government responded too slowly and without enough support, and the media painted a dastardly picture of African-American “looters” getting basic supplies from abandoned stores while white people with the same photos doing the same thing were described as “finding” food. Oh, and let’s not forget about the police brutality and their shooting and killing of so many people, including a couple attempting to cross into a neighboring area to buy supplies. To think this all happened here in the United States, the “greatest country in the world.”


After leaving the heaviness behind Bert and Holly drop me off on Frenchman Street, one of the premier streets for food and music. It’s also just a short walk to the French Quarter and the infamous Bourbon Street. Talk about juxtaposition. I walk around for a while, just taking it all in, before settling down for a beer at a club with a live band and some dancers.
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Listening to jazz and enjoying swing dancing during a daytime performance on Frenchman Street. The woman is with the band and mostly did interpretive dancing to the music, that is until her friend and swing partner showed up and these local swing champions kicked into high gear.

I’m not quite in the mood to sit down at a restaurant for a meal, so instead I head to a small corner-store deli known for great sandwiches. I order the muffaletta, an Italian sandwich brought to NOLA by Italian immigrants and now a staple of the city. It consists of layers of salami, mozzarella, ham, provolone, bologna, and olive salad on a Sicilian sesame bread. Served cold. Again, NOLA food is not exactly what I would connect with healthy. But it sure is tasty! I walk as I eat until I find a band performing in the street, which makes for excellent outdoor seating.
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Many of the streets in the French Quarter routinely close to vehicles at night and bands perform in the streets as tourists and locals alike flock to the streets for food, drink, shopping, music, and more.

At first it’s not bad – Royal Street is filled with shops and galleries. The atmosphere is relaxed and I see quite a few families with kids. It is a pleasant walk. But then I wander over to Bourbon Street…another world. People everywhere can walk with open containers and bars will gladly serve you to-go drinks in plastic cups, but Bourbon Street is over the top. It is loud, dirty, smells like stale beer and piss, and everyone appears drunk. Mind you it’s Saturday, but only like 19:30. I walk up and down, taking it all in, but it’s brining me down. This is not my scene. To think, only a few hours ago I was trying to understand the magnitude of devastation in the poor lower 9th Ward. And now I am here, taking in the shit-show that is the iconic scene of New Orleans, the one the city spends 75 million dollars facilitating every year. Wow.

Days 111 & 112: Celebrating the End. And my Birthday!

Day 111: Night of Arrival
Wohoo! Unlike finishing my 4K for Cancer trip, there is no celebration with lots of people waiting for me at the finish line. Instead, I eat, rest, and take off for the NOLA Social Ride this evening. NOLA Social Ride is a casual organized ride that occurs regularly in the city. I heard about the rides but I am not sure what to expect – all I know is that this particular ride is ugly sweater and mustache themed, so I try Goodwill. Too late in the season – I settle for some too-short Grinch pajamas. Should be fine.
First celebration: the bar. I manage to get a 1/2 off special at the Grand Isle for being part of the Social Ride, then the bartender buys me a shot of whiskey after I tell him my story and he hears it’s my birthday. Okay, this is definitely a double. Two beers and two shots and the ride has not even started! Good thing I brought a box of wine…
Second celebration: the ride. It’s an eclectic crowd – young, old, and everything in between dressed in a motley of Christmas attire, including a woman wearing one of the skirts you put underneath your Christmas tree. Almost everyone is on some type of cruiser and almost no one is on a road bike. Several people are blasting music, some even pulling gigantic speakers along on trailers. The music is just as ridiculous as the dress – some play classic Christmas tunes but Nat King Cole, a few prefer more modern renditions by T-Swift and Michael Buble, and some just drop the bass with whatever music they want.

 

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People take the Social Ride seriously… in a very casual, anything-goes kind of way.

 

We twist and turn through the city at a nice slow pace, passing through what I assume is the famous French Quarter. Along the way we stop in a few parks where people drink, smoke, and be merry. I chat with all kinds of people, especially a guy who helps organize some of the rides and tells me all kinds of things about NOLA. Eventually we end at Poor Boy’s Bar where I hang out until the band begins to play – it’s some kind of metal or scream-o and it is way too damn loud for this tiny bar. Peace out. I find my way somewhere with food and order something to fill my growling stomach. Then I ride the magic carpet home.
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Compared to the impressive light show and thumping base of the regulars, my ride seems sad. That’s my ride lying off to the right.

 

Day 112 (2016-12-16): The Morning After
Typically, I do not get hung over because I rarely drink a LOT at once, and always stay smart about food and water. So I regret getting out of bed this morning after such a long, long day. Hell if I am going to eat oats this morning. I very slowly let myself wake up and re-hydrate, then walk down the street to Russel’s Marina Grill. I am worried about walking in wearing my too-short Grinch PJ’s but no one seems to notice – later I will realize NOLA has a very uh..lenient culture.
Third celebration: epic brunch. This is where my blog gets real foodie. The place is supposed to have an excellent brunch and the menu does not disappoint. First up: chocolate milk and an appetizer of sweet potato beignets. If you’re unfamiliar, beignets are sort of like donuts: dough deep-fried and topped with a heap of powdered sugar. They are a NOLA staple and I have never had them – I expect something a bit over-hyped, but when I take my first bite I am blown away. These are non-traditional beignets though – they are round balls, actually have a verifiable amount of sweet potato, and are smothered in some kind of honey-based glaze. AMAZING. I wash it down with a big glass of chocolate milk, topped with a tower of whipped cream and a little extra chocolate, for good measure. This is my introduction to NOLA’s food culture – something I will soon learn holds nothing back.
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I am often not easily impressed by food when I eat out – I feel you often pay for the service more than the taste. But hell, these are scrumptious!

The main course is this ridiculous eggs-benedict spin-off consisting of two identical mounds: a half of biscuit sitting underneath a fried tomato and a generous helping of alligator sausage, topped with a poached egg. The whole shebang is doused in a cajun-spiced hollandaise sauce. A small bowl of grits comes on the size, a heap of butter quickly melting on top. I can feel my arteries tingling just thinking about all this. But damn, it is so good.
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Talk about rich food – everything here is a richer, crazier version of the typical eggs-benedict. Replace the mild english muffin with a hearty biscuit, switch out the Canadian bacon for lavish alligator sausage, add chocolate milk and grits to replace the tea, and throw in two random orange slices. At least I can think about fruit for a second.

No matter how hungry you are, there is only one reasonable response to a brunch of this magnitude: nap. Plus, it helps me through the worst of the hangover. Against my typical rational I call an Uber and ride to the Freret neighborhood. I could ride but it is a long, bumpy ride and this is all about relaxation.
Fourth Celebration: massage. I called ahead a few days ago and booked a massage for this afternoon. I enjoy an hour of relaxation and feel the tension building up over the last two weeks begin to fade. The woman was small but seriously strong: I can feel that I will be sore after this, but the big knots between my shoulders and in my lower back are gone. I stroll around town, just letting myself breathe and take in my surroundings. Eventually I make it downtown and hop on one of the iconic streetcar lines to take me home. Not to ruin the mood, but these things suck. We went about 2.5 miles in a little under 30 minutes, or about 5 mph. I could have walked almost that fast! But I make it back, just in time to join Hyo and her roommate for dinner!
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One of New Orleans’ iconic streetcars.

Fifth celebration: gumbo. While technically not in New Orleans, Chef Ron’s Gumbo Stop is a short drive from where I am staying and offers some excellent, affordable gumbo. Gumbo is a lot like grilled cheese: there is really no right” way to make it, with infinite variations depending on what you have and what you’re craving. Plus it is absolutely comfort food, albeit with a rich cultural heritage spanning several continents. Afterwards we drive to city park for some traditional style beignets and enjoy the Christmas village lights outside of some kind of Christmas carnival. What a successful rest day!

Days 110 & 111: The Final Stretch

Day 110 (2016-12-14): ~55 miles from Baton Rouge to Gramercy, LA. A mix of shitty bike path, river road, and country highway with one terrible section of Highway 44 north of Highway 70. This is my second to last day of riding.

Riding out I pass through some of the LSU campus and follow a shitty bike lane until it turns into a shitty shoulder. Thankfully, I veer of onto the river road before long and enjoy mostly calm riding for the next 30 some miles. Still no shoulder, but traffic is mostly calm and the pavement is decent. I try once or twice to ride atop the levy but it is either unpaved and muddy or else the random paved bike trail ends abruptly into grass just before one of the dozens of oil pipelines. Perfect. Like the ride into Baton Rouge I pass tons of huge industrial plants, both oil and gas refineries but also minerals, chemicals, lumber, and other resources benefitting from easy shipping along the Mississippi. Here are there are quiet sections, some of which encompass beautiful old plantation homes.

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One of the few quiet sections with a massive plantation home complete with multiple smaller buildings. History aside, these are beautiful complexes.

The stretch between highways 44 and 70 is only a few miles long but terrible. No shoulder, heavy and high-speed traffic, and a lot of trucks. I speed along doing almost 20mph just to get it over with, keeping on high alert the whole time. Afterwards  I meet Paul, one of the few touring cyclists I’ve seen since leaving the coast. He is heading east and skipping New Orleans so we only ride together for a very short time. We bond over headwinds, freezing temperatures, and crappy riding and it feels good to know I am not the only one struggling to keep morale up under the conditions.

I really hit it well with podcasts today and before I know it I am arriving at my host. Dale is not here yet but left the door to his ‘man cave’ unlocked. Dale is an  an older gentleman who lets cyclists use his garage complete with a work bench and camper. It’s nothing fancy and Dale only stops in briefly to say hello but he provides a lot of information on local services and I am able to clean and tune up my bike with his complete tool collection. He’s of the mentality that all we need is a safe space – plenty of time to relax and do whatever we need to do. Works well for me!

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Dale’s work bench has the tools to do just about everything so I take my time and even true my wheels. Having built them myself they are very strong but I am no master and after 5,000+ miles of abuse they needed a little touch-up.

It’s odd. Riding from Austin through the first few days in Louisiana I was really ready for this trip to be over. First I was soaked and freezing, then somewhat uninterested in exploring Austin. I enjoyed one day of nice, warm sun before jumping head-first into another cold front that dropped one night of rain and then left me riding in sub-freezing temperatures. Yup, over it.

But these last few days have been warm and, despite the pouring rain on my way into Baton Rouge, the temperature is a major boon. So too is the lack of vicious headwinds, letting me make a good pace AND enjoy my ride rather than trudge through a slow roll with poor morale. So now that I face my last riding day I am a little bit sad it will be over. But let’s be honest – I am mostly unable to process this change. That’s how it always goes for me – it will hit me in a couple of weeks.


 

Day 111: ~50 miles from Gramercy to New Orleans, LA. A mix of river road and levee trail, then urban (suburban) winding to my host. Headwinds.

Despite how much this sucks right now, it is a fitting end to my ride. I’m pedaling hard with low morale moving about 7 mph into a stiff headwind from the southeast. I gain a few minutes of respite here and there but for the most part it is slow rolling. I spend the day thinking about how tired I am of this morale-crushing experience with headwinds. I imagine it is difficult to understand if you have not been in a similar position, whether it cycling or something else. As much as you want to enjoy the day you are overwhelmed and overpowered, intent only on getting to your destination and being done with this fight.

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I rest for stretching and lunch at a baseball field. It’s a bit sad to know I won’t be sleeping at one of these again any time soon.

That said, I am excited when I reach NOLA – both to be finished and to be a few days away from going home for the holidays. It’s going to be a tough transition for sure – how do you go from a full work day worth of physical exertion to unemployed holiday relaxation? And I struggle to see myself adapting well to a desk job – I already disliked that in just 6 short months in Seattle. But I’ll think more on this later – for now, it’s my birthday and it’s time to celebrate!

Day 109: Baton Rouge

Day 109 (2016-12-13): Baton Rouge

Yesterday I tried to find a way to volunteer a few hours today,but single-day, last-minute volunteering does not work so well. Instead, I decide to go wander around Baton Rouge, using transit instead of riding on these bad streets with thunderstorms expected.

My first stop is the old state capitol building where get a new perspective on civil rights and the Jim Crow laws through a mix of local perspectives and primary sources from the deep south. Fascinating. Next I learn about Huey Long, Louisiana’s governor in the 1920’s-1930’s and later US Senator. Huey reminds me a lot of Trump – he touted populist goals like infrastructure and education that rallied the poor while using any means necessary to achieve his goals. Huey was extremely divisive among supporters and critics, and he was assassinated. Or maybe it was an accident covered up…

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Me pretending to be Huey Long.

While in office Huey Long built a new capitol building, still the tallest state capitol in the country. Compared to the more modest congressional chambers this morning, the new building boats massive marble columns, fancy Pompeii lava floors, and quite a bit of fancy decoration. From atop the capitol I look out 360 degrees over the city. To the south downtown appears small and quiet, with the massive 102,000 seat LSU football stadium rising in the distance. To the north a huge array of oil and gas plants belch smog into the air already thick with fog, a gigantic scar of twisting metal on the landscape. Boy am I glad I did not ride the ACA route directly through that mess.

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Beyond the capitol campus is a sprawling array of industry growing off the Mississippi’s immense shipping potential.

I spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown and eating a very good but super expensive bowl of corn crab bisque before catching a bus and heading miles out of downtown to find a grocery store. Along the way I notice the absolutely terrible infrastructure for biking, walking, and transit.  Bus stops sit in marshy grass alongside the highway with no sidewalk access whatsoever – you must walk along the highway shoulder. Seriously?

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A sad bus stop on a large surface highway. Seriously, no wonder mostly only poor people ride the bus. Why would anyone want to ride a system with such poor service and a strong stigma?

For the first time on this trip (in city setting) I am hyper-aware of being white, the city being about 40% white and 50% African-American. What’s more, the casual culture in this part of the country is so different from the serious, business focus in the northeast and the progressive elitism in Seattle (generalizing significantly). The whole thing feels very strange. These and other factors come together to create a feeling of otherness my background has typically made non-existent. Another reason people should travel more.

On my way back to my host’s home it begins to pour and, by the time I get off the bus, water is pooling all over the place. I need to walk about 6 blocks and I try the main street but traffic is heavy & fast and there is no sidewalk. I turn to a side street, also with no sidewalk, and wade through as much as a foot of water while I watch residents scramble to move their vehicles to higher ground. Poor Baton Rouge, they cannot catch a break!

I finish the night making one of my signature sweet potato-based healthy dinners for Scott & myself, then learn about his family’s encounter with the flood over a few beers at his local watering hole. They’re about to return to their home after almost four months living in a hotel!

Days 107 & 108: To Baton Rouge

Day 107 (2016-12-11): ~30 miles from Bunkie to Simmesport, LA. Mostly quiet country roads with low to mild traffic.

This morning more fire fighters arrive for the shift change but people generally leave me alone so I do my thing and hit the road. It is Sunday so I enjoy light traffic weave through the countryside on little two-lane roads. The last 10 miles I follow old highway 1, a way better option than the shoulder-less, high-speed main road. I roll into Simmesport a little after noon and head to the restaurant where I will be staying through Warm Showers. Debbie, one of the hosts, lets me in and I chat with her and who I assume to be her granddaughter, plus a friend.The restaurant is closed today and they leave after a little while, leaving me to finish watching the Eagles – Redskins game (Eagles make a comeback only to lose at the last minute. No surprise there).

To some this may sound like a weird situation but Warm Showers hosts vary a widely and when you’re on the road with a bike just a roof over your head is a blessing. I’m dry when the evening rains come, though I have to periodically mop some water leaking from one of the refrigerators. Or the ice/water machine. Or both. It’s unclear where the water is coming from. On the plus side, I have wifi and watch some of Lethal Weapon. Classic.


 

Day 108 (2016-12-12): ~65 miles from Simmesport to Baton Rouge. Mainly quiet country highways and roads. Shit went south near Baton Rouge though.

Mopping yesterday was a good idea – while my stuff is dry this morning the pooling water advanced overnight and is only a few feet from my sleep spot. As I finish packing it starts to rain, then pour, and no amount of dilly-dallying seems to help. So I just get wet. Really wet. At least it’s in the 60s.

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Warm rain beats cold rain any day. Honestly, I really don’t mind. Mostly I am happy not to have a headwind.

I ride highway 1, the same one I avoided yesterday, for about 10 miles without a shoulder but traffic is luckily very light. Today is one of those rare days I don’t expect a headwind, the first time in several days. And boy does it make a difference! I make good time, estimating a light headwind on a normal 50-60 mile day adds about 1-1.5 hours of travel time, a heavy headwind adding as much as 3 hours! Obviously much of it is speed, but a lot of riding is morale and it sucks when you’re working hard and getting nowhere. Plus you rest more. Man, I will be glad to be done fighting that in a few days!

In New Roads I have two options. First, I can continue the ACA route across the Mississippi on highway 10 then cut south. The riding will be poor but at least the bridge is not a death trap since it has a shoulder. Second, I can continue on the west side of the Mississippi and ride nice, quiet river roads all the way to Port Allen but then cross a terrible, big, high traffic bridge. Oh wait, option #3: ride the good way and my host will drive me across the bridge. Sold. Thanks Scott!

As it turns out, this is the right choice. The river road follows the levee and is a comfortable and scenic ride. I take my jacket on and off numerous times as the scattered storms require a rain jacket but the warmth and humidity make for a muggy ride, even without the jacket. I pass beautiful old plantation homes and new, comical suburban homes trying to mimic the plantation look in their little cul-de-sac developments. I follow the Mississippi, twisting and turning along the levee as the river slowly approaches the state capital.

About 20 miles from Baton Rouge traffic begins to pick up, but it’s not too bad. I have my first bad encounter with a semi in a few days when it cuts me off by passing without enough time before oncoming traffic. Thankfully the second semi sees me wave my arms and give the first guy the finger, and is more respectful with his big rig. In hindsight this encounter foretold my upcoming struggle, and I should have continue on the river road all the way to Port Allen, even if it added a few extra miles. Instead, I opted to go a more direct route along some other two-lane roads. As luck would ave it, this was a bad idea. If you don’t want to read my rant or like to be ignorant of the dangers of riding with traffic, just skip this next part.


As I turn off the river road I keep an eye on an oil rig coming from behind, noticing it slow to make the turn as well. Now we are both heading south on this two-lane road with no shoulder, a stop sign looming about a quarter of a mile up the road. The semi is far behind and, having made the tight turn, is going to take some time to get up to speed. By the time he gets within a couple hundred feet of me we are nearing the stop sign. Again, this is a two-lane road. There is definitely not enough room for him to pass me before the intersection, so I continue riding down the middle of the lane. Standard procedure – don’t yield the lane when it is not safe to be passed.

The next thing I know he is coming up beside me, a mere 50 feet from the intersection. We both come to a stop, me in the correct lane and stopped in the oncoming lane. The road dead-ends into a T, and the cross street is also a tiny two-lane with no shoulders. I planned to pull off to the side and let the truck pass at the stop sign, but now that he has pulled up next to me I am in the danger zone. If I stay put and let him go ahead I will be crushed by the rear tires. So I continue on my way, making the turn and riding to the side so he has plenty of room to pass. He pulls out behind me, getting into the correct lane as an oncoming car blocks his path. The car slows, watching as this damn truck gets ridiculously close to me – about 5 feet off my rear tire.

I wave my left arm in frustration, trying to get him to back off. We pass the car and he loudly picks up speed to pass. Of course, he cannot be reasonable and give me any room. Instead, I make eye contact and watch him in his side mirror, calculating how close he can get without actually hitting me as I keep an eye on his rig inching closer. Eventually I cannot reasonably continue and crash into the ditch to avoid being run over by his rear tires. I FUCKING HATE DOUCHEBAGS. If he would have been a reasonable human and waited the extra 7 seconds before the stop sign I would have let him pass me without fanfare. Instead I get thrown into a ditch. Asshole. I try to catch up at a stop sign around the bend ahead but it is no use. It’s times like these I really wish I had a GoPro or equivalent – I would get his license and company name and be sure his ass was fired, or at least reprimanded, for purposefully endangering my life.


Anywho, the rest of the ride was a lot safer although I did have to ride on the side of a busy highway for a quarter miles section – the shoulder was falling apart and filled with debris, which gave me a flat. As I sat on the side of the road and patched my tube in two different spots it began to rain. Then pour. Oh yes, what a great time.

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Nothing like patching two different holes in your tube along the side of a busy highway in the pouring rain. Thankfully traffic came in waves which meant I could ride in the lane and avoid more flats!

I grab some snacks from the grocery store and take up shop in the library, changing into dry clothes first, to wait for Scott to get off work. He picks me up and we return to his condo to chat for a while before heading out to dinner. He buys me dinner and a beer – what a guy! I learn a lot from him about AirBnB and owning a condo, since he owns two units and sort-of lives in one as he bounces back and forth between living there and at his friend’s house.