Days 105 & 106: Why So Cold?

Day 105 (2016-12-09): ~55 miles from Merryville to Elizabeth, LA. Mix of quiet county roads and rural highways. Louisiana does not like shoulders.

I am so lad I slept indoors last night. With the space heater off I awoke cold in the middle of the night – it dropped into the mid 20’s! This morning as I prepare to leave it is still just about freezing, despite my attempts to delay until it was warmer. For the first 12 miles of my ride I follow an old field road that is relatively well paved and count a total of 9 vehicles and 3 chasing dogs.

My plan today is simple: ride until I am tired. I have no host lined up but there are a few small towns where I can probably find a field or park, and there is a wildlife management area that I imagine may be good for camping, legal or not. There is not much else to say from riding today except BRRRRRR!

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Thanks to Techy, my first host in Houston, for these bike gloves/mittens. They did not fit him so he gave them to me – I can barely feel my hands with them and I know my ripped up wool gloves would have been seriously inadequate. Thanks Techy!

At about 55 miles I reach Elizabeth, a small village with bunch of homes, a high school, and two baseball fields. From the road I see one of the fields has two small buildings and upon closer examination one is a bathroom and the other is a concession stand. The bathrooms are unlocked and someone has cut the lock to the concession stand. It’s still quite cold and will be in the low thirties tonight, so I set my tent up inside the concession stand (a smaller space to heat keeps you warmer).

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Another day, another ball field. This time I find an empty concession stand with water, electricity, and toilets. Win.

Thanks to Techy, my first host in Houston, for these bike gloves/mittens. They did not fit him so he gave them to me – I can barely feel my hands with them and I know my ripped up wool gloves would have been seriously inadequate. Thanks Techy!

I take advantage of the twin hotplates to boil the water – it smells like rotten eggs and tastes just as bad. Right before hopping in bed I boil water and add oats, then leave the whole pot in my tent overnight to cook and add a little heat to the tent. Tonight is bittersweet – I arranged Warm Showers hosts for tomorrow through NOLA so this will be my last night camping out. I’m glad because it is cold and, although it is supposed to warm up, I expect rain in a few days. Still, I’ve gotten quite use to the baseball field camp-out since getting to Teas. When I left Seattle I was a little uncomfortable stealth camping but now I  see how easy it is and sometimes even enjoy the experience more than a campground because it is quiet (no RV’s with generators) and free. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of stealth camping, but I highly encourage you to try. Just remember: out of sight, out of mind.

 


Day 106 (2016-12-10): ~45 miles from Elizabeth to Bunkie, LA. Country highways.

This morning was warmer than yesterday but still cold, so I once again left bundled up with most of my face covered by my buff. I followed country highways all day with various road quality and traffic, but overall it was decent riding. I still have to fight a headwind sometimes, as with almost every day since leaving the coast, but today the winds are light.

After passing Chicot State Park I think nothing of the increasing amount of stuff floating down on me until I see the plume of dark smoke in the distance. Eventually I realize the stuff hitting my face is charred debris from whatever is burning. A few miles later I come upon a burning field of head-high crops. At first I do not see fire but coming closer I see small spots or orange through the field and veer away from the brush burning along the side of the road. At first I worry something is wrong and think of stopping to help. Then I realize all the people driving by do not even give it a second chance – apparently, this is normal.


Later, I learn the crop was sugarcane and burning is a normal part of the harvest process – it eases harvesting, reduces transportation costs, lowers the amount of extraneous leafy green material that is delivered to the factory for processing, and improves yields in subsequent years. Fascinating! You can read about it here.

Just outside of Bunkie, LA I cross through a wet area displaying a new type of flora – very swampy. Having never been to this area before I am not sure if this is a sign that I am getting closer to the Mississippi/NOLA or just a unique ecosystem amid the surrounding farms.

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Notice the fern-style plants on the forest floor. Everything I can see is under at least a foot of water. I wonder what type of ecosystem this is.

Tonight’s host is the Bunkie Fire Department – I stay with the two firefighters on duty and sleep on one of the couches. They are friendly enough but basically act like I don’t exist, so I just do my thing. Also, laundry. Good thing too – having been layered up pretty much every hour since I left Houston, my clothes stank.

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The fire department restored a sweet old fire engine.

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Days 103 & 104: To Louisiana!

Day 103 (2016-12-07): ~60 miles from Liberty to Village Creek State Park, Texas. Mainly country roads.

I am going to miss sleeping at baseball fields. After last night I think I only have one more night of stealth camping on this trip – I must find a good ball field! This morning everything is gray, a low-hanging mist leaving tiny droplets on my jacket as I ride. IT doesn’t take long to get myself onto one of eastern Texas’ many county roads and I ride for almost two hours with only a handful of cars passing me. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect though – I ride against a light headwind and continue to fight off dogs. Eventually I hit highway 105 and enjoy the wide shoulder as traffic picks up and more and more trucks pass me.

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Wet, quiet county roads in eastern Texas

Is that a mirage? No, there is a dude on a bike, with touring bags, coming over to my side of the road. He’s real! Ryan is the first touring cyclist I have met since…I don’t even know. Maybe that one European lady I met in western Arizona over a month ago. He offers me the universal hit of camaraderie and we chat about our rides. He’s only started a short while ago and is on his way from Florida to San Diego.

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Good luck Ryan!

I turn onto highway 770 north and suffer an increasing number of large logging trucks heading northeast with timber and returning unloaded. I am traveling through “Big Thicket,” a heavily forested area in East Texas that apparently provides a lot of timber. The road is narrow with no shoulder, so I am glad to turn off in Kountze and head southeast towards Village Creek State Park. I called ahead this time – they’re not closed!

Although open, the park has suffered a lot of flood damage from the overflowing creek. Of course, the water & electric RV sites are unharmed – only the cheaper walk-in sites are open. Once again I pay $18 for a combination of day-use fee and camping permit. Texas State Parks are stupid. Whatever. I thoroughly enjoy their hot showers and brainstorm my path to becoming a property owner/manager as I prepare dinner. Later I talk to Danial for an hour plus and call it a night. I miss my friends!


Day 104 (2016-12-08): ~60 miles from Village Creek State Park to Merryville, LA. A mix of quiet county roads and some stretches on the busy but well-shouldered highway 96.
Excuse my language.
I FUCKING HATE HEADWINDS. 60+ miles today, much of it fighting the ever-present easterly headwind. Struggling to maintain 7mph for long stretches.
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Did you see any beautiful, one-lane country roads today?

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No? Neither did I. All I saw was my cockpit as I tried to maintain a piss-poor 7mph in this wind tunnel.

Also, FUCK DOGS. Today 23 dogs chased me out of their own yards. That is an average of more than one dog per mile. If you count the dogs that barked and chased me until the property ended that number easily doubles. Keep your fucking dogs on your property! It’s a good thing my dog yell is strong. “STAY!” I holler forcefully, throwing out my hand violently. It stops them in their tracks about one-third of the time and they almost always give pause.


 

Okay, so the majority of today  sucked. I was pretty over it. As I near the end of my ride I don’t mind riding on the good days but I am getting tired of being cold and wet, battling headwinds and fighting off dogs.

Luckily, towards the end of the day the sun comes out and I enjoy a quiet ride along the last county road in Texas, reveling in the soft evening light despite continuing to fight a headwind. The vague Texas plaque without even “Welcome” written anywhere almost entices me to take a middle-finger to Texas selfie, but I decide to continue on. I like Texas, sometimes. I am overjoyed to be entering Louisiana and the last week of my ride. This time next week I will be walking around the streets of NOLA with a drink celebrating the end of my ride AND my birthday. Hell yes.

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My first state sign since…California?

As darkness falls I cover the last few miles into Merryville and contact my Warmshowers host. No one is able to meet me, but they give me the code to access the cabin and the restroom/showers. I find a cozy bungalow with a space heater, fridge full of light beer, a classic ugly couch, and camo bedding. After eating and cleaning up I am sitting here with the little space heater journaling away. How perfect is this? I am sitting in a tiny bungalow in Louisiana, a week from completing my most intense solo adventure yet, listening to Johnny Cash and drinking classic American water-beer. Perfect.

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A cute little cabin for the traveling cyclist hosted by the museum in Merryville, LA. So perfect!

Day 102: Leaving Houston

Day 102 (2016-12-06): ~15 miles from West Houston to downtown, regional bus to Kingswood, then ~25 miles to Dayton, Tx.

So rather than ride all the way through the suburban landscape of Houston I decide to ride to downtown then catch a commuter bus northeast as far as possible. It’s a surprisingly pleasant suburban ride for the first few miles from my host, aided in part by leaving around 10 after the morning rush dies down. Memorial Park offers a nice path for much of the way and links up to a river path that leads all the way into downtown Houston. The sun is out and the sky is blue. After days of torrential rains I am incredibly happy to be dry. But it’s more than that – the sun is a power unto itself, a magical orb of happiness and comfort that powers through even the worst riding conditions. I’ve said “at least it’s sunny” more than one on this trip. I ❤ the sun!

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Houston is a suburban city of big homes – these are quite modest.

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Memorial Park offers a very nice ride. Look at that clear sky! So happy about it.

Downtown Houston is actually not too bad – higher density, lots of people walking about, and although it lacks major bike lanes I feel comfortable (it is the late morning though) riding around and just taking one of the many lanes. I cruise on over to Minutemaid Park, home of the Houston Astros. I cannot get in obviously, but I find the outside super weird. It barely even looks like a baseball field. I grab some tacos and an horchata and hope on the bus. There is no bike rack on the front but one of the lower bays is reserved for bikes and my bike fits in easily without turning the handlebars. There is even room to toss my bags in as well.

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Minutemaid Park, home of the Houston Astros, is a bit weird. It barely looks like a baseball field…

The bus takes me to Kingswood, a ridiculous suburb about 50 minutes driving from downtown Houston. Riding here is best summarized as a game of “let’s find the sidewalk.” Despite how morally opposed to sidewalks I am, 50mph suburban highways with heavy traffic and no shoulder are not the safest for riding. I eventually make it through and cross a long, flat bridge on highway 90 and continue for a mile or two before turning onto a quiet county road. Other than the dogs that chase me I ride peacefully, making pretty good time and enjoying the ride with the sun on my back and light, variable winds all around.

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Nice country roads with little traffic and great sun are a huge boon after all the rain and suburban riding of the last few days!

I enter Dayton, a small pass-through town, and not having heard from the Couchsurfing host here I continue on to Liberty. It is only an extra 5 miles down the road and it passes swiftly as I join the beginning of rush hour traffic on the 70mph highway 90. Luckily there is wide, smooth shoulder and I power along at 18-20mph until rolling into liberty. I weave through the residential street and stop at Brookshire Brothers to stock up on food. Bulk candy. Just around the corner is the municipal park with about a dozen baseball fields, and I set up camp on the small concrete porch behind one of the bathrooms at the back of the park. Although cold and hard, concrete is way better than the soggy grass after all this rain. While I do not sleep inside the bathroom this time I do continue my trend of hanging out in public restrooms, as no one is around to use it and it is far warmer inside than out. I even charge my devices! Texas, we have many issues to work through but I thank you for your support for unlocked public restrooms!

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Another day, another bathroom.

Days 100 & 101: Houston

Day 100: ~30 miles from Steven F. Austin State Park to Houston, Texas. Country and suburban highways. Rain.

Gee, more rain. What a surprise. It was not raining as I got ready to leave but by the time I got out of the park it was a steady rain. The riding today is quite nice though – country highways with very little traffic. Pro tip: the best time to ride in Texas is, can you imagine, Sunday morning? Of course – I pass church parking lots overflowing with cars but no one is actually on the roads. What great timing to ride into Houston. I bet this downpour helps too.

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One of the rivers near the park. It does not do the flood damage justice, but it was pretty crazy. My photos have mostly sucked since I have not been able to feel my hands for opportune shots.

I planned this day’s route to add a few miles but avoid the suburban jungle for as long as possible, and boy am I glad. Traffic is still pretty low as I enter Katy, a border-city that is basically Houston. Every road is a 4-lane parkway with no shoulders and maybe or maybe not a sidewalk. Google maps show a few of the dark-green lines indicating separated trail facilities, but in reality they are just curving sidewalks overflowing with water. By the time I get close to my host’s house I am miserable and freezing again but it is about 90 minutes before my host will be home. Shit. But then I see my savior – Chipotle! I walk in, dripping all over the place, take about a minute to convince my numb, frozen hands to unclip my helmet. I change in the bathroom and, although I know it’s a ‘health hazard,’ I just walk around confidently in my socks and what little dry clothing I have – should not have left my sandals strapped to the bike rack…

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There are a lot of things I do not like about this part of Texas, but their anti-litter signs are not one of them.

I hang around in the little alcove for almost two hours until I don my wet clothing again (I need something dry to wear at the house) and leave to meet my host. I meet Techy and his family of four, a wife and two children. I dry off and change, throwing my clothes in the laundry. I spend most of the night chatting with Techy – his wife does her own thing but he basically follows me around. We have some good conversations and I find myself working with him to explain the basic concepts of calculus to his amazed 7th-grade son. There is really an equation to draw all those infinite rectangles!? Amazing! Also, they feed me yummy stir fry with rice, BBQ pork and beef, and coconut water out of a coconut. Yum!


 

Day 101 (2016-12-05): ~15 miles from West Houston, to slightly less west Houston.

Fried rice with ham and more coconut for breakfast? Sure, why not! I am happy to discover a combination of fan and newspaper stuffed inside my shoes have dried them out, though they are still pretty crusty from all the dirt. Techy continues to follow me around and we talk this morning as I wait out the rain and plan to meet my next host at 13:00. It is only a 15 mile ride towards downtown, but still on the west side of Houston. This place is absolutely huge. Did you know the whole state of Connecticut would fit inside Houston? Check out this visual aide to see just how big this place is…

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Not quite a traditional breakfast, but so good! Techy and his wife are Indonesian and I thoroughly enjoy the food they prepare 🙂

Despite the short ride and only mild misting, the ride to my new host went south quickly. I was following a series of trails along a levee and next to the bayous, but after about 8 miles the trails started to have closed signs. Not wanting to brave the craze of the suburban parkways I continue along. At first it seemed fine, but then shit went downhill. I apologize I did not take any pictures – again, the rain and temperature foils my photography. At one point the trail was washed out for several hundred feet and, not wanting to slug through the mud I could see next to it, I decided to veer away form the water towards the unpaved path nearby. Wrong move. At first the trail was kind of solid but it soon became a mud pit. I could barely even push my bike and dug my tires and feet in a few inches more than once. Yuk! When I finally manage to return to the road I ditch the rest of the trails and apologize as Josie once again wails away.

 

My host lives in a million dollar home. No joke – it is for sale and I looked it up. As I ride through this expensive neighborhood I smell gas…is something about to blow? It persists for several blocks, messing with my head a bit before I finally realize the culprit – gas street lamps. Seriously, what century are we in? Leave it to Oil Town to use gas lamps. At the house I greet my host Clotho and use her hose to wash off my bike and bags and come in for a lunch of very good chicken and quinoa stew with butter bread. Clotho, my host, fuses about a bit before leaving for her appointment. I wander around the house, taking it all in, before relaxing on the couch to journal and route plan for the final stretch of my ride.

My friend Alyse picks me up and we drive to the original Lupe Tortilla, a Tex-Mex chain unique to Houston. Our veggie quesadillas are good and the margarita is a change of pace for me. We chat over dinner for an hour or two then continue the conversation at the pub next door. I haven’t seen Alyse since her graduation in 2012! It’s so good to see an old friend, even if for a very short time. Unfortunately, I forgot to get a photo :/

Days 98 & 99: Return of the Rain

Day 98 (2016-12-02): ~55 miles from Bastrop State Park to Fayetteville, Texas. Country highways.

Bastrop State Park connects to Buescher State Park to the southeast by way of a narrow, hilly, winding road that traverses a landscape highlighting all the ways fire can impact a forest, from total destruction to simple ground-clearing brush fire. The road provides a nice quiet ride with almost no traffic but damn, it is hilly. Measuring grade is tough, but many of the hills are above 10% grade and some spots probably even push 15% – such that I am standing up in my granny gear, inching along.

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Riding through the park is beautiful and peaceful. This shot is from Buescher, which was less devastated by the wildfire. 

After Buescher  I hit another country road and worry about traffic, but my theory proves correct – this country road has almost no shoulder and, for the most part, traffic shows me more respect. I continue to battle headwinds on my way to La Grange but enjoy seeing my first Texas Longhorns – geez, those horns are huge! In La Grange I stop at a cafe for lunch: sandwich, soup, and sweet tea. I also spend at least an hour researching the health care market – two weeks until I turn 26 and get booted from my mom’s insurance!

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Texas Longhorns!

I don’t really know where I am staying tonight and it is too early to set up camp so keep riding, figuring more miles today will make tomorrow’s 60 miles shrink to a nicer distance. I finally make it to Fayetteville about an hour before dusk and follow signs to the ballpark. This isn’t you average high school baseball field – it is professional sized with bleachers and a huge metal fence connecting to the chain-link the defines the outfield. I would love to camp under the shelter of the awnings but the gate is tall and locked so I decide it is not worth it. Mistake.

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I don’t camp on the field or under the awning but I have a front row seat from the batting cages just outside left field. This is a really nice field and reminds me of Owl’s Field where I played Junior Legion ball for a couple of years.

I don’t camp on the field or under the awning, unfortunately, but I have a front row seat from just behind the left-field bullpen. This field reminds me a bit of Owl’s Field, where I played my junior legion games. Ah, the memories…

By the time I get set up in begins to rain and I bring all my food and stuff into the tent so I don’t have to leave again, except for the bathroom. By the time I finish dinner it is raining pretty hard, and soon it is a solid downpour. I take advantage of small breaks in the rain to use the bathroom and brush my teeth. I wake up around 3:00 to the sounds of thunder and the deafening beat of a torrential downpour on my tent. I count the seconds between lightning and thunder calculating if I will need to ditch my dry enclosure to find safer shelter. Luckily, my counts have the lightning between 3-4 miles away, so I stay. I end up eating first breakfast and reading for a while – it is just too loud to fall back to sleep!


 

Day 99 (2016-12-03): ~45 miles from Fayetteville to Steven F. Austin State Park, Texas. Country roads, soaked.

Well, it is not raining anymore but everything is wet. I am dry inside my tent, but as soon as I step outside my feet sink in a giant puddle and become soaked. Everything is oversaturated and standing water is everywhere. Last night after I ate my first breakfast at 4:00 in the morning I just reached out and put my pot out beyond the rainfly – i promptly filled up and left some oat chunks in the grass. Well, I certainly won’t get dehydrated. I pack up everything but the tent and then carry it over to the concrete entrance to the field, which is dry underneath the awning. As I attempt to minimize the water transfer from rainfly to tent I meet this little buddy who happily tracks his muddy paws all over my tent. Thanks man!

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This little buddy came from who-knows where to say hi this morning. Apparently, nobody in Texas keeps their dogs in their yard. Or even near their property. Thankfully he was a sweet little guy.

For the first 15 miles I ride comfortably, not quite drying out but not getting any wetter. I stop at a small cafe in the equally small town of New Ulm. I only intend to use the bathroom and fill up my water, but it is empty except for one couple and I am greeted by 3 waitresses – hard to blend in. I end up eating a burger and watching locals filter in for lunch. When I leave I count 14 vehicles in the parking lot – 11 pick-ups and 3 SUVs. Yep, still in Texas.

I ride for a bit longer and am feeling really tight. I break to stretch and think about how I have been chugging along slowly for much of the riding since leaving the coast – the wind is rarely in my favor and road conditions definitely drop my speed. I feel slow and, because of that, time creeps by and motivation is low. I decide to kick it up a notch and power through the last 10 miles into Sealy. It’s a good decision – my body heat rises and I border on getting hot. Then it pours. By the time I get to Sealy I give up on dodging the now massive pools of water – I couldn’t possibly be more wet anyway. I turn down one of the side streets that should take me towards the Steven F. Austin State Park and it soon transforms into a dirt road. Or, more accurately, a mud road. I should have never even tried, but I was foolish and just wanted to get to camp. The relatively hard packed dirt gave way to mud, and I dropped my foot to hear a lovely squelch as I came to an undesired stop. Nope, turning around.

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Yeah…no. Maybe if I had heftier tires and a warm bed and shower tonight…

By this point my bike produces a banshee wail, a sound I never imagined possible from such an efficient machine. Mud coats my brakes and chain, with rocks sticking to everything. For the first time on my trip I am forced to switch to friction shifting and am thankful for that option. I manage to ride over enough big bumps and through sufficient deep pools to knock lose and wash away much of the grime. I’ve calmed the banshee to a more manageable temper-tantrum. Still, I have a bad feeling as I head towards the park. I don’t know why, but for some reason I can just imagine the park will be closed. It is.

The gate is down with a big “no trespassing’ sign, closed due to damage from flooding earlier this year. I look for a person and call the delivery number with no response – I am shivering and soaked to the bone so I don’t really care. I take a study the map and read a note about the flooding to determine the safest location in the park. I settle for the day-use area, furthest away from the two rivers, and awkwardly pull my bike underneath the gate. I pass a few buildings gutted like the main office, probably from all the water damage.I consider putting my tent on a tiny porch of one of the gutted buildings – not very stealthy and probably not a good spot considering it’s pouring and the place was gutted by flooding…

I see a bathroom in the day use area and, wonderfully, it is open! The lights are on inside, although there is no power in the outlets, and the sink and toilets work. My new home! I wheel my bike inside, hang all my things to dry as best I can, and set up a little sleeping mat on the floor. Talk about living in luxury!

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There were dead bugs everywhere and it was a little musty, but it sure beat setting up in the pouring rain. Also, it was relatively warm.

 

Dear Texas, I apologize for wishing for “real” rain and thunderstorms. In Seattle it just mists and is miserably gray. I had no idea you would be so overwhelmed with water. I take it back. I wish for the sun!

Day 97: Welcome to December

Day 97 (2016-12-01): ~40 miles from Austin to Bastrop State Park, Texas

I was getting comfy in Austin but, at the same time, as I near the end of my trip I am less excited about hanging out and exploring cities on my own. So despite having so much more I could do in Austin, I hit the road this morning for a 40 mile ride to the nearby Bastrop State Park.

No matter which direction I ride the wind always seems to be coming from the front, or at least at an angle. It was fine as I left Austin on a combination of bike lanes, a few short protected paths, and quiet streets but in the open country I felt it slowing me down. In theory, the ride today should have been pleasant since I was mainly on country highways with only moderate traffic. However, I am adding country highways with terrible shoulders to my list of “worst roads to ride on.” Why so bad? Well, if there was no shoulder I felt safe because people just passed me politely. But it seems when there was a shoulder, no matter how decrepit and unrideable, drivers felt the need to physically show me that my location just left of the white line was unacceptable. There is a shoulder – so get on it and get out of my way! Fuck that. Plus, the speeds were 60+ much of the time.

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One of the rare two-way bike protected bike lanes in Austin. Unseparated, one-way lanes are far more common.

I get to Bastrop around noon and sit outside the library, eating lunch and waiting for it to open at 13:00. I don’t really have any particular need to be here with the park only a few miles away, but libraries are my go-to hangout spot. After eating my leftover healthy Indian-ish food cold I use the facilities and continue on. The State Park is ridiculous – they charge a $5 day use fee for all visitors, and the camping fee is $12 in addition to the daily fee. So I basically pay a day use fee and a separate night use fee. Weird. A large chunk of the park was burnt by wildifre a few years back and a recent flood hit hard, leaving many trails closed. I hike a 2-3 mile loop and take in the varied forest, from washed out creeks and the char of recent prescribed-burn areas to the rapid growth of the Loblolly Pines after the wildfire. These trees are nicknamed the “Lost Pines” because it is far-removed from its brethren pines in eastern Texas – thanks glaciation!

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Bright green new growth contrasted against the charred remains of trees still standing after the wildfire.

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This area experienced a prescribed burn last year to reduce fire hazards, then the creek flooded and left a very changed environment.

 

Days 94-96: Kickin’ it in Austin Texas

Dy 94 (2016-11-28): ~40 miles from San Marcos to Austin, Tx. Many country highways with varied traffic. City riding in Austin.
 
I crawl out of my Harry Potter room, careful not to bang my head or crack my shins in the enclosed space. Matt takes me to breakfast where we talk more about his hostel project and all of our ideas, then rides with me to the edge of town.I continue on, fighting a headwind coming from the NNW. I am heading mainly NNE today, so the 20mph winds not only slow me down and tire me out but also push me all over the road. It is unpleasant riding through otherwise decent country, and a flat does not add to the fun. I pull out a very large piece of glass and continue on, only to discover another tiny hole causing a slow leak a few miles later. Rather than patch another hole I opt for my spare tube and continue fighting the wind.
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A washed out bridge just outside of San Marcos, hinting at the damage I will see as I continue towards eastern Texas and Louisiana.

Coming into Austin I ride through a typical suburban shell but find a bike lane for much of the way along Congress street, which I ride directly up to the state capitol building. Along the way I spy way more bike lanes than Seattle’s downtown – it’s always so clear to me as I travel how poor biking in Seattle is, despite its reputation, when I visit other downtowns and the work they are doing. Eventually I ride to my host’s apartment just north of the University of Texas. I meet Daniel, an Urban Planning graduate student. Nerd time!
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South Congress St. has a typical poor bike lane, but it is better than nothing. That’s downtown Austin in the distance.

Daniel and I hit it off, connecting over bike touring and urban planning nerdom. We decide to enjoy the warm, sunny weather by riding to Barton Springs, another natural-spring pool just like Balmorhea, except right in Austin. We jump in and swim around a while in the cool, but not cold, fresh water. Our conversation about Austin, Seattle, and transportation continues as we sit on the grass drying off and I am glad to be able to have these intellectual conversations. The ride back is just as fast-paced and adrenaline filled as the ride down, with us tearing through the city at 20mh most of the time. If you’ve never ridden a bike like this, it’s sweet. Sorry drivers, 20mph through the city on a bike is actually a blast, even with traffic, unlike in a car. sucks to suck.
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Barton Springs. The water is not nearly as warm as Balmorhea, though the day is warmer. Without my glasses on I mistake a floating decoy for a real duck as I squirt water at it, imagining it brave to not have moved when I dived in so close. Talk about feeling stupid!

We stop for some mediocre BBQ and I make a note to figure out where to get better food while I am here. There are tons of options – Austin is known for BBQ and tacos, especially out of food trucks and long-running, highly popular establishments. It is also a hotbed for live music and shows – tonight we are going to a comedy show down the street. I know I have only been here for a few hours, but so far I love Austin!
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Daniel and I swing down to a nearby cafe/bar/performance venue to watch some local comedians. Huge range here, from quite poor to pretty funny.


Day 95 (2016-11-29): Food, Exploration, & Bike Co-op

That time you realize you accidentally mailed your route maps home…oops! Oh well, I can find the route and make up where I need to, it’s just a bit more of a hassle.

Riding around the nearby Hyde Park neighborhood I see a mix of old housing, from Victorian to tiny ranch style, and am still amazed out how different some parts of Texas are from the usual stereotypes. Unfortunately, I hear the “worst” is still to come. We shall see. I pedal on to Tyson’s Tacos for lunch on recommendation rom some folks I met at Big Bend and, although I flinch at the initial $10 for three tacos, my trust in stranger’s recommendations is rewarded with three fairly large tacos, Spanish rice, refried beans, and a bunch of onions and cilantro. I enjoy the “Tuti’s Perfect 10” pork the most but the “Pant’s on Fire” seared duck and “Burned End” steak tacos are also very good. All this food is making me miss Marination & Cafe Quilombo in Seattle! Also, I cannot imagine how anyone in this town could be vegetarian.

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Tacos!

I continue pedaling around, making my way through northeastern Austin and finding some sort of new, techy development with tissue-box condos and fancy buildings. There are a ton of white people out running, walking, and idly lounging around a beautiful lake amid a very green park. I always wonder why so many people are not at work – surely they’re not all bike touring too! I head south along nice gravel trails into East Austin, a drastic change in economic status and racial makeup from the northern and northeast neighborhoods. I explore a small library ranch and discover an excellent graphic novel about childhood, friendship, and race relations in depression-era Mississippi. It’s simply titled Bayou, and I recommend it as a good quick read. But yeah, every big city, especially growing ones, seems to be the same – tech & gentrification, plus a surprising amount of segregation. So much for progress…

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A very peaceful park in an equally “nice” neighborhood with new developments. Later, Daniel tells me this use to be the airport – it is being redeveloped now but not especially well, he thinks.

I find myself at the Yellow Bike Project, a nifty co-op providing open shop, selling bikes, and generally being awesome. I fix up my bike and buy a new saddle to try – hopefully my butt will thank me soon. I begin riding back towards Daniel’s house and stop at Astor’s a Ethiopian restaurant. FINALLY! I have been craving Ethiopian since mid September. I order a massive vegetarian sample plate and put quite a bit down before boxing the rest up and brining it back for Daniel.

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ETHIOPIAN! So happy. Also, so full!


 

Day 96 (2016-11-30): Friend Reunion, BBQ, and a Healthy Dinner

Not much to say about today – I hung out in the morning until I met up with Rebecca, a friend from college, and her boyfriend Brady for Lunch. We ate at La Barbeque, one of the most popular places for BBQ in Austin. It’s a food truck and not nearly as famous as Franklin’s, but it also did not have a multi-hour wait. Fair trade-off, if you ask me. The brisket is very good but nothing out-of-this-world. Hype man, hype.
After lunch we walk around along the river in East Austin, just talking and catching up. They cannot stay long and soon drop me off at Daniel’s and I continue walking as I go to the Central Market, an HEB specially-branded store to be very uppity and expensive. Also, extremely inefficient and difficult to navigate. Probably one of the worst grocery stores I have ever shopped at, in fact. Nevertheless, I find my healthy ingredients, only slightly overpriced, and make a Indian-ish style meal for dinner. Daniel is pumped – living alone, he rarely makes anything too involved and he is happy to eat something so healthy! We chat a bunch more and eventually call it a night. Although he was busy with school and work I really enjoyed the time we did get to spend together talking about all the nerdy things!
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My host Daniel and I.