Wheeled Migration (2004-05)

Wheeled Migration (2004-05)

tour mapIn the summer of 2004, I sold or gave away most of my possessions from my apartment in Minneapolis and hit the road on my bicycle for a year, pulling a trailer full of gear behind me. The idea was to go south through the midwest, spend the winter along the gulf coast, go north along the east coast with the spring, and return to Minnesota via Canada in the summer. Because the movie Winged Migration was popular at the time, I called the Yahoo! Group that I used to communicate with my friends and family during the trip "Wheeled Migration." Below are the messages I sent to that group, in reverse chronological order, but you can find them in chronological order in the book navigation at left.

Ben Sat, 06/25/2005 - 10:47

Tags

Aug 2: T minus 7 days

Aug 2: T minus 7 days

[originally posted to the Wheeled Migration mailing list on August 2, 2004]

Hello, everyone! This is a test of the mailing list, I suppose, and also an update on my departure plans.

I plan to leave Tuesday morning, August 10, one week from tomorrow. The first day I'll ride from my home in Minneapolis through St. Paul and Stillwater, MN, to a state park just across the St. Croix River in Wisconsin.

Assuming all goes well after that first day, I'll continue east as far as Menomonie before following a bike trail south to rejoin the St. Croix. After following the river as far as La Crosse, I'll turn east again on another bike trail and then jog south through the hills of southwest Wisconsin to my first destination, an ecovillage/artist community called Dreamtime Village. That's as far as I've planned in detail.

After Dreamtime Village, I'll head roughly due north and then east to visit some friends near Appleton the weekend of August 21st (assuming I'm not delayed) and then take the ferry across Lake Michigan into Michigan.

For those who like to ask how I'm training for the trip, I finally have an answer: I'm carrying a lot of junk around on my bike trailer. Yesterday I pulled a heavy load of books to sell to used bookstores, and today I carried four full loads of stuff that didn't sell at Saturday's yard sale to various discount shops. And then there's the stuff I'm storing... looks like there are four or five loads left.

I'll share one story from the yard sale... In the morning, a little boy -- maybe age 9 -- came by and asked if we had any free stuff. We did, and he found an old cell phone with a dead battery. I showed him how to remove the battery if he wanted to replace it, or "You could just wear the phone and look cool." He biked off with it, and a few minutes later he came back with some friends (slightly older) who wanted to know if we had any more cell phones! Of course we didn't, but we pointed them to the rest of the free stuff. 

A few hours later, the same boy came back and said he wanted to buy the color TV, but he didn't have the $25. He asked what he could buy for a dollar, and I pointed him to my stereo whose turntable is broken, but the dubbing deck and radio work fine. Turned out he had only 67 cents, but I let him have it since no one else had expressed interest, and I knew he'd get good use out of it.

He came back again as we were starting to close up and asked what he could buy for a quarter. I asked him what he'd like and he went straight to the stereo cabinet I'd had the stereo in earlier. I'd been asking for $1, but again there were no other buyers, and I was about to throw it out, so... 25 cents. He had no way to transport the thing, so I put it on my trailer and walked him home with it. When we got to his house a bunch of boys swarmed out and carried it inside, like Jawas with a 'droid.

Anyhow, that was the high point of the sale for me. See you next week! 
--Ben

Ben Mon, 08/02/2004 - 00:00

Ben's Top Ten Reasons for Biking Around the Country Now (2004)

Ben's Top Ten Reasons for Biking Around the Country Now (2004)
  1. The ship we're all on is sinking. I want to take a look at the lifeboats.
  2. I want to give seasonal migration a try before the climate changes any more.
  3. There's a time for putting down roots and a time for spreading wings. I enjoyed putting down roots in Minneapolis, but lately they're coming back up. Time to fly!
  4. This trip was a good idea when I thought it up in 2001, and everything's pointed me in this direction ever since.
  5. I've read a lot of books about the state of the world, but there's only so much you can learn from books. I want to see for myself.
  6. To live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I cannot learn what it has to teach, and not, when I come to die, discover that I have not lived. (apologies to Thoreau)
  7. If my 20s are for figuring out what to do with my life, I'd better get a move on! (I turn 30 in 2005.)
  8. If I want to understand US politics, I need to understand the South. I've never been there before; time to give it a chance.
  9. So many friends and family members have invited me to come and visit, I couldn't put them off any longer.
  10. Maybe I'll find someplace I like better than Minneapolis. Maybe I'll realize how much I like Minneapolis!
Ben Tue, 08/10/2004 - 00:00

T minus 1 day

T minus 1 day

Hi, folks. Everything's pretty much on schedule for my departure tomorrow morning. The apartment is certainly cleaner (and emptier) than it's been in two years, and it will be emptier still by the time I go to bed tonight...

Last night I had my mentee from church (a 15-year-old) over for dinner. We made some appalling bachelor chow which he swore was pretty good out of what was left in the cupboards. Then we changed the rear tire on my bike and adjusted the brake pads: I can now skid on dry pavement for the first time since I bought the bike two and a half years ago. Not that that's a good idea, but it is the legal criterion for bike brakes in Minnesota. We took the bike out in the parking lot and christened it with water I brought back from the Grand Canyon last summer; champagne would be too sticky! (And water from the Colorado River would be too dirty; this is spring water!)

I also sold my computer yesterday, so after having as many as 53 computers at one time (1999), I now have none. Two if you count PalmPilots, but then you might as well count my cell phone. :-) It was sad to say goodbye to a computer I just bought in December, but my needs have changed, and it will get good use in its new home.

Anyway: Tomorrow, Wisconsin! Rain or shine! The route I've planned is only about 35 miles, so it should be downright relaxing, knock on wood.

'Til then! --Ben

Ben Mon, 08/09/2004 - 00:00

Aug 14: First five days

Aug 14: First five days

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 14, 2004]

Hi, folks! Sorry it's taken me a while to write a real message; I wanted to have something real to say first. I've been taking daily notes, but they make for dull reading. I've got enough miles behind me now that I can start using generalities instead of just specifics. :)

So... so far everything's going great! I know most people wouldn't consider two days of cold drizzle and rain a good way to start a bike trip, but in a year there are bound to be some days of bad weather! Besides, I find that one sunny day makes up for about three drizzly ones, not only in my mood but in basic tasks like recharging batteries (solar charger) and drying laundry. So I'm all caught up now.

Three days is also the magic number for my physical fitness. As on my previous trips, the first two days were really hard: my joints ached, my muscles ached, and I couldn't think straight by the end of the day. But on the third day I was not only pain-free but so full of energy I didn't want to stop riding. Now I don't know what I'll do with myself when I take a day off to visit with friends... turn a generator or something.

Tuesday and Thursday I rode at least half the way on designated bike trails made from old railroad rights-of-way. (Gateway State Trail from St. Paul to Stillwater, MN, and Red Cedar State Trail, from Menomonie to near Durand, WI.) Wednesday and Friday I stuck to county roads and the shoulders of state highways. I've got to say that Wisconsin gets good marks in my book for its highway shoulders: all the ones I've ridden on so far are very clean of debris and comfortably wide.

Wisconsin state parks are also excellent. Both Willow River (Tuesday night) and Perrot (Friday night) are spacious, quiet, clean of litter, and well staffed, and their restrooms and such are in great shape. I wish I could say the same for the "resort" I patronized outside Menomonie; its owners are getting too old to keep the place up, apparently.

Thursday night I experimented with unofficial camping. There were no official campgrounds along my route (the Buffalo River from Mondovi, WI to the Mississippi), so, being full of energy, I just kept riding all evening until the sun began to set, eating dinner during little breaks along the way. Then I found the perfect spot: an overgrown access road leading into a grove of trees near the river. I followed it when no one was coming and found no "no trespassing" signs, just a little one proclaiming "FUR FARM LICENSED BY WI DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES".

I followed the road (on foot) way into the wetlands but didn't find any clues to what a "fur farm" might be. Maybe it's not leased right now. I certainly heard plenty of beavers going about their business overnight, along with loons, frogs, some bird that sounds like a monkey, and a pack of dogs that yelped like coyotes! At any rate, the place was beautiful, and I took lots of pictures both at sunset and at dawn, when the valley filled with fog.

Since I didn't have ready access to water that night, I ran out and couldn't make breakfast, so when I rode into Alma (on the Mississippi) first thing Friday morning, I stopped and got a proper greasy-spoon breakfast. It occurred to me that my camping menu doesn't include any fat, and fat is a necessary nutrient...

Which leads me to roadside farm stands. I've been able to get sweet corn every single day just by stopping at stands along my route. I've also bought some cheese straight from the factory store, a properly ripe muskmelon, and a tomato. I hope to be able to buy citrus fruit this way during the winter. :-)

Finally, I apologize to those of you whose calls I haven't returned. Although my phone gets good reception most of the time, it's roaming (i.e. not my provider's coverage), so if I used it I would be charged a bundle. If I don't find better coverage soon, I'll switch to a plan that doesn't penalize me so much for roaming. Thanks for your patience!

Ben Sun, 08/15/2004 - 21:24

to Willow River SP, WI

to Willow River SP, WI

The trip out of the Twin Cities was uneventful but sentimental, since I passed a lot of landmarks I remembered from five years ago when Victoria took me along on her Urban Geography assignment.

Today was very cool -- 50s F -- and cloudy, but thankfully the rain held off all day. I'm expecting rain tonight. I was comfortable in a T-shirt as long as I was moving but got very chilly whenever I stopped.

The route through Minnesota was almost entirely bike path, and through Wisconsin it was all marked "BIKE ROUTE." I didn't think much of this bike route when it first started, because it led me up a hill steeper than any I'd hoped to climb... with no shoulder! But after that it was fine.

Willow River State Park is very nice, clean and quiet. I had sweet corn from a farm stand with my dinner, and it was so sweet it tasted like dessert.

Total distance: 38.65 mi. See map

Ben Tue, 08/10/2004 - 00:00

to Menomonie, WI

to Menomonie, WI

This morning my left knee still hurt from yesterday's ride, enough that I was tempted to rest a day before continuing on. I paused at the exit of the state park to consider this, but finally I decided that if I was going to rest a day, Menomonie would be a better place to do it. Fortunately my knee stopped hurting after a few miles.

The rain that started last night continued as drizzle all day, but little more than that. It looks like I won't be able to see the Perseids tonight, but I'm just glad the rain wasn't more intense.

Many of the county and state highways I rode on today were marked with the "BIKE ROUTE" signs I saw yesterday, but if there's a comprehensive guide to where these routes go I haven't found it.

Anyway, the road into Menomonie was very nice, following a stream bed. When I reached town, the head of the trail I'll take tomorrow was very easy to find, and it connected up with a city bike trail that went exactly where I wanted to go: the library. :-)

Unfortunately the road from the library to the campgrounds north of town was longer and hillier than I had expected. By the time I got to the closer campground I had decided to stay here even though the farther one was probably nicer, because the farther one was 1.5 miles farther and I didn't feel that I could make it. So I paid more than I expected for a not-so-nice place, but it'll do.

Total distance: 44.6 mi

Ben Wed, 08/11/2004 - 00:00

to Perrot State Park, WI

to Perrot State Park, WI

I realized while making camp last night that I wouldn't have enough water for breakfast, so I decided to ride into Alma first thing in the morning and get a hot breakfast.  What a luxury!

I followed WI 35, which is part of the Great River Road, down the Mississippi for most of the day.  Although it carries a lot of traffic, it has nice wide, clean shoulders to ride on.  Just past the enormous Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, I entered Perrot State Park near the trailhead of the Great River State Trail.  I had to decide whether to stay at the park (even though it wasn't yet 4 PM) or continue down the trail to Onalaska and La Crosse and hope for other campgrounds there.

After talking with a ranger, I decided to stay at the park for a number of reasons: the campground nearest La Crosse is currently cut off by road construction; all the errands I need to run can be done in Onalaska, which is closer to the trail, so that I could do both Great River and La Crosse River trails in one day, saving on trail passes; and an early afternoon meant that I could thoroughly dry out the camping gear for a change.

Perrot State Park is enormous!  The campground alone is bigger than a lot of state parks in Minnesota, say, along the north shore of Lake Superior.  And like Willow River, it's very well maintained.  I'm beginning to like Wisconsin...

Speaking of which, I bought a ripe muskmelon along the roadside this afternoon along with the fourth straight day of sweet corn.  Mmmm.

Total distance: 34.87 mi

Ben Fri, 08/13/2004 - 00:00

To Sparta, WI

To Sparta, WI

This morning  I left Perrot state park and followed the Great River State Trail into Onalaska, just north of La Crosse. The ranger told me a Target there was my best bet for 1-hour photo developing.  I wasn't ready for the experience of re-entering "civilization" (essentially suburbia).  It was a nightmare!  After getting only half my errands done in over 2 hours I gave up and headed east on the La Crosse River State Trail.

Just east of La Crosse I found a little town where I thought I could stop and find a phone line suitable for my modem, and I found one in a little computer store that just opened last week.  I talked shop with the proprietor and she let me send the e-mail I'd been storing up on my Visor.

The La Crosse River State Trail is about as flat as it could be, except that it follows the river, so I was going slightly uphill all afternoon.  Very tiring on an essentially dirt road.  I got a personal recommendation from another cyclist for a campground where I'd been planning on heading tonight anyway, but instead I decided to check out the "walk-in" campground east of Sparta.  It's for cyclists and pedestrians only (being on the trail), it's totally unstaffed, and tonight it's totally empty except for me and the critters.  I had to scare off a pair of eyes from my tent while I type this -- probably a raccoon, I'm guessing.  This is much more special than any private campground.

There was a bunch of firewood collected at my site, so I tried my best to start a fire, first using just matches and kindling, then using my bike lube as lighter fluid, but no luck.

Total distance: 41.86 mi

Ben Sat, 08/14/2004 - 00:00

Aug 16: Q & A

Aug 16: Q & A

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 16, 2004]

Hello again. I'm enjoying my day off here at Dreamtime Village, which is a community of artists and craftspersons who moved to the unincorporated town of West Lima to start a community and basically homestead on unwanted land. For more information, read the excellent anthropological study at http://www.dreamtimevillage.org/articles/unglaciated/unglaciated.html .

Now it's time for Q & A! Hooray!

Q: Do you do email at libraries, or via cell phone?
A: I had planned on mostly using my PalmPilot for e-mail, using its modem and an inexpensive Internet provider with dialup numbers all over the country (http://allvantage.net). Although this works great when I'm within local calling range of one of the dialup numbers, the rest of the time it's impractical. (On my last bike trip, I dialed long-distance to my Minneapolis ISP and racked up a very impressive phone bill.) So I'm using Web mail at libraries and other public access points more often than I expected. These also give me the ability to upload photos as I did yesterday.

Q: Do you eat the sweet corn raw? I think you said you weren't cooking on this trip.
A: That's right, I prefer it raw. Even some farmers have never tried it that way; one who watched me eat an ear said he intended never to find out whether it might be better raw. Apparently some people have trouble digesting it.

Q: Regarding dietary fat, how about peanuts or peanut butter?
A: Up until a few months ago, I ate peanuts all the time, but then I realized they were making me sick, so I've cut way back. Now I'm eating sunflower seeds (shelled) instead. I guess they have some fat, but not like a good ol' fried breakfast. :-)

Q: Have you had much trouble with mosquitos, ticks, etc.?
A: Very little. The two state parks I stayed at were almost mosquito-free. The worst campsites were the fur farm -- no surprise, right by a river -- and the walk-in campsite where I stayed Saturday night, just outside Sparta, WI. In both cases I was the only stationary person for miles. I put on repellent as soon as I stopped my bike, then put on my headlamp and my mosquito hat over that (since if the headlamp goes on second it collapses the netting against my skin) and pitched my tent. I've gotten probably 5 bites total, and seen no ticks at all.

Q: How are you getting your photos into the computer?
A: Although a friend lent me a digital camera for the trip, I haven't been using it much because I like to have negatives I can keep and store. So that's my backup camera... mainly I'm using a film camera and having the photos developed straight to PictureCD. That allows me to upload them to Yahoo or elsewhere from any computer with a CD-ROM drive, and I can make prints from the CD at little kiosks in a lot of photo shops, supermarkets, etc.

Q: What's the deal with your phone service?
A: On my last bike trip, through Iowa, I sprang for AT&T's cushy Digital One Rate plan (where you pay the same price no matter whose signal you're using) but found that I had AT&T brand service most of the time. Silly me, I assumed that two years later that would be the case in Wisconsin as well, so I stuck with the plan I used in Minneapolis. Turns out the phone companies have moved on to a newer technology called GSM, which my phone doesn't support, and AT&T never implemented digital service in Wisconsin. So I've been basically roaming nonstop since I left Minnesota. Effective today I'm back on the One Rate plan so I can finally return some calls, but when I pass through Appleton next week I'll see about getting a newer phone -- which would pay for itself in a matter of months by allowing me to use a cheaper calling plan.

Q: I notice that the Yahoo! group description says "This is an announcement list" but also it is configured so "Anyone can post". Is the latter intentional?
A: Yep. If you attempt to post to the list, the message will just go to me.

That's it for now! --Ben

Ben Mon, 08/16/2004 - 06:37

to Dreamtime Village, West Lima, WI

to Dreamtime Village, West Lima, WI

I began the day on the Elroy-Sparta State Trail.  There were other ways to go, by road, but I wanted to check out the (former railroad) tunnels along the path.  The trail maintains a maximum of 3% grade, so it's much easier going than the roads alongside.  There were places where the railroad grade towered at least 200 feet above the landscape on either side!

I left the trail at the little town of Norwalk, whose twin mottos are "Gateway to the Tunnels" and "Black Squirrel Capital of the World."  I didn't see any squirrels, but the logos were cute.  I got an early lunch and prepared for the road portion of my ride.

The route I had chosen bypassed the town of La Farge via a local road.  This seemed like a good idea on the map, and it looked that way for the first mile, but then the pavement gave out and I had to climb a long, steep hill on gravel, pushing the bike.  So that wasn't fun at all.  But I still wound up arriving at Dreamtime Village at about 5:00.

I knew that Dreamtime Village is primarily a community of artists, but I wasn't sure what that would mean... it seems to mean that a bunch of individuals do their own thing and cooperate when they get around to it.  I was looking forward to sitting in on the group meeting tonight, but it's been cancelled because one of the key players is out of town.

The building I'm staying in has been very elaborately and artistically painted but not well maintained; a plumber or handyman in the community could really improve the facilities.  But the gardens are lush, the animals are surviving, and they're eking out a living in what was a ghost town.

Total distance: 38.2 miles

Ben Sun, 08/15/2004 - 00:00

Dreamtime Village

Dreamtime Village

I spent the day today at Dreamtime Village, resting and preparing for the coming week and basically hanging out. Two of the men took me into La Farge with them to the post office and grocery store, both of which I'd been meaning to visit.

I walked around the village this afternoon to get a better feel for the place and succeeded: this place has a real post-civilizational feel to it. The people who live here don't dominate it; they just share the land with the other critters. The weeds and bugs can have anything the people don't currently care about maintaining, whether it's a plot of onions or an old Bookmobile. There's an old school bus full of milk crates of files... who knows? The old school building was pretty intensively decorated by the artists until its roof started leaking and the asbestos started coming out of the walls.

I was having trouble connecting with anyone until the teens came home from Madison where they'd been participating in the annual dumpster-diving festival. Zon And has lived here most of his life and is a budding computer geek, so we talked computers for a couple hours. Another teen has a room here but lives most of the time with her father. The character of the place really changes with kids around! It's so much less sombre.

Ben Mon, 08/16/2004 - 00:00

Aug 17: Past few days

Aug 17: Past few days

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 17, 2004]

I know, three posts in three days, I'm pushing it... but I've got dialup access here in Mauston, WI, so I thought I'd send some of my notes from the past few days.

Saturday morning I left Perrot state park and followed the Great River State Trail into Onalaska, just north of La Crosse. The ranger told me a Target there was my best bet for 1-hour photo developing. I wasn't ready for the experience of re-entering "civilization" (essentially suburbia: big box stores, no sidewalks, lots of aggressive SUVs). It was a nightmare!

After getting only half my errands done in over 2 hours I gave up and headed east on the La Crosse River State Trail. Just east of La Crosse I found a little town where I thought I could stop and find a phone line suitable for my modem, and I found one in a little computer store that just opened last week. I talked shop with the proprietor and she let me send the e-mail I'd been storing up on my Visor.

The La Crosse River State Trail is about as flat as it could be, except that the river flows west, so I was going slightly uphill all afternoon. Very tiring on an essentially dirt road. I got a personal recommendation from another cyclist for a campground where I'd been planning on heading anyway, but instead I decided to check out the "walk-in" campground east of Sparta. It's for cyclists and pedestrians only (being on the trail), it's totally unstaffed, and it was totally empty except for me and the critters. I had to scare off a pair of eyes from my tent while I typed this -- probably a raccoon. This was much more special than any private campground. There was a bunch of firewood collected at my site, so I tried my best to start a fire, first using just matches and kindling, then using my bike lube as lighter fluid, but no luck.

I began Sunday on the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. There were other ways to go, by road, but I wanted to check out the (former railroad) tunnels along the path. The trail maintains a maximum of 3% grade, so it's much easier going than the roads alongside. There were places where the railroad grade (made entirely of cinders) towered at least 200 feet above the landscape! The first tunnel I reached turned out to also be the longest, fully a mile long! It was blasted through solid granite, so there's no need for supports to hold the ceiling up, but there's an overhead spring halfway through that drips throughout most of the tunnel. Signs at either end instruct cyclists to walk their bikes. I started in not knowing how long the tunnel was -- it's perfectly straight, and you can see the light at the other end clearly. I kept turning around and seeing that I wasn't yet halfway through! Finally as I got near the halfway point and the dripping water turned into a rain shower, I started to panic and got out my headlamp. As I put it on, I realized I was still wearing my sunglasses!

I left the trail at the little town of Norwalk, whose twin mottos are "Gateway to the Tunnels" and "Black Squirrel Capital of the World." I didn't see any squirrels, but the logos were cute. I got an early lunch and prepared for the road portion of my ride. The route I had chosen bypassed the town of La Farge via a local road. This seemed like a good idea on the map, and it looked that way for the first mile, but then the pavement gave out and I had to climb a long, steep hill on gravel, pushing the bike. So that wasn't fun at all. But I still wound up arriving at Dreamtime Village at about 5:00.

Most of the residents of Dreamtime Village are artists and few are handymen. The buildings, which were in disrepair when they were acquired more than a decade ago, are still in disrepair, though most of the walls have been artistically painted. I was reminded of the Golgafrinchans in the Hitchhiker's Guide stories. But they're great people, very laid back, very much into living in harmony with each other and the land. There are about a dozen adults and two teens who live there most of the time. The feeling when you walk around the grounds is that civilization has ended and nature is taking everything back, and the people have decided to let it.

This morning I managed to find a relatively flat route out of the hills (the "driftless" area of Wisconsin that has never seen glaciers). The route I found was so easy going that I made it all the way to Mauston -- on the edge of the driftless area --by 1:30. That gives me the whole afternoon to get to a campsite!

Happy trails! --Ben

Ben Tue, 08/17/2004 - 11:21

to Necedah, WI

to Necedah, WI

I rode a lot farther than I had intended today... I had planned just to get out of the "driftless" hilly area, but the route I chose to do so was such easy going that I was in Mauston by 1 PM.  So I rode north to Buckhorn State Park anticipating a nice campground, but it turned out to be a walk-in campground with no running water, and I really wanted a shower... so I just kept riding.  I wound up with a really crappy deal outside Necedah.

At the rate I'm going, I could be at the Coffeens' by Thursday night instead of Friday... I'll have to bide my time somewhere, preferably somewhere nice!

Total distance: 52.39 mi

Ben Tue, 08/17/2004 - 00:00

Aug 23: Appleton Update

Aug 23: Appleton Update

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 23, 2004]

Hi, folks! I had a great visit with my friends this weekend, in spite of record-low temperatures and a bear on the loose. They let me sleep indoors. ;-)

I'm at a Kinko's in Appleton now on my way toward the Lake Michigan coast. There's a headwind this morning but it's been very easy going so far; I'm going to have to resist the urge to go all the way to Manitowoc today because I don't want to wear myself out like I did after my last day off.

Just a few logistical updates for those of you who like to hear about the challenges of traveling.

Yesterday I went to the AT&T Wireless store about a mile from where I am right now, planning to follow the advice I'd gotten from one of their phone support people last week. He said I could get the same coverage for less money if I bought a newer phone that uses GSM rather than digital service. However, the salesman at the store advised me against it, saying the extent of the GSM coverage would be significantly worse than digital. So no upgrade, I thought; end of story.

After leaving the store, I happened to pass a kiosk selling both AT&T and Verizon service, and I noticed that Verizon's digital coverage was better than AT&T's. I asked about the rates and found that I could save about $20/month by switching, plus I could get a much cooler phone for free (after rebate). The only downside is that since I'm not in the 612 area code, they can't transfer my Minneapolis phone number to the new phone until I've had it for 60 days. If I lost my 612 number I'd have to notify not only friends and family but also my banks, domain name registrars, and so on. Big hassle.

But I sat down and did some calculations and found that even if I have to pay for two cell phones for 60 days in order to keep my number, I'll *still* save money by switching. So I'm doing it. I tell you this not to toot Verizon's horn at all, but because in the past I've recommended AT&T for their rural coverage, and I can't do that anymore. My momma told me, you better shop around.

On the health-insurance front, Blue Cross still says they haven't received the medical records that Abbot Northwestern claims they sent last week, so I still have no insurance. I don't know who's to blame here -- could be either of those faceless bureaucracies or the postal service -- but I suspect Abbot because they failed to send the records at all the first time I requested them, over two months ago. So if any of you in the Twin Cities want to organize a glove-slap posse to go demand satisfaction on my behalf, I'd love to hear about it.

Next time I write, I'll be in Michigan! --Ben

Ben Mon, 08/23/2004 - 12:48

to Wisconsin Rapids, WI

to Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Yesterday's longer-than-expected ride took a lot out of me.  The prevailing southwest wind blew me into Wisconsin Rapids, but it also blew by a succession of different types of weather, including a dramatic rainstorm that hit just as I pulled into town.

The road into town was so quiet I was able to listen to an entire tape, stopping it only when the occasional car went by, but it looks like I won't be able to avoid heavy traffic tomorrow.

After weathering the storm, I went to an ice cream stand that everyone in town recommended and got a huge malt, in preparation (I thought) for riding toward or into Stevens Point.  But I was so tired when I got back on my bike that I stopped at the first campground I found, just outside of town.  The good news is it's very affordable and well maintained, and the traffic noise is no worse than last night's $20 disappointment.  But it leaves me with about 45 miles to ride tomorrow.  Better rest up!

Total distance: 38.19 mi

Ben Wed, 08/18/2004 - 00:00

to Hartman Creek SP, WI

to Hartman Creek SP, WI

I got up nice and early this morning and rode into The Village of Plover, just south of Stevens Point, around 9:30 AM.  I toyed with the idea of visiting the recumbent shop in Stevens Point but decided I probably didn't have the time and might not have the energy.  I did swing by the public library but found it closed, so I headed on out of town.

After leaving the Institute I had my real adventure of the day... I was trying to follow US 10 but finding it too busy and its shoulders too narrow.  Then there were construction signs ahead... nothing to do but keep going.  Turned out they're building a new limited-access route to bypass the towns of Amherst and Amherst Junction.  The new road was closed to traffic but open to me!  I had about 5 miles of smooth concrete all to myself.

When I got to where the new road rejoined US 10, I found that the highway itself is limited-access from there on: off limits to bikes.  So I rode back into Amherst, bought some groceries, and continued on local roads.

The road I picked to Hartman Creek State Park was County D, and it was the perfect road.  Scenic, very low in traffic, and with just enough hills and turns to be interesting.

The state park isn't as nice as Perrot, but gorgeous in its own way.  It's a pretty recent development; part of the campground was planted as a pine tree farm and another part as a nut orchard, which makes for interesting camping.  The campsites in the pine trees are almost spookily public, like camping in a convention hall with only supporting columns between one site and the next.

The real attraction of this park to me is its proximity to the Ice Age National Trail.  I plan to take a hike tomorrow morning and see some erratics!

Total distance: 49.54 mi

Ben Thu, 08/19/2004 - 00:00

to Coffeens', Hortonville, WI

to Coffeens', Hortonville, WI

The ride into Hortonville via New London was uneventful, and I got to the Coffeens' around 4:00. A friend of Chris's from near Milwaukee is visiting until tomorrow, and his girlfriend lives here too, so there were six of us for dinner.

Total distance: 37.98 mi

Ben Fri, 08/20/2004 - 00:00

Coffeens' House

Coffeens' House

I spent the day on the 21st with the Coffeens.  I used their Internet connection in the morning and then helped Steve move sand for four or five hours, partly to the front steps and partly to Lynn's new zen garden.  Last night a bear walked through the zen garden, so we left the tracks intact and I got some photos.

In the evening I got the autoharp out and played a few songs for Steve and Lynn and then a few more when Chris and Becky got home from work.

Went into Appleton with Becky on the morning of the 22nd and bought a new Verizon phone, since AT&T service in Wisconsin has been abysmal.  Went with Chris in the afternoon to see the sod farm where he works.  Otherwise an uneventful day.

Ben Sun, 08/22/2004 - 00:00

Aug 25: Reflections on Wisconsin

Aug 25: Reflections on Wisconsin

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 25, 2004]

Hi folks! On Tuesday afternoon I took the ferry from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan. I'm now on my way down the Lake Michigan coast, hoping to reach Kalamazoo by Friday. Here are some reflections on my two weeks in Wisconsin.

Local produce I sampled, buying most of it directly from the farmers: apples, beer, bison, brats, cheese, corn, cream, eggs, fudge, ice cream, melons, milk, peaches, pears, peppers, tomatoes.

Favorite place I visited on purpose: Tunnel #3 on the Elroy-Sparta trail.

Favorite place I found by accident: Rock Ridge Primitive Campground, under construction at mile 11 of the Red Cedar State Trail.

Favorite smell: a field of dill.

Least favorite smell: a field where liquid manure (i.e. untreated sewage presumably from pigs but not necessarily) was being applied.

Favorite cultural difference: In Wisconsin, ice houses are called "fishing shanties," and they have decks and pontoons on them so they can be used on open water as well as on ice. I'm sure someone in Minnesota has thought of this, but in six years of living there I never saw such a thing.

Favorite differences so far in Michigan: Public trails here are called "linear parks" even if they go in circles. Also, a convenience store that doesn't sell gas is a "party store."

Ben Wed, 08/25/2004 - 09:29

to Reedsville, WI

to Reedsville, WI

It was a long haul east from Hortonville through Appleton and an assortment of small towns, due to a headwind and my taking the weekend off.

I used my filter mask for the first time today, to pass a field where they were applying liquid manure.  It worked better than I expected.

Stopped for the night at Rainbow's End campground on the west side of Reedsville, within easy striking distance of Manitowoc.  It's a nice enough campground, except the showers are coin operated!  Humph.

Plans are coming together well for Michigan.

Total distance: 38.29 mi

Ben Mon, 08/23/2004 - 00:00

to Ludington, MI

to Ludington, MI

I was on the road at 7:30 this morning, anxious not to miss the ferry.  As it was, I got to Manitowoc 2 hours early, though very tired from yesterday's ride.

I stopped for a snack at a local place and wound up buying a full lunch plus dessert, the deal was so good.  Got to the ferry in plenty of time and checked the whole boat over before it set sail.

As soon as the boat left harbor, I wished I had skipped the rich food on shore...  I was queasy for about half the trip.  But it was still very enjoyable.

Got into Ludington, MI around 6 EDT and headed straight for the campground Joni & Garth had recommended.  As they had warned, it's pricey, but you can't beat the location: right across from their favorite pizza place!

Total distance: 82.01 mi (mostly by boat)

 

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Ben Tue, 08/24/2004 - 00:00

Aug 29: Michigan

Aug 29: Michigan

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 29, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm writing from Battle Creek, Michigan, where I'm staying with a friend for the weekend. Here are some notes from my journal from the last few days.

I was on the road at 7:30 Tuesday morning, anxious not to miss the ferry. As it was, I got to Manitowoc 2 hours early, though very tired from Monday's ride. I went straight to the Lake Michigan shore and happened to see the S.S. Badger on the horizon. I got some good photos of it approaching the dock. I stopped for a snack at a local place and wound up buying a full lunch plus dessert, the deal was so good.

Got to the ferry in plenty of time and checked the whole boat over before it set sail. I took my first photo ever with a cell phone, showing the lifeboats with inboard motors. The Badger is one of a set of coal-burning car ferries -- originally for railroad cars -- made during the '50s, and the only one still in service. Coal-burning ferries were hailed as part of the solution to the '70s energy crisis (according to the ship's museum) but the belching brown smoke looks archaic today.

The ferry has lots of seating of different types in different places, including a movie room and private quarters. A lot of passengers are content to ride inside with a TV screen, but I stayed out on deck for most of the 4 hour ride. As soon as the boat left harbor, I wished I had skipped the rich food on shore... I was queasy for about half the trip, but it was still very enjoyable.

Got into Ludington, MI around 6 EDT and headed straight for the campground some friends had recommended. As they had warned, it's pricey, but you can't beat the location: right across from their favorite pizza place! That night there was a serious downpour that plastered my tent and bike with mud, but nothing got damaged.

I woke to the sound of foghorns in the harbor but didn't see any fog until after I had finished errands in town and hit the road -- then the fog was thick enough I felt I had to turn on my taillight. The roads I took from Ludington to Hart looked ideal on the map but turned out to have a lot of traffic and no shoulders much of the time. I was discouraged and tired when I got to Hart, but the prospect of a rail trail -- free of charge (!) and paved with asphalt (!!) spurred me on.

The Hart-Montague Trail (technically a "Linear State Park") was a wonderfully easy ride. Outside of Hart I bought a bag of peaches from an unattended roadside stand. I bought the smallest bag offered, but it was still 12 peaches... I ate 3 immediately and 4 more during the day and gave the rest away to strangers. In the days to come I wished I still had fresh peaches, but I didn't want to attract any wildlife by keeping them overnight!

I got into Montague around 7:00, and the trail brought me right to the campground, as well as an ice cream shop, a grocery store, and a huge pharmacy. Judging by the campground, it's a big town for snowbirds.

I had a strong headwind all day Thursday, and the road from Montague to Muskegon was pretty unfriendly to cyclists, so that I was tired and discouraged when I got to town. I tried to get info about the trail to Grand Rapids, which would have shortened the distance to Kalamazoo (being diagonal), but what info I could find just pointed me more toward my original plan, to continue south through Grand Haven. I did learn of a trail -- shown on the Rail-Trail-Conservancy map of the state -- from Grand Haven to Holland. The prospect of another flat, asphalt path buoyed my spirits, and I headed south from Muskegon. Along the way a trucker forced me off the road: first time yet. I also stopped for sweet corn and discovered that my front brake was dragging (!!). It was easy to fix, but I wish I'd noticed it earlier!

Got to Grand Haven and discovered that if there was a railroad grade to Holland, the road must have taken it, because the trail certainly did not. No matter: my afternoon second wind had kicked in, and I tackled the roller-coaster hills with determination and vigor. I had had high hopes for Holland State Park. That turned out to be a mistake. The Michigan parks have had their budgets slashed and so have had to cut services and raise prices, so for $16 I got a site with no fire pit, no picnic table, no elecricity, and noisy neighbors. I did get to walk to the beach after sunset and see Lake Michigan by moonlight.

On Friday I followed back roads south until I reached the Kal-Haven trail (which goes west as far as South Haven on the coast), then followed the trail into Kalamazoo. After two free, paved state trails, I was expecting Kal-Haven to be free and paved, but it was crushed limestone and cost $3. Still it was a good trail and got me to the western edge of Kalamazoo about 6:30.

I asked some fellow cyclists about camping options. They didn't know of any, but they directed me toward some cheap hotels. Along the way I saw People's Church Unitarian Universalist, with some cars parked in the lot, so I stopped in and asked about camping. They let me use the phone, and I soon determined that there were no cheap hotels on the near side of town. The church folks let me camp on the grounds for free. After they left I took a sponge bath at the outside spigot. A tremendous thunderstorm passed through overnight, but again none of my gear got damaged. When I took down the tent I found it was covered with slugs, though!

I rode into Kalamazoo and visited a bike shop, where I got a new mirror to replace the one that broke the day before when the bike fell on it, and the People's Food Coop. I had been looking forward to visiting my first actual coop since the Twin Cities, but it turned out to be a little hole in the wall place without much selection. Fortunately I had found a commercial natural-foods store the day before and stocked up on staples.

At 1:00 I met Sister Ginny, who is the founder of the Manitou Arbor Ecovillage, now 6 years in the making. They have a plot of ground (to be sold them by the Sisters of St. Joseph) and a rough plan of what buildings will go where, but that's about it: no organizational status, no deed transfer, no floorplans, no financing. Over the years people have come and gone from the group, some frustrated by the consensus decision-making, others just out of time. Sister Ginny is highly qualified to start an ecovillage: she has degrees in ecology and at least two related fields, she teaches eco-spirituality at the Sisters of St. Joseph, and she has lots of connections. The members of the group have all the skills necessary to make this happen... they just need to do it. I'm sure progress is being made, but it's a little slow for my taste. [2014 update: it still has not happened.]

From there I rode to Battle Creek, getting in around 5 PM. It was very satisfying to see the familiar landmarks and realize that I'd pedaled all the way this time! A Greyhound bus passed me just as I entered town, as if to remind me how I'd arrived the previous times. I had dinner with my friend Keith, who's hosting me for two nights, and went with him to a social hour at Sign of the Covenant Metropolitan Community Church, where I'm an "honorary lifetime member" on account of my contributions 7 years ago. Looks like most or all of the female members have left the congregation, but that doesn't seem to concern the men much. We had a nice talk, and I'll see them again Sunday morning.

Q: Does it feel like fall out there?
A: On and off. Close to Lake Michigan the maples are already turning, but farther from the coast everything's still green.

Q: Have you gotten into any good books along the way?
A: To the extent I can... the only time I have for reading paper books is after I'm tented down for the night, and then it's only about 20 minutes before I fall asleep. Books on tape are even more of a challenge, since they require a quiet road or bike trail. Still, I have been doing some reading in both media. Nothing I'm eager to recommend. Given the time constraints it's probably just as well that I'm not sucked into some compelling novel; it might detract from the scenery, etc.

'Till later,
Ben

Ben Sun, 08/29/2004 - 00:00

to Montague, MI

to Montague, MI

Last night there was a serious downpour that plastered my tent and bike with mud, but nothing got damaged.  I woke to the sound of foghorns in the harbor but didn't see any fog until after I had finished errands in town and hit the road -- then the fog was thick enough I felt I had to turn on my taillight.

The roads I took from Ludington to Hart looked ideal on the map but turned out to have a lot of traffic and no shoulders much of the time.  I was discouraged and tired when I got to Hart, but the prospect of a rail trail -- free of charge (!) and paved with asphalt (!!) spurred me on.  The Hart-Montague Trail (technically a "Linear State Park") was a wonderfully easy ride.

I got into Montague around 7:00, and the trail brought me right to the campground, as well as an ice cream shop, a grocery store, and a huge pharmacy.  Judging by the campground, this is a big town for snowbirds.

Outside of Hart I bought a bag of peaches from an unattended roadside stand.  I bought the smallest bag offered, but it was still 12 peaches... I ate 3 immediately and 4 more during the day and gave the rest away to strangers.

Total distance: 45.86 mi

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Ben Wed, 08/25/2004 - 00:00

to Holland State Park, MI

to Holland State Park, MI

I had a strong headwind all day, and the road from Montague to Muskegon was pretty unfriendly to cyclists, so that I was tired and discouraged when I got to town. I tried to get info about the trail to Grand Rapids, which would have shortened the distance to Kalamazoo, but what info I could find just pointed me more toward my original plan, to continue south.

I did learn of a trail -- shown on the rail-trail-conservancy map -- from Grand Haven to Holland. The prospect of another flat, asphalt path buoyed my spirits, and I headed south from Muskegon. Along the way a trucker forced me off the road: first time yet. I also stopped for sweet corn and discovered that my front brake was dragging (!!).

Got to Grand Haven and discovered that if there was a railroad grade to Holland, the road must have taken it, because the trail certainly did not. No matter: my afternoon second wind had kicked in, and I tackled the roller-coaster hills with determination and vigor.

I had had high hopes for Holland State Park. That turned out to be a mistake. The Michigan parks have had their budgets slashed and so have had to cut services and raise prices, so for $16 I got a site with no fire pit, no picnic table, no elecricity, and noisy neighbors.

In any case, I shouldn't have trouble getting close to Kalamazoo tomorrow... where I'll camp is another question. The map shows nothing!

48.1 miles

Ben Thu, 08/26/2004 - 00:00

to Kalamazoo, MI

to Kalamazoo, MI

I left Holland this morning and headed south, electing not to continue following the shore since that would take me back west and I wanted to go east to Kalamazoo. I followed back roads south until I reached the Kal-Haven trail (which goes west as far as South Haven on the coast), then followed the trail into town.

After two free, paved state trails, I was expecting Kal-Haven to be free and paved, but it was crushed limestone and cost $3. Still it was a good trail and got me to the western edge of Kalamazoo about 6:30.

I asked some fellow cyclists about camping options. They didn't know of any, but they directed me toward some cheap hotels. Along the way I saw People's Church UU and asked about camping. They let me use the phone, and I soon determined that there were no cheap hotels on the near side of town. The church folks let me camp on the grounds for free. After they left I took a sponge bath at the outside spigot.

Plans are coming together nicely for Battle Creek.

69.1 mi

Ben Fri, 08/27/2004 - 00:00

to Battle Creek, MI

to Battle Creek, MI

A tremendous thunderstorm passed through overnight, but again none of my gear got damaged.  When I took down the tent I found it was covered with slugs, though!

I rode into Kalamazoo and visited a bike shop, where I got a new mirror to replace the one that broke yesterday, and the People's Food Coop.  I had been looking forward to visiting my first actual coop since the Twin Cities, but it turned out to be a little hole in the wall place without much selection.

At 1:00 I met Sister Ginny at the Sisters of St. Joseph, who is the founder of the Manitou Arbor Ecovillage, now 6 years in the making.  They have a plot of ground and a rough plan of what buildings will go where, but that's about it: no organizational status, no deed transfer, no floorplans, no financing.  Over the years people have come and gone from the group, some frustrated by the consensus decision-making, others just out of time.

Sister Ginny is highly qualified to start an ecovillage: she has degrees in ecology and at least two related fields, she teaches eco-spirituality at the Sisters of St. Joseph, and she has lots of connections.  The members of the group have all the skills necessary to make this happen... they just need to do it.  I'm sure progress is being made, but it's a little slow for my taste.  [Note: five years later, they have more plans, but still haven't built anything: http://www.manitouarbor.org .]

From there I rode to Battle Creek, getting in around 5 PM.  It was very satisfying to see the familiar landmarks and realize that I'd pedaled all the way this time!  A Greyhound bus passed me just as I entered town, as if to remind me how I'd arrived the previous times.

I had dinner with my friend Keith, who's hosting me for two nights, and went with him to a social hour at Sign of the Covenant Metropolitan Community Church, where I'm an "honorary lifetime member" on account of my contributions 7 years ago.  Looks like most or all of the female members have left the congregation, but that doesn't seem to concern the men much.  We had a nice talk, and I'll see them again tomorrow morning.

Total distance: 29.67 mi

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Ben Sat, 08/28/2004 - 00:00

Sep 2: Ann Arbor

Sep 2: Ann Arbor

[sent to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 2, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm safe and sound in Ann Arbor, MI, where I visited with some college friends last night, and where my sister will meet me for the next few days.

Battle Creek is much the same as when I interned there 7 years ago; the biggest change is that Kellogg's and Post have moved a lot of their manufacturing overseas, most notably Kellogg's Corn Flakes, which are now made in Mexico. That shook people up a bit.

The trip here from Battle Creek was uneventful... I covered about half the distance on Monday, so Tuesday was a very short ride to a campsite in the over-hyped "Scenic Irish Hills." I spent most of Tuesday afternoon doing some overdue maintenance on my tent, then woke Wednesday morning to find that a heavy dew had undone all the careful drying. So I waited a couple hours for the tent to dry again before heading into Ann Arbor.

Q: (Regarding Wisconsin produce) You didn't eat the bison and brats raw, did you?
A: Of course not, silly! The bison was jerked, and brats seem to be served -- cooked -- wherever food is sold in Wisconsin. I think it's a state law.

Q: (Regarding beer) Is there a DUI for cyclists?
A: Yeah, it's called Losing One's Balance And Smashing Into Something, or LOBASIS for short. I drink only rarely, and never during the day.

Q: Are the rail trails only for bikers, or can walkers use them too?
A: They're certainly open for use by walkers, but most of them cover longer distances than most people could comfortably walk, so I've only seen walkers close to towns and other parking places. Actually most of the trails are also open for use by rollerbladers, snowmobilers, and cross-country skiiers, though their appropriateness for any of those uses obviously varies with the seasons.

Q: I wonder, if you called ahead, whether any UU congregations would welcome an itinerant lay preacher/autoharpist who might be allowed to camp in somebody's yard with the prospect of an _indoor_ shower?
A: I tried that during my last bike trip two years ago, but I found that church staff were reluctant to volunteer anyone's home, even their own. I had better luck showing up to Sunday services and introducing myself, though getting to a church in time for a service without being all sweaty was a challenge.

Q: My 7yr old son has a question for you...Why does your bike look different than mine? (He has your standard kid looking bike!)
A: The kind of bike you usually see is historically called the "Safety frame," since it was more safe than the ones with big front wheels that came before. Nowadays they're more commonly called "upright" bikes, because your feet are underneath you as you ride. The kind of bike I have is called a "recumbent," because that's the Latin word for "lying down," and some recumbent bikes make you look like you're lying on a sofa. Mine is more like an easy chair or a car seat, so it's properly called a "semi-recumbent." Some people ride recumbent bikes for their speed -- the fastest bikes on Earth are recumbents. But I'm more interested in comfort. Upright bikes make my wrists hurt, which is bad for typing and other daily activities. Once I started riding a recumbent, it was so comfortable I thought, "I could do this all day long!" Then I thought, "Hey, if I did it all day long, I could really get somewhere!" The main disadvantage of recumbent bikes is that they tend to be expensive, which is why they aren't made for kids. But I have seen a kit that lets you turn a kid's bike frame into the front half of a recumbent bike for an adult!

That's all for now. Take care! --Ben

Ben Thu, 09/02/2004 - 09:38

to Shady Acres, MI

to Shady Acres, MI

I headed southeast out of Battle Creek toward a campsite I had called yesterday and found to be $18 a night for tents, which is cheap by Michigan standards. However, I got there by 2:00 and decided to keep riding to another place that also looked good. I figured if it was too expensive, I'd just keep going all the way to where I planned to stop tomorrow night ($17) and spend two nights there instead of one.

But the second place turned out to be very nice. It's called Shady Acres, on Crispell Lake south of Jackson, MI. It's far from any highways, so it's very quiet. The owner was amused to hear I'm from Minneapolis, since she just returned from a vacation there.  The only trouble I had was finding a spot to pitch my tent that didn't reek of fuel spilled by a previous camper.

As in most private campgrounds I've visited in Michigan, most of the RVs seem to be here at least half the year; many have decks and even additional rooms built onto them. I tried swimming in the lake, but it was full of weeds.

Total distance: 45.61 mi

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Ben Mon, 08/30/2004 - 00:00

to Scenic Irish Hills, MI

to Scenic Irish Hills, MI

I was pleased to have found tonight's campground while I was doing research at Keith's... it's a private campground right next door to W.J. Hayes State Park, which my DeLorme's Gazetteer notes is in the "Scenic Irish Hills" and has hiking trails. I called the campground from Battle Creek, and they said they'd charge me $17 a night, which is a bargain by Michigan standards. So that's part of why I went so far yesterday: to get closer to tonight's stop so I'd have time to hike.

Right after I left Shady Acres, about a mile and a half down the road, in the middle of nowhere, I found a UU church. What it's doing way out there I don't know. It claims to belong to the town of East Liberty, which isn't on the map. But had I known it was there, I could have camped for free. Clearly I need to do better research. ;-)

I stopped in Brooklyn, MI to do some errands. It's a nice size town: large enough for a serious supermarket and a big-box discount store, but with a healthy downtown of manageable size, its own newspaper (weekly), and so on.

As soon as I left Brooklyn I saw signs for the Scenic Irish Hills. Oh boy! Got to my campground... golf course. Packed up my hiking stuff and rode to the state park... no hiking trails, just a beach. No hills, either. Lots of picnic tables, though. Well over a hundred. One for each Canada goose to sit down with a seagull. Why so many tables at this park's beach and only three at Holland State Park's beach, on Lake Michigan?

So I spent the afternoon doing some overdue maintenance on my tent and trailer. The tent has gotten mildew, and I hope the soapy sponging and thorough drying the care tag recommended makes a difference, 'cause otherwise I'll have to buy another tent soon, and probably another every few months for the rest of the trip.

Total distance: 18.42 mi

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Ben Tue, 08/31/2004 - 00:00

To Murphys', Ann Arbor, MI

To Murphys', Ann Arbor, MI

I woke this morning to find that a heavy dew had undone all of yesterday's careful drying. I knew it would be a short ride into Ann Arbor, so I got coffee and waited for the sun to rise and dry the tent again. Got on the road around 10:00.

The ride into Ann Arbor was fairly quick and uneventful; I got in a little after 3. Stopped to use a phone book and was able to get my bearings very easily; found a library, a bookstore, and a photo shop to make some postcards, and I still got to the Murphys' house early.

Anne and Bill's place backs up against a forest that's kept wild for use by University bio students, so they get lots of wildlife in the back yard but can always go for nice walks! I walked around in it while waiting for them to get home from work and nearly got lost. We went for dinner at a deli that's known for its corned beef sandwiches, but like a fool I ordered smoked salmon instead and was kind of grossed out. Then we walked around downtown and got chocolates for dessert. Bill and Anne are headed for Worldcon in Boston tomorrow morning, so I was lucky to catch them!

Total distance: 31.57 mi

 

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Ben Wed, 09/01/2004 - 00:00

Sep 4: Ann Arbor update

Sep 4: Ann Arbor update

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 4, 2004]

A few stories to share:

I've been visiting with my sister here in Ann Arbor; she drove over from Pittsburgh, and we're staying in a hotel south of town. The road the hotel is on carries a lot of traffic and has a complicated median to prevent southbound cars from reaching the hotel; you have to go about half a mile farther south, turn around in another parking lot, and approach from the northbound lanes. Arriving by bike on Thursday evening, I didn't know what the setup would be, so I crossed the median, which involved jumping a couple of curbs. As I came down off the median to cross the northbound lanes and enter the parking lot, I heard a clinking sound behind me. I didn't dare turn and see what it was, because cars were coming, but as soon as I got off the road I stopped and looked at what the cars were all running over ... it was one of the two hose clamps that held my trailer hitch on the bike. The other clamp was still intact, so I pulled on into the hotel lot. By the time I had the bike inside the hotel room, the steel hitch, pulled down at an angle by the off-center weight of the trailer, had cut through its protective rubber layer (a piece of cut hose) and gouged a hole in the aluminum frame of the bike. Fortunately there's no structural damage, and even more fortunately I had a spare piece of hose and two spare hose clamps, so the hitch is good as new again. But if I hadn't heard the clinking sound and had spare parts on hand, it could have been worse!

Story number two... I was looking at the list of subscribers to this list and recognized an old high-school friend. I wrote him an e-mail asking what he's been up to for the last 10 years, and he was happy to supply details, but he didn't know what list I was talking about. Come to find out, he's cycled across the US himself and subscribed to this list without knowing that he knew me! I guess it is a small world after all.

Enjoy the photos! --Ben

Ben Sat, 09/04/2004 - 08:51

Ann Arbor, MI

Ann Arbor, MI

September 2

I hung out at Bill & Anne's this morning while they got ready to leave for Worldcon, then headed into downtown around noon.  I ran some errands, then hung out at the library for most of the afternoon.

The hotel where 'Becca got reservations is on the far south end of town, near a highway interchange, so it's somewhat tricky to get to... if you're coming south on State Street you have to go past it, turn around in a parking lot, and come back north.  I didn't know this and crossed the median to get there.  As I came off the curb, I heard a clinking sound behind me and discovered that one of the hose clamps had broken off my trailer hitch!  By the time I got the bike into the hotel room, the hitch, supported by only one clamp, had cut through its protective rubber layer and dug into the aluminum of the bike frame.  Fortunately I had a complete spare hitch, so I was able to replace the rubber and both hose clamps.

'Becca arrived around 8:00 after hitting a lot of construction-related traffic all along the way.  We went to the university area for a mediterranean dinner.

Total distance: 5.15 mi

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September 3

'Becca and I explored Ann Arbor this morning, starting with the home where she lived until age 2. After parking the car there, we walked into downtown and all around, maybe 7 miles in all. Not bad for a pregnant lady!

After a rest back at the hotel, we went to dinner at Hei Wa House, a co-op house that's been around since 1985. Their current, fourth house has solar hot water and some PV panels, and they've just started car sharing. They share all food expenses and other household costs, and a pamphlet from 2000 estimated rent at $92/month for each of the 6 adult residents. They shared a batch of spaghetti, heavy on the vegetables, and gave me some recommendations about other ecovillages to try to visit.

September 4

This morning 'Becca and I called Mom & Dad's friends, the Alexanders, and they invited us to lunch. We spent the morning at the newest library in the Ann Arbor system, which was designed to be ecologically correct, with passive heating and cooling and a rather complex rainwater runoff system.

The Alexanders took us to Panera Bread. Afterward 'Becca took a nap at their house and I helped Elaine and Phil make two sloppy-joe recipes for a potluck they'll attend tomorrow. When 'Becca awoke we hurried into town to do some errands and sightseeing before returning to the Alexanders' for dinner and games.

I went to a bead store and really hit the jackpot: found all but about 3 beads I was looking for for my Great Story bead strings. The clerk was very helpful once she understood what I was doing. 'Becca looked unsuccessfully for a copy of "I Am a Mouse" in bookstores. After dinner, we plaied Rummikub and Fluxx with the Alexanders.

[A note in hindsight: Each morning as 'Becca and I ate breakfast in the hotel, there was news coverage of hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast. A few months later, I traveled along that coast and saw the damage first-hand.]

Ben Thu, 09/02/2004 - 00:00

Sep 7: Ohio!

Sep 7: Ohio!

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 7, 2004]

Hi, folks. As I write this it's the evening of Labor Day, and I'm at a beautiful campground near a swimming beach at an old limestone quarry south of Bowling Green, Ohio, but I'll probably send the message tomorrow from the vicinity of Findlay. My sister and I had a great time in Ann Arbor, catching up, seeing sights, and visiting friends. On Friday we walked rather too much around downtown -- Ann Arbor's downtown covers about as much area as Minneapolis's -- and then had dinner at Hei Wa House.

Hei Wa House is a co-op that's been around for almost 20 years in several different locations. The founder now owns the current house but plans to sell it to the co-op organization when his family moves next door in a year. They're listed in the Ecovillage Directory because of their solar water preheater, nascent car-sharing arrangement, and a general ecological focus. There are currently 6 adults and 2 kids living in the house, and they share all household expenses, plus dinner every night (in contrast to Dreamtime Village, where shared meals are rare and most food is labeled with someone's name). They have a very generous guest policy, for those who don't have friends in town or pregnant sisters to think of.

On Saturday morning we visited a new branch library that's been designed with passive solar heating and cooling, plus an elaborate rainwater runoff system. I wasn't able to get a good angle for a photo, alas. We spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening with family friends, who took us to see Sunward Cohousing, the first of three cohousing developments on one large plot of land. The residents have done a lot to make their places more eco-friendly than typical condos, but the development's location on the edge of town means that it's surrounded by a moat of parking spaces and a wall of garages. 'Becca and I got some good photos on her camera, which I hope to be able to share with you later.

On Sunday morning I bid 'Becca farewell and went to church on my way out of town. Again: liberal people plus remote location equals no bicycles. I got a lot of dirty looks and sideways comments for "blocking the sidewalk" when I parked my bike and trailer at the church's only rack! But a lot of the same people stopped to ask questions about my trip on their way out.

Ann Arbor had felt too large, too busy, and too car-centric for my taste, so hitting the open road Sunday afternoon felt fantastic. I cruised to within a few miles of the Ohio border but the only campsite available (due to the Labor Day weekend) was $27 a night! For a "primitive" site with no hookups! I kept riding. When the sun was about an hour from setting, I stopped at a friendly-looking house and asked the elderly residents if they knew anywhere I could camp "without bothering anyone." At first they said no, but as I was leaving they offered me a back corner of their yard. No bathroom, little privacy, but you can't beat the price! I woke rested and ready to hit the road at 12:30 AM -- I'd mistaken the glow from my hosts' security light for dawn. When dawn finally did arrive, I headed to Ohio in search of a restroom!

Toledo's suburban sprawl reaches right up to the edge of Michigan cropland, making the border very visible. I had a hard time of it today (Monday) because of a strong headwind, plus sore muscles and a slight sunburn from yesterday. I found a nice park to rest in during the heat of the day, and I did my laundry from yesterday at the water fountain's side spigot. Beautiful dry air made short work of the drying.

Bowling Green reminds me a lot of Grinnell, Iowa, only about 3x bigger. Lots of college students, a healthy downtown, and a few big box stores creeping south to a major highway. There's even a Pagliai's Pizza and an Environmental Action Group. Everything was open on Labor Day, unlike in the smaller towns I'd passed through.

So about this quarry... from Bowling Green I tried to call ahead to the campground shown on my map, but it seems no longer to exist. The only campground that looked promising was the "Portage Quarry Recreation Club," and when I called them they said they only charged $4 a night, plus $4 admission. What a deal! You can rent scuba gear, swim at a nice sandy beach, or dive from various platforms. The campsites are as nice as ones I paid $20 for in Michigan, though there are no showers... the beach will do nicely, after a hot day like this! And now the drunk people are all going home, so I'll have the place to myself! (Also the mosquitos...)

What I'll miss most about Michigan: Fruit! Peaches, apples, blueberries, and plums were all in season while I was there, along with some others that I didn't sample. Also clean shoulders; Michigan is really good about picking up litter and roadkill. What I won't miss about Michigan: Expensive campsites. Also unfriendly strangers. I got out of the habit of waving to drivers because so few waved back or even looked in my direction, but that changed as soon as I crossed the border.

I'll write again from Columbus! --Ben

Ben Tue, 09/07/2004 - 10:12

Almost to Toledo

Almost to Toledo

After breakfast this morning, I packed up my things and was eager to hit the road.  I said goodbye to 'Becca and went to church at the UU church southwest of town.  The congregation was not particularly welcoming during the coffee hour, but as soon as I was out in the parking lot with my rig they had a thousand questions.  Fortunately it takes me a long time to put on my sunblock.

I headed south with every intention of making it a short day, but knowing that campgrounds -- near or far -- would probably be full for the holiday weekend.  As it turned out, there was one campground in the bunch that had openings for tents.  When I got there, I found the place mobbed with kids and their parents and RVs and disposable crap, and I found that a "primitive" site would cost me $27.  I declined.

I kept riding until the sun was a hand's width above the horizon -- 7:00? -- and then stopped at a likely looking house to ask the elderly residents if they knew anyplace I could camp "without bothering anyone."  They said no, and I dropped the subject, but I asked if they could fill my water bottle, suspecting that between the two of them they'd change their minds.  Sure enough, as I was pulling out of the driveway the man called me back and said I could camp in a back corner of the lot.  Hooray: free campsite! [note: unfortunately, 5 years later I don't remember any details about this couple or their hospitality.]

I'm still an hour or two north of the Ohio border, but I should easily make Bowling Green tomorrow and possibly Fridley.

Total distance: 41.71 mi

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Ben Sun, 09/05/2004 - 00:00

to Bowling Green, OH

to Bowling Green, OH

I knew I was overdoing it yesterday, but I couldn't seem to stop riding... so today in addition to a strong headwind, I had a lot of muscle cramps and that special kind of fatigue you get when yesterday's sunburn meets today's sun.

I got an early start because I kept mistaking the glow from my hosts' security light for dawn, because they hadn't offered me a restroom, and because I didn't want to still be there when they woke up.  I was in Ohio by about 9:00 and in Waterville (southwest of Toledo) by noon.

The Michigan-Ohio border is very visible west of Toledo, because there are housing developments right up to the line on the Ohio side and crops right up to the line on the Michigan side!

I found Ohio Bicycle Route #5 easily as soon as I was across the border and followed it all the way into Waterville.  Ohio is crisscrossed by marked bike routes, a handy shortcut for determining which roads will be paved and have adequate shoulders.  Along the way I crossed two of the rail trails as well, and they look great -- I'm looking forward to tomorrow's ride!

By the time I got to Waterville, I really needed a rest, but I didn't find a park that met my needs until I reached Haskins, about 2 miles farther on.  There I found shade, picnic tables, and running water where I could do my laundry from yesterday!  The air is so dry today that the laundry dried in a matter of hours.

I pulled into Bowling Green around 3:00 and stopped to use the phone book: I wanted to make sure the campground shown on my map actually existed.  It didn't.  However, I called the "Portage Quarry Recreation Club" and learned that they charge only $4 to camp, on top of $4 admission.  Especially after last night, when I turned down a $27 site, this sounded great

Passing through downtown Bowling Green, I was struck by how similar it is to Grinnell, Iowa, only about 3x bigger.  Downtown is in good shape, but there are a handful of big box stores south of town.  There's even a Pagliai's Pizza, though I'm sure there's no relation to Grinnell's Pagliai.

The Portage Quarry Recreation Club turned out to be pretty great.  People use the flooded quarry for scuba diving, diving, and swimming.  There are no showers, but the water in the quarry is very clean and warm.  The campsites are at least as good as the ones I paid $20 for in Michigan.  And all the drunk college students are going home in a few hours, so I'll have the place to myself!

Total distance: 37.11 mi

 

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Ben Mon, 09/06/2004 - 00:00

Sep 10: Turning Point

Sep 10: Turning Point

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 10, 2004]

Well, it's official: I've been on the road for a month now. More than that: for the past month I've been going east, and for the next month I'll go back west before turning south. Lancaster, OH, which I'll reach tomorrow, is the farthest east I plan to go until next winter. It feels really good to look at the map and see how far I've gone in just a month!

I'm writing from a cousin's house in Westerville, OH, a suburb of Columbus. I got here yesterday evening only because I rode two days' distance on Wednesday. Tuesday morning, you may recall, I was at a former quarry south of Bowlng Green. It rained that morning and my tent got thoroughly soaked, and I had to put it away wet.

I followed the Slippery Elm trail (named for the trees that were used to make the first rails of the track during an oil boom in the early 1800s -- I guess iron must have been scarce!) to North Baltimore, then continued south to Findlay before turning southeast and finding a campground near the little town of Vanlue. Wednesday morning I woke to find that, against all odds, my tent was totally dry. I hurried to put it away, and as I rolled up the groundcloth rain started falling.

It fell all day long, nonstop. I also rode all day long, bypassing the place I'd planned to stop for the night and continuing all the way to Delaware State Park north of Columbus. Riding in the rain presents some challenges... putting your gear in waterproof containers is the easy part; the hard part is keeping it there even though you need it. Since I had noplace dry to stop, I just didn't stop... at least not as often as I usually try to.

One place I did stop was a bar in the little town of Marseilles (I neglected to ask how the locals pronounce it). I must have looked like a drowned rat when I lurched in the door and into the restroom. Then I asked for a cup of coffee, and the proprietor had to start it brewing. I was the only customer, and she was happy to have someone to talk to. She's had a laryngectomy and uses a buzz box to talk -- must make customers reluctant to smoke in the place. She'd been watching the Weather Channel and was sure I'd run into severe weather hundreds of miles away. She wound up not only giving me the coffee for free but handing me a half dozen bags of snacks. I discretely left her a tip.

The private campgrounds I've visited in Ohio have been so inexpensive ($5-$8) that I expected the state park to be similarly priced. I was surprised when they asked for $22, but I'd ridden about 80 miles and the sun had already set, so I wasn't in a position to argue! Anyhow, I got to Cousin Jeff's place on Thursday afternoon, let myself in, and helped myself to his laundry room: my clean laundry had been wet since Monday, and I hadn't washed any since.

Today (Friday) I planned to make a day trip into Columbus and back to Jeff's by evening. What a rush to get on my bike without the trailer attached -- I felt like I had a jet engine mounted behind the seat! But I spent so much time at the Westerville library that I didn't get very far into town before it was time to turn back, so after coming all this way I still haven't set foot in downtown Columbus. But I learned enough at the library and during the ride to know that I don't want to move here; that was an option I had been considering.

Columbus has a lot of bike paths -- the one I was riding was numbered 47, and I saw a sign for number 51 -- but there doesn't seem to be a comprehensive map of where they are or where they go. Same goes for the bus system: there are individual route maps, but master maps for the city are not available. Room for improvement, I suppose.

Q: I'm impressed at how much distance you're covering! It sounds like this could be a really viable form of transportation ... "after the fall" of cheap petroleum, etc.
A: I'd thought about that, particularly after seeing Kevin Costner's portrayal of The Postman. But my rapid progress has everything to do with good roads, and good roads are (currently) maintained by big machines. So if the big machines stop running, we may have to do like the Postman and ride horses. :-)

Happy trails! --Ben

Ben Fri, 09/10/2004 - 10:30

to Vanlue, OH

to Vanlue, OH

I took my time getting up this morning because I could hear rain falling on the tent.  When I did leave the tent, swarms of mosquitos chased me back inside twice!  So it was probably after 10:00 when I finally left Portage Quarry.

I headed south on the Slippery Elm Trail, which connects Bowling Green with North Baltimore.  This part of the state is so totally flat that you scarcely need a railroad grade, but one was built to service an oil boom almost 200 years ago.  Presumably because iron was scarce, they made the rails by nailing steel to slippery elm trunks, or so the informational signs said.

I spent over an hour in North Baltimore, researching campgrounds at the library and then indulging in a pizza lunch.  This meant that I reached Findlay at rush hour -- never a flattering time to visit a new town.

The campground I found is southeast of the little town of Vanlue, which in turn is southeast of Findlay.  I reached it by traveling some very small roads, one scarcely wider than the bike trail I rode this morning, another with its bridge blocked off to traffic so that I had to disassemble my rig and carry it over.  The campground usually doesn't take tents, but they made an exception for me and charged me only $5.  Yay!

Total distance: 35.1 mi

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Ben Tue, 09/07/2004 - 00:00

to Delaware State Park, OH

to Delaware State Park, OH

This morning I woke to find that my tent had dried thoroughly during the night.  I hurried to pack it away because the clouds (and the forecast) were threatening a day of rain, and sure enough, as I was rolling up the groundcloth the sprinkling started.

It rained all day long.  I also rode all day long.  Aside from the inconvenience of being wet, the temperature was perfect for riding in my rain gear, and the roads were smooth and flat and mostly abandoned, so I just rode all day, past where I'd intended to stop tonight, to Delaware State Park where I'd intended to stop tomorrow night!  This means that I can arrive in the Columbus area a day early and greatly simplifies a number of logistics that had been troubling me.

A story from the day... I stopped at a bar in the town of Marseilles (I forgot to ask how the locals pronounce it) to use the restroom and stayed for a cup of coffee and a look through the yellow pages.  I was the only customer, and I must have looked like a drowned rat.  The proprietor, who had had a laryngectomy and spoke with a voice box, asked a number of questions and showed me the weather channel.  She not only gave me my coffee for free, she threw in a handful of snack bags as well.  I discreetly left her a tip.

Looking at Delaware State Park on the map, I had been concerned that it was so close to the highway.  I needn't have worried... the campground is at least two miles from the main entrance.  After riding 80 miles or so [actually more like 55], this was not a welcome discovery -- I think I could sleep through a tornado tonight.  Hopefully that won't be necessary.

Total distance: 53.02 mi

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Ben Wed, 09/08/2004 - 00:00

to Westerville, OH

to Westerville, OH

The ride into Westerville from Delaware State Park was uneventful, except that Jeff Kirn's place turned out not to be in Westerville.  When I got close to town I thought to call him for directions and found that he's on the east side of Hoover Reservoir, while Westerville is on the west side.

I got to his house at about 3:30, found the key where he told me to look for it, and let myself in.  This is the same house he lived in when Great-Uncle Dave took me to visit him in 1996, but of course I had no idea where it was at the time.  It's a large house -- only three bedrooms, but lots of rooms for entertaining guests.

Jeff brought me along to dinner with his girlfriend Mary and one of the friends they'll be joining on a Hawaiian cruise in 3 weeks; they wanted to coordinate which side trips they'll go on together.

Total distance: 34.23 miles

 

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Ben Thu, 09/09/2004 - 00:00

Columbus, OH

Columbus, OH

Today my plan was to ride into Columbus in order to see the city and decide whether it's someplace I'd like to live.  However, I was unable to find good information about recommended bike routes or even bus routes.  So I rode into Westerville and visited the library, where I got sucked into the Internet for over an hour.  The librarians were also unable to tell me about bike or bus routes.

The one bike route into town I could find starts due north of town, so I rode several miles west of Westerville and picked it up.  It's a good enough trail, well marked, and it runs nearly 15 miles into town.  But when I got to the University, the trail was under construction, and since it was already 3:30 PM I decided to turn back rather than continue on surface roads into downtown.  So I still haven't set foot in downtown Columbus, but I think the difficulties I encountered trying to get there have answered my questions about whether I'd like to live here!

Jeff and I are going to dinner with Mary again tonight; Mary will stay over and they'll leave on their camping trip in the morning.

Total distance: 38.67 miles (round trip)

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Ben Fri, 09/10/2004 - 00:00

Sep 16: Cincinnati

Sep 16: Cincinnati

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 16, 2004]

Hi, folks. I'm safely under the wing of my friend Bill, who was my youth director at church 10 years ago and whom I haven't seen since... he's now a minister, and he has a 9-year-old son who is really into geography and soccer.

Between the message I sent you Tuesday and the page of photos it linked you to, you've already got a pretty clear picture of the ride from Lancaster to Cincinnati. I had a very hard day on Tuesday and kept revising my expectations downward, so that I didn't pass through Xenia after all but bypassed it to the south. Most of the day yesterday I was following the paved rail-trail that stretches northeast from the Cincinnati suburbs well past Xenia and nearly into Columbus.

Once I got off the trail in Milford, things got a little tricky. I misjudged the width of a Milford sidewalk and smacked the hub of my left trailer wheel into a pole. I thought at first that the axle had been bent because the tire was rubbing against the frame of the trailer, but on further inspection I found that the entire frame had been knocked out of square... that is, instead of a rectangle it had become a trapezoid. A nice local police officer bought me a pop while he watched me fix it: I had to loosen about 18 bolts, straighten the frame, and retighten them all.

I had more misadventures with the trailer as I struggled into Anderson Township where Bill lives. Bill's wife is the director of a large theater complex (similar to the Guthrie in Minneapolis), so they have a much larger house in a much wealthier neighborhood than Bill's ministerial salary could provide, and that's great for their parenting options, etc.. But affluent neighborhoods aren't designed for bikes. At one point the entire trailer tipped over sideways into a busy street as I rode down curb at an angle... It couldn't be helped; there was no other way to go. Anyhow, everything's fine.

The local branch library doesn't have the maps I need, but the downtown library will be on my way tomorrow morning. There's a bike trail that follows the river all the way from here to the Indiana border ... which is ideal because otherwise Cincinnati is a very hilly place.

Q: How did you do that map?
A: I found the beautiful contour map of the US just by searching the Web for "contour map united states," and I'm afraid I've reproduced it without credit. I've edited it now with Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and The GIMP... whatever software I find on a computer is what I use. Basically I just used a round paintbrush tool for the dots and the pencil tool to make the purple line (hold down shift to connect dots).

Q: Your legs look very fit. Are you planning to compete?
A: Although I wrote about going "fast" in a previous message, my average speed is between 5 and 10 miles per hour, so unless there's a bike equivalent of a tractor pulling competition, I don't think I'd stand a chance!

Q: I wonder if my color monitor is offtune? Your hair and beard seem brighter red than I recall (maybe sun-bleached?)
A: Probably a little of both... my hair is definitely lighter from sun exposure -- especially on my arms -- but also the colors are off on that latest batch of photos. Rob's computer didn't have any of the programs named above, so I used the software that comes on the PictureCD to get the photos ready for the Web, and it doesn't allow color correction. If you research PictureCD technology on the Web, you'll find that a lot of photographers complain about what it (and its professional sibling, PhotoCD) does to colors. Fortunately I have the negatives as well!

Time for lunch! Since there's no Waffle House in Ohio, Bill has transferred his all-you-can-eat appetite to a local Indian restaurant. :-) --Ben

Ben Thu, 09/16/2004 - 14:14

to Lancaster, OH

to Lancaster, OH

The road south to Lancaster was pretty uneventful.  I carefully chose a route that several thousand motorists also chose, so I had to deflect onto less-direct side roads, but it was no big deal.

Entering Reynoldsburg (an eastern suburb of Colubus) I saw a banner for the Tomato Festival and decided to stop in, thinking I'd buy some salsa or sauce for Rob and Dully, but the only tomatoes they had were fresh, and I didn't think they'd pack well.  I bought some cinnamon-roasted nuts instead.

I arrived at 320 E Main around 4:00 without giving Rob the advance warning I had promised, but he received me gracefully.  We went to Dully's for cocktails and then to their new favorite restaurant (their old favorite having closed) for dinner.  Both are as sharp and interesting as ever, but both seem a little tired of the status quo.

I was tired when we left Dully's after dinner, but Rob offered dessert and we stayed up talking for an additional hour or two.

total distance: 40.38 mi

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Ben Sat, 09/11/2004 - 00:00

Lancaster, OH, continued

Lancaster, OH, continued

Since there's no UU church in town, I just hung around the house with Rob all morning and did computer stuff.  After lunch we drove to Keller-Kirn park and hiked around, got a roll of film developed, and then hiked at Rising Park / Mt. Pleasant.  We had some excellent pizza for dinner, joined Aunt Dully for dessert, and then played backgammon.  A low-key day.

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Ben Sun, 09/12/2004 - 00:00

to Deer Creek Resort

to Deer Creek Resort

I left Lancaster a little later than planned because Rob wanted to try to dry out my solar battery charger, which has had condensation in it since Ludington.  He wasn't able to make much progress, but he gave me some suggestions.

He also suggested a route out of town that would be less trafficked, but it turned out to be very hilly.  Even so I made good time and arrived at Deer Creek Resort (which is near Deer Creek State Park, which in turn is on the shore of Deer Creek Reservoir) before 5:00.  The campground has a lot of very nice, quiet, secluded sites, but they're all down in a steep valley, so I'm up with the RVs and things.  I hope they'll quiet down after dark.

total distance: 37.93 mi

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Ben Mon, 09/13/2004 - 00:00

to Spring Valley, OH

to Spring Valley, OH

I didn't sleep well last night because a bunch of raccoons -- at least three -- were making a ruckus right outside my tent.  I never heard such noises!  The Dog Dazer was moderately effective at quieting them down for a few minutes at a time.

I was really really tired all day today, but the nearest campground was south of Spring Valley, which in turn is southwest of Xenia.  I originally planned to go northwest from this morning's camp -- all the roads here are diagonal for some reason -- and then follow the bike trails sothwest through Xenia and Spring Valley to the campground.  But as the hours went by faster than the miles, I shortened my route first to cut out most of the bike trail, then to omit Xenia as well.  Too bad; I would have liked to visit a midsized town with a funny name and a bike trail running through it.  Maybe some other time.

Got to the campground and found the proprietor had left for the night.  Without her help to find the "primitive" campsites, I wound up at a site intended for an RV.  This wouldn't be a problem -- it's grassy, unlike the last time this happened -- except that there's a security light pointed right at my tent.  I'm tired enough I think I can sleep through it!

total distance: 49.28 mi

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Ben Tue, 09/14/2004 - 00:00

to Cincinnati

to Cincinnati

Today was not my day... I awoke to find that one of the campground's feral cats had marked my tent as its territory; then the morning air was so humid that even after an hour of "drying" I had to put the tent away wet.  When I tried to get on the bike path as shown on the map, I found that the trail entrance had been closed to bike traffic and had to ride about 2 miles to the next entrance.

But the ride along the trail was very nice and peaceful, and that was really the majority of the day.  I picked up a pamphlet in the town of Morrow with lyrics to a song that reminded me of Janmother.

When I got to the end of the trail in the little village of Milford, I tried to ride on a sidewalk that was too narrow and hit a pole with the hub of my left trailer wheel.  I thought at first that the impact had bent the axle, but it just knocked the trailer's truss frame out of square so that the wheels wouldn't turn... a nice policeman bought me a pop while he watched me fix it.

I asked for directions to Bill's neighborhood from the guys in a bike shop in Milford, but the roads they directed me to were extremely hilly and full of traffic with no shoulders.  When I got to the right neighborhood, I took a curb at an angle and my trailer tipped over sideways into the road.  In the dark.

So the trailer needs some work, and the tent needs a thorough airing out, if not a full washing, and I'm not sure how far Bill's hospitality extends.  We'll see...

Total distance: 52.76 mi

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Ben Wed, 09/15/2004 - 00:00

Sep 18: On Losing One's Bearings

Sep 18: On Losing One's Bearings

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 18, 2004]

Hi, folks. I'm writing from Whitewater Memorial State Park, near Liberty, Indiana. I had planned to reach Indiana yesterday, but I'm starting to think that best-laid plans are best laid aside! Get ready for a long and rambling story...

Thursday I called the contact I had for the nascent Cincinnati Ecovillage group, and I soon learned that I should have called a day earlier. A longstanding intentional community / CSA farm called Grailville, outside Loveland (which I passed through unawares on Wednesday) has offered to sell part of its land to ecovillagers, so those members of the Cincinnati group who had rural inclinations have split to close that deal, and the remaining urban types have decided to try to green their existing neighborhoods. Had I known about Grailville on Wednesday, I might have visited it, but by Thursday I was too far away.

I left Bill's place Friday morning in a steady rain that was forecast to last all day long. I headed for the Ohio River, where a city Web site had told me there was a bike trail that would take me right into downtown. On the way I slammed into a large pothole that was concealed by a puddle. Immediately after that, I noticed a popping sound coming from my front wheel. I assumed it was the spokes, knocked out of their delicate balance by the impact. (One drawback of small wheels is that they have fewer spokes, so my front wheel has this trouble a lot.)

I stopped at a convenience store and got a cup of coffee to sip while I fixed the spokes, but when I got the bike upside down I found that the spokes were fine. Hmm. I got directions to the bike trail and was back on my way. As soon as I was on the trail, away from traffic noise, I could tell that it was not a musical pinging spoke sound after all, but a sickening crunching sound that could only be the bearings. I had visions of fragments of broken bearing rolling around inside the hub... I stopped at a park shelter to investigate.

When I got the hub open, I found that the bearings were intact, just a little rusty on one side where I hadn't adequately greased the hub when I worked on it in July. The noise was probably caused by a little piece of grit that worked its way in there. I took a leisurely hour to clean, pack, and grease the hub. (The task was complicated by the rain and gusty wind; I was lucky not to lose any of the frisky little balls in the drafty, flooded picnic shelter.)

The newly rebuilt hub was so smooth and quiet, such a satisfying piece of work, that I wasn't at all upset to learn that I had lost my bearings after all: I was on the wrong bike trail, headed out of downtown instead of into it! (It helped that the rain had also stopped, as it always seems to do when forecast to continue all day.) As it turned out, the trail along the river doesn't actually exist yet. No matter, I found a good route into downtown and arrived at the main library only about 3 hours later than I'd intended!

Now, the main Cincinnati library is an awe-inspiring place, nearly two city blocks in area and six stories tall (including basements). Wow! By the time I'd photocopied the Indiana maps I needed, it was 2:30, and I was sorely tempted to stop at the library cafe (!!) for a meal. Instead I made a beeline to the stash of snacks on my bike, where the first of several people informed me that according to a recent news story, Kryptonite brand locks such as mine can be picked with an ordinary ballpoint pen. Good to know, I guess, though I have to question the motivation of the guy who broke the story.

Before leaving the library I tried to retrieve my voicemail, thinking Bill might have heard back from a friend who wanted to put me up for the night, and I found that my AT&T number had been disconnected -- by Verizon! After half an hour on the phone with Verizon, we had the matter straightened out, and my old number is now transferred at last to my new phone. (Bureaucracy watchers will be pleased to hear that my other corporate snafu is resolved as well: I finally have health insurance! Hooray!)

So it was probably 3:30 by the time I left downtown: rush hour. The route I had chosen after studying maps of the city was a very revealing cross-section of the town, which is to say it took me through a severely blighted neighborhood. I later learned there had been race riots there a few years ago. I also had to go through this neighborhood very slowly, thanks to a hill that stretched for well over a mile. On the far side of the hill I hit some more potholes at high speed, and I broke another hose clamp on my trailer hitch! (Although I installed new clamps in Ann Arbor, I wasn't satisfied with the way they were holding in place, so I realigned them that morning and may have weakened them in the process.)

I stopped in a slightly better-looking neighborhood, and as I was installing a new clamp, a cyclist stopped to talk with me. He's hoping to do some long-distance touring of his own, but so far he only goes short distances in town; in fact he was thinking of riding the bus home. But since I was heading his way, he offered to show me a route that would be less hilly and less trafficked. By the time we had covered a few miles, he had offered to feed me dinner and let me camp in his back yard!

Mike and his mother Fran are both very interesting and generous people. Fran has mixed feelings about Mike's dreams of touring and took me in because "You're someone's son, and I know I'd want someone to take my son in." I tried to make their hospitality worth their while by showing them travel photos and playing the autoharp, but really my only option is to "pay it forward," as they say. After reflection, I decided to leave Mike my Ohio maps, since I wouldn't be needing them much longer. So now he has my bearings! I only got lost twice this morning without them...

Also, I've begun to realize that I'm enriching a lot of people's lives just by passing them on the street... a bunch of kids in inner-city Cincinnati saw their first recumbent bike yesterday, for example. Even if people think I'm a freak or a clown, at least I've shown them another way of travel is possible. On my way out of town this morning (Saturday) I visited the park I'd been headed for when I met Mike. Called Winton Woods, it's a county park located inside Cincinnati, and it has a campground as nice as any I've seen. But I bet they don't serve homemade cheeseburgers or blueberry-coconut-pecan muffins, so I definitely got the better deal!

The ride into Indiana was uneventful. I'm finally out of the hills that surround Cincinnati, so it should be smooth sailing all the way into Indianapolis! --Ben

Ben Sat, 09/18/2004 - 14:24

Cincinnati

Cincinnati

Bill took me to the library this morning when he went to yoga class, but the library turned out not to have any maps of Indiana.  However, the downtown library is on my way west, so I should be able to stop there tomorrow morning without trouble.

I called the listed contact person for the nascent Cincinnati Ecovillage project, and she told me about its current status.  A women's spiritual community / CSA farm called Grailville, about 2 miles from where I passed through Loveland yesterday, is hoping to sell some of its land to ecovillagers rather than developers, so it looks like the deal will go through soon.  However, many of the Cincinnati planning group had hoped for something more urban in focus, so they're going to stay in the College Hill area and try to make the existing urban, diverse population more green.

Bill and I went to an Indian buffet restaurant for lunch and stuffed ourselves.  Then he showed me his church before we picked up Patrick at school.

In the evening we attended a picnic event at the school to dedicate a new playground and outdoor classroom.  Then we returned home for a family tradition: watching Survivor.

Bill has tried to find me a friend or relative to stay with tomorrow night; I'm content to stay with a stranger once I'm out of the city, which shouldn't be difficult to accomplish.

Ben Thu, 09/16/2004 - 00:00

more Cincinnati

more Cincinnati

Today was a day when nothing went quite as expected, but everything turned out great!

I left Bill's place in a steady rain that was forecast to last all day long.  I headed for the Ohio River, where a city Web site had told me there was a bike trail.  On the way I slammed into a large pothole that was concealed by a puddle.  Immediately after that, I noticed a pinging, popping sound coming from my front wheel.  I assumed it was the spokes, knocked out of their delicate relative tension by the impact.

I stopped at a convenience store and got a cup of coffee to sip while I fixed the spokes, but when I got the bike upside down I found that the spokes were fine.  Hmm.  I got directions to the bike trail and was back on my way.

As soon as I was on the trail, away from traffic, I could tell that it was not a pinging, popping spoke sound after all, but a sickening crunching sound that could only be the bearings.  I had visions of fragments of broken bearing rolling around inside the hub... I stopped at a park shelter to investigate.

When I got the hub open, I found that the bearings were intact, just a little rusty on one side where I hadn't adequately greased the hub when I worked on it in July.  I took a leisurely hour to clean, pack, and grease the hub.  (The task was complicated by the rain and gusty wind; I was lucky not to literally lose my bearings.)

The newly rebuilt hub was so smooth and quiet, such a satisfying piece of work, that I wasn't at all upset to learn that I had lost my metaphorical bearings after all: I was on the wrong bike trail, headed out of downtown instead of into it!  (It helped that the rain had also stopped by this time.)

As it turned out, the trail along the river doesn't actually exist yet.  No matter, I found a good route into downtown and arrived at the main library only about 3 hours later than I'd intended!

Now, the main Cincinnati library is an awe-inspiring place, nearly two city blocks in area and six stories tall (including basements).  Wow!  By the time I'd photocopied the Indiana maps I needed, it was 2:30, and I was sorely tempted to stop at the library cafe (!) for a meal.

Instead I headed out to my bike, where the first of several people informed me that according to a recent news story, Kryptonite brand locks such as mine can be picked with a ballpoint pen.  Good to know, I guess, though I have to question the motivation of the guy who broke the story.

I went to pick up my voicemail, thinking Bill might have called with info about someplace I could stay the night, and I found that my AT&T number had been disconnected -- by Verizon!  After half an hour on the phone with Verizon, we had the matter straightened out, and my number is now transferred at last to my new phone.

So it was probably 3:30 by the time I left downtown: rush hour.  The route I had chosen after studying library maps of the city was a very revealing cross-section of the town, which is to say it took me through a very seedy neighborhood... I later found out it hadn't yet recovered from the previous year's race riots!  It also had a hill that was well over a mile long, so the people in this neighborhood got a good long look at me as I struggled by at about 1 mile an hour, like a one-man parade.  On the far side of the hill I hit some more potholes at high speed, and I broke another hose clamp on my trailer hitch!

As I was putting a new hose clamp on the hitch, a cyclist stopped to talk with me.  He's hoping to do some long-distance touring of his own, but so far he only goes short distances in town; in fact he was thinking of riding the bus home.  But since I was heading his way, he offered to show me a route that would be less hilly and less trafficked.  By the time we had ridden a few miles, he had offered to feed me dinner and let me camp in his back yard!

So my new hosts and benefactors are Mike Goldschmidt and his mother Fran, both very interesting and generous people.  I tried to make their hospitality worth their while by showing them travel photos and playing the autoharp, but really my only option is to "pay it forward," as they say.

So nothing today turned out quite as planned, but rather better.  I can live with that!

Total distance: 22.74 mi

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Ben Fri, 09/17/2004 - 00:00

to Whitewater Memorial SP, IN

to Whitewater Memorial SP, IN

This morning Fran made me a fantastic breakfast of blueberry-coconut-pecan muffins.  Yum!

Today's ride was uneventful; my main goal was to get into the flat country so I could make some time, and I did that... crossed into Indiana at Scipio and followed paved, flat back roads all the way to Whitewater Memorial State Park, near Liberty.

High point of the day was smelling an alfalfa-drying plant... brought back all kinds of Grinnell memories.

Total distance: 47.54 mi

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Ben Sat, 09/18/2004 - 00:00

Sep 22: Indy Adventures

Sep 22: Indy Adventures

[Posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 22, 2004]

Hi, folks. I'm writing from the home of my uncle, aunt, and two cousins in Indianapolis. I'll be leaving tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

I last wrote you Saturday night from Whitewater Memorial State Park in Indiana, which turns out to be a very popular weekend getaway for families with young children. I have the following to say to the parents of America: if you must buy electric scooters for your children, do not bring them camping. No one wants to listen to your kids riding their scooters to the bathroom early in the morning. Two or more scooters going by together sound just exactly like a Martian invasion fleet. Get your kids nice quiet bicycles instead. Thank you.

So that was Sunday morning. My maps, circa 1999, said there was a bike route north from the park to Richmond, and then recommended biking along US-40 into Indianapolis. I was skeptical, so I asked at the park office. The rangers assured me that although there was no bike route per se, I would do well to follow a valley through a series of small towns into Circleville (west of Richmond) and then take US-40. I rode into Circleville and sought out another opinion about riding on the highway.

A strapping young man at an antique shop -- who let me send my previous message to this list from the phone in his store -- assured me that the highway is the ideal way to bicycle into Indy, no question. Well, OK... Turns out they were all correct: US-40 is a great road for biking. The shoulders are generous and well maintained, traffic is light and polite (at least on a Sunday), and the hills are so gradual I was in high gear most of the day. And I really cruised! Some days I hit my stride at 5 MPH, but some days it's more like 15!

I rode nearly to Knightstown before heading north toward the only campground I knew of, Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park, Voted One of Indiana's Five Best Family Resort Campgrounds. I was dreading this, since I expected to have to pay for a lot of services I wouldn't be using. But as I crossed I-70, I saw a "campground" sign at a truck stop, and sure enough, there were people camping there. At $10 it was competitive with the most affordable state parks, the facilities were better than average (private shower rooms!), the highway noise and light pollution weren't all that much worse than at some parks, and on top of everything it had a fully-stocked convenience store and two restaurants open 24-7. So I slept at the truck stop! I did wind up wearing earplugs and a ski mask over my eyes, but I slept great, and I'll definitely look for more truck stops in the future.

I got into Indianapolis early on Monday afternoon and killed a few hours at a library before dropping in on my relatives. One of my cousins is a high-school senior and the other is in 8th grade, so they're on the go all the time, but we had a nice visit. I spent this morning on the Internet and rode into town after lunch. Indianapolis feels a lot like Minneapolis transportation-wise (which I mean as a compliment): it's about the same geographic size, it's flat as a pancake, it has a good system of bike trails in place and more in the works, and although people complain about the bus system it seems pretty straightforward and well used.

I rode the Monon Rail Trail straight south from 75th Street into downtown. The only public trail I've ever seen with more people walking, skating, and biking just because it's a nice day is the one around Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. Tons of people. I was glad I didn't have my trailer because I had to weave around so many people. Anyhow.

I think I mentioned that when I saw the Cincinnati main library, my jaw hit the floor -- four floors above ground and two below, in three connected buildings. Well, the Indianapolis central library is closed for renovation and new construction that will triple its size. I thought I knew what to expect from an "interim" library, having seen the ones in Bartlesville and Minneapolis. But the interim location the Indy librarians scored used to be the Historical Society. Creamy marble walls and green marble columns and dark wooden banisters and a huge four story atrium and a stained glass ceiling and classical paintings above the doorways. I tried to get a photo but I couldn't get a wide enough angle to do the place justice. More than 90% of their collection is on the shelves, and this is just their temporary location. Now I see why the Minneapolis library board kept trying to get city council to think big!

So I got my route planned for Illinois and copied the maps I need. Looks like I'll cut straight west across Illinois to the ecovillages in southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri before heading down to St. Louis, instead of going to St. Louis first. It was a tough call, but I made the best decision I could with the information available. We'll see how it turns out! I may be out of touch between here and Peoria.

Happy trails! --Ben

Ben Wed, 09/22/2004 - 08:27

To truck stop near Knightstown, IN

To truck stop near Knightstown, IN

This morning I stopped at the park office on my way out and asked about the bike routes mentioned by the Atlas and Gazetteer.  The staff member most knowledgeable about bike routes turned out to be a little old lady who assured me that there are no off-road paths, but she stepped me through the recommended routes all the way to Indianapolis.

The route took me north along a scenic creek valley to Centerville, bypassing Richmond, then west along US 40.  I was skeptical about a US highway as a bike route, but a nice antique dealer (who let me send e-mail from his phone) was the third person to say that it's a great road for biking.  They were all correct: it has generous shoulders, little traffic, and gradual grades.  I kept my left shifter in third gear most of the day and just cruised!

The only campground near where I wanted to end up was Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camping Resort north of Knightstown, "voted one of Indiana's five best family campgrounds."  I wasn't looking forward to paying through the nose for a bunch of services I wouldn't use.  Crossing over I-70 on the way there, I saw that a truck stop had a campground!  For $10 I got a reasonably good site, free showers, and 24-7 shopping if I want it... the traffic noise isn't much louder than at some state parks I've visited, and the facilities are nicer than a lot of state parks'.  So I'm pleased.

I should get into Indanapolis around lunchtime, so I need to figure out how I'll kill time when I get there!

Total distance: 52.74 mi

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Ben Sun, 09/19/2004 - 00:00

to Indianapolis

to Indianapolis

I took my time drying the tent this morning and cruised on into Indianapolis around 2:30.  I found a public library in a shopping mall on my way to Ken & Kathy's house, and I spent an hour on the computers there, though they had no maps.

Indianapolis has a few good rail trails and more in the works, but many of the roads are ill-suited for biking.  None of the drivers were rude or hostile, though, unlike in Cincinnati.

When I got to the house, only Madeline was home, and we chatted for a while.  Then Kathy got home, and the two of us  had dinner while Madeline and Samantha came and went to evening activities; Ken got home from a service call after Kathy and I had finished.

Total distance: 37.52 mi

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Ben Mon, 09/20/2004 - 00:00

Indianapolis

Indianapolis

This morning I did Internet stuff in the morning, then Ken picked me up and we went out for lunch.  Then I hopped on my bike and rode into town.

The Monon Rail Trail is a very nice way to get into and out of downtown!  It's also one of the most popular rail trails I've ever seen.  I think the only public trail I've ever seen with so many people out walking, skating, and biking just because it's a nice day would be Lake Calhoun.

The Indianapolis central library is closed for renovation and new construction until 2006.  I figured I knew what to expect from an "interim" library location, but I was blown away... the interim site used to be the Historical Society.  It's all marble: cream with green marble columns and a huge four-story atrium.  It works very well as a library; any major library would be lucky to have it as a permanent site!

I got all the maps I need to cross Illinois into Iowa.  I think the ride through Iowa and Missouri will be very nice, but I'm afraid I'll just be trying to get through Illinois as fast as I can!  The part of the state I had thought of traveling turned out to be too hilly, so I'm going through a part that has almost no campgrounds or other attractions to be seen.  So off I go...

Total distance: 21.53 mi

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Ben Tue, 09/21/2004 - 00:00

Sep 26: Peoria

Sep 26: Peoria

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 26, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm writing from Peoria, which is to say midway across Illinois. The fact that I was in the middle of Indiana just four days ago kind of boggles my mind!

I left Indianapolis in no hurry on Wednesday morning but still managed to get all the way to Crawfordsville with time to spare. Similarly, on Thursday I got to Attica, IN -- my evening stop, close to the Illinois border -- around 1 PM and had plenty of time to reach a campground north of there. Both days the sun seemed to just hang in the sky, which I appreciated because I can tell the days are getting shorter!

In the little town of Attica I couldn't resist stopping at a candy store I'd seen hyped in a state-published travel brochure. It was less pretentious than the chocolatiers in downtown Ann Arbor, but still a far cry from my beloved, unassuming Candyland in Minneapolis. When I get home I may have to go to Candyland and order one of everything, just to make up for lost time!

So Friday I started cutting a burning trail across Illinois, headed straight west across some of the flattest terrain I've seen this side of North Dakota. I chose this route for that reason: I had so much trouble with the hills in Cincinnati that I didn't want to take any chances. But the trouble with going straight across a plain is that there's no escaping the wind or the sun... yesterday I got a bad sunburn on my south-facing thigh. The plains are getting flatter all the time; we've had more than a week without rain, so practically every field has a combine at work harvesting the seed corn and soybeans, and the roads are full of tractors and trucks pulling hoppers full of seed to the various grain elevators. It's kind of fun to watch, but I'll miss the scenery; stumps just aren't the same.

Friday morning I had a revelation: my search for ecovillages has been much too narrow. The country is full of thousands of intentional communities where long-term homeowners share space with short-termers and guests (as at Dreamtime Village), where people make an effort to live alongside nature, where the homes are full of energy-saving gadgets and are designed to work both on- and off-grid, where per-capita ecological footprints are much smaller than the American average, and where a balance is struck between private and public space (as in cohousing). I've been staying in these places practically every night for six months: they're private campgrounds. I know that permanent campground residents (April through November anyway; after that the water's shut off) are not typically the idealistic lot one associates with ecovillages, but that just makes it more exciting that they're living the way they are. I think there's a lot of potential... all it would take is a little push to turn America's campgrounds into ecovillages.

I was all excited about this idea until I arrived at my stop for Friday night: a truly wretched place literally 20 feet from the Interstate. Saturday's stop (near Eureka) was quite nice, and one of the "permanents" told me that he pays only $600 a year for his site, which comes to $2.50 per habitable night compared to the $17 a night I'm paying. At that rate an RV would pay for itself in just a few years.

Anyhow, when I made a library stop on Saturday morning I casually checked to see what the sermon topic would be at the Peoria UU church, just in case I could make it there in time. Their intern minister, a student at Meadville-Lombard Seminary in Chicago, was to speak about our relationship with the natural world. I called up a friend who's a student at the same seminary and asked if she knew the guy; not only is he a friend of hers, but she said he's lived at a couple of ecovillages, so she gave me his number and suggested I take him out for lunch!

So I got as close as I could to Peoria on Saturday night, which turned out to be about 25 miles from the church. Then I got up an hour before dawn and rode into town as quickly as I could and got there five minutes late, looking rather sweaty and unkempt. One of the parishoners kept scrutinizing me, and I thought she disapproved of my church attire, but it turned out she was the intern's wife, noticing the helmet-strap tanline on my neck and wondering if I was the mysterious biker who'd invited himself to lunch. The two of them wound up taking me for lunch, after a terrific sermon. The congregation was very friendly, and I was mobbed with questions during coffee hour. Roger and Lisa have lived in two ecovillages: Dancing Rabbit, which I'll visit in a few days, and one in South Carolina (I think) whose name I forget. They didn't get disillusioned per se, but they did decide to buy a private home instead of continuing ecovillage life.

In the afternoon I went in search of a library and a bike shop. The only library that was open was far north, and no bike shops were open, so I was a little disappointed, but in the library parking lot I was approached by a man who asked a lot of questions about my bike and trailer and eventually invited me to camp in his back yard. Come to find out he bought some land in Hawaii a few years ago with the intention of starting an ecovillage there -- he told me this without my having mentioned I was touring ecovillages -- and he likes autoharp music, so it should be a nice evening, and I can go to a bike shop in the morning, so it's really a good fit. It's amazing how these things work out.

Q: How do you power your cell phone? Do you just charge it whenever you stay somewhere long?
A: Yep. It only needs about an hour a week, so if I take it with me to the shower house in a campground every few days, that's usually enough.

Q: What is your budget for this entire trip?
A: Originally I had hoped to get down to $15 a day -- I figured $10 for camping fees and $5 for food -- or just over $5,000 for the year. But it looks like it's going to be more like $30 a day or $11,000 total, which I think you'll agree is still very reasonable for a year's expenses! That's including my health insurance and cell phone bill, by the way.

Thanks for the questions! I'll be in Iowa in a few days, at the rate I'm going... --Ben

Ben Sun, 09/26/2004 - 08:38

to Crawfordsville, IN

to Crawfordsville, IN

For some reason time seemed to pass more slowly today than usual.  I took my time leaving Ken & Kathy's place in order to say goodbye to everyone properly, and then I kept seeing interesting stores on the way out of town.

Once I was past the Indianapolis suburbs (heading due west), traffic quieted down and I was able to cover a lot of distance in comfort.  I didn't go quite as far today as on Sunday, but Indianapolis to Crawfordsville is still quite a ways.

I'm glad I decided to give the local KOA a chance, because it turns out the owner gives a hefty discount to bicyclists.  I saw a sign for another campground in town -- county park? -- but didn't investigate.

I arrived early enough in camp (4:00) that I was able to ride back into town and shop for clothes at a thrift store.  I bought a pair of sweatpants and a pair of black slacks, both of which should be very practical.

Total distance: 45.7 mi

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Ben Wed, 09/22/2004 - 00:00

to Pine Village, IN

to Pine Village, IN

I was really tired starting out this morning but didn't feel like riding back into town for coffee, so I just headed northwest on quiet roads.  It was one of those days (like yesterday) when time seems to pass more slowly than usual, so although it felt like about 4:00 when I got to Attica, it was only about 1:00.

I spent over an hour at the library looking for additional campgrounds and churches along my route to Peoria, and I found a few.  Then I went to a candy shop I'd read about in a travel brochure.  It wasn't quite as pretentious as the chocolatiers in downtown Ann Arbor, but it was pricier than I had hoped... I miss Candyland!  When I get back to Minneapolis I'll be tempted to go to Candyland and buy one of everything, just to make up for lost time.

My campground for the night is officially in Attica but actually much farther north, closer to Pine Village.  It's much more remote than any campground I've stayed at recently: there's zero traffic noise, only a combine that I hope will stop for the night.  I staked out a spot with good eastern exposure to hasten drying in the morning.

Total distance: 36.72 mi

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Ben Thu, 09/23/2004 - 00:00

to Onarga, IL

to Onarga, IL

The remarkable thing about today was that I rode literally all day long.  I was on the road by 9 (after waiting for my tent to dry) and didn't get to my campsite until after sunset.  And what a sunset!  Wow!

The campground is right next to the interstate.  The owners wanted me to camp about 20 feet from the highway, but I snagged a site on the far side of the lake instead, which still puts me closer than the truck stop did last week.

total distance: 61.1 mi

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Ben Fri, 09/24/2004 - 00:00

to Secor, IL

to Secor, IL

I didn't get quite as far as I had hoped today due to a headwind... the land I crossed is totally flat and getting flatter as the crops are harvested, so there's nothing to stop the wind.  But even so I covered most of three pages of the map, headed due west.  I plan to get up early tomorrow morning to ride the rest of the way into Peoria for church -- turns out the guy giving the service is one of Leela's cohort, and he's studied ecovillages, and I offered to take him to lunch to talk about them.

total distance: 60.46 mi

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Ben Sat, 09/25/2004 - 00:00

to Peoria

to Peoria

I got up this morning an hour before dawn and hit the road before the sun had risen, with four hours to travel 25 miles to church.  I just barely made it in time, but the service was worth the trouble.  Leela's classmate Roger Mohr gave an excellent service integrating science and spirituality.  The congregation was as impressed as I was.  They were very welcoming to me and made me think Peoria must be a very friendly place -- dunno if that's true!

Roger and his wife Lisa took me to lunch, and we talked about ecovillages and such.  We went to a cafe called One World with excellent food and coffee.

Afterward I tried to find a library and a bike shop that were open, without much success, but outside a library I met a man named Mark who invited me to camp in his yard.  Turned out to be the yard of his girlfriend's house-in-progress, which has no heat or hot water and no finished rooms, but it beats camping informally; at least I have access to water and a toilet.  I played them some songs on the autoharp, and they offered me a taste of pawpaws with breakfast.  They're both vegans, and Mark dreams of starting a vegan community on some land he owns in Hawaii, but he has no strategy to make it happen.  He's been to an ecovillage training session at The Farm.

total distance: 40.08 mi

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Ben Sun, 09/26/2004 - 00:00

Sep 29: Iowa

Sep 29: Iowa

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 29, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm writing from the shore of the Mississippi River, having just crossed back to the west side at Burlington, Iowa. It's noticably wider than it was in Minneapolis seven weeks ago! I'm looking forward to my next crossing in Louisiana... and to my ride down the River Road this coming week.

When I last wrote you I had accepted the invitation of a man named Mark to camp in his girlfriend's back yard in Peoria. Mark and Sheila were both raised in Peoria, went to college elsewhere, returned to be close to their families, and met each other a few years ago. Sheila bought a house that turned out to be full of termites and had to be completely gutted, so now it has no heat and no completed rooms, but she and Mark sleep there to deter vandals. She hopes to get it insulated by this winter. Mark attended an ecovillage class at The Farm a few years back and bought some land on the island of Hawaii that he hopes to turn into an ecovillage called Vegan Volcanoes, but his search for fellow villagers is on hold while he takes care of his great aunt. Anyhow, I had a good chat with the two of them and played the autoharp and sang some songs, and in the morning they gave me my first taste of pawpaws, which grow wild nearby and which taste like a cross between a papaya and a banana. I also accepted some rice & beans from Mark which were so tasty that I forgot I'm allergic.

Mark escorted me to the bike shop, where I got my front wheel trued (finally) and bought a replacement rear tire. That's the first tire I've worn out on this trip; I just put it on a few days before leaving Minneapolis. (The rear tire gets a lot more wear than the other three, since it's the drive wheel.)

I rode out of town and picked up the Rock Island Trail for about half a mile. I believe this may be the actual Rock Island Line of legend, that went "down to Noorleans" (song at right). She's a mighty good road, but if you want to ride it, got to ride it like you're flyin', and I was feeling ill from the beans. Besides, the trail goes farther north than I wanted to go.

I was feeling really rotten by the time I got to Jubilee College State Park, northwest of Peoria, in the early afternoon, so I got a campsite and took a nap. I felt better by evening and was able to cut my hair, do laundry, and install the new bike tire. I sat at a picnic table reading e-mail while the sun set and the full moon came up. When the moon rose above the treetops, the coyotes in the forest let out an unearthly chorus of celebration that lasted for about five minutes! Wow!

I got up in the middle of the night and found the moon completely dominating the scene; it cast such a good light I was tempted to get back on my bike and ride! By dawn a front had moved in, bringing overcast and gusty wind but also such dry air that my tent could be packed immediately. I rode all the way into Monmouth, birthplace of Wyatt Earp and home of Monmouth College, which I think may have tried to recruit me years ago. From there it was an easy morning's ride into Burlington, Iowa.

I got a little behind on my observations of state quirks...

Favorite Ohio quirk: A lot of rural homes in Ohio have swimming ponds instead of pools, with a sandy beach on one end and cobblestones the rest of the way around. A diving board, pontoon platform, and/or small boat are optional furnishings.

Favorite Indiana quirk: Just east of Indianapolis, and noplace else I've seen, the farmers plant morning glories along the edge of their cornfields. The vines climb the cornstalks and flower and look pretty. Then the following year the field is planted in soybeans, and the vines have nowhere to climb (soybean bushes only grow to about a foot high), so they sprawl out into the field about 10 or 20 feet and flower there. I assume they probably get killed by the broadleaf herbicide that's applied before corn is planted again, but still it's a nice touch. I got a photo. [I later learned the morning glories were unwanted weeds that had a permanent foothold in the road ditches. This was before Roundup-ready soybeans dominated the market.]

Favorite Illinois quirk: practically all the county roads are numbered on a strict Cartesian coordinate system. This means that if you're looking for the address 815 2300 N Rd, you can be sure to find it precisely 23 miles north of the county line, and precisely .15 miles east of 800 E Rd, if there is one. The down side is that if 2300 N Rd veers a quarter mile south at some point along its route, it will be called 2275 N Rd there, and your map may not reflect the change! Diagonal roads are named for the towns they connect, as all the county roads are in Indiana. (That can get confusing, since some of the towns apparently no longer exist.)

My next Internet access will be at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri, so I'll write from there! I hope to also update the photos on the Web site; sorry it's been so long, but I haven't had the technology at hand. --Ben

Ben Wed, 09/29/2004 - 09:28

to Jubilee College State Park, IL

to Jubilee College State Park, IL

I took my time getting up this morning, knowing that the bike shop probably wouldn't open until 9.  Mark supplied my first taste of pawpaws to supplement breakfast; they're something like a cross between a papaya and a banana.

Mark escorted me to a park along the bluffs overlooking the Illinois River, which he and Sheila consider a must-see for out-of-town visitors.  Then he showed me to the bike shop, where I got my front wheel trued at last.  I also bought a new rear tire but decided to postpone getting a new derailleur, because the one they had didn't impress me.  I hope I can make it to St. Louis!

At the farmer's market, I bought some local apples and some peaches that turned out to be from California, to share with  Mark.  I also bought some fresh, local Concord grapes.  So *that's* what artificial grape flavor is supposed to taste like!

As I started out of town towards the state park, I thought it seemed like a modest goal and toyed with the idea of going farther, but as I got closer to the park I started feeling really worn out... like something was wrong with my digestion.  I got to the park around 2:00 and took a nap for a few hours, then cut my hair and took a shower and did laundry and tuned my bike and had dinner.  I'm feeling much better now.

This park is more remote than any I've visited so far: zero traffic noise and lots of forest around.  When the full moon rose above the trees this evening, there was an exuberant chorus of appreciation from the birds and beasts.  It was awesome!

total distance: 15.9 mi

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Ben Mon, 09/27/2004 - 00:00

to Monmouth, IL

to Monmouth, IL

When I got up in the middle of the night, the moon was still high in the sky, lighting the landscape clearly, and the tent and grass were covered with dew.  But then a front came through about 3 AM (I'm guessing), and by dawn the sky was overcast and there was no dew anywhere.  So I packed up and left in no time.

The ride was uneventful, though I had a lot of trouble finding a town with a library that was open, and it turns out my ISP has no dialups at all in this part of the state -- not even in Galesburg.  So I rode on into Monmouth around 4:30, enticed by its city-owned campground.

Monmouth, IL is the home of Monmouth College and the birthplace of Wyatt Earp.  It has a town square with all the city buildings around it, and a ring of large parks circling the town.  And I found some excellent, cheap chocolate at the grocery store.  Mmmm.

Total distance: 50.99 mi

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Ben Tue, 09/28/2004 - 00:00

Oct 6: Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit

Oct 6: Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 6, 2004]

Let's just say I misjudged the distance from Fairfield, IA to Rutledge, MO. I started getting anxious about the time before I was even in Missouri, but I called ahead to my destination and was offered a place to sleep in the barn that night. Encouraged by the prospect of not having to pitch my tent, and imagining at least three walls and some comfy straw, I pedaled on.

The sun set while I was in Memphis, MO, still several hours' ride from Sandhill Farm. I bought a hot dinner, put on an extra layer of clothing, turned on my lights, and set out in the dark. This was my first experience navigating by the stars, and it couldn't have been a nicer night for it: the sky was crystal clear, and my headlight was frequently the only light for half a mile. Since I was headed south, I watched Saggitarius pour tea while I rode. The road was hilly, but I had gotten my second wind over dinner and followed the painted stripe through twists and turns because I couldn't make out the fresh black asphalt in the darkness. I almost missed the turn for Sandhill Farm because my dying light wasn't strong enough to illuminate their sign. I straggled in around 10 PM and was directed to the barn, which turned out to have only two walls and a course gravel floor, but I made do.

In the morning everything looked much better. Sandhill Farm has been a commune for more than 30 years, producing 700-800 gallons of sorghum syrup for sale, plus honey, tempeh, 80% of their own food, and a variety of small crops for trade with neighboring farms. There are currently only 6 full members, plus one child, three interns, and a half dozen visitors like myself. (Most of the visitors had been there before, so they knew their way around.) Membership has been as high as 20 in the past. Members share income as well as expenses (and possessions, including cars), while interns are paid a stipend plus room and board. Everyone takes turns preparing meals and doing childcare; other jobs are divvied up based on personal preference. It's a very informal structure, but it works for them.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, in contrast, is organized as a set of co-ops. There's a co-op for the land, one for the phones, one for the cars, several for meals, and several for composting. If you or your co-op need something, you buy it from another member or co-op. I have the impression that money is always changing hands there. It's no accident that Sandhill and DR are so close together: DR was founded by Sandhill residents who wanted to start an ecovillage, and they got a lot of support from Sandhill. Now the support goes both ways, and they share dinner once a week.

At Sandhill, the emphasis is on producing viable food for themselves and for market, so they haven't experimented much with solar power or energy-efficient construction. The engines run on gasoline, the heaters on propane, but they eat very well! DR, meanwhile, is all about experimentation. There are people living in old silos and tents and mud huts and trailers and a two-story dormitory made of strawbales. DR has a common house that was recently completed and looks great, but it doesn't have the family feel of Sandhill's common house. There are currently 26 residents at DR and they're actively recruiting more, though new residents will have to build their own homes. I should mention that most DR residents are in their 20s, while Sandhill spans the whole range from 9 to over 60.

I spent two days at Sandhill, minus a morning and evening at DR, just at the end of the sorghum harvest. I helped with loading the cut cane from the fields onto trailers (good thing I had heavy boots!), sticking labels on bottles, stoking the fire, and bottling the finished syrup. So if you see a bottle of Sandhill Sorghum, I may have helped make it! I also helped a little with food preparation, washing dishes, etc. I moved to the hayloft of another barn for the second and third nights, which was much more comfortable. All in all I had a great visit at Sandhill and would have liked to stay longer, but the road was calling me... so off I went again!

Ben Wed, 10/06/2004 - 15:36

to Sand Hill, MO

to Sand Hill, MO

I bit off more than I could chew today... the maps I had made it looks like one day's ride from Fairfield to Sand Hill, but it was more than that, at least with the wind and hills I encountered.  I was getting anxious about the time before I was even in Missouri, so I called ahead to Sandhill Farm and they assured me I could sleep in the barn.  Encouraged by the thought of at least three walls and some haybales, I pedaled on.

The sun set while I was in Memphis, MO.  I stopped for groceries and got a hot meal from the store's deli, which hit the spot.  Then, with only my dim lights and the stars to cut the darkness, I headed out of town.

I had never navigated by the stars before, but this was the perfect night for it.  The sky was totally clear, and since I was going south I watched Saggitarius pour tea while I rode.  The road had recently been paved and straightened, so it was easier going than I expected.  The nighttime sounds and smells were a delightful change from daytime riding,

I had some trouble finding the right turnoff in the dark, but I finally pulled into Sandhill Farm around 10:00.  The barn they directed me to had only two walls and a course gravel floor, so I found the smoothest, warmest spot I could and bedded down for the night, trusting that things would improve with daylight.

total distance: 57.15 mi

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Ben Mon, 10/04/2004 - 00:00

Sandhill Farm

Sandhill Farm

This morning I got a great communal breakfast and a tour of the farm.  Sandhill has been a commune for over 30 years. At present it has 6 adult members and one child, plus three interns and a steady stream of visitors like myself.

The commune produces 80% of its own food, sells sorghum and maple syrup, honey, and tempeh both wholesale and retail, and trades minor crops with other local farms. They produce 700-800 gallons per year of sorghum alone, all of which sells, so they're doing all right!

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage turns out to be a sort of daughter colony, though it has a totally different social and organizational structure.  The two communities work together a lot and share weekly meals, one of which will be tomorrow night.

I helped out with labeling sorghum jars, then with filling them, and finally with collecting the sorghum cane from the field. I bought a jar I personally filled for Malinda. The connoisseurs say this isn't a good batch, but it tastes great to me!

Ben Tue, 10/05/2004 - 00:00

Dancing Rabbit

Dancing Rabbit

After breakfast at Sandhill this morning, I went to Dancing Rabbit for a tour.  Somehow I had expected the place to be a little more together; what I found was an eclectic assortment of homes in various stages of construction, essentially none completed.  Their organizational structure is more co-op based than communal, so that money is always changing hands from individuals to groups and back again, for phone service, electricity, water, time, cooking, composting, whatever someone needs.

When I got back to Sandhill, I got to talking with Laird, the last remaining founder, about my impressions of the ecovillages I've visited thus far.  Then he mentioned that he was going to donate blood after lunch, so I tagged along while he ran errands in Rutledge and Memphis.  Unfortunately I was deferred as a donor because my iron was one percentage point too low.  I'll make a point of eating more iron and try again in St. Louis.

Ben Wed, 10/06/2004 - 00:00

Oct 6: Abundance and Fairfield

Oct 6: Abundance and Fairfield

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 6, 2004, immediately after the post about Sandhill and Dancing Rabbit]

Hi, folks! Sorry to send so much at once, but I was out of dialup range for quite a while. In my last message I promised to tell you why Abundance Ecovillage and Fairfield, Iowa knocked my socks off. Here goes...

First and foremost, the people here are dynamic and energetic and talented. My host, Lonnie, is probably one of the biggest movers and shakers environmentally speaking, so my perceptions may be skewed by the people he introduced me to, but even so... here are some examples; I'll try to get the facts straight. Lonnie's father worked in hydroelectric power, so that was his introduction to renewable energy; since then he's learned enough about solar and wind power and permaculture that he teaches classes and consults both in Fairfield and in Hawaii.

He built his first strawbale house twelve years ago from locally-grown straw and lumber; that's the building I stayed in. His second was "experimental" and looks rather more like a hobbit hole than a traditional house, but Michael and his partner live there. Michael makes biodiesel fuel from used sesame oil he gets from the ayurvedic spas in town, and he uses it to fuel his own vehicles as well as the ecovillage's emergency generators. He also tinkers with electric cars, including a Sebring-Vanguard Citicar of the type I drove in high school.

Lonnie's third strawbale house is the one he lives in now, next door to the one I stayed in. These two houses are not at the ecovillage but two miles away, in a development where all the houses are off-grid: they produce their own electricity and heat, cool themselves in summer, and catch more than enough rainwater for household use. Lonnie says there are probably 40 such houses in Fairfield, with only 3 so far on the ecovillage site. So this is not just an ecovillage thing; it's all over town.

Lonnie's next-door neighbor Grover took a course from him in Hawaii, decided to move here and build his own house, and now teaches organic agriculture in Chiapas when he's not gardening and working here. Lonnie's wife Valerie is from Paris but caught the farming bug and now handles most of the farming at the ecovillage, from planning to market. She was out of town most of the time I was there, so I didn't get to talk to her much.

Brian was working his way across the country as a construction worker this summer when he stopped in Fairfield and decided to stay as an unpaid intern for the ecovillage. He's 24. He helped Lonnie teach a permaculture / renewable energy class at the University here in town just a few days ago, and the plan is that he'll supervise a permaculture intern program that will be held at the ecovillage next spring. And there are five more fascinating people who live in the first "model" house at the ecovillage, plus another group building a house right now, and still more who plan to build but haven't started yet. I met quite a few, but I can't keep their names and bios straight!

Second, there's a great sense of community and a spirit of working together all over town. After the movie Thursday night, Lonnie and I went for dinner at a Thai vegetarian deli (!) where, over half an hour, everyone who walked in the door not only knew Lonnie but was involved in some exciting piece of the puzzle: organic CSA farming, running the farmer's market, organizing the upcoming "Bioneers" conference, and so on. We left there for the health-food store -- the largest such store I've seen since leaving Minneapolis -- and he ran into another friend and the mother of one of his recent students. Friday night we attended the monthly Art Walk, when downtown businesses host art shows and concerts all evening. Then on Saturday there was a harvest festival (supplementing the weekly farmer's market), which was chaotic at times but very entertaining and profitable. It seems like everybody's working on something exciting to bring the community closer together.

Third, the cult factor of Maharishi University of Management turns out to not be as much of a turn-off as I had assumed; that's what's kept me from visiting Fairfield before. Although Lonnie is a devotee of Transcendental Meditation and goes to "the dome" daily to meditate (as required of all MUM faculty and students) and has pictures of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on display in both his houses, it's not something he talks about (unless asked) or has imposed on Brian. Same goes for the ecovillagers, many of whom are building their homes in accordance with Sthãpatya Veda™, the Maharishi's version of Feng Shui. It's a personal thing, apparently.

But I'm not the only one who's been scared away from the place because of TM's reputation as a cult; Lonnie says even some of the townspeople who don't meditate avoid events attended by meditators, even though the events may be completely unrelated to TM. (Note: very few people have learned TM in recent years because Maharishi set the price of training in the US prohibitively high. This is clearly counterproductive to the discipline as a whole and to the ideals it stands for, but nobody wants to go against Maharishi's wishes.)

Fourth, I had no idea any of this stuff was here, even though I lived less than two hours' drive away for four years. Grinnell is proud of (or at least resigned to) its reputation as the hippie capital of Iowa, but it appears to be in second place. For example, while Grinnell College was debating whether to allow students to have a garden on campus, MUM was committing to grow essentially all its own food, with students participating in every part of the process. It would have been useful to know that.

Finally, the name "Abundance" is right on target. Most ecovillage projects I've seen seem to start from the assumption that to live sustainably, you have to give things up: flush toilets, TV, hot showers, etc. Lonnie and his friends seem to be demonstrating that you can have more than enough clean water, more than enough hot water more than enough electricity and food and income and everything you need for satisfying life ... and still leave more than enough for the community of life around you. So my ecovillage map gets a big ol' dot in Fairfield. I don't know that I'd want to live there per se, but I do know that wherever I do live, I want it to have the dynamic, the community spirit, and the potential that I saw there, and it's good to know where to turn for a model!

Lonnie has an extensive library of books, magazines, videos, etc. in the house where I was staying, covering everything from The Far Side to the most obscure points of permaculture, computer programming, and electrical generation. I only looked through a couple of these, but they're worth mentioning: Computing Across America: The Bicycle Odyssey of a High-Tech Nomad by Steven K. Roberts is the book that some of you seem to want me to write about my trip. Trust me, Roberts has done a much better job than I could do. Not only does he write better prose (and better puns) than I do, but his trip was much more hard-core than mine, in pretty much every respect. So next time you think I should write a book, read this one instead. He even looks kinda like me. Ecovillage Living: Restoring the Earth and Her People is a compilation by Hildur Jackson and Karen Svensson of essays and case studies from around the world. Lots of luscious photos and useful information.

Favorite Iowa quirk: unlike Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where essentially every road is paved, most county roads in Iowa are gravel. The paved ones are designated as county highways, and though they might not have any additional signage on location, Delorme's Atlas labels them like highways, making them easy to follow from town to town. I got used to this convention on my previous bike trip, so I was disoriented early on in this trip when it turned out not to hold true in other states.

Ben Wed, 10/06/2004 - 16:27

to Geode State Park, IA

to Geode State Park, IA

It got cold last night -- so cold that ice formed on the autoharp case.  I woke up around 4 and couldn't get back to sleep because I couldn't get warm, and I was wearing 3 layers.

I put the tent away still damp, thinking I'd have time to dry it out in Burlington.  I did get to Burlington around lunchtime, but after that plans went awry.

Burlington, IA is a quaint, historic little town on the Mississippi.  It's clearly trying hard to retain its small-town charm in spite of the suburban sprawl going on to the west ... that's West Burlington, a separate town.  But because the downtown is  quaint and historic, I found I couldn't do any of my errands there and had to go west.  Everyplace I asked if I could use the phone line -- welcome center, library, a UCC church -- I was told, "That's not a service we offer," as if my modem was threatening to pull them into a different century.

Anyhow, I got all the errands done, but it took about two hours longer than I expected, so I never did get the tent aired out.  I rode hard to Geode State Park and just barely made it to the campground by sunset.

Total distance: 44.61 mi

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Ben Wed, 09/29/2004 - 00:00

to Fairfield, IA

to Fairfield, IA

The ride from Geode to Fairfield was difficult only because it was gravel for several miles; I chose a more level route than I could have, but still it was gravel and took a lot out of me.

I arrived in Fairfield sufficiently late in the afternoon that I headed straight for the ecovillage, even though I could tell I wanted to see more of town.  On the way out of town, I passed a housing development of Maharishi Sthapatya Veda homes featuring energy-efficient windows and lighting, passive solar heating and cooling, and low VOC paint.

When I got to the village, I found a half dozen people at work on various buildings.  I headed to where Lonnie had told me to look for him but found another man, Michael, at work on his own house, a strawbale construction they built 10 years ago.  He showed me around and pointed me back out to Lonnie's home.

By the time I met Lonnie, I'd heard so much about him from so many people that I didn't know what to expect, but he turned out to be fairly young-looking, very energetic.  He offered me a bed indoors as the weather is predicted to get very nasty tomorrow.  The house I'm staying in is next door to Lonnie's current house and has a kitchen but no working bathroom; Lonnie's has a bathroom but no kitchen.  Both are strawbale construction, but you can't really tell from inside, and both are totally off the electrical grid; in fact the entire development is off grid.  Lonnie says there are probably 40 homes in Fairfield that are off grid.

We went into town to watch the movie "What the Bleep do we Know," which I thought was fantastic.  Then we went to a Thai deli for dessert and to a health food store that rivals the Wedge.  Everywhere we went, everyone knew Lonnie.

When we got back, I met Brian, who was traveling across the country doing construction work when he found Abundance and decided to stay as an unpaid intern, working for room and board.  The three of us jammed on guitar, bass, and autoharp for a while.

total distance: 46.54 mi

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Ben Thu, 09/30/2004 - 00:00

Abundance Ecovillage

Abundance Ecovillage

Today the rain was forecast to last pretty much all day. Brian and Lonnie and I went over to the ecovillage to work for an hour or so on a greenhouse project before the rain started; then they gave me a tour of the grounds. We returned to Lonnie's house(s), where I stayed for the rest of the day while Lonnie had meetings and such.

Lonnie let me use his computer for a few hours (solar powered, but with DSL), so I updated my Web site. Then we had an incredible lunch with the last of the summer harvest. I basically lazed around all afternoon with books and things.

Anyhow... Abundance is a good name for this place that has more than enough of everything. What a treat to be around so many competent, energetic, enthusiastic people! They seem to be making progress on every front simultaneously.

In the evening we went to the health food store's restaurant for their weekly Italian buffet, which was excellent. When the restaurant closes at 8, all the food is free, but we arrived before then and still got a good deal. Then we explored the Art Walk, which is a monthly event: many of the downtown businesses open their doors all evening for art shows, poetry readings, and concerts. It was really neat!

Lonnie says that few non-meditators attend events that are perceived as meditators' events, even if they're unrelated to TM, like the Art Walk. That seems a shame.

Ben Fri, 10/01/2004 - 00:00

Fairfield

Fairfield

Today was market day - not just the usual Saturday farmer's market, but a harvest festival with artist stalls and demonstration booths and live music.  We got up early to bring in the harvest, but the lettuce had frozen overnight, so we  had to wait for it to thaw before we could pick it.

Brian and I went to Vedic City, a nearby organic farm, and picked the last of their field peppers to sell.  They have huge greenhouses full of produce as well, so they can keep growing and selling all winter.  I wish I had gotten a photo of the inside of the greenhouse -- the rows were so long and narrow that they looked like they went on forever!

The market festival was a blast: probably two dozen farmers and bakers, most of them organic, plus the artists and musicians and lunchtime food booths.  There were also people demonstrating how wool is processed "from sheep to shawl" and how cider is made.  The finished cider was sold for $2 a quart, and it all sold.  Since so many of the farmers knew each other, everyone started selling each other's stuff... it was chaotic but I suspect very profitable.  I spent way too much money myself.

Afterwards we returned to Lonnie's place and I did some laundry to take advantage of what had become a warmish afternoon.  I tried to do some work on  my bike but found that Lonnie didn't have the tool I needed (a cone wrench), so I went to town to buy one and wound up going to Wal-Mart for longjohns and to Econo Foods for Sweet Obsession chocolates.  Mmm.

Ben Sat, 10/02/2004 - 00:00

Oct 10: St. Louis & Stories

Oct 10: St. Louis & Stories

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 10, 2004]

Hi, folks! I've arrived safe and sound at the home of my friends in St. Louis. I'll be here until at least Wednesday.

I followed the Great River Road -- primarily Missouri highway 79 -- most of the way south. I have to say that I cannot recommend it as a bike route, even though it's promoted that way on state Web sites and signs all along the way. In fact I would actively discourage anyone from riding that route until it has a paved shoulder. I hear that Illinois' Great River Road is better for biking, and I would have crossed, except of course that I didn't have my Illinois maps anymore. I can be very pigheaded sometimes.

Once I reached the metro area, I had a difficult time getting into "St. Louis City" from St. Louis County... you'd think no one had ever tried it by bike before. I stopped for directions five times in two hours. But once I got into the city it was smooth sailing. My mood was improved by stopping to celebrate at a genuwine Waffle House. My friends, I have tried waffles and chicken sandwiches all over this country, and nobody compares to Waffle House. I may have to stop there again on the way out of town! :-)

Now I'd like to take the time to share a few stories from the last few weeks. Story number one: Both of the bicyclists who have invited me to camp in their yards -- Mike in Cincinnati and Mark in Peoria -- toyed with the idea of hopping on their bikes and coming with me, but neither did so. The day I left Sand Hill, I met someone who had no reservations about leaving her settled life and traveling with me. Unfortunately she was a dog. She ran along with me for about seven miles; I stopped every few miles and tried to convince her to go home, but she would not be deterred from this new and exciting lifestyle. Eventually I enlisted the help of another dog owner to distract her while I rode away. I was sorry to lose the companionship, and I have to wonder what sort of unhappy home life she was leaving, but I couldn't have a dog along with me.

Story number two: The nights I slept in the hayloft at Sandhill Farm, I kept hearing rustling and gnawing sounds downstairs in the barn. I was worried that some mouse or rat was getting into my food, so I checked a couple times but found no damage to my gear or supplies. But the morning after the story above, I was repacking the bag that sits behind my bike seat, and I happened to reach into the plastic bag where I keep my toilet paper and trowel, and I found a cache of acorns! Not just any acorns, either; somebody -- chipmunk? totoro? -- had very carefully selected about 30 perfect specimens of all the same type and size and placed them very neatly in that bag. I should mention that the outer bag was zipped closed except for an inch or two, so this must have been a very small creature. My food was untouched... I'm afraid this hardworking critter may have hoped -- dreamed -- that the bread and Fritos and mixed nuts would still be there this winter, along with the makings of a cozy toilet-paper nest. And I ruined it by thoughtlessly riding off with it all. I felt like such a cad. I left the acorns at the foot of a tree for the next furry woodland creature to discover.

Story number three: Ever since I wrote that positive writeup about Fairfield, people have been telling me -- in person and online -- that it is a creepy place, and had I stayed longer I would have picked up on that. So I'll share my one kinda creepy story about Fairfield: During the First Friday Art Walk, Lonnie and Brian and I visited a really neat used book store / coffeeshop / restaurant / performance space called Revelations. One of the performers was a singer that my friends thought highly of, so we stayed for a number of her songs. At one point she decided to sing "My Girl." A female couple came in the room, and presumably inspired by the sound of a woman singing a love song to another woman, they started to dance cheek-to-cheek. I don't think the singer saw them, but in any case when she got to the chorus she couldn't bring herself to say what it was that made her feel that way; she just let it hang, and her guitarist -- her husband -- awkwardly played the chords without her. When she did it again the second time, the disappointed couple walked out. The third time through, the singer improvised lamely, "What could make me feel this way? I don't like to say... It could be any number of things... I've got sunshine..." Now, first of all, that song is pretty innocuous... it could just as easily be about a daughter as a lover. Or a man named Mike Earl. Or the singer's hairstyle, which was curly. Second, even if the words "my girl" were objectionable, they don't rhyme with anything in the song, so she could have said "my boy" or "my man" or "my dog" and nobody would have minded. But third, everybody knows the words, so when she didn't sing them we were all thinking them anyway. The next morning I asked Brian whether Fairfield is a GLBT-friendly place, and he said the Maharishi had spoken out against homosexuality at some point, and so the University had been known to ask people to leave on the basis of sexual orientation. But this was off campus, off hours, and it was just a song, for pity sake! I have to wonder whether the singer got picked up by the Thought Police after the show. What if she'd sung something really incriminating, like "The Wanderer?"

So that's my one and only bad impression of Fairfield. I could, however, say a lot more about any of the three communities I visited, so please ask any questions you may have! --Ben

Ben Sun, 10/10/2004 - 07:54

to Wakonda State Park, MO

to Wakonda State Park, MO

Although I had a great visit at Sandhill, it felt really good to hit the road again today.

The only unusual thing that happened today was that a dog befriended me and followed me for about 7 miles.  I finally enlisted the help of another dog owner to keep him in one place while I rode away.  I enjoyed having the company for those miles, but I was afraid he wouldn't be able to find his way home, and he was getting very hot and thirsty.

I picked up the Great River Road at Canton and followed it through LaGrange to Wakonda State Park.

total distance: 51.84 mi

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Ben Thu, 10/07/2004 - 00:00

to Hannibal, MO

to Hannibal, MO

This morning as I was loading the Mac bag, I found a stash of acorns that someone -- squirrel? chipmunk? totoro? -- had carefully placed in the toilet-paper bag.  Whoever it was hadn't touched my food, probably hoping it would be there later, along with the toilet paper for a cozy nest.  I felt bad for spoiling such earnest preparations for the winter, but I couldn't very well return the acorns, so I left them under a tree.

I followed the Great River Road all day, which was nice for the most part.  Hannibal has little going for it besides the Mark Twain connection, so they're really milking that for all it's worth.

I had planned to continue on past Hannibal to a campground in Louisiana, MO, but on further inspection I saw that they don't allow tents, so I just stayed put outside Hannibal at Mark Twain Cave and Campground.  Overpriced, but pretty nice.

It rained on and off all day, so that some of the clothes I've come to count on -- my pillow/shirt, for instance -- got wet.  The tent is also very moist.  I don't know that any of it will dry before I get to St. Louis.

total distance: 28.66 mi

View Wheeled Migration in a larger map

Ben Fri, 10/08/2004 - 00:00

to Bowling Green, MO

to Bowling Green, MO

I had hoped to get all the way to Cuivre River State Park today, but I drastically underestimated the hilliness of the Great River Road between Hannibal and Louisiana, MO.  It was a beautiful ride, but very slow going.  By the time I was ready to leave Louisiana, I knew there was no way I'd make the state park by sunset.

I had had to pack my tent very wet this morning, so I wanted to let it dry before trying to sleep in it again... so I went to the nearest campground, which was west of Louisiana, in Bowling Green.  Out of my way, but at least doable.

distance: 37.8 mi

Ben Fri, 10/08/2004 - 00:00

to O'Fallon, MO

to O'Fallon, MO

Encouraged by the campground owner's description of an off-road bike trail paralleling the River Road, I headed back east this morning rather than following US 61, even though 61 had a nice wide, paved shoulder.  Alas, the part of the road with the off-road trail was the part I skipped by going to the campground last night! 

The river road from Annada to Old Monroe was some of the worst highway for biking that I've encountered... two lanes, gravel shoulder, lots of traffic.  I stuck with it because I figured it's a state bike trail, it must get better... and because my campground for tonight was right on the road.  The shoulder did become paved after Old Monroe, but I think I'll write a nasty note to MoDOT asking them to take down the "MRT" bike route signs over that stretch of road.

distance: 59.8 mi

Ben Sat, 10/09/2004 - 00:00

to St. Louis, MO

to St. Louis, MO

I had a route all planned out to get me into town today, but I missed my turn.  When I stopped to look at local maps at a gas station, I found that there's a new bridge across the Missouri River that wasn't on my maps, and that I could get there via the Katy Trail.

Once on the trail, I met some cyclists who escorted me to the bridge and assured me that I could follow that road all the way to University City where Malinda and Corey live.  But the trail ended abruptly, and there was no way to continue on that road.  I wound up asking for directions four more times, and each person gave a different story, but eventually I got into town and stopped at Waffle House to celebrate.  From there on it was a very pleasant ride!

distance: 29.6 mi

Ben Sun, 10/10/2004 - 00:00

Oct 13: Journeys and Destinations

Oct 13: Journeys and Destinations

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 13, 2004]

Hello again. I'm having such a good time in St. Louis that I decided to stay an extra day! That and the weather is a little rainy for riding the (packed-dirt) Katy trail, and I've decided to bypass Kansas City and Lawrence, KS on my way to Oklahoma. Like Madison and Chicago (both of which I bypassed earlier), Kansas City is just a short bus ride from Minneapolis. St. Louis is not. Visiting St. Louis is a rare treat.

On Monday I biked into downtown and ran a bunch of errands. A number of people had warned me that St Louis is not very bike-friendly, but I've noticed that the locals say that everywhere I go, and it turned out not to be true, at least in comparison to Cincinnati or Muskegon! There were actually marked bike lanes on the road most of the way, and no one gave me any trouble. I love the beautiful old buildings surrounding downtown, many of them with elaborate capital-M Masonry.

One of my errands was to pay my respects to the Gateway Memorial Arch, this being its biggest year since its construction: 200 years since Lewis and Clark started their journey here, and 100 years since the biggest of the Worlds Fairs was held at Forest Park (which itself is larger than Central Park in NYC). All the centennial hoopla was this summer, but the signs and banners are still up. I've ridden up to the top of the Arch twice before, so I refrained this time.

St. Louis has a light rail line now, new since my last visit. Unlike Minneapolis, they decided to build it down in a trench, away from other traffic. It's been successful enough that they're already building a second line. Maybe I'll get a chance to ride it today so I can compare it to Minneapolis's Hiawatha Line [which had opened just before I left Minneapolis].

Yesterday I accompanied my friend Malinda to work at the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center, which is a private suburban home and grounds that were given, under the watchful eye of a wealthy foundation, into the care of the Missouri Botanical Center. The botanists and neighbors have worked out a complex and fascinating compromise whereby the grounds can be restored to native prairie and used for education, but only of 30 people at a time, and there can be no signs or cars parked on the road, and staff and volunteers must wear orange so that the neighbors can see them. I helped to "clean seeds" (separating seeds from chaff) that had been gathered at another local prairie plot, and earned myself an orange T-shirt with the center's logo. The experience of working around a table with the other volunteers -- older ladies -- brought back memories of my two years at the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library. Good times.

Thank you all for your questions! This one is worth a whole sermon on its own...

Q: My impression is that you've spent more time bicycling than seeing the places and people where you've been. If I travel I like to make it "worthwhile" by having time at the destination i.e. reduce the travel-time/destination-time ratio.
A: So do I, when travel is not the point of the trip. For instance, if it takes Greyhound three days to get me to the Grand Canyon and three days to get me back, I'd better be there at least five days. But on this trip the road is the real destination, and the "destinations" I've described, the dots on my map, are just stops along the way. There are several reasons why I think this is important:

  1. I think a lot of harm has been done by the desire to get places as quickly as possible. If you drive through any of these Midwestern states on an Interstate highway, it will look "empty," just a bunch of featureless farmland punctuated by highway exits leading to truck stops and an occasional godforsaken town. That's the impression a lot of city-dwellers have of the country. They don't understand country music or politics because they don't see any of the lifestyle behind it. But if you travel the same states by bicycle, taking the back roads, you see that there are houses every quarter mile and towns every five miles or so, with real people living lives as real as your own. I can't blame them for feeling alienated from the people who speed past them without stopping, and I can't blame them from feeling reactionary against social changes that have passed them by just as indifferently. I don't want to be indifferent. These people are part of the world I live in, and the roads they live on are not just a means toward my end. OK, I'm done channeling William Least Heat Moon now.
  2. If I spent as much time stopped as I do traveling, I'd need at least another year to complete this same trip. Not only wouldn't that work out with the change of seasons, but I'd also have to find employment all along the way, which I'm sure would build character, but it's not the experience I'm looking for.
  3. I don't want to outstay my welcome. Most of the red dots on my map [friends and family] had offered me open-ended invitations to "come visit sometime," and I only specified the time a few days in advance because that's as far ahead as I could predict. Two nights seemed a reasonable length of stay in most cases.
  4. When I stop, I get out of shape. Each day I'm not pedaling decreases the distance I can travel the first two days out. Unless I have a lot of flexibility about where to stay those first two nights, I can't afford to diminish my range by sitting idle two or three days a week. That said, I can't go too fast, either. When I "cut a burning trail across Illinois" into Peoria, I could only keep it up for three days, and I was glad to slow down again.

Q: I can see how weather would be a factor... How'd you decide to leave so late in the season?
A: Well, the deciding factor was that my roommate was leaving in early August, and if I left earlier one of us would have had to pay my share of the rent. But I chose this route -- detour to Ohio and all -- with the August departure date in mind. If I had started earlier or headed south sooner, I would have had a lot more uncomfortably hot traveling days. As it is, I think it's worked out well; the approach of autumn just spurs me on, which is kind of nice. Besides, who ever heard of a migration starting in July? :-)

Thanks for the feedback. Keep in touch! --Ben

Ben Wed, 10/13/2004 - 09:00

St. Louis

St. Louis

Malinda had to work today, so I set out by bike to run my errands. The trouble I was experiencing with my 3-speed hub turned out to be loose wheel nuts (!!), so that was easy and cheap to fix. I got all the maps I needed from the central library with no trouble, and I paid my respects to the Arch.

My second attempt in a week to donate blood was foiled again by low iron -- lower than last time, even though I've been taking supplements all week and making an effort to eat more iron-rich foods. So something's wrong. I'll see what I can learn on the Internet and try again in Bartlesville.

distance: 19.7

Ben Mon, 10/11/2004 - 00:00

Litzsinger Road Ecology Center

Litzsinger Road Ecology Center

I went to work this morning with Malinda at Litzsinger Road Ecology Center, which was a private home and grounds but has been donated along with a generous foundation to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Three other volunteers came by and we "cleaned" seeds of prairie plants for several hours. Then I researched Katy Trail campgrounds and nutrition while Malinda worked in the afternoon. Having not heard from Elizabeth Collins, I decided not to try to go to Lawrence but instead to stay here an extra day and then follow the Katy Trail to its end and continue into Oklahoma. After work we swung by REI, where I investigated tent options and got a new water bottle. Then we picked up Corey at Wash U and went to dinner at a Chinese place.

Ben Tue, 10/12/2004 - 00:00

Oct 17: Katy Trail State Park

Oct 17: Katy Trail State Park

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 17, 2004]

One of the reasons I gave in my last message for staying an extra day in St. Louis was that there was rain in the forecast, so I planned to spend most of Wednesday indoors. Well, Wednesday turned out to be beautiful; all the rain came Thursday, the day I left town! I had made plans to meet my host, Corey (Malinda's husband) at Waffle House on my way out of town, so I could buy him breakfast. Unfortunately I told him the wrong intersection, so he never found Waffle House and I had to eat without him.

The rain gradually picked up while I was eating, and I decided to inaugurate the new raincoat one of Malinda's coworkers had given me. Although it turned out to be an excellent windbreaker, and I'll be very glad to have such a nice windbreaker, it was not waterproof, and I got completely soaked. By the time I realized what was happening I was already on the Katy Trail, and there was no shelter to be found, so I couldn't change into something dry without getting my dry things wet. As long as I kept going, I stayed warm! Again we see that the best laid plans are best laid aside...

Katy Trail State Park is the longest rail-trail in the country, at 225 miles. It's also the one and only flat route across eastern Missouri, from St. Charles (just north of St. Louis) to Jefferson City, where the land starts getting flat, and on to Clinton (southeast of Kansas City). It follows the Missouri River much of the way, which means it parallels Louis and Clark's journey, and there are many historical markers. It also follows a line of sandstone bluffs much of the way, so that frequently there's the river on one side and a sheer cliff on the other. The bad news is that the trail surface turns to mud in the rain, and it rained all day Thursday. The towns in the flood plain are small and far between, so that a traveler may have to go 30 miles or more to camp or find groceries. And the available information about services along the trail is inconsistent and misleading at best. And if you stray off the trail and try to follow a road, it will rapidly become steep and winding, with no shoulder.

I was in a pretty foul mood when I got to my first campground, in Klondike, at the top of the bluffs, and found that all the campsites were flooded. The good news is that some of the campsites had little shelters over the picnic tables, so I set up camp on top of a picnic table and was dry and cozy, once I changed clothes. The campground also had a "camp kitchen" that was a pleasant place to eat dinner. So that was Thursday the 14th.

Friday and Saturday I made slow progress due to the spongy trail surface, a strong headwind, and being out of shape from taking three days off in St. Louis. I made barely more than 30 miles each day. Friday night I stayed in Hermann, which has a colorful German heritage and was beginning its Oktoberfest weekend with help from revelers from all over. There were a lot of loud drunk people in the campground, and a few very nice quiet ones. My neighbors were a young couple from Kansas City, both high-school teachers, who let me taste the wine they had bought (Hermann has a half dozen vineyards) and gave me a small watermelon from their garden.

Saturday I discovered a wonderful place. The Katy Trail info had said that Jim's Bar & Grill was the contact for camping in the tiny town of Tebbett. But when I got there, Jim suggested I try the hostel next door instead, where for $5 I could sleep indoors and have a hot shower, a microwave oven, coffee, and other amenities. The Turner Katy Trail Shelter is a self-serve hostel intended for use primarily by nonprofit youth groups; it has beds -- and bikes! -- for 34. All they ask is a very modest fee, and that you clean up after yourself. What a deal! What a thoughtful gift to the community!

It looked like I was going have the place to myself, but at 8:00 six cyclists straggled in, all on upright bikes, half of them pulling trailers. They had come from Sedalia in two days, doing 60+ miles a day on the same trail where I've had trouble doing 35 a day, and were hoping to reach Hermann before Oktoberfest ended. As they were groaning around and popping Excedrin like candy, one of them asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes. "I would never have the motivation to do this alone," he moaned. I have to agree -- I wouldn't choose to travel that way on my own either!

I got up early this morning (Sunday) and rode the 15 miles into Jefferson City in time for church. A number of church members took an active interest in my trip and were able to give me good advice about road conditions -- shoulders are my main concern -- to the southwest. One of them offered me a room in his house for the night, so I took the afternoon off and ran errands in town. "Jeff City" is laid out along a series of ridges that parallel the river, which makes for very easy cycling in one direction (NW-SE) but lots of steep hills the other way (NE-SW)!

Although I'm grateful to the Katy Trail for getting me through the hills of eastern Missouri, I'm planning to abandon it tomorrow and strike out on the US highways for a while. The shoulders are reportedly good, the campgrounds are frequent, and I can travel the direction I'm headed instead of northwest, which is where the trail goes from here. Wish me luck! --Ben

Ben Sun, 10/17/2004 - 09:07

Cahokia Mounds, IL

Cahokia Mounds, IL

I hung around Corey & Malinda's apartment most of the day. I washed my tent, applied waterproofer, and let it dry thoroughly, tightened the shock cords in the poles, and sanitized my hydration pack.

In the afternoon Malinda picked me up and we rode out to Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, though by the time we got there we didn't have much time to see the museum before closing. We climbed Monks Mound (the largest prehistoric structure in North America) and walked over to Woodhenge.

After a pizza dinner, we went back into downtown St. Louis to visit the City Museum, but it was closed -- during the summer it's open evenings, but in the fall it's only open weekend evenings. It looks fascinating, so I'll just have to come back!

Ben Wed, 10/13/2004 - 00:00

to Klondike, MO

to Klondike, MO

Today was probably my worst day so far. To begin with, I ha promised to buy Corey breakfast at Waffle House, but I told him the wrong location, so he didn't find it. Then there was the rain, which started just as I was leaving Malinda & Corey's and continued all day without stopping. It was a colder rain than I've ridden in before; my hands and feet got pretty numb. Then it turned out that the jacket I got from Malinda's coworker is just a windbreaker, not a raincoat. My shirt got completely soaked, so that every time I stopped riding I got chilled. As long as I kept going I was OK. The Katy Trail had of course turned to mud and got all over my bike and trailer.

When I found out that I had overshot the campground -- because they had taken down their sign! -- I decided to risk going back on the road rather than the trail, but the road turned out to be hilly, curvy, and without shoulders, so that was a stupid move. And the campsites were all flooded, with only one or two well-drained places to pitch a tent in the whole campground. In the end I decided to sleep on top of a roofed picnic table at one of the campsites. This is working pretty well so far, but if the wind picks up I'll be in trouble!

distance: 33.1 mi

Ben Thu, 10/14/2004 - 00:00

To Hermann, MO

To Hermann, MO

I woke an hour or two before dawn, too cold to sleep but too sleepy to put on another layer. At dawn the sky was crystal clear. I spread out my tent and sleeping bag to dry and hiked to the "lookout point" for sunrise, both of which turned out to be unimpressive.

I thought my goal of reaching Hermann today was modest at just over 34 miles, but between the headwind and the spongy trail and stopping to repack my bearings, I barely made it by dusk. Hermann is having Octoberfest this weekend, so there are drunk people all over. I hope they'll all be hung over tomorrow when I make my exit!

I did meet a nice young couple from Kansas City at the campground; they had been aiming for the Ozarks but saw signs for the wineries in Hermann and decided to stop. They shared the wine they had bought around their campfire.

distance: 39.2 mi

Ben Fri, 10/15/2004 - 00:00

to Tebbetts, MO

to Tebbetts, MO

Slow going again today, in spite of excellent weather.  I got a late start due to partiers keeping me up late.  Couldn't seem to get fired up until I stopped for coffee at  noon.  Even so, I didn't make it into Jefferson City as I had hoped, but only into Tebbetts.

The trail Web site had indicated a campground here, with Jim's Bar and Grill as the contact.  But Jim recommended I check out the hostel next door instead: just $5 a night to sleep indoors with hot showers, a microwave oven, coffee, etc.  It's fantastic!  What a great find!

33.1 mi

Ben Sat, 10/16/2004 - 00:00

to Jefferson City, MO

to Jefferson City, MO

I made a full four-cup pot of coffee this morning and flew down the trail into Jefferson City, arriving early for church.  The first person to talk to me there was Don Love, who had noticed me on the road and thought I might be headed to his church!  He introduced me to a bike dealer and a highway employee among the congregation, who were able to answer my questions about shoulders on US highways I've been eyeing.

After the service, a bunch of folks invited me to lunch at a Mexican restaurant (excellent), and Don invited me to stay at his house for the night.  The road to his house has the most eclectic assortment of architectural styles I've ever seen outside of Epcot!  When I got to the Loves' home there was no mistaking it: UN flag flying, clumps of big bluestem in the yard, and four bicycles parked out front.  Don and Kathy Love turn out not only to be the parents of my Grinnell classmate Nora Love, who now lives in Austin, but also of Will Love, who lives with his girlfriend Anna at 27th and Grand in Minneapolis, just a block from where I lived the last two years!  And Will and Anna, who are just finishing up a three-week visit, also attended Grinnell while I was there.  Wild.

We had a big thanksgiving-style dinner, complete with pie.  I played a few tunes on the autoharp, but no one was really in the mood.

15.0 mi

Ben Sun, 10/17/2004 - 00:00

Oct 23: Carry On, My Wayward Son

Oct 23: Carry On, My Wayward Son

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on Oct 23, 2004]

Sorry for the long message, folks, but I was out of dialup range for almost a week!

In my last message I said I was going to hotfoot it out of Missouri on the US highways, since I had learned that they, unlike most most Missouri highways, have paved shoulders. Like most information I've gotten from local people, this turned out to be true only within an area of a few miles! I left Jefferson City on Monday morning headed southwest on US 54. When I saw the generous expanse of shoulder -- 10 feet, practically a bike lane -- I was so happy I started singing gospel: "I got a little piece o' pavement... to myself, I got the whole shoulder to myself!" My mood was further lightened when I turned on my radio and encountered some phenomenal radio reception. I was listening to weather reports from so far away I couldn't believe they were talking about the same day! Apparently Columbia, MO was having thunderstorms and a tornado watch while I had clear skies and Smooth Jazz (tm) to balance out the screaming semis a few feet away.

The shoulder lasted until I got to Lake of the Ozarks, which is the mutant offspring of suburban sprawl and tourist trap. I try to maintain a fairly positive tone on this list, so I'll just say that Lake of the Ozarks is no place for a bicycle. As soon as I started riding Tuesday morning I noticed my back tire felt spongy. I stopped several times to examine and pump it, but I couldn't convince myself whether or not it was losing air, so I kept going. As I headed down a hill and out of "town" in morning rush-hour traffic, I saw the highway's shoulder resume ahead. Again my heart leapt with joy, and I swerved onto it... at about 30 MPH. The right wheel of the trailer hit a bump, and the trailer balanced on its left wheel for about 20 feet while I tried to figure out what was happening and what I could do about it. If I had swerved back to the left the trailer might have landed back on its wheels, but there were cars coming up behind, so I kept going right. As the trailer crashed down on its left side, the cargo slipped out of its bungees and skidded on the asphalt upside down for about 10 feet before I got everything stopped. The autoharp's waterproof kayak bag now has a few small holes in it, as does the tent's storage bag, but both the tent and harp appear to be fine. At the time I was very upset about what had happened, but in retrospect I'm just glad it wasn't worse!

A little later, I crested a long hill on the highway and felt a familiar bump-bump-bump beneath me. My back tire was completely flat! I had just checked it for the umpteenth time a few minutes before. I found a mysterious gash in the side wall of the tire, but I didn't find a corresponding hole in the tube. Didn't have time to investigate; just replaced both tube and tire. This was the crummy BMX tire I bought in Peoria. I put on a much sturdier one that I bought in Fairfield. While I was replacing the tire, my mind was whirling to revise my travel plans for the day... surely after all these misadventures it must be 2 or 2:30 already. The sky was so overcast I couldn't tell how much daylight I had left, so I got out my watch ... 12:30. I just started laughing... so much had happened, and the day wasn't even half over!

Toward the end of the day Tuesday the shoulder ran out again, and the folks I asked said it would be intermittent all the way to Kansas. As grateful as I had been to ride on a shoulder, I was just as glad to leave the highway behind and hit the county roads again, now with reasonable slopes. They were so quiet! The corn-and-soybean hegemony of the upper midwest was at last broken up with fields of hay, pasture, clover, sunflowers, and winter wheat, all of which host fewer crickets than I've been used to hearing. I stayed Tuesday night at Pomme de Terre State Park, near the fishing town of Nemo. Wednesday I continued on back roads to Prairie State Park, near Liberal, MO, and very close to the Kansas border. Prairie State Park is the largest expanse of native prairie in Missouri, but I didn't get to see much of it because visitors to most of the park are warned to stay in their cars to protect them from roaming bison! Fortunately the campground is outside the bison range.

On Friday morning I finally rode into Kansas. In high school and college, I had a tradition of always playing "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Song for America" by the band Kansas whenever I'd cross the border into Kansas. I didn't have the tape with me this time, so I sang the songs in my head. My father met me at Big Hill Lake Park, near Coffeyville, after one of the longest day's rides I've had: I rode from before sunup to after sundown with only one real break. I also rode through a pretty serious thunderstorm in the afternoon, but I was amply forewarned, so none of my gear got wet. Dad and I had never camped in a tent together before! It seemed like the thing to do.

This morning (Saturday), Dad loaded my trailer into the car, and I covered almost 70 miles into Bartlesville, Oklahoma in about 7 hours. The fact that I'm now in my hometown -- and that I bicycled here from Minnesota, by way of Ohio -- hasn't really sunk in yet!

Favorite Missouri quirk: In St. Louis, Panera Bread is called St. Louis Bread Company. Same menu, same decor, same Good-Vibes-lookin' logo, different name. The locals say Panera started in St. Louis, but I've heard that about several other cities. Maybe a bunch of chains merged.

Second Favorite Missouri Quirk: Like most states west of the Mississippi, and unlike those east, any municipality is called a "city," even if it has less than 100 people or is part of an urban area. The neighborhood of St. Louis where my friends live is University City, and there's a building there called "City of University City City Hall."

Least Favorite Missouri quirk: No shoulders on the roads. Not even 6 inches, not even gravel or grass, just a ditch (and I mean a ditch) or a sheer cliff or a guard rail. I don't know what drivers do when they have breakdowns -- didn't see any. Maybe the cars behind just push them down (or off!) the road.

Second Least Favorite Missouri Quirk: The gubernatorial race. These candidates have nothing positive to say. Their radio ads are poison in listeners' ears. I hope they both lose.

Favorite Kansas Quirk: Kansas highways are represented by cheery orange suns, Kansas being the sunflower state. Every other state I know of [except Minnesota] uses black-and-white highway signs for all but the Interstates, which are red, white, and blue. But Kansas signs are orange!

I'll be in Bartlesville until at least November 3rd. I should have some new photos to share in a day or two! --Ben

Ben Sat, 10/23/2004 - 08:08

to Lake of the Ozarks, MO

to Lake of the Ozarks, MO

Riding on the US highway turned out to be a very good call... the shoulders are so generous they're practically bike lanes, and very smooth and clean. I made excellent time, and good music on the radio made up for the traffic noise. As soon as I got out of the Missouri River valley, I got incredible radio reception. I was picking up weather reports from so far away I had trouble believing they were talking about the same day... apparently Columbia was having severe thunderstorms and a tornado warning, while I had a clear sky and 80 degree temperatures. Everything was great until I got near Lake of the Ozarks, which is a real vacation town, like a sprawling suburb with no urban area nearby. Not friendly to cyclists, and the campground I stopped at was not friendly to tenters, but by the time I stopped I had no choice. I fumed about it for a while but got over it at last.

44.6 mi

Ben Mon, 10/18/2004 - 00:00

to Pomme de Terre State Park, MO

to Pomme de Terre State Park, MO

I had hoped to avoid traffic by leaving early, but apparently there's a rush hour at Lake of the Ozarks. I noticed early on that my back tire felt spongy, but after stopping several times to examine and pump it I couldn't convince myself whether or not it was leaking.

As I was leaving town on a downhill slope, I saw that there was a shoulder on the road ahead, and I gratefully swerved onto it... at about 30 MPH. The right wheel of the trailer hit a bump, and the trailer balanced on its left wheel for about 20 feet while I tried to figure out what was happening and what I could do about it. I might have been able to get the trailer back on two wheels by swerving back left, but there were cars coming behind, so I continued right and the trailer went over. The cargo slipped its bungees and skidded upside down on the pavement for about 10 feet before I got stopped. The kayak bag containing the autoharp now has a couple holes in it which can be repaired when I have time. The tent bag also got some holes, but fortunately the tent itself is fine.

So I got everything back on the trailer and continued down the road. The tire still felt funny, so I put some more air in. Suddenly as I reached the top of a hill I realized the tire was completely flat! I didn't find a hole in the tube -- saved it for later -- but the tire had a gouge in the side, close to the rim, that would just leave a new tube vulnerable. So I replaced both tube and tire. This was the crummy BMX tire I bought in Peoria; I replaced it with a sturdy one I got in Fairfield.

As I was working on the tire, I tried to figure out how to revise my plans for the day... after all these delays it must be 2 or 2:30, and the sky was so overcast I couldn't tell time by the sun. I got my watch out so I could at least know how soon the sun would set... and it was only 12:30! I just started laughing... all this bad stuff had happened and the day wasn't even half over yet!

I stopped in a little town to drop off the bad tire at a tire shop, and I told the folks there that I was following the US highway for its shoulder. They told me that the shoulder would end in a few more miles, and sure enough it did, and riding the highway without a shoulder was miserable. So I ditched it for a county road to Nemo and had a much pleasanter time. Pomme de Terre State Park is just outside Nemo (and near Hermitage), blessedly far from the sound of traffic.

46.2 mi

Ben Tue, 10/19/2004 - 00:00

to El Dorado Springs, MO

to El Dorado Springs, MO

I chose to stick to back roads today, and they turned out to be hilly, but not unreasonably so, and very lightly trafficked. The only interesting thing that happened was that I passed throuugh the town of Humansville, which was not an interesting town, but it has a neat name.

I noticed today that all the fields since Jeff City have been hay or pasture, not corn or soybeans. Maybe that partly explains the diminished number of crickets I'm hearing.

47.8 mi

Ben Wed, 10/20/2004 - 00:00

to Prairie State Park, MO

to Prairie State Park, MO

I chose to stick to the back roads today and didn't regret my decision; the hills gradually gave way to plains. I saw a return to soy and sorghum but on a field by field basis. Other fields were hay, pasture, clover, sunflowers, and even some winter wheat.

I was feeling some anxiety about Internet errands, so I stopped in Liberal, MO, just outside my destination of Prairie State Park. I found that PSP was my only camping option for the night. When I got to PSP, I found that the campground is the only part of the park not enclosed by fences and cattle guards: bison roam free. You're supposed to check in at the visitor center to find out where it's safe to be outside a car, but the visitor center is surrounded by area where you're not supposed to be outside a car... and the center was closed for the night anyway! So I just helped myself to a primitive campsite (no showers or electricity).

51.5 mi

Ben Thu, 10/21/2004 - 00:00

to Big Hill Lake State Park, KS

to Big Hill Lake State Park, KS

This was my longest day since entering Missouri... I got up an hour before dawn and was on the road before dawn and still didn't make it to Big Hill Lake until the very end of sunset.

I enjoyed the ride through Kansas: it really does feel different from Missouri. There was a pretty serious thunderstorm in the afternoon, but it passed. Big Hill Lake is a very big park with lots of amenities spread out in a way I'm not used to.

Dad arrived as I was finishing pitching the tent, and we had a dinner of cold soup and bagels that he found just barely tolerable!

63.8 mi

Ben Fri, 10/22/2004 - 00:00

to Bartlesville, OK

to Bartlesville, OK

Dad took my trailer with him this morning, so I had a spring in my step and covered the 70 miles or so into Bartlesville in under 8 hours. The weather was perfect, and the roads were excellent.

It was neat to come into Bartlesville by the back roads, Bison and Madison. When I arrived at the house, Mom & Dad & Genki were out running errands, but they left the back door open for me. I got my tent and sleeping bag all aired out and sent my long-overdue e-mail before Tiff & co. arrived around 4:30.

Then we caravanned to Donna & Wally May's house in the country for the church Halloween party, which I'd never attended before. There was a bonfire, a spook house, a hayride, and lots of food, and the congregation made up only about half of the people there: lots of guests. As Dad pointed out, a good time was had by all, even the girl who got bit by some sort of critter.

62.1 mi

Ben Sat, 10/23/2004 - 00:00

Nov 1: Bartlesville and such

Nov 1: Bartlesville and such

[originally posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on November 1, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm still vegging out in Bartlesville, Oklahoma... It looks like I'll be here until Friday. A few highlights of visiting my hometown in this way at this time:

  • I hadn't ridden a bike in Bartlesville for probably 8 years. Compared to other towns its size, it's a lot of fun to ride in. Never mind the excellent Pathfinder Parkway; the streets are noticeably wider here. Maybe I'll find that elsewhere in Oklahoma, too... I hope so!
  • It's also been 6-8 years since I was in Oklahoma during warm weather. I got to see the woods while there are still a few leaves on the trees. I also finally got to try out my dad's souped-up electric lawnmower. I wish I'd had that when I was mowing lawns as a kid -- it's so quiet!
  • More than two months of camping in ten states have given me a new appreciation for the wildlife in Bartlesville. The Pathfinder passes through a floodplain that floods just often enough to keep people from building there, but not often enough to keep a forest from growing to its climax stage. There's a lot of dead wood, which urban ecologists in other towns value highly for the birds and things that live in it. There are also a lot of vines on the trees -- not kudzu, thankfully, but Virginia creeper and wild grapes -- giving the forest a fanciful quality like a monkey habitat at a zoo. And now that I recognize pawpaw trees, I can see that Bartlesville is full of pawpaws. All someone needs to do is figure out how to make them fruit, and the town could host a regional pawpaw festival!
  • Speaking of fruit, as much as I miss the fresh produce I got to sample in Wisconsin and Michigan, I'd trade it in a minute for Oklahoma in the pecan season. People are scavenging wild pecans all over town, and I don't blame them. I've never had a truffle, but I think wild pecans could compete with them in the delicacies-you-can-step-on category.
  • I got to town just in time to volunteer in the last few days before the election. My parents and I went door to door to get out the vote and had a surprisingly good time. And tomorrow we'll attend a big party with friends to celebrate -- if we're lucky -- a conclusive end to the election! If we're really lucky, some of our candidates might win!
  • Yesterday morning I gave the Sunday service at my parents' church, and it was very well received. If you're interested, you'll find the complete text here.
  • I visited my high-school physics teacher on my 29th birthday and was startled to learn that he's still under 40... which means that when he was my teacher 10 years ago, he was younger than I am now! Morale appears to be up at the high school, thanks I'm sure to millions of dollars' worth of additions and new facilities. Some of the new classrooms are nicer than the ones we had at Grinnell College while I was a student there! But although the BHS building is bigger than it was when I was in high school, the student body and faculty have both shrunk. Unlike the mythical Sunnydale, CA, they can't blame a "hellmouth" under the school for the declining population; I think it has more to do with something else under the town... black gold... or the lack thereof...

Q: To what extent is your route "destination based" and to what extent is it based upon "trails"?
A: Well, as I expounded earlier, I consider trails and roads to be among my destinations, because I'll go out of my way to travel a good road. My route through Missouri was a good example. I had initially thought I would go from Indianapolis to St. Louis, then north along the river to Rutledge, MO (Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage) and Fairfield, IA (Abundance Ecovillage), and southwest from there to Kansas City. But when I looked at the topographic maps of Missouri -- and in particular at the Katy Trail, which is the only flat route through the hills near St. Louis -- I realized I'd be a fool not to take the Trail west from St. Louis. That meant going to Iowa first, which in turn is the reason I went through Peoria (instead of farther south) and had the adventures I had there... I hadn't considered Peoria to be a destination until I got there, but now you'll see it's a green dot on my map! A counterexample is my route south from here into Texas... I had a route in mind that would take me due south from Tulsa to Dallas, but now I'm thinking of visiting a "destination" in Oklahoma City, which will require a whole new route.

Q: What information resources were used and what process was followed to select the route? How long did it take you to plot the route?
A: Well, the general plan of heading south through the midwest and north along the east coast took about 2 hours to plan, and it was based on maps of average low temperatures I got from weather.com. If you look closely at my map you'll see gray dashed lines labeled "OCT", "NOV", "DEC", and so on, indicating how far south I need to be each month. Stage two of route planning is to get detailed maps of the next state I plan to visit ... I've been using DeLorme's Atlas and Gazetteer series because I know there's one for every state, and they're easy to find. These maps tend to show and/or describe about 75-90% of all campgrounds, bike trails, and other amenities I'm looking for; the rest I find via the Internet and draw on the map. (yp.yahoo.com is a good tool for finding campgrounds... even though most states have associations of campground owners, I find their Web sites are unreliable as sources of info.) Once I know roughly what's available, I leave the specifics of the route open until a day or two in advance, or sometimes less.

Thanks for the questions! Don't forget to vote! It might not hurt to pray, too... --Ben

Ben Mon, 11/01/2004 - 14:22

birthday party

birthday party

At 11:30 this morning, Mom dropped me off at BHS on her way to a town meeting about public transit. Mr. Meador showed me the new science wing and the even more elaborate fine arts building. Then he treated me to lunch in the cafeteria. I also got to see Mr. Baird, who's retiring after this year, and Mrs. Henderson.

Tiff and her family drove up for a birthday dinner. I had requested pineapple upside-down cake, and Mom made a chicken dish to precede it that she had enjoyed at a restaurant. It turned out very well. The kids were extremely polite, even trying to eat chicken legs with a knife and fork. After dinner they went up to play in the attic and asked me to come with them. They had found my old Legos and wanted me to make a spaceship for them according to the directions.

Ben Tue, 10/26/2004 - 00:00

Perkins, OK

Perkins, OK

Today we drove out to Perkins to visit Uncle Bud and Aunt Margaret. Dad had told me what sounded like a horror story - Bud had gone in to the doctor with some health problems, and they had put him on a treadmill and worked him until his heart stopped, and then they gave him a bypass operation! But we were amazed to see the improvement in his condition... he looks and acts at least five years younger than when I saw him last December. He and Margaret are both 80.

On the way back we checked out some roads I might travel on my way south. We also found some I'll be sure to avoid!

Ben Wed, 10/27/2004 - 00:00

Volunteer Orientation

Volunteer Orientation

This evening we went to a volunteer orientation at the Democratic party headquarters in the mall. It took a long time because everyone had to say something, but that's politics, I guess. A lot of people I knew were there: Dick Waddell (a coworker from NIPER), Joyce Fogle and Rod Harwood (former church members), and several current church members, plus old coworkers of Dad's.

Ben Thu, 10/28/2004 - 00:00

Canvassing

Canvassing

I joined Dad and some of his friends for lunch today at Golden Corral. Mom calls this group the ROMEOs after a group of Grandpa's, the Retired Old Men Eating Out. Basically they have lunch every Friday at a different buffet.

This evening we went door-to-door to "get out the vote": the folks we visited are confirmed Democrats who don't always make it to the polls, so the party's strategy is to pester them until they vote. Mom and I got assigned to Oak Park, where we were able to cover most of our territory on foot. Dad got assigned to a sparser west side neighborhood where he and his partner had to drive from each house to the next. We all had a good time, though.

Ben Fri, 10/29/2004 - 00:00

Demo Breakfast

Demo Breakfast

This morning we attended a free breakfast at the West Side Community Center, intended to lure voters in for a rousing speech and then a parade to the courthouse for early voting. It looked to me like the event was attended mostly by volunteers with only a few disenfranchised voters, but we had a good time, and it was standing room only, so we could scarcely have handled more people.

In the afternoon, Mom and I went to Eastland to launder my sleeping bag and buy me some new walking shoes, a belated birthday present. After dinner, Mom and I tuned up our 'harps and went to an "acoustic jam" at a friend's house. There were two other autoharpists there as well!

Ben Sat, 10/30/2004 - 00:00

Of Which We Are a Part

Of Which We Are a Part

This morning I gave the Sunday service at church. It went over very well. Attendance was way up. The minister, Kathryn Reese, and her family came over for dinner, along with Donna and Wally May. Kathryn's husband and two daughters suddenly found themselves hosting an exchange student from Bulgaria, who had gotten dumped unexpectedly by her previous host family. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving feast -- on Halloween -- and must have confused the poor girl, but she took it well.

Ben Sun, 10/31/2004 - 00:00

Nov 3: Gear

Nov 3: Gear

You may be wondering what exactly one might bring on a long-distance, solo bicycle trip. Enough people have expressed interest that I figured I should take some photos of what I'm carrying and describe what goes where and why.

My bike is a 2002 BikeE CT XL semi-recumbent. Sad to say, BikeE has now gone out of business, so if any really unusual parts break, I'll be at the mercy of eBay, but so far I've only had to replace really standard parts like tires, bearings, and such. The CT was the cheapest model of the cheapest brand on the market at the time; it cost me $700 including fenders. There are now some semi-recumbents on the market for as little as $300! A few bike mechanics and other cyclists have looked down their noses and questioned whether the CT is suitable for long-distance touring, but once they learned how far I had gone, their attitude changed!

One of the undocumented features of the BikeE is that the main tube of its frame is open at the back, which means you can put stuff in there. That's where I keep my tire pump, patch kit, and bike tool, so that they're always with the bike, even when I'm not carrying anything else.

My trailer is a Bikes at Work truss-frame cargo trailer, the smallest size they make. I bought it for its versatility: it's great for moving furniture as well as touring. It hasn't required any maintenance at all in over 8000 miles! Its only drawback is a tendency to flip over when one wheel goes over a curb before the other, but that's probably the case with any two-wheel trailer whose hitch is low to the ground.

The rest of my gear was stowed based on when I planned to use it. Click a container and then click the (i) button to learn about its contents.

  My person: items I might need anywhere, anytime.
White bag: items I needed to be able to reach without getting off the bike, or that I'd like to carry into a library or store with me.
Gray Bag Gray bag behind the seat: items I needed to be able to reach when I stopped for a break.
blue bin Blue bin: Stuff I didn't want to get dirty.
green bin Green bin: Stuff that could get dirty.
Yellow bag Yellow waterproof bag: My autoharp -- an acoustic musical instrument that can't get wet! (note: after carrying this for the first four months of the trip, I left the autoharp behind to save weight.) The tent, rainfly and groundcloth also rode on top with (and later in) the yellow bag.

Additionally, I had a solar battery charger that rode on top of the trailer on sunny days and charged the AA batteries for my radio and AAA for my PalmPilot.

Of course there were changes to my gear during the course of the trip, but not as many as you might think. Here's a list of everything I replaced.

Ben Wed, 11/03/2004 - 00:00

Stuff I Carried on my Person

Stuff I Carried on my Person

Here's what I wore on a typical day:

  • T-shirt and shorts -- I generated enough heat while riding that I was comfortable in summer clothes unless the temperature dipped below 50 F. Even then, the prevailing wisdom is to dress in layers, and I liked to have something decent underneath the other layers!
  • Biking shoes -- until mid-November, I was riding in ordinary shoes, and it looked for a while like I might have damaged my joints by doing so. Biking shoes have clips that fasten them onto the pedals, ensuring the "biodynamically optimal" range of motion.
  • Socks, underwear, glasses
  • Belt -- useful for clipping on my radio and dog dazer
  • Dog Dazer -- I call this my "remote control for dogs". I bought it online for $15 and wasn't sure it worked at first, because it only works against hostile dogs. But now I've had plenty of opportunities to watch them stop in their tracks when I press the button. Friendly dogs hardly notice it.
  • Helmet -- I got one with a visor for this trip, and I was very glad to have it!
  • Sunglasses -- I like wraparounds, because I hate getting glare in my eyes. I know they look silly, but I don't care.
  • Rear-view mirror -- I used to have one on my handlebars, but it broke off, so I got the kind that attaches to my helmet. It took some getting used to, but now I wouldn't use anything else.
  • Bike lock key -- I rarely locked my bike when the trailer was attached, because there was no way to lock down the stuff on the trailer, and because bike racks aren't designed to accommodate a 15-foot-long vehicle that likes to fall over. But I carried the key for those few times when I did lock up.
  • Multi-tool -- I got used to carrying a knife, screwdriver, etc. when I was repairing computers on a daily basis, and now I'm not comfortable without that functionality in my pocket.
Ben Wed, 11/03/2004 - 16:17

Gear Changes

Gear Changes

Naturally on a trip like this you expect to go through some supplies, like food, sunblock, tire patches, and so on. Here are some of the less obvious changes to my inventory during the trip.

Items that were lost or left behind

  • a water bottle
  • a bag of bagels
  • a pair of long johns
  • a clothesline and pins
  • a poncho (blew away)
  • a pair of sunglasses
  • a bungee cord

Items I replaced because they wore out or broke

  • at least half a dozen tires and at least a dozen tubes
  • half a set of wheel bearings (10) (got rusty)
  • a whole lot of bearing grease and chain lube
  • the entire drive train of the bike (crank, chain, gears, and derailleur)
  • two rear-view mirrors (the mounts broke, not the glass)
  • two water bottles (they leaked)
  • hydration bag and tube (developed an advanced culture)
  • a solar battery charger (damaged by water)
  • three T-shirts
  • three pairs of shoes
  • four pairs of socks
  • PalmPilot keyboard (water damaged)
  • one brake cable and housing

Items I replaced even though they hadn't worn out

  • pedals (in favor of ones with clips)
  • tent (in favor of one that weighed half as much)
  • sleeping pad (in favor of a larger one)
  • a tire pump and gauge (in favor of a pump with a built-in gauge)
  • gloves and mittens (in favor of a slightly larger pair)
Ben Sat, 06/05/2004 - 16:16

Nov 9: On the road again...

Nov 9: On the road again...

[sent to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo group on November 9, 2004]

Hi, folks! It's been three months now since I left Minneapolis. My trip is 1/4 over already! But 3/4 of it is still ahead...

After two weeks with my parents in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I'm on my way to Texas! I had a great visit, but it feels good to be back on the road. On Friday morning I left Bartlesville and rode south to Owasso, where my cousin Tiff and her family (whom you may remember from the Halloween photo) live. I stayed with them all day Saturday and practiced my uncling skills. After so much time off, my knees are really objecting to the exercise. I took a long break on that first day and picked up pecans on the side of the road... in half an hour I got enough to last me a week or more. I'm getting really good at shelling them while riding. Mmm, pecans.

On Saturday we went to the Oklahoma Aquarium, which is a new addition to Tulsa. Tiff's husband Shawn thoughtfully drove us into town on the route he recommended I ride the next morning, but I'm afraid I was talking with the kids in the back seat and didn't pay enough attention! Sunday morning I thought I knew where I was going and so didn't look at the map and missed my turn and wound up going all the places Shawn had warned me away from. I found my way back onto the agreed-upon route just in time: there was Tiff with an electric razor I had left at her house!

I arrived at All Souls Unitarian Church (where I used to attend Sunday school and youth programs... remember Bill in Cincinnati? this is where I know him from) an hour late, but I was able to attend the second service and get some photos of the rather impressive renovations. I had hoped to meet an old friend for lunch, but she got sick at the last minute. As it turned out, I needed the extra time to get to my campsite for the night due to knee pain. I followed Tulsa's River Parks west to Sand Springs, then continued on roads to Keystone State Park.

On the road, I was passed by two thirtysomething cyclists with skintight suits and fancy mountain bikes. The man of the pair was disparaging yuppies as they passed. Then he looked over his shoulder and asked if I was going far, and I gave my usual response, "South for the winter." He laughed and said, "South is that way." (We were going west.) A few miles later I found them in the ditch: he had punctured a tire and was just leaving a message with his mother for her to come get them. He didn't have a spare tube, patch kit, or pump, though he swore he usually carries them. I helped him remove and patch the tube -- it was easy to find the holes because he had put goop in the tube that's supposed to prevent flats, and it was oozing freely from two holes. The patches didn't seal properly with the goop there, so the patched tube still didn't hold air. He insisted on giving me $4 anyway. I should have told him to "pay it forward," as Mike-in-Cincinnati did when he gave me two meals and a camp for the night, but I didn't think of it until I had already accepted the cash.

While in Bartlesville I had built a camp stove from two cat food cans, as my friend Bill in Ann Arbor had showed me. I bought fuel for it on Sunday and tried it out, and I'm very happy with it. So far I've used it to mainly to warm up the soup and oatmeal I previously ate cold. I experimented with cooking corned beef hash, but it left so much revolting grease on the dishes that I doubt I'll ever do it again!

Monday I headed south from Keystone Lake until I met up with OK-66 (formerly Route 66) and followed that southwest toward Oklahoma City. I stopped at the library in Bristow to verify that there was only one campground between there and Tuesday night's stop. By the time I pulled myself away from the computer, there wasn't enough time left to reach the campground before dark! The sun was setting as I stopped in Stroud to fill up my water bag in preparation for informal camping; the campground was still over an hour's ride away. I wasn't prepared for what I found: west of Stroud, there were no houses along the road, only barbed wire fences and no-trespassing signs. I wound up camping at the bottom of a steep embankment, where I was concealed from headlights ... but not, as I learned in the morning, from drivers in daylight!

Tuesday I continued along old Route 66, passing through Davenport, where I used to have a penpal, but I couldn't remember his name. I remembered that his parents owned a Route 66 souvenir shop, but I found two in town, so that wasn't a good lead. I'm writing on Tuesday night from Arcadia Lake in Edmond, just north of Oklahoma City. My plan is to ride into OKC tomorrow, send this message, see some sights, and ride back out of town to the south by evening. Tune in next time to find out how it went!

By the way, those of you who read my October 31 sermon -- and in particular those of you who were lucky enough to see Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd speak in Minneapolis on October 27 -- may be interested in seeing the strings of Great Story beads I've been collecting and carrying around the country with me. I scanned them while in Bartlesville and put up a Web site to show them off. Enjoy! --Ben

Ben Tue, 11/09/2004 - 09:16

Election Day

Election Day

Uncle Bud and Aunt Margaret swung by late this morning on their way to Arkansas to visit relatives. Bud showed me around the inside of their camper, which is no bigger than a full-size van but has two beds, a kitchen, and a bathroom with shower.

After lunch, Dad and I voted; Mom had done so on Saturday. We went to a watch party thrown by a church member for church members, and we were glad we hadn't gone to the Washington County Democrats' party, because all our candidates lost and all the referenda we opposed were passed. But we had a good time at the party.

I was particularly glad to have a chance to talk with Persia and Amy, who are about my age. Amy went to BHS in Becca's class and had a younger sister in my class whom I don't remember. Persia has three kids and recently finalized her divorce. So far she's been able to continue homeschooling her kids, but she may have to start working soon to support them. She's been looking at communities like The Farm, which could prove to be a great way to share daycare and homeschooling responsibilities, among other things.

Ben Tue, 11/02/2004 - 00:00

Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts

Today I basically hung around the house and worked on the computer. I did get out in the afternoon to walk to the post office, and on the way back I picked up a bunch of pecans from the street. Yum!

After a pizza dinner, Dad and I gave a presentation to a local Boy Scout troop. Dad had invited himself to talk about his electric car, and he brought me along to talk about my bike trip. The scouts and leaders were an appreciative audience.

Ben Wed, 11/03/2004 - 00:00

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

This morning I biked to Jo Allyn Lowe Park to see the new Pathfinder tunnel to Colonial Estates, then to Albertson's to get groceries.

Mom and I drove to Pawhuska for lunch and then listened to a guided-tour CD that led us to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. We spent so much time (and money!) at the gift shop that we didn't get to do any hiking! Mom says the prairie is more interesting to look at in the summer -- another reason to visit here in warmer weather!

We were overdue for a visit with the Wellses, who have a passive solar home and an RV park outside Pawhuska. Don Wells explained to me that there's a crawlspace between the house and the concrete slab, which serves instead of ducts for the heat pump, allowing the entire floor to be warmed or cooled by the forced air. But they rarely have to use the heat pump because the passive solar works so well; in fact they usually have windows open in the winter, and Don says he regrets putting in so many windows!

They also showed us their new fifth-wheel RV and an old mobile home they're selling. Mom was interested in seeing the mobile home as a possible option for moving Grandpa cross-country. The new RV is so sturdiliy built it must weigh two tons... lots of solid wood and glass.

For our last evening before I leave, we had teriyaki pork chops and homemade ice cream, and we played Challenge Rummy.

Ben Thu, 11/04/2004 - 00:00

to Owasso, OK

to Owasso, OK

It felt good to hit the road again! Mom made a wonderful breakfast of teriyaki fried eggs and fresh-baked breadsticks.

I took Bison Road out of town, which meant Dad and I crossed paths on my way out of town and his way to work. From there I rode on Highway 75 for a few miles and then took "Old 75" all the way into Owasso. Outside Ramona I stopped to stretch my legs and wound up picking up pecans for half an hour!

I got to Tiff's house around 3:30 or 4, and we had a chance to catch up before the kids got home from school. The kids are really attached to me, even though they don't see me very often. I guess I'm a good uncle already! Mom swung by on her way back from a gig in Tulsa to drop off a Texas map she had found for me. It has detailed street maps for all the major cities! What luxury! Shawn had some friends over in the evening for a monthly poker night, and Tiff and the kids and I went into Tulsa for dinner.

39.6 mi

Ben Fri, 11/05/2004 - 00:00

Oklahoma Aquarium

Oklahoma Aquarium

Shawn was up until 2 or so with his friends, so we got a late start this morning. Breakfast wasn't until about 10, and we didn't leave for the aquarium until after noon, which pushed lunch back until after 3 and dinner to 8!

The Oklahoma Aquarium is less spectacular than Omaha's, but quite nice for Oklahoma. The shark tank is particularly well designed, though it was a little short on sharks today. Tiff says they've been gradually adding to the place since it opened.

After lunch at Sonic we went to a Krispy Kreme, my first. Then we watched Rat Race and, after the kids went to bed, Bean.

Ben Sat, 11/06/2004 - 00:00

to Keystone State Park, OK

to Keystone State Park, OK

I left Tiff's house around 6:30 or 7 with every intention of following the route Shawn showed me yesterday, but I must not have been paying close enough attention because I missed my turn and wound up going at least 6 miles out of my way, which meant that I was an hour late for church. Fortunately Justice wasn't expecting me until the second service. Instead of attending the service itself, I went to a discussion with some young adults that turned out to be on the subject of Democracy. It would have been a better topic for last month... we were all pretty discouraged and cynical!

After the service I went looking for Justice, but her mother found me and told me she had gotten sick and gone home. Faced with the prospect of going to Waffle House alone again, I decided to just sit at one of the church's benches and eat my snacks. While I was doing this, a man came over to admire my rig and told me the best way to get to Keystone State Park.

West of Sand Springs, I was passed by two thirtysomething cyclists with skintight suits and mountain bikes. The man of the pair was disparaging Yuppies as they passed. He asked if I was going far, and I gave my usual response, "South for the winter." He laughed and said, "South is that way." A few miles later I passed them; he had punctured a tire and was just leaving a message with his mother for her to come get them. He didn't have a spare tube, patch kit, or pump. I helped him remove and patch the tube -- it was easy to find the holes because he had put goop in the tube that's supposed to prevent flats, and it was oozing freely from two holes. The patches didn't seal properly with the goop there, so the patched tire still didn't hold air. He insisted on giving me $4 anyway. I should have told him to "pay it forward," as Mike-in-Cincinnati did when he gave me two meals and a campsite for the night, but I didn't think of it until I had already accepted the cash.

A few minutes after that, a biker zoomed past me the other way, then came back and said hello: it was the owner of the bike shop in Bartlesville, and he had recognized me! In camp at Keystone State Park, I tried out my new camp stove for the first time. The stove works great, but the windscreen is a loss. I'll have to ask Bill to remind me how his was constructed.

31.8 mi

Ben Sun, 11/07/2004 - 00:00

to Stroud, OK

to Stroud, OK

This morning I headed south on OK-48 until it met up with OK-66, which follows what's left of Route 66 from Tulsa to OKC. I got to Bristow around 1 and spent over an hour at the library. Although this will save me the trouble of visiting a library in OKC, it meant that the sun set while I was still in Stroud rather than at a campground.

I rode off into the sunset prepared with plenty of water for informal camping, but I wasn't prepared for what I found: miles of barbed wire and not a single door to knock on. I wound up camping in a deep ditch formed by a highway embankment.

43.8 mi

Ben Mon, 11/08/2004 - 00:00

Nov. 14: Texas!

Nov. 14: Texas!

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on November 14, 2004]

Hi, folks! I made it to Texas! Last time I wrote, I was poised to ride into Oklahoma City from the north.

Wednesday dawned clear and dry in Edmond, but with rain clouds moving in at an astonishing pace. I got rained on all the way into town as I rode past childhood landmarks: Enterprise Square USA, the Kirkpatrick Center, the church we used to think looked like the Legion of Doom from "The Superfriends," several familiar parks, and finally my grandparents' old house. Shepherd Mall, a block from the house, has finally found its calling as an office park; I never saw its parking lot so full when it was a shopping mall.

The rain finally stopped as I reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial, so I left the bike uncovered. The museum was very well done, very emotionally intense, but I found the babble of recorded voices overwhelming and had trouble paying attention. My bike stayed dry while I was inside, but as soon as I started riding again another cloud burst over the city!

I rode south in a downpour, and the tornado sirens blew just as I found a motel. The place was named the Swank Motel. Near as I can tell they misspelled "Skanky," or perhaps "Squalid," but it provided a dry, well-lit place to repack my bearings again (after the rain), and the Mexican restaurant next door was excellent!

I woke Thursday morning with a new pain in my left knee, in addition to the aches that had been with me since Bartlesville. Between that and the wet, cold morning outside, I had trouble getting going, but the stale smoke inside was worse! I decided I would ride as far as Norman and seek medical attention there, reasoning that a town known for its football team would be familiar with sports injuries. But the address Blue Cross gave me for an urgent-care clinic turned out to be a hole in the ground! Fortunately I was feeling so much better that I laughed it off and went on down the road (US 77).

In Purcell I was tempted to stay in a motel, because the day had gotten quite chilly and the night promised to be below freezing, but the motels were expensive, so I kept going. In Wayne I asked at a few farmhouses, but the people suggested I try the town park, and I was unable to reach the police to ask if it was OK to stay there. I wound up camping in a fallow back corner of an out-of-use pasture outside of town. I wore every piece of clothing I had and stayed nice and warm, despite the wind and cold. The sky view was incredible!

In Paoli Friday morning, I stopped for coffee and wound up talking with the cafe owner about the cattle driving he did in the '70s. He gave me my coffee for free and assured me that I'll remember this trip for the rest of my life. I certainly hope so -- it would be a shame to forget it all! US 77 turned out to be a great ride, since it parallels the interstate, but I didn't dare follow it south of Davis because it heads right into the Arbuckle Mountains, and my map showed a double hairpin turn near Turner Falls! So I turned east at Davis and rode into Sulphur.

Sulphur is just like I remember it from several childhood visits, only there's more to both the town and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area than I realized. Black Sulphur Spring is as smelly as ever, and the spring-fed Travertine Creek continues to offer a spectacle that's rare in Oklahoma: transparent water! It's enough to make an Okie question whether all bodies of water are really supposed to be brown. I camped in a secluded, southern part of Chickasaw because it was the only campground with showers! That decision meant that I started out Saturday morning with two miles of steep hills to scale with my stiff, sore knees. But they stopped hurting around 10:00, so I was able to keep going all the way to Texas!

I was tempted to stop at Lake Texoma State Park in Oklahoma, but all my fond memories of that park are specific to early August, so it just wouldn't be the same. Instead I crossed the lake farther to the west and found a campground just south of the state line. I noticed that there are still live insects at Lake Texoma: mosquitos, crickets, and grasshoppers. At Lake of the Arbuckles, one day's ride north, all the insects had already been killed by frost. I could do without the mosquitos, and I sure could do without encountering any live fire ants in Texas, but it's lonely camping without crickets singing.

I had a wonderful visit in Oklahoma! It was really good to be back in my homeland during the warm weather for a change, and to see it from a bike, and to connect all the dots of the places I remember on the human scale of pedal power. Favorite Oklahoma quirk: In nine days of riding, not one Oklahoma motorist yelled anything rude at me like "Get off the road!" This is remarkable not only because people have yelled in every other state I've passed through (not counting Minnesota and Kansas, where I spent only a day each), but also because they used to yell at me all the time when I lived in the state and would bike or walk places. Maybe they were shocked into silence by my appearance, or maybe they just had their windows rolled up!

When you receive this message, it means I'm near Dallas. I plan to be there until Wednesday. Happy trails! --Ben

Ben Sun, 11/14/2004 - 09:01

to Edmond, OK

to Edmond, OK

I slept in this morning, secure in my concealment from view, but when I emerged well after dawn to dig a cathole, I found that although I'd been concealed from headlights, drivers in daylight could see me just fine! Fortunately if anyone called the state troopers, they had better things to do than check up on me.

I strained my back wrestling the bike out of the ditch, and it hurt all day along with my knees. I followed Route 66 all day, passing through Davenport where I had a penpal once, but I couldn't remember his name! Got into Arcadia Lake later than I'd hoped but well before dusk.

Made corned beef hash for dinner and never will again -- it cooked just fine, but it left horrible grease all over the dishes!

41.2 mi

Ben Tue, 11/09/2004 - 00:00

to Oklahoma City

to Oklahoma City

This morning dawned dry, but with a front moving in with astonishing speed. I packed up my gear -- all dry -- and waterproofed it. Rain started sprinkling as I was leaving the park.

I rode past Enterprise Square, the Kirkpatrick Center, the Legion of Doom, and several familiar parks on my way to Janmother & Ralfather's place, which looks exactly the same. Shepherd Mall is booming now that it's no longer a mall -- it houses a high school and lots of offices. The rain finally stopped as I reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial, so I left the bike uncovered.

The museum was very well done, very emotionally intense, but I got sensory overload from the babble of recorded voices and had trouble paying attention to anything. My bike stayed dry while I was inside, but as soon as I started riding again another cloud burst over the city!

I rode south in a downpour until I found a cheap motel and the tornado sirens blew. The place was named the Swank Motel. It turned out to be a bad misspelling of "squalid," but it provided a dry, well-lit place to repack my bearings again (after the rain), and the Mexican restaurant next door was excellent!

23.8 mi

Ben Wed, 11/10/2004 - 00:00

to Wayne, OK

to Wayne, OK

I woke in the motel this morning and had trouble getting going, between the wet and cold outside, the horrible stale smoke inside, and a new pain in my left knee.  I put on a new knee bandage I had bought yesterday at the phone nurse's recommendation, but it just bunched up immediately and became more painful than the pain it was supposed to treat!

I decided I would ride as far as Norman and then seek urgent care there, reasoning that a football town would be familiar with sports injuries.  But by the time I had stopped at a bike shop in Norman for parts, my knees were feeling better, as was my overall outlook.  I agonized over whether or not to go to urgent care and finally decided to stop by on my way out of town.  Surprise: the address I got from Blue Cross was a hole in the ground!

Fortunately I was feeling so much better that I laughed it off and went on down the road (US 77).  In Purcell I was tempted to stay in a motel, because the day had gotten quite chilly and the night promised to be below freezing, but the motels were expensive, so I kept going.  In Wayne I asked at a few houses, but the people suggested I try the town park, and I was unable to reach the police to ask if it was OK.  I wound up in a fallow corner of a field of winter wheat south of town.  Between the wind and the cold it promises to be quite a night!  At least it's not raining.

41.0 mi

admin Thu, 11/11/2004 - 21:14

To Sulphur / Chickasaw NRA

To Sulphur / Chickasaw NRA

Today was supposed to be a short ride, but knee pain necessitated a lot of stops, and the only campground with showers turned out to be a lot farther south than I had anticipated!

In Paoli, I stopped for coffee and wound up talking with the cafe owner about the trail riding (cattle driving) he did in the '70s.  He gave me my coffee for free, but I tipped generously.

US 77 turned out to be a great ride, since it parallels the interstate, but I didn't dare stay on it south of Davis because it heads right into the Arbuckle Mountains, and my map shows some hairpin turns near Turner Falls!  So I turned east at Davis and rode into Sulphur.

Sulphur is just like I remember it, only there's more to the town than I realized.  The Chickasaw National Recreation Area comes right into town, and there are campgrounds in town, but they don't have showers.  So I went south to the Buckhorn part of the park and followed a deserted, very hilly stretch of road to the campground.  The showers turned out to be solar heated, which I was all in favor of until I got naked and had to wait almost 5 minutes for warm water!  It all turned out OK, though.

40.5 mi

Ben Fri, 11/12/2004 - 21:18

to Texas

to Texas

I started out today very discouraged.  My knees hurt more than ever, and the first few miles getting out of the park were all hills.  I got off and walked, but even walking hurt.  I didn't see how I could make it to Texas -- I'd have to change all my plans, etc. etc.  I thought about calling Mom & Dad, but I decided they had enough to worry about with 'Becca's baby shower, so I put off calling until evening.

But by noon the pain had stopped!  Or at least reduced to a tolerable level.  I rode on without incident all the way to Lake Texoma, and across to the Texas side.  I noticed that mosquitos and grasshoppers are still alive at Texoma, though they were killed by frost at Lake of the Arbuckles.

55.4 mi

Ben Sat, 11/13/2004 - 21:48

to McKinney

to McKinney

The plan today seemed simple enough: ride from Texoma to Wiley, set up camp in a park there, and have dinner with Sara (Ballard) Moore and her family.  Two problems: my knees hurt more than ever, and the Texas maps are a smaller scale than I'm used to.  This is not to mention the rain, which was just a bother.

Around 3:00 I called Sara to say that I wouldn't be making it to Wiley, but I thought I could get a hotel in McKinney by dinnertime.  We made plans to meet there.  But by 4:00 it was clear I wouldn't be in McKinney until about 8!  Her three-year-old son is on a tight schedule, so we had to cancel.

It's a good thing, too, because shortly thereafter I discovered a flat tire on the trailer... don't know how long it had been flat.  The sun set right about then, so I fixed the flat by the side of the road in the dark, and not a single car stopped to ask if I needed help.  I was pretty ticked.

The good news is, I did get to McKinney before 8, and I got a very nice room with a hot bath and ice packs and a pizza and a bottle of wine and a silly movie, and I had a nice little pity party for my knees.

60.0 mi

Ben Sun, 11/14/2004 - 22:11

Nov 16: Dallas Metro

Nov 16: Dallas Metro

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on November 16, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm at the home of my friend Jimmy, whom I've known since preschool, and who joined this list three months ago without knowing it was mine. :-) He's been showing me the photos from his own cross-country bike ride in 1996.

It's not an accident that when I last wrote you on Sunday night I didn't say anything about Sunday: it was an awful day, and I didn't want to write until I'd had a chance to put it in perspective! I had planned to ride all the way from Lake Texoma to Wylie, near Plano, in time to meet my friend Sara and her family for dinner. But it became clear by early afternoon that I had been overly optimistic... not only are the Texas maps drawn at a much smaller scale than I'm used to, but my knees were hurting more than ever and really slowing me down. I called Sara, and we arranged to meet in McKinney, where I would get a hotel before dinner. Two hours later I called her again to say I wouldn't get into McKinney until about 8:00! Since her three-year-old son is on a strict schedule, we had to cancel our dinner plans.

Having promised myself a hotel, I passed up a number of nice-looking unofficial campsites and one crummy-looking official one and kept riding after nightfall. At one point there was a gap in traffic and i heard a flap-flap-flap noise behind me -- how long had the trailer had a flat tire? I'll never know. Over two hundred cars must have passed me while I fixed the tire, and not one stopped to ask if I needed help... I was pretty disgruntled. But I found a very nice, inexpensive hotel in McKinney, and I bought a pizza and a bottle of wine, and I gave my knees a hot soak and an ice pack and had myself a good old-fashioned pity party.

Things looked better on Monday morning. What a difference to be able to plot my progress on street maps instead of regional topographic maps! Suddenly I was covering five inches an hour instead of an inch every five hours! I slept in and was still able to meet Sara and her son for lunch in Plano. My rear tire went flat during lunch, but no sweat: Jimmy had told me about a bike "mecca" in Richardson, which was on my way into town, so I swung by and bought a durable new tire and tube, and I asked the staff whom I should see about my knee pain. They recommended one of their own part-time employees who is also a chiropractor. I was skeptical, but I left a message for him.

Monday evening I arrived at the home of my friend Chris and his wife Courtney, in Dallas proper. Last I had heard from Chris, he was active in some Republican groups at the U of Texas, but he now calls that a phase... now that he's a lawyer, he takes corporations to court for making respirator masks that aren't up to standard, and other such environmental offenses. His home is almost as "green" as Bill's in Cincinnati, which is saying something. Courtney is a grad student in social work. They have a bear-sized, one-eyed dog named Ollie and a medium-sized, overstuffed dog named Jack.

Tuesday morning everything happened at once: as Chris was leaving for work, I got calls back from the chiropractor guy and from the Texas Sports Clinic. On instinct I passed up an appointment with the clinic to meet with the chiropractor. He lived in Chris's neighborhood, so he picked me and my bike up on his way to the shop I had visited the day before. He gave me some tips about how to load the bike more evenly, then fitted me for proper shoes and insoles and pedals that clip to them. Using a special bike in the shop, he found the exact alignment of pedals I needed to prevent the harmful motions my knees had been making, and he installed my new pedals that way. Then he marked the proper seat position on my bike so that I can keep the pedals at the right distance -- fully three inches farther than I'm used to. He said there was no reason I shouldn't be able to ride out tomorrow.

So after another bike seller gave me a ride back to Chris's, I tried out the new equipment on my way to Irving, which is between Dallas and Fort Worth. Jimmy had warned me that Dallas was not a bike-friendly city, and on this stretch I could really see what he meant! In addition to heavy traffic and unreliable sidewalks and shoulders, I got two flat tires in as many hours. The new pedals will take some getting used to, but I think they're helping already.

But I did get to Jimmy's place by dark. He's a full-time grad student in developmental neuropsychology, and his wife Blythe works in physical therapy at the same university, and their 15-month-old daughter goes to daycare there as well. Come to find out, Jimmy's younger brother now practices physical therapy in Norman, Oklahoma, where I tried to find help for my knees last week! I guess I should have made more small-talk with Jimmy in advance of my visit! ;-)

Anyhow, all is well, and I'm headed out of the metro area tomorrow. I'll stop and see the dinosaur footprints and smell the flowers and rest the knees on my way into Austin, so I can't say yet just when I'll arrive there, but I'll keep you posted!

Q: You must share with us your method for shelling pecans while riding.
A: OK, then, I will! I crack the pecan by squeezing it in my fist against the metal tube of the handlebar, lengthwise. Then I rotate it on its long axis and crack it again, until the shell is shattered like a hard-boiled eggshell. I transfer it to the fingers of the hand I'm steering with, and use the free hand to pick the shell away. About 2/3 of the time, I get the nut meat out in two more-or-less intact halves; the other 1/3 of the time the meat shatters along with the shell, or the shell cracks crosswise so that the meat is nearly impossible to remove. But when I'm getting the nuts for free off the roadside, I can afford to waste a few.

Happy shelling! --Ben

Ben Tue, 11/16/2004 - 08:18

To Dallas

To Dallas

Finally, a day when I didn't have to push myself... I woke at a leisurely hour and had a long conversation with Leela while packing, then rode at a comfortable pace into Plano and met Sara and her son Jordan for lunch.  Jordan is a few days short of 3 years old, and Sara plans to continue staying home full time.  Her degree is in biochemistry.  Her husband Jerry does classified work for a government contractor.

While we were in the restaurant, my rear tire went flat, but I couldn't find the hole, so I just kept pumping it every few miles as I rode to a huge bike store Jimmy had recommended.  There I bought a new Hookworm tire and suitable tube, and I asked about knee doctors.  They referred me to one of their employees, who's just finishing up chiropractic school.  I'll give him a call tomorrow.

I arrived at Chris and Courtney's home at sunset, and we caught up as we waited for Mediterranean food to be delivered.  Chris is working as a prosecuting attorney in environmental law.  He says he loves 20% of the job -- going after evil corporations -- but gets really tired of the other 80%, so he's thinking of changing careers!  In his spare time he builds furniture and paints.  His high-school sweetheart Courtney is working on a masters of social work.  I was relieved to learn that Chris's Republicanism turned out to be just a short-lived phase; he and Courtney are now quite liberal and have nearly as green a home as Bill and Jenny in Cincinnati.  They have an enormous shaggy one-eyed dog named Ollie and a medium-sized, overweight dog named Jack.

After dinner we watched an episode of a British sitcom called "The Office" and a very long stand-up comedy tape.

29.7 mi

Ben Mon, 11/15/2004 - 13:55

To Irving

To Irving

Chris had said he would get up early, so I asked him not to leave without waking me to say goodbye, but as it turned out I was up over an hour before he got up!  It was a slow morning until around 9:00 everything started jumping...

I got calls back from Kelly at the bike shop and the Texas Sports Medicine clinic at the same time.  I wound up cancelling my appointment with the clinic in order to meet with Kelly.  He picked me and my bike up in his jeep on his way to the store.  He gave me some tips about loading and adjusting the bike, and then he fitted me for shoes and matching clip pedals, and he marked a spot on the bike to show me the right seat position.  Then he arranged a ride back to Chris & Courtney's house.

The ride to Jimmy's house was unpleasant... on top of the heavy traffic on roads with unreliable sidewalks, I got two flat tires!  But I arrived just on time.

Jimmy is a full-time grad student in developmental neuroscience, and his wife Blythe works in the physical-therapy department at the same university, and their 15-month-old daughter Natalie goes to day care there as well.

Natalie had gotten sick this afternoon, so Blythe took care of her while Jimmy and I went to get Mexican food to go.

12.1 mi

Ben Tue, 11/16/2004 - 13:57

Nov 20: Rain and Such

Nov 20: Rain and Such

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on Nov 20, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm holed up in a hotel in Clifton, TX, while a wild and crazy thunderstorm goes by outside. I didn't have to ride through this one very long, unlike on Wednesday...

Wednesday morning Jimmy's daughter was still feeling sick (don't know if I mentioned this before), so he stayed home to take care of her, and I was also in no hurry to leave because it was pouring rain outside. I got out the door around 8, headed south through the interurbs (?) between Dallas and Fort Worth. I passed two Waffle Houses before taking a hint and stopping at the third for lunch. I ordered hash browns "scattered all the way" for a change of pace and so sampled "Bert's Chili" for the first time. It had beans in it, but I figured a few wouldn't hurt me...

The rain continued nonstop until I got to my campsite at Cedar Hill State Park. I got a shock: Texas state parks are expensive! More so even than Michigan's! There was water standing on the ground, but no sweat, I just set up camp on top off the sheltered picnic table as I'd done in Klondike, MO. Only in Klondike there hadn't been any mosquitos. I didn't want to put on bug repellant after showering, so I put on my mosquito net and slept fitfully. I had the hardest time getting up in the morning. I slept in until well after dawn and then puttered around in a toxified haze for an hour before I remembered Bert's Chili. If I have this legume intolerance long enough, I'll eventually work out a system for reminding myself when I'm going to be sick... write a note on my hand or something. I also found that I'd gotten about 20 mosquito bites on my forehead during the night, so in addition to the freckles I now appear to have acne! I bet if I put on my short shorts, oversized T-shirt, sun hat, and faded red $1 beach shoes, I could really master the dweeb look.

Due to the late start, I didn't make it all the way to Dinosaur Valley State Park on Thursday as I had planned. When I got to Cleburne it was clear I wouldn't have time to reach the park before dark, so I went to Cleburne State Park instead -- it looked much closer on the map. It turned out to be nearly as far, but at least I got a nice peaceful night's sleep with no mosquitos! Friday I just rode the rest of the way to Dinosaur Valley State Park, near Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth. The main attraction of the park is the fossilized dinosaur tracks, but due to the rain they were underwater and not visible. I enjoyed the other exhibits.I stopped in at the nearby Creation Evidence Museum as well for their intriguing explanations of how the tracks are really only a few thousand years old, and the Earth used to be smaller, and it used to have a magenta crystalline sphere ten miles above the surface.

This morning I resumed my southerly course and got as far as Clifton, where I had planned to camp at the Texas Safari RV Park, but a huge thunderstorm hit just before I got to town, so I got a hotel room instead. The clerk was covered with burn scars -- she literally looked like a Halloween fright mask -- but her eyes were fine, and they lit up when I declined the first price she quoted for a room, as if she hadn't haggled since leaving India. When I saw the room, I realized the first price she quoted was very reasonable, but there was no way to tell that from the seedy-looking exterior. So now I'm hoping to dry most of my laundry overnight, so that I won't have to carry a bunch of wet clothes around for the few days that remain until I reach Austin on Tuesday!

Q: I can't picture or understand the modifications you described for the bike's seat & pedals, let alone shoes and insoles? I hope it didn't cost you a bundle.
A: Sorry I didn't describe it very well. The theory seems to be that there's one "biodynamically optimal" range of motion for pedaling, and my slapdash collection of shoes and haphazard seat position weren't getting me that, and so I was hurting my knees. The shoes have rigid soles, and the insoles provide arch support, so that my feet can't flex. Then there's a metal clip in the sole of each shoe that's adjusted to the angle that foot needs to be held at, and it snaps into the pedal so that the foot can't yaw or roll, it can only pitch. The whole setup cost me $70, much less than I would have paid for a clinic appointment! The prescribed seat position is the final factor, securing the other end of the angle so that my joints only move in the optimal range. One problem: my muscles are all pumped from 3000+ miles in the wrong position, so now when I try to ride in the right position, I have no strength or endurance. So I've been compromising, and I'll get it right by the time I leave Austin!

Talk to you then! --Ben

Ben Sat, 11/20/2004 - 10:25

to Cedar Hill SP, TX

to Cedar Hill SP, TX

This morning Natalie was still sick and cantankerous, so Jimmy stayed home to take care of her.  Rain was falling pretty hard, so I wasn't in a hurry to leave either, but I did around 8.  The rain continued nonstop until I got to my campsite around 3, and was intermittent after that.

Because of the rain, I only stopped when I found shelter, which wasn't as often as I would have liked.  The new seat position put more strain on my Achilles' tendons, so they began to hurt even as my knees showed dubious progress.

Cedar Hill State Park is just south of the metro area, and alas it's close to a highway, so there's a lot of racket.  When I checked in I made sure I got a site with a shelter over the picnic table (not knowing the rain would soon stop) and that ice was available for purchase (not knowing the shop that sold it would close early due to the weather).  I got a real shock: Texas state parks are expensive!  Not only did they charge me $18 for the night, but their day use fees are $5 per person, not per car, so I had to pay that as well, making the total even higher than a Michigan state park!  And unfortunately it looks like most of my camping options between here and Austin will be state parks.  But there won't be many of them... I could get there as soon as Sunday.

15.3 mi

Ben Wed, 11/17/2004 - 17:07

to Cleburne SP, TX

to Cleburne SP, TX

I woke this morning feeling exhausted.  I had gone to bed early, having stayed up late the previous two nights with Chris and Jimmy, but what with the insects buzzing around my mosquito-netted head all night I hadn't slept well.  When I looked in the mirror, I saw that the mosquitos had bitten all over my forehead, so in addition to having freckles, I now appear too have acne!

I puttered around for the better part of an hour in a toxic daze before I remembered I had had beans at lunch yesterday!  Armed with that explanation for my malaise, I was able to get my act together at last.  If I have this condition long enough, I'll eventually work out a system to remind myself when it's been 18 hours after eating legumes!

Due to the late start, I didn't make it all the way to Dinosaur Valley State Park.  I got to Cleburne around 3 and stopped to chat with a computer dealer who let me use his dialup line.  I decided to ride to Cleburne State Park, which looked closer -- on the map.  An old lady in a car who pulled over to ask about my bike tried to discourage me from going to the Cleburne park, but I headed there anyway.

It was farther than it looked on the map.  Much farther.  I arrived after all the staff had left for the night, so no ice... but I did rig up a clothesline inside my tent so I could at least elevate my legs during dinner and bedtime.

I think the key to taking better care of myself in these last few days before Austin will be to plan on fewer miles, so that I'll have time to get the ice and other supplies I need.

49.3 mi

Ben Thu, 11/18/2004 - 17:10

to Dinosaur Valley SP, TX

to Dinosaur Valley SP, TX

It was a short ride today from Cleburne SP to Dinosaur Valley SP.  I reasoned that if I felt ambitious, I could make the park just a day trip and ride south in the afternoon, and if I didn't, I could just stay here.

On the way to the park, I visited the Creaton Evidence Museum, at Malinda's recommendation.  It's amazing the sorts of things people will invent to justify an existing belief.  The "science" behind this version of the creation story supposes that the world used to be smaller than it is now and had a "firmament" made of a magenta, crystalline substance that later fell as rain during the Flood.  Then there's the 'hyperbaric biosphere," where plants and animals are grown under magenta light at 2 atmospheres of pressure and high electomagnetic fields of unspecified frequency, to simulate antedeluvian conditions.

Of course the reason for the museum's placement, en route to the state park, is to contest the park's claims that the fossil footprints are millions of years old.  Instead, the museum asserts that dinosaurs lived alongside people five thousand years ago.

Anyhow, I got to the park around 2:00 and found a sign at the entrance saying "no tracks visible."  Come to find out, all the tracks are underwater most of the time, and when the river is high, e.g. after a day of rain, they can't be seen.  So I came all this way and don't get to see the tracks.  I was tempted to ride on down the road just to show my frustration, but my joints were sore, and the place did sell ice... so I stayed to dry my laundry and look at the exhibits and ice my joints real good.

20.8 mi

Ben Fri, 11/19/2004 - 17:13

to Clifton, TX

to Clifton, TX

Today was pretty uneventful... I kept waiting for the predicted "partly cloudy" weather to materialize, but I only saw the sun for about 15 minutes total.  When I was a few miles from my evening destination of Clifton, rain started falling, and it got gradually more intense as I rode into town.

I had planned to camp at Texas Safari RV park -- that was the reason Clifton was my destination -- but I stopped at the Clifton Inn on my way into town.  The clerk had burn scars all over her face and arms -- she looked like a Halloween mask, but her eyes were fine, and they lit up when I declined her first offer, as if she hadn't haggled since leaving India.  Once I saw the room I realized her first offer had been plenty reasonable.

The rain stopped as soon as I paid for the room, naturally, but soon enough it started again and carried on dramatically for several hours.  I watched an entire movie while icing my joints -- a luxury I can't get at a campground!  When I took a shower, I started hearing strange noises and imagined a tornado approaching, but it turned out to just be weird echoes in the shower stall.

I'm hoping to get all my laundry dry so that I won't have to carry around wet clothes for the next few days, aside from the ones I'm wearing in the rain.

38.4 mi

Ben Sat, 11/20/2004 - 00:00

Nov 23: Austin! End of the road (for now)

Nov 23: Austin! End of the road (for now)

I made it! I'm safe and sound in Austin, Texas, my home for the winter.

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on November 23, 2004]

I want to apologize for the somewhat negative tone of some of my recent messages. Between the pain in my joints and the weather and the differences of biking in Texas vs. in other states, at times I haven't been having as much fun as I'd like. Around Dinosaur Valley, I realized this was no good -- there's no point in making a trip like this if it's not fun! So I added an extra day to my itinerary in order to slow down and appreciate Texas more for what it is, rather than comparing it to, say, Wisconsin, which it isn't.

I also want to apologize for describing the hotel clerk with facial burn scars as looking like a Halloween mask. What I meant of course was that hers is the sort of face that Halloween mask makers use as models, on the theory that horrible tragedies produce faces that arouse horror, instead of, say, compassion. She was a perfectly pleasant person as far as I could tell.

Anyhow, Sunday and Monday I continued south and camped at Corps of Engineers campgrounds both nights (Belton Lake and Taylor Lake), sleeping under the picnic shelters because of the rain. I didn't have more mosquito trouble, but my perpetually wet laundry began to develop a certain personality. The high point of Sunday was passing through Crawford, Texas: "Home of the Pirates, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush." Oh, so they're pirates! That might explain a lot... I have this vision of W dressed in pirate garb, saying, "Avast there! Hand over yer booty ur prepare ta be barded! Are ye with us or against us? Arr! Bring it on, ye scurvy evildoers!" I didn't stop in the Bush-themed gift shop for fear I would suggest something like that out loud!

When I got to the Taylor Lake campground Monday night, I found the whole place underwater, but fortunately each site had a very generous concrete slab for a picnic area, more than three times the size of the ones I'd seen before, and fully roofed over. I was able to push the picnic table out of the way and pitch my tent on the concrete in order to keep the bugs and wind out while I slept. In the morning I found not only slugs and snails and daddy-long-legs on my tent, but also a newt. I had the hardest time convincing the newt that I didn't want to eat it, I just wanted it to get off the tent. It was touchingly committed to playing the victim.

The high point of my day today, aside from arriving at my destination, was hearing a radio ad for The Bar Stool Company that sounded just like Weird Al's ad for Spatula City: "A giant warehouse of bar stools for every occasion! Don't forget, they make great Christmas gifts! And what better way to say 'I love you' than with the gift of bar stools?"

The weather today was seriously wild. In the course of one day's ride, I encountered cold, fog, drizzle, light rain, heavy rain, driving rain, hail, funnel clouds, sunshine, and sauna-like humidity. I took shelter during the hail and tornado warning at an elementary school north of Taylor. I parked my bike under an awning and went in search of a restroom and found the school apparently deserted... turned out the students and teachers were doing their best tornado-drill huddling in the interior hallways, and they never knew I was there! Probably just as well.

My friends Rich and Gloria live in the northwest outskirts of Austin, so I haven't seen the town yet, but there will be plenty of time for that in the coming month! You'll be hearing from me even though I won't be traveling; I'll have some more photos ready to share in a few days.

Favorite north Texas quirk: Generous shoulders on the roads. I think north Texas got all of Missouri's shoulders. Seriously, some of them are 15 feet wide. But once I passed Taylor, no more shoulders. I'll do some serious road research before I head east.

Second favorite north Texas quirk: donut shops. There are more donut shops per capita in the Dallas - Fort Worth greater metro area than anyplace I've ever seen. Who eats all those donuts? It's as inexplicable as all the popcorn shops in Minneapolis... popcorn? They must be laundering money.

In any case... I'll be in touch! --Ben

Ben Tue, 11/23/2004 - 09:11

To Temple / Belton Lake, TX

To Temple / Belton Lake, TX

The high point of today was passing through Crawford, Texas: "Home of the Pirates, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush."  Oh, so they're pirates!  That explains a lot.  I have this vision of W dressed in pirate garb, saying, "Avast there!  Hand over yer booty ur prepare ta be barded!  Are ye with us or against us?  Arr!  Bring it on, ye scurvy evildoers!"

Anyhow, I made good progress today, and the only question was whether to make today or tomorrow the short day... after listening to the forecast -- rain and more rain -- I decided tomorrow should be the short day, so I pushed on to the southern part of Belton Lake, near Temple (and Belton).  The rain started about an hour before I got to the lake and was really going at it as I bought my site, but when I got to the site I found a cozy shelter over the table, so I set up there.  Doesn't sound like I'll have trouble with mosquitos this time!

52.6 mi

Ben Sun, 11/21/2004 - 13:01

To Granger Lake, TX

To Granger Lake, TX

I waited for dawn to wake me this morning, since I knew I had a short day of riding and my taillight is broken.  The rain held off until about 10 or 11, and then it fell practically nonstop until I reached my campsite after 3.

The campground is completely flooded... what ground isn't underwater is thoroughly saturated.  Fortunately each site has a big concrete slab with a picnic table and a generous shelter, more than twice as big as I've had at other campgrounds.  I found a site where the table wasn't chained down and lifted the table out of the way so I could pitch my tent on the concrete.  The concrete is damp, but at least it's not sopping!

Naturally the rain stopped once I had my tent up, but I trust it'll start again during the night.  It feels good to be warm and dry, even if my clothes do smell.  I'm going to wash all my clothes first thing when I get to the Bennetts'!

39.7 mi

Ben Mon, 11/22/2004 - 15:46

to Austin

to Austin

Today I passed through practically every extreme of weather... flooding, fog, cold, heat, dry air, humidity, hail, high winds, driving rain, gentle rain, and sunshine.  Through most of this I was in pretty heavy traffic with no shoulders.

At the end of it all I arrived in Jollyville, which as Marisa had warned me is a long way from Austin proper, and pretty firmly in suburbia.  Rich and Gloria Bennett's house is inaccessible except by climbing a very steep hill, one way or the other; they directed me up the less steep way, which was still almost more than I could handle with the trailer.  Their home is very nice and very spacious: they're trying to convince Matt to come for Christmas as well as Marisa.

The high point of my day, besides arriving at my destination, was hearing an ad on the radio for The Bar Stool Company that sounded almost exactly like Weird Al's ad for Spatula City!  Don't forget, they make great Christmas gifts!  And what better way to say "I love you" than with the gift of bar stools?

46.9 mi

Ben Tue, 11/23/2004 - 00:00

Nov 30: Enchanted Rock State Park

Nov 30: Enchanted Rock State Park

Photos sent with this message (and now available in this album) feature the alarmingly steep hill near the Bennetts' house in Austin, TX; the natural swimming pool at Barton Springs; the Texas capitol during the Aggie Day parade; the Texas School for the Blind and Vision Impaired where Gloria worked; and a day trip with Gypsy to Enchanted Rock State Park, the westmost point in my trip.

Ben Wed, 12/01/2004 - 09:13

Jollyville

Jollyville

Today I mostly cleaned and dried my gear.  I went with Rich to get ingredients for tomorrow, but aside from that I just hung around the house.  Feels good!

Ben Wed, 11/24/2004 - 11:35

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Today was spent mostly in getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner.  I made creamed onions using Velveeta as the sauce base, and Marisa's brother Sean -- whom I had consulted about how to melt cheddar -- didn't identify it as counterfeit, so I guess I disguised the Velveeta flavor well.  I also made egg nog.  Rich made devilled eggs, Gloria brought a low-carb pumpkin cheesecake, and they baked a turkey for leftovers (not to bring).

The party was at Sean's future in-laws' house, and there were 17 of them plus the three of us.  Christie's uncle Dee made the biggest impression  because he got a little tipsy and talked about the mortuary business and made some racial slurs on basketball players, but we all agreed he was a likeable guy anyway.

Ben Thu, 11/25/2004 - 11:45

Game Day Parade

Game Day Parade

This morning Gloria took me into downtown to see the Aggie cadets parade down Congress on their way to the UT / A&M football game.  We ran so many errands along the way that we didn't get home for lunch until 2:30!

We bought hard disks for both Rich & Gloria's computers, and I made some progress with them in the aternoon.  We also stopped at Central Market, a sort of cross between the Wedge and Lunds, heavy on the customer service and free samples.

I finally called Gypsy this evening and learned that she got laid off a few weeks ago... we made plans to get together Saturday and Sunday.

Ben Fri, 11/26/2004 - 11:48

to Gypsy's

to Gypsy's

This morning we exchanged the laptop hard disk for some memory, and I was able to get Rich's laptop fully functional in Knoppix -- but it still couldn't see it's hard disk.  Next step is to see if this is a documented problem.

Gypsy picked me up in the afternoon, and we drove to her house in a southwest neighborhood called Oak Hill.  Then we picked up some dinner and had a picnic -- it was a beautiful day -- at a little waterfall near where she used to work.  Then we caught the last matinee of "The Incredibles" and got some Lammes candies.

Her new place is much nicer than the last one I visited, but she tells me it's not as nice as the one she had to leave because her roommate there went "crazy."  Her new roomies are both Hispanic men, both into computer gaming and anime and science fiction.  They have an amazing video collection but no food.

Ben Sat, 11/27/2004 - 11:49

Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock

I got up this morning after 9:00, but Gypsy didn't get up until around noon, so I watched Ranma 1/2 episodes from her housemates' DVDs.  We went to lunch at Waffle house and then drove more than 2 hours to Enchanted Rock, a giant granite hill in the middle of the sandstone hill country.  It's definitely worth seeing!

We stopped for dinner in the tourist town of Fredericksburg on our way back to Austin.

Ben Sun, 11/28/2004 - 11:53

Dec 13: Quotes from Pre-Tour Reading

Dec 13: Quotes from Pre-Tour Reading

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on December 13, 2004]

Hi, folks! I saw another chiropractor last week, and he helped tremendously... My joints are feeling much better, and I'm riding every day again, just running errands around the neighborhood. So any doubts about whether I'd be able to continue the tour can be put away now.

Some of you may have wondered about my e-mail address at "workscited.net," and some may have investigated that site and found a big red "out of order" notice on it. It was out of order for more than a year because it was programmed in a language that, as linguists would say, died... and I didn't have the spare time before the trip to translate its several thousand lines of rather inefficient code.

Well, guess what? I've had some spare time in the last 3 weeks, and WorksCited.Net is back up and running... mostly. The search function and a few other bells and whistles still need my attention, and I'm sure there are still plenty of bugs lurking in the corners. But it's now possible to view all the quotes in the database and add more! [2014 update: due to lack of interest in the site, I let the domain name lapse, so it's inaccessible again, but I'm pasting the referenced quotes below with links to Amazon.]

I'm telling you this because I read a lot of really interesting books in the months before my trip began, and I went ahead and compiled nifty quotes from them even though I knew I wouldn't be able to enter them in the database for a long time, and I've just now entered them, and I think you might enjoy them. So without further laborious explanation, here are my favorite quotes from my pre-tour reading: 

Granny D: Walking Across America in my Nintieth Year

There is an urge to just walk into the desert, away from the road, and be done with it.  There is also an urge to have some ice cream with chocolate sauce.  Life is what we patch together between those competing desires. p.4

Perhaps what I had done in taking this long walk in the wilderness was a kind of shoving of my old self out on the ice to see if I would please die, or if I would please be reborn into something new, forged in service to my deepest beliefs.  In either case, I knew that my old life had run its course. p.79

We were hiking now through rolling hills and rainy green pastures set off by rail fences.  Horses clopped over through the mud to see what was going on as we walked by.  At one little farm, a dog and a goat, obviously old friends, came out together to take a look at us.  They were joined a few minutes later by a pig.  I had a feeling that their spider friend was back in the barn, spelling out something. p.207

When you take on some leadership responsibility in the world, you must accept the fact that you will change lives.  Your intention is to do good for everyone.  But you will change lives in ways you cannot fully control, and sometimes things will go terribly wrong.  The hard part is to stay at it and not give up trying to do good in the world.  But my, it is hard when tragedy and defeat come visiting, as they do.  If love is your motivation, and if you respect the people you serve as your moral equals, you will do more good than harm over a lifetime -- by far.  But you will do some harm, and it may haunt you when you take a walk in your old age. p.233

If you are wondering whether or not I think I make it rain and snow by making a speech, I certainly do not.  That is not the way it works.  When you are doing the right thing, it just so happens that you arrive just when certain things are happening anyway.  Moses had wonderful timing, is what I mean.  We all have a little bit of that when we are in our soul's right groove.  And, when praying for such help, it is less rude, I think, to pray for some special help in fitting in, rather than to ask God to scrap and revise all His plans for the day -- He, of course, knew you were going to ask anyway and would already have made arrangements if that was proper. p.236

A career, in the end, is a much smaller part of our lives than we can possibly imagine at the time.  Our career distracts us from our real work, so we must learn to see past the limits of that blinkered world. p.257

Never be discouraged from being an activist because people tell you that you'll not succeed.  You have already succeeded if you're out there representing truth or justice or compassion or fairness or love.  You already have your victory because you have changed the world; you have changed the status quo by you; you have changed the chemistry of things.  And changes will spread from you, will be easier to happen again in others because of you, because, believe it or not, you are the center of the world. p.266

Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words 

No outward thing -- nothing, nobody from without -- can hurt me inside, psychologically.  I recognized that I could only be hurt psychologically by my own wrong actions, which I have control over; by my own wrong reactions (they are tricky, but I have control over them too); or by my own inaction in some situations, like the present world situation, that need action from me.  When I recognized all this how free I felt!  And I just stopped hurting myself. p.20

When you approach others in judgment they will be on the defensive.  When you are able to approach them in a kindly, loving manner without judgment they will tend to judge themselves and be transformed. p.40

There is a power greater than ourselves which manifests itself within us as well as everywhere else in the universe.  This I call God. ... To know God is to feel peace within -- a calmness, a serenity, an unshakeableness which enables you to face any situation. p.87

Who is Jesus?  Jesus was a great spiritual teacher who walked the earth. His life was governed by the indwelling Christ (the God-centered nature, the divine nature).  He taught us ours could be too. p.148

Are science and religion irreconcilable?  You might say that science operates pragmatically and religion by divine guidance.  If valid, they would reach the same conclusions but science would take a lot longer. p.149

The Dream of the Earth by Thomas Berry

We might sometimes reflect and recall that the purpose of all our science, technology, industry, manufacturing, commerce, and all finance is celebration, planetary celebration.  That is what moves the stars through the heavens and the earth through its seasons.  The final norm of judgment concerning the success or failure of our technologies is the extent to which they enable us to participate more fully in this grand festival. p.69

[Our] mythic commitment to continuing economic growth is such that none of our major newspapers or newsweeklies considers having an ecological section equivalent to the sports section or the financial section or the comic section or the entertainment section, although ecological issues are more important than any of those, even more important than the daily national and international political news.  The real history that is being made is interspecies and human-earth history, not nation or internation history.  The real threat is from the retaliatory powers of the abused earth, not from other nations. p.76

Just as the doctrine of divine transcendence took away the pervasive divine presence to the natural world, so the millennial vision of a blessed future left all present modes of existence in a degraded status.  All things were in an unholy condition.  Everything needed to be transformed.  This meant that anything unused was to be used if the very purpose of its existence was to be realized.  Nothing in its natural state was acceptable. p.115

It is clear that the primordial intention of the universe is to produce variety in all things, from atomic structures to the living world of plant and animal forms, to the appearance of humans, where individuals differ from one another more extensively than in any other realm of known reality.  This difference can be seen not only in individuals, but also in social structures and in historical periods of our development. p.134

The earth is our best model for any commercial venture.  It carries out its operations with an economy and a productivity far beyond that of human institutions.  It also runs its system with a minimum of entropy.  There is in nature none of that sterile or toxic waste or nondecomposing litter such as is made by humans. p.167

We can recognize the earth as a privileged planet and see the whole as evolving out of some cosmic imaginative process.  Any significant thought or speech about the universe finds its expression through such imaginative powers.  Even our scientific terms have a highly mythic content -- such words as energy, life, matter, form, universe, gravitation, evolution.  Even such terms as atom, nucleus, electron, molecule, cell, organism.  Each of these terms spills over into metaphor and mystery as soon as it is taken seriously. p.199

When the absurdity of progress through exponential growth was indicated a few years ago in a work entitled The Limits to Growth, a general outcry could be heard across the country.  That outcry was more than a justified criticism of the specific data or the time scale of future events.  It was resentment against the indication that the dynamism of our consumer society was the supreme pathology of all history.  ... the change that is taking place in the present is not simply another historical transition or another cultural transformation.  Its order of magnitude is immensely more significant in its nature and in its consequences.  We are indeed closing down the major life systems of the planet. p.206

These consequences [of our attitude that we are too good for the natural world] are now becoming manifest.  The day of reckoning has come.  In this disintegrating phase of our industrial society, we now see ourselves not as the splendor of creation, but as the most pernicious mode of earthly being.  We are the termination, not the fulfillment of the earth process.  If there were a parliament of creatures, its first decision might well be to vote the humans out of the community, too deadly a presence to tolerate any further.  We are the affliction of the world, its demonic presence.  We are the violation of earth's most sacred aspects. p.209

The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future by Thomas Berry

The Great Work before us, the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence, is not a role that we have chosen.  It is a role given to us, beyond any consultation with ourselves.  We did not choose.  We were chosen by some power beyond ourselves for this historical task.  We do not choose the moment of our birth, who our parents will be, our particular culture or the historical moment when we will be born.  We do not choose the status of spiritual insight or political or economic conditions that will be the context of our lives.  We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice.  The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role. p.7

We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet.  To achieve this attitude we must first make our children unfeeling in their relation to the natural world.  This occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing.  Yet if we observe our children closely in their early years we see how they are instinctively attracted to profound experiences of the natural world.  We also see additional stresses, emotional disruptions, and learning disabilities that seem to originate in the toxic environment and processed food that we provide for them. p.15

We will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being.  Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality.  We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us. p.49

These four symbols -- the Journey, the Great Mother, the Cosmic Tree, and the Death-Rebirth symbol -- experienced now in a time-developmental rather than a spatial mode of consciousness, constitute a psychic resource of enormous import for establishing ourselves as a viable species in a viable life system on the Earth. p.70

If the religious experience were simply some naive impression of the uninformed it would not have resulted in such intellectual insight, such spiritual exaltation, such spectacular religious ritual, or in the immense volume of song and poetry and literature and dance that humans have produced. p.78

Ecology is not a course or a program.  Rather it is the foundation of all courses, all programs, and all professions because ecology is a functional cosmology.  Ecology is not a part of medicine; medicine is an extension of ecology.  Ecology is not a part of law; law is an extension of ecology.  So too, in their own way, the same can be said of economics and even the humanities. p.84

We are so impatient with our given place in the universe that some persons are totally committed to discovering how we can get beyond Earth.  We have indeed been out in space, but some are under the impression that we have been off Earth.  In reality humans have never been off Earth.  We have always been on a piece of Earth in space.  We survive only as long as we can breathe the air of Earth, drink its waters, and be nourished by its foods.  There is no indication that humans will ever live anywhere else in the universe. p.92

There seems to be little awareness that government, independent of corporation pressure, is the most powerful force the people have to offset the immense size of the corporations individually and in their combined influence over a nation's affairs.  Big corporations require big government -- unless the people are willing to accept the corporations as the government. p.131

Among the primary evils of contemporary industry is that it is founded on uniform, standardized processes.  This is especially devastating in agribusiness, which demands uniformity in its products.  Nature abhors uniformity.  Nature not only produces species diversity but also individual diversity.  Nature produces individuals.  No two days are the same, no two snowflakes, no two flowers, trees, or any other of the infinite number of life forms.  Since monoculture and standardization are violations of both the universe covenant and the Earth covenant, we need to foster a new sense of the organic world over the merely mechanical world. p.149

One great advantage in the modern European contact with the indigenous peoples of the world is the perspective that it has provided people of Western European civilization with an occasion to reflect on the inherent consequences of the civilizational process itself.  For the first time, in the beginning of the colonial period, Western civilization could be seen as being weakened, both physically and morally, precisely through the civilization process itself. p.179

Women are also revealing Western civilization to itself.  Without this newly assertive consciousness of women, Western civilization might have continued indefinitely on its destructive path without ever coming to a realization of just what has been happening in the exclusion of women from full participation in the human project. p.181

Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth by Jim Merkel

Currently the world's wealthiest one billion people alone consume the equivalent of the Earth's entire sustainable yield.  All six billion people are consuming at a level that is 20 percent over sustainable yield. p.8

The four phases of a vision quest: 1) To separate from one's daily routine and go into the wilderness. 2) To embark on an epic journey, either metaphorical or real. 3) To allow for a ceremonial death and rebirth -- a death of ideas, actions, or beliefs no longer appropriate for one's new world. 4) To integrate one's reborn self back into the community. p.22

Imagine this scenario. What would happen if every worker were to offer their services at a price as close to the average global income as practical given their particularities, such as family size, geographic location, etc.? In essence, this means setting the price for one's products or services according to their needs, instead of attempting to maximize profits (what the market would bear or as high of a salary as you can negotiate). Costs would come down. Each household could work just enough to support their basic needs, including a reasonable level of long-term security. By having lower incomes, individuals would consume less. As product prices fall, others can work less and earn less. The entire economy would gently slow down, yet everyone would still have their needs met. It simply takes each person limiting how much income they take and how much they consume. I'm not really suggesting communism. But I am suggesting a voluntary taming of the appetite. p.37

Although there are infinite ways to share, the easiest is simply to take less. We take less (or share more) when we: earn less, taking less of the available work; consume less; make wiser choices; and purchase local products. You may be tempted to enthusiastically consume more than your share of available work and money and become a philanthropist, all for the joy of giving it away.  But this path is loaded with pitfalls, in terms of power dynamics and inner motivation. pp.52-53

Figure 6-4, Ecological Footprints as they Correlate to Income.
$100,000 and up:    40 to 60 acres
$50,000 to $100,000:    30 to 50 acres
$30,000 to $50,000:    25 to 40 acres
$30,000 and up (Europe and Japan):    15 acres and up
$25,000 to $30,000:    20 to 30 acres
$20,000 to $25,000:    18 to 22 acres
$15,000 to $20,000:    14 to 20 acres
$10,000 to $15,000:    12 to 18 acres
$5,000 to $10,000:    5 to 15 acres
$2,500 to $5,000:    3 to 13 acres
$1,000 to $2,500:    2.5 to 6 acres
$500 to $1,000:    2 to 5 acres
$100 to $500:    1.5 to 4 acres
p.84

What would be the ecological footprint to travel across America once a year by plane, bus, train, car, bike or horse? Assume the journey is 6,000 miles round trip... Plane (economy class): 1.3 acres. Bus: 0.4 acres. Train: 1.8 acres. Car (20 mpg): 2.6 acres. Car (50 mpg): 1 acre. Bicycle: 0.22 acres. Horse: 1.8 acres. pp.106-107

On average, people spend almost one day a week (or about an hour and a half a day) working to pay for their vehicles. You could work four days a week, commute up to ten miles each way by bike, and still save time. p.155

Couples must remain free to choose their family size.  For this [one-hundred-year] plan to succeed, it has to be: Fully voluntary; Aimed at alleviating poverty; Fully supported by government; Locally driven; Bioregionally focused; Accomplished through education; and Dynamic. p.186

The 100-year plan offers a clear win-win scenario.  If humanity chooses one-child families for the next 100 years, a footprint goal of six acres is achievable without sustainability heroics. The high-income individuals, who now have the most privilege, need to step up to the plate and reduce footprints as an initial gesture of goodwill.  Then, after sustained, documentable reductions have been made, they will have the credibility to ask low-income countries to reduce population. p.192

God's Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams

If you believe a truck is coming toward you, you will jump out of the way. That is belief in the reality of the truck.  If you tell people you fear the truck but do nothing to get out of the way, that is not belief in the truck. Likewise, it is not belief to say God exists and then continue sinning and hoarding your wealth while innocent people die of starvation.  When belief does not control your most important decisions, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is belief in the usefulness of believing. pp.28-29

"Are you saying we're evolving into God?"
"I'm saying we're the building blocks of God, in the early stages of reassembling." 
"I think I'd know it if we were part of an omnipotent being," I said.
"Would you?  Your skin cells are not aware that they are part of a human being. Skin cells are not equipped for that knowledge.  They are equipped to do what they do and nothing more.  Likewise, if we humans -- and all the plants and animals and dirt and rocks -- were components of God, would we have the capacity to know it?"
pp.53-54

"Does God have consciousness yet?  Does he know he's reassembling himself?"
"He does.  Otherwise you could not have asked the question, and I could not have answered."
p.54

Light is analogous to the horizon.  It is a boundary that gives the illusion of being a physical thing.  Like the horizon, it appears to move away from you at a constant speed no matter how fast you are moving.  We observe things that we believe are light, like the searchlight in the night sky, the cloud-red sunset.  But those things are not light; they are merely boundaries between different probabilities. pp.86-87

The so-called speed of light is simply the limit to how far a particle can pop into existence from its original location. p.89

Ideas are the only things that can change the world.  The rest is details. p.127

"Walking Through Fear" by Frances Moore Lappe, in YES! a Journal of Positive Futures, June 2004

I think we are in a new evolutionary stage. We evolved in tight-knit tribes in which we faced death if we didn't have the support of the rest of the tribe. So little wonder that it can seem unthinkable to say "no, thanks" to the modern-day equivalent of our tribe -- our fear-driven culture. The problem is that our whole tribe -- if you will, the larger community of humanity itself -- is on a death march ecologically and in terms of the intensification of violence and conflict.  So breaking with the pack may be *exactly* what we should be doing. Saying "no" to the dominant culture that is trapping us in destructive ways of living might be the most life-serving thing we can do. Fear doesn't necessarily mean that we have to stop. It doesn't mean that we are failures. It doesn't mean that we are cowards. It means that we are human beings walking into the unknown, and that we are risking breaking with others for something we believe in. p.31

Ben Mon, 12/13/2004 - 12:30

Blood donation

Blood donation

Rich had the day off today, so I went with him to run some errands.  One of the errands was to give blood, and lo and behold, I was able to give this time!  I guess those multivitamins are really doing the trick.

I made good progress installing and updating software on the second hard disk in Gloria's computer.  No luck in diagnosing the problem that's keeping Rich's laptop from recognizing its disk.

Ben Wed, 12/01/2004 - 15:32

Homebound

Homebound

Today I stayed home and worked on the computers, downloading updates for Gloria's and writing Web pages on Rich's.  I got out briefly to mail some postcards, and again in the evening to shop with Rich.  I watched the "Hell House" documentary.

Ben Thu, 12/02/2004 - 15:33

Brigitte

Brigitte

This morning I called Mom & Dad expecting their big news to be Grandpa's coming to stay with them, but the big news was that Mom has just been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).  I took Kenny for a walk and we had a good long talk.

In the afternoon, Brigitte came to pick me up, and we went to her place near the UT campus.  It's called Entropy House, and it formerly belonged to EarthFirst! and has all kinds of radical slogans all over its walls.  The current residents differ in their political fervor, but such a place selects a certain type of person.  Brigitte invited me to stay over so I'd be close to the action in downtown Austin, but I took a raincheck... later she told me the place has rats and more than half her housemates have a staph infection.

We went for coffee and a walk and then returned to Entropy House, where one of her housemates was packing for a five-week trip to Spain.  She (the housemate) has an extensive library including some books on permaculture which I borrowed.  Brigitte says she wants to leave Entropy House, but she's having trouble getting a job.

Ben Fri, 12/03/2004 - 15:35

Abi at Spider House

Abi at Spider House

I met Abi Tapia this afternoon at a coffeehouse in the trendy party of town -- the same coffeehouse that Brigitte took me to yesterday.  Abi has been so busy promoting herself as a professional singer-songwriter that I felt privileged to meet her one-on-one, though no one asked for her autograph.  She even invited me to come bicycling with her and her girlfriend when I'm on my wheels again.

Aside from that, I just sat around and watched movies all day...

Ben Sat, 12/04/2004 - 15:37

Abi at Artz Rib House

Abi at Artz Rib House

I mostly worked on WorksCited.Net today -- got two more pages up and running, only three more to go!  Rich & I also watched Run Lola Run, which was fun.

In the evening we drove down to the southern part of town to see Abi perform at Artz Rib House.  Gypsy met us there, and we all pigged out on barbecue.  We were seated behind Abi and so didn't get to see her charming stage presence, but we all enjoyed her music.

Ben Sun, 12/05/2004 - 15:39

Brigitte Lunch

Brigitte Lunch

I had a follow-up appointment with the chiropractor this morning, and I stayed in town afterward to meet Brigitte for lunch.  Something I had eaten was disagreeing with me, so I was in a cranky mood and not very patient with her.

She told me she's unpopular at her house now because she took the initiative to kick out the guys who had been squatting in the living room for several months.  They weren't friends of anyone in the house, and they were eating the residents' food and using the facilities and making the residents feel unwelcome in their own house, but no one wanted to tell them to leave, and now that Brigitte's done it she's the heavy.

Ben Mon, 12/06/2004 - 15:45

Dec 23: Health Update

Dec 23: Health Update

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on Dec 23, 2004]

Merry Christmas, everybody! And a happy belated solstice to those who prefer. Or vice versa, for that matter.

I'm writing with an update about my joint trouble, since many of you are on this list to learn what's involved in bike touring. Last time I wrote, I had just been to a chiropractor (recommended by a local bike shop) who said he saw no reason why I shouldn't finish my trip. However, in the two weeks since I saw him, there's been no improvement in my condition, so this morning I went to an orthopedist / sports-medicine surgeon for a second opinion. Although I'm shocked by how much money one can spend in two hours, I got some valuable information and some peace of mind. And several of you now have the opportunity to say you told me so... Merry Christmas! ;-)

  1. The chiropractor had theorized that the reason my knees didn't start hurting until after I rested for 2 weeks in Oklahoma was that before then I had been doing continuous damage to the joints and not allowing them to heal. When I took two weeks off, he said, the kneecaps healed imperfectly, forming sharp points that then hurt when I resumed riding. I was relieved to see in the X-rays that this was not in fact the case. None of the X-rays showed any damage to the bones or the space between them (i.e. cartilage). That's a great relief!
  2. On the other hand, the orthopedist says that whenever I feel this pain I'm doing damage to my tendons which will take a long time to heal, if it heals at all. He felt obliged to tell me that the best thing for my health would be to stop overstressing my body -- "overstress" meaning more than an hour of exercise per day! That is to say, I should stop touring. However, when he saw that I didn't throw in the towel right away, he conceded that the second best thing would be to lighten my load and reduce my daily mileage whenever possible. (It's notable that neither of the chiropractors I've seen said anything about reducing either the weight or the miles.) We talked about camping gear and various other heavy things I could consider leaving off my trailer... I was embarassed to tell him about the autoharp! Alas, that will be the first to go. :-( (Cue to Lori: you told me so!) Fortunately I have two more weeks here in which to back off on my daily miles, then work up to a sustainable day's ride. My hosts even have a stationary bike I can try.
  3. When I told the chiropractors that I had lost weight on this trip, they smiled and nodded enthusiastically. When I told the orthopedist, he was dismayed. I assured him I'd gained some back in the month I've spent here in Austin, but he dragged me to a scale, and we found that even with my holiday pudge I'm 10 pounds lighter than I was when I left Minneapolis. He said this was the first time in his career he's told a patient to eat more. (Cue to Dad: you told me so!) The way he tells it, weight loss invariably affects the tendons, cartilage, and bones as well as fat and muscle, and so I should try to maintain my current weight when I leave here.
  4. The orthopedist reiterated the importance of stretching (which I hadn't been doing until 2 weeks ago) but said that putting ice on my joints after exercise is optional -- rest is more important than cold. That's a relief; although my hosts here in Austin keep nice cushy cold-packs in the freezer, ice can be hard to find while camping. He was unimpressed by the supplements I got from the chiropractor -- basically gristle in a gel cap -- but didn't tell me to stop taking them. He also gave me a prescription for ibuprofen but recommended I not use it unless I feel I have to.

On the whole I'm very satisfied with the way the appointment went. The doctor was very attentive and generous with his time, and although he did recommend I give up and go home, by the end of the appointment he was parading me around the clinic as his "hero" and asking to see my photos, and he said he hopes I can complete the trip as planned. So it looks like I've got my New Year's resolutions in the form of doctor's orders: less cargo, less hurry, less pain, more food. How many people get news like that for Christmas? ;-)

I realize most of you will be accumulating more cargo this weekend, but I'll wish you all less hurry, less pain, and more food for the new year! --Ben

Ben Thu, 12/23/2004 - 17:47

Jan 4: Departure Preparations

Jan 4: Departure Preparations

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 4, 2004]

Happy new year! Between the tsunami and torrential flooding in the southwest US, I've been very glad to be on high ground... hope you're all high and dry as well.

Shortly after I last wrote you, a mutual friend of Marisa and her parents and myself flew in from Minneapolis for the holidays. Ironically enough, the Christmas-through-New-Years duration of his visit is what I had originally had in mind for my own stay here in Austin... I'm tremendously grateful to Rich and Gloria for putting me up for six weeks instead! My joints are about 99% painless now, and I'm planning to leave town by the end of this week.

I've made some progress in lightening my load, as the doctor ordered. I already mentioned that I'll be leaving my autoharp here with Rich, who used to play years ago... that's about 12 pounds. I also went to REI and bought a lighter tent. I initially considered the 3-pound, coffin-shaped REI Roadster, but when I got it home I found it was about 2 inches too small for comfort. I wound up with the 5-pound, kite-shaped Sierra Designs Hyperlight instead, which is extravagantly spacious for one person but can be pitched with just one pole in narrow spaces (e.g. the top of a picnic table!). I got a great deal on the tent because it was the last one in stock, and they couldn't find the sack and stakes that went with it, so they knocked 15% off the sale price and gave me a generic sack and stakes for free! Then they bought back my three-year-old tent for store credit! I'll miss it -- it was an excellent two-person, 4-season tent, and it served me well, but I just didn't do enough two-person, four-season camping to justify its 10 pound weight. The new tent is small enough that I hope to be able to fit it inside one of the plastic tubs on the trailer, rather than strapping it on top as I've been doing.

Other items I'll be leaving behind or shipping to myself include my colored pencils and drawing paper (about 1 pound), the cradle for my PalmPilot (light, but bulky), and a dozen or so trash bags (about 2 pounds), so all in all I'm about 20-25 pounds lighter than I was when I rolled into town.

I had been planning to head east via College Station, TX, which is actually northeast of Austin, but then I was referred to a Web site called Adventure Cycling that suggests routes through various parts of the country. Their "Southern Tier" route leaves Austin to the southeast, so I'll give that a shot... it will mean staying with my other Austin friends for two or three nights on the way out of town rather than leaving straight from northwest Austin.

Although there are no ecovillages in Austin, I did contact some folks who are working to start one. It's actually shaping up to be more of a cohousing development than an ecovillage, but some of the more eco-minded members of the group had me over for dinner on Sunday night, and we talked about permaculture and bike touring over some of the best legume-free vegetarian food I've had in years. Earlier that day, my friend Gypsy and I toured the Rhizome Collective, which had been featured in two local newspapers last week. I'll have some photos of the place on my next roll of film, but meanwhile you can take the virtual tour on their Web site.

Happy trails! --Ben

Ben Sun, 01/04/2004 - 10:26

Krispy Kreme Karma

Krispy Kreme Karma

Austin is not as crazy about donuts as north Texas is -- there are only a handful of donut shops in the whole metro area -- but there's a Krispy Kreme about a mile from where I've been staying.  About two weeks after I got here, I rode to the local bike shop to get a new helmet-mounted mirror, but I was 15 minutes too early -- they hadn't opened yet.  I took the opportunity to visit Krispy Kreme, whose "HOT DOUGHNUTS NOW" sign was lit.  (I maintain that if they're going to spell it that way, their slogan should be, "Putting the 'ugh' back in donuts!")

Anyhow, when Krispy Kreme's sign is lit, they give you a fresh, hot do(ugh)nut for free just for walking in the door.  I ate my free one and had picked out another and was about to pay for it when I reached for my wallet and realized I'd left it at home. When I told the cashier that I'd forgotten my wallet, he gave me the second donut for free as well!  I promised him I'd come back later and buy one.

Well, around 8:00 PM on New Year's Eve, Matt and I borrowed Gloria's car to run an errand.  On the way we passed the Krispy Kreme, and I saw that the sign was lit, and I figured this was my chance to repay my karmic debt.  The employees were busy filling drive-through orders and packing boxes for shipment to local convenience stores and so on, but I couldn't help noticing that at least half the hot, fresh donuts were going straight off the line into the trash.  I asked the cashier about it, and he said there's no way to pause or slow the line once it's started, so sometimes supply exceeds demand.  

He snagged us two free ones off the line, and then I asked to buy two more.  He looked at the parade of donuts bound for the trash and said he'd give me six for the price of two.  But when he rang it up, I noticed that he'd charged me for all six.  I didn't say anything about it until Matt and I got outside -- I'd intended to pay for the previous free donut anyway, not to get more free ones! -- but Matt said it didn't seem right that I was charged for six when I only wanted two.  I said the guy was obviously busy and just made a mistake, and besides I was feeling virtuous for paying off my karma!

As we were fastening our seatbelts, the cashier came running up to my window, apologized profusely, and gave me another dozen for free!  So I went in the door expecting to get four for the price of two and wound up with twenty for the price of six!  Matt and I managed to dispatch them all, but it was a struggle.  The "ugh" is officially back in donuts as far as I'm concerned, at least for a while!

5.8 mi

Ben Tue, 01/04/2005 - 00:00

Jan 7: Austin Winter Weather

Jan 7: Austin Winter Weather

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 7, 2005]

Hi, folks. I've left my wintering ground behind, but I'm still in Austin until tomorrow. Just thought I'd give you a quick update while I have Internet access!

I spent the better part of this week trying to get in shape so I wouldn't hurt myself again as I did in November. On Monday and Tuesday I went on "reverse shopping trips," taking stuff back to the stores it came from or to Goodwill. I also tested some of the logistics of my getaway, such as whether it was a good idea to go down the "killer hill" in the Bennetts' neighborhood with a trailer full of gear behind me. Turned out not to be a problem, and it cut several miles from the distance I'd have to ride.

On Wednesday I planned to ride all the way into downtown, have lunch, then meet a college friend at "Town Lake" (the obstructed river that flows through town) for a short ride -- she was curious to see my bike in action -- and finally ride back to the northern edge of town before dark. All was well until I finished my lunch at the flagship Whole Foods Market and stepped outside ... and found that the temperature had dropped almost 30 degrees F! I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts and had no other clothes with me besides my poncho. The light rain had suddenly gone from a mild annoyance to a serious health hazard. I biked to the home of another friend (Brigitte) and called to cancel my biking date... no recreational cyclist would want to be out in that. I waited an hour or so for the rain to stop, then called Gloria to see if she could pick me up in her minivan after work. She was glad to do so, so I was spared the misery of riding back. It wouldn't have been bad at all if I'd had my windbreaker suit with me, but I hadn't thought to pack it in the 70+ degree morning.

Thursday I packed all my gear aboard my trailer and headed south. I wasn't able to fit the new, smaller tent inside the green bin as I had hoped, but with the autoharp gone from the yellow waterproof bag, I was able to put the tent in there instead. I think the blue bin may have gotten a little heavier from the additional clothing I acquired over the holidays. The ride south along "Loop 360" (a memorable name for a highway, I must say) was very scenic, going as it does along the edge of the Texas Hill Country and right through a lot of the hills, but I didn't feel safe stopping on the shoulder to take photos. It would be prettier in the springtime, anyway... if you're curious I'm sure you can find photos elsewhere on the Web.

The ride to Gypsy's house took only 3 hours, so I was there by noon. We went to a movie (probably the main thing we've done together in 10 years of friendship) and played some board games. My joints felt fine when I first arrived, but my left knee stiffened up during the movie. Once I stretched it out again it was fine. I slept very poorly last night because Gypsy's housemates like to stay up all night playing computer games with the TV on. After a few hours I moved to the garage, where my gear was, and set up camp on the floor. Assuming Gypsy gets up soon, we'll drive out to see Pedernales Falls before I have to leave for my next overnight stay.

Q: Why hasn't Krispy Kreme come up with a plan to donate surplus doughnuts to charity?!
A: Probably for the same reasons most food retailers haven't... health code restrictions plus the questionable effect it might have on profits. While Brigitte and I sat out the rain on Wednesday, we were entertained by one of her housemates who was ranting about the Wheatsville Food Co-Op, where he works. It's the only food co-op in Texas, but to hear him tell it, it's getting less cooperative all the time under its new management, which is more concerned with profitability than the workers and members are used to. One of the co-op's traditions was that anything usable they were throwing out would go on a "Free" table outside rather than in the dumpster, but the new manager has threatened to fire anyone who marks merchandise as free. So they're just taking it home with them and distributing it on their own time!

Q: It looks like you've solved the whole weighing-too-little problem, eh?
A: With doUGHnuts? Not likely! I'm not actually a big fan of them; I've just been fascinated by how popular they are down here. The day after the Krispy Kreme kaper, I ate 10 donuts and was plagued by a gnawing hunger all day long... I think they actually made me hungrier. My challenge will be to keep eating nutritious, high-protein foods during the day while I'm riding, even though exercise suppresses appetite.

OK, last message from Austin, I promise. --Ben

Ben Fri, 01/07/2005 - 12:18

Buffy? No, Brazil

Buffy? No, Brazil

A cinema cafe called the Alamo Drafthouse hosted a sing-a-long of the "Once More with Feeling" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The last of the four screenings was at 9:45 tonight, and I planned to go with Gypsy.  We were both really looking forward to it, but no one told me how popular the venue is, and no one knew how popular the show would be, so I neglected to buy tickets in advance.  We got there -- after paying $5 for parking -- and found it sold out.

So we went to the Pedazo Chunk World Headquarters instead for a screening of Brazil.  I had read about this little quirky video store on the "Ain't It Cool News" Web site, so I thought I knew what to expect; I expected a lot of F/SF and anime videos, a comfy screening room modeled after Cinema Rex at CONvergence, and a fannish following.

Gypsy and I turned out to be the only ones there to see Brazil.  The movie room was about what I expected, though emptier.  The video store itself had lots of foreign films, a substantial XXX room with a band practicing in it, and the clientele were much more eclectic than I expected, to the point that I didn't really feel at home.  But we enjoyed the movie and went on our way.

12.8 mi

Ben Fri, 01/07/2005 - 15:49

Jan 15: A Week in East Texas

Jan 15: A Week in East Texas

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 15, 2005]

It's hard to believe it's been only a week since I left Austin! Here's what's transpired since I wrote last Friday morning...

Gypsy didn't get up until about 11:00, and she pronounced the weather unfit for a trip to Pedernales Falls, so we played a couple games of Settlers of Catan and then I rode on to Cat's. The trip took only a little over an hour, which surprised me and caused me to underestimate the following day's ride.

Cat has made great use of the three years since her graduation from Grinnell. She's been working in her field of anthropology with the same tribe of Kalahari bushmen featured in The Gods Must Be Crazy, and some of the photos she took there (http://kalahari.blogspot.com) turned out so well she bought herself a home digital photo studio (which is to say a really fancy printer), complete with framing machine. Then she got certified to do a handful of different kinds of massage therapy, and she went into business doing that. To top it all off, she got an inheritance that allowed her to follow her mother's footsteps into real estate management, so she's renting both halves of a duplex and bought a house for herself. The house was extensively (and eccentrically!) redecorated by its previous owner, so she has her hands full undoing some of that damage... when they're not full of her other jobs! We had a good time catching up with each other's adventures.

I left her place at about 9:30 in the morning, so as to miss rush hour, forgetting that it was a Saturday! I followed TX 71 most of the way to Bastrop, a town which, despite a name that suggests something you might use to flog an incorrigible child, was "voted most historic small town in Texas." I didn't stop to find out why but buzzed on through to the nearby state park. I was glad to have more than an hour before sunset, because it was my first time pitching my new tent. I know, that was stupid, but it all turned out well. The rainfly was missing a few bits (since the folks at the store were unable to locate the bag it came in), but I was able to improvise them using the spare parts I picked up in St. Louis.

I thought Sunday's ride might be too ambitious, but it turned out to be just right. I started to feel some knee pain in the late morning, but I took a leisurely lunch break and it cleared up. The weather was gorgeous in the afternoon: mid-70s and partly sunny. I got my first fire-ant sting of the trip when I stopped to take off a layer and stepped right in one of their millions of large hills. Somehow an ant got all the way up to my knee and then stung me four times in a neat row, which promptly swelled to the size of a nickel. I was lucky to get only one! I had thought the ants were dormant this time of year, since I hadn't seen them venture from their hills, but then I hadn't tried stepping in one.

Monday was hot and humid. I had to put everything away damp, and the laundry didn't even start to dry until midday when the sun came out. There were an unusual number of vultures along the road, but aside from that the ride was pleasant, following a lot of back roads with hardly any traffic (which made the vultures a bit more unnerving!). Because of the heat, and because I ran out of the foods I was craving, I was very tired by afternoon. My plan was to ride into Navasota (the only town I would pass through all day), get groceries, and then ride two hours south to a campground I knew of, but I was so tired I was tempted to get a hotel room instead. Then, on the way into town, I spotted a city RV park beside the little municipal airport! I set up camp and then rode without my trailer (zoom!) into town for groceries. My only neighbor in the park introduced himself; he's a former printed-circuit-board magnate now living in his parents' RV because his wife kicked him out. He says that I'm the fourth bicycle tourist to pass through this month.

Tuesday was oppressively hot and sticky. I stopped for lunch in the tiny town of Roberts. I have never waited so long for a hamburger in my life. I saw the waitress put it on the griddle right after I ordered it, but the griddle must have been cold or the burger frozen, because it was at least 20 minutes in the making, probably more like 30 judging by the number of country-music videos I watched. (I have to say, some of them are a lot of fun.) I had plenty of time to stare at the menu and estimate what the bill would be, and I left what I thought was a skimpy tip due to the unreasonably slow service. But when they rang up my order, it was several dollars less than I expected. I objected, saying I had ordered extras on my burger, and the staff thought this was hilarious. They said, "You may have to pay for tomatoes and jalapeños up north, but here in Texas those come with the burger!" I played along, though in my experience you're as likely to pay extra for tomatoes in Montopolis as in Minneapolis. I was happy to pay less for the burger, and my stingy tip was now quite generous... and when I got outside I found that all my laundry had dried...

Shortly after that I rode into the Sam Houston National Forest, the first federal land I've passed through on this trip. (I passed close to Manistee National Forest in Michigan but didn't venture inside.) It's beautiful and very peaceful ... at night. In the daytime it gets "healthier" (in neocon terminology) by the truckload. When I went to boil my water for supper, I discovered I'd left my stove in Navasota... I never took it out from under the campsite's grill the night before. I took this setback as a challenge... I doused a rolled-up bandage in fuel (methyl alcohol) -- a little less than I would have used in the stove -- and used the resulting fireball to start a pile of twigs burning in the grill. I've never seen twigs burn so fast and hot! My water was ready in half the time it would have taken with the stove. Of course the twigs generated a lot of soot all over my cooking bowl, but that was easily cleaned up. The next day I found a wad of fiberglass insulation (which is what the stove had used for a wick) on the side of the road, so I didn't have to sacrifice any more bandages to future experiments.

I spent Wednesday passing in and out of Sam Houston National Forest, ending up back inside it. The only interesting thing that happened was that I stopped for lunch in New Waverly at a concession trailer that had been designed for biker rallies. The couple who operated the place were motorcycle bikers for a while, then attended rallies with their food trailer, and somehow wound up serving breakfast tacos to commuters in New Waverly. We chatted for a while, and they gave me my ham-and-egg taco for free.

Wednesday night the weather finally broke. I was all snug in my tent by the time the storm started, and I felt rather smug -- putting in earplugs to sleep through the thunder -- until I discovered that an enormous puddle was forming beside and under half the tent! I felt like the fourth little pig who built his house out of nylon and couldn't get the door unzipped when the wolf came. Fortunately the bottom of the tent stayed watertight, and the puddle soaked into the ground by morning. I hadn't been in such a heavy rainfall since Ludington (almost six months ago!) and had forgotten how much dirt it kicks up. The tent was filthy in the morning! I decided since I had a short day of riding ahead of me, I would wipe the tent down thoroughly before putting it away, but this took about two hours. It was 10:00 by the time I hit the road, and then I stopped to use the Internet at a library for an hour. (This explains the "not dead yet" message you received from me.)

I stopped for lunch at a little roadside store advertising "hot tamales." The guy would only sell them by the dozen, because, come to find out, they were frozen that way. But he warmed a dozen up for me, and I ate them all at one sitting with a grapefruit for dessert/digestive aid. They were pretty sad little tamales, each about the size of half a hot dog, but they hit the spot.

I had planned to stop for the night at a campground called Tombigbee Lake, in the Alabama-Coushala Indian Reservation, but when I was a few miles from the place I saw a sign for another campground whose location would shorten the next day's ride by about an hour, so I went there instead. The proprietress is from Athens, Greece, and although there were a half dozen trailers parked here and there, I seemed to be the only person actually staying the night. As I was pitching the tent, I noticed that a ladder leaning up against a nearby tree was making a groaning noise when the wind blew. When the sun set, a light outside the bathroom shone right on my tent. Hmmm... I moved the ladder to the bathroom wall and unscrewed the light bulb: two problems solved! (I put everything back in the morning.)

I was on the road at sunrise Friday morning, knowing I had a full day's ride ahead of me. I made good time, mostly on two-lane back roads frequented by logging trucks. I was all set to report that, as in Oklahoma, no one in Texas had yelled at me from a car window. But today some Texans had to go and spoil it. They didn't yell per se, but several honked angrily, and two called 911 to complain about me, and one flipped me off. The sheriff's deputy who stopped to talk to me just made sure I hadn't been doing anything unsafe or illegal to inspire the calls and let me go again. I guess Midwesterners haven't cornered the market for passive aggressiveness after all.

It was a beautiful day for riding, though a bit chilly in the morning. I stopped midday to remove a layer, and I inadvertently left it on top of the trailer rather than stowing it inside, so it won't be traveling any farther with me. Fortunately long john tops and bottoms are sold separately.

For the past few days I've been trying to decide whether or not to ride into Beaumont, TX. On the one hand, an old friend used to attend the UU church there, and Sunday is fast approaching; but on the other hand, I haven't heard from her in years and have no idea whether she still lives in the area or what her married name is, and more to the point, once I got into town it would be difficult to go into Louisiana from there without riding on an Interstate highway... so I decided against it.

On the road I saw a little Suzuki Sidekick pickup... I think my bike has a longer wheelbase, and my trailer definitely carries more cargo. But it was fitted out with oversized wheels so that it looked like a baby monster truck. Mounted on the grill was a little blackboard, and written on this in chalk were the words, "Men fear me, women want me."

I stopped for the night at Village Creek State Park, east of Lumberton, which in turn is north of Beaumont. I opted for a "pack in" campsite with no electricity, etc., so instead of being surrounded by Friday night partiers, I have a little patch of woods and creek all to myself. It's a beautiful last night in Texas.

A few random reflections...

  • The national forests are irreplaceable treasures! Go see them while you can! You may be wiping your butts with them tomorrow. I'm not joking. It's open season on trees out here, a penny an acre, while supplies last, and the less useful species that also happen to live here are just out of luck. It's not legal to hunt most of them, but try and keep 'em off your bumper!
  • My Austin hosts had warned me that Texans can be a little self-obsessed... I was prepared for the omnipresent Texas flags and Lone Stars and various improbable objects shaped like the state (though the tortilla chips were a surprise). What I'm still having trouble with is that when I passed between College Station and Houston, I could pick up two different radio stations dedicated to playing only songs about Texas! These were in addition to the Tejano (Mexican polka) stations.
  • Where I come from, "y'all" is a plural, familiar pronoun. Down here it's singular and formal, "all y'all" being the plural and "you" reserved for kinfolk. I knew such a dialect existed and that I'd probably pass through its territory, but every time someone calls me "y'all" I look around to see who else they're talking to. (Notice I have no trouble using "they" as a singular pronoun.)

Catch all y'all in Louisiana! --Ben

Ben Sat, 01/15/2005 - 09:59

To Cat's

To Cat's

Gypsy didn't get up until about 11:00, and she pronounced the weather unfit for a trip to Pedernales Falls, so we played a couple more games of Settlers of Catan and then I rode on to Cat's.  The trip took only a little over an hour, which surprised me.

Cat has made great use of the three years since her graduation from Grinnell.  She's been working in her field of anthropology with the same tribe of Kalahari bushmen featured in "The God's Must Be Crazy," and some of the photos she took there turned out so well she bought herself a home digital photo studio, complete with framing machine.  Then she got certified to do a handful of different kinds of massage therapy, and she went into business doing that.  To top it all off, she got an inheritance that let her go into real estate management, so she's renting both halves of a duplex and bought a house for herself.  The house was extensively redecorated by its previous owner, so she has her hands full undoing some of that damage... when they're not full of her other jobs!

7 mi

Ben Sat, 01/08/2005 - 09:37

To Bastrop State Park, TX

To Bastrop State Park, TX

I left Cat's at about 9:30, so as to miss rush hour, forgetting that this was a Saturday.  I followed TX 71 most of the way to Bastrop, a town which, despite a name that suggests something you might use to flog an incorrigible child, was "voted most historic town in Texas."  I didn't stop to find out why but buzzed on through to the nearby state park.

I was glad to have more than an hour before sunset, because it was my first time pitching my new tent.  I know, that was stupid, but it all turned out well.  The rain fly was missing a few bits (since the folks at the store were unable to locate the bag it came in), but I was able to improvise them using the spare parts I picked up in St. Louis.

28 mi

Ben Sun, 01/09/2005 - 09:39

To Lake Sommerville

To Lake Sommerville

I thought today's ride might be too ambitious, but it turned out to be just right.  I started to feel some knee pain in the late morning, but I took a leisurely lunch break and it cleared up.  The weather was gorgeous in the afternoon: mid-70s and partly sunny.

I got my first fire-ant bite of the trip when I stopped to take off a layer and stepped right in one of their thousands of large hills.  Somehow an ant got all the way up to my knee and then bit me four times in a neat row, which promptly swelled to the size of a nickel.  I was lucky to get only one!  I had thought the ants were dormant this time of year, but I didn't test my theory until now.

I got into Lake Sommerville State Park, Nails Creek Unit (on the southern shore, rather than the northern) around 4:00 and was able to do an hour of transcription before sunset.

43.3 mi

Ben Mon, 01/10/2005 - 09:40

to Navasota

to Navasota

Today was hot and humid.  I had to put everything away damp, and the laundry didn't even start to dry until midday when the sun came out.

There were a lot of vultures along the road today, but aside from that the ride was pleasant, following a lot of back roads with hardly any traffic (which made the vultures a bit more unnerving!).

Because of the heat, and because I ran out of the foods I was craving, I was very tired by afternoon.  My plan was to ride into Navasota (the only town I would pass through all day), get groceries, and then ride two hours south to a campground I knew of, but I was so tired I was tempted to get a hotel room instead.

Then, on the way into town, I spotted a city RV park beside the little municipal airport!  I set up camp and then rode without my trailer (zoom!) into town for groceries.  My only neighbor in the park introduced himself; he's living in his parents' RV because his wife kicked him out.  He says that I'm the fourth bicycle tourist to pass through this month.

45.7 mi

Ben Tue, 01/11/2005 - 09:45

To Sam Houston National Forest

To Sam Houston National Forest

Today was hot and sticky; I started the day in nothing but a T-shirt and shorts, and by midday I wished I could wear less.

I stopped for lunch in the tiny town of Roberts.  I have never waited so long for a hamburger in my life.  I saw the waitress put it on the griddle right after I ordered it, but the griddle must have been cold or the burger frozen, because it was at least 20 minutes in the making, probably more like 30 judging by the number of country-music videos I watched.  I had plenty of time to stare at the menu and estimate what the bill would be, and I left what I thought was a skimpy tip due to the unreasonably slow service.  But when they rang up my order, it was several dollars less than I expected.  I objected, saying I had ordered extras on my burger, and the staff thought this was hilarious.  They said, "You may have to pay for tomatoes and jalapenos up north, but here in Texas those come with the burger!"  I played along, though in my experience you're as likely to pay extra for tomatoes in Montopolis as in Minneapolis.  I was happy to pay less for the burger, and my stingy tip was now quite generous...

Shortly after that I rode into the Sam Houston National Forest, the first federal land I've passed through on this trip.  (I passed close to Manistee National Forest in Michigan but didn't go inside.)  It's beautiful and very peaceful.  The first campground I came to had no running water, but I had plenty of time to ride on to another.

When I went to boil my water for supper, I discovered I'd left my stove in Navasota... I never took it out from under the campsite's grill last night.  I took this setback as a challenge... I soaked a rolled-up bandage in fuel (methyl alcohol) -- a little less than I use in the stove -- and used it to start a pile of twigs on fire.  I've never seen twigs burn so fast and hot!  My water was ready in half the time it takes with the stove.  Of course the twigs generated a lot of soot all over my cooking bowl, but that was easily cleaned up.

39.1 mi

Ben Wed, 01/12/2005 - 09:46

to Coldspring

to Coldspring

I spent the day passing in and out of Sam Houston National Forest, ending up back inside it.  The only interesting thing that happened was when I stopped for lunch in New Waverly at a concession trailer that had been designed for biker rallies.  The couple who operated the place were motorcycle bikers for a while, then attended rallies with their food trailer, and somehow wound up parked on the main drag in New Waverly, Texas, serving breakfast tacos to commuters.  We chatted for a while, and they gave me my ham-and-egg taco for free.

25.7 mi

Ben Thu, 01/13/2005 - 09:48

to Indian Village

to Indian Village

A big rainstorm passed through in the night.  I was all snug in my tent by the time it started, and I felt rather smug -- putting in earplugs to sleep through the thunder -- until I discovered that an enormous puddle was forming beside and under half the tent!  I felt like the fourth little pig whose brothers disowned him because he built his house out of nylon.  Fortunately the bottom of the tent stayed watertight.

I hadn't been in such a heavy rainfall since Ludington in September and had forgotten how much dirt it kicks up.  The tent was filthy in the morning!  I decided since I had a short day of riding ahead of me, I would wipe the tent down thoroughly before putting it away, but this took about two hours.  It was 10:00 by the time I hit the road, and then I stopped to use the Internet at a library for an hour.

I stopped for lunch at a little roadside store advertising "hot tamales."  The guy would only sell them by the dozen, because, come to find out, they were frozen that way.  But he warmed a dozen up for me, and I ate them all at one sitting with a grapefruit for dessert/digestive aid.  They were pretty sad little tamales, each about the size of half a hot dog, but they hit the spot.

I had planned to stop for the night at a campground called Tombigbee Lake, in the Alabama-Coushala Indian Reservation, but when I was a few miles from the place I saw a sign for another campground whose location would shorten tomorrow's ride by about an hour, so I went there instead.  The proprietress is from Athens, Greece.

As I was pitching the tent, I noticed that a ladder leaning up against a nearby tree was making a groaning noise when the wind blew.  When the sun set, I noticed that light outside the bathroom was shining right on my tent.  Hmmm... I moved the ladder to the bathroom wall and unscrewed the light bulb: two problems solved!  (I'm the only camper tonight.)

29.7 mi

Ben Fri, 01/14/2005 - 09:50

to Lumberton

to Lumberton

I was on the road at sunrise this morning, knowing I had a full day's ride ahead of me.  I made good time, mostly on two-lane back roads frequented by logging trucks.

I was all set to report to the list that, as in Oklahoma, no one in Texas had yelled at me from a car window.  But today some Texans had to go and spoil it.  They didn't yell per se, but several honked angrily, and two called 911 to complain about me, and one flipped me off.  The sheriff's deputy who stopped to talk to me just made sure I hadn't been doing anything unsafe or illegal to inspire the calls and let me go again.  I guess Midwesterners don't hold the patent on passive aggressiveness after all.

It was a beautiful day for riding, though a bit chilly in the morning.  I stopped midday to remove a layer, and I inadvertently left it on top of the trailer rather than stowing it inside, so it won't be travelling farther with me.  Fortunately long john tops and bottoms are sold separately.

For the past few days I've been trying to decide whether or not to ride into Beaumont, TX.  On the one hand, an old friend used to attend the UU church there, and Sunday is fast approaching; but on the other hand, I haven't heard from her in years and have no idea whether she still lives in the area or what her married name is now, and more to the point, once I got into town it would be difficult to go east from there without riding on an Interstate highway... so I decided against it.

I stopped for the night at Village Creek State Park, east of Lumberton, which in turn is north of Beaumont.  I opted for a "pack in" campsite with no electricity, etc., so instead of being surrounded by Friday night partiers, I have a little patch of woods and creek all to myself.  It's a beautiful last night in Texas.

51.6 mi

Ben Fri, 01/14/2005 - 09:53

Jan 16: Louisiana!

Jan 16: Louisiana!

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 16, 2004]

Long message this time... some remarkable things happened!

Right after I wrote that it was "a beautiful last night in Texas," I lay down to sleep and smelled a horrible smell... at first I thought I must have put my tent down over a previous camper's cathole; then I decided the smell was more like rotting brussels sprouts, so it must be someone's old garbage. (Either would be plausible; this was a very "primitive" campground with no restrooms or trashcans nearby.) But a few hours later when I stepped outside the tent, I realized the smell was everywhere... the wind had shifted, and I was downwind from a paper mill! The night was cold, so I stuffed all of my spare clothes into the sleeping bag for warmth and closed up the hood so that only my nose stuck out... but with the smell out there, I wanted my nose inside!

After a few hours of very poor sleep, I was wakened by a construction crew starting its day around 4:00 AM! Noplace I asked in Lumberton would allow me to plug into their phone line to send my e-mail, so I went on to Silsbee (TX), but I had no luck there either. (My best prospects tend to be computer stores, cell-phone dealers, and printers, but none of these are open on Saturday mornings, so I was resorting to convenience stores where business was slow.) I decided I'd try one last place and then head on to Louisiana.

I was stopped in the parking lot by an old man who said, "Whoa there! Where are you going and where did you start from?" He turned out to be the instigator of an initiative to get Silsbee named among the country's "Bike Friendly Cities," and he offered to put me up for the night in exchange for information about bike touring. After my exhausting night, I was happy to accept! Come to find out, J.P. (as his name is) served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and his wife Helen was a "Rosie the Riveter" building planes. Helen taught foreign languages at the University of Oklahoma for a while, and then they settled in Silsbee.

J.P. bought a radio station and made a name for himself broadcasting all the sporting events no one else covered, such as girls' soccer and tee ball. He served as mayor and school superintendent, while Helen taught in the schools and ran the foreign-exchange-student program, taking in a handful of students from exotic countries in their own home. After they both retired, Helen was instrumental in turning an old ice house (which down here is a refrigeration plant, not a fishing shack) into a museum, and J.P. went into business selling and fixing golf carts. As such, he still knows all the movers and shakers in town, because they all golf!

So about a year ago, J.P. accepted an electric bicycle as a trade-in for a golf cart. This got him biking again, and he joined the Texas Cycling Coalition and the League of American Bicyclists. When the League came out with its list of bike-friendly cities last summer, College Station was the only one in Texas. The Adventure Cycling Southern Tier route (which I'm following on my way east, give or take 50 miles) passes through the nearby town of Kountze, so J.P. thought, why not make Silsbee a bike-friendly city and attract that tourist traffic? Why not do it before the next list is published?

The deadline for the 2005 list is March 31st, and J.P. is determined to do everything he can until then, at which time he will bow out and let other people run the show. He mobilized the good ol' boy network and took the newly named Big Thicket Wheelers from zero to 40 members -- with bylaws and a board and nonprofit status pending -- last week. Yesterday they got their 110th member. He's contacted everyone in the county who's dreamed of putting in bike trails or anything bike related and got them on board for the March 31st deadline. There may not be any ground broken by then, but there will be a really impressive paper trail!

Anyhow, J.P. drove me around the town as he was telling me all this, and I helped him move some of his hundred or so golf carts and swap some batteries. I met Helen, who has had a stroke and needs constant supervision; she has a daytime caregiver so that J.P. can get out. I also met their chihuahua, who took an immediate dislike to me and would not be persuaded of my good intentions. They put me up in their spare bedroom on the coldest night of the year, and in return I told him what amenities would make the town attractive to me as a bicyclist. Even if they don't get the award this year, they'll get more bicycles on the road, which can only help. J.P. fixed me a hearty breakfast Sunday morning, and I was on the road by sunrise.

I had a minor adventure when I tried to follow a shortcut that was shown on my map, but that turned out to be an unpaved, unmarked road through an oil field. I gave up and went the long way around. There's a swamp along the border of Louisiana and Texas. The road I took across was about 50% bridges and 50% infill. The bridges weren't widened when the rest of the road got shoulders, so every time I came to a bridge I stopped and waited for a gap in traffic before pulling out into the lane.

When I rode through a little town just across the border, I met another cyclist: a boy in his early teens riding a stunt bike so small I swear it could be concealed in a trenchcoat. We exchanged compliments and he asked the usual questions about where I was going and where from. "How about you?" I asked. "Oh, I'm from ... just down the road, and I was going about... 300 yards down the road." "Everyone has to start somewhere," I said sagely, "but where are you *going*?" "Ohh," he exclaimed. "I guess I don't know." "I've been there," I said, enjoying being the mysterious stranger in someone else's story. "I'm headed there, too. It's not a bad place. Maybe I'll see you there." "See you around!" he said and rode home to write a book or get counseling or something.

I rode hard all day and still barely made it to Vinton by sunset. Fortunately that should be the last long day for a while; I've chosen a route through Louisiana where the campgrounds are close together. Louisiana is the first state on this trip I've never visited before. Onward to new territory! --Ben

Ben Sun, 01/16/2005 - 08:46

to Silsbee, TX

to Silsbee, TX

Right after I wrote that it was "a beautiful last night in Texas," I lay down to sleep and smelled a horrible smell... at first I thought I must have put my tent down over a previous camper's cathole; then I decided the smell was more like rotting brussels sprouts, so it must be someone's old garbage.  (Either would be plausible; this was a very "primitive" campground with no restrooms or trashcans nearby.)  But a few hours later when I stepped outside the tent, I realized the smell was everywhere... the wind had shifted, and I was downwind from a paper mill!

The night was cold, so I stuffed all of my spare clothes into the sleeping bag for warmth and closed up the hood so that only my nose stuck out... but with the smell out there, I wanted my nose inside!  After a few hours of very poor sleep, a construction crew started working around 4:00 AM and my Saturday was begun!

Noplace I asked in Lumberton would allow me to plug into their phone line to send my e-mail, so I went on to Silsbee, but I had no luck there either.  (My best prospects are computer stores, cell-phone dealers, and printers, but none of these tend to be open on Saturday mornings, so I was resorting to convenience stores where business was slow.)  I decided I'd try one last place and then head on to Louisiana.

I was stopped in the parking lot by an old man who said, "Whoa there!  Where are you going and where did you start from?"  He turned out to be the instigator of an initiative to get Silsbee named among the country's "Bike Friendly Cities," and he offered to put me up for the night in exchange for information about bike touring.  After my exhausting night, I was happy to accept!

Come to find out, J.P. (as his name is) served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and his wife Helen was a "Rosie the Riveter" building planes.  Helen taught foreign languages at the University of Oklahoma for a while, and then they settled here.  J.P. bought a radio station and made a name for himself broadcasting all the sporting events no one else covered, such as girls' soccer and tee ball.  He served as mayor and school superintendent, while Helen taught in the schools and ran the foreign-exchange-student program.  After they both retired, Helen was instrumental in turning an old ice house (which down here is a refrigeration plant, not a fishing shack) into a museum, and J.P. went into business selling and fixing golf carts.  As such, he still knows all the movers and shakers in town, because they all play golf!

So about a year ago, J.P. accepted an electric bicycle as a trade-in for a golf cart.  This got him biking again, and he joined the Texas Cycling Association and the League of American Bicyclists.  When the League came out with its list of bike-friendly cities last summer, College Station was the only one in Texas.  The Adventure Cycling Southern Tier route (which I'm following on my way east, give or take 50 miles) passes through the nearby town of Kountze, so J.P. thought, why not make Silsbee a bike-friendly city?  Why not do it before the next list is published?

The deadline for the 2005 list is March 31st, and J.P. is determined to do everything he can until then, at which time he will bow out and let other people run the show.  He mobilized the good ol' boy network and took the Big Thicket Wheelers from zero to 40 members -- with bylaws and a board and nonprofit status pending -- last week.  Yesterday they got their 110th member.  He's contacted everyone in the county who's dreamed of putting in bike trails or anything bike related and got them on board for the March 31st deadline.  There may not be any ground broken by then, but there will be a really impressive paper trail!

Anyhow, J.P. drove me around the town as he was telling me all this, and I helped him move some of his hundred or so golf carts and swap some batteries.  I met Helen, who has had a stroke and needs constant supervision; she has a daytime caregiver so that J.P. can get out.  They put me up in their spare bedroom on this coldest night of the year, and I'm just glad I made that last stop before heading out of town!

9.26 mi

Ben Sat, 01/15/2005 - 00:00

to Vinton, LA

to Vinton, LA

J.P. fixed me a hearty breakfast this morning, and I was on the road by sunrise.  I had a minor adventure when I tried to follow a shortcut that was shown on my map, but that turned out to be an unpaved, unmarked road through an oil field.  I gave up and went the long way around.

There's a swamp along the border of Louisiana and Texas.  The road I took across was about 50% bridges and 50% infill.  The bridges weren't widened when the rest of the road got shoulders, so every time I came to a bridge I stopped and waited for a gap in traffic before pulling out into the lane.

When I rode through a little town just across the border, I met another cyclist: a boy in his early teens riding a stunt bike so small I swear it could be concealed in a trenchcoat.  We exchanged compliments and he asked the usual questions about where I was going and where from.  "How about you?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm from ... just down the road, and I was going about... 300 yards down the road."

"Everyone has to start somewhere," I said sagely, "but where are you *going*?"

"Ohh," he exclaimed.  "I guess I don't know."

"I've been there," I said, enjoying being the mysterious stranger in someone else's story.  "I'm headed there, too.  It's not a bad place.  Maybe I'll see you there."

"See you around!" he said and rode home to write a book or something.

I rode hard all day and still barely made it to Vinton by sunset.  Fortunately that should be the last long day for a while; I've chosen a route through Louisiana where the campgrounds are close together.

51.3 mi

Ben Sun, 01/16/2005 - 13:35

Jan 20: Winter in Acadiana

Jan 20: Winter in Acadiana

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 20, 2005]

It was a mistake for me to call the night I spent in Silsbee "the coldest night of the year." That cold snap lasted for three more nights, and I continued camping out because my route was planned around campgrounds, and because I'm a stubborn fool! Between the Interstate and the railroad and the freezing temperatures and the rooster who crowed every few seconds, all night long, I slept very poorly Sunday night at the campground in Vinton. I took my time getting up and didn't hit the road until around 10:00.

I rode into the town of Sulphur, LA, and asked about the name, since I rode through Sulphur, OK a few months ago. This one was named for sulfur mines that were there before the town was founded. I ate lunch at a cajun deli in Sulphur where a constant parade of customers came in asking for cracklins and were turned away. I kept expecting the cashier to burst into a chorus of, "Yes! We have no more cracklins today."

The cultural difference between southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana is the most abrupt I think I've ever seen across a state line. The "y'alls" I told you about stopped as soon as I entered Louisiana; in fact the people here speak so clearly they have trouble understanding me! Cowboy hats and the cowboy identity pretty much disappeared as well. Pickup trucks became epidemic for 50 miles or so -- they were up around 80% of all vehicles on the road -- and then subsided as I continued east. Rangeland has been replaced by rice paddies and crawfish ponds. The ground is so wet in southern Louisiana -- let's call it "permasog" -- that most buildings are built a few inches or even feet above ground level, up on blocks like manufactured ("mobile") homes. The dead are buried in concrete vaults rather than directly in the ground, presumably to keep them from getting into the groundwater. About half the religious radio stations are now Catholic, and the Tejano music on the air has been replaced by zydeco. Cracklins, by the way, are pork rinds. A pre-cooked pork roast is called a "picnic." I'm not kidding... a Piggly Wiggly store was advertising picnics for 88 cents a pound, and they turned out to be shrink-wrapped, smoked pork roasts the size of whole chickens, and they said "picnic" right on the label. I have trouble imagining eating one of them on a blanket in the park.

Anyhow... my map showed that US 96 merged with Interstate 10 to cross Lake Charles (a wide spot on the Calcasieu River) from Sulphur into the town of Lake Charles. I decided to see whether there would be an access road or some other way for me to get across, but there was none; in fact the bridge over the lake is astonishingly high (they were expecting maybe the QE2?) and has no shoulders at all. I'm not sure what slow-moving vehicles do when they have to cross; maybe they have to ride on semi trailers. As I was studying my map to decide where I could travel safely, a driver coming the other way pulled over and crossed the highway on foot to give me directions to the state park.

Sam Houston Jones State Park was about 6 miles out of my way, but I had to detour around the lake anyway, and it was worth it for the peace and quiet. I got assigned a campsite right next to a lagoon -- wait 'till you see the photo -- but as the only tent camper I chose a site farther from the water. One thing I'll say for cold-weather camping: you don't have to worry about mosquitos... but I wasn't sure about alligators or snakes! I was tired of my space blanket getting my sleeping bag all wet with condensation, so I tried Marisa's suggestion of hanging the blanket from the ceiling. It made me feel like I was sleeping in a toaster, but it kept me warm through most of a 20-degree night!

Tuesday was short and uneventful. I took my time and reached a campground outside Iowa, LA by 3:30. The campground was overpriced, but the manager at least showed me a place where I would be out of the wind. South-central Louisiana is as flat as North Dakota, and the wind comes sweepin' down the plains. Wednesday was much warmer, with a warm night forecast. I expected it to be a slow and easy day, but after three nights of camping in the cold I was stiff and sore and tired. I also had a mouth full of canker sores to attest to the stress I was under.

I stopped for lunch in Jennings before heading via back roads to Egan, where my map showed a campground. When I got to the spot, around 3:30, the campground was gone. I flagged down a local who said it had been there, but it closed. I checked the yellow pages in a nearby restaurant and found a hotel 10 miles farther east. As tempting as the thought was of reducing Thursday's long ride, it would set me back $60, and besides, I was too tired to ride another 10 miles. I filled my water bottle at the restaurant and headed to a patch of land I'd noticed while looking for the campground.

It belongs to the Acadiana Beagle Club (this being Acadia Parish) and I presume it's a training ground for hunting dogs. It was posted No Hunting but not No Trespassing, and there was no fence or gate. I set up camp behind some trees. An hour later, when there was no longer any question of changing plans before dusk, some members of the Beagle Club showed up to their other property across the road and started feeding the beagles. I kept a low profile, and they had no idea I was there.

Thursday's ride was nearly 50 miles, so I budgeted the whole day for it. Fortunately I slept soundly and woke refreshed an hour before dawn. I was on the road before sunrise and reached my lunch stop, Rayne (Frog Capitol of the World!), before they had started serving lunch, so I just rode on. A solid night's rest must have made all the difference, because I reached Opelousas at the unheard-of hour of 2:00! The campground shown on my map was a city park. It's not really set up as a campground, but they let me use the showers in the football stadium, which were kind of horrifying. Camping in the middle of a city park in the middle of a city is an interesting experience; lots of different sounds.

I'll be in Baton Rouge this weekend! Stay tuned! --Ben

Ben Thu, 01/20/2005 - 09:41

to Sam Houston Jones SP

to Sam Houston Jones SP

Between the Interstate and the railroad and the freezing temperatures and the rooster who crowed every few seconds, all night long, I slept very poorly at the campground in Vinton.  I took my time getting up and didn't hit the road until around 10:00.

I rode into the town of Sulphur, LA, and asked about the name, since I rode through Sulphur, OK a few months ago.  This one was named for sulfur mines that were here before the town was founded.

I ate lunch at a cajun deli in Sulphur where a constant parade of customers came in asking for cracklins and were turned away.  I kept expecting the cashier to say, "Yes!  We have no cracklins today."

Incidentally, I haven't heard anyone say "y'all" since I left Texas.  The pickup count is way up, though; we're running about 80% pickups on the road, compared to only 50 or 60% in Texas.

My map showed that US 96 merged with Interstate 10 to cross Lake Charles (a wide spot on the Calcasieu River) from Sulphur into the town of Lake Charles.  I decided to see whether there would be an access road or some other way for me to get across, but there was none; in fact the bridge over the lake is astonishingly high and has no shoulders at all.  I'm not sure what slow-moving vehicles do when they have to cross.

As I was studying my map to decide where I could travel safely, a driver coming the other way pulled over and crossed the highway on foot to give me directions to the state park.

Sam Houston Jones State Park is about 6 miles out of my way, but I had to detour around Lake Charles anyway, and it'll be worth it for the peace and quiet.  I got assigned a campsite right next to a lagoon -- literally 15 feet from the water's edge -- but as the only tent camper I chose another site instead.

It's supposed to get down into the 20s tonight, so I'm as bundled as I can get, and I'm trying Marisa's suggestion of hanging the space blanket from the ceiling.  Worst case scenario I move into the bathroom, which is hot as a sauna!

25.0 mi

Ben Mon, 01/17/2005 - 13:37

to Iowa, LA

to Iowa, LA

A short and uneventful day today.  I rode into Moss Bluff and used the Internet for an hour, then reached my campground outside Iowa, LA by 3:30.  The campground is overpriced for what it offers, but the manager at least showed me a place where I'd be out of the wind.

22.4 mi

Ben Tue, 01/18/2005 - 13:42

to Egan, LA

to Egan, LA

Today was supposed to be a slow and easy day, but after three nights of camping in the cold I was stiff and sore and tired.  I stopped for lunch in Jennings before heading via back roads to Egan, where my map showed a campground.

When I got to the spot, around 3:30, the campground was gone.  I flagged down a local who said it had been there, but it closed.  I checked the yellow pages in a nearby restaurant and found two hotels 10 miles farther east.  As tempting as the thought was of reducing tomorrow's long ride, it would set me back $60, and besides, I was too tired to ride another 10 miles.

I filled my water bottle at the restaurant and headed to a patch of land I'd noticed while looking for the campground.  It belongs to the Acadia County Beagle Club, and I presume it's a training ground for hunting dogs.  It was posted No Hunting but not No Trespassing, and there was no fence or gate.  I set up camp behind some trees.  An hour later, when there was no longer any question of changing plans, some members of the Beagle Club showed up to their other property across the road and started feeding the beagles.  I kept a low profile, and they had no idea I was there.

35.2 mi

Ben Wed, 01/19/2005 - 14:07

to Opelousas, LA

to Opelousas, LA

Today's ride was upwards of 40 miles, so I budgeted the whole day for it.  Fortunately I slept soundly and woke refreshed an hour before dawn.  I was on the road before sunrise and reached my lunch stop, Rayne, before they had started serving lunch, so I just rode on.

A solid night's rest must have made all the difference, because I reached Opelousas at the unheard-of hour of 2:00!  The campground shown on my map was a city park.  It's not really set up as a campground, but they'll let me use the showers in the football stadium, and if I need a restroom in the morning before the park buildings open, there are convenience stores and things in the neighborhood.

44.0 mi

Ben Thu, 01/20/2005 - 14:09

Jan 22: Baton Rouge

Jan 22: Baton Rouge

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 22, 2005]

Hi, folks! I know it's only been a couple days since I wrote, but a lot has happened. Louisiana is certainly turning out to be a different traveling experience from the other states I've passed through!

Friday was one of those days when nothing goes quite as expected. I woke in the morning (in a city park, remember) to find Opelousas blanketed in heavy fog. I had a short day of riding ahead of me, so I decided to walk to a restaurant and get breakfast while waiting for my tent to dry. I asked a few passersby for a restaurant that might have some local flavor (as opposed to McDonalds, which was the first place they all named when I asked about breakfast) and wound up at a greasy-spoon diner with a menu that could have been anywhere in the country. I had to put Tabasco sauce on my eggs rather than the Crystal sauce that has been the standard condiment everywhere else I've eaten in Louisiana so far. The fog was just beginning to clear when I got back, and my tent wasn't any drier, so I put it away anyway. I tried to pay the folks in the park office for my overnight stay, but they insisted I could only pay the guy who hadn't shown up to take my money the night before, and he wasn't any more present in the morning, so I left without paying.

As I was leaving the park, I met two other bike tourists, an elderly couple from Lafayette (about 25 miles south) who turned out to be the authors of the Bike Louisiana Web site. They strongly discouraged me from following US-190 toward Baton Rouge. They said it had lots of bridges without shoulders. I figured, hey, no sweat; there were lots of bridges without shoulders on the road I took across the border! They didn't say that one of these bridges was FOUR MILES LONG. They also didn't tell me that the campground I was counting on was not open to me. Either of those facts would have caused me to reconsider, but instead they kept saying that the route featured on their Web site, which would take me 50 miles farther north, was much more beautiful. I didn't find this argument convincing. I stopped for a second opinion at the tourist information center in town, and the staff there assured me that US-190 had been repaved and now had a very nice shoulder except on a few bridges, and that there was no need to detour farther north.

I headed off down the road feeling a little bit smug that I had better information than those recreational tourists from Lafayette who probably hadn't set eyes on the highway since it was repaved. The shoulder was smooth, and I had a nice tailwind, and I made excellent time all the way through Krotz Springs and across the Atchafalaya River, which is at least as wide at that point as the Mississippi is in St. Louis, but only about half as wide as the Mississippi is in Baton Rouge. Then I turned south on the state highway that would lead me to my campground in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.

Now, I've heard of the Atchafalaya Swamp. I was looking forward to camping in the refuge, not so much because I was eager to sleep in another swamp, but because it's famous, and because it's national land. My map showed a campground about three miles down a state highway from 190. The road was marked as a state highway, but it was unpaved. Or rather, it was under an inch of gravel. This was no temporary fix; the road was paved in an inch of loose gravel and left that way. It was extremely tough going on my bike. I suddenly thought to wonder whether the campground actually existed. I tried to call the agency responsible for the refuge, but they didn't answer. I decided to go back to the highway, not so much because I couldn't get through the gravel that afternoon, but because if I did sleep three miles down that road, I'd have to get back through the gravel first thing in the morning!

Turning back turned out to be the best decision I've made in a long time, because next came the four mile bridge. It was not shown as a bridge on the map. It was not marked in any way with signs: "Danger: no stopping, next 4 mi." We just started across, and there was no shoulder and no way off. In broad daylight it was no problem -- the cars could see me half a mile away and had plenty of time to get out of my lane and pass safely. But crossing it in the morning fog would be incredibly stupid ... and unavoidable, since I wouldn't know where I was until it was too late! As it was, I got to see all I need to see of the Atchafalaya Swamp over the side of the bridge, and I arrived safely on the other side in the little town of Lottie.

I stopped at a convenience store and told my story to the clerk, who said that campground is only open to hunters anyway! I think she may have confused it with another at the nearby wildlife management area, since I don't believe hunting is allowed in a refuge by definition, but for all I know she may be right. She said there was only one hotel between Lottie and the outskirts of Baton Rouge, and it was probably booked solid. I called ahead, and they said they were indeed full up, so I hit the road again with the prospect of riding long after dark, as I hadn't done since I was north of Dallas. But when I got to Livonia I decided to stop in at the hotel and ask again. The desk clerk said a room had just opened up! It's been a while since I've been so grateful to plunk down $60 for a hotel room!

I had no trouble riding into Baton Rouge this morning (Saturday); I crossed the Mississippi around noon on another big scary bridge with no shoulders. [I later learned that I should have taken a ferry a few miles away.] I immediately got off the highway onto the Business Route, which was named on street signs as Scenic Hwy. It led me past all sorts of refineries and auto scrapyards and other scenic places on the way to downtown, and I got a flat tire. The fumes from one of the refineries were so bad I put on my dust mask, and when I took off my glasses later to clean them, the glass lenses were pitted!

I went and paid my respects to the Mississippi downtown, where there's a levy about 20 feet high with park benches along the top. The current is much faster than I expected it to be on such a wide river, about 10 mph. All the tugboats on the river idled their engines while a paddlewheeler of tourists gave a calliope concert for the entire riverfront; as soon as the music stopped, the barges started moving again.

The downtown library didn't have the maps I was looking for, so they sent me to a larger branch that was on my way to the campground. The second library turned out not to carry the maps either, so I'll have to look for them in New Orleans. I ran some other errands on the way out of town but started to get anxious about setting up camp, as a cold front was blowing in.

When I got to the campground, there was no one in its office. A sign advised me to go ahead and set up, so I did so at the far end of the lot. There were a lot of spiders in the grass, but they were harmless, so I went ahead and set up camp. I had everything situated and was about to have some dinner when the owner showed up and told me they no longer allow tents! She wouldn't make an exception and told me noplace else in town would take me, either. I had no choice but to pack up and leave as the sun was setting. Fortunately there was a motel just a mile farther down the road, and the owner gave me a rather foul-smelling suite for the price of a regular room.

Tomorrow morning I'll go to church and hope to meet some folks who will help me feel better about Louisiana. Really it's not the state's fault that my maps have let me down! And the food here is excellent. So wish me luck! I'll be in New Orleans in a few days! --Ben

Ben Sat, 01/22/2005 - 11:06

To Livonia, LA

To Livonia, LA

Today was one of those days when nothing goes quite as expected.  I woke in the morning to find Opelousas blanketed in heavy fog.  I had a short day of riding ahead of me, so I decided to walk to a restaurant and get breakfast while waiting for my tent to dry.

I asked a few passersby for a restaurant that might have some local flavor (as opposed to McDonalds, which was the first place they all named when I asked about breakfast) and wound up at a greasy-spoon diner a menu that could have been anywhere in the country.  I put Tabasco sauce on my eggs.

The fog was just beginning to clear when I got back, and my tent wasn't any closer to being dry, so I put it away anyway and prepared to leave.  I tried to pay the folks in the park office for my overnight stay, but they insisted I could only pay the guy who hadn't shown up to take my money the night before, and he wasn't any more present in the morning, so I left without paying.

As I was leaving the park, I met two other bike tourists, an elderly couple from Lafayette (about 25 miles south) who turned out to be the authors of the Bike Louisiana Web site.  They strongly discouraged me from following US-190 toward Baton Rouge.  They said it had lots of bridges without shoulders.  I figured, hey, there were lots of bridges without shoulders on the road I took across the border; no sweat!  They didn't say that one of these bridges was FOUR MILES LONG.  They also didn't tell me that the campground I was counting on was not open to me.  Either of those facts would have caused me to reconsider, but instead they kept saying that the route featured on their Web site, which would take me 50 miles farther north, was much more beautiful.

I stopped for a second opinion at the tourist information center in town, and a woman there assured me that US-190 had a very nice shoulder except on a few bridges, and that there was no need to detour farther north.  I headed off down the road feeling a little bit smug that I had better information than those recreational tourists from Lafayette who probably hadn't set eyes on the highway since it was repaved.

The shoulder was smooth, and I had a nice tailwind, and I made excellent time all the way through Krotz Springs and across the Atchafalaya River, which is at least as wide here as the Mississippi is in St. Louis, but only about half as wide as the Mississippi is here.  Then I turned south on the state highway that would lead me to my campground in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.

Now, I've heard of the Atchafalaya Swamp.  I was looking forward to camping in the refuge, not so much because I was eager to sleep in another swamp, but because it's famous, and because it's national land.  My map showed a campground about three miles down a state highway from 190.

The road was marked as a state highway, but it was unpaved.  Or rather, it was under an inch of gravel.  This was no temporary fix; the road was paved in an inch of loose gravel and left that way.  It was very tough going on my bike.  I suddenly thought to wonder whether the campground actually existed.  I tried to call the agency responsible for the refuge, but they didn't answer.  I decided to go back to the highway, not so much because I couldn't get through the gravel this afternoon, but because if I did sleep three miles down that road, I'd have to get back through the gravel first thing in the morning!

Turning back turned out to be the best decision I've made in a long time, because next came the four mile bridge.  It was not shown as a bridge on the map.  It was not marked in any way with signs: "Danger: no stopping, next 4 mi."  We just started across, and there was no shoulder and no way off.  In broad daylight it was no problem -- the cars could see me half a mile away and had plenty of time to get out of my lane and pass safely.  But crossing it in the morning fog would be incredibly stupid ... and unavoidable, since I wouldn't know where I was until it was too late!

As it was, everything turned out for the best: I got to see all I need to see of the Atchafalaya.

30.6 mi

Ben Fri, 01/21/2005 - 16:00

to Baton Rouge

to Baton Rouge

I had no trouble riding into Baton Rouge this morning; I crossed the Mississippi around noon.  I got off the highway onto the Business Route, which was named on street signs as Scenic Hwy.  It led me past all sorts of refineries and auto scrapyards and other scenic places on the way to downtown.

I went and paid my respects to the Mississippi at its downtown bank.  The current is much faster than I expected it would be here, about 10 mph.  All the tugboats on the river idled their engines while a paddlewheeler of tourists gave a calliope concert; as soon as the music stopped, the barges started moving again.

The downtown library didn't have the maps I was looking for, so they sent me to a larger branch that was on my way to the campground.  The second library turned out not to carry the maps either, so I'll have to look for them in New Orleans.  I ran some other errands on the way out of town but started to get anxious about setting up camp, as a cold front was blowing in.

When I got to the campground, there was no one in its office.  A sign advised me to go ahead and set up, so I did so at the far end of the lot.  There were a lot of spiders in the grass, but they were harmless, so I went ahead and set up.  I had everything situated and was about to have some dinner when the owner showed up and told me they no longer allow tents!  She wouldn't make an exception and told me noplace else in town would take me, either.  I had no choice but to pack up and leave as the sun was setting.

Fortunately there was a motel just a mile farther down the road, and the owner gave me a rather foul-smelling suite for the price of a regular room.

26.6 mi

Ben Sat, 01/22/2005 - 16:04

Jan 26: New Orleans

Jan 26: New Orleans

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 26, 2005]

I should have known better than to write you folks after having a bad day... my friend Joni once told me that "The only difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you choose to end the story." By writing when I did, I left you with the impression that things are going badly, when really I just had a lapse in my usual good fortune!

I rode into Baton Rouge Sunday morning and got to church well before the 9:30 service. I introduced myself during the first service and then settled in to socialize during a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the youth (teenagers), who recently attended the Houston Rally. I attended many a "rally" (conference) in Texas when I was their age, but never as far south as Houston.

I met a lot of interesting people during the breakfast, and eventually I was introduced to a couple who had done some bike touring of their own. Richard and Holley biked around Italy and Cuba recently and have traveled all over the world. Their son Webb is a 1998 Carleton College graduate with a couple post-grad degrees, currently living with his folks between careers. They invited me to stay the night at their house, which is very large on an even larger lot, in an affluent neighborhood near the university. Richard is a professor emeritus of physics at LSU, about a half mile from their home. Holley is a family doctor working for a nonprofit clinic that is suffering from "founder's syndrome," so she's been reading up on the phenomenon trying to find any tips that could help her and her coworkers cope. I spent the afternoon researching my route through New Orleans and Mississippi, while Richard and Webb watched football on TV and Holley rehearsed her role as lawnmower-pushing chicken for a local Mardi Gras parade.

I left their house shortly after sunrise on Monday, having planned a couple possible routes for the day based mainly on where motels were available. One route would have me cross the river on a ferry and stay the night in Donaldsonville, which is only 1/3 of the way to New Orleans from Baton Rouge. The other route stayed on the east bank and took me as far as LaPlace, about 2/3 of the way to New Orleans. The choice between the two routes wound up being made for me because I missed a turn! So although I battled fatigue all day -- probably thanks to something I ate the day before -- I took the longer route to LaPlace.

My instincts told me that US-61 would be a great road to ride between the two cities, because the parallel I-10 would carry all the heavy traffic. Richard counseled me to follow the River Road instead. I compromised and did a little of each during the course of the day. Route 61 turned out to be very pleasant in my opinion, since it had wide, smooth shoulders and little traffic. It led through about 15 miles of scenic bayou, but with few bridges; mostly infill so that the road -- shoulders and all -- was several feet above the swamp. The River Road, on the other hand, was windy and had no shoulders and very impatient drivers, and many of the refineries smelled bad.

Some of the oceangoing ships that dock at the "Port of South Louisiana" are huge! It's hard to imagine how they can navigate the twists and turns of the river, let alone turn around 180˚ for the return trip, especially when equally large ships are coming the other way. I rode up on top of the levee whenever possible to get away from the traffic, and that was a lot of fun, but the road there was gravel, and I had to keep coming down to pass under the pipelines and conveyors that link the industries on shore to their docks.

When I entered LaPlace, I asked some locals where I could find one of the half-dozen motels. They soberly directed me to a place that was absolutely appalling... I turned around so fast in the parking lot that I slipped in the gravel and capsized. There were guard dogs all over the place, and the doorknob on one room appeared to have been removed with a shotgun! It took me an hour and a half to find another motel with a vacancy, but the room I got was fabulous... bigger than the two-bedroom apartment I shared in Minneapolis, and the walls were periwinkle, and there was a caged raccoon habitat just outside my door.

I was in no hurry to join the rush-hour traffic on US-61 Tuesday morning, so I watched two Buffy reruns over breakfast. I followed 61 through some more scenic bayous -- riding on generous shoulders all the way -- until I reached the suburb of Jefferson. There I joined the River Road for a while and finally got up on the levee, where a paved bike path took me most of the way into town. Once in New Orleans, I had some trouble finding good roads to ride to the Jackson Avenue ferry terminal, but I got there without incident.

The ferry ride was brief but exciting: in the strongest part of the current, the boat had to point at 45 degrees just to move in a straight line. It's hard to imagine that running a free ferry every 15 minutes can be more affordable for the city than putting in another bridge with a sidewalk and/or bus route, but I guess it is.

I had an easier time getting back into New Orleans from the state park Wednesday morning than I had getting there Tuesday night, because the road had a paved ditch on the eastbound side, and I was able to ride in that. I took a different ferry into downtown from Algiers, where many of the Mardi Gras floats are made. I arrived downtown on Canal Street, which is a wide boulevard with streetcar tracks down the center, newly restored after being removed 50 years ago. I saw another bicyclist riding down the streetcar right-of-way (which I learned is called "the neutral ground" for historical reasons), so I tried that and found it much easier than riding in the lanes of traffic. I made a beeline for the central library and spent an hour online before meeting the only person I know in New Orleans for lunch.

Phyllis was doing a telephone survey of library bookstores about eight months ago and interviewed me regarding the one I was assistant-managing in Minneapolis. I mentioned that I'd be passing through New Orleans, and she told me to look her up, and I held her to it, though of course she didn't remember me! She took me to a seafood restaurant off Bourbon Street.

During my hour on the computer, I got an e-mail from my mother about the premier episode of Nova ScienceNow, which had a feature about New Orleans and its vulnerability to hurricanes. I missed the episode on the air, but I was able to watch it there on the computer! It included footage of some sights I'd already seen, and some others that I saw during the stroll to the restaurant. It also made me very glad I didn't pass through here last August!

By the time we got back to the library it was already 2:30, so I headed straight out of town to a campground that's more conveniently located than the state park. It's even on a bus route -- I'll see if they can accommodate my bike! I'll do some more sightseeing tomorrow without my trailer and head out of town on Friday.

Q: National Wildlife Refuges do indeed allow hunting by definition. One of the Fish and Wildlife Service's main directives is to conserve and provide a place to hunt and fish.
A: I stand corrected! I should have known, since the Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense prefers to fight on the offensive, and the Department of the Interior is in charge of externalities, naturally wildlife refuges would be places where wildlife can be killed. I apologize for the confusion. ;-)

Ben Wed, 01/26/2005 - 09:02

Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge

I rode into town this morning and got to church well before the 9:30 service, so I rode to the nearby bike shop to see when it would be open. Come to find out it's closed Sundays, so I just went back to church.  I introduced myself during the first service and then settled in to socialize during a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the youth, who recently attended the Houston Rally.

I met a lot of interesting people during the breakfast, and eventually I was introduced to a couple who had done some bike touring of their own.  Richard and Holley biked around Italy and Cuba recently, and have traveled all over the world.  Their son Webb is a 1998 Carleton College graduate with a couple post-grad degrees, currently living with his folks between jobs.  They invited me to stay the night at their house, which is very large on an even larger lot.

Richard is a professor emeritus of physics at LSU, about a half mile from their home.  Holley is a family doctor working for a nonprofit clinic that is suffering from "founder's syndrome," so she's been reading up on the phenomenon.

I spent the afternoon researching my route through New Orleans and Mississippi, while Richard and Webb watched football on TV and Holley rehearsed her role as lawnmower-pushing chicken for a local Mardi Gras parade.

Ben Sun, 01/23/2005 - 16:08

To LaPlace, LA

To LaPlace, LA

I left the Haymakers' shortly after sunrise, having planned a couple possible routes for the day, determined by where motels were available.  One would have me cross the river on a ferry and stay the night in Donaldsonville, which is only 1/3 of the way to New Orleans from Baton Rouge.  The other route stayed on the east bank and took me as far as LaPlace, about 2/3 of the way to New Orleans.

The choice between the two routes wound up being made for me because I missed a turn!  So although I battled fatigue all day -- probably something I ate yesterday -- I took the longer route to LaPlace.

My instincts told me that US-61 would be a great road to ride between the two cities, because the parallel I-10 would carry all the heavy traffic.  Richard counseled me to follow the River Road instead.  I compromised and did a little of each during the course of the day.

Route 61 turned out to be very pleasant in my opinion, since it had wide, smooth shoulders and little traffic.  It led through about 15 miles of scenic bayou, but with few bridges; mostly infill so that the road -- shoulders and all -- was several feet above the swamp.

The River Road was windy and had no shoulders and very impatient drivers, and many of the refineries smelled bad.  The "Port of South Louisiana" is practically continuous docks all the way up past Baton Rouge, and some of the boats that dock along the river are huge!  I rode up on top of the levee whenever possible to get away from the traffic, and that was a lot of fun, but I had to keep coming down to pass under the pipelines and conveyors that link the industries on shore to their docks.

When I passed through the town of Reserve I checked out the ferry that I thought I might use first thing in the morning, in order to ride the west bank River Road the rest of the way into town.  When I entered LaPlace, I asked some locals where I could find one of the half-dozen motels.  They soberly directed me to a place that was absolutely appalling... I turned around so fast in the parking lot that I slipped in the gravel and capsized.  There were guard dogs all over the place, and the doorknob on one room had been shot off!  It took me an hour and a half to find another motel with a vacancy, but the room I got is fabulous... bigger than my two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis, if you count the balcony, and the walls are periwinkle.

53.7 mi

Ben Mon, 01/24/2005 - 16:09

to New Orleans

to New Orleans

I was in no hurry to join the rush-hour traffic on US-61, so I watched two Buffy reruns over breakfast.  I followed 61 through some scenic bayous -- with generous shoulders all the way -- until I reached the suburb of Jefferson.  There I joined the River Road for a while and finally got up on the levee, where a paved bike path took me most of the way into town.

Once in town, I had some trouble finding good roads to ride to the Jackson Avenue ferry terminal, but I got there without incident.  The ferry ride was brief but exciting: in the strongest part of the current, the boat had to point at 45 degrees just to move in a straight line.

I had hoped that Bayou Segnette State Park would make a good base of operations so that I could leave my stuff there tomorrow and ride into town without it, but the roads on the west bank are not bike friendly, so I'll find another campground tomorrow.  The park itself is quite nice, but it's not worth the trouble of getting there from town.

39.6 mi

Ben Tue, 01/25/2005 - 16:12

New Orleans, day 1

New Orleans, day 1

I had an easier time getting back into New Orleans from the state park than I had getting to the park last night, because the road had a paved ditch most of the way, and I was able to ride in that.  I took a different ferry that went straight downtown from Algiers, where many of the Mardi Gras floats are made.

I rode into downtown on Canal Street, which is a wide boulevard with streetcar tracks down the center.  I saw another bicyclist riding down the streetcar right-of-way, so I tried that and found it much easier than riding in the lanes of traffic.

I made a beeline for the central library and spent an hour online before meeting the only person I know in New Orleans for lunch.  Phyllis was doing a telephone survey of library bookstores about eight months ago and interviewed me regarding the one I was assistant-managing in Minneapolis.  I mentioned that I'd be passing through New Orleans, and she told me to look her up, and I held her to it!  She took me to a seafood restaurant near Bourbon Street.

During my hour of Internet use, I got an e-mail from my mother about the premier episode of Nova ScienceNow, which had a feature about New Orleans and its vulnerability to hurricanes.  I missed the episode on the air, but I was able to watch it there on the computer!  It included footage of some sights I'd already seen, and some others that I saw during the stroll to the restaurant.

By the time we got back to the library it was already 2:30, so I headed straight out of town to a campground that's more conveniently located than the state park.  It's even on a bus route -- I'll see if they can accommodate my bike tomorrow!  I'll do some more sightseeing tomorrow without my trailer and head out of town on Friday.

19.4 mi

Ben Wed, 01/26/2005 - 16:14

Jan 29: Mississippi (the state)

Jan 29: Mississippi (the state)

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on 1/29/2005]

The campground where I stayed Wednesday and Thursday night in New Orleans was very brightly lit all night, for security. The first night I draped the space blanket, which I assumed to be opaque, over the top of the tent to try to blot out the light, but some came through. Between that and the sound of the nearby highways and railroad tracks, I slept poorly. I woke around 4:00 with chills and put my hat on. With it over my eyes and earplugs in my ears, I finally slept soundly until 7:00. I had warmed up enough that I walked to the restroom in a T-shirt and shorts, but by the time I had made breakfast I realized I would need more clothes than that! I didn't want to repeat the mistake I'd made in Austin and go into town without warm clothes. As it turned out, the day didn't warm up at all, so I wore my windbreaker suit all day long.

I rode into town without my trailer (zoom!) and was soon in the French Quarter. I found a shop that could develop my film to CD and settled in for cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Mond, which I had heard was a mandatory part of the New Orleans experience. At $3.50 I didn't mind giving it a try! Beignets are more like Indian fry bread than donuts -- sturdy enough for dunking. I'm not sure whether dunking them is strictly proper, but it keeps the powdered sugar from getting all over one's clothes and beard.

When I was satisfied that I had seen the waterfront, I rode north and found a bike shop. The owner examined my pedals and said that the persistent clicking sound is nothing serious. He gave me some spare BikeE parts he had left over (since my brand of bike is no longer made), and he showed me the new Giant "Revive" semi-recumbent bikes he's selling. They're very snazzy, much more attractive than the other recumbents in their price range ($650-$800). I also visited a Whole Foods store which turned out to be the smallest in the country, which I thought was funny because I'd just been to the flagship store in Austin, which fills a city block.

My last sight to see was the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the astoundingly long bridge featured in many a car commercial. It's difficult to photograph, especially on a gray day, but I did my best. On my way back to camp, I crossed a drawbridge on its sidewalk and got to see its workings up close while waiting for it to come back down. There was a chain at each corner of the counterweights, and each link must have weighed half a ton!

My neighbors in the campground were a honeymooning couple from Colorado. Their route is similar to mine, but they're going much faster in a VW camper. We enjoyed comparing notes about New Orleans. The husband is from Scotland, and his accent is identical to Mike Myers's faux-Scots accent. I didn't get their names, so they'll always be Shrek and Fiona to me! (Although I'm quite sure they didn't have a talking donkey -- or Eddie Murphy -- with them.)

Friday's forecast didn't begin to describe what happened... there were supposed to be scattered showers, but instead it rained all day long, and the wind was fierce. I had a strong headwind most of the way into Mississippi, but it was worst whenever I came near a lake, which happened a lot... US-90 was often the only dry ground for miles, with a bayou on one side and a lake on the other, and then vice versa. The highway was lined with "camps" -- vacation cabins built on the second floor, with a carport and boat dock underneath. Practically every "camp" had a sign by the road giving a fanciful or clever name for the place. Unfortunately for me there was noplace to stop... no stores and no privacy for miles and miles. But the traffic was light most of the way, so it was pleasant riding in spite of the weather.

I stopped for lunch at a bar and grill just across the Mississippi border. The waitress and customers were very curious and supportive about my trip, but I told them I was from Oklahoma rather than Minnesota to be on the safe side. Due to the rain, the dim light, and possibly a lack of road signs, I missed a few turns and took a long way around to Buccaneer State Park. I wound up going through the town of Lakeshore and running right smack into the Gulf of Mexico! The road from there to the park took me along a sea wall, with a terrific wind coming off the gulf and waves breaking across the road. I had to ride through a few inches of salt water, but the rain rinsed it all off!

By this point I noticed it was getting awfully dark. My internal clock said it was only about 3:00, but I wasn't wearing my watch and couldn't check the time on my other gadgets without getting them wet. Turned out it was already 5:30, and the sun was setting! I pitched my tent by flashlight during a lull in the rain. I stayed dry through the night, but my gear got soaked. I resolved to make it a short day (today: Saturday) so I could dry everything thoroughly before using it again. But then I decided I should visit a library before everything closed for Sunday... Before leaving the park I did some work on my bike. As usual after a rainstorm, the bearings on my front wheel had gotten wet, so I cleaned and re-greased them. I also cleaned and lubed the chain, which had gotten filthy in the wind and rain.

I spent all day following the Gulf, which was astonishingly calm after yesterday's storm. I mean, I've seen bigger waves on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. You would think a body of water that size would have big waves even on a calm day, but apparently the islands offshore reduce the wave action; that's all I can figure.

US-90 crosses the Bay of St. Louis on a bridge that's about two miles long. On a foggy morning, you can't see either end from the middle. There was a sidewalk, but it was so narrow I walked my bike for the first half mile, afraid that if I got on and rode, the trailer would fall off the curb and capsize into traffic. On a windy day like yesterday I'm sure that would have happened, but today it didn't.

I reached the Pass Christian library around noon, but they didn't have the maps of Alabama I was looking for. A librarian checked the catalog of the Gulfport library, 12 miles farther down the road, and found a copy there. So off I went. Gulfport has two giant casinos offshore, so there are lots of hotels and RV parks nearby, but the one campground that allowed tent camping was unexpectedly full when I called around 4:00, after using the library. I decided I'd had enough traveling and got a hotel room. This not only allowed me to dry out my gear and attend church in the morning (tomorrow), but I also got a coupon for Waffle House... the discount came to only 46 cents, but I was glad for an excuse to eat at one of my favorite restaurants.

Some reflections on Louisiana and New Orleans:

  • So many places sell boiled crawfish in southern Louisiana that it almost doesn't make sense to advertise, like advertising cheese in Wisconsin. And yet I never actually saw anyone eating boiled crawfish. Maybe they're the cajun equivalent of north-Texas donuts.
  • Having experienced Texas chili and Louisiana cayenne, I am convinced that cayenne is a superior pepper. Take the pepper challenge... maybe you're a pepper, too!
  • I was really impressed by New Orleans. It seems to strike a good balance between its tourist economy and the other things it does. It also strikes a good balance between being cosmopolitan -- about 10% of the population is Vietnamese -- and having a unique local culture rooted in history. And best of all, many of the tourist attractions are free of charge!
  • Louisiana drivers were extremely patient and considerate towards me (except on the River Road), even though I frequently had to share the road with them. I got the impression that people there are just more laid back than other places I've been.

So far Mississippi is pretty friendly, too! I'll write you again from Mobile, Alabama! --Ben

Ben Sat, 01/29/2005 - 09:07

New Orleans, day 2

New Orleans, day 2

The campground was very brightly lit all night, for security.  I draped the space blanket, which I assumed to be opaque, over the top of the tent to try to blot out the light, but some came through.  Between that and the sound of the nearby highways and railroad tracks, I slept poorly.  I woke around 4:00 with chills and put my hat on.  With it over my eyes and earplugs in my ears, I finally slept soundly until 7:00.

I had warmed up enough that I walked to the restroom in a T-shirt and shorts, but by the time I had made breakfast I realized I would need more clothes than that!  I didn't want to repeat the mistake I'd made in Austin and go into town without warm clothes.

I rode into town without my trailer (zoom!) and was soon in the French Quarter.  I found a shop that could develop my film to CD and settled in for cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Mond, which I had heard was a mandatory part of the New Orleans experience.  At $3.50 I didn't mind giving it a try!

When I was satisfied that I had seen the waterfront, I rode north and found a bike shop.  The owner examined my pedals and said that the persistent clicking sound is nothing serious.  He gave me some spare BikeE parts he had left over (since my brand of bike is no longer made), and he showed me the new Giant "Revive" semi-recumbent bikes he's selling.  They're very snazzy, much more attractive than the other recumbents in their price range.

I also visited a Whole Foods store which turned out to be the smallest in the country, which I thought was funny because I'd just been to the flagship store in Austin.

My last sight to see was the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the astoundingly long bridge featured in many a car commercial.  It's difficult to photograph, but I did my best.

On my way back to camp, I crossed a drawbridge on its sidewalk and got to see its workings up close while waiting for it to come back down.  There was a chain at each corner of the counterweights, and each link must have weighed half a ton!

Ben Thu, 01/27/2005 - 16:19

to Buccaneer State Park, MS

to Buccaneer State Park, MS

Today's forecast didn't *begin* to describe what happened... there were supposed to be scattered showers, but instead it rained all day long, and the wind was fierce.  I had a strong headwind most of the way into Mississippi, but it was worst whenever I came near a lake, which happened a lot...

US-90 was often the only dry ground for miles, with bayous on one side and a lake on the other, and then vice versa.  The highway was lined with "camps" -- vacation cabins built with a carport and boat dock on the ground floor and the house up above, in case of high water.  Practically every "camp" had a sign by the road giving a fanciful or clever name for the place.  Unfortunately for me there was noplace to stop... no convenience stores and no privacy for miles and miles.  But the traffic was light most of the way, so it was pleasant riding.

I stopped for lunch at a bar and grill just across the Mississippi border.  The waitress and customers were very curious and supportive about my trip, but I told them I was from Oklahoma rather than Minnesota to be on the safe side.

Due to the rain, the dim light, and possibly a lack of road signs, I missed a few turns and took a long way around to Buccaneer State Park.  I wound up going through the town of Lakeshore and running right smack into the Gulf of Mexico!  The road to the park took me along a sea wall, with a terrific wind coming off the gulf, and waves were breaking across the road.  I had to ride through a few inches of salt water, but the rain rinsed it all off!

By this point I noticed it was getting awfully dark.  My internal clock said it was only about 3:00, but I wasn't wearing my watch and couldn't check the time on my other gadgets without getting them wet.  Turned out it was 5:30, and the sun was setting!  I pitched my tent by flashlight during a lull in the rain.

45.7 mi

Ben Fri, 01/28/2005 - 00:00

to Gulfport, MS

to Gulfport, MS

I stayed dry through the night of rain, but my gear got soaked.  I resolved to make it a short day so I could dry everything thoroughly before using it again.  But then I decided to visit a library before everything closed for Sunday...

The Gulf was astonishingly calm today.  I mean, I've seen bigger waves on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.  You would think a body of water that size would have big waves even on a calm day, but apparently the islands offshore reduce the wave action.

US-90 crosses the Bay of St. Louis on a bridge that's about two miles long.  On a foggy morning, you can't see either end from the middle.  There was a sidewalk, but it was so narrow I walked my bike for the first half mile; I was afraid if I got on and rode, the trailer would fall off the curb and capsize into traffic.  On a windy day like yesterday I'm sure that would have happened, but today it didn't.

I reached the Pass Christian library around noon, but they didn't have the maps of Alabama I was looking for.  A librarian checked the catalog of the Gulfport library, 12 miles farther down the road, and found a copy there.  So off I went.

Gulfport has two giant casinos offshore, so there are lots of hotels and RV parks nearby, but the one campground that allowed tent camping was unexpectedly full when I called around 4:00, after using the library.  I decided I'd had enough traveling and got a hotel room.  This not only allowed me to dry out my gear and attend church in the morning, but I also got a coupon for Waffle House... the discount came to only 46 cents, but I was glad for an excuse to eat at one of my favorite restaurants!

22 mi

Ben Sat, 01/29/2005 - 00:00

Jan 31: Alabama

Jan 31: Alabama

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 31, 2005]

I was all set to go to church Sunday morning in Gulfport, but I underestimated how long it would take to find the place. Rather than arrive late, I decided to head on down the road. By the time the service ended, I was already in Biloxi!

It was an absolutely gorgeous day. The clouds were gone by 11 and stayed gone all day, and there was no wind, so although the temperature was cool it wasn't chilly. Biloxi is a big casino town, with lots of tourist attractions along the beach. I saw two of a species I had thought long extinct: cement waterslides! I guess the liability laws must be different in Mississippi. I also saw something I haven't seen since ... Indiana? ... a farm stand selling fresh produce! I'm close enough to Florida now that vine-ripened tomatoes and other goodies can be trucked in overnight.

I stopped at Gulf Islands National Seashore and enjoyed the visitor center but decided not to camp there. Instead I rode on to Sheppard State Park, a few miles west of Pascagoula. On the highway I saw a familiar sight: a bicyclist pulling a two-wheeled trailer of camping gear with a big orange flag on the back! We called "hey" to each other, but the highway median prevented us from having a conversation.

I continue to be amazed that every campground does things differently from every other. Sheppard State Park locks its shower rooms and only gives keys to those who ask to pay a deposit. I didn't ask, so I didn't get a shower! Fortunately the day had been cool enough that I didn't need one very badly.

I rode into Pascagoula first thing this morning (Monday) and went straight to the First Baptist Church. A member of the office staff patiently confirmed that yes, it is the church featured [as the "First Self-Righteous Church!"] in the Ray Stevens song and video, "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival," but no, the event did not actually occur. She said that it's not just tourists; some of the residents also think that song is the only memorable thing about the town!

I spent nearly an hour at the Pascagoula library getting phone numbers for campgrounds, but when I stepped outside and called them, only one allowed tents, and it was in Mobile, another 30 miles away. I decided to give it a shot. Outside Pascagoula, I saw another trailer with another orange flag. This one was a Burley trailer designed to carry a child, but its owner was using it to pick up aluminum cans from the roadside. I told him the story about how my trailer is made from recycled aluminum collected on trailers just like it.

I had been warned that a big stretch of US-90 was under construction, so I detoured to a parallel road... or would have, had the street signs not been all wonky near the state line. Instead I wound up on a less parallel road about 5 miles farther north than I would have liked, but it got me into town. The day was gray, and it began to rain on and off as I approached Mobile. I stopped for directions at a gas station, and the woman there really went the extra mile. She called ahead to the campground for directions, suggested a route for me, and gave me a free cup of coffee. The route she suggested was hair-raising at rush hour; I hate to imagine the other one that she said was less safe!

The owner of the campground gave me a key to the "office," a mobile (manufactured) home complete with kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. It didn't occur to me that the little water heater wouldn't be up to the task of filling my bath and the washing machine at the same time, so I had a cold bath, but it was better than none at all!

I enjoyed my three days in Mississippi! I'm aware that I really only saw the coast, which was a lot like Florida, having been part of Florida historically. I'm looking forward to getting to the Florida coast in a few days. See you there! --Ben

Ben Mon, 01/31/2005 - 00:00

to Gautier / Sheppard SP, MS

to Gautier / Sheppard SP, MS

I was all set to go to church this morning, but I underestimated how long it would take to find the place.  Rather than arrive late, I decided to head on down the road.  By the time the service ended, I was already in Biloxi!

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  The clouds were gone by 11 and stayed gone all day, and there was no wind, so although the temperature was cool it wasn't chilly.

Biloxi is a big casino town, with lots of tourist attractions along the beach.  I saw two of a species I had though long extinct: cement waterslides!  I guess the liablity laws must be different in Mississippi.  I also saw something I haven't seen since ... Indiana? ... a farm stand selling fresh produce!  I'm close enough to Florida now that vine-ripened tomatoes and other goodies can be trucked in overnight.

I stopped at Gulf Islands National Lakeshore and enjoyed the visitor center but decided not to camp there.  Instead I rode on to Sheppard State Park, a few miles west of Pascagoula.

On the highway I saw a familiar sight: a bicyclist pulling a two-wheeled trailer of camping gear with a big orange flag on the back!  We called "hey" to each other, but the highway median prevented us from having a conversation.

31.6 mi

Ben Sun, 01/30/2005 - 11:06

to Mobile

to Mobile

I rode into Pascagoula first thing this morning and went straight to the First Baptist Church.  A member of the office staff patiently confirmed that yes, it is the church featured in Ray Stevens's song, "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival" but no, the event did not actually occur.

I spent nearly an hour in the public library getting phone numbers for campgrounds, but when I stepped outside and called them, only one allowed tents, and it was in Mobile, Alabama, 30 miles away.  I decided to give it a shot.

I had been warned that a big stretch of US-90 was under construction, so I detoured to a parallel road... or would have, had the street signs not been all wonky near the state line.  Instead I wound up on a less parallel road about 5 miles farther north than I would have liked.

The day was gray, and it began to drizzle as I approached Mobile.  I stopped for directions at a gas station, and the woman there really went the extra mile.  She called ahead to the campground for directions, suggested a route for me, and gave me a free cup of coffee.  The route she suggested was hair-raising; I hate to imagine the other one that she said was less safe!

The owner of the campground gave me a key to the "office," a mobile home complete with kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room.  It didn't occur to me that the little water heater wouldn't be up to the task of filling my bath and the washing machine at the same time, so I had a cold bath, but it was better than none at all!

43.5 mi

Ben Mon, 01/31/2005 - 11:09

Feb 3: Florida

Feb 3: Florida

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on February 3, 2005]

As I write this, I'm still in Alabama, just across the border from Florida, but by the time I send it I'll be in Florida at last. I wound up staying in Alabama a couple days longer than I expected!

It rained all night on my little tent in Mobile but let up a few hours before dawn Tuesday. I left camp at a reasonable hour and headed straight for a big chain bookstore: the time had come to buy my Florida map. There were some stores in the nearby malls that I thought might carry chain lube, so I paid them quick visits.

In the Toys R Us parking lot, a mother of twins idled her minivan to ask if I needed directions. I told her I didn't think so, but she proceeded to tell me eight times with a pained expression that I shouldn't ride through the tunnel across the river, which I already knew because it's an Interstate highway. I didn't want to be rude, because she was trying to be helpful. What I didn't know was that there are two tunnels, so when I told her I was going to ride on the US highway, she thought I planned to ride through its tunnel. The only other way across the river was a bridge about three miles north of the tunnels. Fortunately I allowed plenty of time, having no other business to keep me in Mobile.

Rain started falling again as I was crossing the river bridge, and it continued all day and evening. When the Hazardous Cargo route caught back up with the tunnel routes, the US and Interstate highways intertwined together playfully on their way across Mobile Bay. The Interstate bridge is about 15 feet above the water and crisscrosses back and forth above the US highway bridge, which is only about 6 inches above the water! Must have been high tide.

I considered stopping for the night at Meaher State Park, but when I learned there were no showers (aside from the scattered ones in progress) I decided to go on to the town of Daphne. I stopped at a gas station to ask directions to the bike shop, and the woman ahead of me in line was complaining that the rain had been with her all day since she left northern Louisiana in her RV that morning, and she hoped it wouldn't follow her all the way to Jacksonville, Florida that night. Meanwhile I dripped patiently behind her. [My Uncle Dale counseled me later that I should have said, "Must be tough!"]

At the bike shop I bought chain lube and asked about the "Bike Route to Florida" sign I had seen at the divergence of US-90 and US-98. The clerk said that it's not so much that 90 is a good road to ride as that this stretch of 98 gets terrible rush-hour traffic, so they wanted to entice bike tourists away from it! He then proceeded to recommend a motel on 98...

If I could live Groundhog Day over and over again, like Bill Murray's character in the movie, I don't think I would bike all day in the rain. I'd watch the 6 AM broadcast of the Buffy musical until I was sick of it. I'd try all of the thousands of ways to order Waffle House hashbrowns, including the ones that involve Bert's Chili, without fear of getting sick the next day. I'd give my rig to the two Hispanic guys who were admiring it. Then I'd call a cab and give the cute, sleep-deprived waitress the ride home to Mobile she was fishing for, and then I'd go to the airport and fly to Pittsburgh to meet my new nephew. Among many other possibilities. But I had the next day to think of, and the forecast said that the rain would stop by noon, so off I went.

I got as far as Foley, Alabama, where I knew there were hotels and campgrounds. But none of the campgrounds allowed tents, and all of the hotels were full! (I later learned why: read on.) That didn't leave me with much choice... I headed down a county road and pulled into the first concealed, non-posted property I found, which turned out to be an out-of-season strawberry field. All I can say is that anyone who can claim nothing is real after being in a strawberry field is either hallucinating or a very stubborn existentialist indeed, because strawberry hillocks are really lumpy!

I woke well before dawn Thursday and picked about 50 slugs off my tent before hitting the road at sunrise. I stopped at a convenience store and told a curious passerby that I was having trouble finding places to stay. His response changed my day and nearly changed my whole trip: he said this area is still recovering from last August's hurricanes, so there are hundreds of workmen visiting from out of town, plus displaced homeowners and renters. He suggested I go farther from the coast, i.e. back north where I had just come from. That would be a good suggestion, if I knew of any campgrounds farther north, but I didn't! I called a hotel in Pensacola, verified that there was at least one room available in town, and decided to ride there and use the library in the morning to plot further plans. If I couldn't find better options down the road, I'd pack up my gear and take a Greyhound to central Florida.

But as I was approaching the Florida border, I spotted another cyclist and stopped to talk. I asked him about the extent of the hurricane damage, and he said it was really only bad for a 100-mile stretch of the coast; once I got east of Destin I should be fine. Then he invited me to use the Internet at his place. By the time we were a mile down the road, he had invited me to camp in his yard. By the time I met his wife, I was to sleep in their camper in the garage. By the time I woke from an afternoon nap in the camper, I had been invited to sleep indoors and have dinner and breakfast with them. They took me to an import grocery store, where I bought two pounds of halvah (energy food!), and to a buffet restaurant where I got their money's worth. Their rationale for helping me was the same that Mike's mother used in Cincinnatti: "I know if it were my son out there, I'd want him to have X." Bruce is a retired Navy dental technician who makes extraordinary wildlife-inspired jigsaw art when he's not out bicycling. He and his wife travel in their camper and have all sorts of campground guides. I was able to find enough places in these guides that do allow tents and are not booked solid (I called them to double-check) that I won't have to ride the bus after all; I'll just detour around the windblown area as far as Destin.

Q: I was wondering, how do you handle securing your possessions when you leave your trailer at a campsite?
A: I don't. I have faith in the average person's lack of chutzpah. When the tent is all closed up, there's no way to tell whether or not it's occupied, short of opening it, so the only people who would know for sure that my stuff is unattended are the ones who know I'm traveling alone: one or two of my neighbors in the campground. Same goes for leaving my bike unlocked when I go into a store: I could come out any second, unless you saw me go into the bathroom. Most people won't risk it. And if they do, I'm insured. So far the only item that's ever been stolen from me in my adult life is my previous bike, and that was locked at the time!

Wish me weather worthy of Florida's reputation! --Ben

Ben Thu, 02/03/2005 - 08:49

to Daphne, AL

to Daphne, AL

It rained all night on my little tent but let up a few hours before dawn.  I left my camp in Mobile at a reasonable hour and headed straight for Barnes and Noble: the time had come to buy my Florida map.  There were some stores in the nearby malls that I thought might carry chain lube, so I paid quick visits to Sears, Target, and Toys R Us.

In the Toys R Us parking lot, a mother of twins idled her minivan to ask if I needed directions.  I told her I didn't think so, but she proceeded to tell me eight times with a pained expression that I shouldn't ride through the I-10 tunnel, which of course I already knew.  I didn't want to be rude, because she was trying to be helpful.  What I didn't know was that the only other way across the river was a bridge about three miles north of the tunnel; her pained expression was from thinking of the extra miles I'd have to travel.  Fortunately I allowed plenty of time, having no other business to keep me in Mobile.

Rain started falling again as I was crossing the river bridge, and it continued all day and evening.  When the US highway caught back up with the Interstate, they intertwined together playfully on their way across Mobile Bay.  The Interstate bridge is about 15 feet above the water and crisscrosses back and forth above the US highway bridge, which is only about 6 inches above the water!  Must have been high tide.

I considered stopping for the night at Meaher State Park, but when I learned there were no showers I decided to go on to the town of Daphne.  I stopped at a gas station to ask directions to the bike shop, and the woman ahead of me in line was complaining that the rain had been with her all day since she left northern Louisiana this morning, and she hoped it wouldn't follow her all the way to Jacksonville, Florida tonight.  Meanwhile I dripped patiently behind her... she of course was totally dry!

At the bike shop I bought chain lube and asked about the "Bike Route to Florida" sign I had seen at the divergence of US-90 and US-98.  The clerk said that it's not so much that 90 is a good road to ride as that this stretch of 98 gets terrible rush-hour traffic, so they wanted to entice bike tourists away from it!  He then proceeded to recommend a motel on 98... I'll have to be careful tomorrow morning!

So I'm yet again at a hotel.  The rain is supposed to let up after tomorrow, so I should be able to get in a couple days of camping in the coming week, assuming I can find places to stay!

25.4 mi

Ben Tue, 02/01/2005 - 11:18

To Foley, AL

To Foley, AL

If I could live this Groundhog Day over and over again, like Bill Murray's character in the movie, I don't think I would bike all day in the rain.  I'd watch the 6 AM broadcast of the Buffy musical until I was sick of it.  I'd try all of the thousands of ways to order Waffle House hashbrowns, including the ones that involve Bert's Chili, without fear of getting sick tomorrow.  I'd call a cab and give the cute, sleep-deprived waitress the ride home to Mobile she was fishing for, and then I'd go to the airport and fly to Pittsburgh to meet my new nephew.

But I had tomorrow to think of, and the forecast said that the rain would stop by noon, so off I went.  I got as far as Foley, Alabama, where I knew there were hotels and campgrounds.  But none of the campgrounds allowed tents, and all of the hotels were full!

That didn't leave me with much choice... I headed down a county road and pulled into the first concealed, non-posted property I found, which turned out to be an out-of-season strawberry field.  All I can say is that anyone who can claim nothing is real after being in a strawberry field either hallucinated the field or is a very stubborn existentialist indeed, because strawberry plants are really prickly!  I hope none of them punctured my tent!  The slugs lost no time in exploring the tent.

27.1 mi

Ben Wed, 02/02/2005 - 11:22

to Elberta, AL

to Elberta, AL

I woke well before dawn in the strawberry field and picked about 50 slugs off my tent before hitting the road at sunrise.  I stopped at a convenience store and told a curious passerby that I was having trouble finding campgrounds and hotels.  His response changed my day and nearly changed my whole trip: he said this area is still recovering from last August's hurricanes, so there are hundreds of workmen visiting from out of town, plus displaced homeowners and renters.  He suggested I go farther from the coast, i.e. back north where I had just come from.

That would be a good suggestion, if I knew of any campgrounds farther north, but I didn't!  I called a hotel in Pensacola, verified that there was at least one room available in town, and decided to ride there and use the library in the morning to plot further plans.  If necessary, I'd pack up my gear and take a Greyhound to somewhere less windblown.

But as I was approaching the Florida border, I spotted another cyclist and stopped to talk.  I asked him about the extent of the hurricane damage, and he said it was really only bad for a 100-mile stretch of the coast; once I got east of Destin I should be fine.  Then he invited me to use the Internet at his place.  By the time we were a mile down the road, he had invited me to camp in his yard.  By the time I met his wife, I was to sleep in their camper in the garage.  By the time I woke from an afternoon nap, I had been invited to sleep indoors and have dinner and breakfast with them.  They took me to an import grocery store, where I bought two pounds of halvah (energy food!), and to a buffet restaurant where I got their money's worth.

Bruce is a retired Navy dental technician who makes extraordinary wildlife-inspired jigsaw art when he's not out bicycling.  He and his wife travel quite a bit and have all sorts of campground guides.  I was able to find enough places in these guides that do allow tents and are not booked solid (I called them to double-check) that I won't have to ride the bus after all; I'll just detour around the windblown area as far as Destin.

Ben Thu, 02/03/2005 - 00:00

Feb. 9: Panama City, Minus the Plan and Canal

Feb. 9: Panama City, Minus the Plan and Canal

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on February 9, 2005]

I've had some good times so far in the Florida Panhandle! On Friday I followed the route Bruce suggested around Pensacola to the west and north, but even that far from the coast I saw lots of hurricane damage. The sides of the roads were littered with asphalt shingles and vinyl siding, even as construction workers were scrambling to put new flimsy shingles and siding in their places! Those who do not learn the lessons of the past...

It was still early in the afternoon when I reached my campground for the night, a place called Pelican Palms right next to an I-10 entrance ramp. I was having some lower-back pain from sleeping on the strawberry plants two nights before, so I lay down and read for a few hours. My neighbors in the campground were a young couple from Kansas City who came down "the day after the hurricane" because he's a licensed tree surgeon and can make upwards of $500 a day cleaning up after storms, and she's an OR nurse. But when they got here they found a huge bureaucracy designed to protect the hurricane victims from price gouging, and by the time they had gotten themselves properly re-licensed and certified and insured, the work was mostly done. So he's been doing roofing ever since at a much lower pay rate, and she's been turned down from every job she's applied for because she's overqualified, and for six months the two of them have been living in a tent between a highway interchange and a cell phone tower, and they're planning to go home in a few days.

I had a couple of options for Saturday... I could ride long and hard and reach the coast around noon and ride along the coast to Destin, or I could make it a short day and camp at Blackwater River State Park, in the middle of nowhere, and ride to Destin the next day. It was the Interstate that made up my mind for me... the sound and smell of traffic and trucks idling on the on-ramp interfered with my sleep, and I decided I was fed up with following highways. (I've been following US-90 more or less since I left Texas!) I'm not contributing to engine exhaust, so why should I breathe it all the time?

Blackwater River State Park sits in the middle of the state forest of the same name. It's nearly 5 miles from the highway and blissfully quiet, aside from the folks reenacting the Creek and Seminole Wars on their weekend, who fired fusillades and cannons all night long. It's still a lot better than idling trucks, if you ask me! In fact, that park made such a good impression that I made a point of staying at other Florida parks for the next few days, although they got progressively less secluded and less affordable as I continued east. They're still nicer than any parks I've visited since Wisconsin. Many of them were founded as commercial theme parks and, when they went bankrupt, were bought by the state, and they still have peculiar landscape features from their theme-park days.

I was prepared for Sunday's ride to take all day, so I hit the road at sunrise and rode fast and hard, at least by my standards. The ride was uneventful aside from a toll bridge (bicycles 10 cents) from the mainland to the barrier island, about 5 miles of calm, shallow water with a view of rays and other large fish milling around. Around 2:00 I arrived in the "Twin Cities" -- Valparaiso and Niceville, Florida. Niceville was nice enough; it gave me a marked bike lane all the way to Rocky Bayou State Park. The "bayou" looks more like a sandy lake than the swampy bayous of Louisiana and Mississippi, but I guess if it's a slow-moving river it qualifies. And as for "rocky" -- well, I haven't seen many rocks since entering Florida. The ground is all sand!

My neighbors in the park were a bunch of Cuban tree cutters, who had just cut down a big pine tree in their campsite -- I'm going to assume at the park's request -- and reduced it to firewood to the accompaniment of a loud radio, and then gave the firewood away to a constant parade of other campers. Fortunately they went inside to watch the Superbowl and took their comically obese pit bull with them. One of the other neighbors stole my jar of Nutella, carried it to a fallen tree, and gnawed a hole right through the side of the jar before I could stop him!

Monday was an amazingly beautiful day! It couldn't have been more pleasant... clear and dry and mid 70s, and my route took me along the gulf coast -- the real ocean, with waves -- on a paved bike path most of the way. When I passed through Destin (suggested motto: "Why Settle for Destiny When You Can Have the Real Thing?"), the bike path was crowded with snowbirds on their morning walks, many of them clutching cups of coffee. I thought it was odd that they kept bidding me good morning when it felt like 2:00 to me, but it was still only 11... time seemed to stretch out forever.

I ended the day's ride around 3 PM at Grayton Beach State Park, which apparently was voted America's best beach a few years back. It lacks many of the features I would think people look for in a beach, but it does have impressive dunes (the brochure says, "What appear to be bushes growing out of the dunes are actually full size trees covered with sand"), and the sound of breaking waves makes a nice change from (or at least a nice addition to) the sound of highway traffic. I waded in the surf for a while in the afternoon and returned after dark when I emerged from the shower house and discovered a clear, warm, moonless night. A gorgeous day like that can make up for an awful lot of bad weather and hostile traffic. I'm sure glad I didn't take a Greyhound from Pensacola! I woke around dawn on Tuesday and took my time getting ready. I made another trip down to the beach to look for my camera, which I had left there, but someone had already brought it to the park office, where I was able to reclaim it.

I guess I succeeded in getting well clear of New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. Although I was still seeing beads along the highway shoulders as far east as Pensacola, the day came and went without a single sign that it was Fat Tuesday. I followed the shore most of the day, but there was less bike path and more shoulder and sidewalk through a nearly continuous row of condos. They're building lots of new high-rises ... at least, I assume they're new and didn't just get blown down by the hurricanes! The day's destination was Panama City Beach, which I actually saw abbreviated PCB. Yummy!

St. Andrews State Park is just east of town, on a point of land where a lagoon meets the gulf. The campground is on the lagoon side, but it's a sandy Florida lagoon with little gurgling waves rather than a swampy Louisiana one with duckweed, and the sound of the breakers carries nicely from the other side of the park. I went for a long walk on the beach before sunset and got my walking shoes thoroughly soaked when a wave came up higher than I expected. There are worse things that can happen to shoes. En route to the beach, I stopped at an alligator-viewing dock, and there was a small alligator waiting there to view the people. Then while I ate dinner at my picnic table after dark, a blue heron stalked over and began fishing for its dinner about 30 feet from me. The deer are even more tame -- good thing I don't have any fresh vegetables in my tent!

Around the time I send this message, I'll be in Panama City (suggested motto: "If you Leave the First Letter Off our Name, You Deserve What You'll Get") trying to figure out where to go next. Stay tuned! --Ben

Ben Wed, 02/09/2005 - 08:29

to Milton, FL

to Milton, FL

Carol fixed me a nice breakfast this morning to get me on my way.  Unfortunately something, either this morning or yesterday, gave me a persistent stomachache in addition to the lower-backache I'd picked up in the strawberry field, so it was an uncomfortable ride.

I followed the route Bruce suggested around Pensacola to the west and north, but even that far from the coast I saw lots of hurricane damage.  The sides of the roads were littered with asphalt shingles and vinyl siding, even as construction workers were scrambling to put new flimsy shingles and siding in their places.

It was still early in the afternoon when I reached my campground for the night, but due to the back pain I lay down and read rather than doing any transcription.

My neighbors in the campground were a young couple from Kansas City who came down "the day after the hurricane" because he's a licensed tree surgeon and can make upwards of $500 a day cleaning up after storms.  But when they got here they found a huge bureaucracy designed to protect the hurricane victims from price gouging, and by the time he had gotten himself properly re-licensed and certified and insured, the work was mostly done.  So he's been doing roofing ever since, and the two of them are scraping by, living in a tent between a highway interchange and a cell phone tower, and they're planning to go home in a few days.

Ben Fri, 02/04/2005 - 00:00

To Blackwater River SP

To Blackwater River SP

I had a couple of options for today... I could ride long and hard and reach the coast around noon and ride along the coast to Destin, or I could make it a short day and camp at Blackwater River State Park, in the middle of nowhere, and ride to Destin tomorrow.  It was the Interstate that made up my mind for me... the sound and smell of traffic and trucks idling on the on-ramp interfered with my sleep, and I decided I was fed up with following highways.  I'm not contributing to engine exhaust, so why should I breathe it all the time?

Blackwater River State Park sits in the middle of the state forest of the same name.  It's nearly 5 miles from the highway and blissfully quiet, aside from the historical reenactors who fired fusillade after fusillade all afternoon and evening.  I don't mind -- it's a lot better than idling trucks.

Ben Fri, 02/04/2005 - 22:17

to Niceville, FL

to Niceville, FL

I was prepared for today's ride to take all day, so I hit the road at sunrise and rode fast and hard, at least by my standards.  The ride was uneventful.  Around 2:00 I arrived in the "Twin Cities" -- Valparaiso and Niceville, Florida.

Niceville was nice enough; it gave me a marked bike lane all the way to Rocky Bayou State Park.  The "bayou" looks more like a sandy lake than the swampy bayous of Louisiana and Mississippi, but I guess if it's a slow-moving river it qualifies.  And as for "rocky" -- well, I don't think I've seen a rock since entering Florida.  The ground is all sand!

My neighbors in the park are a bunch of tree cutters, who had just cut down a big pine tree in their campsite -- I'm going to assume at the park's request -- and reduced it to firewood to the accompaniment of a loud radio.  I hope they'll go into their trailer and watch the Superbowl indoors.

Ben Sat, 02/05/2005 - 22:19

to Grayton Beach SP

to Grayton Beach SP

Wow, what a beautiful day!  It couldn't have been more pleasant... clear and dry and mid 70s, and my route took me along the gulf coast -- the real gulf, with waves -- on a paved bike path most of the way.

When I passed through Destin (suggested motto: "Why Settle for Destiny When You Can Have the Real Thing?"), the bike path was crowded with snowbirds on their morning walks, many of them clutching cups of coffee.  I thought it was odd that they kept bidding me good morning when it felt like 2:00 to me, but it was still only 11... time seemed to stretch out forever.

I ended the day's ride around 3 PM at Grayton Beach State Park, which apparently was voted Florida's best beach a few years back.  That surprises me because it doesn't have many of the features I would think people look for in a beach, but it does have impressive dunes (the brochure says, "What appear to be bushes growing out of the dunes are actually full size trees covered with sand"), and the sound of breaking waves makes a nice change from (or at least a nice addition to) the sound of highway traffic.

I waded in the surf for a while in the afternoon and returned after dark when I emerged from the shower house and discovered a clear, warm, moonless night.  A gorgeous day like this can make up for an awful lot of bad weather and hostile traffic.  It really makes the whole trip worthwhile.

Ben Sun, 02/06/2005 - 22:21

to Panama City Beach

to Panama City Beach

Another beautiful day!  I woke around dawn and took my time getting ready.   I made another trip down to the beach to look for my camera, but someone had already brought it to the park office, where I was able to reclaim it.

I guess I succeeded in getting well clear of New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras.  Although I was still seeing beads along the highway shoulders as far east as Pensacola, today came and went without a single sign that it was Fat Tuesday.

I followed the shore most of the day, but there was less bike path and more shoulder and sidewalk through a nearly continuous row of condos.  They're building lots of new high-rises ... at least, I assume they're new and didn't just get blown down by the hurricanes!

The day's destination was Panama City Beach, which I actually saw abbreviated PCB.  Yummy!  St. Andrews State Park is just east of town, on a point of land where a lagoon meets the gulf.  The campground is on the lagoon side, but it's a sandy Florida lagoon with little gurgling waves rather than a swampy Louisiana one with duckweed, and the sound of the breakers carries nicely from the other side of the park.  I went for a long walk on the beach before sunset and got too close -- my shoes got soaked through!  Fortunately they're not my walking shoes, though those may get wet tomorrow.

En route to the beach, I stopped at an alligator-viewing dock, and there was a small alligator waiting there to view the people.  Then while I ate dinner at my picnic table after dark, a blue heron stalked over and began fishing for its dinner about 30 feet from me.  The deer are even more tame -- good thing I don't have any fresh vegetables in my tent!

Ben Mon, 02/07/2005 - 22:24

Feb. 13: Tallahassee

Feb. 13: Tallahassee

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group, February 13, 2005]

I've really been enjoying the longer days lately... for the first time since October I can sleep in, take my time riding, and still get to camp well before sunset. Well, most of the time, anyway...

The ride into Panama City Wednesday morning was so easy I felt like I was coasting. Fresh off the bridge, I saw I convenience store offering free coffee, so I stopped in. As I was drinking my coffee in the parking lot, a young man sauntered over and said he had a BikeE similar to mine and a BOB trailer, and he was thinking of doing some touring. We talked for a while, and I mentioned that I was having trouble planning a route into Tallahassee. The difficulty was that the Apalachicola National Forest has only one road going through it from west to east, and all the campgrounds are on the north-south roads, and camping in the rough isn't allowed during deer season, which doesn't end until the 16th! This man strongly recommended that I follow US-98 along the coast, south of the forest, until I was south of Tallahassee, at which point I would find a rail trail into town. In fact, he said if I followed a marked bike route a few blocks away, it would take me past the library (which I was looking for) and to 98, where I'd find a good shoulder to ride on all the way. I was skeptical, because I've found people's directions to rarely be accurate, but I gave the bike route a shot. After the library, it led me deep into a residential neighborhood with beautiful live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

A word about live oak trees: when I first saw them in southeast Texas, I couldn't believe they were related to oaks because A) they grew all crooked, B) they had small, oval, evergreen leaves instead of big, lobed, deciduous ones, and C) I didn't see any acorns. But in this neighborhood I finally saw some that looked like oaks. They seem to be particular favorites of lichens and air plants like Spanish moss, which coincidentally also looks nothing like its relatives, namely pineapples.

I found the highway at last and headed out of town, past the Arizona Chemical Company, which smelled like a paper mill from a distance and was indeed processing truckloads of pine logs, but up close it smelled exactly like Worchestershire sauce. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that's what they were making.

The highway didn't have much of a shoulder, and it led through Tyndall Air Force Base, which from the road looks like a whole lot of nothing -- noplace to stop and rest. At one point I crossed the highway to stop on a little sidewalk and reapply sunblock. Someone thought this behavior was suspicious and called it in, so two military policemen paid me a visit while my hands were full of sunblock. They asked a lot of questions and ran my driver's license, but they didn't detain me further.

When people ask me my destination, Minnesota is not the answer they're looking for. All autumn I said "Texas," and all through January I said "Florida." I noticed an odd thing: people in the South were more impressed to hear I was headed to Florida than that I'd come from Minnesota, even when we were just 50 miles from the Florida border. The same is true within Florida: these MPs couldn't believe I was biking all the way to Tallahassee! All I can figure is they have no concept of how far Minnesota is... either that or they know that almost half the country's bike fatalities occur in Florida!

I rode into Mexico Beach shortly before sunset and made a beeline for the one campground that allows tents. They gave me a good deal on a site that was mud & gravel, but with a wooden picnic platform. I set my tent up on the platform although it smelled powerfully of cats and spent a comfortable night up off the ground. That night turned out to be one of those magical nights when everything dries... Had I known, I would have done a bunch of laundry!

Thursday morning I rode into Port St. Joe and did some more route research at the library, but I was surprised to see how late it was getting already. Come to find out I had just crossed into Eastern Time! I'm now south of Georgia instead of Alabama. Several people had recommended I visit St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, but it would add about 25 miles and an extra day, so instead I took a shortcut through St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge and got into Apalachicola by mid-afternoon.

The town of Apalachicola is conveniently located where the Apalachicola River flows out of Apalachicola National Forest and into Apalachicola Bay. (Suggested motto: "Mind if We Call You Apalachicola, to Keep it Clear?") The hotels there looked too pricey for my taste, so I continued across the bay to the town of Eastpoint. It was a beautiful day, but chilly, and with a stiff wind. The wind was at my back most of the day, which was great, but I really felt the gusts when I crossed the 5-mile bridge across the bay!

I was looking for a hotel rather than a campground because the night's low was forecast to be in the 20s F. As it turned out, the tenting campground in Eastpoint had closed anyway, so had I wanted to camp, I would have had to rough it or head out to St. George Island -- very scenic, I'm sure, but almost 30 extra miles. Eastpoint has only one remaining motel, but it's a really neat place, well maintained, affordable, and right on the water. Quirky, too: my room had a hayloft and an attached squirrel cage! I took pictures.

I took my time leaving my comfy motel room Friday morning because I needed to make a tech-support call to the makers of my keyboard, which was going through an uncooperative phase, and their phone center operates on Pacific time, despite being in India. So I watched two episodes of Buffy and changed my rear tire, whose slow leak was getting on my nerves. Cue ominous music.

I rode a final stretch along the Gulf coast (Apalachicola Bay) before turning north. The tide was out, and I saw millions upon millions of little sand piles on the beach. I tried to dig one up to find out what sort of shellfish had made it, but I found nothing in the bay sand besides smelly black organic matter, so I gave up. There were no shoulders much of the way, so I pulled off the road frequently to let cars pass, and I got a flat in the tire I had just changed! Still, I couldn't ask for a nicer day to stop and change a tire.

US-319 was much more fun than 98, a pleasant road through the forest with light traffic and good shoulders. I rode to Ochlockonee River State Park, which besides being fun to say is a very beautiful, secluded forest park. I went for a walk to see the white squirrels, which are not native and not albino, but were imported to the area as pets and released accidentally. They're quite striking.

My plan for Saturday was simple and elegant: I would ride to Tallahassee and stay at a campground west of town. Rather than follow the most direct highway route, I would go a few miles out of my way to the rail trail that connects Tallahassee to the Gulf shore town of St. Marks and enjoy the peace and quiet away from traffic. One small problem: I got another flat, on the same wheel that had two flats yesterday in two different tubes and tires. The problem was on the wheel rim, not the tire, so no amount of changing tires would keep the tubes from getting punctured; I put a patch on top of yesterday's patch but it was torn through in less than half an hour. I had to stop every 15 minutes and pump more air into the leaking tire... needless to say this slowed me down, though it did get me some upper-body exercise for a change!

Another cyclist stopped and asked how he could help. I told him I was headed for a bike shop in Tallahassee, and the only thing I thought could help me get there would be flat-fixing slime. He rode ahead and bought a can of automotive flat-fix which specifically said it shouldn't be used on two-wheeled vehicles, but we rationalized that the risk of a blowout was negligible at the speed I was going -- and away from traffic. The tires I use are meant to run at 80-110 PSI, and I need that much pressure on the rear tire because of the weight of the trailer, but the can could only manage about 60 PSI, so I had a spongy ride all the way into town, but at least I didn't have to stop every 15 minutes!

I got to the Organic Engines workshop about an hour before sunset. Organic Engines makes recumbent bikes and trikes, notably a heavy-duty utility trike that can carry over 1000 pounds! The owner, Dan, and his assistant were expecting me, and they quickly fixed the rough spot on my wheel and gave me some new tubes. I explained that I was headed for a campground west of town, and Dan invited me to stay at his house instead. I was exhausted from riding with a low tire, so I gladly accepted. Since I didn't have to hurry to the campground, I got to test-ride all the different vehicles. I wanted to try the utility trike under load, so Dan (175 lbs) climbed in the back. Since there are no hills here, I pulled him up the ramp of a loading dock. When I lost traction it was because I didn't weigh enough -- the trike is front-wheel drive, and the cargo sits over the back wheels -- but fortunately the trike backs up very well, unlike my trailer!

Dan is from Nova Scotia but married an American woman and moved down here. He had been doing custom welding for local customers but got into building recumbents at the same time the Internet came of age, so he was able to skip all the traditional marketing hurdles and go straight into the mail-order bike business. He's also actively trying to improve the neighborhood where he lives and works, so he bought a local coffee shop that was serving as a community gathering spot but was having management trouble. I took him out for dinner at an amazing pizza place (modestly named Decent Pizza) and we talked about community building and ecovillages and human-powered vehicles. Then he dropped me at his house -- which is also a fixer-upper, being a former crack-house -- and went back to his shop to work late into the night.

Next stop: Ocala!

Ben Sun, 02/13/2005 - 07:30

To Mexico Beach

To Mexico Beach

The ride into Panama City this morning was so easy I felt like I was coasting.  Fresh off the bridge, I saw I convenience store offering free coffee, so I stopped in.  As I was drinking my coffee in the parknig lot, a young man sauntered over and said he had a BikeE similar to mine and a BOB trailer, and he was thinking of doing some touring.  We talked for a while, and I mentioned that I was having trouble planning a route into Tallahassee.

The difficulty is that the Apalachicola National Forest has only one road going through it from west to east, and all the campgrounds are on the north-south roads, and camping in the rough isn't allowed during deer season, which is still on for a few days.  This man strongly recommended that I follow US-98 along the coast (south of the forest) until I'm south of Tallahassee, at which point I'll find a rail trail into town.  In fact, he said if I followed a marked bike route a few blocks away, it would take me past the library (which I was looking for) and to 98, where I'd find a good shoulder to ride on all the way.

I was skeptical, because I've found people's directions to rarely be accurate, but I gave the bike route a shot.  After the library, it led me deep into a residential neighborhood with beautiful live oaks
dripping with Spanish moss.

A word about live oak trees: when I first saw them in southeast Texas, I couldn't believe they were related to oaks because A) they grew all crooked, B) they had small, oval, evergreen leaves instead of big, lobed, deciduous ones, and C) I didn't see any acorns.  But in this neighborhood I finally saw some that looked like oaks.  They seem to be particular favorites of lichens and air plants (like Spanish moss, which also looks nothing like its relatives, namely pineapples).

I found the highway and headed out of town, past the Arizona Chemical Company, which smelled like a paper mill from a distance and was indeed processing truckloads of pine logs, but up close it smelled exactly like Worchestershire sauce.  If I didn't know better, I'd swear that's what they were making.

The highway didn't have much of a shoulder, and it led through Tyndall Air Force Base, which from the road looks like a whole lot of nothing -- noplace to stop and rest.  At one point I crossed the highway to stop on a little sidewalk and reapply sunblock.  Someone thought this behavior was suspicious and called it in, so two military policemen paid me a visit while my hands were full of sunblock.  They asked a lot of questions and ran my driver's license, but they didn't detain me further.

When people ask me where I'm going, I have to give them an intermediate destination because my route is a circle.  All autumn I said "Texas," and all through January I said "Florida."  I noticed an odd thing: people in the South were more impressed to hear I was headed to Florida than that I'd come from Minnesota, even when we were 50 miles from the Florida border.  The same is true within Florida: these MPs couldn't believe I was biking all the way to Tallahassee!  All I can figure is they have no concept of how far Minnesota is.

I rode into Mexico Beach shortly before sunset and made a beeline for the one campground that allows tents.  They gave me a good deal on a site that was mud & gravel, but with a wooden picnic platform.  I set my tent up on the platform although it smelled powerfully of cats.

Ben Thu, 02/10/2005 - 10:30

To Eastpoint, FL

To Eastpoint, FL

Last night was one of those magical nights when everything dries... Had I known, I would have done a bunch of laundry!

I rode into Port St. Joe and did some more route research at the library, but I was surprised to see how late it was getting already.  Come to find out I had just crossed into Eastern Time!

Several people had recommended I visit St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, but it would add about 25 miles and an extra day, so instead I took a shortcut through St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge and got into Apalachicola (the town, that is, where the river of the same name comes out of the like-named forest and flows into the eponymous bay) in mid-afternoon.  The hotels there looked too pricey for my taste, so I continued across the bay to the town of Eastpoint.

It was a beautiful day, but chilly, and with a stiff wind.  The wind was at my back most of the day, which was great, but I really felt the gusts when I crossed the 5-mile bridge across the bay!  I was looking for a hotel rather than a campground because the night's low was forecast to be in the 20s F.  As it turned out, the tenting campground in Eastpoint had closed anyway, so had I wanted to camp, I would have had to rough it or head out to St. George Island -- very scenic, I'm sure, but almost 30 extra miles.

Eastpoint has only one remaining motel, but it's a really nice place: lots of character, well maintained, affordable, and right on the water.  My room evidently used to be some sort of barn and has an adjoining squirrel cage!  I took pictures.

Ben Fri, 02/11/2005 - 10:32

to Ochlockonee River SP

to Ochlockonee River SP

I took my time leaving my comfy motel room this morning because I needed to make a tech-support call to the makers of my keyboard, which had stopped working, and they operate on Pacific time, despite being in India.  So I watched two episodes of Buffy and changed my rear tire, whose slow leak was getting on my nerves.

I rode a final stretch along the Gulf coast (Apalachicola Bay) before turning north.  The tide was out, and I saw millions upon millions of little sand piles on the beach.  I tried to dig one up to find out what sort of shellfish had made it, but I found nothing in the bay sand besides smelly black organic matter, so I gave up.

There were no shoulders much of the way, so I pulled off the road frequently to let cars pass, and I got a flat in the tire I had just changed!  Still, I couldn't ask for a nicer day to stop and change a tire.  US-319 was much more fun than 98, a pleasant road through the forest with light traffic and good shoulders.

I rode to Ochlockonee River State Park, which besides being fun to say is a very beautiful, secluded forest park.  I went for a walk to see the white squirrels, which are not native and not albino, but were imported as pets and released accidentally.  They're quite striking.

Ben Sat, 02/12/2005 - 10:35

to Tallahassee

to Tallahassee

My plan for the day was simple and elegant: I would ride north to Tallahassee and stay at a campground west of town.  Rather than follow the most direct highway route, I would go a few miles out of my way to the rail trail that connects Tallahassee to the Gulf shore town of St. Marks and enjoy the peace and quiet away from traffic.

One small problem: I got another flat, on the same wheel that had two flats yesterday in two different tubes and tires.  The problem was on the wheel rim, not the tire, so no amount of changing tires would keep the tubes from getting punctured; I put a patch on top of yesterday's patch but it was torn through in less than half an hour.  I had to stop every 15 minutes and pump more air into the leaking tire... needless to say this slowed me down, though it did get me some upper-body exercise for a change!

Another cyclist stopped and asked how he could help.  I told him I was headed for a bike shop in Tallahassee, and the only thing I thought could help me get there would be flat-fixing slime.  He rode ahead and bought a can of automotive flat-fix which specifically said it shouldn't be used on two-wheeled vehicles, but we rationalized that the risk of a blowout was negligible at the speed I was going -- and away from traffic.  The tires I use are meant to run at 80-110 PSI, and I need that much pressure on the rear tire because of the weight of the trailer, but the can could only manage about 60 PSI, so I had a spongy ride all the way into town, but at least I didn't have to stop every 15 minutes!

I got to the Organic Engines workshop about an hour before sunset.  Organic Engines makes recumbent bikes and trikes, notably a heavy-duty utility trike that can carry over 1000 pounds!  The owner, Dan, and his assistant were expecting me, and they quickly fixed the rough spot on my wheel and gave me some new tubes.  I explained that I was headed for a campground west of town, and Dan invited me to stay at his house instead.  I was exhausted from riding with a low tire, so I gladly accepted.  Since I didn't have to hurry to the campground, I got to test-ride all the different vehicles.  I wanted to try the utility trike under load, so Dan (175 lbs) climbed in the back.

Dan is from Nova Scotia but married an American woman and moved down here.  He had been doing custom welding for local customers but got into building recumbents at the same time the Internet came of age, so he was able to skip all the traditional marketing hurdles and go straight into the custom bike business.  He's also involved in trying to improve the neighborhood where he lives and works, so he bought a local coffee shop that was serving as a community gathering spot but was having management trouble.  I took him out for dinner at an amazing pizza place (modestly named Decent Pizza) and we talked about community building and ecovillages and human-powered vehicles.

Ben Sat, 02/12/2005 - 00:00

Feb 18: Ocala - southmost point!

Feb 18: Ocala - southmost point!

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on February 18, 2005]

Hi, folks! I've reached the southernmost point of my tour: the home of my friend Diane in Marion Oaks, Florida, just south of Ocala. It feels good to be here! I had some misadventures this week, but the joke's on me and I get it, so imagine me smiling as I tell you all about it...

I packed up in Dan's house in Tallahassee Sunday morning and arrived at his coffee shop just after it opened. I checked my e-mail over coffee (Dan's urban-rustic house lacks a phone line, among other amenities that his lifestyle makes unnecessary) and then biked to church. I went to church today looking for my missing friend Alex, not for freebies, but the members insisted I share their potluck lunch. One of them offered me a room for the night as well, but I said I was headed out of town immediately. No one remembered having seen Alex.

I followed what my map showed as a bike route out of town. After I left the traffic behind, I got out my phone to make some calls and found a message from my mother's cousin inviting me to stay at her house north of Tallahassee... had I picked up the message while I was still in town, I would definitely have gone to catch up with her, but I was already about 15 miles east, so we settled for a phone conversation. Away from the beaches, Florida has actual soil instead of sand, and the bayous look more like the ones in Louisiana and Mississippi: lots of cypress trees standing around in puddles with their knees sticking up. Cypresses grow their roots in a shallow circle around the trunk, and when they fall over (e.g. in a hurricane) their circle of roots tips up in the air, just exactly like the base of a wine glass. I stopped for the night at a KOA that turned out to be the most luxurious campground I've seen in months... it has a beautiful, cozy game room, a homey feeling shower house, and complimentary continental breakfast and afternoon tea! Wild.

I had two options on Monday: I could ride east all day and reach Suwannee River State Park around sunset but have lots of camping options (close to Interstate 75) from there on south, or I could make a shorter hop southeast to Perry and risk not getting a campsite but be farther from the big highways. I was leaning toward the shorter route because I slept badly and had trouble getting up. But what cinched it was that, as I was finishing my complimentary Belgian waffle breakfast, rain started falling -- the first inclement weather I'd seen since entering Florida. By the time I left the KOA I was tempted to turn right around and check into a "kamping kabin," it was raining so hard. But I knew I could at least get a hotel in Perry, so on I went.

Bruce, my host from Alabama, sent me an e-mail warning me about fire ants. I was all set to write him back and say I'm already acquainted with them, thank you very much... but when the rain let up around noon and I stopped to take off my poncho, I must have put my foot down in another of their hills. They wreaked their fiery vengeance just above my ankle sock, stinging me about 30 times before I got them off. I was able to keep my elastic pant cuff from rubbing against the welts, but even so, by the end of the day my ankle was so swollen it was stiff. Not really painful, just uncomfortable. Thanks for the warning, Bruce... I'll try to be more observant!

Perry is quite the town for cheap motels. Not that I checked their prices... I'm talking about places that feel they have to advertise that their rooms are clean, or that their televisions are capable of color, or that they accept credit cards. That's how I know they fit my budget: they haven't updated their signs in 20 years. I passed at least two dozen such motels on my way through Perry, plus three campgrounds. Two of the three allow tent camping, and I chose the one closer to town so that I could run back in before dark and get groceries. I asked a clerk why the town has so many motels, and he said, "Tourism. We're close to the beach." Well, OK, if 15 miles is close. Another man I asked later said that before I-75 was completed, US-19 carried a lot of traffic through Perry, but that doesn't explain why the motels are still in business now... puzzling.

Around 3:00 Tuesday morning, the wind shifted and put Perry downwind from ... a paper mill! It was several hours before I got used to the smell and could go back to sleep. The day that followed was so humid that I could see my breath although temperatures were in the 60s F. So the good news is that my laundry didn't dry smelling like paper mill!

Steinhatchee is a little marina town on the river of the same name. There's no question about why there are so many motels and RV parks in Steinhatchee: the riverfront is practically one continuous marina, on both banks. I got a good deal on a tent site and settled down to do some work, since the afternoon was still young, but my keyboard stopped working again... Must be the humidity. So I spent the afternoon resting and reading instead. When I took off my shoes, I had trouble finding my right ankle bone through the fire-ant swelling, but I elevated the foot for a few hours and it went down. I met my first sand fleas at that campsite -- I'll take them over fire ants, mosquitos, and chiggers any day, because although their bites feel like pinpricks, they only hurt for a moment. And thank goodness my tent keeps all such varmints out! Knock on nylon.

I had a nice quiet ride down US-19 Wednesday, but when I got to Cross City and stopped in at the library, the librarian told me about a rail trail that parallels the highway all the way to Chiefland, which is roughly where I was headed. Happily I was on that trail, far from traffic, when I got distracted by a tangle in my headphone cord and wiped out on the asphalt. One of the few things I don't like about the BikeE is that its steering is unstable, particularly at the low speeds I travel. The front wheel really would prefer to trail behind its headset like a caster wheel on a shopping cart, and given an opportunity, like a loose grasp on the handlebars, it may express this preference by whipping around and pitching the bike over sideways. Had I not had so much practice getting my feet out of their pedal clips, I might have landed hard on my hip and elbow, as I've done a few times on Minneapolis ice. As it was, I got my foot under me and was able to roll onto hands and knees like any good kid. I bruised a hand and skinned a knee and had to realign the troublesome front wheel, but otherwise all was well. It's hard to get discouraged on a beautiful day!

I saw my first signs of Florida agriculture Wedneday... In the panhandle it was all forestry, hunting, fishing, and tourism. No citrus orchards yet; just hay fields and pasture. I pity any livestock set out to graze a field full of fire ants! Outside Cheifland I turned back west to Manatee Springs State Park. Manatees (or as an explorer in 1774 put it, "the monstrous amphabious maneta") living in the famous Suwanee River like to spend the winter in this spring-fed stream because it stays a constant 72 F year round. It also makes for good viewing, because the water is clear, unlike many Florida bodies of water, which are stained black with tannin. I didn't see any manatees, but the area around the spring was very pretty and interesting. I walked there with some fellow campers who have toured by bike in the past, so we shared stories.

On the highway Thursday morning I saw a man walking, pulling a big duffel on a luggage cart. I did a U-turn and stopped to talk with him. He said that reading the Bible in Greek a year and a half ago had convinced him to get rid of all his worldly belongings (except the duffel) and live in what he called the "Celestrious Realm," which I took to mean the more or less natural world. He told me that traveling faster than 25 mph damages the soul, and that I should camp illegally more often and "shit in the woods" whenever possible, the better to lead a celestrious life. He also warned of the sinful "water mines" (groundwater pumping) though he reluctantly admitted he drinks bottled "spring water" himself. He aspires to one day get all his water from melons. So for those who think I'm crazy for biking around the country... Well, it depends whom you compare me to...

I felt really good on Thursday and was able to go a lot faster than usual without getting tired. Didn't get any flats for a change, either! But the traffic was kind of aggressive on US-41 and left me a little shaken by the end of the day. The campground at Rainbow Springs State Park used to be a private RV park and is not contiguous with the rest of the park. It was immediately clear to me that the campground is not the main attraction: it's the crystal clear water of the river. I called up Diane and arranged to go canoeing with her first thing in the morning.

Another cyclist in the campground saw me pull in and came over to talk. He's not touring at the moment, just serving as a campground host (a volunteer who lives in the park for a season), but a friend of his is headed west by bike and stopped by for the night. It's amazing how many people have made trips like mine, and how many people have never heard of such a thing!

I slept in Friday morning and made a hot breakfast and was able to thoroughly dry the tent before Diane arrived at the campground. We rented a canoe and paddled up the Rainbow River to its source in the other part of the park. Along the way Diane pointed out cormorants, egrets, and other wildlife. The water is some of the clearest in the world, very popular with scuba divers. I was still kind of rattled from the previous afternoon's traffic, so I accepted Diane's offer of a ride into town. We were able to fit all my gear into the back of her pickup. We stopped at her local grocery store on the way home, and she seemed to know everyone there, just like Lonnie did in Fairfield. It took us over an hour to buy three items, but we had some great conversations!

Most people I meet here aren't native to Florida, but I've met enough Floridians to be able to offer you: A guide to Florida vowels (tongue in cheek):

  1. "mean" is pronounced "main"
  2. "main" is pronounced "mine"
  3. "mine" is pronounced "mon"
  4. "man" is pronounced "Mayan"

"Florida," by the way, has two syllables and rhymes with "sorta."

Q: What kind of computer, PDA, etc. are you using? Seems to be holding up pretty well, in spite of keyboard problems.
A: Yes, it is, though I have to admit I'm on my second one. Before my first trip in 2002, I bought the least expensive PalmPilot that met my needs, specifically because I wanted it to be durable but disposable. I started with a Handspring Visor Deluxe, plus a folding keyboard, a modem, and a backup card. When the Visor wore out I went to buy another and got talked into buying a more souped-up model, the Platinum, for the same price... actually I bought two, just in case. The price was right. Number two is still fully functional but it has some water stuck in the screen, and I'm holding number three very carefully in reserve. Now that my keyboard isn't working reliably, I've obtained a spare keyboard (thanks, Marisa!). All told it adds up to about $500.

I'm going to take a well-earned vacation for a few days while I wait for the rest of my mail to catch up with me. I'll have two rolls of new photos to share with you in a day or two! Happy Presidents' Day! --Ben
 

Ben Fri, 02/18/2005 - 12:21

To Monticello, FL

To Monticello, FL

I packed up in Dan's house this morning and arrived at his coffee shop just after it opened.  Dan's car was parked out front, and the barista confirmed that he was sleeping there.  I checked my e-mail over coffee and then biked to the UU church.

I went to church today looking for Alex, not for freebies, but the members insisted I share their potluck lunch.  One of them offered me a room for the night as well, but I said I was headed out of town immediately.  No one remembered having seen Alex.

I stopped in at a food co-op on my way out of town, following what my map showed as a bike route out of town.  I got out my phone to make some calls and found a message from a cousin-once-removed inviting me to stay at her house north of Tallahassee... had I picked up the message while I was still in town, I would definitely have gone to catch up with her, but I was already about 15 miles east, so we settled for a phone conversation.

Away from the beaches, Florida has actual soil instead of sand, and the bayous look more like the ones in Louisiana and Mississippi: lots of cypress trees standing around in puddles with their knees sticking up.  Cypresses grow their roots in a shallow circle around the trunk, and when they fall over (e.g. in a hurricane) their circle of roots tips up in the air, just exactly like the base of a wine glass.

I stopped for the night at a KOA that turned out to be the most luxurious campground I've seen in months... it has a beautiful, cozy game room, a homey feeling shower house, and complimentary continental breakfast and afternoon tea!  Wild.

Ben Mon, 02/14/2005 - 18:42

To Perry, FL

To Perry, FL

I had two options today: I could ride east all day and reach Suwannee River State Park around sunset but have lots of camping options (close to Interstate 75) from there on south to Ocala, or I could make a shorter hop southeast to Perry and risk not getting a campsite but be farther from the big highways.

I was leaning toward the shorter route because I slept badly and had trouble getting up.  But what cinched it was that, as I was finishing my complimentary Belgian waffle breakfast, rain started falling.  By the time I left the KOA I was tempted to turn right around and check into a "kamping kabin," it was raining so hard.  But I knew I could get a hotel in Perry, so on I went.

Bruce, my host from Alabama, sent me an e-mail the other day warning me about fire ants.  I was all set to write him back and say I'm already acquainted with them, thank you very much... but when the rain let up around noon and I stopped to take off my poncho, I must have put my foot down in another of their hills.  They wreaked their fiery vengeance just above my ankle sock, stinging me about 30 times before I got them off.  I was able to keep my elastic pant cuff from rubbing against the welts, but even so, by the end of the day my ankle was so swollen it was stiff.  Not really painful, just uncomfortable.  Thanks for the warning, Bruce...  I'll try to be more observant!

Perry is quite the town for cheap motels.  Not that I checked their prices... I'm talking about places that feel they have to advertise that their rooms are clean, or that their televisions are capable of color, or that they accept credit cards.  I passed at least two dozen such motels on my way through Perry, plus three campgrounds.  Two of the three allow tent camping, and I chose the one closer to town so that I could run back in before dark and get groceries.

I asked a clerk why the town has so many motels, and he said, "Tourism.  We're close to the beach."  Well, OK, if 15 miles is close.  I'm not convinced.

Ben Tue, 02/15/2005 - 18:44

To Steinhatchee, FL

To Steinhatchee, FL

Around 3:00 in the morning, the wind shifted and put Perry downwind from ... a paper mill!  It was several hours before I got used to the smell and could go back to sleep.  The day that followed was so humid that I could see my breath although temperatures were in the 60s F.  So the good news is that my laundry didn't dry smelling like paper mill!

I had a choice today between riding US-19 or a longer route nearer the coast.  I chose the highway because it had good shoulders.

Steinhatchee is a little marina town on the river of the same name. There's no question about why there are so many motels and RV parks in Steinhatchee: the riverfront is practically one continuous marina, on both banks.

I got a good deal on a tent site and settled down to do some work, but my keyboard stopped working again... Must be the humidity.  So I spent the afternoon resting and reading instead.  When I took off my shoes, I had trouble finding my right ankle bone through the fire-ant swelling, but I elevated the foot for a few hours and it went down.

I met my first sand fleas at that campsite -- I'll take them over fire ants, mosquitoes, and chiggers any day, because although their bites feel like pinpricks, they only hurt for a moment.  And thank goodness my tent keeps all such varmints out!

Ben Wed, 02/16/2005 - 18:46

To Manatee Springs SP, FL

To Manatee Springs SP, FL

I had a nice quiet ride down US-19 today, but when I got to Cross City and stopped in at the library, the librarian told me about a rail trail that parallels the highway all the way to Chiefland, which is roughly where I was headed.

Happily I was on that trail, far from traffic, when I got distracted by a tangle in my headphone cord and wiped out on the asphalt.  One of the few things I don't like about the BikeE is that its steering is unstable, particularly at the low speeds I travel.  The front wheel really would prefer to trail behind its headset like a caster wheel on a shopping cart, and given an opportunity, like a loose grasp on the handlebars, it may express this preference by whipping around and pitching the bike over sideways.

Had I not had so much practice getting my feet out of their pedal clips, I might have landed hard on my hip and elbow, as I've done a few times on Minneapolis ice and gravel.  As it was, I got my foot under me and was able to roll onto hands and knees like any good kid.  I bruised a hand and skinned a knee and had to realign the troublesome front wheel, but otherwise all was well.  It's hard to get discouraged on such a beautiful day!

I saw my first signs of Florida agriculture today... Until now it's been all forestry, hunting, fishing, and tourism.  No citrus orchards yet; just hay fields.  I pity any livestock set out to graze a field full of fire ants!

Outside Cheifland I turned back west to Manatee Springs State Park.  Manatees (or as an explorer in 1774 put it, "the monstrous amphabious maneta") living in the famous Suwanee River like to spend the winter in this spring-fed stream because it stays a constant 72 F year round.  It also makes for good viewing, because the water is clear, unlike many Florida bodies of water, which are stained black with tannin.  I didn't see any manatees, but the area around the spring was very pretty and interesting.

Ben Thu, 02/17/2005 - 18:48

to Rainbow Springs State Park, FL

to Rainbow Springs State Park, FL

On the highway this morning I saw a man walking, pulling a big duffel on a luggage cart.  I did a U-turn and stopped to talk with him.  He said that reading the Bible in Greek a year and a half ago had convinced him to get rid of all his worldly belongings (except the duffel) and live in what he called the "Celestrious Realm," which I took to mean the more or less natural world.  He told me that traveling faster than 25 mph damages the soul, and that I should camp illegally more often and "shit in the woods" whenever possible, the better to lead a celestrious life.  He also warned of the sinful "water mines" (groundwater pumping) though he reluctantly admitted he drinks bottled "spring water" himself.  He aspires to one day get all his water from melons.

So for those who think I'm crazy for biking around the country... Well, it depends whom you compare me to...

I felt really good today and was able to go a lot faster than usual without getting tired.  Didn't get any flats for a change, either!

The campground at Rainbow Springs State Park used to be a private RV park and is not contiguous with the rest of the park.  It was immediately clear to me that the campground is not the main attraction: it's the crystal clear water of the river.  I called up Diane and arranged to go canoeing with her first thing in the morning.

Another cyclist in the campground saw me pull in and came over to talk.  He's not touring at the moment, just car camping in the park, but a friend of his is headed east by bike and stopped by for the night.  It's amazing how many people have made trips like mine, and how many people have never heard of such a thing!

Ben Thu, 02/17/2005 - 00:00

to Marion Oaks, FL

to Marion Oaks, FL

I slept in this morning and made a hot breakfast and was able to thoroughly dry the tent before Diane arrived at the campground.  We rented a canoe and paddled up the Rainbow River to its source in the other part of the park.  Along the way Diane pointed out cormorants, egrets, and other wildlife.  The water is some of the clearest in the world, very popular with scuba divers.

I was still kind of shaken from riding in traffic yesterday, so I accepted Diane's offer of a ride into town.  We were able to fit all my gear into the back of her pickup.  We stopped at her local grocery store on the way home, and she seemed to know everyone there, just like Lonnie did in Fairfield.  It took us over an hour to buy three items, but we had some great conversations!

Ben Fri, 02/18/2005 - 18:51

Feb. 23: St. Augustine

Feb. 23: St. Augustine

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on February 23, 2005]

Late Sunday morning, Diane drove me out to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Like a lot of Florida's state parks, it used to be a private attraction and so seems a little bit Disneyish. We got on a quiet electric boat and cruised through a lush, sluggish river just as we might at Disney World, but the boat wasn't on a rail, and the wildlife along the river was actually wild and live! The main part of the park is kind of like a zoo, only all the animals are native to Florida. (Lucifer the Hippo, left over from when the park was a zoo, is officially a naturalized Floridian.) Most of the animals have been rescued from near death and recuperated in captivity so long that they now can't be released into the wild.

The manatees put on a great show, crowding around for one of their many daily feedings, since they've eaten all the underwater grasses that would be their natural diet. There's a "fishbowl" floating observation room right above the spring that gives a good view of the manatees and fishes underwater. It may be the best way to satisfy human demand for seeing manatees up close without disturbing the actual wild manatees.

I left Diane's place late Monday morning and followed a route she recommended to avoid traffic returning from Sunday's Daytona 500. I've got to hand it to her: the route had a shoulder about 90% of the way, which is unusual for Florida, and it may be the best route advice I've received on this trip.

Ocala National Forest has much sparser underbrush than other Florida forests I've seen, so that I could imagine just pulling over and finding a place to camp, now that deer season is over. The underbrush at Apalachicola National Forest was so thick I think I'd be hard-pressed to find a place to stand, let alone lie down! Mid-afternoon, I started seeing hikers on the Florida Trail, which runs through the forest. I stopped to talk with one of them, who lives near the forest but had spent the holiday weekend hiking and camping and was on his way home. He told me there were a lot of "Rainbows," or modern hippies, camped at one of the primitive campgrounds, and sure enough, I saw a bunch of college-age folks wearing hemp and tie dye when I passed near there.

I stayed at the Salt Springs campground in the forest (as Diane had recommended), and Tuesday morning I rode north into Palatka. I stopped for lunch at a Huddle House, which turned out to be pretty much what it looked like: an imitation of Waffle House, but with about twice as many items on the menu. Their chicken sandwich couldn't compare. If I eat there again, I'll order something I can't get at Waffle House!

I rode pretty hard all afternoon to reach St. Augustine. When I crossed US-1 I started giggling... here's this modest, normal-looking highway that parallels the Atlantic coast all the way from the tip of Maine to Key West, and here I was crossing it on my bicycle! US-1 is not always the closest highway to the coast; when it's not, that honor goes to State Highway A1A. None of the other highways are named that way, which makes it all the more memorable.

I had high expectations for Anastasia State Park, and they were only heightened when I learned a campsite would cost me $25, more than any other state park I've ever visited. Must be really great, right? After talking with some other campers, I can say that some of the sites are very quiet, but mine was not; instead of surf I heard highway traffic and airplanes and what sounded like a rocket engine being tested. On top of that, the park has only one dumpster for 139 campsites, and judging by the assertiveness of the squirrels, a lot of campers don't make the trek to the dumpster before bed. While I was paying my respects to the Atlantic, a squirrel gnawed a hole in my canvas saddlebag and made off with the empty Nutella jar I was planning to wash for storing fragile things. I got back and found him busily gnawing through the plastic jar to get the dregs of Nutella! I was glad I hadn't left the jar in my tent, because he could easily have clawed through its nylon walls. After the squirrels and I went to bed, raccoons took up the night shift, launching a fresh assault on my trailer every 20 minutes or so. In the morning I found muddy footprints all over the bins and a bunch of sand inside, where they had managed to squeeze in a paw or two.

After I got packed up, I started calling around to try to find a better deal on a campsite. I was dismayed to find that all the private campgrounds near St. Augustine were actually more expensive! One wanted $40 for a tent site! The nearest affordable campground I found was in Jacksonville, which wouldn't leave me much time for sightseeing in St. Augustine. I made one last call to the hostel shown on my bike map. The manager said a bed for the night would cost me $18, but when he heard I was traveling by bike, he said, "In that case it's $15... and that includes breakfast!"

So I rode into town (past a number of $30 hotels! cheaper to get a room than a campsite...) with a light heart and the prospect of a dry bed at the end of what was forecast to be a very rainy day. But the sun came out and made the air so muggy that I changed out of my bright yellow-orange shirt (thanks, Uncle Carl!) into a white one to stay cool. I climbed to the top of the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse and walked around the Castillo de San Marco National Monument. St. Augustine is considered the oldest city in the US, meaning the oldest European settlement. The Castillo withstood at least a dozen hostile attacks because it's made of coquina (seashell stone), and cannon balls just bounced off its walls. The lighthouse has a similar history: Anastasia Island was the only place on the coast where a lighthouse would remain standing, because the rest of the coast is all sand.

I was surprised to find that the hostel has a pirate theme (http://www.piratehaus.com). I was able to dry all my gear on the rooftop deck before the forecast cold front finally moved in late in the afternoon, and I explored the nearby historic district, which is a lot like New Orleans' French Quarter, only Spanish, and many of the roads are closed to vehicles.

My high-school friend Scott sends the following in response to the smelly paper mills question: The process of refining pulp involves two really smelly things: Ammonia (tons of it) and the actual pulp itself. If you have ever smelled wet, decomposing cardboard you would recognize it as a component of the paper mill odor. In the pulping process, the reclaimed paper/wood chip product is kept wet while it is agitated and cooked and it breaks down into a fibrous pulp. This partial decomposition yields the readily identifiable aroma. When I was really young, my dad worked for a paper mill in Arkansas and the odor of the working factory could bring me and my infant sister out of a deep sleep.

Thanks, Scott! Let's all use less paper and make the world a little less smelly... :-) --Ben

Ben Wed, 02/23/2005 - 08:00

Homosassa Springs SP

Homosassa Springs SP

Late this morning, Diane drove me out to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  Like a lot of Florida's state parks, it used to be a private attraction and so seems a little bit Disneyish.  We got on a boat and rode to the main part of the park, but the boat wasn't on a rail, and the wildlife along the river was all real!

The main part of the park is kind of like a zoo... most of the animals have been rescued from near death and recuperated in captivity so long that they now can't be released into the wild.  The manatees put on a great show, crowding around for one of their many daily feedings, since they've eaten all the underwater grasses that are their natural diet.  There's a "fishbowl" floating observation room right above the spring that gives a good view of the manatees and fishes underwater.

Ben Sat, 02/19/2005 - 19:17

to Salt Springs, FL

to Salt Springs, FL

I left Diane's place late in the morning and followed a route she recommended to avoid traffic returning from yesterday's Daytona 500.

Today's forecast said nothing about rain, but a light sprinkle began around noon and kept up all afternoon.  It was just heavy enough that I needed to wear my poncho; fortunately the day wasn't hot enough to make that an ordeal.

Ocala National Forest has much sparser underbrush than other Florida forests I've seen, so that I could imagine just pulling over and finding a place to camp, now that deer season is over.  The underbrush at Apalachicola National Forest was so thick I think I'd be hard-pressed to find a place to stand, let alone lie down!

Mid-afternoon, I started seeing hikers on the Florida Trail, which runs through the forest.  I stopped to talk with one of them, who lives near the forest but had spent the holiday weekend hiking and camping and was on his way home.  He told me there were a lot of "Rainbows," or modern hippies, camped at one of the primitive campgrounds, and sure enough, I saw a bunch of college-age folks wearing hemp and tie dye when I passed near there.

I opted to stay at the Salt Springs campground instead so that I could get a shower.  As soon as I got my tent up, the rain stopped!

Ben Sun, 02/20/2005 - 19:18

To St. Augustine, FL

To St. Augustine, FL

I started out the day by riding north into Palatka.  I stopped for lunch at a Huddle House, which turned out to be pretty much what it looked like: an imitation of Waffle House, but with about twice as many items on the menu.  Their chicken sandwich couldn't compare.  If I eat there again, I'll order something I can't get at Waffle House!

I rode pretty hard all afternoon to reach St. Augustine.  When I crossed US-1 I started giggling... here's this modest, normal-looking highway that goes all the way from the tip of Maine to Key West, and here I am crossing it on my bicycle!  Then I got to state highway A1A, made infamous by the song "Ice Ice Baby," and followed it along the coast to Anastasia State Park.

I had high expectations for this park right on the shore, but when I heard it would be $25 a night, I decided to stay only one night instead of two.  Come to find out it has only one dumpster for 139 campsites... judging by the assertiveness of the squirrels, a lot of campers don't make the trek to the dumpster before bed.

While I was looking at the ocean, a squirrel chewed a hole in my canvas saddlebag and made off with the empty Nutella jar I was planning to wash and use for storing fragile things.  I got back and found the squirrel busily gnawing through the plastic jar to get the dregs of Nutella!

But the sound of the ocean is nice, and once people stop driving around I'll be able to hear it better.

Ben Mon, 02/21/2005 - 19:20

St. Augustine Pirate Haus

St. Augustine Pirate Haus

I slept poorly because every few minutes raccoons launched a new assault on my trailer.  In the morning I found muddy footprints all over it, and a bunch of sand inside the blue bin where they had squeezed in a paw or two.

After I got packed up, I started calling around to try to find a better deal on a campsite, since I was determined not to spend $25 for another night at Anastasia State Park.  I was dismayed to find that all the private campgrounds near St. Augustine were actually more expensive!  One wanted $40 for a tent site!  The nearest affordable campground I found was in Jacksonville!

Before I gave up and rode to Jacksonville, though, I made one last call to the hostel in St. Augustine.  The manager said a bed for the night would cost me $18, but when he heard I was traveling by bike, he said, "In that case it's $15... and that includes breakfast!"

So I rode into town (past a number of $30 hotels! cheaper to get a room than a campsite...) with a light heart and the prospect of a dry bed at the end of what was forecast to be a very rainy day.  But the sun came out and made the air so muggy that I changed out of my bright yellow-orange shirt (thanks, Carl) into a white one to stay cool.

I climbed to the top of the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse and walked around the Castillo de San Marco National Monument.  St. Augustine is considered the oldest city in the US, meaning the oldest European settlement.  The Castillo withstood at least a dozen hostile attacks because it's made of coquina (seashell stone), and cannon balls just bounced off.  The lighthouse has a similar history: Anastasia Island was the only place on the coast where a lighthouse would remain standing, because the rest of the coast is all sand.

I was surprised to find that the hostel has a pirate theme (http://www.piratehaus.com).  I was able to dry all my gear on the rooftop deck before the forecast cold front finally moved in late in the afternoon, and I explored the nearby historic district, which is a lot like New Orleans' French Quarter, only Spanish, and many of the roads are closed to vehicular traffic.

Ben Tue, 02/22/2005 - 19:21

Feb. 26: Nor'easter

Feb. 26: Nor'easter

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on February 26, 2005]

I know it's only been a few days since I last wrote, but as I write this I don't know when I'll next be online, so I figured I should take the opportunity.

I stayed up late Wednesday night talking with fellow travelers in the hostel: a young woman from Ireland headed west and a young couple from England headed east via Greyhound. All three have been to the US before but have never been to the midwest; they go back and forth between the coasts through the South because there are more interesting stops that way... I guess they don't think there's much of anything between Minneapolis and Portland. Much as I'd like to promote the northern states, I've ridden that stretch by Greyhound myself, so I'm not sure I can. I had a nice complementary breakfast of pirate pancakes and coffee and was on my way. As I was loading the trailer, I met a former manager of the hostel who now lives in an apartment in the same building because she likes the stream of travelers.

I should mention that the other bike tourist I met at Rainbow Springs State Park (just before Ocala) lent me his Adventure Cycling map showing a bike route all they way from Ormond Beach, FL to Savannah, Georgia. I've resolved to stick to this route and see how I like it.

I've said before that pedaling the BikeE uses different muscles than riding an upright bike or climbing stairs, which was a major selling point when I had to climb three flights after each ride. The down side is that after climbing the 14-story lighthouse Wednesday, my calves were intensely sore for days! The up side is that that soreness didn't interfere at all with my bicycling.

State Highway A1A north of St. Augustine looks a lot like the Gulf coast in the Florida panhandle: lots of vacation homes and condos, and lots of wind-pruned vegetation. In fact the trees and bushes are so severely pruned by the wind that they grow together into an impenetrable thicket which may look nice in the green season, but right now it's olive drab and looks like a wildfire waiting to happen. The campground that charges $40 for a tent site is right in the middle of this briar patch! I don't see the appeal.

Jacksonville Beach is a neat little town. It's full of the surf shops and sports bars you'd expect to see in a coastal town near a big city, but every business seems to have a bike rack, and every rack I saw had bikes parked at it. I don't know how many of the tourists bicycle, but the employees sure do! There were scattered showers all day -- very scattered. I managed to be under cover every time one passed by, and I was able to restrain myself from going out until the rain had stopped, so I didn't get wet even once.

I had my choice of two city campgrounds, one on either side of a ferry. (The city of Jacksonville is geographically enormous because it annexed the entire county in 1967, so what used to be county parks are now city parks even though they're far from town.) I chose the farther one -- Huguenot Memorial -- and got a great deal on a campsite: $5.75. Of course it's right across the river from a Navy air base hosting a huge aircraft carrier, but the helicopters and jets stopped flying over sometime between 10 and 11 PM, and quiet descended. That's when the rain started. It was just a light rain, but it had a strong and gusty wind behind it.

When it hadn't stopped by 9 AM, I called the camp office and had them sign me up for another night - no point traveling in this weather when I could stay put for just $5.75. I had plenty of food, and my gear was dry inside the tent. It didn't stay that way. By noon the tent was taking on water above and below, the top had blown off my green bin allowing the contents to marinate, and my new keyboard had started malfunctioning just like the old one. I shouldn't have gotten it out in wet conditions, but after I finished my only book I thought I'd get some work done. The amount of work I got done pays for half the price of the keyboard, so I didn't even break even with that purchase.

The storm was officially called a nor'easter on the weather-band radio. The rain stopped by Friday evening, but the wind kept right on blowing at 15-25 mph, flapping the tent fabric so hard I had to wear earplugs. But it settled down by this morning (Saturday), and I was able to pack the gear -- mostly dry! -- without losing anything to the wind. I'm really impressed at how my tent held up! A neighboring Kmart-special tent crumpled up like a dead spider.

Ben Sat, 02/26/2005 - 08:36

to Jacksonville

to Jacksonville

I stayed up late last night talking with fellow travelers in the hostel: a young woman from Ireland headed west and a young couple from England headed east.  All three have been to the US before but have never been to the midwest; they go back and forth between the coasts through the South via Greyhound because there are more interesting stops that way... I guess they don't think there's much of anything between Minneapolis and Portland.

I had a nice complementary breakfast of pirate pancakes and coffee and was on my way.  As I was loading the trailer, I met a former manager of the hostel who now lives in an apartment in the same building because she likes the stream of travelers.

I should mention that the other bike tourist I met at Rainbow Springs State Park lent me his Adventure Cycling map showing a bike route all they way from Ormond Beach to Savannah, Georgia.  I've resolved to stick to this route and see how I like it.

I've said before that pedaling the BikeE uses different muscles than riding an upright bike or climbing stairs, which was a major selling point when I had to climb three flights after each ride.  The down side is that after climbing the 14-story lighthouse yesterday, my calves are intensely sore!  The up side is that that soreness doesn't interfere at all with my bicycling.

State Highway A1A north of St. Augustine looks a lot like the Gulf coast in the Florida panhandle: lots of vacation homes and condos, and lots of wind-pruned vegetation.  In fact the trees and bushes are so severely pruned by the wind that they grow together into an impenetrable thicket which may look nice in the green season, but right now it's olive drab.  The campground that charges $40 for a tent site is right in the middle of this briar patch!  I don't see the appeal.

Jacksonville Beach is a neat little town.  It's full of the surf shops and sports bars you'd expect to see in a coastal town near a big city, but every business seems to have a bike rack, and every rack I saw had bikes parked at it.  I don't know how many of the tourists bicycle, but the employees sure do!

There were scattered showers all day -- very scattered.  I managed to be under cover every time one passed by, and I was able to restrain myself from going out until the rain had stopped, so I didn't get wet even once.

I had my choice of two city campgrounds, one on either side of a ferry.  (The city of Jacksonville is geographically enormous because it annexed the entire county in 1967, so what used to be county parks are now city parks.)  I chose the farther one and got a great deal on a campsite: $5.75.  Of course it's right across the river from a Navy air base, but I hear they're going to stop flying overhead around 10:00...

Ben Thu, 02/24/2005 - 10:08

Huguenot Memorial Park

Huguenot Memorial Park

The helicopters and jets stopped flying over sometime between 10 and 11 PM, and the rain started.  It was just a light rain, but it had a strong and gusty wind behind it.  When it hadn't stopped by 9 AM, I called the camp office and had them sign me up for another night - no point traveling in this weather when I could stay put for just $5.75.  I had plenty of food, and my gear was dry inside the tent.

It didn't stay that way.  By noon the tent was taking on water above and below, the top had blown off my green bin allowing the contents to marinate, and my new keyboard had started malfunctioning just like the old one.  I shouldn't have gotten it out in wet conditions, but after I finished my only book I thought I'd get some work done.  The amount of work I got done pays for half the price of the keyboard, so I didn't even break even with that purchase.

The storm was officially called a nor'easter on the weather-band radio.  That forecast predicts the rain will stop tonight, but a park employee said he heard it'll continue all day tomorrow.  Either way, I'm getting a hotel tomorrow night!

Ben Fri, 02/25/2005 - 10:10

To Callahan, FL

To Callahan, FL

The rain stopped overnight, and the wind calmed by morning so that I was able to pack up without losing anything to the wind.

The bike-map route brought me around Jacksonville without going into town.  I stopped at a quiet little strip mall for lunch and was able to send a message to the list.  I rode as far as the town of Callahan and got a hotel room, since there were no campgrounds for another 30 miles or so, and so that I could wash and dry some things.

Ben Sat, 02/26/2005 - 10:13

Mar. 4: Savannah

Mar. 4: Savannah

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 4, 2005]

Hi, folks! I made it to Savannah a day earlier than I had planned, and I'll be here at least until Sunday. Y

ou last heard from me on Saturday morning, after I'd weathered a wind storm in my tent. The bike-map route brought me around Jacksonville without going into town. I stopped at a sadly quiet little strip mall for lunch and was able to send that message. I rode as far as the town of Callahan and got a hotel room, since there were no campgrounds for another 30 miles -- at least not on the route; since I had only the route map I was unaware of anything more than 10 miles on either side of the route.

A heavy rain started falling overnight. I took my good sweet time leaving the hotel Sunday morning in the hopes that it would let up, but eventually I had to go out and get wet. The rain kept right up all day long, without a single pause. I stopped for lunch right across the border in St. George, Georgia, at a little place that was only accessible via a dirt road that had turned to an inch of mud. The locals assured me that was nothing, that by tomorrow it would be about 3 inches deep, and cars would get stuck in it. But the BBQ sandwich was worth the trouble.

My route took me right past the entrance to the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Area, but I didn't feel like stopping at its visitor center while soaked to the skin. Maybe some other time! The area around the Okeefenokee is all tree farms, miles and miles of pine trees in neat rows. Like Wisconsin, only with palmettos in the understory. There are campgrounds near the town of Folkston, but I didn't think I could find a place to pitch my tent that wasn't marshy, so I asked some convenience-store clerks where I could find a cheap motel. They were so quick to answer that I asked if the place was OK, remembering the motel in La Place, LA where the doorknob had been shot off one of the rooms. This one turned out to be fine. Of course the rain stopped shortly after I unpacked, but that's the way it goes! I stood at the door of my room marveling at the dry parking lot in the moonlight.

Reflections on Florida: I really enjoyed the Florida panhandle, with its forests and beaches and affordable state parks. The main peninsula of the state was a little touristy for my taste. The best advice I can give fellow travelers is to keep your eyes open for brochures and guides and coupon books that may be useful, because you can be sure that no two of them contain the same information, and you're unlikely to find all of them in the same place. For example, there's a great booklet about all the state parks, and there's a free highway map of the state showing all public campgrounds, and there's another booklet listing all the private campgrounds, and there are at least three free books of coupons for hotels. Not even AAA's TourBook has all that information in one place.

Monday was uneventful, except that I missed a turn and found my own route for a while. I think it may have been more direct, less trafficked, and better shouldered than the route I was supposed to take, but of course I can't be sure. Even Robert Frost admitted he couldn't travel both roads, so how can he be so sure that his choice made all the difference? In any case, the same thing happened to me again on Tuesday.

Monday night's stop was Satilla River Vacationland, a spooky-looking place on account of all the Spanish moss hanging like cobwebs from seasonally dead trees, and a legion of apparently uninhabited RVs. Tuesday was windy! I had a fierce headwind most of the morning, but then it turned and pushed me in the afternoon, which was a lot better than the other way around. I saw a tree by the road that I first thought was covered with air plants (like the one I photographed in Austin), but when I got closer I saw they were clumps of white flowers -- the dogwoods are starting to bloom! The red maples are also colorful, with their cranberry-red, winged seeds. I saw my first cotton fields along the roadside; at first I thought someone had disemboweled a sofa in the wind, but no, the cotton had actually grown there on those twiggy plants. I gather these are the remains of last year's harvest.

I passed a feed store where three guys were talking in the parking lot amid drifting clouds of dust blowing from nearby fields. One of them had a beagle who abandoned his owner to run along with me for about three miles. When I stopped for lunch, he waited patiently for me to come out so he could run with me some more. I finally lost him when I got a good downhill slope. I hope he found his way back.

I stopped for the night at a little campground near the town of Odum that has the most ancient pair of owners I've ever seen. They say they've owned the place for 18 years, and from the looks of it it's been going downhill for at least 5. But they gave me a good deal on a site and invited me to sleep in the social hall (the one building that didn't reek of mold) to avoid the predicted frost. I wasn't going to take them up on it, but then I decided that was silly, so took my tent down and moved inside. But when the night got cold, a draft blew in under the door and made the big open room at least as chilly as my tent would have been... maybe more so, because the tent fills with body heat, and its vents are designed to close when they're blown on. I didn't turn on the thermostat because there was a big sign warning DO NOT TOUCH, so I just froze.

When I got into the town of Reidsville, I stopped at a grocery store for some badly needed provisions -- the bike route had led me through such small towns that I hadn't seen a supermarket in days -- and then checked my e-mail at the library. While I was there, I followed a hunch that the next day's prescribed route might be out of my way. Sure enough, it would take me about 20 miles farther north than I wanted to go! Having just gotten back the feeling in my fingers and toes a few hours before, I had no interest in going farther north just yet. The librarian and her daughter helped me choose a more direct route into Savannah. Along the way the librarian made some outrageous generalizations about Black people (who are the majority of Savannah's population), within uncomfortable earshot of a Black patron. And then she said she wasn't prejudiced! I guess it's relative... I'm not prejudiced compared to her, and she's not prejudiced compared to the Imperial Grand Wizard. But he probably doesn't work in a public library.

Right outside of town is a state park with the almost saurian name of Gordia-Alatamaha. At least I imagine local children learning its name alongside ichthiosaurus and diplodocus and iguanodon. It's a very nice little campground, considering how close it is to the highway and the town, and the bathroom was heated like a sauna -- a very welcome change from the night before. I got up bright and early Thursday morning, thanks partly to the cold, but didn't freeze my extremities this time.

I followed US-280 east from Reidsville to Pembroke (rhymes with "cook"), postponing as long as possible the question of whether I would stay the night there or continue to Savannah. I decided to go for it, even though it meant a 65-mile day, because there was a hostel waiting for me, and I fully expected it to be as nice as Pirate Haus. That's really 95% of the reason I rode into Savannah a day early: I wish I'd spent a second night at Pirate Haus, or rather, I wish I'd spent my first night in St. Augustine in comfort and companionship rather than under siege by raccoons.

But not all hostels are as nice as Pirate Haus. The Savannah Hostel turns out to be more like a homeless shelter, which at $22 a night is disappointing. I'll give the owner the benefit of the doubt because he's taking care of a small child and working 56 hours a week and is obviously beyond burnt out, but that's the only slack I can cut him. I could go into detail about what's wrong with the place, but what it needs is fresh management. Anyhow, I bonded with the other five guests (a young couple from Sweden who couldn't find a hotel room, a retired couple from Alaska whose camper is being repaired, and an aspiring cartoonist from Nebraska by way of Taiwan) over unfavorable comparisons to other hostels we've stayed in, and we all have to agree it's the cheapest place to stay in town except for actual homeless shelters or the homes of friends. But enough about that.

The ride into town was pleasant, except that I learned why the bike route had kept me off roads with shoulders wider than 2 feet: wide shoulders in Georgia are textured so that they make noise when cars attempt to drive on them, which means that they rattle the brains out of bicyclists who attempt to ride on them. So I rode in the lane whenever traffic allowed, with one eye glued to my helmet-mounted mirror. That's not a posture conducive to sightseeing, but I did notice when rural Georgia gave way to the fabled Old South charm of Savannah. It's hard to describe, and since I haven't taken any pictures of rural Georgia I won't be able to show you the difference, but the fact that I didn't take any pictures there and I'm bound to take at least a dozen here tells you something.

For one thing, spring is at least a week farther along here. By the end of the weekend there may be leaves on the deciduous trees, and if I'm lucky maybe even blooms on the magnolias. Here's hoping spring is in the air where you are, too! (Or autumn, for Nathan in Australia...) --Ben

Ben Fri, 03/04/2005 - 09:03

To Folkston, GA

To Folkston, GA

I took my good sweet time leaving the hotel this morning in the hopes that the rain would stop, but eventually I had to go out and get wet.  The rain kept right up all day long, without a single pause.

I stopped for lunch right across the border in St. George, Georgia, at a little place that was only accessible via a dirt road that had turned to an inch of mud.  The locals assured me that was nothing, that by tomorrow it would be about 3 inches deep, and cars would get stuck in it.  But the BBQ sandwich was worth the trouble.

My route took me right past the entrance to the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Area, but I didn't feel like stopping at its visitor center while soaked to the skin.  Maybe some other time!  The area around the Okeefenokee is all tree farms, miles and miles of pine trees in neat rows.  Like Wisconsin, only with palmettos.

There are campgrounds near the town of Folkston, but I didn't think I could find a dry spot, so I asked some convenience-store clerks where I could find a cheap motel.  They were so quick to answer that I asked if the place was OK, remembering the motel in LaPlace, LA where the doorknob had been shot off one of the rooms.  It turned out to be fine.  Of course the rain stopped shortly after I checked in, but that's the way it goes!

Reflections on Florida: I really enjoyed the Florida panhandle, with its forests and beaches and affordable state parks.  The main peninsula of the state was a little touristy for my taste.  The best advice I can give fellow travelers is to keep your eyes open for brochures and guides and coupon books that may be useful, because you can be sure that no two of them contain the same information, and you're unlikely to find all of them in the same place.  For example, there's a great booklet about all the state parks, and there's a free highway map of the state showing all public campgrounds, and there's another booklet showing private campgrounds, and there are at least three free books of coupons for hotels.

Ben Sun, 02/27/2005 - 11:11

To Atkinson, GA

To Atkinson, GA

Today was uneventful, except that I missed a turn and found my own route for a while.  I think it may have been more direct, less trafficked, and better shouldered than the route I was supposed to take, but of course I can't be sure.

Ben Mon, 02/28/2005 - 11:21

To Odum, GA

To Odum, GA

Today was windy!  I had a fierce headwind most of the morning, but then it turned and pushed me in the afternoon, which was a lot better than the other way around.

I saw a tree today that I thought was covered with air plants, but when I got closer I saw they were clumps of flowers -- the dogwoods are starting to bloom!  The red maples are also colorful, with their brick-red winged seeds.  I saw my first cotton fields along the roadside; at first I thought someone had disemboweled a sofa in the wind, but no, the cotton had actually grown there on those twiggy plants.  I gather these are the remains of last year's harvest.

I missed another turn on my route today, but like yesterday I wound up on a road that wasn't significantly longer or worse in any other way as far as I could tell.

I passed a feed store where three guys were talking in the parking lot.  One of them had a beagle who abandoned his owner to run along with me for about three miles.  I stopped for lunch, and he waited patiently for me to come out so he could run with me some more.  I finally lost him when I got a good downhill slope.  I hope he found his way back.

I stopped for the night at a little camping "resort" (i.e. it has a pool) near the town of Odum that has the most ancient pair of owners I've ever seen.  They say they've owned the place for 18 years, and from the looks of it it's been going downhill for at least 5.  But they gave me a good deal on a site and invited me to sleep in the social hall (the one building that doesn't smell of mold) to avoid the predicted frost.  I wasn't going to take them up on it, but then I realized that was silly, so I moved inside.

Ben Tue, 03/01/2005 - 11:49

To Reidsville, GA

To Reidsville, GA

When the night started getting cold, a draft blew in under the door of the social hall and made it at least as chilly as my tent would have been... maybe more so, because my tent fills with body heat.  I didn't turn on the thermostat because there was a big sign saying not to touch it, so I just froze.  My fingertips and toes regained their feeling around noon.

When I got into the town of Reidsville, I stopped at a grocery store for some badly needed provisions -- the bike route took me through such small towns that I hadn't seen a supermarket in days -- and then checked my e-mail at the library.  While I was there, I followed a hunch that the next day's prescribed route might be out of my way.  Sure enough, it would take me about 20 miles farther north than I want to go!

The librarian and her daghter helped me choose a more direct route into Savannah.  Along the way the librarian made some outrageous generalizations about Black people (who are the majority of Savannah's population), within uncomfortable earshot of a Black patron.  And then she said she wasn't prejudiced.

Right outside of town is a state park with the almost saurian name of Gordia-Alatamaha.  At least I imagine local children learning its name alongside ichthylosaurus and iguanodon.  It's a very nice little campground, considering how close it is to the highway and the town.

Ben Wed, 03/02/2005 - 11:58

To Savannah

To Savannah

I got up bright and early, thanks partly to the cold, but didn't freeze my extremities this time.  I followed US-280 east from Reidsville to Pembroke, postponing as long as possible the question of whether I would stay the night there or continue to Savannah.  I decided to go for it, even though it meant a 65-mile day, because there was a hostel waiting for me, and I fully expected it to be as nice as Pirate Haus.

That's really 95% of the reason I rode into Savannah today: I wish I'd spent a second night at Pirate Haus, or rather, I wish I'd spent my first night in St. Augustine in comfort and companionship rather than under siege by raccoons.  But not all hostels are as nice as Pirate Haus.  The Savannah Hostel turns out to be more like a homeless shelter, which at $22 a night is disappointing.  I'll give the owner the benefit of the doubt because he's taking care of a new baby, but that's the only slack I can cut him.  Anyhow, I bonded with the other four guests (a young couple from Sweden and a retired couple from Alaska) over unfavorable comparisons to other hostels we've stayed in, and we all have to agree it's the cheapest place to stay in town except possibly for actual homeless shelters or the homes of friends.

But enough about that.  The ride into town was fairly pleasant, except that I learned why the bike route had kept me off roads with shoulders: shoulders in Georgia are textured so that they make noise when cars attempt to drive on them, which means that they rattle the brains out of bicyclists who attempt to ride on them.  So I rode in the lane whenever traffic allowed, with one eye glued to my helmet-mounted mirror.

That's not a posture conducive to sightseeing, but I did notice when rural Georgia gave way to the fabled Old South charm of Savannah.  It's hard to describe, and since I haven't taken any pictures of rural Georgia I won't be able to show you the difference, but the fact that I didn't take any pictures there and I'm bound to take at least a dozen here tells you something.  For one thing, spring is at least a week closer here.  By the end of the weekend there may be leaves on the deciduous trees, and maybe even blooms on the magnolias.

Ben Thu, 03/03/2005 - 12:01

Mar 7: Savannah Explorations

Mar 7: Savannah Explorations

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 7, 2005]

I spoke -- or wrote -- too soon in my negative assessment of the Savannah Hostel. Although you can see at hotel review sites that other people have had bad experiences with the manager as well, he warmed up as the weekend progressed, and I really enjoyed talking with the guests from around the world, and that made up for a lot.

I started out Friday morning by going to the visitor center, since there seemed to be a consensus that that was the place to go, but it turned out to be little more than a ticket counter for the many commercial tours available: you can see the historic district on foot, on a rented bike, in a horse-drawn carriage, or in a noisy diesel bus made to look like a trolley. My second stop was City Market, which I hoped would be a farmers' market, but it's a pedestrian mall. An Internet cafe there let me plug into the phone line, and I caught up with my e-mail over coffee. Next I headed for the riverfront, where I saw containerships much taller than those I'd seen on the Mississippi, but shorter in length. I guess the channel on the Savannah River must be deeper than the Mississippi's to allow the taller ships.

The main attraction on the riverfront is supposed to be the assortment of quirky shops, bars, and restaurants, but I've been through so many towns in the past month that storefronts don't make much of an impression anymore! But I enjoyed the way the place is laid out: the riverfront is so steep that most of the buildings' first and third floors are both on ground level, with the second floor only accessible by catwalk.

The trouble with historic districts is that they rarely have modern photo labs! My search for one led me to a mall in the southern part of town. On the way I stopped at a library to determine whether I needed to buy maps of North and South Carolina. I decided I did, and I was able to do so at the mall. The traffic on the way back into town was just awful. Had I known I'd be out until rush hour, I would have put off some of my errands until Saturday! At least I didn't have my trailer along. I got back to the hostel, met the new arrivals (two young couples from Florida), and made a big mess of spaghetti. It's great to cook for myself for a change, with a real stove and perishable food and leftovers!

Saturday was more relaxed. I accompanied the folks from Alaska on a tour of the First Black Baptist Church, which was founded in 1775. I missed the beginning of the tour, so I'm not clear on whether it was a stop on the Underground Railroad or a coordination center. The best part of the tour was the guide, who has personally researched the history of the place and encouraged all her guests to question what they're taught in school about slavery and American history. One curious feature of the church that's still being researched is Hebrew graffiti on the ends of the upstairs pews! It was the guide herself who figured out that it was Hebrew script.

I spent most of the afternoon researching my route through South Carolina at the library. Then I hung out at Forsyth Park -- sort of the Central Park of the historic district -- until the hostel's "lockout" period ended at 5:00. Forsyth Park is world-class people-watching. I think if I were playing People Bingo the only squares left uncovered would be women in hijabs and Hare Krishas. A lot of new guests arrived at the hostel Saturday night, including a pair of young men from Australia and another from Japan. A college sophomore from Atlanta moved into the bunk above me and told me all about how the world works. I remember when I knew everything...

I stayed at the hostel until lockout Sunday morning (10:00) and then checked out the Tree Climbing Championships on my way to church. This is not kids' stuff, but the kind of climbing done by professional tree trimmers, with helmets and ropes and harnesses. The winners from this regional competition go on to the worldwide championships.

The UU Church of Savannah calls itself the Jingle Bells Church (http://www.jinglebellschurch.org) because John Pierpont was serving as its music director at the time he published "Jingle Bells" and a number of other ditties. He wrote the song while he was still living in Massachusetts... anyone driving a sleigh in Savannah would be pulling it through mud. I was interested to visit the church because most of the congregation were actual Southerners, unlike in Florida where they were mostly snowbirds from New York and thereabouts.

In the afternoon I rode out to Bonaventure Cemetery, which despite its fame is not shown on the tourist maps and not, as far as I can tell, included in any of the bus tours. As a result it was very quiet as well as beautiful, and I enjoyed it very much. While I was riding in the cemetery, I heard a snapping sound from underneath me. I thought one of the welds in the seat back might have broken, since that was a recurring problem on my previous BikeE, but they were fine. A few minutes later I went to adjust the seat position and found that one of the two bolts that holds the seat onto the frame had broken in two! I scrounged for something to replace the bolt with and settled for a spare spoke -- it was a very narrow bolt -- but you can believe I rode very gingerly for the rest of the day!

I rode out to Skidaway Island State Park, southwest of town. Had I not known about the hostel, I would have tried to use the park as my base of operations while seeing Savannah... I'm very glad I didn't do that, because it's a long ride on narrow roads with lots of traffic. The hostel was much more convenient, despite its faults, and it cost the same.

Addendum: I got a replacement bolt on my way through town Monday morning, so you can stop worrying about my seat falling off. See you in Charleston! --Ben

Ben Mon, 03/07/2005 - 10:15

Savannah, day 1

Savannah, day 1

I started out the morning by going to the visitor center, since there seemed to be a consensus that that was the place to go, but it turned out to be little more than a ticket counter for the many commercial tours available: you can see the historic district on foot, on a rented bike, in a horse-drawn carriage, or in a noisy diesel bus made to look like a trolley.

My second stop was City Market, which I hoped would be a farmers' market, but it's a pedestrian mall.  An Internet cafe there let me plug into the phone line, and I caught up with my e-mail over coffee.

Next I headed for the riverfront, where I saw containerships much taller than those I'd seen on the Mississippi, but shorter in length.  I guess the channel on the Savannah River must be deeper than the Mississippi's to allow the taller ships.  The main attraction on the riverfront is supposed to be the assortment of quirky shops, bars, and restaurants, but I've been through so many towns in the past month that storefronts don't make much of an impression anymore!

On my way south from there, I planned to stop at the famous Colonial Park Cemetery, but somehow I didn't see it.  I'll have to go back tomorrow.

I happened to pick up a free newspaper and glanced at its ad insert, which happened to be for a natural-foods store that was on my way!  I wish more stores would carry my favorite instant lentil soup mix in bulk so I wouldn't have to clean them out every time I stop in.

The trouble with historic districts is that they rarely have one-hour photo shops!  My search for one led me to a mall in the southern part of town.  On the way I stopped at a library to determine whether I needed to buy maps of North and South Carolina.  I decided I did, and I was able to do so at the mall.

The traffic on the way back into town was just awful.  Had I known I'd be out until rush hour, I would have put off some of my errands until Saturday!  I got back to the hostel, met the new arrivals (a young couple from Florida), and made a big mess of spaghetti.  It's great to cook for myself for a change, with a real stove and perishable food!

Ben Fri, 03/04/2005 - 12:00

Savannah, day 2

Savannah, day 2

I took the recommendation of the folks from Alaska and went with them on a tour of the First Black Baptist Church, which was founded in 1775.  I missed the beginning of the tour, so I'm not clear on whether it was a stop on the Underground Railroad or a coordination center.  The best part of the tour was the guide, who has personally researched the history of the place and encouraged all her guests to question what they're taught in school about slavery and American history.  One curious feature of the church that's still being researched is Hebrew graffiti on the ends of the upstairs pews!  It was the guide herself who figured out that it was Hebrew script.

I spent most of the afternoon researching my route through South Carolina at the library.  Then I hung out at Forsyth Park -- sort of the Central Park of the historic district -- until the hostel's "lockout" period ended at 5:00.  Forsyth Park is world-class people-watching.  I think if I were playing People Bingo the only squares left uncovered would be women in hijabs and Hare Krishas.

Ben Sat, 03/05/2005 - 12:02

to Skidaway Island SP, GA

to Skidaway Island SP, GA

I stayed at the hostel until lockout this morning (10:00) and then checked in on the Tree Climbing Championships on my way to church.

The UU Church of Savannah calls itself the Jingle Bells Church (http://www.jinglebellschurch.org) because John Pierpont was serving as its music director at the time he published "Jingle Bells" and a number of other ditties.  He wrote the song while he was still living in Massachussetts... anyone driving a sleigh in Savannah back then would be pulling it through mud.  I was interested to visit the church because most of the congregation were actual Southerners, unlike in Florida where they were mostly snowbirds from New York and thereabouts.

In the afternoon I rode out to Bonaventure Cemetery, which despite its fame is not shown on the tourist maps of Savannah and not, as far as I can tell, included in any of the bus tours.  As a result it was very quiet as well as beautiful, and I enjoyed it very much.

Then I rode out to Skidaway Island State Park, southwest of town.  Had I not known about the hostel, I would have tried to use the park as my base of operations while seeing Savannah... I'm very glad I didn't do that, because it's a long ride on narrow roads with lots of traffic.  The hostel was much more convenient, despite the lockout and such.

Ben Sun, 03/06/2005 - 12:03

Mar. 11: Charleston

Mar. 11: Charleston

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 11, 2005]

Greetings from "The Most Historic City in the Country!" As you already know, I rode back through Savannah Monday morning and got a new bolt for my seat, plus a spare just in case, and I stopped at a gelato shop to send you all an e-mail.

I had asked around quite a bit about whether bikes are allowed on the big Tallmidge Memorial highway bridge across the Savannah River. Civilians said no, police officers said yes. When I got to the on-ramp, there was indeed a sign prohibiting bicycles and pedestrians, but the police were right that no one objected to my crossing. The view of town wasn't as spectacular as I had thought it might be ("Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" says the town's squares are visible from the highway bridge, but that must have been the earlier bridge this one replaced) so I wasn't tempted to disobey the other signs and stop to take a picture.

Once in South Carolina, I could finally understand why the city was called Savannah: the coastal plain between there and Charleston ("The Lowcountry") is a marsh with tall grass that at a distance looks a lot like an African savanna. The city is so full of trees that I hadn't seen the resemblance. I was surprised at how quickly the water was flowing through channels in the apparently flat marsh ... until I saw one flowing backward and realized I was watching the tide go in and out!

I'm always a little unsure about distances when I cross from one state map to another. The South Carolina map is drawn to a larger scale than any I've used yet, so that places are closer together than I expect. It was a nice surprise when I reached my campground outside Bluffton, SC early in the afternoon! I took a nap and watched some TV.

I mentioned to the campground's owner that I was having trouble finding fuel for my stove. Folks down here evidently don't have much trouble with their cars' fuel lines freezing, so they don't need to stock Heet in auto-part stores, let alone every corner gas station. I tried looking for Sterno as a substitute, but few people have heard of it and no one seems to know where to buy it. However, the owner returned a few minutes later with a big bottle of denatured grain alcohol labeled as sootless stove fuel left over from when she and her husband had owned a boat with an alcohol stove in the galley. She gave it to me for free. A few minutes later I found a big fiberglass batting on the ground -- I think it had blown in on the wind -- and helped myself to a pinch for a new stove wick. My last wick got rained on right after I ran out of fuel, so I couldn't dry it out, and squeezing it would ruin it, so I had to toss it and was considering using Spanish moss until I could find more fiberglass. Anyway, I'm back on hot food!

It rained off and on overnight and still couldn't make up its mind Tuesday morning, so that I was tempted to stay put for another night -- the price was hard to beat. What got me moving was the forecast of frost for that night; the campground offered no shelter from the wind, and the social hall was locked at night, so I couldn't take refuge on its comfy sofas. In that regard, at least, I thought I could do better down the road. So off I went.

The rain stopped around 10:00, but the wind kept gusting all day, so that I revised my route to avoid a three-mile-long bridge. This meant that I didn't pass through the historic town of Beaufort, but I can live with that omission. Toward the end of the day I rejoined US-17 (the main road from Savannah to Charleston), and I pulled into the town of Point South. The cheaper of two campgrounds had better shelter and was farther from the Interstate, so I was well satisfied. For another $25 I could have stayed in a hotel with an indoor, heated pool, which was tempting, but I reasoned that $25 could buy a lot of breakfast at Waffle House at 4 in the morning or whenever the cold woke me up!

As it turned out I stayed warm until 6:00, just half an hour before dawn. I crawled onto my bike and was in the warm restaurant in minutes. It was not a happy morning at the Waffle House. Near as I could make out, the shift that had just ended had left an overflowing dishwasher and a filthy grill for the new shift -- just one cook and one waitress to handle the morning rush -- to clean up. The food was OK anyway, and I was glad to have it.

I followed US-17 all the way into Charleston because there was no other option. The drivers were remarkably generous considering how little they had to offer me. I'll do my best to take a better route out of town! The day's ride was 63 miles; I could have stopped sooner, but Charleston's two hostels were calling me. The two hostels were started independently about two years ago, half a mile apart, by women in their early 20s fresh out of the local college. Both are managed by other twentysomething women, and they offer similar amenities at similar rates. I thought it would be neat to stay at both of them, but I had no intention of actually doing so... it just worked out that way!

I went to the Historic Charleston Hostel when I rode into town because it had better reviews online. It's a very small place, just 14 beds, and 10 of them were taken by an Alternative Spring Break group from a community college. I got the last bed Wednesday night, and there were no vacancies for the following night, so I called over to the other hostel and made a reservation there. I was exhausted from the long ride and went to bed early, but the spring break crowd was up late playing a heated game of Monopoly, and the walls were thin. After a few hours I put my earplugs in and was dead to the world... slept great! The hostel provides free grits, which the college group's advisors prepared with cheese, and they gave me their leftovers.

When the manager learned I was going down the street to the NotSo Hostel that night, she told me all kinds of nasty rumors about the place. She wasn't trying to get me to stay -- she didn't have a bed to offer me, after all -- she just had a grudge left over from when she lived there, under its original management. I checked out the accommodations before checking into them, and her info appears to be out of date at least, if not completely unfounded; in fact I liked the second place better and signed up for two nights on the spot. I'm afraid her cattiness makes me think less of her and her establishment... but hey, she's got a lot of responsibility and she can't be over 23. I was pretty catty at that age myself. And here I am gossipping to all of you...

I grabbed some lunch and spent the afternoon sightseeing, but since I'm neither a Civil War buff nor an architecture aficionado, I had trouble grasping Charleston's charm. I can see it's up to its ears in history; I can see that it has a hodgepodge of Gothic, Colonial, and Victorian buildings, but that doesn't float my boat like Savannah's canopied streets and stately parks. I wore my church clothes the whole time I was in Savannah because I felt like a T-shirt and warmup pants wouldn't be appropriate. Charleston doesn't feel that way.

The NotSo Hostel is a much larger place than the other: more beds, more bedrooms, larger rooms, thicker walls. In addition to the college students on spring break, there are a number of professionals -- a general surgeon, an EMT, a teacher -- applying for or temporarily filling positions in town. All sorts of people. I did a little more sightseeing this morning (Friday) and then took the rest of the day off. I'll investigate happy hour tonight and catch a tour tomorrow morning on my way out of town.

Wish me dry days and warm nights! --Ben

Ben Fri, 03/11/2005 - 08:30

To Bluffton, SC

To Bluffton, SC

I rode back into Savannah this morning and got a new bolt for my seat, plus a spare just in case, and I stopped at a gelato shop to send e-mail.

I had asked around quite a bit about whether bikes are allowed on the big highway bridge across the Savannah River.  Civilians said no, police officers said yes.  When I got to the on-ramp, there was indeed a sign prohibiting bicycles and pedestrians, but the police were right that no one objected to my crossing.  The view of town wasn't as spectacular as I had thought it might be, so I wasn't tempted to disobey the other signs and stop on the bridge to take a picture.

Once in South Carolina, I could finally understand why the city was called Savannah: the surrounding coast ("the lowcountry")  is a marsh with tall grass that at a distance looks a lot like an African savanna.  The city is so full of trees that I hadn't seen the resemblance before.

I'm always a little unsure about distances when I cross from one state map to another.  The South Carolina map is drawn to a larger scale than any I've used yet, so that places are closer together than I expect.  It was a nice surprise when I reached my campground outside Bluffton, SC early in the afternoon!  I took a nap and watched some TV.

I mentioned to the campground's owner that I was having trouble finding fuel for my stove.  Folks down here evidently don't have much trouble with their cars' fuel lines freezing, so they don't need to stock Heet in auto parts stores, let alone every corner store.  I tried looking for Sterno as a substitute, but few people have heard of it and no one seems to know where to buy it.  However, the owner returned a few minutes later with a big bottle of denatured grain alcohol labeled as sootless stove fuel left over from when she and her husband had owned a boat.  She gave it to me for free.  A few minutes later I found a big fiberglass batting on the ground and helped myself to a pinch for a new stove wick.  (My last wick got rained on right after I ran out of fuel, so I had to toss it and was considering using Spanish moss until I could find more fiberglass.) So I'm back on hot food!

Ben Tue, 03/08/2005 - 13:24

To Point South, SC

To Point South, SC

It rained off and on last night and still couldn't make up its mind this morning, so that I was tempted to stay put for another night -- the price was hard to beat.  What got me moving was the forecast of frost for tonight; there was no shelter from the wind at the campground in Bluffton.  In that regard, at least, I thought I could do better down the road.  So off I went.

The rain stopped around 10:00, but the wind kept gusting all day, so that I revised my route to avoid a three-mile-long bridge.  This meant that I didn't pass through the historic town of Beaufort, but I can live with that loss.

Toward the end of the day I rejoined US-17 (the road I took out of Savannah yesterday) and I-95, and I pulled into the town of Point South.  The cheaper of two campgrounds had better shelter and was farther from the Interstate.  For another $25 I could have stayed in a hotel with an indoor, heated pool, which was tempting, but $25 buys a lot of breakfast at Waffle House at 4 in the morning or whenever the cold wakes me up!

Ben Wed, 03/09/2005 - 13:25

To Charleston Hostel

To Charleston Hostel

I tried wearing my sweatshirt last night instead of using it as a pillow like I usually do, and I stayed warm until 6:00, half an hour before dawn.  I crawled out of my tent and onto my bike and was in the warm Waffle House in minutes.

It was not a happy morning at the Waffle House.  Near as I could make out, the shift that had just ended had left an overflowing dishwasher and a filthy grill for the new shift -- just one cook and one waitress to handle the morning rush -- to clean up.  The food was OK anyway, and I was glad to have it.

I followed US-17 all the way into Charleston, which was not my best idea, but the drivers were remarkably generous considering how little they had to offer me.  I'll take a better route out of town.  The day's ride was 63 miles; I could have stopped sooner, but Charleston's two hostels were calling me.

I went to the Historic Charleston Hostel rather than the NotSo Hostel because it had better reviews online.  It's a very small place, just 14 beds, and 10 of them were taken by an Alternative Spring Break group from a community college.  There are no vacancies tomorrow, so I'm going to the other hostel after all!

Ben Thu, 03/10/2005 - 13:27

To NotSo Hostel

To NotSo Hostel

I was exhausted last night and went to bed early, but the spring break crowd was up late playing a heated game of Monopoly.  After a few hours I put my earplugs in and was dead to the world... slept great!  The hostel provides free grits, which the college group's advisors prepared with cheese, and I got their leftovers.

When the manager of the hostel learned I was going down the street to the NotSo Hostel tonight, she told me all kinds of nasty rumors about the place.  She wasn't trying to get me to stay -- she didn't have a bed to offer me -- she just wanted to spread some dirt, I guess.  I checked out the accommodations before checking into them, and her info appears to be out of date at least, if not completely unfounded.  It kind of makes me think less of her and her establishment that she said those things.

I grabbed some lunch and spent the afternoon sightseeing, but since I'm neither a Civil War buff nor an architecture connoisseur, I had trouble grasping Charleston's charm.  I'll try some more tomorrow.

The NotSo Hostel is a much larger place: more beds, more bedrooms, larger rooms, thicker walls.

Ben Fri, 03/11/2005 - 13:28

Mar. 15: Myrtle Beach

Mar. 15: Myrtle Beach

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 15, 2005]

When last I wrote you on Friday evening, I was about to go in search of a bar with happy-hour specials on food. I found an Irish-American pub that fit the bill. Then I walked to the riverfront and watched the sun set. A tremendous, gusty, cold wind blew in as the sun went down, so I had to keep walking to stay warm!

I saw a lot more on foot than I did on my bike, and I think I got a better impression of what people like about Charleston. I saw a scene that pretty well sums it up, but the light was wrong for taking a photo, so I'll have to describe it. Near the waterfront there was a stately colonial-style mansion, well maintained and richly furnished. Outside there were two cars painted the exact same shade and luster of silver, so that I would bet they had the same owner and had been purchased to match. One was a Rolls Royce touring sedan with British plates. The other was a VW Golf hatchback!

After a hearty breakfast Saturday morning, I rode to the Unitarian Church in Charleston, which is the second-oldest church in town and the oldest Unitarian church in the South. Its exterior is under renovation, but I had been assured that the "perpendicular Gothic" interior would be open for tours that morning at 10. It was not. I waited for half an hour and called the office phone, but I couldn't wait all morning, so I left disappointed.

Back at the hostel, I loaded up my gear and went to tighten the new bolt on the seat (since it was slipping) and promptly snapped it in two. I'm glad I bought a spare! I started to think maybe I shouldn't be traveling... but I'm not superstitious. Why should bad luck come in threes? The manager of the NotSo Hostel warned me that my route through North Charleston would take me through "the ghetto," but she couldn't suggest a better route. It was fine, and traffic was very light, and the weather was gorgeous. I saw a toothless old woman dueling with sticks with her grand or great-grandson, a toddler. She was totally on the offensive, yelling "hyah! hyah!" and parrying his stick as he tried to hold his ground.

Just when I think I've seen every kind of campground, I stay someplace like the Charleston KOA (actually in Goose River). It has a zoo, featuring a cougar, a raccoon, and an alligator. Most of its other amenities are closed either for the season or for renovation, including the women's restroom, but campsites are still full price!

For those who do believe bad luck comes in threes: I somehow managed to lose my South Carolina maps (just photocopies -- I may have thrown them away) shortly after making camp! The good news is that I remembered the remainder of the route well enough that I didn't really need them anymore. That night I found what I thought were bedbugs in my tent and on my person, and I was afraid I'd gotten infested at the hostel. (They admitted they had had an infestation, and one of the rumors I had heard was that they hadn't properly taken care of it.) But I didn't find any more after that night, so they may have been some other kind of bug... let's call them KOAcroches. Anyhow...

Sunday was a very short day's ride, because I wanted to be sure to take advantage of free camping in Francis Marion National Forest, and my route didn't pass through very much of it. Francis Marion is mostly pines with a few deciduous trees in the dense underbrush -- none of the palmetto, live oak, and magnolia that characterized Florida and Georgia's forests. When I found a promising-looking side road, I stopped to put on tick repellant before heading into the forest. I followed a smaller branch road that was marked off-limits to motor traffic, and it led me to a good-sized clearing where I made camp. As soon as the tent was up, I got inside and checked for ticks. I didn't find any, but I stayed in the tent most of the afternoon anyway because there wasn't much of anywhere to go. It was a hot day, and it felt good to just lie around in my boxers without worrying about being seen! Once the traffic died down for the night, the forest was amazingly quiet, and I slept very well.

Monday was much cooler, but not uncomfortable. I passed two fellow travelers going the other way on the divided highway: a man pushing a cart so wide he had to walk in the ditch, and a bicyclist with heavily loaded panniers. I followed US-17A into Georgetown, ate a hearty buffet lunch -- including the best candied yams I've had in years -- and continued northeast on US-17 to Huntington Beach State Park. This was my first SC park, and I was very impressed -- they gave me a good deal on a great campsite, close to the seashore.

This morning (Monday) I brought my breakfast to the beach and watched the sun rise over the water. Then I strolled over to Atalaya, the summer home of Archer Milton and Anna Hyatt Huntington. I last crossed Archer Huntington's philanthropic footprints at Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico. His Moorish mansion, built during the Depression using as much local labor as possible, is now a national monument in its own right. It's also well on its way to becoming a ruin! I considered visiting Brookgreen Gardens, a park across the road that features many of Anna Huntington's sculptures, but I balked at the admission fee.

The coast from Georgetown to the NC border is called "The Grand Strand," and Myrtle Beach, where I'll stay tonight, is its centerpiece. I meant to mention earlier that most of the coasts I've passed have names, for marketing purposes... Mississippi's is the Emerald Coast, the Florida Panhandle is the Hidden Coast, northwestern Florida is the Nature Coast... there were others, too, but I get them confused. I kept expecting to encounter the Friendly Coast, maybe near a town named Casper. Anyhow. Grand Strand.

Favorite South Carolina quirk: this state is as obsessed with its flag as Texas is with its Lone Star. But the South Carolina flag is actually quite charming; it features a crescent moon over a palmetto tree. I bought a "Palmetto State" sticker for my bike. It sure beats Georgia's Confederate stars and bars...

Looks like my next missive will come to you from Fayetteville, NC. See you there! --Ben

Ben Tue, 03/15/2005 - 18:44

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC

I slept in this morning and had a leisurely breakfast of complementary waffles with some other guests.  After a short shopping/sightseeing trip in the morning, I just hung out all afternoon.

Towards evening I decided to go find a bar with happy-hour specials on food, and I found an Irish-American pub that fit the bill.  Then I walked to the riverfront and watched the sun set.

I saw a lot more on foot than I did on my bike, and I think I got a better impression of what Charleston is all about.  I saw a scene that pretty well sums it up, but the light was wrong for taking a photo, so I'll have to describe it.  Near the waterfront there was a stately colonial-style mansion, well maintained and richly furnished.  Outside there were two cars painted the exact same shade of silver, so that I would bet they had the same owner.  One was a Rolls Royce touring sedan with British plates.  The other was a VW Golf hatchback.

Even though I have yet to pass through North Carolina and Virginia, I felt that I was in danger of leaving the South without trying a mint julep, so I went to another bar on my way back.  It was nice, but needlessly expensive.

Ben Fri, 03/11/2005 - 18:44

to Goose Creek, SC

to Goose Creek, SC

After a hearty breakfast, I rode to the Unitarian Church in Charleston, which is the second-oldest church in town and the oldest Unitarian church in the South.  Its exterior is under renovation, but I had been assured that the "perpendicular Gothic" interior would be open for tours this morning at 10.  It was not.  I waited for half an hour and called the office phone, but I couldn't wait all morning, so I left disappointed.

Back at the hostel, I loaded up my gear and went to tighten the new bolt on the seat and promptly snapped it in two.  I'm glad I bought a spare!  I started to think maybe I shouldn't be traveling today... but I'm not superstitious.  Why should bad luck come in threes?

The manager of the NotSo Hostel warned me that my route through North Charleston would take me through "the ghetto," but she couldn't suggest a better route.  It was fine, and traffic was very light, and the weather was gorgeous.

Just when I think I've seen every kind of campground, I stay someplace like the Charleston KOA (actually in Goose Creek).  It has a zoo, featuring a cougar, a raccoon, and an alligator.  Most of its other amenities are closed either for the season or for renovation, including the women's restroom, but campsites are still full price!

For those who do believe bad luck comes in threes:  I somehow managed to lose my South Carolina maps shortly after making camp!  The good news is that I remember the route I had planned to take well enough that I shouldn't need maps, at least for a few days.

Ben Sat, 03/12/2005 - 18:46

To Francis Marion National Forest

To Francis Marion National Forest

Today was another very short day's ride, because I wanted to be sure to take advantage of free camping in Francis Marion National Forest, and my route doesn't go through very much of it.

Francis Marion is mostly pines with a few deciduous trees in the dense underbrush -- none of the palmetto, live oak, and magnolia that characterized Florida and Georgia's forests.

When I found a promising-looking side road, I stopped to put on tick repellant before heading into the forest.  I followed a smaller branch road that was marked off-limits to motor traffic, and it led me to a good-sized clearing where I made camp.  As soon as the tent was up, I got inside and checked myself for ticks.  I didn't find any, but I stayed in the tent most of the afternoon anyway!

Ben Sun, 03/13/2005 - 18:49

To Huntington Beach State Park, SC

To Huntington Beach State Park, SC

Once the traffic died down, my camp in the forest was amazingly quiet, and I slept very well.  Today was much cooler than yesterday, but not uncomfortable.

I followed US-17A into Georgetown, ate a hearty buffet lunch, and continued north on US-17 to Huntington Beach State Park.  This is my first SC park, and I'm impressed -- they gave me a good deal on a great campsite.  Tomorrow morning I'll stroll down the beach to Atalaya, a 1930s mansion.

Ben Mon, 03/14/2005 - 18:52

To Myrtle Beach State Park, SC

To Myrtle Beach State Park, SC

This morning I brought my breakfast to the beach and watched the sun rise over the water.  Then I strolled over to Atalaya, the summer home of Archer Milton and Anna Hyatt Huntington.  I last crossed Archer Huntington's philanthropic footprints at Aztec Ruins National
Monument in New Mexico.  His Moorish mansion, built during the Depression using as much local labor as possible, is now a national monument in its own right.  It's also well on its way to becoming a ruin!  I considered visiting Brookgreen Gardens, a park across the road that features many of Anna Huntington's sculptures, but I balked at the admission fee.

The ride to Myrtle Beach State Park was short, but it gave me the leeway I needed to run errands in town, and to check out the nature trails in the park once I got there.  I saw some holly trees for the first time; I'm familiar with holly bushes, of course, but I'd never seen it grow into trees before.

Ben Tue, 03/15/2005 - 18:53

March 19: North Carolina

March 19: North Carolina

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 19, 2005]

I had planned to ride into North Carolina Wednesday, but I didn't quite make it... it was farther than I thought (remember I had lost my maps), and there was a constant, cold rain that really took the wind out of my sails. I had to stop at several shopping centers during the day just to warm up and dry off so I could keep functioning.

The town of Myrtle Beach is absolutely packed with hotels, and in this off season they're competing madly for business. I could have gotten a room for just $24 ... if I had felt like stopping at 9 in the morning! I thought North Myrtle Beach might have comparable deals, but it's a less competitive market, so the prices weren't as low. There were plenty of camping options as well -- two of them boasting over a thousand sites each, though most of the RVs I saw were in off-season storage -- but I was soaked through and my tent was plastered with mud splashed by the heavy drops falling from tall pine trees. I kept going to Little River, just shy of the border, and was lucky to find a room there under $40. Naturally the rain stopped as soon as I unpacked ... that's the second time that's happened!

Thursday was cold and drizzly and generally unpleasant. The hotel owner wouldn't let me bring my bike inside, so I had to postpone re-packing my front wheel bearings although I could hear them complaining about being wet; there was no way I was going to work on the bike in the drizzle.

North Carolina has a network of bicycle highways that are not only signed on the road but are also shown on my maps! (If you can remember back to August, you may recall my frustration at not being able to find any map showing where Wisconsin's signed bike routes lead.) I had planned to follow one of these east along the coast to Wilmington, then pick up another one and follow it northwest into Durham. However, when I got outside Thursday morning I decided I didn't want to go an extra 40 miles east after all, especially since there was a state park due north. The hotel owner warned me that there wasn't much at Lake Waccamaw State Park, but I was unprepared for how remote it is! It's on the south side of the lake, but the only road in comes from the north -- you have to go all the way around, and it's a big lake, "the largest of the Mysterious Carolina Bays."

By the time I got to the campground the sun was setting ... and I saw that it's a primitive group camp (i.e. there are no individual campsites) and I was the only person for miles around. I was so tired that I went ahead and made camp anyway... the worst they could do would be to give me a free ride to a warm night in jail! When a ranger came by, I figured the jig was up and started apologizing for my misunderstanding... but he informed me that they do actually let individuals camp, and he registered me without further ado.

Friday was so much better than the last couple of days, I practically fell in love with North Carolina! The day was sunny and warmer and I got to ride on quiet back roads. With its fields (freshly treated with liquid manure) and forests and friendly people and paved rural roads, North Carolina keeps reminding me of Wisconsin. I slept in a little and re-packed the bearings, which were swimming in rusty water after soaking for two days, but the sun seemed to hang in the sky all afternoon. A young man in Elizabethtown called me over and gave me a glass of sweet tea and introduced me to all his friends, who were hanging out in the front yard, and griped about how the landlord doesn't like him having so many people hanging out in the front yard. It struck me that this was only the second time I'd received Southern hospitality from actual Southerners, the rest having been Northerners who'd moved south as adults.

I spent last night at Jones Lake State Park and picked up the bike route first thing this morning. The roads it follows are not much better than the ones I chose myself the last few days, but it's kind of fun to not have to consult the map every few miles; just watch for signs. In the little town of Cedar River, southeast of Fayetteville, I met a Christian cycling group called The Cycling Cell that had just finished a 10-mile "time trial" -- training for a race. They were incredulous that I had traveled 7,000 miles and took lots of photos. I had to explain some of my leftist bumper stickers, which was awkward.

I'm writing from a small town east of Fayetteville. I should be in Durham Monday evening, so next time I write I'll have photos to share! --Ben

Ben Sat, 03/19/2005 - 08:09

To Little River, SC

To Little River, SC

I had planned to ride into North Carolina today, but I didn't quite make it... it was farther than I thought, and there was a constant, cold rain that really took the wind out of my sails.  I had to stop at several shopping centers during the day just to warm up and dry off so I could keep functioning.

The town of Myrtle Beach is absolutely packed with hotels, and in this off season they're competing madly for business.  I could have gotten a room for just $24 ... if I had felt like stopping at 9:00 in the morning.  I thought North Myrtle Beach might have comparable deals, but it's more of a residential area, so the prices weren't as low.  There were plenty of camping options as well, but I was soaked through and my tent was plastered with mud splashed by the heavy drops falling from tall pine trees this morning.

I kept going to Little River, just shy of the border, and was lucky to find a room under $40.  Naturally the rain stopped as soon as I unpacked, just like last time!

Ben Wed, 03/16/2005 - 17:53

To Lake Waccamaw State Park

To Lake Waccamaw State Park

Today was cold and drizzly and generally unpleasant.  The hotel owner wouldn't let me bring my bike inside, so I didn't get to do some routine maintenance I would normally have done after a day of rain.

North Carolina has actual bicycle highways that are not only signed on the road but ar also shown on my maps!  I had planned to follow one of these east along the coast to Wilmington, then pick up another one and follow it into Durham.  However, this morning I decided I didn't want to go an extra 40 miles or so east after all, especially since there was a state park due  north.

The hotel owner warned me that there wasn't much at Lake Waccamaw State Park, but I was unprepared for how remote it is!  It's on the south side of the lake, but the only road in comes from the north -- you have to go all the way around.  By the time I got to the campground the sun was setting ... and I saw that it's a primitive group camp, and I was the only person around.  I decided to go ahead and make camp anyway... the worst they could do would be to give me a free ride to a warm night in jail!  But when a ranger came by, he informed me that they do actually let individuals camp, and he registered me without further ado.

Ben Thu, 03/17/2005 - 17:56

To Jones Lake State Park, NC

To Jones Lake State Park, NC

Today was so much better than the last couple of days!  It was sunny and warmer and I got to ride on quiet back roads.  I got a late start and had to do some bike repairs, but the sun seemed to hang in the sky all afternoon, and I got to Jones Lake State Park, north of Elizabethtown, about 2 hours before sunset.

Ben Fri, 03/18/2005 - 20:16

Mar. 27: Virginia

Mar. 27: Virginia

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo group on March 27, 2005]

Happy Easter! Just a quick update since I have Internet access tonight.

Friday's plan was simple enough: I would bike from Durham to a shopping center on the near side of Raleigh, meet my sister's childhood friend Amber for lunch at 11, and then ride north to Falls Lake Recreation Area in the afternoon. But about a mile from the rendezvous, I got a flat on my left trailer tire -- the first one it's had in the whole trip. I went to patch the tire and found that I was out of patches. I tried using a scrap of an old inner tube, as I remembered doing when I was a kid, but it didn't stick; evidently I have the wrong kind of cement for that old trick. So I got out a new tube, and for the occasion a new tire as well. Pumped it up to within 10 pounds of the recommended pressure. A few seconds later, it exploded, just as its partner had done a few days before. I had no other tube.

When I called Amber to say I couldn't make it, she offered to pick me up in her SUV. I was skeptical, but she routinely hauls a double bass, among other orchestral instruments, and lo and behold my entire rig fit in there! So we had lunch after all. Amber graduated from the same Oklahoma high school as my sister and I and moved to Raleigh right after college in Indiana, so she's been here ten years now. She teaches every kindergartner at a private school to play the violin, and the older kids she teaches any stringed instrument in the orchestra. In her spare time she gives private lessons, plays in various ensembles, and sings in her church choir. She invited me to stay the night at her townhouse, and since the day was drizzling and threatening thunderstorms, I accepted. Naturally it cleared up as soon as I got settled, but we were grateful for the chance to talk some more.

She left me there and went off to work. I called Erik because I had left my trailer flag at his house that morning, and he obligingly brought it over, then drove me to a bike shop where I got a new tube and patches. Amber came home for a snack and was then gone again to sing in the Good Friday service at her church. I spent the afternoon and evening researching my route through Virginia, and I cooked dinner for the two of us: a "Gullah gumbo" mix I had bought at the Lowcountry Visitor Center in South Carolina. It was very tasty and simple to make, and Amber was glad to have a meal waiting for her.

My decision to stay there instead of at Falls Lake meant that I rode almost the whole day on Saturday. After a drizzly morning I stopped for lunch in Louisburg, home of the International Whistlers' Convention, which must not be very big, since the town has only two hotels. The afternoon was dry but cloudy; I didn't see the sun all day. Saturday was the first and only day that North Carolinians yelled and honked at me. There was a car race near where I was headed; maybe that raised the testosterone level of drivers for 50 miles around!

When I got to Medoc Mountain State Park I warmed and ate the other MRE I got last week. It was a vegetarian pasta dish with essentially no protein, so I added pepperonis. I was puzzled about Medoc Mountain, since I couldn't see it above the treetops, but according to my map it's only 100 feet high! A park staff member dropped by to tell me that my site would be free of charge because the ranger had "had an emergency" and wouldn't be available to take my money.

Sunday was another gray and sunless day with occasional drizzle. As I rode through Roanoke Rapids, NC, a man and two boys rode alongside me on their bicycles. They asked me half a dozen times where I was going and where I'd been before they were willing to believe my answers. They had more trouble believing I was bicycling to DC than that I had already ridden thousands of miles... it's the Florida Effect all over again: DC is Far Far Away, and going there is a big event that calls for big vehicles.

I was feeling really tired at the start of the day, but by early afternoon I was feeling great, so I buzzed right by my Plan B stopping place, although it looked nice enough. The Plan A place, north of Emporia, VA, was a Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camping Resort. You may remember that in September, on my way into Indianapolis, I was going to stay at a Jellystone Park but found that the truck stop next door would let me camp for half the price. When I got to this campground, located between a highway and a railroad track, with thunderstorms threatening, I found that the motel next door was a few dollars cheaper. I wonder if all Jellystone Park Camping Resorts are so conveniently located next to cheaper accommodations!

So here I am in Virginia. Unless something delays me, I'll roll into DC Friday evening, so I may or may not write again before then. --Ben

Ben Sun, 03/27/2005 - 09:30

to Jordan Lake SRA

to Jordan Lake SRA

Today was gorgeous!  The weather couldn't have been more perfect.

I stopped for groceries in the morning and met a man in the parking lot who was riding his grandson's bicycle, though he said he had many bikes of his own.  He asked a bunch of questions and then offered me some military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) that he gets from Fort Bragg and gives to homeless people and other folks who could use them.  I accepted two.  They're much bulkier than my usual food, since about half of their volume is packaging.

The day was so nice I decided to go farther than I had to, in order to make tomorrow a shorter day.  I arrived at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area at sundown and fired up one of the self-heating MREs. The "escallopped" potatoes were pretty good once I added mayonnaise.  I feel a new sense of solidarity with my cousin in Iraq; maybe I can find a way to send him some mayo!

Ben Sat, 03/19/2005 - 16:31

To Durham

To Durham

I slept well in the warm, quiet night of the spring equinox and woke to another beautiful day.  No one ever showed up to register me as they were supposed to, so I got the campsite for free!  I was the only one there, so they may not have bothered making the rounds.

I rode into town without incident and stopped at REI to upgrade some of my gear and spend my membership dividend.  Among other things, I got a larger (when inflated) but more compact (when deflated) sleeping pad and a higher-pressure tire pump with a built-in pressure gauge.  The staff also helped me track down a bicycle shop that has the parts necessary to replace my drivetrain.

I took my loot outside and pumped up my tires to their recommended pressure.  As I was trying to fit the new pump into the space inside the bike frame where I kept the old pump, the tube in one of the trailer tires decided it just couldn't take the pressure and exploded like a gunshot right beside me!  I got my hearing back after a minute or so.

As I left REI, I pulled alongside another cyclist who looked like he knew where he was going, and I asked if that was the best road to take into town.  He said a paved portion of the American Tobacco Trail started just two blocks away, and he led me there.  He turned out to be from Minneapolis, visiting his son and future daughter-in-law, for whom he had just bought a new bike.  I asked if she needed a pump ... and so passed on my old pump and pressure gauge to a new owner less than an hour after buying their replacement!

I followed the Tobacco Trail, which is also part of the East Coast Greenway (http://www.greenway.org) all the way into downtown Durham and then found my way to the home of my friends Tami and Erik.  Tami is a lichenologist who just returned this morning from a worldwide conference in fungal genetics with a suitcase full of specimens fresh from California.  Erik is working on a doctoral thesis on Russian poetry.

Ben Sun, 03/20/2005 - 16:41

Picnic at Duke

Picnic at Duke

I spent the morning tinkering with my bike, undoing the damage the mechanic had inadvertantly done.  Erik packed us a picnic lunch, and we met Tami for lunch near her lab on the Duke University campus.  We strolled through the extensive Sarah P. Duke Gardens and toured the chapel, which is as large and ornate as any cathedral I've seen.

Later, we walked to dinner at an excellent Indian restaurant.

Ben Mon, 03/21/2005 - 16:43

to Raleigh, NC

to Raleigh, NC

Today's plan was simple enough: I would bike from Durham to a shopping center on the near side of Raleigh, meet my sister's old friend Amber for lunch at 11, and then ride north to Falls Lake in the afternoon.  But about a mile from the rendezvous, I got a flat on my left trailer tire -- the first one it's had in the whole trip.

I went to patch the tire and found that I was out of patches.  I tried using a scrap of an old inner tube, as I remembered doing when I was a kid, but it didn't stick; evidently I have the wrong kind of cement for that old trick.  So I got out a new tube, and for the occasion a new tire as well.  Pumped it up to within 10 pounds of the recommended pressure.  A few seconds later, it exploded.  I had no other tube.

When I called Amber to say I couldn't make it, she offered to pick me up in her SUV.  I was skeptical, but she routinely hauls a double bass, among other orchestral instruments, and lo and behold my entire rig fit in there!  So we had lunch after all.

Amber graduated from the same Oklahoma high school as my sister and I, and moved to Raleigh right after college in Indiana, so she's been here ten years now.  She teaches every kindergartner at a private school to play the violin, and the older kids she teaches any stringed instrument in the orchestra.  In her spare time she gives private lessons, plays in various ensembles, and sings in her church choir.

She invited me to stay the night at her townhouse, and since the day was drizzling and threatening thunderstorms, I accepted.  Naturally it cleared up as soon as I got settled, but it gave us a chance to talk some more.  She left me there and went off to work. 

I called Erik because I had left my trailer flag at his house that morning, and he obligingly brought it over, then drove me to a bike shop where I got a new tube and patches.  Amber came home for a snack and was then gone again to sing in the Good Friday service at her church.  I spent the afternoon and evening researching my route through Virginia, and I cooked dinner for the two of us: a "Gullah gumbo" mix I had bought at the Lowcountry Visitor Center in South Carolina.

Ben Fri, 03/25/2005 - 00:00

To Medoc Mountain State Park

To Medoc Mountain State Park

Today's ride was about an hour and a half longer than it would have been had I not stayed at Amber's last night, but I certainly have no regrets about that!  After a drizzly morning I stopped for lunch in Louisburg, home of the International Whistlers' Convention.  The afternoon was dry but cloudy; I didn't see the sun all day.  Today for the first and only time in North Carolina, people yelled and honked at me; otherwise it was a very polite state!

At Medoc Mountain State Park I warmed and ate the other MRE, a vegetarian dinner, with pepperonis for protein.

Ben Sat, 03/26/2005 - 16:46

To Emporia, VA

To Emporia, VA

Today was gray and sunless, but aside from a little drizzle it stayed dry.  As I rode through Roanoke Rapids, NC, a man and two boys rode alongside me on their bicycles.  They asked me where I was going and where I'd been about 5 times before they were willing to believe my answers.  They had more trouble believing I was bicycling to DC than that I had already ridden thousands of miles... it's the Florida Effect all over again: DC is Far Far Away.

I was feeling really tired at the start of the day, but by early afternoon I was feeling great, so I buzzed right by my Plan B stopping place, although it looked nice enough.  The Plan A place, north of Emporia, VA, was a Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camping Resort.  You may remember that in September, east of Indianapolis, I was going to stay at a Jellystone Park but found that the truck stop next door would let me camp for half the price.  When I got to this campground, I found that the motel next door was cheaper... since there's a railroad nearby and thunderstorms are threatening, it was an easy call to make!

Ben Sun, 03/27/2005 - 16:48

April 2: Washington, DC

April 2: Washington, DC

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on April 2, 2005]

Hi, folks! I'm safe and sound at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC! It's hard to believe I've completed my three months in the South and crossed Virginia in less than a week!

First, to right some wrongs... I neglected to mention what my friend Scott is doing in Chapel Hill, even though I've described what everyone else I visit is doing, and even though Scott has friends on the list who doubtless would like to know. He's continuing his career in nonprofit management as the staff assistant for the North Carolina Family & Children's Resource Program at UNC. He enjoys the work and the office environment, but he's having trouble getting used to the slower pace of work (and life in general) compared to Minneapolis.

I previously estimated here (and several times in person) that I had travelled some 7,000 miles thus far. That estimate was based on 50 miles a day for 8 months, minus the weeks I didn't travel. Looking at the map, I can see that it's probably only been somewhere between 4,200 and 5,000 miles so far... the entire trip will be about 7,000 miles when I get back to Minneapolis. Sorry for the mistake!

So... I buzzed through Virginia in record time. That's not because I didn't want to see Virginia, or because I was in a hurry to get to DC (though I have always wanted to see the cherry blossoms) -- it's entirely because of where I could find campgrounds. Virginia's campgrounds are almost exclusively located along its Interstate highways, so I followed the parallel US highways due north through the state. Unfortunately this means I didn't see much of Virginia... in fact the only photos I took there were of some kudzu in Richmond.

I also left spring behind: as I rode north, the tender green leaves retreated into their buds, and so did most of the dogwood blossoms. So I'll get to watch spring arrive again during my week here in DC! A few of the magnolias and cherry trees have already gotten started, but they should really cut loose in a few days.

The trouble with riding on highways isn't so much the drivers or the clearance with passing cars -- after all, I have yet to have a mishap, so how bad can it be, right? No, the problem is that the sound and smell of traffic tends to drive me batty, and I make bad decisions about when to stop for a rest and where to camp for the night based on how frustrated I'm feeling at the moment. I mention this phenomenon because you'll notice it was a recurring theme this week.

I last wrote you Sunday night from a cheap (but nice) motel. I was tempted to stay there a second night because rain was falling hard Monday morning, but the air was warm and I had a tailwind, so I hit the road. The rain stopped as I passed through the town of Petersburg. I then had a choice: stay at a private campground near the highway, or go several miles out of my way to stay at Pocahontas State Park in the middle of nowhere? Middle of nowhere sounded good to me, and I had a notion that the park might be historically connected to the princess Pocahontas, which would be neat. But it wasn't, and camping there was surprisingly expensive, and the drivers along the back roads were much less friendly than the ones on the highway.

Tuesday morning I repacked my troublesome front bearings before they rusted and then rode right through the middle of Richmond, Virginia, because I couldn't find a good way around it. I probably should have stopped and looked at something -- the capitol building designed by Thomas Jefferson, for example -- but I was going strong and just plowed right through town. I stopped at a campground right beside the Interstate and considered looking for someplace quieter, but the price couldn't be beat ($8), and I was feeling resentful about the expensive state park, so I just wore earplugs and toughed it out.

I was surprised to find that I could hear morning birds singing through the earplugs Wednesday morning. They're my alarm clock, now that the days are getting so long. Wednesday night's stop was a KOA just south of Fredericksburg, refreshingly far from the highway in a deep valley. It was so intensely quiet after the previous night's highway roar that I forked over $30 for my campsite with something close to gratitude. Then the wind changed, and I had to listen to the highway and railroad all night long! I think I'd be a much happier camper if I could just give up the illusion of control and realize that one rarely gets what one pays for!

While I was still griping foolishly to myself, I saw a sign for Bike Route 1! (Recall that I didn't follow this bike route through Virginia because I couldn't find a map showing where it went, so I couldn't plan nighttime stops around it.) I studied my maps and figured it couldn't take me too far out of my way, so I followed it... until I missed a sign (or a sign was missing) and I had to go back to the highway. The amount of signage on the route is not adequate without a map.

I rode through historic downtown Fredericksburg ("the most historic town in Virginia") but didn't take any photos because the day was gray and dreary. As I passed the turn for Belmont horse track, I couldn't help singing the song my friend Victoria made up as a young horse fancier. The part I can repeat in mixed company goes,

We ain't ridin' the Belmont, we ain't ridin' the Preakness,
We ain't ridin' the Derby or none o' them fancy races.
We ain't ridin' nowhere, we ain't ridin' nowhere,
We ain't ridin' nowhere, 'cept for that damn human race.
That damned human ra-yay-yace.

US-1 was not a bike-friendly road at all, but the drivers were very considerate. I stopped at a bike shop and bought a Washington-area bike map and noticed that it showed Bike Route 1 not far from where I wanted to go. I asked how to connect in with that, but it meant traveling an extra 3 hours that day and another 3 the next, so I just stuck with the highway! For the rest of the day I heard muffled explosions, coming, I presume, from the Quantico Marine base. I stopped for the night at Pohick Bay Regional Park, which is as quiet and natural a place as you could ask for right on the edge of a major metropolitan area. I believe it's the very closest campground to DC, at least on the southwest side.

I only had to ride about 2 miles on the highway Friday morning; near Mount Vernon I picked up a bike trail that parallels the Potomac River all the way into town. I stopped at a park called Gravelly Point for a first view of the Washington skyline, and I wound up watching a mother trying in vain to get her young son to take an interest in the airplanes at Reagan National Airport. It's an ideal place for watching planes, and she was really fascinated by them. I had dreamed about bicycling on the National Mall... what I hadn't bargained on was the mobs of weekend tourists. I had to slow down to their walking speed and just go with the flow. But it is really incredible to be here on a bicycle!

My friend Marisa, whose parents hosted me for 6 weeks in Austin, is a Ph.D. linguistics student at Gallaudet University, where most of the students are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and the classes are taught in American Sign Langage (ASL). I'm not sure how much she appreciates the analogy, but as a hearing person here I really feel like a muggle visiting Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! The little campus is nestled right in the middle of town, but its neighbors seem to ignore it. All the buildings are designed around customs and practices unfamiliar to me, and everyone's making dramatic, significant gestures whose meaning is lost on me. I'm just glad I have Hermione -- er, Marisa -- to help me make sense of it! For example, after treating me to dinner in the dining hall with her friends, she took me to a one-woman play about growing up as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). All the members of the audience who didn't know ASL had to sit up front, so we could hear the interpreter!

I'll be here in DC through next weekend. Happy Daylight Savings Time! (Those of you reading from other countries can join us in pretending to lose an hour tonight, if you wish.) --Ben

Ben Sat, 04/02/2005 - 06:59

To Pocahontas State Park

To Pocahontas State Park

When I saw the rain outside, I was tempted to stay a second night in the cheap motel, but then I felt how warm the air was and decided to ride.  I made great time along US-301 (practically an access rode for I-95)  into Petersburg, and the rain stopped.

I decided to take a chance and go to Pocahontas State Park, out in the middle of nowhere southwest of Richmond, rather than camp by the Interstate.  I had a notion that the park might have a historical connection to its namesake princess, which would have been interesting, but their only connection is that they're from Virginia.

Ben Mon, 03/28/2005 - 11:10

Through Richmond

Through Richmond

The storm clouds continued to glide overhead all night, but today was dry, and the sky cleared beautifully in the afternoon.  I took time to repack my troublesome bearings this morning -- caught them before they rusted this time.

I rode right through the middle of Richmond, Virginia, because I couldn't find a good way to go around it.  I probably should have given the town more than a passing glance, but I didn't know where to start.

I stopped at a campground right next to the Interstate and was tempted to keep riding in search of someplace quieter, but the price couldn't be beat, so I stayed.  The state park last night was $23; I'll wear earplugs if it means I can camp for $8 a night instead!

Ben Tue, 03/29/2005 - 11:12

To near Fredericksburg

To near Fredericksburg

I woke to the sound of birdsong this morning... that in itself isn't unusual, since my body has gotten used to that sign of approaching dawn... but this time I was wearing earplugs to block the sound of Interstate traffic, and I still heard the birds!

I rode US-1 all day long.  Its shoulders were rare and narrow, but at least it had multiple lanes, and traffic was light.  I was pleased to see that tonight's stop was a few miles away from the Interstate, and when I got there -- down in a valley -- the silence was just amazing.  The campground offers free Internet -- they even supply a computer, like a hostel -- and I got a great site next to a babbling brook, but still I almost choked on the price.  If I average it with yesterday's bargain, I can handle it.  I guess I have to expect that this close to a major metro area.

Ben Wed, 03/30/2005 - 11:14

To Pohick Bay Regional Park

To Pohick Bay Regional Park

The wind shifted at bedtime last night so that I had to listen to the Interstate and railroad all night... they weren't loud enough to justify wearing earplugs, but the trains were loud enough to wake me several times.  I got up bright and early, irritated by the highway that wouldn't leave me alone even in my sleep.

While I was still griping to myself, I saw a sign for Bike Route 1!  I studied my maps and figured it couldn't take me too far out of my way, so I followed it... until I missed a sign (or a sign was missing) and I had to go back to the highway.  The amount of signage they have is not adequate without a map.

I rode through historic downtown Fredericksburg  ("the most historic town in Virginia") but didn't take any photos because the day was gray and dreary.  As I passed the turn for Belmont horse track, I couldn't help singing the song my friend Victoria made up as a young horse fancier.  The part I can repeat in mixed company goes,

We ain't ridin' the Belmont, we ain't ridin' the Preakness,
We ain't ridin' the Derby or none o' them fancy races.
We ain't ridin' nowhere, we ain't ridin' nowhere,
We ain't ridin' nowhere, 'cept for that damn human race.
That damned human ra-yay-yace.

US-1 was not a bike-friendly road at all, but the drivers were very considerate.  I stopped at a bike  shop and bought a Washington-area bike map and noticed that it showed Bike Route 1 entering not far from where I wanted to go.  I asked how to connect in with that, but it meant going an extra 3 hours today and another 3 tomorrow, so I just stuck with the highway!

For the rest of the day I heard muffled explosions, coming, I presume, from the Quantico Marine base.  I think it's neat that there's a land formation called Mason Neck so close to a group of people who call themselves Jarheads.

I stopped for the night at Pohick Bay Regional Park, which is as quiet and natural a place as you could ask for right on the edge of a major metropolitan area.

Ben Thu, 03/31/2005 - 11:17

To Washington DC

To Washington DC

I only had to ride about 2 miles on the highway today; near Mount Vernon I picked up a bike trail that parallels the Potomac River all the way into town.  I stopped at a place called Gravelly Point for a first view of the Washington skyline, and I wound up watching a mother trying in vain to get her son as interested in the airplanes at Reagan National Airport as she was.

I had dreamed about bicycling on the National Mall... what I hadn't bargained on was weekend tourists.  I had to slow down to their walking speed and just go with the flow.  But it is really incredible to be here on a bicycle!

I found Marisa's dorm at Gallaudet University without much trouble and found myself immersed in Deaf culture.  I feel like a muggle visiting Hogwarts!  I'm just glad I have Hermione -- er, Marisa -- to help me make sense of it.

She treated me to dinner in the dining hall, and then we went to a play called "The Color of the Wind" about being a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults).

Ben Fri, 04/01/2005 - 11:19

April 8: Adventures in DC

April 8: Adventures in DC

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on April 8, 2005]

Hello again! I'm still in Washington, getting ready to move back into the Gallaudet dorms for a second weekend after spending the week in a hostel. I apologize for the length of this message, but I've been busy!

I last wrote you on Saturday morning. The weather was just miserable all day: cold and rainy and windy. I stayed indoors as long as I could stand to -- Marisa let me use her computer while she was in a study group all afternoon, so I filed my taxes and caught up on stuff -- but then I insisted on going outside. Marisa thought I was crazy, not only because of the weather, but because the neighborhood is considered to be very unsafe. I figured I had seen worse weather and worse neighborhoods, but even so I didn't make it off campus. By the time I got back to the dorm, my pants and shoes were soaked with shockingly cold water.

We went to see a movie on campus instead. Marisa warned me to bring earplugs because the volume is usually turned way up for the hard-of-hearing folks, but I didn't think it was louder than a typical theater. The dance party we passed on the way back to the dorm, however, was louder than any music I've ever heard!

Sunday morning I packed up and left Gallaudet for All Souls Church, riding through the neighborhood Marisa had warned me against the night before, and I have to admit it looked pretty questionable in the daytime, too. I had no trouble finding the "Congregation X" group of young adults from Arlington, Virginia, who were visiting All Souls, and we talked over lunch, which the church provides free to first-time visitors. But no one invited me home, so off I went to Hilltop Hostel, just inside the District boundary from Takoma Park, Maryland, and just half a block from a metro station. It made a nice base of operations for sightseeing, and a nice ever-changing group of fellow travelers to chat with.

Late Monday morning I rode the Metro to the National Mall. I checked on the cherry blossoms, but most of the trees were still a day or two from full bloom. After a visit to the Smithsonian Castle, I settled in at the new Museum of the American Indian. As long overdue as this tribute is, I have to say it was worth the wait. It sidesteps any pretense of "objective" anthropology or sociology by exclusively using the first person... that is to say, *all* of the narration on the walls is attributed to whomever said it, rather than belonging to the faceless Smithsonian institution. Since I'm a bit of a stickler for citations, I was impressed.

And each nation that's represented got to design its own part of the museum, from the carpet to the rafters. A dozen or so nations present their "Universes" -- their mythological understanding of how the world works, and when you step into their alcoves, you enter their worlds. Between the alcoves are little storytelling niches where creation myths are illustrated with tasteful (I thought) animation. I was disappointed to learn that these animations are not available on video; you have to travel to the museum if you want to see them. Maybe in a few years they'll change their minds about that.

The section of the museum that deals with the centuries of "Contact" between Native Americans and Europeans doesn't pull any punches -- in fact, I recognized a number of presentation strategies that were borrowed from the Holocaust Museum. But then the final section shows how tribes are picking themselves up and moving beyond survival to what they call "survivance." Some of my fellow hostelers who were expecting a history museum were put off by this emphasis on the present and future, but I felt it was very appropriate.

I had read about the well-used Bombardier ice-fishing vehicle that was lifted into the museum's second floor for the Métis nation's exhibit. I not only agree that it was an appropriate expense, I think more of the nations should have contributed modern artifacts like that. In the context of the exhibit, the big beloved workhorse really says more about their lifestyle than any number of words or pictures could have done.

The museum's cafeteria is another tour de force. McDonald's and Pizza Hut reportedly tried to sneak in, as they did in all the other museum cafes, but in this case they were kept out. Each counter has relatively healthy, often organic or fair-traded food inspired by the native cuisine of a different region of North or South America. (Not all the foods are indigenous; fry bread for example was invented during the forced migrations in the 1800s, but it's part of the Indian experience.) I expected it to be overpriced like all other museum food, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity I got for my money.

Before heading back to the hostel, I stopped in at the Air and Space Museum and caught the 3-D IMAX film about the International Space Station. Like most of the Air and Space Museum, it's a few years out of date and more than a little jingoistic, but I like 3-D movies and I like the ISS, so I was happy! And in a few days the Shuttles will be flying again, so it won't be a grievous misstatement to say that the US is doing most of the work of maintaining the station.

Tuesday was forecast to be the only truly glorious day of the week, so I took my bike out for a spin. I followed about 3/4 of the Rock Creek Park bike trail, all of the Capitol Crescent trail, and the very end of the C&O Towpath. I was eager to see the towpath because it supplied the climax of Granny D's walk across the country -- the nonogenarian skied the last 100+ miles into town because she was running late for a press conference and an unexpected snow fell. Early in the ride, I stopped to study the bicycle map -- which was both imprecise and inaccurate -- and another cyclist stopped to help me. He was going much the same way, so I followed him. His name is Leroy Badger, and he lives in Utah but has ridden more than 15,000 miles since 2000, in both organized rides and informal jaunts all over the country. He had a fancy road bike and a spandex suit, but without my trailer I had no trouble keeping up with him.

Wednesday morning I biked to Shaw Ecovillage [2015 update: now defunct]. As an urban nonprofit organization, it has more in common with the Rhizome Collective I visited in Austin than the ecovillages I've visited in rural areas. The basic idea is that the adults in the organization raise money and the youth -- teenagers -- decide how to spend it to improve the neighborhood. They've created community gardens, painted murals, and started a community bike shop. Because I visited during the school day, there were no teenagers at the shop, but the college-grad day managers, Max & Wakeel, were eager to talk with me. We had a little mutual admiration society going for a while, and then they gave me a great deal on some bike parts.

I dropped off my stuff at the hostel, scarfed down some lunch, and then took the metro up to REI in College Park, Maryland. There I finally found the most recent edition of the Maryland-Delaware Atlas and Gazetteer, which none of the local libraries -- including the Library of Congress! -- have purchased. I didn't want to purchase it either, of course, since I'll only be in Maryland a couple of days, but I took some notes that should get me as far as Baltimore, where every library has the most current atlas on the shelf. I also bought a bright yellow poncho to replace the one that blew away while I was in church on Sunday. The sales associate turned up her nose at the $4.99 vinyl poncho, saying it was "not exactly performance," but I don't spend enough time in the rain to justify a $60 high-tech rain jacket! And I don't want to, thanks!

From Maryland I rode the Metro all the way through town to Arlington, Virginia, and met my friend Elisa's mother, Susan, for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. Susan is in her final year as a fourth-grade teacher; she could have retired earlier but decided she wasn't ready yet!

Thursday morning I rode the Metro to the Air and Space Museum and caught a shuttle bus from there to the museum's new annex near Dulles Airport, called the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, or as the bus drivers say, "the Hazy" (pronounced hah-zee). It's basically a big hangar full of planes and spaceships that didn't fit in the main museum. More informative exhibits are being built, but for now most of the vehicles have only a small panel to describe them. Even with the enormous new space, the planes are so close together -- and lit from so many directions -- that it's difficult to get a camera angle without a spotlight or another plane in the way. But the planes are still mighty impressive -- like the last SR-71 Blackbird and Concorde to fly, or the Space Shuttle Enterprise, or a Spacelab module that flew 9 missions.

My high-school friend Joe came and picked me up from the museum for lunch. He lives and works near Dulles, so it made more sense for us to meet at the museum than in DC. He's working for America Online. As much as he says he dislikes Oklahoma, having emigrated after his divorce, he's now dating a Tulsan and is flying there as I write this.

Ben Fri, 04/08/2005 - 08:27

Gallaudet

Gallaudet

Today's weather was just miserable: cold and rainy and windy.  I stayed indoors as long as I could stand to -- Marisa let me use her computer while she was in a study group all afternoon -- but then I insisted on going out.

Marisa thought I was crazy, not only because of the weather, but because the neighborhood is considered to be very unsafe.  I figured I had seen worse weather and worse neighborhoods, but I didn't make it off campus.  By the time I got back to the dorm, my pants and shoes were soaked with shockingly cold water.

We went to see a movie on campus instead.  Marisa warned me to bring earplugs because the volume is usually turned way up for the hard-of-hearing folks, but I didn't think it was louder than a typical theater.  The dance party we passed on the way back to the dorm, however, was louder than any music I've ever heard.

Ben Sat, 04/02/2005 - 08:51

Museum of the American Indian

Museum of the American Indian

Late this morning I rode the Metro to the National Mall.  I checked on the cherry blossoms, but most of the trees are still a day or two from full bloom.

After a visit to the Smithsonian Castle, I settled in at the new Museum of the American Indian.  As long overdue as this tribute is, I have to say it was worth the wait.  It sidesteps any pretense of "objective" anthropology or sociology by exclusively using the first person... that is to say, *all* of the narration on the walls is attributed to whomever said it, rather than belonging to the faceless Smithsonian institution.  Since I'm a bit of a stickler for citations, I was impressed.

And each nation that's represented got to design its own part of the museum, from the carpet to the rafters.  A dozen or so nations present their "Universes" -- their mythological understanding of how the world works, and when you step into their alcoves, you enter their worlds.  Between the alcoves are little storytelling niches where creation myths are illustrated with tasteful (I thought) animation.  I was disappointed to learn that these animations are not available on video; you have to travel to the museum if you want to see them.  Maybe in a few years they'll change their minds about that.

The section of the museum that deals with the centuries of "Contact" between Native Americans and Europeans doesn't pull any punches -- in fact, I recognized a number of presentation strategies that were borrowed from the Holocaust Museum.  But then the final section shows how tribes are picking themselves up and moving beyond survival to what they call "survivance."

I had read about the well-used Bombardier ice-fishing vehicle that was brought into the museum for the Métis nation's exhibit.  I not only agree that it was an appropriate expense, I think more of the nations should have contributed modern artifacts like that.  In the context of the exhibit, the big beloved workhorse really says more about their lifestyle than any number of words or pictures could have done.

The museum's cafeteria is another tour de force.  McDonald's and Pizza Hut reportedly tried to sneak in, as they did in all the other museum cafes, but in this case they were kept out.  Each counter has relatively healthy, often organic or fair-traded food inspired by the Native American cuisine of a different region of North or South America.  I expected it to be overpriced like all other museum food, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity I got for my money.

Before heading back to the hostel, I stopped in at the Air and Space Museum and caught the 3-D IMAX film about the International Space Station.  Like most of the Air and Space Museum, it's a few years out of date and more than a little jingoistic, but I like 3-D movies and I like the ISS, so I was happy.

Ben Sun, 04/03/2005 - 08:54

To Hilltop Hostel

To Hilltop Hostel

I tried to sleep in after staying out late last night, but I'm so used to waking up at dawn I couldn't help myself.  I packed up and left Gallaudet for All Souls Church, riding through the neighborhood Marisa had warned me against last night, and I have to admit it looked pretty questionable in the daytime, too.

I had no trouble finding the "Congregation X" group of young adults from Arlington who were visiting All Souls, and we talked over lunch, which the church provides free to first-time visitors.  But no one invited me home, so off I went to Hilltop Hostel, just inside the District boundary from Takoma Park, Maryland, and just half a block from a metro station.  It'll make a nice base of operations for sightseeing.

Ben Mon, 04/04/2005 - 08:58

Bike around DC

Bike around DC

Today was forecast to be the only truly glorious day of the week, so I took my bike out for a spin.  I followed about 3/4 of the Rock Creek Park bike trail, all of the Capitol Crescent trail, and the very end of the C&O Towpath -- that's the trail that Granny D covered on cross-country skis when she was running late for a press conference and an unexpected snow fell.

Early in the ride, I stopped to study the bicycle map -- which was both imprecise and inaccurate -- and another cyclist stopped to help me.  He was going much the same direction, so I followed him.  His name is Leroy Badger, and he lives in Utah but has ridden more than 15,000 miles since 2000, in both organized rides and informal jaunts all over the country.  He had a fancy road bike and a spandex suit, but without my trailer I had no trouble keeping up with him.

The cherry trees are just getting started.  I got a few photos of the early bloomers just in case I don't get back later in the week.  I stopped in at the city's central library and was surprised that they keep their maps in the history department... until I saw how old the maps were!  Not useful.

Ben Tue, 04/05/2005 - 09:00

Shaw Ecovillage

Shaw Ecovillage

This morning I biked to Shaw Ecovillage.  As an urban nonprofit organization, it has more in common with the Rhizome Collective I visited in Austin than the ecovillages I've visited in rural areas.  The basic idea is that the adults in the organization raise money and the kids -- teenagers -- decide how to spend it to improve the neighborhood.  They've created community gardens, painted murals, and started a community bike shop.  Because I visited during the school day, there were no teenagers at the shop, but the college-grad day managers, Max & Wakeel, were eager to talk with me.  We had a little mutual admiration society going for a while, and then they gave me a great deal on some bike parts.

I dropped off my stuff at the hostel, scarfed down some lunch, and then took the metro up to REI in College Park, Maryland.  There I finally found the most recent edition of the Maryland-Delaware Atlas and Gazetteer, which none of the local libraries -- including the Library of Congress! -- have purchased.  I didn't want to purchase it either, of course, since I'll only be in Maryland a couple of days, but I took some notes that should get me as far as Baltimore, where every library has the most current atlas on the shelf.  I also bought a bright yellow poncho to replace the one that blew away on Sunday.  The sales associate turned up her nose at the $4.99 vinyl poncho, saying it was "not exactly performance," but I don't spend enough time in the rain to justify a $60 high-tech rain jacket!  And I don't want to, thanks!

From Maryland I rode the Metro all the way through town to Arlington, Virginia, and met my friend Elisa's mother, Susan, for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant.  Susan is in her final year as a fourth-grade teacher.

Ben Wed, 04/06/2005 - 09:03

Udvar-Hazy Center

Udvar-Hazy Center

This morning I rode the Metro to the Air and Space Museum and caught a shuttle bus from there to the museum's new annex near Dulles Airport, called the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center.  It's basically a big hangar full of planes and spaceships that didn't fit in the main museum.  More informative exhibits are being built, but for now most of the vehicles have only a small panel to describe them.  Even with the enormous new space, the planes are so close together -- and lit from so many directions -- that it's difficult to get a camera angle without a spotlight or another plane in the way.  But the planes are still mighty impressive -- like the last SR-71 Blackbird and Concorde to fly, or the Space Shuttle Enterprise, or a Spacelab module that flew 9 missions.

My high-school friend Joe came and picked me up from the museum for lunch.  He lives and works near Dulles, so it made more sense for us to meet at the museum than in DC.  He's working for America Online.

Ben Thu, 04/07/2005 - 09:05

April 14: Philadelphia

April 14: Philadelphia

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on April 14, 2005]

What a beautiful week of weather! I don't know when I've ever experienced seven days of perfect bicycling weather in a row. Unfortunately I wasn't able to appreciate the first five because I was sick, but I was dimly aware that I would otherwise have been appreciative!

I was sick when I last wrote you, on Friday morning. (It bears mentioning because this was my first illness in nine months of traveling.) A cold that had been building in my throat moved into my nose Thursday night and kept me from sleeping, and I was glad to be leaving the hostel before I could infect everyone there. [I may have caught it at the hostel, which did not have great hygienic practices.]

Marisa had just finished her qualifying exams, so both of us slept until noon on Saturday! Then that afternoon we went to a Japanese-inspired street festival on Pennsylvania Avenue in honor of the cherry blossoms. We bought some mochi rolls that turned out to have beans in them, and I ate them anyway (cue ominous music).

On Sunday morning I went to see Rev. Rob Hardies speak at All Souls Church, and I must say he puts on quite a show -- the closest thing to a charismatic Unitarian minister I've ever seen. It helps that his congregation is so remarkably diverse -- if he asked them to speak in tongues, I bet they could converse in at least a dozen -- but his dynamism probably contributes to the diversity as well. His associate minister is popular as well; both of them actually got standing ovations on Sunday, even though she wasn't present -- it was announced that she had just gotten married in Massachusetts [historical note: Massachusetts had just legalized same-sex marriage, which the UUA strongly supported].

Anyhow, his sermon gave me a lot to think about, which is why when I started feeling wretched and despondent as I rode out of town I thought at first I was reacting to the themes of the sermon, rather than the previous evening's legumes. I did finally figure it out, but I had nothing to eat for dinner but lentil soup (which hadn't caused me problems in the past). Between that and the tail end of the cold, I wasn't a happy camper until after lunch on Tuesday!

I passed through Baltimore on Monday and have nothing interesting to say about it except that all the public libraries there are called Enoch Pratt. I could tell the curse of the legume was wearing off Tuesday afternoon because when I found out Susquehanna State Park's campground was closed -- after riding all day to get there -- I just shrugged it off. I stopped for water at an adult day-care center, and the director, who was just leaving for the day, offered to let me camp on the grounds because "no one's here overnight anyway." Alas, I overslept in the morning, so I was still there when folks started arriving!

I had planned to cross Chesapeake Bay on US-40 and ride into Delaware, but when I got to the foot of the bridge in Havre de Grace, Maryland, I learned it was off-limits to bikes -- no exceptions. I was referred to the local florist, a man named Richard who has bicycled "all over" (mostly Utah) and makes it known on both sides of the bridge that he'll drive bicyclists across. He told me that Delaware is a horrific place to bicycle due to hostile motorists, and to make sure I didn't go that way he drove me most of the way to US-1, bound for Pennsylvania. So I didn't go to Delaware after all.

Instead I went on a tour of the Herrs Snack Food factory in Nottingham, PA! I saw lots of cool assembly-line equipment and learned how they put all their byproducts to useful purposes, but I wasn't allowed to take photos. The quality-control robots were especially cool, knocking green potato chips out of mid-air and detecting incorrect seasoning levels inside sealed bags. [2015 note: while eating my complimentary bag of chips after the tour, I bumped my scabbed right knee against the concrete picnic table and tore the scab off, causing a scar that I still have today. I guess I didn't feel like writing about it at the time!]

Even with only 30 miles to ride today, and even with a bicycle map of Philadelphia in hand, I still had a hard day's ride. People who print bicycle maps of hilly places without any topographical information should provide a tow-rope service on all the hills; that's what I think.

Anyhow, the latest in the series of beautiful days saw me as a guest in the home of Jay and Elsa, my new nephew's paternal grandparents, whom I had not previously met. I'll spend most of tomorrow on a bus to Pittsburgh, and by the end of the day I'll meet the new nephew himself! The bike and trailer, meanwhile, will rest in Jay and Elsa's garage.

Happy trails! --Ben

Ben Thu, 04/14/2005 - 08:37

Back to Gallaudet

Back to Gallaudet

I left the hostel just in time: the cold that had been lingering in my throat for several days moved into my nose.  The hostel has no soap or towels in the bathrooms, and it's easy to forget to bring one's own, which is probably why I got sick, but had I stayed an hour longer I would certainly have passed it on to other people.

The all-day rain shower that had been forecast failed to materialize, so I took a scenic route to Gallaudet.  It felt good to get out on my bike again, pulling the familiar trailer; I was able to breathe through my nose as long as I was exercising.  As soon as I stopped, though, I felt miserable.  I checked into my room and took a long, hot shower.

Marisa had taken her "quals" (qualifying exams) that afternoon, and they went well.  We had dinner with her circle of friends (though she had had an invitation to go out with her department, she wasn't recovered in time), and everyone wanted to know how she had done on the tests.

Ben Fri, 04/08/2005 - 11:58

Sakura Matsuri festival

Sakura Matsuri festival

Marisa and I both felt lousy this morning, so we slept in our separate rooms until after noon.  After lunch we rode the metro to the "Sakura Matsuri," a street festival inspired by the cherry blossoms.  It was a cross between the street festivals I saw in Japan and those you can see anywhere in the US.  We bought some Japanese trinkets and ate too much mochi.

Ben Sat, 04/09/2005 - 12:00

To Greenbelt Park

To Greenbelt Park

I went to church at All Souls again this morning to see Rev. Rob Hardies speak, as my friend Elisa had assured me he was not to be missed.  I was impressed -- All Souls is not only the most diverse UU congregation I've seen, it's also the most charismatic.  The congregation gave both its ministers standing ovations... Hardies when he finished his sermon and the associate minister when it was announced that she had just gotten married in Massachusetts.

The ride out of town was uneventful except that I was in a wretched mood due to eating beans yesterday, and it took me several hours to figure out that was the cause.  I camped at Greenbelt Park, which is even closer to the city than the park where I stayed 10 days ago, but less secluded because of it.

Ben Sun, 04/10/2005 - 12:01

To Rosedale, MD

To Rosedale, MD

Today was a beautiful day; it just wasn't my day.  The bike map misled me about a dozen times on the way to Baltimore.  Still, I got to the library around 3:00 and found that the libraries in Baltimore are not the Baltimore County Libraries I found online, the ones that had the maps I needed.  The libraries in Baltimore are all called Enoch Pratt, and they didn't have the maps.  So I rode on to a Baltimore County library and got a motel in Rosedale.

Ben Mon, 04/11/2005 - 12:03

To Aberdeen, MD

To Aberdeen, MD

I slept in this morning but still felt lousy until after lunch.  I started out on a road parallel to US-40 but found that the highway felt safer because it had a shoulder.

I was looking forward to camping at Susquehanna State Park, but when I got close enough to see signs for the park, the signs said the campground was closed!  I stopped at an adult day-care center to refill my water containers in preparation for camping unofficially.  The manager of the place was just leaving for the day, and she said I could sleep on its lawn, since no one was there overnight anyway.

Ben Tue, 04/12/2005 - 12:06

To Philly/West Chester KOA

To Philly/West Chester KOA

I slept in longer than I really should have, since people arrived for work before 8:00, but no one said anything.

A man in the motel parking lot yesterday morning had warned me against following US-40 into Wilmington, but it was such a good ride yesterday that I went back to it this morning.  When I got to Chesapeake Bay, however, I found that the toll bridge was off-limits to bikes, no exceptions.  The lady at the visitor center (of the town, not the bridge) referred me to the local florist, a man named Richard who has bicycled "all over," mainly Utah.  He makes it known on both sides of the bridge that he'll give any bicyclist a ride across in his van.  He not only drove me across, he took me a few miles north so I could follow US-1 into Pennsylvania rather than continue my ill-advised route.  He said Delaware is bicycling hell; the drivers there are extremely hostile.  He seemed to know what he was talking about, so I took his advice gladly.

Things started looking up as soon as I entered Pennsylvania: I passed the Herrs Snack Food factory in Nottingham and went on a tour.  I saw lots of cool assembly-line equipment, but I wasn't allowed to take photos.  The quality-control robots were especially cool, knocking green potato chips out of mid-air and detecting incorrect seasoning levels inside sealed bags.

Richard had assured me there would be lots of campgrounds along the way, but the closest I found was the KOA west of West Chester, PA, which made for a longer day's ride than I'd had in mind, but it's a beautiful place and very close to Philadelphia.

Ben Wed, 04/13/2005 - 12:08

To Philadelphia

To Philadelphia

It's a good thing I didn't have farther to go today... Philadelphia is a lot hillier than I had anticipated, and getting into town was trickier.  I stopped at a bike shop in West Chester and got an official bike map of the Philadelphia area.  The proprietor gave it to me for free because he knew it to be inaccurate, and he gave me some tips about roads that are better or worse than indicated.

Ben Thu, 04/14/2005 - 12:11

April 29: Pennsylvaniadventures

April 29: Pennsylvaniadventures

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on April 29, 2005] [additional text subsequently added from the week's journal entries]

Hi, folks! I'm back in Philadelphia, staying at my nephew's grandparents' (Jay and Elsa's) house. I hope to get back in shape (and see some sights around Philly) before I venture into the Garden State!

I took the commuter train into downtown Philly and the Greyhound to Pittsburgh and the city bus to Becca and Daniel's house without incident.

The following afternoon Daniel, Becca, Nicholas, and I went to the CMU carnival.  The "booths" this year evidently had to be educational on the theme of "science."  The KGB group, ever contrary, made its booth educational about discredited sciences such as phrenology. From there we attended the KGB "defectors" (alumni) party, where Becca was widely recognized for defining the role of Recording Secretary.  KGB has been in existence for 17 years, so that it's theoretically possible for a freshman member to have not been born when the group was founded. After dinner in Squirrel Hill, we went to another party at the home of some CMU friends, where most of the guests were also KGB defectors.  A good time was had by all.

The next morning we all went to Becca's church, where Nicholas was dedicated.  In the afternoon, Becca and I went to the co-op to stock up on bulk foods; Becca's stocking scheme is nearly identical to the one I came up with independently in Minneapolis.  Daniel made a bead for my Great Story strings out of Sculpey clay.

The idyllic weather continued all last week, in spite of ominous forecasts to the contrary. But over the weekend we got some actual snow... none of it stuck where we were, but Elsa said when she drove through the mountains she saw cars with nearly an inch of accumulation.

Daniel was away on a business trip for several days, so I helped out around the house in his absence. I enjoyed having the run of the kitchen and watching the baby while 'Becca was occupied.

While 'Becca and Daniel were at work, I used their computer to get the last of my database-driven Web sites back up and running; it had been out of commission for over a year. It used to be called PersonalTimeline.Net, but now you'll find it at My.WorksCited.Net [2015 update: not anymore!] I'd appreciate any feedback on how to make it more useful and usable.

Last Friday, Elsa drove (in the aforementioned snow) from Philadelphia past Pittsburgh, through the very northernmost tip of West Virginia, to her hometown of East Liverpool, Ohio. On Saturday 'Becca, Daniel, Nicholas, and I met her there for a Passover seder at her father's house -- so there were four generations present. It was the first time I'd attended a seder with Jews rather than Unitarians! Daniel's grandfather, Hirschel, has lived in the same two houses in East Liverpool for all of his life with the exception of college and military service.  He was a dentist and his wife was an artist.  We also met Daniel's uncle Leon, a PR Writer, and his aunt Suzie, a high-school drama teacher.  We had a fully scripted Passover seder.  As the youngest reader, I asked the four ritual questions.

I met up with Becca after work at her church for the meeting of her Girl Scout troop.  She's one of three leaders, and they had their hands full with seven Brownies ... one in particular.  I gave a short explanation of Braille (having brought my slate and stylus to town) at the beginning, and they sat still for that, but when they put on blindfolds they dropped right into the role of the young, untamed Helen Keller.  Nicholas watched wide-eyed and gave a healthy startle response to every joyous scream.

On Wednesday (yesterday), Elsa picked me up on her way back through Pittsburgh, and we took a scenic route -- even more scenic than the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is saying something -- through the mountains back to Philly. We stopped in Johnstown and went to the Flood Museum. Andrew Carnegie and his rich buddies were never held responsible for the mismanagement of the dam that caused the flood, but Carnegie did help rebuild the library: it was the third library (of hundreds) to be named after him. Today the museum -- which places the blame squarely on the owners of the dam -- is located in his library!

Today was forecast to be the only sunny day all week, so I hopped on my bike and rode downtown to see some sights. I was able to follow off-road bike paths most of the way into town, so it was a very pleasant ride, and most of Philly turns out to be pretty flat ... I must have hit all the hills on my way into town! My stories about what I saw today can wait until the photos are developed, but my general impression is that Philadelphia is like a cross between DC and Minneapolis... which is to say, I like it!

I rode into downtown on a bike trail called Forbidden Drive.  In horse-and-buggy days it was a turnpike, following a creek through a deep valley, but automobiles were banned from the road (hence the name), so now that most of the horses are gone, it's a pedestrian and bicycling trail.  Horses are still welcome. Downtown, I met a cyclist named Jeb who was pulling a trailer like mine, but much older and twice as long, with two old rusty bikes on it.  He said he was collecting unwanted bikes from shops around town and bringing them to a nonprofit organization that teaches kids to fix them up, much like the Chain Reaction Youth Bike Shop I visited in DC.  I followed him to one of the shops and bought a tire.  He said he and some friends are planning to bike up to New York this summer.  I told him if he keeps hauling that trailer around he'll be in pretty good shape for the ride!

So that's what's new here... I leave for New Jersey on Saturday and will arrive in New York City toward the end of next week... whether I bike in or take the train will depend on what I learn about biking conditions. --Ben

Ben Fri, 04/29/2005 - 08:13

May 3: New Jersey

May 3: New Jersey

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on May 3, 2005]

Greetings from Montclair, New Jersey, just a stone's throw from Manhattan. Well, maybe a little farther than that.

I have one more story to tell about Pennsylvania... back when my sister and I were kids, our parents used to take us to a restaurant called Ha Pah Shu Tse on the Osage reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The restaurant closed a long time ago, but the owner, John Redcorn, is still in business: I found some of his products for sale at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian! I bought a package of fry bread mix for 'Becca and Daniel and one for Jay and Elsa, and I cooked it for both households to rave reviews. I don't mind plugging the Ha Pah Shu Tse Web site at http://redcorn.com !

Anyhow... so on Saturday I left Philadelphia in a light rain and headed northeast into New Jersey. As soon as I'd crossed the Delaware River, before I'd ridden 100 feet in the new state, three drivers had shouted rude things at me. Fortunately this was a fluke; other drivers have been more polite.

My New Jersey maps are drawn to a larger scale than I'm used to (1 inch = 1.2 miles!) so I reached the home of Mom's cousin Joan and her husband Lloyd, which is in Ewing, near Trenton, around 2:00. Joan is a statistician for a market-research firm, and Lloyd teaches math at what he calls "the worst school in New Jersey." (It's in Newark, not Trenton.) They've both been under a lot of stress for the past few months because they bought a new house that's not yet ready to be moved into, and because their (Jewish) son married a Pakistani-American and honeymooned in practically all the countries the State Department recommends Americans avoid. The wedding sounds like an adventure in itself: four separate ceremonies in two days!

Joan and Lloyd treated me to a generous Sunday morning brunch, so I didn't hit the road again until 11:00, but New Brunswick was only about 25 miles away. The weather was good, and the roads were nice, through some beautiful, pale green forests... it would have been just great if I hadn't gotten three flat tires! That would be a record, except for Dallas... Actually, it was a great day anyway!

I rode through Princeton, which was every bit as pretentious as one might expect. I stopped at a bike shop, but the clerk was so rude to me I walked out, even though I really needed some tire patches! Had I known that Princeton students were staging a campus filibuster to protest alumnus Bill Frist's plan to undermine the filibuster, I might have stopped to see it, but I felt so... underdressed or something that I couldn't wait to get out of town.

I got a hotel in Edison, just past New Brunswick, and my friend Allen met me for dinner. Allen is in his tenth year as a Ph.D. student in molecular biology, studying the evolutionary history of cellular enzymes, which, he explained, don't evolve much because their functions are so essential to survival. I hadn't seen him in four years, but it turns out our paths will cross again this August in Iowa!

I took a sufficiently out-of-the-way route from Edison to Montclair that I avoided most of the traffic, but even so it was like a single continuous suburb. I got a fourth flat tire! I had expected the trip to take all day, but I arrived in Montclair around 1:00! Turns out this was very lucky: today I rode the same road at rush hour, and the traffic was crazy... if I'd tried it with my trailer, it would have been a nightmare.

Uncle Dave is taking time off of work as a flight instructor following an operation and doesn't plan to go back until next week, so we've got lots of time to catch up. I'm staying i