We are currently in Jackson, Mississippi and are enjoying a few rest days. We’re giving a presentation hosted by the Jackson Bicycle Advocates and the Jackson Community Design Center. So if you’re near Jackson, MS come join us for an evening of bikes, travel and photos! We’ve set up an official Facebook Event page, here.
The Path Less Pedaled: A talk about life on bikes
Date: Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: Jackson Community Design Center
Address: 509 E. Capitol, Jackson, MS
Hope to see ya’ll there!
After several days spent exploring Shreveport, we headed southeast to Lake Bistineau State Park. On the way out of town, we stopped for a snack at Sonic and shocked the heck out of the girl working there when we told her about out trip. We’ve reached the point where this life feels normal to us, so it’s nice to get reactions like hers to remind us that what we’re doing is quite out-of-the-ordinary! At Lake Bistineau, we discover that most of the water has been drained, in an effort to eradicate an invasive species of plant. It makes fishing hard for Russ, but he tries it anyway. We chat with the rangers that evening, who are fascinated by our journey, and who also tell us they have several bicycle groups come through the area every year. That evening, I see the largest spider I’ve ever seen, just a few feet from the tent, and try to keep my panic under control (I think I’m getting better).
From Lake Bistineau, we head toward Lake Claiborne State Park. As we roll down the road, it starts to sprinkle, and we enjoy its cooling effect. Then it starts raining harder and harder, until we are finally forced to pull off under the eave of a Mobil gas station to wait it out. Thunder rolls overhead and puddles form on the ground as the rain pours down. We spread the tarp out over the bikes and lean against the wall, drinking a cup of coffee. Eventually it lets up and we head down the road. At our planned turn toward the lake, we are diverted by road construction, and we must continue on the very busy highway. Between the traffic and the rain continuing off and on, when we see a sign for a national forest and recreation area, we take the turn. We wind up at Upper Caney Lake, a bit of a back-track from our general direction, but a beautiful and almost-deserted location. The very friendly ranger warns us of a heavy storm headed our way that afternoon, so we pick a site and pitch camp as quickly as possible, getting the tarp set up just in the knick of time. We cower underneath as the rain pounds the ground, lightening flashes in the sky, and thunder crashes around us. We are amazed at Mother Nature’s power, and hope that she doesn’t decide to send one of those bolts in our direction. It turns out that we are also quite fortunate to not get any of the monster-size hail that landed in Oklahoma earlier. After the storm passes, the sky clears up, and we’re able to explore the lake a little.
We wake up early the next day, with the intention of picking up our plan from the day before, and heading to Lake Claiborne. In the town of Homer, we pick up groceries and grab some lunch, before getting into a conversation about our trip with one of the local police officers and the chief of police. The chief, we are told, also has a property on the lake, and he invites us to set up camp there, free of charge. We head off toward Pleasure Point, where his son points us to a flat spot right along the water where we can pitch our tent. We’re surrounded by RVs, pickup trucks and motor boats, but we are 10 feet from the water and it is beautiful.
There is also a small store and café, with frozen daiquiris and margaritas, so we feel extremely fortunate. Russ throws his flishing line out into the water that evening and reels in an astounding eight fish! We decide to dine on fresh fish the following night, if he can keep up his streak. But, unfortunately, we discover Murphy’s Law of Fishing: When you plan to eat what you catch, you don’t catch anything. Good thing the park has a cafe with burgers (and really good ones too!).
From Pleasure Point, we make our way to Louisiana State Highway 2, a marked Scenic Drive. It’s a beautiful stretch of road, with a fairly large shoulder for a large section. In Bernice, we stop for groceries at one of the saddest markets so far. And we meet more people who are stunned and confused and amazed by our journey! We camp at Lake D’Arbonne State Park that night. It’s a beautiful park with great facilities (which we discover is par-for-course with Louisiana state parks!). We learn from one of our neighbors that another bicycle tourist was there the night before – a shame we didn’t have a chance to meet him!
From the state park, we head SE to our next homestay, outside the small town of Eros. We stop for breakfast on our way through Farmerville, and regret the decision when the omelets arrive dripping in grease. The ride to our homestay is on a maze of small roads, through small communities surrounded by trees. We meet Carolyn, our host for the night, who invites us into her delightfully air-conditioned house and offers us fresh-made sweet tea. A refreshing change from the heat and humidity outside. Carolyn and her husband treat us to homemade crawfish etouffee for dinner – Yum! – and we talk about bike touring and do our best to convince them to plan their own trip.
The next morning, we decide to have a short day and just ride the 20 miles to Monroe. We’ve heard great things about Monroe and West Monroe and we’re eager to explore a bit. We wander through several antiques shops and galleries, visit the Biedenharn Museum (and their Coca-Cola exhibit!), and stop by the local bike shop. The guys at the shop recommend a small cajun-style restaurant next door for lunch, and we order an incredibly delicious Pig Sandwich (yes, that’s actually its name). We chat with Stuart, who we met at the bike shop, and he offers to ride with us out to the RV park at the east edge of town, where we are planning to camp for the night. Stuart is eager to not go back to work for the day, and we are happy to take advantage of his local knowledge.
From Monroe, we head east through the Delta, which means miles of fairly flat riding, and lots of farms. It also means we are able to ride quickly, which is a blessing as it’s extremely hot. We roll into the small town of Delhi (pronounced DEL-hi, not the way you’d pronounce that big city in India). We stop for lunch at The Chicken Basket, which promises “Sho-Nuff Good Chicken,” and it is quite good fried chicken. That evening we camp at Poverty Point Reservoir State Park. It’s a brand new park that doesn’t yet show up on Google maps, so it’s almost empty and still in amazingly great shape. Beautiful facilities and a water park! If you’re in the area, we highly recommend it! Russ fishes throughout the afternoon and manages to snag a catfish, which he carefully lets loose and throws back in.
The next morning we are up early, in eager anticipation of crossing the Mississippi River. The last stretch of Louisiana is hot and flat and empty, so we are stunned when we pass another touring cyclist! He is equally as surprised and we chat in the middle of the highway for several minutes, and we discover that he knows Patrick (the guy we met back in New Mexico who ran across the US).
When we reach Delta, a small community just west of the river, we ask about how to cross to Vicksburg. The old Highway 80 bridge has been closed to traffic, and we are told that they’ll arrest us if we attempt to cross it. We are urged to ask at the mayor’s office, which we do, and his assistant makes a phone call for us. We meet our escort at the Chevron down the road – a US Marshall who follows us as we ride on the I-20 bridge across the river, his blue lights flashing. We feel like rock stars and are extremely grateful for his assistance when we get onto the very narrow bridge. He tells us that he escorts riders roughly twice a year and he is impressed that we are traveling this way. We thank him profusely when we get to the Mississippi side, and we set off to explore Vicksburg.
We discover that the Horizon Casino (on an old riverboat) has a recession special and we get a room at their hotel, which puts us within easy walking distance of Vicksburg’s historic downtown. We stop in the bookstore and chat with the owner, who tells us great stories about the town and the Delta region. And we enjoy dinner and some local Mississippi craft-brewed beers at Duff’s Tavern & Grill (which we highly recommend if you’re ever in Vicksburg!).
We’ve spent only two weeks crossing Louisiana, which stuns us after being in Texas for so long. We found great roads with very light traffic, beautiful natural areas and state parks, some of the friendliest people of the past 10 months, and lots of delicious food. We got a great sense of the northern part of the state, and we look forward to a future trip that will take us down to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
After a great week in Fort Worth, Texas, we headed north to the small town of Denton. We hadn’t planned to go up to Denton, but then folks kept telling us what a great place it is, that it’s like a “mini Austin.” We rode north out of Fort Worth, through a few small towns, and reached Denton right before a storm blew through. We spent the evening with our hosts, Nick, April & Jessica, dining on Thai food and drinking beers over great conversation. We explored downtown the following day, and had the opportunity to meet up with a local couple getting ready to head off on their own adventure. And we spent our second evening in town chatting about our trip and bike advocacy, over beers and ice cream, with some local Denton folks. It was a great couple days and we were glad that we followed the clues to head north, instead of just following a schedule that would send us straight east.
From Denton, we enjoyed a leisurely ride up to Ray Roberts State Park. Howard, our host for our second night in Denton, rode with us part of the way out of town, and showed us where to catch up with the greenbelt path that goes into the state park. This greenbelt is a magical stretch – knee-high grass, tall trees, chirping birds, river off to your right – and we were thrilled to get off the highways for a little while. At the end of the greenbelt, it’s a quick hop up the road to the state park, where we pitched camp and set off to find a good fishing spot for Russ. It was the first time he got to cast his new fly rod into actual water (instead of the street out front Ashley & Frank’s house in Fort Worth), and we were both surprised when we reeled in his first fish. Later that evening, walking around the lake, we ran into a guy we had met in Denton, and the three of us spent the warm evening chatting and watching his dog chase armadillos in the dark.
Leaving Ray Roberts, we weren’t exactly sure where we were headed. Everything that we could find on the map seemed to be at least 50 or 60 miles away, and it took us awhile to debate if we wanted to push that far. We finally chose a destination in Lake Lavon, figuring that we’d make do somewhere along the way if the opportunity came up. It was a hot and windy day, meaning that we made very slow progress. We never stumbled onto anything else, so we wound up at Lake Lavon quite late in the evening, exhausted. But we were rewarded with one of the most beautiful campsites we’ve had along this trip. After a shower and some dinner, we watched the lake fade into darkness, and then crawled into the tent (with the rain fly off) and watched the stars come out above us.
It was extremely hard for us to get up the next morning (day 282), as every muscle screamed from the long day before. Eventually, we pulled ourselves together, and decided to “wimp out” on a short day to a motel in the nearby town of Greensville. It turned out to be a swelteringly hot day, and the allure of an air-conditioned room helped push us down the road (along with a little bit of lucky tailwind). On our way into town, we stopped at a mini-mart for cold drinks and happened onto some delicious fried chicken, signaling to us that we had finally reached the land of good fried foods. Our motel had a pool, full of cold water that took the edge off the heat, and internet, which enabled us to get some work done.
From Greensville, we headed southeast to Tawakani Lake. We knew that the state park was already full, but we had found a private park (Wind Point Park) with tent camping that we could shoot for. We stopped at a small tackle shop along the way for Russ to pick up some new flies. Opened 50 years ago, it’s still run by the same woman, with help from her son and grandson. At Wind Point, we found a beautiful spot right along the water that later proved to be right in the path of the wind. Perhaps we should have guessed this from the name of the park, but we were too spell-bound by the beautiful location. That night, a storm blew in and the sky broke open and we discovered that we had been so spell-bound that we had pitched out tent in the low spot, and we woke up in the morning in the middle of a giant mud puddle. Yuck.
We rolled everything up in the morning, trying to knock off as much mud as possible (without a lot of success), and hit the road early. The storm from the night before had cooled everything off and we were happy to feel cool for a change. We met up with one of our readers, Michael, who had connected us with his sister- and brother-in-law just outside of Mineola. We spent the afternoon chatting with Michael, met up with Jessica and Tim for dinner, and pitched our tent on their lawn that evening. Thankfully, it didn’t rain two nights in a row.
The next morning, with the threat of high winds, we were up and on the road early. We made a quick stop at a coffee shop in town to get online and problem-solve our destination for that evening. We decided to head for the town of Gladewater, hoping that the winds would hold off for us until we arrived. About half-way there, Laura’s front tire sprung a leak. Checking for debris, we found a handful of glass shards, and had to boot the tire with an M&M wrapper. (And made the decision to order new tires as soon as possible.) In Gladewater, we found ourselves a nice air-conditioned motel room, and had a small world moment when we discovered that the woman checking us in has family in Long Beach and is planning to move there to help them run their motel out there (a motel which we long thought looked like a great little place).
Day 286, we were up early to ride into Jefferson. We have learned, with the heat and humidity out here, that it’s best to get on the road by 8am and into camp (and hiding under some shade) by 12noon. Jefferson, we had been told, is such a cute little town that we couldn’t skip it on our way to Caddo Lake. It’s also the Bed & Breakfast capital of Texas, so we decided to do as the Romans do, and found an overly-decorated room for ourselves for the night (at the extremely friendly Excelsior House Hotel). That afternoon, we wandered around downtown a little bit, trying to explore before the shops closed. But we eventually gave up when we felt we couldn’t sweat any more, and we retreated to our air-conditioned room, thinking what a long, long summer this is going to be for us.
The next morning, we enjoyed a late morning and a delicious breakfast at the inn. On our way out, we got to chatting with the folks at the front desk about our trip. Before we knew it, the manager had run next door and grabbed the owner of the local newspaper (The Jefferson Jimplecute). We did an impromptu interview before heading off, with a container of fresh muffins from the inn’s kitchen (yum!). By the time we reached Caddo Lake, the heat was in full force and we were dreaming of a shower. There were hiccups with the new computer system at check-in, but the office was air-conditioned, so we were happy to wait as long as needed. With a site secured for two nights, we rolled down the road to the lake, and were delighted and stunned by the scenery, which was something we had never experienced before. Our site was under the cover of tall trees, covered in Spanish Moss, at the edge of the water, and a short walk to the fishing pier. I sat out in the shade while Russ fished, both of us wondering if the enormous population of turtles had scared away the fish. That night, we saw our first fireflies of the season.
We had already decided that we wanted to spend our second day at Caddo on a boat tour of the lake. Originally, we thought that we’d rent a canoe and take ourselves out. And then we were warned about how easy it is to get lost, and we decided that we’d just let a professional do it for us. The tours that leave from the state park were booked up by a school group, so we rode into the town of Uncertain and hopped on the Swamp Thing tour. It was a great ramble through the swamps and bayous, although we never got to see an alligator. The rest of the day was spent lazing around by the lake, with Russ attempting to catch some fish from the boat launch instead of fishing pier (still with no luck).
From Caddo Lake, we headed for Shreveport, Louisiana, excited to finally cross into another state. Unfortunately, we chose a small road, so we didn’t get any sort of grand welcome as we crossed the state line, and we would have missed it entirely if I hadn’t noticed a small sign signaling the end of that particular county in Texas. This small road also meant that we didn’t get bombarded with the drive-thru daquiri places that we had heard so much about (in fact, this was about the only thing we’d heard about Louisiana!).
We had worked out a bit of a lay-over in Shreveport, after our hosts invited us to stay a few extra days and give a presentation to the Bayou Chapter of the Ozark Society. During our four-and-a-half days in Shreveport, we explored some of the sights, met some of the folks working to make the city more liveable and bike-friendly, watched a few storms from the front porch, and chowed down on Louisiana specialties (homemade gumbo, crawfish, bread pudding, Abita beer). Thanks Maurice & Valerie!
The more miles we log on our bikes, the more corners of this country we get to stop and explore, the more we want to tell everyone we know about the joy of traveling by bicycle.
We’re thrilled whenever we hear about anyone heading off to travel or explore in any manner, but bicycling happens to be near and dear to our hearts. On a bicycle, the world slows down around you and, as you become more aware of your surroundings, you experience everything on a deeper level. If you haven’t tried it yet, even for just a day, you really should. We promise it’s a high like nothing else!
The more we travel and get excited about getting other folks out on their own bicycles, the more we want to support and help create a world which is friendly and encouraging and supportive to bicycle travelers. And the more communities that we roll through and find folks who are working to create a bicycle-friendly environment, the more we know it’s possible to see a world of bicycle travelers.
So, we thought we’d share some ideas about creating a world that’s friendly to bicyclists and bicycle travelers. If you feel inspired to join us in making this happen, we’ll also share some ways you can do so.
1. Texas State Parks and their relationship with bicycles
We’re pinpointing the Texas State Park system for a couple reasons… (a) because we’ve spent the past three months exploring many of their parks (and think they’re some of the best we’ve seen so far), (b) because we have a lot of readers from Texas, (c) because we know that the Texas State Parks folks are paying attention to their constituents (and are eager to create a great system that’s well-used), and (d) because, for a very large state bureaucracy, they’re really pretty innovative and well-managed.
Way back in March, when we were first rolling in to Austin, we had planned to camp at McKinney Falls State Park. We were turned away because the park was full, and we were told to go to another facility as far away as 20 miles. We were stunned. In all of our travels and time on the road, we have never been turned away from a full state park. Even in Southern California, where you get all sorts of funny looks when you roll up on bike. In Washington, we discovered, it’s actually state park policy to make space for folks who arrive on foot or on bike, because they recognize that there’s a limit to the distance you can travel in this manner.
Originally we fumed about the McKinney incident. Then, we calmed down and all but forgot about it, tailoring our trip as needed so that we wouldn’t arrive at a state park on a weekend (which is when they’re full during the spring). And then a funny thing happened at Caddo Lake. A small Facebook status update caught the attention of someone at the State Parks HQ office in Austin. And we realized how much they’re paying attention and eager to please their visitors.
So, yesterday, we put a letter in the mail to the folks at the Texas State Parks HQ, challenging them to be more welcoming of bicycle travelers. If you’d like to read the text of the letter, head over to our Facebook Fan Page and read this note.
We’ll keep everyone updated about what happens. If you’re interested in helping Texas State Parks create a policy that’s more inviting of bicycle travelers, consider sending them your own letter or email. You can also find them on Facebook, but it appears as if each individual park has its own separate fan page. You can blog about it and tell your friends. And if you hear back, please let us know!
2. Adventure Cycling Association’s US Bicycle Route System
We love Adventure Cycling Association. A great group of folks (who we hope to meet in person one day) are actively working to make the US a great place to ride a bike!
If you’re not familiar with them, head over to their website.
Since 1974, ACA has been promoting bicycling as a form of travel. And now they’re pushing full-steam ahead (in partnership with the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials) to create an inter-state bicycle route system. Says ACA: “the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) [is] a visionary project that will be similar to the national and international systems blossoming across the globe, such as Euro Vélo. The routes will connect cyclists across the U.S. with cities, transportation hubs, scenic and historic destinations through existing (and new) infrastructure; routes will be numbered and officially recognized by state and federal government agencies.”
We’re fans of this idea ourselves and are doing what we can to support its creation. If you’d like to become involved as well, follow this link to learn more and make a tax-deductible donation. (You can also follow the banner ad on the left side of our site.)
We hope you’ll join us in creating a bicycle-travel-friendly world. Speak up about exploring the world on bike and what it means to you. Show your support for systems nation-wide that enable more people to travel by bicycle. And if the above-listed advocacy opportunities don’t speak to you, just get out on your bike and ride around your area and share your love of experiencing life on two wheels.
Our last state park in Texas was Caddo Lake and if you’re a Texan, you should go! It’s a surreal lake with Bald Cypress trees that are submerged in the water.
It was nothing like we’ve ever seen before, beautiful and spooky all at once. At night, there is a symphony of crickets, frogs, birds and who-knows-what-else. We spent two nights there and slept with the rain fly off. In the middle of the night lightning bugs hovered and sometimes landed on our tent like miniature passenger planes taxiing a runway. This biome is just bursting with life and is such a stark contrast to the desert conditions of far west Texas.
While on the lake we took a boat tour on an electric paddle wheel boat named Swamp Thing. Our guide and captain was Jon. We found out later that on several occasions he has had to protect his passengers from curious water moccasins trying to board his vessel with a paddle!
During our tour we learned that it was on Caddo Lake that offshore drilling technology was pioneered there. We saw beaver dens, great large herons and searched for some gators (none found).
It is an amazing state park and if you’re near it or bicycling through, well worth the visit. It is rather popular, so if you intend to go on the weekends, make reservations!
There has been a lot of chatter and gasps of surprise when Bicycling Magazine released their list of top bicycling cities and Portland was dethroned as bike Mecca and was replaced with Minneapolis (but doesn’t it snow there?). The top 10 cities don’t change too often and the battles in those cities are usually nuances over different shades of infrastructure (bike boxes, sharrows, cycle paths, bike corrals, etc.,). These cities already have pretty well established bike routes, bike/ped coordinators working in the city and strong cycling cultures so the battle sounds a lot like a Coke and Pepsi debate.
Throughout our journey, we’ve been trying to visit the big cycling cities that Jeff Mapes talks about in Pedaling Revolution but have also stumbled upon lots of cities and communities that are way below the radar. These cities aren’t going to pop up in any Bicycling Magazine lists any time soon, nor will you see their names mentioned in the bicycle diaries of anyone famous. However, there’s a lot of exciting things going on in what I’d like to call the bicycling frontier and I’d like to mention some of those towns and people.
The Dallas – Fort Worth sprawl and surrounding cities is so large and well…sprawly, that a special word was coined to try to encompass it all – metroplex. Austin is usually known as the bicycling city in Texas and rightfully so with their vibrant bike culture and easily navigable streets. But let’s keep in mind, Texas is a BIG state and there’s a lot of bike advocates spread throughout the state.
We had the pleasure of meeting Bernie and Bryan of Trinity Bicycles while in Fort Worth. Bernie worked on trying to pass a state safe passing law for bicycles that made it to the governor’s desk and was struck down. While a bit heartbroken, he continues the good fight in Fort Worth with his latest endeavor – Trinity Bicycles. The shop is a few blocks from a train station, they are open at 7am and have showers for commuters. Together with his business partner Bryan, they hope to encourage transportation cycling and even bike touring. The bikes they carry are practical city bikes for around town and on weekend adventures. We just got word from them that after our presentation, there was a lot of interest in bike touring so they are organizing a bike tour for Memorial Weekend for Fort Worth cyclists!
Nearby to Fort Worth is Oak Cliff where a group fo complete street and bicycling advocates are taking back their streets. Through their website Bike Friendly Oak Cliff they are organizing local rides to events and are keep the excitement of bikeable and walkable cities alive.
After our presentation in Fort Worth, we met a contingent of cyclists from Denton, a small college town about 40 miles north of the DFW area. They told us we should come up north and see what they’re up to – so we did. The second we mentioned that we were going to Denton, we heard all sorts of wonderful things about the city, that it was a “mini-Austin”, it had a great music scene and cycling was gaining momentum.
In Denton, we stayed with some students that bicycled around town and they found it a great city to ride in. There were some issues of course, there was still some tension between some residents and the new and growing cycling community.
We had a meetup there at a local bar and had a great turnout and got to talk to readers and Facebook fans about touring and cycling in the city. There we met with Howard Draper, a former student at University of North Texas who decided to stay and slowly got involved in cycling and cycling advocacy.
He tells us that 10 years ago cycling wasn’t even on his radar. He loved cars and working on cars. However, as a student, he started riding a bike and rediscovered its joys and advantages for a student. Unlike most that went to UNT and moved on, he stayed and worked for the university. He told us one day a student came in who was bloody and shell shocked because she had just been in a hit and run accident while on a bike. This became the impetus for Bike Friendly Denton. The first post reads:
A Denton bike commuter named Jasmine was hit by a car last night. She says she was riding down Mingo road around midnight, when a sporty, dark car passed her and immediately turned right. She hit the side of the car and bounced back onto the ground. She says she had both front/rear lights on when this happened. The car fled, and hopefully a police report will be made.
He told us that he kept the blog updated and for the first year wrote to no-one in particular. Soon he found other people interested in bicycling and things started to take shape. He became more active and started attending various city meetings and developer meetings making sure that the interests of bicyclists were vocalized. He got to know various council members, business owners and even the mayor.
To ride in Denton at the moment, you wouldn’t think there was a lot going on in terms of cycling, but the wheels have been set in motion by Howard and the handful of other interested cyclsits. There is a bike co-op, a sprinkling of bike racks and businesses that were once anti-bike are beginning to realize the economic possibilities of catering to cyclists. Howard and I talked a little about moving to Portland, but he has mixed feelings about it. There is the easy lure of moving to someplace that is already a great bicycling city where you can kind of find your peace within the fold, but there is also the desire to create and shape your community for the better. For now, he plans to stay and fight for Denton.
While in North Texas we also got to meet a long time reader, Iris from Mineral Wells. An avid cyclist, she has navigated the bureaucracy of local government and Texas DOT to put bike signage on a hill climb in her area where a cyclists has been killed. She has also led a boycott against a business where cyclists weren’t allowed to use the restroom or sit in the front and eat and drink the things they purchased from the business. She is involved with cycling politics on a local as well as a state level, participating in various advocacy organizations and attending bike summits in Austin.
These people are working for bicycling in North Texas independently and we’ve had the great pleasure of connecting the dots between them. Slowly, they’re beginning to realize that they’re not alone and they have allies in neighboring cities. These are advocates on the frontier, working in areas which aren’t historically bike friendly. It has been a pleasant surprise running into these communities and meeting these people and it fills us with hope. No, they’re not in Bicycling’s Top 50 this year, nor will they be in the list next year but they are doing good work and we want their stories to inspire other cycling advocates in other cities which aren’t in The List to keep on the fight.
After traipsing around Texas for the past three months, we are making our way to Louisiana and beyond. We’ve managed a pretty good tour of most of the various regions of this state, and can honestly say that we have loved our experiences here. We plan to put up a big wrap-up on our Texas adventures, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, we wanted to share our ideas about where we are headed from here. If we’re headed toward you or if you know of something near our route, please drop us an email and let us know!
Our rough plan (so far) is this… We’ll be crossing into Louisiana way up north and rolling into Shreveport for a couple days. From Shreveport, we’ll head east to Jackson, Mississippi. At Jackson, we’ll be able to hop on the Natchez Trace and ride that all the way up to Nashville, Tennessee.
We debated long and hard about all that we would be cutting out by taking this route. I have wanted to visit New Orleans for a long time, so it wasn’t easy to choose to skip it. But, at the base of it all is the realization that it’s mid-May and already 90 degrees and extremely humid. If we don’t hightail it in a northerly direction, we’ll find ourselves smack dab in more of this weather than we can tolerate. (The silver lining to missing a good chunk of the US that we actually want to see is that we’ll have a reason to plan another trip out this way at some point in the future.)
The more we look at where this route will take us, the more excited we get. Neither of us has ever stepped foot in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi or Tennessee, so we are extremely curious about what we will find, what it will look like, and where the best fried chicken will be. We’ll be rolling through the land that gave rise to the Blues and we’ll be exploring communities with a deep craft tradition. No doubt, the next few weeks and months will be full of new experiences, and we are excited. Again, if you have any tips for us, please send them our way.
I have an obsessive personality. When I get into something, I really get INTO something. Before our life on the road, I would become intensely interested in things (like bike touring, straight razor shaving, photography) read all about them and jump into them with the blindness of the naive and willing. It has been a challenge, therefore, to curb this innate curiosity while we are traveling. After all, shouldn’t this strange life on the road be enough?
One of these recent “wild hairs” has been fishing. Fly fishing and bike touring, in my mind, always seemed like a perfect combination. Fly fishing is the friction shifting equivalent in the fishing world. In fly fishing, you pull in the fish with your bare hands, stripping the line in. It has been described as “hand to hand combat” with fish. Even when you’re not catching fish, there is something innately graceful and relaxing in looping a fly line out into the water and pulling it back behind you in these long fluid motions. As well as being hand to hand combat, it is also the ballet of fishing.
Now, I’ve been good. I fought the urge to go and get a fly rod all throughout the desert and the winter when it didn’t make sense. But after camping at lake after lake in Texas, I had to scratch the itch. Through a stroke of serendipity, the Backwoods in Fort Worth had a great fly shop and an excellent fly shop manager named Steven. I told Steven what I was endeavoring to do. I was on a bicycle trip but I wanted to fly fish along the way. He didn’t even bat an eye. Instead, he took the practice fly rod and talked me through some basics and told me what I would need. He also mentioned in passing that he was teaching a class at 8am the next morning. I took that as another sign.
So I set my alarm for 6:30am, the first time I had done so in months, to take the class. It was a few hours of casting, an hour talking about fish behaviorand a half hour learning how to tie a fly. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. He was an excellent teacher that was so absolutely in love with fly fishing it was near impossible not to catch his sense of enthusiasm. I ended up purchasing a rod, a few flies and some doodads to make a portable fly fishing kit.
You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about fishing on a bike touring site. Well, the whole experience got me thinking about our trip as whole. It made me realize that just because we’re traveling it doesn’t mean we don’t have other interests that we’d like to explore as well. It made me realize how I still want to learn things while we’re moving. We are not stagnant people. We’ve changed so much and learned so much since we left 9 months ago. Furthermore, learning new things constantly adds to our experience of this trip.
Before the class and my first attempts at fishing, I would think a lake is a lake is a lake. It’s got water and it’s pretty to look at. Now, I look at the water and notice where fish might be, what sorts of insects are buzzing around that they would eat, the speed and depth of the water, etc., That class and the act of fishing has given me another level of enjoyment and enrichment of our trip. Laura and I talked about it and are going to be more open about taking classes along the way of regional arts or traditions when its possible to do so. We are dynamic people, still changing and growing. As I wrote in a previous post, the United States is our classroom, our bikes are our front row seats and we are curious and hungry students.
When we set off on this trip, we both had some random spots that we wanted to roll through. For me, one of those spots was Fort Worth, because I was eager to meet, in person, a fellow jewelry maker that I’d connected with through the magic of the internet.
At first, Russ wasn’t sure he really wanted to go up to Fort Worth, because we both assumed that it would be completely void of any bike anything. And then the RSVPs started rolling in for our presentation, and we found ourselves enjoying the city a whole lot more than we expected!
Ashley and Frank were kind enough to give us a place to stay for a week, and we had a great time getting to know each other in person, swapping stories, and playing Wii. Although they’re not (yet) avid cyclists, they happily rode around town with us (and even rode out to our presentation!). We ate at Angelo’s (fantastic chopped beef sandwich!) and meandered through the Stockyards (complete with a cattle drive!). And they allowed us to introduce them into the deep, dark world of craft-brewed beer.
Ashley also opened up her studio for me, giving me space to work. We chatted about various projects, showed off some pieces and worked side-by-side for a few days. It’s really easy to work in a vacuum as an artist, so it was invaluable for me to spend some time beside someone whose work I really admire.
Ashley also connected us with Myles, who suggested we give a presentation while we were in town. While we were skeptical that anyone would show up, we figured it couldn’t hurt. So, imagine our surprise when over 100 people came out to hear us speak! We’re still a bit in shock. Thanks everyone!
Myles also gave us a great tour of Fort Worth and it’s hidden treasures. We rode part of the Trinity Trails system, rambled through some historic neighborhoods, and stopped into some local shops. Myles also introduced us to the wonderfully wacky Water Gardens.
Fort Worth also helped fuel Russ’ latest obsession… fly fishing! We stopped into Backwoods (a local outdoor gear chain) and discovered that they have an extensive fly fishing department and a fantastic ambassador to the sport who works there. A pile of goodies and a five hour class later, Russ is ready to conquer the wide world of fly fishing!
Many thanks to Ashley and Frank, Myles, Bernie, Bryan, and all the great people who came out to our presentation! You made Fort Worth a heck of a great place to spend a week.