Goin’ home

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I saw these signs a couple of thousand miles ago and couldn’t imagine the end in St. Augustine, Florida.  Some days I wished we had found the green “easier” trail, but then we wouldn’t have had half the fun we had!

What a glorious day in St. Augustine for the ceremonial dip of the wheels and a celebratory swim in the Atlantic Ocean in delightful 74 degree waters.

 

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Smiles all around, and patience at the drawbridge when the celebration ended.

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Bike packing. The definition of a (crazy) friend is one who will help decipher the directions to pack and unpack a bike box!  (Craig, Chuck, Francie – THANK YOU!)

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It didn’t seem that long ago when we were camping at this ranch in Texas adjacent to a barn with a new-born calf and out-houses.

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Home to funny signs lining my driveway.  How did those get there?!

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You never know where you’ll find wisdom!  I will miss those bakery bathrooms.  These capture the spirit…

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America the Beautiful

This week we biked through Ray Charles’s home town of Greenville, Florida.  Ray Charles sang a resounding rendition of America the Beautiful, a perfect backdrop to this week’s route through diverse landscapes in the Florida panhandle.

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Thankfully, Florida doesn’t permit cyclists on the interstate, so we enjoyed lovely back roads and river crossings, including the beloved Suwannee River.  Scenes from the panhandle…

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The Spirit of the Suwannee campground, on the other hand, was less tranquil. We happened to land in the middle of a huge electronic music festival right next to our camp site with live and LOUD music through the night!  The crowd seemed straight out of Woodstock.

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After the rains of a week ago, the weather has been dry and HOT – with temperatures up into the 90s, calling for multiple ice cream stops, especially on our century ride yesterday.

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We were treated to the best-of-the-best shipped from Cincinnati to celebrate Lou’s birthday!

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The cows (near the Suwannee camp site) and critters (at Wakulla Springs State Park) found other ways to cool off.

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We wondered about this guy’s business model as the temps climbed!

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I jumped off the bike trail along Tallahassee’s outskirts and headed into the city for an “off-route field trip” to visit the beautiful old state Capitol building along with a trip up to the 22nd floor’s viewing platform of the “new” Capitol. Florida boasts that it has the third largest Capitol building in the country after  Austin, TX (with its gorgeous, classic building), and the nation’s Capitol.  In this case, big doesn’t always mean beautiful.  There was a great view over the University of Florida, the Turlington Education Center (named after my fellow cyclist’s father!) and 60 miles in all directions.

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The old Capitol was charming and inviting, even if its occupants were slow to embrace change.

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Wandering on the side streets of Tallahasee in search of the bike path heading east, I found some great street art, including a nod to today’s girl power.

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My favorite street art makes me think.  I first saw this in New Orleans.  It’s fun to imagine how to fill in the blank. Now that I’ve almost finished crossing the southern tier of the U.S., I can’t help but think that there are a lot more states, countries and continents to cover, a lot more time to spend with family and new and old friends, conversations to share, and questions to keep asking…

 

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A Sign of the Times.

DSCN3510 I certainly didn’t start this trip looking for signs.  But they seem to find me.  Great metaphors; mixed metaphors; misspellings; endorsements; cajoling; warnings and inspiration from every corner.  We all have become accustomed to getting our news and advertising electronically, but as long as cars, trucks, motorcycles (and bikes) travel our highways and byways, there’s still an opportunity for signs to sell, amuse, and puzzle.

The best signs make us smile and curious, like this one.  And then if we’re curious…those marketers just might have us.

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I stopped at the convenience store for some much needed Gatorade in 89 degree Florida-panhandle weather.  I chatted up a local who explained that, “Yes, indeed, those fiddlers can get those worms hopping straight out of the ground.  One guy puts a stick in the ground and starts sawing across the top with another stick and gets vibrations in the ground that cause the worms to start hopping.” While he makes his music, another guy “loads those worms into a sack as fast as he can, barely keeping up with those jumping worms.  And they make good money with those worms for fish bait!”

He then launched into a story about the Rattlesnake Rodeo in Alabama.  Can’t believe I missed that.  My fellow cyclist, Bill, and I had to head east otherwise we’d still be there listening to this fellow.   As we rode off, he told us, “I told my doctor I’m only allergic to one thing: my ex-wife,” and he kept talking!

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Some signs need no interpretation. (And we did finally leave Texas!)

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Direct from Florida.  (Know your demographics:))

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Other signs are clear as mud.  This sign was at a school bus stop. (Can you figure out the missing word?  This must be practice for the Florida standardized tests.)

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What?? Check out these curious signs.

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How about this?  Is that a gopher?

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I biked by this sign in Alabama and turned around to check for cars passing and noticed that the back side had a different message.

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Some offer unintentional services (exterminating SUNSHINE and pests?)

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Some get the message across but won’t win any spelling bees.

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There are some signs that simply encourage good eating and drinking.  I like these…

 

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A sack of crawfish with a tank of gas? – Why not!

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Straight from Pensacola, Florida (biking through town after a record 25 inch rainfall).

 

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Some signs tempt, especially with their convenient hours.

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Some signs haven’t been updated in 39 years.

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Sometimes you don’t need a sign to make you smile: Lou’s 80th birthday!

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Lou’s secret? He lives by this motto every day!

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Rain, rain, go away.

With eyes glued to the tornado warnings on our smart phones, we hovered in the evening rain at our Mississippi campsite at the beginning of the week and braced for the worst.  But our wishes for the rain to go away were granted.

Here’s Richard thanking the Sun God.

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As we pedaled into Alabama, we shed our rain coats, rain pants and extra layers for lovely dry pedaling.  We cycled over a graceful, five-mile bridge to Dauphin Island, protected by pelicans and Fort Gaines.DSCN3394 DSCN3250

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We were thrilled that the ferry was running the next morning after two days of closure.  Our alternative was a long swim…

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The ride across Mobile Bay was beautiful (and included a close-up of an oil platform).

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We were greeted by more pelicans and a wet park adjacent to the ferry landing.

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Here’s Cindy winding her way along the flooded road along the peninsula after we got off the ferry, still in Alabama.

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There were plenty of lots for sale.

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The sections along the beach were lovely.

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But the heavy rains left flooded roads and campsites from Mississippi to Florida.

 

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We were meant to stay at this aptly named state park last night where the park entry and campsites were under water. Instead, we stayed down the road at the Pensacola Navy Base on higher ground where we also got to see the light house and the Navy Aviation Museum.

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This impressive Navy plane was the first to fly across the Atlantic in 1919.  There are times when we wish we had something like this to transport us over the rougher parts of our trip (like the sections of Louisiana with a preponderance of bike-chasing-dogs.)

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Our leaders entertained us at the Navy Base campsite with debris they had found along the road that day.

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Riding out of Pensacola today required multiple detours due to collapsed and flooded roads and yards.

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We learned from a local bystander that the guy driving this truck was okay despite his destroyed vehicle.  He was, however, served with a DUI infraction which led another local to proclaim, “He must have thought the wrath of God had come down upon him.”  We all agreed he was unlikely to be a repeat offender.

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As my fellow cyclist (who was raised southern Baptist said), burning might be preventable, but not flooding…

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There ARE still miracles.

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And after this week’s storms, it is a miracle it is SUNNY!

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Think different(ly).

 

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Riding through west Texas, Louisiana and now entering Mississippi makes me appreciate how hard it is to make a living in these rural parts of America.  Last week’s New York Times (thank you online news) featured an article with an interactive map of the poverty levels across the U.S.; the towns I’ve been biking through are struggling with high rates of poverty. I have to say, though, that there is plenty of creativity and determination.  Lots of people are thinking differently.

I walked into this health center/pharmacy in Louisiana where I was surprised to see – in addition to a fully stocked pharmacy and over the counter medications –  the best display of hair bows west of the Mississippi River!  Now that’s diversification.

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This sign in the small town of Buna, TX caused me to circle back to be sure I read it correctly.

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Many are still trying to make it farming with cattle, horses, goats and chickens adjacent to homes.  This was a farm stand just as we were entering Mississippi (awaiting something to sell).

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A few entrepreneurial types are renting out their backyards and spiritual centers to cyclists and campers.  We camped at Inspiration Park outside of Kentwood, LA.  The next night we set up tents behind some bike friendly folks’ house outside of Jackson, LA. (The hanging bicycle marked where to turn down their driveway).  In that town, the primary employer is the state penitentiary (where they are not employed).

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We (and some other tourists) were snookered by the lure of a haunted mansion in St. Francisville, LA.  It looked enticing as we cycled in and we had heard from another cyclist it was not to be missed.  My advice: Don’t believe it unless you read it on TripAdvisor:).  No ghosts anywhere (!) and the tour was a bust, but a good way for the owners to pay for the upkeep on their big mansion.

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There are lots of inventive businesses on the backroads.

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Here’s one I would not expect to see in Boston.

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This one you actually MIGHT see in Boston.

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No matter what, there is warm encouragement from folks I’ve met on these rural roads.  It doesn’t change the state of poverty in America, but it does say a lot about the human spirit.

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I’m not from around here…

We have a “map meeting” every day where we all pour over our maps to review the route.  In Texas it was easy: head east into the sun and keep going for about 70 or 80 miles and turn right into the camp ground (well almost that easy).  However, Louisiana is different.  There are lots of rivers, streams and small country roads requiring lots of turns.  Last week I accidentally cycled a century when I took a wrong turn, and getting lost has become a common occurrence.

At our daily map meeting, typically our leaders Barb and Sue, say things like, “The map looks like you should take a right, but we are pretty sure you should go straight except our notes say take a left.”  This is not an exaggeration!  We have learned to address this problem by carrying lots of Oreo cookies and M&Ms to eat at intersections as we try to decide which way to turn.

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Barb and Sue also warn us about critters.  A raccoon investigated Kathy’s panniers while we slept at our campsite at Chicot State Park.

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I stopped at the Post Office in Evergreen, Louisiana to buy stamps.  I asked the postal clerk what made “Historic Evergreen” historic. She said she didn’t know as she wasn’t from around here.  She’s from the Cottonport – the town four miles down the road! DSCN2977DSCN2996DSCN2988

There is lots of history in this state, including many, many well-appointed above-ground cemeteries.

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We crossed the great Mississippi River on the John J. Audubon bridge.

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John J. Audubon sketched many of his birds in this forest near St. Francisville, LA.  I stopped by to cool off under the huge oaks on an extremely hot and muggy day.

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This friendly barber has been running his establishment for 53 years.  He was happy to chat on a Friday afternoon and encourage me to come to the Civil War re-enactment.  He embodies the essence of relaxed Louisiana.

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Sometimes there are just plain curiosities along the route.

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Louisiana is a relaxed place – we are trying it out on a hot day.  Where’s the iced tea?

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Good-bye BBQ…hello crawfish!

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This week we crossed into our fifth state of the trip and were greeted with boundless hospitality from the folks at the Historical Museum in Merryville, LA who allowed us to camp outside their old museum and jail.  We weren’t surprised by the trains that rumbled and blew their horns adjacent to our tent site, or by the omnipresent barking of local dogs, but we WERE surprised when instead of ringing a dinner bell, local men dressed like the lawless men of the 1800s fired rifles and pistols and then joined us for dinner!  We went to bed full of jambalaya, cornbread, peach cobbler and strawberry shortbread, and woke up to venison sausage, eggs, and toast served with a jelly made from red mayhaw berries. (I have to say, I was quite relieved that the woman in the visitor’s center (where I saw this fabulous quilt) was wrong in her guess that we might be served squirrel stew.)

Last night we were invited to a local camp on the bayou to eat amazing home-cooked Cajun food with friends of one of the cyclists.  Notice a theme?

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I learned from the cook in Merryville, LA that Beauregard Parish has the most churches per person of anywhere in the U.S.  Proof was on every corner!

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Some churches get quite creative to stand out.

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Louisiana offers gorgeous riding on FLAT – albeit bumpy – roads.

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The Louisiana Aboretum offered shade and droves of mosquitoes.  We’ve entered a land of muggy, hot weather.

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Crawfish harvesting season…great timing! (Note to self: avoid squirrel hunting season in the fall…)

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Last night we enjoyed delicious étouffée (crawfish with a roux, vegetables, tomatoes and lots of spices) made by local friends of one of our cyclists at their wonderful camp on the bayou.  We couldn’t skip the thick slices of ponce (spicy pork).

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While the étouffée cooked, we looked for alligators on the bayou…one poked its nose up!

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Of course, every state, no matter how bucolic and friendly, needs a few rules.

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And not to be outdone by Texas’s $2,000 fine for littering, Louisiana not only increases the penalties, but also offers friendly Simon Squirrel to remind us (in French)!

 

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The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

This morning I cycled with my friend, Jo, in the dark and mist to the local 6:30 a.m. sunrise Easter service – an annual joint Baptist  and Methodist community service in Coldspring, Texas.  The affable Pastor opened his sermon talking about the excitement of waiting for a deer hunt and comparing it to Easter.  After talking about the long wait for the sun to come up while sitting and watching for deer, he launched into an a capella rendition of his favorite song from Annie.  After plenty of hymnal singing, we joined the friendly congregations for their special Easter breakfast, including a local specialty that turned out to be pigs in a blanket!  There were plenty of sweets, too.

Easter treats, hopes for sunshine, and morning mist over an east Texas bayou.

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Today is our last full day in Texas.  The last few days have offered a host of culinary options and then some.

If cows could talk, I’m sure they would recommend the pies, cakes, and root beer over ribs.

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There is always the unconventional option…

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There are great NON meat options in Texas, too!

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I would have loved to have met these folks who appear to like signs as much as I do.  This was actually their front yard.

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Here are a few other front yards and scenes from the bike as we head east to cross into Louisiana tomorrow.

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And at the end of the day…

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Don’t mess with Texas…thanks to Lady Bird!

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If only we all had this kind of latitude…:)

Every mile I have pedaled these last three days in hill country and now into east Texas I have thanked Lady Bird Johnson, the force behind the Highway Beautification Act (signed by President Johnson in the late 1960s).  After torrential rains at the beginning of the week (a hindrance to cycling but a boon for spring), the roadside and meadows have been bright with blue bonnets, Indian paint brush, and a sea of yellows, pinks and purples.

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Thanks to Lady Bird and LBJ for scaring the devil out of anyone who might consider littering – and for creating a Federal Act to inspire planting all those wild flowers.

I am about to cycle out of Texas after nearly 1000 miles crossing this varied landscape and there are some historical and modern day themes that underscore this renegade state’s heritage:  Virtues, vices, warnings and temptations (some that never occurred to me!), along with several surefire ways to get OUT of trouble…

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mess with Texas!

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Here’s the kicker…

 

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Thinkin’ of moving to Texas? Lots to offer, but be forewarned!

 

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Seems that the town’s real estate agent must have helped with this logo for Fort Clark. None of my group decided to stay beyond our one night of camping since the road conditions were so bad, we all thought our teeth might rattle out of our heads!

That being said, Texas has a lot to offer: gorgeous sunsets, state parks, canyons, rivers, hill country, and farms.

But be sure you know what you are getting yourself into – especially if you buy property next to a farm!

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