Month: April 2014

Think different(ly).



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.


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).




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.


This one you actually MIGHT see in Boston.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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!


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!



Some churches get quite creative to stand out.


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






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


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).


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.


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…


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.


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…


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!


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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Deep in the heart of Texas…


Gotta love cycling on the highway with a nice slow speed limit and easy to navigate entry and exit ramps.  Help!  I felt better knowing that the state motto mentions driving the “friendly way.”

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Phew! Off the highway but time for a flat tire (2 and counting since entering Texas).  Watch out for prickly goat heads.

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The nice county irrigation manager, Danny, and my biking pal, Richard, stopped to assist with my first flat.  I got the second one changed all by myself:)


Snack breaks on the road with my friends Bill, Lou and Richard… no time to move the bikes.  M&Ms call.


We live for chocolate.  The Community Church in a quiet spot in west Texas opened up their church and grounds to us overnight to camp.  Some churches encourage giving up chocolate (or some other dear thing) for Lent.  Apparently not this one!

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Of course, the next cafe reminded us of who really lays down the law.


Do I have a deal for you!

The day after we left Silver City, NM, outside this pleasant cafe we met a friendly and eccentric man (a common combination in these parts), who offered my biking buddy and me such a deal: a silver claim with access to 160 acres for a mere $300!  He had moved from Ames, Iowa convinced that he would strike it rich as a few lucky miners had nearly 150 years before.  As tempting as it was to imagine another big silver strike, we pedaled on…





How about this for another deal?  After 100s of miles passing Mexican restaurants in Arizona and New Mexico, finally German food.  Shucks.  Out of business.  But it could be yours for a good price…

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Here’s an entrepreneurial effort amidst miles of absolutely nothing but pecan groves.  This deal should do the trick!



How about this for a surprising business idea in Fort Davis, Texas?

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Hot stuff. High stuff. Hard stuff. That’s New Mexico!

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Seven days crossing New Mexico into Texas

What a week! We climbed to the highest point of the trip, 8,200 feet at Emory pass, made it through a dust storm, peddled against a stiff head wind past acres of farms growing chili peppers, pima cotton, and miles of pecan groves, and yesterday completed a near century with  almost half of it a climb (culminating in a 10 mile mind-numbing cold and steep down-hill)!



This wisdom comes from (where else) a restroom in a small cafe in Hillsboro, NM. It sums up this week of cycling!

The HIGHS:  Two days of climbing through Ponderosa Pine forests (TREES!! After lots of desert flat this was a great change).

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Notice the bullet holes in this helpful sign…

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Icing is the best remedy for long days (along with my staple of chocolate milk!)



HOT stuff…

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HARD stuff:  As I cycled into Hatch, New Mexico, the “chili capital” of the USA, the nice lady at the small town museum told me of dust storm warnings with gusts up to 40 miles/hour.  At the post office (where I was mailing a care package of hot chili peppers to Jim) the post master rushed out to take down the whipping flag.  By the time I was cycling into camp, the gusts were blowing my bike and me nearly across the center line!

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Molly survived the dust storm..



Sue digging into an entire pie to dull the pain…

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