Into Big Bend

Written October 23, 2015

Leaving Seminole Canyon, we headed west on Hwy 90.  This is hard, dry country.  Thin soil over thick rock.  Hot and dry.  It’s always nice when we can start the day out in minimal gear, but we know that it means we’ll be hot and thirsty in the afternoon.  Even in the cool morning, we’re sucking water frequently.  We both carry CamelBack waterbags on the bikes, and can grab the drink tube any time we like while riding.  On days like this, we’ve learned not to let ourselves get behind on hydration, as one pays for it in the afternoon with a headache, irritability, and poor thinking.

A high bridge took us over the canyon of the Pecos River far below.  At first glance it appears a big river, but then one realizes it’s backed up in a pool here, and looking downriver you see just a thread of water continuing along under the cliffs.  Looking further downriver, the confluence with the Rio Grande is just visible, with the cliffs of the two canyons forming a sharp prow.  Looking upriver there is a high railroad bridge, otherwise you are alone on an empty road in a desolate land.

Moving west, the road eases away from the Rio Grande, and passes through a few small towns but mostly cattle range.  Sources I read stated that one head of cattle per 128 acres is about right for this country.  Very little grass, mostly just weeds and scrub and rocks.  Windmills provide some water for what cattle are here, but I suspect the local lizards and such benefit just as much from that.  Fortunately for us, it was a calm morning with little headwind or crosswinds to bother us.  We just rode along and soaked in the scenery.

Marathon, Texas was the lunchtime goal before heading down into Big Bend National Park.  We began seeing Border Patrol presence regularly, and they had made a bare area, a small road, running along the paved road that they kept smooth by dragging tires behind their trucks.  Patrol trucks drove slowly along this strip, with an officer looking down out the window for, we guessed, footprints or other evidence of crossings.  Who knows what other technology was being used.

Marathon is a cool little town, with enough traffic from the Park to sustain two gas stations, several small hotels, a few stores, and The French Grocer.  We stopped in to gather supplies for a few days.  The pre-made sandwiches were a major cut above what is usually sold in grocery stores, and we had a great lunch at the tables outside.  Fed and fueled, we turned straight south and rode 69 miles to Big Bend.  It cost us each $20 to get into the park, which I thought was kind of steep for motorcycles.  We picked up maps and decided to try Chisos Basin campground.  Once we got down to the center of the park (which is huge, by the way), we turned off on a road and climbed over a short but very fun set of switchbacks taking us over a low pass into Chisos Basin and down into the campground.  Here at 5100’ elevation, the air was cooler but still quite warm, and we were glad to get one of the few remaining campsites with a shade built over the table area.  No power, and campers are limited to 5 gallons of water per day, but for $14 these sites are a deal.  We were all set for about 3 days rest, or so we thought.  That’s when I spotted the oil coming from the new water pump I’d just installed on Jalene’s bike.  I don’t generally get emotional about machines, it does nothing to help, but this time a few choice words came out.

There was nothing I could do about it at the time, so we spent the next few days exploring the park, riding down to the Rio Grande River and along it, then coming back via a good dirt road that had just enough rocks and sand to be a challenge and confidence booster for Jalene.  She did well, staying up on the pegs and trying to be loose and let the bike do its thing.  The following day we rode down to the Rio Grande on the east side of the park, as they had showers and wi-fi there.  While cleaning up and using the computer, three guys rode in on motorcycles and of course the talk started flowing.  Turns out they were from Austin, and recommended we get ahold of Woods Fun Center for another water pump for Jalene’s bike.  They also offered garage space if we needed it, as well as help finding places to stay and things to do and see while in town.  After exchanging contacts, we took off back to camp feeling like we had a plan.

It was in Big Bend, thinking we were giving ourselves a break, that we realized our error.  We were exhausted from traveling for 2 months straight, and just staying in a campground wasn’t going to give us any rest.  We had been spending our days riding, finding food, finding places to camp, figuring out maintenance opportunities, figuring out routes, you name it.  Our brains had been going round the clock without a break.  I was having a hard time sleeping because of worries over bike repairs.  We needed a place where we could fix Jalene’s bike, do maintenance on both, and then set everything aside for a few days and not travel.  No camping, no riding, no wrenching, just chilling out with nothing to do and no challenges.  We made a plan to head for Austin for parts, repairs, and then personal R&R.  Both of us immediately felt better.

Next morning we took off for Del Rio, where we got a very nice, cheap Motel 6 (only our second motel of the trip!), then headed northwest into the Texas hill country, an area that lies generally west of Austin and San Antonio.  As we began to feel the ground rise and fall a bit, we had a beautiful surprise when who should we see approaching us on bicycles but Jean-Francois and Marie, whom we had met on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi!  (These were the bicyclists from Montreal we had shared the rainy afternoon with in the bar at Bay St. Louis)  They had just spent time in Austin, and serendipity placed them on the same little road we were riding.  It was lonely and empty, so we spent 20 minutes or so standing in the road, catching up on where we’d been and what we’d done, and then it was time to part.  Jean-Francois and Marie were buoyed by the thought of the Motel 6 with the pool 3-4 hours ahead of them, and they suggested Lost Maples campground, where they had stayed the night before.  I was only sorry that our meeting had to be so brief, and was very sad to say goodbye again.  I sincerely hope that someday we can all spend time together again.

Now, after a day of riding through loopy and twisty roads through the hill country, we’re camped at Lost Maples Natural Area.  This is a lovely park, with nice grassy campsites and shade.  But I’m getting sleepy after a dinner of corn with chicken-and-rice soup that Jalene whipped up out of leftovers.  She’s getting to be quite the one-pot cook these days.  Right now the cook has assigned me to keep an eye on a hand-sized tarantula that’s crawling through our campsite, steady on a line taking it down toward the nearly-dry creek bed.  They are really quite beautiful animals in their spidery way, and it’s easy to see all the intricate parts when they’re this big.  We spotted it about 30 yards back, and it held to a beeline that took it right through our camp.  A bit of herding guided it around the tent, and it continued on its way.  If you stomp your foot on the ground, they run.  We’re far, far from home, aren’t we?

The Migrating Monarchs

Written October 21, 2015

Our route had taken us across a changing Texas.  When we left Plano, we were in fairly flat country with some trees.  As we curled around to the southwest, it became somewhat more hilly and the trees more dense.  As we continued, the land dried out and flattened again to become more ranching than farming country.  The “wavelength” between the crests of land stretched out further and further, and we could see for long distances as we rolled over some of the crests.  The fences on the ranches got higher as we travelled, and I wondered if it was to keep deer in or out.  I’d seen signs for hunting ranches, and had spotted a few bucks with antlers of ridiculous size and bighorn sheep with impossible curls.

Now we were headed straight down, and the land really dried out.  As we neared the Mexican border near Del Rio, it reminded me a lot of eastern Oregon, except that where it dropped in along a river, leafy oaks, pecans, and other species grew very thick and shady.  The appearance was one of a cool, shady stream where one could water their horse and get some relief from the hot desert they had just crossed, but relief from the heat under these trees was brief.  As soon as we lifted away from the streambed, it was back into the dry and hot desert.   I expected tortoises, tarantulas, and scorpions under every rock.

Finally we hit Comstock and US 90, the same road we’d followed across southern Mississippi.  We followed it west a little ways to Seminole Canyon State Park, where we camped in the high open desert above a river canyon filled with ancient pictographs.  We were also now directly in the path of the migrating Monarch butterflies, and we watched them come through almost continuously in ones and threes, always flying to the south.  How a butterfly can make progress and maintain a heading in the wind just amazes me.  There were no trees for cover, only low brush and cacti.  But the butterflies stayed low to the ground, following the terrain and moving in and out of wind shelter, and occasionally bucking right into it.  But even then, they could do it and make headway.  Sometimes they would climb into the air when there was a calming, and once 30 feet high or so, would glide.  They would hold their wings wide and pick up a surprising amount of speed, smoothly descending as they slid through the air.  Then, flapping their wings, they rose and did it again, and were quickly out of sight.

Also running through the campground is the old right-of-way from the first Southern Pacific rail line built in 1882.  You can walk along it, following the contours closely as it winds around the hillside.  While approaching the park on US 90, the “new” rail line runs nearby, and you can see where the old railway bed loops away and was abandoned only ten years after being built.  Now there are empty cuts through small rock obstacles, whereas the present railway goes nearly straight through, with deep cuts and massive fills to level it out.  It reminded me of what oxbows in a river channel look like, where the old path has been abandoned, but is still visible, when the river finally succeeds in cutting straight through an obstacle.

The other neat thing for this Northwest kid was a tall galvanized-steel windmill, still turning and pumping water into a big stone basin.  In the park it’s a guzzler for wildlife, but at one time it must have watered a lot of cattle.  The basin is like a huge stone bowl, maybe four feet deep and 20 feet across, and the windmill keeps it brimming with a slow, steady trickle out the pipe.  Weathered but still visible was the brand “Aeromotor” big and bold on the tail vane.  As usual, I enjoyed looking up to figure out the mechanism, which seemed to have a governing system that would trim the tail vane and so swing the propeller off the wind if it blew too strong, and spun the windmill too fast.  Windmills like that still operate all over the place in west Texas, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing those unique western landmarks.

Take a look at the photos, too.

Campground Mediums

Written October 19, 2015 

We left cousin PJ's house with bikes freshened up and many administrative tasks completed.  Decisions were made about which liability insurance we would purchase upon entering Mexico, as well as what to do about the cell phones.  We’ll buy SIMM cards for each country, which will mean new phone numbers, etc.  Once again, communication with us will be best done by email or through the website.

We struck out west out of Plano, staying on the surface streets and avoiding anything like an interstate.  It took all day, but we finally cleared the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolis, and got well out into the countryside.  This day took us by endless cotton fields, and we got to see some of the equipment used to harvest and bale it.  I’m not talking about hay-bale sized bales, cotton bales are huge, the size of semi-truck trailers.  They get pooped out the back of huge balers awaiting pickup.  When you punch the bale, it’s not soft, but very hard.  I’d like to watch how big it expands when the netting holding it gets cut!  Our first night away found us camped at Cleburne State Park, which was a wonderful, peaceful setting beside a shallow lake.  We had tried for another campground that was full up, so we actually had to hook back toward Dallas to get to Cleburne.  No matter, what’s the hurry?  We had a nice warm, quiet night under the stars.  We leave the rainfly off the tent when we can, as long as there are no trees above to drip sap or bird poop.

Our campsite neighbors, a husband and wife, had come over and chatted with us for a little while, as they also rode motorcycles and were curious about the campers with the Oregon plates.   Really nice people and, once again, the names are lost, but these two left quite a deep impression on us.  In the morning, they came back over as we were packing up the bikes, and expressed that they would be thinking of us and asked if they could say a prayer with us.  He put a big strong hand on my shoulder, and she did the same with Jalene, and they asked that we be blessed and protected on our trip.  It was a wonderful experience, leaving us with another example of just how caring and supportive the people of this land are.  I hope they see this; I’d like them to know just how grateful Jalene and I are.

The next day we continued west, wanting to head in the general direction of Big Bend National Park.  Along the way that day, we started seeing prickly pear cactus along the road, and some of them had fruit on them.  They looked like little beet-red pears growing upside down out of the top edges of the “leaves.”  I picked a few, but didn’t know what to do with them, ultimately just making a mess inside one of the sidecases on my bike and subjecting both of us to tiny “slivers” in our fingers.  We made it as far as Brownwood Lake and once again ended up in a very nice State Park.  Texas does a really great job on their parks, it must be said.  However, limited site selection placed us right next to a big family gathering and the kids were loud and ill behaved.  We took our chairs and went down by the lakeside, only coming back to our site for dinner, and then thankfully they had all gathered elsewhere.  Peace reigned for a while, but in the end it turned out to be a night for earplugs. 

See more prickly pear harvest photos in the link at the bottom of this post.

Our southwest journey was turning into a chain of Texas State Parks, with the next night finding us at San Angelo, a park just outside of a sizable town.  We were the only ones in the whole section of the campground, save for a man sitting in a white pickup at a site a little ways away, just sitting inside on a warm day, which gave Jalene an unsettled feeling.  After a few hours he drove off.  But Jalene had just walked up to the showers, about 500 yards from our campsite.  All alone, she felt so uncomfortable that she decided not to take a shower, and when she went back outside, the truck was parked again nearby.  It was a fast walk for her back to where I was.  Early the next morning, before dawn, I hiked up to the bathroom and there he was, camped nearby.  While inside, I heard him fire up the truck and by the time I came back out, he was gone, tent and all.  Maybe someone homeless simply was looking for a place to sleep.  But, like I said, a bit spooky.  There’s a happy campground medium somewhere between empty and silent, and crowded screaming-child bedlam.

There were pecans all over the ground under the trees at that campground.  I tried cracking some, but maybe they weren’t dry enough, because they just crumbled.  I was bummed, because I remember how good they tasted when Aunt Jane would send boxes of them from Texas each year.  My job was to crack them open so that mom could use them for baking.  She would make Pecan Sticky Buns, a kind of brown sugar variant on cinnamon rolls but ten times better.  They have been the source of family jealousy when mom would pass them out.

That’s enough for now, we’ve covered a lot of ground since I last wrote, but I’ll call this a chapter. Stay tuned, as I have quite a bit to catch up on!


Check out new photos of traveling in Texas. (Sorry for the faulty link in the last post, this will work.) 

And, here's Jalene talking about the ugly duckling stage in our transition from vacationer to traveler.



The Broken Shards

We crossed into Texas and headed west along a network of little roads.  Even the “little roads” here have speed limits of 70, so we did our best to stay on the least-used lanes.  East Texas is rolling piney-woods, and really pretty country.  By the time we crossed into the state, the GPS told me we had risen to about 250 feet in elevation, and as the day went by we slowly climbed to 450.  You can almost navigate just by elevation when around the Mississippi drainage.  As we continued west, the rolling pines gave way to flatter, more open ground as we transitioned into more ranch-like country, and soon it took on the classic Texas look of open rangeland and big, gated ranch mansions (many sited on oddly less-than-ranch-sized pieces of land…).  South Fork wannabes, I guess.

Texas has a doughnut shop in every town.  Even the little towns have them, and that was Jalene’s downfall.  We needed a little snack late morning so we stopped and we each had one.  I actually had a pig-in-a-blanket, which was made with a polish dog and the bun was a sweet croissant-like dough (awesome!) and Jalene had an old fashioned and something else.  Anyway, when we pulled out of the parking lot, I realized I wasn’t sure which way I needed to go out of town, and so stopped on the margin.  Jalene didn’t expect this at all and crashed right into the back of me, which shattered her front fender to bits and pushed her headlight well back into the little nose fairing.  I took it apart and was able to pop the headlight back into place without damage, but the fender was in about 15 pieces.  We gathered them all up and after bolting things back together, got underway again.  The damage was all cosmetic, and we considered just cutting away the broken shards still sticking out and calling it good, but in the end called the BMW shop in north Dallas and got a silver one on order (no matching black ones in N. America).  Once here at PJs we looked into plastic welding and gluing, but there were so many pieces that we decided to stick with the new part.  It came in only 3 days, so now Jalene has a new silver front beak on her black bike, which looks pretty cool, actually.  And we learned that one should be careful around doughnut shops.

As we approached our campground, we saw a disturbing sight.  We slowed down for the blue flashing lights of a cop car, which was stopped for an accident at an intersection.  A white sedan had rear-ended a motorcycle at high speed, burying the aft two feet of the bike in the front end of the car and trapping it upright.  Didn’t see the rider, didn’t really need to.  No one wears helmets here.  It was obvious the car driver had never seen the bike, which had likely stopped waiting to make a left, and slammed right into it.  Jalene was pretty shook up by the sight, and we talked about always checking the mirrors anytime you touch the brakes.  Being rear-ended hard is likely fatal for the motorcyclist, and is the one situation that scares me most.  It’s why I want lane-splitting legalized, not so that I can split lanes, but so I can escape up between lanes when multiple lanes of traffic suddenly slam to a halt in a traffic jam.  It’s terrifying.

Enough soapbox.  Our campsite at Lake Tawakoni was beautiful, and had some impressive ant highways in the area that were kind of fun to watch.  Incentive to keep that tent zipped up!  We spent a relaxing evening lakeside in a breeze, and enjoyed a slow morning, as it was only about 2 hours to cousin PJ’s house.  We had showers and hung out in the shade.  I laughed at myself, as I had found a bar of soap on a post, and so lathered up again and again, luxuriating in my “free soap” and hot showers.  It’s become kind of funny, the things that we find special now.

We hit the road and rolled along increasingly busy streets into Plano, an outpost of the busy metropolis of Dallas, and found PJ’s house.  PJ is another of the Horton cousins, sister to Connie that I visited in Indiana. Tall and slim, she has a slow drawl but a quick wit that catches you off guard, and likes to pick on me in her gentle way.  She’s more of a quiet thinker than any of us, and it’s always illuminating to talk with her.  She is the cousin that is my age, and I’ve always had a soft spot for her.  She and her husband Marty have a house out in a quiet area of town.  It’s odd to me, but all the houses in this area have the garages facing an alley that runs behind the houses, with only lawn and a front door in front, no driveway.  Tall fences ring each house, creating privacy, but PJ and Marty admit that they don’t really know any of their neighbors because of this.

We’ve been busy on “the list” for the past few days.  I’ve put two new tires on my bike and a new rear on Jalene’s along with new chain and sprockets.  We’ve been spraying the chains at the end of about every other day with lube, and I noticed that the sprockets I took off her bike showed almost no wear at all, only the chain was stretched and done for after over 20,000 miles.  The tires I took off still had some rubber on them, but with Mexico coming up, I went ahead and put the fresh tires on so I could forget about it for another 10,000 miles or so.  One of the great things about being on “little” 650s is that things like tires and chains last a long time.  I’ve also rebuilt the water pump on Jalene’s engine, as it had started to puke oil from one of the seals at a worrisome rate.  The coolant was also contaminated.  Our friend Don Weber in Albany, Oregon gave us a flexible oil line for the F650 engine before we left, a roughly $100 accessory to replace the solid external oil pipe that makes removing the clutch/water pump cover, an absolute bitch.  The flexible line simply swings out of the way, making removal very easy, and I was able to complete the job in PJ’s garage in an afternoon.  Feels good to have it done, and I will be able to do mine that much easier wherever it decides to crap out.  I am carrying spares for both bikes, the one known weakness of that engine.

And now my supervisor is telling me it’s time to get busy making dinner.  Jalene and I are grilling salmon and veggies for PJ and Marty tonight.  We’re going to see what kind of quality the Sockeye is in these parts.  It’s frozen, granted, but if they did a good job of processing it, we might get a surprise.  Oh, $13/lb. since you asked.  Chinook and Coho $15.

PS – It was wonderful fish.  Someone did a good job with the freezing and packing.


Here's a few photos of our week in Plano, Texas.

Beautiful Generous People

New friends in Mandeville, LA.

New friends at The Ugly Pirate.

How the scenery has changed since last I wrote.  I’m sitting on a little knob of hill in the shade of a beat-up looking oak tree, looking out over a swamp-lake about 30 feet below me.  It’s as much land as water, with brush and stumps sticking up through, and low muddy islands all around.  Three nutria are nosing around in the marsh grass just below me, unconcerned, while white egrets wade nearby.  Jalene reports a bald eagle overhead.  I hear airboats for a long time before I finally see them.  They are not nearly as fast as they sound.  Later I found out that they are spraying for noxious weeds in the lake.

The heat of the past two weeks has finally broken today.  We woke up to about 65° temperatures this morning, and for a little while I put my sweatshirt on.  I’m sitting in a nice breeze off the water, and not sweating for the first time in recent memory.

As we move along in this journey, it seems like every few days we enter a new territory, with its own customs, accents, and mannerisms.  Since leaving Gulf State Park, it feels like we’ve entered and traversed yet another version of America, this time along the hot, steamy Gulf Coast.  We crossed the bottom edge of Alabama, Mississippi, and then came into Louisiana and stopped in New Orleans for the night before crossing northwest up through the state.  Some neat things happened along the way.

Biological fun was had in Gulf State Park.  Our neighbor Lee, in site #3 had an alligator that hung out in the little backwater along the campsites, and had charged up into his site wanting the peanut butter sandwich he was making.  Seems they can see quite well, so Jalene and I pulled our picnic table in site #4 back away from the water and had no issues.  But poor Lee had another encounter at 4 am as he went to make oatmeal, and that was enough for him.  The park rangers showed up and after some patient waiting by the little slough managed to get a noose-on-a-stick over the critter’s head and out it came.  While it was only 4 feet long, it was big enough to be a concern and so they moved it over to a nearby lake and let it go.  Chatting with the park guys, it seems alligators in this region are the exact same problem as bears where we live in Oregon.  If they get habituated to people, or are fed, they become a problem and have to be dealt with.  Never a winning outcome for the animal, be it alligator or bear, and the people seemingly never learn, either.  Later we got a text from Lee that an even bigger one had taken over the spot.  No word on how that turned out.

We stayed at Gulf State Park for two nights, and spent the rest day swimming in the warm Gulf, swimming in the campground pool, and generally being lazy.  Jalene took in the Nature Center in the campground and pronounced it a super-good experience and a must-see.  By the time I heard this it was closed, bummer.  It’s a big campground, with several hundred sites, and lots of amenities.  One thing you’ll never see in any Oregon campground is the sign next to the big swing set reading “Don’t feed or aggravate the alligators.”  Nothing about keeping an eye on your kid, but maybe that was the “Don’t feed…” part.

We moved west after that, travelling along the Gulf Shore through towns, up into lovely neighborhoods in the wealthier section of Mobile, and then further west across sloughs and backwaters sheltering massive boat works and other industries.  Our neighbors in Oregon own a shrimper that was built somewhere down here, and we saw many boats that looked exactly like it.  I wonder if I might have passed the yard where their boat was built.

The area between Mobile and New Orleans was where the eye of hurricane Katrina came ashore, and as we rolled through there, it was easy to see the scars.  Many properties are still bare, with brush growing up through paved flat areas and foundation stones.  Nothing remains to suggest what building might have stood, maybe a house, maybe a store.   Many of the massive oaks are broken and dead, but most survived somehow.  Several of the dead trees were sculpted by chainsaw artists into various forms as a tribute.  To remind us of that even more, we were moving toward a black sky to the west and knew that eventually we would hit rain and plenty of it.  A big ugly weather cell was moving head-on at us from the west, and we were directly in its path.

Just before we rolled into Bay St. Louis, we recognized two bicyclists that we had befriended our first night at Gulf State Park, Jean-Francois and Marie.  From Montreal, they were taking their second trip across the US, this time bound for San Diego after turning the corner in Tallahassee.  With hard rain imminent, Jalene and I agreed to go ahead into Bay St. Louis, find a tavern showing the Saints game, and text them where to find us.  Within a few minutes, with the first drops on our shields, we were in the Ugly Pirate, and the bicycles rolled in just as it really opened up.  We stayed for the game as the rain pounded down, with reports of as much as 5 inches coming down in the area.  The Ugly Pirate has a tradition that when a Saints game starts, they tap a keg and pour free beer until the keg is gone.  We gladly weathered in for a few hours as we watched the rain pass over on the radar, and so enjoyed a glass and a pizza while we watched the Saints hang in there, but lose in the end.  We took off after the game ended, and within 10 miles were back in the sunshine with roads drying fast.

The people in the Ugly Pirate were the best part of the whole thing.  I don’t know who seemed to amaze them more, the couple on motorcycles traveling the length of South America, or the couple on bicycles traveling the breadth of North America.  In any case, we made friends with everyone in the bar (it’s only about eight barstools and three tables), and had a fabulous time with them.  They ended up picking up the whole tab for the four of us.  I wish I hadn’t lost the card of the fellow and his friend that paid our bill, but Thank You just the same!  A lady in green that lived across the street offered to have us come over and use her dryer, but we were fine.  They were all really concerned that we were leaving again in that cold rain, but we assured them that we had the gear for wet, 70° weather and would be all right.  Beautiful, generous people!

That night we made Big Biloxi campground in Mississippi.  On our way, we made our usual stop for dinner items at the supermarket, and then went to camp.  There was a guy doing BBQ ribs out front of Winn-Dixie, and he sold me a huge half-rack for all of $6, then sliced them up and sauced them when he found out we were camping on motorcycles.  He had graduated from the crotch-rockets, he said, and was looking to buy a “grown-up” bike, and wanted a Harley.  Turns out those ribs were the best BBQ we’ve yet had down here in the south, they were awesome.  Best of luck finding that Harley.

MotoStays is a website where one can sign up to offer accommodations to traveling motorcyclists, and in return stay at the houses of other motorcyclists along the way while on the road.  We had contacted Skip and Karen who live on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain, and stayed with them for two nights while we took care of the bikes and decided where to stay when we went in to New Orleans.  With wonderful hospitality, they took us in and we enjoyed a couple of days of swapping bike stories and travel tales while checking the bikes over, and just generally taking a break from camping and the road.  Real showers and laundry have a way of changing one back into a somewhat civilized character.  I considered shaving but then thought better of it.  Skip and Karen have travelled extensively both by sailboat and by bike in their time, and Skip has been an instructor with MSF locally.  We got an interesting lesson in house design while there, and saw first hand how Katrina had modified everyone’s ideas about flooding and winds.  Their new house is now built on masonry piers about ten feet high.  The nice side-effect is that you have a big, shaded area underneath to park cars, have a table and chairs, etc., and in the hot sun of the day it’s a perfect escape from the heat.  My GPS had the elevation in their driveway at 4 feet.

After saying goodbye to Skip and Karen, we turned the bikes south and crossed Lake Ponchartrain on the 25-mile long causeway bridge.  When you start across you can’t see the other side for the haze and curve of earth, but about halfway across I suddenly noticed I could see the high-rise area of New Orleans.  It seemed as we crossed that we were entering a whole new world, saying so long to the Gulf Coast and all the wonderful people we met along the way, and heading into something new and weird and wonderful in this big, old city at the mouth of the Mississippi.

Photo by Skip in Mandeville, LA just before we left.

Ready for some new photos? Click here

Jalene has some thoughts to share about how it's all in our heads (and hearts!). To see her blog post, click here.

Hey there!

Jalene here to share a quickie update. We're staying with Keith's cousin PJ and her husband Marty, in Plano, Texas for a few days as we finish our final prep for heading south of the border. (Gigantic "Thank you!" to PJ & Marty.) We're getting rid of stuff, buying stuff, and fixing stuff. After 56 days on the road, we're learning, learning, learning, and looking forward to more!