Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sweating Like Piglets

So far in the United States we have withstood either crazy storms or extreme heat.  There never has been anything in between.  Many days we have endured temperatures well above 40°C.  Way too hot.  One particular day in central Louisiana the temperature read 47.7°C on the GPS!  Not sure if it was in fact that high but it felt like it as we were cooking all day long.  The constant heat waves are just too much that I have to keep cycling to get the breeze.  Stopping for just a short while becomes very uncomfortable.  Strange because it isn’t even summer yet.  At night it is a sauna in the tent and both of us are just swimming in our respective pools of sweat.  I can’t decide if I want for a storm to come to just cool me down or remain dry but super hot and sweaty.  Why can’t we just meet somewhere in the middle? 

Always noticeable in the USA is the abundance of ‘No Trespassing’ or ‘Private Property’ signs posted everywhere.  I even saw a ‘Trespassers Will Be Shot’ sign today.  They are very protective and watchful of what is theirs.  Fair enough but I find it a bit excessive.  On a day where temperatures were well above 40°C all throughout and the sun was unforgiving, Trevor and I both had flats and looked for some shade to fix the tires.  We parked it against this tree right by this side road and began to fix the flats while dripping sweat.  Not even a minute in a man in a truck pulls up and asks what we were doing.  Then he says we are on private property and it is his.  He ends up letting us stay and fix the flats as we would only be 10 minutes or so.  But both of us were kind of annoyed at this since really I had only stepped one foot onto his property and if you just see what we were doing you can kind of figure out we are passing through and just wanted some shade in the blistering heat to fix a couple of flats.    

Not the religious type, the number of churches in the South is quite overwhelming.  I didn’t even know there were so many different branches of Christianity.  It certainly makes things even more confusing if they aren’t already.  I remember in the Middle East and Central Asia they would only have 1 mosque per town.  Here, they have 4 or 5 churches per town; Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, and so on.  And even if it has become a ghost town, the only buildings still intact and looking immaculate are the churches.          

I find people’s knowledge of geography quite amusing at times.  When I say we have cycled around the world I get a lot of mixed reactions from blank stares to excitement.  Either way it is apparent more often than not, their knowledge of world geography doesn’t extend much beyond the USA.  I had a humorous conversation with some elderly gentlemen at a McDonald’s in Mobile, Alabama that went something like this:  “Where y’all be riding from?”  “Canada.”  “Mexico?  Wow!”  “No, we kind of went around the world and now we are heading back to Canada.”  “Mexico!  So how did y’all get to here from Mexico?  Through Texas?”  “No we came up from Miami and are now generally heading northwest back to Canada.”  “Wow.  Well you must be really fit.” *bumps his fist with mine*  A couple minutes later the McDonald’s staff approach us and ask “Did I just hear y’all cycled here from Mexico?!”  “Not quite, we went around the world and now are heading back to Canada.  We’re Canadian.”  “For real?  Let me take a picture of y’all and put it up on Facebook just in case I see you on TV.”  We then say cheese for the camera.    

I am beginning to think that it isn’t just Florida that has so much crap on their roads but all of the United States.  We continue to average multiple flats per day and it is becoming frustrating.  At most we have had to deal with 4 flats in a day but usually the number is 2 or 3.  I really didn’t think this would be the case going in.  The United States is on track to exceed the number of flats we had total for the rest of the world!  Always trying to be the best but this definitely is not something you want to be crowned champion at. 

We had a run-in with the police last night.  I had a feeling this might happen somewhere en route in the USA since they are big on their security and what not.  Lots of crime in the United States and that has been evident with all the penitentiaries and bail bond stores we have passed as well as the ex-cons we have had conversations with.  Last night after a big day of cycling we looked for a camp spot.  Not much around other than farmland.  Finally we found a spot near the train tracks in between the towns of Wayne and Purcell.  We raced in to the spot as we always do to avoid being seen.  About 10 minutes later while setting up shop a Sheriff Vehicle cruises on by very slowly.  Then a couple minutes later it strolls by again slowly.  We both duck down as we do when anyone drives by, to again, avoid being seen.  Clearly the police were looking for something around and I was pretty sure they were probably looking for us.  However, we still stay down.  A policeman finally comes out of his vehicle and walks into the bush towards our spot.  He yells out if anyone is there.  Knowing that we have been had, I emerge from our spot and say yes we are here.  He then pulls out his gun and yells hands up!  I slowly walk out in front of him and he yells at me to stand back keeping my hands up.  He asks me if I have a girl back there.  I say no, it is just me and my brother.  Quite tense I begin to explain the situation that we are just cycling through and are pitching a tent there for the night.  I was worried we may have trespassed on someone’s property.  Trevor then comes out with his hands up and the cop puts his gun away knowing that we aren’t up to no good.  Before leaving he does an ID check on both of us.  He was a really nice guy and cool about the whole thing.  He just said they got a call from the people across the street about some suspicious characters racing into the bush and that a lot of crime happens in the area.  Later Trevor tells me I should have been calmer as my nervousness would make a police officer think I am guilty of something.  Geez, thanks Trevor for your wisdom, noted for the next time I have a gun pointed at me.  All kidding aside, I agree that would have been the better way to go but easier said than done. 

We are now clear of the hurricane prone region and it is less humid so things are looking good.  We just arrived in Oklahoma City and will spend the next couple of days here for a little rest and relaxation.

A heavy duty ship ready for the open ocean just outside of Mobile, Alabama.

We are now out of alligator territory but I didn’t leave the area without sampling some gator meat.  Had me some in New Orleans and it was quite nice. 

The torrential downpours kept ruining our gear and equipment.  Crossing this bridge in Mobile we were hit by another storm and Trevor’s tire blew up.  I guess because of wear and tear the tire ripped so he had to replace it.  Then the next day in Mississippi while battling through another storm, his replacement tire tore.  Very strange as that one was pretty much new.     

Lots of long ass bridge crossings in and around the Gulf Coast.

Leaving Mississippi Trevor almost lost his beloved jacket he has taken all over the world.  It somehow dropped off his bike but luckily he discovered something was missing and we only had to backtrack about a kilometer or so. 

Many raised houses on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. 

Trevor cruising through the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

The generosity of Americans continues.  Trevor’s bottom bracket needed replacing so we went to East Bank Cyclery in Metairie.  A sign was posted outside saying the bike mechanic shop is full and no new jobs will be taken unless it was something purchased from the store.  Trevor still tries his luck and goes in explaining his situation.  Knowing that we are touring, the bike mechanic drops everything and replaces his bottom bracket with another one lying around for absolutely nothing.  Trevor has lucked out when he has needed work on his bike.  He even lucked out again this morning when standing outside Walmart eating spaghetti from a can.  A kind lady approached him, asked him about the trip and then handed him $30.  All the while I was inside filling up on water speaking with a nice employee reminding me that Jesus loves me.      

Meet Shady, Wayne’s energetic 2 year old Labrador.  Kind of reminded me of Cody, the goof, our dog back home.  Though he is now 9 but still acts like a 2 year old. 

A huge thanks to Wayne for letting us stay a couple of nights in Metairie and treating us to some delicious food at Drago’s, Vincent’s and Morning Call. 

Crossing the longest river in North America and the fourth longest in the world.  Yes I am talking about the Mississippi River. 

With all the unbearable heat, you may ask why am I geared up?  Well, it is because of those annoying little insects and bugs, mainly mosquitoes, that love to bite me especially in the bush when I am trying to set up camp.  They have gotten really bad here in the USA.  Pessimistic Trevor suspects they will only get worse as we head north.  I don’t wish harm on any living thing but when it comes to mosquitoes and other blood suckers I wish they would all just die a painful death and leave me the fudge alone.  They piss me off so much. 

It was a relief to know that I wouldn’t likely be shot at inside the information center in Dallas, Texas.  Because we all know how dangerous information centers can be. 

X marks the spot where JFK was assassinated back on November 22, 1963.  We spoke with a guide around who asked about our trip and said “you are doing the Forrest Gump thing huh.”  He then said his adventurous thing he did when he was younger was join the army, though he is still sort of messed up in the head as a result.  He also said it is good what we are doing as it makes one more aware of the world around us.  Very true.  I am finding a lot of people we have had conversations with who may not have much in terms of material things do have a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and stories.  

Always nice to be surprised with an unexpected attraction en route.  Turner Falls in Oklahoma State.  

We passed through Moore, the suburb of Oklahoma City that was partially destroyed at the hands of a tornado last month.  Mother Nature is one thing you do not want to mess around with.  It will win all the time.  We still have some ground to cover until we are out of ‘Tornado Alley’ but I think we’ll be fine. 

The site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.  Pretty crazy to see how much destruction one blast can make.      

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Flo Riding

Flo riding was actually the exact opposite of how we have been getting on in the USA so far but I wanted to put it as the title since it is a play on the State and the rapper.  Really though the title should be ‘Storm Riding’ because that is what we have been pretty much doing on a daily basis.  Unbeknownst to me before arriving on American soil was that June is the beginning of Hurricane season in and around these parts.  Oh joy. 

Most days we would get a late afternoon dump which was a real nuisance as we never had enough time to dry off before camping.  Sleeping in wet clothes is not fun.  Also add the hot, humid heat and you have a very uncomfortable night. 

One particular day we had rain all day.  Right from the get go to finish.  And it was strong.  Rain is the worst to ride in as it destroys everything.  Anyway, we were riding near Tallahassee and were waved down by two people by the roadside.  They were with the Tallahassee Democrat Press and were interviewing people braving the storm.  The guy asked me if I in fact knew we were in the midst of a tropical storm.  I didn’t, but said yeah of course, not wanting to look stupid.  I thought it was just some hardcore rain that wasn’t going to quit.  Though in hindsight I guess hardcore rain that doesn’t quit classifies as a tropical storm.  They asked us a few questions, took some pictures and did a video in the pouring rain.  Then they got back into their warm, dry truck and drove off.  The next day I found out on the front page of the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that we were riding through the season opener Tropical Storm Andrea.  Probably should have picked up the newspaper to see if we made it in there but I didn’t want to pay the $1.  In any event, I found out later we did make the news:

Americans sure love to talk.  And they certainly have a lot of characters in the USA.  Some of the people we’ve met I get a kick out of.  The first character we met was in Clewiston and he is a self-described big fat gambling bum who bets on horses, that’s his thing.  He had stashes of food all over the town and even offered us some vegetables down the road behind this sign he had stashed away.  He was very outspoken and gave us advice on any possible dealings with the police.  While we were talking to him a couple of guys drove up in separate cars.  He told us one of them was the gay prostitute of the town and the other the crack dealer.  Everyone knows everyone in Clewiston.  The second character we met was a homeless man in Sarasota who has been living on the streets for almost 30 years and sleeps next to the train tracks near a black panther who also makes his home there.  He provided all sorts of great advice on how to properly rummage through trash and tips on how to stay dry.  He makes a bit of money off scratch and win cards he finds in the dumpsters behind various stores.  He may not have a home but he does have street smarts and was a joy to talk with.  The next character was a self-described tough ol’ bitch who is the queen of cheap.  She told us about her adventures back in her younger days of hunting tigers in India and that she has been on life support twice.  When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go she said.  She loves to travel and always goes on the cheap.  Sleeps in her car at parking lots to save money and doesn’t spend much on food.  She is 68 years old and hearing her say things like ‘turn that son bitch around’ in her southern accent really made me laugh.  I love listening to southerners speak.  I don’t know why but when I am around them I start to speak like that too.  Trevor is the same way. 

Trevor met two more interesting individuals today but sadly I was in the supermarket when he spoke with them.  This morning a lady in her 50s passed Trevor on her way into Walmart and said to him “looks like you have everything need?”  Trevor said yes.  A few moments later she walks back out and says “but do you have Jesus?”  After a bit of hesitation he replied “ahhh, no.”  She then tells him that he should try and find him and that Jesus helped her get through her tough times when she was sleeping in a tent for nine months.  Then she asks Trevor for our names and goes into a prayer, getting all into it with hands motions.  Before going back into Walmart she asks Trevor for a hug and gives him one.  Later in the afternoon Trevor met Lester, a real deal southern redneck from Milton, Florida.  He says he served his time (not sure if he meant in the military or in a state penitentiary) and accumulated great knowledge and tells no lie.  He used to be fit and able to go the extra mile but said as you age you don’t go that extra mile.  He says he knows all this stuff because he has experience.  Then out of the blue he asks “straight or high?”  Huh?  “You straight or high!?  Do you smoke dope?”  No.  “Oh, well you know, just appearances.  You look like somebody I could get high with.  You have that look.”  Before leaving he asks Trevor to do him a favour when he gets back to Canada.  “When you back home and you talkin’ with all your friends and they think they know what they talkin’ about, you say to them yeah Bubba you knows what you is talking about!  And you just watch the look on their face.  Now you say it.”  Trevor then says “yeah Bubba you know what you are talking about.”  Lester then slaps his leg and gets all worked up from Trevor repeating his words.  He leaves shortly after and I return disappointed that I missed a great show.  I am almost certain there will be more characters to come.  Keeps things entertaining I will say that.     

We have had a couple of nights and early mornings where there has been tramping going on around our tents.  I have no clue what was out there but I wonder if it was a panther.  Then again maybe it was just an armadillo.  Speaking of which, I finally saw a live armadillo.  Usually I see them dead but this one was alive and kicking.  They are shy so it didn’t want to come out for a photo shoot.   

We had been looking forward to drinking good tasting water again but Florida has let us down.  Their tap water, more so in the south, has been some of the worst water we have consumed.  It tastes really awful, like someone took a crap in it.  Thankfully up north it has gotten much better so we hope that continues the rest of the way.  Water is kind of important especially in the hot climate we are currently in. 

We are northwest of Pensacola and with that, about done Florida.  We enter the South next.

They call it the Sunshine State and from time to time it certainly lived up to that name.  A bit too much for my liking though.  This particular day the temperature rose to 38 degrees and I was baking.

On the supermarket front we had high expectations going in.  Unfortunately we have been disappointed with what we have seen.  Trevor was super excited about getting back to his mixes much like he did all throughout Canada, the main ingredients being peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips and jelly beans.  Well, all those ingredients cost a whole lot more than they do up north in Canada.  So we have been resorting to other food.  It isn’t bad but just that it should be better.  To think, Canada, reigning supreme over the country that brought you big box supermarkets.    

Trevor finds another broken phone that he can’t bring back to life.  Plus side though is he got another SD card in it.  

Welcome to the number one beach in all of the United States of America!  … in 2011.  It was a nice spot indeed.  I find it funny though, we pass many rural communities and quite a number of them have signs up that say ‘welcome to our community, winner of the best rural community in 1997’.  Then a couple of towns over we’ll see another community winning it in 2003.  I wonder if they just rotate winners so everyone feels special at some point and it is something to be proud of. 

Vultures lurking in the back waiting for me to leave so they can return to feasting on this alligator or what’s left of it.  Just before this, I saw a live baby alligator in this drainage canal.  It was a bit shy and submerged underwater before I could take its photo. 

The Aldi invasion.  Who knows maybe this is an old photo from Europe, or maybe it is one from Australia?  No, it isn’t.  It is from Florida State.  Very excited to see Aldi’s here.  I love how their set up is the same wherever so it really feels like I could be in Europe or Australia.  However, that feeling is short lived once you get to the cash register.  Usually I would have the correct cash readily available but here in North America we (I say we because Canada does this too) like to charge tax after the fact.  Why doesn’t North America clue in and join the rest of the world and just make it so that the tax is already included in the price.  As such, I won’t be shuffling around for that extra 17 cents that I owe. 

Half our time in Florida has been spent fixing flat tires.  No joke, this State has been the worst and probably has beaten every other country we have cycled in.  Not something to be proud of.  We have been averaging maybe 2 flats a day.  Their roads are notorious.  Strange too because riding on the roads have been great as they are quite smooth and we have a wide, hard shoulder.  But the amount of crap they have on their roads is just unreal. 

Absolutely thrilled to be listening to tunes and podcasts again on the road.  I picked up a much better mp3 player than my last one which died on me in New Zealand.  Listening to artists like Flo Rida and Pitbull have made my days much better.  Except when it starts to pour rain and then I have to put it away.  My last one probably died because of too much exposure to wetness.  And I may have dropped it a couple of times. 

Probably should have researched this day off outing a bit more thoroughly.  I like Disney and have been to the Magic Kingdom in many of their other locations around the world but never to their primetime park in Florida.  So I was keen to go.  Trevor tagged along but wasn’t sure what he was getting into.  A bit disappointed we both were as it just wasn’t all that great.  I think theme parks like this sell you dreams and adventures one is probably not accustomed to on a daily basis.  Like taking a roller coaster through deserts or going on a cruise through jungles.  Not trying to sound all boastful but I guess when you’ve cycled through vast landscapes all around the world the real deal is much better than make believe.  In any event we did the park justice and went on all the attractions we wanted to do.  There were many people in the park so we said if we both get lost to meet each other at this very location pictured.  Unfortunately, Trevor did get lost and was scared as there were many strangers around him.  Please help me find Trevor before it is too late and he starts to cry.  He is around Cinderella’s Castle somewhere, but where?

Most of the time we have had the hard shoulder to ourselves but at times we have had to share it with other travelers.

As mentioned earlier, the rain sucks and wrecks everything.  My rear hub was not in great shape as all this gunk got in it.  As a result I couldn’t cruise and my chain would just skip and jump constantly.  So we stopped in a place called The Villages and found a bicycle shop.  We got there late afternoon and the mechanic ended up replacing my rear hub with a spare he had lying around.  I was relieved as it wasn’t much hassle in the end.  We left and not even a kilometer in everything got worse.  In addition to the chain skipping and jumping, my rear wheel was now wobbling.  I stopped at this department store and it became clear the rear hub wasn’t an exact fit.  As luck would have it the bicycle shop closed just after we left.  So we had to park it there for the night and return the next morning.  The mechanic was a nice guy and was truly sorry it didn’t work.  They ended up cleaning out my old rear hub and giving me a new tire and tube.  So in the end it all worked out for the better.  On an aside, Trevor was not a fan of this town as it is a retirement town.  Golf carts everywhere.  He doesn’t like it when people who look like they can walk rely on these carts or scooters to get around.  It is the mentality that gets to him.  So he wanted to get out of The Villages as soon as possible.    

Americans are friendly and very giving.  On the morning of the day when we were waiting for my bike to be fixed in The Villages, a man approached us and I told him we were heading back to Canada.  He wished us luck and wanted to buy us lunch by giving us $20.  I was very surprised at this kind gesture.  Later in the afternoon when we were resting outside this supermarket, a diabetic man approached us and practically gave us most of the contents in his shopping bag.  I only told him earlier we were heading back to Canada on the bikes, didn’t even say we went around the world.  He gave us six cans of root beer, some peanut butter and delicious cracked pepper smoked sausages.  But he didn’t stop just there.  Oh no.  He also pulled out his wallet and gave us $10.  He said this is some southern hospitality, something we won’t get up north.  I said that was mighty kind and thanked him profusely.  Super nice guy.  I am amazed at the free handouts of money here.  We were given $30 that day and at that rate this trip would pay for itself.  And some.  

Smile for the camera even though it sucks riding in a tropical storm. 

Taking shelter while getting rocked by the storm and Trevor fixing another flat.  What a surprise.  

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