Away with the Fairies

Perhaps I was wrong to state in a previous post that there is no such thing as normal weather, because it seems that right now we are actually experiencing normal weather.  It is cool enough at night to sleep comfortably in a sleeping bag, and mild enough by day with coastal breezes to cut the humidity and not feel gritty with salt residue and road grime at the end of the day.   Nowhere was this truer than as we rode along the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  The beaches, sand dunes, and crystal-clear water made for a beautiful ride.

We were so mesmerized by the beauty that we failed to consider the significance of our location along the Emerald Coast.  Anyone who knows us well, knows that we have struggled with pest problems at this time of year every year since living in Albuquerque.  We thought by leaving Seattle and not having a fixed residence that we would finally be able to shake these vermin once and for all.  When we mapped out our journey we did not even consider there were other hot spots in the country, assuming the Emerald City was their headquarters and Albuquerque was a fluke.  Alas, we were wrong.  Apparently, any place with a name that implies treasure, is likely an unwitting host to legions of leprechauns.  Additionally, the remnants of all the Mardi Gras celebrations have left the Gulf Coast sparkling.   When you put those two things together, you are guaranteed to draw those diminutive creatures with gold on their brains.

We pulled into Pensacola and went straight to a bike shop for some repairs on Frank.  As the kids and I waited outside the shop they happened to look up and see the trees draped in Mardi Gras beads.  Immediately, they went about collecting any intact necklaces for themselves.  Tango and Lil’ Mo could barely hold their heads up under the weight of the bounty adorning their necks.  Lil Mo’s collection of beads from the Fourth of July parade in Minnesota had long since disintegrated, so her delight at being resupplied was considerable.  Fully bejeweled, we went to the Pensacola MESS Hall while Frank was repaired.  The MESS Hall offers exclusively hands-on math, science, and engineering activities and experiments to do at your leisure.  Every single one of us was contentedly occupied for the duration.

After we picked up fully-functioning Frank, we headed to the First United Methodist Church in Pensacola for that night’s lodging.  One of their ministries is outreach to touring cyclists.  They offered us use of their Youth Ministries Building, fully equipped with a kitchen and bathroom.  Additionally, the member that let us in and showed us around drove Old Man to the grocery store to pick up the few things we needed.  It was such a treat to be greeted by a friendly face happy to help us, have so much room to spread out, check out their wall dedicated to bike tourists, and have the convenience of a modern kitchen at our disposal.

At no point up to now on this adventure had we ever considered the risk of leprechauns, despite all our years of struggling with them.  Oblivious to the hazards ahead of us, we exited the Emerald Coast flaunting our leftover parade plunder as leprechaun networks chattered about our movements.  Shortly after crossing the state line into Alabama, we saw a sign informing us of the protected status of the Alabama beach mouse.  Not far beyond that we boarded a ferry to cross Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island.  We saw more dolphins and watched the pelicans dive-bomb their lunches.

We made camp and then headed to the beach.  The kids joyfully dug to their hearts’ content.  During which time, Tango absent-mindedly took off his surplus of beads.  He remembered this at bedtime, at which time they were nowhere to be found on the beach.   Did the tide take them out?  Or did it tip off the resident leprechauns that the treasure-laden family they heard about was in their neighborhood?  It seems the latter was the case.  The following morning, the kids woke up to find their tent partially unzipped and some of Lil’ Mo’s beads stuck in the opening.  Having memorized her inventory of jewels, she quickly realized that the gold beads were missing.  While searching for her missing beads, we discovered more beads hanging from the trees above our campsite.  Had we unwittingly camped directly on their turf???  Puzzled by these revelations, we sat down to breakfast to find our yogurt tampered with and GREEN!  A sealed box of Pop-Tarts had also been mysteriously removed from our trailer.  An act perpetrated by the protected beach mouse, a leprechaun, or an alliance between the two?  The kids suspected the alliance due to the protected status of the beach mouse and the fact that leprechauns are opportunists!  Tango, who has started to doubt the tooth fairy, said in complete seriousness and with a bit of alarm while sitting at the picnic table for breakfast, “Leprechauns are real.” (tangent: to be fair, he has a pretty crappy tooth fairy—she is always late, and always has a list of convenient [and suspicious] excuses and technicalities for her tardiness.  The leprechauns, on the other hand, reliably dish out their nonsense every year.)

We camped in Shepard State Park our first night in Mississippi.  We were the only campers in the tent area, but were greeted by some RV campers upon our arrival.  They asked to take our picture, welcomed us to Mississippi, and went back to their modern campground.  The husband returned as we were eating dinner to deliver us a batch of firewood, commenting that he doubted we were able to carry any with us.  Pyromaniac Otter was delighted and we read our bedtime book by the fire that night.  Overnight, leprechauns struck again.  The kids woke up with green glitter in their hair (an aside: who knew glitter on hair will ultimately settle on the scalp rather than just shake out?).

Upon further investigation, the kids discovered a fort built at the edge of the fire pit, with a leaf bed and incriminating glitter leading up to and inside it.  Clearly, the leprechaun was keen on warmth and comfort, not to mention shelter from the looming rainstorm.  It was a drencher and its resulting puddles interfered with the investigation!  It rained steadily from about 4:00 a.m. until noon.  Since we had a short ride ahead of us, we had the luxury of waiting out the rain under the campground’s pavilion while watching for any leprechauns lurking in the shadows as we did homeschooling.

Our short ride took us to Keesler Air Force Base, where we took two days off at their TLF (the military loves acronyms!  TLF = Temporary Lodging Facility).  We expected that a place with armed guards at its gates would be secure—that we could finally relax and process the intentions behind all the leprechaun mischief we experienced.  What could they want with us?  We are not Irish.  We are technically homeless, so not of any wealth.  Had fake news been circulated about our status or the value of our possessions?  How could this be happening to us yet again?!  We could not have unknowingly transported a Seattle leprechaun across the country in one of our trailers—our inventory is a 3-D game of Tetris every day with no extra capacity, and any stowaways would have been detected.   We concluded there must be more cells of leprechauns throughout the country, and we must have stumbled onto the radar of one of them while on the Emerald Coast.  Those tiny, myopic gold hunters wrongly surmised us as one-percenters worth pursuing. Perhaps our ability to subsist this long without obvious income or employment gave them this perception?

On our first morning at Keesler, we celebrated our fleeting domesticity with a pancake breakfast only to discover that leprechauns had meddled with our eggs!  Fortunately, the contents of the eggs remained unharmed.

Historically, all of the tomfoolery had taken place under the cover of darkness at night, but one of them was bold enough to contaminate our pancake batter that morning, in daylight, while we were distracted with other breakfast preparations and outside searching for clues of the scoundrels’ whereabouts.  The lack of evidence outside cemented Otter’s conviction that the rodents were in cahoots with the leprechauns.  The leprechauns were likely riding them like horses and utilizing their tunnel networks.

The following morning, we awoke and breathed a sigh of relief.  No evidence of a leprechaun breach and our food supply was untouched.  Then we looked outside….  All of the sidewalks surrounding us for blocks were marked with green arrows leading to our unit.  At our doorstep was a rainbow and a large arrow pointing at our door.  What could this possibly portend?!

We stood at our doorstep and looked around in a state of disbelief (and with a bit of trepidation) not knowing how many miniature sets of eyes were watching us at that very moment.  I suggested we consider yielding.  We only had one more night there, and we could just accept whatever they dealt our final night and flee in the morning.  Sissy looked at me incredulously and said, “Mom, [our family] always chooses the harder road no matter what.  We can’t give up.” Lil’ Mo lightened the mood by pointing out that the arrows could actually be useful in preventing any of us from getting lost.  Her rational ability to see the silver lining and Sissy’s call to arms broke the spell we were under and spurred us into action.  We were NOT going to fall victim to leprechauns AGAIN this year.  We have ridden our bikes over 7,000 miles—we have seen a lot, learned a lot, and are a lot stronger than we were in years past.  We were not going to take this lying down anymore!  If we could trap just one of them, they would never consider messing with us again!

Tango quickly adopted a strategy of reverse psychology, loudly praising the leprechauns and announcing his intention to build them a very comfortable house.   Behind closed doors and in whispered voices we concocted a plan.  Our resources were limited, but we had ample heart, brainpower, and adrenaline pumping to help us.  Every year the leprechauns have bested us and defeated our traps while we slept.  What if we did an overnight watch, where there is always someone awake to ensure their ensnarement?  It was genius, and undoubtedly a game-changer.  This would be our year.  The kids brainstormed trap designs, submitted and presented them individually to the family, and then decided on how to combine everyone’s brilliance into one trap.  This is what they created:

Take note of the details: a pot of treasure in the back to lure in the single-minded villains, a sticky tape floor to trip them into the trap door that lays in front of the desired treasure.  The entire contraption is rigged to a pulley that will raise the trap to the ceiling to prevent their escape once contained or risk death from such a foolhardy jump.  Should the caught leprechaun be extra wily, the boys placed spikes on the roof surrounding the fishing line to prevent any unwanted tampering with the line while suspended in the air. It was foolproof.

As the discussion about overnight shifts was underway, enthusiasm for the plan began to wane.  Sissy admitted that she really likes a full night of sleep and was not committed to staying awake at random hours.  The boys were incensed that she reneged on the arrangement and immediately renegotiated her shares of gold upon their success.

Bedtime came.  Tango continued his loud reverse psychology strategy as we set up the trap.  The boys were on the pull-out sofa by the front door and the girls were tucked away in the bedroom.  Otter volunteered for the first watch shift.  Everyone agreed that dark and quiet was best, so the leprechauns would not suspect anything was amiss.  Old Man and I retreated to our room to watch a movie while our brave boys kept watch.  At about 9:30 p.m. we went out to check on them to find this:

Since there was no inkling of leprechaun mischief we did not interrupt their sleep.  That was a mistake.  We woke up in the morning to a ransacked suite.  All cupboards were open.  Green footprints were everywhere.  Our pannier bags had been dumped out.  The trap was defeated—two of the gold pieces (chocolate) were missing with the wrappers discarded on the floor, the beads were found outside, and the fishing line had been cut near Otter’s handle.  How could this have happened?  Again?!

 

In hindsight, we should have thought to wash off all the green arrows on the sidewalks to reduce the lawbreakers’ ease of targeting us.  We licked our wounds, ate the remaining chocolates, cleaned up the suite, and hastily abandoned our compromised residence.  We headed to Buccaneer State Park.  We were warmly greeted by our RV neighbors. In an act of neighborliness, they gave us a bag of candy and some snacks for the kids.  We shared stories of our camping adventures and forgot about our humiliating defeat that had taken place not even twelve hours prior.  Thinking we had put this year’s chapter of leprechaun antics behind us, we slept soundly.  However, when we awoke in the morning we discovered these cryptic ads written all around the bath house that suggested the presence of yet another band of leprechauns.

 

Perhaps they live there to carry on the thieving works of French Pirate Jean Lafitte? Fortunately, these ruses posed no direct threat to us.  We did our best to stay off their radar and quietly left the campsite, finding some comfort in knowing that this pest problem is not uniquely our own.   With this knowledge, we know we must remain vigilant until the dreaded St. Patrick’s Day passes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Hospitality

by Tango, age 7 (posted here per his request)

I have received hospitality on my bike tour from friends, family, and strangers.  They gave me a place to stay, food, showed us around, and chatted with us.  When my bike tour is over I will give hospitality to friends, family, and strangers.  I will give them a place to stay, food, share my toys, and hang out with them.  If it is snowing or too cold my mom will drive cyclists.

….

by Otter, age 9

Hospitality is defined as the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.  We have received hospitality from many people and places.  Warm Showers hosts have taken us in as strangers.  We have received the same generosity from family and friends.  Hotels are different because we have no one to talk to except each other, but the rooms are very clean.

We have stayed with a lot of Warm Showers hosts.  They do a proper introduction, show us around their houses and property, share their toys, space, and bathrooms, and sometimes they feed us.  They hang out with us, and don’t just leave after showing us around, so we get to know them.

When we stay with family or friends they also feed us.  Conversation comes easier because we already know them.   They hang out with us.  They often invite other family and friends to come over and hang out.  Like Warm Showers hosts, they also share toys, their space, sometimes a car, and their time.

We do not know or get to know anyone when we stay at hotels or motels.  Hotels or motels  sometimes welcome us with snacks.  The rooms are small, but very clean.  Many hotels and motels have amenities like pools and breakfast, and some even serve dinner.

I like the hospitality we have received.  In the future, when I am a host I will give people a clean place to stay, give them food, and company.  I hope they feel as welcome and as much comfort as I have.

….

by Sissy, age 11

People are hospitable when they open their homes and share what they have with other people to help them out or just to be kind.  I have experienced several different forms of hospitality during my life so far.  The places that I most commonly find hospitality are homes of family and friends, homes of Warm Showers hosts, hotels, motels, and AirBNB houses.

My extended family and friends are generally very hospitable.  When we get to their house they show us around and make sure we know where everything is.  They talk with us, which helps us catch up with one another.  They play games with us and sometimes we watch movies.  Those moments can be great times for bonding.  They even sometimes show us around town.  They also almost always make food for us.  They are very generous.

Warm Showers hosts are quite hospitable.  Like our family and friends, they give us tours around their houses and make sure we know where everything we need is.  I do not think we have been to a Warm Showers house yet that they have not hung out with us.  We get to talk with each other and learn about their area.  They occasionally will show us around town.  Sometimes our hosts with make food for us, and I really enjoy when they let me help.  All of them at least let us camp in their yard, but sometimes they will let us sleep in their house.  We always have access to their bathrooms.  Warm Showers hosts are very big-hearted in how they share their time and space with strangers.

Hotels, motels, and AirBNBs have a different way of showing hospitality.  They let us use their rooms or houses.  The spaces are always clean and they usually supply toiletries.  However, we do have to pay for the accommodations.  Hotels and motels generally serve breakfast and Homewood Suites provides dinner on some nights.  That does help relieve some shopping and cooking jobs.  Some hotels and motels have amenities such as laundry machines, pools, and hot tubs that are quite useful for our needs and entertainment.  We find the cookies, chocolates, and water bottles that some hotels give to their guests quite comforting after a long day of riding.   Similarly, some AirBNBs will provide us with treats or snacks upon arrival.  AirBNBs offer more personalized hospitality compared to hotels because they have things such as snow boots and beach cruisers to help you be able to explore the local area.  Hotels, motels, and AirBNBs are very nice.

I have experienced a lot of hospitality in my life so far.  In rooms and houses of family and friends, Warm Showers hosts, hotels, motels, and AirBNBs are where I generally receive the most hospitality.  I will eventually host people too.  When I host I will: show my guest around my house and make sure they know where everything is; I will make sure they have everything they need to be comfortable (toiletries, extra blankets, extra pillows, etc);  I will make sure my house is clean; I will hang out with my guests; and I will make food for them.  I will do my best to make them feel welcome and comfortable as so many have done for me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Sunshine State

This update is overdue owing to illness.  Tango came down with the flu and generously shared it with me.  Fever, chills, body aches, upper respiratory issues… the works!  We are both once again among the living, and I am attempting to make order of our last three weeks.  Unfortunately, the distribution of lodging necessitated many 40+ mile days, and snowbird season prevented us from holing up anywhere to focus on health recovery, so we have covered most of the width of Florida already.  In addition to the germs plaguing Team Eleanor, Otter came into contact with poison ivy, which has seemingly eaten up his thighs and the backside of one knee.  He, too, is on the mend.

Mercifully, the weather has been mild, even if ten degrees above normal.  We are now convinced that there is no ‘normal’ weather, only averages; or, we are a weather curse, which is very possible in light of our track record this past year.  The northern tier up to Lake Michigan had wetter and cooler than normal spring/summer weather, the Atlantic Coast was 20-30 degrees below normal winter weather, and now along the Gulf Coast it is ten degrees warmer than normal.  After our Atlantic Coast experience, we superstitiously held onto some cold weather gear for our final touring chapter, not trusting that winter was ever going to truly retreat, but that now seems a distant memory.  No long underwear, or even a pair of socks, have been dug out of a pannier bag since we left St. Augustine.  I am not complaining.  We will happily take 80+ degree weather over below freezing with wind or rain any day.

The warm weather and abundance of Florida State Parks enabled the resumption of camping as our primary accommodation.  We have come to discover that this is peak season for camping in Florida, and have faced stiff competition for securing campsites.   Some states have a hiker/biker provision at their state parks (Washington and Michigan among them)—if you arrive at a state park under your own power you will not be turned away.  Some parks have auxiliary sites for hikers and bikers; others will improvise a space for you.  The Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) addressed this in a blog post, outlining the states that have this provision and asserting that many remaining state park systems without such a rule on their books assured the ACA that if such a guest arrived they would do their best to accommodate them.  We wrongly assumed that since Florida State Parks markets itself as ‘Voted America’s Best’ it would be among those willing to accommodate us in such a circumstance.  Not so.  We called ahead to Suwanee River State Park to make a reservation, but all of the reservable sites were booked and only the first come-first served sites remained.  Our plan for an early morning departure, with the intent of getting there in time for a first come-first served site, was thwarted at every turn.  We woke up to a dense fog and a sick Tango, and once we were finally able to mobilize we faced a strong headwind for the rest of the day.  When we showed up, not surprisingly, our energy was zapped, morale was low, and all the sites were taken.  Old Man asked if there was an arrangement in place for people under their own power.  The park ranger instantly became defensive, talking loudly over Old Man saying she had only 31 sites and all 31 of them were filled.  He patiently tried to explain our circumstance and the fact that the next lodging was 15 miles down the road against a headwind and it was already late in the afternoon.  She was unmoved.  Then, in divine timing, someone came into the office and announced they were canceling a reservation for one of their sites for that night.  We immediately booked that site and went on our way, thankful to be done riding for the day.

With the return of outdoor living comes intense exposure to nature.  We are back in the business of daily applications of sunblock and bug spray.  Most of us are riddled with bug bites, but our golden tans disguise our itchy welts.  Wildlife has been bold and abundant.  We saw our first live armadillo (instead of roadkill) on our way to Gainesville. Recently, we camped at a park with a white squirrel population.  We were warned of their wily ways, and were sure to safeguard our food from them despite their innocent appearance.  Surprisingly (and with a bit of relief), we have not seen any alligators, aside from the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine.

We stayed a few nights in Gainesville to spend time with Old Man’s Uncle and his girlfriend, Tom and Marissa.  On our first night, we checked out the bat launch on the University of Florida campus.  It was a pretty amazing event to witness: we could hear them chirp and squeak as they woke up, observed a couple of veteran hawks perch with evident sense of the bat schedule and flight path, stood in awe as the bats finally flooded out of their houses, relocated outside of their flight path as we felt wet drops land on us, and cringed as those wise hawks successfully nabbed their dinners.

The next day we visited the Florida Museum of Natural History, where the kids delighted in the multitude of hands-on exhibits.  On our final day there, Tom and Marissa treated us to an early Valentine’s Day treat and took the kids for the day.  They went on the Silver Springs glass-bottomed boat ride, to lunch, and a movie. They brought back kids who were wiped from their full day, but joyfully bursting to share their experiences with us.  In their absence, Old Man and I ran errands, planned for the remainder of this adventure and for our next one, watched a movie, and relaxed.  In this chapter of close quarters and ample family time, a little bit of space from each other and extended quiet was truly decadent.

We biked and walked all over Gainesville during our stay, and we were struck by its impressive bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  Bike lanes and sidewalks were connected and continuous, and drivers were vigilant of our presence.  In all honesty, it is the best urban bike infrastructure we’ve encountered since Portland.  In general, we had very low expectations for biking in the Southeast, especially in Florida, but Florida continues to pleasantly surprise us.

Now that we are on the Southern Tier Route, Warm Showers hosts who are willing to accommodate us have reappeared.  Our first host along this chapter of the tour rescues chihuahuas and runs a farm with goats and chickens.  She was our first Warm Showers host since October (in Ohio), and we were her last guests leading up to her [downsizing] relocation.  She wanted to close out her Warm Showers hosting career with a bang and spoiled us to a pizza dinner and a bountiful breakfast, that included pancakes and a Puerto Rican casserole.  We stayed at another Warm Showers host in Tallahassee the next night.  This family has also bike toured on a triple tandem, so it was fun to share and compare stories of our adventures.   Upon hearing of our intent to stay our next night at a nearby bike hostel, they insisted we stay another night with them instead.  They generously fed us gourmet meals, invited the kids to assist in the kitchen, read to the kids from their well-appointed children’s library, and had an irresistible Yorkshire Terrier who entertained us and touched our hearts.   Engaging local people really rounds out the experience of the location, and we have definitely been missing that component of the tour for the last few months.

We were surprised by the hilly terrain that surrounded and comprised Tallahassee.  We had taken for granted that we would be on relatively flat coastal plain for the remainder of the tour and got more of a workout than we expected.  While in Tallahassee we visited the Challenger Learning Center, where we watched a planetarium show and the kids built rocket ships with linking toys. We also checked out the Florida State History Museum that gave us a window into Florida’s varied history, and the kids especially enjoyed playing dress-up and house in the Grandma’s attic portion.  The kids continued their unstructured play at a couple of local parks, and relished the laid back schedule after so many long days of riding.

We left the hills behind us and headed south to the Forgotten Coast to visit Old Man’s friend and former boss from our time in Albuquerque.  We enjoyed connecting with his family and taking in the quiet privacy of their secluded location.  Upon their invitation, we stayed an extra day and visited St. Joseph Peninsula State Park for a well-deserved and much cherished beach day following another string of long riding days.

 

After a couple more of Florida’s State Parks, we arrived in Destin.  Uncle Tom’s work took him to this part of Florida for the day, so we met up with him again that evening.  We were happy to see a familiar face, and the kids kept his hands warm and mind occupied with car talk during all of their waking hours.  Today, we went on a dolphin cruise, a Christmas gift from Grandma.  To our delight, we saw many dolphins, to include several jumpers and a few babies.  Dolphin-loving Sissy was in heaven.

 

Tomorrow, we hope to partake in our final Florida beach day before exiting the Sunshine State this weekend.  Alabama and Mississippi will be short-lived given the width of their coastlines. This is all winding down so quickly.  We have just under a month to go.  Didn’t we just start this hare-brained adventure????

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Transitions

A number of transitions have taken place in the last few weeks.  We crossed into two more states: Georgia and Florida.  We have witnessed changes in agriculture, foliage, styles of architecture, and even how we are received by the locals.  Our daily rhythm has even evolved as the weather and roads became more hospitable.  We are currently transitioning into the last leg of our journey, with the kind and generous support of our friends from previous chapters of life and from this adventure itself.

As stated in the previous post, South Carolina was not a very pleasurable portion of our path.    To hasten our departure from it we increased our daily mileage, and one day of limited lodging necessitated we set a new personal record for ourselves -we pedaled 73 miles fully loaded (our other record of 104 miles was without our load).  Seemingly, as soon as we crossed the state line into Georgia the clouds parted and the sun shone on us warmly.   The roads were in better condition, no more rumble strip on the white line, drivers gave us space, and Statesboro even had ample, continuous bike lanes!

We have also noticed the changes in home architecture along the way.  The abundance of white farm houses with black shutters began in North Dakota and stretched through Indiana.  Brick homes began to appear in southern Indiana and the style began to change to Colonial while in Kentucky all the way through Virginia.  Our Carolinas experience was mostly coastal, so stilted beach houses abounded.  Georgia homes featured large front porches equipped with rocking chairs.

The kids have not really noted Florida’s style of houses yet, in part because they are too distracted by the distinct change in the foliage, both agricultural and natural.  Our pleasant rural ride through Georgia Piedmont reminded us of a less-flat version of Midwestern farmland, filled with cotton fields, pecan orchards, and onions.  As we neared Florida, we returned to the Coastal Plain with more development and jungle-like feel.  The kids quickly discovered that saw palmettos make for great fort building, but those forts do not protect them from the wrath of fire ants or mosquitoes.

As our multitude of bug bites suggest, our camping frequency is on an upswing.  That speaks to the increased availability of campgrounds and a marked improvement in the weather.  We had gotten into a solid routine of stopping at churches for our lunch picnics, stopping at convenience stores for water and bathroom breaks, and closing out our days at a hotel where Otter took up the hobby of building card towers and we habitually watched Wheel of Fortune every evening.  Tango was disappointed to find out you can only be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune once a year, thereby squashing his grand plan of making a career of the game show and luxuriously living off the proceeds.  With the resumption of camping and denser population our rhythm has changed to include library stops mid-day for our picnic lunches, bathroom breaks, and homeschool work, with campground fort building replacing televised game shows.

Florida received us warmly.  Shortly after our arrival in Jacksonville, a police officer pulled up next to us and asked if we were local or from far away.  When we told him we started in Seattle his jaw dropped, he turned off his motorcycle, and asked for a selfie picture to post on his department’s Facebook page.  He then shook each of the kids’ hands and told them how lucky they were to get such an experience.   Other retirees and retired-aged athletes have approached us in various parking lots or when stopped in traffic to express support for our endeavor or offer guidance on upcoming road construction issues.  We met a father and daughter at a park who greeted us as old friends.  They shared their kites, let us love on the their dogs, and even volunteered to escort us through a construction zone that followed our park break.  Kindness is alive and well.

We met up with the ever kind and loving Mr. C (from Montana and Indiana) and his son for dinner while in Jacksonville.  They treated us to dinner and bestowed upon us tips on how to continue adventuring economically.  Never has a bike breakdown in the middle of nowhere [Montana] bore so much fruit this many months after the fact!

We left Mr. C. to head onto St. Augustine, where friends we met in Albuquerque years ago now reside.  This navy family generously allowed us to store resupply boxes with them for the last 10 months and we were pleasantly surprised to find letters for the kids and a care package awaiting us at their home upon our arrival. It means so much to the kids to be remembered by friends made before and during this adventure.   The navy family has warmly incorporated us into their daily life for the last five days.  Reconnecting with our friends, neighborhood Nerf gun battles, make-up fun, baking time, and a date night have made for a much-appreciated respite from our itinerant lifestyle.  In addition, they lent us their vehicle to facilitate our sight-seeing.  We checked out the Castillo de San Marcos (the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States); the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History; St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm; and unexpectedly, a drive down to Titusville to view the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch (another moment when I wished I had more than my phone camera!). What a treat to be witness to what may be a revolutionary milestone in space travel!  We saw the first two boosters’ descent back to the launch pad and were satisfied by the closing sonic boom.

We are now packing up in preparation for the final leg of the journey as we make our 90-degree turn west and depart the Atlantic Coast tomorrow morning.  The stress of the imminent transitions ahead is creeping in.  We have about 1,000 miles to go, so we should be done by the end of March, depending upon weather.  With that triumph comes a lot of unknowns in terms of our future as we adjust to stationary life and begin job searching.  However, as the last ten months have taught us, there are lots of pleasant surprises and blessings to be discovered in the unknown.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

♩ ♬ It’s a World of Laughter, a World of Tears… ♫♪

Weather challenges and an anti-bike culture with corresponding lack of infrastructure made for miserable riding these last few weeks.  We are curious why a route was designated through here at all, assuming that the Adventure Cycling Association’s map gives us the most optimized path through this part of the country.  Bike lanes are rare and abruptly begin and end at random; sidewalks are equally unpredictable, overgrown, impeded by utility posts, and heaving from tree roots; and South Carolina as a state seems to have opted for rumble strips along the white line instead of shoulders, thereby pushing us further into the lane to the frustration of impatient drivers.  GoogleMaps has even failed us when we tried to reroute away from what we discovered to be a high-hazard road.  Really, the GoogleCar drove along this?

And yet, we have still had a generous helping of highs to offset our lows.  A few weeks ago, as we tried to out-pedal an oncoming storm, we pulled over at a gas station for a bathroom break and hot chocolates, to be approached by someone who recognized us from our time in Montana back in May.  What are the odds of crossing paths again in a little Podunk town across the country?  Even more serendipitous, as we rode into Wilmington, North Carolina and were stopped in traffic, we heard someone call out Lil’ Mo’s name.  We turned around to see a preschool mom from Seattle!  She was at our send-off in March, and her family recently moved to Wilmington and just happened to be right behind us on the road!  Sadly, both of those reunions were short-lived given the urgency of the weather and Wilmington traffic respectively.

As a city, Wilmington appears to want to be bike-friendly.  It has some bike infrastructure in place, but the drivers have not gotten the memo, and as always, the suburban sprawl that surrounds any city is the most hazardous for biking.  Doing our best to avoid the suburbs, we visited the USS North Carolina and the Cape Fear Museum with little biking challenge.  The USS North Carolina was our first naval vessel visited, and the kids were delighted with the novelty of a real battleship.

   

We closed out our time in North Carolina visiting friends we knew in our early army days back in Colorado.  On the day of our rendezvous we tried again to out-pedal the onset of another storm to get to them, but failed, and got caught in a continuous drenching downpour for the last five miles.  We showed up hungry, cold, and wet, and they warmly opened their doors and did not flinch at our feral appearances. They too have four kids in the same age spread as ours, so collaborative play abounded.  We enjoyed the beach in the brisk weather. We even got glimpses of dolphins to the delight of everyone, but especially Sissy!  In addition to great company and conversation, our friends treated us to a Low Country Shrimp Boil to better acquaint us with flavors of the South. We were sad for the weekend to come to an end and hope another fifteen years does not pass before reconnecting with them again.

The drenching rain brought in another cold front, so we bundled in our cold weather gear again as we crossed into South Carolina.  The route had us on roads with little to no shoulder and continuous rumble strips along the white line with unrelenting high-speed traffic.  Bridge limitations necessitated the route, but the drivers did not want us there.  In all honesty, we did not want to be there either, but we were between the devil and the deep blue sea.  Morale was already lagging from the persistent winter weather where winter is not supposed to be, but the consecutive days of stressful road and traffic conditions were sinking it faster than the Titanic.  Team Frank even witnessed a dog get hit by a car, which dampened the mood of what had up to that point in the day been an improved South Carolina riding experience on a rural road.  Things began bottoming out on our first camping night in the last month.  We could not make the distance to a hotel that day because we had to set out late in the morning to await the thaw of the previous night’s frozen rain, so we aimed for the campground within our reach. We arrived at the primitive campground shortly before sunset and hastily set up camp and made dinner.  We all went to bed early since there was no joy to be had sitting in the dark cold, and that night’s low was in the 20s.  We learned our temperature limit for camping.  The concentration of body heat in the kids’ tent ensured their overnight warmth and comfort, but Old Man and I were cold and did not sleep much because of it.  We debated getting a U-haul and driving the rest of the way to St. Augustine for our own safety and mental health.  Leaving that possibility open, we still had to make it to civilization to execute any change in our plan.  As we geared up, we received an email from our preschool benefactors in Seattle.  They gave us a very generous AirBNB gift card as a gift for warmth on a chilly night.  Talk about divine timing!  We were struggling and feeling isolated with our problems and a group of big-hearted friends across the country offered us thoughtful consolation.

Things turned around after receiving that gift.  The weather that day warmed to the 50s, the sun was shining, and suddenly drivers became friendly.  Big trucks moved over for us and tooted their horns for the boys.  Construction workers gave us an unsolicited escort across a bridge and offered us water at the end of it.  We finally saw other cyclists for the first time in weeks. Later, as we pulled into a grocery store an older gentleman approached us asking to take our picture and tell us a bit about the local area.  The kids even noticed and commented on the change in our public reception.  As always, God placed and inspired the right people at the right time in our lives.  We really needed kindness and we got it in spades.  Once we took a step back we quickly realized that despite our fatigue with certain aspects of this leg of the adventure, we have been healthy and the bikes in good repair.  If either of those issues had arisen during these trials we could have truly been sunk.  But we weren’t.  God did not give us more than we could overcome.

We made it to Charleston where Aunt B met us.  She took our three-ring circus in stride and is likely now in an isolation unit to decompress from having her hand continuously held by a Little, being affronted with endless knock-knock jokes, and enduring competition to sit next to her at every meal.  Charleston was ranked the worst bike city in America by Bicycling Magazine in 2016.  Knowing that, we chose our hotel and planned our touring accordingly.  We walked and Uber-ed for sight-seeing downtown.  We stopped by Patriot’s Point along our departure route to check out the USS Laffey (a destroyer), the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier), and the USS Clamagore (a submarine that is slotted to become a reef in coming years). We only need to tour a cruiser and we’ve completed Battleship the game.  Maybe Milton-Bradley will award us an anniversary edition?  And rounding out our tourism of early NASA space exploration, the Yorktown housed a replica of the Apollo 8 capsule it recovered.

 

The extended forecast shows continued warmer weather, so perhaps the cold is truly now behind us?  The by-chance and scheduled reunions have rejuvenated us and there are more to come in the weeks ahead.  Here is to hoping that our ship has come in and it will be plain sailing from here on out.

♪♫ It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears.  There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware it’s a small world after all.  ♬ ♩

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Two Wheels vs. Four Wheels

*these writing assignments were outlined before the prolonged unseasonable and extreme winter weather set in, so content and conclusions may have been different if drafted even a week later.

by Otter, age 9

I have been on a bike tour for nine months.  I went on a car trip for twelve days.  The two ways of travel have similarities and differences.

The biggest similarity is that they are both a means of travel.  Either way of travel requires packing beforehand.  Both have a power source that needs fuel.

There are more differences than similarities between car and bike trips.  When you are on a bike you are always moving.  You go faster in a car and slower on a bike.  In a car you can listen to the radio, CDs, and audiobooks.  When you are on a bike you listen to wind, cars, animals, and each other.  A car seat is more comfortable than a bike seat.  Inside a car you are protected from the weather, but when riding a bike you are exposed to the weather.  If you are on a bike your fuel is food, but if you are in a car its fuel is gas.  When you are on a bike you meet a lot of people because you are stopping a lot and you stand out.  When you are in a car you do not stand out because you are hidden inside the vehicle, do not stop a lot, and you blend in with all the other cars.

I have been on a car trip recently and I am on a bike trip now.  I prefer biking over car trips.  On a bike trip you see more, hear more, and smell more of the local area, so you remember more.  You do not have to sit still on a bike trip either, which is a good match for me.

….

by Sissy, age 11

I have recently experienced a car trip and I am still experiencing a bike trip.  During these two trips I have learned a lot about the pros and cons of both styles of travel.  They both share similarities, but they also have differences that affect which mode of travel appeals or is suitable for you.

Cars and bikes can be very similar.  For instance, they both get you where you want to go, and to get you where you want to go they both need fuel.  They can both carry cargo (people, food, boxes, etc.).  Both can achieve short and long distances, although it is more appealing in my opinion to do short distances on bikes.  Different sizes of bikes and cars can hold different amounts of cargo (bigger cars and bikes can hold more people and cargo, whereas smaller cars and bike hold less).

They are quite different too.  Differences include power sources, fuel required for those power sources, types of entertainment offered, how many people you meet, speed of travel, exposure to weather, cost of ownership and maintenance, ease of use, senses engaged, and issues with motion sickness.

Cars and bike both require different kinds of fuel and power sources.  Cars have internal combustion engines that need gas, whereas bikes have human engines that need food and water.  Gas costs quite a bit more than food and water per person per day on a bike.  However, a car’s gas tank can get you farther without refilling than a biker’s stomach can, which makes the cost of fuel for the two about equal.

On the topic of cost, ownership and maintenance can be pretty expensive for both, but overall cars cost more.  First of all, buying a car costs a lot more than most bikes.  Then repairs and spare parts can cost a pretty penny as well, but generally a lot more for cars than for bikes.  Bikes do not need oil changes and bike tires cost a lot less than car tires.

For some people the cost of a car is worth it.  Some people are not physically fit or able, so biking is not feasible.  Others may have to go really long distances very frequently, and it is easier to facilitate longer distances in a car than on a bike.

Another reason some people have a preference for bikes or cars is because of the comfort and entertainment they each offer.  Motion sickness can happen in a car, so some people who get motion sick (including me) prefer biking over driving.  You can listen to audiobooks, the radio, and CDs in a car, but on a bike nature chooses your entertainment (flora and fauna, the sky, architecture, cars and trucks, and talking to each other).

However, nature also chooses the weather.  Hail, wind, snow, rain, and the heat can slow or derail bikes.  While neither cars nor bikes should attempt travel on ice, cars do handle some snow and slush better than bikes.  Freezing cold and scorching heat can be dangerous to bikers if we are exposed for long periods of time, and bad weather requires more breaks that slow us down.  Cars shelter you from the elements.  You have air conditioning and heating in a car which you you heat up or cool down as desired.

In addition to ease of travel, time and speed factor into people’s preferences.  Bikes are generally quite a bit slower than cars.  It’s not a bad thing though, because you get a better taste about the place in which you are traveling.  You can see, smell, feel, and hear all that is going on around you.  You meet more people on a bike because you are different from the usual cars drivers they see every day and they want to learn more about what you are doing.  However, some people may not have time for that.  In Seattle, biking was the easiest way for Old Man to get to work.  He got to ride off the road on bike paths.  He did not have to look for parking or deal with car traffic.  Although, in some places commuting is easier by car.  If you have to get to work quickly a car would get you there faster.  Being sweaty and windblown can be looked down upon at some jobs.  Commuting is different from place to place.

On the two trips I have discovered cars’ and bikes’ similarities and differences and their pros and cons.  I, for one, enjoy bike trips more than car trips.  I get to see so much more flora and fauna on a bike, and I get to meet so many more people.  I also do not get motion sick.  In my mind, biking pros outweigh their cons.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Who upset Elsa?

The New Year has begun and it is still cold.  Bitterly cold.  Weather terms like bombogenesis, bomb cyclone, or a properly named winter storm get our attention.  In recognition to the severity of the weather descending upon us, we shortened our daily travel distances, took more days off, and continued the trend of staying indoors that began upon our return to the tour.  Doing so does not fall within our limited daily lodging budget, but in breaking our budget we have shared an invaluable lesson to the kids about the necessity of always having a rainy-day fund, or in our case, bone-chilling temperatures and icy road fund.  Morale has become a bit brittle in the cold, as we never anticipated facing this kind of weather for this long.  Seemingly, no one else in North Carolina did either.

One of our shorter travel days involved two ferry rides that ended our time on the Outer Banks.  The ferries were welcome sources of heated respite surrounding fourteen miles of pedaling in icy temperatures and a strong cross-wind.  One of the ferry operators even sought confirmation from us that we understood it was fourteen miles to the next ferry on the other side of the mostly uninhabited island.  Yes, we knew.  While I can imagine his thoughts following that exchange, he diplomatically refrained from voicing them.

Even with our consistent overnight sheltering, we struggled with water for a spell, both indoor plumbing and outdoor precipitation.  One motel’s water pump power tripped in the middle of Sissy’s shower (replete with shampoo in her hair!).  At an AirBNB the next night we discovered shortly after our arrival that their pipes were frozen and had already burst.  While inconvenient, we were thankful to camp indoors out of the frigid overnight temperatures and blustery wind.  The lack of water at the AirBNB forced us to move on the next day when Winter Storm Grayson was scheduled to hit.

We minded the hourly weather forecast closely and structured our 30-mile journey ahead of the storm’s arrival.   North Carolinians were clearly out of sorts with this weather.  Traffic was intense in the small towns as people stocked up on provisions and picked up their kids early from school.  Yet, a few kind strangers took the time to notice us amid this chaos and express concern.  One person pulled over to confirm we had a warm place to be that night, presumably to offer some sort of accommodation had we not.  Another person pulled over to advise us on a better route through town and to make sure we were adequately stocked with water and food.  We successfully made it to our (operationally plumbed!) hotel about half an hour before the cold, blowing rain began.

We hoped the storm was over-hyped and that we would still be able to leave the following day and continue our progress south, but the blanket of snow in an area without snow removal equipment made plain our need to hunker down for another day.  In effort to manage kid energy, we walked to the grocery store as a family.  As we walked back, all of us carrying a varying number of bags, another kind stranger pulled over and offered to drive us to our destination.  Adolescent Sissy, who in all other circumstances loves the attention we receive on our bikes, was embarrassed, assuming we were perceived as homeless (which we technically are) and in need of charity.  We declined as we were not that far from the hotel, but were touched by the kindness nonetheless.

While on our walk we got a wider view of road conditions and decided to head out the next day after lunch, when the sun would be at its highest to melt any lingering ice from the overnight lows.  Pride and impatience contributed to our decision as well.  We have been charged a cancellation fee for not being able to honor a reservation due to weather obstacles and since we are already exceeding our budget, cancellation fees add salt to the wound.  We have already rescheduled several rendezvous dates because of our continued weather delays, and even though we have been upfront about our circumstantial scheduling challenges from the very beginning, I cringe at the possibility of being labeled as flaky or unreliable now that those challenges are coming to fruition.  We also have a sense of urgency to get further south as quickly as possible to reduce, or eradicate the risk altogether, of getting caught in this type of severe weather again.  We are tired of being in winter where winter is not supposed to be.

The road condition assessment was indeed accurate for the stretch of that highway we rode.  It was wet, but no remaining snow or ice on it.  However, once we turned off it onto a slightly smaller highway conditions quickly deteriorated.  This highway was not as commercially developed, so there were trees closer to the highway that shaded parts of it and preserved the packed snow and ice.  A few miles into our day we realized we had made a grave mistake by setting out, but the eastbound roads were exponentially worse in their all-day winter shade, so we had no recourse but to continue.  Throughout our ride, I prayed continually for God to protect us and to protect those around us, that we would come out unharmed and our erroneous presence would not cause harm to any drivers.  We ultimately made it to that night’s AirBNB unscathed, but as a reminder to not make light of our folly and to remember that our safe arrival was afforded by divine grace, and not by our own brawn or brains, Team Eleanor crashed on a sheet of ice (that was wrongly thought to be slush) about 100 feet from our destination.

Our current AirBNB host has been incredibly patient and accommodating to us.  We were supposed to arrive here on New Year’s Eve and ended up rescheduling our arrival twice without penalty.  Learning from our misguided ride to get here, we extended our stay an extra night to delay our return to the road until the thaw begins on Monday.  In the meantime, all this down time indoors has enabled us to belatedly celebrate New Years with running water and an oven, and get ahead of schedule with homeschooling.  Idle children cooped up indoors is a recipe for discontent.  No one wants to play outside having had enough of the cold, so thankfully a weather-displaced lizard was found indoors this morning and is contentedly occupying the kids.  The kids are pretty sure they are saving Lizzie’s life, but I question whether or not a painless death in the cold would be more humane than the excessive ‘loving’ attention being paid to her indoors (building homes for her complete with paper airplanes and matchbox cars for recreation, scavenged bugs and spiders supplied for her food, repeated water freshenings, and AMPLE less-than-gentle handling).

Tonight’s low temperature is expected to break records.  We continue to hear car tires spinning aggressively on the days-old ice sheet next to this house.  We are grateful to be safely indoors, warm and dry, with full bellies and each other.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments