CYCLING ACROSS AMERICA 1994
California - Florida.
01 Bike into box at Gatwick Airport, England
02 Speed enforced by aircraft, Glamis, California
Letter #1, 18 Mar - 23 Mar 1994, 354 miles
Posted at Wickenburg, Arizona
Mick Cammish and John Palmer flew into San Diego, California at 9pm local time. A great blaze of street lights below ending in a dark area. "Its the Pacific".
18 March 94
At SAN DIEGO, California
Next day we cycle along the promenade at Mission Beach. Youth is everywhere, parading on the beach, sunbathing, rollerblading, surfing. Its a crime to be over 30 here. The sun is hot, and we 53 year olds watch and envy the muscles and the slender waists. This morning, assembling our bikes, Mick dropped 2 spokes down his seat tube. They stuck fast, but our host provided the right shape of tool to extricate them. Later, Mick had 5 punctures in the front tyre, we got lost in the outskirts of San Diego and darkness descended (quickly because San Diego is level with Cairo). This morning - its raining! They must have heard we're coming! Forgot to mention - we paddled in the Pacific, big rollers, not really warm. Can we paddle in the Atlantic in 7 weeks time? Breakfast this morning - waffles, cream, strawberries and bacon rashers! Last night, entertained by a Professor of Art History and his Chinese wife whose family survived the Cultural Revolution. Her father was presented with California Redwoods by President Nixon during the ping-pong diplomacy era.
19 March 94
SAN DIEGO - BOULEVARD, California
61 miles, 6,190 ft climbed. A hard day. Left San Diego at noon, because of heavy rain. Spent the morning chatting to the Professor, who looks just like Imran Kahn, about Stonehenge and Avebury. Reached Boulevard in the dark, after 61 miles and 6,190 feet total climb. I was on the verge of cramp and "bonk". "Bonk" was held at bay with "Mountain Dew", a clear type of fizzy drink, full of sugar and caffein. Never seen it in UK. New rim tape solved Mick's puncture problem. Flashing LED lights are excellent in the dark. Cactus now on roadside. Interesting old Railroad rolling stock at Campo - we are too exhausted to go and look. Little traffic now we are clear of San Diego. "Bike Lanes" alias hard shoulder along most of our route today. Rushed to a Mexican Restaurant to get a meal before it closed at 7pm. How many calories have I expended today? Bike + luggage + rider in my case adds up to 300 lbs. We've climbed 6,190 feet - 1.5 times height of Ben Nevis. 300 x 6190 = 1,800,000 foot/lbs of work. We'll sleep well tonight.
20 March 94
BOULEVARD - BRAWLEY, California
71 miles, 870 ft climbed. Started cold, cloudy, drizzle. 3,000 foot descent from In-koh-pa Pass. Reached 42 mph. First view of Yahu Desert and Imperial Valley beyond. Clouds cleared, 82°F. Saw a road-runner, egrets, herons, snipe, starling-like bird with red wing-flashes which congregate in trees and make a melodious din. Saw a cattle manure power station, but it didn't smell like one! Nobody cycling or walking, everyone driving big pick-ups. Reached Brawley at 4pm, motel not cheap ($54) but had swimming pool, TV. Bikes in room are secure. Weather channel on cable TV excellent, so is Discovery Channel (mostly interesting documentaries). Now 5pm, sat by swimming pool, wearing trunks and its 80°F. Have eaten nothing since breakfast, done 71 miles and I'm starving hungry.
21 March 94
BRAWLEY - PALO VERDE, California
85 miles, 1,460 ft climbed. Our first day in real desert. Deliciously cool at 6am, got hotter and hotter. Huge stockyards outside Brawley. Sand dunes and sand buggies at Glamis (they say "Glam-is"). Hotter and hotter, reached 80°F+. 25 factor sun cream, baseball hat, scout neckerchief, cycling gloves. 39 miles without habitation of any kind, just cactus and prickly shrubs. Jagged mountains to left called "Chocolate Mountains". Turkey vultures circling overhead. No thought of food, drink as much as possible. Reached Palo Verde hot and tired. Attractive girl, 29, majored in Liberal Arts, invited us to stay at her Uncle's ranch. Lake with geese and ducks, all for shooting I'm afraid. She can't find work, does book-keeping for her Uncle. Across Colorado River, looks tame, most of its water stolen for irrigation. Goodbye California, Hello Arizona. Watches on 1 hour. Had shower, one of the good things of life when you've done 85 miles under a desert sun.
22 March 94
PALO VERDE, California - SALOME, Arizona
83 miles, 2,660 ft climbed. Left before the sun rose, its cool then. Breakfast in Blythe, lots of men with baseball hats socialising over hashbrowns and over-easies. A few miles on the Interstate, hard shoulder littered with bits of metal, paper clip through back tyre, my first puncture. Reached Quartzite, beloved by "rockhounds", opal is mined. One street town, as garish as they come. Decided to press on because we have a strong tail wind, which also keeps us cool. On each side of road, Ocatillo in flower, and great lone Saguara cactus, maybe 12 feet high with many arms, some on the skyline like sentries. Our road, US 60, stretches across the red hot plain towards the distant mountains, dead straight, accompanied by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad through tunnels in the boulder strewn, dry hillsides. Finally reached Salome ("Where she danced", don't pronounce the 'e'). Found cheap motel, showered, washed smalls, which dry quickly in the hot dry wind. "Swop meet" (car boot sale) over the road selling Sioux arrowheads, stone tomahawk heads, Indian jewellery (AD 1990). Buy a cup of coffee, it keeps being refilled for free. Caffein addicts paradise. What do young people do here in evenings? No nightlife. Most TV awful, papers parochial. Everyone really friendly to us. Easy to strike up a cordial conversation. 82 miles today, we feel like bed at 8pm.
23 March 94
SALOME - WICKENBURG, Arizona
54 miles, 961 ft climbed. Old gold mining town. Shunned by whites because of ferocious Apache Indians. Gold finally brought them here. Two sections of road today dead straight, 21 miles and 14 miles. Magnificent Saguara cactus on hillsides. Started at 7am, freezing cold. By noon in 80s. "Snowbirds" (grockles) in their RVs (monster caravans) booking motel rooms, driving up the prices. Two men, down for fishing holiday on nearby lake, are High School security guards, checking the "kids" for drugs and violence. Excellent museum at Wickenburg with models of towns history. Also gun shop (selling all levels of lethality) and saddlery and Hopi Indian artwork. Dropped in to a restaurant for a "sandwich", ended up too full to move, impossible to buy a small meal here.
Total climb in 5 days = 14,600 feet.
End of letter #1
03 Saguera cactus, California
04 Needles Eye, descending to Mule Creek, New Mexico
Letter #2, 24 Mar - 30 Mar 1994
Posted at Hillsboro, New Mexico
24 March 94
WICKENBURG - PHOENIX - MESA, Arizona
90 miles, reached 85F. Coaches full of gamblers at Wickenburg, heading for Las Vegas (6 hour trip, 6 hours back same day). Are they mad? 6 in the morning a coffee shop owner tries to lure them in with "Coffee, hot coffee". Over Hassayuimpa River, completely dry. Forests of Saguara cactus, maybe 15-20 feet tall, each a different shape. Into Phoenix ("World's Best Run City"). Great, slick, walled villages, green grass and IDs at the gates. A haven for the rich and old. Shopping Malls set back behind immense car parks. Main thoroughfare across Phoenix, Union Hills Drive, 6 lanes, dead straight and 17 miles long. Into Mesa, found a cheap motel but very grotty. Young man comes out of a liquor store on a unicycle! He's 30 and writing a book about the adoption of his daughter.
25 March 94
MESA - GLOBE, Arizona
72 miles, climb of 4,480 feet. Felt cool, only reached 66F, high cloud overhead. Breakfast in "Big Apple" restaurant, waitresses wear blouses, jeans, boots and guns on hips. 30 model covered wagons around room, adverts for "Root Beer", old stage stars, "Gene Autry", branding irons, handcuffs, longhorns, sawdust on the floor. Met 3 young cycletourers from Boston, same route as us. they left Jacksonville Florida on Feb. 15th. They had good weather but headwinds. Many punctures from "Bull thorns" in Texas. Stopped at Thompson Arboretum at Superior. Marvellous place, hundreds of different kinds of cactus from deserts the world over. What a brilliant variety Nature has. At Miami (not the famous Miami), the small town is dominated by a vast opencast mine, mainly copper and turquoise. Many Mexicans work here, unskilled labour.
26 March 94
GLOBE - SAFFORD, Arizona
97 miles, 3,320 feet climb. Real weather today: cold, hot, rain, wind, hail and sun. Through San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, we heard drums and investigated. 100 Indians (Apaches) doing a sun dance. We are the only palefaces! Hundreds of beer cans laid out in a pattern pointing at the sun. A young girl in white, kneeling to face the sun, sways left then right. It is the girl's "coming of age" ceremony. Solidly built men in jeans thump drums under their arms with curved sticks. Two squaws grab my arms and show me how to do the "Apache Two-step". Its not difficult but then we are the only ones present who have not been drinking. An Apache and a Navaho man sign the back of my postcard showing Geronimo, the great Apache war leader. I leave in a daze. Since I was 10 years old I've wanted to meet real Apaches. Over the Coolidge Dam, through rolling wild country, past a place called Geronimo, another called Thatcher (Margaret who?), we shelter from a hailstorm in a monument to Melvyn Jones, son of a US. Cavalry officer at fort Thomas who started the Lions Clubs. End of day with a 14 inch pizza each and 9 hours sleep.
27 March 94
SAFFORD - CLIFTON, Arizona
45 miles. Into the mountains on a 10 mile straight road. Clifton is a near ghost town, nearby Morenci is owned by Phelps Dodge. The biggest copper mine in USA, a mountain turned into a vast hole by dump trucks with 12 foot diameter tyres and weighing 240 tons. 3 billion tons have been extracted since 1937, most of it left in huge spoil heaps visible 30 miles away. Reams of overwhelming statistics are handed out in Factsheets by PD. Only workers can live in Morenci and use its facilities. You must go elsewhere to retire and die. We are shown around by Charles Spezia, one time chemist, space program dietician and beer taster for Budweiser, with bracers, a gut and a stream of interesting conversation. A more memorable encounter than the Big Hole.
28 March 94
CLIFTON, Arizona - SILVER CITY, New Mexico
91 miles, 6,000 feet climbed. A perfect cycling day, no cloud, no wind, cool. This morning a long slog, 2700 feet, to the top of Needles Eye, very steep near the top, I was on my big cog for 2 miles. Through Gila National Forest, mountain sides clothed with Ponderosa Pine. Lowe down, parched grass and few trees, an arid plain crossed by the near empty Gila River. Just below Silver City, we met a Yorkshireman who cycled from Virginia to San Diego. This time he's driving, but perhaps envious of us. Finally we visit a salad bar, "As much as you can eat" for only $5. We can hardly move, how do they make a profit?
29 March 94
SILVER CITY - GILA CAVE DWELLING, New Mexico
63 miles, 7,000 foot climb. Beautiful mountain and fir tree scenery all day, but big steep long hills to the Cave Dwellings, built of sun dried brick inside huge caves in the valley cliffs. Primitive Indians lived here about the time Salisbury cathedral was built. Spent the night in Sapillo Crossing Cowboy Ranch, where Dan, a 6ft 4 inch cowboy read us his cowboy poems around a blazing camp fire, heating a coffeepot beneath a sky full of stars.
30 March 94
SAPILLO CROSSING - HILLSBORO, New Mexico
62 miles, climb 4,150 feet. Started at 5.45am, very cold at 6,000 ft, needed gloves for first time. Crossed the Continental Divide for 2nd time (must cross an odd number of times or I end in the Pacific?) Then a long steady climb up the Emory Pass 8,228 ft and the highest point on our route from California to Florida. Cliffs get closer as the stream we follow climbs towards the summit. Delightful, sweet smelling pine forests on each side. At the top, we shake hands, photo the Pass nameboard and generally feel proud of ourselves. A great view for maybe 80 miles to the North East. Pine covered hills shade into bare brown desert. In the distance is Alamogordo, and the Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was exploded. A thrilling but cold descent to Hillsboro where we find out cheapest motel yet, wash our smalls and bask in the sun in this quiet little village. England and bad weather seems very far away. Now cycled 12 days, done 876 miles, climbed 41,000 feet
End of letter #2
05 Near Silver City, New Mexico
06 Mick descending to Van Horn, Texas
Letter #3, 31 Mar - 6 Apr 1994
Posted at Brackettville, Texas
31 March 94
HILLSBORO - LAS CRUCES, New Mexico
90 miles, 600 ft climb. Followed the Rio Grande valley downhill, blue sky, hot sun, irrigated valley fields planted with cotton, chillis and pecan orchards. Had an argument with an idiot in a stetson who missed Mick by inches in his Buick. I should have kept quiet, he might have carried a gun. Drink and slice of pecan pie in Rosie's Restaurant in Hatch, and the window had a bullet hole. Notice in an orchard: "No nut picking. Pecan thieves will be prosecuted". Also seen: "Save electricity, move in with a relative", "Live shoplifters will be prosecuted". To our motel owner: "Are you an Indian?", "No, I'm from Hindustan".
1 April 94
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - EL PASO, Texas - FABENS, Texas
93 miles, 400 ft climb. Official figures from TV said 83°F and 16% humidity. We drank pints of pop today, and our shirts were dry - all the water loss is in the breath. El Paso is a nightmare of traffic, huge roads, huge flyovers and burning sun. In spite of what people in UK think, nowhere in the USA is pleasant or romantic if the population is over 10,000. El Paso has half-a-million. Memorable things today: a man tells us his mountain bike tyre was bitten and burst by a dog; a guy shows us his 1978 Lincoln Continental car, 7.5 litres, 25 ft long, 360 HP, 8 mpg; we tell a waitress how to pronounce "Worcester Sauce"; we see a "Big John" pecan tree uprooter mounted on a lorry, which lifts a full-grown tree out of the ground complete with root-ball; and we hear about an English girl who, by herself, hitch-hikes to Oregon, then cycles Oregon-Florida-California!
2 April 94
FABENS - VAN HORN, Texas
100 miles, 1,850 ft climb. A really strong wind today - behind us! Flat, hot, so we average 17 mph. Most of the time, we're cruising at 21 mph with little effort. Mick has 2 punctures, again due to shifting rim tape. Through several "ghost" villages, killed by the Interstate. Fort Hancock has a great general store, used since 1883, with counter service by a Mexican who knows everyone in the village and realises how wasteful America is. Very humid, we keep tanked up with fluid, weather channel warns of tornadoes in Oklahoma and North Texas. We see a freight train, pulled by 7 locos with 130 trucks, maybe 1 mile long, on the side: "South Pacific" and "Cotton Belt". We wave our hats, and it hoots back, a spine tingling noise.
3 April 94
VAN HORN - FORT DAVIS, Texas
92 miles, 4,260 ft climb. A hard day. Fighting a cruel headwind a lot of the way, slipstreaming, changing the lead every half mile. At Kent, calamity. The only store for food or water of the whole day was closed (its Easter Sunday). Met father and son on motorbikes, he'd been married 3 times. Into the hills, tiring roller-coaster climb up to McDonald Observatory, 82 inch and 107 inch telescope mirrors, best viewing conditions in Continental USA. Met a couple of "snowbirds" from new York who had sold their home, bought an RV (a huge caravan) and were just driving round the States, rootless. They videoed us and fed us lemonade and "Moon Pies". Later watched team steer roping. One rider lassoes the horns, the other both rear legs. The quickest wins.
4 April 94
FORT DAVIS - MARATHON, Texas
55 miles, 860 ft climb. An easier day. Strong, hot side-head wind. We've finished the mountains, descending to the Texas plain. Nice hills around, bleached grass, dry washes, yucca and cholla and prickly pear cactus, many steers, some zebu, many turkey vultures circling above, a couple of deer, some dead jack rabbits. Many huge RVs on the road, very few trucks. Only place today Alpine, attractive and wealthy town of 5,000 population, small airport, Southern Pacific R.R. Stayed at Marathon, took advantage of free afternoon and hot dry wind by washing everything in sight and checking the bikes all over. My Continental tyres are wearing well after 1,300 miles, but glass and bits of metal in the hard shoulder make a few cuts. About once an hour the American deficit visibly increases as huge freight trains rumble by, loaded with Japanese containers.
5 April 94
MARATHON - COMSTOCK, Texas
144 miles, 2,910 ft climb. A long ride, first 50 miles embarrassingly easy, downhill with following wind. Harder later, side wind and roller-coaster US 90. Saw a wild boar, but it saw us first. Rode through a swarm of bees - fortunately fast. Had a buffalo meat hamburger - good. Saw wild turkey. Waved my hat at a big freight train, which hooted back, later met the engine driver in a grocery store, who recognised us. Sign on bridge over the Pecos River: "No diving" (river was over 200 ft below bridge!). Finally caught up with 69 year old American who left San Diego 4 days before we did, he'd had a triple heart bypass surgery and started riding a bike to keep fit afterwards. He'd lost 40 lbs and ridden 10,000 miles round the USA.
6 April 94
COMSTOCK - BRACKETTVILLE, Texas.
64 miles, 910 ft. Brackettville is most Southerly point on our route, level with Cairo in Egypt, but today it is 54°F, cold as London. Vegetation is getting thicker after semi-desert of yesterday. Mick and I have teamed up with Bob from California. Today he posted home 30 lbs of tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear. Camping is romantic but heavy going. Outside Del Rio, Loughlin Air Force Base had static displays of F-84 sabre, T-33 Shooting Star, U2 Spy Plane and EB-57 (British Canberra). U2's flew from this base to take high altitude pictures of Fidel Castro's rockets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At Brackettville, the only motel is full, but Fort Clark Security officer let us have his house inside this old cavalry base, where Generals Marshall and Patton once stayed.
End of letter #3
07 Bastrop State Park, Texas
08 "Black-eyed Susan" flowers, New Waverley, Texas
Letter #4, 7 Apr - 13 Apr 1994
Posted at Cleveland, Texas
7 April 94
BRACKETTVILLE - LEAKEY, Texas
71 miles, 2,385 ft climb. Cool, strong wind. Head wind in the morning. Sudden change in the vegetation, grass becomes greener, hillsides covered with ceder and deciduous trees. Roller-coaster roads and climbs to 2,000 ft. Its the famous Texas Hill Country. For the first time, Mick says he would consider living here. At Leakey, we are entertained by the Lions Club, and also are interviewed and photoed by the local newspaper. As usual, the Americans here are kind, generous and hospitable (paper is called "Real County American")
8 April 94
LEAKEY - KERRVILLE, Texas.
70 miles, 3,200 ft climb. Through beautiful Texas "Hill Country", reached its peak just West of Hunt. Following the South Fork of the Guadalupe River, green grass, juniper, ceder and oak-covered hillsides, wind behind, blue sky, soft-flowing river, little traffic, pecan orchards, a bit of heaven in the middle of Texas wilderness. We saw a feral javelina (wild boar) caught in a wire fence. Amusing things heard today: Thongs are called "Go Aheads", if you back-up they fall off; Great Texas Trash Pick-up being organised; "New Antiques" sign in a shop; "Open every day, closed Sundays"; "Wet backs" are Mexicans swimming across Rio Grande to get into USA. Balls of Spanish moss growing on telephone wires. Our total climb in 21 days is 58,846 ft, 10 miles high, twice the height of Everest.
9 April 94
KERRVILLE - BLANCO, Texas
68 miles, 2,250 ft climb. We continue through the delightful Texas Hill Country, green grass, trees and limestone hills dissected by streams. Even the weather is English - overcast, the sun peeping through in the afternoon. But it is warm and humid, and prickly pear cactus lurks among the oak trees to give the game away. Laugh of the day was a poster in a village called Sisterdale. It was a black comedy menus: "You kill it, we grill it"; Chicken that didn't cross the road; Flat Cat; Center Line Bovine; Chunk of Skunk; Road Toad a la Mode; Narrow sparrow; Rigor Mortis Tortoise; Rack of Racoon; Smear of Deer; "Guess that mess - a daily treat - if you can guess what it is - you eat it for free". And lots more in the same vein. We thought it was so funny, I nearly choked on my Mountain Dew.
10 April 94
BLANCO - LOCKHART, Texas
60 miles, 1,720 ft climbed. Things are changing. Today we left the Texas Hill Country and returned to flat Texas. The weather is getting very humid and muggy - my shirt won't dry by morning. Bob broke his rear-mech cable today, but carried a replacement. Its my turn for the mattress on the floor tonight, but the room costs $14 each, about £9.50. Snoring is a problem, but ear plugs and mask usually solve it.
11 April 94
LOCKHART - LA GRANGE, Texas
75 miles, 2,000 ft climbed. Highlights of the day: Flowers and showers. The whole way today, the grass verges were covered with immense numbers of beautiful flowers, blue, red, yellow, pink, magenta. We talked to a Mr MacGinnis, who ran a nursery. He said these flowers were Texas Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Phlox, Pink Evening Primrose, Texas Star winecups and more. In the war, MacGinnis was serving in the North. "I told those damn Yankees I was a razorback jackass. My Maw's folk raised pigs and my Paw's folk raised mules". Today's showers were delightful - warm rain. We let ourselves get wet to cool down. Crazy.
12 April 94
LA GRANGE - NAVASOTTA, Texas
79 miles, 2,680 ft climbed. A cold front passed over at 5am, it rained hard for a bit, today its been cool and fresher. Roller-coaster type hills, very "English" type scenery, green grass, trees, even a few "hedges", flowers everywhere, cows and horses. A notice at Rutersville said, about a Protestant College founded in 1838, "Students were noted for their loyalty to neighbours, sometimes spending days away from class, pursuing Indians."! Met a young man cycling our route, heading west, loaded with camping gear. From Florida, he was used to hot weather, not cool English type weather today. Around Oldenburg, many settlers of German descent, who spoke a guttural German-American accent. One old man bemoaned fighting Germans in the war. At Burton looked round an old Cotton Gin, where white and brown cotton were combed free of seeds. It looks just like cotton wool.
13 April 94
NAVASOTA - CLEVELAND, Texas
76 miles, 1,870 ft climbed. A most beautiful morning, blue sky, no wind, dew on the lush green grass, flowers on the verges, birds singing, almost no traffic on the slowly rolling SR149 Farm road. Later we passed through Sam Houston National Forest, with its great pine trees, and across Lake Conroe, with herons, cormorants and men in boats with rods all trying to catch the big fish rippling the surface. Turtles sunning themselves and swallows zooming under bridges. Who says Texas is all desert and cactus?
P.S. Andy, I'd be grateful if you would save these letters, and let me have them back when you've finished. I hope you can make some use of them. We are all having a great time over here, But Bob has got slight problems: pimples on his bum, a distressing complaint for the long distance cyclist, caused by a fungus we are told!
We are scheduled to reach the end of our route at Jacksonville, Florida in another 20 days. Bad weather or mechanical problems could stretch this.
End of letter #4
09 Near Oberlin, Louisiana
10 Near Moreauville, Louisiana
Letter #5, 14 Apr - 20 Apr 1994
Posted at Picayune, Mississippi
14 April 94
CLEVELAND - SILSBEE, Texas
66 miles, 330 ft climb. At last, through the Big Thicket, a huge area of dense mixed forest, a kind of Sherwood Forest, where draft avoiders from the Civil War hid and gave rise to the term "Bushwhackers". The constant trill of cicadas in the muggy air. Many huge timber trucks on the shoulderless roads, bad news for cyclists but we survived. Scent of honeysuckle in the air, Spanish Moss on big trees, near flat roads. Little castles of mud built by crawdads (freshwater crawfish). Bob had a "Pig in a blanket" for breakfast (a big sausage wrapped in a pancake). We now hear the deep south drawl, stores have chairs and verandahs have "porch swings". A plump girl called Sherry interviewed us for the local newspaper.
15 April 94
SILSBEE, Texas - DE RIDDER, Louisiana
77 miles, 460 ft climb. Disappointment in the morning. We'd fixed up a canal trip through the Big Thicket, but all the motel rooms were full at Kirbyville because of magnolia Weekend, so we had to press on to De Ridder and cancel the canoe. The roads were full of logging trucks and chip trucks for use with "suppository furniture" (you put them up yourself!). Its taken us 15 days to cross Texas, about 1,100 miles, further than Lands End to John o'Groats. Its a mighty big state. But we did it without buying a pint of gasoline, an unusual achievement we think. At the border with Louisiana, formed by the big muddy Sabine River, I threw my worn-out, yuccy cycling gloves into the current and watched them glide towards the Gulf of Mexico, 100 miles away. Last night, Bob dreamed someone was robbing him, fought back, fell out of bed and then grabbed me in the struggle, which woke me pretty fast. We are still the best of friends. He says he doesn't like rough roads either, his teeth fall out! Tonight there's a Tornado Watch for this part of Louisiana, its black and raining hard, with flashes to the South. We go to bed in trepidation.
16 April 94
DE RIDDER - OPELOUSAS, Louisiana
92 miles, 410 ft climb. The tornado hit Houston last night, not far S W. Through Cajun country today, paddy fields, rice, full ditches, very flat, like a warm Lincolnshire. French names, French accent, very spicy cooking. On the road, "more snakes than fan-belts" said Mick. We found a water-moccasin snake, 4 ft long with a bulge from its last meal. We were shown a 100 lb Loggerhead Turtle, caught in a trap in a paddy field, with a little "worm" near its tongue to lure meals into the huge ever-open jaws. Many flooded fields have lots of wire baskets like lobster pots which catch crawfish. I tasted them boiled, quite good - like lobster. The paddy fields are a haven for birds: herons, black ibis, a kind of bittern and sandpipers.
17 April 94
OPELOUSAS - SIMMESPORT, Louisiana
69 miles, 210 ft climb, flattest day yet. We heard French spoken in a cafe this morning. Hedges of honeysuckle, wonderful smell in the air. Dead skunk and armadillo on road, sufficient for photo. Attacked by dogs, shouting at them very loudly is best way. White star-shaped flowers widespread in swamps. Idyllic rural life in lush, green, warm, fertile, flat land. Met lone cycletourer heading West for San Diego, frightened him with tales of hills and hot weather. Saw large fields of unharvested cotton. Stopped to ask way, invited in and socialised, then mayor of Simmesport called and invited us to a meal. People really friendly here.
18 April 94
SIMMESPORT - St.FRANCISVILLE, Louisiana
50 miles, 410 ft climb. Today we crossed the mighty Mississippi, a mile wide and flowing fast, its banks lined with trees and levees. For 40 miles we cycled with a giant levee on our left and lush fields and poor shacks and houses on our right. The levees are huge earthworks maybe 40 ft high, built to keep the river in place. At Morganza, a railway and a road shared the top of a levee. A truck tried to wipe me out by crossing to my carriageway and heading straight at me, but I showed the lunatic what Englishmen are made of by not flinching, and wagging my finger at him as he hurtled by 12 inches away.
19 April 94
St.FRANCISVILLE - FRANKLINTON, Louisiana
85 miles, 1860 ft climbed. The air is heavy with the scent of honeysuckle and dogwood. The warmth (80°F) and the humidity mean the only way to keep cool is keep cycling and keep drinking, the slipstream cools the sweat! At Clinton there is a magnificent courthouse (built 1840), "one of the architectural treasures of the state", with a statue to Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War. We went into the courtroom to hear a trial, but the drawled accent defeated us, then a policeman politely told us "cycling shorts are not allowed in the court". There are a lot of black people around now, many out of work. A grocery storekeeper used to work on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, 7 days on and 7 days off. He sees less of his family running the store! A war veteran couldn't understand British shorts (insects) or British accents. Bob phoned home and heard he'd been subpoenaed for $43,000. Moral: Never phone home on holiday!
20 April 94
FRANKLINTON, Louisiana - PICAYUNE, Mississippi
70 miles, 1,773 ft climbed. Took a side road being "reconstructed". 6 miles of rough surface, then cement powder surface. We had to hose down Bob, his bike and panniers at a garage. Crossed into Mississippi, where we were interviewed by a reporter for the Bogalusa Daily News. He wanted photos of us riding 3-abreast, which the lunatic truck drivers did not like. The Sheriff at Poplarville helped us track down a motel, then near Picayune a big thunderstorm struck. We dived for cover, but it was gone in one hour, with dry roads, leaving us to hang our saturated shoes in the sun.
End of letter #5
11 A skunk near Le Beau, Louisiana
12 Near Morganza, Louisiana
Letter #6, 21 Apr - 27 Apr 1994
Posted at Monticello, Florida
21 April 94
PICAYUNE - BILOXI, Mississippi
67 miles, 770 ft climbed. Overcast today, and rained on and off - just like England but 30°F warmer! Our first sight of the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi is a gambling centre. Mississippi allows gambling, as long as it is not on land, so the casinos are afloat but moored on the seafront. A vast Mississippi paddle boat, and an even bigger Pirate ship flying the Jolly Roger, lure customers to part with their dollars in slot machines, card tables and roulette wheels. I know when to quit and made $4 profit on the one-armed bandits.
22 April 94
BILOXI, Mississippi - DAUPHIN ISLAND, Alabama
Into our 7th State today. Getting out of Biloxi was a problem, big roads and uncaring traffic are unpleasant on a bicycle. Hot and humid, big off-shore oil rigs building in nearby shipyards. A bank we visited had a "customer care" week on, with a delicious array of food available free. Crossed a 3 mile bridge, hard shoulder littered with glass, car drivers too feeble to heave their empty bottles of booze into the ocean. saw a flock of skimmers - like terns but with large straight beaks, orange at the base and black at the tip, so big they have to "rest" them on the sand! Also our first pelican, a big, slightly amusing bird. Did our good turn for the day by removing a large tortoise setting out to cross a four-lane highway. He didn't even thank us.
23 April 94
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Alabama - PLEASANT GROVE, Florida
63 miles, 300 ft climbed. Into Florida, 8th and last state. By ferry to the chain of long, thin, flat islands off Mobile Bay. 19 oil-rigs visible in the Gulf, along with pelicans, shrimp boats and oyster beds. At Fort Gaines, the Civil War Admiral Farragut said "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead". We had a paddle in the Gulf at orange beach, where the white sand is so fine that it squeaks when walked on. Looked around the Aviation Museum at Pensacola naval Air station. Along with famous American aircraft, they displayed a Camel Nieuport, Zero, Harrier, President Bush's Avenger, and a Catalina (which Bob flew in immediately after Pearl Harbour). Today, flags at half-mast everywhere - Nixon's death. An example of the crassness of American TV: The young lovers part for the last time in "South Pacific" - without warning or the slightest interval, the screen switches to a margarine advert. The glorious music hadn't even died away.
24 April 94
PLEASANT GROVE - CRESTVIEW, Florida
67 miles, 1,590 ft climbed. Met a man who had invented a way of storing energy by pedalling backwards on a bike. Said I'd contact him later. Third puncture in 2,800 miles, bottle glass again. Got hit by a wing mirror of a pick-up. The driver didn't stop, I chased and caught him near a cemetery. he was senile, but produced a gun and said bicycles weren't allowed on roads in Florida. I called the police, who were very polite and took details. Producing a gun is normal, but since he hadn't pointed it, he hadn't threatened me and the police weren't too concerned. God help cyclists.
25 April 94
CRESTVIEW - CHIPLEY, Florida
72 miles, 1,000 ft climbed. Flat hat-trick for Mick: three punctures today, all different causes. He's really getting good at repairing them. Near Westville, a beautiful artificial wild-flower site, a mass of gorgeous colour. 85°F again, but the main problem is humidity. I'm stopping to drink at gas stations every 10 miles. Cloud builds up during the afternoon, and there's a 1 hour thunderstorm about 4pm. Its almost predictable. From a 300 ft hill, we could see miles, Florida is very flat.
26 April 94
CHIPLEY - QUINCEY, Florida
68 miles, 1,420 ft climbed. Fog in the morning, murderous humidity in afternoon, a brief pleasant spell about 10 am. The US90 is an unpleasant road, 1 lane, no hard shoulder. The Highway Patrol said there is no way of slowing cars, a cyclist just has to pray. This is the Bible Belt, churches everywhere, mostly Baptist, but dozens of others to suit all tastes. The car and the consumer dictate the environment here. Everyone drives and the verges are strewn with bottles and cans. We saw a hedge of rambler roses in flower, and ripe blackberries, delicious. Two old sisters run a tiny grocery store in the countryside near Gretna. Last week, 2 men in masks and gloves robbed them, and shot one sister.
By chance the bullet was deflected from her chest and hit her in the leg. We were warned about conditions in Quincey by a cyclist in Texas. Crime in Tallahasee is even worse. Quincey's main product is tomatoes, 2 crops per year, a lot of migrant workers from Mexico, which gives the place a bad name.
27 April 94
QUINCEY - MONTICELLO, Florida
80 miles, 2,040 ft climbed. A beautiful day, blue sky, clear in morning, reached 87°F and very humid in afternoon. Delightful by-roads all day, soil very sandy but dense vegetation, Spanish moss hanging from big oaks, date and banana palms. Evil looking swamps each side of road, full of trees and black water. Tree-less swamps have water lilies with white flowers. Mick phoned his wife, told his local paper has a headline "Driffield cyclist in Terrorist Attack". See events of 24 April for the truth. There are a lot of black people around, all cheerful and friendly but with an amazing accent. They are equally surprised at ours, usually thinking we are Australian. All children in America are taken to school in standard, familiar, yellow buses. Traffic must not pass while they are loading/unloading, an excellent idea. 3,000 miles up today, climbed 81,000 ft, on the road for 40 days. We've only had one day of rain, and are still talking to each other! We expect to reach Jacksonville, the end of our route, in 5 more days. However, our flight is on 11 May, so we'll probably go into Georgia for a few days to look at the great Okefenoke swamp. Bob will head South to Key West
End of letter #6
13 Crossing the Mississippi, 1 mile wide
14 Mick (black) and John (blue). Bob (red) joined us
for the 1,000 miles into Florida
Letter #7, 28 Apr - 4 May 1994
Posted at St Augustine, Florida
28 April 94
MONTICELLO - MADISON, Florida
38 miles, 410 ft climbed. A short day, Mick was sick last night, something he ate didn't agree with him. A minor personal celebration: my lifetime cycle-touring miles (with loaded bike, away from home) reached 24,910 - the circumference of the earth. We were interviewed again by a local paper. Strange how reporters always seem to be plump young ladies. Lazed in the sun by the motel pool, how are we going to convince our wives the holiday was hell?
29 April 94
MADISON - WHITE SPRINGS, Florida
59 miles, 710 ft climbed. Another short day, Mick still feeling weak. Said goodbye to Bob this morning. The old codger is heading South, by himself, for Key West. He's 70 and set out from California 5 days ahead of us. We caught up with him in Texas. I shall miss his dry laconic humour, and his stories about serving in the Naval Air service in the South Pacific. Today, beautiful warm weather and a traffic-free by-road lined with flowers, mocking-birds singing on treetops like our thrushes, and Spanish Moss dangling from most big trees. Stopped every 10 miles for a drink and a gossip at little country grocery stores. One customer: "Looks like I'm gonna sell this car - some bird just put a deposit on the hood". White Springs has the Stephen Foster Memorial Center. He wrote "Swanee River", "Oh, Susanna", "Camptown Races", and over 70 more. It is a beautiful place on the banks of the Swanee River itself.
30 April 94
WHITE SPRINGS - ALACHUA, Florida
50 miles, 770 ft climbed. Bike trouble! Mick's back bearing began to make noises. On examination, 5 out of 18 ball bearings, the cup and the cone were all badly graunched. Diverted to Lake City, but the only bike shop was run by two young girls. Replaced ball bearings, 5 cents each, and regreased. Should last. At Alachua, motels full, but young garage worker offered us his bachelor pad for a consideration. I've got the water bed tonight (and the silk sheets)! The countryside has been beautiful, great trees with dangling Spanish Moss, and we saw a pair of storks. Just after dawn, layers of fog crossed the road, and they were warm! The local sheriff stopped by Mick's upended bike to see if he could help. People seem bemused by serious cyclists.
1 May 94
ALACHUA - MICANOPY, Florida
58 miles, 410 ft climbed. Delightful countryside and weather. Spanish Moss even grows on telephone lines here. Reached Micanopy by 11 am, before it gets too humid. Named after an Indian chief, Micanopy is an antique village full of antique shops. It is an antiquarian's paradise, and very easy on the eye as well. Beware, it is easy to get lost leaving the village. Big oaks covered with Spanish Moss, and white picket fences look the same going North and South. Today we saw a large, red-brown feline, with long thick tail crossing the road. We were told it was a panther.
2 May 94
MICANOPY - PALATKA, Florida
59 miles, 260 ft climbed. Thick forests and swamps each side of minor roads today. Watched an Osprey circling and diving over shallow water. Small grocery store, mobile home and 10 acres with fishing for sale, about £100,000. The owner felt imprisoned by long opening hours. Mick nearly hit by a School Bus, sheer bad driving, the woman wouldn't brake. We caught her later, she didn't comprehend the danger. Snowbirds heading North again (people migrate South for the winter in huge powered caravans). A car salesman, under no illusions about a small car he was selling with 5.7 litre engine: "Just to appease the American ego". The river here is the only American river to flow S to N. Today, saw a raccoon eye me from the verge, ringed tail and spectacles, then climb a tree as fast as any squirrel.
3 May 94
PALATKA - St.AUGUSTINE, Florida
43 miles, 190 ft climbed. WE DID IT!!! 3,354 miles and 46 days after leaving San Diego and the Pacific, we arrive at the Atlantic. We've crossed deserts and mountains, Texas and the Mississippi, swamps and islands, the Deep South and Florida. We and the bikes are fit and sunburnt. Almost everyone we've met have been kind, generous and hospitable. Its the best way to see a continent and its people. This morning we saw an osprey carrying a large fish in its talons, had breakfast with a fire chief and a funeral director, and visited a village called Spuds. Vast areas are lifting their potato crop, grading, packing and shipping in large trucks for use in "chips" (English "crisps"). An aircraft is spraying the crop against blight, diving steeply over trees and flying at 20 ft. The farmers then plant and plough-in sorghum in the autumn. At the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St Augustine, the end of the Transcontinental Southern Route, we shook hands, lifted our bikes over our heads, took photos, and had a beer before the sun was over the yardarm. A big thunderstorm celebrated our continent-crossing, but we only had 1 day's rain in 46 days on the road.
4 May 94
At St.AUGUSTINE, Florida
Our first non-cycling day. Went to the public gallery in the Courthouse here. The State Prosecutor was chewing gum all the time, the policemen were all overweight and the plaintiffs wore T-shirts, shorts below the knee and trainers. Ten men making their first appearance at court were chained wrist to ankle. Visited an Alligator Farm, every kind of crocodile, alligator and gharial imaginable. Some are 19 foot long and move at 11 mph, nearly as fast as we can cycle! We have 6 spare days before we fly home on 11 May, so we plan to cycle into Georgia to see the Okefenokee swamp. Our journey of a lifetime has ended, we are brown and thin and have a thousand memories of a continent and its people. God bless America!
End of letter #7
15 Pensacola, Florida. Alligators!
16 St Augustine, Florida. The end of 3,345 miles in 46 days.