First bike tour, US edition, heading south (1 Viewer) Featured Photos Travelogue 

ali

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Even though theoretically i am still on my first bike tour, the fact i had about 5 days break and flew across the border makes this feel like a new chapter. In my previous thread (First tour, heading out of Kamloops) you will find my story of starting out with this form of travel and cycling from Kamloops, BC to Winnipeg, Manitoba. I flew into the US and spent a day or two getting my bearings in Minneapolis/St Paul area before heading back into the rural touring that i have been enjoying so much.

One major difference that i immediately noticed - once i got out of the city - is that there are way, way more towns and communities in the US than in Canada. Whereas in Canada you could cycle for 100km (60 miles) and maybe only pass one or two towns, some of which had no services at all... in the US (at least here in the midwest) it seems there is another town every 10-15 miles, and it usually has at least a gas station. Also, a lot of the "small" towns have over a thousand people, so they're a far sight from these prairie communities of maybe a couple hundred if you're lucky. I've never once felt worried that i would end up in the middle of nowhere with nobody around to help. On the other hand, i also feel more like i need to lock up my bike everywhere, mostly because there are kids/teenagers around.

It also means the roads are bigger and busier. What counted as a "highway" in the west of Canada - one lane each way, lots of trucks and RVs blasting through - here that would barely even be a county road. There are lots of dual lane roads, and a bunch of them even become dual carriageways (divided highways) on a whim. Obviously it's also like that near the big cities in Canada (Vancouver, Toronto etc) but it's been a bit of a shock to be cycling here in "rural" areas and still hit them.

My new and most hated thing on the road is "right turn only" lanes. That is, it's actually the shoulder, but then you're cycling along happily and suddenly the entire shoulder disappears and turns into a "right turn only" lane. Then you have two choices - go into the main lane that is continuing forward, or go to the very edge of the road and ignore the "right turn only" rule and then keep going straight. Both of these options apparently piss off American drivers who don't understand how to share the road. In China, or in Canadian cities where drivers feel confident sharing the road, i normally get onto the line between the lanes, which easily leaves enough room for drivers of regular-sized cars to pass on both the right (to turn) and the left (to go straight). But here that seems to confuse drivers who are turning right, who seem to think it'd be an illegal "pass" and then blast their horns or do a massive, angry pass on the left, then immediately swerve back right again, and cut you off because now they aren't over far enough to turn properly. It's really infuriating to deal with.

Fortunately this is really only a problem in the suburbs. Then you get out in the country and it's no problem, because people know how to deal with slow-moving vehicles in the country.

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Of course there is still plenty of gravel to enjoy...

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But what really tickled me was finding some greenways, even in real small towns. This was around a wildlife management area along a river in Iowa. Looks like most people use the trail for horseback riding, but (unlike most of the trails i found in Minnesota) bicycles seemed welcome too.

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The trail was a bit rough in places, and i had to get off and push because the boulders and rocks were too big to comfortably cycle over, but there was a fair bit of packed dirt.

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Iowa is pretty neat to explore. A massive chunk of the state is crops, but if you go the back roads then you will find lots of little hidden creeks and oak groves and even some native prairie. I met a farmer along the way who told me there that there is a government incentive to rewild parts of your farm to native prairie, so some farmers have been taking it up, and sometimes that land backs up against wildlife management areas where i understand it's legal to camp overnight.

The hunters are out in force on the weekends, though, guns going off like crazy from just before sunrise. Might want keep your hi-vis on at all times.

One of the most annoying things i have found in the US is that not all of the mobile carriers service all of the towns. In Canada, if you reach a town with about a thousand people, then probably all of the mobile carriers are going to have 4G/LTE signal there. But it seems that's not the case in the US. Maybe in a town of ten thousand people, okay. But there are smaller towns that have a high school football stadium and several restaurants and a whole bunch of services, yet you still don't even get a single bar of reception. Doesn't seem there is any rhyme or reason behind it either. One town only UScellular and Verizon is there. Next town only T-Mobile is there. Next town AT&T and Verizon. It makes it a real pain in the ass if you want to look something up after you get into the town, and it's even more annoying when you get to a place to camp only to find you haven't had signal for hours, so now you don't have a local weather (and wind) report for the next day. As i mentioned on Smartphones & Plans in 2021, i am using an Airalo eSIM, which connects to both AT&T and T-Mobile... but it seems even having access to two networks doesn't cut it in rural America. Be prepared, and make sure to download all the weather reports any time you get a bar of signal.

Oh, one last little story... The interstates are a pain in the ass. I don't think you are allowed to cycle on them, and in several places where there is an interstate, the non-interstate route is really circuitous. Like, you have to do a massive S-bend detour just to get to the same place you wanted to go in the first place, and where the interstate goes direct. Occasionally you'll find a fantastic shortcut, like this brand new rail trail...

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The sign at the start said "trail closed", but i could see footprints on there, so i asked some locals who were passing by, and they said "yeah, it's paved all the way up, we run along there all the time". So i ignored the sign and cycled along, and it was super nice rail trail grade, heading straight along the interstate route... Next thing there's a bunch of construction guys, not even working, just on the side of the trail, i call out to ask if the next section is cool to get through, and i get this deeply cranky "TRAIL IS CLOSED, CAN'T YOU READ!!!!" response. Like, okay dude, fuck you too. This is a sharp contrast to the construction guys in Canada who always had a smile and a wave, and sometimes even suggested a safe route through their site.

Come to think of it, i haven't had the best luck here in the US getting through construction. The other day along a one-way section of the highway where there was a stop light and people had to follow a pilot car... Fucking pilot car starts leading the traffic from the other direction back while i am still on the lane! I had to BMX my ass along a slippery unfinished gravel shoulder while everyone zoomed past. Like, i get they have a job to do and everything, but it kinda bums me out when it's obvious i am hot, sunburnt, tired, and working my fucking ass off to try get through their construction site quickly and safely, then they're just like, nah, fuck ya.

Oh well, what you gonna do?

Anyway, so far traveling in the US is going pretty smooth. I really feel like i am working against the clock now because the days are getting shorter, and even though there is a warm spell across the midwest right now, i know the snow will be coming. I've heard from some locals that Tennessee and Kentucky are nice, and that going along the Mississippi is way more picturesque than taking the farm roads through the middle of the state... but i kinda wanted to get to KCMO (or thereabouts) to say hello to the Missouri River before heading east proper. Also, i'm not sure about going up in the hills with all the humidity here. Everything is super-condensated already in the mornings, and with the days getting shorter i can less afford a couple hours waiting around for my tent and groundsheet to dry. Ugh. Traveler problems. Life's hard, eh?

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Colinleath

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You can generally bicycle on interstates unless there's a sign on the onramp specifically saying no bicycles. Sometimes they're the only way to go. Worst part I've found about riding on them though, aside from the noise, are the bits of metal from shredded big rig tires, which, along with goat head thorns, are the things most likely to give me flats.

I suppose it's possible you'd get stopped by a cop on an interstate but when that's happened to me it's not been a big deal. Except in La Rioja in northern Spain, but fortunately you're not dealing with La Guarda Civil (the vestiges of the Franco dictatorship).

If you go along the Missouri river, the Katy trail can be nice. Mississippi south, the Natchez trace parkway was a nice ride years ago. You'll probably get into some nice fall colors if make it to the blue ridge and go south along them.
 

ali

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Traveling friends, i have had an emotionally tough few days. Iowa was okay, but once i hit Missouri i really started losing hope. Since i got to the US i have tried to be optimistic about all these little patches of woodland, because they came in small enough doses that i could see them as brief interludes, something to contrast the wider fields and plains. But i've hit my limit.

Each day i feel like Sisyphus rolling his rock up a hill only to see it immediately roll down again. Except instead of a rock it's a loaded touring bike.

And these hills are completely without reward. There is no sweeping vista at the top. There is no top, they just go back down and then back up again. They're so pointless i want to kill myself.

And they're claustrophobic as fuck. They're all covered in trees and undergrowth. Even the rivers and creeks here are tangled with with thick vegetation, right up to the waterfront.

Everywhere i go i feel like i am penned in by more trees and more hills. There are vanishingly few open spaces. There's nowhere to relax and breathe.

Apparently Arkansas is like this too but even worse. And Kentucky. Maybe the whole damn eastern half of Turtle Island is like this, i don't know but i fucking hate it. It would be bad enough to drive or take a train through, but cycling just prolongs the torture.

I keep getting recommendations to take this rail trail or go through that national forest because the autumn trees and the mountains bla bla bla and it's like... no, that is exactly the opposite of what i want to do. How can i feel free in a place where i can't even see the sky? Why would i choose to be constantly surrounded? I want to feel the sun on my skin. I want to be able to scan the distant horizon. I want to see things go by. Being in the forest just feels like a prison to me. Every day is exactly the same. Might as well not be traveling at all.

Anyway, i am sharing my emotional state here to try provide some balance. This is the worst i have felt on the trip so far, except for a section in the Kootenays which was equally claustrophobic and depressing. But you have to push on. What else is there to do? No point staying put because then you really are stuck in the (literal) mud.

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I should mention that the people i have met and the food i have eaten here in Missouri have been fine. Better than Iowa, in most cases. It's just the landscape that's getting to me, and the landscape is 95% of the day.

There are no epic pictures on this update because the scenery fucking sucks and i'm barely getting any phone signal either. Maybe Kansas will suck less.
 
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Colinleath

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I remember being exhausted by the hills in SE Missouri too. Plus the weather was incredibly rainy. I got ringworm on my left pointer finger, which i thought was just a blister and didn't treat and it eventually got into my finger nail and now i have a very ugly left pointer finger. . .

For me a bike trip was partly about letting me be free. . . So i definitely did and do what i can from time to time to mentally escape from the idea that I'm bicycling across a country. Used to be by reading books. I'd hole up in the woods, read until i ran out of food or water, then continue a bit further. I do what i can to forget I'm going anywhere at all.

Plus, if you ever take the time to walk across a state, that helps put things in perspective. At least, i think, this is faster than walking and i don't have to carry my gear (until i get a flat).


Having a mission can help. I went to Missouri on my last cross the us trip to visit "stillwater sanctuary".

The founder of that community is a Carfree hero. I used to collect stories about Carfree heros and make pilgrimages to visit some of them.

Here, i just found all my photos and docs from that 2015 ride.

You can find a zine from stillwater sanctuary in there.

Cfu.freehostia.com is the archive of my Carfree website.

I also had the town where one of my grandparents grew up in Ohio to visit after la Plata.

I doubt this kind of message is helpful though. . .

But as long as I forget I'm actually trying to go anywhere, i do alright.

Eventually weather and other survival issues catch up to me and then i have no choice but to move. And i might have to bike 50 miles in a day. But in the East of the US that's pretty rare.

The bike trip for me is mainly a way to get me to exercise without it being as much of a chore as it would be in a town i lived in day in day out, year in year out.

A break from my sedentary tendencies.

Also, touring "rail trails" or what passes for them in the US was an interesting diversion because i hate being next to and near cars.

But quite a few of them were poorly maintained and rather difficult to bike on for any distance.

I don't know how you're navigating across the US but i have fun following osmand's directions some times to get me off the main roads and not infrequently into some sort of trouble.

Not sure these comments are helpful but I'm happy to have had an excuse to find those files from my 2015 trip at least. . . And i hope you find a way through the hard spot. I was just listening to _American Serengeti_ and there's quite a few who prefer the great open spaces of the plains.

I just like having places to hide where people won't bother me. The worst parts about the East for me: i prefer pine forests, fortunately these are found there too; ticks, poison oak, higher humidity than the west, and just the general dismalness of the mid and rural east, sameness of the strip malls, aggressive drivers who hate cyclists and roll coal.

The good parts: frequency of small towns with grocery stores (so i can be lazy and not cycle far each day), interesting trails, historical museums, and just odd things you encounter when going through the country side. Friendly people (they don't all hate cyclists).

And i do like the trees losing the leaves "the sky becomes the earth" i wrote once when contemplating, on my back, the leaves spinning down, on a kick scooter trip from Knoxville to Pensacola.

If you're interested in intentional communities, there are alot of those to visit in the East as well.

Also, there are alot more Amish and Mennonites in the East than the west too.
 
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Matt Derrick

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Nice, I'm really impressed with all the progress you've made, not just in Canada but a good ways already through the USA! I also appreciate your unique perspective on American towns and roads, it's nice seeing the differences from someone else's point of view!
 

ali

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Alright, i finally have some worthwhile internet in Kansas, so it's time to update. I was really in a funk there in Missouri. I think it was a combination of the weather, the hills, the lack of scenery... i was at my wit's end. Perhaps i wouldn't mind the state if i trained through it, but cycling i really need to feel more sense of progress. It wasn't physically exhausting so much as mentally exhausting to just struggle through hill after hill and each and every hill i just saw more hills, because the trees along the side of the road blocked out whatever other view might have been there.

But then i crossed the Missouri River into Kansas (went through Leavenworth) and everything changed. First place i stopped was a state fishing lake.

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Free camping. There are fishing lakes all over the state and so far it seems they are free camping. State parks are around $13 (same as Missouri, cheaper than Iowa and Minnesota).

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Also, a few towns have RV spots in the city park which are either free or around $10. Which isn't to say it's easy to find a spot, especially if you want a free one. I am now in central to west Kansas and it feels a lot like Saskatchewan. The towns are still much closer together than in Saskatchewan (like maybe one town every 20 miles), but not every town has services. It's hard to ask permission to camp if there are no stores in town where you can meet the locals, but it's even harder to stealth camp because there isn't any woodland.

The thing is... no woodland makes me so fucking happy. There is nothing better than waking up in the morning and your tent is bone dry because the wind was howling all night and you're catching the sun from the moment the sun rises. Up in the hills, and especially in the forest, the sun rises around 7:30, then you're waiting another hour for it to get over the ridge, then you're waiting another hour to dry your shit off... It's just a massive waste of time when all you want to do is get on the road. And that is all i want to do.

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I get your point, Colin, about forgetting i am touring, just sitting around in the same place for a while, but to be honest the whole thing i like about traveling is the actual traveling part. I don't like sitting around in one place doing the same thing i could've been doing anywhere in the world (reading books, watching shows, browsing the web). To me what i find exhilarating about being on the road is constantly seeing new stuff, every minute, every hour, every day. Never staying put. I love that feeling, and bike touring is such a great way to get it... you're always going through places where you can look around and see things change. I think this is why Missouri bummed me out so much, because it felt like i would ride all day and it was still just the same hills and forest that i started in. Like being stuck in a loop.

Kansas is absolutely packed with weird stuff. Almost every town has some shit. I went to Wamego, which has a Wizard of Oz theme. Today i accidentally passed through Cawker City which has the world's biggest ball of twine, on the way to the geographic center of the contiguous USA. Then coming south i found a mini statue of liberty outside of Gaylord. Then you just pass through who the fuck knows where and find random abandoned buildings.

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And because there aren't any trees blocking the view, you see corn and soy and sage and cows and creeks and lakes and churches and barns and signposts and clouds and deer and hawks.

Or just outside of Topeka, the biggest damn grain silo i ever saw. And this is only half of it.

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Also outside of Topeka i met another bike tourer who found the same park i did to refill water and recharge electronics. (A lot of covered BBQ/picnic areas in parks here have power outlets.) He was trying to ride to every state capital - Topeka number 17. His setup was a bike with trailer.

People in general have been really kind and helpful. One RVing couple who i met at a city park kicked down a bunch of food because they said i needed protein for the journey. I also got a full restaurant meal quietly paid for by some random who didn't even introduce themselves (last time that happened was in a small town in Iowa).

So, Kansas gets good marks from me so far. The only bad point has been that there is no fucking 4G/LTE internet on T-Mobile pretty much anywhere, and AT&T barely gets signal either. There are some open wifis in some downtown areas, especially if the town has a visitor center, but other than that i've found myself planning my route to hit at least one Casey's gas station each day, since they have free wifi. My Forecastie app downloads the weather (including wind direction) for several days in advance, but that doesn't always help when you're cycling to the next town and the wind isn't going the same way there, so the more internet you can get the better.

I am still trying to avoid headwinds and - especially - rain. Cool thing on a bike you can just change your direction. If the rain is heading in one direction, you can usually outrun it or go around, and maybe find something else cool along the way.

Anyway, even though i now have a bunch of recommendations from people i met to check out more weird and cool shit out in west Kansas, i really need to get my ass south to stay in the good weather. Also, my mood has improved enough i think i might be able to handle whatever hills and forest lies in wait on my trip to the coast. I do still want to try get to Florida. There's no particular reason other than that i like pirates and have an idle idea of drinking rum for Christmas then getting a job on a boat and sailing into the Caribbean. God knows that first daiquiri is going to taste so sweet if i do make it out there.

But if i turn back around and go west again, because i got hooked on bike touring, or just because i hate the south (never been there before), that's okay too.

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ali

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So after all my bullshit about how i cycle away from the rain and avoid headwinds, literally the next day i got caught in a storm that was a lot heavier than the "light rain" in the forecast. And then the next next day i cycled into a 40kph (25mph) headwind to try get closer to Wichita and a good route south, and ended up trapped on a dirt road as an epic thunderstorm unloaded overhead. It was pretty scary to be out there in the middle of the prairie, no trees or shelter anywhere, dirt road that didn't connect back onto a proper sealed road for at least several miles, and there's thunder and lightning and fucking hailstones falling from the sky. It was brutal. I got completely and utterly soaked.

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This is the kind of place you really don't want to end up when a storm kicks off.

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The big problem - as usual - was the total and complete lack of 4G/internet. It is so frustrating that you can't get consistent coverage in rural America. Some days you have coverage in the morning and you think it'll be fine, but 2 hours later there is no internet, and then an hour after that there is a surprise tornado watch because the storms arrived 12 hours early and you didn't even know because you were still working off the "light rain" forecast that is now 3 hours out of date.

By the time you look up, if you see a sky like this, it's too damn late.

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It took me 2 hours of cycling through very poor visibility and really shitty conditions to get to a town where i could get some shelter. Couldn't even get shelter at any farmhouses because the few that i passed had off-leash dogs charging me. I don't know if the laws are different down here, or if people just train their dogs to be aggressive shitheads, but in Missouri, Kansas and now Oklahoma i've come across a ton of off-leash dogs who literally chase me down the road while snapping their teeth and it is not fun at all.

Anyway, getting into town i exercised the yuppie option and got a motel room to wait out the rest of the storms. Overnight tornadoes touched down in some rural areas of Kansas and Oklahoma, so perhaps it was for the best that i got hit during the day and didn't try to overnight camp through it.

I have to say, the money i spent on waterproof panniers and backpack (which i use as a trunk bag) is well worth it. So far i have ridden through three fairly heavy rain days (of which that big storm a couple days ago was by far the hardest), and each time after i set up my tent i still have a dry sleeping bag, dry clothes and dry food. It really makes a difference to my setup in the past where i used a "water resistant" backpack which in a heavy downpour still leaves the gear inside damp, if not completely soaked.

That's enough talk about the weather. Let's talk about nutrition.

One thing i discovered yesterday while on a Skype call with a friend is that i have lost a ton of weight, to the point that it might be bad for my health. I mean, i knew i had to punch a new hole in my belt and yeah i can see my ribs and other bones sticking out, but whatever, that's what i looked like when i was 21, so i figured i was getting back into the shape of my youth. But now i'm wondering if some of my fatigue of the past week or so is because my muscles are starting to waste away. I eat a cup of porridge with dried fruit and nuts for breakfast and two tortillas with nuts for dinner. Then during the day i usually have at least one snack (energy bar, palanqueta, pastry from a local bakery, fresh fruit etc) and one restaurant meal which in middle America is usually a burger and fries because small towns don't really have anything else. I am beginning to think that is not enough for cycling 120km (75 miles), which is what i am currently doing most days. I suppose i could cycle less miles, like i did when i started, but it's tough to do in places where there aren't many good spots to camp. Maybe i should suck it up and just step up to 4 meals a day, eating two lunches instead of one. But that'll get expensive if i eat out, and boring if i just suck down yet more oats, dates, tortillas and peanuts. Definitely open to ideas on that front.

Anyway, i'm taking a day off today to recover from a wicked hangover, then tomorrow i will continue the journey south. I'm still deciding whether to go all the way to the Texas coast and then follow it around, or cut east somewhere north of Dallas and check out a bit of northern Louisiana and central Mississippi. I already miss the dry plains, but i want to at least make an attempt at seeing the one corner of America that i never saw before.

Here's a pic from the center...

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Colinleath

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The Midwest has challenging weather for sure. My tarp got shredded one night near La Plata, MO. Fortunately it was a warm storm. I just packed up all my stuff and sat in my raingear until it passed. I think i got some damp sleep later too. In the morning people were cleaning up large fallen branches and smaller uprooted trees in the town.

I was very happy to make it to the black hills! Being near mountains has been better for me than flat places.

From my previous trips across plains I greatly prefer to ride a recumbent (as low profile as possible) in those areas so I can still progress in a strong headwind without killing myself.

Of course, on an upright it's still possible, just may want to be able to stay put for a while and wait for fair winds and following seas, since bicycling on the plains is not that different from sailing.

Really makes me realize why in some places people have houses. . .
 
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Sounds like you're definitely not eating enough. I was eating 4000 calories a day and biking less than you and still losing weight. These days I'm probably breaking even though. It's harder if your diet doesn't include meat
 

ali

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We do have quite different tastes in cycling, Colin! Right now the prevailing wind is southerly, i'm only getting about one northerly a week, which isn't very helpful when i am specifically trying to go south. But i have found that i would rather face the physical endurance challenge of staying hunched up and battling the wind than the mental endurance challenge of being stuck in a forest all day.

I was cycling through some hilly, tree-filled sections in Oklahoma a few days back and it struck me that i felt like a rat trapped in a maze. On both sides were these walls of green, and i could only go in one direction, until i hit a junction, then i could choose two different directions that both looked exactly the same. I hate not being able to see the bigger picture, not having a bird's eye view of where i am going or where i've been.

I think this is why i am not much a fan of the American rail trails i have briefly cycled on so far. They just feel like tunnels to me, like i am trapped and can't get out. At least in BC they clung to the side of the cliff and revealed incredible views that drivers would never get to see, but it hasn't felt that way in the US.

Closest i got to that BC feeling was riding over the Arbuckle Mountains on highway 77. It's almost deserted now because I-35 runs parallel, so the whole stretch of road feels like something out of a post-apocalypse novel. And for the first time since arriving in the US, i felt like climbing a hill was worth it. It's only a very small mountain, but getting to the top actually feels like you arrived somewhere. Then the vicious southerly winds try blow you back where you came from, so i had to pedal hard all the way down. C'est la vie.

I am still struggling with eating enough food. I realize i don't really know how to eat 4000 calories without like... Eating twice as much of everything as what i would on an already very gluttonous day. It feels gross and profligate to me, like the human body shouldn't be consuming that much. It makes me feel guilty or ashamed to eat that much when other people have nothing. Is it worth it? I suppose it's still less calories than an internal combustion vehicle would consume over the same distance.

Superphoenix, you're on the money with the meat point. Personally i try to eat vegan as much as possible, and when i am housed up that's easy to do full time. Traveling, you get food kicked down to you, or you end up in some part of the world where it's incredibly difficult to find vegan meals, well then i become omnivorous again. Right now i eat meat or dairy probably five or six meals a week. Mostly meat because i find dairy less satisfying and more ethically uncomfortable. My go-to for restaurant meals in the US has been taquerias, since they're cheap and around in almost every small town. I'm especially happy when i find one that gives a side of rice and beans with the tacos. But that's probably not enough on its own for lunch. I mean, should i really just neck a ton of dates, oats and nuts every five minutes? Still trying to figure it out...
 
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ali

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Oh, i forgot to mention, i bought some of these the other day.

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About a month ago i started getting pins and needles in my fingers. I knew it must be because the nerves in the heel of my hand were getting thrashed, but i wasn't sure what to do about it. Well, i was in a bike store getting a new tire and asked about a solution.

Digression: that Schwalbe Marathon 32 i had on the back was completely shredded, bald and torn-up after about 8 weeks of cycling loaded across all terrain. It finally let through its first flat after meeting the business end of a thorn in Oklahoma, and i spent about an hour on the side of the road trying to replace it. Seems that the Marathon is sized too tight for the new rim i got when my spokes popped out. It was such a struggle to remove and replace - even with Herculean hand pumping i was unable to get it reseated properly - that i just figured might as well get a new tire since it was on its last legs anyway. TLDR, COVID shortages, bla bla, you take what you can get, now i have an All Condition Armadillo 30 on the back.

Back on the original story... Apparently these silly looking bicycle gloves are designed to prevent exactly the injury i gave myself. They are padded in exactly the places that would get smashed into the handlebars and they kind of force you to turn your hand around so more of the impact happens in the soft bit between your thumb and forefinger. It's too early to say if they're working, but i'll keep you updated.
 

Colinleath

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Ali, it's looking like you're not using bar end horns. Those could help because you can use a different hand position, one I find much more comfortable. Since I'm generally always using a bike that's too small for me, I always try to put handlebar horns on for extra length.

I tend to find that US rail trails put me away from things i want to see as well. . . If i don't make a point to get off them i miss whole downtowns sometimes.

Some Alaskan packrafters were eating sticks of butter to get enough calories for their trips!

Since I'm not really trying to go anywhere I tend to manage to sit around and eat enough myself.

Maybe look at how PCT/ AT/ CDT hikers are feeding themselves. Though they don't have the luxury of visiting a store as often as most bicyclists.

There continues to be something for alluring for me about vast undeveloped spaces, and crossing them under one's own power. Europe is easier that's for sure. Though there are some empty places here too. I guess it's more grandeur of humanity (or humanity+nature) vs grandeur of nature.
 
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. I realize i don't really know how to eat 4000 calories without like... Eating twice as much of everything as what i would on an already very gluttonous day. It feels gross and profligate to me, like the human body shouldn't be consuming that much. It makes me feel guilty or ashamed to eat that much when other people have nothing. Is it worth it?
To me, that is an absurd and dangerous line of thinking. It's on par with saying "I don't want the option to sleep in a bed when there are houseless people out there." Gluttony means overeating based on your physical expenditure of energy, which you wouldn't even be doing at that level. When you get to a certain point of undereating, your stomach and organs literally digest itself and wither away. I'm no nutritionist but your body has to keep equilibrium, and you can't do that by undereating based on how many calories you're burning.
 

Koala

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I know it can be hard to eat enough out there! But yeah you really should be eating more. I struggle with it sometimes when traveling solo. And also used to have pretty serious eating disorders and in recovery realized how much my mood, energy level, and emotional state are affected by not eating enough, so that could definitely explain energy and emotional lows.

Btw I've loved reading your writeups so far!

Sounds like you don't have a stove? I highly recommend a little pot and backpacking stove to help you get more calories and actually enjoy some hot food to start and end your day.

I try to eat vegetarian as much as I can on the road but especially on bike tour, I definitely need to eat tuna to get a major amount of easy protein.

Also those soy hot dogs/ sausages in the refrridgerated section of Walmart are good and high in protein.

Dense calorie snacks for the day:
- dried and seasoned chickpeas (most supermarkets with bulk sections have them)
- quinoa packets (they're seasoned and parboiled or ready to eat, I see them at Aldi all the time)
- hummus and tortilla

Stoves open you up to being able to cook pasta, lentils, quick cooking rice, quinoa... you can also soak dry beans in a Tupperware in your bag and cook them for dinner.

And you can sprinkle nutritional yeast on everything too for more nutrients! And chia seeds and flax seeds to add to porridge would help add nutrition and protein.

Camping stores, or sporting goods stores, should have lil backpacking stoves and gas you can find at those or Walmart.

I hope you're able to find a chill and yummy way to add a bit more food into your days! Those are some seriously long days on the bike. Good on ya, mate :p

Good luck with everything and the next leg of your trip ♡
 

ali

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Thank you so much for the tips, Koala! I think you might be right about getting a stove. I like the simplicity of not needing to cook anything, but it sure would be nice every now and then to just eat some food that doesn't feel like remixed trail mix. A few days i've picked up stuff like a tub of guacamole or hummus just for a treat, then i eat the whole lot in one sitting so it doesn't go bad. I took some soft tofu along one day and assumed it'd stay good overnight because it was pretty cold in Canada at the time, but it didn't hold up as good as i hoped. Vege hotdogs are a bit hardier, though. A while back someone kicked me down a big stick of salami that was good for couple of days, though i wouldn't tend to buy that myself.

Superphoenix, you're right that it is a bit absurd to think this way, but perhaps there is a bit my own psychological issues around eating and buying stuff that i'm still working through. Your example of not buying a bed is a good one, because the last time i was housed up in an unfurnished apartment, i didn't buy a bed. Or even a mattress for the first few months, i just slept on the floor until the weather got too cold. (Didn't use the central heating either.) About 10 years ago i really went serious into the idea of not buying or using anything that i don't really need, because i don't want to make more of a footprint than is necessary. My life feels more simple and less stressful that way. So it's always a challenge. I lived for a couple years with only a spoon and a kitchen knife in my apartment, which kinda sucked when i wanted to get peanut butter out of the corner of the jar, but i just kinda lived with the inconvenience. I know that probably makes me sound crazy, but just to give a bit more context where i'm coming from.

All that said, since my last post i figured out how many calories is in a liter of gasoline (about 8000kcal) and tried to compare how far i could get on that many calories, and it's an order of magnitude further than even a pretty efficient car. That made me feel less guilty about eating a lot.

Colin, you are totally right about America and Europe having different feelings. That sense of vastness is what i really love in America, which is why i think i haven't been quite as happy traveling in the center and the east - out west there really is so much more the sense it's just you and the world. Lots of space to breathe.

Anywho, back on the cycling journey... Texas has been tough so far. Basically from the southern half of Kansas on down, i have had a lot more trouble finding legal campsites that are cheap or free. Free campsites seem to be extremely rare in Texas (at least the north/east part where i've been). I found one lake where i could camp for $6, but some of the other places are like $20 and up, which is just ridiculous. You could rent a room in a shared house for that much, maybe even a basement apartment in a real small town. I get the feeling a lot of the campsites are putting up arbitrary rules ("no tents", "no RVs older than 10 years", "must book minimum two days on the weekends") specifically to ensure that the poors won't stink up the place. Well, fuck that.

The other weird thing in Texas is the roads aren't always as good as you would expect them to be if you've ever driven in Texas. First time i came here - years ago - i rented a car for a week and drove around marveling at the epic frontage roads and ultra-wide highways and shoulders. But when you are on a bike, you realize that a lot of those shoulders have really shitty seal that make for a very bumpy and slow ride. I think the so-called farm roads are the best cycling in Texas - they don't have a shoulder, but they seem to have pretty nice seals, and there is usually less traffic. The cars here do go 70+ miles an hour, though, so it's not very relaxing. You always need to be on your guard.

But God help you if you try take a fucking county road. What the fuck is this.

PXL_20211021_192355479a.jpg


That was a gravel road, until it wasn't.

But there have been some really cool spots too. I loved this nature reserve with a bunch of old oil derricks in it.

PXL_20211020_164855606a.jpg


The other incredibly fucking shitty thing about cycling in Texas is off-leash dogs. It happened a couple times in Oklahoma that a dog would literally charge out of a house and chase me down the street, growling and barking. In Texas this has been happening 6-7 times a day! Now i'm dreading any time i pass a house because the moment i hear a bark i know some shitty dog owner lets their animal run out into the middle of the fucking highway terrorizing passing cyclists. It makes me sick. I can't imagine being a kid growing up in a neighborhood like that, can't even walk to school in peace.

Anyway, i did meet a couple of old retired hobos here, you tend to meet them around campsites and RV parks, either living in a tent out the back of a truck or in an old trailer. One guy said he walked and thumbed his way all over in the old days, and he thought Louisiana was the place to be. "Anything goes down there", he said. "All the churches are open, you need somewhere to lay your head, you just walk into a church." He also told me to watch out for gators, and always sleep on a picnic table, maybe even set my tent up there if it's big enough. Is that crazy advice? I guess we'll see. Louisiana will be the next stop after i get tired of the Texas struggle.
 

Colinleath

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How have you managed to survive all those dogs? There was a reddit conversation on that a while back. (Spraying water seems to be most recommended followed by riding faster to get away and intimidation/ threat of violence.)

Texas apparently sold off nearly all of its public lands in the 1800s to pay off debt. (Hence they were able to more effectively--than states with more public land--attempt to exterminate coyotes by getting the private landowners to blanket the state with poison bait.)

Sitting in a bare apartment with spoon and jar and bits of unreachable peanut butter seems like it could fit in an STP version of Pedro Páramo. That's just to say it gets at mental habits a lot of us here may have in some degree due to our experiences growing up or our unease with mass waste/ ecosystem destruction. . . Similar to how some survivors of great scarcity go to great lengths to never again be without.

I've found a few things that just about never go bad for me, meaning I can eat them and be fine even if they've been sitting out unrefrigerated for weeks:
  • Eggs (if they're bad it's generally obvious, i tend to try to soft boil mine)
  • Hummus (or anything else that ferments, Sandor Katz's _Wild fermentation_, and Michael Pollan's _cooked_ both address this.)
  • Dairy. If it's bad I tend to know and don't want to eat/drink it, but otherwise it ferments (raw milk/cream) or stays fermented.
  • Fat (butter, lard, tallow, duck fat)
If you're energized enough to keep biking week after week, you're probably doing better nutrition-wise than most people.

Since you're in the area, you might like reading Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca's story about getting shipwrecked on the Gulf shore and then walking across what is now SW US / N Mexico, back when it was populated by lots of indigenous peoples.
 
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With dogs, I just either gun past them if I know I can go fast enough, or hop off my bike, use it as a barrier, and slowly walk away until I'm out of their "zone". Most dogs won't do shit to you. I've heard to carry a large stick to keep them distant.
 

ali

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Goodness, Colin, you are well-read! Lots of interesting links in there.

There is also a dog post here on StP: How do you deal with stray dogs? The funny thing is that a lot of people seem to think that it is stray dogs or wild dogs that are the biggest problem, but in my experience residential dogs are far worse. I have traveled in countries with actual wild dogs, strays and even faced down coyotes here in North America, and those canines are much less aggressive. They know their territory and will stand there quietly, just daring you to step foot on their domain. You give them a wide berth, or go past confidently and nonchalantly, showing that you have no interest in coming onto their territory, and the encounter is over. But it's these pet dogs that are the ones who ironically have no respect for territorial boundaries, and will leave "their" private property to chase you down the road and aggressively snap at your feet and tires.

I have seen multiple pet dogs as roadkill on the roads here in Texas and i have no pity at all for the owners. It's disgusting that they allow their dogs to terrorize the neighborhood.

How do i deal with them? Well i don't strike back, because i don't want to perpetuate the cycle. I don't want some jackass trying to shoot my ass because i hurt his dog, and i don't want the dog to learn that passing humans are as violent and negligent as their shitty owners are. So i just cycle hard and hope they can't catch me. I pretend to ignore them, so they realize i am not interested in their petty territorial bullshit. I've had some real scares, though. In one house two large dogs came at me at the same time, one in front of my tires and one behind. I had to swerve into the middle of the road to avoid hitting the one in front. This is happening multiple times a day here in Texas, it's really made cycling here an extremely unpleasant experience.

Honestly, i would give Texas a major negative recommendation for cyclists, primarily due to the dog issue. It's just not worth the stress. Outside of dogs, the other issue is that it's really hard to find good and cheap or free places to camp that are close to town. Almost all the good camping is way out in places with no/low mobile reception and fairly out of the way for a cyclist.

All that said, the Piney Woods and Big Thicket areas have been the saving grace of East Texas for me. (Links: National Forests and Grasslands in Texas and Big Thicket National Preserve) Both of these sites have legal dispersed/backcountry camping and there are also quite a few front country campsites that allow tents in the area. Riding through there is pretty peaceful during the week.

PXL_20211026_144900487.jpg


Only shitty thing this time of year it's hunting season, so technically you're not allowed to do backcountry camping outside of the formal hunting camps. You'll find a lot of them if you cycle through the backroads. Lots of hunting blinds set up on the pipeline right-of-ways too.

PXL_20211025_191925563.MP.jpg


The dirt roads are mostly sand, so pretty tough to cycle on with a regular bike. If you wanted to disappear up here for a while then this is the first place i'd really recommend fat tires. Otherwise you will be getting off your bike to push it out of the sand here and there. Judging by the tracks, the locals all drive ATVs, so it probably sucks on the weekends when they're blasting through the forest belching out fumes, but on the weekdays it's pretty much completely silent.

I sheltered in place yesterday to avoid the storms that passed over, but this morning i will be heading into Louisiana. I am going to try go down some back roads right out in the marshy wetlands along the gulf coast. Hopefully there are less aggressive dogs, and hopefully i can find some places to camp that won't be too windy. There are gale warnings for the next couple days, but they're westerly/nor'westerly, which for once actually means it's pushing me in the right direction...
 

Big George W

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Ali, your pictures and words are truly amazing to look at and read.
Yes, there is nothing like being caught in the middle of nowhere when a bad storm rolls on in.
While my picture is under very different circumstances, about 3 miles offshore returning from one of my epic sea kayaking trips, it's really something when mother nature decides to really see if one has faith or not.
I remember this was one of the very few times I was indeed making deals with God, and next to me, something was just beneath the surface making very gentle swirls.
I know my picture is off topic, but I just thought I would share it with you, as I really enjoy the pictures you are posting here.
Safe Travels, and I'll make it a point to keep following your journey here.
middle grounds light 025.jpg
 

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