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

ali

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George, thank you for the kind words, and please feel free to post whatever pictures or stories here that might come to mind. A big reason why i started out on this bike tour was because of inspiration from other StP posters, so i am always happy to read shared experiences.

Now... when i left y'all, i was just about to head into Louisiana. I wasn't sure what to expect, but i was just hoping to hell i wouldn't get more aggressive dogs.

I didn't expect this.

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Once you get over the Sabine River (Texas/Louisiana border) on highway 82, it just stretches out into a massive, long, straight road through the middle of a wetlands. It goes on for ages like this. Occasionally there is a house on stilts, but mostly it's just marsh. The wildlife is awesome. If you love birdwatching, you should definitely put this route on your bucket list. If you hang around long enough, you might even see some gators. I saw one dead one (roadkill) and two live ones. One was only about 10 feet away from me and scared me shitless.

Eventually the sea shore comes up to the edge of the road.

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Around here there are some waterfront settlements that have been utterly destroyed by hurricane after hurricane. Still, people are rebuilding. There are a few stilt houses, some freshly painted, others looking pretty banged up. Lots of people just live in RVs out there now, and some people just gave up i think. There are a lot of signs up for people renting out their property as an RV parking spot, but other properties are just abandoned completely. There are no shops, just a few enterprising folks selling ice, tackle and bait out the back of a truck. It really feels like a string of shantytowns. I don't mean that in a negative sense - the people are all clearly resilient and mostly friendly - but everything looks real DIY and grassroots. Might be a good place to post up for a while if you have some useful skills or something to sell. If i wasn't cycling i would've loved to stay down there a bit longer and get to know the people, but i think you'd really need a van or RV to make the most of it. The distances between services are pretty long, and you probably want fishing gear and a stove and other bits and bobs so you don't need to just eat gas station food every day.

You can go even deeper down 82 and pop out near Abbeville, but i chickened out because i wasn't sure if i'd be able to tent camp deep in the marsh, so i headed north up 27 instead. Which was a weird journey too. You're riding along with water on both sides, then suddenly a bridge pops out to cross... more water.

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I gotta tell you, guys, that Cameron parish stretch along 80 and 27 was one of the weirdest places i've ever traveled in my life. I highly recommend it if - like me - you didn't grow up in a marshy landscape and want to see something that just seems totally alien.

The rest of Louisiana was much less interesting. Outside of Cameron parish, the roads got way busier, and there were a lot of causeways with no shoulder and concrete barriers on either side. Causeways look pretty cool when you're taking photos of them from underneath, but cycling on them you need to be on top of your game because they are so narrow and the Louisiana drivers do not give a fuck about cyclists, they will rocket past you with hardly an inch to spare. And there is no choice but to ride these roads, because there are several swamps and rivers/bayous where there are only about three crossings in the whole state, so all the traffic funnels down the same roads. It really sucks.

Outside of the swamps, which are stressful cycling and not very picturesque (it's just a whole lot of trees growing out of the water, with massive piles of trash in all the ditches next to the road)... the roads are fucking atrocious. Like, in the rural/farmland areas, the surfaces are ripped up and potholed like something else. Plus, aggressive dogs. Also not a fun ride.

At one point i pulled over by a gas station, because i could see a big bridge coming up and wanted to make sure i was hydrated. Then a guy walks up and says he's an off-duty firefighter and offered to give me a ride across the bridge. He said the bridge itself isn't so bad, but the causeway afterwards was several miles of no shoulder, and people die there all the time. He said the locals call it Dead Man's Bridge. I accepted his offer. He said he's taken a few cyclists across in the past, and he'd rather go 20 minutes out of his way than get called in with the first responders and shut down the bridge for several hours.

Eventually i got to Lake Pontchartrain, which made for a pretty sunset shot.

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My phone actually died along the way here, so i didn't get to take any photos of crossing the Mississippi at Baton Rouge. The screen was already busted when i started this cycle tour, but finally - about 3 months in - it finally gave up. Fortunately i was close to Baton Rouge and was able to make it to a Best Buy to pick up a new cheap phone. It's amazing how much you rely on that thing... Like, without a phone, i had no maps, no way to tell what the weather would be, no ability to get in touch with anyone to let them know where i was.

Anyway, after Baton Rouge, around Lake Pontchartrain, and heading east, it was just more swamps and a few piney woods similar to East Texas. It was okay, but nothing like the incredible serenity and beauty of Cameron parish. I was glad to get out to Mississippi, because that's when i finally hit the proper Gulf Coast. White sand beaches for days. But i'll save that for another post.

One thing i do want to mention is that i met another bike tourer at a city park in Mississippi. I talked to him for a while and it turned out that he is cycling from Portland to Orlando with his wife and two young daughters. He said they only go about 50km a day, and they take plenty of rest days so the kids can recover. This really drives home that cycle touring is for everyone. You don't need to be super-fit. You don't need to have all the latest and greatest gear. You can just head out and go. No need to try break records for distance traveled or anything. Pedal until you get tired, then stop. Then do it again the next day. It is such a wonderfully accessible way to travel.

We did both lament the lack of legal tent camping in the south, though. Louisiana was at least as hard as Texas to find campsites, and the troubles have continued in Mississippi and Alabama. Pretty much all the private campsites in the south ban tents, they're RV only. Sometimes they even ban vans and teardrop/pop-up trailers too. City parks have started to ban tents (i managed to plead my case with one friendly ranger, and they let me stay for free, but only for one night). And the state parks are pretty much mostly set up for RVs. Even if there are "primitive" sites, they cost a fucking fortune, relative to the resources you're consuming. Like $20 minimum, closer to $30 when you include tax and booking fee. And that's American dollars, not Canadian dollars. It's like we're subsidizing the RVers! It is so much more expensive to try to camp legally round here than it was up in Canada, at least on the west coast and in the prairies.

I know most folks reading this site prefer to stealth camp or use homestays and that's fine, but personally i find the stress or hassle to not be worth the monetary savings. Well, before i got to the south anyway. I'm taking a real whack to my wallet since getting south of Kansas. It's outrageous how they make us pay through the nose for something that should be free - and often is free out west! It costs at least twice as much per day to travel here. I think that's something that will probably stop me from returning to a lot of these places.

But i will try to return to Cameron parish someday, i think.

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Colinleath

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You know about national forests by now, I'm guessing. When i pass the sign for one of those in the more challenging parts of the US I always feel like I'm home. (Generally legal to camp wild most anywhere away from established campgrounds/ buildings/ tourist areas).

One thing to look for is many US states have established state hiking trails (The Florida Trail is one example). If you can find the route of one of those, just camp near/on that.

I can relate to the challenge in parts of Texas (miles of 10’ high fences around private hunting preserves), and south Louisiana (lack of dry land), but nearly every place else with a bicycle and some time there's always somewhere to hide. (Much harder though with each new person you add to the group, I can see why you and the family you met would prefer the situation in Canada).

If you want inspiration to go the other way, it was the book about Peace Pilgrim that first opened my eyes to the possibility and I still remember my first trip employing wild camp / rough sleeping methods. . . There's also shewalkstheearth.com and i could go on and on. But i have a feeling you're aware of all that, and just like i now have the added challenge of finding two appropriately placed trees as a hammock sleeper, and Ray & Jenny jardine intentionally traveled without poles and stakes to force him to interact more with his environment, you are aware of the wild camp possibilities but like attempting to pay, partly because you would like to see a recognition that people don't need an RV to camp.

"Of course, I was compelled to sleep with the trees in the one great bedroom of the open night." From Muir's thousand mile walk to the gulf.

If there are no easily accessible obviously public lands, in the south there are many churches with woods behind them and there's often water and electricity available. Some of them now have sensors and guardians who will show up not long after motion near the building or on the driveway is detected, but in my experience once they see who I am (yes privilege) they're super solicitous about having me stay there. But, as is my nature, once I've been found out I tend to hit the road again to find a place where no one knows I'm there and where i should be free from any disturbance.

Bicycle touring pro has a similar preference.

The Sacramento Delta region in California similar to New Orleans has some long narrow roadways with no shoulder. . . But i think it's slowly getting better (more allowance for bicycle riders?) and less of a suicide mission. Pretty cool that guy gave you a lift. I still have shuddering thoughts when i think about crossing a certain bridge (the vantage bridge) over the Columbia river, grateful that two tractor trailers did not happen to be passing on that bridge at the same time they were next to me.
 

ali

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Colin, you are on point about one of the reasons why i try to camp "legally", and also why i tend to ride roads and not dedicated bike paths/trails - part of what i think is important about traveling this way is that it is visible to people who have kinda developed a mental block about how to live. I want to show them that biking and tent camping is nothing to be afraid of. It's also why i think it's more useful to buy "almost vegan" dishes from regular restaurants than to exclusively eat at "certified vegan" restaurants - just by existing in the face of mainstream society you are showing that people are perfectly capable of living healthy, happy lives eating plant-based, not having a car, living with just a backpack full of belongings, and so on. You don't need to be especially fit, or rich, or ascetic. Doing these things shouldn't be a radical act, they should just be the normal situation.

Superphoenix, i have decided that i fucking hate swamps. They have all the bad parts of forests (no view, no sun, tons of bugs and critters) with none of the good parts (easy to stealth camp). However i learned in Louisiana that swamps and marshes are not the same thing, although a swamp may turn into a marsh and vice versa. The main difference is marshes don't have trees, so although they are very wet, at least you can get a good view. Is the east coast of the US like that? I have to say i've never really visited any of it aside from NYC and Boston, and those just flying in and flying out.

Now... on to Mississippi.

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You guys, i absolutely loved the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Or, more specifically, i loved the section from Waveland to Biloxi, but not including Biloxi. It is essentially 40 miles (~60km) of public beach, with a dual carriageway and seawall/boardwalk running all the way along. You can ride along the seawall, although here and there large chunks of it have collapsed due to erosion and hurricanes. In fact, there are whole sections of the road that have collapsed too, and cars going both ways need to share a single lane. But for most of the way it's dual carriageway.

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The good part was - when i was there at least - there was almost nobody on that road. I guess it's not as popular of a tourist destination as perhaps it once was. There are a lot of abandoned and hurricane-damaged buildings, and the RV parks are fairly empty. (Of course doesn't mean you can camp there in a tent, but whatever, fuck those guys.)

I think this would be an awesome place to be a rubbertramp. There are certain carparks that say no overnight parking, but other carparks where there is no such sign, so you could probably get away with it. I saw several beach bums and boondockers along the route.

This is really important, because once you get into Biloxi you start seeing intermittent private beaches (Biloxi seems to mostly be a casino strip), and once you get east of Biloxi, including into Alabama and the Florida panhandle, it's pretty much all private beach all the time. It is some fucking bullshit that ordinary people cannot get access to the majority of the beachfront - hell, they can't even see it from the road because of all the vacation homes, resorts and hotels. For this reason i am christening the Mississippi coast The People's Coast. If you just want to sit down under a palm tree, drink some booze, and look out into the sea, Mississippi is the place to be. I loved cycling along there.

In Alabama i couldn't fucking find anywhere to camp, so i had to get a roro ferry across Mobile Bay.

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Cyclists only need a pedestrian ticket, i think it was $6. It's kinda gross to see all the oil platforms in that bay, though. I wonder about the people who get holiday homes in Alabama and climb up 10 feet in the air just to get to the first floor of their house, then look out on the ocean and see all this fossil fuel extraction that is causing the climate change that is the reason their houses need to be jacked up so high.

In Florida i tried to zoom past the private beaches and stuck mostly to national and state parks. There are some incredible protected areas along the panhandle that are just otherworldly.

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It's great when you see the dunes overtaking the road on a closed beach. Makes you realize just how quickly nature would come back if people stopped driving.

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Oh okay, here is one shot with a bit of sea in it too.

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If you can't tell by the amount of photos, i fucking loved it along the gulf coast. It is exactly the kind of place i find spectacularly beautiful. Massive skies. Endless horizon. Warm weather. Cheezy bars where i can order a dumb fruity drink with lots of rum in it. I'm sorry i am so basic, but there it is. Give me the sun, sea and sand, and i will be a happy camper. I actually slowed down along the coast, instead of doing 100km+ days i did some shorter days just so that i could get a spot in some of the more scenic campsites. Look at this ridiculous bullshit.

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This place was 20something a night, which sounds like a lot of money for a campsite when i was looking at 5, 10, 15 or free in less desirable parts of America, but compared to the hotels and motels in the area, with far less awesome vistas, it's a steal. There were a bunch of Sprinter vans and other hipster vanlife dudes in this spot.

I also did a small bit of mountain bike single-track, when it turned out that a bridge was closed and i would have to do a massive detour to go around. I found a trail, so took it, and it was one of the best mountain bike trails i have ever ridden. It was all flat because Florida, but it went straight through the coastal "jungle" - pine trees and palm trees and sand and mud and bayous. There were several hairy sections where i had to ride through some deep boggy puddles, got my feet wet but survived it. It was also neat to go through the sections where the palm leaves completely covered the trail, so you're literally bushwhacking as you go. Fun stuff.

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All good things must come to an end, though, and after i looped around the "forgotten coast" of Florida, which is a very quiet road that takes you past a bunch of marshy seaside and hurricane-damaged "old Florida" coastline, i ended up back in swampy forests, same as fucking Louisiana all over again. The mosquitoes are out in force. There is no horizon any more. Oh well. Life goes on.

Also, on bike touring breakdowns... The road/hybrid tire i got in Oklahoma had pretty much already run bald and let a few fragments of smashed glass puncture my tube (front tire rolled over no problems), so i got another new tire. But now, just this morning, my first spoke went out on my back wheel. Right in the middle of the fucking swamp, middle of nowhere, perfectly flat smooth road, no potholes, two days to the nearest bike store. Sigh.

Trying to get numbers here... I think this means my wheels are lasting 50-60 days between broken spokes and 30-40 days between tires going bald. In km that would be about 5000km per wheel, 3000km per tire and probably around 2000km per tube (they tend to go ahead of the tire).

Also today my shifter stopped shifting. I think my bike is finally sensing it's nearing the end of the journey and it's trying to pack it in. I will try coax it across the finish line. I want to get to Key West, whether i take a ferry from Fort Myers and then loop back up to Miami or cycle the causeway south, it's going to happen, damnit. I don't mind to do a bigger rebuild at the end, or trade in and maybe switch to sailing, but now i have that goal, i want to make it there.

I guess it's about a week, ten days away.
 

ali

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Well, i'm almost at the end of this leg of the tour. I am currently in a motel (boo) in Marathon, just a short ride away from Key West, where i will arrive tomorrow, on American Thanksgiving.

The stretch from the panhandle down to here was not a very interesting or picturesque one. I have really struggled to find places to camp in this part of Florida. It is just a seemingly-endless stretch of gated community after gated community after gated community.

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Occasionally there is a shopping mall, with the most boring and generic big box stores and chain restaurants, then it's more gated communities. It's almost worth cycling past just to marvel at how fucking shittily planned the whole thing is. These communities are overwhelmingly white and English-speaking, in a state that actually is far more diverse. There is a pretense that these places are sustainable or environmentally friendly, because people ride golf carts and there are low speed limits inside the communities... but that's ignoring the fact that there are only one or two gates in and out, and then you need to drive 10+ miles along the freeway just to do your groceries. And, of course, the developers don't contribute enough taxes back to the state to actually allow the government to build a road that will handle the traffic, so it's busy as hell and sometimes there isn't even a shoulder for cyclists. To add insult to injury, they're developing on drained swamp land that even just the tiniest bit of rain floods everything.

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Honestly, it's dystopic. Somehow developers in Florida have figured out how to build suburbs without even having a city attached to them. So there's no downtown, there's no "old town", there's nothing unique or worth taking a detour for, there's just residential suburbs, shopping mall, more residential suburbs, another shopping mall. I honestly felt like i was in hell riding through this stuff. It's the most horrific, awful, disgustingly rapacious form of urban development i can imagine. They're destroying the local ecosystems, they're destroying local businesses, they're destroying local agriculture, they're destroying the air quality, they're putting up walls that destroy any hope of building diverse communities... It's such a destructive way of life that it's laughable to think many of the people living there consider themselves "conservative".

Also, the state parks are fewer and further between, and they all charge well over $20 a night, if you can even find a campsite, which is tough because some of them are booked solid months in advance.

You can find free camping in the various Florida water management preserves, and possibly in some of the wildlife management areas, but they tend to either be out-of-the-way, or they are wet and flooded and not very easy to camp on with a tent and a bike (although might work for hitchhikers with a hammock).

So, eventually, i just succumbed to the suckiness and accepted the fact that i was going to have to a) pay a lot more for campsites than anywhere else in America, and b) sometimes not even find any campsites and end up sleeping in a motel or hotel instead.

If you end up making the decision like me, then i can recommend the site Hipcamp. It is a bit like Airbnb, but it's for vandwellers and tent campers. So, some farmer or person with a big back yard offers up a spot in their yard to camp online, and it's usually cheaper than getting an Airbnb, but it's more expensive than a regular campsite. I camped at one guy's lake house, which was actually pretty chill. I also got a super cheap room at an Airbnb where the owner was still setting up her house for hosting, so she was offering a deal that was comparable to tent camping in the area. This was on rural island in the middle of some palm plantations, which was a good spot to shelter from a rainstorm that went over, and a nice break from the relentless suburbs on the mainland.

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Eventually i got to cross the Everglades, which was a cool ride. On a bike i think the only way across is highway 41, aka the Tamiami Trail, which stretches from Tampa to Miami. It's got a decent shoulder for most of the way and sometimes even painted bike lanes. There are a bunch of federal campsites along the Everglades crossing, most of them just off the highway. It's worth stopping in to some of the rest areas as well, where there are boardwalks through the swamp. It's really weird and creepy out there, with cypress trees reaching up out of the black water. You will definitely see gators. They will definitely be swimming around in the lake right next to your tent. But they don't seem to bother you much if you don't bother them. I recommend taking the scenic loop road if you are cycling - it's a gravel road that leads you off the highway for about 20 miles and takes you through some real quiet parts of Big Cypress National Preserve and past the Florida Trail trailhead. If you stop your bike out there all you can hear is swamp critters.

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After that you get to Miami. All the travelers i talk to say Miami sucks, it's awful, just skip it... And Floridians outside of Miami all wrinkle their noses when you mention it. But for this old raver, it has been a bucket list destination my whole life. It's like... Miami Vice, Gloria Estefan, Debbie Deb, Winter Music Conference - it's synonymous with clubs and dancing and music and partying... And when i got there, it was exactly that. Yeah, there are a lot of very rich douchebags. Yeah, it's touristy and superficial as heck. But, i dunno. It also feels gritty and sleazy and lively and exciting. There's music everywhere you go, and thank God it's finally not country music (or classic rock) any more. People are beautiful and fashionable and smiling and having fun. I loved the vibe there so much, i miss it already.

For bicycle tourists Miami isn't bad either (assuming you have cash for traditional accommodation) because the drivers are used to cyclists, and especially in South Beach you will be sharing the road with lots of other cyclists and rollerbladers and e-scooter riders and other people who aren't destroying the environment with their internal combustion vehicles. It is by far the most bike-friendly place i have been on this journey, although it is very hectic because it is a city after all. I recommend cycling through Coconut Grove on the way south, because it takes you through these amazing tunnels of fig trees and the very snazzy homes that line the tight streets. That neighborhood really feels like the right way of integrating homes with the nature around it, a polar opposite from the newer developments where they just bulldoze the mangroves and plant all this ugly golf grass instead.

The other cool spot i found on the way south was a dyke to the east of Homestead, which i think is theoretically open to the public for hiking and cycling, but i ended up getting blocked several times by construction and padlocked gates that i had to wrestle my bike over/under. It was worth the several long detours, though, to cycle basically right along Biscayne National Park.

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The Florida Keys, by comparison, is much less scenic. I was hoping that it would be a really picturesque ride, but it isn't. It's just a highway with private businesses and private homes on either side, blocking the view of the ocean. Occasionally you get to go over a bridge with a view, but then you can't stop because it's a fucking highway. And in the places where you are allowed to stop, you're still right next to the highway, so all you hear is cars driving past and all you smell is vehicle fumes. It really sucks, a lot. I hope that Key West is better, but i definitely don't recommend the ride down highway 1 for any other reason than to say that you did it. Although, i have yet to cross the Seven Mile Bridge, so perhaps that will change my opinion.

So, yeah, it's been an up-and-down week or two, and i don't think it would have been fun at all without the cash to stay at some more conventional accommodations along the way. I thought the Everglades was interesting and i'm glad i cycled through them, but Miami was the highlight for me. It was awesome. I really want to go back and spend more time there. That said, for finding spots to camp under the stars every night, it seems to me that the panhandle is a better bet than anywhere else i've been in Florida.

I'm not really sure what i'm going to do after Key West. There is an expensive ferry to Dry Tortugas where you can camp if you bring a very specific set of allowed equipment (which i don't have). There is another expensive ferry back to Fort Myers, which seems like a good way to avoid cycling back up highway 1, but they also have strict luggage requirements that might not work for bike tourers. I suppose i could just leave the bike behind and continue my travels on foot/boat/Greyhound, but i don't really have much of a plan yet.

I am tempted to head down to Latin America or the Caribbean. Miami got me in the mood. Learn Spanish. Eat good food. Drink strong coffee. Go somewhere where there is decent music and the people like to dance. I do miss all that. It was such a nice change from the relentless blandness and dreariness of middle America... Plus there are places where my dollar would go a lot further than in the US. Yeah, it's tempting.

But first, Key West, and that daiquiri that's been calling my name since Kamloops.
 
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Colinleath

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Ali, cool to get your view on why Miami is great. I've been hearing that over and over for years, but the contrast with the gated communities+car malls helps make it clear.

I always thought there were walkways along those long highways between keys because i think the Florida trail follows them (one FT thru hiker i met says he just put down his mat and slept on them i think--not fun but he was setting a record for the trail at the time). But maybe those walkways are too narrow for a bike plus anyone who might be on them? Or maybe they're not there?

In any event partly due to needing to be so close to traffic for so long I've never wanted to go there.

I think switching to a boat is the right move at some point down there, but that is a very different way to live and has not been my preference either, though I've made an effort a few times. Maybe with the right company. It can be far more isolating than bicycle travel for one.

I'm not sure how relaxed i would be sleeping in a tent next to alligators!!

An excellent travellogue about circumnavigating the eastern US on a rowboat was written by Nathaniel Stone (_On the water_). Musings of his and memories from reading that still come to me while on my own trips. Such as how I'll start reflexively counting steps or pedal strokes or simply just counting. But he has higher aspirations for use of the mind while endlessly rowing his way.

Attempting to find that book led me to this NOAA page on "the great loop" (a continuous waterway around eastern NA), and to Erden Eruç, first solo human-powered circumnavigator. Wow, from his post from yesterday, sharing a John Fairfax quote:
I don’t think that those of us who have felt the need to climb a mountain or row an ocean have done it, or will do it, “because it’s there” but “because we are here.” Without us mountains and oceans have no meaning by themselves: they “are there” and always will be but, for a very, very few, their presence inspires a dream of pitting our puny strength against their might, and to conquer not them, but ourselves. The quest to prove worthy of an almost inconceivable challenge is our greatest reward. To us it is not the final result that matters, but how we measure up to our self-imposed task to confront and do battle with Nature at its rawest. And those who die in the attempt, do not die in defeat; quite the opposite, their death is, in many ways, a triumph, the symbol of that indomitable human spirit that will break before it bends. To test what we are made of, that is our pursuit.

Ali, do you carry a keyboard to type on? Or are you, like me swiping it out on a touchscreen keyboard. I used to carry one, but no longer. You do a great job of having few typos. I suppose many writers for slingshot probably also avoid typos as successfully. But they produce so much text so often about things that often make my eyes glaze over that if they do it's lost on me.

Why Google in all its power can't make a keyboard that will autocapitalize "I" in my sentences i continue to wonder about. What have I done? Seems I just have to take an extra second to select the capital "i."

Ha, you have the lower case i issue as well so I'd guess you're swiping. . . But i didn't notice until i went back to look. One of my phone-composing friends has started talking to his phone to type but that can create other difficulties.
 
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Big George W

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I have to say that I truly look forwards to reading your updates here Ali, as this is truly an epic adventure which you are on.

Your most recent post, the way you were describing all the negative things about Florida, it could have easily been Connecticut you were describing, as we have the same exact problems, and even worse - noting like Miami to help ease the pain of living here.

I'm also a fan of the scene in Miami.
Never been there, but know enough about it to know I'd love it there.

What you have written here only cements that further.

It's interesting reading about how long your bike components are lasting between failure, because what you are doing is real world testing in a way, as opposed to something the manufactures might be inclined to do.

Safe travels !!
Look forwards to your next post, whenever that may be :)
 

ali

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I made my last post just one day before getting to Key West, a little disappointed with my ride down the Keys up to that point. The good news is that from the Seven Mile Bridge on down, the scenery gets much more attractive.

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The funniest part of this photo is my new phone creating two electric pylons out of one because i took the photo in motion. (I am on my third phone of the trip. Electronics don't do well being smashed around, so my usual travel tip is to always buy the cheapest phone you can.) This is actually a good thing to note when you're cycling down the Keys... Although it is really cool to cycle over these very long bridges and causeways, you're not allowed to stop on any of them. This patch of empty road is extremely rare. This is a very busy highway, and you'll rarely get a moment to breathe.

I camped at the one campsite in Key West, on Stock Island, where i had to book three days minimum and paid $75 a night for a no electric inland site. Key West is a ridiculously expensive place to stay. In fact, all of the Keys are. I stayed at my first Warm Showers host in Key Largo, which i didn't want to do because i find homestays very awkward and uncomfortable - i don't like being forced to socialize in exchange for "free" accommodation, it just exhausts me to have to perform on demand in that way. I'd rather work for a couple hours and pay for a private campsite than "werk" for a couple hours to get a place to sleep. But in the Keys there was little option.

Anyway, i bring up Warm Showers because i was sharing a spot in the yard of the host with another bike tourer who traveled from San Diego to St Augustine with a partner, then was heading down to Key West solo. They stealth camped pretty much the whole trip and so had a bit of a different experience to me... But then in Key West a fellow STPer and i coincidentally ran into this bike tourer again, and they shared that they had been busted by the cops for camping in some of the greenery along the side of the road between Marathon and Key West. There is a lot more greenery along that stretch, and a few places where you could probably get away with it, but it seems the police are pretty serious about cracking down on illegal camping, so be careful.

Later on, when i left Key West, i took a public transport bus back up to Florida City (i unhooked my gear and chucked it in the bus, then hung the bike on the front rack), and spotted US Border Patrol investigating a boat that had come ashore on one of the keys. Although in Key West itself you don't often see uniformed police walking around, i did get the sense that the road (and water) up and down the Florida Keys is relatively heavily policed.

If you're a railfan, it's worth checking out the old railroad bridges that run along side the Seven Mile Bridge and several other newer causeways. These used to be part of the Florida East Coast Railway extension, before getting smashed by a hurricane and then converted into a highway, and then abandoned in favor of the newer bridges. The metal guardrails on the older bridges are actually made out of the old railroad track. There are a bunch of places you can stop to explore the older bridges, because a lot of them have connections into state parks or protected areas and have been turned into public fishing piers. Of course, i didn't stop to sightsee because i was so close to the end. To be honest i think exploring the Keys would be way more fun in a canoe or similar shallow-draft vessel than on a bike.
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And, yeah, it felt like a bit of a bummer getting into Key West. The town itself is very touristy and not my kind of vibe at all. There are lots and lots of bars that sell cheap alcohol, but the music isn't to my tastes and the crowd is mostly older and very wealthy. The good thing is everyone will buy you free drinks if you share your story, but eh. There's more to life than free booze. The food is okay, but not as diverse (and cheap) as in the bigger cities of Florida. Most of all, the accommodation is insanely expensive. I'm glad i went to visit just to say i was there, but it turned out not to be a place i would like to stay. I found Miami far more inspiring and interesting, so that's where i have come back to, for now.

When i finished my Canadian part of this tour, i wrote down that it seemed you could travel for $15-20 a day in the western provinces, that's including legal camping and purchased food along the way. That is absolutely not the case in the places i visited in the US. Everything got more and more expensive the further south and east i went. You could perhaps swing it in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas - just stay at cheap state parks, fishing lakes, wildlife management areas... but from Oklahoma down through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and worst of all Florida, the cheap/free camping disappears and paid camping just gets more and more expensive. In Florida you're probably looking at $30-35 a day if you want to find legal spots on the move and not just post up in the cheapest water management district or backcountry trail and never go anywhere. The state definitely has its highlights, but it's not a good place to be broke. I traveled the state much cheaper than the average holidaymaker, but i still definitely paid "holiday money" while i was here - i.e. traveling cost me more money than i would've spent housed up. For me that's a warning sign - ideally i want my traveling lifestyle to be cheaper than (or at least comparable to) being housed up, otherwise i will run out of savings too quickly.

Either way, here i am back in Miami, moving from cheap hotel deal to cheap hotel deal over the next week or so. This weekend is Art Basel, so hotels are spectacularly expensive, and i haven't yet found a deal. I might end up at an airport motel. The goal right now is to scout out a good destination in Latin America to fly out to (all the flights go from Miami). If i don't succeed (or i chicken out), then i will jump on Amtrak and continue my bike tour in the US southwest. I'll loop back with a summary post here when i figure out what's next.

Oh, and Colin - i have a lightweight tablet with keyboard that i use for making these long posts. I don't use it often when camping because i don't have a way to charge it, but when i am in a motel/hotel or campsite with electric i will go back and edit whatever notes i took on my phone ready for posting. Regarding the lowercase "i" - that's a stylistic decision i made as a teenager that i now consider part of my written identity. I actually struggle to get my phone not to correct it. If you ever see a post from me with capital letter "i", it's either because it is a work/professional email, or it's because my phone annoyingly autocorrected it.
 
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Florida sprawl is so horrid (though good for Dumpster diving) and Miami is a contrast to that when biking south so it's a welcome relief. Funny how we ended up biking the same place about a month apart! Currently planting some roots back at home for the winter months and then will be ready to hit the road the moment it's warm again.
 

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So, yesterday, in a fit of spontaneous yolo'ing, i bought a $78 flight to Panama. One of the most absurd things about being in Miami over a big event like Art Basel is that it's actually cheaper to fly to a Latin American destination and stay in a hotel there over the weekend, than it is to stay in a hotel in town.

Another thing that nudged me toward a rapid decision is the media freak-out over the new omicron variant of COVID. If countries start closing their borders again, i figure better to fly out now than wait and possibly get stuck in the US for the entire rest of the winter. I'm not yet sure what i will do in Panama, but i am hoping to find a spot on a sailboat, since it seems a reasonable amount of people hung out there over hurricane season and are now getting ready to move into the Caribbean again.

But that's a different story, and this story is about my first bike tour, which has now come to an end.

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I didn't track my route with GPS or keep a detailed log of exactly where i cycled, but Google Maps decided to construct a "trip" for me, which shows most of the places i've been, at least where there was 4G or wifi coverage. It's missing detail from parts of Turtle Island where there is no connectivity, but the basic route gives an idea of where i went. BC to Manitoba, mostly hugging the US border, then Minnesota to Florida with a detour into the center, then mostly following the Gulf Coast when i reached the south.

My biggest learning from this bike tour is that anyone can do a bike tour. You don't need an expensive bike, and you don't need expensive gear. I bought "real" bike gear instead of jury-rigging a setup with plastic buckets and bungee cords like more hipster or hobbyist travelers tend to do, but i didn't go nuts - i spent far less money than i would've on even the cheapest, shittiest car. You can go almost everywhere that cars can go. You can go lots of places where cars can't go. You can go deep in the wilderness, or you can stick to populated areas. You can go to rural towns where the Greyhound never stops. You can go to big cities. You can get out of uncomfortable situations so much easier than when you are on foot. It's real freedom.

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I thought i'd be worried the whole time about having to drag my bike around to places, or worrying where to store it, but that's really only a problem in cities of a few hundred thousand people or more. Cycling through those cities is no problem (and in fact the bigger the better due to more bike lanes and less ignorant drivers), but finding a place to stay and/or store your bike is exactly the problem i thought it would be. I've gotten very good at rushing into a shop and buying exactly what i need and getting back out again in a short enough time that it's unlikely anyone will mess with the shit that's still strapped to the bike. Busy shops in wealthy suburbs are a good bet. But out in the smaller towns and rural/wilderness areas, those worries just melt away, and biking seems like the perfect form of long-term travel.

The biggest costs are food and accommodation. Food because you need to eat two or three times as much as what you normally do. Accommodation is more a problem in the southeast, as i have spent the past few posts lamenting. You can easily reduce food costs by preparing everything yourself - i was just in "holiday mode" for much of the trip and tried to eat some local dishes to experience the culture in places where i had never been before, so it did get pricey at times. Accommodation... ugh. Follow the sun and find places where they don't hate tent campers is my best advice.

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What i will do now is donate my bike to a local co-op. I don't like the hassle of trying to sell things, or the worry that it will just be snatched up by someone looking to flip it or whatever. I almost always give away my things for free when i leave a country, so hopefully they'll go to people who really need it. This is also why i only buy things that feel more like practical tools than boutique investments or hobby projects. If i had a $5000 bike, or one that i had spent weeks and months building myself, i would be a lot more inclined to find a place to store it or get it back to Canada or whatever. But since i spent less than a thousand on this setup and got over a year of local riding and 3-4 months of cross-country touring on it, i feel like i got my money's worth. Now it's time for someone else to get some utility out of it.

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Alas, now i am stuck with a 30L backpack and a cheap duffle to carry my shit, which is not the most convenient setup for going back to backpacking/hiking. I'm not sure if it's worth buying an actual full-size backpack again just to carry my tent, food and sleeping bag, but that'll be a topic for a future post.

I think i will bike tour again. I have always had the American southwest on my bucket list, so perhaps taking a bike out there is something that would be cool for later in winter or early spring. It will depend how much money i have left and how easy it is to find a new bike when i get back. I was saying elsewhere that i think i have America-ed myself out for now. I will probably appreciate the southwest more after i have been away from America for long enough that it seems kinda exotic again.

Thanks to Bikepunky (now Hitchbiker) and Superphoenix for being inspirations for me in just getting out there and doing this, and to everyone else for your comments and moral support along the way. It's been awesome. Can't wait to see what's next.
 

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