Monday, 2 December 2013

TROPICAL BREEZE

Contrary to what I'd expected, there was some sort of a cold spell at the time when I entered Florida. It was rather windy, and the nights were somewhat chilly. Fortunately, at that stage the wind was mostly in my favour, and there wan't really any rain. Later on I would be well and truly washed out.
While still in Georgia I'd gotten some hand-line fishing tackle, and fished in the evening where I was often camped out close to a river. It was quite easy to catch good-sized catfish, which made a good meal once I'd filleted and fried it in the pan.
The first big city I encountered in Florida was Jacsonville, and I managed to avoid most of the congestion by going along the coastal route across the islands and taking the ferry from Mayport. Along the way I met Doug, a local travel enthusiast. He bought me some lunch, and also called the local newspaper who interviewed me via his phone. At Mayport I camped in the shelter of the pavillion at the ferry dock, where I took the ferry for $1 the following morning. Some rather large ships made their way past my camp up the St Johns river to the harbour. There was also a big naval station across the river, and their helicopters kept flying around the place.
St Augustine, the oldest mainland town in the US, was a bit further down the coast. It was raining the night before, so I camped under a shelter at a beach parking area. The following morning Bill arrived there on his bicycle, chatted a bit, and gave me 2 bananas for breakfast. Later on I figured out that he was homeless and lives on the beach (apparently he regards the shelter where I camped as his “lounge”). St Augustine is very touristy, with all sorts of city tours, and tour guides dressed up in historic garb. I guess the town was founded as a result of the historic Spanish Fort St Marcos.
Next down the road was Cape Canaveral, famed for the Kennedy Space Centre. As I've mentioned, I make good use of McDonalds free wi-fi, so I don't mind seeing those signs along the way.
Close to Cape Canaveral I stayed with Warmshowers host Chris, and his family. By that time I was desparately in need of a good shower and laundry (and a good meal) – thanks Chris and Beth. No surprise, he is an engineer in the space industry (and also an enthusiastic cyclist, going for a ride every morning before dawn).
Then came a spell of stong side-winds (Easterly) and heavy rain. The busy roads were completely flooded at times, and I made good use of McDonalds wi-fi (very little mileage on those days). I camped wherever I could under those conditions, even on the back porch of a real-estate agency, and later when it rained again in Miami, under the overhead metro railway.
Florida, South Carolina, and various other states have laws allowing for safe biking, but many motorists ignore it. At one stage somebody in a car shouted at me to “get off the f## road, when I was in the clearly marked bike lane. Luckily I haven't been knocked down here yet.
Going South, even before West Palm Beach, I cycled through continuous built-up areas for a few days. Through Fort Lauderdale and on to Miami. The coast here is lined with condo's and hotels, with big cruise ships huddled around Fort Lauderdale and Miami harbours.
Now I'm just South of Miami, in the area called Homestead. I've been staying on Paradise Farm, owned by Warmshowers host Gabriele.
They grow organic fruit and veg here, and I don't think I've ever eaten so much avo's and other healthy foods.
I've also done a bit to help out on the farm where I could.
Today they have a Sunday Market outside the farm gate selling farm produce, as well as farm tours. Everybody here including Caryl (chef) and Andy (farmer) are doing their bit to make the event a success. I've already been here on the farm for a week, I'm being spoilt, so I'd better get a move-on South to the Keys tomorrow.
The distance which I've cycled has now clocked over to 120 000 km (75 000 miles). It's time I left America, and I'm looking for a cheap way out (preferably by boat).
Daily distances cycled since entering Florida State have been:- Nassau 56 km; Mayport 54 km; St Augustine 62 km; Ormond Beach 69 km; New Smyrna Beach 47 km; Titusville 75 km; Melbourne 81 km; Gifford 30 km; Fort Pierce 32 km; Jupiter 67 km; Boca Raton 84 km; Miami 89 km; and Homestead 45 km. The distance cycled so far in the USA and Canada is 15 668 km (9 793 ml), and the total distance which I've cycled so far on this journey is 120 294 km (75 184 miles).

Thursday, 14 November 2013

GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Actually, since my last report from North Carolina, it took some tiime to get to Georgia state. First I had to cycle through another of the Southern states, South Carolina.
From Wilmington NC I cycled South mostly in the vicinity of the Atlantic coast. In this area there is a vast system of rivers, estuaries, and so forth, collectively known as the Inland Waterway. Many boats cruise up and down the SE coast on this passage, so road bridges are either draw-bridges, or very high bridges to let through the sail-boats and larger ships.
Once again, as usual, I spent the nights in some unusual places. When the weather was good it was easy to camp in the woods or such places. When there was a threat of rain I sought shelter, once in a nice wooden shed at a lot which sells sheds (with written permission), and once on a Sunday at a Baptist church gazebo (where the pastor brought me a gift of toothbrush and toothpaste).
There are some pretty cities along this coast, such as the river port in South Carolina, Charleston. The town is a nice small city, with an intersting historical downtown area. The biggest thing in the city is the bridge across the river. I could look across from the bridge to the port, where there were some cargo ships and even a cruise ship. What interested me more was the US naval aircraft carrier on the Northern banks of the river, and like a true spy I took a pic or 2 from a distance (only later did I notice that there is also a large submarine in the picture).
Somewhere close to the state line between North- and South Carolina I met Eric from Charleston, cycling South from New York. He was going all the way to Charleston that day, and suggested that he would have accommodation there for me the following night (although he did not have his own place anymore, he would be staying with a friend for the next week or 2 before carrying on South). Well, the friend had apparently been drunk when he agreed that I could sleep over on the empty floor where Eric also stayed, and he decided that I should be gone early the following morning (and for good measure he kicked his friend, Eric, out as well). I'd gone hungry that night, as I was hardly going to start cooking food under those circumstances (I tried eating raw pasta, but I don't recommend it).
At a non-descript little roadside place called Point South, just North of the Georgia border, I met Coleman. I had been pushing on till late in the day because I needed to get wi-fi, and there was a McDonalds at this place. There, at McDonalds, I found Coleman, wondering where he would spend the night. He is from San Francisco, and had cycled a route close to the one I had taken (only faster). His cycle trip would soon end in Florida, where he was headed. We had a good chat, camped together under the canopy of a derelict gas station, and the next morning he bought me a good breakfast at the Waffle House (another one of the roadside fast food chain outlets).
Spending the night a short distance away from us was Pete from Charleston, on a tandem with his beloved hound. I met him again later that day on his way back to Charleston (day 3 on the bike), admitting that he was going home to re-group, as he may have bitten of more than he could chew.
I crossed the big bridge over another river harbour into Georgia state, at the city of Savannah. This is another picturesque historic city, with lots of tourists and street car tours, etc.
Further South in Georgia were more bridges and harbours, with a large number of car-carrying ships (imports or exports?).
There are plenty of interesting and eccentric people in the towns of the US South. One of them is an old man called Windy (his last name is Briese), who has turned his gas station into an antique shop over the years. He has an eye-catching sign outside, and I went in for a chat and got to sign his visitors book (where there were a number of other South Africans listed as well).
The bridge on my route across the river to Florida was closed for repairs, and I faced at least a day of detouring to get around that. However, a local retired schoolteacher, James Thomason, pulled me over and offered to give me a lift across the Interstate bridge (stopping along the way so I could get a Florida road map at their visitor centre). Daily distances cycled since my last update have been:- Myrtle Beach 100 km; Georgetown (South Carolina) 83 km; Charleston 104 km; Point South 116 km; Hardeeville (Georgia) 46 km; Midway 86 km; Darien 53 km; and Waverley 48 km. The total distance cycled so far on this trip is 119 503 km.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

HALOWEEN DOWN SOUTH

So, from Richmond Virginia I hit the busy Highway 1 South, on the road again after a pleasant but brief respite.
I cycled through some traffic on route 1 South of Richmond, and then through a rather dilapidated (and hillbilly'ish) Petersburg, before getting to open space again. The road was fine from there across into North Carolina state, the 21st state in the USA through which I've cycled in the past few months.
Thankfully, the weather was good - perhaps I am outrunning the approaching Northern winter. I had no need to find a sheltered camp site, and there was plenty of woods and such places to camp. It also gave me a chance to dry my stuff out for a change.
On the outskirts of Raleigh (capital of NC) I met Rob Atkinson, who has just recently started his own bike shop. He gave me directions to the place, and then he gave me a whole lot of things I needed for Old Saartjie (including a set of tyres, and a rear derailleur). There are some strange things going on here in North Carolina, apparently there is an annual "National Hollerin' Contest", and the little place where this occurs is now famous as the "Hollerin' Capital".
I've been seeing the Halloween decorations on sale, and also being set up at people's homes for the past few weeks. When I've asked someone when Halloween takes place, they just laugh at me, thinking I'm joking (obviously everybody knows when Halloween is!). Eventually it happened, and here in Wilmington we all went across Nun street to Cheryl's house for the party. At one stage it was also my job to dish out candy when the kids came around "Tricking and Treating". (A year ago Leana and I were in Mexico for Halloween).
I was supposed to stay with Warmshowers hosts Paul and Phyllis here in Wilmington, but they rented their house out and moved to their sailboat for the start of a 4-month trip the day I arrived (I did meet them, however). Instead I'm staying with their neighbour, David Walker, a very pleasant and interesting man. I'm not quite sure what a "raconteur" is, but David has been referred to as such, and I guess he fits the description. He is an impressive artist, and also a collector of things.
Amongst the things which David collects are houses and cars (and everything else imaginable). He said I'm welcome to stay here as long as I want, just not more than 2 months (and he's serious!). Tonight will be my 4th night here, its been rainy but tomorrow will be clear and cool, so I'll move on.
I've been able to do a few things while I have a secure place to do so, such as working on my bike and, of course, updating this blog!
Daily distances cycled since Richmond have been as follows:- Alberta 96 km; Warrenton 77 km; Franklinton 63 km; Raleigh 66 km; Erwin 67 km; Samson County 77 km; and Wilmington 86 km. The total distance cycled so far in North America is 14 241 km, and the total cycled so far on this trip is 118 867 km.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

THE CAPITAL AND THE WAR PATH

It was another traffic-riddled day, trying to find my way through the cities towards the US capital, Washington DC. My bike mirror had been clipped a number of times by passing cars, and now the headset bearing had disintegrated. I'd improvised by using wheel bearings, but I was a little nervous because Old Saartjie (my bike) was swerving around, barely under control.
Somehow I got into Washington, and my mood lifted as I felt as though I was one of the many tourists crowding the Mall area around which everything seems to happen. The Mall is a large parkland strip in the city centre, the Capitol, the White House, and all the monuments and museums are around there. There are also paths for biking, jogging, and tourist strolling.
I wondered if I'd be able to camp on the lawns of the White House, but there was a fence around with police guards, so I just took a picture.
I went a mile or so further on, looked at some of the sights until after dark, and then I set up camp under a tree in the middle of the park. At 4-30 AM the police discovered me there (I was hardly hidden anyway). They told me that camping was not allowed, but I was permitted to be there as long as I was just sitting around reading the way that I was. (I don't know anybody who pitches his tent in a park, crawls into his sleeping bag, and then reads all night - in the dark!). Strangely enough, when they arrived there the first thing they asked is if I'd seen a bunch of joggers go by? So I carried on sleeping (or reading?) until the sun warmed my tent.
Then I packed up and cycled across the Potomac river into Virginia state, officially into the "South". The first thing I came across there was Arlington cemetery. Then I was sent on a wild goose chase by a series of poor directions before I eventually came across the bike path running alongside George Washington Parkway, all the way down to Washington's estate at Mount Vernon. From there I followed the busy Highway 1, which has become less busy the further South I've gone. This is a historic route, as it follows Washington and Co's march to victory (although according to the picture, by 1936 some had still not conceded). There are also various battlefield museums in the area. It hasn't been totally unpleasant, with some rolling hills bordered by forests changing their colours.
Right now I'm in the city of Richmond, a bike-friendly pleasant city with a university and divided by a river. I'm staying with Warmshowers host Glenn, his wife Laeticia, and their 4 young sons (things can get hectic around here!). She is a teacher, and they all cycle to school, 2 of the younsters on the long back (the older one rides his own bike, and the baby stays at home - with babysitter).
Today Glenn made an arrangement with the local bike shop, and owner Clint fitted a new headset on Old Saartjie, as well as some other emergency fittings and adjustments. So, when I leave here tomorrow I should be less of a hazard on the road! Also staying here are a Belgian couple, Maelle and Jonathan, cycling across the US, so this is literally a crowded house.
Distances cycled since my previous update have been:- Washington DC 67 km; Lorton 57 km; Fredericksburg 71 km; Ladysmith 48 km; and Richmond 68 km. The total distance which I have cycled so far on this trip is 118 335 km (73 959 miles). The total so far in the USA and Canada has been 13 709 km (8 568 miles).

Friday, 18 October 2013

THE URBAN SPRAWL

Leaving New York on a bike seemed as though it might pose a problem. Some directions I looked up suggested a ferry or the train. The problem was not so much in New York, but rather where to go once I'd crossed the George Washington bridge across the Hudson river into New Jersey. From there onwards it seemed to be a maze of Interstates and other "illegal" routes, and the more directions I tried to get from locals, the more it seemed as though I may be stuck.
Instead of painting myself in a corner, I found a nice covered loading platform behind a shopping mall, and I called it an early day. I'd done some shopping and had enough time to cook up a good pot of food, which I enjoyed while taking in the view of Manhattan across the water. This is not the first loading platform where I've camped, especially to escape wet weather, but this was a good one - there was even a "porter pottie". It turns out the shop behind the door was still in the process of being fitted out, and the following morning John and his partner were rather surprised to find a camper on their work-site. It was no problem however, we had a good chat and they even took pictures of me. John also looked up directions for me on his phone, which helped me a long way out to where I found accessable roads.
As I said, loading platforms are a favourite night-time haunt of mine, especially in wet weather, and while I was finding my way through the concrete jungles of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and DC there was a miserable series of rain (sometimes I was lucky to find shelter). I never expected to be in Philadelphia in my life, let-alone arriving there at dusk, and camping in a central park on Lemon Hill, looking at the city lights through the pouring rain.
I also found that the dugouts at local baseball parks made a reasonable shelter, although not all dugouts are covered. At one particular place somebody directed me to the dugouts at the ball park behind their building, but when I searched the place I found no dugouts at all.
Bridges also offer some shelter, but they come with their own problems. Undesirable elements often hang out there, or you may find that the drainage pipe pours out right on top of your tent. On the outskirts of Baltimore I camped in a suspect area between 2 railway lines under the Interstate 95 overpass. Well, the I 95 never sleeps, and the noise of the heavy traffic rattling overhead blasted me the whole night.
Directions are often suspect, as many people don't know their neighbourhoods very well, and especially not bike routes as drivers mostly use the highways. On route 40 through Delaware, although the road was busy, there was a bike lane at the side. However, when I got to the bridge which crosses that part of Chesapeake Bay, bikes were prohibited and the police called a cab to take me across (taking a chunk out of my meagre finances). The cab driver told me about a New Zealand touring cyclist who had just about made it across the bridge by the time he was caught, and made to cycle all the way back to take a cab). Often when I asked for directions (which was indeed often), people were generally curious about where I was off to with all the stuff I'm carting around, wanting to chat at in many instances taking pictures (such as these guys at a workshop in Maryland).
Distances cycled since New York have been:- Edgewater 42 km; Fords 67 km; New Brunswick 27 km; Morrisville 60 km; Philadelphia 63 km; Chester 44 km; New Castle 33 km; Perryville 51 km; Edgewood 66 km; and Baltimore 53 km. Total overall distance cycled so far is 118 024 km (73 765 miles).