bikekath
bike touring, and why i miss it.

Since my touring buddy Alex is out on the road, on the Pacific Coast, right now, I’ve been thinking a lot about going touring again. Since I got back, which was closer to two years ago than one now, I’ve been saying I want to ride the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to San Diego (or something approximating that). Now that Alex is out there, texting me about how great a ride it is, I’m missing the long rides through totally new terrain even more.

I know Chicago’s streets too well. Since I got the job at CDOT’s Bike Program last summer, I’ve been to every neighborhood in the city at least once, most more often than that. I’ve ridden to every corner and along every major street and most minor ones. There isn’t really anything new to discover in this place for me. I miss that. Don’t get me wrong - I still unequivocally love living here - riding Logan Boulevard on a beautiful Sunday morning, while everyone is out at the Farmer’s Market or walking the dog or lounging in the parkways is positively life-affirming, but there is a certain boredom present in riding my bike here. I know where the bike lanes are, which streets are newly paved, which run for miles, and which dead end into the Metra embankment on Ravenswood. And, as long as I continue to live in Chicago, none of that will change quickly enough for riding a bike to be anything close to a novel experience for me.

So, I like the anticipation of the next tour. The next time I’ll be able to ride along completely new streets every day for a month or two or three.

This is a picture of Alex and me on the final riding day of our bike tour. It was taken by Mark, our host in Baton Rouge.

This is a picture of Alex and me on the final riding day of our bike tour. It was taken by Mark, our host in Baton Rouge.

Back in Chicago

My train pulled into Union Station at around 9:30AM this morning. Got led down to the basement warehouse area to pick up and reassemble my bicycle, and got home by 10:30. The actual train travel part of traveling by train may not be very efficient, but getting there and back and on and off the train sure is.

Our last day of riding, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, was close to 90 miles. One of the longest days we did throughout the trip. I had a pretty great adrenaline kick going, just from the knowledge that I was nearly finished with this big, long trip that I had been doubting my ability and desire to do just a month before. That certainly helped me along.

In the end, we decided not to take the Levee Path in New Orleans at all. It would have been nice to finish the trip on a car-free path, but it just didn’t make as much sense once I figured out where Michelle, a friend of mine whom we were staying with in New Orleans, lives. We would have had to have ridden across the city on surface streets anyway, so we just stuck to Highway 61. There was a part of it, I think where the suburbs turn into the city, that was relatively terrifying. We were fortunately riding reverse-commute style, so, although it was rush-hour, the traffic on our side of the road was pretty light.

The city itself seems like a pretty nice place to bike, save the absolutely awful condition of the pavement. All of it. Main roads, side streets, bike lanes, wherever you are in New Orleans, the pavement is torn to pieces. But we saw a lot of other people out on bikes both as we were riding in, and on the day and a half we were in the city before our trains left. Alex pointed out that everyone was riding cruisers, which seemed to be pretty much true. Or at least far more true than it would be in Chicago or Seattle. The bike shop we went to there was even stocked almost entirely with cruisers.

On Thursday night, we tried to stay up as late as possible, going out and celebrating the completion of our trip. Given that we’d grown accustomed to waking up before dawn, and being on our bikes from dawn ‘til dusk every single day, we figured we could probably make it to about 10PM if we tried. We went for veggie burgers/sandwiches at 13 first, then walked down Bourbon Street sipping silly-looking sugary drinks for the novelty of it, and finally stopped in at the bar Michelle works at, Molly’s at the Market, right before her shift started. With the help of some frozen Irish coffees (basically, alcoholic, caffeinated milkshakes - delicious), we actually managed to stay there hanging out for two hours, until about midnight! We were pretty proud of that. But also extremely tired. So we walked back to Michelle’s place and fell asleep.

On Friday when we woke up, we walked down to Cafe du Monde, where we bought and ate 6 beignets each. Apparently most people know what a beignet is, but I didn’t, so - it is basically a funnel cake but with a solid piece of fried dough instead of funnels. But, fried dough with powdered sugar nonetheless. And this is apparently a breakfast food. Because we hadn’t done quite enough to erase the health benefits of having bicycled nearly 1600 miles in four weeks yet, we then stopped in at another cafe on our walk back for breakfast burritos.

After several hours of errand-running, laundry-doing, and Friends-watching, Michelle took us to a Thai restaurant around the corner from her house for dinner. She then went off to work at the bar again, and Alex and I contemplated going out, but decided we couldn’t do two nights in a row. Also, Alex’s train left at 7AM the next morning. But me, I’m just old.

Alex somehow managed to pack up and leave early in the morning without waking me, so I woke up around 7, and biked over to Satsuma Cafe, which Michelle had recommended for breakfast. I had possibly the best French toast I’ve ever consumed, with fresh strawberries, candied pecans, and just a tiny bit of syrup. It actually made me sad, in a way, since it’s in New Orleans and I’ll likely never eat it again.

Packed up my stuff, biked around for a little while, and then rode over to the Amtrak station. Prepped my bike for the box like a pro who’s done it before, got all sad that it was over, and boarded the train. There were some crazy people on the train, but they don’t really seem worth talking about anymore. There were also a fair number of drunk people on the train, far more than there were on the one from Chicago to Albuquerque. New Orleans’ influence?

And so, I guess that’s it. It was a fun trip. I liked having something to do every day that I actually enjoyed doing. I met some nice, interesting, and crazy people. I saw parts of the country that I either had never seen or had never paid attention to. I hung out with some old friends, and even ran into one randomly. Although I’d kind of still like to be biking down south (just continuing across Florida), it’s good to be home for Christmas. And I’m sure I’ll do this again someday, somewhere else in the country. Or world.

New Orleans!

We’re done. We rode 1570 miles in 28 days, with four days off. Though we did at least a little bit of cycling around whatever city we were in on each of those days.

I’m tired.

Well, we crossed the bridges. They were not all that terrifying. It would have been nice not to have been incessantly honked at by drivers in the left lane as they passed us on the one over the Mississippi, but what are you gonna do? We didn’t have any other legal choice than to ride over that bridge; dudes need to chill out about being so inconvenienced as to have to change lanes to pass us.

That picture above is the State Capitol building in Baton Rouge. It’s the tallest building in the city, seemingly by a long shot. We met our host for the evening there, and then rode with him through the downtown area and on a bike path up on the levee by the river. He works at and lives near Louisiana State University.

We had a beer, talked a bit, I fixed the first flat either of us has had since…San Marcos, I think? Alex may have had one or two in his trailer wheel, but our Schwalbes have been holding up remarkably. Though my back one definitely needs to be replaced once I get back to Chicago, as the tread has been very well worn down over the course of this trip.

Mark then cooked dinner, while Alex and I ran to the store. We ate, talked more about politics and bikes, and are now getting ready to retire for the evening. Tomorrow is our LAST DAY. We’ll hit 1500 miles early in the day, probably end around 1570 or so. Not bad for an exactly four week long trip.

Well, we crossed the bridges. They were not all that terrifying. It would have been nice not to have been incessantly honked at by drivers in the left lane as they passed us on the one over the Mississippi, but what are you gonna do? We didn’t have any other legal choice than to ride over that bridge; dudes need to chill out about being so inconvenienced as to have to change lanes to pass us.

That picture above is the State Capitol building in Baton Rouge. It’s the tallest building in the city, seemingly by a long shot. We met our host for the evening there, and then rode with him through the downtown area and on a bike path up on the levee by the river. He works at and lives near Louisiana State University.

We had a beer, talked a bit, I fixed the first flat either of us has had since…San Marcos, I think? Alex may have had one or two in his trailer wheel, but our Schwalbes have been holding up remarkably. Though my back one definitely needs to be replaced once I get back to Chicago, as the tread has been very well worn down over the course of this trip.

Mark then cooked dinner, while Alex and I ran to the store. We ate, talked more about politics and bikes, and are now getting ready to retire for the evening. Tomorrow is our LAST DAY. We’ll hit 1500 miles early in the day, probably end around 1570 or so. Not bad for an exactly four week long trip.

Louisiana

We finally entered a new state. And we’re already nearly halfway across it. Right before we crossed the border into Louisiana, we stopped for one last Texas meal in Deweyville, TX. While we were sitting there, the table of guys next to us were having a loud conversation with the waitress across the room. I’m pretty sure they were speaking English, but I couldn’t understand a word of it all. Their accents are so thick down here.

Immediately upon crossing into Louisiana, the road got a whole lot worse, the shoulder would appear and disappear for no apparent reason, there’d be large piles of rocks in the road, etc. Just as we were thinking that all the rumors we’d heard about Louisiana roads being terrible were true, though, it suddenly got a lot better. Going through towns is a chore. There aren’t any shoulders and the roads are REALLY torn up. But when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, the shoulder is smooth, wide, and persistent. Somewhat the opposite of what we found in Texas, where the roads were always much better maintained in towns.

I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed that I’ve been in Louisiana for a day and a half now and have seen 0 alligators. I was led to believe that they lined the roads down here, that they hung out in every drainage ditch. But they don’t. Every time we cross a bridge over a swampy lake, I get all excited and start scanning the muddy water. But, nothing so far.

Last night, we stayed with another Warm Showers host, Sarah, in Opelousas. She was out when we arrived, but there was another pair of cyclists, who are traveling east to west, hanging out and cooking dinner. We exchanged stories of the roads ahead as we ate dinner. Eventually, Sarah got home from the volleyball game she had been coaching. She teaches at a local high school here, where she had originally come through Teach for America a few years back. She’s from Evanston, though, so we talked a bit about Chicago. She thinks I’m crazy for riding my bike there year-round.

Two days left, 150 miles. The last few weeks have kind of flown by. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed waking up every day, getting on my bike, and riding until the sun goes down. It’s therapeutic in a way, to know what I’m doing every day, and to get a little stronger and better at it each day. We’ll hit New Orleans tomorrow evening, then we have Friday to enjoy the city before we both get on Saturday trains to Chicago (me) and New York (Alex).

This is where we camped Saturday night, behind the high school in Liberty. We woke up around 8, packed up, and rode over to the same Mexican restaurant we’d eaten dinner at the night before. They had told us they have good breakfast. I had chilaquiles, which were indeed very good.

We rode about 45 miles yesterday, nice and leisurely. Was great not to be in a race against the sun for once. We arrived in Beaumont, TX sometime in the afternoon. Alex had found someone we could stay with on CouchSurfing. He is a professor in engineering at the local university, grows a lot of his own food, and knows pretty much everything about sustainability. He cooked us a delicious dinner of fresh vegetables, we talked for a bit, and then we went to bed kind of early.

Today, we’re riding about 55 miles to DeQuincy, LA. Finally out of Texas! After that, we’ve lined up a couple of Warm Showers hosts to stay with in Opelousas and Baton Rouge. Our final day of cycling will be an 85-mile jaunt to New Orleans, which ends car-free on the Levee Bike Path.

This is where we camped Saturday night, behind the high school in Liberty. We woke up around 8, packed up, and rode over to the same Mexican restaurant we’d eaten dinner at the night before. They had told us they have good breakfast. I had chilaquiles, which were indeed very good.

We rode about 45 miles yesterday, nice and leisurely. Was great not to be in a race against the sun for once. We arrived in Beaumont, TX sometime in the afternoon. Alex had found someone we could stay with on CouchSurfing. He is a professor in engineering at the local university, grows a lot of his own food, and knows pretty much everything about sustainability. He cooked us a delicious dinner of fresh vegetables, we talked for a bit, and then we went to bed kind of early.

Today, we’re riding about 55 miles to DeQuincy, LA. Finally out of Texas! After that, we’ve lined up a couple of Warm Showers hosts to stay with in Opelousas and Baton Rouge. Our final day of cycling will be an 85-mile jaunt to New Orleans, which ends car-free on the Levee Bike Path.

Houston

We stayed a while in Houston since Eric had Friday off to hang out. He took us to a vegetarian Indian food buffet for lunch on Friday, and then we went to a huge mall so Alex could get new headphones at the Apple store. While he was doing that, I booked my train ticket home since our agenda for the rest of the trip has been set. I’ll be returning to Chicago the morning of 12/18.

After the car errands, we did a bit of bike maintenance and then all set off for a ride around part of Houston. Alex wanted to get a new helmet (lost in Austin somewhere) and gloves, but he couldn’t find either in any of the shops we went to. One of the shops had a bunch of really old and really expensive bikes/frames that were fun to see, though.

After striking out at the bike shops, we rode over to a cafe called “Brazil,” I think, for pizza, ciders (Alex & I), and beers (Eric). We then rode back to Eric’s family home, and hung out there for the rest of the evening.

Today, Eric was again kind enough to give us a ride to the other side of Houston. Houston is so huge. And apparently there was a less-than-stellar neighborhood on the route we would’ve had to take out of town. Once on the northeast side of Houston, we had lunch, said goodbye & thanks to Eric (and the rest of the Garza family, who have been great to us this trip), and hopped on our bikes for a quick 30-mile jaunt to Liberty, TX.

The road today was mostly great, though there was about a 5-6 mile stretch that had a really awful shoulder which forced us to decide between riding on a car lane or being slowed down by bumpy, loose aggregate. I chose the latter.

Tomorrow is another short ride, about 40 miles or so to Beaumont, TX. Monday night we’ll likely be in DeQuincy, LA. Then Opelousas, Baton Rouge, and finally, New Orleans. Home stretch now.

Back on the Road

I loved Austin. While it wasn’t my first time there, it was my first time there when SXSW wasn’t going on. Makes a big difference. On Tuesday, Alex and I ended up riding around town being tourists all day.

First, we rode down to Bouldin Creek Cafe for a late breakfast. It was vegetarian, and with something of a bicycle theme. Kinda like the Handlebar. Austin is a really bikey town. Even though it was freezing the whole time we were there, we had trouble locking up our bikes because all the racks everywhere were full. Anyway, breakfast was delicious. I had sweet potato & pecan tamales.

After that, we jumped over to South Congress Street, which has a nice collection of shops & restaurants. I browsed through a few antique shops, a bookstore, a handmade gifts type place, and a cowboy boot store. Alex bought a luchador mask and then wore it the rest of the day.

Next, we rode back to the downtown area to stop in Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s. Awesome, big shop and the dude who worked there that we were talking to was great. Bought an Austin bikes t-shirt as a souvenir for the trip, along with a few supplies.

Around the corner from there is the Whole Foods flagship store. Which is nice and all, but I feel like it’s not really any bigger than the Lincoln Park one. It didn’t have a beer bar either. Got some fancy gelato and wrote a few postcards. About how I was in Whole Foods eating gelato. Exciting!

Rode back to Jake’s, went out for some “Chicago-style” pizza for the novelty of it, and then fell asleep while Jake yelled at the Xbox forever about how it wouldn’t connect to the Internet or something.

Wednesday was Alex’s birthday and he really wanted to go out for an awesome breakfast. When Olga was driving us to Austin, she had recommended a place called 24 Diner near the Whole Foods. I checked the menu and since it was mostly breakfast, with a lot of vegetarian options, I suggested it as a good place to go.

Little did I know that an old friend from the neighborhood I grew up in, Allie, worked there! I actually didn’t even know she currently lived in Austin; she apparently moved there from Philadelphia a few months ago. So I caught up with her and had a delicious breakfast: a waffle, homemade veggie sausage, and eggs.

Alex and I ran a few errands downtown, then headed back to Jake’s to pack up and head out of Austin. Took us longer than anticipated and we ended up only making it about 20 miles yesterday, to Elgin, TX.

Today, we set a pretty ridiculous goal of riding 140 miles to Eric’s place in Houston. We left at the break of dawn. It was so cold that we had to take a mid-morning hot chocolate break to warm up, which slowed us down a bit.

We had lunch at a really cute cafe in Brenham, TX. Fantastic “European-style” (whatever that means) mac and cheese and a caramel hazelnut flavored hot chocolate. Alex was the only man in the whole place, it was a definite lady-fest.

In the end, we made it about 107 miles before losing light and having to call it quits for the day. Our longest day so far! Now, I’m writing this from a Taco Bell connected to an Amoco somewhere in the Houston exurbs. My amazing friend Eric is coming to pick us up from here and bring us to his parents’ place in Houston, where we’ll be staying for the next two nights. Since Eric has the day off work tomorrow and today was so long, we’re going to hang out in Houston for a day before hitting the road again.

We only have 6 cycling days left. So, a week and we should be done with this whole thing. Crazy.

This is a cartoon from The Onion about bikes.

This is a cartoon from The Onion about bikes.