Meet High Climber and A New Voyage!

3/22/2017  

It’s been some time since I have logged on to give an update and now that our plans are falling into place I thought I’d spend some time catching up and introducing the next journey. In September, about a month into our Solvi venture down the Mississippi River, we spoke with our friend Max on the phone. During that phone conversation we discussed helping him deliver his 40’ Dufour Aluminum Sailboat from St. Petersburg, Florida to San Fransisco, California via the Panama Canal. At the time it was just a small seed in the back of our minds, similar to the idea that we had when we first came up with the Solvi plan. But just as with Solvi, the small seed took roots and blossomed into reality. On April 1st (give or take a few days for weather windows) Max, Kyle, myself, and Max’s father will leave Blind Pass Marina in St. Pete Beach, Florida and head Southwest towards Isla Mujeres, Mexico- our first stop in this 4 month 6,000 mile journey. The tentative plan from Isla Mujeres is as follows: we will sail to Cozumel before making a 250 mile hop to Rhoatan Honduras. From there we will visit a small island in Columbia before heading to the Panama Canal entrance. Once through the canal and in Panama City we will be changing crew- although Kyle, Max, and myself will stay on for the journey’s entirety. From Panama City we will slowly but surely make our way North towards California, participating in what many sailors call the “Baja Bash”. The predominant wind pattern on the West coast is North, therefore attempting to head North into an oncoming wind can be very challenging and a bit uncomfortable due to pounding into wind and waves for days on end. Fortunately we planned somewhat accordingly and the months we will spend on that coast will have fairly less wind than the rest of the year. Arriving in Cabo by mid-late June is necessary due to Hurricane season. If we make that date then we will explore the Sea of Cortez in the Baja of California before making the last stretch to San Francisco.  

 As I am sure is clear, this is a fairly major journey we have set out for ourselves and not one tidbit has been taken lightly. From every square inch of the boat, engine, hull, rigging, and sails being checked, cared for, rebuilt, or replaced to countless hours of research on documentation, customs, routes, and weather patterns we have spent the last 3 months since returning from Solvi preparing for the trip. At this point Kyle and I have been living aboard full time for over a month! Documentation, paperwork, and provisioning has been my forte while also working as much as possible to make money to fund this trip. As a full time team Kyle and Max have spent hundreds of hours making sure the boat, High Climber, is ready for the passage. Other hours have been spent making sure the crew gets along, getting awful vaccinations, gathering first aid items, and organizing the boat so that every aspect is efficient and clean. I could spend pages describing the preparations we have and are taking to prepare for the voyage, but the underlying point is that we want this to be an adventure full of challenge, joy, excitement, and growth. Therefore the three of us are taking every action necessary to ensure our safety and enjoyment along the way.

With the leave date approaching we are beginning to get real excited for the upcoming adventure. Below are some photos of High Climber, Max’s 40’ aluminum Defour A9000 sailboat we will be traveling in. As I will update the blog with some regularity it will not be quite as in depth as our Solvi adventure. But stay tuned for some pictures and stories of our first leg of the voyage to Mexico. Onward!

Max and High Climber!
Kyle and I’s Cozy Cabin

Home for the Holidays! 

12/25/2016 

 The time has come for the continuous traveling of the journey to end. But the impacts of voyage will continue to be prevalent in our lives long into the future. On Tuesday morning Kyle and I pedaled 50 miles from Henderson State Park to St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, FL. There we spent 3 days relaxing fully and allowing ourselves to prepare for the transition back to Pinellas County. The days were filled with reading, walking, lounging on the beach, and finally disassembling the bike for the car ride home. On Thursday we walked to the beach and were greeted by calm water, still air, blue skies, white sand, and sunshine so bright it caused the water to look green. Walking over to the large boulders that begin on the beach and protrude into the Gulf, creating a break wall for the harbor entrance, we climbed the boulders and found a spot to sit. Quietly we observed our surroundings: fisherman casting off the rocks, a sailboat and some powerboats enjoying the first day of calm weather in weeks, a large offshore vessel coming into port, fish jumping through the water’s clear surface, waves lapping gently on the shore, and birds gliding overhead. A perfect afternoon to sit together and reflect on the last 6 months.

  
That evening Kyle and disassembled the bike while I organized our gear. We made dinner, read our novels, and retreated into our tent, knowing it was our last night in our small green home. A home that protected us from wind, rain, storms, flooding, scorching sun, relentless mosquitos, and flying sand. A nylon house that kept us close to the earth allowing us to be on the same level as the bugs, plants, and dirt. Sleeping well we awoke and began taking down camp. Around 9am we got the call from my dad that he and my mom were pulling into the state park! How fun they both managed to come 🙂 An hour later we had said our hellos, loaded the bike on the roof, our gear in the trunk, visited the beach, and were on our way back to Pinellas County.  

The first few hours of the 6.5hr drive were, of course, filled with stories, laughter, questions, and catching up. Kyle and I both commented on how quickly the vehicle was moving- going 70mph felt very strange when we were used to 15 or under! Out of instinct I found myself checking the size of the shoulder, if there was a bike lane, and the quality of the sidewalks. Around 5pm we arrived at the 7 mile bridge bringing us across Tampa Bay and into Pinellas County. And just like that, we were back where we started 183 days ago when we drove over that bridge, Solvi in tow, on our way to Wisconsin.  

After 6.5hrs we were all excited to get out of the car and I was thrilled to see my parent’s dogs, one of which we have had since I was 9! That evening we ordered pizza, talked, listened to Christmas music, wrapped some presents, and just enjoyed all being together again. Quickly after arriving at their house Kyle and I went into the backyard to see Solvi! It was awesome to be re-United with her again and to go through the gear, clothes, books, and journals that had been left behind for the bike adventure.  

Currently, it is Christmas afternoon. Kyle is responding to some emails while I’m writing in my journal; the smell of Christmas dinner cooking inside is lingering in the air. We have been enjoying our time at my parent’s house the past couple days. Yesterday I found myself curled up on the couch, a cup of coffee in one hand, my novel in another- Christmas music playing quietly in the background, candles emitting a soft glow, and the dogs on the ground below me snoring happily. I found myself feeling content and grateful to be happy and healthy on Christmas Eve. Kyle and I put the tandem back together and rode it to the grocery store; we had so much fun with no gear!  

Tomorrow or the next day we will go check on our house- a 35ft sailboat that has been kept at our good friend’s house at their dock. Kyle and I have been living aboard our sailboat, Sirocco, for a few years now and have missed her greatly while we’ve been gone. A huge thanks to Courtney and Micah for watching after here while we were away!  

While the last couple days have definitely been a transition for Kyle and I, we are both feeling good about being back…plus it’s only for a few months before we take off on another adventure anyway 🙂 For the next few weeks we will work as much as possible, switch off staying with my parents, on our boat, and with friends before moving aboard our friend’s sailboat. As of now the plan is to leave around April 1st aboard our friend’s sailboat and take a 4 month journey to help him move to a different part of the U.S. – but I’ll save those details for a later date! This game we call life is so full of opportunities, experiences, and endless places to see and people to meet. Kyle and I are looking forward to living a bit transient and staying open to all opportunities, rather than choosing to settle down somewhere for an extended period of time. We both seem to have caught the travel bug and we can’t imagine stopping exploring when there is still so much to see, to do, to live! Onward 🙂  

This is our home, Sirocco, that we can’t wait to see after six months away!

P.S. We have received a few questions in regard to the blog and if we have any video footage to share- I’m working on a small video, a photo album, and a reflection of our voyage which will all appear here sometime in the next week or so. Thanks for all the support!  

Welcome to the Sunshine State!!

12/16/2016
124 days, 12 states, and over 2,500 miles we did it!! This morning, around 10am we pedaled across the imaginary line separating Alabama and Florida. Kyle and I, as a team made it from Wisconsin to Florida by man power 🙂 What a wonderful feeling it was! We hugged, kissed, yelled, took photos, smiled, ran around, and celebrated the best we could on the side of the road with 25mph head winds. I had thought about it, actually making it to Florida, countless times. But actually doing it- actually pedaling across that “line” was something special. Something I haven’t quite been able to articulate yet; I’m not ready to try and write about the array of emotions we experienced, therefore I’ll give it some time before creating a reflection. We both laughed rather hard when we realized that as soon as we reached that Florida sign, we felt ready to be home. I was not expecting this, I was thinking that I was going to feel sad, confused, not ready to have made it. But the exact opposite happened- together we yelled “Fred! We’re ready! You can come get us now!” We were joking, but my dad, Fred, is going to pick us up on the 23rd and I guess we were feeling ready a bit sooner 🙂 Laughing and elated on the feeling of making it, we pedaled away, into the damn headwind and continued the 33 miles to our next ‘warmshower’ stay. The day had a light hearted feeling about it- I had never been so happy to be in Florida, even the FL License plates made me smile. It was marvelous and spectacular and there is no one else in the world I would have rather shared it with than Kyle. You could have never convinced us we would make it to Florida…on a tandem bicycle…but there we were, pedaling along the paved path next to the beach having made it to Florida. Woo!  
Anyway, the rest of the day as I mentioned above was exciting, light-hearted, and despite the strong headwind, rather fun. Around 2:30pm we arrived to downtown Pensacola and stopped in at a bar for one celebratory beer. We only had 7 miles to our hosts’ house so we took some time to relax a bit before continuing over the big, loud, fast moving bridge into Gulf Breeze, FL. Pedaling over the bridge was not very fun- despite having a huge shoulder the cars moving 55mph next to us and the wind howling at our faces made the entire thing a big overwhelming. I was thrilled when we got off the bridge and hopped onto the sidewalk. That is when we first met Charlie, our host, who had surprised us and came to meet us on his bicycle. We made some introductions while pedaling and followed him to his house a couple miles away. There we met Missy, his wife, and got settled into their motor home, parked in their driveway, which is where we spent the night. Charlie and Missy were the most wonderful hosts and we all had such an awesome time together. From the moment we pulled up in their garage the conversation did not stop until we said goodnight. Charlie and Kyle took apart our tandem bicycle to try and find the source of an annoying ticking noise we were dealing with, while Missy and I went inside and talked about careers, the school system, and life choices. While Missy and I were sitting on the couch chatting Charlie came rushing in, “Missy, do you want to ride the tandem bicycle??” Charlie and Missy are both avid bicyclists, they do long distances and Missy even does triathlons- but neither of them had been on a tandem bicycle. It was pretty entertaining watching them get going on the bike, nervous and laughing at how different it was. They pedaled down the block and when they came back informed us that they didn’t know how to turn it around so instead got off and picked it up to turn it around. We all laughed at this and then went inside to have some dinner and cold beers. The remainder of the evening was spent in their homey kitchen, listening to Christmas music, a fire glowing in the fireplace, chatting and laughing. The four of us had such a blast and we spent so much time laughing that my cheeks hurt. Thank you so much Missy and Charlie. You guys went above and beyond in your hosting and we appreciate the hospitality so much. The motor home was such a nice place to stay and we wish we lived closer so we could hang out more as I can tell we would all be such good friends. The magic of traveling and meeting wonderful humans!  

12/19/2016 

Our day of pedaling after leaving Charlie and Missy’s was a spectacular treat. Kyle and I were both completely unaware of what Pensacola Beach had to offer. At first it was similar to the beaches in St. Petersburg: tall condos, restaurants, development, people, and piers. But as we pedaled farther East on the paved bike trail the development slowly started to dwindle away until suddenly I realized we were surrounded, in all directions, by raw, untouched sand dunes and white beaches. Besides a few road signs there was absolutely no development on the dune and beaches. For about 8 miles we were surrounded by the most beautiful preserve. It was windy, but sunny and we pedaled along as the salt spray came misting through the air. Despite being 100 yards from the actual water the spray splattered our glasses and covered our skin, which for the first time in weeks was uncovered by clothing because it was finally warm enough for shorts and short sleeve! Stopping a few times to admire the large expanse of sand dunes and Gulf waters which seemed to be green due to the white sand, we smiled as we pedaled along. While pedaling we met another bicyclist named Mike. He was out for his daily 20 mile ride and ended up pedaling with us for a half hour or so. We chatted and got to know each other while he showed us some side streets and gave some advice for the next 20 miles of our day. It was wonderful to meet him and we feel thankful he took the time out of his day to pedal along with us. Thanks Mike!  

50 miles later we arrived at Henderson Beach State Park where we are currently staying for a couple of days. Right before we arrived at the Park we met a couple who were also on a bicycle tour from Fort. Lauderdale to Houston, TX. They were from England and have been traveling by bicycle for over a year visiting places like Japan, Singapore, Europe, and America. It was fun to chat with them a bit and we laughed as they were heading to Missy and Charlie’s! What a small world it is in the biking ‘warmshowers’ community!  

As I write this, we are currently sitting at Panera Bread in Destin, Florida. It is really cold, wet, and windy outside and we decided to take a walk from the State Park and find some warmth with wifi and hot coffee! We have been enjoying our stay at the State Park thus far and will be leaving tomorrow morning for our last day of pedaling! Tomorrow we will pedal 50 miles to St. Andrews State Park where we will spend three nights before my dad comes and picks us up on the 23rd. As the days begin to dwindle down on this grand journey we find ourselves contemplative and nostalgic thinking about the last 6 months and all it has entailed. Onward! (For a little while longer at least :))  

Gulf Pedaling and a Wet Ferry Ride 

12/13/2016

After leaving the Firestation on Monday morning we headed back down towards the Gulf to see if the paved bike path picked back up. And that it did! Excitedly we hopped back on the paved path and again spent our entire day within 25ft of the beach. Also we had an amazing surprise of sunshine! It was supposed to be cloudy but the sun decided against that and blasted all the clouds away. Stopping a lot along the beach to relax, snack, and call our parents to catch up, we again had a very leisurely day of traveling. Although, while we were underway due to the paved path with no stop signs or intersections we made really good time and had already travelled 25 miles by 11am. When we stayed with our hosts from warmshowers.com outside of New Orleans they had mentioned that Ocean Springs, MS was a really cute little town and that we should check out the Main Street. So once we came down another rather long and steep bridge and arrived in Ocean Springs we decided to splurge a little and go out to lunch. We pedaled along the beach for a bit before turning left onto Washington Street. Finding a café with fresh sandwiches, salads, and sweet potato fries we sat outside and drank water with lemon while munching on the freshest food I’ve had in a while. I must say that is one of the things I am most excited for when this journey ends- going back to eating only healthy, fresh, non packaged foods!  

After lunch we checked Google Maps for our route that would take us 14 miles to Shepard State Park. The weather was calling for thunderstorms on Tuesday and we decided to take a zero day at a campground rather than peddle into 15mph winds with rain. Arriving at the state park around 2:45pm we set up our tent and headed straight for the showers. Not having the river to shower in every other day has been interesting and we try to shower at every chance we get. Lately when we have stayed at campgrounds they have all been really catered to RV camping and not tent camping so the sites are manicured and almost look like a parking lot. Shepard State Park is completely different and I was thrilled when we said we wanted to primitive camp and the ranger said we could set up our tent anywhere we wanted as long as it was off the main road. Therefore we found a secluded little spot surrounded by tall pines, oak, and cedar trees with the ground completely covered in pine needles (which always make me think of the Box Car Kids). Kyle set up our boom tent from Solvi as a rain shelter for the bike and our gear that doesn’t go in the tent while I did some route research for the next couple days. After showering, setting up camp, and cooking some dinner we got in the tent early and read a while before falling asleep.

Awaking this morning around 7am we hung out in the tent during the rain and then once it stopped headed out to explore. The state park has many walking trails and it was a foggy morning so we enjoyed the stillness around us as we walked through the leaves and pine needle covered trails. Needing to do some laundry we biked up to a laundry mat and read while our clothes dried. We are currently sitting at a picnic table near a pavilion while some of our devices charge. Kyle is reading, I am typing. Squirrels are running all about up and down the trees while a few crows speak loudly to each other in the trees. The air is still but muggy and as I look out towards the dense trees I see fog still lingering above the ground as though it is waiting for wind or sunshine to come take it away. Today is the 13th of December and in 10 days, on the 23rd of December, regardless of where we are in Florida my dad is going to come pick us up so we can be home for Christmas. The thought of this is rather strange and I am not sure I fully comprehend it, but I am very much looking forward to seeing my family and eating healthier and fresher food. Also the idea of not having to check the weather every single day sounds pretty nice as well. 10 days, 300ish miles, and two more states to go- Kyle and I are making sure to enjoy every last moment!

12/14/2016 

Pedaling away from Shepard State Park we were bundled up and ready for the gray, foggy day ahead of us. While it never did rain, there was a consistent mist that left the surface of things a bit damp. Our destination was 48 miles to Dauphin Island, AL where we would stay at another ‘warmshowers’ host. The day was spent mostly on the sides of highways, which was actually pretty fitting for the gloominess of the day. It seems that whenever we have days of pedaling that aren’t very attractive and on the highways it is gray and gloomy outside. Whereas when we have days spent by the beach the sun is shining. We played some music out of our speaker in order to keep us motivated as we pedaled into the wind and mist. Around 3pm we arrived at the bridge leading into Dauphin Island; Mobile Bay surrounded us on both sides as we approached the bridge. At this time the fog was so thick I felt I could have sliced it with a knife. We pedaled up this massive bridge and couldn’t even see the water looming 65ft below. On the map Dauphin Island looks so incredibly beautiful and there we were, on top of a 65ft bridge overlooking Dauphin Island, yet I couldn’t see a speck of land; it was a strange feeling being so encapsulated in fog. Continuing on down the bridge we coasted onto the bike trail that runs the length of the island before turning left to our hosts’ house. Our hosts, Jim and Jan (for those of you who are cyclists Jim is crazyguyonabike) were not on the island but have set their house up so that touring cyclist can camp under their house which is on tall stilts. The set up was so nice- a porta potty, flat covered spot for our tent, a small table and chairs, a hammock, an outlet, wifi unlocked, and some lights. The temperature was dropping as we set up our tent and cooked some hot soup and rice. Bundled up in our sleeping bag and liners before the sun even went down we spent the remainder of our evening reading while sipping on hot tea. Thank you so much Jim and Jan for allowing us a safe place to camp under your house!  

12/15/2016 

Dauphin Island is the southern most island on Mobile Bay and to save ourselves over 100 miles of pedaling we decided to take the ferry across Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan. Running a bit late we pedaled our fastest on the bike trail in order to make the 8am ferry. The morning was sunny, but freezing and extremely windy; gusts were about 35 from the North which brought the temperature down considerably. When we arrived at the booth to pay the fee to get on the ferry the man told us that he could only send us across on the ferry if we were one way as they weren’t sure the ferry would be able to make any more trips the rest of the day due to the wind. This was fine with us and we pedaled onto the ferry. One of the employees showed us a small, partially opened room on the ferry that we could stand. I wasn’t quite sure why he was offering for us to be inside, but said thank you anyway. 10 minutes later I fully understood why they were suggesting we hide in the room. About 5 cars were on the ferry with us, filled with people sitting in the warmth of the heated car; then there was Kyle and I, standing near the railing with our tandem bicycle. At first it was enjoyable as we watched the 4ft waves crash against the side of the ferry as it left the safety of the port. The farther we got from Dauphin Island the bigger the waves got, until suddenly they were crashing onto the ferry causing the floor to be covered in cold salt spray. I looked down at my socks and sandals and Kyle’s loafers and started to giggle. We were freezing, it was windy, and we kept getting sprayed with salt water. Pushing the bike into the small room we tried to hide, but the floor was exposed and the water kept coming in. Kyle found a broom and spent 15 minutes pushing the water out as to keep our exposed feet somewhat dry. It was cold and wet, but still absolutely beautiful. The sun shining down on the breaking waves, the flock of seagulls using the boat as a way to get across the bay, and a few dolphin in the distance. Kyle and I both felt a bit relieved when we saw Fort Morgan in the distance as it meant dry land and pedaling to keep us warm. We said our thank you’s, hopped off the ferry, changed our socks, and pedaled the 24 miles to our next camping spot.  

Fort Morgan was an awesome little Island that was very bike friendly. We enjoyed a paved bike path separate from the road and as the day continued the temperature rose a bit. Finding a sunny patch on the bike path we made green tea and sandwiches for lunch. Around 2:30 we arrived at Gulf State Park to camp for the evening. The state park is massive and we explored the trails near our campsite which were peaceful and warm protected from the wind chill. Overall, despite being cold, it was a fun day filled with new places to explore and sunshine.

Awesome Days and Awesome Firemen!

12/10/2016 
We left New Orleans! I say that with enthusiasm because it was such a wonderful, beautiful, and lively place that I was slightly concerned we’d never leave 🙂 Kyle and I were planning on just staying for one night…then it turned into two and before we knew it we had been there almost a week. Having just the most awesome time and meeting new friends the days passed quickly. We also got 2 full days of work and made some money helping with house projects which was a nice boost for the last two weeks of our trip. We both have fallen in love with the community, music, art, and aliveness of the area and both know we will be back to stay for much longer in the future. Therefore when we found out we finally had a couple days of sunshine we said goodbye to the people, music, and city of NOLA. I already miss the music which seems to constantly play in the house we were staying in or just out on the streets. Kyle commented this morning that the Ninth Ward, where we spent a lot of our time, was just so wonderful because it was so alive- music, people, drama, dogs, kids, bikes, neighbors out and about- no matter what time of the day or day of the week. Anyway, time to let that place go for now and enjoy the beauty of where I am right now!  

We left around 10am and pedaled about 40 miles to Pearlington, MS. The day was chilly due to the North wind, but the sky blue and the sun shining we didn’t seem to mind. Getting out of New Orleans was a pain and we got lost near a railroad yard and accidentally took a private road- oops. But the people were friendly and gave us directions to Highway 90 which is where we’d spend the remainder of our day. I know that highway and bicycle doesn’t sound very inviting, but it was actually great! I-10 is a major freeway which runs parallel with 90 so most of the traffic was on the freeway. Also the shoulder was huge and there were 2 lanes going both directions so sometimes we’d just take a lane if the shoulder got too small. The ride was filled with gorgeous views, lots of bridges which gave even better views, and a road surrounded by a wildlife preserve and some “camps” (fancy cabins on stilts near the marsh people use as hunting/fishing/vacationing camps). Mid-day brought us to a rather steep bridge to cross over Lake St. Catherine. Pedaling real hard we made it to the top and observed the water around us. In the far distance, 25 miles away, we could see the faded outline of New Orleans. I absolutely love pedaling up-hill- the challenge, the burn, the work is something I crave. Kyle, on the other hand, does not feel the same way. He does, however, love the downhill- my least favorite! Haha this always causes some laughter and joking disagreements as I beg Kyle to go really slow down the hill- the only time I wish I had control of the brakes!

Taking lots of breaks we enjoyed a leisure pace for the day and were happy when we saw signs for the Pearl River- not only were we done for the day, but also crossed the LA/MS border- one state closer to Florida! I used Google to find a Fire Station as they usually either allow camping on their lawn or have suggestions on free camping. Kyle hopped off the bike and knocked on the chief’s door. A woman answered and suggested we head down to the boat launch near the Pearl River as we can camp overnight there. Saying our thank you’s we biked the quarter mile and were greeted by a marvelous spot along the river.

A dock, grass, trees, and a sun preparing to decent below the low marsh across from the river. Sparrows wisp across the water’s surface and I find myself sitting on a bench on the end of the dock. A great blue heron stalks slowly in the marshes to my right and the surrounding trees are still in the crisp air. As the sun sinks below the marsh the sky enlightens in that familiar orange glow we experienced in the Gulf of Mexico. I sigh as I think about Solvi and how much we miss her and all the adventures she brought us. But then I remind myself about Daisy (that’s what we named our tandem bicycle-Thanks Rick!) and feel grateful that I still get to experience the glowing orange sky after a long day of adventuring. As we finish cooking our dinner over our small camp stove on the dock, the sunset continues to amaze us as the colors get more vivid. A jet airplane flies high above and even the trail it leaves behind is pink- creating artwork against the pale sky. The trees across the river have lost their color as it gets darker and have become black silhouettes against an orange horizon. Kyle grabs my hand and squeezes hard as I look up and smile at him observing his blue eyes gazing at me from behind his yellow hat, gray rain jacket hood, and full beard- life sure is good.


12/11/2016 

Today was an awesome day! I am sure finding this biking thing to be fun and rewarding- this morning I tried to convince Kyle that our next adventure should be from FL to CA on a bike…he suggested a motorcycle haha! Anyway, last night the temperatures were about 33 degrees and it was really cold so we were both thrilled when the sun came up this morning. Making breakfast and packing up the bike we were underway around 8:30am. We pedaled on Highway 90 for a bit before taking a right onto Lower Bay Road. The road was quite beautiful and we had it mostly to ourselves. Surrounded completely by tall pines and dense forest we pedaled along as the road winded and turned until eventually it led us directly to the Gulf! Again, for the second time, we were re-United with the small ocean. And not only were we able to see the Gulf, but the 26 miles left in our day was spent on a paved path 10-50ft from the lapping salt water. Despite it being windy and a bit nippy while riding, it was a gorgeous sunny day. I found myself in such a good mood that for about 45 minutes I made a point to very enthusiastically wave and smile at every car heading the opposite direction. Being that the road parallel to the paved bike path was only 25mph most everyone saw me and I think that all but the ones looking down at their phones waved back! I had a couple of people really smiling and a few laughed really hard. It was marvelous! Getting complete strangers to smile so big was real rewarding, which only increased my good mood. Soon I was laughing and singing and having a good old time on the back of the bike. And yes, I was still pedaling!  

Around 12pm we arrived at a 2 mile bridge going over the open Gulf. There was a big separate section for pedestrians and bikes which we really appreciated. Thank you to the town’s of Waveland, Bay of St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, and Ocean Springs for being so bike friendly! These small towns right on the coast were cute and had wonderful little communities- I had never known they existed! Eventually the paved bike path ended and we took lots of neighborhood roads to get to our destination of Gulfport, MS. As usual the last 5-10 miles were long and difficult and we weren’t finding anywhere to camp. Using Google we headed to an RV campground, but it was closed. So we pedaled a couple more miles to the Gulfport Fire Station #2 and asked if they had any suggestions. I rang the doorbell and was greeted by 2 very friendly firemen who, when I asked if they knew where we could camp, pointed to the small fenced in yard connected to the fire station. Awesome. Kyle and I were both exhausted and the idea of pedaling to the cheap motel we were going to use as a last resort did not sound appealing. We set up our tent and made some dinner in the grass while the sun went down. I walked towards the garage where the fires trucks are kept to use the restroom and met a couple more firemen. We all chatted and laughed for a while about Kyle and I’s journey. As always, I was marveled at the kindness and safe free place to stay.

The next morning around 7am as Kyle and I were finishing packing up, more firemen started showing up while the ones we had met the night before were packing up to leave. Shift change. A fireman named Keith came to greet us in the back and was just so thrilled about our adventure. He thought it was just so cool we were out seeing the world and asked a plethora of questions. He then gave us a tour of the station and showed us all the different areas where the firemen hang out and what their days consist of. We had a great time chatting with him and I really appreciated the tour. Right before we left he sent us off with some cold water and snicker bars for a snack. Kyle and I both felt very grateful to have met the firemen and Keith said he felt grateful to have met us. It’s a wonderful world when such simple interactions are so impactful. Thank you so incredibly much to all the firemen at the Gulfport Firestation #2- not just for our kindness to us but for your service to the community! We will continue to pay it forward as we travel on.

New Orleans, Music, and Exploring 

12/6/2016
Hopping on our bike after walking it off the ferry, we headed towards the boardwalk that runs along the river’s edge. Children in school uniforms were running around and feeding the seagulls outside of the Audubon Aquarium. The screams of delight and laughter were infectious and I couldn’t help but smile and giggle myself as we rode past. Continuing on down the board walk we saw people from every walks of life out enjoying the day of no rain after quite a few days of wetness and gray. Many people had lots to say about our tandem bicycle and we enjoyed the laughter and joking that their comments brought. My favorite comment was when a few guys sitting on a bench yelled out “Hey!! She’s not pedaling!” I was totally pedaling! For real 🙂 It was pretty funny because our hosts, Bill and Erin, from the night before had told us that people would say that to us, and it happened a few times. Anyway, we turned off the board walk and started heading towards the massive cathedral we could see protruding above the other buildings. That is when the true adventure started. As I have mentioned before I am not a very experienced bike rider- especially not in busy places. Thankfully Kyle is not only experienced but rather skilled at navigating through such situations because as soon as we entered the French Quarter, what to me seems like the heart of New Orleans, here is what we were biking with: thousands of people, cars, police on mopeds, horses, horse drawn carriages, bike taxis, other bikers, countless van taxis, scooters, and a few balloon and hot dog carts. Everywhere we looked, turned, or moved was filled with tight spaces and quick maneuvering. Kyle handled it like a champ and I felt completely safe and at ease on the back of the bike as we explored the cultural and historically filled city.  

The streets were lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and my favorite, really awesome houses, apartments, and duplexes- all connected as though they were one long building, but distinct from one another due to different colors and designs. Blues, pinks, greens, purples, and brick colored buildings with balconies above them. Many streets closed to cars, on others cars, people, horses, and bikes, shared the roads. As we pedaled along I was filled with awe and joy at the culture and beauty around me. Not just the buildings and the network of the city, but the people! People, human beings, are so incredibly amazing and the French Quarter instilled this upon me even deeper. Kyle and I are on a tight budget so stores, bars, and restaurants were just to be enjoyed from the outside as we pedaled along; it turns out that ended up being the most wonderful gift. Because we weren’t looking for a place to go inside and spend money we decided to enjoy the streets- which I truly believe is where the real talent and performances are. We would pedal along until we heard some sort of music playing and then would follow the music until we found the source. Our first stop was on the corner of Royal Street and there was a beautiful girl named Maddy and 6 jazz musicians behind her. The banjo, guitar, tuba, trombone, drum, and washboard supplemented her amazing voice as she sang soul filled jazz tunes and in between verses played the trombone. We leaned the bicycle up against a pole and took a seat on the curb; during a break between songs Maddy took interest in our bicycle and our journey and we chatted a bit while they got ready for the next song. Before we knew it Maddy had offered for us to come stay at her house, shower, and use it as a home base while we explored the city. I took down her number but told her we had already found a place to stay using Warmshowers, but that if it fell through we’d give her a call. Later Kyle and I would find out how small of a world it really is!

Eventually ‘Maddy and Jazz Friends’ packed up for the day and Kyle and I headed onwards to continue our exploration. We walked the bike for a few minutes just to experience the city at walking pace, and then hopped back on and travelled down some side roads. That is where we saw all the colorful and unique homes. As we were pedaling down the road we passed a violinist set up on a corner; she was playing on her own and once again we screeched to a stop and turned around. We set the bike up on a fence and plopped down on the curb across from her to enjoy the music. This was the theme of our day and I was grateful we chose to spend time on the streets with the musicians as the talent was unbelievable and the positive energy flowing strong. As the hours of the day began to dwindle down we pedaled to a bike shop to get a spare tube as we had used ours. Once again we were greeted by friendly and interesting folks at the shop; a warehouse with bicycle parts but also different artists and craftsman working on different projects. We chatted with the owner for a while and he gave us some tips for our upcoming route. Saying our goodbyes we headed toward our host Brett’s house in the Ninth Ward area. Despite people telling us to steer clear of this area, we went with our gut instinct and pedaled to his house. The area of Ninth Ward, while a bit run down in spots, is actually rather beautiful. The houses aren’t manicured, the people are friendly, and what I noticed the most was a huge sense of community. I could feel the history, culture, impact of Katrina, and the network of a community rebuilding their neighborhood as we pedaled along. Arriving at Brett’s house we were greeted by a friendly guy, about our age, and an awesome house! After saying our hellos and meeting each other he showed us around the house; it’s an old house that was damaged quite a bit during Katrina. Brett has been living in the house for 4 years and while it is a project house for sure, it has a lot of potential. Tall ceilings, wooden floors, big windows, lots of space, and endless amounts of wood to be used to restore the house. He offered for us to stay inside, but I loved the backyard so much that I really wanted to stay in the tent so we set the tent up before making some dinner and meeting the other people who live at the house. Three people, including Brett live in the house, and all of them are musicians. Brett’s friend and his son, a 14 year old, both live there and I was so impressed by the 14 year old’s musical talent. From the piano to the saxophone to the clarinet- he practiced all this morning and I was so thrilled to be able to experience the talent.

Kyle and I’s plan was to just stay for the night and head out early this morning, but after being invited to a folk/bluegrass event at a nearby bar we made the decision to stay up late and not take off the next morning. Brett offered for us to stay as long as we like and we decided that instead of rushing onward trying to make miles we would stay until we felt ready to leave. Having some projects that he needed help with on the house we were looking forward to helping out and getting to know some locals and seeing New Orleans from a non-tourist point of view.

Originally when we bought the bike and started the pedaling part of our voyage Kyle and I had planned to make it to my parents house near St. Petersburg, Florida but last night we changed our minds. At first we were turning down the offer to go to the bluegrass/folk show because we were concerned about money and making miles in order to make it 600 miles before Christmas. As we thought more about this I realized that we had, once again, lost sight of our “no schedule and no rush” goal. Therefore we made another decision about our journey- the goal wasn’t so much St. Petersburg as just the border or Florida. Pensacola is the border and only about 200 miles away which could be done easily in 5 days. Discussing a bit farther we made a choice: we are going to make it as far East as possibly by December 23rd, definitely Florida, maybe Pensacola, maybe Carabelle, maybe farther. But during the next 16 days we will take every opportunity that comes our way to meet interesting people, explore new cultures, see beautiful places, and embrace the freedom and exploration that travel provides. With that mindset, we took Brett up on his offer to stay for another night or two, and last night we went to the bluegrass/folk show and had just a marvelous time meeting local musicians, artists, and other fellow travelers. I am not much of a dancer, but Kyle and I were sitting at the bar chatting and enjoying the show while people danced and chatted around us. A guy came up and asked me to dance.. Kyle of course thought this was wonderful and pushed me out of my chair so I didn’t have much of a choice. For the next couple minutes I attempted to dance in my socks and sandals with a musician from Brazil named Chisago. He was a real nice guy and we laughed together a bit, but as soon as the song ended I said thank you and B-lined it back to Kyle!

Once we got back to Brett’s house I was exhausted and ready for bed. We laid in the tent and had the most wonderful surprise! In the distance I could hear Maddy, the jazz musician who happened to be Brett’s neighbor, singing and playing a horn instrument a block away. A train passing through the city sounded its horns and I would anticipate when the horns would end so I could hear her voice again. Guitars and other string instruments could be heard in the far distance- every once in a while laughter and sounds of joy travelled through the air as we drifted off to sleep.

This morning the neighborhood roosters woke us up and soon after Brett came outside with a cup of Greek coffee for us to try. He then went on to explain the origin and history of coffee and all the while someone inside the house was playing the piano and singing amazing jazz tunes. After coffee and making some breakfast Kyle and I hopped on our bicycle (which by the way is amazing to ride with no gear on it!) and went on a hunt for a thrift store as Kyle was in need of some new shoes. When we arrived back to the house, once again, we had a treat in store. The 14 year old was outside on the back patio practicing the clarinet. Kyle and I quietly sat down next to him and I did some writing while Kyle cooked us lunch. The sound of the clarinet filled us as we enjoyed some sunshine that poked through for the first time in days. The rest of the day has been filled with conversation, music, and helping with a few projects around the house. I find myself smiling as I observe the neighborhood around- dogs, kids, people out and about and what I find the most remarkable is what seems to be the “open door” mindset. While there is still privacy and independent homes everyone seems to not only know one another, but to be friends with one another. It is very different than anything I’ve experienced as all the neighbors, regardless of age, race, or gender are friends! And not just “hey how’s it going” friends, true relationships that are in depth. They spend time with one another, play music with one another, and share their stories and lives. I find it refreshing and beautiful and I am so happy to know that communities, “village like” as Brett calls it, still exist. 

So far my experience in New Orleans has been eye-opening in that I’ve been introduced to a new community and way of life. I’m feeling thankful our journey made this turn as its been filled with new challenges and growth.