Category Archives: Providence to New Orleans

Day 35: Picayune to New Orleans

Phil, Barbara, Chris and me in Picayune

Phil and I were in the kitchen already when Barbara came in and told us to help ourselves to breakfast.  Chris woke up shortly afterwards and packed some food for us to take with us for the day, including some of the delicious pecan pie from the night before.  She also fed carrots to the horses and goats outside, so we could get a closer look at them through the kitchen window.

The ride that day was perfectly flat and a stark contrast to every other day we’re ridden thus far.  When I had mapped out the last two days on the same route, from Hattiesburg to New Orleans, the first half of the ride was quite hilly in comparison.  The elevation chart flat-lined halfway through the route, making it look like someone had died.  This was our day, from Picayune to New Orleans, and it was supposed to be sunny with gentle tailwinds the entire way.  We were both in a great mood, being so close to our destination for the next few months.

Flat roads for miles

The first road we turned onto was called Flat Top road.  It sure was flat, and looking at the elevation chart, we were indeed at the top of the day’s course. Not ten miles into the route, we came to a gate across the road.  It was a NASA space station, and the guard would not let us cut through.  He sent us back to the main road, and we ended up on a detour that took us about 10 miles east of where we were supposed to turn south.  However, if it weren’t for that detour, we would not have passed the ice-cream shop at mile eighteen, where I enjoyed a peanut butter sundae.

We used our phones to reroute ourselves back on track, but the pavement of one of the roads we turned down suddenly disappeared.  We found ourselves struggling to go forward on a road of loosely-packed dirt.  I ended up getting stuck in the sand and was unable to start again without sinking into the road.  A pickup truck drove up from behind and stopped next to me, while Phil slowly continued down the road.  The driver, who introduced himself as Deputy Earhart, started talking about how he used to bicycle 75 miles a day.  He offered to drive us a few miles down to where the road was once again paved, and I gladly accepted.  Meanwhile, Phil had made a bit of progress and was about half a mile up the road.  He passed his bike up and jumped in with me.  We rode in the back, hanging onto our bikes, for about 2 miles before the deputy stopped and helped us to unload our bikes.  He pointed us in the right direction and sent us on our way, down highway 90.

Welcome to Louisiana

We were just about to approach the point on highway 90 where we were back on course with Garmin, when we came to a small bar called Turtle Landing.  A sign on the door indicated that the kitchen was closed, but we went in to use the bathroom and then sat outside eating the snacks that Chris had packed for us.  We opened one can of the Vienna sausages, which resemble pieces of hotdogs and have the consistency of soggy bologna, but we couldn’t finish it.  We also had a package of crackers and a few slices of processed cheese.  The meal reminded me of Lunchables.  As we were about to get back on the road, a man came up to us and offered us hot jambalaya inside.  It was free, and I had never tasted jambalaya before, so I went in to try some.  It was quite good.

The one hill for the dayWe still had 40 miles to ride before reaching our destination, and the sun was on its way down.  It would get cold quickly.  We rode non-stop until we were only 11 miles from the city and stopped to eat the pecan pie and don some warmer layers.  At some point we had to cross a bridge to get to New Orleans, and from a distance, the bridge rose up like a roller coaster.  I could see cars driving up and disappearing over the other side.  It reminded me of the Mario Kart game, where you go over these jumps in the road.  Fortunately, the road seemed to flatten out as we approached.

When we were each about 5 miles from our respective friends’ homes, Phil and I parted ways and rode on our own for the last few miles.  I arrived at the apartment where Bobby, Aaron, Jeremy, Aly and Matt reside just before 6pm.  Aly was home to let me in, and after a shower, we went out to find food.

Aly and Taz on Frenchmen Street

We took the trolley into the French Quarter and ate burritos at Felippe’s.  Walking further down the road, we ran into Taz, a busker who was finishing up for the night.  We offered to help him carry his instruments (and his door) back to his motor home.  After walking with him to the motor home, he offered to buy us beer for our trouble.  We ended up going to a convenience store on Frenchmen Street and drinking beer with a few other street musicians.  After walking to another convenience store on Royal Street for a second beer, we heard from Bobby and Aaron, who were with two new pedicab drivers, Dennis and Pete, who had just arrived from Boston.  We met up with them at Thirteen on Frenchmen, shared some potato puff nachos, and walked back to the pedicab shop, from where Aaron drove us home.

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South to Picayune

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

Date: 29/11/11
Departed: Hattiesburg 0930
Temp: Low – 30 High – 60
Weather: Clear and Sunny NE Wind 8-12 mph
Distance: 63.7
Av Speed: 14.4
Max Speed: 31.5
Height Gain: 2980′
Arrive: Picayune 1605

Last night Sarah and I came to the agreement on my suggestion that I would be taking over the blog every other day. I have been posting infrequently due to the fact that Sarah always seems to take care of the biographical work. I figured that for me to go on and write up the same thing from my own perspective wouldn’t be that interesting. So I had to try to come up with something a bit more off topic or interesting in its own right. I still plan on doing that but also taking part in the biographical work as well. So here goes.

Last night Sarah went off to a bar with another CSer and I stayed in and worked on my bike and did some reading. Passed out sometime after 10 pm and didn’t move again till 7 am. After the alarm went off I took a quick shower and set to making a quick breakfast and start packing. Mat and Chevaun were up and we had a great chat about the area and the way into Picayune.

Sarah got out of bed round 8:15-8:30 and headed into the kitchen. I sat down and started packing up my gear and had everything ready to go before 9 am.  We then took a quick picture with Mat and Chevaun.

Mat and I set to working on the bikes a bit. Checked the tires and gears, added a bit of air to everyone’s tires and loaded up my bike while Sarah finished packing. We were set and ready to leave the house around 9:30.

I had a really good time with Mat and Chevaun. Mat has a good wealth of knowledge on a great many subjects. He was kind enough to take some time to teach me how to weave a basket out of willow. I always enjoy learning new skills and I intend to put this one to good use in the coming years of travel. Chevaun was very generous, caring and a great cook. I look forward to seeing them again sometime in Nola, perhaps around Mardi Gras if not sooner.

Shortly after departing we made way to a local market to pick up some snacks for the day and to get Sarah a good breakfast. Sadly the market did not have any prepared food so we settled with snacks and took off for route 11 south. It was a cold morning which I greatly appreciated. The heat and humidity has not been particularly pleasant and the crisp coolness of the morning actually felt like northern winter air. Sarah did not share my sunny disposition in regards to the weather and seemed to suffer greatly from the cold.

After 6 miles on the road we stopped at small rest stop that had coffee and a subway so that Sarah could get something to eat and a warm drink. After she finished her coffee we set off once again. This first 35 miles of the day was constant rolling hills. This was another one of the rare days where I consistently held the lead on Sarah. It seems that the cold and lack of a good breakfast took a harsh toll on her morale and spirit. I also think that I am better at hills than her as I always tend to make ground on her if not pass her on them. It may be that I just push harder on the hills or that I may have more strength but less stamina as she easily overtakes me on flat terrain.

We took our first real break of the day around 11:35 at 27 miles. Sarah changed out of her damp sweaty clothing for a dry set and laid everything out in the sun. We dug into our food quickly. To my great chagrin Sarah informed me that she had forgotten what was left of our honey at Mat and Chevaun’s. It was really good honey. I shall have to find more of it in New Orleans.

We set off again after twenty minuets. We have been on route 11 for the past few days of travel and while it has not been the best road safety wise I can not really complain. The narrow shoulders, if they are there at all for the past 150 miles has been cause for slight concern. However all but a small minority of drivers have been very courteous to us and often give us a wide berth when passing us so I really have only praise for Mississippi drivers, Go you guys!

I did get one honk on the road today. This brings up one serious problem with cars in the world. There is no clear or uniform way to communicate between vehicles or to pedestrians and cyclists. Usually when someone honks at us we have no way to interpret what they are trying to express unless we are able to see their face (or gestures), like smiling and waving, or shouting and furious gestures. So when someone honks and they pass far to fast to see I like to think that they are supporting us or wishing us well. Its much more useful than to get negative. We need some sort of simplified Morse Code for honks that should be taught in all drivers ed courses, seriously.

Sarah caught up to me around mile 52 and we took our second break. Had a quick snack and took off on the last 11.3 miles of the day. We arrived at the Picayune First United Methodist Church. So far the Methodists have been extremely kind to Sarah and I on this trip and the congregation of Picayune was no exception.

I spoke briefly to the secretary who directed us to the exercise center to find the Minister.  We were welcomed into the center by Brother Jim. After quickly explaining our mission and situation he very warmly told us he was happy to have us there and that he would find us a place to stay. While he made a few phone calls on our behalf we began recounting the tale of our travels. After a short period Brother Jim had found a wonderful place for us to stay.

We followed him and another very kind man ( I think overheard his name as Ray) to his truck. We loaded up the bikes and they drove us over to Barbra’s house. On the way we discussed (Rays?) facilitating work as an Aerospace engineer. He and I also briefly discussed the fact that he was working on his masters in  medieval history. Its not very frequently that one meets a historian let alone one involved in my area of study. I would have loved to have more time to speak with him.

We arrived at Barbra’s and after they helped us to unload the bikes we were welcomed inside to smiling faces and a cacophony of barking. We were introduced to Barbra and Chris who live in a beautiful house with a great many animals, dogs first and foremost and numerous farm animals. After a quick chat Brother Jim and (Ray?) left to get home and to work. We talked about a number of things before being shown to our room to unpack a bit and shower. After showering we had a great dinner of pasta and chicken pot pie with pecan pie and ice cream with a cup of tea to finish it off.

We talked for a while before the subject of New Orleans came up and what our plans were. On learning that we had no real idea of where we were going to live for the brief time we would be in Nola Barbra pulled out her address book and called up a pair of friends who have an apartment in Nola. We chatted briefly about what we were doing and our plans and arranged to call them to visit the apartment whenever we were ready.

Shortly after the phone call Chris retired and Barbra Followed shortly after. I honestly can not fully express my gratitude for all the generosity that I have received on this trip. It really means so much to me to be so warmly received by so many kind strangers. I hope that one day I will be able to return all of the kindness that has been given me on this trip.

Now I lay in bed composing this post and I do believe that this will do it ladies and gentlemen. Have a good evening everyone and thanks for following us and being part of this awesome if not crazy adventure!

Phil, signing out.

 

A few days in Hattiesburg

We were hoping to continue down south to Picayune (pick-uh-yoon) after one night at Shivan and Mat’s house, but upon awakening in Hattiesburg, we saw that it was still raining and quite cold.  Shivan and Mat told us we could stay as long as we needed to, so we decided to stay another night.  It did not help our motivation when it was cold and rainy the following morning, and we ended up staying yet another day.

Both days in Hattiesburg were laid back and relaxing.  The first day, Phil wanted to find a buckle so he could rig one of his front panniers into a shoulder bag by clipping on a longer strap to the existing buckles, so we biked to Walmart in search of something that would do the trick.  He didn’t find anything.  Then we went to a restaurant, 206 Front, for Sunday brunch.  We spent the remainder of the day lounging at T-Bone’s Cafe, where we hung out the previous night, reading and taking advantage of the free wifi.  When we returned to the house, Shivan made delicious sandwiches from cauliflower, cheese, bacon and seasonings, and we drank vodka.  When the vodka was gone, we broke out the wine we had bought from the vineyard in Anniston, Alabama.

image

Brindle

Shivan and Mat have quite a few pets: three dogs and at least three cats, including a tiny kitten.  The small dog, Brindle, is an attention whore and insists on being picked up or in someone’s lap at all times.  I allowed him to sit on my lap while I played piano, relearning some songs I used to know well, and learning (or trying to stumble through) a few new songs.  Mat also has a baritone horn, which he let me play as well.  I miss having instruments lying around and being able to play whenever the urge strikes.  I spent a good part of our second day in Hattiesburg just playing music, while Phil was walking around the town and visiting the library.

In the afternoon, I walked with Shivan and Mat to their friend Jeannie’s house, where Jeannie had a room full of Mary Kay products she was selling.  I’m not a huge fan of overly scented products, and I don’t wear make-up, but I have noticed that my skin has been extremely dry, probably from daily sun and wind exposure, and I had mentioned that I needed some kind of moisturizer.  I did not end up purchasing anything from her, but did eventually go with a foot lotion from Shivan the next morning.  I will test it out and see if that helps my dry legs.

From Jeannie’s house, we walked to a natural food store that Mat and Shivan frequent called New Yokel, where we ate salads.  On the way back to the house, I stopped at a local bakery and purchased a few sweets to share with everyone.

James and me after watching the Saints game

While we still weren’t sure if we’d be able to get in touch with Mat, one of the other couchsurfers we had contacted got back to me.  I told him we had found a place to stay after all  but suggested we meet up anyway for a drink.  There was a trivia night in a pub near the Southern Miss campus, but it was cold and miserable outside and a bit too far.  James suggested we go to a closer bar to watch the Saints game.  Phil opted to stay in, so James biked over to the house to pick me up.  We rode to the Keg and Barrel, a bar with the largest selection of beers on tap and in bottle in all of southern Mississippi.  James is originally from Brazil and has been in Hattiesburg for two years.  He told me of how he made an enormous flag to support the school’s football team, and the school liked it so much that they opened a fund for him to travel to all of the away games with the flag.  He pretty much gets paid to be a fan!  Football is clearly very important down here.

Day 33: Laurel to Hattiesburg, MS

Phil, Dallas and me before leaving Laurel

I awoke this morning in such a dark room that I thought it was still the middle of the night.  It was after 10am.  We didn’t have to travel very far to get to Hattiesburg, so we weren’t in much of a hurry.  However, we had not heard from the couchsurfer in Hattiesburg who initially agreed to host us in over a week, and we didn’t have his address or phone number so we weren’t sure if he had gotten my message a few days ago saying that we were a day behind.  I sent out messages to a few other couchsurfers in Hattiesburg in case we couldn’t get in touch with him, and Dallas contacted a few of his friends in Hattiesburg.  Dallas made eggs and pancakes for us, despite not eating any himself.

We left Laurel even later than we left Meridian, but we had only half the distance to travel.  The course was flat, following highway 11 almost the entire way, but it was terribly windy.  The wind tried continuously to push us backwards, and we fought it every mile of the ride.  In the first ten miles we passed a dead badger on the side of the road, and shortly afterwards passed by a dead snake.  This brought the badger song into my head for nearly the rest of the ride, and I found myself actively on the lookout for mushrooms on the side of the road for the next few miles.  We made one stop at a fruit stand, which had a sad selection of old-looking citrus fruits and a few bad apples.  I spent less than a dollar on a small bag of pretzels and a Capri Sun.

Relaxing at T-Bone's Records & Cafe

It had rained on and off on us during the ride, and by the time we arrived in Hattiesburg, it was steadily sprinkling.  Phil was craving Chinese food, so when I spotted Panda, we pulled into the parking lot so he could get some food.  As we pulled in, another cyclist rode up to greet us.  It was Mat – the couchsurfer who had agreed to host us when I had first contacted him a few weeks ago.  He was on his way to the Southern Mississippi football game, and when he saw the two of us in our touring gear, he figured we might be the couchsurfers he was supposed to host.  He gave us his phone number and we planned to meet up after the game.

While Phil was eating Chinese food, I continued a few blocks west and found a cafe where I could order salad, coffee, beer and a turtle dessert bar.  The turtle bar was SO good, I had to have seconds.  T-Bone’s cafe is also a record store, and they had pretty good music playing.  Phil joined me shortly after I sat down to eat and made himself comfortable in one of the couches to read his Kindle.

We heard from Mat around 6:45 and rode to his house.  His girlfriend, Shivan, was working at the football game and hadn’t come home yet.  Mat showed us around, and their numerous dogs and cats introduced themselves, begging for affection.  An artist who moved to New Orleans had lived in the house for years, and his drawings and sculptures were all over the house.  There were also several musical instruments, including a piano and a baritone, which I played a bit.  Shivan came home, and we ate some grapes and sushi and drank wine before heading to bed.

Day 32: Meridian to Laurel, MS

Crystal's dog

After a late night of tarot card reading and more conversation back at Crystal’s trailer, we woke up relatively late for a 60-mile day.  Phil and I made breakfast, packed, and eventually made it out of Meridian around 12:30.  Once again, it’s tough to leave when we have such nice people hosting us!

The miles went by slowly for me – the wind was in my face, and the roads were hillier than anticipated.  We didn’t take any long breaks though, and we managed to roll into Laurel just around 5pm.

Interesting trees in a stream

Our host, Dallas, grew up in Laurel and lives in an apartment downtown with his brother.  We were the first couchsurfers to contact him.  I guess not a lot of travelers end up passing through these small towns in Mississippi.  Dallas was also the only couchsurfer in Laurel, so if anyone were to pass through, he’d be their only option and would probably know about it.

After Phil and I showered, Dallas grilled some steaks on the barbecue.  We rested for a bit, and then I walked with Dallas to a pub nearby while Phil stayed and watched a documentary.  I needed to stretch my legs out, and had been craving a beer to help with the muscle soreness.  We talked for a while in the pub before walking back.  I realized that people in Mississippi are not that much different from Rhode Islanders.

Shopping Season 2011 Gear Review

He holds him with his glittering eye –
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

Well its Black Friday and the 2011 shopping season is here. I thought I would review a number of items that we have with us on the trip. After over 1600 miles I have a good feel for our gear. Hopefully this will be of some help to anyone planning their own bike touring trip.

First off the Bike!

This here is my Specialized Tricross Sport 2007. I have named it

“The Bebop”

This bike has so far worked out great for me. Its a 54 cm aluminum frame with a carbon fork. 700 rims. Shimano 105 components. This bike is light, strong and provides a comfortable ride on road and thanks to its design it handles fabulously off road. It has tapped holes for both the front and rear racks. As long as you balance the weight it handles fabulously and I have not had a single problem with any of the components. The only change I would make to my set up is the gearing. It is a cyclocross bike so it’s geared rather aggressively, this can make for some tough uphill days so I plan on changing out the crank before heading to Europe.  Some people tend to go for full steel frames when touring. In general this tends to be a good call for long tours through remote areas as steel is a very easy material to repair. Secondly steel can provide a smoother ride than other materials. So far I am very happy about my choice and suggest giving one a ride at the local Specialized Rep.

One word of caution. Every model before the 2011 model has the tapped holes for the front rack, they eliminated these in the 2011 model. They realized afterward that the taps were in demand and brought it back for the 2012 model. Just keep that in mind.

Racks:

Surly Front and Rear Racks.

I did a large amount of reading before settling on my bike racks. I am very happy with the Surly rack. The front rack is rated to 70 lbs and the rear 80 lbs. I currently have the rear rack on my bike and a different one of the front. The rear rack has held up wonderfully, structurally and cosmetically. While my front rack is still structurally sound it has not held up cosmetically and large areas of the paint have chipped off resulting in rust. I have had to clean this off several times. I will be holding on to my front rack until there is a structural failure. At that point I will be replacing it with Surly, no doubt about it.

Panniers:

Ortlieb Front and Rear Roller (Classic or Plus)

This here is the Ortlieb Roller Classic. If you do any reading on the thousands of websites reviewing what panniers to use the Ortlieb company comes up again and again as the best choice. I now cast my vote with those who have come before, Ortlieb is the best! For long tours the Roller Plus or classic seem to be the best way to go. The most important feature in any storage bag for any trip is durability and waterproofing and these bags pass with flying colors. I have been through driving rain, light hail, crashes both on and off road and been hit by a bus. These have suffered zero structural damage and maintained their waterproofing. There are a few cosmetic marks from soot and dirt but a bit of soap solves this problem quickly. The attachment system is simple and convenient. It can be quickly adjusted to easily fit most any bike rack. Not only are they simple to put on and take off but they are also very convenient to carry around as they provide a shoulder sling for the bags.

Tent

Stoic Arx Xl 2

I greatly enjoy backpacking and camping so I spent a long time picking the tent for this trip. In the end I settled on the Stoic Arx XL 2 tent for several reasons. First of all its a fairly light tent,   with everything packed it weighs a total of 4lbs 11 oz. It sets up quick and easy and breaks down just as fast. The only real downside is that it does not come with a footprint which I would suggest getting. While this tent has proven to be wonderful we have not had to use it on this trip due to the overwhelming generosity of the CouchSurfing and WarmShowers communities.

Clothing

Sarah and I each have a varied assortment of clothing, and rain gear I will just briefly highlight a few companies that I really enjoy

Mountain Hardware

The people over at Mountain Hardware make excellent gear for nearly every situation. I personally have three of their products with me along for this trip. The Pac-lite shell, the Micro Grid zip tee Fleece and the Micro Power Stretch zip tee Base Layer . Each of these products have functioned perfectly and I have been through some pretty rough weather so far. In addition to great performance the company stands behind their products and work with any complaints very quickly and often will outright replace the product if they are unable to repair it. I have had a great relationship with Mountain Hardware and encourage anyone undertaking any sort of expedition to use them.

This is a great company from New Zealand. They specialize in Merino wool products and they are all amazing. I have two of their GT200 Chase shirts and they are amazing. The wool is soft, very warm wicks sweat and moisture away  and is antimicrobial so for those trips where you haven’t seen running water for days and thus no bathing, these shirts don’t smell.Another interesting thing about the site is that there is a code associated with every garment and you can put that into the website and track precisely where the wool came from.  I strongly suggest any of IceBreakers clothing for warmth, comfort and adventure.

I have two pairs of their bike shorts and a fabulous wind breaker. They have all served me fabulously over the course of 1600 miles. There are tons of reviews and sites on how to pick a pair of bike shorts. I am not going to get into it, go find those sites and read them. In the end though pearl iZumi makes a good pair. As for the windbreaker its fabulous. It packs down to the size of a soda can, its highly florescent and can be seen from several hundred meters and keeps off wind and light rain.  Again Pearl iZumi, good stuff.

Well thats the short version. More reviews and other thoughts to follow. Thanks, cheers everyone.

Phil

Happy Thanksgiving from Mississippi!

Phil made breakfast in the morning, and baked an apple pie to bring to Crystal’s cousin’s house in Collinsville.  I ate a mixture of avocado, banana and cottage cheese and made some phone calls outside, where the sun was warm and phone reception was decent.

Phil, Crystal and me at Daphne's house for Thanksgiving

When the pie was out of the oven and Crystal was ready to go, we drove to her cousin Daphne’s house, about 15 minutes away.  At least 30 family members were in town from all over for the holiday.  I didn’t recognize a lot of the food, but it was all delicious.  I even enjoyed the deep-fried turkey.  There was cornbread stuffing, corn casserole, a baked bean/meat dish, ham, broccoli rice casserole, green beans disguised in a creamy dressing, and mashed potatoes.  Of course, the desserts are always my favorite, and I had to save room for the pies, puddings, and cake.  Aside from the desserts that Phil and I brought, there was pecan pie, a lemon layered pudding dessert with a pecan crust, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and banana pudding.  Banana pudding is something I’ve seen almost everywhere since we reached Alabama, and it’s incredible.

After eating, the family dispersed – the kids played outside with the dog, some watched football, and most of them just talked.  Several hours later, after many people had gone home, the food was broken out again.  I had a second course of much of the same food, plus extra banana pudding.

Day 31: Eutaw, AL to Meridian, MS

Me, Deirdre, Ken and Phil before leaving Eutaw

We began our day with eggs and grits that Deirdre made for breakfast.  Grits actually reminds me of cream of wheat, but most people put butter and salt in it.  Phil and I enjoyed ours with pure maple syrup.  Real maple syrup is one thing I really wish was more popular down here.

After cleaning off our bikes and packing up, we said goodbye to Deirdre and Ken (George and Nola were still sleeping) and left Eutaw.  The ride was a gradual, steady uphill for most of the route.

The river between Boligee and Epes, Alabama

We rode for 26 miles, non-stop except to snap a few quick photos of the river from a bridge we crossed over.  A woman driving by in a minivan slowed down to let us know there was a historical fort nearby, in case we were interested.  We stopped at the Touch of Home Bakery in Livingston, by the University of West Alabama.  For the next 33 miles, we were on the same road.  The weather was pleasant, but the ride was long – almost 70 miles.

Welcome to Mississippi!

We made it to Meridian before dark and were greeted by the large dog Crystal shares with her neighbor as we approached her trailer.  We were Crystal’s first couchsurfers, and she kindly welcomed us to join her family for Thanksgiving the next day.  We showered in her newly redecorated bathroom and ate some tasty sweet potato casserole that Crystal had made the day before.

Wanting to contribute something for the holiday, we went to Walmart and bought ingredients for pies.  I made a coconut sweet potato pumpkin pie with a gingersnap crust from a recipe I found in a newspaper on the counter, and Phil made banana bread.  With all the leftover pumpkin and sweet potato, I made a bread as well.

Don't worry - this is NOT where we stayed in Meridian

Crystal’s friend, Donald, came over for a bit, and I made drinks with the rest of the coconut milk.  Sky juice, a drink I fell in love with while in the Bahamas last summer, is made with coconut water, condensed milk, and gin.  I already had some coconut water, so with the gin that Donald brought over, I made some sky juice with ice in the blender.  After Donald left, we watched Napoleon Dynamite and went to bed.

Day 30: Tuscaloosa to Eutaw, AL

Me, Kenny and Phil at Starbucks in Tuscaloosa

We woke up at 8am, packed, and headed to Starbucks, where Kenny was already working for the day.  The weather was supposed to hold off until 2pm, so we decided we would make a run for it and try to get to Eutaw before the impending thunderstorms struck.  Kenny treated Phil and I to tea and coffee, respectively, and then we said goodbye and hit the road.

We made it 26 miles before the rain hit us.  It came after a small pit stop at a gas station, one of the only things we saw along the entire route.  I heard thunder in the distance and started thinking about tornadoes.  Tornadoes can form rapidly whenever there are severe thunderstorms, and my imagination fueled most of the energy in my legs for the rest of the ride.  At one point the rain came down so hard that I worried about cars being able to see us.  The water running down my face was burning my eyes, making it difficult to open them.

View of the river on the way out of Tuscaloosa

Eventually, it eased up, and as we pulled into Deirdre’s driveway, the sun actually peeked through the clouds.  Phil and I were both completely soaked – we finally really put the waterproof-ability of our panniers to the test (and they passed).

Deirdre and her son, George, helped us bring everything inside.  After showering, the four of us went to the only restaurant in town for lunch, where we had barbecue (pulled pork) sandwiches.  The population of Eutaw is greater than that of my high school by no more than a few hundred.  Everyone seems to know everybody.

In between lunch and dinner, Nola, Deirdre’s daughter, woke up and joined us, and Ken, her husband, came home from work.  Dinner was excellent – baked pumpkins stuffed with rice, cheese, bacon, apple and herbs, and breaded chicken.  We talked for a while in between dinner and dessert, which was brownies with ice-cream.  The family has great stories about un-schooling (different from home-schooling), what life is like in Alabama, and other people they’ve hosted from around the world.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of them.

Resting in Tuscaloosa, AL

Phil, Bailey, Joe, Cooper and me

Joe had an exam on Monday morning and then was driving to be with his family in Memphis for Thanksgiving, but his roommate, Kenny,who was initially skeptical of couchsurfing, kindly agreed to let us stay another night after Joe was gone.  Joe also let us use his bed, which was a great improvement over the couches in the living room.

We spent most of the day relaxing and recovering from the 4 hard days of riding we had done since Atlanta.  It was just over a mile walk to Bama Jama’s, where we ate breakfast by the football stadium.  After walking back, Phil played video games while I napped with Kenny’s dog, Bailey.  I brought Bailey out for a walk and then went running myself through the University of Alabama campus and to the Tuscaloosa River Walk, just over 7 miles total.

View of the river during my run

While I was running, Kenny came back from work and went on his own 6-mile run, and afterwards, we all went grocery shopping.  Kenny made three pizzas for dinner, which were all delicious (especially the BBQ chicken pizza).  Kenny’s neighbor, Chris, and friend, Kari, joined us for dinner.

My good friend from RI, Ashley, has family in Tuscaloosa, and she had put me in touch with her cousin, Jon, who I was hoping to meet later that evening.  Unfortunately, he ended up not being able to meet that night.  Phil and I weren’t sure if we would leave the next day because of severe thunderstorms that were predicted for Tuesday, so we decided to wake up early the next morning to get a better idea of the weather.