Category Archives: New Orleans
On the eve of my departure from Portland I lay awake thinking about everything that has happened since our arrival. I was feeling incredibly sad that I would be leaving Dallas for two weeks, but at the same time I was excited to go back to New Orleans and hopefully recover a bit financially. My alarm clock rang to wake me up before I ever fell asleep. It was going to be a tiresome trip.
New Orleans was colder than I would have liked it to be, but the spirit in the city was just picking up for the Superbowl and Mardi Gras. I came just at the right time to start pedicabbing at the height of the tourist season. It did warm up considerably after a few weeks, and Dallas joined me for a month before going back to Portland. I had planned to fly back to Portland on the same day as Dallas, but I ended up passing up my flight to stay longer and enjoy a visit from my dad. My pedicab license actually expired on my birthday, so instead of pedicabbing in New Orleans, I carpooled with my friend Ryan over to Austin, where my pedicab license was still valid for another year.
Austin was warm and sunny during the days, but dropped to cooler temperatures once the sun disappeared for the night. I arrived a few days before SXSW, the festival that attracts thousands of people to the city each year. I didn’t want to work as hard as I had last year, but I needed to work enough to make up for the expense of being there. At this point, I had bought another plane ticket to go back to Portland and see Dallas, but it was three days before the festival ended, and I would have had to miss out on two of the best nights for pedicabbing. I also wasn’t looking forward to leaving the lovely weather to go to a place where I would be mostly alone, unemployed, and uncomfortably cold. I decided at the last minute not to take my flight, and instead stay in Austin until the end of March.
After SXSW was over, I got in touch with my friend Dainy (D), another nomadic free spirit who showed up both in New Orleans and Newport while bouncing around between other various locations. She had been in Austin for SXSW and was planning to drive to Mexico that day with her roommate, John, from New Orleans. After thinking over her invitation for a few minutes, I decided to join them. A few hours later, the three of us were driving south in her car, headed for Monterrey. We arrived around 4am, where Perla, a couchsurfer in Monterrey, so kindly let us stay on her couches. She even made us pancakes and drove us to the airport in the morning, where we caught a discount flight to Cancun. From there, we took a bus to Playa del Carmen and spent 4 days exploring beaches, cenotes (underwater caves), and Mayan ruins in Tulum. D’s friend from Mexico City, Stephen, joined us in Playa and introduced us to some of his friends as well. Once back on the bus to the airport, D decided to stay in Mexico and actually stopped the bus driver to get off at the next stop. Back in Monterrey, John and I were met by Karina, another couchsurfer that D had arranged to host us. Being the only two ‘gringos’, she easily recognized us and took us to an awesome barbecue at her friend’s house. This was the most memorable night of my time in Mexico, since it was more authentic than eating at a restaurant in a tourist town, and the people were amazingly welcoming and friendly. I still find it amusing that Mexican meals always seem to include the same foods, and this barbecue was no exception. Tacos made with fresh corn tortillas, meat, cheese, and spicy salsa. We stayed at Karina’s house that night, and her mom fed us breakfast (similar to the barbecue, but with eggs too) the next morning before we drove back to Austin in D’s car.
Driving back, the line at the border was so long, and the sun was so hot, that the car overheated and the radiator leaked. We noticed this after smelling something burning and seeing smoke rising from the hood. Mexicans are very resourceful, and there were plenty of guys walking around all the cars waiting in line, selling various goods. I kind of wanted to ask if any of them were handy with fixing overheated car engines. We eventually made it to the front of the line, but had to keep turning the engine off and back on again to move forward a space (people would cut us in line if we left more than half a car’s length of space between us and the car in front). I think border crossings should all be at the bottom of a slight decline, so cars can all turn off their engines and coast down the line. Either that, or do something to make the line move faster! The officer who inspected our car did not seem surprised that our engine had overheated, nor did he offer any help with our situation. We did manage to find a shaded area to park once we crossed into Laredo, and after letting the engine cool down I was able to refill the coolant without it leaking again. A mechanic at Sears told us that it’s very common for cars to overheat while waiting at the border. I think there has got to be a solution to prevent this from being a common occurrence.
I enjoyed the warm weather and company of friends in Austin for a few more days before flying to Providence to visit family for a week. I also reconnected with some good friends from home and started to get back into a regular running routine. I finally flew to Portland at the beginning of April to be back with Dallas. Apparently the weather wasn’t so bad while I was away, but the city greeted me with cold weather and persistent rain upon my arrival. That’s just when it started to warm up in Rhode Island too!
While we were in New Orleans, Dallas and I applied for and accepted jobs as bicycle tour guides in Skagway, Alaska. We will be leaving Portland at the end of April to spend the summer in Alaska. Our plan after that is to head south by bicycle towards Patagonia, with likely stops along the way to work and recover financially.
In order to shorten the trip to the Northeast and make it to Newport by the beginning of June, Dallas and I caught a rideshare out to Atlanta with two other girls. Trang had plenty of space in her truck for our bikes and gear, and the other passenger, Emmaline, graciously offered for us to stay the night at her house when we got to Atlanta.
Dallas drove for the first half of the trip, and Emmaline drove the rest of the way to her house, where her mother greeted us and welcomed us inside. After Trang continued toward East Atlanta, Dallas and I joined Emmaline for food, coffee, and cake at Cafe Intermezzo. I must say that their tiramisu is the closest I’ve been able to find to the ones they have at Whole Foods and Rouses. Delicious!
Since Dallas and I are planning to travel together, we went on a practice bike trip to the North Shore, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain, just before jazz fest began. It took us 2 days to get to Fontainebleau State Park due to our late departure time, but only one day to ride back. On the way, we stopped and explored the abandoned Six Flags amusement park. We set up camp in Slidell when it started to get dark, several feet off the side of a road leading to nowhere that had been barricaded. We had plenty of time the second day to ride to the park and eat dinner in Mandeville before pitching our tent in the woods along the bike path. We met up with Mark, one of Dallas’s coworkers, for breakfast on the third morning before leaving Mandeville.
The three day trip was just what Dallas and I needed to confirm that we would be good travel partners. We also got to test drive the tent that I purchased using my REI dividend. While I don’t like it as much as Phil’s Stoic tent, the Big Agnes Fly Creek is extremely light, easy to set up, and suited our needs well.
After this mini bike tour, both of us were enthused about our upcoming plans to ride together when we leave New Orleans.
I have been totally out of touch while I was in New Orleans, and for that I apologize. I wasn’t sure how to update the website, but I suppose I should have at least written some sort of update once a week or so. I will try to get back into daily writing now that I am going to be on the move again. Yes! I have left New Orleans and am back on the road! As I’m sure you can imagine, much has happened since I arrived in New Orleans on the last day of November more than 5 months ago.
While both Phil and I are still planning to circumnavigate the globe, we are no longer traveling together right now. Phil went back home to RI in February to sort out some personal issues (he may elaborate in a future post if he wishes) and is postponing his trip until further notice. I opted to remain in New Orleans, where I was able to save money pedicabbing. I truly enjoy New Orleans, and it was difficult to tear myself away from such a wonderful and eclectic city. I now plan on returning in the fall to work during football season and Mardi Gras again, since the Super Bowl will be in town, and I really can’t pass up the opportunity to pedicab during such a high profile event.
In the meantime, I am heading back to Rhode Island for the summer, to spend time with family while I am still in the country and to escape the heat of the south about which so many people have warned me. I also have a new travel partner! His name is Dallas, and he also rode his bicycle to New Orleans, albeit from the opposite coast in Portland, Oregon. I met Dallas when he started pedicabbing for the yellow company, Bike Taxi Unlimited, shortly after I started working for Need A Ride. When we first met, all I learned was that he had bicycled from Portland. For a few weeks we didn’t see much of each other, but I knew I wanted to get to know him better. In the last month or so we have become close friends and partners, and are hoping to travel together around the world. To read about Dallas’s bicycle touring experiences, check out his blog at http://www.dallasandhisbicycle.blogspot.com.
Both Dallas and I will be pedicabbing in Newport this summer. We also signed up to run in the Portland marathon together in October before returning to New Orleans to save more money. From New Orleans, we think we will head south towards Patagonia after Mardi Gras next year.
I want everyone to know that I have not abandoned my causes. I am still trying to raise money for the MS Society, and will do so through my fundraising page for the MS bike tour for now. I expect to be back in RI by the beginning of June, with plenty of time to participate in the Ride the Rhode bike tour, which conveniently leaves from Newport this year. I have regrettably not been very active about fundraising. I also am still committed to promoting cycling as an environmental and economical mode of transportation, and have been trying to do that through pedicabbing. One of the most rewarding rides I have given while pedicabbing was to a guy in Austin during SXSW who told me that I inspired him to buy a bicycle and start riding. Other people have told me that I’ve inspired them to ride, and I hope I can reach out to more people around the world through my future bicycle travels and this website.
Since my last post, I completed the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Mardi Gras marathon and finished the distance faster than I ever have, probably due to the flatness of the course. My time was 3:33:35, the weather was perfect, and I probably could have done better had I trained properly. My only complaint was the terrible music that they chose to have as entertainment along the course. Maybe my expectations were high, but I think an event in New Orleans that bears the title “Rock ‘n’ Roll” should have been able to provide better music.
The day after the marathon, I carpooled to Austin to pedicab during South by Southwest (SXSW), a huge festival consisting of interactive technology, film and music. I had to get a Texas driver’s license in order to pedicab there, and since my RI license was about to expire anyway, the timing was good. I still laugh whenever I take out my ID though. After living and working in Texas for a mere two weeks, I caught a ride with a fellow pedicabber back to New Orleans.
While I was in Austin, another friend from Newport had moved into the laundry room where I had been living, so I house-sat for a week uptown before moving my few possessions over to Sal’s house. Sal is the manager of the red pedicab company, NOLA Pedicabs. Their office is across the hall from Need A Ride, and Sal is good friends with the owner of our company. I was weary at first when he offered for me to live at his house, but it worked out beautifully. He has an addition connected to his house via the back porch, and it is really its own separate apartment, complete with a kitchen, bathroom and laundry machines. It’s also the exact same distance by bicycle from where I had been staying.
The Final Four NCAA Basketball Championships were held in New Orleans the weekend after I returned from Austin, followed by the French Quarter Festival two weekends later, and then Jazz Fest.
Sal has his own party, Sal Fest, during every jazz fest, and it goes on for 2 weekends. There has been no shortage of entertainment in this city. Even as I leave New Orleans, a steady influx of tourists and convention-goers are keeping the existing pedicabbers busy and well-fed. That said, many of us are leaving for the summer or for good, and in a few more weeks it won’t be the same. I feel similar to how I did when I moved back to Providence from Montreal. Pretty much all but one of my closest friends moved out of the city around the same time, so while I missed Montreal immensely for a few months, I knew it wouldn’t be the same if I went back there on my own.
I apologize for leaving all of you in the dark for so long while Phil and I have immersed ourselves in the culture that is New Orleans. If you have ever been here, I hope you understand. There is so much to say right now, I don’t even know where to begin. This may have to happen in multiple posts.
For the past three months, I have kept myself occupied as a pedicab driver for Need A Ride, LLC – a physically exhausting, but rewarding occupation. The hours have been long, especially during Mardi Gras, but now I am finally taking a few days off to recover. This city can suck a person in, and it will be sad when I finally have to leave. From crazy football fans to flash parades to great music and great food, New Orleans possesses a unique spirit which I have experienced in no other city. Certainly no other city in North America could compare. While the French influence reminds me of Montreal, the warmer weather, friendlier people, and lack of hills are just a few of the more superficial qualities that set New Orleans apart.
Aside from work, I have also been trying to train for the marathon, which is on March 4th (just a week away). If anyone is in town that morning, it would be amazing to see y’all supporting us runners along the course.
While I have been pedicabbing, Phil has been working at St. Vincent’s Guest House. He can tell you more about his work there, since, honestly, we haven’t seen each other very much since we arrived in New Orleans. We also have some very important news that will change the course of our trip, but I will wait for Phil before breaking it out here.
One of the main reasons we are both bicycling around the world is to raise money for charity. So, I think it is important to give you all a way to donate easily to the charities of our choice. I ride in a bike tour every year for the MS Society, and, while I’m not sure I’m going to make it for the ride in Rhode Island this year, I am still raising money for the RI Chapter. To donate directly to the cause, you can go to my personal fundraising page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/sarahthomas2012. The bike tour is on June 16-17, and begins and ends in Newport, RI. Even better than donating would be to sign up for the tour yourself! There is still plenty of time to train…
Now, I will be spending the rest of the weekend celebrating my 28th birthday!
Since arriving in New Orleans, I have been sleeping on the comfortable couch of my friends in Midtown. I’ve begun the process of getting my pedicab license, which is actually quite extensive and a huge pain. I need not only my driver’s license, but either a passport or birth certificate as proof of citizenship, a physical clearance from my doctor, I have to go to the airport to get a background check, I have to pass a drug test, and I have to take a 4-hour defensive driving class. All of these things come with their own associated fees, and after all is said and done, I will have spent over $130.
I won’t be able to start pedicabbing for at least a week, so in the meantime, I have been responding to ads for modeling and acting jobs. So far, I have a hair modeling gig set up for Monday and a role as an extra in a scene for the HBO series, Treme, on Tuesday. Coincidentally, the extra role is to be a customer in a hair salon. On Saturday, I will be riding in the back of a pedicab in a parade, and on Sunday, I hope to wake up early enough to run a 5k at City Park.
Since Phil and I will not be riding from city to city every day for a few months, posts on this blog will probably be much less frequent, but we will try to keep everyone updated at least once a week. If anyone has any jobs for us while we are living in New Orleans, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!