Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Houston: Water Wall

Things are on pause for a little while. Neither of us are independently wealthy, and when we planned the trip it was with the knowledge that eventually we'd run low on money and have to stop and work somewhere.

We made it stretch as far as we could, doing work for an array of mystery shopping services to get free meals, staying in as many free campgrounds as we could find, and generally being penny pinchers. But bikes don't eat for free and sometimes hotels are necessary. We ran out of funds in Houston and set about finding work.

We'll be here for a while, but we do fit in some sight-seeing here and there. In mid-March we found the Water Wall in Uptown (and Rogue nearly got arrested for photographing the office building nearby. Why? They wouldn't say).

Blogging Reboot

"Travel doubts" apparently led to "tired of blogging" doubts. Let me take another whack at this.

We spent a weekend in Sour Lake with Amber and Rock. She showed us around town and took us out for gator and catfish. The group of us spent an evening toasting marshmallows and shooting off fireworks in the backyard.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Arrival in Sour Lake

We found Amber's house without trouble, at the end of a short dirt road. We parked on the concrete skirt of the garage, behind a stable of Harleys, and she and her partner Rock came out to greet us. He prefers to be known as "that asshole biker," but "Rock" is shorter, so I'm going with that.

Amber's daughter Sofia showed us to the cabin in the back yard, an adorable gamer cave that was occupied by Amber's oldest when he was home from school. With a private bathroom, air conditioning, a mini kitchen, a sofa, and a comfy bed, it was heaven to crash in after so many nights in the tent. Her younger son Eli came over as we were getting our laundry together and introduced himself too.

When we had gotten comfy - which for me meant exchanging my riding boots for flip-flops - we joined them in the kitchen of the main house. Rock was making chicken schnitzel, which Amber told us was his specialty. I asked if we could be of any help. Amber said absolutely not, and Rock said his bike needed a wash.

Dinner was wonderful. I stuffed myself until I had regrets, and then we sat around a large fire on the back porch and toasted marshmallows and drank wine. Four bikers who all ride a lot and like to talk will do so for hours. There were stories of rain and snow, good roads and bad roads, breakdowns and strange encounters and late-night rides. It was easily midnight before it occurred to any of us to go to bed.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Riding Photography

Rogue takes really cool photos. These were on route 76 in Indiantown, Florida.

Travel Doubts

It was over that lovely Cajun food in the Blind Tiger that we looked at each other and went, "What the hell are we doing?" We were six weeks in and neither of us had an answer.

Travel is hard. It's exhilarating, it's exciting, it's educational and fun and exhausting. You meet great people who become friends for life, and you meet assholes who make you want to stop meeting people. There are riding roads and there are roads that just go places. I've been thrilled to ride on a gorgeous day, I've been disturbed by a semi-deserted town that was full of bad juju, I've looked forward to the next town, and I've wanted to quit and go home - all in one day.

If you asked me why I took this trip, I'd say something vague about "getting away." I can't tell you what I want to get out of it, because I don't know. Rogue wants to go back to Massachusetts when it's all done; I don't.

All the towns look the same after a while. Setting up the tent and starting a fire have become automatic and somehow vaguely irritating. This again? Didn't we just do this last night? For the first time I understand why Dad hated camping; he had done it too many times in the Marines and probably felt that he had earned a real bed, damn it.

In a moment of trying to convince myself to push forward and not turn around, I messaged Jon, another biker who's doing long-term road travel around the US. We met in a Tiger group on Facebook, although his touring bike is a Honda (that actually looks remarkably like Bumblebee).

He told me that 4-6 weeks is when the honeymoon phase of travel ends. He'd been on the road for 13 weeks when I messaged him and was taking a break with family back in England, which he admitted was a welcome recharge from the mental toll the road takes. His goal is to hit all 50 US states and his blog (On Your Bike Tours) gives him an "obligation" to visit interesting places. Reading through the blog, a difference in our travel styles caught my attention: he seeks out locals and asks for things to do, using the internet only as a last resort. This is the opposite of the way I've been doing things, and the next time we land in a new town I think I'm going to try it that way. It may be a little different for us girls, but we can certainly take care of ourselves, so I'm willing to give it a go. Obviously something isn't working as is.

Rogue asked what I would do if she left. I said I'd be surprised.

"Really? Why?"

"What are you going to do - ride back to Massachusetts and live on your motorcycle in the snow?"

Quitting now would be pointless at least for me, because if "gave up," I'd still want to visit my friends in Texas and ride around before going home, which is exactly what I'm going to do in the context of the trip, so giving up means nothing at all. It would be more difficult right now to ride the 1,800 miles into the cold and try to find a job and a home than it is to stay here and keep doing what we're doing.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Northern Louisiana

After a couple of very welcome showers, we saddled up and wandered into Minden to explore. It was a strange town. The main street was paved in brick, and large banks and expensive-looking dress shops rubbed shoulders with stained car repair garages and empty buildings with broken windows. When it seemed that we had seen everything that was open - and it wasn't much - we went into Habacu's Mexican restaurant for lunch.

The bar was decorated with Marvel superheroes. Deadpool, Captain America, and Iron Man stared out from between the Johnny Walker Blue and the giant jars of flavored margaritas. The salsa was excellent and so were the tacos de calle - soft corn tortillas filled with spicy pork and pineapple.

The afternoon saw us walking through the woods to the boat ramp, where we stretched out on the dock with our sketchbooks and enjoyed the sunlight. It was windy, and when we returned to camp we found our mess kits, towels, and other various things blown all over the place. Despite the wind, we tried again to start a fire, and this time it worked. The wind riled it up and blew the smoke into our faces and luggage, so that two days later we were still discovering things that smelled like campfire that normally don't, like the inside of Rogue's helmet.

If you know where to look, you can see our tent in the trees.

When we were in Beaumont, Texas back in September for the Lace, Grace, and Gears rally, Rogue befriended the woman running the snow cone truck, whose name is Amber. She's in charge of entertainment for the upcoming rally, and they began talking recently about Rogue and I doing a fire show there. When she learned we were traveling the South, she invited us to come visit.

Between Minden and Sour Lake, Texas, where Amber lives, there was Shreveport. Trip Advisor recommended the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, which was free and had great reviews. We showed up and were welcomed into the circular building, which was filled with really amazing dioramas depicting scenes of crop farming, harvesting, and oil drilling. There was a large array of taxidermied animals, including foxes, otters, a raccoon, an owl, an armadillo, a bobcat, and a whole pond full of ducks.

We were determined to get real cajun food before leaving Louisiana, so I Googled "best cajun food in Louisiana." That search led me to the Blind Tiger.

The "Cajun sampler" got us a selection of gumbo, crawfish etouffee, meat pies, fried corn, blackened catfish, fried crawfish tails, and dirty rice. We mowed through that, a side of cornbread, and a dish of bread pudding, then considered the mertis taking a nap instead of riding to Texas.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Into Louisiana

The breakfast at the Best Value was one of the best hotel breakfasts I've ever had. The biscuits and gravy, sausage, scrambled eggs, grits, and muffins were all hot and fresh, and I stuffed myself. I probably would have filled my pockets with biscuits too had the clerk not been standing in the doorway gossipping with a friend.

The more hotels I stay in, the less sense their ratings and prices make to me. At the Marriott in Phildelphia, we were paying $100/night, and there was no breakfast at all, not even cereal. There was a Starbucks in the lobby that charged $10 for a plate of eggs, so we walked to the Wawa across the street.

At the Holiday Inn Express, supposedly a step down from the Marriott, breakfast is pretty good. And at the Best Value, which was theoretically shoddy (and I admit their laundry facilities left a certain lingering stink in my clothing), the breakfast was downright excellent.

It was pouring down rain again as we packed up. We waited out the worst of the monsoon but couldn't sit around all day, so our journey began in the rain. The worst of it was fortunately over by the time Rogue fell suddenly far behind on the highway. She caught up again, then fell behind, then rode up very close to me. I gave her an inquisitive thumbs-up, which she did not return. We pulled onto the shoulder and I watched as she fidgeted with her handlebars, poked at this and that, revved her engine, and finally shook her head vehemently and stepped off Zee.

"What's up?" I asked.

"My grip is loose," she said. "It's spinning."

"Can you make it to the next exit? It's a mile." She nodded and led the way to the nearest gas station.

They didn't sell super glue, but the dollar store down the street did. I retrieved some and we had a short break while it dried.

In Vicksburg we took a short detour, looking for a lunch we didn't actually find. I rode into town a little ways and pondered how much I dislike ghost towns. We've found a remarkable number of places that seem to contain fewer people than they should, hanging onto the memories of closed businesses and watching through torn holes in faded curtains. Somehow I'm always waiting for someone to demand that I explain my presence there, like a kid caught spying on the neighbors.

The rain stayed away, and eventually we fetched up on the shores of Caney Lake in Kisatchie National Forest in Minden, Louisiana. The Turtle Slide campground was closed, but the one adjacent to it was open, and had water and electrical hookups and showers. We were unable to start a fire with all the wet branches and more rain was predicted overnight. Our tent has been pretty good, but I'll always opt for more weatherproofing when possible, so we used the lantern hook to suspend the tarp over the tent.

My Kindle was gone, of course, but Rogue had put some episodes of a podcast called Welcome to Nightvale on her MP3 player and I had a speaker. We lay in the tent in the dark and let Cecil lull us to sleep with odd stories from a strange desert town.