Texas to Labrador (1)

Dear Friends and Family

Some people will have received an earlier version of this report: to them I apologize. I completed compiling my e-mail group for the trip on Friday, and will make regular reports.

I also hope to have a web site up and running soon. If you are not interested in hearing about my north- south trip across the continent by bicycle, please let me know and I will remove your name from the e- mail group.

I have been planning a trip across North America, from Texas to the Canadian Maritime Provinces, for several months, but seriously since early March. To this end I had bought a new bicycle (Bianchi Volpe), to replace the old Peugeot bought for $50 from Fred Busche at Shell Mining nearly 20 years ago, and spent six weeks and much more money than I had anticipated equipping it. It now has front and rear panniers, lights, a cyclometer, etc., and I have a set of tools for road repairs. I also bought a tent and sleeping bag adequate for temperatures down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as cooking gear. I left Houston on the bicycle, finally fully equipped, on Friday, April 30th at 4.30 in the afternoon after working furiously for two weeks to finish my consulting assignments for Shell.

I rode through the tornado warnings and heavy rain all day on Saturday, May, 1st, having discovered that the cool temperatures made riding a lot easier, and also that there was a tail wind while the storm lasted. Fortunately, a friend and colleague (Jeff Fritz) in Beaumont was able to put me up, and help me dry out – everything was soaked, especially my documents, such as my passport and birth certificate. I had not yet learned the secrets of waterproof packing – Ziploc bags, but make sure that they are brand-new and have no holes, even a pinhole, or they will act as little buckets, taking on and holding water.

For the next two days I peddled into a headwind along highways 12 and 190 across Louisiana, staying one night in a campground with no facilities whatsoever, and reaching Opelousas in time to find a motel. Lo and behold, another loaded-to-the-gills bike was parked outside reception. This turned out to be another old guy from Houston, who was following the Adventure Cycling Association”s “Southern Tier” transcontinental route to Florida. We rode together the next day, but he was a lot slower than I and all the time and weight (from having less weight on the peddles) in the saddle was giving me sores, so the following day we parted, he heading south for the ferry across the Mississippi at St. Francisville, and me heading North up the levee to Natchez, which I reached after 60 waterless and settlement-less miles.

One interesting engineering stop, though: the Old River Diversion works, where part of the Mississippi flow is diverted into the Atchafalaya, in order to prevent the whole Mississippi from going that way in a flood and drowning half of Louisiana. They have a large-volume, low-head hydro-power station there, and I was luky enough to meet the Project Manager. This is visited by engineers from Tidal Hydropower projects around the world as the technology is similar.

In Natchez I picked up the Natchez Trace Parkway, which I stayed on until May 11th , when I did 110 miles from Tishomingo in online casino Mississippi to Huntsville, Alabama, on extremely busy and dangerous roads. I have now ridden about 950 miles from Houston.

The Parkway is pretty, but there are few and very primitive campgrounds for cyclists, and it goes through no settlements. There are also long distances between water. By the time I got off it, I had decided that this was not the goal of my trip – I really wanted to see America and the small towns along the way, and to meet the people – this was not possible on the Parkway, which therefore became boring after a while. I met one interesting character on the Natchez Trace: a Cornishman raised in Trinidad, a Civil Engineer, who now lives in Mexico most of the year and spends the summers camping around North America – living out of the back of a Volvo. He was working and living in Kitwe, Zambia, at the same time as I was, and we knew some of the same people.

May 12th was a bad day: I had two flat tires (four if you count all three holes that were in the tire the second time). I rode around and through Huntsville, not a pleasant task, and on the other side rode over an extremely (for me) difficult mountain, where I got caught in a thunderstorm, and then had to get a lift back over it in order to find a hotel to stay at when I couldn”t repair the punctures on the road. I managed to repair the punctures at the hotel, but the forecast was for steady rain and thunderstorms for the next three days, which meant that I would not be able to reach Asheville, NC, where I planned to visit family and old friends, in time to return to Houston for a commitment I had made to attend a series of workshops at Shell the following Tuesday and Wednesday. I decided to rent a car and return to Texas a couple of days early to take care of business there.

Since I could not get back from Houston to Huntsville before my week”s rental was over, I decided to renew it for another week and do the Western North Carolina part by car. So far I have seen my in-laws the Webbs (Mother is 90 and has Alzheimer”s, but is otherwise in good health. The rest of the family are fine); also Sandy, nee El Bayadi, who has a health store in Sylva. Went to Church at St. John”s, where I used to be a member, and met some old friends there, and have had dinner with the Mainwarings, old friends at WNCU in Cullowhee. Aso visited with John Chapman, former Chairman of Geology at WNCU, now 86 years old and in great shape except for a broken hip a few years ago.

I have about two more days left here, and then have to return the car in Huntsville. I also have to go to Concord, NC, to pick up a new rear wheel, since it became apparent after the brakes began to wear the rim that there was a large dent in it that was there when I bought the bike. I don”t know yet whether I will restart the ride in Huntsville and go due North to Canada, or leave the bike here and ride from Asheville down into the Piedmont and then Northeast. It depends on when the wheel arrives in Concord. It is difficult to get out of Asheville: the few roads are all busy, and I have no appetite to try the Blue Ridge Parkway. I am off all recognized long-distance cycling routes, and many drivers don”t like me being on the road. The terrain is difficult for a fully-loaded bicycle, whichever way I go, so my preference is to restart in Huntsville.

Internet access has not worked as planned: nice small towns are not as easy to find out here as one would have thought (none along the Natchez trace), and my first two attempts to get on from libraries were unsuccessful because the computers were down. I hope all of you are having a great summer John