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Cycling Across the USA PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

CYCLING ACROSS THE SOUTHERN USA

LOS ANGELES to KEY WEST via SAN DIEGO and MIAMI

3,618 Miles (5,790 km) in 66 Days

February to May 2001

Margaret and Barry Williamson

Here is an USA_2001_(13).jpgedited version of the diary we kept when we cycled across the Southern States of the USA, from Los Angeles to Key West via San Diego and Miami, in the spring of 2001. This was the final leg of a round-the-world journey which totalled 12,000 miles (19,200 km) and included Singapore, Australia coast to coast, New Zealand and Fiji.

In general, we followed the route recommendUSA_2001_(54).jpged by Bike Centennial (now known as Adventure Cycling Association. This route followed back roads and the old US highway system. The latter gave us a broad shoulder and quiet riding, since most traffic now follows the newer network of interstate freeways (from which cycles are generally banned). The old US highway system also gave us affordable accommodation and meals in motels and diners which had all seen better days. Only rarely, in the mountains of the Western States, did we find ourselves literally short of a bed for the night.

Where a motel price is given, it is for a double room usually including either complimentary coffee (in the lobby) or a coffee-maker (in the room) and sometimes a light breakfast. Look out for booklets of motel vouchers or coupons which are widely distributed in fast food joints and visitor centres.

The 'bike map' referred to throughout this travel log, is the set of (very) detailed cyclists' maps prepared by the Adventure Cycling Association and on sale through their website and from the CTC shop. The maps need to be constantly checked against a smaller-scale map (maps of each State are often free); as you will see, we often took short cuts.

A table of distances and times for the ride across the USA and for the complete round-the-world bicycle ride is given at the end of this diary.

For a summary of the whole ride, click: Round the World by Bicycle.

For a slide show of images of this cycle ride across the southern USA, click: Across the USA 2001.

For a slide show of images of an earlier cycle ride across the northern USA, click: Across the USA 1992.

For general information, including an Anglo-American dictionary, click: Travel Notes USA

27 February 2001     By Air from Fiji to Los Angeles and a Super 8 Motel

After a leisurely breakfast at the Raffles Gateway Hotel (opposite Fiji's Nadi Airport), we packed for Air New Zealand/Air Pacific flight FJ810 to Los Angeles, departing 11 pm. We had just spent 6 days cycling round Fiji's main island (388 km/240 miles), a stop-over on our way from Auckland to California. Barry had to dismantle the wheels to fit our bikes into the boxes, which the Hotel had kindly stored for us after spending our first night in Fiji there. M walked across the road to the airport to buy rolls of sticky tape for the boxes, and post cards to send.

Chicken curry for lunch at the Hotel, a final swim in the splendid pool, reading, crosswords, a pot of tea – time passed slowly! The porter drove our bags and bike-boxes over to the airport at 8 pm, seeming happy with a tip of B&H cigarettes and our Lonely Planet guide to Fiji!

Check-in went smoothly, as the usual evening shower set in. We'd heard a hurricane was approaching, expected tomorrow or the day after. Once on board, the pilot delayed take-off for an hour, waiting for the increasing wind and rain to abate. It didn't. We were the last flight, in or out. Suddenly he roared down the dark runway without warning and we rose through bumpy turbulence. The crew did eventually apologise for subjecting us all to an extra 20 minutes of seat-belted anxiety, explaining we had turned left to avoid the crosswinds and get airborne.

The huge but elderly 747 (200 series) rode out the storm and we gradually relaxed over a meal of spicy lamb balls and Fijian fruits (pineapple, watermelon and pawpaw), well after midnight! The flight lasted about 10 hours, watching a pair of dire 'B'-movie films from our seats in the tail. We managed to sleep a little and then had a good breakfast before landing at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) at 1.30 pm local time – still on 27 February, as we'd crossed the International Date Line as well as the Equator and arrived before we set off and into a different season! It was still raining and we were still on the edge of the Pacific, looking at palm trees, after all those hours crossing the Ocean. Apparently, it's been raining hard for several days and the news featured mud slides and snow in the Californian mountains. Temperature in LA was 60 deg F.

LAX is a huge airport, circled by non-stop traffic, buses, taxis and courtesy cars. The Ford E350 truck (on which our own motorhome is built) was particularly popular (delivery vans, ambulances, fire engines and mini-buses). From a range of free phones, we rang the Super 8 Motel on Airport Boulevard and we and our bikes (still in their tattered boxes) were soon collected in a Ford E350 minibus and whisked through the rain to a very comfortable room. It had plush fittings, a huge TV at the end of the enormous bed and a luxurious bathroom (but no cooking facilities, unlike most rooms in Australia and NZ). Coffee and tea were freely available at any time from Reception, as were ice cubes (for the American cocktail habit!) The price of $70 included collection from the airport.

The friendly men USA_2001_(11).jpgrunning the hotel were all from the Fijian capital of Suva and we gave them our 'Fiji Times' newspaper, as well as the black flight bag that we didn't want to carry across the States. They enrolled us in the 'Super 8 VIP Club' (cost $4), qualifying for a 10% discount at all Super 8 Motels and a complimentary 10-minute phone card. Every little helps!

While Barry reassembled the bikes (no apparent damage except to his front mudguard) and disposed of the battered boxes, M fetched a snack from the nearby Supersub Sandwich Bar. And then we slept – it had been a very long day (or two).

28 February 2001     Beach Motel,   Sunset Beach, Orange County, California   78 km cycled

A long sleep and a Supersub Sandwich breakfast, before setting off at 10.30 am to cross the USA! The cycling began easily enough, with a light wind and rain showers. The wide roads usually had a good margin or a separate cycle path; the traffic was calm and orderly.

From the Super 8 Motel (at the corner of Airport Boulevard and ArborUSA_2001_(12).jpg Vitae St), we had a 4-mile ride along the surprisingly quiet Westchester Parkway, skirting the northern edge of the 8 terminals of LAX airport. Then Sandpiper Street climbed over a bank of sand hills and we were, once again, by the Pacific Ocean. The Vista del Mar road runs south, paralleled by a cycle and pedestrian path right next to the ocean. We rode this, past empty beaches and shuttered holiday homes, while a few hardy surfers rode the waves.

The area names – El Segundo, Hermosa, Redonda – were redolent of the history of southern California, which was Spanish in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pause for coffee and cookies at Hermosa Beach. The cycle path, signed as a 'Bike Lane' with reminders to 'Yield to Peds' (pedestrians), even ran through an indoor car park!

At the Palos Verdes peninsula we followed Palos Verdes Drive North, taking us inland through very rich suburbs: solid villas with landscaped gardens and 3 or 4 cars each. There were riding stables and beauty salons but no shops or cafes. It was easier to find a manicure than a loaf of bread! On through the aptly named Rolling Hills Estates, we finally came to a 'Jack in a Box' (fast food outlet) and enjoyed a 'Spicy Chicken Combo'.

Continuing through Wilmington, a busier more industrial area, we passed a refinery and docks, to rejoin the Pacific Highway at Long Beach. Crossing bays on bridges, we came to Seal Beach, where we found a shopping centre with groceries but no gas cylinders for our camping stove. (We'd bought a Coleman stove in Australia, made in USA, but had more problems finding gas here than in Oz or NZ!)

Finally to Sunset Beach: time to find a room before dusk fell at 6 pm. The Beach Motel was humbler than the Super 8, costing only $40. We made sandwiches in the room, then (lacking the gas to make a drink) went out for coffee and donuts. It was a fine evening, the forecast thunderstorm having passed us by. The TV news was of an earthquake in Seattle (6.8 on the Richter scale, with one dead) and a train crash in England.

1 March 2001     Carmelo Motel,   San Clemente, California   75 km cycled

Continued south along the Pacific Ocean, starting on a cycle/footpath to Huntingdon Beach, where we paused for McDonalds coffee. A man inside told us that Sting visits regularly – these are the Southern California Surfing Beaches!

At Newport Beach we somehow left SH1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) and rode along a peninsula, returning to the main highway via a short crossing on a passenger ferry to Baboa Island (yacht marinas and a funfair), and then on a bridge. At last we crossed a few miles of open green space, through a State Park, with a picnic lunch by the ocean, where there were toilets, taps and tables near a car park. There was also plenty of cheap or free parking for motorhomes (RV's) along this coast.

On through Laguna Beach, with plenty of costly residences and poodle parlours, but again no food stores. At the next settlement, Dana Point, we at last found a supermarket (Albertsons), shopped and had tea and donuts. After riding along Doheny State Beach, the route became more complicated, as the Pacific coast Highway became Interstate 5 (No Bikes). Luckily, the bike route was well signposted through the suburban estates of Capistrano Beach, to emerge into San Clemente, with a couple of motels and a fast foodery.

We chose the more modest hotel, at $54, run by an Indian family from Gujerat (the first of many such!) It had been a splendid day, sunny and fresh with a light back wind – we could have gone further but knew of no accommodation for a long stretch ahead. Fish & chips, coffee and carrot cake to finish.

2 March 2001     The Shores Inn,   La Jolla, San Diego, California   91 km cycled

A cooler cloudy day. Keeping off Interstate 5, we followed a coastal bike path/old road, over the border from Orange County to San Diego County, through the San Clemente State Beach Park (with toilets, picnic tables and RV parking), past the ominous San Ofore Nuclear Power Plant, under the Interstate on a muddy path and on to the entrance to the huge Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base (slogan "No Beach Beyond Our Reach"). The guard checked that we had helmets and bright 'road vests' and allowed us to ride through in single file. 27km/17 miles further, before exiting the main gate, was the Base's housing estate, school and shopping centre, where we had coffee and apple pie in McDonalds.

Then along the continuous shoreline development of holiday homes and timeshares, through Oceanside and Carlsbad (with mock-German-Romantic buildings). A picnic lunch on South Carlsbad State Beach, atop the low sandy cliffs, watched by a little furry squirrel critter. More oceanside settlements and surf shops – Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Solana Beach – each with a population of several thousand and a State Beach.

At Del Mar we paused for a drink before a 3-km climb up through Torrey Pines, then dropped down into La Jolla (= The Jewel), the last town before San Diego, into which it has merged. Approaching tea-time, the traffic was busier, with no separate bike lane. We passed the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, through rich suburbs with hotels of the Holiday Inn and Hilton groups. Further along La Jolla Boulevard, the Shores Inn was more affordable ($64 inc breakfast).

We ate at a nearby Mexican restaurant – not our favourite food, but the chicken enchiladas and burrito chicken supreme were tasty, very filling and not too spicy, for $10 all-in.

3 March 2001     Bayview Super 8 Motel,   San Diego, California   32 km cycled

After a hotel (light?) breakfast of coffee, buns and Danish pastries, we shopped in La Jolla. We bought food at Ralph's and got their discount card (as in most US supermarkets – membership free, just a form to fill in at the Enquiry desk). A good cycle shop sold us a tyre (Conti Top Touring, the best they had in our size), 4 fresh water bottles and a yellow t-shirt for Barry. We had coffee in Wendy's (yet another fast food chain), then – at last – found gas for our stove at a 'Big 5 Sports' store. Inside we met a strange guy cycling from Oregon down to South America, who claimed he'd just had all the panniers stolen off his bike. He was buying a new sleeping bag and was just short of the cost, so we gave him the necessary $2. (If it was a scam, it wasn't a very big one!)

Now able to brew up,USA_2001_(13).jpg we enjoyed a picnic lunch at Spanish Landing Park by the San Diego Bay, between the airport and the naval base on Coronado Island. Many San Diegans were out enjoying the Saturday sunshine, on skateboards, roller blades, scooters or (many) bikes. It's a lively city with plenty of bike lanes. Continuing round Harbour Drive, the waterfront, we passed historic ships like the 'Star of India', the oldest iron-clad ship still afloat. It was built in the Isle of Man in the 1850's and had sailed round the world 21 times before the Americans acquired it in the 1880's, to use up and down the Pacific Coast, in the lumber trade and salmon-canning in Alaska.

Confused by the city's grid system and unaware of the distinction between 8th Avenue and 8th Street, we failed to exit San Diego by mid-afternoon! Knowing it was then too far to the next settlement, we eventually took refuge in a Super 8 motel on the edge of the 'Little Italy' area of the city. Barry fitted the new tyre to his rear wheel, and fixed problems of a jumping chain and clicking pedals on M's bike. M did the laundry and wrote up the log.

Later we walked to the recommended pizzeria/shop, Filippi's. The queue for take-aways was slightly shorter than the one for tables, so we got a huge 'pizza-to-go' (we thought it was huge: it was the smallest size available!)

4 March 2001     Twin Lakes Resort,   Potrero Valley, California   81 km cycled

Super 8 breakfast of coffee, orange juice and buns. Then, still disoriented by the scale of our San Diego map, we rode up and down Harbour Drive again, onto 8th Street and at last out along Paradise Valley Road, much further from the city centre than we'd imagined. It was a fine cloudy Sunday morning with quiet roads. Going through a poor Chinese district, we stopped to make coffee in the park and watched an old man picking empty bottles out of rubbish bins – in California?

We climbed gently over the Sweetwater River and through Sweetwater, ignoring the 'Closed Road' sign and pushing our cycles over the road works. Then up Jamacha Boulevard, to turn right at the junction with Route 94, climbing up Steele Canyon to Jamul, 1,000 ft above the sea. We bypassed the town, our road descending and climbing again through an Indian Reserve, with rocky slopes and trees – ideal for an ambush.

We reached the next village, Dulzura (pop 700, altitude 1,300 ft), at 2 pm. It had a post office (closed) and one caf้ (open for lunch). A 45-minute break, over a pot of tea, enchiladas (M) and burger & fries (B), provided fuel for the climb to 1,600 ft before dropping sharply to Cottonwood Creek, just below 1,000 ft. Finally, a long ascent, past the turn for Tecate (over the border in Mexico), to Potrero up at 2,600 ft. We saw many Border Patrol vehicles and one road check-point.

Potrero has a shop and caf้, both closed when we arrived after 5 pm. The Twin Lakes Resort (which we'd telephoned), 3 km/2 miles off the main road, has just 3 simple log cabins to rent. Ours had a bathroom, a fridge, a bed and a small heater (but no bedding, pillows, linen, mirror, table …) It had been a long slow day, though the climbing (a total of 4,000 ft) was well graded. We felt as if we'd finally left the Pacific Ocean to head east for the distant Atlantic.

5 March 2001     Ocotillo Motel & RV Park,   Ocotillo, California   84 km cycled

An early start, after a chilly night in the cabin. Our busy host had bacon, eggs, toast and coffee ready at 8 am as promised, for no extra charge. Well fed, we left at 8.20 am, 2 miles back to the main road, a short uphill, then down 1,000 ft before another climb to 4,000 ft.

We passed the Mt Empire RV Park, then through the village of Campo and on to Cameron Corners Crossroads, where we bought bread and cups of coffee at the small general store. Gradual climbing through Indian Reservations (Camp and La Posta) to the summit, passing Outdoor World Camping, with more trailers and RV's (not suited to tents). Over the top and a couple of miles down, we came to Boulevard (pop 415), for a good lunch of club sandwiches and home-fried potatoes in a Mexican caf้. There was another climb after Jacumba, on the old highway 80, with lots of road works, but again the gradient was easy and the traffic kind to us.

At In-ko-pah Park we joined the Interstate 8 freeway, where bikes were allowed on a stretch with no alternative. With 2 lanes each way, it also had very wide shoulders, separated from the traffic by rumble-strips. It was an 11-mile downhill freewheel, gradient 6%, dropping from over 3,000 ft to under 1,000 ft. Passing through Devil's Canyon, we crossed from San Diego Co into Imperial County. The second exit deposited us close to Ocotillo (named after a desert shrub): 'Welcome to the Yuha Desert'.

The only motel was very homely, with a genial host. Our room had a coffee-maker, microwave and fridge. In the last 2 days we'd ridden over 160 km/100 miles and climbed over 6,000 ft – we slept well!

6 March 2001     Desert Motel,   Brawley, California   65 km cycled

Rain in the desert! We followed the Evan Ewes Highway, a rough old road USA_2001_(14).jpgof cracked concrete, downhill alongside the railroad through 32 km/20 miles of sagebrush desert, to the small town of Seeley. Half way along, 'Plaster City' was a huge plaster and cement factory in the absolute middle of nowhere. Then from Canal Crossing onwards, we were actually below sea level – worrying! In Seeley we sheltered from the rain over coffee in a Mexican caf้.

Another 11 km/7 muddy miles to El Centro, a larger town with plenty of food and motels, where we dined at Carls Jr (yet another fast food chain). The next 23 km/14 miles were along the Imperial Valley, past Imperial (the county town, merged with El Centro). This low agricultural country is flat and sandy, well watered by dykes and canals (and rain today). The town had a sugar mill, an airport and our first Wal-Mart store, complete with RV's edging the parking lot.

It wasn't cold or windy but we were very wet and mud-splashed when we reached Brawley in the early afternoon. The Travel Inn claimed to be full on seeing us (?), so we stayed at the seedier establishment next door. The Southwest Supermercado over the road was interesting – very Mexican, Spanish spoken, with strange vegetables and prickly cactus leaves on sale.

It was still raining into the night.

7 March 2001     Travel Inn,   Brawley, California   29 km cycled

It was raining lightly as we breakfasted on bread & jam, bananas and yogurt. We left before 8 am for the long ride to Palo Verde (112 km/70 miles away, with no services en route). After 14 km, where our Route 78 turned off the main road (which goes to Mexico), we were halted by an illuminated sign 'Route 78 Closed'. A couple of drivers coming the other way told us it was blocked by flooding and we would definitely not get through!

Soon after 9 am, we were back in Brawley enjoying a second breakfast in Carls Jr. An interesting fellow-diner talked of his work as a crop-spraying pilot, having learnt to fly on a US Base in East Anglia in the 1960's. We learnt that this vast agricultural area – over half a million acres below sea level in the Imperial Valley, growing lettuce, vegetables, asparagus, sugar beet, cotton, alfalfa for cattle feed, etc – was once desert, now irrigated by canals from the Colorado River.

We checked the road situation at Police HQ, visited the post office and bank, then got a room at the Travel Inn. This cost just $3 more than last night's room but has a fridge, a coffee maker … and windows that will open! Barry cleaned the muddy bikes and greased their chains, while M used the nearby coin-op laundry and practised her Spanish. We also wrote letters and (with growing confidence) phoned to arrange a mail-drop in El Paso, Texas.

Evening TV showed the film 'Carousel', an old favourite. And it stopped raining!

8 March 2001    Lagoon Saloon & Lodge,   Palo Verde, California   112 km

A fine dry day, with Route 78 open again for a super day's ride. We had a strong SE side wind, turning to a better back wind in the afternoon. It was warm enough to wear shorts (for the first time since arriving in the USA) and we caught the sun.

We climbed gently out of the Imperial Valley, across the East Highline Canal and back into desert. Notices warned of US Naval Bombing ranges – and later of tortoise reserves! Another sign read 'Speed Limits enforced by Aircraft'.

Through another USA_2001_(15).jpgarea of sand dunes, the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area, we saw a few RV camps of 'Snowbirds' (some official, with a ranger, phone and water; others 'boon-docking' or free-camping). After 48 km/30 miles we reached Glamis, the 'Sand Toy Capitol of the World'. The only restaurant was closed on week-days, though the store was open (Oct-May). It was a strange place, with dune-buggies, quad bikes and trial bikes parked outside. We bought coffee and orange juice and talked to a genuine 'Snowbird' from South Dakota, who comes for a few months every winter to free-camp in a huge RV, with car in tow. He fetches his water every week from Brawley (where we'd noticed a mineral water dispenser, at 5 gallons for $1). Many of the RV's towed a box trailer, carrying a dune-rider inside.

After Glamis we crossed a railroad and climbed past the US Naval Reservation Aerial Gunnery Range. The Chocolate Mountains rose bare and brown to our north and we passed a small working gold mine. There was an interesting variety of cactus plants and a few desert flowers had bloomed after the rain. We reached a height of 1,200 ft (starting from below sea level), then after about 70 km/44 miles the road dropped gradually to Palo Verde (at 245 ft), over a series of dips and rises. Barry's new rear tyre got a puncture, mended by the roadside, but even with this delay we reached Palo Verde by 4 pm. We had entered another agricultural zone, again watered by irrigation canals.

The town had an RV Park (full), post office (closed), a fishing tackle shop (closed, with a notice 'Gone Fishin') and a rock shop (selling lumps of rock!). The only accommodation was at the Lagoon Saloon: a room and kitchen, with a huge fridge/freezer and gas oven, though there was no shop to buy anything to cook! Luckily, the only restaurant – McDoyle's P V Inn on Ben Hulse Highway – was open: 'Home of the Big Jack' (burger). Jack and Sheila fed us an excellent meal (Today's Special) of chicken fettucine, garlic bread, salad and crackers. We were ready for it!

9 March 2001     Yacht Club Motel,   Quartzsite, Arizona   75 km

The straight level roads ran through cotton fields and vast expanses of onions, broccoli and other veg, all irrigated by a system of dykes from the Colorado. We rode through Ripley (one small store), then Blythe, a large town, after 32 km/20 miles. Here we had a Carls Jr breakfast, bought camera film at Albertson's, and found Fred's Cycles (closed) on Main Street.

A few miles further USA_2001_(16).jpgon, we came to the Colorado River itself – the border from California into Arizona, where we put our watches forward one hour onto 'Mountain Standard Time'. A footbridge alongside Interstate 10 took us safely over to Ehrenberg, a town of RV Camps near the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

We had to join the I-10 freeway for the next 20 km/12 miles, USA_2001_(17).jpgwith cyclists allowed on the shoulder as there was no alternative. It climbed gradually from 250 ft to 1,300 ft and we were grateful for the chance to pause at a Rest Area for orange juice and biscuits. There were toilets, water, picnic tables and a warning about snakes and scorpions – No Camping!

Through the Dome Rock MUSA_2001_(19).jpgountains, we exited the freeway at Dome Rock Road. This was a 'primitive' road, with a sign warning that it was not regularly maintained. We passed enormous 2-armed cacti (as in all the best cowboy films), some with more branches, and even one labelled as a Giant 48-armed Cactus!

There were many more RV's and fifth-wheelers scattered across the landscape, as well as a couple of formal campgrounds, RV Winter Storage places and one RV dealer's as we entered the remarkable town of Quartzsite. This strange place is like a shanty-town version of a motorhome show gone wild, with a theme of 'rock-hounding' (collecting, selling and swapping of rocks). The Yacht Club had no yachts (and no marina) and its 'motel' was just a collection of cabins, but it provided our cheapest night so far - $30 for a room with a good big bathroom.

We shopped at the huge discount grocery store and ate at the crowded Burger King. The weather had been warm and dry again, with a side/back wind. Quartzsite was great!

10 March 2001     Sheffler's Motel,   Salome, Arizona   63 km

A cold winUSA_2001_(18).jpgd from behind helped us to climb for 16 km/10 miles, along the broad shoulder of Interstate 10, up to 1,750 ft. We turned off onto Route 60 just before Brenda, a small town surrounded by RV Parks. These are the desert ranges (annual rainfall below 10 inches). There were all kinds of cactus, eagles soaring above, and a fringe of wild flowers along the verges, brought up by the recent (and most unusual) downpour.

We drank coffee at Brenda's store (a great American habit) and talked to a couple of Snowbirds: Hank (a retired house-painter from Washington State's sagebrush desert) and Ken (a professional photographer from British Columbia in Canada, who makes and sells postcards and greetings cards). The conversation ended when they rushed off to a darts match! These folk all come regularly for the warm dry winter months and they complained about this year's rain!

We rode the next 24 km/15 miles across the basin of the Ranegras Plain to Hope, where we used the picnic table outside a 'Good Sam' RV Park for lunch. Then we had to climb to Harcuver (2,000 ft) before a few miles of slight descent to Salome. This is in the McMullen Valley in La Paz County, which 'Welcomes Winter Visitors'.

There were 2 good motels, both at $30, our best deal yet. We settled into our room (with a fridge, microwave and coffee-maker) but had trouble with the bathroom (cold water and a blocked toilet). The apologetic woman said her husband would be round to fix it as soon as he got back from work, forgetting to mention that he was the local Sheriff. We got a shock on opening our door to a man in full uniform, complete with star-badge and gun! The bathroom soon gave in.

The neighbours, Barb and Bob, were keen to talk and showed us photos of their friends who had cycled east-west across the northern states, as well as down the Californian coast, along with their dog in a bike-trailer! We bought microwaveable dinners at the nearby store/Laundromat.

We collected RV Park names today: Desert Gold RV (at Brenda), Desert Gem (at Harcuver), Ramblin Roads (at Hope), Voyager Haven (at Salome) and Lone Palm. Our favourite to date was 'Howe's Life' (run by the Howe family).

11 March 2001     Circle J-R Motel,   Wickenburg, Arizona   86 km

The coldest day so far, with a side wind and a hint of rain, had us riding in jackets and trousers. We stopped after 13 km/8 miles at Wenden to buy coffee and get warm. There was a short row of RV Boot Sale tables opposite the caf้: a pathetic collection of old junk and cheap toys, bought and sold by rather desperate men with whiskers, blue jeans and cowboy hats.

Then the road ran dead straight for 37 km/23 miles, parallel with the railrUSA_2001_(20).jpgoad, climbing gently to Aguila (pop 600), below Eagle Eye Peak. Bright patches of orange poppies caught our eye. After lunch at the Lazy G Bar and Caf้ (soup, sandwiches, crackers and crisps), Route 60 continued straight, still climbing, the wind getting colder through another 23 miles of empty desert. This was Maricopa County, rising to about 2,800 ft before dropping at last to Wickenburg, the 'Dude Ranch Capital of the World'. Indeed, we passed a couple of large ranches.

A long cold day (5 hours of cycling) ended in a warm motel with a king-size bed (3 pillows wide!) Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th Birthday Concert was shown on TV and it was good to hear the music again. (The name of the motel – Circle J-R – is a cattle branding sign.)

12 March 2001     Super 8 Motel,   Phoenix, Arizona   84 km

Today was warmer (over 70 deg F) and easier, as Route 60 ran gradually downhill, straight, all day. We followed the (almost dry) Hassayampa River for 16 km/10 miles to Morristown (nothing but a post office). Here we left the Bicycle Touring Map route and stayed on Route 60, still parallel to the railroad, stopping at Whitmann for coffee at the general store.

After another 10 miles of quiet open country, we came upon the aptly named Surprise City: retirement developments and the first of the dormitory towns for Phoenix. Next was Sun City, where we lunched in McDonalds and shopped in Albertson's. Then the environment became increasingly urbanised, through Peoria and Glendale, merging into Phoenix, a city of 1 million souls, spread across 40 miles!

We finally stopped at a Super 8 motel (always reliable and reasonably priced). Did some research on accommodation for the coming week and booked ahead, using a phone box calling card ($10 for nearly 4 hours of calls).

13 March 2001     Apache Junction Motel,   Apache Junction, Phoenix, Arizona   68 km

Phoenix and its environs proved to be over 40 miles across. Still not quite clear of it at the end of the day, though the Superstition Mountains are becoming clearer on our horizon.

We left late enough to avoid rush hour traffic, as we had to ride 12 km/8 miles along just a part of Indian School Road before turning right to get onto the bike route, passing near the international airport in the heart of the city. Then over the Salt River into Tempe (the university area), mostly on cycle lanes or pavements. At Tempe we completed Section 1 of Adventure Cycling's CA-FL (California to Florida) route.

We continued along Apache Boulevard, parallel with Route 60, the Superstition Freeway. It was warm and sunny once more, with a back wind, light traffic and gradual climbing. We found a cycle shop, for spray grease and an inner tube, but had less luck with 2 banks we tried. Neither of them would exchange foreign currency unless we had an account there – we've been trying to change our surplus New Zealand dollars since we arrived. Lesson learnt: we should have done it at Los Angeles airport. We resigned ourselves to carrying the money across the continent!

There was no shortage of fast food joints and we lunched at a Super Sub. Later, over coffee at a KFC, we talked to Rae and Ken Dringle, a couple from Montana who now live in their RV, making and selling 'Custom Wire Sculptured Jewelry, Rings and Things'. They had also just come from Quartzsite and told us that a staggering 1.5 million people were camped there over the winter. Most leave at the end of February and we'd just seen the tail-enders!

We rode through Mesa to Apache Junction and found a modest motel run by the Patel family from Bombay. For the first time, there was a rule against bicycles inside but they did provide us with an extra-heavy chain and padlock. The room had a microwave oven and Margaret went out in search of some real food to cook for supper, returning with a microwaveable meat pie!

Today's milestones: we passed 1,000 km/625 miles in the USA and over 9,000 miles (14,400 km) since Perth, Australia!

14 March 2001     El Rancho Motel,   Globe, Arizona   94 km

Just out of Apache Junction we rejoined Route 60 and followed it to Globe, climbing at least 3,500 ft on a sunny day (over 70 deg F). The road was surprisingly busy, with trucks and RV's, the shoulder edged by an annoying 'rumble strip'. The wildflowers and poppies along the verges were brilliant.

After 27 km/17 miles we reached Florence Junction and a welcome coffee in the service station. Here we met our first fellow trans-continental cyclist, Dawn Young, riding alone from San Diego to the Florida coast. After teaching English in Taiwan for some 20 years, she had flown back, bought a bike and was cycling across the US to her father's house. She had followed the same route as us, so far, camping or using cheap motels, riding a bike with a shopping basket and carrying an umbrella and a plastic stool!

Continuing, we climbed the well-graded Gonzalez Pass at 2,651 ft, then descended to Superior, through the Tonto Forest (no trees, just tall cacti!) and past the Boyce Thompson Arboretum – all State Park land. As we had a picnic lunch in the park in Superior, Dawn caught up with us and paused to eat her prunes and brownie bar. She urged us to ride ahead at our own pace and soon disappeared from our rear view.

More climbing followed, with a steep ascent to the short Queen Creek Tunnel (well lit but very noisy) and over a higher pass at over 4,600 ft. We dropped down through empty canyons until Miami, a dusty mining town, then a few miles along through Claypool and a final climb up to Globe (pop 6,000, altitude 3,600 ft).

There were several motels – ours is directly on Route 60, next to a Jack-in-a-Box where we had a fish & chips supper (with a Seniors' discount!) The San Carlos Apache Reservation is nearby and 2 squaws were also dining there. It's much cooler tonight up here and the road signs warned 'Watch for Ice, Rocks and Animals'.

Globe was an important copper, silver and gold mining town in the Golden Age (1870-1920) and copper is still worked. The town's modern name is from a large globe-shaped piece of silver once found here. The archaeological park ruins on the southern edge of Globe are the remains of a Salado village, a people living in the area about 1100-1400 AD. The settlement, abandoned when the climate changed and water dried up, was named Besh-Ba-Gowah (= Place of Metal) by the Apache, who came upon it 200 years later.

15 March 2001     Pioneer Motel,   Thatcher, Arizona   120 km

Over breakfast in the Jack-in-a-Box, an 80-year-old told of his life as a carpenter in Globe. His British grandmother had emigrated (alone) to the USA with her 9 children, and as a young man he had earned extra money by driving nervous car-owners to and from Phoenix, on the old road through the canyon! As we talked, Dawn cycled past and we made contact. We're impressed by her stamina, riding slower but longer than we do.

Leaving Globe, we turned off Route 60 onto Route 70 and soon entered the San Carlos Apache Reservation (permits needed to leave the highway). At 'Apache Gold Resort', 12 km/7.5 miles from Globe, we passed huge casinos, a Best Western hotel and an RV Park. After another 29 km/18 miles, at the crossroads at Peridot, we bought coffee and biscuits at the store. The Apache staff and customers were very gentle people, who encouraged us to visit their San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife Office. This had a good display of the animals hunted on the Reserve (with bow & arrow as well as guns): elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, boar, small game, birds and fish. We learnt that 13,000 Apache live on the 1.7 million acres and the Reserve includes San Carlos Lake with the Coolidge Dam at its head. The old road (a Bike Map alternative route) loops south round the lake but we stayed on the shorter Route 70.

The next 56 km/35 miles (and 3 climbs) across the Reservation were empty, just groups of simple houses with no services except a small store at Bylas. A back wind eased us along for most of the day. Leaving the Reservation, we rode through Geronimo (nothing) to Fort Thomas - Mormon territory. Stopping at the roadside mid-afternoon to brew up, Dawn rode past but wouldn't stop (the tortoise and the hare in action)! Another 21 km/13 miles to Pima, where we met Dawn again. We might all have stayed at the single motel, but the shop had closed down, there was no caf้ and it was only 4.30 pm. We rode together for the final 10 km/6 miles, downhill to Thatcher.

The Pioneer Motel is run by another kind of Indian (from Bombay). The wonderful manager took us inside his home, with its Hindu pictures, statues, garlands, candles and family photos. He even showed us the temple-corner in his bedroom, where he prays to Lord Gannesh (the elephant god) for an hour, night and morning, certain that this keeps him healthy.

We joined Dawn at the nearby restaurant for a huge chicken salad, then made coffee at the motel and discussed maps, routes and campgrounds with her. The resident maintenance man gave us 2 big bags of oranges to share – a present from his mother, via the Food Program – saying they had far more than they needed. A land of plenty.

16 March 2001     Ponderosa Campground,   Nr Clifton, Arizona   64 km

5 km/3 miles after Thatcher, we shopped at Safeway in the larger town of Safford. We needed food for the next 2 days, when we knew we'd be camping. Then, fortified by coffee and donuts, we began the climb from below 3,000 ft to over 4,500 ft. It was a desiccated, sparsely populated landscape, though still brightened by swathes of golden orange poppies – the best display in 20 years, everyone said.

With no services for the next 56 km/35 miles, we followed Route 70 along the Gila River (used to irrigate cotton), then turned onto road 191 through the Black Hills. Eating lunch by the roadside at Thumb Butte, we were joined by the indefatigable Dawn, who had set out much earlier!

Making a steep descent of the pass through Tollhouse Canyon, we crossed a long wind-swept bridge over the Gila River, leaving Graham County and entering Greenlee Co. At the crossroads of the 191 and Route 75, we bought coffee at the store and talked to a man with a shaved head and tattoos, who was very helpful (despite appearances). He confirmed that the only accommodation USA_2001_(21).jpgwas either the campground (4 km/2.5 miles detour to the right) or an expensive motel in Clifton, 16 km/10 miles or more off our route to the left. We waited here for Dawn, then turned right together.

The simple campground is guarded by a 3-legged USA_2001_(22).jpgdog and its owner, a man who keeps goats on the cliffs behind (for use as pack-animals on his outback hunting trips)! There are just a few trailers, inhabited by the old and dispossessed, but there are hot showers and a laundry (both very welcome) for a total of $5 per person. We put our tent up next to Dawn's and managed to cook and eat corned beef hash before darkness fell. It was a cold starlit night, almost freezing, but we did enjoy our first night's camping in the US.

17 March 2001     Buckhorn RV Park,   Buckhorn, New Mexico   74 km

Returning 4 km/2.5 miles to the crossroads, we had coffee and talked with locals in cowboy hats, then left Dawn behind on the long empty road which climbs up Black Jack Canyon. We paused to eat our lunch before the tough section of zigzags.

By the topUSA_2001_(23).jpg of the pass at 6,295 ft, we had covered only 27 km/17 miles. At the summit we talked to Gary, a racing cyclist who had just climbed it for fun. Soon we passed Black Jack Camping, which had no water or facilities except a picnic table in the woods. (Yes, woods – the landscape this side of the pass is very different.) 6 km/4 miles lateUSA_2001_(24).jpgr, in a cold wind, we stopped to don more clothing and brew up at Coal Creek, just before the climb to the Arizona/New Mexico border. Our third State!

We rode on through rolling agricultural country, gradually descending, past Mule Creek (just a ranch and a post office) and through a ford-splash, until Route 78 met the busier 180. Here we turned right for the last 15 km/9 miles to Buckhorn, which has a caf้ (open till 7 pm), a shop and an RV Park. Cold and weary, we put the tent up, found no-one around to pay and went to eat at about 6 pm.

As we enjoyed an excellent dinner in the warm friendly caf้, Dawn arrived and joined us. Then a lone male cyclist turned up and was made welcome. Ralph, a retired school teacher and football coach, was also following the bike route from San Diego, using the same maps. Today he had ridden from Safford (which had taken us 2 hard days) – no wonder he was dead beat, admitting to walking the worst of the pass.

We helped Dawn and Ralph unpack in the freezing night air, under a wonderful display of stars. Now there are 3 little tents – we're gathering camp followers!

18 March 2001     Super 8 Motel,   Silver City, New Mexico   61 km

Frost on the grass whenUSA_2001_(25).jpg we rose, and both our neighbours reported ice inside their tent walls. Dawn and Ralph rode on together while we lingered, talking to an RV-resident who came over. An ex-cop from Texas, he had sailed a lot, been arrested in Cuba and now, considering himself to be a Messianic Jew, hoped to settle in Israel. Quite a character, who kindly made us a coffee. There was still no sign of anyone to pay for the camping.

16 km/10 miles down the road, at Cliff, we stopped at the new Chuck Wagon Restaurant for Sunday Brunch. Service was so slow that we found Dawn and Ralph still there! Our order took 1.5 hours to arrive and the only other customers were 2 old-timers (one with his oxygen bottle on a trolley). By the time we were leaving, the place was becoming packed full of families, dressed in their Country & Western best. We wondered if they'd come from church or were going on to a Line Dance?! The waitresses were looking for emergency exits and the cook contemplated suicide. This new venture was not going well!

It was an easier day's riding, climbing in warm sunshine with a back wind, USA_2001_(26).jpgrising gradually to cross the Continental Divide at over 6,000 ft. Then a slight descent to Silver City (pop 10,000), based on the finding of silver in 1870. It has a historic downtown and several motels. As we considered our options, we heard a loud whistle, heralding the arrival of Ralph and Dawn. Delayed by 2 spokes breaking on Ralph's bike, he had just got them fixed at the 'Twin Sisters Cycling and Fitness Shop'.

After comparing prices, we all repaired to the Super 8, where we had a final evening together over maps and coffee, the motel lobby providing hot drinks and the use of a microwave. Our new friends are riding on tomorrow morning, with differing destinations, while we are taking a rest day here. Dawn gave us her father's phone number, near Cape Canaveral, where the area code is 321 (blast off)!

19 March 2001     Super 8 Motel,   Silver City, New Mexico   10 km

Silver City proved a good place for our first 'day off'. We bought food at Albertson's and found gas for our stove. The 'Twin Sisters Cycling Shop' provided a new fitting for Barry's Cateye bike odometer, which had broken.

A series of floods in the 1890's washed away the town's original Main Street. It is now called Big Ditch, lying 55 ft below street level! Some historic brick buildings survive but the grid-plan is not attractive.

We talked with another motel guest who is about to go on a camping-fasting retreat, 6 weeks alone in the wilderness beyond the Glifa Cave Dwellings. An 'outfitter' will take and leave him there until it's time to collect him. The cave dwellings comprise about 40 rooms on terraces above the river, dating from around 1200 AD and occupied for a century or so. They form a National Monument about 45 miles north of Silver City. The Adventure Cycling Map gives a 70-mile detour to them, with primitive camping at Gila Hot Springs, but we decided to save them for next time!

20 March 2001     S-Bar-X Saloon & Motel,   Hillsboro, New Mexico   90 km

Riding for 6.5 hours today, we climbed at least 3,500 ft over the highest point on the CA-FL cycling route: Emory Pass. Conditions were perfect, warm and sunny with a back wind.

At Santa Clara, 7 rolling miles after Silver City, we turned off Route 180 onto the quieter narrower 152, with a good shoulder until the steeper part. Through Hanover (one small store), then past the immense Santa Rita open-pit copper mine, filling the horizon on our right, 20 km/12 miles from Silver City. Copper was first mined here by Bronze Age natives, then by the Spaniards. The open pit (begun in 1910) now measures 1.5 x 1 mile and is 1,800 ft deep, producing 300 million pounds of copper per year for the Chino Mines Company.

We rode past USA_2001_(27).jpgthe turn-off to Mimbres, the Gila Wilderness and Hot Springs, then across the Mimbres River, dropping nearly 1,000 ft (from 6,500 ft) to the bridge. After a break to brew up, outUSA_2001_(28).jpgside a caf้ that was closed, the real ascent began. It was a well-graded 22 km/14 mile climb, with a lunch break at the first of 3 simple campsites in the woods. At the top of Emory Pass at 8,228 ft we played snowballs in the Gila Forest! The pass (marking the border from Grant County into Sierra Co) was named after Lt WH Emory, who crossed it with the Army of the West in 1846, when it was still part of Mexico.

After 63 km/40 miles of effort from today's start, we enjoyed the 27 km/17 miles downhill to Hillsboro. We didn't touch our pedals for the first 16 km/10 miles, keeping pace with a large Winnebago RV, down and down through forested hairpins. Eventually the road opened out to follow Percha Creek across cattle country, with several cattle grids and free-range beasts.

Hillsboro is a small cowboy town, with one store and caf้ (closed) and the S-Bar-X (it's a cattle brand) Saloon. In the dimly lit bar, we were served with good coffee and the only food available - a cardboard pizza taken from freezer to microwave - but we did appreciate the warm comfortable motel room, where we escaped the noise of the regulars and the juke box. There was no TV (no signal) and we were soon asleep.

On our journey 'from sea to shining sea', we've ridden almost 1,600 km/1,000 miles in less than 3 weeks - from the Pacific Ocean across sand dunes and deserts to the high mountain passes.

21 March 2001     Village Plaza Motel,   Hatch, New Mexico   69 km

Warm and very dry (only 11% humidity), with a strong side wind from the south. During a short climb out of Hillsboro we passed the Pie Cobbler's shop, where pies are baked in a pie shed at the back (sadly, closed). Then it was a gentle downhill all the way to Hatch, which still lies at 4,000 ft.

New Mexico is certainly high, with its lowest point at 2,817 ft (a reservoir on the Texas border). The State motto 'Crescit Eundo' translates as 'It grows and grows'. There is little surface water (only 234 square miles out of 121,598 sq mi), it's the fifth largest State, joined the USA in 1912, capital Santa Fe.

Back to our route:USA_2001_(29).jpg along the Geronimo Trail for 27 km/17 miles to Caballo, where the Rio Grande is dammed into the Caballo Reservoir. Here we turned right from Route 152 onto 187, had coffee at the KOA campground shop, then rode alongside the lake, edged with RV Parks and boat storage lots.

We crossed the wide Rio Grande, pausing for photographs, and continued through scrubby-bush desert, made bright green in the fields irrigated by the river. There were crops of cotton and onions, groves of walnut and pecan trees, and above all the fields of chillies. We rode past lots of farmhouses selling red or green chillies, through small villages, each with a general store and post office – Arrey, Derry, Garfield and Salem – until we came to Hatch (pop 1,136): 'The Chilli Capital of the World'.

The wind was getting stronger and turning against us, so we checked into the only motel, well placed between a 'Dairy Queen' and a laundromat. (We used both.) After we complained about the noisy mob of Mexicans next door to our small bedroom, we were moved into a nice 3-roomed apartment – and all for $40!

An evening TV programme suggested that the Apollo Moon Landings were a hoax, filmed in the Nevada High Desert. An intriguing conspiracy theory, with some plausible evidence about the lighting, shadows and details of the film supposedly taken on the moon.

Today we passed 1,600 km/1,000 miles cycled in the USA – and 15,000 km/9,375 miles since Perth, Australia.

22 March 2001     Super 8 Motel,   Anthony, Texas   103 km

For 40 empty miles we followed the Rio Grande and the railroad across hot dusty farmland, with pecan groves, alfalfa hay and more chillies. We crossed the river again at Radium Springs and stopped further along to brew up on the bank. We did see a couple of delightful roadrunners – New Mexico's state bird.

There were no services until Las Cruces, another formless characterless town, where we crossed the railway and avoided the centre. We left the Bike Map route to El Paso here, taking the more direct 478 along the railroad, parallel with the I-10 freeway. After sandwiches and coffee in a bakery shop as USA_2001_(30).jpgwe left Las Cruces, it was 32 km/20 miles, with a good back wind, to Anthony.

We rode through Mesquite, Vado and Berino, which are now just stops on the railroad to load cattle-feed, but this ancient route along the Rio Grande is the 'Camino Real' (Royal Road). Claiming to be the oldest road in the US, it linked Spanish missions, forts and villages, later becoming the territory of Billy the Kid.

In Anthony, just over the New Mexico/Texas border, we slaked our thirst in McDonalds, shopped at Furr's (acquiring our fifth supermarket club card) and stayed at a brand new Super 8, out by the I-10 junction.

23 March 2001     Sun Valley Motel,   El Paso, Texas   74 km

After a 'free' motel breakfast of toasted bagels, buns, juice and coffee, we had an easy 16 km/10 miles, riding the service road alongside the I-10 freeway. The excellent Texas Visitor Centre, about a mile along, provided good free maps of the State, El Paso, etc.

At Mesa Street we exited onto Route 20, rejoining the Bike Map route toUSA_2001_(31).jpg follow it across rolling country all the way into El Paso. The hills of the Franklin Mountains State Park to our north contained the hot airless traffic fumes. To the south, the Rio Grande marked the border with Mexico and we had a view across to the city of Juarez in Chihuahua.

Taking a coffee break in McDonalds (with Seniors' discount, free refills and a look at the newspapers), we were alarmed to see Margaret Thatcher on the front page of the El Paso Times. She was guest speaker here last night at a fund-raising convention for world peace, staying at Fort Bliss Military Base!!

Route 20 took us into the historic centre of El Paso, the long road changing its name: Mesa Street - Texas Avenue - Alameda Avenue. There were lots of traffic lights and urban scenery but the traffic was light and orderly. At Fox Plaza interchange we turned off Route 20 to ride out towards the airport, in search of the US Mail on Boeing Drive. To our amazement, our post had arrived yesterday and 2 packets were waiting at the General Delivery. (Next time, we'll choose a smaller place to pick up our mail!)

After a well-earned chicken lunch at 'Pop-eye', a Cajun-style fast-food place on the corner of Hawkins Boulevard, we back-tracked along Route 20, after a chance detour round the Union Pacific Railroad yards. Alameda Avenue is 19 km/12 miles long, with 4 lanes of traffic! We found another modest motel run by a gentleman from the Sub-continent and spent a quiet evening opening our mail.

24 March 2001     Fort Hancock Motel,   Fort Hancock, Texas   76 km

We expected an easy day, with less than 50 miles of level road to Fort Hancock. Instead we rode for 5 hours 20 mins into our toughest head wind so far in the US, blowing from the north-east! We remained high, at 3,500 ft, following Route 20 between the railroad and the Rio Grande/Mexican border.

Leaving El Paso through the poorer Tex-Mex neighbourhoods of Socorro and Clint, we paused to shop and get coffees at Burger King, hearing more Spanish spoken than English. On this Saturday morning, we passed many sad 'yard sales', where the needy tried to sell each other their old clothes, toys and household junk.

The only town en route, Fabens, after nearly 30 hard miles, was in decline, its shops boarded up. We ate at the only place open, a Mexican restaurant offering enchiladas stuffed with rice, potato, meat and red-hot please-bring-some-iced-water chillies. Now we're back on the Bike Map route.

10 km/6 miles further on, past irrigated cotton fields and pecan groves among the open dust land, we came to a Historic Marker at Tornillo. This once booming cotton town attracted Mexican settlers, but it has declined since the Great Depression.

The wind was USA_2001_(32).jpgunrelenting for the final 32 km/20 miles, past a fishing lake where we paused for a drink of Sunny Delight (orange juice in our bottles) and a Kitkat. Staggering on to Fort Hancock, we found the settlement was one mile off our route, north from the I-10 junction. What a relief to find a haven from the head wind, with a shop, restaurant and motel (run by yet another wonderful Gudjerati from Bombay).

Spring has arrived and we are starting to see the odd snake on the road. It was a lovely sunset.

The HBO (Home Box Office) TV channel showed the film 'Wit', with Emma Thompson as an English Literature professor who is dying from ovarian cancer. A gruelling but very moving performance.

25 March 2001     Sierra Blanca Motel,   Sierra Blanca, Texas   59 km

The head wind was at least lighter and we rode the hard shoulder or 'frontage road' of the I-10 all day. Sometimes, where the freeway was officially closed for road works, we had it to ourselves!

After the Esperanza turn-off, we had our first coffee break at 'Tiger Travel Plaza & Truckers Village' – a very odd service station and 'home of live white and striped tigers', which we didn't pay to see. Then the long and hazy route climbed gradually from 3,500 to 4,500 ft, with a picnic lunch at the top of the hills.

Then across part of the windy dusty and vast plateau of SW Texas to Sierra Blanca, just off the I-10 - a small place where the shops, caf้ and restaurant were all closed (it's Sunday). We chose the better of the 2 motels, proclaiming itself 'Texas-owned and run', with a very pro-George-Bush proprietor. The best we could get for supper was a microwaved burger at the petrol station.

Sierra Blanca was famous for the joining of the 2 railroads built across the continent: the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe met here in 1881. There is a railway museum and the long trains still run by (one is hooting as I write!)

The evening TV showed the full Oscar Awards Ceremony in Tinsel Town, with Russell Crowe and Julia Roberts taking the honours. Phoning Mum to thank her for some of the mail collected in El Paso, it turned out to be Mothering Sunday in Britain – a lucky coincidence! (In the US it's some time in May?)

26 March 2001     Economy Inn,   Van Horn,   Texas 58 km

Less than 40 miles USA_2001_(33).jpgagain today, due to the continuing and strengthening head wind, which came in gusts of 10-15 mph (faster than we were progressing against it). We're still cycling alongside the I-10 freeway, following the railway. Yuccas are flowering in the desert, with a backdrop of sphinx-like rocks.

Our first break, after 16 km/10 miles, was to mend a puncture in Margaret's back tyre (caused by thorns when we went off-road for a toilet stop!) M made coffee, squatting in a gulley out of the wind, while B replaced the inner tube (preferring to stick patches later, in the shelter of a room).

Through a landscape devoid of any shelter, we climbed to the Hudspeth County-Culberson Co border at 4,700 ft, where we put our watches forward an hour onto Central Time. Another Time Zone crossed, we enjoyed the downhill ride to Van Horn, 700 ft below. We got a late lunch in McDonalds by the bus station, just before the Greyhound bound for Miami arrived and filled the place.

Exploring further, we found that Van Horn, the 'Crossroads of the Texas Mountain Trail', had no less than 13 restaurants, 4 RV Parks and 17 motels, varying from 2 'Best Westerns' down to the economy end. Such competition kept the prices low and we took our least expensive room so far in the US, at $28 including breakfast - and this was by no means the cheapest option. The town is simply a line of motels and diners (and just one supermarket) strung along Broadway, beside the El Paso-Pecos Interstate at the point where it crosses Routes 54 (north to Carlsbad) and 90 (our route, south to Marfa).

Lying in a valley surrounded by mountains, the town was named after Major Van Horn who 'discovered' wells in the area, though they were already well known to travellers on the Old Spanish Trail. America's first trans-continental mail-coach route (San Antonio to San Diego) came this way in the 1850's and 60's, when there was an army garrison here. It was also the site of battles with hostile Apache: the last in 1881 ended the Indian era in Texas. That same year, the Texas and Pacific Railroad came through and the town grew up. It is still known for its good water (piped to Sierra Blanca, which has none) and as the entrance to Big Bend National Park.

27 March 2001     Economy Inn,   Van Horn, Texas   0 km

This motel is run by a 3-generation family from Gujerat, the grandmother with a waist-length plait of white hair. They offered our best 'free' breakfast so far: cornflakes, sticky buns, orange juice and coffee.

There was still a very strong head wind from the east, so it was an easy decision to take a rest day rather than cycling 75 empty miles into it. We wrote a couple of letters, walked up and down the 2 miles of Broadway to post them and to shop, and phoned ahead to check accommodation on the next stretch.

Supper was fried chicken 'to go' (take-away) from the Mexican-run Gateway Restaurant opposite the motel and we enjoyed it in front of the TV, watching back numbers of 'ER'!

28 March 2001     Motel Bien Venido,   Alpine, Texas   166 km (over 100 miles!)

The strong wind had at last turned (WSW), helping us across fairly flat, empty land. A little irrigation around Van Horn Wells sustained pecan groves and a cornfield.

Lobo (24 km/15 miles from Van Horn), however, was a small ghost town, its gas station and houses empty. It did have a new litter bin, announced on a road sign: 'Litter Barrel - One Mile'! There were several picnic sites along Route 90 and we stopped at one to brew up (with difficulty, lacking shelter from the wind).

Continuing through Jeff Davis County to Valentine, the railway line ran to our left with the Davis Mountains beyond. The Rio Grande was well out of sight to the south, where it still forms the Mexican border. We reached Valentine after 64 km/40 miles – about half way to our intended destination of Marfa.

Valentine (pop 200) still has a post office, which is very popular for mailing cards at the beginning of February! Sadly, the only caf้/store/filling station had closed down. As we looked round for somewhere to picnic, a woman in a car pulled up and offered to show us to the local school, assuring us that they were used to long-distance cyclists there! Intrigued (and keen to get out of the wind), we followed her across the railway track to the district school, teaching all ages from 5 to seniors.

There was a kiosk with vending machines for drinks and snacks and we were immediately greeted by 2 lads on their lunch-break, selling sweets and candy bars for 'school enterprise funds'. Just as we bought 4 chocolate bars, our guide reappeared to say that the school cook had some left-overs for us! We were soon eating nachos (corn chips) with chilli and cheese sauce, washed down with Coke, in the school kitchen. The voluminous cook entertained us (it's her 55th birthday today). A happy and kindly soul, she described living here in the perfect climate, in a comfortable 3-bedroom home which had cost just $500 many years ago. As payment was out of the question, we bought some more candy (no problem there!)

Back on the 'Texas Mountain Trail' (which was actually level), it was another 56 km/35 miles to Marfa, with only one brief stop on the way, as it was too windy to brew up. Marfa, the location for the James Dean/Elizabeth Taylor film 'Giant', is home to the highest golf course in Texas and is also famous for its 'mystery lights'.

We had expected that cycling 120 km/75 miles from Van Horn would be a full day, but we reached Marfa around 4 pm. There were only 2 motels – both expensive at over $50 – and we still had an amazing back wind. After phoning a cheaper motel in Alpine, the next town 42 km/26 miles further, we decided to have coffee in the 'Dairy Queen' and then push on, aiming for our first 100-mile ride in years!

We made it to Alpine by 6.30 pm, riding through more rolling hills and over one low pass, the Paisano, to a very unalpine town up at 4,500 ft. Our motel was again run by a gentleman from India (out of Bangalore, via Bristol, to the US). On the way we saw a lone Pronghorn Antelope near the road, identified from a photo in the Big Bend tourist leaflet. Big Bend National Park, lying to the south, is the most desolate and remote NP in the USA: the area where the Rio Grande bends round the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. Alpine is the seat of Brewster County (the largest in Texas) and home to the Sue Ross State University. To the north of the town is Fort Davis and the McDonald Observatory on Mt Locke at 6,809 ft. (The Bike Map route from Van Horn to Alpine goes through these mountains, but we didn't take it seriously!)

Our longest day so far - 7.5 hours riding at an average speed of 22 km (nearly 14 mph) – though not the hardest day, by any means.

29 March 2001     Big Bend Outback Inn,   Sanderson, Texas   135 km (85 miles)

Breakfast in McDonalds then back on Route 90, still with a fair wind. It was a very gentle climb alongside the railway line, between the glass Mountains and the Del Norte Mountains, before dropping to Marathon (still at 4,000 ft) after 48 km/30 miles. Here we had a coffee break at the bar next to the Gage Hotel – very grand, inside a millionaire rancher's house from the 1930's.

Then there was nothing for the next 88 km/55 miles except cacti, wildflowers, a few cattle and eagles soaring overhead. We rolled through Lemons Gap and across county lines: Brewster to Pecos to Terrell Co. Lunch was taken at a picnic site, over 32 km/20 miles from Marathon.

Continuing with a pleasant warm back wind, we were suddenly flagged down by a pair of Austrians, Christoph Oberhauser and Birgit Lohs, coming in the opposite direction. They told us they were also cycling round the world, in 2 years from July 2000 - not exactly convincing, as Christoph was riding while Birgit followed in a hired van carrying all their gear (and no tent)! To date, he had ridden solo from Austria across Europe, then flown to Boston where his partner had joined him. They'd cycled together down to Florida, made flying visits to the Bahamas and Cuba, then set out riding east-west across the States. They had hired the van 'just for the hilly section'!

We had a long chat, comparing routes and maps, and were more impressed by their computing expertise. Carrying a laptop, they put daily reports in German and English on their website: www.biketheworld.at (?) We later saw an image of ourselves on the internet for the very first time. The wind turned round as we talked, to their relief, so our gradual descent to Sanderson (at just below 3,000 ft) was slower.

We arrived after 6.5 hours riding, at an average speed of 21 km/13 miles per hour. The Big Bend Outback Inn/Bunkhouse is cheap at $27.50, though it's run by an awkward couple and there is no breakfast. We ate at the Country Kitchen at the service station over the road. It's considerably warmer now we've left the mountains.

Sanderson – the 'Cactus Capital of Texas' - is also the county town for Terrell, which has the lowest population density in Texas. We'd passed no dwellings since Marathon (80 km/50 miles back), just an occasional entrance to a distant ranch, with the family names in wrought iron.

30 March 2001     Exon Filling Station,   Langtry, Texas   99 km

It was overcast, with a hint of drizzle and a cold light easterly wind as we left Sanderson. We hunted out a few groceries at the only store and noticed that the motels, cafes and businesses were folding – another settlement in decline. All the small towns along Route 90 since Van Horn seem to be dying, bypassed by the I-10 freeway, and desperately trying to promote the 'Big Bend Outback' to tourists.

After 32 km/20 miles, at Dryden, the picture was worse. The general store and campground had closed down since the publication of our Bike Map, leaving only a dusty petrol station. The grumpy owner had some coffee brewing and we drank it outside, talking to a roaming 'cyclist', who had a bike on the back seat of his ancient Cadillac and a bike trailer in the boot! This friendly character, describing himself as a 'Christian hobo' on his way to the Dakotas, insisted on giving us 6 tins of tuna fish ('plenty more in the boot'), 3 large home-grown tomatoes and a one-pound bag of trail mix (labelled 'Distributed for domestic food assistance programs'). As we left, Margaret discovered a rear puncture (another thorn in the side-wall). This involved more delay and another coffee, along with some trail mix which proved delicious, very sweet

We rode across rolling open country with a wealth of sweet-scented wild flowers - Indian Paintbrush, Blue Bonnet – lovely names. At 16 km/10 miles from Dryden we stopped for lunch at a picnic table, joined by a retired couple from Mississippi. They were driving a small demountable RV (tiny by US stanadards) to a summer in Alaska.

For the final 48 km/30 miles, the wind grew stronger and the hills got steeper. At the last rest area before Langtry, we passed the generous tuna-donor. He was asleep on a bench, his car bonnet raised and fluid on the tarmac beneath! We didn't disturb him, as there was another car parked nearby if he needed help.

At last we reached the Exon Filling Station at the Langtry turnoff, which we had phoned to book a very simple room at the back (the only accommodation in Langtry, price $25). The kind woman was waiting to give us the key, just past her normal closing time of 5.30 pm. She promised breakfast tomorrow. We cooked corned beef stew on our gas stove, read the paper, did the crossword and had an early night. No TV here!

31 March 2001     Motel 6,   Del Rio, Texas   100 km

We had breakfast burritos (with bacon) and coffee at the Exon Filling Station, accompanied by tales from the life of a local rancher's wife. Our hostess was just running the place while the owner (a friend) was on vacation. She came from Connecticut and sounded like all the New York cab drivers in films, very different from the Texan drawl.

We made a USA_2001_(34).jpgshort detour to the 'Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center' in Langtry, half a mile off highway 90. Roy, the JP here from 1882 to 1904, had a passion for Lilly Langtry. His saloon/billiard room, called the 'Jersey Lilly', doubled as a courthouse and is preserved, along with his sign 'Justice of the Peace – Law West of the Pecos'. The nearby cactus garden and modern visitor centre were somewhat incongruous and had no caf้, though we picked up a leaflet. Langtry was a railway town (and the Judge never met Lilly, though he wrote to her often).

During the 48 km/30 mile ride to Comstock, we left the Rio Grande to snake its way along the Mexican border to the south. Pausing at a historical marker, we saw tUSA_2001_(35).jpghe point at Dead Man's Gulch where, in 1883, a silver spike joined the tracks laid from each end of the Southern Pacific Railroad route (New Orleans to San Francisco). We viewed the panorama of canyons and soon made another photo stop, when our road crossed the wide Pecos River on a high bridge (a mile from where it joins the Rio Grande). The Amistad National Recreation Area on the banks of the Pecos hires out rowing boats and we watched a pair pass under the bridge – one a gondola, propelled by a single oar over the stern.

We passed the Seminole Canyon State Historical Park, home of 4,000-year-old rock paintings, and came to Comstock, another town in decline. It had one motel and one excellent caf้, hidden behind the petrol station, where we got a good lunch with home-baked apple pie.

The wind dropped for the second half of the day and the road rolled gently down from 1,500 ft to 1,000 ft, crossing the huge Amistad Reservoir. We were very warm and thirsty and the picnic/camping areas were all 5 km/3 miles off the road, so we had a coffee break at another Exon Station.

Del Rio (pop 30,000) is our largest town since El Paso, with several motels and one bike shop. After 2 punctures on the recent stretch, we eagerly bought 3 inner tubes! Then we took a room at Motel 6 (a similar chain to Super 8), well placed next to a shopping mall with a Pizza Hut and Burger King opposite.

After 4 very long days riding since Van Horn, with 3 nights in rough and ready rooms, we enjoyed the comforts of a good bed and a laundry, and decided a rest day was deserved.

1 April 2001     Motel 6,   Del Rio, Texas   0 km

The clocks went forward one hour last night for 'Daylight Saving', which gives us another hour of useful light in the early evening.

On our day off, M wrote some letters and went shopping in the mall (for new shorts), while B checked and maintained the bikes. We ended with a good take-away roast beef dinner from Luby's.

2 April 2001     Fort Clark Springs Camp,   Brackettville, Texas   62 km

In town we posted letters and withdrew cash but failed to find gas refills for the Coleman stove. Then it was back on the road, Route 90 again, riding into a light head wind.

Traffic was busy at first, alongside the railway and past Laughlin Air Force Base, after which we began to see more grass, small trees and plenty of wildflowers. We crossed the line from Val Verde County to Kinney Co, passing nothing but an occasional ranch entrance until the small town of Bracketville.

It has a couple of stores and a good caf้, the 'Burger & Shake', where we got lunch. Also a surprisingly good bike shop, inside a modest shed: 'CT's Bike Parts & Repairs' at 410 East Spring Street, run by CT and his son, open every day 8 am-6pm. What a find! We had a long chat, buying a puncture repair outfit (known here as a 'patch kit') and (on their recommendation) a dog repellent spray. Both worked well, as we saw neither dog nor inner-tube puncture for the rest of the ride!!

Bracketville's only accomUSA_2001_(36).jpgmodation was 3 km/2 miles away at Fort Clark Springs – a large purpose-built holiday village of second/retirement homes, with a motel inside the 1872 stone barracks, an RV Park, a 'wilderness area' for tents, restaurant, 2 golf courses, etc. The motel was way over-priced, so we pitched our tent in the wilderness for $4. We had a campfire place, cold tap and toilet nearby, along with better ablutions at the RV Park.

Fort Clark was a US Army post from 1852, important for protectingUSA_2001_(37).jpg the San Antonio-El Paso road and the frontier settlers from Indians and bandits. It played a part in the Civil War and later General Patton served here. It closed in 1946 and has a nice bronze statue of a cavalry horse.

It was a very warm evening (unlike our previous 2 nights camping, in the mountains of New Mexico) and we lit a fire to boil the billy, saving gas as we're out of refills. We heard wild turkeys gobbling in the night and slept in till 8 am!

3 April 2001     Hill Country Motel,   Campwood, Texas   82 km

Around the RV Park office are feeders for humming bird and we spotted one as we left: a tiny hovering miracle. Later, as we brewed up at the roadside, another landed briefly on Margaret's handlebars! The local hardware stores sell the feeders.

After breakfast back at the 'Burger & Shake', we left Route 90 (followed since Van Horn) to ride north-east on the 334. We still had a light head wind and it was overcast with occasional rain. The countryside was empty, just trees and flowers, apart from large ranch entrances with wrought-iron silhouettes of cowboys, cattle and deer. There was some goat-farming (for mohair) among the rolling hills.

At 48 km/30 miles we turned left onto the busier Route 55, across 'scrub rangeland' following the Nueces River, which we crossed 8 km/5miles before Campwood. The small town has a choice of 2 motels (or one very shabby hotel), plus a couple of restaurants and shops. We had a good (if slow) meal of chicken, baked potatoes, salad and toast at the pizza/grill place. The weather has turned very close and sticky.

4 April 2001     Welcome Inn Motel,   Leakey, Texas   42 km

It was only about 32 km/20 miles to Leakey, through wooded hills on a narrow winding road in a light drizzle. Weather warm and wet, with mist on the hill tops.

Once arrived, we spent some time on the phone trying to find accommodation in Vanderpool or Medina, the next 2 towns along our route, but there was only a Bed & Breakfast (very expensive) or fully-furnished cabins at $85 upwards. Nor could we get a gas refill, or even a different stove, at the store. Frustrated and damp, we checked into the Welcome Inn (one of only 2 motels, but the more modest Frio Canyon Lodge across the road had no-one home).

Walking round the historic cemetery, we saw the graves of Mr & Mrs Leakey, founders of the town, and some other early settlers who fell victim to Apache raids in 1881. Saddest of all was the very recent grave of a 14-year-old boy, killed whilst cycling home from school by a drunk teenage driver. We talked to a girl visiting his grave: the girlfriend of the victim's older brother.

We ate at the only restaurant, at the Frio Canyon Lodge (now open). The town was suffering from a plague of big black beetles, with a crushed layer on the road. A sombre place, all round!

5 April 2001     Motor Inn Motel,   Comfort, Texas   108 km (68 miles)

What a long day – nearly 7 hours riding, with 2 delays caused by Barry's rear tyre. The side wall was split by a stone in the canyon road and, after repair with superglue failed, he replaced it with the light folding tyre carried for such an emergency.

The first 26 km/16 miles were hilly, involving 2 hard climbs across river valleys, in a misty drizzle. This brought us to a welcome break for coffee and buns in Vanderpool, before another 32 km/20 miles over a pass to Medina, the 'Apple Capital of Texas', where we arrived just in time for the Daily Special Lunch at the 'Cider Mill & Country Store'. A real surprise: delicious Mexican-style chicken with crisps, home-made lemonade, apple pie with apple ice cream and coffee.

We bought some fresh crisp apples, resisting the other goodies on sale (but enjoying the free samples). They had a mail-order catalogue of apple products and an Apple Festival at the end of July (an early harvest). Leaving (at 4 pm!), we passed the orchards of dwarf apple trees – a pleasant change from the cattle, sheep and angora goats on the enormous ranches.

It was still 48 km/30 miles to Comfort but the hills got easier and the wind, though stronger, turned from head to side. The country grows more lush each day, with greener grass and more trees. We spotted a deer, several humming birds, and swallows feeding over a creek and nesting under eaves. We rode through Camp Verde (nothing but a cemetery) to Center Point, where we rejoined the Bike Route again, having left it at Vanderpool in favour of a steeper short cut.

The final 16 km/10 miles followed the Guadalupe River to Comfort, a well-named town 'At the crossroads of America's 2 longest roads'. We found a very welcome motel by the I-10 freeway exit, behind a 'Dairy Queen'. Back to 'civilisation'.

This is Texas Hill Country (we had noticed) and the town, first settled in the 1850's by Germans, has a historic business district (historic = 19th century!) It also has the only railway tunnel in the whole of Texas, now disused and home to one million bats.

6 April 2001     Mobley Motel,   Blanco, Texas   68 km

On through the rolling wooded hills, with strong south-east winds. The long empty quiet by-roads were almost devoid of settlement, just the odd cattle ranch. We paused for coffee after 16 km/10 miles at Sisterdale and made some unsuccessful phone calls from the caf้, in search of affordable accommodation ahead.

Past the cotton-gin/winery and on to Kendalia, another place with just one general store/caf้. We bought more coffee, had a snack lunch and made more futile phone calls. Discouraged, we decided against continuing to San Marcos (too far, too windy, nowhere to stay) and turned north to Blanco, with a back wind at last.

Here we found a cosy motel room and microwaved a tin of chicken & dumplings (not very appetising, but there was nowhere to dine out). With our change of direction, we did manage to phone and book motels for the next 2 nights.

7 April 2001     Lockhart Inn,   Lockhart, Texas   98 km

As we left town, we bought cakes and cookies from a stall raising funds for Kendalia Library. Then we crossed the wide shallow Blanco River and rode through 38 km/24 miles of hill country, across Blanco County and Hays Co, to Wimberley. This town was busy with its first great market of the year (held on the first Saturday of each month from April to September) – a giant flea market, selling everything imaginable. We lunched at a 'Super Sub' sandwich place, then weaved our way out through the homeward-bound traffic jams.

After another 16 km/10 miles of hills, across the grain of the land, we had coffee at a Diamond Shamrock (chain of filling stations). Then we left the wooded hills and ranches behind, continuing through open farmland growing cotton. At Kyle, 14 km/9 miles on, across the railway and the main highway I-35, we paused again for ices in the 'Dairy Queen', weary of the heat and head wind.

11 km/7 miles later, at Plum Creek, we turned north-east and had a better wind as far as Uhland. Then the final 18 km/11 miles were across flat bare fields, straight into the wind, with our first sight of Texas oil's 'nodding donkeys' and the smell of other people's money. It was very strange to pass the suburban commuter housing estates, serving the conurbations of Austin, San Antonio and San Marcos.

Lockhart is a solid historic town with tree-lined avenues of Victorian homes. It houses the Caldwell County Courthouse (like the one in Blanco but bigger), the County Jail and the oldest library in Texas. It was famous in the wars with the Comanches (Battle of Plum Creek, 1840) and lay on the Texas Independence Trail, fighting the army of Santa Anna. It also claims to be the 'BBQ Capital of Texas', though we ate at McDonalds, across the busy highway from our motel.

8 April 2001     River Valley Motor Inn,   La Grange, Texas   94 km

The south-east wind is even stronger today and it's very hot, humid and overcast. The weather continues to come from the Gulf of Mexico, with this wind blowing below the prevailing westerly, which still blows 1,000 ft above it (and sometimes apparent in the cloud formations). Today we set off northwards, so had a good wind for the first 24 km/15 miles, to the village of Bateman. There was just a cemetery and 3 petrol stations, but the last one had coffee and cookies.

Then we turned off the Bike Route for a short cut, bypassing Bastrop. We rode via Rosanky (only a cemetery) to Smithville, another historic little town on the Texas Independence Trail, with tree-shaded streets of antique shops and an expensive chic caf้. Here we met the railroad again (it arrived in the 1890's). We bought 'wrap' sandwiches and donuts at the supermarket (the only shop open) and were given free coffee.

Back into the wind again for the last third of the day's ride, along the shoulder of Route 71, parallel with the railway. We passed a lagoon called Shipps Lake, which was described by Spanish explorers in the 1680's, then climbed a long hill to Texas's 'first roadside park and scenic overlook'. It was now very warm and sunny and we stopped at the picnic site to drink the orange juice in our bottles.

At last we reached La Grange in Fayette County and found the place we'd booked, just before the bridge which crosses the river into the downtown. The splendid motel has a free laundry, copious coffee and a microwave to use. Margaret cycled an extra 6 km to the shops and back, making it 100 km (and bringing a nice tin of stew to heat!) A good day.

9 April 2001     Vanguard Motel,   Navasota, Texas   117 km

The muggy weather continued, with the same strong south-east wind. We rode north-east for most of the day, with a side/back wind, across rolling hills and cattle plains.

We passed through an area settled by German and Czech pioneers: Oldenburg, Warrenton and then Round Top (pop 81) after 26 km/16 miles. Taking coffee at the general store there, we learnt that we'd just missed the Springfest - a weekend fair of music, German food, crafts and antiques. The stalls and vans and RVs were packing up for miles along the road on either side of Round Top (and they do it all again for the autumn Oktoberfest).

It was another 18 km/11 miles (some of it along the busy road 290) to Burton in County Washington, a nice settlement with 19th century German-style wooden houses. Sadly the only caf้, a listed historical site, was packed out, so we bought hot dogs at the petrol station.

Continuing through Gay Hill, across the railway, we had a break for cold drinks 32 km/20 miles from Burton, at Independence Service Station: it's a very sunny and very thirsty day. There were flags and historical markers here, the site of a settlement founded in 1835 and renamed to celebrate Texan independence the following year.

We passed small farms and the odd oil well, and took a short cut on a farm track from William Penn across to road 105. Then we passed Washington State Historical Park, where in 1836 the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed and the constitution of the new republic was drafted (it lasted 9 years).

Over the wide Brazos River, we entered Brazos County and came to Navasota (pop over 6,000) – a busy town on the railroad, with a historic Victorian district (but no bike shop). The motel is managed by an extremely helpful couple from India (Gujerat again). They had run a shop in England (Tamworth) until 3 years ago, when they came out with their 2 boys to join relatives here. Barry was still in need of a new tyre (riding on our only spare) and our host very kindly offered to take us to a large town 20 miles away (with 5 bike shops), saying his wife needed to go shopping. So it's a rest day tomorrow – Margaret's birthday!

10 April 2001     Vanguard Motel,   Navasota, Texas   0 km

Our new friends took us in the family jeep (a new Chrysler SUV) to the university town of College Station, about 32 km/20 miles north-west of Navasota. It's a sprawling purpose-built place, out on the windy plains on Route 6 (the Waco-Houston road). We had an hour or so to buy a tyre, while mother went to change a pair of shoes.

After visiting 3 and phoning the remaining 2 bike shops, we had to accept that our size 700x32 was not to be found. We bought the best alternative, a Hutchinson 700x28, as well as 2 more inner tubes. We also found gas refills, at last, at the Outdoor Shop – a good hour's work, walking a couple of miles in the continuing strong wind. We were extremely grateful for the lift there and back, as there are no buses or taxis from Navasota.

Back at the motel, Barry fitted the new tyre to his rear wheel, finding that the temporary spare was already starting to split under the load. Margaret shopped in Navasota, buying more sunscreen and a light tee-shirt (having discarded her favourite, reduced to tatters). A good take-away chicken dinner for 2 from the local supermarket cost about ₤5, including a 'free' dessert of blackberry cobbler.

11 April 2001     Vanguard Motel, Navasota, Texas     3 km

With nearly 112 km/70 miles to the next accommodation at Coldspring, we awoke to find heavy rain and a very strong cold wind. It was an easy decision to spend another day at Navasota.

We wrote home, posting another 2 completed Bike Route maps back to ourselves, then lunched at 'Dairy Queen'. On a short ride into the downtown, we found a few historic houses but no post cards on sale. Time for reading and resting.

12 April 2001     San Jacinto Inn, Coldspring, Texas     114 km (71 miles)

The heavy wind and rain had ceased, leaving a thick mist hanging over us as we set out at 8.30 am. A light drizzle set in as we rode the wide shoulders of Route 90 for 16 km/10 miles to Anderson. Here we took road 149, a narrow rural road with less traffic but no margin, for another 10 miles of rolling hills and flower-strewn verges to Richards.

After coffee and buns at the service station caf้, the rain eased and we continued, gradually drying out as the mist gave way to sunny and cloudy intervals. We passed from Grimes County into Montgomery Co, through the beautiful deciduous woods of the Sam Houston National Forest. Missing a left turn onto road 1375, and turning back for it after 4 km/2.5 miles, added an extra 5 miles to today's total!

The next 24 km/15 miles took us into Walker County, across an arm of Lake Conroe (a few men fishing), past a Forest Ranger Station and into New Waverly. This larger town had a couple of restaurants open for lunch and we enjoyed a good chicken stew, vegetables and pink cake at the 'Old Station', inside a converted 1930's Texaco station.

Along the final 37 km/23 miles, on the undulating road 150, we began to see the dreaded logging trucks, though they were gentler and smaller than the terrors in New Zealand. Entering San Jacinto County, the terrain grew lush and watery and we crossed our first bayou (creek) - Winters Bayou, just before the quaintly named village of Pumpkin. At the next village, Evergreen, was a sign for a Pick-your-own Xmas Trees place!

Across the San Jacinto River and into our motel, 3 km/2 miles before Coldspring. It was run by yet another family from India: a mother with 3 small children, who were terrified of a tiny stray puppy, friendly and fluffy, in search of a good home.

There is a bill before the Texas State Senate, proposing to ban groups of more than 2 cyclists from all Texas farm roads that don't have a shoulder. Worse, it also requires all cyclists to ride in single file on any Texas road, carrying a Slow Vehicle triangle on the back of their bikes! 'Don't Mess with Texas' indeed (a car sticker we were given on entering the State). What eco-friendly people these ranchers are.

13 April 2001     96 Motel, Silsbee, Texas     123 km (77 miles)

It's Friday the 13th and also Good Friday. We had another misty start but it was dry, and much hotter later when the sun broke through. The wind is still from the south-east though lighter, and broken by the tall dense woods of the Big Thicket. This pine and hardwood forest was even bigger before the timber demands of the Civil War, and logging continues today.

We rode 18 km/11 miles to Shepherd over the railway line; then another 24 km/15 miles, into Liberty County, past a little fishing lake at Dolen and into Romayor. Here we had coffee at the petrol station/store, where an old negro sat on the porch and exotic red birds sat in the trees. At last it feels like we're coming to the end of Texas and might make Louisiana! Continuing, we stopped to shoo a very lively turtle off the road, hoping to save it from the logging trucks. Immediately a car pulled up and a lad jumped out and grabbed the creature, while Mom explained that he wanted it for the pond in their yard. We hope it survived.

It was another 24 km/15 miles, past the garage at Rye, into Hardin County and through Votaw (a ghost village), to Thicket, consisting of a Baptist church and a post office on Little Pine Island Bayou. We had a picnic lunch in the shade of an abandoned filling station. The scenery is of creeks, streams and rich woodland, with individual homes and farms.

Then we followeUSA_2001_(38).jpgd the railway on a long straight road through tall forest (with a break on the way for cold drinks at Honey Island service station) for 32 km/20 miles to Kountze. Here we left the Bike Route, turning off to Silsbee in search of a room (the Route forgets that cyclists need to sleep).

The 96 Motel (on US Highway 96 N) proved ideal, half way to Evadale along the way to Kirbyville (our short cut for tomorrow). Taking the advice of the receptionist, we rang the local Pizza Hut and a huge deep-pan pizza with delicious Canadian bacon topping was promptly delivered – a good end to a good day's ride!

14 April 2001   Skippers Motel,   De Ridder, Louisiana   117 km (73 miles)

From the 96 Motel, poised on US96, we rode the shoulder for 42 km/26 miles to Kirbyville. We stopped 10 miles along at Buna for a cold drink, then in Kirbyville to shop at Brookshire Bros supermarket – enjoying their free-coffee-for-the-over-50s with seating, air-con and iced water. Yes, it's hot today, among the trees of Big Thicket with the wind at our back. There are still plenty of creeks and streams, rice-growing country lying to the south.

Riding through Jasper Co and Newton Co along road 363, there was no safe shoulder and we had to watch out for logging trucks. After 20 miles we crossed the wide wooded Sabine River into Louisiana – welcome to Beauregard Parish (as counties are called here). We stopped to photograph the State sign and bade farewell to Texas, where George W Bush is currently spending Easter on the family ranch at Crawford.

4 miles later we stopped in Merryville for our first taste of Cajun cookery at Bobby G's Restaurant, though we opted for club sandwiches and fries, leaving frogs' legs and prawn gumbo for another day! Cajuns are descended from the 17thC French colonists in Canada's Nova Scotia, a region they named Acadia ('Acadians' became 'Cajuns'). Displaced by the English in 1755, they were eventually welcomed by the Spanish, who had taken control of Louisiana in 1762 and needed settlers.

For the final 20 miles, we followed a straight road alongside the railway directly to De Ridder (rather than the Bike Route's circuitous 27 miles). With a good map of Louisiana, we shall plan a better route through to Baton Rouge. We found a good motel on N Pine Street, worryingly signposted as the 'Hurricane Evacuation Route' for those rushing up from the coastal areas and Lake Charles which lie to the south. The Receptionist reassured us that it didn't happen very often!

With flat country and a tail wind, it had been a fast day's ride (73 miles in 5 hrs 25 mins: average 21.6 km or 13.5 miles per hr). And we finally left Texas (after 1,100 miles in that one State – a third of the total ride!) Now we're over two-thirds of the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

15 April 2001   Town House Motel,   Opelousas, Louisiana   145 km (91 miles)

Easter Sunday and we planned to cycle 60 miles or so to Eunice. With a good early start and light wind, we rode much further through the lovely forest of the Bayou. We crossed the Parishes of Allen and Evangeline on dike roads between vivid green rice paddies, where large white egrets and smaller black birds were wading. The road-kill critters were interesting: snakes, turtles and a lot of small plated armadillos (smelling and buzzing with flies in the heat).

We paused at Wye for coffee and 'bacon biscuits', then at Oberlin for lunch. The town had a brand new motel but all the cafes were closed and we dined on biscuits, and cake from the Exon filling station. Reaching Eunice by mid-afternoon, we were rewarded with cold drinks and ices at McDonalds before riding another 22 miles to Opelousas, along the shoulder of US190.

The Louisiana roads were not as smooth as in the more affluent State of Texas, and we saw many more black faces. Opelousas is a particularly run-down town, a victim of 'white flight'. The wind turned strongly against us and rain fell from a black sky as we arrived. The Ranch Motel behind an Exon station looked too depressing, though the manager (from India), seeing the small Union Jack on Margaret's bicycle, tried to tempt us inside. We settled for the Town House (also Indian-run), which seemed better than the nearby Oaktree Motel.

The shops and cafes had closed down, all the bars were shuttered – we stayed safely inside and slept well.

16 April 2001   Shades Motel,   Baton Rouge, Louisiana   114 km (71 miles)

Today we rode along the sometimes rough verge of US90 all the way to the Mississippi, saving at least a day over the crazy Bike Route (which suggested north to Simmesport, then south again to cross the river at St Francisville). We reached the capital of Louisiana, completing another section of the Bike Route in only 5 days of cycling (helped by our short-cuts).

We had breakfast a few miles after Opelousas, at McDonalds in Port Barre, then rode on through Krotz Springs and over a high bridge, crossing a tributary of the Mississippi – the Atchafalaya Basin Main Channel. For the next 5 miles, the road ran on a raised causeway along the north edge of the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area (part of the Atchafalayha Wildlife Refuge – an area of swamp and trees and flattened armadillos). The eerie whistles of the railroad sounded through the forest. A deserted filling station offered shade for a brew-up before Livonia.

The road became busier and more industrial as we approached the turn-off for Highway 1, on which traffic from New Orleans bypasses Baton Rouge. Suddenly massive road and rail bridges rose high in front of us, their iron girders spanning the wide mud-brown Mississippi. Seeing no alternative to the road bridge, with 2 busy lanes each way and no shoulder, we gritted our teeth and rode beneath what looked like the underside of the Big Dipper at Blackpool. Romantic images of 'Old Man River' were quickly dispelled!

Safely across, we turned off US190 towards the airport in search of a motel, misled by the Bike Route map, onto Harding Road. After drinks, apple pie and ices in McDonalds, and seeing no accommodation, we got advice from the nearby Library. Back along the 190 through the city, where it became Airline Highway, we checked into the second motel we looked at (both run by Indians, as ever).

The nearby Walmart provided bread, chocolate, Sunny Delight orange drink and tinned sardines - a feast to enjoy in our spacious room while watching 'Zulu' on TV, a film starring a very young Michael Caine.

17 April 2001   Shades Motel,   Baton Rouge, Louisiana   0 km

A rest day, catching up with laundry, maintenance and planning. We arranged to rent a car for the day tomorrow, in order to visit New Orleans. Barry serviced the bikes, replacing a bent link in M's chain which had been jumping and jamming, and we phoned round to locate a cycle shop with a suitable tyre for B's rear wheel.

Dinner, from Wendy's across the highway, was better than tonight's film, 'Crocodile Dundee II' – utter rubbish!

18 April 2001   Shades Motel,   Baton Rouge, Louisiana   (320 km/200 miles by car)

Enterprise Car Rentals on Florida Boulevard delivered a Chevrolet Metro (a small silver 4-door automatic). This had seemed a good deal at $35 for 24 hrs, though another $30 was payable for insurance and taxes.

First we used the car to shop (at Dollar General and Piggly Wiggly's stores) and to collect the tyre. Despite yesterday's assurance, Tuffy's only stocked slim racing tyres, but we found a 28" Specialised with Kevlar from the Bicycle Shop on Highland Road, in the University area. Barry later fitted this, kept the part-worn Hutchinson as a spare, and was able to dump the well patched and glued spare. Our tyres should now last until Miami, DV.

The busy toll-free I-10 Interstate took us to New Orleans, across a flat landscape of watery woods and swamps. It felt strange to travel at such speed, recharging the mobile phone as we went. We drove past Kenner Airport, through the city to the Superdome (the world's largest covered stadium, later infamous after Hurricane Katrina) and turned left into the historic French Quarter along Canal Street.

We parked for free at the north-east corner of the Quarter, by the Old US Mint (now a hotel). The expensive car parks and meters were just a 5-minute stroll away – Americans pay to avoid a short walk. After a picnic lunch in the car we walked along Decatur, between the French Market on the right and the wharves and ferry terminal of the Mississippi waterfront to our left. The atmosphere was relaxed in the warm sunshine, with a mixture of tourists and locals, the buskers playing trumpets, drums, saxophones, etc, singly or in groups, in the birthplace of Jazz.

The French Market had a wonderful assortment of masks, feather boas and beads for Mardi Gras carnivals, as well as voodoo artefacts, Cajun and Creole foods and spices and French cafes. Travelling by bicycle, we had to limit our souvenirs to post cards, though we enjoyed a coffee. Creole is a mixture of French and Spanish with the original native language, and the speech we overheard was oddly guttural.

The statue of Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans, looked resplendent on her golden horse. We sat on riverside steps alongside a weirdo with a pet rat on his shoulder, watching the boats go by, including 'Natchez': a lovely restored paddle-steamer running 2-hour cruises. The Mississippi is indeed a mighty river – the world's longest if the Missouri branch is included, at 4,300 miles, and the second biggest river valley after the Amazon.

Walking past the small park in Jackson Square, we visited St Louis Cathedral, the oldest in the USA, at the heart of the Vieux Carr้. The pedestrian area in front of the church was filled with buskers, pigeons, 'living statue' figures and a performing conjurer, who brought a smile to every face as he produced silk hankies and made doves disappear.

Horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped by on Rue Royale, behind the cathedral, as we admired the historic architecture. The 3-storey house at 700 Royal Street, built by Jean Labranche in 1835, has 2 beautiful iron-lace balconies of entwined oak leaves and acorns. Antoine's Restaurant (1840) is another example of this charmingly romantic French-colonial style.

After crossing the city on I-10, we turned off at Causeway Blvd to drive north for 25 miles to Mandeville, across the huge Lake Pontchartrain. The toll-free road was built on an amazing 4-lane causeway, rising in the centre to allow the passage of boats. (There was no provision for cycling or walking.)

Reaching road 190, we followed it for 65 miles from Covington to Baton Rouge – tomorrow's cycle route - flat and wooded, sometimes with a shoulder. We stopped 26 miles along at Hammond for an excellent buffet meal, then on through Denham Springs to Baton Rouge and our motel (still on US190).

We'd driven 200 miles on ₤7-worth of petrol (or $10-worth of gas).

19 April 2001   The Petersens' Home,   Covington, Louisiana   102 km (64 miles)

After returning the hire car, we set off at 9.30 am to ride US190 to Covington, the road we'd driven yesterday. First stop was for McDonalds coffee near Denham Springs. At Hammond, 35 miles from Baton Rouge, we had a fast lunch in Wendy's (where we like the baked spuds and chilli). With light side winds, we reached Covington at about 4 pm and stopped at a supermarket in the CBD to check the phone book for accommodation.

Enter Robert Petersen, who kindly insisted that we come to stay at his home. Robert, of Danish ancestry, was an educational publisher's representative, selling early reading books to kindergartens, while his wife Weese (Elise) taught Computing at a nearby school. Their lovely wooden house, set among thick woods, was over a century old. They had extended it upwards and outwards, adding 2 bedrooms and a bathroom in the roof for their son and daughter, now gone to raise their own families. We were ushered upstairs, into these guest rooms.

A little bewildered (this sort of thing usually happens to other people), we got to know our hosts over a pot of tea, with lots of family photographs. In the dining room hung a portrait of Weese's great-grandmother, the widow of a Civil War Colonel who was killed by a sniper.

The Petersens generously took us to a nearby seafood restaurant, to try the local speciality. We were worried when Robert ordered 2 pounds of prawns and one pound of crawfish, accompanied by crackers and beer. The creatures were served in their shells, so most of the weight was in fact discarded. The prawns were good, though we found crawfish an acquired taste, which we didn't think worth the effort of acquiring! Not wishing to appear ungrateful, it was quite an experience.

We returned to watch Robert's favourite program, 'Survivors', then relaxed over a glass of wine and did our best to be entertaining, with travellers' tales. It was a relief to climb the iron spiral staircase and sleep off our supper.

20 April 2001   Villager Studio Inn,   Bay St Louis, Mississippi   95 km (59 miles)

Warned that the Petersens were early risers, we came down at 7.15 am to find Weese had already left for school, which starts at 8 am. Robert told us about his work, over a very pleasant breakfast of melon, cornflakes, orange juice, toast (with Smuckers sugar-free jam) and lovely French caf้ au lait. We watched a pair of squirrels in the sycamore outside the kitchen but didn't meet the racoon that lives under the house.

Leaving at 8.30 am, we joined the morning rush of traffic heading south (into the wind), along dual carriageway 190 towards New Orleans. At Mandeville, leaving the commuters to cross the Causeway, we turned east. After coffee and a snack in Burger King, we continued through the forests of the Fontainebleu and Big Branch Parks, which stretch to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Watching our backs on a busy road with an infrequent shoulder, we rode through Lacombe to Slidell (and another coffee in McDonalds, the wind being too strong for brewing up).

We entered the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area - wetlands which stretch north along the Pearl River, featuring 'Tourist Swamp Tours' to spot the alligators. After a picnic lunch in a rest area, where the road number changed from 190 to US90, we crossed several bridges before reaching the State Line, to leave Louisiana for Mississippi State.

US90 turned into a busy dual carriageway for the final 11 miles to Waveland/Bay St Louis – the beginning of the 'Playground of the South', comprising 26 miles of sugar-white beach along the Gulf of Mexico. We had left the wetlands, lily ponds and swampy forests of the Louisiana bayou behind, for a coastal strip of casinos and golf courses. Shrimping boats worked in the Gulf.

There was plenty of accommodation and we chose a new motel belonging to the Villager group. The room had a small kitchen where we heated a tin of stew.

21 April 2001   Villager Studio Inn,   Pascagoula, Mississippi   87 km (54 miles)

Today was one of the longest hardest days, even though we rode along the flat US90 the whole way. A strong south-east head wind never abated and the dual carriageway was extremely busy, with only an intermittent hard shoulder.

We crossed the bridge from Bay St Louis to Pass Christian (both towns had historic districts with fine wooden houses) and breakfasted at McDonalds. The windswept white beach was deserted except for the seagulls, no-one even walking a dog. A golf course and the marina had a bit of life, but most people just drove aimlessly (or aimed at us – we constantly hopped on and off the sidewalks and boardwalks, where they existed).

Long Beach had a couple of vast casinos, including Copa Casino, built like a huge liner anchored off a fort (in the best possible taste!) At least it provided a wind-break. Next came Gulfport (with an Oceanarium and a ferry to offshore Ship Island); then Biloxi, its 1848 lighthouse stranded on a 4-lane highway. Weary of the thrusting traffic and incessant wind, we stopped for lunch at a Waffle House (not a good choice). These towns form the main resort area of this 'Gulf Coast', on the Mississippi Sound of the Bay of Mexico.

Soon the road left the shore, over a long bridge to Ocean Springs, then cutting across to Gautier. The wind was a little easier, though still in the east (where we'd expected prevailing westerlies). Stopping for coffee and apple pies in ever-reliable McDonalds, we talked with a local cyclist (the first we'd met in a long time) – a keen and fit senior citizen.

Another long bridge took us into the naval and ship-building port of Pascagoula. After inspecting 2 cheap motels, we chose the comfort of another Villager Studio Inn. It was 7 pm – time to do the dhobi and crash out! Along the way today we passed a beach that was fenced off, the nesting site of the Least Tern, with the sign 'Nest in Peace'. We did the same.

22 April 2001   Bay Side Motel,   Dauphin Island, Alabama   70 km (44 miles)

After 15 miles along the shoulder of US90, still heading east into a SSE wind (but with tree-shelter), we crossed the State line into Alabama and its first small town, Grand Bay. We turned left towards Interstate-10 for a mile, in search of breakfast (at Hardees – another fast food chain). A phone call confirmed that the Dauphin Island-Fort Morgan ferry was running, across the entrance of Mobile Bay (saving a detour inland via Mobile), so we booked a room on the island, which is linked to the mainland by a causeway and bridge on one side and by the ferry on the other).

Leaving Grand Bay we rejoined the Bike Route, which we'd left back in Opelousas. Along Hurricane Blvd (evacuation routes are regularly signed in this part of the country) and through Bayou La Batre (with just one expensive motel), we passed a Gator Farm (alligators). 10 miles after Grand Bay, we paused at another Hardees for coffee and apple pie. We didn't see a white face all day – we are in the Deep South of Confederate States. In fact Mississippi has just voted to keep the Confederate flag as part of its State flag, after other states have removed it as a racist emblem. (The Petersens told us they once met masked Klu Klux Klan men collecting money in Louisiana.)

In the next 10 miles we crossed coastal wetlands, a bridge over the muddy brown Foul River and the little Mon Luis Island, to reach Alabama Port on Mobile Bay. Here we veered south to Cedar Point along a causeway. Small fishing boats were out in the Bay, oyster shells littered the shore.

We had to turn more into the wind for the final 5 miles across Gordon Pearson's Bridge to Dauphin Island. It had 2 lanes plus wide shoulders, traffic was light and the only difficulty was the wind, causing us to use bottom gear to climb the steep central section. Beautiful dusky little pelicans flew by and rested on sandbanks.

Dauphin Island, guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay and the town of Mobile, was the HQ for French colonisation along the Gulf Coast (once part of Louisiana). It was named Dauphin in 1707 in honour of the French heir to the throne.

The island suffered pirate raids, hurricanes and changes of control, falling to the British, then the Spanish (1780), then the US in the War of 1812. Its historic Fort Gaines, finished in 1862, was besieged in the Civil War (at the Battle of Mobile, 1864) and eventually forced to surrender. Mobile had been one of the last ports open to Blockade Runners supplying the Confederacy. The Fort was used again in both the World Wars and is still operating as a Coastguard base (and paying tourist attraction, which we visited).

We had a lovely room in the cheapest of the island's 3 expensive motels and microwaved a couple of TV dinners. There were boat moorings right behind the motel and a Bird Watching Convention had just checked out.

23 April 2001   Seville Inn,   Pensacola, Florida   94 km (59 miles)

The 35-minute crossing from Dauphin Island across the mouth of Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan was on a simple landing craft, plying to and fro. Leaving at 9.30 am, we shared it with 6 vehicles and several black-headed gulls hitching a ride. The sea was choppy, the strong wind still in the south-east, and we had a good view of Fort Gaines, the island and the bridge we'd ridden yesterday.

On landing, we soon found coffee and buns at the marina stores, before riding 21 miles along a narrow peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Bon Secour Bay. It was fringed with beach houses on stilts and wooden villas in pastel shades, with more building plots on sale. Passing Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge and Little Lagoon, we saw pelicans and grey squirrels.

At the holiday resort of Gulf Shores, we lunched in Burger King. The next 20 miles along the Alabama Coast were busier, with lots of development: expensive hotels, grand houses and ugly apartment blocks, reminiscent of the Spanish Costas. Through Orange Beach and along Perdido Key, we finally reached Florida. Florida's Pensacola Visitor Centre provided a State map, a 5-minute phone card and a book of hotel coupons with their compliments: a nice welcome to our last State.

After Gulf Beach we took a short cut along the 292 to Pleasant Grove, the road now busy with commuter traffic, and no shoulder to ride until we reached the outskirts of Pensacola, a port with a population of 50,000. A short high bridge took us over the Bayou Chico marina to meet East Garden Street on the edge of the Seville Historic District.

Using the new motel vouchers, we found a good room including breakfast (not usually provided) for $40 (+ tax). An annoying feature of the USA is that price lists (even in fast food joints) do not include the tax, which varies from state to state.

We spent the evening writing post cards – Florida At Last!

24 April 2001   Hilton Motel,   Crestview, Florida   90 km (56 miles)

A good start to the day, with the 'Pensacola News Journal' pushed under our door and a light breakfast in the lobby. We read about yesterday's 250-strong march through the city, which had started at 6 pm near our motel. The protest concerned fatal shootings by the police, culminating in the death of a young black woman 8 weeks ago.

Leaving Pensacola on our old favourite, US90, it was busy for nearly 10 miles along the Scenic Highway, bordering Pensacola Bay and bluffs, until traffic reached the I-10 junction. We continued through quiet Riverview (just a filling station) and over the Escambia River to Pace, where we stopped to shop. Enjoying the supermarket's free coffee and biscuits, we met an odd guy out on his bike, who reminded us of Forrest Gump. He talked at length about his relationship with his mother and with God.

It was very warm and humid (over 80 deg F) but at last we had a good wind from the SSW at our back. Leaving the coast, we rode very gentle wooded hills through Pea Ridge and the 'historic' town of Milton. Then we left the Bike Map route, taking a short cut along US90 and the railway rather than wandering northwards.

We lunched on the orange juice and muffins we'd bought, sitting by the railroad tracks near a place called Harold. Rejoining the Bike Map route at Holt, where we posted our cards, we continued on US90 with a good shoulder all the way, through Milligan to the larger town of Crestview.

The Hilton Motel, on the main road opposite McDonalds, was not part of the Hilton Hotel group (not at $30+tax!) but was very comfortable. Guess where we ate –we winning an apple pie and a portion of fries in McD's 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' promotion! It rained heavily in the evening and the TV news gave a severe storm warning for Dauphin Island – we'd left just in time to avoid being stranded there.

25 April 2001   Chipley Motel,   Chipley, Florida   109 km (68 miles)

It was cooler and fresher after the rain. The wind had turned round to the NNW, helping us some of the time. Again we followed US90 all the way, parallel with the railway and Interstate I-10, which took most of the traffic over on our right.

Crossing the Okaloosa-Walton County line, we had our first break after 16 miles at Mossy Head – coffee and buns at the fuel station, sitting with the Sheriff who was catching up on paperwork after his night's duty. The next 14 miles were very pleasant, through quiet rolling oak and pine forests, the trees draped in Spanish moss, well watered by streams.

Then we arrived at De Funiak Springs, a lovely little town founded in 1901 by a man named De Funiak, which celebrates its centenary next weekend. The historic houses and railway station are set round an unusual circular lake. We shopped at Dollar General, then brewed up in a splendid public shelter, complete with benches, tables, water and a ceiling fan! Called the Opinion Corner, it had its own mailbox, a notice board for the community and a list of sponsors (sadly, many deceased). One regular, very much alive at 67, joined us for a banana and a chat. Albert Davidson talked at length about his 1964 Chevy, which he'd painted bright blue, and told us about the town's history. Before leaving, we rode round the lake to admire the many famous houses and splendid trees.

Here we came to the end of Section 7 of the Bike Route Maps (Baton Rouge-De Funiak), covered in 6.5 days (with short cuts). Section 8 (De Funiak-St Augustine) completes the ride to the Atlantic Ocean, though again we will vary the route.

After another 11 miles of forest, through Argyle into Holmes County, we reached Ponce de Leon - and a good lunch of roast beef and apple pie at Sally's Restaurant. This town is named after Don Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish Conquistador, the first European known to visit Florida. He landed at St Augustine in 1513 and introduced orange trees to Florida - now the world's largest producer of citrus fruit. Oranges were important in those days, especially to sailors, to prevent scurvy.

At Bonifay, 17 miles later, we could have found accommodation but it was only 4 pm with a good back wind, so we cycled another 10 miles to Chipley. We took a good simple room with a microwave and fridge at the first motel we came to, run by yet another gentleman from the Subcontinent.

With today's good distance, our US average is now 92 km (57.5 miles) a day.

26 April 2001   Morgan Lodge,   Chattahoochee, Florida   76 km (48 miles)

Slowed by a light NE wind, we rode US90 through the woods and farms of Jackson County. Seeing nowhere to stop in Cottondale, at 10 miles, we had a break in the larger town of Marianna, 9 miles later, with an early lunch in McDonalds.

The Bike Route meandered northwards but we stayed on US90 for 13 miles to Grand Ridge, then through Sneads (a small place devoid of accommodation) and across the Apalachicola River, below Lake Seminole Dam, where a laden barge was coming through the lock gates. This was the border of the Godsden County and, more importantly, the Eastern Time Zone, so we put our watches forward one last time. Just to the north lay Georgia, bordering the Florida Panhandle.

Reaching Chattahoochee, we finished the day early for a good rest, after 8 days' continuous ride since Baton Rouge. The town had only 2 choices of motel, the alternative being the Chattahoochee Inn, dismal and overpriced, so we paid a little more for the comfort of Morgan Lodge.

The best of a poor night's TV was 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire', as one of the contestants turned out to be a question-setter for 'Trivial Pursuit'. Not surprisingly, he'd won big money on other game shows!

27 April 2001   Skyline Motor Lodge,   Tallahassee, Florida   68 km (43 miles)

Keeping to US90 (short-cutting the wandering Bike Route), we rode into a light east wind under a warm sun, through rolling countryside. We stopped after 21 miles at Quincy, for lunch in good ole McDonalds, where we won 2 hash browns on the scratch cards! The real attractions are the unlimited iced water to refill our bottles, the seniors' discount, the free refills on coffee, the newspapers to read, the air-con, the clean rest rooms – in the USA, McD doesn't seem to be the venue for noisy kids that it is elsewhere. Rather, we met many interesting Seniors, spending the morning there over coffees.

It was another 20 miles to Tallahassee, capital of Florida, the traffic gradually increasing as we crossed the Leon County line. We tried the Collegiate Village Inn, directly on our route near the Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College (we had a $29 voucher!). Sadly we discovered that this is Graduation Weekend (it's Friday) and they were full!

Luckily, the humbler Indian-run Skyline next door had just 2 rooms left upstairs, at $45+tax, so we looked no further. There were no shops in the vicinity, but we found sandwiches at the fuel station.

28 April 2001   Super 8 Motel,   Madison, Florida   106 km (66 miles)

After breakfast along the road at Wendys, we stopped at 10 miles for supplies and free coffee at a large supermarket. The city traffic was busy, though there were few trucks out at weekend. The Bike Map notes on Tallahassee read: "Drivers are used to cyclists, due to a large bike-commuting population and students". We didn't see a single bicycle, though a man at the supermarket told us he rode a lot with a club. Cycling here means a group with a support vehicle!

Staying on US90 from Leon County into Jefferson Co (again short-cutting the Bike Map route), we reached the small town of Monticello after another 18 miles. The only caf้ was closed, so we had drinks and cakes at a fuel station. The wooded countryside was less hilly after Monticello, where we rejoined the Bike Route. It was sunny with a light east wind.

16 miles later, across Aucilla River into Madison County, we had a break in Greenville. Talking to a group of black teenagers in the town park, we were taken for Australians (which shows how little English films or TV are shown in the US). 14 miles later, through swamp woods, we came to Madison and found that all the motels and restaurants are 6 miles off our route at the I-10 Interstate junction.

We rode out to find the Super 8, arriving at 6.45 pm. The excellent room had a fridge, microwave and endless supply of coffee. Our discount voucher was not valid today (Saturday and still busy with Graduation guests) but is acceptable for tomorrow night, so we shall enjoy a good rest here!

29 April 2001   Super 8 Motel,   Madison, Florida   0 km

A day off, after 10 days' cycling. With Taco Bell and Burger King nearby, there was a choice of cuisine.

We photocopied an article from the Los Angeles Times about RV's camping at Walmart stores, to send to MMM magazine, and caught up with laundry, route planning and budgeting. Also time for crosswords and a book. M is reading the Rome-Greece section of Anne Mustoe's 'A Bike Ride: 12,000 Miles Around the World', which is the distance we're aiming for.

30 April 2001   Driftwood Motel,   Lake City, Florida   79 km (49 miles)

As we loaded the bikes to leave, Barry's handlebar bag frame snapped. Karrimor equipment is not what it used to be.

We took a short cut on a sandy dirt road for 3 miles through the forest to join road 255, from where it was 5 miles across the railway line to rejoin US90 at Lee. (This saved 9 miles compared with returning via Madison.) It was cooler and cloudy, cycling straight into a strong east wind, with some shelter from the woods.

9 miles after Lee we rode through the Suwannee State Park, crossing the famous River. (Stephen Foster, composer of 'Way down upon the Swannee River', dropped the 'u' in his spelling. In fact, he never even saw the river!)

We stopped for hot dogs at a caf้, then left the Bike Route and followed US90 alongside the railway. This took us directly through Live Oak (coffee at a bar), past Wellborn (buns and drinks at a fuel station), from Suwanne County into Columbia Co and, finally, to Lake City.

Here, at the junctions of I-10 and I-75, were several competing motels. We got a good room with breakfast for $25+tax, right opposite a Walmart store where we were able to raid the ATM and shop.

1 May 2001   Red Carpet Inn,   Starke, Florida   71 km (44 miles)

After a complimentary 'continental breakfast' of donuts, juice and coffee (which continent?), we rode on through Lake City in search of road 100, which will take us to the Atlantic coast via Starke and Palatka. At the crossroads we finally left US90, celebrating with coffee in Hardees.

The US100 was fairly busy, with a good shoulder except on the older stretches, where we sometimes pulled onto the grass verge for trucks. Forest gave shelter from the NE wind. In Lake Butler, about half way to Starke, we had a picnic lunch in the lakeside park.

Reaching Starke, we got drinks in Burger King and rang to check on accommodation in Keystone Heights, 10 miles further on, but it had no motels. The next were in Palatka, too far in the strong wind, so we made an early finish in Starke, where we had a voucher for another nice Indian-run motel. The Pizza Hut over the road provided a good supper, especially the salad.

2 May 2001   Oaks Motel,   East Palatka, Florida   74 km (46 miles)

Another day on US100, with a good shoulder for most of the way, forests breaking the east wind. It was cloudy, with a brief shower as we arrived in Palatka.

First stop was in Keystone Heights after 10 miles, for Burger King coffee, then we rode on through Florahome, in the Etonia Creek State Forest, to Palatka. A bridge crossed the wide St John's River to East Palatka, where we ate at yet another Burger King. It was next to 'The Oaks', the first of 3 shabby motels opposite a cheap shopping mall, the east side of the river being a black district. The Florida port of Jacksonville lies at the river mouth, to our north.

3 May 2001   Magic Carpet Motel,   Daytona Beach, Florida   95 km (59 miles)

A significant day – on US100 all the way to the ocean, meeting the Atlantic at Flagler Beach to complete our coast-to-coast ride.

The first 30 miles to Bunnell, through forest and pasture, ran straight into the NE wind, becoming harder as we approached the coast where the trees had been felled. We had an early lunch in a Bunnell caf้ before the final 8 miles to Flagler Pier, excitement rising as we passed Flagler Auditorium, High School and Airport, with still no sign of the sea. Then a long bridge crossed the Halifax River, which separates a long peninsula from the mainland, and we stopped at its crest for photos of the ocean. We swooped down to the shore to photograph each other on a very windy dull Flagler Beach, rain threatening. It was 1.30 pm and 8 lovely grey pelicans flew overhead in formation.

We rode 5,035 km (3,085 miles) to the Atlantic Ocean from our start in Los Angeles. The distance coast to coast (Pacific to Atlantic: San Diego to Flagler Beach) was 4,660 km (2,912 miles).

After riding another 60 km (38 miles) into a head wind from East Palatka, we at last turned south along the coast, the side wind blowing sand across the A1A road. The ocean-view homes gave way to Flagler Beach State Park, then Tomoka State Park. We stayed on the coastal road, whereas the Bike Map Route, perverse as usual, followed the Old Dixie Highway on the mainland side of the river.

Building development began again as soon as we left the State Park in Ormond Beach, where high-rise hotels and condominiums clustered round swimming pools. We were very thirsty and made straight for the first shopping mall, treating ourselves to large ice creams and coffee in the smart caf้. Our bikes attracted the attention of the owner, who presented us with frozen yogurts and fresh strawberries on the house. We forced them down! A Canadian woman at the next table was reading a book by the lone cyclist Bettina Selby and was amazed to meet 2 more intrepid English riders! 'Don't you have cars, there?' she asked.

Ormond Beach blended into Daytona Beach, with miles and miles of tourist attractions and motels (a bewildering number of them in our voucher booklet). After one refusal at Carol's Motel ('vouchers are only good for 3 days minimum'), we were welcomed at the 3-storey Magic Carpet, run by a friendly woman from Taiwan. We had a splendid ground floor room with fridge, microwave, sea view and beach access, all for less than $40 with our coupon. This included coffee and chocolate buns for breakfast, and a free morning paper (the 'News Journal: Volusia and Flagler Counties') – and we still have the souvenir pen!

Evening TV showed the final of 'Survivors'. More interestingly, we worked out that as far as Daytona we had cycled:

At this point, we had ridden 18,376 km or 11,485 miles from Singapore (via Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, USA)

Daily average in USA so far = 55 miles (over 57 cycling days, not counting 10 rest days)

4 May 2001   Magic Carpet Motel,   Daytona Beach,   Florida 0 km

A well earned rest day. We did our laundry and wrote post cards, not forgetting one promised to Robert and Weese, who had put us up back in Covington (see 19 April). We'd made such good time that we rang BA to change the date of our Miami-Heathrow flight, but were told to call again after the weekend. Also phoned our good friends, Dick and Audrey, hoping they might be in Florida but discovered they were visiting New York. We had a long talk and arranged to meet in England, where they are headed in a month's time.

We walked the famous beach of white silica for half a mile each way, to the Winn-Dixie Supermarket and the post office. The shore runs dead straight for as far as we could see in both directions. A broad strip of firm sand is used as a road (speed limit 10 mph) for both hired dune-buggies and ordinary cars. A few vehicles were parked on the beach, though they soon left as the tide came in and covered it, leaving seaweed strewn across the track as it ebbed.

The TV news showed the Pope visiting Greece in the steps of St Paul – the first Pope to do so for over 1,000 years (and not made very welcome).

5 May 2001   Budget Motel,   Titusville, Florida   88 km (55 miles)

There was still a strong NE wind, gusting at 10-15 mph. The hurricane season usually starts in June, so we hope it's not early. We rode inland, over the Intra-Coastal-Water way bridge, to the Port Orange shopping mall to find a bike shop. Barry needed a handlebar bag or (less likely) a new frame for his Karrimor bag - he was offered a shopping basket! But we did get a coffee break in McDonalds.

Continuing down the good shoulder of US1 to New Smyrna, we crossed another bridge to regain the coast road. Over drinks of orange, we watched the wind-tossed sunbathers and drivers on New Smyrna Beach, but found that the 7-mile spit was a dead-end. Returning to highway 1, we continued south with light traffic (parallel I-95 took most of it).

In retrieving the hat of a passing cyclist, blown across our road, we met Rosella Paulsen on her way to the shops. She explained that New Smyrna was named by the Turkish-born wife of the doctor who first settled there. Riding on, we lunched at McDonalds in Edgewater. There were still many trees, with signs of recent forest fire.

Crossing Seminole County into Orange Co, we saw our first Florida orange groves (much more orderly than our favourite Greek orchards – no scrumping here!) After Mims we reached Titusville, where a bridge accesses the Cape Canaveral peninsula (and the NASA Kennedy Space Centre) . Before the bridge, we found a simple motel run by brothers from Bombay, who accepted our voucher (and complained about the blacks).

At the local shops we met Rick Hooper, who lives in Orlando and works at Disneyland. He kindly offered us a room and a free pass if we wanted to visit, though it's not on our plan!

On the evening TV news we saw an alligator being rescued from a storm drain and realised we'd ridden right past it, on US1 before Mims! We'd noticed a small crowd, the fire brigade and an animal rescue van, with someone filming the event.

6 May 2001   Budget Lodge,   Indialantic, Florida   81 km (51 miles)

Setting out, we passed an RV dealer with no less than 3 'Four Winds' motorhomes on his forecourt – a new model Ford, a Chevrolet and a Ford E350 (like ours, but with twin rear beds).

We rode south down US1 to the NASA Causeway, then 6 miles east, into the wind, across the long NASA Causeway Bridge (cycles banned at rush hour), over the Indian River onto Merritt Island. Reluctantly, we passed the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (which offered bus tours of the various NASA sites, but had nowhere safe to leave a bicycle). Of course, cycling through the Cape Canaveral base was forbidden, so we turned south on US3 to Cocoa. We rode through orange groves, rich in bird life (pelicans, herons and egrets), though we didn't spot any manatees in the water (aquatic mammals, also known as sea cows). After coffee at a fuel station, we turned east into the wind again, across the busy bridge (road 528) over the Banana River to Port Canaveral. Cruise ships lay at anchor here, their passengers whisked off to Cape Canaveral or Disneyland.

Then we headed south down the very busy A1A along the Cape Canaveral peninsula, between Cocoa Beach and the ocean on our left and Banana River to our right. There were plenty of tourists in cars, SUVs and motorbikes, but the only cyclist we saw rode a motorised bicycle! We made swifter progress now, past lines of condominiums, restaurants and hotels, with a good NE wind behind us. As so often, we ate at McDonalds.

Down the long spit of Satellite Beach, past hotels like the Hilton and Holiday Inn, we reached Indialantic, just after the Eau Gallie Causeway joined the A1A from the mainland. We got large ice creams at another McDonalds (today's temperature is in the 80s F), then found a good new motel (Indian-run again) for $36+tax with coupon: extremely good value for a room with fridge and microwave on this part of the coast.

7 May 2001   Super 8 Motel,   Fort Pierce, Florida   94 km (59 miles)

We continued down A1A, following the long spit of land between the Indian River and the Atlantic. It was still in the 80s F, with an east wind.

Passing endless gated retirement complexes 'twixt fairway and ocean', with fanciful nautical or sylvan names, there were no caf้s or restaurants. Very thirsty, we found only one filling station/fishing tackle shop along the way, where we grabbed drinks and hot dogs. Over a bridge at Sebastian Inlet, we took another break on the sand.

At Vero Bridge we crossed the bridge (road 60) to the mainland, in search of lunch at McDonalds. Returning over the next bridge (17th Street), we continued on A1A down Vero Beach South, the sea hidden from view by the buildings lining the shore. A sudden rainstorm lasted only a few minutes and we soon dried out in the sun.

The peninsula ended at Shore Winds Drive, where we crossed a busy bridge to join US1 on the mainland, just north of Fort Pierce. Through another downpour, in the tea-time traffic, we rode the last couple of miles on the pavement (or sidewalk), as there was no shoulder. The Super 8 was again run by a family from India, who gave us a pleasant room for a coupon price.

We phoned BA again and changed our Miami-London air tickets to 20 May (a week earlier than booked) without difficulty.

8 May 2001   Super 8 Motel,   North Palm Beach, Florida   94 km (59 miles)

All the motel donuts had gone by 8.30 am, so we breakfasted on coffee and went to look at Fort Pierce's marina, then crossed the Seaway Drive bridge, south of Fort Pierce Inlet, onto another long sand spit, Hutchinson Island.

We rode south on the A1A again, between the Loggerhead Turtle Sanctuary beaches on the ocean side and a nuclear (sorry, 'nukular') plant on the Indian River lagoon. There were more condominiums and golf courses at Jensen Beach, then at the end of the sand spit the road turned back over a long bridge to the mainland.

Along Ocean Boulevard we passed Cedar Point, a complex of apartments round a pool – an address we recognised from writing to Dick's sister, Pam. We had reached Stuart, where it began to rain as we joined some worthy Florida Seniors for lunch at M & M's Caf้.

We continued south on the ocean-side Dixie Highway, through busy Port Salerno and Juno Beach. After McDonalds coffee and a free apple pie (in 'Who'll Never be a Millionaire?'), we joined US1 for the last few miles. Now in Palm Beach County, we reached a splendid Super 8, right on the highway, just before more short heavy bursts of tropical rain. The wind came directly from the east.

9 May 2001   Super 8 Motel,   North Palm Beach, Florida   0 km

Happy Birthday, Barry (yes, I still need you; yes, I still feed you …) A rest day for reading, writing letters and food-shopping at the nearby mall.

The local TV carried the live trial of a 14-year-old black boy, charged with the murder of his high school teacher. There were also cookery programs and a vintage 'Lovejoy'. Rain and the wind came directly from the east.

10 May 2001   Travelodge,   Fort Lauderdale, Florida   82 km (51 miles)

The rain had passed and we rode south on a sunny US1, the wind still in the east, temperature in the 80s F. After calling at North Palm Beach Post Office, we worked our way through roadwork diversions, then over the Loftin Street bridge to take A1A (Ocean Bvd) along the continuing sand spit, between the Atlantic and the lagoon of Lake Worth.

There were miles and miles of palatial homes, with moorings on the lake, manicured lawns, tall hedges, security gates, Italianate statues and fountains – 'Million Dollar McMansions', in the best taste that money can buy. After about 25 miles, near Lantana, a few picnic tables and a snack bar by the lagoon broke the well-heeled monotony. We had lunch there, watching the pelicans asleep on the dock of the bay and the mocking birds (Florida's state bird) in the trees.

After Ocean Ridge, the wide lagoon narrowed to a river and the A1A took us through Highland Beach, with its condominiums of time-shares and holiday apartments, to the resort of Boca Raton. Then came Hillsboro Beach, Pompano Beach (drinks in Burger King) and finally Fort Lauderdale Beach, an area with 4 motels in our voucher booklet. Galt Villas (the cheapest) had 'no discount rooms left' but the 3-storey Travelodge offered us a good room with a 'de-luxe breakfast buffet' at only $2 above the coupon price (total $40+tax).

Shopping at Winn-Dixie across the road, we met holidaying Germans, British, Russians and Poles: our first encounter with foreign visitors.

11 May 2001   Days Inn,   Miami Airport, Florida   69 km (43 miles)

After a breakfast buffet (heavy on carbohydrate), it was south on A1A again, with rare glimpses of the ocean beyond the high-rise beach resort apartments. The wind remained in the east.

At the end of the peninsula, we turned inland along 17th Street Causeway to meet US1. We briefly followed the busy highway, parallel with I-95, to Dania, where we were able to rejoin A1A along another long spit by the ocean. Riding through Hollywood Beach, Hallandale and Golden Beach, we wondered what all the tourists actually do here, with nothing but apartment blocks? And where do the locals shop, dine or bury their dead? A welcome Burger King rescued us for lunch, before riding through Bal Harbour to Miami Beach.

The roads became much busier as we turned inland across the Venetian Causeway and through the city on 36th Street, a Spanish/Cuban zone (Miami's population is 66% Hispanic). Riding the sidewalks to avoid the heavy surges at the traffic lights, we headed for the International Airport, where we needed to revalidate our tickets.

The Days Inn right opposite the airport was no bargain, charging $10 above the coupon price ('because it's weekend'), with no extras (not even coffee).

12 May 2001   Travelodge,   Florida City, Florida   54 km (34 miles)

After breakfast at McDonalds, just along from the Days Inn, it was a 4-km (2.5-mile) ride into Miami Airport to check and reconfirm our tickets. Annoyingly, there was no BA enquiry desk and we had to wait until 12.45 pm when BA check-ins opened.

From the airport we rode south down busy Lejeune Road, with taxis, buses and cars surging past, to join US1 all the way down the Florida Keys (sometimes with a shoulder or sidewalk, though mostly not). The Dade County Bike Route provided a cycle path for the first few miles; McDonalds provided drinks and coconut pies (a new product on trial, which we predict will fail!)

It was 86 deg F with a back wind and everyone in Miami seemed to be out in their cars. US1 met the southern end of the Florida Turnpike (toll road) at Homestead, from where it was another mile to Florida City, 'Gateway to the Keys'. It had a Visitor Center and a plethora of fast food joints, while both the Comfort Inn and the Travelodge offered coupon bargains. We took a splendid room for $33+tax (inc breakfast).

M walked back to Walmart in Homestead (possibly their first pedestrian customer) to buy some frozen microwave-meals and a delicious pineapple-upside-down cake. Mel Gibson's 'The Patriot' was the evening TV highlight on HBO.

13 May 2001   Travelodge,   Florida City, Florida   0 km

After an excellent breakfast we decided to enjoy the sunshine and the swimming pool and let the traffic rush by (it's Sunday and Mother's Day here). Time also for laundry, reading and letter-writing.

14 May 2001   Seahorse Motel,   Marathon, Florida Keys   124 km (78 miles)

US1 ran south and straight, narrow and busy in both directions for about 20 miles. We were frequently forced to ride the thin shoulder (bumping over the rumble strips and cat's eyes) to avoid the trucks, buses, RVs, boats on trailers and mere cars. This is known as the '18-mile-death alley' and we noticed quite a few roadside crosses.

The wind still blew from the north-east and at Key Largo we turned south-west, gathering speed (average today 24 km or 15 mph). After lunch in Wendys, the road was a better width – either 4 lanes or 2 with a shoulder, and often a separate Bike Route path for those cyclists who had survived the earlier stretch.

Though riding between the Atlantic and Florida Bay (Gulf of Mexico), we rarely saw the sea, which was screened by mangroves and trees or by hotels and apartments. The traffic eased through the afternoon, increasing again towards tea time.

The many Keys (tiny islets) were linked by a causeway, with just a few short bridges. After Key Largo we crossed Tavernier, Plantation Key, Islamadora (with its brash tourism), Long Key (a State Park with camping along the Atlantic), Duck Key and Grassy Key, before Marathon – the 'Heart of the Keys', half way along the chain at Mile Marker 50.

The simple motel just past Marathon Airport had its own boat dock on the Gulf side. We shopped at the nearby mall.

15 May 2001   Caribbean House Inn,   Key West, Florida   83 km (52 miles)

Over breakfast at McDonalds, half a mile down the road, we were drawn into a lengthy argument with a voluble Fascist at the next table. We couldn't ignore overhearing that "Hitler did have a point – well, perhaps not the mass murders, but …" Our antagonist went on to say that Palestine rightly belonged to the Jews, as they lived there 2000 years ago. "And North America?" we asked "whose is that?" He left!

The Lower Keys, between Marathon and Key West, are the least developed. Riding on, across the causeway and bridges of the keys, there was a good shoulder or Bike Route all the way. The wind had turned to south-east, side-on. We soon came to the famous 7-Mile-Bridge, parallel with an old railway bridge which is complete as far as tiny Pigeon Island (no motor vehicles allowed). Beyond that, the old bridge now has gaps to allow boats through. Once the railroad ceased, the rails were lifted and it was used as a road bridge until replaced by the new one.

The sea of the Gulf was remarkably blue, clear and shallow, but we saw no fish or mammals and very few birds (some pelicans, shags and gulls). Probably too many fishermen? After the long bridge came Little Duck Key, Missouri Key and Ohio Key, linked by small bridges, then Bahia Honda State Park (with camping and mangrove plantations) and on to Big Pine Key. Many smaller keys (or cays) dotted the Gulf side of the main chain. Big Pine had a slower speed limit for a 3-mile stretch, to protect the Key Deer living in the pinewoods. These miniature deer are endangered, with 45 killed so far this year, but still the traffic whizzed by.

We passed no fast food joints, and very few places to stop, until we found hot dogs and cold drinks on the next key, Summerland. On through Cudjoe, Sugarloaf, Saddlebunch and Big Coppit, we passed the Naval Air Base and finally reached our goal – Key West, an island measuring 5 miles by 3 miles: the southernmost point of the continental USA. We celebrated with coffee and apple pies in McDonalds, then sat in a bus shelter to fix Barry's rear wheel puncture.

Our accommodation at Caribbean House 'in the heart of the Historic Downtown' (booked through the Key West Information Center) turned out to be rather rough in a seedy black area. We squeezed the bikes into the tiny room, decided it wasn't worth $49+tax and rang an alternative for tomorrow.

16 May 2001   Blue Lagoon Resort,   Key West, Florida   23 km (14 miles)

After donuts and coffee, we were pleased to leave Caribbean House. It was just off Duval Street, the main downtown street linking City Beach with Mallory Square (where there is a Sunset Festival every evening). We made our way to City Beach, the southernmost point of the continental USA, for the obligatory photos of the monument, which told us that it was 90 Miles to Cuba (and only 75 miles to the Tropic of Cancer). We accepted the offer of a friendly local to take a picture of us both together – then declined his request to pay him for this service (beware hustlers in such places!)

That done, we cycled to Budget Rentals at the airport and arranged a good deal on hiring a Ford Ranger for 2 days, to be returned to Miami airport. This allowed us more time in Key West, avoided cycling back up the Keys and enabled us to visit the Everglades on the way to Miami. Brilliant!

After lunch at Burger King, we rode to the El Rancho Motel (having been told on the phone yesterday evening that they had plenty of rooms at voucher price and did not take bookings). Mysteriously, these had all been taken – 'most unusual' – and there were only 2 grotty rooms left at $85 (argued down to $75). Disappointed with Key West, we left and cycled back towards the airport, to try the Blue Lagoon on US1 (Roosevelt Blvd).

The friendly Slovakian girl in Reception told us she was a nurse, spending a year here to improve her English (English?) She gave us a large room with a view of the lagoon, in a quiet corner well away from the bar and pool, for $59+tax. There was a K-Mart across the road for shopping.

17 May 2001   Blue Lagoon Resort,   Key West, Florida   14 km (9 miles)

A peaceful morning, writing 30 post cards to say our bicycles had safely reached journey's end. M fetched lunch from the Pizza Hut.

Later we cycled along the historic waterfront, past the schooner 'Western Union' and round Mallory Square, taking in the cruise ship pier, the lighthouse museum and the sponge diving museum. From the southernmost point, we followed the beaches and Martello towers of the south coast, the long way round to the airport, to collect the Ford Ranger. This became a Ford Escape SUV, after a problem with the car we'd booked – to our advantage, as we didn't have to dismantle the bikes.

Driving back after sun-down, the temperature was still 83 deg F. There were plenty of people walking and even cycling in the tourist area (with bikes, tandems and trikes for hire, as well as cycle rickshaws). The semi-tropical leafy streets contain some beautiful 19thC wooden houses, standing 2 storeys high. We passed Ernest Hemingway's house and President Truman's 'Little White House'.

By 1856, ship-wrecking (taking cargo from ships wrecked on the coral reefs) had made Key West's citizens the richest per capita in the US. Many of the fine houses were built by the 'wreckers', including the town's oldest house, the home of Wrecking Captain Francis Watlington (1829).

18 May 2001   Airways Motel, Miami Airport,   Florida   8 km (5 miles) cycled + 400 km (250 miles) by car

The white Ford Escape SUV took our bikes and bags, with the back seats folded down. The wind had dropped and the sea was flat calm on both sides of the keys, with traffic already pouring in and out of Key West when we left at 8 am. It was strange to pass our motel in Marathon after less than an hour, reaching Florida City/Homestead (a 2-day cycle ride) in about 2 hours! At the Homestead Walmart we shopped for food and a flight bag and enjoyed coffee and donuts.

Driving into the Everglades National Park via the Coe Visitor Center, we paid $10 at the toll booth and continued for 38 miles to the Flamingo Center on Florida Bay. There were acres of car parks and hungry mosquitoes. The tide was right up in the marina, where alligators, crocodiles and manatees were rumoured to be visible at low tide. Disappointed, we visited the nearby 'Eco-pond', where at least we saw bird life (ibis, egrets and ducks). From the viewing platform we spotted a single extremely dormant alligator, half submerged in the mud.

Half way back to the Park border, we stopped at the Pa-hay-okee boardwalk and overlook (lookout) and realised the desperate state of the wetlands. The '50-mile-wide river' that flows from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, forming the Everglades, has almost disappeared after 3 years of drought. It should be the rainy season right now, but we saw only prairies of dry saw-grass instead of swamp. A display showed photos of the Overlook in August 1992, wrecked by Hurricane Andrew. We well remember that – we were cycling across Canada and felt its backlash!

Back at Homestead we ate at McDonalds, then drove on to Miami Airport, pausing on the way to buy a pair of 2-way radios at Radio Shack on the Dixie Highway. We found a much friendlier (and cheaper) motel than the nearby Days Inn, used a week ago, so we checked in for our last 3 nights in the USA.

After dumping the luggage (but not the bikes) in the room, we returned the vehicle to Budget Rental Return at the airport, just making their 7 pm deadline. Finally, we had to cycle 5 miles back to the motel, calling at Airport Departures to validate our tickets on the way.

The long hot day (over 90 deg F) ended in style, with coffee, apple pies and a bag of popcorn from McDonalds!

19 May 2001   Airways Motel, Miami Airport,   Florida   33 km (21 miles)

After a good free breakfast, we found we hadn't finished cycling yet! One of the new 2-way radios, which had been charged up overnight, proved faulty. We rang the nearest 3 Radio Shack stores but none had our model in stock, so we had to ride back to where we bought it, 10 miles past the airport towards Homestead (not our favourite ride). We braved the impatient drivers on the busy highway, using the sidewalk pavements below the overhead metro railway when possible. Having changed the radio and lunched at McDonalds, we returned to the motel.

We bathed, did our laundry, watched TV, trying to believe that it was really over, we'd really finished cycling round the world! M wrote up the log book (on which this account is based). Barry worked on the statistics, given below. Updating the expenses, we found our daily average for the year was just under ₤31 (exclusive of air fares).

20 May 2001   Airways Motel, Miami Airport,   Florida   0 km

Our final rest and packing day. We wrote post cards and checked over the bicycles. M swam 15 lengths of the 'largest hotel pool in Miami', then dried out while reading 'USA Today' in the Florida sunshine. Barry even did the crossword. This is idleness!

We celebrated with an excellent 3-course meal at the nearby IHOP Restaurant (International House of Pancakes) – not pancakes, but the daily special served from 3-7 pm. Soup, salad, pot roast of beef, apple crunchy pie and ice cream. Real slow food! Still can't believe this is our last night.

21 May 2001   Jumbo Jet BA 206   Miami-London, Heathrow   4 km (2.5 miles)

After eating our fill of breakfast muffins and pastries, we left at 11 am for a rather wobbly ride to the airport, due to all the weight being over the back wheels after packing the front panniers inside the rear ones.

The bikes were dismantled and checked in, the post cards posted. We bought 2 newspapers with our last US coins, ate the lunch and orange juice we'd packed and generally passed the afternoon.

Our 747 departed on time at 5.05 pm and we had very good seats (centre aisle near the back) for an 8.5 hour flight. An excellent dinner of salmon or chicken was served, then turbulence interrupted coffee, though there was plenty of wine and water. A 'continental breakfast' (muffins again) was provided before landing at 6.30 am London time. With a 5-hour time difference, it felt like 1.30 am to us.

22 May 2001   A Farm near Gillingham, Dorset,   England

Zombie-like, minus a night's sleep, we touched down at London Heathrow, where our bikes and bags appeared almost at once on the conveyor. Our next problem was to reach our home - our motorhome - well rested after a year in a Dorset farmer's barn.

While Barry reassembled the bicycles, M changed our remaining New Zealand and US dollars into sterling and found a half-hourly bus service to Woking and Reading (confusingly named 'Railair', as it linked with the railway at Woking). The female bus driver was persuaded to stow our bikes in the huge empty hold (after the ticket office had insisted they should be boxed) and we left at 8.10 am.

Less than an hour later, we alighted at Woking Railway Station, still feeling bewildered. We recovered over a full English breakfast in a nearby caf้, then enquired about trains to Gillingham in Dorset, where (we hoped) our motorhome awaited. Luckily, the 2 (and only 2) cycle spaces on the 10 am train were free and we rushed to catch it. We had to haul the laden bikes up the stairs and over the bridge to platform 4, as they wouldn't fit in the lift, though we need not have hurried - all trains seem to run a standard 20 minutes late. There were just 3 carriages and no buffet service, but what an easy way to travel!

Before noon we were drinking coffee on Gillingham Station, the year's circle almost complete. We stopped at a Somerfield Supermarket in a kind of daze. Whatever do we need; what did we leave in the motorhome? In the entrance to the shop, an optimistic man tried to sell us gas for a house we don't have!

After a couple of miles of cycling along country lanes, we were back at the storage barn! Our motorhome was a bit dusty and fusty, but not a bit rusty, and she started first time. We drove proudly onto the camping field, did the minimum of unpacking and searched out some tins for dinner: steak & kidney pie, peas and rice pudding. We slept well.

Favourite Road Signs

In New Zealand: 'Distant Adventures - 53 km'

In Fiji: 'Drink, Don't Drive'

In the USA: 'Prison Area – Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers'

Note: Where a motel price is given, it is for a double room usually including either complimentary coffee (in the lobby) or a coffee-maker (in the room) and sometimes a light breakfast.

Look out for booklets of motel vouchers or coupons which are widely distributed in fast food joints and visitor centres.

The 'bike map' referred to throughout this travel log is the set of (very) detailed cyclists' maps prepared by the Adventure Cycling Association and on sale through their website and from the CTC shop. The maps need to be constantly checked against a smaller-scale map (maps of each State are often free); as you will see, we often took short cuts.

For a slide show of images of this cycle ride across the southern United States, click: Across the USA 2001.

For a slide show of images of an earlier cycle ride across the northern United States, click: Across the USA 1992.

For general information, including an Anglo-American dictionary, click: Travel Notes USA

Daily Distances and Averages for the Cycle Ride across the USA

Day

State

Place

Distance

Distance

Total

Total

Average

Average

No

km

miles

km

miles

km/day

miles/day

1

CA

Sunset Beach

78

49

78

49

78

49

2

CA

San Clemente

75

47

153

96

77

48

3

CA

La Jolla

91

57

244

153

81

51

4

CA

San Diego

32

20

276

173

69

43

5

CA

Potrero Valley

81

51

357

223

71

45

6

CA

Ocotillo

84

53

441

276

74

46

7

CA

Brawley

94

59

535

334

76

48

8

CA

Palo Verde

112

70

647

404

81

51

9

AZ

Quartzsite

75

47

722

451

80

50

10

AZ

Salome

63

39

785

491

79

49

11

AZ

Wickenburg

86

54

871

544

79

49

12

AZ

Phoenix

84

53

955

597

80

50

13

AZ

Apache Junction

68

43

1023

639

79

49

14

AZ

Globe

94

59

1117

698

80

50

15

AZ

Thatcher

120

75

1237

773

82

52

16

AZ

Clifton

64

40

1301

813

81

51

17

NM

Buckhorn

74

46

1375

859

81

51

18

NM

Silver City

71

44

1446

904

80

50

19

NM

Hillsboro

90

56

1536

960

81

51

20

NM

Hatch

69

43

1605

1003

80

50

21

TX

Anthony

103

64

1708

1068

81

51

22

TX

El Paso

74

46

1782

1114

81

51

23

TX

Fort Hancock

76

48

1858

1161

81

50

24

TX

Sierra Blanca

59

37

1917

1198

80

50

25

TX

Van Horn

58

36

1975

1234

79

49

26

TX

Alpine

166

104

2141

1338

82

51

27

TX

Sanderson

135

84

2276

1423

84

53

28

TX

Langtry

99

62

2375

1484

85

53

29

TX

Del Rio

100

63

2475

1547

85

53

30

TX

Brackettville

62

39

2537

1586

85

53

31

TX

Campwood

82

51

2619

1637

84

53

32

TX

Leakey

42

26

2661

1663

83

52

33

TX

Comfort

108

68

2769

1731

84

52

34

TX

Blanco

68

43

2837

1773

83

52

35

TX

Lockhart

98

61

2935

1834

84

52

36

TX

La Grange

94

59

3029

1893

84

53

37

TX

Navasota

117

73

3146

1966

85

53

38

TX

Coldspring

114

71

3260

2038

86

54

39

TX

Silsbee

123

77

3383

2114

87

54

40

LO

De Ridder

117

73

3500

2188

88

55

41

LO

Opelousas

145

91

3645

2278

89

56

42

LO

Baton Rouge

114

71

3759

2349

90

56

43

LO

Covington

102

64

3861

2413

90

56

44

MS

Bay St Louis

95

59

3956

2473

90

56

45

MS

Pascagoula

87

54

4043

2527

90

56

46

AL

Dauphin Island

70

44

4113

2571

89

56

47

FL

Pensacola

94

59

4207

2629

90

56

48

FL

Crestview

90

56

4297

2686

90

56

49

FL

Chipley

109

68

4406

2754

90

56

50

FL

Chattahoochee

76

48

4482

2801

90

56

51

FL

Tallahassee

68

43

4550

2844

89

56

52

FL

Madison

106

66

4656

2910

90

56

53

FL

Lake City

79

49

4735

2959

89

56

54

FL

Starke

71

44

4806

3004

89

56

55

FL

East Palatka

74

46

4880

3050

89

55

56

FL

Daytona Beach

95

59

4975

3109

89

56

57

FL

Titusville

88

55

5063

3164

89

56

58

FL

Indialantic

81

51

5144

3215

89

55

59

FL

Fort Pierce

94

59

5238

3274

89

55

60

FL

North Palm Beach

94

59

5332

3333

89

56

61

FL

Fort Lauderdale

82

51

5414

3384

89

55

62

FL

Miami Airport

69

43

5483

3427

88

55

63

FL

Florida City

54

34

5537

3461

88

55

64

FL

Marathon

124

78

5661

3538

88

55

65

FL

Key West

83

52

5744

3590

88

55

66

FL

Miami Airport

45

28

5789

3618

88

55

Distances and Times of the Round-the-World Journey

Country

Days

Days Cycling

Miles

Average

Singapore

4

2

60

30

Australia

88

65

3440

53

New Zealand

160

108

4625

43

Fiji

7

6

300

50

USA

82

65

3645

56

 

 

 

 

 

Totals

341

246

12070

49

 

 

 

 

 

Coast to Coast

 

 

 

 

Australia

68

55

3025

55

USA

60

52

3000

58

No time was lost through illness; Xmas and the New Year consumed a 7-day break in New Zealand and stormy weather kept us indoors for 4 days in total. Otherwise, non-cycling days were used for sight-seeing, maintenance, writing, repairs, cleaning, reading, shopping, planning ahead, telephoning, crosswords, listening to the BBC World Service on our short-wave radio, etc.

Chart of Daily Distances and Running Averages (miles)

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