Home for the Holidays! 

12/25/2016 

 The time has come for the continuous traveling of the journey to end. But the impacts of voyage will continue to be prevalent in our lives long into the future. On Tuesday morning Kyle and I pedaled 50 miles from Henderson State Park to St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, FL. There we spent 3 days relaxing fully and allowing ourselves to prepare for the transition back to Pinellas County. The days were filled with reading, walking, lounging on the beach, and finally disassembling the bike for the car ride home. On Thursday we walked to the beach and were greeted by calm water, still air, blue skies, white sand, and sunshine so bright it caused the water to look green. Walking over to the large boulders that begin on the beach and protrude into the Gulf, creating a break wall for the harbor entrance, we climbed the boulders and found a spot to sit. Quietly we observed our surroundings: fisherman casting off the rocks, a sailboat and some powerboats enjoying the first day of calm weather in weeks, a large offshore vessel coming into port, fish jumping through the water’s clear surface, waves lapping gently on the shore, and birds gliding overhead. A perfect afternoon to sit together and reflect on the last 6 months.

  
That evening Kyle and disassembled the bike while I organized our gear. We made dinner, read our novels, and retreated into our tent, knowing it was our last night in our small green home. A home that protected us from wind, rain, storms, flooding, scorching sun, relentless mosquitos, and flying sand. A nylon house that kept us close to the earth allowing us to be on the same level as the bugs, plants, and dirt. Sleeping well we awoke and began taking down camp. Around 9am we got the call from my dad that he and my mom were pulling into the state park! How fun they both managed to come 🙂 An hour later we had said our hellos, loaded the bike on the roof, our gear in the trunk, visited the beach, and were on our way back to Pinellas County.  

The first few hours of the 6.5hr drive were, of course, filled with stories, laughter, questions, and catching up. Kyle and I both commented on how quickly the vehicle was moving- going 70mph felt very strange when we were used to 15 or under! Out of instinct I found myself checking the size of the shoulder, if there was a bike lane, and the quality of the sidewalks. Around 5pm we arrived at the 7 mile bridge bringing us across Tampa Bay and into Pinellas County. And just like that, we were back where we started 183 days ago when we drove over that bridge, Solvi in tow, on our way to Wisconsin.  

After 6.5hrs we were all excited to get out of the car and I was thrilled to see my parent’s dogs, one of which we have had since I was 9! That evening we ordered pizza, talked, listened to Christmas music, wrapped some presents, and just enjoyed all being together again. Quickly after arriving at their house Kyle and I went into the backyard to see Solvi! It was awesome to be re-United with her again and to go through the gear, clothes, books, and journals that had been left behind for the bike adventure.  

Currently, it is Christmas afternoon. Kyle is responding to some emails while I’m writing in my journal; the smell of Christmas dinner cooking inside is lingering in the air. We have been enjoying our time at my parent’s house the past couple days. Yesterday I found myself curled up on the couch, a cup of coffee in one hand, my novel in another- Christmas music playing quietly in the background, candles emitting a soft glow, and the dogs on the ground below me snoring happily. I found myself feeling content and grateful to be happy and healthy on Christmas Eve. Kyle and I put the tandem back together and rode it to the grocery store; we had so much fun with no gear!  

Tomorrow or the next day we will go check on our house- a 35ft sailboat that has been kept at our good friend’s house at their dock. Kyle and I have been living aboard our sailboat, Sirocco, for a few years now and have missed her greatly while we’ve been gone. A huge thanks to Courtney and Micah for watching after here while we were away!  

While the last couple days have definitely been a transition for Kyle and I, we are both feeling good about being back…plus it’s only for a few months before we take off on another adventure anyway 🙂 For the next few weeks we will work as much as possible, switch off staying with my parents, on our boat, and with friends before moving aboard our friend’s sailboat. As of now the plan is to leave around April 1st aboard our friend’s sailboat and take a 4 month journey to help him move to a different part of the U.S. – but I’ll save those details for a later date! This game we call life is so full of opportunities, experiences, and endless places to see and people to meet. Kyle and I are looking forward to living a bit transient and staying open to all opportunities, rather than choosing to settle down somewhere for an extended period of time. We both seem to have caught the travel bug and we can’t imagine stopping exploring when there is still so much to see, to do, to live! Onward 🙂  

This is our home, Sirocco, that we can’t wait to see after six months away!

P.S. We have received a few questions in regard to the blog and if we have any video footage to share- I’m working on a small video, a photo album, and a reflection of our voyage which will all appear here sometime in the next week or so. Thanks for all the support!  

Welcome to the Sunshine State!!

12/16/2016
124 days, 12 states, and over 2,500 miles we did it!! This morning, around 10am we pedaled across the imaginary line separating Alabama and Florida. Kyle and I, as a team made it from Wisconsin to Florida by man power 🙂 What a wonderful feeling it was! We hugged, kissed, yelled, took photos, smiled, ran around, and celebrated the best we could on the side of the road with 25mph head winds. I had thought about it, actually making it to Florida, countless times. But actually doing it- actually pedaling across that “line” was something special. Something I haven’t quite been able to articulate yet; I’m not ready to try and write about the array of emotions we experienced, therefore I’ll give it some time before creating a reflection. We both laughed rather hard when we realized that as soon as we reached that Florida sign, we felt ready to be home. I was not expecting this, I was thinking that I was going to feel sad, confused, not ready to have made it. But the exact opposite happened- together we yelled “Fred! We’re ready! You can come get us now!” We were joking, but my dad, Fred, is going to pick us up on the 23rd and I guess we were feeling ready a bit sooner 🙂 Laughing and elated on the feeling of making it, we pedaled away, into the damn headwind and continued the 33 miles to our next ‘warmshower’ stay. The day had a light hearted feeling about it- I had never been so happy to be in Florida, even the FL License plates made me smile. It was marvelous and spectacular and there is no one else in the world I would have rather shared it with than Kyle. You could have never convinced us we would make it to Florida…on a tandem bicycle…but there we were, pedaling along the paved path next to the beach having made it to Florida. Woo!  
Anyway, the rest of the day as I mentioned above was exciting, light-hearted, and despite the strong headwind, rather fun. Around 2:30pm we arrived to downtown Pensacola and stopped in at a bar for one celebratory beer. We only had 7 miles to our hosts’ house so we took some time to relax a bit before continuing over the big, loud, fast moving bridge into Gulf Breeze, FL. Pedaling over the bridge was not very fun- despite having a huge shoulder the cars moving 55mph next to us and the wind howling at our faces made the entire thing a big overwhelming. I was thrilled when we got off the bridge and hopped onto the sidewalk. That is when we first met Charlie, our host, who had surprised us and came to meet us on his bicycle. We made some introductions while pedaling and followed him to his house a couple miles away. There we met Missy, his wife, and got settled into their motor home, parked in their driveway, which is where we spent the night. Charlie and Missy were the most wonderful hosts and we all had such an awesome time together. From the moment we pulled up in their garage the conversation did not stop until we said goodnight. Charlie and Kyle took apart our tandem bicycle to try and find the source of an annoying ticking noise we were dealing with, while Missy and I went inside and talked about careers, the school system, and life choices. While Missy and I were sitting on the couch chatting Charlie came rushing in, “Missy, do you want to ride the tandem bicycle??” Charlie and Missy are both avid bicyclists, they do long distances and Missy even does triathlons- but neither of them had been on a tandem bicycle. It was pretty entertaining watching them get going on the bike, nervous and laughing at how different it was. They pedaled down the block and when they came back informed us that they didn’t know how to turn it around so instead got off and picked it up to turn it around. We all laughed at this and then went inside to have some dinner and cold beers. The remainder of the evening was spent in their homey kitchen, listening to Christmas music, a fire glowing in the fireplace, chatting and laughing. The four of us had such a blast and we spent so much time laughing that my cheeks hurt. Thank you so much Missy and Charlie. You guys went above and beyond in your hosting and we appreciate the hospitality so much. The motor home was such a nice place to stay and we wish we lived closer so we could hang out more as I can tell we would all be such good friends. The magic of traveling and meeting wonderful humans!  

12/19/2016 

Our day of pedaling after leaving Charlie and Missy’s was a spectacular treat. Kyle and I were both completely unaware of what Pensacola Beach had to offer. At first it was similar to the beaches in St. Petersburg: tall condos, restaurants, development, people, and piers. But as we pedaled farther East on the paved bike trail the development slowly started to dwindle away until suddenly I realized we were surrounded, in all directions, by raw, untouched sand dunes and white beaches. Besides a few road signs there was absolutely no development on the dune and beaches. For about 8 miles we were surrounded by the most beautiful preserve. It was windy, but sunny and we pedaled along as the salt spray came misting through the air. Despite being 100 yards from the actual water the spray splattered our glasses and covered our skin, which for the first time in weeks was uncovered by clothing because it was finally warm enough for shorts and short sleeve! Stopping a few times to admire the large expanse of sand dunes and Gulf waters which seemed to be green due to the white sand, we smiled as we pedaled along. While pedaling we met another bicyclist named Mike. He was out for his daily 20 mile ride and ended up pedaling with us for a half hour or so. We chatted and got to know each other while he showed us some side streets and gave some advice for the next 20 miles of our day. It was wonderful to meet him and we feel thankful he took the time out of his day to pedal along with us. Thanks Mike!  

50 miles later we arrived at Henderson Beach State Park where we are currently staying for a couple of days. Right before we arrived at the Park we met a couple who were also on a bicycle tour from Fort. Lauderdale to Houston, TX. They were from England and have been traveling by bicycle for over a year visiting places like Japan, Singapore, Europe, and America. It was fun to chat with them a bit and we laughed as they were heading to Missy and Charlie’s! What a small world it is in the biking ‘warmshowers’ community!  

As I write this, we are currently sitting at Panera Bread in Destin, Florida. It is really cold, wet, and windy outside and we decided to take a walk from the State Park and find some warmth with wifi and hot coffee! We have been enjoying our stay at the State Park thus far and will be leaving tomorrow morning for our last day of pedaling! Tomorrow we will pedal 50 miles to St. Andrews State Park where we will spend three nights before my dad comes and picks us up on the 23rd. As the days begin to dwindle down on this grand journey we find ourselves contemplative and nostalgic thinking about the last 6 months and all it has entailed. Onward! (For a little while longer at least :))  

Gulf Pedaling and a Wet Ferry Ride 

12/13/2016

After leaving the Firestation on Monday morning we headed back down towards the Gulf to see if the paved bike path picked back up. And that it did! Excitedly we hopped back on the paved path and again spent our entire day within 25ft of the beach. Also we had an amazing surprise of sunshine! It was supposed to be cloudy but the sun decided against that and blasted all the clouds away. Stopping a lot along the beach to relax, snack, and call our parents to catch up, we again had a very leisurely day of traveling. Although, while we were underway due to the paved path with no stop signs or intersections we made really good time and had already travelled 25 miles by 11am. When we stayed with our hosts from warmshowers.com outside of New Orleans they had mentioned that Ocean Springs, MS was a really cute little town and that we should check out the Main Street. So once we came down another rather long and steep bridge and arrived in Ocean Springs we decided to splurge a little and go out to lunch. We pedaled along the beach for a bit before turning left onto Washington Street. Finding a café with fresh sandwiches, salads, and sweet potato fries we sat outside and drank water with lemon while munching on the freshest food I’ve had in a while. I must say that is one of the things I am most excited for when this journey ends- going back to eating only healthy, fresh, non packaged foods!  

After lunch we checked Google Maps for our route that would take us 14 miles to Shepard State Park. The weather was calling for thunderstorms on Tuesday and we decided to take a zero day at a campground rather than peddle into 15mph winds with rain. Arriving at the state park around 2:45pm we set up our tent and headed straight for the showers. Not having the river to shower in every other day has been interesting and we try to shower at every chance we get. Lately when we have stayed at campgrounds they have all been really catered to RV camping and not tent camping so the sites are manicured and almost look like a parking lot. Shepard State Park is completely different and I was thrilled when we said we wanted to primitive camp and the ranger said we could set up our tent anywhere we wanted as long as it was off the main road. Therefore we found a secluded little spot surrounded by tall pines, oak, and cedar trees with the ground completely covered in pine needles (which always make me think of the Box Car Kids). Kyle set up our boom tent from Solvi as a rain shelter for the bike and our gear that doesn’t go in the tent while I did some route research for the next couple days. After showering, setting up camp, and cooking some dinner we got in the tent early and read a while before falling asleep.

Awaking this morning around 7am we hung out in the tent during the rain and then once it stopped headed out to explore. The state park has many walking trails and it was a foggy morning so we enjoyed the stillness around us as we walked through the leaves and pine needle covered trails. Needing to do some laundry we biked up to a laundry mat and read while our clothes dried. We are currently sitting at a picnic table near a pavilion while some of our devices charge. Kyle is reading, I am typing. Squirrels are running all about up and down the trees while a few crows speak loudly to each other in the trees. The air is still but muggy and as I look out towards the dense trees I see fog still lingering above the ground as though it is waiting for wind or sunshine to come take it away. Today is the 13th of December and in 10 days, on the 23rd of December, regardless of where we are in Florida my dad is going to come pick us up so we can be home for Christmas. The thought of this is rather strange and I am not sure I fully comprehend it, but I am very much looking forward to seeing my family and eating healthier and fresher food. Also the idea of not having to check the weather every single day sounds pretty nice as well. 10 days, 300ish miles, and two more states to go- Kyle and I are making sure to enjoy every last moment!

12/14/2016 

Pedaling away from Shepard State Park we were bundled up and ready for the gray, foggy day ahead of us. While it never did rain, there was a consistent mist that left the surface of things a bit damp. Our destination was 48 miles to Dauphin Island, AL where we would stay at another ‘warmshowers’ host. The day was spent mostly on the sides of highways, which was actually pretty fitting for the gloominess of the day. It seems that whenever we have days of pedaling that aren’t very attractive and on the highways it is gray and gloomy outside. Whereas when we have days spent by the beach the sun is shining. We played some music out of our speaker in order to keep us motivated as we pedaled into the wind and mist. Around 3pm we arrived at the bridge leading into Dauphin Island; Mobile Bay surrounded us on both sides as we approached the bridge. At this time the fog was so thick I felt I could have sliced it with a knife. We pedaled up this massive bridge and couldn’t even see the water looming 65ft below. On the map Dauphin Island looks so incredibly beautiful and there we were, on top of a 65ft bridge overlooking Dauphin Island, yet I couldn’t see a speck of land; it was a strange feeling being so encapsulated in fog. Continuing on down the bridge we coasted onto the bike trail that runs the length of the island before turning left to our hosts’ house. Our hosts, Jim and Jan (for those of you who are cyclists Jim is crazyguyonabike) were not on the island but have set their house up so that touring cyclist can camp under their house which is on tall stilts. The set up was so nice- a porta potty, flat covered spot for our tent, a small table and chairs, a hammock, an outlet, wifi unlocked, and some lights. The temperature was dropping as we set up our tent and cooked some hot soup and rice. Bundled up in our sleeping bag and liners before the sun even went down we spent the remainder of our evening reading while sipping on hot tea. Thank you so much Jim and Jan for allowing us a safe place to camp under your house!  

12/15/2016 

Dauphin Island is the southern most island on Mobile Bay and to save ourselves over 100 miles of pedaling we decided to take the ferry across Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan. Running a bit late we pedaled our fastest on the bike trail in order to make the 8am ferry. The morning was sunny, but freezing and extremely windy; gusts were about 35 from the North which brought the temperature down considerably. When we arrived at the booth to pay the fee to get on the ferry the man told us that he could only send us across on the ferry if we were one way as they weren’t sure the ferry would be able to make any more trips the rest of the day due to the wind. This was fine with us and we pedaled onto the ferry. One of the employees showed us a small, partially opened room on the ferry that we could stand. I wasn’t quite sure why he was offering for us to be inside, but said thank you anyway. 10 minutes later I fully understood why they were suggesting we hide in the room. About 5 cars were on the ferry with us, filled with people sitting in the warmth of the heated car; then there was Kyle and I, standing near the railing with our tandem bicycle. At first it was enjoyable as we watched the 4ft waves crash against the side of the ferry as it left the safety of the port. The farther we got from Dauphin Island the bigger the waves got, until suddenly they were crashing onto the ferry causing the floor to be covered in cold salt spray. I looked down at my socks and sandals and Kyle’s loafers and started to giggle. We were freezing, it was windy, and we kept getting sprayed with salt water. Pushing the bike into the small room we tried to hide, but the floor was exposed and the water kept coming in. Kyle found a broom and spent 15 minutes pushing the water out as to keep our exposed feet somewhat dry. It was cold and wet, but still absolutely beautiful. The sun shining down on the breaking waves, the flock of seagulls using the boat as a way to get across the bay, and a few dolphin in the distance. Kyle and I both felt a bit relieved when we saw Fort Morgan in the distance as it meant dry land and pedaling to keep us warm. We said our thank you’s, hopped off the ferry, changed our socks, and pedaled the 24 miles to our next camping spot.  

Fort Morgan was an awesome little Island that was very bike friendly. We enjoyed a paved bike path separate from the road and as the day continued the temperature rose a bit. Finding a sunny patch on the bike path we made green tea and sandwiches for lunch. Around 2:30 we arrived at Gulf State Park to camp for the evening. The state park is massive and we explored the trails near our campsite which were peaceful and warm protected from the wind chill. Overall, despite being cold, it was a fun day filled with new places to explore and sunshine.

Awesome Days and Awesome Firemen!

12/10/2016 
We left New Orleans! I say that with enthusiasm because it was such a wonderful, beautiful, and lively place that I was slightly concerned we’d never leave 🙂 Kyle and I were planning on just staying for one night…then it turned into two and before we knew it we had been there almost a week. Having just the most awesome time and meeting new friends the days passed quickly. We also got 2 full days of work and made some money helping with house projects which was a nice boost for the last two weeks of our trip. We both have fallen in love with the community, music, art, and aliveness of the area and both know we will be back to stay for much longer in the future. Therefore when we found out we finally had a couple days of sunshine we said goodbye to the people, music, and city of NOLA. I already miss the music which seems to constantly play in the house we were staying in or just out on the streets. Kyle commented this morning that the Ninth Ward, where we spent a lot of our time, was just so wonderful because it was so alive- music, people, drama, dogs, kids, bikes, neighbors out and about- no matter what time of the day or day of the week. Anyway, time to let that place go for now and enjoy the beauty of where I am right now!  

We left around 10am and pedaled about 40 miles to Pearlington, MS. The day was chilly due to the North wind, but the sky blue and the sun shining we didn’t seem to mind. Getting out of New Orleans was a pain and we got lost near a railroad yard and accidentally took a private road- oops. But the people were friendly and gave us directions to Highway 90 which is where we’d spend the remainder of our day. I know that highway and bicycle doesn’t sound very inviting, but it was actually great! I-10 is a major freeway which runs parallel with 90 so most of the traffic was on the freeway. Also the shoulder was huge and there were 2 lanes going both directions so sometimes we’d just take a lane if the shoulder got too small. The ride was filled with gorgeous views, lots of bridges which gave even better views, and a road surrounded by a wildlife preserve and some “camps” (fancy cabins on stilts near the marsh people use as hunting/fishing/vacationing camps). Mid-day brought us to a rather steep bridge to cross over Lake St. Catherine. Pedaling real hard we made it to the top and observed the water around us. In the far distance, 25 miles away, we could see the faded outline of New Orleans. I absolutely love pedaling up-hill- the challenge, the burn, the work is something I crave. Kyle, on the other hand, does not feel the same way. He does, however, love the downhill- my least favorite! Haha this always causes some laughter and joking disagreements as I beg Kyle to go really slow down the hill- the only time I wish I had control of the brakes!

Taking lots of breaks we enjoyed a leisure pace for the day and were happy when we saw signs for the Pearl River- not only were we done for the day, but also crossed the LA/MS border- one state closer to Florida! I used Google to find a Fire Station as they usually either allow camping on their lawn or have suggestions on free camping. Kyle hopped off the bike and knocked on the chief’s door. A woman answered and suggested we head down to the boat launch near the Pearl River as we can camp overnight there. Saying our thank you’s we biked the quarter mile and were greeted by a marvelous spot along the river.

A dock, grass, trees, and a sun preparing to decent below the low marsh across from the river. Sparrows wisp across the water’s surface and I find myself sitting on a bench on the end of the dock. A great blue heron stalks slowly in the marshes to my right and the surrounding trees are still in the crisp air. As the sun sinks below the marsh the sky enlightens in that familiar orange glow we experienced in the Gulf of Mexico. I sigh as I think about Solvi and how much we miss her and all the adventures she brought us. But then I remind myself about Daisy (that’s what we named our tandem bicycle-Thanks Rick!) and feel grateful that I still get to experience the glowing orange sky after a long day of adventuring. As we finish cooking our dinner over our small camp stove on the dock, the sunset continues to amaze us as the colors get more vivid. A jet airplane flies high above and even the trail it leaves behind is pink- creating artwork against the pale sky. The trees across the river have lost their color as it gets darker and have become black silhouettes against an orange horizon. Kyle grabs my hand and squeezes hard as I look up and smile at him observing his blue eyes gazing at me from behind his yellow hat, gray rain jacket hood, and full beard- life sure is good.


12/11/2016 

Today was an awesome day! I am sure finding this biking thing to be fun and rewarding- this morning I tried to convince Kyle that our next adventure should be from FL to CA on a bike…he suggested a motorcycle haha! Anyway, last night the temperatures were about 33 degrees and it was really cold so we were both thrilled when the sun came up this morning. Making breakfast and packing up the bike we were underway around 8:30am. We pedaled on Highway 90 for a bit before taking a right onto Lower Bay Road. The road was quite beautiful and we had it mostly to ourselves. Surrounded completely by tall pines and dense forest we pedaled along as the road winded and turned until eventually it led us directly to the Gulf! Again, for the second time, we were re-United with the small ocean. And not only were we able to see the Gulf, but the 26 miles left in our day was spent on a paved path 10-50ft from the lapping salt water. Despite it being windy and a bit nippy while riding, it was a gorgeous sunny day. I found myself in such a good mood that for about 45 minutes I made a point to very enthusiastically wave and smile at every car heading the opposite direction. Being that the road parallel to the paved bike path was only 25mph most everyone saw me and I think that all but the ones looking down at their phones waved back! I had a couple of people really smiling and a few laughed really hard. It was marvelous! Getting complete strangers to smile so big was real rewarding, which only increased my good mood. Soon I was laughing and singing and having a good old time on the back of the bike. And yes, I was still pedaling!  

Around 12pm we arrived at a 2 mile bridge going over the open Gulf. There was a big separate section for pedestrians and bikes which we really appreciated. Thank you to the town’s of Waveland, Bay of St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, and Ocean Springs for being so bike friendly! These small towns right on the coast were cute and had wonderful little communities- I had never known they existed! Eventually the paved bike path ended and we took lots of neighborhood roads to get to our destination of Gulfport, MS. As usual the last 5-10 miles were long and difficult and we weren’t finding anywhere to camp. Using Google we headed to an RV campground, but it was closed. So we pedaled a couple more miles to the Gulfport Fire Station #2 and asked if they had any suggestions. I rang the doorbell and was greeted by 2 very friendly firemen who, when I asked if they knew where we could camp, pointed to the small fenced in yard connected to the fire station. Awesome. Kyle and I were both exhausted and the idea of pedaling to the cheap motel we were going to use as a last resort did not sound appealing. We set up our tent and made some dinner in the grass while the sun went down. I walked towards the garage where the fires trucks are kept to use the restroom and met a couple more firemen. We all chatted and laughed for a while about Kyle and I’s journey. As always, I was marveled at the kindness and safe free place to stay.

The next morning around 7am as Kyle and I were finishing packing up, more firemen started showing up while the ones we had met the night before were packing up to leave. Shift change. A fireman named Keith came to greet us in the back and was just so thrilled about our adventure. He thought it was just so cool we were out seeing the world and asked a plethora of questions. He then gave us a tour of the station and showed us all the different areas where the firemen hang out and what their days consist of. We had a great time chatting with him and I really appreciated the tour. Right before we left he sent us off with some cold water and snicker bars for a snack. Kyle and I both felt very grateful to have met the firemen and Keith said he felt grateful to have met us. It’s a wonderful world when such simple interactions are so impactful. Thank you so incredibly much to all the firemen at the Gulfport Firestation #2- not just for our kindness to us but for your service to the community! We will continue to pay it forward as we travel on.

New Orleans, Music, and Exploring 

12/6/2016
Hopping on our bike after walking it off the ferry, we headed towards the boardwalk that runs along the river’s edge. Children in school uniforms were running around and feeding the seagulls outside of the Audubon Aquarium. The screams of delight and laughter were infectious and I couldn’t help but smile and giggle myself as we rode past. Continuing on down the board walk we saw people from every walks of life out enjoying the day of no rain after quite a few days of wetness and gray. Many people had lots to say about our tandem bicycle and we enjoyed the laughter and joking that their comments brought. My favorite comment was when a few guys sitting on a bench yelled out “Hey!! She’s not pedaling!” I was totally pedaling! For real 🙂 It was pretty funny because our hosts, Bill and Erin, from the night before had told us that people would say that to us, and it happened a few times. Anyway, we turned off the board walk and started heading towards the massive cathedral we could see protruding above the other buildings. That is when the true adventure started. As I have mentioned before I am not a very experienced bike rider- especially not in busy places. Thankfully Kyle is not only experienced but rather skilled at navigating through such situations because as soon as we entered the French Quarter, what to me seems like the heart of New Orleans, here is what we were biking with: thousands of people, cars, police on mopeds, horses, horse drawn carriages, bike taxis, other bikers, countless van taxis, scooters, and a few balloon and hot dog carts. Everywhere we looked, turned, or moved was filled with tight spaces and quick maneuvering. Kyle handled it like a champ and I felt completely safe and at ease on the back of the bike as we explored the cultural and historically filled city.  

The streets were lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and my favorite, really awesome houses, apartments, and duplexes- all connected as though they were one long building, but distinct from one another due to different colors and designs. Blues, pinks, greens, purples, and brick colored buildings with balconies above them. Many streets closed to cars, on others cars, people, horses, and bikes, shared the roads. As we pedaled along I was filled with awe and joy at the culture and beauty around me. Not just the buildings and the network of the city, but the people! People, human beings, are so incredibly amazing and the French Quarter instilled this upon me even deeper. Kyle and I are on a tight budget so stores, bars, and restaurants were just to be enjoyed from the outside as we pedaled along; it turns out that ended up being the most wonderful gift. Because we weren’t looking for a place to go inside and spend money we decided to enjoy the streets- which I truly believe is where the real talent and performances are. We would pedal along until we heard some sort of music playing and then would follow the music until we found the source. Our first stop was on the corner of Royal Street and there was a beautiful girl named Maddy and 6 jazz musicians behind her. The banjo, guitar, tuba, trombone, drum, and washboard supplemented her amazing voice as she sang soul filled jazz tunes and in between verses played the trombone. We leaned the bicycle up against a pole and took a seat on the curb; during a break between songs Maddy took interest in our bicycle and our journey and we chatted a bit while they got ready for the next song. Before we knew it Maddy had offered for us to come stay at her house, shower, and use it as a home base while we explored the city. I took down her number but told her we had already found a place to stay using Warmshowers, but that if it fell through we’d give her a call. Later Kyle and I would find out how small of a world it really is!

Eventually ‘Maddy and Jazz Friends’ packed up for the day and Kyle and I headed onwards to continue our exploration. We walked the bike for a few minutes just to experience the city at walking pace, and then hopped back on and travelled down some side roads. That is where we saw all the colorful and unique homes. As we were pedaling down the road we passed a violinist set up on a corner; she was playing on her own and once again we screeched to a stop and turned around. We set the bike up on a fence and plopped down on the curb across from her to enjoy the music. This was the theme of our day and I was grateful we chose to spend time on the streets with the musicians as the talent was unbelievable and the positive energy flowing strong. As the hours of the day began to dwindle down we pedaled to a bike shop to get a spare tube as we had used ours. Once again we were greeted by friendly and interesting folks at the shop; a warehouse with bicycle parts but also different artists and craftsman working on different projects. We chatted with the owner for a while and he gave us some tips for our upcoming route. Saying our goodbyes we headed toward our host Brett’s house in the Ninth Ward area. Despite people telling us to steer clear of this area, we went with our gut instinct and pedaled to his house. The area of Ninth Ward, while a bit run down in spots, is actually rather beautiful. The houses aren’t manicured, the people are friendly, and what I noticed the most was a huge sense of community. I could feel the history, culture, impact of Katrina, and the network of a community rebuilding their neighborhood as we pedaled along. Arriving at Brett’s house we were greeted by a friendly guy, about our age, and an awesome house! After saying our hellos and meeting each other he showed us around the house; it’s an old house that was damaged quite a bit during Katrina. Brett has been living in the house for 4 years and while it is a project house for sure, it has a lot of potential. Tall ceilings, wooden floors, big windows, lots of space, and endless amounts of wood to be used to restore the house. He offered for us to stay inside, but I loved the backyard so much that I really wanted to stay in the tent so we set the tent up before making some dinner and meeting the other people who live at the house. Three people, including Brett live in the house, and all of them are musicians. Brett’s friend and his son, a 14 year old, both live there and I was so impressed by the 14 year old’s musical talent. From the piano to the saxophone to the clarinet- he practiced all this morning and I was so thrilled to be able to experience the talent.

Kyle and I’s plan was to just stay for the night and head out early this morning, but after being invited to a folk/bluegrass event at a nearby bar we made the decision to stay up late and not take off the next morning. Brett offered for us to stay as long as we like and we decided that instead of rushing onward trying to make miles we would stay until we felt ready to leave. Having some projects that he needed help with on the house we were looking forward to helping out and getting to know some locals and seeing New Orleans from a non-tourist point of view.

Originally when we bought the bike and started the pedaling part of our voyage Kyle and I had planned to make it to my parents house near St. Petersburg, Florida but last night we changed our minds. At first we were turning down the offer to go to the bluegrass/folk show because we were concerned about money and making miles in order to make it 600 miles before Christmas. As we thought more about this I realized that we had, once again, lost sight of our “no schedule and no rush” goal. Therefore we made another decision about our journey- the goal wasn’t so much St. Petersburg as just the border or Florida. Pensacola is the border and only about 200 miles away which could be done easily in 5 days. Discussing a bit farther we made a choice: we are going to make it as far East as possibly by December 23rd, definitely Florida, maybe Pensacola, maybe Carabelle, maybe farther. But during the next 16 days we will take every opportunity that comes our way to meet interesting people, explore new cultures, see beautiful places, and embrace the freedom and exploration that travel provides. With that mindset, we took Brett up on his offer to stay for another night or two, and last night we went to the bluegrass/folk show and had just a marvelous time meeting local musicians, artists, and other fellow travelers. I am not much of a dancer, but Kyle and I were sitting at the bar chatting and enjoying the show while people danced and chatted around us. A guy came up and asked me to dance.. Kyle of course thought this was wonderful and pushed me out of my chair so I didn’t have much of a choice. For the next couple minutes I attempted to dance in my socks and sandals with a musician from Brazil named Chisago. He was a real nice guy and we laughed together a bit, but as soon as the song ended I said thank you and B-lined it back to Kyle!

Once we got back to Brett’s house I was exhausted and ready for bed. We laid in the tent and had the most wonderful surprise! In the distance I could hear Maddy, the jazz musician who happened to be Brett’s neighbor, singing and playing a horn instrument a block away. A train passing through the city sounded its horns and I would anticipate when the horns would end so I could hear her voice again. Guitars and other string instruments could be heard in the far distance- every once in a while laughter and sounds of joy travelled through the air as we drifted off to sleep.

This morning the neighborhood roosters woke us up and soon after Brett came outside with a cup of Greek coffee for us to try. He then went on to explain the origin and history of coffee and all the while someone inside the house was playing the piano and singing amazing jazz tunes. After coffee and making some breakfast Kyle and I hopped on our bicycle (which by the way is amazing to ride with no gear on it!) and went on a hunt for a thrift store as Kyle was in need of some new shoes. When we arrived back to the house, once again, we had a treat in store. The 14 year old was outside on the back patio practicing the clarinet. Kyle and I quietly sat down next to him and I did some writing while Kyle cooked us lunch. The sound of the clarinet filled us as we enjoyed some sunshine that poked through for the first time in days. The rest of the day has been filled with conversation, music, and helping with a few projects around the house. I find myself smiling as I observe the neighborhood around- dogs, kids, people out and about and what I find the most remarkable is what seems to be the “open door” mindset. While there is still privacy and independent homes everyone seems to not only know one another, but to be friends with one another. It is very different than anything I’ve experienced as all the neighbors, regardless of age, race, or gender are friends! And not just “hey how’s it going” friends, true relationships that are in depth. They spend time with one another, play music with one another, and share their stories and lives. I find it refreshing and beautiful and I am so happy to know that communities, “village like” as Brett calls it, still exist. 

So far my experience in New Orleans has been eye-opening in that I’ve been introduced to a new community and way of life. I’m feeling thankful our journey made this turn as its been filled with new challenges and growth. 

Rain and Hello Mississippi River Trail

12/5/2015

As I write this we are sitting under a pavilion at Bayou Segnette State Park. It is cold and pouring rain. Everything is wet, damp, or moist. Fortunately the clothes we are wearing are mostly dry so we aren’t too cold, but I am so excited for some sunshine whenever she decides to come out. We arrived at this state park on Saturday afternoon after biking 42 miles into a 25mph head wind. Knowing that 2 days of rain, strong wind, and thunderstorms were coming we ate the $45 and got a campsite so we wouldn’t be out biking in cold, windy, and wet conditions. The 42 miles on Saturday were pretty fun up until the last 10 miles. We left early in the morning and took side roads whenever possible; at one point we pulled off for a snack and were surrounded by acres of sugar cane. We did have to do a few miles on the shoulder of a highway, but the shoulder was massive and it was a Saturday so it wasn’t too busy. Around 11am we arrived to our first paved bike trail! No more cars, roads, and intersections for a bit. Not only were we excited to be on a bike trail, but this particular trail was very special to us as it happened to be The Mississippi River Trail (aka MRT). For the first time since we turned off the Mississippi and towards the Atchafalaya a couple weeks ago, we were re-United with the mighty river. And mighty it was! We came to a steep grass hill which acted as a levee. Once walking the bike up the hill we were on top of the levee on the MRT. That is when the river came into view and here is what I saw: 2 offshore ships bigger than the 49 barge pushes we were used to, countless ocean tows and river tows, work vessels moving in every direction, a cruise ship, and massive tankers anchored smack in the middle of the river. And to add the wind was 25mph from the south so the water’s surface was angry and choppy. The first words out of my mouth were, “I am so glad we took the route less travelled!” As had we not taken the calm, peaceful, muddy Atchafalaya we would have been smack in the middle of all the commercial traffic.  

Sitting in the grass we made some lunch, rested our legs, and laughed at how the universe continues to amaze us. No one could have ever convinced me I’d travel through New Orleans, along the river, and finish our journey on a tandem bicycle! What a funny turn of events. Anyway, after resting and enjoying the river view we got back on the bike and began pedaling on top of the levee, fully exposed, into the wind. It was really difficult pedaling and we worked as a team to set a pace that would get us to the campground by 4pm but not over-do it. Despite the sky being gray, the wind being strong, and our legs being exhausted, we were able to have some fun and sing songs and enjoy the river view. Eventually it was time to turn off the levee and head a couple miles west towards the campground. We had to be creative in our routing as to avoid freeways and busy roads, but we found some side roads that brought us to where we needed to be.

After checking in with the ranger we quickly set up camp to prepare for the forecasted storms-very soon after it started to rain and it hasn’t stopped since! On Sunday morning Kyle was making some adjustments to the bike when our neighbors from the campsite next to us came over. Dan was his name and he and his wife Connie are bicyclists and offered Kyle tools and spares if we needed it. One thing led to another and before I knew it we were in their camper eating cheeseburgers (for Kyle) and Connie made me the most wonderful fresh salad with avocados, tomatoes, and onions. We spent over an hour chatting and getting to know each other. Then they offered to give us a ride into New Orleans for a couple hours so we could explore the city without having to ride the bike. We all climbed into their truck and headed to the Algiers Ferry where we got on and were taken across the river into the heart of New Orleans. Going our separate ways we made a plan to meet back at the ferry later on. Kyle and I wandered around in the drizzling rain in the amazement of the city. So much was going on everywhere we turned. Every type of person, store, activity, and bar you could imagine filled the streets. As we walked aimlessly we came upon a street and looked down: lights, music, food carts, people, bikes, more people, and loud noises. Bourbon Street. It started to pour so we ducked into a bar and spent the next couple hours chatting with a fellow traveler before heading back to the ferry. Bourbon Street was a bit too much stimulus for me and we decided that when we come back on our bike we will explore other streets. But I am glad I experienced it for an evening.

Today we awoke to more rain and gray skies. We only have to bike about 5 miles to get to our hosts from ‘warmshowers’ house, but are really hoping to find a break in the rain before making our way. We said our goodbyes to our new friends Dan and Connie and quickly packed up camp while there was a break in the rain. Now we are sitting under a pavilion while Kyle cooks us top ramen for lunch. So far this bike thing has been wet, but rather fun. I am looking forward to getting through New Orleans and finding some sunshine 🙂


12/6/2015 

Kyle and I spent our afternoon yesterday hanging out in the pavilion while the sky poured rain. Around 2pm the sky lightened a bit, the dark gray transitioned to a light gray, and we started packing our gear back onto the bike. We biked 2 miles to Winn Dixie to get some groceries before heading to our host’s house. The ride to Erin and Bill’s (the hosts from warmshowers) was an enjoyable one as we rode on top the levee next to the river. Passing railroad yards, grain processing plants, and massive ships I was blown away by the busyness of the river front in New Orleans. We turned off the levee and into a beautiful suburb with brick houses and wonderful Christmas decorations. Arriving at our hosts house a few minutes before them we waited with our bike in their drive-way. What a funny thing, waiting at someone’s house we have never met for them to let us into their home for the night. As always on this journey people are kind and beautiful and we were anxious to meet some new friends. When they arrived we said our hellos before heading inside. The evening was filled with stories, information, laughter, and quick friendship. Kyle and I both felt at home as we made dinner, showered, and went to bed in their guest room.  

This morning Bill made us delicious lattes with coffee beans he roasted himself. Kyle and I were planning on pedaling away around 8am to get an early start, but the conversation flowed so freely that before we knew it, it was after 9:30. Bill and Erin were so incredibly kind and Kyle and I feel so thankful for their hospitality and friendship. Thank you Bill and Erin!

We pedaled about 10 miles on the MRT before arriving at the ferry to get us across the river. We had been advised to stay off the bridges, so happily paid the $2 to take the ferry. After a few minutes we arrived on the other side of the river and that is when our awesome adventure in the French Quarter of New Orleans began.
Using warmshowers.com again we had found another place to stay on the way out of New Orleans. Therefore we knew we had a safe place to set up our tent and hang out for the night so we felt free to explore the city. I must say, our experience today was much more enjoyable than our rainy night spent on Bourbon Street. It was actually quite a magical day! 

 To be continued!

When Life Gives You Storms…Buy a Bike! 

11/30/2016
Well, it turns out that the reaction I had to checking the weather forecast when we arrived in Grand Isle was accurate. The system moving through the South Central region of Louisiana and impacting all surrounding waters and waterways is a strong one and bringing conditions unfit for a small boat. The night we arrived in Grand Isle we had some pizza and relaxed on the deck of the marina for a bit. We then retreated to our boom tented boat to have the most horrible night of sleep. The wind had began to pick up tremendously which caused the boat to move around in her slip. Adding to that the wind would cause the boom tent to slap back and forth causing lots of noise. I couldn’t sleep and we had phone service so I spent some more time checking the weather- awful. NOAA gave a 7 day forecast of wind and waves that were 30mph with 14ft seas. And it wasn’t getting better later in the week, it was only getting worse. I tried checking every weather website I could think of- as though the more I checked it would magically change to something calmer. The more I checked and the more resources I visited, the more I learned that even if we were to get a tow to inland waters, it would be unsafe for us to go out in Solvi for at least a week. We could wait the weather out on Grand Isle, but the reality is that this island is only 7 miles long and they don’t allow camping except for in the state park. Also, based on my research it would be over a week, most likely two, and it just wasn’t feasible for us to stay on this small island for that long. And plus, after the forecast got better it would be the middle of December and we were hoping to be in Florida by January. The reality that our journey in Solvi might be coming to an end began to sink in and I was overcome by sadness and went to bed feeling sick to my stomach.  

The next morning we awoke, still groggy from such awful sleep, to find the wind getting stronger and the marina waters getting more lumpy. Kyle and I both knew we would not be sleeping on the boat again that night, but weren’t quite sure what we were going to do. After making some breakfast we went upstairs to the marina and got some hot coffee and sat down with the iPad and some wifi. After an hour of staring at screens and researching everything we could think of, it was quite clear that we could not continue on in Solvi. The weather system and the expense it would cost to wait it out was just too much. We researched getting towed back to the Mississippi but then found out that one of the Lock and Dams is closed for maintenance and also that area of the river really isn’t a good place for small recreational boats. What about getting towed to the Intracoastal Waterway? Well turns out a large section of it is exposed to the Gulf and is forecasted for 7ft seas as well. All the doors we tried just kept closing. Tears filled my eyes as we sat in the small café of the marina. It was time to figure out how to get Solvi back to Florida- and not by rowing and sailing. I was having the hardest time wrapping my head around what was going on. Kyle and I both had the energy, motivation, and interest to continue on in Solvi. We were so close to Florida and the idea of stopping now was unfathomable. We didn’t want to quit- we didn’t want to stop- but there just wasn’t a choice. The universe and the weather had a different plan for us and it didn’t involve Solvi.  

The mood lingering in that small café overlooking the marina down below was a somber one as I entered Solvi’s information in Uship.com to get a quote for how much it would cost to have her shipped to Florida. We then started researching plane tickets and train tickets and how the hell we would get to the airport that is 2 hours away from this small island. I just couldn’t do it- the thought of flying home and being home by Tuesday of next week just sounded so foreign. Kyle couldn’t wrap his head around the idea either- we just weren’t ready. It would be one thing if we stopped our journey on Solvi because we wanted to; because it was just too hard and we both felt ready to go home. But that wasn’t the reality- the reality was that we were being forced to stop because of conditions out of our control. Then I had an idea!  

“Kyle, maybe we shouldn’t look for plane tickets or train tickets. Maybe we can get home another way- let’s walk!!” I said enthusiastically. The thought of hiking 700 miles excited me and suddenly I was filled with a new vigor. “We aren’t walking” Kyle countered- but at that moment I looked over at the iPad screen and saw what he had typed in Google: “Tandem Bicycle Touring.” And that was it- we both knew our journey was not yet over- it was just going to be quite different than anything we could have ever expected.

What happened over the course of the next few days is a bit of blur as everything happened so fast. First we accepted an offer by a shipper who could pick up Solvi on Monday and have her back in Florida in my parents side yard by Wednesday. Next we had to do lots of finances and figure out if we possibly had the funds to pull this bike idea off. Not really, but…enough to pull it off 🙂 Where do you get a bike on an island that has one store which does not sell bikes? Amazon two day shipping is where. Before I knew it we had rented a hotel room at the marina, began unpacking Solvi, going through our gear, and researching which bike to buy. Kyle and I had not slept inside in over 120 days and the hotel room felt strange, but there was so much to do that I didn’t notice it too much. We called the state park that we planned on camping at until we had the bike situation figured out- they gave us the OK to get packages sent there. An hour later a tandem bicycle, new seats, brake pads, repair kits, tools, and other odds and ends in order to make the bicycle ready for long distances were on there way to the campground.  

While we were going through Solvi and choosing what to bring and leave behind we met another sailor named Jim. Jim had brought his sailboat down from a town an hour away and was staying at the marina for the weekend. We quickly became friends and he gave us all sorts of information about biking in the area. That night, once Kyle and I were ready for a break from the planning, we walked down to Jim’s boat. The three of us went on a walk on the beach and were then feeling hungry. Problem being the only actual open restaurant on the island was 3 miles away. “Doesn’t bother me” Jim said. And the 3 of us walked a total of 7 miles to go get some dinner and make it back to the marina. Not very often we meet someone willing to walk such distances just for fun- and we really enjoyed the company and getting to know Jim.  

Now it was Sunday and Solvi would be leaving in the morning. The weather continued to degrade and even in the safety of our hotel room we could hear the wind howling and the waves crashing on the shoreline in the distance. The anticipation of a new adventure was filling our hotel room as we continued to go through our gear until we had the bare minimums to still be comfortable but not overload the bike. Jim and his wife came and found us around lunch time and took us to the store and out to lunch where we wrote down all the routes and notes that Jim suggested to us. It was a wonderful resource to have and we are so thankful for Jim and his wife for providing us hospitality and friendship. Thank you guys so much!!  


On Monday we pulled Solvi up on the beach near the marina and put her on her rollers in the parking lot. We waited for the movers as we made sure she was ready for the road. Solvi’s mast was supposed to be removable but due to wood swelling Kyle couldn’t get it off, even with a pry bar. Therefore he had to saw it off- pretty sad but he didn’t like her mast anyway and wanted to rebuild it. Even though we were both feeling excited about our new adventure it was pretty heartbreaking getting Solvi all tied down and ready for shipping. The movers came and we said our goodbyes as we waved, surrounded by a couple boxes of food and gear which would be packed on our bicycle we didn’t have yet.  

Monday night we got a ride to the campground and tried to hide the tent in some bushes away from the 40mph gusts and torrential rainfall. The next morning we checked in with the ranger and waited for our packages. They showed up around 3pm and Kyle instantly went to work assembling the bike and replacing the parts that we read online needed to be changed for long distances. The days at the campground went by really quickly and we soon found a community of campers who helped us in every way they could. Providing tools, advice, bike parts, air pumps, and helping hands- we soon had our bike put together and ready to test. Might I mention that while Kyle is an experienced biker, I am not. I have ridden bikes my whole life, but just around the neighborhood and never very seriously. Well, I soon learned that this wasn’t a problem because I am on the back seat of the tandem bike and I do nothing but peddle. I don’t steer, brake, or see. Stay still and peddle were the instructions I was given. Easy enough…I think. Our first ride with no gear went surprisingly smooth. We rode around the campground as many people waved and cheered us on. The next day we loaded the bike with all our gear and rode around again. I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well it went with all the gear. I was fully expecting to have some difficulties as Kyle and I learned to coordinate on the tandem bike, but we didn’t experience that at all. Rowing took such intense teamwork and coordination that I think we were already in tune and the peddling went quite smooth.  

12/1/2016

Day one on the bicycle! We left Grand Isle State Park around 9am and began pedaling West before turning North to get off the island. Stopping many times in the first hour to adjust seats, handle bar heights, and the way gear was stored, we enjoyed a leisurely pace and waved at cars as they honked and gave us a thumbs up as they drove by. Due to putting together the bike idea so last minute and having to rely on 2 day shipping, we didn’t buy all the spares we needed online. Wal-Mart is a 40 mile bike ride from the state park and we had an order there waiting for us: spare tubes, a pump, patches, etc. What could possibly happen in 40 miles? We should be able to get to Wal-Mart just fine with no problems. Wrong!! Haha in the first hour of our journey we rode over a sharp piece of glass and got a flat tire. Only having patches and no pump we had to venture to a nearby marina and borrow an air compressor. It is very unlike us to not be fully prepared, so we laughed with the nice fisherman at the marina about having really comfortable seats and gear racks, but no pump. Oh well, tire fixed we continued onward. The rest of the day went really well and was actually quite fun. We rode 26 miles before arriving to a small town called Leeville. Due to Leeville’s location everything is either on the water or in the water. Many of the houses, restaurants, shops, and buildings in the small town were placed on long wooden poles in the shallows of the water surrounding the town. Biking to an RV park I asked the woman working there if we could pitch our tent for the night, “A tent?! Like the kind that goes on the ground? We’ve never had a tent before! That’s so cool, yes you can stay for free, assuming your tent doesn’t plug in?” Both of us were feeling thankful to have found a safe place to camp for the night and set up our tent before walking around and exploring the small Louisiana town. Surprisingly neither of us were feeling too sore yet, but knew that it would be coming soon enough 🙂  

12/2/2016 

Day two on the bicycle! 41 miles from the RV Park to a small camping area in Raceland, LA. We left the RV Park in Leeville around 8am and rode the 16 miles to a Wal-Mart where we bought spare tubes, a pump, better patches, and any other spare we could possibly think of. After having lunch and changing a few things on the bike we continued on and ended up doing about 40 miles. We weren’t exactly expecting to do 41 miles on our second day, but we both felt pretty good. Again, I think rowing really got us in shape for this bike thing! The day on the road was quite fun. Most of the day was spent on a road along a long bayou which turned out to be awesome! We were biking along and a tow boat and a barge drove right past us- literally 20ft away. Kyle and I laughed at how funny it was to be biking next to a tow boat instead of rowing next to one. These small Louisiana fishing towns completely surrounded by water are rather unique and I feel fortunate to be able to experience them on a bicycle as I don’t think I would have ever known they existed had our adventure not taken this turn of events. One unfortunate thing about this area of Louisiana is that it is completely surrounded by water so there really is only one or two roads. This left our options of biking fairly limited but we always found nice big shoulders and with Kyle steering us in the front I used my mirror to keep track of what was going on behind us. Together we worked as a team and always felt safe and comfortable being on the road. That night we felt a bit more sore than the day before but still not anything too bad. Laying in the tent I used the phone to find a spot for us to camp the following night and connected with some other cyclists on warmshowers.com (a bicycle touring community to provide safe places to stay/camp to traveling cyclists) in order to find us a safe place to stay while we travel through New Orleans. Any big city can be dangerous and we have been warned about New Orleans, so we felt good knowing we had two safe places to stay as we pedal through the big city. The first two days of our new journey towards Florida have gone quite well and we are looking forward to what else the Universe has in store for us 🙂 Onward!  

**By the time this post is out we will have been on the bike for over a week or so and will have travelled over 150 miles through New Orleans and East on towards Alabama and Florida. Things are going well thus far!** 

Barrier Islands and Grand Isle 

11/24/2016Happy Thanksgiving! The last two days have been spent rowing and sailing our way East towards Grand Isle, Louisiana. As I write this we are currently on a sandbar near Port Fourchon, LA- 21 miles away from Grand Isle. I had been praying that when we arrived on this sandbar we would find cell phone service so we could call our families for Thanksgiving. And that’s exactly what happened! After 5 days of no service, we pulled up Solvi on a sandbar, turned on the phone and plenty of service to make some phone calls. We both spent an hour or so chatting with family and sharing some laughter and conversation over the phone and it was wonderful to be able to talk with them.

Kyle and I both are feeling thankful that we have been able to camp on land the last couple nights. There is a system of barrier islands along the LA coast leading up to Grand Isle and they have provided some marvelous camping with sandy beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and protection from the nightly wind. The days of being underway have been tough. This water is much bigger and with no current we go much slower than we are used to. But at the same time, these days have been some of our most memorable. Being so far way from civilization and any other boaters has provided a sense of solitude and isolation that we have both been enjoying. Our days are spent with rolling waves, Dolphins, and Pelicans. Today as we made an arduous crossing under oar to avoid a thunderstorm on the horizon, we found relief in observing the Pelicans. As they would dive down straight into the water to catch a fish, we would giggle and then if they had a fish when they emerged from the water’s surface together we would cheer and holler- congratulating the pelican on his catch. Every couple hours a plethora of dolphins would swim by us, curious about Solvi as well. So although we were isolated from people and other boaters, we felt as though we had friends- some with feathers others with smooth blue skin. Regardless of if we were rowing or sailing, if it was windy or rainy, sunny or cloudy- the sky, water, horizon, and surroundings were absolutely stunning. I keep typing and erasing because I am trying to explain how magnificent it all was, but unfortunately it’s just one of those things that needs to be experienced in person. There were a few times of being out on the Gulf that we questioned our decision not to take an inland route, but every time the sun set or rose, or the Dolphins would jump from the water, or the clouds would form amazing designs on the endless sky, we were reminded of why we chose this. Why we decided to take a risk and go for big water- because the entire time we were out on the Gulf shores we were living fully in the moment- in complete awe of our universe and everything it entails.


11/25/2016 

Today was our biggest hop on the open Gulf; 21 miles from the sandbar near Port Fourchon to the entrance to Grand Isle. And unlike any of our other hops out on the Gulf, there was no inland route- no islands to hide behind and quite honestly once we left there was no going back. So we checked the weather, did everything we could to prepare, and woke up at 5:15 so that we could be rowing away when the sun rose. When checking the weather for the first time in a week we found some intense news- after today the weather was going to deteriorate very extremely. So even though the forecast for our hop wasn’t that great, we were faced with the reality that if we did not make the crossing today, than we would be stuck for over a week in very dangerous conditions. Thankfully we had the entire day to make the crossing in conditions that were safe and calm, but the fact that we had to make it before dark when the weather changed lingered heavy over our minds.

At 7:15 we rowed away from our sandbar and headed out into the open Gulf. Turning East once we reached deeper water we raised the sail and attempted to sail towards Grand Isle. 21 miles on the open Gulf is way too many miles to row, so even though the wind wasn’t in our favor we tried to see what we could do. It soon became prevalent that in order to make any headway towards our destination we would have to tack and head out into the Gulf, away from land, before tacking back in towards shore. We did this for a while but due to the waves crashing down, it completely slowed our progress. It was exhausting trying to sail and frustrating because we weren’t making any headway. Guess we’ll try rowing. We rowed close to shore and were able to keep that up for about an hour, but it was really arduous and we both knew we wouldn’t be able to keep it up for 5 more hours to make it to Grand Isle. Kyle and I both feeling discouraged and bit worried we pulled at the oars with all our might. Thankfully around 12pm the wind switched directions and we were able to raise the sail again- this time we could reach right along the shore in the direction we were headed. Once we got into the groove of sailing smiles filled our faces again and the mood of the day went from being worried to light hearted and fun. We knew we would make it safely into port before the weather changed or it got dark. After a couple hours I began to see condos and houses on the horizon- must be Grand Isle! Checking our GPS we were only 2 miles away and the wind was starting to die. We rowed in closer to shore and then decided to take a break and go for a swim. The wind had stopped almost completely so the water became rather calm and the sun was beating down. We put the dagger board in to prevent us drifting towards shore and jumped off the bow. It was a blast jumping on and off Solvi, swimming around and stretching our sore bodies. The swim completely revitalized us and we showered and put on clean clothes. Feeling much better about the day we rowed the last 30 minutes into Grand Isle. Even though it was only 21 miles and took us about 6 hours, rowing into the break water towards the marina was very rewarding. A 21 mile open Gulf hop in a small open boat is no small feat and we were both feeling proud and thankful that we made it safely and happily before the sun set. We rowed into the marina and got a slip for the night before going to find some cheap hot food and maybe a cold drink. As Kyle got us squared up with the marina I checked the weather again to see what was up with the forecast I had see the night before. My heart sank as I read the forecast for the next 7 days for both the Gulf of Mexico and pretty much the entire surrounding area of Louisiana. Beginning that night the winds would pick up to 20 knots and continue to climb for the next 7 days- wind advisory and small craft advisory and wave advisories on every site I checked. NOAA was calling for winds of 30mph with gusts of 40, waves of 8ft quickly building to 14ft. Then thunderstorms, possible tornadoes, and more wind. I was so incredibly thankful we had made it safely to Grand Isle before this system moved through, but I also knew that this would greatly impact the remainder of our journey. I showed Kyle the forecast and read him the synopsis NOAA released- he knew as well as I that even if we were on inland waterways it was unsafe to be in Solvi, or any small boat for that matter. Knowing we would be staying on Grand Isle for a while we let it go for the night and for now we were celebrating our 21 mile crossing and off to explore the cool little island- weather and route planning could continue in the morning.

Vastness, Dolphins, and Oil Rigs

11/22/2016 
The last couple days have been very involved in terms of being underway, and I have not had much time to write, which is too bad because there is much to share! I’ll do my best to recap:  

Day 1- Oyster Bayou to Anchorage in Marsh: 

An hour or so after I finished my below journal entry about sailing in the Gulf, the wind began to change directions. We only had about an hour before the sun was going to begin its descent, so we had to make a decision about what to do. Our goal was to make it to Isle Dernieres, which at this point was 4 miles away. Being that we were in the open Gulf and the wind began to get stronger, it was decided we would not continue the 4 miles and instead head North back to the protection of the marsh. It had been such a long day in the sun, wind, and waves, so we both were excited to reach the marshes a mile away. As we turned left to head to shore, the waves were behind us and Solvi surged along nicely. Using our charts and GPS we knew that land was only 1 mile away, but due to the marsh being so low, no land was in sight until we began to get really close. Both of us were feeling exhausted and the anticipation of dropping the anchor in a protected slough was building. As we got close to the shore Kyle used our led line (a heavy weight that is connected to a line that is marked every foot) to decide when it was too shallow to sail. Once we hit the sand at 4ft it was time to pull up the dagger board, drop the rig, and row the rest of the way.

The shore of this area of Louisiana is rather unique and fascinating. Between South America and Louisiana is open Gulf, a small ocean. I am used to the Gulf being sandy beaches with sea grass and condos. But this large mass of water from South America to Louisiana leads to… Well tall grass. Quite literally the waves break onto very low lying grass. Some of the grass is green while most of it is a light brown. This grass forms thousands of acres of marsh with many sloughs and channels. Kyle and I laughed at how different it was than anything we had experienced. I had no knowledge of its existence before we arrived. The sun was just starting to go down when we found a small opening in the marshy grass that we could pull in and anchor away from the exposure of the Gulf. I had tied us off to a mangrove root by using my rubber boots to trudge through water and an oyster covered bottom. Once back aboard I rowed us away from the shore so Kyle could drop the anchor. He went to toss it overboard and we sadly discovered it was less than a foot deep. Now this wasn’t a problem at the moment since Solvi only draws 6 inches, but when the tide went out she’d be dry sitting on oysters. No good. Both of us cringing at the thought of having to move another muscles, none the less row somewhere else, we checked the GPS. 1.46 miles to the next deep opening. Ugh. We untied from the mangrove, grabbed the oars, and pulled ourselves down the shoreline. The sun was cut in half by the horizon causing the entire horizon line to glow orange. Being that there is no land on the horizon, the sky just seemed to continue forever. My back ached, my hands were tired, I was mentally drained, and Kyle was feeling the same way. 1 mile left and almost at the same time we began our favorite sea shanty: “Away haul away, we haul away together. Away haul away, we haul away Joe!” It was at that moment I found the meaning of sea shanties. They were used to keep sea men motivated and connected- and they work! I felt I couldn’t make that last mile, but with our sea shanty it was fun and quick. Arriving at our new anchorage we found 3ft of water behind some mangroves and dropped the anchor. Kyle made dinner while I was supposed to be setting up the bed. I rested my head for 1 minute and fell asleep! Haha, he awoke me for dinner and 30 minutes later we were drifting to sleep while listening to some commercial fisherman shrimping near by. Despite the day being so long, we only covered 15 miles. Waves, salt water, open Gulf, and rowing without a current sure beat us up- but that’s okay. It was a wonderful first day on the Gulf.  

Day 2- Anchorage in Marsh to Isle Dernieres:

Well this day sure tested us! We left around 9am and began rowing. Due to the wind direction and strength and the forecast we received using our VHF radio we decided to row real close to shore to try to find some protection. The first hour went well and we listened to some music while rowing into the wind. But then the shoreline began to open and there were big inlets and channels leading to the Gulf. The wind was increasing and we made the decision to try and head farther North to seek shelter on the shoreline. Turning left to an opening that would lead us North, we were greeted with a large bay. The chop had gotten pretty big and the waves were steep and about 3ft. Okay, guess we’ll try the other way. We headed South towards Isle Dernieres and found some shelter against the island. Being unable to pull up on shore because it was marshy, we found a small mangrove island with a slough in it a mile away. Rowing into 15mph winds with 2-4 foot waves was not fun and scared me quite a bit. But Kyle suggested I put on some of my favorite music and try to relax while we row into shelter. The crossing to the island took about 30 minutes, but it was an arduous 30 minutes. Salt water spraying everywhere, Solvi slamming into the waves, thus stopping us mid stroke, and wind howling around- we gripped our oar handles so tight that my finger nails bruised. The gusts were loud and I watched as they caused chop on top of the Gulf swell. Solvi bounced around a bit, but as usual was quite stable. Slowly as we approached the small mangrove island the waves began to get smaller and less frequent. This happened gradually until suddenly I could see the small opening of the island. Solvi’s bow entered through first and it was as though we just went from being outside in the loud wind to inside a quiet, calm, and warm house. The tiny cove was only about 30ft wide by 50ft long, but it was fully protected from any weather from any direction. Whew! What an intense change of environment. Except for when we stood on the foredeck so we were taller than the mangroves and exposed to the wind, there was no indication the weather was bad. Being that it was only 12pm and there was no way to walk around on land, we knew the entirety of the day would be spent aboard our rather small floating boat. Therefore to stay busy we did various activities: cleaned the boat completely, I washed my hair, played chess, fixed our cook pot, stretched on the foredeck, and then eventually set up the boom tent and played more chess.

 The 5 mile journey from the anchorage in the marshes on shore to the protection of the slough, was rather challenging and impacted our moral. During the planning of this coastal hop we knew being so exposed to the Gulf was a risk. But we also knew from living in St. Petersburg for 4 years that with the right weather the Gulf is rather calm and enjoyable. But those 5 miles were so exposed and arduous that they wore us down. Conversations about quitting, going back, or finding another alternative were had. Did we make the wrong decision? Can we go out tomorrow or will we be stuck in this slough again? Well the only way we could attempt to answer the last question was with our 2 day old screenshot of the weather and our VHF radio. Being that it was cloudy the VHF did not want to cooperate. The 3 channels which forecasted weather 24/7 were all filled with static. The familiar male voice repeating various conditions would begin talking and then right when he was about to report the forecast for our area the static would fill in. “Something south 15 knots” I’d say. Kyle would counter, “I think he said west wind!” This went on for an hour before we gave up. Well we had plenty of food and water, were completely safe and protected so might as well just relax and hope tomorrow is nicer. Plus, once we realized the entire weather situation was out of our control, we both felt a bit more free. Together we watched as the sun went down, again creating that orange glow. Some Pelicans and dolphins could be seen over the mangroves and despite the howling wind, the environment around was quite beautiful.

Day 3- Slough near Isle Dernieres to Timbalier:  

Today was the day. The day in which I realized that our journey from Wisconsin and all the trials and challenges it brought are completely worth it. The day that I will forever remember and that reminded me of the passion I have developed for sailing. A day full of deep blues, greens, dolphins, and vastness. Of salt water, beautiful calm rolling waves, and pure delight.

My sleepy eyelids blinked open once before closing again. It must be pre-dawn, I think to myself while reflecting on what my eyes took in during their first opening of the day. I don’t hear wind or waves crashing on the shore, was my next thought. I opened my eyes and peered under the boom tent to the small opening of the slough. Calm. Kyle awoke soon after me with the same conclusion. I did the “radio dance” on the foredeck, turning the antenna in all directions, attempting to get an updated forecast. After some conversing and looking over the mangroves to the Gulf we decided to quickly get the boat ready to go and at least row 5 miles, to what our chart calls Whiskey Island, while the weather is calm. In order to do this we had to make a 2 mile crossing between islands- meaning that for 2 miles we were exposed to the open Gulf. I was hesitant at first because of our rough conditions the day before, but as we nosed our bow out into the open Gulf waters, Solvi only bounced a bit and no salt water splashed in the boat. We rowed the 5 miles to Whiskey Island and had the most pleasant surprise. Pelicans! For some reason Pelicans became extremely interested in our little boat. And for the remainder of our time on the Gulf they would become our friends and good company. It started with two brown pelicans flying above us. We watched as they flew by but then suddenly turned around and lowered down towards our boat. Flying even with the mast’s height both Pelicans flew above us for quite some time, looking down causing their eyes to meet with ours. They would then get a little closer before flying off again. This happened over and over again, sometimes just one pelican sometimes 10. It was quite spectacular- that and the dolphins were playing in the swell causing us to giggle in delight.

We arrived at Whiskey Island and were so thankful to get out of the boat and run around a bit. Seeing that the sky was clearing and the conditions were only getting better, we continued on from Whiskey Island. Rowing through all the oil rigs (they are everywhere on the LA coast!) we enjoyed sunshine and blue skies. As we approached the end of Whiskey Island we made the decision to make the next 8 mile hop of open water to Timbalier Island. Fortunately at this point the wind had shifted in our favor and we set the sail. I was on the tiller for the two hours it took us to cross, and it was the most magnificent sail. There was no wind chop leaving the water glassy, but the rollers coming in from the Gulf swell were about 4ft. Solvi sailed along wonderfully, riding up the waves and then back down. It was so much fun and the dolphins were having just as much fun riding the rollers and jumping around. They would get so close to our boat that I could see their eyes- amazing! After an hour I learned how to use the waves to our advantage and sometimes Solvi would surf down and pick up speed. A couple of crew boats bringing people to and from the oil rigs and doing maintenance stopped to chat with us and take some photos- they thought we were insane having come from Wisconsin. Around 3pm Timbalier Island came into view and we sailed along until it was too shallow and then rowed the rest of the way. Both of us so thankful to have found a patch of sand we pulled Solvi up on her rollers and had a fire and set up our tent for the first time in a few days.

That evening as we sat by the fire I reflected on our day of sailing and how different it was from the day before. The day before I was scared and uncomfortable. This day, on the other hand, was the very reason we choose to sail. The very reason we put ourselves through the ridiculousness of this journey. The vastness of the water, sky, and environment is something that can only be experienced off shore. A day I will never forget 🙂