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.
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 🙂
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!**